Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Marsha Farney

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

More pre-K bills filed

The Observer has the best reporting on the latest pre-k bills that have been filed in the Lege.

pre-k

There’s widespread support around the Capitol for more state spending on pre-kindergarten programs, and much less agreement about how to do it.

State Reps. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) have proposed a $300-million-a-year plan to fund full-day pre-K for some children in districts that agree to meet new quality standards. Meanwhile, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) has introduced a more ambitious plan: universal, full-day pre-K for all 4-year-olds in the state.

On the campaign trail last year, Gov. Greg Abbott also proposed more pre-K spending, but more cautiously. Rather than a blanket pre-K expansion, Abbott suggested rewarding districts with $1,500 per student if they meet new standards for program quality.

That’s the plan outlined in House Bill 4, filed [Thursday] by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston). The bill creates a framework for defining the “high quality prekindergarten programs” eligible for extra state funding, but remains vague on how much each school district would get and how their programs would be evaluated. Under HB 4, those decisions would all be left up to the education commissioner.

[…]

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas and a former superintendent of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, says HB 4 includes some important elements—encouraging districts to use the state pre-K standards, and rewarding districts for using qualified teachers—but the bill is a missed opportunity if it doesn’t fund full-day learning.

Our research shows students achieve the greatest gains when enrolled in high-quality, full-day pre-K,” Anthony says, with an emphasis on “full-day.” “We have seen first-hand in the research and talking with teachers that they can accomplish so much more in a full-day program than with the half-day.”

See here for more on Raise Your Hand Texas’s research, and here for more on the Johnson/Farney bill. The Zaffirini bill is basically what Wendy Davis proposed, so you can guess what its likely outcome will be. The main problem with Abbott’s approach of course is that the $100 million appropriated in Rep. Huberty’s bill is still less than what was cut in 2011. The Chron story doesn’t mention any of this, though it does give a nice report on that public announcement event Abbott held, since that’s what really matters.

There are more reasons to prefer the full-day pre-k options that Johnson/Farney and Zaffirini are proposing:

“Right now it looks like the governor’s proposal [as written in HB 4] is basically recreating a similar grant program,” [Center for Public Policy Priorities analyst Chandra Villanueva] says. “This program just isn’t going far enough and meeting the needs that we really have.”

Villanueva, like many other early education advocates, says the Legislature should fund any pre-K expansion through the same funding formulas it uses to pay for K-12 education. Grant programs like the one cut in 2011, or the one proposed under HB 4, are much more susceptible to cuts from one session to the next.

Funding pre-K through the formulas, she says, would also help ensure students get more equal funding. HB 4, on the other hand, could reward wealthy districts that already have the money to meet new requirements for, say, class size or teacher qualifications.

“The governor’s bill that’s outside the formulas, it’s really increasing inequity in the system,” Villanueva says. “I think we need a systemic approach to dealing with pre-K, and increase the equity in the system.”

You know what that sounds like to me? A future school finance lawsuit. Good to know some things never change, isn’t it?

Abbott-style pre-k bill filed

From the inbox:

pre-k

State Representatives Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) and Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) today filed a bill to provide incentive payments to school districts to provide full-day, quality pre-kindergarten. To receive the incentives, districts would be required to adopt best practices identified through research as delivering the best return on educational investment. Texas’ current system funds only a half-day of pre-k and does not ask school districts to meet any substantial quality standards. The Johnson-Farney bill builds on a framework proposed by Governor Abbott last year.

“The research is in, and it shows that full-day pre-k is one of the best investments we can make in education. It can cut the achievement gap for children in poverty in half and will reduce future spending on remedial education, special education and the criminal justice system. If we’re serious about improving public education, we’ve got to get serious about full-day pre-k,” said Rep. Johnson.

The bill contains several transparency and accountability measures designed to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely. Participating districts will report much more information on student achievement, teacher performance, program design and parental involvement to the state under the new plan. The plan expressly prohibits any new standardized, high-stakes tests, but uses existing assessments to measure program effectiveness when students enter kindergarten and the 3rd grade.

