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November 2nd, 2015:

One more analysis of early vote turnout

From Greg:

EarlyVoting

Sometimes the motivation to drive out one segment of voters to the polls has a disparate impact in an electorate. And sometimes the motivation in one constituency has an echo effect that motivates competing constituencies. A classic example of the latter was seen in the North Carolina Senate campaigns involving Jesse Helms (in 1984 and moreso in 1990). In both cases, there was a belief that African-American voters could be motivated to vote in numbers greater than usual. In other words – their share of vote could be increased. Unfortunately, the efforts to increase interest among African-American voters also drove up turnout by North Carolina white conservatives. That Sen. Helms relied on television advertisements that were accused of being racist isn’t without some parallel to the anti-HERO ads we see and here today in Houston.

Local elections, however, are a different story. About the best example I can think of locally was the 2007 HISD bond election, with many leading African-American elected officials opposed to the bond issue due to the plans it contained for closing a number of community schools in African-American neighborhoods. The bond passed, but with African-American voters rejecting it in their polling places. This election definitely feels reminiscent of that. So it’s not that “such-and-such neighborhood/constituency/whatrever didn’t turn out” for this election. It’s more the case that another such-and-such whatever DID get an additional motivation to turn out.

We’ll see some of the usual postmortems about who didn’t vote, how baffling it is that so few people end up voting, and other horror stories that accompany elections every year. I still don’t buy such stories, though. We’ll end up seeing a healthy increase in turnout by the time Election Day is done with. In and of itself, that’s better than the alternative. Whether a particular outcome meets my preference or not is a different story. But I doubt we’ll see any postmortems that accept blame for not talking to enough friends and neighbors.

Until then, read into the above numbers what you will. For all of the increases in turnout among GOP-friendly areas, the voting behavior is still Dem-leaning throughout the city. Nothing terribly bad can happen as long as that’s the case.

Click over to see his numbers and the rest of his analysis. As I’m sure is clear by now, there are a lot of people who feel pessimistic about HERO, for a variety of reasons. I’m not in that camp, though I am certainly more concerned than I used to be. Sometimes when one stands out from the crowd of public opinion, one is a visionary who sees things others don’t, and sometimes one is just flat wrong. I may very well be wrong – it won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure – I just feel like we’re in sufficiently uncharted waters than I’m not comfortable speaking about what will happen with any certainty. The numbers are what they are, and it’s easy to see why they don’t look promising. Beyond that, I’m going to wait and see what they actually do say. I’m prepared to be wrong, and hoping not to be.

It’s not just bail reform that we need

The latest from Emily dePrang at the Observer:

go_to_jail

It’s a Monday morning, a little past 9:00. Half an hour ago, this hallway on the eighth floor of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center in downtown Houston was swarmed with people. Now all the other courtrooms have opened, swallowed their subjects, and closed up again. Only the hall folk of Criminal Court at Law No. 2 remain, resigned citizens waiting at the gates of the Honorable Bill Harmon’s grim little kingdom.

Harmon’s court handles misdemeanors, though like all the cases heard in this building, the charges being leveled are serious enough to incur incarceration. A single day in jail can cost someone a job or create a child care crisis, but the consequences also activate powerful legal rights. The Sixth Amendment, as interpreted by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the mid-20th century, guarantees a right to counsel for all defendants charged with crimes punishable by confinement. Those who can’t afford an attorney shall have one appointed, the Court ruled in the landmark 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright. “In our adversary system of criminal justice,” wrote Justice Hugo Black for the majority, “any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth.”

Most Texans hauled into court are indeed poor. Last year, the state appointed counsel in 71 percent of felony cases and 41 percent of misdemeanor cases, according to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. More than 415,000 defendants qualified for indigent defense services in 2014, and nearly 65,000 of them passed through the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

But an unknown number of defendants qualified for help and were denied it. Likewise, an unknown proportion of those who received appointed counsel were represented by attorneys too busy to do much more than communicate a prosecutor’s plea deal. In either case, defendants are deprived of the Constitutional guarantee to what the U.S. Supreme Court describes as a “vigorous defense.”

These injustices are hard to quantify for the same reason they’re easy to commit: The state exercises almost no oversight of indigent defense, and most counties still administer their programs through an antiquated process rife with conflicts of interests. Most counties, including Harris, pass the responsibility down to individual courtrooms. The judicial appointment system lets judges decide which defendants will receive appointed lawyers, which lawyers will get indigent appointments, and how many cases these lawyers will be assigned. There are plenty of little administrative rules, of course, such as attorney pay rates and minimum qualification. And, as required by state law, Harris County has an official indigent defense plan that codifies exactly how judges are supposed to evaluate whether a person is poor enough to be entitled to appointed counsel. It instructs judges to consider a defendant’s debts, expenses and dependents when determining indigency.

