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Interview with Lawrence Allen

Lawrence Allen

We continue in HD26, where incumbent Rick Miller self-immolated and quickly wound up vacating this very competitive seat. Lawrence Allen, Jr. is a current member of the State Board of Education, in District 4, a seat he has held since 2004. A longtime educator, Allen is recently retired as Director of Special Projects in HISD, having been a teacher, assistant principal, and principal of Jesse H. Jones High School before that. He is also the son of State Rep. Alma Allen – people with a deeper knowledge of Legislative history than me will have to let us know if there have been multiple generations of legislators serving at the same time before – and was a candidate for Houston City Council District D in 2007. Here’s what we talked about:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Sarah DeMerchant – HD26

The Democrats’ voter registration strategy

From the Texas Signal:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

[Last] Monday, the Texas Democratic Party announced the largest voter registration program in the history of the state. This massive effort will be done in conjunction with Fair Fight, a voting rights organization started by Stacey Abrams.

“Fair Fight is proud to partner with the Texas Democratic Party to fund, train and support a robust voter protection initiative through our Fair Fight 2020 initiative,” Seth Bringman, a spokesperson for Fair Fight, told ABC News. “Republicans in Texas have, for a long time, sought to make it harder to vote, particularly for voters of color, and it takes a dedicated voter protection team on the ground well before Election Day to make sure all Texans’ voices can be heard.”

[…]

To get Texans voting, the Texas Democratic Party and Fair Fight will seek to register 2.6 million potential new Democrats through machine-learning-based models, a year-round voter assistance hotline, hundreds of thousands of registration applications sent by mail, and 1,000 organizers and canvassers on the ground.

That’s a lot of voters, and this is a very ambitious project. It’s worth putting some numbers on all this, so let’s hit the highlights from the TDP press release:

More highlights from the programs include:

  • We are going to have 1,000 field organizers and canvassers on the ground in 2020.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is gearing up to mail hundreds of thousands of voter registration applications to unregistered voters across the state.

  • We’re launching a year-round voter assistance hotline.

  • We are building machine-learning-based models to quickly identify the partisanship-leaning of new and low propensity voters so that campaigns can mobilize Democratic voters.

  • We are hiring dedicated staff to engage every part of our Democratic coalition — including our AAPI, African-American, Latinx, LGBTQ+, youth, and Disability communities — and to narrow the gap in rural committees.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is working alongside fellow Democratic organizations to ensure these young voters are pinpointed for voter registration and mobilization.

By the numbers:

  • We anticipate the voter rolls will swell to upwards of 18,000,000 registered voters in 2020.

  • The Texas Democratic Party is focused on registering the estimated 2,600,000 Texans who are likely to vote Democratic if they register to vote.

  • At the congressional level, we estimate there are 495,000 potential new Democrats in the eight DCCC-targeted districts.

  • We estimate 210,000 potential new Democrats in the 12 state house districts that flipped in 2018. Additionally, there are 315,000 potential new Democrats in 18 targeted State House districts for 2020.

This accompanying document goes into more detail, and it’s worth reading through. One useful tidbit noted was that a smaller version of this registered 133,000 new voters in the 2018 cycle, and 120,000 of them turned out. That’s pretty good. There’s a bunch of charts in that last link, one of which shows voter registration totals over time, but to reiterate:

November 2008 = 13,575,062
November 2010 = 13,269,233
November 2012 = 13,646,226
November 2014 = 14,025,441
November 2016 = 15,101,087
November 2018 = 15,793,257
January 2020 = 16,106,984

Lot more growth in the last six years than in the first, but we’re still a long way from 18 million. Republicans of course are also seeking to register voters, which is rather a departure from past behavior on their part. I’d like to see some journalism about this effort in proportion to what I’ve seen about Engage Texas, and I’d very much like to see some followup reporting as the year goes along – we will see official registration numbers for March, at least – to see how this is proceeding. In the meantime, if you want to Do Something about 2020, helping out this effort would be an excellent place to start.

You can’t move on from something you haven’t faced up to

That’s not how it works.

Did not age well

Neither Jose Altuve nor Alex Bregman, two principal players on a 2017 team that executed what Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “player-driven and player-executed” system to violate baseball’s rules and defraud the game, chose Saturday to address specifics of a nine-page report on the scandal that led to the dismissal of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

If there is remorse and apology, that will come later, perhaps next month after the ballclub gathers at West Palm Beach, Fla, for spring training. But for the moment, if there are fences to be mended, feelings to be reconciled or trust to be regained, Astros fans apparently will be left to their own devices.

Until the players speak, the focus of the Astros’ efforts to cope with and move past what some have described as baseball’s worst performance-related scandal in a century remains on owner Jim Crane, who made the decision last Monday to fire Hinch and Luhnow rather than settle for the suspensions imposed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

By firing his manager and general manaager, said Gene Grabowski, a principal with the public relations firm kglobal, the Astros have made the appropriate sacrifice for their sins to the Lords of Baseball.

“They have thrown the virgin into the volcano,” Grabowski said.

With that, he said, the most important task facing Astros management is to move ahead, as Crane has done by apologizing to season ticket holders, contacting sponsors and receiving what he described as messages of continued support.

“You have to get past this,” Grabowski said.

[…]

Astros alumni Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman also emphasized the need to look ahead.

“When I get a spanking from my dad, he doesn’t quit loving me and I don’t quit being his son,” Berkman said. “The Astros aren’t going to stop being part of Major League Baseball. You have to accept the punishment and move on.

“This is a clean organization. This is not a dirty organization. This is not a tricky organization. All these things notwithstanding, this is a great organization, and I think it will continue to be.”

Bagwell agreed with Altuve that it’s too early for players to react to the specific charges outlined in the commissioner’s report.

“Everyone is still trying to wrap their heads around it,” he said.

Others, however, favor a more direct approach. Jeff Van Gundy, the former Rockets coach who now works for ESPN, said the forgiving nature of Houston fans and the old saw that confession is good for the soul would be a better avenue than silence.

“You don’t have to get into specifics, but you can say, ‘I’m sorry for the role that I played in this, and I promise the Astros fans that not only will I promise not to do it again, I won’t tolerate anybody else doing it,’ ” Van Gundy said.

While some fans will scoff at the idea that players did anything wrong by violating the rules in a sport where competition is everything and winning is the only thing, Van Gundy said, “The earlier you deal with it, the more forthright you are, the better.

“Saying ‘I screwed up’ is the hardest thing to do. But it’s the simplest way to be forgiven.”

I’m with Van Gundy here. Look, the main thing we know here is that other than then-coach Alex Cora, the whole “banging scheme” was player-devised and player-driven. Yet for a variety of understandable if debatable reasons, MLB chose to punish only the manager and GM. This has not only left the public wanting players to be held accountable as well, it’s also left every member of the Astros team from 2017 and 2018 under a cloud. That cloud isn’t going anywhere until the players themselves talk about their own role in what happened, whether as a ringleader, beneficiary of the scheme, or just someone who didn’t care for it but didn’t speak up about it. This isn’t complicated. The Astros themselves can feel however they want about all this, but if they want other people to move on, they need to own what they did and apologize for it.

Interview with Sarah DeMerchant

Sarah DeMerchant

One more time to legislative races, and one more time to a district carried by Beto. Like the others of that class, HD26 has drawn a full field of contenders to bring it across the finish line and into the Democratic fold. You could say that our first candidate. Sarah DeMerchant, has been at the forefront of this effort, as this is her third time running in HD26, having run in 2016 (getting 42.14% of the vote) and 2018 (up to 47.59% of the vote). DeMerchant has a degree in Computer Information Systems and a professional background in software development. She is involved in numerous community organizations and volunteered on the Wendy Davis and Barack Obama campaigns in past years. Her husband Ken was elected to Fort Bend Commissioners Court in 2018. You can hear the interview I did with her in 2018 here, and you can listen to the interview I did this year below:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Judicial Q&A: Steve Miears

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Steve Miears

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Steve Miears and I am running for judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4, as a Democrat. I grew up in Houston and graduated from Madison High School. I graduated from Austin College and finished law school at the Texas Tech University School of Law. I was a prosecutor after finishing law school. For the last thirty-five years I have been in private practice representing people in criminal cases who were indigent.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court is a court of discretionary review of decisions in criminal cases from the 14 Courts of Appeal in Texas. It hears direct appeals from Texas trial courts where the death penalty has been imposed by a jury. It also hears writs of mandamus. Writs of Habeas Corpus take up most of this Court’s docket. Last year the Court handled over 3,500 writs of habeas corpus. These writs, filed mostly by prison inmates, challenge convictions on constitutional grounds including complaints of ineffective assistance of counsel.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this position because I want to bring my values and understanding of the law to the Court. I am a Democrat and I identify with the values of the Democratic Party. Currently, the Court consists of nine Republican judges. It’s time for a different set of ideas about the rule of law to come to the Court. These ideas include respect for a woman’s reproductive rights, sensible gun regulations, an understanding of society’s evolving views on the death penalty, respect for LGBTQ rights, and the injustice of long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am Board Certified in Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate Law. I have been named a “Super Lawyer” in criminal law by Texas Monthly magazine for the past 7 years. I have handled as lead counsel the trial and appeal of death penalty cases. To read a complete list of cases I have handled on appeal go to http://www.search.txcourts.gov/CaseSearch.aspx?coa=coa06&s=c:

Click on the box "Case Search." 
Mark  only "All Courts" to search all courts in Texas.
Put in my Bar number for the search field: 14025600

To watch a video of an oral argument I did recently before the Court of Criminal Appeals regarding police needing a warrant to get your cell phone records go to:
http://www.texasbarcle.com/CLE/CCAPlayer5.asp?sCaseNo=pd-1269-16&bLive=&k=&T= 

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals decide the scope of constitutional protections of individual liberties and freedoms of all Texans.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

My opponent in the primary was elected just over a year ago to complete a four-year term on a Dallas County judicial bench. I believe that if the voters elect someone to a position they have a right to expect that the person will fulfill those duties—before seeking another office. If she won, then the governor would appoint a Republican to be the judge in that court. I can’t believe the Dallas voters expected that outcome when they voted for her.

