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Gene Wu

Criticizing the HPD narcotics audit

It’s good that it was finally released, but that doesn’t mean that all questions have been answered by it.

Rep. Gene Wu

Standing outside the small house where Houston police officers conducted a raid that killed two and grievously wounded their department’s reputation, Gene Wu clasped the audit he’d been asking about for months and labeled it a scam.

Wu and other state lawmakers on Thursday criticized the internal audit of the Narcotics Division, calling it a “whitewash” and vowing to propose legislation to prevent government agencies from blocking the release of internal audits or similar documents in the future.

Also at the news conference were lawyers representing relatives of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, the couple who lived at 7815 Harding St. and were killed in the raid. Gerald Goines, the officer who led the operation, was later accused of lying about the drug buy that led to the operation and is charged with felony murder and other crimes. His former partner, Steven Bryant, faces charges of tampering with a government record.

The raid could have happened only in an environment of “pervasive, longstanding custom and practice of illegal activity that was known and condoned at the highest level,” said Boyd Smith, one of the attorneys. “And this report doesn’t address that critical issue.”

[…]

The auditors — former Assistant Chief Pete Lopez, seven sergeants and one police officer — looked at the Narcotics Division’s street-level drug suppression squads. They found widespread sloppiness and lax supervision: unauthorized informant payments. Missing case review sheets. Incomplete offense reports. Hundreds of other administrative errors by undercover narcotics officers.

Most of the information authorities released previously centered on misconduct by Goines and Bryant, but auditors examined three years of casework of the two former Squad 15 officers, and probed casework of approximately 70 other undercover officers in squads 9, 10, 14 and 15. There are approximately 175 officers in the Narcotics Division.

Though they found policy violations and “numerous errors” related to confidential informant payments, they said they could not make conclusions about illegal activity without the ability to interview confidential informants or witnesses.

[…]

Patrick O’Burke, a former deputy commander at the Texas Department of Public Safety who oversaw drug law enforcement, said the audit is a “significant effort” but fails to identify the reasons for the sloppiness it uncovered.

“This report does not provide key findings that show how such problems will be limited or reduced in the future,” said O’Burke, tasked with overhauling Texas’ drug task forces after a racist drug arrest scandal in the 1990s in Tulia.

See here and here for the background. The point I would make is that the purpose of an audit like this is not just to document what happened, but also to provide a plan of action to remediate what went wrong. Where I work, if your department or project fails to get a sufficient grade on an audit – and we routinely perform audits on pretty much everything, not just on things that went wrong – you can’t go forward until you address the issues that the auditors cited. In this case, not only is the audit incomplete since key participants and stakeholders were not included, there’s no action plan. What is HPD going to do about this? How are they going to fix the problems that were identified, and put in processes and checks and safeguards and whatever else to ensure they never happen again? Note that “completely shutting down all activity related to this” is a viable path forward and should be considered as an option. What is HPD going to do? We need to know.

More and better police data, please

Like this.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement will ask nearly 2,000 Texas law enforcement agencies to resubmit information legislators intended be used to analyze whether police were treating minority motorists differently — but which turned out to be worthless because TCOLE neglected to ask departments to include the race of the drivers in some of the data.

The change comes days after Hearst Newspapers published a story detailing how the information, required by the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, was impossible to use.

“I’m trying to jump on it pretty fast,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a sponsor of the bill, who said he spoke Monday morning with TCOLE and they had agreed to correct the problem.

Coleman said he also has asked the agency to work with academic experts to ensure the information it is asking of Texas law enforcement agencies can be used to actually conduct racial bias analyses. Alex del Carmen, a criminal justice professor at Tarleton State University who helps train police executives, said he worked Sunday to create a survey that would produce the necessary information.

Coleman said the new list of questions will be used to gather the information for 2020. But he added the agency said it would also contact police departments to ask them to redo their 2019 surveys, originally submitted in March.

I mean, I’m glad this is happening now, but it’s more than a little embarrassing that the initial data collection was this lacking. Whose job was it to do quality assurance? Kudos to the Chron for bringing this to light.

And let me just add, while it is quite fashionable now to dunk on the idea of “running government like a business”, as someone who has worked for a Large Corporation for many years, this kind of data collection is absolutely the sort of things successful businesses do. It’s critical, to know if what you’re doing is working, to identify and learn from errors, to spot trends and respond to them, and so on and so forth. And really, it’s not that hard to do. Shame on TCOLE for such a shoddy first effort.

And also like this.

Two state lawmakers who reviewed a copy of the Houston Police Department’s audit of its narcotics division are calling on Chief Art Acevedo to release the document to the public.

“The reality is, there’s nothing in this the public should not be aware of,” Texas Sen. Paul Bettancourt said. “The real question is, what are they going to do about it?”

The police department performed the audit after last year’s disastrous Harding Street raid. Two homeowners died in the raid, and investigators later accused former officer Gerald Goines of lying to obtain the warrant on which he based the raid. He is now charged with murder.

In the wake of the incident, the police department launched an internal criminal probe, along with an administrative audit of the Narcotics Division.

[…]

In February, after questions from the Chronicle, Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, and a coalition of other Houston-area state representatives called on Acevedo to make the document public. The chief balked, saying he did not want to endanger the county’s criminal case against Goines and said the document included the names of undercover officers and could reveal information about confidential informants.

Because of the nondisclosure agreement, Wu said he could not comment on the specifics of the document. But he said that reviewing it only confirmed his belief that it should be public.

“Even without the redactions, there is little that can be gleaned from it that is not already public knowledge or could in any sense jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution,” he said.

Yes, release the audit. The public needs to know. The criminal case will be fine – Kim Ogg is filing a bunch more charges now, in part because everyone involved seems to have a problem with telling the truth – but even if that were a problem, this is HPD’s mess. They need to come clean. The Chron editorial board and Odus Evbagharu, Chief of Staff to State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, have more.

UPDATE: And just like that, a draft of the audit was released on Twitter. Here’s a Chron story about it. Now let’s see some followup on this, because audits are all about actions.

Steps towards more transparency

Step One:

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday he is reviewing an internal audit of the Houston Police Department’s embattled narcotics division and will send the results of the probe to state lawmakers who have called for its public release.

Turner revealed the news days after state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, authored a letter signed by seven other House members that called on Police Chief Art Acevedo to publicly release the audit’s findings.

Acevedo ordered the internal probe after the deadly 2019 raid at 7815 Harding St., which ended with the deaths of the home’s two residents and left four police officers shot. Investigators subsequently said that the officer who orchestrated the raid lied to get the warrant used in the operation. That officer, Gerald Goines, has been charged with murder and faces federal civil rights charges.

Twice in the last two weeks, Turner has declined to say whether the audit should be released, and he had not admitted to reviewing it himself until Friday. He said he is giving lawmakers access to the audit as long as they promise not to reveal it to the public.

“As I go through the audit — and I’m going through it now — you don’t want to disclose the identity of officers who have been acting undercover and expose them to risk,” Turner said after a roundtable on police reform at City Hall. “But I do understand the importance of making it available to our legislative colleagues, so that they can see it for themselves.”

[…]

Wu on Friday said it was not enough to release the audit only to lawmakers.

“This is an investigation of a public agency, of public servants’ wrongdoing,” he said. “It’s absolutely 100 percent in the public interest and right to know what public servants are doing. I cannot imagine we would tolerate this from any other city or state agency where we suspected rogue employees or individuals. The public not only has a right to know, it needs to know.”

Rosenthal echoed Wu in calling for the report to go directly to the public, not House members.

“Taxpayers paid for that report, they pay for that department, it belongs to the people,” Rosenthal said. “I’m disappointed they would ask us to not send it to the people. Our ask was that it be made public.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he “appreciates” Turner’s decision to allow lawmakers to review the audit.

“I think it’s important in this time that transparency is there. In a strong mayor form of government, that is a call the mayor can make,” he said. “I still think it should be public, that hasn’t changed.”

I say again, release the audit. If there are some people named in it who are not under any suspicion or who have no connection to the underlying problems, then go ahead and redact them out of it. Otherwise, I agree completely with what the representatives are saying. This is information for the public.

Step Two:

A group of 20 marched through drizzling rain on the downtown Houston streets Friday where thousands had just gathered for George Floyd, now demanding justice for a Hispanic man killed by police in April.

The rally ended in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, where about a dozen more supporters joined and called for Houston police to release body camera footage of the incident in which 27-year-old Nicolas Chavez was fatally shot by lawmen while, according to a cell-phone video of the encounter, on his knees.

“I know that they’re going to make him look bad and they’re going to try to justify what they did,” said his mother, Leantha Chavez. “In the end, it doesn’t matter what he did. He was on his knees when they shot him and he was unarmed.”

Chavez’s family and friends emphasized that he seemed to be undergoing a mental crisis. His 5-year-old son stood nearby during the gathering outside of the courthouse, holding a sign that read, “Abolish the police!”

Houston Police Department spokesman Kese Smith said while the family viewed their footage, the agency needs to consult with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office before releasing video to the public.

“The family’s wishes are obviously a very important part of it, but we have to have conversations with the District Attorney’s Office as well,” Smith said.

“We are certainly available to police if they want to discuss concerns about body cam videos or any other evidence,” said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “We independently review all officer-involved shootings and we present all the evidence in every instance to a grand jurors, regardless of whether it has previously been made public, so they can determine whether a criminal charge is warranted.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has asked the FBI to review the April 21 death of Chavez. He called the cell phone video “difficult” to watch but has yet to make public any of the police department’s roughly 70 videos that captured the shooting.

The whole point of body cameras, and the reason why there was such a demand for them in recent years, is precisely because they can shed light on contentious and disputed interactions between the police and the public. If the DA needs some time to review the footage to determine whether or not to bring charges, that’s fine, but let’s not draw this out any longer than necessary. This is, again, information for the public. Let’s act accordingly.

Release the audit

That’s my three-word response to this.

A growing chorus of elected officials is calling on Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo to release the findings of an internal audit on his department’s narcotics division, arguing that the chief’s refusal to do so contradicts his vows to be transparent and accountable.

Acevedo ordered the internal probe after the deadly 2019 raid at 7815 Harding St., which ended with the deaths of two homeowners and left four police officers shot. Investigators subsequently said that the officer who orchestrated the raid lied to get the warrant he used in the operation.

Now, with the death of George Floyd in Minnesota galvanizing worldwide protests and searing scrutiny of police departments across the country, state Reps. Anna Eastman, Christina Morales, Jon Rosenthal, Senfronia Thompson and Gene Wu are renewing their call from March for Acevedo to release the audit. And they are joined by three other members of the Texas House — Garnet Coleman, Gina Calanni and Mary Ann Perez — along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and more than half of Houston City Council.

Wu, who wrote both letters, said that the chief’s reluctance to release the audit is at odds with his past pledges to be transparent and hold officers accountable.

“The violations of policies, procedures and laws by officers in the Narcotics Division must be made known to the public,” wrote Wu, D-Houston. “If there are other officers who have repeatedly broken the law, the continued concealment of their behavior does a gross disservice to reputations of officers who are doing their jobs well.”

