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Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

Local jurisdictions, including schools, emergency, and utility districts, also holding May 5 Elections

Houston, TX –Early Voting for the May 5, 2018 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election begins Monday, April 23rd.  The Early Voting period for this election cycle runs thru Tuesday, May 1st.

In Harris County, four sites will be available for 86,000 District K registered voters to cast a ballot in person before Election Day.  The Early Voting locations include, the Harris County Administrative Bldg. (1001 Preston, 4th  Floor), Fiesta Mart (8130 Kirby Dr.), Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center  (3810 W. Fuqua St.), and Platou Community Center (11655 Chimney Rock Rd.).

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. The hours of operation for the Harris County Early Voting sites are as follows:

·         April 23 – 27: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
·         April 29: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 30 – May 1: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The majority of Houston Council District K is located between Brays Bayou and Almeda in Southwest Harris County.  However, a portion of District K which comprises a fifth of the electorate is located in Fort Bend County.  District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5th Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5th.

“While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the 70 jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5th,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5th City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election and the May 22nd Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if theyare eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can see the map and schedule for Harris County, which is to say District K, here. Fort Bend County voters, including those in District K, you can find your early voting information here.

The District K special election is the only election being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. There are some local elections being held in Harris County, including Deer Park ISD and Galena Park municipal elections. There’s just one race for Deer Park ISD, and you can find information about that here, including a nice profile of candidate Monique Rodriguez, who has the endorsement of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Area 5 Democrats. For Galena Park, that information can be found here. I know nothing about those candidates.

A little farther out, the city of Pearland and Pearland ISD have regularly scheduled elections. Here’s the information for the city of Pearland and for Pearland ISD. These elections are being conducted by the Brazoria County Clerk, so early voting information for each can be found here. One candidate in each race has been Texas Democratic Party: Dalia Kasseb for Pearland City Council Position 4 – she fell short in a runoff for Council last year – and Daniel Hernandez for Pearland ISD School Board Trustee Position 4. There are also elections in Friendswood – a list of candidates there and in Pearland is here – but as with Galena Park I know nothing about any of them.

There are other elections around the state, as well as the special election in HD13 featuring Cecil Webster. I suggest you check with your county clerk or elections administrator if you’re not sure if there’s a reason for you to vote. Hot on the heels of this are the primary runoffs, on May 22, so if you’re not voting now you’ll be able to soon.

Nothing to see here

Remain calm, all is well.

Next Saturday, March 24, hundreds of Texas Democratic Party activists will gather at the Austin Hyatt Regency to nominate candidates for political office in Travis County, a kick-off event leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

But some people who tried to register will not be attending, among them Candida McGruder. Gustavo Chubb. Geraldo Tinsley. Vincent Amundson. Roxie Male.

That’s because these five individuals and 43 others who signed up to attend don’t appear to be Travis County residents, or Texans, or even Americans. They might not even be real people. They may be pranksters — or they may be Russian trolls, and their appearance in Texas could represent the first public example of foreign probing of the 2018 elections.

Five senior intelligence officers, two current and three former, say the case of the Texas 48 looks like Russian meddling. And they tell NBC News that despite the clumsiness of the failed registrations, the Texas case fits a pattern of Russian behavior seen in its covert operations.

[…]

Earlier this year, as Texas party officials prepared for the March 24 county meetings that would nominate candidates for office, Glen Maxey noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Some of the people attempting to register either didn’t fully fill out their online form or provided obviously false information.

Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that at the time just over 2,500 Texas citizens had successfully registered online for the Travis County meeting. He went through the aborted registrations by hand, checking to see whether the registrations had been “kicked back” because of simple errors, in which case he would follow up with the individuals.

Maxey found a few unfinished registrations that were simple mistakes. But he identified 48 that were problematic, meaning they seemed unconnected to anybody living in Texas. Twenty-five of those 48 were trying to register with email addresses ending in “mail.ru.” Those last two letters, .ru, are the internet designation for domains in Russia.

Maxey told NBC News he and his team hadn’t seen any other examples of pranks or false registrations in past cycles. He also said he didn’t know who to contact in Texas state government and had received no guidance from either state or federal authorities regarding anything to do with potential Russian interference.

[…]

So are the Russians coming?

On the surface, said cyberintelligence expert and NBC News consultant Sean Kanuck, “this almost sounds like junior high school students ordering pizzas under fake names.”

But beneath the surface, Kanuck thinks perhaps something more sinister could be afoot.

Despite the ham-handedness that announces an obvious Russian origin, said Kanuck, who served as the first national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011 to 2016, the methods and even the in-your-face nature of the trolling fit the pattern of “a Russian strategic campaign to delegitimize the democratic electoral process.”

“I would speculate that Russia is testing the waters for possible interventions or disruptions in the future,” Kanuck said.

Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Boys will be boys, right? Donald Trump will get his top men right on it.

SCOTUS will not hear Texas partisan gerrymandering appeal

Not really a big deal.

Texas, for now, will not join the list of states fighting in court over the limits of partisan gerrymandering.

As it considers cases out of other states over whether extreme practices of partisan gerrymandering can be deemed unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the efforts of Texas Democrats and other plaintiffs to revive a related legal claim in the ongoing litigation over the state’s political boundaries.

The high court’s dismissal comes just days after it agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color. In that case, the state appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling against the state that included findings of intentional discrimination by state lawmakers, unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

Pointing to Texas’ “stark admission” that lawmakers were “motivated by the Legislature’s desire to dilute the voting strength of Democratic voters,” the Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision to dismiss partisan gerrymandering claims in the case in 2011 and 2014 without any discovery or trial. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed with state attorneys who had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the party’s appeal.

See here for the background. Hey, it was worth a shot. There are other cases ongoing, and as Michael Li notes, there will be other opportunities for the TDP or some other interested party to try again later. The Chron and Rick Hasen have more.

So what’s up with the Farenthold ballot situation?

The Trib provides an update.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

So how did the Texas Republican Party manage to remove Farenthold from the primary ballot?

The short answer is that they violated the election code, according to state officials. But the Texas Secretary of State’s office has no authority to force someone to include a name on a primary ballot.

The day after Farenthold announced his intention to retire, the Texas GOP sued the secretary of state to keep him off the ballot, citing its constitutional right to freedom of association. Dickey said the party has contended it has a right to not be forced to associate with a candidate who no longer wants to run.

Days later, a lawyer for the state, Esteban Soto, emphasized that the secretary of state has no authority to force the party to turn over Farenthold’s name as part of its list of all primary candidates. That argument led Texas GOP attorney Chris Gober to move to drop the lawsuit which opened an avenue for the party — in Gober’s telling — “not to submit Blake Farenthold’s name and the secretary of state not to do anything about it.”

[…]

“At this point, [Farenthold’s] name is off the ballot, but after all the litigation went through, it’s important to understand there are situations in which another voter or a potential candidate could file suit to put his name back on the ballot, or force his name back on the ballot,” Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said.

Taylor said the state GOP party’s decision doesn’t set a legal precedent, however, because a judge hasn’t ruled to change the state’s election law.

“They can choose to violate the election code, but that doesn’t mean they’re absolved of any type of potential legal challenges,” Taylor said.

Gober also acknowledged the party’s decision could draw additional legal scrutiny.

“It’s certainly a possibility, but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not,” Gober said.

Taylor said that if no one with legal standing challenges it before Jan. 19, then Farenthold’s name will remain off the ballot.

See here and here for the background. Someone with standing would be one of the other candidates or a voter in CD27. The strategic reason for a Democrat to force the issue is that if Farenthold winds up winning the primary, he either has to commit to running in November or withdraw from the ballot and cede the seat to the Democratic nominee (modulo a write-in campaign effort for a different Republican). The practical reason is simply that the Republican Party violated the law when it removed Farenthold from the primary ballot, and the only mechanism to enforce it is via lawsuit. That as I said should be something for the Lege to address in 2019, but it’s moot for these purposes. It sends a bad message to let the Republican Party get away with this – and let’s be clear, it could be the Democratic Party next time; if it’s this easy to deal with a problem candidate, why not make it standard practice? – so I hope someone with standing comes forward to be the plaintiff. There’s less than two weeks to get this resolved, so let’s get a move on.

Farenthold gets off the ballot

It started with this.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

The Republican Party of Texas managed to clear a path Tuesday in federal court for its chairman, James Dickey, to remove U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s name from primary ballots.
But as of press time, a party spokesman said Dickey still had not reached a decision on the fate of the congressman’s name on the ballot.

The drama late Tuesday came after a remarkable half-hour hearing hours earlier in Austin’s federal courthouse, where lawyers for the state said that, while state law requires the inclusion of Farenthold’s name because he withdrew from the race after the filing deadline, the secretary of state had no power to enforce that law.

In response, attorneys for the state party told U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin they would drop a lawsuit that sought to leave Farenthold off the ballot.

“It was not Blake Farenthold’s intent to game the system, to choose the successor or to even get out of the race at the time when the ballot period closed,” said Chris Gober, one of the attorneys representing the state GOP.

Instead, he said, Farenthold was driven out of the race by the media coverage of sexual harassment allegations and how he treated his employees.

