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Sylvia Garcia

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.

Fighting the bathroom bill

It will take all hands on deck.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia suggested that lawmakers should concentrate on issues like education funding and the state’s ongoing child welfare crisis.

“It’s a huge distraction, but it is nothing but a good political hot-button issue for the Republican Party’s primary base,” Garcia said. “All I can say is we’re going to fight like hell.”

Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who also appeared on the panel, noted that the business community is “up in arms” about Patrick’s proposal.

Last week, the Texas Association of Business released a study — which the Observerfirst reported in November — showing that if anti-LGBT legislation passes next year, the state’s economy could lose up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs.

Thompson predicted that even if Patrick’s bathroom bill clears the Senate, the House will kill it because members are “more rational and recognize the games that are being played.”

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Thompson said. “I think we’re going to be victorious.”

But Thompson also warned that Patrick may try to use the bathroom bill “to manipulate people” and “hold them hostage” in support of his other initiatives, such as school vouchers. Patrick declared in May that the Fort Worth school district’s decision to allow trans students to use restrooms based on their gender identity was “the biggest promotion for something I feel strongly about, and that’s school choice.”

“We just can’t let them use that to get other things that would be equally detrimental,” Thompson said. “That is the key.”

The word I’ve heard is that House Speaker Joe Straus has told the business lobby that if they want this dead, they need to work to kill it themselves in the Senate. He’s tired of doing their dirty work for them and then catching the blame for it. This is at least third-hand information, so take it for what it’s worth, but if recent musings from Dawn Buckingham and Greg Abbott are any indication, the lobbying efforts have had some effect. Bear in mind that the session hasn’t even started, and it’s entirely possible the business lobby could view a shift to a school-bathroom-only bill as a win for them and an excuse to drop out, so temper any optimism you may be feeling accordingly. This is all of our fight.

SCOTUS upholds “one person, one vote”

Good news.

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold Texas’ current system for drawing legislative districts so that they are roughly equal in population.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a victory for legislators — mostly Democrats — who represent districts with significant populations of people who are not eligible to vote: primarily children and non-U.S. citizens.

[…]

The case brought together dozens of state legislators who signed on to briefs arguing in Texas’ favor. Members of the House of Representatives’ Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus argued that the legal challenge represented a direct attack on their constituents, many of whom are ineligible to vote because they do not hold citizenship status. In order to accommodate thousands of additional eligible voters necessary to achieve district parity under Evenwel and Pfenninger’s plan, their districts would soar in size so much that their ability to represent their constituents effectively would be diminished, they said.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that argument in the majority ruling.

“As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote,” Ginsburg wrote. “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates — children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public education — and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies.”

“By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation,” the ruling concluded.

See here, here, and here for the background. ThinkProgress celebrates the win, but notes that the battle has not been fully settled.

Yet, while [Edward Blum, the conservative activist behind this lawsuit] did not prevail today, some ominous signs for Latino communities in states like Texas can be found in Ginsburg’s opinion. Ginsburg repeatedly uses language suggesting that states have some discretion to decide how to divvy up representation within the state. She writes that “it is plainly permissible” to divide up districts as Texas has done, and that “states and localities may comply with the one-person, one-vote principle by designing districts with equal total populations.”

That leaves an open question — whether states also may comply with one person/one vote by designing districts in the way that Blum would prefer. Ginsburg’s opinion does not answer that question. Nor does a separate opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, which states that “whether a State is permitted to use some measure other than total population is an important and sensitive question that we can consider if and when we have before us a state districting plan that, unlike the current Texas plan, uses something other than total population as the basis for equalizing the size of districts.”

Nevertheless, it is reasonably likely that Texas, or some other conservative state, will test this proposition in short order. Why wouldn’t the sort of lawmakers who embrace tactics like partisan gerrymandering and voter ID laws try to shift representation towards more conservative white communities if they can get away with it?

The practical effect of Evenwel, in other words, may simply be to shift Blum’s advocacy away from the Supreme Court and towards state legislatures.

Rick Hasen, however, is not very concerned about that.

Justice Ginsburg’s opinion holds that districting using total population was consistent with constitutional history, the Court’s own decisions, and longstanding practice. A long section of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion recounts constitutional history, and relies on the fact that for purposes of apportioning Congressional seats among states, total population, not total voters, must be used. Plaintiffs’ argument in Evenwel was inconsistent with this practice. As to the Court’s own precedents, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged language supporting both total voters and total population as possible bases, but Court’s practice has been to look at total population in its cases. Further, that is the practice that states uniformly use, despite the occasional case such as Burns v. Richardson, allowing Hawaii to use a registered voter level.

