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Today is Texas redistricting day at SCOTUS

The Chron sets the table.

The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will take their seats Tuesday morning to hear a case that could remake the political map of Texas.

Hidden in the legalese of “interlocutory injunctions” and “statutory defects” is this simple question for the justices to dissect: Did the Republican-led state Legislature purposely draw its last legislative and congressional boundaries to subvert the voting power of Latino and African-American voters?

The answer, expected by June, could influence the racial and partisan makeup of the state’s political districts, culminating a long, high-stakes legal battle that has the potential to turn Texas a little more blue.

A possible finding of voting rights violations also could force the Lone Star State back under federal supervision for future election disputes, a civil rights remedy associated with the state’s segregationist past. Texas only got removed from federal preclearance requirements in 2013. Restrictions requiring strict federal scrutiny of all elections had been in place since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason,” said legal court analyst Michael Li, writing for the New York University Law School Brennan School of Justice.

See here for the last update. While the Chron story mostly covers familiar ground, it does note that thanks to other cases currently being considered by SCOTUS, the state is probably not going to use the “it was just a partisan matter” defense. Michael Li discusses that in this Q&A he did with the Observer:

What should we know about the other two redistricting cases before the Supreme Court?

In Texas, the claims are about racial fairness, but in the other two cases — in Wisconsin and Maryland — the claims are about partisan gerrymanders.

The Supreme Court has never put partisan gerrymandering out of bounds in the way it has racial gerrymandering, which has left a really big loophole for states to claim they’re only discriminating based on partisanship. It’s become this sort of strange defense you see playing out in states like Texas, where lawmakers essentially argue they’re discriminating against Democrats and not African Americans. That’s because it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against Democrats when you draw the lines. But if [the court] limits partisan gerrymandering, it could shut down the excuse that a lot of places in the South, including Texas, have used.

The two cases being argued on Tuesday are not the Texas maps’ first trip to the Supreme Court. They were also before the Court in 2012, which triggered a bit of a judicial fire drill at the time.

What the state will probably argue is that the current map, which was adopted in 2013, is legal and needs no changes made. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress breaks that down.

Texas initially drew its gerrymandered maps in 2011, before the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act. Under the fully armed and operational Act, any new Texas voting law had to be submitted to federal officials in Washington, DC for “preclearance” before it could take effect, and a federal court in DC ultimately concluded that the state’s maps were not legal.

Meanwhile, the 2012 election was drawing closer and closer, and Texas still did not have any valid maps it could use to conduct that election.

With this deadline drawing nigh, a federal district court drew its own maps that Texas could use for 2012, but the Supreme Court vacated those maps. In an ominous statement that plays a starring role in Texas’ Perez brief, the Supreme Court explained that “redistricting is ‘primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.’” The district court’s maps, at least according to the justices, needed to be reconsidered because they may not have shown sufficient deference to state lawmakers.

“A district court,” the Supreme Court concluded, “should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan.” Thus, even when state lawmakers draw legally dubious maps for the very purpose of giving some voters more power than others, courts should be reluctant to make sweeping changes to those maps.

In fairness, this was not an especially novel holding. The Court proclaimed in 1975that “reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.” But such a holding takes on chilling implications when a state legislature is actively trying to rig elections. Should courts really defer to lawmakers who are a straight up trying to undercut democracy?

It’s likely that a majority of the Supreme Court’s answer to this question in Perezwill be an emphatic “yes!” and that the Court will effectively allow much of Texas’ gerrymander to endure without any meaningful judicial review at all.

After the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision striking down the district court’s maps, the case went back down to the district court with instructions to try again. By this point, it was late January. Texas still had no valid maps, and a primary election was looming. Candidates had no idea where to campaign. Incumbents did not know who their constituents would be.

The result was a rushed, March 2012 order which laid out interim maps that closely resembled the maps drawn by the state legislature. “This interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case,” the court warned when it handed down the hastily drawn maps. Nevertheless, the court understood “the need to have the primaries as soon as possible, and the resulting need for the Court to produce an interim map with sufficient time to allow officials to implement the map.”

With few good options, the district court allowed several of Texas’ districts to remain unchanged, even though there were serious concerns that those districts were racial gerrymanders.

Flash forward to 2018, and the Perez cases involve several of these unchanged districts that the district court later held to be illegally gerrymandered. But there’s a catch! The Texas legislature, seeing a potential opportunity to shut down this litigation altogether, took the district court’s inadequately scrutinized, rush-job maps, and wrote them into state law in 2013. They now claim that these maps are immune from judicial review because they were drawn by a court.

“There are few things a legislature can do to avoid protracted litigation over its redistricting legislation,” Texas claims in its brief. “But if the nearly inevitable litigation comes to pass, one would have thought there was one reasonably safe course available to bring it to an end—namely, enacting the three-judge court’s remedial redistricting plan as the legislature’s own.”

It’s a stunning, arrogant claim. The only reason why the district court blessed its interim maps is because it felt it had no choice — a deadline was looming, and the Supreme Court left it with little time to act and an order to defer to the state legislature’s maps whenever possible. The districts at issue in Tuesday’s oral argument never received meaningful judicial scrutiny before they were whisked into action as a matter of necessity.

And yet, it is highly likely that a majority of the Court will agree with Texas’ claim that its maps are immune from review. Though the district court struck down portions of the Texas maps (again), the Supreme Court voted along party lines to reinstate those maps for the 2018 election last September.

One way or the other, we ought to have a clearer idea of what is and is not allowed when maps are drawn. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant, in this Statesman op-ed, explain their motivation for pursuing this litigation, and the Trib has more.

Lawsuit against Dallas County Democratic candidates dismissed

Good.

A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that would have removed more than 80 Democrats from the November general election ballot, putting to rest a controversy that threatened to toss Dallas County elections into chaos.

State District Judge Eric Moyé issued an order tossing out Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman Missy Shorey’s lawsuit against Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan and 127 Democrats originally listed on the March 6 primary election ballot. After the primary, the names of the candidates that were in jeopardy dwindled to 82.

The lawsuit contended that Donovan did not sign the candidate applications of 127 Democrats before they were forwarded to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That signature, according the lawsuit, was needed in order to certify the candidates for the election.

But Moyé on Monday sided with the defense and dismissed the claims. In a hearing Friday a team of lawyers, led by Randy Johnston, argued that Shorey did not have standing to bring the suit. They also said Donovan isn’t required by law to sign candidate petitions and that the matter is moot because the election is already underway.

[…]

Now Moyé will determine if the GOP will be on the hook for legal fees. About 16 Democrats plus the local party retained lawyers.

“The Republican Party must now pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the Dallas County Democratic Party for having to defend a lawsuit that has no basis in law or fact,” according to a news release from Dallas County Democrats.

See here, here, and here for the background. This lawsuit always seemed spurious, but you never can tell. It’s possible there could be an appeal – the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP said they were reviewing the decision and deciding on their next step – but that seems like an even longer longshot. Hopefully, this is the end of it, and hopefully the matter of “signing” the affidavit can be clarified in the next Legislature so as to avoid this kind of silliness going forward. The Trib has more.

CD07 candidate forum

Happening tomorrow, at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, Houston, Texas 77055, from 6:15 to 8:45. My guess, as this is the way these things tend to go, is that there will be some mix-and-mingle time with the candidates up front, with the main event to follow. I’m just guessing, you might want to post something on the Facebook event page if you need to know. The event moderator is an old friend and college classmate of mine, Patrick Pringle. Should be a good event, so if you voted for one of the other candidates in March and need to figure out who deserves your vote in May, this is a good chance to do that.

April 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 finance reports, here are the Q3 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas. Let’s get to it.

Todd Litton – CD02

Lori Burch – CD03
Sam Johnson – CD03

Jana Sanchez – CD06
Ruby Faye Wooldridge – CD06

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07

Mike Siegel – CD10
Tawana Cadien – CD10

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Mary Wilson – CD21

Letitia Plummer – CD22
Sri Kulkarni – CD22

Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Rick Trevino – CD23

Jan McDowell – CD24

Christopher Perri – CD25
Julie Oliver – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          546,503  304,139        0   242,363

03    Burch           104,700  116,639   25,649    14,085
03    Johnson          62,473   59,143    3,100     6,490

06    Sanchez         241,893  188,313        0    56,456
06    Woolridge        75,440   45,016   15,000    47,708    

07    Fletcher      1,261,314  874,619        0   391,899
07    Moser         1,067,837  975,659        0    92,177

10    Siegel           80,319   65,496    5,000    19,823
10    Cadien            

21    Kopser        1,100,451  846,895   25,000   278,556
21    Wilson           44,772   51,041   26,653    20,384

22    Plummer         108,732   99,153        0     9,578
22    Kulkarni        178,925  158,369   35,510    56,067

23    Ortiz Jones   1,025,194  703,481        0   321,713
23    Trevino          16,892   20,416    3,285     3,915

24    McDowell         33,452   16,100        0    17,470

25    Perri           139,016  133,443   24,890    30,603
25    Oliver           78,841   37,812    3,125    40,860

31    Hegar           458,085  316,854        0   141,240
31    Mann             56,814   58,856    2,276         0

32    Allred          828,565  608,938   25,000   219,626
32    Salerno         596,406  439,384        0   157,022

36    Steele          294,891  216,030    1,231    80,061

For comparison purposes, here’s what the 2008 cycle fundraising numbers looked like for Texas Democrats. Remember, those numbers are all the way through November, and nearly everyone in the top part of the list was an incumbent. Daily Kos has some of the same numbers I have – they picked a slightly different set of races to focus on – as well as the comparable totals for Republicans. Note that in several races, at least one Democratic candidate has outraised the Republican competition, either overall or in Q1 2018. This is yet another way of saying we’ve never seen anything like this cycle before.