Because I have handled appeals, writs, and death penalty cases, I am more qualified by experience. I am committed to changing the Court for the better.

Meanwhile, the HISD Board of Trustees is still a thing

Meet the new Board, not the same as the old Board.

Hours after Houston ISD’s four recently elected trustees took office, enshrining the district’s first all-female school board, the new-look governing team on Thursday made its first big decision.

Trustees voted 8-1 to postpone approving a facilities assessment contract sought by the district’s administration, which would serve as a significant step toward asking residents to approve a multi-billion bond package in November. Board members will return in February to decide on the contract, giving them additional time to consider the ramifications of the deal.

Multiple board members said they wanted more discussion between the administration and trustees before spending up to $5 million on a facilities assessment. HISD likely will face headwinds in gaining support for a bond package, the result of dramatic state intervention looming over the district and a decline in public trust following months of board in-fighting.

“If it were that important, these conversations should have happened months ago,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said. “To spring it on brand new board members and expect a vote is unfair.”

HISD administrators said the facilities assessment would help the district craft a bond proposal, which would involve extensive construction projects at dozens of campuses, major investments in school security and hundreds of millions of dollars in technology upgrades.

Derrick Sanders, HISD’s officer of construction services, said the delay in a facilities assessment “wouldn’t be a fatal blow, but it would be a challenging one” for placing a bond request on the November ballot.

District officials have not placed a price tag on any potential bond packages, but it would likely exceed $2 billion and come with little to no increase in the tax rate. HISD residents last voted on a bond in 2012, approving a $1.9-billion proposal. Nearly all projects financed by the package have been completed.

So the obvious question to ask here, which the story did not address, is whether there could be a bond election called by the Board of Managers. It’s been long enough since the last bond election that there’s surely a need for some capital spending, and waiting four or five years till the elected Board is fully back in place could ensure that the need is too great to be sufficiently addressed. These bonds usually pass without too much trouble – the 2012 bond got 69% of the vote – but it’s not hard to imagine a 2020 issue being controversial. I don’t know what the best course of action is here, but I hope the new Board figures it out quickly. Aren’t y’all glad you signed up for this?

Weekend link dump for January 19

A deep and myth-busting dive into the life of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

“After Floridians approved an initiative to restore voting rights to approximately 1.4 million people with felony convictions, Republican lawmakers immediately moved to sabotage the historic effort. The GOP-controlled legislature passed a law along party lines that effectively required a poll tax from a majority of those poised to regain their right to vote. The GOP’s brazenly partisan measure, however, appears to be backfiring. Democratic counties are taking advantage of a compromise buried in the statute to give residents their voting rights. Meanwhile, Republican counties are taking a hard line against suffrage—meaning a substantial majority of Floridians who do manage to register to vote are likely to be Democrats.”

“Password sharing has serious economic consequences. In 2019, companies lost about $9.1 billion to password piracy and sharing, and that will rise to $12.5 billion in 2024, according to data released by research firm Parks Associates.”

“George Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue Is In The Public Domain And Gerswhin’s Nephew Is Worried Someone Might Turn It Into Hip Hop“.

“A womanizing tortoise whose rampant sex life may have single-handedly saved his entire species from extinction has retired from his playboy lifestyle, returning to the wild with his mission accomplished.”

Make sure your Windows 10 machine installs the latest security patch.

“So the White House was not reporting the weather; it was just running a weather rerun, so to speak, as news and government outlets are known for doing because it creates absolutely no public problems at all.”

Yeah, I’m sure this is why Meghan Markle said “screw it, we’re outta here”.

“This is the literal polar opposite of reality.”

“Last week, there were 47 Holocaust survivors living in Dallas, according to the museum. Today there are 46. No longer will Repp share his stories with groups that visit the museum, or schoolchildren from all over this state whose teachers request his presence. One more living connection to that genocide is gone, one more bond erased.” Rest in peace, Jack Repp, born Itzik Rzepkowicz in Poland, Holocaust survivor.

Jeopardy!‘s all-time low scorer (non-Wolf Blitzer division) comments on the “Greatest of All Time” tournament.

So, how about that Equal Rights Amendment, huh?

“In trying to be above taking sides, the mainstream media does Trump a favor by making order out of his chaos.”

RIP, Christopher Tolkien, author and son of JRR Tolkien.

And that was the completely bat$#!+ crazy week that it was in Major League Baseball.

RIP, Gary Starkweather, inventor of the laser printer.

Congratulations to Alyssa Nakken, the first female coach on a big league staff in MLB history.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: Harris County

As you know, New Year’s Day brings a new round of campaign finance reports, for all levels of government. I’m going to be working my way through these as I can, because there’s lots to be learned about the candidates and the status of the races from these reports, even if all we do is look at the topline numbers. Today we start with Harris County races, as there’s a lot of action and primary intrigue. With the Presidential primary and of course the entire Trump demon circus dominating the news, it can be hard to tell where the buzz is in these races, if any buzz exists. The July 2019 reports, with a much smaller field of candidates, is here.

Kim Ogg, District Attorney
Carvana Cloud, District Attorney
Audia Jones, District Attorney
Curtis Todd Overstreet, District Attorney

Lori DeAngelo, District Attorney
Mary Nan Huffman, District Attorney
Lloyd Oliver, District Attorney

Ed Gonzalez, Sheriff
Jerome Moore, Sheriff
Harry Zamora, Sheriff

Joe Danna, Sheriff
Paul Day, Sheriff

Vince Ryan, County Attorney
Christian Menefee, Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose, Harris County Attorney

John Nation, County Attorney

Ann Harris Bennett, Tax Assessor
Jolanda Jones, Tax Assessor
Jack Terence, Tax Assessor

Chris Daniel (SPAC), Tax Assessor

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1
Maria Jackson, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Diana Alexander, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Erik Hassan, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Michael Moore, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Morris Overstreet, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Kristi Thibaut, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Susan Sample, County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Brenda Stardig (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 3


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Ogg          106,572    83,276   68,489     385,908
Cloud         33,881    17,382        0      16,889
Jones         49,186    29,177        0      29,973
Overstreet         0     1,250        0           0

DeAngelo         500     2,012        0         500
Hoffman            0    41,089        0           0
Oliver             0         0        0           0

Gonzalez      95,636    47,317        0     317,264
Moore         28,595    15,896        0      12,698
Zamora         4,500    18,177        0           0

Danna         78,820    39,274    7,000       9,857
Day                0         0        0           0

Ryan          33,655    18,779        0     101,039
Menefee      135,579    41,249        0     128,547
Rose          89,476    80,932   20,000      53,341

Nation             0     1,369        0           0

Bennett       20,965     8,734        0      39,845
Jones         16,320     1,250        0      16,320
Terence        1,000     1,400        0           0

Daniel            35         1        0         454

Ellis        122,631   396,998        0   3,881,740
Jackson      110,230    71,241    8,000      19,353

Alexander
Hassan          750      4,442        0           0
Moore       209,391     13,248        0     199,052
Overstreet   17,950      2,025        0      15,925
Thibaut      51,180      4,536        0      45,761

Ramsey      154,315     24,281        0     126,619
Sample       26,624      1,828        0      26,620
Stardig      43,700     39,985        0      75,930

I guess I expected more from the District Attorney race. Audia Jones and Carvana Cloud have raised a few bucks, but nothing yet that would lead me to believe they will be able to effectively communicate with a primary electorate that could well be over 500,000 voters. Kim Ogg is completing her first term, but this will be the third time she’s been on the ballot – there was an election for DA in 2014 as well, following the death of Mike Anderson and the appointment of his widow, Devon Anderson, to succeed him. Neither of those primaries had a lot of voters, but a lot of the folks voting this March will have done so in one or both of the past Novembers, and that’s a boost for Ogg. On the Republican side, you can insert a shrug emoji here. I assume whoever wins that nomination will eventually be able to convince people to give them money. If you’re wondering how Mary Nan Hoffman can spend $41K without raising anything, the answer is that she spent that from personal funds.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is the only incumbent here without a serious primary challenger. I’d never advise anyone to coast in an election where they have an opponent, but he doesn’t need to have the pedal to the metal. More than half of the amount Joe Danna raised was in kind, so don’t spend too much time thinking about that.

