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March 1st, 2016:

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

SCOTUS to hear HB2 oral arguments

It’s the big one.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Before Wendy Davis took to the floor of the Texas Senate for an 11-hour filibuster that ultimately failed to stop sweeping new restrictions on abortion, there was Casey.

Shorthand for Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion but gave states more power to restrict the procedure to “further the health or safety of a woman.” The 5-4 ruling, however, also said states can’t enact “unnecessary” regulations that have the “purpose or effect” of imposing an undue burden on those seeking the procedure.

On Wednesday, the court is expected to revisit the standards set by Casey — and potentially redefine the next era of abortion restrictions in the United States — when it takes up a legal challenge to Texas’ 2013 abortion restrictions, collectively known as House Bill 2. The Texas case, formally known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, will allow the court to address disagreements among lower courts over what constitutes an undue burden and clarify how far states can go in restricting abortion.

It’s the next step of a legal journey that began in Texas when lawmakers passed HB 2 almost three years ago. The law requires abortion clinics begin to meet the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, which range from minimum sizes for rooms and doorways to the number of nurses required to be on staff. A separate provision requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

Only 19 Texas clinics remain of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed, and the restrictions are blamed. If the Supreme Court upholds the abortion law in its entirety that number could fall to less than 10, all in major metropolitan areas.

“There will be a right in name as long as Roe is still on the books, but if there are no clinics, then what does that really mean in terms of the right to abortion if you can’t exercise the right?” asked Cary C. Franklin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “This case really puts that question front and center.”

Indeed it does, though the makeup of the Court right now clouds things a bit. If we get the good Anthony Kennedy, in which case HB2 would have been struck down even with Antonin Scalia still on the bench, then perhaps there will finally be a limit put on the radical state legislators who have been busy enacting a tidal wave of dishonest laws whose sole focus is denying that right to women who wish to exercise it. If not – and some people think Scalia’s death makes Kennedy more likely to uphold Texas’ law – then that right is largely going to vanish in Texas and almost certainly Louisiana as well, though the rest of the country will still be in flux. The one thing that could change this is a Democratic President with a Democratic Senate that will allow SCOTUS to be restored to nine Justices. I mean, there’s no reason to believe Mitch McConnell will change his mind about voting on a replacement Justice if he’s still Majority Leader under President Clinton or Sanders, right? Maybe Kennedy will be dissuaded by the specter of chaos, or maybe he’ll just have had enough. For now, that’s the best hope. A summary and overview of the case from RH Reality Check is beneath the fold, and the Chron has more.

(more…)

Grier departs HISD

We await his successor.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Terry Grier steps aside as Houston’s school superintendent on Monday after a six-and-a-half year tenure marked by aggressive reform efforts, high staff turnover and mixed academic results.

His replacement will inherit a stubborn racial achievement gap and lagging student test scores. Based on state ratings last year, 20 percent of the Houston Independent School District’s campuses were low-performing. The new chief also will take over management of the $1.9 billion construction program, which has faced delays and higher-than-expected costs since voters approved the bond package under Grier’s watch in 2012.

Finding a superintendent with experience leading a similar-sized district will be tough – HISD is the nation’s seventh-largest, with 215,000 students. The depth of the candidate pool depends on the criteria the trustees set, said Henry Gmitro, president of the board’s new search firm (it severed ties with the first one). For example, Gmitro said, assistant superintendents from large, diverse districts may end up fitting the board’s profile.

Grier, a North Carolina native, came to Houston in 2009 from his post as superintendent leading San Diego schools, with 135,000 students.

Upon coming to HISD, Grier recalled last week, “I spent the first six months to a year drinking out of a fire hydrant. It’s a big, complex bureaucracy.”

Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest district, recently picked an internal candidate after a monthslong national search led by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. HISD has hired the same firm for $77,000, including expenses.

“We’re not limiting ourselves to just people in Houston or Texas,” board president Manuel Rodriguez Jr. told a dozen or so community members last week during a meeting at Chavez High. “We are looking national, even international. We’re going to try to pick the best person that will fit the city of Houston. We understand diversity. We understand the city. We understand the politics of the city.”

