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Sheriff

New Dallas County Sheriff chosen

Meet Lupe Valdez’s designated successor.

Marian Brown

Chief Deputy Marian Brown, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez’s third in command, will serve as interim sheriff until voters elect a new one in November. Valdez is stepping down to run for governor. Brown, a 29-year law enforcement veteran in her fourth year with the sheriff’s office, is running as a Democrat to replace Valdez.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted 5-0 to select Brown for the post. Valdez told reporters Tuesday that Brown has the right attributes to finish out the term and to be elected sheriff next year.

“She’s accountable. She’s responsible. She’s professional. She’s diplomatic,” Valdez said.

Brown, a Dallas native, joined the Duncanville Police Department in 1988. She was the first black woman hired by the department. She served the department for 26 years, focusing on community policing and relations, and was named assistant chief of police in 2007. In 2014, she resigned from Duncanville and joined the sheriff’s office as a chief deputy.

[…]

Brown is one of two Democrats running to replace Valdez. The other is Dallas County Precinct 4 Constable Roy Williams Jr. Two Republicans, Aaron Meek and Chad Prda are running for their party’s nomination in the upcoming March 6 primary.

Congratulations to new Sheriff Brown. I don’t know anything about her or the other candidates running for her job, but I do know that if she is elected to a full term next November, she would become the second African-American woman to be elected Sheriff in Texas, joining Sheriff Zena Stephens of Jefferson County, who was elected last year. Sheriff Brown is also the first African-American to become Sheriff of Dallas. Now you know.

The First Amendment remains in effect in Fort Bend

For now, at least.

Karen Fonseca, the owner of a white truck at the center of a social media dispute with Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, is considering a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

Fonseca’s attorney, Brian Middleton, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday. Middleton added that the American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed interest in a possible lawsuit.

“We should not allow Sheriff Nehls to intimidate people into silence,” Middleton said. “This is wrong and we will not let it stand.”

The threat of legal action stems from controversy over a Facebook post Nehls made on Wednesday, Nov. 15, regarding Fonseca’s truck, which bears a sticker that reads “F— Trump and f— you for voting for him.”

Nehls threatened to charge Fonseca with disorderly conduct over the sticker. A day later, Fonseca was arrested on a pre-existing fraud warrant out of the Rosenberg Police Department.

Middleton and State Rep. Ron Reynolds allege that Nehls’ public dispute with Fonseca is a politically-motivated attack designed to gain attention as Nehls considers a campaign against Rep. Pete Olson, who represents the 22nd District of Texas.

“I demand an apology from Sheriff Nehls for targeting (Fonseca) and making her life and her family’s life a living nightmare,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Fonseca has since added a new sticker that reads “F— Troy Nehls and f— you for voting for him.”

I hadn’t covered this before now, but I’m sure you’ve seen the stories; some earlier Chron articles are here and here. To be perfectly honest, I don’t much care for the Fonseca’s bumper stickers. They’re tacky, and as a parent I have sympathy for anyone who would prefer their kids not see that. But clearly, they have a right to decorate their truck in that fashion, and Sheriff Nehls has grossly abused his office by arresting Karen Fonseca, against the advice of the Fort Bend County District Attorney. He deserves to get his hat handed to him in court for this. Pull up a chair and enjoy the show, this ought to be good.

Lupe Valdez

Now here is some potential-candidate news of interest.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has emerged as potential Democratic challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018.

In an interview Monday, Valdez described herself as “in the exploratory process,” looking at the data for a potential run against the Republican incumbent. “I’ve been approached and I’m listening,” she said.

There are 35 days until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries, and Texas Democrats are looking for a serious contender to take on Abbott. Valdez said she believes it’s “time for a change” in GOP-dominated state government.

“Too much of one thing corrupts, and I’m a strong believer in a two-party system,” Valdez said. “I’m hoping that enough people are seeing that too much one-sided is not healthy for Texas.”

[…]

Abbott and Valdez have a history. In 2015, they clashed over her department’s policy regarding compliance with federal immigration authorities — an issue that later came up in Travis County, which includes the state capital of Austin. Those debates drove support behind the “sanctuary cities” bill that Abbott signed into law earlier this year.

Valdez has won four elections as Sheriff in Dallas County; she would not be on the ballot in 2018. She would be an exciting and trailblazing candidate, and I would expect her to generate the most buzz out of the gate among the people who have announced at least an interest in the race. She’d be my frontrunner. That said, any Sheriff in a large urban county is going to have some things on their record that will look bad – mistreated inmates, rogue guards, that sort of thing. Greg Abbott will come at her hard over “sanctuary cities”, and he has a lot of money to spend on ads. The fact that she’s a lesbian will make some people mad. She’ll need – we’ll all need – to be ready for that. I don’t know what it will take to convince her to run, but I hope someone is telling it to her. The DMN and the Chron have more.

Paxton gets ahead of the “sanctuary cities” lawsuit rush

That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton is looking to get ahead of an anticipated barrage of legal challenges to Texas’ ban on “sanctuary cities,” which takes effect Sept. 1.

Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law on Sunday, Paxton filed a lawsuit — known as a complaint for declaratory judgment — asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional. The lawsuit specifically wants the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to rule the law does not violate the 14th or 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is not preempted by federal law.

“SB 4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed against the government and elected officials in Travis County, which has been a battleground in Texas Republicans’ push to crack down on criminal suspects living in the United States illegally. The county’s sheriff, Sally Hernandez, drew Abbott’s ire earlier this year when she announced that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

You can find a copy of the lawsuit here, which according to KVUE was filed “to avoid a multiplicity of suits in various forms” questioning the constitutionality of the law from the defendants, which include Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, the City of Austin, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a host of other people affiliated with Travis County. I’ve never heard of this strategy before and I have no idea what its history is, but I’d bet a dollar that Paxton picked the court in which he filed this suit with some care. I’m quite certain it won’t stop anyone from suing, but beyond that I have no idea what might happen. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

When will the lawsuits against the “sanctuary cities” bill begin to be filed?

Soon.

The question isn’t whether or not the Texas attorney general’s office will be hauled to court over a Texas Senate bill to ban “sanctuary” policies in Texas — but, more likely, when they’ll be asked to defend Senate bill 4 in a federal court.

“There are ways to challenge the bill before September to prevent its implementation and we’ll be looking to challenge this as soon as possible,” said Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Bono was referring to the Sept 1 date the bill is slated to take effect. Senators approved the controversial measure late Thursday after it cleared the Texas House last week.

[…]

Bono, whose firm represented some of the plaintiffs who successfully sued the state over its 2011 voter ID law and that year’s redistricting maps, said that litigation could focus on several issues, including what power states have to craft their own immigration-enforcement laws. A separate issue is whether the requests from federal authorities, known as detainers, are mandatory or voluntary.

“There are a number of provisions throughout the bill, including the detainer provision and several other sections, that raise concerns about preemption and vagueness” in the bill, she said.

The bill was passed after a San Antonio-based three-judge panel ruled that lawmakers either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act in 2011 by intentionally watering down the strength of minority voters in Texas. That was just weeks after a federal judge ruled that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black Texans after the Legislature passed a strict voter ID law in 2011.

Bono said although those rulings prove state Republicans have had minorities in their crosshairs for years, she was confident plaintiffs would prevail in a lawsuit against SB4 because of the bill itself.

“We consider the wind at our backs because of the way the bill is worded,” she said. “But certainly the state’s history of intentional discrimination — and specifically recent targeting against the immigrant community — will be helpful in the narrative.”

See here for the background. It would be more than a little ironic if Texas’ discriminatory history, which has been reiterated multiple times in the courts lately, comes back to bite the state in the lawsuits that get filed over SB4. For sure, the state deserves zero benefit of the doubt, especially given all the testimony against SB4.

The Chron adds some details.

“People need to understand there’s a symbiotic relationship police have with the communities they serve. … If there’s a law that’s passed and officers start asking people’s status, that’s going to send a chill through the community,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit. “While this bill doesn’t require them to ask, there will be people who will interpret this bill as a green light to do immigration work, which is not the work of state and local police, that’s a federal responsibility.”

Citing already heightened tensions in Houston’s Latino community over anti-immigrant rhetoric, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Thursday he had already heard examples of residents who regretted reporting domestic violence crimes and then seeing their partners deported.

The new legislation could raise the stakes even further, he said.

“There’s this fear that any potential traffic stop, any call for service calling for police – they can be questioned, and why would they even call to begin with?” he said.

Troy Nehls, the Republican sheriff of Fort Bend County, warned the legislation goes too far by needlessly encroaching on local authority.

“I don’t support sanctuary cities, I’ve made that very clear,” Nehls said. “But some of language in this bill, I don’t agree with. … Adding the criminal penalty to sheriffs and others, it’s an overreach by state officials and state government.”

He said he would not fight the Legislature’s mandate but would use discretion as he went about his job.

“I’m not going to violate law, but if Sheriff Nehls makes a traffic stop, I’m not asking for your immigration status,” he said.

[…]

Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who specializes in immigration and constitutional law, said they can ask about immigration status but they cannot detain immigrants without charges while waiting for federal agents to pick them up.

“It was a little bit meaningless in the sense of what Arizona could do with it,” Spiro said. “(Police) can’t hold someone on a suspected immigration violation in and of itself.”

Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said the organization found “clear and potential constitutional problems” in more than 75 percent of traffic stops in Arizona, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate.

“The stops now occurring in Arizona can take from 15 minutes to three hours,” she said. “It is believed that is a constitutional violation.”

She said the high court also said that the state’s policy opens up the potential of racial profiling, but the issue so far hasn’t been addressed by the courts.

“This is an invitation for racial profiling,” Burke said. “You have people in an area who are brown-skinned and look foreign, they’re going to be asked for their papers.”

Law enforcement is strongly against this law, for lots of good reasons. I don’t know what effect that will have on the litigation, but we may as well keep it in mind.

And whatever is to come with this, it has begun.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a ban on “sanctuary cities” into law on Sunday, putting the final touch on legislation that would also allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

“Texas has now banned sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State,” Abbott said in a brief video address on Facebook. Abbott signed the bill without advance notice in a five-minute live broadcast on the social media site, avoiding protests a customary public signing might have drawn.

“We’re going to where most people are getting their news nowadays and talking directly to them instead of speaking through a filter,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott.

And also at a time and in a fashion that made it easy to exclude other politicians and hide from protesters. Greg Abbott’s gonna do Greg Abbott things. It’s our move now.

Precinct analysis: Dallas county elections

One more look at Dallas County, this time with the county-level judicial races. I like to use these partly because they’re a pretty good proxy for partisan preference, and partly because they provide a straight up two-party comparison, which is more useful for assessing possible legislative races. There were seven contested district and county court races in Dallas in 2016. Rather than go with the averages, I thought this time I’d show the low, middle, and high cases for both parties. Here they are, beginning with the top end for the Republicans.