Both County Attorney challengers have done well, though again the question will be “is it enough?” I actually got a robopoll call the other day for the County Attorney race, but I didn’t stay on the line till the end – they started asking “if you knew this about this candidate” questions, and since they didn’t say up front how long the survey might take, I didn’t want to stick it out. As above, the main challenge for Christian Menefee and Ben Rose is that Vince Ryan has been on the ballot multiple times, going back to 2008. The voters know who he is, or at least more of them know who he is than they do who the other candidates in that race are. That’s the hill they have to climb.

The one challenger to an incumbent who can claim a name ID advantage is Jolanda Jones, who is surely as well known as anyone on this ballot. That has its pros and cons in her case, but at least the voters deciding between her and Ann Harris Bennett won’t be guessing about who their choices are.

I didn’t mention the Republicans running for County Attorney or Tax Assessor for obvious reasons. Chris Daniel could be a low-key favorite to surpass the partisan baseline in his race in November, but after 2016 and 2018, he’ll need a lot more than that.

In the Commissioners Court races, Maria Jackson has raised a decent amount of money, but she’s never going to be on anything close to even footing there. Precinct 1 is one-fourth of the county, but a much bigger share of the Democratic primary electorate. In 2008, there were 143K votes in Precinct 1 out of 411K overall or 35%. In 2012, it was 39K out of 76K, or 51%, and in 2016 it was 89K out of 227K, or 39%. My guess is that in a 500K primary, Precinct 1 will have between 150K and 200K voters. Think of it in those terms when you think about how much money each candidate has to spend so they can communicate with those voters.

In Precinct 3, Michael Moore and Tom Ramsey stand out in each of their races so far. For what it’s worth, the three Dems have raised more (270K to 224K) than the three Republicans so far. I don’t think any of that matters right now. Steve Radack still has his campaign money, and I’d bet he spends quite a bit of it to help the Republican nominee hold this seat.

All right, that’s it for now. I’ll have state offices next, and will do Congress and US Senate later since those totals aren’t reliably available till the first of the next month. Later I’ll go back and fill in the city numbers, and maybe look at HISD and HCC as well. Let me know what you think.

It’s the year 2020…

But where are the flying cars? And hyperloops? And other things we were promised?

Uber will deploy flying cars

When Uber Technologies Inc. pledged to deliver on a promise of the Jetsons, it gave itself just three years to do so. The company still intends to hold flight demonstrations in 2020, but it’s safe to say you will not be able to hail a flying Uber in the next year. The company continues to explore the concept with regulators. In 2019, Uber added a form of flying vehicle that’s not particularly cutting edge: It’s booking helicopter rides in New York City. In December, Uber said it was working with a startup, Joby Aviation, to develop “aerial ride-sharing” and set a deadline of 2023. Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted: “Getting closer …”

We first heard about this in 2017, and in 2018 we were told that NASA was testing these babies. Since then, we have also heard of flying motorcycles and these weird, drone-like things, but as yet, no flying vehicles that aren’t planes or helicopters. Mark your calendars for 2023 and ask me again.

The first 60-mile hyperloop ride will take place

In 2013, Elon Musk outlined his vision for a new “fifth mode of transportation” that would involve zipping people through tubes at speeds as fast as 800 miles per hour. Several tech entrepreneurs heeded Musk’s call and went to work on such systems inspired by the billionaire’s specifications. In 2015, one of the leading startups predicted a hyperloop spanning about 60 miles would be ready for human transport by 2020. Rob Lloyd, then the CEO of Hyperloop Technologies, told Popular Science: “I’m very confident that’s going to happen.”

It hasn’t. His company, now called Virgin Hyperloop One, has a 1,600-foot test track in California and hopes to build a 22-mile track in Saudi Arabia someday. Musk has since experimented with hyperloops of his own, and even he has had to scale back his ambitions. Musk’s Boring Co. is building a so-called Loop system in Las Vegas, starting with a nearly mile-long track that consists of a narrow tunnel and Tesla cars moving at up to 155 miles per hour.

Man, I was enthusiastic for this, ever since 2015 when we first heard the word “hyperloop”. Skepticism was warranted, and the technology has evolved over time, but we’re still waiting.

Toyota will make fully self-driving cars

Auto and tech companies alike became convinced this decade that computers would soon be able to drive cars more reliably than people. In 2015, Toyota Motor Corp. made a companywide bet that it would have autonomous highway-driving cars on the road by 2020. It didn’t take long for the hype cycle to veer off course. In 2018, a pedestrian died after colliding with an Uber self-driving car. In 2020, Toyota’s Lexus brand will introduce a car capable of driving autonomously on the highway, but executives acknowledged that auto companies were “revising their timeline for AI deployment significantly.”

Honestly, I’ve probably been more skeptical of the many breathless claims about driverless cars than I’ve been about hyperloops. That skepticism was also warranted, though to be fair, various forms of autonomous vehicles have been on the road. They’re still not ready for mass market use, and probably won’t be for at least another decade, but they’re not vaporware, either. As above, check back with me in a couple of years and we’ll see where we are.

Early voting for the legislative special election runoffs starts Tuesday

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the January 28, 2020 Special Runoff Election for State Representative District 148 begins Tuesday, January 21 and ends Friday, January 24. During the four-day Early Voting period, five locations will be available to more than 87,000 registered voters within the district. Voters can cast their ballot at any one of the five locations from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The last day to request a ballot
by mail (received, not post marked) for this Special Runoff Election is today, January 17.

“Early Voting locations for this election are only for voters who reside in State Representative District 148,”
said Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman. “A sample ballot is available online at HarrisVotes.com.”

See here for full early voting information, and here for the interactive map. Remember that Monday is the MLK Day holiday, which is why early voting begins on Tuesday. There’s no makeup day for it, just these four days. Don’t dilly-dally, in other words.

And for those of you in Fort Bend County, here’s your HD28 runoff info:

Tuesday is the first day of early voting for the District 28 runoff to fill a term left vacant by the retirement of state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond.

On the ballot will be Democrat Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz of Katy and Republican Gary Gates of Rosenberg. Markowitz is the sole Democrat running for the position. Gates topped a field of six Republicans to win his party’s nomination. But neither received the necessary 50 percent of the vote to win the election.

In Fort Bend County early voting will be 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 21-24, at the following locations: Bowie Middle School, 700 Plantation Drive, Richmond; Cinco Ranch Branch Library, 2620 Commercial Center Blvd., Katy; Four Corners Community Center, 15700 Old Richmond Road, Sugar Land; Irene Stern Community Center, 6920 Katy-Fulshear Road; and Tompkins High School, 4400 Falcon Landing Blvd.

Election Day will be Jan. 28 and polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit https://tinyurl.com/v9fletv for Election Day polling sites.

Full early voting information is here. If you want a refresher, my interview with Anna Eastman is here, and my interview with Eliz Markowitz is here. Let’s get these women elected.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

No free fares

For the best, I’d say.

Free fares appear to be a hard sell for Houston area transit officials, who said while they are open to exploring discounts, people boarding buses and trains will need to fork over $1.25 for the foreseeable future.

After a comprehensive analysis by Metropolitan Transit Authority staff, transit board members said removing fares from the system actually would increase agency costs by creating a need for more buses and operators, potentially to the tune of $170.6 million annually.

“It is just not feasible to do free fares,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said, echoing others on the board and in the transit agency.

[…]

Metro’s analysis concluded that ridership would jump from 86 million trips a year to an estimated 117 million if fares were eliminated altogether. Even offering free rides only during peak hours could boost ridership to around 100 million, the study found.

Those new riders, however, would come at a big cost, said Julie Fernandez, the transit agency’s lead management analyst. To handle the demand, Metro would need nearly 500 more vehicles, mostly buses, and 415 new operators. Such a sizable jump in vehicles and employees would require the agency to build a new bus operating facility to complement the existing six bus depots.

Even preparing the transit system for free rides would take four years, Fernandez said, adding, “it takes time to order new buses.”

The cost of going free prompted many Metro board officials to conclude it was not likely.

“It is easy to look at it and say ‘OK, it is such a small part of our budget’ but it is really more complicated than that,” Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

See here and here for the background. Metro says it will consider some other options like free fares for schoolchildren (they get discounted fares now), and Metro Chair Carrin Patman said this was a useful exercise while free-fare-advocate Tory Gattis said he was satisfied with the study Metro did. I agree this was worth considering, but in the end this was clearly the right call. Maybe a smaller version of this makes sense, maybe sometime in the future it makes sense, but for now Metro should focus on other things.

Despite the benefits of increased ridership, many of those urging Metro to expand service oppose the elimination of fares.

“When people don’t pay for something, there’s no value to it,” Oni Blair, executive director of LINK Houston, told Metro board members in December.

LINK works with low-income and minority communities to increase transit offerings, something Blair said could be stunted if Metro were to give up the roughly $70 million in annual fare revenues. Such a move also could delay efforts to expand service or add routes long-sought by some voters that overwhelmingly supported Metro’s $3.5 billion transit plan in November.

