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February, 2016:

The case for letting everyone vote by mail

The Washington Monthly in an article written by a former Secretary of State for Oregon, lays it out.


Presidential elections still attract a majority of America’s voters. For all other elections, however, democracy is mostly a spectator sport. In the 2014 midterms, just 83 million registered voters cast ballots—a nosedive of almost 10 million from 2010’s already anemic levels. Almost 110 million registered voters were no-shows—for a registered voter turnout rate of just 44 percent. Add another 40 million eligible but unregistered citizens, and the rate was just 36 percent.

Turnout in primary nomination contests is even lower—for instance, just 18 percent of registered voters participated in the 2012 cycle. This is a major factor pulling both parties, but especially the GOP, to the extremes, and it should be especially worrisome to Republican and Democratic moderates and the 42 percent of Americans who now identify as “none of the above.” An estimated 90 percent of the nation’s 435 congressional seats and 7,383 state legislative seats are noncompetitive between the major parties. Win the dominant party primary, and the November election is a mere formality.

Fiscal conservatives, too, have reason to worry about low voter turnout, if for no other reason than the costs that taxpayers in many states are incurring to ameliorate it, such as keeping polls open longer. Voting as traditionally done—with 110,000 polling stations and 800,000 poll workers—is expensive. Just to upgrade or replace the hundreds of thousands of aging touchscreen voting machines could easily cost states and localities $2 billion in the next decade.

Low voter turnout, however, should really trouble progressives, because the voters who don’t show up at the polls (including the ones who vote in presidential years but not in off years) are disproportionately Democratic in their orientation and propensity.

Democrats and their progressive allies aren’t bereft of ideas to boost voter participation. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both championing promising reforms, such as automatically registering all American citizens based on driver’s licenses or birth records. But no other solution holds anywhere near the potential to boost actual voter turnout. Evidence from Oregon, Colorado, and Washington suggests that if other states adopted universal vote by mail (UVBM), they could increase their registered voter turnout in midterm elections by 10 to 15 percent. Even more dramatically, they could double or triple their primary election turnout, which would almost certainly reduce the inordinate influence of take-no-prisoners ideologues. (See “Can Vote by Mail Reduce Partisan Extremism?”)

Universal vote by mail has many other virtues, too. Those odious photo ID laws? Rendered moot; you don’t need a voter ID to fill out a ballot at your own kitchen table. Long polling place lines? How about no lines, period—and no way for elected officials to manufacture them by (whoops!) providing too few polling places in certain neighborhoods?

Universal vote by mail has also proven to be at least as secure from fraud—and arguably more so—as traditional voting at polls. Election officials check each voter’s signature on the ballot return envelope, matching it against the voter registration card before the ballot is counted. (Since signatures can change, voters still have time to update their registration cards—and qualify their ballots—before results are officially certified.)

Universal vote by mail has the additional advantage of being less costly to taxpayers than the traditional method. Beginning in 2000, Oregon taxpayers started saving $3 million per election cycle. Or consider California’s San Diego County, where election officials found that in a 2013 special election for mayor the direct cost of operating their polling places—$360,000, for 32 percent of votes cast—far exceeded that of the “mailed out” portion—$84,000, for 68 percent of votes cast.


Would expanding UVBM to other states help Democrats more than Republicans? The weight of the evidence certainly suggests so. But that Democratic advantage, such as it is, won’t necessarily last forever. Voter preferences change over time as generations age. A decade ago, for instance, older voters leaned Democratic, and as recently as the 1980s most younger voters supported the GOP.

Moreover, partisan advantage shouldn’t matter at all if UVBM will help democracy and give voters far more ability to cast an informed and considered ballot, on their schedules. How many of us, voting at a traditional polling place, have felt the pressure to rush through the process, picking candidates, especially down-ballot ones, almost at random? Voting by mail, at your kitchen or dining room table, is unhurried. You can use the Internet to learn more about candidates’ policy positions and views, or look for newspaper editorials. You can reach out to knowledgeable relatives, friends, and colleagues who might know more than you do about a particular race. The result is more considered and intelligent voting.

Universal vote by mail can also counter the outsized influence of extreme ideologues who thrive in the “micro-turnout” world of current party primary elections. Official voter statistics our PSU team has compiled from all fifty states’ primaries show that just 35 million voters cast primary ballots during the 2012 election cycle—while 155 million already-registered voters didn’t. That’s an overall registered voter turnout rate of 18 percent. Separate research involving complete voter files for fifteen 2014 primary states shows the median age of those voting at about sixty-two, compared to the median age of forty-six for registered voters in those states.

If 10 or 12 percent of registered voters in an average-turnout state choose to vote in the dominant party’s primary, the electoral math is pretty clear: win just 5 or 6 percent of your constituents’ votes in a competitive race, in the right primary, and you can pop the champagne corks. But when more than 50 percent of eligible Republicans and Democrats vote in primary elections—Oregon’s track record since 2000—each party’s more moderate voters have a far greater opportunity to be heard.

The main attraction for elected officials is that UVBM would save money. When you add in the fact that at some point every county in Texas is going to have to replace its increasingly old and outdated electronic voting machines, the case becomes clearer. Not that anyone expects this to happen in Texas, where the extremism is a feature and not a bug, but it’s worth pointing out and getting someone on board for filing a bill to this effect in 2017. Martin Longman has more.

Steve Radack supports Medicaid expansion

I have three things to say about this.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

When Harris County commissioners were asked this week by a member of the public to lower the property tax burden, Steve Radack had a response prepared: tell Austin to let millions of Medicaid dollars flow to the county – then the commissioners might be able to lower taxes.

The comment may come as a surprise from the Precinct 3 commissioner, one of the most outspoken conservatives on the court who has been a vocal critic of Harris Health System, the county’s health care system for the poor.

But his comment adds to the number of local voices that have challenged state Republican leaders to accept the federal money at a time when the county’s population and medical needs continue to grow. Radack said he will keep up the drumbeat.

“So, let’s go after the state,” he said at the meeting Tuesday. “Let them just simply accept the money, send it to us, we’ll cut taxes.”


Last year, Harris Health System officials estimated there were 70,000 uninsured patients in the county public hospital system who would have benefited from the Medicaid expansion, translating into about $70.3 million.

That money, said CEO George Masi, is instead picked up by the Harris County taxpayer when uninsured patients can’t pay their bills.

“That’s what’s so compelling about this,” Masi said. “This is 70.3 million, that would accrue immediately to Harris County.”

Masi said the number was similar each year since Texas opted against expanding Medicaid.

1. This is very good to hear. I have plenty of disagreements with Commissioner Radack and plenty of reasons why I’d like to see someone else in that office, but he’s 100% dead on right here, and he deserves to be applauded for it.

2. That said, how long has he felt this way? Judge Emmett has been a supporter of Medicaid expansion for a few years now. If Radack has felt this way all along, he’s kept it pretty close to the vest. Be loud and proud, Commissioner!

3. I hate to be the one to bring up uncomfortable topics here, but the only way we’re going to get Medicaid expansion in Texas is to elect more people who support it. There are some Republicans in the Legislature who support Medicaid expansion – off the top of my head, I don’t know of any from Harris County, though that may just be because they’ve also been quiet about it – but the majority of them do not, and our Governor and Lt. Governor are especially antagonistic to it. As long as that is the case, the status quo will remain firmly in place. The words are nice and necessary, but without action to accompany them, that’s all they are.

Metro smartphone payment system debuts

Progress marches onward.

Metro riders will be able to board a bus or train without a fare card or cash within a few days, just in time for some of the transit agency’s heaviest use during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials on Wednesday said they had completed testing and preparation and will activate a smartphone payment system Monday or Tuesday. The rodeo starts Tuesday, and the mobile ticketing will include the option to buy rodeo shuttle tickets.

“We want to make sure everything is in place, but it will be live by the time the rodeo opens,” Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said.


Metro’s app allows a rider to use PayPal or a credit card to purchase and store tickets. Once activated, the tickets are valid for three hours. The system includes elements to eliminate fraud.

A number of cities, notably Portland, Ore., and Dallas, beat Houston to offering mobile tickets. In both of those cities, despite some technology-related problems, many riders embraced the system. TriMet, the transit agency for Portland, sold about 2.9 million mobile tickets in 2014, about 3 percent of all trips.

Transit use in Houston is lower than in the Portland area.

Not all functions Metro plans to unveil will be active by next week, said Denise Wendler, the agency’s chief information officer. The contract includes offering Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Android-based payment systems, but those are not included yet.

Wendler said it will also take longer to allow students to purchase discounted fares, though other ticket options will appear much sooner.

“The very next thing we do is park and ride,” Wendler told a Metro board committee.

See here for the background, and here for reporter Dug Begley’s account of beta testing the system. If you park at a Metro park and ride lot and take the shuttle to the rodeo, you can use this system to buy tickets for that as well; see here for more about taking Metro to the rodeo, which is totally a better and cheaper option than driving and parking. I’ve got a Q card, so as long as those exist I don’t foresee a need for me to use the app, but that may change some day. What do you think about this? Would you use it? Leave a comment and let us know.

Former KTRU to become Christian station

Well, that’s different.

KSBJ Educational Foundation, which owns and programs noncommercial Christian music radio stations, acquired the 50,000-watt KUHA (91.7 FM). Subject to Federal Communications Commission approval, the station could switch from its current classical format to NGEN by late May or early June.

UH in 2010 acquired the station for $9.5 million from Rice University, where it was known for years as KTRU, and aired classical music on the signal before deciding last year to put the station on the market and move its classical programming to digital formats.

“It’s a good result for Houston because classical service continues and the station stays in the hands of local owners and experienced broadcasters,” said Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media. “It enables us to continue to provide multi-platform arts and culture coverage and use our resources for continued focus in news and other local content initiatives.”


Classical music will continue on 91.7 FM until the sale is approved and also can be heard at KUHF (88.7 FM HD-2), the Houston Public Media mobile app, at, on over the air television at Channel 8.5 and through iHeartRadio and TuneIn and other free mobile applications.

We first heard about this last August. Whatever you think of the whole KTRU situation – and for what it’s worth, KTRU is back on the air, if you can find it – this now means there will no longer be a non-HD FM station devoted to classical music in Houston. That just feels wrong, but then no one asked me.

