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Justin Rodriguez

More ways to improve access to voting

In Harris County:

Inmates of the Harris County Jail may soon be able to vote. Harris County leaders have approved a study on setting up a polling location at the jail as early as this November.

The County Clerk’s and Sheriff’s Offices will explore if they can set up a polling location at the jail in time for this Election Day. Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed the measure.

“It’s their constitutional right, and so we need to make sure that we’re following that particular law,” Garcia said.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis seconded the proposal, which passed along party lines in a three-to-two vote. “Remember, the ones sitting in the jail haven’t been convicted yet, unless they’ve been convicted of something else,” Ellis said. “And for what it’s worth, there may be people in line to visit them who can vote.”

If you don’t like this idea, then I have good news for you: The bail lawsuit settlement means that there will be far fewer inmates in the jail who might get to take advantage of this. Just remember, you don’t lose your right to vote until you plead guilty to or are found guilty of a felony, and if that happens you’re going to a state prison, not the county jail. If you’re in the jail awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence, you’re still a legal voter.

From Bexar County:

[County Commissioner Justin] Rodriguez, a former Democratic member of the Texas House, is asking the Bexar Commissioner’s Court to form an advisory committee to identify improvements to the county’s voting procedures, step up voter education and drive higher turnout. He hopes the group — made up of residents and members of nonprofits and other stakeholders — can make progress on that work ahead of the November 2020 presidential election.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re getting much help from state leaders on how to best administer elections or get people out to vote,” said Rodriguez, who worked with voter-turnout group MOVE Texas to formulate his plan. “I think the best solution for us is to act locally.”

[…]

Rodriguez said he’s confident he has the votes on County Commissioner’s court to support his measure and start assembling the committee in coming weeks.

As that story notes, Bexar County is also implementing voting centers this year. I don’t know what Commissioner Rodriguez and his committee will come up with, but I hope we keep an eye on them here in Harris. I’m sure we’ll be able to learn something from their experience.

UPDATE: Received the following email from County Clerk Diane Trautman:

“Due to the Labor Day holiday and other prior commitments, the Harris County Clerk and Sheriff’s offices are still in the exploratory stage of determining the best way to meet the voting needs of Harris County residents that are in jail. Determining a new voting location requires several steps and usually takes many months to confirm. This process includes wifi connectivity, ADA compliance, available parking, legality of location, and availability of location. Due to voting locations already being set for the upcoming November election, the ballot by mail program will be the best voting option for those who are incarcerated in the November election.”

For more information please email [email protected]

Hopefully this can happen in time for 2020.

Today is Runoff Day in HD125

Let’s not eff this up, shall we?

Ray Lopez

The day after Ray Lopez advanced to the special election runoff for House District 125 last month, he called his three former Democratic opponents and asked for their support against Republican Fred Rangel.

It was not an unusual request for a runoff qualifier, but Lopez was not taking any chances — and neither are Texas Democrats.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s runoff for HD-125, the party has worked feverishly to avoid a repeat of last fall’s race for another seat based in Bexar County, Senate District 19. Democrats lost that election under similar conditions: a special election runoff in a traditionally blue district where the Republican, aided by top party leaders, benefited from a fractured Democratic field in the first round. And it mattered greatly in the Senate, giving Republicans enough of a cushion so that they held on to their supermajority even after losing two seats in the November general election.

“For us at the [House Democratic Campaign Committee], the most important thing was to not allow what happened in SD-19 to happen in HD-125,” said state Rep. Cesar Blanco of El Paso, who chairs the committee, acknowledging that Democrats “learned a hard lesson” in SD-19. “We wanted to make sure that right out of the gate, going into the runoff, there was a unified message.”

The HDCC has helped Lopez, a former San Antonio City Council member, with fundraising, mail and polling. Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party has spent several thousand dollars on digital ads, assisted the Lopez campaign with voter targeting, placed party staff in the district, spearheaded a vote-by-mail program and sent get-out-the-vote texts.

In an interview, Lopez jokingly said that he has gotten “probably more guidance than anyone has ever needed.”

Perhaps most notably, there has been a bigger outward display of Democratic unity in the HD-125 runoff than there was in the SD-19 runoff. In the first round of the SD-19 race, there was a bitter rift between two Democratic competitors, Pete Gallego and Roland Gutierrez, and Gutierrez did not endorse Gallego when he made it to the runoff.

This time around, Lopez entered the runoff with the backing of his former Democratic rivals, as well as every Democrat who represents Bexar County in Austin. They have made appearances at multiple events for him, and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa also has visited the district to stump for Lopez.

See here for some background. The story notes that four days’ worth of early voting for the runoff (out of five total) was higher than it was for the February race. That suggests a higher level of engagement than in round one, which just goes to my point about runoff turnout in general, even if that’s not what we got in HD145. Of course, such a boost can be coming from Republicans as well, but in a district that’s basically 60-40 Democrat, I’ll take my chances. In any event, if you live in HD125, make sure you vote for Ray Lopez so we can finally get all 67 of those Democratic seats we won in November.

Today is Runoff Day in HD145

From the Inbox:

Tuesday, March 5, 2019, is Election Day for voters in Texas State Representative District 145. There will be 27 Voting Locations open from 7 am to 7 pm. Voters may visit the County Clerk’s election page, www.harrisvotes.com for more information.

“Only individuals who are registered to vote in SRD 145 may vote in this election,” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, the Chief Election Official of the county.

At the end of the Early Voting period, only 1,417 votes had been cast in the election. This election will determine who will be the next Texas State Representative for District 145.

“While Harris County is seeking approval to implement a Countywide Polling Place Program, voters should remember that currently on Election Day, they must cast a ballot at the polling location where their precinct is assigned,” stated Dr. Trautman.

State Representative District 145 registered voters can find their sample ballot, as well as their Election Day location, by visiting www.HarrisVotes.com or by calling the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

The list of polling places is here. You can vote in the runoff whether or not you voted in the original special election, you just have to be registered in HD145. Not many people have voted so far, so your vote counts for a lot. I voted for Melissa Noriega, and I encourage you to vote for her as well.

Meanwhile, early voting in the HD125 runoff is underway.

After a special election with four Democratic candidates and one Republican, the runoff has turned into a classic face-off between one candidate from each party. Former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez, a Democrat, narrowly won a spot in the runoff election last month with 19.5 percent of the vote, while businessman and Republican Fred Rangel easily led the pack with 38 percent.

Lopez said he doesn’t consider the previous margin to be indicative of how the runoff will shake out because the district is made up of mostly Democratic voters.

“Crystallizing the message for all Democrats to get behind is important, and I believe we’re doing that,” he said. “All my co-candidates [from the previous election] have endorsed me and supported me. They all realize party unity is important. We don’t want to lose a predominantly Democratic area to a Republican.”

Both candidates have acknowledged school finance reform is paramount in their district, as it is in the Legislature, but differ on secondary priorities. Lopez has championed veteran services and job creation, while Rangel said he wants to see property tax relief and lists his anti-abortion stance as a priority on his campaign’s Facebook page. But most of Rangel’s efforts currently focus on telling people an election is happening, he said.

[…]

Early voting for the runoff is Monday through Friday. The lack of weekend early voting is typical for this type of election, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said. There are seven early voting sites, and there will be 31 poll sites on election day, which is March 12. Callanen also reiterated that all of the 101,000 registered voters in the district are eligible to vote in this election.

