Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

February 5th, 2013:

Is Hillary the key to turning Texas blue?

Maybe, but it’ll take more than this to convince me.

The Lone Star State is headed blue — the only question is WHEN Texas becomes a Democratic state. If Hillary Clinton runs for president, she will have a fighting chance of carrying Texas, which shares revolutionary demographic trends rewriting the rules of politics, and of creating opportunities for Democrats to regain control of the House and achieve a national realignment of Rooseveltian magnitude.

No less an authority than Karl Rove is known to have been worrying about the political future of Texas for years, with good reason. If Clinton were to run in 2016, she would attract a giant surge of the demographically powerful Hispanic vote, an equally giant surge of the equally powerful women’s vote, a strong surge of support from younger voters who are developing lifetime habits of voting Democratic, and strong support from seniors and boomers.

These trends are as powerful in Texas as they are nationally. Some enterprising pollster will run the numbers for Hillary versus various Republicans that will show the potential strength of a Clinton candidacy in the Lone Star State.

There’s pretty much nothing in the piece that could be construed as evidence or data, just a bunch of rah-rah stuff. Believe it or don’t, it doesn’t really advance the case for or against. For what it’s worth, PPP says Hillary would be competitive in Texas in 2016, but 1) to say the least, it’s early days, and 2) at some point partisan identity generally outweighs whatever warm feelings one may currently have about someone on the other team. I’m down with Hillary 2016, I do think she’d get people fired up, and I think she’d be at least somewhat likely to put resources into the state, but that and a buck twenty-five will get you a ride on the Main Street Line. Mostly I find it amusing to be having this conversation at all, because five years ago at this time we were talking about how much a Hillary Clinton candidacy would inspire Texas Republicans to never before seen heights of sound and fury. Those were the days, am I right?

Medicaid expansion still a big underdog in Texas

Ed Kilgore sees good things in a poll about expanding Medicaid.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

But even in Texas, a new survey sponsored by the American Cancer Society Action Network has found, there’s strong majority support for the Medicaid expansion.

The survey extended to seven states that have been mulling the subject (in one, New Mexico, Gov. Susan Martinez has very recently come out for accepting the Medicaid expansion, making her one of just two Republican governors to do so), and the results were not ambiguous: majorities support the expansion before and after hearing the standard arguments for both positions. The percentage supporting their states’ taking the federal money and implementing the expansion range from 70% in New Jersey to 65% in New Mexico, to 63% in Florida, Kentucky and Michigan, and then 58% in Texas and 57% in Iowa.

The percentage of self-identified Republicans supporting the Medicaid expansion ranges from 32% in Texas up to 45% in Kentucky.

You can see the poll here. They give sample sizes and a breakdown by race, gender, age, and party ID, but they don’t say how big these subsamples are, nor do they give the full questions. I’m always at least somewhat skeptical of polls that lack full information, but that’s not really the issue here. The number that matters is that 32% support among Republicans. Does that sound like something that Republican officeholders who want to avoid losing primary elections will support? Perhaps in some other states, but sadly not here. The poll does give some hope for this as a general election issue, and I expect that the next Democratic gubernatorial candidate will make a forceful case for expanding Medicaid, but we’re not going to make a lot of headway in the Legislature this way. Maybe there is a viable bipartisan plan for expanding Medicaid that can get Republican votes and Obama administration approval that won’t get rejected by Rick Perry, which seems increasingly unlikely after Perry reiterated his unyielding opposition to it in the State of the State address. It would be great if there is a way forward, but it’ll take a lot more that one poll to convince me.

UPDATE: See Gromer Jeffers for an example of what I mean when I say that this poll does not have encouraging numbers for Medicaid expansion.

The court of inquiry

Going on this week is a court of inquiry in the matter of Williamson County Judge Ken Anderson, who was the District Attorney that won a conviction against Michael Morton for the murder of his wife, Christine, which as we know has since been overturned after DNA evidence cleared him and implicated another man. The court of inquiry is to evaluate the claims made by Morton’s attorneys that Anderson deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence, which may lead to criminal charges being filed against Anderson if that allegation is found to have merit. The Statesman and the Trib have all the background on this unusual proceeding, and for everything you need to know about the Morton case, read the two-part Texas Monthly story (and be prepared to have your heart broken by it) as well as Scott Henson’s interview with author Pam Colloff. Finally, you can follow the inquiry itself at the Trib’s liveblog.

Whatever else comes out of this inquiry, what I would like to see happen is a re-evaluation of how we think about those who fight crime. From the Trib story:

Anderson, who declined through his lawyer to be interviewed for this story, has contested allegations of wrongdoing and has said that he is sick over the wrongful conviction. And those in the Central Texas city of Georgetown, who have known Anderson over the years, say they can’t believe that the church-going Boy Scout troop leader — who tried to steer young people who veered into his courtroom onto a productive path — could do the unethical things he’s accused of doing. Even some defense lawyers who sparred with Anderson in the courtroom say allegations that he behaved underhandedly are hard to fathom.

