Supreme decision

The New York Times reports that the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a set of legal challenges to states’ bans on performing or recognizing gay marriage. The decision reversed a trend of the court from earlier this term of letting these cases stand at the lower level. The difference this time was that the Court of Appeals in this specific case, the Sixth Circuit (MI, OH, KY, TN) recently upheld the constitutionality of the bans, thus creating a split at the appellate level.  The case will examine two basic questions. First, may a state ban gay marriage? Second, may a state refuse to recognize valid gay marriages performed in other states?

Most commentators expect the court to strike down the laws, thus bringing gay marriage nationwide (thus Texas). Two years ago, in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court specifically punted on the issue and found the intervenor-plaintiffs lacking standing. And while Windsor v. United States, which struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, largely relied upon federalism, it has been used as the primary vehicle for lower courts to strike down bans on constitutional grounds.

Last year, a District Court Judge in San Antonio struck down Texas’ ban on gay marriage, and a bipartisan panel of the 5th Circuit recently heard that challenge –and appeared willing to uphold that decision. Texas Monthly has a truly great article on that. Accordingly, even though gay marriage may very likely come nationwide by the end of June, it could come to Texas even before then.

Prognosticating on Supreme Court decisions is truly a fool’s errand. But just to be silly, I tend to think that the case will be 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberals. Kennedy’s reasoning in Windsor would just be contradicted at a very basic level if he upheld bans. And Roberts, obsessed as he is with the court’s reputation, simply could not be in the dissent.

Every Governor in the Sixth Circuit is praying tonight that their state’s case is not selected, thus enshrining their name for posterity as the Ferguson, the Board of Education of Topeka, the Heart of Atlanta Motel for this generation.

This case, be it Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder or Bourke v. Beshear, will go down in history as one of the preeminent civil rights cases of our time. I say bring it on!

Filing bills for the 84th

The Texas Tribune reports that bill filings have begun for next year’s session of the State Legislature. When all was said and done, about 350 proposed laws and constitutional amendments were proposed today. Oddly enough, all this commotion conspicuously occurred amid the silence of Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). Most of the loudest initiatives came from Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, with both leadership and centrists mostly ducking away from the limelight.

For whatever reason, the Tribune as well as the Associated Press have been harping about a new proposed ban on texting-while-driving. The usual suspects, including former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), have been pushing the measure once again, cautiously optimistic that the new Governor would consider the idea; a far cry from Governor Rick Perry, who infamously vetoed the bipartisan measure in 2011. However, Abbott noted in the course of the campaign that he too would likely veto a measure. Accordingly, it’s a dumb point to focus upon.

Most notable were three major Tea Party aspirations, all of which very well may get a vote in this upcoming session. First, three concurrent pieces of legislation (HB 106 by State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van Zandt County); HB 164 by State Representative James White (R-Tyler County) and; HB 195 by State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County)) were all introduced that would have the effect of ushering in “open carry” in Texas, meaning that all CHL holders could openly show off their deadly weapons in any location its hidden counterpart would be welcome. Abbott has implied he would sign such a law.

Second, Stickland also introduced HB 209, which would do away with the Texas Dream Act, the bipartisan policy nearly unanimously passed at the start of Perry’s tenure that allows undocumented students brought into this country in their infancy to attend UT and other public universities at the “in-state” rate. Abbott would also sign this proposal.

Third, State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Harris County) introduced HB 193 while State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County) introduced SB 105. The bills would repeal Texas’ unpopular franchise tax, the closest thing to taxes on corporate profits in the state.

That’s more or less what’s important, but I included a list below of the other assorted bills that piqued my interest one way or another:

  • HB41 by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County) would raise the minimum wage to about $10, while HB 174 would do the same for state contractors.
  • HB 53 by State Representative Ruth McClendon (D-Bexar County) would raise the age at which offenders are tried as an adult from 17 to 18, all other things being equal.
  • HB 68 by State Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas County) would allow for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
  • HB 70 by State Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso County) would provide for penalties for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in school districts.
  • HB 71 by Gonzalez would create a “Romeo & Juliet exception” for same-sex partners.
  • HB 76 by State Representative Ceila Israel (D-Travis County) would allow for online voter registration.
  • HB 78 by Gonzalez would provide for comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • HB 81 by State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County) as well as HB 170 by State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) would regulate e-cigarettes throughout the state, as well as prohibit their sale to minors.
  • HB 89 by Gonzalez would regulate tuition at public universities.
  • HB 91 by Flynn would create a legal marketplace for the sale of raw milk.
  • HB 92 by White would legalize possession of the “Bowie knife,” among other changes to the state’s knife laws.
  • HB 93, HB 107 and HB 110 by White would greatly reform and generally liberalize laws pertaining to truancy. Specifically, the fine would be reduced from $500 to $20, among other provisions.
  • HB 97 by Guillen as well as HB 189 by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) would end the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
  • HB 108 by Guillen would retain the right of lottery winners to be anonymous.
  • HB 111 by Fischer would allow for voters to register to vote on election day.
  • HB 113 by State Representative Allen Fletcher (R-Harris County) would criminalize aborting a fetus based on its gender.
  • HB 116 by Fischer would expand Medicaid in Texas.
  • HB 124 by Fischer would expand free, universal Pre-Kindergarten throughout the state.
  • HB 130 by State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas County), as well as other pertinent joint resolutions, would legalize gay marriage in Texas.
  • HB 135 by Flynn would require High School students to take a civics class on the US Constitution.
  • HB 138 by Flynn would require the 10 Commandments be posted in schools, in clear defiance of the Supreme Court.
  • HB 142 by Stickland would prohibit the use of red light cameras for traffic citations.
  • HB 147 by State Representative Jose Menendez (D-Bexar County) would require merchants to receive photo identification for major purchases involving credit cards.
  • HB 150 by Flynn would nix day light saving’s time in Texas.
  • HB 161 by State Representative Lyle Larson (R-Bexar County) would allow prisons to house inmates in tents.
  • HB 176 by State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lee County) would somehow “allow” the state to not follow Federal laws involving guns that they did not fancy. The ignorance here is astounding.
  • HB 204 by State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) would shorten summer break for public schools by about two weeks.
  • HB 213 by State Representative Angie Button (R-Dallas County) would require ex-legislators to wait four years before lobbying under the dome.
  • HB 215 by State Representative Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) would do away with the fees for fishing licenses when it came to fishermen 65 years and older.
  • HB 216 by White would lower the minimum wage for a concealed handgun license from 21 to 18.
  • HJR 31 by Gonzalez would require the Attorney General to be an attorney.
  • HJR 37 by Larson would require legislators to resign from office before running for something else.
  • HJR 38 by Larson would impose term limits on state offices.
  • SB 54 by State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Denton County) would drug test welfare recipients.
  • SB 76 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) would prohibit insurance discrimination on the part of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • SB 81 by Ellis would create a commission to further research wrongful convictions, particularly for capital offenses.
  • SB 82 by Ellis would greatly expand the availability of probation for drug-related offenses.
  • SB 86 by Ellis would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
  • SB 135 by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) would reform grand jury systems by transitioning from “pick-a-pal” systems in which the grand jurors are chosen by an intermediary to one in which the District Judge directly selects the participants.
  • SB 139 by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) would end diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety, among other recipients.
  • SB 141 by State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Harris County) would increase voter education for high school seniors.
  • SB 148 by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County) would repeal the unconstitutional ban on “homosexual conduct.”
  • SB 150 by State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) would appropriate about $3 Billion for university construction around the state.
  • SB 158 by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas County) would grant funds for local police departments to purchase body cameras, then require officers wear them throughout their interactions with the public.
  • SB 173 by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) would deem synthetic marijuana a “controlled substance.”
  • SJR 10 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal County) would invalidate municipality’s non-discrimination ordinances.

Liberty & Justice for all (in these States)

The New York Times reports that the US Supreme Court has decided to not hear appeals on three separate decisions by Federal Appeals Courts to throw out state-level bans against gay marriage. A 4th Circuit ruling against Virginia, as well as a 7th Circuit ruling against Indiana & Wisconsin and a 10th Circuit ruling against Oklahoma & Utah were all left standing after the Supreme Court refused to get involved. This, after the Court had stayed all the decisions for many months. In the succeeding weeks, gay marriage will also almost certainly begin in the six other States covered by the jurisdiction of those three Appeals Courts: New Mexico, North Carolina, Kansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. This means that 11 States in total will have legalized gay marriage in short order, bringing the total number of States with marriage equality to 30, plus the District of Columbia.

The ruling is somewhat noteworthy, as it has struck most of the typically followers of the Court by surprise. Only four Justices, of course, are required to grant certiorari to a prospective case. What this means is that inch-by-inch approach commonly employed by the liberals-plus-Kennedy coalition on the Court needed at least one more adherent to prevent certiorari from being granted. I talked about this incremental approach a little last year, when the Court struck down most of the Defense of Marriage Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the closest thing to a moderate on the Court, joined with the four liberal Justices to hand a nominal victory to the proponents of LGBT rights, but they stopped far short of decreeing gay marriage nationwide –something that many pundits, including myself, so desperately wanted.