“There’s always confusion when we have a runoff, where some people still think you must have voted in the first election to be able to vote in the runoff,” she said. “That’s not true. If you’re a registered voter in that area, you’re eligible to come to the polls.”

Voters can go to any poll site during early voting but must go to their precinct on election day. Check here for locations. If you’re unsure in which House district you live, you can search by address or ZIP code here. Bring a Texas driver’s license, a U.S. passport, or one of five other valid forms of ID.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Get this one done, Bexar Dems. We don’t need any more accidents.

On special election runoff turnout and HD125

I figured a story like this was inevitable after Round One of the HD125 special election, in which Republican Fred Rangel got 38% of the vote and four Democrats combined to take the rest, with three of them being close to each other and thus farther behind Rangel. Ray Lopez will face Rangel in the runoff, for which a date has not yet been set.

Justin Rodriguez

Democratic Party officials and Lopez’s campaign remain adamant that they are in position to win the runoff and keep the seat. The four Democrats, combined, received more than 60 percent of the vote, they point out. And District 125 hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters.

But to others, the result immediately recalled San Antonio Democrats’ not-so-sterling track record in recent special elections. Electoral history and district demographics have not protected Democrats in those runoffs over the last few years: They have lost the last three off-cycle races in San Antonio, each of which occurred in traditional party strongholds.

In early 2016, Republican John Lujan scored an upset in a South Side legislative seat over Democrats Tomás Uresti and Gabe Farias. Uresti would defeat him nine months later in the general election.

Later that year, Independent Laura Thompson won election to an East Side legislative seat after Bexar County Dean Ruth McClendon’s death, also overcoming multiple Democrats. Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins put the seat back in Democratic hands in the next general election.

And in perhaps the most painful loss for Democrats, Republican Pete Flores won a state Senate seat last year that includes much of San Antonio. Flores flipped a seat that hadn’t gone to the GOP since Reconstruction, and his victory sealed a two-thirds Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate.

That race has some conspicuous similarities to Tuesday’s election in District 125. For one, the man who engineered Flores’ upset, Matt Mackowiak, is now running Rangel’s campaign. For another, multiple Democrats split the party’s vote, allowing the Republican to plunge ahead.

[…]

“It’s a very simple game of math in a special election,” [Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer] said. “When you’re running a race in a Democratic district you’re going to have multiple Democrats running for that position, and it’s always going to be that one Republican that has a universe of voters to himself.”

The Democrats believe that will change in a mano-a-mano, Democrat vs. Republican, runoff, and Democratic members of the Legislature are now rallying around Lopez. But they had a similar conviction — ultimately to no avail — that Flores wouldn’t prevail in what had been a Democratic district for more than a century.

Their logic isn’t reflective of the political reality of special elections, according to Mackowiak. The voters who chose Democrats Rayo-Garza or Art Reyna won’t necessarily show up again for Lopez in the runoff election.

“It’s just not transferable,” Mackowiak said. “Special elections are about motivation and enthusiasm.”

That sentiment was echoed by Larry Hufford, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s University.

“These small groups are so committed to their candidates,” Hufford said. “They say, ‘Well, my candidate didn’t win, forget it.’”

Those factors give Rangel an edge, Hufford said, especially if turnout drops in the runoff. If Rangel brings out the same number of voters, it puts him in a good position to win the majority while Lopez tries to inspire voters who backed Democrats no longer in the race, the professor added.

See here for the background. There are two claims being made here, that Bexar County Dems have had a spotty recent record in legislative special elections, and that the key to winning special election runoffs is to hold onto more of your own voters from round one than the other guy (if you’re the leader, that is) because getting new voters is too hard. Let’s take these one at a time.

First, the two special elections from 2016 are basically meaningless for these purposes. The reason why is because they were basically meaningless as special elections. They were for the purpose of serving the remainder of the 2015-2016 term, at a time when the Lege was not in session and not going to be in session. Neither John Lujan nor Laura Thompson ever filed a bill or cast a vote as State Rep, because there were no opportunities for them to do so. Tomas Uresti, who lost in that January 2016 special election runoff to John Lujan, went on to win the Democratic primary in March and the November general election, ousting Lujan before he ever did anything of note. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, the November nominee in HD120, didn’t bother running in the summer special election for it. Those special elections didn’t matter.

As for the turnout question, I would remind everyone that there were three legislative special elections plus runoffs from 2015. Here’s what they looked like:

2015 Special Election, House District 123


Melissa Aguillon  DEM   1,257   17.69%
Diego Bernal      DEM   3,372   47.46%
Roger V. Gary     LIB     103    1.45%
Paul Ingmundson   GRN      81    1.14%
Walter Martinez   DEM     780   10.98%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   1,512   21.28%

Total = 7,105

Special Runoff Election State Representative, District 123


Diego Bernal      DEM   5,170   63.67%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   2,950   36.33%

Total = 8,120

Diego Bernal got 1,798 more votes in the runoff – there had been 2,037 votes that went to other Dems in the initial election. Nunzio Previtera got 1,438 more votes in the runoff even though he’d been the only Republican initially.

2015 Special Election, Senate District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   8,232   43.28%
Alma Perez Jackson     REP   3,892   20.46%
Jose Menendez          DEM   4,824   25.36%
Joan Pedrotti          REP   1,427    7.50%
Al Suarez              DEM     644    3.39%

Total = 19,019

Special Runoff Election State Senator, District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   9,635   40.95%
Jose Menendez          DEM  13,891   59.05%

Total = 23,526

Remember how some idiot bloggers called for Sen. Menendez to concede rather than bother going through with the runoff, so the next special election could take place more quickly? Good times. After smoking TMF in said runoff, some other people claimed he won on the strength of Republican turnout in round two. For what it’s worth, there were 5,319 Republican votes in round one, and Menendez gained 9,067 votes overall. Make of that what you will. Also, for what it’s worth, TMF boosted his total by 1,403.

2015 Special Election, House District 124


Nathan Alonzo    DEM    467   23.81%
Delicia Herrera  DEM    555   28.30%
Ina Minjarez     DEM    828   42.22%
David L. Rosa    DEM    111    5.66%

Total = 1,961

Special Runoff Election, House District 124


Delicia Herrera  DEM  1,090   45.02%
Ina Minjarez     DEM  1,331   54.98%

Total = 2,421

The two runoff candidates combined for 1,383 votes in round one, while the two also rans got 578. Assuming all 578 voted again in the runoff, there were still another 460 people participating.

My point, in case I haven’t beaten you over the head with it enough, is that in all of these elections, there were more votes in the runoff than in the first round. That means – stay with me here, I know this is tricky – it’s possible for a candidate to win the runoff with extra votes from people who didn’t vote initially. It’s even possible for the second place finisher to win, in part by bringing in new voters. See, when not that many people vote the first time, there are actually quite a few habitual voters out there to round up. Who even knew this was a thing?

