Emmett to go without opponent

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett, who is running for re-election as a Republican this fall, will be unopposed by serious competition after his Democratic opponent dropped out of the race. Ahmad Hassan, a small business owner, is a political gadfly who ascended to the nomination after being unchallenged in the Democratic primary. He has run for a couple of different offices, including both this one previously and Congress, both as a Democrat and a Republican. In short, Hassan is not anyone’s idea of the Democratic establishment. He was not recruited by the local party and, thus far into the campaign, has been a pretty lackluster candidate. No website, no online presence and no good faith effort to campaign within the community. I understand the idea of a cash-strung campaign running a low budget production, or someone with their own business limiting the time they take off from work, but a Facebook page costs exactly $0.

Hassan said that he extensively met with Emmett recently, and was persuaded out of the race to allow Emmett to focus on his office and its duties more.

“I do have things I’m trying to accomplish – the mental health pilot program at the jail, regional governance, the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “I thanked [Hassan]. I thought it was an honorable thing to do. He is a successful person and he truly wants to give back. I can appreciate that.”

Let me stipulate first that I too am a fan of Emmett, and I was planning on supporting him in November over his Democratic opponent. I think, like Hassan noted and Emmett delineated in his comments, that the County Judge has been an awesome representative of the people and continues to fight the good fight on many issues. He is the type of moderate Republican that I would literally love to see run for high office, but I could only imagine he would get clobbered in a competitive Republican primary, considering his support for things such as Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, as well as compassionate approaches to immigration problems.

With that out of the way, I think Hassan totally made the wrong move in dropping out of the race. And I still hold it against the Democrats that a legitimate candidate did not run against Emmett. I don’t know why someone else didn’t run against him, and I am not being rude; I’m legitimately curious. Did the County Party make a decision not to contest the seat, or did they try and fail to recruit someone? I will freely admit that I do not know.

Candidates deserve opposition. President Barack Obama deserved it, Mayor Annise Parker deserved it, State Senator John Whitmire deserved it and County Judge Ed Emmett deserves it. Opposition keeps both candidates and officeholders and their toes and compels them to defend their positions. It is a healthy part of the political process, especially for a job that only comes up for election every fourth year. The citizens of Harris County were deprived of such a fight with Emmett cruising to re-election.

I’d vote Emmett for higher office, but I would like it even more if he switched parties. I don’t know if the Democrats would unanimously welcome him, but I certainly would!

Update: As my friend Perry Dorrell at Brains & Eggs rightly points out, there will still be a second candidate on the ballot this November. David Collins, of the Green Party, will run for the post as well. His Facebook page has been attached at this link.

Texpatriate opposes Vehicle-for-Hire overhaul

Editorial note: Noah M. Horwitz is currently employed by The Clifford Group, a public relations firm in Houston that counts the Greater Houston Transportation Company, Yellow Cab’s parent, among its clients. Horwitz took no place in the deliberation or compilation of this editorial. A majority of the board concurs to the opinion, but the Editorial itself was penned solely by Andrew Scott Romo.

The debate over regulations for taxis in Houston is complicated. The debate over the proposed ordinance before the City Council today is not. The ordinance does not pass the smell test; it allows for equivalent services in the same marketplace to be treated differently. We have long struggled to understand why the City of Houston has drafted an ordinance that would allow such a gross inequity in the law to stand. We’ve tried asking the Mayor, we’ve tried asking the City and we’ve tried asking all the pertinent stakeholders in the community. None of them could give us a clear answer. We are beginning to suspect that one simply does not exist.

This board has long been struggling to pen an editorial on this topic. We disagree sharply among of our ranks with the question of what direction Houston’s taxi industry should move in. Some of us think that the ordinances currently regulating Yellow Cab and other companies should go on relatively unchanged, while some prefer minor changes. Some of us even think that the regulations should be completely eviscerated and replaced with a fully free-market taxi industry, where the consumer and the consumer alone decides who she wishes to ride with and for how much. What we all agree on, however, is that the proposed ordinance is a bad piece of legislation that needs to be voted down.

