Predictions and hopes

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am not much for predictions. Well, to be fair, I used to predict things all the time, but I was notoriously wrong too many times to count. Accordingly, in an effort to save face, I will  not field my own electoral predictions, which are only slightly less reliable than the Tribune polls.

Rather, I want to note what I am looking for and what I am hoping for; admittedly, they are nearly mutual exclusive categories. Within those categories, I would like to look most specifically at both the Republican & Democratic primaries, as well as both Statewide races and those in Harris County. Within these four categories, there are quite a few overlapping key points, however.

1. HOW BIG IS THE STUPID VOTE?

This is one for the Democratic primary. I am using the official academic term, of course, to describe these so-called stupid voters. They are the voters who will cast their lots for Kesha Rogers (US Senate), Lloyd Wayne Oliver (District Attorney) and Lori Gray (115th District Court), in that order. Albeit, plenty of otherwise unintelligent voters may coincidentally vote for the non-egregious candidates, but there is no way to discern them from Adam.

Click here to read all my other points!

Civil Affairs: Primaries

CIVIL AFFAIRS

In mid-January, State Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) took the stage at a local meeting of the Lubbock Rotary Club, where he criticized the “Race to the Right” in Republican primaries, where candidates try to appeal to an increasingly extreme conservative voter base by outdoing one another’s political positions. Duncan, who is not up for re-election this year, took the opportunity to criticize many of his colleagues for what he felt was an insane example of political posturing.

“We have dumbed down our elections,” Duncan said in comments first reported by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It’s a race to say who’s the most conservative.”

Duncan, mind you, is no rogue liberal holdover in the Republican Party. In past legislative sessions, he served as the president pro tempore of the chamber and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. In fact, it was Duncan who served as speaker of the body when Wendy Davis famously filibustered last June.

PLEASE SEE THE FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY TEXAN!

Big money goes after Straus

The Associated Press reports that a new right-wing PAC, Accountability First, is targeting both House Speaker Joe Straus and allies in upcoming Republican primaries, in a rather transparent attempt to make the Texas House an even more right-wing chamber. Specifically, Rep. Byron Cook (R-Navarro County) and Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland County), moderates and Straus allies, have seen their respective primary opponents be heavily funded by this PAC.

The PAC is largely underwritten by Wallace Hall, the embattled UT Regent on an alleged witch hunt against UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is, of course, currently being investigated by the Legislature for abuse of office and possible impeachment. Also a heavy benefactor to the interest group is Jeff Sandefer, a longtime Perry adviser. Sandefer is probably best known for heralding many of the more-controversial education reforms in the right-wing’s playbook. Specifically, some of the aversions cast upon him are his alleged desire to turn schools such as the University of Texas into more of a technical/vocational institute.

Click here to read more!

2015 Speaker’s race

The Austin American-Statesman reports that State Representative Scott Turner, a Republican freshman from the Dallas area, has filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Turner will challenge Joe Straus, the ostensibly moderate Republican speaker, who has held office since 2009 and will (we assume) be seeking a fourth term as Speaker next year. Turner is also noteworthy as one of just a handful of African-American Republican officeholders in this State, as well as a former NFL Player (he played for the Redskins, Chargers and Broncos, from 1995 to 2003).

“I am excited to announce I have just filed to run for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the 84th Legislative Session. God bless Texas,” Turner wrote in a Facebook post. Turner, unlike some other controversial members, is not especially known for overly firebrand conservatism and confrontational style (like, for example, Van Taylor). Still, he is an unapologetic member of the Tea Party and will surely be seeking to defeat Straus from the right.

Click here to read more!

Rats off a sinking ship

I’ve now spent three summers walking around the Courthouses, and I like to think the insight has given me a special perspective on the decline & fall of a political party’s empire. Since the vast majority of partisan officeholders in Texas are actually jurists, it is imperative to note what is affecting the judicial institution’s elections.

Before the 1994 landslide elections –which saw total control of Harris County, among others, shift to the Republican Party– there were a plethora of opportunist Democratic judges who changed partisan label. For the first time in a very long time, we are now seeing the opposite to be true.

Judge Carlos Key, a Republican who is a County Court at Law Judge in Bexar County, today announced his transition into the Democratic Party to run for re-election. The San Antonio Express-News has the full story, including a rebuttal from House Speaker Joe Straus, who conflated the announcement with is opposition to the partisan election of judges.

Click here to read more about Key’s announcement!

Prop 6 is popular

The Texas Tribune reports that a recent poll taken on Prop 6, the water funding measure, finds the measure is very supportive among Texans. The poll also reported some other odds and ends, let me reprint the results and then delineate the implications below:

1. Do you support Prop 6?
55% YES
20% NO

2. Should the Legislature over Voters have the final say on this issue?
75% VOTERS
16% LEGISLATURE

The poll also offered a glimpse into some personal questions about the average polled Texan, including a few I felt really stood out.