You can read the rest, and you can see a copy of the letter here; page two is visible on Dos Centavos, which is where the signatures are. I mean, being transparent means doing stuff like this. If there really is some content in that audit that might affect prosecutions, a little redaction is acceptable, as long as the substance of the report is not changed. But come on, either you meant it when you said you wanted to be transparent or you didn’t. Show us what you meant.

On a related note:

The mayor shouldn’t pretend that the calls for police reform were suddenly sprung on him this week. His own transition team in 2016 made a litany of reform recommendations. Our organizations participated in the committee, as did senior members of the mayor’s administration. Then in 2017, city council spent $565,000 on a 10-year financial plan that included recommendations to cut some of the 75 percent of the budget spent on public safety over that time span.

Houston does not need another study. What we need is action on the existing recommendations for police reform. After participating in the transition committee, our organizations established the Right2Justice Coalition. We have met regularly to address ongoing issues of policing and criminal justice in Houston and Harris County. Today, we are publishing a progress report of existing recommendations from Turner’s 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and the 2017 10-year financial plan.

The progress report shows that the city has implemented only a few of the recommended reforms, the most significant being the consolidation of the city’s jails with Harris County in 2019. It has failed to adopt recommendations to develop, in partnership with grassroots organizations, a plan for community policing, to enact a cite-and-release policy to divert people accused of minor offenses from the criminal justice system, to combine 211 and 311 to better meet residents’ needs for non-police services, and to implement a body cam video release policy that “maximizes public access to footage in a prompt manner.”

And instead of civilianizing 443 positions as the 10-year plan recommends to save $5-10 million, the administration has increased the number of officers by 81 and shrunk the number of civilian positions by 258.

Delays in implementing these recommendations in the last three years have further eroded public trust. Turner and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s actions speak louder than words — by that standard, their message is unchanged.

C’mon, guys. The time for action is now. You promised it, we want it. I know you can do it. Don’t let us down.

Let’s talk “meaningful reform”

Chief Acevedo brought it up, so let’s go there.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s voice cracked several times and his eyes welled as he railed against the death of George Floyd beneath a policeman’s knee and implored protesters to demonstrate peacefully with him.

“I will not allow anyone to tear down this city, because this is our city,” Acevedo shouted on Sunday to the group of mostly black Houstonians surrounding him at one of many protests in the wake of video showing Floyd’s fatal encounter with police in Minneapolis. “Pay close attention! Because these little white guys with their skateboards are the ones starting all the s–t.”

Video of Acevedo’s profanity-laced remarks went viral and, along with his other blunt statements this week, won the chief acclaim from those outraged by the death of Floyd, a former Third Ward resident.

It has also drawn anger from those who say Acevedo has failed to address the very things he’s condemning at home. His calls for police to be more transparent and enact “meaningful reform” have refocused attention on a series of fatal shootings by his own officers, and his refusal to release body camera video of the incidents.

“We’re looking at him say one thing on camera, but locally, we know different,” said Dav Lewis, a local activist who was friends with Adrian Medearis, one of the men who died in the spate of shootings. “We know different locally. We have not seen police accountability.”

The chief has also resisted calls to release the results of an audit of his narcotics division, rocked last year by one of its worst scandals in decades, and he has downplayed calls to bolster the city’s Independent Police Oversight Board, long criticized as a “toothless watchdog” group.

“While these are great photo ops, and maybe the chief has political aspirations, and this is all warm and fuzzy kind of stuff he’s doing, it’s time for some action,” said Mark Thiessen, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

[…]

Protesters intensified their calls on Tuesday for Acevedo to make the videos public. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s remarks at City Hall were punctuated by several people chanting “release the tapes,” and hours later Acevedo was directly confronted by a group of critical protesters at the downtown park Discovery Green.

Some lawmakers questioned Acevedo’s rationale for not releasing the body camera video.

“It is not law enforcement’s job to worry about prosecution,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “It’s their job to be law enforcement.”

Wu, a former prosecutor who has called on Acevedo previously to release his audit, said Acevedo’s attitude “does more of a disservice to taint the public’s perception than anything else.”

“Right now you have the general public believing the police hide things,” Wu said. “When other cities during this crisis have shown they can release body cams immediately — that they can fire and discipline officers immediately — the fact we can’t get videos released months, sometimes even years later, is very telling.”

There’s more, and you should read the rest. On balance, I think Art Acevedo has been a pretty good Chief of Police. It’s not at all hard to imagine someone worse in his position – the current Chief of Police in Austin, for example. I also think that some of these reform ideas should be taken out of his discretion and mandated by the appropriate governing body. For releasing body camera footage and just generally being more transparent about it, that could be the Legislature or it could be City Council. Point being, the less room he or any Chief has to stall on releasing said footage, the less time we have to have this debate about transparency.

There are plenty of other things that can be done, at all levels of government, with the local stuff having the greatest potential for swift adoption. Tarsha Jackson, formerly with the Texas Organizing Project and now on hold in the City Council District B runoff, recommended several changes to the police union contract. CM Letitia Plummer, thankfully recovering from COVID-19, has proposed a budget amendment that would:

-Require officers exhaust all reasonable means before shooting
-Ban chokeholds and strangle holds
-Require de-escalation
-Require officers give verbal warning before shooting
-Notify Independent Police Oversight Board when death occurs
-Give IPOB subpoena power

It would also redirect funds currently allocated for a police cadet class as follows:

$2M, fund separate IPOB investigations
$1M, build online portal for residents to report misconduct
$3M, police training
$2M, permanent revolving fund for the Office of Business Opportunity, no-interest loans to minority-owned biz
$2M, enhance Health Dept’s Community Re-Entry Network Program
$500k, enhance Health Dept’s My Brother’s Keeper program
$1M, equipment and implementation of a “CAHOOTS” program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets)

The point of that last item is to redirect a class of 911 calls that now go to law enforcement to this Crisis Assistance program, so the police can handle higher priority calls. Look at the photos she embedded in this Facebook post (specifically, this and this) to get a better feel for this. The city of Eugene, Oregon has used a program like this successfully since 1989. I strongly suspect most police officers would be happy to not have to respond to these kinds of calls for the most part going forward.

Stace adds recommendations from 8CantWait, which largely overlap the items noted by CM Plummer and Tarsha Jackson. Again, these are things that could be done now, if we wanted to. If there’s something you want to do in this direction, call Mayor Turner’s office and your district Council member along with the At Large members in support of these proposals. There are many ways to make noise.

There’s still more. Looking at the federal level, Sherrilyn Ifill and a triumvirate at The Atlantic have a list of action items for Congress, including an end (or at least a serious cutback) to qualified immunity, national data collection and tracking of police conduct and use of force, stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and more. Ifill notes that “Currently, officers fired for misconduct and brutality against innocent civilians can be hired by other departments”. This will sound depressingly familiar to anyone who remembers the story of Tulia.

I personally would add: Decriminalization of marijuana and a complete shift of focus on other drug offenses from arrest and incarceration to treatment; Expanding Medicaid, which as I have said a gazillion times before will do so much to provide mental health services to countless Texans; Really attacking the homelessness problem by funding housing for the homeless and raising the minimum wage so that more people can afford housing in the first place; and repealing SB4, the odious “show me your papers” law. I believe these things will drastically reduce the interactions that ordinary people – overwhelmingly people of color – have with the police and the criminal justice system.

None of these things are panaceas, and none of them directly address systemic racism – I will defer on that to those who can speak more directly from their own experience – but I do believe all of them will have the effect of reducing harm to the black and brown people who have always received the brunt of the violence that comes from encounters with the police. Again, much of this is doable right now. Clearly, some other items will require winning more elections, in Texas and around the country, but we can still get started on what can be done now. If Chief Acevedo wants to come out in support of any or all of these things, that would be nice, too. Whether he does or he doesn’t, we can make them happen anyway.

The real problem is those uppity local officials

My God, the Republican playbook is so predictable these days.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Local governments have gone too far in issuing emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic and can expect to have those powers whittled down when the Texas Legislature meets again, key state lawmakers say.

State laws give local leaders broad power during emergencies, but state Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, a leading Republican in the Texas Senate, said too many local officials have taken it too far.

“We are going to have to look at all these emergency powers and see if they have to be scrubbed down,” Bettencourt said.

In Chambers County outside of Houston, for example, 10 p.m. curfews have been imposed on adults. In other counties, it’s prohibited to have more than two people in a car. In Laredo, people were allowed to exercise, but bicycle riding was barred.

Local governments are accustomed to playing defense against the Legislature. During each of the last two legislative sessions, state lawmakers have tried to curb local authority on myriad issues including tree ordinances, annexations and property tax collections.

Democrats say they’re getting used to this drumbeat of Republicans trying to take authority away from cities and suburbs as they have become more Democratic. They say the cities and counties needed to move quickly because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott waited to issue a statewide stay-home order until 30 other states had done so.

Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has been a consistent target for frustrated Republicans.

[…]

State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said the Republicans should be thanking local leaders such as Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner. While Abbott waited to issue statewide orders closing restaurants or requiring residents to stay home, Turner and Hidalgo were moving far faster and helping keep down the spread of the virus, Wu said.

“It’s our local governments that have had to step up and done an outstanding job,” Wu said. “The reason our numbers are so low is because they took decisive action early.”

Hey, remember when Greg Abbott was only too happy to let local leaders do the leading, because “What is best in Dallas may not be best for Amarillo or Abilene”? Good times. Have I mentioned that it’s really important that Democrats win the State House this election? Now you have another reason why.

More on Abbott’s stay-in-jail order

Here’s that more detailed Chron story I referenced yesterday. I’m just going to quote the newer information about Greg Abbott’s executive order that attempts to basically stop most releases of inmates from the jail regardless of the coronavirus situation.

The newly appointed monitor over Harris County’s misdemeanor bail protocol, Duke law professor Brandon Garrett, said the decree violated “many state and federal constitutional provisions.”

Alec Karakatsanis, a civil rights attorney who represents thousands of indigent defendants awaiting trial at the lockup on felony charges, called the governor’s stance illegal and perilous.

“The edict is dangerous, unprecedented, chaotic, and a flagrantly unconstitutional attempt to infringe fundamental constitutional rights,” he said. “If enforced it would have catastrophic public health consequences.”

[…]

The governor’s order suspends portions of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and statues related to personal bonds, barring any personal bonds for anyone with a prior violent conviction or a conviction involving the threat of violence. He also outlawed releasing inmates with prior violent convictions on electronic monitoring.

In a barely veiled reference to the preparations taking place by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the governor suspended portions of the Texas Government Code permitting a county judge, mayor or emergency management director from releasing people outlawed under his new order. He said criminal court judges who handle misdemeanor and felony cases may still consider such releases on an individualized basis for health or medical reasons proper notice to prosecutors.

Among prison inmates, Abbott suspended portions of the state criminal code related to commuting sentences for anyone convicted of violence or threats.

Multiple plans for lowering the jail population have evolved in the past two weeks, including an executive order by Hidalgo that never came to fruition and a request by the lawyers who sued the county over its bail practices. District Attorney Kim Ogg also entered the discussion, telling the sheriff and presiding district judge that she wanted to weigh in and expedite releases of low-risk inmates in the “high likelihood” of a federal court order dictating either substantive bail hearings or outright release on personal bonds.

