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January 8th, 2014:

Interview with Damian LaCroix

Damian LaCroix

Damian LaCroix

Challenging Sen. John Whitmire in SD15 is attorney Damian LaCroix, who as noted before had been a candidate for judge in 2010. LaCroix is a Houston native and graduate of Texas A&M and SMU law school. As Sen. Whitmire touted his experience in his interview, LaCroix advocates for a change and for new leadership. I suspect that factor will be critical to the decisionmaking for SD15 voters.

I had originally intended to use SoundCloud only for Sen. Whitmire’s interview, pending feedback on it. In the interest of fairness and uniformity, I decided to use it for LaCroix’s interview as well. I’ll decide about using it or not going forward later this week. Please note that for each interview, there’s a Download link on the Soundcloud widget if you’d rather listen to the MP3 file via your own player. Let me know if you have any problems with that. Here’s the interview:

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

Rick Perry doesn’t want people to get health insurance

There’s really no other viable explanation.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On a White House conference call on Monday, Texas Democrats criticized Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican state leaders for “getting in the way” of implementing federal health care reform.

During the call, which was organized by the White House to tout the impact of the Affordable Care Act in Texas, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins accused state leadership of creating obstacles to keep Texans from obtaining health insurance, as required by the health care law, also known as Obamacare. The two Democrats cited Texas’ decision not to expand Medicaid, the lack of a state-based insurance marketplace and proposed additional rules for federal navigators.

Martinez Fischer called Texas the “poster child” for the uninsured, adding that the state’s rate of residents without health insurance — the highest in the nation at about 25 percent — had received “no relief from state leadership.”

“I wish we would use our energy and momentum in Texas with our statewide elected officials to actually embrace and work cooperatively with the administration to expand ACA opportunities in Texas rather than the trail of roadblocks,” Martinez Fischer said.

Jenkins questioned Perry’s request for additional regulations on federal navigators, who are charged with helping individuals sign up for health insurance.

“If they won’t help citizens gain access to coverage, they ought to stand down and stay out of the way for those of us who are willing to work to do the job for Texas,” Jenkins said.

Perry first requested the rules in September, citing consumer privacy concerns. Other Republican state leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, followed suit.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed called the conference call an attempt to distract from the Affordable Care Act’s “continued failures.” She cited the technical problems of the federal online insurance marketplace, concerns surrounding the training of navigators and delayed enrollment deadlines.

“Texas families and businesses don’t need more empty rhetoric from the Obama administration to know that Obamacare is a failure,” Nashed said.

It takes a certain level of sociopathy to say something like that when you are the Governor of the state with by far the highest number of uninsured people, and you’ve been Governor for thirteen years without doing a single thing about it. Except for all the things you’ve done to deny health insurance to people, such as the CHIP cuts and our famously stingy Medicaid eligibility requirements and onerous enrollment processes. Hey, remember when we spent a couple hundred million dollars outsourcing our Health and Human Services Commission and gave the money to a private firm that didn’t know its ass from a pencil eraser? Those were the days, my friend.

The antipathy towards health insurance comes through in everything Rick Perry – and David Dewhurst and Greg Abbott and the rest of the sorry lot – does, from imposing needless burdens on navigators to refusing to expand Medicaid to refusing to implement an exchange, and on and on. If there were some honest ongoing effort over the past decade-plus to do something about the millions of uninsured in Texas, that would be one thing. But the record, and the inactivity, speak for themselves. There’s really no other way to characterize it. Millions of people have become insured around the country, but all we get here is rage and denial.

Oh, and bad journalism, no doubt influenced by the lying and obfuscation. Do make sure you click those two links and read the stories, which have now coaxed an apology for the half-assed job they did from the Star-Telegram. Senators Sylvia Garcia and Rodney Ellis have more.

End of year B-Cycle report

B-Cycle has been in Houston for nine months, having launched in early April. So far, it’s done pretty well.

The B-Cycle system’s 29th station was christened earlier this month in front of Clayton Homes. Officials said they hoped to provide new customers for bike-sharing and new opportunities for low-income families.

