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March, 2016:

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes your brackets are in better shape than its own as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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Runoff watch: JPs and Constables

OK, sit back and settle in, this may take awhile.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 – Democratic

Judge Dale Gorczynski

The race to succeed retiring JP Dale Gorczynski turned out to be a bit of a barnburner. The two leading candidates, Eric William “Brother of District Judge Kyle” Carter and Tanya Makany-Rivera, finished 144 votes apart, out of over 36,000 cast. Four of the five other candidates were African-American, and there some speculation before the election that they might split the vote enough to make it hard for any of them to make it into the top two. As they combined for 40% of the total vote, with #s 3 and 4 grabbing enough votes together to beat the frontrunners, this wasn’t a crazy thought. Of interest is that Carter led Makany-Rivera by about 1,500 votes after early voting, but she wiped out nearly all of that deficit on Election Day. Whether that was the result of a better ground game on her part or an electorate that was more favorable to her turning out late rather than early is a question I can’t answer.

A good ground game is likely to be key to this and all the other runoffs we’re discussing today. The total number of voters is sure to be relatively tiny – point of reference, the 2008 runoff for JP Precint 8, Place 1 had 1,082 votes after 15,196 votes out of 23,911 ballots cast in March – so the candidate who does a better job dragging friends and neighbors back to the polls has an advantage. Both candidates received group endorsements in March – Carter got nods from the AFL-CIO and GLBT Political Caucus, while Makany-Rivera collected recommendations from the Tejano Dems and Stonewall Dems. This one looks like a tossup to me.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1 – Democratic

Incumbent JP Hilary Green had the pleasure of facing seven challengers in March, finishing ahead of them all but with only 29.53% of the vote; Cheryl Elliot Thornton, who was a candidate for County Court at Law #2 in 2010, came in second, ten points behind. It’s been a rough term for Judge Green, between a nasty divorce and allegations of biased rulings, both of which I suspect contributed to the crowded field against her, and possibly the less-than-stellar result. Usually, an incumbent wh can’t break 30% is in deep trouble, but she does start out with a ten-point lead, and there’s no guarantee that the supporters of the other candidates will bother to come out in May. I think she’s still a slight favorite, but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on either outcome.

Constable, Precinct 2 – Democratic

Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz led a field of four candidates with 45%; runnerup close races, but I see no reason why he’d need to sweat this one. The only curiosity to me is that several groups that endorsed in Constable races apparently declined to do so in this one, even with an incumbent on the ballot; specifically, the GLBT Political Caucus, H-BAD, and Stonewall all skipped this one, while the AFL-CIO and the Tejanos plus Area 5 supported Diaz. Anyone know what if anything is up with that? Regardless, I see this as Diaz’s race to lose.

Constable, Precinct 3 – Democratic

Another huge field (nine candidates), another office vacated by a longtime incumbent (Constable Ken Jones), and another really close finish. The top three candidates:

Sherman Eagleton – 3,687 votes, 19.87%
Michel Pappillion – 2,862 votes, 15.43%
Jasen Rabalais – 2,825 votes, 15.23%

Yep, a 37-vote difference between going on and going home. I’ve discussed this one before, as third-place finisher Rabalais has filed a lawsuit challenging the result; he has alleged that a nefarious campaign worker committed absentee ballot fraud on behalf of Pappillion. I don’t really expect anything to change in this race, but one never knows. Assuming nothing changes, Eagleton, who is a sergeant in Precinct 3, was endorsed by the Chron, while Pappillion, a retired police officer with HPD and in his native Louisiana, got the HGLBT nod; other groups either skipped this one or went with candidates who finished out of the running. I call this one a tossup because I don’t know any better.

And that’s all there is – there are no runoffs at this level on the Republican side, as only one such race (JP in Precinct 1, Place 1) drew more than two candidates. I’ve got two more of these entries to go, to look at the Democratic Sheriff race and a couple of stray GOP races. I hope this has been useful.

When are we going to get a general election poll of Texas?

As goes Utah

According to a new Deseret News/KSL poll, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee, the voters of Utah would opt for a Democratic candidate for the first time in over 50 years. Poll respondents said they would support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders over Trump, though Clinton was only two points ahead of Trump in the poll, falling within the margin of error (as opposed to the 11 points Sanders has over Trump). As many as 16 percent of respondents said they would skip the election altogether if Trump was the nominee. The survey also indicated that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz would defeat the Democratic candidate if they were nominated.

It’s only one poll, but that didn’t prevent it from shocking Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Said Karpowitz to the News, “I know it is early and these things can change. But the fact that a Donald Trump matchup with either Clinton or Sanders is a competitive race is a canary in a coal mine for Republicans.”

Let me lay down a million qualifiers here: Just one poll. Way, way early. Lots of undecideds – indeed, Clinton’s lead is 38-36, and you can guess what most of the others would do if all else where equal. The poll was conducted around the same time that Trump was trashing Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular, which strikes me as a damn fine way to alienate a lot of Utahans. So yeah, stock up on the salt for this one.

But it still makes one wonder, just what the Trump effect may be in various red states. Utah is one of the few places that can out-Republican Texas, after all. I’ll cop to being an eternal optimist, but according to RG Ratcliffe on Facebook, former Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri said on CNN that if Trump is the nominee, Texas could be carried by the Democrats. I’ll need to see a few poll results before I let myself get too irrationally exuberant, but let’s play with a few numbers and see what we can game out.

In 2008, some 3.5 million Texans voted for Barack Obama; in 2012, it was 3.3 million. In 2008, 4.4 million voted GOP, and in 2012 it was over 4.5 million. It’s my opinion that the GOP Presidential vote is close to maxed out, so let’s say 4.6 million as a starting point, with 3.5 million as a starting point for the Dems. Perhaps between the newly minted citizens and other efforts, perhaps boosted by Julian Castro on the ticket, Dems van boost themselves to 3.8 or 3.9 million. Let’s be conservative and say 3.8 million.

The big question then becomes, how many Republicans refuse to vote for Trump, and what do they do instead? Sit it out, vote Libertarian or a third party candidate (who will not be Rick Perry) if one can get certified for the ballot by May 9 (good luck with that), or *gag* vote for Hillary? Either of the first two reduces the R total, while the latter also increases the D number. If 400,000 Republicans – about nine percent of their total – skip the race or go third party, and another 200,000 go for Hillary, that gets us to a tie in my scenario. Millennial voters would apparently be likely to flip from R to D if the R is Trump.

How unlikely is my red-to-blue scenario? Probably pretty unlikely. But not impossible! When we finally get some November polling, we’ll see where on the impossible-to-unlikely scale it is. I should note that however you slice it, some number of Republicans would have to sit it out entirely and not just skip the top of the ticket for this to have a coattail effect downballot. The main ingredient to the Democratic legislative success of 2006 was unusually low turnout among Republicans. We’re now moving from “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” to “are they two-stepping or polkaing” territory, so I’d better quit while I’m ahead. Bottom line is, I’d like to see some November polling, sooner rather than later. It may provide some good entertainment, if nothing else. Martin Longman, ThinkProgress, and Marc Campos, who is way more skeptical than I am of a Trump effect in Texas, have more.

The New Mexico abortion option

This should come as a surprise to no one.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Though abortions among residents are down the number of out-of-state women traveling to New Mexico for abortions has grown significantly over the past three years.

According to state Department of Health data, about 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed in New Mexico in 2014 involved women from out of state, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Reports suggest that number can be attributed to New Mexico’s few restrictions on abortion.

New Mexico hasn’t passed an abortion law in 16 years and is one of seven states that permits abortions at any stage in a pregnancy.

Comparatively, neighboring Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma each adopted 10 or more abortion restrictions from 2011 to 2015.

Texas women had nearly 9,000 fewer abortions in the first full year since those restrictions were put into place.

Just as a reminder, Texas Republicans passed HB2 on the (false) grounds that all those requirements and restrictions would make abortion safer for women. The state then argued in court that all of the clinics that would or did close as a result did not present an undue burden for women who sought abortions because the ones in the west could just go to New Mexico, which didn’t have all of those allegedly safety-enhancing (and clinic-closing) rules. The numbers bear that out. Funny how these things work, isn’t it? The Press has more.

More speed bumps coming

Like ’em or not.

Houston officials are speeding up the process of slowing down residential street traffic.

A laborious process to improve traffic and safety by installing traffic calming devices such as speed humps is radically streamlined in a new method by the city’s public works department, unveiled Monday at a City Council committee meeting. Council members applauded the change.

“I am doing the happy dance here,” said District K Councilman Larry Green, whose southwest Houston area has some of the neighborhoods that have waited the longest for relief from speeding cars.

In the future, with demand for speed humps high in many areas, public works will no longer require traffic and speed analyses, Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Weatherford said.

“We believe all local neighborhood streets should automatically qualify for speed control if they want it,” Weatherford said, citing overwhelming evidence that pedestrians and bicyclists are safer with lower residential street speeds.

The change would only apply to residential streets, where speed humps are practical, and not thoroughfares that carry far higher volumes of traffic.

[…]

In the past, neighbors upset at a cumbersome city process left dissatisfied, especially when the analysis found they didn’t have a speeding issue. Residents would then frequently ask public works to assess the traffic volume, which would start the process over again.

When requests from residents come to public works in the future, staff will analyze the neighborhood and then deliver their recommendations to the district council member for the area.

Pending approval from the council member, public works will then coordinate construction of the speed humps. Plans are devised for entire neighborhoods, often a 10- to 20-square block area between two major streets. Public works will normally consider streets best suited for traffic calming, then locate humps, medians and other features where appropriate to control speed.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins noted the city successfully dealt with fast-moving vehicles crashing in a curve in a residential area by placing the humps not at the curve, but leading to it.

