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Senfronia Thompson

Voter suppression bill passes the House

It was always to be, it was just a matter of when.

After months of drama and political resistance, the curtain has lowered on Democratic attempts to stave off a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s voting laws coveted by Republicans seeking to retain their hold on power in a changing Texas.

One week after finally regaining enough members to conduct business, the Texas House slogged through a 12-hour floor debate Thursday before signing off on a slightly revised version of the Republican legislation that first prompted Democrats to stage a nearly six-week absence from the Capitol. The late-night 79-37 initial vote on Senate Bill 1 moved the state closer to enacting new voting restrictions, including limits on early voting hours and other measures opponents say will raise new barriers for marginalized voters, especially voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic, and those with disabilities.

The House returned Friday to give the bill final approval, 80-41, leaving the House and Senate to resolve their differences before the legislation heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“You largely did what you wanted in this bill. You kept changing the bill in the dark, and you backed off agreements we had from time to time that you made with some of us,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told the chamber’s Republicans before the Friday vote. “But make no mistake this is your bill, your idea, and you will be responsible for the consequences.”

Unlike in the spring regular legislative session, the two chambers are much more aligned in their proposals, with the House legislation embracing proposed restrictions it had not included in its previous version of the bill. On Thursday, it further amended various sections of the bill to more closely match the Senate’s version.

You can read the rest for the gory details. One hopes that a whole bunch of crap that was never debated or vetted will not be crammed into the conference committee version of the bill, as it was during the regular session, but as I’ve said before, Dan Patrick gets to have a say in that. There will be litigation, there will be hard questions and hard feelings for the Dems who came back and created the quorum, which was always going to happen eventually but which could and should have been done in a consensus manner, and there will be hope that the filibuster fanatics in the US Senate will figure out the existential nature of this crisis and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would offer a strong bulwark against this kind of assault. That’s where we are, and now we get to try and stop the rest of the Greg Abbott Primary Campaign Agenda. Have a nice weekend. The Texas Signal has more.

Meet the new special session

Same as the old special session, at least at first.

It appears likely that not enough Democrats will show up for the Texas House to conduct business when a second special legislative session convenes Saturday.

Some of the more than 50 Democratic representatives who fled Texas to foil the first special session began trickling out of their Washington, D.C., hotel and heading home Friday. But 27 members have committed to staying in the nation’s capital. At the same time, Democrats were working to confirm that at least 50 members will pledge to not return to the House floor on Saturday even if they are back in Texas.

If that happens, the chamber would again be deprived of a quorum to conduct business for at least a few days. And it could set up a showdown over whether House Speaker Dade Phelan has the authority, and political will, to compel Democratic representatives in Texas to show up at the Capitol.

The ongoing absences would further delay any consideration of the 17-item agenda Gov. Greg Abbott has set for the 30-day special session, including a contentious voting bill, which Republicans have vowed to pass into law, that motivated Democrats to leave the state last month. Two-thirds of the 150 member chamber must be present to conduct business. One seat is currently vacant.

“If you’re looking for us to telegraph exactly what we’re going to do over the next couple days, we’re not going to do that at this time,” state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic caucus chair, said earlier in the day. “The governor would love us to do that, but we’re not going to.”

The House Democratic caucus would not confirm any details about its next move as of Friday evening after marking the last day of the first special session that was derailed after 57 members broke quorum.

The number of Democrats actually in Washington had appeared to dwindle to about 40 members over the last few days. But with 27 Democrats planning to stay behind, even some of the Democrats seen departing from their hotel in Washington on Friday indicated the House floor may not be their destination.

[…]

“If Congress is in session, we’re in session,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said earlier in the day. “Our job is here, and we will have a significant number of members staying here and waiting day by day, engaging day by day, finishing the fight.”

Well, we’ll see. We ought to know early on what the head count is. In one of the earlier stories I saw, it was noted that the Republicans are also not quite at full strength, as some are on vacation or otherwise not available – Jake Ellzey is now in Congress, so right there they’re down one – and that means they need that many more Dems to show up to get to 100. We don’t know if Speaker Dade Phelan is going to follow through on the threat to use DPS to hunt down wayward Dems in the state and drag them to Austin. We may eventually get a quorum, but it won’t happen right away.

Later on Friday, this happened.

Twenty-two Texas House Democrats sued some of the state’s top Republican leaders in federal court in Austin late Friday, alleging that GOP officials’ efforts to bring them home for a special legislative session infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The lawsuit was filed on the final day of the first special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott — and on the eve of a second specially called legislative session — and names as defendants Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan and State Rep. James White.

[…]

It’s unclear why White was listed as a defendant. White said Friday night he was not aware he’d been sued or why he was named as a defendant. The lawsuit also did not use Phelan’s legal name, which is Matthew McDade Phelan.

Abbott and Phelan did not immediately have a statement on the lawsuit.

The Democrats’ attorney, Craig Anthony Washington, a former Democratic lawmaker, did not respond to a request for comment. Washington is practicing law under a probationally suspended license, according to the State Bar of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that some Democrats are being targeted because of their race and skin color, but then provides no evidence.

It also claims the three Republican lawmakers acted together under the “color of law” to cause the harm alleged in the suit, but then points no specific harmful actions other than “public statements.” The lawsuit also says some individual plaintiffs experienced “retaliatory attacks, threats and attempts at coercion relating to the exercise of their First Amendment rights” but again does not provide specifics.

The plaintiffs listed in the case are state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Trey Martinez Fischer, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez, Jon Rosenthal, Jasmine Crockett, Mary Ann Perez, Alma Allen, Christina Morales, Nicole Collier, Celia Israel, Ana-Maria Ramos, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Terry Meza, Donna Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Ray Lopez, Shawn Thierry, Elizabeth Campos and Gina Hinojosa.

The lawsuit alleges that the three Republican lawmakers have attempted “by public statements and otherwise, to attempt to deny, coerce, threaten, intimidate, and prevent” the Democrats and their constituents from voting in all elections, petitioning the government for redress of grievances, speaking publicly about their constitutional rights, exercising their right of association and their right to not being arrested without probable cause. The Democrats allege that in acting together, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive them of their constitutional rights.

Because of the defendant’s actions, the complaint alleges, the plaintiffs have been “deprived of liberty for substantial periods of time, suffered much anxiety and distress over separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment.” They also have suffered damages to their reputations and have had to spend time traveling to Washington to lobby Congress to pass laws that would protect voting rights.

That sounds pretty unlikely to me, even without the issues noted for attorney Craig Washington. You can read a copy of the lawsuit and come to your own conclusions, but this seems like an extreme longshot. And as to why Rep. White was named as a defendant, my guess is it stemmed from his request for an AG opinion suggesting that the quorum-breaking Dems had “vacated” their seats. Even if you could count on Ken Paxton’s office to give an honest answer, that seems like a big escalation of the stakes.

And in other desperation moves, there’s this.

Texas Republican leaders said Friday they were extending “an additional month of funding” for the Legislature as a deadline to reinstate those dollars vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott nears, which could cost some 2,100 state workers their salaries and benefits.

The announcement Friday by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan comes a day ahead of the beginning of a second special session, where it’s still unknown whether enough state lawmakers in the lower chamber will convene in time to restore the funding long term.

[…]

Citing an emergency, the Legislative Budget Board requested the transfer of funds, according to a memo dated Aug. 6 from Abbott responding to the LBB’s proposal. Funds amounting to at least $12.6 million will be transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Senate, the House, and legislative agencies such as the LBB, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Library.

Abbott referenced his veto in that memo, reiterating his position that “funding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early and leave the state with unfinished business, exposing taxpayers to higher costs for additional legislative sessions.”

“However, in order to ensure the Legislature is fully resourced to do the work of the next special session,” he wrote, “I recognize that the partial restoration the Legislative Budget Board had proposed is necessary.”

The extension announced Friday means that those legislative employees and legislative agencies will have funding intact through Sept. 30 instead of Sept. 1, when the next two-year state budget takes effect.

I thought the LBB could only meet when the Lege was not in session, which is certainly was on Friday. If this is all it took, then why not act sooner? And why not free up more money? This has the feel of something half-baked, though I suppose if no one challenges it in court there’s nothing to stop it. And hey, even if someone does challenge it in court, the Supreme Court will just sit on it until the matter becomes moot anyway, so what difference does it make? We’re off to a roaring start here, that’s for sure.

Day 17 quorum busting post: Testify

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms T.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson described to a U.S. House committee on Thursday occasions in 2010 and 2012 when white Republican poll watchers showed up at a Houston polling place where she and many other Black voters cast ballots.

“They had people that looked like they was from the Proud Boys looking at you like you were in the wrong place,” the Houston Democrat testified. “In a minority area, that has a chilling effect. The word gets out that these people are at your polls looking at you like they want to arrest you, keep you from voting.

“You’re damn right I left Texas, and I’m glad I did,” Thompson said. “I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon.”

It was one of several instances in which Texas Democrats detailed the ways they say Republican-backed legislation would make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans, meanwhile, said the Texas Democrats were exaggerating the effects of the bill and should be back in Austin debating it in the Legislature, not complaining about it to Congress.

[…]

Three Texas Democrats — Thomspon, San Antonio state Rep. Diego Bernal and Dallas state Rep. Nicole Collier — gave impassioned testimony to the House panel as they urge Congress to advance new federal voting laws to head off GOP efforts in Texas and other states.

The congressional hearing also brought a bit of news: U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, a Sherman Republican, said his colleagues in Texas informed him they would remove a provision from the proposed legislation that would require voters applying to vote by mail to include a driver’s license number or social security number that they used when registering to vote.

“That speaks well for coming to Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “You made a little bit of progress.”

It all made for a big day for the more than four dozen Democrats who have drawn a national spotlight and met with a slew of their party’s leaders since their arrival in D.C. three weeks ago. The group left Texas earlier this month to break quorum in the state House and stop Republicans from passing new voting restrictions.

That’s what they’re there for, to make this not only real but timely for the Washington Democrats. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope on the horizon.

Senate Democrats have been crafting a revised voting rights bill that Sen. Joe Manchin might deign to vote for, particularly since he is in the group that’s working on it. The Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to convene the group to rewrite the bill, he told The Washington Post, and he, Schumer, Manchin and a few other senators met Wednesday. Further, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday to discuss moving forward on voting rights, perhaps before August recess.

“It’s important that the American people understand that this is very much on our radar, and we understand the urgency, and we’re committed to getting some progress,” Warnock said. Manchin added, “Everybody’s working in good faith on this … It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe … got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said. Other Democrats in the meeting included Sens. Alex Padilla of California; Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who is lead sponsor of the For the People Act in the Senate; and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, chair of the committee in charge of the bill.

A Democrat who did not wish to be named told the Post that the bill would largely follow the proposal for revisions Manchin put forward last month. It could also potentially include language to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, restoring provisions gutted by recent Supreme Court decisions. It’s not clear now whether it would incorporate the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or just some provisions from it. That bill hasn’t been acted on in the House yet.

The same source also told the Post that it could include language to counter “election subversion”—specifically the kind of action the Republican legislature in Georgia is trying to pull by taking over the duties of elections officials in the state’s largest—and most Black—county.

As I said before, getting a federal voting rights bill passed would be the big, ultimate slam-dunk win for the legislative Dems. This may be the best opportunity yet, if it can get that crucial buy-in to not let the stupid filibuster be the roadblock. But time is running out, at least for our Dem legislators. The special session is nearly over, both chambers of Congress are fixing to go on recess, and then there’s also this:

If you want there to be preclearance, then you have to have it in place before the new maps get drawn. Leadership is aligned, but the Senate is as always the bottleneck. Keep pushing, it won’t happen on its own.

Day 13 quorum busting post: Just a reminder, the voter suppression bill still sucks

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first there’s this bit of business.

Rep. Philip Cortez

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, signed a civil warrant for the arrest of state Rep. Philip Cortez, a San Antonio Democrat who rejoined his colleagues in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to help prevent the passage of a GOP-backed election bill.

The warrant is not likely to have impact since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside the state. It is the first one signed by the speaker since more than 50 House Democrats left the state to block Republicans from having the quorum needed to pass legislation during the special legislative session that began earlier this month.

Last week, Cortez returned to Austin from Washington in what he said was an attempt to engage in “good faith dialogue” about House Bill 3, the election legislation. Other Democrats criticized Cortez’s move, saying the lawmaker did not first consult with them before returning to Austin.

By Sunday though, Cortez was back in Washington, saying in a statement that talks with lawmakers in Austin on negotiating the legislation “have not produced progress.”

In a statement Monday, Phelan said that Cortez “has irrevocably broken my trust and the trust of this chamber” after the lawmaker “represented to me and his fellow members that he wanted to work on policy and find solutions to bring his colleagues back to Texas.”

“As a condition of being granted permission to temporarily leave the House floor, Rep. Cortez promised his House colleagues that he would return,” the speaker said. “Instead, he fled the state.”

