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Sylvia Garcia

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.

First call to action: Sanctuary cities

Stace sounds the alarm.

SanctuaryCitiesBillAction

Republicans have set a hearing to debate and railroad through committee SB 185, a sanctuary cities bill which will allow local and state law enforcement to participate in immigration duties through the practice of racial profiling (frankly, I can’t see how racially profiling Latinos will not happen). Here’s the committee hearing info:

SENATE

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

COMMITTEE: Veteran Affairs & Military Installations-S/C Border Security

TIME & DATE: 8:00 AM, Monday, March 09, 2015

PLACE: 2E.20 (Betty King Cmte. Rm.)

CHAIR: Senator Brian Birdwell

The Subcommittee will consider the following:

Relating to the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration by certain governmental entities.

One can read the bill here. And the bill analysis is here.

[…]

The law will punish local governments who do not participate in legalized racial profiling by not providing any grant funds the state may give. It all allows citizens to file complaints through the Texas AGs office to punish local governments, too. And even file frivolous lawsuits.

It’s another attack on local control, only in reverse, as this time it aims to compel cities to do something they don’t want to do. As an email from Sen. Sylvia Garcia reminded me, the same version of this bill that had been filed in 2011 was opposed by law enforcement, business groups, faith based groups, education advocates, civil rights and immigration law experts. If you can be there, please show up and register your opposition. If not, please call your Senator and ask him or her to vote against this bad bill. Thanks.

Statewide non-discrimination ordinance filed

From the Inbox:

Sen. Jose Rodriguez

On the 179th anniversary of Texas Independence Day, Senator José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) filed Senate Bill 856, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation, housing, and state contracting based upon sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. The bill was joint-authored by Senators John Whitmire (D-Houston), Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

“Fair treatment for workers, families, and people who visit our state—including gay and transgender people—is a crucial factor in the ongoing strength of the Texas brand. An inclusive Texas is crucial to recruiting and retaining talent, attracting entrepreneurs and company relocations, and maintaining a strong travel and tourism industry. Moreover, discrimination of any kind runs counter to the values of opportunity, personal faith, and freedom from discrimination that all Texans hold dear,” Senator Rodríguez said.

“Discrimination of any form has no place in Texas. Not in our schools, our government, or our services. I am proud to co-author this legislation and proud to stand strong for the fair treatment of all Texans especially our friends in the LGBT community who for too long have been the target of discrimination,” stated Senator John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate.

“I’m proud to coauthor legislation to prevent fellow Texans from being discriminated against due to who they love,” said Senator Ellis. “All hardworking Texans, including our LGBT neighbors, should have the chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live like everyone else without fear of getting fired or evicted solely because of who they are. ”

“Every Texan deserves to be treated fairly, and this legislation will make our state stronger by protecting this important ideal,” Senator Watson said.

“All Texans should enjoy equal protection under the law. This important legislation would ensure that our LGBT brothers and sisters can express who they are without fear of discrimination. It would also send a message to the rest of the world that Texas welcomes anyone that wants to contribute to our great state, regardless of sexual orientation,” Senator Garcia said.

According to the 2012 FORTUNE 500 Non-Discrimination Project from the Equality Forum, 48 of 52 Fortune 500 companies in Texas already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Many others also extend that protection to gender identity or expression. In 2012, the Center for American Progress reported that work environments hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees cost companies $1.4 billion in lost output every year.

Because Texas does not protect people who are gay or transgender from discrimination, many municipalities have already acted to extend discrimination protection to those residents. Currently 35.5% of Texans live in a city where discrimination against sexual orientation is prohibited. 33.9% live in a city where gender identity is protected.

“It is time—past time,” said Senator Rodríguez, “to make sure that all Texans have the independence our state claimed for itself almost 200 years ago. To be free of discrimination based on who you are, and to be treated fairly and equally is an environment Texas should be leading the way in creating, not being late to adopt. That’s what businesses want. But most importantly, all Texans deserve the right to provide for themselves and their families, secure a place to live, participate in the Texas economy, and contribute to the Texas economy, no matter what city they live in or visit and regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

Business leaders agree.

Catherine Morse, General Counsel and Director of Public Affairs at Samsung Austin Semiconductor: “Like so many other companies in Texas, Samsung is competing globally for the best talent. We believe that nondiscrimination measures will help us in that regard.”

Mellie Price, serial entrepreneur and Managing Director of Capital Factory: “For small and large businesses across Texas to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming to all people.”

“I chose today—Texas Independence Day—to file this important legislation,” Senator Rodríguez concluded, “because Texas values—such as hard work, opportunity, and the Golden Rule—are the reason why Texas remains strong 179 years later. That is why we must act definitively to ensure everyone in the Lone Star State is treated fairly and equally.”

Here’s SB856. It’s not going to go anywhere – it’s going to be a hell of a fight to fend off legislation that would nullify local non-discrimination ordinances; yet another such bill was filed around the same time as Sen. Rordiguez’s bill – but that doesn’t matter. I’ll say again, if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, what are we even doing? I commend Sen. Rodriguez and his four co-authors for doing the right thing. I hope the rest of their colleagues follow their example. The full press release is here, and Equality Texas has more.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

Fixing birth certificates

Trying again, with some hope for progress.

The Texas Legislature added a provision to the Health & Safety Code in 1997 requiring supplemental birth certificates issued to adoptive parents to contain the name of one female, the mother, and one male, the father.

According to the legislation’s author, former state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), it was part of a renewed commitment to “conservative values.” But Hartnett acknowledged last year that the law should be revisited if it’s negatively impacting children.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) [introduced] a bill for the fourth consecutive session that would remove gender requirements for adoptive parents on supplemental birth certificates. And for the first time, a companion to Anchia’s bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate later [Wednesday] by Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

Many judges in Texas routinely grant joint adoptions to same-sex couples, so the legislation wouldn’t create new parental rights. But not having accurate birth certificates causes problems when it comes to enrolling children in school, adding them to insurance policies, admitting them for medical care and obtaining passports.

Anchia, whose bill has never made it out of committee, said if it fails to do so in 2015, he plans to force a floor vote by offering it as an amendment, and he’s confident it will pass.

“I think if you asked every member of the Legislature, they would say they care about orphaned children, and if we can get them to understand that this bill is about children and not about who their parents are, then that should carry the day,” Anchia told the Observer this week. “There’s no doubt that this policy has cruel effects.”

According to Equality Texas, the birth certificate restriction is among the inequities facing the LGBT community that wouldn’t be solved by legalization of same-sex marriage—since it involves the relationship between a parent and a child, not between parents.

About 9,200 same-sex couples in Texas are raising children, according to Census estimates, but it’s unclear how many are adoptive parents.

Rep. Anchia’s bill is HB537, and his press release announcing it is here. Sen. Garcia’s companion bill is here – Sen. Jose Rodriguez appears to be a co-author – and her press release for it is here. I noted Rep. Anchia’s efforts from the last session. I have some hope that he’ll have more success this time, but I can’t say I have any faith. Speaking of faith, it sure would have been nice if all those people that had been pushing that “commitment” for a “renewal” of “conservative values” back in 1997 had stopped for a moment to consider the possibility that their actions might have real consequences for a bunch of people who had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve the hardship they were about to face. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Fixing this self-inflicted damage to birth certificates is one of many things that will remain on the “to do” list after marriage equality is finally the law of the land. The more we take care of now, the easier it will be later, and the better off many people will be.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Texas woman denied driver’s license over same-sex marriage

That’s the headline of this Observer story, and it’s just as infuriating as you think it is.

A woman who recently relocated from California says the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue her an accurate driver’s license because her last name was changed through a same-sex marriage.

After Connie Wilson married her partner of nine years in California last year, she took her wife’s last name, Wilson, which now appears on both her California driver’s license and her Social Security card, in addition to all of the couple’s financial and medical records.

This summer, the couple relocated to the Houston area with their three children for work. With her California driver’s license nearing expiration, Wilson took her documents to a DPS office in Katy last week to obtain a Texas driver’s license. When a DPS employee noticed that Wilson’s name didn’t match her birth certificate, she produced the couple’s California marriage license identifying her spouse as Aimee Wilson.

“Her only words to me were, ‘Is this same-[sex]?’” Connie Wilson recalled. “I remember hesitating for probably 10 seconds. I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to lie, but I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t going to be able to get a license.”

Wilson eventually responded that although California doesn’t differentiate, she happened to be married to a woman.
“She immediately told me, ‘You can’t use this to get your license. This doesn’t validate your last name. Do you have anything else?’” Wilson said. “She told me I would never get a license with my current name, that the name doesn’t belong to me.”

Texas has both a state statute and a constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. However, Wilson contends she isn’t asking DPS to recognize her marriage, but rather trying to obtain an accurate driver’s license reflecting her legal name according to the state of California and the U.S. government.