“As the legal representatives of the State of Texas, we also have the duty to be advocates for victims and the community in a full and fair bail hearing related to the proposed release of individuals who do pose a substantial risk to public safety,” Ogg wrote, in the letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Hours before Abbott’s announcement, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal convened an emergency hearing by phone to address incomplete plans by plaintiffs in a federal civil rights case to craft the a release order for people accused of some nonviolent offenses, along with lawyers for the sheriff and the county judge.

An official from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office told the federal judge that Paxton was poised to appeal any order by Rosenthal that called for blanket releases of inmates.

See here for the previous post. The Trib adds on.

Abbott’s order applies to inmates who have been accused or convicted of “a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence,” which defense attorneys called a vague and subjective standard. Abbott’s directive also appears to apply to inmates with any history of violent offenses — meaning a person arrested on a nonviolent drug charge last week could be held if he had a decades-old conviction of a violent offense.

Though the order bans release of inmates on no-cost, personal bonds, it does not set a standard for how high a bail amount must be. Presumably, judges could still release inmates on bonds of $1, defense attorneys said.

Legal experts questioned the order’s validity, and it drew immediate rebukes from Democrats and bail reform advocates, who argued the order discriminates against poor people. Several Texas counties, including Harris and Dallas, have in recent years had their bail practices deemed unconstitutional for discriminating against poor defendants.

“It is a dangerous, unprecedented, chaotic and flagrantly unconstitutional edict that if enforced would expose many people around the state of Texas to a public health catastrophe,” said Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of the Civil Rights Corp, which has been at the helm of Harris County’s federal bail lawsuits.

El Paso Democrat Joe Moody, a state representative and former prosecutor and defense attorney, said “if followed, this order will see jails bursting at the seams [with] minor drug offenders, homeless people whose most recent ‘crime’ was something like simple trespass & everyday citizens picked up on the flimsiest of allegations.”

According to Abbott’s order, a judge may consider a defendant’s release for health or medical reasons, after the district attorney is notified and there is an opportunity for a hearing.

You can see the executive order here, and a brief analysis of why it doesn’t pass constitutional muster here. Rep. Gene Wu was on a call with Abbott and reports that the Governor is either misinformed or not telling the truth about his own order. The ACLU of Texas has responded to Abbott’s order, and I presume we’ll have some action in the federal court today. I should note that Ken Paxton jumped out in front of this parade ahead of Abbott’s order, which prompted a couple of folks to observe that Ken Paxton is himself under a felony indictment and out free on bail. Hey, irony went into hospice care sometime back in 2002, so just keep swimming. The Texas Observer has more.

More heat on Abbott over his anti-refugee action

Good. Keep it up.

“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s not an immigrant versus native-born issue … it is not a religious versus secular issue,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference with elected officials and leaders of refugee resettlement organizations. “We cannot turn our backs to the most vulnerable facing the most difficult conditions imaginable.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Abbott was wrongly conflating refugee resettlement, which involves an extensive State Department vetting process that can last three years, and migrants coming across the southern border to ask for asylum.

Both numbers have dropped dramatically and this year only about 2,000 refugees were expected in Texas, compared to 7,800 admitted during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.

Garcia noted that the federal government fully funds the initial resettlement of refugees and that the state pays no direct costs.

“This is a reprehensible decision,” Garcia said.

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat who represents southwest Houston where many refugees are initially housed, said the governor’s choice went against his Catholic faith.

“Gov. Abbott had the choice to live as a Christian and follow what Christ said and commanded and he chose the opposite,” he said.

Opting out of the federal program means funding won’t be given to local organizations to resettle refugees in Texas, said Kimberly Haynes, a regional refugee coordinator with the South Texas Office of Refugees.

She said Abbott’s decision does not prevent refugees from moving here later, but meant the state would no longer receiving funding to help them integrate, including to find jobs and learn English. Most refugees coming to Houston are joining relatives likely will continue to come here no matter where they are settled, Haynes said.

“If someone is resettled here and the next day they want to come to this great state, they can take the bus and come to Texas,” said Ali Al Sudani, who came here as a refugee from Iraq a decade ago and is now senior vice president for programs at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t believe for a minute any of this will affect Abbott – he doesn’t talk to the public, so why would he ever listen to the public? – but it’s still the right thing to do, and maybe there is some level of heat that Abbott might feel. In the meantime, this whole fight may be moot.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy that would have allowed governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and other local leaders to prevent refugees from resettling in those areas.

The Wednesday decision from Maryland-based Judge Peter J. Messitte comes just days after Abbott became the first and only state leader to opt out of the program. Officials had until Jan. 21 to inform the State Department whether they would participate in the program after the Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order. At least 42 governors, including Republicans, have said they would accept refugees.

“By giving States and Local governments the power to veto where refugees maybe settled – in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary – [the order] does not appear to serve the overall public interest,” Messitte said in his ruling.

You can see a copy of the ruling here. I assume this will be appealed by the Trump administration, and as the original lawsuit was not filed in the Fifth Circuit there’s a chance this ruling could be upheld. For now at least, the madness has been stopped. NPR, Daily Kos, and the Texas Signal have more.

State Rep. Rick Miller drops re-election bid

This happened in a big hurry.

Rep. Rick Miller

State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, is no longer running for reelection after he sparked a firestorm for saying he was facing primary challengers because they are “Asian.”

“During a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle I made some statements that were insensitive and inexcusable,” Miller said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “In trying to make a point about the campaign I used a poor choice of words that are not indicative of my character or heart.”

“I do not want to be a distraction for my party or my constituents, and therefore I have decided not to seek re-election,” he continued.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Miller said that two of his Republican opponents — former Fort Bend GOP Chairman Jacey Jetton and Houston Fire Department analyst Leonard Chan — likely joined the race because they’re Asian in a district with a sizable Asian population.

“He’s a Korean. He has decided because, because he is an Asian that my district might need an Asian to win. And that’s kind of racist in my mind, but anyway, that’s not necessary, at least not yet,” Miller said of Jetton.

The backlash was swift earlier Tuesday as Gov. Greg Abbott pulled his endorsement of Miller and the Fort Bend county GOP chair asked him to consider dropping out.

Chan “jumped in probably for the same reason,” Miller told the Chronicle. “I don’t know, I never met the guy. I have no idea who he is. He has not been around Republican channels at all, but he’s an Asian.”

Here’s that Houston Chronicle story. As we know, Beto carried HD26 in 2018, though Miller hung on. There are now four Dems lined up to run, and it seems likely some other Republicans will now get in. Whether this winds up making the seat easier for them to hold or not remains to be seen.

I don’t have anything else to say about this, so let me turn the rest of this post over to Rep. Gene Wu.


Go read the rest.

Chron overview of the District J runoff

This unfortunately misses a relevant piece of information.

Sandra Rodriguez

The candidates vying for the District J city council seat in December’s runoff election have different backgrounds and separate bases of political support but have arrived at similar conclusions about the way forward for southwest Houston.

Edward Pollard, 35, was raised in the Meyerland-Westbury area and was an academic All-American basketball player at Morehouse College. He played professionally overseas, then returned to Houston to earn a law degree, open a practice and start a nonprofit. He has wanted to run for office since working a 2011 internship at the state Legislature, and sought the 2016 Democratic nomination for District 137 state representative, losing to current Rep. Gene Wu.

Sandra Rodriguez, 40, grew up in Gulfton. The first-generation American lived in an abusive home, a one-bedroom apartment she shared with her parents and four siblings. She joined the city’s anti-gang office shortly after high school, earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013, and is now in her 12th year with the city Health Department. She recently decided to run for council as a way to do community work full-time rather than volunteering on off hours.

Pollard pushes a centrist message — “That pothole could care less whether you’re a Democrat or Republican” — and touts endorsements from the Houston Police Officers Union, business groups like the Houston Realty Breakfast Coalition and industry groups representing city contractors, engineers and Realtors.

“No matter who you are, where you come from, we’re all in this community together,” he said. “You couldn’t run this type of race in most other districts because they’re so heavily partisan one way or the other, but in a true purple district like J it gives you the opportunity to really push that message, and I’m glad I’m at the forefront of being able to do that.”

Rodriguez stresses the need to engage new immigrants and improve the district’s poor civic engagement, and is backed by SEIU Texas and other labor groups, the Texas Organizing Project, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and a host of Democratic politicians at the federal, state and local level.

“I just want to do the work. I’ve been doing the work for 20 years, I enjoy what I do, and if this will help me push policies and move our district forward in Southwest Houston, to change the image — because you hear Sharpstown, Gulfton, Westwood, you think crime, you think prostitution, all the negativity — if this will help me serve the district, then I’ll run. That was the ultimate decision-maker.”

Ed Pollard was also accused by Beth Martin, the then-District Director for Rep. Gene Wu, of verbally harassing her during that 2016 campaign. I have no idea what has happened since then, if Pollard has owned up to the incident and sincerely tried to make amends, or if it has just gone down the memory hole like these things usually do. I do know it’s a legitimate thing to mention in a story about this person’s candidacy, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t in this article.

Be that as it may, my interview with Sandra Rodriguez is here. If I lived in District J, I would be voting for Sandra Rodriguez. If you live in District J or know someone who does, that’s my recommendation to you.

The local response (so far) to the ICE raids

This is good.

Houston’s top elected and law-enforcement officials sharply criticized federal authorities’ plans to arrest large numbers of immigrant families living without legal permission in major U.S. cities, contending that the raids targeting groups of recent arrivals would harm public safety and risk separating children from their parents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Police Chief Art Acevedo took to nationally broadcast programs to weigh in against the raids, which are set to begin as early as Sunday in at least 10 cities, including Houston. Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement appear likely to target immigrants who recently crossed the border and have been issued a final order of deportation.

“It’s one thing if the focus of these raids is on people with criminal records, people who have committed violent crimes, people who are part of gangs,” Turner said earlier this week on NPR’s All Things Considered.

The raids should not aim to deport people “who have been here for quite some time,” Turner continued, if “their crime is only coming here to seek a better way of living or to provide a better opportunity for their families.”

[…]

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his office would not participate in the raids, arguing that local involvement would “drive undocumented families further into the shadows” and damage community safety.

“It silences witnesses & victims & (would) further worsen the challenges law enforcement officials face,” Gonzalez, a Democrat, said in a tweet.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a statement containing information about the legal rights that people retain when interacting with ICE agents, such as their right to not answer the door if the agents do not present a warrant.

“These raids seek to subvert our sense of community by putting the very heart of Harris County, our diversity, in the cross-hairs of a shameful political maneuver,” said Hidalgo, a Democrat elected last year.

Turner issued a fresh statement Saturday saying the city would continue to offer services to all residents “regardless of who they are, where they are from, or their documentation status.” ICE had yet to contact the city about the raids, the mayor added.

“The president’s order for concentrated ICE raids against immigrant families in Houston and elsewhere stands against everything we represent as a welcoming city,” Turner said.

