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August 7th, 2012:

One Texas PAC

Catching up on something from before last week’s runoffs, there’s a new PAC in town with some big ideas for the future.

State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Ana Hernandez Luna unveiled the One Texas PAC, with Martinez Fisher pledging to match the first $50,000 in donations.

The PAC will concentrate on supporting Hispanic candidates for the Texas Legislature, engaging Hispanic voters and mobilizing them in districts where they can make a difference in an election’s outcome, Martinez Fischer told The Associated Press. The group’s strategy of directly engaging voters sets it apart from other advocacy groups, he added.

“I want to talk to people because I believe if they understand what we stand for, they will realize there are people fighting for them,” said Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas Legislature.

Non-Hispanic whites make up less than half of the state’s population, and Hispanics are the fastest growing group in Texas. Both Democrats and Republicans are trying to recruit more Hispanics into their ranks, but Hispanic voters here go to the polls in small numbers compared to their population’s size and compared to other states. For example, eligible Hispanic voters in Texas turnout at half the rate of Hispanics in California.

Martinez Fisher said the new PAC hopes to get out the Hispanic vote by pointing out the stake they hold in Texas’ future. Demographers expect them to be the majority by 2020.

“Texas is running out of water and energy, our roads are deteriorating, and the next generation of Texans who have to face this reality will be less educated and in poor health,” Fischer said. “Apparently, our alleged pro-business Republicans think it is more important to attend tea-party rallies than confront this reality. One Texas will change that.”

The PAC’s website is here and its Facebook page is here. I had the chance to speak to Reps. Martinez Fischer, Hernandez Luna, and Armando Walle about this, and the main idea I got from them is that this is about addressing the infrastructure needs of a state with a young and growing population whose current leaders aren’t doing a damn thing about them. Martinez Fischer goes into some detail in this Rio Grande Guardian story.

Martinez Fischer is a Democrat from San Antonio who has served six terms in the Texas House. He said he and his colleagues formed One Texas PAC because Texas needs to move on from the politics of mañana that permeates the state Capitol in Austin.

“All of our problems, whether it is water, energy, transportation, education, public health… you get to the floor of the House in Austin, Texas, and the Republicans say, yeah, we will deal with that mañana. Mañana is the busiest day of the week in Austin, Texas. You never get to it. That is why One Texas is around and why we are going to change things,” he explained.

At a news conference held in McAllen on Friday, Martinez Fischer looked ahead to the time One Texas PAC’s goal is achieved.

“When we are one Texas we are not going to have the disparity in education and health care that we have today in our state,” he said.

“When we are one Texas we are going to have an infrastructure that is going to provide adequate water for the families and businesses that depend on it. We are going to be able to turn on the light switch and know we have safe, reliable and diverse power sources fueling our state. And, we also know that when our businesses want to relocate, and when moms and dads want to be able to get to that little league soccer on time, that we are going to have a transportation system that works.”

[…]

Martinez Fischer said the new PAC will use its funds to help tomorrow’s Latino leaders win election to public office. He said the PAC will also put out position papers on issues such as transportation, water, and energy to kick start a public policy conversation that currently does not exist in the highest echelons of state government.

“These are not issues out of the blue. They are ordinary, kitchen table issues that every Latino in the Rio Grande Valley talks about on a daily basis,” Martinez Fischer said. “The problem is they are not priority issues because they are not talked about at Tea Party rallies, they are not priorities because people think government needs to be smaller, because people want to cut spending. We can no longer cut spending. We need leaders who can do three things: make hard decisions, make smart investments and ask Texans to share in the sacrifice.”

Martinez Fischer noted that historically, Latino leaders have focused on civil rights, education and health care. He said new Latino leaders must also tackle transportation, water and energy issues because it is increasingly going to be Latino households that provide the taxes to fund the state’s infrastructure needs.

“We have this looming infrastructure crisis, and what we need to do is start thinking big again,” Martinez Fischer said. “We need responsible leaders, Hispanic leaders that recognize this is becoming a Latino problem. Because, as we become the majority of the population in this state – we are 38 percent of the statewide population today – these problems are either going to be fixed by Latino leaders that are in school and colleges right now, or it is going to be financed by the taxpayers that are going to be largely Latino that have to pay taxes to support these projects.”

What I like about this approach is that it’s not just about trying to win the next election, it’s about looking beyond that at the issues that are important now and will become crises if we don’t start addressing them now. It’s about understanding these issues and supporting leaders who understand them and want to engage the public in trying to solve them. Hey, someone’s got to do it. One Texas PAC has already met its initial goal of raising $100K – they may be policy-oriented but they’re still a PAC, and you have to win elections to affect policy – mostly with the support of incumbent House members. They’re continuing their push, and they’re worth your support. Check ’em out.

Guess who likes the Obamacare ruling now?

The state of Texas, that’s who. But not for any positive reason, of course.

It's constitutional - deal with it

The high court decision limited the power of Congress to force states to take certain actions by threatening to withhold federal money – in the Affordable Care Act case, existing Medicaid funds. Chief Justice John Roberts called the threat “a gun to the head” of states.

Now, Texas attorneys claim the Environmental Protection Agency has acted in a similar fashion by threatening states without plans to control emissions of gases linked to global warming with construction bans on power plants, refineries and other large industrial facilities.

The EPA’s threat of “a construction moratorium is no less ‘a gun to the head’ than Congress’s threat to terminate Medicaid funding,” Mark DeLaquil, an attorney at the firm Baker Hostetler, which represents Texas, wrote in a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

[…]

While legal scholars say the Supreme Court decision was sure to invite challenges of federal laws thought to be overly coercive of the states, there is skepticism over Texas’ claim.