“I’ve been deprived the freedom to drive a vehicle once my current California driver’s license expires,” Wilson said. “I’m further being deprived the freedom to use air travel, make purchases that require a valid photo identification, seek medical attention for myself or my children, as well as other situations that would require proving who I am legally as an individual.”

You can add “the right to vote” to that list, since Wilson’s California driver’s license is not an acceptable form of ID for voting purposes. This is apparently DPS policy. Wilson could seek a court order for her name change, but that costs hundreds of dollars and can take weeks, and why should she have to do that? Her name has already been legally changed, it’s just that Texas mulishly refuses to recognize it. We’re all waiting for the Supreme Court to knock this foolishness down, but every single day that Greg Abbott and the reactionary worldview he’s representing fight this is a day that people like Connie Wilson and her family suffer needless harm. Equality Texas and Sen. Sylvia Garcia are working on Wilson’s behalf in this matter, but this is all so unnecessary. There’s no public policy rationale to justify this. Change cannot come fast enough.

Mayor Parker discusses her possible political future again

After making a rousing speech at the TDP convention, Mayor Annise Parker talked about some possible paths she could take for a future statewide campaign.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Parker said she would be interested in running for any number of statewide positions when her third and final two-year term is up in 2016 – even Texas’ top job.

“I would absolutely consider a statewide ballot effort for the right seat,” Parker told the Houston Chronicle, adding that she doesn’t have an exact plan drawn up at this time. “And as the CEO of the 4th largest city in America, I could be the governor of Texas.”.

The 58-year-old said she would be “eminently qualified” to be comptroller of public accounts, Texas land commissioner or sit on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission.

The only jobs for which she isn’t interested? Lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress. “Respectfully to members of Congress, I’m the CEO of a $5 billion corporation, and I make decisions every day. I don’t want to go talk about things. I want to do things.”

I’ve discussed this before, and I’m mostly not surprised by Parker’s words. The one office I hadn’t foreseen as a possibility was Land Commissioner, but between veterans’ issues and the leases that the GLO manages and grants on occasionally urban land, it makes sense. And of course the Railroad Commission is all about oil and gas regulation, and Mayor Parker spent 20 years in the oil business before entering politics. Other than the RRC, which has six-year terms for its three Commissioners, the candidacy of Mayor Parker or anyone else for these offices is contingent on them not being won by a Democrat this year. As awesome as that would be, it would throw a wrench into the works for the large number of potential up-and-comers now waiting in the wings.

For her part, Parker is watching the political trajectories of two other Houston women: state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and state Rep. Carol Alvarado. A fellow former mayor who now sits in the state Senate, Kirk Watson, is also on her list of rising stars, as are Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro.

The twin brothers from San Antonio are widely accepted to become the default face of the party after this year’s statewide election. Speaking to the Chronicle after his speech in a packed convention hall Friday evening, the congressman would not preview where his political trajectory might lie.

“I’ll look at all opportunities where I can be most helpful,” said Joaquin Castro. He added he hasn’t yet decided whether he might run for another office, such as U.S. Senate. Some see him as a natural foil to Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

His brother, tapped by President Barack Obama to be the next housing secretary, is also considered one of the most viable statewide or national candidates from the party, although some worry whether his political standing will suffer at the hands of Republicans in Washington as so many other cabinet secretaries have in recent years.

Representing Texas in Washington, U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Pete Gallego repeatedly made the “best of” lists of many state party leaders this weekend.

In Dallas, state Rep. Rafael Anchia and Sen. Royce West are ones to watch, they said, while Sylvester Turner is another prominent Houstonian with political potential.

I’ve discussed the bench and the possible next step for a variety of Dems before. One person who isn’t mentioned in this story but should be is State Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio, who has been previously mentioned as a candidate for Comptroller and who has announced his intent to run for Mayor of San Antonio in 2015. Winning that would move him up a notch on the “rising stars” list as he’d be a Mayor with legislative experience; you can add Rep. Sylvester Turner to that list if his third try for Mayor of Houston is the charm in 2015, too.

Besides the RRC, there is one prize that will remain on the board for 2018 regardless of what happens this year.

“It’s very different to run for statewide office unless you have statewide name recognition,” said [TCU poli sci prof James] Riddlesperger, who said the sheer amount of money statewide candidates in Texas are forced to raise to be viable pushes some out of the race before they can get started.

“It’s not like doing it in New Hampshire or South Dakota. We have six or seven major media markets and it’s enormously expensive to get statewide recognition,” said Riddlesperger. Keeping this in mind, he said the Democrats should keep a close eye on who could unseat Cruz in 2018.

“I suspect there would be a huge amount of national money that could potentially flow into that election,” he said.

Indeed. I mean, the amount spent in the 2018 re-election campaign for Ted Cruz on all sides will likely rival the GDP of several small nations. The story suggests US Rep. Joaquin Castro as the very-early-to-be-leading choice to take on Cruz, but I suspect we will hear a lot of other voices before all is said and done, whether or not there are fewer incumbent Republicans to oppose at that time. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this since we have some pretty damn important elections to focus on this year, but file that all away for future consideration.

Lawsuit filed over Senate map

From Texas Redistricting:

[Monday] morning, two Texas voters filed a suit in federal court challenging the state senate map drawn by the Texas Legislature on the grounds that it violated the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment by using total population rather eligible voters to draw districts.

The plaintiffs in the case are backed by the Project for Fair Representation, which also helped back Shelby County’s challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as well as efforts to overturn affirmative action policies at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Center’s press release announcing the new Texas suit can be found here.

More information here.

What’s at issue?

The plaintiffs argue that the current Texas senate map (Plan S172) must be redrawn using “eligible voters” rather than “total population” – the measure long used by the Texas Legislature – because the latter now results in districts with significantly differing numbers of voters.

By not using eligible voters, the plaintiffs say the Texas Legislature violated the “one-person, one vote” principle of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment by allowing some voters’ votes to count for more than those of others.

Why are there disparities?

In Texas, the major driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters is the high number of non-citizens in parts of the state – mainly its urban and suburban cores. For example, in places like Dallas and Houston, commonly accepted estimates are that around half of adult Hispanics are non-citizens.

Of course, disparities also can exist for any number of other reasons, including higher numbers of children under 18 in fast growing parts of the state or a larger number of people who are unable to vote because of felony convictions.

However, differing citizenship rates are, by far, the largest driver of disparities in the number of eligible voters.

[…]

How would drawing districts using “eligible voters” change the current map?

At present, Texas senate districts have a target population of 811,147 people.

If courts were to require maps to be drawn using some measure of eligible voters, the target size of districts also would change.

For example, although Texas has over 25 million people, its citizen voting age population in the most recent Census Bureau report was estimated to be just 15,583,540. Using CVAP to draw districts would mean that each district would have a CVAP target of 502,695.

That target population would require significant reworking of districts that presently have large Hispanic populations.

In the Houston area, for example, SD-13, represented by State Sen. Rodney Ellis, has a CVAP population of only 419,035, and SD-6, represented by State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, fares even worse with just 377,505 citizens of voting age. Likewise, in the Dallas area, SD-23, represented by State Sen. Royce West, has just 456,955.

Even with permitted deviations from the target population, these districts would need to add population, mostly likely by drawing from neighboring Anglo-dominated districts. Though those people might or might not be Anglo, the need to add large numbers of people mean the demographics and electoral performance of the districts could change materially. In fact, the need to add people might very well jeopardize the protected status that those districts currently enjoy under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, this could be a very big deal not only for Hispanics but also potentially African-Americans.

There could be practical impacts as well for legislators since urban districts would likely end up with far greater numbers of total people – who, although they might not be able to vote, still have need for constituent services – and be much larger physically as well.

Wasn’t there a similar case recently about the same issue?

Yes. In fact, it involved many of the same players.

In Lepak v. City of Irving, the lawyers in the Texas senate case – also backed by the Project for Fair Representation – represented Irving residents in arguing that the city’s new single-member council district map was unconstitutional because it had been drawn using total population rather than CVAP.

Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Irving plaintiffs, citing the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Chen v. City of Houston, which held that the question of whether to use total population or CVAP was a political question and thus not reviewable by courts.

The Irving plaintiffs sought to have the decision reviewed by the Supreme Court, but the high court declined last April to take the case.

However, the Texas senate case potentially represents another opportunity to have the Supreme Court take up the issue since any appeal would go directly to the Supreme Court as a matter of right.

More background on Lepak here.

There’s more at the link, but basically this is a nuisance action being brought by some professional grievance-mongers. It would serve them right not only to have the case dismissed with prejudice, but also to be assessed full court costs and attorneys’ fees for wasting everyone’s time. The Observer and Rick Hasen have more.

