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Plano

Where the anti-vaxxers are

A lot of them are right here.

Four Texas cities, including Houston, rank among the 15 metropolitan “hotspots” of vaccine exemptions, more than any other state, according to a new study.

The study found Austin, Fort Worth and Plano also are among the nation’s cities with the highest number of kindergartners not getting vaccinated for non-medical reasons. Since 2009, the proportion of children opting out of such recommended vaccines increased in Texas and 11 other states, the study showed.

“There are some scary trends we were able to identify,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a Houston vaccine scientist and one of the study authors. “They’re a sign that anti-vaccine groups, such as Texans for Vaccine Choice, have been very successful at lobbying efforts – both of the Texas legislature and through social media and other advocacy — to convince parents not to vaccinate their kids.”

[…]

The overall number of people invoking non-medical exemptions isn’t yet high enough to threaten herd immunity, the idea that vaccination of most of the population provides protection for those individuals without immunity to a contagious disease. But public health officials fear clusters of “anti-vaxxers” could leave some children vulnerable.

Texas’ increasing exemptions have been well documented. Though the number is still small, they have spiked from less than 3,000 in 2003 to more than 45,000 of the state’s roughly 5.5 million schoolchildren today, a 19-fold increase.

Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital said he undertook the study because of the Texas increase. He said wanted to look at whether it was a phenomenon unique to the state or mirrored elsewhere. National vaccination rates haven’t changed much in recent years.

You can see the study here. Dr. Hotez is correct to identify the political problem as being a key aspect to this. One clear pathway to getting more kids vaccinated is to take away or at least tighten up the so-called “conscience” objections to vaccines. If the law says you have to vaccinate your kids, the odds are pretty good that you will. But first you have to pass such a law, and right now we have a legislature that’s not inclined to do that.

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

How the Legislature is raising your property taxes

RG Ratcliffe explains it all to you:

Just how much money does the increased appraisal on property in your school district and elsewhere save the state budget writers? The projection is $1.5 billion for the next two-year budget. And where does this money go? In its initial budget, the Senate plans to use the savings on other state expenditures. The Straus starting-point budget includes giving the money to the public schools, but only if a school finance reform passes. But even if the $1.5 billion is put back into the school system, the state’s share of funding the public schools will decline to 39 percent by 2019 without a major boost in state spending.

That figure does not include the $3.8 billion that the state will recapture from property-wealthy school districts over the next two years to redistribute to low-wealth school districts. (That amount is about equal to what the state collected in oil-and-gas severance taxes in the current two-year state budget, or to the taxes collected on alcohol and tobacco combined, or about twice the tax motorists paid to fill the tanks of their cars and trucks.)

In the meantime, a program that was meant to keep school districts from losing money because of 2006 property tax cuts is set to expire. A decade ago, state legislators wanted to make certain that no school district had its budget cut because of state-mandated tax cuts, so they set up a program called Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction. Originally, they intended the program to phase out as property values rose. But faced with a budget crunch in 2011, the Legislature put an expiration date on the program: September 1, 2017. When the program expires, it will leave 175 school districts faced with having to raise taxes or cut budgets to make up for $225 million in lost state funding. For the 55,000-student Frisco school district near Dallas, that means a $30 million budget cut, while the 100-student Webb Consolidated on the border will lose $4.3 million in state funding – 66 percent of its total operating budget. Losing the state tax-relief funding is a hardship for the districts; for the state’s budget writers, it’s just another $225 million they won’t have to finance.

“Even though the state is working to say, ‘We want to provide property tax relief,’ they benefit from higher tax rates and higher tax efforts made by the locals,” Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, told me.

[…]

Plano ISD last year sent Governor Greg Abbott a letter explaining, how as a property-wealthy district, rising values did not increase funding for local schools even though local property owners were paying higher taxes. In the 2015-16 school year, the PISD collected $470 million from local taxpayers, sent $52.6 million to the state for redistribution, and kept $417.6 million to pay for local education. If the district did not change its tax rate, rising values would push tax collections up by almost $40 million, but the state would now take an additional $43.6 million in recapture and leave the district with $5 million less to pay for schools.

The district could cut the tax rate so that total tax collections stayed the same, but the formulas would still take an additional $25.6 million because of rising property values and leave Plano with $392 million to run its schools—a $25.6 million cut from the previous year.

The other idea was to give taxpayers some relief by adopting a $10,000 local option homestead exemption while leaving the tax rate unchanged. But even this proved problematic for PISD: the district would raise another $30.2 million in total property tax collections and boost the transfer of funds to the state by $43.6 million, all while leaving the district with $13.4 million less to pay for schools.

No matter how it was calculated, Plano taxpayers paid more, the state reaped cash that lawmakers could use to reduce how much they had to spend on public education, and the schoolchildren of Plano were left with less money to pay for their education.

Read the whole thing. And as RG says, when you hear Greg Abbott say that he wants to cut the business franchise tax even more, understand that he’s really saying he wants to put a bigger share of the burden of paying for schools on you.

Plano for high speed rail

More support for Texas Central.

The Plano City Council has lent it support to a 240-mile high-speed rail project that would run from Dallas to Houston.

The council voted 7-1 Monday night to adopt a resolution supporting the project, with Council member Tom Harrison the lone dissenter. City spokesman, Steve Stoler, said the council supported the resolution because it believes the project will help alleviate traffic in certain areas, like along Interstate 45, and boost the regional economy.

David Arbuckle, who represents Texas Central, the private company developing the rail line, spoke to the council Monday night saying that although the rail line wouldn’t extend into Collin County, it is still important for residents there.

“Plano residents could get on DART, go into downtown Dallas and be in Houston in about two hours,” Arbuckle said.

