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Sylvia Garcia

It depends what the meaning of “intent” is

Give me a break.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

It has been about three weeks since state Sen. Sylvia Garcia submitted a letter declaring her “intent to resign,” but whether it qualifies as an actual resignation has fallen into dispute — and has threatened to upend the timeline for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the Houston Democrat’s seat.

[…]

Still, Abbott has held off on calling a special election as his office and Garcia’s remain at odds over the validity of her letter. Abbott’s office does not believe Garcia’s use of the phrase “intent to resign” is good enough to trigger the process by which the governor can call a special election, while Garcia’s staff believes there is nothing wrong with the letter.

The clock is ticking on when Abbott can call the special election so that it coincides with the November general election. If he does not do it before Aug. 24, the next uniform election date on which he could call it is in May of next year. Still, he retains the option of calling an emergency special election that could occur take place on some other date.

In questioning Garcia’s letter, Abbott’s office attributes its reasoning to a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case — Angelini v. Hardberger — that involved a similar situation. Abbott was a judge on the court at the time.

“The governor’s position is that ‘intent’ to resign is insufficient to constitute an official resignation,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The governor has made clear the only thing the Senator must to do to submit an effective resignation is delete the word ‘intent.’ The ball is in her court.”

Garcia’s office notes that her letter is very similar to the one former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, submitted to then-Gov. Rick Perry when she resigned in November 2014 to run for San Antonio mayor. That letter also used the phrase “intent to resign.” Perry scheduled a special election without any controversy, and Abbott, who took office in January 2015, called the runoff.

“It’s Sen. Garcia’s position that she has submitted a lawful, effective, valid resignation, and it was based on precedent, as recently as 2014, when Sen. Van de Putte submitted a letter of resignation almost identical to Sen. Garcia’s, and [Gov.] Perry called an election, and Sen. Van de Putte fulfilled the duties of her office until a successor was elected,” said John Gorczynski, Garcia’s chief of staff. “And we expect Gov. Abbott to call an election and set an election date by Aug. 20 because a resignation has been submitted and the governor hasn’t said anything to the contrary.”

See here for the background. On the one hand, Abbott is being a jackass. On the other hand, nothing is more important than getting that seat filled in a timely fashion, so if that means indulging Abbott’s pettiness and sending a substitute letter, suck it up and do it. There’s a time to stand on principle, and a time to say “screw it” and do what you have to do, and this is one of the latter. Let’s get this done.

Sen. Garcia announces her resignation

Not quite what I was expecting, but it will do.

Here’s the Trib story:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat likely on her way to Congress in the fall, has announced formal plans to resign after months of speculation about the timing of her decision.

When Garcia won a crowded congressional primary election in March, all but guaranteeing her election to represent a Democratic-leaning district in November, she immediately set off speculation about when she would resign her seat in the Texas Senate. The timing of the special election to replace her will have important implications for the upper chamber’s Democratic caucus, given that a seat usually held by the minority is up for grabs.

Several candidates have already lined up for Garcia’s seat, including two local Democrats currently serving in the Texas House: state Reps. Ana Hernandez and Carol Alvarado. Hernandez announced hopes to fill the “potential vacancy” just 12 hours after Garcia’s primary win, and shortly after, Alvarado posted a carefully crafted three-minute campaign video.

[…]

Though Garcia said her resignation won’t be effective until January, the Texas Election Code states that, for the purposes of calling a special election, a vacancy occurs on the date the resignation is accepted by the appropriate authority or on the eighth day after the date of its receipt by the authority” — in this case, Abbott, according to the secretary of state’s office.

I’ve been calling for this for months now, so as long as we get the election on or before November 6 (it would be one of three such elections), I’m happy. Barring anything unforeseen, the special will be a contest between Reps. Alvarado and Hernandez; refer to the 2013 SD06 special election for a reminder of how the partisan vote split previously. This will add to my to-do list for November interviews, but otherwise I get to be on the outside looking in, as I was redistricted into SD15 in 2011. I’ll keep my eyes open for Abbott’s response. In the meantime, I join legions of people in thanking Sen. Garcia for her service, and for her consideration in ensuring continuity of representation in SD06. The Chron has more.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales steps down

One more legislative special election coming.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is resigning early, saying “it’s time to get on with the next phase of my life.”

Gonzales, a member since 2011 and a Capitol staffer before that, had already decided this would be his last term and didn’t file for re-election this year. His resignation, effective on Thursday, sets up a special election for the remainder of his term.

That might take place on the same day as the November general elections. There’s a precedent: State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, quit earlier this year and was appointed to a judicial position; the special election for what’s left of his term will take place in November.

[…]

Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico will be on the ballot for a full term in House District 52 in November; candidates can file for the stub term as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special election and sets a date.

Now-former Rep. Gonzales announced his intent to not run this November back in September. A November special election isn’t particularly interesting – had he resigned in time for there to have been a May special, that would have been – but his HD52 is a seat to watch, as Trump won it by a mere 46.7 to 45.3 margin; it was basically a ten-point Republican district downballot. And as with the HD62 special election, this is another opportunity for me to implore Sen. Sylvia Garcia to follow this path and let there be a special election in November to succeed her as well, so that SD06 can be properly represented for the 2019 term. Please don’t make me beg, Sen. Garcia.

November special election in HD62

Because I’m a completist, I bring your attention to news like this.

Rep. Larry Phillips

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a Nov. 6 special election to fill former state Rep. Larry Phillips’ seat in North Texas. That’s the same day voters will head to the polls to cast ballots in statewide, congressional and other state legislative races.

Phillips, a Sherman Republican who chairs the House Insurance Committee, submitted his resignation last week — effective Monday — after previously announcing he would not run for re-election. He is instead running for district judge in Grayson County. He won the Republican primary last month and does not have a Democratic opponent in the fall.

[…]

A race is currently underway to take over the seat for a full term starting next year. Republicans Brent Lawson and Reggie Smith are in a runoff, while Valerie Hefner is the Democratic nominee.

I point this out not because there’s anything interesting about this district that went 75.4% for Trump in 2016 but because this is what I had envisioned for SD06 post-Sylvia Garcia. If Sen. Garcia changes her mind and steps down in the next couple of months – the filing date for the HD62 special election is August 23, which is about the time when counties need to get absentee ballots printed for November, thus basically making that the de facto deadline for anything to be included in November – then even with a December runoff, SD06 will have someone in place when the gavel falls in January. The next Senator in SD06 will be there to vote on the rules for the chamber, and to put their name in for the committee assignments they want. None of those things will happen with a January special election. This needs more attention, because it’s a big deal. The people in SD06 deserve to have a Senator in place on day one. Only Sen. Garcia can ensure that happens.

Alvarado claims poll lead in SD06

From the inbox:

Rep. Carol Alvarado

A new Public Policy Polling survey of 589 voters in Texas’s 6th Senate District shows Carol Alvarado leading Ana Hernandez by a 2-1 margin, 38% to 22%. 41% of voters are undecided.

Alvarado’s margin is driven by leads among several demographic subsets – she leads 38-22 among women and 38-21 among men. She leads among Democrats 48-24 and among independents 26-17. Alvarado leads among Hispanics 41-28, among whites 27-12, and she leads among African-Americans by a 46-11 margin.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 589 voters in Texas’s 6th Senate District from April 9th to 11th, 2018. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.7%. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish using automated telephone interviews. This survey was conducted on behalf of the Carol Alvarado Campaign.

Just so we’re clear:

1. We still don’t know when this election will be, though right now signs point to “later” rather than “sooner”.

2. There will be other candidates in this race. Even if they’re all no-names, that will skew things.

3. Modeling turnout in special elections is really tricky.

Having said all that, feel free to enjoy or complain about this poll as you see fit.

Still waiting for those other special elections

Ross Ramsey returned to a frequent topic a few days ago.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was found guilty of 11 felonies earlier this year. He has not yet faced sentencing and says he will appeal the convictions on charges including money laundering and fraud. He’s not required to quit the Senate in the face of that, but it’s safe to say many of his colleagues are eager to see him go. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stripped him of his committee assignments, and the Senate Democratic Caucus called on him to quit.

The other potential resignation is a happier story: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won her party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Gene Green in the U.S. House. It’s a Democratic district, but she’ll face the winner of a Republican primary in November’s election. And in the unlikely event that Garcia were to lose that race, she would still be a state senator; her term in the current job doesn’t end until 2021.

Without putting their names to their words, many of Garcia’s colleagues are hoping she’ll quit early, allowing a replacement to be seated before the Legislature convenes in January.

“A vacancy is never politically helpful, but no one is more harmed than the constituents who are in that district, who have zero representation,” said Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic operative and one-time staffer to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. “Aside from the fact that it kind of screws with a few majority votes, and that is not unimportant, you’re leaving Texans with no representation — and you don’t have to.”

The idea is that Garcia’s election to Congress is all but certain and that her timely resignation would position Democrats in the Texas Senate at full strength next year, instead of leaving them waiting on a special election to fill her seat. Or Uresti’s seat, for that matter.

Since he wrote that, we have gotten an update on SD06. Also from Ross Ramsey:

A one-seat pickup [in the Senate] would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side.

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises.

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value.

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation.

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said [last] Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session.

Gotta say, I’m disappointed to hear that. I really believed Sen. Garcia would step down in a timely fashion, perhaps after the May 22 primary runoffs, to allow a successor to be in place by January. If she does wait till November to step down, then the Leticia Van de Putte experience kicks in, where the special election is in January and the successor is installed in March; that runoff actually happened in February, but the swearing-in didn’t take place till after the official canvass. As Ramsey goes on to say, even if the Dems have picked up one or more seats, they’d lose the numerical advantage if the Garcia and Uresti seats are empty.

So yeah, the timing up front can have a big effect on the back end, and that’s before we take into account the subsequent vacancies that may be caused by the Garcia and Uresti specials. I appreciate Sen. Garcia’s position. It’s honorable and respectful. It’s also completely impractical, and potentially very damaging. I really, really hope she reconsiders.

Endorsement watch: Ana’s army

Re. Ana Hernandez

Two weeks ago, I noted an email sent out by Rep. Carol Alvarado containing a long list of current and former elected officials as well as other prominent folks who had endorsed her candidacy for SD06, for when Sen. Sylvia Garcia steps down after being elected in CD29. I assumed at the time that Rep. Alvarado’s main announced rival, Rep. Ana Hernandez, would follow suit with her own list, and so she has. Rep. Hernandez’s list contains more members of the State House, and at least two people that I spotted – HCC Trustees Eva Loredo and Adriana Tamez – who also appear on Alvarado’s list. I’m not sure if that’s an “oops!” or a change of heart, but I’ll leave it to the people involved to sort it out.