“Metro will risk the overwhelming support you have earned,” Blair said.

I agree completely.

Update on the little girl hit by the foul ball

Man, this breaks my heart.

The 2½-year-old girl who suffered a skull fracture when hit in the head by a foul ball at an Astros game May 29 continues to be treated for a brain injury that has left her at lasting risk for seizures, an attorney representing the girl’s family said.

Attorney Richard Mithoff, who represents the child’s family, said the girl continues to receive anti-seizure medication more than seven months after she was struck by a line drive off the bat of Chicago Cubs player Albert Almora at Minute Maid Park.

“She (the child) has an injury to a part of the brain, and it is permanent,” Mithoff said. “She remains subject to seizures and is on medication and will be, perhaps, for the rest of her life. That may or may not be resolved.”

Mithoff said the child’s brain injury has affected her central nervous system in a manner that doctors described as being equivalent to a stroke. Areas of the brain affected, he said, include those in which injuries can result in seizures, loss of sensation and loss of spatial awareness.

Doctors and the child’s parents say other results of the injury include staring spells, periods of unresponsiveness, night terrors and frequent headaches.

“They (doctors) say this is consistent with the kind of injury she suffered,” the attorney said.

Mithoff said doctors have been unable to determine if the child, who turned 2 years old in May, has cognitive deficits as a result of the brain injury and skull fracture. She was struck in the back of the head while sitting in her grandfather’s lap along the third-base line in the ballpark’s lower bowl.

“She is able to continue with much of her routine as a girl her age would do, but her parents have to be particularly vigilant, as they are,” they attorney added. “She has wonderful parents and is receiving wonderful care. They obviously are concerned, but she is blessed with a family that is doing relatively well, considering everything.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I have a hard time just reading these stories; I cannot imagine what the family is going through. All 30 MLB ballparks will now feature extended netting, which is both welcome and overdue, and will hopefully greatly reduce the odds of further injury like this. I know some people don’t like that, and that this will reduce the viewing experience for them. All I can say is that the alternative is not acceptable. Let no one else suffer the way this little girl has suffered.

“Motor voter” lawsuit 2.0

Try, try again, this time hopefully addressing the cause of the Fifth Court of Appeals’ rejection of the first lawsuit.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The first time former English professor Jarrod Stringer was told he couldn’t vote in a Texas election, he sued. A federal appeals court tossed his case on a technicality, but one of the judges ended up admonishing state officials to not let it happen again.

Yet it did, and now Stringer and other frustrated Texans are taking the state back to federal court.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, they are arguing anew that the state continues to disenfranchise an unknown number of voters by violating the motor voter law, a federal requirement that people be allowed to complete voter registration when they get a driver’s license. Stringer is the lead plaintiff in the second legal chapter of a fight over Texas’ resistance to online voter registration.

The state allows driver’s licenses applicants to complete their voter registration when they physically appear at a Texas Department of Public Safety office, but does not allow the same result when residents update or renew licenses online. At least 1.5 million Texans use the state’s online driver’s license portal a year, according to Stringer’s lawyers, though it’s unclear how many also attempt to re-register.

Stringer first encountered the prohibition after moving back to his hometown of San Antonio in 2014. He updated his driver’s license and mistakenly thought he had re-registered to vote at the same time. But after standing in line at an early voting polling place set up on the University of Texas at San Antonio campus, he discovered he was not on the voter roll.

“Having the option to vote was something that I have taken seriously,” Stringer said in an interview. “Voting is just a fundamental act of expression of citizenship.”

[…]

In their new lawsuit, Stringer, two other voters, along with two nonprofits that work to register Texans to vote, have revived the arguments from the first lawsuit, pressing virtually the same legal claims that prompted Garcia’s initial favorable ruling.

This time, to avoid the legal pitfall over standing to sue, Stringer and the other voters in the case are filing their legal challenge while remaining off the voter rolls in the counties where they now live, and Stringer has noted that he has plans to move in 2020 — a point at which he will again run into the limitations of the online DPS system.

But while they’re working to address the issues found by the 5th Circuit last year, the Texas Civil Rights Project doesn’t plan to ask the plaintiffs to sit out the upcoming election. With the three individual voters in the case expected to reregister before the Feb. 3 deadline for the March primaries, the lawsuit could ultimately serve as a test case of what sacrifices a voter must make at the ballot box to challenge a system that they see as impeding their access to it.

In the interest of not quoting the whole story I cut out a bunch in the middle that recapped the first lawsuit and why it was dismissed – you can read this post for my own link-filled “previously on…” segment. This story reminded me that the Fifth Circuit wasn’t necessarily hostile to the first lawsuit, perhaps just overly pedantic. If that’s the case, and this isn’t a “Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football” situation, then maybe we can get a different result. There’s every reason to believe that the district court will rule in favor of the plaintiffs again. The question is what happens after that. With any luck, we’ll find out soon.

Meet your Board of Managers wannabes

Lots of people want that gig.

[Frank] North is one of nearly 250 people who applied for positions on the prospective replacement board, which Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath plans to install in the coming months. Morath announced in November 2019 his intention to temporarily oust the elected school board, citing Wheatley High School’s seventh consecutive failing grade and multiple findings of misconduct involving current trustees, though a preliminary injunction issued last week and ongoing litigation could threaten those plans.

The applicants, according to a list provided by the TEA, represent a broad cross-section of the district, home to about 210,000 students from wide-ranging economic, ethnic, racial and social backgrounds. They include Houston ISD employees, former political candidates, business professionals, higher education staffers and advocates with children attending district schools.

Several candidates are well-known in civic and education circles, but most come with little to no public profile. Higher-visibility applicants include former HISD trustee Cathy Mincberg, former Houston Police Department interim chief Martha Montalvo, League of United Latin American Citizens leader Hugo Mojica and former HISD police chief Robert Mock.

[…]

State leaders will spend the next several weeks winnowing the list down to nine potential board members, conducting at least three rounds of interviews. Agency officials have said they want an ethnically, racially, geographically and socioeconomically diverse board of Houston residents with multiple skill sets. State law grants Morath the final authority on board selections.

The list released by state officials only includes first and last names of those who applied. The candidates’ work histories, educational backgrounds and personally identifiable information were not disclosed. TEA officials did not respond to questions about what information will be released as the screening process continues.

TEA officials wanted to install the board as early as this spring, but last week’s preliminary injunction blocks Morath from installing a replacement board while a lawsuit filed by HISD trustees seeking to stop their ouster is ongoing. Lawyers for the TEA immediately appealed the injunction ruling. A trial is set for late June.

As noted, the timetable here depends on the outcome of the litigation. The article contains more information about and quotes from a number of the applicants, presumably ones the Chron could identify either from their names or public statements they’ve made. I can understand limiting the data available about them for now, but we deserve full transparency going forward.

Stockman denied on appeal

At least one thing in this world is still righteous and wholesome.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A federal appeals court summarily rejected what it called a “self-serving” appeal by disgraced former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, finding the lower court properly convicted him of 23 felony counts in a massive fraud scheme involving illegal spending of more than $1 million in charitable donations.

The 5th U.S. Circuit on Friday slammed the “somewhat tortuous” argument by the ex-lawmaker that the trial judge erred by failing to acquit him and by improperly instructing jurors. The 18-page opinion was riddled with stinging barbs.

Stockman’s lawyer picked apart the lengthy jury instructions on appeal, but the court said those arguments were “confected on a foundation of sand” and found “ample support” for conviction. Each of six claims that the trial judge improperly instructed the jury lacked merit, the appellate panel found, in an opinion dripping with sarcasm.

“Stephen E. Stockman served four years in Congress and now faces ten years in prison,” begins the opinion written by Sen. U.S. Judge E. Grady Jolly. “He seeks to avoid this career detour.”

The opinion goes onto say that the Republican ex-congressman argued “that prison should not be the next item on his résumé because the convictions were tainted by improper jury instructions and unsupported by the evidence.” The appellate court strongly disagreed, in the ruling joined by Judges James E. Graves, Jr. and Stephen A. Higginson.

[…]

Stockman’s appellate lawyer David A. Warrington previously served as counsel to the 2016 Trump campaign at the Republican National Convention and describes himself on his firm’s website as “one of the leading Republican lawyers in the nation.” He argued in court documents that prosecutors failed to prove Stockman intentionally defrauded two major GOP donors when he solicited donations to pet projects.

“Stockman was convicted for nonprofit fundraising and political activities subject to protection under the First Amendment,” Warrington wrote, asking the court to dismiss the case because “The Government’s case against him turned his failure to achieve completion of certain nonprofit political activism and projects into fraud.”

However, the appeals court responded last week by referencing the painstakingly detailed evidence of money transfers showing the ex-congressman perpetrated “a scheme to separate wealthy donors from their money and to spend that money at Stockman’s pleasure and direction.”

The ruling ends with a final decisive punch:

“In sum, the judgment of the district court is, in all respects, AFFIRMED.”

See here and here for the background. This is a work of art and you should enjoy it as such.

