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January, 2014:

Judicial Q&A: Allecia Pottinger

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Allecia Pottinger

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am a wife and mother who has practiced law as an attorney in Harris County and its surrounding counties for over 18 years. After becoming the staff attorney for the NAACP in 1997, I was later elected the legal program director for the organization. In 1997, I started working for the NAACP as the staff attorney and later became their legal program director. Currently, I am a hearing examiner for the Texas Education Agency and an independent practitioner who founded the Lindsey Pottinger Law Firm, PLLC, which specializes in Family Law.

I’m running for judge for the 280th District Court of Harris County, which hears all of the domestic violence cases in the county, and issues protective orders.

The desire I have is simply to be an honest and fair judge, and to work for the people of the community in which I serve. I am vehemently against any form of domestic violence, and seek to issue protection to families in need, offer opportunities for those cemented in the cycle of violence, and fair solutions for the parties involved in these circumstances.

I believe that every judge should care about the people they serve, be fair, and listen to their concerns!

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Judicial District Court of Harris County is solely responsible for all of the civil domestic violence cases in Harris County and only those types of cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have a passion for those who are abused, downtrodden and disenfranchised. I can’t think of any other court where my service as a judge would impact people whom I have a passion for. Further, I have been dishearten by a consistent decrease in numbers of domestic violence cases brought before the court since the current presiding judge has been on the bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law for a little over 18 years and 60% of my practice has been in the area of family law. Equally, I have had experience of hearing cases as an administrative law judge for the Texas Education Agency and issuing decisions on the cases I have heard. This experience has prepared me for this opportunity.

5. Why is this race important?

In 2012, there were 38,490 incidents of domestic violence reported in Harris County.

  • 26% of all Texas female intimate homicides occurred in Harris County in 2012.
  • 30 women were killed in 2012 in Harris County due to domestic violence.
  • In 2009, the Houston Police Department alone tallied 27,214 reported incidents of domestic violence.
  • The most recent year for which complete area- and state-wide data is available is 2009. Law-enforcement agencies in Harris County received 41,506 reports of domestic violence.

However, these numbers are not reflected in the amount of cases that flow through the 280th District Court at this time. The numbers are so low that this court doesn’t warrant having an associate judge which is what most family law courts have in this county. This means that more needs to be done to ensure that this court is sensitive to the needs of those who will come before this court seeking help. It also means that the court needs to create an atmosphere that is conducive to more attorneys desiring to practice before this court on a pro bono basis so that more victims can be served.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I am the candidate who has integrity, cares about the people she serves and will be fair. I am not swayed by public opinion, but only what is right. I strive for justice, and am not afraid to administer it as swiftly as possible. My desire is for the victims who will potentially come before me; not for political gain. I want those who step into my courtroom to know a decision will be reached based on the facts; not conjecture or presupposition, or biased opinion.

TRO against Wilson lifted

He gets to take his seat. After that, I don’t know what happens.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

A judge Wednesday declined to prohibit small businessman and anti-gay activist Dave Wilson from taking his seat at the first meeting of the board of the Houston Community College Thursday.

State District Judge Brent Gamble turned back efforts by the Harris County Attorney’s Office to get a new temporary restraining order to keep Wilson from taking the dais as questions about his residency are litigated.

Another civil court judge had previously granted a restraining order prohibiting Wilson from taking the oath of office and declined to issue another one, saying the issues raised around Wilson will be heard in the court where the case landed when it was filed in December.

Wilson’s position is that he was not properly served with the restraining order before taking the oath at the beginning of the year after being elected in November.

This is the early story – it wasn’t on the houstonchronicle.com site by the time I went to bed – so I don’t know what Judge Gamble’s reasoning was. From this, it seems he can be seated but not take the oath of office, and I have no idea what that means. Nor do I know what happens if Judge Engelhart eventually rules that Wilson was ineligible for the ballot. So for at least one meeting, Wilson gets to be a trustee, and sometime after next week we find out if there’s an asterisk next to his name or not.

UPDATE: The paywall story is the same is the chron.com version, so that’s all we’ve got for now.

ACA enrollments in Texas

As was the case with the rest of the country, there was a big surge in December.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas enrollments in the online insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act rose nearly eightfold in December, according to 2013 figures that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Monday.

Texas ranks third in the number of 2013 enrollments following the troubled launch of healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. As of Dec. 28, nearly 120,000 Texans had purchased coverage in the federal marketplace, up from 14,000 one month before.

The number represents a tiny fraction of the uninsured in Texas, which has a higher percentage of people without health coverage than any other state. In 2012, more than 6 million Texans, about 24 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, according to U.S. census data.

Florida led the nation in the number of 2013 enrollments, with 158,000. In a media call from Tampa, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised Florida’s high enrollment numbers. Like Texas, Florida has a largely unfavorable political climate toward the Affordable Care Act, and a high rate of the uninsured, at 21 percent. HHS officials offered no explanation for why more people enrolled in some states compared with others.

“The numbers show that there is a very strong national demand for affordable health care made possible by the Affordable Care Act,” Sebelius said in the call announcing the enrollment data, adding that nationwide enrollment had reached nearly 2.2 million.

The Better Texas Blog breaks the numbers down further.

  • 457,382 individual Texans applied for coverage with completed applications, revealing a high level of interest in Marketplace coverage;
  • 390,658 Texans were determined eligible to enroll in a Marketplace plan, and 180,349 Texans were found eligible for financial assistance in the Marketplace. Many of the 210,000 Texans who are eligible to buy in the Marketplace, but ineligible for subsidies likely fall into the “coverage gap” created when Texas leaders refused federal funds to expand health care coverage through Medicaid to Texas adults below the poverty line;
  • 47,177 Texans were assessed eligible Medicaid/CHIP by the Marketplace (a number that would be much higher with Medicaid expansion);
  • 55 percent of Texans who chose a health plan are women; and
  • 26 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34. Young adults are enrolling in the Marketplace, and previous experience from Massachusetts indicates that enrollment by this age group will increase as we near the March 31 enrollment deadline.

These numbers prove that the law and its website are working–more Texans are able to apply for and select health plans that fit their budgets. (Read about our intern’s experience enrolling in a Marketplace plan). People can enroll in the Marketplace through March 31, 2014.

There’s still a lot more growth to come, in other words. Progress Texas adds on.

Ed Espinoza, Executive Director of Progress Texas, released the following statement:

Twelve weeks of ACA has done more to help Texans without health care than Rick Perry has done in twelve years as Governor.

…Texas Still Has a Significant Coverage Gap

In addition to the top-line numbers, a little digging shows how Rick Perry and Greg Abbott’s refusal to expand Medicaid has created a significant coverage gap in Texas:

  • 210,309 Texans who applied for coverage could have received financial assistance for the Marketplace plans.

Many, if not most, of those 210,000+ Texans who couldn’t get financial assistance would have been covered if Texas had expanded Medicaid. We know that one million low-income Texans are left out of health coverage because elected leaders in Texas chose politics over what was right for our people.

Just imagine how many more people could be getting coverage if Rick Perry wasn’t doing everything in his power to stand in the way. Several Texas Congressional Democrats have now sent a letter to AG Eric Holder asking him to step in and do something about Texas’ ridiculous navigator rules, but I don’t really expect anything to come of that. For more on the national numbers, see Jonathan Cohn, TPM, Sarah Kliff, and Ezra Klein.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance has no knowledge of any bridge lane closures as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Steve Brown

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

There are three contested Democratic primaries for statewide office. One of them involves Wendy Davis, which no one expects to be competitive, and one involves Kinky Friedman, which likely will be about how people feel about Kinky Friedman more than anything else. The third primary is for Railroad Commissioner, which is a low profile and unsexy race, but the choice in this one matters at least as much as those other races. Steve Brown was the first announced candidate in the race, with multiple-time candidate Dale Henry filing a few days before the deadline. Brown is the former chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and has been involved with government and Democratic politics for many years. He’s not an oil and gas person but has a strong background with regulatory agencies, and would bring a perspective to the office that it really needs but currently lacks. Brown is also young and well-versed in modern campaigning and communications, which stands in stark contrast to Dale Henry, who while a well-qualified candidate lacks even a basic online presence. Nothing against Dale, but that’s not going to cut it. I’ll be voting for Steve, and I hope after listening to the interview that you will be as well.

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

Where are the women’s health providers?

The Republican jihad against Planned Parenthood continues to have real consequences.

Right there with them

Right there with them

In 2011, under pressure from Republican leaders, state health officials began enforcing a provision lawmakers wrote to exclude Planned Parenthood and any clinics with organizational ties to abortion providers from the Women’s Health Program. At the time, Planned Parenthood clinics provided 40 percent of the program’s services and often subsidized services not expressly covered by it.

To replace Planned Parenthood, the state recruited new providers, the majority of which are physician groups, to participate in the reimagined program. But unlike many reproductive health clinics, which qualify for additional federal family planning grants, physician groups generally don’t have the public financing to pay for services that aren’t covered by the state program. While physician groups can absorb some of these additional costs, in most cases a patient must pay out of pocket for additional services or find an alternative provider that receives federal subsidies, which can delay care.

