Texas Senate changes

The Texas Tribune reports that Comptroller-elect Glenn Hegar, also a member of the State Senate, has resigned his seat in anticipation of assuming high office. Governor Rick Perry has called a special election for December 6th, which will likely have to be resolved by a runoff election some point after the 84th Legislative session convenes at the start of next year.

The three candidates for the State Senate district, which stretches from Katy (Hegar’s hometown) to Corpus Christi to the outskirts of Austin (map here), include Gary Gates and Charles Gregory of Fort Bend County as well as State Representatives Lois Kolkhorst (R-Washington County). Needless to say, the huge district will continue to be dominated by its Greater Houston subdivision. No Democrats have, at print time, announced their interest in the district, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that none will run (the last time the district held an election, in 2012, Hegar ran unopposed).

Perhaps the bigger piece of news is some convincing evidence that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), this year’s unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, will in fact resign her senate seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio. I went over most of the odds-and-ends involving this possibility last week, when I emphatically opined against the decision. Selfishly, I think Van de Putte could continue being an asset for Democrats in this state as an articulate and highly-visible leader of the opposition against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in the next session.

The source for this is Robert Miller, a lobbyist in Houston who has a history of breaking these types of stories via Twitter. The tweets were immediately confirmed by former staffers of Van de Putte. Miller, as you may remember, correctly pointed to Wendy Davis running for Governor in August of last year (Back when I thought she would only lose by eight-to-ten points, how naive of me).

With Van de Putte out, another special election would have to be called. The Houston Chronicle has suggested that both State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer and State Representative Jose Menendez, both San Antonio Democrats, would throw their hats in the ring to succeed Van de Putte in heavily gerrymandered (for the Democrats) district. Meanwhile, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County), who recently resigned his House seat to run for Mayor of San Antonio, may still end up switching races.

The San Antonio Express-News has a great profile out that discusses the “friction” between Van de Putte and Villarreal. In 1999, Villarreal had succeeded Van de Putte in the State House when she was first elected to the senate, defeated her hand-picked successor in the process. Ever since, the relationship has been tense. Accordingly, the two might have a nasty campaign ahead of them, though I would think Van de Putte (the only statewide Democrat to carry Bexar County) would be heavily favored.

But the optics about candidates and what not can wait until we have more information. Perry and Governor-elect Greg Abbott, when he takes office, are just petty enough to purposefully drag their feet on a special election to ensure the Democrats start the session with one fewer voice, short of the 1/3 needed to block legislation. Although, as I have previously mentioned, the 2/3rds rule is likely doomed anyways.

Off the Kuff has more (regarding Hegar).

What I’m looking for tomorrow

For the most part, Texpatriate endorsed Democrats this election cycle. An absolutely contemptible slate of statewide non-judicial Republicans, along with Harris County courts that are — all too often — corrupted or being run inefficiently, led us to disproportionately back the Democratic challengers. In editorial squabbles, especially compared to last year, I found myself seldom in the minority. In fact, only in one contest, the Land Commissioner election, did I dissent from the endorsement. If you still haven’t voted yet, please do so, whoever you will support.

If you have ever read something on this publication before, you are likely familiar with my skepticism as to Battleground Texas’ short-term feasibility, as well as the statewide Democratic slate. I’m not holding my breath for any statewide Democrats to win, but I’ve never insisted that their victory should be the number one priority. Since mid-2013, I have been writing that even a loss could be a win for Texas Democrats, and the rationale rests upon three main items.

First, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, and the rest of the ticket need to move the needle. Bill White, the Democrats’ 2010 gubernatorial nominee, garnered 42% of the vote. Davis needs to do better in order for the pipedream of Texas turning blue to be taken seriously. She doesn’t need to do much better. After all, 2014 is shaping up to be a bad year for Democrats nationwide. But she needs to do better.

Second, the rest of the Democratic slate needs to do better. White significantly outperformed his compatriots because, as a popular former Mayor of Houston, he received many crossover votes, but also his running mates were lousy candidates. With downballot choices this time around such as State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Mike Collier, the bombastic and stellar Comptroller candidate, the same simply cannot be said again in 2014. Oh yeah, and the Democratic candidate for Attorney General is named SAM HOUSTON! In all seriousness, he is a talented lawyer and a good candidate, but his rockstar name will ensure he probably does better than any other Democrat. The Democrats running statewide in 2010 not named Bill White received anywhere from 34-37%. That number’s median needs to be raised to at least 40%, in my opinion. That is comparable to how statewide Democratic candidates not named Barack Obama did in 2012.

