Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ron Nirenberg

SCOTx hears Chick-Fil-A case

Missed this last week.

The Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments Thursday in the now two-year-old case involving the exclusion of Chick-fil-A city contract in the San Antonio International Airport.

[…]

San Antonio has always maintained that the law should not apply to the contract because it was not the law then and is not retroactive.

“The Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio correctly held that the plaintiffs cannot convert Chapter 2400 of the Texas Government Code into a retroactive statute,” said Laura Mayes, spokesperson for the city.

Plaintiffs lawyer Jonathan Mitchell argued to Texas Supreme Court justices that while they agree the contract vote took place prior to the law, several of the city’s actions took place afterwards.

“Anything the city did to put a different vendor in that spot that would have gone to Chick-fil-A is an action to exclude Chick-fil-A from a property — all of that falls under adverse action,” he explained.

Mitchell argued anything as mundane as an email could be considered as an adverse action and qualify as an “allegation” of the new law, which would waive the city’s “governmental immunity.”

The issue for the city’s lawyer, James Daniel McNeel “Neel” Lane, was that plaintiffs never alleged a specific violation; they only now argue that it would be impossible for the city to not have taken an adverse action.

“There has to be an allegation, factual allegation of a violation of the act. There is not here,” he said.

See here for some background; there’s video from the arguments in the story. I know I’m biased here, but the plaintiffs’ argument just sounds stupid to me. But as noted, this case has a connection to the litigation over SB8, as the plaintiffs in this case don’t have an actual loss or injury to claim, just that if there had been a Chick-Fil-A at the airport they would have patronized it. If SCOTx rules on the question of standing, you can see how it might apply to SB8. I figure we’ll know about this one sometime next year.

Chick-Fil-A and the “heartbeat” lawsuits

I’d forgotten all about this.

A case that’s before the Texas Supreme Court this fall could have strong implications for the future of the state’s newly adopted abortion ban, the most prohibitive in the nation.

The suit relates to a 2019 law that, like the abortion law, was authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.

Known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” law, it allows anyone to sue when they believe a governmental entity has taken “adverse actions” against a person or company based on its support for a religious organization, as Republican lawmakers believed the city of San Antonio did when excluding the fast-food restaurant from its airport.

Civilian enforcement is also the key to the new state law that effectively bans abortion, Senate Bill 8 — a provision that has so far allowed it to survive a legal challenge based on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case establishing women’s right to abortions. At issue in both cases: Can a state law grant private citizens standing to sue?

“The standing issue in the case is essentially the same,” said Jason Steed, a Dallas-based appellate lawyer and court watcher who is not involved in the case. “That’s what’s interesting about it is that the court could decide that standing issue and whatever they decide about that issue would have direct implications for SB 8.”

[…]

The city council’s decision to ban the restaurant had animated conservatives who saw it as discrimination against the company because its owner had given money to Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, each with a Chick-fil-A styrofoam cup in hand, signed Hughes’ bill in July 2019, and celebrated it as a victory for religious freedom.

The suit before the Texas Supreme Court was brought on Sept. 5, 2019, by five Chick-fil-A supporters who said they were harmed because they would have been customers of the restaurant had it opened in the city-owned airport.

Still, they note in the suit that the law does not require them to prove damages and purports to give standing to anyone who alleges a violation. They are seeking a court order to stop the city from excluding the fast-foot chain from this project and potential ones with the city in the future.

It’s unclear whether the company wants into the airport. In September 2020, San Antonio was forced to offer Chick-Fil-A its spot back as part of an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Civil Rights under the Trump administration. The settlement helped the airport avoid penalties that could have jeopardized millions of dollars in funding from the agency.

But Chick-Fil-A declined, and the city has since given the spot to Whataburger, which is slated to open by next spring.

In August of 2020, the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio sided with the city and reversed a lower court’s decision, ruling that the city had sovereign immunity, a legal principle that protects governments and their agencies from lawsuits.

See here, here, and here for some background. Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit in July of 2019, before the five busybodies filed theirs. The easy way out for SCOTx is to uphold the Fourth Court’s ruling, which would allow them to not address the question of standing, which as noted is at the center of SB8. The city of San Antonio argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing, and as of today there’s no adjudication on that matter. Sooner or later, one way or another, we’ll get some kind of answer to that.

More lawsuits against Abbott’s ban on mask mandates

From Dallas County:

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins filed a legal challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates Monday, the North Texas official said on Twitter.

Jenkins said he’s asking for a court to rule that Abbott’s prohibition on local officials requiring people to wear masks — part of the governor’s July 29 executive order regarding the pandemic — is unenforceable.

Jenkins filed his request as part of an ongoing lawsuit between himself and Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch, according to The Dallas Morning News. That paper, which first obtained a copy of the court filing, reported that Jenkins is asking to be allowed to require mask wearing.

[…]

“The enemy is the virus and we must all do all that we can to protect public health,” Jenkins said in a tweet late Monday. “School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe.”

Koch sued Jenkins Thursday after the county judge ordered the commissioner to be removed from a public meeting where Jenkins mandated mask wearing, according to The News.

This joins the lawsuit filed in Travis County seeking a broader injunction against Abbott’s anti-mask order. Commissioner Koch was denied a temporary restraining order in his action against Judge Jenkins on the ground that being made to wear a mask did not cause him any injury; a hearing for an injunction is still to come. One can only hope it’s that easy for Jenkins in this litigation. The legal hair that is being split here, as far as my not-lawyer self can tell, is that while Abbott clearly has the power to impose a mask mandate during an emergency, the statute does not allow him to forbid other entities from imposing their own mandates. WFAA appears to confirm my guesses.

The court document cites the Disaster Act, which delegates authority to county judges to declare local disasters and to seek to mitigate the disaster. It says that the Delta variant is increasingly affecting the city.

It also mentions how Jenkins tried to require face masks in commissioners’ court but there were threats from Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Last week, Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch was escorted out of the commissioner’s meeting after refusing to wear a face mask.

“Such injunctive relief is necessary because there is immediate and irreparable harm that will befall Dallas County – and others outside Dallas County – if they cannot require the public health-advancing mitigation measure of mandatory face coverings in public,” the court document says.

It also says that Abbott is attempting to prevent Jenkins from protecting citizens, which threatens lives.

“The Disaster Act does not provide any authority to the Governor to limit the local county judge’s actions,” the document says.

I figure there should be a quick ruling on whether there can be a temporary restraining order or not, and after that we’ll see. I don’t know the text of the statute in question, and I don’t know if coming from a county, which is essentially a subsidiary of the state, versus a home-rule city or school district or third party makes a difference.

In the meantime, Bexar County and San Antonio joined in the fun.

The city and county joined other governmental entities Tuesday in defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s July executive order prohibiting them from issuing mask mandates. This is not the first lawsuit over Abbott’s order; Dallas County sued on Monday night. Dallas Independent School District and Austin Independent School District also announced Monday that they would be requiring masks in schools despite Abbott’s executive order.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that the lawsuit was to challenge Abbott’s authority to suspend local emergency orders during the pandemic. Find a copy of the lawsuit here.

“Ironically, the governor is taking a state law meant to facilitate local action during an emergency and using it to prohibit local response to the emergency that he himself declared,” he said in a news release.

A temporary restraining order is necessary as San Antonio and Bexar County face “imminent irreparable harm,” from transmission of the coronavirus, plaintiffs wrote.

If the city and county are able to secure a temporary restraining order against the governor, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District intends to immediately require masks in public schools and unvaccinated students to quarantine if they come in “close contact” with someone that tested positive for COVID-19.

[…]

The city and county argued in its filing that Abbott exceeded his authority, as Texas law “gives the governor authority to suspend statutes and regulations governing state officials and agencies, but not the statutes giving local governments the authority to manage public health within their own jurisdictions,” city and county representatives wrote in the lawsuit filed Tuesday. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff reiterated that point during a county commissioners meeting Tuesday morning.

And just like that

A Texas district judge granted the city of San Antonio and Bexar County a temporary restraining order, blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s restriction on localities imposing mask mandates.

On Tuesday, Judge Antonia Arteaga made the ruling following almost an hour of arguments from attorneys. Arteaga said she did not take her decision lightly, citing the start of the school year and public guidance given by Dr. Junda Woo, medical director of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, concerning the need for masks in public schools as the highly contagious delta variant contributes to a surge in coronavirus cases across the state.

The decision is temporary, pending a hearing on Monday.

We’re a long way from actual victory here – even if the plaintiffs win on Monday, we all know the state will appeal, and who knows what happens from there. The legal argument sounds reasonable to me, but what matters is what the law says, and whether the appeals courts/Supreme Court want to find a way to accommodate Abbott regardless of what the law says. But at least we’re off to a good start.

