Vouchers die another death

What a great use of everyone’s time these special sessions have been.

​The Texas House on Friday voted to strip school vouchers from the chamber’s massive education funding bill, effectively gutting Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priority from the legislation.

The House voted 84-63 in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. John Raney of College Station, which removed the provision of the bill allowing some parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private and religious schools. Twenty-one Republicans, most of whom represent rural districts, joined all Democrats in support.

They are: Raney, Steve Allison of San Antonio, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Keith Bell of Forney, DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Jay Dean of Longview, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Justin Holland of Rockwall, Kyle Kacal of College Station, Ken King of Canadian, John Kuempel of Seguin, Stan Lambert of Abilene, Andrew Murr of Junction, Four Price of Amarillo, Glenn Rogers of Graford, Hugh Shine of Temple, Reggie Smith of Sherman, Ed Thompson of Pearland and Gary VanDeaver of New Boston.

The outcome was an embarrassment to Abbott, who spent seven months lobbying two dozen Republicans who signaled opposition to vouchers in a test vote during the regular legislative session in April. His various strategies included holding events at private schools in rural areas, tying vouchers to increased public school funding, calling two special sessions dedicated to education, threatening to support primary challengers to Republicans who opposed vouchers and announcing a breakthrough deal with the holdouts that did not appear to exist.

None of it worked.

Just four of the former Republican holdouts opposed the anti-voucher amendment on Friday: Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Brooks Landgraf of Odessa, Angelia Orr of Itasca and David Spiller of Jacksboro. But Thompson was a new anti-voucher vote, bringing the governor’s net gain to three.

The future of school vouchers is now in doubt; Abbott has said he will veto any education legislation that does not contain vouchers. The governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Emphasis mine, because I felt like it. Abbott has threatened to continue calling special sessions until this passes, and maybe he’ll actually do that. At least as likely, he’ll campaign against all these Republicans. That will be the bigger test. But man, for a guy who’s won a bunch of elections Greg Abbott sure does take a lot of Ls. I’ll never stop celebrating that.

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The Houston-Area Crime Gun Intelligence Center

This sounds promising.

When Houston-area law enforcement officers announced in September that they recovered 79 guns during an investigation into a group of suspected gang members, they had a pretty good idea of how those guns had been used — but they didn’t know where they’d come from.

Prosecutors would later charge one suspect, Tyrone Raymond Bolton, with using a firearm to traffic drugs. Another, Vandross Bynum, allegedly brandished a gun during an unspecified “crime of violence,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Both acts were serious violations, earning the suspects charges in federal court, yet law enforcement still lacked a crucial piece of information that could help prevent future crimes.

At a press conference announcing the charges, there were “literally hundreds of years of law enforcement experience,” said Fred Milanowski, former special agent in charge of the Houston field division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “But nobody could definitively say exactly how those violent gangs got their hands on those 79 guns,” he added.

That may be about to change. By early 2024, ATF and other local law enforcement agencies will formally launch the Houston-Area Crime Gun Intelligence Center, an intelligence hub dedicated to collecting and analyzing data related to guns used in crimes.

Currently, ATF traces each of the roughly 12,000 crime guns recovered by law enforcement each year in the Houston metro area. But that data has never been collated and analyzed as a whole. Now, the Crime Gun Center’s team of 12 analysts, supplied by six local and federal agencies, will compile that trace data into a larger database – an effort already underway with the center currently in a “soft launch.”

Advocates and law enforcement officials hope this more robust approach to studying gun crime, which Milanowski called a “unique” supplement to existing efforts, will result in more muscular and targeted interventions.

“If we can commit more resources to gathering intelligence, digesting what is valuable and then going after it in an effective and efficient manner, then we’re really going to help reduce violent crime in Harris County,” said Daniel Dellasala, a lieutenant and commander of the Crime Scene Investigations Unit at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, one of the center’s participating agencies.

Analysts will track the guns’ original purchaser, whether those purchasers ever sold the gun, and whether the purchasers or the buyers were ever involved with other guns recovered by law enforcement, among other factors. Collectively, this data will alert law enforcement to broader trends in how perpetrators of crime are sourcing their weapons – and support investigations on an individual level.

“Unless you have dedicated people that are just looking at this, that stuff just falls through the cracks at law enforcement,” Milanowski said. “They may not even be aware that their guns aren’t properly being traced, or they’re incompletely being traced. But these analysts now are looking at every gun that’s coming into the department.”

ATF is prohibited by provisions in a 2003 federal appropriations bill from sharing trace data with individuals or agencies outside law enforcement, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. But law enforcement officials hope the data they collect will help them stop violent crime through internal data analysis, highlighting opportunities to intervene at the source and stymie the flow of weapons into criminal hands.

“As this project expands, we’re going to have two years’ worth of a really good dataset on how violent crews and gangs in the Houston metro area are getting their guns,” Milanowski said. “That just wouldn’t have been possible if there wasn’t a dedicated group of people looking at that crime gun intelligence.”

This sounds like an excellent idea, and I’m optimistic it will have a positive effect. It joins the new Houston gun violence tracker and the UTMB grant to study ways to reduce firearm violence as new tools in the kit for hopefully making some progress in this fight. The main question I have is why none of this had ever been done before. Some of that is national politics to be sure, but not all of it. Better late than never, but there’s a ton of ground to make up. I look forward to seeing what they can do.

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MLB owners approve A’s move to Las Vegas

It’s still not fully resolved, but this is going to happen, like it or not.

Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously Thursday to allow the Oakland Athletics to move to Las Vegas, paving the way for the second relocation of a baseball team in the past half-century.

The potential move, which comes after more than two decades of failed efforts to secure a new stadium in the city to replace the aging Oakland Coliseum, needed backing from three-quarters of teams at the quarterly owners meetings. It received unanimous support despite unanswered questions about the team’s near-term future and stadium plans.

“Today is an incredibly difficult day for Oakland A’s fans,” Athletics owner John Fisher said. “It’s a great day for Las Vegas.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred echoed Fisher’s sentiments, saying: “I know — I know — this is a terrible day for fans in Oakland. I understand that. And that’s why we’ve always had a policy of doing everything humanly possible to avoid a relocation. And I truly believe we did that in this case. I think it’s beyond debate, that the status quo in Oakland was untenable. Those of you who have been in the building understand what I’m talking about. And I absolutely am convinced that there was not a viable path forward in Oakland.”

The move is not yet finalized. Legal challenges from a teachers union in Nevada regarding the $380 million the state has committed to the construction of a $1.5 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip still could scuttle the move, but winning approval from owners marks a significant step toward Oakland losing its last major men’s professional sports team.

Prior to the Montreal Expos moving to Washington, D.C., in 2005, the last MLB team to relocate was the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers in 1972. The Athletics moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968 and have won four World Series in their 56 seasons in the city.

After announcing in 2021 plans to pursue a “parallel path” in which it would weigh stadium deals in Oakland and Las Vegas, the team chose Vegas in April 2023, with Manfred saying MLB would waive its relocation fee, estimated to be around $300 million.


In a letter sent to half the MLB owners last week, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said the city had procured $928 million in funding for a stadium and surrounding development and wanted to keep the team.

The Athletics’ lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and the team has yet to solidify plans for where it will play before the Las Vegas stadium is ready in 2028. Manfred said extending the lease in Oakland is an option, though the city — which owns half the stadium, while the Athletics own the other half — has said in order to do so that it would need to keep the A’s name and move to the front of the line for a potential expansion franchise.

“We are disappointed by the outcome of this vote,” Thao said in a statement. “But we do not see this as the end of the road. We all know there is a long way to go before shovels in the ground and that there are a number of unresolved issues surrounding this move. I have also made it clear to the commissioner that the A’s branding and name should stay in Oakland and we will continue to work to pursue expansion opportunities. Baseball has a home in Oakland even if the A’s ownership relocates.”

The lack of a home for three seasons is far from the only reservation about the Athletics’ move. Not only would they be leaving for a smaller media market, but the team would also remain a revenue-sharing recipient, a point of contention in recent years. The new stadium, located at the site of the old Tropicana hotel, is slated to be built on a 9-acre parcel, which would be one of the smallest in MLB. While the A’s released renderings of a Las Vegas stadium, they did not include a dome or retractable roof, which would be necessary to combat the city’s summer heat.

See here for some background. Las Vegas, which like a decade ago had zero major league sports teams, has done spectacularly well with their expansion NHL Golden Knights and the WNBA Aces, and while the NFL Raiders remain a mostly bad team it’s still the NFL, and people will put up with a lot. The soon-to-be Vegas A’s are, I suspect, something else. The owner is terrible, the team sucks and has no clear path towards anything better, and there’s not going to be a stadium for at least the next three years, forcing the team to play in a AAA ballpark in the interim. The long-term plan involves attracting a significant number of tourists and visitors to the A’s home games. There’s still a drive to hold a referendum on revoking the public funds that have been earmarked for the stadium they intend to build. I’m having a hard time seeing how this ends well.

That’s Rob Manfred’s problem. I’m just going to sit here and watch the (likely) disaster as it unfolds. Effectively Wild discusses the impeding move, and there’s more from Joe Sheehan, Yahoo, and ESPN.

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On to the runoff

Here we go.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is trying to do something no Houston mayor has done in 46 years: flip the result between a general election and a runoff.

Jim McConn last achieved the feat in 1977, erasing a 9.9-point deficit in the first round to win a “stunning” victory, as the Chronicle described it at the time. The top finisher in Houston’s last 20 mayoral elections, though, either has won outright or gone on to win a runoff.

The historical trend is one of several obstacles that Jackson Lee, who trailed state Sen. John Whitmire by 6.9 percentage points in November’s contest, must overcome to become mayor. The congresswoman also faces a steep financial deficit and ominous poll numbers.

Houston has lackluster turnout in municipal elections, but the voting base usually gets even smaller in runoffs. About 252,000 people voted in the first round, fewer than in the last open mayoral election in 2015, despite population growth and about 189,000 new registered voters.

The city typically sees about 15 to 20% of November votes drop off in a second round, set for Dec. 9 this year. That makes it more difficult to gain ground, rendering runoffs mostly a get-out-the-vote battle.

“The primary focus of the runoff will be turnout, and who can get their voters most excited,” said Nancy Sims, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “On the list of things to do in the holiday season, picking the next mayor falls where on that list?”

For what it’s worth, there were more votes cast in the 2001 runoff than in the 2001 general election. That doesn’t mean anything for this race this year, but it is a reminder that the thing that usually happens is not always the thing that does happen.

While it remains the Mayoral race that drives the bulk of the turnout, it can be useful to look at the other races to see if they might have some effect on the marquee event. There are runoffs in Districts D, G, and H. I’d say the D runoff helps SJL, the G runoff helps Whitmire, and the H runoff is more or less a wash – it’s probably lean Whitmire, but it will have less turnout than the others. There are no HISD runoffs, which might have helped SJL. There are five other citywide runoffs, all with Democratic and Republican candidates, all but one with a Black candidate (that includes Black Republican Willie Davis, who is the oddball among them). You can argue either way who that might help; my guess is that it’s more or less a wash again.

I have no particular reason to disagree with the notion that Whitmire is the favorite in the runoff. He had the most votes in November, and this is not a situation where the other candidates were there to challenge him. I have no idea what the supporters of the other candidates will do, and as of this writing I haven’t seen reports or press releases to say that any of them have picked a side for the overtime round. The basics of this race favor Whitmire. Whether that matters in the end, we’ll see.

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And now for the H-GAC negotiations

Prop 2, the Fair For Houston ballot item, passed easily last week. The item charges the city of Houston to negotiate with H-GAC for a revised system of “proportional voting”. Those negotiations are next on the docket.

Legal questions remain, however, about what proportional voting privileges for Houston could look like and whether the city can legally leave H-GAC, should negotiations for more representation on the organization fail.

The language of the charter amendment was very intentional, said Ally Smither, communications director for Fair for Houston, the organization that spearheaded Proposition B.

