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Tim Kleinschmidt

HD17 overview

The Chron provides an overview of the special election in HD17. Given that current Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt hadn’t planned to resign till January 14, it seems that the swift date for this election, the same day as the ones in Bexar County, caught the prospective candidates a bit by surprise.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Kleinschmidt has not made any endorsements in the race, though his chief of staff is actively campaigning for Republican candidate John Cyrier and is expected to stay on if Cyrier wins.

Cyrier, a construction executive who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners Court from 2010-2013, is positioning himself the only serious contender with a voting record and one who will not require on-the-job training at the Capitol. Endorsed by the Texas Farm Bureau and several state representatives from the area, Cyrier has been working to consolidate support from the region’s GOP power brokers and seize the mantle of odds-on establishment favorite.

[…]

Bastrop entrepreneur Brent Golemon is running as a different kind of Republican, expressing concern over the direction of the state while pitching himself as the only “principled conservative” in the race. If elected, he said he would work to undo burdensome regulations on businesses and schools that have kept Texas from reaching its full potential.

“We’re not the lesser of two evils – we’re actually a positive place to be,” Golemon said. “‘At least we’re not as bad off as California.’ That’s not a good way of saying: ‘Come to Texas. Be a Texan.’ ”

[…]

Two Democrats are also running, though just one of them – pastor Ty McDonald – is seen as having a shot at spoiling either Republican’s chances of winning more than half the vote and avoiding a runoff Jan. 6. The other Democrat, Cedar Creek real estate agent Shelley Cartier, has kept a lower profile than McDonald, who last year weighed a challenge to Kleinschmidt.

McDonald also has somewhat of an advantage in name recognition as a one time congressional candidate and wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald. Plus, she fashions herself as more conservative than liberal on social issues, creating the opportunity for crossover appeal in a district where voters’ priorities are hardly partisan lightning rods.

“People tend to have a hard time boxing me in,” McDonald said. The seat, she added, is “up for grabs, and I’m ready to part the red sea.”

Rounding out the five-person lineup is independent Linda Curtis, a longtime Bastrop activist who helps run a political action committee that boosts independent politicians. She also has been mindful of the race’s quirks as a self-styled populist looking to rebuke the leadership in Austin.

“Rick Perry is sneaking an election during the Christmas holiday,” Curtis said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “Lets not make this The Grinch That Stole An Election.”

I will have an interview with Ty McDonald later this week. The presence of Linda Curtis, whom the Austin Chronicle notes has been plying a gadfly/professional outsider schtick for many years, adds an interesting dimension to the race. In a November election, I could see her peeling off a fair number of votes, which I’d guess would more from the R column than the D though not by a huge amount. I don’t know how well that will play in a January election, where the large majority of the participants will be hardcore partisans. One can make an impact as an indy in a race like this, but it likely takes a certain level of resources, since you have to make sure people know that there is an election in the first place, and/or a certain level of name recognition – perhaps “notoriety” is a more accurate term – to cut through the noise. We’ll see how it plays out here. If you live in HD17, what (if anything) are you hearing about this election? Leave a comment and let us know.

Ty McDonald for HD17

Ty McDonald

As you know, the special election to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt in HD17 has been set for January 6, with early voting to begin on December 29. This is the same schedule as the elections in HD123 and SD26. As you also know, I have been an advocate for running a Democrat in HD17, on the grounds that in a low-turnout election unpredictable things can happen, and with a bit of a GOTV push the Dems could steal a seat, even if it would only be a one-term rental.

Given all that, you will be as pleased as I am to see that there is a Dem running in HD17, and that Dem is Ty McDonald, wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald and a former school board trustee in Bastrop. As had her husband, who eventually made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for CD27 in 2012, Ty McDonald considered running for HD17 last year before deciding instead to try to succeed her husband as Bastrop County Judge. She lost that race in a year that wasn’t friendly to Democrats in Bastrop or elsewhere, and has now decided to toss her hat into this ring. With the filing deadline on Monday the 22nd, there are at least two announced Republican candidates (see the comments here), so at the very least she ought to have a decent shot at making it to a runoff.