Under the old way, however, that process often took nine months to complete. The new method that reduces studies decreases it to six to eight weeks, but it also puts a lot more responsibility in the hands of council members, [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

I confess, I hate these things. I hate driving over them, and will go out of my way to avoid them. But I understand why we have them, and I’ve seen more than enough jackwads doing in excess of 40 on residential streets to accept them without complaint. Well, OK, with a bit of whining, but without any expectation of sympathy. If we want safer streets and fewer traffic fatalities – and we do, or at least we should – then this is a part of that. I’ll just have to suck it up.

Complaint filed against Sid Miller

Game on.

Sid Miller

A liberal advocacy group on Monday asked the Texas Rangers to investigate whether Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller used taxpayer money to fly to Oklahoma to get an injection known as “the Jesus Shot” that is supposed to cure all pain for life.

The group, Progress Texas, filed a two-page complaint alleging Miller intentionally abused his office in February of 2015 by using at least $1,120 in public money for private gain.

Abuse of office involving using that amount of money for private gain is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

“Politicians like Sid Miller using their office to benefit themselves is inexcusable,” said Lucy Stein, advocacy director for the group. “These guys think that they’re above the law, and they aren’t.”

The complaint stems from a Houston Chronicle article published last week that raised questions about the February 2015 trip, which Miller took to Oklahoma City with a top aide, billing the taxpayers at least $1,120.

[…]

Monday’s action marks the first criminal complaint against Miller.

It also is among the first complaint of its kind to be filed with the Texas Rangers, which was given authority during last year’s legislative session to probe allegations of misconduct by state elected officials and employees. The move took that power away from the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which was accused by Republicans of initiating cases for political reasons.

Stein said she had trouble figuring out who to contact with her complaint and was referred to multiple employees within the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“It’s very complicated now — nobody knows what they’re doing,” said Stein, who worried that the process could scare off some Texans with fewer resources. “It shouldn’t be so hard for an ordinary citizen to file a complaint against a statewide elected official.”

Stein said she had been told that the Rangers were “reviewing” the complaint.

See here for the background. This will be an interesting test of that new procedure, as defined by the Lege last year. Among other things, if the Rangers decide there’s enough evidence to hand off to a prosecutor, that would presumably mean giving it to the District Attorney of Erath County, where Miller attends church and hung his hat as State Rep in HD59. Here’s Sen. Kirk Watson, in the comments to an RG Ratcliife post on Facebook, explaining the details:

Of course the answer is a little complicated because of the way the bill (HB 1690) was drafted.

HB 1690 says “venue … IS the county in which the defendant resided at the time the offense was committed.” However, then the bill defines residence for 4 categories of people: legislators, members of the executive branch, certain judges, and everyone else. For members of the executive branch, residence is defined as the county where the person “claimed to be a resident before being subject to residency requirements under Article IV, Texas Constitution.” (That’s the former requirement that certain executive offices must reside in Travis county.) The Ag. Commissioner used to be subject to the residency requirement since he’s elected statewide (see SJR 52).

So, piecing it all together, I think he can only be prosecuted where he claimed to be a resident before he was elected Ag. Commissioner. The bill doesn’t provide any guidance re: what constitutes claiming to be a resident.

This is the PIU bill not any “ethics” bill that was vetoed. Remember a key problem with what was being done was that they were creating a special class of defendants. Instead of trying a person (ever other person) in the place where the crime is committed, they create a special class of people that can and will be tried in some place other than where the crime is committed. The place they claim residency.

Got all that? This presumes, of course, that the Erath County DA would not be conflicted up the wazoo and have to recuse himself a la the Collin County DA and Ken Paxton. In which case we’d have yet another special prosecutor prosecuting yet another elected Republican. Isn’t this fun? I’m getting ahead of myself here – we don’t even know what the Rangers are going to do with this just yet – but keep that in your back pocket for future contemplation.

One more thing: Ross Ramsay wrote that for now, the lack of two-party competitiveness in Texas means that all this is water of Sid Miller’s back, at least until a grand jury returns an indictment and/or he draws a primary challenger. I’ve seen more than one lament, on Facebook and elsewhere, about how pathetic the Democrats must be for us to be in this situation. Well, the simple fact is that there are more Rs than Ds in Texas right now. There are things that may change that, in the long term and the short term, one of which I have noted is for more than a few Rs to become fed up with their party, or at least a few specific members of it, and refuse to support them any more. Dirty elected officials, and the colleagues who apparently have not problem with them, are a possible reason why they may do this. Perhaps that effect will be noticeable in 2018, and perhaps it will not. For now, it’s all a matter of numbers. As with most things in politics, things are they way they are until all of a sudden they’re not. Trail Blazers has more.

More on the rush to naturalization

The Trib looks at the trend in Texas.

Amid a heated presidential election focusing heavily on immigration, a similar uncertainty about the future of immigration policies under a new president appears to be pushing thousands of legal residents in Texas — some of whom, like Camacho, have lived here for decades — to apply for citizenship in hopes of securing their place in the country.

“To say that something is pushing them to finally conclude that process, that is the current political climate in the United States,” said Douglas Interiano of Proyecto Inmigrante in Fort Worth. “You look at those people’s faces and ask why did it take you so long for you to apply, and the reply will vary from ‘we didn’t have the money’ to ‘I am afraid that I might lose my status.’”

[…]

The number of naturalization applications submitted from Texas to the federal government is on the rise, thousands of legal permanent residents, commonly referred to as green card holders, are lining up for help at citizenship workshops and thousands more are holding up their right hands and repeating the naturalization oath at citizenship ceremonies.

It’s an uptick that’s not uncommon in presidential election years, but nonprofit workers helping legal residents apply for citizenship attribute the current application rush to a sense of fear among the immigrant community.

“They have fears that maybe they’ll lose their residency card if someone is elected or that if someone is elected it’s going to be more difficult,” said Mariana Sanchez, CEO of the Houston-based Bonding Against Adversity group, which is helping legal residents apply for citizenship. “They think, ‘We are legal residents so we better become U.S. citizens because we’ll be safe.’”

Naturalization applications from legal residents in Texas dipped slightly in the federal 2015 fiscal year compared to the year before. But applications jumped almost 14 percent in the July to September 2015 quarter — the latest federal figures available — compared to the same period in 2014.

Immigration nonprofit workers say the numbers have only continued to grow since then.

[…]

Almost 8.8 million legal residents in the U.S. are eligible to naturalize with about 2.7 million of them hailing from Mexico, according to federal figures.

With 1.3 million legal residents living in Texas, the state ranks third among states with the most legal residents eligible for citizenship — a figure the U.S. Department of Homeland Security puts at 950,000.

See here for the background. It’s nice to have some numbers in this discussion, especially for Texas, but they will need to be refined considerably before we can take any guess about what it may mean for this year. How many of these folks will actually go through the process this year? How many of them will then register to vote, and how likely are they to do so? Finally, who will they vote for in the Presidential race, and how will they vote downballot? What if anything are the state and county parties doing to facilitate this? Even under a highly optimistic scenario, there’s unlikely to be much effect at a state level – I will be interested in seeing what the voter registration numbers look like, that’s for sure – but given that these folks will surely be more prevalent in the big metro areas, there could be a greater effect at a local level. I’m glad the Trib is writing about this, but I’d also like to hear from the pollsters, the political scientists, and the activists. Is this a big deal? If so, how big? If not, why not? I hope to hear a lot more.

The Purple City plan for I-45

Check it out.

Should a major freeway plan consider the needs of cyclists? Of transit riders?

And if we’re going to tear down and reconstruct the entire downtown freeway network of the fourth-largest city in America, shouldn’t the final result have better geometry than the mid-century structures it replaces?

The PDFs below contain an analysis of Houston traffic patterns, a critique of the current plans for Downtown Houston’s freeway ring, and an alternate proposal. My schematic requires less right-of-way, creates a continuous managed lane network for commuter buses and BRT, and eliminates all left-hand exits, among other improvements.

The plan is here, and a detailed schematic is here. I’ve read the plan and recommend you do as well, there are a lot of interesting and worthwhile ideas in there. Tory Gattis has a bullet point summary as well as the news that this has attracted the attention of TxDOT, which can only be a good thing. I’m still trying to make sense of the schematic, which is quite detailed, so I don’t have any analysis to offer here, but I do hope that we hear more about this, and in particular that we have a much broader discussion about what we want to happen. As Purple City notes in the introduction of this proposal, what we have now is the result of design decisions that were made decades ago. The reality around us has made some of those decisions less than optimal for us. This is an opportunity to completely change downtown and its environs in a way that better suits the Houston we have now, or it’s an opportunity to lock in those decades-old decisions for years to come. This is why I harped so much on this during the election last year. I still think it’s the most important issue that got exactly zero attention from anyone other than me during the campaigns. What do we want these freeways that dominate our city core to look like, and how do we want to interact with them? We need to understand those questions and give them our best answers. Link via Swamplot.

We’re not so good at school funding

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

BagOfMoney

Texas earned the worst marks in the country for its funding of public education, according to a research report released Wednesday.

Researchers with Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the New Jersey-based Education Law Center called out the Lone Star State for ranking poorly on all of its funding “fairness” measures. Texas received an “F” grade for investing a small share in public schools relative to the state’s overall economic capacity and a “D” for not devoting more money to districts that serve a high concentration of students living in poverty.

In addition, Texas ranked 39th based on its overall funding of districts. The measure, which adjusts for poverty and other regional differences, estimates that Texas spends $7,404 per student in a district with an average student poverty rate. The amount ranged from more than $17,300 in Alaska to nearly $5,750 in Idaho.

[…]

The report is based on U.S. Census data from 2013, which does not take into account additional funds Texas lawmakers allocated toward education after cutting $5.4 billion in 2011. Even before the funding cuts, however, Texas has scored poorly in the annual report, according to Danielle Farrie, research director for Education Law Center.

A copy of the report is here if you care to read it. As it would be more effective to print it out and then whack Dan Patrick over the head with it, I’ll demur. Either we get a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court in the school finance lawsuit, which forces the state to finally do more for education, or we don’t. In the latter case, nothing will change until our state leadership does. That’s really all there is to it.