It does not prescribe any numbers or percentages needed for representation to be considered “proportional.” The language is intended to lead to a solution through negotiation, she said.

Houston City Council Member Sallie Alcorn, who is also H-GAC’s Chair-Elect, said she was “grateful” for the way the ballot initiative was worded.

The lack of a binding number of voters needed to reach proportionality could help ease tensions ahead of negotiations, she said, and it prevents either side from feeling too top heavy.

Houston City Council Member Amy Peck, Houston’s other representative on H-GAC’s board of directors, agreed. The open-ended wording, she said, will prevent negotiators from being boxed in at the very start.

Despite the lacking definition of proportionality, Alcorn said she knows any negotiated changes to H-GAC’s voting structure will have to be substantive in order to honor the essence of the proposition.

“It’s not going to be a one-for-one, but it’s not going to be something just very nominal,” she said. “It’s going to have to reflect the voters’ wishes.”

Alcorn and Peck questioned what a proportional voting structure would mean for membership on H-GAC. Alcorn suggested that a solution may include the use of weighted voting, where population size could determine the amount of votes an H-GAC representative could cast, as opposed to adding new members to the council.

Until negotiations begin, however, the potential outcome is up in the air.

Not every member of H-GAC believes a proportional voting structure is best for the organization.

Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, the outgoing chair of H-GAC’s board of directors, expressed concern about the consequences of proportionality.

“Strictly proportional representation destroys the whole intent of a regional coordinating council,” he said. “Because then Houston and Harris County would basically just dictate the agenda.”

Despite his concern, Duhon said H-GAC is prepared to negotiate with Houston whenever the city approaches the organization to do so.

Alcorn, Peck, Duhon and members of Fair For Houston all expressed the hope that Houston remains a part of H-GAC. Entering negotiations in good faith, Alcorn said, is key.

“It behooves us all to stay together,” she said. “And I think that that is certainly the goal that I will be approaching negotiations with.”

You can still listen to my interview with the Fair For Houston campaign leaders., in which we discuss this topic. We also discuss what happens if negotiations fail, which has been a question raised by others as well. The intent is clearly to get to a new consensus, and the comments made by the various H-GAC members in this article are encouraging. We’ll know soon enough if they can get somewhere that works for everyone. I remain hopeful.

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TikTok ban lawsuit has its day in court

Looks like it was a pretty good day for the plaintiffs, but as we know that’s the first very small step in a long journey.

A federal judge seemed skeptical of the state’s reasoning to ban TikTok on Texas public university campuses at a Wednesday hearing on a lawsuit filed by a group of professors over the new directive.

In December 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott banned the use of TikTok on government-issued cellphones and laptops, joining more than 30 U.S. states that have issued similar directives over cybersecurity concerns. The state’s ban led public universities across Texas to block access to TikTok on their Wi-Fi and wired networks — but the professors behind the lawsuit, filed in July, argue the bans halted their plans to teach about and research the app’s benefits and risks.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, who is representing the professors, argued the ban threatens public university faculty’s freedom of speech by limiting their research projects.

Proponents of the ban have noted that TikTok is owned by the China-based company ByteDance, and that the Chinese Community Party has, in at least one case, accessed data from the app to identify and locate protesters in Hong Kong. The Biden administration, too, issued a TikTok ban on federal government-issued mobile devices earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman asked the professors’ attorney Wednesday why the ban should be tossed if other states and the federal government have similar measures in place. Jaffer argued the federal ban concerns executive agencies, not public universities whose professors feel their work is now limited.

In terms of cybersecurity concerns, Jaffer said privacy concerns hold true for most major social media apps, including Instagram and X, the site formerly known as Twitter. The state has not proved TikTok is a distinct threat worthy of banning when other social media apps are still allowed, he said.

“The defendants haven’t established that their concerns are real and not conjectural,” he added.

Instead of a ban, Jaffer said the professors he represents propose universities issue separate laptops or create a separate Wi-Fi network for researchers and faculty studying TikTok.

Todd Dickerson, the state’s assistant attorney general, argued that professors who wish to study or research TikTok can do so on their personal devices. But Jaffer said the ban also applies if a professor is conducting state work on their personal devices.

“Essentially what Texas is saying here is public university professors should be required to do their jobs on their own time, on their own dime,” Jaffer said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Just so we’re all clear, this is about the ban of TikTok on state university WiFi networks and devices. No one is arguing that there’s anything problematic about the bans on state or federal government-issued devices. I’ve said from the beginning that there’s a reasonable First Amendment claim here, the question is whether the state’s claim that the ban is reasonable and has limited effect will carry the day. Expect an appeal regardless of the ruling.

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Appellate hearing of the State Bar discipline lawsuit against Ken Paxton

Big day.

A crook any way you look

Whether the Texas State Bar can take away Attorney General Ken Paxton’s law license could hinge on whether appellate justices believe the organization is trying to control what lawsuits he files on the state’s behalf — or whether the group has the jurisdiction to punish him for pushing false theories in a lawsuit over the 2020 presidential election.

Lawyers for Paxton argued before a three-justice panel of the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals on Wednesday that the bar overstepped its bounds when it sued the attorney general last year for professional misconduct. A disciplinary committee for the State Bar of Texas, the organization that regulates law licenses in this state, alleged the attorney general made “dishonest” representations in a widely condemned lawsuit — quickly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court — that tried to throw out election results from former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss in four battleground states.

Paxton’s lawyers argue that, by suing him, the bar is “attempting to control the Attorney General’s decision going forward about what types of lawsuits to file, and what kinds of legal theories to pursue,” Lanora C. Pettit, principal deputy solicitor general, told justices Wednesday.

That argument drew skepticism from Justice Erin Nowell.

“That’s a big leap,” Nowell said.

Paxton’s unsuccessful attempt to intervene in four other states’ elections leaned heavily on discredited claims of election fraud in those swing states.

The Texas bar has argued its conduct rules for lawyers apply to Paxton, too.

“The underlying attorney discipline case here is about ethics,” Michael Graham, an attorney representing the state bar, told justices. “The substantive questions at the heart of that attorney discipline case, like any other, have nothing to do with politics or anything else. They have everything to do with whether an attorney is engaged in professional misconduct and, if so, what’s the appropriate disciplinary sanction for that misconduct?”

A Collin County judge hasn’t ruled on the merits of the case but sided with the bar earlier this year when he ruled the group has the ability to sue — a decision Paxton quickly appealed. The appeals court is weighing whether to reverse the lower court’s ruling, but did not rule Wednesday.

The bar’s actions raise questions about whether any elected official who is also a lawyer could have their law license threatened if a member of the public doesn’t agree with them, Justice Emily Miskel said — with which Graham disagreed.

“General Paxton, for instance, has been Attorney General for almost a decade now, and to my knowledge, there’s not a raft of complaints or attorney disciplinary actions against him for filing suits,” Graham said.

But there might be if the bar is successful, Miskel said.

“If it’s effective, then everybody should (file a grievance against) any elected official who happens to be a lawyer because it’s a great way to get a second bite at the apple of a policy decision you don’t like,” Miskel said.

That may be the case, Graham said, but such a complaint would still have to pass muster with the bar.

See here for the previous update. This hearing was delayed by the impeachment trial. The Chron adds some details.

A three-judge panel of the Dallas court who heard the case against Paxton — consisting of Democratic Justices Erin A. Nowell and Nancy Kennedy and Republican Justice Emily Miskel — said they would issue their decision at a later date.

The outcome could test the bar’s ability to sanction elected officials and is one of several misconduct suits it filed against Texas lawyers who fought the 2020 presidential election results.

Also in the crosshairs are Paxton’s second-in-command, Brent Webster, and Dallas attorney Sidney Powell, who recently pleaded guilty over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s loss in Georgia.

A state district court judge ruled against Paxton in January, and the third-term Republican quickly appealed to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. His law license is potentially at stake, though the state constitution does not require the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. Paxton did not appear in the courtroom Wednesday.


Webster faces a nearly identical suit by the bar, which was allowed to move forward this year by the El Paso appellate court after a district court initially dismissed it. Webster, now the first assistant attorney general, has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

The bar disciplinary committee also went after Powell, who joined Trump’s legal team after his 2020 presidential election loss, brought a number of unsuccessful lawsuits aiming to overturn the results and spread conspiracy theories about it. For example, she falsely claimed that Dominion Voting Systems machines used software created “at the direction” of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to rig elections.

State District Judge Andrea Bouressa of Collin County threw out the bar’s suit against Powell in February over “numerous defects” in the way bar attorneys made the filing, and in May refused the bar’s request to reconsider her decision.

The bar appealed to the 5th Court of Appeals, the same one hearing the Paxton disciplinary case appeal Wednesday.

Earlier this month, a coalition of lawyers sent a letter to the state bar, urging the organization that oversees state lawyers to suspend or disbar Powell after she pleaded guilty last month in a Georgia election interference case. In that case, she agreed to a plea deal involving six years of probation, fines and the requirement she write an apology letter to the state and its residents.

See here for the latest on Powell and here for the latest on Webster; I don’t know when that appeal may happen. I am of course rooting for all three of them to face some consequences, which I hope will be the revocation of their law licenses. Trying to steal an election is a big deal and should be treated as such. We’ll see if the courts here are up to that challenge.

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I have basically no idea who’s running for office right now

Candidate data, where are you?

Next year’s primary campaigns are starting to take shape after numerous candidates filed for office on Saturday, the first day to sign up for a spot on the March 2024 ballot.

Voters will weigh in on the nominees for the U.S. presidential race, along with Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat. Important Harris County positions will be on the ballot, too, including two commissioners, district attorney and county attorney.


With incumbent Democratic Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett not seeking reelection, Republican Mike Wolfe and Democrat Annette Ramirez have each filed to take on the open seat.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, an incumbent Democrat, filed for reelection on Saturday, later posting on X, formerly known as Twitter: “The past 7 years have been challenging, but rewarding in so many ways! It is my sincere hope that I will have the opportunity to continue serving and protecting our communities!”

Two Republicans — Joe Danna and Glenn Cowan — have filed to challenge Gonzalez. Houston Councilmember Mike Knox, a Republican former police officer, is also expected to file to run for sheriff.

See here for some background. In years past, both the HCDP and Texas Democrats webpages have maintained some listing of candidate filings, as has the Harris County GOP. As of Wednesday evening, none of them had anything. The Secretary of State also keeps a listing of the filings that have been sent to them, but again there’s nada. I was at the HCDP CEC meeting on Tuesday and was told that a candidate listing is in the works, and I’m sure the SOS will have something eventually – I can’t be the only person who cares about this – but in the meantime, it’s excruciating. I may have to drive by the HCDP office this week to see who’s signed their filing wall. If you have any data that I’m not aware of, please tell me in the comments. I’ll stay on this as we progress.

UPDATE: Thanks to Manny in the comments, there is now a spreadsheet with filings on the HCDP page. I just missed it. Still don’t see anything on the SOS page.

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Rep. Pat Fallon has a whirlwind 48 hours

First there was this on Monday, which was a little weird and meant at the time that three Republicans from Texas were leaving Congress after this term.

Rep. Pat Fallon

U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Sherman, is quitting Congress and running for his old seat in the Texas Senate.

Fallon filed Monday for Senate District 30, a seat that is newly open after its incumbent, Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, announced Tuesday he would not seek reelection. That means Fallon will leave Congress at the end of his current term.

Fallon quickly earned the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the powerful presiding officer of the upper chamber.

“At the end of the day, the decision came down to, If we lose Texas, we lose the nation,” Fallon said in a brief interview. “It’s just terribly important to ensure that Texas has written a great success story and I want to keep moving that forward.”

Fallon held the state Senate seat for two years prior to Springer. He called those “the best two years I ever spent” in politics.

Fallon gave up the seat to run for Congress in 2020 after former President Donald Trump tapped then-U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, to be director of national intelligence.