As I said with Rep. Alvarado’s list, this is a show of strength. I suspect lists like these tend to have a marginal effect on voters – as much as anything, it’s about fundraising ability – but it’s a bad look for you if your opponent, who is also your colleague, has such a list if you don’t have one, so here we are. The combined force of the two lists will act as a barrier to other candidates – not for nothing, but all of the other State Reps whose districts are in SD06 are on one of these lists or the other – though as noted before that’s not an absolute barrier. I’ll say again, this is a tough choice between to very excellent candidates.

Meanwhile, in other endorsement news:

Twenty-two of the 55 Democratic state representatives on Wednesday endorsed former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez for governor, as Valdez faces Houston entrepreneur Andrew White in a May 22 runoff.

The winner of the runoff will be the Democratic nominee who will face Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in the November general election.

The endorsements highlighted how both candidates are pushing to raise campaign funds and for endorsements with just less than two months to go before the runoff, in a race that has so far been mostly low-key.

The new endorsements include Reps. Roberto Alonzo, Rafael Anchía,Victoria Neave and Toni Rose of Dallas; Diana Arévalo, Diego Bernal, Ina Minarez and Justin Rodriguez of San Antonio; César Blanco, Mary Gonzales and Evelina Ortega of El Paso; Terry Canales of Edinburg; Nicole Collier of Fort Worth; Jessica Farrar and Ron Reynolds of Houston; Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City; Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel and Eddie Rodriguez of Austin; Mando Martinez of Weslaco; Sergio Muñoz of Palmview, and Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass.

[…]

Valdez has won the endorsements of the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Tejano Democrats, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and Stonewall Democrat chapters in Houston, Dallas, Denton, San Antonio, and Austin.

White has been endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, former rival Cedric Davis Sr., former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Michael Cooper as well as the Harris County Young Democrats, the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats and the state’s three largest newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle.

I said my piece in the precinct analysis of the Governor’s race. Given what we saw, the runoff is Valdez’s race to lose. Give me some runoff debates, that’s all I ask.

Endorsement watch: Alvarado’s army

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado has released a long list of supporters for her campaign to succeed Sen. Sylvia Garcia in SD06. This is clearly a show of strength on Alvarado’s part – the list includes the three most recent Mayors of Houston, four of her State House colleagues, Commissioner (and former Sen.) Rodney Ellis, and a bunch of other current and past office holders. One thought that struck me as I read this was a reminder that Alvarado had been the runnerup the last time SD06 came open, losing in a special election runoff to Sen. Garcia. People had a hard choice to make in that election between two very good and well-qualified candidates, and Sen. Garcia emerged victorious. People will once again have a hard choice to make in that election between two very good and well-qualified candidates, and it may be that the bulk of those who are prominent and being public about it are going to Rep. Alvarado.

That’s hardly the final word, of course. There are plenty of people not on Rep. Alvarado’s list, and I’m sure Rep. Ana Hernandez will have her own impressive cadre of supporters. In fact, later in the day Rep. Hernandez sent out this fundraiser email that touted Mayor Turner as the special guest. That email references her HD143 campaign, with no mention of SD06, but you can draw your own inferences. Like I said, both she and Rep. Alvarado are strong candidates. Rep. Alvarado’s opening salvo may have the effect of scaring off other potential candidates, but there’s no guarantee of that, as Sen. Garcia herself could testify from CD29. All I’m going to say at this time is the same as what I said the last time we had one of these elections, which is that I’m glad I was redistricted into SD15 so I don’t have to take a side myself.

The race for SD06 has already begun

Here’s State Rep. Ana Hernandez on Facebook:

The Trib has picked up on this as well. Not long thereafter, I received this in my mailbox:

Dear Friends,

I would like to congratulate State Senator Sylvia Garcia on her hard-earned victory for the Democratic nomination for the 29th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sylvia Garcia is well on her way to becoming the first Latina to represent the 29th District. I am very confident she will be a fighter for us in Washington D.C. and stand up to Donald Trump and fight for the working families of our community. I am proud to have endorsed her and campaigned with her, and I look forward to working with Congresswoman Garcia when she is sworn into office.

It is now likely that there will be a vacancy and I am taking this opportunity to formally announce our campaign to become the next Senator from District 6.

(Click here to view my announcement.)

There’s more, but you get the idea. I am sure this will not be the end of it – Rep. Armando Walle had been briefly in for CD29 when it came open, so I have to assume he’ll take a long look at SD06 as well. We are of course all assuming that Sen. Garcia, who is the nominee for CD29 but not yet officially elected to that position, will step down at some point in the near future, to allow her eventual successor to get elected in time for the 2019 session. I discussed this at some length in November, when Sen. Garcia first jumped in for CD29. I see no reason why Sen. Garcia can’t or shouldn’t step down sooner rather than later – it would be awesome to have the special election to succeed her in either May or November, so everyone can be in place for the opening gavel of 2019 – but the decision is hers to make. What we know now is that people are already gazing at her as we await said decision. KUHF has more.

2018 primary results: Congress

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

Barring anything strange, Texas will have its first two Latina members of Congress, as Sylvia Garcia (CD29) and Veronica Escobar (CD16) were both over 60%. I for one approve of both of these results. Now we can have that important debate about whether one of them is officially the “first” Latina or if they both get to share that designation; I lean towards the latter, as you know, and it appears that the Trib is with me as well. Maybe this will be a short debate. In any event, my congratulations to both women.

Veronica Escobar

Todd Litton was over 50% in CD02 with about a third of the precincts in. Lizzie Fletcher and Laura Moser were headed towards the runoff in CD07 with just under half of the precincts reporting; Jason Westin was within about 850 votes of Moser, but he was losing ground. I will note that Fletcher, who led Moser by about seven points overall, led her in absentee ballots by 36-18, in early in person votes by 30-23 (nearly identical to the overall tally), and on E-Day 28-27. Maybe that’s the DCCC effect, maybe Fletcher has earlier-by-nature voters, and maybe it’s just one of those random and meaningless things.

Other Dem Congressional results of interest:

– Gina Ortiz Jones was at 40% in CD23, so she will face someone in the runoff. Judy Canales and Rick Trevino was neck and neck for second, with Jay Hulings trailing them both by about two points.

– Colin Allred was also around 40%, in the CD32 race. Lillian Salerno, Brett Shipp, and Ed Meier were competing for runnerup, in that order.

– Joseph Kopser and Mary Wilson were right around 30% for CD21, with Derrick Crowe just under 23%.

– Jana Sanchez and Ruby Faye Woolridge were both around 37% in CD06.

– MJ Hegar and Christine Eady Mann were well ahead in CD31.

– Jan Powell (53% in CD24) avoided a runoff. Lorie Burch (49% plus in CD03) just missed avoiding one.

– Sri Kulkarni was at 32% in CD22, with Letitia Plummer and Steve Brown both around 22%. In CD10, Mike Siegel was up around 43%, while Tawana Cadien, Tami Walker, and Madeline Eden were in the running for the second slot.

– Dayna Steele was winning in CD36 handily. This is one of those results that makes me happy.

– On the Republican side, Lance Gooden and Bunni Pounds led in CD05, Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey led in CD06, Michael Cloud and Bech Bruun were the top two in CD27. I have only a vague idea who some of these people are. Ted Cruz minion Chip Roy led in the CD21 clusterbubble, with Matt McCall and William Negley both having a shot at second place. Finally, Kevin Roberts was leading in CD02, and while Kathaleen Wall had the early advantage for runnerup, Dan Crenshaw was making a late push, leading the field on E-Day. Dear sweet baby Jesus, please spare us from two more months of Kathaleen Wall’s soul-sucking TV ads. Thank you.

– I would be remiss if I did not note that Pounds has a decent shot at being the third woman elected to Congress from Texas this year; if she prevails in the CD05 runoff, she’ll be as in as Garcia and Escobar are. Wall’s path to that destination is a bit cloudier now, but unless Crenshaw catches her she still has a shot at it.

– Some of these results were changing as I was drafting this. Like I said, I’ll likely have some cleanup to do for tomorrow. Check those links at the top of the post.

On CD02 and CD29

The Trib asks whether there’s a race worth watching in CD29 or not.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Months ago, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia appeared poised to easily win this race, but something happened along the way to the nomination: Out of nowhere, health care executive Tahir Javed, declared his candidacy for the seat and has, so far, raised $1.2 million, most of that his own money.

Garcia is widely expected to take first place here on Tuesday, but the operative question is will she win by enough to avoid a runoff?

“We’re still confident we can get out of this without a runoff,” she said. “It’s a crowded field but we’ve worked it really hard.”

[…]

Beyond Javed and Garcia, several other candidates are running: businesswoman Dominique Garcia, attorney Roel Garcia, educator Hector Adrian Morales, veteran Augustine Reyes and small business owner Pedro Valencia. All have raised under $60,000, but they could collectively keep the majority of the vote out of Sylvia Garcia’s grasp.

[…]

The race, oddly, has drawn the attention of two well-known New Yorkers.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York endorsed Javed just as early voting began. It was widely perceived as a nod to the extensive fundraising Javed has done over the years for the party – but it nonetheless enraged many Texas Democrats, including Green.

Green used to serve with Schumer when the New Yorker was in the U.S. House.

“Chuck ought to stay out of our business,” Green said. “I cannot imagine Chuck Schumer influencing one vote in our district.”

But Schumer’s fellow Democratic New York senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also got in the game and donated to Garcia’s campaign.

“I’ve made my choice,” said Gillibrand when recently asked by the Texas Tribune about the split with her senior senator.

The other reason this race matters beyond the district is that Garcia could become the first first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. She could also be, this year, among a class of the first Texas females elected to a full term in Congress since 1996.

I’ve dealt with that last point so many times I feel like the writers of these stories are just trolling me now. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. So could Veronica Escobar in CD16. I suppose if one wins in March and the other in May, we can declare that one the official “first Latina”. If not, if they both win in March or they both win in May, they get to share that designation. Why it’s so hard to acknowledge that there’s more than one contender with a legitimate shot at this is utterly baffling to me.

As far as this race goes, let me say this. I have lunch once a month or so with a group of political types. We got together this past Friday, and the CD29 race was one of the things we discussed. We were split on whether Garcia would win in March or not, but the person most of us thought might push her into a runoff was not Tahir Javed but Augustine Reyes, son of former City Council member Ben Reyes. That’s a name a lot of people recognize, with ties at least as deep to the district. I’ll confess that I hadn’t thought much about Reyes before then, but it makes sense to me. We’ll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, in CD02:

There’s an etiquette to campaigning against a primary opponent in the same polling station parking lot.

