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Van Taylor

Filing roundup: Other Congressional races, part 1

We already knew this, but just a reminder there’s at least one Democratic candidate in all 36 Congressional districts in Texas.

In deep-red Texas, Republicans will have to fight for every congressional seat in next year’s midterm elections. For the first time in 25 years, Democrats are running in all of Texas’ 36 congressional districts, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, says those filings set a record for the number of Democratic challengers in an era of Republican dominance, and are a departure from 2016 – when eight Republican-held congressional seats went uncontested by Democrats.

“We are seeing a groundswell of unusually high support and mobilization among progressive Democrats who are really angered by the Trump administration,” Jones said.

[…]

“Outside of CD 23, held by Will Hurd, all of the Republican-held districts today, more likely than not, will stay Republican-held districts,” Jones said. “But they are not locks, and certainly we can’t consider them to be sure-things.”

Jones says it will take a perfect storm for Texas Democrats to make significant gains in Congress. He says Trump’s approval ratings will have to continue to decline, Democrats will have to continue to out-fundraise their Republican opponents, and Republican candidates will have to make a lot of mistakes.

We can and will discuss the prospects for winning various races as we go. For now, let’s talk about who the Democratic contenders are. I’ve put together another spreadsheet based on the SOS filings page for convenient reference. Some of these folks I’ve talked about a lot, others are new to me. I’m going to concentrate on the districts where Dems have a non-trivial chance of winning, on the races I haven’t previously covered in another filing roundup. Turns out there’s a lot of these candidates, so I’m splitting this into two posts, one for the top tier races and one for the ones a notch or two below that. We’ll begin with the latter group.

Lorie Burch

CD03

This district is in Collin County, and it is being vacated by longtime Rep. Sam Johnson. State Sen. Van Taylor is a leading contender for the Republican nomination. Decision Desk in November gave Democrats a 30% chance of taking it, with an expected performance of 46.9%.

Adam Bell
Lorie Burch
Medrick Yhap
Sam Johnson

Yes, there is a Democratic candidate named Sam Johnson who is running to succeed the retiring Republican Congressman Sam Johnson. He’s not afraid to make the obvious jokes about it, for which he has my respect. This Sam Johnson is an attorney and UT graduate who lives in Plano. Adam Bell was the candidate against the incumbent Sam Johnson in 2016. He doesn’t have much in the way of biographical information on his webpage, but he identifies himself as a small business owner. Lorie Burch is also an attorney in Plano, and I’m pleased to note a fellow graduate of my alma mater, Trinity University (we did not overlap and as far as I know I’ve never met her). She recently served on the Lambda Legal Leadership Committee, and as her bio notes, in her senior year at Trinity she interned for Judge Orlando Garcia, who issued the ruling that threw out Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law. Medrick Yhap doesn’t have a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and the only biographical information I discovered was that he works for a software company.

CD17

This is the district that former Rep. Chet Edwards once served. He hung on after the DeLay re-redistricting in 2004, then won two more terms before being wiped out in 2010. The district is more rural than anything else, so unlike the others on this list it hasn’t really trended blue. It’s on the far outer edges of competitiveness, and if it really is in play next fall then the question is not “will Dems take the House” but “how large will the Dem majority be”.

Rick Kennedy
Dale Mantey

Rick Kennedy is a software developer. Dale Mantey is working on a doctorate at the UT School of Public Health. Decision Desk put the odds in November at 5.7% for a pickup. I wish them both well.

Todd Allen

CD24

Former State Rep. Kenny Marchant has held this district since it was drawn, apparently with him in mind, in the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. Longtime Democrat Martin Frost had been the incumbent here, but he chose to run in CD32 against Pete Sessions in 2004, coming up short in that race. The closest race Marchant has had was a 17-point win in 2016, as CD24 was one of several districts to see its Democratic performance increase from 2012 to 2016. Decision Desk projected 46.7% Democratic performance and a 24.9% chance of flipping in November.

Todd Allen
Jan McDowell
John Biggan
Josh Imhoff

Todd Allen is a high school government teacher and former football coach who like Lorie Burch is a Trinity University graduate. My cup runneth over here. Jan McDowell is a CPA with a degree in journalism; she was the Democratic candidate for CD24 in 2016. John Biggan is an Eagle Scout and slef-described “brain scientist”, with a doctorate from UT-Arlington. I could not find any web presence for Josh Imhoff’s campaign.

Chris Perri

CD25

CD25 is the district Rep. Lloyd Doggett moved into in 2004 post-DeLay; he had previously been in CD10. He then moved again to CD35 in 2012 as the Republicans tried and failed again to draw him out of a district he could win. Car salesman and former Secretary of State Roger Williams, who has Rick Perry-class hair, became the incumbent in this district that year. He has won by at least 20 points each time, with Decision Desk pegging the district at a 43.9% Democratic level and an 11.0% chance of turning over. I blogged about three of the five Democratic candidates in October.

Chetan Panda
Chris Perri
Julie Oliver
Kathi Thomas
West Hansen

Chetan Panda is a first generation American who grew up in Austin. He has a degree from the London School of Economics and was working as a retirement fund manager at a mutual fund before stepping down to run for Congress. Chris Perri is a defense attorney who serves as supervising attorney for UT Law’s pro bono Texas Expunction Project, which helps people clear wrongful arrests from their backgrounds. Julie Oliver describes herself as a healthcare advocate, tax policy expert, and community volunteer who serves on the board of Central Health in Austin. Kathi Thomas was the Democratic candidate for CD25 in 2016, and also ran for State Senate in 2006. She’s a small businesswoman, an education activist, a Democratic precinct chair, and a band geek, which is also something I respect. West Hansen is a psychologist whose great-grandparents settled in Texas in the 1800s.

CD27

Bye-bye, Blake. Smokey Joe Barton had a more sudden demise, but outgoing incumbent (*) Blake Farenthold had a pretty spectacular – and well-deserved – fall. Alas, unlike Smokey Joe’s departure in CD06, the odds of a Democratic takeover here are not improved much, and weren’t that good to begin with. Decision Desk puts the odds of flipping at 4.5%, the lowest of all the districts I’m looking at. But we’re thinking positive, right?

Eric Holguin
Raul “Roy” Barrera
Ronnie McDonald

Eric Holguin cites a family history of service and past experience with the New York City Comptroller and in an unnamed Congresswoman’s office, but I couldn’t tell what he was doing at the time of his candidacy. Roy Barrera was the Democratic candidate against Farenthold in 2016 – that’s his 2016 campaign Facebook page above, I couldn’t find a current version. Ronnie McDonald served as Bastrop County Judge for 14 years, and more recently worked with the directors of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M Forest Service. He ran for CD27 in 2012 but did not win the primary.

MJ Hegar

CD31

Hey, a race where we have a specific poll result. A six-point lead by Rep. John Carter over one of his opponents isn’t much, though it is better than the situation some of his colleagues are in. This one has 11.3% odds of changing sides, with 44.0% Dem performance. It’s another mostly-suburban battleground, with most of the district in Williamson County. If there really is something to the well-educated suburbs getting turned off by Trump and Trumpish followers, this like several other districts listed here is the kind of place where we should see evidence of it.