Senate District 30 is a solidly Republican district that stretches from the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs up to the Oklahoma state line.


Frisco trauma surgeon Carrie de Moor is already running in the GOP primary for SD-30. She was originally running against Springer before he announced his retirement.

Rep. Fallon would have joined Reps. Michael Burgess and Kay Granger in heading for the hills, though in his case he was switching venues rather than calling it a career. I’ve been using the conditional tense throughout this post because on Tuesday we got this.

U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Sherman, has ended his run for his old seat in the Texas Senate, just 24 hours after announcing his campaign.

Instead, Fallon’s staff confirmed he will seek reelection to Texas’ 4th Congressional District, which extends from the Dallas suburbs to the Red River in the border with Oklahoma.

Fallon began a tele-town hall Tuesday evening by assuring his constituents he would be staying in Congress. He said his family, especially his oldest son, was not onboard with his decision to leave.

“I really am truly looking for my best and highest use for the conservative cause because I do think in my hearts of hearts that’s the best, best, path forward for our country,” Fallon said.


Fallon suggested during the tele-town hall that Patrick courted him to run for SD-30. Fallon lamented divisiveness in Congress and said there was “a part of me that did want to return home to Texas.”

But after filing for SD-30 on Monday, Fallon said he had a conversation with his family and was taken aback by how strongly his oldest son felt about his decision to depart Congress.

“He said, ‘I really want you to stay,'” Fallon said.

Well okay then. Next time talk to the family first, that’s the clear takeaway here. And that’s probably the last time I’ll write about CD04 until Rep. Fallon really does leave. More, if you really want it, from the Trib.

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Texas blog roundup for the week of November 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance applauds the efforts and results in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, and elsewhere as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading

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More plaintiffs in the lawsuit to allow exemptions to Texas’ super strict anti-abortion law

SCOTx will take up that appeal soon.

When Kimberly Manzano’s doctor first noticed some irregularities with her pregnancy, she turned to God, praying constantly for good news. When the diagnosis worsened, she and her husband sought comfort in the Bible’s Book of Hebrews — the book of hope.

And when her doctor finally determined her baby could not survive outside the womb, she asked her pastor for advice.

“He said, ‘if you believe your doctor to be a godly man, take what the doctor says as clarity from God in your decision,’” she recalls.

Manzano and her husband, both devout Christians, decided the most loving thing they could do for their son was terminate the pregnancy. It was a difficult decision for the couple, who both considered themselves anti-abortion before this.

But that decision, between the Manzanos, their doctor and God, would now have to involve another party — the state of Texas.

Although continuing the pregnancy put her at greater risk for infection and illness, Manzano’s life was not currently in danger, so her doctor would not terminate her pregnancy. Texas’ abortion laws have no explicit exceptions lethal fetal anomalies.

So she and her husband bought last minute flights to New Mexico. Her doctor refused to send her medical records to the clinic, instead requiring her to serve as the go-between.

“I was grieving, I was processing all of this, and then I was also feeling like a criminal,” she recalled recently. “It’s dehumanizing … and it shouldn’t be like this for health care.”

On Tuesday, Manzano and six other women joined an ongoing court challenge to Texas’ abortion laws, bringing the total number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to 22, including two doctors. The new plaintiffs, like the other patients on the lawsuit, allege they were denied abortion care in Texas for their medically complex pregnancies, including cases where the fetus was not expected to survive after birth. The suit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, claims the state’s near-total ban on abortion violates their rights under the Texas Constitution.

After an emotional hearing in July, a Travis County judge granted a temporary injunction that protected doctors who, acting in their “good faith judgment,” terminate complicated pregnancies. The Texas Office of the Attorney General immediately appealed that ruling, putting it on hold until the Texas Supreme Court hears the case later this month.

“The harms to pregnant women in Texas is continuing every single day,” said Molly Duane, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “As more people learn about the lawsuit, they continue to tell us the same things are happening to them.”

Manzano’s experience changed her mind about abortion, and she said she’s sharing her story in hopes of educating people who don’t realize how restrictive the state’s abortion ban is.

“I think I was really naive, thinking the world was one way and going through this and seeing it’s not like that,” she said. “But in the end, God knows my heart. He knows why I’ve been through this and I’ll have to stand before him one day, and no one else.”

See here for the previous update. I don’t know what to expect from the Supreme Court. I can’t say I’m optimistic, but I do have some hope. We’ll see how foolish that is. If there’s a good ruling, great. Whether there is or there isn’t, we need to make this an issue in 2024 in ways that we didn’t last year. Even a full victory here means that abortion is still about 99% illegal. It just means that the women in the worst possible positions won’t have to travel out of state and worry about roadside vigilantes to save their lives and be properly cared for.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, abortion clinics across Texas immediately closed their doors. This marked the culmination of a decades-long effort to stop Texans from terminating unwanted pregnancies within state lines.

But immediately, the ruling opened a new question about how the law’s narrow exceptions should be applied to medically complex pregnancies. The law allows abortions only when the patient “has a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

Doctors who perform a prohibited abortion face up to life in prison, leading some to delay or deny care because they were unsure if the patient qualified. Some hospitals, fearing legal liability, have increased restrictions on when they allow a doctor to terminate a pregnancy.

As more and more women came forward with stories of wanted pregnancies derailed by medical complications, Gov. Greg Abbott said the Legislature should “clarify what it means to protect the life of the mother.” The Texas Legislature went so far as to affirm doctors’ ability to treat ectopic pregnancies, a nonviable pregnancy where the embryo implants outside the uterus, and preterm premature rupture of the membrane, when a patient’s water breaks before viability.

But the lawsuit from the Center for Reproductive Rights says these protections are not enough to ensure doctors feel safe acting on their best judgment in individual cases.

At the court hearing in July, Dr. Ingrid Skopp, a prominent anti-abortion doctor, agreed patients had received “suboptimal care” since the law went into effect, but said nonetheless, the “law is quite clear.”

“The fault lies with the physicians [who] are not being given guidance by the organizations that usually will give them guidance, the medical societies and the hospital societies,” she said.

The Texas Medical Board, which is a defendant in this case, has not offered clear guidance to doctors on how and when they can terminate pregnancies.

“What is universal in all of the states where abortion is prohibited, and I include in that states that have 6- or 12- or 15-week abortion bans, is that medical exemptions all look pretty similar to Texas’ and in every state, no doctor knows how to interpret them,” said Duane.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has argued that, under the law’s medical exception, women carrying nonviable pregnancies should be able to access abortions in Texas. But as the plaintiffs’ experiences make clear, that’s rarely how doctors and hospitals interpret the law. This has led some women to carry nonviable pregnancies to term, as The Texas Tribune documented in a story last month. Others, like Manzano and Mathisen, have traveled to abortion clinics out of state.

I dunno, the fact that the state is fanatically pursuing its defense of this basically-no-exceptions interpretation, plus the fact that any doctor who might go their own way risks life in jail on a murder charge suggests to me that there’s a little more at play than just a lack of clarity from the Texas Medical Association. Plus, and I’m just spitballing here, I’d bet that any guidance from the TMA that deviated even an inch from what the wingnuts think would be met with overwhelming aggression and threats of legislative action – see, for example, Ken Paxton’s flamethrowing at the State Bar of Texas – and as such it’s easy to see why the TMA has chosen to take the easy way out. It’s not ideal and far from courageous, but who needs that shit? I totally understand why they’d want to let the courts take first crack at it. What might have made a difference would have been for some of the doctors who support generally banning abortion to call for real clarity about what constitutes proper care and the need to let doctors do their jobs. Any idea where we could find such people, Dr. Skopp?

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Paxton whistleblower lawsuit unpaused again


A crook any way you look

A Burnet County district judge ruled Tuesday that the Ken Paxton whistleblowers’ case can proceed in Travis County, while Paxton’s recently launched legal challenge to the revived lawsuit remains pending.

The ruling by Judge Evan Stubbs could allow the whistleblowers’ attorneys to subpoena Paxton and his top aides.

The ruling came a week after Stubbs temporarily halted the whistleblower lawsuit at the request of Paxton’s office. The office argued the whistleblowers were violating a tentative settlement they reached earlier this year by restarting work on it after Paxton’s acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial.

Neither Paxton nor the whistleblowers attended the hearing, which featured extensive debate over whether the terms of the settlement had been met even though the Legislature still has not approved its $3.3 million payout. Stubbs expressed skepticism as Paxton’s side argued the whistleblowers were effectively trying to unwind a final agreement.

“If it were truly, actually and finally settled,” the judge said, “then I don’t think we’d be here.”


The two sides faced off for over four hours in a courtroom here Tuesday, arguing over whether Stubbs should grant Paxton’s request for a temporary injunction that would further derail the Travis County case. At the end, Stubbs denied the request for a temporary injunction and scheduled a Dec. 14 hearing on a separate motion, filed by the whistleblowers, to change the venue of the Burnet County case to Travis County.

Stubbs also dissolved the temporary restraining order that he issued last week, paving the way for the Travis County case to come back to life.

“I’m not saying you can’t go forward with your case in Travis County,” Stubbs told the whistleblowers’ lawyers, adding the caveat that another judge may disagree.

After the hearing, a lawyer for one of the whistleblowers, Tom Nesbitt, said there was “no restriction” on the case moving forward in Travis County. The lawyers declined to comment on their next steps, but they had given notice they planned to subpoena impeachment records and take depositions shortly before Paxton sued them in Burnet County.

A lawyer for Paxton’s office, Bill Helfand, said after Stubbs’ ruling that the office may appeal his denial of the temporary injunction. Stubbs advised him to move swiftly with any appeal.

See here for the background. I take back what I said about the judge in this case. I’m still not sure he needed to pause the lawsuit and hold this hearing, but he handled it expeditiously and fairly, and so I have no further complaints. As we have seen in other cases, Paxton is a king of getting delays so I tend to think he’ll appeal, but we’ll see. Get those subpoenas ready, fellas.

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HISD moves towards District of Innovation status

One more step to go, which ought to be a mere formality.

The Houston ISD District Advisory Committee voted in favor of the “District of Innovation” plan Tuesday, putting the state’s largest school district one step closer to obtaining the designation.

The plan, if given final approval next month, would allow the district to start the upcoming school year as early as the first Monday in August, expand the number of days in the school year and hire uncertified teachers without obtaining waivers every year from the Texas Education Agency.

The 60-member committee is made up of educators, community members and public education advocates, with approximately one third appointed by the superintendent, one third appointed by the school board and one third of elected members.

The appointed HISD Board of Managers still needs to approve the plan with a two-thirds majority vote before it can go into effect. The board is expected to vote on the plan during their regular meeting on Dec. 14, according to a media release from the district.

HISD and Cypress-Fairbanks are the only two districts in the Houston area that have not obtained the designation, although both are in the process of pursuing it. Nearly every eligible school district in Texas is a DOI, and almost all of them have exempted themselves from laws requiring them to start the year in late August and hire certified teachers and administrators.

The committee approved the proposal in a 41-18 vote after about 45 people spoke during the meeting, largely against the adoption of the plan. Several attendees asked the committee to vote no because they did not trust the unelected Board of Managers and superintendent to use the exceptions to benefit the district, and many others spoke out against hiring uncertified teachers.

“Under normal circumstances with an elected board, I might not care about whether HISD turned into a DOI,” HISD parent Anita Wadhwa said. “However, Miles and this board don’t have the … trust of the public to be able to be given free rein on all choices made for my daughters. There’s no indication that if we give them an inch, they won’t take a yard.”


The vote comes after the district’s DOI planning committee removed three exemptions that were initially included in the proposal. The plan no longer would allow HISD to hire uncertified teachers without parental notification, life requirements for class size waivers from the Texas Education Agency and eliminate a designated behavior coordinator from each school.