Yes, the SD19 still stands out like a turd on the sidewalk. SD19 encompasses more than just Bexar County, and there was some genuine resentment from third place candidate Roland Gutierrez, which likely hindered Pete Gallego in the runoff. (There were also many questions raised about the effectiveness of Gallego’s campaign.) Here, as it happens, third place finisher Coda Rayo-Garza has conceded after the remaining mail ballots arrived and endorsed Ray Lopez, so at least that bit of history won’t repeat itself. HD125 is more Democratic than SD19, so there’s a larger pool of dependable voters that Lopez can call on. He’s got work to do and ground to make up, and he certainly could lose if he doesn’t do a good job of it. But if we look at the history of Bexar County special legislative elections going all the way back to 2015 instead of just to 2016, we can see that the picture is a bit more nuanced than Matt Mackowiak and Larry Hufford make it out to be.

Early voting ends in HD125

I have to admit, I’d totally forgotten about this special election.

Justin Rodriguez

The special election for Texas House District 125 has been on a characteristically slow roll as early voting closed Friday in the contest to fill former State Rep. Justin Rodriguez’s seat.

Out of the 103,494 voters registered in the district, 3,354 cast ballots during early voting, putting turnout just above 3 percent. Election day is Tuesday, Feb. 12, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Northwest San Antonio district.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said she expected a low turnout during a special election.

People usually prefer to vote early rather than wait for election day, Callanen said, estimating that about 50 to 60 percent of voter turnout comes from early voting during an election. Based on that number, election day should draw another 2 percent of total registered voters in the district, she said. She predicted total turnout would be between 4 percent and 4.8 percent.

“If we can get 5 percent on this [election], that would be good,” she said.

Five candidates are up for Rodriguez’s House seat that became vacant in January when he was sworn in as Bexar County Commissioner for Precinct 2. Former HD 125 Rep. Art Reyna, former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez, policy advocate Coda Rayo-Garza, and activist Steve Huerta are the four Democratic candidates, while businessman Fred Rangel is the only Republican in the race.

Just as a reminder, that’s right in line with the turnout for HD145, though in this case the majority of the vote would be cast early. If Tuesday in HD125 is like Election Day was in HD145, then they will exceed seven percent turnout. We’ll know soon enough. Unlike HD79, where Democrat Art Fierro was elected in one round, or HD145, where Dems Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega will face each other in the runoff, there’s a decent chance of a D-versus-R runoff here. This district just isn’t quite as blue as the other two, and the Republican here has Greg Abbott’s endorsement; the establishment largely ignored the other two races. This one could be a lot noisier in the runoff.

Speaking of runoffs, I have not yet seen a date set for HD145. However, based on my reading of the election code, I believe the deadline for the result of the January 29 election to be canvassed is Tuesday the 12th (same day as the HD125 election), and it has to occur between 12 and 25 days after that, on a Tuesday or a Saturday. Based on that, my money is on the runoff occurring on Saturday, March 2, which would mean early voting would run from Wednesday the 20th through Tuesday the 26th. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I do know these things are prescribed by law, and the options are limited. Again, we’ll know soon enough.

Five file for HD125

Our fourth and hopefully final special legislative election for this cycle is now queued up.

Justin Rodriguez

Five candidates have signed up for the Feb. 12 special election to fill the seat of former state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The candidates, four Democrats and one Republican, had until 5 p.m. Monday to file.

Rodriguez, a San Antonio Democrat, gave up the seat earlier this month after being appointed to replace longtime Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who died late last year.

The Democratic candidates for solidly blue House District 125 include:

  • Steve Huerta, a social justice activist
  • Ray Lopez, a former member of the San Antonio City Council
  • Coda Rayo-Garza, an education policy expert
  • Art Reyna, who represented HD-125 from 1997 to 2003

The lone GOP contender is Fred Rangel, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee who unsuccessfully ran for Texas GOP vice chair last year.

These are the five we’d heard about at the end of last week, so no late surprises. As for the “solidly blue” qualifier, we’ve already talked about that. Here’s a handy chart for you:


Dist  Romney   Obama  Abbott   Davis   Trump Clinton
====================================================
079    34.1%   64.6%   39.3%   58.5%   26.5%   68.0%
125    39.5%   59.0%   42.5%   55.6%   33.3%   60.8%
145    38.3%   60.2%   40.8%   57.2%   28.7%   66.8%
SD19   44.1%   54.6%   49.1%   49.0%   41.9%   53.4%

As I said before, HD125 is solidly blue in a high-turnout context (we don’t have 2018 numbers yet), more moderately blue in a low-turnout context. It’s bluer than SD19, which is certainly reassuring, but it’s not blue enough to sleepwalk through it or fail to mend fences in a runoff. Honestly, I’d prefer in general to let numbers rather than adjectives do the describing of districts like these. The data’s easy enough to find. Let the reader be the judge of how solid or swingy a given district is. Early voting starts in HD125 on January 28. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

A first look at contenders in HD125

Gilbert Garcia of the SA Express News points to a potential frontrunner for the HD125 special election.

Justin Rodriguez

Ray Lopez never appears to be in a hurry.

During his eight years on the City Council, the gray-haired, mustachioed former AT&T marketing director was legendary for his calm assurance and willingness to speak at length — often at great length — on any subject. He came to be seen by his colleagues as the council’s easygoing, consensus-building uncle.

But Lopez finds himself in a hurry now, thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott. The governor announced Monday that the special election to fill the Texas House District 125 seat, vacated last week by new Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, will be held on Feb. 12, with early voting starting on Jan. 28.

After getting the green light last Friday from Evelyn, his wife of 48 years, Lopez has decided to run for the seat. That means a sprint for a man who likes to live his life at the pace of a casual stroll (or boating excursion on Medina Lake).

The race likely will get crowded between now and next Monday’s filing deadline. Former District 125 Rep. Art Reyna and policy advocate Coda Rayo-Garza already have declared their interest and others will follow. Like Lopez, they will run as Democrats.

[…]

One of the most timeworn clichés in politics involves the reluctant politician — the elected official who frequently runs for office yet claims to hate the political game.

Nonetheless, when Lopez says he loves governance but doesn’t get much enjoyment from campaigning, it’s easy to believe him. After all, there’s evidence to back him up.

Most observers of his first City Council campaign, a 2005 runoff with Delicia Herrera, concluded that Herrera won primarily because she knocked on more doors and outworked Lopez. He had to wait until 2009 for his opportunity to join the council.

In 2013, Lopez sought a third term on the council and faced hard-charging challenger Greg Brockhouse. Lopez survived the challenge, but there were moments when it looked like his nonchalant approach might cost him his seat.

That’s why the abbreviated nature of this special election only works to Lopez’s benefit. His name recognition and long history of service provide him a built-in advantage over any other candidate in this race.

See here and here for the background. Garcia doesn’t identify any Republicans running for HD125, but the Rivard Report fills in some other names:

Former District 125 Rep. Arthur “Art” Reyna filed as a Democratic candidate Wednesday, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Policy advocate and Democrat Coda Rayo-Garza and Republican Fred Rangel, who ran for HD 125 last year, both filed Thursday. Steve Huerta, who currently serves as the Bexar County Democratic Party rules committee co-chair and was formerly incarcerated, told the Rivard Report he will be filing on Monday. And former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez filed as a Democratic candidate on Friday.

Another multiple-Dem-and-one-Republican race, at least potentially. Lopez’s name recognition is surely an advantage, but he first has to make sure people know there’s an election so that they can show up to vote for him. The filing deadline is Monday the 14th, so we’ll know soon enough how big this field is.

HD125 special election set

It will overlap the ones going on now.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Gov. Greg Abbott has picked Feb. 12 as the date for a special election to replace former state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, who stepped down last week to become a Bexar County commissioner.