Cortez, who chairs the House Urban Affairs Committee, did not directly address the warrant in a statement Monday that said he owes “a duty to my constituents to do everything I can to stop this harmful legislation.”

I didn’t blog about the Cortez situation at the time. There were conflicting reactions from different House Dems, with some being quite pointed in their criticism of his actions, saying he was not representing them. It seems clear from the Chron story that some but not all of that has been cleared up.

Cortez said in a Monday morning interview that he decided to rejoin his Democratic colleagues in the nation’s capital after three unsuccessful meetings last week with state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction, the GOP sponsor of the elections measure.

He and Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, one of the few Democrats who decided not to flee the state, had gone into negotiations with “six or seven pressure points” that they’d hoped to address — mostly concerning provisions in the bill that deal with the role of partisan poll watchers. But Cortez said Murr wouldn’t budge until Democrats came back to Texas.

“There was not any positive progress in terms of being able to move forward and improve the bill or improve the language of the bill, and upon seeing that, I decided to return back to D.C. and join my colleagues,” he said.

[…]

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie and the head of the Texas Democratic Caucus, issued a statement Sunday night lauding Cortez as a “valued member of our caucus” who colleagues welcomed back to D.C. “with open arms.”

It was a de-escalation of a bitter back-and-forth that at times played out over social media last week as Democrats expressed frustration over Cortez’s departure, which he did not discuss with the delegation beforehand. Abhi Rahman, a Democratic aide, called Cortez a “gutless coward who has earned himself a primary challenge.”

Rahman said in an interview Monday that public pressure likely pushed Cortez to return.

“This isn’t the time for negotiations on voting,” Rahman said.

No one ever said this was for the faint of heart.

I don’t know enough about what Cortez thought he was doing, or whether he had sufficient buy-in to do what he did, but I do know that this bill continues to suck, and while it will never be worthwhile from our perspective, it could be made to be less actively harmful.

Amid all the fighting, most lawmakers have apparently overlooked a provision that would force counties to automatically reject some mail-in ballot applications. Here’s why: The Republican-authored legislation would require voters to submit either their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number when applying to vote by mail. That number would then be cross-checked with the state’s voter-registration database. Most applicants would be fine, because almost 90 percent of all registered Texas voters have both their Social Security number and driver’s license number in the database. However, 1.9 million voters—about 11 percent of the total—have only one of the two numbers on file with the state.

During late-night testimony to a committee of the Texas House on July 10, Chris Davis, the elections administrator for Williamson County, explained that most of the voters with only one number on file wouldn’t remember which number they filed, often many years earlier, and would have to guess. “You have a 50 percent chance of the voter guessing wrong,” said Davis. Guess wrong and your application would be rejected, even if it’s been twenty years since you used your Social Security or driver’s license number to register to vote. “I challenge any person on the committee: do you remember what you filled out when you got your voter registration? I certainly don’t. And I’m in the business of this. And if [the numbers] don’t match, we’re rejecting.”

[…]

First during the regular session and then again in the ongoing special session, the authors of the “election integrity” legislation increasingly weakened crucial guardrails protecting the security of mail ballots. In addition to the new ID-matching requirements, it now contains a flawed way for voters to “cure,” or fix, a rejected mail-in ballot.

Enrique Marquez, spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan, declined to answer questions about why the House moved the bill forward without addressing the ID-matching and curing issues, nor would he say whether there was any specific plan for addressing these issues if the House Democrats return to Austin. “There are no bills that can be considered on the floor until Democrats return home,” Marquez wrote in an email. “However, House Bill 3 author Andrew Murr has repeatedly stated he will work with all his colleagues to make the best bill possible.” (Murr’s chief of staff said Murr was aware of the problem and “looked forward to working with colleagues about remedying concerns about how differing numbers could result in a ballot not being counted.”)

Davis said many Republicans have failed to listen to the complaints of election officials, ignoring suggestions for improvements to nonpartisan, process-related issues. “It’s just like ‘Who is steering this bus?’” Davis told me. “They are following the pattern of only listening to their ‘the steal is real’ base and not consulting with any county elections officers.”

Davis said that while he decided to testify before the House, he chose not to give testimony before the Senate because Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee, had brushed him off so many times before. Davis said he reached out to Hughes’s office about the ID-matching problem multiple times, but never received confirmation that a fix was in the works. Two legislative staffers, one working for a Republican and one for a Democrat, confirmed that the Texas secretary of state’s office had also advised legislators that the ID-matching provision needed to contain a failsafe for voters who do not have both numbers in the registration system, but the changes were never made. The staffers requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about negotiations. “Why are [election administrators] going to waste our time testifying?” asked Davis, who was appointed to his nonpartisan job by the Williamson County Commissioners’ Court. “They don’t care what we have to say. They haven’t from the beginning.”

County election administrators say the ID-matching provision imposes significant burdens on their offices, and they are unclear how to enforce it. Under the new language, the ID number—either a partial Social Security number or a driver’s license number—would have to be written on the envelope, forcing counties to spend thousands of dollars redesigning envelopes in order to accommodate a privacy flap that poll workers would peek under to check the number. “We’ve joked about whether it should be a scratch-off,” Davis said. If poll workers make an error or if voters, for example, transpose two numbers by accident, the application would be rejected with little opportunity for the voter to address the problem. “We don’t have time for that,” Davis said. “We’re getting down to registration deadlines by the time we receive a lot of these. There’s no time for the voter to mail another one.”

You should read the rest to learn more about the “curing” issue, in which untrained partisans get to review mail ballots and determine whether the signature on the (unopened) envelope matches the signature that’s on file from when you registered to vote. As the bill stands now, there’s no way to appeal if your ballot is rejected, and no opportunity to fix it, even though this kind of “curing” is standard and easily done in many states. This would also be redundant if the driver’s license or Social Security number matches, since the point of that is to verify identity. There are simple fixes, and the Republicans in the Lege have been aware of them for months, yet here we still are. There might be room to get the Dems back if dumb stuff like this were taken out or fixed, but the Republicans say they can’t or won’t do any of that until the Dems return on their own. That ain’t gonna happen, at least not in this session.

One thing that will happen:

Texas House Democrats who left the state to block GOP-backed efforts to enact new voting restrictions will testify on those proposals before a U.S. House subcommittee this week.

State Reps. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Nicole Collier of Fort Worth and Diego Bernal of San Antonio are expected to make appearances on Thursday before the civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a specially called hearing on contentious Texas legislation that would rewrite state election laws. The hearing will come in the middle of Texas Democrats’ third week in Washington, D.C., offering them a more formal stage on which to make their case against the legislation that prompted them to decamp to the U.S. capital.

“America is facing the most sweeping assault on the voting rights of the people since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who chairs the subcommittee, said in a statement. “Texas is now Ground Zero in this battle, and we are honored to have these Texas lawmakers come to testify before our subcommittee about the struggle to defend basic democracy in their state.”

Again, the House isn’t really the problem, the Senate is, and it’s the ridiculous fidelity to the filibuster that’s at the heart of it. I refuse to give up hope, but time is not on our side. But at least our people in DC will get to be heard.

Day 2 quorum busting omnibus post

Gonna round up a few stories here. Don’t know how often I’ll be this energetic, or how often there will be this many stories that I see that are worth commenting on, but it is Day Two. We’re just getting started, and there’s lots of people still paying attention.

The cops are almost certainly not coming for the wayward Dems. I mean, come on.

A showdown in the Texas House was locked into place Tuesday after the chamber voted overwhelmingly to send law enforcement after Democrats who left the state a day earlier in protest of a GOP priority elections legislation.

More than 50 House Democrats left Monday for Washington, D.C., to deny the chamber a quorum — the minimum number of lawmakers needed to conduct business — as it takes up voting restrictions and other Republican priorities in a special session.

That agenda, set by Gov. Greg Abbott, includes House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, the election legislation at hand that would make a number of changes to Texas’ voting system, such as banning drive-thru and 24 hour voting options and further restricting the state’s voting-by-mail rules. Over the weekend, both House and Senate committees advanced the election bills.

The impact of the House move is unclear since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction in the nation’s capital.

Meeting shortly after 10 a.m., the House quickly established that it lacked the two-thirds quorum required to do business, with only 80 of 150 members participating in a test vote.

Then Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, chair of the House Administration Committee, moved to issue what is known as a “call of the House” to try to regain quorum. That motion passed 76-4. Metcalf offered another motion, asking that “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary.” That motion also passed 76-4.

Metcalf’s motions were opposed by four Democrats who were present on the House floor Tuesday morning: Reps. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Tracy King of Batesville, Eddie Morales Jr. of Eagle Pass and John Turner of Dallas.

Axios noted Greg Abbott on Fox News shaking his fist and threatening arrest as well. It’s noise – remember, a big part of this is about the PR for both sides – and in all honesty, it’s what I’d do in the Republicans’ position. Let’s just say I will be extremely surprised if anyone is met at the airport by police on the way back.

If 58 Dems went to DC, then there were nine who did not. We know four of them, at least, and they make sense – Guillen and Morales represent districts carried by Trump in 2020, King’s district trended redder in both 2016 and 2020, and Turner is not running for re-election. I’ll be interested to see who the others are. Everyone will have their reasons for their choices, and bear in mind that family responsibilities may well be among those reasons.

The Chron adds a few tidbits.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, asked [Speaker Dade] Phelan on the floor Tuesday whether Democrats could be removed from committee chair positions for breaking quorum. The speaker said they could not.

Morales, whose gargantuan district spans an area from Eagle Pass nearly to El Paso, said he chose to stay in Texas because he believes it was what his constituents, who tend lean more conservative even among Democrats, wanted from him.

“I felt, and I think what my constituents expected, was for me to be in the Capitol, to make sure that I’m fighting for their rights, and that I fight in opposition to this voter suppression,” he said. “Everyone can fight and they can fight differently. My way of fighting is being here because that’s what my constituents expect.”

Morales said it is clear Democrats would be “steamrolled” when the Republican majority did not give them 24 hours after a House committee hearing this weekend to offer amendments based on the testimony they heard.

“It was just fanfare. They had no intention of actually working and actually coming to play and actually making those modifications necessary to the bill,” he said. “ That is why Democratic leadership decided to take the actions that they did.”

Morales said he expects that Phelan will allow members who ask permission to be excused to leave the chamber on an individual basis. He’ll need to do so to be at work at his day job as a city attorney on Tuesday night.

The process of asking for permission to leave the chamber will likely be repeated every day.

Troopers will now go to the missing members’ homes in their districts and in Austin, and places of work and family and friends’ houses, Morales said.

The Texas Senate, meanwhile, had a quorum of 22 members and was expected to debate its version of the voting bill later Tuesday.

The home visits were a part of the 2003 walkouts as well. You never know, someone might try to sneak home for some reason.

The bit about the Senate having a quorum feels a little surprising even though it obviously isn’t. I don’t know how much incentive Senate Dems have to do anything other than screw around and try to make trouble as they can. As for the likely death of other bills, well, that was priced into the decision to break quorum.

Bills to restrict pretrial release from jail, ban critical race theory in schools and prohibit transgender public school students from competing on teams that correspond with their gender identity were up in the air after dozens of Democratic lawmakers chartered flights to Washington, D.C. But their departure also left in jeopardy more widely-supported measures, like giving more money to retired teachers and restoring vetoed funding for more than 2,100 legislative employees who could potentially go without paychecks starting in September.

[…]

Beside bills on voting and bail, other Republican priorities that are now in danger during Abbott’s 30-day session include efforts to stop social media companies from blocking users for their viewpoints, limiting pill-induced abortions and adding money for policing efforts at the Texas-Mexico border. But the governor also tagged lawmakers to tackle less partisan issues — like adding funds for foster care, property-tax relief and retired teachers. On Monday, he slammed Democrats for leaving those on the table.

One piece of legislation would provide what is known as a “13th check” to retired teachers across Texas. The bills would direct the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to distribute a one-time supplemental payment of up to $2,400 by January of next year.

Committees in the House and Senate unanimously advanced the legislation Friday in some of the earliest committee votes of the special session.

Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, said its members “desperately need help,” especially after the economic stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there are mixed feelings,” Lee said of the potential demise of the 13th check proposal due to Democrats leaving the state. “I think that educators care about voting rights, educators care about the truth, they care about working together and compromising and listening — so that’s what they hope both sides of this policy spectrum will ultimately yield, that people will work together.”

As far as legislative employees — who earn a median salary of $52,000 per year — some staffers and a legal representative said there may be other ways to pay the employees of elected officials and those who help all lawmakers write bill drafts and provide cost estimates for legislation.

Lawmakers could potentially roll over money from the current fiscal year, if they have any, to pay their staffers. Or the Texas Supreme Court may rule in favor of the employees and House Democrats in a lawsuit arguing Abbott’s veto was a gubernatorial overreach. And Abbott has used his emergency power to move money around before, as he did by directing the transfer of $250 million from Texas prisons to a border wall down payment.