UPDATE: Score one for Dallas, too.

“Universal masking” for school children recommended

Seems like a sensible idea, especially given that children under the age of 12 can’t get the vaccine yet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended that all children over the age of 2 wear masks when returning to school this year, regardless of vaccination status.

The AAP, which said its important for children to return to in-person learning this year, recommends that school staff also wear masks. The AAP is calling the new guidance a “layered approach.”

“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” said Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”

The AAP said universal masking is necessary because much of the student population is not vaccinated, and it’s hard for schools to determine who is as new variants emerge that might spread more easily among children.

Children 12 and over are eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in the U.S. And the FDA said last week that emergency authorization for vaccines for children under 12 could come in early to midwinter.

[…]

Universal masking will also protect students and staff from other respiratory illnesses that could keep kids out of school, the AAP said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this month that vaccinated students do not have to wear masks in classrooms.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on MSNBC that the CDC may have been trying to be a little more lenient, allowing people to make judgment calls “depending on the circumstances in your school and your community.”

But he said he understands where the AAP is coming from.

“They will not be popular amongst parents and kids who are sick of masks, but you know what? The virus doesn’t care that we’re sick of masks,” Collins said. “The virus is having another version of its wonderful party for itself. And to the degree that we can squash that by doing something that maybe is a little uncomfortable, a little inconvenient … if it looks like it’s going to help, put the mask back on for a while.”

That was from last week. Yesterday, the CDC caught up.

To prevent further spread of the Delta variant, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance on Tuesday to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of Covid-19, which includes nearly two-thirds of all US counties.

“In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause Covid-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told a media briefing on Tuesday.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” she said. “This is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly.”

[…]

Earlier this month, the CDC’s Covid-19 school guidance noted that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks, and then about a week later the American Academy of Pediatrics issued stricter guidance recommending that everyone older than 2 wear a mask in schools, regardless of vaccination their status.

Now the updated CDC guidance recommends everyone in schools wear masks.

“CDC recommends that everyone in K through 12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place,” Walensky said. “Finally, CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and universal masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission. With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever.”

The updated CDC guidance makes “excellent sense,” Dr. David Weber, professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and board member of the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology, told CNN on Tuesday.

“Breakthrough disease clearly occurs, and for those cases, we know they’re much more mild in vaccinated people, but we don’t know how infectious vaccinated people are,” he said. “But clearly, if you want to protect your children under 12 or grandchildren, or protect immunocompromised people, as well as protect your own health — from even mild disease — then you should be wearing a mask, particularly in areas of high transmission when indoors.”

My kids have been vaccinated, but they’re still regular mask-wearers, especially the younger one. I fully expect them to continue to do so in school, at least for the fall. I’ve been wearing a mask again for indoor spaces as well. I will admit it’s kind of annoying, as we have been vaccinated for months now and have been pretty damn careful all along, but it is what it is. That said, I have a lot of sympathy for this position:

Some of that is happening in other states, but who knows, maybe we’ll get it for federal buildings and air travel, too. And who knows, maybe this will work.

As leaders in other parts of the country require government employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations, San Antonio and Bexar County are considering following suit, the Express-News reports.

Such a step would come as vaccination rates plateau and the highly contagious delta variant leads to a rise in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Texas. California and New York City this week said they will make employees get the vaccine or submit to weekly coronavirus tests. Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate COVID vaccinations for frontline staff.

“We are supportive of the efforts of New York and California,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a joint statement supplied to Express-News. “We will be reviewing the legalities and practicalities of requiring a COVID-19 vaccine and/or weekly testing in conformity with CDC guidelines in order to protect the health and well-being of city/county workforce.”

A city and county vaccine mandate would apply to roughly 18,000 workers, according to the daily, which reports that both Nirenberg and Wolff are unsure whether the requirement would be allowable under state law.

I think we can say with extreme confidence that the state would bring all its fight against such a move. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort, but it’s not a move to be made lightly. Be prepared to hire a bunch of expensive lawyers, and have a solid communication strategy in place, that would be my advice.

As for masks in schools, well…

What did you expect? Greg Abbott has already said there won’t be any mask mandate in schools, and it’s impossible to imagine him changing his mind. It’s all up to the parents and school staff. I would not feel safe having my not-yet-vaccinated kids in school without a full-mask situation, which by the way is what we did in this past spring semester. I don’t even know what the argument against is. Doesn’t much matter when the power is on that side. The Trib and Daily Kos have more.

Other May election results

Roundup style, mostly.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg easily wins a fourth term.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

Mayor Ron Nirenberg vanquished the ghost of repeat challenger Greg Brockhouse in Saturday’s City election and secured his third term in office with a win of historic proportion.

Nirenberg is now on course to become the city’s first four-term mayor since his mentor, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, led a successful campaign in 2009 to relax term limits from two, two-year terms to four, two-year terms.

That longevity in office should give Nirenberg the time and space to forge the kind of legacy established by Hardberger and Julián Castro before him.

Hardberger can point to completion of the San Antonio River’s Museum Reach, acquisition of Hardberger Park, redevelopment of Main Plaza, and jump starting the transformation of Hemisfair Park after it lay idle for 50 years. He recruited Sheryl Sculley to become city manager. Her long tenure led to the modernization of the city’s financial practices, ambitious five-year bond cycles to address critical infrastructure needs, and a new level of professional standards for city staff.

Castro, then the youngest mayor of a Top 50 city, led efforts to bring early childhood education to the forefront, well in advance of national trends, with successful passage of Pre-K 4 SA. He launched SA2020 and with it, the Decade of Downtown. Castro joined forces with Sculley to take on the powerful police union and address runaway health care costs. His growing national profile earned him a cabinet seat as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration.

Nirenberg is poised to establish his own legacy. Voters chose him by a 31-point margin, 62% to 31%, over Brockhouse, with the remainder going to a dozen other names on the ballot, a definitive verdict on Nirenberg’s second-term record. A Bexar Facts poll conducted with the San Antonio Report and KSAT-TV in late March accurately predicted as much. The reason: Nirenberg’s strong leadership through the pandemic.

Nirenberg won by a much wider margin against Brockhouse this time. When I look around at current Mayors for future statewide potential, Nirenberg certainly belongs on the list, but for whatever the reason I haven’t heard his name bandied about. Maybe that will change now.

San Antonio had a high-profile ballot proposition, which would have stripped the city’s police union of it collective bargaining power. It was narrowly defeated, but its proponents are encouraged they did as well as they did, and expect to continue that fight.

Austin had its own slew of ballot propositions, with a particularly contentious one that would outlaw the public camps that homeless people are now using. That one passed, and we’ll see what happens next.

The folks behind Proposition B, the citizen initiative to re-criminalize public camping in Downtown Austin and near the UT Campus, got the victory they sought for the more than $1 million they spent. With all votes counted Saturday night, the measure backed by Save Austin Now prevailed by 14 points, 57.1%-42.9%.

That’s a slightly weaker showing than was predicted before polls closed by SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak, also chair of the Travis County Republican Party, but a win’s a win:

Those who have been paying attention will note that Mayor Steve Adler and much of Council have already decided that the June 2019 vote that Prop B reverses was a failed experiment, and have moved on to other strategies to house Austin’s unsheltered poor. Perhaps SAN will catch up soon. Whatever its merits as policy, the campaign for Prop B did almost certainly boost turnout, which all told was 22.55% countywide (just under 90% of that was city voters). That’s the highest Austin’s seen in a May election since 1994.

Even CM Greg Casar, the politician most directly rebuked by tonight’s results, is looking ahead: “I do not believe Austin is as divided as this election makes it seem. The overwhelming majority of Austinites share a common goal, no matter how folks voted on Prop B. We all want to get people out of tents and into homes,” Casar said in a statement. “Our community must come together after this election & house 3,000 more people.”

I’ll leave it to the Austin folks to figure this out from here, but from my vantage point one obvious issue here is the ridiculously high housing prices in Austin, which is fueled in part by way more demand for housing than supply. I hope the city can find a way forward on that.

Fort Worth will have a new Mayor, after a June runoff.

Fort Worth voters will chose a new mayor for the first time in a decade in June with Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples apparently headed to the runoff.

Mayor Betsy Price’s decision not to seek an unprecedented sixth term sparked 10 candidates to run, including two council members, the Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman and a slew of political newcomers.

According unofficial results in Tarrant County, Peoples, a former AT&T vice president, led with 33.60% of the vote Saturday night while Parker, a former Price chief of staff, had 30.82%, with all 176 vote centers reporting. Council member Brian Byrd was in third place with 14.75%.