3. What are your feelings about the bible?
38% Word of God, but not literal
35% Word of God, word-for-word literal
22% Word of Man

4. How important is religion in your life?
49% EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
29% SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT
10% NOT VERY IMPORTANT
13% NOT AT ALL IMPORTANT

5. How often do you go to church?
16% MORE THAN ONCE A WEEK
21% ONCE A WEEK
12% A FEW TIMES A MONTH
24% ONE OR TWO TIMES A YEAR
27% NEVER

Read analysis below the jump

A basic recap of Legislative retirements

The Texas Tribune reports that yet another longtime Republcan State Representative, Bill Callegari of Katy, will not seek re-election in 2014. Callegari, who has been in office since 2001, is not by any means one of the most moderate of Representatives, though he is still far more pragmatic than most members of the Tea Party caucus.

Among the other retirements from the lower chamber among the Republican caucus are technocrats, pragmatists and longtime representatives. These include Harvey Hilderbran (who is running for Comptroller), Tyron Lewis, Rob Orr and Jim Pitts, among other names. Further Republicans, not necessarily more moderate, such as Dan Branch, Stefani Carter and Van Taylor, are forgoing re-election to the House in order to run for higher office.

Among Democrats, Craig Eiland is probably the only Democrat retiring whose district has been put in jeopardy (this is assisted by the fact that the Democrats, holding a pitiful 55 seats, have already been reduced to the studs. Eiland’s district, consisting of most of Galveston, has eyed a few hopeful Democrats, including District Judge Susan Criss & former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.

From what I understand, about half the Legislature has announced intention to run for re-election, with another big share of the lower house still assumed to do so.

A larger share of the State House’s Republican caucus that is filled with far-right reactionaries is bound to be a brutal result for the Democrats. The most odious quality of this increased polarization is that it is not easily fixed. Jim Pitts’ successor, for example, will most likely be a Tea Party favorite out of Waxahachie. His constituents in Waxahachie will not be inclined to dump a Tea Party representative any time soon, because for the forseeable future, Republican primaries in Ellis County will be tantamount to election.

Another issue with all these retirements is that Joe Straus’ days as Speaker may be numbered. Paul Burka first prophesied this conclusion about a month ago, well before the cards of retirement started falling.

51 current Republicans were elected in the post-Tea Party era (2010 or 2012). This is added to the six currently retiring Representatives who did not take office in one of those years. After that point, only 19 of the 44 remaining Republicans are needed to oust Straus. The math does not look good for him if an organized opposition effort actually comes to pass.

Transportation deal in the works

The Texas Tribune reports that a very select Conference Committee, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Finance Cmte. Chair Tommy Williams and Sen. Transportation Cmte. Chair Robert Nichols, has come up with the framework for a deal on Transportation funding. As the astute may recall, this was the issue added immediately after redistricting to the call of the first special session. However, the filibuster and other misplaced priorities on the part of the Republicans lead to the issue dying at sine die. The issue, along with Miller compliance and abortion, was added to this session’s call.

The House and the Senate have both previous passed Transportation funding bills. The key difference between the two bills rest on what money from the rainy day fund (RFD) is used for, as well as how much money to use. The House’s version included a convoluted project which would entangle education funding, by switching around lots of earmarks for RDF-bound taxes.

The Conference Committee’s bill would divert lots of money earmarked for the RDF, originally form oil & gas taxes, for transportation funding, predominantly highway maintenance. While many originally wanted a provision setting a minimum RDF balance at $6 Billion, this new bill requires the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), dominated by Republicans, to set the amount. This bill is a constitutional amendment, meaning it requires 2/3 of both Houses and must be endorsed by a majority of voters in November–although the new bill pushes the referendum back to 2014.

Since 2/3 is required, 5 House Democrats and 2 Senate Democrats are needed for approval. This is not just a rule or a tradition, but part of the State’s Constitution. Dewhurst cannot get around it. Accordingly, it is worth noting that Democrats are somewhat unified in opposition to setting a limit to the RDF balance.

This is somewhat noteworthy, because the session ends on Tuesday. The Houston Chronicle reports that Perry has absolutely no problems calling lawmakers for a third special session on this issue, and this issue alone.

Accordingly, it may be in the Democrats’ interest to compromise.

UPDATE: Off the Kuff has more.

Remember the Alamo (& Wendy)

In 1836, the Mexican army had surrounded a large regiment of Texans, in their fight for liberty and independence. Outgunned and outnumbered, there were no victorious conclusions that the Texans could reach. They were going down, one way or another.

The Texans holed up in a little mission in San Antonio, named the Alamo. In one of the final days of the battle, as the Mexicans were preparing to make their final assault, Colonel William Travis drew a line in the sand and offered his men an ultimatum: either run away and flee Texas, or stay and fight for her to the end. This, simply put, is the question now put before the Texas Senate Democrats.

