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April 22nd, 2013:

Redistricting remains a partisan issue

We’re not surprised by this, right?

Alternate Plan C236 by Rep. Yvonne Davis

Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger offered a redistricting bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee that would formally adopt interim maps drawn by a federal court in San Antonio last year. The maps for Congressional, state Senate and House districts were used for the 2012 election while a federal court in Washington DC reviewed maps drawn by the Legislature after minority groups filed a lawsuit to block them.

After the 2012 primary, that federal three-judge panel determined that the Republican-controlled Legislature intentionally discriminated against African Americans and Latinos, prompting Attorney General Greg Abbott to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and challenge the court’s authority to review the maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Seliger throwing out the old maps and formally adopting the San Antonio court’s interim maps would end the litigation.

“The interim maps represent the court’s best judgment as to the maps that would be fully legal and constitutional,” he said. “Enacting these lawful and constitutional interim plans will help bring to a close this chapter of redistricting, enacting these plans will practically ensure that the ongoing litigation over Texas redistricting plans will come to a swift end and bring some surety of the primaries ensuing.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus, NAACP and voting rights group Common Cause leapt to oppose the measure and Seliger’s assertions.

“Neither I nor my 11 colleagues … can trust the redistricting process,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, representing Senate Democrats. “Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African American and Latino citizens.”

He said Abbott’s efforts to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and to restore the original maps the Washington court found discriminatory could only lead Democrats and minorities to distrust Seliger’s bill.

Jose Garza, an attorney with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who argued before the Washington court, said Seliger mischaracterized the interim maps and said Washington court’s decision called for the San Antonio court to draw yet another set of maps. He promised continued litigation if the Legislature adopted the interim maps.

In fact, MALC has opposed the plan to adopt the interim maps as permanent all along. I don’t have any idea where he gets the impression that adopting the interim maps would end litigation. The San Antonio court did draw the interim maps based on instructions from SCOTUS to fix what they thought were problems with the legislatively drawn maps, but all that was done well before the preclearance trial, in which the DC court found persistent discrimination in the maps and the process. If they knew then what they know now, it’s very possible, if not likely, that the San Antonio court would have drawn different maps. You can certainly argue that the interim maps are sufficient, the point is that you can also argue that they are not. For that simple reason, adopting them as permanent would not settle the arguments.

Texas Redistricting recaps the hearing, which he calls “relatively sedate”. Of interest is that the Senate Democrats refused to budge at all on this.

Watson told the committee that the Democratic caucus was opposed even to the possibility of taking up the state senate map on a stand alone basis.

Watson explained that’s because although there is no dispute on the interim senate map, the caucus was concerned that House Republicans would amend the bill to add back the state house and congressional maps, after which only a simple majority would be required in the senate to pass the bill. Watson said that after years of redistricting battles, senate Democrats no longer felt they could trust the process.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) also expressed concerns about the process and the possibility that Republicans might try to circumvent the 2/3 rule, noting that deviations from the established rules in 2011 were one of the things cited by the D.C. court as supporting a finding of discriminatory intent.

Senate Dems can use the two-thirds rule to block Sen. Seliger’s map from reaching the floor. House Democrats are also unanimous in their opposition to adopting the interim maps as permanent, though there’s not much they can do to stop it in their chamber short of a walkout. It’s still remarkable to see all 67 Dems in the Lege unite on something.

Anyway, there’s no sign of the House taking up the companion bill by Rep. Drew Darby as yet. Written testimony to the Senate committee is due by 5 PM on April 24.

Court of inquiry issues arrest warrant for Ken Anderson

Wow.

A judge issued an arrest warrant for former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson Friday, after finding probable cause to believe Anderson withheld critical evidence in Michael Morton’s 1987 murder trial.

Judge Louis Sturns concluded his court of inquiry by charging Anderson, who is now a state district judge, with tampering with government records (a misdemeanor), tampering with physical evidence (a felony) and failing to comply with a judge’s order to turn over such evidence, for which he could be held in “contempt of court.”

The rare court of inquiry, in which arguments were made in February, was held to determine whether Anderson, a former district attorney, committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to Morton’s wrongful murder conviction. Morton, who was in attendance for Friday’s decision, spent nearly 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder before he was exonerated.