If we must have voter ID, let’s make sure people know about it

The Democratic Senators from Harris County write a letter to County Clerk Stan Stanart.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Three Houston state senators are asking Harris County officials to emulate Dallas County’s voter outreach efforts tied to Texas’ new voter identification law.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia and John Whitmire — all Democrats — wrote a letter on Monday to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, asking him to reach out to voters to “minimize any issues voters may encounter at the polls” because of the ID law.

The senators offered an example by pointing to Dallas County, which last month sent 195,000 notices to voters to alert them about the law’s provision that a voter’s name on a valid photo ID must exactly match the name listed in the voter registration database.

“With a county as large as Harris County, there is no reason why we should not be able to take the same proactive measures to ensure that our constituents’ constitutional right to vote is adequately protected,” wrote the senators, who made a similar request last year.

[…]

In Dallas County, it has taken elections officials several months to comb through databases and flag voters who might have problems. And it’s going to take officials a few more months to complete the additional outreach approved by county commissioners.

But in Harris County, the senators said they were hopeful something still could be done there before the March primary.

“Time is of the essence as the March primaries are fast approaching and high voter turnout is anticipated,” the senators wrote.

You can see the letter at the link above. Dallas County has already spent a bunch of money on voter outreach. I don’t know how much Harris County has spent, but I’ll bet it’s nowhere near that much. We already know that Harris County has had issues with how the law has been enforced, and that was in a low turnout odd year election. Surely we’d like to improve that experience and minimize inconvenience and wait times for voters, right? Houston Politics has more.

Somewhat less onerous navigator rules published

They could have been worse, but they could still be better.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas Department of Insurance on Tuesday issued state regulations for health care “navigators,” the workers who assist people seeking health insurance in the federal marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

The rules take into account some of the criticism aired recently by Democrats and health care advocates at public hearings, while also broadening the definition of “navigator” to allow additional organizations — not just those that received federal grants — to hire and train navigators.

“These rules will help ensure Texans have confidence that anyone registered as a navigator has passed appropriate background checks and received the training they need to safeguard a consumer’s most sensitive and personal information,” Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber said in a news release.

The rules require navigators to receive 20 hours of state-specific training in addition to the federal requirement of 20 to 30 hours of training, to undergo background checks, and to provide proof of identity. The rules also prohibit navigators from charging consumers, selling or negotiating health insurance coverage, recommending a specific health plan, or engaging in electioneering activities or otherwise supporting a candidate running for a political office.

Democrats and representatives from various health care organizations and nonprofits have raised concerns at public hearings held by the department that the proposed rules would impede navigators’ ability to educate people seeking health coverage, and divert time and funding away from their primary objective: helping people find health insurance.

In response to the public comments, the department removed from the proposed rules a $50 registration fee for each navigator. It also reduced the training requirements to 20 hours of state-specific training, from 40 hours in the proposed rules.

“There was no justification for the original proposal other than conservative politics,” state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said in a statement, “so I’m glad TDI has relented and come up with training requirements that are at least somewhat logical.”

[…]

Texans must apply before March 31 to receive federal tax credits to help pay for private coverage on the federal marketplace. Navigators must comply with the state’s additional training requirements and register by March 1.

Given the tight deadline, Democrats have alleged that the rules are politically motivated and are intended to curb enrollment in health plans offered in the federal marketplace. And despite the modifications, some Democrats and organizations that have hired and trained navigators say the rules will still increase costs, and take time away from navigators’ efforts.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, which is among the groups that have received a federal grant to hire navigators, said the 12 navigators working for her organization have already undergone background checks and met other requirements in the state’s rules. She said she is unsure whether those efforts will have to be duplicated to meet the state’s requirements.

“It’s a bad use of resources, time and money,” she said.

See here, here, and here for the background. There’s a lot of people who’d like to enroll in an insurance plan via the exchange if Rick Perry and his cronies would quit interfering and get out of the way. Having these rules be only slightly obnoxious instead of blatantly obnoxious was probably the best outcome we could reasonably get. Here’s a side by side comparison of the rules as they were originally proposed and the rules that wound up being published (which you can see in full here), provided by Rep. Lon Burnam. I also received a letter Rep. Burnam sent about the original rules, and statements from Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ruth Jones McClendon about the rules that were adopted. Finally, the Texas Organizing Project sent out a press release announcing a new collaborative effort to help inform folks about their health insurance options.

Rick Perry doesn’t want people to get health insurance

There’s really no other viable explanation.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On a White House conference call on Monday, Texas Democrats criticized Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican state leaders for “getting in the way” of implementing federal health care reform.

During the call, which was organized by the White House to tout the impact of the Affordable Care Act in Texas, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accused state leadership of creating obstacles to keep Texans from obtaining health insurance, as required by the health care law, also known as Obamacare. The two Democrats cited Texas’ decision not to expand Medicaid, the lack of a state-based insurance marketplace and proposed additional rules for federal navigators.

Martinez Fischer called Texas the “poster child” for the uninsured, adding that the state’s rate of residents without health insurance — the highest in the nation at about 25 percent — had received “no relief from state leadership.”

“I wish we would use our energy and momentum in Texas with our statewide elected officials to actually embrace and work cooperatively with the administration to expand ACA opportunities in Texas rather than the trail of roadblocks,” Martinez Fischer said.

Jenkins questioned Perry’s request for additional regulations on federal navigators, who are charged with helping individuals sign up for health insurance.

“If they won’t help citizens gain access to coverage, they ought to stand down and stay out of the way for those of us who are willing to work to do the job for Texas,” Jenkins said.

Perry first requested the rules in September, citing consumer privacy concerns. Other Republican state leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, followed suit.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed called the conference call an attempt to distract from the Affordable Care Act’s “continued failures.” She cited the technical problems of the federal online insurance marketplace, concerns surrounding the training of navigators and delayed enrollment deadlines.

“Texas families and businesses don’t need more empty rhetoric from the Obama administration to know that Obamacare is a failure,” Nashed said.

It takes a certain level of sociopathy to say something like that when you are the Governor of the state with by far the highest number of uninsured people, and you’ve been Governor for thirteen years without doing a single thing about it. Except for all the things you’ve done to deny health insurance to people, such as the CHIP cuts and our famously stingy Medicaid eligibility requirements and onerous enrollment processes. Hey, remember when we spent a couple hundred million dollars outsourcing our Health and Human Services Commission and gave the money to a private firm that didn’t know its ass from a pencil eraser? Those were the days, my friend.

The antipathy towards health insurance comes through in everything Rick Perry – and David Dewhurst and Greg Abbott and the rest of the sorry lot – does, from imposing needless burdens on navigators to refusing to expand Medicaid to refusing to implement an exchange, and on and on. If there were some honest ongoing effort over the past decade-plus to do something about the millions of uninsured in Texas, that would be one thing. But the record, and the inactivity, speak for themselves. There’s really no other way to characterize it. Millions of people have become insured around the country, but all we get here is rage and denial.

Oh, and bad journalism, no doubt influenced by the lying and obfuscation. Do make sure you click those two links and read the stories, which have now coaxed an apology for the half-assed job they did from the Star-Telegram. Senators Sylvia Garcia and Rodney Ellis have more.

How Greg Abbott enabled the payday lenders

The Lone Star Project kicks it off:

Abbott’s Green Light to Predatory Lenders

Key AG document provided payday lenders a loophole to bilk Texans

Greg Abbott’s office issued the key document that has allowed payday lenders to operate outside of Texas usury laws and exploit Texans across our state. A letter issued from the office of the Attorney General carefully lays out that payday lenders in Texas can take advantage of a loophole used by credit service organizations to avoid Texas laws preventing unscrupulous lending. It is essentially a “how-to guide” for payday lenders to expand and grow their predatory lending businesses.

Payday lenders had been nervous about expanding their operations in Texas, but Abbott’s letter gave them the go-ahead they needed. The respected financial industry publicationAmerican Banker reported how payday lender Ace reacted to the Abbott letter:

“The Irving, Tex., company originally saw too much legal risk in the CSO setup, in which payday specialists can collect as much as 20% in fees for arranging a short-term loan from a third-party lender. But this month Texas’ attorney general, Greg Abbott, sent a letter to the state’s Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner saying that CSOs are permissible. So on an earnings conference call last week Ace said it will begin brokering loans as a credit service organization sometime in the next two quarters.” (American Banker, February 1, 2006)

Attorneys general in many states act aggressively to reign in abuse by predatory lenders like Cash America and ACE, but not Greg Abbott. In fact, Greg Abbott has been the payday lender industry’s facilitator and protector.

Abbott gave the green light, and pay day lenders hit the gas. Payday lender outlets have proliferated all across Texas during the Perry/Abbott era. In 2004, there were approximately 300 payday lenders in Texas. By 2011, there were over 3,000. Right now, there are more payday lending establishments in Texas than there are McDonald’s and Whataburger locations combined.

So, don’t look for Greg Abbott to jump on the bandwagon to get rid of William J. White or impose any more restrictions on predatory lenders, unless of course the payday lenders themselves or other Austin insiders give him the green light.