Finally, Justice Ginsburg gives a sound policy reason for a total population rule. In key language, she writes that “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children,, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.” A footnote following this states that even though constituents “have no constitutional right to equal access to the their elected representatives,” a state “certainly has an interest in taking reasonable, nondiscriminatory steps to facilitate access for all its residents.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, and especially notable because it attracted the votes of not just the liberals but also Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, is the Court’s refusal to give Texas the green light to use total voters if it wants in the next round of redistricting. The Court simply put the issue off for another day. It is hard to stress enough what a victory this is for liberal supporters of voting rights. Many of us thought Burns already gave Texas this power. The fact that the Court leaves that issue open will serve as a deterrent for states like Texas to try to use total voters in the next round of redistricting, because it will guarantee major litigation on the question.

SCOTUSBlog sums up:

The ruling’s bottom line was unanimous, but the main opinion bore many signs that its warm embrace of the theory of equality of representation had to be qualified by leaving the states with at least the appearance of the power of choice, to hold together six solid votes.

Two of the eight Justices were clearly not satisfied with the rhetoric and some of the implications of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, and only joined in the outcome. Those were Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Clarence Thomas, each of whom wrote separately. Thomas also joined most of Alito’s opinion.

Had Justice Ginsburg not held five colleagues in support of what her opinion actually said in the end, two — perhaps Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — might have abandoned the common result. The result then might have been that the Court would have split four to four, settling nothing and releasing no opinion at all while leaving intact a three-judge federal district court’s ruling that Texas had the authority to base its state legislative seats on a division of the total population of Texas.

Texas actually had wanted the Court to allow it to use a total population metric, but to go further and give the states explicit constitutional permission to map out districts with equal populations of voters. The Obama administration also had wanted the Court to rule that the Constitution actually required total population as the starting point for redistricting. Neither persuaded the Court to go take those further steps.

I’m sure Blum and his ilk will never go away, but at least as far as this goes, they would appear to have a steep hill to climb to win in a subsequent attempt to do something like this. For that we can be glad. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia, whose Senate district would have been greatly affected by this lawsuit, is here, and a statement from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus is here. Daily Kos, the Brennan Center, Trail Blazers, Kevin Drum, TPM, the Lone Star Project, ThinkProgress, the Chron, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: More from The Nation and The Atlantic.

What’s next for Adrian Garcia?

We haven’t seen the last of him, I suspect.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

In less than a year, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has gone from being the top Democratic elected official in Harris County to an also-ran in back-to-back elections.

Garcia’s resounding primary loss to U.S. Rep. Gene Green on Tuesday leaves him politically precarious, having alienated several onetime allies by resigning the sheriff’s post last May to run for Houston mayor and later challenging an incumbent in a safe Democratic seat.

“When you take an oath, you run and take an oath to hold an office, it’s supposed to mean something,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, who backed Green. “And to leave in the middle and look like an opportunist and want to run for mayor, and then you don’t make that, and then you run against a congressman that most people felt was doing a very good job, a congressman that actually endorsed you for mayor … I think Adrian’s got real problems.”

Garcia’s campaign said he was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but he said at his election watch party Tuesday night the race was not personal and that he planned to rest before assessing future options.

“Will this be my last campaign? I doubt it,” he said to applause. “I lost two campaigns, but I jumped in always with the idea of doing more. I took a chance. My heart was in the right place.”

[…]

Many of the former sheriff’s attacks were biting. “Gene Green perpetuates the cradle to prison pipeline,” read a news release from late February. Another, from January, declared, “Gene Green protects polluters, not Pasadena.”

Facing limited financial resources, as well as opposition from many Democratic officeholders and area unions, however, Garcia was unable to outmaneuver Green, who outspent him $585,000 to $171,000 during the first six weeks of the year.

Those affiliated with Garcia’s campaign framed that financial shortfall as critical.

“We had a lot of factors working against us. We were in an extremely short two-month race against a 23-year incumbent who’d accumulated significant financial resources, and, yet, we made significant strides and held Congressman Green to 58 points,” Garcia campaign spokesman Sergio Cantu said in an email. “The message and the messenger were not the problems. We are proud of what we achieved, and we hope this opens the door to see change on the issues in this district.”

Several of the former sheriff’s supporters remained optimistic about Garcia’s political future.