Accordingly, with these cases steadily making their way through the legal system, most assumed that the Court would be almost compelled to hear them and render a definitive up-or-down decision on the validity of state-level bans on gay marriage. They thought wrong.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, arguably the most prolific liberal on the Court, has been a particularly vocal proponent of the so-called incremental approach. She has been a somewhat active critic of the Court’s expansive ruling in Roe v. Wade, arguing it went too far too quickly and polarized the nation into incessant gridlock. On this issue, she has argued, the court should allow time for public opinion to change. And it has changed, in fact, quicker than anyone would have imagined.

Unfortunately, the court’s decision (or indecision, I suppose) did nothing to rectify the bans still present in 20 States, including Texas. Earlier this year, a Federal Judge declared Texas’ ban on gay marriage (as well as civil unions) unconstitutional, but that decision has been stayed pending appeal. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has apparently been taking their sweet time on that case, but given the extreme conservatism of that court, if there is ever an Appeals Court to affirm gay marriage bans, it would be one.

At that point, with Appellate Courts coming to opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court would almost feel compelled to step in. The four liberals, almost certainly, would want to hear the case at that time.

Without a doubt, I’m happy that the Court has decided to allow, even by omission, for marriage equality to go forward in nearly a dozen states. I just wish Texas was one of them. I think the next step will be a nationwide mandate requiring each State to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. At that point, the barriers preventing it from being performed within the State will become just too superficial to be defended.

Texpatriate endorses for the US Senate

We tend to swing back and forward on prioritizing issues and prioritizing experience & leadership skills when it comes to campaigns, elections and endorsements. Most of us agree that Senator John Cornyn, the Republican incumbent who has been in office for twelve years, is a strong choice in the leadership department while his Democratic challenger, David Alameel, beats him in the policy arena. All in all, though, this board believes its squabbles on policy with Cornyn outweigh our preferences with him on leadership, and we therefore will support his competitor.

In this era of Tea Party upstart leaders who come out of nothing rather abruptly, Cornyn has been an exception to the rule. He is a slow but steady growing leader for Republicans in Texas. Before he entered the Senate in late 2002, he served for one term as Attorney General and about one-and-a-half on the Texas Supreme Court. Originally, Cornyn’s experience was in the judiciary, as he started out electorally as a District Judge in his home of San Antonio. Furthermore, Cornyn has spent his years in the Senate somewhat productively, moving up the food chain ever-so-efficiently until he recently became Minority Whip, the second highest ranking Republican. The country faces the distinct, though very real, possibility that Cornyn could even be the Majority Leader of the Senate come January.

All this is to say that, if Texas voters choose to repudiate Cornyn in his quest for a third term, the state would lose a lot. But it would also lose a consistent voice against everyday Texans, one indubitably without their best interests at heart. Despite what Cornyn’s many extreme Republican primary challengers may have suggested earlier this year, the incumbent is indeed a true conservative. So true, in fact, that his positions should not continue to have a home in the United States Senate.

Cornyn continues to be a driving force behind the asinine movement to amend the constitution in order to ban same-sex marriages. Once, he likened the idea to a man loving a box turtle. He also has stood against even the most reasonable gun regulations or bipartisan accommodations designed to keep the government afloat when Tea Party zealots were extorting Washington into austerity. After vanquishing rightist challengers in this year’s primary, you would think that Cornyn could move toward the center, but instead he has sadly doubled down on the very same type of partisan rhetoric.

David Alameel, the Democratic challenger, is not a strong candidate. His considerable largess allowed him to bully the state’s top political brass into supporting him over more qualified and more interesting candidates in the Democratic primary, with the ultimately false assumption that he would be amenable to spending some of his fortune during the campaign. Unfortunately, he has been missing in action from heavy politicking for many months now. We’re not holding our breaths for a sudden reversal.

We have some serious reservations about his qualifications, temperament and other characterizations. But on policy, there is a night and day difference. Alameel is pro-LGBT rights, wants to end neoconservative foreign policy elements and supports reasonable gun regulations.

It is still an open question as to if Alameel would make an effective Senator. But Cornyn has, without a doubt, lost our confidence as one, so we are willing to take a chance on a replacement, specifically one who we agree with on principle. Accordingly, this board endorses David Alameel for the United States Senate.

