Is Joe Straus a liberal?

My friend Paul Burka at Texas Monthly pegs this question, rather facetiously, in response to a recent blog post at Forbes Magazine. Spoiler alert, the answer is a total and resounding NO! The original post, entitled “Meet the Harry Reid of Texas,” is a ludicrous attempt to paint the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, State Representative Joe Straus (R-Bexar County), a bona fide Republican, as some type of closet Democrat. It is penned by a gentleman named Patrick Gleason, who (a cursory background search will reveal) is a staffer for Americans for Tax Reform, otherwise known as Grover Norquist’s group.

The post, which Burka notes “has all the earmarks of a Michael Quinn Sullivan put-up,” delineates the pragmatic background of Straus. For those not familiar, he was first elected Speaker in 2009. At that time, a coalition of eleven moderate Republicans banded together with the Democrats to topple the regime of Speaker Tom Craddick. The anger against Craddick was not necessarily based on politics, but on leadership style. Craddick was brash, and railroaded over other Representatives in an attempt to wield absolute power.

Because Straus and his band of allies dealt with Democrats, his underlying loyalty has been suspect by the most extreme Republicans ever since. He has a steadfast dedication to the important issues, such as roads and infrastructure. Meanwhile, he openly calls for the lower house to not focus too intently on controversial, us-versus-them social issues.

For his part, Straus is better than his predecessor, and has always cooperated in good faith with Democrats on many important issues. However, at the end of the day, he is still a Republican. I would still prefer him to be replaced by a Democratic Speaker. And, in what should be most important for the Tea Party, he will –albeit reluctantly– bring up those controversial social issues when pushed by his members and State Leadership.

For example, the Texas House, under Straus’ stewardship, passed a Voter ID act. They also passed “Guns on Campus” last year, though the Senate did not. Ditto with onerous abortion restrictions last summer.

Accordingly, why do these right-wingers loathe Straus so much? For one, his rise to power is disquieting to party orthodoxy. But, in my opinion, it is far more than that. This is about distrust of a pragmatic Texas Republican, one of the last ones left in high office, and his honest effort to run a better State. Not a more conservative State, just a better State.

Burka, for his part, agrees at least one piece of sentiment expressed in the Forbes article; right-wing pipe dreams passed out of a Texas Senate controlled by a Lieutenant Governor named Dan Patrick would almost certainly go nowhere in Straus’ House. The post also referenced State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas County), a vocal Straus ally and one of the few –perhaps the only– openly moderate freshmen GOP Representatives. Villalba predicted that these pipe dreams, such as anti-Common Core bills, would be “put on the back burner” and eventually aged to death on the calendar committee.

In other places on the anti-Straus front, the Speaker has actually garnered some real opposition from among the House’s ranks. State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County) has announced a public campaign against the Speaker, though he still appears to be receiving only minimal support from usual suspects. Previous attempts against Sraus’ speakership have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Failed candidacies by both State Representative Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County) and David Simpson (R-Gregg County) were both aborted prior to actual voting.

I still maintain a good amount of respect for Straus, but my opinion is that Burka gives him far too much credit to stand up to the powers to be on contentious topics. It was a lot easier for Straus to be a moderate when his companions were Rick Perry as Governor (pre Presidential campaign) and David Dewhurst as Lieutenant Governor. Next session, in all likelihood, his companions will be Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor. Three full steps to the right, maybe more.

Straus folded like a cheap card table last summer when Perry began exacting pressure on him to pass the abortion restrictions. I have little doubt that he will fold once more when the time comes for Abbott to lay out his ambitious right-wing agenda. Just wait. Straus will, thankfully for him, largely placate his right-wing detractors. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be because of the dreaded 84th session.

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VRA could get fixed (in Texas)

The Dallas Morning News reports that a new bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to resurrect the floundering Voting Rights Act would include strong new protections against racial meddling in Texas. As the sagacious may recall, back in June the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to gut Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, which required the States of Jim Crow to get any election updates precleared by the Federal Government. The Court declared that the world had changed since the advent of this act in the 1960s, and that racism had been vanquished, thus exclaiming that such an antiquated formula was unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the dean of the Court’s liberal minority and the author of a scathing dissent in this case, compared it “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

The Court’s blow to the Voting Rights Act was all the more harmful because it expected Congress to simply pick up the slack and fix the law by provided a new coverage formula for the aforementioned preclearence based on modern statistics. However, getting Congress to do anything is easier said than done. Accordingly, it was a very good sign yesterday when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill that would revive the coverage formula based on those States with recent VRA violations (i.e., Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi & Texas).

Click here to read more!

Voter ID troubles

When I voted last Friday in Houston, I had to cancel the absentee ballot that was sent to be on the account of my sojourning in Boston. I was desperately worried, given the law voting restrictions, that there would be some issue with the casting of my ballot. Fortunately, there was no issue. When my father went to vote, however, that was a different story.

His driver’s license bears his full middle name, whereas his voter registration merely contains the middle initial. Evidently, this creates the risk of voter fraud, but since the names are “substantially similar,” he signed an affidavit confirming his identity and was allowed to cast a ballot. As Burnt Orange Report reminds us, the original bill would have required these individuals to cast provisional ballots, meaning they would be forced to return to the polls to produce a different ID in order for their ballots to be counted.