Christine Eady Mann
Kent Lester
Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar
Mike Clark

All four of these candidates have been running since at least July, so it’s a pretty stable field. Christine Eady Mann is a family practice physician who has had some experience in local politics, including a successful campaign to pass an indoor smoking ban in Round Rock and serving as the volunteer coordinator for a Georgetown City Council member’s re-election. Kent Lester is a West Point graduate and 20-year Army veteran who has also been an educator. MJ Hegar is an Air Force officer and Purple Heart recipient who led a 2012 lawsuit against the Defense Department over its now-repealed policy excluding women from ground combat positions and wrote a book about her experiences in the military that is being made into a movie. Mike Clark has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees with a background in Geology and Geospatial technology and is currently employed in the technology sector.

So that’s a lot of districts and a lot of candidates, and we haven’t covered some of the most competitive November races, which I’ll get to next week. I strongly encourage everyone to get to know who is running to represent them in Congress and make an informed choice in March. I’ll have more tomorrow.

Two Paxtons are not better than one

Oh, good grief.

Always my Paxton avatar

Angela Paxton, the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is considering a run for state Senate, according to people familiar with her thinking.

Paxton has her sights set on Senate District 8, which is currently held by Van Taylor, R-Plano. He’s expected to give up the seat to run for Congress in 2018.

A Paxton candidacy would shake up the current race to replace Taylor. Phillip Huffines, the chairman of the Dallas County GOP, has emerged as a frontrunner after two Republican state representatives from Plano, Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen, considered running but ultimately took a pass.

Taylor has now made his candidacy for CD03 official. To be fair, two Paxtons would be only marginally worse than two Huffineses, but at least there’s a chance we could knock off the first Huffines next year. I am not aware of a Democratic candidate for SD08 as yet – there may be one, it’s not easy to tell – and SD08 is not exactly a prime pickup opportunity, but come on. One way or the other, someone terrible is going to be on the other side of the ballot, and with any luck they’ll spend the next six months trashing each other. Just on general principles, we need to be in the game.

July 2017 campaign finance reports: State Senate targets

The Trib highlights a couple of races of interest.

Senate District 8

State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has not yet announced he’s running for Congress — he is expected to after the special session — but the race to replace him is already underway. Phillip Huffines, the chairman of the Dallas County GOP who has been campaigning for the Senate seat since March, put $2 million of his own money into his campaign and raised another $547,000, leaving him with $2.4 million in the bank. State Rep. Matt Shaheen, the Plano Republican who is likely to run for the Senate seat but has not yet made it official, had $495,000 cash on hand after raising $62,000 at the end of June and loaning himself $187,000 in June.

Senate District 10

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, already has two Democratic challengers in her battleground district, where she has a $352,000 war chest after raking in $196,000 at June’s end. One of her Democratic foes, Beverly Powell, raised $50,000 in just under a month and has $32,000 in the bank. Powell’s cash-on-hand figure is closer to $46,000 when factoring in online donations she received at the end of June, according to her campaign. Another Democratic candidate, Alison Campolo, posted smaller numbers.

Senate District 16

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, is also on Democrats’ target list for 2018. He reported raising $222,000 at the end of June and having $930,000 in cash on hand. One of his Democratic rivals, Nathan Johnson, began his campaign in early April and has since raised $80,000, giving him a $65,000 cash-on-hand tally. Another Democratic candidate, Joseph Bogen, kicked off his bid in May and had raised $32,000 by the end of June. He has $21,000 in cash on hand.

Do I have finance reports for Senate districts and candidates of interest? Of course I do.

Van Taylor
Matt Shaheen
Phillip Huffines
Texans for Kelly Hancock
Konni Burton
Beverly Powell
Alison Campolo
Don Huffines
Nathan Johnson
Joe Bogen
Texans for Joan Huffman


Dist   Name         Raised     Spent      Loans     On Hand
===========================================================
SD08   Taylor        1,000   191,355    850,000     370,852
SD08   Shaheen      61,835     7,633    466,844     495,310
SD08   P Huffines  546,656   202,474  2,000,000   2,356,109
SD09   Hancock      87,655    86,634          0   1,205,070
SD10   Burton      196,058    49,152    240,000     351,787
SD10   Powell       51,200     1,265          0      31,704
SD10   Campolo       8,004     5,163          0       3,604
SD16   D Huffines  222,297   151,336  1,680,000     929,698
SD16   Johnson      80,260    14,851      5,286      64,728
SD16   Bogen        31,988     4,010          0      21,118
SD17   Huffman      10,025    54,606          0     410,465

Here’s my look at State Senate precinct data, with an eye towards evaluating potential electoral targets for 2018. The three of greatest interest are SDs 10, 16, and 17, more or less in that order. We’ve met the SD10 hopefuls, but this is the first I’ve heard of challengers in SD16. Here’s Nathan Johnson‘s webpage, and here’s Joe Bogen‘s. I don’t know anything more about either of them than that, so if you do please feel free to speak up. As for SD17, I sure hope Fran Watson or someone like her makes her entry soon, because right now the only opponent for Joan Huffman is Ahmad Hassan.

Our first look at Senate district data

The Trib looks at the data we now have.

Sen. Don Huffines

In the state Senate, one Republican — Don Huffines of Dallas — is now representing a district that Clinton easily won, while two more — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Joan Huffman of Houston — are now sitting in areas that Clinton almost carried. In the House, 10 Republicans are now representing districts that Clinton won, while several more are now sitting in areas she came close to winning.

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

[…]

In addition to [Rep. Pete] Sessions’ [Congressional] district, [Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol] Donovan said the party is already zeroing in on Huffines’ district, which Clinton won by 5 points after Romney carried it by 15 points four years prior. Aware of the swing, Huffines’ team does not blame Democrats for prioritizing the district — but also is not sweating 2018 quite yet.

“We take it seriously, but it’s not a hair-on-fire moment,” said Matt Langston, a Republican consultant who works for Huffines.

While Huffines’ district was the only GOP-held state Senate district that Clinton won, she almost carried two others. She came within a point of winning Burton’s and Huffman’s districts, which in 2012 went for Romney by 8 points and 20 points, respectively.

I should note that the comprehensive data for the 2016 elections are not yet available at the Texas Legislative Council’s FTP site, but as of two weeks ago the data for each individual district can be found via the following formulation:

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/senate/dist16/r8.pdf
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/house/dist66/r8.pdf

Just substitute the appropriate district number as needed and you’re good. Eventually, that data will be linked on each Member’s bio page on the official House and Senate sites, but for now this will do.

I’ve been talking about Huffines and the need to make him a top electoral target next year, and so I am delighted to see these numbers. As always, though, some context and perspective is needed, so with that in mind, here’s a larger view of the field of play.


Dist     Incumbent  Clinton%  Trump%    Obama%   Romney%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     42.6%   51.2%     36.6%     61.7%
SD09       Hancock     41.8%   53.1%     39.2%     59.3%
SD10        Burton     47.3%   47.9%     45.4%     53.3%
SD16      Huffines     49.9%   45.3%     41.6%     57.0%
SD17       Huffman     47.2%   48.1%     39.2%     59.4%

Dist     Incumbent   CCA16D% CCA16R%   CCA12D%   CCA12R%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     37.8%   57.9%     35.3%     61.1%
SD09       Hancock     39.2%   56.3%     37.9%     58.4%
SD10        Burton     44.5%   51.6%     44.4%     52.7%
SD16      Huffines     42.7%   52.9%     40.6%     56.0%
SD17       Huffman     42.2%   54.3%     39.1%     58.2%

All five of these Senators are on the ballot next year. “CCA16” refers to the Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6, while “CCA12” is the Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race. The latter was the only R-versus-D race for the CCA in 2012, and like the Keasler/Burns race this year it featured a Libertarian but not a Green candidate, so the comparison is as apt as I can make it. For these purposes, the CCA races will suffice as a proxy for the “true” partisan split in these districts.

