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Kel Seliger

Republicans for Collier

Two of them, anyway.

Mike Collier

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, one of Texas’ most prominent Republican local leaders, is backing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger.

“The one person who I’ll support statewide that will get me a little in trouble: Mike Collier for lieutenant governor,” Whitley said on Y’all-itics, a WFAA politics podcast.

Whitley and Patrick have frequently clashed, and on the podcast Whitley slammed Patrick for waging “war on local elected officials.”

Just days after Whitley made the endorsement that crossed party lines, an out-going Republican state senator from Amarillo has followed suit. Kel Seliger plans to vote for Collier in November, a spokesperson for Seliger told The Texas Tribune. Seliger is one of the most senior Republicans in the upper chamber, but has also famously been at odds with Patrick. Neither Whitley nor Seliger are running for reelection.

At the center of Whitley’s disdain for Patrick is a bill shepherded by the lieutenant governor in 2019 meant to slow the growth of Texans’ property tax bills. The bill requires many cities, counties and other taxing units to hold an election if they wish to raise 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year, not counting the growth added by new construction.

But Whitley said the bill put Tarrant County in a tight position because property taxes are a major source of revenue for local governments. Meanwhile, Whitley said Tarrant County jails are housing more than 700 inmates that should be in state custody without additional funding from the state. The COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to make jail transfers contributed to state inmates being held in county jails, Community Impact reported.

“We’re paying 20 million plus a year because the state is not paying anything and yet they’re sitting down there talking about all the cash that they’ve got,” Whitley said.

For Seliger, his vote against Patrick this November comes after years of tensions with the lieutenant governor. Seliger is rare among Republicans in the upper chamber for his occasional willingness to go against Patrick. He has said he’s been punished for voting against a pair of the lieutenant governor’s top priorities in 2017, a bill aimed at restricting local governments’ abilities to raise property taxes and a program that would have subsidized private school tuition and home-schooling expenses. In the following session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his title as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. During a 2021 redistricting session, Seliger also voiced concern that Patrick was drawing his district to favor Seliger’s competitor.

[…]

Whitley said he is backing Collier because of Collier’s experience controlling budgets. Collier, an accountant and auditor from the Houston area, is a self-described “numbers guy.” Collier also worked as a landman for Exxon, which Whitley said indicated the Democratic nominee understood the oil business.

“And I just think he’s someone who understands local control. And that’s what I’m looking for,” added Whitley, who as county judge is the county’s top elected official and administrator. “We do everything. We’re the front door for basically all the federal and the state services that the state and the federal government passed laws for us to do.”

This is all nice to see, as is Dan Patrick’s little temper tantrum in response. I’ve said before (many, many times) that nothing will change until Texas’ government changes, and the fastest way for that to happen is for enough people to change how they’ve been voting. I generally don’t believe that endorsements move a lot of votes, but they can move a few, and they can also signal that something is in the air. We’ll know soon enough if this makes any difference – if nothing else, we’ll see what if any effect there is in the precinct data – but I’ll say this much: If Dan Patrick’s political demise can be traced even in part to a fight over local control and bad blood over redistricting, there’s not enough sugar in the world to emulate how sweet that would be. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: And today, outgoing Sen. Eddie Lucio endorses Dan Patrick. I am so glad we are seeing the last of that jackass.

Meet the new billionaires in charge of Texas

Somewhat worse than the old billionaires, who were already pretty bad.

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview.

Over the last decade, Dunn and his wife, Terri, have contributed more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees, while Wilks and his wife, Jo Ann, have given more than $11 million, putting them among the top donors in the state.

The beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the farthest-right members of the legislature and authors of the most high-profile conservative bills passed in recent years, according to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data. Dunn and Wilks also hold sway over the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy groups that push conservative policy issues.

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it.”

[…]

Texas’ far-right shift has national implications: The candidates Dunn and Wilks have supported have turned the state legislature into a laboratory for far-right policy that’s starting to gain traction across the US.

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature.

“I don’t think regular Texans are as conservative as their elected officials,” Kennedy said. “The reason that Texas has moved to the right is because the money’s there.”

There’s more, so read the rest. I’m old enough to remember when James Leininger was the scary right wing billionaire main character of Texas. We have a never-ending supply of these assholes. Yes, gerrymandering is a part of the problem here, but there will always be some number of deep red districts, and the same problem exists at the statewide level as well. Money is a big factor, though as noted it’s not always the difference-maker. Ultimately, the problem and the solution remain the same. I don’t know any way out of this but through it.

The only constant is change

This DMN story is about the wave of changes to the various legislative caucuses in North Dallas, but if you pull the lens back just a little, you can see how universal it is.

Proponents of term limits complain that elected lawmakers often overstay their welcome.

That’s not the case these days in the Texas House, where turnover is occurring across the state. In North Texas, the 2022 elections could bring an array of new faces to the House and Senate.

When the Legislature convenes in 2023, there will be eight new members of the House. And a new senator will replace the retiring Jane Nelson of Denton County. Statewide, 28 House lawmakers have retired or left their seats to run or another office. Five senators are not running for reelection, including several moderate Republicans, including Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.

The story goes on to list the folks from the Metroplex – mostly Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties – who are retiring or running for another office in 2022, and it’s a long list. But as we’ve discussed, there’s always a fair amount of turnover following a redistricting year, and there’s a lot more natural turnover in elected office than you might think.

My case in point: Here’s your list of federal and state election winners in 2012 from Harris County. Following the 2022 election, this is how many new names there will be:

– Six of nine members of Congress are gone, with only Reps. Al Green, Mike McCaul, and Sheila Jackson Lee remaining.
– All three SBOE members will be gone, as Lawrence Allen is running for HD26 this March.
– At least six out of eight members of the State Senate will be gone, with only Sens. Whitmire and Huffman still on the ballot. To be sure, two of those people are now statewide office holders, and one is on Commissioners Court, but this is about turnover. All three of their seats are now held by someone else.
– At least sixteen of the 24 State House members will be gone. Only Reps. Alma Allen, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Hubert Vo are on the ballot.

If you want to take it one step further, note that four out of five members of Commissioners Court are gone, with the fifth (Jack Cagle) likely to be voted out this November. All holders of executive office, all members of the HCDE Board of Trustees, and nearly every District Court judge is new since then as well.

To be sure, some of the holdovers have been there for a long time. My point is that they’re a pretty rare exception, and that the norm is for most legislators to serve a couple of terms and then either lose an election or move on to something else, which may be another political office and may be something outside of electoral politics. This is one of the many reasons why I disdain term limits. Our very real lived experience shows that they are not necessary.

The flip side of this, as a companion story notes, is that turnover means that a fair amount of legislative and subject matters knowledge goes away when a veteran lawmaker moves on, voluntarily or otherwise. But that’s life, and as someone who has been in the corporate world for a couple of decades, I can tell you that the world will keep spinning. New people will get their chance, and generally speaking they’ll be fine, even if they do things differently.

Now if you want to complain that the kind of Republicans being elected these days in place of the Jane Nelsons and Larry Taylors and Kel Seligers and so forth are a couple of notches below them in terms of knowledge, seriousness, deportment, and a whole host of other qualities, you’ll get no argument from me. That’s a different problem, and it’s going to take both the election of more Democrats and a return to something approaching sanity and respect for democracy among Republicans as a whole to solve it.

The SD10 redistricting lawsuit gets off to a rousing start

I did not see this coming.

Sen. Beverly Powell

In a sworn declaration submitted as part of an ongoing federal court challenge, a senior Republican state senator with redistricting experience said he believes his party violated federal voting laws when it drew new boundaries for state Senate District 10 in the Fort Worth area.

“Having participated in the 2011 and 2013 Senate Select Redistricting Committee proceedings, and having read the prior federal court decision regarding SD10, it was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle SD 10 violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution,” state Sen. Kel Seliger said in a declaration signed in November.

The statement from the Amarillo Republican emerged this week as part of a dayslong hearing before a three-judge panel considering a lawsuit that claims the district was intentionally reconfigured to discriminate against voters of color in Tarrant County.

[…]

Seliger chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee last decade, redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census when a similar attempt to reshape the district was found to be discriminatory. A federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled in 2012 that lawmakers had discriminated against voters of color in dismantling the district and cracking apart their communities. As a result, the Legislature went back to restore the district’s configuration.

Seliger affirmed his declaration in a video deposition taken earlier this month — portions of which were played in open court in El Paso this week — during which he also said that “pretextual reasons” were given for how political boundaries were decided during the 2021 redistricting process.

Seliger pointed to the redrawing of his own district in the Texas Panhandle as an example. The district was reconfigured so that it lost several counties from the region while picking up about a dozen on the southern end of the district, closer to Midland, from where Seliger had picked up a primary challenger. He ultimately decided against seeking reelection.

[…]

On Wednesday, Seliger told The Texas Tribune that his statement about the illegality of SD-10 was “more of a concern than it was an assertion” of whether there was a violation.

“When you draw a map that essentially takes out minorities or, in what was more the point, take out the chance that there would ever be a Democrat elected there, was there a violation?” Seliger said. “It’s not an assertion on my part because I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but that was my concern about Sen. Powell’s district — to take that district and completely change it and it still marginalized minorities in that district.”

He added that there was a “context” surrounding the drawing of SD-10 — even as Huffman asserted she had not paid any attention to racial data in drawing its boundaries — that requires lawmakers to consider race.

“The Voting Rights Act says if you can create a district in which a historically marginalized minority can elect a candidate of their choice, you must draw that district,” Seliger said. “You start with that principle in every single district.”

See here for the background. Basically, he’s saying that the Republicans did the same things that they did ten years ago that were cited as illegal under the Voting Rights Act by a federal court in 2012. That’s a strong argument that the district as drawn now is also illegal, though it’s hardly conclusive. The previous lawsuit was settled rather than taken to a verdict, so the state will probably just argue now that they shouldn’t have settled then. It’s a good and unexpected (for me, anyway) start for the plaintiffs, who for now are just trying to get something like the old district restored for the 2022 election, but we haven’t heard from the state yet.

More from the hearing:

Two of Tarrant County’s local elected officials testified Tuesday that new political maps passed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature will dilute the voting power of minority voters in a Fort Worth state senate district.

The testimony from Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio Leon and County Commissioner Charles Brooks came during a hearing in El Paso in one of several challenges against the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew political maps following the 2020 U.S. Census.

And although this week’s hearing is limited in scope — it pertains to one state senate district in North Texas — attorneys said testimony could foretell what is to come later this year when a slew of other redistricting challenges are heard in a consolidated redistricting lawsuit.

[…]

During testimony Tuesday in El Paso, De Leon said much of his Precinct 5 was originally in Senate District 10 before redistricting. But now, the Senate District has been split in two. This has shifted some Black and Hispanic voters — formerly in the northern part of his precinct — into a Senate District with more Anglo voters. Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic voters in the southern part of his precinct are grouped with rural white voters.

“They’ll have zero impact” on upcoming races, DeLeon said.

Brooks, who was first elected as a county commissioner in 2004, said redistricting has grouped Black and Hispanic voters with Anglo residents who do not share the same values.

“Their voices will be greatly diminished to the point of not being heard and effective in getting their points of view across,” he said, adding that his precinct is about 60% Democrats and 40% Republicans. But Tarrant County generally tends to vote Republican, he said.

Not quite as much any more. If these plaintiffs can get a favorable ruling, then that is probably a good sign for the others, though of course there are no guarantees and SCOTUS remains hostile to voting rights. If these plaintiffs can’t get anywhere, it’s hard to see how any of the others will fare better. If nothing else, we should have an answer quickly. Spectrum News has more.

The Lege will get worse before it gets better

I have three things to say about this.

