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Senfronia Thompson

HISD Board declines to hire Lathan permanently

A national search will be conducted, with still-interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan encouraged to apply.

Houston ISD trustees voted Thursday against committing to Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan as the district’s long-term leader, opting instead to launch a national search before filling the position.

In a 6-3 vote, trustees generally complimented Lathan’s lengthy tenure as interim, but ultimately concluded the district needs a deeper search for a permanent chief. Some trustees encouraged Lathan to apply for the job during the search, though it is not immediately clear whether she will.

“As the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States, it is of the utmost importance that we think about candidates for the permanent superintendent position by going through a transparent and thorough search process,” HISD Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said.

“We owe it to our students, our community, our constituents and the taxpayers to do our due diligence.”

HISD trustees Judith Cruz, Sue Deigaard, Dani Hernandez, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung joined Flynn Vilaseca in voting to start the search. Lathan did not address the outcome during Thursday’s meeting or immediately respond to a request for comment through the district.

[…]

Lathan enjoyed strong backing from many other HISD administrators, with about 45 of them lauding her leadership amid district instability and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This period now has been, by far, one of the most difficult I have seen during my tenure,” said Moreno Elementary School Principal Adriana Abarca-Castro, who has led the campus for 31 years. “I have witnessed how our superintendent, Dr. Lathan, has led us courageously, positively and (been) supportive in every way.”

Many of the city’s Black civic leaders also rallied to support Lathan, with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Reps. Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson endorsing her Thursday. Lathan would have become the district’s first Black woman to lead the district if chosen.

However, Lathan’s tenure coincided with scathing state reports documenting extensive operational and special education issues in the district. One of HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, Wheatley High School, also received its seventh straight failing grade in 2019, triggering a state law that resulted in Education Commissioner Mike Morath moving to replace the district’s elected school board.

Some trustees argued HISD should not lock in a superintendent while they continue to fight in court to stop their ouster. The board’s lawsuit against the state is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

“The TEA lawsuit has huge implications for our choice,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said.

HISD trustees did not outline a plan Thursday for conducting their search, though questions remain about whether they can legally engage in the process.

See here for the background. This whole thing is a mess. The best argument for doing the national search is that this is the way we have always searched for Superintendents. Under normal circumstances, the HISD Super job is a plum – we’re a big district, we’re in good fiscal shape, we’ve got a lot of good schools, and yet there are some real challenges on which someone with vision can make a difference. We get good applicants, and just the process of reviewing and interviewing them can provide some new perspective on HISD and its mission.

Of course, these are not normal circumstances. Putting aside the current disfunction with the Board, the looming state takeover would be a pretty serious drawback for any potential applicant, and that’s before you take into account the fact that the eventual appointed board of managers might move to vacate your contract. Plus, the fact that you’d be competing against a now-multi-year interim Super for the job might be an impediment. I don’t even know how to factor in the whole Abe Saavedra fiasco, other than as another example of what a circus it has been around here. The clear downside risk of not making Grenita Lathan permanent, even on a shorter-than-usual contract, is that she might just decide that she’s had it with this bullshit and leave, and now we don’t have any Superintendent at a time when that would be really bad. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about Lathan, but it is fair to say she has not been treated well by the Board, even with two of the instigators of the Saavedra mess being defeated in the 2019 election. I don’t know where we go from here.

Looks like (maybe) we have a Speaker

I give you Rep. Dade Phelan. May he not spontaneously combust in spectacular and self-inflicted fashion like a drummer for Spinal Tap the last Speaker.

Rep. Dade Phelan

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced Wednesday he has the votes needed to become the next speaker of the Texas House and soon after released a bipartisan list of 83 members supporting his candidacy. That number, should it hold, is more than enough votes for Phelan to win the gavel when the Legislature convenes in January.

But Phelan’s main competitor for the speakership, state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, indicated in a statement he was not backing down from the race and said the GOP caucus should meet per its bylaws to “vote to back a candidate … as soon as possible.”

The news comes hours after the GOP maintained its majority over the lower chamber, fending off a well-funded challenge from Democrats who had hoped to flip the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

“The race is over,” Phelan said at a noon press conference at the Texas Capitol, saying he has a “supermajority of the Republican caucus” and a “broad coalition of support” from Democrats. A candidate needs a majority of the 150-member chamber in order to win the gavel and preside over the House.

As election results came in Tuesday, the eight candidate field for speaker — four Democrats and four Republicans — seemed to consolidate into two camps: a group supporting Phelan and another backing Ashby. Both candidates had filed for the gavel in recent days as the race quickly escalated heading into Election Day.

On Tuesday night, one Republican in the race, state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, announced she was backing Ashby for the job. And on Wednesday morning, another Republican in the race, Chris Paddie of Marshall, announced he was supporting Phelan.

“Last night … was a very long, long process — and now it’s time to heal,” Phelan said at the press conference. “The work of the 150 members coming together to serve Texas begins today.”

There had been some Speaker-related news on Monday and even Tuesday, and I had prepped a post about it, which I knew would likely become obsolete as soon as we knew the House situation. And indeed, here we are. That draft is beneath the fold, if you’re interested. Needless to say, the next Legislature has a long to-do list in front of it, and a Speaker who can help get the main things done in a reasonable way will be welcomed by the members. One who can also tell Dan Patrick to go pound sand and who will never commit the classic blunder of saying stupid stuff to Michael Quinn Sullivan, especially when there might be a recorder in operation, would be nice. Good luck to Rep. Phelan if he is indeed the presumptive Speaker. As noted in the story, Rep. Ashby, who has now withdrawn from the race and backed Rep. Morrison, does not see this as being over. Reform Austin, which notes that three of the four Democrats who had filed for Speaker are on that letter Phelan released, has more.

(more…)

We need an official Speaker candidate tracker

We’re up to five now, and we’re likely not done yet.

Rep. Trent Ashby

State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Cyrier of Lockhart join two Democrats in seeking the gavel: Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. More candidates are expected to file, perhaps after the Nov. 3 election once it’s clear which party will be in control of the chamber.

In statements, both Ashby and Cyrier pointed to the legislative session beginning in January — and the challenges state lawmakers will all but certainly have to tackle — to help make their pitch for why they’re the best candidate for the job.

“Given the collective challenges we will face in upcoming legislative session, as we continue our battle with COVID-19 and work to balance a budget despite revenue challenges, it is critically important that the next Speaker fosters the trust and cooperation necessary to overcome these challenges and deliver the results that all Texans expect and deserve,” Ashby, who has served in the House since 2013, said.

Cyrier, who has served in the House since 2015, said the session “will be a demonstration of Texans’ resilience.”

“My top priority as speaker will be to work with all members of the House and build consensus during what is sure to be a challenging session,” Cyrier said.

Paddie, who has served in the lower chamber since 2013, did not immediately release a statement about his bid.

As noted, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer are already in. None of the three Republicans were among the crowd that had made a move towards running for Speaker before the last session; five of those seven will be in the 2021 Lege, so there is definitely the possibility of a larger field. I should note that Rep. Thompson picked up the endorsements of her fellow Harris County Democratic legislators, and also of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, thus giving her the most supporters for now, though still far from a majority.

We’ll have a much better idea of how this may shake out once we know how many Ds and how many Rs there will be. And as a reminder: Right after the election is when some number of members announce their intent to step down, thus necessitating a special election to replace them. Rep. Drew Spinger is in the runoff for SD30, scheduled for December 19, so his seat may become vacant right before the opening gavel as well. I say this all because the number we have on November 4 may be different than the number we have on January 4, and that could have a real effect on who has enough votes to actually become Speaker. The potential for chaos, and maybe even some shenanigans, is quite high. The Lege is never more entertaining when those things are true.

UPDATE: And now there are six:

Possibly by the time you read this, there will be more announced candidates. You see what I mean when I say we need a tracker.

UPDATE: And now there are seven:

All members of the House that are not running for Speaker, please raise your hand.

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

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

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Speaker’s race? What Speaker’s race?

Just a reminder that one of the three most powerful political offices in the state is on the ballot this November, even if it’s largely invisible to us.

Found on the Twitters

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson fielded a question last week that’s been on the minds of many members of the Texas House: If her party wins control of the lower chamber in November, will she be a candidate for speaker?

“Well, if I can get James Frank’s support, I probably will be,” the Houston Democrat said with a chuckle during a Texas Tribune Festival panel, referring to her Republican colleague also on the screen.

Frank responded with a laugh of his own: “I’m pretty sure if Democrats take over in November … that she’ll be a candidate.”

The exchange, though lighthearted, was indicative of how uncertain the 150-member chamber is ahead of a legislative session that lawmakers say will be their toughest in years. With the pending retirement of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the lower chamber knows someone new will be in charge in January — but not a single member has so far declared their candidacy to seek the gavel.

[…]

Of course, members could break ranks and file their candidacy for speaker with the Texas Ethics Commission before November. Members will formally elect a new speaker on the first day of the regular session in January — and whoever ends up taking the gavel will be one of the state’s most consequential leaders as the Legislature responds to the coronavirus pandemic, grapples with billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget and undergoes a once-in-a-decade redistricting cycle.

