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Travis County

Projecting Tuesday turnout

Here’s the statewide view.

By the time the polls closed Thursday, 33.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar County had voted, well past the 17.3 percent turnout at the same point in 2014, the last midterm, and close to the presidential-year turnout recorded at the same point in 2012 and 2016.

And Bexar County’s election officials are not alone in having a lot to high-five each other about. Turnout during early voting in the state’s 30 largest counties easily surpassed the entire turnout – during the early voting period and on Election Day – of the 2014 midterm and continues to race toward the turnout seen in presidential election years.

In Harris County, the state’s largest county, 32.3 percent of registered voters had voted by the end of Thursday, compared to 15.5 percent at the same point in 2014. In Dallas County, the number was 35.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent at the same point in 2014. Early voting turnout in Travis County had already surpassed total early voter turnout in both the 2014 midterm and the 2012 presidential election by the end of Thursday.

“We’ve got a lot of unhappy and activist voters out there who have been wanting to vote for a long time,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. She attributed the bump in the number of voters to President Donald Trump.

She said voter turnout dipped slightly earlier in the week, as is often the case, but that the numbers quickly rebounded toward the end of the week, which she said will help alleviate some traffic on Election Day.

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said that the “blockbuster” turnout seen during early voting this year sets a new bar for future elections.

“It’s clear that much of the future of Texas will be fought in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

He said counties like Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Williamson saw a greater number of Democrats turning up to vote than in previous elections. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are going to win those counties, he said, but it does mean that they have become much more competitive.

“On one hand, suburban Texas is now younger and more ethnically diverse, replacing the first generation which is middle age and white” Rottinghaus said. “And Donald Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric have really caused a lack of interest among Republican women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.”

Rottinghaus said statewide Hispanic turnout is up slightly from 2014, which he said is “good but not great for Democrats.” While it looked like Democrats were doing better than Republicans in border counties early on in early voting, he said that it now looks like Republican voters are turning up in larger numbers.

“It’s not the groundswell that Democrats had hoped for,” Rottinghaus said.

The same story applies to young voters, Rottinghaus said. Although more young voters turned out in 2018 than in 2014, he said the 2016 presidential year still has both of the midterm years beat.

“This seems to show that younger voters, although inspired by an electric O’Rourke campaign, still need that push of a president at the top of the ticket to turn out,” Rottinghaus said.

I think what we’re going to get is going to be somewhere between 2008/2012 turnout, and 2016 turnout, which is the current high-water mark. The main question here is how many people who are going to vote have already voted. In previous off-year elections, a bit more than half of the vote – around 55% – is cast early. In Presidential years, the share of the early vote is higher, with that number spiking up in 2016. I’ll show the details later, but for now I’ll say this feels more like a Presidential year, but not exactly like one. As such, I think we’ll still see a decent number of voters on Tuesday, but for sure the bulk of the vote has already been cast.

Here are the Friday/final totals, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  89,098  766,613  855,711

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

About where I thought we’d end up, though the potential was there for a bit more. I think the bad weather on Wednesday prevented some people from voting, with some of them shifting to Thursday or Friday and some of them still needing to vote. Here are a range of outcomes for final turnout based on what we’ve seen so far:

855,711 at 65% = 1,316,478
855,711 at 67% = 1,277,180
855,711 at 70% = 1,222,444
855,711 at 73% = 1,172,206
855,711 at 75% = 1,140,980

2008 EV = 63.5%
2012 EV = 63.7%
2016 EV = 73.0%

In other words, in 2008 and 2012 a bit more than 63% of the vote was cast early, while in 2016 that amount was 73 percent. My best guess, based entirely on gut feel, is that we’ll fall in the middle of that this year, which will put us in the 1.2 million range, or about the total for 2008 and 2012. It could still go higher or lower from there, and in the end the range of possibility is about 200K votes. The weather should be good on Tuesday, so at least there won’t be any nature-induced barriers.

One last thing to think about. In 2016, the top Republican votegetter was Tracy Christopher, who was running for the 14th Court of Appeals, with 621,960 votes, followed by Debra Ibarra Mayfield, running for the 165th District Court, with 621,060. The smallest number of votes any Democrat received who was on the ballot for everyone in the county was 610,648 by Grady Yarbrough, running for Railroad Commissioner. Most Republican judicial candidates, including all of the statewide judicials other than Eva Guzman and all of the courts of appeals candidates other than Christopher and Sherry Radack, failed to top Yarbrough’s total. If turnout really is 1.2 million or above, you tell me where the Republicans are going to get the votes to win Harris County.

The Courts of Appeals

The other judicial races where Dems have a chance to gain ground.

Republicans dominate Texas politics — but their stranglehold is especially noticeable in the courts.

Republicans hold all 18 seats on the state’s two high courts. Of the state’s 14 appeals courts, Democrats hold majorities on just three. On the other 11 courts, Democrats have no seats at all.

Democrats are hoping to flip that advantage on Election Day. In their eyes, the stars have aligned. They have a high-profile liberal darling running a competitive race for U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket. They have a controversial Republican president expected to generate backlash in his first midterm election. And enough judicial seats are up for election that Democrats could flip the four sprawling appellate court districts that serve Austin, Dallas and Houston. Hillary Clinton won those districts in 2016, but the courts are currently held entirely by Republicans.

If Democrats can sweep those races in 2018, they’ll take control of half the state’s appeals courts. And strategists say that goal is in sight.

[…]

No Democrat has been elected to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals since 1992. The six-county district includes liberal-leaning Dallas, but also some of Texas’ most reliably red areas. In Dallas, as in Houston and Austin, large, urban centers contribute the lion’s share of the judicial district’s electorate, but right-leaning rural and suburban voters in surrounding counties have handed victories to Republicans for the past several election cycles. Only the 4th Court of Appeals, based in San Antonio, has a partisan split with Democrats in the majority. The Legislature controls these maps; the districts have changed only twice since 1967, most recently in 2005.

[…]

Ken Molberg, a district judge in Dallas, ran for 5th Court of Appeals in 2014 and came up nearly 72,000 votes short. This year, in another attempt, he’s confident things will be different. Molberg, a former Dallas County Democratic Party chair, has accumulated several hundred thousand dollars — an impressive sum for such an unstudied race — and said his region of the state is “ground zero for the party this go around.”

“The potential to switch this court in one election cycle is there, and it would be somewhat earthquake-like if that happened,” Molberg said. “It’s a tough race all the way around, but my analysis is that it can be done.”

Molberg is the best-funded of the eight Democrats battling Republicans for seats on the 13-justice court. But he said the slate will likely succeed or fail as a group.

“I don’t think individual campaigns have any effect at the court of appeals or district court level. …That’s an example of where you’re almost entirely dependent on straight-ticket voting,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University. “At the courthouse level, it’s easier for one party to dominate.”

[…]

“There is a real conformity, a uniformity of judicial thought on these courts that I think would really benefit from different experience,” said Meagan Hassan, who’s running as a Democrat for the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals. She pointed to the tiny fraction of dissenting opinions written by Houston-area appellate judges, arguing that ideological balance is needed for the critical decisions these courts make.

In Tyler, for example, an all-Republican court of appeals struck down as unconstitutional the state’s new “revenge porn” law. The 3rd Court of Appeals is currently weighing the city of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. And state appellate courts are the last appellate stop for the vast majority of criminal cases in the state — yet many state appellate judges have no background in criminal law.

Democratic wins, Hassan said, “would bring balance to the court that hasn’t existed there in 25 years.”

That’s a theme several of the CoA candidates mentioned in the Q&As I did with them this year. They also point out that a lot of the Court of Appeals rulings stand because they don’t get heard by the Supreme Court or the CCA. I wrote about these races in 2016, when there were several pickup opportunities available, in part due to the wipeout of 2010. Dems did gain one seat each on the 4th and 13th Courts of Appeals in 2016, the latter being one they lost in 2010. They had gained three on the 4th and lost one on the 3rd in 2012, with all of those being up for re-election this time around.

For the 1st and 14th Courts, which are the ones that include Harris County, Dems lost the CoA races by a wide margin in 2014 but came much closer in 2016. Here’s an example from 2014 and an example from 2016. The deficit was close to 150K votes in 2014 but only about 40K votes in 2016. The formula for a Democratic win is pretty straightforward: Carry Harris County by a lot, break even in Fort Bend, and limit the damage in Brazoria and Galveston. That’s all very doable, but it’s likely there won’t be much room for error. It all starts with running up the score in Harris County (or Travis County for the 3rd, and Dallas County for the 5th). If that happens, we can win.

