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April 26th, 2017:

Big day for redistricting in court

Tomorrow the questions of what happens next in the redistricting lawsuits begin to get answered.

Will Texas soon see new political maps that are friendlier to Latino and black voters and, in turn, Democrats? If so, who would draw them: the scolded Republican-led Legislature or the courts themselves? Will the maps land ahead of the 2018 elections?

A three-judge panel based in San Antonio will start wading through such questions on Thursday as lawyers for each side of the redistricting dispute return to court for a high-profile status conference.

“This hearing is a very important event in the sequence of what’s going to happen,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a plaintiff in the case.

In a 2-1 March ruling, the San Antonio panel ruled that Texas lawmakers knowingly discriminated in drawing three of the state’s 36 congressional districts: CD-23, represented by Will Hurd, R-Helotes; CD-27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and CD-35, represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

And last week the same judges found fault with the 2011 state House map, finding that lawmakers intentionally diluted the clout of minority voters statewide and in districts encompassing areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

Each ruling matters mightily because, if they withstand appeals, they could ultimately land Texas — which has a well-documented history of racial discrimination in elections — back on a list of states needing outside approvalto change their election laws.

More immediate questions, however, surround what the rulings mean for the 2018 elections since new district lines could affect both voters and candidates. Already, one potential U.S. House candidate — former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego — told The Texsas Tribune he would consider running again for Hurd’s CD-23 seat, but perhaps only under new boundaries.

[…]

Civil rights groups and other plaintiffs argue that 2011’s discrimination carried over to the maps currently in use.

Nina Perales, representing the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the lawsuit, suggests the case against the 2013 congressional maps is more straightforward partly because there are fewer districts in play and also because the court’s decision more clearly identified discrimination that carried over into the new maps. For instance, the boundaries of two of its districts — Farenthold’s 27th and Doggett’s 35th — are identical to those drawn in 2011.

“We get a better picture on the Congress decision about where the court thinks the map is still flawed,” Perales said. “We do not get a sense in the House opinion where the court thinks the 2013 map is flawed.”

See here and here for some background. There are a lot of questions for the court to address – Michael Li rounds up and summarizes the remaining disputes for the Congressional plan; there are no doubt at least as many issues still in contention for the State House plan – and not a lot of time to get something in place for the 2018 filing season, which begins in a bit more than six months. The plaintiffs had previously proposed a schedule that would have the state submit a remedial map by May 5, with a final decision in place by July 1. A similar schedule for the State House districts would mean a state-proposed remedial map by the beginning of June, with a final decision by early August. That actually gives the Legislature enough time to pass new maps if they want to, but with little room for delay. I can’t wait to see what the judges say.

Uber and Lyft speak on the “biological sex” amendment in statewide rideshare bill

It’s a start.

Five days after a controversial amendment defining “sex” as “male or female” was added to a statewide ride-hailing bill, representatives from Uber and Lyft called the addition disappointing and unnecessary — though both companies stopped short of saying they’d withdraw their support.

“We are disappointed that this unnecessary amendment was added to legislation that should be focused on adopting a consistent statewide framework for ride sharing,” Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. “Uber’s comprehensive national nondiscrimination policy will not change.”

“The adopted amendment is unnecessary, as Lyft’s strong nondiscrimination policy remains in effect no matter what local or state statutes exist,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.

Neither Considine nor Harrison said their respective companies would pull back support of the bill over the amendment, which would define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” Considine said Uber’s existing nondiscrimination policy won’t change — it prohibits “discrimination against riders or drivers based on race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity and age, among other things.”

See here for the background. It would have been nice if they would have spoken up sooner, but at least they have now done so. I’m glad they have reiterated their nondiscrimination policies, which I suppose makes that Tinderholt amendment moot for them, but the door is open for a company that would discriminate on the basis of gender presentation or identity if this bill gets passed in the Senate as is. The goal here is to take that out of the final version. The statements from Uber and Lyft help, but it’s going to take more than that.

Business groups endorse a Yes on recapture re-vote

It’s a very different campaign this time around.

The Greater Houston Partnership and other local organizations whose members own some of the city’s priciest commercial real estate have come out in support of a ballot measure over whether the Houston Independent School District should pay its share of property taxes to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood system of school finance.

The business coalition, which also includes Central Houston, the Houston Building Owners and Management Association, Uptown Houston, the Houston Business Realty Coalition and the “C” Club, said the school district should pay the $77.5 million it owes to the state.

If not, it faces having $8 billion of the city’s highest-valued commercial properties permanently reassigned to another school district, a process referred to as “detachment.”

The detachment process would affect more than 80 commercial properties in the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and downtown Houston, the coalition said in a statement Monday afternoon. While the value of commercial property slated for detachment this year is $8 billion, HISD estimates it would climb to $22 billion in 2018.

“No one in our community wins under detachment,” Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO Bob Harvey said in the statement. “We are encouraging a vote in support of Proposition 1 so that Houston businesses can continue to help fund Houston’s public schools and its future leaders.”

BOMA supported recapture last November, one of not too many groups or officials to do so. (If the other groups took a position last time, I don’t know what it was.) Very simply, most of the endorsements I saw last year were against the recapture, and most of the ones I am seeing now are in favor. In fact, as I was drafting this post, I saw an ad on TV (on ESPN during the Cubs-Pirates game) in favor of the recapture referendum, paid for by a group called “Houston Taxpayers for Quality Education”. None of this is any guarantee of success for the Yes side – this whole election is too much of an oddball to feel secure in any prediction – but for what it’s worth, the most consistent message I have seen is a message of voting for recapture.

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.

[…]

Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?