Abbott’s bad weekend

Perhaps this is old news by now, but on Friday the Houston Chronicle reported that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, would be pulling out of one of two scheduled debates for the gubernatorial election, and the only televised one. Immediately, he was castigated by the usual suspects, prime among them State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. He also received some derision from Libertarians as well.

The debate was scheduled for September 30th at WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. However, after criticism from around the State, Abbott reversed course. In a somewhat cringeworthy about-face, Abbott announced he had accepted a nearly identical offer to participate in a televised debate on the same date at KERA, the NBC PBS affiliate in Dallas. A separate debate, schedule for September 19th in Edinburg, has always remained on the table.

Ostensibly, the excuse given by the Abbott campaign was that he had some anonymous concern with formatting. A weak excuse, by any stretch. Rightly so, as I just mentioned, he was bombarded by criticism from both the left and the right (granted, with more cacophonous critiques coming from the former). The 2010 gubernatorial campaign between Rick Perry and Bill White was arguably best defined by Perry setting the terms of the entire process. Perry came up with some exceedingly lame excuse to not debate White (and now, of course, the entire country knows why), and the entire State’s political intelligentsia (not to mention its at times obsequious-to-Perry press corps) did not bat an eye. Granted, there is something worse about chickening out after making a commitment, but at its core, Abbott committed the very same transgression. Except –and rightly so– he was almost universally chastised for this action.

This leads me to the bombshell that was opened up this morning on the front page of The Dallas Morning News. The report sheds light on a perilous raid that Abbott’s office ordered about four years ago for a group called “Houston Votes.” Accused of “voter fraud,” which the astute will recall just does not exist in meaningful numbers in Texas, Abbott’s office directed a SWAT team to burst into the offices of the group, heavily armed with guns drawn, for a raid to uncover any evidence of voter fraud. They didn’t find any, but they did succeed in destroying the organization. Abbott himself, for his part, claims total ignorance of the entire action. I suppose you could call that “Pulling a Reagan.”

The Morning News article then goes out of its way for a long discussion on the background of the issue. They discuss how immense pressure was first put on Abbott’s office to investigate by a Tea Party group called the “King Street Patriots.” They have, sadly to say, historically been a hothead of racial animus, and this controversy has proved to be no exception. The article notes reports from the KSP meetings that attempted to improperly tie Houston Votes with both ACORN and the New Black Panther Party, despite absolutely no evidence that any of the three were interconnected. Specifically in Houston, right-wing bashing of the New Black Panther Party is typically used as a catch-all dog whistle for blatant racism.

The full account provides some really fantastic background, and I cannot recommend enough reading the entire article; at this point, it’s all free online. But, in my opinion, this tidbit is particularly more troubling than the debate reversal. The connotation revealed is not necessarily anything that the well-read political class did not already know, but it is a good thing that the media can state once more unequivocally that Abbott is wholly beholden to Tea Party interests, many of whom are not –shall we say– “kosher” in their intentions.

At its core, in my humble opinion, groups such as the KSP are uncomfortable with Black people voting and becoming part of the civic process. This is the same group that sent “poll watchers” to minority neighborhoods, ostensibly in an effort to maintain the “integrity of the process,” but realistically as a way to intimidate prospective participants using Klan-era tactics.

The two options here are that either Abbott knowingly spearheaded this cluster of epic proportions (and then lied about it), or that he was asleep at the wheel. In both instances, be it negligence or malice, grave doubts should be installed in any voter of this man’s capability to be a lawful and effective Governor.

Brains & Eggs has more.

Supreme Court update

Three major cases were decided today by the United States Supreme Court. All three will have a major impact upon our State for the future.

First up, the case of Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council. In the 7-2 ruling, authored by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the State of Arizona had no right under to regulate election or voting requirements, being precluded from doing so under Federal Law. The issue in question revolved around the requirements Arizona used to prove citizenship. While Federal Law, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (colloquially styled the “Motor Voter Act”), requires only a signed formed, the Arizona statute required proof through either birth certificates, passports or naturalization papers.

The case sets an important precedent in the relation between Federal and State oversight of elections. Most directly, the decision will mean that Texas could not institute a similar measure. In a more expansionist view of this ruling, States would be prohibited from instituting more strict voting requirements than Federal Law allows. This view was partially taken by Scalia’s opinion, which relied heavily upon the Motor Voter Act’s instruction for States to “accept and use” federal forms. This could possibly have the implication of blocking more and more of super-strict State voting restrictions.