On this windy Tuesday afternoon in a conservative stronghold in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, State Rep. Kevin Roberts and environmental consultant Rick Walker each worked the Kingwood Community Center parking lot hard while still allowing his rival to also speak to voters uninterrupted.

“At the end of the day, we want to elect the most qualified person that’s going to represent us, because whoever wins is going to represent us,” said Roberts, a Houston Republican.

But also, the two men had a common feeling about their race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Humble, whether it was overt or implied: intense frustration at another of their competitors, Republican donor and technology consultant Kathaleen Wall, who has dominated the field by spending nearly $6 million of her own money.

Walker went so far to suggest that if Wall was unable to draw the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, the rest of the field would coalesce behind whomever is the opposing Republican candidate.

“We all want to win, but we understand we’ve got to live with each other in the long run,” said Walker. “And with a nine-person race, there’s going to be a runoff, and so the runoff is probably going to be against the one person trying to buy the race.”

“And so we’ve got to keep the personalities out of it,” he added. “So we may take digs on each other once in awhile, but in the long run we know we’re going to have to be working together.”

[…]

There are, to be sure, a host of other candidates running for this seat beyond those three. Health care executive David Balat, retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw and veteran Jonny Havens make up the second tier of candidates when it comes to fundraising, pulling somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 in each of their campaigns.

Three others – investment banker Justin Lurie, doctor and lawyer Jon Spiers and lawyer Malcolm Edwin Whittaker – are also running for the Republican nomination.

Besides Wall’s self-funding, the top issues in this district are immigration and the post-Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. From that voting station parking lot, Walker pointed to an HEB across the way that flooded in late August amid the hurricane.

All the while, some national Republicans and Democrats have begun cautiously wondering whether this race is one to watch in November.

Poe easily held the seat for years and Republican Donald Trump carried the district by about nine points in 2016. That should be a healthy enough margin to protect it from Democratic control.

Even so, spikes in early voting turnout among Democrats in urban areas like Harris County have spurred questions as to whether this could shape up to be a sleeper race.

Democrats have five candidates running, including one named Todd Litton who has raised over $400,000 and is running a polished campaign. That is not the largest sum in the country, but it is a substantive amount, particularly given the partisan history of the district.

I feel like I have PTSD from constant exposure to Wall’s TV ads, which have been a constant and unwelcome presence through the Olympics and on basketball games, both college and the Rockets. I keep the TiVo remote by my side so I can hit pause as soon as I recognize one of her awful spots, then fast forward past it. I of course don’t live in CD02, so either Comcast needs to tighten up its distribution maps or Wall has been getting fleeced by her ad-buying consultants (if the latter, I can’t say I’m sorry for her). In any event, I’m hoping to be spared for the runoff, but I’m not expecting it.

The same folks I had lunch with on Friday all mentioned Crenshaw as a dark horse candidate in this one. We’re not Republicans – I know, you’re shocked – so take that for what it’s worth. And brace yourself for more Wall ads.

More on Tahir Javed

Raising a lot of money is certainly one way to get noticed in a crowded election field.

Tahir Javed

Twenty-six years ago, a Houston political fixture named Sylvia Garcia ran for Congress. She came up short, placing third in the Democratic primary and missed her shot at the runoff.

Now a state senator, Garcia is running for Congress again and, until recently, some in Houston were predicting she would effectively swamp the other six Democrats in the race, winning the party’s nomination in a clear shot on the March 6 primary and avoiding a runoff.

The wildcard appears to be Tahir Javed, an outspoken healthcare executive who told the Tribune that he will “spend whatever it takes” to win the seat U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, is giving up after 25 years.

“I have invested in people all my life, and I want to do it one more time,” said Javed, CEO of Riceland Healthcare.

In the face of Javed’s promises to spend heavily on direct mail, television and radio advertising, some local Houston political insiders are beginning to wonder if Garcia’s path will be far tougher than anyone anticipated even just a few weeks ago.

She remains confident that the race will end on March 6.

“We take nothing for granted,” Garcia said in an interview. “We keep working like everyone of our opponents are not first-time candidates, but seasoned candidates. We’re ready. We’re confident we are going to win, and we are going to win without a runoff.”

[…]

The historical stakes are high for Garcia’s candidacy: She would be the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress from Texas and the first Hispanic altogether to represent the Houston area of Congress.

But Javed could make history as well. Texas has yet to elect an Asian-American to Congress.

He has national Democratic ties as a donor and fundraiser for party causes and candidates.

He outpaced Garcia in fourth quarter fundraising in individual contributions. She raised $201,000 to his $248,000. But he also loaned his campaign an additional $400,000, while she donated and loaned to her own campaign about $53,000.

The end result is that Javed ended the quarter with $553,000 in cash on hand, compared to Garcia’s $210,000 haul.

[…]

Javed touted that his lowest-paid employees make well above the minimum wage.

“I’m running because this is exactly what I’ve done…I’m a health care professional who has done [a] whole bunch of times bringing the health care to the underserved areas, and I have done it very well with top-notch health care there,” Javed said.

He was quick to rattle off unflattering statistics about the district. Intended or not, his negative assessments – specifically on health care – are implicit criticisms of Green, who is one of the most powerful House Democrats as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Javed also repeatedly ripped the pollution and cancer rates in the district – an attack used against Green in his own primary two years ago.

“Pasadena? They call it Stinkadena,” Javed said, of the need to clean up the refinery-heavy region.

When asked if Green was responsible for the problems in the district, Javed said: “I don’t want to point fingers, honestly speaking, on anyone, but my question to all of the elected officials [is]: How do you justify it?”

He then cited statistics of the district’s poverty and high-school drop out rates.

“It’s either his fault or somebody else before him or some state senators or state reps or school districts.”

See here for some background. Tahir’s Q4 finance report is here, and Garcia’s is here. For some reason I can’t see individual contributors in Javed’s report, so I can’t say how many of his contributions are local. I can say that Garcia also has $204K in her state campaign fund, so the gap between them is less than the story reports. I think this is one of those times where having a lot of money won’t mean much. I’ve seen Javed’s TV ad, and let’s just say he’s not the most compelling speaker I’ve ever heard. I’m also hard pressed to think of a context in which saying “Stinkadena” will be taken positively by the voters, even if it is wrapped in a legitimate criticism of the outgoing Congressman and the status quo as a whole, of which Garcia is a part. The subtlety will be lost, is what I’m saying.

On a side note, I’m tired of stories that mention that a particular candidate in this cycle could be the first person of a category to be elected to something from Texas without acknowledging that said person is not the only candidate who qualifies for that category. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Veronica Escobar or Lillian Salerno or Judy Canales. Fran Watson could be the first LGBT person elected to the State Senate, but so could Mark Phariss. Tahir Javed could be the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Gina Ortiz Jones or Sri Kulkarni or Chetan Panda or Silky Malik or Ali Khorasani. You get the idea. Just recognize that there’s more than one way this could happen, that’s all that I ask.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The frontrunner is clearly state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, the only current elected official on the ballot, who has name identification with this area’s voters that stretches back more than 20 years. The breadth of her experience as Houston city controller, a Harris County commissioner and a state senator gives her an almost insurmountable advantage in this race. Congress could use someone who so intimately understands the problems faced by city, county and state governments. So Garcia has our endorsement, but not without some reservations.

Garcia was the only member of the state Senate willing to vote against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s budget, which relied on a hike in property taxes. Democrats should lament losing that voice in Austin.

It’s also noteworthy that Garcia will be 68 years old on the day she hopes to be inaugurated into Congress. It’s a safe bet she won’t stay in Washington as long as her predecessor. When she retires, the Houston area will lose her seniority on Capitol Hill.

And as a number of her opponents point out, young people are dropping out of the political process, rightly realizing that gerrymandering has rendered November congressional elections all but meaningless. Millennial voters might be drawn back into this election if they had the opportunity to support a dynamic younger candidate. We’re especially impressed by Roel Garcia, a whip smart Latino lawyer who we hope to see back on the ballot running for another office.

Yes, and at the risk of being indelicate, Sylvia Garcia will be old for a Congressional first-termer. In a body that runs on seniority, that’s a non-trivial concern. Of course, if she’s won her first election for CD29 back in 1996, she’d have plenty of it. Life is like that, and it’s not her fault this is her next best chance at the seat. As for the complaint about millennials, I mean come on. For one, how is this on Sylvia? Two, there apparently is a dynamic younger candidate in this race. Millennials are free to vote for him if he’s what they’re looking for. Three, this district includes State Rep districts that are and have been represented by millennials – Armando Walle in HD140, and Ana Hernandez in HD143. Four, there are plenty of candidates from that cohort elsewhere on the ballot. You know, like the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. And I swear, if when the Chron makes an endorsement in that race for November, they say something about her “lack of experience”, I’m gonna break something.

Anyway, now that we’ve all gotten that out of our system, let’s look at some other recent endorsements of interest. The DMN, who like the Chron endorsed Andrew White for Governor over the weekend, seeks a new direction at Lite Guv.

The difference between an ideologue and a partisan can be measured in how they approach issues and policy. To that end, we recommend Scott Milder, a candidate with a conservative ideology over Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a rank partisan.

Both candidates represent the Republican Party. But Milder, 50, a former city council member from Rockwall and senior associate at Stantec, an engineering and architectural firm, brings to the table a more nuanced and reasonable outlook on the issues facing the people of Texas.

We know how well that goes over in Republican primaries these days. Look no further than what Greg Abbott is doing for proof.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails in his primary challenge of four-term state Rep. Lyle Larson, who became the latest of several Republican incumbents to have Abbott come out in support of a primary opponent.

Abbott posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday morning in which he praised Fails’ stance on property tax reform.

“[Fails] knows firsthand the devastating impact that rising property taxes have on families and on small businesses,” Abbott said in the video. “I know that he will work with me to advance my plans to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketed property taxes for the people of his district.”

Fails told the Rivard Report that the endorsement in the state House District 122 primary came because of what he called Larson’s track record of voting to block property tax reform.

“My opponent has voted to block property tax reform in the past and I have committed to support Governor Abbott’s plan to get people some control over their property taxes,” Fails said.

Larson, who chairs the House Natural Resource Committee, told the Rivard Report that he thought Abbott was “misinformed on this endorsement.”

“It’s sort of strange,” Larson said. “[Fails] was against two of the three issues that [Abbott] called in the special session, tax reform and annexation [reform].”