For Odus Evbagharu, chief of staff to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, the onus to restore his and his colleagues’ wages is on Abbott.

“I don’t believe it’s on the House Democratic Caucus to answer for that. I think that’s going to be an answer that Governor Abbott’s gonna have to answer himself,” Evbagharu said. “My best guess is you hope he doesn’t further punish staff for decisions that lawmakers are making.”

Most of these bills are garbage, and their death (however fleeting) is a bonus as far as Dems are concerned. The legislative funding issue is entirely on Abbott for his temper-tantrum veto, and I hadn’t even thought about him using emergency powers to override himself. That’s if the Supreme Court doesn’t settle this, AS THEY SHOULD. The extra paycheck for teachers is a genuine shame, but it could be handled in any subsequent special session.

Again I want to emphasize, Greg Abbott has the primary responsibility here. He pushed these divisive, red meat issues, he called the special session to try again on the ones that failed, and he broke all precedent by vetoing the legislative funding. This is his mess.

One thing, though, seems clear: this comes at a very bad time for Governor Greg Abbott, who was already having a pretty bad week. Abbott is facing, so far, three challengers to his right in the Republican primary for governor. The charge from his Republican opponents is that he’s feckless and weak. The quorum break, which is designed to deny passage of one of his priority pieces of legislation, fits neatly into a narrative that he is getting outfoxed by an ostensibly powerless Democratic opposition. That the narrative is largely untrue—Democrats certainly believe they got the shaft this session—doesn’t matter much.

If the crisis resolves by offering concessions to the exiled Democrats, or otherwise weakening the bill, Abbott will catch hell. The best case for him is to “break” the Democrats and win the fight, but taking a hard line could also prolong the crisis. At first, messaging from his camp was uncharacteristically soft, perhaps because it’s not clear what he could say. In a statement Monday, Abbott said Democratic absences were standing in the way of “property tax relief” and other issues, a sign that the governor’s office was uncomfortable centering the election bill that’s the problem here. On Tuesday, he started talking tough, threatening them with arrest and “cabining” in the Capitol if they return to Texas, but both those threats reflect his underlying powerlessness. The main talking point so far, at least on social media, is that the Democrats brought beer with them.

[…]

Abbott’s predicament is one he seems uniquely unfit to solve. Unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry, he has never had much in the way of personal relationships with lawmakers. He has no credibility with Democrats to coax them back. But even Republican legislators don’t trust him very much. Abbott did not help the situation with his decision after Democrats walked out on the last day of the regular session to veto funding for the Legislature in retribution. He is holding Republican staffers and state employees hostage in order to coerce Democrats back to the chamber. That may make Abbott look “tough,” but hurting your allies to spite your enemies isn’t sensible politics.

The one thing Abbott does have going for him here is that the Dems will eventually come back, one way or another, and he will always have to call at least one more special session to deal with redistricting. He could just decide to wait and let the Dems figure out what they’re doing and mostly ignore them until they return. I don’t think he’ll do that, but he does do best when he mostly stays out of sight.

Whatever Abbott does or doesn’t do, things are happening in the Senate.

As Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on a GOP priority elections bill that would restrict voting rights in the state, the Texas Senate approved the bill Tuesday with a party-line vote of 18-4.

[…]

[Bill author Sen. Bryan] Hughes amended the bill to drop requirements for curbside voting that troubled advocates for people with disabilities. The original version of the bill required any person other than the voter using curbside voting to leave the car while the voter was casting their ballot.

Hughes removed that provision to “avoid confusion and not create hardship for anyone with a disability.”

Another amendment by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was intended to bring the bill into compliance with federal laws on voter assistance. It removed provisions from the bill that required people assisting voters to specify under oath how they were providing assistance to a voter and that they were doing so because the voter had a disability.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, also amended the bill to allow for tents to be used as temporary polling places if a regular polling place sustained physical damage that rendered it unusable. The permission would only grant the temporary permission for one election and would have to be approved by a county commissioners court.

Another amendment by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, required poll watchers to be provided training manuals to educate them about their duties.

Note that eight Senate Democrats are also in DC, with a ninth on the way. That’s not enough to break quorum in the Senate, so on they go with that wretched business.

Meanwhile, what are the Dems trying to accomplish? I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with that other Senate.

At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the group of Democrats specifically called on Biden and Congress to demonstrate “the same courage” they had shown by traveling to the nation’s capital during a special legislative session that had been called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has since threatened to arrest the more than 50 Democrats who fled. As they did in a statement confirming their plans to boycott the session before hopping aboard two private planes on Monday, the group once again hailed both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act as examples of model legislation for protecting voting rights at the federal level and implored Congress to pass them.

“We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” Texas Rep. Rhetta Bowers said in a press conference flanked by some of her fellow state Democrats. “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely, to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti-voter bills.” Bowers said that although Texas Democrats would use “everything in our power to fight back,” they ultimately needed Congress to act with the same urgency.

“We are not going to buckle to the ‘big lie’ in the state of Texas—the ‘big lie’ that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Rep. Rafael Anchia added.

[…]

Tuesday’s press conference came hours ahead of President Biden’s much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, where he’ll make a forceful condemnation of Republican efforts to enact voter suppression laws. His message, however, is not expected to include support for ending the Senate’s filibuster rules, which advocates say stand in the way of passing meaningful protections for voting rights.

They did get to meet with numerous key Senators, though not yet the two that hold this legislation in their hands. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci puts it for when and if they do, what the Dems have is an emotional appeal.

The emotional appeal may be the only route left for [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson, her colleagues, and other Democrats who see this moment as a turning point for U.S. democracy. Manchin and Sinema already have all the facts. They’ve shown no willingness to budge. Now, they’ll have to tell a crowd of fugitive Texan legislators singing a civil-rights protest song that their extreme measures to protect the franchise will be for naught.

Like I said yesterday, that is the ultimate grand prize. I hope it has better odds than a Powerball ticket.

Finally, Houston Matters spoke to State Reps. Penny Morales Shaw, who is in DC, and Garnet Coleman, who is not because of health issues, though he is not in Austin. They also spoke to US Rep. Lizzie Fletcher about the subject, for which a YouTube clip is here. And here is the note I think we can all agree it would be best to end on:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The next voter registration project

Necessary, but not sufficient.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Democrats’ takeaways from the 2020 election are clear: to take back our state from Texas Republicans, Democrats need to register more voters. With Republicans’ increasing extremism and relentless attacks on Texans this spring, the stakes have never been higher in the fight for Texas’ future.

Today, in a press conference with Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Carol Alvarado, State Sen. Royce West, Texas House Democratic Dean Senfronia Thompson, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Nicole Collier, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rafael Anchía, House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, and Texas Democratic Party Chief Strategy Officer Luke Warford, Texas Democrats unveiled Project Texas, our comprehensive plan to register Texas Democrats and take back our state in the 2022 elections. The full recording of the press conference is available here, and you can read more about the plan here.

There are more than 2 million eligible Texans who would likely vote Democratic — but are not yet registered. With Project Texas, Texas Democrats will work to register as many of these voters as possible, because we believe that every eligible Texan should be able to register and vote, safely and conveniently. Texas Democrats have consulted with partners across the state and beyond to create a plan to get Texas Democrats registered — both using proven approaches, and testing out innovative ways to encourage Texans to fill out their forms and get registered.

Project Texas includes two phases. First, Texas Democrats will test out six approaches to voter registration through our 2021 pilot program, and identify which tactics work best. Then, we will scale up the most effective methods to do a massive voter registration push in 2022.

Of the 2 million unregistered likely Democratic voters in Texas, more than half are Latino, ⅕ are Black and ¼ are 25 years of age or younger. Outreach to young Texans and Latino and Black communities will be a foundational part of our Project Texas programming. Every Democrat we register gives Texans a better shot at tipping the scales and putting Democrats in power in 2022.

I agree that voter registration is an evergreen project – there are many people moving here, many people turning 18, many new citizens, and still many people who were never registered in the first place; we also have to remember the people who move to new addresses, and who fell off the voter rolls for one reason or another. There will never come a time when we can say “okay, we’re done here”. I doubt there will ever be a time when we’ll be able to just coast and let voter registration be a background task.

But as much as voter registration matters, it’s clearly not enough. For one thing, Republicans were registering voters in the 2020 cycle as well. I have no idea how many they might have signed up and how many of them subsequently turned out, but we don’t have this field to ourselves any more. Once people are registered, we have to turn them out, and we have to make sure the people we’re turning out are going to vote for our candidates. Lots of first-time Republicans showed up in 2020 as well, after all. We also need to be paying some more attention to our already-registered but less-frequent voters.

On the assumption that something like SB7 is eventually going to pass, the next part of this process is going to have to be to make sure all of our voters know what the new requirements and restrictions are. We’ve mostly managed to deal with the voter ID hurdle, and now there are going to be many more such obstacles. I hope we have a plan to make sure everyone knows what they will need to do to cast a ballot that counts in 2022 and beyond. For sure, whatever law we end up with will be litigated, but we can’t count on the courts to save us. We need to be prepared to live and vote in the world that is being foisted on us.

None of this is revolutionary, and I assume the TDP folks have their plans in place. I’m putting this out there in part to let you know about it and in part to make sure we’re all cognizant of how the ground is shifting. We have made a lot of progress in the last four years, as I hope my precinct analysis posts have shown, but there’s more to do and the conditions under which we do them are changing. We have to keep up with, and get ahead of, those changes.

More on the post-quorum break fallout

This Trib story mostly centers on the perspective of the Black legislators during the SB7 fight, and it’s a good read for that, but I want to focus on this bit here:

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

While the legislation in the Senate partly targeted Harris County, SB 7 carried the potential to alter the voting process across the state. Beyond banning extended early voting hours, it enhanced the freedoms of partisan poll watchers, set new rules for removing people from the voter rolls and further tightened vote-by-mail rules. In early May, lawmakers in the House negotiated a significantly slimmed down version of the bill that was narrower in scope and included a series of Democratic amendments. In recent days, some Democrats have indicated that version wouldn’t have prompted a walkout, though they wouldn’t have supported it.

Tension around the bill escalated in its last 48 hours through the Capitol as Republicans ironed out the differences in both chamber’s versions, choosing to include significant portions of the Senate’s more expansive version and dropping in a series of new provisions behind closed doors. The bill doubled in size to include new ID requirements for absentee voters and a higher standard for who could qualify to vote by mail based on a disability. Much of Democrats’ ire fell on a new rule mandating that early voting on Sunday couldn’t start until 1 p.m., which they saw as an unjustified attack on “souls to the polls” efforts churches use to turn out Black voters.

Republicans defended the additions as a standard part of the negotiation process, noting that some of them were pulled from other bills passed by the Senate or generally discussed by the chamber.

But the changes were revealed to the full Senate and House less than 48 hours before the deadline to approve the bill, setting off frustrations among Democrats over the lack of time to fully review the legislation. To keep the bill out of range of a filibuster, Senate Republicans used their majority to suspend their own rules and take up the final bill a day earlier than the rules required. Democrats said a resolution laying out many of the last-minute additions to the bill wasn’t presented to them until just before they were supposed to take it up.

In the House, the final bill was so hastily put together that state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who was ushering it through the chamber, said it left out a Democratic initiative he had promised to keep in. The report also misspelled the word equal as “egual.”

“It seemed like the fix was in from the beginning,” state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said at a press conference early Sunday. “From the beginning, there was no interest in hearing how these measures would impact people of color.”

The description of how things were so rushed raises again a point I made in this post, which is why it took SB7 so long to get to a final vote. Look at the legislative history. The conference committee was appointed on May 19, and it took until May 30 for the final bill to appear, which kicked off the Senate suspending their rules and the final showdown in the House. Why did it take so long? Maybe the House committee members were trying to defend the Democratic amendments, but if so they ultimately did a lousy job of it. A whole lot of new stuff was added, but it seems to me that was mostly language taken from other bills that didn’t come to a vote. None of this should have taken so long, and yet it did. My theory, which so far no one else has even brought up (that I know of), is that the Republicans wanted to do this at the last minute, over the holiday weekend, because it limited the amount of attention they’d face as it was happening. I could be wrong about this – maybe they really couldn’t get their act together in time – and it surely didn’t work out the way they wanted, but until someone demonstrates otherwise, this is the reason I believe for why things unfolded as they did.

Of related interest:

A last-minute addition to the final version of Senate Bill 7, negotiated behind closed doors, set a new window for early voting on Sundays, limiting it to 1 to 9 p.m. Democrats and voting rights advocates said GOP lawmakers were targeting “souls to the polls,” the longtime practice by Black congregations that encourages members to go vote after Sunday morning services.

In an interview Tuesday with NPR, one of the negotiators, Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, said the 1 p.m. start time was an error and that it should have been 11 a.m. Despite his claim, no Republicans raised an issue with the start time during final debate over the bill, and one of them even defended it.

