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A clean separation

Well done.

Richard Carranza

Former Houston ISD superintendent Richard Carranza’s resignation from the district involved no financial settlements, and the two sides agreed not to sue each other following the separation, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

A written agreement between Carranza and HISD board members shows a clean break after Carranza announced in early March that he planned to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Carranza officially resigned on March 31 and started his job in New York City on April 2. HISD board members have appointed Grenita Lathan, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer, to serve indefinitely as interim superintendent.

Carranza’s three-year contract ran through August 2019, leading to questions about whether he would face any repercussions for resigning midway through that term. His contract didn’t include any penalties for resigning before August 2019, and it did stipulate both sides could mutually agree to end the agreement.

Carranza was paid his regular salary of $345,000 and benefits through March 31. He was allowed to take accrued but unused personal days through the last week of his employment.

[…]

Trustees have given no timetable for hiring a permanent superintendent. District officials on Wednesday named an interim chief academic officer, Noelia Longoria, to fill Lathan’s position. Longoria previously served as assistant superintendent of HISD’s Office of School Choice.

No drama is fine by me, and the terms are boringly normal. May it be this easy finding the right candidate to replace Carranza.

On a side note, the Chron editorial board calls for a change in how HISD trustees are elected.

One significant change that Houston ISD should consider is changing the way it elects school board members. Currently, the nine trustees are elected from single-member districts, rather than by voters from throughout the school district.

Texas law allows a couple of alternatives. One would be a board made up of a mix of single-member and at-large trustees. This is similar to how Houston’s City Council is elected. Sixty smaller school districts across Texas use this governance system, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Another alternative would be to switch to cumulative voting, where voters across the school district would be allowed to cast as many votes as there are candidates. This option has been available to Texas school districts since 1995 and is used by a number of smaller school districts for at-large trustee elections.

Changing the governance model could help address one of the biggest challenges facing the school board: Members are concerned about struggling campuses in their own electoral district, but not necessarily in the districts of other trustees.

Single-member districts have played a major role in assuring more diversity on school boards. They help ensure that multiple voices are heard in the development of education policy. But they also can result in a balkanized school district, with trustees focused on their individual parts rather than the whole.

The Chron notes that this “balkanization” was one of the reasons Rep. Harold Dutton pushed through HB 1842, the bill that now has HISD under the gun for the chronically low-performing schools. I’m kind of meh on this idea. I suppose a hybrid district/at large model would be all right, though I’d like someone to try to persuade me that At Large Council members are better at looking out for the interests of the entire city than the district members are (and I say that as someone who supports having At Large council members). I’m not convinced we need to change to do a better job of achieving our goals, but I’ll listen if you want to make a pitch. Campos has more.

The broader implications of the Pasadena voting rights lawsuit

Buried in this Trib story about the ongoing saga of Pasadena’s voting rights lawsuit is this nugget about the state getting involved.

The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.

The Pasadena ruling also has the potential to help build a case against the state, which faces its own voting rights challenges in court, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

In lifting federal electoral oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved,” but the justices left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance if they committed new discriminatory actions.

Earlier this year, Texas faced a barrage of federal court rulings that found the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against voters of colors by passing a stringent voter ID law and re-drawing the state’s political maps. Those cases are still making their way through federal courts in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

The Pasadena ruling — “particularly because it was so thoroughly stated and so strong and by a judge that has no history of favoring blacks or Latinos in redistricting cases” — could serve as “another brick in building this case that Texas has a recent history of discriminatory action,” Murray said.

In a sign that Texas leaders also see Pasadena as a potential problem for its own cases, state attorneys filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal, arguing that preclearance “must be sparingly and cautiously applied” to avoid reimposing “unwarranted federal intrusion.”

Judge Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling in the Pasadena case was improper, the state contends, because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the state got involved. I’m surprised it took them this long. It is not yet clear if the city of Pasadena will continue to pursue this appeal. New Mayor Jeff Wagner has said he will abide by the will of Pasadena City Council. He hasn’t said much about it since being elected, including when he might ask them for their opinion. The Fifth Circuit declined to overturn Judge Rosenthal’s injunction on using the 6-2 Council map, but they did not address the merits of the overall ruling, including the bail-in on Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. I don’t know what the time frame for a hearing of that appeal at the Fifth Circuit might be, but broadly speaking it’s likely to be some time in 2018. Unless Pasadena decides to drop it and accept the lower court ruling, of course. Will the state’s intervention have an effect on that? We’ll know when Mayor Wagner asks Council to vote on the appeal.

The 2017 lineup for Pasadena

Here are the candidates for office in Pasadena for this May:

I wish I could give that to you in a more reader-friendly format, but online news sources for this are scant. This Patch.com story is the only post-filing deadline news I’ve seen, and it bizarrely identifies my blogging colleague Gary Denton as a candidate for Mayor. (Denton is working with Council Member Pat Van Houte on her Mayoral campaign.) This Chron story from the end of January gives a bit of background on some of the Mayoral candidates, but others have since filed. I’ll be keeping my eyes open on this and will post more if and when I find something worth posting.

In the meantime, according to Gary, the three unopposed Council candidates are all Democrats, as are Felipe Villareal in A, Steve Halvorson in B, and Oscar Del Toro in G. I don’t have particulars about other candidates as yet. I plan to keep a closer watch on these local May races than I usually do, and I welcome feedback if you know about any campaigns or candidates I should be watching.

Pasadena won’t fight election order

The May election in Pasadena will proceed under the pre-redistricting eight-district Council map.

Pasadena City Council

The city of Pasadena will not fight an appellate court ruling over its election system, a decision that will allow the upcoming May council elections to proceed with eight-single member district seats, according to the lead attorney for the city in the closely watched voting rights case.

The elections will proceed under the district format and will not using six neighborhood council and two at-large seats, a system a district judge ruled was discriminatory against Latino voters.

[…]

The city will continue to appeal the judge’s ruling, which also ordered Pasadena to again obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before making additional changes to its election system.

See here for the background. The filing deadline for the May election is today, so by not filing a quick appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that upheld the original order, Pasadena was basically conceding that fight. The appeal of Judge Rosenthal’s ruling on the merits will proceed at some point down the line, though I suppose depending on the outcome of the elections, the new Mayor and Council may choose to drop it. I will of course be following the election as we go forward.

Fifth Circuit upholds Pasadena election order

Good.

Pasadena City Council

The Pasadena election system that a judge ruled violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics cannot be used in the upcoming May council elections, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court judge ordering the city to revert to a 2011 system using all single-member districts for the May 6 elections, when the entire city council and the mayor’s seat are on the ballot.

The expedited ruling – which came just two weeks before the deadline for candidates to file for office – is a blow to the city and its longtime mayor in a case being closely watched by voting rights advocates nationwide.

The decision Friday by a three-judge panel addresses only an attempt by Pasadena to temporarily halt the order for the May elections; the merits of the case and the judge’s ruling will be taken up later in full.

“This means all Pasadena voters will have a fair election on May 6,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of a group of Hispanic voters. “All voters of all races will have a fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents Pasadena and Mayor Johnny Isbell, said Friday he wasn’t sure if the city would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an appeal would have to happen quickly or could jeopardize the city elections.

See here and here for the background. As I said in that previous update, the three-judge panel was quite conservative, so a unanimous ruling upholding Judge Rosenthal’s order is a pretty strong statement. I hope this will be the end of the line for litigation affecting this election – an appeal of the ruling on its merits, which will take place mush farther down the line, is of course to be expected – but there’s still a chance Pasadena could take a shot at SCOTUS. We’ll see.

Fifth Circuit hears Pasadena redistricting appeal

This is to decide whether to lift or leave in place Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling that the pre-2013 all-single-member-district Council map will be in place for the May elections in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The City of Pasadena asked for the expedited hearing before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a narrow issue – the structure of Pasadena’s City Council districts for the upcoming election.

Hearing the case for the circuit court were judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Priscilla Owen and Gregg Costa.

At a later date, the court will address the city’s appeal of a sweeping order from a lower court judge who threw out Pasadena’s city council election format, saying it was discriminatory against Hispanic voters.

The judge ordered the city to revert to a 2011 system for electing the council, with eight single-member-district seats, instead of the 2014 system that used six single-member and two at-large districts.

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell, asked the appellate judges to grant a stay of the judge’s order because he said he was likely to win the overall appeal on the merits. His client did not intend to discriminate against Hispanic voters, and the election results did not reflect a diluted Latino vote, he said.

[…]

Costa pressed Heath about the harm that might be caused if the appellate panel switched the election to 6-2 and then the appellate court upheld the appeal.

“That’s significant harm, isn’t it?” Costa asked.

“It is if it has a discriminatory effect,” Heath said.

Nina Perales, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of Latino voters, stressed to the judges that the 8-0 system the lower court put in place would sufficiently eliminate questions of discrimination in Pasadena’s council race.

However, a decision by the appellate judges to temporarily lift the lower court’s 8-0 format would confuse voters and candidates who have already filed to get their names on the ballot and begun canvassing neighborhoods, she said.

“There is no reason to grant the stay based on (the city’s) likelihood of success because there is no single case supporting their contentions,” Perales said. “The case law is unified – if there is lower Hispanic registration and turnout rates it is tied to a history of past discrimination.”

See here for the background. Judges Elrod and Owen are both Dubya appointees, and are two of the more conservative members of the Fifth Circuit, so this is about as friendly a panel as Pasadena could have wanted. The city has the burden of proof here – they need to show that Judge Rosenthal erred in her ruling. We’ll see if the Fifth Circuit grades them on a curve for that. Given the time frame – the filing deadline is in two weeks, and multiple candidates have already filed for each of the eight Council seats – we should get a ruling shortly.

Pasadena appellate hearing set

Mark your calendars.

Pasadena City Council

With deadlines looming for the upcoming May elections, a federal appeals court has agreed to hear arguments Feb. 1 in a voting rights lawsuit that overturned the Pasadena election system.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether to temporarily halt the order from the Houston judge until after the appeals are exhausted. But that would leave in place an election system that has been found discriminatory against Latinos.

