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April 9th, 2014:

A grassroots fighting force of extraordinary magnitude

At least, I hope it is.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Addressing hundreds of volunteers on Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis highlighted her efforts to mobilize Texas voters and once again attacked her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for being what she called a political “insider.”

Davis also talked gender equality in the workplace — which she’s made a centerpiece of her campaign — and reaffirmed her stance on making pre-K accessible to Texas children.

“The real priority of Texas is to make sure our kids, every child, gets an opportunity to be a part of 21st century education,” she said.

The crowd at Davis’ event on Saturday was made up of the campaign’s neighborhood team leaders — the top layer of her grassroots campaign. Polls show Abbott is leading Davis, who faces a steep uphill climb to win in a state that hasn’t seen a Democrat elected governor in decades.

The statewide volunteers had traveled to Austin Community College for an all-day summit on how to mobilize voters. The event was preparation for next Saturday, when Davis’ campaign officially kicks off its door-to-door canvassing. Davis campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said volunteers would head out in their own neighborhoods to provide a “local emphasis.”

“You’ve recruited an army the likes of which Texas has never seen,” Davis said to a boisterous crowd, many of whom she identified in her speech as being public school teachers.

The Davis campaign says it currently has 14,225 volunteers, and that the number is climbing. It has the sizeable support of Battleground Texas, a PAC founded by former Obama campaign field director Jeremy Bird and devoted to optimizing the blue vote in Texas by targeting eligible minority voters who are not registered.

This all sounds fantastic, and as with LVdP, I really want to believe. I want to believe it can and will make a difference this November. But what I need is the answer to some questions:

– How is the Wendy Davis campaign different than the Bill White campaign? White was well-funded and invested a lot in GOTV activities. For all the scorn he’s gotten in some quarters, he did draw hundreds of thousands of votes away from Rick Perry. In a less terrible year for Democrats overall, he could have won. How does Wendy’s campaign compare to his?

– That volunteer figure is awesome, but I’d like some context to it. How many volunteers did BGTX think they’d need for this campaign? How many voters do they think they can reach with this number?

– We all know BGTX is an outgrowth of Team Obama’s legendary organizing in states like Florida and Ohio. How does what BGTX is doing compare to what was done in those states, or any others? What learnings from Florida and Ohio were implemented here? What did they have to completely un-learn and do differently? What did they find here that was brand new to them?

I don’t expect to see these answers in my newspaper anytime soon, of course. Maybe someone will publish a memoir in 2015 or so, in time for the ramp-up to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, with some of the answers. Even without these answers, I don’t doubt we’re seeing something new, and that it has the potential to be transformative. The one thing I’d caution about is that we’re unlikely to see any effect of this in the polls, at least early on. If the goal is to bring out people that aren’t in the habit of voting in off-year elections, then by definition they’re going to be caught in pollsters’ “likely voter” screens. It will be noticed at some point if there is a real effect, but it may not be till late and it may only be one pollster. None of the public polls really captured the 2010 dynamic, after all. BOR has more.

James O’Keefe is a lying liar

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the special prosecutors that investigated the allegations by O’Keefe’s group Project Veritas made against Battleground Texas.

A conservative activist’s allegations that Democratic group Battleground Texas illegally acquired voter information in San Antonio have been rejected by a Bexar County district court after a pair of special prosecutors called it “political disinformation.”

The ruling was based on an investigative report from those special prosecutors who found no wrongdoing and described hidden-camera evidence produced by conservative activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group as deliberate falsehoods.

Three people had alleged that a Battleground Texas staffer violated state election law last year by mining voters’ personal data while registering them.

The Democratic group steadfastly denied the claim, saying its activities followed the law. The group called the allegation another fiction from O’Keefe, who has been criticized for his video editing and investigative tactics.

His Project Veritas uses hidden cameras to film Democratic Party and liberal politicians and activists.

After reviewing the YouTube video from Project Veritas, the appointed prosecutors said there was “no applicable criminal offense for the alleged act and insufficient evidence to suggest potential offenses.”

Project Veritas had no immediate comment Monday.

The attorneys, Christine Del Prado and John M. Economidy, summed up their findings with a harsh assessment of the allegations.

“The Veritas video was little more than a canard and political disinformation,” their 18-page report stated. “The video was particularly unprofessional when it suggested that the actions of Battleground Texas were advocated by a Texas gubernatorial candidate and that the actions of a single volunteer deputy registrar may even involve private health data, which is not involved in the voter registration process.”

See here and here for the background. I said at the time that these allegations were the tortured reading of the law in question being made by a known liar. No one should be surprised by the end result. BOR, who has a copy of the court’s order to dismiss here, Media Matters has a coy of the special prosecutors’ report, and PDiddie have more.

No, there won’t be a flood of equal pay lawsuits in Texas

There wasn’t one before, when the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act passed. There’s no reason to believe there will be one if a state version of the Ledbetter law is approved.

Candidates for statewide office have wrangled recently over an effort to address sex-based wage discrimination by extending the window for lawsuits. But as the campaigns have kicked up dust, the issue has gotten cloudy.

Opponents of the proposed Texas Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Gov. Rick Perry vetoed last year, say it duplicated federal law and would increase unfounded lawsuits. Meanwhile, Democrats say conservatives are standing in the way of equal pay for women.

Experience with the federal law, which was enacted in 2009, suggests both claims are overblown. The federal law hasn’t brought about a flood of frivolous discrimination charges. But there’s little evidence that the pay gap between men and women has narrowed.

