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April 18th, 2016:

Interview with Jerome Moore

Jerome Moore

Jerome Moore

As we know, everyone is focusing on the Presidential race, but here in Harris County there are some races of great local importance. You can order them however you like, but the Sheriff’s race is certainly up there. I had the opportunity to talk to two of the original four candidates in this race for March, and now I’ve caught up with the one of the other two that made it to the runoff. Jerome Moore is a longtime veteran of law enforcement, starting out in the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s office before moving to the Constable’s office in Precinct 5. He has worked in Patrol and Property & Evidence and is currently a Lieutenant who supervises the Motorcycle, Warrants and Property & Evidence Divisions. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates from the 2016 Democratic primary on my 2016 Election page.

DAPA’s day at SCOTUS

Another day, another huge Supreme Court case involving Texas, a big policy item from President Obama at stake, and the fate of millions of people hanging in the balance.

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear the matter, one of its most significant this term, and a decision could be the most important related to immigration in decades. At stake is the extent of power the executive branch can wield and the fate of about 4 million immigrants potentially eligible for the program, most of whom have lived here illegally for more than 10 years.

It’s put Texas in the peculiar position of arguing against an initiative that essentially already exists and that as a policy once held bipartisan support. If the state prevails, it could signal the end of Obama’s original youth permit program too. It all underscores how far the pendulum against immigration reform has swung since President George W. Bush pushed a comprehensive overhaul nearly a decade ago.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state’s lawsuit is not about immigration per se but whether the president has the authority to make a sweeping policy change that Texas argues is at odds with Obama’s obligation to enforce immigration law.

“This is fundamentally about the constitution and the future of this country, not just about immigration law or a Democratic president but about what can a president, no matter what his or her philosophy is, do,” Paxton said. “Do they have the ability now under the constitution to make law and step into the role Congress traditionally had?”

The Obama administration argues that it’s not in fact making new law, but prioritizing whom it should deport as mandated by Congress itself. Legislators allocate about $6 billion a year to enforce immigration, enough to deport roughly 300,000 immigrants, a fraction of the 11 million in the country illegally, Justice Department lawyers said in their brief filed last month with the Supreme Court.

At issue in both programs – deferred action for childhood arrivals, known as DACA, and deferred action for the parents of Americans, or DAPA – is a practice the government has employed as far back as the 1960s. But it was first publicly revealed when the Nixon White House tried to deport Beatles frontman John Lennon in 1972.

[…]

Texas doesn’t dispute the administration’s right to grant deferred action. But it contends the president’s programs allow a mass group of immigrants to apply, who are almost all approved. Typically deferral is granted on a case-by-case basis for people already in deportation proceedings. The state argues the initiatives improperly grant immigrants a “lawful presence,” while the administration contends the permits can be repealed at any time and their recipients deported.

In its brief, the government said more than 20 such policies for large classes of people have been enacted since the 1960s, including for Cubans after the island’s revolution and more than 1.5 million spouses and children of immigrants who were granted residency under President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 reforms. It also cites its 2012 youth program, which is similar in scope, but was not challenged by Texas.

Paxton said he didn’t know why the state didn’t argue the constitutionality of DACA.

It’s an interesting exclusion, given that the legal arguments for both DACA and its 2014 spin-off for parents, DAPA, are basically identical, said Stephen Legomsky, a law professor at Washington University and former chief counsel to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“It’s hard for me to think of any ground striking DAPA that wouldn’t apply to DACA,” he said. “So why not challenge DACA? They might have worried the court wouldn’t want to strike down such a popular program. So they think go after DAPA and if they win, then they have a nice precedent to go after DACA.”

See here and here for some background. There will be a ton of coverage of the arguments and the Justices’ reactions to them and all that, and I’ll post about that tomorrow. This is just a placeholder to remind you that today is the day for this, and what it’s all about as we wait.

UPDATE: The Trib has a nice comprehensive timeline of events in this case.

Weekend scandal news roundup

If anything comes from the Texas Rangers investigation into his questionable expenditures, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller would be prosecuted in Travis County.