This is also good.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee met with faith leaders in Houston on Saturday to invite undocumented immigrants to seek refuge in churches, mosques and synagogues and call on religious organizations to open their doors ahead of Sunday’s anticipated deportation roundup by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“It is to my dismay that I have to come home to find many of those who live in my jurisdiction, my constituency, are panicked, frightened and in fear of their lives,” said Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat. “I say to the federal authorities: that you are well aware and on notice that you are not able to come into a church and demand anyone that is a representative of the faith to give anyone to anyone.”

Jackson Lee gathered with faith and local leaders Saturday afternoon at the Living Water International Apolistic Ministries in Houston. The ministry, along with half a dozen other churches, announced it would shelter undocumented immigrants on Sunday who fear they are in danger of being taken by ICE.

“We want to be a beacon of light for those who may be in fear. So when I got the call, I couldn’t do anything but accept,” said Apostle Robert Stearns, leader of Living Water. “There is nothing strange to us in doing this. This is our heart and our passion.”

It’s a good start. Now we need to be ready for whatever the response to this is.

Measles, schmeasles

Eh, no biggie.

With U.S. measles cases this year reaching historic levels since being practically eradicated nearly 20 years ago, a host of bills targeting vaccination policies in Texas don’t appear to be gaining traction in the Legislature.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 704 cases of the measles in 22 states so far this year, the most of any year since 1994. Fifteen of those cases have been in Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

Considering the scope of the crisis, Rekha Lakshmanan, policy director for the Immunization Partnership, a group devoted to eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases, said lawmakers this session are missing an important opportunity to pass what she called “common-sense immunization laws,” among them bills aimed at increasing data transparency.

Notable among those measures are Senate Bill 329, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, which would require the Department of State Health Services to publish the immunization opt-out rates for individual public schools. Currently, the health department is only required to post this information for districts as a whole and private schools. Another, House Bill 1966 by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, would empower child care facilities to list their immunization opt-out rates for parents who are interested.

Vaccine advocates say making this data available would help parents choose the best place to send their children, particularly if the children have compromised immune systems and can’t be vaccinated.

“If you cannot vaccinate your child, then you need to place them in a child care facility with children who are vaccinated, I think, for the obvious reason that you know those children would not spread it to your child if there is a contagion that goes through the population,” Wu said of his legislation.

Opponents say the information does not reflect the overall health of a facility and could lead to kids being discriminated against for not being vaccinated, even though names would not be published.

Lawmakers heard testimony on both bills in committee hearings last week but did not vote on either. Next week is the deadline for the House to advance bills. The Senate has until May 22.

See here, here, and here for some background. This story was from the weekend, so please note that the House deadline for voting out bills is tonight at midnight. After that, it’s Senate bills or attaching amendments if your bill died in committee. The anti-vaxxers complaints do not move me. I see this as a matter of giving parents the information they need to make good choices. If that means that preschools and child care facilities are less inclined to take kids whose parents chose not to vaccinate them because it’s bad for their business, well, that should tell you something.

Also, too:

Amid a record-breaking national outbreak of measles, the number of Texans who exempt their children from vaccination for non-medical reasons took another big leap this past school year.

The number increased 14 percent in 2018-2019, continuing a 15-year-long trend that public health officials worry is leaving communities vulnerable to the resurgence of preventable diseases such as measles, which has been confirmed this year in 23 states, including Texas. The number of measles cases this year is the largest since 1994.

“Seeing non-medical exemptions increase again on a double-digit scale should create outrage for everyone,” Allison Winnike, president and CEO of the Houston-based Immunization Partnership, said in a statement. “It’s time for Texans to take action.”

Porfirio Villarreal, public information officer for the Houston health department, added that it’s “disappointing to see yet another rise in the number of parents opting out of life-saving vaccines, mostly due to the vast amount of misinformation on the internet and social media channels.”

The number of exemptions are still small, 64,176, but they represent a roughly 2,000 percent increase since 2003, when the state began allowing parents to decline immunization requirements for reasons of conscience. There were about 3,000 in 2003-2004, and a little under 57,000 in 2017-2018.

[…]

Texas is one of 17 states that allow waivers of school vaccine requirements based on parents’ conscience or personal beliefs. Only three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — don’t grant exemptions on religious grants. All 50 states allow exemptions for medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system.

Of course, tightening up the rules for exemptions is not on the table at all. The report that produced this data breaks it down by school district but – as we know – not by individual school. I don’t even know what else to say.

Can we turn the anti-vax tide in the Lege this session?

It sure would be nice, and this needs to be the primary goal.

In Texas, children are required to have certain sets of vaccinations before they can be enrolled in public school – including the vaccine for measles.

But parents who have “reasons of conscience” for not wanting their children to be vaccinated are allowed to opt out of vaccinations, a practice that experts say is forming a dangerous trend that helped fuel the most recent measles outbreak.

Statewide, there was only one confirmed case of measles in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2018, there were nine confirmed cases of measles, authorities say.

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019.

The legislature does not define what constitutes a “reason of conscience,” meaning that any parent, for any reason, can decide not to immunize their children against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

Close to 57,000 children in Texas went to public schools unvaccinated in 2018 for non-medical reasons, according to Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. She said those numbers are growing year-over-year since the non-medical, “reasons of conscience” exemption went into effect almost two decades ago.

Concerns about the rise in measles cases is the fulcrum for this. Anti-vaxxers had a good session in 2017, but their advantage is more partisan than non-partisan, and a couple of their leading advocates – Reps. Bill Zedler and Jonathan Stickland – both had close wins in 2018 and will be big targets in 2020, along with others in Tarrant County.

All this is good, but so far the only vaccine-related bill I could find of any value was SB 329 by Sen. Kel Seliger would require a biennial report on any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the number of children without vaccines under the “reasons of conscience” law, but it doesn’t change the “reasons of conscience” law itself. That’s where we need to go, and we may as well get started on it this session. And we’d better not wait, because the anti-vaxxers are actively trying to make things worse.

A bill filed in the Texas Legislature this month by Representative Matt Krause, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, would make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. A similar version was left pending after a House Public Health Committee hearing in 2017, but Krause’s new bill would go further, explicitly preventing the state health department from tracking the number of exemptions. Even though the exemption data doesn’t include anything that could identify individual students and is only available at the school district level, Krause and Zedler point to fears among anti-vaxxers that they will be tracked and bullied. “We’ve seen instances in California, stuff like that, where they start hunting people down,” [anti-vax Rep. Bill] Zedler said.

Public health officials say the proposal would curb their ability to identify and stop disease outbreaks, and parents of immunocompromised kids would have even less information to decide where to send their children to school.

“This is the modus operandi for anti-vaxxers in Texas: to promote exemptions, obfuscate and minimize transparency,” said Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine scientist and dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at Baylor Medical School. “To do this in the middle of a measles outbreak in Texas is especially unconscionable.”

[…]

Krause, who is also backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, argues that his legislation merely streamlines the process for parents who will obtain the exemptions anyway. He dismissed the many concerns raised by medical professionals last session. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” Krause told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”

Krause acknowledged that he has already fielded concerns about his bill, in particular the clause preventing the state from tracking vaccine exemptions. He said he would be willing to scrap that language “if Texans for Vaccine Choice or some other vaccine choice groups or other folks from the medical community say that’s a bad idea.” Texans for Vaccine Choice did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Krause’s bill is HB1490. He won by eight points in 2018, so be sure to find a good opponent for him too. As I’ve said many times before, the anti-vaxxers are better organized and far more vocal – Rep. Gene Wu notes his recent encounter with this bunch – but I continue to believe they’re a small minority. This needs to be an issue people lose election over, because the stakes are getting higher. Vox, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

The case for calling a Harvey special session

Rep. Gene Wu disagrees with Greg Abbott’s decision.

Rep. Gene Wu

The historic level of damage and suffering caused by Harvey requires that we tap into our state’s Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not call a special session of the Texas Legislature to access emergency funding will worsen the long-term economic effects of one of the most powerful storms to ever land on our shores.

Abbott has stated that there is no need for a special session, implicitly saying that there is no need to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund — our state’s savings account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund — and that existing resources are sufficient to deal with the widespread devastation caused by Harvey.

However, if there has been one lesson that I’ve learned in my three terms in the Legislature, it’s that existing resources are never adequate in Texas. Our schools continue to be some of the worst funded in the nation, half of our rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and we barely maintain our existing infrastructure. Texas mostly skates by on a combination of luck and creative accounting. But more importantly, what we have budgeted for are common occurrences and normal disasters. The historic level of damage from Harvey is anything but common.

[…]

The Rainy Day Fund is available right now. The Texas Legislature needs to only meet for a few days and send a bill to the governor to access the funds. There is strong bipartisan support because members understand the desperate need for a quick response. In this past legislative session, conservative members argued that the fund should not be used for “reoccurring” expenses because we needed to save it for one-time emergencies. This is that emergency.

The state could provide immediate, low-interest or no-interest small loans to help businesses rebuild quickly. The money could go to help Houston ISD to repair the more than 200 schools that suffered flood damage, including 53 with critical damage. Harris County could use the funds to expedite repairs so that courts and the jury assembly center are not closed for the next three months. Outside of the Houston area, entire cities need to be rebuilt. Simply leaving local counties and municipalities on their own to rebuild means a slower recovery — possibly causing businesses to close or leave our state, and taking jobs with them.

See here for the background. I guess I’m not fully clear on what the Legislative Budget Board can and cannot do, and what gaps there would be if only the LBB gets to act. I do think Rep. Wu is right on about appropriating money to the schools and school districts that have been heavily damaged by Harvey. I can’t think of a better use of Rainy Day Fund money than to make schools safe and available for students again. Again, if the LBB can do this, great. It will be a lot less messy that way – I mean, if you think the jackasses of the Freedom Caucus won’t try to screw with an emergency appropriations bill for school repairs, I have to ask what Legislature you’ve been watching – but if the LBB can’t do that, then a special session it needs to be.

The anti-vaxxers had another good legislative session

Sure would be nice if we could put a stop to this.

It was mid-April, more than halfway through the legislative session, and Texans for Vaccine Choice was finally getting the fight it had been spoiling for. On April 11, a bill to require schools to report the number of unvaccinated kids had been heatedly debated in a House committee. Doctors, public health experts, parents and others had testified in favor of House Bill 2249, calling it a transparency measure that would simply provide information about vaccination rates at individual schools. The matter was pressing, they said, because more and more parents were opting their kids out of vaccinations using a “reasons of conscience” exemption created by the Legislature in 2003. Without action, recent high-profile outbreaks of mumps and measles in Texas would only grow worse.

But Texans for Vaccine Choice has a radically different frame. While the pro-vaccination crowd appeals to legislators on the basis of science and public health, the anti-vaxxers have their own funhouse mirror version. Vaccines contain toxic chemicals, they say. They cause autism. They overwhelm the immune system. But more than that, the activists, many of them mothers, framed their position as one of parental choice and personal freedom — a message that commands attention at the Texas Legislature.

“The responsibility for my son does not fall on the state or any other family,” said one woman at the committee hearing. “And I would never rely on the herd to keep my son safe.”