Runoff watch: Railroad Commissioner

So yeah, the Railroad Commissioner runoff is a bit of a mess, on both sides. I’m going to let the Trib summarize the problem.

In his campaign for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, former state Rep. Wayne Christian says his 14-year legislative career made him an expert on energy issues. And the Republican laments that many people misunderstand the curiously named agency he wants to lead, which hasn’t dealt with locomotives for more than a decade.

“A lot of people don’t know what the Railroad Commission does – even folks in the Legislature,” he said in a recent interview.

But even Christian, who formerly served on the House energy committee and previously ran for the Railroad Commission in 2014, didn’t know one of the agency’s key duties — regulating natural gas utilities — until a reporter told him.

[…]

On the campaign trail, Christian has knocked his rival in a May 24 Republican primary runoff, real estate magnate Gary Gates, for his lack of policy experience. Gates has never held public office and failed in four earlier bids for the Texas Legislature.

“My current intention is just run on the fact that he has absolutely zero experience in the legislature. Zero experience in any type of legislative process, or government,” Christian said.

But when the Tribune asked about his philosophy on setting gas rates — a question it posed to all four remaining Republicans and Democrats — Christian initially suggested that those duties fell to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities.

“I didn’t realize that they were actually doing the rates inside the utility,” he said after the Tribune told him it was the Railroad Commission’s job. “But I’ve been there, done that.”

Gates, asked the same question in a separate interview, appeared aware of the commission’s duties to regulate natural gas utilities.

“I think I am very well equipped to understand the reasons — if a utility wants a fee increase” to build new pipes or fix aging ones, he said. “Through all of that, there has to be a rate of return” for the company.

[…]

Democrats also have a runoff between the top two vote-getters from the March 1 primary: Grady Yarbrough, a retired school teacher who has lived in San Antonio and East Texas, and Cody Garrett, a former journalist and campaign director from the Austin area. Neither has held public office or has experience in the energy sector. A Democrat hasn’t sat on the commission in more than two decades.

Yarbrough did not appear to understand the commission’s ratemaking duties.

“I’m in tune with market forces, whatever the market prices are. I’m not for the idea of putting a floor in there,” he said, apparently talking about gas production rather than utilities. He then began to discuss controversial legislation from 2015 that curbed local control over oil and gas extraction.

When asked again about utility ratemaking with more detail, he said: “If there needs to be some revision, I would be for it.”

Garrett was aware that the commission set natural gas rates. “I am on the record in calling for a moratorium on raising natural gas rates,” he said, arguing that the current commissioners were too quick to approve hikes. But asked if he would allow utilities to raise rates in some circumstances — to fix equipment, for instance — he said yes, if the project was worthy.

Garrett is the obvious choice on the Democratic side. I really have no idea what motivates people like Gene Kelly and Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan to run for offices for which they are manifestly unqualified and for which they have no interest in actually campaigning. Surely there’s some better use of the filing fee for them. It is my fond hope that some day, an enterprising graduate student in political science will try to answer this question. And if I were for some reason voting in the Republican runoff, I’d likely go for Gary Gates, who despite being a lousy candidate for the Legislature on multiple occasions still appears to be the superior choice. And not for nothing, but Wayne Christian was a lousy legislator.

Paxton prosecutors file their response briefs at the 5th Court of Appeals

In sum: Don’t think about Rick Perry!

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

A Travis County court’s decision to throw out Rick Perry’s abuse-of-power indictments should have no bearing on Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case, the team prosecuting the first-term attorney general wrote in their latest brief filed Monday.

“Comparing Rick Perry’s case with Mr. Paxton’s is like comparing Citizen Kane with Showgirls,” special prosecutor Brian Wice said late last month after a Travis County appeals court threw out the former governor’s indictments. “The prosecution of Rick Perry, not to mention Tom DeLay, was about the criminalization of politics. Mr. Paxton’s case is about the criminalization of securities fraud.”

Wice, along with fellow special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Nicole DeBorde, filed a brief Monday with a Dallas-based appeals court responding to Paxton’s latest attempt to have his three felony indictments thrown out. In December, the judge presiding over the attorney general’s securities fraud case decided against quashing the charges, prompting Paxton to appeal that decision to the higher court in Dallas.

In his appeal, Paxton contended the grand jury that indicted him was improperly impaneled and that the state law he’s been charged with violating is both unconstitutionally vague and trumped by a different federal law.

The special prosecutors denied all three claims in their Monday filing, saying a court could not come to these conclusions without first hearing all the evidence at trial. They repeated their arguments that the judge who impaneled the grand jury used the same method he and others employed for many other grand juries, that state law holds in this case and that the statute was clear in its meaning.

“Persons of ordinary intelligence would not have to guess at the plain and common meaning of the term ‘investment adviser representative’ or where to turn ‘to determine who is an [IAR] or who may be penalized for failing to register,’ ” the prosecutors wrote.

See here for the background. Wice’s defense attorney roots are showing here, as he has bought into the Perry defense team’s characterization of that case, which as you know is not mine. It is the CCA’s, however, and they’re the ones who count, so one hopes that Wice’s talent for turning a phrase will help here. Both prosecution and defense have asked for oral arguments, so expect that to be scheduled soon. As the story notes, there could then be a ruling by June or so, though things bog down considerably if an appeal to the CCA follows. For now, at least, things are moving along at a steady clip.

Other cities want to be like Houston

For parks and landscaping.

The word “infrastructure” typically conjures up images of towering buildings, layered freeway interchanges and heavily monitored drainage ditches; concrete, cars, trucks and impressive feats of engineering that attempt to mold the natural world and resources to fit human needs.

Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has long been hailed, and criticized, for such accomplishments, but a shift in social, political, and economic values has strengthened lesser-thought of elements of city infrastructure: parks and green space. Architectural and engineering professions in Houston have been historically bolstered by energy and the wealth it has pumped into the city, but the recent downturn in oil prices and a more diversified Houston economy has led the city to focus on what the landscape architect can bring to table.

Just like “infrastructure,” the term “Houstonization” has begun to mean something completely different. Cities across Texas and the nation, including San Antonio, are taking a closer look at the Bayou City and how the Sun Belt’s biggest metropolis, now 180 years old, has done an about-face to embrace the natural environment as cultural and economic assets to retain and attract residents. Literal mud holes and parking lots have become world-class parks.

[…]

Like most paradigm shifts, it took an “aligning of the planets,” said Cultural Landscape Foundation President and CEO Charles Birnbaum in the ornate lobby of Hotel ZaZa Thursday evening. He would later reiterate this concept for conference attendees next door in the auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Those “planets” are core patrons – the bureaucratic (city), the civic (philanthropist/corporate) and the citizen patron. The key for Houston, as other cities, has been another three-piece vocabulary, the public-private partnership, the so-called “P3.”

Just as these patron planets aligned for the rise of the highway and construction cranes, they have aligned for green space, Birnbaum said. “People are hungry and ready for parks.”

Houstonians – along with national and international consultants – are currently turning an urban golf course into a botanical garden; they’re redesigning, reconnecting and expanding Memorial Park and its arboretum; they’re connecting 150 miles of bayou trails; and developing engaging programming to activate its 371-and-counting parks.

“It takes big civic ideas and the patronage muscle to pull it off,” Birnbaum said.

That’s a report from a recent landscape architect’s conference that was held in Houston. OffCite was all over this as well. Lots of good reading there if you’re interested.

They also love us for bus system reimagining.

Was it hard to persuade people to focus on rerouting bus lines?

They had us all put together a list of, what are things you’d like to see done. This was on my list. It took about three years for the agency to be convinced to do it.

There was a lot of focus on the fact that ridership was dropping. I was actually offering up a solution that addressed that problem.

It probably didn’t hurt that it was budget friendly?

It’s funny when you look at this. Why haven’t more agencies done this? Because on the surface it’s a no-brainer: make a system better without putting money into it. In the end we put a little bit of money into it, but using your current resources to do more seems like it’s something everybody would be doing. But it turns out it’s actually really rare.

[…]

So Houston is open to change and your project has been a progressive triumph. But is the city ever going to reach that urban planning “nirvana”?

Yes. I think we’re actually getting there. There are people from all over the United States looking at Bayou Greenways as a model, looking at Discovery Green and Market Square. We’re a city that has suddenly ended up in the national spotlight when it comes to urban planning, and that’s really interesting because 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, we were the joke at the beginning of every urban planning presentation.

Yes, I distinctly remember the slide in those presentations.

It’s funny. One of the most famous pictures is that picture of downtown Houston covered in surface parking lots, and that’s where Discovery Green is now.

Some of the things we got held up for as being bad, like the lack of zoning, I think are turning out to be advantages. The good restaurant scene we have actually has something to do with the fact we don’t have zoning.

It’s really odd, parks people are looking at Houston, development people are looking at Houston, transit people are looking at Houston.

That’s got to feel pretty good.

It feels pretty darn good.

That’s from an interview with recently reappointed Metro board member Christof Spieler. Spieler has previously said that other transit agencies are closely watching the new bus network rollout – one agency that is considering something similar was here in town on the day that the new maps were implemented, for a firsthand look at how it went. As Spieler says, that feels pretty darn good.

Prepping for the city budget

Mayor Turner gives a brief preview of what is to come.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday that he expects to lay off 40 city employees and eliminate 54 vacant positions as he seeks to close a budget shortfall of as much as $160 million, his first public estimate of the personnel reductions required to balance Houston’s books.

Turner did not specify which departments would bear the brunt of the cuts, but said he would not lay off police officers or civilians working in the Houston Police Department. He added that he would be resistant to trimming the parks or library departments.

The mayor emphasized that if City Council members alter his proposed budget, more layoffs are likely.

“Until this budget is voted on and approved by the members of City Council, it is very, very preliminary,” Turner said. “If there are any changes that reduce the shared sacrifice that is embedded within my budget that I will propose, the layoffs will exponentially increase.”