Clardy told NPR that the Sunday start time was “one of the things I look forward to fixing the most” in a special session.

“That was not intended to be reduced,” Clardy said. “I think there was a — call it a mistake if you want to — what should have been 11 was actually printed up as 1.”

Lawmakers are set to revisit the legislation in a yet-to-be-called special session after Democrats staged a walkout late Sunday night that blocked passage of SB 7 in the regular session, which ended Monday. In a Texas Tribune interview later Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott said he was unaware of the specific mistake that Clardy was referring to but that he had heard there “clerical errors” with the final version of SB 7 and that he would be open to “making modifications” to the Sunday voting rules.

After Clardy’s interview with NPR, another GOP negotiator and the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, said that what Clardy said was true and that lawmakers intended to fix the start time in a special session.

Despite the new claims that the 1 p.m. start time was a mistake, Republicans did not flag it as an error in debate over the final version of SB 7 this weekend. In the Senate, SB 7’s author, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, stood by the start time under Democratic questioning late Saturday night.

“Those election workers want to go to church, too,” Hughes said. “And so that’s why it says 1 p.m. [and] no later than 9 p.m. You can make Sunday service and go after that.”

When Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, pressed Hughes on that justification, Hughes admitted it wasn’t based on conversations with election workers but suggested that “souls to the polls” efforts promoted voting after the lunch hour.

“You can correct me, but souls to the polls — I thought we went to church and ate lunch and then voted,” Hughes said.

When the House moved Sunday night to pass SB 7, Cain noted that it did not outlaw voting initiatives “such as souls at the polls.”

Asked about Clardy’s comments Tuesday, Hughes said the “intent was to extend the Sunday voting hours” and that lawmakers would “make this clear in the special session.”

I mean, come on. The Republicans fully intended to limit Sunday voting to after 1 PM. What they’re saying now is one part PR, one part making a minor concession to try to appear reasonable, and one part trying to make the inevitable lawsuit a little harder to prosecute. Come up with better rationalizations, guys.

And then there’s this.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said Tuesday he has concerns with Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent vow to veto a section of the state budget that funds the Legislature, citing how the move to block such pay could impact staffers and legislative agencies.

“I understand the frustration the governor has in [lawmakers] not passing those emergency items — they were priorities of the governor, they were priorities of mine, priorities of many members of the Legislature,” Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “My only concern is how it impacts staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not an inexpensive place to live and raise your family and children.”

[…]

Phelan also said he thinks that, under the Constitution, lawmakers would still have to be paid even if Abbott carried out his veto. Lawmakers are paid $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session, during both regular and special sessions.

In an interview with the Tribune later Tuesday, Abbott insisted he still plans to veto that part of the budget and said that if Phelan is “concerned about it, he needs to do something about it.”

“He has a role to play here,” Abbott said. “He’s not some outside viewer. He’s a participant, and he needs to step up and get the job done.”

The governor has said he will summon the Legislature back to Austin for an overtime round to pass the legislation, though he has not yet specified when he plans to do so. Lawmakers are already expected to return this fall for a special session to redraw the state’s political maps.

Phelan said if Abbott carries out the veto, which he has until June 20 to do, lawmakers could be back for an earlier-than-anticipated overtime round to deal with the issue, since the budget involved covers the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.

The speaker also said he had concerns about how the move could impact legislative agencies such as the Legislative Budget Board, which are also funded by Article X of the budget.

“They weren’t the ones who decided that we were going to break quorum,” Phelan said.

Ever watch a movie that has an evil overlord who expresses his displeasure at some hapless minion who has failed him by murdering some other hapless minion? (See item #45 on that list.) That’s what this reminds me of. A whole lot of innocent civil servants may have their pay cut off because Abbott has his nose out of joint. Is that leadership or what?

There’s lots of room to improve sexual harassment training at the Lege

They’re starting from a really low point.

You could miss both questions about sexual harassment and still pass the preventative training required every two years for Texas House staffers.

The online training, a roughly 15-minute lecture on sexual harassment sandwiched between lessons on anti-discrimination and workplace violence, mostly dwells on definitions, with a narrator explaining different types of sexual harassment. But it offers no real-life examples or hypothetical situations — both of which are key to an effective sexual harassment training, three experts who reviewed the video said.

At the end, staffers only need a 70 percent to pass the 10-question quiz. They can take it as many times as needed to pass.

“It felt like it was the very bare minimum that they could afford, and I just kind of viewed it as a box I needed to check,” said one staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they’d be punished for speaking out without authorization. “Did I feel that it was helpful and gave me resources and equipped me to be able to respond if I felt harassed or discriminated against? No. I did not feel that way.”

The online training is also emblematic of past efforts to address complaints of rampant sexual harassment and “predatory behavior” toward women who work at the Capitol — symptoms of what House Speaker Dade Phelan called “a culture that has been festering in this building far too long.”

Concerns were heightened by reports late last month that a lobbyist used a date-rape drug on a Capitol staffer during an off-site incident.

Phelan has said he is already working to revamp the training and make it an in-person class in the future. The first-year speaker has also established a new email for members, staffers and Capitol visitors to report misconduct anonymously: [email protected]

Late Tuesday, the House passed a bill mandating sexual harassment training for all elected officials and lobbyists; it now heads to the Senate for approval.

See here for some background on the date rape drug incident. The bill passed in the House is HB4661. A similar bill – SB2233 – was passed last week by the Senate, which also closes the lobbyist loophole. I expect at least one of these will make it to Greg Abbott’s desk.

As to how they could actually do better at the Lege, at least from a training perspective:

Three experts who reviewed the House’s online training said it only covers basic legal principles, leaving much room for improvement. Good training, they said, may prepare staffers for uncomfortable situations and give them resources to report misconduct. But the most important part of weeding out sexual harassment in the workplace is buy-in from leaders who hold bad actors accountable and treat survivors with respect and dignity.

“Training is one component, but if you don’t address the culture and all of the underlying issues, it’s almost a waste of time,” said Kelsey Medeiros, an assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who has spent years researching workplace ethics and sexual harassment. “If you don’t have this environment around it that is going to support what people have just learned, it’s not going to work. It needs to be a culture change.”

Medeiros said the training is especially important in a place like the Legislature, a historically male-dominated work environment that could be conducive to harassment, especially of women.

The experts specialize in ethics and sexual harassment and reviewed the training at the request of Hearst Newspapers, which obtained the video through a public records request.

A switch to in-person training could also help with engagement, since the online format makes it easy for people to turn their attention elsewhere while a video plays, said Jessica Ramey Stender, senior counsel for workplace justice and public policy at Equal Rights Advocates, an activism group that focuses on gender-based issues in the workplace.

It also doesn’t help that some people don’t take the training at all: In some legislative offices, one employee will take the training and print out multiple certificates of completion for their colleagues, staffers said.

“One of the main reasons why sexual harassment trainings aren’t successful is that they can be pretty boring and dry and don’t hit home for people,” Stender said. “In this training, they launch right into the law, without talking about the kind of specific power dynamics that really play into and contribute to sexual harassment occurring in this context and make it more likely to occur.”

In the next iteration of the training, House leadership would do well to include more information about the ways a person experiencing harassment is affected by it, said Amy Averett, the director of the SAFE Institute program, the training and services arm of the Austin-based nonprofit SAFE that works to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct.

“It doesn’t give any context for how difficult it is and why people don’t speak up,” she said. “There wasn’t that kind of invitation or offering of support, kind of thinking about it from the survivor’s perspective.”

Best practices are pretty well known here, so there’s no excuse for getting this wrong. And again, while providing a robust education regimen and a safe way to report incidents is important, nothing will really change until the overall culture changes. It will take a lot more than better training to accomplish that.

Houston police reform items announced

It’s a start.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday unveiled a sweeping effort to reform policing in Houston by banning no-knock warrants for non-violent offenses, restructuring the police oversight board, publicly releasing body camera footage when officers injure or kill residents, expanding diversion programs and allowing online and anonymous complaints against officers.

The reform package, which Turner outlined at a City Hall press conference with Police Chief Troy Finner and other city officials, comes nearly 11 months after the mayor appointed a task force to explore changes the city should make after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The group published a lengthy report last September that recommended 104 reforms to policing in Houston. Turner at the time said he supported “almost all” of the measures.

The city made more modest changes before and after it unveiled the report, such as an executive order curbing certain uses of force, “safe harbor” court to provide alternatives to jail for people who cannot afford to pay fines, and joining a cite-and-release program that gives citations instead of arrests for certain nonviolent crimes.

The slow pace in addressing big-ticket items, though, frustrated advocates looking for more immediate reforms. Turner sought to change that Thursday, addressing many of the central recommendations in the task force’s report. He said the city now has implemented more than half its suggestions.

Among the changes: a dashboard to track police misconduct and encounters while also accepting anonymous complaints; a revamped oversight board with full-time investigative staff; the ban on no-knock warrants, one of which resulted in two civilian deaths and unearthed a major scandal for Houston police; and the public release of body camera footage within 30 days of critical incidents.

The online complaint form, available in five languages, and data dashboards will be available by the end of May, Turner said. It will allow for anonymous complaints, which advocates have said is critical.

Scott Henson, executive director of justice reform nonprofit Just Liberty, said a similar change had a profound impact in Austin, where officers began anonymously reporting each other for infractions.

[…]

Turner also said he will use more than $25 million in federal pandemic relief dollars over three years to expand diversion programs, a key victory for some advocates who had called for the city to add mental health counselors to police responding to certain calls, or replace them altogether.

The diversion programs include Crisis Call Diversion, which directs certain 911 calls to mental health professionals with the goal of resolving an incident without a police response; Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, which dispatch mental health professionals without law enforcement; and Crisis Intervention Response Teams, which pair a mental health counselor with a police officer.

The mayor said the city will expand the call diversion program to around-the-clock coverage, at an annual cost of $272,140, and hire 18 new mobile crisis outreach teams at a cost of $4.3 million per year, as the task force recommended.

While the report called for 24 new crisis intervention teams, the city will hire six new teams to add to the current staff of 12, among other efforts.

“We do ask our police officers to do way too much, and put them in some very precarious situations where the outcomes sometimes are not positive,” Turner said.

See here for the previous update. Overall, this seems pretty good, and the announcement drew praise from CMs Letitia Plummer and Tarsha Jackson, who are among the leaders in pushing for reforms on City Council. Some advocates were more muted, but at least no one was quoted in the story with harsh criticism. It’s still early days, so we’ll see about that. The next step is in the implementation, which will be another measure of the commitment from the city, as well as an indication of if we’re going in the right direction and at the right pace. It’s a good start, now we need to take the next steps. The Press has more.

On the topic of criminal justice reform, there were also a couple of items of interest from the Lege. First, the George Floyd Act passed the House.

The Texas House on Thursday quickly gave preliminary approval to three police reform measures that are part of a sweeping set of legislation following the in-custody murder of George Floyd last year.

The bills would require Texas law enforcement agencies to implement more uniform and substantive disciplinary actions for officer misconduct, bar officers from arresting people for fine-only traffic offenses and require corroboration of undercover officer testimony.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, lead author of the bills and the omnibus George Floyd Act, said the disciplinary measure was about fairness and accountability.

“The bill is by no means a cookie cutter process,” said Thompson, D-Houston. “Every case of officers’ misconduct is different. But so are other crimes in this state.”

The approved measures will head to the more conservative Senate after a final vote in the House. The upper chamber has also passed targeted pieces of Texas’ George Floyd Act — though only those that are also supported by police unions. The measure on officer discipline is strongly opposed by major police unions.

See here for some background. I am cautiously optimistic, but with the Senate working to pass permitless carry over the objections of law enforcement, I fear they’ll aim to appease them by watering down this bill. We’ll see.

Also from the Lege: Smaller penalties for pot possession passes the House.

The Texas House preliminarily approved a bill that would lower the criminal penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana and provide a path for many Texans charged with such a crime to expunge it from their criminal records. The bill applies to possession of one ounce or less — approximately two dime bags.

Currently in Texas, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which can be punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. House Bill 441, authored by state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, would reduce possession of one ounce or less to a Class C misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. Police also wouldn’t be allowed to make arrests for possession at or under an ounce.

In a committee hearing, Zwiener said the language had been worked on with Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and praised the “bipartisan conversation” over reducing possession penalties. The House passed a similar measure two years ago, but Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opposed it and quickly declared it dead in the upper chamber. Patrick’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I continue to believe that no measure of marijuana decriminalization will pass the Lege as long as Dan Patrick is in a position of power. I will be happy to be proven wrong about that.

HISD Board declines to hire Lathan permanently

A national search will be conducted, with still-interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan encouraged to apply.

Houston ISD trustees voted Thursday against committing to Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan as the district’s long-term leader, opting instead to launch a national search before filling the position.