Interview with Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

We knew a long time ago that this was going to be a busy primary season, with a lot of contested Democratic races. Because the campaign calendar is so short, I have to be very picky about what races I do interviews in, as I just can’t do them all in the allotted time. Harris County Tax Assessor wasn’t on my to-do list originally, as it looked like it was going to be uncontested. Then Jolanda Jones jumped in, and that meant I had to find the time to fit interviews for this office into my schedule, because you can’t not interview Jolanda Jones. She’s a criminal defense attorney, she served two terms on City Council and just finished a term as an HISD Trustee, and she doesn’t need much more of an introduction than that. Here’s what we talked about:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

More heat on Abbott over his anti-refugee action

Good. Keep it up.

“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s not an immigrant versus native-born issue … it is not a religious versus secular issue,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference with elected officials and leaders of refugee resettlement organizations. “We cannot turn our backs to the most vulnerable facing the most difficult conditions imaginable.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Abbott was wrongly conflating refugee resettlement, which involves an extensive State Department vetting process that can last three years, and migrants coming across the southern border to ask for asylum.

Both numbers have dropped dramatically and this year only about 2,000 refugees were expected in Texas, compared to 7,800 admitted during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.

Garcia noted that the federal government fully funds the initial resettlement of refugees and that the state pays no direct costs.

“This is a reprehensible decision,” Garcia said.

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat who represents southwest Houston where many refugees are initially housed, said the governor’s choice went against his Catholic faith.

“Gov. Abbott had the choice to live as a Christian and follow what Christ said and commanded and he chose the opposite,” he said.

Opting out of the federal program means funding won’t be given to local organizations to resettle refugees in Texas, said Kimberly Haynes, a regional refugee coordinator with the South Texas Office of Refugees.

She said Abbott’s decision does not prevent refugees from moving here later, but meant the state would no longer receiving funding to help them integrate, including to find jobs and learn English. Most refugees coming to Houston are joining relatives likely will continue to come here no matter where they are settled, Haynes said.

“If someone is resettled here and the next day they want to come to this great state, they can take the bus and come to Texas,” said Ali Al Sudani, who came here as a refugee from Iraq a decade ago and is now senior vice president for programs at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t believe for a minute any of this will affect Abbott – he doesn’t talk to the public, so why would he ever listen to the public? – but it’s still the right thing to do, and maybe there is some level of heat that Abbott might feel. In the meantime, this whole fight may be moot.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy that would have allowed governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and other local leaders to prevent refugees from resettling in those areas.

The Wednesday decision from Maryland-based Judge Peter J. Messitte comes just days after Abbott became the first and only state leader to opt out of the program. Officials had until Jan. 21 to inform the State Department whether they would participate in the program after the Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order. At least 42 governors, including Republicans, have said they would accept refugees.

“By giving States and Local governments the power to veto where refugees maybe settled – in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary – [the order] does not appear to serve the overall public interest,” Messitte said in his ruling.

You can see a copy of the ruling here. I assume this will be appealed by the Trump administration, and as the original lawsuit was not filed in the Fifth Circuit there’s a chance this ruling could be upheld. For now at least, the madness has been stopped. NPR, Daily Kos, and the Texas Signal have more.

Back to the no-fares question

I remain skeptical, but we’ll see.

As it stands right now, most of METRO’s operating funds don’t come from the fares. The transit agency gets most of its money from a one-cent sales tax, which caught the attention of Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

Radack recently spoke before the METRO board on why the agency should consider free or reduced fares. He said that people are already paying for the transit service through the sales tax and a financial incentive for riding could get more people on board.

“And so if we just keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to build more freeways, we’re going to continue to do other forms of transportation, but at the end, it makes no sense to have buses only partially full running around,” said Radack.

[…]

METRO Chairman Carrin Patman said while fares aren’t a huge part of their budget, they’d have to figure out a way to make up that money if they stopped charging riders.

“I think what people don’t realize is there are unanticipated consequences of a free fare policy that we just need to fully consider before we went to it,” Patman told News 88.7.

And those consequences are what concern Oni Blair. She heads the transportation advocacy group LINK Houston. Blair said to get more riders, METRO needs to put its focus on other issues.

“It’s the little things we take for granted,” said Blair. “Does the bus come on time? Because if I’m trying to schedule my day I need to get there on time and know what to predict. Does the bus come frequently, so people don’t have to wait half an hour to an hour for the bus to come? Can I wait in dignity at a shelter that is accessible and safe for me?”

And Blair said that all those things cost money.

“The loss of revenue from the fares METRO currently has would undermine their other access to improving operations, improving customer service, improving all of those things,” said Blair. “If they don’t have that revenue they can’t address the things that people want.”

See here for my previously-stated concerns. Metro may not get much money from fares, but it does get some money from them, and that would have to be made up elsewhere, which is where I fear that political pressure, or interference from the state, could undermine this whole rationale. I’m of a similar mind as Oni Blair – the top priority needs to be making transit more accessible to more people. We also need to recognize that there’s a limit to how much we can grow transit ridership in this region as long as driving cars is the vastly-catered-to default. That’s a much bigger question, one that will take more than Metro to work out. For now, let’s try to make Metro the best it can be. Maybe that involves reducing or eliminating fares, but I think there are other options to work on first.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance will not be taking restaurant advice from former Mayoral candidates as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

We wrap up our visit with the candidates in HD138, the district that I was sure would flip before HD132 did. Politics is funny sometimes. Today’s candidate is Jenifer Pool, whose website is not up right now. If you’ve been here before, you know Jenifer, who owns a construction and permitting consulting firm and has a long history of activism in the community. She’s run for Council a couple of times and became the first trans person to win a primary for county office when she was nominated for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2016. She also ran in the primary for HD138 in 2018; you can listen to that interview here. This election’s interview with Jenifer Pool is right here:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138

Judicial Q&A: Robert Morales

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Robert Morales

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Robert S. Morales and I am running to be the Family Court Judge of the 507th District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears cases related to the family relationship such as divorces, paternity, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, support cases, adoptions, etc. along with name changes and gender marker cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 507th Family District Court because it is the only family law court up for election in Harris County this election cycle. Also, “507” is not only this court’s designation, but the country code of Panama where I was born. So, that number holds a special significance to me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing family law every since I was a third-year student at the family law clinic at my law school. I even worked a few years in the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General. In my current position as the supervising attorney of the Veterans Department of a non-profit organization, I also mentor and assist other attorneys navigate their pro bono family law cases. Finally, for the past few years I have assisted bar takers prepare for the Texas Bar Exam, including the family law essays.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because courts belong to society – the people, and judges are their custodians. As such, we should insist on the best possible representative of each court and not those who have been graded to “need improvement” after years on the bench. As this is a new year, a new decade, the people deserve to vote in a new judge accordingly.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me in the primary because it is time to pass the torch to someone new. I bring the experiences of having been in court under different capacities including a noncustodial parent in a support case, a pro se litigant in a divorce, private attorney, and even government attorney. Those experiences I will always carry with me and use them to better relate to everyone who appears before me. Furthermore, as a father of young children, I know what is at stake when deciding what is in the “best interests of the child.” Whether it is as a soldier in the U.S. Army, a government attorney, mentor, teacher, or a non-profit attorney, I have been at my best when at the service of others and on the bench is where I will be able to do the most good serving society. As a future judge, I cannot make very many promises, but what I can promise is that I will treat everyone in my court with the same dignity and respect that I, myself, would like to be shown.

Flynn officially on HD138 primary ballot

Score two for formerly-booted candidates.

Josh Flynn

In mediation last Friday, [candidate Josh Flynn and the Harris County Republican Party] agreed that Flynn would appear on the upcoming primary ballot [for HD138].

[HCRP Chair Paul] Simpson said in a statement that he challenged Flynn’s eligibility to “protect the integrity of the ballot,” and continued to dispute that Flynn should be allowed to run.

“As Texas law also requires, we agreed that Mr. Flynn’s name will remain on the primary ballot, even though he is ineligible to run,” Simpson said.

An attorney for Simpson and the party echoed that.

“We’ve left (Flynn) on the ballot because the law requires us to do so, but unless a judge rules otherwise, he’s still ineligible,” said Trey Trainor, an Austin-based attorney.

Regardless of the outcome of the primary, lingering ambiguity about Flynn’s eligibility could be bad for the Republican Party, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said.

If Flynn wins the primary, Jones said, his Democratic opponent in the general election could seek to have him declared ineligible. And they would be able to use the Republican Party’s own words to bolster that claim.

The Texas Supreme Court then would need to rule on whether Flynn was allowed to run, and clarify what is or is not a “lucrative office.”

If such a decision goes against Flynn, local precinct chairs would appoint a replacement candidate, which Jones said could be seen as a subversion of the voters’ will.

Even if a court sides with Flynn, Jones said, the legal dispute could cost valuable time, money and resources in the race for House District 138, which GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac won by only 47 votes in 2018. Bohac announced late last year that he would not seek reelection.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have much else to add – I thought Flynn had the stronger case, and I think the Lege ought to clarify this situation. How much any of this matters, in March and in November, I have no idea. If the district is still on the razor’s edge, then every little bit does count, but given the way things have been going, maybe it’s all academic. As with all the other races of interest, let’s see what the finance reports tell us.