Turner said he intends to submit an executive summary of the budget to council members no later than April 15, with the goal of approving the budget in early May. The city must finalize its budget by July.

Houston’s financial shortfall had been projected to be $126 million, but Turner has revised that figure to as much as $160 million.

I’m very curious to see what the executive summary will look like. As the story notes, Mayor Parker wound up cutting a lot more jobs back in 2010. I’m not sure what Mayor Turner has in mind that will allow fewer jobs to be lost – maybe more of them are higher-paying jobs, who knows – but I can’t wait to see. Perhaps the “shared sacrifice” aspect of this includes some use of TIRZ funds, or concessions on how much the city pays into pension funds. Any guesses out there?

Weekend link dump for March 20

Oh, just another massive Web vulnerability you need to worry about.

Fifty things about Game of Thrones season 1, if you’re into that sort of thing.

“That’s the paradox of I Am Cait. Jenner might not be a perfect spokesperson or advocate for trans rights herself, but she is still responsible for increasing trans visibility and making sure that other better spokespeople can be heard as well.”

“Within six years, the cost of owning an electric car will be cheaper than purchasing and running a petrol or diesel model.”

A rough estimate of the total cost of DeflateGate. Which, as it turns out, is right in line with Watergate.

Attack ads against potential Supreme Court nominees. This is where we are now.

“This new report, from Seth Carnahan, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and Brad Greenwood, an assistant professor at Temple University, finds that women face particular disadvantage in offices where their bosses make more political contributions to Republicans than Democrats.”

In case you needed another reason to love Mister Rogers, here you have one.

“In case you’re curious, this is how Trump treats the little people. Some of the investors in his casinos were big guns who should have known better. But plenty of them were moms and pops who believed Trump when he insisted he was the greatest businessman the world had ever known. Trump didn’t care: he figured he could fleece them, and he did. That’s what happens to people who trust Donald Trump.”

“Y’all” is good English, y’all.

What Trumpism is all about.

And Ted Cruz is the Senate colleague that the Republicans deserve.

“Boldly going where no lawsuit has gone before, two movie studios are contending that a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film has violated copyright law by—among many other things—using the Klingon language.”

Growing dinosaur parts on chickens. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll say it again: For a guy who’s supposed to be super freaking smart, Ted Cruz sure says – and apparently believes – a lot of stupid things.

“Donald Trump’s candidacy has sparked a civil war inside American Christianity.”

How to die in an environmentally friendly fashion.

“It’s pathetic. I feel genuinely bad for him. He’s an inspiring man who did great things despite imperfections, and then jumped into an endeavor where there was nothing positive that he could do, and he just keeps sinking deeper into the mud.”

RIP, Frank Sinatra, Jr, son of the legendary singer.

Seems like a no-brainer to me for all MLB teams to ban chewing tobacco in their dugouts.

The scariest thing about Donald Trump is how he distracts us from just how scary Ted Cruz is.

And yes, Donald Trump, thanks to you China is laughing at us.

What Tanya Bondurant says.

“I need help working through this. I’m starting to suspect that the 2016 election might disprove the possibility of the future invention of time travel.”

Sid Miller and the Jesus Shot

I have three things to say about this.

DoubleFacepalm

Less than a month after taking office, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller flew to Oklahoma City with a top aide, billing the taxpayers at least $1,120 for flights and a rental car, budget records show.

At the time, Miller said he made the trip to tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma lawmakers as well as the state’s top agriculture official. His office posted a picture on Facebook of him with three lawmakers who his office said had invited him to the Sooner State’s Capitol.

Recent interviews have cast doubt on that description, however. All of the lawmakers in the photograph, or their aides, said they did not invite Miller or even expect him in their state that day in February 2015. The president of the stockyards said it did not give him a tour. And Miller himself now acknowledges that he requested the meeting with the Oklahoma agriculture official – and then did not show up.

A rental car receipt shows Miller and his aide drove 128 miles on the trip.

The interviews suggest a possible explanation: One of the lawmakers and another person with direct knowledge of the trip both said Miller told them that he got a medical procedure while in Oklahoma.

Miller, a former rodeo cowboy who suffers from chronic pain, told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year he has received the “Jesus Shot,” a controversial but legal medication administered only by a single Oklahoma City-area doctor who claims that it takes away all pain for life.

Miller declined to confirm or deny whether he received the injection during the February 2015 trip.

The agriculture commissioner insisted that the trip was a business trip that served state taxpayers. If nothing else, Miller said, the Facebook picture proves that he met with Oklahoma lawmakers.

Still, one of those lawmakers described his talk with Miller as nothing more than a brief chat that started in a hallway.

Aides to the others agreed.

“He’s saying that was the business purpose of his trip?” Rep. Jerry Shoemake said. “Really?”

In response to questions about the trip, Miller’s office said late Thursday that he had decided to pay back the flight and rental car costs.

“Out of an abundance of caution the commissioner is reimbursing the state for the cost of this trip,” spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said in an email. “He will continue to work on behalf of the agriculture industry in the Lone Star State, and travel across the country and around the world to identify new markets for Texas agricultural exports in order to grow the industry and create jobs for hardworking Texans.”

1. If you’re going to steal, steal big. Sid Miller earns $137,500 a year. Surely he could afford to drive to Oklahoma and pay $1100 for a shot, assuming his finances aren’t a complete mess. Why go to all this trouble for such a little payoff? I grant that Sid Miller isn’t terribly concerned about his reputation, but I don’t get taking this kind of risk for something so insubstantial.

2. In a better world, Miller’s clown show would be something that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick would have to address. Sure, they’re not Miller’s keeper, but they are his colleagues in state government, and it’s entirely appropriate for them to be asked what they think about this. We don’t live in that world, of course. National media can go wall-to-wall with a story and force politicians who don’t want to answer certain questions to at least be asked them, but that’s not how it is here. This is something Rick Perry didn’t understand before his ill-fated Presidential run in 2012.

3. I firmly believe that the Republican hegemony in Texas is unsustainable, at least with the kind of Republicans we have now. It could last for awhile, and they have the resources to keep it on the shelves long past its sell-by date, but it will come to an end. If there’s one thing that I believe will hasten this end, it’s scandal and corruption. Ken Paxton and his felony indictments is an obvious problem for them, but Sid Miller shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s one thing to be a clown, it’s another to be a clown who steals. That’s a lot harder to laugh off, and it has the potential to taint those around him. When that will happen, I can’t say. But I feel confident that sooner or later it will.

More Metro appointments for Mayor Turner

The Chron editorial board gets its wish.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday named two new Metro board members and reappointed two others – taking a more moderate course than his predecessor, who replaced all five of the city’s appointees.

Disability rights advocate Lex Frieden and construction oversight manager Troi Taylor will join the board, presumably in April once the City Council and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board approve them. They will join current members Christof Spieler and Sanjay Ramabhadran, whom the mayor opted to retain. On March 4, Turner tapped former board member Carrin Patman, an attorney, as board chair.

“I think it is a stellar team,” Turner said, saying the appointees’ diverse backgrounds give him confidence they’ll tackle Houston’s transit challenges.

Counting Patman, three of Houston’s five appointees to the nine-member board served before Turner took office in January.

[…]

Frieden is the second person with a physical disability appointed to Metro’s board, after Kathleen DeSilva, appointed by then-Mayor Bob Lanier in 1992. DeSilva, who died in August, was appointed after Frieden and others challenged Lanier to add members of the disabled community to more city boards and commissions.

He is a nationally recognized leader in the independent living movement and in research into access to services by the disabled.

Taylor is a construction development specialist, notably in planning and building health care facilities. Turner said Taylor, a Houston native, has delivered 10 consecutive multi-million-dollar projects “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Taylor’s father, Joseph, was a Metro bus driver for 18 years.

“I would ride on the bus just behind him and we’d talk,” Taylor said.

“I think part of our job is going to be making alternative transportation attractive again,” Taylor said, citing a “culture shift” necessary to draw more riders to light rail and buses.

The Mayor’s press release is here. the Chron had made a point of asking Mayor Turner to retain Christof Spieler on the Metro board, though by law he can be there for only two more years. Which means the Mayor will have at least one more opportunity to pick Board members in his first term. Congratulations and good luck to the new appointees.

On teaching kids who don’t speak English

From The Atlantic:

Out of all the cities in Texas, this would seemingly have been the one where schools knew how to help Spanish-speaking students learn. El Paso is progressive and welcoming, and is more than 80 percent Latino. Its close ties with Ciudad Juarez, just across the border, means that the city embraces its Mexican roots and the people who have crossed the border for a better life. But a recent cheating scandal revealed that not even El Paso could successfully figure out how to best educate English-language learners.

In an effort to improve state test scores at Bowie High School in the 60,000-student El Paso Independent School District, administrators told some low-performing—mostly immigrant students—to drop out of school. And for years, administrators contorted their student rolls, skipping students from 9th to 11th grade so they wouldn’t have to take the state tests in 10th grade and bring down the school’s scores. Others, they chose not to educate at all: Many Spanish-speaking El Paso students at Bowie High School and others in the district were simply “disappeared” out of school rosters, their transcripts changed so they could be shown to have graduated, without ever having finished high school.

After the El Paso Times revealed the depth of the cheating scandal in 2012, the superintendent of the El Paso Independent School district went to jail, and the border city vowed to do better for its low-income, Spanish-speaking students.

Part of the problem is resources: Texas cut $5.4 billion from its public-schools budget during the recession, and a number of lawsuits allege that the state’s method of allocating revenue hurts lower-income districts in particular, which are often the schools with the most English-language learners. Latino rights advocates have been battling the state since 1970, arguing that it discriminates against minority students by failing to fund programs for English-language learners. An offshoot of that case, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund in 2014, accuses the Texas Education Agency of failing to effectively monitor, implement, and enforce programs for English-language learners.