Parker and Peoples maintained the upper hand with results for Denton County. There, Parker took 35.17% of the vote compared to 16% for Peoples. In Parker County, Parker had 42% of the vote followed by Byrd’s 23.3%. Peoples had 12.5%.

The runoff will be June 5.

Here are the Tarrant County results – scroll down to page 21 to see the Fort Worth Mayor’s race. There were 1,106 votes cast in total in this race in Denton County, and 176 total votes cast in Parker County, so Tarrant is really all you need to know. In 2019, Peoples lost to Mayor Betsy Price by a 56-42 margin. Adding up the votes this time, counting Ann Zadeh as progressive and Brian Byrn and Steve Penate as conservative, the vote was roughly a 55-42 margin for the Republican-aligned candidates. We’ll see how it goes in the runoff.

And then there was Lubbock.

Lubbock voters on Saturday backed a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance that tries to outlaw abortions in the city’s limits, likely prompting a lawsuit over what opponents say is an unconstitutional ban on the procedure.

The unofficial vote, 62% for and 38% against the measure, comes less than a year after Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Lubbock and months after the City Council rejected the ordinance on legal grounds and warned it could tee up a costly court fight.

The passage of the ordinance makes Lubbock one of some two dozen cities that have declared themselves a “sanctuary … for the unborn” and tried to prohibit abortions from being performed locally. But none of the cities in the movement — which started in the East Texas town of Waskom in 2019 — has been as big as Lubbock and none of them have been home to an abortion provider.

It’s unclear when the ordinance will go into effect, and if it will be challenged in court.

The push to declare Lubbock a “sanctuary city for the unborn” began in the last two years and was galvanized by the arrival of a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2020. Anti-abortion activists gathered enough signatures to bring the ordinance to the City Council — where it was voted down for conflicting with state law and Supreme Court rulings — and to then put it to a citywide vote.

Ardent supporters of the measure, who liken abortion to murder, say it reflects the views held by many in conservative Lubbock. They believe the ordinance would stand up in court and say they have an attorney who will defend the city free of charge if it is challenged.

But the strategy of bringing the abortion fight to the local level has divided even staunch anti-abortion activists, and Texas towns like Omaha and Mineral Wells have voted down similar ordinances or walked them back under advice from city attorneys.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which previously sued seven East Texas towns that passed similar ordinances, has said they were watching the vote closely and hinted at a lawsuit in a statement Saturday.

Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist with the organization, said the “ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock.”

[…]

The Lubbock ordinance outlaws abortions within the city, and allows family members of a person who has an abortion to sue the provider and anyone who assists someone getting an abortion, like by driving them to a clinic.

There isn’t an exception for women pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

The ordinance would not be enforced by the government unless the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, or made other changes to abortion laws.

It instead relies on private citizens filing lawsuits.

Richard D. Rosen, a constitutional law professor at Texas Tech University, expects someone would sue Planned Parenthood and the legal fight would go from there.

“As long as Roe is good law I think these suits will ultimately fail, but it [could make] abortion providers … expend money for attorneys fees and it takes time,” he said.

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit that was filed against those seven towns was later dropped after the ordinances to remove language that declared the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund “criminal entities”. The language banning abortions in those towns remains, however. Lubbock is in a much different position than those tiny little towns, and I have no idea what happens from here. It can’t be long before someone files a lawsuit for something.

Finally, I’m sorry to report that Virginia Elizondo lost her race for Spring Branch ISD. I wish her all the best in the future.

On informing the public during an emergency

Another thing the state didn’t do well.

As millions of Texans fought to survive brutal winter weather without power and water, Gov. Greg Abbott told residents Wednesday to search for emergency warming shelters on Google and to call 311 for additional assistance.

The only problem: Many people lacked internet access, cellphone service and the ability to watch the governor’s press conferences. When the power went out, the state suddenly lost the ability to provide essential information to people desperately in need of help.

“Telling people to Google it is not OK. It’s the result of non-imaginative or non-planning in general, and it’s very, very unfortunate,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a senior research scholar for Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “And I think there needs to be some accountability for why they hadn’t made the infrastructure more resilient, and also why they hadn’t planned for a situation where the power’s out.”

During natural disasters and other humanitarian crises, the Texas Division of Emergency Management can use the national Emergency Alert System to share important updates, including for weather events, with Texans in specific areas. Impacted residents of the state would immediately receive a cellphone notification through that system with basic information like boil water notices or updates on when power might be restored.

But according to residents and lawmakers around the state, TDEM failed to provide such emergency alerts during this crisis, effectively leaving Texans without the kind of information necessary for living through a disaster. Instead, Abbott and TDEM officials encouraged people to search for resources on social media or Google.

[…]

Although many state officials blamed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid operator, for a lack of warning about prolonged outages, Texans pointed out that the extreme weather conditions should have warranted emergency messages anyway.

“Even if they didn’t know the power outages were coming, just the temperatures alone should have been enough to have massive warnings to people of what is possible,” [Austin resident Suzanne] Wallen said. “The icing of trees and the icing of power lines, all of that is kind of basic dangerous weather information.”

Communicating the right information to people in a timely manner often becomes a life or death situation during disasters like this, Redlener said. Especially when people lose access to clean water, they need to know immediately that they should stop drinking their tap water before boiling it.

And even though TDEM may not have been prepared to send out emergency alerts before people started losing power, the state agency still could have shared information through the national alert system when the situation became dire for people across Texas.

“From so many different perspectives, this is an example of a very poorly planned disaster response, and there’s all kinds of things that could have been better, including the communication issues,” Redlener said.

We received numerous alerts from the city of Houston and Harris County, before and during the disaster. There were automated calls to the landline and to our cells, plus emergency alerts on the cell and emails. Not all of these worked during power and Internet or cellular outages, but a lot of people still have good old-fashioned landlines (ours is now VOIP and so less useful at these times, but we still had those other methods). If power and cable are down, AM/FM radio still works. There were plenty of options available to the state, and there’s no reason why a lot of information couldn’t have been broadcast by all available means well in advance of the freeze. Space City Weather was warning about arctic conditions five days in advance of Monday’s frigid temps. Not everyone will get the message, of course, and not all who do will heed it, but a lot more could have been done. It’s of a piece with the overall lack of planning to keep the electric grid up and running in the first place.

Even worse than all that is stuff like this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said his office has heard from the White House during this week’s winter freeze, but Gov. Greg Abbott has not reached out at all.

The mayor first raised the lack of communication in an interview Friday morning with MSNBC, telling Stephanie Ruhle he had not heard from the governor’s office as millions went without power and water this week.

“I have not talked to the governor at any time during this crisis,” Turner said. “I have not talked to the governor, but we’re pushing forward.”

At a press conference later Friday morning, Turner said the state has sent National Guard troops to help staff a warming center at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Texas Department of Transportation also has been “very, very helpful,” the mayor said.

“Between TxDOT and the National Guard, they have provided some assistance,” Turner said.

Asked whether he or his staff has reached out to Abbott, Turner said: “I have been very laser-focused on dealing with the situation right here in the city of Houston. The White House has reached out to me several times, and we’ve had those communications.”

It’s not just Mayor Turner and Houston that have been ignored by Greg Abbott. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, along with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins have said the same thing. I don’t even know what to think about that. I have no idea what Abbott is doing. He was actually pretty visible during Hurricane Harvey, so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to do this sort of thing, and he surely knows that being out in front of an emergency and being visibly in charge and helping others is a boon to one’s image (unlike some other politicians I could name). But by far the bulk of the heavy lifting is being done by local officials and third parties. It’s beyond bizarre.

Vax and the cities

Makes sense.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A group of mayors representing some of the United States’ most populous cities — including Austin, San Antonio and Houston — is asking President-elect Joe Biden to give them direct access to coronavirus vaccines.

In a Wednesday letter, the 22 mayors urged the Biden administration to establish a national vaccine distribution plan for cities, instead of allocating all available doses to state governments.

“Cities have consistently been on the front line of our nation’s COVID-19 response,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote on Twitter. “I’m proud to join my mayoral colleagues in requesting that the Biden Administration prioritize a direct line of vaccines to our communities. We must do all we can to expand and improve access.”

Direct shipments of the vaccine would allow local leaders to plan and connect directly with their constituents, including disadvantaged communities, and help distribute vaccines more swiftly, the mayors argue.

“While it is essential to work with state and local public health agencies, health care providers, pharmacies, and clinics, there is a need to be nimble and fill gaps that are unique to each local area,” they wrote. “Very few cities are receiving direct allocations, and as a result, the necessary outreach needed to lay the groundwork for your vaccination goals are not being met.”

It’s basically an argument for streamlining the supply chain. I favor this because I don’t have much faith in the state’s apparatus, but I’ll listen to your counterargument if you have one. President Biden is proposing a big COVID relief plan that includes a bunch of money for “community vaccination centers”, which kind of sounds like vaccination hubs to me. We’ll see what kind of response this gets.