Update on the “Judicial Selection Committee”

Yes, this is a thing.

All but one member of the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection indicated at the group’s first meeting Thursday that they believe partisanship is problematic in the state’s method of selecting judges.

Only Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she’s unconvinced that partisan election of judges must go. But the senator added she planned to keep an open mind as the Judicial Selection Commission this year completes its task to study a number of selection methods, and report back to the Texas Legislature with recommendations for reform.
Much of the commission’s first meeting in the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin was devoted to spelling out the problems with the current system.

“You can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem really is,” said Chairman David Beck, partner in Beck Redden in Houston.

Beck said Texas is one of only six states in the nation that uses partisan elections for judges.

“We are losing good, experienced judges,” he said. “I don’t care if they are Republicans or Democrats. It has nothing to do with their performance. It depends on the issues at the top of the ticket.

[…]

A candidate who can raise the most money from wealthy people and corporations, to put ads on TV, has the best shot at winning the bench in urban areas where voters do not know the judicial candidates, added Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Instead, Jefferson said the emphasis in judicial elections should be on the merit of the candidates.

But Jefferson indicated that the election of judges is a good thing, too, because a candidate must travel the state and speak with attorneys and people about their concerns.

“I was able to bring innovation from all around the state to the judicial system because there were good ideas,” said Jefferson.

Another plus: The 2018 elections brought a racially diverse group of candidates into office, he said.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so I’ll keep my comments brief. One, I will remind David Beck and everyone else who has ever utter a lamentation about the “good, experienced judges” that we lose via the partisan election process that we gained them in the first place via the partisan election process. Second, I would challenge Wallace Jefferson to show me the data on that claim about raising money for TV ads to win judicial elections. For one thing, very few judicial candidates actually raise that much money, and for two, even fewer of them run TV ads. That said, it’s quite interesting to see Jefferson, who has been an advocate for something other than the partisan election of judges for a long time to admit that the partisan elections we had in 2018 did an awful lot to diversify the judiciary in Texas. How much progress do you think we’d have made on that score in a judicial appointment system?

I mean look, I don’t want to claim that the partisan elections process for judges is the best system. I get the concerns about it, and like anything it’s worth considering how it could be improved. Really, my main problem is that the arguments put forward by proponents of change are such obvious tripe that I feel compelled to point it out each time. It’s wishcasting plus unsupported claims, and on top of it all no one has yet proposed an actual alternate system that can be objectively shown to be better than the one we have, and by “better” I don’t mean “would allow Republicans to regain or hold onto power in places where they have lost it or are losing it”. Everyone seems to take it on faith that Something Else would be better. I say show me the evidence. That in theory is what the Judicial Selection Commission is intended to do. I’ll believe it when I see it. Grits for Breakfast has more.

UPDATE: Well, there’s this:

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing back against the thought of eliminating partisanship from judicial elections.

In a statement Friday, one day after the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met for the first time and identified partisan judicial elections as a major problem, Patrick issued a statement saying he was surprised it appeared the commission supported eliminating partisanship before it began hearings.

“I expect the members to have an open mind on every issue—including the partisan election of judges—with the single goal of making sure Texas continues to maintain one of the best judicial systems in the country,” Patrick said. “Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges. The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

Having one’s viewpoint affirmed by Dan Patrick is a heck of a thing. Be that as it may, his opinion will carry a bit more weight than mine. I don’t know if this means he’s actually not on board with ending the partisan election of judges, which means he’s not on the same page as Greg Abbott, or just telling the committee to not give the game away before it even starts. Either way, very interesting.

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

We continue in HD138 and the quest to turn that district blue. Unlike the districts we flipped in 2018, which really only came on the radar that year, HD138 has been a low-key target going back to the previous decade, as demographic change made it more amenable to Democrats over time. Incumbent Dwayne Bohac won with 63.8% in 2004, but by 2008 he was down to 59.0%. Then 2010 happened, and the 2011 redistricting shored it up for him, and it took till 2016 for Dems to start thinking about it again. Josh Wallenstein is our next contender for this seat. He’s an attorney who operates his own firm after having been chief compliance officer at a major corporation. Wallenstein has worked in Congress and at the Capitol, he’s a board member of the non-profit TRACE Foundation, and he was a candidate in 2018 for the HCDE Board of Trustees – you can listen to my interview with him from that primary here. You can listen to my interview with him from this primary here:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138

DMN profile of Royce West

The fifth, and as far as I can tell final, one of these.

Sen. Royce West

U.S. Senate hopeful Royce West warns fellow Democrats not to nominate a “far left” candidate.

Instead, he says they should choose him, the “most qualified” person in the 12-person scrum seeking the chance next fall to try to unseat three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

West regularly tells audiences he’s not in the race for ego gratification but out of a sense of duty. After all, he recently told audiences in Walker and Tarrant counties, someone needs to try to extinguish the dumpster fire that is Washington.

As a 26-year state senator, West insisted he has the skills, experience and wisdom that can help Congress fix health care and immigration, improve education, expand voter rights and pass gun control measures.

“It’s time to do it,” the Dallas lawyer-legislator told The 100 Ranchers, a group of African American farmers and ranchers, on a recent Saturday afternoon.

“And if I don’t do it and others don’t do it, then shame on me and my generation,” West said to a crowd at a horse and cattle operation in Riverside, near Lake Livingston in southeast Texas. “If you really want the change, I want to be a change agent for you.”

[…]

West has tried to sell himself as a reliable political pro who can get things done against tall odds, even amid partisan rancor and gridlock. But he also has reached out to young people, emphasizing his own evolution on issues.

Stressing he’s “always been there” for liberal causes such as voting rights and women’s rights, West noted to his Riverside audience that he’s lately become passionate about gay rights and the environment.

“When we look at issues concerning LGBTQ rights, now, I’ve evolved on that,” he said. A male rancher shouted “amen.” West continued, “Who am I to sit up and say who you can love, OK? You love who you want to love – and that’s a fact.”

Royce West has always been a solid if un-exciting Senator. In a different year, we’d be delighted to see a serious establishment elected official make a statewide run – look at how much enthusiasm having two State Senators at the top of the ticket in 2014 generated, at least initially. He may have “evolved” on some issues, but give the man credit – in 2005, he voted against the infamous Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment. I’ll be happy enough if he’s the nominee – he’s not my first choice at this time, but I have nothing bad to say about him. I will say, as a long-time incumbent State Senator, he has no good reason to not have a stellar Q4 finance report. As with all the others, I’m eager to see how he did on that.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.)

Luhnnow and Hinch suspended by MLB, then fired by Astros

Wow.

Did not age well

Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday shortly after Major League Baseball announced the pair would be suspended for a year as part of the penalties for the investigation into alleged electronic-sign stealing.

“Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros,” Astros owner Jim Crane said in a press conference Monday. “MLB did a very thorough investigation and the Astros fully cooperated and we accept their decisions and findings and penalties.”

The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million.

MLB’s report detailed the Astros’ efforts to steal signs in 2017 and laid out the punishment handed down to the Astros. Crane opted to go a step further.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise,” Crane said.

Well, at least the Astros found a way to make everyone forget about the Texans’ playoff disaster. The full report is embedded in the story, and it’s not long, so go read the whole thing. (Or just read the highlights here, but really, read the whole thing.) I’d say this was on the high end of what I thought might happen, but it’s not out of line with my expectations. The key is that the activity continued to occur after the 2017 Red Sox Apple Watch incident, in which Commissioner Manfred (the author of the report) explicitly promised strong punishment if anyone was caught doing stuff like that again. If I’m Alex Cora, who was directly named as a mastermind behind the scheme and is now the manager of another team under investigation I’m probably not sleeping well right now. We can debate at length whether this was fitting or not, or if any punishment is worth winning a World Series, or just put on some oven mitts and read Twitter about it. Let’s just say 2020 is off to a rough start for Houston sports fans.

This also wrapped up the Brandon Taubman investigation – he too was suspended for a year, and will have to apply to the Commissioner’s office for reinstatement. He was also singled out in the report for some sharp rebukes. I’ll be thinking about all this for some time. The Press has more.

UPDATE: This did not age well.

Allegations of electronic sign-stealing “surprised” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who acknowledged Saturday he has participated in and cooperated with Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into his team.

Appearing at an autograph show alongside Alex Bregman and George Springer, Correa offered the most elaborate comments of any Houston player since the scandal broke last November.

Correa expressed little worry about the organization’s reputation and no thought the 2017 World Series title is in any way tainted. He revealed subtle antipathy toward former teammate Mike Fiers, whose on-the-record allegations about the 2017 team’s actions spurred the investigation.

“He’s a grown man, and he can do whatever he wants to do. It’s a free country,” Correa said. “Knowing Fiers, it was surprising, because we were a team. We were a team. We were all together, and we had a bond, and we won a World Series championship. But this is America, the land of the free. You can say what you want to say.”

I’d say at least a little worry about the team’s reputation is in order at this time. There’s no evidence to suggest that the sign stealing actually benefited the Astros, but that doesn’t matter. Fair or not, this scandal will forever be associated with that title.

