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Texas Organizing Project

Lawsuit filed over late start times at several precincts

This crap should not happen.

After several polling locations in Harris County failed to open on time this morning, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Texas Organizing Project are suing the county in hopes of extending Election Day voting hours until 8 p.m. at nine polling locations.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday afternoon, the two groups alleged that the county was violating the Texas Election Code because polling locations that opened after 7 a.m. would not remain open to voters for 12 hours on Election Day as required by state law.

Polling locations across the state’s biggest county “not only failed to open at 7 a.m., but remained closed until well after 7 a.m.,” the plaintiffs wrote. Voting was further delayed at some polling locations because of equipment issues, including sign-in and voting machines that weren’t working.

The two groups put forth affidavits from several Harris County voters who faced delays Tuesday morning and, in some cases, were kept from casting ballots before needing to head to work.

[…]

When they started letting voters in to vote, the sign-in machines were not working. She watched poll workers troubleshoot the machines until leaving at 7:45 a.m.

“Harris County has been a major flashpoint, if you will,” Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said earlier in the day.

At least 18 polling locations in Harris County either did not open on time or were only partially open on time, with some locations at first operating with one or two machines when they were supposed to have eight or even 16, Stevens said.

Those sorts of issues are “typical of start-up issues on Election Day,” said Hector de Leon, director of communications and voter outreach for the Harris County Clerk’s Office. He said the county has technicians stationed across the county so they can get to voting locations within 10 minutes of a technical distress call and get machines up and running.

“There’s nothing atypical about this morning,” de Leon said. “It’s just the nature of Election Day morning.”

I’ve no doubt that a big, sprawling county like ours with hundreds of voting locations is going to present logistical problems, but maybe be a bit less blase about it? At the very least, this suggests the county didn’t have much of a contingency plan in place, nor does it suggest that the county sees it as a problem that some people may have had to leave and go to work without having voted, and may or may not have the chance to try again later in the day. I don’t know as I post this what will happen, but surely keeping the polls open till 8 at the affected locations is a reasonable thing to do. That and electing a County Clerk who will plan for this kind of thing before it happens.

UPDATE: The League of Women Voters Houston posts that the nine locations shown in the linked photo will be open till 8.

The “death by a thousand cuts” strategy

How To Kill A Health Insurance Market, Non-Legislative Division:

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The move by the White House to quietly end the contracts of two companies key to assisting people enrolling for insurance under the Affordable Care Act caught Houston health advocates off guard – but not by surprise.

Given the temperature in Washington these days and efforts by Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration to let the law fail, they said it was just the latest in a string of actions to sabotage the law known as Obamacare.

“It’s clearly by design,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation and proponent of the ACA and its impact on the uninsured and health access for Texans.

Last week, contracts for Cognosante LLC and CSRA Inc., which helped in signup efforts for the past four enrollment periods in 18 cities, including Houston, were not renewed for a final option year, the Associated Press reported.

[…]

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income Texans, said she had not heard about the contract cancellations but felt, “in the scheme of things it’s not really a surprise.”

“The intent is to let the law die,” she said.

She said the administration from its first day has seemed determined to undercut the law. Hours after inauguration, the new president signed an executive order directing federal agencies to loosen any regulations surrounding the law that were considered “burdensome.”

Days later, as the 2017 enrollment period was coming to a close, the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services withdrew funding for the final advertising push traditionally aimed to lure a surge of last-minute enrollees.

Additionally, the 2018 enrollment period is being shortened, cut in half to run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 instead of until Jan. 31.

The idea is to push enrollment down so that when it does go down you can point at it and say “look, see, it’s in a death spiral” and then take more obvious action to finish the job. Which may not be necessary now, but it’s Plan B as needed. And all those people who will be sicker and poorer as a result? Just a bit of collateral damage. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Getting ready for the first SB4 hearing

All eyes are going to be on this next week.

On Monday, June 26, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia will hear the City of San Antonio’s request for a preliminary injunction to block Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law, from taking effect on Sept. 1.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) is representing the City in the lawsuit, along with the following nonprofit organizations: The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The hearing, which is open to the public, will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Courthouse at 655 E. César E. Chavez Blvd.

“Judge Garcia consolidated three separate lawsuits into one,” MALDEF Vice President of Litigation Nina Perales told the Rivard Report Friday. “The City of Austin is now a part of our case, [along with] El Paso County, Texas Organizing Project, the City of El Cenizo in Webb County, and Maverick County,”

[…]

On Friday, the State of Texas dropped MALDEF from a pre-emptive lawsuit asking a federal court to declare the “sanctuary cities” law constitutional.

“We wrote them a letter and said that if they didn’t drop us we were going to ask the judge to fine Texas for bringing a frivolous lawsuit against MALDEF,” Perales said. “We’re the lawyers – you don’t sue somebody else’s lawyers. MALDEF has five cases against the State of Texas right now, so it’s not just about SB 4. They were draining our resources in other cases, including school finance and redistricting.”

The pre-emptive lawsuit was filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 8 before any legal action was taken against Senate Bill 4. It still includes the following defendants: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, all of Austin’s City Council members, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and Austin Interim City Manager Elaine Hart. El Paso County, El Cenizo, Texas Organizing Project, and LULAC have since been added to the list.

“Today, after MALDEF made very clear its intention to pursue all available remedies against the state of Texas for filing a completely frivolous lawsuit against a civil rights law firm, the state relented and filed a voluntary dismissal of all of its claims against MALDEF,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, in a statement. “This now permits MALDEF to devote its energies to the appropriate forum for resolving the many constitutional questions surrounding SB 4 – federal court in San Antonio.

“Today’s dismissal represents only a partial cure of Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s apparent problem with premature litigation. A more complete cure involves dismissing the entire preemptive lawsuit they filed in Austin, which is illegitimate against the remaining defendants, just as it was against MALDEF.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I’m sure there will be national coverage of this, which will remind everyone that we’re not just about bathroom bills here in Texas. Houston City Council may have voted to join the fight by this time, though I’d expect it to get tagged for a week. Mark this one on your calendar, next Monday is going to be a big deal. The Observer, which notes that there will be a hearing in Austin on the 29th for “all pending matters” pertaining to his pre-emptive lawsuit, has more.

Houston will get involved in the SB4 fight later this month

Very good to hear.

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask City Council to vote this month on joining lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, ending months of equivocation on the controversial immigration enforcement measure.

If City Council votes to sue, Houston would join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and several other local governments already challenging the state or planning to do so.

“I will ask this month City Council to consider and vote to join the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB4,” Turner tweeted Thursday morning, after the Houston Chronicle ran a front page story about his decision to remain on the sidelines of debate over the statute.

Here’s that front page story. You can see what a change of direction this is.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Turner has asked the city attorney’s office to review the law known as Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained even for a routine traffic stop, but otherwise continues to deflect questions about whether he plans to challenge it.

That has meant carefully sidestepping the term “sanctuary city,” while touting Houston as a diverse, “welcoming city” and assuring residents that Houston police will not violate their constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, the mayor attempted to redirect attention to Austin by urging Houstonians to take up their concerns at the Capitol, even though the law has been signed and the Legislature is not slated to revisit the issue during its July special session.

“The right forum to reconsider Senate Bill 4 before it goes into effect on Sept. 1 is Austin, Texas, and I’d encourage people to write to call to drive or go to Austin,” Turner said. “Go to Austin by the hundreds, by the thousands, and ask those who authored, voted for and signed Senate Bill 4 to repeal Senate Bill 4. Those of us around this table, we cannot repeal Senate Bill 4, as we did not author Senate Bill 4.”

So Houston may follow in the footsteps of San Antonio and Bexar County and Dallas, if Council goes along. According to the full Chron story, it looks like that will happen.

Houston could sue over SB4 without City Council approval, but Turner nonetheless promised a vote. City Council is in recess next week, meaning a vote would come June 21 at the earliest.

As of Thursday, the left-leaning City Council appeared to be breaking along party lines, with Democratic members largely favoring a lawsuit and Republican members generally opposed.

District I Councilman Robert Gallegos, who supports a lawsuit, said he worried the law could tear families apart if it causes more parents to be deported, calling it “an open door for racial profiling.”

District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen also plans to vote to sue, citing concerns that the law could discourage victims from reporting crimes, echoing law enforcement leaders across the state, including Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“We now have a percentage of the population that, out of fear for their own lives and deportation, won’t report, and it jeopardizes women’s lives and others,” Cohen said.

At-large Councilman Michael Kubosh said he opposes a lawsuit because of the potential cost.

“I don’t want to spend the money on a lawsuit that’s already been well-funded by other cities,” Kubosh said. “It won’t have an effect on the outcome of the case.”

He and others also worried that suing the state could put Houston at risk for losing federal funding.

Two council members, Mike Laster and Brenda Stardig, declined to say how they would vote, and at-large Councilman Jack Christie said he was likely to abstain.

“I’m not in favor of suing people to just show where we stand,” Christie said. “We show where we stand by example.”

There’s a sidebar on the story with a vote count for when this does come before Council (and while it could come as early as June 21, you can bet your bottom dollar someone will tag it for a week). Counting Mayor Turner, there are eight Yeses, five Nos, Christie’s abstention, and three who declined to comment or could not be reached. Of those three, I’d expect two Yeses – Mike Laster, who has since suggested on Twitter that he would likely vote in favor, and Jerry Davis – and one No, Brenda Stardig. You should probably reach out to your Council member and let them know how you feel about this. In the meantime, I agree with Campos, this would not have happened, at least at this time, had not there been pressure from the Texas Organizing Project and the DREAMers. Activism works, y’all. The Press has more.

Bexar County joins in on SB4 litigation

Add another to the list.

Bexar County has joined the fight against Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” law.

In their biweekly meeting Tuesday, three commissioners and Judge Nelson Wolff voted to join the City of San Antonio in its lawsuit against the State of Texas in an effort to stop the controversial SB 4.

[…]

Judge Wolff said he received a text message from Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3), who was visiting his daughter in China and missed Tuesday’s meeting, saying he did not support joining the lawsuit at this time. Kevin, the lone Republican on the Commissioner’s Court, did, however, support Bexar County’s resolution against SB 4 that commissioners signed in May.

At the beginning of the meeting, Edward Schweninger, Civil Division chief for the District Attorney’s office, said he would come back to commissioners within 30 days with an official recommendation from District Attorney Nico LaHood on whether to join the lawsuit. During that time period, LaHood and his office would do more research on the legal issues surrounding SB 4 and lawsuits contesting its constitutionality, Schweninger said.