A dissent to the Editorial was also published
I largely agree with the platitudes espoused by the remainder of the editorial board, and their assessment of strengths and weaknesses among the candidates. We just disagree on which one should be prioritized.

Cornyn’s positions likening bestiality with reptiles to marriage equality are offense and indefensible. Similarly, his general demeanor on the issues as a member of the Senate is somewhat poor. But our friends, we fear, drastically understate the value of Cornyn’s leadership positions. The Senate is not a collection of fiefdoms. One freshman Senator would not be very effective in shaking things up. Texas is much better served by a tried-and-true statesman like Cornyn, with what he could affect for the people.
–Andrew Scott Romo

Noah M. Horwitz also published an individual addendum
I agree with the editorial’s positions, but I would like to clarify the role of experience. Being in the Senate is not very hard, it’s not a job that requires a lot of advanced brain power; anyone who ever met Dan Quayle could testify to that. Obviously, David Alameel is no LBJ, and neither is John Cornyn. It’s useless to try and romanticize or aggrandize their power or influence. The most important thing a Senator can do is to write and advocate for her or his bills. And, for that, it is beyond debate in our circle that Alameel would do a superior job.

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

A summer of HERO

Note: For whatever reason, I felt like writing what I saw fit as a timeline. I promise there is some original commentary in here, so if you are not inclined to read my overview, just skip about five paragraphs down.

This is the blog post I have been waiting all summer to write. Once again, I apologize for not attentively following this issue in print since May. As I explained back then, I have been employed this summer in public relations projects involving ongoing issues at City Hall (the word “lobbying” has been brought up by detractors of mine on a number of occasions, though it remains to be said that I am not a registered lobbyist nor have I done anything that would necessitate such a designation). Thus, I voluntarily decided to withdraw myself from commentating on other ongoing issues. However, considering the issue I was working on has had a final council vote (check my Facebook page for my personal thoughts on that matter–largely positive!!), and my employment has shifted to PR/marketing aimed toward the general public, my conflicts have been removed.

The obvious updates since I stopped writing on this issue in May is that the non-discrimination ordinance passed (duh!). While the initial draft of the bill only required those private employers with more than 50 employees to adhere to the law, an amendment by Councilmember Robert Gallegos (D-District I) was offered that lowered the threshold to 15 employees. In review, the law prohibits discrimination against a person in private or public employment, as well as public accommodations, on the basis of the plethora of demographic groups protected on Federal law (race, sex, religion, etc),  in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity. City Hall can’t fire you for being black, Doe & Doe (Attorneys at Law) can’t fire you for being transgendered and Acme Anvils can’t put a sign on their front door that says “Gays not welcome.” In addition to the Gallegos amendment, Councilmember Jerry Davis (D-District B), under blessing of the Mayor, nixed a specific provision detailing the rights of transgendered persons to use the bathroom of their gender identity, not necessarily their biological sex. It is worth noting, however, that under the broad language of the ordinance, that same bathroom language is in effect still valid.

When all was said and done, the ordinance passed 11-6. Councilmembers Davis, Ellen Cohen (D-District C), Richard Nguyen (R-District F), Ed Gonzalez (D-District H), Gallegos, Mike Laster (D-District J), Larry Green (D-District K), Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), David Robinson (D-At Large 2) and C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4) voted in favor. Councilmembers Brenda Stardig (R-District A), Dwight Boykins (D-District D), Dave Martin (R-District E), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5) voted against.

Opponents of the ordinance congregated around claims of “religious liberty,” claiming that if being gay went against one’s religious views, being forced to accommodate someone would be immoral to them. They came back with a vengeance, circulating petitions to force a referendum on this bill. A few weeks ago, they submitted 50,000 signatures, far more than the required 17,000 to require a referendum. However, proponents of the ordinance independently verified all the signatories, and found the petitions riddled with violations of the rules. While there were surely many signatories who were not City of Houston voters, thousands more were discounted because the distributors of the petition for that page was not properly credentialed, which invalidated all the signatures on said page. Under such strict scrutiny, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney Dave Feldman held that the non-discrimination ordinance (now colloquially known as HERO, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, by the way) would not be challenged on the ballot. Opponents expeditiously marched to the courthouse.

After a little bit of jockeying back and forward between State and Federal court, the dispute landed in (State Civil) 55th District Judge Jeff Shadwick’s court. A Republican, he placed a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the law (redundant, for what it’s worth, because Parker had already enjoined enforcement) and scheduled a hearing on the validity of the petitions for August 15th. August 18th is the deadline, as I understand it, for something to be placed on the ballot this November.