But it wasn’t just my father. Click here to read about who else was affected!

A place of their own

The Houston Chronicle reports on a story that has its roots over twenty years in the making. 21 years ago, actually, Rodney Ellis penned a famous op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Jim Crow Goes to College,” that lamented the nasty vestiges of Jim Crow still present in Waller County. The County, which was a majority white at the time, fought to disenfranchise and dilute the power of the 37% Black minority of the time, heavily concentrated at Prairie View A&M University. Among the many obstacles facing the students was a lack of a polling place on campus. Students “have had to walk or drive more than a mile” to vote. While having a polling place a mere mile away from your residency is often not an issue, everything changes when a college or university is involved.

In a collegiate environment, a disproportionate share of the students lack adequate transportation into the outside world. This is true of any college, from Prairie View to UT-Austin. That is why most colleges have no shortage of polling locations for the students. But Travis County doesn’t mind the students voting. Waller County, a historically White Republican county, has minded the historically Black Democratic students voting.

Fortunately, today cooler heads prevailed as the Waller County Commissioners approved the creation of both a polling place and an early voting location on the campus. The change will be sure to elevate turnout among the students, who have historically felt disenfranchised. Today, however, the County’s African-American population is significantly lower. comprising only 24% as of the 2012 estimate of the Census bureau. The Hispanic population, however, was grown sharply to 20%. A mere plurality, 44% of the County, remains Caucasian.

The numbers give Waller County the capability to turn into a Democratic county with a little bit of foresight. In the blended average of the last few elections, roughly 15,500 people voted in the County. Of those, 7k voted Democratic, while 8.5k voted Republican. The two voting districts encompassing PAMU are 309 & 310, respectively. In just one of those precincts, 2.5k Democratic voters resided, while the other one housed a further 500. This means that, excluding PAMU students, Democrats are 3,000 votes short of victory. The university holds more than 8.5k students. The math is clear, Waller County SHOULD turn blue.

Free Voting cards on Saturday

The Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has begun offering free Voter IDs on Saturdays at most of their locations, including all the Harris County offices.

As some may recall, back in June, when the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of Jim Crow, the Department of Public Safety announced that they would immediately begin offering free identifications to be used only for voting.

The rules of the Voter ID Act are somewhat straight forward. The identification possessed by voters must be issued by the Government, contain a photograph and bear an address that matches your voter registration. Including the new “voter IDs” created, the only other forms of valid identification which may be presented are Driver’s Licenses, Passports and Concealed Carry Permits. Student IDs are not sufficient, and students are excluded if they registered to vote at their college while maintaining a Driver’s License address at their parent’s residence. Accordingly, the students must pay the poll tax administrative fee to maintain the integrity of their voting status.

The DPS announcement is important, as it eases the burden faced by the most marginalized by this discriminatory piece of legislation. The offices will only be open from 10AM-2PM every Saturday from today to November 2nd (right before the Constitutional Amendment/Municipal elections).

Abbott tries to break the law

A couple days ago, I talked about the Supreme Court’s awful decision in Shelby County v. Holder, specifically how it would pertain to our State. Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately pounced upon the news to announce that the Voter ID Supression Act would go into effect immediately. Except, you really can not do that.

The Houston Chronicle reports that, upon reflecting with a Constitutional Expert and SCOTUS Blog reporter, the expert stated that Abbott’s unilateral move was “one of the dumbest statements I’ve heard from an attorney general in a long time,” as well as calling him “legally ignorant,” a heavy handed attack for the CHIEF LAWYER in the state.

As the expert explained, preclearence had caused a judgment against the State of Texas and enjoined enforcement of the bill. A Federal District Court must dismiss this judgment before any action is taken. Today, the Houston Chronicle revisited the subject to explicitly state that the Supreme Court ordered the case of Texas’ Voter ID remanded to the District Court. Further, this remand was not with any instructions. There are a lot of things blocking the Voter ID Act besides Section 4. Accordingly, it is not a forgone conclusion that the law should be put into effect just yet.

Off the Kuff has more.

In re Shelby

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The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, but upheld Section 5. For those of you who are not familiar, Section 5 is the more contentious provision, which requires certain predominantly Southern States to have their voting and election procedures precleared by the Federal Government, specifically the Department of Justice. Section 4 is the formula that the law uses to determine who requires approval under Section 5. Under current law, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as about half of North Carolina’s county, are covered under Section 5. The court ruled, 5-4 in usual fashion, that the formula was outdated and that enforcement of the law would be enjoined until Congress could revise it.

For all intent and purposes, this guts and kills the Voting Rights Act for the time being. The important part is that, when the Democrats retake the Congress, it will be reauthorized. Brains and Eggs has more on the big picture. However, there will be some local implications for the time being.

The Houston Chronicle, in its coverage on the issue, reveals that the Texas state government was wasting no time getting down to [Jim Crow] business. Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately commented that the Voter ID Act would take effect immediately. Progressive groups will still be positioning against the measure as a violation of the Constitution.

The Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has recently announced it will be handing out free “Voter Identification cards.” This has done to avoid the critique that an identification was a de facto poll tax. To obtain these identification cards, however, would still be stupidly burdensome for indigent individuals to make their way to the suburbs for the DPS office.

Great, this just adds another reason for Governor Perry to call another Special Session.