Dist     Rankin    Ewing
========================
CD32    142,570  108,735
		
HD100    10,395   31,810
HD102    30,060   26,476
HD103    11,050   26,444
HD104     8,064   24,006
HD105    22,991   23,584
HD107    27,272   26,642
HD108    45,627   30,928
HD109    11,824   52,412
HD110     4,453   30,457
HD111    13,106   43,945
HD112    29,511   24,313
HD113    28,463   25,957
HD114    37,179   28,877
HD115    30,771   27,446
		
HD100    24.63%   75.37%
HD102    53.17%   46.83%
HD103    29.47%   70.53%
HD104    25.14%   74.86%
HD105    49.36%   50.64%
HD107    50.58%   49.42%
HD108    59.60%   40.40%
HD109    18.41%   81.59%
HD110    12.76%   87.24%
HD111    22.97%   77.03%
HD112    54.83%   45.17%
HD113    52.30%   47.70%
HD114    56.28%   43.72%
HD115    52.86%   47.14%


Dist        Lee    Garza
========================
CD32    136,511  114,646
		
HD100     9,818   32,426
HD102    28,758   27,772
HD103    10,256   27,316
HD104     7,180   25,078
HD105    22,441   24,238
HD107    26,312   27,665
HD108    43,290   33,182
HD109    11,526   52,739
HD110     4,211   30,739
HD111    12,738   44,367
HD112    28,664   25,192
HD113    27,864   26,603
HD114    35,097   30,885
HD115    29,832   28,411
		
HD100    23.24%   76.76%
HD102    50.87%   49.13%
HD103    27.30%   72.70%
HD104    22.26%   77.74%
HD105    48.08%   51.92%
HD107    48.75%   51.25%
HD108    56.61%   43.39%
HD109    17.94%   82.06%
HD110    12.05%   87.95%
HD111    22.31%   77.69%
HD112    53.22%   46.78%
HD113    51.16%   48.84%
HD114    53.19%   46.81%
HD115    51.22%   48.78%


Dist   Spackman  Kennedy
========================
CD32    131,796  118,915
		
HD100     9,347   32,845
HD102    27,670   28,774
HD103     9,899   27,564
HD104     7,192   24,892
HD105    21,784   24,772
HD107    25,377   28,466
HD108    41,780   34,604
HD109    10,973   53,215
HD110     4,025   30,894
HD111    12,239   44,758
HD112    27,734   26,008
HD113    27,065   27,265
HD114    33,824   32,002
HD115    28,767   29,380
		
HD100    22.15%   77.85%
HD102    49.02%   50.98%
HD103    26.42%   73.58%
HD104    22.42%   77.58%
HD105    46.79%   53.21%
HD107    47.13%   52.87%
HD108    54.70%   45.30%
HD109    17.10%   82.90%
HD110    11.53%   88.47%
HD111    21.47%   78.53%
HD112    51.61%   48.39%
HD113    49.82%   50.18%
HD114    51.38%   48.62%
HD115    49.47%   50.53%

So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.

(Note: The Texas Legislative Council only does state races, so I don’t have this data for Senate districts.)

One more race to look at, the Sheriff’s race:


Dist    Launius   Valdez
========================
CD32    125,590  116,091
		
HD100     8,596   32,042
HD102    26,259   27,959
HD103     8,960   27,368
HD104     6,471   24,651
HD105    20,582   24,156
HD107    24,177   27,828
HD108    39,618   33,712
HD109    10,515   51,923
HD110     3,700   30,414
HD111    11,691   43,836
HD112    26,468   25,014
HD113    25,962   26,459
HD114    32,131   31,998
HD115    27,305   28,607
		
HD100    21.15%   78.85%
HD102    48.43%   51.57%
HD103    24.66%   75.34%
HD104    20.79%   79.21%
HD105    46.01%   53.99%
HD107    46.49%   53.51%
HD108    54.03%   45.97%
HD109    16.84%   83.16%
HD110    10.85%   89.15%
HD111    21.05%   78.95%
HD112    51.41%   48.59%
HD113    49.53%   50.47%
HD114    50.10%   49.90%
HD115    48.84%   51.16%

There were actually four candidates in this race, but I’m just showing the top two. As mentioned in an earlier post, Lupe Valdez came closest to carrying the Dallas portion of CD32. She also came within a whisker of carrying HD114, which no one else did. She’s basically equivalent to the high end judicial race above, maybe even a teeny bit better.

Alternate funding sources

That’s one way to do it.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, announced plans Friday to raise public funds for Travis County, days after Gov. Greg Abbott canceled about $1.5 million in criminal justice grants over the county’s new “sanctuary” policy.

Rodriguez’s initiative is called Travis County #StrongerTogether and it will allow the community to donate tax-deductible funds to the county in order to help sustain community programs that “protect our women, children and veterans,” according to a news release. The initiative is partnering with the Austin Community Foundation (ACF).

“The people of Travis County are resilient and take care of each other. That’s what Travis County #StrongerTogether is all about,” Rodriguez said in an emailed statement. “If Governor Abbott is willing to sacrifice our veterans, women and children to score political points, then we will show him the power of love.”

[…]

Hernandez has shown no signs of backing down in the face of the funding cuts. In a Facebook post Friday, Hernandez endorsed Rodriguez’s initiative, and predicted the money will help “maintain the programs Governor Abbott has defunded.”

“Together, we can raise the funds necessary to ensure that our community’s values are represented and that the most vulnerable in our community are receiving the assistance they need,” Hernandez wrote.

See here for the background. This went live on Friday the 3rd, and according to the banner on the Travis County Stronger Together webpage, a bit more than $66K had been raised as of 10 PM on Saturday the 4th; it’s now over $89K as of Monday at 3 PM. Not a bad start, and as the Facebook page only has a couple hundred Likes, there’s plenty of room for growth.

On the one hand, this great. Resistance takes many forms, and it would be extremely satisfying to tell Greg Abbott where he can stick that grant money. On the other hand, this is terrible. It’s not any kind of model for a functioning government, and it’s in no way sustainable. Not to put too fine a point on it, but another term for what is going on here is that this particular grant for a specific public purpose is being privatized. In any other context, progressives would not like this. To some extent, this is going to be resolved in the courts one way or another. Different electoral outcomes would also be the end of stuff like this. In the meantime, this is what we have. The Statesman, which has video of Sheriff Hernandez talking about this saga, has more.

Abbott pulls state grant money to Travis County

As threatened.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Gov. Greg Abbott has followed through on his threat to cut off state funding for Travis County over its new “sanctuary” policy.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it has canceled criminal justice grants it usually administers to the county, whose sheriff, Sally Hernandez, recently announced her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. The policy was set to go into effect Wednesday.

The move appears to target about $1.5 million Travis County was due to receive this year from the criminal justice division of the governor’s office. The division doled out $1.8 million to the county last year and has already paid out roughly $300,000 in 2017.

[…]

Democrats had pushed back on Abbott’s threat to withhold the grant money by noting it funds programs that help children, women, families and veterans. But the Republican governor has held firm, saying his No. 1 concern is public safety.

“The Governor is willing to sacrifice veterans, women and children to garner political points,” state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said in a statement Wednesday. “Governor Abbott must be held accountable for playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, went even further in a statement, saying Abbott’s “vindictiveness is more like Russian President Putin’s authoritarian regime than our democracy.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As the Statesman notes, the grants “support projects such as family violence education and a special court for veterans”, so way to get tough there, Greg. One point five million isn’t nothing, and Abbott is looking for more leverage to use, but I feel reasonably certain Travis County could cover the difference if it wants to. Looking over their fiscal year 2017 budget, there’s $169 million allocated to the Sheriff’s office, with another $105 million in reserves. My guess is Abbott will need to find a considerably larger stick to get their attention. But we’ll see, and if the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passes this year, plus whatever horrors Congress and Trump conjure up, things could change.

Sheriff Hernandez not backing down

Good for her.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez indicated Thursday she is not backing away from her recently introduced “sanctuary” policy.

Her comments came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott proposed the removal of Hernandez, who announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation.

“Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation,” Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin, said in a statement. “I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”

Hernandez, who was elected in November, has said her department would honor requests from federal immigration officials only if they obtain a warrant from a judge ordering the confinement.

See here and here for the background. Sheriff Hernandez clearly has the moral high ground here – people shouldn’t be held without a warrant, minor offenses should not result in deportation, law enforcement needs the cooperation of the people they police in order to be effective, etc etc etc. Abbott, meanwhile, keeps ratcheting up the pressure. Something is going to have to give here. It’s one thing to pick on Travis County, which is a traditional punching bag for Texas Republicans, but will they go after Harris County, too?

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez appeared at this morning’s rally against 287(g), a flawed immigrant removal program.

Gonzalez reiterated his support of immigrant rights and his promise to rid Harris County of the controversial program. He did, however, ask for patience and time to study and navigate its ending because of its ties to federal and state funding, and because he wants to ensure that such a program targets violent and serious criminals. During the press conference, he also reiterated that the program is run within the jail and not out in the field and that his deputies will not be targeting individual suspects because of immigration status.

Local immigrant rights activists are seeking policy changes and strong statements of support to undo programs that target immigrants and have run amok of their stated intents. Programs which basically federalize local law enforcement are flawed and have been a cause for racial profiling, wasted resources, family separation, and downgraded local economies.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, also sought out by immigrant rights activists recently responded with his strongest statement yet.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past Abbott et al to lash out at anyone and everyone who defies him, but at some point it’s not a good luck for him to be fighting with so many big cities and counties. I don’t know how this plays out, but I suspect it will get messy. And kudos to Mayor Turner for standing up and doing the right thing, as numerous Mayors around the country are doing. We’re going to be in for a lot more of this from Trump, so we’d better be ready for it.

Abbott goes authoritarian

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but it is still shocking, even in the world we now inhabit.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he and state lawmakers will pursue legislation that would “remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities,” raising a new consequence as Republicans crack down on local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Abbott is threatening to cut off state funding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez after she announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. If she continues with the policy, Abbott suggested a more serious punishment.

“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in an interview on Fox News.

It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.

The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

[…]

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”

“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, suggested another remedy. “How about removing those from office who make up the law to suit their own political needs!” he said in a statement.

See here for some background. It’s abundantly clear by now that Abbott and his cohort have no respect for the will of local voters and that the only authority they recognize is their own, so it’s a small step from stomping down on local control to overruling an election. I think back on some of the things that people said about President Obama when he lawfully exercised executive power and I wonder, was it fear or longing in their words? The latter seems much more likely. I suppose it’s possible Abbott was just preening for the Fox News cameras, but we have been advised to take authoritarians at their word, and Lord knows Dear Leader Trump has lived up to that. So yeah, I expect to see a bill come out of this. After that, we’ll see.

(All this was happening, by the way, as Harris County residents were being urged to call Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office to ask about when he plans to end 287(g) as promised during the campaign. Like it or not, people are going to have to pick a side on this.)

Speaking of Il Duce, a federal crackdown on “sanctuary cities” is coming as well. Again, one can only wonder at the thought of President Obama making similar threats to Texas cities – just how quickly could Abbott or Paxton file a lawsuit in a friendly court? We may soon see how the shoe fits on the other foot. A statement from the Travis County legislative delegation is here, a statement from the El Paso delegation is here, and the Current and the Observer have more.

Abbott versus Travis County

This could get ugly.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is formally demanding that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez reverse her new policy on cooperation with federal immigration authorities or lose state dollars, further escalating a showdown over “sanctuary cities” that have been in the crosshairs of Republican officials.

“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott wrote to Hernandez — whose jurisdiction includes Austin — in a letter dated Monday.

The newly elected sheriff, who campaigned on the issue, announced Friday that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. Her office said it would continue to hold people charged with very serious crimes, such as capital murder.

But that was not enough for Abbott, whose letter calls the policy, which is set to go into effect Feb. 1, “shortsighted” and backed by “frivolous” justifications. He quickly reacted Friday on Twitter, saying that his office “will cut funding for Travis County adopting sanctuary. Stiffer penalties coming.”

Abbott’s threat targets Criminal Justice Division grant money that is administered by his office. Travis County got almost $1.8 million from the division over the past year “based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced,” according to the letter.

“Your policy is in violation of that commitment,” Abbott told Hernandez. “Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them.”