“Will he run again? He might if it’s the right place for him to serve,” Garcia consultant Mustafa Tameez said. “That’s the nature of politics. You win some and you lose some. But he’s demonstrated his ability to raise money. He’s demonstrated his ability to get the votes.”

It’s true that after leaving the Sheriff’s office and having it handed to a Republican as well as running what were basically two contested Democratic primaries in the space of five months, Garcia has a few bridges to rebuild with past allies. But let’s not forget, he won five November elections before this, plus two contested primaries, so there’s no reason to believe he’s finished just because those last two elections did not go his way. There’s a very simple way for Garcia to get back into the good graces of his fellow Democrats, and that’s by working, vigorously and visibly, to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot this fall. Hold fundraisers, donate to candidates, attend as many campaign events for the party and for candidates as possible. Continue working on engaging with and boosting turnout in the Latino community. Keep talking about the issues that drove those two campaigns, and the good work that was done as Sheriff. Do those things, and I guarantee, bygones will be bygones.

Assuming we get to that point, then what office might Garcia reasonably seek in the near future? Before he resigned as Sheriff, when his Mayoral campaign was still in the rumor-has-it stage, I suggested Garcia stay in office, declare he wasn’t running for re-election in 2016, then at his first opportunity declare his candidacy for County Judge in 2018. He could still do that, but as we know there are some other people – Annise Parker, for one – who have expressed interest in that office as well. Now, there’s no reason why Garcia couldn’t declare for County Judge. No one is entitled to anything, and he’s be as strong a candidate as anyone we could put forth. But if we’re looking to maintain some harmony, if we’re trying to ensure that the reservoir of goodwill that he just finished refilling doesn’t get immediately drained, then we should at least consider a Plan B.

Which is why my suggestion is: County Commissioner, Precinct 2, the seat formerly held by Sen. Sylvia Garcia. It’s still a county office, which given Garcia’s tenure as Sheriff is a good fit, he’d be extremely likely to have a clear path to the nomination, and if we also have a strong candidate for County Judge it would put thoughts of having a Democratic majority on Commissioners Court in people’s heads, which is sure to get folks fired up. When I say this seat is a good fit for Garcia because of his time as Sheriff, I’m particularly thinking of all the crap he had to endure as Sheriff from the rest of the Court, which was generally hostile to him and got even more so after Jack Morman knocked off Sylvia Garcia in 2010. As a former Sheriff and a candidate for Commissioners Court, Garcia could turn a lot of the criticism they gave him back on them, in terms of budgeting, putting pressure on the criminal court judges to use Pretrial Services and set reasonable bail, and screaming from the rooftops in favor of Medicaid expansion and the much-needed boost for mental health funding and treatment it would bring. I can’t think of anyone better positioned to make these arguments in a Commissioners Court race, or anyone who could pose a bigger threat to a sitting Commissioner. We know Garcia can raise money, and the people who are grumbling about his Mayoral and Congressional races now would surely be willing to pitch in and help him in a race like this. If I had the power to do so, I would absolutely make this happen.

I don’t have that power, of course, I’m just another schmoe in the cheap seats making noise. But this is my scenario for Adrian Garcia, for whatever it’s worth. The path I’m highlighting is easy this year and a lot harder after that, but it’s all doable. What he chooses to do is up to him, but if he wants to know what I think, here it is.

Grand jury indicts Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Sweet.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County grand jury investigating allegations that a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston illegally sold the tissue of aborted fetuses has cleared the organization of wrongdoing and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the undercover videos that sparked the probe.

Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the surprising indictments Monday after a two-month investigation.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

The probe began after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group run by Daleiden, released footage of the Houston clinic as part of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for scientific research. That prompted allegations that the organization was profiting off of tissue — an allegation that was never proven — and sparked calls for an investigation from Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

[…]

A spokeswoman for the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.”

“It’s great news because it demonstrates what we have said from the very beginning, which is that Planned Parenthood is following every rule and regulation, and that these people came into our buildings under the guise of health when their true intentions were to spread lies,” said the spokeswoman, Rochelle Tafolla. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”

See here for the background. The irony in this is so thick one might choke on it. Greg Abbott made a feeble statement noting that the state was still investigating Planned Parenthood to find some pretext for justifying its decision to completely boot it off Medicaid, but that’s all been a load of hot air. The national office of Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against these CMP idiots and their fraudulent shenanigans, and a separate federal lawsuit against the state of Texas for acting on their lies. I’m thinking both of those cases just got a solid boost. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia on the indictments is here – it sure would be nice to hear from the idiot Texas Monthly columnist who fell for the CMP video hook, line, and sinker as well – and TPM, the Trib, Daily Kos, Think Progress, Trail Blazers, the Current, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Press have more.