[…]

Under state law, political parties are required to submit a list of candidates who have filed to run in the primary elections to the secretary of state’s office, which transmits them to county officials in charge of printing ballots and running elections.

While the law requires the parties to include the names of all the candidates who have filed, no enforcement mechanism gives the secretary of state’s office the authority to ensure the lists provided by the political parties are complete, or to penalize party leaders if they leave a name off, a lawyer for the state argued.

According to the state’s brief, officially allowing Farenthold to withdraw his name from the ballot would trigger a new extension of the filing period, complicating efforts to get ballots prepared in time for the March 6 primary.

“Such an extended filing period, if triggered now, would exceed the Dec. 19, 2017, deadline to submit a list of candidates to the secretary of state and the Dec. 21 deadline to draw names on the ballot,” state lawyers argued. “It would also impede the already short period local election officials have to complete ballots before the Jan. 20, 2018, deadline to mail primary ballots to overseas military members.”

See here for the background. By ten AM, a press release from the Republican Party of Texas had hit my mailbox announcing Dickey’s decision to pull Farenthold out of there. (Yes, I get press releases from the RPT, and also from the Harris County GOP. I’m pretty sure I can trace it to having corresponded with Alan Blakemore’s office to arrange some candidate interviews. The things I do for you people.) Following that, the Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to prevent Dickey from issuing this decree, but they then dropped it after failing to get an injunction.

The Democratic Party’s short-lived lawsuit sought to test the Texas GOP’s claim that it does not have to associate with Farenthold at this point. If that is valid, the Democratic Party says, it should have the same opportunity to exclude primary candidates. If it is not valid, Farenthold’s name should remain on the ballot, the Democrats argue.

“Texas Democrats will not stand idle while Republicans rig the ballot,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Only voters have the power to choose who leads our state and nation, not politicians and party officers in backroom decisions. Last we checked, this was Texas not Russia.”

[…]

Yet there could still be legal trouble ahead for the party due to its decision to omit a candidate who filed and did not withdraw by the deadline. That’s against the law, Soto said in court, even as he made clear the secretary of state is powerless to stop it. Both sides acknowledged the party’s decision could still draw legal scrutiny, perhaps from a candidate or voter in Texas’ 27th Congressional District.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Gober told reporters, “but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not.”

For sure, this smacks of the bad old days, when all the action in elections was in the Democratic primary and all kinds of shenanigans were pulled to ensure that the “right” candidate won. I’d like to know what a response would be to the TDP’s assertion that if this stands then nothing would stop them from throwing out candidates they didn’t like (and Lord knows, as we continue to be beseiged by phonies and LaRouchies, this has more than a small amount of appeal to me). I think it is likely that someone else will file a lawsuit, and it will be interesting to see how the SOS testimony that this withdrawal is against the law will be addressed. In the meantime, I’ll make a donation to the first legislator who files a bill to close this dumb loophole for the 2019 session. Stay tuned.

No partisan gerrymandering claims (yet) in Texas

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has issued an order striking the expert report offered by the Texas Democratic Party in connection with its partisan gerrymandering claim. However, the court said that it would allow the TDP to make an offer of proof under Federal Rule of Evidence 103 so that the report could be part of the record on appeal.

The panel said that it was striking the report because it had previously dismissed the TDP’s partisan gerrymandering claim regarding both the 2011 and 2013 maps.

The long and the short is that the court won’t be reviving the partisan gerrymandering claim and any remedy for the TDP will have to come from the Supreme Court when the case is eventually appealed (after the court decides the other issues in the case).

See here for more on the partisan redistricting case, which came out of Wisconsin. The Texas plaintiffs still have their discriminatory intent rulings, which offer a fair bit of potential for change, as does the recent SCOTUS ruling on racial gerrymandering. It’s possible the Wisconsin case could affect the next round of redistricting in 2021, but I wouldn’t count on anything before then. In the meantime, this case is moving along, and with any luck we’ll have us some new maps in place for next year.

A bipartisan bill to address actual vote fraud

Miracles do happen.

Here’s something folks rarely see in Austin, or other statehouses, in these politically prickly times: a bipartisan effort to crack down on voter fraud.

In the waning days of the 85th Texas Legislative Session, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers — backed by party leaders — are pushing to tighten oversight of absentee ballots cast at nursing homes, which experts have long called vulnerable to abuse.

This effort has another twist: It could also bolster ballot access among the elderly.

“When was the last time you heard about a voter fraud bill that actually made it easier to vote?” said Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, one of the Republicans championing the proposal.

A bill he filed died this week after failing to reach the House floor. But a unanimous Senate committee vote Thursday gave some life to identical legislation, Senate Bill 2149, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

It would create a process for collecting absentee ballots at nursing homes — essentially turning them into temporary polling places during early voting — to ensure facility staffers or others aren’t manipulating residents’ votes. That’s been a well-documented threat surrounding such vulnerable voters.

“Many of our elderly voters in Texas are being disenfranchised,” Eric Opiela, a lawyer for the Texas Republican Party, told lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on State Affairs.

[…]

State law allows Texans with disabilities, those who are at least 65 years old, or those who plan to be out of the county during voting to request a mail-in ballot. That typically includes voters at residential care facilities. Huffman’s bill would change the process for homes that request five or more absentee ballots. During early voting, counties would send election judges to deliver the ballots and oversee voting at those homes, providing assistance if need be. And political parties could send registered poll watchers, just as they do at regular polling places.

Qualified voters who might have forgotten to request an absentee ballot could fill out such paperwork on site and cast a vote during the election judges’ visit.

“This is just going to help seniors vote. It’s going to allow them to participate in greater numbers,” said Rep. Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who authored the House legislation with Oliverson, and has closely followed the Dallas fraud investigation.

Glen Maxey, legislative director for the Texas Democratic Party, on Thursday called the bill “the biggest expansion of voting rights in Texas since we moved to early voting.”

Would it be churlish of me to say that Democrats have argued in vain for years that voter ID laws have no effect on mail ballot fraud, and that if the Republicans had been serious about combating the kind of vote fraud that actually happens they wouldn’t have gotten their asses handed to them in the voter ID lawsuit? Because if it would be churlish of me to say that, well, too bad, I’ve already said it. As far as this bill goes, if Glen Maxey says it’s a good bill, it’s a good bill. Let’s hope it makes it to the finish line.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.

[…]

The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

Supreme Court hears TDP-KSP appeal

Here‘s a little blast from the past.

A meandering legal dispute between Texas Democrats and a Houston tea party group has landed before the Texas Supreme Court in a case that could overturn longtime election laws that require certain political committees to disclose donors and ban direct political contributions from corporations.

Arguing before the court Tuesday, the Democrats’ lawyer, Chad Dunn, warned that overturning the laws would open “the floodgates to the secret funding of elections.”

“If this court wants to open the political process to Uber and Lyft and Exxon and Pinterest and other corporations to use corporate profits to determine who ought to prevail in (campaigns), it should tread carefully,” Dunn said.

[…]

The case began when the Texas Democratic Party filed a 2010 lawsuit accusing King Street Patriots of making illegal contributions to the Republican Party and GOP candidates by training poll watchers who were provided to the party to monitor the 2010 general election in Harris County.

The lawsuit also accused the tea party-aligned group of failing to register as a political committee and failing to disclose its donors as required.

King Street Patriots countersued, arguing that several state election laws were unconstitutional, and both sides agreed to have the courts decide if the laws were enforceable before determining if the organization violated any of them.

A Travis County district judge and the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals have upheld the challenged election laws, leading to the Supreme Court’s review.

King Street Patriots argues that state donor-disclosure laws place onerous burdens on small organizations by requiring them to register with the state, keep records and file extensive, ongoing reports — leaving many to avoid participating in politics as “simply not worth it.”

See here and here for some background. I think the KSP’s First Amendment argument in favor of secret political donations is a load of hooey, but in a Citizens United world, I wouldn’t be too sure it isn’t a winner. I will just note for the record that there is a connection between the KSP and Gregg Phillips, the longtime grifter and procurer of that baloney “millions of illegal voters” claim, because of course there is. There’s never a bottom with these people. The story says that we should expect a ruling by June, so stay tuned.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

More on the SD13 race

From the Trib:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

In the span of a month, a Texas Senate seat will have been vacated and effectively filled, an unconventional turn of events that has Houston Democrats scrambling to replace one of their most venerated legislators.

The highly abbreviated contest is unfolding in Senate District 13, where Rodney Ellis is vacating his seat of 20-some years to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court. His successor on the ballot will be picked July 16 by precinct chairs in the Senate district, which is spread across Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“It’s going to be a sprint,” acknowledged state Rep. Borris Miles, who’s vying for the seat along with House colleague Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green.

[…]

“The No. 1 issue is the personal connection between the person and the precinct chair,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This probably advantages Miles, whose whole district resides within SD-13.”

“This is an odd race where money doesn’t matter,” Rottinghaus added. “There’s not going to be any advertising. No one’s going to go door-to-door. This is all about who’s in the room and who can be persuaded.”

Miles’ House District 146 may lie almost entirely within Senate District 13, but his rivals are not without advantages when it comes to courting precinct chairs. Thompson’s House district also shares some real estate with the Senate district, and “Ms. T” is a household name for many Houston Democrats. Green is the only one of the bunch to have won election citywide, and before that, he was a City Council member whose district was 85 percent within the Senate district.