Background

Recent news reports have detailed that William J. White, the chairman of the Texas Finance Commission – the state agency intended to protect Texas consumers – attacked Texas consumers and defended predatory lenders over outrageous payday loans that result in borrowers being saddled with loan costs of sometimes more than 500 percent of the principal. White’s bottom line is that any Texan gouged by an unscrupulous payday lender is on their own and should blame themselves for their predicament.

State Senator Wendy Davis quickly and decisively called for White’s resignation.

Who is William J. White?

White is not just the chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, he is also vice president of Cash America, one of the largest and most notorious predatory lenders in the country. Cash America has hundreds of payday lending storefronts all across Texas, many of them right outside military bases where military families, who are often under financial pressure, are exploited. Earlier this year, Cash America was fined for abusive lending, and exploitation of military personnel was cited specifically. During the last legislative session, Cash America and other payday lenders spent over $4 million dollars lobbying the GOP-controlled Texas legislature.

Soaking Soldiers

A key target for predatory lenders is active-duty military personnel. It is no coincidence that payday lender storefronts proliferate around active-duty military bases and other installations. Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemembers Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, recently said that payday lenders congregate outside bases “like bears on a trout stream.” Current federal law is not sufficient to protect against predatory lenders, especially when state AGs like Abbott are predatory lender allies.

The El Paso Times fielded the ball:

Abbott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. It also has not responded when asked for more than a week whether Abbott believes the Texas payday lending industry needs to be reformed.

The El Paso City Council [debated on Tuesday] whether to enforce local limits on payday and auto-title lenders that in some cases charge annual interest at rates greater than 700 percent.

It and most other major Texas cities have passed ordinances in the face of unwillingness by the Legislature to place stricter limits on the industry.

Religious and charitable groups also have called for reforms of an industry they say traps poor people in a cycle of debt.

[…]

The concept of usury — unconscionably high interest rates — goes at least as far back as the Old Testament.

It’s also part of the Texas Constitution, which says that in the absence of legislation, interest rates in the state are limited to 10 percent a year.

Lenders that are licensed and regulated under Texas law face caps of their own. Commercial loans in most instances can’t exceed 18 percent except when the loan is greater than $250,000, when they can’t exceed 28 percent.

Auto loans can’t exceed 27 percent. Short-term loans by licensed lenders can’t exceed 150 percent and pawn loans can’t exceed 240 percent.

But the letter by the attorney general that was released Monday said fees associated with payday and title loans have no limits.

Emphasis mine. As PDiddie notes, the El Paso Times has led the way on this story. He also notes that recent Peggy Fikac column about Davis’ “oops” moment, in which her campaign got some campaign contribution figures confused. Abbott attacked her for that, and also for her vote to confirm William White in 2009. The difference between Davis and Abbott, as epitomized by Abbott’s snivelly refusal to answer a simple question, is that Davis recognizes that her initial action was in error, and is now willing to do something concrete about it. Abbott is just hiding behind a wall of “no comments”. That’s some kind of bold leadership right there. Meanwhile, also in the “let’s do something to fix what’s obviously broken” camp are Sens. John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis, and Sylvia Garcia, who joined the call for White to resign. Which won’t happen until Abbott and/or Rick Perry see that he’s a problem, too. Anyone want to bet on when that might happen?

Payday lending ordinance passes

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The Houston City Council overwhelmingly passed restrictions on payday and auto title lenders Wednesday, avoiding rumored parliamentary maneuvers to delay the vote and calling on the state Legislature to follow suit.

The vote was 15-2, with Councilwoman Helena Brown and Councilman James Rodriguez opposed. Rodriguez did not seek to delay the measure as had been speculated.

[…]

“Something must be done; something should be done,” Councilman Andrew Burks said. “Our Legislature, they had the ball and dropped it. I don’t like this, but I have to vote for it because … this is the only thing on the table, and it does do something.”

Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who said her office has helped seniors get back cars that had been repossessed after they defaulted on title loans, praised the outcome.

“I’m so proud to know we are taking a stand in protecting our constituents throughout our community,” Adams said. “I think this is something right.”

The measure will take effect July 1, with the city’s new budget year.

The Chron story from yesterday morning about the vote that was scheduled to take place made it sound like it would be closer, though it didn’t quote any member of Council that claimed to be undecided. The two that did vote against it were not a surprise. It’s what CM Brown does, and CM Rodriguez, the subject of a scathing column by Lisa Falkenberg that made Campos see red, was known to not object to payday lenders. The only question was whether CM Rodriguez would tag the ordinance – he was absent at the Council meeting last week and thus eligible to apply a tag, though that is usually not done – which would have the effect of pushing it onto the new Council. As it turns out, that likely would not have made any difference.

But I’m glad they didn’t wait. This was important, it needed to get done, and now there’s that much more time next year to do other things. Even with the head start, there are still plenty of items on Mayor Parker’s third term agenda. So far, so good. Statements praising the ordinance have been sent out by Sens. Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, as well as the AARP, who like Sen. Ellis calls the ordinance a message to the Lege to get its act together. PDiddie, Stace, Texas Leftist, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

District I runoff overview

It’s runoff and a rivalry, all in one.

Robert Gallegos

Robert Gallegos

Saturday’s runoff in City Council District I, which covers downtown and the East End, pits the protégés of two pillars of Hispanic politics against each other in the sort of showdown political observers love.

Surviving the November ballot’s tightest race, in which just 341 votes separated first from last among the four candidates, were Graci Garces and Robert Gallegos.

Gallegos, 54, a civic activist and Harris County jailer, served eight years as an aide to former eastside Harris County Commissioner and now-state Sen. Sylvia Garcia. Garces, 33, is chief of staff for term-limited District I Councilman James Rodriguez; both Garces and Rodriguez worked for former council member and now-State Rep. Carol Alvarado.

Graci Garces

Graci Garces

Alvarado and Garcia waged a bitterly contested campaign earlier this year for the post Garcia now holds, a history that frames Saturday’s runoff.

“It’s going to be machine politics at its purest: Which machine can mobilize more people to turn out to vote?” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who added that turnout is expected to be dismal. “Probably 2,500 votes gets you the seat, perhaps even less. That’s a small number of people to be electing a City Council member in a city the size of Houston.”

Gallegos acknowledges Garcia is promoting him, just as Garces acknowledges Alvarado has block-walked and Rodriguez has made fundraising calls. Yet, both candidates say they have waged their own campaigns, just as both suggest their opponent’s support has come mostly thanks to their mentor’s influence.

I suspect most observers who aren’t directly connected to either camp, especially those who like both Sen. Garcia and Rep. Alvarado, are more weary of this ongoing rivalry than looking forward to another round of it, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t even know what to make of stuff like this. I’m just glad that today is the last day of it. Be that as it may, as with District D there’s not much separation between these two on the issues, for the most part anyway. I’ve noticed that posts on the District I race generate a lot of heated comments. People pick a side, and that’s just how it is. We’ll see whose side is bigger, at least in this case. Texpatriate has more.

It’s still Gene Green’s world

I have three things to say about this story about Rep. Gene Green.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

The affable, low-key former printer’s apprentice is a legend across his gritty, blue-collar domain along the 54-mile Houston Ship Channel, where he represents the most heavily Hispanic congressional district in the nation that has not elected a Hispanic to Congress.

By virtue of his seniority and Republican control of every statewide office, Green is effectively the highest ranking Democrat in Texas politics.

“Whatever I do in Congress doesn’t help people unless I’m also back in my district doing things for them,” Green said. “It’s one of the reasons people have developed a trust relationship with me.”

Green, who is not fluent in Spanish, has organized citizenship days to help legal residents apply for U.S. citizenship in a district that is 76 percent Hispanic. He helped conduct a forum in mid-November that enabled hundreds of Houston-area residents to learn about and register for Affordable Care Act coverage in a state with 6.3 million uninsured. And he has sponsored job fairs twice a year to help the unemployed find work.

“We do a lot of things that provide service to people in my district – and that brings visibility,” said Green, who was a member of the Texas Legislature for 20 years.

Green is well known for his constituent service, and I have no doubt that it is a big part of the reason why he has been so successful in office, both in terms of electoral performance and keeping potential primary challengers at bay. But it’s not just about doing well by your constituents, it’s also about getting along with your peers and would-be rivals. Green works well with others, and has mentored or otherwise directly assisted numerous current officeholders. One example of such is State Rep. Armando Walle, whom Rep. Green supported in his successful primary election against Craddick Dem Kevin Bailey. I tend to think of former Rep. Bailey, who was basically a do-nothing that got crosswise with many of his peers for his support of then-Speaker Tom Craddick and who represented a district as Latino as CD29 is, as something like the anti-Gene Green. It’s not really a mystery why some folks are more successful, and thus long-tenured, than others.