Uber and Lyft, two new entrants into the taxi industry, wish to not follow the regulations Yellow Cab and others currently follow. These include expensive measures, such as insurance and the guarantee of rides to all, to the more symbolically ethical, such as metered fares that cannot ever be changed or tampered. For one largely supportive of these laws, for example, this proposal lacks any serious positive attributes, as it allows for Uber and Lyft to follow much different, much more lenient, laws regarding insurance, fares, background checks, drug tests, inspections and many more, all while the legal cab companies are forced to follow the letter of the law in every single ordinance previously governing them.

This should be a red flag even for those who are otherwise supportive of calls to reform the taxi industry. Take, for example, the proponent of moderate reform, who may wish to facilitate the creation of discount pricing and promotions for vehicles-for-hire in Houston. While Uber and Lyft, under the dubious category of Transportation Network Companies, may do this, Yellow Cab and others simply may not within the boundaries of the law.

Even advocates of radical deregulation can see the problems with such a proposal. If Uber and Lyft can charge whatever they want, slash some of the most expensive charges for the operation of taxis and only take profitable trips, it would be wildly unfair to compel Yellow Cab to play in the old system. Much has been said about letting the free market take care of consumers in this industry. That simply was not the intention with this bill, as it does not trust the free market to operate. Alternatively, in an example of a most non-free and unfair market, Yellow Cab is restrained by burdensome regulations with Uber and Lyft are not. That is patently absurd and without any justification.

The Houston City Council has already delayed this action once in the naive hope that same grand bargain could be struck or a better bill could be drafted. Instead, the substitute proposal was even worse, replete with even more inequalities between the two same systems. For these reasons, this board recommends that the Council simply kill this proposal. No amendments, no posturing and no compromise-talk. Vote it down.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz and Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

Abbott appeals gay marriage case

Photo source: Texas Monthly

The Dallas Morning News reports that Attorney General Greg Abbott has appealed the Federal Court case regarding the constitutionality of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Back in February, as many will recall, a Federal District Judge in San Antonio struck down an amendment to the Texas constitution that explicitly bans both same-sex marriage and any type of civil union or domestic partnership. Today, Abbott filed a brief and appeal with the Federal Appeals Court, the Fifth Circuit based in New Orleans.

The news that the case has been appealed and that Abbott, who despite being the Republican candidate for Governor is still the chief lawyer for the State, is among those leading the charge should not be seen as very surprising news. What is surprising is the tactics he used to attempt to prove the constitutionality of the provisions, laws and amendments denying same-sex couples the ability to marry.

Abbott went full right-wing and argued that the prohibitions are necessary because they foster heteronormativity and lead to more procreation. He also contended that, since the constitutional amendment was approved by State voters, the courts should be especially wary of overriding the public’s opinions.

Abbott’s second allegation is a logical argument that necessitates some discussion, but the first one is not. This is the same main defense used by proponents of Proposition 8 in California. Maintaining that the entire institution of marriage centers around having babies is not only silly, it is outdated and wrong. What about old people who get married well past the typical age of childbirth? What about sterile/barren people? And, of course, does this mean a couple that chooses to remain childless has somehow failed the central goal of marriage. Of course not, because the goal of marriage is nothing more than two people happily living together in matrimony. Slate published an overall stellar piece on all this a couple of years ago, but the gist of it is that this is a silly point to make. The evidence is quite clear in that same-sex marriage does not reduce the birthrate, but that is neither here nor there.

The better point that Abbott made was that the courts should not override public opinion. This is a particularly swell argument for use in the court of public opinion, since people of all political persuasions could easily find a court case they disagree with. For conservatives, it’s Roe or a gay marriage case, and for liberals it’s Citizens United or Hobby Lobby. The idea that unelected judges should not trump the public will might be a cheap stunt, but it’s effective. As for its legal value, it is only slightly more valuable than the preceding point. The concept of judicial activism has ensured the superiority of the judiciary for over 200 years.