Plano currently has one DART station downtown, at 15th Street. There are also two additional proposed DART stations next to the recently approved Cotton belt line.

Stoler said Plano is one of several cities passing resolutions in support of the project. The North Texas’ Regional Transportation Council also agreed earlier this year to support the project.

This is not a surprise. Texas Central has received strong support from the urban metro areas at each end of its proposed line. The opposition is primarily from people in between. The open question is what the legislators along I-35 and points west will do when the inevitable bill stripping TCR of any authority to use eminent domain comes up for a vote.

How many crimes does your police department solve?

Fewer than you think, unfortunately.

go_to_jail

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That’s the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don’t even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That’s what police call “clearing” a crime; the “clearance rate” is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it’s far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford says police have shifted priorities over the decades.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, no one thought that the police should be held responsible for how much crime there was,” Wellford says. Back then, he adds, police focused on calls for service and solving crimes.

In more recent years, he says, police have been pushed to focus more on prevention, which has taken precedence over solving crimes — especially non-violent offenses.

In short, the falling crime rate we’ve enjoyed may come at a cost: police indifference when you report your stereo was stolen.

I admit, that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I would have thought that with less crime, police departments would be more able to solve the crimes that were committed, since there would be less of a workload. I’m not a criminologist and I haven’t read any research on this, but my initial reaction here is to be a little skeptical. In what ways are police departments focused on crime prevention, and what evidence is there that those methods are working? My gut says that police departments these days – really, for the past thirty or so years – have concentrated on drug-related crimes. While I would agree that there’s some ancillary prevention benefit in that, we all know that this comes with a variety of costs. Maybe the national effort to decriminalize some drug offenses will have the benefit of allowing police departments to once again focus on solving the crimes that really do victimize the public.

The article comes with a utility to look up the crime clearance rates in your own community. Here’s what it showed for some of Texas’ biggest cities:

All violent crime Homicide Property crime City 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 ====================================================================== Houston 46% 39% 37% 90% 70% 76% 13% 12% 11% Abilene 47% 49% 64% 80% 100% 100% 25% 22% 20% Amarillo 40% 45% 48% 60% 100% 44% 18% 19% 22% Austin 49% 49% 57% 93% 87% 100% 12% 12% 13% Beaumont 70% 70% 69% 100% 100% 75% 23% 28% 27% Corpus Christi 54% 53% 45% 67% 63% 100% 20% 23% 19% Dallas 38% 40% 37% 65% 58% 60% 13% 11% 11% El Paso 48% 47% 49% 88% 96% 80% 18% 20% 22% Fort Worth 36% 38% 39% 61% 80% 86% 14% 16% 17% Laredo 80% 80% 79% 64% 88% 100% 20% 24% 28% Lubbock 30% 32% 34% 50% 73% 100% 15% 15% 19% McAllen 56% 66% 38% 50% 100% 0% 20% 22% 16% Midland 66% 68% 59% 100% 75% 40% 22% 25% 27% Plano 54% 51% 47% 80% 100% 100% 22% 22% 19% San Antonio 48% 36% 37% 80% 70% 75% 12% 11% 12% Waco 56% 56% 55% 91% 67% 50% 23% 23% 26%

Note that these are all for the above-named cities’ municipal police departments. I limited myself to cities that I could think of that had a population of at least 100,000. (Galveston, in case you were wondering, has about 48,000 people.) “Violent crime” includes “Murder and non-negligent manslaughter”, which I characterize above as “Homicide”, “Robbery”, and “Aggravated assault”. “Property Crime” includes “Burglary”, “Larceny-theft”, “Motor vehicle theft”, and “Arson”.

Don’t be too mesmerized by the Homicide solve rates for smaller cities. The total annual number for these crimes in cities of, say, 100,000 to 200,000, is often in the single digits. McAllen, for example, had 4 homicides in 2011, one in 2012, and two in 2013. In a few cases, such as Beaumont for 2011 and 2012, the number of murders solved was greater than the number of murders. My guess is that the solved crimes included cold cases, but there was no explanation on the site. I just listed those as 100% to avoid weirdness.

What stands out to me in all this is that generally speaking the smaller cities had much better solve rates for property crimes than the big cities. In Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, the solve rates for property crimes never topped 13%, but in the smaller cities it ranged from 18% to 28%. Fort Worth and Lubbock were the outliers there, on the low end. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it sure is interesting.

What application does this have to the 2015 Mayor’s race? (You knew I was going to get around to that, I’m sure.) Well, in addition to my wish that the candidates will eventually start to talk about public safety in a more comprehensive way, I’d think that a candidate who promised to have his police force concentrate on solving property crimes might be able to sway a voter or two. Lord knows, the Nextdoor discussion list for the greater Heights area spends a lot of time on break-ins and thefts and the like. Given how many of these crimes do go unsolved today, it seems to me there’s some traction to be gained on this issue. Just a thought.

Plano ERO repeal petitions ruled invalid

Wow.

The City of Plano has determined that a recently circulated Equal Rights petition is invalid and will not move forward. Plano’s City Secretary was unable to certify the petition because it failed to meet State and local requirements for validation.

On Dec. 8, 2014, the Plano City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, expanding the city’s policy to prohibit discrimination against the following classes: U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity. The petition called for the city to either repeal that ordinance or submit it to the citizens for a vote.

The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms. The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist.

Texas Election Code requires petitions submitted in cities located in two counties to include a column for the signee’s county of voter registration. Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory. However, none of the petition pages included it.

The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed. The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance.

On Dec. 30, three weeks prior to the deadline for the Equal Rights petition to be turned in, the city of Plano sent an email to the groups organizing the petition drive, including Texas Values, the U.S. Pastor Council and Plano Citizens United, to clarify information. It outlined problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned. The email read, ‘The city is providing information in an attempt to facilitate accuracy in referendum petitions to avoid any potential disputes regarding validity of signatures.’ Links were provided to the city of Plano Charter, Texas Election Code and petition information on the Secretary of State website. The city made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy.