Texas has 12 Democratic House members, but “Green stands out as a pragmatist who is not afraid to break with the liberal Democratic House leadership when he disagrees with its position on an issue,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

Indeed, Green has voted with the House Democratic leadership only 81 percent of the time – well below the 92 percent loyalty of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, or the 91 percent loyalty of Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

Green, a loyal oil-patch lawmaker, has backed the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as legislation that would delay implementation of key components of the Clean Air Act related to cross-state air pollution and pollution standards for power plants.

“At least once a week in the Energy and Commerce Committee, I forget that Gene is a Democrat,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who shares many of Green’s pro-energy positions.

Green’s devotion to helping Houston is apparent to colleagues, too.

“Though Gene and I often disagree on policy, he’s always ready to work across the aisle to get things done when it comes to what’s best for the Houston region and Texas,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, who has served with Green for 16 years. “I’ve found his word to be as good as gold.”

Bipartisanship is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on the particulars. Be that as it may, are there any Republican members of Texas’ Congressional delegation that could be described in similar terms as Rep. Green was in those paragraphs? Hell, are there any Republican members of Congress from any state that could be described in those terms? I’m thinking the answer is No, but feel free to supply an example if you think one exists. Honestly, if there were any such Republicans, I’d expect they’d be getting primaried within an inch of their lives about now.

When the time comes for Green to step down, at least seven Hispanics are widely expected to eye the seat, led by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a former Houston police officer and City Council member who has outpolled Barack Obama in Harris County.

Other potential contenders include state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a former municipal court judge and Houston city controller; term-limited Houston City Council member James Rodriguez; Houston City Council member Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer; and three state representatives: Carol Alvarado, Jessica Farrar and Ana Hernandez.

I’m sure there’s a long line of hopefuls for CD29 when Rep. Green decides to hang up his spurs. This is the first time I can recall seeing Sheriff Garcia’s name associated with this seat, however. Most of the talk I hear about him and other offices he might someday seek center on the Mayor’s office in 2015. If he has his eyes on a statewide office down the line, I’m not sure what the best springboard for him would be. I think he’s in pretty good shape where he is right now, and staying put until he’s ready for something bigger means he’s not putting anything at risk in the meantime, but I’m not his political adviser and I don’t know what he has in mind for the future. As for the other possibilities, I’ll just reiterate what I’ve said before about generational issues. Generally speaking, all things being equal otherwise, I would prefer a candidate that has statewide ambitions in his or her future to one who doesn’t. Our bench isn’t going to build itself, after all.

Bob Stein on the District I runoff

I’ll cut to the chase and just excerpt the conclusion of Rice poli sci prof Bob Stein’s analysis of the District I runoff between Graci Garces and Robert Gallegos.

The runoff election in District I should be highly competitive with the slight advantage to Garces. Gallegos must rely on turning out [Leticia] Ablaza’s supporters, who appear to be more likely to support his candidacy over Garces. Voter turnout in District I was only 9 percent, well below the citywide voter turnout at 18 percent. [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia’s support of Gallegos should be instrumental in providing Gallegos the resources needed to turn out Ablaza’s supporters for the runoff. [Rep. Carol] Alvarado’s support of Garces and her history of support in the district (she was District I city council member for six years) and Ablaza’s voters past support of Alvarado provides Garces a potential advantage.

He arrives at those conclusions via some heavier-duty math than what I usually bring, but don’t worry, it’s all summed up in graphs. Check it out. Via Campos.

Sen. Garcia joins the fight in Pasadena

Good.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia on Tuesday joined forces with four Pasadena council members and a community organizing group to mount a campaign against a new redistricting plan they say is designed to dilute the voting strength of Pasadena’s growing Hispanic population.

Garcia called Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell’s proposed plan, which would switch two council districts to at-large positions, a “huge step backwards.” She noted that when the city last year sought pre-clearance for a similar plan from the U.S. Department of Justice that it was soundly rejected as being discriminatory.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent elimination of the pre-clearance requirement should not be seen now as an “open invitation” to attack the minority vote, said Garcia.

Four of the city’s eight council members from the predominantly minority north end of Pasadena, which Garcia’s 6th Senate District covers, echoed that sentiment. They are being assisted in the “Just Vote No” campaign against the proposed charter amendment that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot by Texas Organizing Project, a community organizing group that plans to help get out the vote.

[…]

Garcia, who in 2002 defeated Isbell to become a Harris County commissioner, said citywide elections can result in council representatives living on the same street or area rather than being spread across the city.

“This new plan is just retaliation by the mayor who doesn’t like having new independent voices on council,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics serving on Pasadena’s council.

See here, here, and here for the background. Good for Sen. Garcia. The best solution to this problem, certainly the cleanest and quickest solution, is for Mayor Isbell’s plan to be defeated by the voters. That’ll keep the lawyers out of it, and it will ensure no harm is done before the courts have a chance to intervene. The only other elections going on in Pasadena in November will be the constitutional referenda and the Astrodome proposal. Get out the vote and kill this thing dead while you still can.

Pasadena proceeds with its needless redistricting

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Pasadena City Council

Except for one agenda item which drew a large crowd, many public speakers, an unusually long time of councilmember’s explanations and a 5-4 vote, Tuesday’s (August 20) Pasadena City Council meeting was “Regular.”

Their next meeting, scheduled for Thursday (August 22) at 8 a.m. is going to be “Special.”

The five to four approval vote (the four: Councilmembers Ornaldo Ybarra, Don Harrison, Pat Van Houte and Cody Wheeler) followed 30 minutes of public speakers almost exclusively commenting why they were against the charter redistricting proposal that, if council approves one more time, will go to voters in November.

Mayor Johnny Isbell is the only person who has taken ownership of the controversial plan to (if voters agree) convert the city from an eight single-member district representation to a six district, two at-large format.

[…]

Pasadena resident Patricia Gonzales called the redistricting plan, “…nothing more than a political power grab,” and focused on Isbell when she said, “All you’re trying to do is dilute the Hispanic and Latino community from sitting here (as councilmembers),” during public comment.

Other speakers on the topic echoed Gonzales’ points and also said the current structure is less expensive for potential candidates.

“Political power grab” sums it up pretty well. I wrote about this on Tuesday, and not surprisingly it went through on a 5-4 vote, with the Mayor casting the tiebreaker. Here’s a press release from Sen. Sylvia Garcia about it.

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell submitted a mid-decade redistricting change to the Pasadena City Charter that alters the city council from an eight single-member district council to a hybrid system with two at large seats and six-single member district seats. The change will significantly increase the population size of each council seat and depending on the map could drastically harm the ability of Latinos to elect their candidates of choice. The Pasadena City Council approved the city charter amendment on a 5-4 vote despite overwhelming public opposition in a late evening city council hearing on August 20, 2013.

“This decision by the Mayor and the majority of the Council is exactly the type of change the Voting Rights Act was intended to prevent. I am extremely disappointed that the Council approved this charter amendment despite the opposition by the citizen’s commission and the minority community,” stated Senator Sylvia Garcia.

With the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the City of Pasadena will no longer need to obtain the preclearance of the Department of Justice, despite the fact that a similar election change was denied approval in December of 2012. The measure will likely be added to the November ballot for voter approval.

According to U.S. Department of Justice, since 1982 Texas has had the second highest number of Voting Rights Act Section 5 objections including at least 109 objections since 1982, 12 of which were for statewide voting changes. Texas leads the nation in several categories of voting discrimination, including recent Section 5 violations and Section 2 challenges.

The good news, such as it is, is that this still has to be approved by the voters, so those of you in Pasadena that disapprove of naked power plays can swat it down. It would be very nice if Mayor Isbell were to suffer some backlash from this, in the form of a stinging defeat at the polls. That will likely require a concerted effort to organize and turn out the voters who are negatively affected by this as well as those that just plain don’t like it. I hope such an effort is being put together as we speak.

And remember when I said in that last post that Pasadena was just the beginning of this kind of shenanigans? Well, now Galveston County is joining the fun.

Galveston County commissioners have slashed the number of justice of the peace and constable districts a year after the U.S. Justice Department blocked a similar plan as discriminatory.

The action makes Galveston County the first local government in the Houston region, and possibly in Texas, to make a change that would have been unlawful before a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened the Voting Rights Act.

The Commissioners Court’s Republican majority, in a special meeting Monday, voted 4-1 along party lines to reduce the number of districts for constables and justices of the peace from eight to four, saying the change would increase efficiency and save money. The U.S. Justice Department last year refused to approve a plan to reduce the number of districts to five, saying this would have discriminated against minorities.

[…]

The county established eight justice of the peace and constable districts two decades ago to settle a discrimination lawsuit. By reducing the number, the county opens itself up to a civil lawsuit authorized under another section of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights attorney Chad Dunn said Tuesday that he had been asked to review the implications of the commissioners’ action.