See here, here, and here for the background. This earlier Chron story goes into more detail about the revisions to the DOI plan. I think we can expect it to pass as is with unanimous support from the Board of Managers. My opinion remains the same, roughly what parent Anita Wadhwa and teacher Jennifer Mathieu Blessington (later in the article) said. As with everything else, we have to hope it works. Houston Landing has more.

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Rep. Michael Burgess not running for re-election

No great loss.

Rep. Michael Burgess

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Dallas-area Republican who has held his post for two decades, will not seek re-election next year, he announced Monday.

“It has been the honor of my life to have gone from a small-town doctor delivering babies, with no prior political experience, to elected to represent my friends and neighbors in the United States Congress,” the Lewisville Republican said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Burgess, 72, first won the seat in 2002 after House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who had held it since the mid-1980s, retired — defeating Armey’s son for the seat. Burgess has since held the comfortably Republican seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs without facing serious competition.

An obstetrician by trade and Congress’ longest-serving doctor, Burgess emerged as a key GOP voice on health care issues.

Burgess — who once chaired the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health — comes from a family of physicians who left Canada to the United States to avoid that country’s health care system. During the Obama administration, Burgess was a staunch critic of Democratic efforts to reform the U.S. health care system. During the Trump administration, Burgess became a crucial figure in GOP efforts to unwind the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare.”

You can see why I say he’s no great loss. And speaking of losing, that last sentence omits the crucial qualifier “unsuccessful”, as in the “unsuccessful GOP efforts to unwind the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. What a thing to have such a long career with so little to show for it.

Be that as it may, Burgess joins Rep. Kay Granger in heading for the exits. Also like Rep. Granger, his district CD26 was deep red in 2012 and has trended blue since, but remains on the far edges of competitiveness. It went 58.5 to 40.0 for Trump over Biden in 2020, and 61.2 to 37.4 for Abbott over Beto in 2022. Burgess’ departure may make the GOP spend some insurance money to prevent anything weird from happening, and also like with CD12 it may have the downstream effect of opening a competitive State House seat by enticing a current incumbent there to try for a promotion. I’m sure more than a few Republicans will at least kick the tires on this one. Hopefully a Dem who can raise a few bucks will do the same.

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Two more HISD stories

Houston ISD’s elected board currently has no power. People ran for the trustee posts anyway.

Two incumbents, Dani Hernandez and Patricia Allen, maintained their seats Tuesday, both winning reelection easily against a sole challenger.

Meanwhile, two incoming trustees, Savant Moore and Placido Gomez, clinched their roles with no challenger after the officials currently holding the positions opted not to run again. HISD canceled the elections for the one-candidate races in September.

It remains uncertain whether the new trustees will have a chance to gain policy-making power before their four-year terms expire. By June 2025, TEA will either announce a timeline for the transition back to an elected board or extend the placement of its appointed board members, according to a state document explaining the HISD intervention.

Those who ran for the trustee roles said they hope the transition of power happens sooner rather than later and that they will be ready to serve should that happen.

“Even though there isn’t voting power for the elected trustees, somebody still needs to be in place in case TEA does decide to give power back to the elected trustees in two years,” said Hernandez, who was reelected to represent District III on Houston’s southeast side. “We are still the voice of the community and still making sure that the voice of the community is heard.”

Moore, a parent of three children attending schools that have been overhauled under new Superintendent Mike Miles’ HISD transformation, said he chose to run because he wanted to have a role in the conversation about how to steer Texas’ largest school district. The father is a preacher at a Baptist church in the Sunnyside neighborhood and began regularly attending school board meetings about a year ago. He was elected to represent District II spanning much of north Houston.

“At first … I was a parent at the meetings. Now, I’m an elected official and, one day, I’ll have the power to vote. And so, that day, policies can be changed,” Moore said. “But until that day happens, I’m going to continue to be a voice and continue to be a bridge for my community.”


Once the three goals are met and TEA initiates the transfer of power back to an elected board, trustees will regain control of the body gradually, replacing the appointed board of managers over three years, with three trustees serving in year one, six in year two and all nine in year three. TEA said there was no information it could share clarifying when that transition will begin.

Current District II Trustee, Kathy Blueford-Daniels, did the math about the likely upcoming timeline and decided to cede her seat.

“Because I’ve been so outspoken against the takeover and even attending the meetings, I felt that I probably would be one of the latter ones rolled on (to the board in a transition of power). And that probably will not be until another three, four years, which means it will be time to run again,” Blueford-Daniels said. “I felt like I could be more vocal from an activist perspective as opposed to a trustee.”

I don’t have anything to add to this other than to say I’m glad we still have good people running for and winning HISD Trustee elections. You can still listen to my interviews with several of the people named in this story:

Kathy Blueford-Daniels
Dani Hernandez
Judith Cruz
Plácido Gómez

We asked 15 HISD students about big changes on their campuses this year. Here’s what they said.

This has not been the senior year Jayla London expected — and she wants people to know it.

Jayla, student council president and cheer team captain at Houston ISD’s Yates High School, has seen huge changes to her Greater Third Ward campus under the district’s overhaul launched by Superintendent Mike Miles. Many of her favorite teachers are gone, the campus feels more stressful and her library access is limited.

“Honestly, I just want the public to know what happens inside of the schools,” Jayla said. “It’s common to see what the news is putting out there and what the people who are running the show are putting out there. But, ultimately, I feel like the voice of those actually experiencing it matters more than all of that.”

With two months of classes in the books, the Houston Landing wanted to hear from students experiencing Miles’ dramatic revamp of HISD schools in real time.

Over the past three weeks, the Landing interviewed 15 high schoolers from 14 campuses, asking for their first-hand accounts of the changes. Two students attend a campus covered under Miles’ plan to overhaul 85 schools, including 11 high schools. The other 13 teens go to schools that aren’t part of the program, though they still reported major differences this year.

Together, the students’ insights pull back the curtain on what school looks like under state-appointed leadership.

Every student said their school felt different compared to last year — in most cases, drastically so. Although specifics varied, some common themes emerged: stressed-out teachers, tired students, new operational policies and more regimented lessons.

Miles, who was appointed as HISD’s superintendent by Texas Commissioner Mike Morath in June, has said the changes are needed to boost student learning after more than a decade of mostly stagnant test scores, with wide gaps along lines of race and income.

The students, however, aren’t impressed. Asked to rate the changes using a letter grade, the students produced an average score of C, with grades ranging from A- to F. Ultimately, they offered mixed reviews about a key question: Are students learning more this school year?

Here’s what the students told us, in their own words. Their responses were lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

I encourage you to read the rest, it’s very illuminating. Do bear in mind this is a very small sample, and there may be others with differing opinions who didn’t get interviewed. However you want to look at it, I sure hope Mike Miles reads this. I don’t expect him to do anything if he does, but I still want him to read it.

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Another look at Cruise

While we wait to see what happens.

A driverless Cruise car sits in traffic on Austin Street in downtown Houston on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Cruise employees worry that there is no easy way to fix the company’s problems, said five former and current employees and business partners, while its rivals fear Cruise’s issues could lead to tougher driverless car rules for all of them.

Company insiders are putting the blame for what went wrong on a tech industry culture — led by [38-year-old CEO Kyle] Mr. Vogt — that put a priority on the speed of the program over safety. In the competition between Cruise and its top driverless car rival, Waymo, Mr. Vogt wanted to dominate in the same way Uber dominated its smaller ride-hailing competitor, Lyft.

“Kyle is a guy who is willing to take risks, and he is willing to move quickly. He is very Silicon Valley,” said Matthew Wansley, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who specializes in emerging automotive technologies. “That both explains the success of Cruise and its mistakes.”

When Mr. Vogt spoke to the company about its suspended operations on Monday, he said that he did not know when they could start again and that layoffs could be coming, according to two employees who attended the companywide meeting.

He acknowledged that Cruise had lost the public’s trust, the employees said, and outlined a plan to win it back by being more transparent and putting more emphasis on safety. He named Louise Zhang, vice president of safety, as the company’s interim chief safety officer and said she would report directly to him.

“Trust is one of those things that takes a long time to build and just seconds to lose,” Mr. Vogt said, according to attendees. “We need to get to the bottom of this and start rebuilding that trust.”


Mr. Vogt began working on self-driving cars as a teenager. When he was 13, he programmed a Power Wheels ride-on toy car to follow the yellow line in a parking lot. He later participated in a government-sponsored self-driving car competition while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 2013, he started Cruise Automation. The company retrofitted conventional cars with sensors and computers to operate autonomously on highways. He sold the business three years later to G.M. for $1 billion.

After the deal closed, Dan Ammann, G.M.’s president, took over as Cruise’s chief executive, and Mr. Vogt became its president and chief technology officer.

As president, Mr. Vogt built out Cruise’s engineering team while the company expanded to about 2,000 employees from 40, former employees said. He championed bringing cars to as many markets as fast as possible, believing that the speedier the company moved, the more lives it would save, former employees said.

In 2021, Mr. Vogt took over as chief executive. Mary T. Barra, G.M.’s chief executive, began including Mr. Vogt on earnings calls and presentations, where he hyped the self-driving market and predicted that Cruise would have one million cars by 2030.

See here for the previous entry. We still don’t have a clear timeframe for when Cruise might un-suspend its operations, not that they ought to be in any rush. Indeed, it seems to me that rushing has been their main issue all along, given that the likes of Waymo was not as out there as they were. And I for one am just fine with the idea of a heavier hand by regulators. I do think autonomous vehicles have the potential to be a big upgrade on safety, given how capricious human drivers can be. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready for that now, and that doesn’t mean we should be conducting public beta tests when we’re not sure they’re sufficiently close to being ready. If the Cruise experience sets everything back a year or two, I don’t consider that to be a bad outcome.

CNBC has a bit more:

But the [Cruise launch in San Francisco] has been plagued by problems. The cars have driven into firefighting scenes, caused construction delays, impeded ambulances and even meandered into active crime scenes.

“There have been 75 plus incidents,” said San Francisco fire chief Jeanine Nicholson. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. It’s impacting public safety and that’s what we need to fix.”

San Francisco city attorney David Chiu said, “there are still some glitches that need to be worked out.”

“And this is with only a few hundred vehicles,” Chiu said. “The idea that thousands of vehicles could be hitting our streets in short order is what gives us concern.”


Before Cruise’s permit was revoked, CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa took a ride in one of its autonomous vehicles. She also gave Waymo a try and offers a comparison of the two very different rides. She sat down with Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, who was optimistic the company could get past these recent hurdles.

“It will be very commonplace for people who are in major cities to get around town in a robotaxi over the next few years” Vogt said.

That’s 75 incidents since August, which sure seems like a lot. The aforementioned interview can be seen here if you’re interested.

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November 2023 Texas School Board Election Recap

From Franklin Strong:

Since Tuesday, headlines across the country have highlighted crushing defeats book-banning school board candidates, often associated with Moms for Liberty, suffered on Election Night. That trend carried over into Texas elections, too— but only to an extent.

Let’s jump quickly into the good, bad, and mixed results from Tuesday night.

The Worst: Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

There’s no sugarcoating this one.

In my Book-Loving Texan’s Guide to the November School Board Election, I called Cy-Fair ISD the race to watch in this cycle. The district was one of the first in the state to feel the anti-“woke” wave in November of 2021, when three candidates swept onto the board by campaigning against “critical race theory.” This year, the remaining four seats were open, and allies of those three anti-woke candidates were hoping to take full control of the board. Those stakes, along with the sheer size of the district,1 made this Tuesday night’s most consequential election.

And the odds were not on the good guys’ side. All the book banners needed was one win out of the four seats; they had massive financial advantages2 and the vocal support of the Republican Party. On top of all that, in two of the races, multiple strong candidates threatened to split the pro-education votes.

Nonetheless, I was cautiously optimistic because of the amazing work done by two groups in the district, Cypress Families for Public Schools and Cy-Fair Strong Schools. Those groups organized early, and they worked hard, knocking on doors, hosting events, strategizing.