Nonetheless, not a single page of submitted petitions was valid.

Like I said, wow. I have a mighty low opinion of the characters involved in this effort, but even I wouldn’t have expect this. The DMN fills in some details.

If the petitions had been validated, the Plano City Council was scheduled to decide Monday on whether to repeal the ordinance or put it on the May 9 ballot.

Instead, said [Plano City Manager Bruce] Glasscock, the ordinance stands and the council will be briefed on the reasons why the petitions were found to be invalid.

“There are no other options for them,” Glasscock said, referring to organizers of the petition drive.

A referendum petition must be presented within 30 days after an ordinance is approved, according to the Plano City Charter. The Equal Rights Ordinance was approved Dec. 8. The deadline to submit petitions expired Jan. 20.

However, opponents of Houston’s LGBT rights ordinance sued the city after officials said that a petition drive failed to garner enough valid signatures.

Plano officials express confidence in their ability to fight any legal challenge.

“Over half of the petitions had false statements on them,” said Glasscock, referring to what he called an “egregious” misrepresentation of how the ordinance would affect public restrooms.

The petitions stated: “Also under this policy, biological males who declare their ‘gender identity’ as female MAY BE ALLOWED to enter women’s restrooms!”

The ordinance specifically excludes public restrooms, showers, locker rooms and dressing rooms. It states that it is not illegal to “deny the opposite sex access to facilities inside a public accommodation segregated on the basis of sex for privacy.”

By making this false representation, the petition asked residents to repeal an ordinance that didn’t exist, city officials said.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. The bathroom exemption was the reason why groups like the Trans Pride Initiative did not support the ordinance. As the Dallas Voice observed, this was the same gang that did such a stellar job with the Houston repeal petitions, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. I am sure that litigation will follow, but for now, let’s celebrate. KERA, the Scoop Blog, and Unfair Park have more.

The situation in Plano is complicated

I had not realized this.

The nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy group indicated this week it is unlikely to help defend a nondiscrimination ordinance in Plano due to exemptions affecting the transgender community.

The announcement from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign could amount to a costly setback for supporters of the ordinance, as the organization recently poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a similar fight in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

[…]

Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy, told the Observer on Thursday that the organization hasn’t made a final decision about its role if the ordinance appears on the ballot. However, Oakley also made clear that HRC would be reluctant to join the fight due to exemptions including one that appears to bar people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity—a provision which she called “transphobic.”

“The language in Plano is very problematic and in terms of investing a lot of resources in an ordinance that has a lot of problems, it’s difficult to see why that’s necessarily the best use of resources,” Oakley said. “If we had been consulted in the drafting of this bill, we would have withdrawn our support, and given that, it’s hard to justify defending it as valid.”

[…]

Nell Gaither, president of Dallas-based Trans Pride Initiative, has posted blistering attacks on social media saying exemptions in the ordinance amount to bigotry and accusing other LGBT groups of signing off on them.

“This is not a Plano issue. This is a Texas issue, and more,” Gaither wrote recently. “If they get away with the lie that this is an LGBT equality policy it will set a dangerous precedent that will be very difficult to overcome for many, many years.”

I confess, I totally missed this aspect of the Plano equal rights ordinance. My fault for not paying sufficiently close attention to the details and for not having more trans resources in my regular reading list. The Dallas Voice covered Gaither’s criticisms:

Nell Gaither isn’t having it with Plano’s equal rights ordinance.

If anything, the Dallas transgender activist and Trans Pride Initiative president says she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance, passed by the Plano City Council in December, is not just flawed but actually harmful.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21 TPI released a position statement denouncing the ordinance. And the organization did not hold back: “[We are] publishing this statement to express our conviction that the Plano Code of Ordinances Section 2-11, as modified by the so-called ‘Equal Rights Ordinance,’ is detrimental to the trans community and other marginalized persons who may experience discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Among the seven types of exemptions in the ordinance are nonprofit (except for city contractors), religious and educational organizations. Gaither also believes the ordinance contradicts the announcement by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year that Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act protects gender identity and sexual orientation.

Exempting organizations from the ordinance means any complaint filed under Title VII could be disregarded, Gaither said.

“It’s a green light to discriminate with no recourse,” she added.

[…]

Gaither says Plano and its elected officials don’t bear all the blame.

“Plano shut out the trans community because they didn’t understand the issues or the tactics of the conservative religious groups,” Gaither said. “GALA [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas ] has no interest in the trans community so didn’t do the right thing in their communications by insisting that the ordinance actually be an equal rights ordinance. [So] we have a lose/lose situation that is incredibly problematic for the broad community.”

Gaither also chided Equality Texas for accepting an ordinance that doesn’t adequately protect anyone in the LGBT community, especially trans people.

So here we have another object lesson in the need for diversity, and the vital importance of ensuring adequate representation of all stakeholders when undertaking a project like this. I encourage you to read the Trans Pride Initiative’s position paper on the Plano ERO and the specific points of concern it has with it. Their belief is that repealing the ordinance now would lead to a better outcome later. I’m sure some people will disagree with that. I don’t know how I feel about that as a strategic move. But I get where Gaither is coming from, and she totally has a point. Discrimination is still discrimination, and if this law fails to fully address it, indeed if it makes some forms of discrimination easier to get away with, then the bad of this law outweighs the good.

You may recall that this was a similar point of contention in the process that led to Houston’s equal rights ordinance. In the end, it was resolved favorably. It’s truly unfortunate that this didn’t happen in Plano, especially if it was a calculated move.