I don’t know what Battleground Texas is doing now that it’s completed its post-election explanation tour of the state, but my reason for championing this special election, other than it being a free shot at a pickup, is that it just doesn’t take that many votes to win, or at least advance. Here are the vote totals from the last three State House special elections, plus two runoff elections:

Date Dist Votes Win ========================== 12/10 044 11,036 5,518 11/11 014 13,519 6,760 12/11 014 6,736 3,368 11/13 050 14,936 7,468 01/14 050 10,520 5,260

Note that the specials in HDs 14 and 50 took place in November of 2011 and 2013, so they got a bit of an artificial boost in turnout, though probably not that much. I skipped the special elections in HDs 16 (from this November) and 84 (in 2010) precisely because they coincided with high-turnout general elections and thus would extreme outliers on this list. My guess is that turnout for this race is more likely to resemble the HD14 runoff, from December 2011, than anything else. That suggests an electorate of between (say) 6,000 and 10,000 voters, meaning that to win outright you’d need between 3,000 and 5,000 votes.

Now then. There were 35,196 total votes cast in 2014 general in HD17. Democratic candidate Carolyn Banks received 12,459 votes of them. Obviously, a lot of those folks are November-only types. If we want to narrow it down to just the hardcore Dems, the kind of people that might be receptive to a “Hey! We have a special election and we need your vote!” campaign, there were 4,492 votes cast in HD17 in the 2014 primary, and 5,259 votes in the 2012 primary. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who those people are and send them some mail, and maybe follow it up with a phone call or two.

That’s assuming that we want to try to win, of course, and if there’s someone to underwrite this expense. I’d assume sending mail to five thousand or so voters in this district would run in the low to medium five figures, not exactly a back-breaking expense for a campaign, and I feel reasonably confident that if BGTX put out a call for volunteers to do some phone banking they’d get a decent response from people who’d love a chance to put the taste of this November behind them. The odds are that this won’t work – HD17 was drawn to elect a Republican, and they have plenty of their own voters to contact – but again, what is there to lose? Not doing anything here would be a much bigger loss, in my opinion, than trying and coming up short. We have a race, we have a candidate, we have a win number, and we have a reasonable idea of how to achieve it. What else do we need?

Legislative special elections set

Gear up quickly, here they come.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday afternoon set three special elections for Jan. 6, including the race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Van de Putte, who lost her bid for lieutenant governor last month, is stepping down to run for mayor of San Antonio, leaving a vacancy in Senate District 26. State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this month to also launch a campaign for City Hall, a move that created an open seat in House District 123.

In addition, Perry scheduled a special election for Jan. 6 in House District 17, where Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, is resigning to become general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture. The district covers a five-county area east of Austin.

Democrats have already lined up to vie for the two seats in solidly blue Bexar County. San Antonio State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer as well as Converse Mayor Al Suarez are running to replace Van de Putte. Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez as well as public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon are competing for Villarreal’s House seat.

See here for the background. Al Suarez is a new name for the SD26 seat; Converse is a small town inside Bexar County, but beyond that I know nothing about him. I can’t find any news about potential candidates for Kleinschmidt’s seat – as you know, I’m rooting for a Democrat to file for it – but I’m sure we’ll hear something soon enough. I wasn’t expecting it to be part of this set, but it makes sense for it to be. If either Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26 we’ll need one more special, and then I presume we’ll be done for the near term. The Current has more.

San Antonio special legislative elections appear to be set

Rumor has it.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

State Rep. Mike Villarreal said Friday that Gov. Rick Perry has set Jan. 6 as the date for a special election to fill his position in the state House and a Senate seat being vacated by Leticia Van de Putte.

Villarreal and Van de Putte are leaving the Texas Legislature to run for San Antonio mayor.