“It’s deeply disappointing that Galveston County chose to move forward with a redistricting map that the Department of Justice has already told them was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “In fact they went a step further and made it more discriminatory.” Dunn declined to name the residents seeking his consultation.

[…]

Commissioner Ryan Dennard said before the vote that reducing the number of districts would enhance efficiency and save the county $1 million a year. Two justices together handle only 2 percent of the total justice of the peace cases, Dennard said.

The lone minority and the only Democrat on the court, Commissioner Stephen Holmes, said the county has done no detailed study showing how much money would be saved.

Holmes said he was blindsided by the redistricting plan approved Monday, having learned about it when notice of a special meeting was posted Friday.

Other commissioners’ failure to consult with Holmes was one of the reasons cited by the Justice Department for refusing to approve a redistricting plan last year.

Have you noticed how these redistricting efforts – in Pasadena, in Galveston, and in the Legislature – are being done as “emergency” items, with very short timelines and close to zero public engagement? It’s not a coincidence, nor is the fact that Galveston County Commissioners Court acted with the same bad behavior as before when they got slapped by the Justice Department. Here, the potential good news is that if Galveston County gets sued and loses, they could wind up being subject to preclearance again under Section 3. Assuming that they don’t wind up there as a result of the other ongoing litigation. One can only hope, because it should be abundantly clear by now that the state and far too many of its localities cannot be trusted with this stuff. Hair Balls, Stace, Texas Redistricting, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: The Chron is now covering the developments in Pasadena. This tells you all you need to know about the nature of Mayor Isbell’s stunt:

Isbell declined comment Wednesday on his fast-tracked proposal for the November ballot that was made possible after the U.S. Supreme court recently voided the Voting Right Act’s pre-clearance requirement. He noted that his proposal no longer must pass federal review for potential discrimination.

The proposed charter change would replace two of the city’s eight single-member districts with two seats that are elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11 to 1. A diverse group of committee members preferred the accountability of smaller districts to serve them, said Larry Peacock, who served on that panel.

Emphasis mine. This is happening because Mayor Isbell wants it to happen, because it furthers his political aims and because he thinks he can get away with it. That’s all there is to it.

Unfair pay

Patricia Kilday Hart uncovers some skulduggery in one of Rick Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have let victims of wage discrimination sue in state court after receiving letters against the measure from the Texas Retailers Association and five of its members, mostly grocery stores, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who authored HB 950 mirroring the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, said she unaware that the group and the businesses opposed her bill, or that they sought a gubernatorial veto.

Among the businesses advocating for a veto was Kroger Food Stores.

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Also writing to seek a veto were representatives of Macy’s, the Houston grocery company Gerland Corp., Brookshire Grocery Company, Market Basket, the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Here’s HB950, which received 26 Republican votes in the House on third reading. I take no pride in noting that I predicted the veto, though I did so on the usually reliable grounds of Rick Perry being a jerk. I had no idea that he had help in that department this time.

Two other prominent business groups – the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses – also wrote Perry urging a veto, but those groups opposed publicly during committee hearings. Thompson said she heard “not one time” from any of the retailers.

In his veto proclamation, Perry did not mention the opposition of any business groups, but cited Texas’ positive business climate as a reason to oppose the bill: “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

In his request for a veto, Ronnie Volkening, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers, said the bill was “unnecessary, in that existing law provides adequate remedies against employment discrimination; and harmful, in that it undermines opportunities for timely resolution of employment dispute in favor of fomenting expensive and divisive litigation.”

[…]

The retailers complained to Perry that under HB 950, the statute of limitations would be reset every time a worker received a retirement check. Not so, said Thompson, who said she rewrote the bill to exclude retirement benefits to win Republican support in the Texas Senate.

“They didn’t read the bill or someone get them the wrong information,” she said.

Gary Huddleston, Kroger’s director of consumer affairs, said he relied on the retailers association for his information on the bill. “I regret that Representative Thompson is upset and I am sure Kroger, along with the Texas Retailers Association, would like to discuss the issue with her,” he said.

Yo, Gary. You think maybe the time to “discuss the issue” with Rep. Thompson might have been during the session, when the bill was being written, heard in committee, and voted on? Because at this point, Rep. Thompson would be fully justified in discussing the issue of putting her foot up your rear end.

Let me refer once again to Nonsequiteuse for the reasons why this bill was a good idea and a necessary law.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a federal law, doesn’t mandate that women should receive equal pay for equal work, and it doesn’t make it illegal to discriminate (another law takes care of that). It is a more technical law that deals with the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit if they discover that they are facing pay discrimination.

The law used to be that you had a relatively short period of time from the first time you were paid unequally. So, you are hired for a job on January 1st, and get your first paycheck on the 5th (I know, bear with me), and it turns out you are being paid less than a man doing the exact same job. Before this act, you were presumed to know that and to have only 180 days to file a lawsuit to remedy it. If you didn’t discovery the discrimination until the following January (or even the following October, or whenever 180 days is from January 5th), you were out of luck.

Realistically, of course, we all know that no one walks around on day 5 of a new job comparing paychecks. People are socialized not to talk about salary, and some companies (and I’ve always wondered if this is legal) explicitly tell you not to talk about salary.

The outcome, of course, was that if you didn’t learn early in the game that you were being discriminated against, you were out of luck, and your employer got away with it.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes the game, and says the statute of limitations starts afresh with each discriminatory paycheck. So, as long as you’re getting a discriminatory paycheck, you have a cause of action.

In other words, as long as the employer is violating your rights, you have a chance to remedy the situation in court.

Seems fair, doesn’t it? I mean, nowhere in life do we say that if you break the rules long enough without anyone noticing that you get a free pass, so why would we do it with discriminatory pay?

Note that this law isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to prove discriminatory pay. It merely extends your time frame for filing a lawsuit.

The allowance to file in either state or federal court is important, too. State courts are less expensive and easier to access–consider that every county has a courthouse, but few have federal ones (just 29 places for federal courts to meet in Texas).

It’s about making it just a tad bit harder to screw the little guy. I’m not surprised that Rick Perry couldn’t care less about that – he has a long and established record of not caring about that sort of thing – and his heir apparent Greg Abbott has a similar record of indifference. While I can’t say it’s surprising that these business interests would go skulking about under what they hoped would be the cover of darkness to maintain their unfair advantage over their workers, it is nonetheless shocking and appalling, and it deserves to come with a price tag attached. To that end, there is a push to boycott Macy’s and Kroger until they reverse their stance on this. Rep. Thompson and Sen. Sylvia Garcia have already canceled events at Macy’s having to do with the annual sales tax holiday as a result of this. I never know how much to expect from this kind of action, but I fully support making sure people know what the businesses they support are up to when they think we’re not looking. The long term answer is of course to elect better legislators and especially better Governors, which is much harder to do but will reap much bigger rewards. In the meantime, go ahead and heap all the shame you can on the retailers that pushed for this veto. They deserve every bit of it. BOR, Stace, PDiddie, Texas Leftist, and Progress Texas have more.

Senate approves redistricting bills

As pro forma as they wanna be.

The Texas Senate voted to ratify court-drawn political maps that were used for legislative and congressional races in 2012. The bills now head to the House.

In party-line votes, Senators voted 16-11 to approve the interim maps for congressional and state House districts. The map of the state’s 31 Senate districts passed with unanimous consent.

Senate Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, defended the maps against criticism and questions from Senate Democrats.

“As I’ve said before, I believe this map is fair and legal,” Seliger said on the Senate floor, referring to the Congressional map.

[…]

But after several hearings from around the state on the pros and cons of the court-drawn lines, Senate Democrats questioned why Seliger was blocking efforts to change the Congressional and House district maps. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said members of the redistricting committee had privately told her that Seliger had refused to consider any changes to the maps.

Seliger said no redistricting map is going to please everybody.

Near the end of a lengthy back and forth, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, accused Seliger of admitting to refuse to consider input from critics of the maps.

“That may be what you thought you heard me say but it may not be what I thought I said for you to hear me say,” Seliger said.

I’m not even going to try to parse that last sentence. Hard to believe that some unnamed sources once thought that a deal to create more minority opportunity districts might be in the works, isn’t it? The bills will go to the House on Monday and be summarily approved some time next week. Texas Redistricting has more on this action. In the meantime, both chambers can now get down to the real business of regulating vaginas, which is about the only thing some of them ever wanted to do. There were some hearings in the Senate on Thursday on the anti-abortion uber-bill, which was voted out of committee on Friday shortly after the redistricting business was over, but I just can’t bring myself to write about it. Go read the Observer and BOR for the depressing details – I recommend having a drink handy when you do. Oh, and Rick Perry also vetoed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It sure is a great time to be a lady in Texas, isn’t it?

The redistricting road show is coming

The House Redistricting Committee is taking it on the road.

Rep. Drew Darby

Rep. Drew Darby, chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, said at a hearing Saturday that he’s decided to hold informational sessions in three of the state’s largest cities for members of the public who can’t make the trip to Austin.