In the letter, Abbott also made clear that he intends to make an example out of Hernandez during the 85th Legislative Session that started earlier this month. Abbott is set to lay out his priorities in his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the glory of Greg Abbott – Greg Abbott! – demanding that federal law be obeyed and enforced. It’s almost as if all of his previous blathering about “states rights” and “federal overreach” was based not on principle but crass partisan politics. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

While basically everyone agrees that violent criminals who are undocumented should be deported, they represent a tiny fraction of the people who have been expelled from the country. The vast overwhelming majority are just ordinary people, including a lot of children who get swept up with their parents; many others get left behind without one or both parents. The Chron goes into some of the issues.

Though Travis County could be the first jurisdiction in Texas to lose funding over its immigration detainer policy, it’s not the first time Abbott has threatened to cut money over the issue. After Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made minor changes to her county’s policy last year, he also promised to slash funding. It ultimately stayed in place because the county never declined an immigration detainer.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez has said that he is also concerned about holding inmates without pending charges for immigration enforcement, but will continue working with the federal government while he studies the issue.

Political fighting over so-called sanctuary cities has waged for years.

Though it is strictly the federal government who enforces immigration law, Washington and local entities began cooperating on the issue in 2008. The program matches the fingerprints of every person booked into jail against a sweeping law enforcement database, including immigration information from the Department of Homeland Security.

After they determined someone was here illegally, federal officials could request that local authorities detain those immigrants even if they were otherwise eligible for release, say by posting bond or having their criminal charges dropped.

Roughly one-sixth of the record 2.5 million immigrants President Barack Obama deported between 2008 and 2015 were removed through this program, many of them after being booked into jail on misdemeanor crimes.

Critics said it encouraged racial profiling and deported immigrants accused of minor crimes such as traffic offenses rather than focusing the government’s limited resources on violent immigrants. Several federal courts, none in Texas, also found that it could violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Five states and more than 500 counties have scaled back on cooperating with the federal government on the issue, according to a tally by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Though the Obama administration overhauled the program in 2015 to try to address constitutional concerns, they remain. Last summer, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was sued for holding a man for more than two months after officials dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge that had him flagged by immigration officials to begin with.

Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national immigrant advocacy group in San Francisco, said federal detainer requests are civil orders, not arrest warrants meeting Fourth Amendment requirements.

You know all those arguments we’ve been having about why bail reform is needed to ensure our county jail isn’t stuffed full of people who aren’t a threat to anyone and who in many cases have never been (and never will be) convicted of a crime? The same is true for immigrant detention centers, and the stakes are a lot higher. That doesn’t even get into the whole sordid private prison industry, which has been the driving force behind the construction of many of those detention centers. Requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law is a huge drain on their resources, and has been devastating to a lot of people who have done nothing harmful. And as Sheriff Hernandez fights this battle in Travis County, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made his own promises about 287(g), which he says he is still working on. People are going to expect an answer soon. Campos and Stace have more.

Zena Stephens

Congratulations to Texas’ first black female Sheriff.

Zena Stephens

Zena Stephens

While history was being made with the election of Donald Trump as president, Zena Stephens was making a little of her own in Southeast Texas by becoming the state’s first black female sheriff.

And it took three elections to do it.

In the March primary, Stephens knocked out the incumbent sheriff’s chief deputy, who was the favorite of law enforcement and had significantly outraised Stephens. In May, she bested an African-American constable in a runoff. Then on Tuesday she narrowly defeated a 39-year retired Beaumont police lieutenant to become sheriff of Jefferson County.

According to the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, which tracks the history of the office, Stephens is the first black woman elected sheriff in the state.

After her victory, she acknowledged the significance of her success.

“I think it is important, because I never saw anybody who looked like me in this role, or as a police chief, when I was growing up,” said Stephens. “And so the idea, not just for girls but for any minority, that you can obtain these jobs at this level, I think that’s important. And it’s important for these jobs in law enforcement and any job to reflect the community they serve.”

[…]

Texas’s first female sheriff was Emma Susan Daugherty Banister, who took office in Coleman County in 1918 after her husband died three months before his term as sheriff ended.

Loving County lays claim to the first elected female sheriff in the state, Edna Reed Clayton Dewees.

According to the county’s sheriff’s office, she was elected in 1945 and was known for never carrying a firearm and reporting only two arrests during her term.

Barbara Hayes Foreman was the first black female deputy sheriff in the state when she was appointed in 1977, according to Black Texas Women, a book published by the University of Texas Press in 1996. Foreman served in Travis County.

Stephens had previously been the chief deputy in Jefferson County before leaving to become the first female police chief at Prairie View A&M. She did have a narrow victory in the sense that she won by 51.44% to 48.56%, but that was actually the second-largest margin of victory for a D-versus-R race in the county. If you’re thinking you’ve heard the name “Zena Stephens” before, it’s probably because back in March, a couple of days before the primary, some racist yahoo fired a gun at her campaign headquarters; the story made national news. Thankfully, no one was hurt and said yahoo is now awaiting trial. Congratulations and best of luck to Sheriff-elect Zena Stephens.

Races I’ll be watching today, non-Legislative edition

vote-button

This is my companion to yesterday’s piece.

1. SBOE district 5

I’ve discussed the SBOE races before. This particular race, between incumbent Ken Mercer and repeat challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau, is the one that has the closest spread based on past performance, and thus is the most likely to flip. If it does flip, it would not only have a significant effect on the SBOE, which would go from 10-5 Republican to 9-6, with one of the more noxious members getting ousted, it would also cause a bit of a tremor in that this was not really on anyone’s radar going into 2016. Redistricting is supposed to be destiny, based on long-established voting patterns. If those patterns don’t hold any more, that’s a big effing deal.

2. Appeals courts

I’ve also talked about this. The five courts of interest are the First, Fourth, Fifth, 13th, and 14th Courts of Appeals, and there are multiple benches available to win. I honestly have no idea if having more Democrats on these benches will have a similar effect as having more Democrats on the various federal appellate benches, especially given that the Supreme Court and CCA will most likely remain more or less as they are – I would love to hear from the lawyers out there about this – but I do know that having more Dems on these benches means having more experienced and credible candidates available to run for the Supreme Court and CCA, and also having more such candidates available for elevation to federal benches. Building up the political bench is a big deal.

3. Edwards County Sheriff’s race

Jon Harris is an experienced Democratic lawman running for Sheriff against a wacko extremist in a very Republican county, though one with a small number of voters. This one is about sanity more than anything else.

4. Waller County Sheriff’s race

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have this one on my radar until I read this Trib story about the race, in which the recent death of Sandra Bland is a factor. Waller County went 53-46 for McCain over Obama in 2008, though the Sheriff’s race that featured a problematic Republican was a lot closer. It was 58-41 for Romney, which is close to what it was statewide. Democratic challenger Cedric Watson will have to outperfom the countywide base to defeat incumbent Glenn Smith, it’s mostly a matter of by how much he’ll have to outperform.

5. Harris County Department of Education, Precinct 2

There aren’t any at large HCDE Trustee positions up for election this year, so I haven’t paid much attention to them. This race is interesting for two reasons. One, the Democratic candidate is Sherrie Matula, who is exceptionally qualified and who ran a couple of honorable races for HD129 in 2008 and 2010. And two, this is Jack Morman’s Commissioner’s Court precinct. A win by Matula might serve as a catalyst for a strong candidate (*cough* *cough* Adrian Garcia *cough* *cough*) to run against Morman in 2018.

6. HISD District VII special election

You know this one. It’s Democrat Anne Sung versus two credible Republicans and one non-entity who hasn’t bothered to do anything other than have a few signs put up around town. One key to this race is that it’s the only one that will go to a runoff if no one reaches 50% plus one. Needless to say, the conditions for a December runoff would be very different than the conditions are today.

7. HISD recapture and Heights dry referenda

I don’t think any explanation is needed for these.

What non-legislative races are on your watch list for today?

Interview with Jon Harris

Jon Harris

Jon Harris

It is time to start the fall 2016 interview season. I don’t plan to do a whole lot of these – in particular, I don’t plan to revisit races that I had covered during primary season – but I do have a few to do, as well as the judicial Q&As (again, for candidates not covered during the primaries). For the first interview, we venture a bit outside the Houston area, over into Edwards County where Jon Harris is running for Sheriff. Why am I interviewing a Sheriff candidate in Edwards County? Well, because the incumbent Sheriff there is a dangerous loon who interprets and enforces the law as she sees fit. This particular Sheriff, Pamela Elliott, was profiled in this Observer story, which I blogged about here. You should read that story if you haven’t already – it’s hard to believe this kind of thing exists, but it does. In this case, there is something that can be done about it. Harris is a military veteran with years of law enforcement experience, in Harris and Fort Bend Counties. He’s running to restore sanity and to get that law enforcement agency back to doing what it is supposed to do. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will update it as we go along to include links to fall interviews.

Legislation to ban the jailing of rape victims proposed

Hard to argue with, I must say.

DA Devon Anderson

The controversial jailing of a rape victim to ensure her testimony could lead to a new state law protecting victims’ rights to an appointed attorney.

State Sen. Joan Huffman is joining with Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and Sheriff Ron Hickman to push for new legislation to protect witnesses facing jail time through a legal mechanism known as an attachment order, or witness attachment.

The announcement Friday came on the heels of a firestorm after a mentally ill rape victim filed a lawsuit last month over being detained in the Harris County jail for almost a month while waiting to testify against her attacker.

[…]

“The process of attachment is a rarely used but extremely vital tool for attorneys to ensure the testimony of a witness,” said Huffman, R-Houston. “It should only be used when there is no other way to hear testimony that is critical to public safety or in the best interest of the public.”

Huffman said what happened to the rape victim was “distressing” and she is looking at a wide swath of possible changes, mostly for large jurisdictions in Texas.

In addition to requiring judges to appoint counsel, Huffman said she is looking at requirements that office holders, or their designees, sign off on the order. There could also be a requirement to renew the order every 72 hours.

“I envision it almost like the special protections we have in the juvenile system, like making sure they have counsel and someone is keeping tabs on them,” she said. “And that way everybody knows what’s going on and everybody is on the same page.”

She said smaller jurisdictions would probably be exempt, since it would be unlikely that a witness in jail in a small rural county would “fall through the cracks.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. It’s hard to argue with the intent of such a bill, but one could easily argue that this should never have happened here without DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman’s knowledge and consent, and that it happened is more a failure of common sense and office management than anything else. That said, if it takes a law to ensure that every office has that kind of procedure in place, then so be it. I would argue that small counties should not be exempted from it, as informing the DA and Sheriff is hardly an imposition, and ensuring they are informed would also ensure they are accountable. So kudos to Sen. Huffman for proposing this, but forgive me my exasperation that she had to propose it.

The Sheriff and Lord High Executioner of Edwards County

In case you haven’t already, you really need to read this:

The first thing she noticed was Sheriff Pamela Elliott standing across the street. It was an August evening in 2014, and Rachel Gallegos had just gotten home for a meeting of the Edwards County Democratic Party. The law enforcement official was a highly unlikely candidate for a session with local Democrats. Edwards County — Rocksprings is the county seat — is solidly Republican, and Elliott is militantly conservative.

There were cars everywhere — on the street, blocking the road, even parked in Gallegos’ yard, about 30 people in all. “They were the sheriff’s staff — some in plain clothes, some in uniform,” Gallegos recalls. “There were dispatchers, jailers, friends, supporters — anyone, it seemed, that Sheriff Elliott could gather up.”

Ten minutes after the start of the meeting, all four of the executive committee members in Gallegos’ house were gabbing about the posse amassed outside. Then there was a loud knock at the door — Sheriff Elliott. “She came to the door in uniform and was about to come in, so I held the door and said, ‘May I help you?’” Gallegos says.