But commissioners said the County needs to act now.

“I think we need to get on board and send a message,” said Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1).

See here for the background. Looks like Ken Paxton’s attempt to intimidate potential plaintiffs in anti-SB4 action hasn’t worked just yet. And yes, we’re still waiting for Houston to do something. One hopes that will sooner rather than later.

State files motion to combine all the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

This isn’t a surprise, but there is a bit of a twist.

Best mugshot ever

In a filing late Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal district court in Austin to absorb two other legal challenges that have been filed against the ban in San Antonio, which is seen as a friendlier venue toward opponents of the law.

In May, the city of El Cenizo became the first jurisdiction to file suit to block the ban. El Paso County followed a few weeks later.

But Texas had filed a pre-emptive lawsuit May 7 asking for the Austin district court to rule the ban constitutional. Because Texas had filed its suit first, Paxton argued in his motion, the cases should be tried in the court it had petitioned under a concept known as the “first-filed” rule.

“The El Paso case (in the San Antonio Division) and this case ask the courts to decide the same legal issues because they are essentially the same case,” Paxton wrote. “Since this case was first-filed, the interests of justice and judicial economy warrant consolidating these cases in the Austin Division.”

Because Texas had filed its suit first in the Austin Division, Paxton said, that court should determine whether other cases should be “dismissed, stayed, transferred or consolidated.”

Paxton also argued that the legal challenges in the San Antonio court should be stopped because the plaintiffs, which include El Paso and El Cenizo, had no connection to that jurisdiction.

“The proper venue for the El Paso case lies in Austin,” he wrote. “There is no substantial connection to San Antonio and plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General in their official capacities. Suits against government officials in their official capacities should be brought in the division from where those officials primarily perform their duties.”

The motion could mean that jurisdictions and groups that had signed on to lawsuits as plaintiffs — like El Paso, El Cenizo and the League of United Latin American Citizens — will now become defendants in the state’s original suit.

[…]

Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project that is representing the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, said the state is trying to intimidate civil rights groups to make them wary of joining suits against the ban.

“It’s clear that Texas is seeking to punish civil rights organizations that have bravely stood up against the State and prevent additional groups from coming forward,” she said in a written statement. “Indeed, their lawsuit does not include any specific allegations against groups like our client.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that Paxton will eventually amend his motion to encompass the San Antonio/Austin lawsuit as well. I Am Not A Lawyer, so it is not clear to me what the advantage to Paxton is in doing this, other than his apparent belief that the court he filed in is more amenable to his argument than the San Antonio court. Plaintiffs usually have some burden of proof on them, so you’d think that being the defendant would be the less onerous task, but again, I don’t know what I’m talking about, so any actual attorneys out there are encouraged to weigh in. I do believe that this is intended to intimidate any other potential litigants, though I don’t think it will be successful on that front. In any event, I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

El Paso files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Two and counting, as El Paso gets in on the anti-SB4 action.

The lawsuit, filed by El Paso County, its Sheriff Richard Wiles and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a client of the Texas Civil Rights Project, charges that the law, if enacted, would violate several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of laws; the 14th Amendment’s due process clause; and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs also allege the bill would violate the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

“All law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions that opt to stay out of immigration enforcement face stringent civil liability,” the lawsuit charges. “And, persons in Texas, particularly Mexican-Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and immigrants and their families, will be caught in the crossfire.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, which is part of the Western District of Texas’ federal judicial district, comes after the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County filed suit against the state earlier this month. The city of Austin also voted last week to file a suit to stop the controversial measure, which Abbott and other Republicans have argued is needed to ensure Texans are safe from non-deported criminal immigrants who aren’t turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

El Paso County is in a unique situation, however, because it agreed in 2006 to a court settlement after a local resident sued, accusing sheriff’s deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

“El Paso also has adopted policies, which may violate SB 4’s unconstitutional mandates,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, the El Paso County Attorney’s office has adopted a policy that prohibits its investigators from making inquiries into the citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated civil immigration law or for the purpose of enforcing those laws.”

See here for more on the El Cenizo/Maverick County lawsuit. More cities are expected to follow suit, though on different grounds than El Paso and its unique situation. It would be nice to know when Houston will join in; one hopes there are plans to address this after the session is over and pension reform is in the can. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is out there telling lies about SB4 and its effects. Gotta do what you gotta do when the facts are against you, after all. The Press and the Current have more.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill

Terrible.

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”

[…]

One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.

[…]

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

What might it take to beat Ted Cruz?

Roll Call considers the question.

Not Ted Cruz

As Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro mulls a challenge to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Democrats and Republicans both say it would be a tall order in a deep-red state with little Democratic power.

“I think what Joaquin would have to do right is to begin with a premise that Texas Democrats have no idea how to run a statewide race,” said Colin Strother, who has worked on campaigns for Castro and his twin brother Julian, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor.

“The trick is that Democrats can win if we get turnout. You are not going to do that with TV and radio,” Strother said. “The way you do it is through a state of the art, modern, professional field program.”

[…]

Banking on a lagging Cruz would not be a sound strategy, experts say. While the first-term GOP senator has developed a reputation of being disliked by some fellow Republicans — Arizona Sen. John McCain famously called Cruz and his allies “wacko birds” — he still has plenty of political support in Texas.

“Cruz is nothing if not calculating and he has a voracious appetite for politics,” Strother said, pointing to his 2012 upset win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican Senate primary when Dewhurst had the support of Rick Perry, the state’s governor at the time.

Okay, it’s not a very deep consideration, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pick it up. The article focuses on Joaquin Castro even though Beto O’Rourke seems like the more committed candidate at this point, but that isn’t important for our purposes. I say there are three factors to watch for that could affect either candidate’s chances.

1. Solving the Democratic turnout problem – We’ve discussed this one ad infinitum. Off year turnout has been flat for Dems since 2002, even with a significant bump in Presidential year voters in 2008. There are signs that Democrats are more engaged now than ever before, and if that continues it’s all to the good. But even if that continues to be the case, it’s just a floor and not a ceiling. Getting those engaged and need-to-be-engaged voters to the polls is the key. Whatever a “state of the art, modern, professional field program” looks like – maybe it’s the TOP model taken statewide, maybe it’s something else – we need that.

2. Getting some help on the Republican turnout side – As with item #1, the possibility exists that Republicans will not be terribly enthused about going to the polls next year, as was the case in 2006. Trump’s already mediocre approval numbers depend entirely on rabid Republican support. It wouldn’t take much to drop him into truly perilous territory. One of the many ongoing scandals could finally take a toll, or perhaps a spectacular failure with Obamacare repeal might do it. Trump has been operating without a net for a long time, and the Republicans have largely followed along. If it all comes crashing down, it’s going to be catastrophic for them.

3. The Dowd factor – I don’t think much of Matthew Dowd’s announced interest in running for Senate as an independent, but it could happen. If it does, the main effect will be to lower the number of votes needed to win. For example, in a straight three candidate race, if Dowd takes 20%, the number to win becomes 40% plus one. That’s a number Democrats can reasonably reach without anything else happening, and Dowd would presumably take more votes away from Cruz than he would from Castro or O’Rourke. Things get complicated quickly, and I don’t want to be overly simplistic or optimistic, but the bottom line remains that having Dowd in the race would mean a closer vote target to aim at.

A lot of this is highly theoretical – no one has officially announced a candidacy yet, and we’re still a year away from the 2018 primaries, let alone the general. But until then, these are things to think about.

TOP responds to Chron story on Mayor Turner

Via the inbox, we come full circle:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The following is a statement by Tarsha Jackson, Harris County director of the Texas Organizing Project, in reaction to the article “Progressives fret over Turner’s focus”:

“Far from fretting over Mayor Sylvester Turner’s focus, I am energized that the mayor of the third-largest city in America is committed to rolling up his sleeves and working with organizations like TOP to make Houston a city where everyone is treated fairly and has access to opportunity.

“TOP agrees with Mayor Turner’s reaction to the Chronicle article, ‘Progressives fret over Turner’s focus.’ There are major fights ahead of us that will determine who we are as a city, and we all need to work together to win them.

“From protecting our immigrant communities, to reforming our criminal justice system, to expanding affordable housing and making real progress on closing the gap between rich and poor, we are proud to be working with this mayor to move Houston forward.

“There is much work to be done, including tackling decades-old problems like providing secure pensions for our retirees and protecting taxpayers, but I am excited by our progress so far and optimistic that we can tackle the work ahead.”

See here for the background. Seems to me we’ve written an awful lot about something that isn’t much of a story, but there you have it. I do agree with Campos that while TOP and the AFL-CIO represent a part of the progressive coalition, they are only a part of it. Even without this followup from TOP, it would have been nice to have heard from some other parts of that coalition before declaring that “progressives” are (maybe) fretting about Mayor Turner.

Is there some fretting about Mayor Turner?

Maybe? I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you define “fretting”.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The resignation of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s top deputy – a social justice advocate and one of the mayor’s few confidants in a sea of senior staff appointed by the previous mayor – is fueling worry among aides and allies about the administration’s commitment to the progressive policy goals on which he campaigned.

Turner for months has downplayed his unusual decision to entrust much of the implementation and communication of his policies to his predecessor’s staff, urging focus on big-ticket accomplishments, such as bringing a pension reform deal to the state legislature, soothing tempers on City Council and closing last year’s $160 million budget gap.

However, chief of staff Alison Brock’s departure just 15 months into Turner’s term has stoked renewed angst among supporters who think Turner has not championed the progressive platform for which they worked to get him elected.

“We’re a little concerned, because she was that voice at the table, so we were confident our concerns were being heard,” said Tarsha Jackson of the Texas Organizing Project. “Now, we’re just hopeful the mayor gets someone that shares his vision, the vision that he had when he ran for office. We don’t have an ally in the mayor’s office right now.”

Jackson, who met and befriended Brock in 2004 when she was Turner’s legislative aide, said TOP’s attempts to reform city economic development policies have stalled, despite Brock’s support.

Labor leader Linda Morales said the same of her efforts to push an ordinance asking city contractors to provide better wages, community engagement and job training.

“Labor wants to be a partner with the mayor,” she said. “We want him to speak to his staff and get on the program with us because it’s his agenda we’re trying to push.”

Turner distinguished himself as a candidate on such issues, calling for a higher minimum wage and pushing the city to require recipients of tax incentives to pay higher salaries. He also decried Houston’s economic inequality, stressing the need to “build a city for the middle class.”