Early voting Day 5: It’s been a long week (in a good way)

Did I mention it’s been busy?

Voters across the state have come out in massive numbers during the first five days of early voting, and soon, more Texans will have voted early in 2018 than in all of 2014’s early voting period, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

The state’s five largest counties have all nearly doubled the turnout compared to the same point in 2014. By the time the polls closed Thursday, 13.2 percent of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest county, had voted, compared to 6.4 percent at the same time in 2014. That number comes close to the 16.4 percent voter turnout seen at the end of the fourth day of early voting in 2016, a presidential year.

The story is similar in Dallas County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16.9 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 5.9 percent at the same point in 2014, and in Tarrant County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 7.3 percent at the same point in 2014.

In Travis County, where the Austin Fiesta Mart polling location is, Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant reported on Facebook that as of 4 p.m. Friday, 22 percent of registered voters had cast their vote. The number hovered around 7 percent at the same point back in 2014.

“After just five days of early voting, the 2018 voter turnout will likely have passed the entire Early Vote turnout for the 2010 and 2014 elections,” Elfant wrote.

Some counties — like El Paso, Williamson and Cameron — have already surpassed the overall voter turnout during the entire two-week early voting period in 2014. Overall, by the time the polls closed on Thursday, 16.3 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in the 30 counties with the most registered voters had cast ballots.

“It’s pretty remarkable to double or triple voter turnout,” said Renée Cross, the associate director of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.

[…]

Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the long lines at polling places are “notable,” but he said that “almost any voter turnout should be above 2014.”

Jones also said it is too early to draw conclusions about whether strong early voting turnout will mean strong overall turnout. Early voting could be “cannibalizing Election Day turnout, ” he said.

“More and more people are voting early,” said Jones, who estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters will cast their vote before Election Day. “People have gotten used to it, and campaigns have been encouraging it.”

He noted that a greater proportion of voters this year will be under the age of 35.

“Beto O’Rourke has spent quite a bit of money and time targeting millennials and post-millennials with the correct belief that they support him more than any other age group,” Jones said.

I agree that some of the frenzied activity is people shifting behavior, but it’s quite a bit more than that. We’re on pace in Harris County to blow past not just the early voting totals from past years, but the final totals as well. Close to one million just in early voting remains on the table. Say it with me now: We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Here are the totals for Friday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  29,702  134,488  164,190
2014  54,300  104,099  158,399
2018  65,232  315,034  380,266

2008  40,059  220,046  260,105
2012  53,131  260,274  313,405
2016  77,445  374,679  452,124

As I expected, after the slight dip on Thursday, in person voting ticked up and was, by about 900 votes, the busiest in person day so far. We have now officially exceeded the entire final early vote total from 2014, and we have seven days of early voting to go. We haven’t even gotten to the really heavy days yet.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

Paxton wants magistrates’ lawsuit tossed

We all want things, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

The state attorney general Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by three Harris County hearing officers who are fighting sanctions by Texas’ judicial ethics commission earlier this year over unfair bail practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also asked that the case brought by three admonished magistrates be transferred from Harris County, where the judges sit, to Travis County, where the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is based. Paxton also asserts that the state watchdog agency has “sovereign immunity” from being sued.

The lawsuit, filed in May by three local magistrates, challenges the commission’s finding that they violated the state code of conduct for judges during probable cause hearings for newly arrested defendants. The hearing officers, Eric Hagstette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, initially challenged the commission’s findings through a more straightforward appeal to the state’s Special Court of Review. However, they later withdrew that appeal and sued the commission to have their records be cleared of the findings of misconduct.

Mike Stafford, who is representing the magistrates free of charge in this lawsuit, said the sanctions should be eliminated because the watchdog commission surpassed its authority in telling magistrates they can’t refer bond matters to the judges assigned to the cases.

“This case presents an important and rare opportunity to affirm that the Commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate,” Stafford argued in district court filings.

See here for the background. I presume the reason to ask for a transfer as well as a dismissal is that if you don’t get the one you might at least get the other. Beyond that, I have no particular insights so I’ll just note this for the record and move on.

Nothing to see here

Remain calm, all is well.

Next Saturday, March 24, hundreds of Texas Democratic Party activists will gather at the Austin Hyatt Regency to nominate candidates for political office in Travis County, a kick-off event leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

But some people who tried to register will not be attending, among them Candida McGruder. Gustavo Chubb. Geraldo Tinsley. Vincent Amundson. Roxie Male.

That’s because these five individuals and 43 others who signed up to attend don’t appear to be Travis County residents, or Texans, or even Americans. They might not even be real people. They may be pranksters — or they may be Russian trolls, and their appearance in Texas could represent the first public example of foreign probing of the 2018 elections.

Five senior intelligence officers, two current and three former, say the case of the Texas 48 looks like Russian meddling. And they tell NBC News that despite the clumsiness of the failed registrations, the Texas case fits a pattern of Russian behavior seen in its covert operations.

[…]

Earlier this year, as Texas party officials prepared for the March 24 county meetings that would nominate candidates for office, Glen Maxey noticed something odd about online registrations for the Travis County meeting in Austin. Some of the people attempting to register either didn’t fully fill out their online form or provided obviously false information.

Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that at the time just over 2,500 Texas citizens had successfully registered online for the Travis County meeting. He went through the aborted registrations by hand, checking to see whether the registrations had been “kicked back” because of simple errors, in which case he would follow up with the individuals.

Maxey found a few unfinished registrations that were simple mistakes. But he identified 48 that were problematic, meaning they seemed unconnected to anybody living in Texas. Twenty-five of those 48 were trying to register with email addresses ending in “mail.ru.” Those last two letters, .ru, are the internet designation for domains in Russia.

Maxey told NBC News he and his team hadn’t seen any other examples of pranks or false registrations in past cycles. He also said he didn’t know who to contact in Texas state government and had received no guidance from either state or federal authorities regarding anything to do with potential Russian interference.

[…]

So are the Russians coming?

On the surface, said cyberintelligence expert and NBC News consultant Sean Kanuck, “this almost sounds like junior high school students ordering pizzas under fake names.”

But beneath the surface, Kanuck thinks perhaps something more sinister could be afoot.

Despite the ham-handedness that announces an obvious Russian origin, said Kanuck, who served as the first national intelligence officer for cyber issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2011 to 2016, the methods and even the in-your-face nature of the trolling fit the pattern of “a Russian strategic campaign to delegitimize the democratic electoral process.”

“I would speculate that Russia is testing the waters for possible interventions or disruptions in the future,” Kanuck said.

Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Boys will be boys, right? Donald Trump will get his top men right on it.

The Socialists are coming

To a primary ballot near you.

The revolution will be down-ballot. Or such is the implicit promise of Franklin Bynum’s campaign for Harris County misdemeanor court judge. A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.

“Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up,” said Bynum, who’s running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8. Bynum’s platform includes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds, waiving certain fees for the poor and reducing mandatory appearances, which he said are used only to “coerce” guilty pleas from defendants out on bail. “A democratic socialist judge would make the courts work for the people,” he said.

Bynum is one of at least 17 members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) running for office in Texas in 2018, including candidates for the U.S. House and offices ranging from governor to county treasurer. The DSA, which now counts more than 30,000 members nationwide, has grown explosively since Trump’s election and boasts at least 10 chapters in Texas. The group tends to prioritize issues on the left edge of the Democratic Party, like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage. There’s no official candidate list, but the Observer reached out to DSA groups around the state to compile this running tally. (Not all the candidates have been endorsed by DSA.)

Some of the candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wakely — who styles himself the “Berniecrat with a Panama hat” and lost a 2014 congressional bid by 20 points — face the sort of uphill climb usually found in the Himalayas. But others stand a fighting chance, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones pointed to congressional hopefuls Derrick Crowe, in District 21, and Rick Treviño, in the always-competitive District 23, as viable primary challengers.

“With Treviño and Crowe, it’s sort of the mirror image of what we saw with the tea party,” Jones said. “The advantage the establishment candidates have is money, but the tea party’s shown us that sometimes money can lose to these grassroots activist campaigns.”

In District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is currently represented by moderate Republican Will Hurd, Jones said a left wing platform that plays well with primary voters might fall flat in the general election. Hillary Clinton carried the swingy district by 3.5 percent in 2016, and Hurd’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. But Treviño, a San Antonio high school teacher, is bullish: “[District] 23 is always described as a conservative district where ideas like Medicare for All or a living wage will turn off voters; that is absolutely false,” he wrote in a Facebook message to the Observer. “Across the district, these ideas are resonating, especially Medicare for All.”

