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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.

A flock of electronic scooters descending on Austin

Not actually one of the signs of the apocalypse, though I’m sure it was annoying.

Scooter!

Seemingly overnight, Austin was buzzing with electric scooters last month. Scooter riders weaved through crowded sidewalks and traffic downtown and zoomed out of drivers’ blind spots near the University of Texas campus, catching motorists and pedestrians alike off guard.

Bird Rides, a dockless scooter company, deployed a fleet of thin, black scooters in April that quickly grew to almost 700. Then came LimeBike, which flooded the streets with their own white and green Lime-S scooter models on April 16.

Then, just as quickly, they disappeared last weekend.

The appearance of rentable scooters across the city briefly threw Austin’s political leaders into a frenzy as city government officials rushed to roll out a plan to regulate the businesses, which had started operating before a city-led pilot program could begin.

“In order to forestall a predictable and unmanageable swamping of our streets with thousands of vehicles, ATD recommends a more nimble response than our previously expressed pilot timeframe,” Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department, said in a letter to the mayor and Austin City Council members.

The council worked until after 2 a.m. Friday to change city code and prohibit leaving dockless scooters or bicycles on city sidewalks and streets until a permitting process begins. Violators can have their scooters impounded and face a $200 fine for each seized scooter.

Over the weekend, both California-based companies pulled their vehicles from Austin city streets — but not before the city’s transportation department impounded about 70 of them.

[…]

Both companies placed their scooters on sidewalks and street corners throughout the city. Customers could download a smartphone app that allowed them to see the vehicles’ locations in real time, unlock them and pay the rental fee. Both Bird and Lime-S charge a base fee of one dollar, then 15 cents per minute of use.

Austin initially planned to begin a pilot program for what it calls “dockless mobility” — meaning vehicles that aren’t kept in racks or docking stations — starting May 1, but Bird and LimeBike deployed their scooters before it went into effect.

So the city pivoted to the new permitting process, which will require a $30 fee for each vehicle and cap the initial number of vehicles per licensed operator at 500. The city plans to roll out the new process shortly.

And not a minute too soon: The Austin Transportation Department said it’s coordinating with 15 different dockless mobility companies that have expressed interest in coming to Austin.

If you’re having flashbacks to the early days of Uber in Texas, congratulations. You’re not alone. At least in this case the scooter companies were noticeably less pugilistic in their press releases. But then, both of them had done the same thing in San Francisco; as my old music teacher used to say, once is a mistake and twice is a habit. So be forewarned, Mayor Turner and Houston City Council, because these guys are coming, sooner or later. And that rumbling sound you hear in the distance is the early gestation of a lobbying effort to pass a statewide rideshare bill for scooters in the Lege. Again, don’t be caught off guard. We’ve seen this movie before.

Today is May Election Day

From the inbox:

Saturday, May 5, 2018 is Election Day for voters in Houston Council Member District K. Voters will determine who will fill the vacancy in the southwest Council District. Polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

There will be twenty-eight (28) Election Day polling locations for registered voters to cast their ballot in District K. However, each voter must vote at the polling location designated for the voting precinct in which they are registered to vote.

“Harris County polling locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County, noting that District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5, Election.

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

For more information about the May 5 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Voters may also visit the website to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can look up your polling place here. Basically, this is a normal election in the sense that you would vote at your normal precinct location. If you’re in Fort Bend County, you can look up your precinct location here.

Also on the ballot today is the special election in HD13.

Two Republicans are battling until the end — over everything from endorsements to toll roads — ahead of a special election Saturday to fill a rural Texas House seat east of Austin that will give the winner momentum in the race for a full term.

Former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman and Bellville businesswoman Jill Wolfskill — plus one Democrat, Cecil Webster — are on the ballot Saturday to finish the term of ex-state Rep. Leighton Schubert, R-Caldwell, who resigned in February for a local junior college job after previously announcing he would not seek re-election. Leman and Wolfskill are also in a May 22 runoff for the full term representing House District 13, a solidly Republican district that covers a seven-county region between Austin and Houston, stretching from outside Bryan down toward Victoria.

The winner of the special election will complete the rest of Schubert’s term, which ends in January, while the victor in November will serve the full two-year term that comes next.

That has upped the stakes for the special election, in which a victory could be a boon to a candidate’s fortunes in the contest 17 days later. Yet little is assured in the low-turnout, unpredictable environment of a special election, and Leman and Wolfskill — who finished just 525 votes apart in the five-way March primary — are leaving nothing to chance as they seek to distinguish themselves in the home stretch.

The rest of the story continues to focus on the two Republican candidates, with one more passing mention of Cecil Webster at the very end. It’s all about who has or hasn’t been endorsed by which terrible conservative group. Which all makes sense, since whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the overwhelming favorite to win in November in this 75%+ Trump district. That doesn’t mean Webster can’t make it to the runoff of this election, however. It would take good turnout on the Dem side, and probably an uneven split between the two R’s, but it can happen. I’ve seen a few Facebook ads for Webster this past week, so he’s running a real campaign. I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ll have the results tomorrow.

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Early voting ends for May 5 elections

Go vote Saturday if you haven’t voted yet.

Voters across southwest Houston will head to the polls Saturday to vote on a replacement for late District K Houston City Councilman Larry Green who died unexpectedly from a drug overdose in his home last month.

The special city council election comes amid more than 70 across the county, in which voters will decide on new school trustees, city council members, municipal utility and other special district representatives, as well as a handful of bond issues and at least one property tax increase.

It will be first of two election days in the month of May. Runoffs from the March primaries for Democrats and Republicans will be held May 22.

In Houston’s District K special election, nine candidates are vying to replace Green, who was the only person to ever hold the seat, which was one of two added after the 2010 Census. The district covers a slice of southwest Houston between Almeda Road in the east and Beltway 8 in the west, Brays Bayou in the North and Beltway 8 in the south, with a portion in Fort Bend County.