The candidate filing deadline is Jan. 14, and early voting begins Jan. 28, according to a proclamation Abbott issued Monday.

Rodriguez vacated the seat in House District 125 after he was appointed Friday to succeed Paul Elizondo, the longtime Bexar County commissioner who died last month.

The Feb. 12 special election will determine who completes Rodriguez’s term, which ends in January 2021. It also will be the fourth such contest since the November elections, with two more special elections — to replace former state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Joe Pickett — coming up Jan. 29.

See here and here for the background. Early voting for HD125 begins the day before the HD79 and HD145 elections, so assuming at least one runoff in those races we’ll have continuous campaigning through the end of February or so, likely later as this one ought to go into overtime as well. So much for the usually-quiet part of the beginning of the session. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez resigns to take County Commissioner job

We will need that special election.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, is leaving the Legislature to become a Bexar County commissioner.

The county’s judge, Nelson Wolff, appointed Rodriguez on Friday to replace Paul Elizondo, the longtime commissioner who died last week. The appointment creates a vacancy in Rodriguez’s House District 125, paving the way for a special election to finish his term.

Rodriguez was immediately sworn after Wolff announced the appointment at a news conference.

“I wanted someone that had the confidence of the citizens and voters of County Commissioner Precinct 2,” Wolff said, alluding to Rodriguez’s long record of public service in the area. “Justin Rodriguez has certainly exemplified that in a very important way.”

[…]

The special election for Rodriguez’s seat would be the fourth such contest since the November elections. State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, won the special election last month to replace former state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston — now a congresswoman — while Gov. Greg Abbott has set Jan. 29 special elections to fill the seats of Alvarado and state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who is resigning due to health issues.

The 86th legislative session begins Tuesday, and Rodriguez said he was confident his seat would be filled before the session kicks into high gear in March. He told reporters he did not have a preference for who should succeed him.

See here for the background. My guess is that we’ll get an election in early February, with a runoff if needed in late March. Not optimal, but it is what it is. As I said before, this district is moderately blue, not dark blue, so the eventual election is not a slam dunk for the Dems. Unity, if there is a D-versus-R runoff following an initial race with multiple Ds, and turnout will be the key to not punting this seat. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

We may soon need another legislative special election

In Bexar County.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

State Rep. Justin Rodriguez is expected to fill the vacant Commissioners Court seat of political icon Paul Elizondo, a major local power broker and a veteran of the commission for more than 30 years who died last week.

Multiple sources said Wednesday that Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff likely will appoint Rodriguez, who’s served in the Legislature since 2013.

Wolff declined to confirm that he plans to appoint Rodriguez, but he sketched out what he’s looking for in a successor, in deference to the death of his closest friend. Rodriguez declined to comment.

“I’ve had obviously a lot of time to think about this because Paul has had several challenges with his health,” Wolff said.

The county judge said he plans to appoint someone who has legislative experience and fiscal expertise and can help improve the county’s relationship with the city.

[…]

It’s unclear who might step in to run in a special election for Rodriguez’s seat, which would be called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Rodriguez and a few other close allies of Elizondo have been seen as his potential successors. Among them: City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’d known Elizondo for some four decades.

We should know pretty soon whether Rep. Rodriguez will be the choice to fill that County Commissioners seat. You may recall from when Jerry Eversole stepped down, it is the County Judge who names the successor, so whatever Judge Wolff decides is what will happen. The Rivard Report makes it sound like the choice is more up in the air, and includes Queta Rodriguez, a former employee of Precinct 2 who nearly ousted Elizondo in the 2018 primary, as a potential pick as well.

Rodriguez represents HD125 in Bexar County; he was elected in 2012 after Joaquin Castro decided to run for Congress. After a decade of turnover, he’s the second-most senior member of the Bexar delegation, after Rep. Roland Gutierrez. HD125 was solidly Democratic in 2016, as Hillary Clinton carried it 61-33, but it was closer in 2014 as Wendy Davis took it by a 56-43 margin. If he gets appointed and this becomes a race, I’d expect the Republicans to seriously challenge it. The Dems would be favored to hold it, but it would not be a slam dunk. Keep an eye on this.

Session ends in chaos

Seems fitting.

The normally ceremonial last day of this year’s regular session of the Texas Legislature briefly descended into chaos on Monday, as proceedings in the House were disrupted by large protests and at least one Republican representative called immigration authorities on the people making the noise.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement while hundreds of people dressed in red T-shirts unfurled banners and chanted in opposition to the state’s new sanctuary cities law. The action enraged Hispanic legislators nearby, leading to a tussle in which each side accused the other of threats and violence.

Rinaldi said he was assaulted by a House member who he declined to name.

“I was pushed, jostled and someone threatened to kill me,” Rinaldi said. “It was basically just bullying.”

Hispanic Democratic lawmakers involved in the altercation said it wasn’t physical but indicated that Rinaldi got into people’s faces and cursed repeatedly.

“He came up to us and said, ‘I’m glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported,’” said state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, whose account was echoed by state Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

“He said, ‘I called ICE — fuck them,'” Romero added. Rinaldi also turned to the Democratic lawmakers and yelled, “Fuck you,” to the “point where spit was hitting” their faces, Romero said.

[…]

“Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth. “Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racial profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”

And in a press conference, following the altercation, state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said Rinaldi in a second scuffle had threatened to “put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads.”

But Rinaldi defended the decision to called immigration authorities.

“We didn’t know what to do,” he said. “A lot of people had signs that said ‘We are illegal and here to stay.’”

He said he called law enforcement “to incentivize them to leave the House.”

“They were disrupting,” he said. “They were breaking the law.”

Asked if the protest was too little, too late since the measure has already been signed into law, Adrian Reyna, an organizer with United We Dream, said the movement is just getting started.

“We have to show resistance the whole summer,” he said. “We have identified key representatives that we will take out of office who voted for SB4. People are outraged, people are tired of the Legislature walking all over people.”

First of all, good Lord Rinaldi is a weenie. What a pathetic display of phony bravado. And as Rep. Romero suggests, his words will only help the plaintiffs in the anti-SB4 litigation. Words matter, and judges in the travel ban litigation have made it clear they will take what politicians say about these actions as seriously as they take what the lawyers say.

You can see video of what happened here, Democratic response to what happened here, and a statement from the AFL-CIO here. If there’s going to be an injunction in one or more of the court cases, we ought to know fairly soon, but the bigger fight, both in the courtroom and at the ballot box, will play out over a much longer period. We’re going to need to see a lot more of the kind of action that makes people like Matt Rinaldi cry. The Chron, the Observer, and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Voter ID 2.0 gets final passage

Hopefully, this will turn out to have been a waste of time.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas House and Senate have approved a deal to relax the state’s voter identification requirements, meaning the closely watched legislation now only awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval.

The Republican is expected to sign Senate Bill 5, capping a flurry of late activity that pushed the legislation to the finish line after some state leaders feared its demise — and legal consequences from inaction.

The House approved the compromise bill Sunday in a 92-56 vote — one day after the Senate backed the deal along party lines.

Sen. Joan Huffman’s bill, which would soften voter ID requirements once considered strictest in the nation, responds to court findings that the current law discriminated against black and Latino voters.