My first and most obvious stipulation is that I am absolutely overjoyed that this measure passed, and I think that Houston is all the better for it. In an ideal world, there shouldn’t even be the 15 employee threshold (though certainly an exception for religious institutions and non-profits). That being said, there are some legitimate arguments against this proposal. Persuasive to me? Absolutely not. But legitimate nonetheless.

I think the best argument there was centered on the ordinance’s sheer unpopularity in the general public. In my opinion, this runs hand and hand with some major fumbles on the part of the Mayor. First and foremost, she made the ordinance nearly 100% about the LGBT community, when the ordinance was about everyone. Indubitably, rights for LGBT people are unbelievably important and even as a standalone issue should be fought for relentlessly, but so should Civil Rights for African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as protections by age, veterans status, disability and religion, to name a few. Perhaps the worst moment was when she addressed a commentator at public session by noting that the ordinance was “personal” for her. Simply put, it’s not about her. It’s about everyone. And by claiming it is about her and the LGBT community, she provides unneeded fodder for detractors to overturn the ordinance in a referendum.

Additionally, criticism was misplaced, and that is a huge understatement. The amount of nastiness directed toward Councilmember Brenda Stardig in particular was simply appalling. I will be the first to admit that I disagreed with Stardig’s vote, but that does not justify personal rhetorical attacks. Her office’s Facebook page was overrun with mean-spirited comments and she was singled out by a couple of commentators. Stardig never said she would support a non-discrimination ordinance and her constituency was overwhelmingly opposed. I fail to see the controversy here.

Like Stardig, all but two of the Councilmembers who voted no made no such earlier promise, and by-and-large came from constituencies opposing this ordinance. The two big exceptions were Dwight Boykins and Jack Christie.

With Christie, I can’t say I’m surprised. He had been utterly non-committal throughout last year’s campaign about supporting such an ordinance, even in response to incessant queries by his two opponents (Disclosure: one of them, James Horwitz, is my father), who were both big supporters of a non-discrimination ordinance and same-sex marriage. For some reason, last election cycle the GLBT Caucus was figuratively in love with Christie, not only endorsing him but campaigning for him vigorously against two liberal Democratic opponents. I don’t want to say, “I told you so,” but…you know the rest. It’s definitely not Christie’s fault, though. He would only say that he supported a non-discrimination ordinance in very broad terms, and one could tell the bulk of his issues revolved around lowering the employee threshold to 15. It’s the fault of those who voted for him, expecting him to do something different. Don’t blame a politician for voting one’s district, but definitely don’t do so for voting one’s conscious–when the evidence previously pointed to the conclusion. It comes off as naive.

Now, Dwight Boykins is a whole other story. Throughout the campaign, he triumphantly touted his support for LGBT rights and has n0t at all been hesitant about any of it. Simply put, he lied. I understand that he thought his district was against it, but if you think like that, don’t talk to interest groups day in and day out about how you think LGBT rights should be a civil rights issue. Both are good enough selections, but you can only choose one. Boykins attempted to choose both, and as such, now appears for what he is: a giant hypocrite.

But perhaps one of the biggest disappointments in all this has been the Mayor. Simply put, she was a “sore-winner.” Instead of being gracious in victory and moving on to the referendum (which will be the real battle), she kept harping on bumping the margins up on the final vote. Even after the final vote, she showed favorites to the ordinances proponents and snubbed the opponents in discourteous and unprofessional ways.

In a City Council meeting in late June, Kubosh even made a comment at Council about how he should agree with the Mayor more often, so that “he too might get his bottle of wine.” At this point, coos and shrieks from council staff could be heard throughout the room. Obviously, I was curious as to what he was referencing, so I asked around. It turns out that the Mayor bought cheap bottles of red wine for all the Councilmembers who voted with her on the NDO, conspicuously snubbing those who did not. That type of antic –giving little treats in a very obvious fashion to your allies after they vote with you– is reminiscent of the petty, sophomoric tactics used by second-rate lobbyists, not the decorum expected of the Mayor.

But all this is just semantics, which in the grand scheme of things is rather unimportant. Probably the most egregious error in this whole process was the Mayor not focusing on the almost mandatory referendum. At the end of the day, the fact is that the City Secretary has noted that the number of valid signatures are above the minimum. Furthermore, when it comes to the jurisprudence of the matter, strict requirements for those circulating petitions to be registered voters are likely too onerous to stand up in court. A referendum is coming, and the best scenario is for it to be in November 2014. If it happens in May 2015, it will almost certainly fail. It is happens in November 2015, it will also likely fail, and could negatively affect City elections vis-a-vis progressive candidates.