Another problem may be the political optics of beefing up programs for non-English speakers.Texas legislators don’t want to be seen as spending state money on Spanish speakers, says Marco Portales, a Texas A&M professor who studies education trends. “It’s a conservative state, and they don’t want to be perceived as helping or teaching kids with other languages,” he said. “They’re not like in California. California plays up the fact that they teach more than 70 languages. You’ll never hear Texas say any such thing.”

There are scattered programs through the state that use the dual-language method, which teaches children in both languages, but they’re not the norm, he said. Some districts just have English-as-a-second-language courses, others separate Spanish and English-speaking students for much of the day.

Research may show that English-language learners do best when they are taught in two languages, but implementing bilingual education programs can be tricky. School districts in Texas, and even those in El Paso, can’t seem to decide the best method for educating English-language learners. El Paso might be just across the border, after all, but it is in America, and teaching American kids in Spanish, some administrators worry, may not prepare them for the real world.

Read the whole thing. It would have been nice to know more about what the best practices are for English-language learners. The story notes that El Paso ISD and neighboring Ysleta ISD take two different approaches, without giving any clue as to which one produces better results. Beyond that, the two main takeaways for me are that the more you depend on a particular method of evaluation, the more incentive there is for those that struggle with it to game the system, and school districts that have greater challenges to overcome need greater resources to enable them to overcome those challenges. You’d think that last one would be pretty obvious, but it’s not to our Legislature. One hopes that the Supreme Court is able to see it.

Saturday video break: I’m Beginning To See The Light

A classic and a standard, performed by Bobby Darin:

The version I have is from the soundtrack to the movie Swingers, and I feel like Darin enunciates differently in that one. I can’t find a video for that, however, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

When you hear “standard”, that usually means a big band was involved. Here’s Count Basie, with singer Joe Williams, doing their version:

Where there’s the Count, there’s the Duke. Duke Ellington, that is:

That is of course Ella Fitzgerald doing vocals. What more do you want? I do have an a capella version by the Tufts Beelzebubs as well, but there’s no video I can find. So this will have to do.

Third-place Constable candidate alleges fraud in his race

Oh, goodie.

Jasen Rabalais

A Harris County constable chief deputy who narrowly missed making the runoff in the Precinct 3 constable’s primary election earlier this month has sued the top two vote-getters, seeking to annul the results because of alleged violations of election law.

Jasen Rabalais, chief deputy over community services and the Harris County Joint Task Force for Precinct 3 constable, alleged in court papers last week that a campaign worker for Michel Pappillion, a candidate who beat him by 37 votes and edged him out of the runoff, illegally cast votes on behalf of some senior citizens.

Sherman Eagleton was the top vote getter by more than 800 votes of more than 18,000 cast, while Rabalais came in third.

[…]

Rabalais’ complaint states that the worker initially approached his campaign, offering to “deliver votes from seniors through special access to senior living facilities,” guaranteeing 1,000 votes, and Rabalais turned her down.

Rabalais supporters noticed the worker at the polls wearing a Pappillion shirt and telling elderly voters that they had already voted, the complaint alleges.

The Rabalais campaign confronted the worker, who told them she is a nurse, has access to nursing homes and gets seniors to “vote for that person who [she is] working for,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges the worker “deliberately falsified, illegally completed, or unlawfully influenced the ballots and early voting applications of elderly residents” in Precinct 3.

Rabalais’ suit calls for the court to order a new election, subtract illegal votes or “declare the outcome of the election if able to ascertain the true outcome.”

Some of these allegations are unclear to me, but one of them appears to be a charge that this mysterious woman is alleged to have gotten some elderly voters to tick the box for Pappillion instead of doing whatever they would have done in this race on their own, on absentee ballots. If there’s any merit to these charges, then it seems to me that there will be plenty of witnesses to come forward – people who can corroborate her behavior at polling locations, the voters themselves whom she influenced, etc. But let’s put those questions aside for a moment and see if there’s anything in the election returns to suggest something fishy going on. Here are the complete returns from the County Clerk website; scroll to page 23 to see the Constable Precinct 3 race:


Candidate    Abs   Abs %  Early  Early%  E-Day  E-Day%  Total  Total%
=====================================================================
Rabalais     314  14.34%  1,382  19.18%  1,129  12.33%  2,825  15.23%
Pappillion   324  14.80%  1,170  16.23%  1,368  14.94%  2,862  15.43%
Reed         124   5.66%    577   8.01%    948  10.35%  1,649   8.89%
Stewart      449  20.51%    979  13.58%  1,045  11.41%  2,473  13.33%
Eagleton     562  25.67%  1,415  19.63%  1,710  18.67%  3,687  19.87%
Norwood       65   2.97%    259   3.59%    466   5.09%    790   4.26%
Jones        121   5.53%    541   7.51%    740   8.08%  1,402   7.56%
Villarreal   112   5.12%    564   6.99%  1,249  13.64%  1,865  10.05%
Melancon     118   5.39%    380   5.27%    503   5.49%  1,001   5.40%

The first thing I note is that Pappillion collected 324 absentee votes, ten more than Rabalais. The mystery woman “guaranteed” to deliver 1,000 votes, so either she greatly oversold her ability, or she was just lying. Regardless, note that Pappillion’s share of the absentee vote is right in line with his share of the early and E-Day votes. If he had actually gotten an illicit boost in absentee ballots, one would expect to see it reflected in the numbers. Granting that this does not disprove the possibility that he’d have done worse in absentee balloting otherwise, I don’t see anything to indicate that.

Pappillion went into E-Day trailing Rabalais by 202 votes. He then collected 239 votes more than Rabalais, whose E-Day performance greatly lagged his early showing, especially his early in-person showing, to nose into second. When Rabalais says he noticed the Mystery Woman at the polls, does he mean early voting locations, or E-Day locations? In either case, assuming it was just her, I don’t know how many actual voters she could have affected in this fashion. Again though, if this really did happen, there’s got to be plenty of people who can testify to it.

Note that even if we think there’s something funny about any of Rabalais or Pappillion’s numbers, there are oddball results elsewhere that seem to be to be just the vagaries of multi-candidate elections. James Lee Stewart had the second-best absentee ballot total, but dropped out of sight in the early in-person and E-Day totals. Isaac Villarreal came out of nowhere to post strong E-Day numbers, but was too much of a nonentity before that for it to matter. Maybe Stewart had a better mail ballot program, and maybe Villarreal had a better ground game, or the E-Day electorate was more heavily Latino. Who knows? Sometimes an odd result is just an odd result.

So, my initial thought is that it is unlikely there’s anything to these allegations, but we’ll see what the Rabalais team shows the judge. If Rabalais can back up his claims – producing the Mystery Woman and some of the voters she influenced would be a good start – then good on him, he deserves redress. If not, then shame on him for giving Greg Abbott some cheap ammunition, even if none of this has anything to do with voter ID. We’ll see what the judge has to say.

What kind of ruling might we expect in the school finance case?

KUHF explores the possibilities.

BagOfMoney

Four major scenarios to watch for:

  1. The Texas Supreme Court could not rule at all. Instead, it could send the case back to the lower court to see if the latest $2.5 billion dollars to the education budget solves the problem. “And the court could say, you know, we need more fact-finding to determine what the actual impact of those changes were, this case isn’t’ ripe,” said [Marisa] Bono, southwest regional counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “We think that the likelihood of that is pretty small. But it’s a possibility.”
  2. The justices could make a major sweeping decision in favor of school districts. “And that would require the Legislature to come up with some way of either putting significantly more money in the system, or requiring local taxes to go up, or state taxes to go up or to require wealthy districts to share even more of their wealth with the poorer districts,” explained Al Kauffman, a veteran school finance attorney and also a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.
  3. Or the court could rule the opposite. That would be a win for the state, if the court overturns the trial judge’s entire decision that declared the school finance system unconstitutional. “I guess that’s an option that I don’t like to think about,” said Chandra Villanueva, a policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Austin. “But they can just completely dismiss the case and say it has no standing. But I feel that this is such a strong case that it would be really surprising if they threw out everything.”
  4. In fact, it’s the largest school finance case to ever reach the Texas Supreme Court. It involves the most school districts, the most data and the most legal arguments. That brings the law scenario, which is a combination or piecemeal ruling. The justices could uphold one part of the case and overturn another. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said that’s what he expects. “We can use a good review from the Supreme Court to hit a generational reset button and take all of this into account in the next legislative session,” he said.

Depending on when it arrives, the ruling could force a special summer session or lawmakers could hash out school finance in the next regular session in 2017.

And when will the ruling come?

It could be any day. But Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said definitely by the end of June.

Obviously, scenario 2 is what I’m rooting for. District Court Judge John Dietz already took into consideration the money that was put back into the system in 2013, so I don’t know what purpose option 1 serves. Surely no further evidence is needed to show the inequity between districts. Option 3 is too gruesome to contemplate, while Option 4 is a big “it depends”. I will be disappointed with anything but #2, but the others are all possible to some extent.

Fiesta down

The Durham/North Shepherd strip, from about 11th Street up, has largely been immune to the implacable Heights-area gentrification machine. That may be about to change.

One of the oldest Fiesta stores is closing at the end of this month, leaving a large Inner Loop site potentially available for redevelopment.

The store at 2300 N. Shepherd is closing for “business reasons,” a company spokesman said Friday.

“It’s an older facility, and we just felt like we could invest the money wiser on some of our other stores,” said Fiesta Mart’s David de Kanter, who believes the store may have opened around 1974.

The grocery chain was founded two years earlier by Donald Bonham and O.C. Mendenhall to cater to Hispanic shoppers.

The building spans nearly 68,000 square feet on a roughly 4-acre property in the northern Heights area, where old industrial and retail properties are being torn down or renovated to make way for trendy restaurants and high-density housing.