[…]

Other elections in the Houston area on Saturday include:

Clear Creek ISD
Deer Park ISD
Hedwig Village
Hilshire Village
Humble ISD
Jersey Village
Katy
Katy ISD
La Porte
New Caney ISD
Pearland
Pearland ISD
Spring Branch ISD
Galena Park

See here for previous information about the May 5 election. The two listed above that are in italics were added by me, the others (along with a brief description of each) were in the original story. Here’s the early vote report for District K in Harris County; there’s a piece of the district in Fort Bend, so there have been more votes cast than the 3,427 showing in that report. I don’t know about the other elections that are happening. Are you someone with a vote to cast? Leave a comment and let us know. I’ll report on results on Sunday.

What might the TEA do with HISD?

They have some options, the best of which is probably to put the decision off for a year.

A.J. Crabill knows what it’s like to close schools.

In 2010, Crabill, then a 30-year-old member of the Kansas City, Missouri, school board, cast a deciding vote to shutter nearly half of the district’s schools, devastating some members of the community.

Eight years later, Crabill is the deputy commissioner of governance for the Texas Education Agency, and he and his boss, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, likely will face a similar quandary with Houston ISD. A new state law is expected to force the agency to shut down several chronically underperforming schools or replace the district’s locally elected school board — with either choice inciting anger across Houston.

“The question becomes: Which actions can be least disruptive to students? And which actions can create the most benefits for students?” Crabill told a Houston gathering last month. “To be clear, there are only hard choices that are left on the table.”

[…]

Some advocates who oppose charter schools and conservative-aligned education policies also have expressed dismay that Morath, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, would have authority to make major decisions impacting HISD.

In addition, several HISD trustees have argued that the district is making progress at its lowest-performing schools, citing its Achieve 180 plans that pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into each campus.

To date, TEA leaders have been relatively tight-lipped about what they will choose for HISD if the district becomes subject to sanctions this year. However, a review of recent TEA actions, comments by Crabill and statements by local leaders shed light on how the coming months could play out.

Crabill, Morath’s top liaison in dealing with HISD the past few months, hinted at last month’s community meeting that school closures are not the best option for solving academic issues. Crabill said he had visited some of the 10 low-performing schools — all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic students in high-poverty neighborhoods — and found their struggles were not due to staff efforts.

“We have to look beyond state-mandated closure as a panacea in this particular instance,” Crabill said. “I don’t say that out of an unwillingness to use that as an option. I say that from someone who’s gone to the campuses and doesn’t see that it actually moves the ball forward for those students.”

[…]

Across the country, states have sought to get more involved in large, urban districts facing serious academic and financial issues. Gary Ritter, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas who has analyzed state takeover efforts, said intervention sometimes helps steady troubled districts, but there’s “not much evidence that, systematically, this can lead to clear academic benefits.” He also noted Houston is unique from other districts nationwide because only 10 of its 284 schools have been labeled chronically underperforming.

“That certainly seems like an unhelpful wrinkle in the takeover” threat in Houston, Ritter said. “For the most part, in places like Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland (and) Philadelphia, they were done when the school district had been showing either poor performance or financial troubles for several years in a row.”

For that reason, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, wants to see Morath show leniency to HISD. Coleman, whose district includes two of the 10 schools, said HB1842 carries a penalty that is “not appropriate to the circumstance.”

Coleman said he plans to introduce a bill during the 2019 legislative session that would change or repeal the sanctions listed under HB1842, which passed with 85 percent support in the Legislature. He said he believes many lawmakers were not aware of the implications of the bill when it passed.

I think between Harvey, the fact that the schools in question are a tiny part of HISD, the lack of clarity over the intent of the law, and the TEA-approved improvement plan for the ten schools, the case for deferring the decision for a year is compelling. I’d also note that a majority of the HISD Board is new since December of 2016 – Santos, Lira, Deigaard, Sung, Vilaseca – so you can plausibly argue that they should be given a chance to get things fixed before the state comes in and installs a new group of trustees. I’ve also noted before that we now have an all-Democratic board, which may work against them politically when the chips are down. Last week’s chaos, between the seemingly unvetted charter plan and the melee at the Wednesday meeting followed by the vote to do nothing, didn’t do them any favors, either. I hope the schools show enough improvement to satisfy the TEA that things are at least on track, and I hope the TEA is in no rush to do anything drastic.

Fifth Circuit upholds voter ID changes

Ugh.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Amid efforts to prove Texas’ embattled voter ID law is discriminatory, a federal appeals panel on Friday OK’d state lawmakers’ efforts to rewrite the law last year to address faults previously identified by the courts.

On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling that tossed out the state’s revisions through Senate Bill 5. The lower court had said the changes did not absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against voters of color when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011.

But the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing flaws in the voter ID law in 2017, Judge Edith Jones wrote in the majority opinion for the divided panel, and the lower court acted prematurely when it “abused its discretion” in ruling to invalidate SB 5.

The 5th Circuit panel’s ruling is a major victory for the state after years of losses in an almost seven-year legal battle over its restrictions on what forms of identification are accepted at the polls.

[…]

Key to the state’s defense was a change in the 2017 law that allows Texans without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining the proper ID. Those voters could present documents such as utility bills, bank statements or paychecks to confirm their identification, but lawmakers also wrote into law that those found to have lied about not possessing the proper photo ID could be charged with a state jail felony.

Arguing before the 5th Circuit in December, attorneys representing the voting and civil rights groups suing the state said the “reasonable impediment” provision was a faulty remedy because of the possibility that voting “under the express threat of going to jail” would have a “chilling effect” on voters without photo ID.

They also pointed out that the list of permissible IDs remains unchanged under the state’s new ID law: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S. citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.