[…]

Under the final bill, Texans who own qualifying photo ID must still present it at the polls. Those include: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate. Such IDs may be expired up to four years, thanks to a provision in the House bill that survived the compromise. Voters 70 years and older may use such IDs expired for any length of time.

The final bill stripped some provisions from the House legislation, including requirements that the secretary of state to study ways to boost the state’s perennially low voter turnout and that the agency reveal details — currently withheld — about its spending on voter education efforts.

House Democrats on Sunday voiced disappointment with those changes.

“The attempt was to try and bring some type of transparency, said Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, who had pushed the spending disclosure provision. “My concern is basically handing a blank check over to the Secretary of State’s office.”

See here and here for the background. I’m sure the state and the Republicans didnt want to go into the June 7 status call with Judge Ramos empty-handed, but I really don’t see how this bill changes anything. It (barely) mitigates the effect of the 2011 voter ID law, but does not – cannot – address the discriminatory intent of the law. Add in the completely half-assed way the state implemented the court-ordered mitigations in 2016, as well as its refusal to be transparent about those efforts should make it clear that they are trying to do the tiniest minimum to get out from under the court order. The only answer here, the only way to get their attention, is to throw the law out entirely, and invoke Section 3 to make it harder for a new voter ID bill to get passed. Here’s hoping.

Voter ID education was a massive failure

This is outrageous.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs recently completed a report, “The Texas Voter ID Law and the 2016 Election,” based on surveys of registered voters who sat out the 2016 elections in the state’s two highest profile battleground jurisdictions: Harris County and Congressional District 23 (CD-23), which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

We found almost all registered voters who did not vote had a valid photo ID, and virtually no one was prevented from voting for lack of one of the seven state-approved forms of photo ID needed to vote in person.

However, these registered voters were poorly informed about the photo ID regulations, which are the foundation for revised ID legislation now being considered in the Legislature.

It’s no surprise that the Texas Secretary of State’s 2016 public education campaign left some voters uninformed about the voter ID law, given that only $2.5 million was allocated for the effort and the requirements changed just months before the election.

But legislators can correct that problem, even as they consider other changes to the law. We urge them to take that responsibility seriously in light of what we discovered.

Thirty-seven percent of registered voters in Harris County and 45 percent of those in CD-23 did not vote in November. But almost all of them could have. Altogether, 97 percent of registered non-voters in Harris County and 98 percent of those in CD-23 had an unexpired, state-approved photo ID. That rose to 99 percent in Harris County and remained at 98 percent in CD-23 when acceptable expired IDs were considered.

[…]

Only 20 percent of non-voters could accurately identify the photo ID rules. Three out of five incorrectly believed all voters were required to provide a state-approved photo ID to vote in person, unaware that people could also vote by signing an affidavit and providing one of several supporting documents.

Latino non-voters were significantly less likely than Anglo and Harris County African American non-voters to accurately understand the rules. Latino non-voters in both locales were also significantly more likely to believe the photo ID rules were more restrictive than they actually were.

Three out of four non-voters incorrectly believed only a valid, unexpired Texas driver’s license qualified as a state-approved form of photo ID, and only 1 in 7 knew a license that had expired within four years qualified.

You can see the study here. You can’t tell me that this kind of confusion isn’t a part of the appeal for Republicans who advocate for voter ID, especially strict voter ID laws like Texas’. There’s a reason why that law was ruled to have been passed with discriminatory intent. That confusion will continue to be a factor going forward as well even as the law is invalidated (which may or may not continue to be the case as the appeals process gets underway). It’s going to take a large investment in voter education to counteract that effect, unlike the pathetically puny effort the state grudgingly put forward last year.

The Trib adds some reporting to the op-ed that the study’s authors published.

“If [Texas] just used rules similar to those enforced in 2016 but did a better job educating voters, we would see only very modest adverse effects on participation,” Jones said.

The survey results tracked similarly to findings in a 2015 joint Rice University and University of Houston study of CD-23 that found eligible voters stayed home because they erroneously thought they lacked proper IDs — possibly factoring into the outcome of Hurd’s close win over Democrat Pete Gallego.

Jones called it unrealistic to expect the secretary of state’s office, previously led by Carlos Cascos, to educate would-be voters across the vast state with just $2.5 million — a sum better suited to reach folks in just one of Texas’ 36 congressional districts.

A federal judge ordered Texas to launch the voter education effort just three months before Election Day last November, and the campaign hit an early speed bump when that same judge ordered the secretary of state’s office to correct and re-issue press materials following allegations that the office inaccurately described fixes to the ID rules.

The agency at the time called educating voters its top objective.

Researchers can’t analyze how effectively the agency has used its scarce resources for education because it has refused to release key details about where it purchased television and radio advertisements to publicize the relaxation to ID requirements in the run-up to the elections — secrecy supported by a ruling from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The justification for that ruling and for the secrecy in the first place is that the work done by these overpriced consultants on behalf of the state was a “trade secret” on their part, which is bullshit on so many levels I can’t even begin to categorize them. Rep. Justin Rodriguez filed a bill to force transparency on this, which I suppose may now be moot in light of the ruling from Corpus Christi. What needs to happen, regardless of what becomes of that ruling, is that a crap-ton of money needs to be spent to undo the toxic effects of the voter ID law and make sure everyone who is eligible to vote knows it. Since the state isn’t going to spend that money, someone else needs to do it. If the Texas Democratic Party wants a cause to rally people to, that would be my recommendation.

Bill to force transparency on voter ID outreach filed

I approve.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A state lawmaker wants to shine a light on how Texas spends millions of taxpayer dollars to educate the public about its controversial voter ID law.

Democratic Rep. Justin Rodriguez is proposing legislation that for the first time in Texas calls for transparency of spending for voter education campaigns by requiring the Texas Secretary of State’s office to produce data showing results after each general election.

The state’s chief elections office has contracted with public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to produce voter ID publicity efforts, but has refused to disclose where it placed television and radio spots as part of a $2.5 million campaign, nor reveal the names of roughly 1,800 community groups that partnered with the state for the 2016 elections.

Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio and member of the House budget writing committee, says Texas officials shouldn’t be allowed to hide information about an important public education campaign_especially given widespread confusion over changes to the Texas law leading up to November’s election.

“These are public dollars,” said Rodriguez, who is planning to file his bill Wednesday. “I hate that this has kind of become an adversarial deal with the secretary of state’s office, but we want to make sure that money is being spent correctly.”

A spokesman for Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, did not return a request for comment but the office has previously said the materials were not released because of an ongoing voter ID lawsuit.

That’s not exactly true. I quote from David Saleh Rauf’s November 4, 2016 story in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.

A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.

Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.

As I’ve said before, I think the “proprietary information” argument is a load of hooey. Rep. Rodriguez’s bill is HB3285. I don’t expect it to pass, but it was absolutely correct to file it.

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Menendez sworn in

We’re back at full strength in the Senate.

Sen. Jose Menendez

José Menéndez became San Antonio’s newest state senator in a ceremony Monday that featured the Alamo City Democrat taking the oath of office and urging his new colleagues in the upper chamber to chart a bipartisan course regardless of what “political price may come.”

In a 10-minute address to a packed Senate chamber, Menéndez waxed personal at times, reflecting on his experience growing up as a child born to two immigrants and who started kindergarten without knowing how to speak English.

