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Mike Rawlings

Dallas gets in the fight against SB4

Good for them.

Mike Rawlings

Dallas is joining some other Texas cities, including Austin and San Antonio, in taking on the state’s so-called “sanctuary city” law.

Mayor Mike Rawlings made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, calling SB4 “unconstitutional” and a law that “greatly infringes on the city’s ability to protect” the public. According to Rawlings, the city attorney has “serious constitutional concerns” with the new measure, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

Rawlings said after Wednesday’s council meeting that he had already spoken with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor about potential litigation.

“I told them both this was a serious issue,” Rawlings said.

A San Antonio federal district court announced Wednesday it would consolidate the lawsuits filed by all of the cities against the bill and designate the city of El Cenizo as the lead plaintiff. A hearing in that case is set for June 26.

[…]

The Dallas city code allows the city attorney to initiate litigation without the council’s approval. Rawlings made his announcement moments after the City Council met with City Attorney Larry Casto behind closed doors.

Rawlings said he wanted to make sure the council was aligned before Dallas joined the fray. He said Wednesday that a majority of the council agreed with Casto’s recommendation to take on the state.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” he said. “We live by the national laws, and now the question is who’s boss in all this. And this is an unfunded mandate. They’re telling us how our police officers should spend their time and not giving us any money to do that.”

Add yet another city to the list. Dallas may have joined in without it being clear whether they’d be on their own or as part of an existing lawsuit, but that matter appears to have been cleared up for them.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia Wednesday ordered that lawsuits challenging Senate Bill 4, which limits local law enforcement policies on immigration, by San Antonio, the border town of El Cenizo and El Paso County be joined in one large case.

Garcia denied a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to move those suits to Austin and combine them with a preemptive suit the state filed to have the law declared constitutional.

That also addresses the motion filed by Ken Paxton to combine all the lawsuits with the one he filed. It’s not clear to me why the San Antonio court responded to that and not the Austin court, but I assume the judges have their reasons. In any event, whether one lawsuit or many, the more the merrier. And as far as Houston goes, there may be some action later this month. The Trib has more.

DCCC says it will aim for three Texas Congressional seats

We’ll see what this means in practice.

The House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced Monday morning that the party intends to target two longtime GOP incumbents that, until recently, have long been considered locks for re-election: U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston.

The two races are in addition to the committee’s targeting of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, who represents Texas’ 23rd District, a perennial target which includes much of the state’s border communities.

[…]

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried all three districts in November, falling just short of an outright majority in each place, according to a DCCC analysis of election records. In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the same districts in 2012.

While many political observers say Clinton’s performance was likely a one-time phenomenon in the Sessions and Culberson districts, it could serve as a warning sign to Republican incumbents as split-ticket voting is a diminishing habit.

Culberson’s district saw the most dramatic shift: Romney carried the seat with 60 percent of the vote. Four years later, Trump drew 47 percent support, according to the DCCC.

[…]

Democrats on Capitol Hill say President Trump’s performance in Texas against Clinton is why they are concentrating on a state they mostly ignored in the last several cycles, save for Hurd’s district. Trump’s 9-point win over Clinton in Texas was the narrowest for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years.

Democrats further argue that Trump underperformed in Texas’ urban areas, particularly in Dallas and Harris Counties. At least one Democratic operative close to leadership who was not authorized to speak on the record called the president a potential “albatross around their neck.”

Multiple interviews with House Democratic sources have yet to scare up any possible recruits in the two districts.

“It’s more of a, ‘Where can we go and create opportunities?'” said Moses Mercado, a plugged-in Washington lobbyist with Texas roots.

See here for some background. There’s no doubt that Trump underperformed in urban areas like Houston and Dallas. Further, the evidence I have so far suggests that the underlying partisan mix shifted in Democrats’ favor at least in CD07 and likely CD32; I have not had a chance to look at any part of CD23 yet. CDs 07 and 32 are still reliably Republican, but they are not overwhelmingly so. If 2018 winds up being a strong Democratic year, they’re in the ballpark. Even if not, if the partisan ground shifts by as much between 2016 and 2020 as it did between 2012 and 2016, then these two become genuine swing districts. Just in time for the next round of redistricting, to be sure, but still. It makes sense to pay attention to them, and there’s no reason not to start now.