[…]

David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity University, said Abbott’s decision to endorse the primary challengers of several incumbents would be a test of his influence.

“Greg Abbott wrote down a list of names at the last session of people who annoyed him,” Crockett said. “He is now going to use whatever influence he has to demonstrate, if he’s successful, his ability to punish people who criticize him and his agenda.”

That’s certainly one part of it. There’s also this.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn’t. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month.

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor’s office later accused them of “showboating” and said their “constituents deserve better.”

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest … as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

That’s so 2014, Lyle. Welcome to today’s GOP.

Tahir Javed

So who is this guy in CD29?

Tahir Javed

He’s an outsider in the 29th congressional district. He’s not Latino. He’s never lived in the congressional district he is running in until now. And he’s never run for office in his life.

But what he does have is lots of money he’s not afraid to put into the campaign, ties to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and what he says is a kinship with Latino voters in the area because of his own struggles as an immigrant.

“Our struggle is the same,” the 51-year-old Pakistani native said. “I was told ‘go back to your country’ many times.”

But nearly 16 years after he arrived in Beaumont with just $500 to his name, Javed now is a wealthy businessman who turned a single convenience store business into a 28-company enterprise that includes hospitals, distribution networks and real estate businesses.

After years of donating money to candidates, including hosting a major fundraiser with Clinton in Beaumont, Javed said this time he wants to be the one that goes to Washington to fight for the Houston area on Capitol Hill.

[…]

“I have a proven history,” Javed said of his business success. “We walked into where there was a need. I understand health care. I can do it with so minimum resources. I’ve developed a system where we don’t waste money. We just do it.”

Javed is already putting up billboards, hiring seasoned political staff and opened a headquarters off Shaver Street. He said he’s already raised more than $252,000 for his campaign, but says if he feels it’s necessary he will pour his own money into the race as well.

The story lays out all the reasons why this is unlikely. First time candidate, never lived in the district before now, non-Latino in a heavily Latino district running against one of the best-known Latino candidates in the region, you get the idea. What he does have is money, a good personal story, and a world in which people like me are now more reluctant to say that certain things can’t or won’t happen. Sylvia Garcia is the heavy favorite to win, and I’d say she’s odds-on to take it without a runoff. We’ll see.

More on the national wave of female candidates

As the second Women’s March was taking place yesterday, there were stories in two national publications about the plethora of women running for office this year. Here’s TIME Magazine:

Erin Zwiener returned to Texas to settle down. At 32, she had published a children’s book, won Jeopardy! three times and ridden roughly 1,400 miles from the Mexico border up the Continental Divide on a mule. In 2016, she moved with her husband to a small house in a rural enclave southwest of Austin with simpler plans: write another book, tend her horses, paint her new home blue.

One day last February, she changed those plans. Zwiener was surfing Facebook after finalizing color samples for her living room–sea foam, navy, cornflower–when she saw a picture of her state representative, Jason Isaac, smiling at a local chamber of commerce gala. “Glad you’re having a good time,” she commented. “What’s your position on SB4?” After a tense back-and-forth about the Lone Star State’s controversial immigration law, Isaac accused her of “trolling” and blocked her. That’s when she decided to run for his seat. Zwiener never got around to painting her living room. She’s trying to turn her Texas district blue instead.

Zwiener is part of a grassroots movement that could change America. Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff.

It’s not just candidates. Experienced female political operatives are striking out on their own, creating new organizations independent from the party apparatus to raise money, marshal volunteers and assist candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance child care with campaigns.

That story also quotes Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first here’s The Cut, which is part of The New Yorker.

To date, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, a figure that’s higher than at any point in American history. Twenty-two of them are non-incumbent black women — for scale, there are only 18 black women in the House right now. Meanwhile, 49 women are likely to be running for the Senate, more than 68 percent higher than the number who’d announced at the same point in 2014.

To name-check just a fraction of these newly hatched politicians, there’s Vietnam-born Mai Khanh Tran, a California pediatrician and two-time cancer survivor vying for a House seat that’s been held by Republican Ed Royce for 13 terms. There’s military wife Tatiana Matta, who’s one of two Democrats trying to oust House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, who hopes to show New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen the door. (Twenty-three-year congressional veteran Frelinghuysen is descended from a family once ranked the seventh-most-powerful American political dynasty: His father was a congressman, his great-great-grandfather and great-great-great-uncle were senators; his great-great-great-great-grandfather — also a senator — helped to frame New Jersey’s Constitution.)

[…]

Of course, in most fields, altering power ratios is neither swift nor easy. Even if men are pushed from their lofty perches, those waiting to take their places, the ones who’ve accrued seniority, expertise, and connections, are mostly men. Women who’ve been driven out or self-exiled from their chosen professions often cannot simply reenter them — as partners or managers or even mid-level employees.

This is one of the relative virtues of politics: It can be swiftly responsive to change. You can, in theory, run for local or state or even federal office, even if you’ve never been as much as a student-council secretary. If you’re a preschool teacher or a law professor or a sanitation worker, there will be substantial obstacles, yes — weaker networks, fund-raising disadvantages; party machinery, institutional obstruction, and identity bias to push past. Yes. But you can run. And if you win, whether the office is small or large, you might be able to shake things up. The people who control state and local legislatures often determine who in their communities gets to vote easily, who has access to health care or to legal sanctuary; local governing bodies around the country have in recent years passed legislation for paid leave and paid sick days and higher minimum wages.

It’s certainly true that the policies that are enacted depend on which women run and win — the country is full of Sarah Palins, not just Elizabeth Warrens. According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, however, so far it’s the Warrens who are getting into the game. Of the 49 women currently planning to run for the Senate (including incumbents, challengers, and those running for open spots), 31 are Democrats. Well over half of the 79 women slated to campaign for governor are Dems, as are 80 percent of the women setting their sights on the House.

This past fall’s elections — in which Danica Roem, a 33-year-old transgender woman, handily beat an incumbent who’d authored a transphobic bathroom bill and dubbed himself the state’s “chief homophobe”; in which Ashley Bennett, a 32-year-old psychiatric-emergency screener from New Jersey bumped off the Atlantic County freeholder who’d mocked the Women’s March by asking whether protesters would be home in time to cook his dinner — showed that improbable wins by improbable candidates are possible, perhaps especially if they can convert anger and frustration at the ways in which they’ve been discriminated against into electoral fuel.

This one has a companion piece that lists ten women to watch for. Two of them are by now familiar names from Texas: Laura Moser and Gina Ortiz Jones. The bit about Moser notes that she has Lizzie Fletcher as a primary opponent, and if you look at the embedded image, taken from the main story, you’ll see three of their pictures. Moser and Fletcher, along with Hidalgo, are on the TIME cover. I am as always delighted to see our candidates receive attention, but I wonder a little about how the decision is made about on whom to focus. Moser, Fletcher, and Jones are all strong candidates with good stories and fundraising to match, but as I noted before, the women who are most likely to make it to Congress from Texas are Sylvia Garcia and one of Veronica Escobar and Dori Fenenbock, none of whom have received a tiny fraction of the love from the press. I mean, there’s a non-trivial chance none of the three Texans in the Cut picture will be on the ballot in November – only two of them can be no matter what – and a larger chance none of them will get sworn in if they are. Maybe it’s because the three I’m noting are all current officeholders, though in that Cut companion piece three of the ten women featured are incumbents of some kind and one or two others are former Obama administration officials. I get that the women had previously been less engaged with the process are now the biggest part of the story, I just feel like the amount of attention they’re getting relative to what those who had been there before are getting is a bit skewed. It’s not that big a deal – I strongly suspect that once Sylvia Garcia is the nominee in CD29, possibly joined by Escobar in CD16, there will be a flurry of articles about the first Latina member(s) of Congress from Texas. It was just something I thought about as I read these. You should read them, too.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

How many more women are we likely to have in Congress next year?

Probably at least two, and more are possible.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

No freshman woman has come to Congress from Texas since Granger’s election 1996, with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who served as a placeholder for less than two months in late 2006. (Hutchison, who left the Senate in 2013, is now U.S. ambassador to NATO.)

The problem in Texas was not so much that women weren’t winning – it was that they weren’t running.

In interviews with candidates, officeholders and campaign consultants, the most-cited reasons for the lack of female candidates were concerns that gerrymandered districts would protect incumbents, an aversion to commuting to Washington while raising children and general apathy, a problem Jackson Lee cited back in 2016.

That all changed this year, in part due to a national backlash against Trump on the Democratic side and, in Texas, a wave of retirements on both sides.

Approximately 50 women have lined up this year to run for Congress in Texas, among hundreds running around the country. Of that sum, a handful are running well-funded, professional campaigns and have viable paths to serving in Washington.

[…]

Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock are the best-funded candidates aiming to succeed O’Rourke, and former state Rep. Norma Chavez threw her hat into the ring just before the December filing deadline. Escobar and Fenenbock both cited the same reason as contributing to their decisions to run: Their children are old enough that they felt comfortable making the Washington commute without creating disruptions in their families.

Three men are also running in the Democratic primary, but the betting money among political observers is on El Paso sending a woman to Washington.

Another potential future congresswoman is state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who is seeking retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s 29th District seat and has drawn Green’s endorsement. She faces a crowded field in a Democratic primary that will likely determine the outcome of the election. Houston political insiders say that, while there are no assurances, Garcia is in the driver’s seat for the nomination.

She ran for Congress previously in 1992 against Green and lost. Back then, she was part of another crush of women entering politics, at that time in response to the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.

On the GOP side, Texas women running for open seats in Congress include political fundraiser Bunni Pounds and communications consultant Jenifer Sarver. Both women are in ferociously competitive primaries.

Pounds is running in CD05, the only woman among nine candidates. Sarver is in the 18-candidate pileup in CD21; there are two other women alongside her. I suppose you could add Kathaleen Wall in CD02 to this list as well. She’s the sole woman in that eight-contestant field, and she’s already advertising on TV, with a spot during the college football playoffs last week. Here’s my subjective ranking of the odds for each of these hopefuls.

1. Sylvia Garcia – She doesn’t appear to have any notable opposition, though one of her opponents has raised some money. If she wins the primary she’s a shoe-in for November. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if she’s not the winner in CD29.

2. Escobar/Fenenbock/Chavez – Like CD29, the primary winner has a cakewalk in November. There’s a non-zero chance that any or all of these women could fail to make the primary runoff, so I put their collective odds below Garcia’s.