Next, the Court decided the case of Salinas v. Texas. In a typical 5-4, Conservatives versus Liberal ruling, written by Justice Alito, the court held that Miranda protections, most notably the right to remain silent, are not applicable. In that case, Defendant Salinas voluntarily entered a police station in order to answer questions about a recent murder investigation. After answering questions, Salinas stopped somewhat abruptly. At trial, the prosecution used Salinas’ silence as evidence of his guilt.

Justices Scalia and Thomas insinuated in a concurrence that, even if Salinas had expressly invoked his fifth amendment rights, it would not have granted him protection. The seven remaining Justices, however, disagreed.

Finally, in yet another 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in Alleyne v. United States to overturn a 2002  decision, Harris v. United States, pertaining to mandatory sentencing and Sixth Amendment litigation. In this case, the issue pertained to the sentencing of an individual found guilty of a crime, where a sentence would be enhanced if a certain fact were proved.

Specifically in Alleyne, the issue pertained to a Defendant convicted of armed robbery. The sentence would be enhanced if it could be proven that the Defendant was brandishing  firearm. Although the jury could not find this fact satisfied, the Judge did, and so the Defendant was sentenced with the enhanced penalty. In reversing the 11 year old Harris case, Justice Thomas joined with the 4 traditional liberals on the Court to state that the Sixth Amendment protects Defendants from anyone other than juries deciding such facts.

Marriage ID passes Senate

The Chron reports on a bill that just passed the Senate last evening, which would require a photo identification in order to, wait for it, get married!

SB 1218, by Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal), would require applicants for marriage licenses in the State of Texas to government-issued photo IDs like a driver’s license, passport or CHL. Essentially, the same requirements sought after for the infamous Voter ID acts. However, perhaps more stomach-churning than the act itself, is the complacency seen in the Democratic Senators, who lacked the will-power (or competency) to put up a fight over this. Wendy Davis and Jose Rodriguez were the only Senators to oppose this act, which prevailed in a 29-2 vote.

Is “Marriage fraud” a big issue in this state nowadays? I didn’t think so. A number of years ago, I was the Best Man at my brother’s wedding, which involved, legally speaking, witnessing the Marriage License. I completely understand what Senator Campbell means when she says the system is ripe for abuse or fraud. However, to even higher extend than with voting, there is simply no good reason for someone to falsely represent another when getting married.

The idea of how voter fraud could be possibly harmful is pretty clear to make. The main benefit and effect of voting takes place immediately, when you actually “pull the lever,” so to speak. John Smith pretending he is “John Doe” might end up casting two votes, or something like that. However, this is where the idea of “marriage fraud” falls apart. Any benefit that may be acquired through a fraudulent marriage would be predicated on the participant being an identity thief and part of a confidence scheme. The theoretical “con men” who would engage in Marriage Fraud could just as easily just create a fraudulent marriage certificate.

Then again, there is the true intention of this legislation: making everyone harder for the poor. Just like the Voter ID act, this is a thinly veiled attempt to impose burdensome regulations on the least unfortunate among us. Sadly, 9/12 Democrats ate up that garbage.

The Dallas Morning News has more.

“You are creating a law that makes good Samaritans criminals”

The Trib is reporting on a bill that recently passed the House which would prohibit “Vote Harvesting,” which evidently is Tea Party lingo for collecting mail in ballots. The above quote is attributed to Gene Wu, who, along with Sylvester Turner, became the major opponents of this measure. The House voted 86-41, mostly along party lines with TWENTY FIVE no shows.

The bill would make it a Class A Misdemeanor to collect more than 10 absentee ballots. Just for comparison, a kid who wants to help out a dozen seniors cast their ballots would face a more severe punishment than a drunk driver. The bill provides an exception for the Military, but not for Seniors or the disabled. I wonder if that has anything to do with what political party each of those demographics overwhelmingly support? Probably.

I find this bill to be one of the most offensive things the legislature has done all session. You see, I had to go through all of the drama of joining the absentee voting community this past year, so I know all the ins and outs of it. Absentee voters can be divided into three different categories: the disabled/elderly, the military and (non-military) out-of-county residents. The out-of-county (fellow Texpatriates) usually don’t need any assistance bringing their ballots to the mailbox, and the law specifically deals with the military as well. That leaves us with the elderly and disabled. The whole reason they vote absentee in the first place is that THEY HAVE TROUBLE WITH MOBILITY. It isn’t exactly a piece of cake for them to take their ballot to the local post office all by themselves. If it were, they would just go to the local elementary school and vote. Accordingly, someone else usually takes the ballots from these people to be mailed.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t strike preclearence, this will be probably be axed, though. Still hoping on the Senate Dems to block it.