As of this writing, Tawana Cadien had not filed her Q1 report. Christine Mann’s report showed a negative cash balance; I have chosen to represent that as a loan owed by the campaign. Everything else is up to date.

I continue to be blown away by the amount of money raised by these candidates. Already there are five who have exceeded one million dollars raised – Alex Triantaphyllis, who did not make the runoff in CD07, had topped the $1 million mark as of March – with Colin Allred sure to follow, and Todd Litton and MJ Hegar on track if Hegar wins her runoff. In some ways, I’m most impressed by the almost $300K raised by Dayna Steele, who has the advantage of being a well-known radio DJ and the disadvantage of running in a 70%+ Trump district. When was the last time you saw a non-self-funder do that? I’ll be very interested to see how the eventual nominees in the districts that are lower on the national priority lists do going forward. How can you ignore a CD06 or a CD22 if the candidates there keep raking it in? It will also be interesting to see what happens in CD21 going forward if the runoff winner is not big raiser Joseph Kopser but Mary Wilson instead. Does she inherit the effort that had been earmarked for CD21, or do those resources get deployed elsewhere, not necessarily in Texas?

Republican candidates have been raising a lot of money as well, and national groups are pouring in more, with CDs 07 and 23 their targets so far. We may see more districts added to their must-protect list, or they may make a decision to cut back in some places to try to save others. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

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.

Houston Youth Walkout

Good work, y’all.

Chanting for gun-law reform and reduced firearm violence, an estimated 2,000-plus students marched to City Hall Friday morning as part of nationwide school walkouts.

The Houston Youth Walkout, believed to be the largest local out-of-class gathering to mark the April 20 protests, attracted students from across the region for a 1.2-mile march. They joined thousands of students from Greater Houston who demonstrated at their schools Friday morning, advocating for changes to gun laws and honoring victims of gun violence.

“To see so many students from different high schools come together brought tears to my eyes,” said Elena Margolin, a march organizer and senior at Houston ISD’s High School For The Performing And Visual Arts. “We realize we’re all in it together and all fighting for the same cause.”

School districts across the area prepared for demonstrations Friday, with many campus principals coordinating plans with students. They sought to balance free-speech rights with student safety and orderly continuation of classes.

Several demonstrations remained indoors, with students leading assemblies or rallies in gymnasiums, while others stayed confined to school grounds.

In recent days, students and campus principals across the region have been coordinating walkout events, as school districts try to minmize disruptions and safety concerns associated with walkouts. Several districts said they had empowered principals to allow events on campus grounds, encouraging them to speak with student organizers in advance.

See here for the group’s webpage, and here for their Instagram feed. There were similar events elsewhere in the state – see the Trib and the Rivard Report for other stories. April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, in case you were wondering what significance there was to the date. I appreciate the approach that school administrators took to this – no one appears to have overreacted in some ridiculous way – and hope that’s a model for events like this going forward. Next up, registering and voting for candidates that will listen to what these students are saying, and against those who won’t. Keep it going, kids.

Testimony ends in Dallas County “oppressed white voters” trial

It’ll be awhile before we have a verdict.

Testimony ended Thursday in the landmark redistricting case over whether Dallas County discriminates against white voters.

The four-day trial — Ann Harding vs. Dallas County — featured analysis by local and national redistricting experts and video of two raucous county Commissioners Court meetings.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater will wade through the evidence and issue a ruling. That could take months because the judge will receive 50-page closing arguments from lawyers on both sides and hear final oral arguments in late May or early June.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends that the electoral boundaries county commissioners developed in 2011 dilute the white vote. Democrats enjoy a 4-1 advantage on the Commissioners Court. The districts are led by three Democrats — John Wiley Price, who is black; Elba Garcia, who is Hispanic; and Theresa Daniel, who is white. County Judge Clay Jenkins, also a Democrat, is white and is elected countywide. Mike Cantrell, also white, is the only Republican on the court.

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote before. I can’t imagine this will get anywhere, but we do live in strange times.

Abbott does want a special election in CD27

Well all righty then.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to hold a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.That’s according to a letter he sent Thursday to Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking guidance on whether the governor can suspend certain laws he believes are standing in the way of a timely special election.

The letter amounts to Abbott’s first public comments on the subject since Farenthold suddenly resigned earlier this month, leaving the governor to ponder how long the Coastal Bend-area district could go without representation given that it is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. Abbott made clear Thursday he believes there is no time to waste.

“It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible,” Abbott told Paxton in the letter. “I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.”

The problem, according to the governor, is that state and federal law are in conflict, making it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election and to replace Representative Farenthold before the end of September.” Therefore, Abbott asked Paxton if he could use his executive authority to “suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election.”

In posing the question, Abbott cited a part of the Texas Government Code that allows the governor to temporarily set aside certain statutes if they hinder “necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

See here for the background. I’d been wondering about this, because it sure seemed like an obvious thing to call an election. The crux of Abbott’s legal question is as follows:

“It is impossible to order an election, allow candidates to file, print ballots, mail them in accordance with federal law, and hold an emergency election within the statutorily prescribed 50-day window. Complicating the issue is that if an emergency election for District 27 results in a runoff election, the date for the runoff election cannot be sooner than the 70th day after the final canvas of the emergency election.”

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to hash out the details. I’m wondering how long it will take Paxton to get back with an answer – the question may wind up being moot if he isn’t sufficiently snappy about it. In the meantime, the answer to my original question is yes, there will be a special election in CD27. It’s just a matter of when.

Some people sound very threatened by that Quinnipiac Texas Senate poll

This is almost funny.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In its first-ever Texas poll, Quinnipiac University deemed the Senate race “too close to call” in reporting that 47 percent of Texas voters surveyed back Cruz and 44 percent support O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman. The pollster surveyed 1,029 self-identified registered voters this month, and reported a 3.6 percent margin of error.

But some Texas pollsters and political scientists say they have questions about the survey. While Quinnipiac is considered a quality outlet, and has an A-minus rating from FiveThirtyEight, they say the firm’s data appears out of step with Lone Star political realities.

“Nobody who looks at the record of polling and election results can plausibly look at this and say this tells us what the race will look like on Election Day,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Democrats almost always tend to poll better in modern Texas in the spring than they actually earn votes” in November.

He dismissed describing the race as “too close to call” at this point in the contest, and said that, given the margin of error, one could also interpret the data to mean Cruz is leading by as much as six points.

Emphasis mine. See here for the background. I don’t know what polls Jim Henson is thinking of, but here are a few I can think of to disabuse him of that notion:

UT/Texas Trib, May 2010: Rick Perry 44, Bill White 35

UT/Texas Trib, May 2012: Mitt Romney 55, Barack Obama 35 (likely voters)

UT/Texas Trib, February 2014: Greg Abbott 47, Wendy Davis 36
UT/Texas Trib, June 2014: Greg Abbott 44, Wendy Davis 32

UT/Texas Politics Project, June 2016: Donald Trump 41, Hillary Clinton 33

Bill White got 42.3% of the vote. Barack Obama got 41.4% of the vote. Wendy Davis got 38.9% of the vote. Hillary Clinton got 43.2% of the vote. These November numbers all exceed, in some cases by a lot, lowball numbers for them that came from polls conducted in part by one Jim Henson. Would you care to revise and extend your remarks, Professor Henson?

I mean look, there are other polls from those years that do overstate Democratic support early on, and it is certainly the case in most of these polls that Republican support is understated, often by a lot. But as a I showed yesterday with the poll averages for Davis and Clinton, overstating support for Democratic candidates has never been a regular feature of polls in Texas, at any time of the year. There’s a lot of carping in this story, some from poli sci prof Mark Jones and some from Republican pollster Chris Wilson of Wilson Perkins Associates in addition to what we saw from Henson, about the demographics of the sample and the number of independents. I’ve made those complaints myself in other polls – in this one, does anyone really believe Ted Cruz is going to get close to 20% of the black vote? – so join the crowd, fellas. It’s one poll – from a respected pollster, but still – just as those other polls that had Beto at 34 and 37 were. Maybe subsequent polls will be more like those first two and 2018 will be another normal crap year for Texas Democrats. Maybe not. In the meantime, would you all like a little cheese with that whine? Daily Kos, which has a very measured view of this, has more.

An article about Congressional race in Texas that doesn’t mention CD07

Who knew that was even legal?

Gina Ortiz Jones

Several of the most truly competitive House races in the country are in Texas, which could wind up providing Democrats three or more of the 24 flipped seats that they need for control of the chamber. The state tells the tale of the November midterms as well as anywhere else.

The appeal of youth, of first-timers, of women, of veterans and of candidates of color will be tested here. And a bevy of compelling characters have emerged from the primaries on March 6 and are poised to prevail in runoffs on May 22.

There’s Gina Ortiz Jones, for example. Jones, 37, is almost certain to be the Democrat challenging Representative Will Hurd in the 23rd District, which sprawls from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso. Despite its large numbers of rural voters, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the 23rd by more than three points. (Clinton lost the state by nine.)

Jones was an Air Force intelligence officer in Iraq. Like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, she drew the support of the Serve America PAC, which promotes veterans as candidates on the theory that they can help Democrats forge a cultural connection with working-class voters in swing districts.

She’s Filipina-American. She’s also openly lesbian, and while Texas political analysts told me that they weren’t sure whether that would affect her bid, Jones has figured out precisely how to handle it: with brief acknowledgment and no special focus.

[…]

Colin Allred

Democrats also have an excellent shot at victory in the 32nd District, a collection of Dallas neighborhoods and suburbs. Its Republican incumbent, Pete Sessions, has been in Congress for two decades, but the district has become more diverse and less white over those years, and his likely opponent, a black civil rights lawyer named Colin Allred, should benefit from that.

