Texpatriate’s Questions for Sam Houston

Editorial note: This is the ninth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Sam Houston, Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Texpatriate: What is your name?
SH: Sam Houston

T: What office are you seeking?
SH: Attorney General

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
SH:
N/A

T: What is your political party?
SH: Democratic Party

T: What do you think of the effectiveness of suing the Federal Government? Is this a good or a bad thing in your opinion?
SH: The job of the Attorney General is to represent the people of Texas and to uphold the state constitution. I will vigorously defend our people and laws but sometimes a lawsuit is not the best solution.  Too many of these lawsuits drag on for months and years with no resolution in sight and are a drain on the Attorney General staff’s time and taxpayer dollars. I will work effectively to resolve issues, filing lawsuits only when necessary to protect the interests of the state of Texas.

T: How would you effectively go after deadbeat parents and other violators of Child Support laws in an efficient manner?
SH: While it is important to pursue Child Support violators, it is critical that we focus time and resources on getting the child support paid as well as punishing the violators.

T: What do you think the role of the Attorney General should be?
SH: The role of the Attorney General is to represent the people of Texas and to uphold the state constitution. The AG must have the trust of the people and should conduct all business in a transparent manner.  The AG should not use the office to protect members of a political party or to promote a political philosophy.  The AG must serve all the people, not just those of his/her political party.

T: What is one thing that you would continue over from General Greg Abbott’s administration? What is one thing you would not or change?
SH: One thing I would change is the AG’s ruling allowing the state Health Department to keep secret information about the storage of dangerous chemicals. That opinion is wrong. This information on chemicals stored at corporate facilities has been available for decades under state and federal law. I will act to put the safety of our families and children first and require that the state provide that information.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
SH: I have 26 years as a partner in my own firm, Shepherd, Scott, Clawater & Houston.  I am an accomplished attorney and have ethically represented clients for years.  I have traveled across the state, visiting with Texans in large cities and small towns.  I have spoken to reporters, editors and editorial boards and will continue to do so for the duration of this campaign. My opponent Ken Paxton recently accepted a $1,000 fine for a violation from the Texas State Securities Board for selling securities for a firm without properly registering with the state, which is a felony. A complaint about this securities violation has been filed against Paxton with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office by a watchdog group.  Another watchdog group has filed a grievance against Paxton with the Texas State Bar, saying Paxton broke four ethics rules on conflict of interest. The Texas Attorney General must have the trust of the public.   The AG also must be transparent in all his efforts. Paxton has refused to speak to the media and answer questions about his ethics and possible criminal violations for more than four months.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
SH: The single most important issue in the race for Attorney General is the issue of trust and integrity.  As Attorney General, I will come to work every day and apply Texas values to meet the challenges of our great state.  I pledge to the people of Texas to be an Attorney General they can trust — an Attorney General with professional integrity.

What’s next for HB2?

The Texas Tribune reported, last Friday, that HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill famously filibustered by State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) (who is now the Democratic gubernatorial candidate), has been struck down once more by a Federal Judge. This is somewhat old news, so I want to deal with a few pieces of the puzzle that have not been adequately covered by the mainstream press.

First, this news should ideally sound like deja vu if you have been paying attention. About 10 months ago, the same Federal Judge out of Austin –Judge Lee Yeakel (a George W. Bush nominee)– struck down other parts of the law. That ruling has since been reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, otherwise known as the Federal Appellate Court with jurisdiction over Texas. The most recent action in that case was a request by the law’s opponents for the entire Court, as opposed to a three-Judge panel, to consider the case. This was filed back in April, and is the most recent action taken on the case.

Accordingly, one may be confused as to how two concurrent lawsuits can be going forth on the same law. I’m glad you asked! The law was divided up into four separate provisions. The first and second provisions require inducing drugs to be taken at a clinic and require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, respectively. They took effect on September 1st of last year, and were challenged in the lawsuit from last year. The third provision, which would not have gone into effect until tomorrow, requires all clinics to adhere to the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, universally considered among pertinent professionals to be a wholly unnecessary regulation designed to drive clinics out of business. And, by all counts, it would have been.

The ASC requirement was the one challenged –and ruled unconstitutional– in the most recent court case. The fourth provision, which went into effect last year and bans abortion past the twentieth week, was never challenged.

Now, as long as we’re being realistic, it should be noted that this ruling will likely be stayed by the Fifth Circuit, much the way the previous one was. At some point in the future, the Fifth Circuit will fully overturn it. A little further down the line from that, the Supreme Court will step in, and likely consolidate the two cases, then make a ruling. It’s really anyone’s guess at that point.

As I have stated in the past, if the Supreme Court were to truly examine all the pertinent precedent in this case, the law would indubitably be going down in flames. But that simply is not a given anymore.