Senate hearings on “border security”

Sen. Sylvia Garcia sent me the following to alert people of some Senate committee hearings of interest:

Joint Committee on Border Security is Thursday, January 21 at 1pm at Capitol Extension, E1.030.

This is a joint Senate & House Committee to review border security efforts and the spending of the $810M budgeted for it. Though I am not on the committee, I will sit in to see what they are up to and how they are spending all those dollars.

Senate Border Security Subcommittee is on Friday, January 22 at 10am at Capitol Extension, E1.012.

This is to take public testimony on “Sanctuary Cities”, aka “show me your papers” bills. Though I am not on the committee, I will sit in to see where this is going. Last hearing, no public testimony was taken and Sen. Perry who carried the bill last session sat in. I suspect he plans to file this bill again.

See here for more information on the hearings. If you have any questions, you can call Sen. Garcia’s office at 713-923-7575. Thanks.

Endorsement watch: Latino electeds for Gene Green

Not a big surprise.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat, will pick up support from several Houston political players Tuesday.

The 12-term congressman faces what could be a formidable primary challenge in the form of former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. According to a Green campaign press release, seven Houston Democrats are ready to back his re-election: state Sens. Sylvia R. Garcia and John Whitmire, state Reps. Ana Hernandez, Garnet F. Coleman, Armando Walle and Carol Alvarado, and Harris County Constable Chris Diaz.

The endorsements’ apparent aim is to give Green cover against Garcia’s argument that the mostly-Hispanic district would be better served with Hispanic congressional representation. With residual name identification from his unsuccessful run for Houston mayor, Garcia could pose a viable threat to Green’s re-election.

I received a copy of the press release as well as the pre-release on Friday that didn’t contain the officials’ names. The event will take place at 11 AM at the Vecino Health Center (Denver Harbor Family Clinic), 424 Hahlo St., in case anyone wants to attend. As I said before, I was looking to see who might be endorsing whom in this race. Whatever the effect is on the final result, this does affect the narrative of the race. Reps. Walle, Hernandez, and Alvarado all once worked for Green, so their solidarity with their former boss is to be expected, but Sylvia Garcia was one of the candidates for the seat back in 1992; she finished third, behind Green and Ben Reyes, whom Green then defeated in the runoff and again in the 1994 primary. She had previously been talked about as a potential opponent for Green in more recent years, before her election to the State Senate. Make of that what you will.

Going back through my archives, I came across this post from 2014 about Green representing a Latino district and when that might change. Here’s what Campos, who is now working on the Garcia campaign, said at the time:

Having a Dem Latino or Latina in Congress from the H-Town area would be empowering to the community. What is missing is an articulate voice for us in Congress like on a day when the immigration issue is front and center. Who is going to argue with that?

I don’t buy into the notion that just because the local Latino leaders aren’t for something, it won’t happen. I can still recall the spontaneous immigration marches a few years ago that local Latino leaders were scrambling to lead.

I can picture a scenario where an articulate bilingual Latino or Latina leader steps up, grabs an issue and captures the attention of the community. That is certainly not racist, that’s politics. This discussion isn’t going away.

And my comment on that:

Sure, that could happen, and I agree that if it were to happen it would likely be a talented newcomer who can inspire people to pose a serious threat to Rep. Green. The problem is that that’s not sufficient. Look at the recent history of Democratic primary challenges in Texas legislative races, and you’ll see that there are generally two paths to knocking off an incumbent that don’t rely on them getting hosed in redistricting. One is via the self-inflicted wounds of an incumbent with some kind of ethics problems – think Gabi Canales or Naomi Gonzales, for example – or an incumbent that has genuinely lost touch with the base. In the past decade in Texas that has mostly meant Craddick Democrats, though one could argue that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s win over Silvestre Reyes had elements of that.

What I’m saying is simply that there has to be a reason to dump the current officeholder. Look no further than the other Anglo Texas Democrat in Congress for that. The GOP has marked Rep. Lloyd Doggett for extinction twice, each time drawing him into a heavily Latino district in the hope of seeing him get knocked off in a primary. He survived the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, then he faced the same kind of challenge again in 2012. His opponent, Sylvia Romo, was an experienced officeholder running in a district that was drawn to elect a Hispanic candidate from Bexar County. Having interviewed her, I can attest that she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress. But she never identified a policy item on which she disagreed with Doggett, and she never could give an answer to the question why the voters should replace their existing perfectly good member of Congress and his boatload of seniority with a rookie, however promising.