Although adamant they didn’t sign off on the exemptions, both Equality Texas and GALA North Texas indicated they plan to defend the ordinance if it appears on the ballot.

“While the ordinance is not perfect, it is a fact that it includes protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for LGBT residents and veterans in Plano that did not previously exist,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement to the Observer. “While criticisms expressed by leaders in the transgender community are valid, it is imperative that we work together to ensure that this ordinance is not repealed in the short term and is improved in the long term.”

Jeanne Rubin, a spokeswoman for GALA North Texas, called HRC’s likely decision to sit out the ballot fight disappointing.

“In politics, as much of a bummer as it is, everything is incremental, and I know that’s sort of a dirty word for our community,” said Rubin, who’s also an Equality Texas board member. “If this ordinance goes down, not only will Plano not touch this issue with a 10-foot pole, but no other suburban city out here will, and that doesn’t do L, G, B or T any good.”

Rubin and others said they believe the exemptions were included because officials hoped to head off attacks seen in other cities over transgender protections in public accommodations.

But if that’s the case, the strategy hasn’t worked. Despite the exemptions, opponents have repeatedly and publicly asserted that the ordinance would allow men to enter women’s restrooms and prey on children.

In other words, the same lies and bullshit being spread by the same kind of people who call themselves “Christians” as what we’re seeing here. I don’t know how some of these people can look at themselves in a mirror. The real tragedy here is that if we had passed ordinances like the HERO years ago, we wouldn’t be having these problems now. This Trib story, which provides an overview of the ongoing fights in Houston and Plano, provides this tidbit at the end:

In 2000, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to update its nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual identity. Then-Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said he couldn’t remember facing the kind of opposition council members in Houston and Plano have faced.

“Frankly, I don’t remember any specifics of the debate about it,” Barr said this week. “That speaks to the fact that we passed it without a whole lot of fanfare.”

And to how our politics and our discourse have gotten so debased. Let that be a lesson to us all. Unfair Park has more.

HERO petition repeal trial starts

It could actually be over before it really starts, though I would not expect that.

PetitionsInvalid

For the next three to four weeks, the Harris County Civil Courthouse will be the stage for the trial over Houston’s controversial equal rights ordinance.

If everything works out according to plan, opening statements will begin next Tuesday.

That is, unless Judge Robert Schaffer comes back with a summary judgment ruling that would end the trial before it has started.

That’s what attorneys for the city hope for. One of them is Geoffrey Harrison with the firm Susman Godfrey LLP.

“I think that the clear legal entitlement is that the plaintiffs’ petition failed, that the plaintiffs and their coalition members did not comply with the election code and the City Charter, and so summary judgment throwing out their case is appropriate,” Harrison said.

[…]

During Tuesday’s four-hour hearing, the different sides also discussed the number of potential jurors, among other procedural matters.

Jury selection is set to start on Monday, Jan. 26.

See here for the background. I will be surprised if the city’s motion to dismiss is accepted, mostly because I think you have to give a fair amount of latitude in litigation like this. Which is not to say that the plaintiffs should be given free reign to spew whatever baloney and half-baked conspiracy theories they may have up their sleeves, but I think the bar to clear to proceed is pretty low. That said, I sure as heck don’t envy the people that may get selected for this circus. It’s going to be a long trudge for them.

For whatever the reason, that story and this KPRC story are the only coverage I could find of this. I guess the inauguration and the State of the Union were just too much competition for it. I did find this HuffPo story in which the plaintiffs claim that they did not submit a bunch of forged signatures.

“From what we can tell, they had to engage in a lot of fraud to collect these signatures,” said Kris Banks, an LGBT activist and lawyer who helped organize an independent citizen review of the petitions and the signatures. “I just don’t think they have the support.”

Attorney Andy Taylor, who filed the lawsuit in Harris County court, did not respond to request for comment.

Welch didn’t dispute that some of the signatures didn’t meet the city’s standard, but insisted to HuffPost that his group had gathered enough legitimate signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

That would be Dave Welch, who is also busy plying his trade in Plano. According to the DMN, those petition signatures should be verified one way or the other by the end of the month, and the item could be on Plano City Council’s agenda by February 9. Stay tuned.

Plano equality opponents turn in their petitions

Yesterday was the deadline for the opponents of Plano’s equal rights ordinance to turn in petitions to force a repeal referendum, and the haters of Plano duly did so.

Opponents of Plano’s Equal Rights Ordinance say they’ve met the deadline and collected the necessary signatures to force the Plano City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

The group has collected about 7,000 signatures, far more than the 3,822 signatures needed by today’s deadline.

“We applaud the citizens of Plano who turned out to have their voices heard on this important religious liberty issue,” said Gregg Wooding, a spokesman for the Liberty Institute, a Plano-based non-profit legal organization.

Plano City Secretary Lisa Henderson confirmed today that she received the petitions and now must verify all the signatures.

See here for the background. A couple of things to keep in mind here: One, the initial claim by Houston’s haters was that they had collected over 50,000 signatures, nearly three times the required amount of 17,269. That number later shrank to 31,000 that they claimed to have verified. We know what happened from there. Conventional wisdom says you want to have at least double the number of signatures needed to feel confident that you’ve made the cut. They’re not quite there, so their margin of error is a bit small. The question is how careful their signature gatherers were, and how closely the petitions get scrutinized. I strongly recommend that anyone in the area that wants to get involved get in touch with People in Support of the Equal Rights Policy of Plano TX and/or Plano Citizens for Equality. I hope there is an organized effort to review each and every page and signature like there was in Houston. Regardless, the good guys will need all the help they can get. You feel disappointed by November’s elections? You still want to make a difference? Plano is one place you can, right now and through their municipal elections in May, even if the petition drive winds up falling short, as Council members who supported and opposed this ordinance will be on the ballot regardless. So don’t sit around and wait. Go get involved and make a difference. The Trib, Unfair Park, and the Dallas Voice have more.