But enough about just negative sentiment. At the end of the day, the courageous men and women at the GLBT Caucus and other interests did yeoman’s work in advancing this positive piece of legislation. I’m a bit of pessimist and a cynic, so I will also find things to gripe about, but that does not change the reality that a very good ordinance passed, an even stronger one than San Antonio’s! The process may have been muddied, and the long road is not even over yet, but if this holds up in a referendum, it will be Mayor Annise Parker’s lasting legacy as Mayor. It will be a darn good one.

As always, my fellow bloggers have provided awesome commentary on this issue. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist all give great perspectives on the left, while Big Jolly Politics and Rhymes with Right do the same on the right.

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.

Convention recap

Editorial note: I apologize for this getting out a day late–Wordpress has been absolutely terrible, corrupting over 2500 words of meticulously well-crafted opinions that I put together yesterday. This is my second stab at it. In the meantime, please give me a suggestion of a blogging software that is not completely worthless.

On Saturday, the 2014 Texas Democratic Convention came to a close after a number of productive days. I drove up to Dallas, where it was held, after work on Wednesday and stayed until late afternoon on Saturday. What I found, first and foremost, was a party that had the lights turned back on, one that was significantly more optimistic about the future than it had been in the past. That being said, there were number of things that I truly took exception to, which I will definitely delineate here. But for the most part, the convention was a rousing success.

I was absolutely overjoyed to see the excess of young people there, which felt significantly more numerous than my first convention experience, back in 2012. This could be for a number of reasons, among them that this a gubernatorial election cycle as well as one where refocused attention has been applied on Texas Democrats. The first convention after the formation of Battleground Texas as well as the Wendy Davis filibuster was bound to bring some more young people to the table. Finally, it may be that the last biennium has seen me expand my idea of who a “young person” was, so while a 25 year old might not have sufficed as a contemporary when I was 18, they would at 20.

From UT Democrats, Kirk Watson Campaign Academy, Davis campaign interns, Battleground Texas fellows to Texas Democratic Party staffers, I felt like the convention was literally filled with young people. It was not a rare sight at all to see people obviously younger than me, and my own Senate District (SD17), a ferociously suburban district where the median age is easily in the 50s, boasted over a dozen young people, including a couple who had just graduated High School. My point on all this is that the demographics, just on age alone, continue to work in the Democrats’ favor. Of course, there was racial and ethnic diversity, but that is not a new item at State Democratic Conventions. The young people were, though.

The only serious politics that transpired on Thursday was one last meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee before new elections were called during the convention to fill it. While most of the SDEC’s acts that day were rather mundane, they did get to some pretty controversial business involving VAN. For those unfamiliar, VAN (Voter Activation Network) is a program run by the Democratic Party and used by Democratic primary candidates in order to ascertain the partisan affiliation of a specific voter.

In case you didn’t know, whether or not you voted, and which primary (if any) you voted in, are both public knowledge. Thus, in a State like Texas where Democratic primary campaigns are very, very specific, it is of great advantage to selectively campaign with certain people, thus not wasting money sending your direct mail to a registered Republican.

This brings us to the SDEC resolution. A number of members, led by former State Representative Glen Maxey (D-Travis County), pushed to disenfranchise certain Democratic primary candidates from VAN. Specifically, those who have voted in the most recent Republican primary or donated at least $1000 to GOP candidates or causes would be excluded.

Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa objected to this  proposal because he felt it was detrimental to rural Democrats. Hinojosa explained that, in many smaller, rural counties, the Democratic Party is virtually non-existent, so there is no Democratic primary to vote in. Accordingly, many otherwise very liberal people there would have no choice but to participate in the GOP process if they wished to remain politically active, as it would be tantamount to election.

The SDEC narrowly overruled Hinojosa and adopted the proposal. I agree with the Chairman’s comments, but I thought there was a greater issue at play that no one thought to talk about. As I have said countless times in the past, what type of message are we sending moderate Republicans and Independents if we do not welcome them to our parties. Beggars can’t be choosers, and these are the exact type of people the Party needs to attract in earnest to win elections.

Of course, the inconsistency advanced by the small-minded ideology is noted as well. Wendy Davis, David Alameel, Mike Collier, Jim Hogan, Larry Meyers; the Democratic slate is quite literally filled with former Republicans. I am not being facetious when I say that I truly do not understand the arbitrary standards used by the Austin intelligentsia to determine who gets a pass into the Sapphire City and who is left at its gates. Do you understand?