Abbott’s bad weekend

Perhaps this is old news by now, but on Friday the Houston Chronicle reported that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, would be pulling out of one of two scheduled debates for the gubernatorial election, and the only televised one. Immediately, he was castigated by the usual suspects, prime among them State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. He also received some derision from Libertarians as well.

The debate was scheduled for September 30th at WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. However, after criticism from around the State, Abbott reversed course. In a somewhat cringeworthy about-face, Abbott announced he had accepted a nearly identical offer to participate in a televised debate on the same date at KERA, the NBC PBS affiliate in Dallas. A separate debate, schedule for September 19th in Edinburg, has always remained on the table.

Ostensibly, the excuse given by the Abbott campaign was that he had some anonymous concern with formatting. A weak excuse, by any stretch. Rightly so, as I just mentioned, he was bombarded by criticism from both the left and the right (granted, with more cacophonous critiques coming from the former). The 2010 gubernatorial campaign between Rick Perry and Bill White was arguably best defined by Perry setting the terms of the entire process. Perry came up with some exceedingly lame excuse to not debate White (and now, of course, the entire country knows why), and the entire State’s political intelligentsia (not to mention its at times obsequious-to-Perry press corps) did not bat an eye. Granted, there is something worse about chickening out after making a commitment, but at its core, Abbott committed the very same transgression. Except –and rightly so– he was almost universally chastised for this action.

This leads me to the bombshell that was opened up this morning on the front page of The Dallas Morning News. The report sheds light on a perilous raid that Abbott’s office ordered about four years ago for a group called “Houston Votes.” Accused of “voter fraud,” which the astute will recall just does not exist in meaningful numbers in Texas, Abbott’s office directed a SWAT team to burst into the offices of the group, heavily armed with guns drawn, for a raid to uncover any evidence of voter fraud. They didn’t find any, but they did succeed in destroying the organization. Abbott himself, for his part, claims total ignorance of the entire action. I suppose you could call that “Pulling a Reagan.”

The Morning News article then goes out of its way for a long discussion on the background of the issue. They discuss how immense pressure was first put on Abbott’s office to investigate by a Tea Party group called the “King Street Patriots.” They have, sadly to say, historically been a hothead of racial animus, and this controversy has proved to be no exception. The article notes reports from the KSP meetings that attempted to improperly tie Houston Votes with both ACORN and the New Black Panther Party, despite absolutely no evidence that any of the three were interconnected. Specifically in Houston, right-wing bashing of the New Black Panther Party is typically used as a catch-all dog whistle for blatant racism.

The full account provides some really fantastic background, and I cannot recommend enough reading the entire article; at this point, it’s all free online. But, in my opinion, this tidbit is particularly more troubling than the debate reversal. The connotation revealed is not necessarily anything that the well-read political class did not already know, but it is a good thing that the media can state once more unequivocally that Abbott is wholly beholden to Tea Party interests, many of whom are not –shall we say– “kosher” in their intentions.

At its core, in my humble opinion, groups such as the KSP are uncomfortable with Black people voting and becoming part of the civic process. This is the same group that sent “poll watchers” to minority neighborhoods, ostensibly in an effort to maintain the “integrity of the process,” but realistically as a way to intimidate prospective participants using Klan-era tactics.

The two options here are that either Abbott knowingly spearheaded this cluster of epic proportions (and then lied about it), or that he was asleep at the wheel. In both instances, be it negligence or malice, grave doubts should be installed in any voter of this man’s capability to be a lawful and effective Governor.

Brains & Eggs has more.

Is Joe Straus a liberal?

My friend Paul Burka at Texas Monthly pegs this question, rather facetiously, in response to a recent blog post at Forbes Magazine. Spoiler alert, the answer is a total and resounding NO! The original post, entitled “Meet the Harry Reid of Texas,” is a ludicrous attempt to paint the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), a bona fide Republican, as some type of closet Democrat. It is penned by a gentleman named Patrick Gleason, who (a cursory background search will reveal) is a staffer for Americans for Tax Reform, otherwise known as Grover Norquist’s group.

The post, which Burka notes “has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up,” delineates the pragmatic background of Straus. For those not familiar, he was first elected Speaker in 2009. At that time, a coalition of eleven moderate Republicans banded together with the Democrats to topple the regime of Speaker Tom Craddick. The anger against Craddick was not necessarily based on politics, but on leadership style. Craddick was brash, and railroaded over other Representatives in an attempt to wield absolute power.

Because Straus and his band of allies dealt with Democrats, his underlying loyalty has been suspect by the most extreme Republicans ever since. He has a steadfast dedication to the important issues, such as roads and infrastructure. Meanwhile, he openly calls for the lower house to not focus too intently on controversial, us-versus-them social issues.

