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School “choice:” how to get away with robbery

Here’s the playbook:

1. Starve neighborhood public schools of necessary funding, claiming that it’s to avoid tax increases due to a gloomy comptroller’s revenue estimate that was dead wrong, under the logic that since throwing money at schools won’t make ‘em better, taking the money away won’t hurt a thing.

2. When public schools have to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and lessen individual attention to students because you slashed their budgets, express surprise and bitterly complain that the public schools aren’t doing their jobs, and proclaim that parents need a way for their precious snowflakes to escape failing schools. Say and do anything you can to make sure parents are as dissatisfied as possible with their neighborhood public school, creating a demand for private education that parents can’t afford. Conveniently ignore the fact that if money in schools didn’t matter, that private school tuition wouldn’t be so expensive.

3. The tax money saved by cutting public school budgets? Make some of it available as school vouchers, to help parents pay for private school tuition. Attempt to hide the fact that they’re vouchers by creating nifty new slogan, perhaps something like “school choice.” Either way, it’s handing over public tax money to private entities – either with no oversight (which, oops, ain’t “conservative”) or with oversight (which, oops, the private schools won’t want).

4. Those private schools? Some of ‘em are owned and operated by the buddies of the folks in charge who cut neighborhood public school funding in the first place. Tah-dah! You just stole people’s hard-earned money, and put it in the pockets of your buddies! You win!! Drinks all around!

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God Bless Texas

The National Weather Service put out an unusual alert this afternoon regarding why their radar system serving Central Texas is currently non-operational.

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Click the photo to enlarge

 

This has been your LettersFromTexas weather update.

 

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Rick Perry: shooting from the hip, or drifting (gasp!) left?

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an interview yesterday with the Texas Tribune and the Washington Post, said a couple of very odd things. It makes me wonder if he’s simply unleashed these days, or if he’s decided on a course change in a potential Presidential race.

The story, dominated by a “Perry versus Ted Cruz” horserace focus, somewhat buried what I’d consider the lede – highly interesting comments on the overheated open carry issue in the Texas Capitol, and on Molly White’s xenophobic Facebook comments in reaction to Muslim Texans visiting the state Capitol last week.

Representative White garnered national media, and not in the good way, after telling supporters on her Facebook page, on the day Muslim Texans were visiting the Capitol, that she’d instructed her staff  to ask those who visited her office “to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” a stance that earned her a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as deserved nationwide scorn.

In his interview yesterday, Perry made no bones that he disagrees with Rep. White’s position:

“It’s every legislator’s right to say what they want to say,” he said of the Belton Republican’s Facebook comments. “I certainly wouldn’t have.”

“I think the message needs to be sent and has historically been sent that we are a very diverse state,” he said. “We have a lot of different people, different religions, different cultures that call Texas home. We want them to feel comfortable there.”

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This photo never gets old.

The former Governor was even more surprising in his comments about the ongoing controversies surrounding the open carry of handguns debate raging in Texas: the gun totin’ rootin’ tootin’ pistol-packin’ coyote-shootin’ daddy-o ain’t a fan:

Perry said he was “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept,” adding that those who carry guns ought to be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.”

This position puts him squarely at odds with the so-called “Constitutional carry” advocates currently threatening members of the Legislature with violence if they don’t pass a law allowing them to openly carry handguns without first getting a license. (the measure more likely to pass is one which would require licensing and training, much like current concealed weapon license holders do)

But there’s a more crucial nuance to Perry’s position – one likely to put him at highly-emotional odds with Second Amendment zealots:

“We license people to drive on our highways,” he said. “We give them that privilege. The same is true with our concealed handguns.”

“Hold on there a damn minute,” gun rights advocates are likely to respond, despite Perry merely stating a fact reflecting current reality in Texas law.

Perry just put gun rights – which Second Amendment advocates consider a fundamental Constitutional right – on the same level as drivers licenses – which has long been deemed a privilege, not a right. This is a stance highly likely to get Bubba’s britches in a wad.

Neither of the above stances, on the Muslim dust-up or the open carry fight, is likely to ingratiate him with the more conservative leaning Republican voters in a Presidential primary race.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that Perry simply misspoke and will soon walk back his comments. If so, fair enough, and not particularly interesting.

The second possibility is highly interesting. If his comments were deliberate, it may well signal a change of strategy for Perry in his Presidential aspirations. His comments seem…well…reasonable. Even to me. Hold me close.

Has Perry decided that the GOP Presidential field targeting the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is too crowded, and instead he’s going after establishment Republicans? If so, it wouldn’t be irrational.

On most early head-to-head measures of Perry versus Ted Cruz (who will probably run for President and is indeed the cuddly darling of the Tea Party), Perry usually doesn’t fare well. Add former Governor Mike Huckabee to the list of potentials going after the conservative grass roots, and you can imagine where Perry might suddenly feel under water.