Two days later, Texans for Vaccine Choice held a “Freedom Fight” rally on the South Steps of the Capitol. The event featured two prominent members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler, close allies of the anti-vaccination activists.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you associate with those crazy vaccine people?’” said Stickland. “I said, ‘Because I am one’.”

Stickland went on to lay out a case for “choice.”

“Where there is risk, there must be choice,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to try to influence our behavior. … The state of Texas doesn’t own our kids. They should be looking for ways to protect parents because we know what’s best for our kids.”

[…]

In the final days of the 85th legislative session, it looked like the pro- and anti-vaccine lobbies were going to have to make do with a draw. But at the 11th hour, a discussion over a bill authored by Representative Gene Wu, D-Houston, requiring Child Protective Services to give new children in its custody medical exams, suddenly turned into a feverish argument about vaccines.

Urged on by Texans for Vaccine Choice, Zedler proposed a surprise amendment that would exclude vaccinations from those checkups. Vaccines, he insisted, “do not qualify as emergency care.” He was joined by several Republican members of the Freedom Caucus, with Representative Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, arguing that it was an “issue of liberty.”

A plea from Representative Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, a cancer survivor, failed to move the majority of Republicans. Davis proposed a measure that would at least require foster children to be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Her proposal was defeated in a 74-64 vote. Zedler’s amendment, meanwhile, was adopted 74-58.

Though Wu’s bill died in the Senate, a similar version of Zedler’s amendment found its way onto another child welfare bill and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Texans for Vaccine Choice considered the session a win. In early June, the group held a victory party that featured a fajita buffet and “chips fried in a dedicated gluten free frier.“) Photos on the group’s Facebook page show Tinderholt posing with an American flag hat while Zedler opted for a crown.

Pro-vaccine lobbyist Jason Sabo is anxious that mainstream Republicans, who might ordinarily have voted against potentially harmful anti-vaccination legislation, now see it as a primary issue.

“Only the extreme of the extreme show up to vote in the primaries: the anti-vaxxers, the pro-gun people, and the anti-annexation guys. Get four or five of these groups together and you have a bloc. And it’s really smart,” Sabo told the Observer. “So next session we have a choice: We either do the same thing and get the same results, or we come back with a different strategy.”

See here for some background. Rep. Wu’s bill was HB39, and the record vote on the Zedler amendment is here. You will note that only Republicans voted for the Zedler amendment. All Democrats, and a half dozen or so Republicans voted against it. If this isn’t a partisan issue by now, it’s pretty close. I think the “different strategy” that is needed here is to recognize that this is a campaign issue, for both March and November, and to treat it as such. Follow the model of the Texas Parent PAC, recruit and support some pro-vaccination Republicans in strong-R districts, and support Democratic candidates in competitive districts, for which there ought to be more than usual this cycle. Bill Zedler won with 57% of the vote in 2016, Stickland with 55.6%; Tinderholt didn’t have a Dem challenger in 2016, but won with 56% in 2014. None of these districts are unassailable, and maybe – just maybe – making vaccinations an issue might swing a few votes away from these guys, none of whom have anything but hardcore Republican brand loyalty to recommend them. Perhaps there’s a better strategy to stem these losses in the future, but if so I don’t know what it is. I can’t guarantee that pro-vaccination forces will be successful if they try to win a few elections, but I can guarantee they’ll have a much better time of it in the 2019 legislative session if they do.

Public testimony on SB4

It was heated, as you might expect.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Scores of residents urged City Council on Tuesday to challenge the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, speaking during more than five hours of public testimony on the eve of council’s vote on whether to join litigation.

Council chambers overflowed with residents waiting to testify on Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked council to vote Wednesday on joining lawsuits already filed by several Texas cities and advocacy groups.

Democratic state lawmakers kicked off what became at times a heated discussion about the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1.

“This bill is sanctioned hate, and for us to sanction that regime of hate – I think it’s unconscionable,” state Rep. Armando Walle told City Council. “I do not want to have to carry my passport just to show somebody, any law enforcement agency, that I’m a U.S. citizen, just based on the color of my skin.”

Walle was among 14 Houston-area Democratic lawmakers who wrote council members last week urging them to support litigation, something a Chronicle survey earlier this month suggests they are likely to do.

Those who spoke in favor of a lawsuit Tuesday argued SB4 is an unconstitutional, unnecessary and immoral law that would harm public safety, adding that Houston ought to demonstrate leadership on the issue.

“Houston has always prided itself in being a welcoming city, known for our diversity and our rich culture, and our immigrant population is a critical part of our vibrant identity,” said Jane Meyer, a nun with the Dominican Sisters of Houston.

Those against suing spoke to the need to enforce federal immigration law, said Houston should not spend money on joining a legal fight already underway and worried the city could lose state and federal funding by following through with a lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. To briefly address the “we shouldn’t get involved” arguments: Enforcing federal immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government; for HPD to take on that task would significantly affect their ability to fulfill the responsibilities they already have. The lawyering in this case will be done by MALDEF and the ACLU, and if the plaintiffs prevail the state will be on the hook for attorneys’ fees. The best way to ensure the city doesn’t lose funds is to ensure that laws like SB4 get blocked. And, you know, it’s the right thing to do.

I doubt any of the testimony changed anyone’s mind, and on that assumption I expect this vote to pass, though I still expect it won’t happen till next Wednesday. We’ll see if there are any surprises.

Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill

Terrible.

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”

[…]

One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.

[…]

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

Three State Rep race overviews

In the order of their publication, beginning with HD149:

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

For more than a decade in Texas House District 149 – where Harris and Fort Bend counties meet – a growing, ethnically diverse voting population has done something rare for the Houston suburbs: Elect a Democrat.

State Rep. Hubert Vo, whose district includes Alief and Katy, hopes the trend will carry him to a seventh term in Austin.

In 2004, his path to the Texas Capitol proved an ordeal, as he sought to unseat longtime Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. Vo won the race by 33 votes and, after a short-lived challenge by Heflin, Vo became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the state Legislature.

Vo has fended off Republican attempts to take back the seat, including in 2014, when he defeated Al Hoang, a former Houston City Council member, thanks to a majority coalition of Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters.

Come November, the Democratic legislator will face his latest GOP challenger: Bryan Chu, a Houston dentist who moved to Texas from California about a decade ago.

Born in Vietnam, Chu and his family fled the Southeast Asian country by boat in 1980, when he was 13, “in order to escape the harassment from the government.”

Chu said the district’s voters have kept Vo, a 60-year-old businessman and real estate developer, as their state representative largely because of ethnic-based loyalty.

[…]

Vietnamese-American voting preferences since 2000 have shown a sharp swing toward Democratic candidates, locally and nationally, for a group that once strongly supported Republicans, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California-Riverside.

“Over time, we’re seeing that issues like the social safety net, health care are the kinds of things that are becoming more important in Vietnamese communities,” said Ramakrishnan, who directs the annual National Asian American Survey. “But there’s also a generational shift, much like the Cuban story, where (younger Asian-American voters) tend to be more Democratic.”

To Prof. Ramakrishnan’s point, I would note that HD149 voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney 58.8% to 40.1% in 2012, with every downballot Democrat carrying the district by at least 15 points. I’d call that a bit more than “ethnic-based loyalty”, which last I checked didn’t help Al Hoang very much. I suppose anything is possible, but you’d get long odds on Rep. Vo losing this race.

HD144:

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

One challenger has an unusual pitch in one of the state’s few competitive House races.

“I am former state Representative Mary Ann Perez and I’m coming by to ask your support to get my seat back,” the Democrat tells residents on a residential Pasadena street.

She is block-walking almost daily in her campaign to once again represent District 144, which includes Pasadena, Baytown and parts of east Houston. Her 2012 victory was the first time the district had sent a Democrat to Austin since Ann Richards won the governor’s mansion in 1990.

Perez, a 54-year-old insurance agent, ticks off her experience: She already served one term in the Legislature, losing to Gilbert Peña’s shoestring Republican campaign in 2014. She chaired the Houston Community College board and shepherded the system’s largest-ever bond package to passage. She led her homeowners association, volunteered with the Little League where her boys played and led a youth group at a nearby Catholic church.

Perez portrays herself as an experienced public servant and a pro-business Democrat with local roots who lost her seat practically by accident. Peña’s 152-vote victory surprised even Republicans, who had given him little support. “He got lucky,” Perez said.

Now, observers say, the socially conservative GOP incumbent is fighting for his political life in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is expected to be strong. Donald Trump’s polarizing candidacy also may hurt down-ballot Republicans, especially in a district that is 70 percent Hispanic.

Here’s the interview I did with Perez in the primary; she won a three-way race without a runoff. This is a genuine swing district, but every Democrat carried it in 2012, with Perez outperforming the other Dems, winding up with a five point win against a stronger candidate than Gilbert Pena. The Republican establishment seems to consider this a lost cause based on fundraising totals in the July and 30 day reports. Again, anything can happen, and a stronger incumbent would make this a much more interesting race, but it would be a pretty big upset if Perez lost.

And finally, HD137:

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Kendall Baker proudly admits that before deciding to try to replace his state representative, he had no idea who his state representative was.

“Nobody knows who he is,” Baker said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to run. Because he is not visible to the community, and he’s not known to the community.”

The representative, Gene Wu, has a different take.

“We’re not a flashy office, but we are a responsive office. And I’ve been in this area for 30 years, and I’ve been always been a volunteer and community busybody,” Wu said. “And this is the first time I’ve ever seen his face pop up at any community event.”

The disagreement highlights the dynamics of the District 137 race, where the two candidates appear to be operating in different worlds.

Wu, a Democrat who is running for his third term representing the west and southwest Houston district, said he has built a reputation as a hardworking policy wonk who has helped the area by reaching across the aisle to achieve commonsense accomplishments in energy policy and criminal justice reform.

Baker, a Republican and high-profile opponent of Houston’s equal rights ordinance who ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, said that years of poor representation has left the district dilapidated and in need of a “good ol’ fashioned politician” to cut taxes and create jobs.

Here’s my primary interview with Rep Wu. Let’s just draw a curtain over this one, because Kendall Baker is an idiot who was a complete non-factor in the District F Council race last year and who was “indefinitely suspended” from his job at the city for being a sexual harasser. HD137 is strongly Democratic – 63.9% to 34.5% for Obama over Romney in 2012 – and Rep. Wu is a damn fine legislator who campaigns tirelessly. Donald Trump will shave his head and join the board of directors at Our Bodies Ourselves before Kendall Baker wins this race.

July finance reports for State Rep candidates

Hey, it’s July, and you know what that means: Campaign finance reports! There aren’t many State Rep races of interest this November, but there are four that I wanted to look at.

HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis
Ben Rose


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Davis       92,972  252,457         0     53,839
Rose        83,047   31,278         0     54,691

I don’t really expect HD134 to be particularly tight – it will never be “safe” in the sense that most districts are, but it also won’t be any closer than 55-45 barring anything odd. Which, to be fair, could happen this year. Ben Rose has been pretty active so far, and he raised a decent amount of money; his campaign sent out an email on Tuesday bragging that they are “currently in 1st place with more cash on hand than our incumbent opponent”, which is true enough but not perhaps the most accurate way of viewing things, given that Davis spent a bunch of money in a contested primary. If he gets to make the same boast after the 30 Day reports come out, I will be genuinely impressed. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Rep. Davis retains the endorsement she received in 2014 from Equality Texas. She hasn’t done anything to forfeit it as far as I know, but unlike 2014 she has a viable opponent. We’ll see what happens.