Rodriguez, one of nine trustees, also has said he wants a superintendent who can speak Spanish. More than 60 percent of HISD’s students are Hispanic, 25 percent are black, 8 percent are Anglo and 4 percent are Asian.

[…]

Before Grier, the last time the HISD board hired an outsider as superintendent was 1991.

Trustees, in a rare unanimous vote this month, noted that they sought stability in naming the district’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, as interim superintendent. Grier had promoted Huewitt to serve as his No. 2 over the summer. Grier said in an interview last week that he thinks Huewitt would be a good candidate for the permanent job.

At the recent Chavez High School meeting, when a search consultant asked if the next superintendent should be an educator, nearly all hands were raised.

While some superintendents have nontraditional backgrounds – coming from the business world or the military – the common path is moving through the education ranks.

I suppose I’m agnostic on the questions of whether the next Superintendent is an insider or outsider, or if he or she is an educator or not. HISD has its share of challenges, but it’s also got a lot of good schools and dedicated employees, and recent state-caused issues aside, it’s generally in decent financial shape. The next Super will have to do a lot of learning on the job no matter who it is. I wish I could say there’s a clear formula for picking the right person, but there isn’t, and we won’t know if we’ve got someone who can truly do the job for several months as he or she adjusts and figures it out. I guess the main thing is to find someone who has the potential to do a great job, then give that person all the support we can to help him or her achieve that potential. And hope for the best.

Freedom From Religion Foundation sues Abbott over Bill of Rights display

From their press release:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit today against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his removal of the group’s Bill of Rights display from the Capitol.

Abbott downed FFRF’s solstice display, intended to counter a Christian nativity scene in the Statehouse, only three days after the permitted display had been erected on Dec. 18.

The whimsical exhibit commemorated the “birth” of the Bill of Rights, depicting the Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty crowded adoringly around a manger scene containing the constitutional document.

FFRF obtained a permit last summer for the December display, and a Texas legislator sponsored it. Also approved was an explanatory Winter Solstice sign promoting state/church separation, which pointed out that the Bill of Rights was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.

Abbott, who chairs the Texas State Preservation Board that approves Capitol displays, sent a letter Dec. 21 to co-defendant John Sneed, the board’s executive director, advising him to remove the FFRF display. Abbott lambasted the exhibit as indecent and mocking, implied it would promote public immorality, had no educational purpose and compared it to “Piss Christ,” a controversial 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano showing a plastic crucifix in a jar of urine.

FFRF’s federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas, Austin division, charges that Abbott and the other defendants violated the free speech, equal protection and due process rights of the organization.

The defendants’ action shows “unambiguous viewpoint discrimination” and was also motivated by “animus” toward FFRF and its nontheistic message, the state/church watchdog group contends. Such action violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by favoring the “stand-alone Christian nativity scene” and disfavoring FFRF’s “nontheistic content.”

The organization’s legal complaint details a “history of hostility directed against FFRF” by Abbott when he was the state attorney general. In December 2011, Abbott, on Fox News, told the group to keep out of Texas, stating: “Our message to the atheists is: Don’t mess with Texas or our nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments.”

In October 2012, Abbott again attacked FFRF during a press conference: “We will not allow atheist groups from outside of the state of Texas to come into the state to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try to bully schools to bow down at the altar of secular beliefs.”

As governor, Abbott has assailed FFRF for asking the Brewster County’s Sheriff’s Office to remove crosses from patrol vehicles, and has complained when Orange, Texas, took down a nativity scene from city hall at the organization’s behest.

“Gov. Abbott has consistently advocated for displays of religion in the public sphere, while actively opposing any expression of nonreligious principles,” FFRF notes.

The group is seeking a judgment that each defendant violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and clauses protecting free speech and equal protect rights and due process rights of the plaintiffs. It is asking for damages and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I said at the time of Abbott’s tantrum that if it wasn’t the FFRF’s intention to file a lawsuit over this then they were wasting everyone’s time. I’m glad to see they were indeed serious about this. We already know that abbott applies religious principles arbitrarily, and I suspect he’s about to learn a lesson on that. I can’t wait. The Express News, the Current, and the Scoop Blog have more.