For all the time I’ve spent cautioning about Presidential numbers versus judicial race numbers in gauging legislative districts, I am intrigued by the potential here. There were large numbers of Republicans in CD07 and CD32 who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and a few more who voted for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or some other minor candidate instead of Trump. Surely some of these people, even as they generally voted Republican otherwise, will be open to the argument that in this election, if they still oppose Trump and want to do something to stop him, they need to vote against the members of Congress who are enabling him. I don’t know how many of these crossover voters might be willing to consider that – whatever the number is today, it may well be very different next fall – but we have some time to identify them and to figure out the best way to present that argument to them. If the DCCC really is serious about this, one way they can show it is to do a deep analytics dive into the precinct-level data and figure out who their target audience is. The hard part will be coming up with a message that is persuasive to them without alienating core Democrats, who are not going to be very tolerant about appeals to centrism or bipartisanship. A simple motto of “oppose Trump by opposing this Congressman who stand with him” is probably best.

As for finding candidates, we already have one in CD07, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people interested in CD23, as it is perennially competitive. As for CD32, again I’m sure there will be plenty of people who might want to run, but let me put in a good word for Allen Vaught, Army Reserve captain in Iraq and former State Rep from Dallas. I have no idea if he might be interested, but I do know he’d be a good candidate. D Magazine suggests current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who would also be a fine choice. Let the recruiting begin!

One more shot at killing the high speed rail line

Never forget that the tricksiest maneuvers in the legislative handbook come in the budget.

Texas’ prospects of having the first high-speed train line in the nation hinge on two sentences in a proposed state budget that lawmakers in the House and Senate must hash out before the end of the month.

The Senate’s budget would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from spending any resources overseeing or regulating a privately funded attempt to connect Dallas and Houston with a bullet train.

Company officials say that will effectively kill the project because Texas Central Railway needs the state Transportation Department’s knowledge and oversight for key aspects of the project, even though it’s not seeking state funds for construction.

It was unclear Tuesday which senator on the conference committee hashing out both chambers’ budgets added the lines affecting high-speed rail projects. State, local and Texas Central officials described the addition as a backdoor attempt to mandate policy outside of public view.

“This was something that came in the dark of night and we just haven’t had a public discussion on it yet,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a major supporter of the project.

Texas Central chairman and CEO Richard Lawless said the addition of the language undercuts lawmakers’ consistent portrayal of Texas as a business-friendly state whose officials don’t hamstring private entities.

“It sends an incredibly bad signal to any private company that wants to do business in Texas,” Lawless said. “It says our process is unpredictable and it isn’t transparent.”

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairs the group of senators who will work with House counterparts to reconcile both chambers’ bills. She could not be reached late Tuesday. That conference committee of lawmakers is focused on major differences on how best to provide tax cuts. It remains unclear whether or how they’ll address the Senate’s proposed language on high-speed rail projects.

Freshman Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, isn’t on the conference committee but said he’s been talking to Nelson and other members about striking the language from the bill.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Huffines said.

As are the rail opponents, who as we know have been unable to get a bill passed to do what they want. At least this is now out in the open, so everyone knows what they’d be voting on. If this particular rider makes it through the conference committee process, it’s as good as in. If not, then that’s likely to be all she wrote. I’d say at this point that the odds slightly favor it not being part of the budget, but we won’t know for sure till we see the final product.

On a side note, Southwest Airlines reiterated their position that they haven’t taken a position on Texas Central Railway.

In fact, according to the Chronicle’s Erin Mulvaney, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Wednesday the Dallas-based airline has not yet taken a stance on the high-speed rail line.

“We just haven’t taken a position,” Kelly said during a question-and-answer session in Houston. “I think we’ve been careful to say there are three options, for, against or neutral. We haven’t picked. We’ve got other things we are focused on, to be blunt, which probably sheds some light on my opinion.”

Kelly’s statement is similar to others the company has made since the rural opposition became more vocal.

Kelly said that during the dust-up in the 90s, the plan to build a rail required government subsidies. Kelly said private developers have the freedom to build whatever they can.

“If it’s privately funded venture, I haven’t spent any time thinking about that,” he said.

Nothing to add to that, just noting it for the record.

Dallas writes a letter to the Lege about Lyft and Uber

They would like for the Lege to not overrule them on regulating these transportation network companies.

Uber

Dallas city leaders, writing to House Speaker Joe Straus, have underlined their opposition to a bill that would create statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft.

Mayor Mike Rawlings and two City Council members wrote Tuesday in a letter to Straus and Dallas-area state lawmakers that the city still has concerns about the legislation, which would effectively wipe out its lengthy process to craft car-for-hire regulations.

“We are very concerned that [the bill] will erode the fair and level playing field we believe we have achieved in Dallas by subjecting … providers – all of which are more similar than different – to vastly different levels of regulation,” the trio wrote.