But over on the establishment-leaning side of things, Mitt Romney just announced that he’s out, arguably leaving Chris Christie (who, it was just revealed yesterday, has a fresh criminal investigation pending), and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who Perry might imagine he can best head-to-head). Potentials Rand Paul and Scott Walker may not have yet decided what they want to be when they grow up. But if Perry has decided to delay a head-to-head battle against rival Ted Cruz, at least in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, drifting toward establishment Republican primary voters would be one way to do it.

Only time will tell whether Perry’s comments signal a course change, or whether he was just shooting from the hip. But anybody who agrees that there is no finer live entertainment than Republican Presidential primary process might agree that the interview was certainly eyebrow-raising.

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Redistricting: are we entering a second “Post Reconstruction”?

Editor’s note: from time to time we check in with redistricting expert Russ Tidwell for a status report and accompanying analysis on redistricting issues currently pending before a 3-judge Federal panel in San Antonio. Russ is great at simplifying complex legal issues into layman’s terms. Here’s his latest, with our thanks:

By Russ Tidwell

Final arguments and briefings have now been filed with three judge federal panel in San Antonio and their decision on State House and Congressional redistricting plans for the remainder of the decade could be announced soon. Now that the legislature is getting underway, this is a good time to recap what is at stake in this litigation.

The implications for Texas are significant. Minority districts restored in this litigation will likely be protected in the next decade as the baseline.

There are also national implications for curbing the continued packing and cracking of minority voters.  (Under the cloak of partisanship, Anglo legislators are diluting the voting strength of minorities by packing some into already heavily minority districts and fragmenting others into Anglo dominated districts, thus blocking them from the opportunity for proportional representation.)

There is well-established case law around redistricting that calls for creating a new minority opportunity district anytime a compact majority of a single minority group can be established (i.e., majority Black or majority Hispanic), but a combination of the two doesn’t necessarily count.

While Texas is seeing explosive growth in its various minority populations, much of that growth is not concentrated in single minority neighborhoods. Rather, much of this population has been diffused into the close-in suburbs of our major urban counties and other small cities.  Multi-ethnic communities of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians and Anglos have emerged in Mesquite, Garland, Irving, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Killeen, Waco, Sugar Land, and western Harris County.

It is literally impossible to draw compact districts here that have a majority of any single minority.

As noted in a previous post, by 2008, minority citizens in many of these naturally-occurring suburban concentrations had elected the candidates of their choice to the Texas House, and this made a difference.  The House was closely divided and all minority legislators had the opportunity to be “at the table.”

The 2010 electoral tsunami swept out the minority candidates of choice in all swing districts.  The resulting Anglo supermajority in the legislature attempted to make its status permanent by dismantling the districts that had given minority citizens voice.  Alternatively packing and fragmenting those voters was the process.  Litigation ensued.

Do those minority citizens in ethnically diverse communities have voting rights?  That is what the redistricting litigation is about in large part.  The State of Texas, in closing arguments at trial, says they do not.  The state, in effect, says that if a minority citizen cannot be drawn in to a district with a majority of the population from a single minority group, they have no other voting rights protection.  Believe it or not, that is the state’s position in federal court.

The Perez Plaintiffs published a demonstration map (view the map and view the analysis) showing eleven hypothetical State House districts in suburban Texas where this fragmentation occurred. This map reverses that fragmentation and produces eleven compact districts where minority citizens would have the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.

These demonstration districts have a total population of 1,834,145. Just over a million of them are Black or Hispanic (1,002,389); another 184,802 are Asian.  Almost 65% of this population is minority, yet it is impossible to draw one district in this territory that has a majority of a single minority group.  The population is too diffused.

This map would recognize voting rights for almost 1.2 million people who are disenfranchised under the state’s enacted plan.  That is the significance of this litigation.

Are there five votes on the U.S. Supreme Court to further gut the Voting Rights Act and the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as it relates to such a large group of minority citizens?  Their disenfranchisement diminishes the voice of all minority legislators in an increasingly racially polarized environment.

The New Republic recently published an article chronicling the recent effective demise of the minority legislative voice in Alabama.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) had created a second reconstruction in the South, which for a time led to full minority participation in the legislative process.  The article asks the question, “Are we in a second ‘post reconstruction?”

Having recently seen the movie Selma, I am reminded of the brutality of voting rights struggles in the South and in Texas.  In the early part of my lifetime both Hispanics and Blacks were denied any meaningful participation in their government.  That was only changed by the VRA and Federal Courts.

The VRA was a change in the law 50 some years ago.  Have hearts changed in the south over that fifty years?  Is the law still needed?  Well, even the Attorney General of the state of Texas formally conceded in trial in Federal Court in San Antonio that voting is still racially polarized in Texas.

The fate of minority citizens in Texas is once again in the hands of Federal Judges.

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Where I was.