There’s a list of DSA candidates at the bottom of the story and on this Google doc, which includes statements from some of them. As the story notes, some of these folks have a clearer path than others. Bynum has no primary opponent, so he’ll rise or fall with the rest of the countywide slate here in November. Danny Norris in HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, Chito Vela in HD46, the two Travis County judicial candidates – if they win their primaries, they’re in. Derrick Crowe has raised a decent amount of money but lags Joseph Kopser by a wide margin in that primary. A win in March by Crowe would be a big feather for the DSA’s cap. I’m much more skeptical about Rick Trevino, who has two well-funded and establishment-backed primary opponents, and is in a district that isn’t exactly conducive to blockwalking. It’s not just about fundraising, either – if you look at their campaign Facebook pages, Gina Ortiz Jones has more than three times as many followers as Trevino, while Jay Hulings has more than double his total. I don’t know what the best way is to measure “grassroots” support, but the measures I can find don’t corroborate the notion that Trevino has an underestimated level of backing. We’ll know for sure in a week.

On a side note, I’d observe that there’s less difference between the DSA position and the “establishment” position than you might think, at least on some issues. Look at what Bynum says about his priorities for the misdemeanor court he’s running for, then compare the judicial Q&As I ran for Harold Landreneau and Armen Merjanian. Bail reform – which is supported by the likes of DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – and finding alternatives to incarceration are pretty mainstream these days. Sure, there are some differences, and there are different priorities, but to a sizable degree a lot of it is about strategy and rhetoric, much as it is the case with the Tea Party and the “establishment” Republicans.

Local control and local races

From Texas Monthly:

Rep. Paul Workman

At the end of last week, the Austin City Council voted to pass a new ordinance requiring local businesses to give their employees paid sick leave. It was the end result of a long and intense fight, which pitted labor leaders and a diverse coalition from Austin’s liberal community against more than one hundred local business owners and a national group backed by the powerful Koch Brothers. Supporters packed the council chambers to speak before the vote, and many gave impassioned pleas to vote in favor of paid sick leave. According to the Texas Observer, some speakers “broke down in tearsas they recounted times when they or their loved ones had to choose between accessing health care and paying rent.” When the 9-2 vote came in, the crowd broke out in raucous cheers, applauding Austin for becoming the first municipality in Texas and in the Southern U.S. to enact such an ordinance.

But the cheers were a little premature. Austin’s City Council may not have the final say in the the battle. Within hours of the ordinance’s passage, state representative Paul Workman, a Republican whose district covers much of western Travis County, said he’d introduce legislation on the first day of next year’s session in an effort to have the ordinance repealed. “I support employers providing paid sick leave for their employees, but it is not the role of government to mandate that employers do this,” Workman said at a press conference later Friday morning. “The council made good on their promise to add yet more regulations on private business. They have clearly declared war on the private businesses which make our prosperity happen. I will file legislation on the first day possible to reverse this and the other liberal Austin policies that they’ve enacted.”

Workman said he felt it was an overreach for the council to enact such an ordinance (when reporters at the news conference questioned him about whether it was also an overreach for the state legislature to intervene in a decision made by elected local officials, Workman said no). Austin’s paid leave ordinance is just the latest local target of conservative state lawmakers, who have repeatedly tried to overturn municipal policies—ordinances that are usually liberal-leaning and typically implement regulations on businesses or industry. It’s a story that’s played out again and again, and not just in Austin.

[…]

For now, it seems Austin’s paid leave is safe. Workman can’t do much until the start of the legislative session in 2019. But he claims he already has enough support from members of the House and Senate to pass legislation that overrides the ordinance. “We will have no problem whatsoever getting this through,” Workman said at the press conference. At least one member of the senate, Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, has publicly said that she’s committed to overturning the rule.

Less than half of Workman’s district is actually in Austin, not that it matters to Republicans like him. But hold that thought for a minute.

From the Texas Tribune:

In 2011 — after Republican Paul Workman unseated state Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin — lawmakers redrew House District 47 to include a larger swath of western Travis County.

The new district, which gained more rural areas and lost some of liberal South Austin, stretched from Onion Creek to Lago Vista to Leander. It became a conservative stronghold, and to this day, Workman is the county’s only Republican state representative.

Seven years later, it’s a potential swing district again. Texas political experts point to rising frustration with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that could rally the Democratic base and cause conservative voters to stay home on Election Day.

The effects of this trend would be more pronounced in districts Trump either lost or just barely won two years ago. And Trump carried HD-47 — where many residents are white and have a household income greater than $100,000 — with fewer than 200 votes.

Hoping to flip the seat for the first time since 2011, five Democrats are running in the March 6 primary: Elaina Fowler, the executive director of a union of retired government employees; Vikki Goodwin, a real estate broker; Sheri Soltes, the founder of a nonprofit that trains service dogs; Candace Aylor, a recovery room nurse; and Will Simpson, a technology field executive.

“We are seeing more money and more activity in this district than we have in a long, long time,” Austin political consultant Mark Littlefield said. “There is definitely greater energy from the Democrats than ever before.”

[…]

“The challenge here for Democrats is you can’t beat somebody with nobody,” said Harold Cook, an Austin Democratic political strategist. “At the end of the day, they will need to have nominated a candidate who is really articulate on messaging and has the funds with which to communicate with voters.”

None of the Democratic candidates have run for office before. But all of them said they’re fed up with the social ramifications of the state’s “bathroom bill” discussion and the 2016 election. They also hope to improve public school financing, transportation and the district’s environmental preservation.

The candidates’ policy stances are similar, but Fowler and Goodwin have emerged at the forefront of the race, Littlefield said. Fowler has the most legislative experience of the group, and Goodwin has raised the most money.

I don’t know anything about these candidates beyond what is in this story, but that’s not the point. The point is that the way to stop legislators like Paul Workman from passing bills expressly designed to strip cities of their power is to vote them out of office. Races like this are at least as important as the races for Congress that have dominated the coverage so far this cycle. Pay attention to your State Rep races – and your State Senate races, if you have one – especially if your current Rep or Senator is a Republican. This is our best chance since 2008 to make the Legislature a better, more inclusive, and more responsive institution. We can’t afford to blow it.

Charges against Dukes dropped

She beat the rap.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors have dropped their criminal charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, saying Monday that a felony case against the state lawmaker should never have been brought.

The announcement ends a months-long legal saga in which Dukes was accused of abusing public office after a grand jury indicted her on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges earlier this year. But prosecutors have, over recent weeks, been forced to admit that their case against the Austin Democrat was based on flawed evidence.

“Representative Dukes was innocent from day one,” said Dane Ball, an attorney for Dukes, in a statement. “We’re glad Representative Dukes can get back to serving her constituents without the distraction of these baseless charges.”

The felony case against Dukes claimed she had unlawfully tampered with a government record by falsifying entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to. But Travis County prosecutors were forced to put their felony case on hold last month after claiming a key witness in the case — who managed the official paperwork for the Texas House of Representatives — had changed his story.

Then, earlier this month, prosecutors were forced to drop one of the felony charges after acknowledging they had misread a date on Dukes’ cellphone, which formed a key piece of evidence they had gathered against her.

See here for more on that previous update. To say the least, the Travis County DA’s office did not cover itself in glory in this case. Margaret Moore needs to take a hard look at how this happened, and hold some people accountable for it. I’m not a fan of Dawnna Dukes, but she did not deserve to go through this.

Which is not to say that Dukes has been exemplary throughout. She’s a mediocre legislator who misses a lot of votes and as the story notes settled some misdemeanor issues related to misuse of funds by agreeing to pay everything back. She will have a full slate of opponents next year, most of whom once intended to run in a special election after she was supposed to resign her seat in January. I won’t be sorry to see her lose, if she does. Still, I have to figure that the ending of this saga will help in her re-election bid. She was wronged and she prevailed, and that’s an appealing story to tell the voters. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Dukes gets deferral on felony charges

Possibly good news for one embattled legislative incumbent.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Travis County district attorney will not pursue, at least for now, the most serious charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, saying prosecutors have renewed their investigation into the travel vouchers at the heart of the 13 felony counts the Austin Democrat is facing.

District Attorney Margaret Moore confirmed to the American-Statesman on Thursday that prosecutors have obtained new information relating to the vouchers, which Dukes is accused of falsifying for financial gain. But Moore declined to elaborate on what the new information is.

“The district attorney’s office recently received new, unexpected information pertinent to that case and the new information has created a need for further investigation by this office and the Texas Rangers,” Moore said.

The case had been set for trial in October. On Wednesday, Moore’s office informed Dukes’ defense lawyers and state District Judge Brad Urrutia of her decision.