The bigger threat than the Plano petitions

This could be a big problem.

RedEquality

Four Republican lawmakers from the Plano area plan to introduce legislation that would bar cities and counties from adopting ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, the Observer has learned. The proposed legislation also threatens to nullify existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in cities that are home to roughly 7.5 million Texans—or more than one-quarter of the state’s population.

The bill comes in response to the Plano City Council’s passage last month of an equal rights ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“There is legislation that’s being worked on,” Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) told a group of pastors who gathered in mid-December at Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church in response to passage of the city’s equal rights ordinance, according to an audio recording obtained by the Observer.

[…]

Texas Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch, whose group is leading efforts to repeal equal rights ordinances in Plano and Houston, told the Observer the legislation would prohibit political subdivisions of the state from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren’t protected under Texas or federal law—neither of which covers LGBT people.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch said. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

As I say, this as yet unfiled bill is a bigger threat than the petitions and the proposed constitutional amendments, since this would only need majority support to pass and would surely be signed into law by Greg “Local control means me in control” Abbott. I suppose we could hope that the business community, which is generally very favorable to municipal NDOs, might apply some pressure in Austin to stop this in its tracks. Given how effective they’ve been at dissuading their Republican buddies from doing other things they don’t like – you know, killing immigration reform, slashing funds for education and infrastructure, that sort of thing – it’s not a strategy I’d want to be dependent on.

Currently, the only state with a law prohibiting cities from enacting LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances is Tennessee. The Tennessee law, passed in 2011, prompted a lawsuit from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, but a state appeals court recently dismissed the case, saying plaintiffs didn’t have standing because they couldn’t show harm.

Shannon Minter, a Texas native who serves as legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he now plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee ban.

Lawmakers in several other states have introduced proposals to ban local nondiscrimination ordinances, but none has passed. Minter said in the last few years anti-LGBT lawmakers have shifted to a religious freedom approach to counter local nondiscrimination ordinances because the strategy is more appealing politically.

“Because the Tennessee-style bill is so punitive toward all localities, I think that it’s so blatantly taking democratic power away from local governments that legislators just don’t have the stomach to do it,” Minter said.

The lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s law was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado law banning local protections based on sexual orientation. Authors of the Tennessee bill attempted to to get around Romer v. Evans by enacting a general prohibition on classes that aren’t covered under state law, rather than specifically targeting LGBT protections. However, Minter believes the law is still unconstitutional.

“Legislatures are not permitted to enact laws that are designed to disadvantage a particular group, and it’s as clear as it could possibly be that the purpose of these laws is to prevent gay and transgender people from gaining local anti-discrimination protections,” he said.

Tennessee lawmakers introduced the legislation in response to a nondiscrimination ordinance in one city, Nashville, and Minter said the Texas proposals broader impact would also make it more vulnerable to legal challenges.

Yes, there’s the courts. One can’t know how that might play out, and even if one felt confident that any such law would be unconstitutional on its face, these things take time and cost money and leave a lot of people in harm’s way in the interim. These are the consequences of not winning enough elections. Keep your state rep on speed dial, you’re going to need to let him or her know how you feel about this. Texas Leftist and Unfair Park have more.

The haters are gathering petitions in Plano

God help us all.

PetitionsInvalid

Opponents of Plano’s new ordinance banning discrimination against gays and transgendered people have drawn support from Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of Sen. Ted Cruz.

“This is an attack on Judeo-Christian beliefs in America,” Cruz told a Plano crowd on Wednesday. “It’s time people of faith become involved in the political arena.”

Cruz was one of several clergymen who spoke at the event to rally support for a petition drive to overturn the ordinance passed Dec. 8 that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and businesses, such as stores, restaurants and hotels.

The initiative must have 3,822 valid signatures by Jan. 20 to force the City Council to repeal the ordinance or place it on the May ballot. Dozens packed a small meeting room at Plano’s Harrington Library, where petitions were being circulated.

See here for the background. The 3,822 valid signatures total amounts to a hair over 20% of the 2013 turnout in the city of Plano elections (scroll to the bottom), or 23% of the turnout in the Mayoral race that year. It’s a short turnaround time, so who knows what will happen. I for one am encouraged by the fact that the same clowns that led the petition drive here are helping out up there. Can’t ask for more than that.

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

Working for progress on LGBT issues

I’m always a little wary when I see a phrase like “chipping away” in a story about LGBT issues, but in this case it refers to obstacles, not hard-won victories, so it’s OK.

RedEquality

The rights and interests of homosexual Texans will be in the spotlight like never before next year, as the state’s same-sex marriage ban gets a long-awaited hearing in federal court and lawmakers take up a slate of bills that address everything from employment and insurance discrimination to local equal rights ordinances.

“In Texas, it’s very difficult with the makeup of the Legislature to pass anything,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But it’s called chipping away – keep bringing the issue – until one day it passes.”

[…]

Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas, said he believes there is a “realistic opportunity” to pass legislation allowing both same-sex partners to be listed on birth certificates, and to remove a provision in state law that criminalizes sexual relationships between some same-sex teenagers.

Other bills have been filed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school sex education classes, and for insurance companies and state contractors. Two bills, by [Sen. Jose] Rodriguez and his El Paso colleague Joe Moody, are seeking to remove from state law books an unconstitutional, unenforceable statute that criminalizes sodomy.

Williams also is interested to see whether Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will break with his predecessor by pushing state compliance with federal mandates to reduce the prison rape rate – which disproportionately impacts gay and transgender inmates – and whether more municipalities follow San Antonio, Houston and Plano’s lead in passing non-discrimination ordinances.