In social media posts Friday, Villarreal divulged a snippet of a conversation he had with Ken Armbrister, a top Perry staffer, about the scheduling of the special election.

“He just called to let me know that the election will be called on Jan. 6,” Villarreal said in a phone interview. “This will minimize the possibility that there’s a vacancy in the House.”

The legislative session starts Jan. 13.

A Perry spokeswoman declined to confirm the date, saying: “We don’t have anything to announce on this. When we do, we will put out a press release.”

A formal announcement from Perry’s office could come as early as Monday.

Villarreal tweeted and Facebooked the news, which as you can see is unconfirmed at this time. Villarreal seems to be the only one willing to state this for the record, but we’ll know for sure soon enough.

Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez, who is also a former state representative, and Melissa Aguillon, who runs a public relations firm, all Democrats, are vying for Villarreal’s House seat. Nunzio Previtera, a Republican, and Libertarian Roger Gary are also eyeing the race.

[…]

State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer, both Democrats, have launched campaigns to replace Van de Putte in the upper chamber. GOP activist Alma Perez-Jackson is also mentioned as a candidate, but has not officially announced her campaign.

I’ve said before that the special election in SD26 is a worthwhile shot for the Republicans to take, though I wouldn’t bet any money on their candidate making it to a runoff. Worst case scenario is a few fat cat donors waste some money.

Bexar County election officials already were urging reconsideration of the Jan 6. date.

Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said Friday the date wouldn’t allow the two days needed to prepare polling sites in schools that will be closed for the holidays until Jan. 5.

Surely there is an accommodation that can be made here. Both these races are near locks to need runoffs, so the sooner they are held, the better.

On a tangential note, January 14 – Day Two of the session – is the day that Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt is planning to resign to take the job of general counsel for the Ag Department. I would presume a special election to fill that seat, for which I have urged Dems to take a shot, will follow shortly thereafter. Assuming one of Reps. Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26, we will need one more special election, likely in early March, to fill that vacancy. Barring any unforseen additional departures, that should be it for the time being.

Kleinschmidt to resign in HD17

Just in case you thought there weren’t enough special elections on the horizon.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is reaching out to a former House colleague to fill a key staff position in his new administration.

A source close to the Miller transition team said Friday afternoon that Miller reached out to state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, to become the agriculture department’s next general counsel.

According to the source, Kleinschmidt agreed to take the job “after careful thought and discussions” with family and his law partners.

Kleinschmidt will resign his House seat effective Jan. 14 and has plans to send a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry in the coming days.

Kleinschmidt’s departure from the House would create a vacancy in House District 17, which stretches across five Central Texas counties east of Austin. Kleinschmidt has served in the Texas House since 2009.

A special electionin HD17 presents the same opportunity for Democrats as the special election in SD26 will for Republicans, with about the same odds of success. Kleinschmidt won 64.6% of the vote this November; his Democratic opponent, Carolyn Banks, had 35.4%. In 2010, Bill White got 43.3%, while Linda Chavez-Thompson got 32.8%, though with more total votes than Banks had. In 2012, President Obama took 37.3%, Paul Sadler had 39.8%, and Michelle Petty was the standard-bearer with 40.6%. A surprise win here would almost certainly be a one-term rental, but you never know, and it’s not like there’s anything to lose.

I even have a suggestion for a candidate to recruit: Ronnie McDonald, former three-term Bastrop County Judge and candidate for CD27 in 2012. He considered challenging Kleinschmidt in 2012 before jumping into a crowded field for CD27, so the concept of running for State House has occurred to him. I don’t know what he’s up to and I have no idea if he’d be amenable, but it can’t hurt to try. Whether he’s a viable possibility or not, this would be a good opportunity for Battleground Texas to try to begin their rebuilding process and keep volunteers engaged as they work towards 2016. Find a candidate and support that candidate. There’s nothing to lose.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Why would you want to regulate that?

I mean, what are a few fiery explosions among friends?