Some of that is happening, but on the smaller streets, not on Durham and Shepherd, which are still mostly a collection of car lots, self-storage places, and small businesses. Outside of the one square block between 19th and 20th, these two thoroughfares haven’t changed much at all in the almost 20 years I’ve lived in the Heights. The closure and sale of this Fiesta, which sits on a huge piece of land, represents a unique opportunity for change on a big scale. Whether that happens or not depends in large part on what this property gets developed into. I look forward to hearing what the plans are.

Plane sharing

Sure, why not?

Ken Haney has flown in the cockpit of military and commercial planes for more than 35 years. His business partner Steve Geldmacher has logged more than 4 million miles as a traveler. Both say they have watched too many fliers lose valuable time to crowded airports, security lines and flight delays.

“We both basically went through and saw firsthand the difficulties in traditional commercial flying and really wanted to change the dynamics of how that model works,” Geldmacher said.

A better option for business, they decided, lies somewhere between commercial flying and chartering a private aircraft. Their company, Texas Air Shuttle, is the latest in Houston to cater to the burgeoning demand for ride-sharing in the sky. They are set to launch service in the next month or so with all-you-can-fly memberships starting at $1,895 a month that let travelers reserve seats on a plane that runs scheduled flights.

Dallas-based Rise and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based JetSmarter already offer members this semiprivate service to and from the Bayou City.

“It says there’s a huge demand for an alternative service like this to commercial,” Geldmacher said. “It says that people are fed up with commercial flying and the experience that goes along with it.”

[…]

Hans Reigle, director of the Aviation Program at Delaware State University, said memberships for such services are reasonably priced compared with maintaining one’s own flight operations. He agreed that dips in the economy should boost their popularity as corporate flight departments downsize.

“It’s a safe, efficient way to have the benefits of corporate aviation without all of the costs,” Reigle said.

But some worry about the security and regulatory oversight of ride-sharing services.

“Ride-sharing programs that don’t screen passengers and their baggage present a significant risk to the flying public. If a stranger can board an aircraft bristling with weapons or worse, an explosive device, that’s clearly a problem,” Scott Bickford, co-founder of the Air Charter Association of North America, said in a written statement.

“Of course,” he added, “if there are ride-share programs that screen passengers and baggage, then this isn’t an issue. The concern is that it should be a regulatory requirement, not a decision by ride-share companies whether or not to screen passengers and their baggage.”

Flight-sharing companies in Houston emphasized safety, noting that they have various processes for screening passengers. They say they’re Argus Gold Rated or work with operators that have, at minimum, this third-party safety rating for charter operators or the Wyvern Wingman Standard safety benchmarking.

Companies also touted their ability to save time. A 2013 report identifying the impact of stress in business travel found that an average of 5.2 hours are lost per domestic trip, according to consulting firm CWT Solutions Group. This lost time arises from factors such as getting to the airport and flying economy class on medium- and long-haul flights.

Geldmacher estimates he’s spent the equivalent of four years walking in terminals, waiting at gates and sitting in planes as they taxi for takeoff. That’s on top of actual flight time, he said.

Ride-sharing services say they reduce this time by favoring smaller airports over congested hubs. Travelers don’t hunt for parking, and they don’t wait in long security lines.

“It’s all about making them productive,” Haney said. “Time is money.”

Texas Air Shuttle, which is based at Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport, will begin with flights to smaller airports in the Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Midland and Oklahoma City areas. It wants to add flights to Austin, New Orleans, northwest Arkansas, Corpus Christi and Harlingen. The three-year goal is to fly to more than 40 markets and offer 250 flights a day.

The parallels to Uber/Lyft and the cab industry are obvious, though any regulatory fights will play out at another level. It seems to me that a regional high-speed passenger rail system could be the biggest competitor to an outfit like this, since they could be competitive on travel times as well as being a lot cheaper. We’re a long way off from that, even once Texas Central gets rolling, so they have nothing to worry about on that front at this time. It’s more a matter of reaching the market that might be best suited for them.

Friday random ten: In the city, part 2

More city songs! We’re going to be at this for awhile, actually.

1. Asheville/Crashville – Austin Lounge Lizards
2. Babylon – Clandestine/David Gray/Don McLean
3. Back To Tyrone – SixMileBridge
4. Baltimore – Eddie From Ohio/Milkshake
5. Bangkok/One Night In Bangkok – Murray Head (from “Chess”)
6. Battle Of Waterloo – Jim Malcolm
7. Beaumont Boys – Ezra Charles
8. Beaumont Rag – Elena James
9. Big Noise From Winnetka – The MOB/Asylum Street Spankers
10. Birmingham – Shovels & Rope

No reason not to include ancient cities, right? Beaumont now moves into the lead of Most Song Titled City, at least for my collection. I doubt it will hold that lead, but it’s better to have it and lose it than never have it at all, am I right?

How much more “undue” does it need to be?

HB2 is doing exactly what it was intended to do.

A new report released Thursday shows Texas abortion patients traveled farther for services and experienced higher out-of-pocket costs following the closure of more than half of the state’s legal abortion providers in 2014. The closures came after the implementation of parts of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, which is currently being challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday’s is the latest report from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), a University of Texas research group that studies the long-term effects of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law and other changes to reproductive health funding and policies. TxPEP surveyed 398 women who sought abortions between May and August of 2014, when all but 19 abortion clinics in Texas were closed. Researchers then compared the experiences of two groups: women whose nearest clinic closed after HB 2’s admitting privileges requirement first took effect, and those whose nearest clinic didn’t close.

Women whose nearest clinic closed (38 percent of the 398 surveyed) ended up traveling an average of 85 miles for their abortion, while those whose nearest clinic stayed open (62 percent) traveled 22 miles. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the national average distance traveled to an abortion clinic is 30 miles.

[…]

Researchers found that 32 percent of women whose nearest clinic closed reported spending more than $100 in out-of-pocket expenses to access abortion because of extra necessities, such as transportation, overnight accommodations, child care, and also lost wages from taking time off work. Those expenses were added to the cost of the procedure itself.

Either the “undue burden” standard – which Anthony Kennedy authored – means something, or it doesn’t. If this law doesn’t violate that standard, then we may as well admit that it means nothing. I continue to hope that the good Anthony Kennedy will be there for this one. Newsdesk and Think Progress have more.

Paxton prosecutor payment lawsuit tossed

Good.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

A Collin County court Thursday tossed out an attempt to stop payments to the special prosecutors appointed to pursue the financial fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Filed by prominent real estate developer and Paxton donor Jeff Blackard, the lawsuit argued that Collin County was paying too much to the attorneys prosecuting Paxton, violating local rules for such fees.

In an order issued Thursday signed by Judge Mark Greenberg, the court states that Blackard lacked jurisdiction to file his complaint.

[…]

Blackard, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and “similarly situated taxpayers,” lives in Hopkins County but pays taxes for two parcels of property in Collin County, along with local sales taxes.

See here for the background. This was the result I was rooting for, though I wish it had been on the merits and not on jurisdictional grounds. I presume some actual Collin County resident can be located to act as plaintiff and take another crack at it, so I hesitate to say that this is over. But for now at least, there’s one less distraction. Trail Blazers, which has a copy of the judge’s order, has more.

UPDAT: The Chron story indicates that Blackard plans to appeal. No surprise there, I guess.

UberEats expands

Good news for those of you who like having food delivered.

Uber

A larger section of metro Houston now can use Uber’s meal delivery service seven days a week and with more dining options through a new app.

A new UberEats app, separate from the Uber ride-sharing app meal ordering customers have used, launches Tuesday.

“Houstonians have embraced UberEats, but we also know that with a separate app, we are able to give users a better experience,” said Sarah Groen, general manager for UberEats Houston.

As of the app’s launch, 100 restaurants are participating. More are being added to the list, Groen said.

The service’s operation hours have been extended beyond midday weekdays to daily between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Users will be able to browse menus and order food from participating restaurants, and track drivers bringing their food. The service area has expanded beyond downtown and Midtown, and now includes the Galleria area, The Heights, Montrose, Rice Village, West University and Upper Kirby.

Those areas have shown large demand for UberEats, where the company has received many requests from people asking for service, Groen said. In January, the company did test runs in the new areas and registered high demand.

See here for the background. I’m still not the kind of person who likes to order food for delivery, so I’m still not in their market. But if you are, and you live in these areas, then these are good days for you. The Houston Business Journal and the Houston Press, both of which have maps of the expanded service area, have more.

Donald Trump is making more citizens

He’s good for something.

Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach one million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.

While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year. He began his campaign in June describing Mexicans as drug-traffickers and rapists. His pledge to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it has been a regular applause line. He has vowed to create a deportation force to expel the estimated 11 million immigrants here illegally, evoking mass roundups of the 1950s.

Among 8.8 million legal residents eligible to naturalize, about 2.7 million are Mexicans, the largest national group, federal figures show. But after decades of low naturalization rates, only 36 percent of eligible Mexicans have become citizens, while 68 percent of all other immigrants have done so, according to the Pew Research Center.

[…]

This year immigrants seeking to become citizens can find extra help from nonprofit groups and even from the White House. Last September, President Obama opened a national campaign to galvanize legal residents to take the step. They can now pay the fee, $680, with a credit card, and practice the civics test online. They can get applications at “citizenship corners” in public libraries in many states.

The White House recruited Fernando Valenzuela, the legendary Mexican-born pitcher who naturalized only last year, and José Andrés, the Spanish-American chef, to make encouraging advertisements and to turn up at swearing-in ceremonies. On Presidents’ Day, administration officials swore in more than 20,000 new citizens. On Wednesday the administration announced $10 million in grants to groups guiding immigrants through the process.

A majority of Latinos are Democrats, and some Republicans accuse the White House of leading a thinly veiled effort to expand the ranks of the president’s party. But administration officials argue the campaign is nonpartisan, noting that immigrants who become citizens improve their incomes and chances for homeownership.

“I certainly don’t care what party they register with; I just want them to become citizens,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency in charge of naturalizations.