Despite maintaining similar rhetoric in office, the mayor has hesitated to bring forward sweeping progressive policy proposals. His much-hyped “Complete Communities” plan aimed at revitalizing Houston’s under-served neighborhoods, for example, still awaits implementation. As for employee benefits, the city passed an ordinance last year suggesting companies seeking tax breaks offer additional benefits but did not require them to do so.

“The mayor is being cautious, in my opinion maybe too cautious. He’s got issues he wants to pass at the state Legislature, so he’s trying to make his way through the land mines without having folks hurt his possibility of passing pension reform,” said Morales, of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “I understand that totally, but there’s other things I know, as a collective, progressives want to move.”

The mayor bristled at any perception of sluggish progress.

“Compare my track record with any previous mayor, and if they did as much. Name me one mayor in the last 20 years that has brought forth a pension reform package to this point. … Name me one mayor that has attended more events than I have,” Turner told reporters. “Even though I came in on a very close vote, I have governed in a very uniform, universal fashion.”

Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer largely agreed.

“Other than (former Mayor Bob) Lanier, he’s probably the most successful first-term mayor I’ve seen,” said Aiyer, who served as former mayor Lee Brown’s chief of staff.

I get Tarsha Jackson and Linda Morales’ concerns. Mayor Turner did run a progressive campaign, and he did talk about a lot of non-pension things. To be fair, that was in part because the other guy was talking about it more than enough for everyone. Mayor Turner was always going to have to deal with that, and I feel like lots of things are sort of waiting in the wings until a pension bill gets through the Legislature. (Assuming one does; if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to say what comes next.) That was basically the theme of look back at Year One story on the Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that if he gets a win on this big issue, it not only restores a lot of oxygen for everything else, it gives him some momentum and capital to push for things that will generate significant political opposition, which includes a lot of the agenda Jackson and Morales are hoping to see get enacted.

I recognize that it sucks to hear that these progressive items that Mayor Turner campaigned on have to wait. It’s far from the first time that has been the message, and I’m sure Jackson and Morales have lost count of the number of times they have heard it. I don’t know what else to suggest other than if you think Mayor Turner is still basically the same person as Candidate Turner was, you’ll need to have faith that he will do as he said he would. Easy for me to say, I know. The other thing I could add is that given the anti-local control nature of this legislative session, there are strategic reasons for waiting till after sine die to roll out a plan for an increased minimum wage or the like. Again, I know what that sounds like. Jackson and Morales clearly understand how and why things are. A little reminder to the Mayor that they’re still here seems like a reasonable strategy. A press release from the Mayor in response to this story is here.

Two unsatisfying articles about the 2016 Democratic sweep in Harris County

The Democratic sweep in Harris County has drawn some national attention, as writers from the left and right try to analyze what happened here last year and why Hillary Clinton carried the county by such a large margin. Unfortunately, as is often the case with stories about Texas by people not from Texas, the results are not quite recognizable to those of us who are here. Let’s begin with this story in Harper’s, which focuses on the efforts of the Texas Organizing Project.

Amid the happy lawyers, journalists, and other movers and shakers at the victory parties, one group of seventy-five men and women, who had arrived on a chartered bus, stood out. Most of them were Latinos, like Petra Vargas, a Mexican-born hotel worker who had spent the day walking her fellow immigrants to the polls. Others were African Americans, such as Rosie McCutcheon, who had campaigned relentlessly for the ticket while raising six grandchildren on a tiny income. All of them wore turquoise T-shirts bearing the logo top. Not only had they made a key contribution to the day’s results — they represented a new and entirely promising way of doing politics in Texas.

The Texas Organizing Project was launched in 2009 by a small group of veteran community organizers. Michelle Tremillo, a fourth-generation Tejana (a Texan of Mexican descent), grew up in public housing in San Antonio, where her single mother worked as a janitor. Making it to Stanford on a scholarship, she was quickly drawn into politics, beginning with a student walkout in protest of Proposition 187, California’s infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure. By the time she graduated, the elite university had changed her view of the world. “I always knew I was poor growing up, and I even understood that I was poorer than some of my peers that I went to school with,” Tremillo told me. What she eventually came to understand was the sheer accumulation of wealth in America and its leveling effect on the rest of the population: “We were all poor.”

Both Tremillo and her TOP cofounder Ginny Goldman, a Long Island native, had worked for ACORN, the progressive national community organization that enjoyed considerable success — registering, for example, half a million minority voters in 2008 — before becoming a target of calculated assaults by right-wing operatives. By 2009, the group was foundering, and it was dissolved a year later.

In response, the activists came up with TOP. Goldman, who was its first executive director, told me that TOP was designed to focus on specific Texan needs and realities and thereby avoid the “national cookie-cutter approach.” The organization would work on three levels: doorstep canvassing, intense research on policy and strategy, and mobilizing voter turnout among people customarily neglected by the powers that be.

[…]

The TOP founders and their colleagues, including another Stanford graduate, Crystal Zermeno, a Tejana math whiz whose mother grew up sleeping on the floor, began to ponder ways to change that. Might it be possible to mobilize enough voters to elect progressives to statewide office? For non-Republicans in Texas and elsewhere, the most galling aspect of recurrent electoral defeat has been the persistent failure of supposedly natural allies, specifically Latinos and African Americans, to show up at the polls. For years, Democratic officials and commentators had cherished the notion that natural growth in the minority population, which rose from 20 percent to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population between 1985 and 2015, would inevitably put the party back in power. Yet these designated agents of change seemed reluctant to play their part. As I was incessantly reminded in Houston, “Demographics are not destiny.”

The problem has been especially acute in Texas, which produced the lowest overall turnout of any state in the 2010 midterm elections. Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home that year, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. The result was a state government subservient to the demands and prejudices of Republican primary voters, and unrepresentative of the majority in a state where almost one in four children lived in poverty, 60 percent of public-school students qualified for free or subsidized lunches, and the overall poverty rate was growing faster than the national average. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, TOP launched an ambitious project to discover, as Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

Ever since the era of Ann Richards, Democrats had been focusing their efforts (without success) on winning back white swing voters outside the big cities. But Zermeno realized that there was no reason “to beat our heads against the wall for that group of people anymore, not when we’ve got a million-voter gap and as many as four million non-voting people of color in the big cities, who are likely Democrats.” By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

There was, however, still another question to answer. Why were those 4 million people declining to vote? TOP embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys. (Their string of lucrative settlements included some with insurance companies who had balked at paying claims for Ike-related house damage.) Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julián Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.

“There’s this misunderstanding that people don’t care, that people are apathetic,” Goldman told me. “It’s so not true. People are mad and they want to do something about it. People want fighters that will deliver real change for them. That’s why year-round community organizing is so critical. People see that you can deliver real impact, and that you need the right candidates in office to do it, and connect it back to the importance of voting. It’s the ongoing cycle. We see winning the election as only the first step toward the real win, which is changing the policies that are going to make people’s lives better.”

Beginning with the 2012 election, TOP canvassers — volunteers and paid employees working their own neighborhoods — were trained to open a doorstep interview not with statements about a candidate but with a question: “What issue do you care about?” The answer, whether it was the minimum wage or schools or potholes, shaped the conversation as the canvasser explained that TOP had endorsed a particular candidate (after an intensive screening) because of his or her position on those very issues. These were not hit-and-run encounters. Potential voters were talked to “pretty much nonstop for about eight to ten weeks leading to the election,” according to Goldman. “They got their doors knocked three to five times. They got called five to seven times. They signed a postcard saying, ‘I pledge to vote.’ They circled which day they were going to vote on a little calendar on the postcard, and we mailed those postcards back to them. We offered them free rides to the polls. We answered all of their questions, gave them all the information they needed, until they cast a ballot. And what we saw was that the Latino vote grew by five percentage points in Harris County in 2012.”

Link via Political Animal. I love TOP and I think they do great work, but this article leaves a lot of questions unasked as well as unanswered. When Ginny Goldman says that the Latino vote grew by five percent in Harris County in 2012, I need more context for that. How does that compare to the growth of Latino registered voters in the same time period (which I presume is since 2008)? What was the growth rate in areas where TOP was doing its outreach versus areas where it was not? Do we have the same data for 2016? I want to be impressed by that number, but I need this information before I can say how impressed I am.

For all that TOP should be rightly proud of their efforts, it should be clear from the description that it’s labor intensive. If the goal is to close a 1.1 million voter gap at the state level, how well does the TOP model scale up? What’s the vision for taking this out of Harris County (and parts of Dallas; the story also includes a bit about the Democratic win in HD107, which as we know was less Dem-friendly than HD105, which remained Republican) and into other places where it can do some good?

I mean, with all due respect, the TOP model of identifying low-propensity Dem-likely voters and pushing them to the polls with frequent neighbor-driven contact sounds a lot like the model that Battleground Texas was talking about when they first showed up. One of the complaints I heard from a dedicated BGTX volunteer was that both the people doing the contact and the people being contacted grew frustrated by it over time. That gets back to my earlier question about how well this might scale, since one size seldom fits all. To the extent that it does work I say great! Let’s raise some money and put all the necessary resources into making it work. I just have a hard time believing that it’s the One Thing that will turn the tide. It’s necessary – very necessary – to be sure. I doubt that it is sufficient.

Also, too, in an article that praises the local grassroots effort of a TOP while denigrating top-down campaigns, I find it fascinating that the one political consultant quoted is a guy based in Washington, DC. Could the author not find a single local consultant to talk about TOP’s work?

Again, I love TOP and I’m glad that they’re getting some national attention. I just wish the author of this story had paid more of that attention to the details. With all that said, the TOP story is a masterpiece compared to this Weekly Standard article about how things looked from the Republican perspective.

Gary Polland, a three-time Harris County Republican party chairman, can’t remember a time the GOP has done so poorly. “It could be back to the 60’s.” Jared Woodfill, who lost the chairmanship in 2014, does remember. “This is the worst defeat for Republicans in the 71-year history of Republican party of Harris County,” he said.

But crushing Republicans in a county of 4.5 million people doesn’t mean Democrats are on the verge of capturing Texas. In fact, Democratic leaders were as surprised as Republicans by the Harris sweep. But it does show there’s a political tide running in their direction.

Democratic strategists are relying on a one-word political panacea to boost the party in overtaking Republicans: Hispanics. They’re already a plurality—42 percent—in Harris County. Whites are 31 percent, blacks 20 percent, and Asians 7 percent. And the Hispanic population continues to grow. Democrats control the big Texas cities—Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, to name three—thanks to Hispanic voters.

