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March 22nd, 2016:

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.