According to Gallegos, Elliott said she had a right to attend the meeting and that she’d received permission from the Texas attorney general to be there under the Open Meetings Act. “She held her boot in the door and I told her to have him call me — that if he said she could be there I’d let her in,” Gallegos says. “And nobody ever called me, of course.”

Caroline Ramirez, who dropped her husband off at the meeting, described the crowd outside as an “angry mob.” Later, she would state in a written complaint submitted to the attorney general, the secretary of state and the district attorney that she “was shocked that [Elliott] was in uniform but wasn’t doing anything to control the crowd, keep the peace, or protect them or us. She seemed to be encouraging the mob. I wanted to call someone, but I had no idea who I should call if the head of our law enforcement is part of the problem.”

In her own complaint, Gallegos wrote, “I can no longer assume that our Sheriff and her department will act as Peace Officers. I need some guidance as to how to protect myself.”

A month later, she received an email from Timothy Juro, an attorney in the Texas Secretary of State’s office. He confirmed that a meeting of the local party’s executive committee would not fall under the Open Meetings Act.

Gallegos believes Elliott’s sole purpose was to intimidate Democratic voters in an upcoming election for Edwards County judge. Souli Shanklin, a Republican, was Elliott’s ally, and Ricky Martinez, the Democrat, was expected to do well. Gallegos says law enforcement outside her house could have influenced the vote by making people in town think the Democrats were up to no good, or even doing something illegal. Martinez ended up losing, with 46 percent of the vote.

Andrew Barnebey, the former chair of the Edwards County Democratic Party and current county commissioner, likewise sees ulterior motives. He said it was “ridiculous” for Elliott, a Republican, and her allies to believe they had a legal right to attend a Democratic Party meeting in a private home. Equally absurd, he said, is the idea that “these folks would want to barge in to listen to this little bit of housekeeping.”

Buck Wood, an Austin attorney who has practiced election law in Texas for 45 years, says it amounts to harassment. “It’s intimidation and illegal use of the sheriff ’s office powers,” he says. “It sounds like somebody needs to bring a lawsuit, because she sounds like she’s totally out of control. It may even be abuse of office, and if so, could be a criminal offense.”

Republican Party County Chairwoman Kathy Walker told the Observer that she believed the Democrats in Edwards County had an “open door policy” for their meetings. “Why would they have it in a private home? We have our meetings at the women’s club.”

In any case, the Democrats didn’t launch any legal action against the sheriff’s office, and Elliott never apologized. Instead, the strange showdown became another in a long list of Elliott power plays that have plunged this isolated county into political turmoil. Her detractors say that since her election as sheriff in 2012, she’s waged an aggressive campaign to intimidate Democrats, voters and the Latino community.

The sheriff has arrested elected officials and gone to war with the superintendent. Her office has accused voters of electoral fraud with little evidence. And while embroiled in political combat, she’s been accused of bungling an investigation into a high profile murder case — one that’s haunted Rocksprings for 20 years. Elliott appears to be motivated in part by a growing far-right movement that exalts sheriffs as the last line of defense against a tyrannical federal government.

Elliott said she would answer questions via email, but then never responded.

Conflicts between the so-called patriot movement and the federal government have grown in recent years. High-profile incidents like the Bundy standoff in Nevada or the occupation of the Oregon wildlife refuge dominate headlines. But most anti-government activists don’t carry a badge and a gun or spend their days in local communities, ostensibly serving and protecting their neighbors.

Read the whole thing, it’s scary and amazing. A couple of days after that story was published, this happened:

A voting rights organization based in Washington, D.C., has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate possible voter intimidation in Edwards County, following the publication of an Observer investigation into a West Texas sheriff.

In a letter to the head of the DOJ’s civil rights division, the Voting Rights Institute said it had “come to our attention that minority voters in Edwards County, Texas, are allegedly being intimidated by the local sheriff. We call upon the Department of Justice to conduct a federal investigation of this matter to ensure the protection of Latino voting rights.”

No word as yet from the Justice Department. I realize that calling in the feds to investigate a local autocrat who thinks the federal government is an evil oppressor bent on contaminating her precious bodily fluids makes for a potentially dangerous situation, but you can’t let this kind of petty bullying go unchecked. Sheriff Elliott is up for re-election in a county that went 72.6% to 26.2% for Romney over Obama in 2012, so unseating her will require more than just partisan outrage. The total number of voters in the county is less than a thousand, so at least there aren’t that many people to convince. I’ll put this one on my watch list for November. Good luck, y’all.

We haven’t heard the last of TMF

He’ll be back.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer says he laments nothing about a failed gambit for the state Senate that will end his 16-year stint with the Texas Legislature.

The boisterous San Antonio Democrat, however, is leaving office at the end of the year with a message: Don’t write off his political career just yet.

“Last time I checked this wasn’t a retirement party,” Martinez Fischer, 45, said in an interview. “I don’t want anybody to misconstrue my words to think this is my political obituary.”

[…]

Experts say they expect to see Martinez Fischer back in action and point to possible scenarios for another run at a high-profile public office, potentially Bexar County Commissioners Court or U.S. Congress. But, they note, the right opportunity would have to present itself, requiring in most cases for an incumbent to move on.

Democratic consultant Christian Archer said Martinez Fischer’s immediate choices appear limited.

Two seats on the Commissioners Court could present options, he said: Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, 80, is up for re-election in 2018 and hasn’t said what he plans to do. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, 74, also hasn’t committed to another term.

Archer said running for either spot on the Commissioners Court would make perfect sense for Martinez Fischer.

“It keeps you home in San Antonio. It also comes with real check. And there’s a lot of power,” he said. “I would think that Trey would have to look at running for county commissioner or county judge if it were available.”

But Archer noted that Elizondo and Wolff are powerful and entrenched incumbents and would have to decide against running to make it feasible for Martinez Fischer.

Another scenario political observers are floating involves Martinez Fischer running to succeed U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, if he were tapped for a role in a potential Hillary Clinton White House or if he makes a run for another office in the near future.

There are some obvious parallels to Adrian Garcia here, as TMF lost a bruising primary against an incumbent after being in what was essentially another primary, one that was just as bruising, last year. The first order of business is to patch up damaged relationships and get everyone to remember why they liked him in the first place, and the best way to do that is to go all out to help Democrats win up and down the ballot this year. In Bexar County, that means working to retake HDs 117 and 118, and the Dems there have a Sheriff’s office to win as well. His old colleague Pete Gallego could use some help winning back CD23 as well. Do those things, with enthusiasm and visibility, and the potential possibilities become more possible. Like Garcia, TMF is a young man, so he could take a cycle or two off if he wants or needs to, and still be in good shape. We will miss having TMF in the Lege, but I feel confident that he has more good to do, and I look forward to supporting him in that again when the time is right.

Three panels investigating Sandra Bland’s death

One was appointed by the Sheriff:

Sandra Bland

In the wake of the controversial arrest of Sandra Bland and her jailhouse suicide, Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith has asked for an independent panel of civilians to evaluate all aspects of the way he runs his department, from the cell blocks to the streets, and make public recommendations for change.

“He wants to use this tragedy as a growth opportunity,” said long-time defense attorney Paul Looney, who has been asked by the sheriff to form the five-member committee.

[…]

“We have been given carte blanche. We have been told we’ll have access to any piece of paper we want. We can visit with any prisoner or person without notice,” Looney said. “We can go on ride-alongs,” he said of riding in patrol cars with deputies to observe them first-hand.

Looney said the committee will be a diverse group of leaders and that none will be in law enforcement. He also said they won’t pull any punches in making recommendations, which will be shared with the public.

“In a time period of great tragedy, there is also a great opportunity for growth, and he doesn’t want to miss that opportunity,” Looney said of the sheriff. “I don’t intend to be kind, the people I include on the committee will not be kind. We intend to be constructive.”

One was appointed by the District Attorney:

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis formed a second independent committee Monday to review the arrest and death of Sandra Bland and also released a toxicology report that one expert said suggests the 28-year-old woman used marijuana shortly before jailers found her hanging in her Waller County Jail cell.

Mathis said he was bringing in defense attorneys Lewis M. White and Darrell W. Jordan, both of whom are African-American, to lead a panel that will oversee the work of his office and make recommendations about charges for possible criminal conduct during the arrest and confinement.

“There are many lingering questions regarding the death of Sandra Bland,” Mathis said, explaining why he has asked for help just days after Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith formed a similar committee to review jail procedures.

[…]

The announcement that officials were forming another independent review committee did not build much trust with critics.

Former Waller County Justice of the Peace Dewayne Charleston said he didn’t know White or Jordan, so he couldn’t speak to their abilities or loyalties, but questioned any committee whose leaders are “appointed by the same person they are providing oversight for.”

“He’s not bound to take their advice, suggestions or recommendations, so it’s just window dressing,” said Charleston, who has called for Mathis to recuse himself from the case. “They could give him the best, most accurate recommendation but if he’s not obligated to accept it or just takes parts of it, it doesn’t really matter.”

Both White and Jordan have limited prosecution experience, graduated from Texas Southern University’s law school and work in small firms with five or fewer attorneys, according to the Texas State Bar’s website.

White, who passed the State Bar in 2002, worked under Mathis as a prosecutor for a year. Jordan, who passed the bar in 2006, has served as a prosecutor in the Army National Guard, where he still is a defense attorney. Jordan also has worked as a talk radio host for KCOH, part of the broadcasting company owned by Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall.

Vivian King, a prominent Houston defense attorney and former prosecutor, said she did not know White, but had confidence in Jordan, who she had as a student at TSU.

“I think he’s confident and smart and will ask for guidance where he needs it,” she said. “He does care about getting it right.”

JoAnne Musick, the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers, said the decision to bring in someone familiar with the county, like White, might give the duo a useful perspective. But she said that insider status also could undermine the public’s trust in the process.

“Houston is a very close and large area with tons of experienced former prosecutors and defense attorneys that could undertake that review,” she said, noting she knows neither White nor Jordan. “Their selection seems a little odd.”

Musick is one of five people selected by Hempstead and Houston attorney Paul Looney to serve on the sheriff’s review committee, which has not yet met. On Monday, Looney identified the others: Juan L. Guerra Jr., criminal defense lawyer; Randall Kallinen, civil rights attorney; Morris L. Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; and former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington.

Jordan ran in the 2010 Democratic primary for judge of the 180th Criminal District Court. Here’s the judicial Q&A he did if you want to know a little more about him. The Sheriff’s panel has several well-known people on it, and I think they will live up to Looney’s promise that they will not hold back.

There will also be a legislative hearing:

The same day Waller County officials released results of Sandra Bland’s autopsy report, state lawmakers announced they will meet next week to discuss jail standards and police relations.

Members of the House County Affairs Committee, chaired by Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman, on Thursday will discuss “jail standards, procedures with regards to potentially mentally ill persons in county jails, as well as issues stemming from interactions between the general public and peace officers.”

That hearing will be tomorrow, July 30. Here’s the press advisory from Rep. Coleman, who can always be counted on to do a thorough job, and more on the hearing in the Trib. We need to learn all we can from this tragedy, and then to actually follow through on it, or we’re just going to keep having more like it. Still more here from the Trib.

What happened to Sandra Bland?

This is horrible.

Sandra Bland

There are big questions about the final hours of Sandra Bland’s life. The official story is that the 28-year old committed suicide by hanging herself in a Waller County jail cell. Her family doesn’t buy it.