The proposal has the general support of a wide array of stakeholders, including business associations, school districts, children’s advocacy groups, private schools and municipal leaders, including the Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Independent School District, the Commit Partnership, the Dallas Early Education Alliance, the ChildCareGroup (Dallas), Texas Association of Business, Children at Risk, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

The bill in question is HB 1100. The full press release, which contains a list of supporters, is here. Reps. Johnson and Farney first announced their intent to file such a bill last week – here’s the fact sheet and framework that came with the earlier announcement. As you know, I am skeptical of Abbott’s approach, which would still leave funding for pre-k well below 2011 levels, when it was decimated along with most everything else in the hysteria budget of that cycle. This is better than nothing, and given a choice between it and nothing, I’ll take this. Best case scenario, it works well enough to be a springboard for something more, assuming we have any funds left over after Dan Patrick finishes giving out tax cuts to the wealthy. That counts for progress these days. The Trib has more.

More test tweaking

Seems reasonable.

Students in elementary and middle school would get a little testing relief under a House bill that passed overwhelmingly on a preliminary vote Monday.

Amid a backlash against state-mandated testing, the legislation eliminates writing exams in fourth and seventh grades.

It also aims to alleviate some of the stress- inducing elements of the remaining exams by trimming the length of the tests to a keep them within two hours in the earliest grades and three hours for sixth-grade and up.

“We’ve taken the time pressure off so your third grader is not going to be spending four hours on the test. And if they are a struggling learner, we don’t have the time pressure of the countdown clock making them even higher stress tests,” said state Rep. Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, who authored House Bill 2836.

[…]

The only state test not required by federal law will be in 8th-grade social studies, which covers early U.S. history.

For the remaining exams, the legislation aims to limit the subject matter that can be tested for high-stakes purposes so that teachers can go “more in depth rather than having to teach a mile wide and an inch deep,” Ratliff said.

That should help reduce the number of preparation tests that schools use, said state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, who worked closely with Ratliff on the legislation. Indeed, schools are limited to two benchmark tests under the legislation.

My third-grader just finished taking the STAAR exams, and she was pretty stressed about the whole thing. I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear there will be one less test next year. The House had previously passed a bill limiting the number of end of course exams in high school, reducing it from 15 to 5. I think this makes sense, but I strongly suspect we’re nowhere close to being done with this subject. I fully expect the number, content, and other aspects of standardized tests in Texas schools will be debated for many sessions to come. The Trib has more.

A look ahead to SBOE races

Regardless of what happens with the other maps, the one map that was precleared and is set for the next decade is the SBOE. With all 15 members up for re-election (like the Senate, everyone has to run in the first election post-redistricting), there are already some hot races shaping up. This Trib story from a few days back has a look.

Now, with three longtime (and reliably moderate) members stepping down and all 15 members up for re-election because of changes brought about by redistricting, political control over the divisive board hangs in the balance. And even though the filing period has yet to begin, there are already signs that these races could get ugly. Questions about one member’s sexual orientation, for example, are already being raised.

Some board members will also undoubtedly try to oust each other. [David] Bradley, who consistently votes with the board’s social conservatives, said he would be “actively working” against Thomas Ratliff, [Don] McLeroy’s replacement.

Randy Stevenson, a Tyler businessman who served on the board from 1994 to 1998, announced Wednesday that he would run against Ratliff, a registered lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and whose opponents, because of that, have argued that he should be disqualified from office.

[…]

Bradley has yet to attract a declared opponent, but that’s expected to happen soon. Meanwhile, social conservative incumbents Ken Mercer and chairwoman Barbara Cargill have already drawn primary challengers, as has George Clayton. Bob Craig and Marsha Farney, moderate Republicans, and Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, have all announced that they will not seek re-election.

Farney was elected in 2010, so while she may have been a moderate, she certainly wasn’t “longtime”. As noted before, all of these races make me nervous. Having to rely on Republican primary voters to do something non-crazy is not a bet you want to have to make. And will a Democrat please file to run against Terri “Don’t call me “Terry” Leo? I promise to contribute to your campaign if you do.