“For me quite frankly, it would be really hard to say who has a significant advantage,” said Rodney Griffin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct chair in Senate District 13. Thompson, he added, may have a “slight advantage” due to her long tenure in the House and the name recognition that comes with it.

Not really much we didn’t already know. The main difference between this race and the Commissioners Court one is that Rodney Ellis established himself as a frontrunner early on. He was the first person to announce his interest in the position – he was certainly the first one to call me – he had the longest record, and his district covered nearly all of the Commissioners Court precinct. Nobody has all of those advantages here. They all entered at the same time. Thompson has the longest record and is surely the best known, but Miles’ district covers more of SD13. Green represented even more of SD13 than either of them, including some of the Fort Bend County parts, but he has no legislative experience, and it’s fair to say he has some baggage. Thompson’s experience could be a double-edged sword – she has been the Chair of the Local and Consent Committee in the House for several sessions, and I seriously doubt her successor there will be a Democrat. That’s a nontrivial amount of clout to give up, and in fact Green is making the argument that by choosing him there would be no net loss of Democratic seniority in the Legislature. I have no idea which arguments will carry the most weight, but I’m damn glad I’m not one of the 96 precinct chairs who will be on the receiving end of them.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Another FEC complaint filed against Cruz

We’re up to two.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

The Texas Democrats have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz and his associates violated campaign finance laws.

The complaint, dated April 22, asserts that Cruz national co-chair, J. Keet Lewis, broke election laws at an official campaign fundraiser in December by asking attendees to donate unlimited amounts, as well as to make corporate contributions to the pro-Cruz Stand for Truth PAC.

Cruz and his wife, Heidi, reportedly attended the Dec. 30 event in Dallas.

Federal law prohibits coordination between candidates and Super PACs. While a candidate or agent of a candidate can solicit donors to a PAC, it is illegal for them to solicit unlimited contributions or corporate contributions to a Super PAC. They can only solicit up to $5,000 from individuals.

The Texas Democrats say Lewis clearly violated those terms when he told donors “If you hit your max then we have a table for you that is the unlimited table. It can take corporate dollars, it can take partnership dollars, and that’s the Super PAC, Stand for Truth…” according to the complaint.

Lewis also said “The method to our madness is this: You max out and then get engaged in the Super PAC,” the filing states.

Lewis has denied wrongdoing and told Politico, which reported the potential violation earlier this month, that he is not an agent of the campaign under federal standards. Lewis was one of roughly 50 co-hosts. Texas Democrats argue that he is, given his national co-chair role.

A copy of the complaint is here. As the story notes, there was another complaint filed with the FEC against the Cruz campaign in January, this one alleging that he failed to disclose financial support from Goldman Sachs and Citibank for his 2012 Senate campaign. I have no idea what the timetable is for either of these, but I won’t be surprised if they are not concluded till after the campaign. The Trib has more.

Appeals court rules against KSP

From last week, from the inbox via the Texas Democratic Party:

(Yesterday), the Texas Democratic Party prevailed in King Street Patriots v. Texas Democratic Party, when the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District confirmed a lower court decision to uphold provisions of Texas campaign finance law. [Campaign Legal Center, 10/8/2014]

The Texas Democratic Party’s suit alleged that the King Street Patriots had made in-kind contributions to the Republican Party of Texas. These donations would have been a violation of the restrictions on corporate political contributions. They also failed to register as a “political committee” and comply with Texas Disclosure Law. In response, the King Street Patriots filed a counterclaim that challenged the constitutionality of parts of Texas’ campaign finance laws. [Houston Chronicle, 3/28/2012]

PDiddie was on this a couple of days ago. I was waiting to see if any mainstream news outlets would pick up on it, but so far it’s just the Quorum Report. The Chron story from 2012 in the TDP press release has a decent summary of the suit, and you can find a bit more on what led to it here and in Hair Balls. I’m sure this will go to the state Supreme Court, and who knows, maybe to the federal courts if they lose there, but for now, this is a nice little bit of good news, almost as good on a smaller scale as the voter ID ruling.

Dems prep for voter ID

It’s good to have a plan.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Democrats are renewing their opposition to the state’s voter-identification law, rolling out a program to educate voters ahead of a decisive few months that could see the controversial statute become a top issue in the governor’s race.

The law is considered one of the toughest of its kind in the country, requiring voters to show one of a few types of identification cards at the polls. Those whose actual names do not match the names on their IDs must sign an affidavit attesting to their identities.

The gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. Wendy Davis, Battleground Texas and the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday announced a “voter protection” program to tackle the issue by dispatching more than 8,000 volunteers to help with voter registration and making sure voters know what the law requires. The project will also raise awareness for the early voting period, during which an “election protection” hotline will go live. On Election Day, the program will send thousands of volunteers to monitor polling locations across Texas, confirm the sites are overseen by both Democratic and Republican election judges, and open “command centers” in eight cities staffed with election law experts and lawyers “ready to go to court if necessary,” according to Democratic officials.

“We have certainly never accomplished anything in America with less democracy, and we aren’t going to start now,” Davis told volunteers on a conference call. “We want more Texans to participate in this election, not less.”

Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said the project is probably more aimed at highlighting Republican support for voter ID than “actually combatting it in the trenches.”

See here for the plan outline. I don’t know how much that fits into Mark Jones’ narrative, but it does fit in with the overall plan to increase base turnout. Remember, most voters statewide have had no experience with voter ID. The first step is making sure people understand what they will need, and what they do and don’t have to worry about. It would be best if this were to go away, but we can’t count on that and even if we could it likely wouldn’t happen before November. Hope for the best, plan for all the other contingencies. The Observer and Texas Public Media have more.

Convention coverage

Wendy and Leticia and a whole host of others rally the crowd in Dallas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte shared the spotlight at the Texas Democratic Party convention on Friday night, promising to change the direction of the state, ripping their Republican opponents and imploring Democrats to break the GOP’s two-decade grip on state government.

Davis attacked her Republican opponent, matching his attacks at the GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, and talked fighting insiders in Austin.

“I’m running because there’s a moderate majority that’s being ignored — commonsense, practical, hardworking Texans whose voices are being drowned out by insiders in Greg Abbott’s party, and it needs to stop,” she said.

Davis spoke about her background, her kids and her grandmother, all as a way of establishing her Texas roots and values.

She talked about what she would do if elected, promising full-day pre-K “for every eligible child,” less testing in public schools, less state interference with teaching, more affordable and accessible college. She also implied she would end property tax exemptions for country clubs as part of property tax reform, and end a sales tax discount for big retailers who pay on time.

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said. When the audience hooted, she cautioned them: “Now you guys don’t clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you.”

The insider slam on Abbott was woven into Davis’ nine pages of prepared remarks. “You see, Mr. Abbott cut his teeth politically as part of the good old boys network that’s had their hands on the reins for decades,” she said. “He’s been in their service and their debt since he ran for office, and as a judge and a lawyer he’s spent his career defending insiders, protecting insiders, stacking the deck for insiders and making hardworking Texans pay the price.”

Davis said Abbott accepts large contributions from payday lenders “and then clears the way for them to charge unlimited interest rates and fees.” She blasted him for taking contributions from law firms that handle bond deals approved by the office of the attorney general, and for saying state law does not require chemical companies to reveal what they are storing in Texas communities.

“He isn’t working for you; he’s just another insider, working for insiders,” she said.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Van de Putte, who spoke immediately before Davis, promised not to back down from the fight against Dan Patrick, her opponent for lieutenant governor. She said she would instead fight to “put Texas first.”

When she ran for student council president in junior high, she said, she was told she could not run because she was a girl.

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

She said that lesson remains relevant now. “I need to run, not just because I am a girl, but because I want the responsibility. Because I know what needs to get done. And I know I’m the right person for the job.”

I love it when they talk tough. I’m not up in Dallas, though several of my blogging colleagues are. So far the reports I’ve heard are positive – lots of energy and excitement. One person even compared it to 2008, which is music to the ear. Obviously, the folks who take the time to go to a party convention aren’t the ones that need to be inspired to go vote, but they are the ones that will be doing a lot of the work to inspire others, so the more enthusiastic they are, the better.

As I said on Friday, the best thing you can do is work to help get the message out and get the voters to the polls. The next best thing you can do is pitch in financially. Democrats have done phenomenally well in grassroots small-dollar fundraising of late, which is both great and necessary since the other guys have a lot more megalomaniac billionaires on their side. Monday is the last day for this fundraising period, and while we can’t do much about the polling narrative right now, we can at least make sure that one part of the story is that our candidates will be in good shape to take the fight to their opponents this fall. So with that in mind, here’s where you can park that loose change that’s burning a hole in your pocket:

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

If you can only give to one, I would advise you to donate to Leticia Van de Putte. Wendy Davis has already demonstrated that she can raise a ton of money, but Leticia needs to post a big number in July to ensure that every story written about her doesn’t contain a disclaimer about her ability to get her message out. Sam Houston and then Mike Collier are next in line. Those two plus John Cook and Steve Brown will have less effect on the ultimate outcome than the ladies will, but they are still very important.