Emma Moreno, assistant manager at Valley Women’s Specialists, a physician group in Weslaco that participates in the Women’s Health Program, said the program covers Pap smears, for example, but if a patient tests positive for the human papillomavirus and needs further treatment, that care isn’t covered.

“If you’re going to provide a program or a service, provide the full service and not just half of it,” said Moreno, whose physician group still encourages women who may be eligible to apply for the state program.

[…]

To be eligible for the Women’s Health Program, a woman must have an income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold, or less than $1,800 a month for an individual. The original Women’s Health Program, which was jointly funded by the state and the federal government, was an offshoot of Medicaid. The federal government discontinued its $9-to-$1 match for the program in January 2012. That followed the state’s exclusion of Planned Parenthood clinics, despite the fact that those clinics were already prohibited from performing abortions because they accepted taxpayer dollars.

The Texas Women’s Health Program is nearly identical to the former Medicaid program in scope, though it now covers STD testing and some routine treatment, and is run entirely with state funding — $35.6 million a year.

In the first six months of the state-run program, enrollment and claims for services dropped significantly.

“While these numbers were collected before we added increased funding [for] women’s health in the last legislative session, they are exactly the type of data we will be carefully reviewing in the months ahead,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said in an email to The Texas Tribune last month. “It is important that we make sure the dollars we invested are providing meaningful preventive health services for the women of Texas.”

When I talk about how the likes of Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and Greg Abbott just don’t want people to have access to health care, it’s about more than just their mulish resistance to expanding Medicaid or their petty harassment of ACA navigators. Their actions have had real world consequences. I’ve talked about this at length – browse through my Planned Parenthood archives, there’s too many entries to link to individually – and the bottom line remains that the state of Texas took something that was working and broke it for ideological reasons. They can try to put it back together again, at greater cost to Texas taxpayers, but even if they succeed they will still have disrupted the delivery of health care to hundreds of thousands of women, forcing many of them to find new doctors, for no good reason.

Davis outraises Abbott

Nice.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis pulled $8.7 million into her gubernatorial campaign coffers in the last half of 2013, and another group committed to her election as governor raised $3.5 million over the same period, the Davis campaign announced Tuesday. Minutes after she announced the combined $12.2 million haul, her expected Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, announced he had raised $11.5 million over the same time frame.

Both had bragging rights: Abbott outraised Davis when it came to their actual campaign accounts. But Davis had more when counting the joint “Texas Victory Committee” that splits its resources between her campaign and Battleground Texas, a group working to drive up Democratic turnout and make the GOP-ruled state politically competitive.

The Abbott campaign said it was misleading to combine the two pots of money in describing Davis’ total for the last half of 2013.

“It’s more fuzzy math from the Davis campaign,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said.

But Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said the money is all going to the same purpose: to help Davis become the first Democrat elected governor since Ann Richards won in an upset in 1990.

“The committee is a joint effort between Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas,” Acuña said. “The campaign has asked donors to contribute to the TVC, and that money goes to support the work those organizations conduct in making Wendy Davis the next governor.”

Separately, Battleground Texas will report an additional $1.8 million for its field operations. The group was founded by former field operatives for President Obama. Jenn Brown, executive director of the group, said the money that comes in from the joint committee would “absolutely” be used to support Davis’ efforts. She said Abbott’s campaign criticized the structure of Davis’ fundraising operation because he’s worried.

“That’s what I would say, too, if I had raised less,” Brown said. “I think this shows the excitement Texas has for Wendy, and they’re trying to discredit it and it’s terrible for him.”

Besides unveiling the combined $12.2 million haul, Team Davis also said that the Fort Worth senator had collected donations from 71,000 contributors from Texas and around the United States.

BOR has a copy of the Davis press release. The truly impressive stat to me is the one about Team Wendy getting a contribution from all 254 counties in Texas. That would include King County, in which President Obama received five – yes, I said “five” – votes in 2012, and Loving County, in which he received nine. Eighty-five percent of the donations were for $50 or less. And yes, that is some fine whining from the Abbott campaign. He has more cash overall, of course, since he’s had years to hoard many millions, but the game is officially on.

We should start to see finance reports for all candidates on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage tomorrow. I’m very interested to see how other statewide Dems have done, in particular Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. She got in a lot later, so she won’t have nearly as impressive a haul, but I do hope that overall she is able to keep up. This can’t be just the Wendy show, with no one else able to run a statewide organization. LVdP, Sam Houston, Mike Collier – it would be really nice if all of them are able to raise some money, too. It can’t all go to Wendy – we need to make the pie higher, as they say.

Yes, I know, money is not determinative. But let’s be honest, it’s expensive to run a statewide campaign in Texas. You can’t raise the kind of money you’re going to need to run that campaign if people don’t believe in you. This is a great first step, but it’s a long way from over. Davis will need to repeat this kind of performance for July and for the 30 day, and again she’s going to need her ballotmates to do well, too. We all have our work cut out for us.

Oklahoma!

Where the same sex marriages come whistling down the plains.

RedEquality

U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern ruled Tuesday that Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional.

The ruling is stayed pending appeal, meaning marriages will not occur immediately in Oklahoma.

In striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage, U.S. District Judge Terrence Kern described it as “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”

“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern’s 68-page decision says. “It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”

[…]

Two plaintiff couples, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin — who both work at the Tulsa World — and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton, filed their case in November 2004.

The legal challenge came shortly after Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed the constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the state. The couples were seeking the right to marry and to have a marriage from another jurisdiction recognized in Oklahoma.

“The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationships for many years,” the judge said. “They own property together, wish to retire together, wish to make medical decisions for one another, and wish to be recognized as a married couple with all its attendant rights and responsibilities.”

But Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment “excludes the Bishop couple, and all otherwise eligible same-sex couples, from this privilege without a legally sufficient justification,” Kern said.

The order is stayed pending appeal, so there won’t be a mad Utah-like rush to the county clerk’s offices for licenses just yet. But you can’t deny it’s coming. You think Texas Republicans are maybe feeling a little nervous about their court date next month? You can see a copy of the judge’s decision at the link above, and Freedom to Marry has more.

UPDATE: Here’s a longer version of that Tulsa World story.

Wilson gets to take his seat

The legal battles continue, but HCC will swear in Dave Wilson today regardless.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston Community College has cleared Dave Wilson to take his seat at this week’s board meeting despite legal uncertainty raised by Harris County officials about the trustee-elect’s residency and prior to a possible court ruling on Wednesday that could prevent him from serving.

“Right now, Mr. Wilson has been elected and has taken an oath of office, and there is no prohibition from any court that would prevent him from taking his seat, so – from the perspective of Houston Community College – there is no legal basis at this time to deny him the opportunity to sit as a trustee,” HCC special counsel Gene Locke said on Tuesday.

[…]

Locke clarified that HCC did not participate in the controversy about where Wilson lives.

“HCC has not involved itself and is not involved in the legal issue regarding his residency,” he said. “It is a matter between the County Attorney’s office, appropriately, and Dave Wilson. We will abide by the outcome of any judicial proceeding regarding his residency.”

Most immediately, county officials are focused on a pending request that could prevent the trustee-elect from serving.

“We anticipate that the court will making a ruling on that on Wednesday,” said Robert Soard, the county attorney’s first assistant. “We’re asking the judge to order him not to participate until a judge has had an opportunity to hear evidence from both sides.”

He added that HCC’s decision has no impact on the case filed by Ryan.

“The restraining order only applies to Mr. Wilson. It does not apply to the Houston Community College or the board of trustees,” Soard said. “The restraining order was to prohibit him from taking office. We believe he violated that restraining order because he has stated he has taken the oath of office.”

Operating as a trustee on Thursday would be a further violation, according to Soard, who has stated previously that the HCC board would be irreparably harmed if Wilson takes office and casts votes while the courts decide if he is eligible to serve.

So just to clarify here, there’s the original restraining order, which barred Wilson from taking the oath of office, an order that he ignored, and there’s the lawsuit over his residency, for which there was a hearing on Monday, with another hearing to consider additional filings next week. With me so far? The lawsuit is in the court of Judge Mike Engelhart, but the hearing on the TRO, which was granted by Judge Elaine Palmer, will be heard by Judge Brent Gamble. If HCC is going to seat Wilson tomorrow, then I’m not sure what purpose the TRO, if it gets extended, would serve. I’m also not sure what will happen if Judge Engelhart eventually rules that Wilson is in violation of residency requirements. Have I mentioned that it would be nice to have an agreed-upon standard for this sort of thing that could be enforced in a timely fashion? Because that sure would have been nice to have here. We’ll see what the courts give us today. Stace has more.

Judicial Q&A: Bruce Steffler

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Bruce Steffler

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Bruce Steffler and I am running for Judge of the 308th Family District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court primarily hears matters regarding families such as divorce, adoption, child support and custody matters as well as Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to restore impartiality and experience to this bench. Everyone should be afforded respect and this includes respecting time and available resources without regard to any agenda other than the best interest of families.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a husband and a father and a grandfather. I know what it means for parents and children to experience divorce and the issues associated with blended families. I will bring empathy and experience for parents and children of divorce to the 308th bench.

I worked my way through the University of Houston on the cooperative education program (alternating work and school semesters) as an engineer with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, worked as a reliability engineer with General Dynamics Corporation for two years, served as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army for two years (honorably discharged in 1971) and then worked full time for Southwestern Bell while attending law school at South Texas College of Law full time at night.