The race in Clayton’s district, which now includes all of Collin County north of Dallas, may prove especially contentious. Clayton, a teacher who lives in Richardson, defeated longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in an upset during the 2010 primary. Miller now wants her old seat back and has launched a campaign attacking Clayton’s conservative credentials, in particular his support of a plan last spring that would have directed $2 billion from the Permanent School Fund to public schools.

[…]

But perhaps more damaging to Clayton in a Republican primary are the rumors that prompted him to send an email to members of the media last week with the subject line “sexual orientation.” Clayton, who was leaked the notes of a conversation between Miller and Tea Party Activist Susan Fletcher that mentioned his “living arrangements,” confirmed in the email that he has “a male partner who lives with me in my home.”

In a phone interview, Miller said that she was not the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. Fletcher said in an email that she was “urged by several sources in general” to investigate Clayton’s living arrangement — but not by Miller.

Clayton said in an email that when he realized his personal life might become an issue in the campaign, his first instinct was to “nip it in the bud.” That strategy has already cost him one supporter: Conservative blogger Donna Garner, who is a vocal follower of education issues, sent out an email Tuesday night retracting an endorsement of him.

Clayton said the political makeup of the board — and whether “cool heads and reasonable discussions” would prevail — depends on the next election. The board’s biggest responsibility in the next four years, he wrote, will be “to keep public education alive in Texas.”

Clayton’s win over Miller in 2010 might have been the most out-of-left-field result from that year. Nobody knew anything about the guy. He turned out to be an upgrade, so naturally the universe, or at least the Republican Party, is trying to course-correct. As with all of the other races so far, I have a bad feeling about this one.

Changes will be coming

Robert Miller has a look at who we know won’t be back in the Lege for 2013. It’s a list that’s sure to get longer – I’m aware of a few more rumored retirements, and there’s already numerous primary challenges out there. In some cases, the legislative shuffling is creating openings elsewhere – first term SBOE member Marsha Farney will not run for re-election so she can pursue HD20, which is open because one-term State Rep. Charles Schwertner is running for SD05, which has been left open by Sen. Steve Ogden’s retirement. The reverse may also be true – State Rep. Dwayne Bohac in HD138 is among the throng hoping for an appointment to Jerry Eversole’s seat on Commissioners Court. Whether he gets it or not, there’s a decent chance that a current State Rep in Harris County might try to win that seat in the primary anyway. And on and on.

What this means is that I believe we are going to have at least three elections in a row with a lot of changes. 2010 was the first, 2012 is already shaping up that way, and as I have noted before, one way or another we could have a situation where there are no incumbents running for re-election to statewide non-judicial offices in 2014. That’s before taking into effect the electoral toll that may be exacted from another slash-and-burn legislative session. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and I won’t be surprised if it continues beyond that. PDiddie and EoW have more.

Day One at the SBOE

Here’s your TFN Insider coverage of today’s SBOE science hearings. In Part I of the hearings, we find that the SBOE may not be such a major factor in school curriculum any more:

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials.Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

And we find that maybe, just maybe, the winds have shifted a bit:

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

We can only hope. In Part II we find that all those annoying pro-science testifiers are making Ken Mercer and David Bradley cry, and in Part I of the debate, we find there’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Which counts as good news with the SBOE. Here’s Steven Schafersman‘s coverage; Josh Rosenau has weighed in on Twitter but not yet on his blog. All the Twitter action is on the #SBOE hashtag if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, an object lesson in not being able to do more with less:

With one-third fewer people, the Texas Education Agency just can’t do everything it used to do.

State Board of Education members were were told on multiple occasions this morning that a lack of time and staffers had prevented the agency from doing some of the prep work that it would have done previously, such as creating a briefing book on new legislation.

Citing similar constraints, agency staffers said they had yet to produce rules for the implementation of Senate Bill 6, which fundamentally changes how school districts can use state dollars to buy instructional materials and technology. It was passed during the special session last month.

School districts, for example, are waiting to learn how much they will get under the new system to cover the cost of textbooks, hardware, software and other expenses associated with disseminating lessons to students.

Sometimes, when you fire a bunch of people, stuff just doesn’t get done. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

UPDATE: So far, so good. On to tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes are made

The Chron has decided for some unknowable reason to endorse County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez for re-election.