3. Bunni Pounds – As with the others, she’s a lock if she wins the primary, but she has a tougher road to get there.

4. Gina Ortiz Jones – I originally had her lower than Wall and Sarver, but Dems are currently more favored to win here than the GOP is in CDs 02 or 21, and I figure she’ll be in a runoff with Jay Hulings, while neither Wall nor Sarver has as seemingly clear a path to May. Ask me again after I see the Q4 finance reports; Hulings outraised Jones in Q3 but he was officially in the race before her. We’ll see how she does with an equal time period.

5. Jennifer Sarver – The Republican candidate will be favored in CD21, but it’s not a lock. Sarver has to get through the primary first, and with that many candidates it’s like ping pong balls in a lottery machine.

6. Kathaleen Wall – You could swap Wall and Sarver without much argument from me. I think Dems have slightly better odds to win CD02, but Wall has fewer opponents in the primary, so it kind of balances out.

7. Lizzie Fletcher/Laura Moser – It’s a tough primary in CD07 and a coin flip in November, but if either of these women can make it to the November ballot she’ll have a decent shot at it.

8. The rest of the field – Lillian Salerno in CD32, Jana Sanchez and Ruby Woolridge in CD06, Letitia Plummer in CD22, Lorie Burch in CD03, Jan McDowell in CD24, Silky Malik in CD02, MJ Hegar in CD31, etc etc etc. The over/under is set at two for now, but there is a scenario in which the number of female members of Congress from Texas increases by a lot.

Thoughts going into primary season

So primary season is officially open, with candidates pretty much everywhere. I’ve been busy doing interviews and will cover as many Democratic races as I can, but won’t get to them all. I may double back in the runoffs, we’ll see. In the meantime, here are my thoughts as we begin.

1. Let’s take a minute to appreciate the depth and breadth of the candidate pool. It’s not just that there are so many people running and that so many offices have candidates competing for them, it’s that so many of these candidates reflect a diverse array of backgrounds, talents, and experiences. In every way, we’ve never seen anything like this before.

2. That said, there are a few duds out there – Lloyd Oliver in HD134 is the most prominent local loser. The good news is that unlike 2014, there are no Jim Hogans or Grady Yarbroughs running in the statewide races where a low profile can enable them to sneak through. Hogan is running for Ag Commissioner in the Republican primary this year (LOL), and Yarbrough is buried in the gubernatorial race. Some candidates are better than others in the downballot primaries, but as far as I can tell none of them look like embarrassments.

3. Still, it’s on all of us to ensure that the best candidates make it through. That starts with the candidates themselves, all of whom need to take the primary seriously, but we’re the ones that get to choose. We need to do our homework.

4. Let’s talk about that diversity for a minute. Having looked at the web and Facebook pages of all the State Senate and most of the Congressional candidates, I’ve seen:

– Quite a few LGBT candidates – Mark Phariss and Fran Watson for State Senate; Lorie Burch and John Duncan and Mary Wilson and Gina Ortiz Jones for Congress. I’m sure I have missed some, and that’s before considering State House contenders.

– Doctors, scientists, software engineers, teachers, the non-profit sector, at least one locksmith. Basically, a lot more than just your usual lawyers, businessfolk, and political types.

– Military veterans, from all four branches of service.

– People of color running in districts that were not specifically drawn to elect a person of color. Not too surprising, given that we’re talking about people running in Republican districts, but still at a higher rate than in past years. With Sylvia Garcia running in CD29, we are very likely to elect our first ever Latina member of Congress, and if Veronica Escobar wins in CD16, we’ll elect our second as well. Gina Ortiz Jones, whose family is from the Philippines, has a decent chance of being our first ever Asian-American member of Congress. On the flip side of that, if Democrats make gains in the suburbs that could well increase the legislative presence of Anglo Democrats, of which there are currently (I think) six all together.

– Lots of younger candidates. Everyone in CD07 is younger than I am. I didn’t spend too much time dwelling on this lest I fall into a “What have I done with my life?” rabbit hole, but there’s a lot of youthful energy out there.

5. The more I think about it, the more I believe that strong turnout in the primary will be important going forward. First and foremost, a big showing in the primary will ensure that the narrativeis about Democrats being engaged and involved, and that this year really is unlike previous years. As we know, Dems topped one million primary voters in 2002, and haven’t come close to it in a non-Presidential year since then. Reaching one million in 2018 would be a positive sign. Reaching 1.5 million, which would be higher than the 2010 and 2014 Republican primaries, would really open some eyes. My hope is that all those Ylocal and legislative races will draw people out, but it wouldn’t hurt for the Beto O’Rourkes and Lupe Valdezes and Andrew Whites to do their part and spend some money getting people to the polls.

6. As much as we celebrate the vast number of candidates running this year, we also need to come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of them will lose. Most of them, in fact, won’t make it to November at all – this is the obvious consequence of having so many multi-candidate primaries. Given the talents and experiences of these candidates, it would be a shame if most of them wind up being one-and-done with elected office. Most people don’t win their first race, and sometimes losing a race just means that the time wasn’t right for that candidate. It’s very much my hope that a decent number of the people who fall short come back to try again. That can mean a second try at the same office in 2020, and it can mean some other office. Again, many elected officials got there on their second or third or even fourth attempt. Learn from the experience, keep building relationships, and find another opportunity in the future.

7. Of course, there are other ways to contribute beyond another run for office. Organize, advocate, fundraise, network, mentor – the list goes on. 2016 was a wakeup call for a lot of people. We don’t get to go back to sleep regardless of whether things go as we’d like in 2018.

8. But we do think 2018 will go our way, and if that’s the case we should act like it. What I mean by that is that the organizations that back candidates in competitive districts need to expand their vision, and their supporting capabilities, beyond that horizon. Set some stretch goals, and work to meet them. Find candidates running against the really bad actors, even in “unwinnable” districts, and support them, too. Annie’s List, labor, Equality Texas, the DLCC and more, I’m talking to you. Examples of such candidates: Kendall Scudder, running (most likely) against Sen. Bob Hall; Lisa Seger, running against Rep. Cecil Bell; Yolanda Prince, running against Rep. Matt Schaefer. If we want good people to run in these districts, the least we can do is not leave them hanging.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

Filing news: The “What’s up with Lupe Valdez?” edition

On Wednesday, we were told that Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had resigned her post in preparation for an announcement that she would be filing to run for Governor. Later that day, the story changed – she had not resigned, there was no news. As of yesterday, there’s still no news, though there are plans in place if there is news.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Candidates are lining up to replace Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez if she resigns to file for governor.

Valdez, who has led the department since 2005, has said she is considering the next stage — and earlier this month said she was looking at the governor’s race. Her office said Wednesday night no decision has been made.

Valdez could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

On Wednesday afternoon, media outlets, including The Dallas Morning News and WFAA (Ch. 8) reported that Valdez had resigned.

Lawyer Pete Schulte announced his candidacy Wednesday but later walked his intentions back after it became clear Valdez had not resigned.

He tweeted “Trying to find out how @dallasdemocrats Chair confirmed to some media today about @SheriffLupe retirement to run for Governor. Let me be clear: I have NO plans to run for DalCo Sheriff unless the Sheriff does retire early and will only run in 2020 IF Sheriff chooses to retire.”

At this point, I’m almost as interested in how the news got misreported as I am in actually seeing Valdez announce. Someone either said something that was true but premature, or not true for whatever the reason. I assume some level of fact-checking happened before the first story hit, so someone somewhere, perhaps several someones, has some explaining to do. I have to figure we’ll know for sure by Monday or so.

Anyway. In other news, from Glen Maxey on Facebook:

For the first time in decades, there are a full slate of candidates in the Third Court of Appeals (Austin), the Fifth Court (Dallas area) and the First and Fourteenth (Houston area). We can win control of those courts this election. This is where we start to see justice when we win back these courts! (We may have full slates in the El Paso, Corpus, San Antonio, etc courts, too. Just haven’t looked).

That’s a big deal, and it offers the potential for a lot of gains. But even just one or two pickups would be a step forward, and as these judges serve six-year terms with no resign-to-run requirements, they’re the natural farm team for the statewide benches.

From Montgomery County Democratic Party Chair Marc Meyer, in response to an earlier filing news post:

News from the frozen tundra (of Democratic politics, at least):
– Jay Stittleburg has filed to run for County Judge. This is the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s first candidate for County Judge since 1990.
– Steven David (Harris County) is running for CD08 against Kevin Brady. He has not filed for a spot on the ballot, yet, but has filed with the FEC.
– All three state house districts in the county will be contested by Democrats, but I’m not able to release names at this time.
– We have a candidate for District Clerk as well – he has filed a CTA, but is trying to get signed petitions to get on the ballot.
– We are still working on more down-ballot races, so hopefully there will be more news, soon.

It’s one thing to get Democrats to sign up in places like Harris and Fort Bend that have gone or may go blue. It’s another to get people to sign up in a dark crimson county like Montgomery. Kudos to Chair Meyer and his slate of candidates.

Speaking of Harris County, the big news is in County Commissioners Court Precinct 2, where Pasadena City Council member Sammy Casados has entered the primary. As you know, I’ve been pining for Adrian Garcia to get into this race. There’s no word on what if anything he’ll be doing next year, but that’s all right. CM Casados will be a great candidate. Go give his Facebook page a like and follow his campaign. He’ll have to win in March first, so I assume he’ll be hitting the ground running.

Adrian Garcia was known to have at least some interest in CD29 after Rep. Gene Green announced his retirement. I don’t know if that is still the case, but at this point he’s basically the last potential obstacle to Sen. Sylvia Garcia’s election. Rep. Carol Alvarado, who lost in SD06 to Sylvia Garcia following Mario Gallegos’ death, announced that she was filing for re-election in HD145; earlier in the day, Sylvia Garcia announced that Rep. Green had endorsed her to succeed him. I have to assume that Rep. Alvarado, like her fellow might-have-been contender in CD29 Rep. Armando Walle, is looking ahead to the future special election for Sen. Garcia’s seat. By the way, I keep specifying my Garcias in this post because two of Sylvia’s opponents in the primary are also named Garcia. If Adrian does jump in, there would be four of them. That has to be some kind of record.

Finally, in something other than filing news, HD138 candidate Adam Milasincic informs me that Greg Abbott has endorsed HD138 incumbent Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Abbott has pledged to be more active this cycle, as we’ve seen in HD134 and a few other districts, but Bohac has no primary opponent at this time. Bohac does have good reason to be worried about his chances next year, so it’s probably not a coincidence that Abbott stepped in this early to lend him a hand. Milasincic’s response is here, which you should at least watch to learn how to pronounce “Milasincic”.