But in Houston, at least, Democrats have another factor in their favor: Republican incompetence. It was in full bloom in 2016. Though it was the year of a change election, GOP leaders chose a status quo slogan, “Harris County Works.” Whatever that was supposed to signal, it wasn’t change.

“It doesn’t exactly have the aspirational ring of ‘Make America Great Again’ or even Hillary’s ‘Stronger Together,'” Woodfill said. “It is very much a message of ‘everything is okay here, let’s maintain the status quo.’ People were confused and uninspired.”

A separate decision was just as ruinous. GOP leaders, led by chairman Paul Simpson, panicked at the thought of Trump at the top of the ticket. So they decided to pretend Trump was not on the ticket. They kept his name off campaign literature. They didn’t talk about him. And Trump, assured of winning Texas, didn’t spend a nickel in the Houston media market. It became an “invisible campaign,” Polland said. “There were votes to be had,” Polland told me. They were Trump votes. They weren’t sought.

This strategy defied reason and history. Disunited parties usually do poorly. GOP leaders gambled that their candidates would do better if the Trump connection were minimized. That may have eased the qualms of some about voting Republican. But it’s bound to have prompted others to stay at home on Election Day. We know one thing about the gamble: It didn’t work. Republicans were slaughtered, and it wasn’t because the candidates were bad.

“Our overall ticket was of high quality, but no casual voter would know it since the campaign focus was on ‘Harris County Works,’ and Houston doesn’t,” Polland insisted. “Did we read about any of the high-quality women running? Not much. Did we read about issues raised by Donald Trump that were resonating with voters? Nope. Did the Simpson-led party even mention Trump? Nope.”

[…]

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the “holy grail” for Democrats, both in Texas and nationally, is winning the Hispanic vote. “They did that somewhat successfully” in 2016, he said in an interview. Unless Democrats attract significantly more Hispanic voters in 2018, Brady thinks Republicans should recover. His district north of Houston lies partly in Harris County.

For this to happen, they will need to attract more Hispanic voters themselves. They recruited a number of Hispanics to run in 2016, several of them impressive candidates. All were defeated in the Democratic landslide.

I have no idea what the author means by “a number of Hispanics” being recruited, because by my count of the countywide candidates, there were exactly two – Debra Ibarra Mayfield and Linda Garcia, both judges who had been appointed to the benches on which they sat. Now I agree that two is a number, but come on.

Like the first story, this one talks about the increase in Latino voting in Harris County in 2016 as well. Usually, in this kind of article, some Republican will talk about how Latinos aren’t automatically Democrats, how it’s different in Texas, and so on. In this one, the turnout increase is met with a resigned shrug and some vague assurances that things will be better for them in 2018. Maybe no one had anything more insightful than that to say – it’s not like Jared Woodfill is a deep thinker – but it sure seems to me like that might have been a worthwhile subject to explore.

As for the griping about the county GOP’s strategy of not mentioning Trump, a lot of that is the two previous GOP chairs dumping on the current chair, which is fine by me. But honestly, what was the local GOP supposed to do? Not only was their Presidential candidate singularly unappealing, their two main incumbents, Devon Anderson and Ron Hickman, weren’t exactly easy to rally behind, either. Focusing on the judges seems to me to have been the least bad of a bunch of rotten options. Be that as it may, no one in this story appeared to notice or care that some thirty thousand people who otherwise voted Republican crossed over for Hillary Clinton, with a few thousand more voting Libertarian or write-in. Does anyone think that may be a problem for them in 2018? A better writer might have examined that a bit, as well as pushed back on the assertion that more Trump was the best plan. It may be that, as suggested by the recent Trib poll, some of these non-Trumpers are warming up to the guy now that he’s been elected. That would suggest at least some return to normalcy for the GOP, but the alternate possibility is that they’re just as disgusted with him and might be open to staying home or voting against some other Republicans next year as a protest. That would be a problem, but not one that anyone in this story is thinking about.

So there you have it. At least with the first story, I learned something about TOP. In the second one, I mostly learned that Gary Polland and Jared Woodfill don’t like Paul Simpson and have him in their sights for next year. That will provide a little mindless entertainment for the rest of us, which I think we’ll all appreciate. It still would have been nice to have gotten something more of substance.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

How turnout happens

If there are a lot of new voters turning out in Harris County this year, the Texas Organizing Project will be the reason why for a lot of them.

The untapped power of the Latino electorate is one of the enduring motifs of modern Texas politics. If only Hispanic voters could be persuaded to show up at the polls—so goes the narrative—the “sleeping giant” could turn Texas blue. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why. About five million Texas Latinos—more than one quarter of the entire electorate—are eligible to vote. But their registration and turnout lag behind Texas as a whole. In 2012, according to Census data, only 39 percent of eligible Latino voters cast a ballot, compared with 54 percent of Texans overall.

TOP is trying to change those numbers. The organization, which focuses on issues that are important to local communities of color, has been working since 2009 to increase voter turnout among Latinos and blacks. As evidence of the group’s success, the director of electoral strategy, Crystal Zermeno, points to a 5 percent increase in the Latino share of the vote in Harris County between 2008 and 2012. Given Trump’s incendiary comments about Hispanics and immigrants, many expect that Latinos will be more motivated than ever to show up at their polling places this year. In the two months leading up to Election Day, TOP’s temporary staff—the group has 37 full-time employees—will call or visit 400,000 people in Harris County.

But Latino voter participation has remained modest because of factors far more complex than personal apathy. Latino voters are a young group, and young people generally turn out in lower numbers. Plus, many are first-, second-, or third-generation Americans who don’t have a family tradition of voting.

“For a lot of folks, partisanship or political behavior is something that’s passed down through their parents and grandparents,” says Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, an adjunct professor of Mexican American and Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “You don’t have that same custom in the Latino community.”

Nor are they accustomed to hearing from candidates, since campaigns usually invest resources in voters who have turned out regularly in the past. A recent poll found that 60 percent of the country’s registered Latino voters had not been contacted by any campaign, political party, or get-out-the-vote organization this cycle. In places like Houston, this is exacerbated by the fact that, as Lydia Camarillo, the vice president of the San Antonio–based Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), puts it, “nobody cares about Texas.” Because it’s not a battleground state, Texas receives limited attention from national donors.

Texas also has some of the country’s most stringent laws regulating voter registration, requiring that voters register at least thirty days before the election. Still, SVREP predicts that more than two million Texas Latinos will vote this month—a 5 percent increase from 2012. To make sure that happens, groups like TOP are doing what research shows is most effective for engaging new voters: knocking on doors.

As we know, there are a lot of newly-registered voters, both locally and nationally. People who have an established habit of voting are going to vote. People who don’t have such a habit, which includes the newly registered, may need a push to get to the polls. It’s hard work and it doesn’t scale, but the kind of in-person discussions that TOP is having is the best way to do that. There’s a reason why some people are freaked out by the prospect of greater participation in this election. You want to make a difference, this is how you do it.

Another Voting Rights Act violation alleged

From Friday:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Today, a coalition of 10 groups sent a letter to Carlos Casco, Secretary of State of Texas, requesting that his office take immediate steps to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1985 (VRA) and the Texas Elections Code.

Evidence currently shows that the State is failing to provide critical materials for potential Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) in Spanish and is not uniformly distributing Spanish language materials in all counties across Texas.

Under the Texas Elections Code, it is a crime to handle a completed voter registration form in any Texas county without being appointed as a VDR for that particular county. The failure to provide Spanish language materials identical to the English language materials, or to ensure all Texas Counties make the Spanish language materials available, for potential VDRs excludes Spanish-speaking Texans from equal participation in the electoral process and can lead to depressed voter turnout in predominantly Latino voter communities.

The letter calls for the Secretary of State to, among other things, translate and distribute all VDR training materials into Spanish, ensure that all Texas counties create reasonable ways for potential VDRs to complete the required training in any minority language covered in that county by the VRA, and require full compliance with any minority language requirements stipulated by the VRA in all Texas counties.

The letter is signed by groups including the Texas Civil Rights Project, the League of Women Voters, MOVE San Antonio, the Texas Organizing Project, and more.

You can see the full letter they sent to Secretary Cascos here. The Texas Civil Rights Project has been busy this year – they filed a lawsuit over voter registration procedures at DPS in March. I don’t know what the current status of that is. According to the letter, they want a response from the SOS by August 31. We’ll see what happens. Link via Rick Hasen, and see here for more.

More focus on bail practices

Something needs to be done, whether via the ongoing lawsuit or other means.

go_to_jail

Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, has spent hundreds of dollars bailing her cousin out of jail for minor offenses.

“I get steamed under the collar when I think about this issue,” Thompson said. “I’m really mad and I’m ready to see some change. ”

Thompson and several other community members gathered Saturday afternoon at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University to discuss bail reform issues in Harris County and suggest potential solutions. The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc., a city organization that seeks justice for minorities, hosted the event. Community leaders expressed concern about poor individuals jailed for nonviolent crimes because they can’t afford to make bail.

“You have a system that gets it wrong all across the spectrum,” Thompson said. “You got low-risk people stuck in jail because they’re poor. You got high-risk people getting out because they’re rich.”

[…]

Community leaders at the meeting on Saturday said the ongoing lawsuit would be one solution regarding the bail reform issue, but also urged local court officials to assess the risk of the individual when setting bail. In Harris County, the average bail is between $500 and $5,000 for misdemeanors.

“If someone is taken to jail on a minor, nonviolent offense like trespassing or theft, bail shouldn’t be determined by a schedule that doesn’t consider risk or ability to pay,” said Mary Moreno, a representative from Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income people in Houston.

Moreno announced the group’s new campaign Saturday to decriminalize poverty in Houston. The group seeks to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County and one of its initiatives concerns bail reform.

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, two or three days of being in jail means losing hours at work and can start a domino effect of unfortunate events that can cause serious financial hardships taking months or years to recover from,” she said.

Moreno also stressed the importance of not jailing people for being unable to pay traffic tickets. She said other options could be community service, payment plans, and the deduction of fines.

See here and here for more on the lawsuit, for which we should get a ruling on who should be defendants this week. This lawsuit may force some changes, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the judges and the DA, with some responsibility for the Lege as well. In the meantime, go back to what Professor Thompson said about risk, and reflect on the fact that Robert Durst was granted bail after being arrested for the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black. Surely people arrested for misdemeanors represent no bigger threat to anyone’s safety than he did.

Doing more to get tax breaks

We’ll see about this.