I have worked as an attorney, both with law firms and as a solo practitioner, since 1976. My practice is limited to family law and I am board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have real world work experience to temper my extensive legal experience. I have no agenda other than fairness and impartiality to all.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important, both the primary and the general election, because the family law courts need judges who do not have an agenda, but do have experience, maturity, judicial temperament, non-legal as well as legal work experience, the knowledge and experience to apply the law fairly and impartially to all who come before the court.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

We have a higher probability of being touched, either personally or through a family member or friend, by an issue before a family law court, than by a criminal or civil court. Family law courts are too important to have anyone but the most qualified judge making rulings that have a profound impact on our families. I have the experience, education, maturity and vision to make the 308th a hardworking court where integrity and concern for families are paramount.

Wilson’s status is still up in the air

The suspense is killing me.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

The restraining order prohibiting newly elected Houston Community College trustee Dave Wilson from taking the oath of office until questions about his residency can be resolved will remain in effect for another two weeks, a judge ruled Monday, and the legality of a private swearing-in reported by the District 2 representative is still unclear.

Meanwhile, the HCC board is scheduled to convene and elect officers on Thursday.

Whether Wilson will be allowed on or restricted from the dais is undetermined. Whether trustees can proceed with the meeting or vote on items before the District 2 trustee-elect’s legal matters are resolved also is unknown.

[…]

After the filing, the trustee-elect submitted notarized documents to the Texas Secretary of State’s office and HCC showing that he already had been sworn in.

Reiterating what he said at a hearing last Friday, State District Court Judge Mike Engelhart said Monday that he wants to hear more information on several issues before ruling on whether Wilson can take office.

Keith Gross, Wilson’s attorney, said his client plans to appeal Monday’s ruling.

“It’s like granting an injunction against knocking a building down after the building has been knocked down,” he said in court.

Robert Soard, the county attorney’s first assistant, said the HCC board would be irreparably harmed if Wilson takes office and casts votes while the courts decide if he is eligible to serve.

It would be nice if Judge Engelhart could issue a ruling before Thursday’s meeting, but I can’t blame him for wanting to get all the information he can before making up his mind. At this point, I don’t think anything would surprise me.

There’s a lot of talk in the comments to the previous post about this officeholder or that not meeting residency requirements, with some rumbling about other complains being filed. Knock yourselves out, I say. What I want out of the Wilson case, more than anything else, is for there to be a standard that we can all more or less agree on as to what “residency” actually means. If Wilson is found to meet that standard, then I don’t see how anyone could fail to meet it. If he is found to be in violation, then at least we have a line that has been drawn, and we can see if anyone else falls outside it. First things first, though, and that’s to decide about Wilson.

Endorsement watch: Davis for Alameel

This was unexpected, at least by me.

David Alameel

Texas Democrats may be working on drafting a 2014 dream team.

State Sen. Wendy Davis announced today that she’s backing David Alameel in his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination.

The wealthy Dallas dentist and investor is one of five Democrats vying in the March primary. The winner will face two-term Sen. John Cornyn, if he survives his own primary fight with Rep. Steve Stockman and a handful of others.

“Dr. Alameel is an astute and successful business leader who shares my commitment to creating good paying jobs, improving education for all our children and protecting the retirement our seniors have worked hard for and earned,” said Davis, D-Fort Worth. “I am pleased to endorse him for U.S. Senate.”

Davis gained national attention last summer after an 11-hour filibuster over an abortion bill. Since then, she has become a rallying point for Democrats hoping to put some blue back in Texas’ deep red Republican politics. She’s likely to face Attorney General Greg Abbott in November.

“I am honored to have the support and encouragement from my good friend, Senator Wendy Davis,” Alameel said in a statement. “Wendy knows I will work hard to make sure every Texan has a real voice in Washington and that I will bring fair and common sense leadership back to our nation’s capital.”

Alameel brings deep pockets to the race, with an estimated fortune of about $50 million. He flexed his financial muscle in a 2012 campaign for what is now Rep. Marc Veasey’s Fort Worth congressional district. He spend more than $4.5 million in the Democratic primary, ending up in fourth place with 10 percent of the vote.

Alameel would not be my first choice, in part because I know precious little about him. His webpage is new and as of this morning still hasn’t been indexed by Google – his old webpage is still the first result when you Google his name, and it doesn’t redirect to the new webpage – and his Facebook page was created January 6 and isn’t displayed when you enter “David Alameel” in Facebook’s search box. The main thing I learned when I did find these two pages is that Alameel has been endorsed by Wendy Davis.

I’m personally leaning towards Maxey Scherr, who I think has the highest upside and who has been the most active campaigner so far. Mike Fjetland is someone I’ve known for several years for whom I have a lot of respect. But Davis prefers Alameel, and while it’s easy to see a financial motive in that choice, I’ll take her at her word. Be all that as it may, let’s not forget that the real bottom line here is to ensure that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers is not the nominee. We can argue all we want about which of the others is the best choice, but right now I care more about Rogers not being the nominee than I do about who is.

More from the Pratt files

This is just bizarre.

Judge Denise Pratt

Since being cleared last month by a grand jury for backdating records, a family court judge has quietly dismissed hundreds of cases, effectively nullifying a bevy of child support obligations and custody arrangements she previously made to protect children and families.

Lawyers say state District Court Judge Denise Pratt gave no prior notice of her intent to drop their cases from her 311th Court. Nearly 300 have been dismissed since Dec. 20, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, including many that had been scheduled to go to trial soon.

All but 19 were dismissed on a single day, Dec. 30.

Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but lawyers said they learned their cases had been dropped after the fact by postcards mailed by the district clerk or by word of mouth from clients.

Among those dismissed were three cases from which Pratt had been recused earlier in December.

[…]

Several of the newly dismissed cases involve lawyers who had joined Enos in publicly criticizing Pratt. Enos’ firm had three cases dismissed, including one from which Pratt had been recused by a visiting judge and another from which she had voluntarily recused herself.

“It is a ridiculous, shocking, unconstitutional, unfair thing to do,” Enos said. “It’s going to have terrible consequences for children and families.”

Joan Jenkins, one of the 32 family lawyers who signed a letter last fall calling for Pratt to resign, said one client whose divorce was set to be finalized told her a week ago that his wife had found out their case had been dismissed. He said his wife showed up at the family home with a police officer and told him she was moving back in.

[…]

Family lawyer Rob Clark had five cases dropped, including one he said Pratt threatened to dismiss in open court on Dec. 30, giving no explanation. That case involves a mother who had been awarded temporary custody of her toddler daughter while seeking to collect child support from the father, who had moved to Florida. With a dismissed case, the father “could come from Florida to pick up the kid and there’s nothing she can do,” said Clark, who signed the letter calling for Pratt’s resignation. “It’s crazy.”

Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said the judge always has granted motions to reinstate in the past, and blamed any lack of notice on a new electronic filing system the District Clerk’s office is using, under a state Supreme Court mandate.

“She is finding out that some of those notices didn’t go out,” Yates said. “They’ve just got to file a motion to reinstate, if someone’s case was dismissed for want of prosecution, so it’s really no big deal.”

District clerk’s office spokesman Bill Murphy said the new system, eFileTexas.gov, “has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of upcoming dismissal hearings.” That responsibility, he said, falls on court coordinators, who are employed by the county but “handpicked by the judges for whom they work.”

State District Court Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for the family courts, said Pratt had no authority to dismiss cases from which she had been recused.

What the hell is going on in that courtroom? I know Judge Pratt just got no-billed by the grand jury on charges that she falsified dates on court documents, but clearly there are more things to be investigated here. Seriously, does any of this sound normal to you? Hair Balls, which had the story first, and Texpatriate have more.

Interview with Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Let’s talk about the Harris County District Attorney’s race for a minute, shall we? We all remember what happened in 2012, when perennial candidate/yahoo Lloyd Oliver won the Democratic primary for DA because he had some name ID for having run for things before and because presumed candidate Zack Fertitta did not adequately connect with enough voters to overcome that. Oliver was exactly the candidate in the general election that we knew he would be, and as a result Mike Anderson won easily. The office of DA is on the ballot again this year due to the tragic and untimely death of Mike Anderson, and once again Democrats have a choice in their primary between a highly respected and well-qualified candidate, and Lloyd Oliver. That highly respected and well-qualified candidate is Kim Ogg. Ogg is a former prosecutor, she has been the head of Crime Stoppers and the city of Houston’s anti-gang task force, and she has a long history in politics as the daughter of former State Sen. Jack Ogg. She’s also been saying smart things since announcing her candidacy about reinstating the trace case policy and ensuring the DA isn’t needlessly contributing to jail overcrowding. We talked about those things and a lot more in the interview.

Please, please, let’s make sure we don’t suffer the same fate as in 2012. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Kim Ogg in the primary. No knock on Devon Anderson, who is a well-qualified DA herself, but we deserve a real choice this November. Kim Ogg gives us that choice, Lloyd Oliver does not.

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

New accountability standards, more schools on the failing list

Not a good headline.

The number of officially faltering public schools in Texas almost doubled last year, in part because of higher accountability standards imposed by state education policy.

