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Weekend link dump for January 23

“There’s really no reason to object to a national ID and every reason to think it would be a great convenience.”

“Actual pro-democracy reporting doesn’t simply entail writing movingly about its death. A genuine pro-democracy reporter would also write – obsessively — about what would help it survive. But the reporters covering the White House and Congress today express no real curiosity about that topic.”

Turning invasive species into gourmet meals could blunt environmental and economic costs across the US. But can Americans stomach them? Chefs and biologists are taking a gamble.”

“Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

But let’s be real. Spotify will never do anything about Joe Rogan. They have 100 million reasons not to.

“Some of the most common depictions of Vikings show large warriors wearing helmets affixed with horns. But new research finds that the famed helmets discovered in Viksø, Denmark, 80 years ago actually date to about 900 B.C.E., nearly 2,000 years before the Vikings.”

The TV show Zoom premiered 50 years ago.

Shawn Bradley, the 7’6″ former NBA player, was paralyzed after being hit by a car while riding his bike last year. His extreme size presents a unique set of challenges to his doctors, his family, and himself. Very compelling story.

RIP, Charles McGee, Tuskegee Airman who flew 409 fighter combat missions over three wars.

“For example, did you know that the average Bachelor relationship never hits the 4-month mark after the show ends? Or that the average Bachelor star is half a decade older than the average contestant?”

“Now, thanks to researchers at the University of Michigan and Boston University, we also know the financial toll of the ivermectin craze. In a research letter published Thursday by the Journal of the American Medical Assn., they estimated that Medicare and private insurers wasted an estimated $130 million last year on ivermectin prescriptions for COVID.”

Lock them up.

RIP, Lusia Harris, legendary basketball player. Three-time national champion at Delta State, silver medalist in the 1976 Olympics, the first woman to score a basket in the Olympics, draftee of the New Orleans Jazz, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. Do yourself a favor and watch the 22-minute documentary about her, as told by her, in this NPR story. What an amazing person.

“As hospitals face blood shortage, senators seek new donor rules for gay and bisexual men”. It’s past time to allow gay men to donate blood. Also, now is a great time to give blood.

“The Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Prince Andrew Will Move Forward“. Good.

RIP, Ron Franklin, broadcaster and onetime radio voice of the Houston Oilers.

“A long-awaited report on sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese on Thursday faulted retired Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of four cases when he was archbishop in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Important Mary Worth news, in case you somehow managed to miss it.

RIP, Meat Loaf, rock and roll legend. Go read Chris Molanphy’s obit for him, it’s the one you really need.

RIP, Louie Anderson, comedian, Emmy-winning actor, game show host, and author.

Lock him up.

If only I’d had a place to dock this, I’d totally have made an offer.

District G special election final early turnout

I’m going to start this post with some numbers, to provide context.


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     157   4,102                  3.7%

In the comments to my previous post, I was reminded that there was another recent special City Council election, the one in 2018 to succeed the late CM Larry Green, which I had overlooked. You can see the totals for that and the 2009 District H special election above, with the reminder that the 2009 election was done before the Council lines were redrawn and Districts J and K were created. Now compare those to the District G special election totals. Looks a little different, don’t they?

“Mail%” above is the share of mail ballots in all early votes – in other words, it’s the “Mail” column” divided by the sum of the “Mail” and “Early” columns, with the latter representing early in person votes. “Early%” is the share of all pre-Election Day votes, so “Mail” plus “Early” divided by “Total”.

It’s hard to say exactly what is happening in District G, but it is very obvious that the share of mail ballots is way lower than we’d normally expect. Perhaps this won’t have much effect on final turnout, as the early in person number is pretty good in comparison. We’ll have to see what Tuesday brings to make a guess about that. For what it’s worth, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. I don’t know how many RVs are in District G right now, but I do know that in November 2019 there were 129,611 of them. That means we’d need a final turnout of 5,780 to reach District H’s level, and 7,790 to get to District K. That would mean 1,521 or 3,531 total votes on Tuesday, respectively. The former should be easy, the latter might be a stretch, though again it depends on whether people who might have otherwise voted by mail are still voting in this race. I should also note that District G is normally a high-turnout place – 28.83% in 2019, second only to District C and its 30.01% mark. That figure was 19.76% in H and 23.85% in K for 2019, so just equaling the special election turnout mark for those districts here is not much of an accomplishment. Unless a lot of people show up tomorrow – which could happen! We don’t know! – then I’d have to call turnout for this race a bit underwhelming.

Just too many variables in play. Another thing to consider is how much money the candidates have had to spend to inform voters about the race and push them to the polls. The Friday Chron story about the last day of early voting touches on that.

The candidates are: Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union and former candidate for Harris County district attorney; Piper Madland, a community organizer and volunteer; Duke Millard, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor; Raul “Roy” Reyes Jr., a retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief; and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh — though only “Taghi” will appear on the ballot — who said he works in construction.

City elections officially are nonpartisan, but Huffman, Millard and Reyes are running as conservatives. Madland is progressive, and Taghi has not responded to Chronicle inquiries and does not appear to be actively campaigning.

The candidates have focused mostly on flooding and public safety as they campaign for the seat. Huffman has raised $50,000 for her bid and spent $35,600; Madland has raised $26,000 and spent $16,000; Millard has raised $2,600 and spent $9,400; and Reyes and Taghi do not appear to be raising money.

Not a whole lot of money in this race. I’d be interested to know, if you’re in District G, if you’ve had any contact from any of the candidates. There will almost certainly be more money in the runoff, and I’d bet turnout notches up a bit as well, as it did in H in 2009; Martha Castex-Tatum won District K outright in 2018, so no runoff there. There are 15 polling places open tomorrow, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and you can vote at any of them if you’re in the district. I’ll have results on Wednesday. Go vote, and vote for Piper Madland.

Please watch over the fraudit

Good idea.

A group of Democratic members of Congress from Texas has sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting that it closely monitor the ongoing election audit in four Texas counties. Last September, Texas Republicans began an audit in Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, and Collin counties at the behest of Donald Trump. The former president urged Gov. Greg Abbott to review the results in spite of the fact that he won the state in an election the Texas Secretary of State’s Office called “smooth and secure.”

“We have serious concern that this audit may be an attempt to invalidate properly cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election,” read the letter, which was addressed to Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke. We ask that your office closely monitor and work collaboratively with Texas state officials to ensure this audit does not unfairly erode any Texan’s ability to choose their leaders through the ballot box.”

The letter noted particular concern about the new Secretary of State overseeing the audit, John Scott. As an attorney, Scott assisted Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania. “This newly announced audit raises serious impartiality and fairness concerns given Mr. Scott’s previous work seeking to invalidate authentic election results and Governor Abbott’s history of peddling false election claims,” read the letter.

The letter was signed by Reps. Colin Allred, Lizzie Fletcher, Filemon Vela, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Al Green, and Marc Veasey.

If the DOJ does follow the letter’s request, it won’t be the first time it’s tangled with Texas over its election practices. In November, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the state for its assault on voting rights.

[…]

The results of the initial phase of the Texas election audit have already been released and, unsurprisingly, they show few issues and no evidence of widespread fraud.

See here for the most recent update. Once more with feeling: There is no reason to trust John Scott. Corner him like a rat in a cage, and do not let anything about this boondoggle get spun. The DMN has more.

Who’s worried about electricity in Texas?

The guy who writes The Watchdog for the DMN, for one. The people with real power in this state, not so much.

I was lonely.

For more than a decade, it was as if I were the only North Texas journalist regularly covering the flaws of the Texas electricity system. It’s not that I was so smart. I heard from hundreds of readers every year who complained about the confusing and unfair deregulated market.

Yet when the Texas Legislature met, nothing ever happened. An electricity activist, Carol Biedryzcki, promoted common-sense solutions that nobody listened to. Sylvester Turner, a former state representative who is now Houston’s mayor, introduced reform bills that never got voted on.

Another Houston representative, Gene Wu, introduced fix-it bills, too. Lawmakers who cared about the issue could fit in a small elevator.

It became obvious that no governor or state lawmaker wanted to tangle with what former U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said of the electricity industry: “The most powerful, dangerous lobby… that has ever been created by any organization in this country.”

[…]

Then came the horrific February freezeout, and everything changed. People died. Homes were ruined. Businesses were shuttered. The suffering was immeasurable for days. One of the worst Texas weather events ever.

The story was suddenly front and center. The Texas energy house of cards collapsed. Complete favoritism toward the industry was as obvious as the noontime sun. Right before our eyes, in real time, corruption flourished.

[…]

When the power returned, I began by pointing fingers at the governors, lawmakers, regulators and industry powerhouses who were responsible.

“Don’t count on state lawmakers to admit culpability,” I wrote. “And don’t trust their coming investigations to be unbiased.”

I released the 2021 edition of my annual electricity shopping guide. It’s a free step-by-step guide with tips that I’ve shared with tens of thousands of Texans, online, in the newspaper and as a paper flier.

DeAnn Walker, the chairperson of the (p)UC, who months before in a huff had eliminated the Enforcement Division, appeared before the state Senate. I called her the “incredible shrinking chairman.”

“You’re the commissioner!” one Republican senator chastised. “Y’all don’t have any teeth,” another scolded.

Her reply shows why she lost the P: “If you believe we have that authority, I’m open to moving forward with it,” Walker said. Believe it.

She resigned in disgrace and was replaced as chair by Arthur D’Andrea.

He lasted two weeks. In a 48-minute conference call with investors, first reported by Texas Monthly, he assured them he was doing everything within his power “to tip the scale as hard as I could” so billions of dollars in overcharges from the freezeout would not be reversed.

He laid out the strategy that would come later when lawmakers, the Texas Railroad Commission (regulating oil and gas) and the (p)UC approved the sale of $10 billion in bonds to pay back energy companies’ losses.

Unfortunately, companies that made millions of dollars during the crisis will see some of that bailout money, too.

Who repays the $10 billion? You. But don’t worry, it’s a long-term loan.

D’Andrea also told investors in that call that he didn’t “expect to see a ton” of improvements passed by lawmakers. He was correct. Although for the first time ever, many reform bills were introduced. Most died.