Bland, a black woman who graduated from Texas Prairie View A&M and had recently accepted a new job at the university, didn’t seem to her friends and family to be a suicide risk. And as ABC 7 in Chicago reported (Bland was originally from nearby Naperville), many have disputed the official story. “The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life,” longtime friend LaNitra Dean told the station. “Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually.”

We don’t know what happened in Bland’s cell, but we know that her initial encounter with police was contentious. Bland was pulled over Friday after she failed to signal a lane change. According to the Chicago Tribune, officials said Bland was about to drive off with a warning before she kicked the officer.

A bystander who observed the incident on University Drive in Prairie View filmed the arrest. It’s not easy to watch.

In the video, we see Bland in the prone position while a deputy pins her to the ground. She screams to the witness and asks the policemen why they’re hurting her. (According to police brutality activist Shaun King on Twitter, the witness says that Bland was pulled out of the car through her window.)

It’s unclear what danger the officers arresting an unarmed woman felt that they were in. Usually, failing to signal a lane change isn’t an offense that ends in handcuffs. (She was ultimately arrested for “assault on a public servant,” though the details of her alleged assault are similarly unclear.) It does, of course, come on the heels of other incidents in which police have deployed surprising amounts of force against Texans — particularly Texans of color — in recent months. In fact, police killed a man during a routine traffic stop similar to Bland’s.

[…]

The Texas Rangers are investigating Bland’s death now, and it may not end there. A Change.org petition launched Thursday morning urging the U.S. Justice Department to take over the investigation already has 5,000 signatures, and the DoJ has demonstrated a willingness to investigate situations like this in other high-profile deaths involving black citizens and the police.

In the meantime, #SandraBland has become a trending topic on Twitter, and that seems to have changed the way her death is being discussed in Waller. Yesterday, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis told ABC 7, “I do not have any information that would make me think it was anything other than just a suicide.” Today, speaking to KPRC in Houston, he was more thoughtful:

“I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life,” he told NBC station KPRC in Houston. “That’s why it’s very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life.”

“If there was something nefarious, or if there was some foul play involved, we’ll get to the bottom of that,” Mathis added.

There are a lot of eyes on Waller County right now, and someone will hopefully find the truth.

The Trib adds some details.

An autopsy classified the death as suicide by hanging, Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences spokeswoman Tricia Bentley told The Post, and the sheriff’s office statement said it appeared to be from “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”

“The family of Sandra Bland is confident that she was killed and did not commit suicide,” Bland’s family said in a statement sent to the Tribune by the law firm they hired. “The family has retained counsel to investigate Sandy’s death.”

At the press conference, another of Bland’s sisters said that the two had a telephone conversation after Bland was taken into custody. Shante Needham said Bland was “very aggravated,” and thought she had broken her arm, according to the AP.

The Texas Rangers, an investigative arm of the state’s Department of Public Safety, are investigating the death. Additionally, the Department of Public Safety said it has asked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistance.

“At this time, the joint investigation by the Texas Rangers and the FBI is ongoing,” the release stated.

Shauna Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s office in Houston, told the Houston Chronicle in an email that the agency would be “monitoring the local investigation until it is complete.”

“Once the local process takes its course, the FBI reviews all of the evidence and if warranted could pursue a federal investigation,” she wrote.

[…]

In his Facebook statement, Mathis, the district attorney, said his office “is actively consulting with and monitoring the investigation being conducted by the Texas Rangers into Ms. Bland’s death. Once the investigation is complete the matter will be turned over to a Waller County grand jury for any further proceedings deemed appropriate by them.”

He added: “Please allow us to do our jobs, and rest assured that Ms. Bland’s death is receiving the scrutiny it deserves.”

I certainly hope so. Everyone is watching, that’s for sure. You can click on that top link to see the video. There’s plenty of questions about what happened once Ms. Bland was in jail, but the questions begin with what happened at that traffic stop. How does someone get arrested – never mind carted off to jail – for failing to use a turn signal? Half of Houston would be incarcerated right now if the police here enforced that. And then there’s this:

Hempstead Police Chief R. Glenn Smith, who was fired last month by elected city officials, is now the Republican Party’s nominee for Waller County sheriff.

Smith easily won in a runoff Tuesday, defeating Joseph “Joey” Williams 801 to 544, and will face Democrat Jeron Barnett in the November election.

Smith, 49, blamed his dismissal on small-town politics.

“In my opinion some of them possibly had an agenda for somebody else who is running for sheriff,” Smith said Thursday.

However, some in the community say the dismissal stems from incidents involving police misconduct toward African-Americans.

[…]

Activist Herschel Smith said many Hempstead residents expressed concerns about police conduct. He said two incidents that sparked worries involved a mistaken drug raid and a strip search conducted on area youths by Hempstead police.

Link via Daily Kos and Mic. Glenn Smith is now the Sheriff of Waller County. Maybe the one doesn’t have anything to do with the other, but with all that’s been happening, now and forever, there’s no benefit of the doubt to accrue. Sandra Bland and everyone else deserves a real answer. See #WhatHappenedToSandraBland on Facebook for more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

UPDATE: The Press has more.

Law enforcement for same sex marriage

Bravo, y’all.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

The Democratic sheriffs of Texas’ two most populous counties have signed on with more than 60 other Texas law enforcement officials and first responders saying the state’s ban on same sex marriage not only disrespects but endangers front-line public safety officers.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia lent their names to a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court is hearing the state’s appeal of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that declared Texas’ ban against gay marriage as unconstitutional.

Also filing briefs in support of the same-sex couple plaintiffs by Tuesday night’s deadline were 200 clergy members, including Episcopal Bishop Scott Mayer of a diocese covering the Panhandle, Lubbock and Abilene; major corporations, including Cisco, Alcoa, Pfizer, Target, Intel, Google and Staples; and about 10 other groups.

Last month, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick and GOP attorney general nominee Ken Paxton joined 61 legislative colleagues in signing a Texas Conservative Coalition brief that it was “entirely rational public policy” to oppose dissolving the gay marriage ban because recognition of same sex unions might lead to recognition of incest, pedophilia and polygamy.

Democrats Valdez and Garcia joined a brief by active and retired Texas police, prison security personnel, firefighters and paramedics saying the ban denies “peace of mind” and dignity to gay and lesbian public safety officers.

Their partners can’t qualify for the state’s $250,000 death benefits for police and firefighters who die in the line of duty. Nor can their children receive free tuition and fees at state colleges and universities, as the children of heterosexual officers do after such tragedies. Only in late July, after an action by the U.S. Department of Justice, did Texas public safety officers who are gay and lesbian gain the ability for their partners to qualify for federal death benefits of more than $333,000, the brief said. But they still have to travel to a state that allows gay marriage and get married there, it said — something straight couples don’t have to do.

If gay and lesbian public safety officers in Texas remain in the closet, the brief notes, their partners may not be notified if there is a medical emergency. More ominously, it says, the state’s discrimination may permeate police and fire departments and emergency services districts and convey a message that the gay and lesbian employees “do not deserve the same degree of respect and dignity as their heterosexual colleagues.” That could lead to concerns about “whether their heterosexual colleagues would provide backup in dangerous situations,” the brief warns.

“In sum, the ability of a gay and lesbian officer to marry would not only allow them to be treated equally with their peers, … but would also ensure them the peace of mind of knowing that the person they love will be cared for if they are killed in the line of duty,” it said.

A copy of the brief is here. We’re still waiting for the Fifth Circuit to schedule a hearing, after Greg Abbott files another silly response to the plaintiffs’ response to him. A better man than Greg Abbott would have recognized how wrong-headed his arguments were and how consistently the courts have rejected them and saved the state some money and a lot of deserving people a lot of inconvenience and uncertainty, but unfortunately he’s what we’re stuck with. We could really use a better Attorney General than the one we have and the one we’ll get if we don’t get out and vote in November. The Trib and Unfair Park have more.

Precinct analysis: Third parties revisited

Politico has a question.

Is Austin’s Travis County the nation’s Libertarian Party stronghold?

The co-founders of a Libertarian political action committee based there make that case, arguing that the Texas locale is the “most Libertarian large county in America.”

Wes Benedict and Arthur DiBianca of Libertarian Booster PAC note that 31 Libertarian candidates were on the Travis County ballot this year, more than any other county in America. Among the other stats they cite:

  • Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson won 2.7% there, his highest percentage nationwide for large counties outside his home state of New Mexico.
  • Four Libertarians got over 40% of the vote for the portion of their district within Travis County
  • The current chairman of the national party, Geoffrey Neale, lives in Travis County, and 2004 Libertarian presidential nominee Michael Badnarik had previously run for office as a Libertarian in Travis County, and his presidential campaign headquarters were located in Travis County.

Their argument makes some sense – certainly there’s a strong libertarian bent in tech-heavy communities like Travis County.

We reviewed this before, and indeed Travis was the best county in the state for Johnson. It was also the second-Greenest county in the state, so I think it’s more a matter of iconoclasm than Libertarianism. For the record, those four Libertarians with over 40% of the vote were the candidate in CD17, plus three statewide judicial candidates. All were the sole opponents to Republicans, and I say that’s more about anti-Republicanism than pro-Libertarianism. Besides, as we’ve also seen, Libertarian Railroad Commissioner candidate Jaime Perez did better than that in several Latino-heavy counties, winning a majority of the vote in Maverick and Webb even though he also had a Green opponent. The simple fact is that in areas that are dominated by one party, Ls and Gs serve as the default option in races where that party isn’t represented. This doesn’t detract from the claim that Travis County has a large number of people willing to push the L button – relatively speaking, anyway – just that one needs to be aware of the qualifications.

Reading that story made me decide to go back to the Harris County precinct data to see where the Lib and Green friendly areas were. I broke this down into three sets of races, since obviously not every race featured an L and/or a G. The first set is the top of the ticket, the Presidential race and the Senate race. Here’s how the L and G candidates did in those races in each State Rep district:

Dist Johnson Stein J Pct S Pct Myers Collins M Pct C Pct ================================================================ 126 531 160 0.92% 0.28% 903 424 1.58% 0.74% 127 587 208 0.88% 0.31% 977 491 1.48% 0.74% 128 450 129 0.80% 0.23% 791 325 1.43% 0.59% 129 781 284 1.21% 0.44% 1,216 582 1.90% 0.91% 130 693 199 0.99% 0.29% 1,143 480 1.65% 0.69% 131 196 93 0.45% 0.21% 384 297 0.89% 0.69% 132 549 151 1.03% 0.28% 908 405 1.72% 0.77% 133 815 241 1.12% 0.33% 1,187 561 1.65% 0.78% 134 1,114 436 1.34% 0.53% 1,697 898 2.08% 1.10% 135 548 162 1.01% 0.30% 881 447 1.63% 0.83% 137 289 113 1.17% 0.46% 486 322 2.01% 1.33% 138 540 161 1.17% 0.35% 795 403 1.73% 0.88% 139 260 132 0.51% 0.26% 513 392 1.01% 0.77% 140 152 66 0.64% 0.28% 223 215 0.96% 0.92% 141 142 56 0.37% 0.15% 282 169 0.74% 0.45% 142 166 93 0.40% 0.22% 352 271 0.85% 0.66% 143 189 104 0.62% 0.34% 336 304 1.11% 1.01% 144 238 90 0.98% 0.37% 371 241 1.55% 1.01% 145 273 161 0.92% 0.54% 481 342 1.65% 1.17% 146 376 190 0.74% 0.38% 624 438 1.25% 0.88% 147 583 304 1.06% 0.56% 944 685 1.75% 1.27% 148 640 282 1.62% 0.71% 947 553 2.43% 1.42% 149 347 131 0.80% 0.30% 594 358 1.40% 0.84% 150 598 157 0.92% 0.24% 976 478 1.51% 0.74%

The percentages here are calculated from the four-candidate totals. For comparison purposes, Libertarian Gary Johnson had 0.93% overall in Harris County, and Green Jill Stein had 0.35%; in the Senate races, John Jay Myers had 1.54% and David Collins had 0.86%. Everyone who had HD148 as the most third-party-friendly district in Harris County, come forward and collect your winnings. You would have guessed HD134, am I right? That district isn’t as Montrose-y as it used to be, which I suspect is the reason for its runnerup status. At the other end of the scale, note how third-party-resistant the African-American districts were – all but HD147 were well below the countywide levels of L and G support. Republican districts in general were also third-party-averse, with only HDs 134 and 129 overperforming for them. This is what you should expect for Presidential and Senate races – as the highest-profile races, and the ones that tend to have the fewest undervotes, people are going to stick with their home teams unless they’re crossing over for a specific reason. Once we get past these races, however, it’s a different story. There were two other statewide races that had an R, a D, an L, and a G – the Railroad Commissioner race that featured Christi Craddick, Dale Henry, Vivekananda (Vik) Wall, and Chris Kennedy; and the Supreme Court race between Nathan Hecht, Michele Petty, Mark Ash, and Jim Chisholm. Here’s how that played out for the L and G candidates.

