Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


Legislative diversity report 2021

It’s a tiny bit more diverse, but not by much.

In a perennial takeaway of The Texas Tribune’s demographic analysis, the Texas Legislature remains mostly white and male.

When the 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday, 3 of every 5 lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be white, although white Texans make up just 41% of the state’s population. That’s largely a function of the Republican dominance of the Capitol and the dearth of diversity in the party’s ranks. All but five of the 100 Republicans in the Legislature are non-Hispanic white people.

Women have seen gains in the Legislature in recent years, but their underrepresentation is underscored by how marginal those gains have been. Four years ago, women held just 20% of seats; on Tuesday they’ll take roughly 27%. And unlike at the start of the legislative session two years ago, there won’t be more lawmakers named “John” than Republican women in the House.

There will be an equal number.

Click over to see the charts. There are 13 Republican women this session, up one from 2019. For what it’s worth, I believe the Trib has undercounted Anglo Democratic legislators. They have it at sixteen, but my count is seventeen. There were eighteen Anglo Dems following the 2018 election, a significant increase over previous years in which retirements and electoral defeats, both in March and in November, had whittled that number down to six. Looking at that list the changes from the 2019 session are as follows:

– Sen. Sarah Eckhardt replaces Kirk Watson, who stepped down to take a job at the University of Houston.
– Rep. Gina Calanni was defeated, but Rep. Ann Johnson was elected, leaving the Harris County share of the contingent unchanged.
– The drop from 18 to 17 is the result of Joe Pickett’s retirement due to health concerns. Rep. Art Fierro won the special election to succeed him.

The number of LGBTQ legislators went up by one as well with the election of Rep. Ann Johnson.

Finally, I should note that if we include the SBOE in this scope, then the Anglo Democrat number goes back up to 18, as Rebecca Bell-Metereau was elected in SBOE5, winning the seat vacated by Republican Ken Mercer. I won’t be surprised if the SBOE is redistricted back to a ten R/five D situation, and of course who knows where the House and the Senate will end up, but for now, this is what we have. Tune in following the next election for further updates.

Hiring and harassment at TxDOT

Good morning. Here’s another story about harassment and discrimination being suffered by female and minority employees at a public institution, in this case the state Department of Transportation.

The Texas Department of Transportation held Tamela Saldana up as a “superhero” when she trekked across the state working to help contract with minority and women-owned businesses. But everywhere she went, Saldana said she encountered a similar troubling scene.

“I traveled to almost every district in TxDOT, and the faces were the same. They were the same. They were male, and they were predominately white male,” Saldana said. “If you saw a minority person, they were going to be the lowest level – the person who checked you into the front desk or the person who was out in the parking lot picking up litter.”

After more than a decade of glowing performance reviews, Saldana’s tenure with TxDOT came to an acrimonious end in 2012. That year, TxDOT fired the former University of Texas track star. She, in turn, sued for discrimination.

A KXAN investigation of TxDOT’s workforce reveals Saldana’s experience is one of hundreds that underscore the agency’s ongoing struggle to address gender and racial disparities — and their unfortunate side effects — in a culture historically and predominantly composed of white men, especially at its highest echelons.

KXAN found workers officially made more than 200 allegations against the agency in the past five years. Many of those came from women and minorities alleging harassment, discrimination and retaliation, according to internal TxDOT documents obtained through an open records request. Dozens of workers have also sued the agency in recent years on those grounds, according to court records.

Go read the rest. Basically, TxDOT is less reflective of society at large and the state’s overall civil workforce than it was a decade ago. It’s a problem on a number of levels, and it would be nice if our state’s leadership paid some attention to it. Link via the Trib/a>.

Sheriff Gonzalez’s staff

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez combines diversity with experience in his braintrust.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

New Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has tapped a diverse wave of law enforcement veterans to fill his top command staff, sharply increasing the number of minority leaders and naming the first female assistant chief ever in the sheriff’s office.

In his first week as sheriff, Gonzalez named three Latinos, three African-Americans and two Asians to leadership positions, and promoted Debra Schmidt to assistant chief. Another woman, who is African-American, is also among the new leadership.

Ten of those selected for the 15 top command posts are longtime members of the sheriff’s office, a sharp break with the actions of the two previous administrations. One major’s position is not yet filled.

“There are a lot of wonderful, highly skilled, quality individuals within the sheriff’s office,” Gonzalez said. “Part of being a leader is doing that – identifying bright people that can really help, that are smart and capable.”

Before Gonzalez took office Jan. 1, four of the top command staff retired and nine were asked to leave, according to Ryan Sullivan, a sheriff’s office spokesman. Two officers have been retained.