The Watchdog kept a scorecard for good reform bills. Most had notations of either “Stuck in committee” or “No action taken.”

Texans should not have been surprised at electric grid operator ERCOT’s failing. The non-profit was a cesspool of corruption years before. In 2005, a massive procurement scandal led to criminal convictions. Fake companies were created by ERCOT managers, and millions of dollars were siphoned from ERCOT funds.

There’s more, but you get the idea. A lot of this we’ve seen before, but there’s no harm in being reminded. Greg Abbott is counting on a normal winter and a whole lot of short attention spans to claim a victory for doing nothing. Don’t let him do it.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 21

Updating from last week and the week before. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was the County Treasurer and District Clerk races. Next week will be Senate District 15 – I’ve tried to get something on the schedule with Candis Houston from HD142 but so far no luck. If it happens later, I’ll publish it later. The week after that will be CD38, and I’ve done a couple of Land Commissioner interviews for after that.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

January 2022 campaign finance reports: Harris County

You know what January means around these parts. There’s lots of action in Harris County, so that’s where we’ll begin. Here’s my summary of the July 2021 reports as a reminder. Let’s dive in.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Ahmed Hassan, County Judge
Georgia Provost, County Judge
Erica Davis, County Judge
Kevin Howard, County Judge
Maria Garcia, County Judge

Martina Lemon Dixon, County Judge
Robert Dorris, County Judge
Randall Kubosh, County Judge
Naoufal Houjami, County Judge
Hector Bolanos, County Judge
Oscar Gonzales, County Judge
Alexandra Mealer, County Judge
Vidal Martinez, County Judge
Warren Howell, County Judge
George Zoes, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
George Risner, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Gary Harrison, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
John Manlove, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jerry Mouton, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jack Morman, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Daniel Jason, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Richard Vega, County Commissioner, Precinct 2

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ben Chou, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ann Williams, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Jeff Stauber, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Stan Stanart, County Clerk

Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Desiree Broadnax, District Clerk
Chris Daniel (SPAC), District Clerk

Dylan Osborne, County Treasurer
Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer
Kyle Scott, County Treasurer
Eric Dick, County Treasurer
Stephen Kusner, County Treasurer


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo         900,323    424,448    1,400  1,488,652
Hassan              200      2,461        0          0
Davis            50,114     10,143   21,852     59,970
Howard
Provost
Garcia, M

Lemond Dixon    196,977    109,175        0     90,294
Dorris                0         68        0         68
Kubosh           15,075      9,051   60,000      7,165
Houjami           1,390        592        0        147
Bolanos               0          0        0          0
Gonzales          2,475      3,432      500          0
Mealer           60,049     15,464        0     15,840
Martinez        514,585     86,782  100,000    516,134
Howell            1,450      7,075        0        375
Zoes

Ellis           264,000    181,904        0  4,192,308

Garcia, A       587,885    364,783        0  2,119,825
Risner            3,250      1,899        0     51,550
Harrison              5      2,191        0          0
Manlove          19,452      4,285        0     68,870
Mouton           29,100      2,916        0     26,283
Morman           45,749     66,119        0    165,834
Jason
Vega

Ramsey          236,900    185,263        0    581,035

Cagle           285,673    501,923        0  1,119,432
Chou             80,590      4,133        0     77,490
Williams          2,600      1,250    1,250      1,450
Miller            5,293     10,560        0     10,336
Briones         244,974     60,571        0    229,258
Calanni           5,540          0        0      5,540
Stauber               0      1,250        0          0

Hudspeth         26,464     10,395        0     19,376
Stanart               0      3,054        0      8,053
Burgess          24,169     26,475        0     17,222
Broadnax          9,649      9,538        0        110
Daniel           11,875      1,393   25,000     12,264
Osborne           2,440        622        0      2,202
Scott             7,900     20,489   14,000      1,410
Dick                  0      1,489        0          0
Kusner              

If you don’t see a linked report for someone, it’s because there wasn’t one I could find on the harrisvotes.com page. The information I have here is current as of last night. It’s possible someone could still file a report, these things do happen, but I wouldn’t expect much from anyone who hasn’t by now.

There are items of greater substance to discuss, but I can’t help myself: Naoufal Houjami was a candidate for Mayor in 2019 – if you don’t remember him, it’s probably because he got a total of 565 votes, for 0.2%, finishing last in the field. He has filed a finance report as a candidate for Harris County Judge, but he is not listed as a candidate for either primary, according to the Secretary of State’s Qualified Candidates page. (The Harris County GOP candidates page doesn’t have him, either.) The first two pictures I saw on his webpage were one with him and Greg Abbott, and one with him and Sheila Jackson Lee. Go figure. He is fully supporting his friend George P. Bush for Attorney General, so you make the call. This is way more than you ever needed to know about Naoufal Houjami.

Anyway. Barring an unlikely late and lucrative report from Georgia Provost, who wasn’t much of a fundraiser as a City Council candidate, incumbent Judge Lina Hidalgo outraised all of the other candidates for that position combined. Erica Davis claimed $70K raised on the summary page of her report but just $50K on the subtotals page – I suspect the $70K number was a typo. She had six total donors listed, two of whom gave $25K each, one who gave $196, and the others gave $19.12 apiece. Vidal Martinez was the other big fundraiser, though as John Coby notes, almost 70% of his donations came from 14 people who each ponied up at least $10K. For sure, it’s all green, but that’s not exactly grassroots support. As for Alexandra Mealer, I’d been wondering about her because I’ve seen multiple signs for her in my very Democratic neighborhood. Turns out she’s also my neighbor, now living in one of the historic houses. That explains a lot.

I included the two Commissioners who are not on the ballot just as a point of comparison. Adrian Garcia is obviously well-equipped for battle. George Risner presumably had a few bucks in his account from his time as a Justice of the Peace, but his candidacy for Commissioner does not seem to have drawn much support so far. Jack Morman also had some coin still in his bank and drew more support on his attempt to come back, but he’s nowhere close to Garcia. For Precinct 4, Jack Cagle raised a reasonable amount, though as you can see not an earth-shaking total, with Lesley Briones coming close to him. He has a tidy sum in his treasury, but it’s less than what he had in July thanks to how much he spent. Gina Calanni didn’t raise much – to be fair, there isn’t that much time between the filing deadline and the finance reporting deadline – but her report showed $40K in pledges, which are noted as transfers from her State House campaign account.

None of the other offices tend to raise much. Chris Daniel has a personal report as well as the SPAC report. The non-SPAC account reported no money raised and $1,151 in expenditures.

Finally, someone named Stephen Kusner filed a finance report for Treasurer in July but is not on either ballot and has no report for January. I’m just making a note of that here in case anyone who looked at my July summary is wondering what happened to him.

I’ll take a look at some state reports next, and Congressional reports later. Let me know if you have any questions.

Paxton thumbs his nose at open records demand

Water is wet. The sun rises in the east. Ken Paxton DGAF about government, ethics, accountability or any of that other namby-pamby stuff.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Travis County district attorney’s determination that Paxton violated open records laws by withholding information related to his trip to Washington D.C. on the day of the Capitol insurrection was “meritless” and that his office had fulfilled its obligation under the law.

Last week, the district attorney’s office gave Paxton four days to turn over communications requested by the state’s leading newspapers relating to his trip or face a lawsuit.

On Friday, Austin Kinghorn, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, dismissed the district attorney’s findings, saying the office had provided no provisions under the state’s open records law that had been violated and implied that the newspapers had made the requests to publish stories about them.

“In each instance, complainant’ allegations rely on unsupported assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings of the PIA and its requirements,” Kinghorn wrote. “Frustrated that they have failed to uncover anything worth reporting following ‘numerous open records requests to AG Paxton office for various documents,’ complainant newspaper editors have sought to leverage your office’s authority to further their fishing expedition, or worse, manufacture a conflict between our respective offices that will give rise to publishable content for the complainants’ media outlets.”

[…]

In the letter, the attorney general’s office said the newspaper editors base their complaint on an “awareness of a small number of inconsequential documents they believe should have been produced” in public records requests and “baselessly speculate” that Paxton is failing to comply with the open records law.

Kinghorn said the “inconsequential documents” include a text message sent to Paxton’s personal cell phone by a Dallas Morning News reporter and two “spam” emails and an internal email that announced the temporary closure of an office parking garage.

See here for the background and here for a copy of Paxton’s response. This was of course the most predictable event imaginable, and basically serves as the pregame warmup for whatever comes next. Which will be a lawsuit filed in Travis County district court, and after that a million legal maneuvers by Paxton to delay, obstruct, and as feasible ignore the whole process. It will end with a final ruling from the Supreme Court sometime between now and the heat death of the universe. If somehow Ken Paxton is still in office when this is ultimately resolved, it will be incontrovertible proof that we are indeed in the darkest timeline. Adjust your expectations, is what I’m trying to say here. The Chron has more.

SB8 litigation will stay with SCOTx

Another game of Calvinball, same result.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied on Thursday abortion providers’ latest request to intervene in the ongoing legal challenge against Texas’ restrictive abortion law, cutting off one of their few remaining paths to a speedy victory.

The case is currently before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case to the Texas Supreme Court. That is expected to add months to the legal proceedings.

Abortion providers were hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would direct the 5th Circuit to send the case to federal district court, where a judge previously blocked the law.

[…]

“It breaks my heart every time our clinic staff are forced to deny pregnant people care and turn them away,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four Texas abortion clinics. “This law is cruel and unconstitutional, and I am deeply disappointed that our judicial system has done very little to stop it.”

The fix is in. The law means nothing. It’s about to get worse. Have a nice day.

On speed limits

Food for thought.

Speeding is a national health problem and a big reason why this country is increasingly an outlier on traffic safety in the developed world. More than 1 in 4 fatal crashes in the United States involve at least one speeding driver, making speeding a factor in nearly 10,000 deaths each year, in addition to an unknowable number of injuries. Thousands of car crash victims are on foot, and speed is an even more crucial determinant of whether they live or die: The odds of a pedestrian being killed in a collision rise from 10 percent at 23 mph to 75 percent at 50 mph. And we’re now in a moment of particular urgency. Last year, when the pandemic shutdowns lowered total miles traveled by 13 percent, the per-mile death rate rose by 24 percent—the greatest increase in a century, thanks to drivers hitting high velocities on empty roads. “COVID,” [Connecticut State Trooper Kevin] Roberts said, “was midnight on the day shift.”