Weekend link dump for February 28

Depending on your outlook, tomorrow is either a bonus day in February, or an “oh my God this month isn’t over YET?” day.

Further evidence to bolster the more lead = more crime hypothesis.

Prince’s passport photo is better than yours.

“Instead, the reality may be another kind of simple numbers game: More time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women.”

Cindy Crawford turned 50 the day after I did. You’re welcome.

Remembering Shirley Chisholm, and the path she blazed for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

RIP, Samuel Willenberg, last survivor of the Treblinka death camp revolt.

Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Falls, explains his decision to end the show.

“An analogy to understand the FBI’s request of Apple”.

“Either of these things would be worrisome on its own. Put them together and it’s a bit like wandering into one of those old Universal monster movies, realizing you’ve run into both Dracula and Frankenstein. Sure, they’re both a bit cartoonish and old-timey, but they’re still monsters intent on doing you harm.”

“An international team including scientists at the University of St Andrews has unlocked the secret of one of the great events of Earth’s evolution – the Cambrian explosion.”

I’m just gonna leave this here.

First they came for the Canadians, and I said nothing in the form of a question because I was not Canadian.

“Welcome to music copyright infringement, a legal arena with lots of gray area and an abundance of high-profile lawsuits.”

Virginia McLaurin is my new hero.

If SCOTUS doesn’t take up HB2 till President Clinton’s new Justice has been confirmed in 2017, that’s fine by me.

Donald Trump – Mediocre at best at business.

RIP, Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, longtime Houston religious leader who worked to build a vibrant Orthodox Jewish community.

“There are a lot of people whose income depends on their ability and willingness to shill for the Republican Party. We’ll see how much pride and self-respect they have.”

“A group of civil rights organizations [filed] a historic consumer fraud complaint with the federal government on Wednesday, charging that a group purporting to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity is engaging in deceptive business practices.”

“As the Democratic primary heads into South Carolina and the The Black Vote becomes important issue, I’ve noticed the phenomenon of people sharing headlines about liberal black supporters as if they are magical amulets that can persuade others and repel criticism.”

The potential downside to trying to engineer mosquitoes out of existence. I suppose it is the kind of thing a supervillain would come up with.

“Do we really want to keep, do we really need to keep this place open for 50 remaining detainees who we could easily move to a secure facility in the United States?”

“Still, I am no longer confused about why many evangelicals are supporting Trump and not Cruz. The Bible is full of stories where God uses nonbelievers to accomplish his ends, and I can see how, for them, Trump’s boldness might contrast positively with a figure like Cruz. But let me tell you what I can’t understand—how they can support a man like Trump and go on claiming that they are basing their beliefs on the Bible and the Bible alone while liberal or mainline Christians are picking and choosing. It’s almost like they’ve never read what the Bible has to say about immigrants.”

“Anyway, that’s the latest. As always, Donald Trump is the champion of the little guy. As long as the little guy is from Romania.”

Harry Reid’s trolling game remains strong.

“The principle of relativity is a simple, and elegant organizing rule for the universe, and if you take it as an axiom, it leads inevitably to all of the cool concepts and beautiful math of relativity. And it seems to work very well for describing the universe in which we live. But there’s no obvious reason why the universe has to be that way.”

RIP, Yolande Betbeze Fox, possibly the most interesting Miss America ever.

Final EV totals for the 2016 primaries

It all comes down to Tuesday now:

Year       Dem      GOP
2008   177,088   64,431
2012    37,887   78,081
2016    85,816  131,145


For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here, and the 2008 totals are here. You can still see the SOS archive for 2008, with the final Dem totals here and the Week Two Day Two GOP totals here. EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide through Thursday are here.

Hey, remember when I said ” I wouldn’t be surprised if 50,000 people vote today, 20K in the Dem primary and 30K for the GOP”? The actual last day totals were 20,362 Dems and 32,993 Reps. I’m a freaking genius. This keeps us on track for the same projections, which is to say about 165K Dems and 250K Republicans. Note that the actual early vote totals reported by the County Clerk on Tuesday night will be a bit higher than what we have here, as there are still several thousand mail ballots out. Some number of them will get returned by Tuesday. The only question at this point is what share of the vote has been cast and what is left to come, and how much the existing GOTV activities will affect that latter number. Have you voted yet?

HISD girds for budget cuts

Welcome to the job, Ken Huewitt. Isn’t this fun?


Houston’s deputy superintendent on Thursday presented the school board with the deepest round of proposed budget cuts since 2011, leaving principals to decide between slashing staff, supplies, field trips or other activities.

Ken Huewitt, who transitions to interim superintendent next week, called for teachers’ jobs to be spared but said an undetermined number of other positions – some vacant – may be lost to curb a projected $107 million shortfall driven by the state’s funding system.

“These cuts will affect the campuses. There’s no way around that,” Huewitt told the board.

Each school in the state’s largest district would lose $179 per pupil – the equivalent of three employees at a 1,000-student campus – and funding for gifted students would drop.

The proposed cuts also target some of the Houston Independent School District’s major reform efforts, indicating a shift at the end of outgoing Superintendent Terry Grier’s six-and-a-half-year tenure. For example, the teacher bonus program, once heralded as among the nation’s largest, would all but end, with the last payouts in early 2017.

In addition, the extra money allocated for tutoring and longer hours at a few dozen low-performing campuses, part of Grier’s signature turnaround program, now would be spread across the district.

That change, meant to help a greater number of troubled students despite budget woes, would increase the amounts for low-income or at-risk children by $88, to $352 per pupil. Funding for each homeless or refugee student would jump more than $500 to $704. The figures vary slightly for middle and high schools.

Campuses, however, would receive half as much for each gifted student, falling to $211. Huewitt’s proposal did not address whether magnet schools that serve gifted students – some of the district’s most popular – would keep the $410 they get on top of the basic allotment.


HISD’s expected budget shortfall stems largely from a key provision of the state’s school-funding system. For the first time, HISD expects to join Spring Branch, La Porte and some 240 other districts deemed so property-rich that they must forfeit money to the state to help those with less wealth. HISD had avoided this status with help from state lawmakers over the years, but this time legislators did not agree to raise the payback threshold enough to counter the district’s still-rising property values.

A 2014 court decision declared the state’s overall school-finance system unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court is weighing an appeal from the state, so no immediate financial relief is expected.

In the Houston region, the Spring Branch Independent School District is the largest system that this year had to send money back to the state under the so-called Robin Hood, or recapture, system. The district, in west Houston, forfeited $8 million in 2015. Officials expect the amount to quadruple to $35 million in the coming year due to the strong housing market and business redevelopment, said Karen Wilson, associate superintendent for finance.

Like I said, things are tough all over. The Lege and the hot real estate market got HISD into this predicament, and the best hope to get them out of it is a good ruling from the Supreme Court. Honestly, this is a good illustration of why our school finance system is so screwed up. It’s just too dependent on local taxes. The state has gradually shrunk its own responsibility for paying for schools. That needs to stop, and the idea that we can educate our growing population of schoolchildren, many of whom have needs that require extra resources, for the 21st century and with ever-increasing standards on the cheap has to stop with it. In all things in life, you get what you pay for. The Lege and the Supreme Court need to recognize that. A statement from Mayor Turner, who knows a thing or two about the school finance system, is here.

The stars at night are slightly less bright

But we’re trying to fix that.

Texas regulators are asking West Texas oil and gas producers to help preserve the region’s famously starry skies.

In a notice issued Wednesday, the Texas Railroad Commission called on Permian Basin operators to curb light pollution at worksites, particularly around the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, a destination for world-renowned astronomers in the Davis Mountains near Fort Stockton.

Touting some of the darkest skies in North America and one of the world’s largest telescopes — the Hobby-Eberly — that secluded outpost draws about 75,000 amateur stargazers each year, along with professionals who have made major discoveries, including, in 2012, the most massive black hole ever detected. The Hobby-Eberly recently underwent a $30 million upgrade as part of a project focusing on dark energy, the mysterious force propelling the accelerated expansion of the universe.

But astronomers and other dark skies fanatics fret that scattered light from drilling rigs, light towers and other equipment in recent years has drowned out entire sections of sky, threatening the view and research.

Ordinances in the seven counties surrounding the observatory require home and business owners to cut their light use at certain times. Most residents follow the rules, but such rules don’t apply to the operators whose lights can be seen from hundreds of miles away.

The Railroad Commission notice discusses the “cutting edge” research at the observatory, and refers companies to studies on how to address the problem relatively cheaply.

“You are encouraged to consult these resources and consider ways to reduce stray light,” the notice states. “The solutions can be simple and cost effective and can actually improve nighttime visibility and increase worker safety.”

This is not the first time that the McDonald Observatory has faced this issue. Now that the oil boom is over, a big part of that problem may be solved organically. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see the Railroad Commission doing something useful. Hopefully the drillers that remain out in the Permian Basin will take heed of their advice.

New frontiers in social media campaigning

From Slate:

Huey Rey Fischer identifies as a queer, vegetarian, Latino “progressive Democrat on a bicycle.” He is 23 years old, and he’s running for state representative in Texas’ District 49, which encompasses the University of Texas at Austin. A longtime incumbent is vacating the seat, and Fischer, who attended UT Austin, believes he can defeat his six competitors by seizing the student vote in the March 1 primary. Fischer is campaigning in all the ways youth-vote-hungry candidates campaign—college canvassing, early voting drives, a focus on student debt—with a twist: He’s reaching out to voters on Grindr and Tinder, popular dating apps famous for facilitating hookups. (Grindr is designed for gay men; Tinder is for everyone.) On Wednesday, I spoke with Fischer about political goals and his unconventional campaign tactics.


How did you decide to campaign through Grindr and Tinder?

My campaign was brainstorming ideas about how to engage with millennials. With Facebook and Twitter, people have to opt in—but when it comes to Grindr and Tinder, it’s direct engagement, direct conversations. It’s a medium that my opponents would never be able to use, anyway; it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a 45-year-old to be messaging millennials on dating apps. We figured it’d be a fun way to engage with voters.

Do you message voters from your personal phone?

No. There’s a phone in the office dedicated to Tinder and Grindr outreach. We let volunteers come in and strike up messages with people on the apps, as long as they stay on message. “Hey, how’s it going, are you registered to vote?” “Go vote in the Democratic primary for Huey Rey Fischer!” “Huey Rey Fischer is the progressive choice on the ballot!” And so on.

