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June 27th, 2013:

Still standing with Wendy

Let me just say that I hope Sen. Wendy Davis slept in yesterday, and did nothing more strenuous than channel surfing and ordering takeout. She’s earned a lazy day, and a lot more than that. And while she (hopefully) took a well-deserved rest, the media spotlight continued to shine on her.


State Sen. Wendy Davis has held the Texas spotlight before. But Tuesday night’s marathon abortion filibuster propelled her into the national spotlight.

By the time the Senate unsuccessfully forced the vote on some of the nation’s strictest abortion regulations, the 13 hours Davis had spent on her feet challenging the measure had gone viral, drawing praise on social media from President Obama, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and celebrities like author Judy Blume and actors Lena Dunham and Henry Winkler.

“I have never seen a Texas senator suddenly make world news over the course of 13 hours,” said longtime Democratic consultant Harold Cook. “I’m not sure it was possible before Twitter, honestly. At the start of the day, this was a local story. By the end, it was an international story.”

The attention has prompted even more speculation that the Fort Worth Democrat, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008, could be a future statewide contender — even a gubernatorial candidate. At a minimum, she is poised to have a wider fundraising base if she seeks re-election in 2014.

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak predicted that her fundraising potential was now “unlimited.”

“If they were doing really smart things — some of the things Ted Cruz‘s campaign did in the last U.S. Senate race — she can raise millions of dollars over the next couple of months online alone,” he said. “I think she may be able to do that anyway.”


As of late Tuesday night, roughly 200,000 people were watching the proceedings on The Texas Tribune’s YouTube feed. Obama tweeted, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight,” followed by the hashtag “#StandWithWendy.” Even filmmaker Michael Moore and comedian Sarah Silverman got in on the social media action.

Davis started the day with just 1,200 twitter followers; by early Wednesday morning she had more than 46,000.

“Because of the way this worked out, from a procedural and strategic standpoint,” Mackowiak said, “I think the Republican leadership in both chambers of the Legislature unwittingly helped create a national Texas Democratic star.”

Way many reactions from the day after:

Harold Cook
Texas Leftist
Hair Balls
Kos again, with a “Draft Wendy?” post
The Fix
Texas Politics
The Slacktivist, who would like there to be singing the next time this happens. I think he’s onto something there.

And pretty much everywhere else on the Internet. Mashable has a nice social media roundup, Buzzfeed did its Buzzfeed-y thing, and the Observer and Trib have excellent slideshows from the chamber. I think the one with the five forlorn (white male) Republican State Reps from the Trib is my favorite. And if you still can’t get enough, here’s the interview I did with Sen. Davis prior to the 2012 election. Oh, and because the Internet clearly demanded it, here’s the Texas Senate Clock’s Twitter feed. You’re welcome.

At the end of the day yesterday, Rick Perry announced Special Session 2, to finish the issues that were killed by Davis’ heroic filibuster. That will give Davis another chance to fight, however unlikely her success will be, and to give David Dewhurst another chance to make a fool of himself. We all knew this was coming – as I said yesterday, I don’t understand why the Rs didn’t cut bait in the evening and have Perry make the announcement then. If this makes you mad, that’s good, as long as you channel it into something productive. If this makes you feel in despair, please snap out of it. If Wendy Davis can stand and talk for 11 hours straight without any kind of break to make sure that her voice and the voices of women across Texas were heard, the least we can do is honor her effort by not moping about this inevitable piece of news.

We need everyone who has paid even cursory attention to this story to hold onto it at least until next November. Midterm elections are all about who shows up. The Republicans showed us the key to winning in 2010. Like they did then, we need a bunch of our every-four-year voters to break that pattern next year and show up to make their voices heard. I’ve said before that if the same number of people who voted for John Kerry in Texas in 2004 turned out in 2014, Democrats would likely sweep the statewide offices. It’s not rocket science. We still need the candidates, but Lord knows we ought to have all the incentive we could need. You want to #StandWithWendy? Make sure everyone you know that needs to vote next year does so. Winning elections is the best revenge. Hair Balls, BOR, and Stace have more.

Patrick and Williams keep squabbling

Just as a reminder that Senate Republicans don’t need Democrats to stir up trouble, here’s a flare-up of an earlier kerfuffle. Fire one.

In this corner…

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, my colleague, state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, attempted to explain his vote against our no-new-tax balanced state budget that was approved by a supermajority of Republicans.

In part, Patrick, R-Houston, said he opposed the budget due to his concerns about specific public education programs not being funded.