Sanchez contends the treasurer’s office provides a vital checks-and-balances function on county spending, and that it would be a mistake to phase it out, even though he concedes it has been “emasculated” by Commissioners Court in recent years and is understaffed because of a hiring freeze.

Sanchez hopes to reclaim the office’s past role in overseeing county investments, an idea with added momentum due to the legal problems of the current chief financial officer. To that end Sanchez completed a required investment education course to be certified as a county investment officer under the Texas Public Funds Investment Act.

I have no idea what it is that the Chron sees in Sanchez – other than the color of his eyes, of course – but they must see something, since they endorsed him in 2006, too. It would be nice to know just exactly how Sanchez provides that vital check and balance function. Does he even show up at Commissioners Court meetings? Just one concrete example of something he’s done that would be reasonably considered a check or balance on the Court, that’s all I ask. As for the overseeing county investments, at least that answers my question about what steps he’s taken to do that, but it still doesn’t explain what took him so long. Surely that wasn’t a four-year course. If that’s such a fine idea, why didn’t he do it right after he took office?

A goofy endorsement for County Treasurer is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. A misguided endorsement for the SBOE is much more serious.

Republican Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat, are competing to succeed Dunbar in representing the SBOE’s District 10, which includes Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Milam, Waller, Washington and Williamson counties, as well as parts of Brazoria, Fort Bend and Travis counties.

Both are calm, measured, reasonable and actually interested in advancing Texas public education and not hobbling it to suit a political agenda.

[…]

If Farney wins — given that the district was drawn to maximize Republican strength, that’s a strong possibility — her diplomatic and political skills will be tested almost from the first day. She can help move the board past the ideological fog in which it is now hopelessly lost.

We think Farney is up to that job, and that’s why we recommend her.

That’s a lovely thought if Farney really were a moderate, but there’s considerable evidence that she’s not. Why take the chance when there’s a known quantity who will do what they say they want? It makes no sense. At least the Statesman got the other race right, endorsing Rebecca Bell-Metereau, but there’s no reason for them not to have nailed them both.

It isn’t just about ducking debates

All you need to know about Marsha Farney, the Republican candidate in SBOE 10, and the kind of race she’s running is right here:

Farney, a former school teacher and high school counselor, has not responded to phone calls or e-mails since opening her campaign last winter. She agreed only to respond to written questions.

That’s from an overview of the race in the Chron. Farney won’t debate and won’t talk to the press in any substantive way. You have to wonder what it is she’s afraid she might say if she’s forced to speak in a setting that isn’t completely controlled. By way of contrast, note that Farney’s opponent Judy Jennings has no such fears.

Fear of debating is contagious

From the inbox:

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Democratic nominee for State Board of Education District 5, and Judy Jennings, Democratic SBOE nominee in District 10, criticized their Republican opponents and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas today, after the RPT Chairman urged the two Republican nominees for those offices to skip a debate which would enable voters to hear from all the candidates in the two races.

The Democrats also challenged the Republican nominees for the two State Board slots to either admit that they begged the Republican Party to provide them an excuse to skip the debate, or to ignore their partisan Republican boss and face their Democratic opponents at the event.

The League of Women Voters-sponsored debates will be held September 28 in Austin, and televised by debate partner KLRU-TV. The debates will be moderated by Evan Smith, a respected journalist who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Texas Tribune and host of “Texas Monthly Talks,” a news program on KLRU-TV.

“It is painfully obvious that the two Republicans running for State Board of Education are worried that the Democratic nominees would trounce them in a fair fight, so they asked their state Party Chairman to give them any flimsy excuse not to participate,” said Harold Cook, a spokesman for Democrats Bell-Metereau and Jennings.

“Republican nominees for SBOE Marsha Farney and Ken Mercer have a lot of questions to answer, and they should come out of hiding and answer them. Are they going to participate in a fair debate, moderated by a respected non-partisan journalist, or are they going to follow the orders of their partisan boss? Texans are tired of the State Board of Education being Republicans’ political football, in which the school children of Texas get kicked around – this is supposed to be about quality public education, not political gamesmanship,” Cook said.