Do you worry that you might be abusing the medium? People typically use these apps to connect with potential intimate partners, not politicians.

We don’t strike up conversations. We allow other people to strike up the conversation with us. It’s a profile of me, and it says clearly that I’m a candidate for state representatives, seeking votes. When people message us, for the most part, they know I’m a candidate for the state legislature.

Fascinating, and ironic in a way since Fischer is campaigning in HD49, now held by the famously Internet-averse Rep. Eliott Naishtat. That field is full of progressive Democrats, so any way to stand out and gain an edge is vital. It would be truly awesome if someone with real statistical chops compared turnout in the (say) 30-and-under segment from 2012 to 2016, and tried to determine if this made a real difference or not. Whatever happens, I salute Huey Rey Fischer for thinking outside the box.

Saturday video break: Ice Cream Man

Another example of Two Really Different Songs With The Same Title. First up, local artists Leah White, from one of her albums of music for kids:

Clearly, that’s a Good Humor ice cream man, and as someone who grew up on a block where the Good Humor Man used to make a regular stop, I can totally appreciate that. By the way, that “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” line, Dr. Demento listed that as one of the worst song titles of all time in the original 1978 Book of Lists, which (along with its sequel) I read cover to cover many times as a kid. Turns out the good Doctor has since released updated versions of his list, but I was able to find reference to the original, with that song title in a couple of old newspaper articles. God, I love the Internet. Oh, and Leah White also now sings with a classic rock cover band that I hope to eventually catch at a show that’s not out in the ‘burbs.

And the song by this title that you probably know, the one by Van Halen:

Yeah, like I said, totally different. Once again, I recall the wise words of Michael Binkley when he said “In fact, the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket since David Lee Roth left Van Halen”. Truer words have never been spoken.

RIP, One Bin For All

It had a good run, but at the very least the timing was all wrong.

The One Bin For All program would let Houstonians throw all trash in the same bin, to be separated for recycling later. The hope was to push up Houston’s low recycling rate. But now the city could end up with no recycling at all.

The city council on Wednesday delayed a vote on a new contract with Waste Management, which would cost the city about $3 million more per year because commodity prices for recyclables are low.

Several council members are calling for suspending recycling until that changes.

The One Bin program was not mentioned at all in the discussion.

It turns out Mayor Sylvester Turner is not a fan.

“I’ve looked at and read the paper that’s been presented from what was done,” he said. “I’m not convinced that that is something I want to move forward with right now, if at any time, but it’s not a part of this conversation.”

See here for the last update. Mayor Turner had spoken in generalities about One Bin before now – I’d have to go back and re-listen to the interview I did with him for the 2015 election, but that’s how I remember him speaking about it then as well – so this is a rhetorical shift for him. It’s not exactly a policy shift in the sense that he had never committed to doing anything with One Bin, so think of it more as a door being closed.

As for the Council action, the Chron story from Wednesday before the meeting suggested some pushback on continuing the recycling contract with Waste Management, but nothing more than that.

Until now, Waste Management would resell the recyclables, deduct a $65-per-ton processing fee and give 70 percent of the remaining revenue to the city. If the firm’s costs exceeded the fee the city paid, Waste Management ate the difference. Those terms meant the city could make $25 per ton two years ago, when recyclables were bringing $100 per ton.

Now, with commodities prices at lows not seen since the 2009 recession, Waste Management has been dropping or renegotiating its contracts with Houston and many other cities.

If City Council approves the new deal, the city next month will begin paying a $95-per-ton processing fee. With commodities now earning $48 a ton, that means each ton of material recycled will cost Houston almost $50, at least in the near term.

That’s nearly double what it would cost to truck the recycled items to the landfill, where the tipping fee is $27 per ton.

And, with Mayor Sylvester Turner warning that layoffs will be needed to close a projected $126 million budget gap by July, some council members are inclined to quit recycling until the market improves.

“As much as we are for recycling, I’m also against cutting people that are actually doing city services,” said Councilman Michael Kubosh. “It’s going to hurt to lay people off and then to tell them we laid them off because, ‘Well, we want to recycle.’ We’ve got to think it through.”

Councilman Jerry Davis, whose District B is home to landfill facilities, disagreed, citing studies showing negative health outcomes for those near dump sites.

“If we stop recycling, we’re going to have more crap taken to landfills in District B,” Davis said. “With the rate we’re growing, we have to find a way to get rid of our waste in an efficient manner. What are we going to do when all our landfills are full? I understand commodities are down, but it’s a cycle. I don’t think we need to steer away from sustainability because the market is somewhat volatile.”

See here for the background. The single-stream recycling program has been pretty popular, so I kind of doubt it’s in any danger, but I’m not surprised that there was some grumbling about possibly having to pay for something we used to make money off of. And if the words “garbage fee” are forming on your lips, you may want to bite your tongue.

If you were concerned Mayor Sylvester Turner could consider pushing a new garbage fee to cover that cost, however, think again.

As Turner put it, when asked at today’s post-City Council meeting press conference:

“No. I have never contemplated a garbage fee. When it’s come up, I’ve said to members of my own staff I’m not going to advocate a garbage fee and I’m not going to support a garbage fee. So, absolutely not, no.”

I don’t agree with that – at the very least, I think we ought to keep the option open – but that doesn’t appear to be the case. We’ll see what Council does with this next week.

Hey, how about another lawsuit against Obamacare?

Sure, why not?

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Six states filed a new lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act.

The complaint that Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Indiana and Nebraska filed in the Northern District of Texas takes issue with the Health Insurance Providers Fee assessed to health insurers to cover federal subsidies.

The lawsuit says nothing in the Affordable Care Act’s language provided clear notice that states would also have to pay the fee.

“This notice was not even provided by rule but was ultimately provided by a private entity wielding legislative authority,” the suit says.

The suit seeks an injunction against the federal rules that say states are responsible for the fee. It also asks that states be refunded for what they’ve already paid.

The story says that the total cost of these subsidies is “$13 billion and $15 billion from states over the next decade”, so we’re not talking budget-busting numbers. It’s more the principle of it, or at least I assume so given the characters in this drama. Maybe by the time this one reaches the Supreme Court, the Senate will have finally gotten around to confirming a ninth Justice. Maybe. Trail Blazers has more.

School districts vote to approve new UIL policy restricting transgender athletes


Despite strong opposition from LGBT advocates, representatives from Texas school districts have overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal aimed at barring transgender boys and girls from participating in athletics alongside their cisgender peers.

District superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor of using birth certificates to determine student athletes’ gender, according to results obtained by the Observer through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.

The legislative council of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas high school sports, recommended the amendment in October, and district representatives’ ballots were due this month. According to UIL, if the amendment is approved by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, it would take effect in August.

“Because of the very detailed process UIL goes through, it’s usually a pretty clear-cut decision by the time it gets to the commissioner,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency.

LGBT advocates say the amendment runs afoul of the UIL Constitution and Title IXof the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and its constitution prohibits the legislative council or member districts from passing amendments that conflict with UT policy, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

Both the council and the districts “had a duty to reject the amendment,” said Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education has said Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination applies to trans students, meaning the amendment could expose districts to legal liability, a federal investigation and loss of funds.

“These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Castillo said. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools.”

See here for the background. It’s just a matter of time before a lawsuit gets filed over this, and I don’t know what the response will be if and when Title IX funds get threatened. I just hope it doesn’t get too messy or expensive when the trouble starts and this thing needs to get fixed. The Trib has more.

Got some free time next January?

The Houston Super Bowl Committee wants you.

As Houston prepares to host the Super Bowl next year, the Super Bowl host committee is seeking volunteers to pitch in for the big game.

The committee seeks up to 10,000 volunteers and has begun its online application process.

“Volunteers will play a critical role in the success of Super Bowl LI, here in Houston, in 2017,” host committee president and CEO Sallie Sargent said. “The positive experience our visitors will have will be in large part due to the interaction they have with our volunteers.”

The ideal candidate will have a passion for football, the city of Houston and Southern hospitality, according to the host committee.

During a 10-day period leading up to the Super Bowl, volunteers will be required to work at least three shifts consisting of six to eight hours for staff volunteers and eight to 10 hours for volunteer supervisors.

Key dates are from Jan. 27 to Feb. 5 next year. To volunteer, go here, or send an email to [email protected]. AS to whether or not you should do this, I’ll let Dan Solomon weigh in:

Snark aside, it’s both understandable why a person might want to volunteer to help with the Super Bowl—it’s the friggin’ Super Bowl! What a neat thing to be a part of!—but it’s also obvious that this is a rip-off. Extremely profitable entities shouldn’t be recruiting volunteers to do work that they should be paying people for—that’s not just good advice, it’s labor law. Organizations from the NFL to Super Bowl Host Committees to SXSW skirt minimum wage requirements all the time, of course. (This year’s Super Bowl changed its position and agreed to pay a small portion of its volunteers, who were providing manual labor to set up the halftime show, after a news report from ABC.) Still, the idea of volunteering to make even more money for an already extremely profitable organization is a bit more palatable when those who are helping out can actually go to the event. It might not be entirely legal that SXSW volunteers are rewarded with badges, access to screenings/showcases/panels, and maybe the chance to pick Ryan Gosling up at the airport, for example, but you can certainly see the reciprocal nature of the relationship. The 10,000 Houstonians who are going to be doing Lord knows what over the 10-day period that surrounds Super Bowl 51, meanwhile, appear to be getting a uniform.

Still, they’ll probably get away with it—and they’ll probably find the recruits they need too. In San Francisco, where the host committee sought 5,000 volunteers (everything is bigger in Texas), they managed to wrangle two-thirds of the people they needed in just a week. But when people question whether the Super Bowl is really the economic boon to a local economy it’s made out to be, the fact that 10,000 temporary jobs that could get money circulating in the area are instead filled with arm-waving volunteers is probably part of your answer.

So there you have it. Note that volunteers do not get a ticket to the game – seriously, 10,000 Super Bowl tickets is worth more than its weight in gold or crack – so set your expectation levels accordingly.

Friday random ten – To the stars

Because Audrey got to watch “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with us last December, that’s why.