Specific dates and locations for each city are still up in the air. And Darby noted that final plans for the field hearings are still being worked out right now.

“This is a very fluid process,” he said.

On that point, Darby at the beginning of Saturday’s hearing had set provisional dates for all three hearings to take place by next week. But by the end of the hearing, and after talking with committee members, he’d already switched up those tentative dates to reflect the likelihood of holding one field hearing next week and saving the other two for the following week.

That effectively nixes any notion that the House committee will be ready to vote out a bill by the end of next week — the tentative timeline Darby laid out at a hearing a day earlier.

“June 7 is no longer even under consideration,” Darby said.

Aside from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, Democrats on the House panel asked for additional field hearings in El Paso and Laredo. Darby didn’t commit, saying the time crunch — remember the special session can only last for 30 days — could prevent the committee from branching out beyond the three cities already pegged for field hearings.

I suppose the Senate could pick up the slack with hearings in other cities as needed. Along those lines, Sen. Sylvia Garcia sent out an email yesterday saying she would be holding a community briefing on redistricting this Wednesday, June 5, from 8 to 9 AM at her East Aldine district office – 5333 Aldine Mail Route Road, Houston, TX 77093. For more on what happened at the House hearing yesterday, see Greg’s liveblog. Finally, if new Census data is taken into consideration for any further map revisions, Texas Redistricting points out that most of that growth, in terms of CVAP as well as raw population, came from Latinos. Battleground Texas, I believe that’s your number being called.

At the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting

I attended the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting for Houston on Saturday. Houston was one of the last stops on their statewide introduction tour. I estimated about 300 people in attendance; BGTX gives it as 350, which is probably the more accurate number since they have the sign-in sheets. Numerous elected officials were also in attendance, including most prominently Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and Rep. Gene Wu. I took the picture embedded in this post from the back of the room; I couldn’t quite fit the whole crowd in, but you get the idea.

If one of their goals was to get people excited about their mission, they succeeded in spades – you could feel the energy in the room. Battleground Texas has done an excellent job spreading the word about themselves, aided in part by a national media that’s fascinated by the idea of former Obama campaign people coming to Texas (“of all places”, they don’t quite say but which you can detect anyway) to work the same magic here as they did in Ohio and Florida. Last week there were stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Economist; BGTX Executive Director Jenn Brown, who led the meeting, said that a reporter from Bloomberg News was also in the state. That doesn’t necessarily mean that local media will follow – I see nothing in the Chronicle, and a search of Google news says that only KTRK, which also had a preview/analysis story by Dr. Richard Murray, provided any reports. Well, we did identify scarcity of media coverage as an obstacle in the breakout session I was in.

The BGTX message is simple: The best way to get someone to vote is for a neighbor or someone they know to talk to them about voting and ask them to vote. Connect what’s important to them to the campaign issues and what the candidates stand for, and help them see that their vote really does matter. Easier said than done, of course, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before that in registering voters and identifying those who will likely by receptive to your message, but that’s what it comes down to, and it’s what was done with so much success elsewhere. We know the potential for this exists in Texas – one of the things that BGTX people like Jeremy Bird have been saying all along is that one of the reasons why they came here to do this work is that there had been so much done in Texas and by Texans in 2012 to help with efforts in other states, and so much desire on the part of these people to be able to do that here. Jenn Brown gave the statistic that 400,000 phone calls had been made in Texas to Florida during the 2012 campaign. The people power is here, it just needs to be tapped.

But again, it’s the personal touch that matters. We went to a party at the home of a couple we’ve been friends with for several years last night. I was telling one of the hosts about the BGTX meeting at the party. He had actually traveled to Ohio (where he’s from) for the week leading up to Election Day last year, working with the Obama campaign on GOTV efforts. But he hadn’t heard about Battleground Texas. I promised to email him information about it. I took that as a reminder of the importance of telling people about BGTX as the first step. Not everyone gets the same information you do, so don’t assume everyone has heard about the same things as you. Start spreading the news now, because it most definitely isn’t too early.

Senate passes its budget

Let the damning with faint praise for this jerry-rigged excuse for not adequately funding our needs yet not eviscerating them as badly as last time begin.

Adjusted school spending chart from Rep. Gene Wu

The Texas Senate approved a $195.5 billion two-year budget Wednesday, with Democratic state Sens. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Sylvia Garcia of Houston voting against the spending plan.

Senate Bill 1 spends $94.1 billion in general revenue — the part of the budget lawmakers have the most control over — a 7.7 percent increase over the 2011 budget. Spending would increase in most areas, including education and health care, but still drew criticism from those who argued that more spending is needed in light of the size of last session’s budget cuts and the amount of money now available.

“We did what we had to do last session, but we can be proud of what’s included in this budget,” said the chamber’s chief budget writer, state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Even those who supported the bill said it remains a work in progress. The budget leaves untouched nearly $12 billion available in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Members in both the Senate and the House are eyeing the fund for proposed water infrastructure and transportation projects.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on its version of the budget Thursday, with that version likely to reach the House floor in early April. Both chambers will then appoint conference committees to formally meet and resolve differences between the two proposals.

Williams said after the vote that he expected there would be more agreement than differences between the House and Senate budgets.

Davis offered the sharpest criticism of the proposal, accusing Republican senators of using an ongoing school finance lawsuit as an excuse to avoid properly funding public schools this session. Senate Bill 1 adds about $1.5 billion in funding to public education. Lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from education last session. Various lawmakers have predicted that the lawsuit will prompt a special session on school finance in 2014.

“We are expected to fix the finance problem, and I believe that we can start to do that work today,” Davis said.

Sen. Davis’ statement on SB1 is here. She wasn’t the only critic of the bill.

Williams acknowledged the Senate’s budget wouldn’t bring school funding back to levels that existed before lawmakers whacked $5.3 billion from basic aid and grants in 2011. But Williams, R-The Woodlands, said senators put back nearly $1.4 billion. He predicted higher property values and economic growth would allow lawmakers to fill more of the hole before the session ends in late May.

“While we still have a ways to go, we can make more progress as this whole process moves forward,” said Williams, who heads the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, though, gently chided Williams for worrying more about staying within a constitutional spending limit and preserving state savings than about educating children. The state is expected to have nearly $12 billion in a rainy day fund by August 2015. GOP leaders currently plan to spend about $4 billion of it to create two infrastructure improvement revolving-loan funds.

“If there are the votes to go into the rainy day fund for water or for transportation, I will be one advocating we also use the rainy day fund to help those children,” said Ellis, who ran the budget panel in the 2001 session.

Ellis said the budget falls about 3 percent short of funding current services enough to cover population growth and inflation.

The embedded chart, courtesy of Better Texas and Rep. Gene Wu, is a reminder that we’re still behind on what we had been spending on public education. I do hope that more will be added as the process continues and better revenue estimates come in, but there won’t be a game-changer. A statement from the Texas AFT is here, a statement from the TSTA can be found at BOR, a statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is beneath the fold, and Stace has more.

(more…)

An opponent for the Controller

Big Jolly reports on a new candidate.

There are two powerful elected positions in the City of Houston: Mayor and City Controller. So naturally I was curious when I heard that someone was going to challenge the incumbent Controller Ronald Green. Meet Bill Frazer. The press release announcing his candidacy stated:

“The Controller is an elected position and should report directly to the voters, not to the Mayor or to City Council. The office should serve as a watchdog for the taxpayer dollars and not as a rubber stamp. It’s vitally important to make sure that Houston taxpayers are fully informed on a timely basis about all spending programs. I will make sure there is more transparency and easier access to the City’s financial information.”

Bill Frazer

Well, that was a good start – no elected official should serve as a rubber stamp for anyone. And the fact is that the City of Houston’s finances are a mess right now. And frankly, in four years, the incumbent, Ron Green, has done nothing to help. I mean, like, literally zero. So I decided to meet the challenger and find out if he is for real or a pretender. Fortunately, he’s the real deal – his qualifications for this job cannot be challenged.

[…]

Mr. Frazer is a past President of the Houston CPA Society and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 25 years. As such, he is in a position to be able to tell us the true position of the finances of the City of Houston. Although those finances are bleak, he didn’t come across as an alarmist at all. In fact, he seemed to approach the problem as something that can be solved if politicians are truly transparent and willing to fix them. I think that his frankness is rare these days – are you as tired as I am of “chicken little” forecasts?

When I pointed out to him that the incumbent has touted “transparency” in his tenure, Mr. Frazer objected, stating that transparency is more than simply putting out a report on Friday afternoon at 5:30pm with details buried in the content of a large “report”. For instance, did you know that the property valuation that the City of Houston can tax has declined by 14% during the period between 2003 and 2012? I surely didn’t – it is because of TIRZ’s and other “exemptions”.