Members are already weighing who would be a viable candidate if the margin is more narrow than the 83-67 partisan split from the 2019 legislative session. Some think that’s more likely than the chamber flipping entirely. References to the 2008 elections — and the 76-74 split it produced — came up repeatedly in conversations with members, with many suggesting the chamber’s next speaker will need supporters from both parties to win the gavel.

In the wake of that 2008 election, then-state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, won the speaker’s race after most of the chamber’s Democrats and some Republicans coalesced around his bid. After Straus announced his retirement in 2017, a more hardline conservative faction of Republicans helped push a change to the groups’s bylaws to select a speaker within the caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Democrats also tried to rally their ranks to commit to voting for a candidate as a bloc, though neither party had an enforcement mechanism.

None of those elements have come up in any sort of tangible way so far this year, which some members chalk up again to the uncertainty surrounding the November election and the possibility that the margin will be more narrow than in 2019.

Jim Dunnam, a former House member from Waco who served in the lower chamber from 1997 to 2011, said it would be presumptuous for members to start committing to speaker candidates before they have even won reelection, especially given predictions that November will yield tight results.

Dunnam, who at one point also chaired the House Democratic Caucus, also waved off the notion of one party exclusively electing a speaker candidate.

“The speaker is supposed to be the speaker of the House,” he said, “not the speaker of one caucus.”

[…]

In conversations with nearly two dozen members, staffers and lobbyists — nearly all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of internal House politics — several GOP and Democratic names were mentioned repeatedly as members to keep an eye on as the speaker’s race develops.

On the Republican side: Four Price of Amarillo; Trent Ashby of Lufkin; Chris Paddie of Marshall; Dade Phelan of Beaumont; Geanie Morrison of Victoria; Tom Craddick of Midland, the longest-serving House member and a former speaker; Craig Goldman of Fort Worth; Frank of Wichita Falls and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. On the Democratic side: Joe Moody of El Paso, the House speaker pro tempore; Rafael Anchia of Dallas; Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio; Thompson; Turner, the caucus chair; Oscar Longoria of Mission and Donna Howard of Austin.

Each candidate’s chances at winning the gavel are influenced by the partisan breakdowns in the House. GOP members have suggested that if Republicans pick up a couple of seats and increase their majority, a more ideological speaker candidate like Frank, Goldman or Krause could be on the table. There’s also a theory that a Democratic candidate like Thompson — the second longest-serving House member and the longest-serving woman and African-American in history at the Legislature — has the experience to navigate the House through the upcoming session.

I agree that which party has the majority, and by how much, will matter a lot. And hoo boy, what might happen if we have a 75-75 split – there would surely be a compromise power-sharing agreement out there, but just agreeing about who chairs what committees gives me a headache. I tend to believe that if Dems have a majority, the job will be Rep. Thompson’s if she wants it, but she may not want it. She might prefer to be in the trenches passing the priority bills, or she may just decide the job is too much trouble to be worth it. Joe Moody may be best positioned to be a compromise candidate if the parties are tied or even if Republicans have a 76-74 lead but can’t settle their ideological rifts and find their own consensus; in other words, he could be the Democratic Joe Straus. I feel like TMF is the choice if Dems wind up with a bit of a cushion and are feeling a bit salty. I’m totally spitballing here.

Whoever wins the job in the event of a Dem house, he or she will have a slightly easier go of it than a Dem Speaker from before 2010 would have had, as the caucus is more unified on issues these days. That’s largely because there are no more conservative Dems from rural districts, and thus no one who has to be appeased or coddled on things like LGBTQ equality or gun control or immigration. Passing a budget that fully funds education and prioritizes coronavirus relief, and maximizing Democratic leverage on redistricting, are the two top tasks. When the Dems get together after the election to plan their strategy for the session, those have to be the main questions that any Speaker wannabe must answer. We know how important this election is, but in part that’s because what comes after it is so damn important, too.

Introducing the George Floyd Act

Coming this spring to the Legislature.

Black lawmakers at the Texas Legislature unveiled on Thursday the George Floyd Act, a sweeping police reform proposal that would ban chokeholds across the state and require law enforcement officers to intervene or render aid if another officer is using excessive force while on the job.

The legislation, spearheaded by members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, is named after Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes until and after he lost consciousness.

His death in May set off protests across the country and renewed debate over police brutality and racial inequity. And at the Legislature, which is set to meet again in January 2021 for a regular session, Floyd’s death has sparked new calls for policing and criminal justice reforms — including proposals that have failed at the Texas Capitol in recent years, often after opposition from police unions.

“We acknowledge that the road to justice in Texas — particularly for Black and brown people in Texas — has been fraught with dead ends, dead ends of white supremacy, racial hatred and bigotry,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat who chairs the caucus, said as he kicked off a virtual press conference, which included Floyd’s youngest brother, Rodney Floyd. “These dead ends have to go — and particularly the dead ends that relate specifically to law enforcement.”

The bill would also address qualified immunity, which shields government officials from litigation, by allowing civil lawsuits at the state level “for deprivation of rights under color of law,” according to a caucus summary of the legislation. Another provision would end arrests for fine-only offenses like theft under $100, a version of which died dramatically in 2019 after union opposition.

“Those police officers who do wrong by unlawfully harming our families or our constituents, who violate the constitutional rights of others, will be held accountable and legally liable for their actions,” said state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston.

It’s unclear if the outcry sparked by Floyd’s death will provide enough momentum in 2021 to push past resistance from law enforcement and unions. It’s also unknown whether the legislation will win Gov. Greg Abbott’s support, which would be crucial in turning it into law.

Abbott has previously said he is committed to working with Floyd’s family on legislation, and has even floated the possibility of a George Floyd Act at the Legislature. While he has not offered specifics on what proposals he would support, Abbott has emphasized a proposal that has also been pushed by police union officials: strengthening law enforcement training before officers are allowed to go on patrol.

It’s still too early to pre-file bills, since after all we don’t know for sure who will be serving in the next session, but it’s never too early to announce them. The Chron adds some details.

Groups including the Texas NAACP, Mothers Against Police Brutality, ACLU of Texas, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Black Lives Matter Houston and Texas Organizing Project have already thrown their support behind the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott has publicly condemned Floyd’s death and promised to work with state legislators to pass reforms, though he did not discuss specifics. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who plan to carry the legislation, said Thursday they had not yet spoken with Abbott about it.

“It would be a great signal if he made this an emergency item and that we pass this in the first 90 days of the Legislature,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “Hopefully he will partner with us on this legislation.”

The 19-member caucus that introduced the bill Thursday includes a single Republican, Rep. James White of Hillister.

While some local police and sheriff’s departments have implemented some tenets of the bill, such as requirements for officers to attempt de-escalation before using force, none of them are required for all 2,000 police agencies in Texas.

Further, the bill would require officers to demonstrate that they use lethal force only when in “imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death” or when “no other lesser level of force could have worked” and their actions present no risk to bystanders, according to a draft of the law that the caucus released Thursday. The use of force must stop as soon as the threat diminishes.

The bill states that “all force must be proportionate to the circumstance and the seriousness of the offense … and must be accompanied by (an) attempt to de-escalate.”

[…]

Charley Wilkison, the executive director of CLEAT, one of the largest law enforcement union in the state, said his organization is open to many of the concepts in the proposed bill, including banning chokeholds and ending arrests for fine-only offenses.

Other areas may require a more nuanced conversation, such as qualified immunity, as Wilkison said he believes it allows enough latitude — “It’s ‘qualified’; it’s not blanket” — under current law for citizens to sue officers for misconduct. Wilkison said he agrees with setting a statewide use-of-force policy, as long as officers retain discretion.

“If we’re allowed to be in the chain of communication, we’ll share and do our due diligence to take honest action in the Legislature,” Wilkison said.

As both stories note, some of what is in this proposed bill had been in the Sandra Bland Act originally. I don’t know that Abbott will care enough to make this bill an emergency item, but I do expect that he’ll support some form of this, and I do expect that something will pass. It’s mostly a question of how much of the bill as filed makes it to the finish line, and whether anything that is less desirable makes it in along the way. The potential for messiness, heated debate, and at least one idiot member of the Freedom Caucus saying something deeply stupid and offensive is quite high. But in the end I do expect something to pass, and we’ll feel good about what we do get. The question is how good, and how much more there will be to do in a future session. Reform Austin has more.

Release the audit

That’s my three-word response to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a related note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bipartisan equality bill

I appreciate the effort, but we can’t expect too much to come of this.

Five Democratic and two Republican state legislators announced plans Wednesday to file a bill next legislative session that would bar discrimination against LGBTQ Texans in housing, employment and public spaces.

The bill, which has the early support of state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, and Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would extend protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are 21 states that already have enacted such policies.

“Quite frankly, we are already behind the curve on this issue,” Davis said. “Nondiscrimination is not just good for LGBTQ community, but it’s good for all Texans.”

Lawmakers rolled out the bill during a virtual news conference where they touted an economic study that found a statewide nondiscrimination policy would generate $738 million in state revenue and $531 million in local government revenue next biennium. It also would add 180,000 new jobs in technology and tourism by 2025, the study found. The benefits, the authors said, largely would come from Texas’ greater ability to attract talent and heightened opportunity for tourism and conventions.

“We should want to treat people fairly because it’s the right thing to do, whether it has economic effects or not,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco-based economist who led the study. “This shouldn’t be the reason to do it, but it is a very important aspect of it in today’s society, and there are very significant economic costs associated with discrimination.”

