2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Ten: Down to the wire

Here we go, the penultimate day and the day where we really see the uptick in early voting:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   7,458   23,080   30,538
2016  12,202   53,302   65,504
2020  21,658   82,365  104,023
2024  14,002   65,756   79,758

2012  16,968   47,152   64,120
2016  18,876   79,276   98,152
2020  21,340   65,793   87,133
2024   5,709   80,435   86,144

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Ten totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Here’s the Derek Ryan report through Wednesday. Not a whole lot to say. I think we’re on track for 100K Dem early votes, and 105-110K early Republican votes. Dems did surpass the final 2012 turnout as expected, and are about 7K away from surpassing final early turnout from 2016. The numbers are about where I thought they’d be – they don’t feel loud, but they’re perfectly fine. I’m surrounded by advertising – multiple mailers every day, I’m stalked all over the web and social media by more candidates than I can keep track of, and the other day when we briefly had the KHOU 6 PM news on I saw commercials for Kim Ogg and Judge RK Sandill. Good thing I’m not listening to the radio, I can only imagine how many ads I’d have consumed by now.

I said I’d look back at past primaries to see how final turnout compared to early voting. Here’s what I have, and I must say I was a little surprised:


Election   Early    E-Day    Total  Early%
==========================================
2012 D    38,911   37,575   75,150  51.78%
2012 R    79,507   84,473  163,980  48.49%

2014 D    31,688   22,100   53,788  58.91%
2014 R    77,768   61,935  139,703  55.67%

2016 D    87,605  139,675  227,280  38.54%
2016 R   134,827  194,941  329,768  40.89%

2018 D    92,847   75,135  167,982  55.27%
2018 R    85,925   70,462  156,387  54.94%

2020 D   145,148  183,338  328,426  44.19%
2020 R   107,589   88,134  195,723  54.97%

2022 D    99,514   67,665  167,179  59.53%
2022 R   108,219   85,172  188,391  57.44%

I stopped at 2012 because early voting was still pretty new and novel in 2008, and I didn’t need any more non-Presidential years so I skipped 2010. I have three thoughts about these numbers: One, Republicans generally vote more in primaries than Democrats, even as Democrats have been the bigger share of the November vote since 2016. Two, Republicans have voted more heavily in the EV period than Dems in two of the last three Presidential cycles, which I admit surprises me a little. Given the recent Republican push for Election Day voting only, we’ll see if that trend continues. And three, I’m shocked at how much of the vote has been on Election Day overall, especially in the Presidential years. Given the supersized share of early voting in November in recent years, this was not at all what I expected.

Now, none of this means I’m going to make a prediction about what final turnout will look like this year. I’ve learned that lesson. History suggests that half or more of the Dem vote will still be out as of Friday night. I have no idea what it will be this year, but if you want to guess that Tuesday will be about half the total, at least for Dems, I won’t shake my head at you. I just won’t join you out on that limb.

One more day to go, the busiest day of the EV period. I assume some number of you are saving yourselves for Tuesday, because past history clearly suggests a lot of folks do that. If you haven’t voted yet, when are you planning to do so?

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SB4 blocked by federal court

Good.

A federal judge in Austin on Thursday halted a new state law that would allow Texas police to arrest people suspected of crossing the Texas-Mexico border illegally.

The law, Senate Bill 4, was scheduled to take effect Tuesday. U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued a preliminary injunction that will keep it from being enforced while a court battle continues playing out. Texas is being sued by the federal government and several immigration advocacy organizations. Texas appealed the ruling to the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ezra said in his order Thursday that the federal government “will suffer grave irreparable harm” if the law took effect because it could inspire other states to pass their own immigration laws, creating an inconsistent patchwork of rules about immigration, which has historically been upheld as being solely within the jurisdiction of the federal government.

“SB 4 threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice,” Ezra wrote.

Ezra also wrote that if the state arrested and deported migrants who may be eligible for political asylum, that would violate the Constitution and also be “in violation of U.S. treaty obligations.”

“Finally, the Court does not doubt the risk that cartels and drug trafficking pose to many people in Texas,” Ezra wrote in his ruling. “But as explained, Texas can and does already criminalize those activities. Nothing in this Order stops those enforcement efforts. No matter how emphatic Texas’s criticism of the Federal Governments handling of immigration on the border may be to some, disagreement with the federal government’s immigration policy does not justify a violation of the Supremacy Clause.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t think this ruling will come as a surprise to anyone, it’s completely consistent with existing precedent. Of course the goal for Greg Abbott and the radicals he represents is to overturn that precedent on the whims of the current SCOTUS, and that may well pan out for them. In the meantime, they’ll go scurrying to the Fifth Circuit for its usual concierge service. Don’t expect this law to be on hold for too long once they get a crack at it. I would love to be wrong about that. The Chron and the Current have more.

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Firefighter back pay update

Just tell me what the bill’s gonna be.

Mayor John Whitmire

The city of Houston and its firefighters are nearing an agreement to resolve their bitter, yearslong pay dispute, with specifics expected to take additional weeks or months to finalize, according to city and union officials.

The city typically renegotiates contracts with the firefighters union every few years, but the two parties were unable to reach an agreement in 2017, leading to an ongoing legal battle and leaving the firefighters without a contract ever since.

Mayor John Whitmire’s administration previously set an end-of-February deadline to resolve all aspects of the dispute and outline a plan to finance the substantial payments. While both sides expressed satisfaction with the progress of the negotiations, Whitmire acknowledged the city is unlikely to meet this target.

“The negotiations are complicated and ongoing,” Whitmire said. “We are taking additional time to gather the necessary information and reach a successful conclusion: the best outcome for the City of Houston and our firefighters.”

Still, both City Attorney Arturo Michel and firefighters union president Marty Lancton told the Chronicle they are hopeful they can finalize basic terms in the coming days, possibly at their next meeting Thursday afternoon.

These terms will cover the total back pay the city will pay to firefighters split into broad categories such as base pay, special pay and interest. They will also likely touch on their future contracts for the next three years, according to Michel. However, developing the agreement to the extent that firefighters of various classifications know their exact compensation may take two to three more months, he said.

[…]

The Greater Houston Partnership recently estimated the back pay owed to firefighters could cost the city between $500 million and $600 million. Michel said covering these costs would likely involve a mix of general fund dollars and debt issuance. He added that depending on the bond type, its issuance may require approval from a judge or a referendum from voters.

See here for the previous update. How we pay for this will be almost as important as how much we pay. I figure it would complicate things greatly if a future referendum on bonds for the back payments fails to pass. I think the odds of that are very low, but I do hope someone contemplates a Plan B for just in case. You never know.

UPDATE: Last night around 8:30 PM this hit my inbox.

The City of Houston and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association have reached a tentative agreement that will resolve all outstanding pay issues for Houston firefighters dating back to 2017. The announcement comes just seven weeks into Mayor John Whitmire’s term.

“A world-class city like Houston deserves a well-funded fire department to attract and retain talented individuals who are willing to risk their safety for us during our times of need,” said Mayor Whitmire. “Houston’s fire department should be at or near the top among the major cities in our state. This agreement resolves a long – festering pay dispute with firefighters, avoids further unnecessary litigation costs, and allows us to move forward together.”

The Mayor’s sentiments reflect his views to assist and support all City departments and employees. Mayor Whitmire urges “all Houstonians to support every effort to fund public safety in Houston.”

“During my campaign, I committed to Houstonians that I would resolve this issue beginning on my first day in office. I am pleased that we have reached this tentative agreement within the first two months. I will ask City Council members and all Houstonians to support this arrangement once final details are settled with our partners at the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.”

Mayor Whitmire also noted that each side made important compromises to reach this agreement and thanked both parties for their efforts over the last two months.

No details in this or the identical press release from the HPFFA that I also received. I’m sure we’ll learn more soon enough. Congratulations on getting to an agreement. Now we await the price tag.

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NASA needs more Mars simulation astronauts

Your next job opportunity.

CHAPEA mission 1 crew (NASA/Josh Valcarcel)

NASA is seeking applicants to participate in its next simulated one-year Mars surface mission to help inform the agency’s plans for human exploration of the Red Planet. The second of three planned ground-based missions called CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) is scheduled to kick off in spring 2025.

Each CHAPEA mission involves a four-person volunteer crew living and working inside a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The habitat, called the Mars Dune Alpha, simulates the challenges of a mission on Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failures, communication delays, and other environmental stressors. Crew tasks include simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop growth.

NASA is looking for healthy, motivated U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are non-smokers, 30-55 years old, and proficient in English for effective communication between crewmates and mission control. Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA’s work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars.

The deadline for applicants is Tuesday, April 2.

https://chapea.nasa.gov/

Crew selection will follow additional standard NASA criteria for astronaut candidate applicants. A master’s degree in a STEM field such as engineering, mathematics, or biological, physical or computer science from an accredited institution with at least two years of professional STEM experience or a minimum of one thousand hours piloting an aircraft is required. Candidates who have completed two years of work toward a doctoral program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, completed a medical degree, or a test pilot program will also be considered. With four years of professional experience, applicants who have completed military officer training or a bachelor of science degree in a STEM field may be considered.

Compensation for participating in the mission is available. More information will be provided during the candidate screening process.

See here and here for some background. The first CHAPEA mission “launched” on June 25 last year and are scheduled to be on that mission for a little more than a year. I presume the crew’s entry into the habitat will be after the first crew emerges, though you’ll get started with training and whatnot before then. If you have the background and the interest, why not check it out? On the list of unique experiences, this would be pretty high up there.

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2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Nine: Two more to go

A slight uptick yesterday in early voting, with the two big days to come.


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,719   19,324   22,752
2016  11,367   45,552   56,919
2020  19,400   66,322   85,722
2024  12,448   55,456   67,904

2012  15,239   39,482   54,721
2016  17,964   62,072   84,036
2020  20,393   55,499   75,892
2024   5,162   68,231   73,393

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Nine totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Dems should easily reach final overall turnout from 2012 today. I was asked in the comments of a previous post about comparisons to 2022, and you can see those numbers along with the 2018 numbers here. Both are greater than 2016 but less than 2020, and I’d guess that 2024 tops them, though not by a huge amount.

Here’s the Derek Ryan report through Tuesday. He speculates that final Dem primary turnout statewide will be around where 2022 was, which I will note was one of the best off-year primary totals for Dems in this century, and wonders why the Senate race hasn’t generated more interest. Not that much money spent in it is my guess for that, while the Republican primary is awash in money from voucher vultures and Paxton pimps. That’s my explanation for why the Harris County GOP is running slightly ahead of the Dems despite having fewer local races of interest. Presidential primary plus oligarch cash goes a long way.

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Paxton sues Pornhub under the currently-enforceable state anti-porn law

Welp.

Way more indecent

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week sued a major online porn distributor in an effort to enforce a new state law mandating age verification and purported health warnings on adult websites.

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Austin on Monday, accuses the adult-entertainment company Aylo of violating House Bill 1181, a new state content-warning law for websites. A Montreal-based company, Aylo runs a number of major online porn brands, including Pornhub.

Among other rules, HB 1181 requires that porn websites “use reasonable age verification methods” to “verify that an individual attempting to access the material is 18 years of age or older.” It also orders such websites to post controversial health warnings that pornography “weakens brain function,” “is proven to harm human brain development” and “is associated with low self-esteem and body image, eating disorders, impaired brain development, and other emotional and mental illnesses.”

According to the lawsuit, minors who visit Aylo’s pornographic websites are either “immediately presented with sexual material” or “are asked to complete the trivial step of clicking an ‘enter’ button.” As a result, the suit says, Aylo has completely failed to comply with HB 1181.

The suit seeks an injunction forcing Aylo to use age verification and display the required health warnings. Texas also wants hefty fines, including $1.6 million in civil penalties plus $10,000 per day dating back to Sept. 19, 2023 — the day when the Fifth Circuit first greenlit the law.

[…]

Last year, a coalition of porn-industry insiders — including a free-speech group focused on pornography — won an injunction blocking the law.

Their original suit, filed in federal court in Austin, described HB 1181 as part of a “long tradition of unconstitutional — and ultimately failed — governmental attempts to regulate and censor free speech on the internet.” Rather than imposing new content restrictions, “Texas could easily spread its ideological, anti-pornography message through public service announcements and the like,” the suit argued.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra, a Reagan appointee, ultimately found those arguments persuasive. Among other factors, he determined that rules requiring health warnings in 14-point font were overly burdensome and ambiguous, as “text size on webpages is typically measured by pixels, not points.”

In his ruling from August, Ezra also cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a longstanding standard that protects online publishers from liability for content produced by third-parties. Without explaining its reasoning, the conservative Fifth Circuit overruled that injunction, including with a one-page administrative stay in September. Those orders paved the way for Texas to enforce the law, including with this latest suit.

See here, here, and here for the background. It’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where Aylo will want this to actually get to a courtroom, because it sure seems like they’d lose. What they would surely prefer is either a quick settlement or to drag things out for as long as possible in the hope that the Free Speech Coalition eventually succeeds in getting the law permanently blocked. I don’t know what their risk tolerance is or whether the timeline of the federal lawsuit is amenable to that strategy. We’ll see how this plays out. Bloombeg Law has more.

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The state of robotaxis in 2024

Good read.

A driverless Cruise car sits in traffic on Austin Street in downtown Houston on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

In 2023, it almost felt as if the promise of robotaxis was soon to be fulfilled. Hailing a robotaxi had briefly become the new trendy thing to do in San Francisco, as simple and everyday as ordering a delivery via app. However, that dream crashed and burned in October, when a serious accident in downtown San Francisco involving a vehicle belonging to Cruise, one of the leading US robotaxi companies, ignited distrust, casting a long shadow over the technology’s future.