Allred is 34. Like Jones, he’s making his first run for office. Also like her, he has an unconventional professional biography. Before getting his law degree at the University of California, Berkeley, he played professional football for the Tennessee Titans, and before that he was a football star at Baylor University in Waco and at a high school in his Dallas district. Many of its voters remember watching him play.

And more of them voted for Clinton than for Trump in the presidential election, a sign of the district’s evolution and an outcome for which Democrats were so unprepared that not a single Democrat challenged Sessions in 2016. This time around, seven Democrats entered the race. Allred got 38.5 percent of the votes in the primary, more than twice that of the second-place finisher.

[…]

Democrats are even eyeing a few districts that Trump won, like the 21st and 31st. The 21st attracted the party’s attention largely because its Republican incumbent, Lamar Smith, isn’t seeking re-election. He decided to retire after more than three decades in the House.

And the 31st? Well, it’s hard not to indulge in some optimism when your party’s leading candidate is a female war hero whose story is possibly becoming a movie, “Shoot Like a Girl,” starring Angelina Jolie. That candidate, M. J. Hegar, 42, did several tours of duty in Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot and won a Purple Heart after she was wounded while saving fellow passengers when the Taliban shot down her helicopter.

Richard Murray, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, told me to keep an eye as well on the 22nd District, a largely suburban swath of the Houston area that he described as a microcosm of demographic changes that are making the state ever more hospitable Democratic turf.

“The suburban counties that led Republicans to dominance here 25 years ago are getting significantly less Republican fast,” he said, adding that Fort Bend County, in the 22nd, is roughly 20 percent Asian-American now. The first-place finisher in the district’s Democratic primary, Sri Preston Kulkarni, is Indian-American. Murray said that if Kulkarni wins his runoff, that could be a significant boost to Democrats’ chances to nab this House seat.

Couple things here. All these matchups are contingent on the outcome of the runoffs. While Ortiz Jones and Allred are solid favorites in May based on their performances in March, the others are less clear. Kulkarni led runnerup Letitia Plummer 31.9 to 24.3, which is far from insurmountable. Hegar drew 44.9%, better than either Ortiz Jones or Allred, but second place finisher Christine Eady Mann had 33.5%, so her lead is much smaller. And then there’s the 21st, where the more establishment (and big money) candidate Joseph Kopser trailed the less-heralded Mary Wilson by two points. It will be interesting to see how this one is perceived if Wilson prevails in the runoff.

There are other districts that author Frank Bruni could have included as well, mostly CDs 02 and 06, both of which are open seats. Plus, you know, CD07. It’s important to remember that with the exception of CD23, all these districts were drawn to withstand a strong Democratic year, though that will be tested in November. Candidate quality does make a difference in tough races, and the basic thesis that the Dems here have collected a quality slate is accurate. From here on out it’s all about execution.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44

Pretty good poll result, with the ever-present proviso that it’s just one result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas is too close to call, with 47 percent for Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and 44 percent for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

There are wide party, gender, age and racial gaps, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds:

  • O’Rourke gets 87 – 9 percent support from Democrats and 51 – 37 percent backing from independent voters, as Republicans go to Cruz 88 – 6 percent;
  • Men back Cruz 51 – 40 percent, while women go 47 percent for O’Rourke and 43 percent for Cruz;
  • Voters 18 to 34 years old go Democratic 50 – 34 percent, while voters over 65 years old go Republican 50 – 43 percent;
  • White voters back Cruz 59 – 34 percent, as O’Rourke leads 78 – 18 percent among black voters and 51 – 33 percent among Hispanic voters.
  • Sen. Cruz gets lackluster grades, including a 47 – 45 percent job approval rating and a 46 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke gets a 30 – 16 percent favorability rating, but 53 percent of Texas voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion of him.
  • Texas voters “like Ted Cruz as a person” 47 – 38 percent. Voters “like Beto O’Rourke as a person” 40 – 13 percent with 47 percent undecided.

“Democrats have had a target on Sen. Ted Cruz’s back, and they may be hitting the mark. Once expected to ‘cruise’ to reelection, the incumbent is in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

“The key may well be independent voters. O’Rourke’s 51 – 37 percent lead among that group is key to his standing today. But Texas remains a strong GOP state so O’Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

[…]

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott tops former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 – 40 percent and leads entrepreneur Andrew White 48 – 41 percent.

Voters approve 54 – 33 percent of the job Gov. Abbott is doing and give him a 51 – 33 percent favorability. His challengers are largely unknown as 65 percent don’t know enough about Valdez to form an opinion of her and 72 percent don’t know enough about White.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has a modest lead over each of the two people vying for the Democratic nomination. But what is significant is that governors with 54 percent job approval ratings rarely lose,” Brown said.

Texas voters disapprove 52 – 43 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing. Republicans approve 85 – 13 percent. Disapproval is 90 – 8 percent among Democrats and 64 – 28 percent among independent voters.

President Trump will not be an important factor in their U.S. Senate vote, 43 percent of Texas voters say, while 26 percent say their vote will be more to express support for Trump and 27 percent say their vote will be more to express opposition.

The poll was of “1,029 Texas voters”, which I assume means registered voters. For comparison, the earlier poll results we have re:

PPP: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37
Wilson Perkins: Cruz 52, O’Rourke 34

Not too surprisingly, this one has one of the lower approval ratings for Donald Trump, which is no doubt correlated to the overall numbers. What stands out the most to me is that all three Democratic candidates score at least forty percent even though their name ID is quite low – in the questions about favorability, the “haven’t heard enough about them” choice is 53% for Beto, 65% for Valdez, and 72% for White. I’d usually expect that to be in conjunction with a “vote for” number at best in the low 30s. The fact that it’s higher suggests to me this is another piece of evidence for the higher level of engagement.

Another thing that would suggest more engagement will be poll numbers that are consistently at least in the high thirties and forties. That may not sound like much, but look on the sidebar at the numbers from 2014 and 2016. I did a little figuring, and I found that Hillary Clinton had a 38.53% poll average across 19 polls,with a high score 46 (twice) and a low score 30. Wendy Davis in 2014 had a 36.87% poll average across 15 polls. Her high score was 42, and her low score was 32 (twice). One poll number above those totals doesn’t mean anything – remember, the first two results we saw in the Senate race had Beto and 34 and 37 – but a string of them would.

I say all that as a way of trying to put this into perspective. I’ve seen some good poll results before – again, look at that sidebar. It’s just that for each good one, there are four or five not so good ones, so we fixate on the good ones. These are good numbers, but if you read the whole poll memo, you see that Cruz beats O’Rourke in all the “who do you prefer on this issue” questions, and Abbott as noted has a shiny approval rating. Plus, you know, we Texas Democrats don’t exactly have a track record for turning out in the off years. By all means, take this as something positive, but for crying out loud don’t take it as gospel. The Observer, the DMN, RG Ratcliffe, Mother Jones and the Trib have more.

Many more school districts are feeling the pinch

Not just HISD. Not by a long shot.

For eight-straight years, Cypress-Fairbanks and Conroe ISDs earned the Texas Smart Schools Award, bestowed on school districts with prudent financial practices and high academic achievement.

Now, Cypress-Fairbanks faces a $50 million deficit next school year, and Conroe is projected to face its first deficit in nearly a decade in the next two to four years.

They are not alone.

As the Texas Legislature studies potential changes to the state’s school funding mechanisms, the majority of large Houston-area school districts are facing budget shortfalls they say stem from a lack of state aid. Of the 10 largest Houston-area school districts, all but three approved budgets last summer that included deficits of more than $1 million, according to a Chronicle review. At least nine say they may have to dip into reserve funds within the next three to five years if revenues do not increase.

For some, it is more dire. If nothing changes at the state or local level, district officials say Spring Branch ISD in west Houston will be financially insolvent in three years. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will use up all its reserve funds in four or five years. Pasadena ISD only avoided a $20 million shortfall for the next school year by passing a tax hike referendum, and multiple districts are considering similar measures to keep their schools afloat.

That pain is felt in large and small districts across the state. North East ISD in San Antonio expects to cut $12 million from its budget next year, likely leading to teacher layoffs, according to the San Antonio Express-News. By 2020, budget documents in Ysleta ISD near El Paso show the district likely will draw down its reserve funds by $12 million. Friendswood ISD, which educates roughly 6,000 students in a sliver of southeast Greater Houston, is facing a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year.

“If we’ve been one of the most efficient districts in the state, and we’re facing this crisis, imagine what other districts are dealing with,” Cy-Fair ISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow said.

[…]

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who sits on the Commission of Public Education Funding, said districts should expand their revenue streams to include sources other than local property taxes and the state. He pointed to Dallas ISD, which pulls in about $10 million annually from philanthropy. United Airlines also staffed one of DISD’s schools with 25 full-time employees, a partnership Bettencourt said should inspire districts elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be one-size fits all — there are many, many ways to do it right,” Bettencourt said. “At end of the day, we want the education system to get students the best educations they can get for best deals taxpayers can support. But we need to look for all the ways we can do it right.”

First of all, to Paul Bettencourt: You cannot be serious. Philanthropy? Are you kidding me? Dallas ISD’s 2017-2018 general revenue expenditures were over $1.4 billion. That $10 million represents 0.7% of the total. You gonna suggest everyone search their couch cushions, too? Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when two of the biggest philanthropic entities in Houston were Enron and Continental Airlines. Good thing HISD didn’t make itself dependent on them, you know?

This is entirely the Legislature’s responsibility. We are here because they refuse to adequately fund schools, and because they use the increases in property valuations to fund the rest of the budget, while blaming local officials for their shortfalls and tax hikes. As with everything else in this state, nothing will change until the people we elect change. If you live in one of these districts, don’t take your frustrations out on your school board trustees. Take it out on the State Reps and State Senators who skimp on school finance, and the Governor and Lt. Governor who push them to keep doing it.

Are Texas Republicans really worried about Trump for November?