Both the Democrats have notified the League of Women Voters that they will participate in the League’s debate, and cautioned their opponents not to duck voters by failing to participate.

“I am honored to participate in the debate and to share my views with voters on how the State Board of Education can do much better for Texas school children. If my opponent respects the voters whose support she seeks, she will accept the offer to participate in this debate as well,” said Judy Jennings.

Jennings noted that this isn’t the first time her hyper-partisan opponent Marsha Farney has run for cover. Farney refused to respond to repeated attempts by reporters to contact her, after she was caught by the Austin American-Statesman characterizing Democrats in Texas as “America-bashing Democrats” at a Tea Party rally recently.

Both Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau have often decried the partisanship displayed by the incumbent Republican members of the Board.

“I’m pleased to accept the opportunity to let voters know my priorities if they elect me to the SBOE, and I’m equally pleased about the chance to inform voters of what my opponent has already done as an SBOE member,” said Rebecca Bell-Metereau. “I urge him to participate in the debate, because he has some explaining to do regarding his priorities while in office,” she said.

The dispute started yesterday, after Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri released a statement urging both of the Republican nominees to skip the debate, claiming that the Austin Chapter of the League of Women Voters wouldn’t be fair, despite the fact that the organization has hosted such forums for years without complaint. For this event, the League has partnered with Austin PBS affiliate KLRU to televise the debates, and had arranged for Evan Smith to moderate.

From Rick Perry to Greg Abbott to Farney and Mercer and who knows who else. Are there any Republicans out there that aren’t afraid to engage in a debate this year?

Fundraising: SBOE

Really only two races of interest here, SBOE 5 and SBOE 10. Let’s take a look.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458837&form=COH

Totals From Report For Rebecca L. Bell-Metereau
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,790.51
Total Political Contributions: $69,779.06
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $79.17
Total Expenditures: $29,172.85
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $170.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $43,076.61
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=457461&form=COH

Totals From Report For Kenneth B. Mercer
Filed on: July 14 2010
Covering the Period February 21, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $535.00
Total Political Contributions: $6,675.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $45.87
Total Expenditures: $24,969.83
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $1,720.77
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Not a bad haul at all for Bell-Metereau. SBOE districts are enormous, twice the size of State Senate districts, so that money will only go so far, but in context, it’s quite impressive. Mercer presumably had a few bucks lying around from his previous campaign, and I daresay he’ll depend more on the partisan lean of this district to win rather than any actual campaigning. But if he does plan to run a race, he’ll need to find the money for it first.

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458836&form=COH

Totals From Report For Judith A. Jennings
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period January 01, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $8,876.61
Total Political Contributions: $54,600.81
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $40.29
Total Expenditures: $26,214.86
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $150.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $36,406.78
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/php/summary.php?rn=458786&form=COH

Totals From Report For Marsha L. Farney
Filed on: July 15 2010
Covering the Period April 04, 2010 Through June 30, 2010

Total Unitemized Contributions: $0.00
Total Political Contributions: $17,975.00
Total Unitemized Expenditures: $10.75
Total Expenditures: $101,875.04
Total Unitemized Pledges (Schedule B1 or B2) $0.00
Total Contributions Maintained As Of The Last Day Of The Reporting Period $4,049.86
Total Principal Amount Of All Outstanding Loans As Of The Last Day of the Reporting Period $0.00
Total Unitemized Loans: $0.00

Jennings has another decent Democratic haul. Note that Farney’s totals only cover three months while Jennings’ span six; this is because Farney was in a primary runoff that she won in April. However, if you add her contributions raised in the previous three periods to this, she collected $44,276 for the six months, meaning that Jennings still out-raised her.

You may also notice the large sum Farney reported spending in this period. In fact, she spent an equal or greater amount in the two prior periods as well, and going back to the start of the year has dropped nearly $400K on this race. Almost all of that is reported on the Schedule G form, which is for “Political Contibutions Made From Personal Funds”. The disclaimer on each item is “Reimbursement for political contributions intended”. In short, she’s loaned herself all this money but hopes to get future contributors to pay it back. It’s still money spent, but if you look at her most recent form, the vast majority of these expenditures were made in April; in other words, they were runoff expenses, and thus aimed at a limited audience. If she’s spent that much so far to get nominated, it stands to reason she’ll spend at least as much to get elected, and while as I’ve said there’s a difference between raising money and spending it, that will still be of great use to her. That said, Jennings clearly has the advantage in the breadth of her campaign.