“You just work with what you have rather than complaining that you don’t have it,” said John Cook, the land commissioner candidate. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”

Cook said he will focus less on the General Land Office and home in on the GOP’s controversial platform on social issues, which touts reparative therapy for gays and lesbians, among other measures.

“My job now is to point out the shortcomings of the Republican Party and the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Brown, running for a seat on the state board that regulates oil and gas, has campaigned on increasing the Railroad Commission’s environmental stewardship and improving the agency’s fairness. He said he would work on communicating that to delegates at the convention.

Houston, vying to become the state’s chief lawyer, said he wants to depoliticize the attorney general’s office, saying that under Greg Abbott it too often has focused on fighting the federal government rather than finding solutions.

Collier said he intends to paint the tea party – and the Texas GOP, by extension – as anti-business for failing to support fully funding key state programs, such as public education, that ultimately aid business.

“If you understand business, you understand that you’ve got to invest to plan for the future,” Collier said.

The badness of the Republican statewide ticket doesn’t end with Dan Patrick. It’s rotten all the way down. Don’t forget about these guys, who will be working as hard as Wendy and Leticia with far less attention being paid to them.

John Cook mentioned the party platform, so let’s talk about that.

Roughly 7,000 delegates have converged on the Big D this weekend, two weeks after Texas Republicans met at the Fort Worth end of the Metroplex to hammer out a platform that drew national attention for its controversial planks on immigration and support for so-called “reparative therapy” to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.

“All they did was talk about hating people,” Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said at a Thursday night reception. “This week, we’re in Dallas, Texas, talking about love, right?”

The Democratic Party platform will reflect that feeling, said Garnet Coleman, the Houston state representative in charge of leading the drafting committee for the last decade.

“Our platform is designed to include, not exclude,” Coleman said on Friday, the day before the draft document is viewed, debated and voted on by the permanent platform committee. “And I think their (the Republicans’) platform is an expression of values that are, quite frankly, outside of the mainstream.”

Coleman predicted the Democrats’ platform will not spark the heated debates of the Republican convention, where delegates fought over planks on immigration, medical marijuana and homosexuality, because of a “set of values” the party approved in 2004 and on which they have been building since.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Coleman said of the 2014 draft compared with its 2012 predecessor. The party will remain opposed to a guest worker program in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and the issue of child detainees on the border likely will not be included in the platform.

[…]

The most significant departure from previous years’ platforms likely will be the inclusion of a new plank regarding women’s issues, said Coleman. The section will focus on issues that affect women beyond family planning and abortion, such as wage disparity and other workplace challenges.

The transportation section also will see some additions, addressing what Coleman called the “non-sexy” issues of toll roads and highway building and maintenance funds.

“There’s not enough money to just maintain the highways we have, so that affects the ability for Texas to grow,” Coleman said, adding he would like to see a gas tax. “(Gov. Rick) Perry has made Texas highways into franchises for toll roads.”

As I’ve said before, no candidate is bound by their party’s platform, but I doubt you’ll find too many Democrats trying to back away or distract from the TDP platform. That especially includes the provisions on immigration.

Contrasting the GOP positions to their own, Democrats said it boils down to matters of inclusion and respect.

Like the Republicans, Democrats see immigration as a key to motivating voter turnout for the November general election.

In speech after speech Friday, Democratic Party luminaries ranging from Van de Putte to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa bashed the GOP platform for its tough-on-immigrants, secure-the-border stance.

And when the Democrats approve their platform on Saturday, party officials said the result will feature most everything the Republicans’ did not.

“We are very supportive of a path to citizenship because there are people who are here and are very productive and have committed no crime and are adding to our economy,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the party’s platform committee. “We are not for a guest-worker program, because that can become a form of indentured servitude.”

Throughout caucuses and forums on Friday, Democrats spent time focusing on the GOP platform that calls for tightening immigration enforcement, a position underscored in recent weeks by an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied apprehended after crossing the Mexican border.

“The Republicans have gone backward on immigration,” Castro told reporters. “You have a candidate in Wendy Davis that appreciates the contribution of immigrants throughout Texas history, and you have Republican candidates who use the border as a bogeyman. They use it to stoke fear. They use it to divide Texans, to turn Texans against each other and to win elections and the people of our state are tired of that.”

Stace seems to be pleased with developments so far, which makes me happy. There’s a lot more to come, but let’s stay focused on what’s important. Keep organizing, keep talking to the voters, and keep moving forward.

What is the sound of one politician switching?

It depends.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

When Lawrence Meyers won a seat on the statewide Court of Criminal Appeals in 1992, he was the first Republican elected to the state’s highest criminal court.

This month he made history again. After switching parties, Meyers, who had been a judge in Fort Worth, became the first Democrat to hold statewide office in Texas in the 21st century. Now he is running for a spot on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court.

Though Meyers was not elected to his current post as a Democrat, his high-level defection has given the party a shot of momentum and some bragging rights ahead of the 2014 elections, said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. But Republican officials suggest that the switch was more about their party’s cramped races and not an indicator of any sea change.

Democrats have not had one of their own in statewide elected office since the late 1990s, and nearly every person switching parties in the last two decades has gone in the opposite direction.

“With this and the candidates that we are fielding in this election, I think people are saying, ‘Wow, this is a totally different Texas Democratic Party,’” Hinojosa said.

Meyers, who has flirted with party-switching in the past, did not respond to requests for comment.

Republicans laugh this off, and not without justification. The last R-to-D of any prominence I can think of is former State Rep. Kirk England, who changed sides after the 2007 legislative session. He won re-election as a Dem easily in 2008, then got swept out in the 2010 bloodbath. (He almost certainly would have been a victim of redistricting in 2011 if he had survived 2010; Dallas County lost two districts, and his district number, HD106, is now in Collin County.) It’s nice to have someone with a D after their name in a statewide position, but it’s hard to know what it means just yet. For one thing, as long as Judge Meyers remains mum about his reasons for switching, we don’t know how much of it was motivated by genuine alienation from the Texas GOP, and how much was opportunism. When legislators switch parties, they have multiple colleagues to welcome them and to offer them guidance and a model of legislative behavior. Judge Meyers is the only Dem on his bench. There’s no guarantee his behavior as a judge will change in any way that might reflect the difference in values between his old party and his new one. I don’t need Judge Meyers’ motives to be pure here, but it would be nice to know that there’s more here than a different place for him to send his ballot application.

The people want Wendy to run for Governor

The Democratic people certainly do.

Though speculation is still rampant on state Sen. Wendy Davis’ possible run for governor, some Democratic groups aren’t waiting for her call before pledging their support.

Annie’s List, a political group that supports Democratic female candidates, announced the launch of WeWantWendyDavis.com Tuesday after reserving the domain name earlier this week.

“Besides wanting to show Wendy Davis that she has a broad network of people who want her to run, we wanted to also ask people what they wanted to do to help her,” said executive director Grace Ann Garcia. “We consider this an online recruiting effort on our part.”

The website allows supporters to fill out a form indicating opportunities to support a possible gubernatorial bid, including hosting house parties, volunteering and donating money.

[…]

Battleground Texas, a Democratic campaign to make the heavily Republican state politically competitive, is also ramping up for a possible run, emailing supporters Tuesday with a petition to encourage Davis to run for governor.

“It’s clear that if Texas Democrats want any chance of beating Attorney General Greg Abbott and his multi-million dollar war chest next November, we need somebody strong to take on the challenge. I think Wendy’s just the right woman for the job,” executive director Jenn Brown wrote in the email. “But before she makes a decision, Wendy needs to know that you’re behind her.”

The petition also offers a free “I want Wendy” sticker to signees.

They’re hardly alone – the Lone Star Project, the TDP, BOR – those are just the ones I’ve heard of so far. My Facebook post about her reportedly making up her mind about running has already been shared 15 times, which is a record for me. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot more excitement about Wendy Davis’ possible candidacy than there has been about Greg Abbott‘s actual candidacy? I get that that and $1.25 gets you a ride on a Metro bus, and I get that there’s a novelty factor at play here, but still. When was the last time any Democrat got this much buzz for a statewide race? Maybe Ann Richards, but remember, when she ran for Governor in 1990, she was already a statewide officeholder (she was State Treasurer, an office that no longer exists) and she had to survive a nasty primary against then-AG Jim Mattox. Bill White got some decent fanfare in 2010, but he had been campaigning for a Senate special election that never happened, and he was going up against the Perry-KBH primary fight. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. Again, it doesn’t mean anything yet, and who knows what things will be like in another six or twelve months, but you could do a lot worse for a campaign launch than this.

UPDATE: Stace is on board, too.

Messing with the primaries

It’s like deja vu all over again.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has filed a bill to move up the primary one month in even-numbered years, to the first Tuesday in February.

Patrick said people in both parties should support the measure because it would give Texas a greater say in presidential elections.

“I’m tired of other states, mostly smaller, picking the nominees for president,” Patrick said in a statement.

It’s not clear the move would actually give Texas parties more clout because national rules governor state primary timing.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Tanene Allison said such an early primary would violate her party’s national rules and prevent Democratic delegates from being seated at the national convention and casting votes for the nominee.

“We strongly oppose it,” she said.