Moore said prosecutors will move forward with the October trial date on two misdemeanor charges against Dukes relating to allegations of her using legislative staffers for personal gain.

[…]

The 13 felony counts stem from monthly travel voucher forms Dukes signed in late 2013 and 2014. The forms stated that, on the dates in question, Dukes “traveled by personal car to the Capitol to attend to legislative duties.” She was paid $61.50 for each day she claimed on the forms.

The House Manual of Policies & Procedures states that lawmakers can collect the travel pay between legislative sessions for trips to Austin “to attend to legislative duties in their office.”

KiYa Moghaddam, a former Dukes staffer who prepared the voucher forms for Dukes during that time, told the Statesman last year that she questioned Dukes about misusing the forms.

“I told her that she had to actually be at the Capitol,” Moghaddam said last year. “I was thinking about the fact that I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t necessarily want my tax payments going to someone who’s not working for the interest of the constituency she represents.”

The indictment says that Dukes did “knowingly make a false entry in a government record, and present and use said government record with knowledge of its falsity, by instructing her staff to add a false entry to her State of Texas Travel Voucher Form.”

Dukes was paid $799.50 for the 13 days included in the indictment. She was a frequent user of the voucher forms, collecting $4,674 from 76 days she claimed in the first nine months of 2014. She abruptly stopped collecting the travel pay at that time, which was when Moghaddam questioned her use of the vouchers.

See here for the most recent update. We don’t know what new evidence the DA’s office has, so we can’t say whether this may lead to charges being dismissed or reduced, or possibly added. Or maybe it puts the DA in a stronger position to negotiate a plea deal. It seems more likely than not to be good news for Dukes, but let’s wait and see what the next story is before drawing any conclusions. In the meantime, she still faces trial on the misdemeanor charges, and multiple primary opponents who have been calling for her to honor her previous pledge to step down.

Paxton’s preemptive “sanctuary cities” lawsuit dismissed

Good.

Best mugshot ever

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Wednesday dismissed the state of Texas’ lawsuit against Travis County and other defendants over the state’s new immigration enforcement law.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a pre-emptive lawsuit shortly after the bill was signed in May seeking a ruling that the controversial measure is constitutional. Among the defendants named in Paxton’s suit were the city of Austin; Travis County and its sheriff, Sally Hernandez; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

[…]

But opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Those entities filed a separate lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton in San Antonio, trying to prevent the law from taking effect. Oral arguments in that case were heard in June.

Sparks’ ruling means the case will stay in San Antonio.

In a statement, the attorney general said he was disappointed in Sparks’ ruling but that Wednesday’s decision has no effect on the San Antonio case.

“We were first to file a lawsuit concerning SB 4, filed this case in the only proper court, and moved quickly to consolidate other lawsuits against SB 4 in Austin,” he said. “The health, safety, and welfare of Texans is not negotiable. We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling and look forward to pressing our winning arguments in the San Antonio cases and beyond (if necessary) on this undoubtedly constitutional law.”

Though Sparks’ ruling Wednesday is a small victory for SB4’s opponents, they must now wait and see what U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia decides following a seven-hour hearing in Bexar County on June 26.

So that means that Judge Garcia will get to decide whether the law goes into effect on September 1 or if it is put on hold pending final judgment in the lawsuit. I don’t think this ruling changes the basic contours of the case, but as I recall if Paxton had prevailed in his lawsuit, that would have put the defendants he filed against on the hook for court costs. That’s no longer the case now. Now we await what Judge Garcia has to say.

No deal for Dukes

The die is cast.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

The Travis County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday said its offer to drop all corruption charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, in exchange for her agreeing to resign immediately had expired.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune after 5 p.m. Tuesday, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said she’d had no contact from the attorneys for Dukes.

“The offer to resolve this matter has expired and is no longer available,” Moore said in a statement. “We will be ready for trial.”

[…]

“It is truly not dignifying this new low that such character assassination has hit in this web woven to influence a court of public opinion,” Dukes wrote in a Facebook post Monday night. “As such, it would be indecorous of me to respond to impertinent allegations.”

When the Tribune asked Dukes about the DA office’s deal Tuesday morning, Dukes said, “I’m not talking about that right now.”

Dukes declining the deal means the district attorney’s office will move forward with the trial, which was set by Judge Brad Urrutia for Oct. 16.

“It’s time to move on. Some form of this deal has been discussed [with Dukes] since September,” Moore told the Tribune on Monday. “We’ve got to go to work, and we’re going to be preparing for trial.”

See here for the background. On the Off the Kuff Facebook page, the point was raised that using the threat of prosecution to push an elected official to resign may not be something we should want. It’s a valid concern, and I see where it comes from. I guess I see this as part of a plea agreement, one which Dukes has chosen not to take. All other issues aside, we’ll know in October whether she made a wise decision.

Dukes offered deal to resign

Take it, I say.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Beleaguered state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has until the end of the day Tuesday to resign from office — and submit to a drug and alcohol assessment — as part of a plea offer in her criminal corruption case.

The plea offer is similar to one Dukes rejected last year prior to the Texas Rangers launching an investigation that led to a Travis County grand jury indicting Dukes on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanors.

Dukes did not respond to messages left by the American-Statesman on Monday morning. She told reporters in June after pleading not guilty that she would not take any plea deals and instead will proceed to trial on Oct. 16.

The deal expires at the close of the business day on Tuesday and will not be re-offered, according to Justin Wood of the district attorney’s office.

[…]

In exchange for accepting the offer, the DA’s office has agreed to drop all charges, but only after Dukes has complied with all conditions.

See here, here, and here for some background. As she has not yet been convicted of anything, Dukes is not mandated to resign by my lights. It’s her long term record of lousiness as a representative that makes me wish to see the back of her. Do us all a favor and take the deal, Dawnna. It would be the best thing you’ve done for your constituents in recent memory. The Trib has more.

Dukes pleads not guilty

To all counts.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, entered not guilty pleas to abuse-of-office charges Friday in Travis County district court.

The 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Judge Brad Urrutia on Friday set a trial date of Oct. 16.

Dukes told reporters outside the court room: “Why accept a plea when I didn’t do what they are alleging?”

“No one has heard all of the evidence and heard my side,” Dukes said. “There’s been a barrage of print media that has attempted to try me in the court of public opinion, yet the court and the proceedings have not begun and when they do, my attorney will tell the full story, the whole story and show that unequivocally I am not guilty of these charges.”

[…]

Dukes has faced criticism for missing votes and being absent from the House floor. She was not in attendance when the House voted on the final budget.

When asked if she was going to run for re-election, Dukes said: “That is a very strong possibility.”

See here and here for the background. Dukes is entitled to her day in court, and she’s innocent until proven guilty, but she’s been a replacement level legislator for a long time. One way or another, this needs to be her last term.

Hearing for that other SB4 lawsuit

The SB4 lawsuit that Ken Paxton filed, to get the law pre-emptively declared to be constitutional, had its hearing in Austin on Thursday.

A federal judge on Thursday criticized the politics surrounding Texas’ new immigration-enforcement law and hinted that he’d be unable to take the case over from his colleague in Bexar County.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told attorneys for the state of Texas that he had a docket twice as busy as San Antonio-based Orlando Garcia after he was asked by the state to declare Austin the appropriate venue for what’s gearing up to be a lengthy court battle over Senate bill 4.

[…]

“San Antonio has a track record of evidence that Judge Garcia can take into consideration,” Sparks said, referring to a seven-hour hearing on Monday in San Antonio where attorneys for both sides argued over the legality of allowing state governments to enforce federal immigration laws. He added that he has a trial scheduled in August that could likely spill into September.

Thursday’s hearing was a dramatic shift from Monday’s display, where Garcia sat largely silent and appeared to take every motion, argument and counter-argument into consideration. Sparks instead often interrupted the attorneys and repeated what he said should be simple questions to answer when the attorneys strayed off topic. He also hinted that he believed parties that joined the lawsuit against the state did so for political purposes.

“The city of Austin just got in because it’s political and they get a lot of advertisement” [in the press], he said.

[…]

The judge also cast doubt on whether any court would be able to declare a law constitutional when it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

“I don’t have the authority to forecast the future and you have a statute that doesn’t come into effect until September,” he told David Hacker, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office.

Sparks didn’t give a time line on when he’d rule on the motion to move the case to Austin.

See here and here for the background. I’m sure there was a good helping of politics in the various cities’ and counties’ decisions to pile onto the anti_SB4 lawsuit, but then SB4 itself was all about politics. Based on the things Judge Sparks said during the hearing, I’d prefer he leave the San Antonio lawsuit be rather than combine it with the Paxton lawsuit. At least he doesn’t seem inclined to take any action before the law is scheduled to go into effect. The Statesman and the DMN have more.