But the thrust of his messaging revolved around the idea of lawmakers from both parties coming together to improve the state.

“I’m here to say that I’m ready to work with each and every one of you,” said Menéndez, who was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “I rarely care or worry about what’s your party politics what I worry about and care about is what’s in your heart.”

He later added: “It is our duty as elected officials not only to defend the Constitution … we have to be there to make the tough decisions for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easier for us to make votes that are politically correct, to say things that are politically correct. And that’s why sometimes I think people loose faith in what we do.”

PDiddie notes that the kerfuffle over how Menendez won is still active, with Menendez’s opponent, Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer penning a piece in the Quorum Report laying out the argument about Republican voters affecting the outcome. I’ve said my piece on that. and don’t plan to say any more. We will literally never see an election like that again, and I see no reason to dwell on it.

Of greater interest to me is that we now have a date for what should really, truly be the last special election of this cycle, in HD124, which has now been vacated by Sen. Menendez. It’s been set for March 31, with early voting from the 23rd to the 27th. As expected with such a short turnaround time, candidates have begun to emerge.

Delicia Herrera won’t have to crash at a friend’s pad during this election cycle.

Herrera, a former two-term councilwoman, is one of four declared candidates for the District 124 Texas House seat that opened up two weeks ago when the district’s long-time representative, José Menéndez, won a special-election runoff for the Texas Senate. Herrera was one of the jubilant supporters who stood by Menéndez’s side at his victory party on February 17.

Three years ago, Herrera had her eye on a legislative seat, but encountered a slight inconvenience.

Her home at SW 39th Street was located in District 124, but that legislative seat was occupied by Menéndez, an incumbent who already had nearly a decade under his belt and showed no signs of political vulnerability. But Herrera’s home was just outside the boundary line for District 125, and that West Side seat had opened up, because Joaquin Castro was stepping down to run for Congress.

So Herrera claimed the Northwest Side home of her former campaign treasurer — about nine miles north of her own house — as her residence, even as she admitted to the San Antonio Express-News that she continued to receive her mail and keep her dogs and “stuff” at the 39th Street house.

[…]

Ina Minjarez, 39, a local attorney who spent the first six years of her legal career working as a prosecutor, has made two bids for the County Court at Law No. 5 bench.

Nathan Alonzo, 52, is the lone declared candidate who has yet to appear on an election ballot, but he’s a familiar name to local politicos.

The legislative director for the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, Alonzo can make the case that his years of lobbying have given him the deepest understanding of the state legislative process of any candidate in the race.

I’ll be very interested to hear more about these candidates. If any locals want to chime in on them, please do so. The Rivard Report has more.

What will happen with pre-K this session?

They say it’s a priority, though I would advise tempering one’s expectations.

Currently, Texas funds a half day of preschool for 4-year-olds whose first language is not English, whose families have low incomes, whose parents are active duty military or who are in foster care.

Texas has some of the weakest quality standards for preschool, with no limits on student-to-teacher ratios or class sizes, according to reports from the National Institute for Early Education.

A Republican-led Legislature cut about $5.4 billion from public education funding in 2011, including $200 million for a pre-K grant program that helped some school districts offer full-day classes.

Lawmakers restored a portion of the funding in 2013, including about $30 million for the grant program.

[…]

Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said that while there’s more bipartisanship support for pre-K this year, Democrats and Republicans likely will split on whether to make it a funding priority.

“I think we’re getting past the point where we have to convince folks of the importance of pre-K,” he said.

But even though more people “are recognizing and acknowledging the importance of that early investment, it’s still going to be determined by the action of the folks in charge and whether they’ll put money behind their assertions that there is a value,” he said.

Greg Abbott put forth a pre-k plan during the campaign, though it didn’t get a lot of discussion and he was vague about details and cost. Even at the high end of his proposal, the amount the state would spend on pre-k would still be down from 2011. With other priorities likely to take precedence and little to no room for growth, my expectation is that we may get some new standards and maybe some incentive money, but nothing beyond that. So again, to sum up in three words, don’t expect much.

Money in judicial races isn’t about partisanship

Dan Patrick isn’t the only one seeking to change how we select judges in Texas.

Rep. Justin Rodriguez

Freshman state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, is an attorney who has been frustrated for years by this state’s hyper-political process for selecting judges (and the big money that flows into those races), and he was tempted to prescribe a specific remedy during his first legislative session.

Rodriguez is a political realist, however, and he knows that any attempt to reduce the partisanship in our political system will itself be perceived as a partisan act. So he took a different course.

Rodriguez filed legislation Thursday that would create a bipartisan interim committee to study all options for improving the selection of state appellate and district judges. The committee would consist of five senators and five representatives and present its recommendations to the Lege at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session.

“I had a little bit of heartburn over this (bill), because I’m not the kind of guy who likes to study the life out of things,” Rodriguez said. “But realistically, this had the best chance of passing, and it starts the dialogue.”

It’s a dialogue that definitely needs to happen. This state is one of only six that continues to elect its supreme court justices in partisan races, and partisan judicial races tend to attract the most fundraising money. Between 2000 and 2009, $211 million in contributions flooded into state supreme court races in the United States, a 150 percent jump from the previous decade, according to a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress.

This culture of big-money bench manipulation inevitably seeps into appeals- and district-court races, with individual candidates standing in for the competing interests of the progressive Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the conservative Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Removing party labels from judicial races wouldn’t be a panacea, but it likely would reduce bundling by large-scale party donors and lift some of the pressure that Texas judges feel to follow the party line.

Once they’re elected, a retention-election system could keep judges accountable by allowing constituents to decide whether they can stay on the bench. It might also alleviate the all-too-real nightmare of grandstanding Texas district judges sentencing 18-year-old kids to eight years, with no chance of parole, for graffiti and pot possession charges.

“If justice is truly blind, then we have to figure out a more sublime way of selecting the referees in these matters,” Rodriguez says. “I wish I could tell you what the silver bullet is, but I’m hopeful with this bill we can have a good debate on it.”

Rep. Rodriguez’s bill is HB 2772. I appreciate that Rep. Rodriguez doesn’t claim to already have an answer, unlike some people, but I continue to not understand the fascination with non-partisan and retention elections. As I’ve said before, I don’t see how the money disappears if the partisan labels go away. Labels or no labels, the money will be there because the interest in the outcomes will be there. It’s true that TLR tends to fund Republicans and TTLA tends to fund Democrats, but that’s because each group’s interests tend to align with the parties in question. TLR pours plenty of money into Democratic races as well, as we saw in the recent SD06 special election, because they seek to maximize their influence. If Democrats start dominating statewide races like Republicans have been doing, I guarantee you TLR will be right there backing the candidates that they think will be the most amenable, or the least hostile, to their interests. It’s the way of the world. If you want to change that, you have to take the money out of these races, which is an impossible thing to do in a post-Citizens United world.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is a way to truly blunt the influence of big campaign financiers that won’t run afoul of current law and precedent and which still allows the election of judges, if that’s what you want. I’m having a hard time seeing any path that doesn’t lead to an appointment system, if there is no change in campaign finance law. But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Rep. Rodriguez’s study will come up with something that I’m not seeing. I doubt it, but it can’t hurt.

Another story about parents and education cuts

I really want to believe that there’s an uprising in the works and that the Lege could be a very different place for the better next year, but I’m reserving judgment on that for now.

