Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Pasadena

Fifth Circuit hears Pasadena redistricting appeal

This is to decide whether to lift or leave in place Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling that the pre-2013 all-single-member-district Council map will be in place for the May elections in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The City of Pasadena asked for the expedited hearing before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a narrow issue – the structure of Pasadena’s City Council districts for the upcoming election.

Hearing the case for the circuit court were judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Priscilla Owen and Gregg Costa.

At a later date, the court will address the city’s appeal of a sweeping order from a lower court judge who threw out Pasadena’s city council election format, saying it was discriminatory against Hispanic voters.

The judge ordered the city to revert to a 2011 system for electing the council, with eight single-member-district seats, instead of the 2014 system that used six single-member and two at-large districts.

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell, asked the appellate judges to grant a stay of the judge’s order because he said he was likely to win the overall appeal on the merits. His client did not intend to discriminate against Hispanic voters, and the election results did not reflect a diluted Latino vote, he said.

[…]

Costa pressed Heath about the harm that might be caused if the appellate panel switched the election to 6-2 and then the appellate court upheld the appeal.

“That’s significant harm, isn’t it?” Costa asked.

“It is if it has a discriminatory effect,” Heath said.

Nina Perales, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of Latino voters, stressed to the judges that the 8-0 system the lower court put in place would sufficiently eliminate questions of discrimination in Pasadena’s council race.

However, a decision by the appellate judges to temporarily lift the lower court’s 8-0 format would confuse voters and candidates who have already filed to get their names on the ballot and begun canvassing neighborhoods, she said.

“There is no reason to grant the stay based on (the city’s) likelihood of success because there is no single case supporting their contentions,” Perales said. “The case law is unified – if there is lower Hispanic registration and turnout rates it is tied to a history of past discrimination.”

See here for the background. Judges Elrod and Owen are both Dubya appointees, and are two of the more conservative members of the Fifth Circuit, so this is about as friendly a panel as Pasadena could have wanted. The city has the burden of proof here – they need to show that Judge Rosenthal erred in her ruling. We’ll see if the Fifth Circuit grades them on a curve for that. Given the time frame – the filing deadline is in two weeks, and multiple candidates have already filed for each of the eight Council seats – we should get a ruling shortly.

Pasadena appellate hearing set

Mark your calendars.

Pasadena City Council

With deadlines looming for the upcoming May elections, a federal appeals court has agreed to hear arguments Feb. 1 in a voting rights lawsuit that overturned the Pasadena election system.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether to temporarily halt the order from the Houston judge until after the appeals are exhausted. But that would leave in place an election system that has been found discriminatory against Latinos.

The Fifth Circuit court set an expedited hearing at the Bob Casey Courthouse in Houston for lawyers to present argument as to why the city should or should not proceed with its May elections for city council positions using a 2011 map of eight single-member district seats as directed by a federal judge in Houston.

The appellate court will focus on a request by Pasadena’s lead attorney in the high-profile voting rights case to temporarily halt the district court’s order for Pasadena to hold its May election using eight district positions, instead of a 2014 scheme that passed by a narrow margin of voters that uses six single-member and two at-large seats.

See here and here for the background. Candidates are already filing for office in Pasadena, so this really does have to be done quickly. The court would be deciding whether to use the current map, with six districts and two At Large seats, or the previous map with eight districts, which is what Judge Rosenthal ordered. We ought to know soon enough. Texas Monthly, which delves more into Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, has more.

Pat Van Houte for Pasadena Mayor

This is the local race to watch this May.

Pat Van Houte

A Pasadena councilwoman who became a key witness in a recent federal lawsuit contesting the city’s redrawn voting districts said she will run for mayor in the upcoming election.

Pat Van Houte, who holds an at-large seat, made her announcement Friday, Jan. 6, the same day a federal judge’s decision overturning the city’s 2013 redistricting measure was released.

[…]

Van Houte was in the middle of the political fray nearly four years ago when the council, led by Mayor Johnny Isbell, pushed for the redistricting and a switch to two at-large positions and six-single member districts. However, Van Houte found herself in the council’s minority opposing the changes and ultimately went on to win election to an at-large position in 2015.

“The position of mayor is not something I had considered before; but since serving as an at-large council member, I’ve been traveling and seeing many different parts of the city. Over the last year, as I’ve been out meeting with residents, many people have offered their support and asked me to run for mayor,” Van Houte said. “I’m not running because of this ruling. However, serving as an at-large council member has put me in contact with a lot more people and has made me think more about stepping to the next level as far as leadership and the direction of the city.”

All eight single-member districts, based on the May 2013 election map and plan, will be on the ballot in the upcoming election. Filing for candidates runs from Jan. 18 through Feb. 17.

Van Houte, who was first elected to serve as the District D council member in 2009, said she anticipated the ruling.

“I was hoping for this outcome. From some of the questions that the judge asked during my testimony and a few things I heard after that point, I wasn’t surprised. I could not assume this would be the decision but I was certainly hopeful and I’m pleased with the decision,” said Van Houte, who testified during the trial.

It’s not been easy finding news about the Pasadena elections so far, though Chron columnist Mike Snyder continues to do a fine job writing about the redistricting case and its related effects. Van Houte doesn’t have a website or Facebook page yet, but she was the Council member that Mayor Johnny Isbell threw out of the meeting where the redistricting plan was adopted for exceeding the three-minute speaking time he had imposed on everyone. I’m pretty sure her willingness to take a stand like that will be a campaign theme.

Other candidates that have filed or will file, according to my Pasadena-base blogging colleague Gary Denton, include Jeff Wagner, JR Moon, Robert Talton, and Gilbert Pena. All are Republicans, with the latter two being former State Reps in HD144. I will be keeping an eye on this race going forward.

Judge affirms Pasadena redistricting order

Back to the previous map, pending appeal.

Pasadena City Council

Hours after candidates began filing paperwork to run for city office, a federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Pasadena officials to delay her order that the city election be run under an 2011 election scheme to protect the rights of Latino voters.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in Houston said Pasadena should conduct its upcoming May elections based on eight single-member districts, throwing out the six single-member and two at-large districts that the judge ruled had diluted the clout of Hispanics.

The focus now shifts to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Pasadena officials are challenging the judge’s ruling in a landmark voting rights case that has drawn nationwide attention.

[…]

Pasadena officials filed a request Tuesday to stay Rosenthal’s judgment, which was issued Monday during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. City lawyers also appealed the ruling, challenging the judge’s conclusion that the new voting scheme was put in place with the aim of intentionally stopping Hispanics from gaining a majority of candidates of their choice on council.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea if the Fifth Circuit will overrule Judge Rosenthal and order the 2013 map to be put back in place, but as candidate filing has begun, they would need to be quick about it if they do. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Pasadena will appeal redistricting ruling

Not a surprise.

Pasadena City Council

An attorney representing the city of Pasadena said Tuesday the city will appeal a ruling that found Pasadena deliberately violated the voting rights of its Hispanic population, a move that could have immediate consequences for the city’s upcoming May elections.

The attorney, C. Robert Heath, said the city disagreed with Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling earlier this month that a redistricting scheme adopted in 2014 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by diluting the Hispanic vote.

“I think we’re right on the law and ultimately we’ll prevail,” Heath said.

[…]

Heath said the city will seek court approval to temporarily halt execution of Rosenthal’s order, meaning that upcoming elections could be conducted using the redistricting scheme Rosenthal found to be discriminatory. The 2015 elections were also conducted using that scheme.

“I don’t think they were trying to prevent Hispanic success,” Heath said.

City Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, who supported the goals of the lawsuit that led to Rosenthal’s ruling, called the appeal a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The legal bill has already surpassed $2 million, but I guess since it’s not the mayor’s money, he doesn’t mind spending it,” Ybarra said, adding that “this council is told nothing” by the administration about the legal process.

See here and here for the background. Candidate filing begins today, so one way or the other we’re going to need a quick ruling on any motions for an injunction. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The NYT, Rick Hasen, and the Texas Standard have more.

UPDATE: From the longer version of the story:

Timing in the case, now, is critical. Rosenthal must first weigh in on whether to stand firm in her decision to keep the single-member system in place for the May elections – or whether to grant a stay on her own ruling.

The city’s appeal of the full ruling, meanwhile, moves on to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Judge Rosenthal made a ruling on the stay right away. … It will be a yes or no, probably,” said Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

She said if Rosenthal denies Pasadena a stay, it is unlikely the city’s lawyers would be able to derail the May election.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who has represented voters and governmental entities in voting rights cases, agreed.