Whistling past the ICU

Clap louder!

Gov. Greg Abbott and top Texas health officials on Tuesday responded to growing alarm over hospitals now swelling with coronavirus patients, assuring there is still plenty of space available even as some facilities have neared or surpassed capacity.

Speaking on yet another day of record high hospitalizations from the pandemic, Abbott said he is confident the state can continue reopening while controlling the spread of new infections.

“As we begin to open up Texas and Texans return to their jobs, we remain laser-focused on maintaining abundant hospital capacity,” said Abbott, a Republican. “The best way to contain the spread of this virus is by all Texans working together and following simple safety precautions.”

On Tuesday, the Department of State Health Services reported just over 2,500 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began and nearly 67 percent more than on Memorial Day in late May. State and local leaders have pointed to the holiday weekend as one likely cause for the increase.

Statewide, there are still thousands of hospital beds and ventilators available. But in some of the largest cities, including San Antonio and Houston, the surge is pushing new limits. In Harris County, some hospitals said late last week that their intensive care units were near or above capacity.

Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, said their number of COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled from its previous peak in late April. Many of the patients admitted now are younger and generally healthier, but are still susceptible to serious illness or death from the disease.

“If it continues to grow at this rate, we’re going to be in real trouble,” McKeon said of the admissions. He added that while it may not be feasible to reimpose lockdowns or other restrictions, state leaders should consider slowing the reopening if the uptick continues.

The official death count is past 2,000 now, though everyone knows that’s an undercount. On a per capita basis that’s still pretty low, but we’re doing our best to catch up. The idea that we’re “controlling the spread” in any fashion is laughable, except there’s nothing funny about what’s happening. And then we get this:

Abbott remained unwilling Tuesday to allow local officials to enforce their own mask ordinances, even as he acknowledged that many Texans are not wearing them. He instead accused Democratic county judges of not having done enough to punish businesses that fail to comply with other protocols, such as limits on public gatherings.

While they have the authority, Abbott said, many “haven’t lifted a finger.”

Hey, remember when Greg Abbott cravenly flip-flopped on consequences for not following his own executive orders? Good times, good times. What would you like the county judges to use, harsh language? Let’s not forget who’s in charge here.

But local officials are still trying, at least:

The mayors of nine of Texas’ biggest cities urged Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Tuesday to grant them the “authority to set rules and regulations” mandating face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Texas, an executive order from Abbott bans local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don’t wear masks in public. The mayors wrote that many people in their cities continue to refuse to wear face masks and that “a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option” when it comes to regulating the issue.

The letter is signed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen.

The letter asks Abbott to consider allowing each city’s local officials to decide whether to require the use of a face covering in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mayor Turner’s press release is here, and a copy of the letter sent to Abbott is here. There was no response as of Tuesday afternoon.

Finally, let’s not forget that even as businesses may want to reopen, coronavirus may not let them. It’s almost as if an unchecked pandemic is a hindrance to having your economy run at full capacity. But don’t worry, Greg Abbott has everything under control. Now keep clapping!

Here come the shelter-in-place orders

The shutdowns are getting shut-down-ier.

Be like Hank, except inside

Many of Texas’ biggest cities and counties are ordering residents to shelter in place whenever possible.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff on Monday evening ordered residents to stay in their homes as the state grapples with the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. The move came one day after Dallas County issued a similar order. Meanwhile, the Austin City Council and Travis County will team up Tuesday to issue a stay-at-home decree, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told The Texas Tribune on Monday. And Fort Worth city officials said Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley will do the same at a Tuesday morning press conference.

By lunchtime Tuesday, residents in at least four of the state’s five biggest cities are expected to be under such orders. The only possible holdout is Houston, the state’s most populous city, which hasn’t publicly announced any plans. But the Houston Chronicle has reported Harris County officials began drafting a shelter-in-place order over the weekend.

“Our message is simple: You must stay at home,” Nirenberg said at a press conference in San Antonio on Monday evening. “The best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is through strict social distancing.”

San Antonio’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order is effective 11:59 p.m. Tuesday through 11:59 p.m. April 9.

You can add in Galveston County and some other places as well. If Greg Abbott isn’t going to do it, then it looks like everyone else will. As for Houston, here’s that Chron story:

Harris County officials over the weekend began drafting an order to place further restrictions on public activity in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.

Doctors and health experts across the country have said such orders are necessary to prevent COVID-19 from spreading so rapidly that it overwhelms the nation’s health care system. Texas Medical Center president and CEO William McKeon said Monday morning the presidents of TMC hospitals and other institutions were “unanimous in our strong recommendation to move to shelter in place.”

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference Monday morning “it may be that we issue a stay-at-home order or something of the sort.” She said county officials are still assessing whether to do so, and seeking the advice of other local leaders including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Judge Hidalgo and Mayor Turner are holding a joint press conference with local health leaders this morning “for a COVID-19 related announcement”, which sure sounds like the prelude to a shelter-in-place announcement, but we’ll see.

What this means is that most businesses are ordered to shutter, minus “essential services” like grocery stores, pharmacies, and of course health care facilities. You’re either working from home, or you’re on a break, likely for two weeks initially (what Bexar County ordered), though it could get extended. You can go outside to exercise as long as you maintain social distancing, and there may be civil enforcement for violations. I’m making some assumptions here – who knows, maybe Judge Hidalgo and Mayor Turner have something else to say, though I can hardly imagine what it could be – but this is what we have seen in cities that have already gone down this road. So, on the likelihood that this is what’s in store, get ready to hunker down a little harder. It’s what everyone thinks is our best hope right now.

UPDATE: The shelter in place order for Harris County is now in effect, effective tonight at midnight through April 3.

May runoff results

With 303 of 474 precincts reporting, State Rep. Eric Johnson was leading in the runoff for Dallas Mayor over Scott Griggs, 57% to 43%. At the time I started writing this I didn’t see any news coverage declaring the race to be over, but it sure looks to me like Johnson is going to win. So congratulations to (I presume) Mayor-elect Eric Johnson. You know what this means: There will be another special legislative election, which I would bet will be in November. Johnson’s HD100 is solid Dem so a flip is not in play, but expect there to be a big field.

On a side note here, Johnson knocked off longtime Rep. Terri Hodge (who would soon after be convicted of federal tax fraud charges) in 2010. He’s always struck me as someone who had his sights on bigger things. Having just achieved one of those bigger things, look for him to start getting mentioned in future conversations about statewide candidacy. I could definitely see him taking aim at Dan Patrick in 2022, or Ted Cruz in 2024. Just something to keep in mind.

In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg held on.

Incumbent Ron Nirenberg retained his position as San Antonio’s Mayor after defeating Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) in the runoff election on Saturday.

Brockhouse officially conceded at 9:12 p.m.

With 96.98 percent of precincts counted, Nirenberg held 51.07 percent of the vote to Brockhouse’s 48.93 percent.

Nirenberg opened the night with a slight lead in early voting, which tightened as more precincts were counted. The margin was just 1.44 points with 78 percent of the precincts voting before a late surge gave Nirenberg the victory.

“I’ve never worked harder in my life to make sure that this city was well represented than over the last two years, but certainly over the last month where we had to remind folks that we can be a city for everyone,” Nirenberg said.

Unofficial results are here. Brockhouse, who among other things was a shill for Chick-fil-A, went on to whine about how The Media Was Out To Get Him. I’m sure you can hear my eyes roll at this, but it did lead to my favorite tweet of the evening:

Every once in awhile, Twitter proves itself worthy of existence.

Finally, I’m sad to say that Nabila Mansoor failed to win her runoff in Sugar Land. She trailed by almost 600 votes early and closed the gap a bit on Election Day, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

UPDATE: Here’s a Trib story on the two Mayoral runoffs.

Paxton sues San Antonio over Chick-fil-A records

We really do live in strange times.

Best mugshot ever

It’s a red-meat issue, but it feeds on chicken.

San Antonio’s decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from its airport continues to resound in political circles. Legislators passed a religious freedom bill that gained steam after it was rebranded as the ‘Save Chick-fil-A bill.’ Gov. Greg Abbott beamed over its success on Twitter.

And Attorney General Ken Paxton, declining to wait for his own department to rule on a public records request, on Monday filed suit against the city to force it to hand over records he wants for his office’s investigation.

[…]

According to the suit filed in Travis County district court on Monday, Paxton’s office requested records on April 11 — including calendars, communications and records of meetings among City Council members, city employees and third parties — related to the city’s decision to remove the restaurant from its airport concessions contract. Paxton’s suit seeks to compel the city to release the records.