Following that and another accident, the state of California suspended Cruise’s operations there indefinitely, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation of the company. Since then, Cruise has pulled all its vehicles from the road and laid off 24% of its workforce.

Despite that, other robotaxi companies are still forging ahead. In half a dozen cities in the US and China, fleets of robotaxis run by companies such as Waymo and Baidu are still serving anyone who would like to try them. Regulators in places like San Francisco, Phoenix, Beijing, and Shanghai now allow these vehicles to drive without human safety operators.

However, other perils loom. Robotaxi companies need to make a return on the vast sums that have been invested into getting them up and running. Until robotaxis become cheaper, they can’t meaningfully compete with conventional taxis and Uber. Yet at the same time, if companies try to increase adoption too fast, they risk following in Cruise’s footsteps. Waymo, another major robotaxi operator, has been going more slowly and cautiously. But no one is immune to accidents.

“If they have an accident, it’s going to be big news, and it will hurt everyone,” says Missy Cummings, a professor and director of the Mason Autonomy and Robotics Center at George Mason University. “That’s the big lesson of this year. The whole industry is on thin ice.”

MIT Technology Review talked to experts about how to understand the challenges facing the robotaxi industry. Here’s how they expect it to change in 2024.

The first challenge given is that right now at least the robotaxis are so much more expensive than regular old human-driven taxis. That’s partly because of the plethora of new technology that these vehicles carry, partly because of the need for remote human operators for those that don’t have emergency drivers, and as one quoted expert put it “These companies are competing with an Uber driver who, in any estimate, makes less than minimum wage, has a midpriced car, and probably maintains it themselves”. I wrote a long time ago when Uber was in the robotaxi space that switching to autonomous vehicles would completely upend their existing business model, as they would now have to own, maintain, store, and insure their entire fleet rather than depend on their drivers to provide it. I’m sure at some point as the technology matures and other costs subside that this model will make more sense than and be more competitive with the existing one. I just don’t know how long that will take and if the companies that are pursuing this will be willing to spend the money and incur the losses it will take to get there. The Cruise experience isn’t a good omen for them. Go read the rest.

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Texas blog roundup for the week of February 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows that banning IVF won’t be the end of it for the forced-birth zealots as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading

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2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Eight: That was Tuesday

We are at the point of the early voting calendar where I begin to run out of clever intros.


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,381   16,371   22,752
2016  10,970   34,419   45,389
2020  18,503   54,325   72,728
2024  10,440   47,185   57,625

2012  13,509   33,563   47,072
2016  16,433   49,692   66,125
2020  19,690   47,281   66,971
2024   4,454   57,913   62,367

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Eight totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

I don’t really have a lot to add at this point. Final total turnout in the 2012 Democratic primary was about 76K, and we’ll probably reach that on Thursday. Final early voting turnout for 2016 was about 86K, and if we don’t reach that on Thursday we’ll get there and more on Friday. Dems still have a lot of mail ballots out, I’d guess maybe 5K of them get returned by Friday, but it could be more. Overall I’d say this is going more or less as I thought it might. What do you think? Have you voted yet?

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The HPD suspended cases situation

I don’t know what to make of this.

A review of sex crimes cases suspended with an internal code citing a lack of personnel has expanded department-wide to include more than 264,000 cases, Police Chief Troy Finner said Monday.

The dropped cases makes up about 10% of the department’s 2.8 million filed since 2016, Finner said. About 100,000 of those are property crimes, he wrote.

Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers Association, said he was concerned about the latest revelations. The union president said Monday at least three of the department’s division Standard Operating Procedures included directives about when to use the code to close cases.

The divisions included auto theft, vehicular crimes and major assaults and family violence, Griffith said. The major assault guidelines were signed off on by Finner Dec. 1, 2023, Griffith said.

[…]

Griffith said employees were instructed they could use the code on misdemeanor cases with little solvability. He said other cases could be suspended using that code, but those could be reopened if someone reaches out to the department seeking charges, Griffith said.

“But that’s incumbent on victims reaching out to authorities, which is a problem,” Griffith said.

Griffith previously said about 2,000 sexual assault cases had been dropped because of the lack of personnel code, before Finner revealed it was closer to 4,000.

This is building on an earlier story about the use of the code on sexual assault cases.

The Houston Police Department’s review into sexual assault investigations revealed the number of closed cases since 2021. Police administrators have launched an investigation to determine who was closing out cases using the code to signify lack of personnel, Griffith said Wednesday, one day before Chief Troy Finner is set to address the cases in a Thursday afternoon news conference. But there’s no reason to believe sexual assault investigators were the only ones who’ve used it, Griffith said.

“We didn’t even know there was such a code,” Griffith said. “We don’t know how many other types of crimes were cleared this way. It’s a large investigation to see how many and what types of cases this affects.”

Griffith didn’t have specific numbers of investigators in the sexual assault crimes unit, but said most investigative units were down between 10% to 15%. He explained that the department provides codes to close cases in many different instances – perhaps a complainant wants to withdraw charges, or maybe investigators run out of leads in another case, Griffith said. But lack of manpower shouldn’t be a reason, he argued.

The department investigated between 20,000 and 23,000 felony cases each year since 2021.

Griffith said he suspects someone started intentionally using the code and then, for whatever reason, a supervisor allowed it to continue.

[…]

In January, a new group, the Harris County Sexual Assault Response Team, released a report showing of the more than 2,200 sexual assaults reported to the county’s largest law enforcement agencies over nearly two years, 60 led to convictions while hundreds more remain unresolved.

The response team was created in 2021 after state lawmakers passed a law requiring counties to establish unified groups that share resources and information about local sex crimes. The law, Senate Bill 476, requires the team to create a protocol on how sexual assaults should be investigated and an annual report detailing the number of sexual assaults reported, investigated and prosecuted in a given year.

Sonia Corrales, deputy CEO for the Houston Area Women’s Center and one of the members of the new response team, said she wasn’t sure whether the report is connected to Finner’s announcement. But she said she is hopeful that through the review, leaders are doing what they can to make sure victims of sexual assault get the help they need.

“I hope by looking at this, we can get to the root of the problem and address the issue,” she said.

I mean, I can totally understand how HPD could get overwhelmed at times and do something like this as a matter of triage. The fact that the use of this code continued long after investigators were told to stop doesn’t say much for oversight within the department. That the solve rate for sexual assaults was barely three percent is mind-boggling, and we wouldn’t even know that figure if it hadn’t been for that new state law. This revelation unfortunately explains a lot, not in a good way.

As bad as all this is, at least now we know about it and can try to do something about it. The Mayor is going to spend more money on HPD because that’s what he promised during his campaign, and that should have some effect. But if we’re not using our police resources effectively and we’re not tracking results and holding them accountable when those results are unsatisfactory, then we’re not going to get anything different. Up to Mayor Whitmire and HPD leadership what happens from here.

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You’re not going to fall for Greg Abbott’s BS about IVF, are you?

Let’s count the ways in which he dodged and weaved.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that he supports Texas families having access to in vitro fertilization treatments and has “no doubt” the state will address issues raised by a recent controversial court ruling out of Alabama. Abbott did not call on the Legislature to take specific action to protect IVF treatment.

“Texas is a pro-life state, and we want to do everything possible that we can to maintain Texas being a pro life state,” Abbott told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday. “But at the very same time … we as a state want to ensure that we promote life, we bring more life into the world and we empower parents to be able to have more children.”

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under a state law that allows parents to sue for wrongful death of minor children.

“Unborn children are ‘children’,” Alabama Supreme Court Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in the ruling, “without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.”

[…]

The ruling applies only to Alabama and does not impact the legality of IVF treatment in Texas. But it has opened thorny questions about “fetal personhood” — the legal concept that a fetus should be afforded the same rights as a living child — that many Republicans have tried to sidestep, especially in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential elections.

In Sunday’s interview, Abbott voiced his support for former President Donald Trump’s statement on the issue, in which Trump said he strongly supports the availability of IVF “in every State in America” for couples “who are trying to have a precious baby.”

[…]

Abbott said Texas wants to make it easier, not harder, for people to have babies, and IVF “is a way of giving life to even more babies.”

“I think the goal is to make sure that we can find a pathway to ensure that parents who otherwise may not have the opportunity to have a child will be able to have access to the IVF process and become parents and give life to babies,” Abbott said.

But Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said there were specific scenarios and fact questions that would need to be parsed, including what happens to the frozen embryos if the person who created them died or the couple got divorced.

“These are very complex issues where I’m not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are,” Abbott said. “And as a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are.”

The article also reminds us of a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Galveston by a man who alleges that three women helped his ex-wife get an abortion. It was a wrongful death lawsuit in Alabama that led to the anti-IVF ruling, and the plaintiff’s lawyers in this suit include extreme forced birther Jonathan Mitchell, who I assure you knows exactly what he’s doing here.

As for Abbott, note that nowhere in that word salad of his does he ever say that the Alabama Supreme Court decision was wrong or bad or even that he disagreed with it. No, they just went a little further than he’d have gone, that’s all. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about. He’s not going to propose any specific laws to prevent what happened in Alabama from happening here, nor does he voice any support for a national law to protect IVF, like the one that Republicans blocked in the Senate in 2022. (To be fair, Abbott is far from alone in not knowing how to respond to this.)

Also, too, he does not mention that the Texas Republican Party platform “[calls] on Texas schools to teach the “dignity of the preborn human” and that life begins at fertilization”, which is exactly the thing you have to believe in to get to a court ruling against IVF on the grounds that all of those frozen embryos are actually real live children. Nor does he mention the Life At Conception Act, introduced last year in the House and featuring 17 cosponsors from Texas, which declares that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual comes into being”. And while Abbott is out there being mealy-mouthed, his buddies at CPAC are applauding the Alabama ruling and calling on other Republicans to support it.

So yeah. Don’t be a chump. Greg Abbott may want you to think he’ll protect access to IVF, but literally everything about him says otherwise. What are you going to believe? Reform Austin, Axios, and the WaPo have more.

Posted in Show Business for Ugly People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Preparing for the World Cup

FIFA requires real grass for its World Cup stadia, so NRG will be installing grass in 2026.

The World Cup won’t hit Houston for another 28 months, but NRG Stadium and city officials already are preparing for the seven matches coming to town in June and July of 2026.

NRG Stadium is one of 16 stadiums in North America — 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada — hosting the next World Cup with Houston getting a Round of 32 match on June 29 and a Round of 16 match on July 4. The stadium’s five group stage matches will be on June 14, 17, 20, 23 and 26.

The stadium itself is undergoing some improvements, including a $34 million project to upgrade the sustainability and efficiency of the building. That will include all the lighting throughout NRG Park being replaced with LED lighting and the stadium lights being improved to make sure it properly covers the wider soccer pitch.

The most noticeable change will be the grass field required by FIFA for all World Cup matches. The plan is for grass to be installed in the stadium at the beginning of May 2026 to give it more than a month to settle.

“To put it in layman’s terms, we’re going to have one of the greatest grass fields that you can have,” said Chris Canetti, president of Houston’s World Cup host committee. “This is a requirement for the FIFA World Cup. We will have a substantial system that’s put in place for this grass field. We’re going to build it as though it was going to be permanent. However, it’s going to have to be taken out at the end.”

The Texans originally played on grass inside the stadium before replacing it with artificial turf in 2015.

“Whether or not a grass surface can exist in the future is certainly not for us to determine,” said Canetti, deferring to the Texans.

See here for some background. As I recall, the reason why they replaced the grass that had been in then-Reliant Stadium was that they had a hard time keeping it alive, and eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort. They’ll only need it for seven games in a three-week stretch so one would think this is well within reason, but I’m sure everyone here is aware of that history.

Did I say “NRG Stadium”? Because it won’t be called that while the FIFA folks are in town.

NRG Energy is paying a lot of money for its name to be on the Houston Texans stadium, but none of that will be apparent when World Cup matches are played in NRG Stadium in 2026.

FIFA refuses to acknowledge corporate stadium names, despite many naming rights agreements being in place long before host cities even put in a bid to lure the tournament to town.

So, due to FIFA regulations, the seven matches at NRG Stadium actually will be played at “Houston Stadium.” It will be the same for all 16 stadiums hosting World Cup matches. SoFi Stadium will be called “Los Angeles Stadium”, the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium will be designated “Dallas Stadium”, even though it’s located in Arlington, and MetLife Stadium gets the even clunker moniker “New York/New Jersey Stadium.”

“Going way back to the bid process, there’s always things that you work through before you even bid for an event, so we are super thankful to our corporate community, especially NRG in this case for stepping up and agreeing even before we put the bid in to help us with this,” Harris County Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke said.

[…]

FIFA’s rules require stadium signs to be covered and not referred to during game broadcasts unless those companies strike separate agreements with the governing body. Deals struck outside of FIFA are considered “ambush marketing” that devalues their own sponsorships.

“We consider ambush marketing to be a priority in our brand protection work, as this practice puts FIFA’s commercial program directly at risk by effectively devaluing official sponsorship,” the organization posted on its website. “The World Cup tournaments are the result of significant efforts to develop and promote the tournaments, something which would not be possible without the financial support of our commercial affiliates. Ambush marketers try to take advantage of the goodwill and positive image generated by the FIFA tournaments without contributing to their organization.”

Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to mess with FIFA’s marketing integrity. I’m wondering if NRG will get some kind of rebate for this period, like how the cable company will offer to prorate your monthly bill when there’s an extended outage. Oh, and speaking as a New York boy, they could have done worse than “New York/New Jersey Stadium” – they could have called it “Tri-State Metropolitan Area Stadium”.