The Texas Education Agency released Thursday a list of 892 schools that fell short of minimum standards and which have been placed on the Public Education Grant list. Students at schools on the list are allowed to transfer to other schools if their parents wish, and the schools accepting them get additional funds to educate them.

Districts are required to notify parents of children who attend a school on the list that they can request a transfer, including transfers to another district. However, districts are not required to accept such transfer requests.

The Houston Independent School District had 53 schools on the list, nearly triple the number from last year when 18 schools were deemed struggling. District officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

[…]

For a school to be placed on the list, more than 50 percent of its students have failed to meet the minimum threshold on accountability tests in two of the last three years, or it has been rated “academically unacceptable” in 2011 or “improvement required” last year. (No accountability ratings were given in 2012.) Those are the lowest categories in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test that was implemented in 2013.

In 2012, the list included 456 schools. Schools can remain on the list for three years, meaning some whose students performed above the minimum performance threshold last year could still be on it.

DeEtta Culberson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency told the Associated Press that, “historically, when changes are made to the accountability system, the number of schools that are included in the list tends to rise.”

I suppose that’s to be expected, and I certainly hope the schools on that list can work their way off of it this year. You can see the list here. I don’t remember the names of the former North Forest ISD schools, so I don’t know how many of them are present. The schools I did notice included a couple in my neighborhood – Helms Elementary and Hogg Middle – both of which were also on the probation list for magnet schools; there were a few others on both lists as well. I presume this list came out too late in the day to get a reaction from anyone for publication, but I’m sure that HISD’s leadership will focus its attention on that list. As I said, I hope it’s substantially smaller next year.

Sexual assault in the Harris County jail

This sounds very bad, but there are some questions about how the numbers were determined.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, defending his staff against a federal study that found startling levels of sexual abuse at one of his jails, testified Wednesday that his sprawling corrections system was constantly working to better protect inmates.

Garcia was called to testify before the U.S. Department of Justice’s review panel on prison rape because one of the four buildings of the Harris County Jail was found in a DOJ-commissioned study to have one of the worst rates of sexual assault in the nation.

The study’s results, released in June, found the rate of sexual assault in the lockup at 1200 Baker St. was 7.6 percent, more than twice the national average, and the third-worst of 373 jails studied.

Garcia was sharply critical of the study in a written response to the panel, but he focused his testimony Wednesday on his department’s efforts to improve inmate protection.

He said, “I took exception to the results of your study. But … all such studies are opportunities” to evaluate and improve operations.

[…]

When panelist Gary Christensen asked Garcia to speak about his objections to the survey, the sheriff demurred, saying he’d rather discuss how he was working to improve the jail.

But in writing, he savaged the study, calling it “flawed and misleading.”

He said not enough inmates responded to meet the survey-takers’ own criteria, noting the response for 1200 Baker Street had to be “weighted” to provide “imagined feedback from non-respondents.”

He wrote that the Bureau of Justice Statistics admits it doesn’t know how to factor for false accusations by inmates in the anonymous survey, and pointed out that the survey’s rules do not permit follow-up investigations or substantiations.

The national average rate of inmate-on-inmate victimization is 1.6 percent. The average at 1200 Baker was found to be 6.2 percent. But the county’s other three facilities’ rates were 1 percent, 0.9 percent and 0.0 percent.

Garcia said bemusedly afterward, “We could be testifying at the next hearing” – which was on “low-incidence jail facilities.”

You can see the report here. I get that self-reporting by inmates about being assaulted may not be the most accurate method, but what other alternative methods are used for things like this? Sheriff Garcia is certainly correct that he has taken action on numerous fronts to deal with disciplinary issues with his staff. It’s also true that in recent years when the jail population was high and the number of guards was lower than it should have been due to budget constraints, there would have been less supervision of inmates, which might allow more assaults to happen. Things are better in that area now, but with the jail population being in large part determined by judges and the DA’s office, it’s always going to be a concern. I have only glanced at the report, and I have not seen the Sheriff’s written response to it – I’ve sent an email asking for a copy but have not yet received a response – so I don’t have much more to say at this point. Sheriff Garcia has done a lot to clean things up and improve discipline and inmate safety, but there will always be more to do. As he said, it’s an opportunity that I’m sure he will take. Grits has more.

UPDATE: Via email from Alan Bernstein, you can see Sheriff Garcia’s written testimony and written response here.

Utah will not recognize same sex marriages

Not until they are forced to.

RedEquality

Utah Gov. Gary Herbertannounced Wednesday that the state will not recognize the 1,000-plus same-sex marriages performed in the state since Dec. 20, when a U.S. district judge ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights.

“The original laws governing marriage in Utah return to effect pending final resolution by the courts,” the governor’s office said in a memo issued to his Cabinet.

“We’re not going to do anything to undo marriages,” said Missy Larsen, spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “If they have a driver’s license with their marital name on it, it stands. But wherever they were in the process, it’s frozen.”

That means that same-sex couples who have gotten married since the Dec. 20 ruling and who are in the process of applying for benefits for spouses or adopting children will have those actions put on hold.

Same-sex couples who have gotten marriage licenses but have not yet had weddings are not legally married, Larsen said. “The ceremony had to have taken place. It had to have been solemnized.”

Gov. Herbert’s chief of staff, Derek Miller, sent a memo saying state law not only prohibits same-sex marriages but also prohibits the state recognizing them.

Utah is not commenting on the legal status of the same-sex marriages already performed, the memo said.

They will at least allow county clerks to continue processing paperwork from couples that did get married before SCOTUS stepped in, for which I don’t feel like scrounging up a snarky comment. Just because Utah doesn’t want to recognize these marriages doesn’t mean anyone else has to follow their lead, and indeed on Friday the Obama administration announced that they would recognize all of Utah’s marriages.

“I am confirming today that, for purposes of federal law, these marriages will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message which was shared with TPM. “These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds.”

Good for them. The Human Rights Commission had asked for this a day earlier, and I’m glad to see it happen without any dithering. In the meantime, while we wait for the Tenth Circuit to hear the appeal, the ACLU is planning to file a lawsuit against Utah to force it to uncover its eyes and recognize these marriages as legal pending the outcome of the original litigation. We’ll see what gets an enforceable ruling first.

Weekend link dump for January 12

First world problems are still problems worth solving.

When Captain America wears a turban, it’s pretty cool.

As The Slacktivist often says, they are coming for your birth control. Don’t be surprised by it.

“As a result, Netflix can’t, any longer, aspire to be the service which allows you to watch the movies you want to watch.”

“For everyone else – roughly 90% of the US population – there has been no jump in income share relative to ten or 20 years ago to offset what now looks to be a permanent lost decade. On the contrary, the bottom 90% has continued to lose ground.”

“But why go after marijuana for its second-order effects? Why not just ban stupidity, laziness, obesity, unambitious taste, or whatever social ills are of concern to national opinion columnists?”

Forget gravity and electromagnetism. Racial animus is the strongest force in the universe.

Legal or not, you can still get fired for smoking pot. Let the toker beware.

RIP, Jerry Coleman, Yankee second baseman, Ford Frick Award-winning broadcaster for the San Diego Padres, and owner of two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 20 Air Medals for service in WWII and the Korean War.

The Tiger Mom is back to tell us all how we’re not measuring up.

There’s a Henny Youngman documentary in the works, with a Kickstarter campaign to which you can contribute.

“Obamacare will cease to be the something certain to destroy Obama and become something Obama has gotten away with.”

Click farms are the new sweatshops. I wonder how ad providers are going to deal with this.

Your reminder that the Daily Caller is a joke.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in addition to being terrible on voting rights and reproductive freedom, just set the clock back 50 years on employees’ rights.

How did Superman first take off as a newspaper comic strip?

An oral history of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic Baby Got Back music video.

“The 7-foot-tall monument would include a goat-headed Baphomet figure sitting cross-legged on a stone slab, flanked by two smiling children. The monument would also include quotes from poets Lord Byron and William Blake.”

A must read about the harassment and violent threats that many women have to deal with online.

And a must read followup to the link above.

I suppose it’s just a matter of time before Ted Cruz’s father endorses a challenger to Ted Cruz because Ted Cruz isn’t conservative enough and is part of the establishment.

You may be coping with the Srirachapocalypse, but can you survive the Velveetapocalypse, too?

“A growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve.”

Our nation’s first openly Pastafarian politician has been sworn into office.

“The dirty truth about American health care is that it costs more not because insurers are so powerful, but because they’re so weak.”

I’m pretty sure there will never be another politician like Bill Young again in America.

We should bring the Election Assistance Commission back.

A requiem for NBC’s soon-to-be-former studio in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. Mark Evanier remembers it well.

Not surprisingly, the BBWAA has dropped the hammer on the writer who sold his Hall of Fame vote to Deadspin.

An alternate theory of the Chris Christie scandal.

You can’t stop Dave Wilson

You can only hope to restrain him.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

The battle over whether Dave Wilson is actually a Houston Community College trustee could come to a head on Thursday when the 67-year-old tries to take the seat behind the District II placard on the board’s dais.

“I’m going to represent the citizens of my district,” Wilson said Friday after a hearing on his residency. “I’m going to sit up front, vote and do the whole thing. I might even lobby to become chair.”

