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Jared Woodfill

Abbott finally issues a mask order

Better late than never, but it’s pretty damn late.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a nearly statewide mask mandate Thursday as Texas scrambles to get its coronavirus surge under control.

The order requires Texans living in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while inside a business or other building open to the public, as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing is not possible. But it provides several exceptions, including children who are younger than 10 years old, people who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, people who are eating or drinking and people who are exercising outdoors.

The mask order goes into effect at 12:01 p.m. Friday.

The order represents a remarkable turnaround for Abbott, who has long resisted such a statewide mask requirement, even as the coronavirus situation has gotten worse than ever over the past couple weeks in Texas. When he began allowing Texas businesses to reopen this spring, Abbott prohibited local governments from punishing people who do not wear masks. As cases began to rise earlier this month, he clarified that cities and counties could order businesses to mandate customers wear masks.

In recent days, though, Abbott had held firm against going further than that, saying he did not want to impose a statewide requirement that may burden parts of the state that are not as badly affected by the outbreak.

Abbott on Thursday also banned certain outdoor gatherings of over 10 people unless local officials approve. He had previously set the threshold at over 100 people. The new prohibition also goes into effect Friday afternoon.

[…]

Abbott’s announcement came a day after the number of new daily cases in Texas, as well as hospitalizations, reached new highs again. There were 8,076 new cases Wednesday, over 1,000 cases more than the record that was set the prior day.

Hospitalizations hit 6,904, the third straight day setting a new record. The state says 12,894 beds are still available, as well as 1,322 ICU beds.

Abbott has been particularly worried about the positivity rate, or the share of tests that come back positive. That rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, has jumped above its previous high of about 14% in recent days, ticking down to 13.58% on Tuesday. That is still above the 10% threshold that Abbott has long said would be cause for alarm amid the reopening process.

First-time offenders of Abbott’s order will receive a written or verbal warning. Those who violate the order a second time will receive a fine of up to $250. Every subsequent violation is punishable also by a fine of up to $250. The order specifies that no one can get jail time for a violation.

Remember that PolicyLab projection from May that said Harris County would go from 200 cases a day to over 2,000 by now? Thankfully, we’re still not close to that – the ReadyHarris dashboard has mostly shown us in the 600 to 800 cases per day range recently, though I suspect there’s some lag in the data because there’s no reason why this week would be lower than the two previous weeks. Point being, we most certainly could have seen this coming, and we could have done a lot to protect ourselves before this happened. You know, like having mask orders in place all along, and letting local governments have more leeway to control crowd sizes. Note here that Abbott’s order targets outdoor gatherings, but not indoor gatherings. You know, like this one. I don’t understand the logic here, but whatever.

The real question is after all this time and all that bullshit from Republicans like Dan Patrick, how much resistance do you think there will be to this new order? Like, remember when Dan Patrick called Judge Hidalgo’s mask order “the ultimate government overreach”? Also, too, Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze are suing to basically stop emergency orders, and had previously sued to stop Judge Hidalgo’s mask order, before Abbott overruled it himself. Our state has plenty of people who will perform their rage over being asked to take the health and well-being of their neighbors into consideration. I’m curious, and more than a little afraid, to see how that segment of our population reacts to this. The Current, the Press, and the Dallas Observer have more.

UPDATE: My God, but Dan Crenshaw is a hack.

More on that bar owners’ lawsuit

It’s something, that’s for sure.

Maybe not the best messaging

They’re here. They serve beer. And they are hopping mad at Greg Abbott.

As the Washington Post’s Teo Amus reported Tuesday, a group of Texas bar owners from around the state has banded together to sue Governor Greg Abbott for what they believe is a prejudiced edict targeting bar-owning Americans.

“You can’t tell me that my tiny little bar is the problem,” said Tee Allen Parker, a 45-year-old bar owner from Kilgore who recently banned wearing masks in her establishment.

Frustrated by the initial shutdown, reopening and subsequent backpedaling in the face of surging coronavirus case numbers, Parker has singled out the governor as the one recurring feature in her misery.

“[Abbott]’s the problem,” Parker says. “He’s targeting us, and it’s discrimination.”

Parker and 21 other bar owners have joined with Houston attorney Jared Woodfill to sue the governor and state alcohol regulators for Friday’s order, which shut down bars and restaurants with alcohol-dominant revenue streams. They claim the order is unconstitutional and unfairly discriminates against bar people and bar spaces.

“It’s just a horde of infringement on people’s individual liberties and constitution,” said Woodfill, a high profile right-leaning litigator who has already filed six lawsuits against state and local governments for COVID-related orders since the pandemic’s beginning.

“This is one individual making draconian decisions that have destroyed the Texas economy.”

I noted this in an update to my local control post from yesterday; here’s the Trib story that was based on. I have three comments to make. One, to Tee Allen Parker, we can indeed tell you that your bar is part of the problem. Or at least, experts like Dr. Peter Hotez can tell you that. Maybe not your bar specifically, but bars as a category. I’m sorry, I truly am, that you’re going through this. It sucks, I agree. But bars really are an excellent vector for this virus. Two, for all the lawsuits that the Woodfill/Hotze machine have filed, we have no rulings or orders from any of them yet to gauge if they’re onto something, or just basically farting in our general direction. I wouldn’t put it past the State Supreme Court to issue some truly oddball rulings, but I also wouldn’t advise anyone to mistake either of these guys for legal geniuses. And three, I’ll ask again, when does Steven Hotze, Woodfill’s partner in crime, announce his primary challenge to Abbott? This all just feels more like real bad blood than a typical fight within the family. We’ll see.

Hey, how about trying that local control thing again?

Seems like it might be worth a shot to led Mayors and County Judges lead on coronavirus response again, since they’ve done so much better a job of leading than Greg Abbott has.

As Texas grapples with soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, local elected officials in some of the state’s most populous counties are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to roll back business reopenings and allow them to reinstate stay-at-home orders for their communities in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Officials in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties have either called on or reached out to the governor in recent days, expressing a desire to implement local restrictions for their regions and, in some cases, stressing concerns over hospital capacity.

Stay-at-home orders, which generally direct businesses deemed nonessential to shut down, were implemented to varying degrees by local governments across the state in March before the governor issued a statewide directive at the beginning of April. Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, when he began announcing phased reopenings to the state and forcing local governments to follow his lead. Since then, a number of local officials, many of whom have been critical of Abbott’s reopening timeline, have argued that the jurisdiction to reinstate such directives is no longer in their hands.

“If you are not willing to take these actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities,” Sam Biscoe, interim Travis County judge, wrote in a letter to Abbott on Monday.

Biscoe asked Abbott “to roll all the way back to Stay Home orders based on worsening circumstances,” further cap business occupancy, mandate masks and ban gatherings of 10 or more people.

Officials in Bexar County also wrote a similar letter to the governor Monday, writing that “the ability to tailor a response and recovery that fits the San Antonio region’s need is vital as we look forward to a healthier future.”

“Our region’s hospital capacity issues and economic circumstances require stronger protocols to contain the spread of this disease,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote. The two asked Abbott to “restore the ability for the City of San Antonio to take additional local preventative measures, including potential Stay Home/Work Safe restrictions.” They also asked the governor to mandate face coverings when outside a household and “clearer language that strictly limits social gatherings,” among other things.

[…]

Meanwhile, counties and cities across the state have implemented face mask requirements for businesses after Wolff, the Bexar County judge, moved to do so without facing opposition from Abbott. The governor had previously issued an executive order banning local governments from imposing fines or penalties on people who chose not to wear a face mask in public.

Local leaders have also voiced concerns about the testing capacity of large cities. In Travis County, Biscoe explained that because of the “rapidly increasing demand,” they are rationing testing only for people with symptoms. The stress on the system is also making contact tracing efforts more difficult.

“In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure, and mitigate the spread of the disease,” Biscoe wrote.

Here’s the Chron story; Mayor Turner has joined the call for this as well. I seriously doubt Abbott will do any of this, because it will serve as an even more stark reminder of his abject failure to lead. But if the worst is still ahead of us, then it’s a choice between taking action now and making it end sooner, or denying reality and letting more people get sick and die. Abbott’s going to have to live with the consequences of his poor decision-making regardless, he may as well choose to do the right thing this time.

Of course, there may be other complications this time around.

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance said it plans to sue the state of Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order once again shutting bars across the state.

“Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) is taking the necessary steps to protect the rights of our members and their employees across the state, who have been unjustly singled out by Governor Abbott,” TBNA president Michael E. Klein said in a statement.

[…]

TBNA said its members want to be allowed to reopen and have the same capacity allowances as restaurants, grocery stores and big-box retailers. It will sue in both state and federal court seeking to override Abbott’s order.

The majority of Texas bars had been adhering to strict guidelines restricting occupancy and ensuring safe serving practices for both customers and employees, TBNA’s Klein said. His take: if restaurants with bar rooms can operate at limited capacity, why can’t actual bars?

“To suggest the public welfare is protected by singling out one specific type of alcoholic beverage license over another is without logic and does not further the aim of protecting the public from COVID,” he added.

Well, one way to cure that disparity would be to order that all of them be closed for all except to go service. We’d also need to extend that waiver that allow restaurants to sell mixed drinks to go, which I’d be fine with. While I understand where the TBNA is coming from, this is Not Helping at a bad time. But then, given how Abbott folded on enforcing his own executive order in the Shelley Luther saga, I get why they thought taking an aggressive stance might work. Eater Austin has more.

UPDATE: Looks like the TBNA has been beaten to the punch:

Hoping to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s Friday decision ordering Texas bars to close due to a rise in coronavirus cases, more than 30 bar owners filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Abbott’s emergency order.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, was filed in Travis County District Court by Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney who has led previous legal efforts opposing Abbott’s other shutdown orders during the pandemic.

“Why does he continue unilaterally acting like a king?” Woodfill, former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, said of Abbott in an interview. “He’s sentencing bar owners to bankruptcy.”

[…]

In the lawsuit, the bar owners argue that their rights have been “trampled” by Abbott, while “thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Abbott on Friday said it “is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”

Tee Allen Parker said she is confused. As a bar owner in East Texas, she’s allowed to walk into church or a Walmart but not permitted to host patrons at Machine Shed Bar & Grill.

“I don’t think it’s right that he’s violating our constitutional rights,” Allen Parker, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Monday in an interview. “The reason I’m speaking up is I don’t like that he can’t be consistent. You lead by example. Everything he’s said he’s walked back. And I’m disappointed in him because I was a big fan of his.”