And not too surprisingly, things look distinctly less rosy when you pull back to that level. While Huffines’ district is a couple points bluer than it was in 2012 by the CCA metric, it’s still a ten-point district in the GOP’s favor. A big part of that is due to the fact that SD16 encompasses nearly all of HDs 108, 112, and 114, which as we’ve discussed before are the three most Republican State House districts in Dallas County. The good news is that there are clearly a sizable number of people in SD16 who are willing to vote Democratic against a sufficiently bad Republican. The bad news is that so far the only example of a race where that has happened is Clinton versus Trump. The challenge for Dallas Democrats will be threefold: Find a strong candidate to challenge Huffines, work to ensure the Dem base turns out in the off year (a task for which the track record is not great), and try to tie Huffines to Trump as closely as possible in order to entice the Hillary-voting Republicans in SD16 to cross over again.

As for the others, Konni Burton’s SD10 remains the closest thing to a swing district the Senate has, though it didn’t change much since 2012. It does have the distinction of electing a Democrat in part on the strength of Republican crossover votes as recently as 2012, though, and it probably wouldn’t take much of an erosion in Republican turnout to put her in peril, if 2018 is a year where Republicans don’t get fired up to vote. SD17 covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria in addition to Harris County. It will take coordination across the three counties as well as a commitment to turn out Dems in Fort Bend and Brazoria to be on the radar in 2018. SD08, which includes most of Collin County plus a small piece of Dallas, and SD09, which includes Dallas and Tarrant, aren’t really competitive in any sense, but they did move a bit in a Dem direction and included a fair number of crossovers as well. If we ever want to get closer to parity in the Senate, Dems are going to have to make serious gains in these suburban counties.

Rep. Sam Johnson to retire

One of Texas’ longest-serving members of Congress will call it quits next year.

Rep. Sam Johnson

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson announced Friday morning that he will not seek re-election to represent his Plano-based seat in Congress.

Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran, made the announcement over email Friday.

“After much prayer, I have decided I will not seek re-election to serve the Third District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018,” he wrote. “This will be my final term in the appropriately named ‘People’s House.'”

[…]

His 3rd District is strongly Republican, and the GOP primary will most likely determine who will replace him in Congress. Names floated as possible contenders include state Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican, and Collin County Judge Keith Self.

Johnson has been in Congress since 1991, though offhand I can’t think of much that he has done. He did serve in the Korean War as well as the Vietnam War, and was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for seven years, so to say the least he has a compelling personal story. I wish him all the best in his future retirement.

As it happens, the Daily Kos database of Presidential results by Congressional district now includes Texas CDs. Here’s a look at the numbers in CD03:

2012 – Romney 64.3%, Obama 34.2%
2016 – Trump 54.8%, Clinton 40.6%

The data only includes percentages and not vote totals, so it’s hard to say how much of that difference can be accounted for by crossover votes. The data on the Texas Redistricting webpage likely won’t be updated to include 2016 numbers for a few more weeks, so I won’t be able to do any comparisons till then. I did apply the 2016 percentages to the actual result in CD03 to get an estimate:

2012 – Romney 175,383, Obama 93,290
2016 – Trump 173,424, Clinton 128,486 (estimated)
2016 – Johnson 193,684, Bell 109,420

Like I said, I’ll know more once I see the full 2016 data. The 2012 data is here. The Presidential numbers make it look like maybe there could be something competitive under the right circumstances, while the numbers from Johnson’s own race do not. Of course, Dems would have to find a candidate first, and given that they don’t hold any state or county offices in Collin County, that limits their options. Maybe a City Council member from Plano or something like that might be willing to give it a go? I’m just spitballing here. At least we have plenty of time to locate someone. The DMN has more.

Ethics reform dies its expected death

The only surprise is that it took this long.

BagOfMoney

With no collective will to expose dark money contributions in Texas, a major ethics overhaul was snuffed out in the waning hours of the 2015 legislative session.

“It’s dead,” Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said Saturday afternoon. “When the Senate chose not to include campaign disclosure reform at all, there’s really no reason to go forward. That was the most important thing from the House’s perspective.”

Cook was referring to the dark money provision that would require politically active nonprofits, which have poured millions into state and federal elections in recent years, to disclose their donors.

Hoping to find a last-ditch compromise, Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who pushed the reform effort through the state Senate, wrote a letter urging House members to strike a deal by passing what both chambers have already agreed on. But that didn’t include the dark money amendment — an idea that has pitted Republicans against each other.

Taylor, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate, have been unwilling to embrace any restrictions on the anonymously contributed money, which influential conservatives have fought to keep secret. Last session, then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill requiring disclosure of dark money and Abbott applauded him for it.

“The fact that folks are championing dark money is amazing to me,” Cook said.

Taylor offered two different versions of a compromise to a joint House-Senate “conference committee,” made up of negotiators from each chamber. Neither had dark money restrictions in it, but they would have strengthened considerably the disclosures of legislative conflicts of interest, shed more light on lobbyist wining and dining, and required lawmakers to reveal more sources of their income.

“While we disagree on substance, it is our hope that the House shares our desire to be accountable to the people we serve,” Taylor wrote. “It would be an embarrassing failure of leadership if the House opts to let this important legislation die in conference committee, especially during a session [that’s] supposed to be devoted to strengthening the ethical standards of elected officials. Texans expect us to deliver.”

With a Sunday night deadline for bills to be passed looming, a handful of ethics proposals remain viable, including a proposal shedding more light on elected officials who make money from local governments and another bill closing the “double-dipping” loophole that longtime politicians can use — as Perry once did — to draw a salary and pension at the same time.

But those minor tweaks are a far cry from the sweeping reforms that Abbott called for on the campaign trail and again in February, when he told lawmakers during his state of the state address that he wanted to “dedicate this session to ethics reform.”

Remember when Greg Abbott was all about “major” ethics reform? Those were the days. Surely none but the most gullible among us believed it in the first place, but even if one held on to a thread of hope, surely his lack of any leadership on the issue during the session told us all the real story. The fact that “dark money” regulations got this far tells me that it is possible for real ethics reform to happen – Republicans are the bigger targets of this kind of campaign spending these days, so it’s not really a straight partisan issue – but in the absence of actual leadership from the Governor’s office, it will probably take a major (and well-timed) scandal for it to happen. Good luck with that.

Or maybe it is hopeless, at least as things now stand:

All that Republican infighting about revealing political “dark money” during the just-concluded session of the Texas Legislature was probably for naught.

Gov. Greg Abbott has come out firmly against the idea.

Speaking at a news conference Monday in the Capitol, Abbott said he had already written about the issue when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, telling reporters that legislation requiring secret political donors to come out of the shadows would violate the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of dark money disclosure dispute the claim.

“I’ve already written about it as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court,” Abbott said. “I wrote that laws like that are unconstitutional, and I based that decision on United States Supreme Court decisions, and I think it’s important for legislators not to try to pass laws that have already been ruled unconstitutional.”