BagOfMoney

Companies seeking city tax breaks soon could get a boost if they commit to providing additional community benefits – such as workforce housing, paid internships for low-income students or jobs for those who previously were incarcerated – as part of a retooling of Houston’s tax abatement program before City Council on Wednesday.

The new guidelines harken back to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s campaign proposal to ensure that recipients of city tax incentives pay their employees “decent wages with decent benefits.”

However, the recommended changes suggest rather than require that companies offer those additional benefits, prompting concern among advocates that they could have little impact.

“When you start talking about workforce affordable housing and livable wages, all of those things are critical components as we look to rebuild not only streets, but neighborhoods and communities,” Turner said Tuesday. “I think this is one way of moving the ball further down the field and completing some of the things that I’ve talked about earlier, over the last year and a half.”

Houston’s tax abatement rules already favor companies that commit to offering health benefits, purchasing locally, providing jobs within a designated area or providing opportunities to minority- and women-owned businesses. The city is looking to add to those categories as part of a biennial renewal of its tax break protocol, as required by state law.

[…]

Government accountability advocate Greg LeRoy was more skeptical, saying such preferences need an enforcement mechanism to be effective.

“In this era of economic development, where there’s so much money getting spent and so many recurring accountability problems, soft language doesn’t cut it,” said LeRoy, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based policy group Good Jobs First. “Absent black-and-white requirements, which are carefully monitored and enforced, any kind of community benefits – wage and hour standards, geographic targeting, local hiring, set-asides of any kind – just don’t happen.”

Even Houston’s explicit prerequisites for tax breaks have been set aside in recent deals. Council waived a requirement in at least two of the six tax abatements approved in the last two years.

In backing a $6.5 million tax break last month for Fairway Energy Partners to store oil in underground caverns, council agreed to forgo its typical requirement that a business create at least 25 on-site jobs. Two months prior, council signed off on a $1.5 million tax abatement for oil field services giant Halliburton even though city rules block companies from receiving such deals if they already have announced or begun construction on their expansion plans.

Count me in agreement with Greg LeRoy that enforcement is key, and with Ginny Goldman of the Texas Organizing Project that it shouldn’t be so easy to waive these requirements. I get the argument for offering incentives, but it always feels like the “they’ll locate outside the city” reasoning is granted far more weight than any consideration of whether we’re getting sufficient value in the deal. How about an annual review of each deal, with a public accounting of what was promised, what’s been done, what’s still left to do, and what the timeline is for doing them? I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and if it winds up embarrassing any of the recipients of these incentives, then I submit they needed to be embarrassed. Surely at a time when budgets are squeezed and money is tight, the city needs to do all it reasonably can to ensure it is getting the best return on its investments. Give me a public review of these rebate/incentive deals, or give me a good reason why we shouldn’t just do away with them altogether and let the free-market chips fall where they may.

TOP releases report on inefficiency of development tax subsidies

From the inbox:

[Thursday], the Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project released a report on the ineffectiveness of tax subsidies in cities across Texas, and proposed ways to increase requirements for such deals in Houston to offer benefits in the form of good paying jobs with community investment for Houstonians.

The report, compiled by the Workers Defense Project, looked at corporate tax subsidies throughout the state, including Houston, and found that Texas’ cities are giving away huge subsidies without enforceable community benefits agreements.

“Today, we are asking the hard, critical questions,” said Lola Garcia, a community leader with the Texas Organizing Project, “Economic development for whom? For out-of-state multi-billion dollar companies and wealthy developers? Or for neighborhoods and Houstonians in need?”

After analyzing Houston’s tax subsidy deals, contracts and compliance records, researchers found that Houston’s tax subsidy programs have failed to deliver on their promises of equitable development, specifically, they:

  • Failed to create good jobs that pay well;

  • Failed to incentivize affordable housing, and instead contributed to the gentrification of our neighborhoods; and

  • Failed to create a level playing field for small and local businesses to access these programs.

“It’s time to address the city’s long history of picking winners and losers through tax give-aways that fast-track gentrification and fail to provide any direct benefits to neighborhoods most in need of a lift,” said Tarsha Jackson, Harris County director for TOP. “The good news is that we have the opportunity to change this narrative, to redesign the programs, raise and clarify the city’s expectations and criteria for developers seeking multi-million dollar tax deals.

“We know Mayor Turner is committed to creating good jobs for Houstonians, and this research can help us set new standards on economic development projects.”

Get the full report here: The Failed Promise of the Texas Miracle: Corporate subsidies in the Lone Star state.

And here’s the executive summary:

Over the last year, researchers from the Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas at Austin have undertaken a study of tax subsidies and other economic incentives utilized at the state and local level to spur economic development in Texas. Researchers sought to understand the role economic incentives play in the Texas economy by examining how these programs have fulfilled or failed to fulfill their promise of creating high-quality, high-paying jobs and increasing local tax revenue. While there are over a dozen kinds of giveaways to businesses in the form of tax breaks, loans and grants in Texas, our research team conducted a thorough case study of one of the least transparent local programs: Chapter 380 (city) and Chapter 381 (county) agreements, which provide grants, tax breaks, and low-cost loans to corporations. To understand the impact of these economic programs, our research team combed through thousands of pages of contracts and compliance records from three Texas cities and county governments: Austin & Travis County, Houston & Harris County, and Dallas & Dallas County.

Researchers also examined data from over a dozen local, state and federal agencies including city and county governments, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Education, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the State Auditor’s Office, among others. Additionally, researchers reviewed existing studies from numerous academic sources on the impact of economic incentives, as well as existing data on state incentive programs, including the state-level equivalent of Chapter 380/381 agreements: The Texas Enterprise Fund.

To provide context for the use and impact of Texas’ economic incentive programs, we have structured this report around the three pillars necessary to build a strong economy: good job creation, investment in education and training, and fair market competition. Researchers found that while the Lone Star State has made substantial investments to attract Fortune 500 companies to the state, it has failed to invest in Texas businesses and workers, and left many homeowners footing the bill for billions that have been doled out to big business. This study seeks to provide in-depth analysis to how these tax subsidy programs work, how they have failed or fulfilled their promise to Texans, and to provide robust solutions to ensure that our state builds a strong economy that puts Texas business, workers, and taxpayers first.

I’m not opposed to the idea of economic incentives. There does need to be a good, measurable return on the investment, there needs to be a way to enforce the agreements, and the benefits need to be distributed equitably among the population. There’s plenty of room to do all of these things better. The full report is here, and the Austin Chronicle, the Press, and KUHF have more.

SCOTUS denies 30-Day Extension in Immigration Case

Good.

JustSayNo

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted twenty-six states an extra eight days to file their response to the Obama administration’s appeal in defense of its broad new immigration policy. That extension — considerably less than the added thirty days the states had sought — makes it more likely that the case, United States v. Texas, will go before the Justices this Term.

The Court did not release a separate order on the issue, but Supreme Court Clerk Scott Harris simply notified the lawyers in the case that the normal thirty days for a brief in opposition would be extended by eight days — until December 29.

[…]

The states opposed to the new delayed-deportation policy had asked the Court to give them twice the usual time to respond. The administration, however, was opposed to that, but it told the Court that it would not oppose an eight-day extension, which is what the Court chose to grant.

The action by the Justices is not an agreement to review the case. That will be decided only after the preliminary filings are in.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., had told the Court on November 24 that, if the states were given an extra eight days and they actually did meet that deadline, the government would be willing to consider forgoing its right to file a reply brief. That would mean, Verrilli said, that the Court could consider the case at its private Conference, scheduled for January 15. In turn, he added, the Court could decide the case this Term “in the ordinary course if the Court grants review.”

If the Court were to put the case on the January 15 list, and agree at that time to decide it, it could be heard in April and decided before the summer recess. Verrilli had said that, if the schedule got delayed by a longer extension for the states’ filing, the case even if granted would probably not be heard until a special sitting in May. The Court normally finishes hearing cases in a Term in April, and does not like to go beyond that schedule.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m pleased by this and hope it leads to the April hearing that the feds have requested. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold, and the Trib and ThinkProgress have more.

(more…)

Feds respond to request for delay of immigration appeal

Counterpoint:

JustSayNo

It was the federal government’s move Tuesday, and the U.S. Department of Justice asked the court to reject Texas’ request for a 30-day extension to file its brief in the case, but says it is open to an eight-day delay if the response is “physically on file” at that time.

A full delay could mean the high court doesn’t render a final decision on the program — known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents — until June 2017, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in a letter to Supreme Court Clerk Scott S. Harris. That would be more than two years after the president announced the policy that would protect more than four million undocumented immigrants from deportation proceedings and allow them to apply for three-year work permits.

[…]

It’s unclear when the high court will decide on the extension, but the justice department said it’s prepared to press on should the extension be granted.

“We note, however, that should state respondents’ request for a 30-day extension be granted, we anticipate filing a motion for expedition and a May argument session to permit the case to be heard this Term,” Verrilli wrote.

See here, here, and here for the background. Not much to add here. I trust we will know soon enough what the answer is, because if we’re left to wait for a response then won’t be anything to respond to. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold, and the Current and SCOTUSBlog, which has a copy of the feds’ response, have more.

(more…)

Obama appeals immigration order ruling to SCOTUS

As expected.

JustSayNo

The Obama administration on Friday asked the United States Supreme Court to review a federal appellate court’s ruling that struck down the president’s controversial immigration program.

The request comes exactly one year after the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced by the president. It would have allowed more than 4 million undocumented immigrants nationwide to apply for three-year renewable work permits and reprieves from deportation proceedings.

The petition — which the Obama administration said earlier this month it planned to file — states the case “warrants immediate review” and echoes the sense of urgency advocates of the program have expressed for months. If the high court decides to review the case, a ruling could come as late as June, roughly six months before Obama leaves the White House.

See here for the background. It’s hard to imagine SCOTUS not wanting to take this, it’s mostly a question of whether they take it for the next session, so as to have a ruling before the next Presidential election. That’s what I’m hoping for. Not much more to say at this point beyond that. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold, and Daily Kos has more.

(more…)

More focus on inequality

Good to see.

As Houston’s mayoral candidates spar over the city’s largely agreed upon top issues – finances, infrastructure and public safety – a fourth policy concern is percolating: economic inequality.

Concerns about disparity underpin discussions about the city’s revenue cap, development incentives, education, even which roads to repair and when.

Yet, when it comes to policy solutions, candidates have offered few concrete proposals.

Only state Rep. Sylvester Turner has placed inequality front-and-center in his campaign, though his suggestions come with few implementation details.