For his part, Straus is better than his predecessor, and has always cooperated in good faith with Democrats on many important issues. However, at the end of the day, he is still a Republican. I would still prefer him to be replaced by a Democratic Speaker. And, in what should be most important for the Tea Party, he will –albeit reluctantly– bring up those controversial social issues when pushed by his members and State Leadership.

For example, the Texas House, under Straus’ stewardship, passed a Voter ID act. They also passed “Guns on Campus” last year, though the Senate did not. Ditto with onerous abortion restrictions last summer.

Accordingly, why do these right-wingers loathe Straus so much? For one, his rise to power is disquieting to party orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it is far more than that. This is about distrust of a pragmatic Texas Republican, one of the last ones left in high office, and his honest effort to run a better State. Not a more conservative State, just a better State.

Burka, for his part, agrees at least one piece of sentiment expressed in the Forbes article; right-wing pipe dreams passed out of a Texas Senate controlled by a Lieutenant Governor named Dan Patrick would almost certainly go nowhere in Straus’ House. The post also referenced State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a vocal Straus ally and one of the few –perhaps the only– openly moderate freshmen GOP Representatives. Villalba predicted that these pipe dreams, such as anti-Common Core bills, would be “put on the back burner” and eventually aged to death on the calendar committee.

In other places on the anti-Straus front, the Speaker has actually garnered some real opposition from among the House’s ranks. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County) has announced a public campaign against the Speaker, though he still appears to be receiving only minimal support from usual suspects. Previous attempts against Sraus’ speakership have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Failed candidacies by both State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and David Simpson (R-Gregg County) were both aborted prior to actual voting.

I still maintain a good amount of respect for Straus, but my opinion is that Burka gives him far too much credit to stand up to the powers to be on contentious topics. It was a lot easier for Straus to be a moderate when his companions were Rick Perry as Governor (pre Presidential campaign) and David Dewhurst as Lieutenant Governor. Next session, in all likelihood, his companions will be Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor. Three full steps to the right, maybe more.

Straus folded like a cheap card table last summer when Perry began exacting pressure on him to pass the abortion restrictions. I have little doubt that he will fold once more when the time comes for Abbott to lay out his ambitious right-wing agenda. Just wait. Straus will, thankfully for him, largely placate his right-wing detractors. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be because of the dreaded 84th session.

Texpatriate’s Questions for John Whitmire

Editorial note: This is the eighth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

John Whitmire, State Senator

Texpatriate: What is your name?
JW: John Whitmire

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
JW: 31 years

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
JW: State Representative 1973-1983

T: What is your political party?
JW: Democrat

T: Please describe a bill that you have introduced, which has later become law. What did it accomplish, what were its purposes? If no such bill exists, please do the same for an amendment.
JW: SB 344 created a writ of habeas corpus review and authorized relief of a conviction based on faulty or discredited scientific evidence. This new law has led to hundreds of reviews of cases and many overturned convictions and is the now the model for the nation.

T: Please describe a bill that you have introduced this past session of the Legislature. What did it accomplish, what were its purposes?
JW: SB 825 starts the statute of limitations on cases of prosecutorial misconduct to coincide with the release of the wrongfully convicted. This legislation was based on the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton and affords those wrongfully convicted additional time to pursue a case of prosecutorial misconduct.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
JW: Experience counts.

T: What role do you think a Texas Senator should have?
JW: Representing their constituents in Austin. Shaping public policy that benefits Texans. Giving a voice to those who don’t otherwise have one.

T: What is your opinion about the continued use (or non-use) of the 2/3rds rule in the Texas Senate?
JW: Strong defender of the Senate’s 2/3 rule.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
JW: Education – continue to fight for increased funding and equity in our public schools. Healthcare – promote increased funding for the elderly, disabled, and fragile and support efforts to expand Medicaid in Texas. Criminal Justice reform – continue to lead the fight to expand rehabilitation, treatment, and alternatives to prison. Successfully closed 3 prisons in Texas.

NDO petition fight heads to Texas Supreme Court

The Houston Chronicle reports that opponents of the local non-discrimination ordinance passed by the Houston City Council have taken their case to the Texas Supreme Court. Specifically, they are seeking an emergency order to force the issue onto this November’s ballot, following a contentious referendum petition effort.

As I recently explained, a controversy has erupted over the NDO –which codifies existing Federal and State anti-discrimination statutes (protecting against race, sex and religion, for example) onto local law, as well as extends new protections for LGBT individuals– following an effort to override the City Council, which approved the ordinance 11-6 last May. Under city law, such an ordinance could be placed upon the ballot for a referendum if enough signatures are gathered within 30 days. Opponents claimed they acquired more than enough signatures, but most of them were disqualified, either for not being properly registered to vote or not living within the city limits of Houston. City Secretary Anna Russell originally determined the signatures to pass the threshold, just barely, but a subsequent independent investigation by City Attorney David Feldman reversed this ruling. Feldman specifically challenged the validity of any signatures on a petition page circulated by an improperly registered circulator.