UPDATE: I didn’t read all the way to the end of the statement I received from Rep. Alvarado concerning her decision to file for re-election. Here’s what it says at the very end:

I also look forward to following through on the encouragement that many of you have given to me about laying the groundwork for a campaign for a possible vacancy in Senate District 6.

As expected and now confirmed. Thanks to Campos for the reminder.

Rep. Walle files for re-election, not CD29

From the inbox:

Rep. Armando Walle

State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) released the following statement to announce his run for re-election to the Texas House of Representatives:

After much consultation and consideration with my family, friends, and community, I have decided to run for re-election to the Texas House to represent House District 140 for my sixth term. My experience and knowledge will be more important than ever given the work that remains at the state level in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey as well as in our fight for strong neighborhood schools, good-paying jobs, and quality healthcare for our families.

Through 9 years in elected office, my passion for serving and representing the neighborhoods where I grew up has not wavered. From helping lay ground work for the Aldine Town Center, to taking out water utilities preying on customers, to refurbishing cherished neighborhood parks, I hope my neighbors in north Houston and Aldine will send me back to keep working hard for them in Austin.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet with my neighbors and community members of north and east Harris County where we live, work, and worship. We will dearly miss Congressman Gene Green’s experience, strong work ethic, and commitment to the people of the 29th Congressional District of Texas. Since his retirement announcement, I have seen optimism and excitement for a new generation of leadership. I look forward to continuing engagement with the community on how we can best move forward.

Rep. Walle had originally announced his intention to run in CD29. I presume he has assessed the landscape and come to the conclusion that Sen. Sylvia Garcia was a strong favorite to win, and as such it made more sense to return to his current position. Among other things, this means he could later run in a special election for SD06 after Garcia steps down, without automatically giving up his seat. I think we can say at this point that no one with a realistic chance of winning in CD29 is likely to file at this point. As a fan of Rep. Walle’s, I’m glad he’ll still be around in the Lege.

An incomplete filing update

First, a little Republican action in CD02.

Rep. Ted Poe

Hurricane Harvey is reshaping congressional campaigns in Houston.

When the flood waters socked the Meyerland area, it also washed out the home of former hospital CEO David Balat, a Republican, who was hoping to unseat fellow Republican and current U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

“Like so many people, we’re being forced to relocate because of Hurricane Harvey,” Balat said. “We’re having to start over.”

Balat is now in the market for a new home and he’s had to revise his political plans. He’s still running for Congress, Balat has amended his campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and announced he is instead running for a different congressional district. Instead of Culberson’s 7th District – a mostly west Houston and western Harris County seat – Balat is now among a growing list of GOP candidates hoping to replace Rep. Ted Poe, R-Atascocita.

[…]

Last week, Rick Walker jumped into the race. The self-identified conservative Republican, said he will focus on more efficient government spending, smaller government and “cutting bureaucratic waste.” Walker, 38, is the CEO of GreenEfficient, a company that helps commercial businesses obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Also, Texas Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Houston, earlier this month filed papers to run for the 2nd Congressional District as well.

I figured there would be a big field on the Republican side for CD02. There are four now for CD02, the three mentioned in this story plus Kathaleen Wall, according to the county GOP filing page, and I would guess there will be more. I am a little surprised that only one current or former officeholder has filed for it, however.

Two other notes of interest on the Republican side: Sam Harless, husband of former State Rep. Patricia Harless, has filed for HD126, the seat Patricia H held and that Kevin Roberts is leaving behind. Former Rep. Gilbert Pena, who knocked off Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 in 2014 and then lost to her in 2016, is back for the rubber match.

On the Democratic side, we once again refer to the SOS filings page, hence the “incomplete” appellation in the title. Let’s do this bullet-point-style:

– Todd Litton remains the only Dem to file in CD02 so far. I’m sure he won’t mind if that stays the case. Five of the six known hopefuls in CD07 have made it official: Alex Triantaphyllis, Laura Moser, Jason Westin, Lizzie Fletcher, and James Cargas. Sylvia Garcia has filed in CD29, and she is joined by Hector Morales and Dominique Garcia, who got 4% of the vote as the third candidate in the 2016 primary; Armando Walle has not yet filed. Someone named Richard Johnson has filed to challenge Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. Dayna Steele filed in CD36; I expect Jon Powell to follow suit after the HCDP office reopens on Monday.

– It’s not on the SOS page yet, but Fran Watson posted on Facebook that she filed (in Austin) for SD17. Ahmad Hassan has also filed for that seat.

– We will have a rematch in HD139 as Randy Bates has filed for a second shot at that seat, against freshman Rep. Jarvis Johnson. Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147 also has an opponent, a Daniel Espinoza. There will be contested primaries in HDs 133 and 138, with Martin Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in the former and Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool in the latter. Undrai F. Fizer has filed in HD126, and Fred Infortunio in HD130.

– We have a candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, a Daniel Box. Google tells me nothing about him, but there is someone local and of a seemingly appropriate geographical and ideological profile on Facebook.

That’s the news of interest as I know it. Feel free to tell me what else is happening.

The potential Sylvia effect

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

As we know, Rep. Gene Green is retiring, and as we also know, Sen. Sylvia Garcia is one of the contenders to succeed him. As noted before, this is a free shot for Garcia, as she would not otherwise be on the ballot in 2018. If she loses, she gets to go back to being Sen. Garcia, until she has to run again in 2020. The same cannot be said for at least one of her opponents, Rep. Armando Walle, who will not file for re-election in HD140 as the price for pursuing CD29. Unlike Garcia, the downside for Walle is that he would become private citizen Walle in 2019. The same is true for Rep. Carol Alvarado if she joins in.

This post is about what happens if Sen. Garcia wins, because unlike the losing scenario she would step down from her job. Again, the same is true for Rep. Walle, but the difference is that Walle’s successor will be chosen (or headed to a runoff) at the same time Walle’s fate is decided. His successor will be in place to take the oath of office for HD140 in January of 2019, having been officially elected in November.

There is no potential successor for Garcia on the horizon, because her term is not up till the 2020 election. There will only be a need for a successor if she wins. Because of this, the process will be different, and Garcia has some control over it.

For these purposes, we will assume Garcia wins the primary for CD29, which is tantamount to winning the general election; the Rs don’t have a candidate as of this writing, and it doesn’t really matter if they come up with one, given the partisan lean of the district. So what happens when Sylvia wins?

Well, strictly speaking, she doesn’t have to resign from the Senate until the moment before she takes the oath of office for CD29. At that moment, her Senate seat will become vacant and a special election would be needed to fill it. That election would probably be in early March, with a runoff in April, leaving SD06 mostly unrepresented during the 2019 session.

Of course, there’s no chance that Garcia would resign in January. Most likely, she’d want to act like a typical Congressperson-elect, which would suggest she’d step down in November, probably right after the election. That would put SD06 in roughly the same position as SD26 was in following Leticia Van de Putte’s resignation to run for Mayor of San Antonio. The special election there was on January 6, with eventual winner Jose Menendez being sworn in two months later.

She could also resign earlier than that, perhaps after she wins the nomination in March or (more likely) May. Doing that would ensure that her successor was in place before January; indeed, doing it this way would give her successor a seniority advantage over any new members from the class of 2018. I think this is less likely, but I’m sure she’d consider it, precisely for that reason.

Whatever schedule to-be-Rep. Garcia chose to leave the Senate, we would not be done with special election considerations. As was the case with SD26 in 2015, it is at least possible that Garcia’s eventual successor would be a sitting State Rep, which means – you guessed it – that person would then resign that seat and need to be replaced. We could wind up having quite the full calendar through 2018 and into early 2019. The second special election would not be a sure thing, as one top contender could well be soon-to-be-former Rep. Walle, who will spend the next few months campaigning in that area – CD29 and SD06 have quite a bit of overlap – but I figure Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez would be in the mix as well, possibly Jessica Farrar, too.

So there you have it. We could have up to four extra elections in the next twelve to fourteen months. Be prepared for it

Who’s in for CD29?

Start your engines, y’all.

Rep. Gene Green

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Armando Walle threw their hats in the ring Tuesday to represent the district that covers much of eastern Houston and part of Pasadena.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, meanwhile considering running, and former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has asked the county party for filing paperwork.

“I hope that whoever is running realizes this is a very, very, very important opportunity for the Latino community to get not only descriptive representation, but also substantive representation,” University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina said. “What we don’t know yet is how the primary is going to be dealt with. It could be ugly, but it also could be very amicable.”

[…]

Adrian Garcia, 56, tried last year to oust Green after an unsuccessful Houston mayoral bid – a controversial decision among local Democrats – but fell to the longtime congressman by 19 percentage points.

Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter said the former sheriff requested filing paperwork Monday, and one local television station reported he planned to run again.

Garcia did not return multiple requests for comment, however.

Alvarado, for her part, said in a statement Tuesday that she was “humbled by the encouragement” she had received, but did not commit to a bid.

“I will continue to visit with key stakeholders in our community and will be making an announcement on my candidacy in the coming days,” said Alvarado, 50.

See here for the background. As noted before, this is a free shot for Sen. Garcia, while Rep. Walle and if she runs Rep. Alvarado would have to give up their seats for this. We’ll see who files in HD140 and if need be HD145; I live in the latter, so this is of particular interest to me. Garcia has no office to give up, but boy howdy would I rather see him run for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. (You can get stuff done! You can live at home! You get to be a pain in the ass to Steve Radack! What more could you want?) I should note that a fellow named Hector Morales had been in the race for some time before Rep. Green’s announcement; his Q# finance report is here. I suspect he’s about to get buried under the avalanche of higher-profile candidates, but there he is nonetheless.

With her entry, Sen. Garcia – and Rep. Alvarado if she takes the plunge – also has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Along with Veronica Escobar in CD16, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23, and Lillian Salerno in CD32, we could go from never having elected a Latina to Congress to having as many as four of them there. Another way in which 2018 will be – one hopes – an historic year.

Rep. Gene Green to retire

I said there would be surprises.

Rep. Gene Green

One of the two longest serving Democrats from Texas in the U.S. Congress won’t seek re-election.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2018. Green was first elected to Congress in 1992 and represents a district that includes South Houston, Pasadena and loops up to pick up Aldine.

“I have been fortunate to have never lost an election since 1972 and I am confident that I still have the support of my constituents and would be successful if I ran for another term in Congress,” Green said in a statement. “However, I have decided that I will not be filing for re-election in 2018. I think that it is time for me to be more involved in the lives of our children and grandchildren. I have had to miss so many of their activities and after 26 years in Congress it is time to devote more time to my most important job of being a husband, father and grandfather.”

[…]

In his statement, Green stressed his years of constituent service in Houston.