“I never thought of him as acting unethically or in violation of the rules,” said veteran defense lawyer Roy Minton. “I did think of him as being very strong and hard on crime, but that was the history of that county.”

In Georgetown’s small courthouse circles, there are different ideas about who may have contributed to the injustice that befell Morton.

Williamson County’s legendary Sheriff Jim Boutwell, a tall, thin cowboy of a lawman who was rarely without his white Stetson, cowboy boots and handcuff tie clip, helped forge the county’s tough-on-crime history.

A former Texas Ranger, Boutwell became famous in 1966 when Charles Whitman went to the top of the University of Texas tower with three rifles and a sawed-off shotgun and fired at students and faculty. Boutwell flew an airplane over the campus, distracting Whitman with gunfire long enough for officers on the ground to take him down. Boutwell cemented his reputation in 1983 when he and a task force of officers extracted hundreds of murder confessions from Henry Lee Lucas. After Lucas was sentenced to death, then–Attorney General Jim Mattox issued a report that dismantled many of the confessions and concluded that the drifter wasn’t even in the same state when some of the killings were committed. In 2001 — eight years after Boutwell died of cancer — then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted Lucas’ death sentence to life in prison.

There’s no question that the path to Michael Morton’s conviction was paved by Sheriff Boutwell’s myopic, almost comically flawed investigation of the case. And whether Anderson was criminally negligent or not, there’s no question that exculpatory evidence was not made available to the defense. By their actions, geared towards convicting Michael Morton, Boutwell and Anderson are responsible for at least one other murder apparently committed by Mark Alan Norwood, who now stands accused of Christine Morton’s death. To me, anyone who by their actions could allow this to happen doesn’t get to be “hard and strong on crime”. Too many people who have that reputation – and this certainly includes now-former Williamson County DA John Bradley, who lost his primary race last year after waging and finally conceding a long battle to keep Michael Morton from doing the DNA test that led to his exoneration – who are more accurately described as being “tough on defendants” or “tough on suspects”. The two are not the same, a lesson I hope is finally starting to sink in. Maybe Mark Alan Norwood would not have been caught in time to prevent him from killing Debra Baker in 1988, but there’s no doubt that Boutwell and Anderson’s zealous pursuit of Michael Morton cost him 25 years of his life, for no good purpose. Had they been as committed to the truth and to justice with the same fervor, the world would be a better place today. It’s time for us to rethink what it means to be “tough on crime”, because the way we use that phrase now, it’s not a virtue.

Payday and title loan regulation in Houston

From Nonsequiteuse, who got the following email in her inbox:

Where payday lending comes from

Proposed City of Houston Lending Ordinance
Presentation to Council Committee
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The City of Houston Legal Department has proposed new regulations for credit access businesses, commonly referred to as payday loan or title loan institutions. The lending practices employed by these various businesses are currently subject to only limited state regulations. Because of such limited regulation and in spite of a borrower’s best intentions, there are those that suffer financial setbacks after they obtain credit and have difficulty repaying their financial obligations. Proposed changes to Chapter 28 of the City of Houston Code of Ordinances would establish minimum business practices for these institutions in hopes of substantially curtailing the likelihood of borrowers becoming trapped in a cycle of debt.

The proposed ordinance will be considered at the Housing, Sustainable Growth and Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 10 a.m., in the Council Chamber on the second floor of City Hall, 901 Bagby, Houston 77002. Public comment is welcome in person or in writing.

To review and comment on the proposed ordinance, visit, Payday Loans (Chapter 28). For questions contact Larry Schenk at [email protected] or 832.393.6447.

See also this press release from CM Wanda Adams. I’m very glad to see the city taking action on this. While it is the case that bills to regulate payday lending have been filed again in the Legislature, there’s no reason to believe any of them will pass, for the payday lending industry has strong defenders of its system working for them. While state or even federal action would be best, there’s no question that a local ordinance can be effective and can get enacted quickly, though of course the payday lenders won’t go without a fight here, either. I noted before an effort by the city of San Antonio to take action against payday lenders. Seeing this made me check up on that, and I’m pleased to see that their ordinance was passed in September. If Houston follows suit, they will join San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas in taking steps to curb the abuses on this industry. These are small steps, but every step forward is a good thing. I urge Council and Mayor Parker to follow through on this.

Two side items to note. One is that the Texas Fair Lending Alliance, which was involved in that San Antonio effort, is the main clearinghouse for the fight in the state legislature. Get involved with them if you want to be a part of this. Two, that Ordinance Feedback link is a reminder that Council has a pretty full agenda ahead of itself. In addition to payday lending, other issues on the horizon are Mobile Food Units, i.e., food trucks; Chapter 42, the density and development code; and Off Street Parking, for which Eating Our Words has an update. Got to pay attention to this stuff, it has at least as much effect on your daily life as what’s going on in Austin and DC.