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April 25th, 2017:

What will Joaquin do?

Getting to be close to decision time.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro wrapped up speaking here Wednesday, completing the latest stop on his statewide tour ahead of a potential Senate run, one man in the crowd turned to another and voiced some ambivalence.

“I don’t know if he should do it,” the man said, alluding to what would be an uphill battle against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “He’s got a good thing going.”

It’s the question hanging over the San Antonio Democrat as he nears an announcement on his plans for 2018: Is it worth giving up his seat in Congress, where he has had a steadily growing profile, for a long-shot challenge of Cruz, particularly when another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, is already running?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in his gut,” said Julián Castro, Joaquin Castro’s twin brother and the former U.S. housing secretary. “Is this something where he can best serve the people of Texas and his constituents, and that’s not an easy decision because he’s done a lot of great work in Congress and he has significant committee assignments that allow him to serve his constituents and the American people well.”

[…]

O’Rourke, for his part, has plowed ahead full-steam with his campaign as Castro continues mulling a run. Since announcing his bid on March 31, O’Rourke has held campaign events in 12 cities across the state. He is scheduled to hit another seven cities through Monday. Castro has made public appearances in at least five Texas cities during the same period, including four outside of his congressional district.

Asked about Castro’s potential candidacy at events, O’Rourke has largely expressed deference, saying that the two have long shared their interest in the race with one another and that if Castro runs, they will compete in a way that “makes Texas proud.” O’Rourke said Friday he has no problem if Castro wants to take longer than his original timeline to make up his mind, saying he wants the San Antonio congressman “to do what’s right for him, for his family and what he thinks is best for the country.”

At the same time, however, O’Rourke has shown awareness that a strong start to his campaign could have an impact on the trajectory of the primary.

“If you don’t want anybody else to run and you want to make sure we’re concentrating all our resources, all of our focus, all of our dollars, on seizing a historic, once-in-a-30-year opportunity,” O’Rourke said this month during a campaign stop in San Marcos, “then get behind me.”

The encouragement is “less about anyone else than our effort,” O’Rourke said Friday.

Whoever runs on the Democratic side, national Republicans continue to express confidence that the seat will easily hold for the party in 2018. Democrats have mostly put Texas on the back burner, as the party remains concerned about 10 Senate incumbents who represent states Donald Trump carried last year.

Senate races are frequently so highly organized that they can often resemble the sophistication of a presidential campaign. It is difficult to quietly plan a Senate campaign — and the chatter around Castro in both House Democratic and Senate circles is remarkably quiet in Washington.

My guess continues to be that Castro will not run. If the Dems retake the House, he ought to be in a position to be far more influential there. It’s not clear that he would be anything other than a longshot to win, or that he would be any less of a longshot than O’Rourke. On the other hand, it may be a long time before conditions may be as favorable for a win as they appear to be today, and when they are that favorable again there will be others jockeying for position to take advantage of it. I don’t know what the “right” answer is for Rep. Castro, but whatever it is we ought to know it soon.

Two more redistricting updates

From KUT, will we have a new Congressional map for next year?

[Gerry Hebert, one of the plaintiff attorneys], says he’s hopeful there won’t be yet another election with the old maps.

“The timing of the court’s decision is absolutely giving us an opportunity to get a new congressional redistricting plan for the 2018 election,” he says.

There are still quite a few steps between that decision and new maps, though. First up: a court hearing at the end of the month. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, says it should answer some of the “what happens next” kind of questions.

“We need to know when the parties are supposed to file briefs, when they are supposed to propose maps. Is the Legislature going to be given a chance? Is it not?” he says. “All of that is going to have to be decided.”

Li says at some point, both sides might also have to settle whether the 2013 interim map the state is currently using should be thrown out. Li, like Hebert, argues the interim map is not totally different than the 2011 map that the court struck down.

[…]

There has already been one unforeseen twist in the case since the ruling.

The state recently filed a motion asking the trial court to give it permission to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is unusual. Typically such cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Li, Hebert and others will have to make the case for why the decision on the 2011 map should not be overturned.

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted, the status conference next Thursday the 27th is where these issues will begin to get hashed out. The timeline proposed by the plaintiffs would have a final map in place by July 1. Lots of things can and surely will happen between now and then, but that’s the goal and we should have some clue how attainable it will be next week.

As we have discussed before, all of this activity so far is around the Congressional map. We now have a decision in the case involving the original State House map, but will we get a new map drawn in time for 2018 in that case as well?

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear the Texas redistricting case in which a three-judge federal panel ruled against the state in a 2-1 decision.

“The state of Texas purposely and intentionally, with full knowledge of what they were doing, discriminated against Latinos and African-American voters,” said Luis Vera, the national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, who has argued the case over the last several years.

[…]

Vera said it’s expected if Governor Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session, Texas lawmakers will have the first crack at fixing the 2011 map. If not, the federal judges will step in, Vera said.

Vera said there also could be a state and federal compromise.

Vera said the lines must be redrawn by 2018. He said even then, a new map is required after the U.S. Census in 2020.

I’m glad to hear that the plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a new map in place for 2018, but I’m sure the state will argue that the 2013 map fixed all the problems and will do everything in their power to delay any further action. SCOTUS already has a different gerrymandering case on its spring docket, which may or may not have any overlapping effect on this. As always, we should know a lot more after that status call on the 27th.

Senate approves special ed reform bill

Good.

The Texas Senate moved Wednesday to ban state officials from ever again imposing a cap on the percentage of students allowed to receive special education services.

The chamber voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 160, putting the legislation just one step away from the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who already has indicated his support of the measure.

That last step, a vote on the floor of the Texas House, is expected to take place soon.

The legislation was filed in response to “Denied,” a 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation that exposed the state’s decade-old cap and revealed that it had denied services like tutoring and therapy to tens of thousands of children with disabilities.

As a result of the arbitrary 2004 policy, which the Texas Education Agency enacted while facing a $1.1 billion state budget cut and without notifying lawmakers, federal officials or the public, Texas now provides special education services to the lowest percentage of any state in the country – by far.

Now, with the Senate passage of Senate Bill 160, the state might be able to erase that ugly distinction, according to the proposal’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The Senate hasn’t done much to commend this session, but this one they got right. Let’s get it passed in the House and signed into law.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.