But it wasn’t enough.3 Cypress Families for Public Schools endorsed a slate of four candidates, all women, called All4CFISD. Only one, incumbent Julie Hinaman, won.


So the other side didn’t just luck into their wins, and it would be a mistake to ignore the strategy they used to attract voters in a relatively high-turnout election. In an excellent post-mortem published this week, local leader Bryan Henry pointed out that mostly involved activating the partisan instincts of local Republicans.

That took two forms: on one hand, anti-public-education group Texans for Educational Freedom blasted the district with mailers suggesting the (bipartisan) All4CISD candidates were wild-eyed liberals, Marxists, and aligned with conservatives’ worst nightmares (Beto O’Rourke, New York teachers’ unions). It was a slimy, negative move that echoed Texans for Educational Freedom’s deceptive tactics in previous races. But for the framing to work, the reactionary candidates also had to come off as traditional, even institutional, candidates to draw in Republicans who (in other districts) have been reacting against extremist trustee candidates. To that end, they distanced themselves from Indemaio—one of the district’s most prominent book banners—and courted and received endorsements from institutional Republicans, including Ted Cruz.

You’ve probably seen the headlines saying that nationally, book-banning was a losing issue on Tuesday, with Moms for Liberty losing the majority of races where they endorsed a candidate. The Cy-Fair conservative bloc’s decision to run as buttoned-up Republicans rather than fire-breathing book banners made sense given that national mood, and it certainly worked on Tuesday.

See here for some background. Two of the three wingnut winners (plus one of the good guys) did so with less than fifty percent of the vote, which had led me to say they were headed to runoffs, but Cy-FAIR ISD doesn’t do runoffs, so that’s that. There were some good results elsewhere, including in HISD, and despite losing the forces for good in Cy-Fair made some progress and laid groundwork for the next elections. The main point here is that we need some better strategies for winning in areas like that where just coming in as Democrats and progressives can be alienating for at least some of the voters we need to persuade to win. That has to be driven by the locals, and it may be that the best thing those of us who are on the outside can do is just follow their lead, which may mean largely being quiet. That’s very much not in our nature and goes against a lot of instincts, but the success of the wingnuts in portraying themselves as the mainstreamers needs to be a lesson to absorb and adapt to.

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Fifth Circuit hears wingnut anti-contraception appeal

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but don’t get your hopes up. In fact, keep them down.

For almost a year, Texas teens have been shut out of a federal program that allows minors to access birth control without parental consent.

On Monday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals indicated they may uphold the court ruling that stymied the program. The three-judge panel did not rule from the bench, but seemed supportive of conservative attorney Jonathan Mitchell’s case, with one judge calling the contraception program a “destruction” of parental rights.

Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general, filed the case on behalf of Alexander Deanda, an Amarillo-area father raising his daughters “in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality.”

The U.S. Department of Justice’s cornerstone argument is that Deanda has no legal right to bring this case because he cannot show that his daughters have ever even visited one of the clinics, let alone were prescribed birth control without his consent.

Less than 30 seconds after the DOJ began arguments Monday, Judge Catharina Haynes interrupted.

“If your kid knows you don’t want them to go have sex when they’re 15, they’re certainly not going to tell you they want to go and get some medicine so that they don’t end up pregnant,” Haynes said. “So how the heck is [Deanda] going to know that?”

Appeals courts have repeatedly ruled that minors have a right to confidential contraception under the Title X program, which Mitchell acknowledged Monday. But he asked the judges — two appointed by President George W. Bush and one appointed by President Donald Trump — to reject that precedent and instead find that Texas’ parental consent code should dictate how this federal program operates in the state.

“Texas has been the birthplace of a lot of bad sexual and reproductive health policy that other states have replicated,” said Stephanie LeBleu, program director with Every Body Texas, a nonprofit that administers the Title X grant in Texas. “If the 5th Circuit upholds this ruling, there’s a bigger question about what this means for access to birth control, full stop, and not just in Texas.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As with the EMTALA appeal, the question is not “how will they rule”, but “did they already have an opinion written before any of the lawyers entered the courtroom?” And, when they make their ludicrous and predetermined ruling, will SCOTUS decide that they have gone too far? We all know how much fun putting faith in SCOTUS is. Fifth Circuit delenda est. Slate has more.

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Another effort to discipline Sidney Powell

Sure seems worth the effort.

Reacting to the guilty pleas entered by former Donald Trump attorney Sidney Powell in Georgia, a prominent group of Texas lawyers is urging the State Bar of Texas to follow a compulsory-discipline rule against her.

In an open letter to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel on Monday, 17 attorneys—including three past presidents of the bar and two former Texas Supreme Court Grievance Oversight Committee members—noted the offenses to which she admitted guilt “require imposition of compulsory discipline,” according to the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure.

Chuck Herring, a former Grievance Oversight Committee member and signatory to the letter, said the letter is not a formal grievance because the Texas Legislature changed the rules to limit who could file a grievance to judges and lawyers on a case and other persons with a cognizable individual interest.

“Exactly what that standard means is still somewhat uncertain,” Herring said. “We’ve primarily relied on the Compulsory Discipline procedure set out in Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Rule 8.01 says, in part, that ‘When an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas … has been placed on probation for an Intentional Crime …, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel shall initiate a Disciplinary Action seeking compulsory discipline,’” Herring said.

On Oct. 19, Powell pleaded guilty in Georgia’s Fulton County superior court. The criminal counts pertinent to a case against her in Texas included efforts to illegally tamper with electronic ballot markers and tabulating machines; possess official ballots outside polling places; taking property of and removing voter data owned by or controlled by Dominion Voting Systems Corp., and the examination of personal voter data.

The attorneys letter states in part, “In her guilty plea, Ms. Powell admitted her factual guilt to each of the six counts in the indictment. Those crimes are grave offenses. Even if this matter did not qualify for compulsory discipline—which we strongly believe it does—the underlying facts that Ms. Powell admitted show that she is subject to discipline under the standard disciplinary procedure applicable to non-compulsory cases.”

The state bar initiated an ethics investigation in March 2022 based on Powell’s actions related to the 2020 election against Powell and Powell elected to have the administrative hearing in a district court. On Feb. 22, the trial judge dismissed the state bar’s complaint based on Powell’s “no evidence” defense. That case is currently on appeal before the Fifth District Court of Appeals as Case No. 05-23-00497-CV.

See here, here, and here for the background on the original State Bar lawsuit against Powell. I’m obviously no expert here, but she did indeed plead guilty to multiple crimes, and is still potentially on the hook for federal charges, in part because of what she has admitted to in court. Seems like a reasonable cause for action to me. We’ll see if the State Bar agrees.

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Weekend link dump for November 12

“Scarlett Johansson has taken legal action against an AI app that used her name and likeness in an online advertisement without permission.”

“Now, a team of scientists posit that silicate dust played a larger role in the mass extinction [of the dinosaurs] than previously estimated. Using paleoclimate simulations and details of the material kicked up by the impact, the researchers determined that fine dust may have stayed in Earth’s atmosphere for up to 15 years following the asteroid impact, which could have cooled the Earth significantly—by about 27°F (15°C).”

“Same idea. “I don’t believe you were riding magical flying beasts with Diana because I don’t believe that either Diana or magical flying beasts exist.” The rabbi and the medieval church were monotheists, not monolatrous polytheists. The idea that either Jewish or Catholic orthodoxy required belief in the existence of the goddess Diana would have seemed confused and confusing to them.”

“Think, for just a moment, about the worst relationship in your past—and why it ended. Odds are, there wasn’t just one reason, it wasn’t one thing, it was everything: a book’s worth of fights and slights and resentments and grievances. Maybe there was a final indignity—an affair, a betrayal, the discovery of a derogatory text—but even if one party was blindsided, the other could list a dozen long-gestating reasons for the breakup. That’s why Fox dropped Carlson. It wasn’t one thing. It was everything.”

We need to stop asking people in diners about foreign aid. (Populists who demand that we rely on guidance from The People should remember that most Americans think foreign aid should be about 10 percent of the budget—a percentage those voters think would be a reduction but would actually be a massive increase.)”

“After two years of deliberation, the American Ornithological Society announced on Nov. 1 that birds in North America will no longer be named after people. The group plans to rename all species that honor people, as well as any species whose names that are deemed offensive and exclusionary, with new names that actually describe the birds’ appearance, habitat, or behavior.”

This story about Geddy Lee’s baseball memorabilia collection is just delightful.

“Years before House Speaker Mike Johnson was elected to public office, he was the dean of a small Baptist law school that was supposed to take shape in a historic building in downtown Shreveport, but never did.” The law school would have been named for accused pedophile and rapist Paul Pressler.

New Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs majored in aerospace engineering, finished college with a 4.0 grade point average, and was twice an intern at NASA. So yeah, he’s also a rocket scientist.

“So when a six-month romp is reversed in less than a week, it creates a credibility issue. When it happens in consecutive years in the same league, it cries out for an explanation. There is no satisfactory one, of course. The truth is “because when two good teams play a best-of-five, no result is a surprise,” and let me tell you that no one wants to hear that.”

“Office-sharing company WeWork filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New Jersey federal court Monday”.

“CBS’ news-and-stations division will launch a new unit to examine misinformation and so-called “deepfakes,” or false videos that can often be generated via artificial intelligence.”

“The collective erosion of X, Instagram, and Facebook marks a turning point for millennials, who are outgrowing a constant need to be plugged in.”

RIP, Robert L. “Bobby” Moody, member of Galveston’s iconic Moody family.

“This “embattled and thriving” thesis has shaped scholars’ understanding of evangelical culture for decades. But it is coming under strain, as it is no longer clear that this community is thriving, at least religiously. By many measures the white evangelical community has actually been shrinking. The community is deeply divided over a number of issues, not least their alliance with Trump, which tarnished an already troubled brand. If white evangelicals today perceive themselves as more embattled than ever, shouldn’t this be making them stronger?”

Don’t mess with tuba players.

I swear, nobody thinks about pr0n as much as evangelical Christians do.

Yes, by all means, bring back the USA Network. In Plain Sight had a top ten series finale, and I will die on that hill.

Good riddance, and about damn time.

RIP, Frank Borman, astronaut who commanded the Apollo 8 mission that circled the moon ten times. Here’s his biography from NASA.

Why does David Zaslov hate movies so much?

RIP, Jezebel.com, former Gawker media site.

Vatican removes conservative Texas bishop who was critical of Pope Francis”.

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Fifth Circuit upholds (*) Galveston redistricting ruling

With an asterisk, as noted in the title.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A federal appeals court Friday ruled that Galveston County commissioners violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by eliminating the only majority-minority district in its latest redistricting process.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed October’s ruling finding the county violated the Voting Rights Act, but the judges said previous precedent essentially tied their hands. Three judges on the panel wrote they were interested in revisiting precedent, which allows claims on behalf of a broad coalition. In this case, that means on behalf of Black and Hispanic voters, said Mark Gaber, the Campaign Legal Center’s senior director for redistricting. The legal center was one of the plaintiffs who sued the county after it passed the maps in 2021.

The Justice Department, local branch of NAACP and residents of the redrawn district, among others, also sued. The case went to trial in August in Galveston.

While upholding Judge Jeffrey Brown’s ruling in the matter, the circuit court panel called on their fellow judges to vote on whether or not to call a special hearing — in which all 17 of the circuit court judges would meet and consider the case — to revisit precedent on Voting Rights Act cases, Gaber said.

Gaber said he wasn’t sure what the full court would decide, but it would be unusual if they did call for a hearing. The 5th Circuit already had a similar hearing, called an en banc hearing, on the same matter in the 1990s, he said.

“The whole idea of an en banc hearing is to settle an issue,” Gaber said.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said he hoped the hearing would happen. Shortly after the decision was published, the county asked for a stay on Brown’s orders to redraw the maps to include a majority-minority district before the next county commissioner election. The stay was granted, Henry said.