In a 6-3 vote, trustees generally complimented Lathan’s lengthy tenure as interim, but ultimately concluded the district needs a deeper search for a permanent chief. Some trustees encouraged Lathan to apply for the job during the search, though it is not immediately clear whether she will.

“As the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States, it is of the utmost importance that we think about candidates for the permanent superintendent position by going through a transparent and thorough search process,” HISD Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said.

“We owe it to our students, our community, our constituents and the taxpayers to do our due diligence.”

HISD trustees Judith Cruz, Sue Deigaard, Dani Hernandez, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung joined Flynn Vilaseca in voting to start the search. Lathan did not address the outcome during Thursday’s meeting or immediately respond to a request for comment through the district.

[…]

Lathan enjoyed strong backing from many other HISD administrators, with about 45 of them lauding her leadership amid district instability and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This period now has been, by far, one of the most difficult I have seen during my tenure,” said Moreno Elementary School Principal Adriana Abarca-Castro, who has led the campus for 31 years. “I have witnessed how our superintendent, Dr. Lathan, has led us courageously, positively and (been) supportive in every way.”

Many of the city’s Black civic leaders also rallied to support Lathan, with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Reps. Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson endorsing her Thursday. Lathan would have become the district’s first Black woman to lead the district if chosen.

However, Lathan’s tenure coincided with scathing state reports documenting extensive operational and special education issues in the district. One of HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, Wheatley High School, also received its seventh straight failing grade in 2019, triggering a state law that resulted in Education Commissioner Mike Morath moving to replace the district’s elected school board.

Some trustees argued HISD should not lock in a superintendent while they continue to fight in court to stop their ouster. The board’s lawsuit against the state is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

“The TEA lawsuit has huge implications for our choice,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said.

HISD trustees did not outline a plan Thursday for conducting their search, though questions remain about whether they can legally engage in the process.

See here for the background. This whole thing is a mess. The best argument for doing the national search is that this is the way we have always searched for Superintendents. Under normal circumstances, the HISD Super job is a plum – we’re a big district, we’re in good fiscal shape, we’ve got a lot of good schools, and yet there are some real challenges on which someone with vision can make a difference. We get good applicants, and just the process of reviewing and interviewing them can provide some new perspective on HISD and its mission.

Of course, these are not normal circumstances. Putting aside the current disfunction with the Board, the looming state takeover would be a pretty serious drawback for any potential applicant, and that’s before you take into account the fact that the eventual appointed board of managers might move to vacate your contract. Plus, the fact that you’d be competing against a now-multi-year interim Super for the job might be an impediment. I don’t even know how to factor in the whole Abe Saavedra fiasco, other than as another example of what a circus it has been around here. The clear downside risk of not making Grenita Lathan permanent, even on a shorter-than-usual contract, is that she might just decide that she’s had it with this bullshit and leave, and now we don’t have any Superintendent at a time when that would be really bad. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about Lathan, but it is fair to say she has not been treated well by the Board, even with two of the instigators of the Saavedra mess being defeated in the 2019 election. I don’t know where we go from here.

Looks like (maybe) we have a Speaker

I give you Rep. Dade Phelan. May he not spontaneously combust in spectacular and self-inflicted fashion like a drummer for Spinal Tap the last Speaker.

Rep. Dade Phelan

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced Wednesday he has the votes needed to become the next speaker of the Texas House and soon after released a bipartisan list of 83 members supporting his candidacy. That number, should it hold, is more than enough votes for Phelan to win the gavel when the Legislature convenes in January.

But Phelan’s main competitor for the speakership, state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, indicated in a statement he was not backing down from the race and said the GOP caucus should meet per its bylaws to “vote to back a candidate … as soon as possible.”

The news comes hours after the GOP maintained its majority over the lower chamber, fending off a well-funded challenge from Democrats who had hoped to flip the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

“The race is over,” Phelan said at a noon press conference at the Texas Capitol, saying he has a “supermajority of the Republican caucus” and a “broad coalition of support” from Democrats. A candidate needs a majority of the 150-member chamber in order to win the gavel and preside over the House.

As election results came in Tuesday, the eight candidate field for speaker — four Democrats and four Republicans — seemed to consolidate into two camps: a group supporting Phelan and another backing Ashby. Both candidates had filed for the gavel in recent days as the race quickly escalated heading into Election Day.

On Tuesday night, one Republican in the race, state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, announced she was backing Ashby for the job. And on Wednesday morning, another Republican in the race, Chris Paddie of Marshall, announced he was supporting Phelan.

“Last night … was a very long, long process — and now it’s time to heal,” Phelan said at the press conference. “The work of the 150 members coming together to serve Texas begins today.”

There had been some Speaker-related news on Monday and even Tuesday, and I had prepped a post about it, which I knew would likely become obsolete as soon as we knew the House situation. And indeed, here we are. That draft is beneath the fold, if you’re interested. Needless to say, the next Legislature has a long to-do list in front of it, and a Speaker who can help get the main things done in a reasonable way will be welcomed by the members. One who can also tell Dan Patrick to go pound sand and who will never commit the classic blunder of saying stupid stuff to Michael Quinn Sullivan, especially when there might be a recorder in operation, would be nice. Good luck to Rep. Phelan if he is indeed the presumptive Speaker. As noted in the story, Rep. Ashby, who has now withdrawn from the race and backed Rep. Morrison, does not see this as being over. Reform Austin, which notes that three of the four Democrats who had filed for Speaker are on that letter Phelan released, has more.

(more…)

We need an official Speaker candidate tracker

We’re up to five now, and we’re likely not done yet.

Rep. Trent Ashby

State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Cyrier of Lockhart join two Democrats in seeking the gavel: Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. More candidates are expected to file, perhaps after the Nov. 3 election once it’s clear which party will be in control of the chamber.

In statements, both Ashby and Cyrier pointed to the legislative session beginning in January — and the challenges state lawmakers will all but certainly have to tackle — to help make their pitch for why they’re the best candidate for the job.

“Given the collective challenges we will face in upcoming legislative session, as we continue our battle with COVID-19 and work to balance a budget despite revenue challenges, it is critically important that the next Speaker fosters the trust and cooperation necessary to overcome these challenges and deliver the results that all Texans expect and deserve,” Ashby, who has served in the House since 2013, said.

Cyrier, who has served in the House since 2015, said the session “will be a demonstration of Texans’ resilience.”

“My top priority as speaker will be to work with all members of the House and build consensus during what is sure to be a challenging session,” Cyrier said.

Paddie, who has served in the lower chamber since 2013, did not immediately release a statement about his bid.

As noted, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer are already in. None of the three Republicans were among the crowd that had made a move towards running for Speaker before the last session; five of those seven will be in the 2021 Lege, so there is definitely the possibility of a larger field. I should note that Rep. Thompson picked up the endorsements of her fellow Harris County Democratic legislators, and also of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, thus giving her the most supporters for now, though still far from a majority.

We’ll have a much better idea of how this may shake out once we know how many Ds and how many Rs there will be. And as a reminder: Right after the election is when some number of members announce their intent to step down, thus necessitating a special election to replace them. Rep. Drew Spinger is in the runoff for SD30, scheduled for December 19, so his seat may become vacant right before the opening gavel as well. I say this all because the number we have on November 4 may be different than the number we have on January 4, and that could have a real effect on who has enough votes to actually become Speaker. The potential for chaos, and maybe even some shenanigans, is quite high. The Lege is never more entertaining when those things are true.

UPDATE: And now there are six:

Possibly by the time you read this, there will be more announced candidates. You see what I mean when I say we need a tracker.

UPDATE: And now there are seven:

All members of the House that are not running for Speaker, please raise your hand.

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Speaker’s race? What Speaker’s race?

Just a reminder that one of the three most powerful political offices in the state is on the ballot this November, even if it’s largely invisible to us.

Found on the Twitters

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson fielded a question last week that’s been on the minds of many members of the Texas House: If her party wins control of the lower chamber in November, will she be a candidate for speaker?

“Well, if I can get James Frank’s support, I probably will be,” the Houston Democrat said with a chuckle during a Texas Tribune Festival panel, referring to her Republican colleague also on the screen.

Frank responded with a laugh of his own: “I’m pretty sure if Democrats take over in November … that she’ll be a candidate.”

The exchange, though lighthearted, was indicative of how uncertain the 150-member chamber is ahead of a legislative session that lawmakers say will be their toughest in years. With the pending retirement of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the lower chamber knows someone new will be in charge in January — but not a single member has so far declared their candidacy to seek the gavel.

[…]

Of course, members could break ranks and file their candidacy for speaker with the Texas Ethics Commission before November. Members will formally elect a new speaker on the first day of the regular session in January — and whoever ends up taking the gavel will be one of the state’s most consequential leaders as the Legislature responds to the coronavirus pandemic, grapples with billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget and undergoes a once-in-a-decade redistricting cycle.

Members are already weighing who would be a viable candidate if the margin is more narrow than the 83-67 partisan split from the 2019 legislative session. Some think that’s more likely than the chamber flipping entirely. References to the 2008 elections — and the 76-74 split it produced — came up repeatedly in conversations with members, with many suggesting the chamber’s next speaker will need supporters from both parties to win the gavel.

In the wake of that 2008 election, then-state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, won the speaker’s race after most of the chamber’s Democrats and some Republicans coalesced around his bid. After Straus announced his retirement in 2017, a more hardline conservative faction of Republicans helped push a change to the groups’s bylaws to select a speaker within the caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Democrats also tried to rally their ranks to commit to voting for a candidate as a bloc, though neither party had an enforcement mechanism.

None of those elements have come up in any sort of tangible way so far this year, which some members chalk up again to the uncertainty surrounding the November election and the possibility that the margin will be more narrow than in 2019.

Jim Dunnam, a former House member from Waco who served in the lower chamber from 1997 to 2011, said it would be presumptuous for members to start committing to speaker candidates before they have even won reelection, especially given predictions that November will yield tight results.

Dunnam, who at one point also chaired the House Democratic Caucus, also waved off the notion of one party exclusively electing a speaker candidate.

“The speaker is supposed to be the speaker of the House,” he said, “not the speaker of one caucus.”

[…]

In conversations with nearly two dozen members, staffers and lobbyists — nearly all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of internal House politics — several GOP and Democratic names were mentioned repeatedly as members to keep an eye on as the speaker’s race develops.

On the Republican side: Four Price of Amarillo; Trent Ashby of Lufkin; Chris Paddie of Marshall; Dade Phelan of Beaumont; Geanie Morrison of Victoria; Tom Craddick of Midland, the longest-serving House member and a former speaker; Craig Goldman of Fort Worth; Frank of Wichita Falls and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. On the Democratic side: Joe Moody of El Paso, the House speaker pro tempore; Rafael Anchia of Dallas; Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio; Thompson; Turner, the caucus chair; Oscar Longoria of Mission and Donna Howard of Austin.

Each candidate’s chances at winning the gavel are influenced by the partisan breakdowns in the House. GOP members have suggested that if Republicans pick up a couple of seats and increase their majority, a more ideological speaker candidate like Frank, Goldman or Krause could be on the table. There’s also a theory that a Democratic candidate like Thompson — the second longest-serving House member and the longest-serving woman and African-American in history at the Legislature — has the experience to navigate the House through the upcoming session.

I agree that which party has the majority, and by how much, will matter a lot. And hoo boy, what might happen if we have a 75-75 split – there would surely be a compromise power-sharing agreement out there, but just agreeing about who chairs what committees gives me a headache. I tend to believe that if Dems have a majority, the job will be Rep. Thompson’s if she wants it, but she may not want it. She might prefer to be in the trenches passing the priority bills, or she may just decide the job is too much trouble to be worth it. Joe Moody may be best positioned to be a compromise candidate if the parties are tied or even if Republicans have a 76-74 lead but can’t settle their ideological rifts and find their own consensus; in other words, he could be the Democratic Joe Straus. I feel like TMF is the choice if Dems wind up with a bit of a cushion and are feeling a bit salty. I’m totally spitballing here.

Whoever wins the job in the event of a Dem house, he or she will have a slightly easier go of it than a Dem Speaker from before 2010 would have had, as the caucus is more unified on issues these days. That’s largely because there are no more conservative Dems from rural districts, and thus no one who has to be appeased or coddled on things like LGBTQ equality or gun control or immigration. Passing a budget that fully funds education and prioritizes coronavirus relief, and maximizing Democratic leverage on redistricting, are the two top tasks. When the Dems get together after the election to plan their strategy for the session, those have to be the main questions that any Speaker wannabe must answer. We know how important this election is, but in part that’s because what comes after it is so damn important, too.

Introducing the George Floyd Act

Coming this spring to the Legislature.

Black lawmakers at the Texas Legislature unveiled on Thursday the George Floyd Act, a sweeping police reform proposal that would ban chokeholds across the state and require law enforcement officers to intervene or render aid if another officer is using excessive force while on the job.

The legislation, spearheaded by members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, is named after Floyd, a Black man killed in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes until and after he lost consciousness.