The Fifth Circuit court set an expedited hearing at the Bob Casey Courthouse in Houston for lawyers to present argument as to why the city should or should not proceed with its May elections for city council positions using a 2011 map of eight single-member district seats as directed by a federal judge in Houston.

The appellate court will focus on a request by Pasadena’s lead attorney in the high-profile voting rights case to temporarily halt the district court’s order for Pasadena to hold its May election using eight district positions, instead of a 2014 scheme that passed by a narrow margin of voters that uses six single-member and two at-large seats.

See here and here for the background. Candidates are already filing for office in Pasadena, so this really does have to be done quickly. The court would be deciding whether to use the current map, with six districts and two At Large seats, or the previous map with eight districts, which is what Judge Rosenthal ordered. We ought to know soon enough. Texas Monthly, which delves more into Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, has more.

Judge affirms Pasadena redistricting order

Back to the previous map, pending appeal.

Pasadena City Council

Hours after candidates began filing paperwork to run for city office, a federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Pasadena officials to delay her order that the city election be run under an 2011 election scheme to protect the rights of Latino voters.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in Houston said Pasadena should conduct its upcoming May elections based on eight single-member districts, throwing out the six single-member and two at-large districts that the judge ruled had diluted the clout of Hispanics.

The focus now shifts to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Pasadena officials are challenging the judge’s ruling in a landmark voting rights case that has drawn nationwide attention.

[…]

Pasadena officials filed a request Tuesday to stay Rosenthal’s judgment, which was issued Monday during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. City lawyers also appealed the ruling, challenging the judge’s conclusion that the new voting scheme was put in place with the aim of intentionally stopping Hispanics from gaining a majority of candidates of their choice on council.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea if the Fifth Circuit will overrule Judge Rosenthal and order the 2013 map to be put back in place, but as candidate filing has begun, they would need to be quick about it if they do. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Pasadena will appeal redistricting ruling

Not a surprise.

Pasadena City Council

An attorney representing the city of Pasadena said Tuesday the city will appeal a ruling that found Pasadena deliberately violated the voting rights of its Hispanic population, a move that could have immediate consequences for the city’s upcoming May elections.

The attorney, C. Robert Heath, said the city disagreed with Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling earlier this month that a redistricting scheme adopted in 2014 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by diluting the Hispanic vote.

“I think we’re right on the law and ultimately we’ll prevail,” Heath said.

[…]

Heath said the city will seek court approval to temporarily halt execution of Rosenthal’s order, meaning that upcoming elections could be conducted using the redistricting scheme Rosenthal found to be discriminatory. The 2015 elections were also conducted using that scheme.

“I don’t think they were trying to prevent Hispanic success,” Heath said.

City Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, who supported the goals of the lawsuit that led to Rosenthal’s ruling, called the appeal a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The legal bill has already surpassed $2 million, but I guess since it’s not the mayor’s money, he doesn’t mind spending it,” Ybarra said, adding that “this council is told nothing” by the administration about the legal process.

See here and here for the background. Candidate filing begins today, so one way or the other we’re going to need a quick ruling on any motions for an injunction. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The NYT, Rick Hasen, and the Texas Standard have more.

UPDATE: From the longer version of the story:

Timing in the case, now, is critical. Rosenthal must first weigh in on whether to stand firm in her decision to keep the single-member system in place for the May elections – or whether to grant a stay on her own ruling.

The city’s appeal of the full ruling, meanwhile, moves on to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Judge Rosenthal made a ruling on the stay right away. … It will be a yes or no, probably,” said Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

She said if Rosenthal denies Pasadena a stay, it is unlikely the city’s lawyers would be able to derail the May election.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who has represented voters and governmental entities in voting rights cases, agreed.

“It would be out of the ordinary for the court to stop her ruling and let the election go forward under a plan that’s been found to be discriminatory,” said Dunn, who represents council members Ybarra and Cody Ray Wheeler, who vocally opposed changes to the city election system. “It’s more likely than not that Judge Rosenthal’s judgment will carry the day on this election.”

The circuit court can affirm the district judge’s decision, reverse it or remand it back to Rosenthal for additional fact-finding, said Austin attorney Roger B. Borgelt, who specializes in election and campaign law.

We ought to know pretty quickly what the election situation will be for Pasadena.

Final ruling in Pasadena redistricting lawsuit

It’s official – back to the original map.

Pasadena City Council

With candidate registration set to begin Tuesday, a federal judge Monday prohibited the city of Pasadena from using an unconstitutional redistricting scheme in the upcoming May elections, stating that the scheme violated the voting rights of Latino and Hispanic residents.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston wrote in the final judgment that the city must use a map the city generated in 2011 that featured eight single-member districts and gave “Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Rosenthal also ordered the city to face preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for 6.5 years before changing the election system again.

[…]

Rosenthals’ order Monday – on a federal holiday recognizing the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights crusade led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – came two days before candidate registration opens for Pasadena’s municipal elections. All city council seats and the mayor’s office are up for contention.

See here for the background. There is no word as yet whether the city will appeal or not. The filing period opens tomorrow and runs through February 17, so if there is going to be an appeal and an injunction against using the previous map, the city will need to get its act together quickly. Not that I want them to, mind you, just stating a fact. We’ll see what they do.

UPDATE: Here’s a longer version of the story.

Judge rules for Pasadena plaintiffs

Wow.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge in Houston dealt a major blow Friday to the city of Pasadena in a closely watched voting rights case, ruling that officials deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered Pasadena to revert to its previous use of single-member districts for the upcoming May elections and ruled the city would need preclearance from the Department of Justice for any future changes.

“In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters … do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors,” Rosenthal concluded in the 113-page decision released late Friday.

Patricia Gonzales, one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit, said fairness can be restored to the city election system.

“All right,” she said, when informed of the ruling. “Now each section will be able to vote on who they want and their voices will be heard. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

The ruling could provide a key test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, legal experts said.

“It is a great win,” said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “This case shows that there is something you can do, at least if you have the facts, lawyers and resources.”

[…]

Rosenthal cited witness testimony in her opinion, noting that both Texas and Pasadena had histories of exclusionary practices and that discriminatory attitudes toward Latinos still endured among Pasadena residents.

In recent years, the political balance in Pasadena had begun to shift, the judge wrote. But just as Latino voters were poised to elect a majority of single-district representatives to the City Council, longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell and his backers proposed changes to the election system, the judge said.

“In short, Pasadena’s elections are racially polarized,” Rosenthal wrote. “The City’s 2013 racially polarized vote in favor of the 6–2 redistricting map and plan and the Council’s 2014 vote to approve the change were narrowly decided. The effect was to dilute Latino voting strength. That effect was foreseeable and foreseen.”

The city is likely to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the ruling could have a significant impact nonetheless on the May elections. All City Council seats and the mayor’s post are up for election; Isbell is facing term limits and cannot seek re-election.

See here for the last update. Rick Hasen has a copy of and some excerpts from the decision. This is a big deal, and as the city of Pasadena has now been put back under preclearance, it’s a possible preview of what could be in store for Texas when we get a final decision on voter ID. Of course, being under preclearance now means a lot less than it would have under President Hillary Clinton, but it’s still something. We’ll see if there is an appeal, and if so if the Fifth Circuit steps in to halt any reversions to the old system before the May election. For now, I say congratulations and well done to the plaintiffs. A statement from the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus is here.

Pasadena voting rights case in the judge’s hands now

We await a ruling.

Pasadena City Council

Armed officers guarded a closed-door committee meeting. Discriminatory comments surfaced at City Hall. Latino-backed council members were hustled from chambers by police.

The accounts of perceived intimidation and back-door dealings were detailed during testimony in a closely watched seven-day trial of a federal voting rights lawsuit that wrapped up Friday in a Houston courtroom.

Now, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal will decide if Pasadena violated the federal Voting Rights Act by reconfiguring its city election system, a ruling that is expected in time for February filing deadlines for May elections in which city council seats and the mayor’s job are up for grabs.

A group of Latino voters filed the federal lawsuit, saying city leaders changed the structure of council elections in a deliberate attempt to quell the Hispanic vote.

“The city moved to dilute voting strength just as Latinos were starting to exercise it,” said Nina Perales, lead attorney in the suit for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in her closing arguments to the court.

City attorneys argued that leaders did not set out to diminish Hispanic representation by presenting an option to voters to change the city election systems. The growing Latino population has an equal chance to participate in the political process to elect their candidate of choice, said C. Robert Heath, a veteran attorney who specializes in voting rights and election law.

“No one said, ‘Vote yes (on the ballot measure) to diminish Hispanic representation,’ ” he said.

See here and here for the background. There were a couple of other stories related to this case published last week. From Monday, when Mayor Isbell took the stand:

The mayor of Pasadena chuckled and shook his head Monday when his defense lawyer asked if he had ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which had its headquarters in the city for many years.

“No. It’s a despicable organization as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Johnny Isbell, who is white, testified.

He is not racist, nor is Pasadena a racist city, he testified.

[…]

Isbell said he had appointed African-Americans and Hispanics to top jobs in his administration and actively backed a few Hispanic candidates’ campaigns. He said he supported redistricting and switching from eight single-member districts to six single-member districts plus two at-large seats because decades in public office taught him a mixed election system worked best.

He also contradicted testimony last week by Hispanic City Council member Ornaldo Ybarra, who said Isbell was known to have said to like-minded constituents that if they didn’t back his proposed revisions that the city government would be overpowered by “an invasion of Hispanics.”

The mayor testified that the changing demographics of Pasadena don’t bother him, and he quibbled with Ybarra’s portrayal of a north-south split in Pasadena, with Hispanics in the northern sector having to live amid urban blight, poorly maintained streets and subpar drainage.

The judge asked questions to clarify how the city divided.

