Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

The Lege

New frontiers in strip club tax collections

A new-ish development in a decade-long battle.

Glenn Hegar

Dozens of “bikini bars” from Houston to San Antonio are suing the state after the Texas Comptroller accused them of skirting the so-called pole tax on nude entertainment and slapped them with seven-figure fees, according to the lawsuits.

The fight focuses on the state definition of nude, which includes any part of the buttocks or a woman’s breast below the top of the areola.

And in federal court, the clubs are questioning why they are taxed for bikini-clad performers, but not concert halls or sports venues that host cheerleaders and musicians wearing thongs or cleavage-baring tops.

“If they aren’t doing it to them, they shouldn’t be able to do it to a topless club or a bikini bar,” said attorney Casey Wallace, who is representing the Texas Entertainment Association, which brought the federal lawsuit in 2017.

The Comptroller’s office said it follows the law and determines which clubs should be taxed by looking at their social media posts and marketing. The office also sends inspectors inside to see what dancers are wearing.

“The agency is just trying to apply this in a common sense way,” said Ray Langenberg, Special Counsel for Tax Litigation for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. “If they are called topless clubs, the claim they are not wears a little thin.”

The fees are being contested in a state appeals process by 34 clubs across Texas, including a dozen in the Houston area. At least 27 more clubs have filed lawsuits, including 14 clubs based in Houston, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The lawsuits referenced in this story were filed last year; I’m not really sure why this is a story now, though perhaps there’s a court date about to happen. Be that as it may, it was back in 2014 that the State Supreme Court upheld the $5-per-customer fee, for which the original bill was passed in 2007. I’m not qualified to parse the legalities of what constitutes “nudity” in this context, but I do think that trying to apply it retroactively for a decade’s worth of collections is excessive. I mean, when the state reached a deal with Amazon in 2012 to start collecting sales taxes, part of the deal was that the state would quit trying to collect back taxes. Why does Amazon deserve a better deal than bikini bars? Assuming that the Comptroller is properly interpreting the law in the first place, which is not a sure thing, surely there would be room for a compromise.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit trial underway

Here we go.

State and reproductive rights attorneys are going head to head again in federal court on Monday to argue whether Texas should require health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains.

“It’s a tough case for everybody,” U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said Friday during a pretrial hearing. In January, he had granted an injunction blocking a state fetal remains burial rule, but he said last week that the previous decision is no indication of how he would rule in the trial.

“It’s a very emotional case, and so I would ask counsel to do the best job they can to try and tamp down some of the more zealous individuals in your respective camps so that we don’t get a lot of extraneous stuff going on,” Ezra said to attorneys for the state and the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs.

Arguments in the trial are expected to run all week.

[…]

Ezra listened as both sets of attorneys spent nearly two hours going over logistics of the trial and other issues including whether certain witnesses would be allowed to testify about the emotional trauma of abortions and fetal remain burials and keeping information about vendors confidential for safety reasons.

Throughout Friday’s pretrial hearing, Ezra laid out for attorneys what was on the court’s mind about the case, including: if women may face an undue burden if there aren’t enough providers or facilities statewide; the logistics of how doctors and clinics would deal with the law if it went into effect; and if Texas has enough facilities available statewide to help dispose of the fetal remains.

“I have to deal with this as a law in Texas that will affect every woman in the state of Texas,” Ezra said.

Another point of contention during the hearing was what to do about a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops would have to turn over confidential internal documents to the Center for Reproductive Rights and Whole Woman’s Health for the fetal remains trial. Ezra had previously ruled it would, but in the middle of the pretrial hearing the 5th Circuit informed him it had reversed his decision.

See here for the previous update. I have no idea how this one may go, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it. There’s certainly a chance that none of this will matter given the likely future composition of SCOTUS, but we have to go through the process anyway. The Chron has more.

Uber scooters

Somehow, you knew something like this was going to happen.

Uber is getting into the scooter-rental business.

The ride-hailing company said Monday that it is investing in Lime, a startup based in San Mateo, California.

“Our investment and partnership in Lime is another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs,” Rachel Holt, an Uber vice president, said in a statement.

Uber will add Lime motorized scooters to the Uber mobile app, giving consumers another option for getting around cities, especially to and from public transit systems, Holt said.

[…]

Rival Lyft is looking for new rides too. Last week, it bought part of a company called Motivate that operates Citi Bike and other bike-sharing programs in several major U.S. cities including New York and Chicago. It will rename the business Lyft Bikes.

It makes sense, I guess. They’re both app-based transportation services, and they both have a, shall we say, laissez-faire attitude towards local regulation. San Antonio is trying to make things work for the scooter invasion there, and when I saw that story my first thought was “eh, it’s just a matter of time before the scooter venture funders start lobbying the Lege for their own rideshare-like legislation”. I was kind of joking when I thought it, but now it doesn’t seem so crazy. Anyway, look for this on your Uber app soon.

Campus carry at the Fifth Circuit

We’ll see if this gets a better reception than it got at the lower court.

Two years ago, three University of Texas at Austin professors — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — filed a lawsuit against state Attorney General Ken Paxton and several leaders of the UT System over a 2015 law that allows concealed handguns on college campuses. The professors argued the law infringed their First Amendment right to academic freedom, saying a “chilling effect” pervades their classes when students can bring guns into the room. The law went into effect in August 2016 and was immediately met with stiff backlash on campuses, particularly at UT-Austin.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, sought to block the law and allow the professors to prohibit firearms in their classrooms. A federal judge turned down the request and dismissed the case last year, saying the professors failed to provide evidence that guns infringe on the professors’ free speech or that they have the authority to nullify state law in their classrooms.

Shortly after the decision, Paxton wrote that the “fact that a small group of professors dislike a law and speculate about a ‘chilling effect’ is hardly a valid basis to set the law aside.”

The suit then went to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which [heard] arguments at Wednesday’s session.

[…]

Moore, who teaches English literature, said she’s optimistic about Wednesday’s appeal. Recent news of gun violence in the country, such as the shooting at Santa Fe High School south of Houston in May, shows the need for more sensible gun reform, she said. She and the other two professors, who all teach in the College of Liberal Arts at UT-Austin, want their students “to see us standing up for them,” Moore said.

“I hope we don’t have to have more deaths and school shootings to convince people that guns don’t belong in the classroom,” Moore said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ve never been optimistic about this lawsuit – I support the goal, but the arguments have not struck me as persuasive. For what it’s worth, if there was ever a time to make a First Amendment argument, this is clearly it. But this is one of those times where I think the only way forward is going to be at the ballot box. We want better gun laws, we’re going to have to win some elections, because I don’t expect the courts to be on our side. We’ll see if I’m wrong in this particular case. The DMN has more.

Back to the barbecue battle

Once again, Sid Miller makes us pay attention to something we shouldn’t have to.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas’ barbecue culture is sacred. But some pitmasters are catching heat from a former rodeo cowboy overseeing the state Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Sid Miller is slapping fines on their small businesses despite a warning from the attorney general that his reasoning may be illegal. The department issued at least 13 citations to barbecue joints for failing to register their meat scales since September, despite a 2017 state law requiring the commissioner to leave such establishments alone. In a case of unlikely bedfellows, Miller’s commission issued nine scale-related fines to yogurt shops, too.

The department has no plans to stop.

The citations are part of a running feud between restaurant owners and Miller, a white-cowboy-hat-wearing commissioner who made it his mission to ensure the state register all scales that weigh food for customers. But the state’s restaurant association is warning the food fight could land the commissioner in court.

[…]

When you order a quarter-pound of brisket, Miller insists the meat-slinger should set it on a state-registered scale where you can read the weight. Restaurants must also pay a yearly $35 fee for each of their scales. But strictly enforcing the law could force some of Texas’ most storied smokehouses to completely change the layout of their kitchens, incurring huge remodeling costs.

It’s “patently absurd,” said Kenneth Besserman, general counsel for the Texas Restaurant Association. Some pitmasters scrambled to rewrite their menus to serve less specific amounts of meat but found that created confusion for customers, he said.

