My Christmas list for the Lege

 

Dear honorable Representatives and Senators of the 84th Legislature of the State of Texas:

These are the items I wish to see introduced in the next regular session of the Texas Legislature. Some, I have opined on or suggested in the past. For others, the idea may seem comparably novel. Some of the ideas may appear rather logical common-sense approaches, while still others rather quixotic and far fetched. All in all, I think all these ideas would greatly benefit the people of Texas. There are some ideas, such as expanding Medicaid or recognizing gay marriage, with which I obviously agree with but did not include because they are trite and not original. I will leave those suggestions to the professionals.

  • HB1: A bill to simplify out-of-county voting for public college students.” I have discussed this idea in the past with some detail. Basically, it would allow those students at the state’s largest public colleges (UT-Austin, A&M, UH and Tech) who are from the state’s largest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Tarrant, El Paso) to vote early in their home counties at special voting booths erected at their colleges. This would avert the often-uncertain and complicated absentee process for these young students, who are notoriously unreliable in their dedication to voting.
  • HB2: A bill to simplify graduation standards for public college students.” This one should be self-explanatory. The legislature rightly removed asinine core requirements for high school students, now they should do the same for college students. Sorry, UT, but it is a disgusting waste of everyone’s time that I have to take FIVE science classes in order to get a degree in Government. If we remove silly Liberal Arts mumbo jumbo, more students could graduate in as little as two years, saving lots of money and time while still providing the same grand education for degrees.
  • HB3: A bill to raise the gas tax.” I know, ‘raising taxes’ is the third rail of Texas politics, but this is just long overdue. The department of transportation does not have the money it needs to maintain the roads in this growing state. The approval of Proposition 1 last Tuesday was a good step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
  • HB4: A bill to strengthen the Texas Open Beaches Act.” Reiterating that the beaches of the State of Texas are public parks belonging to, and exclusively to, the people. Not even erosion of the coastline may negate that fact.
  • HB5: A bill to protect the integrity of the death penalty.” This bill would increase the burden of proof for convicting someone of death-qualified capital murder from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” Thus, only in cases where the people are indubitably convinced of guilt may the death penalty be applied.
  • HB6: A bill to abolish ‘environmental zones’ on Texas interstates.” Currently, a regulation exists that lowers the speed limits on Interstates from 75 to 65 in the rural areas immediately outside of Dallas and Houston. Ostensibly, this exists to lower emissions, but no convincing evidence exists that it does not. It should be done away with, and speed limits should only be lowered from 75 when the traffic data would suggest it should.
  • HB7: A bill to repeal the state’s unconstitutional sodomy statute.” This law, which criminalizes gay sex, has not been in force for more than 11 years since the US Supreme Court struck it down. But it’s still on the books, which is a terrible embarrassment for the state. Clean up the books.
  • HB8: A bill to ban corporal punishment in schools.” Most school districts in Texas already ban the barbaric practice, but some do not and still unbelievably beat students. The Legislature should rather expeditiously correct that wrong.
  • HB9: A bill to reduce drug penalties.” This bill would lessen the penalty for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana to a Class C Misdemeanor. It would also lessen the penalty for possession of trace amounts of cocaine to a Class A Misdemeanor.
  • HB10: A bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on reporting rape.” Wendy Davis proposed this on the campaign trail, I see no reason it should not get bipartisan support.

I might likely still add more ideas, so consider this a work in progress.

Thank You,

Noah M. Horwitz

Texpatriate endorses for District Attorney

For years, Harris County was run by a brutal and harsh District Attorney, Johnny Holmes, who turned the office into the nation’s busiest source of death sentences. As this board has opined in the past, we think that the death penalty is tantamount to unjustified killing. In addition to the outright cruelty used in depriving a fellow human being who is not actively threatening you their life, the penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and capriciously. Black defendants are targeted more frequently by prosecutors, and sentenced to death by juries with even more reliability.

While, sadly, both candidates for District Attorney support this appalling practice, only one actively trumpets her support of the penalty and even appears proud of it. Furthermore, only one candidate supports the status quo on the racially biased policies that have contributed to many of this county’s problems regarding criminal justice. That candidate is the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson. Her policies have failed Harris County, and they should be wholeheartedly repudiated.