Ellis seeks Harris County entry into SB4 litigation

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Ellis:

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Despite strong opposition from law enforcement officials, faith leaders, local governments, civil rights organizations, constituents, and advocacy groups, Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the “show-me-your-papers” legislation, has been signed into law. The new legislation unfairly targets immigrant families, allows state-sanctioned racial profiling, and violates rights to due process. SB4 also undermines local governments by forcing them to choose between enforcing a blatantly unconstitutional law or facing strict punishment and excessive fines from the state.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. You can read the letter below:

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

I’ve got a copy of the letter, which was embedded as an image in the email that Commissioner Ellis sent, here. Houston-area Democratic legislators supported Ellis’ call with a letter of their own that calls on the Court to get involved. I can’t say I expect that to happen – unlike Houston City Council, Commissioners Court is 4-1 Republican – but given the unfunded costs on the county that SB4 will impose, as well as the decline in cooperation with law enforcement, you’d think there’d be a simple dollars-and-cents argument in favor of getting involved. Anything can happen, but I’m not holding my breath. Stace has more.

Feds join the state in defense of SB4

I suppose this was to be expected.

About a month ago, the city of El Cenizo filed a lawsuit against the state, calling the bill unconstitutional. On Monday, the Trump administration got involved.

The defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The fight started May 8, the day after Abbott signed SB 4 into law. The city of El Cenizo filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the state, attempting to stop SB 4 from taking effect in September.

“This is a violation of civil rights and human rights. It’s a reckless, dangerous and discriminatory bill that should not only be halted but declared unconstitutional,” El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said.

“This is a battleground,” said attorney Luis Vera, with the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Vera represents El Cenizo. On Monday, his job got a lot more difficult.

“I received an email from the Department of Justice. President Donald Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to enter the case against El Cenizo and to file a brief and a statement of interest in support of the state of Texas, asking the federal courts to deny our motion for preliminary injunction,” Vera said.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing the outraged cries about the evil federal government messing in our precious local affairs any minute now. Until then, the Statesman fills in a few details.

The U.S. Department of Justice contacted Austin’s legal department on Monday indicating its intent to file a “statement of interest” and asked to be involved in the court hearings next week on SB 4, according to a city spokesman.

City officials learned of the Trump administration’s interest just as they were preparing to file a motion Monday asking a court to temporarily block the law, which is set to take effect Sept. 1. The city’s filing contains more than a dozen statements, including those from three Austin City Council members, Mayor Steve Adler, interim Police Chief Brian Manley and South by Southwest co-founder Roland Swenson.

The statements are intended to be used as evidence that SB 4 would create hardship and economic harm for the state if the law is implemented.

“Ultimately, my sincere belief — that I have expressed in multiple public statements to my constituents — is that implementation of SB 4 will make Austin less safe,” Adler said in a sworn declaration to the San Antonio federal court that will hold its first hearing June 26 on a legal challenge to SB 4 filed by San Antonio and Austin.

[…]

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Monday that his office had joined nine other states in filing briefs in support of President Donald Trump’s executive order that would cut some Department of Justice grants to cities that prohibit local law enforcement from communicating with immigration agents. Austin and Travis County are in compliance with those laws.

Back in April, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order from taking effect while a court fight over that measure plays out. Austin and Travis County are among dozens of cities and counties challenging that order in court.

Paxton’s brief is a separate matter from the SB 4 lawsuits but reflects the growing number of fronts in the fight over “sanctuary cities,” regarded as local jurisdictions that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement.

I think it’s safe to say that all eyes will be on San Antonio on Monday. Hopefully, the city of Houston will have gotten involved by then.

Getting ready for the first SB4 hearing

All eyes are going to be on this next week.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton gets ahead of the “sanctuary cities” lawsuit rush

That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton is looking to get ahead of an anticipated barrage of legal challenges to Texas’ ban on “sanctuary cities,” which takes effect Sept. 1.

Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law on Sunday, Paxton filed a lawsuit — known as a complaint for declaratory judgment — asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional. The lawsuit specifically wants the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to rule the law does not violate the 14th or 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is not preempted by federal law.

“SB 4 is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” Paxton said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed against the government and elected officials in Travis County, which has been a battleground in Texas Republicans’ push to crack down on criminal suspects living in the United States illegally. The county’s sheriff, Sally Hernandez, drew Abbott’s ire earlier this year when she announced that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

You can find a copy of the lawsuit here, which according to KVUE was filed “to avoid a multiplicity of suits in various forms” questioning the constitutionality of the law from the defendants, which include Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, the City of Austin, Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a host of other people affiliated with Travis County. I’ve never heard of this strategy before and I have no idea what its history is, but I’d bet a dollar that Paxton picked the court in which he filed this suit with some care. I’m quite certain it won’t stop anyone from suing, but beyond that I have no idea what might happen. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.

[…]

Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.

[…]

The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

Investigation requested into voucher astroturfing

From the Quorum Report:

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

Following a criminal complaint by a GOP former lawmaker, an Austin representative has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look a letter-writing campaign that has deeply troubled rural Republicans in the Texas House who are opposed to school vouchers.

In a letter obtained by Quorum Report this evening, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, told prosecutors that she’s heard from many of her Republican colleagues who cannot believe the way in which many of their constituents’ names were used.

As QR readers who have followed this are aware, rural Republicans from East Texas to West Texas have received about 17,000 letters orchestrated by a group called Texans for Education Opportunity. The group claimed credit for the letter campaign but has said everything was done properly.

The problem, though, is that many of those letters utilized the names of people who are opposed to school vouchers in any form and, in fact, some of them have raised concerns about whether their identities were stolen for this campaign.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has said he thinks lawmakers are being “defrauded” by these letters. One of the letters Seliger received, but the way, was sent in the name of someone who had died months before the letter was sent.

“I am writing to ask you and your office to immediately open an investigation into a massive letter writing campaign that appears to be fraudulent,” Rep. Hinojosa wrote to the Travis County DA Margaret Moore.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. Rep. Hinojosa is the second person to ask a DA to investigate this, following former Rep. Rick Hardacstle, who was one of the people claimed to be a voucher supporter by this phony campaign. I Am Not A Lawyer so I have no opinion as to whether the civil code or the criminal code would be the more appropriate remedy for this, but it’s definitely fraud of some form, and if my name had been on one of those faked letters I’d want someone in power to Do Something about it, too. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Scott Braddock has more.

Dukes fails to get charges tossed

Too bad for her.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

A Travis County state district judge denied a motion by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to dismiss four felony counts against her for tampering with public records.

Dukes’ attorneys on March 8 asked Judge Brad Urrutia to dismiss four of her 13 indicted felony charges, arguing that an agreement she signed in September 2016 to waive statute of limitations on those counts was invalid for technical reasons.

Urrutia made a brief written ruling: “Having considered the evidence presented, the argument of counsel, and the applicable law, defendant’s motion is denied.”

His decision was not unexpected after Urrutia expressed skepticism at the hearing, telling Dukes’ attorneys “Your client certainly derived a benefit, a great benefit, from signing a waiver. You’re asking me to create new law.”

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, cannot appeal the ruling.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just keeping track of the story and waiting till the filing period to see who’ll challenge Dukes next March, assuming she hasn’t reconsidered her decision to un-resign by then. The Trib has more.

More on the attack on the Paxton special prosecutors’ pay

From Texas Lawyer.

Best mugshot ever

As courtroom twists go, this one is practically unheard-of: On the brink of bringing Texas’ attorney general, Ken Paxton, to trial on felony securities fraud charges, the government’s prosecutors are threatening to bail out of the case unless they get paid.

Whether one of the biggest criminal cases in Texas finally goes before a jury is now in limbo over what prosecutors contend is a deliberate effort by rich supporters of Paxton, an up-and-coming firebrand in Republican legal circles, to delay justice by challenging their paychecks. So far, the tactic is working.

[…]

Supporters of Paxton have made an issue of the $300-an-hour fees being charged by the special prosecutors, who are paid by the Dallas suburban county where the trial will be held. A three-judge panel of a Dallas appeals court agreed to halt payments on the $200,000 in legal bills while it considers a lawsuit filed by Jeff Blackard, a wealthy Dallas developer and onetime Paxton political donor, who has argued that the fees were excessive and costing taxpayers too much.

“Everyone in the courtroom is being paid except for us,” one of the appointed prosecutors, Brian Wice, has said. “No one expected us to work for free.”