The stay of a redrawn map could mean that Holmes is faces the possibility of having to run for election in a district Brown declared discriminatory. Filing for the 2024 primary season opens on Saturday. It’s unclear what would happen if the 5th Circuit now decides to uphold Brown’s order for a redrawn map, which could only come after the filing period is open.

See here and here for the background. I have to admit, I didn’t even know that a three-judge panel could ask for an en banc hearing. I thought only one of the parties involved could do that. The more you know, and all that. I have no idea what happens now, but it should go without saying that having Commissioner Holmes run in a precinct that has been declared unconstitutional is an abomination. It also goes without saying that this sort of thing is just another Tuesday to the Fifth Circuit. Hopefully we’ll know more soon. Democracy Docket and Michael Li, who also noted a different bit of Fifth Circuit shenanigans, have more.

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Appeals court reinstated State Bar lawsuit against Brent Webster

I came across this story from July while writing my post about Ken Paxton’s trial date.

A court of appeals reinstated a Commission for Lawyer Discipline action against the first assistant attorney general for his role in the 2020 election-questioning campaign by former President Donald Trump supporters.

First Assistant Attorney General Brent E. Webster was suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s co-counsel in Texas v. Pennsylvania, a failed filing to the U.S. Supreme Court that concerned voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.


While in Paxton’s case, the district court denied his plea to jurisdiction and he appealed, the district court in Webster’s case ruled the opposite, granted the plea to jurisdiction and dismissed.

The Commission for Lawyer Discipline appealed, and on July 13 Chief Justice Yvonne T. Rodriguez ruled “the commission’s jurisdictional allegations affirmatively demonstrate the trial court’s jurisdiction.”

Brynne VanHettinga, an inactive Texas attorney, filed the grievance against Webster, which led to an investigation and a grievance panel report that credible evidence supported a finding of professional misconduct.

VanHettinga alleged the Texas v. Pennsylvania pleadings included manufactured evidence, specious legal arguments, unsupported factual assertions, unfounded claims, and conspiracy theories, and that Webster violated his oath as an attorney and a public servant.

Just as in circumstance with Paxton, Webster was offered a chance to accept a public reprimand, he refused and the commission took the matter to district court.

The 368th District Court of Williamson County accepted Webster’s challenge to the court’s jurisdiction, based on his argument the commission’s actions violated the separation of powers and sovereign immunity.

Rodriguez’s opinion states the commission’s claims clarify the state is not the real party in interest.

“The substance of the commission’s petition targets Webster personally, not in his official capacity. For example, the commission seeks ‘a judgment of professional misconduct’ against Webster, something that affects only his license to practice law in Texas and has no effect on the state,” Rodriguez said.

“it is not the filing of that (SCOTUS) suit that the commission’s disciplinary proceeding targets but specific alleged misrepresentations in its pleadings,” Rodriguez said. “Further, the Commission does not pursue relief that would ‘control state action.’”

Immunizing Webster from professional misconduct proceedings in no way supports Webster’s sovereign immunity rationale, the opinion said, because there are no civil damages against the state.

Webster argued the immunizing executive branch attorneys from disciplinary proceedings is “harmless” because they are subject to checks on their ethical obligations in other ways, Rodriguez noted.

“However, the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct contemplate and reject the same principle; the Rules may be enforced only through ‘the administration of a disciplinary authority,’” Rodriguez noted.

“That attorneys have ethical obligations that may be policed elsewhere is thus inapposite, as no other mechanism can regulate Webster’s Texas-law license,” the chief justice concluded.

See here and here for the background. I thought that judge’s ruling was bad and I wanted it appealed, and hey, I got my wish. That doesn’t mean that the complaint against Webster will necessarily move forward, it means that the matter goes back to the district court, where Webster can and presumably will try again to get it dismissed. He’ll need to run out a new argument, and we’ll have to see what he goes with. Paxton’s defense, which as noted was not enough to get his lawsuit tossed, is basically the same and awaits a hearing from the Dallas Court of Appeals. Hopefully this will knock a little wind out of his sails as well. I’ll try to keep an eye on this going forward.

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Connecting Uptown and Memorial Park

I approve of this.

The overwhelming task of getting to Memorial Park from Uptown by bike or on foot is poised to vastly improve, provided a $22 million project for a bridge across Buffalo Bayou and underpass of Loop 610 come to pass.

“The West Loop has always been this wall that makes getting to memorial park harder than it ought to be,” said John Breeding, president of Uptown Houston.

Uptown, acting as the area’s county improvement district, was awarded nearly $18.5 million last week for the project aimed at better non-motorized access to Memorial Park. As the park has added amenities and seen reinvestment in trails, running facilities and its eastern portion, use has grown and with it, the demand for safer and easier access to it without a car or truck. Hemmed in by Loop 610 to the west and Interstate 10 to the north, getting to Memorial Park can take some maneuvering, including where it isn’t bounded by a freeway.

“It can be a puzzle, for sure,” bicyclist Mike Autry said. “If you are like me and you cannot really come with traffic, you can’t do it safely on the big streets.”

There is no greater barrier than Loop 610, which from the west is only crossed into the park by Memorial Drive and Woodway. Neither, especially at the frontage roads, offer much space for runners and bike riders, nor do speeds along the streets and the inclines bode well for pedestrians and cyclists.

Though there is a path along the southbound frontage road to Loop 610, Breeding said the crossing can be complex. The proposed project, which is about a year away from final design, creates a new route from Post Oak Boulevard – where the wide sidewalks can accommodate bicycles and pedestrians – north to Buffalo Bayou.

Breeding said from there the plans include a new bridge across the bayou, west of the frontage road, which will connect to a new trail on the north banks that will follow the water beneath the frontage roads and freeway, then ascend back up to street level on the east of Loop 610 and connect along the side of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center to the existing trail along Woodway.

Getting up and down, through and around the area requires some complicated design, but Breeding – who is retiring – said his hope would be to have the project fully designed within a year.

“My objective is to bid this project for construction in December 2024,” he said.

If that happens, and the work takes the expected 12 months, people could be running or pedaling into the park by the end of 2025.

This just makes sense. Memorial Park is one of the city’s great amenities. It should be as easy as possible for as many people as possible to get there. If some of the people who want to go there can do so without having to drive, then they won’t be competing for parking spaces with everyone else. It’s a win-win. Like the project to connect Buffalo Bayou Park with Memorial Park, this will make Houston a better place.

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Whiny loser election lawsuits finally tossed


The results of Harris County’s highly scrutinized November 2022 election were upheld Thursday evening by a judge, who threw out all but one remaining election contest out of 21 related lawsuits.

Republican candidate Erin Lunceford filed her suit in December, asking a judge to order a new election in the 189th judicial district court race she lost to Democrat Tamika Craft by 2,743 votes. Lunceford argued thousands of residents were unable to vote due to a ballot paper shortage that impacted around 20 polls on Election Day.

Lunceford’s case later expanded as her team went on to flag thousands of ballots they claimed should not have been counted.

However, after an eight-day trial in which Lunceford’s legal team did not provide testimony from any disenfranchised voters, Judge David Peeples, a visiting judge from Bexar County, ruled the results of the race were legitimate.

In a 36-page ruling, Peeples said he found Harris County had made “many mistakes and violations of the Election Code.”

“But the court holds that not enough votes were put in doubt to justify voiding the election for the 189th District Court and ordering a new one,” Peeples concluded.

The ruling was not a clear win for Harris County, as Peeples did find merit with many of Lunceford’s arguments. By his estimate, a total of 2,891 votes were affected by various problems — larger than the margin in the race. However, Peeples determined that the outcome would not have changed, since many of those voters likely would have skipped the 189th judicial race on the ballot, and many of those who did vote in the race would have voted for Craft.

Lunceford is expected to appeal Thursday’s ruling.

Along with the Lunceford decision, Peeples at the same time dismissed 15 additional election contest lawsuits filed by Republican candidates based on similar arguments, finding that the final results were the true outcome of those races.


One remaining case is still pending. Republican Tami Pierce is challenging the results of the 180th criminal state district court race she lost to incumbent Democrat DaSean Jones.

See here for the previous update. Judge Peeples took three months to issue his ruling,. so you can’t say he rushed it. There’s a copy of the opinion embedded in the story; I haven’t read it yet. Judge Peeples estimated there were between 250-850 people who were unable to vote because of the paper shortages. I don’t know how one could arrive at any such figure given the complete lack of any testimony from any self-proclaimed “unable to vote” voters, but again, I haven’t read the opinion yet. I’ll get to it eventually. That he recognized that “missing voters”, in whatever form, is not the same as “people who absolutely would have voted for the plaintiff” is good enough.

I have to assume that at least one of these crybabies will appeal, though the fact that at least a few of the other whiny sore losers dropped their lawsuits on their own gives me some hope. It’s possible we could be litigating this for years to come. Andy Taylor’s gotta pay the rent, you know.

As for that other lawsuit, per the press release from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee and reporter Jen Rice on Twitter, there’s a pending appeal of a motion by defendant DaSean Jones to dismiss the case. I don’t know why that was handled separately, but I presume Judge Peeples did not want to affect that case. The Press and Houston Landing have more.

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Filing season for 2024 begins today

Happy First Day of Candidate Filing to all who celebrate.

The Democratic and Republican slates will begin to take shape this weekend once candidates start filing their paperwork to run.

Several Harris County officials plan to file for re-election, such as Democratic County Attorney Christian Menefee, Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, Democratic Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Democratic District Attorney Kim Ogg.

Ogg faces a well-funded Democratic primary challenge from former Harris County prosecutor Sean Teare.

Houston Councilmember Mike Knox, a Republican former police officer, announced earlier this year that he plans to run for sheriff.

Democratic Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett, who oversees voter registration, announced last month that she won’t seek re-election, leaving an open seat.

See here and here for more on Sean Teare, and here for more on Ann Harris Bennett. I got an email yesterday from Desiree Broadnax, who was a candidate for District Clerk in 2022, who is now as far as I know the first person to announce a campaign to succeed Bennett. I feel confident she will have company in that race.

We’ve already got a pretty full slate out there, including two candidates (Amanda Edwards and Isaiah Martin) for CD18 and four candidates (Molly Cook, Karthik Soora, Rep. Jarvis Johnson, and Todd Litton) for SD15. As the story notes, the loser in the Mayoral runoff will still have time to re-file for their old office if they choose, which could make things chaotic and/or awkward if it comes to that. There are always some surprises as filing season progresses. Today is when we start to find out what they are.

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Data from Dallas County cyberattack allegedly posted online

We’ll see how bad this is.

Data allegedly from the recent cyber attack on Dallas County systems has been posted online, county officials confirmed on Tuesday.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said officials were “aware of an unauthorized party posting data claimed to be taken from our systems in connection with our recent cybersecurity incident.”

Jenkins said county officials were “thoroughly reviewing the data in question to determine its authenticity and potential impact.”

It wasn’t yet clear what specific data was accessed or posted.

The ransomware cybercrime organization known as “Play” claimed responsibility and had threatened to reveal private county documents on Nov. 3.

Jenkins had released a statement on Oct. 30 confirming that a cybersecurity attack affected the county’s systems earlier that month. Jenkins said the county became aware of an incident affecting “a portion of its environment” on Oct. 19, and said the county both immediately took steps to contain it and engaged an outside cybersecurity firm to start an investigation into the breach.

Dallas County shared in an update last week that, due to containment measures, the data exfiltration from the county’s environment was interrupted, preventing any encryption of its files or systems. County officials said the incident appeared to have been effectively contained, partly due to implemented security measures – including extensive deployment of an endpoint detection and response tool, forcing password changes for all of the systems’ users, requiring multi-factor authentication and blocking ingress and egress traffic from IP addresses found to be malicious.

See here and here for the background, and here for the county’s statement. It may be that the Dallas County IT department responded quickly to contain the malware, but not in time to stop the exfiltration. At this point we know they have some data. The logical assumption is they have more, but we’ll see. Good luck, y’all. The Record and the Dallas Observer have more.

