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Odd things happen at Capital Tonight Show Worldwide Headquarters sometimes


Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and I are determined not to leave the Capital Tonight Show set until one of us switches parties. So far, we’ve been here for 3 weeks, and our food and water supplies are running low.

Dan Patrick Harold Cook CT Set

Things we have agreed on so far:





5. The Astros had a great season.


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On public service, mental health challenges, and knowing when to STFU

By now, we who pay attention to Texas politics have all heard the story.

An elected official mysteriously disappears for weeks. Rumors abound. When the official re-surfaces, there are acknowledgements of terrible bouts with depression, attempts at treatment, and working to get better and return to the job.

And yet, nobody gets in the newspaper calling for that official’s resignation.

Wait – did you think I was talking about the situation surrounding Republican Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk?

Nope. I was talking about Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston. Mr. Coleman suffered from his own debilitating condition, disappeared from view for a time, fought his way back, and has since for years been an absolutely essential voice in so many policy discussions that I’ve lost track. He is deeply-respected by members of both political parties.

I’m not spilling any state secrets here – he has been very open about his situation in his years-long efforts to advocate for progress on mental health issues.

By my memory, no high officials in the Texas Republican Party called for Representative Coleman to resign. Maybe they did and I just missed it. But if they had, and if he’d heeded those calls, the state of Texas would have missed out on Coleman’s hefty accomplishments, which include increasing access to health care for more than 600,000 children on Medicaid, securing an increase of more than $161 million dollars for at-risk child care services, and co-authoring the legislation that brought the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to Texas. Those are just the top-lines to Coleman’s public service. You can read more about Mr. Coleman and his accomplishments here.

On the issue of Dallas County D.A. Hawk, however, immediately following her disappearance from public view, and subsequent disclosure that she’s in treatment for her own mental health issues, Dallas County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Donovan wasted no time in calling for Hawk’s resignation. It was a classless move, and Donovan should be ashamed of herself.

Donovan couched her statement in terms of being concerned for Hawk’s well-being:

In view of the facts that have just recently been revealed, Susan owes it to herself, not to mention her nearly 500 employees and the taxpayers, to resign and to concentrate on getting well.

Donovan might  be practicing psychiatry without a license. Alternatively, she might be committing political malpractice with her own acute political tone-deafness condition. And, incidentally, unless Donovan can point us to where she was quoted calling on Representative Coleman to resign when he was in the midst of his own difficulties, she’s also being hypocritical. In any event, she seems to have accomplished nothing other than to increase the already-existing stigma associated with mental health issues.

For all I know, Susan Hawk might be the worst District Attorney in the history of the office. But it will be the State Bar of Texas which rightfully determines whether she is fit for the practice of law, and it is for Ms. Hawk and the medical professionals of her choice to determine the best course for her treatment.

Meanwhile, please let this be a reminder to politicos that, sometimes, the very best thing to say is nothing, and the best way to react is with kindness, not shrill political hackery clumsily worded to mimic concern.

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GOP Debate #2 wrap-up: Fiorina shines, Cruz disappears, and awkward Bush moments

Not that Greater Texas needs yet another hot take on last night’s GOP Presidential debate hosted by CNN, but what the hell – here’s mine anyway.

As expected and is natural in such situations, CNN’s Jake Tapper did his very best to pit as many of the candidates against frontrunner Donald Trump as possible, calling on Trump to respond to charges other candidates had made against him on the campaign trail, and calling on others to respond to Trump’s insults.

This made Carly Fiorina shine, made for an awkward night for Jeb Bush, and made Ted Cruz a non-entity.

Last night Fiorina became the first challenger to go head-to-head with Trump, twice, and win resoundingly both times. In each case her comments furthered her own message, while leaving Trump red-faced with embarrassment. Going into last night’s event, she had been one of the bigger question marks on stage, having participated only in the kiddie table debate in the FOX News round last month, and shined there. But it’s one thing to attack Trump when Trump’s not even there; quite another to go toe-to-toe with him. But she fought her way to the main event, and she absolutely delivered. Expect a polling bump out of her corner in the coming week or so.

Meanwhile, since debate moderator Tapper was focused on attacks made by and toward Trump, Senator Cruz was…shall we say…under-utilized at the event, since Cruz never attacks Trump, what with their little tactical bromance and all. There was little Trump-related to ask Cruz, so Cruz wasn’t asked much, and stood silently as other candidates fought for time. I suspect Cruz, rightly or wrongly, called an audible to himself that he’d get more mileage complaining later on FOX that the CNN moderator was shutting him out, than anything he could have gained by elbowing into the fray last night. He might not be wrong about that. Since he’s polling comfortably in the middle of the pack, he can afford to bide his time while waiting for Trump to implode.