Isbell said the north was mostly Hispanic and the south was majority white. But Isbell said the charter vote was not a white-versus-Hispanic issue.

“It was a Democrat and Republican issue, that’s the way it ended up,” he said.

The next day one of Isbell’s allies made an embarrassing admission during his testimony.

A top Pasadena official admitted on the witness stand that he violated state ethics laws by campaigning during work hours for the mayor’s re-election bid and for a 2013 charter amendment to change the city’s election system.

Richard Scott, the city’s director of community relations, testified in trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal that he’d used city workers and resources to do campaign work during business hours and sent campaign-related emails from his city account.

He said he regretted his actions and knew they were in violation of state law.

The statute of limitations has expired on the 2013 admission but Scott could be charged with a crime for working on the mayor’s 2015 campaign, according to Nina Perales, one of the team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pursuing the lawsuit.

[…]

Scott’s testimony came during questioning by MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera in the civil trial of a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters.

Scott, a longtime confidante of Mayor Johnny Isbell, sat up tall and answered the questions without hesitation. Yes, he had used his work email address. Yes, he’d had city employees help him during work hours on the campaigns. Yes, he knew that was a violation of campaign law.

Okay then. Chron reporter Mike Snyder attended the trail and picked out a few key quotes to highlight from it.

“You don’t have to look at the budget to see that one side of town is clearly being treated differently than the other.” – Pasadena Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler.

The councilman, a Latino in his second term who is part of the faction that has opposed the mayor on contentious topics, was discussing the real-world consequences of the issues in the case. Residents of Pasadena’s mostly Latino north side have long complained that the quality of their streets, drainage and other essential services lags far behind conditions on the predominantly Anglo south side.

The most recently adopted council structure of six district seats and two at-large ones replaced a system of eight district positions. If, as the suit alleges, the new system makes it harder for the city’s growing Latino population to elect its preferred candidates, this under-representation is reflected in residents’ daily lives. This trial is not a theoretical exercise.

[…]

“Who are you to vote against me?” – Isbell to Wheeler, according to Wheeler’s testimony.

Wheeler said the mayor posed this question after Wheeler voted against a bond package that Isbell initially supported. Isbell has not confirmed or denied having made the statement, but it’s the kind of thing a longtime public official accustomed to having his way might say to a young, ambitious politician like Wheeler. Isbell, 78, has held elective office in Pasadena almost continuously since 1969 – 16 years before the 31-year-old Wheeler was born. A sense of entitlement can be a byproduct of all that experience.

[…]

“We’ve got to keep Pasadena Pasadena.” – unidentified Anglo precinct judge to Wheeler, explaining his support for the new council system on Nov. 5, 2013 – the day voters narrowly approved it.

I think this comment speaks for itself.

Indeed, though it’s up to Judge Rosenthal to decide if it merits legal redress. She has promised a decision in time to conduct the May elections in Pasadena, which all things considered probably means by February.

Pasadena voting rights trial update

Day One:

Pasadena City Council

The disparity in infrastructure is at the heart of a voting rights case that opened in federal court Thursday in which a group of Latino residents is challenging the city’s newly revised system of government, saying it discriminates against minority voters and intentionally dilutes their power.

By creating two at-large council seats and eliminating two of the eight district seats, the suit says, the city violated the federal Voting Rights Act, making it harder for Latino-backed candidates to get elected and leading to unfair allocation of resources.

“Filling a pothole is not a Democratic or Republican thing to do; neither is putting in a drainage ditch or a sidewalk,” said Nina Perales, one of a team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing voters. “The everyday business of a city – including maintaining the infrastructure – is not a partisan issue, and when a city council that operates almost exclusively in unison begins to divide over issues of resource allocation, that is not partisan.

“Here in Pasadena those divisions have everything to do with race,” she said, in an opening statement Thursday of the trial that will be decided not by jurors but by U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

Lawyers for the city, however, told the judge there were legitimate reasons to change the system of electing city council members.

Claude Robert Heath, a prominent defense lawyer experienced in redistricting law, said shifting two of the eight council seats to at-large positions did not diminish access or opportunity for Latinos, who make up about half the population. And he said the city would show that whites have not voted as a unified block in recent city races, but instead crossed over to back candidates Latino voters preferred.

[…]

MALDEF lawyers began their case before Rosenthal Thursday with data-heavy testimony from three expert witnesses: a demographer, a political scientist and a historian.

The demographer, David Ely, testified that Census data indicates Latinos in Pasadena have not achieved the same level of education as whites. They have a higher poverty rate and are likelier to live in overcrowded housing.

Next on the stand was Richard L. Engstrom, a visiting political science professor at Duke University, who is an expert in minority voting rights. Engstrom testified that the ballot measure changing the system of government passed because non-Latinos voted in a racially uniform block. He said 99.6 percent of Latinos voted “no” on the measure.

Under question by the city’s lawyers, Engstrom doubled down on his contention that the votes were not an aberration.

“Does racially polarized voting exist?” he asked, rhetorically. “In election after election after election after election, the choice of Latino voters is being eliminated as a result of non-Latino voters voting as a block.”

He later added, “Racially polarized voting exists and persists in Pasadena.”

Day Two:

It felt like a power grab in Pasadena, a Latino city councilman told the judge. Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal oversight for local elections, the mayor and a committee he’d appointed met behind closed doors to draw up a plan to reduce the voting power of Hispanics.

The testimony came on the second day in the federal trial of a closely watched voting rights case challenging how Pasadena elects its city council. The mayor took the stand for about an hour at the end of the day and is expected to testify at length after the Thanksgiving break.

But for most of Friday, Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra testified about the disparities in representation. Ybarra was not included in the closed door meeting, which had been scheduled to be open to the public. Ybarra said longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell approved of the gathering with police protecting the door. He said the mayor pushed the changes because he realized he no longer needed advance approval from the federal Justice Department to make revisions to the city charter.

[…]

Ybarra also said he heard secondhand accounts that the mayor and others were warning voters of “an invasion” of Hispanics in the city government: “It was all over Pasadena that if we didn’t adopt this 6-2 council, there was going to be too many Hispanics on council.”

A defense attorney questioned whether the four-term councilman was certain of what the mayor meant by “invasion.” The mayor had backed Ybarra’s candidacy when he first ran for council in 2009.

“Only the mayor and his creator know what his intent was, but the message and behavior were racially motivated,” he said.

Given the Thanksgiving holiday, the trial will likely wrap up next week. As noted, the plaintiffs have a tall order to prove discriminatory intent. It’s interesting that this trial is going on at the same time as the litigation over whether the voter ID law had discriminatory intent. I’d normally look at both of those as consequential cases with the potential to bring about a lot of change, but that would necessitate an Attorney General who isn’t a horrible racist. Rulings for the plaintiff in either or both cases would still be a big deal, just probably not as big as it could have been.

Pasadena voting rights trial begins

The Chron’s Mike Snyder provides an update.

Pasadena City Council

[This] week in a Houston federal courtroom, [the Voting Rights Act] will again be invoked in a challenge to an allegedly discriminatory council system, this time in a suburban city that’s undergone a dramatic demographic transformation.

The lawyers involved in the case, Patino v. Pasadena, will face off in an atmosphere of growing anxiety among activists struggling to preserve minority voting rights. Hampered by the Supreme Court’s 2013 invalidation of a key provision of the voting rights law, these advocates face uncertainty created by the election of Donald Trump as president.

“With Trump, you’re certainly not going to have a Justice Department we can go to if you see some (voting) irregularities,” said longtime Houston political consultant Marc Campos. “They’re certainly not going to be a friend we can count on in future litigation.”

[…]

Locally, even before Trump’s election, there were discouraging developments for voting rights advocates. In 2014, a federal court upheld the Pasadena school district’s system, in which all seven board members are elected district-wide.

And some witnesses at a hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee last August suggested changing other public school district and community college system boards to at-large systems, generally seen as unfriendly to minority voting interests.

Last June, soon after the Supreme Court decision on the preclearance issue, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell defied the advice of his advisory committee and pushed through a change to the council district system. Voters narrowly approved the change from a council of eight members, all elected from districts, to six district members and two elected at-large.

In the trial before U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, attorneys representing a group of Latino Pasadena residents will try to prove the new system was intentionally discriminatory – a power play by Isbell and his allies to preserve their long-dominant influence.

The city contends it added at-large positions to provide better representation. The new system, city officials say, provides proportionate opportunities for Latinos. Of the city’s roughly 150,000 residents, 63 percent are Latino – up from 29 percent in 1990 – and 42 percent of registered voters are Latino.

See here for the background. Pasadena’s defense is basically the argument that was made in the Evenwel case, which was unanimously rejected by SCOTUS earlier this year. Here, though, that’s not really at issue. The plaintiffs are arguing – and need to prove – that there was intentional discrimination at work, which is a high bar to clear. The city is free to make a dumb justification for their actions, they just have to fend off the claim that they deliberately discriminated. We’ll see how that goes.

Looking towards the future, if this case ever does make it to SCOTUS, assuming no one else leaves the high court it would face a panel that’s about as hostile to voting rights as it was with Scalia on it. Which is not at all reassuring, but at least it wouldn’t be any worse. I will point out that while single-member districts are generally more favorable to minority communities, this is not always the case. I’ve just started working on a draft canvass of the Harris County election returns from Tuesday, but I can tell you that Hillary Clinton carried HISD – which as you know had that district-wide recapture referendum to vote on – by a three-to-one margin. I have not yet looked at other races, and I know for a fact that she got a non-trivial number of Republican votes, but I’d say the default Democratic level in the district was about two to one. There are nine HISD Trustee districts, and they too are two-to-one Democratic. Three districts are represented by Republicans today – Greg Meyers, Mike Lunceford, and Harvin Moore. It is likely, though not guaranteed, that this will continue to be the case after Moore and Lunceford depart. How many Republican trustees do you think there would be if HISD went to an at large system? Sure, this was a much higher turnout environment than usual, but still. The best you could say is that any GOP hopeful for an HISD Trustee position in an at large world would face an uphill battle. Just something to keep in mind.