The point that Abbott should have made is one of technocratic impulses, not from flashy politics. Abbott merely should have said, as the sworn defenders of Texas’ laws, he was appealing a case that the State was a party to. This is an argument that I am actually quite sympathetic toward.

I did not agree with the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry last year. The case, which was widely lauded as it brought about the legalization of gay marriage in California, allowed the State to choose not to appeal a law they were forced to defend. Perhaps it’s just me, but I thought that the government had an obligation to defend its own laws. The parallel I suggest is that, if a Republican were elected Governor of Vermont, and the State’s single-payer healthcare plan were struck down in Court, why should the new Governor choose not to defend the old law?

This isn’t to say that I strongly disagree with Abbott on the overall point with same-sex marriage, merely that we shouldn’t lambaste him for actually doing his job. There are better things to criticize him on.

Reality Check, Part IV

The Houston Chronicle reports that YouGov, in conjunction with both CBS and The New York Times, has conducted a nationwide poll of gubernatorial and senatorial elections. Overall, the poll shows that Republicans are doing very well throughout the country, and stand a significant chance (in their minds, 60%) of retaking control of the US Senate. As expected, the results paint a gloomy picture for Democrats right here in Texas.

In the race for Governor, the Republican candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, leads the Democratic candidate, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), 54%-37%. A mere 9% are still apparently undecided. Similarly, in the Senate election, Republican incumbent Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) holds a 55%-38% lead, with an even smaller 7% still split between the two. The margin of error in both polls was small enough, given the huge lead one candidate commands, to be statistically insignificant.

govrace

The methodology in this poll, however, was suspect. The methodology used something called the “online panel,” which is rather new and untested form of polling. By randomly selecting internet users and then correcting for non-response in a way similar to most other telephone-based polling, Davis’ campaign has accused YouGov of being biased against Democrats since it excludes poorer, less educated and more Hispanic populations. Indeed, by YouGov’s own estimation, only 86% of Americans may be reached using the internet, far less than the 98% reached by comprehensive telephone polls. Landline only polls,  however, only reach 63%. YouGov, however, has a decent track record when it comes to accurately predicting Statewide elections.

senate

The important takeaway point from this poll is that some online sources can produce arguably reputable results. The Texas Tribune, for example, uses glorified opt-in online polling that is only slightly more accurate than drawing names out of a hat. Accordingly, while I will take this poll with a grain of salt, I will not wholly discount it the way I assume many of my Democratic establishment friends might.

All in all, the results are not especially surprising for me. Both Alameel and Davis are down 17. For comparison, Bill White (D) lost to Rick Perry (R) in the 2010 gubernatorial election by 13 points and while there was no Senate elections, Democrats lost the downballot races by, on avergae, about 17 points. According to this poll, Democrats are on track for another shellacking of 2010 downballot proportions.

I don’t really think that the race is quite for desperate for Davis; I tend to agree with PPP that her deficit is closer to 14 or 15 points. It is certainly still possible to catch up from that, but not probable.

As I have said ad nauseum over this summer, Davis (and Alameel too, for what it’s worth) needs to run TV ads. She just does. I recognize that conventional wisdom holds that, in order to conserve a political war chest, you do not go on the air until Labor Day, but conventional wisdom is going to deliver Davis a double-digit loss in November if it keeps calling the shots. The way I see it, she needs to double down and go big right now. A media blitz not only would deliver quite a lot of earned media, but it would present the opportunity for her to be put back into contention.

I am aware of the terrible downsides to this strategy. It could not be effective, and Davis runs out of money in late September or early October. She loses by north of 20 points. But the upside is that she could gain some traction. If Davis does not run ads until Abbott has already resigned himself to blanketing the airwaves, the result will be a wash.