Jeb Bush had no such luxury last night, having under-performed expectations considerably. He had something to prove at the debate, and he failed to prove it. He had several good moments, but they seemed over-shadowed by the overwhelming feeling that he’s just too awkward in his own skin. He also squandered the best opportunity of the evening, when he insisted that Trump apologize to Bush’s wife for having insulted her earlier on the campaign trail, and Trump refused. At that point, Bush could have demonstrated some good old-fashioned chivalrous passion and anger in defending his family, but instead he passively let the moment pass in a way that reminded me of Mike Dukakis’ debate mistakes. If I were a Jeb Bush bundler right now, I’d be pushing the panic button. The man just simply isn’t acting like he believes he’ll ever be the nominee.

From the other end of the Florida spectrum, however, Marco Rubio elbowed his way into most of the policy arguments, and comported himself very passionately, articulately, and his debate performance may advance him a few clicks. And New Jersey’s Chris Christie, whose campaign is on the ropes and who desperately needed a lift, may well have done himself similar favors last night.

On the other hand, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich, who out shined most on the debate stage last month, got terminally lost in the crowd last night, and will quickly be forgotten if he doesn’t create a game change for himself. Similarly, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seemed to relish playing to his own weaknesses, and it spectacularly didn’t work at all. Walker or Kasich may be the next exits from the race, following Texas Governor Rick Perry’s flame-out last Friday.

The remainder of the candidates on the main stage did nothing to help themselves, but may not have hurt themselves much either. Ben Carson still doesn’t seem quite ready for prime time, but I doubt it matters yet to GOP primary voters; they’ll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt for a while. Huckabee was Huckabee (which is bad), and Rand Paul was very busy being Rand Paul (which isn’t bad – but he better make a move soon, or he’ll die in media obscurity).

Not that many watch or any care, but speaking of Perry, the kiddie table debate was even more meaningless than last month, without Perry’s presence earlier last evening. My guess is that, with Perry’s exit, we’ve seen the last of the junior varsity debates for this cycle. But if it’s possible to shine in such an event, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham did so, much to everybody’s amazement. During the first undercard debate last month, Graham barely showed up, then said nothing memorable. By last night, however, the quaaludes must have worn off, because Graham was memorable, funny, relevant, and had interesting issues-related things to say, all without managing to act like an ass. Quite a trick for this GOP crowd. If Walker, Huckabee, Kasich, or Christie bow out of the Presidential race early enough, Graham may well earn a spot on a future main stage. Yesterday he proved that he’s earned it.

That’s my take, what’s yours?

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The Fox News GOP Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Because you, the crap-reading public, have demanded it, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters delivers it. Here’s your 2016 GOP Presidential Debate Drinking Game:

If Donald Trump tries to explain why he really doesn’t hate Mexicans much: drink 1 shot.

If the first reference to Ronald Reagan is made within the first minute of the debate: 1 shot.

If Jeb Bush accidentally insults women, again: 1 shot.

If Perry, Santorum, Jindal, Fiorina, and/or Graham storm the stage demanding to be included: 2 shots.

If more than 5 candidates insult Donald Trump before the opening statements are over: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump insults more than 3 candidates in the first 10 minutes: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump insults more than 3 countries full of people in the first 10 minutes: 2 shots.

If Donald Trump insults the entire solar system in the first 10 minutes: 3 shots.

If Ted Cruz defends Donald Trump from whoever is insulting him: 1 shot.

If anybody asks Ben Carson who the hell he is and what he’s doing there instead of Rick Perry: 1 shot.

If Ted Cruz threatens to shut down the government if they don’t allow him to drone on incessantly about how he’ll repeal Obamacare on day 1: 1 shot.

If all 10 candidates vote to repeal Obamacare on the spot: 2 shots.

Any mention of the words “Jade” or “Helm:” 2 shots.

First mention of Benghazi: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s emails: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s hair style: 1 shot.

First mention of Hillary Clinton’s husband: 1 shot.

If Scott Walker utters the name of any of his Koch brother buddies: 1 shot.

If Scott Walker takes an actual phone call from a Koch brother during the debate: 2 shots.