The problem with these comments is that Patrick was directly responsible for these same education programs not being funded. Such revisionism cannot go unchallenged.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I appointed Patrick to lead the committee’s public education workgroup. The full committee adopted, in whole, his public education budget recommendations. These recommendations did not include funding for PSAT/SAT/ACT tests. Supplemental pre-K funding of $40 million was included in the adopted recommendations. Conference committee actions reduced the supplemental pre-K funding by $10 million, which was partially offset by an overall increase in public education formula funding.

Additionally, Patrick lamented in his Tribune interview that the new state budget lacked sufficient Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. But he failed to acknowledge that he offered the Senate floor amendment that eliminated new CTE funding in House Bill 5.

Patrick was the Senate’s lead negotiator on that bill’s conference committee. I also served on the HB 5 conference committee, along with Sens. Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger and Leticia Van de Putte. I specifically told Patrick I would fund eighth-grade CTE (at a cost of $36.1 million) in the budget if he could get the House to agree. Ultimately, he asked me and the other conferees to sign a Conference Committee report which did not include new CTE funding.


Every member of the Legislature has the right and the duty to vote the interests of their district and their conscience. Patrick consistently supported virtually every decision made during the process of writing the appropriations bill. His unannounced opposition to the final version of Senate Bill 1 was a betrayal of every member of the finance committee who worked in good faith to prepare this budget.

I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests.

Fire two.

And in this corner...

Patrick said Friday that he read Williams’ column “with amusement.”

“His attack on me is a classic example of a politician who has forgotten that we represent the people first and foremost,” Patrick said in a statement. “I don’t have to explain my vote to Tommy Williams. I have to explain my vote to the people and I’m happy to do that.”

Patrick described Williams’ arguments in his column as “wrong … or disingenuous at best.” He specifically refuted Williams’ suggestion that Patrick’s vote on the budget was unexpected.

“He had no reason to be surprised by my ‘no’ vote,” Patrick said. “I told him I would be a ‘no’ vote on the budget several days before the bill came to the floor.”

Patrick said Williams’ column is in line with the Senate finance chairman’s recent “attacks” on groups that have criticized the budget, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Following the regular session, Williams also tried to strip Patrick of his chairmanship of the education committee.

“His attacks have been personal in nature and offensive,” Patrick said.

See here for the opening salvo. I have two thoughts about this. One, Dan Patrick is probably going to run for Lite Guv – he has a press conference scheduled for today to discuss his 2014 electoral plans – and in a field with David Dewhurst, Todd Staples, and Jerry Patterson he’s got to have a decent chance to make a runoff. Given how many intramural fights he’s gotten into lately, I have to wonder if stuff like this helps him or hurts him with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. Being “anti-establishment”, even as a multi-term incumbent, is generally a positive in those races, and that’s been his brand. Do these quarrels help fire up his base or does it drive people who might otherwise agree with him away? I have no idea, but perhaps the reaction to Patrick’s announcement, if it is what we think it might be, will give us a clue.

Two, I wonder if these high-profile personality clashes between people who have little ideological distance between them is a sign of healthy debate for a party that hasn’t been greatly challenged at the state level, or a sign of an impending fall by a longstanding hegemon that may be getting a tad stale because it hasn’t needed for years to talk to voters who don’t participate in their increasingly parochial primary elections? In other words, is this further evidence that the Texas GOP of 2013 looks a lot like the Texas Democrats of 1983? (This is the flip side of Colin Strother’s thesis.) I wasn’t around for much of the Texas Dems’ fall, and I wasn’t paying close attention for the time that I was here, but I do remember how nasty the Jim Mattox/Ann Richards primary of 1990 was, and as I recall it went beyond the usual nastiness of politics. Williams/Patrick is on a smaller scale than that – among other things, they’re not both running for the same office – but it’s still pretty similar. They’re also not the only ones talking to a small subset of the electorate to the exclusion of anyone else – everyone from empty suits like Barry Smitherman and longstanding ideologues like Greg Abbott to people with more balanced records of policy and engagement like Dan Branch and Jerry Patterson are doing it. I know, everyone has a primary to win, but does anyone expect anything different after the nominations are settled? I don’t. Like the Dems of the late 80s and early 90s, the inability to talk to voters who aren’t already on your side – and may not be if someone else manages to get through to them – will come back to bite these guys. The question is when. Harold makes a similar point in discussing the SB5 debate, and Burka has more on Patrick v Williams.