On Friday, the 5th Circuit panel sided with the state’s argument that Ramos’ decision to reject its revisions to the voter ID law was improper because a new law would require a new legal challenge, but the court did note that opponents of the law could still separately challenge SB 5 in the future.

Judge James Graves Jr. employed striking imagery to lay out his dissent to the majority opinion. “A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog,” he wrote before explaining that the original voter ID law was an “unconstitutional disenfranchisement of duly qualified voters.”

“SB 5 is merely its adorned alter ego,” he added.

With a loss in hand, opponents could be derailed in their efforts to persuade the courts to place Texas back under federal oversight of its election laws — a process called preclearance.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion. The plaintiffs can and almost certainly will ask for an en banc rehearing, though the partisan makeup of the Fifth Circuit does not inspire confidence. They can also start the whole process over by filing a new lawsuit against SB5. This litigation began in 2011 after the original bill SB14 was passed, and it’s not over yet, so you can get some idea of how much longer this might get dragged out if we go down that path.

As usual, Rick Hasen has a good analysis of the ruling and its effect. The bottom line is that despite two findings by the district court of intentional discrimination, the Fifth Circuit has now said that the technical fixes of SB5, which were enacted under court pressure by the Lege, washes that sin away completely. Ross Ramsey recently wrote that no matter what ultimately happens at SCOTUS with redistricting, the Republicans have already won, because they will get four cycles out of maps that are basically what they drew and may at worst have one cycle with court-mandated “faier” maps. No matter what happens from here, we’ve been operating under the original voter ID law or something not that far from it. There’s not price to pay for passing a discriminatory law, or potentially for passing discriminatory Congressional and legislative maps. Why wouldn’t any other Republican-controlled legislature do the same, given Texas’ experience?

As such, the only reliable solution going forward is a political one. We need to elect enough people who oppose voter ID to repeal this discriminatory, anti-democratic law. This is of course a long-term solution, but then a new lawsuit against SB5 would have something like a seven or eight year timeline based on the SB14 experience, with no guarantee of success. In the interim, we need to out more effort and resources into ensuring that people have what they need in order to be able to vote. It’s a travesty, but it’s our reality. We have no other choice.

Still waiting for those other special elections

Ross Ramsey returned to a frequent topic a few days ago.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was found guilty of 11 felonies earlier this year. He has not yet faced sentencing and says he will appeal the convictions on charges including money laundering and fraud. He’s not required to quit the Senate in the face of that, but it’s safe to say many of his colleagues are eager to see him go. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stripped him of his committee assignments, and the Senate Democratic Caucus called on him to quit.

The other potential resignation is a happier story: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won her party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Gene Green in the U.S. House. It’s a Democratic district, but she’ll face the winner of a Republican primary in November’s election. And in the unlikely event that Garcia were to lose that race, she would still be a state senator; her term in the current job doesn’t end until 2021.

Without putting their names to their words, many of Garcia’s colleagues are hoping she’ll quit early, allowing a replacement to be seated before the Legislature convenes in January.

“A vacancy is never politically helpful, but no one is more harmed than the constituents who are in that district, who have zero representation,” said Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic operative and one-time staffer to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. “Aside from the fact that it kind of screws with a few majority votes, and that is not unimportant, you’re leaving Texans with no representation — and you don’t have to.”

The idea is that Garcia’s election to Congress is all but certain and that her timely resignation would position Democrats in the Texas Senate at full strength next year, instead of leaving them waiting on a special election to fill her seat. Or Uresti’s seat, for that matter.

Since he wrote that, we have gotten an update on SD06. Also from Ross Ramsey:

A one-seat pickup [in the Senate] would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side.

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises.

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value.

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation.

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said [last] Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session.

Gotta say, I’m disappointed to hear that. I really believed Sen. Garcia would step down in a timely fashion, perhaps after the May 22 primary runoffs, to allow a successor to be in place by January. If she does wait till November to step down, then the Leticia Van de Putte experience kicks in, where the special election is in January and the successor is installed in March/a>; that runoff actually happened in February, but the swearing-in didn’t take place till after the official canvass. As Ramsey goes on to say, even if the Dems have picked up one or more seats, they’d lose the numerical advantage if the Garcia and Uresti seats are empty.

So yeah, the timing up front can have a big effect on the back end, and that’s before we take into account the subsequent vacancies that may be caused by the Garcia and Uresti specials. I appreciate Sen. Garcia’s position. It’s honorable and respectful. It’s also completely impractical, and potentially very damaging. I really, really hope she reconsiders.

Why do business groups want to force sick people to go to work?

This is bad for society.

The city’s new ordinance mandating that most private businesses in Austin provide paid sick leave to employees — heralded by supporters as the most progressive labor policy in Texas when it won approval two months ago — is facing a legal challenge to prevent it from ever taking effect.

Proponents of Austin’s sick-leave rules, which are slated to begin Oct. 1, already faced the likelihood that some conservative state lawmakers would try to supersede the city’s authority by filing bills to overturn the new ordinance when the Legislature convenes again in January.

But a coalition of business organizations, including the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business, are aiming to render the rules toothless regardless. The group — with legal representation from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — filed a lawsuit in Travis County state District Court on Tuesday, seeking temporary and permanent injunctions against city enforcement.

“We needed to move quickly and stop any bleeding that might occur from this ordinance,” said Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, which is the state’s most powerful business lobbying group. “It’s overreaching (by the city government), and it’s hard-hitting to small employers.”

Work Strong Austin, an activist group that supported the ordinance, called the lawsuit frivolous and said the business groups involved in it are “seeking to undermine the democratic process and take away this basic human right and public health protection right from 223,000 working families” in the city.

The ordinance requires that most private Austin employers give each worker up to 64 hours — or eight full eight-hour workdays — of paid sick leave per year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees are required to meet a lower cap of 48 hours of paid sick leave per year, or six workdays.

