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June 19th, 2013:

Getting out the “hard-to-motivate Latino vote” in Farmers Branch

Great story about Ana Reyes, the first Hispanic person elected to City Council in Farmers Branch, in the first election after a lawsuit forced the city to adopt single-member Council districts, and how she actually got elected.

CM Ana Reyes

“What happened here is what helped us get off the couch,” Ana Reyes said, inside a childhood home filled with landscape paintings by her father, Antonio.

Insult after insult hurled at Hispanics, from the ordinance to public taunts about catching “illegals,” would eventually lead to a campaign directive of “pound, pound, pound.”

That would be the sound the candidate and her campaign team made as they knocked multiple times on nearly every door in a newly carved City Council district, a so-called Hispanic opportunity district because of the concentration of U.S. citizens of voting age.

[…]

Ana Reyes, 39, credits her mother for demanding she attend council sessions in 2006.

But she said political consultant Jeff Dalton and his firm Democracy Toolbox propelled success forward.

“The Hispanic component of the vote has always been the brick wall,” said Dalton, who works exclusively for Democrats or in nonpartisan municipal elections.

In fact, in the 2012 presidential race, Hispanics punched way below their weight with a turnout of only 48 percent. The top-performing group, black voters, participated at a 66 percent rate, according to newly released U.S. Census Bureau data.

The political strategist said he methodically plotted data on the likelihood of a Reyes vote on a scale of 1 to 5 through canvassing. At one point, Dalton’s data showed Reyes in a dead heat with her opponent, William Capener, a print shop manager with ties to the local tea party.

Canvassing intensified. Ana Reyes walked the entire District 1 three times, including on election day. Others followed in her steps until the nearly 1,800 voters in the district had received about a dozen visits.

“Her brother walked,” Dalton said. “Her sister walked. Her mother walked. There was an excitement level generated by that. It was like pound, pound, pound.”

Nadia Khan-Roberts, a Spanish teacher living in Farmers Branch, volunteered for the Reyes get-out-the-vote effort. One man told Khan-Roberts: “Todos estos politicos no hacen nada y ella va a ser lo mismo. All politicians do nothing, and she’ll be the same.”

Khan-Roberts countered, “With that attitude nothing will change. The baby that cries the loudest gets the milk.”

A prayer group of women dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe even met weekly at the local Mary Immaculate Catholic Church.

On May 11, Ana Reyes won with 62 percent of the vote. Dalton, the consultant, believes that half of the Hispanic vote was “low-propensity,” or hard to-budge, and hadn’t voted in more than one of the last five elections.

“Something special happened,” said Dalton, who wants to replicate the strategy on a larger scale.

See here for the background. I trust we all see the parallels between Reyes’ victory and the future success or failure of Battleground Texas. Good candidates, direct contact with voters, giving voters compelling reasons to vote that connect with their daily lives – it’s not rocket science, but it is hard work, and it’s going to be a long-term process. But victories build momentum, and they provide paths forward. What worked for Ana Reyes in Farmers Branch can and will work elsewhere, if we learn from her experience and apply those lessons to other races. And when someone tells you it can’t be done, point to Farmers Branch and Council Member Ana Reyes and tell them oh yes it can.

And then get back to work, because the fight isn’t over when the ballots are counted. The fight is just beginning.

During her 2013 campaign, on three occasions, motorists parked outside her home in a Valwood Parkway neighborhood where residents know each other’s cars.

Ana Reyes went outside to knock on the driver’s window and ask if she could help. He said he’d run out of gas, she said. She went to get a gas container, but when she returned the man was gone.

In another instance, she took a photo of the license plate, and the driver of that vehicle never returned.

But Ana Reyes said her experience “does not compare to what Elizabeth Villafranca and other Latino candidates experienced.”

Villafranca, a Farmers Branch restaurateur who ran for City Council in 2009, faced slurs and what she called stalking. Ruben Rendon, a school psychologist who ran for office in 2008, was called “an illegal.” Rendon, who was born in Texas, now says, “All of this was so stupid.”

Candidate Reyes visited with a Dallas County election manager to ask about harassment prevention. She found out the department’s responsibility was limited to a constricted perimeter near polling machines.

The campaign took its own action.

“We hired constables to make sure order was maintained,” she said. “We are not going to tolerate it anymore.”

[…]

Farmers Branch Mayor Bill Glancy said he hoped the new council members, who include Kirk Connally, a 73-year-old retiree who beat an incumbent, would want “good things for the city.”

But regarding Ana Reyes, he said, “You never know what someone is until they are in office. There is campaigning and then there is serving.”