So much for people in “both parties” wanting to support it. All due respect, but the idea of Dan Patrick having the best interests of the Texas Democratic Party in mind is rather a stretch. But look, we’ve been down this road before. There was a lot of bills in the 2007 Legislature to move the primary up to February on the grounds that it would give Texas voters more of a say in the outcome. As we Democrats may recall, having the primary in March as usual was the best thing that could have happened, since the race was still very much in doubt and there were no other primaries between Super Tuesday and ours, meaning that the attention of the entire country and both the Obama and Clinton campaigns were right here that whole time. If Greg Abbott hadn’t appealed the original interim map from the San Antonio court to SCOTUS, the March primary in 2012 would have been very meaningful for the Republicans, quite possibly giving a major boost to Rick Santorum. (It likely also would have allowed David Dewhurst to survive the GOP Senate primary, but that’s a side issue.) Who’s to say that a March primary wouldn’t be meaningful in 2016? I was supportive of the effort in 2007 to move the primary up, but at this point I’d say leave it alone.

Senate Bill 452 also would apply in non-presidential years. The filing deadline, if the bill passed, would be moved to the second week in November starting with the 2014 elections, according to Patrick’s office. Patrick is among those talked up as eyeing a run for statewide office.

Democratic consultant Harold Cook said besides affecting the presidential primary, an early primary tends to help incumbent legislators and members of Congress seeking re-election.

“There is just simply less time for a challenger to get known,” he said.

Yes, it does benefit incumbents, which means it will benefit Republicans in general in 2014 for statewide races, not that they need the help. I don’t have a problem with wanting to make Texas more of a player in the Presidential nomination process, but after the last two races I think we ought to be wary of the idea that this requires an earlier primary date. Trail Blazers has more.

Runoff turnout

Who knows what to expect?

Texans are voting in July for the first time in decades, the result of a lengthy federal court battle over new political districts that delayed the primary from March 6 to May 29. The unusual timing of the runoff in the middle of the summer — when many people are on vacation or not thinking about politics — will likely drive down turnout.

High turnout [in the GOP runoff] could favor [Lt Gov David] Dewhurst, who began the campaign with more money and name recognition. But the delayed primary gave [Ted] Cruz a chance to catch up in both areas, leading to Dewhurst leading in the primary 44.6 percent to 34 percent, but not breaking the 50 percent mark needed to clinch the nomination.

Cruz had always said his goal was to force a runoff, where he felt his tea party base would give him the edge. Activist voters are more likely to vote in the runoffs and recent polls indicate the Senate race is neck-and-neck.

In the Democratic race, [Paul] Sadler was forced into a runoff, despite [Grady] Yarbrough failing to mount a statewide campaign. The results showed Yarbrough performing well in the Houston-Galveston region, the home of a famous but unrelated Democratic family named Yarborough. Sadler has yet to raise enough money to buy television ads and is relying on personal appearances to rally voters. Yarbrough recently failed to appear at a scheduled joint appearance in Austin.

This year’s runoff also includes an unusual number of additional statewide races. There are two Republican races for the Texas Railroad Commission and incumbent Republican Supreme Court Judge David Medina faces challenger John Devine. Those races should bring more Republican voters to the polls.

I’m not going to make any guesses about GOP runoff turnout or who it may or may not benefit. Burka drew a line at 825,000 votes – above that he thinks Dewhurst wins, below that he thinks Cruz has the advantage. All I know is that the longer this goes on the more ridiculous and awful the two of them sound. I don’t just mean awful to me, Democrat that I am, I mean awful in the way that a high-dollar fight between two candidates who don’t really have that many differences between them on policy matters and whose campaigns are stocked with people who have grudges against the other guy’s staff always is. Believe me, I’ve been there, I know how soul-crushing it can be. Good luck getting the taste of this one out of your mouths, Republicans.

Paul Sadler

On the Democratic side, my prediction is for something like 150,000 to 200,000 votes, which would be in line with the 2006 and 2008 runoffs. What raised my eyebrows yesterday was an email sent out by the TDP that was a comparison between Sadler and Yarbrough and made it perfectly clear without ever explicitly saying the words that the party was endorsing Sadler as the better choice. It’s highly unusual to see this, but I’m perfectly happy with it in a case like this where one candidate really is objectively a better choice. I mean, outside the case of someone who publicly switches parties, it should be non-remarkable for a party to support someone with a long and well-established history with that party over a gadfly who ran on the other team’s banner in the past. This is a race to represent a party; history, affinity, and involvement should mean something. Not everything, of course, but when one candidate doesn’t measure up at all on that score, what else do you need? Frankly, I hope the HCDP takes a hard look at the result from this year’s DA primary and gives some thought to taking similar action in the future where warranted. You may look foolish if it doesn’t work, but no more foolish than having a lemon on the ballot in the first place.

Here’s the Day One early voting totals from the Harris County Clerk. Republicans have accounted for about 75% of the total vote so far, and over 80% of the in person vote. I’m not going to make any projections based on this, and with only five days of early voting we’ll know soon enough how this goes. Leave a comment if you’ve already voted or plan to do so soon.

Steve Brown: The Grown-Up’s Platform

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

Steve Brown

Texas Democrats recently adopted a very progressive platform that addresses critical areas of need in our state. It also gives reasonable, mature Texans an alternative to empty ideological rhetoric.

Although most headlines will center on our bold pronouncements in support of marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana (and rightly so), there are a number of other policy proposals worth mentioning as well.

In addition to the familiar themes related to fully funding public education and supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform), Texas Democrats also raised numerous emerging issues as additional items in need of public support and legislative action.

State Budget Policy

Texas Democrats support sensible solutions for fixing the state’s multi-billion dollar structural deficit. We need to modernize our tax base so that it reflects our service-oriented economy. What state lawmakers shouldn’t do, however, is continue to dodge responsibility by punting the costs of services to local governments and taxpayers. Cuts to education, health care and transportation may sound appealing to Tea Party activists, but the truth is that these services are still being rendered at local taxpayer’s expense – an expense that’s more costly and less efficient than if it were addressed at the state level.

Texas’ Impending Water Crisis

Due in large part to recent droughts and population growth, Texas’ towns are literally drying up. We need practical, sustainable solutions to ensure that we have enough water to meet the needs of our people, businesses and agricultural enterprises. In fact, we recommend that the Governor elevate this issue to an emergency item at the start of next session, and identify the funding sources to cover the capital costs associated with creating new water management strategies. Failure to meet our water supply could result in catastrophic human and economic losses.

Smokefree Workplaces

Texas Democrats support the need for a comprehensive statewide smokefree law as a top public health priority. We recognize that prevailing science indicates that secondhand smoke causes preventable diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Additionally, the health care costs associated with treating these diseases bear an enormous burden on taxpayers and businesses. It’s time to clear Texas’ indoor air.

Castle Doctrine

In the wake of several incidents, sufficient doubt has been raised as to whether the Castle Doctrine actually is being applied fairly. Texas Democrats urge lawmakers to modify its “Stand Your Ground” law to help prevent vigilantism and encourage neighborhood watch groups to work collaboratively with local law enforcement agencies.

Transportation

We recognize that we can’t simply build more roads or toll roads to adequately address the state’s transportation infrastructural needs. Texas simply needs more multi-modal options. Its time for the state to invest in light rail, and partner with communities across Texas to create more transportation options. Such investment will help enhance quality of life, attract a vibrant business environment, improve air quality and leverage federal funding opportunities.

These are but a small sample of the priorities identified in the Democratic platform. Texas Democrats understand that it takes a strenuous, reasonable assessment of the true challenges facing our state to ensure that Texas is as great today as it will be fifty years from now. That means that we have to elevate the seriousness of public debate and elect leaders more interested in long-term, sustainable solutions and not regurgitated ideology.

The grown-ups in Texas will find much to agree with in the Democratic Party’s platform.

Steve Brown is the Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a member of the Texas Democratic Party’s Platform Advisory Committee. Connect with Steve on Facebook at facebook.com/sbrown2 and on Twitter at twitter.com/electstevebrown.

Things to do this weekend

The Texas Democratic Party State Convention is in town starting tomorrow. Here are some of the things I plan to do:

Thursday

The HDCC was instrumental in getting the House Democratic caucus to 74 members after the 2008 election. It will be equally instrumental in getting it back after the 2010 debacle and redistricting. Plus, the Bad Precedents really rock.

Friday

Social Media Perspectives: How Citizens Can Rebuild the Party Through Smart Outreach

Have you ever said to yourself “You know, I like this blog but what I really want is to hear Kuff talk about blogging”? Well, you’re in luck. I don’t know exactly where it will be on Friday at 11 AM – I have this sneaking suspicion that Rachel will just tweet the location once it’s been set and assume that we’re all smart enough to figure it out, or at least that if we don’t figure it out we didn’t belong on the panel anyway. Regardless, if you can find your way to the Hilton on Friday, you can probably find your way to this panel. And if you see me wandering the hallway swearing under my breath, please help me find it as well.

In case you miss the Social Media Caucus and were concerned you wouldn’t have any further opportunities to see me in person. I was there for that first, really small, event back in 2004, and I’ve been to the two much bigger events in 2006 and 2008, and it’s always a load of fun. Come see for yourself. See PDiddie‘s post for more.

