Catching up, Part I

In the last week, no shortage of big news has transpired down at City Hall. Coincidentally, I was down there three or four days of the past week, but mostly heard the big news secondhand. Perhaps most importantly, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Mayor Annise Parker has officially nominated her new City Attorney to replace David Feldman, who announced his resignation last month. The nominee is Donna Edmundson, who — if confirmed — would become the first woman to take the city’s top legal job. She has a lengthy and impressive career on the fourth floor, working there for nearly thirty years (straight out of law school).

Among Edmundson’s accomplishments in the past have been working tirelessly against gangs in high-risk neighborhoods, as well as being instrumental in reaching the 2013 deal between Parker and the strip club cabal. Needless to say, the City Attorney’s office will be in capable hands with Edmundson.

The announcement largely took the political community by surprise, as Edmundson was undoubtedly an under-the-radar pick. Many had expected either Lynette Fons, the First Assistant City Attorney, or Steven Kirkland, a Municipal Judge and former Civil District Judge, to be selected.

Standing besides Parker at the press conference that unveiled Edmundson’s selection were City Councilmembers Dwight Boykins (D-District D) and Jack Christie (R-At Large 5), respectively, who both voiced their support of the nomination. The bipartisan support is expected to continue, and Edmundson could easily be confirmed unanimously. The timing is somewhat important, as Feldman — whose last year in office was rocked over the controversial non-discrimination ordinance — is planning on testifying in the upcoming NDO trial.

For those unfamiliar, the NDO prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and a plethora of other demographics in employment (15+ employees) and places of public accommodation. Most of those categories (the notable exceptions being sexual orientation and gender identity) are already protected by state and federal regulations, but this ordinance makes legal options considerably easier/cheaper. Obviously, the protections for the LGBT community garnered those same trite homophobic reactions and blowback, although the Parker administration did foul up the roll-out of the ordinance. I contend that some of the ordinance’s strongest critics, such as Councilmember Michael Kubosh, could have been amenable to supporting the bill if Parker had not been so confrontational and divisive about the whole matter.

Anyways, opponents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on this topic, but the City Attorney’s office — going around City Secretary Anna Russell, who had certified the petitions — disqualified most of the signatures. Off the court the whole thing went, which brings us to the present.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the trial over these petition certifications will occur on January 20th in the court of Civil District Judge Robert Schaffer, a Democrat. This past week, arguments took place regarding whether or not the case should be a jury trial or a bench trial (decided by the Judge). At the City Council meeting on Wednesday, some members of the Council weighed in on the matter. Kubosh believed that the will of the people should be respected and, as such, a jury trial should be sought. City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is both an attorney and a supporter of the NDO, agreed that a jury trial would be ideal.

I tend to agree with their sentiment, but think that at the end of the day this is a legal and not a political issue. Schaffer is a very good judge, who checks his politics at the door. I think whatever decision he comes to will be a well-reasoned one.

Speaking of lawsuits, Friday hosted some other big news in municipal politics. Theodore Schleifer at the Houston Chronicle reports that a Federal Judge, Sim Lake (a Reagan nominee), has placed a preliminary injunction on Houston’s municipal fundraising rules, which disallow candidates from raising money before February 1st. Since nothing is expected to change in the next three weeks, the floodgates have officially opened for mayoral and council candidates to begin raising money.

Schliefer, in a subsequent Chronicle post, described the stampede of fundraising that is already abound and how, if the law is definitively declared unconstitutional later this year, it will change the dynamics of local politics. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit will be heard tomorrow, initiated by former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely mayoral candidate. Bell, as I noted a few months back, has sued Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), another mayoral candidate, arguing that he violated the spirit of municipal regulations last year when he raised money for an all-but-obsolete legislative account, then later plans to dump all the money into a mayoral account.

As I said back then and still believe, the local campaign finance regulations tend to do more harm than good. But it will be interesting, to say the least, seeing how it will affect the mayoral candidate on the horizon.

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NDO petition fight heads to Texas Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDO dies another day

Pardon the brief interregnum, I have spent the entire weekend moving into a new apartment in Austin. I am returning tomorrow (Sunday) back to Houston for one last week home, before shipping up for yet another semester of college. Color me content.