Pasadena voting rights case moves forward

Good news.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge has denied Pasadena’s request to throw out a lawsuit challenging its controversial city council redistricting plan, which a group of Hispanic and Latino residents alleges dilutes the voting rights of the suburb’s growing minority population.

Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling Wednesday after a roughly two-hour court hearing means the case continues toward trial, which Rosenthal has tentatively set for November.

Wednesday’s session was one of the first significant hearings in the voting rights case, which has received national attention as emblematic of modern-day battles over the issue more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The city had asked Rosenthal to rule on a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city’s 3-year-old method of electing the council, which called for races for six single-member seats and two at-large seats, stating that the plan allows the Hispanic minority population the opportunity to elect four members.

Rosenthal rejected that argument, stating that the new method creates a majority of Hispanic citizens of voting age in three districts, compared to four in the previous election system, when there were eight single-member districts.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 and stemmed from the redistricting plan pushed by Mayor Johnny Isbell in 2013 that switched the city from having eight district members to six district members plus two At Large members. I’m glad to see this happen, but it shows the stark difference between a world in which preclearance exists and one where it doesn’t. This redistricting plan had been previously denied by the Justice Department but went forward after the Shelby ruling from SCOTUS. Nearly three years after Mayor Isbell’s plan was narrowly approved by voters, the lawsuit over it is finally cleared for trial, with an initial ruling likely months away and ultimate resolution farther out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it is still being litigated two years from now, or five years from initial passage of the scheme. If that redistricting plan is eventually found illegal, that’s an awful lot of time for it to have been allowed to be in place, presumably causing harm, while the lawyers fight it out. If preclearance were still in place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this plan will be tossed. It’s always hard to say how litigation like this will play out. In the meantime, the Chron’s Mike Snyder recently published a series of stories relating to the fight over voting rights in Pasadena that is worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so:

With changes looming, Pasadena mayor launched attack against Latino council hopeful

Mayor: New Pasadena council system would have passed federal review

Voting rights case part of long history of Pasadena ethnic strife

I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

Jarvis Johnson wins HD139 special election

For whatever it turns out to be worth.

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Houston voters on Saturday selected Jarvis D. Johnson to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of former District 139 State Representative Sylvester Turner, now mayor of Houston.

Johnson, a former Houston city councilman, defeated Rickey “Raykay” Tezino in Saturday’s race, according to unofficial results. He was the only challenger.

Johnson will serve until at least January. To hold on to the position past that point, Johnson will have to defeat Kimberly Willis in a May 24 special election.

Willis, a social worker and community activist, did not choose to compete in Saturday’s bid to fill Turner’s unexpired term, instead focusing her efforts on the May 24 match up. Primary runoff elections in judicial, sheriff’s and constable races will also be held that day.

Here are the election returns from the Secretary of State. As you can see, the story does not convey the magnitude of Johnson’s win, which was with over 83% of the vote. Of course, that was 83% of 1,836 total votes, so as landslides go it was fairly modest in scope. It’s the election on May 24 that really matters. If Johnson wins that, he gets a head start on all the other freshman legislators-to-be. If not, he’s just another footnote.

Here are the HD120 special election results as well, in which two people who will not be a part of the 2017 Legislature will now go to a runoff to decide who gets to be called “Representative” for a few months. I pity everyone involved in that endeavor.

In other news, here are the election results from Fort Bend County. Of interest are the city of Richmond ballot propositions. As noted in that Chron story above, Proposition 1, to increase the number of city commissioners, passed by a large margin, with over 82% voting in favor. Prop 2, for single member districts, failed by a 47-53 tally.

And finally, every election has at least one reminder that every vote counts. Here’s this election’s reminder:

The Katy School Board Race between Joe Adams and George Scott will not be decided until Friday when provisional ballots are examined, and when additional military ballots could arrive in the mail.

When the votes were tallied on Saturday night George Scott was ahead of incumbent Joe Adams by seven votes. Scott had 1,473 votes to Adams 1,466 but there are 12 provisional ballots that need further examination. That examination will happen on Friday according to Scott. Friday is also the deadline for military ballots.

Seven votes, y’all. I couldn’t find an official election returns page, so I’ll assume that this story is accurate, and I’ll keep my eyes open for a followup on Friday. In the meantime, my tentative congratulations to George Scott for the win.

Representation in Richmond

One of the smaller elections going on right now has some important questions to answer.

Every time Tres Davis drives over the cracks in the streets of North Richmond, he remembers why he’s fighting for change.

There are few sidewalks or streetlights in the historically black neighborhood. Residents live in crumbling, piecemeal homes or aging trailers.

The Brazos River encloses North Richmond on three sides. On the fourth side is a railroad track. When a train comes by – as one does every 18 minutes – there isn’t a convenient way out of the neighborhood.

Davis’ campaign for an open city commissioner’s seat – and to expand the local elected board and change how members are elected – illustrates a broader quest across Texas for greater minority representation in once-rural towns that are now fast-growing suburbs, where whites are now in the minority but continue their hold on political power.

At 55 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white and 17 percent African-American, Richmond not only fits that mold, but serves as the seat of government in Fort Bend County, one of the fastest-growing and most-diverse counties in the United States.

“The fact that Fort Bend County and Richmond in particular are diversifying so quickly demonstrates the need for racial inclusion for groups who historically haven’t had as much say,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

Davis, who is African-American, figures his election to an open city commissioner’s seat would immediately increase minority representation. He is seeking to fill the seat vacated by a white commissioner who recently died. That would give Richmond an African-American and a Hispanic on its two-member commission, along with a white mayor and city manager.

Davis also is backing two propositions that aim to make the city’s elected board more inclusive and responsive to the needs of low-income minority residents.

Proposition 1 would increase the number of city commissioners from two to four. Proposition 2 would have city commissioners elected from single-member districts, instead of at large.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite interesting. It should be clear that it’s harder for a city government to be representative of a diverse population when there are only three elected positions, especially when one of those positions was held by the same person for 63 (!) years. One can argue the merits of single-member districts versus at-large representation, but if this story is accurate, then Tres Davis’ North Richmond neighborhood has been getting the short end of the stick for a long time, and a likely reason for that is that no one in Richmond government has been from there. Having more city commissioners – as the story notes, Richmond is the only city in Texas with a city manager form of government and a council/commission that has only two members – would present an opportunity to alleviate that. Unless there’s something I’m missing here, I’d back Richmond’s Prop 1, and would likely support its Prop 2 as well.

Fort Bend ISD

A lot going on over there.

With a fifth-grader in Palmer Elementary School in Missouri City, Steve Brown has begun to think about where his son should attend middle school. The campus is just a two-minute drive from the current one but the change has him concerned.

According to the latest accountability rating, the middle school met standards but earned no distinctions. Plus, he’s heard it has discipline issues. Some parents even move to avoid it, said Brown, to the other side of “the tracks.”

“Even in middle-class, suburban Fort Bend County, there are tracks and that track is Highway 6,” said Brown, “It’s unfortunate, but it signifies that we still have not come as far as we thought.”

Brown’s story was part of a discussion with a panel of parents, lawyers and advocates held Thursday in the library at the University of Houston Sugar Land campus to discuss racial discrepancies in the district’s truancy complaints and disciplinary actions. What emerged was a picture of a divided district, often along racial and socioeconomic lines, that touches almost every aspect of a student’s life.

Like neighboring school districts such as Lamar, Katy and Houston, the Fort Bend ISD reports a consistent overrepresentation of black, Hispanic and special education students who are disciplined. The district also refers cases to a special truancy county court, which some see as contributing to a culture of criminalization of black and Hispanic students.

The district has responded, creating a special office to review discipline data weekly as well as expulsions and discretionary placements at alternative education campuses. Early data from this school year shows success in bringing the number of African American students punished down. And Superintendent Charles Dupre has promised the community that the district will hold a series of dialogues to address the disparities, the focus of an Office for Civil Rights investigation. He has said he shares “concerns about the number of African-American and Hispanic students who are subject to disciplinary actions in Fort Bend ISD and across the state.”

The Steve Brown in this story is the same Steve Brown who ran for Railroad Commissioner last November. He’d emailed me a couple of weeks ago about the race for Fort Bend ISD Trustee, Position 6, which takes place in May. As Steve pointed out to me, and as this story does not note, the FBISD student body is very diverse, while its Board of Trustees is not. At that time, there was a story in Houston Style Magazine about one of the candidates in the race, Stuart Jackson. Look at the stock photo at the top of that story, then look at Stuart Jackson’s webpage. There was a bit of fuss over that, and then this happened.

With less than a month until Election Day, Stuart Jackson, one of four candidates for Fort Bend ISD Position 6, has terminated a contract with a political consultant because of a misleading magazine article.

Jackson, a software company owner and first-time political candidate, decided to part ways with Burt Levine, a Houston-based paid political consultant who represents candidates from both major political parties and from many different ethnicities in Fort Bend County and throughout the Greater Houston area.

The contract was terminated over a story that Levine wrote in Houston Style Magazine on Feb. 25. Jackson was contacted by a former FBISD board candidate, Vanesia Johnson, who wrote a letter to the community, including The Star, stating that the article misled voters to believe that Jackson, who is white, was African-American.

The Missouri City resident is running against incumbent Jenny Bailey as well as Addie Heyliger and J.J. Clemence for the position.

[…]

Jackson said he discovered the story after it was published, and that he’s never tried to conceal his race or ethnicity to any portion of the electorate.

He’s attended several events throughout the community and has his face featured prominently on his campaign website.

Jackson thinks issues such as the article take away from the substance of the election – which he says, is finding the best person to represent the students of FBISD.

“I feel good about the campaign,” Jackson said. “We need more local control and and more community control. What frustrates me more than anything is the (article) takes the wind out of any message I am trying to push forward.”