Anderson was first appointed about a year ago by Governor Rick Perry to this post following the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, in the post. Devon Anderson, however, also had a illustrious career as both a prosecutor and a Judge. Sadly, she has continued the misguided policies of her predecessor. Be it the death penalty, the elimination of the DIVERT program to deal with driving while intoxicated, illogical grand jury systems or policies on marijuana, Anderson is just not the right candidate for Harris County.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for this post, is completely different. She has a record as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, being able to see both sides of the courtroom in an honest and noble manner. As the longtime director of Crime Stoppers, she also has the capacity to examine crime from a more objective point of view, seeing it as something to be prevented rather than just punished.

Ogg is also a little less eager on the death penalty, and she advocates for reforming the venal grand jury system, which allows the political buddies of Criminal District Judges to recruit their friends. This has reduced the grand jury system into little more than a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. Under Ogg’s purview, combined hopefully with certain Judges (such as Susan Brown) being defeated for re-election, hopefully this system can be reworked into an effective check and balance once more.

Perhaps most importantly, Ogg has taken bold stands on the need to reform asinine policies on drugs within Harris County. She would rescind the so-called “trace case” policy, which prosecutes residents with felonies for even mere residues of cocaine in dramatically capricious fashion. She would also take advantage of an obscure state law to cite-and-release all those caught with small amounts of marijuana, then work out pre-trial diversion programs that would dismiss all charges if a small amount of community service is rendered. This board supports the full legalization of marijuana, but given that the District Attorney cannot change the law, we believe Ogg’s program — known by the acronym G.R.A.C.E. — is the next best thing. Anderson has only offered a lackluster imitation.

More so than almost any other election at the local level, Harris County voters have a very clear choice this November. They can go with another predictable Republican, trigger happy with putting people to death and complacent with a horrifying status quo that is corrupt, racist and ineffective. Alternatively, voters could rightly repudiate these realities and choose a candidate with an actual plan to shake up the DA’s office for the better.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kim Ogg for District Attorney.

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 represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Council update 10/8

 

A few weeks ago, I noted that Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman were pondering pushing through a ban on types of synthetic marijuana. Today, they introduced the item to the City Council and it passed unanimously. Whereas pertinent State law only disallows the specific chemical makeup typically found in the fake cannabis, the new City law is more all-encompassing. Instead of targeting the compound, it goes after the way it is “marketed and labeled.” That’s good, but I’m concerned it might open up the law to some court challenges.

Synthetic marijuana, unlike it’s honest counterpart, has some serious health risks. Despite the name, there are few similarities in either the high you get or the health risks presented. Unlike the mellowness and avoidance of overdoses hailed as hallmarks of cannabis, the effects of synthetic marijuana are far more similar to that of amphetamines. Lasting brain damage can occur. Forbes Magazine has an article that explains the plethora of individuals who have fatally overdosed on the substance. Perhaps the most compelling reason for the legalization of marijuana is that, since the beginning of time, zero people have fatally OD-ed on it. Obviously, the same is not true with the synthetic substances, prompting a rationale for prohibiting its use even when he are liberalizing drug laws in other ways.

“It is an epidemic, it is the fastest growing drug of choice across the United States and it is many, many, many times more potent than natural marijuana and, in fact, it has no relation to marijuana other than it stimulates some of the same receptors in the body,” Parker told the Chronicle. “It can cause stupor, but it can also cause aggression and agitation, and it’s causing a lot of concern across the community.”

Otherwise, as the Houston Chronicle also notes, most of the buzz surrounding City Hall today involved numerous proposals for amending the City Charter. The four specific changes floated, which could see a ballot — if at all — either next May or next November, are as follows: lifting the revenue cap on property taxes, amending term limit rules, allowing secret meetings of the Council and allowing a gaggle of Councilmembers to propose agenda items.

The revenue cap is an issue that came up over the summer but has predominantly fallen out of the news recently. At issue is a decade-old, voter-approved ceiling on the amount of property taxes raised. Simply put, despite controls of growth and inflation, it simply has not kept up. Because of the cap, rates for homeowners will effectively fall in the coming years –which is indubitably a good thing. But the city will be constrained and will, even in a good economy, be compelled to return to slashing services. It’s a lose-lose proposition, and one that will be bitterly hard to fight. All in all, I think the cap should be lifted, but it’s hard to imagine a majority of the low-turnout municipal electorate agreeing.