To this day, I have no idea why I did it, because I never ever do. I turned on the TV in my home office in Austin early that morning. I must have been avoiding getting some work done. I never turn on the TV early in the morning. Not back then, not ever. I still don’t. I hate noise in the morning.

My live-in girlfriend had just gone to the back of the house to the guest room, to take a shower in the guest room bathroom. We had a water pressure issue in the main bathroom back then.

So for whatever reason, I turned in my office chair, and clicked the TV on with the remote. CNN came on, and it appeared that just that moment they’d switched from whatever normal programming they’d had, to special coverage from New York. Something had happened to one of the Twin Towers.

Within a moment, they had a camera trained on the tower, and at first they were discussing how “a small plane” had slammed into it. A few minutes more, and they were chatting via telephone with a cheerful receptionist who was at that moment in that burning tower, many floors lower than the flames. You could hear the sound of alarms in the background from the receptionist’s end of the call. She didn’t know much, but she was there, and was happy to cheerfully provide CNN’s anchor desk with all that she knew, as she continued to sit at her desk, not yet bothering to grab her purse and evacuate the building following the “small plane’s” impact. Finally, whoever was in the anchor chair thanked her for her time, and suggested she should probably move along with joining other building occupants in the evacuation.

In the years since, I always wondered what happened to that woman. Whether she made it. If she regretted those lost minutes chatting with the news people. If she ever realized the gravity of her situation before it was too late.

Reality was slow to sink in during those first minutes. It was slow to sink in at the CNN anchor desk, and it was slow to sink in with me, as I sat in my office in Austin watching. But the smoke plume from that “small plane” was just too much to minimize. The folks at the anchor desk were beginning to have their doubts as well. I stood up, went to the back of my house, and hollered at my girlfriend to get out of the shower right now and come see this.

She was bewildered, but in a moment she joined me on my office sofa to watch, wearing only a towel.

“Is this an accident, or is this terrorism,” she asked?

“I don’t know,” I replied. But the words weren’t even out of my mouth before the second airliner hit the other tower, right before our eyes, on live television.

“It’s a terrorist attack.”

We sat glued to the TV as the bad news and rumors, some ultimately true, others not, were stacked high. Rumors there were other airplanes. Rumors that another was on its way to Washington, D.C. Then the Pentagon was hit. Something about a crash in Pennsylvania. Rumors of other airplanes unaccounted for, from San Francisco to London.

At that moment in time, nobody knew how far this went, or where this ended. How many airplanes had been hijacked? How many targets had evil people chosen? How many Americans would die that day?

My girlfriend’s boss called, to announce that he had decided it would be business as usual in the law office where they worked, which was immediately across the street from both the Texas Capitol and the Governor’s mansion. The same state Capitol and Governor’s mansion which, until recently, had been the home and office of the current President, George W. Bush. I was furious with her boss. For all we knew, the Texas Capitol complex could be another target – it would certainly be an attractive one symbolically, having recently been vacated by the President the terrorists hated more than anybody.

My girlfriend and I were both in stunned silence as I drove her to work, now listening to live coverage on the car radio. We’d seen the first of the towers fall on live TV, before we left my house. We heard the second of the twin towers fall via my radio while we were on the lower deck of I-35. I will always remember the exact spot on that road.

On my way home, the streets of Austin were virtually empty and silent. I thought about that woman as I drove, sitting in her office, delaying her escape while on the phone with CNN.

13 years on, I still do.

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Brewster County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page takes the walk of shame [UPDATED]

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Brewster County Sheriffs Department. They’re the folks who keep us safe and sound in the Big Bend region. I have no complaints. I’m a fan. The deputies with whom I’m acquainted are pleasant, professional, and get the job done. I’ve met Sheriff Dodson a couple of times and he seems like an alright guy and then some. And their weekly “sheriffs blotter” pieces are always interesting, and often unintentionally hysterically funny (most funny entry ever: police were dispatched to a trailer park because a woman was overheard hollering “help!” but upon investigation it was determined that her dog’s name was Help).

But honestly, whoever is running their Facebook page this week needs the weekend off.

On their official departmental Facebook page, they posted a story of dubious linage, from a website I’d never heard of. The alarmist headline of the story is “BREAKING: TEXAS POLICE ARREST MUSLIM TERRORIST WEARING ISIS BODY ARMOR.”

Please note that other headlines of note on the aforementioned website include:

OBAMA MOCKS CHRISTIANITY

AL GORE ADMITS THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH

RESEARCH FRAUD: VACCINE LINK TO AUTISM COVERED UP BY TOP SCIENTISTS

Another headline at the website, ironically, is “ISIS LIVING AT 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE?”

Look, this website (to which I will not be linking) isn’t the first wacko right-wing website to spread disinformation all over the internet. But when otherwise-credible law enforcement agencies get involved and help them spread their drivel, that’s a different story.

When the Brewster County Sheriff’s office posted the story on their page, I was amazed, and questioned the post in a comment. I was quickly joined by several others who had similar concerns about spreading alarmist “news.”