The issue of equal pay is important, but the Ledbetter act is “a very narrow fix,” said University of Texas professor Joseph Fishkin, who teaches discrimination law. Among the reasons it hasn’t had much impact, he said, are that pay gaps are driven in part by difference in education and types of job. But the fight, Fishkin said, is nonetheless significant.

“This has become an argument between the parties about equal pay in general. That’s a good discussion to have,” he said. “I don’t think the Ledbetter act is a cure-all, but it is a focal point. The politics go beyond this bill, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

[…]

“There’s no indication that the Ledbetter act would increase lawsuits,” said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president of education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, which supported the federal measure. “It hasn’t at the federal level, and there’s no indication that it would do so in Texas. It certainly wouldn’t increase the number of lawsuits without merit.”

The number of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles claims of wage discrimination on the federal level, didn’t increase substantially after President Barack Obama signed the Ledbetter law.

Data from the EEOC going back to 1997 shows that an average of 250 charges a year originated in Texas before the act passed. Afterward, the state averaged 259. The most came in 2002, when 339 sex-based wage discrimination charges originated in Texas.

The charges represent complaints made under both the Equal Pay Act of 1964, which targets sex-based wage discrimination specifically, and broader provisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin.

The numbers don’t include every charge filed, but they do present a picture of the Ledbetter act’s minimal impact on the volume of sex-based wage discrimination charges. Though women filing under the Equal Pay Act don’t have to go through the commission, “many charging parties do,” said EEOC spokeswoman Justine Lisser.

The Ledbetter act reinstated a long-standing position by the commission that the 180-day time frame to file wage discrimination lawsuits starts over with each individual discriminatory paycheck, Lisser said, explaining the lack of an increase in charges.

Not really a whole lot to add to this. Litigation is never an easy path to take, and hand-wringing about “frivolous” lawsuits, especially in a state as hostile to (non-corporate) plaintiffs as Texas, is just fearmongering. The reason a state law is needed when a federal law exists, as Katherine Haenschen patiently explains to Matt Mackowiak, is that a state law makes bringing a suit just a little easier for someone who has been wronged. Not easy, mind you, just easier. Fixing the underlying problem will take a lot more of that, and most of the things that will be needed to accomplish that will likely be even less palatable to Mackowiak and the interests he represents. No one ever said life was fair, fellas.

The microbreweries aren’t done with the Legislature

Microbreweries took a big step forward in 2013, but there’s still more to be done.

The 2013 legislative session, which featured the largest overhaul of the beer industry since 1993, was viewed by many observers as a watershed moment for craft brewers in Texas. But in testimony before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee on Thursday, Scott Metzger, who sits on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, said the state can still do more for the industry.

At a hearing on how to make Texas more attractive to venture capital investment, Metzger predicted that over next 10 years, the brewing industry could be the most dynamic growth sector of the Texas economy. That potential is limited, he said, because of remaining restrictions on brewers that make it difficult to attract investors.

“The restrictions the state of Texas places on our businesses dictate that it often makes better economic sense to deploy capital in a different state,” Metzger, a former economics professor, told lawmakers.

[…]

Asserting that New York, Washington, Colorado and even California had more brewer-friendly environments than Texas, Metzger said Thursday that the industry is encumbered locally by “restrictive franchise statutes” and “a regulatory scheme that restricts our ability to sell and market our products and, in one particularly egregious instance, to realize any of the actual value of the brands that we have created.”

In addition to approving a slate of bills in 2013 that opened up the industry in ways his group appreciated, including allowing brewpubs to distribute their beer off-site via third-party distributors, Metzger said lawmakers also passed a bill that they were less enthusiastic about that prevented brewers from receiving compensation from wholesalers for their distribution rights. He also raised objections to rules that he said essentially lock in distribution agreements “for life.”

Metzger encouraged lawmakers to think of the three-tiered system as “a living, breathing thing that needs to evolve with the changing marketplace.”

I pointed this out last July, via a post from the Jester King brewery. Here’s a quote:

While the new laws represent major progress for Texas beer, there are some realities that we are not pleased with. There still exist exorbitant licensing fees in Texas that keep beer from small, artisan brewers out of our state. We still will not be seeing beer from Cantillon or Fantome on Texas store shelves anytime soon. We feel strongly that in order for Texas to become a truly world-class beer state, it must eliminate the massive licensing fees that keep out beer from small, artisan producers. We have written extensively on this topic before, which you can read here.

We are also not pleased with the passage of SB 639, which makes it expressly illegal for breweries to sell the right to distribute their products to wholesalers, while making it expressly legal for wholesalers to sell those same rights to one another. This law is tantamount to legalized theft, and we will join future efforts to see it overturned. For our complete commentary on SB 639, please follow this link.

See here and here for the background. The situation is unquestionably better, but it’s also unquestionably not what one would call a free market. I personally don’t see the value in the existing three-tier system, but as long as the political will to dismantle it doesn’t exist, we should push to loosen it as much as possible. I presume the craft brewers will have a wish list of specific legislation they’d like to pass by the time the session starts. It won’t be any easier this time around, because the big breweries will do everything they can to protect their legally mandated piece of the pie. I won’t be terribly surprised if they have one of their toadies introduce a bill to scale back in some way the gains the craft brewers won. We’ll need to keep an eye out for that.