“It would be out of the ordinary for the court to stop her ruling and let the election go forward under a plan that’s been found to be discriminatory,” said Dunn, who represents council members Ybarra and Cody Ray Wheeler, who vocally opposed changes to the city election system. “It’s more likely than not that Judge Rosenthal’s judgment will carry the day on this election.”

The circuit court can affirm the district judge’s decision, reverse it or remand it back to Rosenthal for additional fact-finding, said Austin attorney Roger B. Borgelt, who specializes in election and campaign law.

We ought to know pretty quickly what the election situation will be for Pasadena.

Final ruling in Pasadena redistricting lawsuit

It’s official – back to the original map.

Pasadena City Council

With candidate registration set to begin Tuesday, a federal judge Monday prohibited the city of Pasadena from using an unconstitutional redistricting scheme in the upcoming May elections, stating that the scheme violated the voting rights of Latino and Hispanic residents.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston wrote in the final judgment that the city must use a map the city generated in 2011 that featured eight single-member districts and gave “Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Rosenthal also ordered the city to face preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for 6.5 years before changing the election system again.

[…]

Rosenthals’ order Monday – on a federal holiday recognizing the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights crusade led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – came two days before candidate registration opens for Pasadena’s municipal elections. All city council seats and the mayor’s office are up for contention.

See here for the background. There is no word as yet whether the city will appeal or not. The filing period opens tomorrow and runs through February 17, so if there is going to be an appeal and an injunction against using the previous map, the city will need to get its act together quickly. Not that I want them to, mind you, just stating a fact. We’ll see what they do.

UPDATE: Here’s a longer version of the story.

Judge rules for Pasadena plaintiffs

Wow.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge in Houston dealt a major blow Friday to the city of Pasadena in a closely watched voting rights case, ruling that officials deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered Pasadena to revert to its previous use of single-member districts for the upcoming May elections and ruled the city would need preclearance from the Department of Justice for any future changes.

“In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters … do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors,” Rosenthal concluded in the 113-page decision released late Friday.

Patricia Gonzales, one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit, said fairness can be restored to the city election system.

“All right,” she said, when informed of the ruling. “Now each section will be able to vote on who they want and their voices will be heard. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

The ruling could provide a key test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, legal experts said.

“It is a great win,” said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “This case shows that there is something you can do, at least if you have the facts, lawyers and resources.”

[…]

Rosenthal cited witness testimony in her opinion, noting that both Texas and Pasadena had histories of exclusionary practices and that discriminatory attitudes toward Latinos still endured among Pasadena residents.

In recent years, the political balance in Pasadena had begun to shift, the judge wrote. But just as Latino voters were poised to elect a majority of single-district representatives to the City Council, longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell and his backers proposed changes to the election system, the judge said.

“In short, Pasadena’s elections are racially polarized,” Rosenthal wrote. “The City’s 2013 racially polarized vote in favor of the 6–2 redistricting map and plan and the Council’s 2014 vote to approve the change were narrowly decided. The effect was to dilute Latino voting strength. That effect was foreseeable and foreseen.”

The city is likely to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the ruling could have a significant impact nonetheless on the May elections. All City Council seats and the mayor’s post are up for election; Isbell is facing term limits and cannot seek re-election.

See here for the last update. Rick Hasen has a copy of and some excerpts from the decision. This is a big deal, and as the city of Pasadena has now been put back under preclearance, it’s a possible preview of what could be in store for Texas when we get a final decision on voter ID. Of course, being under preclearance now means a lot less than it would have under President Hillary Clinton, but it’s still something. We’ll see if there is an appeal, and if so if the Fifth Circuit steps in to halt any reversions to the old system before the May election. For now, I say congratulations and well done to the plaintiffs. A statement from the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus is here.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Pasadena voting rights case in the judge’s hands now

We await a ruling.

Pasadena City Council

Armed officers guarded a closed-door committee meeting. Discriminatory comments surfaced at City Hall. Latino-backed council members were hustled from chambers by police.

The accounts of perceived intimidation and back-door dealings were detailed during testimony in a closely watched seven-day trial of a federal voting rights lawsuit that wrapped up Friday in a Houston courtroom.

Now, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal will decide if Pasadena violated the federal Voting Rights Act by reconfiguring its city election system, a ruling that is expected in time for February filing deadlines for May elections in which city council seats and the mayor’s job are up for grabs.

A group of Latino voters filed the federal lawsuit, saying city leaders changed the structure of council elections in a deliberate attempt to quell the Hispanic vote.

“The city moved to dilute voting strength just as Latinos were starting to exercise it,” said Nina Perales, lead attorney in the suit for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in her closing arguments to the court.

City attorneys argued that leaders did not set out to diminish Hispanic representation by presenting an option to voters to change the city election systems. The growing Latino population has an equal chance to participate in the political process to elect their candidate of choice, said C. Robert Heath, a veteran attorney who specializes in voting rights and election law.

“No one said, ‘Vote yes (on the ballot measure) to diminish Hispanic representation,’ ” he said.

See here and here for the background. There were a couple of other stories related to this case published last week. From Monday, when Mayor Isbell took the stand:

The mayor of Pasadena chuckled and shook his head Monday when his defense lawyer asked if he had ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which had its headquarters in the city for many years.

“No. It’s a despicable organization as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Johnny Isbell, who is white, testified.

He is not racist, nor is Pasadena a racist city, he testified.

[…]

Isbell said he had appointed African-Americans and Hispanics to top jobs in his administration and actively backed a few Hispanic candidates’ campaigns. He said he supported redistricting and switching from eight single-member districts to six single-member districts plus two at-large seats because decades in public office taught him a mixed election system worked best.

He also contradicted testimony last week by Hispanic City Council member Ornaldo Ybarra, who said Isbell was known to have said to like-minded constituents that if they didn’t back his proposed revisions that the city government would be overpowered by “an invasion of Hispanics.”

The mayor testified that the changing demographics of Pasadena don’t bother him, and he quibbled with Ybarra’s portrayal of a north-south split in Pasadena, with Hispanics in the northern sector having to live amid urban blight, poorly maintained streets and subpar drainage.

The judge asked questions to clarify how the city divided.

Isbell said the north was mostly Hispanic and the south was majority white. But Isbell said the charter vote was not a white-versus-Hispanic issue.

“It was a Democrat and Republican issue, that’s the way it ended up,” he said.

The next day one of Isbell’s allies made an embarrassing admission during his testimony.

A top Pasadena official admitted on the witness stand that he violated state ethics laws by campaigning during work hours for the mayor’s re-election bid and for a 2013 charter amendment to change the city’s election system.

Richard Scott, the city’s director of community relations, testified in trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal that he’d used city workers and resources to do campaign work during business hours and sent campaign-related emails from his city account.

He said he regretted his actions and knew they were in violation of state law.

The statute of limitations has expired on the 2013 admission but Scott could be charged with a crime for working on the mayor’s 2015 campaign, according to Nina Perales, one of the team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pursuing the lawsuit.

[…]

Scott’s testimony came during questioning by MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera in the civil trial of a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters.

Scott, a longtime confidante of Mayor Johnny Isbell, sat up tall and answered the questions without hesitation. Yes, he had used his work email address. Yes, he’d had city employees help him during work hours on the campaigns. Yes, he knew that was a violation of campaign law.

Okay then. Chron reporter Mike Snyder attended the trail and picked out a few key quotes to highlight from it.

“You don’t have to look at the budget to see that one side of town is clearly being treated differently than the other.” – Pasadena Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler.

The councilman, a Latino in his second term who is part of the faction that has opposed the mayor on contentious topics, was discussing the real-world consequences of the issues in the case. Residents of Pasadena’s mostly Latino north side have long complained that the quality of their streets, drainage and other essential services lags far behind conditions on the predominantly Anglo south side.

The most recently adopted council structure of six district seats and two at-large ones replaced a system of eight district positions. If, as the suit alleges, the new system makes it harder for the city’s growing Latino population to elect its preferred candidates, this under-representation is reflected in residents’ daily lives. This trial is not a theoretical exercise.

[…]

“Who are you to vote against me?” – Isbell to Wheeler, according to Wheeler’s testimony.

Wheeler said the mayor posed this question after Wheeler voted against a bond package that Isbell initially supported. Isbell has not confirmed or denied having made the statement, but it’s the kind of thing a longtime public official accustomed to having his way might say to a young, ambitious politician like Wheeler. Isbell, 78, has held elective office in Pasadena almost continuously since 1969 – 16 years before the 31-year-old Wheeler was born. A sense of entitlement can be a byproduct of all that experience.