His death in May set off protests across the country and renewed debate over police brutality and racial inequity. And at the Legislature, which is set to meet again in January 2021 for a regular session, Floyd’s death has sparked new calls for policing and criminal justice reforms — including proposals that have failed at the Texas Capitol in recent years, often after opposition from police unions.

“We acknowledge that the road to justice in Texas — particularly for Black and brown people in Texas — has been fraught with dead ends, dead ends of white supremacy, racial hatred and bigotry,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat who chairs the caucus, said as he kicked off a virtual press conference, which included Floyd’s youngest brother, Rodney Floyd. “These dead ends have to go — and particularly the dead ends that relate specifically to law enforcement.”

The bill would also address qualified immunity, which shields government officials from litigation, by allowing civil lawsuits at the state level “for deprivation of rights under color of law,” according to a caucus summary of the legislation. Another provision would end arrests for fine-only offenses like theft under $100, a version of which died dramatically in 2019 after union opposition.

“Those police officers who do wrong by unlawfully harming our families or our constituents, who violate the constitutional rights of others, will be held accountable and legally liable for their actions,” said state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston.

It’s unclear if the outcry sparked by Floyd’s death will provide enough momentum in 2021 to push past resistance from law enforcement and unions. It’s also unknown whether the legislation will win Gov. Greg Abbott’s support, which would be crucial in turning it into law.

Abbott has previously said he is committed to working with Floyd’s family on legislation, and has even floated the possibility of a George Floyd Act at the Legislature. While he has not offered specifics on what proposals he would support, Abbott has emphasized a proposal that has also been pushed by police union officials: strengthening law enforcement training before officers are allowed to go on patrol.

It’s still too early to pre-file bills, since after all we don’t know for sure who will be serving in the next session, but it’s never too early to announce them. The Chron adds some details.

Groups including the Texas NAACP, Mothers Against Police Brutality, ACLU of Texas, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Black Lives Matter Houston and Texas Organizing Project have already thrown their support behind the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott has publicly condemned Floyd’s death and promised to work with state legislators to pass reforms, though he did not discuss specifics. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who plan to carry the legislation, said Thursday they had not yet spoken with Abbott about it.

“It would be a great signal if he made this an emergency item and that we pass this in the first 90 days of the Legislature,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “Hopefully he will partner with us on this legislation.”

The 19-member caucus that introduced the bill Thursday includes a single Republican, Rep. James White of Hillister.

While some local police and sheriff’s departments have implemented some tenets of the bill, such as requirements for officers to attempt de-escalation before using force, none of them are required for all 2,000 police agencies in Texas.

Further, the bill would require officers to demonstrate that they use lethal force only when in “imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death” or when “no other lesser level of force could have worked” and their actions present no risk to bystanders, according to a draft of the law that the caucus released Thursday. The use of force must stop as soon as the threat diminishes.

The bill states that “all force must be proportionate to the circumstance and the seriousness of the offense … and must be accompanied by (an) attempt to de-escalate.”

[…]

Charley Wilkison, the executive director of CLEAT, one of the largest law enforcement union in the state, said his organization is open to many of the concepts in the proposed bill, including banning chokeholds and ending arrests for fine-only offenses.

Other areas may require a more nuanced conversation, such as qualified immunity, as Wilkison said he believes it allows enough latitude — “It’s ‘qualified’; it’s not blanket” — under current law for citizens to sue officers for misconduct. Wilkison said he agrees with setting a statewide use-of-force policy, as long as officers retain discretion.

“If we’re allowed to be in the chain of communication, we’ll share and do our due diligence to take honest action in the Legislature,” Wilkison said.

As both stories note, some of what is in this proposed bill had been in the Sandra Bland Act originally. I don’t know that Abbott will care enough to make this bill an emergency item, but I do expect that he’ll support some form of this, and I do expect that something will pass. It’s mostly a question of how much of the bill as filed makes it to the finish line, and whether anything that is less desirable makes it in along the way. The potential for messiness, heated debate, and at least one idiot member of the Freedom Caucus saying something deeply stupid and offensive is quite high. But in the end I do expect something to pass, and we’ll feel good about what we do get. The question is how good, and how much more there will be to do in a future session. Reform Austin has more.

Release the audit

That’s my three-word response to this.

A growing chorus of elected officials is calling on Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo to release the findings of an internal audit on his department’s narcotics division, arguing that the chief’s refusal to do so contradicts his vows to be transparent and accountable.

Acevedo ordered the internal probe after the deadly 2019 raid at 7815 Harding St., which ended with the deaths of two homeowners and left four police officers shot. Investigators subsequently said that the officer who orchestrated the raid lied to get the warrant he used in the operation.

Now, with the death of George Floyd in Minnesota galvanizing worldwide protests and searing scrutiny of police departments across the country, state Reps. Anna Eastman, Christina Morales, Jon Rosenthal, Senfronia Thompson and Gene Wu are renewing their call from March for Acevedo to release the audit. And they are joined by three other members of the Texas House — Garnet Coleman, Gina Calanni and Mary Ann Perez — along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and more than half of Houston City Council.

Wu, who wrote both letters, said that the chief’s reluctance to release the audit is at odds with his past pledges to be transparent and hold officers accountable.

“The violations of policies, procedures and laws by officers in the Narcotics Division must be made known to the public,” wrote Wu, D-Houston. “If there are other officers who have repeatedly broken the law, the continued concealment of their behavior does a gross disservice to reputations of officers who are doing their jobs well.”

You can read the rest, and you can see a copy of the letter here; page two is visible on Dos Centavos, which is where the signatures are. I mean, being transparent means doing stuff like this. If there really is some content in that audit that might affect prosecutions, a little redaction is acceptable, as long as the substance of the report is not changed. But come on, either you meant it when you said you wanted to be transparent or you didn’t. Show us what you meant.

On a related note:

The mayor shouldn’t pretend that the calls for police reform were suddenly sprung on him this week. His own transition team in 2016 made a litany of reform recommendations. Our organizations participated in the committee, as did senior members of the mayor’s administration. Then in 2017, city council spent $565,000 on a 10-year financial plan that included recommendations to cut some of the 75 percent of the budget spent on public safety over that time span.

Houston does not need another study. What we need is action on the existing recommendations for police reform. After participating in the transition committee, our organizations established the Right2Justice Coalition. We have met regularly to address ongoing issues of policing and criminal justice in Houston and Harris County. Today, we are publishing a progress report of existing recommendations from Turner’s 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and the 2017 10-year financial plan.

The progress report shows that the city has implemented only a few of the recommended reforms, the most significant being the consolidation of the city’s jails with Harris County in 2019. It has failed to adopt recommendations to develop, in partnership with grassroots organizations, a plan for community policing, to enact a cite-and-release policy to divert people accused of minor offenses from the criminal justice system, to combine 211 and 311 to better meet residents’ needs for non-police services, and to implement a body cam video release policy that “maximizes public access to footage in a prompt manner.”

And instead of civilianizing 443 positions as the 10-year plan recommends to save $5-10 million, the administration has increased the number of officers by 81 and shrunk the number of civilian positions by 258.

Delays in implementing these recommendations in the last three years have further eroded public trust. Turner and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo’s actions speak louder than words — by that standard, their message is unchanged.

C’mon, guys. The time for action is now. You promised it, we want it. I know you can do it. Don’t let us down.

A bipartisan equality bill

I appreciate the effort, but we can’t expect too much to come of this.

Five Democratic and two Republican state legislators announced plans Wednesday to file a bill next legislative session that would bar discrimination against LGBTQ Texans in housing, employment and public spaces.

The bill, which has the early support of state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, and Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would extend protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are 21 states that already have enacted such policies.

“Quite frankly, we are already behind the curve on this issue,” Davis said. “Nondiscrimination is not just good for LGBTQ community, but it’s good for all Texans.”

Lawmakers rolled out the bill during a virtual news conference where they touted an economic study that found a statewide nondiscrimination policy would generate $738 million in state revenue and $531 million in local government revenue next biennium. It also would add 180,000 new jobs in technology and tourism by 2025, the study found. The benefits, the authors said, largely would come from Texas’ greater ability to attract talent and heightened opportunity for tourism and conventions.

“We should want to treat people fairly because it’s the right thing to do, whether it has economic effects or not,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco-based economist who led the study. “This shouldn’t be the reason to do it, but it is a very important aspect of it in today’s society, and there are very significant economic costs associated with discrimination.”

The legislation likely will face strong headwinds in the Republican-controlled Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber, prominently opposed a similar measure that was rejected by Houston voters in 2015, and later backed the so-called bathroom bill opposed by LGBTQ advocates that would have required people to use facilities matching the gender identity on their birth certificates.

The lawmakers largely dismissed political concerns Wednesday, arguing instead that their early push for the bill — more than seven months before the session is slated to begin — heightens their odds of passing it.

“I think a lot of this is going to take talking to our colleagues and explaining the results of this study,” said Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, a member of the House LGBTQ Caucus and author of the bill. “It’s going to take a lot of groundwork.”

[…]

The bill faces good odds of passing the lower chamber, where Democrats have gained ground and some Republicans have moderated their positions, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. He was less bullish on the bill’s chances in the Senate.

“It’s a different animal on that side of the chamber,” Rottinghaus said. “You do all the political calculations and it’s a tall order to get it passed. But, in some ways it’s a marker: these members see the future of Texas as one where the economy needs to be put front and center, and if that theory can get some grip among the members, then there’s hope for it in the future. But as it is now, it’s a pretty tough sell.”

That’s really about all there is to it. This bill may pass the House, but if so then Dan Patrick will stick it in a shredder, have the shredder blown up by the bomb squad, and then have the debris shipped to Oklahoma. We ain’t getting a bill like this passed while he’s Lite Guv, and that’s even before we consider getting it signed and then having it reasonably enforced by the Attorney General. It’s nice that there are two House Republicans willing to sign on to this – no, really, that is important and could very well matter if we oust Patrick in 2022 but still have a Republican-controlled Senate – but it will take either more of them than that to get this passed, or fewer Republicans in the House overall. I don’t know who our next Speaker will be, but I like the odds of this passing with a Democrat appointing committee chairs than with pretty much any Republican that could inherit the gavel. Needless to say, one way of getting the requisite number of Dems in the House is to oust Sarah Davis, as her seat is high on the list of pickup possibilities. Todd Hunter’s HD32 is on that list as well, but farther down; if he loses in November, Dems have had a very, very good day.

Let’s be clear that lots of substantive bills take more than one session to get passed, so bringing this up now even without any assurance that it could get out of committee is the right call. Start talking about this now – the real benefits a true equality bill would bring, the ridiculous arguments that opponents will throw at it, and very importantly the potential legal pitfalls that the true wingnuts and their sympathetic judges will try to exploit – and we’ll be better positioned when the timing is better. I can’t say when that might be – elections have consequences, I’m told – but it’s best to be prepared.

Endorsement watch: Some State Reps

The Chron made seven endorsements in contested Democratic State Rep primaries on Thursday, plus two in contested Republican State Rep primaries. This must be Part One, because there are multiple races left for them to do. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, here’s a recap of the action.

Rep. Alma Allen in HD131.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson in HD141.
Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147.

None of those are surprising, or all that interesting given that these are three of the best from Harris County. Moving on.

Josh Markle in HD128.

District 128 borders and straddles the Houston Ship Channel. In the last election, the Democratic Party did not run a candidate against the incumbent Rep. Briscoe Cain. This year, both candidates in the Democratic primary, Josh Markle and Mary Williams, want voters to at least have a choice even if they face long-shot odds. That’s smart, as no seat should be so safe that incumbents aren’t even challenged.

[…]

Markle was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and besides environmental issues, his platform includes the full gamut of core Democratic issues — healthcare, education, jobs and criminal justice reform. He’ll give voters in the Republican-leaning district a promising alternative to consider in the fall.

Williams served the Houston Police Department as a civilian for more than 23 years. We applaud her spirit of service and dedication to her community. But we believe Markle will give voters ready for a change in the district a better option.

Markle got a fundraising boost from Beto back in September, as you may recall. Good candidate, very tough race.

Ann Johnson in HD134.

Ann Johnson

Child prostitutes were seen as criminals not victims under Texas law until 2010 when Ann Johnson won a case at the Texas Supreme Court involving a girl who was 13 when she was arrested. The case changed both the state law and the national conversation around sex trafficking, and is among several achievements that distinguish Johnson from a strong slate in the Democratic primary for House District 134.

[…]

Ultimately it is Johnson who presents the strongest chance for Democrats to take back control of District 134. She speaks with authority about a broad range of issues and with the persuasive power of a former prosecutor. After the landmark case she argued to the Texas Supreme Court, she was was hired by a Republican district attorney as a human-trafficking specialist. She worked with Republican judges to start the CARE court to assist child victims of human tracking and SAFE court for people 17 to 25 charged with prostitution. Now she’s calling for public-private partnerships to establish a victim recovery village.