The legislation likely will face strong headwinds in the Republican-controlled Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber, prominently opposed a similar measure that was rejected by Houston voters in 2015, and later backed the so-called bathroom bill opposed by LGBTQ advocates that would have required people to use facilities matching the gender identity on their birth certificates.

The lawmakers largely dismissed political concerns Wednesday, arguing instead that their early push for the bill — more than seven months before the session is slated to begin — heightens their odds of passing it.

“I think a lot of this is going to take talking to our colleagues and explaining the results of this study,” said Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, a member of the House LGBTQ Caucus and author of the bill. “It’s going to take a lot of groundwork.”

[…]

The bill faces good odds of passing the lower chamber, where Democrats have gained ground and some Republicans have moderated their positions, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. He was less bullish on the bill’s chances in the Senate.

“It’s a different animal on that side of the chamber,” Rottinghaus said. “You do all the political calculations and it’s a tall order to get it passed. But, in some ways it’s a marker: these members see the future of Texas as one where the economy needs to be put front and center, and if that theory can get some grip among the members, then there’s hope for it in the future. But as it is now, it’s a pretty tough sell.”

That’s really about all there is to it. This bill may pass the House, but if so then Dan Patrick will stick it in a shredder, have the shredder blown up by the bomb squad, and then have the debris shipped to Oklahoma. We ain’t getting a bill like this passed while he’s Lite Guv, and that’s even before we consider getting it signed and then having it reasonably enforced by the Attorney General. It’s nice that there are two House Republicans willing to sign on to this – no, really, that is important and could very well matter if we oust Patrick in 2022 but still have a Republican-controlled Senate – but it will take either more of them than that to get this passed, or fewer Republicans in the House overall. I don’t know who our next Speaker will be, but I like the odds of this passing with a Democrat appointing committee chairs than with pretty much any Republican that could inherit the gavel. Needless to say, one way of getting the requisite number of Dems in the House is to oust Sarah Davis, as her seat is high on the list of pickup possibilities. Todd Hunter’s HD32 is on that list as well, but farther down; if he loses in November, Dems have had a very, very good day.

Let’s be clear that lots of substantive bills take more than one session to get passed, so bringing this up now even without any assurance that it could get out of committee is the right call. Start talking about this now – the real benefits a true equality bill would bring, the ridiculous arguments that opponents will throw at it, and very importantly the potential legal pitfalls that the true wingnuts and their sympathetic judges will try to exploit – and we’ll be better positioned when the timing is better. I can’t say when that might be – elections have consequences, I’m told – but it’s best to be prepared.

Endorsement watch: Some State Reps

The Chron made seven endorsements in contested Democratic State Rep primaries on Thursday, plus two in contested Republican State Rep primaries. This must be Part One, because there are multiple races left for them to do. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, here’s a recap of the action.

Rep. Alma Allen in HD131.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson in HD141.
Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147.

None of those are surprising, or all that interesting given that these are three of the best from Harris County. Moving on.

Josh Markle in HD128.

District 128 borders and straddles the Houston Ship Channel. In the last election, the Democratic Party did not run a candidate against the incumbent Rep. Briscoe Cain. This year, both candidates in the Democratic primary, Josh Markle and Mary Williams, want voters to at least have a choice even if they face long-shot odds. That’s smart, as no seat should be so safe that incumbents aren’t even challenged.

[…]

Markle was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and besides environmental issues, his platform includes the full gamut of core Democratic issues — healthcare, education, jobs and criminal justice reform. He’ll give voters in the Republican-leaning district a promising alternative to consider in the fall.

Williams served the Houston Police Department as a civilian for more than 23 years. We applaud her spirit of service and dedication to her community. But we believe Markle will give voters ready for a change in the district a better option.

Markle got a fundraising boost from Beto back in September, as you may recall. Good candidate, very tough race.

Ann Johnson in HD134.

Ann Johnson

Child prostitutes were seen as criminals not victims under Texas law until 2010 when Ann Johnson won a case at the Texas Supreme Court involving a girl who was 13 when she was arrested. The case changed both the state law and the national conversation around sex trafficking, and is among several achievements that distinguish Johnson from a strong slate in the Democratic primary for House District 134.

[…]

Ultimately it is Johnson who presents the strongest chance for Democrats to take back control of District 134. She speaks with authority about a broad range of issues and with the persuasive power of a former prosecutor. After the landmark case she argued to the Texas Supreme Court, she was was hired by a Republican district attorney as a human-trafficking specialist. She worked with Republican judges to start the CARE court to assist child victims of human tracking and SAFE court for people 17 to 25 charged with prostitution. Now she’s calling for public-private partnerships to establish a victim recovery village.

Even if Democrats do flip the House, whoever wins this seat will have to work those across the aisle. Johnson has a record of appealing to common values to get important work done.

It is a strong field in HD134, as any of Johnson, Ruby Powers, or Lanny Bose would be an excellent State Rep. You can’t go wrong here.

Rep. Shawn Thierry in HD146.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry traces her interest in politics back to early childhood when she was the first black child in her Houston public elementary school. Thierry’s teacher quit because she said she couldn’t teach a “colored child.”

Her mother, the first black teacher to integrate Sharpstown High School, used to call her “little Barbara Jordan,” after the revered Texas politician who was the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate and the first from the Deep South elected to the U.S. Congress.

[…]

Thierry is being challenged for the seat, which represents a demographically diverse community from Sunnyside through Meyerland and Westbury past Sharpstown, by Houston Black Lives founder and community activist Ashton P. Woods.

Woods, who ran for City Council last year, brings passion for communities that often go unheard, especially on issues impacting the LGBT community. His is a much-needed voice that we hope will be heard.

Thierry, however, brings pragmatism and perseverance that is critical in making change happen in the Legislature. We endorse Thierry for House District 146.

Thierry was elected in 2016 after winning the nomination in one of those precinct chair selections, after Borris Miles moved up to SD13 to replace Rodney Ellis. She had a primary challenger in 2018 but won that easily. I heard a brief rumor after the 2019 election that Dwight Boykins might file for this seat, but in the end that didn’t happen. Woods is the strongest challenger to a Dem incumbent this side of Jerry Davis, and he’s picked up a few endorsements including the GLBT Political Caucus and the Texas Organizing Project. Keep an eye on this one as well.

Rep. Anna Eastman in HD148.

Rep. Anna Eastman

Eastman, whose HISD district included 75 percent of District 148, told the Editorial Board that education would be one of her priorities. She wants to ensure that funding from HB3, the school finance bill passed in the last session, is preserved and the money goes where it is needed. She also believes the state school rating system needed to be reviewed.

“There’s a huge disconnect when you have a district like HISD getting a B rating, triggering a board of managers and having schools that we know really are not serving our kids in a way that they’re worthy of,” said Eastman, 52.

She also supports increasing access to safe, legal abortion and a number of gun reform measures, including closing background-check loopholes, red-flag laws and banning assault-style weapons and ammunition.

We were also encouraged by Eastman’s plan to spend the next several months establishing her office, getting to know her constituents and “showing up in Austin in January ready to serve and do work that matters.”

Eastman was the Chron’s choice in the special election, so this is not a surprise. Penny Shaw has racked up all of the group endorsements, however, so this ought to be a tough race. Most likely, Eastman will have to run a fourth time, in a primary runoff, for the opportunity to run for a fifth time, in November.

Still to be endorsed: HDs 126 and 138, the two remaining challenges to Republican-held seats, and HDs 139 and 142, the other two challenges to Dem incumbents. Also, too, SDs 11 and 13, and a bunch of other races. We’re still waiting.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House, part 1

I’m going to take a two-part look at the finance reports in State House districts. Part One will be from Harris County, looking at both contested primaries and contested November races. Part Two will focus on races in the counties around Harris. Previous entries in this series include Harris County offices, and statewide races.

Undrai Fizer, HD126
Natali Hurtado, HD126

Sam Harless, HD126

Josh Markle, HD128
Mary Williams, HD128

Briscoe Cain, HD128
Robert Hoskins, HD128

Kayla Alix, HD129

Dennis Paul, HD129
Ryan Lee, HD129

Bryan Henry, HD130

Tom Oliverson (PAC), HD130

Alma Allen, HD131
Carey Lashley, HD131
Deondre Moore, HD131
Elvonte Patton, HD131

Gina Calanni, HD132

Angelica Garcia, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133

Jim Murphy (PAC), HD133

Lanny Bose, HD134
Ann Johnson, HD134
Ruby Powers, HD134

Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135

Merrilee Beazley, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Jenifer Pool, HD138
Josh Wallenstein, HD138

Josh Flynn, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138
Claver Kamau-Imani, HD138

Jarvis Johnson, HD139
Angeanette Thibodeaux, HD139

Senfronia Thompson, HD141
Willie Franklyn, HD141

Harold Dutton, HD142
Richard Bonton, HD142
Jerry Davis, HD142
Natasha Ruiz, HD142

Shawn Thierry, HD146
Ashton Woods, HD146

Garnet Coleman, HD147
Colin Ross, HD147
Aurelia Wagner, HD147

Anna Eastman, HD148
Adrian P. Garcia, HD148
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, HD148
Penny Shaw, HD148
Emily Wolf, HD148

