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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:

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.55.50 PM

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.

rickperrymugshot

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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What passes for respect, admiration, and trust among the members of the Penis Compensation Caucus

Remember the piece published here a few days ago about the nutty open carry activists in Texas who are so whacked out that even the NRA wants nothing to do with them?

Funny we should run off at the mouth and admit that we finally agree with the NRA on something, because no sooner had we done so when the NRA got frightened of their own words and withdrew the piece in which they’d disavowed themselves of Texas’ open carry activists and called them “un-Texan.”

I guess in this context, “NRA” stands for “Now Run Away.”

Whether the NRA chooses to be outspoken about them or not, there’s little doubt that fellow pro-gun conservatives don’t think much of these clowns either.  Quoted in Newsweek last October, Dave Kopel, a gun policy analyst with the conservative Cato Institute, said this:

You don’t do political activism just for your own emotional expression. You do political activism to advance your cause. And there’s a feeling some of the open carry people have gone too far.

Gee, ya think??!

A week after I wrote my original piece, C.J. Grisham, who is the President of Open Carry Texas – the open carry activists in question, authored a piece for TribTalk to defend the group, complain about the NRA, media bias, and anybody else who opposes them, and basically pretend that he and his ilk are in any way normal activists with a sane, cogent legislative strategy.

C.J. did acknowledge, however, that “as with any newly formed group, we’ve had our growing pains.”  Not that I’ve noticed that his group is growing, but the acknowledgement is appreciated. He also acknowledged that the group has made “several public relations mistakes.”

Again: ya think??!

He then wrote the most laughable laugh in Laughville:

However, this isn’t a fight [with the NRA] we should be having without mutual respect, admiration and trust.

What in the world does Grisham know about respect, admiration, and trust? I’m glad you asked.

He apparently sees his main issues opposition (aside from the liberal biased media) as coming from a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which, I’m sure you could guess, is a group of mostly women who oppose open carry legislation, among other things. In the TribTalk piece, he said they “lie, distort, and manipulate.”

Can you feel that respect oozing out of his pores yet?

How about when his organization’s “growing pains” were unzipped and hanging out, when he called the members of this organization “cackling wenches?”

cackling wenches

Better yet, I bet Grisham thinks his razor-sharp mutual admiration was really demonstrated the time he renamed these women “Thugs with Jugs,” huh?

Apparently Open Carry Texas is only willing to exercise respect, admiration, and trust toward organizations that only disagree with them a lot, instead of disagree with them a huge amount.

Alternatively, perhaps Grisham has bigger issues with respecting women than he does disrespecting the NRA? After all, “cackling wenches” and “thugs with jugs” doesn’t exactly convey “I respect women.”

Open Carry Texas has had its share of legal problems, perception problems, and public policy problems. But as long as they continue to have fundamental respect problems, they shouldn’t be surprised when people – even natural allies, and especially me – have little interest in respecting them. One who continuously disrespects others cannot hope for any respect in return. And I’m the guy who doesn’t even oppose open carry laws, even as I refer to the group as the Penis Compensation Caucus. See how that name-calling works in both directions? Funny how that works.

When the legislature convenes next January, the legislature may well pass an open carry bill. But it won’t be because of these clowns. It will be despite their efforts.

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Amazing Grace – KUT’s audio version of the tribute to Grace Garcia

KUT Radio, NPR’s Austin affiliate, was kind enough to ask me in to come in and record a two-minute audio version of my longer tribute to Grace Garcia, as part of their upcoming Texas Standard show, which will air on NPR affiliate stations across Texas. I was honored to do so, and offer it here:

I very much hope to work with host David Brown as a regular contributor to Texas Standard when the show debuts later this summer. check out the beginnings of the show’s website.

And while we’re on the topic of Grace Garcia, here was the discussion on TWCNews’ Capitol Tonight Show last night, as Paul Brown and I discussed both the legacy Grace leaves, and also about Attorney General Greg Abbott’s latest move on public school finance litigation:

You can watch Capitol Tonight weeknights at 7 pm and 11 pm in Austin and on Time Warner News’ brand new channel in San Antonio.

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A love letter to Texas women in politics, for Grace Garcia

Let’s set aside for a moment all the women in Texas politics who already reaped the fame that came with the office. They already have their walls full of photos, shelves packed with awards, and reams of newspaper clippings documenting countless achievements. Governor Richards. Congresswoman Jordan. Comptrollers Strayhorn and Combs. Senator Hutchison. Mayors Whitmire, Miller, Strauss, Parker, and Cockrell. State Senator Zaffirini, the first Latina ever there. We salute you all. Your trail-blazing is well-documented.

This piece isn’t about them. It’s about the other women essential to Texas politics. The ones whose names aren’t as well-known. They’re the driven ones who pay attention to the details, work themselves to exhaustion, and really get things done. They may not be elected themselves, but they’re the ones who work to elect others, and keep the trains running on time. They’ve often had to be twice as good as a man to get noticed, and half as much headache as other staff to get ahead.

A few prime examples: Mary Beth Rogers, Ann Richards’ chief of staff. Cecile Richards, founding Executive Director of Texas Freedom Network, and now President of Planned Parenthood. Samantha Smoot, former Executive Director of Texas Freedom Network. Deirdre Delisi, Rick Perry’s former chief of staff. Sarah Floerke, field director of Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor.

I bet if you put these five women, and another ten just like them, in a room, they would agree on very little – they’re in different political parties and hold varied ideologies. But I know all of them well, and take my word for it – they’re all deadly smart, driven women in politics, policy, and government who are very, very good at what they do. Each of them not only demonstrates that women earn their seats at the table, but also that it wouldn’t be just a horrible damn thing if women were at the head of that table from time to time. Few work harder to achieve political and policy objectives, and they have all met with success.