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Fifth Circuit hears EMTALA appeal

Keep your expectations very low.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday about whether the federal government can require Texas hospitals to perform life-saving abortions, despite the state’s near-total ban on the procedure.

After the overturn of Roe v. Wade, President Joe Biden issued guidance to federally funded hospitals, reminding them of their obligation to provide stabilizing health care to anyone who shows up at the emergency room, even if that care requires performing an abortion.

The Biden administration said this was not a new policy, but merely reiterating existing regulations under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

Texas challenged the guidance, saying it was an improperly implemented overreach that creates a “nationwide mandate that every hospital and emergency-room physician perform abortions.”

The case was filed before U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, the only full-time federal judge in Lubbock, who has heard many of the state’s cases since he was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump in 2019.

Hendrix sided with the state on this issue, saying the Biden administration had exceeded its authority and not followed proper procedure in issuing this guidance. He enjoined the guidance within Texas and ruled that Texas’ abortion laws are not preempted by EMTALA.

The Department of Justice appealed that ruling, and a three-judge panel — two judges appointed by Trump and one by President George W. Bush — heard arguments Tuesday at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The court did not indicate when it might rule.


Assistant Texas Solicitor General Natalie Thompson argued that Texas’ law is “perfectly consistent” with EMTALA because it allows for abortions to save the life of the mother. It is the guidance from the Biden administration, she argued, that went further than the statute requires.

Judge Leslie Southwick seemed to agree, saying there were several “extraordinary things, it seems to me, about this guidance.”

Southwick said it seemed HHS was using this guidance to expand abortion access in Texas to include not just life-saving care, but “broader categories of things, mental health or whatever else HHS would say an abortion is required for.”

“This statute really has to do with the ugly concept of patient dumping and it’s been converted by HHS through this guidance into an abortion statute,” he said.

See here for the background. Honestly, just seeing who was on the three-judge panel was probably enough to tell you how this will go, and it seems there were no surprises. A district court in Idaho ruled for the Biden Administration at almost the same time as the district court judge in the Texas case gave an opposite ruling, though another bad three-judge panel stayed that ruling pending appeal. Still, there’s a decent chance this one will make it to SCOTUS, whether there’s a circuit split or just because it’s a pretty important issue. In the meantime, there is also the state lawsuit that seeks to clarify the “life of the mother” exceptions that very few people have been able to use, which doesn’t address EMTALA directly but which may offer some guidance anyway. Until then, we remain in the bad kind of limbo.

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Harris County provider of mental health services victimized by ransomware

Too close for comfort.

Harris County officials had few details to add Thursday morning about the investigation into a recent ransomware attack on the county’s provider for mental health services, saying cybersecurity experts had recommended they not share information.

“As mentioned … we are not able to share further information,” said Nicole Lievsay, a spokeswoman for the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. “When we are able, we will share what is available.”

Late Wednesday, officials with the center said it had been the target of a ransomware attack Tuesday and that some employee files had become inaccessible because of encryption.

Investigators were working to determine if any data was compromised in the attack, officials said.

Technology professionals with the center preemptively shut down the network during the attack to prevent its spread, officials said. As a result, some staff have had limited access to their files and there have been delays with patient care.

Center administrators were working with their teams and third-party security response specialists to restore full functionality, officials said. Officials reported the attack to law enforcement but cybersecurity officials recommended not to share more information.

That’s all we know at this time. I can’t speak to the matter of Harris Center’s operations, but the potential exposure of patient data would be the main concern. KUHF notes that a bunch of mental health patient data was exposed a few months ago thanks to the MOVEit attack, which did not affect Harris Center directly but got their data via one of their business partners. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

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More Nate Paul indictments

For your perusal.

A crook any way you look

Nate Paul, the Austin real estate investor whose relationship with Attorney General Ken Paxton was central to his September impeachment trial, was charged with new crimes by federal prosecutors on Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas filed an amended indictment charging Paul, 36, with four counts of wire fraud related to allegations that he lied to business partners who invested in real estate with his company, World Class Holdings, and its affiliates.

They are in addition to the eight felony counts prosecutors filed in June, which allege that Paul provided false information to financial institutions in order to obtain loans to purchase properties.

Paul’s attorney, David Gerger, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paul’s trial is scheduled for July of 2024.

Neither of the indictments mention Paxton, who was acquitted by the Texas Senate of 16 articles of impeachment in September.


In the new filing, prosecutors said Paul repeatedly misled partners about how he was using partnership funds, a deception furthered by overstating the balances of partnership accounts.

“During his career in commercial real estate, Paul has repeatedly engaged in deception to persuade individuals and organizations to entrust money to him, and he has used the money to enrich himself and expand the commercial real estate businesses that he controls,” the indictment states.

The indictment lists six businesses as victims; three in Texas and one each in Florida, Colorado and North Carolina. The government is seeking to seize $172 million and any properties connected to Paul’s alleged criminal conduct.

See here for some background. There may or may not be anything more to it than this, but you can’t stop me from hoping that the feds are ready to pounce on Paxton any day now.

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Dispatches from Dallas, November 10 edition

This is a weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger. Let us know what you think.

This week, in news from Dallas-Fort Worth, we have election results; news about next years elections, including Kay Granger’s seat; Dallas city charter business; ransomware news; settlements for police misconduct in Dallas and Fort Worth; investigative reports on Dallas’ awful traffic; a Hollywood premiere in Dallas; and more.

This week’s post was brought to you by the music of Nils Frahm.

The big news is obviously the election results. Check out the Dallas Morning News, the Star-Telegram, the Dallas Observer, and D Magazine for some local results. In general in North Texas bond results did pretty well, though the big Prosper ISD stadium went down to defeat and in Lewisville, voters turned down athletic upgrades but approved staff pay, renovations, and technology. As the Texas Tribune notes, school bonds did pretty well statewide, which is interesting at a time when the Lege has been called back for a fourth special session focusing on removing money from public schools for vouchers.

Also, as expected, two Republicans are in the runoff for HD2, Bryan Slaton’s old seat. Bryan Money is the Paxton/Defend Texas Liberty candidate and Jill Dutton, who has the backing of Rick Perry and Jared Patterson, among others, is getting slammed as the Phelan candidate.

And in Granbury, near Fort Worth, one of the candidates for city council was arrested for felony charges of possession of child pornography on election eve. The local Republican Party withdrew its support for him. Unsurprisingly, he lost.

The other big topic this week is who’s in the hunt to succeed Kay Granger in CD12. In, definitely, is State Rep. Craig Goldman (HD97), a lieutenant and ally of Speaker Dade Phelan. (Star-Telegram; Fort Worth Report; DMN). Definitely out: Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and Tarrant County Commissioner Manny Ramirez; also State Rep Nate Schatzline (HD93), who’s running for re-election. As previously mentioned, Ken Paxton ally John O’Shea was already planning a run.

I also commend to your attention this op-ed by Bo French, the new head of the Tarrant County GOP, on what any candidate who wants to replace Granger will have to offer GOP voters:

What is important now is that Republican voters in the 12th Congressional District rally around an America First conservative to represent our values in the U.S. Capitol. …

Any candidate campaigning for my vote must be committed to Trump’s policy of peace through strength, defending Israel’s right to exist in peace, and considering American interests first in any foreign policy discussion. …

Lastly, the right candidate should have an established record of conservative convictions. That includes being 100% pro-life and 100% pro-gun rights, without exception. That includes standing with our voters in opposition to the impeachments of Trump and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. And it includes a record of supporting proven conservatives such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and County Judge Tim O’Hare.

French says he’ll be neutral in the primary in this piece and that these are his expectations as a voter. I find myself skeptical.

No word on Democratic candidates for CD12 yet. The filing period opens tomorrow and runs through December 11.

In other news:

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My initial thoughts on the 2023 election

Suffice it to say I was off base on turnout. I thought we would be on track to top the turnout of the 2003 Mayor’s race, but in the end we fell short of 2015’s level. I’d have lost quite a bit of money on that proposition if I’d bet on it. So what happened? How did I overestimate turnout this year. Let’s start with some numbers. This is a look at how early voting has gone in Houston since 2003 (we have less complete data before then):

Year    Early    Total   Early%
2003   83,225  298,110   27.92%
2005   49,889  189,046   26.39%
2007   36,710  123,413   29.75%
2009   62,428  178,177   35.04%
2011   46,446  121,468   38.24%
2013   80,437  174,620   46.06%
2015  134,105  268,872   49.88%
2017   60,974  150,174   40.60%
2019  109,044  244,979   44.51%
2021  114,060  229,036   49.80%
2023  136,886  247,198   55.37%

For the years 2003 through 2015 plus 2019, these numbers represent the total number of ballots cast in the Harris County part of Houston. That’s mail ballots plus early in person ballots, with the “Total” column being final turnout for that year. In 2017 and 2021 there were no Houston elections, so I went with the overall Harris County numbers. I decided to include those years to see if there was something happening that I had overlooked. Finally, the numbers for 2023 are the votes in the Mayor’s race, which means it does not include ballots that skipped the Mayor’s race and thus is smaller than it should be. The Election Night returns don’t include such numbers for early and Election Day voting; we’ll get those when we have the final canvass. For these purposes, that’s OK.

As we have discussed before, early voting is a much smaller share of the final vote in odd-numbered years than it is in even-numbered years. In 2020, nearly 88% of all ballots were cast before Election Day; in 2022, that figure was 68%. In the odd years before 2023, that number had never exceeded fifty percent. It came close in 2015, then it dropped back in 2019. I figured this year would be more like 2015, maybe sneaking above fifty percent for the early vote. We got a bigger gain in the early vote than that, and I suspect that what we saw this year will be the new normal. That put a damper on my post-early voting projections, but I had always allowed for the possibility that early voting could be a bigger share of the final total than it had been before. So this was a mild surprise, but not a shock.

What was a shock to me was how little the Houston share of the Harris County vote was. Once again, some numbers:

Year  Houston    Total     Hou%
2003  298,110  374,459   79.61%
2005  189,046  332,154   56.92%
2007  123,413  193,945   63.63%
2009  178,110  257,312   69.22%
2011  121,468  164,971   73.63%
2013  174,620  260,437   67.05%
2015  268,872  421,460   63.80%
2019  244,979  389,494   62.90%
2023  253,087  451,203   56.09%

2003 was a weird year in that the state propositions were all voted on in September. This was a deliberate move by the Lege to make it easier to pass the tort “reform” proposition, whose prospect they feared could be negatively affected by the anticipated high-turnout Mayor’s race in Houston. We have since gotten rid of uniform election dates outside of March (for primaries only), May, and November. Go figure. The non-Houston turnout that year came from the Metro referendum; had it not been for that, Houston would probably have been over 90% of Harris’ turnout that year.

2005 was also a weird year, in that then-Mayor Bill White was basically uncontested, but the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment was on the ballot. That drove a lot of non-Houston turnout, which is why the city’s share of the vote in 2005 was so small. 2007 was also a snoozer of a city election but there wasn’t much else going on, so the percentage fell back into what would become the norm.

Depending on where you start the comparison, the Houston share of the turnout has either been on a steady decline (if you start in 2011) or has been overall flat (if you start in 2007). However you look at it, there was nothing to suggest to me that this number would decline so precipitously. Houston had an open-seat Mayor’s race with a ton of money being spent plus a high profile ballot referendum. There was a Harris County referendum, but it wasn’t contentious, and none of the state propositions stood out as being unusually salient. And Houston’s share of the registered voter total was about where it was in 2019, at around 45% according to the County Clerk’s office. (I inquired about this on Monday.)

And yet, the Houston share of the total vote dropped by almost seven points. From my perspective, this meant my estimate of the Houston early vote way overshot the mark – instead of about 155K, it was only 137K. I’d have made a more modest prediction about the final total, giving real odds of falling short of 2015, if I had realized that.