Lui La Rotta, HD148

Michael Walsh, HD150

Valoree Swanson, HD150


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Fizer            800       319        0         500
Hurtado       25,091     9,588        0      11,752

Harless       73,265    11,022   20,000     103,669

Markle        78,906    12,426        0      68,081
Williams

Cain         125,891    39,462        0     133,616
Hoskins        4,575    26,033        0       3,804

Alix           2,141     1,343        0         898

Paul          85,621    38,444  156,000     116,486
Lee           10,720     4,779        0       5,879

Henry          3,385     2,901        0       3,385

Oliverson     56,555    62,895   60,000     101,693

Allen         11,100    13,251        0      32,798
Lashley
Moore
Patton        43,075     1,100        0      10,000

Calanni       82,002    24,571        0      70,770

Garcia        28,045    20,076        0      21,309
Schofield     27,400    24,152        0     152,549

Moore          2,000     2,539        0       1,502

Murphy       120,076   132,583        0     487,913

Bose          54,573    13,702        0      40,871
Johnson       58,287    31,075        0     148,054
Powers        43,015    40,852        0      18,299

Davis         89,750    76,040        0     230,958

Rosenthal     70,841    42,143        0      41,320

Beazley            0       465        0           0
Ray           52,666    24,644        0      47,082

Bacy          28,066     6,799        0      14,455
Pool
Wallenstein   42,137    35,766   10,000      51,786

Flynn         12,080    20,761        0       9,166
Hull          50,068     4,551        0      45,516
Kamau-Imani   18,800     2,229        0      16,570

Johnson        8,775     3,619    2,500      26,946
Thibodeaux     7,000     2,069        0       4,931

Thompson     104,216   136,801        0     889,738
Franklyn           0     1,873        0       1,336

Dutton        26,876    16,676        0      79,263
Bonton
Davis        139,565     9,787        0     129,928
Ruiz

Thierry       13,710    11,825        0      13,446
Woods          1,485     1,263        0       1,690

Coleman       97,990   129,532        0     110,589
Ross
Wagner

Eastman       75,378    57,861        0      33,967
Garcia        12,100     2,500        0       4,000
Reyes-Revilla  3,547         0    8,000       3,547
Shaw          11,635    15,531   34,000      15,454
Wolf               0         0      200         235

La Rotta      11,280    10,602        0       4,095

Walsh              0        33        0          33

Swanson       10,201    27,643   34,040      34,657

You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post about the finance reports in the top tier House races. I don’t have the bandwidth to look at all of them, so check them out for their reporting on it.

There are several contested Democratic primaries, including five challenges to incumbents in safe D districts. This was a popular pastime in the 2000s, during the Craddick era – Alma Allen beat Ron Wilson, Armando Walle beat Kevin Bailey, Borris Miles took three out of four against Al Edwards. The latter of those occurred in 2012, and while there have been primary opponents to incumbents over the past few cycles, none have come close to succeeding; Edward Pollard in HD137 and Demetria Smith in HD149, both of whom got about 35% in their races in 2016, came closest. The one this year that has the greatest potential to upset the status quo is in HD142, where longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton faces unrest over his role in passing the TEA takeover bill as well as the tumult in City Council District B. Still-current District B incumbent Jerry Davis, who transferred all of his city campaign funds into his State Rep campaign treasury, is the main threat to Dutton. I can’t wait to see how the endorsements play out – Davis has already gotten the nod from the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO, the only challenger to an incumbent in Harris County to do so. Elvonte Patton, who was a candidate for HCDE in the 2018 primary, has a nice fundraising total, but most of that is in kind, and Alma Allen has vanquished previous challengers with 85% or more of the vote in the past.

On the Republican, there’s not much action outside of an attempt to install a grownup in HD128. As I understand it, Robert Hoskins has some establishment support in his effort to knock out Briscoe Cain, but as you can see not a lot of money. We both know which speaks louder.

The four most hotly contested seats, one of which is open, is where the bulk of the action is. All three contenders in HD134 raised similar sums, but Ann Johnson has a commanding lead in cash on hand thanks to a big first half of the year. Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein both raised a few bucks in HD138, with Wallenstein doing a bit better, while Lacey Hull led the pack on the Republican side. I have to assume now that his spot on the ballot is assured, Josh Flynn will ramp it up. Freshman Reps Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal both outpaced the totals of their potential opponents. The HD132 GOP race will be interesting, as Angelica Garcia has Greg Abbott’s endorsement but former Rep. Mike Schofield still has cash left over from his 2018 loss. To some extent, none of these totals matter that much because there will be a ton of PAC money on both sides in all of the competitive districts. Still, a candidate or incumbent who can raise cash on their own is stronger than one who relies mostly on others doing that work.

In HD148, where there’s both a contested primary and a special election runoff (happening now!), the main thing to note is that these totals are all from October 27 through the end of the year, as all of the candidates save Emily Wolf had eight-day finance reports from their November 2019 races. Penny Shaw has gotten a couple of early endorsements, so the 30-day report in early February will tell a more detailed picture for this race. As for the special election runoff, there’s nothing to suggest anything unusual, Erica Greider’s weekend daydreams aside.

Beyond that, not a whole lot else to discuss. Jim Murphy’s cash on hand total is one reason why I speculated he might consider a run for Mayor in 2023 if the Lege is no longer amenable to him. Sarah Davis would probably have more cash on hand right now if she hadn’t had to fend off primary challengers in the past. As above, I’m pretty sure she’ll have the funds she needs to run that race. The Dems have some longer shots out there, with HD126 being the most competitive of them, so keep an eye on Natali Hurtado. I’ll be back next time with the State House races from elsewhere in the region.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

Time for the 2019 outrageous and dishonest mailer

There’s at least one every cycle.

A handful of black Democratic elected officials are expressing outrage over a campaign mailer that appears to have used photos of the politicians without consent to falsely suggest they endorsed a slate of City Council candidates — including two backed by the Harris County Republican Party.

The mailer, circulated by a group called the Harris County Black Democratic News, features photos of former President Barack Obama, U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, and several state legislators and county officials, along with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

On the other side of the mailer are photos of nine City Council candidates, including Willie Davis and Eric Dick — who are endorsed by the Harris County Republican Party — under the banner text “Endorsement Announcement.” It also purports to endorse Turner and two Harris County Department of Education board candidates.

“I have never been contacted by the Harris County Black Democratic News, nor am I sure that they are a legitimate news or community organization,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who is pictured on the mailer. “I did not consent to being included in the Harris County Black Democratic News and am appalled that a group would go to this extent to mislead voters.”

The mailer does not disclose which person or political committee funded it, an apparent violation of state law.

Dick, a Harris County Department of Education trustee who is in a runoff for the At-Large, Position 5 seat against former City Council staffer Sallie Alcorn, contributed $8,500 to the Harris County Democratic News in September and October, according to his campaign finance records.

You can see a picture of the mailer, front and back, here. It’s almost admirable in its shamelessness. John Coby has been all over this. The news coverage will of course reach more people than would have ever seen the mailer itself, which is a two-edged sword, as some of them will just remember the images and not the truth about them. The thing about stuff like this is that it’s fundamentally a sign of weakness. No one who is confident in their ability to win needs to claim phony endorsements. This isn’t Eric Dick’s first campaign. He knows what he’s doing and he knows why he’s doing it. I’d say he should be ashamed of himself, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

Amendment focused on school bathrooms passes the House

I had some hope that we could make it through this session without something like this happening, but clearly we could not.

Amid threats of a special legislative session over the “bathroom bill,” the Texas House on Sunday took a last-minute vote to approve a proposal that would keep transgender students from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The House voted 91-50 to amend Senate Bill 2078 — which focuses on school districts’ “multihazard emergency operations plans” — to add bathroom restrictions that some Republicans had pushed for since the beginning of the legislative session.

Throughout the tense floor debate, Republicans insisted the legislation was not meant to target transgender students, while Democrats likened the proposal to Jim Crow-era policies that segregated bathroom use based on race. Under the proposal, a transgender student who “does not wish” to use a facility based on “biological sex” would instead use single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities at their school.

“White. Colored. I was living through that era … bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, a black woman, told her colleagues. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”

Saying the amendment would provide “definitive guidance” to school districts, Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall argued that his amendment language did not discriminate “against anyone.”

“This is does not provide an accommodation for a protected class of students. This provides an accommodation for all students,” Paddie said.

But the adopted amendment could override existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott, who was largely silent on the issue throughout the legislative session, recently endorsed the bathroom legislation as a priority. His office had insisted that he believed the legislation could be passed during the regular legislative session.

But Straus on Sunday said the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session, and the House decided to dispose of the issue in this way.”

After Sunday’s vote, Straus suggested in a statement that the amendment would not drastically alter the way in which schools have handled “sensitive issues,” and would help the state “avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6.”

“Members of the House wanted to act on this issue and my philosophy as Speaker has never been to force my will on the body,” Straus said of the vote despite his opposition to bathroom-related legislation.

[…]

Despite the whittled-down version that was ultimately voted on, Democrats refused to characterize the legislation in any other way but a “bathroom bill.”

“Let’s be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.”