Abbott stopped short of saying that he would’ve vetoed a dark money disclosure bill if it had reached his desk, but his opposition makes any such legislation a remote possibility. Opposition from influential conservative groups that use dark money to fund their campaign activities hasn’t helped the pro-disclosure crowd much, either.

[…]

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, assistant professor at the Stetson University College of Law, wrote in a 2011 scholarly paper that Citizens United and another landmark case known as Doe vs. Reed give “considerable leeway” for legislators to require disclosure of money used to influence elections.

“In other words, the Supreme Court just expanded the constitutional bounds for requiring disclosure of the funding of election-related speech, and states should use this license to expand their disclosure laws accordingly,” she wrote.

Which only goes to show that Abbott was a lousy legal scholar who fit the law to his opinions. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any more ridiculous:

It’s no secret that Texas legislators make poverty wages — $7,200 a year to be exact — so they generally must have some other source of income to make ends meet.

A look at Sen. Joan Huffman’s 2014 ethics disclosures, however, doesn’t shed much light on that: All she lists for “occupational income” is her Senate salary. Combined with some stock dividends, the grand total of disclosed income comes to no more than about $12,000 a year — even though the Houston Republican reported living in a River Oaks home appraised at $3.2 million.

One explanation for the gap might stem from something that’s not included in her ethics reports: any mention of the income or vast business holdings of her husband, nightclub owner and manager Keith Lawyer, who is tied to dozens of businesses with current or past filings at the office of the Texas secretary of state. Lawyer briefly became an issue in the Houston Republican’s 2008 Senate race, amid reports that Huffman received heavy support from interests tied to liquor, gambling and nightclubs.

Huffman says she has fully complied with state disclosure laws. And she lists interests in one business entity, a ranch partnership she owns with her husband, on her 2014 report.

But the Houston senator’s last-minute advocacy of controversial amendments widening the so-called “spousal loophole” — quietly slipped onto bills that were supposed to increase transparency — will make it even harder for voters to untangle the finances of their elected representatives in Austin.

Meanwhile, her role in pushing for the changes has sparked criticism from government watchdogs and her former Democratic opponent.

“This amendment does not suggest that she is interested in allowing constituents, Texans, or other legislators who are voting on bills she may bring or sponsor or champion, [to] know anything about areas in which she may have a conflict of interest,” said Rita Lucido, a Houston lawyer and Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Huffman last year.

Huffman said in an interview on Saturday night that she did not push the change in the law to shield her husband’s business interests from public view. And she said she has always disclosed what state ethics laws says she must.

“I think I report exactly what I’m required to report under the law, and I will continue to do so and follow the law utterly to its exact requirement,” she said.

Asked if she could afford to live on the limited income she reports on her ethics reports, Huffman said: “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

All together now: It’s what’s legal that’s the real scandal. Thanks for illustrating that so clearly to us, Joan. More here from the Trib and from the Lone Star Project, and a joint statement from TPJ and Public Citizen is here.

The fallout from the chubfest

Cleaning up some loose ends…The campus carry bill that was the subject of much chubbing passed on final reading.

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-story-top

The battle over “campus carry” is headed back to the Texas Senate after House lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation requiring universities in the state to allow concealed handguns on campus.

Senate Bill 11 from state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, narrowly avoided becoming a casualty of a key midnight deadline Tuesday before House members brokered a last-minute deal to accept several amendments limiting the measure’s reach.

Despite speculation that opponents would put up a fight before Wednesday’s vote on final passage, the measure sailed through in a 102-44 vote. Three Democrats — Tracy King of Batesville, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi — voted with Republicans for the measure.

The language added in the House exempts health facilities, lets universities carve out gun-free zones, and states that private colleges would have to follow the same rules as public universities. It is a significant departure from the version that passed the Senate, where Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

If the Senate does not concur with the new language, lawmakers will then head to conference committee to iron out their differences. After that, both chambers will have to approve the final version of the bill.

Seems unlikely to me that the Senate will concur with the changes, which both weakened and broadened the bill. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll take their chances in a conference committee. We’ll see.

Speaking on conference committee, that’s where the other carry bill is headed.

After outspoken opposition from the state’s law enforcement officials, the Texas House on Wednesday took a step toward removing a controversial provision from legislation allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns.

At the center of debate was language added to House Bill 910 in the Senate that limits the power of law enforcement to ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits. Opponents say that provision amounts to a backdoor effort to repeal licensing requirements for handgun-toting Texans altogether, endangering the lives of police officers and the public.

The issue will now be hashed out by Senate and House appointees behind closed doors in a conference committee.

The move to negotiate in conference committee passed against the wishes of the bill’s author, state Rep. Larry Phillips. The Sherman Republican said the language was needed to clarify current law.

He found support from some unlikely allies, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said the provision was needed to prevent racial profiling.

“I’m not willing to give up my liberty in order for the police to go catch some criminal,” said Dutton, who unsuccessfully proposed the amendment when the bill first came up in the House. He gave a fiery speech on Wednesday in favor of keeping the language, which had been added in the Senate by Republican Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

The two former police officers in the chamber — state Reps. Allen Fletcher of Houston and Phil King of Weatherford, both Republicans — also teamed up to argue against it.

King urged lawmakers to give law enforcement officials the courtesy of at least allowing a committee to explore a compromise on the issue.

“I honestly believe that the unintentional result of the amendment … is to make it very difficult to do their job,” said King.

The partisan dynamics of this one are interesting, to say the least. I have no idea what will happen in committee. As the story notes, if the process takes long enough, the bill could wind up being vulnerable to a last-day filibuster. Who will put on the pink sneakers this time?

The other bill that generated a bunch of chubbing was the ethics bill. That passed, too, but not without a lot of drama.

After a passionate and sometimes raunchy Tuesday night debate, the Texas House on Wednesday gave final sign-off to a far-reaching ethics reform package that would shine light on so-called “dark money” while heavily restricting undercover recordings in the state Capitol.

The bill faces a potentially bruising showdown with the Senate over the details. A stalemate could torpedo the bill, and along with it a significant chunk of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the session. But the 102-44 vote in favor of the Senate Bill 19 keeps it alive as the 2015 session comes to its dramatic finale over the next few days.

State Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican who has carried ethics reform in his chamber, quickly issued a statement on Tuesday night expressing “astonishment for the elimination of meaningful ethics reform” in the House version of the bill.

“Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment,” Taylor’s statement said. “This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raise doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”

The bill author, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said dark money has had a corrupting influence on politics in the United States and warned that without reforms those abuses will eventually visit Texas. In the 2012 election cycle, politically active non-profits spent more than $300 million in dark money to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A dark money scandal in Utah also brought down that state’s attorney general.

Quoting from a message to Congress from President Ronald Reagan, delivered in 1988, Cook said the right to free speech depends upon a “requirement of full disclosure of all campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions, and expenditures on behalf of any electoral activities.”

[…]

There’s a deep split among Republicans — and between the House and Senate — over the dark money provision in the bill. It would require that large contributions of dark money — or anonymous donations made to politically active nonprofits — be disclosed.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, objecting to the dark money and other provisions, tried to gut the bill, which he said was “designed to protect us from the people. It’s not designed to protect the people from us.”

But his amendment failed 133-33.

That means a showdown is looming, and that could jeopardize SB 19 once it leaves the House floor.