More than two dozen members of the Texas Legislature are retiring or running for a different seat next year, creating a slew of vacancies that could push both chambers to become redder and more polarized by the time lawmakers reconvene in 2023.

Many of the outgoing members are center-right or establishment politicians with years of experience, opening up seats for younger and more ideologically extreme replacements. In many cases, their districts were redrawn to strengthen the GOP’s hold on the Legislature, eliminating all but a few of the battleground contests that tend to attract more moderate candidates.

Those changes, paired with new political maps that leave little opening for Democrats to gain ground in November, have laid the groundwork for an even more conservative Legislature, even as Republicans toast the 2021 legislative session as the most conservative in the state’s history.

“The tides are shifting again,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, a moderate Republican from north Houston who is not seeking re-election. “You have different political leaders, and the constituency has a view of what they want. You’re going to see a shift. I would assume it’s going to be more conservative.”

The Capitol is also poised to lose some of its longest tenured legislators to retirement, draining “a generation of policy expertise” on areas such as health care, education, agriculture and the border, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. The average tenure of the departing members is 13 years.

We’ve covered this before. What distinguishes members like Dan Huberty and Chris Paddie and Lyle Larson and even otherwise crappy ones like James White is that they had policy chops, in at least one area, and took that part of legislating seriously. They were perfectly happy to vote for all of the destructive wingnut crap, and we should never forget that as we say nice things about their legislative experience, but the truth is that whoever survives the freak show primary to replace them will almost certainly be worse than they were. Until such time as Dems win a majority, or Republicans become collectively less sociopathic (whichever comes first), the Lege will become a worse place than it now is.

In 2011, Huberty was one of 37 mostly Republican freshmen in the Texas House — a mix of conservatives and moderates who rode the tea party wave into office, including three members who had served in the House previously, lost their seats and then gained them back that year.

By 2023, few of the moderate new members elected from that class will remain, with most of the remaining holdouts — including Huberty, John Frullo of Lubbock, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and Jim Murphy of Houston — declining to seek re-election next year.

We’ve discussed this before as well. What do all these members have in common? They will have served twelve years in the House, which makes them fully vested in the Lege’s pension plan. There may well be other reasons for their departures, and of course the first post-redistricting election is always an exodus, but I guarantee you that’s a factor.

In the Senate, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s seat could be the sole competitive race next year. The other open districts are solidly Republican, and those who are likely to replace the outgoing members are ideologically further right than their predecessors — or are, at least, closely allied with [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick, the leader of the upper chamber.

[Sen. Kel] Seliger was known for frequent fallouts with Patrick, defying him at times and blocking passage of priority bills. But state Rep. Phil King, the Weatherford Republican vying to replace him, has already earned Patrick’s stamp of approval.

[Sen. Larry] Taylor, one of the most moderate members of the Senate, is also poised to be replaced by a more conservative successor. Those running to replace him include [Rep. Mayes] Middleton and Robin Armstrong, a physician backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a tea party favorite. (Armstrong gained attention last year when he controversially administered hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients at the Texas City nursing home where he works.)

We really need a better descriptor in these stories than “moderate”, which has lost all meaning in the post-Tea Party, post-Trump era. Kel Seliger is conservative in the way someone from the Reagan/Bush years would recognize the term. He’s also a legitimate work-across-the-aisle guy, and was maybe the last Senate Republican to not care about whatever Dan Patrick wants. You could fit a term like “iconoclast” or “maverick” to him if you had to, but he’s just a guy who was generally faithful to his political beliefs, and voted in what he believed was the best interest of his district. Which these days is pretty goddamned quaint. As for Taylor, look, he’s as down-the-line a Republican as there is. It’s true, he doesn’t spew conspiracy theories every five minutes, he’s not performatively nasty on Twitter, and as far as I know he eats his food with a knife and fork, and chews with his mouth closed. That makes him fit for human society, but it has nothing to do with how he votes or whether there’s an inch of distance between him and Dan Patrick. If that’s what we mean these days when we refer to a Republican legislator as “moderate”, can we please at least be honest about it?

Comings and goings

Rep. Lloyd Doggett will run in a new district again.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has decided to run for reelection in Texas’ 37th Congressional District, opting to vie for one of Texas’ two new congressional districts — a bright-blue seat concentrated in Austin — rather than his current district, which reaches down to San Antonio.

Doggett announced the decision Sunday in an email to supporters and then shared it in person Monday outside Bryker Woods Elementary School in Austin.

“Nobody, me included, has any entitlement to public office, but Bryker Woods does issue reports cards,” Doggett said, “and I’m ready for my neighbors to grade my service in Congress and my devotion to the families of this city.”

Doggett currently represents the 35th Congressional District, which runs from Austin down along Interstate 35 to San Antonio. The proposed 37th District is far more compact, contained almost entirely within Travis County, home to Austin. Both are currently safely Democratic districts — and likely to remain so after redistricting.

[…]

Doggett also survived the last round of redistricting by switching districts, changing to the 35th District, which was new at the time. It was drawn to be a Hispanic-majority district, and Doggett faced a primary against then state Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio. But Castro ultimately ran for the San Antonio-based 20th Congressional District after its Democratic incumbent, Charlie Gonzalez, announced his retirement.

Doggett’s chances of reelection in the new district are high. He has served in Congress since 1995 and a built a massive campaign war chest, totaling $5.4 million as of Sept. 30.

Doggett’s decision to run in CD-37 means there will be an open seat in CD-35.

Potential Democratic candidates for the 37th District have included state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin and Wendy Davis, the former Fort Worth state senator and 2014 gubernatorial nominee who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, last year.

Doggett was first elected in what was then CD10. In the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, he moved to what was then CD25, then into CD35 as noted. I’m just going to leave this here:

Someone needs to start a project to track down everyone who has been continuously represented by Lloyd Doggett since 1995.

Rep. Doggett may or may not get some real competition for CD37. I’d make him a heavy favorite against pretty much anyone. As for CD35, that will likely draw a crowd.

Progressive firebrand and Austin City Council Member Greg Casar is likely to run for Congress in Texas’s 35th District, he told the Texas Observer in an interview.

“It’s very likely that I’m running,” says Casar, who has formed an exploratory committee to examine a run for the district that runs from Austin to San Antonio. “The maps haven’t been signed into law yet, but shortly after they are, I will make things much more official.”

[…]

The prospect of a newly open seat in a heavily Democratic majority-minority district sets the stage for a potential primary battle.

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, who’s served in the Legislature since 2003, is reportedly “taking a hard look” at a run for the 35th; his southeast Austin state House district sits almost entirely within the new 35th boundaries. Also, longtime San Antonio Representative Trey Martinez Fischer requested that lawmakers draw him into the 35th, indicating that he may also run. Claudia Zapata, a progressive activist in Austin, is currently the only officially declared candidate. Casar’s home and his north-central council district are in the 37th, right along the border with the 35th.

That story is all about CM Casar, and you can read it if you want to know more about him. I’m mostly interested in the name game at this point.

Moving along, we will have a new open State House seat in Bexar County.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who bucked his party on a number of major issues this year, announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection.

In an email to constituents, Larson said he was following through on legislation he has repeatedly introduced that imposes a term limit of 12 years on any elected official at the state level.

“As a strong proponent of term limits, will follow the limits we previously proposed in this legislation,” Larson wrote.

Larson was first elected in 2010 to represent House District 122 in the San Antonio area.

He had been increasingly expected to pass on a 2022 reelection campaign as he grew disillusioned with his party and potential GOP candidates lined up for his seat. Larson was the only Republican to oppose the GOP’s priority elections bill that led House Democrats to break quorum this summer. He also was the only Republican to vote against legislation that Republican supporters argued would crack down on the teaching of critical race theory in Texas classrooms. More recently, he filed a long-shot bill during the current special session to provide rape and incest exemptions for Texas’ new near-total abortion ban, despite previously voting for it.

Rep. Larson, who had been targeted by Greg Abbott in the 2018 primary, was sure to draw challengers this primary as well. He’s also now got his 12 years in, which means he’s fully vested in the pension. That’s always a propitious time to pull the plug. As noted before the current HD122, which began the decade as the most Republican district in Bexar County, has moved sharply towards Democrats. It was also significantly changed in redistricting, and was made more red than it had been in 2020, but could still be competitive in the near future. Maybe if a more wingnutty Republican wins, that timetable could move up.

Also moving districts due to the new map:

State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, announced Wednesday he is moving to run for reelection in a different House district because his current district is being redrawn to be more favorable to Republicans.

Talarico said he would run in nearby House District 50, where the Democratic incumbent, Celia Israel, is not seeking reelection as she prepares to run for Austin mayor. He announced the new campaign with the support of the biggest names in Democratic politics in Texas, including Beto O’Rourke, Wendy Davis and Joaquin Castro.

Talarico currently represents House District 52, which is set to become redder in redistricting — going from a district that President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points to one that Donald Trump would have carried by 4. HD-50, meanwhile, is likely to remain solidly blue after redistricting.

[…]

Whether Talarico can avoid a competitive primary for HD-50 is an open question. Earlier Wednesday, Pflugerville City Councilman Rudy Metayer announced he was exploring a run for the seat. Metayer is also the president of the Texas Black Caucus Foundation, and he released a list of supporters topped by two of the state’s most prominent Black politicians, state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Royce West of Dallas.

HD-50 is more diverse than the district Talarico, who is white, currently represents. In a series of tweets announcing his new campaign, Talarico prominently highlighted how he “call[s] out White supremacy on the floor,” a reference to his outspoken advocacy against Republican legislation aiming to restrict the teaching of “critical race theory” in Texas classrooms.

Talarico was part of the over 50 House Democrats who broke quorum this summer in protest of the GOP’s priority elections bill, though he was part of the first several to return, causing friction with some in his own party.

See here for more on Rep. Israel. I have to think that HD52 will still be attractive to someone on the Democratic side; that person may have a harder time of it than Rep. Talarico, but a 4-point Trump district is hardly insurmountable, and I’d bet on further change in a Dem direction. As for Talarico, I’ll be very interested to see how big a deal his coming back in the first wave from the quorum break is in his primary. I’m sure the subject will come up.

Closer to home:

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, announced Tuesday he will not seek another term to the Texas House.

Huberty, who has represented House District 127 since 2011, said in a statement that “it is time for new opportunities in life.”

“I have thought long and hard about this decision,” Huberty said. “It’s been an honor to represent the people and communities of District 127 at the Texas Capitol, and I’m proud of the work our team has accomplished.”

During the 2019 legislative session, Huberty helped spearhead reforms to the state’s school finance system, which included $6.5 billion to improve public education in the state and pay teachers, plus $5.1 billion to lower school district taxes.

Huberty said Tuesday that his “interest in and passion for public education remains at my core” and said he believed that the school finance reform legislation from 2019 “will have a lasting impact for the school children of Texas for a long time to come.”

Another fully-vested-in-the-pension guy. Funny how those things work out. Rep. Huberty, like several of his colleagues, is one of those increasingly rare serious-about-policy types, who has done some good work with public education. As his district remains pretty solidly Republican, at least in the foreseeable future, the best we can hope for is someone who isn’t a total clown emerging from the Republican primary. Say a few Hail Marys and toss some salt over your shoulder.

And speaking of Republicans with policy chops, this was not unexpected but is still bad.

Amarillo state Sen. Kel Seliger, a Republican who often butted heads with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and was known to be a key swing vote for his party, will not seek reelection.

“After thoughtful consideration and with the reassurance of my family, including my new very vocal granddaughter, I have decided not to be a candidate for re-election to the Texas Senate,” Seliger said in a statement. “I am forever grateful for my family, supporters, staff, and those who. have worked on my behalf since 2004. Thank you for placing your trust in me as your Texas State Senator.”

Seliger said he will serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2023. He has represented Senate District 31, which covers the Panhandle, South Plains and the Permian Basin, since 2005. Prior to that, he served four terms as mayor of Amarillo.