[…]

“We’ve got to keep Pasadena Pasadena.” – unidentified Anglo precinct judge to Wheeler, explaining his support for the new council system on Nov. 5, 2013 – the day voters narrowly approved it.

I think this comment speaks for itself.

Indeed, though it’s up to Judge Rosenthal to decide if it merits legal redress. She has promised a decision in time to conduct the May elections in Pasadena, which all things considered probably means by February.

Pasadena voting rights trial update

Day One:

Pasadena City Council

The disparity in infrastructure is at the heart of a voting rights case that opened in federal court Thursday in which a group of Latino residents is challenging the city’s newly revised system of government, saying it discriminates against minority voters and intentionally dilutes their power.

By creating two at-large council seats and eliminating two of the eight district seats, the suit says, the city violated the federal Voting Rights Act, making it harder for Latino-backed candidates to get elected and leading to unfair allocation of resources.

“Filling a pothole is not a Democratic or Republican thing to do; neither is putting in a drainage ditch or a sidewalk,” said Nina Perales, one of a team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is representing voters. “The everyday business of a city – including maintaining the infrastructure – is not a partisan issue, and when a city council that operates almost exclusively in unison begins to divide over issues of resource allocation, that is not partisan.

“Here in Pasadena those divisions have everything to do with race,” she said, in an opening statement Thursday of the trial that will be decided not by jurors but by U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal.

Lawyers for the city, however, told the judge there were legitimate reasons to change the system of electing city council members.

Claude Robert Heath, a prominent defense lawyer experienced in redistricting law, said shifting two of the eight council seats to at-large positions did not diminish access or opportunity for Latinos, who make up about half the population. And he said the city would show that whites have not voted as a unified block in recent city races, but instead crossed over to back candidates Latino voters preferred.

[…]

MALDEF lawyers began their case before Rosenthal Thursday with data-heavy testimony from three expert witnesses: a demographer, a political scientist and a historian.

The demographer, David Ely, testified that Census data indicates Latinos in Pasadena have not achieved the same level of education as whites. They have a higher poverty rate and are likelier to live in overcrowded housing.

Next on the stand was Richard L. Engstrom, a visiting political science professor at Duke University, who is an expert in minority voting rights. Engstrom testified that the ballot measure changing the system of government passed because non-Latinos voted in a racially uniform block. He said 99.6 percent of Latinos voted “no” on the measure.

Under question by the city’s lawyers, Engstrom doubled down on his contention that the votes were not an aberration.

“Does racially polarized voting exist?” he asked, rhetorically. “In election after election after election after election, the choice of Latino voters is being eliminated as a result of non-Latino voters voting as a block.”

He later added, “Racially polarized voting exists and persists in Pasadena.”

Day Two:

It felt like a power grab in Pasadena, a Latino city councilman told the judge. Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal oversight for local elections, the mayor and a committee he’d appointed met behind closed doors to draw up a plan to reduce the voting power of Hispanics.

The testimony came on the second day in the federal trial of a closely watched voting rights case challenging how Pasadena elects its city council. The mayor took the stand for about an hour at the end of the day and is expected to testify at length after the Thanksgiving break.

But for most of Friday, Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra testified about the disparities in representation. Ybarra was not included in the closed door meeting, which had been scheduled to be open to the public. Ybarra said longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell approved of the gathering with police protecting the door. He said the mayor pushed the changes because he realized he no longer needed advance approval from the federal Justice Department to make revisions to the city charter.

[…]

Ybarra also said he heard secondhand accounts that the mayor and others were warning voters of “an invasion” of Hispanics in the city government: “It was all over Pasadena that if we didn’t adopt this 6-2 council, there was going to be too many Hispanics on council.”

A defense attorney questioned whether the four-term councilman was certain of what the mayor meant by “invasion.” The mayor had backed Ybarra’s candidacy when he first ran for council in 2009.

“Only the mayor and his creator know what his intent was, but the message and behavior were racially motivated,” he said.

Given the Thanksgiving holiday, the trial will likely wrap up next week. As noted, the plaintiffs have a tall order to prove discriminatory intent. It’s interesting that this trial is going on at the same time as the litigation over whether the voter ID law had discriminatory intent. I’d normally look at both of those as consequential cases with the potential to bring about a lot of change, but that would necessitate an Attorney General who isn’t a horrible racist. Rulings for the plaintiff in either or both cases would still be a big deal, just probably not as big as it could have been.

Pasadena voting rights trial begins

The Chron’s Mike Snyder provides an update.

Pasadena City Council

[This] week in a Houston federal courtroom, [the Voting Rights Act] will again be invoked in a challenge to an allegedly discriminatory council system, this time in a suburban city that’s undergone a dramatic demographic transformation.

The lawyers involved in the case, Patino v. Pasadena, will face off in an atmosphere of growing anxiety among activists struggling to preserve minority voting rights. Hampered by the Supreme Court’s 2013 invalidation of a key provision of the voting rights law, these advocates face uncertainty created by the election of Donald Trump as president.

“With Trump, you’re certainly not going to have a Justice Department we can go to if you see some (voting) irregularities,” said longtime Houston political consultant Marc Campos. “They’re certainly not going to be a friend we can count on in future litigation.”

[…]

Locally, even before Trump’s election, there were discouraging developments for voting rights advocates. In 2014, a federal court upheld the Pasadena school district’s system, in which all seven board members are elected district-wide.

And some witnesses at a hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee last August suggested changing other public school district and community college system boards to at-large systems, generally seen as unfriendly to minority voting interests.

Last June, soon after the Supreme Court decision on the preclearance issue, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell defied the advice of his advisory committee and pushed through a change to the council district system. Voters narrowly approved the change from a council of eight members, all elected from districts, to six district members and two elected at-large.

In the trial before U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, attorneys representing a group of Latino Pasadena residents will try to prove the new system was intentionally discriminatory – a power play by Isbell and his allies to preserve their long-dominant influence.

The city contends it added at-large positions to provide better representation. The new system, city officials say, provides proportionate opportunities for Latinos. Of the city’s roughly 150,000 residents, 63 percent are Latino – up from 29 percent in 1990 – and 42 percent of registered voters are Latino.

See here for the background. Pasadena’s defense is basically the argument that was made in the Evenwel case, which was unanimously rejected by SCOTUS earlier this year. Here, though, that’s not really at issue. The plaintiffs are arguing – and need to prove – that there was intentional discrimination at work, which is a high bar to clear. The city is free to make a dumb justification for their actions, they just have to fend off the claim that they deliberately discriminated. We’ll see how that goes.

Looking towards the future, if this case ever does make it to SCOTUS, assuming no one else leaves the high court it would face a panel that’s about as hostile to voting rights as it was with Scalia on it. Which is not at all reassuring, but at least it wouldn’t be any worse. I will point out that while single-member districts are generally more favorable to minority communities, this is not always the case. I’ve just started working on a draft canvass of the Harris County election returns from Tuesday, but I can tell you that Hillary Clinton carried HISD – which as you know had that district-wide recapture referendum to vote on – by a three-to-one margin. I have not yet looked at other races, and I know for a fact that she got a non-trivial number of Republican votes, but I’d say the default Democratic level in the district was about two to one. There are nine HISD Trustee districts, and they too are two-to-one Democratic. Three districts are represented by Republicans today – Greg Meyers, Mike Lunceford, and Harvin Moore. It is likely, though not guaranteed, that this will continue to be the case after Moore and Lunceford depart. How many Republican trustees do you think there would be if HISD went to an at large system? Sure, this was a much higher turnout environment than usual, but still. The best you could say is that any GOP hopeful for an HISD Trustee position in an at large world would face an uphill battle. Just something to keep in mind.

Pasadena voting rights case moves forward

Good news.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge has denied Pasadena’s request to throw out a lawsuit challenging its controversial city council redistricting plan, which a group of Hispanic and Latino residents alleges dilutes the voting rights of the suburb’s growing minority population.

Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling Wednesday after a roughly two-hour court hearing means the case continues toward trial, which Rosenthal has tentatively set for November.

Wednesday’s session was one of the first significant hearings in the voting rights case, which has received national attention as emblematic of modern-day battles over the issue more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The city had asked Rosenthal to rule on a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city’s 3-year-old method of electing the council, which called for races for six single-member seats and two at-large seats, stating that the plan allows the Hispanic minority population the opportunity to elect four members.