Let this be a lesson, kids – hostage-taking is often a successful strategy. I get why Straus and company thought passing what RG Ratcliffe called “Patrick Lite” might be an effective way to mollify the angry wraith Dan Patrick, but discrimination is still discrimination, and Patrick wasn’t mollified by the House’s inadequate sacrifice anyway, because nothing less than everything he wants is ever enough for him. Let this be a lesson to you, Texas Association of Business and others – Dan Patrick and his cronies are your opponents, and he will never go away on this. If there isn’t a special session or a further attempt at appeasement, he will continue his jihad in 2019. Unless, of course, he’s not there presiding over the Senate. You can maybe help make that happen if you want to. What do you have to lose? The Chron, the Observer, the Press, and Equality Texas have more.

Fighting the bathroom bill

It will take all hands on deck.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia suggested that lawmakers should concentrate on issues like education funding and the state’s ongoing child welfare crisis.

“It’s a huge distraction, but it is nothing but a good political hot-button issue for the Republican Party’s primary base,” Garcia said. “All I can say is we’re going to fight like hell.”

Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who also appeared on the panel, noted that the business community is “up in arms” about Patrick’s proposal.

Last week, the Texas Association of Business released a study — which the Observerfirst reported in November — showing that if anti-LGBT legislation passes next year, the state’s economy could lose up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs.

Thompson predicted that even if Patrick’s bathroom bill clears the Senate, the House will kill it because members are “more rational and recognize the games that are being played.”

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Thompson said. “I think we’re going to be victorious.”

But Thompson also warned that Patrick may try to use the bathroom bill “to manipulate people” and “hold them hostage” in support of his other initiatives, such as school vouchers. Patrick declared in May that the Fort Worth school district’s decision to allow trans students to use restrooms based on their gender identity was “the biggest promotion for something I feel strongly about, and that’s school choice.”

“We just can’t let them use that to get other things that would be equally detrimental,” Thompson said. “That is the key.”

The word I’ve heard is that House Speaker Joe Straus has told the business lobby that if they want this dead, they need to work to kill it themselves in the Senate. He’s tired of doing their dirty work for them and then catching the blame for it. This is at least third-hand information, so take it for what it’s worth, but if recent musings from Dawn Buckingham and Greg Abbott are any indication, the lobbying efforts have had some effect. Bear in mind that the session hasn’t even started, and it’s entirely possible the business lobby could view a shift to a school-bathroom-only bill as a win for them and an excuse to drop out, so temper any optimism you may be feeling accordingly. This is all of our fight.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Chron overview of SD13

Not much new here.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Amid frantic wooing of Democratic precinct chairs, the unconventional sprint to succeed state Sen. Rodney Ellis is boiling down to an argument over tenure: Is it better to move a seasoned legislator to the Senate, or preserve House experience by sending a relative newcomer to the upper chamber?

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson argues the former, touting her 44 years in Austin, as former Houston City Controller Ron Green makes a case for the latter.

Ten-year state Rep. Borris Miles casts himself as the Goldilocks of the bunch, seeking to leverage his experience while asserting that Democrats would lose too much in the House by promoting Thompson.

[…]

The district’s per capita income was less than $20,000 as of 2014, Census data shows, $8,000 below that of Houston. The area also has lower educational attainment, with just 22 percent of those ages 25 and older having earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent in Houston.

“We need help with these schools out here,” Sunnyside precinct chair Tina Mosley said, arguing for increased funding.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the state’s school finance system – which seeks to ease wide funding disparities between districts by redistributing property tax revenue from wealthy districts to poorer ones – is constitutional, despite calling it “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”

That case emerged out of Texas lawmakers’ decision in 2011 to slash the state’s public education spending by $5.4 billion to balance the budget, though the Legislature restored much of that funding two years later.

“I agree with the (state) Supreme Court that we haven’t done a good job of funding our schools in the state of Texas,” said Miles, whom Mosley is backing. “The financial base of each independent area should dictate the type of education and the quality of education that goes into those communities. I don’t think we should be robbing from inner city schools to throw to the rural area schools. Our tax base is here. We need to be spending that money … right here.”

Miles said he is also focused on expanding re-entry programs for juvenile offenders and curbing police brutality, through efforts such as increasing penalties for police officers who violate residents’ civil rights.

Thompson and Green, meanwhile, listed boosting education funding as a top concern but did not specify remedies.

Here’s the last race overview, for comparison. There was an HCDP lunchtime meet-the-candidates event yesterday, and at least according to the email they sent out about it, there’s a fourth person in the race, James Joseph, who was a candidate for District B in 2011. Of course, as we know from the County Commissioner experience, that only applies if someone nominates nominates him at the convention on Saturday.

Rep. Miles said in the article that he has the support of a majority of the precinct chairs. I’m not involved in the race and have no insight into how it’s going, but his district is entirely within SD13, so if he’s got the support of most of them it’s plausible. What I do know is that it mostly doesn’t matter what any of them believe or aim to do about education or criminal justice reform or whatever. Not because they’re insincere but because Dan Patrick runs the Senate and he’s unlikely to let any Democratic-freshman-written bills of substance get anywhere. Whoever wins will still have the opportunity to get stuff done – even Senators in the minority have their share of clout – but it’s best to keep expectations modest. I’m going to try to attend the convention on Saturday, and I’ll have a report on how it went on Sunday.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Rep. Thompson

The Chron endorses Rep. Senfronia Thompson in SD13, though they spend most of their time attacking Rep. Borris Miles.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

In 2008 [Rep. Miles] was indicted (and later acquitted) for deadly conduct in a bizarre scenario that had him accused of crashing a holiday party at the St. Regis Hotel flashing a gun, threatening the host, and forcibly kissing a married woman on the mouth. In 2010, he had a constable call on him for illegal electioneering. Last year he tussled with a public safety officer after trying to force his way into a private dining room at an Austin restaurant. He went for years without revealing his personal business interests in violation of state law, and failed to maintain a proper certificate of occupancy for his cigar bar, Our Legends, a popular hangout for politicians and the politically connected.

Those political connections seem to come easily for Miles. As the owner of an insurance agency, the state representative has had contracts with the Houston Independent School District, Houston Community College and the city of Houston.

Miles told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he earned these contracts before his election to public office in 2006. Legal or otherwise, the fact that a state representative’s private company is underwritten by taxpayer-funded institutions perpetuates the image that elected officials have an insider track to the public trough. That image of impropriety is only underscored by the fact that, while selling insurance to the school district, he maintained a business relationship with the husband of one HISD board member and arranged vacations to Costa Rica for another board member under the pretense of studying medical treatment for teachers in the Central American nation.

Is this really the behavior that Democrats want to reward? Is this the image that they want to promote? We hope not.

[…]

However, we endorse state Rep. Senfronia Thompson for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Houston to Fort Bend County.

Mrs. T, as she is known, was first elected to the House in 1972, and since then she has become a moral force in Austin. The longest-serving woman or African-American in Texas legislative history, Thompson has made it her personal duty to defend the “little dogs” of our state by raising the minimum wage, passing a hate-crime bill to protect gays and lesbians, requiring insurers to cover women’s health, supporting rape victims and preventing racial profiling.

Texas Monthly has described Mrs. T as a “guardian angel of the process,” standing at the front of the House chamber during debate to check over proposed amendments and ensure that nobody tries to pull a fast one.

This is the sort of experience and dedication that Texas Democrats should want to see in the Senate.

Guess they don’t like Rep. Miles, then. I do like Rep. Miles, but he has his baggage. The Chron leads off their editorial by pointing out that it’s harder for Democrats to make a case about Republican malfeasance if we’re not holding our own accountable. It’s a valid point, though I’d argue that the bill of particulars they lay out here doesn’t exactly add up to a statewide officeholder being indicted for three felonies. Be that as it may, I’m sure I’d be taking all this into account if I were in SD13. I’m not, so I’m going to take the easy way out here. I suspect people are aware of the candidates’ histories as well as their strengths and capabilities. We’ll find out on Saturday how they weigh it all together.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

More on the SD13 race

From the Trib:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

In the span of a month, a Texas Senate seat will have been vacated and effectively filled, an unconventional turn of events that has Houston Democrats scrambling to replace one of their most venerated legislators.

The highly abbreviated contest is unfolding in Senate District 13, where Rodney Ellis is vacating his seat of 20-some years to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court. His successor on the ballot will be picked July 16 by precinct chairs in the Senate district, which is spread across Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“It’s going to be a sprint,” acknowledged state Rep. Borris Miles, who’s vying for the seat along with House colleague Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green.

[…]

“The No. 1 issue is the personal connection between the person and the precinct chair,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This probably advantages Miles, whose whole district resides within SD-13.”

“This is an odd race where money doesn’t matter,” Rottinghaus added. “There’s not going to be any advertising. No one’s going to go door-to-door. This is all about who’s in the room and who can be persuaded.”

Miles’ House District 146 may lie almost entirely within Senate District 13, but his rivals are not without advantages when it comes to courting precinct chairs. Thompson’s House district also shares some real estate with the Senate district, and “Ms. T” is a household name for many Houston Democrats. Green is the only one of the bunch to have won election citywide, and before that, he was a City Council member whose district was 85 percent within the Senate district.

“For me quite frankly, it would be really hard to say who has a significant advantage,” said Rodney Griffin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct chair in Senate District 13. Thompson, he added, may have a “slight advantage” due to her long tenure in the House and the name recognition that comes with it.