Democrats can continue being smug in their ivory towers about polling methodologies and this, that and the other, but at the end of the day, Wendy Davis and David Alameel are at a tremendous disadvantage statewide going into the last 100 days. We –Democrats– have a choice to make. We can bury our heads in the sand and lament our best efforts when we are beat by 13-18 points in November. Or we can go for the gold and take a chance. I choose the latter. Do you?

 

Drugs, Drinks and the law

A couple of days ago, I analyzed and commented upon Kim Ogg’s plan for eliminating arrests for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Ogg, the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney, took a stance unfathomable just two or three years ago. Under her proposals, all individuals caught with 4 ounces or less of marijuana, even repeat offenders, would be cited by police instead of arrested. Offenders would then have to show up for court on a day their ticket would proscribe. Once at court, offenders could easily enter into a short community service program to have the charge dismissed. If Ogg is elected, the implementation of the program will put Harris County on equal footing with many more progressive locations for its de facto decriminalization of the possession of marijuana.

Considering the constraints that a DA has, this is the most relaxed position on marijuana possible without some assistance from the State Legislature. State Law allows DAs to implement this cite-and-release program for misdemeanor offenses, but not felonies, so the same prosecutorial discretion toward possession of more than 4 ounces of  marijuana is a non-starter. Texas does not have a system of direct democracy through referendums the way that California, Colorado or Washington state does, for example, so all change must originate from the State Legislature.

This topic continues to be in the news after a major bombshell of opinion news today. The New York Times‘ Editorial Board called this morning for the repeal of the Federal prohibition on marijuana, leaving the decision to legalize up to the individual States. The Times went even further by suggesting that States would be correct to legalize.

I do not think Texpatriate has ever published an official editorial advocating for legalization, but that is surely not for lack of support; more likely because the issue never broached state or local politics enough to justify the discussion. Astute followers will recognize by now that I am personally a big proponent of marijuana legalization, for a couple of different reasons. First, as the overwhelming evidence suggests in Colorado and Washington, legalization will drastically increase revenue for the State, funds that may go to constructive projects such as roads and schools. Second, the use of marijuana is one of personal responsibility, and should not be dictated by the government.

Marijuana poses no true physical risk to its user. It is not addictive and it does not harm you. It is impossible to overdose on it. But this should not be the grounds with which we determine the legality of intoxicants? After all, alcohol poisoning is an all too present feature in the college environment, and tobacco (nicotine, precisely) is arguably more addictive than heroin. But both alcohol and tobacco are completely legal in the United States, and widely distributed and available to the general public.

Ogg makes a great start with her GRACE program, but much work is surely left to be done. However, nearly all this work must be taken at the State Legislature. As for myself, I have a few other suggestions that will be sure to stoke the embers, so to speak, and should facilitate some discussion on drug policy. I consider myself an unabashed libertarian on these issues, so I suspect that many of my usually most-loyal allies will find something to disagree with me on here.

First things first, I think Congress should remove all Federal crimes involving the possession of any drug, or the distribution of any drug if it does not actually involve interstate acts. What this means is that the drug trafficker or conspiracy must actually spread across multiple states, and may not merely involve drugs that could plausibly have affected multiple states. I also think Congress should repeal the asinine National Minimum Drinking Age Act, first passed thirty years, which coerces States into raising their drinking ages to 21 or risk forfeiture of highway funding.

Congress has no right to meddle in State issues like that, and the entire idea of entangling a completely unrelated item such as highway funding to vice is patently absurd. I even agree with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that the scheme is unconstitutional.

When it comes to State laws, I have a similarly ambitious idea for what needs to happen. Non-cannabis drugs such as cocaine or an opioid should be effective decriminalized, so that all focus is placed on the treatment of addiction to these debilitating drugs.  The production, distribution and sales of these substances should still be zealously prosecuted.