Posted in Other sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Seven: Week 2 begins

Week Two is where the action really begins, though usually you don’t see the first hint of it until Wednesday. Let’s check the board:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,295   13,763   18,058
2016  10,180   28,367   38,547
2020  16,651   44,349   61,000
2024   9,281   40,016   49,297

2012  13,339   28,411   41,750
2016  14,681   40,537   55,218
2020  18,949   39,216   58,165
2024   4,291   48,728   53,019

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Seven totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Republicans had a slightly better day than Democrats but they’re still within shouting distance of each other. Dems also still have about 16K mail ballots that haven’t been returned yet. Republicans have returned about half of their mail ballots so only have about 4K more to go. That could help make up some of the difference.

Here’s the Derek Ryan report, which runs through the weekend. Through Sunday, 521,000 people have voted in the Republican Primary (2.9% of all registered voters), and 257,000 people have voted in the Democratic Primary (1.4% of all registered voters). Out of curiosity, I went back to my six day report and calculated that as of the weekend, Harris County was responsible for about 15.1% of all Democratic primary votes statewide, and 8.4% of all Republican votes. That’s more or less in line with recent figures for Dems, and a furtherance of the decline for Republicans. I don’t know if that means anything, I’m just noting it for the record.

I feel like I saw more “I voted” posts on Facebook yesterday among my friends than on previous days. Have you voted yet? If not, when?

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SCOTUS has its hearing on the stupid social media censorship law

Some modest hope, perhaps, that we’ll get a not-terrible ruling.

The Supreme Court cast doubt Monday on state laws that could affect how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube, and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. The cases are among several this term in which the justices could set standards for free speech in the digital age.

In nearly four hours of arguments, several justices questioned aspects of laws adopted by Republican-dominated legislatures and signed by Republican governors in Florida and Texas in 2021. But they seemed wary of a broad ruling, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett warning of “land mines” she and her colleagues need to avoid in resolving the two cases.

While the details vary, both laws aimed to address conservative complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints, especially on the political right.

Differences on the court Wednesday emerged over how to think about the platforms — as akin to newspapers that have broad free-speech protections, or telephone companies, known as common carriers that are susceptible to broader regulation.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested he was in the former camp, saying early in the session, “And I wonder, since we’re talking about the First Amendment, whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what we have called the modern public square?”

[…]

The precise contours of rulings in the two cases were not clear after arguments, although it seemed likely the court would not let the laws take effect. The justices posed questions about how the laws might affect businesses that are not the primary targets of the laws, including e-commerce sites like Uber and Etsy and email and messaging services.

The cases are among several the justices have grappled with over the past year involving social media platforms. Next month, the court will hear an appeal from Louisiana, Missouri and other parties accusing administration officials of pressuring social media companies to silence conservative points of view. Two more cases awaiting decision concern whether public officials can block critics from commenting on their social media accounts, an issue that previously came up in a case involving then-President Donald Trump. The court dismissed the Trump case when his presidential term ended in January 2021.

The Florida and Texas laws were passed in the months following decisions by Facebook and Twitter, now X, to cut Trump off over his posts related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Trade associations representing the companies sued in federal court, claiming that the laws violated the platforms’ speech rights. One federal appeal struck down Florida’s statute, while another upheld the Texas law. But both are on hold pending the outcome at the Supreme Court.

See here for my previous update on this, and here for a good explainer about the issue. That “other federal appeals court” was of course the Fifth Circuit, which provides concierge service to Ken Paxton and his cronies.

More from TPM:

These cases grew out of endless conservative complaints about “shadow banning” and “censorship,” platforms’ policies that conservatives claim are single-mindedly aimed at tamping down right-wing influence. It’s a natural outgrowth of the Republican Party’s grievance politics, and ramped up after the COVID-19 pandemic, when anti-vaxxer content on social media became a huge point of contention.

Monday’s arguments centered on laws out of Florida and Texas that would guide and restrict the platforms’ content moderation decisions, and demand platforms provide individualized explanations for those decisions to the affected users. The oral arguments over challenges to the pair of laws are just the first on the Court’s docket this term to deal with these issues; another challenging the Biden administration’s practice of flagging misinformation to tech companies will be argued next month.

The Florida law in particular is quite sprawling, including provisions that the platforms cannot “censor” any “journalistic enterprise” or “willfully deplatform a candidate” for office. It also potentially extends beyond the traditional social media sites, prompting many justices to ask how the law may be applied to messaging carriers like Gmail or marketplaces like Etsy.

Questions about the breadth of the legislation consumed much of the hearings, with some justices clearly mulling remanding at least the Florida case to address the further flung applications.

But perhaps the most interesting moments in the proceedings arose when the right-wing justices’ long-held reflexive positioning came into conflict with a newer strain of their ideology: old-school, free market, pro-business conservatism vs. the new age, Trumpian culture wars. The Court’s Republican appointees are a microcosm of the same dynamic playing out in the party at large, as the old guard fights to retain relevance amid the influx of MAGA politicians and their new, often vindictive, priorities.

[…]

For all but the most dedicated culture warriors, the Florida and Texas laws may ultimately prove too sprawling for them to get behind. The justices spent much of the arguments debating the knock-on effects of the laws and of questioning how, if one of these tech platforms chose to opt out of serving Florida or Texas rather than complying with the law, it could even manage to do it.

But the issue isn’t going away. As long as a sizeable chunk of the right-wing legal world cares greatly about punishing companies it views as enemies — and as long as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals happily rubber stamps these suits on the way up — the pro-business justices and the culture warriors on the Supreme Court will continue to be locked into their internecine battles.

There’s another case before SCOTUS involving the federal government’s ability to contact social media companies to ask them to take action on specific things they identify as misinformation. That case will be heard on March 18. Never a dull moment. Law Dork and Slate have more.

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Paxton’s revenge against the CCA

I have three things to say about this.

A crook any way you look

The three incumbents running for their seats on Texas’ highest criminal courtwere not well known political figures outside of the legal community. That was until they earned the ire of Attorney General Ken Paxton in response to a 2021 opinion over a voter fraud case.

Now, the three female Republican justices on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, Judge Barbara Hervey and Judge Michelle Slaughter, find themselves in the position of having their conservative credentials questioned in “low-information elections” in which they’re up against Paxton’s political machine.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals, who I am concerned was put there by George Soros ‘cause no one knows who they are, they’re all Republicans but even Republicans don’t know who they are,” Paxton told former Fox News host Tucker Carlson last month, referring to the Democratic mega donor.

The three incumbents, who have nearly a century of combined experience practicing criminal law, as prosecutors and jurists, have been accused by Paxton’s allies of abandoning their judicial duties and stripping the attorney general’s power to enforce voter fraud — a consequential issue for the modern-day GOP under former President Donald Trump.

Three years ago, a case stemming from Paxton’s effort to override a Jefferson County district attorney who declined to prosecute a sheriff over 2016 campaign-finance allegations was before the criminal appeals court. In a 8-1 decision, the court said the Office of the Attorney General violated the separation of powers in the Texas Constitution by trying to prosecute election cases without the permission of a local prosecutor.

The timing of the opinion was such that this primary is the first opportunity for Paxton to seek political retribution against some of the eight Republican judges who he believes ruled against him.

“It’s sad because he wouldn’t know me from madam. I’m sure he doesn’t know anything about me,” said Hervey, wondering whether Paxton had actually read the opinion he railed against publically. “That’s really pathetic.”

[…]

The three incumbents have received financial support from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a committee that Paxton has labeled a political enemy. The challengers all have the backing of a new PAC, Texans for Responsible Judges, but the three have not received contributions from the group, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Wendy Watson, a faculty member of the University of North Texas’ Department of Political Science, views these races as a referendum on Trump and his false claims of voter fraud.

“This is a loyalty test,” Watson said. “You didn’t let Ken Paxton prosecute voter fraud, that must be because you are okay with voter fraud. Right?”

These races are “low-information elections,” races in which voters don’t know either of the candidates well, Watson said. So any tidbit of information that a voter may get from someone, no matter how wrong or skewed, may end up being the deciding factor behind a cast ballot.

[…]

Judge Hervey has been on the bench since 2001, prior to which she worked as a Bexar County assistant criminal district attorney for 16 years.

Her experience with and knowledge of criminal law are crucial to the operation of the court, she said. On top of her duties as a judge, Hervey co-chairs the Judicial Commission on Mental Health and runs an education program that provides legal courses and assistance to judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court personnel.

“I think experience and dedication to these things are important to move the needle forward,” Hervey said.

On the controversial opinion, Hervey put it in simple terms: “Eight of us decided it was a good idea to follow the Constitution.”

See here for more on what this fight is about and here for an earlier story on the same subject. Now on to my three things.

1. The story also refers to Paxton’s “revenge tour” against Republican legislators who voted to impeach him. I’m not dumb enough to try to guess what Republican primary voters will do, but I will take a moment to imagine a world in which Paxton’s fevered efforts land with a giant thud as he largely or even completely fails to oust those traitors who dared oppose him. I may as well wish for a pony while I’m at it, but it is a nice thought.

2. Justice Hervey has been around Republican politics for a lot longer than I’ve been in any form of politics. I respect her experience, and I think her summary of the case in question is impeccable and pithy. That said, her quotes in this article are quaint to the point of preciousness, and I have to ask if she’s actually met any modern day Republicans, because they don’t care about any of that crap. I fear she is in for a rude awakening.

3. I need one more excerpt for this one:

Meanwhile, Slaughter received $15,000 in campaign contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the group that has earned the ire of Paxton, in addition to smaller individual donations. The committee donated the same amount to Keller and Hervey.

Fifteen K? Seriously? I’m old enough to remember when TLR was pumping millions into legislative races so as to tip the balance of power in their favor. Fifteen K isn’t enough to affect a small-county Justice of the Peace race. It wouldn’t cover the postage for a targeted mailer in Harris County, let alone the mailer itself. Whatever happened to TLR?

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Are we talking hockey in Houston again?

It appears we are.

Billionaire restaurateur and casino magnate Tilman Fertitta sees a professional hockey team as the next building block for the downtown Houston economy.

The owner of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets and the Golden Nugget casino empire said everything from hotels to restaurants to retail in the core of the fourth-largest city would benefit from hockey’s presence. A National Hockey League franchise is the last remaining major professional sport that doesn’t have a presence in Houston.

“We are talking to the NHL, but it’s got to be good for both of us,” Fertitta said during an interview with Bloomberg News in Houston on Tuesday. “We just know that when there’s a concert downtown, how it activates downtown, we know what the Astros do for downtown, we know what even soccer does for downtown.”

Although Fertitta has been courting the NHL about bringing a team to Houston since he bought the Rockets for $2.2 billion seven years ago, he said discussions have recently turned more serious. Fertitta noted that he’s open to helping bring in either an expansion franchise or acquiring a team from another market.

[…]

Outlying suburbs of Houston have reached out to Fertitta about helping them attract an NHL team but he said boosting the downtown district — where he owns restaurants that include Morton’s The Steakhouse, McCormick and Schmick’s and The Palm — has been a goal of his for decades.

See here, here, and here for some background. As you can see at that first link, as recently as one year ago the door appeared to be closed. I suppose a lot can change in a year. The Chron adds on.

Houston is the nation’s largest city without a pro hockey team, with no club having skated at Toyota Center since the American Hockey League’s Aeros moved to Des Moines, Iowa, after the 2012-13 season. The prospect of an NHL franchise in Houston has been bandied about for more than 30 years — the Minnesota North Stars looked at Houston in 1993 before relocating to Dallas, team chairman Jim Lites told the Chronicle in 2018 — with rumblings picking up in recent years.

[…]

Last October, Rockets president of business operations Gretchen Sheirr told the Chronicle the ongoing renovations at Toyota Center included “making sure it’s hockey ready” with an “ice machine” needed for it to become an NHL venue.

During a news conference before the recent NHL All-Star Game in Toronto, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league, while not actively engaged in the process of expanding, had received expansion interest from cities including Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Salt Lake City, which he described as the “most aggressive” suitor. Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has made no secret of his desire to bring the NHL to his state and last month formally requested the NHL “initiate an expansion process.”

As for a potential franchise on the move, the future of the Arizona Coyotes, the subject of relocation rumors for two-plus decades, reportedly will be addressed in “the next few weeks,” per a recent report from Daily Faceoff. Last May, a referendum in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe for an entertainment district that would have included a new arena for the Coyotes was defeated resoundingly.

Since the 2022-23 season, the Coyotes have played at Arizona State’s Mullett Arena, which has an NHL-low capacity of 4,600 and is not seen as a long-term home. Marty Walsh, executive director of the NHL Players Association, recently blasted the Coyotes’ situation, saying that playing at a college arena was “not the way to run a business” and “the players want to play in an NHL arena.”

So who knows. It’s all theoretical until Commissioner Bettman says expansion and/or a franchise’s relocation is happening, and even if one of them does happen Houston is not necessarily first in line. But we are seeking to he at the table. Houston Public Media has more.

Posted in Other sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Six: On to week 2

Five more days of early voting to go. Here’s where we are after the weekend:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,055   11,580   17,635
2016   8,850   23,384   32,234
2020  15,101   36,719   51,820
2024   7,643   33,276   40,919

2012  12,915   24,000   36,915
2016  12,203   32,641   44,844
2020  16,528   32,638   48,166
2024   3,620   40,220   43,840

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Six totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Dems had a few more votes than Republicans over the weekend, but not enough to take note. We are either now receiving or now counting mail ballots on Saturday; all of the years before this show zero mail ballots for the weekend period. Not sure what changed or why, but there it is. Dems will surpass their final EV total from 2012 today, and they could surpass the 2016 final total before Friday. 2020 is out of reach barring a big surge, but the final total should be a respectable percentage of what it was that year.