Wilson, a small-business owner and anti-gay activist, spoke after an hourlong hearing about the procedural machinations of a lawsuit the Harris County Attorney’s Office filed last month.

County Attorney Vince Ryan is alleging that Wilson was not legally elected to the board in November because he is not a resident of the district in which he ran.

A temporary restraining order issued in December prohibited Wilson from taking the oath of office, but Wilson filed notarized paperwork last week with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office showing he was sworn in on Jan. 1.

State District Judge Mike Englehart on Friday asked lawyers for Wilson and the county to file additional arguments about whether Wilson can take office while the lawsuit is being litigated, among other issues.

[…]

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said the restraining order prohibits Wilson from taking the oath of office, so he is not a legal office holder.

“In my view, it would be like any citizen walking up there and sitting down,” Soard said. “It would be up to the HCC board to decide what they would do in that situation.”

Whatever else Dave Wilson may think of himself, he’s not the decider here. If Judge Engelhart puts a restraining order in place, he doesn’t get to take his seat, and that’s all there is to it. As I said before, HCC would be wise to have lawyers and security present in the event Wilson is legally barred from taking office at that time. They should explain the status of the court case to him, and for whoever else is present, and be prepared to usher him out the door if he refuses to back down. Until and unless he’s legally cleared to be sworn in by someone other than himself, he’s just another member of the public, and he should be treated as such. Obviously, if Judge Engelhart rules in Wilson’s favor then he gets to be sworn in as normal, but if not he needs to abide by that. The law applies to Dave Wilson, too.

Since it comes up in the comments every time I write about Dave Wilson, let’s be clear that I don’t fear him taking office for a minute. If he actually has evidence of current trustees or contractors or whoever else acting unethically, or if he has some hot ideas for how to improve ethics on the HCC board, great. Bring it on. But until he actually produces such evidence, or an ethics proposal, I see no reason to take him at his word. For a guy who claims to be a paragon of transparency and ethical behavior, he’s shown a remarkable willingness to push the boundaries of the law, to act deceptively for his own gain, and to be closed-mouth about his own personal information. His support of the deeply unethical Yolanda Navarro Flores at the very least calls into question his judgment about what ethical behavior is. I searched election results going back through 2001 and this is the first time he’s even run for an HCC position in that time, so it’s not like he’s some longtime crusader for this job who finally prevailed. He could prove me wrong – anything can happen – and if he does, great. More ethics is a good thing. I just see no reason to have any expectation of this outcome. I see him as a provocateur, and he managed to catch lightning in a bottle. What he does with it if he gets the chance remains to be seen, but my expectations are decidedly low.

Chron overviews of the other candidates for Governor

On the Republican side, everybody wants to be the next coming of Ted Cruz.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

As Attorney General Greg Abbott sweeps toward the GOP nomination for governor, other Republicans are reminding voters that he’s not alone in the party primary.

Waging longer-than-long-shot bids against Abbott’s superior name identification and huge war chest are conservative commentator and author Lisa Fritsch, former Univision broadcaster Miriam Martinez and Larry SECEDE Kilgore, who will be simply SECEDE Kilgore on the ballot.

They’re each pushing a message they think voters should hear.

“It’s the nature of a democracy,” said political scientist Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas Pan American.

Underfunded, largely unknown candidates tilting at party favorites have a statement to make, he said, and some may benefit from such a run in future contests.

“They are certainly serious in their minds, I think, in most cases,” he said. “In terms of the real meaning of competition – that is, do they have a realistic chance of winning? No.”

The three candidates vying against Abbott draw inspiration from Ted Cruz’s tea-party-fueled 2012 U.S. Senate victory against the better-funded, better-known Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, but they don’t have Cruz’s advantages. Though an underdog, Cruz had national support from limited-government groups that helped with funding and turnout, and he caught the attention of media nationally.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll done in October showed that those besides Abbott in the GOP gubernatorial primary – who then numbered four – had combined support of 8 percent of GOP voters. Former state GOP chairman Tom Pauken has since dropped out.

The problem with no-name underdog candidates using Cruz as an analogy for their candidacies is that Cruz wasn’t some plucky little no-name underdog taking on the big bad establishment. He was very much a part of the establishment as Solicitor General and consigliere to Greg Abbott, and while he entered that race largely unknown to general election voters, he was well known to party activists. The support he got from national groups was critical to his success. He also got a big assist from the calendar, with redistricting litigation pushing the primary back to May and the runoff to June, which gave him a lot more time to connect with a broader array of voters. Nobody in the GOP gubernatorial primary has anything close to the advantages Cruz had. The only sense in which Cruz was an underdog was that he hadn’t run for office before. He was on a level playing field in every other way. His hardcore wingnuttiness against David Dewhurst’s perceived “moderation”, where “moderation” is a code word that can mean anything from “incompetence” to “we just don’t like him anymore”, was also a key, since he was the sort of thing that the howling masses of a GOP primary runoff really wanted. The two female candidates are positioning themselves as more moderate alternatives to Greg Abbott, and it goes without saying that the constituency for that is a lot smaller than the constituency that propelled Cruz to victory. The fact that the other candidate is more than crazy enough for all three of them doesn’t do anything to help them.

The Democratic opponent to Sen. Wendy Davis doesn’t have a fatally flawed but easy to grasp analogy for his candidacy, among other things.

At age 71, Reynaldo “Ray” Madrigal of Corpus Christi is a veteran of political battles going back to the 1970s as a young South Texas activist in the Raza Unida party.

He has worked to improve education for Latinos, advocated on behalf of fellow military veterans and campaigned for four offices without a victory.

Madrigal is running again in 2014 – this time for governor of Texas. He’s not bothered that he’s up against a well-known, well-funded fellow Democrat, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth.

“You shouldn’t be scared away by somebody telling you that you need $150 million to run,” he said. “I might be opening the door for the next generation of Hispanics that want to run for office.”

I can’t say I learned much about Madrigal from this article. If he has any well-developed policy positions, or a clearly articulated reason why he’s a superior alternative to Davis, it’s not in the story. Not that it’s likely to matter anyway.

Is this the end for the dollar coin?

Fine by me if it is.

Millard is keeping hope alive

The dollar wars have raged for years, with various sides battling over what a dollar should look like: Should it be a green piece of paper (cotton, actually) that you can slide in your wallet? Or should it be a metal coin that you put in your pocket?

On one side are the vending machine companies, the miners, and anyone who has traveled enough in Europe to know the convenience of a coin worth one or two euros or pounds. On the other side is Crane, the company that makes the paper for dollar bills, and the banks and retailers that prefer the convenience of paper bills.

A working assumption has been that coins would be cheaper, in the long run, for the government. They cost more to make but last much longer than paper money. The Government Accounting Office estimated the move could save $4.4 billion over the next 30 years. Others have been doubtful that such savings would materialize, as Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer details here.

Now, researchers at the Federal Reserve are weighing in, and they, too, find that getting rid of $1 bills entirely wouldn’t be the panacea that some analysts have claimed.

The most important points of the new working paper, by Michael Lambert, Shaun Ferrari and Brian Wajert, boil down to this: Coins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

See here for my previous entry in this ongoing bit of obsession, and be sure to read that Brad Plumer piece from last year as well. Basically, the Fed questions the “seigniorage” effect, which is the primary driver of savings for the government, and points out a bunch of costs that hadn’t previously been taken into account. The net result is that the presumed benefit of switching to coins is likely to be pretty small, especially considering they’re spread over a long time period. As noted at the end, the pro-coin people disagree with this finding, so my hope that this debate is over is almost certainly premature. But I can hope.

Saturday video break: All the world’s problems explained

The Austin Lounge Lizards sum up our political discourse in one song:

I mean seriously, is there anything they missed in that recitation?

Davis beats Abbott in court again

That’s probably the simplest way to understand this story.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

A San Antonio federal court has ordered Texas to pay more than $260,000 in attorney fees to the legal team that helped state Sen. Wendy Davis beat back Republican attempts to carve up her district in 2011.

The ruling earlier this week amounts to another court victory for Davis, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, in her years-long redistricting fight with state Republicans and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Aside from Davis’ lawyers, the League of United Latin American Citizens, which also sued Texas over its 2011 state senate maps, was awarded a total of $93,000 by the court.

The state plans to appeal the ruling.

A Davis campaign spokeswoman said it is no surprise the court ruled to award legal fees to attorneys representing the Fort Worth senator since she previously was declared a prevailing party in the case.

“Greg Abbott should accept the facts and stop wasting taxpayer dollars,” spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said.

[…]

Led by Abbott, the state told a federal three-judge panel in San Antonio over the summer it was backing off the senate maps drawn in 2011 in favor of a new set. That was cemented when the Legislature in June approved maps keeping Davis’ district intact, and in court in September when the judges declared Davis a “prevailing” party and instructed her lawyers to file for reimbursement.

The amount Davis was awarded was a lot less than what her team originally asked for, and a bit more than half of their revised figure. You’d think that might make this sum a reasonable one for Abbott to accept and move on, except that doing so is also an acceptance of the fact that she won in court. His argument is basically that the revised Senate map to which everyone agreed was a strategic retreat and that the original map was never judged on the merits, so Davis “never received a judgment on the merits of any of their claims”. The San Antonio court rejected that argument:

It is undisputed that Plaintiffs obtained significant, affirmative interim relief. This relief was judicially sanctioned, materially changed the legal relationship between the parties, and gave Plaintiffs all the relief they sought with regard to the 2012 elections. In addition, that relief was not and cannot now be reversed, dissolved, or otherwise undone.