In re Inaugurations

Like just about everyone else in the civilized world, I watched the inauguration of President Obama for his second term, today at noon, and then his subsequent speech. I had planned on attending the festivities in Washington with the Texas delegation, like the DNC, but because of personal conflicts was unable to attend. Still, I have quite a few thoughts on Obama’s speech.

It played out like a State of the Union. Obama laid out his plan for his second term, in excruciating detail. He wants to fix the climate, tackle gun control, reform the tax code, reform immigration, eliminate voter intimidation, and further strengthen the economy. Ambitious is an understatement.

However, I really like this new Obama–the one who sticks to his guns and relies on his principles. It was refreshing to hear the President not capitulate to a faux sense of bipartisanship. Anyways, I will have more when he starts nominating new cabinet officers.

Voting now open for the Texpatriate Person of the Year

I have, in some way or another, been awarding “Person of the Year” for Houston politics for a few years. From the vaults, let me bring up some of the editorials from the past:

2009–Annise D. Parker
This is a real no-brainer. Even though my original allegiances were, in fact, for Gene Locke, I have no ideological quarrels with the Controller, and am certain she will do a fantastic job in office.

Additionally, even though this was not a major theme of the campaign, no one can doubt the historical significance of Controller Parker’s election to be the Chief Executive of a city of Houston’s size. For the first time in many years, we have been getting national coverage for a good reason
.” –Published 12/29/09

2010–The Houston Public Employee
The decision would have been clear if Mayor White would have won the election, or at least not suffered the shellacking he did. At any rate, even though I have always opposed abstract designations for “person of the year”, I find it necessary today.

So, in giving this award to the civil servant, we stand in solidarity with their struggles. We stand with HOPE, the local AFSCME and SEIU, we stand against furloughs for the working class while our city and county wastes their money, our money, on outlandish parks.
” –Published 12/26/10

2011–Andrew C. Burks, Jr.
The 2011 gave mixed messages to the perennial candidates among us. Griff Griffin, after his umpteenth campaign, finally called it quits, while Andrew Burks, after his, finally claimed victory. Though I supported Representative Thibaut, and am cautious about just how liberal Mr Burks is, it is a milestone for our city that a candidate, once dismissed as not serious, has finally won.

In closing, I wish Mr Burks luck in this pursuit of his, and for a city with a newly re-elected Mayor.
” –Published 12/31/11

So, therefore, I introduce the candidates for Texpatriate Person of the Year, 2012:

Ted Cruz
While probably despised by the vast majority of my readers, no one can doubt just how amazing Mr Cruz’s primary victory over Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst was. In addition, he will now be the first Latino Senator from Texas, and is set to become a national figure.

Julian Castro
Much like Mr Cruz, Mayor Castro thrust this state into the national spotlight, though with good effect. As the first Latino keynote speaker at the DNC, he showed the nation a new face for Texas.

Sylvia Garcia
After being one of the many casualties of the Republican landslide of 2010, Commissioner Garcia has come back from the political dead to run for the late-Senator Gallegos’ seat. If she wins, this will be much more pressing, if she loses, it will be moot, and if the election does not occur until next year, I would probably also advise against the selection.

Mario Gallegos
Senator Gallegos unified the entire Houston-area Democratic establishment at the time of his death, something not easily done. While in office, he was a tremendously powerful figure, looming larger than life.

Annise Parker
Parker once again was a major figure in the news this years, providing over a non-contentious start to her second term. Considering the issues abound throughout her first term, that is quite an accomplishment.

Lane Lewis
After surviving a nasty, bitter fight to be the Chairman of the HCDP, Chairman Lewis has been unbelievably successful at his job, keeping Judicial losses this year to a minimum, while loosing neither Countywide office up for election.

Adrian Garcia
Speaking of countywide offices, the Sheriff did an impeccable job of fending off his re-election battle. Rumors of higher office are already abound.

Mike Sullivan
Being one of the few big Republican successes in Harris County this year, Councilmember Sullivan was the first CM to make the successful switch to higher office in nearly four years, on the heels of aborted or failed quests by Lawrence, Johnson, Adams, and Khan. Sullivan, as the new TAC, also did quite an admiral thing in his early retirement announcement, which set up a cheap, concurrent special election.

The “Dead” Voter/Voter Fraud
In honor of all those invisible people who commit voter fraud, and, according to the King Street Patriots, showed up to steal the election for the Democrats.

Also, add your own poll option. To stay in the style of Houston politics, we may or may not have a runoff poll.