Ana Reyes is now an elected official. That gives her power, but it doesn’t mean respect will follow. The appalling behavior that Reyes and those who went before her in Farmers Branch had to put up with isn’t going to just disappear, and neither will the people who exhibited such behavior. There will be plenty of people rooting for her to fail, and working to undermine her. If Mayor Glancy’s attitude is any indication, some of those people will be her colleagues. Ana Reyes made history by winning this race, but there’s a lot more of the story to be written.

Transportation funding advances

Between redistricting and abortion, transportation funding has taken a bit of a back seat in the special session despite being the first additional item on the agenda. The Senate took the first step on that yesterday.

Sen. Robert Nichols

Despite concerns raised by both Republicans and Democrats, senators on Tuesday tentatively passed a resolution that aims to solve the state’s transportation funding woes by diverting future revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would eventually have to be approved as a constitutional amendment in November by voters, would split a portion of oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund between that fund and the State Highway Fund.

With traffic on Texas roads continuing to rise and transportation funding at a 10-year low, the state’s department of transportation “needs a revenue stream that allows for future planning,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

[…]

The resolution is estimated to add nearly $1 billion a year for transportation, money that would keep coming in until the drilling boom dies. But, as Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, pointed out, that is only a fraction of the $4 billion a year that transportation officials say that TxDOT needs to maintain current traffic levels.

“This problem is not going to go away. It’s only going to get worse. The 4 billion barely relieves congestion,” he said. “As politicians we don’t need to go around thumping our chests saying we fixed the problem. We need to be realistic to voters and taxpayers and tell them it’s going to take more money in the form of new revenue to fix this problem.”

[…]

SJR 2 needs a final vote to officially pass the Senate, and it must be approved by the House, where lawmakers have offered their own proposals. Instead of directly pumping up the highway fund, House Joint Resolution 16 from Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would send some of the revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to public education, undoing a long-standing diversion of the state’s 20-cent gas tax, of which a nickel currently goes to schools. The measure has the backing of the House’s lead budget writer, state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who has signed on as a co-author.

Pickett’s proposal could draw support from some House Republicans who had opposed additional funding for TxDOT during the regular session in part because the measures didn’t end the gas tax diversion. Yet those same lawmakers may be wary of any proposal that reduces the funding stream to the Rainy Day Fund, widely regarded as the state’s savings account.

For either proposal to pass, they will need to muster strong bipartisan support as both amend the state’s Constitution, a move that requires the backing of two-thirds of both chambers.

The fact that this is a Constitutional amendment and thus requires a two-thirds vote in order to pass actually gives the Democrats some leverage on the abortion issue.

Since there are 12 Democrats in the chamber, Republicans will need the support of at least two of them for the transportation proposal But most of the Democrats are opposed to the abortion measures, so there’s a chance of extracting concessions for their vote on transportation.

Of course, that depends on how things play out among the Democrats. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is voting for the abortion measures, so there’s no reason for him to vote against transportation on that front. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted for one of the abortion measures in committee, but against the rest, so I want to ask her what she plans to do. Other Democrats may have reasons for supporting the transportation measure.

Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who heads the Senate Democratic Caucus, said some senators are determined to use whatever tools they have “to try to stop this assault on women.”

While Republicans generally support the anti-abortion measures, some have expressed concern about various proposals, which include a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, increased regulations for abortion facilities, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and new requirements for administering drugs that cause abortions. The provisions are wrapped into one omnibus bill, and there are separate bills on each.

There was also a math problem for Democrats who oppose the proposed new abortion regulations, related to procedural rules and Tuesday attendance. The transportation measure is ahead of the abortion legislation on the “regular order of business” agenda for the Senate, meaning a two-thirds vote would have been required to take up the abortion measures first and bypass the transportation. But this two-thirds requirement isn’t a hard two-thirds — it’s a two-thirds of those present. And not all the Democrats are present now.

It may all get worked out, but the delay shows the difficulty for Republicans who thought they could discount Democrats by virtue of special-session rules, which don’t require a two-thirds vote to take up all legislation.

Remember, the session ends next Thursday. It will be fine by me if the session runs out without the abortion legislation passing, of course. Yes, I know, Rick Perry can call them back again. But who knows, maybe he won’t. Until something passes, there’s hope. In the meantime, the full House will take up redistricting this Thursday, after the committee cleaned up its little oops from Monday. We are definitely headed into the home stretch. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: Senate Democrats did ultimately get something for their leverage over the transportation bill, but not much.