If, for whatever reason, you want more of my opinions on this controversy, check out the column I penned in this morning’s issue of The Daily Texan!

When it came to the platform, rules, credentials, etc, there were not very many actual surprises. As many will remember from 2012, the platform took a huge step to the left two years ago, endorsing gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty. Those three planks still got some press two years later.

Dos Centavos notes that the immigration plank was kind and humanitarian, as opposed to the cruel, Hobbesian planks advanced by the GOP. While they nixed a guest worker program, the Democrats remained steadfastly supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. However, one of the interesting new tidbits was a provision calling for the end of the “287g program,” which has been implemented in cities such as Houston. The program calls for law enforcement officials to look into the immigration status of all those arrested –not convicted– within the jurisdiction.

I have always been somewhat disappointed by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s support of this program, given that he is a Democrat. Back when it truly flared up, in 2010, I was working at City Hall. One of the most heated debates I ever had there was on this program. My opinion back then was the same as it is now, and it still points back to my rather laissez-faire view of immigration. Thus, I’m happy that this plank was inserted.

Other new items of note included an unequivocal call to ban on so-called “reparative therapy,” which the GOP endorsed in their own convention. The Republicans have received an astounding amount of bad publicity for this, including from their own Chairman.

However, the biggest item involving the platform that I could find was that the party offered no leadership on the issue of marijuana legalization. At a time when two States have already legalized marijuana (Colorado and Washington), Texas Democrats truly made a mistake of not taking a bold stand on this issue. The sluggish reaction of the old guard is troubling, and eerily reminiscent of all the resistance to gay rights. To me, the biggest issue is that the platform still includes sentences such as “Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.”

Marijuana is actually far less dangerous than either of the other drugs. Alcohol directly kills something like 80,000 people a year, while Tobacco kills over 400,000. Marijuana has directly killed ZERO people since time immemorial. As far as hallucinogenics go, it is the safest option out there. Once again, I’m just disappointed with the lack of leadership that was shown on this issue.

Then, of course, there is the mandatory discussion over the Chairman’s race. The astute will surely remember that I did work on the campaign of Hinojosa back in 2012, though I did not work for any candidate this year. Hinojosa, a former Judge from the Rio Grande Valley, was re-elected with over 95% of the vote, winning at least five Senate Districts unanimously, including my home district, SD17!

Texpatriate endorsed Hinojosa for reelection, and for good reason. To borrow a line from Racehorse Haynes, one of my father’s old legal mentors, I would like to plead in the alternative. First, I think that the Texas Democratic Party is on the right track. Second (if I did not think the TDP was on the right track), I do not think that changing the Chairman would have a significant effect. Third (if I did think changing the chairman would have significant effect), I do not think that Hinojosa’s opponent, Rachel Van Os, would be a suitable replacement.

Van Os’ speech was an exercise in “not ready for prime time” if I ever saw one. Woefully unprepared and scarce on specifics, Van Os failed to give me a good reason why Hinojosa did not deserve a second term and she definitely failed in demonstrating why she would be any better.

As unbelievably harsh as I often am on Democrats and the Democratic establishment, individuals often find it surprising that I am such a resolute supporter of leadership, be it TDP Chairman Hinojosa or Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis. As my friend Carl Whitmarsh says about such leadership positions, they are the jobs “that everyone wants, but no one wants to do.”

It is remarkably easy to criticize someone in the leadership positions, and I will be the first to admit that I have criticized those local party leaders countless times, but it is significantly harder to actually change things in a meaningful way. Constructive criticism should never be misinterpreted for a lack of support, and I got the feeling that most delegates agreed with such sentiment.

I tried to find someone –anyone– from the general public who would go on record supporting Van Os, but I was unsuccessful. My friend Perry Dorrell, of Brains & Eggs fame, was a supporter of hers, but I have a policy not to interview other members of the press–it’s too insidery.

The race for Vice-Chair, however, had significantly more sparks. Under a gentleman’s agreements, given the demographics of the current Chair, the Vice-Chair must be an African-American woman. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m comfortable with those types of requirements, but that is a discussion for a later day. Accordingly, the battle was fought at the Black Democrat Caucus, where incumbent Tarsha Hardy –first elected in 2012– would run for a second term.