If Mike Huckabee kisses South Carolina’s collective ass: 1 shot.

If Chris Christie kisses New Hampshire’s collective ass: 1 shot.

If anybody notes Rand Paul’s attendance at the debate at all: 1 shot.

If Marco Rubio tries to drink water in the middle of a sentence, again: 1 shot.

If John Kasich reminds viewers more than 3 times that he’s the governor of Ohio, which is a state that if the Republican nominee doesn’t win, they’ll never see the inside of the White House, because no Republican has ever won, ever, without must-win Ohio, which the Republicans must win: 1 shot.

For each candidate not wearing a flag pin, besides Donald Trump: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump wears a Donald Trump pin: 1 shot.

If Donald Trump claims he put his life in danger by visiting Laredo for, like, 10 minutes: 2 shots.

If Donald Trump says something totally offensive about somebody, then immediately says that he likes him a lot: 1 shot.

Update: nah, not really.

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Republicans say the darnedest things!

Republican presidential primary politics are the greatest show on earth. It’s political porn. It doesn’t matter what the Republican Party tries to do to minimize the damage to their brand, the early stage of their nominating process always quickly devolves into a clown car of epic proportions. As a Democrat, I fully support this, if only because it distracts from how silly we Democrats can be.

Those watching Donald Trump’s antics this time should be reminded that this is nothing new. Last time, it was Michelle Bachmann who, through The Frequent Saying Of Stupid Things, quickly rose to the top of the Republican heap, only to have her hopes and dreams crushed by Rick Perry, who after The Frequent Saying Of Stupid Things he engaged in, quickly had his own hopes and dreams crushed.

So Trump can hardly be blamed if experience has taught him that the way to quickly rise to the top of Republican polls is to say stupid stuff. It’s the way Republicans do it.

In fact, Republican primary voters are so in love with candidates who say stupid stuff that they’ll ignore everything else, in utter adoration of said stupid stuff.

Donald Trump immediately rose to the top of the polls because he deliberately expressed abject and offensive racism toward Hispanics in his announcement speech. But to his audience, the offensive is hot. Those voters are so enamored with his racism that it made them forget that Trump has also said in the past that he’s pro-choice, pro-universal health care, and pro-assault weapons ban. Wow, way to go, Republicans – that’s a really healthy commitment to your racism you’ve got there!

But alas, there are grown-ups among Republican primary voters. They have a long and proud history of being more than happy to go out on a date with any damn fool, but they won’t get engaged to just anybody. In 2008, they settled on John McCain as the man to marry. Say what you will about McCain, but he is a certified grown-up, and would have still been considered such in the general election, but for his little dalliance with that Sarah Palin thing. And in 2012, after flirting with unserious candidates like Bachmann, Perry, and Herman Cain, they coalesced around Mitt Romney, another bona fide grown-up.

So, I’m sorry, fellow Democrats, but the Republicans will not nominate Trump, much as we’re tempted to send him campaign contributions in the hopes that they will. The Republican faithful will soon conclude that he is not serious marriage material. In fact, they’ll quickly figure out that it turns out he isn’t even a fun first date.

The good news for Democrats, and others who revel in the misery Republicans experience every time the nominate a Presidential candidate, is that Trump will not quickly go away. Presidential candidates don’t drop out of a race when they drop in the polls. They drop out of the nominating process when they run out of money. And Donald Trump will never run out of money, or ego.

So, friends, despite Trump’s self-destructive utterings, the 2016 clown car will continue careening down the highway at breakneck speed for the foreseeable future, with Trump still hanging onto the hubcaps. Because why would you put an early end to the greatest show on earth?

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The great rattlesnake heist of 2015

Well fellow Texans and Texas lovers, the dog days of summer are truly upon us. Most legislators except a few strays have left Austin, and as usual I’m spending more time at the Western Headquarters in the Big Bend region of Texas, AKA God’s Country.

“They” say that nothing ever happens in Big Bend. And “They” are wrong. Big doings out there in the last few days.

How big? I’m glad you asked. We just had the crime of the century, and the liberal lamestream media has been ignoring it. Wake up, sheeple.

According to the weekly Brewster County Sheriff’s blotter, which is the finest piece of writing I look forward to reading regularly, a gentleman in Alpine called the sheriff to complain that somebody had stolen 11 of his rattlesnakes.

I had questions.