Sid Miller

If embattled Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is prosecuted for misusing government funds, his trial would be in Travis County, officials said Friday, despite a new law that sends some corruption cases against state officials and employees to their home counties.

Before December, the public integrity unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office investigated and prosecuted alleged corruption by state officials and employees. House Bill 1690 changed that, moving investigation of accusations such as bribery, gifts to public servants, perjury and tampering with government records to the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Under the new law, charges can be brought in the official or employee’s home county.

The Rangers are investigating Miller for two February 2015 trips he reportedly took on the state’s dime. Liberal advocacy group Progress Texas requested an investigation into Miller’s state-paid trips, following reports that he participated in a rodeo and received an injection called the “Jesus Shot” while he was supposed to be on the job.

But if Miller’s case leads to a prosecution, it wouldn’t be heard in his home county of Erath because the events in question occurred before the new law took effect in December, officials from DPS and the Travis County district attorney’s office told the Tribune.

See here for an apparently inoperative discussion of the issue. I’m sure Miller would prefer it that way, since it will be much easier for him to complain about political motivations if it’s the Travis County DA and not the Erath County DA prosecuting him.

In the meantime, the Travis County DA already has an investigation going on.

The Texas state auditor’s office has referred its investigation into possible misuse of state workers by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to Travis County prosecutors, the Austin American-Statesman reported late Friday.

The Texas Tribune reported in February that the auditor’s office was investigating Dukes’ use of state workers for her personal project, the African American Heritage Festival, a nonprofit event Dukes has overseen for 17 years.

The auditor’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Dukes’ former chief of staff, Michael French, who approached House officials in January with concerns about the legality of the staff’s work on the festival.

Dukes acknowledged her staff worked on the festival but said their role was minimal. A Jan. 12 email obtained by the Tribune shows Dukes directing her staff to make the festival a priority.

“Festival is all hands on priority,” Dukes wrote in the email. “I don’t want any delays or fall throughs.”

Two members of Dukes’ staff also expressed concerns over personal errands the lawmakers asked them to run, a list that included smoothie runs, vet visits and babysitting. One staffer moved in with Dukes for three months last summer in exchange for helping the Austin Democrat care for her daughter.

Something to keep in mind amid all the calls for Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to resign. Want another reason to be wary of such an outcome? Here you go.

Texas doesn’t have a cabinet form of government, but in Gov. Greg Abbott’s case, it might soon have the next best thing.

Two of the state’s relatively new elected officials — Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — are in deep political trouble at the moment. If worst comes to worst for either or both of those fine gentlemen, Abbott would appoint their replacements.

That’s a lot more say than he had when they won the positions in 2014.

Yeah, I don’t want that. From a purely partisan perspective, it’s much better for Paxton and Miller to stay where they are and be embarrassments to the rest of the GOP than to let Greg Abbott swoop in and clean up the mess.

And finally, let’s get back to Ken Paxton for a minute.

The state is paying thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits to at least two former high-level staffers in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office who haven’t worked there for over a month.

Charles “Chip” Roy resigned as first assistant attorney general March 9 but remains on the state’s payroll. He received his full month’s salary of $16,220.62 on April 1, according to the state comptroller, and remains on the payroll as an employee of the state even while working a new job for a national political committee.

Roy declined to comment about the payment arrangement, which the agency confirmed Wednesday after The Dallas Morning News raised questions. Despite its earlier public statement that Roy resigned, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday that he’s also on “emergency leave.”

“Roy resigned on March 9th. He is currently on emergency leave through June 10th,” spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said late Thursday.

If Roy’s arrangement continues until then, he will make $48,660 for the three months of emergency leave.

The agency at first offered no further explanation of the reason for the leave. When asked to clarify the emergency, Meyer said: “I’m not sure the answer.”

Texas’ “emergency leave” law says a state employee who has experienced a death in the family can take time off without seeing his or her pay cut. Agency heads also can approve other reasons for emergency leave if the employee “shows good case to take emergency leave.”