Besserman and the restaurant lobby quickly convinced the Legislature to rewrite the law, nicknaming their effort the “Barbecue Bill.” Lawmakers in 2017 almost unanimously agreed to exempt scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” largely pertaining to barbecue restaurants, yogurt shops and certain salad bars. The governor was sold.

Nevertheless, Miller persisted. Once the bill became law, Miller used his authority to add three additional words: “on the premises.” That meant any establishment selling food to-go — as the vast majority of barbecue restaurants do — had to follow the scale laws and regulations, essentially undoing the new law.

See here and here for the background. AG Paxton has opined that Miller’s interpretation is out of bounds, and the TRA is threatening to sue. I have expressed my reluctant agreement with Miller on the merits of the 2017 law, but it is the law and a public official’s role is to obey and uphold the law, outside of situations where the law is obviously immoral or unjust. This doesn’t meet that standard, in which case Miller should be lobbying for the law to be changed, or to work to un-elect the legislators who passed it. It’s also fair to point out, as Miller’s Democratic opponent Kim Olson does in the story, that the AG ought to have other priorities than this, as there have been almost no complaints made in recent years about inaccurate barbecue scales. Of course, given the sorts of things Miller tends to do when he has a bit of free time, this is at least not horribly embarrassing. Silver linings, I suppose.

Austin drops its bag ban

What choice did they have?

The City of Austin says it will no longer enforce a ban on single-use plastic bags at most retail outlets, following a state Supreme Court ruling last month that struck down Laredo’s bag ban.

The court ruled Laredo’s ban was at odds with state law, but urged the Legislature to pass more specific laws to allow similar bans in the future.

The Texas Health and Safety Code says that local governments in Texas may not “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.” Opponents of bag bans argued that language makes the bans illegal, and the court agreed, saying state lawmakers haven’t effectively defined how plastic bags fit into that regulatory framework.

[…]

“Following the recent ruling from the Texas Supreme Court, the City will not enforce our current rules,” a city spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “While it’s disappointing that the City is losing a tool to help protect the environment, we are also confident that the Austin community will continue to do their best to minimize plastic bag waste. Meanwhile, the City of Austin will continue to educate Austinites about the benefits of bringing reuseable bags with them every time they shop.”

Austin officials say prohibiting retailers from giving away disposable plastic bags helped reduce litter, save wildlife and stop bags from clogging up storm drains.

“The people of Austin have gotten used to this. Not a single job was lost. Not a single business was harmed,” said Andrew Dobbs with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We hope businesses and residents of this city will continue to do what works, regardless of what the Texas Supreme Court says.”

See here for the background. AG Ken Paxton has sent a letter to the other cities that had similar ordinances warning them they need to do the same, and I’m sure they will. The good news here, if you want to be optimistic, is that this was a statutory ruling, not a constitutional one. Which is to say, the Lege could fix this by amending the law in question. That’s not going to happen without a massive change in the type of legislator we elect, but it is possible, and something we can work towards.

Same maps, different day

The coda to the SCOTUS redistricting ruling.

The 2018 elections will move forward without any tweaks to Texas’ political maps.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold all but one of the state’s political districts, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio on Tuesday ordered that the state’s maps should stay in place for this year’s elections despite outstanding issues with House District 90.

The Tarrant County-based district was the sole exception the Supreme Court made in OK’ing the state’s maps last week. That district, which is held by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

It’s likely that opponents of the maps will push for the district to be redrawn, which could affect neighboring Republican-held districts. But as things stand now, the district will only be corrected in time for one election before it likely needs to be redrawn again after the 2020 census.

See here for the background. I don’t even have it in me to make a snarky comment. For seven years of litigation showing clear-cut bad acts to come down to tweaking one safely Democratic district for the 2020 election, it’s a cruel joke. And if the injustice of it all doesn’t motivate you for November, you’re part of the problem. The DMN has more.

Special election set for HD52

Another one in November.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

The special election to replace former state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, will take place on Nov. 6, the same day voters were already set to head to the polls to select his 2019 replacement, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday.

Gonzales, who served in the Texas House since 2011 and worked in the Capitol for years before that as a staffer, had already said he wouldn’t seek another term, but he announced June 6 that he’d retire early, saying “it’s time to get on with the next phase of my life.” That set up a special election to fill the remainder of his two-year term.

Candidates have until Aug. 23 to file to run for the seat, the governor’s announcement said. Two candidates, Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico, have already announced they’re running to serve the central Texas district for the full term.

See here for the background. Not sure why it took longer to schedule this special election than the one in SD19, but whatever. This is what I expected to happen, with this election happening on the same day as the HD62 special election. And now I will sigh wistfully and imagine a November that also includes a special election in SD06, to succeed Sen. Sylvia Garcia. If only.

Where the anti-vaxxers are

A lot of them are right here.

Four Texas cities, including Houston, rank among the 15 metropolitan “hotspots” of vaccine exemptions, more than any other state, according to a new study.

The study found Austin, Fort Worth and Plano also are among the nation’s cities with the highest number of kindergartners not getting vaccinated for non-medical reasons. Since 2009, the proportion of children opting out of such recommended vaccines increased in Texas and 11 other states, the study showed.

“There are some scary trends we were able to identify,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a Houston vaccine scientist and one of the study authors. “They’re a sign that anti-vaccine groups, such as Texans for Vaccine Choice, have been very successful at lobbying efforts – both of the Texas legislature and through social media and other advocacy — to convince parents not to vaccinate their kids.”

[…]

The overall number of people invoking non-medical exemptions isn’t yet high enough to threaten herd immunity, the idea that vaccination of most of the population provides protection for those individuals without immunity to a contagious disease. But public health officials fear clusters of “anti-vaxxers” could leave some children vulnerable.

Texas’ increasing exemptions have been well documented. Though the number is still small, they have spiked from less than 3,000 in 2003 to more than 45,000 of the state’s roughly 5.5 million schoolchildren today, a 19-fold increase.

Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital said he undertook the study because of the Texas increase. He said wanted to look at whether it was a phenomenon unique to the state or mirrored elsewhere. National vaccination rates haven’t changed much in recent years.

You can see the study here. Dr. Hotez is correct to identify the political problem as being a key aspect to this. One clear pathway to getting more kids vaccinated is to take away or at least tighten up the so-called “conscience” objections to vaccines. If the law says you have to vaccinate your kids, the odds are pretty good that you will. But first you have to pass such a law, and right now we have a legislature that’s not inclined to do that.

The fruit of the poisoned tree

If the discriminatory intent of the Texas redistricting was no biggie, then surely the discriminatory intent of the voter ID law is no biggie too. Right?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a motion filed Wednesday, the Texas attorney general’s office asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider her findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against voters of color. An appellate court has already upheld the law, but — in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling — the state is now trying to convince the judge to reverse her findings of discrimination in the voter ID case in order to eliminate the possibility of a return to federal oversight of its election laws.

In the filing, the state argued that the 2011 voter ID law that opponents first challenged as discriminatory has now “changed significantly” and pointed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal’s findings that the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing discriminatory flaws in the voter ID law in 2017.

It cited the Supreme Court’s verdict on the congressional and state House maps as findings that “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions that the voter ID law was also crafted with a discriminatory intent.

The state contends that, like in the redistricting case, lawmakers should be extended the “presumption of legislative good faith” for working to replace a law that Ramos ruled disproportionately — and intentionally — burdened voters of color who are less likely to have one of the seven forms of identification that the state required them to show at the polls.

See here for some background. Ken Paxton is a third-class legal mind, but given the turd that SCOTUS laid on us in the redistricting case, he’s got a compelling argument. Unless someone can find a recording of Troy Fraser rubbing his hands together and cackling “This bill is SUPER RACIST, y’all” while the floor debate was going on, I’m not sure there’s any defense. The only solution is going to be a political one. There’s no other choice.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

See here for yesterday’s discussion. Before we go any further, let me provide a bit of context here, since I seem to be the only person to have noticed that that Trib poll from June 2014 also inquired about other races. Here for your perusal is a comparison of then and now:


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

So four years ago, Wendy Davis topped Dems with 32%, with the others ranging from 25 to 27. All Dems trailed by double digits (there were some closer races further down the ballot, but that was entirely due to lower scores for the Republicans in those mostly obscure contests). Republicans other than the oddly-underperforming John Cornyn were all at 40% or higher. The Governor’s race was the marquee event, with the largest share of respondents offering an opinion.