Third, and most importantly, Davis needs to lend her coattails to Democratic pickups in Bexar (San Antonio), Harris and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties. She also needs to have a strong enough performance in Dallas County to ensure the countywide elected Democrats politically survive there. I’ve seen no evidence that Nueces County is in play, but the other counties (including Dallas) look to be tossups. This is perhaps the most important.

If Democrats pick up anything in either Bexar or Harris Counties, it will largely justify some progress and otherwise good news for Democrats. This could be as simple as merely winning the DA’s office in Harris County. If they, by some lucky maneuver, can win all the way down the ticket in either county, it would be a truly cause for celebration. But going Zero for whatever once again in both counties would, similarly, cause alarm bells to ring. Losing in Dallas County would cause hell to break loose.

I have opined before that, if the Democrats do really, really poorly, as in less than 40% of the statewide vote, Battleground Texas will pack up and go home. Talk of “turning Texas blue” will be a one-time debacle only uttered in Washington DC bars, with the same lamentations as soft drink executives recalling New Coke. For the record, I don’t think that will occur, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility.

That is why it is so important to vote. Statewide races will almost certainly not be decided by close margins, but in Harris County they certainly could. Judge Kyle Carter, a Democrat in the 125th District Court, got re-elected by fewer than 2000 votes last time. Mike Sullivan, a Republican, was elected Tax Assessor by a similar margin. On first count, President Barack Obama carried the county by TWO votes. TWO votes. That’s you and one friend.

 

Ivy Taylor, Mayor of San Antonio

The San Antonio Express-News reports that a new Mayor of San Antonio has been selected: Ivy Taylor. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the previous Mayor, Julian Castro, was recently confirmed by the US Senate as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His resignation was contingent upon the selection of his successor, who had to be selected from among the ranks of the City Council.

Thus, the selection of Taylor. She has been on the City Council since 2009, and represents a district on the east end. Taylor made news last autumn when she voted against that City’s non-discrimination ordinance. Taylor, an African-American Democrat, will be the Mayor until May of next year, at which time a new Mayor will be inaugurated following a regularly scheduled Mayoral election. Taylor has already announced that she would not run in that election, which promises to be chock full of fireworks.

Among the candidates are City Councilman Ray Lopez, who challenged Taylor today to become the interim Mayor. Unlike Taylor, Lopez freely admits that he wishes to seek a full term as Mayor. State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County) is also running a two-barreled campaign for Mayor, and is seen by most observers as the obvious frontrunner. The dark horse, also expanded upon by the article linked in the previous sentence, is State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. If Van de Putte loses the general election, which she most likely will, the article speculates that she might find herself transitioning into municipal politics, despite the fact that her Senate seat will still have two more years. Personally, I think she could have more fun as the leader of the loyal opposition within the State Senate if Dan Patrick –the Republican nominee– takes the reigns of office.

Castro, for his part, will take office officially here in the next few days. I have made my points about being skeptical regarding Castro’s new role in Washington DC, and now it is best to just move on. I certainly wish him well in his new endeavor, and hope he can positively affect change within a Federal position of power.

I personally thought that Lopez, who has more experience, would have been the preferable choice for Mayor. I obviously disagree with Taylor on her rationale on LGBT issues, but I think that the greater concern is that she is a divider, and not a uniter. Everyone mentioned in this article is a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, they do not disagree on most issues. But some try to wedge fights and make enemies. In my limited experience following San Antonio politics, I sincerely do not think that Lopez is one of those people.

Of course, at risking the obvious, San Antonio is not Houston. San Antonio, unlike Houston, has a weak-Mayor system, complete with a powerful unappointed City Manager. Accordingly, much of the Mayor’s power is overstated if a casual follower of this blog, one likely stationed in Houston, were to assume this office is similar to its contemporary down Interstate 10.

Texas Leftist has 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!

San Antonio approves NDO

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the San Antonio City Council has approved an encompassing non-discrimination ordinance aimed at protecting LGBT people. The vote wasn’t even close –8 to 3– and only saw objection from the most vitriolically homophobic Councilmember, including Elisa Chan.

Julian Castro can now put this elegant feather in his cap, right alongside the ‘Pre-K for San Antonio‘ measure. Houston has neither a comprehensive pre-educational program nor a non-discrimination ordinance. Castro, for his part, released this statement shortly following the votes:

“This ordinance fundamentally is about ensuring whether you’re white or black, Christan or Jew, straight or gay, this city belongs to you. This ordinance is about saying there are no second-class citizens in San Antonio.”

