Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 10th, 2014:

Castro confirmed for HUD

Congratulations, Secretary Castro!

Mayor Julian Castro

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The nomination was approved 71-26 on a roll call vote. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted for the nomination; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted against it. Republicans cast all of the no votes.

The San Antonio Democrat would serve on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet for the remainder of the president’s term, which ends in January 2017.

He will officially become secretary once he is sworn in.

“I’m very honored to be confirmed as the 16th secretary of Housing and Urban Development,” Castro said Wednesday afternoon at City Hall.

Amazing what the Senate can accomplish when it puts its mind to it, isn’t it? All attention now turns to the Alamo City and the selection of an interim Mayor to serve out the remainder of Castro’s term. The Rivard Report has all the details.

“My intention is to resign after the new mayor has been selected, and within the next couple of weeks we will likely have that specially-called meeting to select the new mayor,” Castro said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “I’ll leave my advice and comments for the new mayor to the conversation that the new mayor and I have. However, I am very confident that among the council members there is the leadership abilities to continue to do a great job, to lead this city well. No matter what job you are in, it’s never about one person. It’s about a strong team effort and the fact is we have very strong Council when you think about the modern history of San Antonio public service.”

Castro said he sees “several people on the council” who he believes would make strong mayors.

[…]

City Attorney Robbie Greenblum, Castro’s former chief of staff, was busy Wednesday contacting the 10 city council members to confirm their availability for a special meeting of City Council on Tuesday, July 22, or Wednesday, July 23. Council members typically plan vacations for July when the City Council is in summer recess. At that special meeting, Castro will preside over the council’s vote to select an interim mayor to serve out the final year of his unexpired term. Castro will not vote for his replacement. A general election to select a new mayor for a full two-year term will be held in May 2015.

Castro is expected to be sworn in as the new HUD Secretary before the end of July. Jaime Castillo, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the swearing-in could occur on Monday, July 28, meaning Castro would enjoy a few days as a private citizen, time that presumably will be spent getting settled in to his new life and work in the capital.

According to the protocol established by the city attorney’s office for selecting an interim mayor, interested candidates among the 10 council members will be required to submit a public “letter of interest” prior to the special city council meeting. Only current city council members are eligible for consideration, according to the 1951 city charter. Council members will then meet to select one of the declared candidates. Council members cannot vote for themselves but are allowed to abstain in any given round of voting to prevent a candidate they oppose from winning a six-vote majority, or they can abstain at the outset to avoid taking a position. In the event none of the declared candidates can muster a six-vote majority, council members will be allowed to nominate a colleague who did not submit a letter of interest. There also is a process to deal with deadlocked votes, and eliminating candidates who win the least votes if more than two council members apply. As many as five of the 10 council members are believed to be leaning toward seeking the interim mayor’s position. That means the process could lead to a stalemate with no candidate able to muster the six votes needed to win.

Castro said Wednesday he hopes charter reform will be on the November 2016 November ballot. It could be placed on this November’s ballot, but the deadline is Aug. 16, making that highly unlikely.

Yeah, I’d say that charter could use a bit of updating. As for who may succeed Castro, this year and next, Texpatriate discusses a couple of possibilities, including Mayor Pro Tem Cris Medina, and State Rep. Mike Villarreal; there’s also CM Ivy Taylor, whose candidacy I have discussed, and others. We are way into uncharted waters here, so expect an action-packed year for the political junkies of San Antonio and elsewhere.

As far as Castro’s future in Texas post-Obama, I’ll say again what I’ve said before: Barring a scandal of some kind, Julian Castro can run for whatever interests him and is available in 2018. The main effect of having served in the Obama administration will be better access to the national campaign funders. Maybe this improves his chances of sharing a ticket with Hillary Clinton in 2016 and maybe it doesn’t – perhaps we should at least wait for Hillary to formally announce her candidacy before we get too deep in those weeds. If he’s not on the national ticket, the main curveball that could get thrown at him for a 2018 Governor’s race might be if his brother Joaquin gets recruited to run against Ted Cruz for the US Senate. I’m honestly not sure if a two-Castro Texas ticket would be extra exciting or hard for some people to handle. But again, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Congratulations on your confirmation, Secretary Castro. Do a great job at HUD and I figure the future will take care of itself.

Another pension-related lawsuit coming?

Here’s a little blast from the past.

BagOfMoney

The city of Houston may sue a company whose advice it relied upon in making changes to firefighters’ retirement benefits in 2001, saying the firm’s inaccurate predictions left the city on the hook for pensions it cannot afford.

Houston’s contribution rate to the firefighters pension skyrocketed soon after the changes were approved, despite an actuarial report from Towers Perrin, now Towers Watson, that predicted the payment rate would remain flat for a decade. This year, the city is contributing 33 percent of payroll to firefighters’ retirements, more than double the rate prior to the changes.

Former Mayor Lee Brown’s administration also based its support for 2001 changes to municipal workers’ pension benefits on a separate Towers Perrin report that projected the city’s contributions to that fund would not top 14 percent of payroll; by 2003’s end, the rate was 42 percent.

Both reports were commissioned by the employee- and retiree-controlled pension boards; the city did not seek second opinions.