That’s the question any theoretical opponent to Gene Green will have to answer as well.

I think both my statement and Marc’s would stand up today. I’d say we’re likely to hear some form of these arguments over the next two months. In the meantime, I wonder if Garcia will roll out his own list of supporters soon. Better still if that list is accompanied by reasons why Garcia is the superior choice, and where he differs in matters of policy. I know that’s what I’d want to hear about if I lived in that district.

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

Auditing HCDE

We’ll see about this.

Later this summer, state auditors are expected to release their final report on the Harris County Department of Education. They’ve been examining the agency since last December.

Superintendent James Colbert told lawmakers about it at a hearing in April.

“We should have absolutely nothing to hide as far as I’m concerned and really they provide a free service for us for things that we need to fix. And so, that’s something that I’m open to,” Colbert said.

Critics contend the Harris County Department of Education has plenty to fix, from handling records requests to duplicating services with other agencies.

Its services include early learning, special education and adult education.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he wants to have a hearing in Austin after the audit is released.

“What I want this to come out with is an idea of ‘Do we have a model that works in Harris County, or do we need to change it?’” he said.

See here for some background. HCDE has long been a political target, so an audit like this could provide ammunition for its detractors, or it could provide evidence that there’s nothing of substance for them to attack. The Chron story I linked to in that earlier post certainly suggests there are some things going on at HCDE that need scrutiny. Hopefully, this audit will show that they have been addressed.

Amended campus carry passes

All things considered, this could have been a lot worse.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The Texas Senate took a final vote Saturday to approve legislation requiring the state’s public universities to allow handguns in dorms, classrooms and campus buildings.

Under the latest version of the bill, universities would be able to carve out gun-free zones in locations of their choice — establishing their own rules on where handguns are carried and how they’re stored based on public safety concerns.

Only concealed handgun license holders would be allowed to carry their firearms on campus, and private universities would be allowed to opt out of the requirement all together.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said his legislation would allow for “very limited, reasonable prohibitions” on handguns in certain locations on university property.

He said his intent was that public college campuses would be as “permissive and accessible” as possible to handgun license holders and that universities would be as “specific and as minimalistic as possible” in defining restricted areas.

The measure was approved along party lines with a 20-11 vote, with all of the chamber’s Democrats opposing it.

While acknowledging that the legislation had improved since its original form, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said she still believed it was “just bad policy.”

She expressed concern that handguns would now be permitted in an environment “already fraught with stress and often fragile emotions.”

I agree with Sen. Garcia and neither support this law nor see any reason to change the status quo. That said, I think if a couple of concealed handgun license holders had challenged the existing law in court, asserting their right to have a gun on a public university campus, I feel pretty confident they’d have won, and I’m not sure I’d have liked this hypothetical ruling any more than I like the new law. As far as private universities go, given all of the other things they are allowed to forbid their students from doing or having, allowing them to opt out seems wise. I’m sure there would be a religious freedom argument to be made if, say, a Quaker-affiliated university was required to allow guns on campus. As things now stand, I’d say the best thing to do is lobby the administration and board of trustees of your alma mater and urge them to adopt as tight a policy as possible.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

Senate bill to kill high speed rail advances

Didn’t know there was one of these.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-4 to pass out Senate Bill 1601, from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is developing a privately financed bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop in between near College Station. The company has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. While the project has drawn strong support in Houston and Dallas, officials in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have expressed opposition.

Kolkhorst said Wednesday that she didn’t want to see private landowners lose their land for a project that she believed is likely to fail.

“While I think in some countries it has worked, I don’t see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States,” Kolkhorst said. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this.”

Four Republicans joined Kolkhorst in voting for the bill: Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Voting against the bill were two Houston Democrats, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, and two North Texas Republicans, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

[…]

Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee he felt his company was being unfairly singled out.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Lawless said. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Those informational meetings sure look like a necessary idea. I noted a bill filed in the House that would have required each city and county along the route to approve the idea. Maybe that was overkill, as that bill has not been scheduled to be heard in committee as yet. What’s most interesting here is that the vote against it was bipartisan, with two Metroplex-area Senators not joining with their mostly rural colleagues (Kelly Hancock being the exception) on this. That suggests to me that this bill might have a hard time coming to the floor, or even getting a majority. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that. Hair Balls has more.