This year, Beto O’Rourke leads the way for Dems at 36%, with others at 31 or 32. Abbott and Ted Cruz top 40%, but Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are both lower than they were in 2014, with Paxton barely ahead of Justin Nelson. Only Abbott has a double-digit lead, with the other three in front by six, five, and one (!) points.

And yet the one quote we get about the numbers suggests that 2018 could be like 2010 or 2014? I must be missing something. Hey, how about we add in some 2010 numbers from the May 2010 UT/Trib poll?


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2010  Governor       Perry     White     44     35
2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2010  Lite Guv    Dewhurst       LCT     44     30
2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2010  Atty Gen      Abbott Radnofsky     47     28
2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

There was no Senate race in 2010. I dunno, maybe the fact that Republicans outside the Governor’s race are doing worse this year than they did in the last two cycles is worth noting? Especially since two of them were first-time statewide candidates in 2014 and are running for re-election this year? Or am I the only one who’s able to remember that we had polls back then?

Since this cycle began and everyone started talking about Democratic energy going into the midterms, I’ve been looking for evidence of said energy here in Texas. There are objective signs of it, from the vast number of candidates running, to the strong fundraising numbers at the Congressional level, to the higher primary turnout, and so on. I haven’t as yet seen much in the poll numbers to show a Democratic boost, though. As we’ve observed before, Beto O’Rourke’s numbers aren’t that different than Bill White or Wendy Davis’ were. A bit higher than Davis overall, but still mostly in that 35-42 range. However, I did find something in the poll data, which was not in the story, that does suggest more Dem enthusiasm. Again, a comparison to 2010 and 2014 is instructive. In each of these three polls, there’s at least one “generic ballot” question, relating to the US House and the Texas Legislature. Let’s take a look at them.

If the 2010 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought enough about it to have an opinion?

2010 Congress – GOP 46, Dem 34
2010 Lege – GOP 44, Dem 33

If the 2014 election for the Texas Legislature in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

If the 2018 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for [RANDOMIZE “the Democratic candidate” and “the Republican candidate”] the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2018 Congress – GOP 43, Dem 41
2018 Lege – GOP 43, Dem 42

Annoyingly, in 2014 they only asked that question about the Lege, and not about Congress. Be that as it may, Dems are up in this measure as well. True, they were up in 2014 compared to 2010, and in the end that meant nothing. This may mean nothing too, but why not at least note it in passing? How is it that I often seem to know these poll numbers better than Jim Henson and Daron Shaw themselves do?

Now maybe the pollsters have changed their methodology since then. It’s been eight years, I’m sure there have been a few tweaks, and as such we may not be doing a true comparison across these years. Even if that were the case, I’d still find this particular number worthy of mention. Moe than two thirds of Texas’ Congressional delegation is Republican. Even accounting for unopposed incumbents, the Republican share of the Congressional vote ought to be well above fifty percent in a given year, yet this poll suggests a neck and neck comparison. If you can think of a better explanation for this than a higher level of engagement among Dems than we’re used to seeing, I’m open to hearing it. And if I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t know who else might have.

SCOTUS upholds Texas redistricting

Screw this.

Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state’s congressional and state House maps.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court threw out a lower court ruling that had found that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in “bad faith.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that all but one of the 11 congressional and state House districts that had been flagged as problematic could remain intact. The one exception was Fort Worth-based House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state’s districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who since 2011 have been fighting the Republican-controlled Legislature’s post-2010 Census adjustment of district boundaries.

[…]

Joined by the court’s three other liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the majority’s opinion as a “disregard of both precedent and fact” in light of the “undeniable proof of intentional discrimination” against voters of color.

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” Sotomayor wrote. “The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”

In siding with the state, the Supreme Court tossed out claims of intentional vote dilution in state House districts in Nueces County and Bell County as well as claims that Hispanic voters were “packed” into Dallas County districts to minimize their influence in surrounding districts. The high court also rejected challenges to Congressional District 27 — where the lower court said lawmakers diluted the votes of Hispanics in Nueces County — and Congressional District 35, which the lower court flagged as an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But perhaps most significant on the voting rights front was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state could be not be held liable for intentional discrimination of Hispanic and black voters.

See here and here for the background. The opinion is here if you have the stomach for it. You sure can accomplish a lot if you close your eyes and wave away evidence. I don’t know what else there is for me to say, so I’ll just refer you to Pema Levy, Ian Millhiser, Martin Longman, and Mark Joseph Stern. What Rick Hasen wrote five years ago sure looks prescient now.

Supreme Court affirms trashing Laredo’s plastic bag ban

Not really a surprise.

The Texas Supreme Court handed a loss to local government on Friday, striking down a Laredo ban on plastic bags. The decision imperils about a dozen other cities’ bans across the state.

In a decision viewed as one of the court’s most highly politicized of the term, justices ruled unanimously that a state law on solid waste disposal pre-empted the local ordinance. That decision drew immediate responses from both sides of the aisle, with high praise from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who had weighed in against the bans, and condemnation from environmental groups, which had argued the ban kept at bay the harsh environmental damage brought by plastics.

The court’s ruling resolves a long-standing question over whether local governments may impose such bans, as cities including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas have in recent years. Friday’s unanimous holding makes those bans unenforceable as well, and likely tosses the issue over to the Texas Legislature for debate.

The court said in a unanimous holding that its intent was not to wade into the “roving, roiling debate over local control of public affairs” but simply to resolve the legal question at hand.

“Both sides of the debate … assert public-policy arguments raising economic, environmental, and uniformity concerns,” Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for the court. “We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance.”

[…]

While arguments have seemed to center on semantics, the court’s decision is likely to have major implications for local control issues across the state. It’s a loss for local governments, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League.

“Plastic bags are the perfect case for why different geographies need different sets of rules,” Sandlin said. “This is a sad day.”

A long list of lawmakers have weighed in on the case, including by filing friend of the court briefs. Twenty Republican state lawmakers filed a brief against the ban in an earlier appeal of the case. And state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, told the Texas Supreme Court she supports the city’s ban.

In 2017, state Sen. Bob Hall filed a bill that would have prevented Texas cities from enforcing bag bans.

Now that the court has ruled, the issue is likely to become one for legislators to take up. Justice Eva Guzman urged lawmakers to do just that in a concurring opinion Friday.

“The legislative branch, not the judiciary, bears the unenviable task of making complicated policy decisions that balance the benefits of uniform regulation and the myriad burdens (financial or otherwise) that may be imposed on taxpayers, businesses, and the environment,” Guzman wrote.

She added, “I urge the Legislature to take direct ameliorative action. … Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning—it will invite one.”

See here and here for the background. Yes, the Legislature could remediate this – the case hinged on the definition of a “container”, which I think we can all agree is not something that was handed down by God to the Founding Fathers. But we all know that’s not what this Legislature is going to do. Quite the reverse, in fact. So while I appreciate Justice Guzman’s concern about the “ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem”, I would encourage her to venture out of the ivory tower once in awhile to observe what is actually happening around her. In the meantime, we can all do our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags. The Observer and the Current have more.

SCOTUS and sales taxes

This ruling will be good for Texas.

Texas stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue after the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that states may force online retailers to collect sales tax even when they have no physical presence in the state.

Every year, Texas loses $1.1 billion in uncollected sales tax, according to the Texas comptroller’s office — well over the $800 million the state will spend securing its southern border this year and next. That’s the result of the high court’s 1992 decision, now reversed, that retailers are responsible for collecting sales tax only in states where they had “nexus.” That decision — which predated the astronomical rise of the internet and the subsequent boom in online shopping — was outdated, argued lawyers for the state of South Dakota, who won the case this week.

That lost tax revenue is particularly meaningful in Texas, one of just a handful of states without a personal income tax. This May, for example, the state’s sales tax revenue totaled $2.76 billion.