Not really much we didn’t already know. The main difference between this race and the Commissioners Court one is that Rodney Ellis established himself as a frontrunner early on. He was the first person to announce his interest in the position – he was certainly the first one to call me – he had the longest record, and his district covered nearly all of the Commissioners Court precinct. Nobody has all of those advantages here. They all entered at the same time. Thompson has the longest record and is surely the best known, but Miles’ district covers more of SD13. Green represented even more of SD13 than either of them, including some of the Fort Bend County parts, but he has no legislative experience, and it’s fair to say he has some baggage. Thompson’s experience could be a double-edged sword – she has been the Chair of the Local and Consent Committee in the House for several sessions, and I seriously doubt her successor there will be a Democrat. That’s a nontrivial amount of clout to give up, and in fact Green is making the argument that by choosing him there would be no net loss of Democratic seniority in the Legislature. I have no idea which arguments will carry the most weight, but I’m damn glad I’m not one of the 96 precinct chairs who will be on the receiving end of them.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Here come the candidates for SD13

Here we go again.

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Borris Miles came prepared with signs Saturday when Rodney Ellis all but secured a seat on Harris County’s Commissioners Court – not in support of Ellis, but to launch his own campaign.

Ellis’ selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has begun to ripple across the November ballot, freeing up the first in what could be a series of openings in Harris County’s legislative delegation.

The 26-year state senator now must withdraw his name from the ballot for Senate District 13, requiring Democratic precinct chairs to meet yet again on July 16 to select a replacement candidate. Their nominee will run unopposed.

Miles, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green have thrown their hats in the ring as others mull joining the race.

The three-week campaign sprint is projected to be as contentious as the commissioner’s race was cordial.

“Many of the candidates have complex political histories that could result in a high level of discord,” Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. “I don’t think these people are going to be playing nice.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former Houston City Councilman C.O. Bradford said they also are considering running for Ellis’ seat. City Councilman Dwight Boykins and state Rep. Harold Dutton said they opted not to.

Rep. Dutton was a supporter of Gene Locke for Commissioner, so he might have encountered some resistance had he chosen to run for SD13. As noted on Sunday, Reps. Miles and Thompson were at the Saturday precinct convention that placed Ellis on the ballot for County Commissioner. Green was not there but announced his candidacy via Instagram. Rep. Coleman had expressed his interest in the seat in May, but hasn’t said anything official as yet. This is the first I’ve seen Bradford’s name – and Green’s, for that matter – in one of these stories. We’ll see if other names come up. There are 94 precinct chairs in SD13, according to this story, with 78 in Harris County and 16 in Fort Bend. None of them are me, and I’m happy to be an observer and not a participant this time. Good luck to those who have the task of selecting Ellis’ successor.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Legislators ask for a task force to review Capitol monuments to the Confederacy

Fine by me.

On the same day that the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds, five Democratic lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott to consider the appropriateness of the Confederate monuments at their own Capitol.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the creation of a task force to consider whether the numerous Confederate monuments, markers and statutes on the Capitol grounds are “historically accurate, whether they are appropriately located on the Capitol grounds, and whether any changes are needed.”

The letter was signed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all Houston Democrats; state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“As these debates play out across our country and state, we ask you to consider the Texas Capitol itself: the building in which we have the honor of working on behalf of all Texans,” the letter reads. “The Texas Capitol grounds feature numerous monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, many of which espouse a whitewashed version of history.”

[…]

There are more than a dozen markers on the Capitol grounds that overtly reference the Confederacy, according to the State Preservation Board. Those include a Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the south grounds and several portraits that hang in the Capitol chambers.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited the need to assess certain markers — including a plaque in a first-floor corridor of the Capitol honoring the “Children of the Confederacy” — that “assert the outright falsehood” that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The lawmakers asked that the task force be made up of business, religious and education leaders to allow for a “serious conversation about how best to honor Texas’ heritage and past – while at the same time ensuring historical accuracy and that we celebrate figures worthy of our praise.”

The letter they signed is here. I doubt this will go anywhere – Greg Abbott doesn’t appear to care, as there’s no votes in it for him – but as with HISD schools, I favor having the conversation. And let’s be clear, these are monuments to people who took up arms against the country in defense of slavery, and these monuments were not contemporaneous remembrances but recent additions, put up in defiance of desegregation and the civil rights movement. At a time when we are seeking to distort and deny our own history about the Civil War, this discussion couldn’t be more timely and necessary. This issue is not going to go away. Be sure to see RG Ratcliffe for more.

Bill to ban anti-fracking ordinances likely to go forward

Disappointing.

Despite vociferous opposition from local elected officials, environmentalists and citizens, many Democrats in the Texas Legislature are supporting controversial legislation that would strip local governments of the power to regulate or ban fracking.

House Bill 40, by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), is one of 11 measures in the Legislature filed in response to a fracking ban approved by Denton voters in November. Darby’s bill, which was temporarily delayed on Tuesday, would overturn Denton’s fracking ban, Dallas’ de facto prohibition on drilling and other cities’ oil and gas regulations, possibly even rules about the distance between rigs and homes not deemed “reasonable.”

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a progressive Democrat and the longest-serving woman legislator in the House, is one of eight Democrats sponsoring the legislation.

“I think that fracking is a safe mechanism, which they can use to be able to extract oil,” she said. Asked about the practical impact of the bill and whether it would allow oil and gas companies to challenge ordinances they don’t deem “reasonable,” Thompson said, “You’re asking me a legal question and I haven’t had oil and gas law since I was in law school.”

Most of the Democrats who signed onto HB 40 are from areas that don’t contend with the hazards of urban drilling: earthquakes, noise, pipelines through yards and air and water pollution. None are from North Texas, where drilling rigs and other oil-and-gas infrastructure often sits uncomfortably close to homes, churches and businesses.

“The cities are the ones who are truly affected and we’re taking that out of their hands and saying that we’re going to be the ones doing it?” said Rep. Nicole Collier, a Democrat from Fort Worth who plans to vote against HB 40. “They’re the ones who have to answer every day and we’re taking that out of their hands.”

Floor discussion of HB40 was delayed till Friday due to a point of order. The bill is now a substitute version that was agreed upon by the Texas Municipal League, which had initially opposed it, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association. Here’s the TML’s guide to the updated HB40, which they say addressed their larger concerns about pre-empting city ordinances. I appreciate their efforts and I can see where they’re coming from – it was highly likely that some kind of bill of this nature was going to pass, so they did what they could to mitigate it – but I’m more in line with RG Ratcliffe.

The core argument against bans such as the one in Denton is that they take away the property rights of the drillers, the people and companies that buy or lease land to exploit it for mineral production; i.e., frack it for gas. But what about the property rights of people driven out of their homes because of a potential explosion, or who have the value of their homes driven down by a nearby well? And, ultimately, what about the hypocrisy of attacking local control? The state of Texas has been fighting against the federal government over unwanted laws and regulations, so is the Legislature going to grind down local voters in a similar fashion? Denton and Arlington are not cities filled with tree-hugging environmentalists; they typically vote about 60 percent Republican.

[…]

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the oil industry’s desire to drill on land it has owned or leased, but isn’t it also a “taking” if a homeowner cannot sell a house or loses value on a home because of its proximity to an oil or gas well? These are not wells down a caliche road a quarter-mile from a farm house. These are wells in residential neighborhoods. It looks like the legislative leadership is putting jingoism and campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry ahead of the very real concerns of Texas voters and communities.

Well, we know whose takings are more important. Like I said, I can see TML’s rationale. They saw how the wind was blowing and they did what they could to make the best of a bad situation. You don’t have to like what they agreed to, but it was a respectable effort. What I don’t like is Rep. Thompson’s rationale for not only supporting but sponsoring HB40. I’m no expert in oil and gas law, either, but I understand local control and I can see that cities and homeowners are getting the short end of the stick. More to the point, we progressives need to do a better job of sticking together on stuff like this. Pissing off our own allies isn’t helpful. We’re never going to get anything done if we can’t get people who are broadly aligned with us but not direct stakeholders in a given issue when there’s a fight. I mean, if I’m not willing to scratch your back, why should I expect you to scratch mine?

Marijuana reform advocates get their day

This will be worth watching closely.

Rep. Joe Moody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on this session’s beer bills

A story from the DMN about the state of microbreweries and beer-related legislation in Texas.

TexasCraftBrewersGuild

Brewers say they rely on word of mouth among diehard enthusiasts, so they want drinkers — particularly those from out of state — to introduce their beers to friends, neighbors and other connoisseurs. A measure offered by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, would let brewery visitors purchase beer on site to take home with them.

The financial gains from such sales would be minimal. But the ripple effects from word-of-mouth promotions could be big and even promote tourism in the state, said Michael Peticolas, owner of Peticolas Brewing Co. in Dallas who helps keep tabs on legislative issues for the brewers guild.

“Breweries get a huge number of tourists coming in,” Peticolas said. “So often they try something that they like and want to take a stout or a six-pack home for them or their friends. Right now, we can’t sell to them, but Texas wineries and distilleries already get to do this.”

Another bill would make further inroads in self-distribution by allowing brewers to store ale in a different county, expanding a provision that already applies to other beer styles.

Currently, if Peticolas wants to reach out to retailers in Austin or San Antonio to sell his Velvet Hammer Imperial Red Ale, a driver would have to return unsold products to Dallas that same day.

