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January 24th, 2012:

January finance reports: City of Houston

Yes, I know, there are no city of Houston elections this year. (Not yet, anyway.) But the candidates and officeholders have to file reports anyway, covering the period from their last report through the end of the year. That period may be from eight days before the December runoff, eight days before the November election, or even the July reporting period if they were lucky enough to be unopposed in November. It’s how you see what the candidates in contested races did in the last days before the election, and it’s how you see who hopped on the late train for a candidate who wasn’t necessarily expected to win. I’ve updated the 2011 Election page to include links to the January finance reports for current and now-former Council members. I didn’t bother with non-incumbents who lost in November or December because life is too short. Here’s a brief summary:

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ================================================ Parker 64,329 260,317 1,272,794 RGreen 30,794 23,785 46,691 Costello 12,250 47,311 655 Burks 25,175 33,426 2,403 Noriega 4,326 14,600 14,108 Bradford 4,453 35,340 20,282 Christie 16,700 51,138 3,156 Brown 6,900 9,664 1,467 Davis 32,630 39,974 20,703 Cohen 24,008 67,375 6,413 Adams 13,100 27,687 59,572 Sullivan 8,200 14,629 53,641 Hoang 3,450 25,472 5,366 Pennington 89,025 167,555 123,326 Gonzalez 5,254 15,908 56,108 Rodriguez 4,729 26,456 21,328 Laster 20,563 23,314 20,473 LGreen 22,470 27,955 576 Lovell Jones 39,810 62,555 6,397 Stardig 13,450 45,176 36,956 Johnson Clutterbuck 0 22,199 38,223

The first thing to note here is the $1.2 million cash on hand Mayor Parker has. This is significant for two reasons. One, obviously, is that it’s the opening bid for how much a Mayoral wannabee will have to raise to be competitive with her next year. She will be able to add to that total this year, while anyone who has not filed a designation of treasurer will not; I will not be surprised if her COH figure tops $2 million in a year’s time. While this certainly isn’t insurmountable, the first question anyone who might want to challenge her is going to get from a potential donor is going to be “How do you plan to raise enough money to compete with Mayor Parker?” Some of them will likely say “Show me that you can raise some money first, then get back to me”, which needless to say makes fundraising that much harder. It’s a barrier to entry, and the higher it is the better off she’ll be next year.

The flip side to that is that she’s really lucky she managed to avoid a runoff. Not only because that meant she could sit on her cash rather than have to spend it in December, but also because by leaving that much cash in the bank she would have left herself wide open to criticism that she didn’t run as hard as she needed to going into November. Look at poor Brenda Stardig, who had a relative ton of cash on hand in her November 8 day report, mostly because she hadn’t run any kind of campaign up till that point. By the time she was forced to kick it into gear, it was already too late, and the money she had wasn’t of much good to her. This is the cautionary tale that the Mayor was fortunate to avoid.

As such, don’t be surprised by the small cash on hand totals that moneybags like Costello and Cohen posted. They emptied their weapons, left it all on the field, and otherwise engaged in all the suitable cliches when it counted. You don’t doubt their ability to replenish their coffers, right? I’ll check back again in July and again next January and we’ll see where they stand.

Of course, for Council members who have their eye on the next office, as CMs Adams and Sullivan do, the calculus is a bit more complex. Well, not for Sullivan, who was unopposed and was thus able to turn his current stash into a decent opening advantage. Adams also has an early financial lead in her race for State Rep, though as she had an opponent last year it wasn’t entirely without risk.

Since I mentioned the late train earlier, I will note that there wasn’t one I could see for Helena Brown. Her late donors list was short and familiar. As for Andrew Burks, his donors were African-Americans – at least, all of the names I recognized belonged to African-Americans – and the usual PAC and law firm suspects that generally give to all incumbents. Not quite the Republican rainbow coalition that may have helped him win the runoff, but a likely indicator that he’ll enter 2013 with a decent sum in his kitty. I will be very interested to see if the usual suspects latch on to Brown or not. They didn’t rush to do so after the election results were in.