I mean, I guess they are. They’ve seen what has happened around the country, in other elections and other red places. I don’t know how worried they are, or how worried they should be.

This is a Red State where Trump remains popular among most Republicans and even some Democrats, a state that he won in 2016 by a slimmer margin that Republican Mitt Romney had four years before. And while political consultants for both parties agree he will be a drag on Texas Republicans in November, the growing question is just how much.

Fact: For the first time in a decade, Texas Republicans are having to worry about the vote drag their president could have on elections, much as Democrats suffered through eight years of Barack Obama, whom Texas Republicans loved to hate.

“Trump won’t be as much of an effect as he is in some northern states, but he will have impact here,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who has been monitoring the “Trump effect” in Texas races for months. “In some of the down ballot races in Texas, the strategy you’re seeing is a modest embrace of Trump. … Republicans with strong brands like Abbott are not going to tarnish themselves by agreeing with him.”

Even so, Abbott confidantes privately acknowledge he likely will be re-elected by a slimmer margin than four years ago, when he beat Democratic rising star Wendy Davis by 20 points. They blame Trump.

“It’s not a question about whether there will be a Trump drag in Texas, the only question right now is how big it will be — and how many Republican incumbents will be in trouble,” said Harold Cook, a political consultant who is a former executive director of the state Democratic party.

“If you’re a member of Congress or state Senate or House incumbent who has a credible Democratic opponent, and you’re in districts that went for Trump less than 7 or 8 … points, you better be out working your ass off to get re-elected.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s hard to contextualize. The last two midterm elections in which there was a Republican President were 2002, when Dubya Bush was very popular, and 2006, when his approval rating had crashed and Rick Perry was fending off multiple challengers. The former was a great year for the GOP here and the latter was a lousy year for them (downballot, at least), but neither is a great comparison for this year. In the limited polling we have, Trump’s approval ratings are good with Republicans, terrible with Democrats, and not great with independents. How that compares with 2002 and 2006, I couldn’t say.

I think everyone expects Democratic turnout to be up this fall from previous midterms. The problem is that Democratic turnout has been so consistently crappy in previous midterms that there’s a lot of room for turnout to improve without making that much difference. We’d need to boost our baseline offyear performance by about fifty percent, to get to around 2.7 million, to really see significant gains. The good news is that basically everything would be competitive at that point, from the statewide races to a half dozen or more Congressional seats to enough legislative seats to make 2019 look like 2009. The bad news is that we’ve never come withing hailing distance of such a total, and Republicans have every reason to feel confident that it’s all just talk since we’ve never done anything like it.

So I just don’t know. I’m optimistic in general, and I really think good things will happen in Harris County and other areas that have been trending blue. I wish I knew how to quantify it, and I wish I knew how confident to feel beyond that.

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

RIP, Barbara Bush

Former First Lady and mother of President George W. Bush has passed away.

Barbara Bush

Barbara Pierce Bush, matriarch of an American political dynasty that has produced presidents, governors and other high officials, has died in Houston. She was 92.

Bush was an outspoken public figure, often putting into words the thoughts that the elected men in her family were too cautious to utter. She did practically everything in politics short of running for office herself, organizing campaigns and “women’s groups” in the parlance of the day, riding herd on political friendships and organizations critical to electing her husband, George H.W. Bush, to the U.S. House, the vice presidency and ultimately, to the presidency itself. Her oldest son, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president after twice winning election as governor of Texas. His younger brother, Jeb Bush, was governor of Florida and, later, an unsuccessful candidate for president. And one of her grandsons, George. P. Bush, is currently the land commissioner of Texas.

Barbara Bush was the second American who was both the wife and mother of presidents; the other was Abigail Adams. She and George Bush, married 73 years ago in January 1945, had the longest-lasting marriage of any first couple. Both were from political families. Her grandfather, James Robinson, was on Ohio’s first Supreme Court, according to Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes.” Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a distant descendant of President Franklin Pierce. George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut.

The family had put out a statement earlier this week saying that Mrs. Bush had stopped taking treatment and was going to go into palliative care. She was loved and respected by many – see the bottom of the story for some of the statements that came out following the announcement of her passing – and she will be missed. My condolences to her family and friends. RG Ratcliffe and the Chron have more.

The math on redistricting

It’s not just that Republicans drew themselves a favorable map. It’s that they drew a durable favorable map.

Thanks to those very effective Republican redistricting maps, Texas Democrats would have to improve their statewide election results by more than 10 percentage points to gain more than one seat in the 36-member U.S. House delegation, according to a report from the non-profit Brennan Center for Justice.

The political maps in Texas and elsewhere across the country could ultimately protect the Republican majority in the U.S. House even if it turns out to be an otherwise mediocre midterm election for the president’s political party.

Overall, Republicans have a 24-seat advantage in the U.S. House. Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in recent polling, the report says, but gerrymandering makes a party switch much less likely. To win two dozen seats, by Brennan’s figuring, Democrats would have to win the national popular vote by 11 percentage points.

“Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps,” the report says.

The 2016 elections put 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House. Democrats got 42 percent of the state’s votes that year, according to the report’s authors. A modest improvement in the share — as little as 2 percent — could move a seat from the Republicans to the Democrats. It’s not hard to figure out that the 23rd Congressional District that runs along the border is what’s in play here; it’s the only true swing seat in the state, regularly primed to go to whichever party is having the better election year.

But here’s the house-on-stilts aspect to the maps. According to the Brennan Center’s projections, the Democrats could improve their statewide vote share by as much as 7 points — to 49 percent — and that’s still the only congressional seat they would pick up.

Listen carefully right now and you’ll hear protests from other parts of the state, like CD-32 in Dallas and CD-7 in Houston, where optimistic Democratic challengers are vying to unseat Pete Sessions and John Culberson. They might be right. The study isn’t trying to predict races. It’s trying to show how strongly the Republicans cemented their advantage in Texas, given normal conditions. Actual mileage may vary.

It would take a tsunami — a double-digit leap in Democrat’s percentage share — to gain more than a single seat in Texas. Something like that would still leave the Republicans in the majority, but it would be a 19-17 advantage instead of the 25-11 edge they have now. “For Democrats to win more than one-third of seats under the 2011 Texas map, they would need to win close to half the vote,” the report says.

The report is here and the executive summary is here. It looks at multiple states and is worth reading for its methodology and thoroughness. One way to look at this is that if Democrats can get to fifty percent of the statewide vote, then there are an awful lot of Congressional seats that would be poised to topple in their direction. Republicans drew this map on the quite reasonable so far assumption that Dems will not get to a majority of the statewide vote, but if that assumption were to fail they’d go from a trickle to a flood in a big hurry.

If it’s too daunting to think about like that, the way I look at it is that the magic number for Democrats is 2.7 million, which is to say 75% of their 2016 vote total. I’ve noodled around with the numbers before now, and that’s where things get interesting, in multiple districts. Not just Congressional districts, either – State Senate seats start to flip as well. On the one hand, that’s a huge increase over the usual off-year total. On the other hand, it’s asking people who have at least some history of voting to vote this year. Democrats gained 800,000 votes from 2004 to 2008, so a big jump can happen. What this report is saying, and I agree with it, is that this is what needs to happen. Are we up to it?

More accusers against Paul Pressler

So often the case when there is one accusation of abuse against a powerful person, more victims come forward with their own stories.

The list of men accusing a former Texas state judge and leading figure of the Southern Baptist Convention of sexual misconduct continues to grow.

In separate court affidavits filed this month, two men say Paul Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years. Those accusations were filed as part of a lawsuit filed last year by another man who says he was regularly raped by Pressler.

Pressler’s newest accusers are another former member of a church youth group and a lawyer who worked for Pressler’s former law firm until 2017.

Toby Twining, 59, now a New York musician, was a teenager in 1977 when he says Pressler grabbed his penis in a sauna at River Oaks Country Club, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. At that time, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel Church in Houston; he was ousted from that position in 1978 after church officials received information about “an alleged incident,” according to a letter introduced into the court file.

Brooks Schott, 27, now a lawyer in Washington state, says in an affidavit that he resigned his position at Pressler’s former law firm after Pressler in 2016 invited Schott to get into a hot tub with him naked. He also accuses Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s longtime law partner and the head of the Harris County Republican Party until 2014, of failing to prevent Pressler’s sexual advances toward him and others, which Schott says were well-known among the firm, the documents state.

Documents recently made public show that in 2004, Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to another former youth group member for physical assault. That man, Duane Rollins, filed a new suit last year in which he demands more than $1 million for decades of alleged rapes that a psychiatrist recently confirmed had been suppressed from Rollins’ memory. Rollins also claims the trauma pushed him to the drugs and alcohol that resulted in multiple prison sentences.

[…]

Brooks Schott states in the documents that he met Pressler in 2016, after Schott was hired as a lawyer at the firm Pressler co-founded with Woodfill.

Schott says he was invited to lunch by Pressler in December 2016. He arrived at Pressler’s home, he says, where he was greeted by Pressler, who was not wearing pants. After dressing, Pressler gave Schott a tour of his office and mentioned a 10-person hot tub at his ranch.

“Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked,’ ” Schott’s affidavit states. “He then invited me to go hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity.”

Upon returning to the firm, Schott said an office manager told him that Pressler had previously solicited young men at the firm. Schott then complained to Woodfill, according to emails that were filed with his affidavit.

“If (the office manager) knew of Pressler’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, I find it hard to believe that you did not know about it,” he wrote in a Dec. 9, 2016 email to Woodfill, court records show.

Woodfill responded that Pressler was no longer his law partner and that “this 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” court records show. In a subsequent email, Woodfill said that the conduct Schott described “is unacceptable” and said he would address it with Pressler.

In an email on Thursday, Woodfill responded to Schott’s assertion, writing that “the person described in Mr. Schott’s affidavit doesn’t match up with the Judge Pressler I know” and that Pressler “has not been associated with my law firm for over a decade.”