Firing back, Paxton’s attorneys earlier this month accused prosecutors of being “financially self-serving” and argued they don’t have a right to be paid until the case is over. As of last year, Paxton had raised more than $300,000 from private sources to pay his own high-powered defense team.

Legal observers say they’ve never seen a case jeopardized quite like this.

“It’s outrageous that the prosecution should be derailed by the defendant somehow, or the defendant’s supporters or friends, defunding the prosecution,” said Joe Turner, a veteran Austin attorney who helped Willie Nelson and Matthew McConaughey beat drug busts years ago.

[…]

Blackard’s attorney denies that the lawsuit is a ploy to keep Paxton from facing a jury.

“It’s not about whether Paxton is or is not prosecuted. It’s about whether the taxpayers’ money is spent properly,” said attorney Eddie Greim, who is based in Kansas City, Missouri.

Prosecutors told a judge in court documents that Blackard “has already succeeded in shutting down this prosecution” and warned that having to appoint replacements will only drag the case out further.

Most of this, which was written before the decision by Judge Gallagher that delayed the trial until the prosecutor pay dispute gets resolved, is stuff we know. As a matter of law, the suit may have merit, but as a matter of common sense it’s completely ridiculous. It simply cannot be the case that a private citizen can derail a prosecution like this. I maintain that the funding for cases like these should be the state’s responsibility. Indeed, it was the state’s responsibility until the 2011 Legislature kneecapped the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County DA’s office. Whatever you think of that action, it created a problem for which there is no current solution. It won’t affect this case, but the Lege really should address this. Ken Paxton will not be the last elected official to cause this issue for a county Commissioners Court.

The people who would have been denied the opportunity to vote in 2016

There were a lot of them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

At least 16,400 Texans who voted in the November election wouldn’t have been able to cast ballots if the state’s voter identification law had been in full effect, state voting records show.

[…]

Through a public records request to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the American-Statesman obtained copies of the more than 16,400 Reasonable Impediment Declarations signed by Texans in the November election. More than 2,300 of the forms, legal affidavits punishable with a perjury charge if found to be false, were signed by Travis County voters.

The voters who signed the affidavits were concentrated in urban areas, with six counties alone — Harris, Travis, Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Hidalgo — accounting for more than half of them.

Those voters arrived to the polls without one of the seven forms of ID, but were able to vote after signing the form and providing a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or any other government document that included the registered voter’s name and address.

To sign the forms, all of those voters would’ve had to have been registered to vote and to produce documentation proving who they were.

[…]

Former Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott who stepped down after overseeing the November election, said the potential of 16,400 voters being turned away was less worrisome in light of the fact that about 9 million Texans voted.

“When you put it in perspective, to me it’s not a large number,” said Cascos, a Republican.

Asked if that meant those voters would have been disenfranchised, Cascos said, “I would agree. That is a way to look at it.”

And, he observed, the number of potentially disenfranchised voters “might not be important for a presidential race or a statewide race, but it very well might matter for local votes, where there can be really small margins.”

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure every qualified Texan who can vote should be allowed to vote,” he said, “(16,000) people wanted to vote and got to vote, so that’s great.”

Cascos is right – sixteen thousand out of nine million isn’t that much. He’s also right that every single one of them would have been disenfranchised had they been turned away, and for no valid purpose. That sixteen thousand just represents the people who tried to vote. We don’t know how many others didn’t bother to show up because they didn’t know that they could have voted – it’s not like the state’s “outreach” was terribly effective. And those sixteen thousand voters who would have been disenfranchised, plus those however many who actually were in this one election, are way way way more than the total number who have ever been credibly accused of any form of vote fraud. As long as we’re putting things in perspective, let’s keep that in mind as well.

Alternate funding sources

That’s one way to do it.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, announced plans Friday to raise public funds for Travis County, days after Gov. Greg Abbott canceled about $1.5 million in criminal justice grants over the county’s new “sanctuary” policy.

Rodriguez’s initiative is called Travis County #StrongerTogether and it will allow the community to donate tax-deductible funds to the county in order to help sustain community programs that “protect our women, children and veterans,” according to a news release. The initiative is partnering with the Austin Community Foundation (ACF).

“The people of Travis County are resilient and take care of each other. That’s what Travis County #StrongerTogether is all about,” Rodriguez said in an emailed statement. “If Governor Abbott is willing to sacrifice our veterans, women and children to score political points, then we will show him the power of love.”

[…]

Hernandez has shown no signs of backing down in the face of the funding cuts. In a Facebook post Friday, Hernandez endorsed Rodriguez’s initiative, and predicted the money will help “maintain the programs Governor Abbott has defunded.”

“Together, we can raise the funds necessary to ensure that our community’s values are represented and that the most vulnerable in our community are receiving the assistance they need,” Hernandez wrote.

See here for the background. This went live on Friday the 3rd, and according to the banner on the Travis County Stronger Together webpage, a bit more than $66K had been raised as of 10 PM on Saturday the 4th; it’s now over $89K as of Monday at 3 PM. Not a bad start, and as the Facebook page only has a couple hundred Likes, there’s plenty of room for growth.

On the one hand, this great. Resistance takes many forms, and it would be extremely satisfying to tell Greg Abbott where he can stick that grant money. On the other hand, this is terrible. It’s not any kind of model for a functioning government, and it’s in no way sustainable. Not to put too fine a point on it, but another term for what is going on here is that this particular grant for a specific public purpose is being privatized. In any other context, progressives would not like this. To some extent, this is going to be resolved in the courts one way or another. Different electoral outcomes would also be the end of stuff like this. In the meantime, this is what we have. The Statesman, which has video of Sheriff Hernandez talking about this saga, has more.

Abbott pulls state grant money to Travis County

As threatened.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Gov. Greg Abbott has followed through on his threat to cut off state funding for Travis County over its new “sanctuary” policy.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it has canceled criminal justice grants it usually administers to the county, whose sheriff, Sally Hernandez, recently announced her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. The policy was set to go into effect Wednesday.

The move appears to target about $1.5 million Travis County was due to receive this year from the criminal justice division of the governor’s office. The division doled out $1.8 million to the county last year and has already paid out roughly $300,000 in 2017.

[…]

Democrats had pushed back on Abbott’s threat to withhold the grant money by noting it funds programs that help children, women, families and veterans. But the Republican governor has held firm, saying his No. 1 concern is public safety.

“The Governor is willing to sacrifice veterans, women and children to garner political points,” state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said in a statement Wednesday. “Governor Abbott must be held accountable for playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, went even further in a statement, saying Abbott’s “vindictiveness is more like Russian President Putin’s authoritarian regime than our democracy.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As the Statesman notes, the grants “support projects such as family violence education and a special court for veterans”, so way to get tough there, Greg. One point five million isn’t nothing, and Abbott is looking for more leverage to use, but I feel reasonably certain Travis County could cover the difference if it wants to. Looking over their fiscal year 2017 budget, there’s $169 million allocated to the Sheriff’s office, with another $105 million in reserves. My guess is Abbott will need to find a considerably larger stick to get their attention. But we’ll see, and if the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passes this year, plus whatever horrors Congress and Trump conjure up, things could change.

Sheriff Hernandez not backing down

Good for her.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez indicated Thursday she is not backing away from her recently introduced “sanctuary” policy.

Her comments came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott proposed the removal of Hernandez, who announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation.

“Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation,” Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin, said in a statement. “I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”

Hernandez, who was elected in November, has said her department would honor requests from federal immigration officials only if they obtain a warrant from a judge ordering the confinement.

See here and here for the background. Sheriff Hernandez clearly has the moral high ground here – people shouldn’t be held without a warrant, minor offenses should not result in deportation, law enforcement needs the cooperation of the people they police in order to be effective, etc etc etc. Abbott, meanwhile, keeps ratcheting up the pressure. Something is going to have to give here. It’s one thing to pick on Travis County, which is a traditional punching bag for Texas Republicans, but will they go after Harris County, too?

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez appeared at this morning’s rally against 287(g), a flawed immigrant removal program.

Gonzalez reiterated his support of immigrant rights and his promise to rid Harris County of the controversial program. He did, however, ask for patience and time to study and navigate its ending because of its ties to federal and state funding, and because he wants to ensure that such a program targets violent and serious criminals. During the press conference, he also reiterated that the program is run within the jail and not out in the field and that his deputies will not be targeting individual suspects because of immigration status.