Not surprisingly, Abbott has already announced his appeal, which will be heard by that bastion of fairness and impartiality, the Fifth Circuit. Abbott just won’t admit that he lost.

That wasn’t the only loss Abbott suffered in court this week.

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case entered an order Wednesday denying a request by the State of Texas to modify the procedures the court would use to decide legislative privilege issues.

The order said the motion was being denied as premature since:

The legislative privilege is a personal one and may be waived or asserted by each individual legislator … [and] [a]ccordingly, neither the Governor, not the Secretary of State or the State of Texas has standing to assert the legislative privilege on behalf of any legislator or staff member that may be deposed.

However, the order went on to say that it was “nevertheless appropriate to provide the parties with some guidance as to how to proceed with future depositions” and set out several ground rules for the parties:

In sum, counsel for the State of Texas may not invoke the legislative privilege; each legislator, legislative aide, or staff person must assert or waive the privilege individually. Any person asserting the privilege must, however, provide enough facts so that a court, if necessary, can determine whether the information sought falls within the scope of the privilege. To the extent that any individual asserting the privilege has had communications or correspondence with any outside party or entity, such communication or correspondence waives the privilege as to the content of those communications.

See here and here for the background. The basic idea is that Abbott wants to shield Republican legislators and staffers from being asked questions about their intentions and thought processes and what have you during the redistricting trial. It was ruled for the first trial that there wasn’t a blanket invocation of privilege for legislative witnesses, but it could be invoked if needed. Abbott argued that circumstances in the retrial were different, and the court disagreed. The Express News wondered why Abbott was pursuing this argument.

There exists an immunity for state legislators from liability and from testifying. This is present in federal common law. On this much, the parties in the state’s ongoing redistricting litigation appear to agree.

The question is, how broad is the immunity?

In arguing for the federal court in San Antonio to modify its previous order on this issue, the Texas attorney general’s office would have us believe that the law makes this immunity broad beyond reason.

Essentially, it would have Texans believe that public servants need not make public what went into the creation of public policy — even in a court case.

In that previous court order on immunity, legislators could be deposed and could invoke legislative immunity but have to answer the questions anyway — with the depositions then placed under seal for court review.

Now, since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling returned challenges to the state’s redistricting maps to the lower court here, Texas argues that matters have changed and the order should be modified.

It asks that legislators who hadn’t previously waived privilege and new legislative witnesses be able to keep their mouths shut.

The court’s first order was bending over backward. What the state attorney general is now seeking is for the court to go into contortions to shield legislators from revealing what they know.

[…]

In the last go-around, it turns out that no legislator claimed privilege. If any lawmaker had, the public would have had a right to ask why.

So, in this latest round, what is it that the attorney general’s office doesn’t want us to know about how and why legislators crafted these maps?

Could it be that the maps were created and approved with full knowledge of whom these maps would keep in power and at which groups’ expense?

Embarrassing stuff said and written during the process, pointing to purposeful discrimination? So, quit doing that. Problem solved.

Given the state’s history on voter discrimination, the reluctance to be this forthcoming merely points to insidious maneuvering. The court — and the public — have a right to know.

Seems pretty reasonable to me. And if stuff that embarrasses the legislators, the Republican Party, or Greg Abbott happens to come out of the trial, that’s just too bad. As the E-N says, they shouldn’t have done those embarrassing things in the first place.

Federal studies for the Houston-Dallas high speed rail line

It’s a step forward.

The federal government, Texas and a private company are collectively working on two studies to assess the impact of a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx confirmed Tuesday.

Foxx, speaking at the Texas Transportation Forum, an annual conference put on by the Texas Department of Transportation, said the Federal Railroad Administration, TxDOT and Texas Central High-Speed Railway will move forward this year on environmental impact studies related to the project. The completion of such a study is typically a key early step in developing a major transportation project.

“I can’t speak to whether there will be roadblocks or anything down the road, but what I can tell you is I’m delighted to be part of helping get this first step underway,” Foxx said in an interview after his speech. “It’s a big deal for Texas, and we’ll see what happens going forward.”

[…]

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said two separate environmental impact studies are in development. The Federal Railroad Administration and Texas Central High-Speed Railway will conduct a study of a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. TxDOT, in partnership with the FRA, will sponsor a study of a slower rail line connecting Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas.

“We, TxDOT, will sponsor the environmental impact study on the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington side,” Wilson said. “The private sector will sponsor the EIS for that Houston/Dallas corridor.”

TxDOT officials could not provide a timeline for when either study would be completed.

See here, here, and here for the background. As Dallas Transportation notes, there have been other studies done in the past five years, and TxDOT is doing its own study on a Texas-Oklahoma rail corridor, which would likely be an extension of Houston to Dallas. The Texas Central High-Speed Railway folks are serious about getting their line built, hopefully by 2021. There are many hurdles to be cleared, and this is just one of them along the way. If you want to hear more about it, you can hear Robert Eckels, the President of Texas Central Railway, will be speaking at an H-GAC brown bag event on Monday, January 20. See here for the details.

Who shot Bigfoot?

The correct answer is “no one”, since Bigfoot doesn’t exist and all that, but this guy claims to have done it.

Yeah, that’s not Bigfoot

Nearly a year ago a self-described professional Bigfoot hunter claimed to have shot and killed one of the creatures in San Antonio.

The alleged incident was featured in a documentary released last year that left more questions than answers.

[Last] Thursday Rick Dyer finally released pictures of the alleged beast’s body (see below).

“Bigfoot is 100 percent real — there’s no question about that,” Dyer said.

Dyer claims he shot and killed the mythical creature in a wooded area on the northwest side near Loop 1604 and Highway 151 in early September 2012.

Until Thursday Dyer never provided any proof beyond a grainy video clip he shot of the big beast outside his tent. More video was included in the documentary “Shooting Bigfoot,” but it failed to impress skeptics.

[…]

Despite a history of past Bigfoot hoaxes, Dyer insists he’s not fooling around this time.

“Bigfoot is not a tooth fairy — Bigfoot is real,” Dyer said. “The most important thing to me is being vindicated, letting people know that I am the best Bigfoot tracker in the world and it’s not just me saying it.”

Dyer plans to hold a news conference in the coming days, where he will show the full body and release the test results.

I’m sure he’ll allow an independent DNA analysis on his find. As the Bigfoot Evidence blog (the World’s Only 24/7 Bigfoot News Blog, because of course such a thing is needed) notes, Dyer most recently claimed to have shot a Bigfoot in Georgia in 2008, which he later admitted was a hoax. But this time he totally means it, y’all, even if his Bigfoot picture kind of resembles a dwarf from “Lord of the Rings”. Hey, you go to the media with the Bigfoot you have, not the Bigfoot you wish you had, am I right? Just show me the DNA test and we can settle this amicably.

Friday random ten: I’ve got this bridge to sell you

In honor of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, ten songs about bridges.

1. The Bridge – Eddie From Ohio
2. Bridge of Sighs – Robin Trower
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Aretha Franklin
4. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Johnny Cash
5. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
6. Brothers Under The Bridge – Bruce Springsteen
7. Crooked Bridge – SixMileBridge
8. Throw Aggi Off The Bridge – Black Tambourine
9. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Simon and Garfunkel
10. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Harpers Bizarre

I had to violate my usual rule about not repeating song titles or artists in order to get to ten, but I figured in this case it was worth it.

Runoff precinct analysis: At Large races

I finally got a draft canvass report from the Harris County Clerk for the December runoff elections. Let’s take a look at the two At Large runoffs and see what we can learn about them. Here’s At Large #2:

Dist Burks Robinson Burks % Rob % ===================================== A 2,145 2,331 47.92% 52.08% B 1,798 451 79.95% 20.05% C 1,464 4,286 25.46% 74.54% D 4,244 1,229 77.54% 22.46% E 1,086 1,347 44.64% 55.36% F 278 418 39.94% 60.06% G 1,280 2,980 30.05% 69.95% H 791 820 49.10% 50.90% I 1,425 1,459 49.41% 50.59% J 300 471 38.91% 61.09% K 1,292 1,006 56.22% 43.78%

Andrew Burks did pretty well where he needed to, in Districts B, D, and K – better than he did in the 2011 runoff, at least on a percentage basis. It seems likely to me that the lesser turnout this year hurt him. He had about a 5,000 vote lead in B and D in 2011, but only a 4,400 vote lead this year, a drop of 600 votes in a race he lost by 500 votes. I don’t mean to pile on Burks, but I have to think that a better candidate could have pulled this one out. Robinson did just enough in C and G to edge him. It’ll be interesting to see if he draws a serious challenger in 2015.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Morales Kubosh Mor % Kub % ===================================== A 2,108 2,755 43.35% 56.65% B 862 1,359 38.81% 61.19% C 2,784 2,821 49.67% 50.33% D 1,800 3,601 33.33% 66.67% E 1,347 1,271 51.45% 48.55% F 404 332 54.89% 45.11% G 2,155 2,280 48.59% 51.41% H 944 739 56.09% 43.91% I 1,962 1,156 62.92% 37.08% J 437 376 53.75% 46.25% K 954 1,345 41.50% 58.50%

Despite Michael Kubosh’s relatively substantial win, it looks to me like the conditions were there for Roy Morales to pull it out. He held his own in the Republican districts, and got a boost from the elevated turnout in the District I runoff. He lost in B, D, and K, where you would expect Kubosh to do well, but he didn’t get creamed. If he had had David Robinson’s numbers in District C, he would have won. Obviously, Mayor Parker did not get involved, and Kubosh did a decent job of presenting himself to Parker supporters, which enabled him to not only be competitive in C but to carry it. You have to tip your hat to that. Further, despite my speculation that there could be a significant undervote in this race, the undervote rate was less in AL3 than it was in AL2. As with Robinson, I look forward to seeing who, if anyone, decides to challenge Kubosh in two years. Both of them, but especially Kubosh, can affect that with their performance in office. I can’t wait to see how it goes when Mayor Parker gets on with the rest of her third term agenda.