Rosenthal rejected that argument, stating that the new method creates a majority of Hispanic citizens of voting age in three districts, compared to four in the previous election system, when there were eight single-member districts.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 and stemmed from the redistricting plan pushed by Mayor Johnny Isbell in 2013 that switched the city from having eight district members to six district members plus two At Large members. I’m glad to see this happen, but it shows the stark difference between a world in which preclearance exists and one where it doesn’t. This redistricting plan had been previously denied by the Justice Department but went forward after the Shelby ruling from SCOTUS. Nearly three years after Mayor Isbell’s plan was narrowly approved by voters, the lawsuit over it is finally cleared for trial, with an initial ruling likely months away and ultimate resolution farther out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it is still being litigated two years from now, or five years from initial passage of the scheme. If that redistricting plan is eventually found illegal, that’s an awful lot of time for it to have been allowed to be in place, presumably causing harm, while the lawyers fight it out. If preclearance were still in place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this plan will be tossed. It’s always hard to say how litigation like this will play out. In the meantime, the Chron’s Mike Snyder recently published a series of stories relating to the fight over voting rights in Pasadena that is worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so:

With changes looming, Pasadena mayor launched attack against Latino council hopeful

Mayor: New Pasadena council system would have passed federal review

Voting rights case part of long history of Pasadena ethnic strife

I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

As goes Pasadena

If Texas Democrats ever figure out the secret of getting more Latinos engaged in the voting process, it’ll be in places like Pasadena where they find the key.

When Oscar Del Toro tries to persuade his fellow Pasadena Latinos to vote, he appeals to them on practical and emotional levels.

Practical: If you and your neighbors get the voting numbers up in your precinct, elected officials will start paying attention to your neighborhood even if your candidate doesn’t win.

Emotional: You’ll feel better about yourself if you participate in your community. Del Toro’s parents came to Pasadena from Monterrey, Mexico, and became U.S. citizens years before he did, but they never voted until he took them to the polls.

“You could see the pride in their faces,” he says of that day.

Del Toro, 53, who runs a cartridge toner and laser printer business out of his home, lost a bid for a seat on the Pasadena City Council last year. His adopted hometown, meanwhile, was becoming a national symbol of the struggle to protect and expand voting rights for minorities and to boost the historically low level of Latino participation in elections.

It seems that the “sleeping giant” – the perceived potential of more than 27 million eligible Latino voters nationwide to help swing Texas and other Republican-dominated states toward the Democrats – has yet to be roused.

Take the November 2013 decision by Pasadena voters to change the city council structure from eight single-member district positions to six district seats and two at-large, or citywide, posts. The charter change passed by 79 votes out of more than 6,000 cast.

[…]

The result was discouraging to Del Toro and to like-minded Pasadenans like Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler, who is Latino. Both men are featured in “The Giant Still Sleeps,” a new documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Miguel Alvarez. In the film, Wheeler suggests that the change in the council makeup could strengthen the sense among many Latinos that their vote won’t make a difference. Mayor Johnny Isbell had pushed for the charter changes just weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended advance federal approval of election-law changes in some states with a history of discrimination.

“It almost validated what I kept hearing – they moved the goal posts back again,” Wheeler says. “It doesn’t matter; they’re going to do what they want to anyway. As we get closer to making this city more equal, they’re going to push back hard on us. It’s very sad, but we have to come back even stronger.”

Wheeler and Del Toro vow to continue their struggle, even as other residents who filed a lawsuit challenging the charter change await their day in court. The documentary includes shots of Del Toro speaking to civic groups and interacting with Pasadena Latinos who tell him that they have never voted – because their jobs and family responsibilities don’t leave them with enough time, or due to cultural differences.

I met Mr. Del Toro at the June 25 County Executive Committee meeting, the one where we picked the two judicial nominees. Nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him. He’s got the right idea for how to get people involved, it’s just that this is a very labor-intensive method. It’s also what I thought Battleground Texas was going to be about when it first appeared on the scene. Regardless, the more of this going on, the better. Click that Trib link and see the Austin Chronicle for more on the documentary.

Pasadena seeks hockey team

I wish them luck.

Pasadena city officials and a group of developers recently discussed working together on a $357 million sports and entertainment resort development to be built in the convention center area.

The focal point of the proposed 200-acre master-planned development is a convertible entertainment venue and multi-use sports arena to hosts youth and professional sports tournaments and games, concerts, rodeos and ice hockey games among other things.

David Miles of Western Spherical Developers, LLC, outlined plans for the proposed development at a Pasadena City Council workshop held Tuesday (March 1).

As part of the proposal for the sports arena, Miles said members of the development team are in preliminary discussions with officials from the American Hockey League to bring an ice hockey team to Pasadena.

“In addition to ice hockey, I would think a soccer team would also be beneficial to Pasadena,” Councilmember Sammy Casados said.

Miles said the sports arena ice rink was convertible and could used for other sports events such as indoor soccer tournaments or to host professional indoor soccer games.

“Pasadena is a wonderful destination market for indoor youth soccer tournaments and professional-level indoor soccer games and we are definitely looking into those options,” Miles said.

The proposed sports arena could also be adapted for other sporting events such as rodeo/equestrian events, indoor football, indoor lacrosse, basketball, boxing, wrestling, BMX and motorcross races and monster-truck events.

The Houston area hasn’t had a hockey team since the Aeros left town, so I’m rooting for that to happen. But don’t count your pucks before they’re dropped.

I’ve checked with some of my hockey sources and nobody has heard of even the slightest possibility of the AHL putting a hockey team in Pasadena, Texas. Sure, there’s been talk of Sugar Land being the home of a AHL team since the Houston Aeros split for Iowa. But nobody with whom I talked had heard even the silliest of rumors about a hockey team in Pasadena.

Of course, AHL would love to put a team back in the Houston area. The Aeros were a successful franchise with decent attendance and a loyal fanbase. Two major airports made travel within the league easy, and it made it really easy to get players up to the parent teams. And a new team here would work well with the franchises in San Antonio and Austin.

But the discussions I’ve heard always revolve a team back in Houston at Toyota Center — which won’t happen as long as Les Alexander runs the arena (there are a lot of bad feelings around the AHL and the NHL arising from Alexander’s treatment of the Aeros). Placing a team at the NRG Arena is also not possible as long as the team has to spend large parts of February and March on the road became of the rodeo.

The talk has been centered around Sugar Land because that is where the Aeros practice facility was located. Sugar Land is also home of the Sugar Land Skeeters and has shown a willingness to embrace a minor league franchise. But it lacks the one thing most needed by any AHL hockey team, an arena.

There’s more, and author John Royal goes into the usual reckoning about publicly-financed stadia being a very bad deal for the public. He also suggests that the AHL might have been looking at the other Pasadena – you know, the one in California – which would be both hilarious and kind of sad if true.

As for soccer, we’re obviously talking the indoor version, and there are a couple of options. Whether they’re any more realistic or not, I couldn’t say. Beyond that, I echo Royal’s concern about the finances of this kind of thing and hope that the Pasadena Council does its due diligence.

Pasadena plaintiffs get details on Mayor’s campaign spending

Good.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge said Wednesday that a political action committee aligned with Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell must turn over hundreds of pages of internal documents in an ongoing lawsuit over the voting rights of Hispanic and Latino residents.

Attorneys representing the group of Hispanic voters that is suing Isbell and the city for allegedly diluting their voting rights had subpoenaed the documents from Citizens to Keep Pasadena Strong, which include internal emails between Isbell and a political consultant as well as draft campaign materials for the years 2013 to 2015.

They said the documents would help shed light on an alleged scheme by the city to change its election system, which they contend is discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act because they say it keeps Hispanic voters from electing candidates of their choice.

The PAC had argued that the documents aren’t relevant to the voting rights case and that the First Amendment protects such internal communications. Jeff Yates, a Republican political consultant hired by the PAC, testified at a hearing Monday that disclosing the internal communications would be detrimental to his business.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal issued the decree at a hearing in downtown Houston Wednesday to turn over the documents with some conditions. It’s the latest development in the voting rights lawsuit that has drawn national attention.

See here for the background. Some personally identifiable information may be redacted, and some documents may be withheld as attorney-client communications. Beyond that, the Pasadena activists ought to get to see what their Mayor has been up to. Which may turn out to be nothing of interest, who knows. I’m just glad to see the principle that campaign finances should be public has been upheld, at least for now.

Pasadena activists want details on their Mayor’s campaign spending

Good.

Pasadena City Council

A group of Hispanic voters that accuses the city of Pasadena of diluting its voting rights is asking that a political action committee with ties to the mayor turn over records of communications with voters.

The PAC — Committee to Keep Pasadena Strong — has received funding from Mayor Johnny Isbell’s campaign coffers. It has been subpoenaed for records of communications with voters about local elections and Hispanic voters between 2013 and 2015, among other records, court documents show.

