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April 9th, 2016:

Saturday video break: In The Mood

Still one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite bands:

As a sax player who was in jazz band in high school, Glenn Miller was my first musical love. And let me tell you, the sax part for that song is a killer. But it feels amazing when you get it right.

That song has words, you know. Here are the Andrews Sisters singing them:

The commenters on that video seem to prefer a faster version that the Andrewses did. I like this one just fine. It’s complex enough that any faster a tempo would run the risk of turning it into mush. But if you want to hear it sped up, here are the Harvard Krokodiloes doing an a capella version:

I think both Glenn Miller and all three Andrews Sisters would respect that. What’s your favorite rendition?

Is the Evenwel decision the last word on “one person one vote”?

Maybe not.

With a long-running legal struggle raging over one of the nation’s strictest voter identification laws, Texas was already a prime battleground in a war between conservatives and liberals over voting rights. And on Monday, experts here and elsewhere say, the Supreme Court may have opened a second front.

The court said unanimously that the state could take into account all of its 27 million residents when it carves its territory into voting districts for the State Senate, regardless of whether they can vote in elections. It was a setback for conservatives who want to limit that redistricting population to eligible voters, and a resounding affirmation of the one-person-one-vote principle that has governed most redistricting nationwide for decades.

But it was probably not the final word because the court was silent on whether any other population formula could be used to draw new voting districts. And within hours, advocates on both sides of the issue indicated that Texas or another conservative-dominated state was bound to do just that, probably after the 2020 census triggers a new round of redistricting nationwide.

“This has been an issue that has bubbled up in the courts and in the realm of social science pretty consistently,” said Edward Blum, the president of the Project on Fair Representation, the conservative advocacy group that brought the lawsuit. He said the group would urge political officials to abandon the one-person-one-vote formula for a more limited guideline, something that almost certainly would lead to a second court battle. And the state of Texas, the defendant in the group’s lawsuit, indicated in court filings that it would prefer to have that option.

“The big case isn’t this case, but the next case,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State’s Mortiz College of Law and an authority on elections law.

Maybe yes.

“The court went as far as it possibly could go in casting a pall on the possible idea of challenging this again with an alternative method of counting,” said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, on a press call with reporters Monday. She and others pointed to a footnote in Ginsburg’s opinion that suggested she doubted it would even be possible to draw districts the way the challengers were advocating without ignoring other traditional redistricting principles.

“That language very firmly closes the door on the idea that trying to [use] something other than total population is a good idea,” Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said on the same press call.

That’s not to say that Blum and others won’t try, but their argument for why states should think they’d be allowed to do so just got a lot harder with the language in the majority opinion.

“Any state that’s thinking about doing that is going to have to think that there’s a very serious risk that they’re going to get tied up in a lot of litigation,” Sam Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor who previously worked in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told TPM.

But it’s not just for legal reasons that states have largely stuck to using total population to draw their districts. As Evenwel revealed, there is an absence of data that is a reliable as the census’ total population numbers. And it’s not just Democratic-leaning minority populations that would be negatively affected. Districts with a lot of children, for instance, could also be at risk, a reality Ginsburg also nodded to in her opinion.

“There’s certainly people who will try to make the argument and see if any legislature will bite,” said Michael Li, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, a non-partisan organization that defends voting rights. “States really have chosen to do total population for a lot of good reasons, both the political consequences and that the data is much much better.”

See here for the background. I don’t expect a zealot like Edward Blum to go away – this is his life’s work – but the commentary I read after the decision was handed down suggests it won’t be easy. A state would have to draw a Blum-style map and then defend it in court. If they took that route, the key question would be whether their Blum map would be stopped by the courts while the litigation was ongoing, or would they get to use something like it as has been the case with the 2011/2013 maps? In that case, there’s much to be gained and little to lose, but if not you could wind up spending a ton on litigation and in the worst case having the door permanently slammed on this approach. Check back in 2021 and we’ll see if Texas or some other state takes up the challenge.