Saturday

From 10:30 to noon, I’ll be at the ROADWomen event in the Presidential Suite at the Hilton. Free food, and one last chance to hang out before heading back to the real world.

These and other events can be found here. I may turn up for some other things, but barring anything unforeseen I’ll be at these events. Hope to see you there.

Harris County rejecting fewer voter registrations

In other lawsuit-related news:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County officials have rejected far fewer would-be voters since 2008, but Democrats are demanding more proof that voter rolls are not being illegally suppressed – particularly among Hispanics – as another U.S. presidential election approaches.

The two sides [met] in secret mediation Friday as Democratic officials seek assurances the county is following the terms of a 2009 settlement reached after the party challenged Harris County voter reviews in a federal lawsuit. The county’s voter registrations have remained fairly flat at about 1.9 million since 2008, failing to keep pace with a boom in the eligible voting population.

“Harris County continues to fall behind other large cities. Harris County rejects far too many applications and removes far too many eligible voters from the rolls,” Chad Dunn, an attorney for the Democrats, told the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s own analysis of voter registration data shows county officials denied about 39,000 applications in the last three years – far fewer than the 70,000 rejected as ineligible or incomplete in 2008. Of applications received in 2009 to 2011, about 14 percent were not immediately accepted. A slightly higher percentage of voters with Hispanic last names had applications denied, the Chronicle’s analysis shows.

[…]

U.S. District Court Judge Gray H. Miller, who oversees the settlement, ordered both sides to meet with a mediator Friday. If the dispute is not resolved, a hearing has been set next week.

County records show that most unsuccessful applicants from 2009-2011 -35,800 – provided incomplete information, such as leaving parts of the form blank.

As part of the 2009 settlement, Harris County officials agreed to be more flexible in reviewing voter addresses and accept those submitted from so-called commercial properties. However, about 3,000 voters’ applications apparently were red-flagged because of address-related issues in 2009-2011, according to data. In at least a few dozen cases, officials rejected valid addresses mostly from voters living in newly-built homes, the Chronicle found.

They did some good analysis of the rejected applications, so be sure to read the whole story. This action resulted from a followup complaint in 2010 by the TDP, which was itself a result of then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez getting in bed with the KSP. If the Tax Assessor’s office is now doing a better job of accepting valid registrations – and sorry, but I’m not going to just accept Don Sumner’s word for that – that’s great, but there’s still a long way to go before they earn any trust. PDiddie has more.

If it walks like a PAC and talks like a PAC…

…the odds are pretty good that it’s a PAC.

A Travis County district court judge ruled this week that a Houston-based tea party group is not a nonprofit corporation as it claims, but an unregistered political action committee that illegally aided the Republican Party through its poll-watching efforts during the 2010 elections.

The summary judgment by Judge John Dietz upheld several Texas campaign finance laws that had been challenged on constitutional grounds by King Street Patriots, a tea party organization known for its “True the Vote” effort to uncover voter fraud.

The ruling grew out of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party against the King Street Patriots. The Democrats charged that the organization made unlawful political contributions to the Texas Republican Party and various Republican candidates by training poll watchers in cooperation with the party and its candidates and by holding candidate forums only for GOP candidates.

See here, here, here, here, and here for more on this charming collection of chuckleheads and the litigation they’ve spawned. You can see a copy of the judgment here and here; it’s short and fairly readable, so do give it a look. Not only were all of the KSP’s motions denied, it’s clear that Judge Dietz didn’t think much of their arguments. The crux of all this is as follows:

King Street Patriots was founded in December 2009 by Catherine Englebrecht, of Richmond. Its stated purpose is “to provide education and awareness with the general public on important civic and patriotic duties.”

During the 2010 elections, King Street Patriots reviewed public information regarding voter registration in Harris County, reported findings to the county registrar and trained several hundred poll watchers to serve during the general election. It has made voter fraud its signature issue.

As a nonprofit, King Street Patriots does not have to list its funders, but cannot participate in partisan activity. To support a party or a candidate, a nonprofit must create a political action committee. PACs can be involved in partisan politics, but must list their donors.

You cannot operate in a partisan manner and not disclose your donors. Pretty simple concept, at least if it’s your intent to operate on the up and up. Now that the constitutional questions have been settled, the case moves on to the TDP’s claims that the KSP violated state election law and are liable for damages. Based on this, it’s looking good for the TDP. PDiddie has more.

Trying to save the April 3 primary date

The race is on to get new maps in hand in time to keep the April 3 primary date, since all the options for after that date are distinctly unpalatable in one way or another. On Friday, the State of Texas asked the San Antonio court to get its work done by January 30. The court asked for responses to that request; the plaintiffs said it wasn’t realistic while the state said they’d work late and by phone to make it happen. They also suggested moving the second filing deadline to February 6 and shortening the period for mailing military ballots to 25 days. The court responded with some requests of its own.

Lines, lines, everywhere are lines...

Federal redistricting judges in San Antonio want to see if they can get agreement from the parties on political maps in time for an April 3 primary and said they are “giving serious consideration” to split primaries if no agreement can be reached by the first week of February.

The three federal judges said in an order issued this afternoon that they will meet with the parties on Friday instead of waiting until Feb. 1.

The five-page order is full of dates and deadlines:

  • The judges say they will almost certainly move a candidate filing deadline now set for Feb. 1.
  • They said the parties should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for legislative and congressional elections by Feb. 6 if they “wish to maintain the current election schedule.” If they can’t agree, the judges want a list of districts in the Legislature’s maps that each party no longer objects to.
  • The parties are involved in hearings in Washington, D.C., where a separate panel of three federal judges is deciding whether the Legislature’s maps violate preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ideally, the San Antonio judges would have that court’s ruling in hand before it approves redistricting maps. It’s asking the lawyers to give the Washington court a nudge: “With high respect for the importance of that proceeding and the prerogatives of that court, this Court hereby requests both sides in the San Antonio proceedings to request, on behalf of this Court, that the D.C. Court attempt to rule on the Section 5 issues in time for this court to incorporate those decisions into its ultimate decision on the redistricting plans for the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the U.S. Congress.”
  • The Texas judges say they are giving “serious consideration to whether a so-called ‘split primary’ will be required” for this year’s elections, and asked the lawyers to be ready to talk about it at the end of the week. They also want lawyers for the state to be ready to say whether the state would be prepared to reimburse counties and the political parties for the “substantial additional expense of a split primary.”
  • The judges asked for comments on the idea of a presidential primary on April 3 with most or all other elections held later. The earlier presidential primary would relieve the Republican and Democratic political parties, which hope to have the primary elections well before their state conventions in June. The Republican Party of Texas has suggested the split primary on several occasions; the Democratic Party, in filings this week, said it would prefer a unified primary if possible.

You can see the court’s order here. We’ll know more this Friday, but a split primary is definitely a possibility. If that happens, I dearly hope the court orders the state to pay for it, as that seems to me to be the only fair solution. It’s clear that the San Antonio court wants the DC court to rule on the preclearance lawsuit first rather than have to guess what it will find in violation of Section 5. If the San Antonio court is left to its own devices, the “not insubstantial” standard for deciding what to remediate may give them a fair amount of leeway, though again I’m sure they’d prefer to have a clear roadmap. It’s going to be an exciting week. PDiddie has more.

Redistricting litigation threatens party conventions

With the April 3 primary date now almost certainly no longer in play, the two parties’ biennial conventions are also at risk as the redistricting litigation drags on.

Congressional districts for Texas as drawn by the court

The state’s Democratic and Republican parties made substantial down payments months ago to reserve convention and hotel space in June. But if the primaries are delayed again — as late as June 26, as was discussed at the U.S. Supreme Court last week — then the parties could be forced to postpone their conventions.

[…]

Delegates are chosen from congressional and senatorial districts; so, without valid redistricting maps, the parties will not be able chose delegates for the national conventions.

“We would have no idea how to proceed,” said Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party. “We hope desperately not to be there.”

Elam said state GOP leaders were challenged to come up with solutions last month when a federal court in San Antonio moved the primaries from March 6 to April 3 because of redistricting uncertainty. But if the primaries get pushed back again, then “all bets are off,” Elam said.

“We’ll have to go back to the drawing board,” Elam added.

With contractual obligations to host as many as 18,000 people June 7-9 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, the Republican Party of Texas could be on the hook for “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Elam said, if the convention doesn’t go on as planned.

And with about $640,000 cash on hand, Elam said, a hit that big would be significant, especially for a party that was $500,000 in the red in 2010.

The Democrats wouldn’t fare much better if they were forced to choose a new convention date.

“Everything just is going to cost a lot more because you expect it to be a certain time and it isn’t,” said Lenora Sorola-Pohlman, who is chairwoman of the Texas Democratic Party’s convention committee.

Democratic Party leaders are expecting about 14,000 people at the state convention in Houston on June 8-9. And if the party cancels its contracts with the Hilton Americas, it will be responsible for 80 percent of the rooms reserved for the convention, the party said. The party didn’t say how much the contracts were worth, but officials said the party has about $141,000 on hand.

“At this point, we’re comfortable we’ll have our delegates on time to hold our convention on the day planned. We are reserving any more judgment on the election schedule until we have some rulings on the court maps,” party spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said in a statement.