Then whoever administers the Facebook page for the Sheriff did something amazing. The administrator claimed that they weren’t saying it was true, they were merely asking the public for verification that it was true.

Oh really? Here’s a screen shot of the Sheriff’s office post when I first saw it:

BCSO 1

But here’s another screen shot of the same post a couple of hours later, after the department was claiming “hey, we’re just asking!” Notice their edit up top:

BCSO 2

 

Funny thing – they weren’t “just asking” when they first posted it. They were posting drivel. Also, they weren’t learning how to spell “authenticity,” but I digress.

Terrorist organizations are just about as serious as it gets these days. People need accurate information, not alarmist fiction. And for the alarmist fiction to be presented by a trusted law enforcement agency is the height of irresponsibility.

What’s the harm, you ask? As of the last time I checked, 54 76 82 people had shared the original post to their own Facebook walls. And those people aren’t “just asking.” Because they trust their sheriff’s department.

Too bad their sheriff’s department Facebook page administrators believe everything they read on the internet, huh?

UPDATE: the Sheriff’s Department, via comment to their original post, now says this:

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Unfortunately, they have not removed the original post, and now 79 82 unsuspecting people have shared this false story on their own Facebook pages. Instead of spreading information, your Sheriff’s Department is spreading fear.

UPDATE 2: they finally removed the post…at least an hour after determining it was false.

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Good neighbors

It seems to me that hardly anybody ever really likes their neighbors. Where I live, for example, on one side of my house is a church that once hired a roofer who dropped his truck on my house, and on the other side is a family which has stored the same old car in their backyard that was parked there when I moved in back in 1993.

But no matter how much you think you don’t like your neighbors and are ready to go find a new place to live, it could be worse.

For example, you could live next door to whoever donated a human skull to Goodwill in Austin the other day (and, if by chance you do live next door to them, please contact the authorities because they’re looking for ‘em). The Austin owner of that skull probably died while still looking for affordable apartments for rent. In fact, here are apartments for rent in Dallas. Move there, because there are too many people moving here.

Or perhaps you live next door to somebody who likes to record his neighbors having loud sex? If not, perhaps you’re the one whose neighbors keep having loud sex, which you daydream about someday recording and posting online?

If so, you might want to be careful about who you record, because you might accidentally record your own loved one messing around with your neighbor, since according to this, there’s a 1-in-20 chance of that.

Then again, some people never move no matter how bad it gets. In fact, this guy stayed put so long in his cluttered rent-controlled apartment his loved ones can’t find where he put the papers so they can get their hands on his $18 million. Bummer.

Oh, you thought I was kidding when I said my neighbor’s truck fell on my house? Nope. It destroyed my newly-remodeled kitchen. If I’d been in the kitchen at the time, it would have destroyed me. The insurance company had to rebuild a quarter of my house, and my friend re-named the place “Casa Piñata.”

Neighbors can be a pain.

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Does Rick Perry’s own indictment logic bring CPRIT back into play?

Governor Rick Perry’s aggressive response to his felony indictments so far has pretty much been limited to name-calling and counter-accusations.

Partisan Democratic politics, his narrative goes, is solely responsible for this indictment.

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Obligatory Perry Mugshsot

Let’s set aside for a moment the unlikelihood that a Republican judge, who assigned another Republican judge, who named a Special Prosecutor with Republican credentials, then named a special Grand Jury containing Republican, Democratic, and non-registered jurors, could in any way secretly further some Democratic agenda. I mean, it’s hard to set all that reality aside, but let’s just give it a shot.

And let’s just pretend Perry might have a point – that this is some secret plot by partisan Democrats to derail his career. Humor me.

Stick with me here: why would Democrats do that?

Perry won’t be a statewide candidate for public office any more. He’s retiring as Governor. If you’re a Democrat who opposed Perry every chance you got, who was willing to leave no stone unturned to ensure that he’d stop being Governor…well, your prayers were already answered before this indictment. Problem solved – he’ll leave the Governor’s office  the third Tuesday in January, no matter what else happens.

Ah, but Perry’s running for President, you say? Fair point. Let’s explore that. Name me one Democrat in America who thinks it would be a disaster if Rick Perry were to become the Republican nominee for President. I’ll wait.

Fact is, if the Republicans were to nominate Perry for President, it would be the gift that keeps on giving. It would end up being a credible, qualified Democrat – Hillary Clinton perhaps – against the oops guy. The smart money is that Perry would Sarah Palin himself all year and go down in flames, handing the Presidency to the Democrats for another four years.

So, logic dictates that there is absolutely no motivation for partisan Democrats to engineer a Perry indictment.

But wait! I can hear Republican allies of Perry countering the above with “it’s the revenge, stupid.” A generation of Democrats have detested Perry since the earth cooled, and now they will get their revenge for all the years that Perry ruled that earth with an iron fist.

