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September 15th, 2021:

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

We continue with HISD candidate interviews, moving over to District VII for a visit with incumbent Anne Sung. I almost wrote “first-term incumbent”, but Sung won a special election in 2016 to succeed Harvin Moore, and was then re-elected for a full term in 2017, so technically she’s in her second term and that makes her the longest-serving incumbent on the Board. Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and Harvard University, and taught for several years at HISD and in the Rio Grande Valley via Teach for America. She serves on the boards of the SPARK Park Program, the Texas Association of School Boards, and OCA-Greater Houston, and is a former Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Project GRAD Houston. The interview I did with her in 2016 is here, and the interview I did with her this year is here:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V

It could have been worse

Just something to ponder, from Space City Weather.

First of all, if you can remember all the way back to Saturday, I presented three different scenarios for Nicholas’ track and eventual flooding in Houston. The first of these was the “Coast Hugger,” in which the storm remained close to the Gulf, brought 2 to 4 inches of rain to Houston and higher amounts along the coast, while keeping the heaviest rains offshore. This is largely what happened, with Nicholas remaining very close to the coast even after moving inland. If we look at satellite-derived precipitation totals for the last three days, the heaviest swath of 10-20 inches of rainfall came offshore.

A track even 40 or 50 miles further inland would have set up those heaviest rains directly across the Houston metro area, and created a much more serious flood situation. Hopefully this offers you some insight into the challenge of predicting these kinds of rain events. It was a very close call, a matter of miles, between significant inland rainfall flooding in Houston, and relatively clean bayous this morning.

The second factor is wind. Nicholas turned out to be a fairly nasty storm in terms of wind gusts, and pushed a larger storm surge—as high as 6.1 feet into Clear Lake—than predicted. This is a reminder of the power of a hurricane, even one that was “only” a minimal Category 1 storm. The truth is that the track of the storm was very nearly a worst-case one for Houston in terms of winds and putting a maximum storm surge across Galveston Island and into Galveston Bay.

It is September 14, the absolute peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and a time when sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are at their warmest of the year. So this morning I’m thinking about what would have happened if we had not had some wind shear over the western Gulf of Mexico yesterday, or if Nicholas had been able to consolidate a more well defined and consistent center of circulation. It would have been much, much worse for all of us had a significantly stronger hurricane made landfall last night. So while we pick up the pieces this morning, realize Nicholas could have been much more of a terror.

Not the first time this year that we averted a disaster by dumb luck. We’re four years out from Harvey, 13 years out from Ike, and we’ve had plenty of non-hurricane catastrophic floods in between, so it’s not like we’ve been living a charmed life here in Houston. Lots of people here have been hit very hard, and there’s a whole lot of talk about the trauma and stress that so many folks have experienced and still experience. This is life under climate change. There are things we can do to keep it from getting worse, and there are things we can do to make it better for those who have had the hardest time. But we can’t wish it away or ignore it, and we absolutely can’t deny it. It’s up to all of us.

It’s not too late to pass a voting rights bill

Look, we have one queued up.

Senate Democrats are close to an agreement on updated voting rights legislation that can get the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, three Democratic aides familiar with negotiations said.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both have been voted on along party lines.

The member-level discussions are complete, a source said, but staff members are going through the text to fix technical issues. No further details have been shared.

The legislation would require the votes of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, and it’s unlikely that Democrats will get enough Republican supporters.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia.

Senators, who return from their August recess this week, face a number of items, such as a voting rights measure and an ambitious infrastructure spending package.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few different Republicans who are very interested in doing something that makes sense,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin said he has been working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Well, Sen. Murkowski plus fifty Democrats is still well short of 60. Might there be some other option?

With a make-or-break vote looming in the Senate on a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill, President Joe Biden and his advisers have said in recent weeks that Biden will pressure wavering Democrats to support reforming the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting bill.

According to three people briefed on the White House’s position and its recent communications with outside groups, Biden assured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he was ready to push for filibuster reform. Biden’s pressure would aim to help Schumer convince moderate Democrats to support a carveout to the filibuster, a must for the party if it’s going to pass new voting protections without Republican votes. According to a source briefed on the White House’s position, Biden told Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

The Senate returns to work this upcoming week, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to call a vote on the For the People Act, the most ambitious reform bill in decades and the Democrats’ best shot at countering the wave of state-level GOP voter suppression laws this year. But to get the bill out of Congress, Senate Democrats will almost certainly need to change the filibuster, the procedural tactic used by the minority party to block many types of legislation.