As for drinking laws, I think the drinking age should be lowered to 18, if not lower for beer and wine. There is the obvious problem about the age of majority being 18 (e.g., you can serve in the army but not have a beer), but it also could inversely cut down alcohol fatalities. A key problem with binge drinking on campus is that, with bars out of the question, young people flock to underground parties, often with mysterious punches spiked with some unknown substance. When the drinking gets out of hand, students will be less likely to seek help if they think that they will get in trouble.

Obviously, this is all wishful thinking given the current political realities of our system. But it is important to keep an open mind on political topics that are still on the horizon. Who would have thought that the legalization of marijuana would enter the mainstream so quickly as of two years ago? Who is to say that the decriminalization of other drugs or the lowering of the drinking age should not be next?

Ogg for GRACE

Photo: Kim Ogg for DA campaign.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney, has unveiled an ambitious new program to deal with marijuana offenses. Under Texas law, those possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana commit a Class B Misdemeanor, whereas those possessing between 2 and 4 ounces commit a Class A Misdemeanor. Ogg’s proposal would create a program, a backronym known as G.R.A.C.E. (Government Resource Allocation/Criminal Exemption), that would largely reform enforcement of the current pot laws in Harris County.

State law gives wide discretion for local police to cite-and-release offenders for certain misdemeanor offenses, as opposed to arrest, incarceration and bail. Under such a system, which has already been used in limited circumstances throughout both Travis and Hays County, defendants would immediately be released on their own recognizance, and be expected to show up in court themselves. Much like a traffic ticket (Class C Misdemeanor), if one does not show up to this proceeding, an arrest warrant will be issued and the individual will likely be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

However, if one does show up to this court date, the defendant will be ordered to complete two work days worth of community service, namely picking up trash in the so-called “Clean and Green” program. Once this program is completed by defendants, the case will be dismissed without further court proceedings. Accordingly, the program is more reminiscent of a Pre-Trial Diversion program (colloquially known as DA’s probation) than of Deferred Adjudicated probation. The differences between the latter and this program is that no blemish on one’s permanent record would persist. Furthermore, as best as I can ascertain, the program is not merely limited to those without previous offenses –as most Pre-Trial diversion programs are. Rather, it appears indiscriminately open to all accused of a misdemeanor pot offense.

A couple of years ago, I shadowed an assistant DA in a misdemeanor criminal court for ab0ut a week. What struck me as the most surprising feature of Court was the utter lack of diversity in the cases brought before the court. Driving While Intoxicated, as well as minor possession of marijuana, constituted well over 80% of the crimes. The amount of money that the DA’s office could save by not prosecuting these cases would be extraordinary. More prosecutors could be freed up for unorthodox roles, as well as moved into investigating more serious, violent crimes. Police, meanwhile, could be opened up to investigate similarly more heinous offenses.

The Chronicle article does go out of its way to reference a response to this announcement by incumbent DA Devon Anderson, the Republican candidate. Anderson retorted that she too was looking into some sort of similar program.

“Since the beginning of the year, we have been working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department on a pilot Marijuana Intervention Program that will be implemented this fall,” Anderson said. “Crafting this program is complicated and requires the effort and cooperation of all law enforcement agencies to ensure that we create a program that works and stays in line with the law.”

I think the most interesting item of note is that Anderson replied in a constructive way, not with a substanceless attack that Ogg was somehow soft on crime. That is a HUGE change of pace for a District Attorney’s election in Harris County in the last few years. The tide is turning on the legalization of marijuana –it is like same-sex marriage at this point; no longer if, but when.

Sagacious followers of this publication will be aware of my support for the legalization of cannabis, but such an objective in the short term is just unrealistic in Texas. An arrangement such as this one, with a DA liberalizing the enforcement mechanism for low-level crimes, is probably the best possibility that has a reasonable chance of happening in the near future.

All in all, this just solidifies the positive impression I have about Ogg. She has a proven track record of being tough on crime, so she does not need to pay lip service to ridiculously strict laws in order to prove a point. She will be the anchor of the downballot Democrats, being the inspiration for many to continue voting all the way down Democratic.

Do I love or hate Jim Hogan?