In the first six months of 2021, projected traffic fatalities in the U.S. rose by 18 percent, the largest increase since the U.S. Department of Transportation started counting and double the rate of the previous year’s surge. “We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press release.

But we do. Such carnage has not prompted a societal response akin to the movement elicited by drunk driving in the 1980s. Part of the reason is that Americans love driving fast and have confidence in their own abilities. About half admit to going more than 15 over the limit in the past month. Meanwhile, drivers do generally regard their peers’ speeding as a threat to their own safety, and so we have wound up with the worst of both worlds: Thousands of speed-related deaths on the one hand, and on the other, a system of enforcement that is both ineffective and inescapable.

What I was about to do with Trooper Roberts on that fall morning—chase down a driver on the highway, pull over the car, and issue a ticket—is the No. 1 way Americans interact with police and serves as the start of 1 in 3 police shootings. But it doesn’t stop Americans from speeding.

The nation’s most disobeyed law is dysfunctional from top to bottom. The speed limit is alternately too low on interstate highways, giving police discretion to make stops at will, and too high on local roads, creating carnage on neighborhood streets. Enforcement is both inadequate and punitive. The cost is enormous. And the lack of political will to do something about it tracks with George Carlin’s famous observation that everybody going faster than you is a maniac and everybody going slower than you is an idiot. The consensus is: Enforce the speed limit. But not on me, please. Because while it would be nice to save 10,000 lives a year, it sure is fun to drive fast.

From there, the story goes into the history and demise of the national 55 MPH speed limit, the promise and pitfalls of speed cameras, why speeding on city streets is deadlier than speeding on the interstate, and more. I’m old enough to remember the entire history of the 55 MPH speed limit, and I don’t miss it. I tend to agree with the assertion that raising a speed limit from something that was artificially low to something more like what most people actually drive does not make people drive even faster. I don’t feel any less safe on Texas highways now than I did thirty years ago. On the other hand, we definitely need to take real action to slow people down on city streets, especially in areas where pedestrians and bicyclists are at risk. The difference between even going 25 MPH and going 35 or 40 MPH, particularly in the type of oversized vehicle most people drive, can easily be fatal. I have one daughter who drives and another who will be old enough to take drivers’ ed next year, and road hazards are one of my biggest worries about them. Unfortunately, I don’t feel optimistic about any good solutions that the public will accept coming around. Read the whole thing, and stay safe out there.

Judicial Q&A: Blair McClure

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Blair McClure

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

My name is Blair McClure and I am a candidate for Harris County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Place 2. This position was held by the Hon. George E. Risner for some 34 years, and I am honored to be considered to take his place.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace in Texas presides over the Justice Court, which has jurisdiction in civil matters in which the amount in controversy is not more than $20,000, and in eviction cases. The criminal jurisdiction of the Justice Court includes misdemeanors punishable by a fine only, the most common being traffic offenses and Class C misdemeanors such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct, simple assault, and theft of property valued at under $100. The Justice of the Peace also presides over the Truancy Court, conducting cases where a child has been absent from school without excuse. And, the Justice of the Peace has a vast array of administrative duties, for example, dangerous dog determinations, determinations of the rights of owners of towed vehicles, and applications for occupational drivers’ licenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Justice Court is almost always a citizen’s first contact with the justice system, and I want the opportunity to serve the citizens of this community by bringing a common sense approach to equal justice for all. I want to promote dignity in court proceedings, processing cases timely and efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

While I am not a lawyer, I plan to bring my life experiences, and my willingness to work hard to this position. I have served the Justice Court Precinct 2 Place 2 as a community outreach liaison which has allowed me to become familiar with the laws and procedures governing Justice Courts; and I have 35 years of work experience with IBM as a project manager that has given me the practical knowledge and people skills which I can use to competently deliberate and decide the various types of disputes filed in the Justice Court.

5. Why is this race important?

The Justice Court is almost always a citizen’s first contact with the justice system, and a Justice of the Peace engages with the community on a grass roots level. I feel it is important to provide court participants with an opportunity to be heard, fairly and impartially, and to render decisions in accordance with the governing procedures and laws. I want to promote dignity in court proceedings, and process cases timely and efficiently.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I feel that I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have been a resident of the Precinct 2 community for over 50 years. I bring the experience of 35 years as a project manager for IBM, and my service as the Court’s outreach liaison. I bring the understanding of the nature of the justice court as a place where citizens can go to assert their claims acting pro se. And, I want the opportunity to work hard to serve the citizens of the Precinct 2 community by brining a common sense approach to equal justice for all.

Sid Miller’s political consultant indicted

Well, this is interesting.

Todd Smith, a top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, was indicted Tuesday on felony charges of theft and commercial bribery related to taking money in exchange for state hemp licenses that are doled out through Miller’s office, according to Travis County district attorney José Garza.

Smith was arrested in May, accused of taking $55,000 as part of the scheme, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Smith and others were accused of soliciting up to $150,000 to get an “exclusive” hemp license from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Smith allegedly said $25,000 would be used for a public poll on hemp. A hemp license from the state costs $100, according to the arrest warrant.

“We are holding accountable powerful actors who abuse the system and break the law,” Garza said. “Our community needs to know that no one is above the law and will face justice.”

Smith could not immediately be reached for comment but his attorneys said in a statement that their client has not broken any laws.

“We are disappointed that the Travis County District Attorney has obtained an indictment against Todd Smith, he was not invited to address the grand jury. He is not guilty of these charges and intends to vigorously defend himself against the allegations made by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” attorneys Sam Bassett and Perry Minton said in a statement.

[…]

Miller on Tuesday evening declined immediate comment, saying he was just learning the news of the indictment from the Tribune reporter. He later went on conservative radio host Chad Hasty’s show and said he’s gonna review indictment, but he’s “not ready to throw [Smith] under the bus” and is “not surprised,” suggesting it’s politically motivated. Miller says he still doesn’t believe Smith did anything wrong.

Smith has faced scrutiny before over his conduct and ties to the Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Smith promised a San Antonio businessperson an appointment with the Department of Agriculture in exchange for a $29,000 loan. And in 2016, Miller gave Smith’s wife a newly created assistant commissioner position, one of the highest-paying roles in the department.

Miller is unlikely to take this seriously, though he did dump Smith shortly afterwards. His Republican opponents have been all over the story, and I suppose it’s always best to be proactive. As for the indictment itself, I think we all know that this sort of thing either gets resolved very quickly, via a plea deal or (more likely) the charges getting tossed, or it drags out for months if not years. To whatever extent this has an effect on Miller’s re-election chances, it will be because of what has already happened. We already know what kind of a person Sid Miller is, but it never hurts to have a reminder. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.

The Houston Local News Initiative

More news is good news.

Five foundations, including three local philanthropies, are investing more than $20 million to launch an independent nonprofit news outlet in Houston, entering the city’s competitive media landscape.

The Houston Endowment, the Kinder Foundation and Arnold Ventures on Wednesday said the yet-to-be-named news operation will be one of the largest of its kind nationally when it launches late this year or early next year on multiple platforms. The philanthropies, joined by journalism foundations American Journalism Project and Knight Foundation, said they seek to “elevate the voices of Houstonians” and “answer the community’s calls for additional news coverage.”

“All Houstonians deserve to be informed about the issues that impact their lives,” said Ann Stern, CEO of the Houston Endowment. “We are thrilled to support the expansion of local reporting in Greater Houston – combining the highest standards of journalism with an innovative community-focused reporting model.”

News organizations are increasingly expanding their footprint in Houston, ramping up competition for advertising dollars and journalism consumers in one of the nation’s largest media markets long served by the Houston Chronicle. Founded in 1901, the Chronicle is one of the nation’s largest regional media companies with the largest newsroom staff in Texas and more than 1 million print readers weekly. The Chronicle’s digital platforms, including its premium news website HoustonChronicle.com and its advertising-supported news website Chron.com, receive 30 million monthly visits.

[…]

Community Impact, an Austin-based hyperlocal newspaper, last month announced plans to break ground on its Houston regional headquarters this quarter. When completed later this year, more than 55 journalists and media employees are expected to work out of the new 16,000-square-foot office in Jersey Village. Over the past 15 years, several news outlets, including CultureMap and Houstonia, also have started operating in the city.

The new Houston nonprofit news outlet was born from a two-year research effort led by the American Journalism Project, a local journalism philanthropy that conducted local focus groups, community listening sessions and surveys to analyze Houston’s media landscape and identify gaps in news coverage. The new media outlet will follow in the footsteps of the Texas Tribune, which launched 13 years ago as a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan online news outlet covering state politics and policy.

The Houston nonprofit will be funded by philanthropic dollars, memberships and sponsorship revenue. The Houston Endowment and the Kinder Foundation each contributed $7.5 million to the nonprofit newsroom. Arnold Ventures contributed $4 million, the American Journalism Project $1.5 million and the Knight Foundation $250,000.

The three local philanthropic foundations behind the new outlet said they will not have editorial control, review, oversight or influence over the journalism created and distributed.

I like this. The Texas Tribune model works pretty well, and there is definitely a niche to be filled here. You’ve seen me complain enough about the lack of coverage on local races, for example. To be fair, that’s partly because they don’t generate all that much news on their own, but between candidate forums, finance reports, advertising, social media, and just plain talking to people, there’s plenty there to provide more than the stale two-sentences-per-candidate race overview. The initiative’s website is here and they’re hiring, so if this is something that you or someone you know might be interested in, now’s your chance. The Press has more.

Have I mentioned that we need to get more kids vaccinated?

Seriously, y’all.

Since November, 693,345 Texas elementary-age children have received at least one dose of the vaccine, accounting for about 24% of the state’s 2.9 million children ages 5-11 — and a figure in line with the national rate. Nearly 390,000 of the 5-11 group are fully vaccinated, while more than half of Texans ages 12-15 are fully vaccinated.

Texas’ child vaccination rate is higher than in many other Southern states, where rates as low as 10% are being recorded. In the first two weeks after the shot was approved for emergency use in the younger age group, some 100,000 children showed up to Texas school clinics, pharmacies and pediatricians’ offices to get inoculated.