The Texas Tribune reports that the House has granted final passage to HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, by a vote of 96-49. No word if this means two of the five Democratic men who voted for the measure gained a small amount of humility. By Legislative rules, the Senate now must wait 24 hours to bring up the bill.

The means that Dewhurst will bring up the bill on Thursday morning. In the interim, a Senate committee still needs to vote on the issue. As you may remember, the Senate Health & Human Services Committee did not vote on the bill. Such an action will probably occur in the next 24 hours.

What all of this means, simply put, is that SB1/HB2 could be sent to Rick Perry’s desk as early as Thursday night or Friday. As Dewhurst recently told the Tribune, we are out of filibuster range. True, no person could filibuster for twenty days. This leaves one option left for the Democrats to kill this legislation, the Nuclear Option. That is, a quorum bust.

While I have, at one point, been a proponent of this option, three things have changed my mind. First, my friend Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff, who was already established and blogging back when Ardmore occurred in 2003 (as opposed to myself, who was still in Grade School), wrote a convincing article about the differences that would make such an action improbable. He mentioned “punitive measures” put in place to prevent future quorum busts, but could not remember the details. The detail is that the Representatives and Senators would lose all of their Seniority.

Second, while the conventional wisdom once was that if the Democrats successfully busted quorum until July 30th, Governor Perry would not call a third session, as the Republicans would get weary of the seemingly insurmountable task, this is probably not going to be the case. Because both Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and Speaker Straus have made the decision to go ahead with the omnibus anti-abortion legislation first and foremost, the Transportation funding legislation would be held hostage. This would make a third session all the more likely.

Last but least, and this is what really changed my mind, is the public relations of it all. The Texas Democrats are now seen heroically, standing up for their rights and making big speeches and statements every step of the way. If they skedaddle to Oklahoma or New Mexico, they forfeit all of that good PR. They would be those who flee with their tails between their legs. That should not be what the Texas Democrats of the future should be about.

Chairman Kirk Watson should draw his own line in the sand. If any Senators want to leave, they can, but I have an inkling they will not be a sizable minority. Everyone else will stay and fight to the bitter end. The Democrats need to do a filibuster anyways. Shave off another 12 to 18 hours off the clock, in one last seemingly hopeless way to protect their constituents.

Brave Texans sacrificed themselves at the Battle of the Alamo, because while they would lose the battle, they knew they could win the war. This war may be won by two means: at the ballot box and at the courthouse. Both of which are helped by these dilatory measures conducted by Democrats.

While Wendy Davis’ –or any Democrat, for that matter– candidacy in 2014 is a long shot towards victory, to say the least, no one can doubt that the filibuster and successive events have given fuel to Texas Democrats. While Davis most likely would not beat Greg Abbott, she could easily come closer than all before her. This, in turn, will produce coattails for Democrats downballot in the competitive races of Bexar, Harris and Nueces counties, respectively. Some seats might even sway blue in Fort Bend and Galveston.

Second, and more importantly, all of the amendment offered up by the Democrats, which were summarily rejected one after another by the GOP, are going to be used as evidence in a later court case.  Ostensibly, this bill is about women’s health, but we all know that is a bunch of poppycock (to use a nice word). If it can be shown that this bill is about making it harder to get an abortion, it will be struck down by a Federal Court faster than you could say “Roe.”

On May 21st of this year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (one level below the US Supreme Court), in the case of Isaacson v. Horne, struck down the State of Arizona’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks, a key point in Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion legislation. Similarly, just yesterday, a Federal Judge in Wisconsin, the Hon. William M. Conley, in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Van Hollen, enjoined enforcement of a Wisconsin law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. As you may recall, this also is a cornerstone of HB2/SB1.

If I had to put money on it, I would say there is a better chance than not that HB2/SB1 will never take effect because of Court action. That being said, the Democrats need to go down swinging and pulling out all of the stops. Just as “remember the alamo” won the war of [Texas] independence, “Remember Wendy” may come in handy next election…or a few down the road.

Expanded Medicaid, Texas style

The Trib has a pretty good article about the recent “Texas Solution” to Medicaid expansion. Essentially, the House Appropriations Committee recently voted 15-9 to expand Medicaid, specifically requesting a block grant to so .

I have no idea what the exact roll call was on the vote. There are 27 members of the Appropriations Committee, of which 18 are Republicans and 9 are Democrats (if I counted right). The Tribune article insinuated that it was just the Tea Party Republicans who opposed the measure.

John Zerwas (R-Fort Bend County) authored the bill to expand Medicaid in clear opposition to both Speaker Straus and Governor Perry. The Tribune article explains what the program would do pretty well. Simply put, it’s would be boon to some private sector parts, and may include a completely separate program. At the end of the day, however, it is going to have a pretty similar effect: reduced healthcare costs up to 133% of the poverty line.

As much as this may not have been my top choice on Medicaid Expansion, I think it will be the best liberals can get.