Victor Flatt, professor of environmental law at the University of North Carolina, said the health care overhaul and the EPA’s actions are hardly the same thing because one is legislative and the other is administrative.

The agency always has the right to implement the federal Clean Air Act as long as it’s not “arbitrary and capricious,” he said.

Also, Flatt said the case could not be considered coercive because every other state was able to put together a permitting regime for emissions of greenhouse gases.

Tracy Hester, who leads the environmental program at the University of Houston Law Center, said he also expects the appeals court to reject claims of coercion.

“It doesn’t seem like a slam dunk,” Hester said.

That won’t stop Rick Perry and Greg Abbott from turning over every stone in their quest to offer aid and comfort to pollution producers. It’s what they do. Brad Plumer saw this coming.

“You could definitely imagine a governor pushing back against the EPA over sanctions,” says Ann Carlson, a professor of environmental law at the University of California Los Angeles. On the other hand, she notes, states might not have standing to sue unless they’re actually hit by highway sanctions—something that happens rarely.

It’s also not clear whether the Supreme Court would even agree that the Clean Air Act is structurally similar to Medicaid. ”There are definitely ways to distinguish the health care facts from the Clean Air facts,” says Carlson.

For one thing, federal Medicaid funds makes up a much, much bigger portion of state budgets than federal highway money does. (Last year, the government spent $275 billion on Medicaid versus $40 billion on highways.) What’s more, federal Medicaid funds are an entitlement program written into law—states have a reasonable expectation that they should receive the money each year as long as they’re following the rules. By contrast, federal highway funding needs to get renewed constantly by Congress. It’s less predictable. So states will have a harder time arguing that the federal government is pulling an unfair bait-and-switch by imposing new requirements. UCLA’s Jonathan Zasloff has more on why this distinction could matter, legally, here.

Ultimately, however, the actual legal arguments may be a side issue. If there are five justices who agree that the Clean Air Act is unduly coercive, then that might be enough. “Bottom line: if the Supremes want to injure the Clean Air Act, they will injure the Clean Air Act,” Zasloff writes by e-mail. “Law doesn’t really matter at this point.”

Carlson agrees that it would ultimately come down to votes. “The caveat here is that the health care decision is a brand-new ruling,” she says, “and we still have no idea how far the Supreme Court is willing to go.”

Sure is a good thing we don’t have any of those “activist” judges on the Supreme Court, isn’t it?

Henson removed from DeLay appeals case

Score one for Team DeLay.

Are YOU fit to judge me?

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has won a tactical victory with the removal of Justice Diane Henson, a Democrat, from his appeal.

A motion to remove Henson was granted late Friday without comment and posted on the 3rd Court of Appeals’ website. The action might put the much-delayed appellate case back on track.

“All we ever asked for was a level playing field,” said Brian Wice, DeLay’s appellate lawyer from Houston. “That wasn’t going to happen as long as Justice Henson’s DNA was on the case.”

In his motion, Wice had complained about what he called “anti-Republican” comments Henson had made about his client, a prominent Republican, several years ago.

[…]

When Wice challenged Henson, the 3rd Court was down to Chief Justice Woodie Jones, a Democrat, and Justice Melissa Goodwin, a Republican, to decide whether Henson could hear the DeLay case.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson added a third, temporary justice to hear the motion against Henson. He appointed San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr., a Republican and a former criminal appellate justice.

With Henson now off the case, Wice said Saturday he expects Jefferson will appoint a justice to hear oral arguments with Jones and Goodwin.

See here, here, and here for background. I seriously doubt this ruling would make any difference in the outcome of DeLay’s appeal, but now there’s one less cause for appeal if he loses again. Let’s get this show on the road already. Postcards and Hair Balls have more.

Could you get to work if you didn’t have a car?

Lots of people in the Houston area could not easily get to work if their car were not available to them.

According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, only 57.8 percent of the jobs in the entire Houston metro area are in neighborhoods with access to public transit service.

When ranked against the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, Houston was No. 82 in terms of the share of jobs that were in reach of public transit service.

[…]

When compared to other cities, Houston fared better on its percentage of labor population that could use public transportation to reach their employer within 90 minutes. In the city, 22.5 percent of the working population could reach their office by using public transportation within 90 minutes, placing it No. 56 on the national list.

You can see a sorted list of MSAs here and the study itself here. For the most part, it’s the suburban areas that lack transit options, especially if you have to get from one suburb to another. I suspect one reason Houston has a mediocre score isn’t so much because bus coverage is inadequate but because bus trips can be time consuming, especially if you have to transfer. I’m just guessing, though.

At our house, Tiffany works downtown and takes the bus most days. I do kid dropoff and pickup and I work near the Astrodome, so I drive. Out of curiosity I went to Metro’s trip planner to see what a transit commute would look like for me. The shortest trip suggested, which involved taking the Montrose Crosstown bus to the Hermann Park/Rice U light rail stop and catching the train from there, was estimated at 42 minutes. If I’m still working in the same place when the North Line extension is finished, I could hie myself over to the Quitman station after dropping off the kids, and from there I’d estimate it would be about a 30 minute trip, assuming that the North Line continues on Main Street instead of requiring a transfer. I’d contemplate parking my car near school and riding my bike to Quitman, but I know from personal experience that you can’t bring your bike on board the train before 9 AM, which unfortunately makes commuting that way impractical. Ah well, maybe that will change by 2014. Anyway, at least I’d have options. WonkBlog has more on the Brookings study.