[…]

At Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, positive cases among patients went from zero in early December to some 70 patients with COVID-19 a month later, mostly among unvaccinated children, said Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief for the hospital. Their hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 broke all previous pandemic records, and at breakneck speed, he said. Just weeks after omicron was first detected in Texas, it was causing more than 90% of new cases showing up at his hospital — less than a month after the vaccine was approved for young kids.

“We have staggering numbers here during this omicron surge,” Versalovic said in a news conference in early January.

That same day, the state broke its own record of children hospitalized with COVID-19, reporting 350 — five more than the previous peak a few months before.

On Friday, the state health department released data on 3.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas in the first two years of the pandemic. Almost 19% of them — 722,393 — were diagnosed in residents under age 20. The demographics do not include cases reported in 2022.

During the first week of January, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Education Agency reported that about 26,500 students and 11,800 staff members had been infected with COVID, according to data released Friday.

While the numbers of student cases are nearing levels not seen since the start of school last fall, there are more cases of COVID-19 among staffers than at any other time in the pandemic. The numbers are likely to increase as more districts report their numbers to the state. The current numbers include only about half of all of the state’s 1,200 districts, and the number of districts reporting any numbers is inconsistent from week to week.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the state reported 471 children in Texas hospitals with COVID-19. Most of them are unvaccinated, hospital officials have said. But there is no state data detailing how many COVID-19 child patients are in Texas pediatric intensive care units.

Yes, I’ve said this before. The numbers have climbed a bit since then, but there’s so much farther to go. As was the case with previous iterations of the vaccine, there was a large initial burst of activity, as the folks who had been eagerly awaiting the day that it became available for that group rushed out to get it, then it leveled off. The difference is that this time that initial burst was much smaller. Gotta say, I have no idea why. Get your kids vaccinated. What are you waiting for?

Interview with Desiree Broadnax

Desiree Broadnax

We wrap up our exploration of the non-County Judge executive offices with Desiree Broadnax, who is running for District Clerk. Broadnax is the manager of the Intake division at the District Attorney’s office, which means she has responsibility for all incoming case filings. She has worked in the DA’s office for nineteen years, starting out as a typist on the evening shift and working her way up. This has also had her in close contact with the District Clerk’s office over the years. We talked about that experience and her ideas for the District Clerk’s office, and you can listen to it here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Natalia Oakes

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Natalia Oakes

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Natalia Oakes, Judge of 313th Family (Juvenile) District Court and worked as a lawyer in Juvenile Court for 18 years handling juvenile delinquencies and CPS (Child Protective Services) cases before being elected judge to the 313th Juvenile Family District Court in 2018. Previously, I was a secondary school teacher.

I was born in Beaumont, Texas and raised in a big civic-minded family. I graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in English Literature with a Teacher's Certificate and awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. My parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I worked in Juvenile Court as a lawyer for 18 before being elected judge. I joyfully interacted daily with lawyers, judge, clients, probation officers, court staff, assistant district attorneys, assistant county attorneys, detention officers, interpreters and bailiffs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th hears Juvenile delinquencies, Child Protective Services cases, adoptions and child immigration cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

What we have accomplished in 3 years is a source of pride: We have implemented more rehabilitation measures to help prevent recidivism. Therapeutic services have been introduced to address the trauma that many of the youth have experienced. Multi Systemic and Family Functional Therapy are used to address the family's needs in dealing with the youth and helping the family deal with each other. This service is done in the home for better accessibility. Diversion programs, for non-violent offenders, are used so youth do not have to come to court; parents don't have to miss work nor, youth school.

Also, in 3 years we have developed many community partners who have input and output to redefine youth justice, who support the youth in their neighborhoods. There is a dual status docket concentrating on youth who are in the CPS system and delinquency system. The 313th presides over GRIP (Gang Recidivism Intervention Court) with MAGO (Mayor's Anti Gang Office) showing noted success in support for: education, family, substance abuse, counselling, relocation, mentoring). Houston Endowments for the Arts have come to the Detention Center to expose youth to ballet class, opera, music, slam poetry and other creative measures. Also, we are keeping the youth close to home and not sending all violent offenders to TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) Harris County has a placement for violent offender treatment and families can more easily visit, too.

There are fewer certifications, giving youth the opportunity to rehabilitate.

As for the CPS cases, keeping the family together and best interest of the child is the goal.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I want to continue to implement the rehabilitative programs that have been so successful. I want to add more trade and cultural programs. I want to broaden youth's exposure to new outside interests. I want to continue to forge the many relationships that I have made over 21 years practicing juvenile law for the benefit of the youth. There are many entities the juvenile judge deals with and a judge can harm the youth if any of the groups are alienated.

I would like to promote gun control, awareness, education in Harris County. The youth have so much access to guns that curbing the gun violence is difficult without some concerted effort from government and authorities.

5. Why is this race important?

When the youth benefit, we all benefit. When our communities are safe from teenage crime, communities thrive.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am dedicated to Juvenile Law. I am very open to suggestions and have an open door to new ideas. The morale in the 313th Curt is very high. The court staff is polite, organized and efficient. They serve the public well and promptly.

I want to continue to promote programs that produce results for youth and families of Harris County.

Beto starts strong on fundraising

Good start, needs more of same.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott raked in $18.9 million over the last six months as his war chest topped $65 million.

Both campaigns announced their latest fundraising figures Tuesday morning, hours ahead of the deadline to report them to the Texas Ethics Commission. O’Rourke’s campaign went first, touting his opening haul — which covers Nov. 15 through Dec. 31 — as unmatched by any Democratic campaign in state history.

Abbott said in a statement his contributions “show just how excited Texans are for this campaign.”

The figures confirm what has long been considered the case: O’Rourke is a strong fundraiser, but he is up against a juggernaut in Abbott, at least when it comes to the money the governor has saved up. O’Rourke did not release his cash-on-hand number, but he was effectively starting from scratch when he launched his campaign in November, and his $7.2 million period means his cash on hand remains a fraction of Abbott’s reserves. Abbott had $55 million saved up for his reelection campaign at the end of June.

O’Rourke’s campaign said he got over 115,600 contributions over the 46-day period, while Abbott’s team said it received nearly 159,000 donations from July through December. Abbott’s campaign said it had an average contribution of “just over $119,” while O’Rourke’s team did not volunteer that number.

O’Rourke’s latest fundraising number includes $2 million that his campaign said he collected within 24 hours of announcing his run. Expectations have been high for O’Rourke’s fundraising after he proved a fundraising phenom during his 2018 run against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when he raised more than $80 million. O’Rourke was subject to federal campaign donation caps in that race; Texas has no such restrictions.

Abbott’s haul was not entirely surprising. His campaign already reported raising $9.5 million on a series of reports that were due around the three, roughly monthlong special legislative sessions that occurred during the half-year period.

If you want to look at it on a rate basis, Beto’s $7.2 million in 46 days would equate to almost $29 million over six months. Easy to say, of course, harder to do. And yes, Abbott is currently sitting on a mountain of money, some of which he’s spending now on ads during the NFL playoffs. (When I am named dictator for life, I will ban all political ads on live TV events that I personally want to watch.) Beto doesn’t need to equal Abbott in fundraising – that would be nearly impossible in any event – he just needs to raise enough to run the campaign he wants to run. I wish he’d gotten started sooner, but he’s on the right track now. Don’t let up on the gas.

I’ll be posting summaries of campaign finance reports over the next couple of weeks as they come in and I have the time. I’m very interested to see what some certain Harris County candidates have done.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance does not hang up on Steve Inskeep as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

You (probably) still have to get vaxxed if you work in Houston

I’m glad to see this, but there’s a huge question that this story doesn’t address, much less answer.

Local companies say they will maintain their vaccination policies despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for firms with more than 100 employees.

The Houston software company Hewlett Packard Enterprises, for example, said vaccinations are still required for employees to enter offices, work at clients’ sites, travel for business, or required for team members to enter work sites, work at third-party sites, and to travel or attend events on business. Those who decline to be vaccinated are required to work from home.

More than 90 percent of the company’s workforce is vaccinated, a company spokesperson said. The company has not yet decided whether to require booster shots.

[…]

The Houston chemical company LyondellBasell and CenterPoint, the Houston utility company, have not adopted vaccine mandates. They said they have COVID protocols in place and will continue to monitor them.

Corporate vaccine requirement increased the rate of vaccination among employees by 20 percent, according to a recent survey by the National Safety Council. The survey found 95 percent of workers at businesses with vaccine mandates were inoculated, compared to 75 percent among those at businesses without requirements.

At BakerRipley, employees are required to get vaccinated or tested weekly, the Houston charity said. Nearly 90 percent of its 1,200 employees are fully vaccinated.

Camden Property Trust, a national real estate company headquartered in Houston, put in vaccine requirements over the summer before Biden announced the mandate. Of its 746 Texas employees, 718, or about 96 percent, are vaccinated, said Ric Campo, CEO of Camden Property Trust said.

“We just had this discussion about safety and it’s about keeping teammates safe. We’ve done all the analysis and that’s what we think,” Campo said, “And once people had a rational discussion, and it wasn’t political, and it wasn’t ‘You do this or else’ people chose to vaccinate.”

The few who aren’t vaccinated must wear masks at work, Campo said.

Whether to require vaccinations is now in the hands of companies, said Seth J. Chandler, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. It’s unlikely that Congress would pass new laws to give OSHA the authority that the Supreme Court says it now lacks to impose workplace vaccination requirements.

The story is about the effect of the SCOTUS ruling that blocked the Biden employer vaccination mandate. I’m happy that employers are mostly moving forward with whatever vaccine policies they already had in the works, but I have to ask: What about the state ban on such mandates? The original story line was that employers would be caught between conflicting orders, but that’s no longer the case. The thought that these employers are ignoring Abbott or have found a way around him is delightful, but how is it possible? What are their legal risks here? Is there a lawsuit against the Abbott’s order?