“The City of San Antonio claims that it can hide documents because it anticipates being sued,” Paxton said in a statement. “But we’ve simply opened an investigation using the Public Information Act. If a mere investigation is enough to excuse the City of San Antonio from its obligation to be transparent with the people of Texas, then the Public Information Act is a dead letter.”

Nirenberg said in a statement Monday that the city had asked Paxton for clarification on the request but never received a response.

“The fact that he went straight to filing a lawsuit instead of simply answering our questions proves this is all staged political theater,” Nirenberg said.

The deputy city attorney, Edward Guzman, responded to Paxton’s request April 24 saying the city was seeking to withhold some records based on 63 exceptions to the state’s public information act, according to the suit. In a May 2 letter, the city also argued the information is exempt because of litigation that was likely to come from Paxton.

State law exempts the release of information related to “pending or reasonably anticipated” litigation.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement Monday that the city provided nearly 250 pages of documents for review by the Attorney General’s Open Records Division and is still waiting for a decision.

Segovia said the city will comply with any Open Records Division ruling. He also shed doubt on the motivation behind Paxton’s investigation.

“The State Attorney General’s office has not specified the legislative authority they are relying on to investigate the airport contract,” Segovia said. “Furthermore, it is clear from the strident comments in his press release that any ‘investigation’ would be a pretense to justify his own conclusions.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Any resemblance of the arguments in this case to those in the dispute between Paxton’s office and the House Oversight Committee are, I’m sure, totally coincidental. Whatever else happens in this ridiculous case, the Chick-fil-A follies have provided the wingnuts with the grievance they needed to get their “religious liberties” bill through the Lege, so in that sense Paxton et al have already won. The Rivard Report has more.

May 4 election results

The hottest race was in San Antonio.

With more than 81 percent of the precincts counted, Mayor Ron Nirenberg took a nearly 3-point lead against Councilman Greg Brockhouse, but it likely won’t be enough to avoid a runoff to determine San Antonio’s next mayor.

Nirenberg, who led by two points following early voting pushed his lead to 48.42 percent with Brockhouse garnering 45.82 percent. However, a winning candidate would need to cross the 50 percent threshold to secure victory.

If neither candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held next month.

“Did any of you think it was going to be easy?” Nirenberg said Saturday night to a group of supporters, volunteers and staff assembled at Augie’s. “We’re in for a long night. But guess what, this long night’s because this city deserves it. We will wait here and we will grind away at the progress earning every single vote and rechecked in the politics of division until we walk away winners. Because that’s what this city deserves. This is a city for all.

“This is about the future of San Antonio, it’s not just about one election. And we’re going to win, because this city needs to sustain progress.”

Here are the results. Nirenberg increased his lead over the course of Election Day and was up by a bit more than 3,000 votes. The runoff between the progressive Nirenberg and the not-progressive Brockhouse will be contentious, and important.

In Dallas, State Rep. Eric Johnson led the big field for Mayor.

With 149 of 529 precincts reporting, State Rep. Eric Johnson has 21 percent of the vote, Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs has 17 percent, Lynn McBee has 15 percent, Mike Ablon has 13 percent and Regina Montoya and Miguel Solis have 10 percent.

Nine candidates ran for the open seat.

Mayor Mike Rawlings could not run again due to term limits.

Since no candidate got more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.

That runoff will happen on Saturday, June 8.

Those results are here, and they are more or less the same with 317 of 528 precincts reporting. Johnson is in his fifth term in the Lege and if he wins the runoff he’d vacate his seat, thus causing the fourth legislative special election of the cycle. In this case, it would be after the legislative session, so unless the Lege goes into overtime there would be no absence in Austin.

Elsewhere, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price won again, holding off former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples; those results are here. In races I was following, Nabila Mansoor was headed for a runoff in Sugar Land, collecting 34.22% of the vote to Naushad Kermally’s 39.16%. Steve Halvorson fell short again in Pasadena. The three Pearland ISD candidates also lost.

Congratulations to all the winners, and we’ll look to the runoffs in June.

No backsies for Chick-fil-A in San Antonio

Since I mentioned there would be a re-vote, I figured you’d want to know how it went.

By a 6-5 margin, San Antonio’s City Council on Thursday narrowly rejected a proposal from mayoral contender Greg Brockhouse to revisit a controversial decision last month to remove Chick-fil-A from an airport contract because of its “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Brockhouse forced the issue by using a procedural move under Robert’s Rules of Order to revive the Chick-fil-A debate. With dozens of supporters standing in the council chambers, Brockhouse proposed revisiting the Chick-fil-A decision at the next meeting.

“I consider this opportunity today to be a defining moment for this council,” Brockhouse said in introducing the proposal, which he first broached last week.

All the members who voted against the contract last month voted in favor of Brockhouse’s effort, save one: Councilman Art Hall. He said once the council makes a decision, it should stick to it, swinging the vote.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who abstained from the first vote, approved Brockhouse’s effort, as did Councilman Manny Pelaez, who said he regretted his original comments about Chick-fil-A’s record.

Nirenberg, who has framed the issue in business terms, said before the vote that no business operating within the law is barred from operating in San Antonio. He proposed having a discussion about the city’s contracting process to ensure it operates under the full compliance of local, state and federal laws.

See here and here for the background. And now you have something else to think about this weekend, since I’m sure we could all use a change of topic by now. The Rivard Report has more.

Chick-fil-A follies

I have three things to say about this.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating the city of San Antonio for potential First Amendment violations after the City Council voted to prevent Chick-fil-A — a franchise known for opposing same-sex marriage — from opening a location in the city’s airport.

“The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken,” Paxton, a Republican, wrote in a Thursday letter to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the rest of the council. “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.”

In a 6-4 vote, the council voted last week to keep the franchise from opening at the San Antonio International Airport. The decision quickly drew national headlines and condemnations from conservatives across the country.

Chick-Fil-A, a national franchise with locations throughout Texas, is known for its leaders’ staunch Christian views and close ties to groups that worked to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Its corporate purpose is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” It is, famously, “closed on Sundays.”

Paxton, a Christian conservative who has long billed himself as a crusader for religious liberty, has also asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to open an investigation into the city’s actions. Paxton said in a news release Thursday that federal regulations governing grant money that flows to the San Antonio airport prohibit discrimination.

1. If we must accept that corporations can have “religious beliefs” – I don’t, but SCOTUS has imposed it on us, so here we are – then we ought to be able to criticize those beliefs. Governments make policy decisions all the time based on who they do and don’t want to do business with (see, for example, the state of Texas picking a side in the Israel/West Bank conflict), for reasons one may or may not approve of. Often, these decisions are made in response to feedback from constituents. It’s a tool that activists have in their toolbox for holding corporations accountable for their actions. It’s messy and often contradictory, but it’s long been a part of the democratic process. I don’t think letting corporate “religious beliefs” serve as a get-out-of-consequences-free card is a good idea.

2. All that aside, isn’t the fact that Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday a factor here? Surely the city of San Antonio would like to have a full range of dining options for those who pass through its airport, as they can’t just go somewhere else if their needs aren’t being met. If the choice is between a restaurant that’s open seven days a week, and a restaurant that’s open six days a week, you’d think the former would be preferred.

3. San Antonio isn’t the only city cordially dis-inviting Chick-fil-A from its airport. However you feel about this issue, it’s not going away.

No GOP convention for San Antonio

Wise decision.

The city of San Antonio will not submit a bid to host the 2020 Republican National Convention, a decision announced after council members met Thursday in closed session to discuss the matter.

The cost of pursuing the event — an international spectacle that could draw 40,000 visitors, including 15,000 reporters — outweighs the potential economic impact that could be $200 million, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most council members agreed.

The host city, through a local committee that would be composed of business leaders, would be expected to raise about $70 million, including about $6 million from public coffers.

“As a whole, the City Council did not feel it was worth it to move forward,” Nirenberg said shortly after concluding the closed-session meeting with his colleagues.

[…]

Though there was no actual vote in the council’s executive session, the mayor said the consensus in the room was not to proceed with a bid for the multi-day convention scheduled for August of 2020. The decision, he said, extends to the Democratic National Convention.

San Antonio has not bid on a national political convention in two decades, Nirenberg said.

The RNC issue has come to the forefront because party leaders specifically asked for a bid from San Antonio, and the GOP representative in charge of site selection visited San Antonio in March to personally ask for leaders here to consider submitting a bid.

See here for the background. Seems to me that the RNC doesn’t exactly have cities beating on their door to host this thing, and given the lead time necessary to raise the money and make the preparations, time is beginning to run short. That’s not San Antonio’s problem, however. There are some people who aren’t happy with Mayor Nirenberg’s decision, and they’ll get their chance to express that next May. I doubt it’s a serious problem for him, but you never know. Good luck finding a sucker city willing to put in a bid, RNC. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

San Antonio and the 2020 Republican convention

Beware.