First, what does a dude do with a bunch of rattlesnakes (besides “whatever the hell they want to do?”)

Second, if he was complaining that 11 of his rattlesnakes got absconded with, that would be 11 OUT OF EXACTLY HOW MANY TOTAL RATTLESNAKES, FOR GOD SAKES?

But no matter – the crack team down at the sheriff’s office was immediately ON IT, as usual. I just read today that they caught the guy.

They arrested Carl Peterson for having swiped the snakes. Peterson is apparently 57 years old, which is approximately 56 more years than most people would need to know better. He was arrested for burglary and…wait…making a terroristic threat. Which brings up another question, come to think of it.

There’s another guy who lives in Big Bend who seems to be everywhere at once, and who almost everybody experiences in a fairly drastic way, and his name is Karma. Apparently that Karma dude has already visited Mr. Peterson, because one of the pieces of evidence in this theft had already bitten the ever-living crap out of the perp by the time the sheriff got involved.

This has been one of my favorite crimes in the Greater Big Bend Metropolitan Area ever since The Infamous Mishap With The Lajitas Mayor years ago.

The aforementioned Mayor of Lajitas is Clay Henry, and he’s actually a goat. This probably would make more sense to us if we’d been there the drunken night they made that decision. But he’s been the mayor for years, and he’s the most scandal-free public official in that end of the state.

A few years ago, it seems that some tourists turned their beer intake valve up too high, and by the end of the evening they decided it would be an absolutely fantastic bang-up idea to castrate the Mayor, which they proceeded to do. Maybe they figured he wasn’t using ’em anyway, since there was no Mrs. Clay Henry in the mayor’s pen with him.

The perps were apprehended by the authorities, and brought to trial by a jury of their peers. In perfect Big Bend tradition — that tradition being that irony is much more important than justice — the trial ended with…wait for it…a hung jury.

How could I not love far West Texas?

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Dear GOP windbags dog whistling on marriage equality:

I get it – you’re really really PO’ed that gay people now have a Constitutional right to have, or be, an ol’ ball and chain too, and now you’re pretty much just impatiently awaiting the rapture with great annoyance.

Believe me – when it comes to the Supreme Court, I’ve been there. I was dismayed at the Citizens United decision that gave your ilk all that dark money to play with. I was downright angered when they handed George W. Bush the Presidency by halting the Florida recount. I was disgusted when they gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. There is no doubt that no matter where one is on the political spectrum, we can all agree that the Supreme Court makes mistakes. We might disagree on which specific decisions constitute those mistakes, but we would all agree that they make them.

You have every right to whine and rant. We are a proud nation of whiners and ranters. I fully support your rantitude and your whinarrhea. It’s the American way.

But what you don’t get to do — and I’m talking primarily to you, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and US Senator Ted Cruz — is advise people to feel free to disregard a United States Supreme Court decision. It is unpatriotic, and it’s un-American.

Let that sink in: what you are doing is un-American.

Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803. It is settled law. The case determined that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the US Constitution means, and how our laws fit, or don’t, into that Constitution. It means that when it comes to the Constitution, the Supreme Court gets the last laugh. Maybe you were out sick they day they taught that in 10th grade.

So do what you must to curry favor with your political base. Say what you need to say to give Tea Party Republican primary voters a teeny weenie little stiffie, so they will love and adore you come time for the next election.

But while you’re doing all that, just keep in mind that the stuff you’ve said this week about the marriage equality ruling is really stupid. It is un-American, it runs contrary to the Rule of Law, and, since you’re lawyers and know better, I wish they’d disbar you for having promoted it.

Worried about your religious freedom, General Paxton and Senator Cruz? Fine – I support your religious freedoms. And since I do, I strongly suggest you promptly go right out and don’t marry any other dudes. You can also choose to block off the rest of your schedule today, so that you can invest all your time not hanging out with any same-sex couples. That’s pretty much the end of your religious freedoms in this matter.

Meanwhile, the rest of us would very much appreciate it if you would abstain from trying to destroy 212 years of American Constitutional scholarship, so you can curry favor with your base in the next election.

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Molly Ivins film documentary turning out like one would hope: a side-splitter with a message

Molly Ivins was an old friend of mine.

And film maker Janice Engel, who is a new friend of mine, is in the process of making what promises to be a hum-dinger of a documentary on Molly, titled “RAISE HELL: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins.”