So I did some googling. While Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee urged businesses to sue Abbott over this order, as far as I can tell none have done so yet. Maybe they were waiting to see what happened with the federal mandate first. On the question of what Abbott’s order actually means, I found some interesting writing. For example:

The Order provides enforcement via fines. Specifically, non-compliant entities may be fined up to $1,000 per offense, while jail time is specifically excluded as a penalty. The Order’s language makes no exception for health-care providers such as hospitals and other related entities.

The Order also contemplates its own sunset upon the passage of overlapping legislation. Specifically, in the Order, Governor Abbot states that he is “adding this issue to the agenda” for an upcoming session of the Texas legislature, and that he “will rescind this [Order] upon the effective date of such legislation[.]”

Notably, the Order contradicts both the Governor’s own statements on the rights of private businesses within the state, and legal consensus regarding the ability of employers to mandate vaccinations in most cases. For example, in August, Governor Abbot issued an executive order banning public and governmental entities from enacting vaccine mandates, but explicitly left private entities to make their own decisions regarding the matter. At that time, a spokesman for the Governor’s office also commented that private businesses would be left to make their own decisions regarding the matter. The Order essentially closes that loophole.

The Order also contravenes existing legal precedent within the state regarding employer vaccine mandates. For example, in June 2021, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit by 117 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital; who claimed Methodist’s policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 amounted to wrongful termination under the law, because the vaccine(s) are “experimental and dangerous.” Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hosp., CV H-21-1774, 2021 WL 2399994, at *1 (S.D. Tex. June 12, 2021). In no uncertain terms, the Order squarely contradicts the holding in Bridges.

[…]

The immediate impact of the Order on businesses who implemented vaccine mandates is unclear—especially in light of conflicting Federal mandates. For example, Texas-based Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have stated publicly that—regardless of the Order—they will continue to implement plans requiring employees be vaccinated, citing federal mandates for contractors and the forthcoming OSHA rule for private business with 100 or more employees. While nothing is certain, it is somewhat likely that OSHA rules and regulations would preempt the Order. But Texas businesses with fewer than 100 employees would still be subject to the Order, or future, related State legislation.

Regardless, in light of the Order’s language, any Texas business entity that previously required employees or customers be vaccinated should seek counsel and reexamine its accompanying policies or risk non-compliance with the Order. At a minimum, Texas businesses should—for now—consider adding exemption language to vaccine policies that mimic the Order’s “personal conscience” and “prior recovery from COVID-19” carve outs.

The fact that the order only calls for what appears to be a modest fine (though that may depend on how an “offense” is counted; if it’s per employee, that would quickly add up) and conflicts with an existing federal court ruling may be the reason for the lack of action on it. Here’s more:

Additional questions loom, such as whether the governor’s Order exceeds his authority – his prior Executive Orders regarding vaccinations and so-called vaccine passports governed only public employers and private companies who were receiving state funds. Additional uncertainties include likely legal challenges to the Order; possible conflicts with federal law; and how and to what extent EO-40 will be enforced. It is also unclear to what extent, if any, the State will actually enforce EO-40, which provides for fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

Companies with employees in Texas who have already begun requiring vaccinations can take a relatively low risk approach to dealing with the governor’s Order by modifying their policies to provide accommodations to employees who object to being vaccinated on the basis of “personal conscience” (which is not defined in EO-40) and for “prior recovery from COVID-19.” These practices can be modified as new federal rules are issued and/or legal challenges play out. Other options for responding the Order are discussed in more detail below.

[…]

EO-40 departs from the governor’s prior orders in other ways. The Vaccine Passport Ban prohibits state agencies from adopting policies or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of receiving services. In a notable contrast, EO-40 does not expressly forbid proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. Instead, it specifically forbids an entity from “compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine.” By aiming squarely on the act of receiving a vaccination as opposed to policies requiring proof of vaccination, the Order gives rise to more ambiguity. In other words, employers may argue that they are not “compelling receipt” of a vaccine so long as that they do not intend to strap an employee down to a chair and force a vaccine needle into a worker’s arm, which they do not. Instead, that worker always has a choice: they can refuse to get vaccinated, but the consequence is that they will lose their job. Thus, another question is whether employer policies requiring vaccination as a condition of employment would be considered coercive enough to be deemed a violation of EO-40’s bar on compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In a larger context, considering the Texas’ at-will employment environment and the narrow availability of a “wrongful termination” cause of action in Texas, it is not clear that an employer “compels” an individual to be vaccinated by making it a condition of employment.

That last bit was a key component of that Methodist vaccine lawsuit. My interpretation of all this – and you lawyers out there, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong – is that businesses that want to get their employees vaccinated see a way forward, and so far the state hasn’t tried to make an example out of anyone. Abbott’s order was primarily about politics and his need to appear maximally troglodytic for the primary. If he scares a few businesses into abandoning any pro-vaccination plans, so much the better, but the point was to make the order. Optics come first, and on that score Abbott got what he wanted. The details don’t matter. Very much on brand for him, in other words.

Interview with Marilyn Burgess

Marilyn Burgess

The other contested executive office that we will explore this week is Harris County District Clerk. This office was briefly held by a Democrat following a special election in 2008, but otherwise had been in Republican hands since the 1990’s, along with the other non-Presidential year offices. In 2018 it was won by Democrat Marilyn Burgess, who has had the challenge of revamping jury service during the pandemic. The District Clerk handles all of the filings from 90 courts in Harris County, but most people know it for handling the process of summoning and organizing jurors for the county’s courts. Burgess has overseen projects to do jury summonses electronically, with automated reminders, and has added vouchers for parking, coffee, and meals to the experience. She has other plans in mind as well, which we discussed in the interview. I should note that I did not do interviews for District Clerk in 2018 – it was just too busy a year – so this is the first time I’ve talked to District Clerk candidates since 2014. Here you go:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge David Patronella

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge David Patronella

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

My name is David Patronella and I’m running for County Civil Court #4. I was elected to four terms in the Texas Legislature and was appointed to Justice Court Precinct 1 Place 2 where I’ve served eight terms. I’m a native Houstonian, proud graduate of Houston public schools, and a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College and the University of Houston Law Center. I’m also a husband, and father of two adult children living in a household with a total of four canine and feline companions-three of which are rescues.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $200,000. This jurisdiction includes civil appeals from justice courts ranging from small claims to eviction suits to debt claims.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m running for County Civil Court #4 because the court hears appeals from justice courts so my experience gives me a strong foundation to continue to serve. I’ve loved serving Precinct 1 and honored to have been elected eight times by the voters, but I am excited by the chance to work in a countywide capacity. I have been highly rated in Houston Bar Association Judicial Qualifications Polls for my legal knowledge, docket management skills, and judicial demeanor. In the most recent HBA Polls of attorneys expressing an opinion our court had the highest very good and excellent ratings among all justice courts and the second highest of all trial courts in the county. With the bench coming open this election cycle, I am uniquely qualified to step into this role.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Prior to my years of serving as judge, I practiced in the district and county civil courts, trying both bench and jury trials. Since 1989, I have served as Justice of the Peace for Precinct One, where I try civil cases and criminal misdemeanor cases. I also conduct administrative hearings—including seizures of neglected and abused animals.

In addition to my years of service on the bench, I’ve taught judges and court personnel through the Texas Justice Training Center for 25 years throughout Texas. In 2019, I was named Texas Judge of the Year by the state association.

I am currently serving my seventh year as a member of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which hears complaints of judicial misconduct and disciplines judges who violate canons of ethics. I am the only elected Democrat currently serving on this body. Prior to my appointment as commissioner, the Commission asked that I serve as a mentor to several judges to assist with ethics issues.

I have also served as Chairman of the Justice Courts section of the State Bar of Texas and have served four times as Presiding Judge for the 16 justice courts. In addition, I have completed over 1500 hours in continuing legal education-more than three times the amount required-to keep abreast of changes in procedural and substantive law. I have also authored Texas CLE presentations and participated in CLE planning committees.

I was appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to a six-year term on the Texas Judicial Council and chaired committees on Judicial Campaign Reform and Promoting Diversity in the Judiciary.

I am fluent in four languages including Spanish which is invaluable in handling court dockets as Harris County is one of the most diverse counties in the country, and parties often appear without translators.

5. Why is this race important?

Every race in the upcoming primary is important but, the county civil benches often receive less attention than criminal benches because we don’t sentence offenders accused of serious crimes. However, in this time of housing insecurity, the eviction matters we hear are of grave concern, as we determine whether someone may be left homeless. And in this time of job loss and food insecurity we enter civil judgments which impact many people who are teetering on economic despair. I have been proactive in bringing Gulf Coast Legal Aid and the Alliance and the Houston Volunteer Lawyers as well as the Houston Apartment Association in Zoom hearings to attempt to resolve these matters and often avoid an eviction judgment. Through this collaborative approach, nearly 80% of our nonpayment eviction cases were nonsuited or dismissed. It is important that the judge follows the law but also rules with compassion and recognition of how parties may be impacted. I bring both the knowledge and the sensitivity necessary to administer justice in this court.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have more experience than any other candidate in this race. Furthermore, my solid public record demonstrates that I will follow the law, administer justice and treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

Additionally, the recent Houston Bar Association Judicial Evaluations Poll showed that, of those who expressed an opinion, our court had the highest rating of any Justice of the Peace Court in the county – and was in the top two highest of all trial courts in the county. I have the legal knowledge and judicial temperament to serve Harris County.

Lastly, I am proud to be endorsed by Mayor Sylvester Turner, Senator John Whitmire, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Senfronia Thompson, Representative Hubert Vo, former Mayor Annise Parker and a host of current and former public officials at the city, county, state, and federal levels. A full list of endorsements is available at our website. www.Judgedavidpatronella.com If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected] and follow us @JudgePatronella.

I hope to earn your support in the March 1st Primary.

SB8 lawsuit moves to SCOTx

Like I said, the fix was always in.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday sent the legal challenge to Texas’ restrictive abortion law to the state’s Supreme Court, a move that is expected to significantly delay the case and that abortion opponents had hoped would occur.

“This decision now keeps the case in limbo — and abortion after 6 weeks in the nation’s second-largest state — a dead-letter, indefinitely,” wrote Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor, on Twitter.

The U.S. Supreme Court has largely declined to intervene in the Texas case three times, most recently in December when justices kept the ban in effect while allowing a legal challenge to move through a lower state court.