In the Legislature, Seliger was known as an advocate issues of public education, higher education and local control. He led the Senate Higher Education Committee for three sessions between 2013 and 2017. But as parts of the Republican Party in Texas shifted toward support of private school vouchers and against policies passed in Democrat-leaning municipalities, Seliger was often criticized for not supporting those stances and derided as a “liberal.”

[…]

As recently as Monday, Seliger was still breaking with Republican leadership in what he said was deference to his constituents. He was one of the only Republicans in office who openly opposed legislation to ban employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines, saying the proposal, pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott, was “anti-business.” Earlier in the 30-day special session, Seliger was the sole GOP vote in the Senate against a bill that would clear the way for party officials to trigger election audits. Seliger reportedly said he opposed the legislation because it is an “unfunded mandate of the counties, and I’m opposed to big government.”

His maverick streak led to frequent conflict with Patrick, a conservative firebrand who presides over the Senate. In 2017, Seliger voted against two of Patrick’s legislative priorities: a bill restricting local governments’ abilities to raise property tax revenues and another one providing private school vouchers. The next session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee prompting a back and forth with Patrick’s office that escalated to Seliger issuing a recommendation that a top Patrick adviser kiss his “back end.” (Seliger ultimately apologized, but only for directing the comment at the adviser and not at Patrick himself.)

There used to be a lot of Kel Seligers in the State Senate, and in the Republican Party. Now they run the gamut from Joan Huffman to Bob Hall, and the next person to be elected in SD31 is almost certainly going to be on the Bob Hall end of that spectrum. We sure better hope we can beat Dan Patrick next year.

Finally, here’s a non-legislative vacancy that may have an effect on the House delegation in 2023.

The race for Bexar County judge is wide open as the 2022 election approaches.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff confirmed last week that he would not seek reelection next year. Wolff has served as the county’s leader since 2001. Local political scientists say they expect a packed Democratic primary, though the number of officially declared candidates currently sits at zero.

So far, only state Rep. Ina Minjarez has publicly announced interest in the seat; she tweeted that she was exploring a run after Wolff announced his decision not to run again.

“I’ve received countless calls from community members for me to consider running for Bexar County Judge; with today’s news I’ve decided to form an exploratory committee,” she wrote on Oct. 6.

Rep. Minjarez was the only legislator mentioned in that story, but County Judge is a pretty good gig, so others may check this out. Being a County Judge is also a decent stepping stone to higher office, if that’s on one’s path. I will keep an eye on that.

With the mapmaking done, I expect we’ll start to hear about more people getting in, getting out, and moving over. And the January finance reports are going to tell us a lot. Stay tuned.

The Lege may fail to enshrine Abbott’s max anti-vaxx order into law

One bit of good news.

Legislation intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees has stalled out in the Senate with less than two days left in the third special legislative session this year.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposes the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger said the legislation — added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott — does not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.

“At the moment it’s not too well developed,” Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Tyler, calling it “anti-business.”

“I’ve got some real reservations because I think it’s another example of big government,” Seliger said. “And we don’t do that.”

SB 51 has been on the Senate’s calendar since Thursday, but the chamber has not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.

The special session is scheduled to end Tuesday, and the vaccine legislation is one of only a few outstanding Abbott priorities that appears unlikely to get through the finish line.

“It’s dead,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said of SB 51.

[…]

More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren’t required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are “safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced.”

Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide even if lawmakers don’t act. His order came four weeks after Democratic President Joe Biden announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.

The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers of the legislation’s risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely on federal funding and immunocompromised Texans.

The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.

“We’re getting tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job,” Seliger said. “They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business.”

See here and here for some background. From the jump there were stories of strong opposition from business groups, who are normally very friendly to Republicans, to this bill. Given that the session ends today, I’d say the odds that this bill dies with it are pretty good. But I don’t want to get too overconfident, because it is entirely possible that enough objectionable pieces of that bill could get filed off, and it would be at the top of the agenda for a fourth session, whether or not one is needed. So count this as a provisional win, and hope for the best from here.

Senate approves its map

They wasted no time, which is another way of saying that they didn’t bother giving anyone else much time to provide input or feedback.

Definitely protecting herself

The Texas Senate has approved a new political map for its own members that would entrench Republican dominance in the chamber for the next 10 years, even as Democrats argued the changes do not reflect the interests of people of color in the state who have fueled Texas’ growth over the last decade.

The proposal, put forth by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was approved late Monday by a vote of 20-11 and would draw safe districts for GOP incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified in recent years and started voting for more Democrats.

Sixteen Republican incumbents would be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

At the same time, Huffman’s proposal added no additional districts where people of color would represent a majority of the district’s eligible voters, even as Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans drove 95% of the state’s growth since the last census. Hispanics, in particular, were responsible for half of the increase of nearly 4 million people in the state’s population and now nearly match the number of white Texans in the state.

The state currently has 21 districts where the majority of eligible voters are white, seven with Hispanic majorities, one where Black residents are in the majority and two where no racial group makes up more than half of the total.

“The maps that are being proposed are not an accurate reflection of the growth of Texas,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who leads the Senate Hispanic Caucus. “Without any changes to this current map, the state of Texas could potentially go 30 years, think about that, three decades, without having added a Hispanic or Latino opportunity district.”

Menéndez proposed a map that he crafted with civil rights organizations to add one district in North Texas where Hispanics would make up the majority of eligible voters and be poised to select their preferred candidate. Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in Dallas County. That proposal was rejected.

Upon pushback from Democratic senators, Huffman insisted that she’d drawn the maps “blind to race.”

“I have followed the law, I have drawn blind to race, I believe the maps I’ve drawn are compliant under the Voting Rights Act,” she said.

See here and here for the background. I’m sure Sen. Huffman would like you to believe what she said – she may even believe it herself – but the odds that one could reduce the number of Hispanic opportunity districts after a decade in which half the population growth was driven by that community without having a clear idea of what one was doing and why are just really small. If there’s one thing I trust about the Republicans in this process, it’s that they know what they’re doing. They might be blinkered by longer-term demographic changes – the 2011 map was supposed to be a 20-11 Republican map, as this one is supposed to be 19-12 – but there’s nothing blind about their actions. Their eyes are wide open.

Speaking of 20-11:

As Braddock notes elsewhere, redistricting is first and foremost “every person for themselves”, and the votes surely reflect that. There could have been a more aggressive gerrymander that might have made life more difficult for one of those three Democrats, but there wasn’t. And since this was going to pass anyway, this is what happens. The SBOE map was also approved by the Senate, with everyone paying about as much attention to it as I had expected. Both go to the House now, which is working on its own map.

A gold-plated dud

Just a dumb story all around.

When state lawmakers decided in 2015 that Texas needed to be the only state to have its own precious metals depository, supporters said there were plenty of reasons the project would be a gold mine.

The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co., which handles the schools’ endowment, owned hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of gold as an investment, stored for a fee in a New York City vault. A state-owned depository “will repatriate $1 billion of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve in New York to Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Citizens, too, were clamoring for an independent-minded location they could trust with their valuables. “When I first presented this, to be honest with you, we got hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world, really, who wanted to be able to put their gold in something that has the Texas banner above it,” said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, the bill’s author. “This doesn’t work in Wisconsin, it doesn’t work in Idaho.”

Best of all, because the state would find a private partner to build and own the physical depository, it would cost taxpayers nothing. The enterprise would even reap a big profit for Texas. “We estimate that we could raise tens of millions of dollars in fees,” Capriglione testified.

More than three years after the depository opened, none of those things has happened. Yet earlier this year state lawmakers quietly voted to let the state borrow millions of dollars to bail out a project created to fix a problem that didn’t exist, and which they had vowed would cost nothing.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, one of only two senators to oppose the bill. “I don’t think the State of Texas should be in the commercial real estate business, or the gold bullion business.”

The UT/A&M investment company liquidated its gold more than a year ago without moving any bullion back to Texas. A spokeswoman said the agency currently owns no precious metals and so has no need for storage. No other state entity has metal at the Texas depository.

In the time since state leaders created the Texas facility, two large private competing depositories have also opened, in Shiner and Dallas. Officials said Texas Bullion Depository is currently less than 10 percent full. Taxpayers, meanwhile, have yet to see a penny from the enterprise.

Worse, the state’s partner, Lone Star Tangible Assets, recently revealed it is looking to sell the new facility, placing the state at risk of losing control of the entire enterprise. In response, two months ago legislators gave Comptroller Glenn Hegar permission to borrow up to $20 million to buy it.

How a project touted as a golden opportunity for taxpayers devolved into a bait-and-switch that could instead cost millions is a classic tale of government mission creep. It also raises new questions about the odd-couple partnership between the State of Texas and the high-volume precious metals sales industry, a sector that has inspired numerous warnings and enforcement actions from federal and state regulators, including the Texas attorney general.

“When I saw this, I thought, ‘This is going to be embarrassing for the State of Texas,’” said Paul Montgomery, a precious metals dealer and appraiser who has worked with regulators to bring cases against coin dealers who scam investors.

I don’t think you can claim that people were “clamoring” for this without citing some evidence of said clamor. There are enough gold bugs in the state that I can believe some people wanted this, but in the big picture that would be little more than a murmur. Be that as it may, here we are. I remember this as it was happening, and I definitely remember thinking it was deeply dumb, but I figured it was the mostly harmless kind of dumb. I never bothered to blog about it because once you link to the story and say “this is dumb”, there’s really nowhere else to go.

This will cost us a few million bucks, but in the grand scheme of things that’s a rounding error in the budget. Compared to Greg Abbott’s border wall extravaganza, this is peanuts. Everyone should mock Rep. Capriglione for the rest of his life because of this, but beyond that it’s not worth the effort. Honestly, in some ways this is almost charming, like the kind of old-school dumbassery that powered a million Molly Ivins bon mots. We’d be in a much better place if this were the biggest outrage of the 87th legislative session.

Our nanny state and vote by mail applications

Sen. Paul Bettencourt purses his lips and wags his finger and is very disappointed in your county government.

Republican state lawmakers have filed bills to codify the Texas Supreme Court decision that blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all of its 2.4 million registered voters.

Senate Bill 208, authored by Sens. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Brian Birdwell; Bob Hall and Kel Seliger, would stop election officials from sending absentee ballot applications, regardless of eligibility. State Rep. Valoree Swanson, a Republican from Houston, filed a companion bill, House Bill 25.

“We must recognize the obvious that we didn’t need to mail 2M+ absentee ballot applications to registered voters in Harris County to have a record 11.2 million Texas voters cast their ballots in November,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “It is important to note that the 66.2% turnout in 2020 was without wasting taxpayer money by doing shotgun mailings to everyone on the voter roll.”

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to do so, an attempt to make voting easier during the pandemic, was thwarted after the county’s Republican Party sued. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in early October that Hollins would be exceeding his authority, though two lower courts had previously approved of the mass mailings.

Hollins had already sent out nearly 400,000 applications to Harris County voters who were 65 and older by the time the suit arose. The proposed legislation filed this month would extend to even such mailings to eligible voters because they would prevent counties from sending any unsolicited mail ballot applications.

Emphasis mine. So that first sentence about codifying the State Supreme Court decision is misleading, since this bill would now prohibit something the Court explicitly allowed. Let’s be clear about that.

Let’s also be clear that there’s no valid justification for this bill. If the voters of Harris County don’t like the way that Commissioners Court appropriates and spends money, the voters of Harris County have a simple and direct way to express that disapproval. This is Paul Bettencourt and others expressing their disapproval of Harris County voters, because he has that power.