Their work so far is outstanding; for those who knew Molly, it’ll be a breath of fresh air to get to spend another evening with her. For those who didn’t, you owe it to yourself to get to know her through the film. As Engel says, Molly should never be allowed to be come a mere footnote in history.

Please visit the film’s Kickstarter page and watch the footage so far, then consider helping them reach their financial goal so that they can complete this work. Molly was an essential voice in progressive politics, and we owe it to her to make sure her voice continues through this important documentary.

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Time-saving tip for Texas legislators – Texas Monthly 10 best/worst list

Legislators, about 20-30 of you will either be honored or disgraced tomorrow, when Texas Monthly releases their “10 Worst – 10 Best” legislators list. Counting honorable mentions and furniture, there will be more than a few people unhappy with their choices. Others of you will suddenly know the extent to which you never realized that the folks at Texas Monthly were freakin’ geniuses.

But lets face it – your staff is really tired. They really don’t want to write the statement from you, in which you react to your inclusion in this fine piece of journalism. So, as a service to you and your exhausted staff from Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters, Political Affairs Division, feel free to choose the appropriate choices on this suggested press release, and save yourself some time and trouble. Merely write in your name and your district number, circle the appropriate choices, and sent it out.

Press Release

June 17, 2015

[Senator/Representative _________ ] Responds to Texas Monthly

(Austin) [your name here] said the following today, after Texas Monthly magazine announced [his/her] inclusion in their list of ten [best or worst] legislators:

“[I am disappointed in or I applaud] Texas Monthly for their [hack job or fine journalistic effort] in naming the ten best and ten worst legislators today.

“Fortunately, constituents in my district [already knew this worthless rag was full of crap or have long known of my legislative prowess]. I can think of no higher compliment than [for this liberal commie pinko travel magazine to disagree with my high-minded legislative priorities or for this fine magazine to recognize all that we have been able to accomplish this session].

“The good people of District ____ have long known [not to take their political advice from a travel rag, any more than they would take travel advice from a political magazine or that I have worked very hard on their behalf, and the positive results are apparent].

“It is truly a great reflection on my district that [this out-of-touch liberal Austin insider gossip rag trashed me or this fine conservative news publication has finally recognized my achievements].

“I would just add [my compliments to Texas Monthly for a job well done or that Erica Grieder and RG Ratcliffe can suck a nut].”

# # #

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The road to the White House, explained in 10 minutes

Back in 1992, I’d go into my neighborhood convenience store regularly, and the guy who ran it was studying to become a U.S. citizen. He somehow knew I was political, and he’d save up civics-related questions to ask me for when I came in.

He got totally stuck on the electoral college – how it works, why it matters, and why Presidential candidates win or lose based on it. I told him not to feel too bad – most natural-born Americans also get hung up on the electoral college. It took me several beer runs to that store before he understood what it all meant.

But you’re in luck – you don’t have to run a convenience store. Paul Brown and I covered the high points on the Capital Tonight show on TWCNews earlier this week.

Here’s the video.

If you’re not a regular Capital Tonight viewer, give us a try; the show airs at 7 pm Monday-Friday on Time Warner Cable News in Austin and San Antonio, and elsewhere online by clicking on that little Capital Tonight icon on the header of this page. We try to make it interesting, without all the bickering.

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North Carolina redistricting ruling may bode well for plaintiffs in Texas cases

Editor’s note: there was breaking news today in redistricting, and as usual, there’s nobody better to explain it than our favorite redistricting expert Russ Tidwell:

By Russ Tidwell 

While minority plaintiffs in Texas are awaiting a decision for the Three Judge Federal Panel in San Antonio regarding State House and Congressional redistricting, a new ruling out of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a North Carolina (Appeal: 14-1329) reinforces one of the major claims made in Texas.

Texas Plaintiffs have provided evidence at trial of various claims such as intentional discrimination, vote dilution, racial gerrymandering, etc.

One specific claim advanced by the Perez Plaintiffs in Texas is based on a fairly recent case, Cox v. Larios (summarily affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court).

In simple terms, the court held that while states can usually vary the size of districts by as much as ten percent, they cannot use that population deviation for nefarious purposes.

A state can use this deviation, for example, in a State House plan to keep counties whole.  However, they cannot use such a deviation to advantage one group of voters over another (i.e. Republicans over Democrats or Anglos over minorities).

The Perez Plaintiffs presented substantial evidence of such misuse in the major urban counties of Texas.

