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July 15th, 2014:

What else is at stake in the redistricting trial

It’s about more than just the maps.

Efforts by the Obama administration to wring protections out of a weakened Voting Rights Act begin Monday in Texas over allegations that Republicans intentionally discriminated against minorities when drawing new election maps.

A federal trial in San Antonio comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark ruling that Texas and 14 other states with a history of voting discrimination no longer need permission from Washington before changing the way elections are held.

The Justice Department and minority rights groups now want a three-judge panel to decide that Texas still needs that approval under a historically obscure portion of the Voting Rights Act that has drawn new attention since the heart of the 1964 civil rights law was struck down.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to use “every tool at our disposal” to preserve voter safeguards after the Supreme Court decision.

“This is a case that will make law,” said Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice.

[…]

Republican legislative leaders have long argued the maps were drawn merely to benefit their party’s candidates and have rejected accusations of intentional discrimination.

But if judges find intentional discrimination, Texas could be required to continue seeking federal preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. It has rarely been employed because the same effect was formerly achieved through the more muscular part of the law that is now eliminated.

See here and here for more on what the plaintiffs and the Justice Department are aiming for, and here for more on the state’s response. Section 3 came out of obscurity last year after Section 5 was gutted, and this is its first major test. If it fails here, I suspect it’s unlikely to succeed anywhere else.

Salon fills in some more details on why the plaintiffs and the DOJ are pursuing this course.

On Nov. 17, 2010, Eric Opiela sent an email to Gerard Interiano. A Texas Republican Party associate general counsel, Opiela served at that time as a campaign adviser to the state’s speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; he was about to become the man who state lawmakers understood spoke “on behalf of the Republican Congressmen from Texas,” according to minority voting-rights plaintiffs, who have sued Texas for discriminating against them.

A few weeks before receiving Opiela’s email, Interiano had started as counsel to Straus’ office. He was preparing to assume top responsibility for redrawing the state’s political maps; he would become the “one person” on whom the state’s redistricting “credibility rests,” according to Texas’ brief in voting-rights litigation.

In the Nov. 17, 2010, email, Opelia asked Interiano to look for specific data about Hispanic populations and voting patterns.

“These metrics would be useful to identify the ‘nudge factor’ by which one can analyze which census blocks, when added to a particular district [they] help pull the district’s Total Hispanic pop … to majority status, but leave the Spanish surname RV [registered voters] and TO [turnout] the lowest,” Opiela writes to the mapmaker.

Interiano responded two days later: “I will gladly help with this Eric but you’re going to have to explain to me in layman’s terms.”

Two years and seven months after that email exchange — and one year ago on June 25, 2013 — the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder,which struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had allowed the federal government to “pre-clear” redistricting maps proposed by Texas and other states with a history of discriminating against minority voters.

In a follow-up email on Nov. 19, 2010, Opiela explained to Interiano that he called his proposed strategy: “OHRVS” or “Optimal Hispanic Republican Voting Strength.” Opiela defined the acronym-friendly term as, “a measure of how Hispanic, and[,] at the same time[,] Republican we can make a particular census block.”

Lawyers for the African-American and Hispanic voting-rights plaintiffs consider Opiela emails “a smoking gun.” The correspondence will play a starring role at a trial scheduled to start today in a San Antonio federal court in a redistricting case, Perez v. Perry. The litigation pits the plaintiffs, who have been joined by the Obama administration, against Texas and its Republican state leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry in his official capacity.

There’s more, so read the whole thing. The trial is expected to last a week, though the ruling won’t be for months. The one thing I feel confident saying is that this will wind up back before the Supreme Court. PDiddie, Texas Election Law Blog, and Texas Public Radio have more.

UPDATE: From his new perch at the Brennan Center, here’s Michael Li’s preview of the trial and its implications.

The interim and non-interim Mayoral hopefuls of San Antonio

Robert Rivard previews the sausage-making process in San Antonio.