It’s the latest development in a lawsuit and conflict that has garnered national attention for being emblematic of modern voting rights battles.

[…]

The documents being requested now, plaintiffs contend, “will shed light on the Mayor’s efforts to eliminate two single member districts from the City’s election system.”

“Documents reflecting the plans of the Mayor to elect council members who would support his effort to eliminate single member districts are central to the issue of intentional discrimination,” the plaintiffs wrote in a motion filed Monday.

The political action committee is fighting the subpoena, contending that its First Amendment rights to freedom of association shield it from having to turn over the records.

See here, here, and here for the background; that last link has details about Isbell’s PAC spending. I personally find First Amendment arguments against disclosure of PAC donor identities to be misguided. Even if you buy the “freedom of association” angle, which I think is sketchy, I say the right of the people to know who’s buying their elections outweighs it. Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal will hold a hearing on the motion today, so we’ll see if she sees it my way.

Pasadena City Council member Cody Ray Wheeler announces for HD144

From the inbox:

Cody Ray Wheeler

I am excited to announce that I have decided to seek the Democratic nomination for State Representative District 144.

As a Pasadena City Councilmember, I have worked hard to ensure that under-served communities have a voice in city government. But it is clear that now more than ever, working people need a champion at the state level.

When I was growing up, my father provided a good life for me and my family without a high school diploma because he held a good paying union job at a refinery. I was able to afford college, and eventually grad school because of my service in the Marines. Yet, I am increasingly worried that future generations will not have the same opportunities that my family had.

Working families are being neglected by the Texas Legislature. Our public schools, healthcare and workers’ rights are under attack. Politicians at the capitol today are more concerned with pleasing big corporations and scoring political points than they are with helping the middle class.

As a legislator, I will fight to protect the American Dream for every Texas family–and I won’t back down from Tea Party Republicans or lobbyists who cater to special interest groups.

Wheeler is one of the Pasadena Council members who was targeted by Mayor Johnny Isbell, so he has some experience running in and winning tough elections. HD144 should be a slightly Democratic district in 2016 – every Democratic candidate carried it in 2012, though not by a lot; Mary Ann Perez outpaced them all in winning what was then an open seat – with a bigger challenge to hold it in 2018 as Rep. Perez was unable to do; she again led the Democratic field, but the baseline dropped by about five points in 2014.

Almost as if on cue, a day later an announcement that former Rep. Perez would be making another run in HD144 hit my mailbox.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

Today, Mary Ann Perez announced that she will be running for the Texas House of Representatives in District 144, which includes parts of Houston, South Houston, Baytown, Deer Park and Pasadena.

“Hard-working Texas families deserve a strong, effective voice in the Texas House. I have a proven track record for getting things done,” said Mary Ann Perez.

Perez grew up in a working class family in East Harris County. A mother of two, she worked her way through college to earn a degree in Business Administration from the University of Houston – Downtown. While building a successful insurance agency, she was never too busy for her two sons or her community. She was an active member of her local neighborhood association and volunteer at her sons’ Little League and school functions.

Elected to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees in 2009, Perez increased higher education access for local students and developed programs to connect graduates with local employers to address regional workforce needs.

The announcement goes on to make the same point I did about her performance relative to the rest of the ticket last year. That’s to her credit, and I’m sure it will be a part of the discussion in the primary, but then so will be the fact that she lost. I’d like to hear Perez talk a bit about what she learned from that experience and how she might avoid a repeat in 2018 if she gets re-elected. I’m sure that will come up in the interviews I’ll eventually do. As for Wheeler, he’s been fighting the good fight in Pasadena, and he ought to have as good a chance at holding HD144 for more than one term as anyone. Got to win in 2016 first, of course, so take a look at his website (hers appears to be the same as it was in 2014) and see what you think.

Van de Putte and Taylor in SA Mayor runoff

Here we go.

Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is set to face San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in a runoff for the city’s top job.

With 95 percent of all precincts reporting late Saturday, Van de Putte led Taylor 31 percent to 28 percent, according to unofficial returns. Former state Rep. Mike Villarreal trailed in third at 26 percent, and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in fourth at 10 percent.

With 14 declared candidates — four considered runoff prospects — the chance of an outright victory seemed slim Saturday. The runoff is scheduled for June 13, with early voting taking place from June 1-9.

“Our work’s not over, because what this means is we’re doing to work even harder to convince those who may not have cast a ballot to trust Leticia, to believe in her vision in this city,” Van de Putte said shortly after 10 p.m., surrounded by her family as confetti lingered in the air at her campaign headquarters on San Antonio’s West Side.

As results came in, Taylor told supporters at her election night party she was ready for a runoff.

“We can’t rest on our laurels because we’ve got some work to do to get to June 13,” she said, shortly after Adkisson and Villarreal conceded.

The four major candidates were seen as Democrats, though the election was nonpartisan.

That much is true, though as the Rivard Report notes, Taylor was generally the preferred candidate for Republican voters. It’ll be interesting to see how the runoff plays out, as there was no love lost between Van de Putte and Villarreal in the first round. She’s going to need Democrats to turn out to win, and if Villarreal supporters carry a grudge, that could get dicey. I’m no expert on San Antonio’s politics, so take that with some salt. Runoffs are tricky things, and anything can happen.

That was the marquee race, but I was at least as interested in Pasadena and Fort Bend ISD. Here are the unofficial results from Pasadena:

DISTRICT A — Ornaldo Ybarra leads Keith Nielsen 284-45;

DISTRICT B — Celestino Perez leads Bruce Leamon 118-107;

DISTRICT C — Sammy Casados leads Emilio Carmona 108-81;

DISTRICT D — Cody Ray Wheeler (182) leads J.E. “Bear” Hebert (77) and Pat Riley (28);

DISTRICT E — Cary Bass leads Larry Peacock 144-96;

DISTRICT F — Jeff Wagner 219 (unopposed)

DISTRICT G At Large — Pat Van Houte leads Steve Cote 859-599;

DISTRICT H At Large — Oscar Del Toro leads Darrell Morrison 755-728.

If you look at the comment on that Pasadena post, you’ll see that the folks who opposed Mayor Johnny Isbell and his power grabbing did pretty well. I wish I could find a list of candidates endorsed by the Texas Organizing Project to compare to this, but I can’t. Still, it looks good. And finally, as far as FBISD goes, I’m glad to see that Addie Heyliger won her race, which will help make that board a little more diverse and a little more reflective of the community. Congrats to her and to all of yesterday’s winners.

Getting nasty in Pasadena

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell is not on the ballot this year, but he’s definitely involved in the Council elections.

A political action committee (PAC) with ties to Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell contributed more than $20,000 to three candidates in the current city council election and funded a series of attack ads targeting Pasadena City Councilmember Cody Ray Wheeler, who is running for re-election to his second term as the District D representative.

The Citizens to Keep Pasadena Strong received only one contribution during the last reporting period, a $35,000 donation from the Johnny Isbell campaign account on March 11, according to recent campaign finance reports.

The PAC’s expenditures totaled $21,302.56 and included contributions totaling $7,153 to District E candidate Cary Bass, $7,111.46 to District D candidate J.E. “Bear” Hebert and $7,037.25 to District C candidate Emilio Carmona.

Campaign records indicate from the total, each candidate received $3,500 for “in-kind grassroots development” with the remainder spent for direct-mailers for each candidate.

Although several direct mail pieces sent by the PAC target incumbent District D candidate Cody Ray Wheeler, his opponent “Bear” Hebert said he had nothing to do with the contents of the mailers.

See here, here, and here for the background. The story neither shows the other side of this mailer, which is where whatever evidence the attackers have for their allegation would likely go, nor explores the truth value of it, so there’s not much for the casual reader to go on here. Wheeler has responded with two mailers of his own – there are others against him similar to the one shown above that have been sent as well – but he could easily be outspent; he tells me that Isbell has shelled out over $66K in this election, a huge amount for a small city like Pasadena.

In some sense the specifics of all this mail don’t matter, since this is really all about Mayor Isbell and his ongoing efforts to consolidate power by installing a more amenable Council for himself. The redistricting scheme was a part of that as well. The best antidote for that is for Isbell’s opponents to win their elections. Early voting is over in Pasadena – I have no idea how it’s going, as that information is not readily available – and Election Day is Saturday, May 9. If you’re in Pasadena and you want a Council that isn’t just a bunch of yes men for the Mayor, then CM Cody Wheeler is one of the candidates you ought to be supporting.

Early voting for May elections begins Monday

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Almost one million of Harris County’s registered voters will be eligible to vote in elections conducted during the May 9, 2015 Uniform Election, according to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief elections officer of the county. Early Voting begins Monday, April 27th.