I’m sure there will be more bills like this one, and while most of them probably won’t pass I’ll be surprised if this one manages to fail. the good news, for what it’s worth, is that the Harris County Democratic Party can continue its very successful campaign of sending mail applications to its voters, then following up with them to ensure they get and return their mail ballots. I won’t be surprised if there’s some dropoff in mail voting in the next couple of elections, as people were motivated to vote by mail due to the pandemic, but I’d expect most of those voters to just go back to voting in person. This is a legislative temper tantrum, and it can some day be fixed, but don’t forget that it happened. Republicans like Paul Bettencourt want it to be hard to vote, and they will do what they can to make it hard to vote. We should make a bigger deal about this in our campaigns.

Measles, schmeasles

Eh, no biggie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, too:

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

No-nuke version of SB2 passes the Senate

Dan Patrick gets his bill, without having to do any nasty partisan maneuvering.

The Texas Senate broke a logjam Monday that had paralyzed a piece of priority legislation for weeks — blunting a controversial provision in its property tax reform package and then advancing the bill, without having to deploy a procedural “nuclear option” to move it.

A vote on Senate Bill 2, a top imperative for state leaders, had been expected last week. But an apparent lack of support stalled the vote in the upper chamber, where the backing of 19 senators is generally required to bring a bill up for debate. After Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to blow past decades of tradition and bring the measure to a vote with a simple majority, state Sen. Kel Seliger, a vocal dissenter, relented Monday, allowing the bill onto the floor. He did not support its passage.

Seliger’s announcement came alongside a reworked bill with a handful of technical changes and one notable concession. As updated, SB 2 will force cities, counties and other taxing entities to receive voter approval before raising 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year — a change from the 2.5% trigger originally proposed. School districts would still face the 2.5% threshold under the version of the bill approved Monday.

Revenue generated on new construction does not count toward the threshold. And small taxing units, with sales and property tax levies under $15 million annually, will need to opt into some of SB 2’s provisions in an election.

[…]

After three hours of debate, SB 2 passed on an 18-13 vote, with Seliger joining the upper chamber’s Democrats in opposition. It was then given final approval on an 18-12 vote — with Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voting present — and will be sent to the House for further debate.

The lower chamber, meanwhile, has postponed discussion of its property tax reform legislation until April 24. Unlike the Senate’s version, the House has exempted hospital districts, community colleges, emergency service districts and school districts from abiding by a 2.5% election trigger — a move that has enflamed far-right lawmakers and activists, who say homeowners will feel scant relief if those entities are exempted.

See here for the background. One way or another, this was going to pass. Sen. Seliger made a point about comity and tradition, for whatever those things are worth to Dan Patrick, and he voted according to his conscience, which is a good thing as long as one has a good conscience. Which Sen. Seliger has, and I appreciate his effort. Now it’s just a matter of what the conference committee bill looks like, since the House version will be different. Figure this one will more or less go down to the wire, but it will pass in some form similar to this. It’s a lousy bill and lousy policy, but (say it with me one more time), nothing will change until we change who we elect. Texas Monthly has more.

Desperate Dan

Dan’s gonna do what Dan’s gonna do.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, increasingly desperate to pass legislation aimed at reforming the state’s property tax system, told a group of senators late Thursday night that if he can’t get the votes to win passage of the bill, on Monday he is simply going to change a decades-long Senate practice in order to guarantee himself a victory. Patrick issued the warning to Senate Democrats Thursday night, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion.

To take up debate on legislation, three-fifths of the Senate, or nineteen senators, must vote to move forward. Patrick warned he would suspend this so-called three-fifths rule, a move known around the Capitol as the “nuclear option” because it would upend decades of tradition in the upper chamber, a body that has long esteemed itself for decorum and consensus-building. Patrick’s apparent decision, supported by Republican leadership, to suspend the tradition on Senate Bill 2 would mean that only a simple majority—sixteen votes—would be necessary to pass the property tax bill.

The move has Democratic senators scrambling to fashion a response and has some Republicans concerned about the precedent that the move could set. Senators said they intend to work throughout the weekend to fashion a bill acceptable to both parties and thereby avoid the nuclear option.

“It underscores the seriousness of the situation,” said Bill Miller, a longtime lobbyist and Capitol watcher who could not think of another instance in which this legislative maneuver has been used.

The Trib goes into some more detail.

Traditionally, the upper chamber starts the session by passing what’s called a “blocker bill” — a bill that sits ahead of any other priorities on the Senate’s ordered agenda so that bringing up anything other measure ahead of it requires a three-fifths vote, or 19 senators in support if all 31 are on the floor. Passing that bill would allow Patrick to bring a measure to the floor with a simple majority of senators, just 16.

The “blocker bill” tradition dates back at least to the 1950s.

It wouldn’t be the first time Patrick upended tradition to grease the skids in the chamber he’s led since 2015. That year, in his first term as lieutenant governor, Patrick lowered the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths, allowing the chamber’s Republicans to bring legislation to the floor without support from any Democrats.

Senate Bill 2, along with an identical House Bill 2, was filed in January after the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House declared a united front in addressing property tax reform this session. But since then, facing opposition from local officials who argue the 2.5 percent election trigger is too low to accommodate their budgeting needs, it stalled in the Senate, passing the upper chamber’s property tax committee in February but not coming to the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, in the House, the once-identical bill was overhauled in committee to carve out school districts, a change that has drawn criticism from some of the lower chamber’s more conservative members.

The House, which seems to have been moving the measure at a faster clip, was scheduled to debate the property tax bill on Thursday, but recessed that morning amid rumors that the Senate would instead bring up its version first. After a day of private negotiations, neither chamber brought up the proposal.

You may note the interesting math involved in Dan’s dilemma.

Senate rules say a bill can only be debated on the floor if three-fifths of senators, or 19 of the 31 members, agree to hear it. Republicans hold exactly the number of seats needed to meet this threshold.

But at least one, Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger, has expressed his opposition to the tax bill, citing a preference for local control and concern that the 2.5 percent cap would hurt local government services. Without this support, Patrick cannot bring it up for debate unless he suspends the rules and instead allows a simple majority of senators to bring the bill up for debate.

In an interview with The News on Friday, Seliger criticized Patrick’s plan.

“The nuclear option would be a mistake,” Seliger said. “It’s obviously the desperate option.”

Seliger said he was still opposed to Senate Bill 2. Even if rural areas were exempted and public safety costs carved out, he still has serious problems with the proposal. When asked what tax proposal he would back, Seliger mentioned legislation he’s filed that “is not just designed, I think, to handicap those units of local government.”

Senate Republicans reached no agreements or compromises Thursday, Seliger said, adding Patrick was not interested in straying far from his legislation by “discussing any substantive changes or amendments to SB2.”

Seliger also criticized Patrick for saying he was frustrated one Republican could hold up the process.

“They’re inappropriate,” Seliger said of the comments. “Negotiations and things like that, when they’re held in the media, I don’t think are very productive. Our system is designed so people can work together in a non-partisan fashion, and I’m not sure what those comments do for collegiality and cooperation and the Senate.

Hey, remember how Dan Patrick and Kel Seliger have been feuding? I’m pretty sure they both remember it.

I’m not going to offer a principled defense of the three-fifths rule, or its deceased predecessor the two-thirds rule, which had largely become an irritant to be pushed aside rather than an actual rule before it was finally modified to better accommodate the number of Republicans in the Senate. It’s anti-majoritarian, and as Democrats and progressives are arguing against the morass of anti-majoritarian policies and laws in our federal government as fundamentally anti-democratic, I’m not going to carve out a special-pleading exception at the state level. There are plenty of other anti-majoritarian objects in our state government right now, most notably gerrymandering and voter suppression, that deserve our uncompromised opposition. This is not to say that I won’t derive some Nelson Muntz level of schadenfreude at Dan Patrick having to act like a bully who’s been exposed as a weakling, because we all deserve every opportunity we get to deride Dan Patrick. But when the day comes that Democrats achieve a majority in the State Senate, I’ll raise a glass in Patrick’s direction when Dems use that majority to pass the bills they want to pass, without getting tripped up by old traditions.

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

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

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

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

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

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

As the Senate turns

Now boys, you play nice.

Sen. Kel Seliger

State Sen. Kel Seliger has been stripped of his post as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in an escalation of a feud with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber.

Announced Tuesday afternoon, the demotion caps a weekend spat between Seliger, an Amarillo Republican first elected to the Senate in 2004, and Patrick. The two have found themselves at odds with one another after Seliger voted against two of the lieutenant governor’s priorities in 2017.

Patrick said the demotion came after Seliger failed to apologize for a “lewd comment … that has shocked everyone” — a remark made on a West Texas radio program suggesting that a senior Patrick aide kiss his “back end.”

The tiff started Friday, when Patrick released committee assignments for the legislative session, stripping Seliger of his longtime post as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and taking him off the committee entirely. Instead, Seliger was appointed chair of a newly created agriculture committee, which split off from a larger committee. Patrick said only that committee assignments were “based on a number of factors.” Seliger called the snub “a very clear warning” that Republicans better toe the line, teeing up the battle.

In response, Sherry Sylvester, senior advisor to Patrick, said, “If Sen. Seliger believes serving as chair of the Agriculture Committee — a critical committee for West Texas and all of rural Texas — is beneath him, he should let us know and the lieutenant governor will appoint someone else.”

In an interview over the weekend on the radio show the “Other Side of Texas,” Seliger shot back one more time.

“It was extremely snide and really unbecoming for a member of the staff, the lieutenant governor’s or my staff,” Seliger told host Jay Leeson. “I didn’t say anything of the sort, and that assertion is disingenuous and I have a recommendation for Miss Sylvester and her lips and my back end.”

Patrick announced Tuesday that he removed Seliger from his leadership position after the veteran lawmaker declined to apologize for that remark.

Seliger later said that he should have directed his remark at Patrick, which seems fair. But honestly, the idea that Dan “Please let us pay for your wall, Mr. Trump” Patrick could possibly be offended by anyone’s language is ridiculous on its face. The best part of this is that Seliger is now free to vote against bringing any bill he doesn’t like to the floor, and with the 12 Dems they can effectively block it. Let the pettiness reign! Ross Ramsey and Texas Monthly have more.

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

What West Texas can do to improve their schools

Here’s an op-ed from the Statesman about one educator in West Texas who has had enough.

My hero this week is Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis superintendent of schools.

A West Texas publication published his open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raking them over the coals for “the lack of positive legislative action for public schools in Texas” at the most recent session, which adjourned at the end of May without passing a school finance bill.

Hicks is a West Point graduate and an experienced school administrator. He is no-nonsense guy who does not mince words. After detailing the effect of shrinking state financial support for public schools on Fort Davis schools over the past 10 years — combined with an increasing number of unfunded mandates and requirements — Hicks wrote, “How much more do you want to harm our children?

“If your intent is to dissolve public education (and your actions are more than a clear signal of such), then simply go on the record with that statement and remove the state’s authority to further overburden us without financial support. Quit pontificating about bathrooms. Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements about school vouchers and choice.”

Hicks accompanied his letter with a chart showing the annually declining amount of state funding available to the Fort Davis school district and the increasing burden on local taxpayers since 2008. That year, state funding amounted to $3.9 million, or 68 percent of the school district’s budget. Local property taxes provided $1.8 million, or 32 percent. In 2017, the state will contribute $378,000 — about one-tenth of its 2008 commitment, or 15 percent of the total budget. Local taxes this year will provide $2.2 million, or 85 percent.

“The Fort Davis ISD has 226 students,” Hicks wrote. “It has no cafeteria, has no bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has cut stipends for extra-curricular activities, has frozen (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has cut extra-curricular programs, has no debt, and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum allowed by the law.

“We have nothing left to cut.”