The campaign manager for President Donald Trump wants San Antonio to host the 2020 Republican National Convention and has taken to Twitter to voice his frustration at the city’s lack of response to bid for the event.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he had been encouraged by some local business leaders — notably Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager — to submit a bid to host the convention. But the mayor said Wednesday he had gotten some mixed signals about the city’s chances of securing the bid.

He said representatives from the RNC were in San Antonio late last month to meet with political and business leaders about hosting the convention in the summer of 2020. Nirenberg said an RNC staff member told him shortly afterward that Republicans no longer were interested in San Antonio, so he did not raise the issue with the City Council.

In an email to Nirenberg Wednesday, Parscale pressed for a response. “It is very important that I let the group here in DC know that San Antonio is going to pass on this opportunity. Many cities are killing to have this,” Parscale wrote.

[…]

In an email to council members Wednesday, Nirenberg wrote: “Today, I learned that the GOP has renewed its interest in San Antonio and is now actively seeking a convention bid.”

Nirenberg invited council members to a closed-door discussion next week about whether the city should attempt a late bid to host the event, which could be an economic bonanza for San Antonio. He said he has reservations.

“There’s a reason San Antonio has not pursued a national political convention since 2000. The local community has to commit tens of millions of dollars up front, and prudent fiscal stewards have good reason to question whether that expense is worthwhile for the community,” Nirenberg said in an interview.

He remarked: “For all intents and purposes, there was nothing happening on this front until Parscale started blowing up the phones.”

There’s more on this from the Rivard Report here and here. Despite Parscale’s insistence that lots of cities want to have the 2020 GOP convention, the Current notes that only the city of Charlotte has made a bid so far. Both Dallas and Houston have passed, for example. I’ve no doubt that the convention would be good for the hotel business, but I can’t imagine it will do much for San Antonio’s image. The point that Nirenberg has made that a city that’s almost two-thirds Latino would not want to be particularly welcoming to Donald freaking Trump is unassailable. All of this is without taking into account the likelihood of massive protests, and Lord knows what else. Who wants to deal with that? I don’t know what decision Nirenberg and the San Antonio City Council will make, but I know what decision I’d make.

Dan Patrick wants SAPD Chief arrested

Bring it on.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday asked the state’s attorney general to determine if the chief of the San Antonio Police Department violated the state’s immigration-enforcement law during a human smuggling incident.

Late last month, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said officers arrested the driver of a tractor-trailer after a passerby saw people being unloaded from the vehicle and flagged down a police unit, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Officers charged Herbert Nichols, 58, under a state statute that makes knowingly transporting persons in the country illegally a crime, instead of turning the case over to federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The immigrants were interviewed and released to a Catholic charity.

During a subsequent news conference, McManus said it could have been a state or federal charge but that he chose to go with the state charge because officers were waiting to see how to move forward.

In a letter, Patrick asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate whether the department violated any portion of the state’s Senate Bill 4, a controversial and sweeping immigration enforcement bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year.

“I am very troubled by the recent news reports of the San Antonio police chief releasing suspected illegal immigrants in a case of human trafficking or human smuggling without proper investigation, identification of witnesses, or cooperation with federal authorities,” Patrick wrote. “Such action could be in direct violation of the recently passed Senate Bill 4 and threatens the safety of citizens and law enforcement.”

It’s unclear exactly which provision of the SB 4 Patrick alleges McManus violated. As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and fines.

Chief McManus, backed by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, strongly disputes Patrick’s allegation. I kind of doubt Danno cares about the details. He’s looking to send a message. Keep an eye on this. The Current has more.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

May runoff results

I know I’ve been all about the Pearland and Pasadena runoffs, but this is easily the big story from yesterday.

Ron Nirenberg

With little more than 75% of precincts reporting, Mayor Ivy Taylor conceded victory to Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) just after 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

Nirenberg received 54.43% of the vote to Taylor’s 45.57% so far. Exactly 5,266 votes separated the two in the early voting results. That margin has grown to more than 8,080.

“There are many issues obviously that differentiate my vision from Mayor Taylor’s – on transportation issues, on diversity issues, on public safety issues – and I think that the voters have made some clear choices about the direction that they want to take the city,” Nirenberg said. “This is a brand new Council so we want to get that everyone together and start working on a unified direction for the city.”

It’s been a fierce runoff over the past month with negative mailers and television ads coming from both sides. An incumbent upset is not unheard of, but relatively rare in San Antonio.

[…]

“In terms of specific issues, the things I’ve been talking about are getting modern transportation strategy put on paper so we can start developing it,” Nirenberg said. “Part of that will be voter approval of a mass transit system for San Antonio.”

You can see vote totals here. What Nirenberg says all sounds fine, but when I think of Ivy Taylor, I think of her vote against San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, and more recently her vote against the SB4 lawsuit. Suffice it to say, I am pleased by this result. Congratulations, Mayor-elect Nirenberg.

Coming closer to home, results were mixed in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council member Jeff Wagner beat businessman John “JR” Moon Saturday in the heated election in Pasadena to replace outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell,

Wagner is closely aligned with Isbell, who has tightly controlled the city politics for decades but could not run again because of term limits.

“Voters in Pasadena don’t seem to be ready for change,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “It’s hard to persuade voters about change in a local election.”

[…]

Besides the race for mayor, Daniel Vela lost to Felipe Villarreal who were both vying for an open city council seat representing District A.

“It was going to be a tight race, either way,” Villarreal said. “I’m glad I got the better part of it.”

Vote totals are here, at least until the canvass. Villarreal was trailing after early voting, then won on Runoff Day by a 2-1 margin, which put him over the top. He was a Project LIFT candidate, so winning that race takes a bit of the sting off of the Mayor’s race result, and keeps Council at the previous mix, meaning new Mayor Wagner has four allies and four skeptics serving with him. We’ll see what he does with the voting rights lawsuit appeal – he had said he’d put it before Council, but as things stand he won’t get a majority to favor continuing the appeal. At best, it’ll be a 4-4 tie, which puts the ball back into his court. And it should be noted that despite Prof. Rottinghaus’ pessimism, the anti-Isbell forces were ten votes in May away from having control of Council. It’s not quite progress yet, but it’s not a step back either.

Pearland, alas, was less positive.

Pearland Mayor Tom Reid was leading challenger Quentin Wiltz in early returns Saturday in an election runoff over who will lead the fast-growing south Houston suburb.

And in the race for a newly created City Council position, Woody Owens was leading Dalia Kasseb in early returns.

The runoff elections reflected a city grappling with change in a suburb that has grown significantly in recent decades, with new and diverse residents moving to master-planned communities built on the west side of town.

Vote totals are here, though as of nearly 10 PM all there was to see were the early vote numbers. Both Reid and Owens were over 60%, so unless something shocking happened yesterday, they won easily. Turnout was higher for this race than it was for May – indeed, more votes were cast before yesterday than for the May election – so it seems the forces of the status quo carried the day. Unfortunate, but there it is. Thanks to Quentin Wiltz and Dalia Kasseb for running honorable campaigns and providing a base to build on for next time.

San Antonio files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Here they go.

The cities of San Antonio and Austin announced on Thursday they have joined the fight to stop the state’s new immigration enforcement law, Senate Bill 4, in federal court.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the suit Thursday on behalf of San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña and a trio of nonprofit groups: La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the Worker’s Defense Project and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

The city of Austin’s city attorney will file a motion to intervene and join the plaintiffs Friday but will use its own attorneys and introduce certain Austin-specific claims, a spokesperson for Austin City Councilman Greg Casar said.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the named defendants in the litigation.

During a press call late Thursday afternoon, Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said the lawsuit contains “arguments against each and every provision in SB4.” Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the bill, if enacted, would violate the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“All of those multiple constitutional claims basically relate to the illegality of empowering each and every police officer, sheriff’s deputy, booking agent and other law enforcement figures in the state of Texas to decide on their own, without any guidance or restriction from their duly elected superiors and appointed police chiefs … whether and how to enforce federal immigration law.”

CM Saldaña had been pushing for this since SB4 was signed, and it was reported earlier in the week that the suit would be filed on Thursday/ Here’s more on Austin’s role in this.

Austin plans to file a motion to intervene, bringing “Austin-specific issues to the table,” City Council Member Greg Casar said on a conference call.

“Soon after Gov. Abbott signed this disgraceful law, community groups announced a summer of resistance against SB 4, calling on elected officials to file challenges against the law in court,” Casar said, refering to Senate Bill 4. “City leaders have responded swiftly. Upon filing suit against the State of Texas tomorrow morning, El Paso, El Cenizo, San Antonio and Austin all will have responded to the community’s call.”