I’m going to let Ed Sills, in his email newsletter from Wednesday, break this one down:

The public policy rationales are solid as a rock. The public health argument alone should resonate for everyone. Who wants flu victims preparing food at a restaurant because they can’t afford to sit out an illness? Who wants to sit next to someone on a bus if they have a cold?

The arguments in the lawsuit are frivolous and fatuous. TPPF is saying the ordinance violates the state’s prohibition on local minimum wage increases because paid sick leave is a form of a wage increase. That is utter nonsense.

If a benefit like paid sick leave counted toward fulfilling the minimum wage, employers right and left would pay less than $7.25 an hour and count the value of benefits they already offer toward the wage floor. Employers know they would be laughed out of court and roasted in the court of public opinion if they tried that.

The other “big idea” from TPPF is something called “substantive due process,” and therein lies a danger. Substantive due process reasoning was used by some judges in the first few decades of the 20th Century to strike down minimum wage, maximum hour and other laws. Unlike procedural due process, which guarantees fair trials and other safeguards that enable people in our legal system to make their cases, “substantive due process” was historically a card for employers to play when they didn’t like laws enacted by majorities to protect working people.

The U.S. Supreme Court occasionally recognized substantive due process, and a few examples are instructive. In 1905, the high court overturned a New York law limiting bakery employees to 60 hour a week. In 1923, the high court struck down minimum-wage laws using substantive due process analysis. In 1925, the court struck down laws banning “yellow-dog contracts” that required employees to agree not to join a labor union (this was in the pre-National Labor Relations Act days).

A changing majority on the Supreme Court during the Franklin Roosevelt era eventually flushed away substantive due process. By 1955, a unanimous court declared in Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma, “The day is gone when this Court uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought.” The law upheld in the case was a state requirement that eyeglasses be fitted and duplicated by licensed optometrists or ophthalmologists.

The law is on the side of the paid sick leave ordinance, but the infection of the law by politics may be a different story. I would not bet my house, my car or even my fidget spinner that the Texas Supreme Court would uphold a paid sick leave ordinance. The high civil court is a haven for the business community in Texas. Moreover, Gov. Greg Abbott and elements of the Texas Legislature will take a shot at the ordinance – and potentially at ordinances that voters in San Antonio and Dallas might be considering in November – in the next legislative session.

One argument the business community will make to overturn Austin’s ordinance, and to preempt other cities from following suit, is that it’s just too hard on businesses that operate statewide to comply with different rules in different cities. (As if the more-than-statewide businesses don’t already have to do that outside Texas.) But fine, if that’s the problem, then pass a sick leave law at the state level, or even better in Congress. Sick people should be home getting better and not infecting everyone around them, so take away the economic incentive for them to drag their contagious selves to work. I do not understand the argument against that. KUT and Fox 7 Austin have more.

Paxton versus Miller on barbecue

Just embrace the fact that this is the world we live in.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

A nonbinding opinion issued Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton continues a battle between lawmakers, restaurants and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller over regulation of scales used to measure food.

Under state law, roughly 17,725 retailers, including grocery store chains, airlines, coffee houses, laundries and brisket purveyors, are required to use scales to measure what they sell to the public. Those scales are also supposed to be registered with the state so inspectors can ensure that they’re not tipped in the seller’s favor.

A law passed during last year’s legislative session, however, carved out exemptions for scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” meaning places such as yogurt shops and barbecue joints won’t have to get their scales registered.

Miller called the law “horse hockey.”

[…]

Miller’s agency, which was charged with verifying the accuracy of the retailers’ scales, decided that businesses would only be exempt from regulation if they weighed foods to be eaten “on the premises.” But the barbecue bill’s authors argued that in determining how to implement the law, Miller’s agency misinterpreted its intent. So Miller asked Paxton for a written opinion.

Paxton sided with the barbecue joints in his opinion Monday, saying Miller’s agency went too far.

See here for the background. As I said before and as I may never say again, I think Miller had the better argument, but at least we know Ken Paxton remains consistent about siding with the moneyed interests whenever the opportunity presents itself. But who cares about any of that? This calls for a song:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some brisket calling my name.

SCOTUS hears the redistricting arguments

It’s in their hands now.

Much of the argument concerned the issue of whether the case was properly before the justices at all.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The district court also rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.

In a separate decision, the district court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.

But the court did not issue an injunction compelling the state to do anything, and only instructed Texas officials to promptly advise it about whether they would try to draw new maps.

[…]

The question for the justices, [Allison J. Riggs, a lawyer for the challengers] said, was, “Did the Legislature adopt the interim plan for race-neutral reasons, or did it use the adoption of that interim plan as a mask for the discriminatory intent that had manifested itself just two years ago?”

Later in the argument, she answered her own question. “They wanted to end the litigation,” she said, “by maintaining the discrimination against black and Latino voters, muffling their growing political voice in a state where black and Latino voters’ population is exploding.”

See here for the previous update. I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what exactly SCOTUS may be ruling on. The DMN has the most concise summary of that:

If the justices side with the state:
The lower court’s ruling could be vacated and Texas’ electoral maps would stay the same until they are next redrawn in 2021.

A victory for the state would also benefit Republican lawmakers, who would start their next redistricting session with more districts that are favorable to Anglo voters, who tend to vote Republican. That would slow the growth of districts with majority minority populations, which tend to vote Democrat, and whose numbers are fueling the state’s population growth.

If the court sides with the map’s challengers:
The case would be sent back to the San Antonio court, which would start hearings on how to redraw new maps that could also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Changing the challenged districts could have a ripple effect on surrounding districts and lead to more Democrats being elected.