I agree that Superintendent Hicks sounds like a fine fellow who is speaking truth to power. That said, I feel compelled to point out how Jeff Davis County (*), which is where Fort Davis ISD, voted in the last gubernatorial election:


Governor
			
Greg Abbott             623  60.54%
Wendy R. Davis          366  35.57%
Kathie Glass             31   3.01%
Brandon Parmer            9   0.87%


Lieutenant Governor
			
Dan Patrick             560  56.62%
Leticia Van de Putte    375  37.92%
Robert D. Butler         48   4.85%
Chandrakantha Courtney    6   0.61%

Hold that thought. Now here’s a similar story about the school funding woes in West Texas:

Educators were excited to hear Gov. Greg Abbott announce he would call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to consider $1,000 teacher pay raises.

But Donna Hale, superintendent at 200-student Miami ISD in rural Roberts County, is wondering where the money is going to come from. An unfunded mandate, she said, could throw a wrench into their already difficult budgeting process.

“That’s the last thing we really need – the state saying you’ve got to do this when they’re not offering any support for us,” said Hale, who already doubles as the district’s librarian and said she was considering taking over as principal to cut payroll costs.

A wind farm and a sea of oil and natural gas wells in Roberts County has been good to Miami ISD, giving the district a flush tax base to pay for teachers and buildings. But its $1 billion dollar tax roll was cut in half this last year amid tumbling oil and gas prices. A state aid provision that it has relied on in recent years to guard against economic downturns expires in September and will take more than a third of the district’s budget with it.

Many rural schools like Miami ISD, the only school district in the county, are facing a similar dilemma and pleading with the State Legislature to act. Lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for a legislative overtime period, but school finance reform has taken a back seat to bills regulating bathroom use and creating a school choice program.

Again, I sympathize, and again, I wonder how did Roberts County vote in 2014?


Governor
			
Greg Abbott             324  93.91%
Wendy R. Davis           15   4.35%
Kathie Glass              5   1.45%
Brandon Parmer            1   0.29%


Lieutenant Governor			

Dan Patrick             320  93.29%
Leticia Van de Putte     12   3.50%
Robert D. Butler         10   2.92%
Chandrakantha Courtney    1   0.29%

I think you get where I’m going with this. Now, I will stipulate that in 2014, one might have been able to believe that Greg Abbott, who was touting an expansion of pre-K, and Dan Patrick, who had served as the Senate Education Committee chair and had passed some bipartisan bills during that time, could at least have been okay on education and school finance issues. Here in June of 2017, after a session that included the Senate refusing to consider HB21 and a special session that includes vouchers on the agenda, it’s really hard to believe that now. Further, both counties are represented in the Lege by pro-education members. Roberts County is served by Sen. Kel Seliger, who was the only Senate Republican to oppose the main voucher bill, and by Rep. Ken King, who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC in the 2012 primary. Jeff Davis County has two Democrats, Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco, in the Lege. Both were unopposed in 2016, and Blanco was unopposed in 2014, but in all three cases they drew a comparable number of votes to Republicans on the ballot. In addition, former Rep. Pete Gallego carried Jeff Davis County in 2010, even as Rick Perry and the rest of the Republicans were also winning it. The voters there do vote for pro-education candidates. Will they – and other counties like them – recognize in 2018 that “pro-education” does not describe Abbott or Patrick? I for one will have a lot more sympathy for their plight if they do.

(*) Yeah, I know.

Investigation requested into voucher astroturfing

From the Quorum Report:

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

Following a criminal complaint by a GOP former lawmaker, an Austin representative has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look a letter-writing campaign that has deeply troubled rural Republicans in the Texas House who are opposed to school vouchers.

In a letter obtained by Quorum Report this evening, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, told prosecutors that she’s heard from many of her Republican colleagues who cannot believe the way in which many of their constituents’ names were used.

As QR readers who have followed this are aware, rural Republicans from East Texas to West Texas have received about 17,000 letters orchestrated by a group called Texans for Education Opportunity. The group claimed credit for the letter campaign but has said everything was done properly.

The problem, though, is that many of those letters utilized the names of people who are opposed to school vouchers in any form and, in fact, some of them have raised concerns about whether their identities were stolen for this campaign.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has said he thinks lawmakers are being “defrauded” by these letters. One of the letters Seliger received, but the way, was sent in the name of someone who had died months before the letter was sent.

“I am writing to ask you and your office to immediately open an investigation into a massive letter writing campaign that appears to be fraudulent,” Rep. Hinojosa wrote to the Travis County DA Margaret Moore.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. Rep. Hinojosa is the second person to ask a DA to investigate this, following former Rep. Rick Hardacstle, who was one of the people claimed to be a voucher supporter by this phony campaign. I Am Not A Lawyer so I have no opinion as to whether the civil code or the criminal code would be the more appropriate remedy for this, but it’s definitely fraud of some form, and if my name had been on one of those faked letters I’d want someone in power to Do Something about it, too. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Scott Braddock has more.

Vouchers get their Senate hearing

Here we go again with this nonsense.

Senate Bill 3, authored by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, would establish educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to fund various costs associated with parents moving their children from traditional public schools to private, parochial, or charter schools.

In an online payment process, parents could use the accounts, called ESAs, to pay for items like private school tuition, educational software and tutoring for home school students. However, the bill would prohibit parents from using the money for food or child care.

SB 3 would also allow low-income students to qualify for a tax break, Texas businesses can donate to the scholarship fund, according to the proposal.

Senators did not take a vote on SB 3 after Tuesday’s meeting, leaving the matter pending for another day. However, Taylor’s counterpart in the House, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty of Humble, long has opposed so-called ‘school choice’ measures and said the bill likely is dead on arrival in his committee.

At Tuesday’s hearing, which drew more than 100 witnesses, Taylor defended his bill from charges that it diverts public money from cash-strapped public school districts and gives it to private schools. He said districts would retain some funding in the first year that a student decides to leave a public school, giving it time to adjust without losing all per-pupil money they currently receive from the state.

“Basically, the school will have money without a student. It will actually have more money to spend on the kids who are still there,” he said. “It gives them a year to transition or maybe in the year, to see what they need to do to move their program forward, to be more competitive.”

I’m not going to rehash the arguments for why vouchers (by any name; there’s a reason they have been rebranded as “education savings accounts”) are lousy public policy. Search my archives for “vouchers”, or read this from the CPPP if you need a reminder. Though a vote wasn’t taken at the time of the hearing, the committee did subsequently pass it out on a 7-3 count, with Republican Kel Seliger voting No. This is one of Dan Patrick’s priorities, and a rare bill on which Greg Abbott has an opinion he’s willing to say out loud, so I’m sure it will pass the Senate, and most likely die in the House. This is what victory looks like these days.

In the meantime, there was this.

A number of House members said they have received fraudulent letters in the last couple of months addressed from constituents asking them to back the ESAs.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, was suspicious when his office fielded 520 letters between mid-February and mid-March from constituents of his rural district, who are more likely to oppose private school choice than support it. All the letters were addressed from Austin and had the full names and addresses of each constituent at the bottom.

Springer started making calls. “We talked to a couple of dozen constituents. No one knows where they’re coming from. None of them agree with the positions that they’re even taking,” he said. He knows of about 10 other representatives who got similar letters.

One of Springer’s letters was addressed from former state Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who vacated the seat currently held by Springer about six years ago. “I don’t believe in vouchers of any kind,” Hardcastle said Monday. “It ought to be illegal … representing me for something I have no interest in supporting or helping.”

Asked about the letters, school choice advocate Randan Steinhauser said there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the issue. “We’re excited to see that many folks are contacting their legislators. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the ways these elected officials are being contacted.”

Sue Dixon, a public school teacher in Gatesville for the last 20 years, got a call from state Rep. J.D. Sheffield’s office asking whether she had sent a letter lobbying her representative to vote for vouchers.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not!'” Dixon said. “I’m upset that someone would hijack my views.”

Sheffield, a rural conservative from Gatesville, said he had received about 550 of those letters.

Here’s a more detailed article about this bizarre story. I am reminded once again of Daniel Davies’ words, that good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I don’t know if this was the work of amateurs or exceedingly hardened cynics, but I do know it is not the work of someone who is confident that the people are with them.

STAAR screwups

From the Observer:

Texas’ standardized testing program wasn’t exactly popular before the 2015-2016 school year, but this year’s State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) has been an especially frustrating experience for Texas students, parents and school officials. New testing contractor Educational Testing Service, in the first year of a four-year, $280 million contract to administer the STAAR, has seemed overwhelmed by the task: It misdelivered tests, lost records of test answers, and took weeks longer than promised to deliver test scores. Meanwhile, new Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) are under fire for how they’ve handled the STAAR so far, with critics saying they haven’t adequately recognized the magnitude of the problems schools faced — some of which, like missing student records and an unfinished website for teachers to access test data, were apparent even before the tests even arrived.

It can be tough to keep track of all that’s gone wrong, so here’s a blow-by-blow of the biggest problems schools faced with STAAR this year.

Click over and read the whole thing. I’d heard of some of these screwups, but not all of them. It’s impressive in its way. A lawsuit was filed last month to force the state to not use this year’s test results to rate students, something which TEA Commissioner Mike Morath is not willing to do so far. The Observer piece notes that Senate Education Chair Kel Seliger has said Texas shouldn’t pay ETS for its delivery of the STAAR test this year. Hard to argue with that, if you ask me. Anyway, it’s a mess and I’m sure we’ll be arguing about it next spring.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit gets unstuck

And away it goes.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Senate Bill 10, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, passed on second reading along party lines. The integrity unit is currently a state-funded division of the Travis County DA’s office that investigates public corruption, insurance fraud and tax fraud. Some Republicans have said the unit has had partisan motives for its prosecutions.

SB 10 must be voted on one more time before it passes from the Senate to the House.

In addition to moving the public integrity unit from the Travis County DA’s office, the bill would allow lawmakers and state employees to face prosecution in their home counties for alleged crimes committed in Travis County. On Wednesday in the Senate, Huffman said the public had lost confidence in the unit.

“I firmly believe it will be a better process, and there will be more accountability,” Huffman said.

The bill had originally put the unit under the attorney general’s office, but a substitute to the bill removed the AG’s office from the process and gave the Texas Rangers sole authority to pursue investigations.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the bill gave lawmakers a special privilege of facing prosecution in their home counties.

“I believe this bill has created a special class of people that has the opportunity to go back to their hometown county, hometown judge and hometown prosecutor,” Watson said.

He also said the bill could allow lawmakers to face their prosecution in any county where they own property. Huffman said that was not the bill’s intent.

See here and here for the background. Via the Chron, we now know who the holdouts were.

Disagreement over having the Attorney General involved in the investigation and prosecution of cases, and the issue of prosecuting the violations in the counties where they occurred, had stalled the passage of Senate Bill 10 for more than two weeks.

With Sens. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and all Senate Democrats opposed to the anywhere-but-Austin prosecution exception for statewide officeholders, lawmakers and lobbyists, Huffman had been unable to get her bill called up for a vote by the full Senate.

Seliger last week had proposed allowing the Texas Rangers to investigate all cases, and to have a special prosecutor appointed by the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court handle any charges filed.

Opponents of Huffman’s original bill said the revised plan would not solve the issue of sending cases to the home counties of politicians and lobbyists, where they are more likely to get favorable treatment.

“This perpetuates the problem, because now you will move these cases back in a home county where a courthouse cabal will not go after a state rep or other official because they are part of that local group,” said Tom Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, a government-watchdog group. “They will have every reason to protect one of their own.”

I’m still a bit unclear on the details – was the special prosecutor bit still included or not? I suppose a system like that could work, jerry-rigged as it is. It’s just that the more moving parts you add, the more likely something will gum it all up. Of course, that would be considered a feature, not a bug. RG Ratcliffe, who isn’t a big fan of the current system, lays out his objections to the proposed one.