Challenging her were Fredericka Phillips, a Houstonian, and Terri Hodge, a former State Representative from Dallas. Some may recall that Hodge resigned under scandal in 2010, following allegations of impropriety and bribery. Under a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Hodge accepted a charge of tax evasion and spent one years in prison. After working on a number of campaigns since getting out, she finally threw her hat into electoral politics once again this past weekend. That being said, she got clobbered in the running, coming in a lonely and distant third place.

Phillips was the eventual winner, defeating Hardy by just two votes. Graciously, the two stood on stage together at the Convention and pledged to work with one another for not only a smooth succession of power, but for the betterment of the entire party. The respectful tone of the entire event was truly a sight to see and one that I was proud to witness.

The speeches themselves were a whole other amazing event. Speaking to many people in the know, I was told time and time again that the convention was the first time since the Ann Richards era that all the speakers had so invigorated the crowd for such a long period of time. From the small time-filling speakers to the headliners, the convention hall was FULL and people were on the edge of their seats. That simply did not happen in 2012, and I was told it did not happen in the years before either.

When it came to specific speeches, I thought State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, delivered the best presentations by far. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, and Daivd Alameel, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, meanwhile, also delivered speeches worthy of examination.

First, Alameel’s speech struck me as good on the writing but a little iffy on the delivery. His speech, more than any other I heard, was literally filled to the brim with one-liners. Alameel, a veteran, lambasted his opponent, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), as a draft-dodger who sought deferment after deferment. That was probably the most intense attack line of the weekend.

However, his delivery is still lacking. Alameel, an Israeli-born immigrant of Lebanese ancestry, still has a very heavy accent. His speeches at the podium seem almost unnatural and somewhat forced. While his intentions are certainly good, I fear that this may not play out very well for him on the stump. The general public does not devote much time to trying to normally comprehend a politicians’ words, but definitely does not do so through a thick accent.

When it came to Davis, meanwhile, I similarly liked her speech but –as usual– was disappointed in the delivery. As I have said many times in the past, Davis is famous for dedication and perseverance, rather than any specific oration abilities. That same point of view was definitely put on display this weekend in Dallas, when she truly poured her heart out in a speech that blasted the “insiders” and “good ol’ boy” culture of Texas, both of which she referenced to slam her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Mike Collier, moving on, probably had the second best speech of the weekend. Collier, a very pragmatic Democrat who was a Republican as recently as a couple years ago, could easily be my favorite downballot candidate on the Democratic slate. As an aside, there were these funny T-shirts being sold by the TDP that said “Nerd out with Mike Collier.”

Anyways, Collier’s big push the entire campaign has been about taxes. His opponent, State Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), made some news earlier this year when he said that the property tax should be abolished and replaced with an upped sales tax, probably around 25-30%, to be exact. I wrote a column in The Daily Texan back in April about how absurd this is, and about how spot-on Collier’s reaction has been. Rightly so, Collier has blasted Hegar as a Big Government tax-and-spender, even deriding him with the nickname “The Tax Man” in a recent campaign commercial.

Accordingly, when Collier went on stage and expressed his disgust for taxes, saying that he thought it would be wrong to hike up any margins, I was on the edge of my seat seeing how the crowd would react. There might only be 2000 people in Texas who support a State Income Tax (all of them living in Austin, obviously), but they were probably all in that room at the Dallas Convention Center. But Collier explained how we can provide many of the services this State needs simply be closing loopholes and accurately forecasting revenue. He was very specific and yet casual in his speech, reminding me of a less comely version of Bill Clinton on the stump.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Van de Putte. What can I say that has not already been said in obsequious adulation of the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. But in all seriousness, she gave hands-down the best delivery of any of the speeches, combined with some darn good speechwritng. More than anyone else, Van de Putte had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Some other miscellaneous points to note included the personalities who went above and beyond to let themselves be known. Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County), colloquially known as TMF, both set up huge booths in the convention hall and the latter even hosted one of the three official afterparties. I thought the vulgarity in his speech was an unforced fumble, but there were far worse things that could have happened.

Also, there was exceedingly spotty wifi at the convention, or you could choose to pay $13 for nominally less awful internet connection. This was rather annoying, but worse things could have happened I suppose. An anonymous source at the Democratic Party told me that it would have cost over $6000 to furnish free wifi at the convention, and it was a charge they simply could not come up with.

Finally, it was truly a pleasure to see fellow TPA Bloggers there, including (but not limited to) Harold Cook (Letters from Texas), Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs), Vince Leibowitz (Capitol Annex), Trey McAtee (McBlogger), Ted McLaughlin (Jobsanger) and Karl-Thomas Musselman (Burnt Orange Report). Interacting with these fellow bloggers made the entire trip worth it in and of itself.