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April 9th, 2013:

Early voting safe for now

Glad to hear it.

A bill that would slash the number of days allowed for early voting is likely to be pulled after scathing testimony Monday from opponents who said the bill was discriminatory and retrogressive.

House Bill 2093, by state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, would limit the early-voting period in Texas to seven days before general and primary elections. Current law mandates 12 days.

Harless initially said the measure was necessary to help elections administrators hire workers and volunteers, saying that a 12-day early-voting period as a possible deterrent.

But after testimony at Monday’s House Elections Committee hearing, where critics slammed its intent as little more than an effort to make casting a ballot harder for everyone, Harless said she would not ask the committee for a vote.

“This bill wasn’t about voter suppression, it was not about limiting access to the polls,” she said. “I will be happy to pull the bill down. I think it’s perfect for an interim study.”

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said the bill would move Texas backward by limiting the number of voting days available and by creating longer lines on days when voting is permitted. She added that increased wait times would drive potential voters away.

“The bill lacks a rational basis in election administration and will reduce voter confidence in Texas,” she testified.

Michael Li, who live-tweeted the hearing, detailed some of the specific objections.

Several county election administrators testified that the bill, in fact, might increase costs if they were to try to have more early voting locations in response to a reduction in the number of days of early voting. They explained, that’s because they would need buy additional equipment and hire more staff for the additional locations. If funds for additional equipment were not available, one administrator said it likely would mean moving early voting to larger sites since in many counties nearly half the early vote comes in the week that the bill would lop off.

A number of other witnesses testified about a negative impact on voting in Texas and pointed out that the issue cut across party lines – noting that Mitt Romney received 65% of his total vote and Ted Cruz 66% of his in early voting (a higher percentage than Democratic candidates received).

Glen Maxey of the Texas Democratic Party, in fact, went so far as to call HB 2093 “a voter suppression bill for Republicans.”

See Li’s preview for everything you’d have wanted to know about HB 2093 going into the hearing. That last comment above highlights the most puzzling aspect of this bill. In Harris County, at least, early voting is generally dominated by Republicans. I don’t know about you, but I remember a non-trivial amount of freaking out among Democrats during the first week of early voting last year, when it was clear that the Rs had taken a substantial lead. Dems largely caught up over the last few days of early voting, and then won Election Day, but the pattern in 2012 has been the norm in Harris County, not the exception.

Year EV STR% EV STD % ED STR % ED STD % =============================================== 2002 53.77% 45.76% 49.86% 49.31% 2004 54.83% 44.85% 50.85% 48.55% 2006 50.97% 48.20% 45.98% 52.82% 2008 42.70% 56.94% 49.81% 49.33% 2010 57.56% 41.89% 48.59% 50.55% 2012 50.84% 48.63% 45.18% 53.45%

EV = Early Vote, ED = Election Day; STR = Straight Ticket Republican, STD = Straight Ticket Democrat. Numbers don’t add to 100% because of third-party straight ticket voting.

Obviously, 2008 is the outlier. I think memories of that year are what motivated this bill, and also what caused that aforementioned freakout. But in every other year where early voting has existed, Republicans have taken a majority of the early straight ticket vote, while Democrats have won Election Day in three of the five. In all cases except 2008, Republicans did better in early voting than on Election Day. Frankly, I don’t understand why the Harris County GOP didn’t oppose this bill.

Another way to look at it is the volume of early voting, again in Harris County:

Year EV total ED total ========================== 2002 148,696 457,102 2004 411,821 629,333 2006 171,284 406,579 2008 678,449 442,770 2010 392,141 351,287 2012 700,982 427,100

This time, 2008 is an inflection point. We like early voting. I see no reason to believe that will change. Reducing the number of days to vote early can only make the experience worse. Which, it must be said, was likely part of the calculus, Rep. Harless’ stated surprise notwithstanding.

After the hearing Harless said the opposition came as a complete shock. Had the opponents “bothered to pick up a phone” and call her office, she would have not wasted the committee’s time, she said.

Oh, please. I don’t know how old Rep. Harless is, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t born yesterday. This bill serves no obvious purpose. What did she think the reaction was going to be? Texas Politics has more, and Michael Li recaps the other bills that were heard in the Elections Committee yesterday.

News flash: Ted Cruz is not KBH

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Not Ted Cruz

For nearly two decades, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison delivered thousands of federal projects to Texas that added billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

The leader of a bipartisan approach known as “Team Texas,” Hutchison worked with Democrats and Republicans to send federal dollars to Texas, even if it occasionally got her in trouble with spending hawks in her party.

Now, in Hutchison’s absence, Texans in Washington are struggling to come up with a unified strategy to return Texas taxpayers’ dollars to the Lone Star State.

“On appropriations, she was just relentless,” said Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. “We’re certainly going to miss her. We haven’t seen the full impact of Sen. Hutchison’s departure.”

Complicating matters for Texas is that Hutchison, a specialist in back-room negotiations and bipartisan relationship-building, was replaced by Ted Cruz, a hard-charging partisan who has focused primarily on high-profile national issues such as guns, abortion and health care.

He also has vowed to balance the federal budget by cutting government spending, even in his home state.

“The departure of Sen. Hutchison, the ascendancy of Cruz as a national leader and the current budget crunch all combine to form a perfect storm that will result in less money coming back to Texas for the foreseeable future,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political strategist and former aide to Hutchison.