For whatever the reason, I’m feeling squeamish about making projections. Maybe the 2023 race has scared me off. I’ll run some numbers later in the week to see where we stand in a bigger-picture context. At this point, I’m comfortable with my initial evaluation that we’d exceed 2016 and fall short of 2020. Beyond that, it’s up in the air. Have you voted yet?

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

El Paso rallies around Annunciation House

They will need all this support and more.

El Paso leaders on Friday denounced Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s threat to shut down Annunciation House, a network of migrant shelters that has been in operation for almost 50 years.

“An attack on one is an attack on all,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said during a news conference at the shelter’s office, which was packed with supporters.

Annunciation House operates several shelters in El Paso, helping immigrants and refugees who are experiencing homelessness with various needs, including food and housing, and providing information on how to complete legal documents to claim asylum in the United States.

The nonprofit, which opened its first shelter at a local Catholic Church and receives support from the church, said it has helped hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come through El Paso by feeding and keeping them off city streets.

[…]

“Is there no shame to refer to houses of God, houses of hospitality as stash houses,” Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, said at the press conference.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said that Garcia’s organization and others who do similar work are invaluable to the city because those groups step in to help local and federal authorities handle large numbers of migrants entering the city. Leeser said that part of El Paso’s culture is to be a welcoming place, including for vulnerable people who are seeking a better life.

“This won’t slow us down because we can’t,” the mayor said. “We continue to have people coming into our country, we continue to have people that need a shelter, need a warm meal, need clothing, and the city will not turn its back on anybody.”

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said local elected officials have Garcia’s back and will support him.

“I want to say right now, you mess with Ruben, you mess with Annunciation House, you mess with us,” he said.

See here for the background. I love the spirit here, but they’re going to need a lot more help in addition to a hoped-for injunction following the March 7 court date. El Paso Matters provides a longer look at what Annunciation House does and what the stakes really are.

Annunciation House is among numerous faith-based organizations in El Paso and Juárez who provide food, donated clothes and medicine, temporary shelter and connection to the city’s and county’s federally-funded migrant assistance centers.

Paxton has support among the religious right and in the past appealed for more Christian involvement in politics. Wesevich said on Friday that Paxton should “dust off his Bible and read through it sometimes.”

In a statement released ahead of the press conference, Annunciation House said its work in El Paso comes “out of the scriptural and Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger.”

“Annunciation House’s response to the stranger is no different from that of the schools who enroll children of refugees, the clinics and hospitals who care for the needs of refugees, and the churches, synagogues, and mosques who welcome families to join in worship,” the statement read.

Bishop Mark Seitz from the Catholic Diocese of El Paso said their work is about “shared human dignity” and the El Paso community will not surrender the identity of the borderlands to inhumane immigration policy.

“We will not be intimidated in our work to serve Jesus Christ in our sisters and brothers, fleeing danger and seeking to keep their families together,” Seitz said.

Investigators with the Attorney General’s Office went to Annunciation House’s office on Feb. 7 and served the organization with a request to examine records related to its operations, according to court records. They demanded the organization release within one day documentation about the nonprofit’s clients.

The state denied the nonprofit’s request for an extension, Wesevich said.

In response, Annunciation House sued the Attorney General’s Office, asking a state judge to determine which documents the nonprofit is legally required to release. Judge Francisco Dominguez of the 205th District Court in El Paso on Feb. 8 also granted Annunciation House a temporary restraining order that blocked the attorney general from enforcing the order for records.

[Attorney Jerome Wesevich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid] wrote in a Feb. 8 email to the Attorney General’s Office that it was impossible to comply with the deadline and there were concerns about the legality of certain aspects.

He elaborated on Friday that Annunciation House has not refused to provide any documents to the attorney general, but that the court needs to decide when and what documents to provide under the law.

“It’s a very sensitive matter for us to provide somebody’s medical record to a government agency,” Wesevich said. “We don’t control what happens to those documents after they leave us.”

This process could have been handled in a few emails, but it instead appears that Paxton is using the request for documents as a pretext to close Annunciation House, Wesevich said.

[…]

Escobar, Garcia and Marisa Limón Garza, executive director Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center of El Paso-Juárez, connected the Attorney General Office’s actions to other actions by the state, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star and the recent signing of SB 4, which makes it a state crime to illegally cross the border from Mexico. Immigration law enforcement is typically a federal issue.

Closing down Annunciation House will hamper faith-based groups’ ability to recruit volunteers because of the possible legal liability, a concern Garcia raised last year when El Paso and West Texas leaders called for immigration reform from visiting U.S. senators.

“This is not just migrants, refugees, people who got here yesterday,” Limón Garza said. “This is a documented person driving their sick mom, who’s undocumented, to La Fe (health clinic). I just want you to understand that.”

Everything Paxton is doing here – the bullying and intimidation and extreme rhetorical escalation – is dangerous and will indeed lead to far worse things if it’s not stopped now. People of genuine faith, not this bizarre travesty of whatever it is that Paxton and his allies call “faith”, should be appalled and alarmed and ready to fight back. In the same way that everything that pro-choice advocates have said would happen following the fall of Roe v Wade has come true and continues to come true, what Annunciation House’s defenders are saying will come true. Look at what Ken Paxton is doing and see the truth of it yourself.

Posted in La Migra, Legal matters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That other guy in CD18 drops out and endorses SJL

Obviously earth-shaking news.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Robert Slater, the longshot candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in the upcoming March primary, said he will suspend his campaign Sunday and endorse the incumbent congresswoman.

Slater, a Houston chef and businessman, faced long odds in the Democratic primary dominated by Jackson Lee, who has represented Texas’ 18th Congressional District since 1995, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards. Jackson Lee led Edwards by a 43% to 38% margin among likely voters in a recently published University of Houston poll, while Slater garnered just 3% support.

“I don’t have the benefit of having 28 years of an incumbency and name ID,” he told potential voters in a video posted to social media Saturday.

Slater had centered his campaign on equal access to education and health care and criminal justice reform. His campaign website says he hopes to advocate and be a leader for Black youth in Houston.

Here’s the video, which is not where he announced his departure from the race; it appears to be at some group event, I see a couple of Dem candidates for other offices in the background. Slater had no finance report as of January, which is interesting since the first image on his campaign Instagram account is a request for donations. He’s hardly the first low-profile candidate to do that sort of thing.

As to what effect this may have on the race, my guess is little to none, since he’s still on the ballot anyway and was barely a blip in the polls. I have no idea what a Robert Slater voter looks like, but it’s probably not someone who is well attuned to politics and/or not a fan of SJL’s to begin with. I looked at his social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok; no Twitter as far as I can tell) and I didn’t see him mention this anywhere as of Sunday evening. Are we even sure his supporters will find out about this? If by some chance you are a Slater supporter and have received some communication about this, please do leave a comment and let us know.

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Houston Avenue hullabaloo

It seems like every new Mayor makes at least one dumb self-inflicted error early on in their tenure, because being Mayor is hard and there are lots of things that need to be done with priority. I’d say this goes into that column for Mayor Whitmire.

Mayor John Whitmire

Houston Public Works announced Thursday that the cost of restoring Houston Avenue after Mayor John Whitmire ordered the street returned to its previous condition will be around $230,000 – more than double the expense of installing the new medians in December.

More than two weeks following the start of work removing the medians and curbs, officials finalized the cost of reconstruction. In addition, public works said an overhaul of the asphalt surface along the street is planned – for an additional $500,000.

Comparing that with the initial $100,000 cost to install the medians, critics of Whitmire’s decision – who argued it was a rush to judgment – said the updated cost is unfortunately borne by city residents and visitors.

“Reactionary politics has a hefty price and a lack of planning results in wasting taxpayer dollars,” said Gabe Cazares, executive director of the advocacy group LINKHouston, which argues for more walkable and bikeable streets.

[…]

Though just a three-block stretch of road northeast of the central business district, the happenings on Houston have led to questions about other upcoming projects, funded locally and with federal dollars. While signaling that he wants to hear more feedback from residents, Whitmire has not said whether any reviews he has requested will affect other projects.

As those reviews and Houston Avenue redo proceeds, Cazares said the hope is the kerfuffle over Houston Avenue can act as a “learning opportunity,” for officials “to hear all of the perspectives of the community, and not just those with whom they agree.”

There’s a lot of backstory to this that I didn’t have the time or space on the blog to cover as it was happening, but there are a couple of stories about it all linked in this post about the new Metro Chair. This story here notes that Mayor Whitmire cited an incident involving a Metro bus running into the median as a reason for ordering the removal, but Metro’s own investigation later concluded that the cause of the accident was driver error and it could have been avoided. This too speaks to the Mayor’s rush to action rather than seek input and make a more studied decision. The issue here isn’t really whether this median on Houston Avenue made sense, it was about the dumb and needless way in which the decision was made to rip it out just a few months after it was installed.

We know Mayor Whitmire has been in politics forever, and even his critics would agree that he knows how things work and has learned from his experiences over the years. I say that to say that I hope he learns quickly from this experience, because he’s already stirred up a constituency that likes to speak up and make themselves known. There’s also, I’d venture to say, a non-trivial amount of overlap with those folks and the people who voted for Whitmire last year. And there are also more reasons to be concerned.

Houston’s former chief transportation planner David Fields was forced out of his job, city documents obtained by Axios show.

The big picture: Fields’ sudden departure came a month after Mayor John Whitmire took over City Hall with a different vision for Houston’s transportation future from that of his predecessor, Sylvester Turner, who hired Fields in February 2020 to help usher the city away from car dependency.

Driving the news: Axios obtained an interoffice memo from Planning and Development Department interim director Jennifer Ostlind that shows Fields resigned Feb. 5 “in lieu of termination of employment.”

When Fields resigned from his role in the department, Whitmire’s director of communications Mary Benton told the Houston Chronicle that “he was not asked to resign.”

“The mayor was not part of the discussion with David Fields,” Benton told Axios late Friday. “I was told that he was not asked to resign. I was not part of the conversation with the planning director or [interim] planning director.”

Ostlind did not respond to requests for comment.

The intrigue: During one of Fields’ last public appearances at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting Jan. 24, he indicated he had been told to continue business as usual.

He was out of a job less than two weeks later.

Again, it’s not about the decision itself. Mayors bring in new people, that’s totally normal. But saying this person who had been working to change the city’s operating assumptions about transportation hadn’t been asked to resign when he totally had been is again a dumb unforced error and more reason for people who liked the new direction and also voted for Whitmire to be concerned. Is anyone likely to change their vote in 2027 over the forced exit of David Fields? No, but these are the bricks from which narratives are built. Now would be a good time to stop adding to that foundation. Houston Landing has more.

Posted in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekend link dump for February 25

Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin is a most unfortunate 39-minute program centered on the first Black character introduced by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. The Peanuts franchise has programmed the show for Black History Month, that much is clear. But are we honoring Franklin for breaking down racial barriers and integrating the most popular comic strip of all time? For blazing a path followed by Beetle Bailey’s Lt. Jack Flap? Or will it suffice to consider the special problems in representation presented by Charlie Brown’s Black friend?”

“Just picked up my Cybertruck today. The advisor specifically mentioned the cybertrucks develop orange rust marks in the rain and that required the vehicle to be buffed out.”

“Who knew untreated stainless steel might not be such a good idea for the exterior of a motor vehicle, especially considering that cars typically get left sitting outside in all weather for 95 percent of their lives? The whole automotive industry, that’s who.”

“The 2023 Hugo Fraud and Where We Go From Here”.

“Mexico is suing US gun-makers for arming its gangs − and a US court could award billions in damages”.

Why Does the Devil Look like a Goat? How the Symbolism Miscasts Goats as Evil”. Seriously, goats are awesome and this slander against them cannot stand.

“It might be fitting that the sleaziest case will go first. But this prosecution ought not to be diminished. It also involves alleged criminal actions taken to influence an election—or prevent an election from being influenced by Daniels’ claim that Trump had a tryst with her at a 2006 charity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe while his wife, Melania, was home with 4-month-old Barron. And here’s an important fact: The Justice Department and a federal court have already declared that a crime occurred in the commission of this $130,000 payoff.”

“In life we constantly need to make choices on the basis of available options. Often they are imperfect or even bad options. The real options are the ones that have some shot at success. That’s life. Klein’s argument really amounts to a highly pessimistic but not unreasonable analysis of the present situation which he resolves with what amounts to a deus ex-machina plot twist. That’s not an argument. It’s a recipe for paralysis.”

““What determines a good human life?” is a good question and a vitally important question. You don’t want your government supplying the answer to that question. Because any government providing an answer to that question will end up imposing an answer to that question.”

“Both of these offers seem like they should be illegal. Because they should be illegal. But they’re just the flip side of what’s already happening—wealthy patrons buying figureheads who will do exactly what they want in office.”

Don’t watch CNBC. Jim Cramer isn’t even the worst of it.

RIP, Robert Reid, former NBA player for the Rockets who was a key member of the 1981 and 1986 Finals teams.

“It made no sense. He was never hateful, until he was. He was always caring, until he wasn’t. He was proud of me—the first to graduate with a BA, much less an MA in Education, until he decided the Education Department was a part of a conspiracy. He was always the man who I could count on when I called, but he died a man I didn’t recognize.”

It would seem that Wheel of Fortune is running out of comprehensible puzzle solutions.

“In Alabama, women can now be forced to have babies they don’t want and can’t have babies that they do.”

“The Alabama ruling is a reminder that, whatever Alito might have said in Dobbs, the attack on abortion rights was always going to put women’s ability to make other reproductive decisions in jeopardy, and IVF is just the beginning.”