A victory for them could spell deeper trouble for Texas. The San Antonio court could consider whether to place the state back under federal supervision for changes made to its election laws and maps. Texas and several other states with a history of discrimination were under “pre-clearance” — a protection under the Voting Rights Act for minorities who were historically disenfranchised — until a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

If the justices rule it’s out of their jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court could send the case back to San Antonio because — despite the state’s argument that the order is in essence an injunction — the court hasn’t blocked the use of the current maps yet. Then the case could play out in much the same way as if the Supreme Court had sided with maps’ challengers, and the state could again appeal to the Supreme Court if the court formally blocks the maps.

In that latter case, I presume we[‘d go through the motions of getting a final ruling from the lower court, then going back to SCOTUS since surely there would be another appeal. From the way the hearing went it sounds like at least some of the justices think now is not the time for them to get involved, so be prepared for this to not be over yet. Whatever it is they do, they’ll do it by the summertime, so at least we won’t have to wait that long. CNN, NBC, SCOTUSBlog, Justin Levitt, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Today is Texas redistricting day at SCOTUS

The Chron sets the table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many more school districts are feeling the pinch

Not just HISD. Not by a long shot.

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

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

They are not alone.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Interview with Cecil Webster

Cecil Webster

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

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

A clean separation

Well done.

Richard Carranza

Former Houston ISD superintendent Richard Carranza’s resignation from the district involved no financial settlements, and the two sides agreed not to sue each other following the separation, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

A written agreement between Carranza and HISD board members shows a clean break after Carranza announced in early March that he planned to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Carranza officially resigned on March 31 and started his job in New York City on April 2. HISD board members have appointed Grenita Lathan, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer, to serve indefinitely as interim superintendent.

Carranza’s three-year contract ran through August 2019, leading to questions about whether he would face any repercussions for resigning midway through that term. His contract didn’t include any penalties for resigning before August 2019, and it did stipulate both sides could mutually agree to end the agreement.

Carranza was paid his regular salary of $345,000 and benefits through March 31. He was allowed to take accrued but unused personal days through the last week of his employment.

[…]

Trustees have given no timetable for hiring a permanent superintendent. District officials on Wednesday named an interim chief academic officer, Noelia Longoria, to fill Lathan’s position. Longoria previously served as assistant superintendent of HISD’s Office of School Choice.

No drama is fine by me, and the terms are boringly normal. May it be this easy finding the right candidate to replace Carranza.

On a side note, the Chron editorial board calls for a change in how HISD trustees are elected.

One significant change that Houston ISD should consider is changing the way it elects school board members. Currently, the nine trustees are elected from single-member districts, rather than by voters from throughout the school district.

Texas law allows a couple of alternatives. One would be a board made up of a mix of single-member and at-large trustees. This is similar to how Houston’s City Council is elected. Sixty smaller school districts across Texas use this governance system, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Another alternative would be to switch to cumulative voting, where voters across the school district would be allowed to cast as many votes as there are candidates. This option has been available to Texas school districts since 1995 and is used by a number of smaller school districts for at-large trustee elections.

Changing the governance model could help address one of the biggest challenges facing the school board: Members are concerned about struggling campuses in their own electoral district, but not necessarily in the districts of other trustees.

Single-member districts have played a major role in assuring more diversity on school boards. They help ensure that multiple voices are heard in the development of education policy. But they also can result in a balkanized school district, with trustees focused on their individual parts rather than the whole.

The Chron notes that this “balkanization” was one of the reasons Rep. Harold Dutton pushed through HB 1842, the bill that now has HISD under the gun for the chronically low-performing schools. I’m kind of meh on this idea. I suppose a hybrid district/at large model would be all right, though I’d like someone to try to persuade me that At Large Council members are better at looking out for the interests of the entire city than the district members are (and I say that as someone who supports having At Large council members). I’m not convinced we need to change to do a better job of achieving our goals, but I’ll listen if you want to make a pitch. Campos has more.

From the “Answering my own rhetorical question” department

Nobody could have seen this coming!

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

One other thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be redistricting time for Texas at SCOTUS soon

Here’s an update.

In their latest brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the voting and minority rights groups challenging Texas’ political maps painted Republican state lawmakers as “opportunistically inconsistent in their treatment of appearance versus reality.”

Pointing to the lawmakers’ 2013 adoption of a court-drawn map that was meant to be temporary, the groups chronicled the actions as “a ruse,” a “shellgame strategy” and a devious “smokescreen” meant to obscure discriminatory motives behind a previous redistricting plan.

Channeling their anger toward the lower court that found lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color, state attorneys used a February brief to denounce the court’s ruling as one that “defies law and logic,” suffers multiple “legal defects” and “flunks the commonsense test to boot.”

[…]

The legal fight between the state and its legal foes, which include several voters of color, has been churning through the courts since 2011. That was when lawmakers embarked on redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts to account for explosive growth, particularly among Hispanic residents, following the 2010 census.

Those maps never took effect because Texas, at the time, was still required to get federal approval of changes to its political maps before using them in elections. A federal court in Washington eventually rejected the boundaries, ruling they violated federal safeguards for voters of color. But by then, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio had ordered up interim maps for congressional and state House districts to be used for the 2012 elections.

The San Antonio court at the time warned that the interim maps were still subject to revision. But state lawmakers in 2013 adopted those maps as their own, with few tweaks.

That move, the state contends, was a “conciliatory act” in which the Legislature “embraced the court’s maps for the perfectly permissible reason that it wanted to bring the litigation to an end.”

But in their brief filed last week with the high court, attorneys for voters and legislators challenging the maps described the 2013 maneuver in much different terms:

“In the State’s telling, there was a brief, shining moment in 2013 when Texas history reversed course and the Texas Legislature fell all over itself to conform state conduct to a federal court’s provisional observations. The district court rightly saw through the 2013 masquerade.”