“The more you use the bikes, the more excited you become,” said Tory Gunsolley, president of the Houston Housing Authority.

In many U.S. cities, bike-sharing has become popular mainly among people who choose to bike for recreation. Critics say bike-sharing hasn’t reached low-income neighborhoods, however.

Houston’s build-out didn’t push into poorer neighborhoods, but it didn’t start in wealthy enclaves either. From three downtown stations, the system pushed south and west into Midtown, Montrose and the Museum District. It subsequently spread to the Heights, Eado and the Northside.

Houston will put B-Cycle kiosks where it can, when it can, as corporate partnerships and funding allow, said Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian. She said having stations at the University of Houston, Rice University and Texas Southern University will be the next important steps.

“We want to double and triple this program and I know that we can do that,” Spanjian said.

Connecting the bikes with communities that need transportation is part of the strategy, Gunsolley and Houston B-Cycle director Will Rub said. The bikes could be an asset for people who need to travel a few blocks and don’t want to wait for a bus or ask someone for a ride.

[…]

Use of a kiosk near Project Row Houses, a Third Ward arts group, has been brisk, said Assata Richards, community liaison for the group.

“They use it to go to the grocery store, they use it to get around the neighborhood,” Richards said.

Looks to me like the Project Row kiosk is a short ride away from the planned Southeast Line station at Elgin and Scott. That will be an excellent location for future kiosk, since it will make the Southeast Line more accessible to these folks. If the Universities Line ever gets built, a kiosk by the TSU station, at the west end of campus, would serve a similar purpose, just on a much farther out timeline. You know me, I’m all about linking bikes to transit. Two connected networks are better than two separate networks. There’s already a kiosk near the Dynamo Stadium light rail stop, which is the nearest neighbor to the Runnels location, so it’s already networked.

Ridership of Houston’s bike-sharing system, Texas’ first, continues to grow. After a quick expansion from three to 27 kiosks in less than a year, ridership jumped. Use peaked in July with 7,225 checkouts but fell to 4,053 the following month before rebounding slightly.

“The heat in August had an impact on the leisure riders primarily and the cold and wet weather in late November had a similar impact,” Rub said in an email.

I have not used my B-Cycle membership as much as I would have liked. My plan was mostly to use it during lunchtime to expand my dining options and also possibly for certain types of errands. I have done those things, just not very often. One obstacle that I haven’t figured out how to overcome is the helmet. I don’t like riding without one, so I have to plan to bring my helmet with me to the office if I plan to ride later. That has its own logistical issues, as I’m sure you can imagine. I do want to ride more as the weather warms up, so I need to get that sorted out.

How Greg Abbott enabled the payday lenders

The Lone Star Project kicks it off:

Abbott’s Green Light to Predatory Lenders

Key AG document provided payday lenders a loophole to bilk Texans

Greg Abbott’s office issued the key document that has allowed payday lenders to operate outside of Texas usury laws and exploit Texans across our state. A letter issued from the office of the Attorney General carefully lays out that payday lenders in Texas can take advantage of a loophole used by credit service organizations to avoid Texas laws preventing unscrupulous lending. It is essentially a “how-to guide” for payday lenders to expand and grow their predatory lending businesses.

Payday lenders had been nervous about expanding their operations in Texas, but Abbott’s letter gave them the go-ahead they needed. The respected financial industry publicationAmerican Banker reported how payday lender Ace reacted to the Abbott letter:

“The Irving, Tex., company originally saw too much legal risk in the CSO setup, in which payday specialists can collect as much as 20% in fees for arranging a short-term loan from a third-party lender. But this month Texas’ attorney general, Greg Abbott, sent a letter to the state’s Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner saying that CSOs are permissible. So on an earnings conference call last week Ace said it will begin brokering loans as a credit service organization sometime in the next two quarters.” (American Banker, February 1, 2006)

Attorneys general in many states act aggressively to reign in abuse by predatory lenders like Cash America and ACE, but not Greg Abbott. In fact, Greg Abbott has been the payday lender industry’s facilitator and protector.