A copy of this lawsuit is here. I’ll say again, as with all of the other COVID-related lawsuits that Jared Woodfill has had his slimy little hands in, we deserve to have serious questions asked by better people than this. As for Tee Allen Parker, I swear I am sympathetic, but no one actually has a constitutional right to operate a bar. I would suggest that the solution here that prioritizes public health while not punishing businesses like hers that would otherwise bear the cost of that priority is to get another stimulus package passed in Washington. Such a bill has already passed the House, though of course more could be done for the Tee Allen Parkers of the world if we wanted to amend it. Maybe call your Senators and urge them to ask Mitch McConnell to do something that would help? Just a thought.

Hotze and pals still crying to the Supreme Court

It’s hard to keep track of it all.

Houston GOP activist Steve Hotze and a coalition of business owners and conservatives have launched a legal challenge claiming Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency orders related to the coronavirus violate the Texas Constitution.

In a 34-page emergency pleading filed Friday, lawyers for Hotze as well as three pastors, state Rep. Bill Zedler and five business owners ask the Texas Supreme Court to strike down the orders.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorney Jared Woodfill argued in the petition that the governor does not have the power to issue mandates that suspend state laws and that he should have convened the Legislature instead.

“Our senators and state representatives have been muted because Gov. Abbott has chosen to act as a king, and that is fundamentally unconstitutional and fundamentally wrong,” Woodfill said.

Even if the law that gave Abbott his emergency powers is constitutional, Woodfill wrote, the orders are still unconstitutional because they deny due process by assuming every Texan and business is a threat to public health without allowing them the chance to defend themselves; violate equal protection by allowing some businesses to stay open and others not; and are otherwise “arbitrary” and “capricious.”

[…]

Woodfill said the petitioners’ goal is to set the precedent for governors’ authority during future emergencies.

“What’s going to happen if we have a COVID-20?” Woodfill said. “Are we going to again surrender all our constitutional rights?”

It’s hard to keep track of all the lawsuits and petitions coming from the Hotze machine, but I’m going to try. He and this same cohort (more or less) had previously filed a lawsuit in Travis County against Abbott and Paxton over the statewide stay at home orders. This had followed a lawsuit filed in March against the Harris County stay at home order, which he then tried to get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court but was denied. He then filed another lawsuit against Harris County over the face mask order and sought an emergency ruling from the Supreme Court on it, but by that time Abbott had issued an order overriding local orders and forbidding the requirement that face masks be worn. It’s not clear to me if this pleading is related to the Travis County lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton or if it is a second front in their war on anyone who dares to try to tell them what to do under any circumstance. I’m also not sure if that Harris County lawsuit is still in effect or if it has been mooted by subsequent state actions.

All right, so that’s where I think we are now. I’ll say again, I think there are very valid questions to be asked about what powers the Governor does and does not have in emergencies. When must the Legislature be involved? What if any laws can be superseded or suspended by executive order, and under what circumstance? What power does the Governor have to unilaterally overrule cities and counties, whose executives have their own emergency powers? There’s plenty of room for robust debate on these topics, and I hope the Lege addresses some of them in the spring. It’s clear that the Governor – and Mayors, and County Judges – need to have some latitude to take quick action in times of crisis, but it’s equally clear there needs to be some limits on that, in terms of scope and duration and jurisdiction. I don’t want any Governor to have unchecked power, least of all Greg Abbott. I also don’t want a bunch of nihilistic cranks to have the power to disregard public health and safety with impunity. I don’t want the worst people in the world to be the ones asking the questions that will affect all of us going forward. I hope the Supreme Court is up to the task of responding to this.

Hotze goes crying to the Supreme Court

This effing guy, I swear.

Houston conservative activist Steve Hotze on Monday filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court seeking an emergency ruling on Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mask order, which took effect this morning.

Hotze originally filed the lawsuit in state court last week, but District Judge Steven Kirkland on Friday denied his request for a temporary restraining order, allowing Hidalgo’s mandate to take effect Monday, as planned.

Hotze’s new filing echoes the argument he made to Kirkland: that the Texas Constitution and local government code do not give Hidalgo authority to require people to cover their faces in public.

[…]

During a Friday hearing in Kirkland’s court, Assistant County Attorney Seth Hopkins argued that Hotze did not have standing to challenge the order because he had no “actual imminent fear of prosecution.”

“The order itself tells the law enforcement, use broad discretion,” Hopkins said, according to a court transcript. “And the plaintiff concedes he’s not going to be prosecuted.”

Hotze attorney Jared Woodfill responded, “So, I guess my question is, if they don’t plan to enforce it, then why is the language even there? Why wouldn’t it just continue to be voluntary…?” He also clarified Monday that Hotze does not “concede he’s not going to be prosecuted” under the order.

Hopkins said the order allows officers to impose a fine if there is an “extreme case, but I think in the examples we have, we don’t have a case like that right now.”

See here for the background. We now have the Abbott reopening order, which overrules any local order that allows for a fine or other punishment for non-mask-wearing. I would think, in my non-lawyerly way, that Harris County will add that to its argument that Hotze has no standing. The Supreme Court has asked for a response from the county by this Friday, so we’ll see.

Hotze sues Harris County again

This is just what he does now, I suppose.

Houston conservative power broker Steve Hotze filed a lawsuit against Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Thursday, alleging that her order requiring people to cover their faces in public violates the Texas Constitution and conflicts with Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home order.

Hotze, who also sued Hidalgo over her stay-at-home directive, said in a petition filed in state district court that the mask rule is at odds with a provision of the Constitution that gives the Legislature “exclusive authority to define crimes and to designate the punishments for those crimes.” The petition also contends that Hidalgo cannot issue more restrictive orders than Abbott, who has not mandated that Texans wear masks in public.

[…]

Robert Soard, the first assistant county attorney, cited Section 418.108 of the Texas Government Code, which gives the county judge the authority to declare a disaster in her jurisdiction and to “control the movement of persons and the occupancy of premises in that area.” That authority extends to the incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.

Soard said Hidalgo has authority to issue the mask order under that provision and another that allows her to “exercise the powers granted to the governor” for emergency management, including issuing local executive orders that “have the force and effect of law.”

In the petition, Hotze also challenged the part of Hidalgo’s order that requires people to wash their hands before leaving their residence, and stay six feet away from each other and avoid touching their face in public. Hotze argued the section of state law that governs disasters “does not contain any language forcing private citizens to” perform the actions in Hidalgo’s order.

See here for the background. According to the Trib story, there should be a hearing on a temporary injunction later today, and an appeal to the Supreme Court if/when they lose. So, you know, just another Friday. Hotze of course has two other lawsuits going, one against Harris County over the stay-at-home order, and one against Abbott and Paxton for more or less the same thing. It’s actually kind of hilarious to see him described as a “power broker” in the story, since he’s basically never been more out of power locally than he is now. But hey, he can still move a few votes in a Republican primary.

Hotze sues Abbott and Paxton

Just another day at the office for this guy.

A group of conservative activists and pastors that’s challenging Harris County’s stay-at-home order is now also suing Gov. Greg Abbott, claiming his recent executive order to stem the spread of Covid-19 infringes on their constitutional rights.

In a suit filed in Travis County on Thursday, Steve Hotze , a longtime conservative activist, and multiple Houston-area pastors accuse the governor of “imposing draconian, unconstitutional requirements” on Texans. Attorney General Ken Paxton is also a defendant in the suit.

“Once government and its constituents start operating on the basis of fear rather than facts, they are willing to take whatever medicine is prescribed, no matter how harmful the side effects may be,” the suit says. “Churches and small businesses are shut down, and Texans right to move about freely is restricted. For all practical purposes, the governor’s executive orders constitutes a ‘lock-down.’”

[…]

Multiple legal experts said that the order struck a fine balance between public health concerns and religious liberties, and many congregations said they would continue meeting online .

Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County GOP chairman who is representing the plaintiffs, said that Abbott’s order did not go far enough.

“I don’t think the governor has a right to say when people can worship or the manner in which they can worship,” Woodfill said.

The new suit also challenges the authority granted to Texas governors or local authorities under the state’s disaster act. Woodfill accused Abbott and local leaders of “suspending” laws and thus setting a poor precedent for future disasters.

“Think about the authority that this one statute gives to so many individuals,” Woodfill said. “…They can effectively do what they’ve done: Destroy an economy.”

See here and here for the background. The first couple of pages of the lawsuit can be seen in this Jasper Scherer tweet, but it’s all preamble and background, and cuts off before it gets to the actual allegations about what actions or laws they claim are illegal. I Am Not A Lawyer, but it is my understanding that governors in general do have fairly broad powers in times of emergency, as we saw recently following Hurricane Harvey. This particular emergency/disaster is quantitatively different than the usual weather-based disasters we’re used to, and as such we’ve never seen an invocation of powers like this before. For sure, there has been overstep by Abbott, with the backdoor abortion ban (that was somewhat curtailed) and the assault on bail reform, which remains unsettled. I’m certainly open to the idea that these powers are perhaps too broad, that they have been applied in inconsistent or unjust ways, and that there needs to be some check on them to ensure that “emergencies” are not declared on a whim or extended well past reasonable deadlines.

That said, this is not a good faith attempt to define reasonable limits or find a better balance between public safety and executive authority. The only thing Steven Hotze cares about is himself, and the only principle at stake here is his own belief that “your laws don’t apply to me”. Hotze’s argument is that he and people like him represent a special protected class that gets to do what they want without legal constraint, and without any concern about the effect on the health, safety, or rights of anyone else. I’m sure you can tell from my description how I feel about this, but I really want to underline how corrosive this is to society as a whole, especially in times of crisis. The only tool we have right now for mitigating this virus is collective action that puts the health and wellbeing of others ahead of our own personal interests. Your actions benefit everyone else, and everyone else’s actions benefit you. We don’t need to do this forever, but the better we are about doing it now, the sooner we can get back to behaving normally. The main threat to this is exactly what Hotze is doing, elevating his own interests and actions above everyone else’s, because if that guy gets to do whatever he wants to do, why can’t the rest of us? It’s a short step from there to back where we were in early March, when the baseline “if we do nothing” models for coronavirus predicted upwards of two million deaths. I know we all have short attention spans, but I’d hope we still remember that.

