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October 23rd, 2022:

Weekend link dump for October 23

Disbar them all.

“I believe the House Jan. 6 committee’s legacy will depend on how its in-depth rendering of the events surrounding the 2020 election and the ensuing insurrection is presented, repeated and understood by successive generations of Americans.”

The full impact of voter ID laws on trans people and others remains difficult to measure. But voting rights advocates say potential voters across the country face an uneven patchwork of policies — and obstacles.”

Lock him up.

“So, yes, Tuberville is a flat-out racist. We knew this. Been knowing it. Saying that isn’t even controversial anymore. But there’s an even larger story here. Tuberville spent decades as a college coach, both at the University of Mississippi and Auburn. How many college football coaches are like Tuberville? How many do what he apparently did: make millions off the labor of Black athletes while apparently hiding their disdain for those same Black people?”

“NBC News found one example of a school district keeping cat litter on campus. The Jefferson County School District has had classrooms with cat litter since 2017, in case students are locked in a classroom during a shooting. Jefferson County is where Columbine is located.”

Maybe the Cartoon Network isn’t quite dead yet.

Wishing Dikembe Mutombo all of the best.

RIP, Jim McDivitt, NASA astronaut who led Apollo and Gemini missions.

Lock him up. Like, for way longer than that.

“After a February 25, 2020, CDC telebriefing ‘angered’ President Trump, the White House wrested control of coronavirus communications away from CDC and mandated on February 26 that all media requests related to the pandemic be approved by the Office of the Vice President prior to release”.

The misogyny-to-fascism pipeline.

RIP, Charley Trippi, NFL and College Football Hall of Famer who had over 1000 yards rushing, receiving, and passing in his career. He played on the last Cardinals team to win an NFL championship, in 1947.

Lock him up for longer than that.

Make him testify.

“Biden administration officials are discussing whether the US should subject some of Elon Musk’s ventures to national security reviews, including the deal for Twitter Inc. and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, according to people familiar with the matter.” Yes, yes they should.

RIP, Daniel R. Smith, one of the last surviving children of a formerly enslaved American.

Of course voters of color has more mail ballots rejected

Water is wet, the sun rises in the east, voter suppression laws disproportionately affect voters of color.

Alice Yi of Austin is frustrated when she thinks about the March primary election, when her 92-year-old father tried to vote by mail, as he had many times before, but couldn’t.

He could not remember what identification number he used to register to vote more than 30 years ago, she said. When he sent in his ballot application with the last four digits of his Social Security number, a rejection letter from the elections office said that number was not on file. Another letter later said her father, who is legally blind in one eye, failed to fill out other details, such as specifying which ballot he needed.

By the third attempt, Yi, his caregiver, worried her father’s application would not make it before the deadline and he would be unable to cast a ballot. So she took him to vote in person, for the first time in years.

Yi’s father was just one of thousands of Texans who attempted to vote by mail in the March primary, but collided with the Texas’ GOP restrictive 2021 voting law, known as Senate Bill 1. When voting by mail, the new law requires voters to write their driver’s license, personal identification number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their mail ballot application and mail ballot envelope — whichever number they originally used to register.

In fact, the mail-in applications and ballots of Asian, Latino, and Black Texans were rejected because of the new ID requirement at much higher rates than those of white voters, according to a study released Thursday by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. The office of the secretary of state declined to comment on the findings, citing pending litigation over SB 1.

Although researchers couldn’t determine the exact cause of the disparities, experts and advocates say that in addition to the voting law’s restrictions, existing factors rooted in systemic racism, such as lack of resources in their native language and other socioeconomic barriers, likely played a role in the high rejection rates.

In the March primary, 12,000 absentee ballot applications and more than 24,000 mail ballots were rejected, leading to a 12% rejection rate statewide. That represented a significant increase compared to previous years. For example, the rejection rate for the 2020 presidential election was 1%.

The study shows the rejection rate was highest for Asian voters, who were about 40% more likely to have their absentee ballot application rejected than white voters.

The study also shows that Asian and Latino voters were each more than 50% more likely than white voters to have a ballot rejected due to a problem meeting SB 1’s new requirements.

Overall, 19% of Asian voters had either their application or their mail ballot rejected due to SB1’s provisions, followed by 16.6% of Black voters and 16.1% of Latino voters. For white voters, it was 12%.

“This shows that even if you successfully applied to vote by mail, you still weren’t out of the woods, you still might have your ballot rejected,” said Kevin Morris, a researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice and one of the authors of the study. “And not only do we see this gauntlet effect happening, we see that there are big racial discrepancies in whose applications and whose ballots are rejected.”

[…]

Absentee ballot rejection rates have been lower in Texas’s smaller elections since the March primary. The mail ballot rejection rate was at 5% for the May 7 Constitutional Amendment election, according to the secretary of state’s office. For the May 24 primary runoff elections, the statewide mail ballot rejection rate across both the Republican and Democratic primaries was 3.9%. Both of those elections, however, drew only a fraction of the voters who cast ballots in the primary.

Efforts made by local election officials across Texas counties contributed to the decrease in rejections.