HD144

Rep. Gilbert Pena
Mary Ann Perez


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Pena        14,920   15,932         0     13,643
Perez       38,304   37,814         0     48,362

Bear in mind here that Gilbert Pena is the incumbent, not the challenger. How an incumbent, even an accidental one like Pena, could have that little to show for two years in office is a good question, but perhaps the answer is that he’s a clear underdog, based on 2012 results. Mary Ann Perez, who lost to Pena in 2014 by a close margin, had to win a three-way primary and will likely have an incumbent-sized bank account by the time the next report is filed.

HD149

Rep. Hubert Vo
Bryan Chu


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Vo          34,763   44,541    45,119     56,071
Chu         27,668   42,732    46,475     17,593

As with Hd134, I don’t expect anything exciting here, but Republicans sometimes throw a bunch of money at Rep. Vo, and sometimes they find a self-funder to spare them the effort. Chu actually had a decent number of small-dollar donations, but in the end I doubt it will amount to much.

HD137

Rep. Gene Wu
Kendall Baker


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Wu          42,851   35,928    45,000    124,611
Baker           20   23,424         0         20

This district is closer to safe than swing, but Rep. Wu’s opponent was one of the anti-HERO leaders, who ran for District F last year and finished third in a field of three. I was curious to see if any of Kendall Baker’s fellow HERO-haters would show him some love in this race, for old time’s sake if nothing else. I think you can guess what the answer to that is. Baker’s expenditures all came from personal funds, including $20K to Aubrey Taylor Communications for “Election related banners on blog posts thru 11/8/2016”. I’d always heard there was money to be made in blogging, I guess I was just too dumb to figure out how to do it. Maybe next election.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

How you can help or get help in Houston

Via email from State Rep. Gene Wu:

I hope this email finds you safe after yesterday’s flooding. While we are seeing most of the high water receding from our neighborhoods, there is still a good deal of cleanup work to do today. Please stay safe as we anticipate even more rain throughout the day.

For those of you able to help your fellow Houstonians, you are always encouraged to donate to the Red Cross.

The Red Cross is also seeking volunteers who are available to commit 6-8 hours to assist at Houston-area shelters. There are different roles volunteers can play during a shelter operation:

  • provide immediate emergency services to individuals and families
  • greet families and provide comfort as they arrive.
  • provide meals, comfort kits, etc.
  • help oversee shelter operations.
  • entertain families.
  • assist in overnight security.

Other volunteer opportunities are available as well. To volunteer, contact the Red Cross at 713.313.5491.

Shelters in the Greater Houston area are located at:

Shelter                         Address
----------------------------------------------------
Chinese Community Center        9800 Town Park Drive
----------------------------------------------------
Johnston Middle School          10410 Manhattan Dr.
----------------------------------------------------
Willow Meadows Baptist Church   4300 W Bellfort Blvd
----------------------------------------------------
MO Campbell Education Center    1865 Aldine Bender
----------------------------------------------------
Jersey Village Baptist Church   16518 Jersey Drive (Jersey Village)
----------------------------------------------------
South County Community Ctr      2235 Lake Robbins Rd. (Spring)
----------------------------------------------------
Pine Island Baptist Church      36573 Brumlow Road (Hempstead)
----------------------------------------------------
Knights of Columbus Hall        1390 Highway 90 W (Sealy)
----------------------------------------------------
First United Methodist Church   4308 W. Davis Street (Conroe)
----------------------------------------------------
Royal High School               2550 Durkin Road (Pattison)
----------------------------------------------------
East Montgomery County          21679 McClesky (New Caney)
Community Center
----------------------------------------------------

As a reminder, here are some helpful links and phone numbers in case they are needed:

 

Thanks and stay safe!

From Sen. Rodney Ellis:

As our community continues to deal with flooding, please keep in mind these important tips to stay safe:
  1. Follow evacuation orders and do not attempt to return until officials say it is safe to do so.
  2. Head for higher ground and stay there.
  3. Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way.
  4. Turn around, don’t drown. If driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
  5. Keep children out of the water.
  6. Be especially cautious at night when it’s harder to see flood danger.
Area services
These services will help you as you begin to recover from the flood’s impact.
  1. Report flooding: the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management is asking any residents who experienced flooding inside their home or business to report it to the Houston 311 Help & Information Line by calling 311 orsubmitting the report online here.
  2. Legal assistance: the State Bar of Texas offers a legal hotline to help connect people with legal aid providers following disasters: 1-800-504-7030. Additional resources are available at texasbar.com/disasters and texaslawhelp.org.
  3. Abandoned car: if your car was towed during the flood, call 713-308-8580 or visit findmytowedcar.com to determine where it is currently located.
  4. No power or downed power lines: please report a power outage or downed power lines to CenterPoint Energy at 713-207-2222.
  5. Food: if you need food or water, please contact the Houston Food Bank at 832-369-9390.
  6. Free storage: U-Haul is offering 30 days of free storage and U-Box container usage to flood victims. Call one of the Houston offices for more details: U-Haul of East Houston 281-377-3380; U-Haul of West Houston 281-495-6683; U-Haul of Gulf Coast Texas 713-750-7701; U-Haul Storage Centers of Houston 281-531-4022

And from CM Greg Travis:

1. Report Flooding to 311:
Please report all flooding to 311. As you have no doubt heard, the ReBuild Houston program is “worst first,” meaning the areas with the greatest flooding will receive reconstruction prior to areas with less severe flooding. Self-reported 311 information is the main data point going into the SWEET (Storm Water Enhanced Evaluation Technique), which aids in prioritizing drainage projects. It is vitally important that everyone who experienced structural flooding (flooding inside their home or business) report it to 311.
There are four ways to make reports to 311:
Phone: 713-837-0311 (or 3-1-1)
Smartphone: download the mobile app from the site above (or from the Apple App site or the Google Play site) and use it to report matters directly to the City of Houston
If you are reporting flooding online please select “Traffic, Streets, and Drainage,” then select “Report Flooding” from the “Maintenance & Repairs” menu. If you experienced flooding on a prior date you did not report (for instance, May 2015 or October 2015), you may also use this same process to report the prior flooding event.
If you have pictures of the flooding you wish to submit, you may report flooding by email and attach pictures, or once you have received the service request number for your report, you may email 311 the number with your pictures and ask to have the pictures attached to your flooding report.
2. Flood Recovery Information:
For flood recovery information, please visit http://www.houstonemergency.org/go/doc/2263/2620898
Currently, this site only has flood recovery information from May 2015 and October 2015, but the city is in the process of updating the information. This site will contain information about flood mitigation assistance, hazard mitigation grants, repairing flood damage if you live in a floodplain, making a flood insurance claim, and other important information to get you and your family back on your feet.
3. City of Houston Trash Pick-Up:
There was no City of Houston trash pick-up yesterday due to the floods. For information regarding the pick-up schedule for the rest of the week, please visit http://www.houstontx.gov/solidwaste/press-04182016.html
If you have questions about City of Houston trash pick-up, please contact one of the following Solid Waste Department representatives during normal business hours:
Irma Reyes
Tyra Wilkins
4. Information Regarding Late Filing of Your Federal Income Tax Return:
Yesterday was the deadline to file your federal income tax return. If you were not able to file due to flooding, and you did not timely request an extension, you will find information to assist you here: https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Houston-Area-Taxpayers-Affected-by-Severe-Weather-May-Qualify-for-Relief-from-Penalties-on-Late-Tax-Returns
5. Find your Towed Vehicle:
If you were forced to abandon your vehicle on a public roadway and it was towed, you will find information regarding the location of your towed vehicle here: http://findmytowedcar.com/tvrmscitizen/mainpage.aspx
6. Utility Outages:
CenterPoint Energy crews have been working since the storm began Sunday night to restore service to affected customers. Overall, an estimated 170,000 customers have been impacted with a peak of approximately 120,000. The most heavily impacted areas are Cypress, Greenspoint, Humble and Spring Branch. As of 2:30 p.m. yesterday, approximately 45,000 customers remain without power. CenterPoint will be bringing an additional 30 crews from neighboring utilities and their contractors to assist in the most heavily impacted areas.

CenterPoint crews are having difficulty making it through floodwaters, which is slowing power restoration efforts. Customers should be prepared for extended outages, particularly in some of the harder-hit areas. Estimates of when power will be restored will also be delayed.

Safety is CenterPoint Energy’s No. 1 priority, and the company has provided these important electric and natural gas safety tips:
Electric:
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Be especially mindful of downed lines that could be hidden in floodwaters, and treat all downed lines as if they are energized.
  •  If you experience flooding and water has risen above the electrical outlets in your home, contact a licensed electrician before turning on the main circuit breaker or trying to restore power.
  •  All electrical appliances and electronic equipment that have been submerged in water need to dry thoroughly for at least one week. Then, have them checked by a qualified repair person before turning them on. Attempting to repair a flood-damaged appliance could result in electrical shock or death. Attempting to restart it could result in further damage and costly repairs.
  •  If the outside unit of an air conditioning system has been under water, mud and water may have accumulated in the controls. Have the unit checked by a qualified air conditioning technician.
  Natural Gas:
  • Do not turn off your natural gas service at the meter; doing so could allow water to enter the natural gas lines.
  •  Be alert for the smell of natural gas. If you smell gas, leave the area immediately and tell others to leave, too.
  •  If you smell gas, do not turn the lights on or off, smoke, strike a match, use a cell phone or operate anything that might cause a spark, including a flashlight or a generator.
  • Do not attempt to turn natural gas valves on or off. Once safely away from the area, call 888-876-5786, and CenterPoint Energy will send a trained service technician.
  • If your home was flooded, call a licensed plumber or gas appliance technician to inspect your appliances and gas piping to make sure they are in good operating condition before calling CenterPoint Energy to reconnect service. This includes outdoor gas appliances including pool heaters, gas grills and gas lights.
  • Before conducting debris cleanup, or to locate underground natural gas lines and other underground utility lines before digging on property, call 811 – the nationwide Call Before You Dig number.
  • Be aware of where your natural gas meter is located. As debris is put out for heavy trash pickup, make sure it is placed away from the meter. In many areas the meter may be near the curb. If debris is near a gas meter, the mechanized equipment used by trash collectors could pull up the meter, damaging it and causing a potentially hazardous situation. If this happens, leave the area immediately and call CenterPoint Energy at 888-876-5786.
 For the latest information on power outages:
The District G office will provide additional information as it becomes available.  Above all, please stay safe.

See here and here for more from the Red Cross. There’s a reason why I don’t unsubscribe to the zillions of email lists I manage to get onto. Times of crisis are always good times to give blood as well – go to the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center to arrange for a donation. Remember that the general rule is that it’s better to give money to a charitable organization than stuff unless they are specifically asking for stuff. Don’t buy canned goods and bring them to the food bank. They can get those canned good more cheaply than you, so give them the money you would have spent.