Even if Democrats do flip the House, whoever wins this seat will have to work those across the aisle. Johnson has a record of appealing to common values to get important work done.

It is a strong field in HD134, as any of Johnson, Ruby Powers, or Lanny Bose would be an excellent State Rep. You can’t go wrong here.

Rep. Shawn Thierry in HD146.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry traces her interest in politics back to early childhood when she was the first black child in her Houston public elementary school. Thierry’s teacher quit because she said she couldn’t teach a “colored child.”

Her mother, the first black teacher to integrate Sharpstown High School, used to call her “little Barbara Jordan,” after the revered Texas politician who was the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate and the first from the Deep South elected to the U.S. Congress.

[…]

Thierry is being challenged for the seat, which represents a demographically diverse community from Sunnyside through Meyerland and Westbury past Sharpstown, by Houston Black Lives founder and community activist Ashton P. Woods.

Woods, who ran for City Council last year, brings passion for communities that often go unheard, especially on issues impacting the LGBT community. His is a much-needed voice that we hope will be heard.

Thierry, however, brings pragmatism and perseverance that is critical in making change happen in the Legislature. We endorse Thierry for House District 146.

Thierry was elected in 2016 after winning the nomination in one of those precinct chair selections, after Borris Miles moved up to SD13 to replace Rodney Ellis. She had a primary challenger in 2018 but won that easily. I heard a brief rumor after the 2019 election that Dwight Boykins might file for this seat, but in the end that didn’t happen. Woods is the strongest challenger to a Dem incumbent this side of Jerry Davis, and he’s picked up a few endorsements including the GLBT Political Caucus and the Texas Organizing Project. Keep an eye on this one as well.

Rep. Anna Eastman in HD148.

Rep. Anna Eastman

Eastman, whose HISD district included 75 percent of District 148, told the Editorial Board that education would be one of her priorities. She wants to ensure that funding from HB3, the school finance bill passed in the last session, is preserved and the money goes where it is needed. She also believes the state school rating system needed to be reviewed.

“There’s a huge disconnect when you have a district like HISD getting a B rating, triggering a board of managers and having schools that we know really are not serving our kids in a way that they’re worthy of,” said Eastman, 52.

She also supports increasing access to safe, legal abortion and a number of gun reform measures, including closing background-check loopholes, red-flag laws and banning assault-style weapons and ammunition.

We were also encouraged by Eastman’s plan to spend the next several months establishing her office, getting to know her constituents and “showing up in Austin in January ready to serve and do work that matters.”

Eastman was the Chron’s choice in the special election, so this is not a surprise. Penny Shaw has racked up all of the group endorsements, however, so this ought to be a tough race. Most likely, Eastman will have to run a fourth time, in a primary runoff, for the opportunity to run for a fifth time, in November.

Still to be endorsed: HDs 126 and 138, the two remaining challenges to Republican-held seats, and HDs 139 and 142, the other two challenges to Dem incumbents. Also, too, SDs 11 and 13, and a bunch of other races. We’re still waiting.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House, part 1

I’m going to take a two-part look at the finance reports in State House districts. Part One will be from Harris County, looking at both contested primaries and contested November races. Part Two will focus on races in the counties around Harris. Previous entries in this series include Harris County offices, and statewide races.

Undrai Fizer, HD126
Natali Hurtado, HD126

Sam Harless, HD126

Josh Markle, HD128
Mary Williams, HD128

Briscoe Cain, HD128
Robert Hoskins, HD128

Kayla Alix, HD129

Dennis Paul, HD129
Ryan Lee, HD129

Bryan Henry, HD130

Tom Oliverson (PAC), HD130

Alma Allen, HD131
Carey Lashley, HD131
Deondre Moore, HD131
Elvonte Patton, HD131

Gina Calanni, HD132

Angelica Garcia, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133

Jim Murphy (PAC), HD133

Lanny Bose, HD134
Ann Johnson, HD134
Ruby Powers, HD134

Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135

Merrilee Beazley, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Jenifer Pool, HD138
Josh Wallenstein, HD138

Josh Flynn, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138
Claver Kamau-Imani, HD138

Jarvis Johnson, HD139
Angeanette Thibodeaux, HD139

Senfronia Thompson, HD141
Willie Franklyn, HD141

Harold Dutton, HD142
Richard Bonton, HD142
Jerry Davis, HD142
Natasha Ruiz, HD142

Shawn Thierry, HD146
Ashton Woods, HD146

Garnet Coleman, HD147
Colin Ross, HD147
Aurelia Wagner, HD147

Anna Eastman, HD148
Adrian P. Garcia, HD148
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, HD148
Penny Shaw, HD148
Emily Wolf, HD148

Lui La Rotta, HD148

Michael Walsh, HD150

Valoree Swanson, HD150


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Fizer            800       319        0         500
Hurtado       25,091     9,588        0      11,752

Harless       73,265    11,022   20,000     103,669

Markle        78,906    12,426        0      68,081
Williams

Cain         125,891    39,462        0     133,616
Hoskins        4,575    26,033        0       3,804

Alix           2,141     1,343        0         898

Paul          85,621    38,444  156,000     116,486
Lee           10,720     4,779        0       5,879

Henry          3,385     2,901        0       3,385

Oliverson     56,555    62,895   60,000     101,693

Allen         11,100    13,251        0      32,798
Lashley
Moore
Patton        43,075     1,100        0      10,000

Calanni       82,002    24,571        0      70,770

Garcia        28,045    20,076        0      21,309
Schofield     27,400    24,152        0     152,549

Moore          2,000     2,539        0       1,502

Murphy       120,076   132,583        0     487,913

Bose          54,573    13,702        0      40,871
Johnson       58,287    31,075        0     148,054
Powers        43,015    40,852        0      18,299

Davis         89,750    76,040        0     230,958

Rosenthal     70,841    42,143        0      41,320

Beazley            0       465        0           0
Ray           52,666    24,644        0      47,082

Bacy          28,066     6,799        0      14,455
Pool
Wallenstein   42,137    35,766   10,000      51,786

Flynn         12,080    20,761        0       9,166
Hull          50,068     4,551        0      45,516
Kamau-Imani   18,800     2,229        0      16,570

Johnson        8,775     3,619    2,500      26,946
Thibodeaux     7,000     2,069        0       4,931

Thompson     104,216   136,801        0     889,738
Franklyn           0     1,873        0       1,336

Dutton        26,876    16,676        0      79,263
Bonton
Davis        139,565     9,787        0     129,928
Ruiz

Thierry       13,710    11,825        0      13,446
Woods          1,485     1,263        0       1,690

Coleman       97,990   129,532        0     110,589
Ross
Wagner

Eastman       75,378    57,861        0      33,967
Garcia        12,100     2,500        0       4,000
Reyes-Revilla  3,547         0    8,000       3,547
Shaw          11,635    15,531   34,000      15,454
Wolf               0         0      200         235

La Rotta      11,280    10,602        0       4,095

Walsh              0        33        0          33

Swanson       10,201    27,643   34,040      34,657

You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post about the finance reports in the top tier House races. I don’t have the bandwidth to look at all of them, so check them out for their reporting on it.

There are several contested Democratic primaries, including five challenges to incumbents in safe D districts. This was a popular pastime in the 2000s, during the Craddick era – Alma Allen beat Ron Wilson, Armando Walle beat Kevin Bailey, Borris Miles took three out of four against Al Edwards. The latter of those occurred in 2012, and while there have been primary opponents to incumbents over the past few cycles, none have come close to succeeding; Edward Pollard in HD137 and Demetria Smith in HD149, both of whom got about 35% in their races in 2016, came closest. The one this year that has the greatest potential to upset the status quo is in HD142, where longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton faces unrest over his role in passing the TEA takeover bill as well as the tumult in City Council District B. Still-current District B incumbent Jerry Davis, who transferred all of his city campaign funds into his State Rep campaign treasury, is the main threat to Dutton. I can’t wait to see how the endorsements play out – Davis has already gotten the nod from the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO, the only challenger to an incumbent in Harris County to do so. Elvonte Patton, who was a candidate for HCDE in the 2018 primary, has a nice fundraising total, but most of that is in kind, and Alma Allen has vanquished previous challengers with 85% or more of the vote in the past.

On the Republican, there’s not much action outside of an attempt to install a grownup in HD128. As I understand it, Robert Hoskins has some establishment support in his effort to knock out Briscoe Cain, but as you can see not a lot of money. We both know which speaks louder.

The four most hotly contested seats, one of which is open, is where the bulk of the action is. All three contenders in HD134 raised similar sums, but Ann Johnson has a commanding lead in cash on hand thanks to a big first half of the year. Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein both raised a few bucks in HD138, with Wallenstein doing a bit better, while Lacey Hull led the pack on the Republican side. I have to assume now that his spot on the ballot is assured, Josh Flynn will ramp it up. Freshman Reps Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal both outpaced the totals of their potential opponents. The HD132 GOP race will be interesting, as Angelica Garcia has Greg Abbott’s endorsement but former Rep. Mike Schofield still has cash left over from his 2018 loss. To some extent, none of these totals matter that much because there will be a ton of PAC money on both sides in all of the competitive districts. Still, a candidate or incumbent who can raise cash on their own is stronger than one who relies mostly on others doing that work.

In HD148, where there’s both a contested primary and a special election runoff (happening now!), the main thing to note is that these totals are all from October 27 through the end of the year, as all of the candidates save Emily Wolf had eight-day finance reports from their November 2019 races. Penny Shaw has gotten a couple of early endorsements, so the 30-day report in early February will tell a more detailed picture for this race. As for the special election runoff, there’s nothing to suggest anything unusual, Erica Greider’s weekend daydreams aside.

Beyond that, not a whole lot else to discuss. Jim Murphy’s cash on hand total is one reason why I speculated he might consider a run for Mayor in 2023 if the Lege is no longer amenable to him. Sarah Davis would probably have more cash on hand right now if she hadn’t had to fend off primary challengers in the past. As above, I’m pretty sure she’ll have the funds she needs to run that race. The Dems have some longer shots out there, with HD126 being the most competitive of them, so keep an eye on Natali Hurtado. I’ll be back next time with the State House races from elsewhere in the region.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

Time for the 2019 outrageous and dishonest mailer

There’s at least one every cycle.

A handful of black Democratic elected officials are expressing outrage over a campaign mailer that appears to have used photos of the politicians without consent to falsely suggest they endorsed a slate of City Council candidates — including two backed by the Harris County Republican Party.

The mailer, circulated by a group called the Harris County Black Democratic News, features photos of former President Barack Obama, U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, and several state legislators and county officials, along with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

On the other side of the mailer are photos of nine City Council candidates, including Willie Davis and Eric Dick — who are endorsed by the Harris County Republican Party — under the banner text “Endorsement Announcement.” It also purports to endorse Turner and two Harris County Department of Education board candidates.

“I have never been contacted by the Harris County Black Democratic News, nor am I sure that they are a legitimate news or community organization,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who is pictured on the mailer. “I did not consent to being included in the Harris County Black Democratic News and am appalled that a group would go to this extent to mislead voters.”

The mailer does not disclose which person or political committee funded it, an apparent violation of state law.

Dick, a Harris County Department of Education trustee who is in a runoff for the At-Large, Position 5 seat against former City Council staffer Sallie Alcorn, contributed $8,500 to the Harris County Democratic News in September and October, according to his campaign finance records.

You can see a picture of the mailer, front and back, here. It’s almost admirable in its shamelessness. John Coby has been all over this. The news coverage will of course reach more people than would have ever seen the mailer itself, which is a two-edged sword, as some of them will just remember the images and not the truth about them. The thing about stuff like this is that it’s fundamentally a sign of weakness. No one who is confident in their ability to win needs to claim phony endorsements. This isn’t Eric Dick’s first campaign. He knows what he’s doing and he knows why he’s doing it. I’d say he should be ashamed of himself, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

Amendment focused on school bathrooms passes the House

I had some hope that we could make it through this session without something like this happening, but clearly we could not.

Amid threats of a special legislative session over the “bathroom bill,” the Texas House on Sunday took a last-minute vote to approve a proposal that would keep transgender students from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The House voted 91-50 to amend Senate Bill 2078 — which focuses on school districts’ “multihazard emergency operations plans” — to add bathroom restrictions that some Republicans had pushed for since the beginning of the legislative session.

Throughout the tense floor debate, Republicans insisted the legislation was not meant to target transgender students, while Democrats likened the proposal to Jim Crow-era policies that segregated bathroom use based on race. Under the proposal, a transgender student who “does not wish” to use a facility based on “biological sex” would instead use single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities at their school.

“White. Colored. I was living through that era … bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, a black woman, told her colleagues. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”

Saying the amendment would provide “definitive guidance” to school districts, Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall argued that his amendment language did not discriminate “against anyone.”

“This is does not provide an accommodation for a protected class of students. This provides an accommodation for all students,” Paddie said.