The biggest local news that has transpired within this time has been an important update on Houston’s recent non-discrimination ordinance, now casually known as HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). As I noted last week, a State District Judge (Jeff Shadwick) put a temporary restraining order on the law as a part of ongoing litigation over a recall effort. At the heart of the issue is whether opponents of the law compiled enough legally usable signatures to force a referendum on the matter. In recent days, considerably urgency has been placed upon this issue, given that many wanted a vote from Houstonians this November. Strangely enough, at least publicly, this appeared to be the outcome both sides wanted. While Mayor Annise Parker decided opponents were insufficient in their recall efforts, opponents have sought an injunction from the courts.

While Shadwick (a Republican) conducted the ancillary hearing on the TRO, the full hearing was in the court of State District Judge Robert Schaffer (a Democrat). He pointedly refused to issue the injunction sought by opponents, just as the 14th Court of Appeals declined to certify the referendum petitions. The end result, which both sides claimed as a victory, was that a longer hearing will take place in January of 2015. The non-discrimination ordinance will not be on November’s ballot.

The astute will surely know I am a wholehearted supporter of the NDO, notwithstanding the countless problems I had with its roll-out. The law itself protects against discrimination in all forms, including against the LGBT community. Individual complaints with the ordinance such as the asinine “men in the women’s restroom” fable are especially troubling. The bathroom is one of the easiest references to stir trouble and brew fear. It happened with the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and Sissy Farenthold even recently told me that it happened in the 1950s to keep women out of jury pools. For some reason, the mixing of the sexes in a restroom is a cardinal sin like no other, but I digress.

My longwinded point here is that the NDO will not be enforced between now and January, at least. How in the world is that a win for supporters? All the discrimination going on in this city will either continue with impunity or lack an efficient and cheap mode of recourse at City Hall.

Furthermore, if this comes up for a referendum in 2015, it will almost certainly go down in flames. Let me repeat, if the City is eventually forced to certify the repeal petitions, the NDO is dead. The best chance to beat back a referendum would have been this November, when I would have said a perilously close election occurred. The thing about midterm elections such as this year’s is that 40% of the population already votes, which already counts every tried-and-true socially conservative voice out there. However, in next year’s Mayoral election, turnout will likely be about 15%, while a freestanding election in May would probably only garner turnout in the single digits. As a general rule, the smaller the electorate, the whiter and more conservative it is. Furthermore, a small voting pool would allow for the ordinance’s opponents to flood the pools with their dedicated supporters in a way that proponents simply would not.

Additionally, if everything goes to heck, the worst case scenario this November is not nearly as bad as the worst-case next November. If the ordinance is overturned on a referendum any time, it would be an egregious miscarriage of justice that this city would wear as a scarlet letter for many years to come. But that would be the extent of the damage this November, because progressive causes are almost certain to get a shellacking in three months anyways. The Democrats literally cannot win any fewer offices in Harris County, for example, this year than they did in 2010.

But in 2015, a radically more socially conservative electorate could have a damaging effect upon not only the Mayor’s race, but Council races as well. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.

Musings on the election

First up, Congrats to President Obama! Four more years! The President won Harris County by a few hundreds votes. Democrats expand their majority in the Senate to 55 and lessen the Republican majority in the House. All fantastic news.

Statewides
Republicans keep the Railroad Commission and the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals–no surprise there. However, Keith Hampton got clobbered, which is upsetting.

Courts of Appeals
1st and 14th stay all Republican, which is not surprising.

State Senate
Wendy Davis got re-elected. The composition stays at 19-12. Mario Gallegos re-elected posthumously, which means we will see a special election.

State House
Democrats pick up six or seven seats. Composition is at 95-55. Ann Johnson was defeated, again disappointing.