Lock him up. Again and again as needed.

“Dominion Voting Systems is entitled to review personal communications and text messages of Newsmax Media journalists in its defamation suit against the conservative media company, a Delaware judge ruled last week.”

Bridgit Mendler is a more interesting person than you might have thought.

“Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones did it two years ago. Rudolph Giuliani did it just before Christmas. Now there’s a very good chance that before March 12, Donald Trump will join them in filing personal bankruptcy. Trump would do so for the same reason as Jones and Giuliani — to delay paying court-ordered awards for defamation.”

“Somehow almost a decade after this whole thing started we’re shocked to see, wow, Weiss’s office was being led around by another cat’s paw of the Russian intelligence services. We’re shocked. But why are we shocked? Every last person among the serious people of the nation’s capital and the sprawling thing called elite received opinion has egg on their face. And it’s not even clear they fully realize it yet.”

“A federal judge has ruled that pillow magnate and election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell must pay out a $5 million prize he offered to anyone who could disprove his dispute of the 2020 election results.”

RIP, Flaco, the famous Central Park Zoo owl who went missing after a vandal tampered with the bird’s exhibit more than a year ago.

RIP, Golden Richards, former NFL wide receiver mostly for the Dallas Cowboys.

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We have our HCAD candidates

Here they are, from the County Judge’s office:

Place 1

Ramsey Isa Ankar
Katherine Ballard Blueford-Daniels
Era N. Ford
William Reinhardt Frazier

Place 2

Jevon German
Janice W. Hines
Melissa Louise Noriega
Austin Ryan Pooley
Kyle Anthony Scott

Place 3

Oluwapelumi Adebola Adeleke
James J. Bill
Melody Genneane Ellis
Mark V. Goloby
Amy Ngo Lacy
Ericka McCrutcheon

I told you about some of these folks in the last update. I can also tell you, thanks to research done by my friends Ashleigh and Rosie and commenter Souperman, that Ramsey Ankar, James Bill (who left a comment on that post), and Janice Hines are Dems of varying flavor, while Amy Ngo Lacy is a Republican. Now let’s talk about the new names on the list.

A couple of them are familiar. Kathy Blueford-Daniels is a former HISD trustee who just finished serving a term as an appointed HCAD Board member. She is eligible to run because she is no longer an elected official. Melissa Noriega of course is a former At Large #3 City Council member and State Representative in HD145.

The rest I had to search for. Here’s what I can tell you:

If you search for “Era Ford”, you’re going to get a lot of automotive results. I can confirm there’s someone by this name registered to vote in Harris County and living in HD147. After that, we’ll have to wait.

Jevon German was a candidate for HISD Board of Trustees in District II in 2019, getting 9.5% of the vote in a race ultimately won by Kathy Blueford-Daniels. Judging from his Facebook page, he’s likely a Democrat.

I didn’t find anything at first when I searched for “Oluwapelumi Adebola Adeleke”, but when I took the middle name out I got here, which told me this person was a graduate of the Harvard Business School. Looking at the other search results I saw a LinkedIn profile for a Houston person and Harvard Business School grad named Pelumi Adeleke. That can’t be a coincidence, right? And sure enough, Pelumi Adeleke on Facebook has a cover photo announcing her candidacy for the HCAD Board of Directors. Scrolling down a bit I see she attended an HCDP meet-the-candidates event in 2022, so I’d say she’s a Dem.

Mark Goloby apparently ran for Governor in 2022 as a write-in, gathering all of 394 votes. (This is one of those times when the exclamation “Geez, I could have done that!” seems appropriate.) He still has a website that clearly IDs him as a Republican.

Melody Genneane Ellis is strangely hard to pin down on Google, but fortunately I had a better resource at my fingertips: a group of pals I’ve been chatting with about this race. The consensus there is that she is the sister of Commissioner Rodney Ellis. I can confirm there’s only one registered voter named “Melody Ellis” in Harris County, and Commissioner Ellis mentions having a sister named Melody in a few Facebook posts.

So there you have it. We have ourselves a field. I’m told the Houston GLBT Political Caucus will screen for endorsements after the primary. I remain hopeful we will eventually get some news coverage of this race. I will of course keep an eye on it, and my plan is to eventually do some interviews. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Let them fight

Let them fight.

A crook any way you look

A $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that passed the Senate overnight has sparked a battle between two of Texas’ most prominent Republicans, with Attorney General Ken Paxton calling U.S. Sen. John Cornyn an “America Last RINO” and Cornyn raising Paxton’s ongoing legal troubles.

Paxton went after Cornyn on social media early Tuesday for supporting the foreign aid bill, writing it is “unbelievable that (Cornyn) would stay up all night to defend other countries borders, but not America.”

Cornyn, a former attorney general, responded: “Ken, your criminal defense lawyers are calling to suggest you spend less time pushing Russian propaganda and more time defending longstanding felony charges against you in Houston, as well as ongoing federal grand jury proceedings in San Antonio that will probably result in further criminal charges.”

[…]

Paxton followed that with another post calling Cornyn an “America Last RINO” who “has once again joined hands with the Biden administration to fund and prioritize foreign wars over the national security crisis at the southern border.”

Just a reminder that Cornyn has already endorsed The Former Guy for President, so it’s not like he’s some pinnacle of integrity. He’s just ever so slightly on a different level of terrible.

Let them fight.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, is using a new ad to tackle head-on a major issue in his primary: Ken Paxton’s impeachment.

In the direct-to-camera spot, Phelan outlines the alleged misdeeds that led to Paxton’s impeachment last year — including an extramarital affair — and says “Vengeful Paxton is the reason” why Donald Trump recently endorsed Phelan’s primary challenger.

“If Paxton will break an oath to his wife and God, why would he tell Trump — or you — the truth?” Phelan says in conclusion.

That was from a week or so ago. Speaker Phelan is almost certainly in a world of trouble electorally, but at least he’s going down the right way.

All I can say to the Republicans out there that are tired of Ken Paxton and his bullshit is simply this: Assuming he’s on the ballot again in 2026, whether from a jail cell or not, the one thing you can do is not vote for him ever again. That ought to be easy enough for you in a primary, but it also means that when he wins that primary anyway you must not vote for him in November. Vote third party or skip the race if you can’t bear the idea of voting for the Democrat, but that’s what you must do. It’s as simple as that.

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At long last, the KLOL documentary

IYKYK.

As announced exclusively in the Houston Chronicle, the long-awaited 101 KLOL Houston rock documentary, “Runaway Radio,” directed/produced by first-time filmmaker and Texas media blogger Mike McGuff, will be released this month with a special Houston screening in early March.

The documentary, distributed by Dark Star Pictures, covers the wild 34 years (1970 to 2004) of one of the country’s greatest Album Oriented Rock (AOR) stations.

The film will be available to rent or buy on all major video-on-demand (VOD) platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, and cable/satellite, starting February 27th.

On March 2nd, there will be a 6:30pm screening in the Houston area at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema LaCenterra in Katy.

The film world premiered in November 2023 at the music documentary festival Sound Unseen Minneapolis.

“When I started this documentary, we were in a recession, followed by a global pandemic when we finished it,” McGuff said. “Based on those who have seen the movie at film festivals, it will be worth the wait!”

“The KLOL documentary shows the rest of the world why this station is still talked about to this day,” said KLOL’s first program director Pat Fant who signed the station on in August 1970. “It will be the last word on a Houston media legend. We didn’t just play the music, we were a part of it. Our promotions became spectacles. Our on-air personalities were the host presenters of the non-stop performance that was KLOL.”

The film explores the many on-air personalities and behind-the-scenes players that made the station famous and the winner of the top rock station in America by Billboard Magazine. From the wild station promotions, the music, and the radio wars, the family-owned station faced against ABC Radio-owned 97 Rock KSRR.

See here for the background. I contributed to that Indiegogo campaign way back when, though I’ve long since forgotten at what level and what I was promised. I’ll try to go to that screening, but if not I’m sure I’ll watch it one way or another. KLOL was a part of my life for more than a decade in a way that I just can’t imagine any local radio station being for anyone nowadays. Whatever you think about that form of media and its place in history, I’m glad it’s being documented and remembered. It was something else. CultureMap has more.

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“Facial authentication”

I’m still thinking about how I feel about this.

The Astros will be one of four Major League Baseball teams using facial authentication technology at this year’s opening day in an effort to speed up fans’ entry through the gates at Minute Maid Park.

MLB is calling the system Go-Ahead Entry, which first was tested by the Philadelphia Phillies last season and eventually will be incorporated by every team throughout 2024.

[…]

Here’s how it works:

To register, fans who are 18 and older and have a digital ticket to the game in their MLB Ballpark app take what amounts to a selfie through the app. According to MLB officials, the images of fans aren’t stored or shared, but instead converted into a digital token that is used to authenticate fans’ likenesses as they walk through the gates. Fans take the selfie just once as they register and it will be used throughout the season upon entry.

At each Minute Maid Park gate, there will be a special lane for Go-Ahead Entry in which fans can skip the lines and walk through without having to show a ticket once they make it through security. It also works with groups as long as the person signed up for the service has all of their group’s tickets in their MLB Ballpark app.

“It’s almost like if you have Clear at the airport,” Sehgal said.

The registration in question is via the MLB Ballpark app, which is most commonly used for ticketing. The advantages are obvious, as the line to get in will move a lot quicker. The potential downsides include possible breaches (yeah, I know, they say they’re not keeping the data, but there’s always wiggle room in there), law enforcement wanting to get involved, the system failing to recognize you, or recognizing someone else as you, and who knows what else. It’ll probably be fine for most people most of the time, and I don’t want to catastrophize something that will likely be the norm in a few years. I’m just saying, you never know. How do you feel about this? Thanks to Campos for the heads up.

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2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Four: Heading into the weekend

One sort-of full week of early voting down, seven more days to go. Let’s check the board:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,055    8,242   14,297
2016   8,850   14,554   23,404
2020  15,101   25,260   40,361
2024   6,663   24,646   31,309

2012  12,915   17,643   30,558
2016  12,203   21,348   33,551
2020  16,528   24,785   41,313
2024   3,356   30,890   34,246

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Four totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Dems actually gained about 300 votes on the Republican total Friday, thanks to a big haul in mail ballots, 2,216 for Dems and 237 for Republicans. Dems still have a lot of mail ballots out, which will help them catch up a bit more going forward. The weekend is all about in person voting, though, so we’ll see if Republicans keep up their pace.

Week Two is always much bigger than Week One, with the last two days easily being the biggest. I don’t feel like I have enough data points to make a guesstimate about final early turnout, but I’m comfortable saying Dems will top 100K in early voting, which will far exceed 2012 – hell, it will outpace the final total for 2012 – and will easily exceed 2016. Barring something strange, 2020 is out of reach. Republicans may exceed their 2016 total, which was higher than the Dems, and will also likely fall short of 2020. My thought that Dems would outpace Republicans is looking shaky now, but we’ll see where we are in a few days.

Here’s the Derek Ryan report through Thursday. He notes that the electorate for both parties is pretty old right now, and that there’s a modest amount of crossover voting, again for each party. That’s a pretty normal thing – I’m old enough to remember how common it was here for Democratic lawyers to vote in the Republican primary so they could have a say on who the judges are; I’ll bet there’s some of that on the other side now – so keep any complaints you may hear about it in perspective.

I’ll post the next update on Monday. Have you voted yet?

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So what happened with the original Woodfill investigation?

Good question.

Five years ago, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg appeared poised to prosecute Jared Woodfill, a prominent local attorney and Republican activist, for serious financial crimes. Ogg’s office received a judge’s permission to conduct a raid of his office, accusing him of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from former clients.

But then the case died with no explanation.

Prosecutors never even asked a grand jury to consider charges against Woodfill — a decision now under fresh scrutiny as Ogg, a Democrat, faces a tough primary election, and as Woodfill challenges an incumbent state lawmaker in the Texas House of Representatives.

Ogg said in a recent interview with the Chronicle’s Editorial Board that she “put the brakes on the whole thing” because she thought the allegations against Woodfill wouldn’t hold up in court. But her account is contradicted on several points by a Chronicle review of hundreds of pages of court documents, internal emails, and more than a dozen interviews.

Ogg said her own investigators didn’t have legal justification to seize some of the evidence from Woodfill’s office in the first place. But a state district judge ruled they did, and an appeals court upheld the decision.

She also said she’d lost confidence in the prosecutors dealing with the case, but the attorneys in question were assigned high-profile cases and got promoted before eventually leaving the office.

An internal office memo written by one of the prosecutors in 2021, John Brewer, says Ogg knew about every step of the investigation and appeared supportive of it, telling her staff to “follow the evidence wherever it led.”

In an interview, Brewer said he disagrees with Ogg’s recent statements about the Woodfill case and pointed to court documents authored by her own office that contradict her explanation. He added that he is legally forbidden from discussing more details.

Meanwhile, Woodfill’s accusers say they’re still waiting for justice. Earlier this month, two of them asked the FBI to look into the case and accused Ogg of dropping it “for reasons contrary to the interests of justice.”

“They have completely defiled the court system,” said Amy Holsworth, who complained about Woodfill to the Houston Police Department back in 2017 and sparked the DA’s initial investigation. “They’ve made a mockery of it.”

See here for some background. There’s a lot in the story so go read the rest. It’s not the kind of news coverage Kim Ogg would want at this point in time, but there it is anyway. Two points of interest for me:

1. According to the story, the case was eventually dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. I’d like a better understanding of that, as in would the DA’s office be barred from reopening this case at a later date? I presume that the matter is different in federal court, where this could end up if the FBI chooses to take action. How likely that is, I have no idea.