Lyft

The bill offered by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, has been closely watched this session, especially since huge sums of money have been poured into lobbying efforts on both sides of the debate.

[…]

Dallas’ new car-for-hire rules, which go into effect Thursday, actually represented a compromise between Uber, Lyft, limo drivers and independent cab companies.

Officials said a key to that agreement was applying the same basic set of rules to all the different car-for-hire services. That’s different from the proposed legislation, which would create new rules just for the “transportation network companies.”

“TNCs are far more similar to than they are different from traditional taxis and limos,” Rawlings wrote in the letter, co-authored by City Council members Vonciel Jones Hill and Sandy Greyson.

See here, here, and here for the background, and the link above for the letter. Rep. Paddie has said he’s going to continue to tweak his bill, so perhaps this letter can help guide him. The Dallas folks do say that they like and support the insurance provisions in the bill, as do I, so there’s at least the basis for a compromise of some kind. I’m sure the Houston Mayoral candidates will weigh in on this as well, since this is an important issue that would directly affect Houston. Right? (Spoiler: No. It’s potholes and pensions all the way down.)

The Mayors opine for high speed rail

They pen an editorial in its favor.

We are proud to be mayors of three of the largest and fastest-growing cities in America. Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston have weathered the recent economic downturn and are now the engines powering our state’s tremendous job growth. While we celebrate the individual successes of our respective cities, we also recognize how important Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are to each other.

With the bounty of economic growth comes the challenge of thousands of new people relocating to our cities, as well as increased commerce in the form of trucks on our highways. Moreover, many Texans are surprised to learn that over 50,000 “super-commuters” travel between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston more than once a week. Additionally, millions of our respective residents have friends and family separated by the 240-mile stretch of Interstate 45. These factors create congestion and place a massive and growing strain on our infrastructure.

[…]

One of the reasons high-speed rail projects in the United States have been unsuccessful thus far is that they have relied solely on government funding for completion. We hope that Texas Central Railway can succeed because its approach to this project is unique. For the first time, we are seeing a market-driven approach to high-speed rail led by private investment. We applaud the way in which Texas Central brought a much-needed project, an innovative approach and its checkbook to Texas.

Countries across Europe and Asia have enjoyed high-speed rail service for decades, but the United States is not yet home to the kind of rail line proposed by Texas Central. As Texans, we take great pride in blazing a path for the rest of the country to follow. This effort will do just that.

High-speed rail will provide a travel alternative that will help alleviate congestion on I-45, create thousands of quality jobs and may help Texas travelers reduce their carbon footprint. We look forward to the day when the residents of Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth can travel on a high-speed rail between our two metropolitan areas in fewer than 90 minutes.

See here for the background. The same op-ed ran in the Chron on Monday as well. I would quibble with the wording of that first sentence in the third from last paragraph – as with anything related to government funding, politics is always the bigger issue than the funding itself. Be that as it may, as the TCR folks will readily tell you, the Houston-Dallas corridor is uniquely well-suited for their project – two huge urban centers a workable distance apart, separated by a lot of flat and empty land with existing freight rail rights of way to leverage. I absolutely hope TCR will be a big success that will serve as a catalyst for other rail projects, beginning with the completion of the Texas Triangle, with a Houston-Austin connection and extensions to Galveston, Oklahoma City, and Laredo/Monterrey, but I don’t know that I’d expect subsequent projects to follow the same business model. It’s entirely reasonable to me that some greater form of government involvement, perhaps a public-private partnership, may be needed for future lines. Or maybe this will be so successful it will demonstrate that somewhat less optimal alignments can still make money. It’s way too early to tell.

Anyway. Since the op-ed mentioned supercommuters, I thought I’d refer back to this blog post about them, because we have quite a few in Texas. While the TCR line will undoubtedly make life easier for these hardy folks, I don’t think that will directly affect traffic much – I figure the bi-metro types either fly or do their driving on weekends and other non-prime times. Getting them off the road will still be a big win environmentally, of course. There’s just a lot to like about this.

The Mayors love high speed rail

As well they should.

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The endorsements come as the Federal Railroad Commission is “30 to 60 days” away from formally launching an environmental impact study of the project, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central Railway. The study, which will be funded by Texas Central Railway, is a critical step on the project’s path to drawing approval from federal regulators.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. As you know, I’ve been following – and a fan of – this project for some time. What’s especially exciting about this is the news that Texas Central Railway will be getting the EIS process started soon, because from there is where it begins to get real. I had the opportunity along with a couple of my blogging colleagues to meet with Eckels and other TCR folks and ask them some questions about the project; PDiddie wrote up some notes from the meeting. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that you should check out TCR’s latest presentation about the state of their business, and then go look at Eckels’ presentation at a recent HGAC brown bag lunch, which is on YouTube. It’s an exciting time. Dallas Transportation and Texas Leftist have more.