“Fifty political entities whose boundaries are solely or in part in Harris County have scheduled an election” said Stanart. “These include 21 cities, 11 independent school districts, 17 utility, service or improvement districts and one college district.”

The County Clerk’s Office is conducting three of the May 9 elections: the Klein ISD Bond election along with the joint election for Humble ISD and the City of Humble. Voters residing in these three jurisdictions can find Early Voting, Election Day voting locations, and view a sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Forty-seven political entities are conducting their own election. “Voters should know that during the May Election cycle, sovereign political jurisdictions within the County can order an election and can conduct an election without the involvement of the County Clerk’s Office,” said Stanart. The cities include, Missouri City, Deer Park, Friendswood, Galena Park, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Hunters Creek Village, Jersey Village, Morgan’s Point, Pasadena, Pearland, Piney Point Village, Seabrook, Shoreacres, South Houston, Southside Place, Stafford, West University Place, Waller and Webster. The Independent School Districts (ISD) include Alief, Clear Creek, Deer Park, Goose Creek, La Porte, New Caney, Pasadena, Pearland and Spring Branch. The Municipal Utility Districts (MUD), Service Districts (SD), Improvement Districts (ID) and Emergency Service Districts (ESD) include Chelford City MUD, Faulkey-Gully MUD, Trail of the Lakes MUD, Westador MUD, HC MUD 122, HC MUD 200, HCMUD 217, HC MUD 248, HC MUD 536, DOWDELL PUD, Stafford Municipal SD, HMW Special UD, HC ESD 16, HC ESD 21, Waller-Harris ESD 200, HC ID 15 and HC ID 17. The only college district conducting an election is Lee College.

As a service to the voters of Harris County, the voter Election Day Poll search on www.HarrisVotes.com will display the May 9th elections for which a voter is eligible to vote, if the entity provided Harris County notice of their intent to hold an election on May 9, 2015. The entity website and contact phone numbers, as provided by the entities, are also displayed as a result of the voter search on www.HarrisVotes.com.

“To obtain Early Voting and Election Day information for entities holding elections not conducted by my office, voters are encouraged to use the search result’s web link or phone number to contact the entity directly,” concluded Stanart.

The city of Houston does not have May elections, and neither do HISD and HCC, so if you’re like me you have no action to take. That said, there are elections of interest in Pasadena and across the county line in Fort Bend, and of course there’s the big Mayoral race in San Antonio. Every election matters, and the more local the election the more direct the effects on your day to day life will be. So check www.HarrisVotes.com if you’re in Harris County, or your county’s elections webpage if not, and make sure you participate if there’s an election that affects you.

The At Large trend

From Think Progress:

Pasadena City Council

Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government.

All three cities have been or are currently being sued for allegedly using discriminatory at-large voting systems, a voter dilution tactic that has been recently and frequently employed against Hispanic voters. In an at-large system, every city resident votes for each member of the governing body and the city does not divide voters into districts.

As the Latino population grows across the country, cities have employed at-large voting to dilute the Latino vote and maintain white control of local governing bodies. Instead of allowing each district to elect its own representative, an at-large system means that unless Hispanic populations reach a majority in the entire city, they will have no influence in electing their local members of government. According to Fair Vote, at-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, typically resulting in racially homogeneous elected bodies. The tactic used to be popular in the South to discriminate against neighborhoods with large African American communities but is now targeting a new threat: Latinos.

Recently, a court in Washington struck down the city of Yakima’s at-large voting system — whose representation is elected by the city as a whole rather than by specific districts — ruling that it was discriminatory and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Lawsuits against cities attempting to dilute the Hispanic vote are gaining traction as more and more end with court orders and settlements that favor the plaintiffs, said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

“A lawsuit like [Yakima] will clearly have a very important impact,” McDonald told ThinkProgress. “This was the first Section 2 challenge to an at-large system that was brought in Washington state and already the Hispanic population in Pasco, Washington has approached the city council there and asked them to adopt a single member district plan to replace the at-large system.”

Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of Washington’s ACLU branch, said the city of Pasco is likely to change its system before it is sued and ends up in a similar position to Yakima.

After ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yakima, the judge adopted the ACLU’s voting plan, which called for an elimination of the at-large system. The ACLU is also asking Yakima for more than $2.8 million in legal fees and expenses. “If you bring a lawsuit now, these jurisdictions understand that if they lose, they will be liable for a substantial amount of costs and fees,” McDonald said. “That will have an important impact on their decision to settle these cases.”

Last month, the city of Santa Barbara, CA partially settled a similar suit, alleging its voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The city is currently drawing six new districts with citizen input to ensure that the Hispanic population, which makes up nearly 40 percent of the city, is not discriminated against. The lead plaintiff told the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Daily Nexus that the city is saving more than $2 million by settling the litigation for around $600,000 and not allowing it to go to trial, where the plaintiffs would likely prevail.

Because California has a state voting rights law, it “facilitates this type of challenge,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a result, he said we will see a lot of settlements and moves away from at-large systems in California.

Yeah, we don’t have that in Texas, and with the Congress we have now, we won’t have it again nationally any time soon. I don’t have a problem with At Large districts per se, but there’s no mistaking the intent here. One only need look at a city like Farmers Branch to see what the effect can be when a more inclusive Council plan is adopted. We can also look to Pasadena, where we have an opportunity this May to minimize the damage being done. Ultimately, changes will have to be made at a higher level to prevent this kind of shenanigans at the local level.

BGTX’s self-assessment

Texas Monthly has a good overview of where Battleground Texas stands – and where the people inside it think they stand – two years and one electoral beatdown into their existence.

Still, it’s the winners who write the history books. In the meantime, the losers have some explaining to do. With that in mind, last week I traveled to Austin and spent two days in the company of Battleground Texas’s senior staff: Bird, Brown, Lucio, communications director Erica Sackin, political director Cliff Walker, digital director Christina Gomez, legal director Mimi Marziani, and fundraising director Adrienne Donato. I had interviewed most of them in Battleground’s earlier, happier times. As a species, field organizers tend to be sunny, even gratingly so (where political journalists are uniformly sullen), and that remained in force at their new offices on 1519 E. Cesar Chavez. The disaster in November has not caused them to second-guess the group’s core premise that Texas can one day turn blue. “The fundamental underlying demographics of Texas, people who are unregistered, the number of Democrats who voted in previous elections but not this one—taken together, it’s enough to win,” Jenn Brown told me. The theory that increased turnout in Texas will help its minority party would seem to be confirmed by the ruling party’s determination to make voting in Texas more difficult than elsewhere in America (about which more later).

Nonetheless, I could detect a whiff of humility among the group, albeit one mingled with defiance. In the first two years of its life, Battleground had received about $10 million in donations. Post-defeat, it would now have to get by with a fraction of that sum. It was in that somewhat wounded posture that the group discussed with me those areas where they must improve in order to have any relevance in future election

It’s a good read, and I encourage you to check it out. I came away from it with a fair amount of optimism that the hard-won lessons of 2014 were in fact learned, and future efforts will yield better results. A lot of things went wrong last year, some due to circumstance, some to inexperience, some to too many people who should be working together working instead at cross purposes. I’m glad they’re sticking it out for the longer term. Someone has to, and besides as I’ve said before, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved this year and make a difference in local elections. Pasadena is one, but it’s far from the only one. There will be plenty of opportunities to make gains at the local level next year as well. BGTX has some work to do to mend fences and prove that they’ve learned from last year’s debacle – as the Trib reported last month, they spent a lot of time going around talking to volunteers and donors and whoever else would listen about those thing. But it’s not all on them. Ben Franklin’s words about hanging together or hanging separately ring as true now as ever. We are all on the same team. We should act like it. Trail Blazers has more.

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

Lawsuit filed over Pasadena Council districts

Good.

Pasadena City Council

For 41 years, Alberto Patiño has lived in Pasadena and seen a lot of changes there.

Now Hispanics like him make up more than 60 percent of residents and about 40 percent of eligible voters.

Patiño wants that reflected on city council.

“I feel that we should have more representation on City Council that we don’t have and I don’t think it’s fair.”

Patiño is one of five plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit against Pasadena and its voting districts.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund is representing the plaintiffs.

Attorney Nina Perales says Pasadena changed its voting districts just as Hispanics were about to elect a majority of the city council members.

She says those changes are unconstitutional and discriminate against Hispanics.

“But it is also part of the fall-out from the Supreme Court decision last year in 2013, lifting federal supervision of voting and elections from Texas and its sub-jurisdictions,” Perales says.