But the adopted amendment could override existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott, who was largely silent on the issue throughout the legislative session, recently endorsed the bathroom legislation as a priority. His office had insisted that he believed the legislation could be passed during the regular legislative session.

But Straus on Sunday said the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session, and the House decided to dispose of the issue in this way.”

After Sunday’s vote, Straus suggested in a statement that the amendment would not drastically alter the way in which schools have handled “sensitive issues,” and would help the state “avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6.”

“Members of the House wanted to act on this issue and my philosophy as Speaker has never been to force my will on the body,” Straus said of the vote despite his opposition to bathroom-related legislation.

[…]

Despite the whittled-down version that was ultimately voted on, Democrats refused to characterize the legislation in any other way but a “bathroom bill.”

“Let’s be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.”

Let this be a lesson, kids – hostage-taking is often a successful strategy. I get why Straus and company thought passing what RG Ratcliffe called “Patrick Lite” might be an effective way to mollify the angry wraith Dan Patrick, but discrimination is still discrimination, and Patrick wasn’t mollified by the House’s inadequate sacrifice anyway, because nothing less than everything he wants is ever enough for him. Let this be a lesson to you, Texas Association of Business and others – Dan Patrick and his cronies are your opponents, and he will never go away on this. If there isn’t a special session or a further attempt at appeasement, he will continue his jihad in 2019. Unless, of course, he’s not there presiding over the Senate. You can maybe help make that happen if you want to. What do you have to lose? The Chron, the Observer, the Press, and Equality Texas have more.

Fighting the bathroom bill

It will take all hands on deck.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia suggested that lawmakers should concentrate on issues like education funding and the state’s ongoing child welfare crisis.

“It’s a huge distraction, but it is nothing but a good political hot-button issue for the Republican Party’s primary base,” Garcia said. “All I can say is we’re going to fight like hell.”

Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who also appeared on the panel, noted that the business community is “up in arms” about Patrick’s proposal.

Last week, the Texas Association of Business released a study — which the Observerfirst reported in November — showing that if anti-LGBT legislation passes next year, the state’s economy could lose up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs.

Thompson predicted that even if Patrick’s bathroom bill clears the Senate, the House will kill it because members are “more rational and recognize the games that are being played.”

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Thompson said. “I think we’re going to be victorious.”

But Thompson also warned that Patrick may try to use the bathroom bill “to manipulate people” and “hold them hostage” in support of his other initiatives, such as school vouchers. Patrick declared in May that the Fort Worth school district’s decision to allow trans students to use restrooms based on their gender identity was “the biggest promotion for something I feel strongly about, and that’s school choice.”

“We just can’t let them use that to get other things that would be equally detrimental,” Thompson said. “That is the key.”

The word I’ve heard is that House Speaker Joe Straus has told the business lobby that if they want this dead, they need to work to kill it themselves in the Senate. He’s tired of doing their dirty work for them and then catching the blame for it. This is at least third-hand information, so take it for what it’s worth, but if recent musings from Dawn Buckingham and Greg Abbott are any indication, the lobbying efforts have had some effect. Bear in mind that the session hasn’t even started, and it’s entirely possible the business lobby could view a shift to a school-bathroom-only bill as a win for them and an excuse to drop out, so temper any optimism you may be feeling accordingly. This is all of our fight.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Chron overview of SD13

Not much new here.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Amid frantic wooing of Democratic precinct chairs, the unconventional sprint to succeed state Sen. Rodney Ellis is boiling down to an argument over tenure: Is it better to move a seasoned legislator to the Senate, or preserve House experience by sending a relative newcomer to the upper chamber?

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson argues the former, touting her 44 years in Austin, as former Houston City Controller Ron Green makes a case for the latter.

Ten-year state Rep. Borris Miles casts himself as the Goldilocks of the bunch, seeking to leverage his experience while asserting that Democrats would lose too much in the House by promoting Thompson.

[…]

The district’s per capita income was less than $20,000 as of 2014, Census data shows, $8,000 below that of Houston. The area also has lower educational attainment, with just 22 percent of those ages 25 and older having earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent in Houston.

“We need help with these schools out here,” Sunnyside precinct chair Tina Mosley said, arguing for increased funding.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the state’s school finance system – which seeks to ease wide funding disparities between districts by redistributing property tax revenue from wealthy districts to poorer ones – is constitutional, despite calling it “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”

That case emerged out of Texas lawmakers’ decision in 2011 to slash the state’s public education spending by $5.4 billion to balance the budget, though the Legislature restored much of that funding two years later.

“I agree with the (state) Supreme Court that we haven’t done a good job of funding our schools in the state of Texas,” said Miles, whom Mosley is backing. “The financial base of each independent area should dictate the type of education and the quality of education that goes into those communities. I don’t think we should be robbing from inner city schools to throw to the rural area schools. Our tax base is here. We need to be spending that money … right here.”

Miles said he is also focused on expanding re-entry programs for juvenile offenders and curbing police brutality, through efforts such as increasing penalties for police officers who violate residents’ civil rights.

Thompson and Green, meanwhile, listed boosting education funding as a top concern but did not specify remedies.

Here’s the last race overview, for comparison. There was an HCDP lunchtime meet-the-candidates event yesterday, and at least according to the email they sent out about it, there’s a fourth person in the race, James Joseph, who was a candidate for District B in 2011. Of course, as we know from the County Commissioner experience, that only applies if someone nominates nominates him at the convention on Saturday.

Rep. Miles said in the article that he has the support of a majority of the precinct chairs. I’m not involved in the race and have no insight into how it’s going, but his district is entirely within SD13, so if he’s got the support of most of them it’s plausible. What I do know is that it mostly doesn’t matter what any of them believe or aim to do about education or criminal justice reform or whatever. Not because they’re insincere but because Dan Patrick runs the Senate and he’s unlikely to let any Democratic-freshman-written bills of substance get anywhere. Whoever wins will still have the opportunity to get stuff done – even Senators in the minority have their share of clout – but it’s best to keep expectations modest. I’m going to try to attend the convention on Saturday, and I’ll have a report on how it went on Sunday.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Rep. Thompson

The Chron endorses Rep. Senfronia Thompson in SD13, though they spend most of their time attacking Rep. Borris Miles.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

In 2008 [Rep. Miles] was indicted (and later acquitted) for deadly conduct in a bizarre scenario that had him accused of crashing a holiday party at the St. Regis Hotel flashing a gun, threatening the host, and forcibly kissing a married woman on the mouth. In 2010, he had a constable call on him for illegal electioneering. Last year he tussled with a public safety officer after trying to force his way into a private dining room at an Austin restaurant. He went for years without revealing his personal business interests in violation of state law, and failed to maintain a proper certificate of occupancy for his cigar bar, Our Legends, a popular hangout for politicians and the politically connected.

Those political connections seem to come easily for Miles. As the owner of an insurance agency, the state representative has had contracts with the Houston Independent School District, Houston Community College and the city of Houston.

Miles told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he earned these contracts before his election to public office in 2006. Legal or otherwise, the fact that a state representative’s private company is underwritten by taxpayer-funded institutions perpetuates the image that elected officials have an insider track to the public trough. That image of impropriety is only underscored by the fact that, while selling insurance to the school district, he maintained a business relationship with the husband of one HISD board member and arranged vacations to Costa Rica for another board member under the pretense of studying medical treatment for teachers in the Central American nation.

Is this really the behavior that Democrats want to reward? Is this the image that they want to promote? We hope not.

[…]

However, we endorse state Rep. Senfronia Thompson for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Houston to Fort Bend County.

Mrs. T, as she is known, was first elected to the House in 1972, and since then she has become a moral force in Austin. The longest-serving woman or African-American in Texas legislative history, Thompson has made it her personal duty to defend the “little dogs” of our state by raising the minimum wage, passing a hate-crime bill to protect gays and lesbians, requiring insurers to cover women’s health, supporting rape victims and preventing racial profiling.

Texas Monthly has described Mrs. T as a “guardian angel of the process,” standing at the front of the House chamber during debate to check over proposed amendments and ensure that nobody tries to pull a fast one.

This is the sort of experience and dedication that Texas Democrats should want to see in the Senate.

Guess they don’t like Rep. Miles, then. I do like Rep. Miles, but he has his baggage. The Chron leads off their editorial by pointing out that it’s harder for Democrats to make a case about Republican malfeasance if we’re not holding our own accountable. It’s a valid point, though I’d argue that the bill of particulars they lay out here doesn’t exactly add up to a statewide officeholder being indicted for three felonies. Be that as it may, I’m sure I’d be taking all this into account if I were in SD13. I’m not, so I’m going to take the easy way out here. I suspect people are aware of the candidates’ histories as well as their strengths and capabilities. We’ll find out on Saturday how they weigh it all together.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

More on the SD13 race

From the Trib:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

In the span of a month, a Texas Senate seat will have been vacated and effectively filled, an unconventional turn of events that has Houston Democrats scrambling to replace one of their most venerated legislators.

The highly abbreviated contest is unfolding in Senate District 13, where Rodney Ellis is vacating his seat of 20-some years to serve on the Harris County Commissioners Court. His successor on the ballot will be picked July 16 by precinct chairs in the Senate district, which is spread across Harris and Fort Bend counties.

“It’s going to be a sprint,” acknowledged state Rep. Borris Miles, who’s vying for the seat along with House colleague Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green.

[…]

“The No. 1 issue is the personal connection between the person and the precinct chair,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This probably advantages Miles, whose whole district resides within SD-13.”

“This is an odd race where money doesn’t matter,” Rottinghaus added. “There’s not going to be any advertising. No one’s going to go door-to-door. This is all about who’s in the room and who can be persuaded.”

Miles’ House District 146 may lie almost entirely within Senate District 13, but his rivals are not without advantages when it comes to courting precinct chairs. Thompson’s House district also shares some real estate with the Senate district, and “Ms. T” is a household name for many Houston Democrats. Green is the only one of the bunch to have won election citywide, and before that, he was a City Council member whose district was 85 percent within the Senate district.

“For me quite frankly, it would be really hard to say who has a significant advantage,” said Rodney Griffin, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a precinct chair in Senate District 13. Thompson, he added, may have a “slight advantage” due to her long tenure in the House and the name recognition that comes with it.

Not really much we didn’t already know. The main difference between this race and the Commissioners Court one is that Rodney Ellis established himself as a frontrunner early on. He was the first person to announce his interest in the position – he was certainly the first one to call me – he had the longest record, and his district covered nearly all of the Commissioners Court precinct. Nobody has all of those advantages here. They all entered at the same time. Thompson has the longest record and is surely the best known, but Miles’ district covers more of SD13. Green represented even more of SD13 than either of them, including some of the Fort Bend County parts, but he has no legislative experience, and it’s fair to say he has some baggage. Thompson’s experience could be a double-edged sword – she has been the Chair of the Local and Consent Committee in the House for several sessions, and I seriously doubt her successor there will be a Democrat. That’s a nontrivial amount of clout to give up, and in fact Green is making the argument that by choosing him there would be no net loss of Democratic seniority in the Legislature. I have no idea which arguments will carry the most weight, but I’m damn glad I’m not one of the 96 precinct chairs who will be on the receiving end of them.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Here come the candidates for SD13

Here we go again.

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Borris Miles came prepared with signs Saturday when Rodney Ellis all but secured a seat on Harris County’s Commissioners Court – not in support of Ellis, but to launch his own campaign.

Ellis’ selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has begun to ripple across the November ballot, freeing up the first in what could be a series of openings in Harris County’s legislative delegation.

The 26-year state senator now must withdraw his name from the ballot for Senate District 13, requiring Democratic precinct chairs to meet yet again on July 16 to select a replacement candidate. Their nominee will run unopposed.

Miles, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green have thrown their hats in the ring as others mull joining the race.

The three-week campaign sprint is projected to be as contentious as the commissioner’s race was cordial.

“Many of the candidates have complex political histories that could result in a high level of discord,” Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. “I don’t think these people are going to be playing nice.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former Houston City Councilman C.O. Bradford said they also are considering running for Ellis’ seat. City Councilman Dwight Boykins and state Rep. Harold Dutton said they opted not to.

Rep. Dutton was a supporter of Gene Locke for Commissioner, so he might have encountered some resistance had he chosen to run for SD13. As noted on Sunday, Reps. Miles and Thompson were at the Saturday precinct convention that placed Ellis on the ballot for County Commissioner. Green was not there but announced his candidacy via Instagram. Rep. Coleman had expressed his interest in the seat in May, but hasn’t said anything official as yet. This is the first I’ve seen Bradford’s name – and Green’s, for that matter – in one of these stories. We’ll see if other names come up. There are 94 precinct chairs in SD13, according to this story, with 78 in Harris County and 16 in Fort Bend. None of them are me, and I’m happy to be an observer and not a participant this time. Good luck to those who have the task of selecting Ellis’ successor.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.