1. Science Fiction/Double Feature – from “Rocky Horror Picture Show”
2. Enterprise-Sulu Medley – Hi-Fidelity
3. The Saga Begins – Weird Al Yankovic
4. Star Wars – Moosebutter
5. Star Wars Medley – Lager Rhythms
6. Starships – Pentatonix
7. Beam Me Up, Scotty – Feo y Loco
8. UFO Attack – Asylum Street Spankers
9. Space Oddity – David Bowie
10. Mean Green Mother From Outer Space – Audrey II

She asked when the next Star Trek movie would be out as soon as the credits were rolling (it showed on TV and I grabbed it for the TiVo). Thankfully, the answer to that is “July 22”, which happens to be exactly one week after the “Ghostbusters” reboot that both of my girls are super excited about. It’s going to be a good summer.

Day 10 EV totals for 2016 primaries

One more day left to vote early. Vote tomorrow, or take your chances at a precinct location on Tuesday:

Year       Dem      GOP
2008   143,169   49,373
2012    30,538   63,817
2016    65,454   98,152


For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here, and the 2008 totals are here. You can still see the SOS archive for 2008, with the Week Two Day Four Dem totals here and the Week Two Day Two GOP totals here. EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide for the first seven days (i.e., through Wednesday) are here.

One more day to go for early voting, and history suggests it will be pretty heavy. I wouldn’t be surprised if 50,000 people vote today, 20K in the Dem primary and 30K for the GOP. Regardless, right now the Dems are up 114% from 2012, which projects to 163,937 overall. Republicans are up 54%, which would lead to 252,205. Gotta say, credit where it’s due, those numbers are awfully damn close to what Stan Stanart predicted earlier this week. His initial projection was lousy, but this one looks spot on. Of course, that’s based on an assumption of what the share of early voters will be. We’ll know soon enough.

Lots more Texas primary poll results

It’s a veritable plethora, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s start with this one, which looks good for Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz.


U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a commanding 12-point lead in his home state over businessman Donald Trump as the candidates head into Tuesday’s GOP presidential primary in Texas, according to a Texas Pulse/American-Statesman poll conducted Feb. 19 to 22. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is a distant third.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an overwhelming 66 to 26 percent lead over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, according to the poll of likely Texas voters, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Crosswind Media & Public Relations.


Among Texas Republicans, the poll found Cruz was first with 38 percent to 26 percent for Trump, 13 percent for Rubio, 7 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 6 percent for Dr. Ben Carson. The survey was conducted before and after Saturday’s South Carolina primary, but it concluded before Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses. In both of those contests, Trump won handily with Rubio in second and Cruz a close third.

With the race in flux, polling on the Texas GOP primary has been erratic. An Emerson College survey also released Wednesday found Cruz and Trump virtually tied in the Lone Star State, suggesting that Cruz’s home-field advantage might be eroding after a string of disappointing finishes and bad headlines.

Nonetheless, Cruz’s presidential bid has more home state support than it did in the early stages of the campaign. In a Texas Pulse survey conducted Sept. 11-14, Trump led with 26 percent, Carson was second with 19 percent, Cruz had 15 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race after a poor performance in South Carolina, had 9 percent.


In the Democratic primary, Clinton’s 40-point lead over Sanders in the Texas Pulse/Statesman survey is far greater than her advantage in other recent polls. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted Feb. 12-19 showed her with a 10-point lead, and a Public Policy Polling survey from Feb. 14-16 had her up by 23 points.

Thomas Graham, president and CEO of Crosswind, said the Pulse poll might be reflecting increased campaign activity by Clinton in the past few days. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife in Laredo on Monday.

“Team Hillary has really invested in Texas,” Graham said. “There’s been a lot of activity from Hillary’s campaign just in the last couple of days, and I think we’re seeing a result of that.”

My original response to that was “maybe it’s an outlier”, but as you will see from the other results, if it is it’s only by a little. Full poll results are here, and you can see more about the other polls mentioned here and here. For what it’s worth, this poll sampled more Rs than Ds, 620 to 411, but that basically means a 4% margin of error for one and a 5% MOE for the other, so it’s not that big a deal. I do think this poll overstates Clinton’s lead, but it’s clear she has a lead, whereas the GOP side is a bit muddled.

Offering support to both of those statements are two more polls I found via Real Clear Politics. First is this SurveyUSA poll of Texas:

In his home state of Texas, US Senator Ted Cruz cannot shake businessman Donald Trump and his New York values, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted exclusively for TEGNA Texas. Cruz’s best shot at a Super Tuesday win looks at this hour like he may do no better than a draw. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton defeats Bernie Sanders 2:1. In the Republican Primary, it’s Cruz 32%, Trump 32%, Marco Rubio 17%, others further back. Cruz narrowly leads Trump among Texas’s Hispanic/Latino population, 34% to 27%. Cruz materially leads Trump among Texas’s evangelicals, 42% to 28%. Cruz overwhelmingly leads Trump among those who are members of the Tea Party, 62% to 21%. Cruz leads by 11 points in West Texas, which includes El Paso, Midland and 88 surrounding counties, and by a nominal 3 points in East Texas, which includes Houston and 60 surrounding counties. Cruz leads by 20 points among “very conservative” primary voters. Cruz overpowers Trump among Texas Republican primary voters who in 2012 voted for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Trump leads among voters who in 2012 backed Mitt Romney or Ron Paul. Trump leads by 16 points among “moderates” and by 14 points among non-evangelical voters. Trump leads in North Texas, which includes Dallas and 43 surrounding counties, and Trump leads among the least educated Republican primary voters. Trump leads among the most affluent Texans, but Cruz leads among middle-income primary voters. In Central TX, which includes Austin, San Antonio, and 28 surrounding counties, the two candidates run effectively even.


In the Democratic Primary, it’s Clinton 61%, Sanders 32%. Sanders is backed by 58% of the youngest voters, but Clinton is backed by 70% of middle-aged voters and 82% of seniors. Clinton leads Sanders 4:1 among black voters and Clinton leads Sanders by 40 points among Hispanic voters. Sanders draws near to Clinton, but still trails, among Democratic primary voters who say they are “falling behind” financially. But Clinton overpowers among voters who say they are “doing well” financially or “just getting by.” Of those Democratic primary voters who voted for Clinton in 2008, 86% stick with her in 2016. Among Democratic primary voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton leads Sanders 58% to 33%. Clinton polls at or above 60% in North TX, East TX, Central TX and South TX. Sanders comes close to Clinton in West TX, but still trails her there 48% to 42%.

SUSA does polling of “all adults”, then winnows it down to “likely voters” from there. You can see their data at the link above. Also via RCP is this Dixie Strategies poll:

The latest KTVT-CBS 11 / Dixie Strategies Poll of more than 1,400 likely primary voters in Texas shows Republican Ted Cruz has increased his lead over real estate mogul Donald Trump. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has maintained her lead over Senator Bernie Sanders — though that lead has shrunk a bit.

Looking at the statewide results — according to the poll taken Monday February 22 — Cruz now leads Trump by more than eight percentage points. At the end of January, Cruz was leading by five percentage points. More than 33% of likely GOP primary voters now say they would vote for Ted Cruz while 25% of respondents say they would vote for Trump.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio comes in third at about 15%. That’s almost 3% higher than his poll result back in January.

Dr. Ben Carson and Ohio Governor John Kasich are polling in single digits with Carson remaining largely unchanged at 6% while Kasich pulls ahead of Carson at 8%. That’s compared to 5% and 2% in January’s poll respectively.


Among likely Democrat primary voters in Texas, Senator Sander’s support has doubled but Clinton maintained her large lead according to the poll numbers. Back in January, almost 16% said they would vote for him. That number now stands at 29%. Clinton still leads Sanders by a wide margin at 61% to 30%. But the gap has closed somewhat between the two candidates. Back in January, 34 points separated the two. That gap has closed to 31 points.

As noted, they did a January poll as well, though that result is no longer counted in the RCP average. Last but not least, coming it later in the day yesterday, is the Monmouth University poll.

Ted Cruz currently has the support of 38% of likely GOP primary voters in his home state of Texas. Donald Trump (23%) and Marco Rubio (21%) are battling it out for second place. They are trailed by Ben Carson (6%) and John Kasich (5%).

Cruz has more support among men (44%) than women (33%), while Rubio has more support among women (24%) than men (18%). Trump draws equally from male (22%) and female (23%) voters in the Lone Star State.


Texas allows early voting and 18% of those polled report having already cast their vote. Nearly half (44%) of these early voters checked Cruz’s name on their ballots. Another 30% of likely Republican voters say they are completely decided on their candidate choice before they head to the polls and 30% have a strong preference but are still open to considering other candidates. One-in-five either have only a slight preference (8%) or are really undecided (13%) just days before Tuesday’s election.

Cruz would maintain his double digit lead if the race was down to three candidates, earning 43% in a hypothetical match up against just Rubio (26%) and Trump (23%). He could potentially do even better (49%) if the race was against just Trump (28%) and Kasich (15%).

When Texas Republicans are asked if they would be okay with any of the five remaining candidates becoming the party’s nominee, half (50%) say yes and 7% are not sure. Nearly 3-in-10 (28%),
though, say they would be upset if Trump won the nomination. Around 1-in-10 or less say they would be upset if Cruz (12%), Kasich (12%), Rubio (8%), or Carson (6%) got the nod.

This is why I wish there were also some general election polling. I mean, just exactly how upset would those voters be? Enough to say they’re “undecided” in such a poll, or enough to say they’d vote for the Democrat? It’s one thing to have Hillary Clinton run varying amounts behind each of these three candidates but getting about the same level of support in each case, and it’s another to see her support jump six points when matched up against The Donald.

Hillary Clinton currently holds a substantial 64% to 30% lead over Bernie Sanders in the Texas Democratic primary. In 2008, Clinton narrowly beat Barack Obama in this state by a 51% to 47% margin.

Clinton currently enjoys solid leads among black (81% to 8%) and Latino (68% to 32%) voters, and also has an edge among white voters (54% to 40%). She has a sizable lead among women (75% to 19%) and a small lead among men (50% to 45%). She leads among voters age 50 and over (75% to 20%) and also leads among those under the age of 50 (52% to 42%) – a group that Sanders has done well with in past primaries. One factor that boosts Clinton’s support with all these groups is that nearly 6-in-10 likely Democratic voters in Texas describe themselves as politically moderate or conservative rather than liberal. Sanders tends to do better among liberals.