I feel oh so terribly sorry for the Republicans and the financial hardship this may put them through, given that it’s entirely their responsibility for the schedule chaos. RPT Chair Steve Munisteri has floated the idea of a split primary again, for which Democrats are not on board, and has filed an advisory with SCOTUS saying that “for numerous legal, logistical, and practical reasons, moving the Texas primary to any date after mid-April 2012 would wreak havoc with the state’s electoral process and present insurmountable difficulties.” Should have thought of all that before pursuing a stay on the San Antonio court maps, that’s all I know. I don’t know what’s going to happen – I’m not even sure what outcome to root for any more. All I know is that we had an agreement for an election date in hand with maps that were still pretty damn favorable to the Republicans and litigation that would go on in the background, but they weren’t satisfied with that. And so here we are, and they’re whining about the inconvenience of moving the primaries back again to accommodate their aggressive litigation strategy. I trust you’ll forgive me if I’m not moved by their plight.

We have a deal on a unified primary date

From the Inbox:

Joint Statement from TDP and RPT on Agreement Regarding 2012 General Primary Election

Parties have submitted a joint agreed proposal to the San Antonio federal panel.

Today, the Texas Democratic Party (TDP) and the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) issued a statement announcing that the two parties have submitted a joint agreed proposal on the 2012 General Primary Election to the U.S. District Court three-judge panel in San Antonio.

The parties’ joint proposal provides for an April 3, 2012 unified primary date, along with adjusted dates, deadlines and requirements in respect to its administration.

TDP State Chairman Boyd Richie said, “We’re glad to have worked out an agreement which we feel works best for Texans. Given the less than ideal circumstances, we think that this election schedule is a workable solution that will create the least confusion for the voters.  We’re pleased that the agreement maintains a unified primary which will save taxpayers money.”

RPT State Chairman Steve Munisteri said, “I am pleased that we could come to an agreement and I hope that most Republican elected officials and Texas voters will be satisfied with this proposal. We are hopeful that with both a timely ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequent finalized maps, that this agreement not only preserves the original structure of a unified primary, but provides us enough time to accomplish it in a fair and orderly fashion. Furthermore, this agreement addresses the concern of both the TDP and RPT by providing a timeline which still allows us to hold our respective state conventions and national delegate selection in June.”

Notable details of the agreement submitted to the panel are as follows:

  •          February 1, 2012 – New residency deadline for candidates seeking election to the Texas House and Texas Senate.
  •          February 1, 2012, 6:00pm – New deadline of court-ordered reopened filing period, in which candidates for all offices have the opportunity to amend, withdraw or file a new application for the ballot.
  •          February 3, 2012 – New deadline for County Executive Committees to conduct drawing for candidate order on ballot.
  •          April 3, 2012 – Date of the 2012 General Primary Election.
  •          April 14 or April 21, 2012 – Date of County and Senatorial District Conventions, as determined by the State Chair of each political party.
  •          June 5, 2012 – Date of the 2012 General Primary Runoff Election.

If signed by the three-judge panel – nothing in the order shall be construed by the Court or the parties as a waiver of the positions of each party with respect to the schedule or conduct of the upcoming election. The parties’ positions as stated at the December 13, 2011 hearing are expressly reserved. Additionally, the Republican and Democratic parties have agreed that it is necessary to have a primary early enough in April to allow them to conduct their statutorily required conventions as previously planned.

A copy of the order is available online in PDF format here.

All things considered, it’s not too bad. Maybe it’ll get people off Greg Abbott’s back, not that I haven’t enjoyed the infighting. The San Antonio court has signed off on the agreement (order here), but as the Trib notes, this assumes that SCOTUS will issue a ruling in time for all the logistical work to be done. I don’t even want to think about what might happen if that isn’t the case.

DC court sets date for preclearance trial, primary dates still up in the air

Via email from the Lone Star Project:

[Monday], a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Federal District Court set January 17, 2012 through January 26, 2012 as the trial dates to formally review the Congressional, State House and State Senate plans enacted by the Texas Republican leadership this summer.

The DC Court will review the plans under Section 5 of the US Voting Rights Act which prevents states like Texas with a long history of racial discrimination from adopting redistricting plans that reduce the ability of Hispanics or African Americans to elect their candidates of choice.  Earlier this fall, the DC Court denied a motion filed by Texas Republicans to gain approval of their plan without a trial.  In fact, the DC Court signaled their concern about potential violations in the GOP plan in its denial by saying that the state has used an, “improper standard or methodology to determine which districts afford minority voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice.”

The Section 5 trial in DC will begin just a week after the US Supreme Court hears arguments concerning the interim redistricting plans ordered by a San Antonio Federal Court late last month.  The San Antonio Court ordered the interim maps because the State enacted plans had not yet received Section 5 preclearance.  With the preclearance trial date now set, the violations in the State’s plan can be specifically identified.

There is considerable evidence showing that not only do the State’s plans violate the Voting Rights Act but that the Republican controlled Legislature adopted the plans with a discriminatory purpose.  Extensive testimony has already been provided in both DC and in San Antonio detailing the efforts of Legislators to prevent representatives of large minority communities from participating meaningfully in the redistricting process.

The failure of Texas Republicans to draw maps that fairly reflect the minority voting strength in Texas is dramatically illustrated in their congressional plan.  Under the current congressional map, minority voters are allowed to elect their candidate of choice in 11 of 32 districts.  Under the State’s adopted plan, even though Hispanics and African Americans make up nearly 90 percent of the state’s population growth over the past decade, minority voters could elect their candidate of choice in only 10 of 36 districts.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott has expanded his legal efforts beyond simply advocating for the state’s controversial plans and has set his sites on the Voting Rights Act itself.  Abbott, on behalf of Governor Perry and other Texas Republican leaders is expected to argue to dramatically weaken, if not eliminate outright, the protections for minority voters spelled out in the Voting Rights Act.

Comments by Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle

The DC trial will again expose the overt efforts by Texas Republican leaders to adopt plans that protect their power by destroying the voting rights of Hispanic and African American Texans.

Greg Abbott will spare no expense and will cross any ethical or moral line to protect the political power of Republicans.  His willingness to destroy the voting rights of Texas citizens for partisan gain is a shameful reflection of the entire Texas Republican leadership.

In the meantime, the San Antonio court had a status conference to discuss election deadlines yesterday, and various parties in the suit filed briefs about the possibility of a split primary. In the end, not a whole lot was settled.

The Texas primary elections are still set — precariously — for March 6, but a panel of three federal judges extended the filing deadlines for candidates to Monday. But after a day in court, most of the confusion and the big questions persist, like whether some elections could be delayed.

The judges left open for now the question of whether any or all of the state’s primary elections should be pushed to another date, after hearing testimony from several election administrators about the logistical problems and high costs that would result from split primaries. They instead prepared to sign a proposal that would allow candidates to file for office through Monday, and to change their filings later — or to withdraw altogether — as the political maps change. The dates of the elections and the exact matchups of candidates and districts will be settled later.

Initially, the Republican Party of Texas supported keeping the non-affected primaries in March while moving the rest to May while the TDP and various plaintiffs supported a unified primary, which would have to be later than that; May is the most commonly cited month, but there was at least one suggestion for April floating around out there. Turns out that a number of elected Republicans, including 16 of the 19 State Senators and Congressman Lamar Smith, also supported the unified primary. Smith’s position required the RPT to use a substitute lawyer, since they both used Eric Opiela.

Election officials from several of the state’s biggest counties testified about the logistical problems and the costs of holding more than one set of primaries. With two extra elections — a primary and a runoff — the costs double. Voting precincts would have to be redrawn for the first primary and again for the second, once there’s a legal set of political maps. And they said it would take 60 to 90 days, under normal circumstances, to prepare for elections once they have maps in hand. They could reduce that time, said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, but not too much.

For the political parties, there’s a risk of going to state party conventions next summer with some elections undecided. More importantly for their business is the issue of how to choose party officials from the statewide level all the way down to the precinct level in time for those conventions. Both [RPT Chair Steve] Munisteri and Bill Brannon, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the precinct chairs present particular problems. “You can’t choose precinct chairs for precincts if you don’t know their boundaries,” Brannon said.

Munisteri acknowledged a lack of agreement among the Republicans, but said he’d like to see three things: A March presidential primary so that Texas voters can weigh in before the race is decided; some certainty going into the state political conventions next summer; and something that protects candidates if and when the courts change the district lines.

Quite the mess, no? The parties involved have apparently brought in a mediator, but who knows what if anything will get hammered out. Harold Cook summed it up as follows:

So just to review, regarding the San Antonio Federal court hearing today: we have no hard filing deadline, for seats that don’t yet exist, for an election date we don’t know. Any questions?

Nope, I think that just about covers it. BOR and Michael Li have more.

UPDATE: Twenty-eight members of Texas’ Congressional delegation, including all Republicans running for re-election, have now signed a letter in favor of a unified primary.

DOJ pushes back on State House and Congressional maps

Good.

The Justice Department said Monday that Texas’ state House and congressional redistricting plans didn’t comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.

Officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said the proposed redistricting plan for the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the state Senate complied with the Voting Rights Act, but indicated they had concerns with the state House plan and the plan for congressional redistricting.