Members of the state House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee have been struggling for several months over how to respond to last year’s massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15 and devastated the nearby city of West.

On Tuesday, committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, unveiled a draft bill that would require businesses to store ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used in fertilizer, in noncombustible buildings or in buildings equipped with a sprinkler system.

Affected businesses would have three years to comply, though new facilities would have to meet the heightened standard immediately, Pickett said.

The bill also would open the facilities to inspections by all certified firefighters to verify safe storage and to create a strategy on fighting potential fires. Pickett said the provision was in response to a state law that allows inspections only by paid firefighters.

“Over 70 percent of firefighters in Texas are volunteers … so 70 percent of our first responders do not have that authority,” he said.

Most controversially, Pickett’s proposal would require storage facilities to meet standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that develops research-based fire codes.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, said the bill includes fire standards that are too complex for small businesses to navigate.

“I count no less than 10 different state and federal codes, standards and regulations listed in this bill, some of which I have a problem with,” he said. “We may be making things a little too complex.”

Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, said the proposal was overkill, and he recommended letting businesses opt out of bill’s provisions if they agree to store ammonium nitrate in a noncombustible building and allow fire inspectors to conduct periodic checks.

“I think the bill as written would put a lot of people out of business,” he said. “I recognize the tragedies that we’ve had, and we certainly need to avoid that in the future, but there is a lot of stuff in here that is bad for the industry.”

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said he was concerned about shifting unaffordable costs onto an industry “that has operated safely for decades.”

“It seems like we’re out there with kind of a power grab,” Flynn said.

Pickett replied that he could not live with himself if he didn’t try to improve safety around the facilities.

“I think, Dan, that if we do nothing, we’ll have another West disaster,” Pickett said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. If I have an ammonium nitrate facility, with the possibility of a catastrophic situation, I am going to be asking them to spend some money.”

The Chron story has more of the same in this vein. I mean, come on, who in their right minds could possibly think that requiring highly combustible materials to be stored in non-combustible buildings is a good idea? How could these poor businesses possibly be expected to survive if we made them do that?

Well, at least we have the right to know where the hazardous material is, right? Surely the government will require that the places that could blow sky high any minute tell us about that possibility, right? Wrong.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for blocking public access to state records documenting the location of dangerous chemicals, said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored — as long as they know which companies to ask.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

In a recently released decision by his office, Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said government entities can withhold the state records — in so-called Tier II reports — of dangerous chemical locations. The reports contain an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

But Abbott said homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals could simply ask the companies near their homes what substances are kept on site.

Collected under the federal Community Right to Know Act, the information was made available upon request by the state for decades to homeowners, the media or anyone else who wanted to know where dangerous chemicals were stored. But, as WFAA-TV recently reported, the Texas Department of State Health Services will no longer release the information because of the attorney general’s ruling.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got plenty of spare time in my day to drive around to every chemical facility in Houston and ask them about what hazardous and explosive materials they have, which I’m sure they’ll be delighted to tell me all about. Why, I’ve got so much free time I may just drive around to chemical plants that aren’t in my area and ask them about this. Thanks for the great suggestion for how to spend my time, Greg Abbott! I’m sure the terrorists that you’re hoping to hide this information from are thinking the same thing, too.

Of course, you know the real reason why Greg Abbott issued this opinion:

The story.

Five months after an ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people in West, Attorney General Greg Abbott received a $25,000 contribution from a first-time donor to his political campaigns — the head of Koch Industries’ fertilizer division.

The donor, Chase Koch, is the son of one of the billionaire brothers atop Koch Industries’ politically influential business empire.

Abbott, who has since been criticized for allowing Texas chemical facilities to keep secret the contents of their plants, received more than $75,000 from Koch interests after the April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility, campaign finance records filed with the state showed.

[…]

For decades, Texans wanting to know about companies keeping such chemicals could find out from the state.