See here and here for the background. Copies of the affidavits are embedded in the story. And remember, when he’s not defending the character of Paul Pressler, Jared Woodfill is busy fighting to take away spousal benefits from LGBT city employees because he thinks gay people are icky and perverted. Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more to this story.

Interview with Cecil Webster

Cecil Webster

I’m going to take one brief diversion from the District K special election interviews to bring you this interview for the HD13 special election, which is also happening on May 5. I’ve written about Cecil Webster before, as he is both the lone Democrat in this three-candidate race as well as the Democratic nominee for the November election. In a time when Democrats around the country have been overperforming in local elections, this sure seems like a good opportunity to make a strong showing as an appetizer for the fall. It remains the case that there is precious little news coverage of this race, as it was in 2015 when now-former Rep. Leighton Schubert came out of nowhere to win. Webster, who was also a candidate in that special election and in November of 2016, is a truly impressive person. A graduate of Prairie View and Texas A&M with a master’s in engineering, Webster served 26 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. He taught engineering at West Point and developed and testing intercontinental ballistic missile systems. He and his wife moved back to Texas after his retirement to live on a wildlife management farm in Fayette County. He’s been very active in the Democratic Party since then, serving as state and national delegate and as the Chair of the Fayette County Democratic Party, among other things. We had a lively conversation:

I will continue with the District K interviews tomorrow. I have three more of them to present.

Head of “voter fraud” troll group that sued Harris County gets sued himself

Delightful.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative activist and voter fraud alarmist is facing a federal lawsuit Thursday over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia. A civil rights group and four Virginia voters filed a suit against J. Christian Adams and the legal outfit he runs, alleging that Adams and the group violated state and federal law when it accused thousands of Virginians, many of them eligible citizens, of voting illegally.

Adams, a former member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, is the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which in 2016 and 2017 published two reports alleging that thousands of “aliens” had committed felony voter fraud in Virginia and, in indexes to the reports, published personally identifiable information about those people. But many of Adams’ would-be criminals are in fact eligible voters, including all of the plaintiffs.

In the lawsuit, a local Virginia chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and four individuals allege that Adams and his legal firm violated state defamation laws, as well as federal civil rights laws that protect against voter intimidation. The lawsuit alleges that the reports Adams published are a form of voter intimidation against the people named in the report, and put them at risk by publishing their personal information alongside the allegation that they are felons.

See here for the background and here for more on the Virginia case. This guy is a professional liar whose mission is to keep people from voting by any means necessary. He needs to be beaten back at every opportunity. I wish the plaintiffs in this suit all the best.

Chron overview of CD07 runoff

Don’t know how much there is here we didn’t already know, but this is the marquee local runoff, so it gets the attention.

Laura Moser

On paper, there is little to separate attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and writer-activist Laura Moser, the two Democrats vying in Houston’s 7th Congressional District primary run-off battle next month.

They’re both women who favor abortion rights, first-time candidates with deep roots in Democratic politics. Both grew up in Houston political families and attended St. John’s School, an elite college preparatory academy on the city’s affluent west side.

But they’re sharply divided over how to unseat nine-term Republican John Culberson, presenting a contrast that serves as a microcosm of the divisions within the national Democratic Party as it looks to flip two dozen seats and wrest control of the House from the GOP.

[…]

A new Moser campaign strategy memo provided to the Chronicle plays up her status as the “grassroots” candidate “not chosen by DC party insiders.”

The memo also outlines her outreach as an “authentic” voice aimed at the party’s progressive base.

“Laura represents a break away from current political establishment politics and a return to the politics of the people of Texas itself,” the memo continues. “Her non-establishment status appeals to 2018 Democratic ‘surge’ voters. Many folks are awakening to political activism for the first time.”

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s campaign rejects the establishment label, contrasting her lifelong legal career in Houston to Moser’s move to Washington.

“Lizzie has been living and working in this community all her life, representing Houstonians from all walks of life in the courtroom, fighting on the front lines to protect Planned Parenthood and quality education for the next generation,” said Fletcher campaign manager Erin Mincberg.

Fletcher’s supporters point to her most recent fundraising, 80 percent of which came from donors in Houston. Moser has not detailed her most recent fundraising figures, but an earlier analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that nearly 60 percent of her contributions came from out of state. Both campaigns have relied on Washington-based vendors and consultants.

Little separates them on the issues.

Both support gay rights, gun restrictions, and public education. Both also are eager to take on Trump and Culberson, a low-profile Republican lawmaker who they criticize for failing to push harder in Congress for long-neglected flood control projects that could have helped limit the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

One of their few differences on policy involves health care. Moser, like Sanders, has vowed to push for a single-payer “Medicare for all” system. Fletcher has emphasized the need to protect the Affordable Care Act against GOP efforts to undermine the Obama-era heath care law.

Some of their differences come down to strategy. While both support legislation to protect undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation, Moser said she was willing to shut down the government over the issue. Fletcher said she was not.

“If you look at them on paper, they basically are 99 percent in alignment on all the issues,” said Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schechter, who disputes the “establishment versus insurgent” narrative that has grown up around the run-off.

I think we’re all familiar with the contours of this race. I find the narrative of this one as tiresome as Lillie Schechter does, but at least the race has (so far, knock on wood) not turned into something ugly, as races between similar candidates often do. Runoffs, like all low-turnout races, are about who gets their people to the polls. Both of these candidates are capable of it, and both of them should provide plenty of motivation for their supporters. May the best one win, and may we all join hands and focus on the prize beginning on May 23.

Anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit moved back to state court

On and on we go.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the city of Houston continues to battle for the rights of its gay workers.

On Tuesday, a judge struck down Houston’s attempts to defend its city benefits policy in federal court. The case will be remanded back to state court, and the city will have to pay the legal fees of the two men suing to overturn the policy, which extends spousal benefits to same-sex marriages.

The outcome of this case will be limited to the city of Houston. Dallas has a similar policy that has not been challenged.

But the fight is a good example of the war waged to erase, erode or at least stop the expansion of LGBT rights since since the 2015 marriage ruling, Noel Freeman said.

“These are people who are never, ever going to give up. They are going to go to their grave hating us,” Freeman, the first city of Houston employee to receive spousal benefits for his husband, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. “And there is no court case … that’s going to change their minds.

“That’s just the way it is.”

[…]

In a last-ditch effort to shift the fight to federal court, Houston asked to move the case to the Southern District Court earlier this year. On Tuesday, Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled the city did not prove federal court was the proper venue and ordered it to pay Pidgeon and Hicks’ legal fees.

The case will be remanded to Harris County District Court. Married gay city employees will continue to receive benefits for their spouses until a final ruling.

See here for previous coverage of this atrocity, which is still a thing because our feckless State Supreme Court allowed itself to be pressured into giving the case a second chance after previously refusing to consider it. Noel Freeman, who’s a friend of mine, is quite right that the people pursuing this action (including Jared Woodfill) will never give up – if this suit is ultimately ruled against them, they’ll find some other pretext to keep LGBT folks from being treated as full and equal members of society. We all need to oppose the politicians who enable these haters, and support those who favor equality. It’s the only way this will get better.

Cruz’s lesser fundraising haul

It’s not that little, Ted. Really.

Not Ted Cruz

When U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced his latest fundraising haul earlier this month – a stunning $6.7 million – it was widely expected to surpass what his rival, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, brought in over the same period. Now it’s clear by how much: roughly $3.5 million.

Cruz raised $3.2 million in the first three months of this year, according to his campaign.

O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, did not outpace just Cruz – he posted one of the top quarterly federal fundraising hauls ever, outside of presidential campaigns. If not for O’Rourke’s large sum, Cruz’s fundraising would be considered robust for any incumbent seeking re-election.

[…]

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But O’Rourke’s campaign has excited Democrats around the country, in part due to his ability to draw large crowds around Texas, including in some conservative strongholds.

Yet the enthusiasm behind O’Rourke’s bid remains perplexing to some national political observers. While repeatedly outraising an incumbent helps a challenger signal that their campaign in viable, most political insiders say privately if not publicly that Cruz remains in a strong position to win re-election.

See here for more on Beto’s haul. I don’t see what’s so perplexing about this. There’s a lot of Democratic energy this year, Texas is a big state, Beto has made a real connection with people, and pretty much everyone loathes Ted Cruz. What’s so mysterious about that?

On a related note:

Texas Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson, targeted by Democrats in his upscale district in west Houston and Harris County, raised $549,078 for his reelection campaign in the first three months of 2018, his campaign reported Wednesday.

Culberson’s take, the largest fundraising quarter of his nine-term career in Congress, edged out the $500,000 haul of his top Democratic challenger, Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Laura Moser, Fletcher’s rival in the May 22 Democratic primary run-off, has yet to report her first-quarter fundraising totals, announcing only that her overall cash total for the election has surpassed $1 million.

Culberson’s latest cash haul brings his total to nearly $1.5 million in the current election cycle, more than the $1.2 million raised as of March 31 by Fletcher.

Culberson also retains a substantial cash advantage going forward, with $920,000 in the bank, compared to $409,000 for Fletcher.

Culberson has never been a big moneybags. He hasn’t had to be one, but then plenty of incumbents who don’t usually have real challenges rake it in. Bearing in mind that the field in CD07 has combined to vastly outraise Culberson, and that at some point the marginal dollars don’t mean much, I wouldn’t worry about who has more in this one. Both candidates will have more than enough to run the race they want to run. I’ll look at all the relevant reports in the next week or so.

Harvey-affected schools may get a break on the STAAR test

Good.

Texas school districts hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may not have to worry as much about how well their students fare in this year’s standardized tests, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath announced Wednesday at a meeting of the State Board of Education.