Which could mean a special session if it fails, since this was an “emergency” item for Abbott, though he hasn’t really acted like it’s that important to him since then. Once again I say, I have no idea what will happen, but it should be fun to watch.

As noted in the previous post, the last minute attempt to attach Cecil Bell’s anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill to an otherwise innocuous county affairs bill was likely to come to nothing – late last night, Rep. Garnet Coleman sent out a press release saying the bill had been pulled from consideration in the Senate, which settled the matter – but that didn’t stop the Senate from thumping its chest one last time.

Following an emotional floor debate, the Texas Senate passed a resolution Wednesday evening reaffirming the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage, an action taken as it became clear that a bill to prevent such marriages in Texas was dead.

The body’s 20 Republican senators and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted for Senate Resolution 1028, authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that affirmed “the present definition” of marriage in the state.

“This resolution is intended by those of us who signed it to demonstrate that we continue to support what the people of this state have expressed,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.

Whatever. I’m too tired to expend any energy on this. It has the same legal effect as me saying “Senate Republicans and Eddie Lucio are big fat poopyheads”, and about as much maturity.

Finally, here’s a look at criminal justice bills and where they stand – some good things have been done – and an analysis of how the rules were used as the clock waned. I’m ready for a drink, a long weekend, and sine die. How about you?

Senate bill to kill high speed rail advances

Didn’t know there was one of these.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-4 to pass out Senate Bill 1601, from state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would strip firms developing high-speed rail projects from eminent domain authority.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is developing a privately financed bullet train to carry passengers between Houston and Dallas in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop in between near College Station. The company has said it hopes to have the train running by 2021 and has vowed to not take any public subsidies. While the project has drawn strong support in Houston and Dallas, officials in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have expressed opposition.

Kolkhorst said Wednesday that she didn’t want to see private landowners lose their land for a project that she believed is likely to fail.

“While I think in some countries it has worked, I don’t see a whole lot of high-speed rail across the United States,” Kolkhorst said. “I just don’t see it, and I’m not sure I want Texas to be the guinea pig on this.”

Four Republicans joined Kolkhorst in voting for the bill: Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Voting against the bill were two Houston Democrats, Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, and two North Texas Republicans, Don Huffines of Dallas and Van Taylor of Plano.

[…]

Texas Central Chairman and CEO Richard Lawless told the committee he felt his company was being unfairly singled out.

“All that we ask that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” Lawless said. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

Those informational meetings sure look like a necessary idea. I noted a bill filed in the House that would have required each city and county along the route to approve the idea. Maybe that was overkill, as that bill has not been scheduled to be heard in committee as yet. What’s most interesting here is that the vote against it was bipartisan, with two Metroplex-area Senators not joining with their mostly rural colleagues (Kelly Hancock being the exception) on this. That suggests to me that this bill might have a hard time coming to the floor, or even getting a majority. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that. Hair Balls has more.

Bill filing deadline has passed

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway through the legislative session, and we have now passed the point where new bills can be filed.

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Racing to beat a deadline for filing bills, state lawmakers on Friday submitted hundreds of measures on everything from abolishing the death penalty to the licensing of auctioneers.

By the time the dust settled, 928 bills had been filed in the state House and Senate on Friday, setting the chambers up for a busy second half of the legislative session.

“Now, it’s game on,” longtime lobbyist Bill Miller said.

In all, some 8,000 measures are now before the 84th Legislature, including 4,114 House bills, 1,993 Senate bills and 1,771 resolutions.

[…]

The most high-profile bill filed Friday was an ethics reform package supported by Gov. Greg Abbott that long had been expected to be submitted by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. Abbott had declared ethics reform a legislative emergency item during his State of the State address last month.

Taylor’s proposal, known as Senate Bill 19 and also backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require state officials to disclose contracts with governmental entities, prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel for local and state governments and make departing legislators and statewide elected officials wait one legislative session before becoming lobbyists.

“There is no more valuable bond in democracy than the trust the people have with their government,” Taylor said in a statement. “The common-sense ethics reform outlined in Senate Bill 19 will strengthen that bond and send a clear message to the people of Texas that there is no place in government for those who betray the trust given to them by the voters.”

Tax policy also was a common theme, with [Rep. Dennis] Bonnen submitting his hotly anticipated proposal to cut business and sales taxes.

The Senate, which in some ways has been moving faster than the House, already has debated several tax proposals, and the issue is expected to be a priority focus of the session.

The Trib highlights a few bills of interest.

— House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.

— Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.

House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.

House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as “citizens” of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver’s licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.

“It also opens the door for future conversations about the very real fact that these Texans without status are here, they are not leaving, and we should be doing everything we can to help them find employment, housing and opportunity,” said Laura Stromberg Hoke, Rodriguez’s chief of staff.

— House Bill 3401 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, seeks to establish an interstate compact between interested states for the detection, apprehension and prosecution of undocumented immigrants.

— Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state’s informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg’s bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.

— House Bill 3785 from Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, would permit patients with cancer, seizure disorders, PTSD and other conditions to medical marijuana. The measure is broader than other bills filed this session that would only allow low-level THC oils to be used on intractable seizure patients.

— The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.

— State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, filed a pair of measures, House Bill 3839 and House Joint Resolution 142, which would ask voters to approve the creation of as many as nine casinos. Under Deshotel’s plan, most of the casinos would be built near the Texas coast, and a large portion of the tax revenue would go toward shoring up the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for coastal Texans.

— In an effort to pave the way for a Medicaid expansion solution that would get the support of conservatives, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 3845 to request a block grant from the federal government to reform the program and expand health care coverage for low-income Texans. Though GOP leaders have said they won’t expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, they’ve asked the feds for more flexibility to administer the program. Coleman’s proposal, titled the “The Texas Way,” intends to give the state more wiggle room while still drawing some Republican support.

Here’s a Statesman story about the casino bills. There’s been a distinct lack of noise around gambling expansion this session, which is change from other recent sessions. I suspect Rep. Deshotel’s proposals will go the way of those previous ones, but at least there’s a new angle this time.

Here’s a press release from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) in favor of the medical marijuana bill from Rep. Marquez; there is a not-yet-numbered companion bill to HB3785 in the Senate, filed by Sen. Jose Menendez, as well. Two other, more limited, medical marijuana bills, the so-called “Texas Compassionate Use Act”, were filed in February. I don’t know which, if any, will have a chance of passage. I will note that RAMP has been admirably bipartisan in its praise of bills that loosen marijuana laws. Kudos to them for that.

If you’re annoyed at Jodie Laubenberg going after reproductive choice again, it might help a little to know that Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 3966 to require some accountability for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers’. Her press release is here.

I am particularly interested in Rep. Coleman’s “Texas Way” Medicaid expansion bill. (A companion bill, SB 1039, was filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez.) I have long considered “block grant” to be dirty words in connection with Medicaid, so to say the least I was a little surprised to receive Rep. Coleman’s press release. I have complete faith in Rep. Coleman, so I’m sure this bill will move things in the direction he’s been pushing all along, but at this point I don’t understand the details well enough to explain what makes this bill different from earlier block grant proposals. I’ve sent an email to his office asking for more information. In the meantime, you can read Sen. Rodriguez’s press release and this Legislative Study Group coverage expansion policy paper for more.

Finally, one more bill worth highlighting:

The proposal introduced by out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) would prohibit mental health providers in Texas from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. Those who violate the law would face disciplinary action from state licensing boards.