Oh. I get it. You’re putting revenge on the table as a possible motive? I couldn’t be tickled pinker about this, because now we get to explore that line of logic too.

If revenge is on the table, that also means that the big conference call Perry’s legal team had with reporters last week is back in play. You may recall that Perry’s lawyers trotted out an affidavit from the former Public Integrity Unit investigator claiming that neither the Governor nor his staff was part of the CPRIT investigation. And from that, they concluded that there’s no way that the CPRIT scandal could have possibly had anything to do with Perry’s threats against the Travis County DA’s office, or his subsequent veto of their funding.

But wait – I thought we just agreed that revenge is a possible motive? And if so, isn’t it still possible that the CPRIT scandal could be front and center as a motive for Perry’s actions? After all, CPRIT was full of Perry appointees, most of whom were deeply embarrassed by the entire episode. Their ethics and honesty were called into question. There’s no doubt their reputations as leaders and overseers is shot to hell. Some of those Perry appointees and allies probably had to lawyer up and defend their actions in a grand jury. One of those people remains under indictment today. Don’t you think the Governor whose friends and allies he appointed into that big mess might have been a little annoyed by that?

So either revenge is a motive, or it’s not. The only way for Perry to claim that Democratic partisans are behind his own indictments is to conclude that Democrats are seeking revenge for years of Perry being in charge. And by the same logic, the only way for Perry’s legal team to conclude that the PIU investigator’s affidavit proves that CPRIT had no part in Perry’s decision-making is to assume that a revenge motive does not exist.

So which it is, Governor?

Fact is, I still stand by my first thoughts on the indictments. The indictment document itself says next-to-nothing. We still know little or nothing about the evidence that led to the indictments. We don’t know whether the Special Prosecutor’s case is weak or strong. And we will continue to not know until the Special Prosecutor decides that it’s time for him to lay out at least part of his case. Almost the entire body of punditry on this issue so far has consisted of Democrats wishing and Republicans grumbling.

But until the Special Prosecutor tells us more, we won’t know much. But meanwhile, it’s safe to conclude that Rick Perry still hasn’t said anything worth listening to, since little of it makes any logical sense.

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Quote of the week

“I’ll give him his due – for a guy who had to go into booking and take a mug shot and got charged with a couple of felonies and might go to prison…aside from that he had a pretty good week.”

— Me, tongue firmly in cheek, on MSNBC yesterday evening

 

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Congressional redistricting trial shows how Hispanic voting rights can be restored

Editor’s note: as was the case for the redistricting trial for the Texas House of Representatives, longtime redistricting expert Russ Tidwell sat through the recent week-long Congressional redistricting trial in Federal Judge Orlando Garcia’s courtroom in San Antonio. He was kind enough to once again share his insights here:

By Russ Tidwell

After the national census every ten years, congressional seats are re-allocated among the states.  Some states lose seats, some gain, and all districts must be redrawn to balance population.  Anglo legislators have a history of using this process to disenfranchise minority voters in their states.  This most recent Congressional redistricting cycle has, arguably, proven to be the worst one in modern times.

Texas was allocated four new districts, more than any other state. This is because we gained four million new people. Fully 90% of that growth was because of a rapidly growing minority population.

In fact, if the state had grown only at the rate of the Anglo population, Texas would not have gained any Congressional seats at all, and could have actually lost one.  So rapid minority population growth was solely responsible for us retaining one seat and picking up four more.

Question: So, when the legislature met to draw new districts, how many of these five seats were drawn to provide new political opportunity for minorities?

Answer:  None.  In fact, Hispanic Texans saw a net loss of one seat.

This is why the state has been tied up in Federal Court the last three years.

PLANC262_Statewide

LULAC demonstration map C262. Click the image to enlarge for detail

The vote dilution, and the fact that the effort was legally flawed, is best illustrated by a contrasting demonstration map, Plan C262, which was entered into evidence in Federal court during the trial by LULAC, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Here’s a detailed fact sheet on LULAC’s Plan C262.

Evidence of vote dilution presented in the Congressional Redistricting trial last week can best be understood when organized geographically into three distinct regions:

  1. South Texas and Border
  2. Travis County in Central Texas
  3. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex

South Texas and the Border Region

If you draw a line from El Paso to Odessa-Midland, then to San Antonio, continuing to Victoria and east to the gulf coast, the population around and south of that line is predominately Hispanic.

There is sufficient population in this region to draw eight effective Hispanic opportunity districts, as demonstrated by the LULAC demonstration map. The eight districts are each majority Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (HCVAP) and provide real political opportunity for Hispanics.

Six effective Hispanic opportunity districts already existed in this region from the previous decade.

Did the legislature simply add two more? No.