The study, which has some limitations that are noted in the story, is new but its findings are no surprise. I’ve said before that I’m hopeful that the error rate will continue to fall, mostly thanks to the overburdened but very hard working local officials who have done all the work to make that rejection rate go down. I’ve also now had the experience of navigating this with my elder daughter, who is voting by mail from college. I’ll be keeping track of its progress on the Harris County elections webpage. She has a couple of friends who are in college in Texas but outside the county, and I’ve advised her to tell them to just drive in and vote in person during the EV period. It’s kind of crazy, but that’s the less risky option. Hopefully that will not be the case someday.

Reading and writing and DNA kits…

I dunno, man. I just don’t know.

Texas public school systems are set to distribute DNA and fingerprint identification kits for K-8 students to parents who wish to participate.

The state Legislature passed a law in spring 2021 requiring the Texas Education Agency to give inkless in-home fingerprint and DNA identification cards to each public school system in Texas. The kits will be made available at each primary-level campus. The cards are intended to be kept by guardians who can give them to law enforcement in order to potentially help find missing or trafficked children.

In the Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, kit distribution will begin this week.

“Caregivers are under no obligation to use the kits, but they must be informed by your institution that the available kits will allow them to have a set of their child’s fingerprints and DNA in that they can turn over to law enforcement in case of an emergency,” reads a letter to recently sent to all HISD principals.

Other districts, such as Clear Creek ISD, have already begun to notify parents that the kits are available.

Some families have found the program chilling, considering that police asked parents waiting to find out if their children were slaughtered at Robb Elementary on May 24 to provide DNA samples to help identify the dead.

“When you put it in the light of Uvalde, it’s one of the most macabre things you could think about,” said Bob Sanborn, president of the nonprofit Children at Risk.

Kenneth S. Trump, a national school security consultant, said there may be a value in providing the kits to parents, but said the proximity and timing of the distribution may ring alarm bells for parents and children still reeling from the news of Uvalde.

“On one hand, I see the value in saying, ‘Here’s a tool you can have in case of potential threats,’ ” he said. “But I think we need to be very cautious about crossing the line of do no harm to the point where we are creating more anxiety.”

Messaging from administrators should be clear that the kits are intended to be an extra available resource for parents and guardians in case their children go missing, Trump said.

“Even if it’s about human trafficking or other risks, we need to communicate what is the probability of these events so it’s not creating fear and anxiety suggesting kids are in imminent danger in school,” he said.

I don’t really have much to add to what Messrs. Sanborn and Trump said. I get the reasoning behind that law. It makes sense, though I’d have a lot of questions about data privacy if either of my kids were still in elementary school and could receive one of those kits. But man, thinking about it at all is depressing as hell. I don’t know what else to say.

If we can’t get high speed rail in Texas…

… At least we can maybe get some more Amtrak service.

San Antonio residents finally may get new rail service connecting them to Dallas, Houston and Austin, according to a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) filing.

In an Oct. 5 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams requested federal funding for the expansion of several railroad corridors, including “new and enhanced, conventional intercity options” along traffic-clogged Interstate 35, which runs north-south through the state.

The proposed projects outlined in the letter include an increase in service on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle line connecting San Antonio and Dallas and additional hauls on the Sunset Limited between the Alamo City and Houston. Currently, the Texas Eagle only runs four days a week, while the Sunset Limited operates on a tri-weekly basis, according to the rail operator’s website.

The proposal also includes expanding the Texas Eagle Line south, connecting San Antonio with the Rio Grande Valley and adding a new station on the Sunset Limited Line in Flatonia — located between San Antonio and Houston — to expand rural service.

Williams’ request is in response to the FRA’s establishment of the Corridor Identification Program. That is funded via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in November 2021. Not one Texas Republican in the U.S. House or Senate voted in favor of the measure.

The FRA is excepted to decide which projects to fund based on criteria including projected ridership, revenues and capital investment, among others.

See here for some background. The Texas Rail Advocates post on which this story is based also mentions the revival of the Dallas-to-Houston-via-College Station line that was ended in the 1990s, which is to say maybe bringing back a slower and presumably less frequent version of Texas Central. (Pause while I heave a deep and dramatic sigh.) The letter doesn’t mention ridership, and I’d assume that the Dallas-Houston line if and when it got built would be a couple of times a week deal, which is to say it would all be pretty limited. But at least it would be a thing, if indeed it does happen.

Endorsement watch: Another smattering

The Chron endorses Cam Campbell in HD132.

Cam Campbell

Texas House District 132, stretching from just south of Interstate 10 in eastern Katy to U.S. 290 in Cypress, features a handful of high school football powerhouses. Voters there fittingly get to choose between two gridiron lovers in Republican incumbent Mike Schofield and Democratic challenger Cameron “Coach Cam” Campbell. Campbell believes Cypress, Katy and the rest of the western suburbs can become the “Fort Worth to Houston’s Dallas” with the right leadership and partnerships.

Campbell, 40, is a 2000 Cypress Springs graduate and a former University of Houston football player. He teaches children about safe play for a community outreach program of the Texans. He also has a sports facility construction company and has gone by “Coach Cam” since coaching for KIPP Houston High School.