“We cannot create or allow to be created two cities in one, of haves and have-nots,” Turner said in a recent interview. “You have to build a city for the middle class.”

Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Houston ranks 15th for income inequality, with the top 5 percent of earners making 11.8 times that of the bottom 20 percent, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.

Census data also shows about 22 percent of city residents lived below the poverty level in 2014.

“We’re under this illusion in Houston that because people are working, that they’re not in poverty, which is simply not true,” said Ginny Goldman, executive director of the advocacy group Texas Organizing Project.

Nationwide, big city mayors have sought to address economic inequality with initiatives ranging from raising the local minimum wage to implementing universal pre-kindergarten.

In Texas, however, state law prevents cities from increasing their own minimum wages, leaving local governments to pursue such strategies as raising municipal workers’ salaries or creating special taxing districts for neighborhood development.

See here for some background. This is about making sure Houston stays an affordable, livable city for all of its residents. There are things a Mayor can do about that – to encourage and incentivize affordable housing, for instance. Pursuing a local pre-k program, as was done in San Antonio and as has been discussed in Harris County, is another. The problem has to be part of the discussion before any solutions can be. I’m glad to see that happening.

Highlighting wages in the Mayor’s race

From the inbox:

Coalition Calls on Next Mayor to Raise Minimum Wage for Publicly Funded Projects

Today, a coalition of community and labor organizations staged a tour of of sites that received tax dollars to tell the story of how the city subsidizes the creation of poverty jobs.

“Of the City of Houston’s 35 economic development tax-incentive deals with developers between 2004 – 2014, only 7 had any job promises,” said Feldon Bonner, a member of the Texas Organizing Project at the press conference that kicked off the tour. “None of the deals included language about the quality of the promised jobs, and only one has provided reports to the City on its job creation deliverables. This is unacceptable.”

The tour started at the Westin Downtown, formerly known as the Inn at the Ballpark, for which Landry’s received $2 million dollars in tax giveaways, and despite failing to provide the 125 jobs promised, the city council voted to allow Landry’s to keep the incentives.

“These tax deals are not going to mom and pop businesses. They are not going to small, women-owned, minority owned or disadvantaged businesses,” said Pastor David Madison, a TOP leader. “Tillman Fertitta, CEO, chairman and owner of Landry’s has a net worth of $2.3 billion. Yet Landry’s is one of the region’s largest poverty job creators paying its more than 10,000 service and restaurant workers in the Houston area low wages.”

The next stop was at Ainbinder Heights, a development anchored by Walmart, and includes a McDonald’s and Taco Cabana. The city awarded Ainbinder $6 million in tax breaks for property improvements. The agreement between the city and Ainbinder spans 48 pages, yet the city failed to negotiate any specific commitments for the number and quality of jobs or any other meaningful community benefits.

“Let’s not forget that Walmart is the largest corporation in the world! And the Walton family is the richest family in America with a net worth of $149 billion dollars. Do you think they need our tax incentives?,” Florence Coleman, a TOP leader, asked the community members present. “Do they deserve our tax incentives? The average Walmart associate makes just $8.81 per hour. Nationally, taxpayers are already footing a $6.2 billion bill in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing for Walmart employees who can’t provide for their families because of the low wages Walmart pays them.”

The final stop was at the Astrodome, a project that will probably receive tax dollars. County Judge Ed Emmett has traveled around the world to put together a plan for its reconstruction that includes water park, theater & trails. But there is no plan to assure that the jobs created by this project pay well and have benefits.

“The Astrodome was built by union workers back in the early 1960s, and we’re proud to have contributed to it,” said Paul Puente of the Building Trades Union. “And our elected officials have the obligation to leverage our public dollars effectively so projects like the Astrodome redevelopment provide good jobs that pay at least $15 dollars per hour or prevailing wage, whichever is higher. Jobs that provide training and benefits. And to make sure African American and Latino families in struggling neighborhoods have access to these jobs by including local hire requirements and second chance provisions.”

The coalition staged the tour today to so that Houston’s next mayor makes higher wages a priority.

“We are here today to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated with publicly funded development projects like the ones we visited earlier today,” Puente added. “Our local economy cannot afford one more poverty wage job. Our communities cannot accept one more poverty-wage job.”

The following organizations participated in today’s tour: Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas, AFL-CIO, Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Working America. Pictures can be downloaded from here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0Bx7Fk8Qnalp0MTdtRXBMa2hyN0U&usp=sharing

That came out the same day as this story about Houston not being the affordable city we are used to it being. High housing costs are a big factor in that, but so are low average wages. Attacking that problem can have an effect on the bottom line as well. There’s only so much a Mayor can do directly about this – we already have an executive order in place establishing a higher minimum wage for companies that do business with the city, thanks to Mayor Parker – but talking about the issue and making it a point in negotiations over real estate deals like the ones cited above are two of them. I’m glad to see this coalition call attention to it.

Harris Health wants more people to enroll in Obamacare

Who can blame them?

Harris County’s public health care agency, responding to a budget crisis, will eliminate more than 19,000 people next year from eligibility for free or nearly free services, hoping most of these patients will obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

The board of the agency, Harris Health, voted Thursday to reduce its income threshold for subsidized care from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent, saving the system a projected $21.3 million in fiscal year 2017.

Of those losing coverage, more than 15,000 would be eligible to purchase insurance plans through Healthcare.gov, the health insurance exchange created by the federal law widely known as Obamacare. Most would qualify for large subsidies that would lower the cost of their premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

“We know the seriousness of what is about to take place, but something is going to have to take place for us to survive” in the face of a $53 million budget deficit, board chairman Elvin Franklin said before the vote. “We have to make some hard decisions from time to time, and sometimes those decisions are not going to reflect what everybody wants.”

Under the revised guidelines, an individual making more than $17,655 annually or a family of four with income exceeding $36,375 would no longer be eligible for subsidized care. The change would affect an estimated 19,527 patients, about 6 percent of the 325,000 clients the agency serves.

[…]

Harris Health and local advocacy groups will have a major challenge in helping people, like Walker, understand their options and how health insurance works.

Plans sold through the exchange are arranged into four tiers – platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Platinum and gold plans generally have higher premiums but lower deductibles and copayments. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums but high deductibles and copayments.

Federal subsidies, provided through tax credits, and cost sharing help are only available through silver plans. Often, paying a higher monthly premium for a silver plan will be less expensive in the long run for an individual patient.

“We’re talking to people who have never had health insurance before,” said Tiffany Hogue, policy director for the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for the poor that has been conducting enrollment outreach. “Unless they’re sick, this is not their top priority or concern. And it’s complicated to show them the value of why they need it now.”

The education effort may get a significant boost from the federal government. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced Tuesday that Houston was among the five areas the agency will target with expanded enrollment outreach because they have high levels of uninsured people.

“We’ve found that costs are still a big concern – about half of the people who are uninsured have less than $100 in savings,” Burwell said. “And people are worried about fitting premiums into their budgets. Almost 60 percent of people who are uninsured are either confused about how the tax credits work or don’t know that they are available.”

While their monthly costs may increase, patients who enroll in the exchanges will have other benefits of health insurance. For example, they can seek care from doctors and hospitals outside the Harris Health System. And their plans can provide coverage when they travel out of the area.

This has been under discussion for several weeks now, as Harris Health has tried to deal with its deficit. They could apply some of the savings they’ll get from 15,000 people signing up for Obamacare to help the 4,000 or so that don’t qualify for subsidies, and still come out way ahead. It’s going to be hard on a lot of people, and some will unfortunately fall through the cracks, but it doesn’t make sense for Harris Health to not do this. Let’s put the blame for any problems that arise – indeed, for the shortfalls that are forcing this in the first place – where it belongs: on the state, particularly Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the Legislature, for refusing to expand Medicaid. That would have provided coverage to a large number of the people that will still be serviced by Harris Health. Medicaid expansion would also provide coverage to many people who suffer from mental illness, including a significant portion of the homeless and the people who make frequent trips to the local jails. Our state leadership isn’t interested in any of that. They want to push those costs down to the local level, where they don’t have to take responsibility for it, and they want to arbitrarily cut costs despite the huge negative effects that has. That is the root cause of these problems, and it will remain so until we have different leadership. I hope I live long enough to see it. KUHF and the Chron editorial board have more.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

TOP calls for changes in construction incentives

From Prime Property:

Members of the Texas Organizing Project stood with signs across from a 40-story building under construction at Preston and Milam just off the park on downtown’s north side.

The group was hoping to draw attention to the Downtown Living Initiative, a program that offers $15,000 per unit in tax rebates to developers building new housing units in the city center.

Many of the developers receiving the incentive are building projects with high-end amenities and charging rents well above $2,000 per month.

Only wealthy people can afford to live in these units, “furthering economic segregation of our city,” said Tiffany Hogue, a spokeswoman for TOP, an advocacy group that promotes social and economic equality for low-income and working class Texans.

[…]

The city’s program, which could result in up to $75 million in subsidies, is meant to lessen the hurdles to developing downtown, chiefly high land costs and the complexity of construction.

The group hopes Houston’s next mayor hold developers to higher standards.

“Our mayor should hold private multi-million dollar developers accountable to real standards if they want our tax dollars, standards like creating affordable housing, generating good, sustainable jobs for Houston families, and investing in neighborhoods that need it most,” TOP leader Bishop David Pittman said in a statement.

See here for some background. I’m not averse to the arguments for encouraging downtown residential development. Downtown is a better place than it was 20 years ago, and its improvement has been a key in the renaissance of Midtown and EaDo and other areas nearby. All that said, this is a lot of money being used to subsidize high-end development, which is exactly the sort of thing that ought to be able to stand on its own. If the city were reaping a full economic benefit from this that would be one thing, but in a revenue cap world, the marginal benefit of another high-end high-rise are limited. We need to pay attention to making Houston affordable again. As I’ve said many times over the past few months, we need to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about this.

Van de Putte and Taylor in SA Mayor runoff

Here we go.

Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is set to face San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in a runoff for the city’s top job.

With 95 percent of all precincts reporting late Saturday, Van de Putte led Taylor 31 percent to 28 percent, according to unofficial returns. Former state Rep. Mike Villarreal trailed in third at 26 percent, and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in fourth at 10 percent.

With 14 declared candidates — four considered runoff prospects — the chance of an outright victory seemed slim Saturday. The runoff is scheduled for June 13, with early voting taking place from June 1-9.