First, they took two away.  Evidence presented in trial showed they effectively gutted Hispanic voting strength in CD 23 (which runs from San Antonio to El Paso) so they could protect a first term Republican incumbent. Then they took away the Hispanic majority in CD 27, which had run from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. To protect a new Anglo incumbent elected in the 2010 Republican landslide, they instead ran the district from Corpus north to Bastrop.

They did create one new effective Hispanic district based in Cameron County, CD 34.

But then, they allegedly engaged in the creation of a sham district, CD 35, which was designed to appear Hispanic, even though it did not have a majority of Hispanic registered voters. It clearly would not have provided effective opportunity for Hispanic voting rights.  It ran from south San Antonio to south Austin, along narrow strips around I-35 and seemed to really be part of a plan to pack and crack minority voters in Travis County (discussed below).

LULAC’s demonstration map clearly shows that there is sufficient Hispanic citizenship and voting strength in South Texas to draw eight effective districts without going into Travis County:  CD 35 is based on the south side of San Antonio. CD 27 unites Hispanics in Corpus Christi with supportive populations to the south, while including coastal counties to the north. CD 23 regains sufficient Hispanic voting strength. CD 34 remains based in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. And the four other previously existing districts, CDs 15, 16, 20, and 28, all retain their core territory and are effective Hispanic districts.

The legislature could have done the right thing in South Texas, but it didn’t.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act effectively mandates the creation of majority Hispanic opportunity districts when it can be demonstrated that certain conditions are met, and in South Texas, the LULAC demonstration map meets those conditions.

Travis County

Evidence presented in trial showed that CD 25, based in Travis County, was an effective opportunity district for minority voters.  It was a “crossover district,” where minority voters engaged in a tri-ethnic coalition of Hispanics, African-Americans, and like-minded Anglos, to elect their candidates of choice.  Evidence presented in Court showed this voting coalition has functioned for decades and elected numerous people of color to countywide and district office.

The legislative leadership wanted to eliminate CD 25’s current incumbent, Lloyd Doggett.  But to do this they effectively destroyed the voting rights of Travis County’s minority citizens.  To eliminate Doggett, they systematically packed or fragmented these voters into five districts.  This also left Travis County, which is where Austin is, as the most populated county in the nation that does not dominate a single congressional district.  This damages the right to effective representation for all the citizens of the city and county.

The LULAC demonstration map illustrates that it was not necessary for CD 35 to encroach into Travis County.  The legislative plan unnecessarily packed Hispanics from south Travis into that district to make it possible to successfully fragment the remainder in four other districts.  This is a classic packing and cracking scheme that is likely illegal under both the Voting Rights Act and the 14th amendment to the federal constitution.

Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex

The combined population of Dallas and Tarrant (Fort Worth) Counties roughly equals that of Harris County (Houston), and the minority proportions of the population in each metropolitan area are both similar and substantial.  But while Harris County contained three minority opportunity districts, DFW had only one.  There was ample evidence presented in court to demonstrate that the minority citizens in that north Texas region had been denied their voting rights through systematically packing and cracking their populations.

The Federal Court’s first interim map partly remedied this by allowing one naturally occurring concentration of minority voters to remain united in CD 33.  Plaintiffs seek to further reverse this fragmentation pattern and allow a total of three minority concentration to dominate districts in DFW, the same number as in Harris County.  Numerous plaintiff exhibits demonstrate how this can be done.

* * *

All told, the Congressional trial effectively presented the evidence necessary to show how the legislature minimized, and even reduced, effective minority representation, in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the constitution. This, despite the fact that minority growth in Texas is solely responsible for all four of Texas’ additional Congressional seats.

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Ice bucket challenge my ass

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Thoughts on your standard run-of-the-mill Rick Perry indictment

Well, Rick Perry getting himself indicted is certainly a game-changer, in a state which is famous for its lack of political game-changers.

It’s mostly pure-D government grade-A inspected entertainment, from the view in the peanut gallery. But there are some serious issues here beyond the hysterically funny memes bound to result from mug shot photoshops soon to be made. Which, honestly, I can hardly wait for, although truth be told, they couldn’t possibly be any better than Rosemary Lehmberg’s jailhouse photos.

First of all, I’m a bit puzzled by the indictment. It seems weak to me. When the criminal complaint was first made following Perry’s veto of Lehmberg’s Public Integrity Unit, it seemed weak to me then, too. But then, Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum remarked publicly that he was especially concerned about Perry’s actions post-veto, which might rise to the level of breaking the law.

Finally, an aspect of this that made sense to me. Except that in reading the actual two-count indictment, it appears to focus on Perry’s veto, and his threatening words before the veto. A layman reading between the lines of the indictment would conclude that, while it’s perfectly legal to line-item veto a DA’s budget, it’s illegal to threaten to veto a DA’s budget, if you then subsequently veto that budget.

Don’t get me to lying – I’m not going to practice law without a license on this situation, but personally that seems like (good)hair-splitting. I’m left wondering whether the case is weak, or whether there are smoking gun-like aspects of a strong case which aren’t spelled out in the indictment. Either thing, or both things, are entirely possible. Only time will tell.