Jackson reached out to Johnson, who was defeated by board trustee and then-board president Jim Rice, 70.4 to 29.6 percent, for the FBISD Position 3 seat in 2013.

“He brought my outrage down to confusion,” Johnson said. “I can’t believe completely that (Jackson) didn’t know (about the article beforehand).”

Consider that another reminder that these smaller, lower-profile local elections really matter. The candidate that Steve Brown and Vanesia Johnson are supporting is Addie Heyliger. Each FBISD trustee is elected at large, which is another wrinkle in all this; there’s a bill by Rep. Ron Reynolds to create single member districts, but it hasn’t had a hearing and seems to me to be unlikely to pass at this point. If you live in Fort Bend, are you following this race at all?

The At Large trend

From Think Progress:

Pasadena City Council

Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government.

All three cities have been or are currently being sued for allegedly using discriminatory at-large voting systems, a voter dilution tactic that has been recently and frequently employed against Hispanic voters. In an at-large system, every city resident votes for each member of the governing body and the city does not divide voters into districts.

As the Latino population grows across the country, cities have employed at-large voting to dilute the Latino vote and maintain white control of local governing bodies. Instead of allowing each district to elect its own representative, an at-large system means that unless Hispanic populations reach a majority in the entire city, they will have no influence in electing their local members of government. According to Fair Vote, at-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, typically resulting in racially homogeneous elected bodies. The tactic used to be popular in the South to discriminate against neighborhoods with large African American communities but is now targeting a new threat: Latinos.

Recently, a court in Washington struck down the city of Yakima’s at-large voting system — whose representation is elected by the city as a whole rather than by specific districts — ruling that it was discriminatory and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Lawsuits against cities attempting to dilute the Hispanic vote are gaining traction as more and more end with court orders and settlements that favor the plaintiffs, said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

“A lawsuit like [Yakima] will clearly have a very important impact,” McDonald told ThinkProgress. “This was the first Section 2 challenge to an at-large system that was brought in Washington state and already the Hispanic population in Pasco, Washington has approached the city council there and asked them to adopt a single member district plan to replace the at-large system.”

Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of Washington’s ACLU branch, said the city of Pasco is likely to change its system before it is sued and ends up in a similar position to Yakima.

After ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yakima, the judge adopted the ACLU’s voting plan, which called for an elimination of the at-large system. The ACLU is also asking Yakima for more than $2.8 million in legal fees and expenses. “If you bring a lawsuit now, these jurisdictions understand that if they lose, they will be liable for a substantial amount of costs and fees,” McDonald said. “That will have an important impact on their decision to settle these cases.”

Last month, the city of Santa Barbara, CA partially settled a similar suit, alleging its voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The city is currently drawing six new districts with citizen input to ensure that the Hispanic population, which makes up nearly 40 percent of the city, is not discriminated against. The lead plaintiff told the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Daily Nexus that the city is saving more than $2 million by settling the litigation for around $600,000 and not allowing it to go to trial, where the plaintiffs would likely prevail.

Because California has a state voting rights law, it “facilitates this type of challenge,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a result, he said we will see a lot of settlements and moves away from at-large systems in California.

Yeah, we don’t have that in Texas, and with the Congress we have now, we won’t have it again nationally any time soon. I don’t have a problem with At Large districts per se, but there’s no mistaking the intent here. One only need look at a city like Farmers Branch to see what the effect can be when a more inclusive Council plan is adopted. We can also look to Pasadena, where we have an opportunity this May to minimize the damage being done. Ultimately, changes will have to be made at a higher level to prevent this kind of shenanigans at the local level.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

Art Murillo

Congratulations to Art Murillo, the first person of color elected to the Lone Star College Board of Trustees. Need I mention that it took a lawsuit for this to happen?

Art Murillo

Murillo, who is Latino, at one time might have seemed a long shot to win a seat on the Lone Star College board of trustees. But he was running in a newly drawn majority-Latino district, the result of a lawsuit that challenged the LSC’s “at-large” system of representation. On Tuesday, Murillo was elected the only Latino member of the nine-member board.

[…]

Lone Star College officials created the new district after a lawsuit alleged that the old election system – where all voters in the community college district could vote for each candidate – disenfranchised minorities because whites across the district would reject minority candidates.

The district currently has about 83,000 students enrolled in college credit courses.

Starting this year, that system is gone, and the college system isn’t alone in tackling the voting rights issue.

“As to the suburban areas, because of the white flight that this country experienced for half a century, those districts have been exceedingly Anglo for so long that at-large districts didn’t really commit a great deal of harm on minority citizens,” said Chad Dunn, who represented the group that sued Lone Star last year and specializes in litigation involving such systems.

“What is uniquely going on now, and about the last decade as the city center has redeveloped, the suburbs are becoming much more mixed-race,” Dunn said.

Latinos make up about 32 percent of people living in the Lone Star College district, which spans north Harris and Montgomery counties, according to the most recent census figures. African-Americans make up 15 percent.

Advocates argue that the new single-member districts that have a majority of minority voters will ensure they have a voice in college affairs.

“There’s not a lot of Hispanic leadership at all,” Murillo told another resident as they discussed Hispanic participation in local elections.

Two points to note here. One is that no matter what the Supreme Court may think there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that minority communities have something resembling a proportionate amount of representation in government. Single member districts, for city councils and school boards and the like, are often the best, or at least the fastest, way to make this happen. It’s not a panacea, and some problems could be alleviated by higher rates of voter participation, but you can run into a chicken-and-egg problem there. It’s hard to convince someone to run for an office they don’t see a way to win. The plaintiffs in the LSC single-member litigation couldn’t do a proper comparison of how white and non-white candidates did in these elections in the past because there weren’t any non-white candidates running.

The other point is that those of us that would like to see more diverse representation in elected offices need to pay more attention to local races like this one. Your future legislators and Congressfolk and whatnot often get their start in places like the Lone Star College Board of Trustees; Harris County Clerk Chris Daniel is one example. The potential to change outcomes by increasing voter participation is great as well. Frankly, if Battleground Texas wants to regain some ground, and some credibility, between now and 2016 I’d strongly advise them to look around at the various municipal and school board elections that will happen in 2015, identify some targets and some candidates, and work to get them elected. Doing so would help keep the kind of voters they want to target engaged, it would help put some future candidates for other offices in place to start doing good and building a record, and it give them a chance to apply whatever lessons they learned from this election while maybe claiming a victory or three to build on for 2016. Honestly, the conservative movement figured this out thirty or forty year ago. Isn’t it time we catch up a bit?

Lawsuit filed over Pasadena Council districts

Good.

Pasadena City Council

For 41 years, Alberto Patiño has lived in Pasadena and seen a lot of changes there.

Now Hispanics like him make up more than 60 percent of residents and about 40 percent of eligible voters.

Patiño wants that reflected on city council.

“I feel that we should have more representation on City Council that we don’t have and I don’t think it’s fair.”

Patiño is one of five plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit against Pasadena and its voting districts.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund is representing the plaintiffs.

Attorney Nina Perales says Pasadena changed its voting districts just as Hispanics were about to elect a majority of the city council members.

She says those changes are unconstitutional and discriminate against Hispanics.

“But it is also part of the fall-out from the Supreme Court decision last year in 2013, lifting federal supervision of voting and elections from Texas and its sub-jurisdictions,” Perales says.

[…]

The lawsuit claims that change dilutes the electoral power of all Hispanics in Pasadena. They’re asking the federal court to restore the previous voting system.

See here for the last update and links to previous updates. I don’t know what the plaintiffs’ odds of success are, but I do know this is another example of why Texas needs to be put back under preclearance. Unless there is a mechanism in place to halt this kind of crap before it can do any harm, it will happen over and over. The past history and current actions of the powers that be in Texas make that clear.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Chron overview of the Pasadena redistricting referendum

The Chron covers the most important ballot item in Harris County that isn’t the two countywide propositions, the charter amendment in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The charter change would replace two of Pasadena’s eight single-member City Council districts with seats elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11-1.

Four council members from the older, predominantly Hispanic north end oppose the restructuring. They note that the U.S. Justice Department rejected this exact plan as potentially discriminatory, but now the pre-clearance requirement has been voided and opened the door for reconsideration.

“We are standing our ground against the change,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics on the council.

Opponents contend Proposition One is a “power grab” by the mayor, who was first elected to the council four decades ago and has served off and on ever since. They say the mayor doesn’t like the changes that he’s seeing in Harris County’s second-largest city, population 150,000, that once gained fame for its refineries and Gilley’s bar as featured in “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

[…]

With emotions running high, an unusually large number have already gone to the polls.

Harris County’s election office reported that 2,164 residents had voted as of Monday, either in person or by mail, with four more days of early voting still to go. City officials say that tally is high for an off election year, amounting to almost half the votes cast in the last Pasadena mayoral election.

Wheeler believes that opponents have been effective in getting voters to the polls, saying preliminary analysis shows 60 percent of the early voting is coming from his side of the city.

In the past, Wheeler said that the issue is “about democracy and this mayor not getting the council he wanted and now trying to change the rules.”

See here, here, here, and here. It’s nigh impossible to look at this as anything but a power grab by Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, who pushed the issue against the recommendation of the citizens’ committee and who cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of putting it on the ballot. I certainly hope that it gets defeated at the ballot box because that would be the cleanest way to deal with it, but if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

Mayor Johnny Isbell and four council members from the more conservative southern side of town argue that the charter change would provide each citizen with more representation. They say each voter would then be able to elect three council members, instead of just one, to represent them.

Someone might want to explain to Mayor Isbell what a candidate of choice is. Look at it this way: Suppose Mayor Parker were to propose a similar idea for Houston, where Districts F and I got dismantled, with F mostly being put into District G and I mostly being annexed by District E, and two more At Large members were added. Do you think the voters of the former F and I would consider themselves to have “more representation” under that plan? Or do you think they’d wind up with three new Council members that didn’t live near them and who paid them little attention because they have a lot of children and non-citizens and they don’t vote all that much anyway? I know what outcome I’d expect, and I’d expect the same in Pasadena. I hope there are enough voters in Pasadena who see it this way, too. BOR has more.