“Our work’s not over, because what this means is we’re doing to work even harder to convince those who may not have cast a ballot to trust Leticia, to believe in her vision in this city,” Van de Putte said shortly after 10 p.m., surrounded by her family as confetti lingered in the air at her campaign headquarters on San Antonio’s West Side.

As results came in, Taylor told supporters at her election night party she was ready for a runoff.

“We can’t rest on our laurels because we’ve got some work to do to get to June 13,” she said, shortly after Adkisson and Villarreal conceded.

The four major candidates were seen as Democrats, though the election was nonpartisan.

That much is true, though as the Rivard Report notes, Taylor was generally the preferred candidate for Republican voters. It’ll be interesting to see how the runoff plays out, as there was no love lost between Van de Putte and Villarreal in the first round. She’s going to need Democrats to turn out to win, and if Villarreal supporters carry a grudge, that could get dicey. I’m no expert on San Antonio’s politics, so take that with some salt. Runoffs are tricky things, and anything can happen.

That was the marquee race, but I was at least as interested in Pasadena and Fort Bend ISD. Here are the unofficial results from Pasadena:

DISTRICT A — Ornaldo Ybarra leads Keith Nielsen 284-45;

DISTRICT B — Celestino Perez leads Bruce Leamon 118-107;

DISTRICT C — Sammy Casados leads Emilio Carmona 108-81;

DISTRICT D — Cody Ray Wheeler (182) leads J.E. “Bear” Hebert (77) and Pat Riley (28);

DISTRICT E — Cary Bass leads Larry Peacock 144-96;

DISTRICT F — Jeff Wagner 219 (unopposed)

DISTRICT G At Large — Pat Van Houte leads Steve Cote 859-599;

DISTRICT H At Large — Oscar Del Toro leads Darrell Morrison 755-728.

If you look at the comment on that Pasadena post, you’ll see that the folks who opposed Mayor Johnny Isbell and his power grabbing did pretty well. I wish I could find a list of candidates endorsed by the Texas Organizing Project to compare to this, but I can’t. Still, it looks good. And finally, as far as FBISD goes, I’m glad to see that Addie Heyliger won her race, which will help make that board a little more diverse and a little more reflective of the community. Congrats to her and to all of yesterday’s winners.

The next generation of leaders

The future looks good.

Durrel Douglas

A new generation of black activist leadership in Houston has emerged from the protests over the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.

At one point during a town hall last month, the clergyman-moderator acknowledged a fresh face in the audience wearing a T-shirt with a blazer who was given a few minutes to talk about a burgeoning movement of young people organizing in Houston.

As Bishop James Dixon, who is in his 50s, descended the steps from his pulpit-turned-dais toward Durrel Douglas, the microphone and that moment could be viewed as a metaphorical passing of the baton to the next generation.

Douglas and two others have formed Houston Justice. The organization is so new that it didn’t exist the week of Thanksgiving when a multi-ethnic multitude marched for miles in Houston’s Third Ward to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson officer who fatally shot Brown.

Douglas had the spotlight that day too. At one point before participants briefly blocked traffic, he began shouting into a megaphone and wondered aloud why no elected officials were present to rally with the people.

By Thanksgiving weekend, he was caucusing with Shekira Dennis and Damien Thaddeus Jones about how to bundle the energy that had fired up hundreds – if not thousands – of Houstonians. Intentionally rejecting the pattern of mainline social justice organizations like the NAACP or the National Urban League, Houston Justice’s leadership structure was designed as a trinity of equals with no single figurehead.

“We said: We have to do something. We can turn this into something,” Douglas explained.

The born-in-the-1980s leaders settled on three initial goals: Convince the Houston City Council to pass the “Mike Brown Ordinance” to require Houston Police Department officers to wear body cameras while on duty, strengthen the power of the HPD citizens review board and increase the diversity of Harris County grand juries.

The group adopted the mantra “Less Talk, More Action” to emphasize that they’re not impressed by rhetoric.

[…]

Law enforcement issues have personal importance for Douglas. The 28-year-old worked as a jailer in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for five years after high school. He found himself guarding former classmates who grew up with him on Houston’s south side.

“I saw so many, you’d be surprised,” he said.

Four years ago, Douglas switched to politics, first working for the Harris County Democratic Party and state Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, then the Texas Organizing Project, which advocates for poor and working-class families. Later, he was the Texas state director of Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Today, he’s a consultant.

Dennis, the youngest at 26, was raised in Houston and cut a path from standout student at Texas Southern University to Washington intern in the Office of Presidential Personnel.

She served as TSU student government association president during the 2011-12 academic year and interned with then-City Council member Wanda Adams. In addition to organizing for Texas Together in Houston’s Alief area, she worked in Charlotte, N.C., for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Some have questioned the authority of the younger generation to challenge established and elected leaders, but Dennis said the coalition’s actions are part of a mandate.

“I’m simply doing what our elders have asked us to do: Step up, take responsibility and take it to the next level. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” she said.

Raised in Jackson, Mississippi, the setting for many battles of the 20th century civil rights struggle, Jones is the closest the clan comes to having a preacher at the helm. The self-styled cultural critic comes from a family of clergy, usually wears a suit, leans heavily on morality in his arguments and is prone to offer Biblical references to illustrate a point.

“The movement is in me,” said Jones, 29, an Air Force veteran who served as TSU student government vice president. “This is what God put me here to do. When the people you expect to be fighting for you are not, we have nothing to lose.”

I’ve gotten to know Durrel Douglas, and I’m impressed by what he, Dennis, Jones, and others like them have been doing. The need for the kind of reforms that they and Houston Justice are pursuing is great and immediate. As for the leadership matter, I recommend you read Douglas’ open letter to Oprah about why their movement won’t have a “leader”. Honestly, they’re all leaders, and we need them. Grits, who thinks there’s more to be done on these issues at the state level, has more.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

Expand Medicaid or else

Turns out the federal government has more leverage over Texas than you might think.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

If Texas wants to keep receiving billions of federal dollars to help hospitals care for uninsured patients, state lawmakers may have to look again at expanding Medicaid coverage for impoverished adults, some political observers say.

That’s because in 2016, Texas will have to ask the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to renew a five-year waiver to pump $29 billion into state health care coffers.

Since landing its first such waiver in 2011, Texas leaders have defiantly refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 1 million impoverished Texans with no health insurance.

With the waiver renewal nigh, observers said, there’s some expectation that the federal agency will hold the waiver approval hostage in exchange for Medicaid expansion.

“CMS is going to hold that over Texas’ head to say, ‘You want this money? You do the expansion,’” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “It’s one of the points of leverage that CMS now has.”

Texas received the 2011 Medicaid waiver in part to reimburse hospitals for care provided to patients who couldn’t pay. Two years later, state leaders under Gov. Rick Perry declined to expand Medicaid, criticizing the program as inefficient.

That left a “coverage gap” of more than 1 million Texans too poor to receive federal subsidies for private health insurance but too rich to qualify for coverage under Texas’ current, restrictive Medicaid requirements.

Now, policy analysts on the left and right say, the feds are likely to be less sympathetic to Texas’ request for another waiver to help pay for uncompensated care.

A similar tug-of-war is playing out in Florida, said Joan Alker, executive director at the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. In May, the federal government renewed Florida’s waiver to reimburse hospitals for just one year, rather than the standard three, “which was very unusual,” Alker said.

[…]

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, one of the lawmakers who advocated for the “Texas solution,” said the Legislature would revisit coverage expansion during the session.

“It still behooves us as a Legislature to figure out, what’s the policy going to be around these people?” he said. “I’ll be the first to say that finding a solution for these million and a half people is important.”

And the transformational waiver from 2011 is already a source of some conflict with the federal government. CMS is currently withholding $75 million in waiver money that Texas used to reimburse private hospitals while federal officials review whether any rules were broken.

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for the Texas Organizing Project, which has worked to get Texans to sign up for health coverage on the exchange, said Medicaid expansion would be a top priority for her group during the legislative session.

“It’s absolutely going to be a battle cry for us,” she said. “The sheer number of uninsured — that’s daunting.”

Still, Alker said she was skeptical that Texas would expand Medicaid anytime soon.

“I remind myself when the Children’s Health Insurance Program was passed in 1997, Texas was the last state in the country to pick up the program,” she said. “That may be instructive moving forward.”

It’s always a safe bet to assume that the Legislature will fail to do the right thing when given the chance. I for one will be rooting for the feds to apply the screws as hard as they can in pursuit of a Medicaid expansion deal that would do untold amounts of good for more than a million people, not to mention be a nice bit of stimulus for the Texas economy. Making Ted Cruz’s head explode would be the cherry on top. Against that, when the Republicans from Greg Abbott on down (with the honorable exceptions of Zerwas et al) dig their heels in, perhaps this will finally be the impetus to get the Texas Medical Association to quit trying to placate the bullies and start working to actually further their own and their patients’ best interests.

On Gene Green and representing Latino districts

I’ve been meaning to blog about this story about Rep. Gene Green and CD29 and how the Houston area has never sent a Latino to Congress, but I kept getting stuck and I finally decided I was overthinking it.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

Two decades after local political leaders thought they had solved the demographic puzzle with a new “opportunity district” that is today three-quarters Latino, no Hispanic has represented it.

As of this election cycle, Houston remains the most Hispanic major metropolitan area in the country without a Latino elected to Congress, a distinction that could revitalize concerns about how historic the 1991 redistricting truly was. The dozen congressional lawmakers who represent Greater Houston’s 2.2 million Hispanics can say they are voices for the community, but Latino leaders worry that because none of them are of the community, Hispanics’ voice in Washington may be muffled.

“When people see the growth … where we’re at politically, I think more and more people are opining, ‘Hey, when are we going to do it?’ ” said Democratic consultant Marc Campos. “People are becoming a little bit more sophisticated about the demographics and what it means for our community.”

What it means is that potential Latino candidates, mollified with political savvy and dispirited by political incumbency, have demurred from challenging the non-Hispanic – Gene Green – who represents them in Congress, and according to some, has served his constituents well. But with each successive election, the path to reversing the trend seems increasingly daunting.

And it draws fresh attention to the challenge that animates community organizers, Democratic groups and even apolitical Hispanics who would like to see a more representative Houston metropolitan area, a lawmaker who can bellow into a megaphone in Spanish on the population’s behalf.

[…]

And every two years for the past 20, Hispanic voters in the 29th district have sent Green back to Congress. He does not speak Spanish, but political observers note how Green has shrewdly won over the Hispanic community by co-opting threatening Latino leaders and hustling to keep tabs on the community’s pulse. That has kept Hispanic challengers at bay.