“Texas was good to Hillary Clinton eight years ago and she looks set to do even better this time around,” said Murray.

More than 3-in-4 Lone Star Democrats say that Clinton would do either an excellent (32%) or good (45%) job addressing the most important concerns of families like theirs. This compares to just over half who say the same about Sanders (22% excellent and 33% good).

One-in-five voters (21%) say they have already cast their ballots in the Democratic primary and another 41% say they have completely decided on their candidate choice. A slightly higher number of Clinton voters say they have already voted (24%) or their choice is locked in (44%) when compared to Sanders supporters (18% already voted and 41% completely decided). Another 19% of Democrats have a strong preference but are still open to considering other candidates and 7% have only a slight preference, while 12% say they are still really undecided.

These four results today have been very good for Clinton’s lead over Sanders in the RCP average, which now stands at 59.9 to 33.6. There are now seven polls counted in that – the four from today, the Emerson College and UT/Trib polls, and the multi-state PPP poll from right before early voting started. On the Republican side, the RCP average shows Cruz up on Trump 34.0 to 26.8, with Rubio at 18.2. And as we know by now, finishing third is a win for him. The GOP-only KUHF poll plus all of these others are included in the RCP average for the GOP. Whatever else you can say, you can no longer say there’s a dearth of data.

Paxton files his first indictment appeal

And on we go.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to fight to get out from under three felony indictments, arguing anew before a Dallas appeals court that he is innocent of accusations he repeatedly violated state securities laws.

“We argue that the entirety of all three indictments should be dismissed,” Bill Mateja, one of Paxton’s attorneys, said Tuesday. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to prevail on appeal.”


In the 77-page brief filed with the court on Monday, Paxton’s lawyers argued state law is too vague for the indictments to hold water.

Specifically, they said the definition of “investment adviser representative” in the Texas Securities Act is vague and conflicts with federal law. The state law also “unconstitutionally regulates free commercial speech” also doesn’t define how such a person would “solicit” business, they argued.

Repeating the arguments they made before the district judge last year, Paxton’s team also accused the judge who empaneled the grand jury of improperly handling the process by asking for volunteers instead of picking the members at random. Paxton’s lawyers are asking for a hearing before the appeals court.

Paxton’s indictments were upheld by trial judge George Gallagher in December, and the 5th Court of Appeals called for briefs in January. Prosecutors have until March 14 to submit theirs. As noted in that last link, the appeals court could issue a ruling based on the briefs, or it could schedule and hear oral arguments, in which case we will all need to settle in and get comfortable, because we’ll be in for the long haul.

As for the merits of Paxton’s appeal, Texas Lawyer asked a bunch of experts and got some interesting answers:

“These are all interesting things—good legal questions—but on the whole, they are all post-trial questions and not pretrial issues,” said former CCA Judge Cathy Cochran. “It’s a hard row to hoe to bring them in the pretrial context, when there is just no evidence of anything yet.”

Criminal procedure expert John Schmolesky explained that courts will only grant pretrial habeas corpus relief when a defendant proves that a law is unconstitutional on its face rather than arguing it’s unconstitutional as applied to him.

“He has to be convicted and then he can raise his complaint about the statute,” said Schmolesky, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law. “The appellate court may very well say, ‘There might be merit to the claim, but we will wait.'”

Hilder & Associates principal Philip Hilder of Houston wrote in an email, “Mr. Paxton is entitled to relief because the statute under which he is charged does not regulate the conduct of representatives of federally filed investment advisers, which applied to Mr. Paxton. Further, we maintain that the statute is vague and unconditionally regulates conduct. Additionally, the indictments are void because they were returned by a grand jury of volunteers improperly selected.”

But attorney pro tem Brian Wice wrote in an email, “His arguments that these prosecutions should end before a jury can pass upon his guilt or innocence are creative. But Mr. Paxton’s appellate brief has provided the court of appeals with no additional argument or authorities that his creativity is a compelling, principled, or reasoned substitute for legal merit.”


One of Paxton’s claims applies to all three of his charges. He claimed that 416th District Judge Chris Oldner improperly impaneled the grand jury that indicted him. Oldner called a panel at random, but then he asked who was willing to serve. Paxton argued that “willingness to serve” isn’t a lawful qualification. He claimed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed an indictment under identical circumstances.

Cochran, [former Third Court of Appeals Chief Justice Woodie] Jones and Schmolesky all said the argument is new and interesting.

Cochran said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that if grand jury law is violated, a defendant must show the violation substantially influenced the grand jury’s decision to indict him. Paxton will have to prove that he wouldn’t have been indicted if the judge impaneled the grand jury correctly, she said.

Jones said, “I would be curious to know if federal grand jury law is the same as Texas grand jury law—there’s a very good chance it is not the same.”

Jones added that his 18 years as an appellate judge taught him never to judge a case based on one side’s briefs.

“I read this one and think to myself, ‘That’s a really interesting issue. I’m going to be curious to see what the state’s response is to the issue,’ or, ‘Once I dig deeper, I’m going to be curious to see what the law is,'” he said. “You really can’t take what is said in a brief at face value.”

So the general (though not unanimous) consensus is that Paxton will not succeed, though he will have some good arguments to make in the event he gets convicted. Team Paxton also thinks the Rick Perry ruling is good for them, though it was noted in that story that the ruling in the Perry case was pretty narrowly tailored. So who knows? In short, prepare for the long haul.

Get ready for more “religious freedom” bills

Gird your loins.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The next Texas legislative session is almost a year away, but Senate Republicans are already zeroing in on proposals to bolster legal protections for religious opponents of same-sex marriage after its legalization by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

At a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, some Republicans appeared to endorse a piecemeal approach to passing legislation shielding religious objectors to same-sex marriage instead of pushing for more comprehensive state constitutional amendments like Indiana’s embattled “religious freedom” law.

Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston appeared to support prioritizing “targeted pieces of legislation” like last session’s Pastor Protection Act, which codified protections for clergy members who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, “rather than to try to redefine anything.”

“I think that was an approach that would be a path for the Legislature, for this committee to examine,” said Huffman, who chairs the committee. “I don’t think we really took that push in the last Legislature.”

Piecemeal measures could include protections for faith-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples, tax accommodations for religious organizations and housing policies at religious schools.

LGBT rights activists have described some of those proposals as “license to discriminate” laws. At Wednesday’s hearing, they reiterated that state lawmakers are still required to strike a balance between religious rights and equal rights, particularly when it comes to behavior by government employees.

There is nothing in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage that “deprives someone of their right to religious liberty,” Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the committee. But “people who are acting on the behalf of the government are not free to impose their religious beliefs,” she added.


At Wednesday’s hearing, Bill Hammond, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, warned lawmakers against picking up that mantle in the next legislative session. He recalled Indiana’s religious freedom law, which opponents have claimed enables discrimination against the LGBT community, and the economic fallout that state faced when that law came under scrutiny.

Huffman retorted that the committee’s charge was to focus on religious protections and “not to discriminate.”

“Perception is probably greater than the facts, and that would be the perception around the country that Texas is no longer a welcoming state,” Hammond responded.

Etymological question: If their genders had been reversed, we’d call what Sen. Huffman did with Bill Hammond “mansplaining”. What is the correct technical term for her condescending insistence that she knows better than he does – that in effect, she knows his business better than he does? I’m thinking no such word exists, so what should we call it? Senatorsplaining? There’s an essence to that exchange that I can’t quite isolate, and with it lies the key to identifying the trope. Any suggestions here would be appreciated.

Such questions aside, it’s clear we’re going to get a lot more of that next session. Dan Patrick and his acolytes know what they were elected to do, and “govern” isn’t really on their list. And in case Bill Hammond needs someone else pointing out his business to him, that exchange was with one of his group’s supposed friends. If only your enemies cared so little about your group’s goals and values, Bill.

CCA dismisses remaining charge against Rick Perry

This would appear to be the end of the road.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs for everyone!

The state’s highest criminal court dismissed the remaining indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday morning, apparently ending the case that started with his threat to veto state funding for a local prosecutor if she refused to quit her office.


A ruling earlier in the year by a state appeals court dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry: coercion of a public servant. Perry’s lawyers challenged that decision, arguing that the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals should have also dismissed the abuse-of-power charge.

And that’s what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did on Wednesday. Two of the court’s nine judges dissented in that one ruling, while one abstained.

Tony Buzbee, Perry’s attorney, called the ruling a “long time coming,” and said the case should have never been brought in the first place.

“I said all along this case was foolishness and would be dismissed.”

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor in the case, called the ruling “horrendous.”

“This is a situation where the Republican court carved out a special ruling to get Perry off the hook. It changes law for past decades and offers no laws for future courts to follow,” he said. “This is, from what I understand, a special ruling tailor-made for Rick Perry.”

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, the liberal-leaning watchdog group behind a complaint that led to the indictment, largely echoed that notion.

“A highly partisan court has handed Rick Perry a gift,” he said. “This decision is based on who Perry is rather than what he did.”

You could sort of see this coming when the case was argued last November, but it’s still a bit of a surprise. Clearly, there are limits to how pro-prosecutor this court will be, and Rick Perry joins Tom DeLay in being beneficiaries of that. I don’t feel like spending too much time thinking about it, so I will point you to the Associated Press, the AusChron, Trail Blazers, the Current, and the Press for more.

Two more primary poll results

First we have one from KUHF, though it’s just for the GOP race.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

One week before Super Tuesday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz holds a 14-point lead in the Lone Star State, according to a poll released Wednesday by Houston Public Media and the University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy.

It suggests a decisive home state win for Cruz’s wavering campaign, though not the wide margin that experts had long said Cruz should expect. Still, it’s a wider lead than reported in another statewide poll released Tuesday.

The new poll, which contacted 415 likely Republican voters in Texas by phone, shows Cruz with 34.5 percent of the vote, Donald Trump with 20 and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with eight. Undecided voters made up 19 percent in the poll. The margin of error was 4.5 percent.

That means that Cruz will likely face off with Trump district-by-district. The Texas primary awards delegates to any candidates with more than 20 percent of votes in each of the state’s 31 Senate districts.