In the meantime, we’ll see what the courts make of this. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of response Abbott and Paxton make to this complaint. I don’t expect Hotze to get a favorable ruling at the district court level, but I do expect him to push this all the way to the Supreme Court, no matter how long it takes. Any lawyers out there who have an opinion on the merits of this petition, please leave a comment.

Ridiculous Hotze lawsuit now in district court

We are all dumber by the mere existence of this.

The Texas Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Harris County’s stay-at-home order, though the legal fight is set to continue in state district court.

The Wednesday ruling came at the request of the suit’s plaintiffs, including longtime conservative activist Steve Hotze and the pastors of three Houston-area churches.

Earlier this week, Jared Woodfill, the group’s attorney, filed a new case in Harris County that similarly claims County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights because it allegedly continues to restrict church services even after Hidalgo revised it to align with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order deeming churches “essential businesses.”

The governor’s March 31 directive, akin to the stay-at-home orders issued by counties across Texas, came one day after anti-LGBTQ Republican activist Hotze and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez filed a petition arguing that Harris County’s order violates the Constitution by ordering the closure of churches and failing to define gun shops as “essential” businesses.

The four original plaintiffs remain on the new lawsuit, and they are joined by Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader who represented a district in the Houston area until 2006. The plaintiffs also have challenged Montgomery County’s stay-at-home order in a different state district court.

[…]

Last Friday, Hidalgo revised her order to “permit in-person religious services that comply with the CDC’s guidelines,” according to a court filing by the county attorney’s office. The plaintiffs are continuing to challenge Hidalgo’s order in state district court, Woodfill said, in part because it imposes penalties — up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine — that Abbott’s does not.

Hidalgo’s amended order says: “Per the Texas Attorney General’s guidance on this topic, if religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, then religious services may be conducted in churches, congregations and houses of worship.”

Woodfill said he interprets that language to bar most churches from meeting in person, because most are capable of holding services remotely.

“Just about every church has the ability to do that,” Woodfill said. “Maybe there are some small churches that don’t. That doesn’t mean your parishioners have internet or the ability to access the service. We think that’s clearly government coming in to the church and issuing edicts and mandates that are an infringement on religious liberties.”

See here for the background. All this and Tom DeLay, too, because you can’t spell “stupid, evil, and corrupt” without Tom DeLay. Bear in mind, Hotze got what he wanted from Abbott’s executive order. It’s just that he’s special, so very special, and the rules of law and man don’t apply to him. I could sit here and spew invective at him all day, but what’s the point? He’s a sociopath, and this is what he does. If you get hurt as a result, that’s not his problem.

That was a statewide stay-at-home order

And we’re under it now, even if you don’t want to call it that.

Be like Hank, except inside

Gov. Greg Abbott released a new video Wednesday clarifying that his executive order issued on Tuesday “requires all Texans to stay at home” except for essential activities.

“Now, I know this is a great sacrifice but we must respond to this challenge with strength and with resolve,” Abbott said in the 48-second video.

Abbott’s order goes into effect at midnight on Thursday morning.

With that, Texas now joins 37 other states that have enacted statewide stay-at-home orders. Mississippi, Georgia and Florida were among those to join that list on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Abbott intentionally avoided using the phrase “stay at home” during a briefing while describing his executive order, leading some to believe he had stopped short of ordering Texans to stay at home.

“In short, what this provides is that Texans are expected to limit personal interactions that could lead to the spread of COVID-19, while also still having the freedom to conduct daily activities such as going to the grocery store, so long as you are following the presidential standard of good distance practices,” Abbott said Tuesday.

Abbott also said on Tuesday he didn’t want to call his order a “stay at home strategy” because he thought that would mean you cannot leave your home under any circumstances.

But on Wednesday he issued a press statement just after 4 p.m. directing the media to the video that makes clear his order requires Texans to stay at home except for essential activities. His executive order makes clear those who don’t follow his decree face up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

People are allowed out for basic exercise like running, bicycling or hunting, but must maintain distancing guidelines. The public can also go to grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and the like.

See here for the background and here for the video, which is also embedded in the Chron story. As noted before, this order explicitly exempts churches from the restrictions, to appease sociopathic nihilists like Steven Hotze. Who, by the way, in addition to filing that writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court is also planning to file lawsuits in district courts in Montgomery and Galveston counties to challenge the stay-at-home orders there. Because this is exactly the type of person we need to be appeasing right now. Be that as it may, stay home. If we’re all diligent about this, we can truly hope for a different story in May. The Observer has more.

Steven Hotze’s death wish

I have three things to say about this.

A hardline conservative power broker and three area pastors filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court Monday arguing that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order violates the Constitution by ordering the closure of churches and failing to define gun shops as “essential” businesses.

The emergency petition for a writ of mandamus, filed by anti-LGBTQ Republican activist Steven Hotze and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez, contends Hidalgo’s order undercuts the First Amendment by limiting religious and worship services to video or teleconference calls. Pastors also may minister to congregants individually.

Hotze and the pastors argue the order also “severely infringes” on Second Amendment rights by closing gun stores. The order does not define gun shops as essential businesses, though Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion Friday that stay-at-home orders cannot force gun stores to close or otherwise restrict sales or transfers.

Hidalgo’s order, issued March 24, requires most businesses to close and directs residents to stay home unless they are getting groceries, running crucial errands, exercising or going to work at a business deemed essential. The directive is aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and it came a day after chief executives at the Texas Medical Center unanimously called for the county to implement a shelter-in-place order.

[…]

Hidalgo spokesman Rafael Lemaitre declined to address “the specifics of the litigation,” but said: “Public health and science must drive our response, and the science is clear: If we fail to take adequate steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, people will die. We continue to urge folks to take this seriously.”

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said county officials view the order as “necessary to deal with the extraordinary crisis that Harris County, Texas and the country are facing as a result of the coronavirus.”

Soard said the order does not intend to close gun stores and “we’ve not advised any gun stores to close, as far as I’m aware.” He also said Paxton’s opinion makes clear that gun shops in Texas will remain open.

As for the First Amendment challenge, Soard said there is “nothing in the order that prevents churches from broadcasting” services. He said Hidalgo crafted the order “as precisely or narrowly as she could to allow people to worship as they choose.”

1. If Hotze and his band of idiots were only putting their own health and lives at risk, I wouldn’t care. Hell, I’d cheer them on, from a sufficiently safe distance. But as we’ve said many times, that’s not how viruses work. They would be putting many other people in jeopardy. They may not care about that, but they don’t get to make that kind of decision unilaterally.

2. Even if the courts stop them, Hotze is still working to put other people in danger:

In a video posted to YouTube late last month, Hotze advised that people take multivitamins and not worry about the virus, which he said is “all media hype” and “fake news.”

Hotze then compared the virus to the flu or dysentery, and accused democrats of having “weaponized the coronavirus” to hurt President Donald Trump.

Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist, called the lawsuit “disheartening” and “reckless,” and said it is “potentially endangering lives.”

I’m old enough to remember when behavior like that was considered to be un-Christian.

3. I’ll leave the last word to this guy:

‘Nuff said. A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story. The county should be filing its response today.

Hotze and Buzbee

But wait, there’s more.

Anti-gay leader Steve Hotze withdrew his support for Tony Buzbee on Thursday, and called the mayoral candidate a “charlatan and liar” for denying he had sought the Republican power broker’s political support.

In an emailed statement, Hotze said Buzbee actively worked to get support from his group, Campaign for Houston, and at one point wanted Hotze to reach out to older Republicans to encourage them to vote for him.

“Make no mistake about it, the reason Tony Buzbee wanted to meet with Dr. Hotze was to gain his support,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, in response to a question about Hotze’s endorsement during a mayoral debate, Buzbee said he “didn’t know” Hotze or why the anti-LGBTQ Campaign for Houston had endorsed his campaign. A day later, Jared Woodfill, a spokesman for Hotze’s group, said the two had met multiple times in the run-up to Hotze’s endorsement, which was published in the Link Letter, a popular conservative newsletter

In response, Buzbee said he had forgotten about the meetings when he claimed not to know Hotze or agree with his anti-gay stances.

Reached by text Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for Buzbee said the campaign was reviewing Hotze’s statement.

Hotze’s statement details four meetings he and some of his associates had with Buzbee between Aug. 27 and Sept. 17. It was during those meetings, Hotze said, that Buzbee told him that he had opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015, and did not support the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

“During this meeting, Buzbee had aligned himself with Dr. Hotze’s view on these issues,” the statement said in reference to the Aug. 27 meeting at Hotze’s home.

See here for the background. Who among us hasn’t forgotten meeting four times with a viciously homophobic political power broker for the purpose of securing his endorsement in our Mayoral campaign? Could happen to anyone. Honestly, what else is there to say? It’s just perfect.

Buzbee and Hotze

Buddies.

One of the leaders of a controversial, anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said Tony Buzbee met numerous times with Steven Hotze before the Republican power broker endorsed his mayoral campaign, contradicting comments Buzbee made at a televised debate the night before.

Buzbee and Hotze met three or four times, starting in late September, according to Jared Woodfill, who for years has worked directly with Hotze and his group, Campaign for Houston, including as its spokesman.

During the meetings, Woodfill said, Buzbee asked for the group to “support” his campaign but did not ask for its endorsement. Woodfill said he and Hotze did not see a distinction between the two.

Hotze ultimately chose to back Buzbee, penning a full-page letter of support in the Link Letter, a popular conservative newsletter. Asked during Monday’s debate if he shares Hotze’s anti-LGBTQ views, Buzbee said he only had met Hotze once at a church and does not agree with the views Hotze has espoused.

The first meeting, Woodfill said, occurred in late September at Hotze’s home. Woodfill said a photo in the Link Letter showing Buzbee with his arm around Hotze’s shoulder was taken in Hotze’s study.

“It lasted about two hours,” Woodfill said. “I was there. I saw him there. … It was a great time. (Hotze) was very impressed by him. He said all the right things.”

Campaign for Houston decided to endorse Buzbee’s campaign after three more meetings that Woodfill said amounted to roughly seven hours of face time. Woodfill said they believed Buzbee held similar positions on issues that Hotze has made a focal point of his political career, including Drag Queen Story Hour.

“His positions on the issues seemed to be very consistent with Dr. Hotze’s,” Woodfill said.