“The goal of every elected official should be to serve and help your constituency to have a better life for their families,” Green said. “I am proud of sponsoring events in our district such as having Immunization Day each year for the past 20 years to provide free vaccinations for children and Citizenship Day each year for the past 22 years to help legal residents to become citizens of our great country.”

Didn’t see this one coming. I guess Rep. Green just had enough, because if the Dems retake the majority he’d surely have been in line for a committee chair. As you might imagine, for this strong Dem seat (it’s bluer than Hensarling’s is red), the rumors and gossip about who may be running started in earnest.

Sources confirm to the Texas Tribune that among those considering a run for the seat: Garcia, state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and attorney Beto Cardenas, who served as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Frank Tejeda, former President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Democratic pollster Zac McCrary worked on Green’s re-election campaign last year and knows the electorate well.

“There’s no shortage of strong, ambitious Democrats in that district who have been eyeing that seat for years,” he said. “I imagine the dam will break and we’ll see a lot of strong candidates there.”

Noting that there is a glut of candidates in even the most Republican seats, he suggested the field could be one of the most crowded Texas primaries seen in years.

“An open seat, in a very strongly Democratic seat, you might have double-digit strong candidates deciding to give it a try.”

I’ve heard that Sen. Garcia is already in; it’s a free shot for her, as she’s not on the ballot this year otherwise. State Reps like Alvarado and Hernandez would have to make a choice. Adrian Garcia didn’t get a mention in this story but I’m sure he’s thinking about it. Everyone has till December 11 to decide. All I know is that my schedule for doing primary interviews just got a lot busier. My thanks to Rep. Gene Green for his service, and my very best wishes for a happy and healthy retirement.

Harris County will not enter SB4 litigation

Unfortunate.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday decided not to join a lawsuit against the state’s controversial sanctuary cities law.

A motion made by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis to move to join the lawsuit died after it failed to receive a second by another court member.

The move comes as pressure had been building for the county to join the lawsuit, which opponents of the state law — Senate Bill 4 — say is discriminatory against immigrant communities.

A number of public speakers Tuesday, including state legislators Sylvia Garcia and Armando Walle, asked the county to join the lawsuit.

“The law in my mind is unconstitutional and it’s in violation of human dignity,” Garcia, D-Houston.

Can’t say I’m surprised by this, but I am disappointed. The Observer adds on.

At the hearing, a group of Democratic lawmakers and activists backed Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis in asking the other four members, all Republicans, to vote to join the legal challenge.

“Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard widespread, almost unanimous opposition to SB 4,” said Ellis, a former state senator and the only person of color on the commissioners court, in a statement to the Observer. “Members of the Harris County delegation in the Legislature… and residents across Harris County asked us to join the lawsuit to overturn the new law.”

[…]

But County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said he was not persuaded.

“Don’t interpret, if we decide not to sue, that decision as an endorsement of SB 4,” he said after hearing the testimony, which lasted about 15 minutes.

“It is!” shouted someone in the audience. She called the commissioners “cowards,” and promised that she and others would campaign against those who chose not to sue. Police officers escorted her out of the room.

Emmett said SB 4 goes too far in “interfering” with local government, but said that doesn’t mean the county should sue.

Perhaps it doesn’t, as there are many other plaintiffs, but no second for Ellis’ motion is hardly a profile in courage for the Court. It would be nice to know, on the record, how this adversely affects the county. Can we be more specific about how SB4 “interferes” with our county’s government? Not in general or in theory, but how it is directly affecting us, the taxpayers and residents of Harris County. We say we’re not endorsing SB4 despite our lack of action. Let’s not give the impression of endorsing it by remaining silent. That is the least we can do. Stace has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the longer Chron story. Of interest:

A majority of the Commissioners Court said that despite their reservations about the law, which some described as an overreach by the state, joining the lawsuit could put the county on a slippery slope for lawsuits over an untold number of disagreeable state bills in the future.

“Were we to sue every bill that gets passed, I think that’s a dangerous precedent,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, who, along with his three Republican colleagues, opposed joining the lawsuit.

[…]

Earlier in the week, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, filed a friend-of-the-court brief stating that the law would “irreparably harm” children in the state’s child welfare system.

“By mandating county attorneys cooperate in the enforcement of immigration laws – prioritizing immigration over other duties – SB4 creates an irreconcilable conflict between the priority given by our state to the preservation of the family,” the brief states.

[…]

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he questioned whether the bill actually would increase distrust, and said the Harris County Attorney’s office had not recommended to him to join the lawsuit. He also offered a criticism of the law, which he said “basically circumvents authority in a police agency, like the sheriff, for example.”

In his brief, County Attorney Ryan said his office represents state officials who are bound to advocate for children’s best interest and keep families together. It goes on to say the law would deter immigrants from reporting abuse of children, volunteering to care for children or providing evidence in child abuse cases.

“Given that SB4 compels county attorneys to cooperate in efforts which will lead to the deportation of parents or kinship caregivers, the separation of families, and further trauma to children, the new law presents clear conflicts with federal and state child welfare laws, which require efforts to protect children and to maintain the unity of their families without regard to their immigration status,” the brief states.

Like I said, not exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps someone could sit Commissioner Morman down and explain to him that getting involved in this particular case does not create any obligations going forward. At least the amicus brief does state some of the harm from SB4 on the record. Clearly, that’s the best we’re going to get at this time.

Fifth Circuit to hear AALDEF lawsuit appeal

This happens today.

Amid last-minute efforts to overhaul the state’s voter identification law in light of an ongoing legal fight, the Texas Legislature gaveled out without addressing another embattled election law that’s now moving forward in federal court.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday will take up a legal challenge to an obscure provision in the Texas Election Code that requires interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help.

That state law has been on hold since last year after a federal district judge ruled it violated the federal Voting Rights Act under which any voter who needs assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.

“There’s nothing that’s being imposed. The state just needs to get out of the way,” said Jerry Vattamala, director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s democracy program.

[…]

“I don’t see how we could in legislative action place a criteria that would limit it more than a constitutional standard,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who filed one of the measures during this year’s regular legislative session that would’ve only left in place the assistor provision. “I just don’t think the state is serious about the right to vote or access to the election box. We just seem to bend over backwards to place barriers instead of working to increase voter turnout.”

Her legislation to bring the state in line with federal law languished in the Senate State Affairs Committee after colleagues raised concerns that it would allow voters to obtain help at the polls from noncitizens, Garcia said. The voter registration requirement by default requires the interpreter to be a U.S. citizen and 18 years old.

But sometimes voters ask their minor children to help them cast their ballots, Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero of Fort Worth told the House Elections Committee during an April hearing. His proposal was similar to Garcia’s and also did not advance out of committee.

Despite the intricacies between interpreters and assistors, the case could ultimately come down to a question of standing if the state has its way.

See here, here, and here for the background. There was a simple legislative fix to what really shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place – the state even admitted that the Williamson County election officials who created the fuss in the first place acted incorrectly – but nothing got done. The state is now claiming that the plaintiffs lack standing to pursue this litigation as the original voter has passed away, and I have a sinking feeling that if the Fifth Circuit doesn’t buy that argument, SCOTUS might. We’ll just have to see.

“Sanctuary cities” bill gets final passage

It’s done.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted 20-11 to accept the House’s version of Senate bill 4, legislation that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

The bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who declared the legislation an “emergency item” in the early days of the legislative session, and is widely expected to sign it.

The legislation makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction. The bill also applies to public colleges.

But the final version also includes a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment, as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. Democrats and immigrant rights groups argue this makes the bill “show-me-your-papers”-type legislation that will allow police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during the most routine exchanges, including traffic stops.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some lawmakers were still hopeful the bill would go to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers could strip the amendment from the bill. But during a floor debate Wednesday before the measure was approved by the Senate, the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said that the bill doesn’t require that officers ask a person’s immigration status. However the language does leave the door wide open for officers to make such inquiries if they feel the need during routine stops.

“We certainly don’t want ‘walking while brown’ to lead to reasonable suspicion,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “It will happen. And in some parts of my district, it already is happening.”

[…]

It’s unclear however, if Abbott’s signature on the bill will be the end of the conversation. Several lawmakers have said a lawsuit to stop the implementation of SB 4 is very likely and cite several reasons, including legal questions surrounding the federal preemption of immigration laws and whether ICE detainers are voluntary.

Before the final vote, Perry seemed to acknowledge as much.

“We will let the court systems figure this out,” he told state Sen. Jose Menendez during a lengthy back-and-forth about probable cause.

You better believe there will be lawsuits. I trust we’ll have top-notch lawyers on this, I just hope the courts will keep up. May this wretched law never spend a day being enforced. The Chron, the Observer, and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Bill to fix voting interpreters considered

This needs to happen, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county they are providing help.

The measure will ensure that voters are able “to meaningfully and effectively exercise their vote,” Garcia told the committee. “This ensures that voters have the capacity to navigate polling stations, communicate with election officers and understand how to fill out required forms and answer questions directed at them by any election officer.”

Garcia’s proposal comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the state’s interpreter provision in a lawsuit brought by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of Das, who has since died, and the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Because she had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das in 2014 brought her son, Saurabh, to help her cast her vote at a Williamson County polling place. But when her son told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, they ran into the state’s interpreter requirements. Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.

[…]

One provision of the state election code allows for “assistors.” It says voters can receive help reading or marking a ballot and states that assistance “occurs while the person is in the presence of the voter’s ballot.”

Yet a separate provision allows voters to select an “interpreter” to help them communicate with an election officer and “accompany the voter to the voting station for the purpose of translating the ballot to the voter.” The interpreter, unlike an assistor, must be registered to vote in the same county.

In Das’ case, had her son simply told poll workers he was “assisting” his mother — and not that the assistance involved interpreting the ballot for her — he would have been able to go into the voting booth with her.

Garcia’s proposal would essentially consolidate all forms of assistance and remove any requirements related to voter registration.

While the measure has picked up support by the Texas Association of Election Administrators, representatives with the Harris County Clerk’s Office, including Ed Johnson, testified against Garcia’s proposal.

“In Harris County, we think the role of an interpreter is different to the role of an assistant,” Johnson said, adding that the issue was a currently a “moot point” because the law has been put on hold and court is “still working through that process.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit in question is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but if Sen. Garcia’s bill were to pass, it would (I assume) moot the issue. I honestly don’t get the argument against this, but that doesn’t mean Stan Stanart isn’t going to do Stan Stanart things. Sen. Garcia’s bill was left pending in committee, and an identical bill by Rep. Ramon Romero was not withdrawn from the House Elections Committee schedule, so there has been no action taken yet. Contact your Senator on the State Affairs Committee if you want to see this bill get passed.