Abbott gave the green light, and pay day lenders hit the gas. Payday lender outlets have proliferated all across Texas during the Perry/Abbott era. In 2004, there were approximately 300 payday lenders in Texas. By 2011, there were over 3,000. Right now, there are more payday lending establishments in Texas than there are McDonald’s and Whataburger locations combined.

So, don’t look for Greg Abbott to jump on the bandwagon to get rid of William J. White or impose any more restrictions on predatory lenders, unless of course the payday lenders themselves or other Austin insiders give him the green light.

Background

Recent news reports have detailed that William J. White, the chairman of the Texas Finance Commission – the state agency intended to protect Texas consumers – attacked Texas consumers and defended predatory lenders over outrageous payday loans that result in borrowers being saddled with loan costs of sometimes more than 500 percent of the principal. White’s bottom line is that any Texan gouged by an unscrupulous payday lender is on their own and should blame themselves for their predicament.

State Senator Wendy Davis quickly and decisively called for White’s resignation.

Who is William J. White?

White is not just the chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, he is also vice president of Cash America, one of the largest and most notorious predatory lenders in the country. Cash America has hundreds of payday lending storefronts all across Texas, many of them right outside military bases where military families, who are often under financial pressure, are exploited. Earlier this year, Cash America was fined for abusive lending, and exploitation of military personnel was cited specifically. During the last legislative session, Cash America and other payday lenders spent over $4 million dollars lobbying the GOP-controlled Texas legislature.

Soaking Soldiers

A key target for predatory lenders is active-duty military personnel. It is no coincidence that payday lender storefronts proliferate around active-duty military bases and other installations. Holly Petraeus, head of the Office of Servicemembers Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, recently said that payday lenders congregate outside bases “like bears on a trout stream.” Current federal law is not sufficient to protect against predatory lenders, especially when state AGs like Abbott are predatory lender allies.

The El Paso Times fielded the ball:

Abbott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. It also has not responded when asked for more than a week whether Abbott believes the Texas payday lending industry needs to be reformed.

The El Paso City Council [debated on Tuesday] whether to enforce local limits on payday and auto-title lenders that in some cases charge annual interest at rates greater than 700 percent.

It and most other major Texas cities have passed ordinances in the face of unwillingness by the Legislature to place stricter limits on the industry.

Religious and charitable groups also have called for reforms of an industry they say traps poor people in a cycle of debt.

[…]

The concept of usury — unconscionably high interest rates — goes at least as far back as the Old Testament.

It’s also part of the Texas Constitution, which says that in the absence of legislation, interest rates in the state are limited to 10 percent a year.

Lenders that are licensed and regulated under Texas law face caps of their own. Commercial loans in most instances can’t exceed 18 percent except when the loan is greater than $250,000, when they can’t exceed 28 percent.

Auto loans can’t exceed 27 percent. Short-term loans by licensed lenders can’t exceed 150 percent and pawn loans can’t exceed 240 percent.

But the letter by the attorney general that was released Monday said fees associated with payday and title loans have no limits.

Emphasis mine. As PDiddie notes, the El Paso Times has led the way on this story. He also notes that recent Peggy Fikac column about Davis’ “oops” moment, in which her campaign got some campaign contribution figures confused. Abbott attacked her for that, and also for her vote to confirm William White in 2009. The difference between Davis and Abbott, as epitomized by Abbott’s snivelly refusal to answer a simple question, is that Davis recognizes that her initial action was in error, and is now willing to do something concrete about it. Abbott is just hiding behind a wall of “no comments”. That’s some kind of bold leadership right there. Meanwhile, also in the “let’s do something to fix what’s obviously broken” camp are Sens. John Whitmire, Rodney Ellis, and Sylvia Garcia, who joined the call for White to resign. Which won’t happen until Abbott and/or Rick Perry see that he’s a problem, too. Anyone want to bet on when that might happen?