Israel acknowledged that House Bill 3495 has little chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature, and it wouldn’t apply to faith-based practitioners, but she said it’s an important response to the Texas GOP’s 2014 platform plank endorsing reparative therapy.

“I don’t think that they recognize how hurtful these kinds of things can be,” Israel told the Observer. “To suggest that some young kid that happens to be gay is less than normal is very hurtful and harmful and dangerous, and I think I put myself back in those years when I was first discovering who I was. … I felt strongly about introducing a bill that was a counter to that, to say, ‘We don’t need fixing. We just need your love.’”

Virtually all of the major medical and mental health organizations have come out against reparative therapy, from the American Psychological Association to the American Medical Association and the American Counseling Association.

I agree that this bill isn’t going anywhere, but as I’ve been saying, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been filed. Good on Rep. Israel for doing what’s right. Equality Texas has more.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

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

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

Guns

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

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

Transportation

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

Health

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

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

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

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

Education

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

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

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

Voting

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

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

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

Energy and Environment

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

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

Other

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

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

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

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

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

Who will be on the Ten Best and Ten Worst lists?

The Trib starts the speculation.

Texas Monthly‘s list of the best and worst legislators of the 83rd session doesn’t come out until June 12, but why should Paul Burka and his colleagues have all the fun? Use this interactive to select your own personal best and worst list. Click or drag to put up to 10 House and/or Senate members in each column, then hit the button at the bottom of the page to submit your choices. You’ll be able to share your picks on Facebook and Twitter, and our leaderboard will aggregate everyone’s selections so you can see how yours stack up against theirs. We’ll have the final results after voting ends at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Voting for their list is now over, and a look at the leaderboard suggests to me that most of it was based on who the voters themselves like or dislike. The way Burka operates is pretty straightforward: He favors those who get things done and disfavors those who fail to get things done or get in the way of getting things done. He prefers good policy, to be sure, but ultimately this is about effectiveness and collaboration. I think after all these years I have a decent idea of the qualities he looks for in a Best or Worst member, and so here are my predictions about who will appear on his lists. Note that these are not necessarily the choices I would make if I were in charge of compiling these lists – I’d be much more about who worked the hardest for and against the greater good as I see it – but merely my guesses as to what Burka will say. By all means, feel free to chime in with your own prognostications, it’s more fun that way.

My guesses for the Ten Worst list

I will be shocked if Rep. Van Taylor, possibly the least popular member of either chamber, is not on the Worst list. He’s everything the Worst list is about – petty, rigid, obstructive, and so forth. Basically, he Does Not Play Well With Others, and that’s a sterling qualification for Worstness.

I will also be shocked if Sen. Joan Huffman is not on the list. Patricia Kilday Hart, who used to be Burka’s wingwoman on the Best & Worst lists, could easily be writing the entry for Huffman here:

* When exonerated inmates and their families appealed to the Texas Legislature to create an Innocence Commission, the last thing they expected was a lecture. But that’s what they got, courtesy of Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Huffman, a former judge and prosecutor, hijacked a committee hearing for a 10-minute peevish denunciation of the proposal as “second-guessing” prosecutors. Then she announced there was nothing anyone could say to change her mind. Waiting to testify was Cory Sessions, whose brother, Tim Cole, spent 14 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, before dying of an asthma attack. According to the Innocence Project, Texas has had more total exonerations (117) and DNA exonerations (48) than any other state in the country.

* Then, late Friday, Huffman chaired a conference committee that gutted a tough ethics bill that would have required lawmakers’ personal financial statements to be available online, and include disclosures of any family members’ income received from doing business with government entities. Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, called the conference committee’s decisions “a strategic assault on transparency.”

Again, these are textbook examples of Worstness in action. If Huffman isn’t on the list, the list has no meaning.

Those two are crystal clear. After that it gets murky. I’m guessing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for being generally ineffective at his job since at least 2007 and for trying to compensate for his ineptness by trying to channel Ted Cruz; Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who has every right to be aggrieved by Sen. Huffman’s treatment of the Innocence Commission bill but whose vengeance spree against Huffman resulted in the death of some non-controversial legislation; Rep. Drew Springer, for being obsessively meddlesome; Rep. Tom Craddick for his conflict of interest defense of the status quo at the Railroad Commission; and Rep. David Simpson, who was completely ineffective in his attempts to be obstructive. While I think there’s a case for their inclusion, and I say this as someone who likes Rep. McClendon and shares her frustration with Sen. Huffman, I will not be surprised by the inclusion or omission of any of them. Obviously, there will be others, as I’ve only suggested six names. These are the ones that stand out to me; I suspect there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that may affect the list that I’m not advised about.

My guesses for the Ten Best list

I think the strongest case can be made for the three key players in the budget deal – Sen. Tommy Williams, Rep. Jim Pitts, and Rep. Sylvester Turner. Williams and Pitts had a Herculean task navigating the budget through a minefield of competing interests and outside saboteurs. Budgeting is never easy, but in some ways it was more challenging this year with a surplus than last year with a deficit, since the ideologues who didn’t want to restore any of the cuts had to be beaten back, and some of the things that needed doing such as the SWIFT fund, required supermajorities. They did about as good a job of at least mollifying the people who wanted to get something productive done as you could ask for. Turner held the Democratic caucus together in holding out for the original deal they thought they were getting to restore much of the money that had been cut from public education even as they were threatened with a special session (you can now see why they didn’t cower at that threat), and he cut a deal on the System Benefit Fund that worked for both himself and Williams. In terms of Getting Things Done, these three certainly stood out.

For his handling of education bills, and for ensuring that vouchers were dead before they could get off the ground, I expect Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock to be included as a Best. It’ll be interesting to see how Burka deals with Aycock’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Dan Patrick, who did accomplish quite a bit with his charter school bill, and who was a team player on the bike trails bill, but who nonetheless made a spectacle of himself over vouchers, going so far as to imply that it was a civil rights issue. You can make a case for Patrick on both lists; I suspect Burka will note him in a sidebar but not include him on either.

Sens. Rodney Ellis and Robert Duncan deserve consideration for the discovery bill, while Ellis was his usual eloquent self on the matter of sunsetting tax breaks and Duncan shepherded potentially divisive bills on the Teacher Retirement System and Employee Retirement System in a way that was fiscally responsible and endorsed by the employees in question.

You know I’m no fan of hers, but Rep. Sarah Davis, along with Rep. Donna Howard, brokered a deal to restore much of the cuts made to family planning funds from 2011. Whether Davis herself helped her Republican colleagues come to the realization that sex is a leading cause of pregnancy or they figured it out on their own I can’t say, but this was a good accomplishment and I will not be surprised if Burka rewards Davis (and possibly but less likely Howard) for it.

These are the names that stand out to me. Again, there are surely others whose merits are less clear to me, but I feel comfortable putting forth these names as likely candidates. Who do you foresee gaining this biennial notoriety? Leave your own guesses and let us know.

Maybe I buried Medicaid expansion too soon

I still think it’s dead, but I could be wrong about that.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The fate of Medicaid reform in Texas could rest solely on an up-or-down vote on the 2014-15 budget.

State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, a member of the conference committee that is hashing out the differences between the House and Senate budget plans, said Monday he’s relatively confident that a rider stipulating the Legislature’s preferred Medicaid reform terms — like cost containment measures and private market reforms — for any deal with the federal government is “sticking” to the 2014-15 budget. The rider does not expand Medicaid, he clarified, and said he would be “happy to defend it” to his colleagues.