Aside from Colorado, naturalization drives are taking place in Nevada and Florida, states likely to be fiercely contested in November where Latino voters could provide a crucial margin. One nonprofit group, the New Americans Campaign, plans to complete 1,500 applications at a session in the Marlins Park baseball stadium in Miami on March 19.

Great idea. In general, encouraging green card holders to go through the naturalization process is a good thing. I just hope we’re doing some of this here in Texas.

Reps. Green and Green want investigation of voting machine shortage

I have three things to say about this.

eSlateImage

Two Houston congressmen are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether unequal distribution of voting machines and polling locations in Harris County disenfranchised minority voters during the March 1 primary election.

In a letter dated March 15, U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, both Houston Democrats, blamed insufficient voting machines and polling locations for “excessively long lines” in predominantly Hispanic and black precincts in Harris County. Citing local news reports, the congressmen indicated that long lines “deterred” minority voters from “exercising their right to vote that day.”

“The failure to distribute sufficient voting machines in predominantly Hispanic and African-American precincts in Harris County, in comparison to the resources made available in more affluent, predominantly Anglo precincts in the county, had a discriminatory impact on our constituents’ ability to participate in the political process,” the congressmen wrote.

[…]

The increased turnout — fueled by a heated Republican presidential race — left election officials scrambling to deliver additional voting machines to polling locations with long lines on election day. Still, some voters in Houston did not cast their votes until after 9:30 p.m. — hours after polls closed. Others reportedly abandoned their place in line without voting after waiting for hours.

The distribution of polling locations in primary elections is a responsibility of each county’s political party, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections and voting. Using a formula based on previous voter turnout, county parties are charged with estimating voter turnout and determining the number of voting machines and polling locations needed.

Individual county parties ultimately decide whether that estimate should be higher or lower depending on other factors, such as a contested presidential primary, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the state agency

County and party officials estimated that about 144,000 voters would cast a Democratic primary ballot. But more than 227,000 Democratic voters made it to the polls for the primary election.

On the Republican side, officials estimated 265,000 voters would turn out but almost 330,000 voters actually cast a ballot.

Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, pushed back on allegations of unequal distribution of polling locations, saying there was nothing “nefarious” behind the wait times.

The long lines were a result of higher than expected turnout, he added, and there was little indication from early voting figures that voter turnout would be so high.

1. The formula is based in part on “the percentage of voter turnout for the office that received the most votes in the most recent comparable party primary election”, which in this case would be 2012. I don’t think the initial estimates were terrible at the time they were made, which as I understand it was late last year; in fact, I think they were quite defensible. The problem was that there was no way to adjust those estimates based on the on-the-ground and at-the-time conditions. And even taking that into consideration, the general consensus in the days between the end of early voting and Tuesday, March 1 was that more than half of the people who were going to vote had already voted. That was the real problem, as a good 57% of the vote was cast on Tuesday. To me, the main learning from this needs to be that the hotter the election, the more likely that people will show up on Election Day.

2. Compounding the problem was the consolidation of Election Day voting locations. Roughly half of Republican voting locations were folded into others, while the same was true for well more than half of Democratic precincts. This was also an effect of the initial underestimation of turnout, but because there are so few voting machines at Election Day polling locations, and because these were primaries where you had to consider each race individually – no “straight party” option – it made the lines longer. One can make a good case that voting centers, as they have in Fort Bend and other places but which are still “under consideration” in Harris County, could have greatly ameliorated this problem, if for no other reason than they will have more voting machines available at each location.

3. All that said, it’s wholly appropriate for the Justice Department to investigate, and make whatever recommendations they can. In the end, however, this is a problem that needs to be addressed locally. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: The Chron story is here, and the Press has more, including a copy of the letter that was sent.

Simpson prevails in SD01 primary

All elections are now officially resolved, at least at the state level.

Rep. David Simpson

Two state representatives are set to face off for an open seat in the Texas senate after the third place candidate said Monday he will not request a recount.

After days of uncertainty with a razor thin margin separating the two candidates, a finalized canvass of the vote in the Senate District 1 Republican primary confirmed that state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, had secured the second-place runoff spot over James “Red” Brown, a former army general.

“We are ready to move forward and excited about debating the issues,” Simpson said on Tyler’s CBS 19 on Monday night.

Brown’s campaign remained optimistic after election night due to outstanding provisional and military ballots. But after all were counted, each candidate gained 107 votes, putting Simpson at 28,395 to Brown’s 28,382 and leaving the margin of 13 votes unchanged.

Simpson will face state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in the runoff to replace retiring state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on May 24. Hughes drew more than 60,000 votes in the primary, falling just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff.

See here and here for the background. Red Brown was endorsed by Texas ParentPAC, so he was my preferred candidate in this race. I probably have a slight preference for Simpson over Hughes at this point – neither are any great shakes, but at least Simpson marches to his own drummer. Hughes came close to winning outright, though, so he would seem to be the favorite.

Another look at how long the Paxton case could take

The DMN makes the same comparisons that I have made.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Ken Paxton has spent eight months — the majority of his time as attorney general — under indictment.

The legal cloud shows no sign of dissipating.

How long the case takes to resolve depends almost entirely on decisions made by Paxton and his legal team. Depending on when a Dallas appeals court rules on their most recent challenge to his securities fraud indictments, this legal battle could stretch on for months — and perhaps years.

Those who’ve counseled other politicians in legal trouble said Paxton now has a tough choice between playing the waiting game and pushing for an expedited trial that could be a liability for his party during election season.

“It’s a real chess game when you’ve got something like this,” said Dick DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who defended former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after their indictments. “The quicker it can be resolved, and resolved in their favor, the quicker they can get back to the job they’ve been elected to do — and get re-elected.”

[…]

Paxton and his attorneys have several possible paths ahead of them.

If they fail [at the Fifth Court of Appeals] in Dallas, they could forgo more appeals and proceed to trial. Or they could take the case all the way to the state’s top criminal court in Austin. The special prosecutors have the same option, if the Dallas bench decides to quash Paxton’s indictments.

Austin lobbyist Bill Miller said he has no doubt the case will end up in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

If he’s correct, the case may not be resolved for years. The appeals court is famously slow in its decision-making. DeLay’s case was more complicated than Paxton’s, but it took nearly a decade for the court to render a decision that vindicated the Sugar Land congressman.

And the longer Paxton’s case continues, the more it costs Collin County taxpayers, who must pay for his prosecution. The price tag so far has topped $254,000.

“This is a ‘full-in’ deal. No matter what the outcome is, the next level is ‘up,’” said Miller, who described himself as “a friend” of Paxton’s, but who added he hasn’t spoken to the attorney general about his strategy. “From my perspective, delay is the best thing because going to trial just gins up enormous bad press.”

[…]

[John Weekley, a Dallas-area political analyst and former Bush campaign consultant] said yet another option is available to Paxton. He suggested the attorney general consider what is best for his party this year, and delay his trial until just after the general election in November. This would ensure that other Republicans don’t see their races overshadowed by his criminal proceedings, but still gives him enough time to work on rehabilitating his image before his own re-election.

“If I were advising him, I would hope he would wait until right after the election, and then do what he has to do to dispose of this,” Weekley said. “Then, he has to work on his political reputation.”

See here for my attempt to put together a timeline for this. What the armchair quarterbacks in this story are saying is that there are three basic possibilities: 1) Delay as much as possible, mostly in the hope of getting a favorable result from an appeals court; 2) Push for as quick a resolution as possible because the longer this drags out the harder it’s going to be to pay for it, among other things; and 3) Just delay long enough to get past this year’s election, then try to get it resolved before 2018, as that is best for the GOP as well as for Paxton. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Paxton will go with Option 1 and not worry too much about how he’s going to keep his lawyers paid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is entirely plausible to me that Ken Paxton could be on the ballot in 2018 having been convicted but appealing his conviction. I agree that there are plenty of other possible ways this plays out, and to be sure he could get off in any number of them. I don’t think Paxton cares about what the effect on the Republican Party as a whole may be – honestly, I’m not sure anyone currently in a position of power within the Republican Party has given that much thought – so this will take as long as it takes. We’ll get a much better idea of this once we have a ruling from the Fifth Court.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 14

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for its annual overdose of college hoops as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Runoff watch: Judicial races

There are three District Court race runoffs on the Democratic side, and two Court of Criminal Appeals runoffs for the Republicans. There are also a few Justice of the Peace runoffs, but I’ll deal with them in another post.

11th Civil District Court – Democratic

Kristen Hawkins

Kristen Hawkins

Kristem Hawkins led this three-candidate race by a wide margin, coming within 1000 votes of an outright win. Runnerup Rabeea Collier finished just 170 votes ahead of third-place candidate Jim Lewis. Given the narrowness of that margin, I’m actually a bit surprised there hasn’t been a call for a recount, but as far as I know there hasn’t been one.

Hawkins’ Q&A is here, and Collier’s is here. This race is fascinating because there’s no clear reason why it went the way it did. All three candidates were busy campaigners, and all three won endorsements from various groups, with Lewis getting the nod from the Chron. Hawkins was first on the ballot, but doesn’t appear to have been a major factor overall. Hawkins would seem to be a clear favorite in the runoff based on her near-win in March and commanding lead in vote total, but as we know this runoff is going to be a low-turnout affair. Anything can happen.

61st Civil District Court – Democratic

This three-way race saw a much more even split of the vote than the 11th did. Frontrunner Fredericka Phillips had 38%, with second-place finisher Julie Countiss scoring 35%. In third was Dion Ramos, who won a partial term for the 55th District Court in 2008, but lost it in the 2010 wipeout.

Countiss’ Q&A is here; Phillips did not send me a response. Countiss’ campaign was by far the most visible, at least to me, and she collected most of the group endorsements. Phillips is the Vice Chair of the Texas Democratic Party as well as a past candidate for the 387th District Court in 2012 in Fort Bend, under her maiden name of Petry. The Chron endorsed Ramos for March, so they’ll have to revisit this one; the same is true for the 11th, where Lewis was their initial choice. I see this race as a tossup.