Don’t forget about Plano, too. There’s a reason all those hateful pastors are freaking out about this – they know they’re losing. Bills have been filed by Rep. Coleman and others to repeal Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and to fix the birth certificate problem as noted, and there’s a broader organization being formed to help press the case in Austin. That’s all good and necessary and I have some hope as well, but I suspect that once all is said and done simply not losing ground will be seen as a win with this Legislature.

As for Sen. Donna Campbell’s effort to supersede local efforts by filing a resolution that would block any local rule or state law that infringes on “an individual’s or religious organization’s … sincerely held religious belief,” advocates think the business community will come out against it as they did against similar legislation in Arizona.

“Yes, you can talk about taking power away from those local leaders, but there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the local elected officials and their constituents,” said Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group made up of gay members of the GOP and their allies. He said Campbell’s resolution likely would generate “a lot of talk,” but he believes the effort “isn’t going to move completely forward.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders waging a legal battle against Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance are banking on the increasingly-conservative Legislature to support their efforts. While they await a 2015 court date to determine whether enough signatures were gathered to force a local referendum on the Houston ordinance, they have turned their eyes to Plano, which passed a similar ordinance earlier this month.

“These ordinances are solutions looking for a problem,” said David Welch, director of the Houston-based Texas Pastors Council, which filed a petition against the Plano ordinance this week. “It is a special interest group representing a tiny fraction of the population using the power of law to impose their lifestyle and punish those that disagree with them.”

He said the council will continue to work with lawmakers on legislation that could undo these ordinances at the state level, as well as reaffirm current law that enshrines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would be nice if the business lobby puts some pressure on to kill not just Campbell’s bill but all of the pro-discrimination bills that Campbell and others are filing, but don’t expect me to have any faith in their efforts. At least as far as constitutional amendments go, there are enough Democrats to keep them off the ballot, barring any shenanigans or betrayals. It would be nice to think that Republicans can play a key role in preserving existing protections, if not expanding them, but there’s no evidence to support that idea at this time with this Legislature. We need to win more elections, that’s all there is to it. Let’s make it through this session unscathed and get started working on that part of it ASAP. BOR has more.

Republicans will push pro-discrimination bills

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

Two days after the Plano City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, a Texas legislator filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of cities to enforce such laws.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) filed House Joint Resolution 55, which is similar but not identical to Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed last month by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Plano City Council opposing the nondiscrimination ordinance, also announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’s drafting a bill “to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty.” As of Thursday morning, Leach’s bill hadn’t been filed, and he didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Nevertheless, a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gays rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

The resolutions from Campbell and Villalba would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Experts say such an amendment would effectively prevent cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances from enforcing them. In addition to Plano, those cities include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

But Pizer and others said an even bigger problem could be the amendments’ unintended consequences.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said in addition to the First Amendment, the state already has a statute that provides strong protections for religious freedom—known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. But Williams said the proposed constitutional amendments would supplant RFRA and go further, overriding exceptions in the statute for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws.

[…]

Williams noted that similar resolutions from Campbell have failed in previous sessions. Amending the state Constitution requires two-thirds support in both chambers as well as a majority public vote.

“That’s a very high bar, and the Legislature’s a deliberative body,” Williams said.

But Williams said the key to defeating the legislation this go-round will be economic arguments.

“This would have a detrimental affect on businesses that are looking to relocate to Texas,” he said. “Businesses that want to relocate to Texas will think that their LGBT employees and the family members of their LGBT employees are not going to be welcome.”

1. Between equality ordinances, plastic bag bans, payday lender regulations, and anti-fracking measures, the obsession that Republican legislators may have this session with nullifying municipal laws may overtake their obsession with nullifying federal laws. I continue to be perplexed by this obsession.

2. We are all clear that these “freedom to discriminate” bills are, intentionally or not, also about the freedom to discriminate against Jews or blacks or whoever else you don’t like, right? I mean, every time they get pinned down on it, proponents of such bills admit as much. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to the Donna Campbells of the world that one of these days they themselves could be on the receiving end of such treatment, if someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs hold that antipathy towards LGBT folks is an abomination before God. I’m just saying.

3. Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

Unfair Park and Hair Balls have more.

Houston pastors to fight against the Plano equal rights ordinance

Of course they will.

PetitionsInvalid

When Houston passed its Equal Rights Ordinance earlier this year, the Texas Pastor Council came out strongly in opposition of the law.

Now the Houston-based group is challenging the nondiscrimination ordinance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of Plano. Director Dave Welch says the group will work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance. He says law places unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

“There’s no evidence of any discrimination at all,” Welch says. “These categories are vague and undefined and place criminal penalties on something [businesses] can’t even defend themselves over.”

[…]

The Pastor Council plans to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn Plano’s new law. A similar move in Houston has led to an ongoing legal battle over the Equal Rights Ordinance, which has yet to be enforced.

See here for the background. Not really much to add here, as this is the usual dishonest fearmongering we know and shake our heads in disgust at here. I don’t know what Plano’s rules are for trying to repeal an ordinance, but I’d advise Welch and his band of chuckleheads to be a bit more careful about following the rules this time. Actually, it’s fine by me if they don’t, so consider this a word of advice for Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and the good guys that will be defending the equal rights ordinance at the ballot box and/or in the courthouse: Don’t assume these clowns are following the rules. If they can cut a corner, they will. Hold them accountable for it, and be ready for the whining when you do.

Plano passes equal rights ordinance

How about that?

In a split vote Monday, the Plano City Council passed the controversial Equal Rights Policy over the objections of many residents in the standing-room-only crowd.

The amendment to the city’s 1989 anti-discrimination policy extends protections from housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity and other categories.