The 2014-15 budget is not yet finalized. Budget conferees are meeting Monday evening to discuss the health and human services section and could discuss the rider. It could also come up in future discussions on the proposed budget this week.

Republican lawmakers have made it clear that they won’t approve an expansion of Medicaid eligibility this session. And although some conservative GOP House members have vowed to reject the budget proposal if such a rider is included, Zerwas said the rider has the support of the majority of budget conferees. The budget does not include financing to expand Medicaid eligibility in the upcoming biennium.

“No amount may be expended to modify Medicaid eligibility unless the [Health and Human Services Commission] develops a plan to create more efficient health care coverage options for all existing and newly eligible populations,” states the budget rider, which was authored by Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

The rider also says the Legislative Budget Board, which includes the lieutenant governor and House speaker, must ensure that any deal reached with the federal government to expand Medicaid eligibility cuts uncompensated care costs; promotes the use of private coverage and health savings accounts; establishes wellness incentives, cost-sharing initiatives and pay-for-performance initiatives; and reduces the state’s need to gain federal approval to make “minor changes” to the program.

(You can read the budget rider here, under contingent provisions in Article 9, Sec. 17.12. Certain Medicaid Funds.)

[…]

The Senate has approved the rider, but the House approved a nonbinding motion directing budget conferees not to include the rider on the budget.

State Rep. Van Taylor, a Tea Party favorite from Plano, told the Tribune on Tuesday that the conservative faction of the House was prepared to vote down the budget, if it called for an expansion of Medicaid.

“John wants it. I want it — so there’s two of us” who want to include the rider in the budget, House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said on Tuesday.

I presume Sylvester Turner, who is also on the House conference committee, would be in favor of this as well. If so, then that should be enough support to include it. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. I’m sure Pitts is smart enough to not doom his own budget, but I don’t know how much faith I’d put in the Republicans; Democrats will have their own incentives, which may or may not line up with what Pitts wants. And if we are going to a special session as Burka is convinced we are, then I wouldn’t put it past Rick Perry to veto the budget out of spite. Let’s just say that the conference committee, which is meeting again and making some progress, is likely the lowest hurdle for this to clear.

Water infrastructure bill passes

This is good.

The Texas House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to create a revolving, low-interest loan program to help finance a new round of reservoirs, pipelines and other water-supply projects for the drought-stricken state.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 4 on a 146-2 vote, but left the question of how much seed money to provide the program for another day.

State Rep. Allan Ritter, a Nederland Republican who filed the bill, said a $2 billion capitalization could finance the state’s entire longrange water plan, which identifies 562 projects over the next half-century to satisfy the demands of a rapidly growing population.

The startup money would come from the state’s unencumbered Rainy Day Fund under separate legislation filed by Ritter. His HB 11 is pending in a House subcommittee on budget transparency and reform.

Ritter said the new fund could leverage $27 billion over the next 50 years for water-related infrastructure. The loan program, as designed, would allow the state to continue lending money for projects as earlier loans are paid back.

“This will work,” Ritter told House members to close a four-hour debate.

See here for some background on this program, which is called SWIFT, the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas. The good news about this is that conservation efforts were made an explicit part of SWIFT, and the forces of nihilism were beaten back, at least for the day. The Observer explains.

Despite the bill’s easy passage (there were 146 ‘ayes’ and just two ‘nos’), tea party-oriented members launched a challenge to key provisions in the bill-and spectacularly failed in what was another defeat for ideological enforcers like Michael Quinn Sullivan and Texans for Prosperity’s Peggy Venable, whose involvement in the spoiler effort lurked just beneath the surface of the debate.

Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) led an effort to remove a key water-conservation provision. HB 4 has earned the support of some conservationists because Ritter included a stipulation that at least 20 percent of the funding go toward water conservation. King’s amendment would’ve gutted that requirement. King’s fellow legislators didn’t buy it though; the amendment was killed with a vote of 104 to 41.

Rep. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) proposed amendments didn’t go over so well either. Taylor, for one, wanted to ban the transfer of Rainy Day Fund money to get the water bank rolling.

Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), in a moment of political drama, called Taylor out for being what he called “disingenuous.” He asked Taylor if, should his proposed amendment pass, he intended to vote for HB 4. Taylor replied that he would still not vote for the bill.

Larson blew up. “If you’re not going to vote for the bill and you’re offering up amendments, I think everyone in this body needs to recognize that. The idea of an amendment is to make the bill better … and what you’re doing I believe is disingenuous, to step up and offer amendments for political reasons, to try to gain some kind of favor instead of trying to make the bill legitimately better.” The House shot Taylor’s amendment down with a vote of 127 to 18.

Good for you, Rep. Larson. There are legitimate questions about using the Rainy Day Fund for this purpose, but that’s not where Rep. Taylor was coming from. The puppet masters behind his amendment were as always primarily interested in spending as little money as possible on anything, regardless of its merit or value. If the startup funds for SWIFT come out of general revenue instead of the Rainy Day Fund, there’s that much less money for other things, like schools and Medicaid and everything else. It was a bad amendment, offered in bad faith, and it got what it deserved. But that won’t be the end of it, because there’s a separate bill (HB11) to authorize the transfer of funds from the RDF, and of course the Senate hasn’t discussed its companion bill yet. There are still plenty of opportunities for the forces of darkness to do their thing. PDiddie and the Trib have more.

Primary date will not be moved

A bill that would have moved the primary elections in Texas to April was amended at the last minute to move up the filing deadline instead.

After a testy exchange, House lawmakers gave initial approval to a voting bill that would push up the election filing period in order to give military voters more time to get absentee ballots.

The outcome wasn’t what Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, wanted. The original bill carried by the military veteran, along with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, would have moved Texas’ primary from March to April, and moved runoffs from May to June. It was an effort to bring Texas in line with a federal rule granting overseas citizens at least 45 days to cast absentee ballots.

Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, amended Taylor’s bill to keep the primary date the same — the first Tuesday in March — but push the filing period from January into December in order to meet the terms of the federal MOVE Act. He said moving Texas’ already late primary date back would make the state a non-player in the presidential campaign season. And it would also bleed into spring break, complicating voting for many.

See here and here for some background. Runoffs will now be the fourth Tuesday in May, meaning they could be the day after Memorial Day. Some municipalities had previously expressed concerns about late April primaries conflicting with May city elections; I don’t know if this fully addresses that or not, and I don’t know how many places have May elections in even-numbered years, though I suspect they’re a much smaller group than the group that has them in odd-numbered years. I’m not thrilled about having the filing deadline be that much earlier – the election season seems to start early enough already, don’t you think? – but moving election dates around is tricky business, too. I’m not sure what would be best, but the Lege had to do something to comply with the federal statute. Trail Blazers has more.

Bill to move back primary date advances in House

From the DMN:

A Texas House committee on Friday unanimously passed a military voting bill that, among other things, would push the state’s political primaries into April from March.

The legislation also would move primary runoffs into June and might compel many cities to move their local elections from May to some other date. A Senate version of the same bill would keep the primary in March.

The intent of Senate Bill 100, sponsored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is to make it easier for military and other citizens abroad to vote. The bill would match up Texas law with new federal rules allowing citizens overseas at least 45 days to cast absentee ballots.