“He’s a very smart politician and has done his homework in terms of coming home,” said Maria Jimenez, a longtime Hispanic organizer in Houston.

The district is rich with potential Latino candidates, such as Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Carol Alvarado. Hispanic leaders say there is a steady drumbeat of chatter about a Latino challenging Green in a primary, but Green has hired many of these prominent Hispanics over the decades and has built personal loyalties that area Latinos are reluctant to violate.

There is also a harsher political reality: Everyone knows Gene Green.

“If there’s five people meeting in the civic club, I tell you: Gene Green is there,” said Armando Walle, a Hispanic state representative from Houston who once worked for Green. “He can continue to be a member of Congress as long as he wants.”

Green, 66, returns to the district every weekend when Congress is in session and has earned a reputation as a workhorse. Green maintains that is what matters in his district.

“It’s more of a service-oriented district. People want to know what you’re doing to help,” Green said. “I don’t think I’d get re-elected or elected if I wasn’t doing the job.”

That philosophy is echoed in Hispanic Houston, where activists say Green has represented Latinos well in Washington despite not being a member of their community. Politically, that representation means that Green has not created an impetus for change – even if the seat was designed with a Latino lawmaker in mind.

“If you have a good member of Congress that represents their district well, I think it really comes down to – who is clamoring for change?” asked Joaquin Guerra, political director for the Texas Organizing Project in Houston. “When you have a 20-plus congressional incumbent, obviously they seem to be doing something right.”

You should read the whole thing if you missed it the first time around, it’s worth your time. At this point I’d say the betting odds are on Rep. Green representing CD29 until he retires, which would then trigger a gigantic free-for-all to succeed him. You never know with politics, of course, so it’s possible someone could successfully primary him. Campos doesn’t think people will want to wait.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the question any theoretical opponent to Gene Green will have to answer as well. You need to do that to convince the voters, but even before you get to the voters you need to do that to convince the people who write checks and the people and organizations that offer endorsements, volunteers, credibility, and other kinds of support. I’m not saying that could never happen – anyone can get complacent or can fail to recognize when the political ground has shifted underneath them – I’m saying it has to happen for said candidate to have a chance. In the meantime, I don’t think anyone is going to get rich betting against Gene Green.

Davis proposes minimum wage increase

The Chronicle buries the lede.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Down in the polls and facing an opponent with a cash advantage, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis on Thursday took her campaign to the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she told supporters the battle for the governor’s mansion has just begun.

“No matter who you are, no matter your gender, no matter your race and no matter who you love, I am going to fight for you,” Davis told the crowd of a couple hundred college students.

Davis’ 20-minute speech broke little new ground, sticking to familiar attack lines and applause points, speaking about the struggles she faced during the early part of her life and calling her Republican opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott the friend of “insiders.”

Speaking to the audience, Davis called for raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 an hour.

“$7.25 an hour is $15,000 a year, and I know from experience that is not enough to support a family,” Davis said.

“It’s not even enough to afford college,” someone in the crowd shouted, to laughs from the audience.

Yeah, “little new ground”, except of course for that whole “raising the minimum wage” proposal, which while perhaps not a game-changer nonetheless swiftly drew the usual pearl-clutching horror from Greg Abbott and his cronies in the business lobby as well as plaudits from labor and affiliated groups. But who cares, all that issues stuff is boring. Horse race stories, that’s where it’s at.

The Chron did catch up on some of those details a bit later.

Calls to increase the minimum wage became the latest flashpoint in the Texas governor’s race on Friday, after Democrat Wendy Davis called for the minimum to be raised to $10.

Davis weighed into the national controversy that has fast-food workers demanding a hike to $15 an hour, from the current $7.25 an hour, during a campaign appearance at the University of San Antonio, where she had targeted Republican Greg Abbott for being a political insider out of touch with working Texans.

“I’ll fight to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 because this is a family issue,” Davis said Thursday.

A 40-hour-a-week worker currently would make about $15,000 a year at minimum wage, an amount that Davis said is too little to support a family. She repeated her stance in appearances Friday.

“From working to strip our children’s schools of more of than $5 billion that has led to overcrowded classrooms and massive teacher shortages to his opposition to giving 2.8 million Texans a raise that will help them support their families and improve our economy, Greg Abbott is fighting against hardworking Texans,” Davis said at a rally in Denton.

So yes, I think that counts as something new, and as someone who wholeheartedly supports the idea because people need to be paid a wage they can actually live on, I’m delighted to see Davis stand up for this. It would be a big boost to a lot of people who could really use it, and it polls better than you think, too. More like this, please. Statements from the Davis campaign and from the Texas Organizing Project in support of this policy are beneath the fold; Stace and Progress Texas have more.

(more…)

Last minute health insurance enrollment help

From the inbox:

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) will open four of its multi-service centers on Sunday and extend their business hours next Monday to help people sign up for a health insurance plan by the Affordable Care Act’s March 31 deadline.

HDHHS will open Acres Homes, Denver Harbor, Northeast and Southwest multi-service centers on Sunday, March 30, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. It will also extend the four multi-service centers’ business hours on Monday, March 31, until 10 p.m., setting the last ACA enrollment appointment for 8 p.m.

Approximately 99,000 Houston-area residents have enrolled in one of the more than 40 low-cost ACA health plans available in the region. Those without health insurance have only one week left to sign up.

Residents can set up an appointment for one-on-one help from certified application counselors at HDHHS by calling 832-393-5423. The counselors are able to help residents compare health plans and find one that fits their budget and health care needs.

The phone number connects residents to an ACA call center that HDHHS set up as part of the Gulf Coast Health Insurance Marketplace Collaborative, a group of 13 agencies helping people obtain insurance coverage through the ACA.

Certified application counselors and outreach staff with HDHHS and the other agencies in the collaborative have met face to face with more than 151,500 area residents since the enrollment period began in October. They have also reached out or distributed ACA brochures and information to approximately 538,000 people.

Documents needed to enroll during an appointment include:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship: social security number or copy of U.S. passport for all family members
  • State residency: driver’s license, housing lease or utility bill
  • Income:  W-2 forms or pay stubs; unemployment or disability; social security, pension and retirement income; or copy of 2012 tax return
  • Current health insurance: policy numbers for any current health insurance and information about job-related health insurance
  • Immigration status or legal residency: Immigration document status numbers.

The press release is here, and Stace was also on this. There are going to be a number of rallies and other events aimed at getting people signed up while they still can. Another event, via State Rep. Jessica Farrar, will be Saturday, March 29th from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Harris County Department of Education Conference Center, 6300 Irvington Blvd. Anyone who has questions about the exchange or is currently without health insurance is encouraged to attend. Here’s a Trib story about the pre-deadline push.

The Affordable Care Act requires most individuals to purchase health insurance by 2014, specifically by March 31, which will mark the final day of canvassing and enrollment outreach by nonprofits, local governments and community organizations.

At the start of March, 295,000 Texans had selected a coverage plan in the federal marketplace, but the number of total enrollees represents a small fraction of the uninsured in Texas.

National advocates for health reform have homed in on Texas’ enrollment in recent weeks, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who was in Texas last week to promote enrollment efforts, including a final push to mobilize young adults to sign up for insurance through the marketplace.

Enroll America, a nonprofit group promoting the federal health reform law, launched a six-city bus tour through Texas last week to help people enroll in the exchange. Anne Filipic, president of the group, said it has focused on Texas because of the amount of people “who stand to benefit” from the federal health reform.

The organization has also set up a series of enrollment events throughout the state, including the one Donnell attended, as part of the final week of enrollment and is following up with individuals who started their process at one of the events to help them complete their enrollments.

Locally, state Democratic legislators have hosted their own enrollment efforts or have worked with entities like the Texas Organizing Project, a group that advocates for low-income Texans, to host regular enrollment events in Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties.

Federally qualified health centers in Texas also received more than $15 million federal grants to help individuals enroll in the marketplace. Lone Star Circle of Care clinics was among the top recipients in the state, receiving a combined $600,000 in grants to provide enrollment assistance.

Lone Star spokeswoman Rebekah Haynes said its 35 certified application counselors have seen an uptick in demand for enrollment assistance in the last few weeks, and they are working with hundreds of individuals to verify whether they qualify to purchase health insurance through the marketplace.

Texas could have delivered half of the enrollees the Obama administration is banking on. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 3,143,000 Texans are potential marketplace enrollees, but only 9.4 percent of that population has enrolled. (Potential enrollees include uninsured Texans who are U.S. citizens and have incomes above the amount needed to qualify for Medicaid.)

You have to wonder what might have been if anyone in the Republican leadership cared even a little bit about the vast number of uninsured people in Texas. Be that as it may, if you know someone who needs coverage but still hasn’t signed up yet, do whatever you can to encourage them to get it done now. Time is very much running out.

More Obamacare enrollments, still lots more needed

That’s pretty much the story.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas enrollment in the online insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act rose steadily in February but did not meet expectations set forth by the Obama administration, according to figures that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Tuesday.

“As more Americans learn just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up to get covered,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a call announcing the enrollment data. “We expect that even more will sign up as we approach the March 31 deadline.”

The data is the last to be released by HHS before open enrollment closes on March 31, offering a glimpse at the daunting task facing advocacy groups as they make their final push to sign people up for health coverage.

Texas ranked third behind California and Florida in total enrollments since the launch of healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. As of March 1, 295,000 Texans had selected a coverage plan in the federal marketplace, up from 207,500 the month before.

The number represents a small fraction of the uninsured in Texas, the state with the highest percentage of people without health coverage nationwide. In 2012, more than 6 million Texans, about 24 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, according to U.S. census data.

“That is very low,” said Arlene Wohlgemuth, director of the Center for Health Care Policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “If the goal is to get uninsured people onto the exchange, they are such a long way from doing that.”

Wohlgemuth, of course, was the author of the bill in the 2003 Lege that initiated that disastrous privatization of HHSC, and her fingerprints were all over the bill that cut however many hundreds of thousands of kids off CHIP that same year. In other words, she’s a charter member of the Go Ahead And Die caucus, and as such has Cheney-levels of credibility on anything related to health care.

Be that as it may, the numbers are what they are. We’d like them to be higher, but there’s still time, and millions of people are getting covered regardless of what else happens. The good news is that there will be another open enrollment period in October for next year, and there shouldn’t be any technical problems like there were this time. It may take longer than it should have, but we’ll get there. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold.

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