After hours of emotional debate, the Senate late on Tuesday evening approved omnibus legislation to tighten abortion restrictions.

“My objective first and foremost, second and third, is to raise the standard of care,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the author of Senate Bill 5, which passed 20-10 and now heads to the House for approval.

SB 5 includes three abortion regulation measures that failed to reach the floor of either chamber during the regular legislative session: a requirement that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has filed as SB 24 in the special session; a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility; and a requirement that if doctors administer the abortion inducing drug, RU-486, they do so in person, which state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has proposed separately in SB 18 in the special session.

In a debate that lasted late into the evening, conservative Republican legislators who supported the measure argued it was designed to protect women and improve the standard of care for abortion services. Most Democratic senators, however, contended the abortion bill was designed to curry favor with GOP primary voters and that it amounted to an attack on women’s constitutional rights to access health care.

Hegar early in the debate offered an amendment, which was accepted, that removed the so-called preborn pain provision that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks of gestation. Although he strongly supported the 20-week ban on abortion, which he filed separately as SB 13, Hegar said he felt it was necessary to remove the provision from SB 5 so that the House would have adequate opportunity to debate the bill. He denied an insinuation by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that he had compromised his “pro-life position for political expediency.”

“It appears to me at this point, this committee substitute seems the most practical and logical way for us to talk about standard of care, while also trying to protect innocent life,” Hegar said.

I suppose if the House adds back the 20-week limit or otherwise amends SB5, there’s a chance it could still get blown up before the end of the special session. I sure hope so.

Would you pay more for pre-K in Harris County?

You might get the chance to vote on it.

pre-k

The recently formed Harris County School Readiness Corp., a group whose membership includes former Houston first lady Andrea White, is circulating a petition calling for the placement of an item on the next election ballot that would increase the county property tax rate by 1 cent, generating about $25 million a year to train teachers and buy school supplies for child-care centers serving children up to age 5.

“All the recent brain science development has indicated that early childhood education is absolutely pivotal,” said Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board and a former Houston city attorney. “The business community and academics, everybody’s of the single mind that, if there is a single point of investment for leverage to improve children’s education, it’s at early childhood.”

The initiative stems from a recommendation made in an April report commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership and the Collaborative for Children. It is similar to one launched by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, which ended in voters last year approving a modest sales tax hike to build new pre-kindergarten centers.

The corporation, however, faces several big hurdles before voters have a say.

Chief among them: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who says he believes the state law dictating the petition process the group is following is no longer valid.

While most county-related matters require the approval of the five-member Harris County Commissioners Court, the corporation is going by a process laid out in a state law that technically no longer is on the books that says county judges must call elections to increase the tax rates of county education departments if enough signatures are collected on a petition. The corporation will have to gather at least 78,000.

While conceding that the group’s legal interpretation “may be right” and describing childhood education as “a great need,” Emmett said he believes that portion of the education code no longer applies, and has asked the county attorney’s office to review it.

“I’m going to ask probably even the attorney general if I have to,” Emmett said, expressing a declining lack of confidence in the education department for hiring lobbyists to visit court members and state lawmakers. “They didn’t recodify these sections and you can’t find these anywhere in state statutes today.”

The issue here is that only two counties, Harris and Dallas, still have education departments. As is often the case, the laws on the books don’t quite line up with current reality, and as such there’s an ambiguity. Judge Emmett will seek counsel about that, as he should, but it’s a lead pipe cinch that if this election goes forward and the proponents of raising the tax rate win, someone will file a lawsuit to invalidate it. I can already hear Paul Bettencourt and the Hotze brothers cracking their knuckles in anticipation. Hell, there will probably be a lawsuit even before the election if enough petition signatures are collected to require one. At least then we’ll have a more definitive answer to the Judge’s question, though it might be quicker to just wait till 2015 and try to get a bill passed to clarify matters then.

Be that as it may, getting to the point of having an election is no sure thing. As Campos calculates, it’ll take about 78,000 signatures to clear that bar. I’m not exactly sure what that is based on – it’s always some percentage of the turnout of the previous election, but what that percentage is and which election it’s derived from are unknown to me. It’s also not clear to me that this would pass if it made it onto the ballot. The San Antonio pre-k initiative that Mayor Julian Castro championed passed with 53.56% of the vote, which is solid but not overwhelming and it happened in a city rather than a county in a high-turnout election. It’s easy to visualize the campaign against this initiative, no matter how good it sounds on paper. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea, I’m just saying it’s far from a slam-dunk.