Finally, we have the outgoing Council members. With the exception of Jarvis Johnson, who is running for HCDE Trustee, I don’t think any of them are currently angling for another office. Lovell has been interested in County Clerk, but didn’t run in 2010 and I have not heard anything to say she may in 2014. I don’t get a future candidacy vibe from Clutterbuck, Jones, or Stardig, but who knows. They could take a cycle or two off, do some backstage work or some such, and come back later. Johnson has not filed a report with either the city or the county, nor has he responded to my requests for an interview, so other than his candidacy for HCDE I have no idea what he’s up to.

Texas files suit to preclear voter ID

They’re a mighty busy bunch at the OAG these days.

The only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas attorney general’s office today filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to have the state’s controversial voter ID law implemented without further delay.

The law, Senate Bill 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. It requires that voters show a picture ID before casting a ballot. It has been tied up at the Justice Department since July. Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law.”

Abbott’s office said that if the department grants the state’s request for preclearance, it would dismiss the suit.

You can see a copy of the complaint here. As Michael Li notes, the suit “does not challenge the constitutionality of section 5 on a facial basis but does extensively argue that failing to preclear Texas’ voter ID law would raise constitutional concerns, including possible violations of the 10th amendment and the state’s right to equal sovereignty”. The right of any individual to cast a vote is apparently not the State of Texas’ concern.

Rick Hasen delves more deeply into what the state is seeking.

In a recent Slate piece, I explained how South Carolina might file suit—and expedite it to the Supreme Court—arguing that section 5 of the VRA is no longer constitutional because it intrudes on state sovereignty.  (In 2009 the Court strongly hinted that a majority of the Court would take that position unless Congress changed the act, or demonstrated that covered jurisdictions present a greater danger of intentional race discrimination than other states to justify the strong preclearance requirement.  Congress did not act, but needs to.)  As some evidence South Carolina is considering going down that road, they’ve hired Supreme Court ace lawyer Paul Clement.

Today’s filing by Texas takes a slightly different tack.  It offers two ways for courts to preclear the voter identification law without striking down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  First, as TPM explains, Texas argues that the VRA’s established “nonretrogression standard” (i.e., are minorities worse off) should not apply outside the context of redistricting.  Second, Texas argues, in multiple ways and across numerous pages, that the Court can avoid the “grave constitutional doubts” raised if section 5 is read to bar Texas’s voter id law by reading section 5 in some narrow way so as to avoid the constitutional problem.   The 2009 case, NAMUDNO, was a very questionable application of the “constitutional avoidance” doctrine, and this looks like an attempt for a repeat performance.

The question is whether the conservative majority on the Court wants to kill the Voting Rights Act outright, or let it die the death of 1,000 cuts.  South Carolina may offer the Court the former, and Texas the latter.

You have to wonder how history will judge some of the things we do this year, and the people who do them.

Anyway. As we know, the Justice Department has been asking the state for data about how this law will affect minority voters, and it’s only in the last couple of weeks that the state has sort of fulfilled those requests. The DOJ refused to preclear a new voter ID law in South Carolina on the grounds that it was discriminatory, with AG Abbott expressing at that time the opinion that Texas’ law was headed for a similar fate. We’ll see what the DC court makes of this. For what it’s worth, they so far have not shown any inclination in the redistricting preclearance lawsuit to be more lenient on the state than Justice would have been. Postcards has more, Texas Redistricting has a response to Abbott from MALC Chair Trey Martinez-Fischer, and a statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis is here.

Castro gets some homework

Joaquin Castro isn’t even a member of Congress yet and already his future colleagues are leaning on him.

Joaquin Castro

Democrats are so confident that U.S. House candidate Joaquin Castro will capture a traditionally Democratic seat in San Antonio next November that they’re relying on the Texas state representative and Harvard Law School graduate to help raise campaign donations for Democratic candidates who are facing more competitive races elsewhere.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, described Castro’s unusually high-profile role on Wednesday as the chairman of House Democrats’ 2012 campaign effort designated 36 competitive House races nationwide that will receive extra campaign support by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the vanguard of Democrats’ effort to retake political control of the House.