There are no circumstances under which any decent human being should want to meet with Steven Hotze. The only thing more pathetic than this is Buzbee’s lame attempt to lie about having met with Hotze. Which, hilariously, has led to Hotze withdrawing his endorsement. I am loathe to attribute anything praiseworthy to Jared Woodfill, who is himself a contemptible excuse for a human being, but this is some next level shade:

“At this point, we’ve withdrawn the support, clearly based on the response last night. It appears Mr. Buzbee is trying to disassociate himself with the organization, disassociate himself with Dr. Hotze. And just to be honest with you, Dr. Hotze is very concerned that he would forget about the four days that they actually spent time together,” said Woodfill.

Truly, Buzbee and Hotze deserve each other. Two peas in a poison pod.

The clown show is coming for Drag Queen Story Time

The words, they fail me.

The group that opposed and defeated Houston’s equal rights ordinance in 2015 announced Tuesday it is launching a petition drive aimed at prohibiting Drag Queen Storytime, the program shuttered earlier this year by city officials over reports that a participant was a registered sex offender.

Houston Public Library officials in March said they would seek to “improve upon policies” and “re-organize the program,” in which drag queens read books to children at the Freed-Montrose Library. A spokesperson for Mayor Sylvester Turner declined comment and did not respond to an inquiry about the status of the program.

The group Campaign for Houston seeks to amend the city charter to bar the program “or any variation thereof where a biological male dresses up in women’s clothing representing himself as a Drag Queen or a biological woman dresses up in male clothing representing herself as a Drag King.”

The proposed amendment also would prohibit “any content, programs or people related to adult sexually oriented business” from reading stories to children at Houston public libraries.

Jared Woodfill, a Campaign for Houston spokesperson, alleged the program is “targeting kids” and called it “out of step with the moral values” of Houston.

Just a reminder, Jared Woodfill also spends his time defending the honor of accused child molesters. But sure, it’s drag shows that are the problem. I have a hard time seeing this proposition as worded surviving a First Amendment challenge, and I’m also not sure if the intent is to put something on the May ballot or the next November ballot. A previous lawsuit alleging that Drag Queen Story Time had somehow violated people’s religious freedom was dismissed (in addition to a lack of standing) not having established any constitutional problems. I don’t doubt their ability to get the petition signatures, but how it proceeds from there is unclear. Deeply stupid, and unclear.

Wolfe censured by HCDE

A new episode of the Michael Wolfe reality show.

Harris County Department of Education’s board voted to censure Trustee Michael Wolfe over sexual harassment allegations hours after a state district judge denied his request for a temporary restraining order.

Trustees on Wednesday voted 4-2, with Trustee Don Sumners abstaining, to issue the formal reprimand. Trustee George Moore broke with others in the board’s new majority, of which Wolfe is a part, to vote in favor of the punishment. Moore would not comment about his vote.

At the board meeting, Wolfe said the allegations were politically motivated and he had not had a proper chance to defend himself against such controversial allegations.

“If any of you were in my shoes, you would want your due process in court before being branded a sexual harasser,” Wolfe said. “I’m shocked these allegations have gotten this far, especially in America.”

Wolfe had tried to stop the censure vote Tuesday evening by having his attorney file a petition for a temporary restraining order and arguing for the order Wednesday afternoon.

A state district judge denied Wolfe’s request. Civil Court Judge Steven Kirkland said he was reluctant to get involved in a “political squabble” or to interfere with an elected board’s right to formally punish its own members.

He asked Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Wolfe, whether the censure would result in Wolfe losing his elected position, prevent him from voting on future items or would force him to register as a sex offender. Woodfill said no, but pointed out the official punishment would brand his client as a sexual harasser and could make it more difficult for him to gain future employment.

“There’s no statutory authority for me to interfere with another governmental body and no clear basis for me to jump in and do this,” Kirkland said. “It is not under an authority of the court to interfere with what is, essentially, a political question.”

See here and here for some background. As is usually the case with anything involving Michael Wolfe, you need to read the whole thing, then wash your hands afterwards. Have I mentioned that he’s up for election in 2020? Having him provide opportunities for Jared Woodfill to lose in court is a point in his favor, I’ll admit, but voting him out will still be sweet.

County Attorney investigating Wolfe

Good.

The Harris County Attorney is investigating a report alleging that a Harris County Department of Education Trustee Michael Wolfe sexually harassed a job applicant and retaliated against her when she refused to date him.

In a letter dated March 5, Vince Ryan asked Harris County Department of Education Superintendent James Colbert Jr. and Board President Josh Flynn to preserve documents related to the allegations and subsequent third-party investigation against Wolfe. Ryan wrote that the review would be completed “within a few weeks.”

Robert Soard, first assistant attorney for the Harris County Attorney’s Office, said Thursday that two senior attorneys are handling the inquiry, which could take several more weeks. He said their work includes reviewing an already published third-party investigation into the allegations, double-checking some points in that report and taking action they deem appropriate. If warranted, Soard said, they could have the authority to remove Wolfe from office.

“I can’t say this would qualify,” Soard said. “But certainly the report… raises questions that need to be reviewed.”

Meanwhile, an attorney representing Wolfe sent a letter to HCDE trustees and Colbert on Wednesday informing them Wolfe would sue if they moved forward with a vote to censure the longtime Republican operative.

Attorney Jared Woodfill said Thursday that attempting to brand Wolfe as a sexual harasser without sworn affidavits or depositions, and only relying on a 15-page third-party investigation that lacked official documentation, would unfairly damage his client’s reputation.

“It’s outrageous to me they would make these types of allegations and not do more to dive into what the truth is before brand someone with this label,” Woodfill said.

See here for the background. Hey, if you’re worried about unfounded accusations against Michael Wolfe, then surely you’re happy to have an official investigation into those allegations. I’m perfectly willing to reserve judgment until the County Attorney presents a report. Not that this should affect how you vote in the HCDE races next year – Michael Wolfe has now twice demonstrated that he is completely unfit for this, or any, office. But one way or the other, we’ll get some clarity on what may have happened in this case.

Seriously, what is happening at HCDE?

I’m just flabbergasted.

Six trustees of the Harris County Department of Education’s board have voted to accept an investigation alleging fellow Trustee Michael Wolfe sexually harassed a female job candidate and spread rumors about her sex life after she twice refused to go on a date with him.

The report, compiled by Dallas-based labor lawyer Harry Jones at the behest of HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr., also says Wolfe and Trustee Eric Dick skewed the interview process for a board secretary in 2018 to favor friends and people who were “friendly” to their political ideologies.

Trustees, who accepted the report Wednesday, will vote on whether to censure Wolfe at a special meeting that has yet to be scheduled. Jared Woodfill, an attorney representing Wolfe, said his client may sue if the board votes to censure. He said Wolfe denies any wrongdoing.

“It’s a politically manufactured hit job by a person upset with the way Mr. Wolfe voted,” Woodfill said.

See here and here for the background. The story quotes extensively from the report, which is a fascinating read and only 13 pages long, so by all means go through it. I’m just going to pick out a couple of bits:

Mr. Dick heard from a woman I will call “Jane Doe” about Mr. Wolfe asking her out during a job application process, being affected in his decisions based on whether she would go out with him, and being vindictive when she declined to go out with him, even including trying to prevent her working elsewhere.

As I learned from my conversations with Mr. Dick, and looking at his marketing materials, while Mr. Dick is pleasant and chatty, he is prone to irony and drama.

[…]

Mr. Wolfe (who met me at his lawyer’s office, voluntarily) freely admitted:
“We wanted to bring people in who were more friendly – politically and otherwise – to our philosophy; people we could trust. We all had people we wanted to apply for the position. I had two, Eric had two, Louis had one, one was an existing employee, a black lady in her 50s or 60s, and one was from the outside who just had a resume that looked good. She was the no-show.”

Mr. Evans denied having a “personal pick,” but Mr. Wolfe said Mr. Evans’ invitee was a “blonde, young woman from HEB,” who made the top three. Mr. Wolfe said he met the eventual hire, Ms. Smith, a year earlier at the Harris County Republican Primary office.

My impression was that Mr. Wolfe did not even know that what he had just told me was a boon to any decent plaintiff’s attorney who might want to accuse HCDE of deviating from their objective criteria to disfavor and discriminate, and that he was oblivious to the law.

Mr. Evans essentially confirmed my impression:
“Mike is a bit less formal than he should be. I did have to tell him not to ask certain questions. Illegal questions. I don’t think he’s ever held a management position.”

Mr. Flynn flat out told me:
“Michael is a child. He doesn’t even know what he is saying. He may be autistic.”

In any event, the verbally undisciplined Mr. Wolfe sat on the interview committee.

I haven’t even included some of the best parts, so yeah, you need to read this. You may also like reporter Shelby Webb’s Twitter thread about the meeting where this all came out. I don’t know what happens next, but I do know four things: 1) Michael Wolfe is even skeezier and sleazier than I had imagined; 2) Eric Dick may have forced me to say some complimentary things about him in the wake of the recent shenanigans, but he’s still Eric Dick; 3) Jared Woodfill has to make a buck somehow now that he can’t leech off of Republican judges; and 4) assuming that the Lege doesn’t kill off the HCDE, we will have another chance to boot Michael Wolfe off of the Board in 2020, along with Don Sumners. Hold onto that while we wallow in the current chaos.

Same sex employee benefits lawsuit tossed again

This is great, but as always that’s not the end of it.

The lawsuit dates back to 2013, when pastor Jack Pidgeon and accountant Larry Hicks sued the city to end the policy. In 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark Obergefell ruling that opened up marriage rights to same-sex couples in all states, Pidgeon and Hicks continued to pursue the lawsuit, arguing that the decision did not extend to the right to city spousal benefits.

In June 2017, the Texas Supreme Court agreed, ruling unanimously that while same-sex marriage had been made legal, there is still room for state courts to explore the “reach and ramifications” of the landmark Obergefell ruling. The all-Republican high court sent the case back to a Houston trial court for further consideration.

Nearly two years later, Judge Sonya Heath on Monday threw out the case, ruling for Houston in what the city has touted as a major win.

“This is a victory for equality, the law of our nation and human rights,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement Thursday evening. “I thank our Legal Department for its diligent work defending common sense and fairness, and I’m glad we get to continue the policy established by the city 6 years ago.”