As noted before, oral arguments will be on April 24, so gird your loins and make sure children and pets are in safe places. I will remind everyone that there were actually two remedial maps produced by the three-judge panel way back in 2011. The first one, which was based on the previous decade’s pre-cleared-and/or-ruled-VRA-compliant-by-SCOTUS maps, was thrown out by SCOTUS on the grounds that the panel needed to defer to the new maps as drawn by the Lege as their starting point. Which the court did, and which it did without taking into consideration the VRA Section 2 claims on which the plaintiffs subsequently prevailed. As such, claims that the interim maps solved all the problems and should have been the end of the litigation are false. The maps had problems, which the courts ultimately found, and that’s even before we get into the “intent” question.

Anyway. What happens from here is unknown. SCOTUS has had a busy term grappling with redistricting questions, but unlike the partisan-gerrymandering claims from Wisconsin and Maryland, this is old-fashioned racial discrimination/Voting Rights Act stuff. It’s also our last chance to remediate any damages before the next redistricting cycle. It would not be much of a win for the plaintiffs if we never get to have an election under non-discriminatory maps.

What role might the city have in HISD?

The possibility that the city could have any role at all with HISD is itself interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he has been asked to get “very, very, very involved” in Houston ISD as it faces potentially severe state sanctions, but he stopped short Wednesday of suggesting the city could take control of the district’s chronically under-performing campuses.

Asked whether the city could become a “partner” with the district, giving the city significant authority over operations at campuses, Turner said Wednesday: “Let’s just say I’ve been asked to be very, very involved by multiple individuals, and then I am deciding to what degree and to how far I am going to get involved in the day-to-day operation of any of the schools.”

In recent weeks, HISD administrators have proposed surrendering significant control over 10 underachieving campuses to “partners” as part of the district’s plan for avoiding state sanctions.

Under a law known as HB 1842, which was passed in 2015, the Texas Education Agency must replace HISD’s locally elected school board or close campuses if any one of the district’s 10 longest-failing schools fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Under a separate law known as SB 1882, which was passed in 2017, the district can stave off those potential sanctions for two years if it partners with a nonprofit, higher education institution, charter school network or government entity.

When HISD administrators initially recommended partnerships in early February, the district did not include governmental entities as a potential partner. However, in recent days, HISD leaders have added that option in public presentations about SB 1882, leading to speculation that the city of Houston could take control of HISD campuses.

There’s some precedent for this. Peter Brown advocated for an “urban school district” as part of his 2009 Mayoral campaign. Mayor Turner hired former HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche as his Director of Education, a role he created. It’s not clear what role the city might play in HISD, if it even comes to that. Given the choices from SB1882, I’d go with a college or nonprofit first as a partner, and would prefer the city only if the other choices are a charter school or the state. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what comes next, but I do appreciate the city being willing to step in, even if I’d rather it not be needed.

Everybody should be counted

The 2020 Census has big challenges, especially in Texas.

But even two years out from the 2020 count, local officials, demographers, community organizers and advocates say they are worried the census could be particularly tough to carry out in Texas this go-around.

They are bracing for challenges both practical — Hurricane Harvey displacement, internet accessibility and fewer funds with which to knock on doors — and political, namely anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears that a citizenship question will be included in the census questionnaire. Those issues aren’t insurmountable, officials say, but they will probably make Texas, which is already hard to count, even tougher to enumerate.

An accurate census is critical to the state. It is used to determine how many representatives Texas is entitled to elect to Congress. And the Texas Legislature and local governments rely on the data to redraw corresponding political boundaries.

The census also serves as a roadmap for the distribution of billions of federal dollars to the state and local communities, including funding for low-income housing, medical assistance and transportation projects.

But those working toward an accurate count in Texas are, in many ways, starting from behind. Massive in both size and population, Texas is home to millions of residents who fall into the categories of people who pose the biggest challenges for the headcount — immigrants, college students, children younger than 5 years old, to name a few.

After the 2010 census count, the U.S. Census Bureau found that most Texas residents live in areas that may be harder to count. Using a “low response score,” which is based on the likelihood that residents will not self-respond to a questionnaire, the bureau found that most Texas residents live in census tracts — geographic areas that include 1,200 to 8,000 residents — that exceed the national average for low response scores.

That’s particularly evident in areas with large shares of Hispanics and residents living in poverty, which are prevalent across the state.

“Certainly, we have populations that are hard to count — people whose first language isn’t English, people who have lower levels of educational attainment, people who move frequently,” state demographer Lloyd Potter said. “You have both recent immigrants and then, certainly, people who are unauthorized who are going to be wary of anyone who is knocking on their door and asking questions.”

That’s the chief concern among those working toward an accurate count in Texas.

Almost 5 million immigrants live in the state, and it’s estimated that about two-thirds are noncitizens — legal permanent residents, immigrants with another form of legal status or undocumented immigrants. Additionally, more than 1 million Texans who are U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

Local officials, advocates and demographers for months have expressed grave concerns about the reception the 2020 census will receive among Texas immigrants who have likely followed years-long heated national and local debates over undocumented immigrants, immigration-enforcement laws like the one passed by the Texas Legislature last year and immigration crackdowns.

“Anyone close to this issue is really concerned. It’s an anti-immigrant environment,” said Ryan Robinson, demographer for Austin, which is home to 167,000 immigrants. “It’s always hard to count immigrants, but this is really going to be a tough issue.”

The fact that preparations for the Census are being done now by the understaffed and under-competent Trump administration isn’t making this any easier. Remember that the reason Texas got those four extra Congressional seats in the 2010 Census was our rapid growth due in large part to immigration. It would be quite ironic if we missed out on getting a seat or two because of a Census undercount that was the result of Republican legislative priorities. The Trib, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, and Erica Greider have more.