More redistricting shenanigans on the way

The city of Galveston prepares to make like Pasadena.

[Gulf Coast Interfaith], which includes representatives of the NAACP and others, sent a letter Thursday to the city of Galveston’s attorney also questioning the wisdom of the city seeking to make a change by having two council seats elected city-wide, rather than coming from individual districts. Similar plans were shot down four different times when submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance. In the letter, the ad hoc group said the city is taking the opportunity provided by the court decision “to attack the voting rights of the minority community.”

The letter called the plan part of a “racist onslaught of efforts around America to turn the clock back,” and said that Galveston will be one of the places where there is a “pitched political battle to obtain and maintain equal rights.”

The proposed plan, the group said, would reduce the number of districts in which the majority of the residents were minority from three to two.

But the Galveston council, which has hired an attorney to study the possibility of resurrecting this redistricting plan, believes an at-large councilman will take a broader, rather than parochial, view of the city’s needs.

And if that means eliminating a minority opportunity district or two and making it harder for minorities to get elected in the future, well, that’s just the way it goes. Don’t expect this to be the end, either. There’s a reason why cities like Farmers Branch – and Houston, thirty-some years ago – were ordered to implement single-member districts in place of their all-at-large systems. There’s nothing wrong a priori with a hybrid district/at large approach, but given the previous rejections by the Justice Department and the sneaky way these jurisdictions are going about it now, they don’t get any benefit of the doubt.

From Shelby to Pasadena

You might have noticed this Chron editorial from last week.

Pasadena City Council

After former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s fall from grace, we thought that Texas politicians would know better than pursue mid-decade redistricting. Not so in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is trying to change Pasadena’s city council districts.

Isbell proposed last month to replace two of Pasadena’s single-member districts with two at-large seats. The Bond/Charter Review Committee recommended against moving forward with the changes, at least for the upcoming election. But the proposal alone is distressing enough. Historically, replacing districts with at-large seats has been used to discriminatory ends, and such moves are often blocked by the Department of Justice. Only a few months ago, that would have been the case here. Not anymore. For decades, the Voting Rights Act has been a useful speed bump in Texas. Due to our history of discrimination, any alteration to voting laws or processes had to be approved by the Department of Justice. When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the VRA that based preclearance requirements on past discrimination, it busted open a hole in that wall, and Texas politicians have wasted no time to climb through.

This newfound lack of federal oversight allows local politicians to implement maps that threaten to discriminate against minority voters. The current individual districts in Pasadena allow large, compact and politically cohesive minority populations to elect the representatives of their choice. Replacing these districts with at-large seats could dilute minority voting power, submerging the voting-bloc in a sea of majority voters.

I’ve been peripherally aware of this, but I can’t claim to have followed it closely. I got an email from Pasadena Council Member Ornaldo Ybarra, whom I interviewed in 2012 when he ran for the Legislature, alerting me to this. Pasadena did a normal redistricting process in 2011 that wound up being quite contentious amid allegations that Pasadena Mayor Isbell was driving it with an eye towards furthering his own political ends by drawing his opponents out of their districts. (Stace noted this last year; there’s more here.) I’m told that there’s a 4-4 partisan split on Council (Mayor Isbell is a Republican), with the Mayor being a tiebreaking vote on some issues. An attempt to reduce the number of district seats from 8 to 6, with two At Large seats, was quashed by the Justice Department, but barring a bail-in to Section 3 preclearance by the courts, that plan is now back in play.

In fact, it’s on the agenda for tonight’s Pasadena City Council meeting (agenda item F, on page 5, in the section beginning “(2) First Readings”). Neither a search of Google or the Chron’s archives found much on the history of this, but here’s a Your Houston news story about what is on tap for tonight.

The short road to a destination that finalizes what will be on the November ballot in Pasadena has had plenty of bends and even u-turns.

In July, a quickly assembled citizen committee considering bonds and charter revisions met publicly and privately. They recommended bonds only, not charter revisions for the November ballot.

At last Tuesday’s (August 13) council meeting, after three councilmembers spoke for a slimmer bond package and lost, and the original proposal passed, Mayor Johnny Isbell said he “…doesn’t understand how anyone can vote against the bonds.”

Then, Thursday (August 15), Isbell wrote a memo with another twist; forget the bonds for now. Instead, we’re going to consider charter amendments.

With two readings needed to get it approved and a Harris County election deadline fast approaching, Isbell has put the charter amendments on the Tuesday (August 20) agenda and also called a Special Council Meeting for Thursday morning (August 22) at 8 a.m. to get it done.

In his Thursday memo from to councilmembers and the citizen committee obtained by The Pasadena Citizen, Isbell states, “As a result of opposition to the bond proposal by three Members of Council, I have elected to withdraw the proposed ordinance,” and, “If the representatives don’t present a united plan, then voters are concerned and many may be unwilling to commit the tax dollars necessary to improve neighborhoods they know nothing about.

“How could we persuade a voter who lives in Village Grove to support spending millions of dollars in the Gardens or Deepwater areas if the representatives of those neighborhoods oppose such expenditures. I find the task of convincing voters, under such circumstances, to be daunting.”

Also in the memo, Isbell praised the work of the Bond/Charter Review Committee, as the rest of council has publicly done, then he added, “However, in view of the Committee’s hard work, I am proposing an election to amend the Charter.”

Isbell wrote that charter changes don’t require as high a standard of unanimity as bonds do.

“The Committee proposed four changes to the Charter and I am adding a proposed fifth change which deals with redistricting,” Isbell wrote.

So if you have any interest in this, you might want to head over to Pasadena City Hall this evening at 6:30 to watch the proceedings. As noted in that story, there are some other things going on as well – see this Easter Lemming Facebook post for more.

Like I said, I’ve not followed this closely, and the details are a bit fuzzy to me, so please forgive the lack of data. But look at it this way: If Mayor Parker – or any Houston mayor – suddenly announced the need to redraw Houston’s Council districts, and produced a map that she herself had drawn without input from Council, wouldn’t you be suspicious? And if that map just happened to draw a couple of her persistent critics out of their seats, wouldn’t that look even more hinky? That’s what appears to be going on in Pasadena. And if it happens there, you can expect it to happen elsewhere, too.

Farmers Branch loses again

Same story, next chapter.

When will they learn?

The Farmers Branch ordinance barring people in the U.S. illegally from renting in the city is unconstitutional, an appeals court ruled for the second time Monday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the ordinance encroached on the federal government’s authority.

Monday’s decision ended the city’s second appeal to the court, which had upheld the lower court’s ruling last year.

The city asked for a rehearing after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of an Arizona law.

In its majority opinion Monday, the judges were critical of Farmers Branch’s ordinance, which would have required all renters to obtain licenses proving they were in the U.S. legally.

Judges also found fault with the city’s plan to fine or revoke the renters’ licenses of landlords who leased to immigrants without permits.

“The ordinance not only criminalizes occupancy of a rented apartment or single-family residence, but puts local officials in the impermissible position of arresting and detaining persons based on their immigration status without federal direction and supervision,” the court said.

Through May, the suburb of about 29,000 residents had spent roughly $6 million since 2006 on legal expenses related to its fight against illegal immigration.

The law firm that sued the city over the rental ordinance said it plans to submit additional bills to Farmers Branch that are likely to top $2 million.

See here for the previous update. I was a little nervous after the court ordered a review of the original ruling to take into account the SCOTUS decision on the Arizona “papers, please” law, but I’m glad to see that fear was unfounded. The question at this point is whether Farmers Branch will finally accept that it has learned a very expensive lesson and quit adding to the tab. It’s not yet clear what they will do, but at least now their City Council has a voice of reason on it.

Monday evening, [new Council member Ana] Reyes praised the appeals court’s decision on the rental ordinance and said she wanted the city to drop the issue.

“The anti-immigration ordinance was outside of our local jurisdiction,” she said. “It is unconstitutional. This issue has been extremely divisive and costly for the citizens of Farmers Branch. It’s now time to move forward and reinvest our residents’ hard-earned tax dollars back into our community.”

CM Reyes of course is the first Hispanic member of Farmers Branch’s City Council, elected after they lost a different lawsuit to enact single member districts. It will be completely fitting if that development finally leads to Farmers Branch being persuaded to quit illegally and expensively trying to persecute a segment of its population.

Getting out the “hard-to-motivate Latino vote” in Farmers Branch

Great story about Ana Reyes, the first Hispanic person elected to City Council in Farmers Branch, in the first election after a lawsuit forced the city to adopt single-member Council districts, and how she actually got elected.

CM Ana Reyes

“What happened here is what helped us get off the couch,” Ana Reyes said, inside a childhood home filled with landscape paintings by her father, Antonio.

Insult after insult hurled at Hispanics, from the ordinance to public taunts about catching “illegals,” would eventually lead to a campaign directive of “pound, pound, pound.”

That would be the sound the candidate and her campaign team made as they knocked multiple times on nearly every door in a newly carved City Council district, a so-called Hispanic opportunity district because of the concentration of U.S. citizens of voting age.

[…]

Ana Reyes, 39, credits her mother for demanding she attend council sessions in 2006.

But she said political consultant Jeff Dalton and his firm Democracy Toolbox propelled success forward.

“The Hispanic component of the vote has always been the brick wall,” said Dalton, who works exclusively for Democrats or in nonpartisan municipal elections.

In fact, in the 2012 presidential race, Hispanics punched way below their weight with a turnout of only 48 percent. The top-performing group, black voters, participated at a 66 percent rate, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau data.

The political strategist said he methodically plotted data on the likelihood of a Reyes vote on a scale of 1 to 5 through canvassing. At one point, Dalton’s data showed Reyes in a dead heat with her opponent, William Capener, a print shop manager with ties to the local tea party.