Still, that win won’t go unchallenged. Jared Woodfill, the lawyer who represents Pidgeon and Hicks, said Thursday night that his clients will appeal the ruling — and that he expects the case to land again before the Texas Supreme Court and that it could eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

See here, here, and here for some background. There’s a bunch of blathering by Jared Woodfill in the story about how unfair it was that a Democratic judge, who ousted the Republican judge that originally gave him an injunction that was quickly overridden, got to rule on his case, while also gloating that Republican judges up the line and on SCOTUS will surely be in the bag for him. He failed to mention that the only reason this case is still being litigated is because the State Supreme Court bowed to political pressure after initially giving him the brushoff. I don’t know what will happen in this case once the appeals process starts up again, but I do know two things. One is that Woodfill and his crank case plaintiffs represent a shrinking fringe, and two is that we need to win more elections so we can pass some more robust laws protecting the fundamental rights of all Americans. (Honestly, just ensuring that no more bad legislation gets passed would be a big step forward.) Mayor Turner’s press release has more.

More on the Woodfill raid

Yeah.

Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill is being investigated on theft and money laundering allegations, accused of misappropriating funds of at least two of his law firm’s clients, according to an affidavit by the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Authorities on Monday seized 127 boxes of files, six computers and disk drives from the Houston high-rise office of the Woodfill Law Firm at Three Riverway, according to the returned search warrant filed in Harris County district court on Tuesday.

In his affidavit for the search warrant, which also targeted computer logins, passwords, memory devices, and telephones owned by Woodfill or the law firm, fraud examiner Bryan Vaclavik indicated authorities were seeking evidence used to commit felony offenses of misapplication of fiduciary property, theft and money laundering.

No charges have been filed against anyone in connection with the ongoing investigation. The Harris County District Attorney’s office declined comment on the investigation.

Investigators seized financial records, legal files, documents and correspondence on Monday related to two divorce cases handled by the firm, the search warrant documents show.

The ongoing investigation has nothing to do with Woodfill’s party activities, his attorney Jimmy Ardoin told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday.

Woodfill was chairman of the county Republican Party for 12 years, before losing the post in 2014.

Ardoin said his client had no advance notice of the search and had no details about the allegations beyond the content of the search warrant.

Ardoin said he had been in contact with the district attorney’s office about its review of finances in a divorce case for three to four months and was dismayed that Woodfill was not allowed to provide information voluntarily.

“We believe there’s an accusation of misappropriation of client funds,” Ardoin said. “We have yet to get confirmation of what it is.”

See here for the background. I’m going to try to not get ahead of the facts, and to wait patiently for things to happen in this case – remember, as the story says, no charges have been filed as yet against anyone. But as I think about who Jared Woodfill is, boy will it be tough to do that.

Police raid Jared Woodfill’s office

Oh, my.

Authorities on Monday raided the law office of former Harris County Republican Party chairman Jared Woodfill.

Investigators with the Harris County District Attorney’s office wheeled carts of documents from Woodfill’s office at 3 Riverway at least an hour after they arrived.

[…]

Woodfill is the subject of two separate formal complaints — one to the State Bar of Texas and the other to the Houston Police Department. In both complaints, Woodfill is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients’ trust accounts.

In the criminal complaint, filed in March 2017, Richard Rodriguez accused Woodfill’s firm of stealing more than $300,000 from a divorce trust account. Rodriguez said Monday he believed the search was related to his complaint.

Oh, my, my.

Documents show Woodfill was reprimanded by the state bar two months ago for failure to take reasonable action in another divorce case.

The state bar, which oversees lawyers, ordered him to take classes in billing, trust accounts or law practice management.

All of that on top of two other civil cases in which opponents recently demanded Woodfill pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

It’s too early to say what all this is about. We don’t even know for certain that Woodfill himself is the subject of any investigation. But, um, none of this looks great.

Hotze and the judges

From family law attorney Greg Enos, who publishes a legal blog/newsletter called The Mongoose (I’ve referenced him here before):

Real Journalists Should Investigate How Republican Judges Are Funneling Money to Hotze’s Hate Group

I am a full-time lawyer and only a part-time journalist. Real news organizations need to look into the facts and questions uncovered in my story in this issue and tomorrow’s issue about how Harris County Republican judges are giving money to a politically powerful and hateful bigot, Steven Hotze, and his partner in anti-LGBT insanity, Jared Woodfill. Judges are paying money to a mysterious company that Woodfill and Hotze apparently partly own even as Woodfill is appearing in front of those same judges as a lawyer and being appointed by those judges to CPS cases where the county pays Woodfill’s fees. Go ask those judges if they are disclosing to the attorneys who oppose Woodfill in their courts that there is a business relationship between the judges’ campaigns and a company Woodfill apparently co-owns.

There have been news stories and blog posts about Hotze’s oversized and malignant influence on local GOP politics. But, no journalist has so far delved deeply into how money flows between Hotze’s various PAC’s, how his influential slate mailer is paid for, or where payments from judges to Hotze actually go. My two part article published today and tomorrow attempts to unravel and explain the tangled financial web of hate involving Hotze, Woodfill and most of the Republican judges in Harris County.

I started this project by trying to find out if the judges were making illegal contributions to Hotze’s political action committees (PAC). I realized during my investigation that some of the judges did not know exactly where their checks to Hotze ended up. But, I did conclude, based on the limited information I was able to uncover, that the judges’ payments were not illegally made to a PAC.

However, what I did learn poses just as serious questions about judicial ethics and the integrity of our judicial system. I am also now really curious about why these judges are paying money to Hotze’s and Woodfill’s company and what exactly they get for those payments if they are not paying for inclusion in Hotze’s slate mailer. I have spent dozens of hours on this investigation, and I still have more questions than answers.

That’s Part 1. Here’s Part 2. Both are long and detailed, far too in depth for me to usefully excerpt, so go read them. Enos is up front about generally supporting Democrats, but has no problem crossing over to support judges he likes, as well as District Clerk Chris Daniel. Enos documented a bunch of bad behavior by Judges Alicia Franklin and Denise Pratt in 2014; see here for those archives. If he’s coming at you, he’s got the receipts. Lord knows, no one deserves to be thoroughly and humiliatingly defeated more than Steven Hotze, and no judge worthy of the name should want to be associated with him. Go read what Enos has to say on the matter.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

More accusers against Paul Pressler

So often the case when there is one accusation of abuse against a powerful person, more victims come forward with their own stories.

The list of men accusing a former Texas state judge and leading figure of the Southern Baptist Convention of sexual misconduct continues to grow.

In separate court affidavits filed this month, two men say Paul Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years. Those accusations were filed as part of a lawsuit filed last year by another man who says he was regularly raped by Pressler.

Pressler’s newest accusers are another former member of a church youth group and a lawyer who worked for Pressler’s former law firm until 2017.

Toby Twining, 59, now a New York musician, was a teenager in 1977 when he says Pressler grabbed his penis in a sauna at River Oaks Country Club, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. At that time, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel Church in Houston; he was ousted from that position in 1978 after church officials received information about “an alleged incident,” according to a letter introduced into the court file.

Brooks Schott, 27, now a lawyer in Washington state, says in an affidavit that he resigned his position at Pressler’s former law firm after Pressler in 2016 invited Schott to get into a hot tub with him naked. He also accuses Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s longtime law partner and the head of the Harris County Republican Party until 2014, of failing to prevent Pressler’s sexual advances toward him and others, which Schott says were well-known among the firm, the documents state.

Documents recently made public show that in 2004, Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to another former youth group member for physical assault. That man, Duane Rollins, filed a new suit last year in which he demands more than $1 million for decades of alleged rapes that a psychiatrist recently confirmed had been suppressed from Rollins’ memory. Rollins also claims the trauma pushed him to the drugs and alcohol that resulted in multiple prison sentences.

[…]

Brooks Schott states in the documents that he met Pressler in 2016, after Schott was hired as a lawyer at the firm Pressler co-founded with Woodfill.

Schott says he was invited to lunch by Pressler in December 2016. He arrived at Pressler’s home, he says, where he was greeted by Pressler, who was not wearing pants. After dressing, Pressler gave Schott a tour of his office and mentioned a 10-person hot tub at his ranch.

“Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked,’ ” Schott’s affidavit states. “He then invited me to go hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity.”

Upon returning to the firm, Schott said an office manager told him that Pressler had previously solicited young men at the firm. Schott then complained to Woodfill, according to emails that were filed with his affidavit.

“If (the office manager) knew of Pressler’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, I find it hard to believe that you did not know about it,” he wrote in a Dec. 9, 2016 email to Woodfill, court records show.

Woodfill responded that Pressler was no longer his law partner and that “this 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” court records show. In a subsequent email, Woodfill said that the conduct Schott described “is unacceptable” and said he would address it with Pressler.

In an email on Thursday, Woodfill responded to Schott’s assertion, writing that “the person described in Mr. Schott’s affidavit doesn’t match up with the Judge Pressler I know” and that Pressler “has not been associated with my law firm for over a decade.”

See here and here for the background. Copies of the affidavits are embedded in the story. And remember, when he’s not defending the character of Paul Pressler, Jared Woodfill is busy fighting to take away spousal benefits from LGBT city employees because he thinks gay people are icky and perverted. Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more to this story.

Anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit moved back to state court

On and on we go.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the city of Houston continues to battle for the rights of its gay workers.

On Tuesday, a judge struck down Houston’s attempts to defend its city benefits policy in federal court. The case will be remanded back to state court, and the city will have to pay the legal fees of the two men suing to overturn the policy, which extends spousal benefits to same-sex marriages.

The outcome of this case will be limited to the city of Houston. Dallas has a similar policy that has not been challenged.

But the fight is a good example of the war waged to erase, erode or at least stop the expansion of LGBT rights since since the 2015 marriage ruling, Noel Freeman said.

“These are people who are never, ever going to give up. They are going to go to their grave hating us,” Freeman, the first city of Houston employee to receive spousal benefits for his husband, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. “And there is no court case … that’s going to change their minds.

“That’s just the way it is.”

[…]

In a last-ditch effort to shift the fight to federal court, Houston asked to move the case to the Southern District Court earlier this year. On Tuesday, Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled the city did not prove federal court was the proper venue and ordered it to pay Pidgeon and Hicks’ legal fees.

The case will be remanded to Harris County District Court. Married gay city employees will continue to receive benefits for their spouses until a final ruling.

See here for previous coverage of this atrocity, which is still a thing because our feckless State Supreme Court allowed itself to be pressured into giving the case a second chance after previously refusing to consider it. Noel Freeman, who’s a friend of mine, is quite right that the people pursuing this action (including Jared Woodfill) will never give up – if this suit is ultimately ruled against them, they’ll find some other pretext to keep LGBT folks from being treated as full and equal members of society. We all need to oppose the politicians who enable these haters, and support those who favor equality. It’s the only way this will get better.