“Strongly held religious beliefs” do not justify discrimination

This is a very bad idea.

Legislation that would allow county clerks in Texas to decline to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it conflicts with their religious beliefs was tentatively approved Tuesday by the Texas Senate.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who authored the measure, said the Senate Bill 522 would allow clerks to recuse themselves from issuing a same-sex license and would instead assign their duties to other clerks, a judge or even a special clerk.

The vote was 21-10, mostly along party lines. A final vote is expected within a few days.

“This provides a way for clerks to exercise their profoundly held religious beliefs under the First Amendment, and at the same time protect the rights of couples who are coming in for a marriage license,” Birdwell said. “Right now, there is not an alternate mechanism for a clerk who is not willing to issue a license because of their sincerely held beliefs.”

[…]

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, questioned who the bill was supposed to protect.

“My main concern here is that all the clerks and judges know about the law and are following the law,” Garcia said.

Birdwell responded: “Without this, we’re saying that if you have strongly held religious beliefs, you are not welcome in public office.”

There is so much wrong with what Sen. Birdwell is saying. Warren Jeffs has “strongly held religious beliefs”. Last I checked, no one was seeking to pass a bill to better accommodate those beliefs. Believing in something extra hard doesn’t make it good or just or worthy of respect. A Catholic county clerk with “strongly held religious beliefs” would by this logic want to be able to recuse themselves from issuing a license to anyone who was divorced or to couples that were cohabiting. There’s a perfectly reasonable alternative bill that would address the concern of the deeply religious county clerk without singling out any particular marriage license applicants.

And that’s really the crux of this. The reason for this bill is because some people still don’t approve of same sex marriage and want to be able to express that disapproval in a formal and sanctioned way. That in turn leads to things like desperate legal attempts to redefine “marriage” in a way that makes it something lesser for same sex couples. There’s no way to escape the animus that a bill like this expresses towards same sex couples, which is at the heart of the Obergefell decision. All but a handful of County Clerks were able to do this after that ruling was made, and those who objected initially have since complied with the law. If there is anyone who can’t comply with that law now, then maybe being a County Clerk isn’t the right job for them.

Five anti-Texas Central bills approved by Senate committee

It just got real.

Five bills filed by state lawmakers fearful a high-speed rail project planned between Houston and Dallas will be a dud and need help from the state passed a key committee Wednesday, breezing their way past opposition from supporters of the line.

The bills approved Wednesday by the Senate Transportation Committee, three by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and one each by state Sens. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, address various concerns.

[…]

Schwertner said the efforts by skeptics are “simply about taxpayers and keeping them off the hook should a private high speed rail project fail.”

Supporters of the lines called them poison pills not just for Texas Central, but innovation in Texas.

“It sends a chilling message to business across the world and across the country that want to bet on Texas,” said Chris Lippincott, executive director of Texas Rail Advocates, a group supportive of the line. “These bills turn the Texas welcome mat into a do-not-enter sign.”

See here for the background. The Trib has specifics.

The five bills are among more than 20 pieces of legislation aimed at privately-operated high-speed rail in Texas that lawmakers have filed this session. All five also have House companions that have yet to be heard in that chamber’s committees.

[…]

Senate Bill 979 originally would have prevented any privately operated high-speed rail company from using eminent domain. But state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, removed that provision in a version of the bill presented Wednesday morning. The bill still requires a company that takes land under the “threat” of eminent domain for a high-speed rail project must return the land to the previous owners if the project isn’t eventually built.

The bill passed out of the committee unanimously.

Schwertner authored two of the other bills passed Wednesday. Senate Bill 977would forbid lawmakers from allocating any state funds to a privately operated high-speed rail project. It would also prohibit any state agencies from using state money on the planning, construction or operation of a bullet train line.

Schwertner’s wording on that provision of the bill is similar to a provision in the Senate’s proposed budget that he wrote. Texas Central called that budget wording a “job killer” that would create “vague and ambiguous questions” about its ability to coordinate and work with the Texas Department of Transportation, which is helping shepherd the project through the federal approval process.

But Schwertner on Wednesday presented a memo from TxDOT government affairs director Jerry Haddican. The letter said the state agency should still be able to answer questions from Texas Central, review and provide advice on the company’s plans and build state roads and highways that connect to development around high-speed rail stations under Schwertner’s budget rider.

Texas Central president Tim Keith said Wednesday that the memo “was received well” after he “quickly” reviewed a copy of it but the company did not formally change its position on Schwertner’s bill.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, cast the sole dissenting vote against that bill.

Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 981 would require Texas Central’s line to allow for more than one type of train technology. Texas Central currently only plans to allow for one type of train on its tracks. It is partnering with Central Japan Railway, the company the developed the technology for the Shinkansen bullet trains that run throughout Japan, for the Texas line.

Kolkhorst said her bill is aimed at preventing a monopoly, especially if the line is expanded to other cities inside or outside of Texas.

“This allows a more comprehensive network to be developed and allows train operators to purchase trains from a variety of manufacturers,” Kolkhorst said.

Keith said the line will physically fit other types of trains. But its signaling and safety systems will only be built to accommodate the bullet trains.

“The Japanese system is designed that way to avoid crashes,” said Holly Reed, a company spokeswoman. “That’s part of the safety system.”

Garcia again cast the sole dissenting vote against Kolkhorst’s bill.

The transportation committee also unanimously passed out Senate Bill 975, which would require high-speed rail operators to reimburse law enforcement agencies for any officers’ time used. The committee also passed Senate Bill 980, which would prohibit any privately operated high-speed rail line from receiving state money or loans unless the state first puts a lien on the project or receives a security interest in it. Garcia also cast the sole dissenting vote on that bill.

The bills sound less onerous than when they were first introduced, but Texas Central still opposed them all and said when they were introduced that they considered them all a serious threat to their business. What I would be concerned about right now if I were Texas Central is that Sen. Garcia was the only No vote on any of these bills, even though the Senate Transportation Committee has three Democrats plus Metroplex-area Sen. Kelly Hancock. That’s the first concrete sign that the mostly rural antis have broadened their base of support. If you didn’t know anything about Texas Central, some of these bills would sound pretty reasonable, which may be why they all passed out of committee so easily. But I think it’s fair to say that whatever goals Texas Central had in lobbying against these bills, they didn’t do as well as they surely might have liked. From here on out, it’s crunch time for them.

More on the Whitmire Astrodome bill

I still don’t care for this.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett voiced concern Tuesday that a bill filed by a veteran state senator jeopardizes the county’s plan to revitalize the Astrodome, adding that county representatives would continue to try to persuade legislators to support the $105 million project.

Emmett said state Sen. John Whitmire’s bill, the Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act, was misleading and that Whitmire’s statements that some Astrodome renovation funds could be spent on Minute Maid Park or the Toyota Center were “demonstrably incorrect.”

“This bill is an example of state government making it more difficult for local government to do its job,” Emmett said.

[…]

At a press conference Tuesday in Austin, Whitmire and other state senators from the Houston area gathered to express their support of legislation that would effectively block – or at least delay – Emmett’s plan.

Whitmire noted that voters four years ago defeated a $217 million bond package that would have renovated the Astrodome and transformed it into a street-level convention hall and exhibit space,

“With the dire problems we have with home flooding, too few deputies, roads still in disrepair … I have to represent my constituents and say, ‘Go back and get voter approval,'” Whitmire said. “This puts in a very good safeguard that the public vote be honored.”

Whitmire was joined Tuesday by Democratic Sens. Borris Miles and Sylvia Garcia and Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt, whose districts include parts of Harris County.

“This is a vote that the public expects to take,” Bettencourt said. “They’ve taken it in the past.”

Garcia took issue with the county’s plans to spend $105 million to create new parking before deciding how the Astrodome would be re-purposed. Voters need to hear the entire plan before any construction starts, Garcia said.

“I’ve always loved the Astrodome. I would assist the county commissioners court and anybody who wants to keep it alive,” Garcia said. “However, I don’t think this is the right way to get there.”

See here for the background. I guess I’m in a minority here, but I still disagree with this. When the time comes to spend money on NRG Stadium improvements, as some people want us to do, will we vote on that? (To be fair, not everyone is hot for Harris County to spend money on NRG Stadium.) If bonds are floated, sure. That’s what we do. (*) If not, we won’t. I don’t see why it’s different for the Astrodome. And however well-intentioned this may be, I’m still feeling twitchy about the Lege nosing in on local matters. I can also already see the lawsuit someone is going to file over the language of the putative referendum, however it may turn out. So I ask again, is this trip really necessary? I’m just not seeing it.

(*) Campos notes that we did not vote on Mayor White’s pension obligation bonds, as apparently there’s a state law that doesn’t require it. I’m sure there’s a story that requires at least two drinks to tell behind that. My assumption that we always vote on borrowing authority may be wrong, but my point that we don’t usually vote on general revenue spending still stands.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes in Senate

As expected.

The Texas Senate late Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a controversial immigration measure to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state.

Senate Bill 4, filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, would punish local and state government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. The vote was 20-11 along party lines.

It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds. The bill doesn’t apply to victims of or witnesses to crimes, public schools or hospital districts.

[…]

The vote came after Perry added tough civil and criminal penalties for entities that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions. One amendment would make a department head whose agency violates the provisions of SB 4 subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. Another added a provision that would subject the local agency to civil penalties, including a fine at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent violation.

The severity of the proposals prompted state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston to ask Perry how far he was willing to go.

“What’s the next [amendment] going to do? Take their first born?” she asked.

The upper chamber also predictably shot down by party line votes several amendments Democrats offered to make the bill more palatable to their constituents, including a measure by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would have excluded college campuses. An amendment by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which sought to require peace officers to learn immigration law was also voted down, as was another by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that would have prohibited the arrest of a person only because he or she was in the country illegally.

Garcia also asked Perry to remove a section of the bill that would punish a local entity for “endorsing” a policy that prohibits or discourages enforcing immigration law. Garcia said that section could be a violation of an elected official’s right to free speech and could be interpreted broadly.

See here for the background. There will certainly be lawsuits filed when this thing gets signed into law. The fact that legal genius Ken Paxton swears it’s legal is irrelevant – was there ever a chance he wouldn’t say that? – though what the courts ultimately do with this remains to be seen. (Other lawyers disagree with Paxton’s assessment.) The thing that needs to happen of course is for there to be a political price to pay for passing this bill. Lots of people showed up to testify against SB4. We need that same kind of turnout next November. Stace has more.