2. I’ve said some version of this before and I’ll say it again: If Jared Woodfill manages to knock off Rep. Lacey Hull in the primary, Dems really need to go all out to win that seat. Woodfill would be vulnerable in a way that the more or less run-of-the-mill Rep. Hull would not be, and this is not a deep red seat. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but someone needs to drop half a million or so on this race if it’s against Jared Woodfill.

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Endorsement watch: Constables

The Chron runs its endorsements in the Democratic primaries for Constable, in what I believe is now the last of their recommendations. They didn’t get off to a good start, however:

Harris County Commissioners Court draws the constable precinct lines with each decade’s U.S. Census, often to achieve political aims. The process has produced wide disparities in precincts’ geographical areas and budgets — the latter also in the hands of commissioners. Precinct 5 in west Harris County, for example, encompasses 370 square miles with 1 million-plus residents. Precinct 6, in Houston’s East End, covers 32 square miles and serves about 170,000 residents.

Uh, yeah, no. Not unless you consider “every fifty years and counting” to be “with each decade”. Totally unforced error here, y’all.

With that said, here’s who they endorsed. Note that the only contested primaries for Constable were on the Dem side, so all of the endorsements are in those races.

Alan Rosen for Precinct 1, Dem

Since becoming constable of Precinct 1 since 2012, Alan Rosen has tried to help the young, the old, the mentally ill, the homeless, the drug-addicted. He also serves those everyday folks just trying to live their lives in safe neighborhoods. We think Rosen, 55, should continue that work.

Nevertheless, this endorsement is giving us heartburn.

Jerry Garcia for Precinct 2, Dem

Precinct 2 Constable Jerry Garcia needs few words to explain why he deserves a second term: “Proven results. I did what I said I would do.”

His record supports that.

Constable Sherman Eagleton for Precinct 3, Democrat

Eagleton is eloquent about fighting crime, getting drugs off the street and stopping illegal dumping. He embraces body cameras and citizen videos. And he is adamant that statistics are part of modern policing.

But there’s something old-fashioned, in a good way, about Eagleton, 58. He brags about wellness checks for senior citizens, and he loves a program called “Coffee with a cop.”

The controversies on Eagleton’s watch don’t faze us.

Chronicle stories from 2021 show that he hired Chris Diaz, a former Precinct 2 constable who was voted out of office after egregious errors in his campaign finance reports surfaced.

“I gave him a second chance, and he’s doing a great job,” Eagleton says. “He told me he had baggage, and I told him, if you don’t do what’s right, I’ll send you down the road.”

In 2017, Eagleton took a different approach with Milton Rivera, a Precinct 3 chief deputy accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior. After a Harris County Attorney’s Office investigation, Eagleton fired him.

Jerome Moore for Precinct 5, Dem

Two Democratic primary candidates for Precinct 5 constable, both experienced law enforcement officers, know how it feels to be mistreated by police.

Gerardo “Jerry” Rodriguez, 41,says he was 19 and leaving a hot dog restaurant when he and his friends were wrongly arrested and hauled off to jail.

Jerome Moore, now 50, says he was 24 and in a car with three other young Black men when police ordered them to halt. “We’re gonna teach you guys to stop,” he remembers one officer shouting. “Shut up!”

Moore and Rodriguez say those run-ins inspired them to become law enforcement officers.

[…]

It’s a close call, but we give the nod to Moore.

Currently a lieutenant, he spent two years working as chief deputy to the constable in Precinct 2. He has more administrative experience than Rodriguez, a sergeant. Moore can manage the precinct’s complicated budget.

“I can do the job on day one,” he says.

Silvia Treviño for Precinct 6, Dem

Precinct 6 Constable Silvia Treviño is part of a political dynasty in Houston’s East End. She no doubt benefited from name recognition when she won the office — two years after her husband stepped down from it because of a criminal conviction.

Her challenger in the Democratic primary, Art Aguilar, 49, is a former Precinct 6 deputy who has some good ideas and understands the office’s inner workings. But we believe running a multimillion-dollar agency requires more management experience than appears on his résumé.

Treviño, a former Houston police officer, didn’t respond to the editorial board’s invitations to discuss her re-election bid. In the past we’ve criticized her for gaps in her knowledge of the constable’s office and law enforcement issues.

We recommend her this year in hopes that eight years of on-the-job training have alleviated those shortcomings.

James “Smokie” Phillips for Precinct 7, Dem

Three veteran Houston lawmen are running in the Democratic primary to succeed longtime Precinct 7 Constable May Walker. Walker, who’s retiring, has not endorsed a successor.

Precinct 6 is home to half a million people in south Harris County, including Third Ward, South Park, Sunnyside and Reliant Park. No Republican is running in the historically Democratic district, so this primary will decide the election.

Seeking the office are Gary Hicks Sr., Michael Coleman, and James “Smokie” Phillips.

Hicks, 62, a former HPD officer, works now as a warrant officer and mental health specialist in Constable Precinct 1.

His knowledge of community-oriented policing reflects his decades as a street cop. But we believe he comes up short in administrative experience necessary to run an agency like Precinct 7.

That leaves a hard choice.

[…]

We believe Phillips’ experience in the Precinct 7 office gives him an edge.

See here for more on the Rosen-induced heartburn. I’ve done Constable interviews in the past, most recently in 2012, but there were just too many candidates and not enough time. Read these endorsements, look at the Erik Manning spreadsheet to see who else has been endorsed by whom, and go from there.

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2024 Primary Early Voting, Day Three: Settling in

Sorry I didn’t get to this yesterday. Too damn much news. Here we go.


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,875    6,317   12,192
2016   8,167   10,231   18,398
2020  13,793   17,735   31,528
2024   4,447   17,897   22,344

2012  12,450   13,464   25,914
2016  11,085   14,869   25,954
2020  13,944   16,856   30,800
2024   3,119   22,433   25,552

As a reminder, Dem totals are on top, Republican ones on the bottom. Here are the Day Three totals for this year, and here are the final totals from 2012, 2016, and 2020.

One point to note, the 2012 primary was that weird one that happened in May because of the litigation over the redistricting maps. Because it was in May, the first week of early voting did not start with a holiday, so the 2012 totals through that first Thursday are actually for four days, not three. Going forward, add one more day for 2012 and you’ll be in the right place. As you can see, at least from the Dem perspective it didn’t matter that much.

Dems are now ahead of the 2016 pace and behind in 2020, though the latter is almost entirely because of the difference in mail votes. Dems cast 22,785 mail votes as of the last day of EV in 2020, out of 38,667 mail ballots sent. A total of 23,849 mail ballots have been sent this year, so expect the gap between the two years to remain wide, though perhaps a little less so as we go on. On the Republican side, well, they don’t do much mail anymore.

Mail ballots and the relative lack of them on the GOP side are an item that Derek Ryan addresses in his first statewide early vote report, which covers the first two days. The lack of a real statewide (non-Presidential) primary on that side probably contributes to that, but the change in behavior pushed by you-know-who is I think the main factor.

I voted yesterday, at the SPJST Lodge, which was not a new location for me but one that made sense given the way my day was going. Have you voted yet? If not, when do you plan to?

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More Dem primary polls from UH/Hobby Center

I asked, and I received.

Just months after a bruising campaign for mayor of Houston, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is leading her top challenger in the 18th Congressional District by five points, suggesting the closest race for the position in decades.

A survey of likely Democratic primary election voters by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston found 43% plan to vote for Jackson Lee, while 38% support former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards. Another 16% said they are unsure who they will support.

“Congresswoman Jackson Lee has near universal name recognition, having represented the district since 1995, coupled with her run for mayor just a few months ago,” said Renée Cross, senior executive director of the Hobby School and one of the researchers for the project. “That name ID, along with strong support from women, Black and older voters, has given her a boost, although the race is still very competitive.”

A third candidate, Robert Slater, drew 3% of the vote.

Jackson Lee is the choice of 52% of Black voters, compared to 36% for Edwards; women voters, 47% to 33%; and older voters, 52% to 33%. Edwards is strongest with Latino voters, at 43%, compared to 29% for Jackson Lee; Independent voters, 45% to 31%; voters aged 45-64, 44% to 35%; and men, 46% to 39%.

Survey respondents generally support the incumbent in other high-profile congressional and state legislative races, although a large number of voters say they remain unsure who they will support. Several races without an incumbent on the ballot appear wide open.

Mark P. Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and senior research fellow at the Hobby School, said even relatively well-funded candidates have struggled to gain traction in some open seats, including state Senate District 15, left vacant after longtime incumbent John Whitmire was elected Houston mayor in December.

“Among the front runners, Jarvis Johnson has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2016 and previously on Houston City Council, and both of the other top contenders are Democratic Party activists who have previously run for public office,” Jones said. “But all three are relatively close – Johnson and Molly Cook each drew support from 18% of likely voters, while 14% said they will vote for Todd Litton. With 37% saying they are unsure who to support, the race will very likely end in a May runoff.”

None of the other three candidates in the race has support from more than 6% of voters.

See here for the previous poll results, all of which I remind you again to take as interesting bits of information and not carved-in-stone truth. Poll details are here and the landing page for the 2024 Dem primary in Harris County is here. I’ll quote from that (scroll down to Report 2) for the executive summary:

U.S. Congressional District 7: 78% of likely Democratic primary voters intend to vote for U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, while 11% support Pervez Agwan. 11% of likely Democratic primary voters are unsure.

U.S. Congressional District 18: U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee holds a 5 percentage point lead in vote intention over Amanda Edwards, 43% to 38%, with 3% intending to vote for Robert Slater. 16% of likely Democratic primary voters are unsure.

Texas Senate District 15: Frontrunners for Texas Senate District 15 include Jarvis Johnson (18%), Molly Cook (18%), and Todd Litton (14%), followed by Alberto Cardenas (6%), Karthik Soora (5%) and Michelle Anderson Bonton (2%). 37% of likely Democratic primary voters are unsure.

Texas House District 139: Rosalind Ceasar has 12% of the vote, followed by Angie Thibodeaux, 10%; Charlene Ward Johnson, 8%; and Mo Jenkins and Jerry Ford, each with 4%. 62% of likely Democratic primary voters remain unsure.

Texas House District 142: State Rep. Harold Dutton is leading with 38% of the vote, followed by Danyahel (Danny) Norris, 7%; and Joyce Marie Chatman and Clint Dan Horn, each with 6%. 43% of likely Democratic primary voters are unsure.

Texas House District 146: 40% of likely Democratic primary voters plan to vote for State Rep. Shawn Thierry for Texas House District 146, while 16% support Lauren Ashley Simmons and 4% support Ashton Woods. 40% of likely Democratic primary voters remain unsure.

Note: Sample sizes vary in the district races. Refer to the report for specific populations and margins of error.

I expected Rep. Fletcher to be in the lead, though not quite by that much. I expected Rep. Jackson Lee to be in the lead, though perhaps not by that little. I am not surprised by the closeness of SD15. I don’t read anything into any of the State House races, those are just too chaotic to get a handle on. And that’s all I got.

UPDATE: The Jackson Lee campaign has since sent out this memo from a poll conducted I presume on behalf of the campaign, which shows SJL leading Amanda Edwards by a 55-26 margin, with 3% for Slater and the rest undecided. It also contains this footnote:

ii The Hobby School of Public Affairs released data showing the race to be closer between Jackson Lee and Edwards. However, compared to LRP, who has been conducting both primary and general election polling in this district for over a decade, the Hobby poll has this electorate being more white, more male, and younger. These factors all benefit Edwards, though Jackson Lee still has a lead among these demographic groups in the LRP poll.

The poll memo is all we get, and one should always apply an extra level of scrutiny to internal polls, since the campaign that sponsors them has the option of not releasing any they don’t like, which is not how public polls work. My point is simply that each poll is a single data point, and one should hesitate to draw too much from any individual poll.

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The Mike Miles “efficiency report”

I’m going to reserve judgment on this for now, but it is fair to say that I start out with a nontrivial amount of skepticism.

Nearly a year into the state takeover, appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles says he has uncovered long-standing inefficiencies, wasteful spending and redundancies that he plans to fix to free up money to support his school reforms without drawing down district savings.

The superintendent said the plan unveiled Tuesday will support the addition of over 100 schools to his New Education System next year, paying for higher salaries and other elements of his controversial reform program. Though Miles did not give an estimate of how much the cuts will save or how much the expansion will cost, he promised his planned corrections would keep the district’s rainy-day fund above $850 million.

Previous Superintendent Millard House II’s administration had predicted that fund would drop to about $550 million by the end of the next school year.

“In order to increase the salaries at NES schools, we have to find efficiencies in the rest of the system,” Miles said. “The increase will be offset by efficiencies.”

The eight-part plan released Tuesday points to corrections in wasteful purchases, unnecessary contracts and ineffective staffing practices as steps HISD can immediately take to save tens of millions of dollars moving forward.

Overhauls to district transportation and maintenance services will further cut down on “inefficiencies” in the long run, Miles said. The superintendent said that decades worth of mismanagement had led HISD to a precarious position, and that “systems” were to blame rather than individuals.

[…]

Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the education advocacy group Children at Risk, said the report successfully illustrates the magnitude of the issues facing HISD, and that he believes in Miles’ ability to correct the district’s budget. But whether Miles is capable of winning over a largely distrustful public may be another story.

“I don’t think that this guy lies. He really cares about the data … and it doesn’t take much to convince people there’s inefficiencies at HISD,” Sanborn said. “The cons to this are that I feel like inherent in this report is a little bit of mistrust of their own staff, and I think that will be hard internally. There’s already a morale issue, and I’m not sure if some of these things really help, and morale is not addressed in this as well. And I don’t think it’s Miles’ strength to address morale.”