Local immigrant rights activists are seeking policy changes and strong statements of support to undo programs that target immigrants and have run amok of their stated intents. Programs which basically federalize local law enforcement are flawed and have been a cause for racial profiling, wasted resources, family separation, and downgraded local economies.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, also sought out by immigrant rights activists recently responded with his strongest statement yet.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past Abbott et al to lash out at anyone and everyone who defies him, but at some point it’s not a good luck for him to be fighting with so many big cities and counties. I don’t know how this plays out, but I suspect it will get messy. And kudos to Mayor Turner for standing up and doing the right thing, as numerous Mayors around the country are doing. We’re going to be in for a lot more of this from Trump, so we’d better be ready for it.

More on the STAR Voting System

The Chron updates us on the latest in modern voting technology.

The drumbeat of election rigging and foreign hacking of voting machines have energized ongoing efforts to develop a new model of digital election equipment designed to produce instantly verifiable results and dual records for security.

Election experts say this emerging system, one of three publicly funded voting machine projects across the country, shows potential to help restore confidence in the country’s election infrastructure, most of which hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s taken years and years to get it done,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk and leader of the voting machine project. “Now that we’ve had this election, there’s renewed interest.”

A prototype of the system, dubbed STAR Vote, sits in an engineering lab at Rice University, and bidding is open for manufacturers who want to produce it wholesale. Similar efforts to innovate voting systems are in the works in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“County clerks in these jurisdictions are the rock stars of running elections,” said Joe Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, an election systems supplier currently bidding on contracts to manufacture the designs of both Travis and Los Angeles counties. “If they have success in what they do, it will have, in my opinion, a massive impact on the whole U.S.”

Like any aging digital device, the voting machines are eventually bound to stumble, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He pointed to Detroit, where the number of votes counted didn’t match the number of voters who signed in. And he noted that reports of machines flipping votes more likely result from aged touch screens than a conspiracy to rig the election.

Yet there is seldom space in county budgets to replace the machines, which cost usually between $3,000 and $5,000 each. The vast majority of electronic voting equipment was purchased with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Most money reached the states by 2004, and there’s no foreseeable second wave of federal aid.

“This is really an oncoming crisis,” said Norden, who interviewed more than 100 election officials for a 2015 report about aging voting equipment published by the Brennan center. “A lot of election officials have been unhappy with the choices that the major vendors are providing.”

[…]

STAR Vote runs automatic audits, comparing a statistical sample of the paper ballots with the digital records to verify results.

“The savings are just enormous over doing a recount,” Stark said.

While other systems allow for comparison of precinct-level data, STAR Vote can compare paper ballots with individual voters’ digital ballots, which are encrypted and posted online.

Officials could take a small sample of printed ballots and compare them with digital results to conclude with high confidence that election results were correct.

The system itself is also inexpensive, built with off-the-shelf tablet computers and printers, which Wallach said will cut the price down to half of the current norm. Advanced software makes up for the cheap hardware, designers said, and they plan to make the software open-source, meaning it is free to use and, unlike current systems, can be serviced by any provider without exclusive long-term contracts.

I’ve written about this before, and while I love the design of the STAR machine, I don’t have much hope of getting to vote on one any time soon. The political climate just doesn’t seem conducive to any effort to improve the voting experience, and the lip service we got from Greg Abbott back during the peak Trump-whining-about-rigged-elections period has surely gone down the memory hole. The one possible way in that I can see for these devices is their lower cost. At some point, enough of the current voting machines will become sufficiently inoperable that replacement will be needed, and a cheaper device ought to have an advantage. Let’s hope the process of getting a manufacturer in place goes smoothly.

(NB: “Wallach” is Rice professor Dan Wallach, who as I have noted before is a friend of mine.)

Abbott goes authoritarian

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but it is still shocking, even in the world we now inhabit.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he and state lawmakers will pursue legislation that would “remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities,” raising a new consequence as Republicans crack down on local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Abbott is threatening to cut off state funding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez after she announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. If she continues with the policy, Abbott suggested a more serious punishment.

“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in an interview on Fox News.

It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.

The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

[…]

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”

“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, suggested another remedy. “How about removing those from office who make up the law to suit their own political needs!” he said in a statement.

See here for some background. It’s abundantly clear by now that Abbott and his cohort have no respect for the will of local voters and that the only authority they recognize is their own, so it’s a small step from stomping down on local control to overruling an election. I think back on some of the things that people said about President Obama when he lawfully exercised executive power and I wonder, was it fear or longing in their words? The latter seems much more likely. I suppose it’s possible Abbott was just preening for the Fox News cameras, but we have been advised to take authoritarians at their word, and Lord knows Dear Leader Trump has lived up to that. So yeah, I expect to see a bill come out of this. After that, we’ll see.

(All this was happening, by the way, as Harris County residents were being urged to call Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office to ask about when he plans to end 287(g) as promised during the campaign. Like it or not, people are going to have to pick a side on this.)

Speaking of Il Duce, a federal crackdown on “sanctuary cities” is coming as well. Again, one can only wonder at the thought of President Obama making similar threats to Texas cities – just how quickly could Abbott or Paxton file a lawsuit in a friendly court? We may soon see how the shoe fits on the other foot. A statement from the Travis County legislative delegation is here, a statement from the El Paso delegation is here, and the Current and the Observer have more.

Abbott versus Travis County

This could get ugly.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is formally demanding that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez reverse her new policy on cooperation with federal immigration authorities or lose state dollars, further escalating a showdown over “sanctuary cities” that have been in the crosshairs of Republican officials.

“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott wrote to Hernandez — whose jurisdiction includes Austin — in a letter dated Monday.

The newly elected sheriff, who campaigned on the issue, announced Friday that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. Her office said it would continue to hold people charged with very serious crimes, such as capital murder.

But that was not enough for Abbott, whose letter calls the policy, which is set to go into effect Feb. 1, “shortsighted” and backed by “frivolous” justifications. He quickly reacted Friday on Twitter, saying that his office “will cut funding for Travis County adopting sanctuary. Stiffer penalties coming.”

Abbott’s threat targets Criminal Justice Division grant money that is administered by his office. Travis County got almost $1.8 million from the division over the past year “based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced,” according to the letter.

“Your policy is in violation of that commitment,” Abbott told Hernandez. “Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them.”

In the letter, Abbott also made clear that he intends to make an example out of Hernandez during the 85th Legislative Session that started earlier this month. Abbott is set to lay out his priorities in his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the glory of Greg Abbott – Greg Abbott! – demanding that federal law be obeyed and enforced. It’s almost as if all of his previous blathering about “states rights” and “federal overreach” was based not on principle but crass partisan politics. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

While basically everyone agrees that violent criminals who are undocumented should be deported, they represent a tiny fraction of the people who have been expelled from the country. The vast overwhelming majority are just ordinary people, including a lot of children who get swept up with their parents; many others get left behind without one or both parents. The Chron goes into some of the issues.

Though Travis County could be the first jurisdiction in Texas to lose funding over its immigration detainer policy, it’s not the first time Abbott has threatened to cut money over the issue. After Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made minor changes to her county’s policy last year, he also promised to slash funding. It ultimately stayed in place because the county never declined an immigration detainer.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez has said that he is also concerned about holding inmates without pending charges for immigration enforcement, but will continue working with the federal government while he studies the issue.

Political fighting over so-called sanctuary cities has waged for years.

Though it is strictly the federal government who enforces immigration law, Washington and local entities began cooperating on the issue in 2008. The program matches the fingerprints of every person booked into jail against a sweeping law enforcement database, including immigration information from the Department of Homeland Security.

After they determined someone was here illegally, federal officials could request that local authorities detain those immigrants even if they were otherwise eligible for release, say by posting bond or having their criminal charges dropped.

Roughly one-sixth of the record 2.5 million immigrants President Barack Obama deported between 2008 and 2015 were removed through this program, many of them after being booked into jail on misdemeanor crimes.

Critics said it encouraged racial profiling and deported immigrants accused of minor crimes such as traffic offenses rather than focusing the government’s limited resources on violent immigrants. Several federal courts, none in Texas, also found that it could violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Five states and more than 500 counties have scaled back on cooperating with the federal government on the issue, according to a tally by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Though the Obama administration overhauled the program in 2015 to try to address constitutional concerns, they remain. Last summer, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was sued for holding a man for more than two months after officials dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge that had him flagged by immigration officials to begin with.

Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national immigrant advocacy group in San Francisco, said federal detainer requests are civil orders, not arrest warrants meeting Fourth Amendment requirements.