“Providing equal rights for everyone is the right thing to do,” Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said after the 5-to-3 vote. Council members Pat Gallagher, Ben Harris and Jim Duggan cast the dissenting votes, preferring to table the matter until January.

The vote drew angry responses from some residents who shouted that they would vote council members who supported the amendment out of office at the next election.

“Suffice to say, if you pass it, we will sue you,” Jeff Matter, general counsel for the Liberty Institute told the council during the lengthy public hearing.

The Liberty Institute is based in Plano, so you can imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth this engendered, not to mention the lying and the threatening of lawsuits. Unfair Park reveled in teh schadenfreude of it all.

While Frisco has supplanted Plano in the public imagination as North Texas’ most irritatingly shiny and self-satisfied outpost, Plano remains a byword for the deep-crimson conservatism of the Texas suburb. Nevertheless, it’s LGBT ordinance zipped through city government with lightning speed, passing only three days after the item was posted on the City Council agenda. Plano is also different because nowhere else in Texas has the religious right been so satisfyingly brushed aside.

On Monday afternoon, the Liberty Institute warned in a last-minute press release that the ongoing assault on religious liberty that the inability to discriminate against gay people represents was encroaching on its home territory. Despite the late notice, they marshaled a nicely sized roster of indignant Christian conservatives to speak against the ordinance and, in no uncertain terms, promised a lawsuit.

But before the vote, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere delivered an immensely satisfying rebuttal that can best be described as badass. He ticked off an incomplete history of injustices inflicted upon minority groups in the United States: the constitutional definition of slaves, i.e. African Americans, as 3/5 of a person; women being deprived of the franchise; deed covenants barring the sale of homes to Jews and others; signs in New York windows saying “Irish need not apply.”

In each case, he said, attempts to redress those wrongs were greeted with objections similar to the ones that are being offered in opposition to the equal-rights ordinance, claims that extending rights to minority groups somehow infringed upon the rights of the majority.

LaRosiliere dismissed those concerns and answered the question he’s been fielding most frequently: Why now?

“Frankly, the question is not ‘why now?’ the question is ‘what took us so long?'”

I’d never heard of Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere before, but I’ve got to say, he just became one of my favorite Mayors in the country. Well done, sir.

It should be noted that despite the caterwauling of the Liberty Institute, Plano’s newly amended non-discrimination policy is actually pretty restrained.

The ordinance comes with quite a few restrictions. Religious, political, governmental, educational and non-profit organizations are exempt, except those doing business with the city.

There’s a bathroom clause that allows businesses to segregate restrooms based on gender. That condition may be taken by some as a green light to discriminate against transgender employees and patrons of businesses, despite protection based on gender identity.

The governmental exemption doesn’t exempt Plano from discriminating, but it doesn’t require Collin County to provide the same protections in order to continue working with the city.

It’s still progress, and it’s still encouraging to see. We’ll need to keep an eye out for the promised litigation as well as the May election results up there. BOR, Lone Star Q, and Think Progress have more.

UPDATE: Here’s a more comprehensive story from the DMN on the new policy.

Once again, where are the jobs Rick Perry was trying to poach?

Politico revisits a familiar subject.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

California corndogs are the best

Since as early as February of last year and as recently as April of this one, Perry has made eight trips to six different states, all of which have one very particular thing in common: They’re run by Democratic governors. Perry has used his visits to hammer on a consistent theme: Texas is a great state for business; the state he’s currently in is not; so wouldn’t it make sense then for all those companies that aren’t currently located in the Lone Star State to correct their error? Earlier this month, Perry made plain the politics behind his accumulated frequent-flier miles. “Blue-state governors need to be looking over their shoulder,” he told a Fox News panel.

Perry’s focused national tour is built around a message that’s tailor made for a presidential campaign whose central issue will likely be a lagging economy. The “Texas miracle,” the idea that Perry’s policies produced job growth in the worst climate since the Great Depression, first emerged in his initial failed campaign and has lived on ever since, buoyed by the fact that the state’s unemployment rate remains below the national average. But as any number of progressive-minded opponents will tell you, that “miracle” is most likely due in large part to the state’s wealth of fossil fuels. Hardly an advantage Perry can claim credit for. But tempting CEOs to relocate southward? For that he’ll gladly take an attaboy.

Poaching companies is nothing new. States have been bad-mouthing and out-bidding each other for decades in the hopes of luring more business, often with little to show for it. But according to Greg Leroy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a D.C.-based non-profit devoted to exposing what it considers the folly of government subsidies often given in the name of attracting companies, Perry’s campaign stands on its own. “I’ve been covering this for 30 years and there’s no precedent for what he’s doing,” says Leroy. “Nobody’s been as aggressive. Nobody’s done it as personally. He’s really taking it to a new low.”

[…]

The ideological fuel powering Perry’s trips out of state says that, unlike the weather, that vague term known as a “business climate” can be engineered, and that no one’s done a better job of parting the clouds than Texas. But Leroy and nearly a century’s worth of data suggest otherwise. As does the most recent pelt in Perry’s poaching tour, which also happens to be the biggest such prize in his political career.

[…]

Then, in late April, Perry got the big score that seemed to justify all his travels when Toyota announced it had selected Plano, a Dallas suburb, as the home of its new North American headquarters. “Toyota understands that Texas’ employer-friendly combination of low taxes, fair courts, smart regulations and world-class workforce can help businesses of any size succeed and thrive,” a glowing Perry said the day the announcement was made.

Toyota was a coup for two specific and related reasons. It meant 3,000 new jobs for Texas and 3,000 fewer for California, the state where Perry’s trip had begun and Exhibit A in his campaign against what he sees as business-killing taxation and regulation. It seemed the epitome of a red state offering safe harbor to a beleaguered company that had finally had enough abuse at the hands of a grubby-handed blue state. Yet just a few days after the announcement, Toyota began quietly offering a counter-narrative.