[…]

A divided Supreme Court found that most challenges against the Texas law should be dismissed, except for one filed against medical licensing officials. That case was sent that to the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, rather than a federal district court as abortion providers and supporters had hoped.

The three-judge federal panel, based in New Orleans, wrote in their 2-1 decision Monday that the Texas Supreme Court must certify the case and decide whether the U.S. Supreme Court was correct in allowing a challenge to proceed against the licensing officials. Circuit Judges Edith H. Jones and Stuart Kyle Duncan, both appointed by Republicans, said the state’s highest court should determine whether the Texas attorney general, the Texas Medical Board and other licensing officials can enforce the law if it is violated.

Judge Stephen A. Higginson, a Democratic appointee, argued the U.S. Supreme Court had already decided that matter.

“This further, second-guessing redundancy, without time limit, deepens my concern that justice delayed is justice denied, here impeding relief ordered by the Supreme Court,” he wrote in his dissent.

State supreme courts do not have to take up cases that are sent to them by federal courts, but it’s likely Texas will this time. Lawyers said it’s unusual to ask the Texas Supreme Court to make this decision after the U.S. Supreme Court has already weighed in.

See here, here, and here for the background. I still don’t have anything to say that I haven’t said before. I’m fresh out of invective. The following is part of a longer thread, but these two tweets sum it up nicely:

SCOTUS doesn’t even care about the insult to their authority, because in the end it serves their larger goal. Burn it all down. The Chron has more.

Sure, let’s blame the supply chain for voter registration problems

I have a simple solution for this, if anyone wants to hear it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Secretary of State’s office is having more trouble than usual getting enough voter registration cards to groups who help Texans register to vote.

Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications, said supply chain issues have made it harder and more expensive to get paper, which means the Secretary of State’s office will be giving out fewer voter registration forms to groups ahead of elections this year.

“We are limited in what we can supply this year, because of the paper shortage and the cost constraints due to the price of paper and the supply of paper,” he said.

Grace Chimene, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said it is not unusual for the Secretary of State to not have enough forms to fill all the requests it gets from groups like hers ahead of elections. This particular shortage, however, is affecting an important part of her group’s work: registering thousands of newly naturalized citizens.

Chimene said in previous years, her group, which has chapters across the state, has been able to get enough forms to pass out at naturalization ceremonies. Often, she said, the group partners with the state to give out several thousand forms at each ceremony.

“The League in Houston registers about 30,000 new citizens every year through these ceremonies in the past,” Chimene said.

[…]

Taylor said the Secretary of State’s office has been forced to limit each group to 1,000 to 2,000 registration forms per request. He said this shortage is coming at a time when many groups are seeking out new voter registration forms because of a change in Texas’ voter registration laws created under Senate Bill 1, a controversial voting law that went into effect last month.

“The voter registration application changed this year for one reason: It’s because the legislature decided to increase the penalty for illegal voter registration from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor,” he said.

Previously, Taylor said that change had to be reflected on registration applications in order for them to be approved. But, after this story was published Tuesday, he clarified that’s not necessarily the case.

“While we have made clear to officials and groups that they should not be distributing the old version of the Voter Registration form, county voter registrars may accept completed voter registration applications on the old form, so long as the application is otherwise valid,” Taylor said in a statement Tuesday. “In other words, using last year’s form in and of itself is not fatal to the voter’s registration application.”

Chimene said all these constraints present serious issues for her group as they try to get voter registration materials together ahead of these large naturalization ceremonies.

“We are treating all organizations that request these the same,” Taylor said. “We are trying to fulfill these requests as fast we can. But the fact is we simply don’t have the supply to honor every single request for free applications.”

According to Chimene, this is one of the pitfalls of Texas being among the few states in the country that does not have online voter registration. Supply chain issues are not as big of a problem when you can just direct someone to a website.

I mean, give me a break. First, as noted before, there is no reason to trust John Scott. Do not take him at his word. News folks, you need to push him a lot harder on this.

Second, I know we’re only allowed to do online voter registration in certain limited circumstances, and we’re not going to get a special session to get the Lege to authorize further uses of it. You can, however, fill out the form on the SOS website, which you then have to print and sign and mail in, because that’s how we roll here. What it appears that you can’t do is just download and print the form itself, on your own paper, for use at things like voter registration drives. The LWV could bring iPads or laptops to those naturalization events and have the new citizens do the form-filling online, but then each one would have to be printed as they go. Not very conducive to such efforts. We are absolutely committed to doing this in the least convenient and most stupid way possible.

Oh, and we also have the absentee ballot rejection issue, and a lack of training materials, and other issues. Not all of this is the SOS’s fault, but it is their job. And either they failed to communicate to the Republicans in the Lege and Greg Abbott just how much they were about to screw things up, or (more likely) failed to get them to listen and care. And here we are.

So sure, blame the supply chain. Anything to distract from the real problem.

Interview with Carla Wyatt

Carla Wyatt

Challenging the incumbent in the Democratic primary for Harris County Treasurer is Carla Wyatt, a longtime employee of the county. Wyatt has a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from Texas Southern University, where she also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She serves as a deputy director and manager of special projects for one of the Constables, and has led projects on redistricting and reorganization of park rules, and has served on a variety of other projects as well. She has worked as an environmental investigator for the TCEQ, and has worked on numerous tree and urban forestry initiatives with the city of Houston and related non-profits. She had a lot to say about using her experience at the county to the job of Treasurer, and you can hear about it here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Greg Glass

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Greg Glass

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Greg Glass, and I preside over the 208th District Criminal Court of Harris County, Texas. I am on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot in March of 2022.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears and handles felonies of all kinds, from State Jail Felonies at the bottom, all the way to and including Capital Murder at the top.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

The main accomplishments during my three years on the bench have all been Covid-19 related. I have been intimately involved in the creation of the GOB (General Order Bond) that allows the automatic release on bond of those persons accused of less-serious, non-violent felonies. A major consideration was the Covid Emergency affecting the inmates in the Harris County Jail, so
that releasing non-violent alleged offenders would reduce the jail population, and accordingly, the spread of Covid among the jail population.

Another main accomplishment has been the resumption of jury trials during Covid, in spite of the limitations imposed upon the Courts regarding the creation and installation of appropriate health and safety protocols.

I, unlike some other felony courts, have also continued to use Zoom and not require each Defendant or attorney to appear in person every setting, as some courts do. I feel the safety of all persons is important, especially as relates to possible Covid infections. Also, it reduces overcrowding in the Crimnal Justice Center.

I also take time, when requested by counsel for either the State or the Defense, to review defendants’ bonds. I believe in being equally fair to both the prosecution and the defense, and I have repeatedly shown that fairness.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

It is my intention to continue to provide the fair and equitable administation of justice in my courtroom while trying as many cases as possible, while keeping attorneys, defendants and jurors safe from Covid. Further, I and other judges now on the bench, are trying to standardize the various types of case settings for all the felony courts so that attorneys and defendants will know what should be accomplished by each court setting.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important because neither of my Democratic Primary opponents is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, as I have been since 1983. One is a prosecutor who lives in Harris County, but for the past number of years has been a prosecutor in Montgomery County and whom I have never heard of until shortly before her filing for the primary. The other opponent would not be eligible to run under the law which was recently passed but does not go into effect until after this primary cycle, as she has not been licensed for the length of time required by the new law. Additionally, she only this year was approved by the Board of Judges, myself included, to handle up to second degree felonies by way of appointment. Before this year, she could only be appointed to State Jail Felony and third degree felony offenses, or to Motions to Adjudicate Guilt or Rovoke Probation. She is not qualified for appointments to handle first degree felonies or capital felonies.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

As I mentioned, I am the only Board Certified Democratic Primary candidate in the field of Criminal Law. I have experience in handling lawyers, defendants and cases in general, which none of my opponents have. I have handled all the docket problems associated with Covid in a manner designed to both protect lawyers and defendant’s, but also to move as many as possible of the oldest and most serious cases to trial.

“Unprecedented” meddling in the Census

They weren’t subtle about it.

A newly disclosed memorandum citing “unprecedented” meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.

The document was shared among three senior executives including Ron S. Jarmin, a deputy director and the agency’s day-to-day head. It was written in September 2020 as the administration was pressing the bureau to end the count weeks early so that if President Donald J. Trump lost the election in November, he could receive population estimates used to reapportion the House of Representatives before leaving office.

The memo laid out a string of instances of political interference that senior census officials planned to raise with Wilbur Ross, who was then the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. The issues involved crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count unauthorized immigrants.

Most of those issues directly affected the population estimates used for reapportionment. In particular, the administration was adamant that — for the first time ever — the bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Mr. Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates.

The census officials’ memorandum pushed back especially forcefully, complaining of “direct engagement” by political appointees with the methods that experts were using to find and count unauthorized noncitizens.

“While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy,” the memo stated, “the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency.”

[…]

Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University public-affairs scholar who ran the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that the careful bureaucratic language belied an extraordinary pushback against political interference.

“This was a very, very strong commitment to independence on their part,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to run the technical matters in the way we think we ought to.’”

The officials’ objections, he said, only underscored the need for legislation to shield the Census Bureau from political interference well before the 2030 census gets underway. “I’m very worried about that,” he said.

See here and here for some background; I wrote about Census-related topics and shenanigans a lot while it was happening. We got lucky this time around, but there’s no reason to believe our luck will hold. My advice would be to put some criminal penalties in for the various forms of interference and intimidation that the Trump thugs used, and don’t require proof of intent for the crime to have occurred. My advice would also be to prioritize democracy and good governance over ant-democratic Senate trivia, but what do I know? Texas Public Radio and Mother Jones have more.

FBI seeks Astroworld info

Spill ’em if you got ’em.

The FBI has created a website that seeks information on the deadly Astroworld Festival, the Houston Police Department said Friday.

Members of the public can upload photos and video from the Nov. 5 event at NRG Park. Police said in a statement that they’re specifically looking for media from between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. “of the main venue area,” which can be uploaded at fbi.gov/astroworld.

“HPD continues to lead this investigation and we appreciate the assistance from our federal partners at the FBI,” the statement read. The federal agency has previously offered to help with the investigation.