[…]

Customers themselves owe sales tax on their purchases, but it’s sellers who are required to collect that money and send it to the government. States have little mechanism — and little incentive — to chase down sales tax on small-ticket purchases from average consumers when the retailers don’t do it themselves. Some of Texas’ largest online retailers — Amazon, for example — already remit sales tax to the state. Amazon has almost a dozen distribution centers in the state.

Texas is highly unlikely to gain back all of the $1.1 billion it’s currently losing, experts said, and any money the state gets back won’t come overnight. While the Texas comptroller has a great deal of taxing authority, some changes to the state’s tax structure might have to be carried out by the Legislature when it reconvenes in 2019, said Dale Craymer, the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. The Comptroller’s office is looking into that, a spokesman said.

“We welcome the court’s ruling in this case and are currently assessing any potential revenue impacts,” said Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the agency.

I have long believed that the sales tax exemption for online purchases outlived its purpose years ago. This is not just for states like Texas but also for local governments that rely on sales tax revenue, and for traditional retailers who are no longer at an automatic disadvantage. Sales tax rates vary by locality, and not all items are subject to sales taxes, so this will be a challenge to set up, but that’s not our problem. Online retailers will figure it out, and life will go on. This was the right decision.

The June elections

You may not realize this, but there are multiple elections going on right now around Texas. I’m aware of three:

1. The Klein ISD Tax Ratification Election:

Our shared vision in Klein ISD is that every student enters with a promise and exits with a purpose. In order to make our vision a reality for EVERY student, we need resources. We believe it’s important that every member of the Klein community understands how our schools are funded by the State and local taxpayers. For example, you might be surprised to know that as your home value grows causing you to pay higher school taxes, the State decreases their share of funding.

The above videos explain the current school funding system and the impact it has on the Klein ISD budget. It also explains steps the district has taken over the years to maintain the current educational programs.

See here and here for some news coverage about this election. I only know about it because Klein ISD is in Harris County, up near the Woodlands, and I’ve been getting the daily early vote totals for it. The EV period for this is over and the election itself is tomorrow, the 16th. You can find your polling place here if that applies to you. I’ve no idea why this is being held now as opposed to the May uniform election date, but you can learn more about TREs and why school boards need to have them here and here.

2. The Pearland City Council runoff:

After neither candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote as polls closed Saturday, Adrian Hernandez and Dalia Kasseb will face each other in a runoff next month to decide who will be the next Position 4 council member.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support. … I’m excited to keep going,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different today than it was yesterday or how it will be tomorrow. I’ve been serving the city and I’ll keep doing that. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

It’s a familiar result for Kasseb, who faced six candidates in 2017 for a council position before ultimately losing to Woody Owens in a runoff for Position 7.

“I am buoyed to know I can count on growing support from the community,” Kasseb said. “We will continue the fight to become that voice for all on city council and be the solution to the challenges we face in our rapidly growing community.”

In early vote totals, Hernandez had a winning margin of votes, but as Election Day ballots were counted, both Kasseb and G. Sonny Atkins picked away at his lead.

“She’s a formidable opponent,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to look to those people we have not reached yet and fill in those gaps.”

Pearland City Council has staggered three-year terms, so they have elections for a subset of their members every year. Mike Snyder had a decent overview of this a couple of weeks ago. Like the Klein ISD TRE, this one will happen on Saturday, as early voting ended on Tuesday. Voting location information is here and a map is here. At least the runoff this year seems to be a lot less ugly than last year’s was.

3. The special election in CD27.

Twice.

That’s the number of times candidates for Texas’ 27th Congressional District have already had their names on a ballot. For months they’ve traveled the district, shaken hands, and gone to meet and greets. They’ll need to get used to that campaign trail.

That’s because even when the top two contenders to fill the seat — Republican Michael Cloud and Democrat Eric Holguin — arose, the battle on the ballot was still far from over.

Voters will next cast their ballots in the June 30 special election. There could be two more elections after that as well. At the very least there’s one more in November.

[…]

The winner will be in office for less than a year.

That time could be cut down even more if one of the nine candidates on the ballot does not get more than half of the votes. If that happens, a runoff would follow.

When voters head to the polls they’ll see nine names on the ballot — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents alike.

Three of those names should be familiar to voters: Holguin, Cloud and Raul “Roy” Barrera. Win or lose in the special election Holguin, a Democrat, and Cloud, a Republican, will face off again in the November general election.

On the last election night, Holguin said the primary runoff election’s outcome would play a “huge role” going into June.

“It shows who the top two candidates are,” he said. “I know there are nine candidates, but we are the ones that are going to be going face to face in November. So we’re the ones that people are going to be paying attention to and really focusing on.”

Last month, Bech Bruun, who lost to Cloud in May, endorsed the former Victoria GOP chair, asking people to vote for him in both June and November. Bruun’s name still will appear on the June ballot.

Bruun said a large part of the endorsement was so hopefully his supporters would switch to Cloud and a runoff would be avoided.

The Corpus Christi Caller also endorsed Cloud for the special election, though they reserved the right to change their mind for November. TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa endorsed Eric Holguin, as the only chance Dems have is in a low-turnout context with the bulk of Dem votes going to Holguin. I don’t care for his odds, but we’ll see if the trend of Dems cutting into Republican margins from 2016 holds here. Early voting for this one started on Wednesday, with E-Day on June 30. Oh, and just so we’re clear, Blake Farenthold is still a leech.

But wait! I hear you cry. Wasn’t there also supposed to be a runoff in the special election for HD13? Yes there was, and no there won’t be.

Following a March 6 Primary Election, May 5 Special Election and a May 22 Primary Runoff Election, former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman will take the oath of office Thursday, May 31, as the new Texas State Representative of District 13.

According to the Texas Secretary of State office, Leman was considered duly elected to fill the vacated seat for the remainder of the current term following the withdrawal of opponent Jill Wolfskill from the runoff special election that was set to occur in late summer. Wolfskill made a formal concession from the race May 23 via her Facebook page and submitted a “signed, notarized withdrawal to the office of the Secretary of State” to announce her decision.

“I want to say a big thank you to my family, friends, supporters, and volunteers on the Jill Wolfskill campaign these past four months,” said Wolfskill. “Running this race in has been a great honor and I am so blessed by the amazing support I received, and by the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet throughout this district.”

Wolfskill and Leman had both previously made public comments regarding the concession of the candidate who received the least number of votes in the May 22 Primary Runoff Election to prevent unnecessary financial burdens to the seven counties in House District 13. Leman took the majority of the 14,602 votes with 57.33 percent, while Wolfskill had 43.03 percent.

Leman still has to win the November election against Cecil Webster, but if he does he will have a head start in seniority over his fellow members of the class of 2018. And the good news is we should get the entire month of July off from elections.

Omnibus lawsuit against anti-abortion laws

Talk about going big.

Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned major provisions of Texas’ omnibus House Bill 2, abortion rights groups want to use that decision to take down years’ worth of anti-abortion legislation, before the court makeup changes. In a 5-3 decision, the justices determined that provisions of the 2013 law didn’t provide “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.” Emboldened by the ruling, abortion providers went through years of Texas regulations to determine others that could be challenged under the same health and safety standard, leading to the lawsuit filed against the attorney general, state health department, and others.

“I think of this as an omnibus repeal,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the HB 2 case and the new lawsuit. “There’s a new standard, and we can look at it to challenge a bunch of things at once.”

The lawsuit, which Hagstrom Miller calls “the big fix,” is far-reaching. Filed in federal district court in Austin, it challenges a parental notification law from 1999 and abortion reporting requirements from 2017. It takes issue with the state’s ultrasound requirement, mandatory waiting period, parental consent requirement, restrictions on medication abortion and telehealth services, provider licensing laws and more than 20 other restrictions.

[…]

Work began on the new lawsuit not long after the HB 2 decision. Last May, Hagstrom Miller hinted at litigation, saying at the reopening of her Austin clinic that “we have the opportunity to try to get some other things fixed by the Supreme Court before the makeup changes — if the makeup changes.” She had already started brainstorming this lawsuit, holding meetings with providers and scribbling regulations to tackle on whiteboards, she told the Observer on Wednesday.