Bishops condemn Abbott’s refugee refusal

Good.

Texas’ Catholic bishops issued a sharp rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Catholic, following his decision Friday to ban refugees from initially settling in Texas.

In a joint statement by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which includes leaders from Texas’ 15 dioceses, the group called the decision “discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the group wrote. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” the statement said.

In response to the bishops’ statement, Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said the governor’s decision won’t deny anyone access to this country.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he stated in an email. “Importantly, the decision by Texas will not prevent any refugee from coming to America. Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the full statement, which isn’t much longer than what was quote above. Abbott’s spokesbot’s assertion is both misleading and wrong, as Chris Hooks explains:

People accepted as refugees by the United States are by definition legal immigrants. They’ve already gone through an extensive vetting process by federal and international agencies, proving that they face great risk if they were forced to return to their home countries. They’ve waited years and years to find a new home, sometimes in dire overseas camps. Border security and federal refugee resettlement are wholly distinct issues, and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

The Omaha World-Herald hosts a database where you can find information about refugees officially resettled in the United States since 2002. According to the database, Texas has helped shelter about 86,000 refugees through the program, as the state added a total of 7 million new residents. Those 86,000 people account for about 0.3% of the total population of Texas. They’re spread all over the state, from Abilene to Woodville, but concentrated in big cities with preexisting immigrant populations.

These are not the people trying to get over the Texas-Mexico border right now. Indeed, very few of them come from Central America at all. Since 2002, no refugees settled in Texas came from Mexico. Two came from Guatemala, 47 from Honduras, and 267 from El Salvador. In fact, the most popular Spanish-speaking origin country is Cuba. Some 2,800 people fleeing the communist dictatorship found shelter here, just like Ted Cruz’s dad once did, through the federal program. Helping Cubans, of course, is a project with longstanding conservative support. By and large, the refugees America accepts are people who are exiled from countries most Americans couldn’t place on a map—like Myanmar, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They have stories like Gilbert Tuhabonye, who spent nine hours buried under a pile of his dead and dying classmates at a schoolhouse in Burundi, waiting for death in a pool of fire and blood and caustic chemicals as genocidaires, his former neighbors, waited outside with machetes, before he broke a window with someone’s charred femur and ran all the way to a hospital, a track scholarship at Abilene Christian University, American citizenship, and a home in Austin. They’re fleeing vicious governments, ethnic cleansing, wars, climate-change-fueled disaster, and genocides. They’re artists, pro-democracy activists, faith leaders, muckraking journalists, and everything else you can imagine.

There is, of course, a hypothetical point at which a society begins to bend under the stress of refugees. The countries that host the most refugees are middle-income countries near war zones, like Turkey, Jordan, and Pakistan, and the accumulation of desperate people causes those nations a lot of problems. But we are far, far from that point. And it’s a truism that helping a single refugee is meaningful. The country, and Texas, doesn’t have to take everyone who needs help to do good. Imagine that there’s a civil war in Canada, and a million people flee from death camps. It seems clear that it would be better to give 100,000 Canadian refugees shelter instead of just 1,000. Just the same, it’s a better deed to give a home to ten rather than zero. Zero is clearly the least acceptable option.

The U.S. helps a very modest number of people every year, arguably many less than it should or could. The Trump administration has already gutted the refugee program—in the 2018 fiscal year, America accepted just 22,491 refugees, a number that could be entirely settled in Texas without anyone realizing they had arrived. Texas took in just 1,697 of that number—a rounding error, a smaller population than that of a large apartment complex in Dallas or Houston. It’s said that the population of Austin grows by 152 people a day, which means Austin has added more people since the new year than the whole state took in refugees in 2018.

This, Abbott says in his letter, represents a disproportionate burden, the state having already “carried more than its share in assisting of the refugee resettlement process.” He notes that Texas has taken 10 percent of refugees resettled through the program, perhaps because Texas has just under 10 percent of the nation’s population. There’s clearly no flood of refugees here, but you might ask, do these people themselves represent a disproportionate burden? Is this small number of people a huge drain on state resources? No. It’s certainly true that when they first arrive, many refugees need public help in the form of food stamps and access to health care, in the same way that you would need help if you were, say, a war orphan who had lost everything you ever owned and had to reestablish yourself in Belarus.

But the performance of refugees in America is closely tracked and quantified, and even the Trump administration’s own numbers show that most refugees work very hard to establish themselves, to integrate into our (extremely complicated and not-always-very-welcoming) society. Soon, they’re paying taxes. They learn English, their kids become doctors, their grandkids get liberal arts degrees and join sketch comedy groups—you know, the American dream. And they find ways to give back—just like Gilbert Tuhabonye did.

Perhaps one of the most head-scratching parts of Abbott’s rejection of refugees is that faith-based groups do most of the hard work. Helping refugees is not entirely, or even largely, the province of bleeding-heart libs. Much of the groundwork is done by evangelical Christians, people who might well have voted for Abbott, along with Catholic and Jewish organizations. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s an abdication of everything Texans claim to stand for: freedom of opportunity, freedom of religion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

If you still find yourself feeling uneasy about the prospect of refugees coming to Texas, then, finally, know this. Abbott’s letter doesn’t mean that refugees won’t come to Texas. It means that they won’t get federal help if they do. It means that, say, a female political dissident from Myanmar who was subjected to punitive gang rape and smuggled herself out in the lower reaches of a container ship may not be placed in an apartment in Houston near her cousin’s family, but instead in Fargo, North Dakota. If she then decides to move to Houston, she could forfeit federal assistance and be worse off, less able to integrate successfully. And the charities that could help her will be stretched thinner on the ground.

I’m old enough to remember when various Catholic clergymen made a high-profile vow to deny Communion to Catholic politicians – all Democrats, of course – who supported abortion rights. Mario Cuomo, then Governor of New York, was a favorite target. I thought that was a crappy thing to do then and it would be an equally crappy thing to do now, I’m just pointing it out to note that all things considered, Abbott got off easy. The Chron has more.

Interview with Akilah Bacy

Akilah Bacy

We come now to HD138, another one of the top Democrat targets in this cycle, following an election in which the Republicans held it by 47 votes. It’s now an open seat, as incumbent Dwayne Bohac has chosen to retire. I hadn’t realized it till I started writing these posts, but Bohac is the senior member of the Republican legislative caucus from Harris County. His departure leaves something like only 15 members of the class of 2002 still in the State House, though several members from that year have moved on to other elected office. Three candidates are in the Democratic primary to win this seat, and we begin with Akilah Bacy. Bacy is an attorney who started out as an assistant DA in Harris County, and now operates her own firm, specializing in probate, employment discrimination, and criminal defense. Here’s what we talked about:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Judicial Q&A: Judge Steven Kirkland

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Judge Steven Kirkland

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Judge Steven Kirkland, the incumbent Judge of the 334th District Court. I am running for re-election.

My experience – 15 years on the bench, 30 years of legal experience and a lifetime of service to Texas communities – has taught me that balance, equity and fundamental fairness are standards that all judges must strive for as we interpret the law and seek justice. I am the son of a truck driver, who worked my way through law school and learned from my parents always to fight against injustice. As a community leader, I fought to expand affordable housing and end discrimination. As a lawyer, I sued polluters to protect our neighborhoods. As a judge, I work to make our court system more transparent, accountable and fair.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a Civil District Court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes, constitutional issues and other civil complaints.

3. What are your main accomplishments in the past four years?

I was in the midst of trial in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey devastated our community. The Courts were not spared and we lost a whole courthouse along with many days of operations for the entire justice complex. As a veteran of the impact that TS Allison brought to the Court system, I knew how to adapt Court operations to deal with the real impact of the storm not only for the Courts, but the lawyers and parties involved. We quickly adapted procedures and practice to keep the Court functioning at close to pre-storm efficiencies.

I also continued to be a leader and educator on lawyer wellness issues, specifically speaking to legal groups about the dangers of addiction, how to get help and offering tools to cope with the many triggers for folks coping with substance abuse issues.

4. What are your goals for the next four years?

In every Court that I have served in, I have adopted procedures and programs to improve process. Currently, I along with others in the Harris County District Courts are looking at several initiatives to address implicit biases, provide courtroom experience to young and diverse lawyers and to streamline jury service by implementing direct assignment of jurors to a court, rather than gather in the jury assembly area.

5. Why is this race important?

Judicial independence and diversity.

Word on the street is my opponent in the primary is being funded by a wealthy litigant who lost a case in my Court. If we want judges to have the courage to apply the law equally to all people, we have to re-elect judges who do so. My track record shows that is what I do. I do this in high profile cases which you can find with an internet search. But, I also do it in all cases, which is evidenced by the results from HBA’s judicial evaluations where lawyers practicing in my Court consistently rate me highly on fairness, hard work and efficiency.