The federal government “[denied] that the proposed Congressional plan, as compared with the benchmark, maintains or increases the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice in each district protected by Section 5,” DOJ lawyers write in a filing. “Defendants deny that the proposed Congressional plan complies with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The Justice Department was responding as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas in the DC Circuit Court arguing that it had met all of the legal requirements under Section 5, and thus the maps should be precleared. Here’s the complaint that was filed by the state, to which the DOJ responded yesterday. You should read them in that order, because the DOJ’s response is point by point; if you want to know what they mean when they refer to “paragraph whatever”, it’s the corresponding section in the state’s complaint.

What happens next, as Texas Redistricting points out, is that “DOJ says it will submit proposed stipulations on the districts that remain at issue on or to the parties on or before September 20, 2011.” In other words, today. The court will then take it all under advisement and issue its ruling, which may or may not leave enough time for anything to be fixed before the primary filing season begins. If that happens, then the map-drawing duties may ultimately fall to the court in San Antonio, which has its problematic districts to consider. There’s a lot riding on these cases, to say the least. After these courts rule, everything will eventually go to the Supreme Court, which may get around to making its own rulings in time for the 2016 elections. Consider everything, at least in the State House and the Congressional maps, to be drawn with pencil until then. A statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado is here; BOR, the Lone Star Project, the Trib, Texas Redistricting, and the National Journal have more.

On a related note, the Texas Democratic Party took the turncoat Aaron Pena to task for fibbing about his role in drawing the objectionable maps.

The party noted that Peña claimed to have nothing to do with the creation of the proposed House District 41, a strangely drawn district that is sometimes referred to as the “running man” because its shape is reminiscent of a runner.

The oddly shaped district was created to allow Peña to be re-elected by packing the district with white and Republican precincts, Democrats have said.

The Democrats point to a page in the House Journal in which Peña said in April: “I said I will not draw this map because one, I did not want to be involved. And two, that I didn’t want to be involved in pairing or being involved in effecting (sic) my neighbors districts.”

But the party said Peña’s words in April don’t reflect what really happened. As an attempt to prove their allegation, Democrats point to testimony from the federal redistricting trial that ended last week in San Antonio. There, Ryan Downton, the House Redistricting Committee counsel, testified that Peña was involved, they said.

Peña said the Democrats are quibbling over the word “draw,” and that he has always said he’s been open about his conversations with redistricting committee staffers and lawyers.

“What it is is a personal attack on me,” he said.

He added that he never submitted a map that he drew, and he doesn’t even know how to use the map-drawing software. ” I don’t know how to draw a map.”

I’m sure there’s plenty of things Pena is not capable of doing, but that’s a pretty thin excuse. Just because he didn’t draw one doesn’t mean he didn’t offer input or feedback on one. Why would anyone believe a word he says anyway? You can see the full TDP statement here.

The districts in dispute

The redistricting lawsuit in San Antonio wrapped up on Friday, so at this point all we can do is wait for the three-judge panel to issue its opinion, and for the DC Circuit Court to have it say on preclearance. You never know what judges will do, but there may be some tea leaves to be read from the way final arguments went.

The state’s lead attorney, David Schenck, said the redistricting lawsuits are an “effort to fix the results of an election,” comparing it to what happened in Chicago in the 1920s and claiming that the plaintiffs were attempting to turn the Voting Rights Act into a “quota program for redistricting.”

Unlike the plaintiffs, who used their closing statements Thursday to reiterate their objections to the state’s redistricting maps, the state’s attorneys came under aggressive questioning from the panel of three federal judges presiding over the trial.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former judge on the Texas Supreme Court who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, repeatedly questioned Schenck, asking if the state felt compelled to apportion the four new congressional districts to reflect the fact that most of the state’s population increase came from minority populations.

Schenck denied that the state had any such obligation. Ninety percent of Texas’ massive population growth in the past decade came from minority groups, with Hispanics accounting for 60 percent of the state’s overall gain.

Rodriguez also questioned state lawyer David Mattax about how far the state could go to protect incumbents, pointing out that the redistricting plan created a new district for Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, that was significantly different than the district he initially won as a Democrat.

Mattax argued that the state was exercising its prerogative to use “traditional redistricting principles,” including incumbent protection, and that Peña’s seat wasn’t an abuse of the privilege because his new district was in the same county as his old district.

Trial observers have speculated that Rodriguez could be the swing judge on the panel.

Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t. I know I’d rather have the judges ask their guys the hard questions and not ours.

The story notes that the state’s own expert witness had said he thought CD23 was wrong, but that wasn’t the only district in dispute. The Statesman gets into that.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerald Hebert has his eye on Congressional District 26 in North Texas. He said the proposed boundaries take a mostly Republican district in Denton County and rope in a strip of largely Democratic Latino precincts of Tarrant County.

The district, which looks like a leaky bucket, would silence the high-turnout Latino precincts in Tarrant County by putting them in an overwhelmingly Republican district in Denton County, Hebert said.

The story sidebar had images of the districts in question. Here’s what CD26 looks like:

CD26

You may wonder why there’s what weird, not remotely “compact” extrusion into Tarrant County. The answer can be found in the population analysis for CD26:

County Total White Black Hisp B+H Other ==================================================== Denton 549,832 368,776 45,862 99,341 143,092 37,964 Tarrant 147,815 37,253 9,681 96,331 105,085 5,477

Remember, the state has argued that it could not draw a Latino opportunity Congressional district in the D/FW area because the population was too dispersed to draw a compact district for them. But taking a meandering slice of Tarrant County to stack as many Latinos into CD26 as there are in all of Denton County, with more than three times the population? No problemo.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers also are targeting state House District 41 in Hidalgo County, which is sometimes called the “running man” district because of its shape. The district, which is in a largely Democratic county, was designed to protect Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who switched parties before the 2011 legislative session.

“It was done for political purposes, pure and simple,” said Rick Gray, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “There has been no effort by the state whatsoever to comply with traditional redistricting practices.”

And here’s HD41, which I showed in a previous post:

HD41

This is what the GOP had to do to try to save Pena’s worthless ass. I get the “running man” description, but I find it reminiscent of something from an old school video game, perhaps the version of Tetris they play in the ninth circle of hell. Again, don’t draw crap like this and then try to argue non-compactness as a reason to stiff Latino voters.

Like I said, we’ll see what the judges have to say. The longer they take, the more likely they’ll be the ones drawing the replacement maps if there are any. On a related note, since we’re also waiting for the DC Court to render its opinion, here’s what Texas Redistricting says about the issues it will rule on.

How long will we talk about Latino turnout before someone does something about it?

Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before.

On Saturday, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project announced its 2012 goal of raising Latino voting in Texas to 2 million from the 1.7 million who voted in the last presidential election, according to its own polling.

Like other groups, SVREP sets up at community events to engage nonvoters. After registering new ones, it puts them in a phone database.

“Our niche has always been to contact new voters and help that voter become a high-propensity voter,” SVREP Vice President Lydia Camarillo said.

“We believe that there will be 300,000 new voters compared to ’08, which would be the highest increase in Texas history,” she said.

Altogether, Latinos 18 and over represent a potential voting bloc of 6.1 million in Texas that has still to exercise its power.

Political science Professor Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University thinks SVREP’s goal is unrealistic.

“Only 1.2 million Latinos cast votes in the 2008 presidential election in Texas. Two million votes cast in 2012 is a very ambitious target, more likely to inspire voter registration workers than actually to be met,” he said.

[…]

“But the most curious approach to voter registration has not been by the Republicans,” Jillson said. It’s been the Democratic Party, which “has never taken voter registration as seriously as it needs to.”

He said Democrats ought to focus on naturalization first.

“Thirty percent of Hispanics are noncitizens, but many of them are eligible to become citizens,” he said.

Jillson also accuses some Democrats of being comfortable with current turnout and not being particularly interested in increasing the number of non-Anglo Democratic voters.

“It’s an important, but delicate issue.” he said.

“The Democrats have not won a statewide race since 1994,” Gambitta added in email comments. “They will not carry this state in the near future unless they increase the size of the voting population to include those who rarely vote.”

But what really irks him is the lackluster attention the Democrat Party gives “to the large, untapped, eligible youth vote.”

“It’s amazing, simply amazing, in fact, it’s tragic,” [UTSA’s Richard] Gambitta said, “especially when the debt is being laid on the heads of the young as the members of both parties kick the can down the road on the huge deficits, and simultaneously cut education.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, but as I’ve said before, the issue that never seems to get discussed whenever this topic comes up is M-O-N-E-Y. All these things cost money, lots of money. The TDP is an easy scapegoat, but they don’t have any money. Most of the county parties don’t have much money, either. I’m sure we could have a lively discussion about whose fault all of that is, but it’s not going to help with the matter at hand. Where is the money going to come from to address these issues, and who is going to be in charge of it to resolve them? That’s what I’d like to know. Frankly, I don’t see how any of this gets anywhere in the absence of a Presidential campaign, which is why I keep hoping that Team Obama decides to give a challenge to Rick Perry here in his back yard. If we’re starting out with 2008 as the baseline for 2012, and we remember that Rick Perry is less popular than you might think here, it makes sense to me. But it’s not up to me, so all we can do is keep talking. Campos has more.