Morath said at the meeting that he understood the impact of the storm on schools and students, possibly signaling that he would consider not applying this year’s scores on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, to the agency’s assessment of Harvey-affected school districts.

Students across the state began taking STAAR exams this week.

Agency spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said agency officials will “look at the STAAR scores, and [Morath] will make determinations on districts or campuses based on some kind of Harvey-related waiver.” Based on that determination, STAAR scores may not be included in Harvey-impacted schools’ ratings, Culbertson said.

“I’m anticipating that a relatively large number of campuses, from Corpus to the Louisiana border, would be eligible for that,” Morath told the State Board of Education on Wednesday. He cited the devastating effects on schools of student and staff displacement, as well as school facility closures and disruptions, as reasons behind the decision.

This has always been the sensible thing to do. It may be that scores are not affected, and it may be that there’s a big difference. Whatever the case, there is nothing to be gained from penalizing the districts that were affected by Harvey. This was a traumatic event, and many people are still hurting. Don’t make a bad situation worse. Kudos to Mike Morath for keeping that in mind.

Just don’t call it “Mexican-American studies”

The SBOE does its thing.

Marisa Perez-Diaz

Texas advocates for Mexican-American studies classes won a bitter victory Wednesday, gaining approval to move forward with the class they wanted but losing the course title.

The State Board of Education had been debating more than four years over how and whether to offer teachers materials and guidance to teach Mexican-American studies. In a preliminary vote, the board voted nearly unanimously to create curriculum standards for the elective class. But now it will be called “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”

A final vote on the issue [was] scheduled for Friday.

The class will be based on an innovative course Houston ISD got state approval to offer in 2015. Texas Education Agency staff will make any needed changes to that set of curriculum standards and then bring it back for the first of two public hearings and votes in June.

Lawrence Allen Jr., a Houston Democrat, was the only member to vote against the newly named course, expressing support for Mexican-American studies but criticizing the new title.

Starting a fierce debate with Democrats on the board, Beaumont Republican David Bradley proposed the new name for the course. When asked why he didn’t want to keep “Mexican-American studies,” he said, “I don’t subscribe to hyphenated Americanism. … I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”

“As someone who identifies as Mexican-American, your experience is unlike my experience,” San Antonio Democrat Marisa Perez-Diaz retorted. “I’m asking you to be inclusive.”

See here for more about the HISD course that was the model for this, and here for more about David Bradley, who has done this kind of crap before. The final approval was given Friday, but not without further controversy.

Tension continued to mount Friday even after State Board of Education members gave final approval to going forward with a new Mexican-American studies high school elective but refused to keep the class’ original name.

“Discrimination.” “Cloaking bigotry.” “Bull.” Those are words Marisa Perez-Diaz of the Texas Board of Education used in a statement to describe the board’s decision to rename a long-sought-after “Mexican-American Studies” elective course “Ethnic Studies,” a decision that has touched off a new wave racial tension.

While members of the board voted unanimously to create a high school elective that delves into Mexican-American studies Friday, nine Republicans on the board insisted on renaming the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” after David Bradley, a member from Beaumont, said he rejects “hyphenated Americanism.”

“Today was not a victory, but a slap in the face,” said Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who is Mexican-American, said in a statement Friday. “The time has finally come to call this what it is … DISCRIMINATION!”

In a long press release she posted on Facebook, Perez-Diaz said the board’s vote told her and the state’s Mexican-American students to identify themselves as “Americans of Mexican Descent.”

“The time for cloaking bigotry and/or fear of diversity under the guise of ‘patriotism’ and ‘Americanism’ is over,” she said. “My experience is as American as apple pie, because guess what, my ancestors were on this land well before it was conquered and named America.”

You can read her full statement here. Among other things, she notes that the courses African American Studies, Native American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Asian Pacific Islander American Studies were all approved. Just not “Mexican American studies”. You do the math. TFN has more.

Sid Miller and the unqualified creep

I missed this when it came out last Friday, and now that I’ve seen it I wish I was still blissfully ignorant of it.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in late 2016 appointed to the state’s Rural Health Task Force a former physician and Miller campaign donor who had his medical license revoked or suspended in three states.

In Iowa, Rick Ray Redalen’s medical license was first suspended when he was convicted of perjury in a case involving his marriage to his 15-year-old former stepdaughter. The license was later revoked for good for failure to report a malpractice suit, medical board records show.

Redalen, who calls himself “the Maverick Doctor,” said he was introduced to Miller several years ago by Todd M. Smith, a lobbyist who has reported making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redalen’s company and is Miller’s longtime political strategist.

Redalen, who donated heavily to Miller’s campaign months before his appointment, said he has used the unpaid task force position to advocate for expanded access to telemedicine — a service offered by one of his companies. Redalen said he never expected any favors in exchange for his contributions to Miller.

Miller “is one of the first actual political people that I have met that talks constantly about improving health care in rural Texas and among rural Texans. Most people aren’t interested in that,” Redalen, 75, said.

[…]

Redalen has not practiced medicine for years but hit it big in the medical business nonetheless. In 1996, he founded a company called QuestRx, which now goes by ExitCare and was sold to Elsevier in 2012. The company provides a widely used tool that provides information to patients as they are discharged from medical facilities.

As a doctor, Redalen worked in emergency rooms and as a primary care doctor and has had his license suspended or revoked in Minnesota, Iowa and Louisiana.

The disciplinary action against Redalen by Minnesota’s medical board was due to “psychiatric and drug problems,” according to a 1995 Des Moines Register article.

Redalen’s legal troubles in Iowa stemmed from his relationship with his stepdaughter, whom he married in Tarrant County while on a trip to Texas in September 1988. He had been married to her mother, who committed suicide in 1987. In 1986, Redalen pleaded guilty to assault after authorities said he struck his wife with a rifle butt and pointed a gun at sheriff’s deputies, according to the Register article.

Emphasis mine. There’s more, mostly about Redalen’s financial contributions to Miller, so go read it. I highlighted the bits I did because I want to focus on the fact that in 1988, when he was 45 years old, this man married his 15-year-old former stepdaughter, whose mother had committed suicide the year before, when she was 14. One can debate, as some experts do in the Statesman story, whether these financial arrangements constitute a violation of campaign finance regulations, and one can discuss, as Erica Greider does, Miller’s long history of not caring about his mostly rural consituents, if one wants. I can’t get past the fact that Rick Ray Redalen was a 45-year-old man who married a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl who used to be his STEPDAUGHTER. I’m unable to think of a good reason why a decent person would want to form a relationship with such a man, whether political or financial or otherwise. Sid Miller is quite infamous for questioning on social media the morals of people who are not like him. Frankly, anyone whose morals are different than Sid Miller’s should be happy about that.

Stockman convicted

Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman — a political maverick once viewed as a champion of right-wing causes — was taken into federal custody Thursday after a jury convicted him of masterminding a wide-ranging fraud scheme that diverted $1.25 million in charitable donations from wealthy conservative philanthropists to cover personal expenses and campaign debts.

After deliberating more than 15 hours over three days, the jury found Stockman guilty on 23 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and money laundering. The jury found him not guilty on one count of wire fraud.

Stockman, 61, of Clear Lake, who served two non-consecutive terms as a Republican congressman in separate southeast Texas districts, showed no reaction to the jury’s verdict. His wife, Patti, watched from the courtroom gallery, as did U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that Stockman was a flight risk and she ordered him taken into custody by U.S. marshals. Stockman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges alone. Sentencing is set for Aug. 17.

I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment. I may have some coherent thoughts about this in a day or so, but until then let me go a little medieval Latin on you:

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
egestatem,
potestatem
dissolvit ut glaciem.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe, who recalls some of Stockman’s greatest hits, have more.

Federal court ruling says LGBT workers in Texas are protected from discrimination

This is a big deal.

For the first time in Texas, a federal judge said LGBT workers should be protected from employment discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Judge Lee Rosenthal, the chief judge in the Houston-based Southern District Court of Texas, said in a decision last week that federal employment law protecting workers from discrimination based on sex also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nicole Wittmer, an engineer who alleged she wasn’t hired by energy company Phillips 66 because she’s transgender, couldn’t prove her claim, Rosenthal ruled. But if she had proof, the judge added, Wittmer would have had cause to sue under federal law.

Rosenthal’s ruling doesn’t mean it’s suddenly illegal in Texas to discriminate against LGBT workers. But it may be cited in the future by others who believe their sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in workplace decisions, Wittmer’s lawyer told The Dallas Morning News.

“We’re certainly disappointed that this particular ruling did not fall in her favor,” Alfonso Kennard Jr. said Monday. “The silver lining here is it has helped to define the landscape for people who have been discriminated in the workplace due to their transgender status.”

“This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way.”

[…]

Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, characterized her decision as part of a growing consensus that Title VII covers trans workers as well.

“This ruling, along with dozens of others, shows that discrimination against transgender workers is illegal under federal law,” Tobin said in a prepared statement. “This is the overwhelming approach of the courts across the country over the last decade.”

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law and LGBT rights expert at Southern Methodist University, said the ruling was the first of its kind in Texas.

It goes beyond a 2008 case in which another federal judge in Texas said gender nonconforming persons could not be discriminated against in the workplace, he said, because this one also recognizes transgender status as a protected trait.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which is embedded in the story. Other federal court judges have made similar rulings, but none have been in the Fifth Circuit, so those rulings did not apply to Texas. My non-lawyer’s take on this is that while it has laid down a principle, we won’t know how that applies in specific cases until someone files a lawsuit based on this principle. I suspect it won’t be very long before that happens, so let’s keep an eye on this.

Texas’ maternal mortality rate not as bad as previously reported

Good news, if a bit puzzling.

Several of the state’s top health experts released a report in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology on Monday showing that by using the new method, the number of women who died dropped from 147 to 56.