In an extended interview with the Los Angeles Times, Toyota’s North American chief executive Jim Lentz gave a more nuanced explanation for why the company left California. The true reason for his company’s move, Lentz explained, came down to something much simpler: not sending the wrong signal to his employees. Toyota, Lentz said, wanted to consolidate management that was spread out over three states. Choosing California was never an option because it was already the home of Toyota’s sales and marketing and Lentz said that he didn’t want to give the impression to the rest of the company that “sales was taking over.”

“It may seem like a juicy story to have this confrontation between California and Texas,” Lentz told the Times, “But that was not the case.”

That left four candidates: Plano, Charlotte, Denver and Atlanta. In an op-ed he published a week later in the Dallas Morning News, Lentz mentioned that low taxes were part of a “wide range of criteria” that led him and his company to choose Texas, but he also made a point to mention that the decision was a matter of “simple geography.” Greater Dallas is in the Central Time Zone, has a nearby airport with direct flights to Japan and sits close to the multinational’s large American base of manufacturing. In other words, Texas was not, as Perry would have it, the most desirable choice because of taxes, regulation or the $40 million in subsidies it offered as a cherry on top. Instead, Toyota picked Texas in large part because of the one enormous advantage the state has enjoyed ever since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo: It sits smack in the middle of the country.

Yes, the Toyota story started falling apart even before the ink was dry on Perry’s self-congratulatory press release. I’m glad Politico followed up on that angle – and there’s still more to it, which we’ll get to in a minute – but as has been the case with all of these stories, no one ever seems to ask the question: where are the jobs Perry has been so busy trying to poach? Toyota was looking like the first real coup, before it all came crashing down in a landslide of boring corporate minutiae, but what else is there? I have long been of the belief that the answer is basically “nothing”, but it would be nice to have some newsgathering organization try to figure it out for themselves.

As for the other angle on Toyota, here’s the Observer.

Rick Perry’s office refuses to release any information about the $40 million it’s offering Toyota to relocate to Texas, despite providing the Observer with similar information last year for a $12 million grant to Chevron.

The Observer and the Houston Chronicle both filed open records requests with the governor’s office after Perry announced in April the $40 million incentive grant to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The governor’s office promotes the Enterprise Fund as a “deal-closing” program that helps bring jobs to Texas. But in some cases evidence suggests that the fund does little but line the pockets of companies planning to move to Texas anyway. For example, the Observer reported last year Chevron already had plans to develop an office tower in downtown Houston, provided scant justification that it was considering other locations in its application and told the governor’s office that it planned to use the $12 million grant to pay for employee relocation perks.

It would be interesting to know if something similar happened with the Toyota grant. Especially since company executives have said the $40 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant had little to do with the relocation from California to Plano.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that if there was something in this information that made Rick Perry look good he’d have released it by now, right?

Video-enabled radar guns

I’m just curious what people think of this:

Plano could soon become one of the nation’s first cities to equip police with laser speed guns that also capture video.

Police say the handheld equipment would provide courts with indisputable evidence that speeders would find difficult to contest.

[…]

The camera guns, which cost as much as $6,000 apiece, are nearly three times the cost of the laser guns that police currently use. Moreover, Plano’s proposal comes as other kinds of traffic cameras, such as those meant to catch red-light runners, have met a backlash.

Authorities in Plano tried to make a clear distinction between the video-equipped guns they are considering and the automated traffic cameras that have drawn criticism.

The proposed camera guns are not automated, but operated by police in the field. As such, their purpose is not to replace patrols or catch more speeders, but to give police the chance to collect irrefutable evidence of traffic violations that unfold in front of them.

To me, this isn’t really all that different than what we have today. These camera-enabled laser guns aren’t going to catch anyone that wouldn’t have been caught without them. They just simply might take the fight out of someone who doesn’t think they were speeding. Given that about 0.5% of speeding citations in Plano end up in court, according to the story, I’m not sure how much difference that will make, but let’s grant the hypothesis for the sake of argument. What is your opinion of this technological development? Are they like red light cameras or not, and if so is your opinion of them the same or not?

Or is this a better use of laser beams?

I’m not sure how the cameras would fit in, but I daresay we could come up with something.

This ain’t your daddy’s Plano any more

Demographic change comes to Texas’ iconic suburb.

Recent controversy over whether and where to build a large homeless housing complex is the latest evidence of Plano’s two faces. The nonprofit Samaritan Inn of McKinney last week withdrew a zoning request to build the shelter because of neighbors’ complaints and undertones that the facility would hurt the city’s image.

Many of Plano’s leaders agreed the project is needed. But beneath the surface brews a feeling that Plano faces an identity crisis.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. And now it’s here,” Plano Mayor Phil Dyer said. “Plano has changed from the perception that it is a well-to-do, all-white community. … We need to talk about Plano as it is in 2010.”

[…]

Some 273,000 people now live in Plano, meaning that the city now rivals Buffalo, N.Y.; Norfolk, Va.; and St. Paul, Minn., in its population.

A quarter of Plano’s population is nonwhite. That is up from a fifth just a decade ago, according to the most recent census statistics.

Plano’s Asian population, 14.4 percent, is three times larger than the national average (4.4 percent). Nearly a third of its residents speak a language other than English at home, according to census data from 2008. That is up from 22 percent in 2000.

Moreover, the gap has widened between rich and poor residents. Plano’s poverty rate has risen from 4.3 percent to 6 percent in the last decade even as incomes have risen.

Reading this reminded me of a Houston Press story about the homeless in Fort Bend County, and the ways that the county was in denial about it at the time. Add in to that the fact that Collin County is becoming a haven for retirees, and you’ve got a recipe for some interesting times ahead.