Here’s KUHF’s story, and their results are here. Not sure why you wouldn’t go ahead and do the Dem side as well, but I wasn’t the pollster and no one asked me. I suppose with the debate at UH, there was a branding opportunity. Trail Blazers has more.

Meanwhile, the Emerson College Polling Society also weighs in.

With less than a week until the Texas GOP presidential primary, Senator Ted Cruz is edging out his two chief rivals, with Cruz having 29% of the vote followed by Donald Trump at 28% and Marco Rubio at 25%, according to an Emerson College tracking poll released today. Ohio’s John Kasich is at 9%, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson comes in fifth, with 4%.

In the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton holds a solid lead, 56% to 40%, over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It appears the former Secretary of State is well positioned to notch a decisive win in the delegate-rich Lone Star State, which ranks third−behind California and New York−in the number of delegates up for grabs (252).

Clinton does well with women, who prefer her 62% to 36% over Sanders, and she holds her own with men, who favor her 48% to 46%. Although Sanders has a massive lead, 81% to 18%, among voters ages 18-34, Clinton dominates in the other age categories, holding a 73-point advantage among voters 55-74 and a 76-point edge with those 75 and over.

Of the three GOP leaders, Rubio is seen most positively, with 64% of likely GOP primary voters rating him favorably compared to 29% who view him unfavorably. Cruz’s rating is 56% favorable to 41% unfavorable. Of all the GOP candidates, Trump is the only one under water with a 45% favorable to 50% unfavorable opinion. Clinton (79% favorable to 20% unfavorable) and Sanders (68% to 27%) are both well regarded by likely Democratic primary voters.

Their full dataset is here, in Excel format. One thing I observed about the KUHF result – I did not take the time to browse through the ECPS file – was that a significant number of respondents had already voted. I suppose if you’re going to do a poll this late in the day, that is to be expected. Not sure if that will skew the result or make it more accurate – I could see an argument either way. As it happens, I got called to take a Monmouth poll last night, so we may yet see another result before Tuesday. Thanks to Paradise in Hell for the link.

Chron story on Locke running for Commissioner

It’s officially official now.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke, appointed to fill the unexpired term following the sudden death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee last month, said Tuesday he may seek the nomination for the powerful local office in the November election.

Locke said he has not made a final decision, but his statement signals a shift for the former city attorney, who previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

It also would conflict with County Judge Ed Emmett’s previously stated desire to appoint a caretaker commissioner who would not seek the job beyond Dec. 31

“It’s the number of people who I respect that are asking me to consider it,” Locke said Tuesday.

He declined to name those asking him to run and said he needs to talk to his family about it. He did not give a timetable for when he would make a decision.


After Lee’s death on Jan. 3, several people announced interest in the office, including Houston Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said last month that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority.

“I have a lot of respect for Gene Locke and appreciate anyone who wants to serve the public,” Ellis said in a statement Tuesday.

Davis said the possibility of Locke seeking the nomination would not change anything for him.

“Right now, it’s just the opportunity to talk to different people and see what they want in the county commissioner,” he said.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Locke had not told him if he was interested in the nomination.

You heard it here first. I mean, look, there are 130 or so precinct chairs who will make this decision. Locke’s task, or any other challenger’s task, is to convince enough of them to make him their first or second choice. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but it will be a campaign and an election like nothing else we’ve seen anytime soon.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 22

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you that early voting for the 2016 primaries continues through Friday as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Day 8 EV totals for 2016 primaries

Eight days down, three days to go:

Year       Dem      GOP
2008    98,980   35,332
2012    22,752   46,769
2016    45,389   66,135


For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here. I do now finally have a copy of the daily resuits from 2008, which you can see here, with thanks to Marc Campos for sending them. You can still see the SOS archive for 2008, with the Week Two Day Two Dem totals here and the Week Two Day Two GOP totals here. EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide for the first seven days (i.e., through Monday) are here.

So I think we all agree that turnout hasn’t quite been what we thought it would be. It’s been more balanced, with more Dem participation (though obviously not at 2008 levels) and more modest GOP numbers than originally expected, though yesterday was pretty good for the GOP. Here’s the Chron’s what’s-up-with-turnout-so-far story:

The heated presidential nominating contest has driven expectations of blockbuster GOP turnout across the Lone Star State, but early voting in Texas’ 10 largest counties shows that Democrats and Republicans have ventured to the polls in roughly comparable numbers.

More than 176,000 Republicans in those counties had cast an early or absentee ballot as of Sunday, compared with nearly 161,000 Democrats – a much narrower difference than in either 2012, when Republicans cast more ballots in the first six days of early voting, or 2008, when Democratic turnout dwarfed GOP numbers.

Those figures reflect a 71 percent increase in Republican participation from the first six days of early voting in 2008, the last open-seat presidential election year. Democratic turnout was cut in half.

Political scientists attributed the relatively small turnout gap between parties to a closer-than-expected race between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, though they noted that Texas’ urban areas tend to be bluer than the rest of the state.

“For a long time, there was this suspicion that the Republicans were more fired up. They’ve been out of office for eight years. They’ve got a lot of candidates on their side. And on the Democratic side it looked like a coronation,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “While it’s nothing like 2008, the Democrats suddenly have a more interesting contest.”


Nearly 45,000 Harris County Republicans cast a ballot through Sunday, an 88 percent increase over 2008. Democratic turnout in the county topped 32,000, less than half of what it was in 2008.

Last week, Stanart, a Republican, said he expected half of Harris County’s votes to be cast early. He revised that down slightly on Monday, projecting a total Republican primary turnout of 265,000 and a Democratic turnout of 160,000, with 48 percent of the vote cast prior to Election Day.

Just as a reminder, here’s what Stanart said before any in-person ballots were cast.

All told, Stanart said he expected close to 400,000 people will cast primary ballots in the state’s largest county. Whereas Democrats dominated interest in 2008, Stanart predicted three-quarters of the turnout in Harris County will be on the Republican side, where native son Ted Cruz and New York billionaire Donald Trump are duking it out at the top of a shrinking list of GOP candidates.

That would mean Harris County Republicans made up 62.35% of total turnout. As of today, Republicans constitute 59.30% of turnout. We could still get there from here, but they’re going to have to pick up the pace.

UT/Trib poll: Clinton and Cruz lead in Texas

I’d been wondering when we were going to get a fresh poll for the Texas primary races.

Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders has narrowed considerably in Texas but remains in the double digits among the state’s likely Democratic primary voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The former secretary of state is leading, with 54 percent, a week before the Texas primary, while Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has the support of 44 percent of the respondents.

Texas voters have six other choices on the Democratic presidential primary ballot: Martin O’Malley, Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente, Willie Wilson, Star Locke, Keith Judd and Calvis Hawes. None attracted significant support from the poll’s respondents.

“This race is narrowing, but not narrowing in a way for the lines to actually cross — especially in Texas,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin and the poll’s co-director. Clinton will win, he said, but the question mark, is the state’s Hispanic voters and their relatively low propensity to vote. “This will be a double-digit race, but I don’t think it’s going to be a 20-point race.”

Clinton has a formidable base of black and Hispanic voters, while Sanders is doing better with Anglos. She leads 70 percent to 27 percent among black voters and 60 percent to 37 percent among Hispanic voters. Sanders, meanwhile, has the support of 55 percent of white voters to Clinton’s 44 percent. Clinton’s advantage, the pollsters said, could swell if her campaign can boost the numbers of Hispanics voting in the state.

“It’s her state to lose,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “Whether this race is 10 points or 18 points rests almost entirely on your opinion of whether Hispanics are going to turn up to vote.”

Poll results are here. In October. the Trib had Clinton up 61-30, and last June it was 53-15. Trib polls are what they are, and as we know from March of 2014, their primary polling can be a bit iffy, but nothing here strikes me as odd. You can look at Clinton’s support as being lower than it was three months ago, or you can look at it as being stable over the longer term. Sanders, meanwhile, has grown consistently but still can’t quite break out. Turnout is good but not overwhelming, which is consistent with what we have seen in other states and as Steve Benen has noted kind of undercuts Sanders’ claims about activating a huge wave of less-engaged voters. But it’s still early enough here that things can change, and both candidates will be working their ground games, so don’t carve anything into stone.

Meanwhile, in that other primary:

With a week remaining before the Texas Republican primary, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has an 8-percentage-point lead over Donald Trump, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Cruz had 37 percent of the vote in the poll. Trump, the businessman and TV personality who finished first in two of the three states that have already voted, had the support of 29 percent, followed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at 15 percent.

The rest of the candidates were far behind: Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race after the South Carolina primary, had 6 percent; John Kasich, 5 percent; and Ben Carson, 4 percent. The rest of the candidates on the Texas Republican ballot barely registered: Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Elizabeth Gray, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie each got 2 percent or less. Several of those candidates have already suspended their campaigns but were included in the poll because all of their names remain on the Texas ballot.

“These numbers reflect what most of us think was going on in Texas: It’s decent ground for Donald Trump because he’s a national candidate who’s touched a nerve everywhere, but it displays a little bit of a homefield advantage for Ted Cruz,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

What looked like a three-candidate race coming out of South Carolina looks more like a two-person race in Texas, with Cruz and Trump almost certainly in position to split the state’s 155 Republican delegates. Among likely Republican primary voters who identify with the Tea Party, Cruz leads Trump 56 percent to 26 percent in the UT/TT Poll. Among voters who identify as Republicans when given the choice to bolt for the Tea Party, the candidates were relatively even: Cruz had 32 percent to Trump’s 30 percent. Rubio had 18 percent of those voters, and 8 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party.

Cruz and Trump were tied with 27 each in October, and Cruz had 20 while Trump was still a non-entity in June, back when the likes of Rick Perry and Scott Walker still roamed the earth. The RCP average for Texas closely mirrors this result, not too surprising given the overall paucity of polling.

I confess, I had hoped there would be general election matchups included in this poll. You’d only need to test six combinations, which is well within most polls’ capabilities. Perhaps they did do that and are rolling out their full set of numbers over the week. I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see. Regardless, some more primary polling would be nice as well. PDiddie and Stace have more.