The study uses an enhanced method of counting maternal deaths that involves cross-referencing birth certificates, death certificates, hospital discharge data and medical records to confirm that a woman who died was pregnant before she died. The state’s current method of calculating maternal deaths includes using specific medical codes and requiring officials to check a box on death certificates indicating whether a woman was pregnant before she died.

The study said the state’s 2012 maternal death numbers inflated the number of women 35 and older who were classified as a maternal death and included reporting errors in which women who had not been pregnant were reported as maternal deaths. The researchers said they also found 2012 deaths that were not included in the state’s original maternal death numbers.

The authors noted that other states have used the same methodology to calculate maternal deaths. They said they chose 2012 for the new analysis because it was the year when maternal deaths peaked in Texas.

The study’s authors said they plan to use the new method to confirm maternal deaths and calculate maternal mortality rates for additional years.

See here for the background. The story notes that even with the revision, which the authors of the new study attribute to “data error” in the initial report, the mortality rate for black women was still double what it was for white women. There are still other serious concerns as well, as expressed by Lisa Falkenberg:

“I would hate to see us lose the momentum that we’ve gained,” said Dr. Lisa Hollier, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Texas Children’s Hospital.

“We still have women dying of preventable causes,” she said. “We still have a two-fold, a doubling, in the risk of death for African-American women. Those things need to change. I don’t think we should accept where we are.”

Hollier, who co-authored this week’s report and also chairs the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force, points out that deaths aren’t the only measure of the problem. For every maternal death, Hollier says there are 50 women who experience severe complications that can lead to hysterectomies, breathing problems requiring ventilator support and kidney failure, to name a few.

“If there are 50 women who die in a particular year, there are 2,500 women who had severe complications,” Hollier said. “There are so many more women who are affected than just that tiny tip of the iceberg which is mortality.”

All this happens in a state where as Falkenberg reminds us our Republican leadership has refused to expand Medicaid – something like half of all births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid – and have cut back on access to healthcare for women by gutting Planned Parenthood. The definition of “pro-life” in this state is so narrow you could slide it under a lobbyists’ door. So go ahead and be happy that things aren’t as bad as we feared, but don’t be satisfied with it.

UPDATE: Sophie Novack in the Observer makes a lot of really good points about this revised study. Go read what she says.

White voters sue Dallas County over claims of voter discrimination

I have four things to say about this.

Are white voters in Dallas County being discriminated against?

That question, which might cause some to chuckle, will be answered after a trial starting April 16 that could change the face of the voting rights struggle in America.

Four white residents are suing Dallas County, claiming that the current boundaries of county commissioner districts violate their voting rights. The case is believed to be one of the first in the nation where a group of whites is seeking protection under the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit foreshadows a potential turnabout in Texas’ and the nation’s racial politics. As Hispanics, blacks and other minorities close in on making America a country where minorities make up the majority, some whites are attempting to use civil rights laws to protect themselves from what they see as discrimination.

Dallas County, once dominated by white Republicans until demographic shifts paved the way for Democrats, is the ideal testing ground for such a case.

“There will be people who look up and say ‘oh, come on,’ but the facts are clear and it should not matter who is on the short end of the stick,” said Dallas lawyer Dan Morenoff, executive director of the Equal Voting Rights Institute. “The whole point is to assure state and local government can’t rig elections against races they don’t like.”

The white residents are backed by the Equal Voting Rights Institute. They are asking the court that the current Commissioners Court boundaries, approved in 2011, be redrawn to allow white residents to elect the commissioner of their choice.

[…]

Redistricting experts say the plaintiffs will have a hard time prevailing over the county. The Voting Rights Act, in part, protects victims of historical and systemic discrimination. White voters don’t fall in that class. A challenge to the maps on grounds that the white residents’ constitutional rights were violated has already faded.

“That’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome,” said Michael Li, an election law expert and senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at New York University. “There hasn’t been a history of discrimination against white voters in Dallas County.”

Justin Levitt, associate dean for research at Loyola University in Los Angeles, agreed.

“You have to prove that the government intentionally took action against people because of their race. That is going to be much harder to demonstrate,” he said. “The case is going to turn on whether there is a history of discrimination against Anglos or present-day signs of discrimination.”

[…]

The lawsuit argues that the political clout of white voters has been purposefully diminished. Whites in Dallas County overwhelmingly vote for Republicans, the suit says, while blacks and Hispanics tend to vote for Democrats. The 4-to-1 Democrat-to-Republican ratio is a sign that whites have become disenfranchised, the suit says.

“The plaintiffs’ view is that a map was drawn on the basis of race to make sure a group couldn’t elect the candidate of their choice,” Morenoff said. “We think the law is pretty clear that it’s illegal. We’re making the same arguments that plaintiffs have made in Texas the past few decades. The law protects racial minorities whoever they are.”

But a white majority exists on the Commissioners Court even though Hispanics represent the largest racial group in the county. According to the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the county population. The county is 33 percent white and 22 percent black.

[County Judge Clay] Jenkins, [Commissioner Theresa] Daniel and [Commissioner Mike] Cantrell are white. Daniel is a Democrat and Cantrell is a Republican. There is one black commissioner, Democrat John Wiley Price, and one Hispanic commissioner, Garcia, a Democrat.

The plaintiffs are arguing that white conservatives were not able to elect their candidate of choice.

Whites make up 48 percent of Dallas County voters, but essentially elect 25 percent (one commissioner) of the court, the lawsuit states.

Many white voters were packed into precincts controlled by Daniel, Price and Garcia. And others had their votes wasted after being packed into Cantrell’s Precinct 2, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for the county disagreed in a court filing.

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint fails to allege or demonstrate how the currently elected County Commissioners are not the candidate of choice of Anglo voters,” they wrote. “Even if the five commissioners are the candidates of choice of African-American and Latino voters, that fact does not preclude those Commissioners from also being the candidates of choice of Anglo voters.”

The trial is expected to take four days.

Li, the election law expert who spent 10 years in Dallas as a lawyer for Baker Botts, says redistricting cases like the one in Dallas County could evolve into referendums on partisan gerrymandering. Two such cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In the future, instead of race-based claims, they may claim that there was partisan gerrymandering,” Li said.

1. Good luck with that.

2. There are only four commissioners per county, plus a County Judge, so the result of one election can have a dramatic change to the partisan ration – you can go from 50-50 to 75-25 overnight, for example. Add in the County Judge and a “balanced” Court will be 60-40 one way or the other. My point here is that there’s only so much precision one can achieve.

3. Also, too: Harris County is at least as Democratic as Dallas is Republican, and at least as non-Anglo as Dallas is. Yet Harris County Commissioners Court has four Anglo Republicans and one African-American Democrat. Commissioners precincts were also redrawn following the 2010 election in which Jack Morman ousted Sylvia Garcia to protect the most vulnerable of the Anglo commissioners. Be careful what you’re wishing for here, Republicans. And yes, there was a lawsuit filed here over that, and the plaintiffs lost. Anyone think these folks in Dallas have a better claim than the plaintiffs in Harris County did?

4. Too bad the Supreme Court kneecapped the Voting Rights Act, huh? Maybe casting this as a partisan gerrymandering claim will help, assuming SCOTUS finds a remedy for that. In which case, again I say to be careful what you ask for, Republicans.

A copy of the lawsuit is here, and the county’s response is here/a>; they are also embedded in the story. As always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there.

ACLU sues Galveston County over bail practices

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas, the ACLU and Arnold & Porter filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Galveston County, Texas, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors and felonies.

The lawsuit was brought against the County itself, as well as each of the County’s judges who hear felonies and misdemeanors, the County magistrates, and the District Attorney. This is the first filing by the ACLU to include the District Attorney as a defendant in bail reform litigation. It seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.

Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained for a week or longer, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Galveston County’s district attorneys are involved in setting bail amounts for felony charges, often recommending bail amounts even higher than what the bail schedule suggests.

“A system that requires people to buy their freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Our client is seeking one thing: a fair hearing. Rich or poor, everyone should have a meaningful chance for a judge to hear them out before they are locked in a jail cell – but that’s not what’s happening in Galveston County.”

The lawsuit argues that Galveston County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail, while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many who are innocent nonetheless plead guilty simply to end the ordeal.

“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Galveston’s bail system disregards the presumption of innocence, destroys families, and negatively affects jobs, and homes.”

The suit, filed on behalf of one plaintiff representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, accuses county officials of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the right to counsel, the right to due process, and equal protection under the law.

“Studies consistently show that individuals who are held in jail until trial are more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison, than those who are released pending trial,” said Christopher Odell, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “Our goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to everyone in Galveston County, whether they’re rich or poor or somewhere in between.”

The plaintiff Aaron Booth, age 36, was arrested on April 8 for drug possession. He cannot afford the $20,000 money bail required by the court’s bail schedule. Mr. Booth fears losing his job because he is in jail; a job he needs to help his mother afford her monthly expenses.

Galveston’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically.

Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail indefinitely.

The lawsuit against Galveston County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Texas and across the nation. This January, a related lawsuit aimed at ending Dallas County’s disciriminatory, wealth based bail practices was filed by the ACLU of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — is focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Thirty-seven ACLU state affiliates are spearheading efforts to end this unjust system.

The complaint can be found here. The Chron adds a few details.

The Galveston County Commissioner’s Court issued a resolution in September supporting an immediate end to pretrial detention for misdemeanor and state jail cell arrests and committing a minimum of $2 million to those efforts.

The county also voted in December to approve a contract with the Council of State Governments to help implement reforms to the county’s jail system.

But Trigilio said that the county has not committed to large-scale changes to its bail system in an appropriate timeframe. The ACLU drafted a standing order proposal outlining steps that needed to be taken to create a model pretrial system and requesting that the county come up with its own detailed plan. Their requests were ignored, with only one judge, Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court, reviewing the standing order in November.