The new challenge comes as conservative lawmakers around the country are aggressively pushing anti-abortion legislation. One bill proposed during the last session of the Texas Legislature would have criminalized abortion and charged women and providers with murder. The Legislature passed a measure that bans the most common form of second-trimester abortion, and another that requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains after abortions and miscarriages. Both are currently blocked, but some anti-abortion advocates hope to push the former to the Supreme Court.

The Trib lists the plaintiffs: the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, the West Fund and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who serves as medical director of the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance clinic. I can imagine them scoring at least a significant partial win in district court, then running into significant resistance from the Fifth Circuit – basically, exactly what happened with the lawsuit against HB2 – and after that who knows. It’s a bold strategy and has the potential for a lot of good, but as with any bold strategy there’s risk as well. Needless to say, I wish them all the best. A press release from the West Fund is here, and the Chron and Texas Monthly have more.

Too many people don’t get sick leave

From the CPPP:

All Texans should be able to care for themselves or a loved one if they get sick, regardless of what kind of job they do or how much they earn. Approximately 4.3 million Texas workers – or 40 percent of the total workforce – lack access to paid sick days, and it’s estimated that between 39 and 44 percent of private sector workers in the U.S. are not able to earn paid sick days.

Paid sick days are also a public health issue. When people are forced to go to work sick, everyone—employers, coworkers, and customers—is worse off. Children also face the consequences when their classmates come to school sick because their parents can’t afford to take the day off to care for them. Texas public employers, cities, and our state should work to implement paid sick days policies, which will improve the financial stability and health of all Texans.

Our new policy brief examines the inadequate access to paid sick days in Texas and highlights how businesses and families can thrive when workers are able to earn paid sick days. Across the country, there is growing momentum and support for city, county, and statewide paid sick days policies, which require employers to provide a certain number of paid sick days to workers each year based on the number of hours worked. To date, 44 cities, counties, states, and Washington, D.C. have passed paid sick days policies.

Everyone gets sick, and everyone should have the ability to earn paid sick days. A multi-city or statewide policy would ensure a high-quality standard so that all workers are able to care for themselves or a family member.

You can read the report here. I agree with this of course, as a matter of public health and of basic humanity, but as we know we live in a state where the business interests and Republican elected officials vehemently oppose the idea. The city of Austin has passed an ordinance to require sick leave, and the city of Dallas is poised to vote on a similar measure, but neither of those will matter if the current lawsuit or the sure-to-come legislation to preempt such ordinances succeed. You know what I’m going to say before I say it, but I’m going to say it anyway: Nothing will change until we change who we elect. If you’re fine with being surrounded by sick people in the course of your daily life, then keep doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, you might consider fighting for something better.

The Ohio voter purge case

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

I refer to the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case that was decided by SCOTUS on Monday. Here’s a long reading list if you want to get up to speed on it:

SCOTUSBlog
Pema Levy
Mark Joseph Stern
Kira Lerner

Daniel Nichanian
Josh Douglas
Dahlia Lithwick
Rick Hasen
Ian Millhiser
Ari Berman
Kevin Drum

Go ahead and peruse. I’ll wait.

All right. The coverage and analysis of this ruling focuses on Ohio, for the obvious reason that this is where the case came from, and also because, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, Ohio is the “purgiest of all the purgey states”. There’s some discussion about how this ruling paints a roadmap for other states that are inclined to do what Ohio has been doing to follow, though as the Rick Hasen piece notes there’s also a potential roadmap for blocking such efforts in the courts. What I want to know, of course, is how this will and may affect Texas. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of voter roll updating/purging is done at the county level. We certainly saw various underhanded tricks here in Harris County, like sending notices to update one’s voter registration information to known old addresses, back in the Paul Bettencourt/Leo Vasquez/Don Sumners days, but with Ann Harris Bennett in office now it’s less of a concern.

So my question is, what role does our Secretary of State play in all this, and what opportunities does our SOS have to “assist” the county election admins/voter registrars in “cleaning up” their voter rolls? What does the SOS do now, and what could our Lege enable or direct it to do now that Husted is law? I don’t have the expertise to say, and the election law-minded folks on Facebook that I rely on have not had anything to say about this. It sure would be nice if one of our professional news-gathering organizations put someone on to this question.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales steps down

One more legislative special election coming.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is resigning early, saying “it’s time to get on with the next phase of my life.”

Gonzales, a member since 2011 and a Capitol staffer before that, had already decided this would be his last term and didn’t file for re-election this year. His resignation, effective on Thursday, sets up a special election for the remainder of his term.

That might take place on the same day as the November general elections. There’s a precedent: State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, quit earlier this year and was appointed to a judicial position; the special election for what’s left of his term will take place in November.

[…]

Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico will be on the ballot for a full term in House District 52 in November; candidates can file for the stub term as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special election and sets a date.

Now-former Rep. Gonzales announced his intent to not run this November back in September. A November special election isn’t particularly interesting – had he resigned in time for there to have been a May special, that would have been – but his HD52 is a seat to watch, as Trump won it by a mere 46.7 to 45.3 margin; it was basically a ten-point Republican district downballot. And as with the HD62 special election, this is another opportunity for me to implore Sen. Sylvia Garcia to follow this path and let there be a special election in November to succeed her as well, so that SD06 can be properly represented for the 2019 term. Please don’t make me beg, Sen. Garcia.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

The problem with more cops in schools

I haven’t had anything to say so far about Greg Abbott’s proposed responses to the Santa Fe school shooting. There isn’t much to say about it – these are a bunch of small changes around the margins, all while scrupulously avoiding any mention of ways to understand the causes of gun violence or strategies to actually try to reduce it. It basically takes it as a given that hey, people are gonna get shot, so we may want to try to make it a little harder on the shooters. RG Ratcliffe has a critique that’s worth reading, but Mimi Swartz really gets at an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

But overall, the governor’s plan to address school safety is profoundly regressive in ways that go far beyond the gun control debate. His call for more police and more military style security raises crucial questions about what kind of places schools should be. Specifically, his plans for more armed guards, armed teachers, and armed staffers will erase a decade or so of progress in making schools more welcoming—and Texas’ kids better educated.

Maybe few Texans recall the Zero Tolerance era, which started with the Pre-Columbine U.S. Congress’ Gun Free Schools Act in 1994 that required a one year automatic expulsion for any kid who brought a gun to school. The Clinton Administration encouraged schools receiving federal funding to adopt the tenets of gun free schools, which became the basis of zero tolerance policies in other areas. There were many unexpected consequences, especially punishments for minor infractions that could be looped in with the War on Drugs—along with entering a classroom without permission, or roughhousing on a school bus, kids could be expelled for bringing asthma inhalers and Sudafed to school. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the Zero Tolerance Era coincided with the Tough on Crime Era of the Bush and Clinton administrations which led to exponential increases in prison sentences for minor offenses, particularly for men of color. The so-called school to prison pipeline was born.

Over the ensuing years, groups like Texas Appleseed worked overtime to issue reports and lobby the legislature to reduce school suspensions (some of which started in kindergarten) and dire punishments for, say, talking back to teachers. Their reports also showed that so-called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs were basically low cost jails for kids and profit centers for private companies that did nothing but put good kids in with bad and offered no educational value to either. Studies also showed that putting more police in schools had a detrimental effect on learning, especially among poor and minority kids who were now the target of police abuse both on the street and in schools. It wasn’t surprising that dropout rates increased.

Over time, it became clear that Zero Tolerance just didn’t work. Newer programs like Restorative Justice, which allow kids to have their say and teach them to take responsibility for their actions, have won the support of liberal and conservative groups largely because they do. Even though they can be more labor intensive, they have been shown in numerous studies to keep kids in school and violence down. “What we have shown in our research and what we know experts have documented across the U.S. is that an increase in law enforcement doesn’t lead to a safer school and often results in real harm, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities,” explained Deborah Fowler, Executive Director of Texas Appleseed.