I’ll have a look at the other races in a later entry. In the meantime, let me know what you think about these numbers.

Council OKs ordinance to help bring grocery stores to food deserts

Good.

Supermarkets now can sell beer and wine next to schools and churches, an exemption to city regulations Houston City Council granted unanimously Wednesday, hoping to encourage grocers to locate in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, healthy food.

These so-called “food deserts” are common in Houston, typically in poor areas such as Third Ward and Fifth Ward that also tend to have a high concentration of churches. Without the rule change, grocers – which industry experts say must offer beer and wine to be competitive – could not operate within 300 feet of churches and most private schools, or within 1,000 feet of public schools.

Councilman Stephen Costello, who helped lead efforts to pass the exemption and long has worked on the food desert issue, said an independent grocer has agreed to open a 20,000-square-foot store in south Houston, and said he has meetings scheduled soon with four large grocery chains.

“We’re talking to them about how the city can help them come into these under-served areas because, obviously, they’re taking a risk. There’s a reason they’re not there in the first place,” Costello said. “This item was one of the last variables we were trying to overcome. We’re figuring out ways to try to peel back the onion to get them to come into these areas.”

[…]

The language passed Wednesday defines a grocery store as covering at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, and excludes businesses that allow alcoholic drinks to be consumed on site and those that derive more than 25 percent of their gross receipts from booze sales.

Jane West, of the Super Neighborhood Alliance, said members of the civic club coalition were satisfied with the amended language. Still, West said the impact of the change may be limited.

“I hope it does, but I’m very skeptical it will actually provide the benefit it’s promised to provide,” she said. “To me, the risk is they’re just going to encourage more of the large convenience stores, the kind of stores they want to eliminate.”

As I said when this first came up, I didn’t understand the restriction on alcohol sales near churches. Be that as it may, this strikes me as a sensible approach, one that will still keep bars and liquor stores out of the affected areas. As to whether or not it will actually provide the promised benefit, the proof will be in whether or not any new grocery stores get built in places that had previously lacked them. CM Costello says one is in hand, and we’ll see when that announcement happens, and if any others follow it. Finally, for those of you that scoff at the whole notion of “food deserts” in the first place, just think of this as the city loosening some regulations in order to encourage new businesses. Does that make it feel better? Texpatriate has more.

I got those “can’t get my rail cars built on time” blues

Actually, I don’t, but Metro does.

The company building 39 new Metro railcars has yet to deliver an acceptable vehicle almost six months after the original due date, potentially delaying full service for rail lines scheduled to open later this year.

The first car hasn’t passed a required water leak test and exceeds the maximum weight specified in the builder’s contract with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. In a Dec. 30 letter to CAF USA, the American subsidiary of the Spanish train-building giant, interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert demanded that the company explain how it will deliver all the cars by the Sept. 25 deadline.

“It is imperative that CAF demonstrate to Metro that it is seriously willing and able to meet its obligations,” Lambert wrote. Metro is withholding a $12.8 million payment until an acceptable rail car is delivered, he wrote.

In a reply, CAF’s worldwide CEO, Jose Maria Baztarrica, assured Lambert that U.S. representatives of the company would come to Houston to “fix all the various issues.”

Continued delay would leave Metro officials with options for opening the lines on time, but possibly not on a full schedule. Fewer railcars ready to hit the street could mean that trains operated less frequently or failed to cover the entire route.

“We can work through it, and we will,” Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said, stressing the important factor is that CAF deliver high-quality vehicles. “We have to be prepared that the cars are delayed and now we need to have a plan going forward of what we’re going to do.”

The railcar manufacturer is now promising swift action to get this resolved.

“If they are having a problem, then to me it is a big problem, even if it is a minor fix,” said Andres Arizkorreta, CEO of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, commonly known as CAF. “These are things we must do.”

[…]

Arizkorreta flew to Houston on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he assured Metro officials the water leak would be fixed within 10 days by installing a gasket

Remedying the leak, which was minor, is necessary before the car can enter service by undergoing weeks of on-track testing, interim Metro CEO Tom Lambert said.

“The best thing we can do now is get this one at the test track,” Lambert said. “The sooner we do that, the sooner we can build the others.”

Additional cars might come at a brisker pace. Manufacture of the cars will accelerate as CAF U.S.A. expands its Elmira, N.Y., plant, Arizkorreta assured Metro.

Officials said they were pleased with the quick corrections.

“I am convinced this is moving in the right direction,” Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

About 100 workers will be hired specifically to handle Houston railcar building, roughly doubling the staff now handling the order. CAF agreed in writing Thursday to give Metro a revised delivery schedule by Feb. 15.

That all sounds good, but the weight issue remains a problem. It’s not clear how that will be fixed. I’m going to be optimistic and say that this will mostly get worked out before the Southeast and Harrisburg lines open, but we’ll know more in a month. I hope it doesn’t cause any operational problems, or force reduced frequencies when the new lines open. Metro had already set its schedule back by a year after nearly blowing its Full Funding Grant Agreement due to the shenanigans of previous CEO Frank Wilson, who was trying to circumvent the FTA’s Buy American requirements. It’s possible that in the absence of those requirements, or at least in the absence of Metro trying to get around them and getting caught at it, that we’d be farther along now. Nothing can be done about any of that now, so let’s keep CAF’s feet to the fire and hope they have good news in February.

Craft beer: Still good for your economy

Yet another study says so.

Texas ranks second only to California in the economic impact derived from craft brewing, a report from the Brewers Association says.

This burgeoning class of smaller, independently owned craft breweries, along with their distributors, retailers and bar/restaurant workers, added $2.3 billion to the Texas economy in 2012, the report says.

That’s part of an estimated $33.9 billion national number cited in the report, which the industry group said measures “the total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products that brewpub restaurants sell.”

The Brewers Association said the nation’s 2,000-plus craft breweries and brewpub restaurants sold 13.2 million barrels of beer with a retail value of nearly $12 billion during 2012.

[…]

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild hailed the Brewers Association findings as confirming its own assessment last year that craft brewing could be upward of a $5.6 billion industry here by 2020.

The guild noted that Texas ranked fourth among the states in the number of craft-related jobs and third in “labor income produced from craft breweries through direct and indirect economic impact.”

It also found positive news in the state’s No. 34 ranking for per-capita economic impact.

“This finding clearly demonstrates … there remains significant room for growth for the Texas craft beer industry,” the guild said in a statement.

You can see the study here, and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild’s statement is here. The TCBG has done its own study with similar findings. You can see it with your own eyes – craft beers are on the menu at restaurants all over town, local microbrewers are expanding, and as a general rule new startups do a lot of hiring as they expand. I don’t think the market is anywhere near saturated yet. Keep on keeping on, y’all.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Evans

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.)

Jim Evans

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Jim Evans, and I am running for the position of Judge in the 308th Family District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court, like each of the nine Harris County family district courts, hears family law matters such as divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child support enforcement actions, name changes, and adoptions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am qualified to do the work required of a judge and because I am passionate about doing that work with integrity and with an understanding of the enormous consequences of my decisions.

Furthermore, I am running for this bench because it belongs to the people of Harris County, and it should not be used as a means to provide financial benefits to my political benefactors and cohorts. The presiding judge in this court has the ability to appoint ad litem attorneys, amicus attorneys, and receivers in hundreds of cases each year. The current Republican presiding judge, James Lombardino, appoints almost exclusively people who have donated to his campaign. Additionally, in the three years that he has been on the bench, he has appointed Jared Woodfill, the Harris County Republican Party chairman, numerous times (and more than any other family judge in Harris County). This sort of favor is inappropriate and not in the best interest of the children who are the subjects of the cases before the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I understand Texas family law, the culture of Harris County, and the legal environment in Harris County. I am a Harris County native, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, and the University of Houston Law Center. I have practiced law for over 10 years. For the last five years, I have practiced family law almost exclusively. I know the family judges in Harris County, the family attorneys in Harris County, and the statutory and common law bases for family law decision-making in Texas. I currently maintain my law practice in downtown Houston.