There’s not a lot of information out there about the Harris County School Readiness Corporation right now – no webpage or Facebook presence, though I am told both will be up soon. I did get this press release yesterday, which fills in a few blanks.

Houston: Citizens for School Readiness made a presentation today to the Harris County Board of Education on the importance of early childhood education. The Board received a report commissioned by the Houston Endowment and conducted by the Greater Houston Partnership and Collaborative for Children, demonstrating the need for improved early education. Also presented to the Board was a plan to place a ballot measure before the voters this November that would create a dedicated revenue stream for early childhood education.

The additional revenues will be overseen by the Harris County School Readiness Corporation, a public/private partnership board headed by Mr. James Calaway, Chairman of the Board of the Center for Houston’s Future. Also serving on the board is Houston’s Former First Lady, Mrs. Andrea White, as well as Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Mr. Jonathan Day former Houston City Attorney and civic leader, leading Houston businessman Mr. Lupe Fraga, Ms. Y. Ping Sun, and Ms. Laura Jaramillo, Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo.

A poll conducted by Dr. Richard Murray of the University of Houston found strong support for the proposed measure. Dr. Murray’s survey showed, “Nearly 70% of county voters said a local effort to improve early childhood education in Harris County should be a priority.”

“People from every sector of this city recognize the critical importance of strengthening early childhood education for our youngest children. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and children need to enter kindergarten already knowing their ABCs and with their skill sets already developed.” said Mr. Jonathan Day, referencing numerous studies that tout the long-term social benefits of early childhood education programs.

There’s more, so click over and read the rest. Like I said, I think the hill is a lot steeper than Dr. Murray’s poll suggests, but I daresay the pro-pre-K group won’t be outspent. What do you think about this?

UPDATE: HCDE trustees approve the plan, which has a wrinkle I didn’t catch the first time around.

The Harris County Department of Education board of trustees voted 6-1 Tuesday to allow its superintendent to review a proposal calling for a 1-cent increase to the agency’s tax rate to fund early childhood education programs. Board members, however, expressed concern about the lack of oversight they may have under the proposal, pitched by recently formed nonprofit Harris County School Readiness Corp.

The group’s plan, which it presented to the board on Tuesday, involves collecting at least 78,000 signatures on a petition, which would – according to a 1937 state law – require the county judge to place the tax hike on the next election ballot.

The increase would generate an additional $25 million a year, which would be used in part to train teachers to staff child-care centers in the county serving children up to age 5. If voters were to approve the hike, the nonprofit’s plan says its own board would administer the new revenue.

The item approved by the board Tuesday allows the superintendent to review the plan and later bring a recommendation back to the board.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the funds being administered by the unelected board of a nonprofit. See CPRIT for the reasons why. I’d still like to see pre-k funding happen, but I’d like to know more about how these funds would be administered.

Don’t expect much from the review of Judge Edith Jones

History says that nothing much will happen.

Judge Edith Jones

Federal judicial disciplinary action is extremely rare in the United States, where district and circuit judges enjoy lifetime appointments and more than 95 percent of complaints are dismissed.

However, some jurists have been disciplined and some publicly apologized after being accused of misconduct related to complaints of alleged racial, gender or ethnic biases.

Mocking the dialect of a black defendant during a hearing by writing “Ah is Important” on a note, and other offensive quips earned U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald a 2000 reprimand for “offensive banter.”

McDonald, now deceased, had passed the notes to a court employee and intended them to be private. They became public after being dug out of the trash and passed to a Spokane newspaper reporter.

[…]

Repeatedly, judicial slips of the lip – and crude jokes – have avoided public sanction, especially when a jurist accused of misconduct offers an apology.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took no action against Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who apologized after forwarding a racist email “joke” about President Barack Obama that included a reference to bestiality, though the Montana Human Rights Network filed a formal complaint asking for Cebull’s resignation.

The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 gave federal judges the power to secretly vet and, when necessary, to investigate misconduct complaints against their peers. Hundreds are filed each year. However, only Congress can impeach or remove a district or circuit judge for so-called “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

[…]

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, reviewed affidavits and the complaint and said that even if Jones’ remarks offended some listeners, they did not appear to rise to the level of judicial misconduct.

“The judge has firm views but … it is normal for judges to express their views on contested issues especially before legal audiences and in law schools,” he said.

In the last three decades, only four former chief circuit court judges, including Jones, have faced a public misconduct complaint. Two received no public disciplinary action.

See here and here for the background. Even if the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals writes up a report about Judge Jones, it may never be made public. It would be nice to imagine Jones facing some actual consequences for her words, but it seems highly unlikely that will happen.