Not so fast on voter ID enforcement


Still not Greg Abbott

Top Texas leaders acted without legal authority when they claimed to be moving forward with implementing the state’s controversial voter ID law, a veteran Supreme Court watcher said today.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Steen both said after the Supreme Court struck down the core of the country’s voting rights law Tuesday that the state would begin enforcing laws requiring photo identification for voters.

But Lyle Denniston, a legal scholar who has covered the Supreme Court for 55 years, said the Texas voter ID law cannot take effect immediately.

“This is one of the dumbest statements I’ve heard from an attorney general in a long time,” Denniston, a contributor to the widely read SCOTUSBlog, said.

The state’s voter ID law — as well as any new redistricting plan — cannot be unilaterally implemented, he said.

“[Abbott] has a judgment against him, and that judgment has to be removed before the law can be enforced,” Denniston said. “He cannot do anything while its pending before the Supreme Court unless he withdraws his own petition, and he’s obviously not going to do that.”


In wake of [the SCOTUS Voting Rights Act] ruling, several Texas officials pledged enforce the voter ID bill, which a federal court barred the state from enforcing last August.

But Denniston said that case was not immediately settled Tuesday, because the court struck down a section of the law unrelated to the Texas challenge. He called the attorney general “legally ignorant” for thinking he could advance the laws without the court’s ruling.

Well, we already knew that Greg Abbott’s legal skills were lacking. But that sort of thing never stopped a guy like him. I said when the ruling came down that there would be a lawsuit filed against Texas’ voter ID law. I was right.

Congressman Marc Veasey and other African-American and Hispanic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit this morning in federal court in Corpus Christi to bar the enforcement of Texas’ voter ID law.

Last year, a three-judge panel in Washington had declined to preclear the law under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and, as a result, the law could not be enforced.

With yesterday’s Shelby Co. decision, however, the state became free to begin to take the steps that would be necessary for it to be in a legal position to enforce the law.

The new suit alleges, though, that even if section 5 no longer bars enforcement of the law, the law’s discriminatory effect on minority voters violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that the Texas Legislature enacted the law with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.

The suit also makes a claim that the law violates the Constitution’s 1st amendment by inhibiting free speech and meaningful political association.

The papers asked to the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions barred the law’s enforcement.

Rep. Veasey, of course, was one of the intervenors in both the redistricting and voter ID preclearance lawsuits, so I’m sure he’s well prepared for this. Don’t be surprised if this winds up back before the Supreme Court again some day. Unfair Park has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance is once again ready to wish the Legislature a happy summer as far away from Austin as possible as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Smitherman says he’s in for Attorney General


Barry Smitherman

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman is running for the 2014 Republican nomination for Attorney General, he confirmed to the Tribune. Public announcements via social media are planned for Monday.

Smitherman told the Tribune he hopes to continue the “great work” of current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has yet to declare his own political intentions but is widely believed to have his eye on the Governor’s Mansion.

“In particular,” Smitherman said, “I am focused and interested in continuing to prosecute the federal government, in particular the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

In his capacity as chair of the Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, Smitherman has signed on to multiple lawsuits Abbott has filed against the EPA.

Asked about other priorities, the candidate-to-be highlighted second amendment rights, saying he would fight any federal attempts to ban assault rifles or extended ammo clips, and also immigration. “We have got to do everything within the power of the AG’s office to stop illegal immigration, and I think there are some things to be done there,” he said.

Smitherman grew up near Houston and spent the early part of his career as an investment banker. He later served briefly in the Harris County district attorney’s office before being appointed to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates the electric and telephone industries, in 2004 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was appointed to the Railroad Commission in 2011 and was elected to a full term in 2012.

My aunt worked in the OAG for a number of years before retiring in the late 90s. Do you know what the main function of the AG’s office was back then? Pursuing people who failed to pay child support, and enforcing child support agreements. Pretty quaint, no?

I presume Smitherman’s announcement is predicated on the belief that Greg Abbott is in fact running for Governor. Everyone still thinks that’s what he’s going to do, and while everyone concedes that nobody really knows what Rick Perry is up to or what the decision about his future that he’s supposedly going to make on July 1 will be, the assumption continues to be that the AG’s office will be open. With the announcement of Special Session 2 to begin on July 1, it is possible Perry’s announcement, and thus Abbott’s, may be delayed a bit. Still, barring anything unexpected at this time, we’ll just be trading one grandstanding empty suit for another, and that will be true whether Smitherman wins the GOP nomination or not. I wonder how the child support collections are going these days.