You know all those arguments we’ve been having about why bail reform is needed to ensure our county jail isn’t stuffed full of people who aren’t a threat to anyone and who in many cases have never been (and never will be) convicted of a crime? The same is true for immigrant detention centers, and the stakes are a lot higher. That doesn’t even get into the whole sordid private prison industry, which has been the driving force behind the construction of many of those detention centers. Requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law is a huge drain on their resources, and has been devastating to a lot of people who have done nothing harmful. And as Sheriff Hernandez fights this battle in Travis County, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made his own promises about 287(g), which he says he is still working on. People are going to expect an answer soon. Campos and Stace have more.

Dukes indicted

Boom.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

A grand jury has indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on abuse-of-office charges, the Travis County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday. She could face up to 28 years in jail and fines of up to $138,000.

The first indictment charges 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said in a news release.

Two separate indictments were also handed down for abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. These “relate to allegations that Rep. Dukes misused public funds for her personal gain, and that she converted campaign funds to personal use.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Dukes said she is “disappointed” with the grand jury’s decision and will “be entering a plea of not guilty.”

On Wednesday afternoon, she went to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center to get fingerprinted and have her mug shot taken. In brief remarks outside the county courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Dukes, flanked by her lawyers, she said she is “very relieved … to begin the process of getting out the other side of the story that I have not been able to speak about since February.”

“I will focus my time and my energy on the people of District 46 and their issues and their concerns,” Dukes told reporters. “I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted.”

See here and here for the background. I have not been calling for indicted AG Ken Paxton to resign from his office, partly because as crooked as I think he is, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, and partly for the crass political reason that I’d rather have us Dems run against a possible convicted felon than against a clean replacement. I have no crass political reason for wanting Dawnna Dukes to stay in office, and as we know she had originally said she was going to resign for various personal reasons then changed her mind at the last minute. As such, while I remain steadfast in the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, I’d really like to see Dawnna Dukes resign. She is highly unlikely to be an effective advocate for her constituents this session, and they deserve better. But that’s ultimately their call as much as hers – if the people who have been electing her want her to leave, she should listen to them. I hope they do, and I hope she does.

Dawnna Dukes case to go before grand jury

Awesome.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors and Texas Rangers will present evidence to a grand jury that state Rep. Dawnna Dukes abused the power of her office, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the American-Statesman.

Among possible charges: abuse of official capacity and tampering with public records, Moore said.

Dukes was sworn into office for a 12th term Tuesday after reneging on a plan to step down before the Legislature convened.

Moore said that the grand jury proceedings will begin next Tuesday.

[…]

The case against Dukes began when members of legislative staff in early 2016 questioned her requiring them to do personal errands for her and work full-time on a nonprofit event. In one instance, Dukes gave a state employee a raise to cover gas money for driving her daughter to and from school.

See here for the background. KXAN was first with the story, and adds some more detail about the resignation that wasn’t.

When asked why she decided to retract her resignation, Dukes told KXAN’s Political Reporter Phil Prazan that she made her decision because her experience and qualifications make her the best person for the job. She said she had to listen to her constituents.

“I listened to the constituents who requested over and over and over again, since my announcement, that I would reconsider that I would come back,” says Dukes, who has served HD 46 since 1995. Dukes says she worked with her doctors to make sure she was healthy enough to make sure she would not be absent from the 2017 session.

[…]

There are currently five people who are vying for House District 46 and all appear to still be moving forward with their campaigns. Former Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say that she’s still in the race, whether it will be in a special election or the Democratic primary for 2018.

Chito Vela also sent out an advisory for his official campaign kickoff, which is scheduled for Thursday. In his message, he says, “East Austin needs a progressive voice that will fight for the interests of working class voters.”

Gabriel Nila, the only GOP candidate going for the seat, knew he had an uphill battle in a district that typically votes at least 80 percent Democrat.

“Our concern, mine and several other people, is that she will do the exact same thing that she did in 2015—make a couple of appearances here and there, but not take care of the issues that need taking care of,” said Nila.

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk. The Trib has more.

Dukes un-resigns

Ugh.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes confirmed to the Texas Tribune in an email Monday that she is not resigning from her post with House District 46, just two days after blindsiding supporters and fellow lawmakers with her reverse decision.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, announced in September that she would retire from office on Jan. 10, the first day of the legislative session, after more than 20 years in the Texas House. She cited ongoing health issues and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter but it came while the Travis County District Attorney office was conducting a criminal investigation over her alleged misuse of staff and government funds.

On Saturday, just days after her own spokesperson confirmed to the Tribune that her resignation would go forward, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Duke had told the new Travis County District Attorney, Margaret Moore, that she had changed her mind about retiring. The decision came as a surprise to candidates intending to vie for her seat after she resigned.

See here and here for the background. I feel like an idiot now for ever believing her, but at least I’m not as big an idiot as her spokesman.

On Friday, Bill Miller a spokesman for Dukes, confirmed to the Tribune that Dukes still planned to resign on Tuesday. “She won’t be answering questions prior to that date,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Asked Saturday about the report Dukes wouldn’t resign after all, Miller told the Tribune that he had breakfast with [Travis County DA Margaret] Moore last week and “presumably, it would be a topic of conversation between us if Dukes told her she would not resign.”

“I know what I was told long ago and no one has told me otherwise. [Dukes] is going to do whatever she is going to do,” Miller wrote in an email.

Bet the next staff meeting is a bit awkward. The Statesman reported on this over the weekend, and it gets even weirder.

It wasn’t clear Saturday whether Dukes’ health had improved or why she had reversed course. She has kept a low profile since news broke of possible ethics violations nearly a year ago, and has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the Statesman over the past several months. She did not immediately respond when contacted on Saturday.

[…]

Dukes’ decision did not come on the advice of Fort Worth defense attorney Michael Heiskell, who had been representing her.

“That was not my advice to her,” said Heiskill, who said Dukes had not consulted with him before reversing her decision to step down.

Is he still her attorney?

“Apparently not,” Heiskill said.

Heiskill said he had been contacted earlier in the week by Houston attorney Dane Ball who said he was looking into the matter at Dukes’ request.

Heiskill said it had been his hope that if Dukes had stepped down, the Travis County district attorney would not have sought an indictment.

“But all that’s been scuttled now if what I am hearing is true,” Heiskill said.

Well, maybe the DA will force the matter. Regardless, I look forward to supporting someone in the 2018 primary against Dukes. The Austin Chronicle has more.

As long as we’re talking about improving our voting machines

Then this is what we should be talking about.

Dana DeBeauvoir

[Travis] County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir called Rice University computer science professor Dan Wallach, who has been poking holes in voting-machine security for years. He’s testified before Congress on the subject.

Now DeBeauvoir wanted him to design a new one.

“Wow,” he says. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

The last time voting technology went through a major design change was after the disastrous Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election. Confusion over badly designed and incompletely punched paper ballots threw the results into chaos.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, committing $4 billion to help localities buy new electronic voting machines.

“All of these machines, we understand now, are wildly insecure,” Wallach says. “Even though the vendors made claims that they were great, those claims have turned out to be false. And we’re now dealing with that problem.”

But replacing them costs money that many localities don’t have, and it’s not clear that Congress will pony up again.

So Wallach’s new system would have to be cheaper than what’s on the market now.

[…]

The system that the team of cybersecurity and usability experts came up with is called STAR-Vote, for secure, transparent, auditable and reliable.

It has two parts: A kiosk containing an off-the-shelf tablet computer and a standard inkjet printer, plus a metal ballot box with a built-in scanner.

Off-the-shelf parts keep the cost down and can be easily sourced and replaced. Wallach says the metal box costs more than all the electronic components inside it. The whole system should cost half or less what current machines do, which cost about $3,000 each.

Voters make their selections on the touchscreen tablet, which is kept off the internet and stripped of all software (and potential vulnerabilities) except the voting application.

State-of-the-art cryptography protects the integrity of the vote. But it’s not the only safeguard. Hard copy remains one of the most secure ways to cast a ballot.

“The crypto can do some really great tricks,” Wallach says. “But if you don’t trust the cryptography, that’s OK. Because we also have printed paper ballots that go into a box.”

Voters can see who the computer says they chose. The vote is only cast when the voter puts it in the ballot box.

And if there is any question about the electronic votes, the paper ballots are the backup.

This is nothing new – I wrote about it in July of 2014, and Wallach’s team made a presentation about STAR-Vote in August of 2013. The point is that this system, which is both more secure than what we have now while also being less expensive, could be in place for the 2018 election if we really wanted it to be. Given the lip service some Republicans like Greg Abbott are giving to election integrity, this is totally doable. You will know by what happens in the 2017 legislative session whether Abbott et al meant any of it or not.

(Disclaimer: As noted before, Dan Wallach is a friend of mine.)