It’s about more than the statewide races

Two articles coming to basically the same conclusion. First, from the Observer:

People watching Texas from afar are naturally not very interested in the balance of power in the Legislature, or county government. They’re interested first in whether Texas could flip in a presidential race and, secondly, whether they can be rid of Ted Cruz. So when more Democratic ballots were cast than Republican ones in the largest counties, many read that as evidence that a Democrat could win a statewide race in November, even though the link between the two is pretty specious and at any rate Texas has open primaries. (I mostly vote in the Republican primary, and a lot of people switch at will between the two depending on what’s going on in their district.)

But on election night, the statewide results, from across all 254 counties, were quite different — because of course they were. In the end, there were still more Republican ballots, 1.54 million, than Democratic ballots, 1.04 million. Some observers, hyped on the foggy narrative that lauded the early voting turnout, decided that the results were a dud and lost interest, because the numbers no longer indicated that a statewide election could be won. One national forecaster, Harry Enten, wrote that the primary results were a disappointment because they were comparable to 2006, when the party didn’t win any statewide elections. But Texas Democrats don’t remember that year as a disappointment — they made extraordinary headway in the state House, part of an effort that almost won a majority in 2008.

The Blue Wave was real, and then it wasn’t, in the course of about a week. Stranger still, the made-up national story arc seemed to influence in-state coverage as well. Even though Democratic turnout was better than in any midterm primary since 2002, and more than than double 2014, commentators have consistently described the night as at least a mild disappointment, where the Democrats “fell short” of a goal that had been imagined for them.

The thing is, the way the state goes on the electoral college map doesn’t mean very much at all for the way Texas is governed. And while it’s possible that the party jumps back to life with the shock of winning one or two statewide elections — that there will be a proof of concept, and then everyone suddenly gets serious — it’s more likely that things change slowly, over an extended period of time, and that small gains and positive signs feed bigger gambits. What’s most important in the long run is the overall composition and strength of the Texas Democratic Party at the local and state level.

In that light, the fact that Democratic turnout doubled in urban counties while Republican turnout stayed essentially flat is significant. There are quite a few winnable legislative districts around those cities. The whole ballgame for the party is getting people to vote and to make a habit of voting. Trump is helping them do that — the trick now is to get it to stick, which it most certainly did not after the elections of 2006 and 2008.

And from the Trib:

Texas didn’t see a blue wave in its March primaries. Measured by the number of voters they attracted to their primaries earlier this month, Republicans outnumber Democrats in Texas by a 3-to-2 margin.

Dallas County did see a wave, though, and that could be important in November. The same is true, to some extent, in Harris and Bexar counties. Democrats, judged by turnout in the major party primaries, have a numerical advantage in three of the state’s biggest counties.

Another way to put this: In the three biggest counties in Texas, Democratic primary voters outnumbered Republicans in 2018 — after trailing them in 2014.

[…]

It’s not the blue wave Texas Democrats were hoping for. Texas Republican primary turnout was 1.54 million, while the Democrats attracted 1.02 million voters. But you’ll have to forgive Republicans in Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties if they start hollering for life preservers. Democrats improved their turnout numbers, in comparison with Republicans, in 18 of the state’s top 25 counties (measured by the number of registered voters) — an urban trend that’s been previously noted here and elsewhere.

What’s notable now is the electoral danger posed to incumbent Republicans. They are numerous in the three big counties, providing the Democrats with ample opportunities. They’re nervous because their party’s president is facing his first mid-term election, often a perilous time for that party’s candidates. Meanwhile, the Democrats have candidates in place to pounce as opportunities arise.

That article goes on to list the targets from Dallas County, a list with which we are familiar. The full list goes well beyond these three counties – again, we know what that’s about – but the point is simply that Democrats have a lot of ways to win this year. Obviously, becoming credibly competitive at a statewide level is the overarching goal, but as we get there a lot can happen to make the government we have better. Winning even two Senate seats would be a big step forward, not to mention a key point of leverage, thanks to the “three-fifths rule” (formerly the two-thirds rule) in the Senate, which would allow Dems to block bills they can’t abide.

There are many more lower-level targets to aim for – breaking through in Harris County, including Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, lots of State House seats, and so on – and who knows, Ken Paxton may get convicted, or Sid Miller may finally say something that alienates people who aren’t dead-enders. We’ve been over this before, you know the drill. Winning a statewide race would be huge, but it’s not the sole criteria for success in 2018. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Scenes from the March For Our Lives

From Houston:

Nearly 15,000 descended Saturday morning on downtown Houston for the city’s March For Our Lives, advocating for greater gun control in light of last month’s Florida school shooting.

A mix of children and adults gathered in Houston’s Tranquility Park for the student-led march, many carrying signs that illustrated their fear of violence and demand for legislative action.

“I didn’t know what to expect here today, but I just expect change in the government,” said Austin Luchak, a ninth-grader at The Woodlands College Park High School who attended the march with his father. “I hope they follow through.”

Hundreds of marches are taking place across the country, largely driven by students who are organizing the events. The rally in Washington included Texans like Kay Hopper, a retiree from Austin who showed up with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. “I’m hoping that what starts here will change the world in Texas,” Hopper said.

[…]

In Houston, organizers expected 10,000 to 20,000 attendees to gather in Tranquility Park and march toward U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s office.

“Today, I hope our voices are heard, because we are the ones that go to school,” said Azariah Haro, a junior from Langham Creek High School in Cy-Fair ISD, who traveled to Saturday’s event with three friends. “I really hope we’re able to make a change.”

As protesters milled about shortly before the 9 a.m. start, volunteers worked to register young voters inspired into political action. Many brought signs voicing opposition to the National Rifle Association, while others implored replacing legislators who have been more supportive of expanded gun rights.

Emphasis mine. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Mayor Turner spoke at the rally, and he announced the creation of the Mayor’s Commission to End Gun Violence. Details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, there were rallies around the state as well.