But that’s all on paper. Here in the hallway, inside the courtroom, and even in absentia, Judge Harmon makes the rules. And Harmon’s rules are among the harshest in Harris County, a place not known for its equitable criminal justice system. More than half the defendants now waiting for Harmon have come to court without an attorney, and many believe they’ll be appointed one. None of them will.

[…]

“The way it’ll work is, the [appointed] lawyer will talk to the [district attorney], the DA will tell them, ‘This is what the offer is,’ and they’ll go back and convey this offer to the defendant,” [defense attorney Robert] Fickman says. “It almost always boils to this: that they’re offering you X, which means if you plead guilty you’ll get out of jail in so many days. Or we can reset [delay] your case, if you want to fight it, and you’ll end up spending more days in jail. It’s a hostage choice — it’s not a choice at all. These are poor people who need to get back out and try to feed their families. So what do they do? They plead guilty. They’re not pleading because they’re necessarily guilty but because they’re getting their liberty. The horror, the horrible irony of this system, is that people are pleading guilty just to get their liberty. And it goes on every fucking day.”

Read the whole thing, and ask yourself ho you would feel if this were happening to you or to someone you knew. Judge Harmon is one of the lucky duckies who gets to run for re-election in non-Presidential years, meaning that as long as current turnout patterns remain the same, he’s set. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it.

UberEats

Some new food delivery options, at least for some people.

Uber

Uber will expand its presence in Houston this week with the local launch of its meal-delivery service, UberEats.

Beginning Thursday, Houston becomes the second city in Texas and the 10th in North America where Uber drivers will deliver meals. Customers in downtown and Midtown can use the Uber app to select from a list of 60 participating restaurants and place orders, said Sarah Groen, general manager of UberEats Houston.

After customers order and pay through the app, the company says an Uber driver will arrive with the food – already in the car in temperature-controlled containers – within 10 minutes.

“We keep that geography fairly small to make sure we can deliver on that promise of 10 minutes or less,” Groen said.

[…]

Several app-based and online food delivery services already operate in Houston and for longer hours. They include GrubHub, Favor and DoorDash.

Groen said Uber Eats differs because of its changing menus. Some participating chefs are creating specific meals for UberEats.

I have no feel for how big a market there may be for something like this. We cook or we eat out – even when we order a pizza, from Pink’s here in the Heights, I pick it up. If you’re the sort of person that is into this sort of thing, then this is good news for you. We’ll see if there are enough such people to make this a success.

Keeping an eye on Katy ISD

This could be interesting.

Some of the details of George Scott’s “shadow school board” are still that – shadowy.

But as the conservative blogger has assembled a group to meet regularly to reach its own conclusions about the business of the fast-growing Katy ISD board, his mission is clear: to use public data to take aim at the district’s use of high-stakes testing.

He hopes the approach has far-reaching effects beyond the Katy ISD boundaries and will serve as a model for other districts.

“I’ve known George since I first became the president of the local, well over 30 years” said Gayle Fallon, the recently retired president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “He and I have not always agreed, but I think he’s got a good idea here and one that if it takes off, could have a national impact.”

Scott and Fallon don’t necessarily see eye to eye on many things. But their interests align when it comes to the burden that they say standardized tests have placed on classroom teachers and students.

“With this new emphasis on data,” said Fallon, “teachers spend hours they used to spend with kids just doing data for school districts.”

[…]

If he can raise $13,000 through his Kickstarter campaign, Scott said the board will meet on Saturdays starting next year for all-day sessions reviewing data from ongoing public information requests. The money would go toward information requests, facility rentals and meals during the meetings but participants wouldn’t be otherwise compensated, according to Scott. If he raises more than expected, then the shadow board would prepare a budget. All the financials would be publicly available. In April, the board would produce a position paper with recommendations on how to push back on testing’s impact in the classroom as well as on other issues.

“There is an immense amount of data and the typical school board member hasn’t a clue,” said Scott. “They don’t have anybody getting a real actual understanding of the correlation between all of this testing they have and what it means in the organization and delivery at the campus level and the concept of holding people accountable.”

As noted, Scott is a blogger and former member of the Board of Managers of the Harris County Hospital District, among many other things. He’s also been a voice for fairness and transparency in how properties, especially commercial properties, are appraised – I’ve cited his work here more than once. Like Gayle Fallon, I don’t see eye to eye with him on many things, but I respect him and his work, and I think this is a worthwhile project, whatever they ultimately do or don’t find. I wish you and your team good luck, George, and feel free to send me a press release any time you unearth something interesting.