The lawsuit alleges SB 4 violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It names the State of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants.

As the story notes, Austin City Council had previously voted to pursue litigation, so this is the culmination of that vote. This lawsuit joins with the other lawsuits already in progress. MALDEF attorney Saenz is quoted in the Trib story saying that the Austin/San Antonio suits will likely be combined with the El Cenizo/Maverick County one at some point, but until then and before the September 1 implementation date there’s plenty of time for motions and discovery.

San Antonio’s decision to file suit was a bit contentious as Mayor Ivy Taylor did not want to get involved, at least at this time. That stance has become an issue in the Mayoral runoff.

Taylor’s move gives her an 11th-hour wedge issue in her mayoral runoff campaign. Her challenger, Councilman Ron Nirenberg, supports the lawsuit and Taylor is banking on the idea that North Side conservatives will remember that when they go to the polls.

Nirenberg said in a Thursday statement that he hopes the lawsuit “will bring a fast and final resolution on the constitutionality of the law so our local law enforcement can move forward with the job of protecting the people of San Antonio.”

Taylor was joined in her anti-lawsuit stance by North Side council members Joe Krier and Mike Gallagher. Like Taylor, Gallagher suggested that the city should work in coordination with the state’s other major cities before committing to litigation. Krier said the council should have voted in an open session, with full transparency and the chance for public discussion.

I agree with that point. That’s how Austin handled it, with a May 18 council vote to file suit over SB 4. By definition, City Council makes policy and deciding to participate in this lawsuit is a major policy move. In the words of former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, “Put your name on it.”

Saldaña agrees with the calls for transparency, but said San Antonio was running out of time because Austin and other cities are looking to S.A. to decide how they should proceed against SB 4, which goes into effect on September 1.

“The question that I posed to the mayor and the manager (Sheryl Sculley) and our city attorney was, ‘What is the best way to move quickly?’ And they said, ‘Let’s first discuss this in executive session and see what folks have an appetite for.’ But it kept getting stalled and several weeks passed from the time I originally proposed this,” Saldaña said.

“The people who are most in favor of getting it up for a (public) vote are just trying to delay the action that we’re taking. And Councilman Krier was one of them.”

Saldaña pointed out that Krier had no objections in 2014 when the council made an executive-session decision to file lawsuits against the police and fire unions over the city’s collective-bargaining agreements.

Here’s a list of statements by the Mayor and Council members following the vote to file suit. The runoff concludes June 10, so we ought to have some feedback on the political effect shortly. In the meantime, all eyes remain on Houston and Mayor Turner. ThinkProgress and the Current have more.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.

[…]

The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

If you really want to improve turnout in city elections

This is a plan that would do it.

vote-button

Councilman Ron Nirenberg [recently] called for a major change to local elections that he says would boost voter turnout and bolster public participation.

The councilman said he’s spent years considering ways to address abysmal turnout in municipal elections, which are held in May of odd-numbered years. His solution is to move local elections to November of even-numbered years, coinciding with state and federal elections. There would be either a presidential or gubernatorial race on the ballot, driving far better turnout than what municipal elections tend to garner.

“I’m alarmed and astounded by how few people have their voices heard in municipal elections,” Nirenberg said. “That should concern everyone.”

Voter turnout in the May municipal elections is starkly different from that of the November elections. In recent years, for example, the 2005 city election pulled the highest percentage of registered voters, 18 percent. That ballot included an election for an open mayoral seat, pitting Phil Hardberger against a young Julián Castro. Since then, voter turnout peaked in May with 11.89 percent. That included the mayoral race involving Mayor Ivy Taylor, Leticia Van de Putte, Mike Villarreal and Tommy Adkisson.

In the interim period, turnout dropped to a low of 6.94 percent, or about 53,000 of more than 764,500 voters.

Meanwhile, November elections in even-numbered years have drawn between 31.7 percent and almost 57 percent of registered voters since 2008.

[…]

For Nirenberg’s plan to come to fruition, a couple of things have to happen. The Legislature must amend the Local Election Code, and the City Council would have to vote to call a charter amendment election, no sooner than May 2017, wherein voters would ultimately decide whether to move city elections to November of even-numbered years.

On Monday, Nirenberg called on the city to move its elections to coincide with state and federal elections. He sent letters to the city’s Charter Review Commission and to state Rep. Lyle Larson, who he hopes will sponsor a bill that would allow such a change.

The numbers are clear, and so would be the effect. You would also likely get a younger and more diverse electorate, especially in the Presidential years. I could swear Greg looked at what the effect would be like in Houston if we did that here, but I couldn’t find it; this post about having the HERO referendum last year instead of this year touches on the theme. That effect might be lesser in San Antonio than in Houston, but it would likely still be there. For purposes of comparison, let’s take a look at city turnout in the last two even-numbered years, as there were city issues on each ballot. In 2014, there were 398,337 votes cast and 40.90% turnout in Harris County. Those numbers ought to be good enough to make even Mimi Swartz smile.

The fly in the ointment here is that many of our elections aren’t settled in November. Let’s use Austin as an example, since CM Nirenberg cited it and since they just had a contested city election there last November. The November election drew 209,140 total votes, for 40.40% turnout. But then there were the runoffs, as we have in Houston and as they would have in San Antonio, in our often multi-candidate races. The 2014 Austin runoffs attracted only 78,868 total votes, which is 15.58% turnout. Not exactly the same universe there, and for sure not exactly the same voter demographic.

Of course, you can’t have everything, and you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Boosting November turnout may be reward enough, and who knows, maybe once people adjust to that then December races would be better than they have been. There’s another potential downside, however. Like Harris County, the various independent school districts and community college districts in Bexar County hold their elections at the same time as the big (and small) city races. Separating the city elections from the school and community college board elections would likely have a negative effect on their turnout. How much of an effect might that be? I don’t know, and I don’t know what the school/CC districts might think about it. One way or the other, it’s a conversation that would need to be had.

What about moving the school/CC elections to November of even years along with the city races? That’s certainly an option. The argument that I have always heard for keeping school board elections in odd numbered years is that it keeps from from being too politicized, as they would maintain some distance from the even-year partisan races. For that reason, back in the days of House Speaker Tom Craddick, there was a move afoot by some nefarious characters to force school board elections to November of even years, the thinking being that making such elections more partisan would benefit Republicans. That effort went nowhere, and I don’t know that the old thinking still applies. For better or worse, all elections are more partisan now, and higher turnout is generally seen as benefiting Democrats. The politics of this in the Legislature, if Nirenberg’s proposal makes it that far, ought to be fascinating. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

SA Council approves new rules to allow Lyft to return

Close vote, but it counts.

Lyft

The ride-hailing firm Lyft will soon re-start operations in San Antonio in the wake of a controversial City Council decision Thursday that will allow the company to offer rides here during a nine-month pilot program.

The council spent more than three hours listening to public comment and debating among themselves before voting 6-5 in favor of the program.

“A positive vote today is a win for our community because it will expand transportation options in a city where public transportation is limited,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said. “With today’s vote approving this agreement, we are saying loudly that San Antonio is open for business.”

No other city in the country has worked as closely with a so-called “transportation-network company,” or TNC, as San Antonio, Taylor said. The pilot program, she said, “provides consumer choice and works with the technological platform of ride-share companies” and supports the city’s commitments to both innovation and public safety.

Earlier this summer, Taylor directed City Manager Sheryl Sculley to develop a pilot program, and appointed Councilman Roberto Treviño to oversee negotiations for the council.

The deal approved Thursday allows Lyft drivers to voluntarily undergo the city’s fingerprint background check and then post a unique city identification number to their driver profiles on the Lyft smartphone application, which customers use to hail rides. Customers will be able to choose whether they want a driver who has gone through the city’s fingerprint background check in addition to the Lyft background check all drivers go through.

[…]

Councilman Ron Nirenberg pointed out his public safety concerns from a different perspective — epidemic levels of drunken driving in the San Antonio area.

“Insufficient transportation options, which we experience every day, all over this city… increase congestion, cost jobs and it make San Antonio roads more dangerous — even fatal,” Nirenberg said. “And I’m tired of hearing about the fact that people are getting into their automobile when they shouldn’t be because there are no options otherwise.”

Nirenberg said he hopes to have a pilot program for Uber underway soon. It’s unclear how that might happen.

The company submitted earlier this week a slightly different propsal to the city. Rather than identify drivers in its app who have undergone the city’s fingerprint background check, which the city is willing to pay for, Uber wants to notify its users that its drivers don’t go through the city’s background check and solely uses its third-party system.