[…]

The lawsuit claims that change dilutes the electoral power of all Hispanics in Pasadena. They’re asking the federal court to restore the previous voting system.

See here for the last update and links to previous updates. I don’t know what the plaintiffs’ odds of success are, but I do know this is another example of why Texas needs to be put back under preclearance. Unless there is a mechanism in place to halt this kind of crap before it can do any harm, it will happen over and over. The past history and current actions of the powers that be in Texas make that clear.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

Pasadena lurches towards redistricting

It’s getting ugly.

Pasadena City Council

A Pasadena councilwoman was forcibly ejected by armed officers and the mayor was accused of packing a gun during recent meetings on a controversial redistricting plan.

Councilwoman Pat Van Houte was removed from a meeting Tuesday on orders of Mayor Johnny Isbell after exceeding a three-minute speaking limit. And at a redistricting hearing in March, another councilman said he was “shocked” to see Isbell carrying what looked like a handgun.

Pasadena, pop. 150,000, is among the first in the nation to test last year’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme court that weakened the Voting Rights Act. The high court voided the preclearance requirement for election changes, which had been the law of the land for nearly half a century in many Southern states.

After the ruling, Mayor Johnny Isbell pushed forward a plan, narrowly approved by the city’s voters. It switches two of the city’s eight council seats from district to citywide elections.

[…]

Van Houte acknowledged that she exceeded her time limit Tuesday before Mayor Johnny Isbell pulled the plug and ordered her removed by two armed officers.

Van Houte said she was not given sufficient time to voice her objections to the proposed new map: “If someone is trying to represent the best interests of their city, they should not be thrown out for doing it. I’ve not seen this happen in the nearly five years that I’ve been on council.”

In the map approved on first reading Tuesday, she and another incumbent from the north end, Ornaldo Ybarra, objected to being located in the same district and having to run against one another. She was evicted before the vote was taken.

Ybarra and the other two from the north end denounced the map and walked out in solidarity with Van Houte prior to the vote. The map was approved with the mayor and the four council members from the south side supporting it.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. If this fight is ugly, it’s because the power grab that’s at its heart is ugly. Isbell says he granted Van Houte an extra minute before calling the cops on her, which is awfully big of him. But c’mon, dude. You hold all the cards and you know it. The least you could have done would have been to be magnanimous in victory and let the opposition say its piece. Not doing so marks you as insecure and a bully. Can’t say I’m surprised by that, but Isbell did have a chance to show himself to be otherwise, and he failed to take it.

Anyway. The maps that were under consideration are here – it’s proposed map #2 that will be voted on. The current map is here for comparison. A memo from Mayor Isbell about the maps and their population figures is here. The numbers apparently changed from what you see in the first table. I’m sure we’ll get a clearer picture of all that really happened when litigation is filed after the map is adopted.

What next in Pasadena?

Just waiting on the lawsuit at this point.

Pasadena City Council

There have been other elections in Pasadena with closer results, but not many.

After all of the votes were counted in Tuesday’s (November 5) Charter Amendment election, Proposition One: “Shall the City Charter be amended to replace the current Council election system, which consists of a Mayor and eight Councilmembers elected from single-member Districts, with a Council with a Mayor, six Councilmembers elected from single-member Districts, and two Councilmembers elected at-large,” passed.

The tally: For 3,290 (51 percent) to Against 3,203 (49 percent), just an 87 vote difference.

“I figured it would win but it was definitely closer than I thought,” said Councilmember Steve Cote.

The Texas Organizing Project (TOP), joined by Congressman Gene Green, State Senator Sylvia Garcia and four current Pasadena councilmembers, came out against Proposition One.

Shortly after the votes were totaled, TOP released a statement indicating that a lawsuit may be in the works.

“The Texas Organizing Project is committed to continuing to fight Proposition 1 and, barring a change in these close totals during official canvass of votes, we fully intend to pursue legal action against the City on behalf of the minority citizens who will lose their voice in the political process.

“In a city that is more than 60 percent Latino, it defies all sense of right and wrong that there would be no council members who are the candidates of choice of the Latino community,” the statement said.

[…]

The new (two districts fewer than before) maps will have to be drawn and finalized. Before the election, Mayor Johnny Isbell told The Pasadena Citizen he thought that could be done in 60 to 90 days and the first election they will be in effect is for councilmembers’ elections in May 2015.

I couldn’t find any statement on the TOP homepage or Facebook page, so I have no more information on the future lawsuit than what we see here. As I previously noted, the other three items on the Pasadena ballot passed by wide margins. I don’t think this will be settled any time soon, and there sure won’t be any “healing” till there’s justice. See this Chris Hayes segment on MSNBC for more.

Election results: Harris County

The big story: RIP, Astrodome.

We still have the memories

A $217 million bond measure to fund a massive Astrodome renovation failed by several percentage points, a decision expected to doom it to the wrecking ball.

Proposition 2 would have allowed Harris County to issue up to $217 million in bonds to turn the beloved but bedraggled stadium into a massive event and exhibition center.

County commissioners have said they would recommend the wrecking ball if the bond failed.

“We’re going to have to do something quick,” County Judge Ed Emmett said afterward. “We can’t allow the once-proud dome to sit like a rusting ship in the middle of a parking lot.”

He called it “an interesting evening to say the least” and added, “We have an electorate that is for whatever reason anti-bond.”

The news came as a blow to representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“There’s no disputing this building is an icon,” said the Trust’s Beth Wiedower. “Its legacy will live on even if it doesn’t. It seems like it’s fate is sealed obviously we are disappointed in the outcome.”

I voted for the Dome, and I’m sad to see it end this way. I saw a lot of mourning about this on Facebook and Twitter last night. I wonder how many of those folks were Harris County residents, and how many of them voted. I will be very interested to see what the precinct data says about this one.

Thankfully, the joint inmate processing center passed, though by a very close margin. My theory on the Astrodome was that in the end, this effort came too late. I think too many people had become cynical about the whole thing, and perhaps the somewhat staid New Dome proposal, chosen over a number of imaginative but fanciful alternatives, turned people off. I’m just guessing here. The pro-Dome campaign wasn’t particularly high-visibility, either, and that probably didn’t help. Like it or not, the people have spoken.

The Pasadena power-grab redistricting plan was passed in a squeaker as well, 3290 to 3203, with the No vote carrying Election Day, just not quite by enough. There were three other Pasadena proposals on the ballot, and they all passed with 64% or more of the vote. Expect the lawsuit against this to be filed any day.

Finally, in a race I paid only passing attention to, voters in Katy ISD rejected a $69 million bond proposal that included a massive new stadium by a solid 55-45 margin. I had no opinion on that one, but as an AP wire story I spotted on the Chron website said, it was a bad day for stadiums yesterday.

Endorsement watch: Sometimes the answer is No

The Chron recommend a No vote on the Pasadena redistricting referendum.

Pasadena City Council

There is no need for mid-decade redistricting in Pasadena, least of all with a plan that has been dug out of the trash.

The once lily-white town of Pasadena has grown over the past decade to become majority Hispanic, but a large population doesn’t necessarily mean political power. Voter registration is low in the Hispanic community, yet the tide is turning. Hispanic voting strength teeters on the precipice of political power. So it should be no surprise that longtime political insiders are pushing a plan that seems specifically designed to stop that change from happening. It would be nefarious if it wasn’t so obvious. Instead of Pasadena’s current eight single-member city council districts, the new scheme would use a mixed system of two at-large seats and six single-member seats. The larger districts threaten to dilute minority voting strength, keeping the huddled masses outside the golden door of democracy for who knows how many more years. Plans to replace single-member seats with at-large have been blocked for decades as potentially discriminatory, and there is no reason to think that this one is any different.

[…]

If Proposition One supporters felt that Pasadena needed at-large representation on council, then they should have worked during the normal post-census redistricting to come up with a consensus plan that could pass without controversy. Instead, they pulled an old trick out of their books, already stamped with disapproval from the Justice Department, and are trying to get it passed during an off-year election.

The editorial is a companion to their earlier story about the referendum. Would have been nice if this had run earlier, like before early voting ended, but better late than never.

Chron overview of the Pasadena redistricting referendum

The Chron covers the most important ballot item in Harris County that isn’t the two countywide propositions, the charter amendment in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The charter change would replace two of Pasadena’s eight single-member City Council districts with seats elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11-1.

Four council members from the older, predominantly Hispanic north end oppose the restructuring. They note that the U.S. Justice Department rejected this exact plan as potentially discriminatory, but now the pre-clearance requirement has been voided and opened the door for reconsideration.

“We are standing our ground against the change,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics on the council.