Employment law prohibits state workers from pulling down full-time salaries if they don’t work at least 40 hours a week for a public entity. There is no severance for workers who leave state employment, and the law that gives agency heads discretion in granting administrative leave also caps such time at 32 hours per year.

Austin-based campaign finance and ethics attorney Buck Wood questioned the arrangement.

“So, the emergency wasn’t so great that this person can’t work, or has any problems working? They just want to give her or him the money,” said Wood, who was not told the name of the individual or the agency in question. “This person obviously didn’t provide ‘good cause’ because they’re working. They’re just feeding you a line.”

So what was the emergency? Chip Roy needed health insurance.

Former First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy on Friday defended receiving thousands of dollars in salary and benefits after leaving the attorney general’s office to join a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

[…]

Roy’s statement indicates that he will receive much less than that because he took the leave option partly for medical reasons that were resolved Thursday.

“The terms of my resignation included from the OAG [office of the attorney general] an option for leave beyond my earned vacation and holiday time,” Roy said in the statement. “The primary benefit to me would have been healthcare coverage in light of being in the five-year window after Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. My plan has been to go off payroll at OAG using only my earned vacation and holiday time unless it were absolutely necessary to stay on pending the uncertainty of medical tests and subsequent employment. Yesterday I was blessed to receive an all-clear from my Oncologist and my complete departure from the OAG is effective at the time of the expiration of only earned vacation and holiday time.”

So a former top lieutenant of the Texas Attorney General’s office is worried about not having health insurance. Let that sink in for a minute. Then go read what Lize Burr has to say.

Let me put it this way:

Chip Roy was given the option to keep his state-paid health insurance past the normal point of his compensation because he was facing health uncertainty.

Now we come to the genuinely important news this week from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. It’s very simple and completely awful: 1.7 million Texas children live in poverty. 1.7 million children. That means 1.7 million children being raised by adults living in poverty. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, guardians. All in poverty.

And what is one of the greatest threats facing Texas families living in poverty? The cost of health care. Not just the kids’ health care–the parents’ health care. Texas has both the highest number and rate of adults with no medical insurance. These Texans live with an uncertainty that borders on a form of terror. And that is fear is shared by everyone in the home.

Chip Roy probably understands that fear. It’s probably the reason his employer was willing to place him on a special type of leave that continued his state-paid insurance while he was facing health unknowns. That was a humane act that I can understand. However, for a Republican office holder who is committed to the overturning the ACA and is against Medicaid expansion for low income Texas–the rejection of which costs the state of Texas $6 billion in uncompensated care a year–making that gesture isn’t a sign of compassion. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.

I can’t say it any better than that.

Supreme Court dismisses effort to dissolve state’s first same-sex marriage

I could be wrong, but I believe this closes the books on all the same-sex marriage litigation from last year.

RedEquality

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday tossed out Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to undo the union of the first gay couple to legally wed in Texas. The court-ordered same-sex marriage of two Austin women had occurred months before such unions were legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June ruling that same-sex marriage is protected by the U.S. Constitution, the state’s highest civil court dismissed Paxton’s request as moot.

The case dates back to February 2015 when Austin residents Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant were legally wed after obtaining a marriage license from the Travis County clerk under direction from state District Judge David Wahlberg.

At the time, Texas’ constitutional ban on marriage was still in effect. But Wahlberg ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue the license under special circumstances because Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year earlier. Wahlberg ordered the county to “cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage.”

Although Wahlberg’s court order was specific to the Austin couple, Paxton challenged the marriage before the Texas Supreme Court, which later blocked Wahlberg’s ruling to prevent other same sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses. A day after the couple wed, Paxton asked the court to overturn the order and void the marriage license to “avoid the legal chaos” that could arise.

See here and here for the background. Paxton had dropped his appeal of a similar case in July, after the Obergfell ruling; I had thought at the time that he’s also drop this one, but clearly he did not. Three of the Supreme Court justices were critical of the judge who granted the license and of the attorney who represented the plaintiffs, and I can see where they’re coming from on that, but in the end that didn’t matter. The marriage is valid, as it should be and should have been, and this is now a settled question. There are still plenty of battles to wage, but we can cross this one off the list.