Read that last sentence and remind yourself of it the next time you hear someone go on about how much we love free markets here in Texas. While craft brewers are working to build on the gains they made in 2013, there are also efforts to restrict things further.

Peticolas, along with Granbury’s Revolver Brewing, is among a handful of brewers suing the state to have more control over distribution.

In 2013, the Legislature prohibited brewers from selling distribution rights. Before, distributors would pay brewers for the right to sell their beer in certain markets. Craft brewers say they would then use that money to reinvest in their brew.

But now, they must give those rights to distributors for free, although the distributors can sell the rights for profit.

Legislation offered by Sen. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would slash distribution rights further. Her bill would reduce the number of barrels that microbrewers could self-distribute from 40,000 to 5,000. Each barrel is the equivalent of about two standard kegs.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, said his group helped bring craft brewers and others together to compromise on legisation two years ago. So industry representatives were surprised when craft brewers sought legislation such as Eltife’s bill this year, he said.

“They made no attempt to engage those same stakeholders,” Donley said. “So there is a natural reluctance to not support it, especially when we don’t see the benefit for us. The legislative process is the spirit of compromise, and we certainly feel some of these bills violate the spirit of that agreement.”

Donley said craft brewers are thriving in the current system.

“They already have every tool they need now to have access to the market,” he said.

Brewers believe Thompson’s bill “would be a huge blow for us,” said Steve Porcari, a co-founder of Four Corners Brewing in Oak Cliff. “The day it was filed, one of my drivers asked what it meant, and I said it meant he’s out of a job if it passes.”

[…]

In a written statement, Thompson said her bill is meant get brewers back into the long-standing system of checks and balances.

The 2013 agreement “was intended to give craft brewers access to the market and move them to the traditional three-tier system as quickly as possible,” Thompson said. “There is a movement afoot to break the agreement, and I trust all sides will make good on their promise.”

[Charles] Vallhonrat, of the [Texas Craft Brewers Guild], acknowledges that craft brewers worked with distributors and others two years ago, but he disputed that the agreement included a cut in self-distribution rights.

Distributors, he argued, could be hurt by the new plan, too. They might have to take bigger risks on new brews before they’ve proved popular.

“I don’t know what it is we’re not honoring,” Vallhonrat said. “Business is growing, and we want to help it grow on both sides, for brewers and distributors.”

See here for more on that lawsuit. I don’t know where things are going to go from here in this session, but it seems clear that the brief period of consensus that we had in 2013 has passed. Also unlike 2013 and sessions before that, I’m not aware of any organizing efforts by the craft brewers. They have the Guild and I’m sure there’s a lobbyist or two on the ground for them, but there’s been little to nothing to engage the public as there has been in the past. I hope that doesn’t work against them this time.

Re-redistricting HISD

Well, this would be different.

HISD Redistricting Plan

The Houston school board would grow from nine elected trustees to 17 under a bill filed by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who said she wants to give residents of the former North Forest school district increased representation.

The Houston Independent School District took over the northeast Houston district in 2013 under orders from the Texas Education Agency. The seven-member elected North Forest school board dissolved, and HISD absorbed the schools and students.

In September, the HISD board approved a redistricting plan to even out the population of the nine trustee districts in light of the new North Forest residents. But that move wasn’t enough, according to Thompson.

“Following the closure of North Forest ISD and the realignment of about 53,000 residents, many of my constituents feel that each school board district is so large that they have little or no say on any of the board’s decision-making process,” Thompson, D-Houston, said in a statement. “This bill will provide an opportunity for the North Forest community to have a stronger voice on the HISD school board.”

The nine HISD districts range in size from about 146,500 residents to nearly 156,300.

Under Thompson’s bill, which would apply only to HISD, the 17 trustees would represent about 77,200 people each.

See here and here for the background. Rep. Thompson’s bill is HB289. I will let this post serve as my biennial plea to everyone that writes anything about the Legislature to please always include bill numbers in those stories. This one was easy enough to find – it’s the pre-filing season, so Rep. Thompson had only one page of bills to her name, and the caption was recognizable – but that isn’t always the case. Please don’t make me curse your ancestry this spring. Include bill numbers. It’s the right thing to do.

Anyway. I doubt this will go anywhere, and I’m not sure how I’d feel about it if it did. I get the complaint, I’m just not sure this is the right answer. But we’ll see. Rep. Thompson can be very persuasive, so I wouldn’t count this out.

What would you have done differently?

Lisa Falkenberg remembers the Wendy Davis filibuster and complains about what has and hasn’t happened between then and the one-year commemoration of it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

You don’t just dust off a social movement because a year has passed and you need to raise money. The fire Davis lit has to be fed and tended if it’s going to spread. The Fort Worth senator may take for granted votes of those who already joined her cause. But what about the social liberals and moderates who haven’t joined Davis’ cause? What about the sympathetic but distracted voters who need to be deeply moved to get to the polls in November?

Some of her supporters agree with me and think Davis ought to dance with the ones that brung her. Others don’t. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, a veteran advocate for women’s rights, says the movement hasn’t lost momentum. It’s just spread out.

“At some point, people want to see the results on bread and butter issues that affect their lives every day, like equal pay and minimum wage,” she added.

Thompson is right in saying abortion isn’t an everyday issue for most Texans. But neither is gay marriage or gun control. Reproductive liberty gets under our skin in the same way. We’re talking about constitutional rights.

Other Davis supporters say she has done enough talking about the issue. Indeed, who has talked more?

“There’s not a Texan alive who isn’t clear on her position on a woman’s right to choose,” Democratic consultant Harold Cook told me awhile back. “What more could she say?”

The problem, though, isn’t that we’re unclear. The problem is that we’re unmoved. And that’s no way to lead a movement.

I get the complaint about fundraising. I’ve heard it from other folks, too. Not to state the obvious here, but 1) Wendy is going to need a lot of money to have a chance against Greg Abbott, who is already mounting plans to carpet-bomb the airwaves this fall, and 2) if those emails weren’t effective, she’d have stopped sending them. Any mail client worth its salt has filtering options. No one has to see these emails if they don’t want to.

Falkenberg’s complaint comes in two parts. First, she thinks Davis should be talking more about abortion since it was her passionate defense of abortion rights that led directly to the amazing events of a year ago and ultimately to Davis’ gubernatorial campaign. Again, I get the complaint and have heard it from others. But honestly, what is there to say? One of the problems here is that Governor Wendy Davis can’t actually do anything to undo the harmful legislation that was passed last summer and in the sessions before that. She can’t roll back any of the provisions of HB2, she can’t do anything about stuff like the kneecapping of Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health Program, and she has no authority to force the Attorney General to not defend the law in court. Politicians get into trouble when they promise things they don’t have the power to deliver. The former two require legislative action, and that ain’t happening. The one thing she can do is promise to veto new restrictions on abortion. I’m not sure how much value there is in this – I mean, everyone does know where she stands on that, and I at least find a lot of talk about the need to draw lines in the sand and stand firm in defense of what we have left to be more grim than inspiring. YMMV, I guess.

Falkenberg, to her credit, recognizes the political calculations behind all this. Campaigns are choices, and we can always disagree about which choices will be the most effective. My complaint with Falkenberg’s column comes in two parts. One, she never acknowledges that leading a movement is about much more than just talking about an issue. Davis is very much trying to reach out to and connect with those sympathetic but distracted voters – it’s the keystone of her whole campaign! – she’s just doing it by doing the grunt work of organizing, block walking, phone banking, and so forth. Maybe that’s not what inspires Lisa Falkenberg, but as the Battleground Texas folks can attest from their experiences with the Obama campaign, it works pretty well for getting people to the polls. No guarantees, of course – maybe it won’t be as effective here, and even if it is it may not be enough. But it’s a pretty well-established way to lead a movement, and if you think otherwise, I’d like to know the reasons that aren’t about your own preferences.

And two, if you were inspired by Wendy Davis a year ago and you’ve been sitting around waiting for her to inspire you again, I’m sorry but you’re part of the problem. That grunt work of organizing I mentioned? It doesn’t happen by itself. Michael Li of the great Texas Redistricting blog has posted to his Facebook wall many times about how some Democratic activists seem to prefer carping about campaigns than participating in them, and how a lot of us tend to spend our time talking to each other instead of talking to the Presidential-year-only voters (I’ll say it again: Roughly half of the people that voted for Barack Obama in Texas in 2008 did not cast a vote in 2010) and the people who aren’t registered but could be. Now that’s no way to lead a movement, because a successful movement has many, many leaders in it. Disagree all you want about the choices Wendy Davis is making, but if you’re sitting on the sidelines, you need to ask yourself why you’re not involved.

I’m going to close with a bit from this Ross Ramsey article in the Trib, which I thought was one of the better analyses of the filibuster and the celebration of it.

The filibuster was a big deal, whether you were delighted by it or dismayed.

It added to efforts that were already underway — from Battleground Texas and others — to rebuild the state’s patchy network of liberal voters, and now it is a rallying point for Democrats. And it got conservatives calling for changes in the way the Senate does its business.

The Republicans got their law. The Democrats found their candidate for governor after her filibuster triggered an invigorating public display of the power of crowds.

[…]

The real measure of the anniversary will come in the general election in November.