Merely turning ethics investigations over to the Texas Rangers is an almost equally bad idea. The governor appoints Texas Public Safety Commission. The current director of DPS was an aide to Governor Rick Perry before taking the top job at DPS. Through a governor’s influence over the public safety commission, a governor could halt or prompt almost any investigation. Imagine an unscrupulous governor bending legislators to his will by threatening to have their campaign accounts investigated. This is as bad a public policy as leaving ethics investigations in the office of one elected district attorney in heavily Democratic Travis County. Besides, I’d rather have the Texas Rangers chasing drug dealers, murderers and other crimes that endanger the public’s safety.

Seliger’s idea has some merit in that it allows the Supreme Court chief justice to name a special prosecutor, but it still involves the Texas Rangers and the political influence a governor can bring to the case. The federal experience also has shown that special prosecutors don’t seem to believe they’ve done their job unless they indict someone.

Probably the best course would be to finally give the Texas Ethics Commission some real powers to investigate and enforce the state’s ethics laws and election codes. As the Texas Tribune reported last week, at least one member of the commission is frustrated by how little power the commission actually has.

But if you are looking for a means of spreading the concentration of power involved in ethics investigations, the commission is a pretty good start. The commission consists of two appointees by the House speaker, two by the lieutenant governor, and four by the governor. Properly funded and authorized, the commission staff could investigate complaints and make recommendations for civil or criminal cases to the full commission. The commission could then decide whether to refer criminal cases to the Texas Supreme Court, which in turn could name a special prosecutor. Allow the court to also establish the county of venue for the prosecution, excepting the counties within the district of the accused offending politician.

Yeah, well, there’s no way they’d want to empower the TEC. The great irony here is that the Rick Perry case, which was the catalyst for all this, was driven by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge. Be careful what you wish for, I guess. More from Ratcliffe here.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit stuck in the Senate

For now, at least.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A Republican bill to transfer the Public Integrity Unit out of Travis County has snagged in the Senate, where the legislation does not have enough support to force a floor vote — at least for now.

The author of Senate Bill 10, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, acknowledged Monday that she is still trying to line up support from Republican senators but added that she remains confident of success.

“I’m close,” Huffman said, raising the possibility of a vote this week. “We’re almost there.”

News that the bill had stalled came in a Monday letter by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and who has made moving the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office a legislative priority.

Watson said SB 10 does not have the 19 votes needed to allow a Senate vote and asked Patrick not to take advantage of the planned absence of state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who will be attending funeral services for his brother Joe Lucio this week.

With one senator absent, a floor vote could be triggered by support from only 18 senators.

“I want to make you aware that Sen. Lucio has told me that he would not vote” to bring SB 10 to the floor, Watson said in the letter. “As a result, SB 10 does not have sufficient support to allow for (a vote).”

[…]

Because all Democrats oppose the bill, Watson’s letter indicates that at least two Republicans are not on board with SB 10.

Huffman said she would bring SB 10 to the floor during Lucio’s absence only if she has 19 votes. “Clearly it’s going to be close,” she said. “I’m working to make sure I am answering everyone’s questions.”

See here and here for the background. I’d love to know who the two GOP holdouts are, and what their reasons are for hesitating. As of Wednesday, an effort to find a compromise to move the bill forward came up short.

A behind-the-scenes effort to get a controversial ethics bill moving again in the Texas Senate derailed on Wednesday, after a bipartisan plan to move the Public Integrity Unit to a white-collar investigative arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety was rejected by Senate leaders.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, author of Senate Bill 10 that would move the ethics-enforcing PIU from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Attorney General’s office said she declined an amendment by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, that was designed as a compromise to remedy strong opposition to the measure.

[…]

According to senators, the compromise proposed by Seliger and others would have transferred the PIU to a public-corruption section staffed by Texas Rangers at DPS. If an investigation warranted prosecution, the chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court would appoint a special prosecutor, according to a copy of the plan reviewed by the Houston Chronicle.

Huffman said she did not think the proposal was as good as her bill, even as she was continuing to review options to get the measure moving again.

“I’m still listening to suggestions, and I’m still working to get the votes,” Huffman said. “It’s still a work in progress. Let’s just say that.”

Not sure if this means Sen. Seliger is one of the holdouts or if he was just acting as a broker. My expectation at the beginning of the session was that this bill would pass the Senate (its future in the House would be less certain), but now I’m less sure. Again, it would be good to know the who and the why. One way or the other, I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing more about this.

Tuition re-regulation on the menu

There are different ways it could go.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Tuition at Texas universities has more than doubled in the 12 years since state lawmakers authorized colleges to set their own rates.

Now legislators are pushing to take back that control. It’s not a new idea, but it stands a chance for the first time since 2003, when the state deregulated tuition, largely because it enjoys rare bipartisan support.

At least three lawmakers, including Houston Democrat Sen. Rodney Ellis, have filed bills to re-regulate tuition in some way. The chair of the Senate’s higher education committee Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, plans to pitch tying tuition increases to performance by colleges – essentially making them earn a tuition bump. And Dan Patrick, the state’s new lieutenant governor, said last week that the “issue will be addressed this session.”

“It marries together Democrats, who want to make higher education more affordable, and tea party conservatives who are inherently suspicious of higher education,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “In some ways this is a way for the Legislature to do something about education, but with relatively low cost.”

[…]

Deregulation essentially transferred costs to the universities and their students. That’s something Texas and other states have done for decades.

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says students are now paying public colleges more than the states are. Tuition accounted for 25 percent of the average public colleges’ revenue in 2012, up from 17 percent in 2003, the study found. That surpassed state funding, which accounted for 23 percent of schools’ budgets in 2012.

Texas now funds less than 20 percent of the University of Texas at Austin’s budget, for example, compared to 85 percent in the 1970s. State funding accounts for 22 percent of UH’s budget now, compared to 61 percent in 1985. Students now pay for 42 percent of the budget, compared to 11 percent 30 years ago.

[…]

While Ellis says he will advocate for additional funding for higher education, his bill to end deregulation is actually the stricter of the two senate bills that have been filed so far, because it would cap tuition at 2015 rates and require universities to get legislative approval to raise it. Mary González, a House Democrat from Clint, has proposed a similar bill.

The other Senate bill, by Schwertner, would allow for annual tuition increases based on inflation. Ellis and Schwertner have talked about finding a compromise bill, but Ellis said last week that he wouldn’t support inflation-based increases, which he said is “almost like institutionalizing the thievery from middle class families.”

The third possible route to re-regulation could fold in another popular higher education proposal: tying funding for universities to performance measures such as graduation rates. Seliger said he plans to file a bill that would tie tuition increases to those performance measures. He calls it “performance-based tuition.”

Seliger pointed out that while tuition has increased at a faster clip since deregulation, lawmakers weren’t doing much to keep it down before. From 1994 to 2002, tuition and fees went up 102 percent.

“It was still increasing at a pretty good rate, because people wanted to see universities make big increases in improvement,” he said.

See here for the background. Sen. Schwertner’s bill is SB233. Neither Sens. Ellis nor Seliger have filed their bills yet, but Sen. Ellis’ bill from 2013 was SB125; I would presume what he files this year is identical or almost identical to it. I prefer his approach, because the problem is that the state is not contributing enough to cover the cost of higher education. That was the deal made to cut costs in 2003; it was rotten then, and it’s rotten now. I don’t expect Sen. Ellis’ approach to be adopted, but now that Republicans have come to regret their past actions – most likely because they’ve finally started hearing it from their constituents – I have some hope that he and Sen. Schwertner can work out a deal that at least comes closer to his approach.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Sen. Ellis’ bill is SB255.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

The Senate is likely to get stupider again

The cause.

Sen. Robert Duncan

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents officially named state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the sole finalist to be the system’s next chancellor in a press release issued Monday afternoon.

Duncan is expected to start in his new position on July 1. A special election will have to be held to replace him, and at least one candidate — state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock — has already announced an intention to run.

“To be able to serve the great universities in the Texas Tech University System is a tremendous honor for me and my family,” Duncan said in a statement. “I love the people of West Texas and will devote all of my energy to continue to grow the reputations for excellence of all the universities in the system.”

Mickey Long, the chairman of the Texas Tech board, expressed delight that, though the regents undertook a national search for the replacement for outgoing chancellor Kent Hance, they ended up with a new chancellor with strong personal ties to the region and to Texas Tech University.

The effect.

If current trends hold, [Duncan] may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

You don’t have to buy Mark Jones’ ideology-identifying methodology to recognize that Sen. Duncan is in the increasingly smaller “let’s get something done” bucket on the Republican side of the Senate. We already know what we’re getting from some of the replacement Republican Senators, and the possible additions of Deuell’s completely unhinged challenger – who would be elected, it must be noted, by equally unhinged voters – and teabagger Rep. Charles Perry if he wins the future special election in SD28 – will only serve to make it worse. Duncan had long been expected to be the next head of Texas Tech and I will wish him well in his new job, but his good fortune will not be good for the rest of us.

Dallas adopts plastic bag fee

A fee, not a ban.

plastic-bag

Stores in Dallas will charge customers five cents for most kinds of plastic or paper carryout bags, under a measure approved Wednesday by the City Council.

At the urging of council member Dwaine Caraway, the council voted 8-6 to assess an “environmental fee” for single-use carryout bags. The five-cent charge takes effect Jan. 1.

Single-use bags will be banned entirely at retail outlets in city buildings and at city-sponsored events. The ban apparently would apply, for example, to gift shops at city-owned museums, American Airlines Center, even the Omni Dallas Hotel, which adjoins the Dallas convention center.

Caraway has complained for months that plastic bags, in particular, were creating litter problems throughout the city.

[…]

The Texas Retailers Association opposed the bag fee, even though stores will keep 10 percent of the money they collect, and even though the measure approved Wednesday is less stringent than the outright ban on single-use bags that Caraway originally sought.

Gary Huddleston, a member of the association’s executive committee, said the fee will be burdensome to stores and customers alike.

“We personally believe the solution to litter in the city of Dallas is a strong recycling program and also punishing the people that litter, and not punishing the retailer,” said Huddleston, director of consumer affairs for the Kroger Co.

Stores will have to devote administrative resources to tracking the fees, he said, and the nickel that customers must pay for each disposable bag is a nickel that otherwise might have been used “to buy more product in my store.”

City officials said the money collected from the bag fee will go toward enforcement and education efforts. Those efforts could cost $250,000 and require the hiring of 12 additional employees, said Jill Jordan, an assistant city manager.

After the council vote, Huddleston would not rule out a legal challenge by the retailers association. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already been asked to weigh in on the legality of Texas cities’ banning of single-use bags. Council member Sheffie Kadane, who opposed the five-cent fee, said the city can almost count on being sued by retailers or plastic bag manufacturers or both.

See here for some background on the debate in Dallas. As you know, AG Greg Abbott has been asked for an opinion about the legality of municipal bag laws. This opinion was requested by State Rep. Dan Flynn, on behalf of the Texas Retailers Association and its CEO, Ronnie Volkenning. The Trib reports on environmental groups responding to this request.

Supporters of the ordinances say plastic bags harm the environment. The Texas Campaign for the Environment has been one of the most vocal supporters of the ordinances. “We want the attorney general to stay out of this issue altogether,” said Robin Schneider, the group’s executive director.

The Texas Municipal League was the first to submit a brief to the attorney general’s office. The brief included a statement from state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, from 2011 in which he argued for local control over the issue.

“For the state to determine what a city’s problems are or solutions that it may have or may not have is a little bit of an overextension of the Legislature,” Seliger said.

Because the cities are responsible for supplying plastic bags, they should be able to determine if they wish to ban them, he said in an interview.

“They spend much more time as garbage than they do as carriers of groceries anyway,” Seliger added.

The Texas Municipal League argued in its brief that a plastic bag should not be classified as a “container” or a package” — the two words specifically mentioned in the Heath and Safety Code.