Members of the congressional delegation, business leaders and Texas academics say the most endangered projects include federal spending on education, health care and transportation, in which the end of earmarks has shifted decision-making power over spending to officials of the Obama administration.

“Texas conservatives, in both the House and Senate, seem not to realize that you cannot both be the core of the opposition to administration programs and the frequent beneficiary of administration largesse,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

In other news, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and hitting yourself on the head with a hammer causes headaches. Ted Cruz is doing what he said he would do. If we don’t like it, it’s on us to do something about it in 2018. I don’t think there’s anything more I can add to this.

Feeling good about the Super Bowl bid

The city of Houston has submitted its bid to host Super Bowl LI in 2017, and they feel pretty good about their chances.

Houston’s competition will be San Francisco or Miami – the city that fails to get the coveted Super Bowl L.

League owners will vote on both Super Bowls on May 22 in Boston.

For now, Houston officials are confident but cautious because they know there are more steps in the process to host the first Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium since 2004, when New England defeated Carolina.

“We feel really good about our chances,” said Ric Campo, chairman of the host committee. “We believe Houston will be hard to beat.”


Campo, chairman and chief executive officer of Camden Properties, pointed out the numerous improvements the city has made or will make before 2017.

“The east-west light rail will be completed in 2014,” he said. “We’re building a new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis that’ll be a bookend to the Hilton-Americas. We’ve got Discovery Green.

“The NFL requires at least 19,000 rooms in the city. We have more than 20,000, including 6,000 downtown.

“For fans and visiting teams, it’s going to be the ultimate experience. We’ve got world-class buildings and incredible venues for the NFL Experience and Super Bowl Village.”

Don’t forget our nationally-known restaurant scene now, too. It’s a little funny to think how much has changed since Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. We’ve been confident about our chances from the get go. We’ll see if our optimism is warranted.

The general feeling around the NFL is that San Francisco, with its new stadium in Santa Clara, will beat out South Florida for Super Bowl L. South Florida is trying to get $400 million for stadium improvements.

At the league’s spring meetings in Phoenix last month, officials from South Florida met with the owners and asked for help.

“The mayor of Miami was trying to get the NFL to make a commitment that if they passed this referendum there, they’d get a Super Bowl,” Texans owner Bob McNair said in Phoenix. “The league would not make that kind of commitment.

“They had no assurance that if we voted them a Super Bowl that they would get the money. I think the governmental bodies in South Florida are going to have to move first and say, ‘OK, we’re going to approve the stadium, and we’ll take our chances on the Super Bowl.’

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Miami that will impact our chances of getting the Super Bowl. If they don’t get improvements to their stadium, I think that’ll work against them.”

You would think that after the debacle that was the financing of Marlins Stadium that the Dolphins would be tarred and feathered for making such a request, but this is Florida. You have to grade on a curve.

In related news, via Swamplot the city also put in its bid to host the Summer X-Games for the next three years. (See here for more on that.) We won’t know the answer for that until August, though we will know if we make the next round of cuts shortly. We have a lot more competition for this, including Austin and Fort Worth. Wouldn’t it be cool to get both bids?

Skilling might get a sentence reduction

But don’t expect him to get out of jail anytime soon.

Attorneys for former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling and the Department of Justice are discussing an agreement to reduce his prison time and possibly avert a drawn-out court battle.

Those involved didn’t disclose Thursday how much his 24-year sentence might be shortened through a settlement, though appeals court rulings in 2009 and 2010 made some reduction likely.

“I don’t suspect that that sentence is going to let Skilling out of jail anytime soon,” said Bill Mateja, former senior counsel to the U.S. attorney general. “I would suspect that there’s going to be some reduction, but certainly he’s going to spend a significant time in prison.”

Skilling, who has served six years, was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading for his role in the collapse of the Houston energy company.


The Justice Department issued a notice to victims on Thursday about the talks with Skilling’s attorneys and invited those affected by the case to file comments about a possible sentencing deal.

“The Department of Justice is considering entering into a sentencing agreement with the defendant in this matter,” said the notice on the Justice Department’s website. “Such a sentencing agreement could restrict the parties and the court from recommending, arguing for, or imposing certain sentences or conditions of confinement. It could also restrict the parties from challenging certain issues on appeal, including the sentence ultimately imposed by the court at a future sentencing hearing.”

The notice describes potential victims as “thousands of former Enron employees, owners of Enron securities and other persons who were harmed as a result of the crimes for which the defendant will be sentenced.”

A Justice Department official said Thursday evening that the government’s goal “is to ensure that Mr. Skilling be appropriately punished for his crimes, and that victims finally receive the restitution they deserve.”

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake held a private conference call with attorneys from both sides last month about the potential deal. Skilling has been waiting to be re-sentenced after a federal appeals panel in 2009 ruled his sentencing was too harsh.

“Because of the complexity of the case and its age, I think it’s probable both parties felt that it was best to come up with a negotiated compromise,” said Houston lawyer Philip Hilder, a former federal prosecutor. “A full-blown sentencing hearing would require a lot of resources and would be time-consuming and difficult because of the age of the case.”

Maybe you can blame sequestration for that. Skilling asked for a new trial last year, claiming to have “new evidence” that would exonerate him. His conviction was upheld in 2011 after a SCOTUS review of his case, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him to be re-sentenced in 2009 as part of the original ruling that upheld his conviction. These things do take time, don’t they? Skilling is the last of the Enron defendants still entwined in the justice system. We’ll see what happens.