While in law school, I graded onto and served as the Research Editor on the Houston Law Review, which shows that I am diligent and a hard worker. At the beginning of my legal career, I practiced chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcy law, so I have a necessary understanding of the complicated property issues that sometimes arise in divorces. In 2009, I obtained certification as a family law mediator, and I understand the value and the limitations of mediation as a tool that can be used to resolve family law disputes.

Prior to attending law school, I taught in Louisiana public schools and worked as a Baptist minister for a number of years serving churches in Texas, Maryland, and Louisiana. These prior careers gave me an appreciation of the enormity of the pressures that people face with regard to their family lives and decision-making. This appreciation will inform my rulings on the bench as I strive for fairness and justice.

I have a life outside of the practice of law, and I believe that this will help me make decisions that are practical and that have good long-term results. I am a parent, divorced parent, step-parent, and adoptive parent. I married my husband, William Flowers, in Connecticut in 2010. I teach Sunday School at Deer Park United Methodist Church, and I serve on the church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee.

5. Why is this race important?

If elected, I will be the first openly gay family judge in Texas (and probably the first in the South). While this, in and of itself, does not qualify me to be a family judge, it will be significant to have an openly gay person on the bench. Currently, the family courts in Harris County negatively discriminate against gay and lesbian people. For example, none of the family judges, all of whom are Republican, will grant an adoption in a case where the prospective adoptive parent is an “out” gay or lesbian. If I am elected, I believe it will create a moral imperative for the other judges to do the right thing and either grant or deny an adoption based on the best interest of the child instead of the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent. Moreover, my promise, if I am elected, is that I will do nothing for the gay community except that I will not discriminate based upon a litigant’s sexual orientation.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me in the primary because I am energetic and a hard worker as evidenced by my successful campaign efforts collecting almost 1300 signatures on my petition to be placed on the ballot; and I intend, if I win the Democratic primary election, to work hard and run a winning general election campaign.

Additionally, I believe that my candidacy in the general election will inspire greater volunteerism and voter turnout for me and other Democratic candidates among members of the Houston GLBT community. This is particularly so because, if I am elected, I will be the first openly gay family district judge in Texas. I have already personally spoken to over one thousand GLBT people in Houston about this possibility; and their response is universally positive and enthusiastic.

Democrats in Harris County know that our county is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Moving even a few thousand voters from the Republican column to the Democratic column could have a significant impact on election night. I am a native of and a current resident of Deer Park, generally considered to be a Republican stronghold. I have already done block walking in parts of Deer Park and have found many Democrats who are discouraged because they believe that they are the only Democrats in town; I have also found Republicans who are excited about the possibility of voting for a Deer Park “local boy.” If I win the primary, I will consider it my job to get Deer Park Democrats to vote and to get Deer Park Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for me and other Democrats on the ballot. I believe that my intentional efforts to engage with Deer Park people will yield those successful results.

Finally, while my opponent is a good man and a good attorney, between the two of us, I am the only strong Democrat.

Falkenberg on Dave Wilson’s residency

Lisa Falkenberg has another chat with Dave Wilson to try and solve the mystery of where he really lives.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

No bathtub. No refrigerator. No TV.

If 67-year-old small businessman Dave Wilson really lives in a warehouse apartment on West 34th Street, and not with his wife, as he claims, it’s a pretty Spartan existence. And not a particularly clean, well-fed or entertaining one.

An inspection this week by City of Houston code enforcement didn’t help the Houston Community College trustee-elect in his quest to prove he meets district residency requirements for the job. The city ended up slapping a bright orange sticker to the glass door of the warehouse, indicating he doesn’t have permission to use it as a residence.

“Change of occupancy to reflecting living quarters on 2nd floor. Plans required,” it reads, warning that failure to comply may result in citations with minimum fines of $500-$2,000 per incident.

Photos from the city inspection, provided to me by Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office, depict sparsely furnished rooms with mostly bare walls, tabletops and counters.

“If you look at these photographs, it does not look like he’s been living there for two years,” said Ryan, who sued Wilson to try and prove the trustee-elect didn’t live in the district he ran to represent.

Ryan, whose office had requested its own tour of the residence but never got one, said he wasn’t surprised by the city’s findings.

“We believe it’s very clear cut,” Ryan said. “Every piece of evidence we see indicates he does not have his address at West 34th Street.”

Too bad Wilson didn’t take my advice and have Falkenberg drop by for a visit, a courtesy he did apparently extend to the local Fox affiliate. Instead, she only got to see the County Attorney’s evidence, which needless to say isn’t favorable to Dave. Wilson is free to show or not show whatever he wants to anyone – other than the judge, of course – but it seems to me he could have advanced his PR if he’d given Falkenberg a tour. Assuming the place does resemble an actual residence, that is. If it is what he says it is, then he prevails in court, his critics look like fools, and the issue is settled forevermore. For a guy who claims, not without some justification, that everyone is out to get him, you’d think he might want to shove the evidence of his righteousness in their faces, but instead he’s playing it close to the vest. Which might lead to a Perry Mason moment in the courthouse, but which also raises a question that Falkenberg brings up:

He’s probably right that some people are scared to death to get him on that board. Wilson has vowed to bring transparency to the often opaque operations of the HCC board and to request independent audits of finances. Heads could roll.

It would be a welcome change. But candidates promising open, honest leadership should walk the walk. Playing fast and loose with election laws and ignoring a temporary restraining order aren’t good ways to start out. Districts exist for a reason: to give citizens a better chance at electing someone who represents them and their interests.

This latest episode, added to the list of Wilson’s other antics, makes me wonder if he’d be a breath of fresh air on that board, or a disaster.

Yes, for a guy who claims to be all about openness and ethics and all that, he sure is less than forthcoming about his own business. As for the matter of districts, I’ve said my piece on that. What I’m going to say now is that the reason we are where we are is because the residency requirements we have on the books are basically a polite fiction for which no effective enforcement mechanism exists. We should either fix that or acknowledge that we just don’t really care. We’re in this debate now because we don’t have an agreed-upon standard of what it means to be a “resident” of a political subdivision, and because even if we did there was no way to objectively validate Dave Wilson’s residency before the election; remember, HCC’s Board and general counsel said it wasn’t their job to vet his application. Not having a standard and a means of validating someone’s candidacy serves no one, and that includes Wilson. Either we do something about this, or we ditch the whole idea and let people file for whatever they want, and leave it to the voters to sort out who represents them and who doesn’t.

I thought the case of Sen. Brian Birdwell in 2010 was as clear a violation of residency requirements you’re likely to see, with Birdwell casting a vote in Virginia at a time when he would have needed to be a resident of Texas to be eligible to run for the Senate. The challenge to his candidacy failed, not on the merits but on technicalities of jurisdiction and documentation provenance. I thought at the time that was telling us that the requirements we had were basically meaningless and that we should act accordingly. This is another test of that hypothesis. If Wilson prevails, then let’s agree that anyone with the wherewithal to declare himself or herself a resident of a given location – a relative, a second home, an office, a warehouse, what have you – is one for the purposes of the law and get on with our lives. Even if Wilson is found to be ineligible, we really owe it to ourselves and every future candidate to clarify the requirements up and down the ballot, one way or another. That’s something the Legislature could address in 2015. If it means a bunch of current incumbents have to scramble to buy a new house between now and their next filing deadline, that’s fine by me. If it means that residency is little more than a state of mind in the eyes of the law, then so be that. Let’s just pick one and stick with it. That has to be better than what we have now, which are winks and nods and the occasional lawsuit.

No BGO for HOF

Missed it by one vote.

One of the most majestic induction classes in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame was set on Wednesday with the announcement that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected by eligible writers of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, all of them by big margins.

On the ballot for the second time, Craig Biggio, who had 3,060 hits in 20 seasons, all with the Astros, did not get the necessary 75 percent, falling two votes shy of induction.

Already to be inducted in July are three of the greatest managers of all time — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, all selected by the Expansion Era Committee last month.

That means six living members are heading toward one of the grandest Induction Weekends from July 26-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The results of this year’s BBWAA vote were in stark contrast to that of last year, when the writers didn’t elect anyone.

Maddux and Glavine, a pair of 300-game winners who pitched the bulk of their careers for the Braves, were the favorites, but the 571 voters outdid themselves by also adding Thomas. It was the first time since 1999, when Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan and George Brett were elected, that the writers put three first-time eligibles into the Hall.

Maddux, who won 355 games, the eighth-highest figure in Major League history, saw his name appear on 97.2 percent of the ballots, falling short of the all-time mark still held by Tom Seaver, who was elected on 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992. Glavine, who won 305 games, fourth-most among left-handers, was at 91.9 percent, and Thomas, a first baseman and designated hitter, who batted .301, hit 521 homers and amassed 1,704 RBIs in 19 seasons, 16 of them with the White Sox, finished at 83.7.

I’m going to take a break from all the ranting and airing of grievances about the deserving candidates that didn’t get elected and the idiocy of the voters, for this year at least. Biggio becomes the first player to miss being inducted by a single vote, which at least bodes well for his future. You aggrieved Astros fans, go vent your spleen at Ken Gurnick, you’ll feel better. How much better off we’d all be if he had given his vote to Deadspin instead. Congratulations to the three supremely qualified new members, and better luck next year, Bidge. Hardball Talk has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 6

The Texas Progressive Alliance is off to a roaring start to 2014 as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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