This ordinance is a wonderful example of Castro, and all the representatives of San Antonio, standing quite firm following terrible attacks on all fronts from the right wing. I cannot think of a single Statewide Republican who has publicly condoning/endorsed this measure. However, the conservatives lined up to oppose the measure stretches out the door.Greg Abbott, our Governor-in-waiting, strongly opposed the ordinance. All three Attorney General candidates (Dan Branch, Ken Paxton and Barry Smitherman) also opposed the ordinance. Ted Cruz too.
The Texas Tribune has more on this issue, including the possibility of a court challenge. The Tribune article notes that Greg Abbott and his buddies are planning on to bring a court challenge against the ordinance, arguing it violates the 1st Amendment (Religious Liberty).—From a very personal point of view, I am ecstatic that the ordinance was passed today, as today is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. It is no secret that I am somewhat secular, but this is one of the two days of the year I go to services and spend my day predominantly in nominally spiritual introspection. For some sort of minor political development, I probably would not have taken the time to follow the news today, research this article or write this article.A number of years ago, when I was getting my “fifteen minutes of fame,” I was interviewed by KPRC. As it turned out, the only day the could fit me in was on Rosh Hashanah. I remember being somewhat apprehensive about the idea at first, but at the urging of my parents, I was told that it would be far more important to live-out the virtues of decency and justice and righteousness that you would have just spent the day promising to do in the upcoming year anyways.
Accordingly, it was an easy decision to write this article today. Again, for what it is worth, I typically do not condone gloating in reaction to political victories, but believe this is an important exception. In a normal election, there is obviously a losing party, who has been hindered. Further, on many policy issues, the same arrangement may exist (e.g., Doctors being harmed by healthcare reform). There are no losers in San Antonio this afternoon. No persons will be discriminated against, whether for sexual orientation, gender identity or religious viewpoint. No money will be lost. Only benefit comes from this issue; it is truly a one-sided issue.

Elisa Chan, bigot

The San Antonio Express-News ran an exposé on a member of the City Council there, Elisa Chan, on awfully homophobic comments she made while under secret recording. The recording is from May and involves Chan’s opposition to the city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance.

For those not familiar, the City of San Antonio is debating an ordinance that would add both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the city’s non-discrimination laws, adding the categories with protected classes such as race, sex, religion and disability (among others). The ordinance was perhaps most controversial for awhile when it included a clause that would have prohibited the holding of public office for those found guilty of violating the ordinance. That clause has since been removed, because, to be fair, we do have a constitutional right to be bigoted (see: “Westboro Baptist Church”). After the revision, some major figures in the evangelical community gave their full support to the bill.

The specific calumnies do not deserve the honor of being reprinted, because they are totally without substance. What is important to know is that, when the eyes of the public were away, Chan revealed her untethered hatred for the LGBT community, and then, perhaps more offensive, formulated ways to veil this hatred as a policy disagreement with the ordinance. Chan discussed, at length, her intention to write an op-ed in the Express-News explaining her opposition to the ordinance. Her candid hatred, however, would not be included.

The Mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, pulled no punches when rightly criticizing Chan for her hurtful, defamatory remark. As the Mayor stated on his personal Facebook account:

Councilwoman Chan’s remarks were hurtful and ignorant. They do not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of San Antonians. Ours is a city that respects and appreciates all people.

These sorts of opinions are the exact reason why a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT is completely necessary. Sadly though, it is the reason why homophobia may continue being an ugly part of our lives well into the future.

Homophobia is not like racism. In fact, the two types of prejudice could not be more different. Prejudice exists in two different forms: institutional and overt. In years past, overt racism existed quite extensively. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act, overt racism all but disappeared except for a few unfortunate pockets in the South. Institutional racism, however, has persisted.

Now, as being gay is becoming more and more accepted within our culture, overt homophobia is rapidly diminishing, making comments like Chan’s all the more controversial. Institutional homophobia, however, is becoming non-existent. This is because, no matter what you do, no matter how you raise your family, no matter who you associate yourself with, the rich and powerful could have a gay son or a lesbian daughter.

To be blunt, Republican Senators (like Rob Portman) have gay sons, but not African-American sons. This will cause institutional homophobia to disappear within a generation or two while institutional racism (unfortunately) will persist.

When it comes to overt prejudice, the opposite is true. As big of a scandal Chan’s comments made, if she would have been this racist, she would have already resigned. Racism in public is still much more controversial than public homophobia. This is because racism is guided by culture, whereas homophobia is guided by religion, and culture is much easier to change.

I get this inkling when I see polls that say 58% of Americans support gay marriage, whereas 37% of Americans believe being gay is a horrible, horrible sin. That 37% is motivated by religion, and will be very hard-pressed to change their minds.

Gay marriage will most definitely be inevitable, but I fear nationwide acceptance will not. People like Elisa Chan sadly remind me of that.

Burnt Orange Report 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.