Much ink has been spilled by this publication (Ok, so not really, since it’s all online) and many others on Jim Hogan,the enigmatic Democratic nominee for Agriculture Commissioner. As the astute will recall, Hogan rebuffed all campaigning ahead of the primary, lacking a website, a platform and –most importantly– the will to campaign. When asked about specifics, he would only offer broad platitudes that would mock the question-poser. Somehow, Hogan finished with a commanding plurality lead in the March primary, and advanced into a runoff with Kinky Friedman. The third candidate, Hugh Fitzsimons (inexplicably listed on the ballot as Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III) came in last place despite being the unanimous choice of the Democratic establishment. Goes to show how much their endorsement is worth. Hogan then creamed Friedman in the runoff.

Personally, I voted for Friedman twice, and Texpatriate endorsed him the second go-round. At that time, the editorial board lambasted Hogan as a wackadoodle not deserving of any support. “Because of an increasingly illogical hatred for Friedman, many in the aforementioned [Democratic] stablishment have taken to supporting Hogan as a type of sick joke,” we said. “They like to promulgate the oft-repeated cliche that, despite his history as a comedian, Friedman’s campaign is not funny. On the contrary, we think nominating an incompetent buffoon such as Hogan would be the worst joke of all.”

Yet, this sick joke has continued in serious fashion following Hogan’s victory in the runoff election. I saw it in full display at the State Democratic Convention last month, when many of my (regrettably younger) contemporaries talked up Hogan and lamented his absence therefrom. A couple of attempts at a cult following have been launched –a Tumblr and a Facebook page– but not have catered to anyone far enough out of the inside-baseball crowd to make a difference. The new stokes recently added to the ember are a Texas Observer piece that could generously be described as “ALL ABOUT HOGAN!”

The article itself is a fine piece of journalism; its author, Christopher Hooks, is undoubtedly a talented writer. But the piece of chock full of Hogan’s obnoxious one-liners and will surely cause “Hogan’s Heroes” to jump for joy at the prospect of their fabulous savior.

I suppose that the longwinded answer to the question posed in the headline is that I still dislike Hogan. Let’s be clear, he is a smug and sanctimonious man who gets off on receiving media attention for not wanting to receive media attention. Hogan is sort of like the girl from Junior High who is mean to you because she has a crush on you, to borrow a ridiculous metaphor.

My disgust with Hogan’s candidacy, then, presents me with a difficult quandary regarding the Agriculture Commissioner race. The Republican nominee is former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), a fiercely conservative politician whose biggest claim to fame was introducing the so-called “Sonograms-before-Abortions” bill in the Legislature. Supporting him is more-or-less out of question for me.

There is, to go down the line, a Libertarian candidate though, as well as a Green one. The Libertarian, Rocky Palmquist, has in Kinky-esque fashion endorsed the repeal of all laws against marijuana and hemp farming. Harkening back to Friedman, he even states on his Facebook page that “Hemp can and will be the new cotton for Texas!!” This appears to be his key distinguishing feature.

Kenneth Kendrick, meanwhile, is the Green nominee. Best known as the chief whistle-blower a few years ago when the Peanut Corporation of America was embroiled in a salmonella scandal, Kendrick appears to simply be cruising on that limited fame on the campaign trail instead of actually talking up real issues.

Ultimately, I think Hogan would be a decent Agriculture Commissioner if by some divine miracle he were elected. Hooks, who wrote the previously linked Observer article, quoted an old Louisianan adage that Miller will only lose this election if caught with “a dead girl or a live boy.” It might have to be worse than that. I could become a begrudging Hogan supporter, but for his smug attitude. If he were to acknowledge a need to play seriously, actually build a rudimentary website and accept other people’s help, much like Friedman did, I would gladly support him. But I cannot bring myself to support him otherwise. He makes a mockery out of the system, and further cheapens its value by proving –once again– that ANYONE can win an election and their uses are basically meaningless with an uneducated electorate.