Canvassing intensified. Ana Reyes walked the entire District 1 three times, including on election day. Others followed in her steps until the nearly 1,800 voters in the district had received about a dozen visits.

“Her brother walked,” Dalton said. “Her sister walked. Her mother walked. There was an excitement level generated by that. It was like pound, pound, pound.”

Nadia Khan-Roberts, a Spanish teacher living in Farmers Branch, volunteered for the Reyes get-out-the-vote effort. One man told Khan-Roberts: “Todos estos politicos no hacen nada y ella va a ser lo mismo. All politicians do nothing, and she’ll be the same.”

Khan-Roberts countered, “With that attitude nothing will change. The baby that cries the loudest gets the milk.”

A prayer group of women dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe even met weekly at the local Mary Immaculate Catholic Church.

On May 11, Ana Reyes won with 62 percent of the vote. Dalton, the consultant, believes that half of the Hispanic vote was “low-propensity,” or hard to-budge, and hadn’t voted in more than one of the last five elections.

“Something special happened,” said Dalton, who wants to replicate the strategy on a larger scale.

See here for the background. I trust we all see the parallels between Reyes’ victory and the future success or failure of Battleground Texas. Good candidates, direct contact with voters, giving voters compelling reasons to vote that connect with their daily lives – it’s not rocket science, but it is hard work, and it’s going to be a long-term process. But victories build momentum, and they provide paths forward. What worked for Ana Reyes in Farmers Branch can and will work elsewhere, if we learn from her experience and apply those lessons to other races. And when someone tells you it can’t be done, point to Farmers Branch and Council Member Ana Reyes and tell them oh yes it can.

And then get back to work, because the fight isn’t over when the ballots are counted. The fight is just beginning.

During her 2013 campaign, on three occasions, motorists parked outside her home in a Valwood Parkway neighborhood where residents know each other’s cars.

Ana Reyes went outside to knock on the driver’s window and ask if she could help. He said he’d run out of gas, she said. She went to get a gas container, but when she returned the man was gone.

In another instance, she took a photo of the license plate, and the driver of that vehicle never returned.

But Ana Reyes said her experience “does not compare to what Elizabeth Villafranca and other Latino candidates experienced.”

Villafranca, a Farmers Branch restaurateur who ran for City Council in 2009, faced slurs and what she called stalking. Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist who ran for office in 2008, was called “an illegal.” Rendon, who was born in Texas, now says, “All of this was so stupid.”

Candidate Reyes visited with a Dallas County election manager to ask about harassment prevention. She found out the department’s responsibility was limited to a constricted perimeter near polling machines.

The campaign took its own action.

“We hired constables to make sure order was maintained,” she said. “We are not going to tolerate it anymore.”

[…]

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hoped the new council members, who include Kirk Connally, a 73-year-old retiree who beat an incumbent, would want “good things for the city.”

But regarding Ana Reyes, he said, “You never know what someone is until they are in office. There is campaigning and then there is serving.”

Ana Reyes is now an elected official. That gives her power, but it doesn’t mean respect will follow. The appalling behavior that Reyes and those who went before her in Farmers Branch had to put up with isn’t going to just disappear, and neither will the people who exhibited such behavior. There will be plenty of people rooting for her to fail, and working to undermine her. If Mayor Glancy’s attitude is any indication, some of those people will be her colleagues. Ana Reyes made history by winning this race, but there’s a lot more of the story to be written.

“One person, one vote” upheld

More accurately, a challenge to the constitutional doctrine of “one person, one vote” was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has rejected a conservative challenge to the common practice of counting everyone, not just U.S. citizens, when adjusting the size of voting districts across the nation.

Without comment, the justices let stand a redistricting rule that benefits urban areas like Los Angeles and Chicago that have a higher percentage of noncitizens as residents.

Since the 1960s, the court has said that election districts should be equal in size under the so-called one person, one vote rule. Under this rule, U.S. representatives, state legislators, city council members and county board members usually represent about the same number of people.

But the court had not ruled directly on whether these districts should be counted based on the number of persons who live there or on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

A conservative group called the Project on Fair Representation has led the challenge to the Voting Rights Act in a case from Alabama. Its lawyers filed a separate appeal in a Texas case that urged the justices to revisit the one person, one vote rule and say that only eligible voters should be counted.

Their lawyers argued that because of “changing immigration patterns,” the standard method of counting all residents shifts political power “away from rural communities to urban centers with high concentrations of residents who are ineligible to vote.”

The case arose from an appeal by the city of Irving to a federal court ruling ordering them to use single-member Council districts, which would include the creation of a Latino opportunity district. The usual suspects got involved from there to assist the city in its appeal, but they lost every step of the way. As Texas Redistricting and the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote before SCOTUS announced its decision to not hear the appeal, no court has ever accepted the Project on Fair Representation’s argument, as the wording of the 14th Amendment – “equal representation for equal numbers of people” – is quite plain and has always been understood to include people who can’t vote, which at the time of the ratification of the 14th Amendment included women. SCOTUSBlog has more.

Single member districts for Farmers Branch

Another long battle comes to an end.

When will they learn?

A Dallas federal judge has directed Farmers Branch to implement single-member City Council districts after the U.S. Justice Department signed off on the city’s proposed map.

The move could set the stage for a fiery May 11 election in which the outcome may provide the suburb of 29,000 residents with its first Hispanic council member.

Since 2006, Farmers Branch has spent about $6 million in legal fees defending a stymied ordinance barring illegal immigrants from rental housing. Ultimately, it led 10 Hispanic residents to sue the city under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, alleging the city’s at-large council election system discriminated against Hispanics.

The decision by Judge Sidney Fitzwater follows his ruling that the city violated the Voting Rights Act and had to develop a remedy. Fitzwater is a Republican appointee and the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Texas’ Northern District.

[…]

“It is hard to believe we are still fighting this fight,” said Elizabeth Villafranca, a former City Council candidate and whose election loss was dissected during the three-day trial. “The good thing that came out of all this is how under-represented we are in the city.”

Alfonso Baladez, a 67-year-old plaintiff in the case, testified that he had given up voting because his candidate never got elected.

On Friday, Baladez said: “I just wanted to be listened to. Now I can go to my district councilperson. There are things that are just not right.”

Under the new single-member map, District 1 on the city’s western side will have a majority of Hispanic U.S. citizens of voting age.

The last update I had on this was from 2010. This was the second such lawsuit filed to implement single member districts in Farmers Branch; an earlier one had been dismissed because the the judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not draw a single member district that would elect a Hispanic candidate. I guess we’ll know for sure in a few months. Ana Reyes, who works for state Rep. Rafael Anchía, has said she intends to run in the new district. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, the FB City Council still has to approve the plan, which is scheduled for discussion on February 19, and there is still the possibility of an appeal. It’s not the end quite yet, but you can see it from here.

First pass at analyzing the 2012 results

This is kind of a brain dump, based on the information available now. I’ll have plenty more to say once precinct data has been released.

– The current tally in the Presidential race on the Secretary of State webpage, with comparison to 2008, is as follows:

2008 Votes Pct =========================== McCain 4,479,328 55.45% Obama 3,528,633 43.68% 2012 Votes Pct =========================== Romney 4,542,012 57.19% Obama 3,285,200 41.36%

Slight uptick for Romney over McCain, slightly larger downtick for Obama. My sense is that this is mostly a turnout issue, that Obama’s coalition was mostly intact but not quite as fired up as in 2008, much like what we saw nationally. I think that’s fixable, but it’s going to take the same thing to fix it (money money money) as it has always been. I mean, Team Obama invested millions in a turnout operation in various parts of the country, and by all accounts it was successful. What effect might that have had here? I hope someday to find out.

– For all my skepticism of the polling in Texas, the pollsters were fairly in the ballpark on Romney’s margin of victory. I have to say, had you told me on Monday that Romney was going to win here by 16 points, I would never have believed that Wendy Davis and Pete Gallego would have won, and I would have doubted Dems’ ability to win the four contested seats in the Lege that they did. But they did, which is both a tip to the skill of the redistricters and a reminder that things could have been better. Overall, I’d grade it as a B- for Texas Dems – the Davis, Gallego, and Craig Eiland wins were huge, but there were missed opportunities, especially in Harris and Dallas Counties, where too many judges lost in the former and two Democratic legislative challengers fell just short in the latter.

– I don’t want to dwell too much on the legislative races, since we’re going to get a new map once the San Antonio court incorporates the DC Court’s ruling into their lawsuit, but there will clearly be more opportunities in 2014. Still, it should be apparent by now just how steep the hill is. Dems came close to parity in the Lege last decade in large part to a sizable rural contingent and an ability to win seats in otherwise-Republican districts. Well, the rural Dems are virtually extinct, and outside of Davis and maybe Eiland I doubt there were any crossover stars this time around; I’ll know for sure when I see precinct data. I still think there will be opportunities for both based on the forthcoming school finance ruling and 2013 legislative session, but we’re a long way from each and candidates still need to be found.

– One question I had going into this race was how well Obama would do in predominantly Latino areas. In 2008, Obama lagged behind the rest of the Democratic ticket in these areas, possibly due to lingering resentment over Hillary Clinton’s loss to him in the primary, but as we know Democrats nationally and Obama specifically have seen Latino support go up since then. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison to 2008 in some heavily Latino counties that will have to do until I get precinct data:

County 08 Obama 12 Obama 08 turnout 12 turnout ======================================================== Cameron 64.08% 65.72% 43.37% 41.46% El Paso 65.87% 65.63% 47.67% 44.58% Hidalgo 69.01% 70.42% 42.83% 45.59% Maverick 78.20% 78.60% 40.43% 37.84% Webb 71.44% 76.56% 44.40% 44.28%

Nice gain in Webb, modest gains in Cameron and Hidalgo. It’s a start.

– Congressional loser Quico Canseco is whining about fraud.

Gallego finished 13,534 votes ahead of Canseco early Wednesday morning.

“The race is not over, and it won’t be until all votes are properly and legally counted,” Canseco said in a statement the morning after the election.