The trial, if there is one, may come down to whether the Governor was within his Constitutional rights, threat or no threat, in vetoing a line item, or whether he was out of his lane by trying to circumvent a legal process by which a district attorney may legally be removed from office (a process in which, incidentally, Lehmberg prevailed).

The second notable item related to the indictment is that I have seldom seen such breathless hyperbole, misdirection, and misinformation launched in any situation than I have in this one. Opinion leaders from the left, the right, and even from some journalists, are guilty of it.

On the right, folks immediately went on the attack. Almost all of them with some form of “this is a partisan Democratic spiteful persecution – the Travis County DA indicted the Governor out of revenge!” Apparently these folks are either unaware that DA Lehmberg didn’t perform this prosecution, or don’t care that they’re spreading misinformation. After a criminal complaint was filed (also not by DA Lehmberg), a special prosecutor (who isn’t DA Lehmberg and doesn’t work for DA Lehmberg) was named to head this investigation. He is believed to be a Republican, having first been appointed to President Bush to be an Assistant US Attorney. He was subsequently nominated by Obama to be US Attorney, his name having been forwarded to the White House by Republican Senators Cornyn and Hutchison (he withdrew from that nomination). So sorry – Lehmberg has nothing to do with this criminal investigation, and the special prosecutor who does is no Democratic political hack.

On the left, folks have been trying their best to claim that Perry vetoed the funds in order to stop an in-progress criminal investigation of CPRIT, the cancer prevention agency full of Perry appointees running amok (with a guest starring role by Attorney General Greg Abbott). The trouble is, there’s absolutely no evidence that this is true, and there’s even circumstantial evidence that it probably isn’t. One thing to leak out during the criminal investigation of Perry is that, following the veto, in continuing efforts to get Lehmberg to resign, Perry offered to appoint a Democrat – one who already worked in the DA’s office – to replace her. If true, it strongly suggests “business as usual” would have continued in the DA’s office. That certainly interrupts the narrative that Perry was trying to stop an in-progress investigation. Even if it’s not true, nobody has ever presented any evidence, other than “I wouldn’t put it past him,” to connect those dots. Not that I’d put it past him either, but when it comes to criminal prosecutions, if you can’t connect the dots, you don’t have a valid claim to make.

The right, aided and abetted by a few reporters, have even been pushing this as yet another referendum on DA Lehmberg, usually some form of “if she’d done the right thing and resigned in the first place, none of this would have ever happened.”  Thoughtful people can agree or disagree on whether Lehmberg should have resigned following her DWI, but I defy anybody to find a credible criminal lawyer who will tell you that Lehmberg’s resignation – or lack thereof – has any significant legal relevance to the criminal prosecution the Governor currently faces.

Governor Perry’s biggest challenge at this point is that it’s difficult to move forward in a political career while under indictment, and – just ask Tom DeLay –  it’s even more difficult to quickly dispense with a criminal indictment. There are really only two realistic ways to do so quickly: plead guilty (which doesn’t exactly help Perry politically), or go to court and get the indictments quashed (which is seldom successful, unless the motion is made by the prosecution side). So both Perry and the peanut gallery are probably in for a long ride.

Meanwhile, however, based on the public utterances of folks in the first day following this indictment, I would strongly urge folks to view the spin from all quarters with a full half-gallon of salt.

 

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Oh, news media, sometimes you wear my ass out.

Used to be, it seemed like when there was serious international breaking news to be covered, that’s when the big broadcast news organizations shined.

Now? Not so much. The unfolding tragedy of Robin Williams is a case in point-in-progress.

From a statement released yesterday by Mr. Williams’ wife:

On behalf of Robin’s family we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief.

And almost immediately, here’s what happened on ABC:

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.08.16 PM

Captured off Twitter yesterday.

 

Continuing with the statement released by Mr. Williams family:

As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.

Sounds fair. Not focusing on his death seems like a constructive way forward. Except here’s CNN’s website today:

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 1.26.08 PM

 

You can do better, broadcast media. Please.

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Guest post: Texas legislative redistricting now – does it still matter?

A similar guest post by Russ Tidwell on the Congressional redistricting trial may be found here.

Editor’s note: while the Texas redistricting wars have, sadly, been largely out of public view lately, they currently rage on. The trial before a 3 judge federal court in San Antonio on the state House of Representatives map recently concluded, and a similar trial before the same court on the Congressional map is about to begin. The issues are not without importance – there’s a very good reason Republicans put so much effort into over-reaching on redistricting maps: the more they minimize minority representation, the more they institutionalize Republican majorities. The heavier the Republican dominance, the more Tea Party activists hijack the legislative process and its resulting policy. That said, the details of what Republican map-drawers have done, and why it should offend those who support minority voting rights and the Voting Rights Act, are difficult for a standard-issue Texan interested in politics to understand, if only because media doesn’t often delve into the level of detail necessary. So I asked longtime friend and redistricting expert Russ Tidwell, who has worked on the issue for 32 years and who was in the courtroom for the House map trial recently, to break it down and explain core problems in the Republican House map, why it should matter, and what difference it makes to the rest of us: 

Voting Rights Gutted in Texas State House

By Russ Tidwell

The protections in the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution are defined by the opportunity of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice, even in cases where that candidate does not look like them.