Deep cuts in school funding approved by the Texas Legislature last summer could energize angry parents in a way similar to how the tea party movement mobilized conservatives in 2010. In the 150-seat state House alone, at least 29 candidates who are current or former school board members, or have other education experience, are challenging incumbents or vying for open seats in the May 29 primary.

Seventeen are Republicans and 12 are Democrats — and most are pledging to fix Texas’ broken school finance system and dial back the importance of high-stakes standardized tests.

A possible education backlash has [Rep. Marva] Beck nervous and another incumbent, West Texas Republican Rep. Sid Miller, facing a primary challenge that could be tougher than expected. Among several candidates vying for an open seat in suburban Dallas, meanwhile, is Bennett Ratliff, scion of a well-known Texas political family who says his education background sets him apart from a crowded field.

“Funding is not the whole issue, but you can’t continue to cut, and continue to cut, and continue to cut. At some point it does become about funding,” said Ratliff, a Republican and nine-year veteran of the school board in Coppell, northwest of Dallas. His father is former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and his brother Thomas is on the state Board of Education.

Beck and Miller, who was the author of the sonogram bill, are both awful and richly deserve to be ousted, but I’m not prepared to believe that their opponents will be measurably better, even if we just confine the discussion to the issue of public education. At this point, anything short of a commitment to restore the $5.4 billion in funding that was cut from education plus a commitment to work on closing the structural budget hole caused by the 2006 tax swap leaves too much room for the same old same old. I’m glad there’s something out there other than the nihilists that can put some fear into these guys, I just want to see it translate into better votes.

Carolyn Boyle heads the Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which in 2006 supported at least 10 candidates who unseated incumbents or captured open seats. This year, the PAC has conducted more than 25 interviews with pro-education candidates and will endorse an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

“This could be a game-changer election,” Boyle said. “There are so many candidates with rich education experience.”

Republicans hold a 102-seat super majority in the Texas House and while they will likely lose as many as 10 seats due to redistricting, they will maintain control. But next year they take a different tack.

As I said before, being an educator is nice but hardly sufficient. I love what ParentPAC does and I’ll be keeping a close eye on their endorsements this year – so far, I have received emails announcing their endorsements of Republicans Trent Ashby in HD57, Ed Thompson in HD29, Roger Fisher in HD92, Susan Todd in HD97, Amber Fulton in HD106, Jason Villalba in HD114, Bennett Ratliff in HD115, and Whet Smith in HD138; they have also endorsed Democrat Justin Rodriguez in HD125 – but I have not forgotten that all of their previous Republican endorsees marched off the cliff with the rest of their party last year. Not a one as far as I can tell argued against the cuts to education – hell, not a one as far as I can tell argued against the twice-as-big education cuts that were in the House budget. How do I know that once they’ve been elected they won’t take Rick Perry’s budget suicide pledge and give us more of what we got last time? I really really hope I’m being overwrought about this, because we’re not getting a Democratic majority any time soon and we need there to be at least a decent contingent of pro-education Republicans in Austin, but I’m not seeing what I want in the rhetoric just yet.

Republican Mike Jones is a former college instructor and member of the school board in Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth, who calls fully funding school districts a centerpiece of his campaign. He says it has raised the profile of his challenge of Miller — a one-time vocational teacher himself who voted in favor of the school cuts.

“It’s like the school district is a Chevy Suburban and it’s been driven by a superintendent … then the state comes and saddles them with a 40,000 pound trailer on the back end of it and starts blaming the Suburban or the principals or the teachers or the kids,” Jones said. “It’s not their fault it’s that trailer put on there. It’s the unfunded mandates and the testing.”

Jones and others have also seized on what they call the state’s over-reliance on standardized testing, which districts are forced to prepare their students for more rigorously than ever despite budgets cuts.

I’m glad to hear this and I agree with what Jones is saying, but it doesn’t take much political courage these days to be anti-standardized testing. I’m happy for these candidates to pursue a more balanced testing policy – as the parent of a rising third-grader, I’ll be delighted to have less to worry about on this score – but let’s not confuse that with a solution for the school finance problem. We may find some savings there, but it’ll be little more than couch cushion money. Dialing back the standardized tests is worth doing on its own merits, but it’s a separate issue from the main event of education funding.

30 Day finance reports, other state races

To complete my tour of the 30 day finance reports, here are the 30 day finance reports from Democratic legislative primaries around the state.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash ========================================================== 035 Gus Ruiz 11,047 27,858 25,000 2,067 035 Joseph Campos 18,620 4,338 0 0 035 Oscar Longoria 34,421 47,823 61,000 42,704 040 TC Betancourt 6,015 8,857 0 0 040 Gus Hernandez 30,714 41,857 1,212 1,301 040 Robert Pena 6,750 26,425 30,000 10,148 040 Terry Canales 4,000 43,661 0 0 074 Poncho Nevarez 22,977 15,470 12,200 2,062 074 Efrain Valdez 074 Robert Garza 400 17,296 0 0 075 Mary Gonzalez 56,725 27,517 0 26,571 075 Hector Enriquez 8,925 19,927 0 19,927 075 Tony San Ramon 3,650 2,078 1,000 92 077 Marisa Marquez 77,921 51,394 0 44,051 077 Aaron Barraza 35,607 24,983 0 8,814 090 Lon Burnam 88,523 67,827 0 68,372 090 Carlos Vasquez 16,382 9,647 0 10,955 095 Dulani Masimini 1,990 2,356 0 0 095 Nicole Collier 27,486 9,701 242 17,660 101 Paula Pierson 27,935 50,666 16,000 39,860 101 Chris Turner 65,398 58,155 0 60,395 101 Vickie Barnett 0 6,645 0 6,645 107 Don Parish 107 Richie Butler 107 Carol Kent 110 Toni Rose 55,328 14,929 0 3,578 110 Larry Taylor 9,820 7,561 0 2,456 110 Cedric Davis 6,010 7,470 0 968 117 Tina Torres 49,936 73,040 0 45,270 117 Philip Cortez 31,985 31,700 0 19,474 125 Delicia Herrera 15,580 13,905 0 1,786 125 Justin Rodriguez 40,970 33,419 0 65,832

Efrain Valdez has a report that’s been filed but not posted. Carol Kent and Richie Butler only have January reports that I can see, while Don Parish has none. If I show a zero in the cash on hand column, it’s because that was either listed as zero or left blank by the campaign. In some cases, such as Terry Canales, it’s because the candidate mostly spent personal funds. In the case of Toni Rose, her cash on hand totals is as small as it is given her amounts raised and spent because most of her contributions are in kind from Annie’s List – basically, they paid most of her campaign expenses for this period.

Of the 12 races here, eight are for open seats: HDs 35 (GOPer Jose Aliseda was drawn into HD43 and chose to run for a local office instead); 40 (Aaron Pena, and good riddance); 74 (Pete Gallego); 75 (Chente Quintanilla); 95 (Marc Veasey); 101 (new district in Tarrant County); 110 (Barbara Mallory Caraway); and 125 (Joaquin Castro). Quintanilla is running for El Paso County Commissioner, the other Democrats are running for Congress. HDs 77 and 90 are challenges to incumbent Dems, and HDs 107 (Kenneth Sheets) and 117 (John Garza) are Republican-held seats.