Sturns said that Anderson purposefully concealed evidence from Morton’s defense attorneys, hiding reports that neighbors had seen a green van outside of the Mortons’ home and a phone transcript in which Morton’s son was said to have told his grandmother a “monster” murdered Morton’s wife.

Rusty Hardin, the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry, told reporters that Anderson would turn himself in at the Williamson County Jail on Friday afternoon, and that he would have to pay a $2,500 bond for each of three separate counts.

As for what happens next, Hardin admitted that nobody involved is sure. “We’re all kind of operating on a clean slate here,” he said, adding that Anderson would be “treated like anybody else.”

See here and here for some background. I wasn’t terribly sympathetic to Anderson after reading his testimony, so I’m not particularly sorry for him now. But as Michael Morton himself reminds us, this is not about punishment but transparency and accountability. Whatever happens next, it’s good that Ken Anderson is being held accountable for his actions. A statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis, who has authored and advocated for more legislation that would help promote that kind of transparency and accountability, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Grits has a copy of Judge Sturns’ order.

(more…)

Grier asks for Apollo money

It is his signature program.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier on Thursday lobbied the school board for at least $17 million to expand his Apollo school reform effort, noting new research showing its benefits.

Grier is facing resistance from some trustees – though likely not enough to defeat his plan – as they consider a possible tax increase to balance the Houston Independent School District’s $1.5 billion total budget for next year.

“I’m going to say this 100,000 times if I need to,” he told the board. “It simply takes more money to educate children who are really far behind, to bring them back up to grade level.”

Grier is seeking the extra money to maintain key parts of the Apollo program: hiring tutors to work with small groups of students and extending the school day by an hour. He proposes funding the effort at 16 middle and high schools, up from the nine that started the program in 2010.

The program also would continue in 11 elementary schools that began a scaled-down version in 2011.

[…]

Grier’s administration estimates needing an extra $52 million to $73 million to balance the district’s budget next year, including adding funding for the Apollo program. The numbers could change depending on the state’s final budget.

In February, Grier’s administration floated the idea of raising property taxes, and documents given to trustees Thursday included scenarios of increasing the rate from 3 to 6 cents.

That increase would come on top of the 1-cent tax hike planned for 2014 to help fund the recent bond issue for school construction. Combined, they raise the tax bills of the owner of a $200,000 home by as much as $100, assuming no change in property value.

Unclear what the Board will do with Grier’s request; the story had one favorable comment from Harvin Moore and one skeptical comment from Manuel Rodriguez. The main question is going to be the money. The House just approved some more money in the supplemental budget for public education, which might help HISD for the upcoming year, but committing more resources to Apollo is an ongoing expense. If it’s working, it’s a pretty good investment. I haven’t been paying close enough attention to have a strong opinion on this, so I look forward to seeing what the Board has to say about it.

Some things can’t be rebranded

Louie Gohmert, ladies and gentlemen.

implied-facepalm

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) warned Wednesday that “radical Islamists” are being “trained to act like Hispanic[s]” and cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border,” he said Wednesday on C-Span. “We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists. We know these things are happening. It is just insane not to protect ourselves, to make sure that people come in as most people do … They want the freedoms we have.”

He compared the United States to Israel, and said that the nation might need a border fence in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. “Finally the Israeli people said, ‘You know what? Enough.’ They built a fence, and the rest is a wall to prevent snipers from knocking off their kids. They finally stopped the domestic violence from people that wanted to destroy them. I am concerned we might need to do that as well,” he said, adding he didn’t know whether the attack in Boston was domestic or foreign in origin.

Gohmert has previously asserted that pregnant women were coming to the U.S. to have babies to take advantage of birthright citizenship, where their infants would grow up to be terrorists.

Far be it from me to give advice to the GOP, which would have every right to be suspicious of any help I’d be willing to give them. I don’t really believe they’re sincere about “rebranding” themselves, since most of what they’re saying is that they just need to do a better job of communicating the same old ideas they’ve always held and that will be that. But to whatever extent they are sincere about giving themselves a makeover – and even I will admit that they are to some extent on immigration and gay rights – I don’t see how you can truly claim to have changed while people like Louie Gohmert remain in good standing. If the powers that be in the GOP don’t see the likes of Gohmert as a problem, or are unwilling/unable to to anything about it if they do, then no change is possible. Juanita, our state’s foremost expert on all things Louie, and Campos have more.