The appointments are the first indication of how Gonzalez will approach the county’s top law enforcement job. His decision to pick department insiders with knowledge about the operations drew immediate praise for boosting morale.

“By selecting a diverse staff internally he has shown he recognizes the experience and cultural knowledge of those deputies within his own office while also understanding the expectations of the diverse community the department serves,” said Lawrence Karson, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown.

David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, likewise praised the decision to promote from within.

“Morale has instantly skyrocketed,” Cuevas said. “The consensus around the department is we finally have upward mobility and institutional knowledge in place to move the sheriff’s office forward and into the future. … The rank-and-file see that if they are on a promotional list and take their time, their hard work and leadership is not going to be stifled because people outside are brought into command positions.”


Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, a Republican, said the moves should help Gonzalez get up to speed quickly on operations at the state’s largest sheriff’s office.

“He is certainly showing he has figured out a way to make up for the fact he hasn’t worked in the sheriff’s office,” he said. “It’s very intelligent of him to take advantage of the vast amount of experience within the department that he doesn’t have yet.”

I presume Steve Radack plays tennis, because that’s quite the backhand he’s got there. Back when Ron Hickman was installing an all white-guy command staff, he responded to criticism about it by saying “Diversity for diversity’s sake is not always effective”, and pointed to his team’s “vast education, experience and devotion to police work”. Turns out, you can have both diversity and experience. Who knew?

A whiter shade of male

Sheriffing is a man’s job, ladies. I’m sure you understand that.

Ron Hickman

One month into his job as Harris County sheriff, Ron Hickman has filled his roster of top commanders, a new hierarchy marked by one omission: There are no women.

Hickman picked 19 men and also scrapped the role of a liaison for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates and residents, part of a broad-reaching civil rights initiative established by his Democratic predecessor.

When Hickman, a Republican, assumed the helm, he said, “Diversity for diversity’s sake is not always effective.” In a recent statement, Hickman defended his final team for its vast education, experience and devotion to police work.

The lack of women in leadership roles is worth noting because representation in the top ranks promotes a message about equity, provides role models and boosts morale, said Danielle Flanagan, an instructor of criminal justice at West Texas A&M University who studied women in policing in the Texas panhandle.


At that point, J.M. “Smokie” Phillips Jr., the president of the Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputy League, said his members were concerned about returning to a previous period of racism and disparity in treatment. Johnny Mata, the presiding officer for the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, said diversity in law enforcement command in an area as diverse as Harris County demonstrates the sensitivity of the officeholder to serve the community as a whole.

The complete command lineup Hickman unveiled Friday comprises three black men, two Hispanic men and 14 white men – two of whom were brought back from retirement.

The Houston Police Department command, by comparison, has two black females, two black males, two Asian-American males, one Hispanic female, two Hispanic males, one white female and eight white males, said department spokesman Victor Senties.

The sheriff emphasized that his administration collectively possesses 620 years of law enforcement experience, 13 post-graduate degrees, six diplomas from the FBI National Academy, 87 professional certifications, 46 memberships to professional law enforcement and community associations. He noted in a press statement that expertise, qualifications, passion and experience were his top priorities in selecting commanders.

See here and here for some background. Another way of looking at 620 years of experience among 19 people is to note that their average age must therefore be in the mid-fifties. Clearly, diversity in age range isn’t much of a priority, either. Be all that as it may, I’d like to thank Sheriff Hickman for so effectively clarifying what the 2016 election will be about. Do you want the same old thing being done by the same old people as it always has been done, or do you want to live in the 21st century? The choice will be yours. Campos has more.

Some of my best friends are white people

I’ve been trying to figure out this new group for Caucasian Sheriff’s deputies. I’ve had the good fortune to have worked for an organization that takes diversity and inclusiveness seriously. They had a number of employee-created networking groups that were one part mentoring, one part equal opportunity, and one part just a recognition that there were people from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives working at this place and that they were all important to the company’s success. One of these was a group for white men – I believe it was called something like White Men As Full Diversity Partners. As the name implies, it was there to serve a role similar to those of other diversity groups, and it also provided an educational function for some folks who were perhaps still accustomed to a time when most everyone in the office looked like them and needed some help figuring out how to deal with the modern reality. Far as I know, the group’s creation a few years ago never caused a fuss. If the new deputies’ group is like that one, I doubt its existence will bother anyone. If, however, it’s little more than a place for those with political grievances to harbor them and to express their fear that if someone else is doing better then they must be doing worse, well, then I can certainly understand why Commissioners Court is reluctant to give them an official seal of approval. Perhaps a little clarity of purpose would be helpful here. Stace has more.

UPDATE: Grits lets them have it.