Cruz moves to dismiss birther lawsuit against him

One of them, anyway.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz is striking back against doubters of his eligibility to be president, asking a federal judge Monday to dismiss a Texas lawsuit questioning his natural born citizenship.

The suit, filed by Houston attorney Newton Schwartz in January, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has never defined what constitutes natural born citizenship and must settle whether Canadian-born Cruz is eligible for the nation’s highest office.

Cruz’s motion to dismiss the case contended that Schwartz has voted as a Democrat and has no standing to sue, and that Cruz’s presidential eligibility is already settled.

“Every reliable source from the time of the writing of the U.S. Constitution confirms that a person who was a U.S. citizen at birth — like Senator Cruz — is a ‘natural born citizen’ eligible to serve as president,” Cruz’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “It is inconceivable that the Framers intended to exclude a U.S. citizen at birth from holding the office of President, simply because of where he or she happened to be born.”

Schwartz has sought to expedite the case, citing the upcoming Super Tuesday primaries in which Cruz appears on Republican primary ballots. He said the stakes have only risen with the Feb. 13 death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which has tipped the ideological balance of the court.

See here for the background. A copy of Cruz’s motion is embedded in the TrailBlazers story. Cruz faces at least one other such lawsuit, so even if this one does get dismissed, he still has work to do. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I don’t believe there’s any real merit in this suit, and even if I did I believe the whole “natural born citizen” thing is a relic that ought to be changed. Be that as it may, I’m not sure what Newton Schwartz’s voting history has anything to do with this – he’s also voted Republican, for what it’s worth, and could vote in this Republican primary if he wanted to – and to say the least, the legal question about Cruz’s eligibility is hardly settled. But hey, that’s his problem, and it’s one he’s richly earned. Have fun with that, Ted.

It’s hard out here on a recycler, part 4

It was a bad year last year.

Recycling continues to hurt Waste Management’s bottom line, as low oil prices and low commodity prices have made that a challenging business for at least the past year.

The Houston company on Thursday reported a decline in revenue and earnings for its fourth quarter and full year in 2015, as it sheds some unprofitable recycling contracts and works to expand higher-margin business. Net income in the fourth quarter was $273 million, down from $590 million in 2014, and earnings per share dropped to 61 cents, from $1.29 a year earlier.

“The business is firing on all cylinders, save two areas: recycling and environmental services,” CEO David Steiner said during a call with investors.


Waste Management has been coping with tough times for residential recycling that spread across the industry. In many cases the company is no longer able to cover the costs of collecting and processing paper, cans and plastic bottles with the revenue it gets from selling them.

In paper, “if they can improve their processing costs per ton, you survive,” Hoffman said. But slower economic growth in China has contributed to lower prices for recycled metals, while the low price of oil makes virgin plastic cheaper to produce than using recycled plastic.

“It’s just very hard to cover your cost of processing,” Hoffman said.

Glass causes problems for waste companies by damaging sorting machines while it’s sold at very low prices, and consumer confusion over what to put in recycling bins makes recycling more expensive. Companies spend money removing non-recyclables from the stream, and contamination reduces the quality, and therefore price, of the recyclables they sell from collection.

Waste Management cut its recycling expenses by 15 percent from a year ago, Steiner said, and is working to renegotiate municipal contracts so that it doesn’t shoulder all of the costs of recycling when it’s operating at a loss. Already it has renegotiated 75 to 80 percent of its contracts, Steiner said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Waste Management of course also has a contract with Houston, one that has been pretty good to the city, allowing it to buy the equipment needed to bring curbside recycling everywhere at a faster-than-expected pace. City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to continue the single-stream recycling program today. I don’t know if the terms are the same as before or not, but I’m sure that will come up.

UPDATE: As predicted:

City Council this week will consider a four-year deal with Waste Management that will increase the fees the city pays the company to process its recyclables and will, for the first time, put Houston on the hook if the firm cannot cover its costs by reselling the recycled items.

If Houstonians keep rolling 5,400 tons of recycled material to the curb each month and current commodities prices hold, city officials project the cost to the city will be more than $3 million a year.

“Our contract expired in a bad market,” said Steve Francis, chief of staff in the Solid Waste Management Department. “If we were here last January at $107 a barrel (for oil), we’d have a significantly better contract in place. They’ve negotiated away their downside, which becomes a downside for us.”

It was nice while it lasted.

Day 7 EV totals for 2016 primaries

Day One of Week Two is in the can:

Year       Dem      GOP
2008    81,843   28,773
2012    20,058   41,447
2016    38,547   55,228


For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here. I don’t have daily EVPA totals from the Harris County Clerk for 2008, so my reference for those numbers is the SOS archive for 2008, with the Day One Dem totals here and the Day One GOP totals here. EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide for the first six days (i.e., through Sunday) are here. I think I had under-calculated the values I reported yesterday – honestly, sometimes this gets a little confusing – but I double-checked the numbers for today, so all should be fine now.

So with the first week in – and the caveat that the first week was six days this year and 2008 but seven days in 2012 – I thought I’d take a look outside Harris County as well. Here are the first week totals – i.e., through Sunday – for the ten most populous counties, as per the Secretary of State’s early voting archives:


County        2008      2012      2016
Harris      66,756    17,635    32,211
Dallas      49,485    11,577    25,293
Tarrant     35,144     6,825    17,033
Bexar       42,198    11,622    21,744
Travis      36,890     6,988    20,369
Collin      15,155     1,330     6,185
El Paso     23,794    14,563
Denton      11,180       763     5,145
Fort Bend   13,581     1,820     5,243
Hidalgo     25,564    23,579    21,662


County        2008      2012      2016
Harris      23,851    36,612    44,844
Dallas      13,770    13,813    26,135
Tarrant     14,416    18,477    30,918
Bexar       14,033    15,971    18,505
Travis       7,396     7,768     9,207
Collin       9,756    11,247    17,017
El Paso      4,406     3,108
Denton       6,348     8,892    16,234
Fort Bend    7,344    10,804     8,520
Hidalgo      1,494     2,063     2,899

The El Paso numbers for 2016 are weird – for each primary, all of two votes were recorded for Sunday, and even if assume a more normal total, things look decidedly under where you’d expect them to be. As such, I skipped them for 2016. Some of the variations are interesting, but without knowing the early voting tendencies and trends in these counties, I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions. Even for Harris County, remember that most of the vote came on Election Day for the primaries. At this point I’m mostly interested in seeing how much the daily totals tick up. Have you voted yet?

Time for the Presidential campaigns to focus on Texas

It’s our turn in the spotlight.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

After spending millions to gain attention and a relative handful of delegates in the first four primary and caucus states, presidential candidates will now train their sights on Super Tuesday and the mother lode of Texas delegates that could help clinch the nominations.

Texas is the richest prize on March 1, when partisan primaries or caucuses are held in 13 states and American Samoa. At stake will be 661 GOP delegates, with 155 in Texas, and 1,107 Democratic delegates, including 252 in Texas. When voting ends that day, more than half of the delegates needed for the nomination in each party will have been awarded.

“In terms of bragging rights, all eyes will be on Texas March 1,” political scientist Mark Jones of Rice University said.

With early voting already under way, candidates are starting to show up at Texas events.

Hillary Clinton visited Houston late Saturday, and Bill Clinton will stump at campuses in Laredo and Dallas on Monday. On Thursday, the dwindling field of Republicans gathers in Houston for another crucial debate.


The ground wars being waged by the two Democratic contenders are starkly different. Hillary Clinton, with a legion of loyal friends and significant financial resources, is conducting a conventional campaign that relies heavily on her established Texas ties, including those with Housing Secretary Julián Castro and his twin, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

Sanders, meanwhile, is backed largely by volunteers with low-cost tactics such as hand-painting campaign signs and a reliance on social media. Sanders supporters will hold a national day of action for the candidate Saturday.

Polls give Clinton a substantial lead in Texas, but Robert Feria, coordinator for the San Antonio group SA4Sanders, voiced optimism about Sanders’ chances. “The bottom line is once people ‘feel the Bern,’ they don’t turn back,” he said.

“Polls” is an overstatement. According to Real Clear Politics, there have been exactly two Democratic primary polls of Texas conducted in 2016. There was a Dixie Strategies poll (whoever they are) done January 25 and 26 that gave Clinton a 50-16 lead, and a PPP poll from February 14-16 that had Clinton up 57-34. That latter result was one of a dozen that PPP released, all for so-called Super Tuesday states. That’s it so far. I had figured there would at least be a UT/Trib poll by now.

On Friday, Clinton’s campaign uncorked its first TV ad for Texas, and the Sanders campaign has bought a small slice of airtime for ads in Wichita Falls. That leaves the likely scenario of presidential candidates deluging the state’s airwaves almost exclusively during the final week before the primary.

So far the only TV ads I’ve seen have been for Gene Green. That will change this week, but not by very much, and at this time not in the Houston area. Which feels a little weird, but I’m not complaining. The Trib and the Press have more.

Chron overview of the Sheriff races

The candidate who isn’t there nonetheless plays a central role.

Appointed incumbent Ron Hickman faces two repeat challengers in the GOP primary, while four others, including former Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez battle for the Democratic nomination.

The candidates square off in an election year when criminal justice issues are on the forefront of the public consciousness, following a year and a half of protests across the country over how police use lethal force during interactions with the public, particularly involving minorities.

“There’s been a lot more scrutiny as there’s been more reporting on issues from brutality or misconduct amid patrol, to misconduct among jail guards, to sanitary issues in the jail,” said Jay Jenkinsof the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “For the first time in a long time, it feels like the general public is realizing what responsibilities come with that office, and how sheriff has the ability to help or hurt on those issues.”

Former Sheriff Adrian Garcia beat out Tommy Thomas eight years ago on the heels of a string of headlines about numerous inmate deaths, a high-profile civil rights lawsuit and thousands of deleted emails under a Thomas policy that violated state law. He resigned the post last May when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor; Commissioners Court appointed Hickman to finish Garcia’s term, which ends Dec. 31.

The landscape is different today, but the department again has come under scrutiny over inmate deaths and allegations of abuse, poor medical care and other problems in the jail dating back to 2009.

Hickman’s supporters argue that the majority of those issues occurred under Garcia’s regime, and that state inspectors gave the facility high marks when they inspected it last December.