The people who assembled at the Capitol a year ago learned at least as much as the Senate did. They came, they made noise, they had an impact, and they found out that they were not alone in a political environment that is dominated by people they disagree with.

Sustaining that kind of passion is difficult, but so is getting it started in the first place. That’s why they’re celebrating.

Amen to that. I understand why a journalist like Lisa Falkenberg might be reluctant to participate in a BGTX phone bank or block walk. But as both a journalist and a voter, I think Lisa Falkenberg should check a couple of them out to see what inspiration looks like to the people participating and the people they’re talking to. Who knows, maybe she’ll find a little of it for herself, too.

Just a reminder, the Ledbetter bill was bipartisan

I mean, it had to be bipartisan to pass in the Lege, but let’s keep that in mind as the debate continues.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

After 42 years in the Texas House, Rep. Senfronia Thompson has earned a nickname – “Miz T” – that evokes equal parts respect, affection and fear. When she filed the Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act to promote equal pay last session, “Miz T” called some old friends at the Texas Civil Justice League, a business group dedicating to fighting lawsuit abuse, and drafted them as allies.

Aided by the group’s credibility with conservatives – and by the force of her own personality – the Houston Democrat gained bipartisan support for the measure and it narrowly passed, although her efforts eventually fell victim to Gov. Rick Perry’s veto pen.

Now, the issue has resurfaced in the Texas governor’s race, with Republican nominee Greg Abbott saying he would veto the bill if it is passed again. His comments drew a rebuke from Democratic nominee Wendy Davis, who had sponsored the bill in the Texas Senate.

The GOP candidates for lieutenant governor also jumped into the fray this week. Incumbent David Dewhurst tweeted that Davis’ bill would have “unleashed torrents of lawsuits,” while his challenger, Houston Sen. Dan Patrick, said the government should stay out of the issue.

Some political observers, however, say conservatives may be having a knee-jerk reaction against the Lilly Ledbetter legislation simply because it was championed by President Barack Obama, and Davis, a rising Texas Democratic star. The policy it advances is not that controversial, they argue.

The vote favoring the bill “can absolutely be defended on conservative grounds,” says TCJL general counsel George Christian, whose group helped win passage of Thompson’s bill. “I would urge stepping back and taking another look.”

Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations for the American Association of University Women, called Dewhurst’s claim that the law would unleash a torrent of lawsuits “a tired argument.” The predicted “torrent” has not occurred since the federal bill was signed into law in 2009, she said.

Emphasis mine. I think there’s a lot to this; we’ve all seen how a health care law that had its genesis in the Heritage Foundation has become synonymous with socialism. The question is whether people who once crossed the aisle to support it will continue to do so or if they’ll be swayed back by partisan considerations. The original bill passed by a 78-61 margin in the House after being amended in the Senate. Here’s the record vote of the House concurrence of the Senate changes. In addition to 53 Democrats (Anchia and Burnam were absent), these Republicans voted for final passage:

Anderson; Aycock; Bohac; Crownover; Dale; Darby; Davis, S.; Geren; Harless; Huberty; King, S.; Kuempel; Lozano; Otto; Patrick; Ratliff; Riddle; Ritter; Sheffield, J.; Sheffield, R.; Smith; Villabla; Workman; Zerwas

Some of these folks are not coming back – Pitts retired, while Patrick, Ratliff, and Ralph Sheffield all lost primaries. That might make passage in the House trickier when it comes up again in 2015; of the No votes, only Linda Harper-Brown and Stefani Carter, both of whom are in primary runoffs, might get replaced by a Democrat, while the retiring Craig Eiland could be replaced by a no-voting Republican. Lord only knows what might happen in the Senate, too, but the point is that we need to keep an eye on the overall attitudes. As with evangelicals and contraception, attitudes do change. We should keep track of that and note when they do change, so we can remind ourselves that it wasn’t always this way.

State Bar investigating Charles Sebesta

Good.

Anthony Graves

The State Bar of Texas has opened an investigation into Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County District Attorney who prosecuted death row exoneree Anthony Graves.

The organization that oversees lawyers is investigating alleged professional misconduct by Sebesta, which, if proven, could result in his disbarment. The investigation was prompted by a complaint that Graves filed in January. Sebesta will have 30 days to file a response to the complaint.

“It sets a precedent for other state prosecutors that they have to act ethically,” said Ramota Otulana, a clerk at the law firm that represents Graves.

Graves spent 18 years behind bars — 12 of them on death row, where he twice neared execution — before the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2006, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld favorable evidence in the case.

[…]

State Bar officials have said the previous complaint was dismissed because the statute of limitations on the alleged violations had expired. In 2013, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 825, which changed the statute of limitations, allowing a wrongfully imprisoned person to file a grievance up to four years after their release from prison in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Previously, the four-year statute began on the date the misconduct was discovered.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire, and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, joined Graves in calling for accountability for Sebesta at a Wednesday press conference.

“I’m asking prosecutors to cooperate with the highest of integrity,” Graves told reporters in January. “It took me 18 and a half years to get back home. Two execution dates. All because a man abused his position.”

See here for the background. I hope they nail him. Sen. Ellis has more on his Facebook page.

Charles Sebesta needs to be held accountable

Amen to this.

Anthony Graves

Former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated in the bloody 1992 slaying of a Somerville grandmother, her daughter and four grandchildren, is seeking justice against the man who put him there.

In 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ capital murder conviction when a three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.

Graves, who was released from prison in October 2010, is taking advantage of a new state law that allows a grievance against a prosecutor to be filed within four years of a wrongfully imprisoned person’s release.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis, John Whitmire and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, stood behind Graves on the campus of Texas Southern University on Monday as he and his attorneys urged the Texas State Bar to investigate and discipline Sebesta.

“I am asking prosecutors who operate with the highest integrity to support me,” Graves, 48, told reporters. “I am seeking justice for the man who wrongfully prosecuted me.”

[…]

Graves and his attorney, Bob Bennett, said the new law remedies the statute of limitations rule.

“There’s been no final order,” Bennett said. “Even if it was dismissed, you still have the option of coming back because there’s been no final order.”

Whitmire and Thompson sponsored the bill that was one of several that passed last year as details of Michael Morton’s wrongful murder conviction and exoneration came to light.

Anthony Graves deserves justice in the same way and for the same reasons as Michael Morton. In many ways, the injustice done to Graves was worse. If you’re not familiar with Anthony Graves, read this report by Texas Monthly writer Pamela Colloff, who is the authoritative source on Graves and Morton. That article was published on the day that Graves was freed after the charges against him were dropped.

Not until yesterday morning did Burleson County district attorney Bill Parham and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler explain why they had made such a dramatic about-face. At a press conference at the D.A.’s office in Brenham—just across the street from the courthouse where Graves’s retrial was to have taken place early next year—Parham told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” of Graves’s innocence after his office conducted a thorough examination of his case. Parham was clear that this was not a matter of having insufficient evidence to take to trial; charges were not dropped because too many witnesses had died over the years or because the evidence had become degraded. “There’s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he said. “There is nothing.”

Former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler, who has sent nineteen men to death row in her career, went even further in her statements. Siegler laid the blame for Graves’s wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of former Burleson County D.A. Charles Sebesta. “Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” Siegler said. Over the past month, she explained, she and her investigator, retired Texas Ranger Otto Hanak, reviewed what had happened at Graves’s trial. After talking to witnesses and studying documents, they were appalled by what they found. “It’s a prosecutor’s responsibility to never fabricate evidence or manipulate witnesses or take advantage of victims,” she said. “And unfortunately, what happened in this case is all of these things.” Graves’s trial, she said, was “a travesty.”

So yeah, this is a big deal. You need to read Colloff’s two feature stories to get the full measure of outrage at this horror. Sebesta avoided any repercussions for his abhorrent actions initially because Texas’ law at the time started the clock on the statute of limitations way too soon. Here’s Colloff again with the details.

At first glance, the bar’s lack of action against Sebesta is confounding. Why would the statute of limitations prohibit the agency from taking action against Sebesta, who prosecuted Graves in 1994, but not against Anderson, who prosecuted Morton seven years earlier, in 1987? The answer lies in one simple detail: the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts of the offense—such as withholding evidence favorable to the accused—are discovered (or, in legalese, “become discoverable”). In the recent proceedings against Anderson, the bar persuasively argued that the statute of limitations did not begin running until 2011, when the transcript describing Morton’s son’s account of the killer was found in Anderson’s files. Such a strategy was not possible with Sebesta, Acevedo told me, because “the information at issue”—i.e., that he withheld favorable evidence—“was known more than four years before the grievance was filed.”

Bennett, who filed the grievance, takes issue with that, arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “was the official notice of what had taken place.” And Graves’s attorney, Cásarez, believes that’s key. While it’s true that Graves’s lawyers learned in 1998 that Carter had repeatedly told Sebesta of Graves’s innocence, when they took a deposition from Carter at that time, it was simply a defendant’s word against that of a sitting district attorney. It was not until 2006 that the Fifth Circuit made an official finding that Sebesta had withheld evidence. “Now, how can someone file a grievance and expect to get anywhere until a court finds that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct?” Cásarez wondered.

Thankfully, SB825 took care of that loophole last year. Now maybe Charles Sebesta will finally be held to account for his actions. The Trib and Colloff again have more.