Hundreds of thousands of minority citizens in urban and suburban Texas have been denied a voice in the Texas Legislature because their voting strength, in naturally occurring concentrations, has been diluted by systematically fragmenting or packing their votes.

redistrictingThis intentional fragmentation can be easily seen and understood when it happens in places like Bell County, where a naturally occurring minority population in the city of Killeen is surrounded by a sea of rural Anglos. The legislature split the city of Killeen for the first time ever, removing 32,000 (2/3 of them people of color) from district 54 and moving them to district 55.  Then they took more than 40,000 people (2/3 of them Anglo) from a rural area of district 55 and added them back to district 54.  The intent is clear.  Continued Anglo domination of the district is secured.

However, it is harder for the eye to grasp this systematic process in the urban and suburban jumble of numerous districts. But this is where minority voting rights took the big hit in the 2011 redistricting.

What happened can best be explained by taking a look at Dallas County as a whole:

  • The 2003 redistricting had left six widely recognized minority opportunity districts in the south and central part of the county. The same number as the decade before. (Four were African-American and two were Hispanic controlled).
  • North Dallas had ten districts under Anglo control in 2003, with minority populations fairly evenly diffused among them in the beginning.  Over a decade of rapid demographic change, however, naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters elected their candidates of choice in four of these districts (HDs 101, 102, 106 and 107) and came within 19 votes of electing their candidate in another, HD 105.
  • Just as minority citizens had come together to elect their candidate of choice, Wendy Davis, in a senate district in neighboring Tarrant County; minority voters were able to have an effective voice in almost half the districts in North Dallas by 2008.  (Similar gains were made in other urban counties by 2008.)
  • North Dallas voters had made a difference for minority interests in the Texas Legislature.  During the 2009 legislative session (after the historic 2008 election) the House was closely divided, 74-76.  A radical Republican Speaker was deposed and replaced by a more moderate one. Legislators representing minority voters made the difference in this equation.  They had meaningful participation and significant influence on the issues of the day.
  • This did not last.  The 2010 national tsunami election swept nineteen minority candidates-of-choice from the Texas House and left Anglos firmly in control of the 2011 redistricting process.

The intentional fragmentation that followed resulted in the loss, for minority voters, of a controlling voice in four districts in North Dallas.  This cannot be fairly remedied by cramming many of those voters in one or two elongated districts, as some will propose.  That would be illegal packing.  The state may try to “settle” for this later.  That would play into their hands and continue the pattern Anglos have used for decades to minimize minority voting strength in the legislature.  If they can’t diffuse them into many districts, they will pack them into as few districts as possible.

There were at least four naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters who were engaging in coalitions to elect their candidates of choice: The City of Mesquite (HD 101); North Dallas to Garland (HD102); Irving and Grand Prairie (HDs 105 & 106) and South Garland to Lower East Dallas (HD 107). Minority voting strength would have rapidly increased in these districts over the decade, making them legally performing and protected minority opportunity districts in the future.  Minority voting rights should be restored in all four districts.

Dallas is just the best example.  This diffusion of naturally occurring concentrations of minority voters happened in Tarrant, Harris, McLennan, Collin, and Denton Counties. Voting rights lawyers have made formal claims in Tarrant (HDs 93 and 96); McLennan (HDs 56 and 57) and in the far western part of Harris County (HDs 132 and 135).

Most minority population growth now occurs in the metropolitan areas of the state; and will in the future.  But the citizen voting age populations are not moving to concentrated inner-city neighborhoods to be with people who look like themselves.  They are moving to the aging and close-in suburbs of these big counties. There is better housing there. Such mixed ethnicity neighborhoods of Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and others are our future.

If those many hundreds of thousands of minority citizens living in these mixed neighborhoods are allowed to be deprived of their rightful voice in the legislature; then minority legislators collectively may never again gain a critical mass of leverage in the legislature sufficient to be “at the table” and effectively representing their communities.

In 2009, with a State House closely divided, minority legislators were part of an informal governing coalition.

In 2011, with Anglo Republicans controlling 100 seats out of 150, minority legislators were isolated and effectively out of power.  They remain so.

This voting rights litigation will not be a success if only a small hand full of single-minority-majority seats are created here and there. This litigation is about the voting rights of the New Texas in the major metropolitan areas of the state.

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Headline of the day so far…

No question about it – this has got to be it.

[thanks to Cherry, who must have a very strange google alert]

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