It’s not a big surprise that the primaries for Sheriff are in their own way about Adrian Garcia. Jeff Stauber on the Democratic side is a pretty strong critic of Garcia’s term in office, as you can hear in the interview I did with him. His belief is that the HCSO needs someone with experience in the office as the person in charge, a charge that conveniently works against both Ed Gonzalez and Ron Hickman. As for Hickman, invoking Garcia now is basically a defensive move, but if he’s still doing it in the fall it will surely be as an offensive maneuver. As he will have been on the job for more than a year by then there’s no guarantee that the voters will accept that, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t. I suspect that once we get past March, Hickman will prefer to talk about the things he has done rather than things his predecessor did, but I’m sure the latter won’t be too far beneath the surface, if it’s beneath it at all.

Hotze gets official hater status

Congratulations, I guess.

After more than 30 years of anti-gay activism, Steven Hotze picked up the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Wednesday.

The Alabama civil rights group labeled Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT) an anti-LGBT hate group in its annual report on extremist organizations.

Hotze, an influential and deep-pocketed Republican donor from Houston, was among the top funders of the successful campaign to repeal the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in November.

“What we look at in the anti-LGBT groups is primarily the use of lies, of falsehoods, that have the effect of demonizing gay people,” SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok said. “So, it’s not merely that they opposed the HERO ordinance; it’s the way in which they did it — the description of gay people as pedophiles and so on.”


CRT becomes the fourth anti-LGBT hate group in Texas, and the third added to SPLC’s list, in two years.

“These groups are on the defensive against huge social changes that they cannot stop,” Potok said. “The religious right has suffered very serious losses, losses from which it will not recover, and an enormous amount of rage has resulted.”

Click over if you want to see or be reminded of a couple of the more charming things Hotze said during the HERO fight. Mark Potok is right that the likes of Hotze have lost a lot of ground in recent years, but as HERO showed they can still win some battles, and they’re surely not going to go away without a nasty fight. The Press has more.

Day 6 EV totals for 2016 primaries

We are one (short) week in, with what should be the bigger week for turnout coming up:

Year       Dem      GOP
2008    66,756   23,851
2012    15,980   36,612
2016    32,233   44,844


For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here. I don’t have daily EVPA totals from the Harris County Clerk for 2008, so my reference for those numbers is the SOS archive for 2008, with the Day One Dem totals here and the Day One GOP totals here. Day One EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide for the first five days (i.e., through Saturday) are here.

One thing to note with the above totals is that for 2008 and 2016, there were six days of early voting through Sunday, as in both years the first Monday was Presidents Day and thus the polls were not open. In 2012, the primary was in May thanks to redistricting-related litigation, so the totals above reflect seven days’ worth of voting. This weekend was pretty brisk – Sunday in particular was up quite a bit from 2012 – with the Dems’ numbers ticking up more than the GOP’s. At this time, the Dems are running 101.7% ahead of 2012, which projects to 154,272 overall, while the Rs are up 22.5% from 2012, or a final tally of 200,875. That would mean Republicans constituted 56.6% of the primary total, and no I’m not going to stop harping on Stan Stanart’s increasingly dumb three-to-one prediction.

As for the week ahead, normally the second week, when polls are open a full twelve hours each day, is the heavier time for early voting. A number of people have expressed the view that some regular voters may have been waiting to see what happened in Nevada and South Carolina before deciding who to vote for. Other than the presumably small contingent of Jeb! fans, I’m not sure how much those results may have changed things, but who knows. Bear in mind also that as heavy as 2008 Democratic primary early voting was, nearly 60% of that vote came on Election Day. That was only in 2008, though – in 2012, more than half of the votes cast in both primaries were early. So take all projections of total turnout with a grain of salt.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.

The draft bike plan is out

Here it is, in all its glory. I encourage you to look at the draft plan and play with the interactive map. Then, when you start to feel overwhelmed and wish someone would explain it all to you, go read Raj Mankad’s story in Offcite, which does exactly that.

The last time Houston made a bike plan was 1993. Many of the streets declared official bike routes then are among the least safe places to bicycle. Take Washington Avenue. Every few hundred feet, a yellow sign with an image of a bicycle declares “Share the Road.” The street, however, has no dedicated bicycle path — not even a narrow one. Cars race down the 12-foot-wide lanes feebly painted with ineffectual “sharrows” that have faded from the friction of tires. Only “strong and fearless” cyclists, who represent less than one percent of the total population, attempt such routes.

The signage on Washington is visual clutter, or worse. It sends the wrong message to potential cyclists, according to Geoff Carleton of Traffic Engineers. If the city designates a route for bicycling, he says, it should be comfortable enough for “enthused and confident” riders, not just the spandex-clad racers in pelotons. Ultimately, says Carleton, a city’s bike facilities fail unless they can reassure the largest segment, as much as 65 percent of the total population, of potential cyclists: those who self-identify as “interested but concerned.” (The other group is the “no-way no-hows.”)

The Houston Bike Plan, a new draft released by the City of Houston, details just such a future. Made public and presented to the Planning Commission, the plan was crafted by Traffic Engineers, Morris Architects, and Asakura Robinson, a team comprising most of the designers behind METRO’s New Bus Network, a dramatic reimagining and restructuring that’s receiving national attention for its success. A grant to BikeHouston from the Houston Endowment provided part of the $400,000 budget for the new plan with additional funds coming from the City, Houston-Galveston Area Council, and the Houston Parks Board.

The process involved extensive community outreach across class, race, gender, and ethnicity, as well as a study of all existing plans made by the city, management districts, parks, livable center studies, and neighborhood groups. The resulting draft is more a fresh start than an elaboration of the 1993 precedent.

The plan begins with an assessment of where we are today and makes distinctions between high- and low-comfort bike lanes. Only the high-comfort routes are kept in the plan moving forward.

As the plan’s introduction states, Houston has “made great strides in improving people’s ability to bike to more destinations.” The plan also notes changes in attitude and ridership levels, calls out “Sunday Streets … a great example of encouraging more people to get out and be active on Houston streets.” The most substantial improvement comes by way of Bayou Greenways 2020, the 150 miles of separated trails and linear parks along the bayous. (See our coverage of the 2012 bond measure funding this project, the progress of its construction, and the transformative impact it could have on our region.)

Approximately 1.3 million people — six out of 10 Houstonians — will live within 1.5 miles of these bayou trails when they are completed, but traversing those 1.5 miles can be a major challenge. When you map out this and other projects in the works, you see islands of bicycle-friendly territory and fragments of high-comfort bicycling facilities. Because the bayous run east-west, a lack of north-south routes could leave cyclists alone to contend with dangerous traffic and car-oriented infrastructure.

“If we do nothing beyond what is already in progress, we will have 300 miles of bikeways,” says Carleton, “but it won’t be a network.” Thus, the draft plan focuses on links that would build that network.

Ultimately, the vision is for Houston to become by 2026 a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly City according to the standards of the League of American Bicyclists. Currently, the city is Bronze Level.

Here, the plan is broken down into three phases: 1) Short-Term Opportunities, which could solve problems quickly and relatively inexpensively; 2) Key Connections, which are high-impact improvements that would require more investment; 3) Long-Term Houston Bikeway Visions, which are true transformations of infrastructure that would require substantial investments of money, time, and labor. Below, we look at each stage as a whole and at few routes in particular as examples.

Go read the fuller explanation of what those things mean, then look at the map to see where they fit in. A lot of the short-term opportunities include finishing the planned trails along the bayous and taking advantage of streets that have more capacity than traffic to turn a lane into a dedicated bike line like what we have on Lamar Street downtown.

Here’s a snip from the map that I took, which focuses on the parts of this plan that most interest me. Green lines are off street, blue lines are streets with dedicated bike lanes, and fuscia represents streets where bikes and cars can coexist in reasonable fashion. The thicker lines are what exists now, and the thinner lines are what’s in the plan. I’ve filtered out the long-term visions, so what you see are the short term and key connection opportunities:


A few points of interest:

– Note the continuation of the MKT Trail due west at TC Jester (it currently continues along the bayou), following the existing railroad tracks, then turns south through Memorial Park and on down, via the existing CenterPoint right of way. I think all of that is included in that 2012 bond referendum, but don’t hold me to that. Note also the connection from Buffalo Bayou Park to Memorial Park, which just makes all kinds of sense.

– The blue line that runs north-south is at the top the existing bike lane on Heights Blvd, which then continues on to Waugh, serving as a connection to the Buffalo Bayou trail. I’ve noted before how while I’d like to be able to bike that way, it’s just too hairy once you get south of Washington Avenue on Heights. As Raj notes in his story, this would involve some road construction to make it happen, but boy will that be worth it.

– Other blue east-west bike lane additions include (from the bottom up) Alabama, West Dallas/Inwood (connecting to an existing on-street path), Winter Street, White Oak/Quitman (a convenient route to the North Line light rail), and 11th Street/Pecore. I can testify that there is already a bike lane drawn on Pecore east of Michaux, but it needs some maintenance. 11th Street west of Studemont can have some heavy car traffic – people regularly complain how hard it is to cross 11th at the Herkimer bike trail – so I’ll be very interested to see how the plan aims to deal with that.

– Downtown is in the lower right corner of the picture, with Polk and Leeland streets targeted for connecting downtown to EaDo, and Austin and Caroline streets for downtown to midtown. These will no doubt be like the existing Lamar Street bike lane, where the main investment will be in paint and those big raised bumps.

Those are the things that caught my eye. Again, I encourage you to look it all over. The short term and key connection opportunities are fairly low cost all together, with some of the funds likely coming from the 2012 bond and the rest from ReBuild Houston. From Chapter 6 of the plan, on Implementation:

While a significant number of projects have dedicated funding identified for implementation over the next five years, including projects in the City’s CIP and the Bayou Greenways 2020 projects, the City of Houston budget projections indicate that there will be challenges in identifying additional resources, either in personnel, capital, or operations and maintenance to advance many additional components of the plan forward in the near term. Opportunities to leverage existing resources to meet the goals of the plan are important. Additional resources will likely need to be identified to implement many of the recommendations in the HBP in addition.

The Mayor’s press release identifies some of the funding sources being used now for this. Take a look, see what you think, and give them feedback. The draft plan exists because of copious public input, and that input is still needed to take this to completion.