Abbott’s report, then, has the musty whiff of a darker time, despite protestations that more protections—offering gun training to nearly everyone who isn’t a student—are needed to keep kids safe. This despite an FBI report, among others, that shows no statistical evidence that putting more armed people in schools reduces school violence.

There’s more, so read the rest. It’s hard to know how much support there will be for these proposals, even with both chambers getting a head start on studying them. I just hope there are some voices expressing these concerns while that is happening.

State Senate finally updates its sexual harassment policy

We’d been waiting.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The Texas Senate has adopted a new sexual harassment policy that mandates in-person anti-sexual harassment training for senators and offers more details on specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The Senate’s policy, which was sent out to Senate staffers on Wednesday, was expanded from a one-page document to a more extensive set of guidelines that provide detailed examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and more thoroughly explain the ways victims can get help through internal and external complaint processes.

The revisions come months after the The Texas Tribune detailed a wide range of harassment in state politics and the scant protections offered to victims through the chambers’ policies, and after The Daily Beast detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature. Those accounts included specific allegations against Democratic state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Both have denied the allegations.

Like in the House — where lawmakers revised the chamber’s policy in December — the Senate’s training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune.

In a letter to her colleagues obtained by the Tribune, Senate Administration Chair Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, indicated a list of lawmakers who have completed the training would be available to the public. But the chamber’s policy does not appear to set any sort of immediate deadline for current elected officials.

Instead, the revised policy indicates that in-person training will be offered every two years and that new employees must complete an online training within the first 30 days of their employment.

The policy was also revised to specifically state that senators will not be involved in investigating other senators, leaving investigations to the chamber’s human resources director and “impartial attorneys.”

But questions remain about how senators, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.

The Senate had a hearing on this back in December, to give you some idea of the time frame. The House had made some alterations to its policy a few days before that, and then rolled out a training video in January. A House workgroup was convened in mid-May to do some more stuff, though at this point I have no idea what to expect. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but it’s hard for me to say what a sufficient policy looks like. I’ve been asking every candidate I interview about sexual harassment policies, and for the most part I get responses that include things like better transparency, fuller protections for people who report harassment, and of course not using government funds to pay off harassment claims, in the manner of Blake Farenthold. Is that enough? I honestly don’t know, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have never experienced any harassment, I’m not really the right person to judge. I will note that Annie’s List put out a statement complaining about the lack of guidelines on disciplinary action for offenders, including – and one must admit this gets thorny – officeholders. The House is still working on this, and maybe the Senate will be as well, so there’s still a chance to make progress. From where I sit, there’s still a lot to be made.

CCA refuses to hear Ron Reynolds’ appeal

It’s getting awfully close to midnight.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has refused to review state Rep. Ron Reynolds’ criminal conviction and one-year jail sentence, according to online court records.

The Missouri City Democrat had asked the court to overturn a 2015 misdemeanor conviction in Montgomery County for illegally soliciting clients for his personal injury practice. Reynolds still has 15 days to file a motion for a rehearing, according to a staffer at the court, but it is likely that Reynolds will soon serve his year-long jail sentence.

Joel Daniels, the main prosecutor in Reynolds’ trial and chief of the white collar division in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said the court’s next step would be to issue a mandate to the trial court to carry out the sentence.

“That will mean that Mr. Reynolds’ case will be put back on the docket, and he’ll be brought into court” and taken to jail, Daniels said.

Before then, Reynolds can request a rehearing, as the court staffer said, and, in theory, he could request time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Daniels said. But that would be “extremely unusual and very rare.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t know if Rep. Reynolds has any tricks remaining in his bad to stay out of jail at this point. If not, then this will come to exactly the point I’ve been saying it will, which is that he’ll be in jail while a legislative session is happening, leaving his constituents without representation during that time, all because he was too self-centered to recognize the need to put their needs first and step down. To be fair, he can still do that: If he resigns effective November 6, we can at least get a special election in January and a new rep in place by March. Not ideal, but better than a Rep in the pokey. Reynolds sent me a whiny message via Facebook back in 2015 when I first called on him to leave office and get his personal life in order so I have no illusion that he’ll listen to me this time, but there it is. You did some good things in the Legislature, Ron Reynolds. Now do one more good thing and let someone else take your place. There’s nothing more to say about this.

2018 primary runoff results: Congress and Legislature

All results are here. I began drafting this around 9:30 when there were still a bunch of precincts out, but with the exception of the tossup in CD25, all of the Congressional races were pretty clear by then:

CD03: Lorie Burch
CD06: Jana Sanchez
CD07: Lizzie Fletcher
CD10: Mike Siegel
CD21: Joseph Kopser
CD22: Sri Kulkarni
CD23: Gina Ortiz Jones
CD27: Eric Holguin
CD31: MJ Hegar
CD32: Colin Allred

At the time I started writing this, Julie Oliver led in CD25 by 70 votes out of almost 18,000 cast and about three quarters of precincts reporting. Later on, she had pulled out to a five point lead, so add her to the winners’ list as well.

On the legislative side, Rita Lucido was leading in SD17, Sheryl Cole had a modest lead in HD46 with most precincts reporting, Carl Sherman had a much bigger lead in HD109, and longtime Rep. Rene Oliveira had been shown the door.

As for the Republicans, Dan Crenshaw won big in CD02, Lance Gooden won in CD05, so no more Republican women in Congress, Chip Roy and Michael Cloud led in CDs 21 and 27, respectively. The wingnuts in HDs 08 and 121 lost, and incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper lost.

Congratulations to all the winners. I’ll have some more coherent thoughts on all these races in the next day or so.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Runoff races, part 4: Republicans

Again, not going to spend too much time on this, but here are the US House and State House races for which there are Republican primary runoffs:


Dist  Candidate    March%
=========================
CD02  Roberts      33.03%
CD02  Crenshaw     27.42%

CD05  Gooden       29.97%
CD05  Pounds       21.95%

CD06  Wright       45.15%
CD06  Ellzey       21.76%

CD21  Roy          27.06%
CD21  McCall       16.93%

CD27  Bruun        36.09%
CD27  Cloud        33.83%

CD29  Aronoff      38.60%
CD29  Montiel      23.58%


HD04  Spitzer      45.78%
HD04  Bell         26.21%

HD08  Harris       44.99%
HD08  McNutt       39.39%

HD13  Wolfskill    38.47%
HD13  Leman        36.28%

HD54  Cosper       44.60%
HD54  Buckley      41.55%

HD62  Smith        45.84%
HD62  Lawson       34.35%

HD107 Metzger      45.32%
HD107 Ruzicka      27.34%

HD121 Beebe        29.56%
HD121 Allison      26.34%

We’ve discussed CD02 and CD21 in recent days. Bunni Pounds in CD05 is the Republicans’ best hope to bolster the ranks of female members of Congress from Texas. I mean sure, Carmen Montiel is still in the running in CD29, but I think we can all agree that winning the runoff would be her last hurrah. In any event, Pounds is outgoing Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s preferred successor, and she has the support of Mike Pence. Which, it turns out, has caused some drama in the White House, because everything these days causes drama in the White House. The two contenders in CD27 are also running in the special election. It would be funny if the runoff loser wound up winning that race, but my guess would be that the runoff loser withdraws from the special election.

In the State House races, HD121 is Joe Straus’ seat, while HD08 belonged to his deputy Byron Cook. Thomas McNutt and Matt Beebe are the wingnuts backed by Tim Dunn and Empower Texans who have run against Straus and Cook in the past, so if you hope to retain a touch of sanity in the lower chamber, root for their opponents. Scott Cosper is the lone incumbent in a runoff. Stuart Spitzer is a return customer in HD04 best known for his extreme love of virginity. HD107 is held by freshman Dem Victoria Neave, who like Rep. Oliveira had a recent brush with the law, and in part due to that may be the one truly vulnerable Dem in any legislative chamber this cycle. HD107 is also the latest example of Why Every Vote Matters, as primary runnerup Joe Ruzicka collected 2,070 votes in March, exactly one more than third place finisher Brad Perry’s 2,069 votes.