While the requirements only apply to federal elections, the 45-day requirement will force big changes to the state’s election calendar.

The bill passed Friday by the House Defense and Veterans’ Affairs committee would move the state’s 2012 primary from March 6 to the first Tuesday in April. Runoffs would move from April to June.

Here’s SB100, and here’s some background. SB100 has already passed the Senate, so House approval is all it needs. There’s some concern about the effect this might have on May elections – voting in April, May, and June is a lot – but I suppose that can be fixed as well. Regardless, this looks likely to happen, so we’d better be prepared for it.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

Moving the primaries back

In the 2007 legislative session, there was some energy to move the primary date up in Texas, on the theory that an earlier primary would finally enable Texas voters to have a say in the Presidential process, which was usually decided by the time our turn rolled around. That ultimately went nowhere, and it turned out to be for the best. Now the primary calendar may get pushed back a few weeks to accommodate a 2009 federal law aimed at making it easier for overseas military personnel to vote.

Texas must comply with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act requiring states to provide ballots to military personnel at least 45 days before an election. Making it easier for military personnel to vote will require Texas to change primary and runoff elections dates – resulting in longer campaigns for candidates and the public.

The early March primary election date will change – most likely to later in March or April. The runoff election – now six weeks after the primary – could move to May or late June or, possibly, even to July.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, are working to develop a bipartisan plan, which may not be so simple considering the Legislature includes as many election experts as there are members – 181. And most have an opinion. The major political parties also will have to sign off since they run the primary elections.

Sen. Van de Putte’s bill is SB100, and Rep. Taylor’s bill is HB111. The two are not the same, and so far it’s unclear that there’s a single approach preferred by a majority of either chamber. Among other things, having runoffs in June might present logistical issues, since many voting locations are schools, which would not be open at that time.

There’s another issue in all this that’s nagging at me as well:

Linda Green, installation voting assistance officer at Fort Sam Houston, said deployed troops have had problems voting by mail because ballots didn’t reach the personnel on time, or don’t get returned soon enough to be counted. But she said the Defense Department does an excellent job of providing resources to help with voting, including the assignment of a voting assistance officer to each unit – typically a captain or major.

I have to ask: Why aren’t we thinking about designing a system for these voters that doesn’t rely on slow mail delivery? Specifically, isn’t it time someone designed a system where they could vote over the Internet? Everyone in the military already has a unique ID. All they’ll need is an account and a password, and they’re good to go. The system can be designed to prevent anyone from voting more than once – hell, you could make it so that only a designated set of computers at a given location are authorized for voting, which must be done in the presence of the voting assistance officer. Obviously, this isn’t a problem that can be solved at a local or state level, so adjusting the elections calendar is the best the Lege can do, but still. This has got to be the right answer.

If you thought voter ID was bad…

Wait till you see what comes next.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has made national headlines for his “birther” bill that would require a candidate for president or vice president of the U.S. to show proof of natural-born citizenship to be placed on the ballot in Texas. He has also filed proposed legislation designed to provoke a legal challenge to the 14th Amendment, which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the U.S., regardless of the status of the child’s parents. House Bill 292, if passed, would prevent a county’s local registrar from issuing a birth certificate to a child born to undocumented immigrants in Texas.

“Instead, they will be given a notice of birth, with instructions to take it to their own consulate or embassy to get citizenship papers or a birth certificate from the country of their parents,” Berman said, explaining his bill. “If it passes, we expect to be sued immediately, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for — we want to be sued in federal court so that federal judges will finally read the 14th Amendment.” After that, he said, it’ll only be a matter of time before the federal government realizes the amendment was ratified in 1868 only for those children born in the U.S. to black slaves.

Berman has also authored a bill — HB 294 — that would ban undocumented immigrants from suing legal Texans. They could not seek “equitable relief as a counter claimant or a cross claimant,” according to the legislation.

“If you have an accident with a car driven by an illegal alien, you are going to pay for your own car. But if you hit them, they are going to get an attorney, an abogado, and they are going to try and sue you for everything you’re worth,” he said. “I have asked several lawyers, and they said it is constitutional.”

[…]

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has drawn the ire of Hispanic Democrats, educators and others for her proposed legislation — HB 22 — that would mandate that public schools keep track of the immigration status of students by requiring that they submit a copy of their birth certificates or other documents indicating their residency status “for inspection” by school officials at the time of enrollment. The bill also requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to submit information on the number of students enrolled in bilingual education or special language programs, and to “identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education provided to students who are citizens that may occur as a result.”

Critics have argued the requirement would be an unfunded mandate — the bête noire of conservative lawmakers opposed to many federal mandates — and that preventing the education of any child in Texas is inherently unconstitutional.

[…]

HB 21, also filed by Riddle, would require that state agencies report the costs of providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. Local governmental entities that receive state grants would also be required to submit that information to the grant provider.

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation that targets legal aliens who are requesting indigent care. HB 655, if passed, would offer counties the option of adopting a policy that would consider the income of a legal alien’s sponsor if that alien applied for indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support. The sponsor’s spouse’s income could also be included in the determination of an alien’s eligibility for indigent care.

Boy, sure is a good thing Aaron Pena became a Republican so he could be a “moderating influence” on these guys. I just know they can’t wait to be persuaded by his unassailable logic.

Three more election tidbits

Tidbit #1: The city of Irving had its first election with its court-ordered single member Council districts.

Voters ousted one sitting council member and sent another into a runoff election. They also put two minorities on what has been an all-white council and rejected three out of four proposed city charter amendments.

Roy Santoscoy, who is Hispanic, beat sitting council member Tom Spink for the open at-large District 2 seat. Mike Gallaway, who is black, handily beat Trini C. Gonzalez, who is Hispanic, in the single-member District 1 race.

[…]

Irving is one of the most diverse cities in North Texas. About 43 percent of its population is Hispanic. During the voting rights trial, attorneys for plaintiff Manuel Benavidez used the loss of previous Hispanic candidates as evidence that single-member districts were needed to give Hispanics representation on the council.

Ironically, the Hispanic candidate lost in single-member District 1 and a Hispanic political newcomer won the only at-large race. Gallaway, who won the District 1 seat, is a 45-year-old senior inventory planner and owns a south Irving boutique with his wife. Santoscoy, who won the District 2 seat, is a former planning and zoning commissioner and owns a pawn shop on Irving Boulevard.

However the City Council got to be more diverse, the point is that it did. That’s a good thing.

Tidbit #2: The Republican candidate who lost the GOP primary runoff to replace retiring State Rep. Brian McCall, defeated the runoff winner in a special election to fill out the remainder of McCall’s term.

Mabrie Jackson, who pulled out of the race for state Rep. Brian McCall’s unexpired term, beat Van Taylor in Saturday’s special election, winning 56 percent of the vote to his 44 percent, according to Collin County’s election results.

That’s a little awkward.

[…]

Turnout was lower in the special than in the runoff or the primary, probably because both candidates were campaigning. And they weren’t campaigning this time because … it’s over. Jackson pulled out of the special election. The Secretary of State named Taylor the only candidate and therefore the winner, calling the result and ending the race. And Collin County let it tail out, counting votes in an already decided election where no one asked for support.

So…does that mean the election didn’t really happen? I’m a little confused here.

Tidbit #3: Juanita summarizes the election results from Fort Bend County as only she can. Check it out.