It takes six votes to win, a majority that will be harder to achieve if some of the announced candidates exercise their right to abstain. If all five abstain from voting for someone else, it will be impossible to gain the necessary majority. Such a stalemate would open up the process to all 10 council members, according to the rules of procedure outlined by City Attorney Robbie Greenblum at a recent council meeting.

If the interim mayor is, however, successfully elected on the first round of voting, you will know the real vote occurred behind closed doors and out of public view. I hope that doesn’t happen, and I don’t necessarily believe it will.

What is more likely is an inconclusive first round in which at least two of the candidates, District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and District 7 Councilman Chris Medina, receive no votes and are eliminated from the next round. It’s also possible, of course, that both will reach this conclusion before July 22 and reverse their stated intentions to seek the mayor’s seat.

Either way, that would leave three candidates.

One is District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, the presumed frontrunner who has stated her willingness to serve out Castro’s one year unexpired term and then step down without seeking election as mayor next May. She would be San Antonio’s first African-American mayor and in a strong position to seek a seat in the state Legislature afterwards if state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) does not run again.

Taylor’s pledge not to run in next May’s city election makes her an appealing compromise candidate to council members who want to run in May themselves or who want to support a candidate not on the Council.

It also would leave San Antonio with a figurehead leader lacking the political power of an interim mayor perceived as a possible candidate for election to a full term in May.

The others two candidates are District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, the senior member of Council, and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, both of whom have expressed an interest in winning the interim seat and going on to run in May.

Two suburban Council members, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier and District 10 Councilman David Gallagher, were said to be provisionally committed to Taylor, if you believe city hall chatter. That’s still four votes short, but it’s a start.

Lopez is experienced and believes he would be effective as mayor, but younger Council members seem more inclined to look at candidates from their generation. Gonzales has entered the contest, in part, because she and others feel it’s time for San Antonio to elect its first Latina mayor. She also believes she is just as qualified as anyone else pursuing the job. Gonzales had no mayoral aspirations before Castro’s Cabinet nomination, but circumstances have placed her and everyone else on the Council in a position none anticipated.

The unique nature of Council politics has thrust all of them into an uncomfortable position. The Council members who might have been the most likely to try and succeed Castro in 2017, had he sought and won a fourth term, aren’t the Council members with the strongest hand in the July 22 contest.

Makes your head spin a little, doesn’t it? Rivard is absolutely right that the San Antonio City Council needs to amend the city’s charter to include a less-crazy, more-democratic Mayoral succession process. A special election on the next viable uniform election date makes the most sense to me. In the meantime, the main question seems to be is it better to put in a placeholder till next May so all of the wannabees for a full term can start out on even footing, or is it better to put in someone that will be auditioning on the job for a full term?

How you answer that may depend on who you would like to support in 2015. One person who won’t be tapped to fill Julian Castro’s shoes for the next few months is State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who is busy building up support for his 2015 campaign.

For 35 years, the most successful candidates and most effective mayors have been practical Democrats who have won the backing of the business community.

This is not just because these candidates have well-financed campaigns. It is because a mayor with an ambitious agenda needs the support of the majority of voters — who in San Antonio are Democrats — and the support of the business community, which is practical.

The most effective San Antonio mayors of the past 35 years — Henry Cisneros, Nelson Wolff, Phil Hardberger and Castro — all fit that profile.

For the past 10 years, the best political harbinger of business support is Mike Beldon, head of one of the city’s largest roofing companies, former chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and former chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. In 2005, he served as treasurer and finance director for Hardberger’s campaign against a young Castro. Four years later, he did the same for Castro in his successful campaign against Trish DeBerry.

Now Beldon has signed on as the mayoral campaign manager for state Rep. Mike Villarreal.

Other than the Council members named above that would run for “re-election” if they win the Council beauty contest, there aren’t any serious contenders that are openly working it for 2015. Villarreal is known to have statewide ambitions, and Mayor of San Antonio would be a nice jumping-off point for a future statewide campaign, certainly one with greater potential than State Rep, at least at this time. One interesting twist on this is that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is said to have expressed some interest in being Mayor before, and could conceivably jump in if she’s not presiding over the Senate next spring. I trust Rep. Villarreal will see that as extra incentive to work even harder on behalf of her candidacy for Lite Gov.