“A plastic bag is not a container or a package, but merely the means by which a container or a package is transported,” the brief said.

Volkening said the most environmental position would be to encourage the recycling of plastic bags, not banning their use.

That may be Volkening’s opinion, but as you may recall from Tyson Sowell’s guest post here, groups like the Texas Campaign for the Environment think the ban is the way to go. In fact, they’d push for a ban on paper bags as well. Regardless, I like Seliger’s statement, which you would think would be appealing to conservatives. And it is for many, but there’s a significant number for whom local control is only for policies they like. We’ll see which group is happy with Abbott’s forthcoming opinion.

Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome

Beyond ridiculous, if you ask me, not that they did.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Standing before mostly empty chairs in the 150-member Texas House on Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus adjourned the second special session and announced that Gov. Rick Perry would be calling them all back for a third special session later in the day.

After gaveling in the House at 2:36 p.m., Straus briefly thanked members for their time and hard work during the second special session before acknowledging Perry would probably call a third special session 30 minutes after both chambers had officially adjourned the second special session.

“See you in 30 minutes,” he quipped, telling the few dozen House members in the Capitol to stick around for the opening of the third session.

An aide to Perry confirmed that the governor plans to call a third special session shortly.

Some Republicans would like to blame the Democrats for this fine mess they’re all in.

“I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus, said Capriglione calling on Davis to reimburse taxpayers is “absurd.”

“The special sessions have largely been political and just a continuation of decade-old culture wars that do very little to resolve policy and do a lot to continue to divide Texans and in the process wasting a lot money,” Turner said. “The decision to call a special session is the governor’s and governor’s alone, he has to decide if its worth the costs.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, tweeted Monday evening that Dewhurst should have passed the transportation bill in the first special session on the night of Davis’ filibuster.

Lt. Gov. is blaming House for TXDOT $. History lesson: he had SJR ready to go in the 1st Special & killed it to score political pts #txlege

— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) July 29, 2013

A resolution to fund transportation had cleared both Houses and members of either party had said publicly the measure had enough support to pass. Dewhurst declined an appeal from Democrat lawmakers to bring up and pass the measure before the abortion filibuster began and the measure – like the abortion restrictions – failed to pass the first special session.

“It seems to me the lieutenant governor’s priority was focusing on partisan issue of abortion and trying to score political points rather than taking care of the business of the state ready to be resolved,” Turner said.

Not to mention, as Texpatriate points out, that Capriglione can’t count votes.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor of the bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

And as I noted that’s a lot of absentees and/or abstentions. The Republicans only needed six Democratic votes to get to 100 if they were uniformly in favor. They got 27 Yeas, so any shortfall is indeed their fault.

Rumor has it that once again there will be other items on the call. At least one additional item, if there are to be any, would be welcomed by members of both parties.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Texas lawmakers have been unsuccessful this year in their efforts to pass a bill issuing tuition revenue bonds — or TRBs — to fund campus construction around the state. Returning for yet another special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called on Tuesday, may provide them with an opportunity to try again.

“I don’t think any of us have ever given up hope,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We would certainly like to see TRBs on the call.”

At the end of the regular session, the TRB bill was held up by political jockeying as the clock ran out. In the two subsequent special sessions, Perry did not add the issue to the official to-do list. Lawmakers could have tried to move a TRB bill, but when the legislation is not on the governor’s special session call, it’s easy to defeat on a technicality.

Before the second special ended, Perry indicated that he might consider adding TRBs to that call. “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” he said.

But a plan to address the state’s transportation funding needs failed, and so TRBs were never added. Now, Perry has called lawmakers back for a third 30-day special session, and transportation funding remains the only item on the agenda — for now.

“If and when both chambers pass the transportation bill, I believe very strongly that the governor will add TRBs to the call,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said.

Zaffirini pushed for a TRB bill for the last three regular sessions and has already filed a bill in the just-called special session. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, are among the 21 co-authors on Zaffirini’s legislation and have also filed TRB bills of their own.

No other items as yet, but it’s early days.

As for the main event, a little leadership might help it finally get passed.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a leading House transportation policy writer, says the Legislature’s infantry is exhausted and it’s time for a meeting of the generals.

“We’ve taken this pretty far a couple of times now,” Pickett said of lawmakers’ efforts this summer to provide a modest boost in state funding of roads and bridges.

But the push got snared by abortion politics in the first special session. In the second, it caught its pants leg in a complex bramble of disagreements that include philosophical clashes over how much money is needed in the state’s rainy day fund; many Democrats’ resentment that public schools play second fiddle to infrastructure in the state budget process; and increasingly petty resentments among Republicans who run the show. The whole thing is playing out as top Republicans figure out their futures, in a game of musical chairs for statewide offices, and lowly Republicans look over their shoulders to see if they’re getting a primary opponent this winter.

“Maybe the Big 3 should meet and see if they have any suggestions on how to get this over the line,” Pickett said, referring to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Give us some guidance or an outline” Pickett pleaded. He said several lawmakers belonging to both parties have suggested that the top leaders should huddle.

A better funding mechanism wouldn’t hurt, either. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

House passes redistricting and abortion bills

Texas Redistricting:

The House has passed SB 3, the redistricting bill for the state house map, on third and final reading.

There was one last floor amendment today offered by State Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), which moved Rose’s mother and a few other hundred voters into her district from HD 109 where they had been previously.

The amendment was accepted with objection.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also offered an amendment that would have reunited the Sharpstown community in his district. Wu said the Sharpstown community had always been in HD 137 but under the state’s 2011 and the second interim map had been split between Wu’s district and that of State Rep. Boris Miles (D-Houston).

Wu, however, pulled the amendment after laying it out, saying that he had not been able to obtain full consent to the change.

[…]

As on second reading, SB 3 passed on a party line vote and now heads back to the Senate, where the Senate redistricting chair, State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), has committed to accept the House’s changes to its map in keeping with longstanding custom that each house draws its own map.

The House returns at 2:15 p.m. for votes on the state senate and congressional maps.

The Senate is out until Sunday at 1 p.m. when it could take up the state house map bill.

And at 2:15 the House returned and passed the other bills with no muss or fuss. Since the Congressional and State Senate redistricting bills were not amended by the House they will go to Rick Perry for his signature. Greg has more.

Meanwhile, this happened.

After abruptly ending hours of public testimony that went into the wee hours of Friday morning, the House State Affairs Committee reconvened on Friday and quietly approved House Bill 60, its companion, Senate Bill 5 — omnibus abortion restriction legislation — and a standalone measure to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation, House Bill 16.

With the special session coming to an end on Tuesday, opponents of the measures say the decision by Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, to end to the hearing near 4 a.m. — before hundreds of reproductive rights advocates could testify — may open the door to kill the legislation. They also say their efforts to delay the legislation could enable senators to filibuster it when it returns to that chamber for final approval.

“We had a lot of impassioned testimony, which is the public’s right,” Cook told reporters when the committee adjourned. “Your legislative body weighs very seriously people’s concerns.”

The only committee member present that voted against the three bills, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, called the decision to approve the bills despite the testimony of advocates a political farce.

“We all know that abortion will continue to happen, the question is will it be safe and legal,” she said. “It’s all about appeals to the right flank of the Republican party.”

[…]

Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.

We’ll see about that. The “people’s filibuster”, which kept the committee up until almost 4 on Friday morning, made national news, but I think we all knew that in the end the Republicans would do what they had to do to get this out of committee. With the session ending Tuesday, there’s a chance that some further gamesmanship can take place, but I feel pretty confident saying that this is going to pass, one way or another. After that, it’s a matter for the courts and the ballot box. I salute everyone who participated in this little show of force, and I dearly hope it gets our side fired up, because we need to be.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.

“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.

Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.

“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.

Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”

The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on Cafepress.com and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.

Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.

I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.

And three, the missing man makes an appearance:

MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.

In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.

All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.

And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.

Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.

It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.

Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.

And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.

House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.

HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.

Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”

[…]

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.

[…]

Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.

“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.

“This is a health protection for her,” she said.

I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.

Perry goes on a veto spree

NO

Here’s the full list. Among the victims are the omnibus ethics bill HB217, thus giving Allen Blakemore his fondest wish; two bills aimed at reducing the number of standardized tests some students must take, one of which will make William McKenzie happy; SB15, which would have placed new limits on the power of the University of Texas System Board of Regents to fire campus presidents; a Dan Patrick gun bill (!); the Lilly Ledbetter bill as previously noted; a bill that would have allowed voters to pick an interpreter of their choice, within certain limits, while voting, a bill that Perry either misread or misrepresented; and quite a few others, not to mention the funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

Here are some reactions to the vetoes from the Chron:

Friday, the Austin-based Texans for Public Justice filed a legal complaint that Perry’s threat amounted to official coercion so he could win an appointment and short-circuit the unit’s investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“No surprise Perry would act to de-fang the state’s corruption watchdog. It’s a watchdog that might bite him and his cronies,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ director. “Our legal complaint against his bullying tactics remains in play, however.”

McDonald and Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, also faulted Perry’s veto of a bill reforming the Texas Ethics Commission. “Perry’s office is an ethical black hole,” said McDonald. “Reforms go in. Nothing comes out.”

Smith pointed out that the bill would have required Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman, a Perry appointee, to resign his office before running for attorney general. “It is stunning that the governor is so intent on protecting one ambitious politician that he would veto a bill that drastically improved enforcement at the Texas Ethics Commission.”
Whether any of this represents Perry reasserting himself (again) in preparation for his next election or just a last middle finger to the rest of us before he rides off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon I couldn’t say. Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill, and I’m sure there will be plenty of other reactions, just in time for Perry to gallivant off to New York. What bills on the veto list – or not on the veto list – surprised you, one way or the other?

[…]

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, filed Senate Bill 15 after a February dust-up over whether University of Texas System regents had micromanaged or maligned the character of UT Austin President Bill Powers. UT Regents Chairman Gene Powell has denied those allegations.

“Limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction,” Perry wrote in his veto. “History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance.”

Seliger expressed frustration that Perry vetoed the bill, saying he had accepted all changes suggested by the governor’s staff.

“It is duplicitous,” he said.

In vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Perry wrote that “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel that have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“I thought Gov. Perry always wanted us to do things the Texas way and not the federal way, but apparently not in this case,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said in a statement. “Now, Texas women will have no choice but to rely on the federal government to protect their rights. The governor took office at the dawn of the 21st Century, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions today.”

Rick Perry does what is best for Rick Perry. There are no other considerations. Whether all this is a sign of him asserting his power in preparation for his next campaign or just a parting middle finger to the rest of us as he prepares to ride off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon, I couldn’t say.

Other reactions to Friday: Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill. Grits is bewildered by the veto of one de-incarceration bill, and games out the ploy to defund the Public Integrity Unit. Burka is relieved that things weren’t any worse. Texas Watch applauds the signing of three bills designed to improve transparency for Texas home and auto insurance customers. Juanita is spitting mad at the veto of the Lilly Ledbetter bill. Texpatriate summarizes the whole day’s activity. Egberto Willies talks to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the author of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, about Perry’s veto. She vows to bring the bill back next session. What vetoes and signatures surprised or didn’t surprise you?

Senate approves redistricting bills

As pro forma as they wanna be.

The Texas Senate voted to ratify court-drawn political maps that were used for legislative and congressional races in 2012. The bills now head to the House.

In party-line votes, Senators voted 16-11 to approve the interim maps for congressional and state House districts. The map of the state’s 31 Senate districts passed with unanimous consent.

Senate Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, defended the maps against criticism and questions from Senate Democrats.

“As I’ve said before, I believe this map is fair and legal,” Seliger said on the Senate floor, referring to the Congressional map.