Dist Wall Kennedy W Pct K Pct Ash Chisholm A Pct C Pct ================================================================ 126 951 758 1.69% 1.35% 1,240 530 2.22% 0.95% 127 1,060 922 1.63% 1.42% 1,438 620 2.22% 0.96% 128 785 757 1.44% 1.39% 1,117 512 2.05% 0.94% 129 1,387 1,174 2.21% 1.87% 1,677 727 2.69% 1.17% 130 1,183 861 1.74% 1.26% 1,668 607 2.46% 0.89% 131 354 550 0.83% 1.28% 452 298 1.06% 0.70% 132 906 751 1.73% 1.44% 1,207 495 2.32% 0.95% 133 1,307 1,036 1.85% 1.47% 1,674 676 2.40% 0.97% 134 1,937 1,784 2.46% 2.27% 2,373 973 3.04% 1.24% 135 964 724 1.81% 1.36% 1,187 473 2.25% 0.90% 137 494 525 2.07% 2.20% 578 317 2.44% 1.34% 138 884 748 1.96% 1.66% 1,082 490 2.42% 1.09% 139 518 744 1.03% 1.47% 676 527 1.34% 1.05% 140 213 447 0.92% 1.94% 318 307 1.38% 1.34% 141 250 362 0.66% 0.96% 332 253 0.88% 0.67% 142 347 405 0.85% 0.99% 442 297 1.08% 0.73% 143 287 611 0.96% 2.05% 448 419 1.51% 1.42% 144 361 556 1.53% 2.35% 502 345 2.13% 1.46% 145 501 795 1.74% 2.77% 690 515 2.41% 1.80% 146 626 810 1.27% 1.65% 748 433 1.53% 0.88% 147 1,022 1,197 1.92% 2.25% 1,229 719 2.32% 1.36% 148 941 1,319 2.47% 3.47% 1,319 798 3.49% 2.11% 149 607 637 1.44% 1.51% 725 353 1.74% 0.85% 150 1,093 904 1.71% 1.42% 1,475 613 2.32% 0.97%

These results just fascinate me. The total number of L and G votes in each race was nearly the same – 38,476 in the RRC race, 36,993 in the Supreme Court race – but the distribution was completely different. Wall (19,036 for 1.65%) and Kennedy (19,440 for 1.68%) basically tied, while Ash (24,665 for 2.14%) doubled up Chisholm (12.328 for 1.07%). Look in each district, and you can basically see some number of people who voted for Kennedy in one race voting for Ash in the other? You may wonder why this is. It’s possible that Christi Craddick was more acceptable, and Dale Henry less so, to the “swing” third-party voters that otherwise vote R and D, with the reverse being true for Nathan Hecht and Michele Petty. There is something to that – Henry is on the verge of morphing into Gene Kelly, while Nathan Hecht has ethical baggage and nearly foisted Harriet Miers onto an unsuspecting US Supreme Court. The total number of voters involved here is tiny enough to include the possibility that they’re sophisticated enough to make such judgments. Personally, I think it’s more likely that we’re looking at roughly the same voters in each race, and that people picked Chris Kennedy over Vik Wall as their “none of the above” choice because Wall had a funny-sounding name. What do you think?

At the county level there were no four-way races, but there was a Green candidate running for Sheriff (Remington Alessi) and a Libertarian candidate running for Tax Assessor (Jesse Hopson). Here’s how they did in their respective races.

Dist Alessi A Pct Hopson H Pct =================================== 126 866 1.54% 1,291 2.30% 127 1,180 1.82% 1,632 2.51% 128 851 1.55% 1,156 2.12% 129 1,428 2.27% 1,866 2.98% 130 1,027 1.50% 1,695 2.50% 131 603 1.41% 534 1.25% 132 903 1.73% 1,294 2.49% 133 1,317 1.88% 1,804 2.58% 134 1,952 2.49% 2,458 3.15% 135 894 1.68% 1,279 2.42% 137 622 2.61% 695 2.93% 138 868 1.92% 1,225 2.73% 139 801 1.58% 844 1.68% 140 300 1.28% 357 1.55% 141 373 0.99% 366 0.97% 142 478 1.16% 497 1.21% 143 450 1.49% 488 1.64% 144 435 1.83% 524 2.22% 145 697 2.40% 777 2.71% 146 927 1.89% 895 1.83% 147 1,383 2.60% 1,369 2.58% 148 1,226 3.19% 1,437 3.79% 149 671 1.60% 834 1.99% 150 1,070 1.68% 1,547 2.44%

These are two different races, so Alessi and Hopson’s numbers aren’t directly comparable, but it’s still interesting to see them side by side. I take this as a data point in favor of the hypothesis that Libertarian candidates tend to draw support from Republicans; based on these numbers, they do so in somewhat greater quantity than Greens do from Dems. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion from this sample – there was a lot of money in the Sheriff’s race, and that tends to minimize third party support. Then again, Alessi did actually campaign – if Hopson did, it was invisible to me – and there was some criticism of Sheriff Garcia from the left, so one might expect him to do better than a generic “none of the above” candidate. Make of it what you will.

I think that about runs me out of ideas for precinct analyses. One never knows where inspiration may strike, though, so don’t quote me on that. And there’s always next year, which is to say this year now. Until then, or until I come up with another angle at which to examine the data, we’ll call it a wrap on 2012.

Alan Rosen: A Call To Protect Our Children

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Alan Rosen

Every day, the internet opens up new doors for communication, commerce, and the betterment of all our lives. But, with great advances in technology come huge risks and the responsibility rests with each of us to protect our greatest treasure: Our children.

Right here in Houston, a family told Channel 11 that their 12-year-old daughter had been lured into the sex trade by someone chatting with her on Facebook. KHOU reported the girl was taken to an undisclosed location and forced into prostitution. The girl was missing for 48 hours, which must have felt like an eternity to her parents. The family said they were able to finally track her down thanks to GPS on the girl’s cell phone. Technology was what led her astray, but technology is also what brought her back.

These stories make my heart sink – not only as a law enforcement officer, but as a father. I don’t mind telling you it keeps me up at night thinking that something might happen to one of my children. But, worrying isn’t what solves problems. We must all be more proactive and find the best ways to make the lives of our children safer and richer. We shouldn’t close them off from the learning opportunities presented online, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the dangers.

Here at home, I established the first Child Predator Apprehension Team at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Positive change can happen and it’s simply a matter of actually doing the work. We’ve done the work and it continues to this day. We increased warrant apprehension rates 161 percent and capture rates for the Child Predator Apprehension Team is 84 percent. Those are people who would otherwise be on the streets of Harris County preying on our children.

The next thing we need to do is create an Internet Predator Task Force. We have to take a stand and I propose we do it through the best use of technology. We can keep an eye on these child-targeted sites and let the bad guys know we’re watching them here in Harris County.

Local and state leaders are figuring out that a proactive approach is the best way to get real results. For example, our neighbors to the east in Louisiana are about to start requiring every registered sex offender to include their criminal status in their social media profiles. It may seem like a small step, but it’s a shield in the fight to keep our kids safe. It is up to us to work proactively with families, legislators and community leaders to stay ahead of those who would harm our most precious asset—our children.

Alan Rosen is a Candidate for Harris County Constable-PCT 1 in the July 31st Democratic Party Run-Off Election. His website is AlanRosen.org.

Races I’ll be watching for tonight

As noted this morning, I will be participating in a live chat tonight beginning at 7 PM at the Chron election blog. I hope you’ll come by and ask some questions about what happened today. There are many races to keep track of. Here’s a brief guide to some of the one’s I’ll be watching closely.

US Senate

The big one that everyone is watching. Will David Dewhurst pull it off without a runoff? Who finishes second if he doesn’t? Among other things, this race pits Rick Perry, who endorsed Dewhurst, against Sarah Palin and others of her ilk who are backing Ted Cruz. If you think things got nasty in the last days of early voting, wait till a runoff if there is one.

US House

There are the four new seats plus the two open seats (CDs 14 and 25); with the likely exception of Doggett versus Romo in CD35, the favored party is merely narrowing its choices down for the runoff. There’s CD23, in which we learn who will take on Rep. Quico Canseco for one of the two races that will certainly draw national attention in November (CD14, with Nick Lampson on the Democratic side, is the other). And then there are the three incumbent challenges where Campaign for Primary Accountability has jumped in: Rep. Silvestre Reyes versus Beto O’Rourke in CD16; Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson versus Taj Clayton in CD30; Rep. Joe Barton versus the field in CD06. (The CPA also said it was playing in CD04 against Rep. Ralph Hall, but I haven’t heard as much about that one as the others.) There’s some chatter that Rep. Reyes is in trouble, but I don’t get the sense that the others are. In Harris County, there are the Democratic races in CDs 07, 10, and 22, in which we hope to avoid nominating the nutball Kesha Rogers again now that everybody (hopefully) knows who she is.

I should note that the Trib had a whole lot of primary election stories over the past couple of months. See here for a roundup of all their coverage. Daily Kos also has a nice overview of the Congressional races.

SBOE

The Parent PAC slate is the place to start. Mostly, it’s two races to watch out for, the Thomas Ratliff/Don McLeroy rematch and David Bradley versus Rita Ashley – see the Trib story to familiarize yourself. Locally, there’s the three-way Democratic race for a nominee in SBOE 6, and races on both sides in SBOE 8.

State Senate

All Republican action here, with several open seats plus the craze-a-thon in SD25. As I said before, I’m not worried about the State Senate becoming more conservative, I’m worried about it becoming more stupid.

State House

Again, the Parent PAC slate is the place to begin; it’s mostly but not exclusively Republican. One of their candidates is Whet Smith, running here in HD138 against Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Smith has an ad that’s running on cable TV that I’ve caught a couple of times:

Now, Dwayne Bohac is absolutely no friend of public education, and if Parent PAC says Whet Smith would be better for public ed then I’ll take their word for it. But to make the claims Smith does in that ad about the budget, you have to be either dumb or dishonest, and I can’t say that gives me a good feeling about him as a State Representative. Maybe he’s just pandering to the voters, but if so that doesn’t speak highly of him, either.

Anyway. I’ll also be looking for the Annie’s List slate; their candidate Mary Gonzalez has a chance to make history tonight. I’ll be watching for Rep. Lon Burnam versus Carlos Vasquez in HD90, and for the results in HDs 137 and 144 here in Harris County.