More on the Pressler lawsuit

The Chron adds some details to the lawsuit against former State Representative and Judge Paul Pressler, who has been accused by Duane Rollins of long-term sexual abuse.

Rollins worked in 2003 and 2004 as a personal assistant to Pressler and attended the same church as Pressler beginning as a teenager, according to court documents. Those documents include two letters ostensibly written by Pressler in 2000 and 2002 trying to gain Rollins’ release from prison.

The suit, a revised version of which was filed Dec. 14, seeks more than $1 million in damages.

Also named as defendants are Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner and former head of the Republican Party in Harris County; the First Baptist Church of Houston; the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and its president, Paige Patterson; and Pressler’s wife, Nancy.

The suit claims the other defendants knew or should have known about the alleged assaults and could have stopped them.

Pressler has categorically denied all of the allegations in court filings, as did the other defendants, and his lawyer filed a motion Thursday afternoon asking that the case be thrown out of court.

[…]

It’s not the first time Rollins has sued Pressler – he filed suit in July 2004 with his mother, Margaret Duryea, but the suit was dismissed two months later after an apparent settlement was reached, according to records with the Dallas County District Clerk’s Office and Harris County courts.

The case file containing the 2004 lawsuit has since been destroyed by Dallas County, as allowed under state law. But Rollins’ attorney, Daniel Shea, who also represented him in Dallas, provided a copy of the 2004 lawsuit, which accuses Pressler of physically assaulting Rollins during a trip to Dallas in November 2003.

In August 2016, Rollins filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against Pressler in Harris County to force him to set aside funds to pay out the remaining balance of the 2004 settlement agreement through 2029. That’s when the payments are set to end, according to court documents.

Neither Woodfill, who represented Pressler in 2004, nor Shea would provide the Chronicle a copy of the settlement agreement. But the court documents filed in 2016 link the settlement directly to the 2004 lawsuit.

The notice seeks to question Pressler under oath about the settlement agreement.

[…]

Shea is perhaps best known for suing a Harris County judge who posted the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, and for attempting to sue the Pope in federal court in 2005 over sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Shea also represented some plaintiffs in Massachusetts when sexual abuse scandals plagued the Boston and Worcester Archdioceses in the early 2000s.

Shea has had a rocky history in Texas. His law license was suspended in 2013 for 18 months for professional misconduct and was reinstated in October 2014, though he remained on probation until March 2017, according to the State Bar of Texas website. A state bar disciplinary report published in the Texas Bar Journal said he entered into a contract with a client that was unfair and unreasonable, without the client’s written consent to the terms. He was ordered to pay more than $38,000 in restitution to the client.

See here for the background. The defense is arguing that the statute of limitations renders this action moot. There will be a hearing on January 17, and there is also a motion to transfer the case to Tarrant County. Assuming this doesn’t get kicked, it’s going to be quite fascinating to watch.

(On a side note, Paul Pressler gave $5000 to the anti-HERO campaign. Gotta beware of those predators, you know.)

The Paul Pressler lawsuit

Here‘s a thing to keep an eye on.

A former Texas state judge and lawmaker has been accused of sexually abusing a young man for several decades starting when the boy was just 14, according to a lawsuit filed in October in Harris County.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Pressler, a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals who served in the Texas state house from 1957–59, sexually assaulted Duane Rollins, his former bible study student, several times per month over a period of years. According to the filing, the abuse started in the late 1970s and continued less frequently after Rollins left Houston for college in 1983.

In a November court filing, Pressler “generally and categorically [denied] each and every allegation” in Rollins’ petition.

The abuse, which consisted of anal penetration, took place in Pressler’s master bedroom study, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, Pressler told Rollins he was “special” and that the sexual contact was their God-sanctioned secret.

Pressler is a leading figure on the religious right in Texas and was a key player in the “conservative resurgence” of Southern Baptism, a movement in the 1970s and 1980s that aimed to oust liberals and moderates from the church’s organizational structure. Pressler’s wife Nancy, his former law partner Jared Woodfill, Woodfill Law Firm, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church of Houston are also named as defendants in the suit.

Rollins seeks damages of over $1 million.

It’s ugly stuff. The original reporting was in the Quorum Report, which has a few more details:

Rollins regularly saw Patterson and Pressler. At one point, the three travelled abroad together, the suit says.

Following the trip, Rollins was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Houston, leading to a string of felonies and ultimately back to prison. He was finally released in November of 2015 after telling a psychologist about being molested.

Rollins sought professional help and a lawyer, Daniel Shea of Houston.

A psychiatric evaluation of Rollins provided in the filing revealed he suffered from undiagnosed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being molested.

The petition also questions the dogmas and beliefs of Pressler, Rev. Patterson and others with the goal of discrediting the theology of the resurgence, which advocates a literal interpretation of Scripture within the SBC, as a smokescreen for “one of the most pernicious philosophical and theological dogmas afoot in this country. It is known as ‘Calvinism’,” the case reads.

The lawsuit is here.

Letters from Judge Pressler vouching for the plaintiff are here and here.

The psychiatric evaluation of the plaintiff can be downloaded here.

Keep an eye on this one, I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

Two unsatisfying articles about the 2016 Democratic sweep in Harris County

The Democratic sweep in Harris County has drawn some national attention, as writers from the left and right try to analyze what happened here last year and why Hillary Clinton carried the county by such a large margin. Unfortunately, as is often the case with stories about Texas by people not from Texas, the results are not quite recognizable to those of us who are here. Let’s begin with this story in Harper’s, which focuses on the efforts of the Texas Organizing Project.

Amid the happy lawyers, journalists, and other movers and shakers at the victory parties, one group of seventy-five men and women, who had arrived on a chartered bus, stood out. Most of them were Latinos, like Petra Vargas, a Mexican-born hotel worker who had spent the day walking her fellow immigrants to the polls. Others were African Americans, such as Rosie McCutcheon, who had campaigned relentlessly for the ticket while raising six grandchildren on a tiny income. All of them wore turquoise T-shirts bearing the logo top. Not only had they made a key contribution to the day’s results — they represented a new and entirely promising way of doing politics in Texas.

The Texas Organizing Project was launched in 2009 by a small group of veteran community organizers. Michelle Tremillo, a fourth-generation Tejana (a Texan of Mexican descent), grew up in public housing in San Antonio, where her single mother worked as a janitor. Making it to Stanford on a scholarship, she was quickly drawn into politics, beginning with a student walkout in protest of Proposition 187, California’s infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure. By the time she graduated, the elite university had changed her view of the world. “I always knew I was poor growing up, and I even understood that I was poorer than some of my peers that I went to school with,” Tremillo told me. What she eventually came to understand was the sheer accumulation of wealth in America and its leveling effect on the rest of the population: “We were all poor.”

Both Tremillo and her TOP cofounder Ginny Goldman, a Long Island native, had worked for ACORN, the progressive national community organization that enjoyed considerable success — registering, for example, half a million minority voters in 2008 — before becoming a target of calculated assaults by right-wing operatives. By 2009, the group was foundering, and it was dissolved a year later.

In response, the activists came up with TOP. Goldman, who was its first executive director, told me that TOP was designed to focus on specific Texan needs and realities and thereby avoid the “national cookie-cutter approach.” The organization would work on three levels: doorstep canvassing, intense research on policy and strategy, and mobilizing voter turnout among people customarily neglected by the powers that be.

[…]

The TOP founders and their colleagues, including another Stanford graduate, Crystal Zermeno, a Tejana math whiz whose mother grew up sleeping on the floor, began to ponder ways to change that. Might it be possible to mobilize enough voters to elect progressives to statewide office? For non-Republicans in Texas and elsewhere, the most galling aspect of recurrent electoral defeat has been the persistent failure of supposedly natural allies, specifically Latinos and African Americans, to show up at the polls. For years, Democratic officials and commentators had cherished the notion that natural growth in the minority population, which rose from 20 percent to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population between 1985 and 2015, would inevitably put the party back in power. Yet these designated agents of change seemed reluctant to play their part. As I was incessantly reminded in Houston, “Demographics are not destiny.”

The problem has been especially acute in Texas, which produced the lowest overall turnout of any state in the 2010 midterm elections. Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home that year, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. The result was a state government subservient to the demands and prejudices of Republican primary voters, and unrepresentative of the majority in a state where almost one in four children lived in poverty, 60 percent of public-school students qualified for free or subsidized lunches, and the overall poverty rate was growing faster than the national average. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, TOP launched an ambitious project to discover, as Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

Ever since the era of Ann Richards, Democrats had been focusing their efforts (without success) on winning back white swing voters outside the big cities. But Zermeno realized that there was no reason “to beat our heads against the wall for that group of people anymore, not when we’ve got a million-voter gap and as many as four million non-voting people of color in the big cities, who are likely Democrats.” By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

There was, however, still another question to answer. Why were those 4 million people declining to vote? TOP embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys. (Their string of lucrative settlements included some with insurance companies who had balked at paying claims for Ike-related house damage.) Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julián Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.

“There’s this misunderstanding that people don’t care, that people are apathetic,” Goldman told me. “It’s so not true. People are mad and they want to do something about it. People want fighters that will deliver real change for them. That’s why year-round community organizing is so critical. People see that you can deliver real impact, and that you need the right candidates in office to do it, and connect it back to the importance of voting. It’s the ongoing cycle. We see winning the election as only the first step toward the real win, which is changing the policies that are going to make people’s lives better.”

Beginning with the 2012 election, TOP canvassers — volunteers and paid employees working their own neighborhoods — were trained to open a doorstep interview not with statements about a candidate but with a question: “What issue do you care about?” The answer, whether it was the minimum wage or schools or potholes, shaped the conversation as the canvasser explained that TOP had endorsed a particular candidate (after an intensive screening) because of his or her position on those very issues. These were not hit-and-run encounters. Potential voters were talked to “pretty much nonstop for about eight to ten weeks leading to the election,” according to Goldman. “They got their doors knocked three to five times. They got called five to seven times. They signed a postcard saying, ‘I pledge to vote.’ They circled which day they were going to vote on a little calendar on the postcard, and we mailed those postcards back to them. We offered them free rides to the polls. We answered all of their questions, gave them all the information they needed, until they cast a ballot. And what we saw was that the Latino vote grew by five percentage points in Harris County in 2012.”