City Attorney David Feldman said the proposed lawsuit is targeted at the actuary’s fire pension projections because the specifics of the situations make the fire report a “cleaner” case; he did not rule out bringing suit based on the flawed municipal estimates.

“When we were closely studying how we got to where we are today, I started collecting all the historical information, and I came across this and said, ‘Wait a minute, look at these projections. What happened?’ ” Feldman said. “Even if we weren’t in the ditch we’re in, if I came across that information I’d have a duty to my client to say, ‘You have a cause of action here.’ ”

[…]

While relatively rare, disputes between local governments and pension actuaries do occur, and have yielded damages.

In Alaska, where state pensioners have their retirement and health care benefits covered, the state sued its actuarial firm, Mercer, for allegedly projecting rising health care costs incorrectly; the firm ultimately settled for $500 million.

Mercer also was sued by Milwaukee County, Wis., which accused the firm of underestimating the cost of new benefits offered in 2001; the firm settled for $45 million.

I had to go back ten years to find the last mention of Towers Watson (née Perrin) on the blog. The fact that some other governments have collected for crappy pension forecasts in the past is intriguing, but suffice it to say we’re a long ways off from any kind of settlement. If we do ever get to that point it’ll be nice, but probably not transformative. I figure it can’t hurt to at least explore this, but we’ll see how it goes.

Utah will take same sex marriage fight to SCOTUS

This could be the ballgame.

The Utah attorney general’s office announced Wednesday that it will appeal the 10th Circuit Court’s decision last month upholding same-sex marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday was the deadline for the state to seek a full-court review by all 12 judges of the 10th Circuit Court, but, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office, Utah will instead push onward to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The announcement came as dozens of Utah families delivered more than 3,800 petitions to Gov. Gary Herbert’s mansion, asking the state to pull back its appeal of same-sex issues on which judges — both state and federal — have already ruled.

This includes Utah’s landmark Kitchen v. Herbert case, the first in the nation to topple a state ban on gay marriage, as well as a case over whether or not the state is obligated to recognize the nearly 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in the wake of the Dec. 20, 2013 decision by a federal district court judge in Utah striking down the states ban on same-sex marriages.

The timing of the state’s announcement Wednesday was “interesting,” said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, who attended Wednesday’s march.

“We don’t really know if the Supreme Court will take this up or they won’t,” Balken said. “Unfortunately, today we have families, couples, children who are living in legal limbo.”

A statement from the Utah attorney general’s office reiterated the state’s call for “clarity” and “resolution” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

“To obtain clarity and resolution from the highest court, the Utah Attorney General’s Office will not seek en banc review of the Kitchen v. Herbert Tenth Circuit decision, but will file a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United State Supreme Court in the coming weeks,” according to a statement from the attorney general’s office. “Attorney General Sean Reyes has a sworn duty to defend the laws of our state. Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 is presumed to be constitutional unless the highest court deems otherwise.”

The 10th Circuit made its ruling two weeks ago, so Utah isn’t wasting any time. SCOTUS doesn’t have to accept Utah’s appeal – if they decline, it simply means that the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling stands and would be the end of the line for Utah and I presume the other states in the Tenth Circuit – but at least some marriage equality proponents would like to see SCOTUS take it up. Freedom to Marry put out a statement saying if by doing so they could “swiftly move to end marriage discrimination across the country”, instead of just in these few states. If SCOTUS does decide to sit this one out, they may be forced to take action later if a different appeals court, like say the Fifth Circuit issues a contradictory ruling. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If SCOTUS does take this up, that could set the stage for a ruling from them in 2016, or possibly late 2015. That in turn might make the 2016 Presidential election an even bigger deal.

So Ohio Senator Rob Portman is considering a run for president, and he claims his support for gay marriage would be a plus in a general election, allowing Republicans to make an economic case to key demographics that are culturally resistant to the GOP. “You can’t become a national party unless you do a better job reaching those between 18 and 30,” Portman says.

This raises the possibility of a scenario that Republicans who agree with Portman — and believe the party must evolve on gay marriage to stay in step with the country’s cultural and demographic shifts — might want to start worrying about right about now.

It’s not hard to imagine that Senator Ted Cruz might make precisely the opposite case from Portman, making the case that the party must reaffirm its support for “traditional marriage” key to his GOP presidential primary run. This could come after the Supreme Court has declared a Constitutional right to gay marriage — which Cruz would then be vociferously calling on Republicans to help roll back.

Gay advocates believe lower court rulings overturning state gay marriage bans on Constitutional equal protection grounds could portend an eventual SCOTUS ruling that enshrines a national right to gay marriage. That could happen in time for the 2016 primary.

That would amount to a powerful declaration that this debate is, or should be, culturally and legally settled. But at that point, unrepentant foes of gay marriage could seize on the ruling to redouble their call for a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Such a measure was introduced by House Republicans as recently as last year. And Senator Cruz supports the idea.

Yes, leave it to Ted Cruz. Do what he says, Republicans! Follow him all the way over that cliff!

Anyway. In other same sex litigation news, a judge in Colorado has struck down that state’s marriage ban. I’ve lost track of how many such wins in a row the good guys have had, but it’s a lot. The biggest prize of them all may be coming soon.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 7

The Texas Progressive Alliance has been driving around asking about incendiary chemicals as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)