That likely wouldn’t pass muster with the council, however. Councilman Joe Krier, who was the sixth vote that enabled approval of the Lyft deal, expressed dismay at how Uber has handled itself in San Antonio and in Texas.

Krier said Uber’s approach has been offensive and that he doesn’t respond well to it. The councilman thanked Lyft for its willingness to work with the city to find a resolution.

If Uber ultimately decides to agree to the same methods that Lyft did, it could enter into its own nine-month pilot program without going before council. The council’s approval Thursday makes it possible for other TNCs, such as Uber, to operate here under their own pilot programs as long as their structures are materially similar to the Lyft operating agreement — without going back to the council for an individual vote.

See here and here for the background. This makes San Antonio the mirror image of Houston, in that they now have Lyft but not Uber, and we have Uber but not Lyft. As I suggested before, perhaps this is a situation that might warrant some attention from the Mayoral candidates. Do we want to revisit our rules and try to find a way to get Lyft to operate here, or are we OK with how things are now? The story also notes that Houston and San Antonio are the only cities that require fingerprint background checks for rideshare drivers. I strongly suspect that means we will see another attempt to pass a law providing for state-mandated rules for Uber and Lyft when the Lege reconvenes in 2017. Such a bill made it pretty far this session, and could make more progress next time. As I’ve said before, it would be nice to know what our Mayoral wannabes think about that. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

Four for interim Mayor

Four of out five San Antonio City Council members that had said they would like to file a letter of interest for the post of interim Mayor actually filed those letters of interest.

Submitting letters of interest by Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline were District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg.

The 10-member council has called a special meeting for 9 a.m. Tuesday to select a replacement for Mayor Julián Castro, whose term ends May 31. Castro has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Castro plans to resign as mayor once his successor is chosen, and later will be sworn in as HUD secretary.

Not filing a letter of interest was District 7 Councilman Cris Medina, who had expressed interest in the appointment but last week was the target of an anonymous email alleging official wrongdoing, which he vigorously denied. Medina announced Wednesday that he would take a brief leave of absence from council for military training in the Air Force Reserve, adding that fulfilling that commitment prevented him from pursuing the mayoral appointment.

See here for some background, and see The Rivard Report for more on the candidates. The fact that there are only four candidates instead of five changes the nature of the process a bit. Here’s a relevant quote from that Rivard Report post to illustrate why:

Candidates cannot vote for themselves, but they are allowed to abstain from voting and thus avoid giving their vote to anyone else.

A candidate needs six votes to win, and now there are six Council members that are not candidates. In theory, now one of the four contenders could win on a first round vote instead of needing one of his or her competitors to drop out and support their candidacy. The special meeting to do all of this is this coming Tuesday, July 22. We’ll see how it goes.

The interim and non-interim Mayoral hopefuls of San Antonio

Robert Rivard previews the sausage-making process in San Antonio.

It takes six votes to win, a majority that will be harder to achieve if some of the announced candidates exercise their right to abstain. If all five abstain from voting for someone else, it will be impossible to gain the necessary majority. Such a stalemate would open up the process to all 10 council members, according to the rules of procedure outlined by City Attorney Robbie Greenblum at a recent council meeting.

If the interim mayor is, however, successfully elected on the first round of voting, you will know the real vote occurred behind closed doors and out of public view. I hope that doesn’t happen, and I don’t necessarily believe it will.

What is more likely is an inconclusive first round in which at least two of the candidates, District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg and District 7 Councilman Chris Medina, receive no votes and are eliminated from the next round. It’s also possible, of course, that both will reach this conclusion before July 22 and reverse their stated intentions to seek the mayor’s seat.

Either way, that would leave three candidates.

One is District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, the presumed frontrunner who has stated her willingness to serve out Castro’s one year unexpired term and then step down without seeking election as mayor next May. She would be San Antonio’s first African-American mayor and in a strong position to seek a seat in the state Legislature afterwards if state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) does not run again.

Taylor’s pledge not to run in next May’s city election makes her an appealing compromise candidate to council members who want to run in May themselves or who want to support a candidate not on the Council.

It also would leave San Antonio with a figurehead leader lacking the political power of an interim mayor perceived as a possible candidate for election to a full term in May.

The others two candidates are District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, the senior member of Council, and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, both of whom have expressed an interest in winning the interim seat and going on to run in May.

Two suburban Council members, District 9 Councilman Joe Krier and District 10 Councilman David Gallagher, were said to be provisionally committed to Taylor, if you believe city hall chatter. That’s still four votes short, but it’s a start.

Lopez is experienced and believes he would be effective as mayor, but younger Council members seem more inclined to look at candidates from their generation. Gonzales has entered the contest, in part, because she and others feel it’s time for San Antonio to elect its first Latina mayor. She also believes she is just as qualified as anyone else pursuing the job. Gonzales had no mayoral aspirations before Castro’s Cabinet nomination, but circumstances have placed her and everyone else on the Council in a position none anticipated.

The unique nature of Council politics has thrust all of them into an uncomfortable position. The Council members who might have been the most likely to try and succeed Castro in 2017, had he sought and won a fourth term, aren’t the Council members with the strongest hand in the July 22 contest.

Makes your head spin a little, doesn’t it? Rivard is absolutely right that the San Antonio City Council needs to amend the city’s charter to include a less-crazy, more-democratic Mayoral succession process. A special election on the next viable uniform election date makes the most sense to me. In the meantime, the main question seems to be is it better to put in a placeholder till next May so all of the wannabees for a full term can start out on even footing, or is it better to put in someone that will be auditioning on the job for a full term?

How you answer that may depend on who you would like to support in 2015. One person who won’t be tapped to fill Julian Castro’s shoes for the next few months is State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who is busy building up support for his 2015 campaign.

For 35 years, the most successful candidates and most effective mayors have been practical Democrats who have won the backing of the business community.

This is not just because these candidates have well-financed campaigns. It is because a mayor with an ambitious agenda needs the support of the majority of voters — who in San Antonio are Democrats — and the support of the business community, which is practical.

The most effective San Antonio mayors of the past 35 years — Henry Cisneros, Nelson Wolff, Phil Hardberger and Castro — all fit that profile.

For the past 10 years, the best political harbinger of business support is Mike Beldon, head of one of the city’s largest roofing companies, former chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and former chairman of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. In 2005, he served as treasurer and finance director for Hardberger’s campaign against a young Castro. Four years later, he did the same for Castro in his successful campaign against Trish DeBerry.

Now Beldon has signed on as the mayoral campaign manager for state Rep. Mike Villarreal.

Other than the Council members named above that would run for “re-election” if they win the Council beauty contest, there aren’t any serious contenders that are openly working it for 2015. Villarreal is known to have statewide ambitions, and Mayor of San Antonio would be a nice jumping-off point for a future statewide campaign, certainly one with greater potential than State Rep, at least at this time. One interesting twist on this is that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is said to have expressed some interest in being Mayor before, and could conceivably jump in if she’s not presiding over the Senate next spring. I trust Rep. Villarreal will see that as extra incentive to work even harder on behalf of her candidacy for Lite Gov.

I love it when anti-GLBT candidates lose

A good runoff result in San Antonio.

Ron Nirenberg

Ron Nirenberg, once an underfunded dark-horse, secured the District 8 seat in [last] Saturday’s runoff, overwhelmingly defeating establishment candidate Rolando Briones.

“It feels good knowing that in San Antonio, the message of grassroots, neighborhood-oriented politics is still what will carry the day — not money, not machine, but the citizens of District 8,” Nirenberg said. “I look forward to working with everyone who was so passionate about this race and this community, no matter which side of the campaign they fell on.”

Nirenberg won with nearly 55 percent of the vote — almost 10 points better than Briones. Atypical of run-off elections, Saturday’s numbers exceeded those of the general election on May 11 when Nirenberg became the de facto frontrunner.

Nirenberg ran a grassroots campaign staffed primarily by volunteers, including a contingent of energized college students and recent graduates, who he calls the future of San Antonio.

Briones’ campaign was a well-funded operation staffed by several well-known political consultants. The engineering firm owner spent tens of thousands of dollars of his own money and ran what’s likely to be the most expensive campaign for a council seat in the history of recent city politics.

Nirenberg, who is conventionally married and has a son, was on the receiving end of some nasty gay-baiting mailers. See BOR (twice) and Concerned Citizens for the details. Nirenberg (a Trinity alum and the general manger of 91.7 KRTU – Tigers represent!) nearly won outright in May, and we might have been spared Briones’ foolishness had he done so (Briones claimed the nasty mailers did not come from his campaign, for what it’s worth), so maybe his win in the runoff was predestined. It’s still sweet to see crap like that fail. I hope anyone else who might think to use such tactics, on their own behalf or on behalf of someone else, takes note.