My election is important to folks who value diversity. Diversity enhances legitimacy of the process and actually improves outcomes by ensuring many perspectives are bought to bear on a dispute. While we have made significant strides in increasing diversity of the bench in Texas, we still only have six open LGBT District Court Judges in the State of Texas. I am the longest serving open LGBT Judge in the state. If you believe as I do, that the people should see folks who look like them when they look at their government, then you have to ensure office holders who reflect the diversity of the population are elected and re-elected when they do a good job.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong. From my record, you know where my heart lies. My thirty years’ experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the party shows it’s not just talk with me, I walk the walk.

Judge Hidalgo’s first year

Been pretty good so far, I’d say.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

During her longshot campaign in 2018, Lina Hidalgo at times sounded like a candidate for mayor or Congress. With talking points on immigration, criminal justice reform and education, her critics contended she surely misunderstood the role of county judge.

Hidalgo insisted the incumbent crop of leaders had a too-narrow view of what county government could accomplish. She unseated Ed Emmett, the popular three-term county judge, in an Election Night stunner amid a Democratic sweep of countywide posts. And then she set about enacting her vision.

After a year in office, Hidalgo has mollified many concerns about her inexperience, marshaled the county’s response to a series of chemical fires and presided over a Commissioners Court of older men who often clash. With her two Democratic colleagues, she has broadened the size and scope of county government, and pledged to do so further in 2020 with a focus on early childhood development.

“We’ve begun to transform the way we do things in the county,” Hidalgo said. “The county used to be in this box that was just about roads and bridges. Now, we’ve seen and we’ve shown it can be about environmental investment. It can be about criminal justice reform. It can be about voting access.”

She has also seen her national stature rise. Forbes magazine named her to its “30 Under 30” list. Presidential candidates have sought to meet her during trips to Houston, attention she said makes her feel humbled.

Locally, the public views Hidalgo with a curiosity her predecessors did not elicit. After Hidalgo appeared on a BBC panel in November with a state senator and two members of Congress, she was the one several attendees waited to greet afterward.

During a holiday toys for kids event at the George R. Brown Convention Center in mid-December, Hidalgo greeted families waiting in line in English and Spanish. Young women, in particular, asked to take photographs with her. They asked how a person like her ended up in a position like this.

“They ask how did you do it? How did you manage to break into the machine?” Hidalgo said. “My biggest message to young people is to get involved … to volunteer, to participate. We need smart people in government.”

Judge Hidalgo recently gave her first State of the County address, in which she talked about the things that she and Commissioners Court accomplished this past year. As the story notes, the election of Adrian Garcia to the Court as well, which gave Dems a 3-2 majority and the votes on the Court to begin doing the kind of things Hidalgo had spoken about during her campaign, was a key aspect to this. She had the vision from the beginning, and the courage to run when no one else wanted a piece of that race, and she has very much been the public face of the Court and in many ways the county. There’s a lot she has to be proud of, and to build on going forward.

The article mentions that Hidalgo has yet to decide whether to seek re-election in 2022, though it does not quote her directly on that. My guess is this is more of a “I’m just focusing on doing my job and not thinking about that yet” situation than any actual possibility of her not running again. I have heard that there are people who are thinking about running against her in the 2022 primary, which I’d say is likely about opportunity in a newly Democratic county rather than an assessment of her tenure. Be that as it may, I feel confident that 2022 will be a higher profile election year for County Judge than 2018 was. I’ve not heard any names attached to these whispers, but I do know who I plan to vote for.

Weekend link dump for January 12

“Imagine a city the size of Washington D.C. going an entire year without any pedestrians or cyclists being killed on its streets. That’s exactly what happened in Oslo, where officials reported this week that zero pedestrian or cyclist fatalities occurred on the city’s roads in 2019.”

“More than a year after his death, a cache of computer files saved on the hard drives of Thomas Hofeller, a prominent Republican redistricting strategist, is becoming public.”

Do not blindly share memes or tweets on social media without verifying that they are factual, and not just something that aligns with your personal bias.”

“That’s an epiphany. That’s the Epiphany we celebrate today.”

“Moral of the story: Companies that experience a ransomware attack — or for that matter any type of equally invasive malware infestation — should assume that all credentials stored anywhere on the local network (including those saved inside Web browsers and password managers) are compromised and need to be changed.”

Baby Yoda isn’t Yoda. Just so you know.

RIP, Nancy Carol Lewis Jones, American manager for Monty Python and publicist for a slew of classic rock acts.

Time to say Goodbye to Windows 7, if you haven’t already.

The Iran crisis is over. Or it isn’t. I dunno.

“What knockers!” “Oh, thank you.”

Yankees offseason facial hair: a thread”.

This will forevermore be known as “Megxit”.

RIP, Buck Henry, actor, director, and award-winning screenwriter best known for The Graduate and Get Smart.

Behold the power of naked philanthropy.

You can thank – or blame – Twitter for the Jeopardy! GOAT tournament.

Goalies scoring goals is the best sports highlight.

RIP, Neal Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush. I saw them four times in concert in the 80s and 90s, and they were awesome. A great talent and a terrible loss.

Abbott opts out of accepting refugees

Sadly, not a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott informed the U.S. State Department that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.

The decision comes after more than 40 other governors, including several Republicans, said they would opt in to the federal refugee resettlement program. Resettlement agencies need written consent from states and local governments by Jan. 21. The Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order that requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

The news was first reported by The Daily Wire and later confirmed by the governor’s office. The AP reported that Texas is the first state to opt out of the program.

Abbott said the state and nonprofit organizations should concentrate resources on those already here, according to a letter the governor sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he wrote.

Refugee advocacy groups condemned the move.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision — although not surprising given Texas’ previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s unlawful executive order, and we are confident that justice will be served.”

See here for the background. Abbott’s actions not only set him apart from multiple other Republican governors, but also contradicts what many cities and counties in Texas asked for. There are two things I want out of life right now. One is for these terrible, amoral cowards who now hold office to be voted out at the next opportunity. The other is for them all to never be described in terms that attribute positive values to the religious faith they claim to practice. You want to be known as a moral, upright person? Act like one, or get the hell out. The Chron has more.

DMN profile of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

The fourth entry in this series, and the first to generate some heat.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez says there’s power in her name.

“Tzintzún is more Mexican than any Garcia or Lopez,” the activist told a gathering of Democratic women in Plano. “We were the only indigenous group in Mexico that were not defeated by the Aztecs. So you know I come from good lineage and I’m ready to defeat John Cornyn.”

Tzintzún Ramirez wants to revolutionize campaigning for her Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The veteran Latina activist is mobilizing the young and Hispanic voters whom Democrats need to transform Texas from red to blue. She’s confident her liberal proposals will also appeal to black and white Democrats and make her the party’s nominee.

The Senate primary will test whether a Green New Deal progressive like Tzintzún Ramirez can win in a state dominated by conservative voters.

“The only way we’re going to win is by the progressive muscle that we know is going to get behind this campaign to turn out voters, especially brown and black voters,” she told The Dallas Morning News. “Now we need them to win and no candidate wins without them, but I want to be the candidate for everyone in Texas that truly represents our diversity and common interests.”

[…]

“She was one of the most effective advocates on worker safety that we dealt with,” said Debbie Berkowitz, who was chief of staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when she met Tzintzún Ramirez.

Berkowitz said Tzintzún Ramirez’s group produced a report that outlined how workers were dying on the job, leading to improved standards that saved lives.

Tzintzún Ramirez left the Workers Defense Project in 2015 and later formed a group called Jolt, with the goal of mobilizing immigrants and Latino voters.

Brigid Hall is the chief operations officer at Jolt and was Tzintzún Ramirez’s deputy at the Workers Defense Project.

“She has really ambitious goals and a big vision. She moves quickly and is always one step ahead,” Hall said. “She has high expectations and makes them known for the people around her. Sometimes it’s very hard to meet those expectations.”

Aside from work, Tzintzún Ramirez, 37, describes herself as having the heart of a 60-year-old woman. She likes to watch movies, work in her garden and cook. She has a 2-year-old son, Santiago, who she says will travel with her on the trail. Because she’s raising her son alone, Tzintzún Ramirez said she paused before making a final decision on running for Senate.

The heat stems from that first quote of hers, which evolved into a larger debate about names and identity and other things, some of which are mentioned later in the story. I would suggest you read what Tzintzún Ramirez has said following the publication of this story on Twitter, and also what others have said in response. And since I first drafted this post, Tzintzún Ramirez has apologized for what she said.

Be all that as it may, Tzintzún Ramirez is one of the more interesting candidates running, with a strong background in organizing and the potential to excite less-reliable voters, if she can perhaps be a bit more careful in what she says. She’s on the left edge of the primary field, and along with Chris Bell has been critical of MJ Hegar for being opposed to several of the more progressive policy ideas. I personally don’t have a feel for how the broader primary electorate will respond to the issues in question – to oversimplify, Medicare for All versus adding strengthening and adding a public option to Obamacare, Beto-style buybacks for assault weapons, the Green New Deal, etc – but I will note again that we’re going to have a really big primary voting population, and right now most of them know little about these candidates, let alone who stands for or against what. We may get some clarity in the runoff, but I for one would caution anyone against making any broad conclusions about what the primary voters wanted once all the votes are counted. I think the candidates who make the best first impression will finish in the money, and from there we can maybe get into some specifics.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar.)