This is the crux of a legal argument made against the initial decision by Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker to not humor a referendum on this topic. Originally, the opponents filed in State District Court, and received a temporary restraining order by ancillary Judge Jeff Shadwick (R-55th). However, this order was lifted when the case went to the court of Judge Robert Schaffer (D-152nd), and mandamus was denied by the Court of Appeals. As I had understood the mutually agreed upon result to be, a longer hearing would be held on the matter in January 2015, and the issue would not be on the ballot this year. City officials have even stated that the full deadline to place things on a November ballot is August 18th, which is now in the past.

Evidently, plaintiff Jared Woodfill did not get the memorandum. He is seeking, as expedited as possible, mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court, ordering the City to certify Russell’s –and not Feldman’s or Parker’s– petition decision, thus placing this matter on a ballot. Woodfill, a former Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, evidently is not sold by the whole “deadline to place on the ballot” idea. Go figure.

Those sagacious followers of this publication I always reference will indubitably know I am skeptical of the life of the NDO if it is ever put up on a referendum. Young people and other socially liberal cohorts just don’t get off their butts on go to a voting booth. They’re just lazy, come election day; there’s no way around it. Opponents of this ordinance, though, and other broadly Tea Party aligned groups, would figuratively walk over hot coals in order to vote.

I had thought, however, that the best chances the NDO would have would be if the referendum were held this November, as opposed to next November or next May. However, its chances would be based on an aggressive and effective campaign to save the NDO. Given that it’s nearly Labor Day and such a campaign is not existent, those bets would surely be off.

All in all, my main point is that this is a mess, and while the Texas Supreme Court may be unpredictable, there is nothing to say the partisan nature of the court should lead it to intervene. The two Courts of Appeals in the Houston area are, sans one Democrat, completely filled with Republicans, and they pointedly denied mandamus. Thus, there is no reason necessarily to think that anything rash will occur. But I’ve been wrong before.

Another Astrodome proposal

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett (R) has unveiled yet another plan for the Astrodome: turning it into a large indoor park and recreation center. Under Emmett’s vision, the area would have “a large open green for festivals and other community gatherings, general exercise facilities, an amphitheater, a pavilion for music and other events  and special educational facilities for children, even museums.”

The announcement was made at a rather grandiose press conference by the County Judge, and served mainly as an opportunity to provide a vision on the idea, not to work out the details. Emmett freely admitted that he has not run the numbers on what all of this would cost, and from the sounds of it, the total expenditures would likely be pricey. As the astute will surely recall, there was a previous proposal to renovate the Astordome –which has stood vacant for about 10 years– last year. The County Judge and Commissioners approved idea, which would have created $217 Million in bonds to repurpose the dome into a convention center, was shot down by voters in a November referendum. Exit polls heavily insinuated that voters’ key concern was its high cost.

After the referendum boondoggle, many began to think the Astrodome would likely be demolished. A much, much cheaper proposal was floated to demolish the dome and convert it into a park with a small “replica dome” around where home plate once stood. However, progress on demolition came to a grounding halt at the end of last month, when a State Commission indefinitely tabled a designation on the site’s historical status. Needless to say, it’s been a long and grueling ride.

As I stated in one of the previous articles linked to this post, I am still very conflicted on the Astrodome. While I wholeheartedly supported last year’s resolution, the people spoke and rejected spending a significant amount of money to renovate it. I obviously still disagree with their small-minded, senseless and carpetbagger-esque rationale, but there is something to be said for a public servant who follows the desires of his constituents. Emmett spoke today about securing private funds for this project. If there is any modicum of a chance that is possible, I sincerely wish it to happen, but color me skeptical. I have no doubt that if outside funding had previously been a realistic source of revenue, in order to mitigate the damage done to taxpayers, it would have been used for last year’s resolution.

All in all, as you are probably aware by this point, the total and final say on what happens to the dome is with the Commissioner’s Court, which Emmett rules over somewhat firmly. Granted that he’s a shoe-in to stay in his current post until early 2019, two years after we host the Super Bowl, this could prove very interesting. Emmett, for his part, has stated that he will, in no circumstances, be okay with the Astrodome being demolished. County Commissioner El Franco Lee (D-Pct 1), for what it’s worth, was the only Commissioner interviewed by the Chronicle to voice an opinion on today’s proposal. He was cautiously optimistic.

What do you think about the dome proposal?