Now, an Appellate Panel of the Fourth Circuit has ruled with minority plaintiffs in North Carolina based on the Cox v. Larios case with a set of facts similar to the claims in Texas.

This is significant, since Larios is a fairly recent decision and is only beginning to build a string of case law.

The San Antonio Court is expected to rule soon if they are to meet a timeline to change districts before the December candidate filing deadline for the 2016 elections.

Stay tuned.

Here’s more LettersFromTexas redistricting coverage.

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The legislative session of bad ideas and worse outcomes

Today is the final day of the legislative session of 2015 in Texas. With any luck, we won’t see this clown car back for a very long time. For you legislative newbies, the last day of session is called “sine die.”

“Sine” is latin, and means “oh my God, if they stay any longer, I’m just gonna.”

“Die” means die.

On one hand, expectations were low, but were quickly exceeded by legislators hell-bent on unexpected lowness.

Up at thirty thousand feet, it’s not surprising – too many people were new to their jobs for anybody to get a passing grade on their first try. With the exception of House Speaker Joe Straus, much of the leadership had never done this before.

It showed.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is sure to spend the rest of the week crowing about him being the most successful Lt. Governor of all time. But the first thing he did was change the Senate rules to mow over the Democrats, and suddenly “the greatest deliberative body in the world” wasn’t even the greatest deliberative body in the building.

If you rewind back to Patrick’s inauguration speech in January, his biggest emphasis was in passing public school vouchers. Then the voucher bills promptly died.

Granted, Patrick also emphasized cutting taxes, and cut taxes they did. Businesses will get a break, but heading for a campaign mailer near you will be bragging that they cut homeowners’ property taxes. That big “cut you will notice” turned out to average about 35 cents per day for homeowners. Don’t spent it all in one place (sorry, renters – you’re out).

Yes, they had modest tax cuts, and yes, they passed a conservative budget, and they’ll all brag about all that in the campaign mailers. What they won’t mention is that they did little to move the ball forward on infrastructure or massive expensive debt, all while hoarding more than 18 billion dollars of your money which still isn’t working for you.

They’ll brag about their investment in border security, while forgetting to mention that the border region isn’t even statistically dangerous, or that the efforts of the Feds, not the DPS or other state authorities, are responsible for most interdictions. But they certainly threw 800 million bucks of your money at the problem. Because campaign mailers!

And ethics reform? What they passed is ethics DEform. Legislators acted like it’s just completely unreasonable to pass a bill that would actually let Texans know where the money comes from or where it went. And just for good measure, they passed special legislation that will make it much harder to prosecute…only legislators.

Despite court rulings against public school finance, and massive cuts to education in past sessions, many school districts remain behind the 8-ball from those past cuts, and if anything they institutionalized everything that is wrong with the current finance system, despite House Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s laudable efforts to have a real debate on improvement. But be sure to look forward to those campaign mailers about how education is their highest priority!

And never fear, patriots! Endless hours of debate was lovingly devoted to all the darling issues of importance to the Tea Party clown car. Guns everywhere! More heavily-regulated uteruses! We hate icky gay people more than you!

And speaking of gay people, they continued to strenuously oppose marriage equality, using as their excuse the fact that Texans voted for it years ago – even as they overturned the results of the election held in Denton last fall that overwhelmingly prohibited fracking there.

So yes, lip service was certainly paid to the enforcers of Republican primary politics, but the leadership didn’t even do that very well – even the Tea Party is grumbling that everybody’s a disappointment, while legislators didn’t even attempt to pay lip service to the other 96 percent of Texans.

It wasn’t all bleak. They did find some money for roads, but not enough to keep up. They did pass a pre-K bill – one which doesn’t expand the program to more kids, and one which almost but not quite gets us back to previous pre-K funding.

These two achievements will be lauded only because they’re two of the only things the legislature accomplished that didn’t actively go in the wrong direction. Let that sink in.

Style points must be given to Governor Greg Abbott. He managed to stay above the fray every time there was some hot Republican-on-Republican action, while gently guiding legislators toward his point of view behind the scenes. Progressives may not agree with Abbott on much, but after the blustery swaggering days of Rick Perry, and the antagonistic “my way or the highway” approach of Dan Patrick, Abbott’s less flashy, calm leadership style was at least a few molecules of fresh air.

All told, there will be a lot for conservative Republicans to campaign on. But while they’re busy bragging to Republican primary voters about all they accomplished, to the rest of Texas, this legislative session will sadly be remembered for absolutely nothing at all.