Link via Political Animal. I love TOP and I think they do great work, but this article leaves a lot of questions unasked as well as unanswered. When Ginny Goldman says that the Latino vote grew by five percent in Harris County in 2012, I need more context for that. How does that compare to the growth of Latino registered voters in the same time period (which I presume is since 2008)? What was the growth rate in areas where TOP was doing its outreach versus areas where it was not? Do we have the same data for 2016? I want to be impressed by that number, but I need this information before I can say how impressed I am.

For all that TOP should be rightly proud of their efforts, it should be clear from the description that it’s labor intensive. If the goal is to close a 1.1 million voter gap at the state level, how well does the TOP model scale up? What’s the vision for taking this out of Harris County (and parts of Dallas; the story also includes a bit about the Democratic win in HD107, which as we know was less Dem-friendly than HD105, which remained Republican) and into other places where it can do some good?

I mean, with all due respect, the TOP model of identifying low-propensity Dem-likely voters and pushing them to the polls with frequent neighbor-driven contact sounds a lot like the model that Battleground Texas was talking about when they first showed up. One of the complaints I heard from a dedicated BGTX volunteer was that both the people doing the contact and the people being contacted grew frustrated by it over time. That gets back to my earlier question about how well this might scale, since one size seldom fits all. To the extent that it does work I say great! Let’s raise some money and put all the necessary resources into making it work. I just have a hard time believing that it’s the One Thing that will turn the tide. It’s necessary – very necessary – to be sure. I doubt that it is sufficient.

Also, too, in an article that praises the local grassroots effort of a TOP while denigrating top-down campaigns, I find it fascinating that the one political consultant quoted is a guy based in Washington, DC. Could the author not find a single local consultant to talk about TOP’s work?

Again, I love TOP and I’m glad that they’re getting some national attention. I just wish the author of this story had paid more of that attention to the details. With all that said, the TOP story is a masterpiece compared to this Weekly Standard article about how things looked from the Republican perspective.

Gary Polland, a three-time Harris County Republican party chairman, can’t remember a time the GOP has done so poorly. “It could be back to the 60’s.” Jared Woodfill, who lost the chairmanship in 2014, does remember. “This is the worst defeat for Republicans in the 71-year history of Republican party of Harris County,” he said.

But crushing Republicans in a county of 4.5 million people doesn’t mean Democrats are on the verge of capturing Texas. In fact, Democratic leaders were as surprised as Republicans by the Harris sweep. But it does show there’s a political tide running in their direction.

Democratic strategists are relying on a one-word political panacea to boost the party in overtaking Republicans: Hispanics. They’re already a plurality—42 percent—in Harris County. Whites are 31 percent, blacks 20 percent, and Asians 7 percent. And the Hispanic population continues to grow. Democrats control the big Texas cities—Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, to name three—thanks to Hispanic voters.

But in Houston, at least, Democrats have another factor in their favor: Republican incompetence. It was in full bloom in 2016. Though it was the year of a change election, GOP leaders chose a status quo slogan, “Harris County Works.” Whatever that was supposed to signal, it wasn’t change.

“It doesn’t exactly have the aspirational ring of ‘Make America Great Again’ or even Hillary’s ‘Stronger Together,'” Woodfill said. “It is very much a message of ‘everything is okay here, let’s maintain the status quo.’ People were confused and uninspired.”

A separate decision was just as ruinous. GOP leaders, led by chairman Paul Simpson, panicked at the thought of Trump at the top of the ticket. So they decided to pretend Trump was not on the ticket. They kept his name off campaign literature. They didn’t talk about him. And Trump, assured of winning Texas, didn’t spend a nickel in the Houston media market. It became an “invisible campaign,” Polland said. “There were votes to be had,” Polland told me. They were Trump votes. They weren’t sought.

This strategy defied reason and history. Disunited parties usually do poorly. GOP leaders gambled that their candidates would do better if the Trump connection were minimized. That may have eased the qualms of some about voting Republican. But it’s bound to have prompted others to stay at home on Election Day. We know one thing about the gamble: It didn’t work. Republicans were slaughtered, and it wasn’t because the candidates were bad.

“Our overall ticket was of high quality, but no casual voter would know it since the campaign focus was on ‘Harris County Works,’ and Houston doesn’t,” Polland insisted. “Did we read about any of the high-quality women running? Not much. Did we read about issues raised by Donald Trump that were resonating with voters? Nope. Did the Simpson-led party even mention Trump? Nope.”

[…]

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the “holy grail” for Democrats, both in Texas and nationally, is winning the Hispanic vote. “They did that somewhat successfully” in 2016, he said in an interview. Unless Democrats attract significantly more Hispanic voters in 2018, Brady thinks Republicans should recover. His district north of Houston lies partly in Harris County.

For this to happen, they will need to attract more Hispanic voters themselves. They recruited a number of Hispanics to run in 2016, several of them impressive candidates. All were defeated in the Democratic landslide.

I have no idea what the author means by “a number of Hispanics” being recruited, because by my count of the countywide candidates, there were exactly two – Debra Ibarra Mayfield and Linda Garcia, both judges who had been appointed to the benches on which they sat. Now I agree that two is a number, but come on.

Like the first story, this one talks about the increase in Latino voting in Harris County in 2016 as well. Usually, in this kind of article, some Republican will talk about how Latinos aren’t automatically Democrats, how it’s different in Texas, and so on. In this one, the turnout increase is met with a resigned shrug and some vague assurances that things will be better for them in 2018. Maybe no one had anything more insightful than that to say – it’s not like Jared Woodfill is a deep thinker – but it sure seems to me like that might have been a worthwhile subject to explore.

As for the griping about the county GOP’s strategy of not mentioning Trump, a lot of that is the two previous GOP chairs dumping on the current chair, which is fine by me. But honestly, what was the local GOP supposed to do? Not only was their Presidential candidate singularly unappealing, their two main incumbents, Devon Anderson and Ron Hickman, weren’t exactly easy to rally behind, either. Focusing on the judges seems to me to have been the least bad of a bunch of rotten options. Be that as it may, no one in this story appeared to notice or care that some thirty thousand people who otherwise voted Republican crossed over for Hillary Clinton, with a few thousand more voting Libertarian or write-in. Does anyone think that may be a problem for them in 2018? A better writer might have examined that a bit, as well as pushed back on the assertion that more Trump was the best plan. It may be that, as suggested by the recent Trib poll, some of these non-Trumpers are warming up to the guy now that he’s been elected. That would suggest at least some return to normalcy for the GOP, but the alternate possibility is that they’re just as disgusted with him and might be open to staying home or voting against some other Republicans next year as a protest. That would be a problem, but not one that anyone in this story is thinking about.

So there you have it. At least with the first story, I learned something about TOP. In the second one, I mostly learned that Gary Polland and Jared Woodfill don’t like Paul Simpson and have him in their sights for next year. That will provide a little mindless entertainment for the rest of us, which I think we’ll all appreciate. It still would have been nice to have gotten something more of substance.

State Supreme Court hears same sex marriage appeal today

Gird your loins.

Almost two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Texas Republicans are still fighting the ruling — and they’re getting another day in court.

The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. Though such policies have been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas conservatives are betting the Houston case opens up a path to relitigate the high court’s decision.

“This particular opinion will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and is a potential vehicle for overturning Obergefell given the changing composition of the court,” said Jared Woodfill, one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit filed against Houston on behalf of two taxpayers, and a prominent conservative activist in the city. “Ultimately, I would like to see Obergefell overturned.”

At the center of the Houston case is whether Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, requires the city and other governmental agencies to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.

But opponents argue that interpretation was far too broad.

Obergefell may require states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, but that does not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples — any more than Roe v. Wade requires states to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” lawyers challenging the Houston policy wrote in a filing with the Texas Supreme Court.

They argue that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas Attorney General’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

[…]

For observers, the court’s reversal was an unusual move. And it’s difficult to ignore the politics involved, considering that the legal issues in the Houston case seem to be “tap dancing around what is already a fairly established right,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston.

“There has been an emerging litmus test for state judges that wasn’t necessarily so apparent 20 years ago,” Rottinghaus said. “Republicans have party control of the court but not necessarily ideological control, and I think these kinds of cases are those that can be used in the future to be a bulwark for conservative activists looking to change even a Republican court to a more conservative direction.”

See here and here for the background, and here for an amicus brief filed on behalf of Equality Texas and a married couple who would be negatively affected by a ruling for the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court is gonna do what the Supreme Court is gonna do, and I’m not in a position to analyze the legal minutiae. What I will emphasize is that not only does this lawsuit go against any common sense idea of fairness – if you’re married, you’re married, and you have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married; I do know that the underpinning of the Obergefell ruling was a rejection of this argument that same-sex couples are somehow “less than” opposite sex couples – but it’s well against the mainstream of public opinion. Even before Obergefell was handed down, a plurality of Texans supported same sex marriage. I can’t find any more recent results, mostly because it’s not even worth polling on these days. Corporate America has been providing benefits to same-sex couples for years now. This is a settled matter for everyone except pea-brained individuals like Jared Woodfill. I can only hope the Supreme Court is better than this.

Republicans take their desperate shot at limiting same sex marriage

Pathetic.

RedEquality

After coming out on the losing end of a United States Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Texas Republican leaders are now looking to the Texas Supreme Court to narrow the scope of that landmark ruling.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday filed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court urging the all-Republican court to reconsider a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. It appears they’ve set their eyes on the Houston case as a way to limit the effect of the high court’s ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court has already had a say in the case challenging Houston’s benefits policy, which was extended to same-sex spouses of city employees. In a 8-1 ruling, the court in September declined to take up the case, letting stand a lower court decision that upheld the benefits for same-sex couples.

In asking the Texas Supreme Court to re-open the Houston case, state’s leaders in their brief also urged the court to clarify that the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, overriding Texas’ long-standing ban on same-sex marriage.

Abbott, Patrick and Paxton in their brief argue that Obergefell does not include a “command” that public employers “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage — steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages (through the allocation of employee benefits) on the same terms as traditional marriages.”

See here and here for the background. I have no idea why they think the Supreme Court is any more likely to take this up now than the last time, but what do I know. And if this does somehow make it past the State Supreme Court, I have a feeling the federal courts will be there to swat it back down. I don’t even know what to say at this point, so go read this statement from Equality Texas about this fiasco. The Press and the Current have more.