Publicly, there are two centrist Democrats who have stated their opposition to changing or abolishing the filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Activist groups and fellow Democratic senators say Manchin and Sinema are the likely 49th and 50th votes both on any voting-rights legislation and especially any filibuster reforms. Sources say both senators are likely targets for when Biden launches his final push to pass a compromise version of the For the People Act.

“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”

[…]

Some outside activist groups say Biden and his administration haven’t done enough to make the case for a new voting-rights bill in Congress. “For a long time there was no engagement,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the government-reform group Democracy 21. Tiffany Muller, president of the anti-corruption group End Citizens United, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer that the lack of urgency from the administration felt even more acute given the energy and organizing happening outside of Washington in support of the For the People Act. “We need that same effort and help (from the Biden administration) on this,” Muller said at the time.

That frustration extended to Biden’s top allies in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose timely endorsement helped rescue Biden’s flailing presidential campaign in early 2020, begged Biden to endorse a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. During a late-July meeting in the Oval Office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed Biden to do more on voting rights; Democrats needed action from him, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

In that Oval Office meeting, the source says, Biden made a pledge: If Pelosi and Schumer tried every option they had to pass a voting-rights bill with Republican votes and got nowhere, Biden would get involved himself and lobby the handful of moderate Democrats to convince them to weaken the filibuster so that the For the People Act could pass without any Republican votes.

Since then, the tenor has shifted in the White House in the last month, multiple sources tell Rolling Stone. The White House has devoted more staff to the issue. More importantly, it has given assurances to outside supporters that Biden now plans to push for filibuster reform when necessary. “They have really engaged in a way that can make a difference both on substance and particularly on process as we get closer to this day of reckoning,” Rep. John Sarbanes says. “They appreciate that the electorate that showed up for Joe Biden in 2020 now wants to see Joe Biden show up for them in 2021.”

Here’s where I shrug my shoulders and mumble something about how I hope Joe Manchin, who is one of the sponsors of the John Lewis Act in the Senate, might prefer to do something to help pass his own bill than let it die by inaction. I have no idea what he’ll do and neither does anyone else, but I do like this theory about what animates a Joe Manchin.

So we have all these theories: Manchin is a crypto-Republican; he’s doing the work of his funders; he and Biden have a secret understanding and it’s all going to work out. My own theory is a bit different. It’s not even my theory. Someone mentioned it to me several months ago. But I can’t remember who. The theory is this: all of Manchin’s actions hold together and make sense if you imagine he got up on a particular day, absorbed the CW of the moment and said the first or second thing that came into his head.

This is admittedly a somewhat diminishing read. But Manchin clearly likes the limelight and he doesn’t pretend to be an ideologue. If you use this framework all the various shifts and turns start to make sense. Manchin is the quintessential Washington player, very much a creature of Washington insider culture with all its shibboleths and conventional wisdoms.

It doesn’t get us any closer to where we need to be, and it doesn’t do anything to keep my head from exploding, but at least it makes some sense. As for the rest, light a candle, throw some salt over your shoulder, avoid stepping on any cracks, and hope for the best. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

Paxton sues again over SAISD’s vaccine mandate

Yes, vaccine mandate. For teachers and staff.

Best mugshot ever

For the second time in a month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued San Antonio Independent School District and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Martinez issued a staff vaccine mandate and mask mandate Aug. 16 for everyone inside school buildings. Three days later, Paxton sued Martinez and SAISD over both mandates, stating in the lawsuit that the superintendent and the district were “deliberately violating state law,” as a July executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits any entity that receives public funds from mandating COVID-19 vaccines that had received only emergency approval from the federal government.

But the federal Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23, and the lawsuit was dropped. Two days later, Abbott issued a new executive order, banning governmental entities from requiring any COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of FDA approval status.

Paxton filed the second lawsuit against SAISD in Bexar County on Sept. 9, seeking a temporary restraining order barring the school district from mandating vaccines. In the petition, Paxton claims SAISD and Martinez are again violating state law by “flouting” the August executive order.

“The decision to openly violate state law and devote district resources to defending Superintendent Martinez’s unlawful actions is irresponsible,” Paxton said in a statement. “But if school districts decide to use their limited funding to try to get away with breaking the law, my office will oppose them and uphold the rule of law in Texas.”

See here and here for some background. My reaction when Paxton filed the first lawsuit was that he was likely to prevail, and despite the FDA approval and Biden mandate (which has been announced but not yet fully implemented), I don’t see any reason why that would change. I will of course be happy to be wrong, and if it is the case that some people have gotten vaccinated as a result of the SAISD mandate then it’s a win no matter what happens in court. The main thing to remember here is that Ken Paxton, like Greg Abbott, is objectively pro-COVID, and we need to make them pay at the ballot box for it.