But Abbott has said that those records are closed. And the state agency that collects and maintains information on large chemical supplies has stopped sharing it with the public.

Abbott contends his opinion, issued in May, strikes a balance. On Tuesday, he called it a “win-win” that keeps information about large chemical inventories off the website of the Department of State Health Services but doesn’t forbid homeowners from asking companies in their neighborhoods what they store.

He said companies should respond within 10 days, but it’s not clear what penalties, if any, private companies face if they decline to tell a member of the public what chemicals are on site.

In blocking public access to the information, Abbott cited a state security statute passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A Davis aide rebuked Abbott for the remarks.

“The only thing more outrageous than Greg Abbott keeping the location of chemical facilities secret is telling Texas parents they literally need to go door to door in order to find out if their child’s school is in the blast radius of dangerous explosives,” said spokesman Zac Petkanas. “Parents have a right to know whether their kids are playing hopscotch next door to the type of facility that exploded in West.”

[…]

Chase Koch donated $25,000 in September, shortly after his father, Koch board chairman Charles Koch, also gave $25,000. The Koch Industries political committee sent Abbott $25,000 in November.

In addition, the company flew Abbott on a company jet in August to an invitation-only gathering in New Mexico that offered wealthy donors an opportunity to meet and mingle with GOP elected officials and leaders of conservative groups supporting the Koch agenda of less government regulation and disclosure.

In the Texas Legislature, Koch lobbyists are on record advocating repeal of notification requirements regarding company pipeline construction and discontinuing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s compliance history program.

Remember when Greg Abbott made ethics reform a key component of his campaign? Boy, those were the days. Burka has more.

UPDATE: Looks like Abbott realized he stepped in it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott this week said private companies must release information about their hazardous chemical stockpiles, weeks after his office ruled the same information no longer would be available from state agencies.

“Homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals would simply ask the companies what substances are kept on site,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday, adding, “And if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

Not everyone agrees with Abbott’s reading of the law, however.

Requests by the Houston Chronicle to 20 companies and local emergency response agencies last month produced mixed results: Half of the companies and agencies sent extensive data on the hazardous chemicals they held on site, known as Tier II reports; five sent basic chemical inventories that often did not include amounts or other details; one asked for more information; two refused to release any data; and two did not respond.

[…]

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the Texas head of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said “this is a huge campaign issue and should be.”

“Other former attorneys general would have stood up for the citizens,” Smith said. “The process Abbott has now created is almost impossible for the average citizen that doesn’t have the Houston Chronicle’s name to back them up.”

Abbott acknowledged to the Associated Press on Wednesday that the process may be more difficult than he originally had proposed, calling it “challenging” to get chemical facility information.

Abbott’s statements also could encounter opposition from the business community.

Attorney General spokesman Jerry Strickland said any private company that denied the Chronicle’s requests was providing the public with “misinformation” and could face unspecified “penalties.”

“Chemical companies have an obligation under the Community Right-to-Know Act to disclose that information to the general public within 10 days,” Strickland said in a statement to the Chronicle. “Private companies are required to provide the information. Any failure (to) do to so carries with it penalties to be assessed by the Department of State Health Services.”

Strickland said Abbott’s office was reaching out to the Texas Ag Industries Association, a trade group to which Orica does not belong, to ensure its members understand the law. TAIA President Donnie Dippel said he would urge his members to comply with the law.

Strickland reiterated that the refused information requests were not Abbott’s choice, but what was required under state law.”

Industry lawyer and lobbyist Pam Giblin said the issue was not that cut and dried.

“If the government doesn’t have to release it, how in the world does a private company get this disclosure obligation thrust on it?” Giblin asked, adding she sees possible litigation on the horizon. “There are a lot of homeland security issues. … I think you’re bound to see some court tests because this just doesn’t make sense.”

What would make sense would be for the state’s top law enforcement official to ensure that this information is made available to the public by the government. Too bad Greg Abbott is answering to a higher power than that.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.