Control of this district has swung back and forth between parties in recent years. Schofield was several years ago named “Freshman legislator of the year” by Republican members of the House but lost his seat in 2018 by just 113 votes to Gina Calanni, then won it back in a hard-fought 2020 election. This time, Schofield got some help through redistricting.

In our interview, Campbell criticized the gerrymandering, but he is running the electoral version of an aggressive no-huddle offense to drive voter engagement and turnout to overcome the influx of likely GOP voters. He talked at length about voter research and outreach tools his campaign is using. Given the redrawn district’s tilt, it’s not surprising his opponent has far outraised Campbell, but he appears to be making the most of his limited resources. Campbell’s high energy and attention to detail truly felt coach-like to us.

We appreciate Campbell’s vision of what the district and the Katy-Cypress area can be. He wants to sit on the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee in the House, in part to attract industry and promote his district.

Campbell said he’s passionate about promoting literacy and reducing gun violence, which he hopes to turn into legislative priorities if elected. He’s also been outspoken on the campaign trail about reproductive rights and LGTBQ rights. He favors marijuana legalization and greater environmental protections.

My interview with Coach Cam is here. I thought he was pretty impressive, so give that a listen if you haven’t. The Chron notes that they had endorsed incumbent Rep. Schofield before, and also that he didn’t bother screening with them this time. That is a trend that is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

The Chron also endorsed Carla Wyatt for Harris County Treasurer.

Carla Wyatt

Voters expecting shy, bookish candidates for Harris County treasurer, content to pore over spreadsheets in anonymity, have a surprise in store from Republican Kyle Scott and Democrat Carla Wyatt. However the race turns out, the county is about to get a charismatic, hardworking newcomer to oversee the office that processed some $20 billion coming in and out last year.

Wyatt earns our endorsement because she has two decades of experience working for the county, including in the budget office and public infrastructure. She also holds a doctoral degree in environmental toxicology, and she ran emergency communications during Hurricane Harvey. She has creative ideas for how to reach more residents and make it easier for people to interact with the office. In the budget office, she led an IT group that created interactive dashboards for county employees to see where money was going.

[…]

“I’ve created these relationships and I understand where all the little rocks and pebbles are, because I helped put some of them there,” Wyatt, 51, told the editorial board. “I think it’s important for whoever is in this office to have the experience and relationships to create checks and balances and be able to work across party lines and department lines.”

She wants to make it simpler for residents to find out whether the county owes them money and to propose ways to broaden the use of credit and debit card transactions in county business.

Scott’s campaign is centered around accountability and transparency, and he talked with us about wanting to serve as a check on wasteful spending. We especially appreciate Scott’s desire to bolster financial literacy and actively engage residents. His background as a former board trustee and communications executive at Lone Star College prepares him well for the task.

“Usually in the treasurer’s race, all you hear is, ‘I’m a watchdog,’ without explaining what that means or demonstrating knowledge of what you’re actually watching, and so many folks feel in the dark about where the money’s actually going,” Scott, who has a Ph.D. in political science, told us. “If you can talk about it clearly and bring some light to that, it’s appreciated.”

We endorsed Scott’s GOP primary opponent, in part because we were concerned when Scott said he would be willing to refuse to sign a county check as a final safeguard against wasteful spending by the Harris County Commissioners Court. Changing the county budget is the job of commissioners, not the treasurer. In our general election screening this fall, Scott told us he’d refuse to sign checks only in extreme moments, as in the case of the $11 million Elevate Strategies vaccine outreach contract.

Wyatt had a different take, using one of the several clever analogies she employed in her interview with us. “The treasurer can’t stop you from walking into a fire, but I can tell you that there is a fire,” she said. “I can tell you that the stove is hot.” She sees the treasurer role as an advisory one and said, in the case of a contract like Elevate Strategies, that delaying alongside advising could be used. But she stopped short of saying she’d refuse to sign a check. That’s closer to our understanding of the treasurer’s job.

Wyatt as noted defeated incumbent Treasurer Dylan Osborne in the Dem primary. My interview with her from the primary is here. I like Dylan, I knew him before he ran for Treasurer, I voted for him in the primary, but I agree with the Chron’s assessment of Wyatt: She’ll be a fine Treasurer. But even if I had concerns about her, I’d have much bigger concerns than the Chron seems to have had with Kyle Scott’s pronouncement that he’d be a self-appointed veto of county spending activity he doesn’t like. Yeah, sure, now he says it would be used in limited emergency instances, but that’s not what he said in the primary and the Treasurer doesn’t have that power. Seriously, do we really need another undemocratic veto point in our government? It’s a ridiculous idea – in truth, even if the Treasurer explicitly had this power it would be a dumb idea – and it disturbs me that the Chron isn’t more than just “concerned” about it, especially given Scott’s past campaigning on the idea. Good for them for not endorsing him, but come on. Don’t be a sucker.

Finally, the Chron endorsed Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15, an easy and obvious call, and former District Clerk Chris Daniel in his rematch against incumbent Dem Marilyn Burgess. They still have more races to get through, but at least they seem to be picking up the pace.