The worst statistic that Mr. Frazer showed me was the increase in the amount of money that the City has paid in “fees” to service the City’s debt under the incumbent’s reign: the City has gone from paying $2.53 million per $1 BILLION in floating rate debt to paying $10.19 million. Why?

The full press release can be seen here. Frazer doesn’t have a webpage that I can find, and his personal Facebook page, which was created on February 19, is limited to friends, so this is all I know about him. I will note that his claim about property valuations appears to be wrong, according to one of the commenters on that post who did a little digging, and that explanation about TIRZes doesn’t jibe with my understanding of how they work. Perhaps this is a transcription failure on Big Jolly’s part, I don’t know. Be that as it may, as I noted the last time the subject of an opponent for City Controller Ronald Green came up, an incumbent Controller hasn’t faced opposition since 1997, when Sylvia Garcia defeated Lloyd Kelley.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sylvia Garcia has been sworn in to succeed the late Mario Gallegos in SD06.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, took her place in the Texas Senate chamber Monday to succeed the late Mario Gallegos.

“We have 31 members. We are complete,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said, “Mario would be proud of this moment.”

Garcia, who is the seventh woman serving in the current Senate, expressed her thanks to her family members and voters in brief remarks.

“I believe in short and sweet,” she said.

Monday afternoon, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named her to the following committees: Government Organization, Intergovernmental Relations, Jurisprudence and Nominations.

Texpatriate, who has a photo of the swearing-in, was the first person I saw to report this. Congratulations, Sen. Sylvia Garcia. Go and do the great job everyone knows you will do.

Sen.-elect Garcia ready to get going

The only thing holding Sen.-elect Sylvia Garcia back at this point is the bureaucracy.

Sylvia Garcia

“Sylvia’s well poised to have an impact in the senate. For one thing, Senate districts are too big to ignore,” [Democratic political consultant Harold] Cook said. “When you come to Austin and you make a good case for yourself and your district, you have a pretty good shot of taking care of your folks back home. If you’re not too picky about who gets the credit around there, you can get a lot done.”

Though the formal March 8 deadline for filing bills will have passed when Garcia is sworn in, Cook said, professional courtesy would allow her to introduce legislation.

“Her challenge is going to be that she didn’t have the additional month that every other senator had in laying the groundwork to pass some of that legislation,” he said. “Even if you’re a new senator, you knew you were elected last November and you started talking to your fellow legislators and to constituents and to stakeholders about what you planned to do. There’s been no opportunity to do that for Sylvia.”

That said, Garcia’s experience, Cook said, will help her overcome the obstacle of having to parachute into the Senate mid-session.

[…]

Commissioners Court will meet March 9 to canvass the election results, after which Gov. Rick Perry will have until March 16 to follow suit; Garcia then would be sworn in.

As I said before, it’s ridiculous that the clear winner of a special election should have to wait that long to be sworn in when a session is already in progress. If the special election and runoff had proceeded at more urgent pace, with the runoff taking place at the end of January, I’d be slightly less miffed. But this is stupid and unnecessary. The election result is not in question. The people of SD06 should not be forced to wait up to two weeks for these formalities. Trail Blazers suggests that Garcia could be sworn in next week, which would be a shorter wait, but it’s still longer than it needs to be. Someone should file a bill to amend the election code to allow for an expedited swearing-in under these conditions. That person better hurry, because by the time Sen.-elect Garcia gets to drop the “-elect” from her name, it’ll be too late.

Sylvia Garcia wins SD06 runoff

Congratulations, Sen.-elect Sylvia Garcia.

Sylvia Garcia

Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia beat State Rep. Carol Alvarado in the runoff race for the Senate District 6 seat, according to preliminary results.

Garcia earned 53 percent of the vote, compared to Alvarado’s 47 percent with 95 percent of precincts counted, according to the Harris County Clerk.

Shortly after Saturday’s race Alvarado tweeted: “I go back to Austin on Monday, and I won’t skip a beat!”

Garcia told her followers: “I’m so proud that you chose to send me to the Texas Senate. I will never stop fighting for you!”

[…]

More than 17,500 voters cast ballots in the runoff.

The final total was just over 18,000 votes, of which a bit more than 9.500 were cast early. Both were improvements over the January election, with the runoff turnout exceeding Round One by nearly 2,000 votes. I’ll note that I called it on the higher turnout.

Now here’s the bad news:

Harris County has 10 days to canvass the results after Saturday’s contest, and Gov. Rick Perry’s office of has an additional four days. The winner cannot take her oath until the governor’s canvass, which means the victor will not be able to file any bills after taking office.

Cripes. After all this time, we still have to wait another two weeks for SD06 to be represented. If Sen.-elect Garcia were able to file bills, I’d recommend that her first would be to amend the special election procedure to allow for an immediate swearing in when a special election to fill a vacancy occurs during a session and there’s no question of a recount or other challenge to the election to fill that vacancy. I mean seriously, in a just world Garcia would be sworn in on Monday. Maybe one of her colleagues-to-be can file this legislation on her behalf, or perhaps Rep. Alvarado can do it as a gesture of letting bygones be bygones. In any event, congratulations and best wishes to Sen.-elect Garcia, and my thanks to Rep. Alvarado, who I’m glad to say will still be my State Rep, for her candidacy. PDiddie, who was following the results last night, has more.

Today is Runoff Day in SD06

From the inbox:

Harris County’s Chief Election Official Stan Stanart reminds eligible voters in State Senate District 6 that the last day to vote in the Special Runoff Election is Saturday, March 2, 2013. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and voters must vote at their precinct polling location.

“If you are qualified to vote in the runoff election and have not voted, Saturday is your last chance,” said Stanart who is also the County Clerk. “I encourage all eligible voters who reside within the boundaries of Senate District 6 to vote. In a low turnout election, every vote is significant.”

Despite an abbreviated 7 day early voting period, the number of persons processed to vote during early voting for the runoff election topped the number of voters processed during the 12 day early voting period in the first round of voting, 5,526 to 5,369. Additionally, more voters have requested and returned mail ballots for this runoff election than those in the first round of voting. “Thus far, voter participation in SD6 is increasing, which is unusual in that runoff elections tend to attract fewer voters,” asserted Stanart.

Stanart also reminds Senate District 6 voters who requested a mail ballot but did not mail it in time, that they can take the mail ballot to their Election Day poll and vote a regular ballot. “If a voter who requested a mail ballot does not take the mail ballot to the poll the voter will have to vote a provisional ballot,” explained Stanart.

On Election Day, voters must vote in the polling location in which their precinct is voting. To find your Election Day polling location, voters should visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713 755 6965.

The Clerk’s office has now published this spreadsheet of Election Day polling locations, so check to see where you need to go before you head out to vote. For all the complaints people may have about the delay, the process, the candidates, whatever, the important thing is that in a few hours the people of SD06 will be represented again. I’m going to be away from the Internet for a few hours this evening, so I won’t be able to post about the result until late. Feel free to keep track of things in the comments. Good luck to Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia, and may the best candidate win.

UPDATE: Sylvia Garcia is the winner. Congratulations to her.

Early voting ends in SD06

Early voting ended in the SD06 runoff yesterday. As of when I went to bed, the final daily totals had not been sent out – the daily totals as of Monday, which are here, hit my inbox at 9:30 AM Tuesday, so I don’t really expect them till some time today. I’ll update this post after they arrive. As a reminder, here’s the final report from the first round. My guess is that Campos is right and the final total for the runoff will be at or slightly above that of Round One.

Election Day is this Saturday, March 2, from 7 AM to 7 PM. You can see a list of polling places here. The accompanying email from the County Clerk’s office emphasized that this was not final and could change, so be sure to doublecheck before you head out.

In other news, Sylvia Garcia got a late endorsement from the Texas Federation of Teachers. One never knows how much of an effect endorsements will have, but my general rule, especially for a low-turnout affair, is better to have them than not. Both candidates made appearances on KUHF this week, Garcia on Monday morning and Carol Alvarado on Tuesday. You can hear Garcia’s segment here, and Alvarado’s here. Both are very much on the attack – see PDiddie and this Chron story from today for the latest, if that sort of thing interests you. I for one will be glad when all of the nasty ads are done running on TV, in particular all the ads during basketball games on ESPN and CSN Houston. That’s the problem with live sporting events, you can’t zap the commercials. Be that as it may, the SD06 vacancy will be filled on Monday, when the victor is sworn in. Depending on the outcome, we may then have a vacancy in HD145 to deal with, but I’m quite certain that election, if one is needed, won’t be until November. Feel free to post your prediction in the comments.

UPDATE: Here are the final early vote totals for the runoff. So far, 8,780 ballots have been cast, which is a bit more than 500 higher than Round One. Given that some 2,500 mail ballots are still out, I’ll estimate that the ultimate early total will be about 9,000 by Saturday, also about 500 higher than before. We’ll see if that translates to a slightly higher final turnout.