There is a third race that we’re all watching for the SBOE, of course, and that’s Michael Soto’s race in SBOE 3. Here’s Soto’s report – he raised $11K and has about $8K on hand. I didn’t add his report in like the others because he’s running in a strong D district – it’s about ten points more Democratic than SBOE 5 is Republican – and as such, I didn’t even bother to look up his opponent’s name. But here it is for your perusal nonetheless.

Beware the false moderates

Marsha Farney, the Republican running to succeed super wingnut Cynthia Dunbar in SBOE 10, was considered the more moderate candidate in the GOP primary runoff for that nomination. When compared to Dunbar, or to her hand-picked successor, Brian Russell, Farney clearly came across as the more sensible and less crazy choice. But as Martha keeps reminding us, that doesn’t actually make her a moderate. Let’s face it, being less crazy than Cynthia Dunbar isn’t a high bar to clear. The thing to remember is that there really is a sensible, moderate candidate running in SBOE 10, Democrat Judy Jennings. We have a chance to substantially improve the SBOE. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.

We’ve done well, but we can still do better

The defeat of wingnut candidate Brian Russell, who was backed by departing SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar to succeed her, in the GOP runoff this week is unquestionably good news that will help de-loonify that dysfunctional body. I’m as glad as anyone to see Marsha Farney be the GOP nominee in that race. But let’s be clear that while Farney is a step up from Dunbar and Russell, we shouldn’t expect too much from her.

Farney, of Georgetown, now faces a strong challenge from Austin Democrat Judy Jennings in November.

The two candidates seem strangely similar at first glance: women with doctorates in education whose children attended public schools.

Both also discuss the need for board members to respect teachers as they adopt curriculum standards and textbooks.

They could, however, land on very different sides of the ideological divide that has recently defined the 15-member board. It is sharply split between a tightly knit conservative bloc and a more moderate — and less predictable — group.

Jennings said she was the “only candidate who has consistently advocated for taking the politics out of the State Board of Education, out of the curriculum and the textbook approval process.”

[…]

Farney has resisted others’ efforts to assign her a label and said she will be a predominantly conservative voice who aligns herself with the people of her district rather than a board faction.

Jennings’ consultant, however, said Farney tacked far to the right in the runoff as she tried to out-conservative Russell, the favorite of incumbent Cynthia Dunbar and other conservatives on the board.

“That does not inspire confidence in me that she is going to get on the board and stand up to the bloc of zealots,” said consultant Alfred Stanley . “People cannot assume and project upon Marsha Farney what they want to see.”

The Texas Freedom Network, while expressing its happiness at Russell’s defeat, remains wary of Farney.

Farney’s campaign hardly made her look like a moderate. She trumpeted her anti-abortion views as well as her opposition to same-sex marriage — two issues that have nothing to do with the state board. Of course, the religious right took control of the state board over the years by running vicious election campaigns attacking opponents for allegedly wanting to teach students about masturbation and gay sex, distribute condoms and other contraception to kids, promote abortion and other nonsense. So perhaps Farney’s strategy was to inoculate herself against similar attacks and reassure social conservatives that she was a safe vote. In any case, it’s hard to know at this point whether she will align with the board’s far-right faction.

It was Rebecca Osborne, who finished third in the March race, who positioned herself as the moderate choice. Now that Farney has to run against a Democrat in a district that’s mighty purple in November – in 2008, Barack Obama got 48.4% of the vote in SBOE10, and in 2006, Bill Moody got 49.8% – she may try to do the same. If so, that’s all to the good. The difference, of course, is that with Judy Jennings, you’ve got someone who doesn’t have to pivot to present herself as moderate and sensible. Farney’s a better choice than Russell, but Jennings is better than Farney. Why settle for less?