[…]

Castro, who is seeking to succeed retiring seven-term Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, joins former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, and Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, as so-called “majority makers” whose all-but-guaranteed election prospects frees them to campaign on behalf of other Democrats. Their early efforts are expected to help forge loyalties and political IOUs even before they take office on Capitol Hill.

“We are so confident that they’re going to win and that they are coming to Congress that we have a program (so) they are actually helping their colleagues,” said Israel. “These will be new members of Congress who will have already helped their colleagues obtain the majority.”

And one of the first beneficiaries of this effort will be Nick Lampson. This is of course assuming that the SCOTUS-ordered redraw doesn’t shuffle the deck in a manner that puts Castro into the same district as either Lloyd Doggett or Ciro Rodriguez again. Which, if you’re a believer in the weauxf gods, ought to make you sweat a little. These things work in mysterious ways.

I will also note that this is the sort of thing I had in mind when I first wrote about Castro versus Doggett and the need to enable the next generation. One of the things a role like that does for Castro is give him access to a much broader fundraising base, and a whole lot of people who would have reason to be grateful to him if he’s successful. Both of those are nice things to have in your pocket if you have a statewide campaign in mind for your future.

Trying to save the April 3 primary date

The race is on to get new maps in hand in time to keep the April 3 primary date, since all the options for after that date are distinctly unpalatable in one way or another. On Friday, the State of Texas asked the San Antonio court to get its work done by January 30. The court asked for responses to that request; the plaintiffs said it wasn’t realistic while the state said they’d work late and by phone to make it happen. They also suggested moving the second filing deadline to February 6 and shortening the period for mailing military ballots to 25 days. The court responded with some requests of its own.

Lines, lines, everywhere are lines...

Federal redistricting judges in San Antonio want to see if they can get agreement from the parties on political maps in time for an April 3 primary and said they are “giving serious consideration” to split primaries if no agreement can be reached by the first week of February.

The three federal judges said in an order issued this afternoon that they will meet with the parties on Friday instead of waiting until Feb. 1.

The five-page order is full of dates and deadlines:

  • The judges say they will almost certainly move a candidate filing deadline now set for Feb. 1.
  • They said the parties should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for legislative and congressional elections by Feb. 6 if they “wish to maintain the current election schedule.” If they can’t agree, the judges want a list of districts in the Legislature’s maps that each party no longer objects to.
  • The parties are involved in hearings in Washington, D.C., where a separate panel of three federal judges is deciding whether the Legislature’s maps violate preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ideally, the San Antonio judges would have that court’s ruling in hand before it approves redistricting maps. It’s asking the lawyers to give the Washington court a nudge: “With high respect for the importance of that proceeding and the prerogatives of that court, this Court hereby requests both sides in the San Antonio proceedings to request, on behalf of this Court, that the D.C. Court attempt to rule on the Section 5 issues in time for this court to incorporate those decisions into its ultimate decision on the redistricting plans for the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the U.S. Congress.”
  • The Texas judges say they are giving “serious consideration to whether a so-called ‘split primary’ will be required” for this year’s elections, and asked the lawyers to be ready to talk about it at the end of the week. They also want lawyers for the state to be ready to say whether the state would be prepared to reimburse counties and the political parties for the “substantial additional expense of a split primary.”
  • The judges asked for comments on the idea of a presidential primary on April 3 with most or all other elections held later. The earlier presidential primary would relieve the Republican and Democratic political parties, which hope to have the primary elections well before their state conventions in June. The Republican Party of Texas has suggested the split primary on several occasions; the Democratic Party, in filings this week, said it would prefer a unified primary if possible.

You can see the court’s order here. We’ll know more this Friday, but a split primary is definitely a possibility. If that happens, I dearly hope the court orders the state to pay for it, as that seems to me to be the only fair solution. It’s clear that the San Antonio court wants the DC court to rule on the preclearance lawsuit first rather than have to guess what it will find in violation of Section 5. If the San Antonio court is left to its own devices, the “not insubstantial” standard for deciding what to remediate may give them a fair amount of leeway, though again I’m sure they’d prefer to have a clear roadmap. It’s going to be an exciting week. PDiddie has more.