215th Civil District Court – Democratic

Easily the most interesting of the judicial runoffs, and the one with the most backstory. In 2012, District Court Judge Steve Kirkland was the only incumbent judge to face a primary challenge, from attorney Elaine Palmer. Palmer’s campaign was lavishly funded by attorney George Fleming, who bore a grudge against Kirkland, and that animus made this an ugly, divisive race that Palmer ultimately won. Palmer went on to win in November, and now in 2016 she is the only incumbent judge facing a primary challenge. Three candidates filed against her, with JoAnn Storey leading the pack into overtime.

Judge Palmer’s Q&A is here, and Storey’s is here. Palmer led all the way but was never close to a majority, ending up with 43% to Storey’s 27%. If there’s a judicial race that will draw out voters, it will be this one, as Kirkland supporters, in particular the HGLBT Political Caucus, have a shot at avenging that 2012 race. Storey got most of the group endorsements for March, which in itself is remarkable given that she was challenging an incumbent, though the Caucus went with Josh Verde in Round One. I expect that will be handled for the runoff, and that I’ll be hearing from them as attention turns towards the vote. As for Palmer, if Fleming is still financing her it’s not apparent – the only report I can find for her is the January filing, for which she reported no contributions for the period. Again, this one could go either way, but I feel like Storey has a slight edge.

Court of Criminal Appeals – Republican

There are two Republican runoffs for the CCA. I’m just going to quote Grits for Breakfast about them.

Grits suggested before the primary that I’d “be watching the Sid Harle/Steve Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds.”

Short answer: They have.

Judge Harle, who arguably was the most qualified and well-respected jurist on the ballot, didn’t even make the runoff to replace Cheryl Johnson on the court. Instead, a lawyer named Scott Walker who according to press accounts had “chosen not to campaign,” led the field with 41%. He’ll face Brent Webster, who ran on an anti-abortion platform unrelated to the activities of the Court of Criminal Appeals and garnered 20.45% of the vote.

Steve Smith ran third with 19.6%, with Harle trailing at 4th with 18.5%

Walker was popular because he shares a name with the Wisconsin governor who at one point appeared to be a presidential frontrunner before the Trump phenomenon erupted. Webster, presumably, benefited from his (irrelevant) pro-life bona fides, though so little is spent on these elections I suspect most people who voted for him knew nothing at all about him.

In the race between Mary Lou Keel, Chris Oldner, and Tea Partier Ray Wheless, Keel and Wheless made the runoff. Keel led, barely, but Wheless’ base is more likely to turn out in the runoff. Keel and Oldner have disparaged Wheless, whose background is mostly in civil law, as unqualified, although Rick Perry appointed him to a district court seat.

Voters in the GOP primary clearly didn’t have a clue about these CCA races. They may as well have drawn lots for Johnson’s seat. These races are so underfunded for a state the size of Texas that candidates can’t meaningfully get their messages out and voters have no way to know anything about them.

The Walker/Webster runoff is the strongest argument in my adult lifetime for appointing judges instead of electing them. What an embarrassment.

So there you have it. As a reminder, there are Democratic candidates in each of these races. I admit, that’s unlikely to matter, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

Abbott lies about vote fraud

Ross Ramsay calls him out for it, much more politely than I would have.

Not Greg Abbott

Once a consigliere, always a consigliere

The governor of Texas thinks that fraud in the electoral system that put him and others in office is “rampant.”

He can’t back that up.

Greg Abbott was asked on Monday what he thought about President Obama’s throwdown last week on the state’s lousy voter turnout.

“The folks who are governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate,” the president told The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith at South by Southwest Interactive.

The chief of those “folks” would rather limit turnout than expand on what he seems to think is an election system that has run off the side of the road.

[…]

Strong word, rampant. The handy office thesaurus offers these synonyms: uncontrolled, unrestrained, unchecked, unbridled, widespread; out of control, out of hand, rife.

Does three cases of fraud for every 1 million votes strike you as “unbridled?”

[…]

A study done by News21, an investigative journalism project at Arizona State University, looked at open records from Texas and other states for the years 2000-2011 and found 104 cases of voter fraud had been alleged in Texas over that decade.

Chew on this: If you only count the Texans who voted in November general elections — skipping Democratic and Republican primaries and also special and constitutional elections — 35.8 million people voted during the period covered by the ASU study.

They found 104 cases of voter fraud among 35.8 million votes cast. That’s fewer than three glitches per 1 million votes.

As a point of comparison, Ramsay notes that the Texas Ethics Commission resolved 227 complaints through agreed orders out of over 500 complaints filed during the 2013-2014 biennium. That’s more than twice as many ethics complaints resolved, in two years, as there were allegations – not convictions, but allegations of voter fraud over more than a decade.

But it’s even worse than that. In this Trib story from the say before, about Abbott dismissing President Obama’s criticism about Texas’ abysmal rate of turnout and the resistance people like Greg Abbott have to doing anything about it, we find even more stark numbers:

“Voters and citizens repeatedly say, ‘Why go vote if we’re going to have corrupt leaders in office?’” Abbott said. “So we need to root out and eliminate corrupt leaders and root out and eliminate corruption in the voting process, and that means greater ballot security, not less ballot security.”

Abbott noted that he personally prosecuted voter fraud cases “across the entire state of Texas” while he was the state’s attorney general from 2002 to 2015.

Voter fraud remains by many accounts a rare phenomenon in Texas.

“You’re more likely to get struck by lightning in Texas than to find any kind of voter fraud,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said last year, an assertion that PolitiFact found to be true.

As of last year, there had been a total of 85 election fraud prosecutions resolved in Texas, including 51 guilty or no contest pleas and 9 convictions, according to PolitiFact. Lorraine Minnite, a Rutgers professor and author of the book The Myth of Voter Fraud, determined that four cases in Texas from 2000 to 2014 involved in-person voter fraud.

Emphasis mine. Let’s put that in a bit more context:


Year     Turnout
================
2000   6,407,637
2002   4,553,979
2004   7,410,765
2006   4,399,068
2008   8,077,795
2010   4,979,870
2012   7,993,851
2014   4,727,208

Total 48,550,173

That’s only the November turnout figures, from only the even-numbered years. The total number of in-person vote fraud cases therefore represents one per 12 million votes cast. PolitiFact actually counted the other election totals, and came up with one per 18 million votes. And that’s prosecutions, not convictions; the PolitiFact story doesn’t discuss how those cases were resolved. I mean, you’re more likely to be killed by lightning than to find the kind of “voter fraud” Greg Abbott is so hot and bothered about. So yeah, he’s lying through his teeth. We should be very clear about that.

One State Bar complaint against Paxton dismissed

A little bit of good news for our embattled AG, but not much.

The State Bar of Texas has dismissed one of two pending complaints against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The dismissed complaint, filed in February by attorney and blogger Ty Clevenger, requested that the bar investigate and penalize Paxton for his failure to register as a financial adviser while steering business to a friend’s investment firm.

[…]

In a letter explaining the move, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Rita Uribe said the bar dismissed the complaint because “it is the subject of a pending criminal complaint.” If Paxton is convicted, she added, he will be “subject to compulsory discipline.”

Here’s Clevenger explaining why that is unsatisfactory to him.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

As I explained in my February 11, 2016 blog post, my grievance against Mr. Paxton had far less to do with Mr. Paxton than the state bar itself.  Time and again, I’ve watched the state bar protect politically-connected attorneys, some of whom have committed serious crimes. And now the practice continues.

According to a March 9, 2016 letter from OCDC, my grievance was dismissed because the allegations are “the subject of a pending criminal case against [Mr. Paxton].”  But as I noted in the appeal that I filed this morning, nothing in the disciplinary rules prevents OCDC from prosecuting attorney misconduct charges concurrently with criminal charges.

On the contrary, “[t]he processing of a Grievance, Complaint, Disciplinary Proceeding, or Disciplinary Action is not, except for good cause, to be delayed or abated because of substantial similarity to the material allegations in pending civil or criminal litigation.” Texas Rule of Disciplinary Procedure 15.02. Granted, a delay or abatement differs from an outright dismissal, but the spirit of the rule certainly implies that OCDC should not dismiss a case simply because a related criminal case is pending. In fact, the OCDC prosecuted my grievance against former Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall concurrently with the overlapping criminal charge.

Under normal circumstances, however, the OCDC will not prosecute a politically-prominent attorney. In this case, the OCDC dismissed a grievance filed by Erica Gammill against Mr. Paxton in 2014 because that grievance supposedly failed to state a disciplinary violation (even though Mr. Paxton had already admitted his guilt in writing and under oath).  After Mr. Paxton got indicted for the very same allegation, I re-filed Ms. Gammill’s grievance along with a copy of the indictment.

And now the OCDC refuses to investigate because a criminal case is pending, which makes this a classic Catch 22.  If you file a grievance against a politician lawyer before he gets indicted, the state bar will dismiss the grievance — no matter how damning the evidence — on the grounds that you failed to state a violation. But if you file the grievance after he gets indicted, then the state bar will dismiss your grievance because a criminal case is pending.  Is it any wonder that my profession has such a miserable reputation?

There are good reasons for prosecuting the cases concurrently. First, the burden of proof differs between a disciplinary charge and a criminal charge. If the special prosecutors fail to prove Mr. Paxton’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the OCDC might nonetheless prove him culpable on the preponderance of the evidence. Second, the four-year limitations period for a disciplinary charge will expire this summer, i.e., before Mr. Paxton’s criminal case goes to trial.  Maybe the Board of Disciplinary Appeals will do the right thing and reverse the OCDC, but the board sided with the OCDC the first time it buried this case.

I’d be very curious to hear what the attorneys who read my blog think about this. In the meantime, there is another complaint pending against Paxton, having to do with his bogus “advice” to County Clerks on how to evade the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. That one isn’t tied to an indictment, and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals reinstated it after an initial dismissal. So maybe one way or another the State Bar will have to take action.