County Judges
11th–Mike Miller (D) re-elected.
61st–Al Bennett (D) re-elected.
80th–Larry Weiman (D) re-elected.
125th–Kyle Carter (D) re-elected.
127th–R.K. Sandhill (D) re-elected.
129th–Michael Gomez (D) re-elected.
133rd–Jaclanel McFarland (D) re-elected.
151st–Mike Engelhart (D) re-elected.
152nd–Robert Schaffer (D) re-elected.
164th–Alexandra Smoots-Hogan (D) re-elected.
165th–Josephina Rendon (D) defeated by Elizabeth Ray (R).
174th–Ruben Guerrero (D) re-elected.
176th–Shawna Reagin (D) defeated by Stacey Bond (R).
177th–Ryan Patrick (R) re-elected.
178th–David Mendoza (D) re-elected.
179th–Randy Roll (D) defeated by Kristin Guiney (R).
215th–Elaine Palmer (D) elected. Damn.
333rd–Tad Halbach (R) re-elected.
334th–Ken Wise (R) re-elected.
337th–Herb Richie (D) defeated by Renee Magee (R). Again, damn.
338th–Hazel Jones (D) defeated by Brock Thomas (R).
339th–Maria Jackson (D) re-elected.
351st–Mark Ellis (R) re-elected.
County Court 1–Debra Mayfield (R) re-elected.
County Court 2–Theresa Chang (R) re-elected.

Of the nineteen Democratic Judges: 14 win re-election and 5 lose.
Of the six Republican Judges: 6 win re-election.
Final Tally: 14 Demorats, 11 Republicans.

County Officials
DA–Mike Anderson (R) wins. No surprise.
Sheriff–Adrian Garcia (D) re-elected. Again, no surprise.
County Attorney–Vince Ryan (D) re-elected. Great News!
Tax Collector–Mike Sullivan (R) wins. However, it is close and Bennett hasn’t conceded yet.

Referendums
METRO Prop passed, City props passed, and all the Bond measures passed.

City Council
Martin wins without a runoff.

Discussion comes later.

Endorsements: Civil District courts

I am surprised how well my recommendations line up with the Chronicle. Without further wait:

11th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Mike Miller. As the Chronicle noted, Miller goes out of his way to treat those who go before his bench with “courtesy and respect”.

61st: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Al Bennett.

80th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Larry Weiman. My father plays softball with Judge Weiman, and I have always noted his respectful demeanor towards the law.

125th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Democrat Kyle Carter. Judge Carter seems to represent the new generation of progressives in our legal system, and I would find it a travesty of common sense to regress back to more of the old guard.

127th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat R.K. Sandhill.

129th: I  break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Michael Gomez. Judge Gomez, like Judge Carter, is simply too valuable of a new breed of jurists to give up on.

133rd: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Jaclanel McFarland. Good Democrat for a good seat.

151st: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Mike Engelhart. Also a softball compadre of my dad, the amount I have interacted with Judge Engelhart, he seems to bring a sense for rightness and justice to the bench that Republican judges have been bankrupt in.

152nd: I endorse the incumbent, Robert Schaffer. As the Chronicle pointed out, Judge Schaffer commands huge respect from the attorneys in his courtroom.

164th: I endorse the incumbent, Democrat Alexandra Smoots-Hogan.

165th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse the incumbent, Democrat Josephina Rendon. Judge Rendon has done just as good of a job as her contemporaries in fulfilling an honorable term of office. The Chronicle, however, breaks to endorse the old, Republican incumbent who had held office until 2008. Judge Ray was part of the problem, and I do not want to go back.

215th: I endorse my first Republican of the year, Ken Shortreed. This is more of protest vote than anything else, I hold very little respect for Elaine Palmer after the way her campaign treated Judge Kirkland. She didn’t just break the 11th commandment, she DESTROYED it. Since it would be somewhat disrespectful to write-in my yellow dog, I will be voting for Shortreed.

333rd: I endorse the incumbent, Republican Tad Halbach. Judge Halbach seems to have a reputation to lawyers in Houston of being somewhat fair and judicious and his Democratic opponent doesn’t even seem to have a webpage.

334th: I break with the Chronicle to endorse Democrat Donna Roth. Incumbent Ken Wise always seems to be advocating extremist, tea party statements on his facebook page, which I really have no tolerance for. Donna Roth isn’t a newcomer to political campaigns.