Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

January 15th, 2014:

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.