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SCOTUS taking Texas redistricting case is potentially bad news for minorities, Democrats

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an obscure redistricting challenge to Texas Senate districts that, frankly, most court watchers have not paid much attention to. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, had been dismissed at the trial court level.

If the Supreme Court revives this case, it has the potential to turn what’s left of the Voting Rights Act on its ear, and devastate minority representation in Texas.

Here’s how: currently, districts (Congressional, state House, state Senate, city council, etc.) are drawn based on total population. The plaintiffs in Evenwel want those districts to be drawn based only on citizen voting age population. Under their scenario, people under the age of 18 don’t exist, and non-citizens don’t exist. From a public policy standpoint, this flies in the face of reality, and of why governments exist and who governments serve. Children count; governments serve them in many ways, from health care to public education. And even non-citizens count – can you imagine firefighters not bothering to put out a house fire because an immigrant lives in the house? Governments serve everybody living within its geographic boundaries in some way, and they collect taxes from everybody living within those boundaries in some way – not just those who are citizens of voting age.

Politically, the case has potential serious ramifications for the current make-up of the Senate, and if the plaintiffs prevailed, it would almost certainly mean fewer minority Senators holding office. The current map was drawn using total population. Under the plaintiff’s scheme, the state would be required to draw maps using only citizen voting age population, not total population. Thrown out of the count would be everybody under the age of 18, and everybody who isn’t a citizen.

The Hispanic population in Texas is very young (in fact, Texas in general is very young – more than 25% of Texans are children). And Texas had an estimated 1.7 million non-citizen residents as of 2010. These residents are counted in the census (as they should be, even redistricting aside, since the funding for many federal programs depends on it). These residents also live disproportionately in the Senate districts of current minority Senators and/or Senators of minority voters’ choice – mostly in urban and South Texas.

If these children and non-citizens suddenly didn’t count toward the totals in map-drawing, the districts of most if not all of the racial minorities currently in the Texas Senate would necessarily become much larger, since the one man-one vote principle dictates that districts be roughly the same population. Since there are only so many minority Texans to go around, plus other Texans who ally themselves with minorities, it is entirely possible that these larger districts would elect fewer minority Senators, or Senators of minority Texans’ choice regardless of the Senator’s ethnicity. Senator Sylvia Garcia’s urban and Hispanic-heavy Houston district, for example, was drawn based on its total population of 812,881 people, but only contains 383,985 citizens of voting age. Meanwhile, quick-and-dirty math dictates that the new ideal citizen age voting population of any Senate district would be 522,508. Her district would have to be re-drawn to be significantly larger if the plaintiffs prevailed. While other districts’ mileage may vary, this scenario would be the rule, not the exception, in other Senate districts currently holding a significant minority population.

If the plaintiffs prevailed, the net result would be less minority representation, and presumably less Democratic representation, since all current Senate officeholders who represent a definitive minority population are Democrats, and with the exception of Senators Watson and Whitmire, are themselves racial minorities.

The bottom line is that if the plaintiffs prevail, it’s devastating news for minorities, Democrats, and progressives. Which is one key reason why conservative organizations support the lawsuit.

The good news: just because the Supreme Court opted to hear this case doesn’t mean the plaintiffs will prevail. Accepting a case only requires that four justices want it. But for a plaintiff to win a case requires that five justices agree with the plaintiff’s argument.

As is usual in voting rights and redistricting litigation, all eyes will be on Justice Kennedy – the perennial swing vote on such matters. The court will take up the case in its next session, which begins in October. Keep your seat belts fastened.

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How to use hypocrisy to justify bigotry in one easy step, using ingredients you already have at home!

Last November, voters in the City of Denton Texas voted overwhelmingly to ban hydraulic fracturing in their community. Not exactly a liberal bastion, Denton residents had apparently had enough of the environmental issues that go hand-in-hand with oilfield operations. Having worked several years in the oilfield myself in my younger days, I don’t have to be an environmental expert to readily see why oil rigs and neighborhoods don’t mix well. The entire operation is noisy, dirty, scary, and all-around better built for the boondocks than down the street from Aunt Susie’s house and little Timmy’s elementary school.

But trust your friendly neighborhood state legislature to fix this for industry: they just passed a ban on such bans. The legislation is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature. Soon, the collective will of Denton voters won’t be worth the paper they wrote it on. But, what the hey – the legislature made a public policy choice. Perhaps not the choice the good people of Denton particularly appreciate, but you know – you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, and part of that breakage is apparently to overturn the decision Denton voters made a mere six months ago.