Believing in – and lying about – monsters

This Chron editorial about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the frenzied, fanatical opposition to it gets right to the heart of the matter.

On its face, there is nothing controversial in the NDO. One could even claim that it is rather conservative, in the sense that this policy has been tested elsewhere time and again. The ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of categories already covered by federal law. It also extends protections to gay and transgender residents, following nondiscrimination laws that other cities and states have had on the books for years. Religious organizations and small businesses are exempted, and the maximum fine is $5,000.

But the rather staid nature of the nondiscrimination ordinance has not stopped opponents (mostly a few limited political and religious groups) from labeling it the “Sexual Predator Protection Act” and pursuing a ballot referendum to eliminate the new law.

The crux of this ad hominem invective is that opening the doors of civil society to transgender people – including restroom doors – will somehow also benefit criminals. This is an accusation based more in fear than fact.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. More than 160 cities and counties have passed their own individual laws, including Atlanta, Nashville and New Orleans. Dallas has had similar protections for a decade. Minnesota first prohibited discrimination against transgender folks in public accommodations more than 20 years ago. Even the Houston Independent School District added a transgender category to its nondiscrimination policy in 2011.

Houstonians have patiently studied these others’ experiences, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. A city of sex criminals run amok only exists in the perverse fantasies of those prone to moral panics, desperately yearning for evidence that their fears were rightly founded. That evidence simply does not exist beyond the anecdotal urban legend.

Emphasis mine. I don’t know if anyone on the Chron editorial board reads The Slacktivist, but the subject of people – in particular, evangelical Christians – inventing monsters to be afraid of and stand in opposition to is one he has examined on multiple occasions. They are lying, and they have no excuse for it. What’s more, they know they’re lying, which is even more evidence of their wrongness. I’m clearly not as cynical as I sometimes think I am, because the lying – the brazenness of it, the ease with which they do it, the utter lack of compunction or conscience about it – still shocks me. But the facts speak for themselves.

Is this really the end for Kinky Friedman?

I’ll believe it when I see it on my 2018 ballot.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

It’s been more than a month since he lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee for Texas agriculture commissioner, and the cigar-smoking author-musician can’t shake the loss — or how he was treated by fellow Democrats.

Friedman, in D.C. for a recent performance at the Washington Jewish Music Festival, wanted to talk about being sabotaged by party officials in the May 27 runoff.

“Democrats came after me personally with robocalls,” he told the Star-Telegram. “I thought a primary was sacred for people to choose.”

Friedman, who ran on a pro-hemp, pro-marijuana platform, lost the runoff by nearly 10 points to Jim Hogan, a rancher who did not campaign.

Asked whether it was the end of his political career, Friedman likened himself to Winston Churchill, who was booted out of office after leading Britain through World War II.

“I’m to be cremated and the ashes are to be thrown into Rick Perry’s hair,” he said. “Yeah, I’m done. I’m not whining. I’m liberated.”

I admit that I feel a small amount of sympathy for Kinky, who sincerely tried to be a decent candidate this time around, even if he was a one-trick pony. But look, he’s never tried to make amends for the 2006 campaign or the things that he said during (and after) that campaign. Instead, he’s basically parachuted into two races acting as if he’d been a good Democrat all along and not quite understanding why a substantial number of Ds weren’t buying it. If I have to explain why that was a less than optimal strategy for winning a Democratic primary, even if he was saying the right things this time around and could plausibly claim to be a downballot candidate with upside, then you’re unlikely to comprehend the explanation. We’ve been through this swan-song routine with Kinky before, so until the 2018 filing deadline passes I’ll remain at least a little skeptical. But if he does mean it, then let me suggest that he find other ways to pursue issues like hemp legalization that Friedman obviously does care about, ways that don’t involve him running for office. I’m sure he can find another worthwhile path to take if he really does intend to get off the candidacy bus.