“We’re very open to collaborative solutions with policymakers, in fact, that’s what we prefer,” Trigilio said. “But it’s important to act with the urgency that the situation merits, and when they’re locking hundreds of people away every day just because they’re poor, that’s not something we can tolerate while we work out the nuances of a system that might be in place any year from now.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said on Monday that he had not had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet but that the county has been working with the ACLU “for nine months or so” to implement their suggested reforms to the bail system.

“We are certainly trying, yes,” he said, adding that he had not yet seen the suit but that the county was “absolutely committed” to making the changes already discussed.

“It’s not necessarily in our control,” he said. “There are about 15 other elected officials that have to agree and implement their part of it.”

Those of us in Harris County can relate to that complaint. You know where I stand on this, so let me just say that I hope other counties are looking at their own practices and taking proactive steps to get in line so they don’t have to be sued as well. But if suing them is what it takes, then so be it. Think Progress and KUHF have more.

Stockman trial: Off to the jury

Please return a verdict.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense team for former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told jurors Monday the ex- GOP lawmaker did not plot a massive fraud scheme, but said the government should have targeted two wealthy conservative donors for making illegal campaign contributions disguised as charitable gifts.

“The true motives of his donors … was to fund Stockman, his political activities and his projects without being restricted,” said attorney Charles Flood, referring to $1.25 million in tax deductible donations Stockman is accused of diverting to pay off personal and campaign costs.

Flood said investigators “believed early on this was a fraud case and they retrofitted it. They formed a conclusion and tried to back into it.”

Flood and two other defense lawyers — who are being compensated by an anonymous Stockman friend — argued that while the two-time Republican lawmaker spent some of the seed money he solicited on an array of unrelated expenses, he did not deliberately trick the donors into giving him money nor attempt to cover his tracks after the money was gone.

See here for the last update. So Stockman isn’t guilty of money laundering, just of participating in a scheme to evade campaign finance law. Unwittingly, I guess – we all know how naive he is. I got nothing. Let’s just keep going.

In closing, prosecution stressed there was no evidence to prove the defense claims that these donors meant to break the law when they made donations to what they believed were genuine charities.

In all, prosecutors questioned dozens of witnesses over three weeks of testimony — including an IRS investigator, a forensic accountant for the FBI and Stockman’s own accountant — to back their theory that between 2010 and 2014 Stockman systematically planned to use the donations money however he wanted and then lied to cover it up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick walked the jury through a series of transactions, pointing out that Stockman, a trained accountant whom a former assistant described as a “micromanger,” stated in his own words in emails, texts and letters that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Ellersick quoted Stockman’s letter to a doubtful government minister in South Sudan, who was questioning a humanitarian donation that included a percentage fee for the former congressman. Stockman stated in the letter, “My experience is vast … I know what I am doing,” and assured the official that while some people might be untrustworthy, his reputation was impeccable. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” Stockman wrote.

As someone who has followed Steve Stockman’s career for nearly a quarter-century, I do agree with that. I’m on ping and needles till a verdict comes in. The Trib has more.

From the “Answering my own rhetorical question” department

Nobody could have seen this coming!

Best mugshot ever

Ever since Texas’s “sanctuary cities” ban was first proposed in late 2016, the measure’s Republican backers have painted it as a public safety measure targeting criminals — without racist or anti-immigrant intent. But records obtained by the Observer reveal that some of the Texas citizens most supportive of the law apparently never got the memo.

Senate Bill 4, among other things, threatens local law enforcement officials who impede cooperation with federal immigration agents with fines, jail time and removal from office. To prosecute wayward officials, the law requires citizens to report violations of SB 4 to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Ken Paxton formally began accepting complaints in September, but the records include a stream of phone calls and emails beginning last February. Of 43 total formal and informal complaints so far, most veered wildly from SB 4’s supposed intent, expressing instead resentment of immigrants and even threatening violence.

“These comments are disturbing to read,” said state Senator José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat and staunch SB 4 opponent. Rodríguez called them part of a general shift toward viewing immigrants in a “national security framework” rather than a human rights one, adding that “during the SB 4 debate, we warned that the attorney general would receive frivolous, anti-immigrant complaints such as these.”

See here for the background, and click over for the entirely predictable stream of garbage that ensued. In a world where Ken Paxton felt shame he would no doubt be red-faced over this, but we do not live in that world. I don’t know what else there is to say.

One other thing:

Out of the dozens who communicated with Paxton’s office, only five followed the guidelines laid out in SB 4 by swearing their complaints before a notary or submitting an “unsworn declaration.” Four of the five centered on a high-profile incident involving San Antonio Police Chief William McManus — currently the focus of the only investigation of a potential SB 4 violation.

In late December, an SAPD officer encountered what appeared to be 12 immigrants being smuggled into the country in an 18-wheeler. When McManus arrived on the scene, he made the unusual decision to charge the truck’s driver using a state smuggling statute rather than turn him over to the feds. After questioning, McManus released the immigrants to a local nonprofit, effectively shielding them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That set off a firestorm: The head of the local police union called for McManus to be put on administrative leave; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged Paxton to investigate whether McManus violated SB 4; and Paxton informed city officials on January 10 that he had received “several” complaints and was launching an investigation.

But will anything come of this taxpayer-funded investigation? SB 4 — which is still being fought over in the courts — forbids any local policy that bans or “materially limits” cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, and forces jailers to extend detention of undocumented immigrants at the request of ICE.

McManus says his choice was an isolated decision that didn’t represent a new policy and that an ICE agent had every opportunity to intervene and take the individuals into custody. An ICE spokesperson has contradicted that, telling the San Antonio Express-News that the agency offered assistance and was rebuffed.

Vera, the LULAC attorney, said that the chief’s decision wouldn’t violate SB 4 because it didn’t represent a policy of non-cooperation. “[Paxton] doesn’t have a case,” he told the Observer. “If he had a case, he would’ve filed it already.”

See here for the background. Sometimes it’s just better to think of this all as a third-rate costume drama, available for streaming at CBS All Access or some such. Just let go and lean into the absurdity.

SNCF has qualms about Texas Central

Who is SNCF? They’re another passenger rail company, one that has also expressed an interest in building lines in Texas, and they have offered some negative feedback to the Texas Central high speed rail line.

One of the world’s largest train operators says that its proposal of a passenger rail network that includes the Interstate 35 corridor would be a better fit for Texas than the $15 billion Dallas-to-Houston bullet train that’s on the table.

“Look at the state as a whole. Instead of creating a link, create a network,” said SNCF America president Alain Leray, who is visiting Dallas, Austin and Waco this week on the heels of filing his company’s eight-pages of commentary on the Federal Draft Environmental Statement for the Dallas-to-Houston line.

Maryland-based SNCF America, a branch of the French National Railway, pitched its “Texas T-bone” idea to the Federal Railroad Administration in 2008 and 2016. The plan calls for “higher speed rail” service of 125 mph.

The railroad administration has instead proceeded to work with Texas Central Partners on a Dallas-to-Houston bullet line featuring speeds up to 210 mph and using Japanese technology.

[…]

If Texas Central Partners is first on the ground in the U.S., SNCF officials feel it may be game over for their firm and any other competition.

Currently, federal regulations do not address equipment requirements for train speeds above 150 mph. Texas Central Partners has petitioned for what is known as a rule of particular applicability (RPA). If the RPA is accepted and Texas Central successfully builds the nation’s first bullet line, it will be creating the standard.

“I think they have done a remarkable job. They are fighters and go-getters,” Leray said Monday of Texas Central. “Their chances of getting an RPA elsewhere becomes so much greater if they get this.”

See here, here, and here for more on SNCF, which has proposed a version of the “Texas T-Bone that would connect both San Antonio and Houston to D/FW. They have also expressed concern about that RPA in the past, which I can understand. As someone who wants passenger rail to be a success in Texas, and who wants to see as much of it built as possible, I’d say that if SNCF or some other rail company has a viable proposal for an additional line in Texas that depends on a standard that doesn’t lock them out of the market, then that should be taken into account when evaluating Texas Central’s RPA. Building the first line should not be a pathway to monopoly. On the other hand, if SNCF or whoever else doesn’t have anything remotely close to being in the pipeline, then I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

The bottom line is that I support maximizing the potential for passenger rail in Texas. It’s been my hope that if the Texas Central line is successful, it was generate demand for extensions and additions to it. Whatever furthers that goal is fine by me, and whatever hinders it should be avoided.

Farenthold resigns

So long, Ducky.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resigned on Friday.

The decision marks the capstone of a tumultuous few months for the four-term congressman, who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in a statement that offered no further explanation for why he was not completing the final eight months of his term.

The congressman spent the day packing up his office.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott now needs to call a special election to fill the seat, the winner of which will serve until early January 2019.

Abbott has two options for filling Farenthold’s seat for the rest of his term, according to the secretary of state’s office. Abbott can schedule a special election on the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 6. (It’s too late for him to call it for the May 5 date.)

Abbott’s other option is to order an emergency election for any other Tuesday or Saturday. He would have to call the election 36-50 days in advance of the date he chooses.

House Republicans likely have no appetite for a special election at this point in the cycle. But one thing the governor’s office will have to weigh is whether Texas’ 27th Congressional District — which bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey — can go without congressional representation for seven months.

Farenthold announced his retirement in December, and despite some controversy around the timing of his announcement he was allowed to drop off the ballot for the primary. As for what Greg Abbott does, in a normal year he’d call an emergency special at his first opportunity, as the odds would be extremely favorable for a Republican candidate to win and thus maintain numbers in Congress. This year, who knows? I still think we’ll get an election sooner than November, but if we don’t it’s quite the admission of weakness. In the meantime, I hope someone will remind Farenthold to pay back the $84,000 he owes the taxpayers before he slinks off into the darkness. Daily Kos has more.