A bumpy ride for an equality resolution in Dallas

The saga begins when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings unenthusiastically agreed to putting a resolution in support of marriage equality on the Dallas City Council agenda.

On the right side of history

After weeks of sidestepping the question, Mayor Mike Rawlings says he will vote next month in favor of a Dallas City Council resolution supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“I will vote for this resolution as written,” he told me during a conversation last week. “This is an important issue, and I did not want to turn this into a sound bite.”

The resolution was proposed for council consideration last month by council member Scott Griggs, who said he has enough votes to get it passed.

Rawlings didn’t exactly put on a poker face to conceal his irritation at the timing. Griggs’ announcement came less than two weeks before the May 11 elections, in which Griggs was running against fellow council member Delia Jasso for the same seat because of a redrawing of district boundaries.

Jasso was among those who supported the amendment, but Rawlings suggested that Griggs — who ultimately won the race — wanted to shore up support among gay and lesbian residents in Oak Cliff.

“To do this for what seem to be political reasons is not good judgment,” Rawlings said earlier this month. He characterized what he viewed as a symbolic debate on a divisive constitutional issue as a “misuse of the council’s time.”

Griggs politely responded that he felt the issue was “timely” and “relevant” and that he looks forward to the resolution’s passage.

Now, with council elections in the rearview mirror, Rawlings says he has decided to join the council majority supporting the measure.

But that was before one of the Council members that supported the resolution flip-flopped on bringing it to a Council vote.

Lame-duck Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso, defeated in the May 11 election, has abruptly withdrawn her support for an LGBT equality resolution, meaning Mayor Mike Rawlings is no longer required to place the resolution on the council agenda.

According to an email from the city secretary to council members on Tuesday, Jasso has pulled her signature from a memo in support of the equality resolution that she signed in April. Jasso was one of five council members who signed the memo, the required number to force Rawlings to place the resolution on the agenda under the city charter.

The Morning News explains why that matters.

For Griggs, getting five signatures on his marriage equality and anti-discrimination resolution was crucial. Under the city charter, only the mayor or city manager can singly place items on a voting agenda. But five council members together have the power to force a vote.

Mayor Mike Rawlings has strongly opposed having the council take up the debate — not because he’s against gay marriage but because he doesn’t want the council to spend its time on politically charged issues over which it has no control.

[…]

Rawlings has said that if the resolution did make it to a council vote, he would support it. But now that Griggs’ resolution lacks the needed five votes, the mayor has no intention of placing it on an upcoming agenda, said his chief of staff, Paula Blackmon.

“The mayor has continually stated he believes this is out of the realm of the City Council and does not plan to keep it on the agenda,” Blackmon said.

That throws the plan for a council vote into doubt — at least for now.

But in an interview with the Dallas Voice, a publication serving the city’s gay community, Griggs said he believed the resolution could still move forward.

“I think we’ve got the votes,” he said.

If the current council is unable to take up the issue, it’s not clear whether the new council, which will be seated in June, will agree to support — or even debate — gay marriage.

In addition to Hunt and, until her about-face, Jasso, those who supported Griggs’ resolution were Pauline Medrano and Monica Alonzo.

Hunt is leaving the council, but both candidates vying to replace her, Bobby Abtahi and Philip Kingston, support the resolution. Adam Medrano, who succeeds his aunt, Pauline Medrano, is also expected to be supportive. Alonzo was re-elected.

It’s not clear where council member-elect Jennifer Staubach Gates stands on the issue. Lee Kleinman, who is succeeding council member Linda Koop, said he agrees with the mayor that the issue is not one the City Council should take up.

The story isn’t clear on this, and I don’t know Dallas city politics, but my interpretation is that while Griggs may have five supporters among the new Council members to force a vote again, he may or may not have the eight votes needed to get it passed. Resolutions like these don’t carry any weight and thus don’t have any practical effect like an anti-discrimination ordinance or domestic partner benefits (even if you can’t call them that), but they do matter, as an expression of one’s values. The more clear you can make what the real consensus, mainstream position is, the better. It’s clear now that it would have been better for Mayor Rawlings to have agreed to do this sooner rather than later, when it also might have helped provide some support for pro-equality measures in the Legislature. I have no idea what happens from here, but I wish CM Griggs the best of luck in picking up the pieces and trying again.