But wait. I can hardly believe my eyes. Surely this can’t be true!? Is this a typo?!  Was that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on CNN earlier today, explaining that Texas’ ban on gay marriage is justified precisely because Texas voters approved the ban in a referendum ten years ago? Why yes, yes I believe it was.

“We passed a constitutional amendment [banning same-sex marriage] in 2005, it was overwhelmingly approved by the voters,” Paxton told CNN host Alisyn Camerota. “That’s our background here.”

General Paxton and other Republicans are really fond of bringing up that ten year old vote, so they can justify their discrimination by using words other than “gay people give me the creeps” or “my adoring political base gets a little stiffy every time I pick on THOSE people.” But apparently the voices of voters only matter if Republicans happen to agree with the conclusions those voters reach.

So, just to review:

Texas citizens who overwhelmingly vote to ban hydraulic fracturing in their neighborhoods: BAD. VERY BAD.

Texas citizens who vote to ban other people from marrying who they love: GOOD. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

Tell me again how your opposition to marriage equality isn’t really about you being a bigot? Because I never get tired of hearing that story.

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Texas redistricting analysis: does Alabama SCOTUS ruling seal fate of Texas state House, Congressional maps?

Editor’s note: from time to time, we here at LettersFromTexas Worldwide Headquarters revisit the court action on redistricting on Texas’ legislative and Congressional maps, calling upon redistricting expert Russ Tidwell’s analysis. Here’s his latest, following recent U.S. Supreme Court action.

 By Russ Tidwell

The three judge federal panel in San Antonio is nearing a final decision on redistricting litigation for the Texas House and congressional delegation.

As previously discussed here, multiple weeks of trial have provided a mountain of evidence of intentional discrimination and dilution of the opportunity for minority citizens to elect the candidates of their choice. The post-trial briefs were filed in December.

However, it appears the panel in San Antonio was waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of a ruling in an Alabama redistricting case. That ruling came down on March 25, and it was a victory for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference.  The San Antonio panel immediately ordered the Texas litigants to file additional briefs in light of this ruling.  The last of those was filed Monday.

The Alabama case involved claims of improper racial gerrymandering and provided significant clarification to this distinct line of case law stretching back to the Shaw case in North Carolina.  While minority plaintiffs in Texas felt they had adequately proven their claims of vote dilution and intentional discrimination, this ruling provided an additional clear roadmap for successful resolution of their claims.

The Supreme Court found:

We have consistently described a claim of racial gerrymandering as a claim that race was improperly used in the drawing of the boundaries of one or more specific electoral districts.

And this:

We have said that plaintiff’s burden in a racial gerrymandering case is ‘to show, either through circumstantial evidence of a district’s shape and demographics or more direct evidence going to legislative purpose, that race was the predominate factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.

In response to the San Antonio panel’s order, attorneys representing the Perez Plaintiffs, LULAC, and the NAACP filed a brief outlining how the evidence already before the court supports racial gerrymandering findings under the Alabama opinion.  The brief documents the plaintiffs’ claims in eleven state house districts in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, McLennan, Bell and Fort Bend Counties.  Reversing the fragmentation of these districts would re-enfranchise over 1.2 million people of color in these six counties.

While MALC’s brief was consistent with and supportive of the Perez/NAACP/LULAC filing, it made additional claims in Nueces, Midland/Ector and Lubbock Counties.  They rightfully argue that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution should override the state’s constitutional “county line rule”.  This would provide for the creation of three additional majority Hispanic districts.

Various plaintiffs filed briefs regarding congressional claims under the Alabama decision, which I will not go into here.  However, in a previous post I discussed LULAC proposed plan C262.

Now that the Texas Legislative Council has loaded the 2014 election returns into their system and more data can be calculated, it is worth noting that the most recent and prominent Hispanic candidate of choice, Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Governor, carried each of the nine Hispanic majority districts in that plan.  This further solidifies the Section 2 (VRA) claim for creation of such a plan with eight districts in the South Texas and border region that are majority Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (HCVAP).  These eight districts are at least as compact as the state’s plan. Additionally, C262 restores CD 25 in Travis County as a crossover district.

Now, it is all in the hands of Texas Federal Judges.  Watch this space.


Read other redistricting pieces by Russ Tidwell here

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