Next is the oft-repeated proposal to amend term limit laws. Currently, the Mayor, City Controller and City Council are all limited by three two-year terms. The proposal touted by the Mayor would change this to two four-year terms; I don’t know how it would affect incumbent officeholders, and how many more years they could serve if the proposal is adopted.

Now, most of the arguments in support of term limit reform fall on deaf ears for me. While I’m ambivalent about the whole idea of limiting how many terms a legislator (which a City Councilmember effectively is) can serve, I am a vociferous advocate of frequent elections. The proposal would quite literally make these officeholders accountable to the public half as often, breaking from the tradition set by the lower House of both Congress and the State Legislature. While advocates of it may whine about the stresses put on politicians, I simply do not give a care. Their concerns are subservient to the concerns of their constituents.

Particularly with the increasingly erratic electorate that selects members of the City Council, obstructive Councilmembers are becoming more and more frequent. Former City Councilmembers Helena Brown (R-District A) and Andrew Burks (D-At Large 2) are two sterling examples of this phenomenon. If they were elected under Parker’s proposal, they would still be around doing all that they did at Council meetings. Need I say more?

Third, a proposal has been floated to allow the Houston City Council to meet more in private. Parker and Feldman, I recall, made a similar push a few years ago, but received criticism from the Councilmembers. The two now-former CMs who opposed the strongest, however, Al Hoang (R-District F) and James Rodriguez (D-District I), are no longer on the Council. I have always been bitterly opposed to closed-door sessions such as these, in principle as well as practice. When my father ran for the City Council last year, I even encouraged him to record an advertisement deriding the proposal.

Last, but certainly not least, is a proposal by City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4) to allow for a coalition of at least six Councilmembers to proposal agenda items. Currently, only the Mayor can make proposals on the agenda. To this, the Mayor appeared absolutely opposed; I can’t say I’m surprised, she has acted almost imperial unilateral with her power recently.

A few months ago, when I spoke to former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely Mayoral contender for 2015, he also expressed support for allowing the Council to influence the agenda. All in all, I tend to think individual Councilmembers should be able to introduce items, but I suppose that just goes against the spirit of the strong-Mayor system.

What do you think about this proposals? How about the synthetic pot ban?

Ban on synthetic pot?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Annise Parker and the City Attorney, Dave Feldman, are aiming to introduce a new ordinance to the City Council’s Quality of Life Committee banning the use of sale of synthetic marijuana. The State of Texas banned many forms of synthetic pot in 2011, but dealers quickly found a way around this law by tweaking –ever so slightly– the chemical balance and names. Accordingly, Houston is stepping in to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem.

According to Parker and Feldman, forms of the creation, be it “K2” or kush, are particularly dangerous. Unlike natural marijuana, which carries no real deleterious health effects, many forms of synthetic pot can cause seizures and palpitations. Accordingly, the city has a real interest in stopping its prevalent use, especially among legal sources. Feldman noted in the Chronicle article that many legal dispensaries still carry the product, something they hope will be ended after a new law is passed.

Councilmembers Ed Gonzalez (D-District H) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5) were both sought out by the Chronicle to comment on the proposal, and both were broadly supportive. Gonzalez had some qualms but overall remained optimistic, while Christie focused more on the prevention of –what he called– “kids getting zonked out.”

I have to admit, I was rather apprehensive and skeptical when I first heard this headline. As the sagacious will recall, I am a fairly big proponent of the total legalization of marijuana. Accordingly, I originally rolled my eyes when I heard of this proposal, thinking  it was more in the overreaction of the asinine war on drugs. But the dangers of synthetic pot are very real. CNN had a rather terrifying story recently outlining the terrifying side effects that the product often has, sometimes on children.

Obviously, synthetic pot should never be used by minors, and the City should do much to dissuade denizens from using it. However, I don’t know if I am totally sold on whether or not Houston should be spending so many resources combating this comparably minor problem. We still have tons of violent crime, and –like every other major metropolitan police force in the United States– cannot feasibly go after every lawbreaker. Perhaps we should be using our limited resources going after more serious offenses.

Synthetic pot is obviously bad for you, but so is alcohol. I guess this is the civil libertarian in me coming out, but I often think that we should let individuals make their own personal decisions. What do you think? What do you think the City Council will end up doing?

Drugs, Drinks and the law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ogg for GRACE

Photo: Kim Ogg for DA campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.