HISD schools were closed yesterday but at last report were to be open today, while city and county offices reopened and Metro resumed service yesterday. Some other school districts remain closed. There’s still rain in the forecast through tomorrow though nothing like Monday, so there’s still a risk of flooding. Hopefully that won’t happen, but be prepared and stay off the roads as much as possible.

Alma Allen for HISD Superintendent?

It could happen.

Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

State Rep. Alma Allen, a former school principal, has emerged as a high-profile contender for the HISD superintendent’s job during the early stages of the search.

The Houston Democrat, who retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2000 and served on the State Board of Education for much of the 1990s, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle on Friday that she was seeking the post to lead the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

“I want people to know,” said Allen, 76. “I want them to know they have someone in the city who is a native Houstonian who is qualified for this position. …This is something I would love to do. I would love for my career to end on this note.”

[…]

The school board has indicated it plans to look across the country for a superintendent to replace Terry Grier, who retired Feb. 29. However, the trustees have not yet crafted a profile of the ideal candidate. The search firm they hired first plans to provide them with feedback from community meetings held over the last two months.

Allen, who worked four decades in HISD as a teacher, principal and central-office administrator, said she has the support of several elected officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former colleague in the state House. Turner’s spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Allen said one of Turner’s staff members gave the school board’s search firm a letter of support for her at a meeting Wednesday night. State Rep. Gene Wu, who was at the meeting, said he did not read the letter but recalled the mayor’s staffer saying the mayor was sending a letter of support. Wu said he and state Rep. Hubert Vo, another Houston Democrat, both support Allen.

“We at least want her to be considered – someone who has had a lifelong tenure in education, someone who is intimately knowledgeable about our education system, someone who sits on the education committee in the Legislature,” Wu said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone who is able to navigate the Legislature.”

There’s some other general praise for Rep. Allen, whose only known competitor for the job (if indeed she wants it) is interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt. Neither Allen nor Huewitt has ever been a Superintendent before – they would have to pass a certification exam or get a waiver from the Texas Education Agency in order to take the HISD job – and Huewitt doesn’t have a background in education but rather in finance, which has caused some people to express concern about him.

Joe Greenberg, spokesman for a local group of business leaders, parents and community leaders called the Coalition for Great Houston Schools, urged the board to pursue a national search.

“The board’s highest priority should be to search for a candidate with a track record of tangible academic achievement in a large, diverse urban district,” he said.

I like Rep. Allen and admire the work she’s done in the Lege. She would surely know how to work with them to ensure that the needs of a large urban school district such as HISD were being met. That said, the Board hired a search firm for a reason, and I think we need to let them do their thing before we begin to zero in on anyone for the job. I’d also like to know what the various parent and activist groups think. By all means, put Rep. Allen in the running. Just don’t make it a two-person race from the get go.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: State reps

The Chron makes endorsements in some State Rep races. Here are the ones I’m interested in.

District 126: Cris Hernandez

Two strong candidates who grew up in district are running in the primary and hope to replace Republican Patricia Harless, who is not running for re-election. Cris Hernandez, a projects coordinator for a fiber optics company, is making his second bid for the northwest Harris County district that’s surrounded by Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball and Spring. In 2014, Hernandez, who described himself as a “policy wonk,” ran as a Libertarian and received 13.7 percent of the vote. Our choice is Hernandez because of his firm grasp of the issues – holding the line on property taxes, equitable funding for Texas public schools and expansion of Medicaid – that will likely come up in the 2017 legislative session. His opponent, Houston attorney Joy Dawson-Thomas has the credentials and the potential to be an influential voice in the district in years to come. The winner of this race will face Republican Kevin Roberts, who is running unopposed.

District 131: Alma A. Allen

Incumbent Alma A. Allen is seeking her seventh term representing this southwest Houston District that includes part of Missouri City, and we believe she well deserves to be returned to Austin. A retired career public school educator who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, Allen has been a strong, powerful advocate for children and public education. Her expertise will be especially needed given the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the way Texas funds its public schools and the possibility of a 2016 special legislative session. Her seniority, wisdom and voice in the education debate will be a plus for residents of House District 131 and greater Houston. Allen’s opponent is businessman John Shike.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

District 137: Gene Wu

When the federal government announced that it would start resettling Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott looked at the fleeing families and saw a dangerous threat. State Rep. Gene Wu saw his next constituents. His southwest Houston district of Gulfton and Sharpstown might as well be the Ellis Island of Houston, serving as home to the waves of immigrants that come to our nation in search of freedom and safety. Burmese, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Libyans – Wu can tick off the timeline of new arrivals over the past several years. He knows who they are and knows he’ll be there to help. In the Legislature, he worked to pass an important bill that protected children who were victims of human trafficking, directing them to Child Protective Services instead of jail. And as a former Harris County prosecutor, he’s an important figure in the criminal justice debates in Austin. In this race he’s being challenged by attorney Edward Pollard, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

District 148: Jessica Cristina Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

With 22 years in office, Jessica Farrar has become the 10th most senior state representative in Austin. And now that Sylvester Turner has left Austin for City Hall, Democrats are going to need all the seniority and institutional knowledge they can muster if they want to wage an effective defense against the Republican majority.

Over her 11 terms, Farrar has used her political power to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s issues in the state Legislature. While Farrar has been consistent in her advocacy, her changing north Houston district, which covers Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline, has brought new challenges to the office. Higher incomes and engaged citizens demand more from her office, and we hope she’s up to the task.

Farrar is being challenged by Dave Wilson, Houston Community College trustee for District II. Wilson told the editorial board that he is running to advocate for the middle class, but voters probably best know him for his anti-gay, anti-abortion stances, and all-around social conservatism.

District 149: Hubert Vo

First elected in 2004, Vo has grown comfortable as an advocate for economic development. He takes pride in supporting the Tier 1 bill that helped push the University of Houston into top ranks – and is still paying dividends as schools like Texas Tech climb the stats. Working to attract new tech companies to Texas, like SpaceX, also sits on his list of accomplishments. If reelected, he said he wants to focus on bolstering the infrastructure around the Port of Houston to accommodate increased trade after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They call this “Part 1”, but the only Democratic race left to evaluate is in HD144. As such, I suspect Part 2 will be the Republican side, minus the three races they commented on here. In HD126, Joy Dawson-Thomas has so far won all the endorsements from the various clubs that have offered an opinion in this race, which makes me wonder what the Chron saw that they didn’t. Perhaps it was Hernandez’s previous Libertarian candidacy, or perhaps he just didn’t screen with them. As for the incumbents, the case for them all is clear. I’ve begun to hear some chatter that some of their opponents, in particular Dave Wilson and Demetria Smith, are being pushed by Republicans as an exercise in what Karl Rove once called ratf**king. I don’t know how seriously to take that, since Republicans will be plenty busy with their own long slate of contested races (not to mention, you know, the Presidential primary), while Democratic turnout is likely to be high enough to make any such attempt an exercise in futility, but the reward from a GOP perspective of getting one of those clowns nominated is pretty damn big, so a little paranoia is warranted. If only there were a deep-pocketed Democratic donor or two in this town who could write a check for some mailers in support of these candidates. Anyway, pay attention and for goodness’ sake don’t skip out after voting for Hillary or Bernie. The rest of these races matter.

Complaint filed against Cruz campaign for “check enclosed” stunt

This ought to be fun.

A liberal Texas political group has filed a formal complaint alleging that a recent fundraising solicitation mailed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign violated state law.

The solicitation came in an envelope featuring a return address in official government type and the words “check enclosed.” The “check” was a fake check made out to Cruz’s campaign, accompanied by a missive asking the recipient to send in a “matching donation.”

Such fundraising techniques are relatively common, but in Texas they may now be illegal under a law passed last year by the state Legislature.

The law, House Bill 1265, authored by Houston Democrat Gene Wu, required solicitations resembling government notices, checks or negotiable invoices to include, “in at least 18-point type,” the words “SPECIMEN-NON-NEGOTIABLE.”

Cruz’s mailer said — in small type — “this check is a facsimile not redeemable or negotiable and has no cash value.”

The liberal group, Progress Texas, filed the complaint Monday with the Attorney General’s Office, according to a copy obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

“This is the kind of mail my legislation was trying to prevent,” Wu said in a statement about the complaint. “It certainly breaks the spirit of the law, and I agree that the Texas’ Consumer Protection Division should look into whether or not it breaks the letter of the law, as well.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. I can only imagine what the reaction to this filing was like at the AG’s office; I’m guessing they handled it by holding it between two fingers, on the corner of the paper, with a pinched look on their faces. This is a new law, and I imagine it’s the first complaint made under it. Seems pretty straightforward here, but you never know once the lawyers get involved. I have no idea what happens next, procedurally or timewise or whatever else, though I’m sure we’ll hear about it one way or another. Any lawyers out there want to speculate? Progress Texas’ press release is here, and Trail Blazers, the Current, and the HuffPo have more.

Interview with Rep. Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

We turn now to legislative races, where there are a couple of open seats and a couple of challenged incumbents to keep an eye on. State Rep. Gene Wu is in his second term, having won a four-way primary in 2012 to succeed the retiring Rep. Scott Hochberg; here’s the interview I did with him at that time. A former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office who is now in private practice, Rep. Wu has served twice on the Energy Resources Committees and once each on the Elections and County Affairs committees. Wu has also worked on criminal justice issues, authoring a bill to reduce penalties for marijuana possession in the 2015 session, and recently formally requested a Justice Department investigation into state directives concerning Syrian refugees, for which he was lauded by the Chronicle. He was also an active supporter of HERO in the 2015 election.

I do all my interviews in advance, sometimes well in advance. This is partly about my availability and partly about how quickly an interview subject gets back to me, but mostly about the reality that this process takes time, and I need to ensure I have enough of it. In this case, I interviewed Rep. Wu and his opponent, Edward Pollard, during the Christmas break. I interviewed a lot of candidates at that time, because it worked well with my schedule. As I said, this helps me ensure that I can get the job done in a timely fashion, which is a big consideration for a short campaign season like this primary.

The down side to this is that sometimes things happen after the interviews are done that change how I would have done them in the first place. The out-of-the-blue ruling on HERO, which occurred after I had spoken to multiple candidates last year, is a prime example of this. Sometimes the thing that happens directly involves one or more of the people in a given race. I can’t go back and change the interviews I’ve done, but I can edit the post I write about it. With that in mind, let me direct you to this Facebook post by Beth Martin, who is the District Director for Rep. Wu, who had a very unpleasant encounter with Mr. Pollard at Rep. Wu’s district office. What she experienced is clearly unacceptable, especially for a candidate. I try to give everyone a fair shake in these interviews and stay away from the political aspect, but I would be negligent the extreme if I did not mention this.

With all that said, here’s what Rep. Wu and I talked about:

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

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to retire

A second open Congressional seat for 2016.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

First elected to Congress in 1996, Hinojosa has largely had a dormant campaign operation for most of this cycle, and he drew a Republican challenger this year in former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal.

Hinojosa’s office didn’t immediately return a request to comment for this article. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported the retirement earlier Thursday. It said that Hinojosa had scheduled an announcement for Friday in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the 12th U.S. House member and second Texan to announce a departure from Congress this term. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced in September that he would not seek re-election.