In more than 800 planned “March for Our Lives” events across the country – including in Austin, Houston and Dallas – students and families protested against gun violence and called on lawmakers to take decisive action.

Thousands clogged Austin’s Congress Ave and gathered outside the pink-domed Capitol building, chanting and applauding as speakers – including Mayor Steve Adler, actor Matthew McConaughey and the local high school students organizers of the event – took their turns rallying the crowd.

“We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make the choice to jump in front of an assault rifle,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “Not one more.” The crowd broke into chants of “Not one more!” as he spoke.

Many of the speakers at the Austin event pointedly described state lawmakers’ dithering on gun-control laws, and called for reforms – like a ban on assault-style weapons and bolstering the background-check process.

“Now there is not one solution that will prevent mass shootings,” Adler, the mayor, said at one point, “but there are common sense solutions most people can agree upon.” He suggested people on airlines’ “no-fly” lists should be banned from purchasing guns, and said, “if you can’t buy a gun in a gun store, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun at a gun show.”

Watson dismissed a push to arm school staff and educators with weapons by saying teachers in the state are already-overburdened. “Adding sharpshooter to their list of obligations is ridiculous,” he said.

There were many more marches around the country and around the world as well. These are great to see, but what comes next is of greater importance. There is – correctly – a lot of focus on Congress, as there is a lot that can and should be done at the federal level to reform gun laws. Part of the reason for that is because Democrats have a decent chance of retaking the House, and even if they can’t get the Senate this year, it along with the Presidency are very doable in 2020.

It’s a much bigger challenge at the state level – the Lege isn’t flipping, and statewide offices are very much longshots. But we can make gains, and we can state our goals for state government, which if nothing else can serve as both vision and rallying cry. Right now, though, I don’t know what those goals are – I’m not even sure I could say what they should be. We’re pretty clear on things like education, health care, equality, the environment, and criminal justice, but gun issues have not been in the foreground except for when we have had to play defense. Someone asked me recently if I could point them to a legislative scorecard for gun control, and the only one either of us could find was from the NRA. There are local chapters here of national groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, but again that focus has been on the national scene. We know that if we want to change things in Texas we need to win more elections, but we need the candidates we are electing to have gun safety as one of their mandates. What is it we hope to accomplish on this issue in the Legislature in 2019? That needs to be our starting point.

You may finally be able to buy booze at Walmart and Costco now

I agree with this.

A protectionist Texas law that has kept Walmart, Costco and other giant retailers from selling hard liquor was found unconstitutional by a federal judge this week, prompting cheers from free-market advocates — and vows of a quick appeal from one of the parties on the losing side.

The Texas law that was struck down — unique in the United States — forbids publicly traded businesses from owning liquor stores while allowing family-owned companies to grow into giant chains without fear of competition from large national or international corporations.

If the late Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman survives appeals, Texas consumers — like those in at least 31 other states and many foreign countries — will be able to buy vodka, tequila and bourbon from Walmart-owned stores and from other multinational retailer outlets.

“For decades, these laws have stood in stark contrast to Texas values,” said Travis Thomas, spokesman for Texans for Consumer Freedom, which advocates for free-market reforms in Texas. “The State of Texas should not pick winners and losers in private industry.”

[…]

Experts said an appeal could take more than a year to play out in the federal court system — longer if it were to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, Texans can expect the status quo in liquor retailing. If publicly traded companies are allowed eventually to sell distilled spirits, existing law would still require the companies to build separate facilities, though they can be adjacent to existing stores.

See here and here for the background. The Texas Package Stores Association, which represents the state’s liquor store owners, has vowed to appeal, and I’d expect this to go the distance. As you know, I’m no fan of Walmart, but on this issue I think they’re in the right. Now if we could only bring a similar sense of sanity to the state’s ridiculous beer laws, we’d really have something.

From the “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash” files

Same song, second verse.

If budget writers don’t come up with money to address a state employee pension shortfall and mounting needs for public schools, health care and transportation, credit agencies are likely to downgrade Texas’ AAA rating in the near future.

That was the warning Comptroller Glenn Hegar gave lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Finance Committee in Austin. Though the Texas economy is growing at a healthy pace, Hegar said, the state’s budget is riddled with enough unfunded liabilities to worry credit rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s.

“We’re not at a crisis,” Hegar said, but “we’re going in the wrong direction.”

A downgrading of Texas’ credit rating would make it more expensive for the state to borrow money — and perhaps damage state leaders’ credibility when advertising Texas as “open for business.”

“I want to avoid that, because I think that’s a black eye on the state of Texas,” Hegar said.

Rebounding oil prices, natural growth and migration to Texas have led to an increase in tax collections, according to the comptroller’s office. But much of that new revenue is already dedicated to historically underfunded programs such as the state highway fund, meaning that Texas lawmakers likely won’t have more money at their disposal in 2019 when crafting the next two-year budget.

At the same time, lawmakers will need to plug holes in the pension system for state employees, and they’ll face pressure to make solvent a health insurance program for retired teachers. On top of that, big bills coming due for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled that is perennially underfunded by the Legislature, could put the state budget $2.5 billion in the red before lawmakers even convene in 2019. (The state’s current two-year budget is about $217 billion.)

In addition, state leaders will have to tackle the bills from Hurricane Harvey recovery.

I’ll just say again here what I said in January: The vast majority of these issues are the result of deliberate choices made by our Governor, our Lieutenant Governor, and our Republican-controlled Legislature. Instead of seriously addressing the needs of the state, current and future, our Republican leaders have been obsessed with trivia, from bathrooms to plastic bags to trees. We have gotten by and done all right because times have been good, but we are in a far more precarious position for when the economy goes south than we should be. In the meantime, we are squandering this opportunity to ensure a better future for all of us by making such cavalier and ill-advised fiscal choices. Every Democratic candidate running for state office needs to internalize and articulate that message going forward.