Mayor Turner releases transition team report

From the inbox, a glimpse of what to expect in the near to medium future from Mayor Turner.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner has released a 17-page report that details the work of his transition team chaired by businessman and long-time civic advisor David Mincberg. More than 250 Houstonians from all walks of life participated. They have submitted policy recommendations on 13 different areas:

  • Comprehensive Financial Reform
  • Criminal Justice
  • Economic Opportunity
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Houston Airport System
  • Public Health
  • Public Safety
  • Public Works
  • Quality of Life
  • Rebuild Houston
  • TIRZs
  • Traffic and Transportation

“I want to thank this group for their hard work,” said Mayor Turner. “They dedicated countless hours of their personal time to this process. Some of these recommendations can be implemented sooner than others. They are constructive suggestions that will be helpful as I continue to put together my plans for Houston.”

The Chron story on this is here, and the full report is here. It’s worth your time to look at. It’s mostly a checklist, with the current status (“done”, “in progress”, or “under consideration”) for each item. Some of these items, like the Public Health category, have gotten very little attention before now. Those of you that want to see the TIRZ system overhauled will find much in there to contemplate. I don’t know what the time frame is for these things – obviously, for stuff like financial reform, the horizon is much shorter than for some others – and it’s not clear just how much “consideration” some of these things will get, but keep this handy for when you hear of a new initiative or proposed ordinance. Most likely, it’s on here somewhere, so we can’t say we haven’t been advised.

Sheryl Swoopes elected to Basketball Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Swoopes, who contributed to the Comets’ memorable run of four WNBA championships after the league was established in 1997, winning three league MVP awards, and who played on three Olympic gold medal-winning teams, said she was proud to be announced as a Hall of Famer in the state where she played high school and college basketball (at Texas Tech) and became one of the foundations of the women’s pro game.

Still, she said, she feels a twinge of regret that she no longer has a home team to call her own with the Comets’ demise after the 2008 season.

“I went to the Rockets game (Sunday) and saw the Comets banners, and it brought back so many memories,” she said. “My mom said, ‘I hate that there’s no place for you to have your jersey retired.’

“If the Rockets would decide to do something like that, it would mean a lot to me. But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t make this honor any less special.”

Swoopes also received high praise from [fellow inductee Shaquille] O’Neal, who said, “She could play with us. That is how good she was.” Val Ackerman, who was the first commissioner of the WNBA and is now commissioner of the Big East Conference, said Swoopes “helped form the identity of the league.”

Swoopes joins Yao Ming in this Houston-centric Hall of Fame class. I attended a lot of Comets games back in the day, and Swoopes was a joy to watch – she could do it all on the court, and she did it with grace and tremendous athleticism. It would be nice for the Rockets to honor her at a game, as I’m sure they will do with Yao, and to hang her jersey from the rafters. She’s a distinguished part of Houston basketball history, and a key component of a team that won four straight championships. 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of that first championship. Let’s take the opportunity to celebrate that.

Yale Street Bridge to be closed for construction

Three words: Find alternate routes.

There’s about to be a lot of yelling about Yale Street, as the historic span makes way for a modern replacement.

Crews will close the bridge carrying the road over White Oak bayou on April 18 to prepare for demolition. For the next 20 months, drivers in the area will have to do without the segment of Yale.

Signs warning motorists were installed recently by the Texas Department of Transportation, finalizing that construction is imminent. Detours are planned, but many drivers are expecting to avoid the area entirely.

[…]

The bridge, built in 1931, is one of seven bridges in Houston listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the designation doesn’t save the bridge, it does require a more meticulous process to replace it.

The bridge has been a source of discussion for years, as commercial development south of it has increased. TxDOT nearly closed the bridge in 2012, when trucks weighing more than 3,000 pounds were restricted from using it because of structural concerns.

The last update I have on this is from July of 2014, so no one can say this has been rushed. At least the construction on Shepherd is almost finished, so that will serve well as an alternate route. If you’re the type that blows a gasket when you get stuck waiting for a freight train to pass, though, your only option with an underpass is Studemont. This is going to be a long 20 months. Swamplot, which was first to have this, has more.