But I didn’t, so here we are. That prompts two questions, the first of which is what if anything can I take away from this. Right now my answer is, man, I dunno. I just don’t see anything in the data or the conditions that would have suggested this. I’ll definitely take it into account when I’m thinking about the 2027 election, but we’re way too far out from that for me to worry about it. This is a new data point. We’ll take it and go from there.

The other question is why was Houston turnout so weak compared to 2015? The Chron provides some anecdotal data and some editorial hand-wringing. Neither is all that compelling to me, but I’ll address a couple of things. From the first article:

Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who has studied Houston’s electorate, said older Houstonians are likely to have longer-standing community ties, and more are homeowners who deal with city services directly. This trend is more skewed now than in federal election years, he said.

“We don’t have a partisan battle in the same way that we have one in gubernatorial elections or presidential elections,” Jones said. “So that’s one mobilization tool that isn’t there.”

Voters in municipal elections also tend to feel they need more information to vote competently, and many are not aware enough to go to the polls since campaign information is less available. Houston’s transient population also leaves many people feeling less connected to the city, Jones said, and many do not realize how directly the city government’s decisions affect their lives.

All of that is true, but it was all true in 2015 as well, so it doesn’t answer the question of why the decline. From the op-ed:

It could be that the anticipated runoff kept people waiting until Dec. 9 to cast a ballot. It could be that the crowded mayoral race is led by two frontrunners who have been staples of Houston politics for decades: where some see experience, others see baggage or stale ideas. It could be the lack of high-profile races, a problem the city of Austin rectified by moving their mayoral elections to presidential election years. It could even be that the switch to four-year mayoral terms lessens the engagement between candidates, incumbents and constituents, as Rice University political science professor Bob Stein suggested on Houston Public Media. Smith thinks part of it could be the long list of mayoral candidates: 17 on the ballot. But across the country, mayoral races tend to see alarmingly low turnout — less than 15%, according to a 2016, 50-city study from Portland State University.

Another explanation for people staying home is apathy, of course. It’s human nature to be drawn to presidential elections, with all their hype and saturating ad campaigns and delicious red meat allegiances. Nonpartisan local races aren’t sexy, but chances are, they’ll have far more impact on your life than whoever is sitting in the White House. That’s what’s frustrating: many people who failed to cast a ballot in this election won’t fail to complain about all the things this election will impact, one way or another: crime, trash pickup, illegal dumping, stray dogs, affordable housing, homelessness, irresponsible development — you name it.

Austin’s elections used to be in May so their turnout was quite a bit lower than ours. The switch to four-year terms might be an issue, but I don’t think we have enough data yet to say for sure. Plus, take a look at some of those vote totals from the two-year era, which really stink in comparison outside of 2003. And if low turnout in Mayoral elections is a nationwide problem, then why are we spending so much time worrying about our particular case? It may just be how things are.

I do think there’s one difference between 2015 and this year, and the Chron sort of gestures at it in the second sentence of their op-ed. In 2015, Sylvester Turner was widely viewed as the frontrunner in the race, but it was not clear who was in second place and thus in the hunt for the runoff. As such, supporters of Bill King, Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, Steven Costello, and Ben Hall could reasonably believe it could be their guy. To put it another way, if you didn’t like the top guy, or even the top two or three guys, you could vote for the one you did like and still believe that it could propel him into the December overtime contest.

This year, not so much. Once SJL entered the race, which prompted the exits of Chris Hollins and Amanda Edwards (now running for Controller and CD18, respectively), it was seen as a two-person contest regardless of how many other entrants there were. (There were 18 candidates, by the way, not 17. And there were 13 in 2015, so it’s not like this year was a huge outlier.) Of the seven “serious” candidates, two ended up struggling to get to one percent of the vote. It was really hard to see how a vote for a not-Whitmire not-SJL candidate could be meaningful. Some people still voted for those candidates, of course; about 55,000 people pushed the button for someone other than one of those two. But if one of the frontrunners was not your thing, maybe you didn’t care enough about the other races to bother.

Along those lines, there wasn’t that much action in the district Council races, though 2015 wasn’t a banner year for those either. 2015 did feature three open-seat HISD Trustee races plus a fourth race in which a former Trustee knocked off an incumbent Trustee, while this year we had two very low profile races. Maybe that had some effect as well. I tend to think the Mayor’s race drives the turnout and anything other than a referendum is secondary, but this could have reduced turnout a little on the margins.

I’ve rambled on here, so let me wrap up with a few words about the 2023 runoffs. Having a runoff in District D helps SJL a little, while the District G runoff does the same for Whitmire. Neither one should have much effect – these are both already high turnout districts, and having a Council runoff shouldn’t move the needle more than a smidge – but if it’s a close race they’re nice for each candidate to have. I think the all-Dem Mayoral runoff helps the Dem candidates in the At Large and Controller runoffs. Now that we have D-versus-R runoffs in those positions, I hope the HCDP and some other political players will get involved.

Finally, I’m a little surprised there was never another public poll to go with the two that came from UH. It’s not that our Mayoral races draw a ton of polling interest, but I did expect more than that. Maybe we’ll see other outfits have a go at the runoff. As much as I nitpick those polls, I’d still rather have more data points than fewer.

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Paxton whistleblower lawsuit paused again


A crook any way you look

The whistleblower lawsuit against Attorney General Ken Paxton has once again been put on pause, this time by a judge who had not been previously involved in the case.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed to jumpstart the case in late September after the state Senate acquitted Paxton in an impeachment trial that centered on the whistleblower claims. But on Tuesday morning, Paxton’s office asked a Burnet County judge, Evan Stubbs, for an emergency temporary restraining order, claiming the whistleblowers violated the tentative settlement they reached in February by asking the Supreme Court to reinstate the case, which had been filed in Travis County. Stubbs agreed within hours, ordering the whistleblowers to halt their litigation for at least a week.

Stubbs set a Nov. 14 hearing on Paxton’s petition for a temporary injunction.

“This lawsuit is Ken Paxton’s latest cowardly attempt to avoid testifying under oath,” TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt, lawyers for two of the whistleblowers, said in a statement. “Just like he hid out during his impeachment trial, sheltered from giving testimony, he’ll do anything to avoid accountability.”


In its filing Tuesday, Paxton’s office accused the whistleblowers of breaching the settlement agreement by “seeking to resume discovery” last week in the case. The whistleblowers gave notice they planned to subpoena impeachment records and take depositions, according to Paxton’s office.

The filing did not directly name the people the whistleblowers wanted to depose, but it did ask Stubbs to specifically shield Paxton; Brent Webster; the first assistant attorney general; Lesley French Henneke, chief of staff at the office; and Michelle Smith, Paxton’s longtime political aide.

In issuing the temporary restraining order, Stubbs said there is “good cause to believe [the whistleblowers] have engaged, are engaged, and will continue to engage in acts and practices inconsistent with the Mediated Settlement Agreement.”

In that agreement, Paxton said he would apologize and his office would pay the $3.3 million. But the Legislature, which must approve settlements of that size, declined to authorize the payment during this year’s regular session. Paxton then attempted to have the case dismissed, but the state Supreme Court rejected his request.

Court records show Paxton’s office filed its lawsuit at 9:32 a.m. and Stubbs issued the temporary restraining order less than four hours later. Nesbitt said the whistleblowers’ attorneys were not given a chance to respond or appear before the judge.

Paxton’s office said it made its filing in Burnet County — a small rural county bordering Travis County — because one of the whistleblowers, Maxwell, lives there. The rest of the whistleblowers live in Austin or Dallas, which are in larger counties with judges that are heavily Democratic.

See here for the previous update. Ken Paxton has one core competency, and it’s a strong one that borders on being a superpower: He is very skilled at finding judges who are ready and willing to give him everything he wants. It is my hope that SCOTx will not be amused by this nonsense, and if the judge in Burnet County insists on further meddling that they will respond quickly and forcefully to a writ of mandamus.

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HISD reveals its “District of Innovation” plans

I’m more skeptical than I was before, mostly because of how things have gone so far in HISD.

Houston ISD released a draft plan Monday evening to potentially exempt itself from 10 state laws, including teacher certification requirements, class size limits and rules about the length of the school year.

If the plan is approved, HISD would be able to begin the school year as early as the first Monday in August and extend the academic calendar up to 185 days. The district also would be able to hire uncertified teachers without seeking a waiver from the state, raise the number of elementary students allowed per teacher and develop its own teacher evaluation system.

The changes are allowed under “District of Innovation” status, which HISD began seeking in September. The vast majority of Texas school districts have received the designation, with most allowing themselves to extend the school year and avoid teacher certification laws, according to the Texas Education Agency. About half of Texas districts chose to opt out of the state’s class size limits.

New Superintendent Mike Miles previously acknowledged the changes likely will result in teachers working a longer year. Most HISD teachers currently work 187 days per school year, with 15 days devoted to preparing for the start of classes and mid-year training.

Under a longer academic calendar, HISD will offer a “competitive compensation package for instructional staff,” the document released Monday states. What that dollar figure may look like — and how it could impact HISD’s bottom line — remains unclear. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Bradley Wray is a physical education teacher at Deady Middle School and a member of the District Advisory Committee. He worries the changes outlined in Tuesday’s plan could drive away teachers, who already are leaving HISD in higher-than-usual numbers, he said.

“A lot of (school staff) rely on those days to work second jobs during the summer. I value those days to spend time with my family,” Wray said. “The extra days, I think, is going to drive away a lot of teachers, which we already see happening. This will be the final nail for some teachers.”

As a parent, Wray also said he was concerned with exemptions allowing uncertified teachers in the classroom and waiving the requirement that the district notify families whose children are taught by an unlicensed teacher.

Each year, dozens of HISD classrooms are led by uncredentialed educators, even without the explicit allowance to do so in a District of Innovation plan. This year, the district applied for a state waiver on certification requirements. Research does not show a clear link between holding a certification and teacher effectiveness.


The full list of exemptions from state law outlined in the Tuesday draft document include:

  • Starting the school year earlier and allowing it to extend to as many as 185 days
  • Allowing HISD to develop a teacher evaluation system separate from the state’s system
  • Allowing HISD to train teachers in regional or district wide events, rather than campus-by-campus trainings
  • Waiving the requirement that all teachers be certified to teach their grade and subject
  • Waiving the requirement that families be notified if their child’s instructor does not hold a certification
  • Scrapping the rule that each campus must have a designated staff member devoted to student discipline
  • Allow principals the ability not withhold grades for students in good academic standing who miss over 10 percent of school days
  • Changing the maximum students per classroom in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade from 22 to 20 in pre-k, 25 in kindergarten and first grades and 28 in second through fourth grades
  • Raising the number of excused absences students may have for college visits
  • Lifting mandatory punishments for vaping

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the District of Innovation plan during a Nov. 14 meeting. The HISD board is scheduled to vote and possibly grant final approval Dec. 14.

See here and here for the background. Some of these ideas are unquestionably good. I support lifting mandatory punishments for vaping, raising the number of excused absences students may have for college visits, not requiring a designated staff member devoted to student discipline, and letting principals not withhold grades for students in good academic standing who miss over 10 percent of school days. In principle, I support districts being able to train teachers in regional or district wide events rather than campus by campus, I’m just not in a very trusting mood for HISD these days. The rest I’m much more skeptical of, and yes that is heavily influenced by what I have seen from Mike Miles so far.

Not that any of this matters, since the Board of Managers will give Mike Miles what he wants. Given that my concerns are more practical than conceptual, maybe this will turn out better than I fear. Again, some of these ideas are perfectly fine. It’s the big ones I’m most worried about, and I’m worried about them because I lack faith in the Miles process. Which, given that the goal here is to improve student outcomes (and thus be able to usher his ass out of here) once again puts me in the position of fervently hoping I’m wrong. I hate being in that position. The Chron and the Press have more.

Posted in School days | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 6

The Texas Progressive Alliance welcomes the start of candidate filing season as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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