You can find a copy of the report here. I have skimmed it but not given it a thorough reading yet. The Houston Landing provides a summary and some context.

Miles declined to name a dollar amount that he believes HISD can save through addressing the inefficiencies named in the report, but he said they would be enough to plug budget holes, which suggests the total may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We will save enough money to pay for the reforms that we need to put in place,” Miles said.

Miles, who was appointed by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in June, has repeatedly claimed previous HISD administrations poorly managed the district’s roughly $2 billion budget. He said the issues identified in the Tuesday report represent “normal dysfunction” for large, urban school districts, but at a concerning scale. The structural issues behind the inefficiencies have persisted for years, or even decades, he said.

“I think the level (of inefficient practices) here was higher than I expected,” Miles said. “There was some level of, ‘Wow, this is worse than a typical urban district.’”

Miles cited examples including:

  • About 1,000 people remained on HISD payroll after they no longer worked there, some for several years. Only a handful continued to receive paychecks.
  • Spending about $20 million on 175 school buses he said HISD didn’t need.
  • Running buses under capacity, resulting in per-student transportation costs about five times higher than the national average — roughly equivalent to the cost of each student taking an Uber or Lyft to and from school.
  • Spending $26 million on overtime pay, with 650 employees last year accruing overtime hours exceeding 30 percent of their earnings.
  • Overspending on contracted services. HISD planned to spend about $300 million on contracted services last year, according to budget documents. Miles said he will cut $50 million for the 2024-25 budget.

Miles did not provide a detailed breakdown of changes he plans to make or evidence backing up some of the claims. For example, Miles did not name specific contractors that he believes are unnecessary.

HISD officials also did not explain why their data shows a dramatic, previously unreported decline in bus ridership, which contributed to their calculations showing transportation inefficiencies. Miles’ report suggests HISD’s bus ridership has dropped 65 percent since 2018-19, when the Legislative Budget Board said about 25,000 students took the bus each day. Data published by the state shows buses traveled about 35 percent fewer miles between 2018-19 and 2022-23.

[…]

In 2018, HISD’s school board requested a third-party review of the district’s operations from the Texas Legislative Budget Board, seeking to identify ways to streamline its expenditures. A year later, the legislative committee released its findings: HISD could save up to $237 million over five years — less than $50 million per year — if it undertook a number of efforts to restructure operations, including closing as many as 40 underutilized schools.

Miles acknowledged the 2019 report raised many of the same problems and possible solutions that his team identified in the efficiency report, but said his plan will spur savings at a larger scale.

In 2021, two years after the release of the budget board’s report, HISD leaders said they had saved roughly $6.7 million over two years, a fraction of the projected savings, by implementing some of its recommendations.

Miles has previously overstated the extent of his cost-saving measures when, in July 2023, he said his team had cut over 2,300 jobs from central office, including eliminating roughly 670 occupied positions. A Houston Landing investigation, however, found Miles had only let go of about a third as many employees as he said he had, while increasing the pay for the upper echelons of district administrators.

When a reporter asked Miles about the overstated central office cuts during a Tuesday press conference, Miles downplayed the exaggeration.

“What does it matter whether there’s 2,000 or 2,100 (cuts)? I will get the mission accomplished by cutting the people that we need to cut,” Miles said.

Again, I have only skimmed the report, so I’m not going to try to address anything specific. I have a few high level thoughts for now.

– I will stipulate up front that there are likely some big savings that can be had by making HISD leaner, more modern, more efficient, however you want to put it. Any large organization is going to be doing things that are outdated, redundant, unnecessary, not providing good value for the expenditure, and so on. Some of them will be relatively easy and uncontroversial to implement. Many will encounter some level of resistance – your “special interest” is my vital program, and so forth. One can accept that there are savings to be had while remaining aware that the topline promises – the “up to $X in savings” claims – are almost certainly overstated.

– All of this would be true even if Mike Miles had a sterling record of accuracy, transparency, and delivering on promises. He does not, with this story providing numerous receipts, and as such it would be wise to adjust one’s expectations downward. Not to zero by any means – again, there absolutely are savings to be had. Just, understand the source here and adjust accordingly.

– The devil is very much in the details here. What specific changes will be proposed, and what is the estimated savings from them? It’s all pie in the sky until we have the full story, and again that would be the case no matter how one perceives Mike Miles.

– It’s important to remember that whatever does get proposed, these changes will have an effect on the people of HISD – students, teachers, and staff in particular. It may well be that the best thing we can do in this situation is to cut that program or reduce those services or whatever else, even if it is detrimental to some number of people in HISD. We should be honest about that, that’s all I’m saying.

– All that said, there should be achievable savings, there certainly are bad processes now in place, and this sort of work, which was already in the early stages before Miles got here, is necessary and urgent. I remain skeptical – we all should – about how much there actually is to save, both as a theoretical matter and as a practical one. But the exercise is worth doing, if it is done well. And again, we’ll see how that part of it goes. The Chron editorial board is optimistic, and the Press and Houston Public Media have more.

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Dispatches from Dallas, February 23 edition

This is a weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger. Let us know what you think.

This week, in news from Dallas-Fort Worth: the Dallas City Manager resigns; the Mayor gets divorced; the City of Dallas passes a bond package; election news across the Metroplex; the upcoming charter election in Dallas; education and police news; Black history; and another zoo baby in Fort Worth.

Also it’s early voting time, so don’t forget to get out and vote this week or over the weekend.

This week’s post was brought to you by the music of Philip Glass.

The biggest news in Dallas this week is the surprise resignation of T.C. Broadnax, our city manager, who’s been at odds with Mayor Johnson for a while now. Broadnax survived an attempt to fire him in June 2022, but apparently he was figuring out how to go on his own terms. WFAA scooped everybody on Broadnax’s effort to have the council sack him, triggering a clause that would let him set his own last day (June 3) and avoid any employment restrictions by the city. He also kept Johnson from suggesting that he’d masterminded Broadnax’s departure. The Texas Tribune has the story in statewide context (though their story is missing the context of the WFAA scoop); the Dallas Observer has local reactions.

Also, unsurprisingly, the mayor and council are already at odds over how to pick Broadnax’s successor.

Speaking of Mayor Johnson, he’s also been all over the news in the last few weeks, mostly over the many and consequential votes he’s missed at City Council meetings he’s skipped including two on the city bond election (more on that below). Johnson doesn’t attend DFW airport board meetings either, sending substitutes from the City Council instead.

But the big reason Johnson has been in the news this month is his divorce, which might have proceeded quietly if he hadn’t subpoenaed a D Magazine reporter. D Magazine sent one of his colleagues to cover the divorce. Now everybody knows Johnson’s wife caught him at the house with his girlfriend, then a city staffer, in 2021 and that the girlfriend travelled with him last summer. The DMN reports that the mayor also paid more than $110,000 to the woman’s consulting firm last year according to campaign records. Johnson has issued a statement about the divorce. While I generally don’t think much of social media reaction articles, this one from the Dallas Observer sums up the vibes around this mess. Also there’s no direct evidence that any of this has anything to do with Johnson’s love of travel and his aversion to showing up at City Council meetings, but if there are more shoes to drop, someone is going to drop them.

Also, as mentioned in a number of these articles, there’s an online petition to get him to resign, which is not going to happen. I’ve seen some advertisements for it on social media, but they’re going to need more than 100,000 signatures to get a recall on the ballot and that’s what it’ll take to haul Johnson’s butt out of the Mayor’s chair before the end of his term in 2027.

Popping back to the city bonds, the council approved a May election date for a $1.25 billion bond package. D Magazine has an explainer about what’s in the bond and what’s not (repairs to City Hall, as this DMN editorial complains). As expected, nobody is particularly happy with what’s in the bond, particularly housing advocates and advocates for the Tenth Street historic community. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about that between now and the May election date.

In other news:

  • The Star-Telegram issued an endorsement in CD 26: Scott Armey, Dick Armey’s son. Their entire slate can be found here and as with the CD 26 recommendation, it’s mostly whatever you want to call the not-MAGA crowd, with re-election recommendations for a lot of the Paxton impeachers.
  • The Texas Tribune has a report on the Democratic primary in CD 32. Based on what I know (I’m in CD 24), the reporting here seems sound.
  • KERA has a piece on candidate residency with a great headline: When it comes to Texas politics, residency for candidates is ‘a state of mind’. Ain’t that the truth.
  • The DMN has news about Trump endorsements for the primary opponents of four of the “rural 16” in the state House who voted against vouchers. These four also voted to impeach Ken Paxton.
  • I always thought that letting people go to the polls for free on mass transit was a good thing, but Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare disagrees. The County chose not to fund a program with Trinity Metro on a party line vote. Quote: “I don’t believe it’s the county government’s responsibility to try to get more people out to the polls.”
  • While we’re talking about O’Hare and his pet projects, his big voter integrity task force found is considering three cases of alleged fraud for prosecution. These three cases are the result of all complaints about voter fraud in Tarrant County in 2023, by which we can see it was a huge problem.
  • Once the Dallas bond election is over, we’ll be knee-deep in proposed amendments to Dallas city charter, which are coming up in November. Here’s another explainer. The Dallas Observer has a list of possible changes coming to a ballot near me. I notice that one of the items on the possible list changing who runs the city when the mayor’s away. Here’s a piece about a proposal that failed to make it to the ballot: an attempt to move city elections to November in odd-numbered years.
  • Also in the mix for big changes here in Dallas: land-use changes. DMN reporter Sharon Grigsby has a commentary piece on the proposed Forward Dallas city planning document, which has alarmed local homeowners who think it’ll get rid of the single-family home zoning designation. Forward Dallas is a planning document, but won’t change zoning rules. It’s complicated stuff, and if you’re trying to make sense of it, here’s explainer about its placetype designations. I’m still wrapping my head around Forward Dallas myself and I live here, so don’t be surprised if it’s confusing to anyone who isn’t deep into urban planning.
  • One of Texas’ social media outrages this week has been Libs of Tik Tok going after a male teacher at Hebron High School who wore a pink dress to Spirit Day. Apparently his students encouraged him to wear the dress. Social media went to war, with Greg Abbott being disgusted and Texas Democrats being disgusted at him. No word yet on whether the teacher is out of a job permanently.
  • The Star-Telegram has a fact check on US Rep. Roger Williams’ claim that 90% of small businesses have been hit by ‘illegal immigrant’ crime. (No.) Related: One of the Star-Telegram’s op-ed writers has gone down to the border near Eagle Pass and written about her experience. I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, but I do like the first-hand view of the border.
  • Let’s talk about local environmental news. Activist Janie Cisneros is suing the city of Dallas for refusing to accept filings for amortization, or scheduled closure, of the GAF shingle plant in West Dallas. This the next step in West Dallas’ longtime struggle to get the plant out of town. Meanwhile, in Joppa, local activists trying to get rid of the TAMKO shingle plant have discovered there’s no record of a permit the site has needed since 1987. Oops. Meanwhile in Fort Worth, Mayor Parker has opposed the development of a new concrete plant. TCEQ plans to hold a public meeting sometime in the coming months and has extended its comment period until the end of that yet unscheduled meeting.
  • Axios has a piece about how the fact that the Adelsons own the Sands doesn’t mean the league will become more involved with legal gambling, no sir. Put a pin in that because I expect we’ll be revisiting it, certainly here in Texas.
  • As you know if you’ve been reading these updates for a while, the Tarrant County jails have problems. The county is cutting ties with a private jail near Lubbock that violated the state’s minimum jail standards. Meanwhile, as this article about a town hall back in January notes, there have been 60 deaths in the jail’s custody since 2018, though it’s not clear whether that number includes inmates in private jails or just the jails in the county. Sherriff Waybourn claims they all died of drugs or natural causes. Just to give you an idea of who he stands with, check out this fundraising report from last month, which includes a donation from our friends at Defend Texas Liberty. And last month, Tarrant County approved a $200,000 settlement with an inmate who was beaten at the jail, incurring broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a broken cheekbone. The settlement did not include an admission of wrongdoing.
  • The Dallas County jail system passed a surprise jail inspection this year after previous failures but does have some shortcomings to fix.
  • This week I learned that there’s a secret legal opinion that requires the Dallas police oversight board to investigate only those cases that have already been investigated by Internal Affairs. This comes in the wake of the news that the investigation into the case of Dynell Lane, the veteran who was mocked by Dallas police after he was refused the use of a restroom with a medical card, has been delayed.
  • The DMN interviewed two former Southlake PD officers who were fired for writing a swastika on a whiteboard. They claim one of them was calling another officer a “ticket Nazi” for writing too many tickets.
  • Dallas and Collin counties, along with everybody else, were supposed to have a Sexual Assault Response Team in place and submit a report to their commissioners’ court by the end of 2023. Both counties blew that deadline. Other major counties, including Tarrant, Travis, and Harris, and even Denton County, have managed produce their report in a timely fashion, but the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court barely even knew what the Observer was looking for. I’m disappointed in my elected officials.
  • This week a Fort Worth neighborhood was flyered by Nazis. The URL on the flyers linked to an East Texas neo-Nazi group. No word on whether they’re connected to other Nazi/neo-Nazi trouble in Fort Worth in recent months.
  • The city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County have also had their share of major league resignations recently. First, the city auditor has resigned after about 18 months in office; he’ll be replaced in the interim by the auditor whose retirement triggered the search that found him. Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram reported on the ‘toxic leadership style’ of the Tarrant County Public Health Director. He resigned the next day, after a closed-door meeting with his name on the agenda.
  • Sandi Walker, one of Keller ISD’s trustees resigned after she let a documentary crew film students without permission from the board or parents. The Fort Worth Report has some more details and discussion of next steps. The DMN has an editorial about Walker, an anti-woke Patriot Mobile type (the documentary she had to quit over is being made by a Dutch evangelical group), and the dangers of school board capture. As they note, this is the second Keller ISD trustee to quit in less than three months, which is what happens when narrow-minded political activists take over your local school district.
  • In good education news: D Magazine has a writeup of 10 Dallas ISD Programs or Schools You Should Know About That Aren’t Magnet Schools. I’d only heard of about half of these, but I don’t have kids and I live in an area zoned to Richardson ISD.
  • Fort Worth’s Gladney Center is merging with another adoption agency on the east coast. Edna Gladney, the organization’s namesake, is one of those tough Texas ladies from the early part of the 1900s who got things done: in her case, helping unwed mothers and getting their kids adopted, and getting the stigma of bastardy off birth certificates in Texas. Even though I came of age in the years when reproductive rights were protected, I knew that if you got pregnant and couldn’t get an abortion, you went to the Edna Gladney people.
  • A docuseries coming our way will cover the work of Colossal Biosciences, which uses genetic engineering to save creatures on the edge of extinction. They’re also trying to bring back the dodo, which, fine, but I’ve seen Jurassic Park.
  • Here’s a fascinating piece of Black history about the first Black special officer in Fort Worth, who was hired to patrol Black areas and police the Black community under Jim Crow. He held the job from 1896 to 1905, and was apparently run out of town a few years later.
  • Another piece of Black history I learned about this week is is the story of Silvia Hector Webber, the ‘Harriet Tubman’ of the Underground Railroad to Mexico. There’s a forthcoming book on Webber based on recent research into her papers; that’ll go right on my TBR list.
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has donated $2 million toward the National Juneteenth Museum under development in Fort Worth. The donation gets the museum to the halfway point in its campaign.
  • Bailey’s Bar-B-Que in Fort Worth was the oldest barbecue in Texas owned by the original family. It’s now been sold to the folks at Panther City BBQ, a Texas Monthly top 10 barbecue, who will keep the old school alive.
  • And last, but not least, another zoo baby for you: Baloo, a baby colobus, was born January 24 and is already out where zoo visitors can see him.
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The Shawn Thierry situation