[…]

But after several hearings from around the state on the pros and cons of the court-drawn lines, Senate Democrats questioned why Seliger was blocking efforts to change the Congressional and House district maps. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said members of the redistricting committee had privately told her that Seliger had refused to consider any changes to the maps.

Seliger said no redistricting map is going to please everybody.

Near the end of a lengthy back and forth, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, accused Seliger of admitting to refuse to consider input from critics of the maps.

“That may be what you thought you heard me say but it may not be what I thought I said for you to hear me say,” Seliger said.

I’m not even going to try to parse that last sentence. Hard to believe that some unnamed sources once thought that a deal to create more minority opportunity districts might be in the works, isn’t it? The bills will go to the House on Monday and be summarily approved some time next week. Texas Redistricting has more on this action. In the meantime, both chambers can now get down to the real business of regulating vaginas, which is about the only thing some of them ever wanted to do. There were some hearings in the Senate on Thursday on the anti-abortion uber-bill, which was voted out of committee on Friday shortly after the redistricting business was over, but I just can’t bring myself to write about it. Go read the Observer and BOR for the depressing details – I recommend having a drink handy when you do. Oh, and Rick Perry also vetoed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It sure is a great time to be a lady in Texas, isn’t it?

Redistricting deal in the works?

Color me skeptical of this.

Original interim State House map

The contours of an agreement might have emerged Monday as a special committee of the Texas House debated maps of congressional and legislative districts.

A Republican lawmaker and an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said there was a consensus that minority groups would accept maps that create one to two more congressional districts in which Texas minorities hold sway and five to seven more seats in the state House.

[…]

[Jose] Garza, the lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that if the Legislature does what Perry and Abbott want, it would make a charade of the fact-finding process that’s going on now. “It would be evidence of intentional discrimination,” Garza said.

In other hearings, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has posed tough questions to witnesses advocating maps other than those supported by Perry and Abbott. But on Monday, he seemed more interested in what the price of peace with minority groups would be.

“We’re in 98 percent agreement,” Villalba said.

Garza said one to two additional seats in Congress and five to seven in the state House could be the basis for a deal.

“We’re not advocating maximization,” he said. “If we were talking maximization, it would be a much higher number.”

Some observers have said it’s in the interest of Republicans to make a deal with minority Democrats because if they leave map drawing to the courts, it will be done without regard to who is an incumbent.

Adding five to seven seats in the House puts us roughly in line with the original interim map drawn by the San Antonio court. That map was based on the pre-redistricting map, on the grounds that it was the last known map to have been pre-cleared, but then SCOTUS ordered the court to base its fixes on the legislatively-drawn maps, which had a smaller baseline for minority districts. By my count, looking at the 2008 election returns for Plan H302, Democrats would expect to win 59 seats, Republicans would expect to win 88, and there are three districts I’d classify as tossups – HDs 26 and 134, which lean GOP, and 105, which leans Dem. I don’t have 2012 numbers for this plan, and I’m counting HD23 as a Dem seat – it’s the same district as in the current interim map – so consider this to be plus or minus one or two either way. We could have skipped a whole lot of trouble if this is the endgame. That’s even before we get to the Congressional map, which I can’t even remember any more. I guess that’s why I’m skeptical of there being a deal like this that would be so much in the Dems’ favor, that and the feather-light sourcing of this story. I freely admit that anything is possible, but this would be a major departure from the Republicans’ party line, which is that the 2012 interim maps already fix everything that needed fixing.

All in all, I think the Trib insiders have it right, and that if anything happens it’ll be what Perry wanted in the first place, which is a ratification of the existing maps. Democratic amendments may get voted on, but if so they’ll be voted down, on straight partisan lines. I think Rep. Darby and Sen. Seliger may have had good intentions with the hearings and all, but having those hearings also served the Republican purpose of addressing the complaint about steamrolling the process and ignoring public input. The special session might provide the chance for the Republicans to do redistricting in a way that deals with reality and avoids more drawn-out litigation, but that’s a mighty selfless thing to ask any political party to do. And now that Rick Perry has thrown some red meat onto the agenda, all bets are off.

Feisty redistricting hearing in Dallas

There really aren’t any other kind of redistricting hearings, when you get right down to it.

Most of the testimony centered on whether to approve interim political maps used in the 2012 elections, or toss those lines out in favor of proposals that would create three congressional districts in North Texas where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice.

Black voters currently control two congressional districts in North Texas — one represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and one by Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Both are Democrats.

Activists and Democrats want a third district that would be anchored in Dallas and give Hispanic residents the chance to elect their chosen candidate.

There are 2.3 million minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including 1.3 Hispanic residents.

“It is clearly possible to draw an effective Latino district in North Texas,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.

Plans put forward by Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis and Rafael Anchia, both of Dallas, would create three minority districts, including a new Hispanic district either wholly or mostly in Dallas.

Others testified that changing interim maps, drawn by a federal court, was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

“People need to be conservative with money,” said Dallas Republican Adryana Boyne. “The judges in San Antonio drew a good map. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”

[…]

Republicans, in firm control of the Legislature, want to endorse the boundaries. Democrats contend that even though they were drawn by federal judges, they share some of the same discriminatory features of the maps the Legislature tried to pass.

Republicans have the votes to approve the interim maps, and Perry is expected to sign a bill into law. But Democrats are using the hearings to set the stage for legal challenges.

The strategy led to contentious exchanges at Thursday’s meeting at DART headquarters. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert took exception to questions by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Emmert contends that Republicans and many activists opposed to the Legislature’s original plan agreed to the interim boundaries. Fischer asked Emmert to name the parties that agreed with the interim plan and Emmert refused.

None of this is likely to change anyone’s minds, certainly not anyone who attended this hearing or any of the others, and while it’s possible that the interim maps could be modified by the Lege when and if it gets around to doing something, this is all really for the benefit of the judges in San Antonio. Everyone involved has a to do list, and the boxes are being checked.

Texas Redistricting also reported from Dallas.

The most frequent complaint from witnesses was about the absence of a Hispanic opportunity congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to complement the African-American ability-to-elect districts currently represented by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.

Several witnesses noted the the DFW Metroplex closely paralleled the demographics and population size of Harris County, which supported two African-American and one Hispanic ability-to-elect districts, but said that under the interim maps, currently only 2 of 9 districts in Dallas County qualified as ability-to-elect districts. Even with the addition of a Hispanic opportunity district, the witnesses told the committee only 3 of 9 districts would elect non-Anglo candidates of choice.

On the state house map, other witnesses also discussed what they said was the illogical fragmentation of Mesquite and Garland in eastern Dallas County.

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also asked questions of several witnesses about the possibility of an additional state house opportunity district in Tarrant County – which he said could support four such districts out of 11 current state house seats.

A number of witnesses also questioned why the Legislature was doing anything now, given the pendency of the Shelby Co. case – with one witness, who described himself as a political independent, telling the committee that they should tell Gov. Perry “to stick his call where the sun don’t shine,” and that by pushing through maps now the committee would only be causing rather than reducing litigation.

One answer to that question is that the two committees are attempting to do now what they were supposed to do in 2011, which is to involve and engage the public in this process and base the maps at least in part on the feedback they receive. The fact that the public, especially minority communities, were systematically excluded from the process in 2011 was a significant part of the litigation and of the DC court’s finding of discrimination. I’m sure that fact wasn’t lost on Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby or the lawyers that they had advising their committees, even if it didn’t ever seem to occur to Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

The attorney general said the Legislature could cut away some of the tangled litigation that had the state defending its maps in separate federal courts in Washington and San Antonio. The special session would be over in seven to 10 days, lawmakers said.

Instead, it is like taking a shortcut through a swamp — the sort of well-intentioned romp that marks the beginning of so many classic horror movies. The legal and political monsters appeared right on cue, and what was supposed to be a quick march could become a hard slog.

Legislative leaders expanded the size of the committees considering the political maps, the better to include viewpoints from more of the state’s geographical and demographic groups.

When the San Antonio judges who drew the maps held a hearing last week to find out where things stood, they made it clear that their own interim maps would be subject to the same kind of review any other map might face. They drew them without public input and without intending them to be used more than once.

So now lawmakers are holding redistricting hearings in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi — in addition to Austin — giving the public a chance to talk about new maps. Some are starting to worry that the whole exercise could affect the timing of the 2014 elections. A couple of them have suggested holding even more hearings in more far-flung cities like Laredo and El Paso.

This is not the tidy little package promised by the state’s top lawyer.

Let’s be clear here: Greg Abbott doesn’t represent the interests of the state of Texas, he represents the interests of the Republican Party of Texas, which occasionally but do not as a rule align with the interests of the state as a whole. The idea of the quickie session to ratify the judge-drawn maps and thus fortify the defense of them was a piece of political strategy from the get go. Turns out political strategy and solid legal advice don’t always align, either. It would be funny if the Lege modifies the maps in a sincere (if likely half-hearted) attempt to address some of the issues raised by the DC court only to have the bills they pass vetoed by Perry. At this point, all I can say is that whatever Perry and Abbott thought they would get out of this special session on redistricting, they’re not going to get it. Greg, who will be attending and liveblogging the Houston hearings, has more.

Redistricting hearings schedule

Attend one if you can.

Senate and House committees tapped to work on redistricting during the special session Tuesday released times, locations and dates for field hearings around the state.

The Senate will hold two field hearings, one in Corpus Christi and one in Houston.

  • – Friday, 5 p.m. at Texas A&M University, HRI Conference Center, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi.
  • – Saturday, 11 a.m.  at the University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, 4800 Calhoun Road, Houston
  • – The Senate will wrap up hearings with one last session in Austin on June 12.

The House will hold three of its own, one each in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

  • – Thursday, 2 p.m., DART Headquarters, Board Room, 1401 Pacific Ave., Dallas
  • – Monday, 2 p.m., VIA Metro Center, Terry Eskridge Community Room, 1021 San Pedro Ave, San Antonio
  • – June 12, 2 p.m. – University of Houston, Michael J. Cemo Hall, Room 100 D, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston

It’s probably too late by the time you read this, but Sen. Sylvia Garcia is holding a community breakfast briefing on redistricting today from 8 to 9 at her East Aldine district office – 5333 Aldine Mail Route Road, Houston, TX 77093. For more information about the hearings, see Texas Redistricting.

It’s a short time frame for hearings, but it’s more than we expected going into this special session. It’s unclear at this point if the Lege can get maps approved in the time they will have. And even if they do, as this AP story reminds us, we’re still nowhere close to a resolution.

The two Republican committee chairmen responsible for redistricting, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo, have promised to consider amendments and even alternative maps, if they’ll make the 2012 maps “more legal.” They have scheduled hearings next week to consider all alternatives.

Considering any changes, though, could blow up the special session. Two federal courts heard hundreds of hours of testimony and reviewed thousands of pages of documents to determine that the Legislature’s original maps were unconstitutional. Introducing all of that evidence to argue for changing the 2012 maps could take months and a special session is limited to 30 days.

Perry was also very specific in his call, saying he only wanted lawmakers to adopt the existing maps. And even if the Legislature and Perry were to agree on new maps, there is nothing to stop additional lawsuits or court reviews.

The three judges in San Antonio did not give any indication of whether they thought the adoption of new maps, either drawn by them or created by lawmakers from scratch, would end the lawsuit. But when ordering Texas to use the 2012 maps, the court explicitly said the maps were “not a final ruling on the merits of any claims” of discrimination.

Quite likely, whatever the Legislature does in the next three weeks, the product will become just another tool in the ongoing fight over Texas’ political maps. If past decades are any indication, redistricting will be settled in 2017. Just three years before the next census in 2020, after which the whole process will begin again.

Indeed, the 1996 and 2006 elections included newly-drawn Congressional districts, the result of SCOTUS finally settling the legislation that followed those redistrictings. We could have different maps for each of the first three cycles.