Opponents contend Proposition One is a “power grab” by the mayor, who was first elected to the council four decades ago and has served off and on ever since. They say the mayor doesn’t like the changes that he’s seeing in Harris County’s second-largest city, population 150,000, that once gained fame for its refineries and Gilley’s bar as featured in “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

[…]

With emotions running high, an unusually large number have already gone to the polls.

Harris County’s election office reported that 2,164 residents had voted as of Monday, either in person or by mail, with four more days of early voting still to go. City officials say that tally is high for an off election year, amounting to almost half the votes cast in the last Pasadena mayoral election.

Wheeler believes that opponents have been effective in getting voters to the polls, saying preliminary analysis shows 60 percent of the early voting is coming from his side of the city.

In the past, Wheeler said that the issue is “about democracy and this mayor not getting the council he wanted and now trying to change the rules.”

See here, here, here, and here. It’s nigh impossible to look at this as anything but a power grab by Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, who pushed the issue against the recommendation of the citizens’ committee and who cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of putting it on the ballot. I certainly hope that it gets defeated at the ballot box because that would be the cleanest way to deal with it, but if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

Mayor Johnny Isbell and four council members from the more conservative southern side of town argue that the charter change would provide each citizen with more representation. They say each voter would then be able to elect three council members, instead of just one, to represent them.

Someone might want to explain to Mayor Isbell what a candidate of choice is. Look at it this way: Suppose Mayor Parker were to propose a similar idea for Houston, where Districts F and I got dismantled, with F mostly being put into District G and I mostly being annexed by District E, and two more At Large members were added. Do you think the voters of the former F and I would consider themselves to have “more representation” under that plan? Or do you think they’d wind up with three new Council members that didn’t live near them and who paid them little attention because they have a lot of children and non-citizens and they don’t vote all that much anyway? I know what outcome I’d expect, and I’d expect the same in Pasadena. I hope there are enough voters in Pasadena who see it this way, too. BOR has more.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Sen. Garcia joins the fight in Pasadena

Good.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia on Tuesday joined forces with four Pasadena council members and a community organizing group to mount a campaign against a new redistricting plan they say is designed to dilute the voting strength of Pasadena’s growing Hispanic population.

Garcia called Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell’s proposed plan, which would switch two council districts to at-large positions, a “huge step backwards.” She noted that when the city last year sought pre-clearance for a similar plan from the U.S. Department of Justice that it was soundly rejected as being discriminatory.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent elimination of the pre-clearance requirement should not be seen now as an “open invitation” to attack the minority vote, said Garcia.

Four of the city’s eight council members from the predominantly minority north end of Pasadena, which Garcia’s 6th Senate District covers, echoed that sentiment. They are being assisted in the “Just Vote No” campaign against the proposed charter amendment that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot by Texas Organizing Project, a community organizing group that plans to help get out the vote.

[…]

Garcia, who in 2002 defeated Isbell to become a Harris County commissioner, said citywide elections can result in council representatives living on the same street or area rather than being spread across the city.

“This new plan is just retaliation by the mayor who doesn’t like having new independent voices on council,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics serving on Pasadena’s council.

See here, here, and here for the background. Good for Sen. Garcia. The best solution to this problem, certainly the cleanest and quickest solution, is for Mayor Isbell’s plan to be defeated by the voters. That’ll keep the lawyers out of it, and it will ensure no harm is done before the courts have a chance to intervene. The only other elections going on in Pasadena in November will be the constitutional referenda and the Astrodome proposal. Get out the vote and kill this thing dead while you still can.

All about Pasadena

Meet Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, the man behind the redistricting scheme there that we’ve been talking about lately.

Johnny Isbell

For more than four decades, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell has had his feet sunk deep into the city’s political landscape of smokestacks and honky tonks like Gilley’s, made famous by the 1980 John Travolta movie, “Urban Cowboy.”

Despite an attachment to Pasadena’s past, Isbell puts most of his energy into changing the image of the city, once nicknamed “Stinkadina” because of its industrial stench.

Now, with a paternal air, Isbell delights in showing off the town’s “new main street,” Fairmont Parkway, with its landscaped esplanades and sparkling upscale stores. “Most don’t even think this is Pasadena,” he said.

But the mayor’s detractors, who come from the increasingly Hispanic north end that abuts the Houston Ship Channel, say they feel neglected. Four of the eight councilmen, who champion the north end, call it a “tale of two cities.”

Now, the mayor finds himself at the center of a controversy regarding the proposed redrawing of council lines that his opponents see as an attempt to maintain his power grip over the changing city and prevent the north end from gaining an edge on the council in the next election.

But Isbell refers to his council opponents as “part-timers” trying to usurp his administrative power bestowed by the city charter in a strong-mayor government. In May, Isbell garnered 73 percent of the vote in his re-election bid with campaign expenditures of about $100,000. He was pitted against an Hispanic newcomer with a $400 budget.

Though Isbell presents a smiling, friendly soft-spoken demeanor, his detractors say he rules with an iron fist.

I don’t live in Pasadena and I don’t know Mayor Isbell. I’m sure he has his good points and his bad points. It’s hard for me to see his redistricting plan as anything but a power grab. The rationale is weak, the denial of preclearance is significant, and the history of redistricting in Texas is fraught with bad examples. Redistricting is about power, and nobody looks virtuous when they pursue more power for themselves.

The good news is that there still has to be a vote before the redistricting plan can be implemented. This story from earlier in the week is mostly a lamentation about the diminution of the Voting Rights Act, but it also contains this important tidbit:

[Council Member Ornaldo] The Galveston JP plan already is being challenged in court. Ybarra predicts the Pasadena council redo also will end up there if it is voted in. His hope is that voters will do what the Justice Department no longer can: Just say no.

“When Pasadena went to districts, it was because of a lawsuit in the 1990s,” Ybarra said. “Now you have a change in the Voting Rights Act and suddenly there is this idea to have at-large seats? That’s a pretty big clue as to what happened.”

I’d been wondering when a lawsuit might get filed. It makes sense that it wouldn’t happen until the plan gets approved by the voters, if it does. Better all around if it gets rejected, of course.

Redistricting and voter ID lawsuit updates

From Texas Redistricting, a typically thorough look at where things stand with redistricting and voter ID litigation in the three courts – San Antonio, where the redistricting litigation has been ongoing and is likely due for some action; Corpus Christi, where the recent voter ID lawsuits were filed and now stand, likely pending consolidation; and the DC Circuit Court, which still has some unfinished business on redistricting but no longer on voter ID. Read it and stay up to date on what’s happening.

There are now some new players in the voter ID litigation. First up is the Texas League of Young Voters, who filed papers to join the fray on Monday.

The filing contends that the state’s voter ID law would disproportionately affect students like Imani Clark, a student at historically black Prairie View A&M University in Waller County.

The filings said that Ms. Clark did not drive and did not possess any of the seven forms of ID required by S.B. 14, though she does have a student ID with which she had been able to vote in past elections.

The League contends that the law violates both section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution.

See the filing, which will be opposed by the state of Texas, here. The state of Texas also opposes the intervention by the Justice Department, not that this should surprise anyone. The DOJ, meanwhile, wants the court to combine the cases and postpone some of the deadlines. I expect that will be granted.

Also getting in the voter ID litigation action is the city of Austin.

A unanimous council, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 cleared the way for the voter-ID law, directed the city’s lawyers to look into joining a lawsuit already filed U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, as well as any challenges to the voter law by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The council also directed the city staff to explore other steps, such as establishing places where residents without proper identification could secure a provisional ID for voting purposes.

The council’s resolution states the voter-ID law “may present a barrier to eligible citizens who intend to vote, especially minorities and those who may have recently moved or gotten married or divorced and may not realize that they need to update their identification.”

Good for Austin. I’d like to see a lot more cities join them in this.

The Atlantic has a good overview of the stakes and the more inflammatory rhetoric being used in the current legal battles.

What we are seeing now is a political war that will be waged in legal terms in part because of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling and in part because of all of the voter suppression efforts that preceded it (in Texas and around the country). Just because state officials are offended by a federal lawsuit doesn’t mean the state law they seek to defend is constitutional. And just because a state law makes it harder for people to vote doesn’t necessarily make it unconstitutional. The post-Shelby County world has arrived, not with a quick Congressional fix to restore key voting protections for minorities but with still more politically tinged litigation.

Read the whole thing. In addition to the state-versus-federal lawsuits, there is now litigation in Galveston County over its proposal to reduce the number of constable and JP precincts, and I feel confident that a lawsuit over the Pasadena City Council redistricting plan is imminent. These are good days to be an election lawyer, that’s for sure.