Gallego campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said there is “no way” voter fraud occurred. “This just shows a lot about [Canseco’s] character, because he chose to go this route” rather than concede and congratulate Gallego, she said.

Canseco’s campaign alleges that officials in Maverick County double- or triple-counted some of the early vote sheets. A complaint to the Secretary of State indicates that Canseco’s campaign found a minimum of 57 duplicate votes when reviewing a list provided by the Maverick County Elections Office. The campaign also alleges that another county used photocopied ballots, a criminal offense, and that an extended delay in counting votes from other counties left “other questions unanswered.”

“There are too many disturbing incidents to declare this race over,” Scott Yeldell, Canseco’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “During the next several days we will be looking into these reports to assure only legal votes have been counted in this election.”

But Acuna said even if all the votes from Maverick County — where Gallego received 6,291 more votes than Canseco — were excluded, Gallego still would have come out ahead. “His argument — it’s not at all valid,” she said. “We won this race; it’s simple math.”

I don’t expect this to go anywhere.

– In Harris County, those last nine precincts were finally counted. Obama’s margin of victory in the county inched up to 585 votes, but as far as I can tell none of the downballot races were affected. Obama’s total was down about 6000 votes from 2008, while Romney improved on McCain by about 13,000 votes. Still, as noted in the comments yesterday, provisional ballots have not yet been counted, and overseas ballots are still arriving, Judges Kyle Carter (1,499) and Tad Halbach (2,786) had the smallest margins in those races, while Mike Sullivan also had a close shave, winning by 2,498 votes and a 48.94% plurality thanks to the presence of a Libertarian candidate that received 2.34%. I still don’t think any races are likely to change, but I daresay all three of these gentlemen will not rest easy until the counting has truly ceased.

– I have to mention a couple of national stories. First, Tuesday was a great day for marriage equality.

Voters in Maryland and Maine legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote Tuesday, the first time in U.S. history that gay marriage has been approved at the ballot box.

In Maryland, voters approved marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. The state government passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but opponents succeeded in putting the issue on the ballot in November.

“Over these past few weeks, Marylanders joined together to affirm that for a free and diverse people of many faiths — a people committed to religious freedom — the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a champion of marriage equality in the state, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The AP also declared Maine voters had approved same-sex marriage Tuesday after defeating a referendum on it just three years ago, a sign of how quickly Americans’ views on the issue are evolving. With 57 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure led 54 percent to 46 percent.

In a third victory for gay rights advocates, Minnesota voters defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, according to CNN and the AP. Thirty other states have gay marriage bans on the books, including North Carolina’s, approved as recently as May 2012.

Proponents of marriage equality were still hoping Wednesday for a fourth victory in Washington, where a measure to approve gay marriage was still too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Remember when this was an issue used to bludgeon Democrats? Never again, and thank goodness for it.

Poor John Cornyn. At the beginning of this year, you could have gotten lower odds on the Astros winning the World Series than the Democrats not only holding the Senate but making gains. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

“It’s clear that with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” the Texas Republican said in a statement released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he directs. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

As of early Wednesday morning, Democrats (with an assist by an Independent in Maine) had picked up four Republican seats while losing just one of their own. Not a single Democratic incumbent was defeated.

Cornyn, who hopes to win a party leadership position in the new Congress, is now explaining the reasons for the 2012 failure.

“We know that our conservative vision is the right one to secure a stronger America for future generations,” Cornyn said in his statement. “We know that we are the party of big, bold ideas with the courage to fight for what’s right even if it’s not politically expedient. It was that courage and that vision that led to important gains for our party in 2010. But all of us should continue to learn from both our victories and our defeats, and work together to build an even stronger Republican Party.”

Basically, the Republicans had first and goal at the one yard line. Then, after a false start, two quarterback sacks, and an intentional-grounding penalty, their 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Elizabeth Warren, and returned for a touchdown by Joe Donnelly. The Democrats then added insult to injury by going for two and converting successfully. You just cannot overstate the degree and the stunningness of the turnaround in fortune. And if Big John thinks that the Republicans should just keep doing what they’ve been doing, well, I won’t try to persuade him otherwise.

– Other results of interest: The city of Austin will adopt City Council districts, while League City banned red light cameras. At least some things never change.

That’s all for now. PDiddie, Mark Bennett, Murray Newman, Harold Cook, and TM Daily Post have more, while Texas Parent PAC takes a victory lap.

Austin’s choices for Council districts

The Statesman has a look at the choices Austin voters have for how to redesign their City Council from an all-At Large system to one with Council districts.

In the debate over whether to change the City Council from citywide members to those who represent smaller districts, one question has galvanized supporters and opponents: who would draw the district boundaries?

One of the two plans voters will consider Nov. 6 — switching the council from seven citywide members to 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor — calls for a commission of citizens with no paid ties to city politics to draw the district lines. Critics say that approach, added to the ballot by a citizens’ petition effort, has several possible pitfalls, including strict criteria that could disqualify too many people from serving.

The other plan — eight district representatives and three citywide seats, including a mayor — doesn’t say who would draw the lines, but the City Council would likely be involved. Detractors worry that would lead to the council manipulating the lines for political gain.

If both plans get more than 50 percent of the vote, the one with the most votes would be enacted.

The rest is a long story about the pros and cons of the commission approach, and it’s worth reading if you’re into that sort of thing. I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea of taking the redistricting process out of the hands of those who are directly affected by it, though I will note that the city of Houston did a pretty good job of being transparent and involving the community when it re-drew Council boundaries and added two new districts in 2011. If I were an Austin voter, the main concern I’d have about the commission proposal is this:

Mayor Lee Leffingwell worries the criteria for serving on the citizens panel would be too restrictive. The voting requirements alone — applicants must have voted in at least three of the last five city elections — would disqualify all but six percent, or 28,000, of the roughly 461,000 Austinites who are registered to vote, he said.

That’s pretty limiting, and I think there would be a real possibility of not finding enough qualified applicants who want the job. It’s also my understanding that the regular voters in Austin city elections, as well as the Council candidates, generally come from a handful of neighborhoods. As I recall, better geographic diversity is one of the arguments for single-member Council districts there. Given that, isn’t it short-sighted to limit the redistricting commission in this fashion? I think it is, but it’s not for me to decide. What do you Austinites think?

Single member Council district dispute in Boerne

It's pronounced "Bernie"

I’ve noted several stories about single member Council districts in various Texas cities over the years. They often involve litigation, so these battles can have implications beyond the borders of the locality in question, but I just find the questions about why a given city should or should not change from an at large system to a district system to be fascinating. Anyway, for all those reasons when I came across this story about such a court fight going on in Boerne, which if you’re not familiar with it is a town of just over 10,000 people about 40 miles northwest of San Antonio, I had to click on it. In doing so, I found that it involved a couple of familiar names.

Although a recent court mandate has undone Boerne’s shift in 2010 to electing city council members by districts, city officials are resisting a return to cumulative voting — with the candidate filing period for the May election just weeks away.

“We’re pushing for single-member districts,” City Attorney Kirsten Cohoon said Wednesday after a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio.

Boerne resident Mike Morton, who filed the suit over the change, argues that any deviation from the at-large election system mandated by the city charter must be approved by voters.

The City Council voted in late 2009 to enact voting from five districts by modifying a lawsuit settlement it struck in 1996 with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

LULAC had sued the city, claiming the at-large voting system disadvantaged minority voters.

The original lawsuit settlement in 1997 called for adoption of cumulative voting, which allows residents to cast as many votes as there are seats to be filled.

[…]

Garcia asked whether a charter amendment to enact single-member district voting could be put on the May ballot in Boerne.

Although Morton said he would drop his suit if such a vote occurred, LULAC attorney Jose Garza indicated his clients would sue if voters defeated such a measure and cumulative voting continued in use.

Yes, that’s Judge Orlando Garcia of the three-judge panel that drew the now-disallowed maps for Congress, State Senate, and State House, and Jose Garza, who just argued the plaintiffs’ case before the Supreme Court. I daresay it’s been a busy few months for both of these gentlemen. Boerne is the first city I’ve heard of to use cumulative voting. I’m wondering how you might run a campaign differently under those conditions. Anyway, the reason for the agreed change that’s now being litigated is that in the 14 years they had cumulative voting, only one Latino candidate was ever elected to anything. For what it’s worth, according to the Wikipedia entry, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin of any race were 19.44% of the population. You can see the proposed single member district map here – it’s one of the least gerrymandered maps you’ll ever see. Whether it would further LULAC’s goals or not I couldn’t say, but as I generally favor single member districts I’m rooting for them.

Austin will get its vote on district Council seats

You Austin folks won’t get to vote for Council members next November, but you will get to vote for what kind of Council members you have.

The council approved Thursday a resolution that calls for a district proposal to go before voters in the November 2012 election. That move was endorsed by the advocacy group Austinites for Geographic Representation , which hopes to put its own district proposal on the November ballot.

The city and the Austinites group disagree on the ideal number of districts. The city would like six people representing districts and the mayor and two others representing the whole city; Austinites for Geographic Representation would like 10 districts, with only the mayor representing the whole city.

Both sides had accused each other of trying to sneak their proposal onto the May ballot in hopes of pre-empting the other proposal.

[…]

Thursday’s council vote was preceded by a joint news conference in which Council Members Laura Morrison and Sheryl Cole and members of Austinites for Geographic Representation said they support the same election date.

“We’re all singing from the same hymnal page now,” Peck Young , a member of the Austinites group, said in an interview. “Now we can get back to arguing over whose plan is better.”

That’s a fine thing to argue about. There are legitimate concerns that having only six district Council seats would make it difficult to draw the districts in a way that reasonably guaranteed minority representation. I’m not a big fan of the kind of informal “gentleman’s agreement” that Austin now operates under for that purpose, but given that its track record in that regard is good, you want to be careful about how to replace it. Y’all now have a year to hash that all out. Good luck.