Finally, there’s the runoff for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5 in Harris County, a race that will be decided by the Republican runoff as no Democrat filed for it. (There actually was a Dem who filed but he either withdrew or was disqualified late in the game, I don’t know which, and there wasn’t the time to collect enough petition signatures for a backup candidate.) The race is between normal incumbent Republican Jeff Williams and village idiot Michael Wolfe, backed by the likes of Steven Hotze and Eric Dick, the Tweedledum to Wolfe’s Tweedledumber. Go read Erica Greider if you want to know more about it.

Revisiting online voter registration

Camel’s nose in the tent alert.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas could be forced to create at least one narrow avenue for online voter registration after a federal judge ruled that the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

Texas allows people renew their licenses online, but doesn’t allow them to register to vote at the same time. Last week, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told the state to fix that.

And while the Texas Attorney General’s Office has said it will appeal that ruling, supporters of online voter registration are hoping that a court-ordered online system for drivers will open the floodgates to broader implementation in Texas.

Once such a system is in place for some, supporters ask, why not broaden it to everyone else?

[…]

Legislation has been raised several times — championed in recent years by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin — but it has never made it to the governor’s desk.

In 2015, Israel touted bipartisan support for the bill after 75 other state representatives, including more than 20 Republicans, signed on. But in the most recent legislative session, Israel’s proposal hardly gained any traction, even with the endorsement of many of the state’s election officials — tax assessors and voter registrars, election administrators, county clerks and the Texas Association of Counties.

Now, Israel says she is eying a possible online system for drivers as a test run that could help make her case at the Capitol for full-blown online registration.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about online voter registration, and this is a step in the right direction,” Israel said. “The truth of the matter is that online voter registration is more secure than our current paper process, and it is going to save our counties precious time and money.”

The only real opposition to her proposal seems to come from detractors in the populous Harris County. Officials from the Harris County Clerk’s Office have warned that online voter registration could leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud.

See here and here for the background. Don’t get too excited about this, because even if this ruling survives appeal and isn’t put on hold for the duration of the case, it’s still a limited implementation of online registration that could be ordered. That’s unlikely to change the opposition that exists, though installing a new Harris County Clerk would help in that regard. We’re going to need a lot more change in the Legislature before we’re likely to get true online voter registration, or really anything to make it easier to register people. Progress is progress and it would be great if we get even this much. I’m just saying we need to keep some perspective on what that would mean.

Runoff races, part 2: Legislative

There’s one Democratic primary runoff for SBOE, one for Senate, and seven for the House. Here’s a brief look at them.

SBOE12

Suzanne Smith
Laura Malone-Miller

Smith led with 48.12% in March to Malone-Miller’s 26.31%. Smith has the DMN endorsement, while Malone-Miller doesn’t have a website. This is a Republican open seat – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller won with 61% in 2014 but is not running for re-election. This district went for Trump by a small margin in 2016, 50.1%to 44.4%, so it’s a dark horse contender to be flipped.

SD17

Rita Lucido
Fran Watson

Lucido, the 2014 candidate in SD17, nearly won this outright in March, finishing with 48.96% to Watson’s 35.09%. My interview with Lucido is here and with Watson is here. They’re both good candidates and good people.

HD37

Rep. Rene Oliveira
Alex Dominguez

Rep. Oliveira picked a lousy time to get busted on a DUI charge. That’s the sort of thing that tends to held usher Democratic incumbents out of office. Dominguez is a Cameron County Commissioner, so he’s a real threat to Oliveira, who led 48.48% to 36.40% in March.

HD45

Rebecca Bell-Metereau
Erin Zwiener

HD46

Jose “Chito” Vela
Sheryl Cole

HD47

Vikki Goodwin
Elaina Fowler

HD45 used to be a mostly rural district that elected a Democrat from 2002 through 2008 when rural Democrats were common enough, then went Republican in 2010 and has stayed that way as the district has become more suburban as San Marcos and the northern parts of Hays County have grown like gangbusters. Bell-Metereau, who led Zwiener 45.49% to 30.63% in March, is a three-time SBOE candidate, while Zwiener is a children’s author and Jeopardy! winner half her age. This is the kind of district Dems need to win to really make gains in the House, and there’s more focus and optimism on that score than we’ve seen this decade.

HD46 is the seat now held by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who lost in the primary. The winner of this runoff will be the next Rep; there is a Republican, not that it matters, and an independent candidate who was going to be in a special election to succeed Dukes that never happened dropped out after the March result, citing the fact that both Vela and Cole are fine by him and more importantly to him not Dukes. Thanks to Dukes’ high profile and the fact that a win by Vela could mean there are no African-American legislators from Travis County (see below for HD47), this is probably the hottest House runoff on the ballot. The Trib, the Statesman, and the AusChron all have recent coverage. The score in March was 39.52% for Vela and 38.23% for Cole.

HD47 is the one Travis County district held by a Republican; Rep. Paul Workman rode the 2010 wave and got a friendlier map in 2011, but the district is not deep red and if there’s a year he could be in trouble, this is it. I really haven’t followed this one and only learned about these candidates while writing this post, but there’s coverage in the Statesman and AusChron if you want to catch up. The AusChron endorsed Fowler and Vela; Fowler is African-American so if she makes it all the way then Travis County would still have African-American representation at the Capitol.

HD64

Mat Pruneda
Andrew Morris

Another race I haven’t followed. HD64 is in Denton County, where incumbent Rep. Lynn Stucky is a ParentPAC endorsee. The district is in Denton County and it is red but not super duper red, though it is redder than neighboring HD65. The latter will flip before this one does, but it will be worth keeping an eye on it to measure progress.

HD109

Deshaundra Lockhart Jones
Carl Sherman

This is the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Helen Giddings. The runoff winner will be sworn in next January. Both candidates exceeded 40% in March, with Jones leading by four points. Sherman is the former Mayor of DeSoto, and he has the DMN endorsement. Jones is also from DeSoto and has served a couple of terms on its City Council. This race, along with the one in HD46, are rare instances this year where a female incumbent could be succeeded by a male candidate. (I overlooked the HD109 race when I wrote about the gender of primary challengers in January.) Sheryl Cole is an Annie’s List candidate but Deshaundra Lockhart Jones is not; I don’t know if that means something or not. Just wanted to mention it.

HD133

Sandra Moore
Marty Schexnayder

Moore missed hitting the 50% mark by four – count ’em four – votes in March, though I should note that Schexnayder topped forty percent as well. They’re both good candidates and good people, running in a tough district, and I interviewed them both in March – Moore here, Schexnayder here. Moore has the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, Schexnayder has the Chron. Like I said, they’re both good, so pick who you like and you can’t go wrong.

Primary runoff early voting begins today

From the inbox:

Early voting for the May 22 Primary Runoff Elections will take place from Monday, May 14 to Friday, May 18. During that period, Harris County voters may vote at any of the 46 polling locations throughout the county. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

“Every voter in Harris County is eligible to vote in either the Democratic Party or Republican Party Runoff Election.  However, a voter who participated in the March Primary Election may ONLY vote in the Primary Runoff Election of the same political party,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.

It is not necessary to have voted in the March Primary Election to vote in one of the Primary Runoff Elections.  There are a total of thirteen (13) races in the Democratic Party Primary and four (4) in the Republican Party Primary.

 “Voting early is the best option because in Primary Runoff Elections, the political parties significantly consolidate many voting precincts into one poll due to low voter turnout. As a result, a voter’s usual polling location likely has changed for Election Day,” concluded Stanart, urging voters to take advantage of the early voting period.

Primary Runoff Elections are a party function. The political parties determine the number of voting locations and where the polls are located on Election Day.

For more information about the May 22 Primary Elections, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

The list of early voting locations is below. As usual, you are best off voting early – there’s going to be a limited number of Election Day precincts open, so vote early and avoid confusion. My look at the Congressional runoffs is here and the legislative runoffs is here. Of course there’s the Governor’s race, so wherever you are there’s a race to vote in, and here in Harris County we have runoffs for District Clerk, County Clerk, County Treasurer, HCDE Position 3 At Large, HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1, and Justice of the Peace in Precinct 7. Get out there and vote.

