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January 25th, 2014:

Saturday video break: Cups

Cup-stacking is a thing with the kids these days, and this song from “Pitch Perfect” is the soundtrack for it (music starts about 1:28).

David Letterman was quite impressed by Anna Kendrick’s cup percussion ability:

As someone who finds it hard enough to do one musical thing at a time, color me impressed as well.

Petition problems

Every election cycle there are fights over who really did or didn’t qualify for the ballot. This one is shaping up to be a doozy.

Three lawsuits over alleged ballot irregularities involving Harris County judicial candidates will be heard by a Beaumont judge, officials said Thursday.

State District Judge Bob Wortham was appointed to preside over the cases a day after the Harris County Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing documents filed by all local judicial candidates.

“We have a reasonable suspicion there are several instances that we need to look into,” said Terry O’Rourke, special assistant to County Attorney Vince Ryan.

O’Rourke and other officials appeared in a Harris County court Thursday for a hearing on a temporary restraining order request by longtime Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace George Risner.

[…]

Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill said the party was not made aware of the allegations until after the five-day window to investigate inaccuracies that followed the Dec. 9 filing deadline.

Instead of ruling on Risner’s request for a restraining order to stop the county from printing or mailing any more ballots, including absentee ballots, for the March 4 primary, state District Judge Randy Wilson said it would be more appropriate for a judge from outside Harris County.

“This could affect a lot of judges here,” Wilson said. “I’m a candidate on that ballot.”

He noted that Risner’s case is similar to two other recently filed cases involving Republicans and Democrats in judicial races and said administrative Judge Olen Underwood would assign the cases, including the hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday, to Wortham.

Wortham is expected to have a hearing on Risner’s request for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.

Moving the case to another jurisdiction makes a lot of sense, for the reason noted by Judge Wilson. The Thursday Chron had a preview of what was to come, with some more detail about the instigating case.

The allegation first was raised by longtime Precinct 2 Place 2 Justice of the Peace George Risner, who is suing the Harris County Republican Party, claiming it violated state election law by placing candidate Leonila Olivares-Salazar on its party ballot even after being told her application included hundreds of falsified petition signatures.

[…]

Olivares-Salazar “has publicly admitted to hiring a company to collect the required number of valid signatures (250) to qualify her for the ballot,” the petition states. “There were at least four circulators that gathered signatures for Olivares-Salazar who were employed by the company Olivares-Salazar hired, who falsified signatures on Olivares-Salazar’s petitions.”

Risner, a Democrat first elected to his post in 1987, and Olivares-Salazar are running unopposed in their parties’ respective primaries, meaning they would face each other in the November general election.

Risner said he was suspicious about the validity of the 456 signatures his opponent submitted after some of his “friends and campaign workers looked them over,” and decided to go door-to-door to see whether people whose names appeared on the petitions actually had signed them.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of them told me no,” he said. The petition claims 380 signatures were falsified.

Anyone who is active in politics has signed judicial petitions. The parties hold events designed to help judicial candidates get the petition signatures they need, and anyplace where candidates and voters gather there will be clipboard-toters seeking signatures. One of the things about signing such a petition is that you promise not to sign any petitions for a candidate from another party, and you promise not to vote in another party’s primary or participate in another party’s candidate selection convention. I suspect that is what may have tipped off Risner – if his Republican opponent’s petition had a bunch of signatures from known Democrats on it, that would be odd. If Risner then got some sworn statements from these folks attesting that they never signed Olivares-Salazar’s petition, that’s pretty strong evidence. Plus, the universe of people who sign these petitions for either party is pretty small, and heavily partisan. Most names are likely to appear many times, for the reasons cited above. Seeing mostly unrecognizable names on the petition, and following up to determine that they mostly have no primary voting history, would also be a clue that something unusual was happening.

Anyway. I can’t wait to see what the Beaumont judge makes of all this. There are also rumors that the County Attorney’s investigation may turn up other instances of invalid signatures. That’ss the party’s job to check, and HCDP Chair Lane Lewis is quoted saying his team did do a thorough review of all their petitions. We’ll see how that goes. The other two lawsuits involved a Republican challenger to a Republican incumbent judge who was denied a spot on the primary ballot, and an allegation by Democrat Julia Maldonado that her opponent, Sandra Peake, did not turn in enough signatures. Campos (twice) and Lisa Falkenberg have more.

Metro names Lambert its next CEO

For the second time in a row, the Metro board will make its interim CEO its permanent CEO.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board on Thursday voted unanimously to open negotiations with Tom Lambert for the permanent president and CEO position.

Lambert, who has led the agency on an interim basis since December 2012, served as Metro’s police chief for more than 28 years and more recently as an executive vice president. He was named interim CEO after George Greanias abruptly resigned.

Lambert, a 35-year Metro employee, initially said he would not be a candidate for the permanent job, and Metro hired a search firm to help it find a new leader. Over time, however, board members grew impressed with the job Lambert was doing and decided he should be considered for the permanent position.

“The chief has done a dynamite job, and his team has done a dynamite job, there is no doubt,” board chairman Gilbert Garcia said, referring to Lambert, during a December meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

As an earlier story notes, the Metro board hadn’t done much of anything to advance the search for an external candidate, so I guess they are indeed happy with Lambert. I think he’s done a decent job as well, though he does have some big challenges ahead, from reimagining bus routes to dealing with railcar shortages, and hopefully to restart the conversation about more rail lines in the future. I wish him the best of luck with these tasks. The Metro blog has more.

Next stop, Virginia

More lawsuits coming on same sex marriage.

RedEquality

Almost overnight, Virginia has emerged as a critical state in the nationwide fight to grant gay men and women the right to wed.

This purple state was once perceived as unfriendly and even bordering on hostile to gay rights. That’s changed after a seismic political shift in the top three elected offices, from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats who support gay marriage.

Two federal lawsuits challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage are moving forward, and a hearing on one of the cases is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Along with the recent court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma, gay rights advocates are heartened by the new mood in Virginia.

[…]

One lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, involves two couples from the Shenandoah Valley who claim the state’s ban on gay marriage violates the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal are representing the plaintiffs.

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, said Virginia’s “intriguing” history on marriage rights played a role in filing the challenge here. A 1967 Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple invalidated laws on miscegenation, or interracial marriage.

The case involved Mildred and Richard Loving. The interracial couple had been living in Virginia when police raided their home in 1958 and charged them with violating the state’s Racial Integrity law. They had been married in Washington, D.C.

The Lovings were convicted before ultimately prevailing before the Supreme Court.

“The narrative in Virginia of how marriage plays into Virginia history, why the state was so important nationally for our struggle, is a very significant one,” Taylor said.

The other lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk on similar constitutional claims. The legal costs in that case are being paid for by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was behind the effort to overturn California’s gay marriage ban.

David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, the high-profile legal tandem that brought down California’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, lead the legal team in that challenge. Both cited Virginia’s history when they announced their challenge.

Olson also cited Loving v. Virginia in his comments on the case. These lawsuits take place against a backdrop not just of recent wins in court in Utah and Oklahoma, but also of the Democratic sweep in the November 2013 elections. New Attorney General Marc Herring was vocal on the campaign trail in his support of marriage equality, and the job of defending Virginia’s laws now fall to him. That’ll be one thing to watch. As has been the case nationally, opinions towards marriage equality have shifted considerably in Virginia, with a majority now in support. Texas will be up next after Virginia, so the news isn’t going to stop or even slow down any time soon.