Outside Texas

Today is also the day of the recall elections in Wisconsin, which may or may not have implications for November. Note that it’s not just Governor Scott Walker facing recall – his Lieutenant Governor and three Republican State Senators are also on the ballot; even one loss among the Senators will change the partisan balance in that chamber.

Other races

There are three high profile District Attorney races this year: Lehmberg versus Baird on the Democratic side in Travis County; Bradley versus Duty in Williamson and Lykos versus Anderson here in Harris, both on the Republican side. The race for Sheriff in Travis County, in which incumbent Greg Hamilton is being challenged over immigration issues, has been below the radar outside of Travis but could have an effect around the state afterward. And of course here in Harris, the two ugliest races on the Democratic side, for the 215th Civil District Court and for HCDP Chair. No matter the outcomes, I think everyone’s first reaction will be relief that they are over.

What races will you be watching tonight?

Better budget news

For the city.

The city of Houston may have $21 million more in income in the coming fiscal year than it had planned on before Wednesday. That’s when it got the news that the Harris County Appraisal District projects that taxable values in the city — and by extension, the amount of taxes it collects on that property — will rise 4.54 percent in 2012.

The city had previously assumed a rise of only about half that much.

[…]

Also this week, the city got the news that sales tax receipts for the first seven months of FY 2012 (which runs from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012) were up 10.66 percent from last year. If the city finishes the year up 10.5 percent, that would roughly double the increase the city had budgeted for. The bottom line would be about $26 million more than the city planned for in its $1.8 billion general fund budget.

Nice. Not enough to wipe out all concerns, but an unexpected extra $50 million or so would go a long way towards making this budget a lot easier to deal with than the last two or three. There’s good news for Harris County, too.

Harris County Commissioners Court is poised to adopt a $1.34 billion budget on Tuesday that envisions no tax increase this fall and, unlike last year, would not require layoffs.

[…]

“We are fortunate that our revenues are stable at this time,” said Chief Budget Officer Bill Jackson. “They’re not decreasing, and it looks like we’re charting our way forward on a slow recovery. Our departments were able to come in at or below budget this year. That helped our financial situation.”

The Sheriff’s Office, at 32 percent of the general fund, is by far the county’s largest department; the next-largest consumes just 5 percent, Jackson said. For only the second time in eight years, the Sheriff’s Office is projected to have finished the fiscal year within its $392.5 million budget.

Part of that success was due to the falling jail population, Jackson and Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said. The jail population stood at 8,668 Friday, down from a peak of 12,381 in September 2008.

Overtime bills in the short-staffed lockup also have fallen from $33 million two years ago to $21 million last fiscal year; the sheriff has budgeted $15 million for overtime this fiscal year.

This year’s budget may actually allow the Sheriff to hire a few people, which as we know will save some money by not having to authorize so much overtime. Good news all around.

I was amused by this:

County Judge Ed Emmett said he is glad last year’s “storm” of cutbacks seems to have passed. He praised Jackson’s proposal to allow departments that come in under budget to roll over part of their savings, allowing them to make purchases when it makes sense rather than to beat the artificial deadline of the fiscal year’s end.

Yes, well, the entire requirement that revenues and expenditures must be made to match in time for that artificial deadline is silly and makes budget-writing entities do nonsensical things in the name of “balancing” the budget. But hey, the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one, right?

Non-filers in Harris County races

As of today, the following candidates for county offices in Harris County have not filed campaign finance reports with the County Clerk:

Candidates for Sheriff

Charles Massey El (D)
Guy Clark (R, formerly D)
Daniel Lemkuil (R)

Candidates for HCDE

Jarvis Johnson (D)
Silvia Mintz (D)
Timothy Rose (R)
Tom Cruz (R)

Candidates for County Commissioner

Dave Wilson (“D”)
Chuck Maricle (R)

Candidates for Justice of the Peace

LaTonya Allen (D)
Tommy Ginn (R)

Candidates for Constable

Ruben Loreto (D)
Victor Archer (D)
Kenneth Perkins (D)
Rickey Spivey (D)
Edward Rios (R)

The last date that I saw a report filed was January 23. Obviously, some of these candidates are more serious than others. Massey El, Perkins, and Wilson are all perennials, with Wilson being a bad joke in addition. Clark is on at least his third run for Sheriff, this time as an R after running as a D in 2004 (he was the nominee) and 2008 (he, along with Charles Massey El, lost in the primary to Sheriff Adrian Garcia). Others should know better.

Fewer inmate deaths

More good news for the Sheriff’s office.

The number of inmates who have died while in Harris County detention has plummeted during the last three years, a decline that Sheriff Adrian Garcia described as “deeply satisfying” but could not explain.

Three county prisoners died last year, down from 11 in 2010, and 16 in 2009, according to a Houston Chronicle review of custodial death records.

[…]

Alan Bernstein, public affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, said Garcia has held the jail’s medical staff to high standards and noted that about 400,000 inmates were medically screened when they were jailed during the last three years.

“Each death is thoroughly investigated in accordance with Sheriff Garcia’s mission to make the agency as accountable and transparent to the public as possible,” Bernstein said. “But there is no identifiable cause or set of reasons for why the number of deaths has fallen steeply. The overwhelming majority of deaths were due to medical conditions that afflicted the inmates before they became inmates.”

Bernstein said only three of the 30 county inmate deaths from 2009 to 2011 took place inside a jail, including two inmates the county sent to Louisiana to reduce crowding. The rest of the inmates died after being transported in custody from jail to a hospital for treatment.

The decline in inmate deaths follows a June 2008 U.S. Justice Department report that accused Harris County of violating the constitutional rights of jail inmates, citing an “alarming” number of deaths of inmates in jail or after they were taken to hospitals.

See here and here for some background on that DOJ report. The feds threatened a lawsuit if things didn’t improve but have not followed through. One hopes that’s a “no news is good news” situation.

As for the numbers, while I have no doubt that this reflects the many improvements made at the jail since Sheriff Garcia took over from Tommy Thomas, I also suspect there’s a similarity to the homicide figures, in that this year represents a dip below the “normal” level. What you want to see is a downward trend. More importantly, you want to see that all reasonable steps are being taken to ensure that trend is downward, which over the last three years it has been. There’s more good press for the Sheriff at KUHF, as noted by Stace.

Meanwhile, the city recorded two deaths at its jail facilities, both suicides, and reiterated its desire to get out of the jail business. It’s still not clear to me what the “sobriety centers” that would replace the jails might look like, but one presumes that they will be better equipped to handle badly intoxicated people who could be a danger to themselves.

Inmate outsourcing on the way out

This is unequivocally good news.

Dropping inmate numbers at the Harris County Jail will let the county end its nearly 5-year-old practice of shipping overflow inmates to Louisiana and other Texas counties within days, Sheriff Adrian Garcia said this week.

The jail population has fallen 31 percent since 2008, to 8,573 inmates. The jail has a capacity of 9,434, but has at times held more than 12,000. Garcia hopes the expense of contracts with far-flung jails – totaling $31 million in the last two years – has ceased for the foreseeable future.

As of Friday, the sheriff had no inmates in Louisiana and just 21 elsewhere in Texas; more than 1,600 inmates had been outsourced as recently as June 2010.

“I don’t want to be overly optimistic that this is forever a thing of the past,” Garcia said. “There are factors outside our control that could occur at any given time. But we’re excited that today’s reality is that we no longer will be having people outsourced outside of Harris County and that it will be a savings to the taxpayers.”

We’ll discuss those outside factors later. I want to pause for a moment to take credit for the use of the term “outsourcing” for sending inmates elsewhere. I’ll be even happier if a few years from now we’ve forgotten that it was ever needed. The fact that (nearly) all of our inmates are now here in Harris County should not obscure the fact that there are still too many of them; at least, there are still too many of them for the number of guards in the jails. We have patched this problem, for which the county’s multiple-year hiring freeze is an exacerbating factor, by squeezing a lot of overtime out of the guards, a solution that is both unfair to them and expensive to us. Now that we’re not paying Louisiana to house some of our prisoners, maybe we can take some of the money we’d been spending on that and use it to hire a few more guards. The Sheriff will make that request at the Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting. I can’t wait to hear what their excuse to turn him down will be this time.

So why are there fewer inmates to outsource, anyway?

Officials attribute the drop in inmates to several factors:

Local and national crime rates are down. There were 36,851 new felony cases filed in Harris County last year, down from 38,133 in 2010, and 44,006 the previous year. Misdemeanor courts also are sending fewer inmates to jail.

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos’ decision to stop filing felony charges against suspects found with trace amounts of illegal drugs as of Jan. 1, 2010. Those carrying used but empty crack pipes or other drug paraphernalia now face misdemeanor tickets.

[…]

“We did the right thing and then all these other benefits flowed from it,” Lykos said. “There are more officers on the streets, we have jail cells for dangerous criminals, and we can get to trial quicker.”

The county has launched various diversion programs. In April 2010, Garcia began allowing nonviolent inmates who enroll in educational or work programs to earn three days’ credit for each day served. As of mid-December, 3,661 inmates had been released early under the program, which can shave up to two months off the maximum county jail sentence.

Again, as you know, I agree with and applaud Lykos’ policy. It was the right thing to do, for the reason she states, and you can see the benefit we have reaped from it, in dollars and cents. The Sheriff’s new diversion programs, aimed as Lykos’ trace-amount policy is at non-violent offenders, is also showing measurable results. The old maxim about locking up those we fear and not those we’re just mad at has a lot of wisdom in it. If we make better choices about who we throw in jail, it costs us less money. You may say that comes at the expense of public safety, except that the violent crime rate is down, in Houston and in Harris County. It’s not locking up more people, it’s locking up the right people that makes a difference.

As good as all this news is, there is still a lot of room for improvement:

Earl Musick, president of Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, cheered the drop in jail population, but said his group remains concerned at the number of inmates who are awaiting trial, unable to make bail.

The number of pretrial detainees fell along with the jail head count last year, but their share of the total population stayed at about 60 percent. On Friday, 6,220 of the jail’s 8,573 inmates – or 73 percent – were pretrial detainees.

“I’m not saying everyone in jail is innocent, but there are innocent people that are having to make that decision: ‘I guess I’ll give up my right to a trial so I can get out of jail,’ ” Musick said. “We’ve been shouting this message for years that not everyone charged with a criminal act needs to be locked up.”

Musick praised the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and said judges are beginning to examine their pretrial and sentencing choices.

Those numbers include a lot of people who will not be convicted of any crime, or at least of any crime that would normally include jail time, who are nonetheless going to spend days, weeks, even months in jail because they couldn’t make bail. Some of these people will wind up being acquitted, having their charges dropped, having their charges pleaded down to non-jail offenses, or being convicted and ultimately being sentenced to less time than they served pre-trial. This is the judiciary’s responsibility, and while they are making improvements, they have been responsible for this for a long time. Get enough of them to adopt more sensible practices, or to be replaced by those who will, and Sheriff Garcia won’t need to grovel before Commissioners Court for more jailers, as reducing the numerator in the inmate-to-guard ratio also accomplishes the task. Whether we do this the more cost-effective way or not is all our choice. Grits has more.

Disciplining deputies

The Chron has a long story about the disciplinary issues at the Sheriff’s Department.

A Houston Chronicle review of Sheriff’s Office discipline reports from 2007 to August provides a sobering look into a department plagued by deputies, jailers and civilians accused of violating laws they are charged to enforce and breaking department policies more than 1,200 times in the past four-and-a-half years.

In all, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has fired 81 deputies and jailers from January 2009 through August, considerably more than the 36 employees let go by his predecessor, Tommy Thomas, during 2007 and 2008. Garcia, who took over the department in January 2009, has also suspended 273 employees without pay and given 414 written reprimands.