Annie’s List is a prominent player in these races – they are backing Mary Gonzalez, Nicole Collier, Paula Hightower Pierson, Toni Rose, Carol Kent, and Tina Torres. Justin Rodriguez is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC and also by the AFL-CIO, as are Phillip Cortez, Collier, Lon Burnam, Terry Canales, Oscar Longoria, and two candidates in HD74, Robert Garza and Poncho Nevarez.

I can’t say I’ve followed these races closely, but the Trib has had some coverage of the contests in HD75, HD77, and HD101. For the El Paso race, the Lion Star Blog has been an invaluable resource; I wish there were something like that for San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth. BOR had a nice overview of the legislative races last week. The one other tidbit I’ll pass along is this DMN endorsement of HD110 candidate Larry Taylor, which contained this head-scratcher:

[Taylor] acknowledges that he voted for the GOP in the 2008 primary, which created a ruckus when aired during a recent candidate forum. Taylor noted that this was a somewhat popular choice for Democrats in 2008. He voted Democratic in the general election and he assures us that this is indeed where his political heart lies. A key party leader agrees.

I’m more tolerant than some of Dem candidates with GOP primary histories, but I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why any Dem would have voted in the GOP primary in 2008, of all years. The common “I had a friend in a judicial primary” trope is not on exhibit here, and it would have been somewhat ridiculous in Dallas County, where Dems have dominated the last three countywide elections. I have no idea why Taylor would claim that was a “somewhat popular choice for Democrats” in 2008; 2.8 million Democratic primary voters would demur. I don’t know Mr. Taylor and I don’t know how credible he sounds when he discusses this, all I know is that my jaw hit the table when I read that.

Anyway. That’s it for now with finance reports. Those of you who know more about these candidates than I do, please weigh in on them. Thanks!

Residency is more state of mind than anything else

From the “Home is where you say it is” department.

Delicia Herrera

Her dogs live there, her mail arrives there, and her “stuff” is still there.

But Delicia Herrera insists she no longer lives at the home she owns on SW 39th Street.

The house sits in Texas House District 124, and the former city councilwoman is running in the Democratic primary for District 125. State law requires elected officials to live in the district they represent.

Herrera said she now lives on Glen Heather, in the northwest corner of the district, which runs in a strip from Loop 1604 on either side of Bandera Road to the city’s near West Side.

“I haven’t been sleeping there the past week, but I will be from now on,” she said Thursday afternoon on a break from block walking.

Candidates had until April 9 to establish residency in the district in which they’re seeking office, according to the Texas Secretary of State. That deadline came from the federal court order establishing interim congressional, House and Senate boundaries in the state’s ongoing redistricting battle.

Herrera said she was told the deadline was April 18. “I remember because it was near tax day,” she said.

She changed her address to Glen Heather on her voter registration card on April 3, according to the Bexar County Elections Office.

That home belongs to Sylvia Velasquez Cortez, who was listed as Herrera’s campaign treasurer on her January campaign finance report.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I know very little about Herrera or her primary opponent, Justin Rodriguez. I’m just citing this as another example of Texas’ notoriously forgiving residency laws, which generally make it easy to register or represent wherever you say you live, whether or not you really live there. The Lege is full of people who don’t live where they represent. Voters generally give them a pass, and even opponents don’t usually kick up a fuss – Rodriguez is quoted in the story saying he’s focused on other things – and when they do it often fails to get traction. It’s probably not the best way to do things, but it’s not particularly high on anyone’s priority list (mine included), so it is how it is.

Bexar County legislative hopefuls

Some news out of Bexar County about Democratic legislative candidates.

Two former San Antonio councilmen who left office this summer because of term limits are back in politics and gearing up for their first partisan campaigns for seats in the Texas Legislature.

Former Councilman Justin Rodriguez, a Democrat, officially announced his candidacy for the District 125 seat on Monday, though he’s been preparing for the race for a while. He’s seeking to replace Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who is running for the newly created 35th Congressional District.

[…]

Making his first splash on the Democratic stage, Rodriguez has brought an attention-grabbing name with him. Henry B. Gonzalez III — the grandson of the first Hispanic congressman from Texas — will serve as Rodriguez’s campaign treasurer.

“What his grandfather did paved the way for guys like me,” Rodriguez said.

The former District 7 councilman will kick off a listening tour after Labor Day and has created a campaign website at www.justin125.com.

Councilman Philip Cortez is planning to take on incumbent Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio. But he’ll likely have opponents in the primary race. Tomás Larralde, the executive director of the Hispanic Contractors Association de San Antonio, has already filed paperwork appointing his campaign treasurer.

Others are planning to run in the race as well, though Cortez and Larralde are the only two who have filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Castro’s seat is solid Dem, so the race Rodriguez has to win is the primary, if he gets a challenger. Garza’s seat is HD117, and even after redistricting it was won by every Dem on the ballot in 2008. It’s a must have. I’m still learning about these guys, so I’ll let things play out for awhile before I really think about which one I’d rather see take on Garza. I’m just glad to see the action.

Still smoking in San Antonio

But maybe not for much longer.

San Antonio City Councilman Justin Rodriguez announced [last] Friday that he is sponsoring an ordinance to outlaw smoking in most public places, including all bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Rodriguez said San Antonio is one of the largest cities in the country without legislation to protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“We recently missed out on federal funding because we’re not a smoke-free city,” Rodriguez said. “It’s so important to the future of our community.”

Rodriguez said the new ordinance would close any loopholes in existing anti-smoking laws.

The City Council passed an ordinance in 2003, which a group called the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition does not believe went far enough.

“There have been certain criteria that you could have smoking allowed in (some businesses),” said coalition chair Suzanne Lozano, who’s also a registered nurse.

San Antonio is approximately where Houston was before it passed a more extensive smoking ban back in 2006. That was done after Austin voted to adopt a tougher anti-smoking ordinance in 2005; numerous other cities including Dallas and Galveston have since followed suit. Given how common this is now, I don’t suppose it had even occurred to me that San Antonio had lagged behind on this. I expect this to pass fairly easily when it comes to a vote, but there is some opposition on Council.

[City Council member John] Clamp argues that “the market is working,” and banning smoking in San Antonio could push businesses to other municipalities in Bexar County. Customers can choose to go to other places, he said.

But Rodriguez agues that employees can’t.

“I don’t think folks have a choice to work in a smoking or nonsmoking establishment,” he said. “They go where the jobs are.”

Clamp disagrees.

“I think everybody has a choice on where to work,” he said. “If you really think second-hand smoke is bad for you, don’t work in a bar.”

More regulations will hurt business, Clamp said.

“They’ll have to lay off some of their wait staff, for sure,” he said. “If you’re not bringing in enough money, then you’ll have to lay people off.”

Sounds an awful lot like Houston’s debate, with Rodriguez playing the part of then-Council member and smoking ban advocate Carol Alvarado, and Clamp filling in for Michael Berry or Addie Wiseman. Seems to me you could check on Houston’s experience to measure Clamp’s claims if you wanted to. The Houston Press did an informal survey of bars and live music venues in 2007, which suggested it was mostly no big deal, but that’s the last I recall hearing about it. Which is kind of suggestive in itself – if there were a trend of places closing or relocating to less-restrictive unincorporated Harris County, you’d think there’d have been more news about it. My suspicion is that San Antonio’s experience will be like Houston’s, including how the passage of the ordinance plays out. Queblog has more.