Republicans join Woodfill’s ridiculous anti-spousal benefits crusade

Shoveling sand against the tide.

RedEquality

Fifty Republican members of the Texas Legislature have signed a court brief arguing that the same-sex spouses of government employees shouldn’t be entitled to health insurance and other benefits.

The “friend-of-the-court” brief was submitted Friday in a lawsuit brought by anti-LGBT activists against the city of Houston in response to then-Mayor Annise Parker’s decision to extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees in 2013.

Last month, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Pidgeon v. Parker, with only Justice John Devine dissenting. But Jonathan Saenz, president of the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, and former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill have petitioned the nine-member court for a rehearing.

[…]

The brief argues that while the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a right to marry, “nothing in that ruling compelled the taxpayers of Texas to pay for a vast array of benefits for same-sex spouses.”

“This Court has the opportunity to diminish federal tyranny and re-establish Texas Sovereignty,” the brief states. “The people have already spoken on the issue through the Texas Legislature. It would be a detriment to their constituents if this elected Court were to remain silent.”

LGBT advocates have said that under Obergefell, if a government employer offers any spousal benefits, it must offer them equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They’ve also said they believe it is unlikely the state’s highest court will reconsider its decision.

See here for the background. The list of Republicans who signed on mostly includes the usual suspects, but there were a few names that disappointed me. Putting that aside, I have to ask, how does this even make sense? Does anyone really think that Obergefell will be interpreted as “OK, fine, you can get married, but you can’t get health insurance or be named the primary beneficiary of a retirement fund unless you get hetero married”? Forget about any cockamamie legal theory for this, what kind of person thinks this makes sense? (By the way, that cockamamie legal theory, as espoused by the one Supreme Court Justice out of nine that originally voted to rehear the appeal, is that hetero marriage counts for more and can be privileged by the state because of procreation; this argument was explicitly rejected by the federal courts and SCOTUS in the Obergefell case. So you can see what kind of a future this would have if it somehow got accepted here.) The Statesman has more.

Jared Woodfill never stops never stopping

Here we go again.

RedEquality

Fifteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, anti-LGBT groups in Texas are still fighting the decision.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the right-wing lobby group Texas Values, and Houston anti-LGBT activist Jared Woodfill announced Tuesday that they’re again asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear their lawsuit seeking to block the same-sex spouses of government workers from receiving health care and other benefits.

[…]

In their motion for a rehearing, Saenz and Woodfill argue that Obergefell should be interpreted narrowly because it violates states’ rights under the 10th Amendment, has no basis in the Constitution and threatens religious freedom.

“It is clear that the current Supreme Court will continue to use its power to advance the ideology of the sexual revolution until there is a change of membership,” Saenz and Woodfill wrote. “It is well known that the homosexual rights movement is not content with the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage in all 50 States; it is also seeking to coerce people of faith who oppose homosexual behavior into participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

Ken Upton, senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, told theObserver that Saenz and Woodfill are “more to be pitied than censored.”

“Obergefell requires the government to treat all married couples the same,” Upton said. “Obergefell doesn’t say that a government employer has to offer any married couple spousal benefits, but if it chooses to do so it must offer the same benefits to all married couples not just the different-sex ones. The government does not get to privilege straight couples over gay couples.”

If the Texas Supreme Court were to take the case and rule in favor of Saenz and Woodfill, the city of Houston could appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, Upton said.

“But let’s be realistic,” he added. “The Texas Supreme Court is not going to grant rehearing. My take is that the Texas Supreme Court is done with marriage. I don’t think there’s much appetite to re-engage that discussion.”

See here for the background. Some things call for logic and reason, some for scorn and derision, and for some all one can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement. That’s all I’ve got on this one.

State Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit over city’s same-sex partner benefits

I had totally forgotten this was still a thing that was happening.

RedEquality

The Texas Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging Houston’s extension of health and life-insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of married employees, calling an apparent end to three years of legal battles over the policy change.

Houston began offering employment benefits to spouses of all married couples in November 2013, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Then-Mayor Annise Parker’s move prompted three lawsuits, two from conservatives who argued the policy violated Houston’s city charter, the Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constitution.

State District Judge Lisa Millard twice signed a temporary restraining order blocking the city from offering the benefits, most recently in November 2014.

Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals lifted that injunction last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in the case Obergefell v. Hodges.

Conservative activists Jared Woodfill and Jonathan Saenz later appealed that decision, arguing that “there is no ‘fundamental right’ to spousal employee benefits.”

See here, here, and here for some background. The federal lawsuit was officially dismissed on July 6, 2015, but there remained a state-court lawsuit. You can see its full history at the Supreme Court level here. According to the Chron story, Woodfill intends to ask for a rehearing. I have no idea what he thinks he can accomplish at this point, but no one ever said Jared Woodfill was a rational being, and as Mark Joseph Stern at Slate observed, there was at least one Supreme Court justice (John Devine, of course) who really pines for the day when all those icky gay people had to hide themselves in closets. People like that are thankfully part of a shrinking minority these days, but don’t kid yourself into thinking they’ll ever truly go away. The Press has more.

Hotze and Woodfill take their hate statewide

These guys, I swear.

The conservative organizers who helped topple Houston’s equal rights ordinance are pledging a $2 million advertising campaign against Target over the big box store’s transgender bathroom policy.

Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze of Conservative Republicans of Texas on Thursday launched the new “Campaign for USA” in what they described as an effort to keep men out of women’s restrooms. The duo had already called for a nationwide boycott of Target.

“We must stand up for the rights of our grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters,” said Woodfill, who recently lost a bid to become chairman of the state GOP.

[…]

Woodfill, a frequent LGBT foe, on Thursday released a new TV ad that mirrors a provocative ad from the effort to defeat the Houston ordinance. His group also launched a new website, which says “transgender” is a just euphemism for “pervert.”

Blah blah blah. I’d note that this is pretty much the same sort of thing that was regularly said about gays not too long ago. Hell, it’s the same sort of crap Hotze and Woodfill say about gays today. My point is that this kind of hysteria can only be effective for so long. Woodfill and Hotze’s problem is that transgender people are, you know, people. People with family and friends and coworkers and neighbors, who go about their lives. The reality doesn’t measure up to the fearmongering, as people figured out about the gays and lesbians that Hotze and Woodfill and the like kept trying to make them despise. It may take awhile and there will surely be setbacks along the way, but lies eventually lose to the truth. It won’t be easy, and these guys will never stop trying to hurt the people they hate, but they will lose in the end. Just keep that in mind. Juanita has more.

POSTSCRIPT: I drafted this before the horrible mass murder in Orlando, and when I looked at it again as I scheduled it for publication, it was difficult to fight down the revulsion that I feel for these two hateful bastards. What happened in Orlando is the effect of stigmatization and dehumanization. I don’t care what drove this particular gunman to do what he did. The root cause is hatred and fear of The Other. Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze bear a piece of the responsibility for that.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

By all means, go for Jared

Keeping it classy.

The race for chairman of the Texas Republican Party has spawned charges that the party’s current leader, Tom Mechler, supports a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”

A supporter of Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, has sent out campaign mailers blasting Mechler for allowing a gay and lesbian GOP group to have a booth at the upcoming state convention and not doing enough to move the event out of Dallas, which they call a “homosexual-friendly location.”

Mechler said he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the group, the Metroplex Republicans, to have a booth at the state GOP convention.

“I understand that hatred has spewed into the chairman’s race,” Mechler said.

Quelle surprise. You can’t spell “zealous hatred of the gays” without the letters H-O-T-Z-E, and indeed this mail was sent by Houston’s gay-hatingest quack. Nothing surprising there, though you may find yourself wondering how in the heck Jared Woodfill could be in a position to fail upward like that. Well, Woodfill as State GOP Chair is indeed a thing that could happen.

Houston’s Jared Woodfill is trying to win control of the Republican Party of Texas, challenging the current management and saying it has been too quiet in the face of legislative defeats in a state government dominated by Republican officeholders and appointees.

The contest between Tom Mechler of Amarillo, the party’s current chairman, and Woodfill, who once led the Harris County GOP, is a fight about purity, about which kinds of conservatives the Texas GOP represents and about what the party is supposed to be doing. They don’t run as combined tickets, but former state party Chairman Cathie Adams is running for vice chair in tandem with Woodfill, while current vice chair Amy Clark is seeking reelection, along with Mechler.

The outcome of the elections, to be held at the GOP’s state convention in Dallas next month, probably isn’t going to change your life, but it’s interesting. Mechler wants the party to bring in more voters — he’s talking about minorities and millennials, among others — who have generally eluded the charms of the GOP. He doesn’t think it’s his job to tell the state’s Republican officeholders what to do.

“Every Republican should be comfortable within the party,” he says. “My vision is and will be that is that this party is welcoming and embracing all conservatives from all over the state of Texas.”

Woodfill is a bully-pulpit guy, a political figure whose effectiveness depends on everything from actual microphones on actual podiums to social media, news media and advertising.

He is appealing for the support of others who, like him, think the state political party should be whipping the Legislature to keep it in line with the GOP platform and the beliefs of Texans in its voting base.

His pitch against the current party leadership seems aimed more at the House than at anyone else. An example from the Facebook page promoting his candidacy: “Friends, we are engaged in a cultural war and our Republican Party of Texas leadership is running from the fight! One need only look at the 2015 legislative sessions to find evidence of the RPT surrendering our values.”

Woodfill focuses on a list of issues that met their demise, he contends, in the Texas House, including bills outlawing references to Sharia law in courts, requiring Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws, allowing the use or diversion of tax dollars for private school tuition, repealing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrantsnon-citizens who graduate from Texas high schools, and enacting new ethics legislation.

That plays into existing divisions among the Republicans in government, however they are characterized: establishment against insurgents, social conservatives against social moderates, chamber of commerce against grassroots.

The characterization that matters here is that Jared Woodfill is an idiot, and would almost certainly be a terrible state party chair. He’s certainly not going to be about building a party for the future, or one that intends to grow. All of which, needless to say, is fine by me. I’ve said that scandal, in the form of criminality from the likes of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, may help boost Democratic prospects in Texas in the short term. Incompetent leadership, especially when combined with an unwelcoming attitude towards anyone who isn’t already fully on board with a full slate of ideological shibboleths, would also help. And Lord knows, we Democrats can use all the help we can get. So please do your part, RPT. Please put Jared Woodfill in charge of your party. Thanks.