Congressional District 15, which Hinojosa represents, has traditionally been a reliable seat for Democrats. President Obama carried the district by 16 points in the 2012 presidential election.

As the news of Hinojosa’s retirement broke Thursday, names already began to circulate about possible Democrats who could run to replace them. Names floating among state Democratic operatives included: state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales of McAllen.

At least one women’s Hispanic group, Texas Latina List, which bills itself as a progressive political action committee, has its eye on the 15th District.

Rep. Hinojosa has since made it official. CD15 is a slightly purplish blue. Every Dem got at least 54% of the vote in 2012, winning by at least ten points in each case. It was a much closer call in 2014, with John Cornyn and Baby Bush holding their Dem opponents under 50%, but each Dem still got at least a plurality. I’d be more worried about this in an off year than in a Presidential year, but it’s still not a sure thing. I’m rooting for a viable female candidate to emerge – it would be awesome to have the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas in a year where we (hopefully) elect the first female President. Trail Blazers has more.

Elsewhere in Democratic primary news, we have our second contested legislative primary in Harris County, and our first involving an incumbent, as Edward Pollard announced on Facebook and Instagram his candidacy for HD137, against two term Rep. Gene Wu. Pollard’s tag line is “The Conservative Democrat”, which ought to make for an interesting debate. Yes, I’ll be doing primary interviews, which will be on me before I know it, so you’ll get a chance to hear what that means and whatever else I think to ask about. By the way, today is the start of filing season. I’ll do my best to keep track of who is filing for what.

State wants birth certificate lawsuit dropped

I don’t know about that.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked a federal district judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims a state agency violated the U.S. Constitution by denying birth certificates to U.S.-citizen children of immigrant parents.

Attorneys with Paxton’s office said that the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is being sued by 17 families living in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court because it has not waived that right, according to court documents.

The immunity extends to interim DSHS Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris, who are also named as defendants in the suit, Paxton’s office argues.

A spokesperson in Paxton’s office would not discuss the filing further, saying the “motion speaks for itself.” A spokesperson for the health agency was not available to comment.

See here and here for the background. This sounds specious, more like an ideological argument than a legal one, and a get-out-of-jail-free card if it’s upheld. But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

[Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Jennifer] Harbury said Wednesday afternoon that her team would file a response after reading the state’s motion. The problem appears more widespread than just the families in the lawsuit, she said.

“What I know is there is a very large number of people who are afraid to come forward,” she said.

That would not surprise me. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Marijuana reform advocates get their day

This will be worth watching closely.

Rep. Joe Moody

Four proposals to relax penalties for possessing pot have been scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, setting up what is sure to be a closely-watched debate in the middle of the legislative session.

It will not be the first Texas committee hearing on marijuana bills, which historically have been introduced and heard, but ultimately killed. This time, however, optimistic supporters will benefit from the makeup of the committee, which this year counts three Democrats and a pro-legalization Republican among its seven members. The panel is led by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown.

“There’s no question that we’re hopeful that this committee will be especially open to considering these bills,” said Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas, an Austin-based liberal organization that is helping lead the push. “A lot of the legislators on the committee understand the importance of the issue.”

The legislation is still unlikely to win final approval in the conservative-dominated Legislature, but Martin and other members of the bipartisan Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition say committee approval would represent a step forward in a years-long process.

The coalition has collected nearly 15,000 signatures of support and plan to deliver them to the Capitol on Wednesday, Martin said.

Here’s Progress Texas’ report on the bills that will get a hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Moody’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 507

  • The most effective civil penalties bill filed
  • Changes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a civil penalty – similar to jaywalking or not wearing a seat belt
  • Anything over one ounce of marijuana remains a class B misdemeanor

Rep. Harold Dutton’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 414

  • Would change any marijuana possession less than one ounce to a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Gene Wu’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 325

  • Possession of less than .35 ounces of marijuana becomes a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 1115

  • Rather than potentially being arrested when carrying up to four ounces of marijuana an officer will only give a citation; However, the person charged is still responsible for appearing in court at a later date.
  • Does not reduce the penalty of marijuana possession (Class A or B misdemeanor), which can still result in jail time.

Also up for a hearing is Rep. David Simpson’s full scale legalization bill. As the story notes, the Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition is putting most of its energy into Rep. Moody’s civil penalties bill. Bills to legalize medical marijuana have been referred to a different committee and don’t appear to have as much traction. The bills to be heard Wednesday face opposition from local sheriffs and an uncertain future in the Senate. Still, just having a hearing for them is something. I look forward to seeing how it goes. For further reading on the subject, see this interview with Rice sociologist William Martin.

Simpson files pot legalization bill

From the inbox:

Rep. David Simpson

Texas State Representative David Simpson (R-7) introduced a bill Monday that would strike all language pertaining to marijuana from Texas Statutes, thus abolishing marijuana prohibition in the state.

Representative Simpson’s HB 2165 harkens back to a time when government did not intervene in the control of marijuana. And you know what? It wasn’t a very scary time. The prohibition of marijuana was notoriously built on misinformation and hyperbole rather than facts and results.

When these laws haven’t worked for 80 years, is it really such a novel concept to simply remove them?

76% of Texans recently responded to a UT/Texas Tribune poll saying they favor reducing criminal penalties for marijuana or allowing medical access to marijuana. How many of them would support the government getting out of marijuana altogether?

It may be a surprise to some that a Republican from deep-red East Texas is reclaiming marijuana prohibition as a small government issue, but it shouldn’t be.

“It disturbs me greatly that Republicans would distort the principles of small government, fiscal responsibility, and personal liberty in such a way that they could support the failed principle of marijuana prohibition any longer,” states Ann Lee, co-founder and executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Simpson lays out his Christian-based principles for treating marijuana as any other agricultural product in this TribTalk piece. I wonder how many people (Rep. Simpson included) realize that his “if marijuana is illegal then God made a mistake” rhetoric comes from the late comedian Bill Hicks. This isn’t an argument against HB2165, mind you, I’m just amused. I have no objections to the basic philosophy here, and I think current academic research supports it, but I’d probably want to treat pot more like beer than like, say, corn. It’s still a good idea to keep it away from minors, for example. I’m pretty sure Rep. Simpson would agree with that. Grits, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls have more.

Having said all that, I seriously doubt Rep. Simpson’s bill has enough support to get anywhere. I won’t be surprised if it never gets a committee hearing, or never gets past being left pending in committee. I mean, look at how tentative and constricted the recently introduced medical marijuana bills are, and ask yourself if this is a Legislature that’s ready to throw all the existing prohibitions on marijuana out the window. as Rodger Jones notes, despite more grassroots support for loosening pot laws, nearly all current Republican legislators support the status quo. There’s also likely to be strong opposition to Simpson’s bill – this Chron story quotes a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Association of Texas vowing to fight against this bill or any other like it. Again, this is not an argument against HB2165, just some perspective. It’s surely better to view it as something to work towards, rather than something that can pass right now. If you see it that way, then some transitional steps are in order, as they’ll do some good now and will make the ultimate leap to decriminalization later that much less daunting. One such recently filed example comes from Rep. Gene Wu. Here’s the press release he sent out recently:

Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) filed a bill to create a new Class C misdemeanor penalty range for the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. House Bill 325 will make possession of up to 0.35 ounces or 9.9222 grams of Marijuana punishable by a fine of no more than $500.

“Arrests for very small amounts of Marijuana drain law enforcement resources and divert valuable time away from addressing more serious public safety concerns, like Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Domestic Violence offenses, ” said Wu. “Defendants serving time for low-level Marijuana possession add to jail overcrowding and deplete county coffers without adding to overall community safety. Counties must also provide attorneys to all indigent defendants charged with Class B Marijuana possession; but not for defendants in Class C cases.”

Currently in Texas, possession of up to two ounces or less of Marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor; punishable by up to 6-months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. In 2013 alone, Texas law enforcement made over 70,000 arrests for Marijuana possession, accounting for over half of all drug arrests and nearly 8% of all arrests.

HB 325 would lower the penalty ladder for the smallest amounts of Marijuana possession creating a sensible distinction between possession of very small amounts of Marijuana and larger amounts. The bill would also give police officers the option to either arrest or issue a ticket to a person possessing a small amount of Marijuana. Officers would still retain the ability to arrest and search if they choose. Like other Class C offenses, repeat offenses (4 or more) would elevate the charge to a Class B misdemeanor.

“Texas has one of the highest rates in the nation in terms of people arrested for marijuana possession, and some of the harshest penalties,” said Wu. “This bill takes a sensible and cost-effective approach to low-level Marijuana possession, and provides a fiscally responsible solution to an overloaded criminal justice system. I invite my colleagues to support this measure and sign on as co-authors.”

Not nearly as sexy as treating pot like lettuce and carrots, but it is a step in the right direction and it likely has a chance of passage. One can support both HBs 2165 and 325 without contradicting oneself.

Tesla brings the lobbyists

Nothin’ but good times ahead if you’re a Republican-connected lobbyist, thanks to Tesla and the auto dealers.

Locked in a brawl with auto dealers, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is unleashing some of the most powerful lobbyists and consultants in the state to persuade lawmakers to make it easier for his company to sell electric cars in Texas.

Ahead of the legislative session, Musk has assembled an all-star team of politically well connected forces at the Capitol – almost all entrenched with top Republican leaders – to lay the groundwork for a full Tesla blitz come January.

Musk, the California billionaire who also heads the rocket company SpaceX, is pressing the Legislature to allow Tesla to bypass traditional dealerships and sell cars in Texas through its stores.

An attempt failed last session, as Tesla was squashed by a network of state auto dealers and their own team of well-connected hired guns.

This time, according to lawmakers and lobbyists, Musk has revved up the Tesla influence machine to make sure he doesn’t lose again in Texas.

“Tesla is going to move in force to bring significant resources to this debate this session,” said state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican who last session supported the electric-auto maker’s push. “You’re going to see a lot of pressure on these young new members in the Legislature, a lot of movement on the floor and the backrooms to get people convinced this a good deal for Texas.”

Playing the influence game at the Texas Capitol is nothing new for Musk, who employed a team of lobbyists last session and parachuted into Austin on two occasions to personally push for legislation to help SpaceX and Tesla.

He is set to hit Texas again next month – two days after the legislative session starts – to headline a state transportation forum.

But this time, he’ll be coming back to Texas just months after disappointing state officials with a decision to pass up on the Lone Star State for Tesla’s $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant in favor of Nevada.

And the company’s opponents know it.

“They tried to use the giga­factory as leverage to get their foot in the door, but the gigafactory was never coming to Texas,” said Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. “I can’t imagine what kind of tale they can spin.”

See here for the background. I’ve compared Tesla’s efforts to those of the microbreweries, but this is where the analogy breaks down, since they never had a phalanx of gold-plated lobbyists at their disposal. Anyone in the vicinity of the Capitol next spring ought to keep an eye out on the sidewalk as you walk around – you may see stray $100 bills lying around. We’ll see whose lobbyists are mightier. PDiddie has more.