The Trib covers one of the more important primaries in Harris County this cycle.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

That Senate Bill 14 would pass was not in doubt.

The legislation, which would bar gender-transitioning care for children and teens, had universal Republican support and merely awaited final sign-off by the GOP-led House.

The only surprise that May evening in the Capitol was when Rep. Shawn Thierry, a Democrat from Houston, strode to the front of the chamber and announced she was breaking with her party to support the bill.

Children must be protected from transgender care because of its risk of harm, she said, citing precedent in Texas for allowing only adults to get tattoos, use tanning salons and purchase tobacco products. She said teenagers’ brains are not developed enough to make potentially irreversible medical decisions.

“This debate… was never about erasing trans children,” Thierry said in a tearful 12-minute speech. “For me, this discussion is about how to best protect and care for these children as they navigate through the challenging journey of finding the best version of themselves.”

Thierry’s remarks ignored that treatment decisions for minors can only be made by parents or legal guardians, as well as the consensus of major medical groups that gender-transitioning care should be available to children and teens in the care of doctors.

Republicans were quick to praise Thierry as a brave politician willing to buck her radical party. To Democrats, who watched the speech in stunned silence, she had betrayed their party’s commitment to protect LGBTQ+ rights and vulnerable Texans.

“It feels defeating, when you’re a Democrat in the Texas Legislature,” said Dallas Rep. Jessica González, one of several gay members of the caucus. “The last two legislative sessions had the most conservative bills. That’s why it’s even more important for us to stick together.”

The political fallout is spilling into the Democratic primary, where in her bid for reelection Thierry faces two challengers. One of them, labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, is well funded and has secured the support of several Democratic officials — including sitting House members — and progressive groups like the influential Houston LGBTQ+ Political Caucus. A Democratic club in Houston censured her, accusing Thierry of turning her back on the gay and transgender community.

Thierry, whose small-dollar donations have largely dried up, now relies heavily on wealthy Republican donors to fund her campaign.

More than a third of Thierry’s donations over the past year came from individuals or groups who typically support Republican candidates, a curiosity in a predominantly Democratic district. They include $10,000 from Doug Deason, a conservative activist, and $15,000 from his pro-school voucher Family Empowerment Coalition PAC.

While she’s not the only Democrat in the House to have voted with Republicans on those bills, Thierry’s race has become a referendum on whether elected officials who do not fully support LGBTQ+ causes can remain in good standing with the Democratic Party. Thierry is insistent she can, and said her votes last year reflected the will of her constituents.

Thierry, who declined to sit for an interview but spoke briefly to The Texas Tribune by phone, said most of the criticism of her on LGBTQ+ issues comes from white progressives outside her district, who do not represent her base of more socially conservative, religious Black voters.

“I didn’t just jump out against … my constituents,” Thierry said. “Clearly, I have a good pulse of how the majority of the people in my district feel. I really do. I’ve lived here forever.”

But it’s a knife in the back for gay and transgender residents in District 146, who previously viewed her as an ally. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas endorsed Thierry as recently as 2022.

Ashton Woods, a gay man and founder of Houston’s Black Lives Matter chapter, accused Thierry of lying about her constituents’ support for her LGBTQ+ positions. He said the representative previously presented herself as an ally of the gay and transgender community, but in reality is solely interested in the views of a small group of mostly elderly supporters that agree with her.

“I don’t know who she’s talking to in my age group,” said Woods, 39. “She’s seeking a safe space where people share the same ideology as her.”

[…]

Anger with Thierry over her votes last year has created an opening for labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, with a faction of Democrats coalescing around her.

Simmons, who has never before sought elected office, said residents encouraged her to run after a video of her criticizing the state takeover of Houston ISD exploded in popularity online. With two children in the district, Simmons was worried about Republican attacks on public education and felt Thierry was unresponsive to constituents about the issue.

She was shocked to see Thierry’s remarks on SB 14, which she felt were “ripped from the Republican national agenda.” Why not make a 12-minute speech on the most pressing issues in District 146, she wondered, like gun violence and the lack of grocery stores?

Simmons, 36, likened the plight of the parents of trans children to her own daughter’s treatment for sickle-cell anemia, which includes an experimental chemotherapy drug and opioids.

“Those are decisions that are hard for me and her dad to make with her medical team,” Simmons said. “I get really nervous when we start passing legislation about what decisions parents can make about their children’s health care.”

I also pointed out Rep. Thierry’s new funding sources when I rounded up the January finance reports for state office seekers. As noted in my post about the Chron’s endorsement of Lauren Ashley Simmons, my interview with Simmons is here and my interview with Ashton Woods is here. While we could try to get past the wrongness of Rep. Thierry’s votes (for some value of “we”, of course; it’s a lot easier for a straight guy with straight kids like me to say that) and mumble something about how some other Dems made the same votes, it’s the “fuck you” attitude coming from her, exemplified in her “the gay ones” comment in her endorsement meeting with the Chron, that just takes this well over the top. Rep. Thierry may prevail in this election – there’s clearly a generation gap on these issues, which you can see from the two supportive comments for her in the piece, and as older voters tend to dominate in primaries that works in her favor – but she’ll never be a factor again. When her last day comes in the Lege, whenever that is, it will be good riddance to someone who could have done good things but chose to throw that chance away. The Chron, which has a followup article on the reaction to “the gay ones”, has more.

UPDATE: And now this.

Days after facing backlash for making insensitive comments, Democratic officials are blasting Texas state Rep. Shawn Thierry for misleading voters in a campaign mailer after using their image in likeness without their permission.

The campaign mailer features four photos: two of Thierry smiling with supporters at a rally, another with her alongside Houston City Controller Hollins smiling in front of the Barbara Jordan Memorial Parkway sign, and another with her and Democratic U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, where both hold a certificate that’s hard to read. Between all four images reads “Shawn Nicole Thierry, the qualified Democrat for House District 146.”

Hollins and Clyburn released a statement Monday morning denouncing the representative for using their likeness as an endorsement in the political mailer. They said they have reached out to her campaign to stop distribution.

“I was truly shocked. It was a brazen act because Representative Thierry is highly aware of the fact that I’m supporting her opponent in this race,” said newly elected Houston City Controller Chris Hollins in an interview with Chron Monday. He said he was shocked last week when he received a message from a constituent about the controversial campaign mailer with the Houstonian asking Hollins if his endorsement had changed. “Imagine what’s going through my mind when I see a picture of myself in a Shawn Thierry campaign ad. I thought it was incredibly dishonest.”

Hollins added that Clyburn, a veteran politician in the U.S. House of Representatives, didn’t know who Thierry was before he was told of the mailer.

“Texas State Representative Shawn Thierry is misrepresenting a photo she took with Congressman Clyburn as an endorsement in her reelection campaign,” Clyburn said in the press release. “Congressman Clyburn does not support Shawn Thierry, nor has he endorsed her. We have contacted her campaign and advised them to cease using his likeness in her campaign materials immediately.”

Hollins said Thierry’s comments showed a “lack of judgment and temperament” that showed she’s not the best person to represent her district.

“The lack of judgment and the lack of the kind of temperament that you would want to see in a leader was evident,” he said. “To make an off-hand comment like that was so disrespectful to the LGBTQ-plus community, and it’s not in line with Democratic values, period. And this seat was drawn by Republicans to be a safe Democratic [district], and so we deserve someone who’s going to be representing Democratic values, and Shawn Thierry is not that person.”

Wow. I don’t know if this was a screwup or a sign of desperation – candidates who are confident in their position are much less likely to misrepresent who their prominent supporters are, precisely because it leads to this kind of negative attention – but either way it’s pretty brutal. I’m not shedding any tears.

Posted in Election 2024 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paxton attacks Catholic non-profit that ministers to immigrants

Wow.

A crook any way you look

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to shut down Annunciation House, an El Paso Catholic nonprofit organization that has provided shelter and other services to migrants and immigrants for decades.

“The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where (nongovernmental organizations), funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration, facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day in and day out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”

Ruben Garcia, the founder and director of Annunciation House, denounced the attorney general’s action in a statement Tuesday night.

“The attorney general’s illegal, immoral and anti-faith position to shut down Annunciation House is unfounded,” Garcia said.

He had raised concerns last year that Texas’ crackdown on immigration could imperil the work of church-based groups on immigration.

“The church is at risk because the volunteers are asking themselves, ‘If I feed someone who’s unprocessed, if I give someone a blanket who’s unprocessed, if I help them get off the street, am I liable to be prosecuted for that?’” Garcia told a bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators visiting El Paso in January 2023. “Shame on us, that on this day, this is even being brought up in the United States.”

On Tuesday, Garcia said his organization provides a vital service, and warned that other organizations could be at risk of actions by Paxton.

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and given them food. The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community,” he said. “If the work that Annunciation House conducts is illegal, so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

[…]

According to court records, investigators with the Attorney General’s Office went to Annunciation House’s South El Paso office on Feb. 7 and served the agency with a request to examine records related to its operations.

Annunciation House’s received a temporary restraining order the next day from 205th District Court Judge Francisco Dominguez of El Paso that blocked the attorney general from enforcing the order for records.

“Annunciation House wishes to provide you the documents to which you are entitled under law. This will require study and work on our part, and unfortunately litigation as well because it is impossible to comply with your deadline, and we remain concerned about the legality of certain aspects of your request,” Jerome Wesevich, an attorney for Annunciation House, said in a Feb. 8 email to the Attorney General’s Office.

Paxton’s office on Tuesday filed a counter-claim against Annunciation House, seeking to overturn the temporary restraining order and to strip the nonprofit of its right to do business in Texas. The attorney general alleges Annunciation House is violating state law by refusing to turn over the requested records, and should be shut down.

The records sought by Paxton’s office include “documents sufficient to show all services that you provide to aliens, whether in the United States legally or illegally,” and “all documents provided to individual aliens as part of your intake process.”

Dominguez has scheduled a hearing for 1 p.m. Thursday on Annunciation House’s request for a temporary injunction, which is a stronger step than the temporary restraining order he issued earlier this month.

I’ve run out of adjectives strong enough to describe Ken Paxton, so I’ll just ask someone to explain to me, in small words, how this is not an infringement on Annunciation House’s religious freedom. This matter is in state court for now, but I think we can all see the bills that will be filed next session to explicitly outlaw, if not criminalize, what Annunciation House is doing. From there, it’s just a matter of time before it lands on SCOTUS’ doorstep.

One more thing:

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, issued a statement “sounding the alarm” to other NGOs and organizations helping migrants that Paxton’s suit is “clearly going to be a strategy for the MAGA extremists.” Escobar said she met with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week and asked that the Department of Justice investigate “what I believe are horrific civil rights violations.”

“If Mr. Paxton believes that Annunciation House merits investigation, he should apply that same standard to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has literally transported a similar population across state lines,” Escobar said, referencing Abbott’s strategy of busing migrants to Democratic-led cities.

Paxton’s lawsuit comes as some Republicans in Congress have sought to eliminate federal funding for NGOs helping migrants along the border. U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a San Antonio Republican, said he believed the request for more funding was a “big part” of what sank the bipartisan border bill that Senate Republicans blocked earlier this month.

“It’s very evident that the gravy train of money to NGOs is over. That well is dry,” Gonzales said at the time. “There is no appetite in both the House and the Senate to entertain any additional funding for these NGOs.”

You misspelled “Because we’re all Donald Trump’s bitches”, Rep. Gonzales. And he’s supposed to be one of the “moderate” ones.

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