In other words, they all remind me of Grace Garcia.

Grace Garcia

Grace Garcia

In fact, my personal gold standard for “highly successful woman in Texas politics” is “wow – she reminds me of Grace Garcia.”

I’ve known Grace for 22 years. We first met early in Bill Clinton’s upstart campaign for President, and at the time I was much more terrified of Grace than I ever was of Clinton. Grace was a driven, focused, opinionated, serious, smart workaholic.

I’m not entirely sure Bill Clinton would have been elected President but for Grace’s efforts. Later on, I’m fairly certain Grace’s efforts were one key reason Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure in the State Department was so successful. And I bet Senator Leticia Van de Putte would not have answered the call to run for Lt. Governor but for Grace, since it was Grace who was making most of those calls in the first place.

For the last year or so, Grace was the Executive Director of Annie’s List, the organization dedicated to electing more women to public office in Texas. The organization was already successful when Grace came home from Washington to Texas to take the helm, and she expertly positioned Annie’s List to improve on that success.

Grace put together her team at Annie’s List, and together they seemingly know only one speed: pedal to the metal full blast. They raise money, recruit candidates to run for office, raise more money, train those candidates, raise more money, recruit top-notch campaign staff and train them too, and raise more money. And then they break for lunch.

Tragically, Grace Ann Garcia was killed yesterday afternoon, in a senseless car wreck. She was on her way to attend a Dallas event featuring Van de Putte and Wendy Davis. They took her away, and nobody who knows her can believe it. I know I can’t believe it; I’m crushed. Hell, it’s only in recent years that I learned how not to be terrified of her, and now she’s gone.

But here’s what I can believe: I believe that because of Grace Garcia and political women like her, there will be a lot more women who see public service as a viable and attractive option. I believe that it’s Texans like Grace Garcia that you could put in front of a classroom full of ten year old girls, and by the end of the talk it would dawn on those girls – some for the first time – that there isn’t anything they can’t achieve if they’re willing to work hard enough. I believe that because of political women in Texas like Grace Garcia, more and more women will involve themselves in politics, and will be successful at it. And I believe that some day, because more women will be in charge around here, we’ll all be bickering about a higher class of stuff than the low-rent crap we bicker about in Texas politics today.

My phone was ringing all evening. Late last night, I talked with my friend Amber Mostyn, who is the Board Chair of Annie’s List. Shortly after midnight this morning, I hung up the phone from a painful call with another friend of mine named Emmy Ruiz, who is Annie’s List’s political director. We were talking about Grace, and the events of the day, and emotionally leaning on each other a bit.

After the calls died down, and as I plugged my phone into the charger as I was getting ready for bed, I thought, “both Amber and Emmy sure do remind me of Grace Garcia.”

And that’s why I’m pretty sure things are going to be alright.

Rest in peace, sweet Grace.

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The day that I actually wholeheartedly agreed with the NRA – the Penis Compensation Caucus is un-Texan

It may come as some surprise to regular readers of these pages (are there any regular readers of these pages?) that I am not necessarily against open carry of handguns as a public policy.

I’m absolutely certain that position will come as a surprise to the number of my NRA fans (that number may well equal zero), who probably did not fully appreciate this piece I wrote on gun control for Texas Monthly a while back.

But no, open carry doesn’t particularly upset me. For one thing, if responsibly crafted, the law wouldn’t put a single new gun on the streets – it would merely change the way concealed weapons permit holders are permitted to carry the guns they’re already carrying.

I do believe, however, that the concept of open carry for handguns is highly situational, a conclusion easily reached based on my dual residences in Austin and in far West Texas. For example, I doubt many people would so much as bat an eye if somebody walked down the streets of Marathon, Fort Davis, or Alpine, located north of the Big Bend, with a handgun strapped to his belt. But if instead of walking down main street in Marathon, that same person was walking down Congress Avenue in Austin, some people would certainly be startled, and many would question the propriety of that.

So no, assuming that an open carry bill limited open carry permits to those already carrying through a CHL, and gave cities and counties an opt-in provision (we ARE for local control, aren’t we?), I’d probably fall asleep so fast I wouldn’t have time to oppose the bill. Apparently Democratic candidate for Governor Wendy Davis doesn’t disagree either.

But do you know what’s even more surprising than people like Wendy Davis or me not opposing open carry laws? The fact that the NRA has come out in opposition to those nutty open carry activists who keep popping up around Texas, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and showing up in fast food restaurants and other retail stores, accomplishing little other than frightening folks and making everybody uncomfortable. I call them the Penis Compensation Caucus.

The NRA has now called their activities “outright foolishness.” And I couldn’t agree more, because those activists only manage to demonstrate that they are both bullies and cowards. Assuming there’s some difference between a bully and a coward, that is.

Here’s more of what the NRA said:

To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary.  It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

As a result of these hijinx, two popular fast food outlets have recently requested patrons to keep guns off the premises (more information can be found here and here).  In other words, the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior. To state the obvious, that’s counterproductive for the gun owning community.

More to the point, it’s just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas. Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.  That’s not the Texas way. 

I couldn’t agree more, NRA – it’s just not the Texas way. But never fear – no matter what the NRA says, open carry activism promises to be alive and well later this week in Fort Worth, where such fools plan to be in attendance, complete with their penis compensation instruments, at the Republican State Convention.

Yee-haw, y’all.

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