I genuinely have no idea how likely this is to result in usable, actionable information. For that matter, it’s not really clear to me what HPD might uncover in its investigation. I think we’re more likely to learn things from the county’s internal investigation and from the various lawsuits – whichever one gets to discovery first will probably be the main source of new information. But you never know.

Interview with Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

This week I’m going to focus on the two executive offices in Harris County that are not County Judge that feature contested primaries. Both were won by Dems in the countywide sweep of 2018, and so both are held by first-termers. The incumbent Harris County Treasurer is Dylan Osborne, who knocked off longtime incumbent Orlando Sanchez after winning a three-way primary. You can hear the interview I did with him for that race here. Earlier this month, Treasurer Osborne announced a historic partnership with Unity Bank, one of the few Black-owned banks in the country, here in Harris County. The Harris County Treasurer’s office has fairly modest duties, with the main one being responsible for handling payments and moving funds. That wasn’t always the case, and we talked about what Osborne has done with the duties he has, and what else there is and could be to do with that office. You can listen to that discussion here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Chris Watson

(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. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Chris Watson

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

My name is Chris Watson and I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears community based issues such as small claims, evictions, and truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been working for a better quality of life in this community for many years. This position will allow me to have an immediate impact on the people in our community. I feel this position offers me a great chance to touch lives and have immediate impact in this community in a positive way. For example, truancy cases, in particular, can give me the chance to positively touch the lives of our community youth, maybe before they are committed to lives of continuous crime. I would like to institute creative, positive ideas to deal with truant students and their parents.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Besides meeting all the stipulated legal qualifications for the Justice of the Peace in Texas, my experience as a licensed Texas mediator, legal researcher for more than 15 years and community activist in this community for more than 25 years, has uniquely prepared me to serve the people of this community as a Justice in our community court.

5. Why is this race important?

In these trying times of COVID and economy, the community court has and will continue to play a crucial role in helping this community navigate through these turbulent times. In helping people to keep their homes and reestablishing their quality of life, there will have to be a community court that is fair, creative and compassionate and the justice that is in this court needs to be one who is prepared to be creative and compassionate enough find ways of compromise, within the law, to keep to bring our community together for the common good.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Chris Watson is the one to vote for because of his long time commitment to building the quality of life in this particular community. He has worked alongside many of the community leaders and has been endorsed by leaders who know his commitment to our community. State Representative Jarvis Johnson, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, Senator Borris Miles, State Representative Alma Allen, and many other local leaders and activists have attested to Chris Watson’s dedication to this community and endorsed his campaign. He will serve in fairness and compassion as the Justice of the Peace and will work every day to improve the quality of life in Precinct 1.

Bypass the GLO

Heck yeah.

All five members of Harris County Commissioners Court signed onto a letter Friday asking the local congressional delegation to ensure that future disaster relief bypasses the state government and goes directly to large counties.

The letter is the latest round of bipartisan outrage in Houston triggered by the Texas General Land Office’s decision last May to initially shut out the city and the county — the epicenter of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey — from $1 billion in flood control dollars later awarded to Texas after the 2017 storm.

The letter suggests that Congress or a federal agency require future disaster relief go directly to counties with at least 500,000 residents, instead of being administered by state agencies.

The court’s two Republicans, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, joined the court’s Democratic majority — County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia — in signing the letter. Cagle and Ramsey had been sharply critical of fellow Republican George P. Bush, who runs the GLO, after the agency declined to award any money to the city or county.

In the letter, the five court members wrote that a direct allocation of federal aid would “bypass potential bureaucratic delay caused by various Texas agencies and by other entities that will harm our ability to have quick and efficient implementation.”

They did not mention the GLO by name, though the letter was sent to Harris County’s nine-member congressional delegation one week after federal officials halted the distribution of nearly $2 billion in flood control funds to Texas because, they said, the GLO had failed to send in required paperwork detailing its plans to spend the money.

I mean, based on past experience, why would we want to do it any other way? The GLO isn’t just not adding value here, they’re actively reducing it. It’s not a surprise that even the Republican commissioners signed on to this.

On a more philosophical note, a lot of federal relief funds that are targeted at cities and counties and school districts and whatnot have had to go through the state first. For the most part, with COVID funds, the Lege mostly rubber stamped it without much fuss. I know there had been concerns with the pace at which Harvey recovery funds had been spent and homes were being repaired – indeed, there are still a lot of unrepaired homes after all this time – but it seems that a big part of that problem has been having multiple layers of government involved, which led to conflicts and delays and issues getting funds to the people who needed them the most. Indeed, that story also cites issues with the way the GLO interacted with the city of Houston. With COVID relief there were issues with unemployment funds having to go through rickety state systems, no direct way to get other relief funds to people who didn’t have bank accounts, and so forth. There are bigger issues, having to do with underlying infrastructure, that are a big part of this. But even factoring that out, putting states in charge of distributing federal relief funds to localities has been a problem. More so in some states than in others. I don’t know what we can do about that, given everything else going on right now. But we really should do something.

Nobody is voting by mail in the District G special election

Here’s the early voting report through Saturday for the District G special election. A total of 1,608 ballots have been cast in the first six days, of which 1,569 have been in person and thirty-nine (39) have been by mail. Yes, thirty-nine. That’s out of 260 total mail ballots that have been sent to voters who have requested them.

To put this in a bit of perspective, in the November 2021 election, the HISD District I race had the smallest number of mail ballots cast. In that election, 1,438 people voted by mail out of 9,480 total votes. That’s about fifteen percent of votes cast by mail – we’re at 2.4% mail ballots in this race so far. In the November 2019 District G election, there were 2,308 mail ballots cast out of 29,500 total. That’s a much smaller 7.8% of the total, but still more than three times the rate of what we’re seeing so far. Given the increase in voting by mail since 2020, it’s clear something is happening here.

As to what that is, you have to assume that voter suppression bill SB1 is largely to blame. People will vote by mail if it’s available to them, but with only 260 mail ballots being sent out, zero of which had been returned by the first day of early voting, it’s clearly not available to the vast majority of District G voters. The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office is not allowed to send ballot applications to eligible voters. The candidates are, but given the compressed timeline for this race and the likely lack of funds for them so far, I have to assume they haven’t done so. We don’t know how many, but we can assume that a larger than usual number of mail ballot applications are being rejected. The result speaks for itself.

I don’t want to overstate what is happening here. This is a weird election, and as noted it seems likely that none of the candidates has been sending VBM applications to people. That won’t be the case in the primaries or the 2022 general election, and the parties can send applications as well. It’s still shocking to see such low numbers. I should note that we have basically no data for city of Houston special elections – the last one we had was the May 2009 District H special election, which was pre-redistricting and for which there was a much longer lead-up – so I can’t begin to guess how this might affect turnout. A total of 4,141 people voted in that District H race, and we could easily exceed that here. Of course, G is a high-turnout district while H is not, and even with there being fewer districts in 2009 there are far more registered voters in G right now (over 129K in G in 2019 versus 93K in H in 2009), so just surpassing H’s raw total means nothing. Given all the weirdness of this election and the many factors that could be affecting it, who knows what effect what the lack of mail ballots might have. But surely there is some.

Weekend link dump for January 16

There are a lot of musicals currently in development as movies.

The CW is for sale, if you’ve got a bit of spare change for a questionably viable broadcast TV network.

“The president of Turkmenistan is calling for an end to one of the country’s most notable but infernal sights — the blazing natural gas crater widely referred to as the “Gates of Hell.””

RIP, Bob Saget, comedian and actor best known for Full House.

Congratulations to Rachel Balkovec, the new manager of the Tampa Tarpons, the first woman ever named to manage a minor league baseball team.

And congratulations as well to Genevieve Beacom, the first woman to pitch for a professional baseball team in Australia.

Robert Durst has died. You know who Robert Durst is. That’s all I’ve got.

RIP, Marilyn Bergman, lyricist who won multiple Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys.

Actions have consequences. I hope.

Along those lines: “It’s up to [Cawthorn] to prove that he did not [engage in insurrection]. So we’ll see what evidence he puts forward. We’ll learn some new information, even if in the end he is found eligible to serve. And he’ll have to testify under oath.”

RIP, Elouise Adams Jones, longtime Houston restauranteur.

A neat behind the scenes look at being on a TV game show, told by people who have done it themselves.

Speaking of TV, here are some new shows for 2022 that may interest you. Yeah, I’ll watch that Game of Thrones prequel.

“So while I understand the urge to dunk on Cruz, what happened on Carlson’s show is more than just an example of Cruz’s weaselly pleading being worthy of a laugh. It’s ultimately not funny at all.”

“Along with bleach and horse-dewormer, anti-vaxxers have another Covid cure to add to their medicine cabinets: urine.”

“Sarah Palin Really Doesn’t Want A Jury To See This Footage Of Her Rapping ‘Baby Got Back’ While Dressed As A Bear“. I on the other hand think it is vital that they are aware that she likes big butts and cannot lie.

“Thanks to lax antitrust enforcement, four companies now control 55 to 85 percent of the markets for beef, pork, and poultry. Since the fall of 2020, the price of beef has risen by more than 20 percent, far higher than the inflation rate. At the same time, the profits of the meat-packing industry are up more than 300 percent.”

Lock them up. All of them.

RIP, Ronnie Spector, iconic 60’s girl-group lead singer for The Ronettes.

How bullshit works, the continuing story.

“Last year, over 100 companies signed a letter declaring their principled support for voting rights, their opposition to the state bills restricting voting, and their belief that action to protect voting rights was critical. But, as the fight for voting rights hits a critical juncture, virtually all of these corporations have gone quiet.”

“A baseball team doesn’t have to show a profit, although if we had perfect information we would see that most do, in most years. When one doesn’t, absolutely nothing bad happens to anyone. The businesses those 30 owners run that generated enough money for them to buy a baseball team — those are the ones that have to sweat the bottom line. The law firms and grocery chains and trucking companies…they’re real businesses. The baseball team is the unlocked achievement, the bauble, the special toy. It is not a business like any other, because baseball teams aren’t evaluated based on their profits, they’re evaluated based on their wins, their championships, the number of moments they create for the people who invest not just their money, but their time and their passion.”