[…]

Garcia, a former Houston police officer, offered no insight on why employees continue to be cited for serious misbehavior, anymore than he could explain the ongoing drought.

“I don’t know why we haven’t had any rain,” Garcia said. “Why they make those decisions, I don’t know.”

He said he decided not to examine past disciplinary actions to identify and remove any “bad apples” he inherited when he took office in early 2009. Instead, he felt it was more important to triple his internal affairs unit to reduce a backlog of more than 160 internal affairs complaints pending against deputies when he took office.

Garcia said the county’s hiring freeze has caused him, in less serious cases, to be lenient on employees because if he fires them they cannot be replaced.

As an example, Garcia said in past years jailers caught sleeping on duty would be fired.

But he only terminated one of 18 jailers and deputies caught napping since 2009, the records show.

“One of the key mandates that I have continuously worked at is to make sure we are protecting the public’s trust,” Garcia said. “Unfortunately, since we are dealing with human beings, mistakes will occur. Poor judgment will occur. But what the citizens can take away is, even though I’m under a forced hiring freeze, even though I’ve lost hundreds of employees, I continue to investigate and terminate, where most appropriate, those employees who are making the most egregious type of misconduct.”

The bit about being lenient on some employees because they can’t be replaced if they get fired due to a hiring freeze is something I hadn’t thought about before. We already know that the county’s inflexible and ill-advised policy has cost millions of dollars in overtime, and now we see that it means the Sheriff can’t properly administer discipline as needed. Much like across-the-board budget cuts, hiring freezes are generally geared towards publicity rather than good policy, and the results bear that out.

Beyond that, the article focuses mostly on the individual stories, and doesn’t really consider a political angle. It’s easy enough to point out that if Tommy Thomas had done a better job of keeping his house in order, there would be fewer of these issues for Adrian Garcia to deal with, but that kind of message could be hard to get out if an opponent attacks Garcia strongly enough. As the story was lacking the obligatory boorish quote from County Commissioner Steve Radack, it’s a little hard to say what such an attack might look like. I’m sure it’s out there, though, and we’ll see it next year.

Still cleaning up Tommy Thomas’ mess

Some stains take a long time to scrub out.

The U.S. Justice Department is proceeding with an investigation of Harris County sheriff’s operations, after county leaders refused to enter into a civil rights settlement with the government or hire an independent monitor.

The investigation was sparked by the discovery of emails from sheriff’s commanders – before Sheriff Adrian Garcia took office – that disparaged religious, racial and ethnic groups. The inquiry also was prompted by the treatment of members of a Sikh family detained in late 2008 after calling deputies to their home to investigate a burglary.

County Attorney Vince Ryan in July asked the Commissioners Court to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the Justice Department that would have ended the investigation.

The agreement required the department to hire an internal affairs expert to review use of force and internal affairs procedures, as well as developing “diversity and cross-cultural awareness” training for new cadets and existing deputies.

The agreement also called for a written report after an eight-month review, which will serve as an outline to improve the handling of complaints against deputies from the public, how internal investigations are conducted and the training of officers who do them.

Nancy Sims has a concise summary. County Judge Ed Emmett called the agreement “onerous”, and I’m sure it is. Steve Radack whined that county people should be the ones overseeing county people. All I can say is that if county people had done a better job of that while Tommy Thomas was in office, we wouldn’t be in this spot now.

There’s an app for reporting crimes

From the Chron’s Newswatch blog:

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Adrian Garcia has launched a series of free smartphone apps that will allow residents to report any crime tips or suspicious activities by sending text messages, emails, photos and video attachments.

It’s called iWatchHarrisCounty and is part of the department’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign launched in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security last year.

The apps, available for iPhones, Androids and Blackberries are available for download here:

iPhone app

Android app

Blackberry app

You can also text a tip to 1-855-HCSO-iWatch (1-855-427-6492).

Online, you can visit the iwatchharriscounty.com website to report a crime.

I’d say this counts as a Gov 2.0 app. Some commenters at that post are making references to Big Brother and totalitarianism, which frankly strike me as ridiculous. I don’t see how this is substantively different from calling a tip line like Crimestoppers, and we’ve had that for decades. Sure you could report something phony this way, but you could have done that before. Unless you believe that the Sheriff is about to start arresting people (or worse) for things that aren’t actually crimes, we’re no closer to dystopia than we’ve ever been. KTRK has more.

Suit against Sheriff’s office dismissed

From the Chron:

A lawsuit filed by the former technology director for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, who had contended he was fired because he revealed its alleged plan to hack into the county government computer network, has been dismissed.

A district judge agreed with county attorneys that Wilfrido Mata, who was fired last May, did not report a violation of law by a public employee and that his suit thus did not qualify under “whistle-blower” statutes. The suit was dismissed on April 21.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia stated at the time the suit was filed last July that the allegations “have no merit and are unfounded,” adding that Mata “was terminated because his performance failed to meet the expectations for which he was hired.”

Here’s the Chron story from last year when the suit was filed. I must confess that I don’t remember the original incident. I’m just passing this on for those who do.

On a not-really-related note, I love seeing certain people admit they were wrong.

Harris County may hire as many as 60 deputy constables laid off after recent budget cuts to work in the short-staffed county jail, under a proposal tentatively approved by Commissioners Court Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, the move and other pending hires could cut overtime costs and keep the sheriff’s department within its $392.5 million budget, said Tom Mesa, the department’s chief financial officer, and First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia repeatedly has asked for more detention officers to cut overtime, which reached $19 million in the jail alone during the last fiscal year. The sheriff’s office has exceeded its budget in 10 of the last 11 years, Sheriff’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said.

Commissioners Court tentatively approved the jailer plan Tuesday, and will decide whether to make the hires, and how many, at its next meeting later this month.

“It seems like a very good plan that will help us save money, cut overtime, and … it will help us help some of those folks and their families that have been laid off,” Garcia said.

Commissioner Steve Radack said the court knows overtime costs must be reduced and he acknowledged the proposal does not differ greatly from previous requests from Garcia that Radack and others had criticized. Radack said he did not trust the sheriff to implement those previous requests efficiently.

“We have an accountability issue,” Radack said. “Controls are being implemented to make sure that the sheriff’s department is held accountable for their expenditures and the positions that we create.”

You know how with some people you have to make everything you want to do seem like it’s their idea? A sheriff’s gotta do what a sheriff’s gotta do.

Still talking about jail overcrowding

Here’s another op-ed about jail overcrowding in Harris County and what to do about it. It’s all familiar stuff – we’ve only been talking about this for a million years or so – but I was struck by what wasn’t said.

Harris County has made strides to safely reduce the jail population. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has changed the way her office prosecutes drug possession cases by no longer jailing anyone caught with trace amounts of drugs. This policy change has had a significant positive effect on reducing the jail population without an increase in crime. Sheriff Adrian Garcia has adopted pilot projects for low-risk offenders sentenced to jail. Harris County also created a public defender office, which hopefully can curtail the mass guilty pleas that principally occur because the defendant just wants to get out of jail.

We strongly urge implementation of the strategies recommended in 2009 and expounded on in a Houston Ministers Against Crime report earlier this year.

You can read more about that Ministers Against Crime report, including the report itself, here. What’s missing from this discussion is any mention of Harris County Jail Czar Caprice Cosper. What has she been up to? Google News has nothing, and a plain old Google search has nothing of substance since last February. We know what to do, we just need to quit writing reports and actually start doing it. The DA’s office has done some things, and the Sheriff’s office has done some things, but the judges for the most part are still doing what they’ve been doing with bail and bonds. When is that going to change? Grits has more.

Why aren’t we tracking this?

This sounds like a job for the Legislature.

The number of parolees being tracked with ankle monitors in Texas has mushroomed to nearly 3,000 in the last two years. About 600 reside in Harris County. The county also has 150 adult probationers and 32 juvenile probationers with the devices.

But so far the monitors have been far from foolproof.

In the last two years, arrest warrants were issued 632 times for “tamper alerts” involving Texas parolees “after business hours,” the state parole department said.

But this is only a fraction of the total number of alerts. The tally does not include warrants issued for alerts during work hours, nor alerts that did not generate arrest warrants.

Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said a full tally would require a “manual review of all records.” For the same reason, the state could not report how many parolees assigned ankle monitors were charged with new crimes.

It’s a no-brainer to me that TDCJ needs to be tracking that. Ankle monitors for some low-risk inmates seem like a good idea to control prison populations, but only if we can be reasonably sure that they’re working as we intend them to be. Someone needs to file a bill to require TDCJ to keep statistics on this.

As the story notes, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is now using GPS ankle monitors on some of its prisoners, who work outside the jail. It too is being road-tested as a cost-saving mechanism, which I support. I wanted to know what they were doing to track these prisoners, so I sent an email to Alan Bernstein, the Director of Public Affairs for the HCSO, to ask. This was the response I got:

We’re merely in the testing phase. If judges allow/order certain low-risk inmates to leave jail on a GPS-based monitor, will we keep after-the-fact records on any perimeter violations, especially those in which the inmate committed another crime? I am almost certain we will.

Good to know. TDCJ, it’s time to do something about this.

Budget testimony from the Sheriff’s office

In addition to all of the education and HHSC-related testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this week, law enforcement agencies who will be affected by cuts to mental health services were also heard from. Here’s a press release sent out by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia about what they had to say:

The Harris County Jail’s executive director for health services, Dr. Michael Seale, and its Detention Bureau commander, Major Mike Smith, say in written testimony to the Finance Committee of the Texas Senate that proposed severe reductions in state funding for community-based mental health care programs would hurt taxpayers while degrading the quality of life for thousands of ill individuals, their families and their communities.

Seale is also an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Smith has served as a patrol deputy, narcotics officer, crime-fighting leader and administrator during his more than 30 years with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Their testimony reflects the views of Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the Sheriffs Association of Texas’ legislative committee, of which Garcia is vice chair.

“In these challenging times for the Texas economy, is there a way to reduce these costs for local and state taxpayers? The answer is yes — the state can make sure that it is adequately funding community-based mental health services. Not only do these programs help to prevent the type of psychotic episodes that require costly police intervention, jail bookings and jail care, they also save money,” Seale wrote. “According to information from the Department of State Health Services and the Legislative Budget Board, the average daily cost of mental health services per person is approximately $12 in a community-based setting and $137 in prison. Clearly, state and local taxpayers enjoy greater safety and greater savings when state-funded mental health programs succeed with proper resources.”

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office spends at least $27 million yearly in general funds from the county — whose main revenue source is property taxes – on direct mental health care for jail inmates in accordance with constitutional requirements.

“On any given day about 2,400 detainees in the jail are taking prescribed psychotropic medications — approximately one fourth of the total jail population. This makes the Harris County Jail – reluctantly — the largest mental health institution in the state of Texas,” Seale said.

Smith supervises the bureau that provides housing for the approximately 10,000 inmates in Sheriff Garcia’s custody.

“With less funding for community-based mental health care, more inmates will come to the Harris County Jail in crisis,” Smith said in prepared testimony. Among other things, “this leads to more danger and more challenges for my staff,” which is under a hiring freeze. “Further erosion of state mental health funding for programs in the county will lead to more strain on law enforcement and higher bills for taxpayers.”

The point, as we all know, is that cuts made by the state to mental health services will result in much larger expenses being borne by local governments and local taxpayers. It’s a false economy, and would be a repeat of what we did in 2003. Everyone should know this by now, it’s just a matter of whether or not the Republicans in the Legislature care about it, or if they prefer to balancing their own budget by shirking their responsibilities.