Early Voting Locations for the May 22, 2018 Primary Runoff Elections in Harris County, TX
Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Lake Houston Church of Christ 8003 Farmingham Road Humble 77346
Kingwood United Methodist Church 1799 Woodland Hills Drive Kingwood 77339
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
East Harris County Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st Floor Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Living Word Church the Nazarene 16607 Clay Road Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi Service Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Big Stone Lodge 709 Riley Fuzzel Road Spring 77373
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388

Endorsement watch: Runoff time

The Chron goes for Lizzie Fletcher in CD07.

Lizzie Fletcher

United States Representative, District 7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Democrats have a serious chance of knocking Republican Congressman John Culberson out of the seat he has occupied since 2001. The 7th Congressional District encompasses some of the Houston area’s wealthiest neighborhoods, from West University Place and Bellaire to flood ravaged subdivisions in west and northwest Harris County. What was once the safely Republican district represented by George H.W. Bush was won by Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. That caught the attention of seven Democrats who ran in a spirited primary. Now attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and freelance writer Laura Moser face each other in a hotly contested runoff.

Fletcher is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate who edited the William and Mary Law Review, a former Vinson & Elkins attorney who later became the first woman partner at another 50-person litigation firm. Her professional credentials and connections present the Houston model of business-friendly cosmopolitanism that used to be the hallmark of local Republicans. That George H.W. Bush-James Baker model has been abandoned by the Trump crowd and now Democrats like Fletcher are starting to claim the political territory as their own.

Her longtime history of involvement in both the corporate world and local nonprofits offers an appeal to crossover voters yearning to hear the voice of a real Houstonian up in Washington.

The Chron dual-endorsed Fletcher and Jason Westin in the primary, so this is not a surprise. As a reminder, my interview with Fletcher is here and with Laura Moser is here. I haven’t seen many announcements of runoff endorsements by other groups – many of them stayed out of the March race, and some went with other candidates – but Erik Manning’s runoff spreadsheet has you covered there.

The Chron also made a recommendation in the runoff for JP in Precinct 7.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Audrie Lawton came in third in this race for the Democratic nomination for this front-line judicial position, so instead we lend our endorsement to Cheryl Elliott Thornton.

Of the two remaining candidates, Thornton, 60, has the most legal experience. She currently serves as an assistant county attorney but has held a variety of legal roles in her over 30 years of practice. Past positions include general counsel for Texas Southern University and administrative law judge for the Texas Workforce Commission. Thorton, a graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, has an impressive record of community involvement in this southeast Houston district as well as in the greater Houston community. That diverse experience that makes for a fine justice of the peace, which often has to deal with pro-se litigants in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases and minor civil matters. This specific bench covers a slice of Harris County that stretches from Midtown and the Third Ward south to the Sam Houston Tollway.

The other candidate, Sharon M. Burney, the daughter of long-time sitting justice Zinetta Burney, is a practicing lawyer as well but can’t match Thorton’s legal experience.

Here’s the Q&A I got from Thornton. I did not receive one from Burney. For the other runoffs, the candidate the Chron endorsed originally is still in the race:

CD10 – Mike Siegel
CD22 – Sri Kulkarni
HD133 – Marty Schexnayder
District Clerk – Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk – Diane Trautman
Treasurer – Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3, At Large – Josh Wallenstein
HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – Danny Norris

Early voting starts Monday and only runs through Friday – five says of EV is standard for runoffs. Get out there and vote.

HISD hoping for Harvey waiver

That’s what it would take to avoid TEA sanctions this year.

Houston ISD’s 10 longest-struggling schools likely would not trigger major state sanctions this year if they all receive academic accountability waivers due to Hurricane Harvey, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Wednesday.

However, the district still would face punishment — either campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board — if Morath opts against accountability waivers for the schools and a single one fails to meet state academic standards.

The commissioner’s comments, made during a wide-ranging interview with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, answered several questions about the potential penalties facing Texas’ largest district, which must boost performance at its campuses to avoid unprecedented state intervention.

[…]

A decision on Harvey waivers is expected in June. All 10 of the schools were closed for 10 or 11 days following Harvey, with none sustaining catastrophic damage.

Morath repeatedly cautioned that no final decisions have been made about Harvey-related waivers or potential sanctions. However, if any of the 10 schools trigger the state law this year, Morath said he does not believe he has the legal authority to give HISD a break, as some Houston-area leaders have requested.

“Short version: I’m a constitutionally sworn officer, so, no,” Morath said. “I do what the law tells me.”

Morath said Texas Education Agency officials continue to collect and analyze data that will help decide which schools will receive Harvey-related accountability waivers. He expects the agency will analyze several campus-level factors — including days of instruction missed, students displaced and teachers left homeless — as they set criteria for issuing waivers. Some of those data points have been collected on a weekly basis, Morath said.

“Our team is trying to figure out whether or not the rules should be entirely consistent with (Hurricane) Ike or slightly more generous,” Morath said. “I think I’m currently leaning toward a slightly more generous framework than the prior systems, where it’s not just dates closed, but also student and staff displacement as a factor.”

Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, any school or district closed for at least 10 instructional days due to the storm received a “not rated” grade, unless its rating improved from the previous year.

See here for the last update. I’ve long maintained that all districts affected by Harvey deserve a one-year exemption from state accountability standards, and I remain hopeful that this will happen. Commissioner Morath is taking the question seriously, which I appreciate. We’ll know when he’s ready to tell us. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, who is among the leaders that have been advocating for this, is here.

November special election in HD62

Because I’m a completist, I bring your attention to news like this.

Rep. Larry Phillips

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a Nov. 6 special election to fill former state Rep. Larry Phillips’ seat in North Texas. That’s the same day voters will head to the polls to cast ballots in statewide, congressional and other state legislative races.

Phillips, a Sherman Republican who chairs the House Insurance Committee, submitted his resignation last week — effective Monday — after previously announcing he would not run for re-election. He is instead running for district judge in Grayson County. He won the Republican primary last month and does not have a Democratic opponent in the fall.

[…]

A race is currently underway to take over the seat for a full term starting next year. Republicans Brent Lawson and Reggie Smith are in a runoff, while Valerie Hefner is the Democratic nominee.

I point this out not because there’s anything interesting about this district that went 75.4% for Trump in 2016 but because this is what I had envisioned for SD06 post-Sylvia Garcia. If Sen. Garcia changes her mind and steps down in the next couple of months – the filing date for the HD62 special election is August 23, which is about the time when counties need to get absentee ballots printed for November, thus basically making that the de facto deadline for anything to be included in November – then even with a December runoff, SD06 will have someone in place when the gavel falls in January. The next Senator in SD06 will be there to vote on the rules for the chamber, and to put their name in for the committee assignments they want. None of those things will happen with a January special election. This needs more attention, because it’s a big deal. The people in SD06 deserve to have a Senator in place on day one. Only Sen. Garcia can ensure that happens.

May 5 election results

Martha Castex Tatum

Martha Castex-Tatum is your winner of the District K special election. She dominated in Harris County with over 65% of the vote, and while she finished below fifty percent in Fort Bend County, she had more than enough votes to clear the bar. By my highly unofficial count, she got 59.7% of the vote overall. Congratulations to Martha Castex-Tatum on her victory.

In the HD13 special election, the two Republican candidates will run it off in June for the right to get a bump in seniority over other members of the legislative class of 2018. Cecil Webster appears to be on track to finish a point or so behind his November 2016 percentage, but about seven points ahead of his 2015 special election percentage. Would have been nice to say he ran ahead of the 2016 numbers, but it didn’t happen. Thanks to the contentious primary runoff, there was a lot more money spent on the Republican candidates in this race.

Other races that I mentioned along the way: Dalia Kasseb is headed for a runoff in her Pearland City Council race. She made it to a runoff in a different Council race last year but came up short from there. Daniel Hernandez lost in Pearland ISD, and Monique Rodriguez also lost in her race for Deer Park ISD.

Next up: Primary runoffs. Early voting begins a week from Monday, May 14. I’ll have plenty of info on those races coming up.