Wishing Chris Evert, one of my very favorite athletes, all the best.

Lots of mail ballot applications are being rejected now

This is a feature, not a bug.

Hundreds of Texans seeking to vote by mail in the upcoming March primary elections are seeing their applications for ballots rejected by local election offices trying to comply with stricter voting rules enacted by Texas Republicans last year.

Election officials in some of the state’s largest counties are rejecting an alarming number of mail-in applications because they don’t meet the state’s new identification requirements. Some applications are being rejected because of a mismatch between the new identification requirements and the data the state has on file to verify voters.

Under Texas’ new voting law, absentee voters must include their driver’s license number or state ID number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on their applications. If they don’t have those IDs, voters can indicate they have not been issued that identification. Counties must match those numbers against the information in an individual’s voter file to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

In Harris County, 208 applications — roughly 16% of the 1,276 applications received so far — have been rejected based on the new rules. That includes 137 applications on which voters had not filled out the new ID requirements and 71 applications that included an ID number that wasn’t in the voter’s record.

In Travis County, officials said they’ve rejected about half of the roughly 700 applications they’ve received so far, with the “vast majority” of rejections based on the new voting law.

In Bexar County, officials have rejected 200 applications on which the ID section was not filled out. Another 125 were rejected because the voter had provided their driver’s license number on the application, but that number was not in their voter record.

“It’s disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops, and it’s upsetting when we have to send a rejection letter [when] we can see they’ve voted with us by mail for years,” said Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County election administrator.

[…]

Throughout last year’s protracted debate over the new voting law, state lawmakers were warned about potential issues that could arise from the new ID matching requirements, in part because the state does not have both a driver’s license and Social Security number for all of the roughly 17 million Texans on the voter rolls. Voters are not required to provide both numbers when they register to vote.

Last summer, the Texas secretary of state’s office indicated that 2,045,419 registered voters lacked one of the two numbers in their voter file despite the office’s efforts to backfill that information in the state’s voter rolls. Another 266,661 voters didn’t have either number on file.

Those numbers have since dropped. As of Dec. 20, 702,257 voters had only one number on file, while 106,911 didn’t have either, according to updated figures provided by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Meanwhile, 493,823 registered voters didn’t have a driver’s license on file, which is the first number voters are asked to provide on both applications to register to vote and applications to vote by mail.

The new law is also tripping up voters who may be unaware of the new ID requirements. Callanen said she had to reject 30 voters who submitted an outdated application form that didn’t include the new ID field. Election officials in Williamson County, which has processed a total of 305 applications to vote by mail, said the same issue plagued a chunk of the applications that they rejected.

The sources of the outdated applications are unclear. While the Legislature banned county election officials from proactively sending out applications to vote by mail, even to voters who automatically qualify, voters can still receive unsolicited applications from campaigns and political parties.

This was both easily predictable and widely predicted. Since this election is a primary, and people have to request a specific party’s ballot, it would be very interesting to know how many rejections came from each party, and what percentage of the total number of requests for each party were rejected. Most likely it’s more or less evenly split, but you never know. Unintended consequences are everywhere.

I want to extend a little bit of grace to the employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who have had to do a massive update of their guidance for elections officials in a very short time. The fault lies entirely with the Republicans that shoved this travesty through, and with the raving lunatic former occupant of the White House, whose narcissism and dishonesty compelled his minions to pass such laws. But the lion’s share of the grace goes to the various elections administrators, who are on the business end of this mess. If you want a mail ballot, make sure you fill out the current form correctly, and get your request in ASAP.

Some commentary from Twitter:

That last one is more of a general comment, but you get the idea. In the meantime, Common Cause tells you how to take some control of the situation:

Voters who have applied for a mail ballot can check their status online at https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/BallotTrackerApp/#/login. Voters who do not have internet access can call their county clerk’s office for information.

For voters planning to vote by mail in the March 1 primary election, the deadline for mail ballot applications to be received by the county’s Early Voting Clerk is Friday, February 18, 2022.

There’s more, so read the rest. Campos has more.

On primarying the quorum breakers

Of interest.

Working Families Party, a political party and relative newcomer to Texas politics that backs Democrats aligned with their platform, aims to spend in the ballpark of half a million dollars this cycle, WFP Texas Co-director Pedro Lira told the Signal.

Much of that money will go to door-to-door canvassing.

“At the end of the day, when you can really connect with people face to face, that’s really what motivates people to get out to vote,” Lira said. “We’re trying to build a real base of working class people. You can’t do that without involving those people.”

[…]

In partnership with CWA and Texas Organizing Project, WFP is also bankrolling “Texans for Better Dems,” a new political action committee that will primary Democrats in the state legislature who returned from Washington D.C. to restore quorum, a move that caused a rift in the state party and led to the creation of the Texas Progressive Caucus.

“We were incredibly proud of the Democrats who fled the state to deny Republicans quorum. It’s exactly the kind of leadership that we need from our elected officials,” Lira said. “We were also just as disappointed to see some of those Democrats come back. And it’s because those Democrats gave Republicans quorum that bills like the abortion ban and the anti-voting legislation were able to pass.”

Lira said the PAC was created specifically to primary those Democrats.

This was a thing I wondered about, and had seen some speculation about a few months ago when the quorum was freshly broken and tempers were high. I tried to keep an eye on it during the filing process, but there was a lot to keep up on, and if any WFP-backed candidates were out there, they didn’t make their presence known in a way that was visible to me. Now that we’re well past the filing deadline, let’s revisit this.

The first question is who the potential targets would be. I did a little digging into who among the Dems were here during the quorum break in Special Session #1, and who came back during Special Session #2 to bring the attendance count to the required level – this was in response to a private question I was asked. Long story short, I trawled through the daily journals on the Texas Legislature Online site, and found enough record votes to mostly fill in the picture.

For the first special session, I identified the following Dems who were present in Austin: Ryan Guillen, Tracy King, Eddie Morales, John Turner, Abel Herrero, Terry Canales, and Leo Pacheco. (There’s one I can’t identify; I suspect it was Harold Dutton, but he shows up in the next session, so it doesn’t really matter.) Guillen is now a Republican, Pacheco has since resigned, and Turner is not running for re-election. According to the SOS Qualified Candidates page, none of the others have primary opponents.

For the second special session, we can add these legislators, who were either there from the beginning or who showed up while the quorum was still not established: Dutton, Art Fierro, Mary Gonzalez, Bobby Guerra, Oscar Longoria, Eddie Lucio Jr, Joe Moody, James Talarico, Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle, and Ana Hernandez. Lucio and Coleman are not running. Talarico is running in a different district, HD50, which is open now that Celia Israel is running for Mayor of Austin. Fierro was paired with Claudia Ordaz Perez in redistricting. Of the rest, only Dutton and Gonzalez have primary opponents, and Dutton was a target well before the quorum break issue. Gonzalez, who has had primary challengers in the past as well for other reasons, faces someone named Rene Rodriguez, about whom I could find nothing. If the goal was to primary these Democrats, it sure doesn’t look like that goal was achieved.

Now, the WFP may well be playing a longer game. As we know, there wasn’t much time between the passage of the new maps and the start of filing season. Maybe they decided it was better to wait until 2024, or maybe they decided to focus more on races like CD35 (they have endorsed Greg Casar) and CD30. Maybe they’ll back Ordaz Perez and David Alcorta, the other candidate in HD50. Who knows? If they intended to make a bigger splash than that, I’d say they came up short. We’ll see what happens after this election.

Austin aims for pot decriminalization

We’ll see how this goes. I suspect the measure will pass, but I’m not sure it will be allowed to take effect.

As greater numbers of Texas voters sour on harsh punishment for marijuana offenses, Austin voters will likely decide in May whether to effectively decriminalize the drug.

The ballot measure, pushed by the group Ground Game Texas, would forbid Austin police officers in most cases from ticketing or arresting people on low-level pot charges like possessing small amounts of the drug or related paraphernalia — unless the offenses are tied to more severe crimes. The city also would not pay to test substances suspected to be marijuana — a key step in substantiating drug charges.

Both practices have already been informally adopted in Austin, but advocates want to solidify them at the May ballot box.

“The primary effect is that it would make the decriminalization that exists in Austin today actually long term and would put the force of law behind it,” said Chris Harris, policy director at Austin Justice Coalition.

[…]

But the measure faces one big obstacle: Although marijuana laws in Texas have loosened somewhat in recent years, the drug remains illegal at the state level.

Public support for harsh marijuana laws and prosecutors’ willingness to bring charges for minor offenses has waned in recent years.

The number of new charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession fell by 59% from 2016 to 2020, according to figures from the Texas Office of Court Administration, as prosecutors in the state’s major urban areas have increasingly deprioritized marijuana prosecutions.

Most Texas voters support decriminalizing marijuana in some form. Three-fifths of Texas voters say at least a small amount of marijuana should be legal, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll last year.

That support cuts across partisan lines. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats and independents think marijuana should be legal. So do 43% of Republicans, a plurality of that group.

It’s against that backdrop that Ground Game Texas — a progressive group focused on issues of “workers, wages and weed” — plans to mount decriminalization campaigns in Killeen and Harker Heights.

As the story notes, there’s an effort by Ground Game Texas to put a similar measure on the ballot in San Marcos. The City Council in Denton recently voted down an ordinance to do the same there, a move that perhaps validates this approach. The Austin police union, which has been resistant to the earlier efforts to decriminalize pot, is staying out of this election, but who knows what they might do afterward.

So what happens if this passes, as I expect it will? One obvious possibility is legal action to require the enforcement of the state laws. I’m sure there’s someone who’d be willing to be the plaintiff in such a filing, and no one has to encourage Ken Paxton to swing a bat in Austin’s direction. Legislative action is also possible – again, there’s nothing a Republican likes more these days than filing a bill to stop a city from doing something that legislator doesn’t approve of. A complicating factor in all this is that Greg Abbott is mumbling a few words in favor of being less harsh about pot, likely in recognition of the polling on this issue and Beto’s stronger pro-pot stance. I don’t know how much that complicates things for the keep-pot-criminal crowd, but it’s another dimension. I don’t know which way this will go, but it all starts with the measure being passed, and I feel pretty confident about that.