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9Jun/150

The Exit Door

The Almanac is still a thing, but I figured the current round of legislative retirements deserves a dedicated working space. With that, here's who's moving on to better and brighter things:

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R - NW Harris County) - was hoping to get the appointed gig for Harris County Sheriff, but has made it known that he'd be running for it in 2016 regardless. He also gave his going-away speech toward the end of the legislative session. District is about as safe as it gets for GOP - no known names for the seat come to mind.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D - NW Harris County) - running for Houston mayor for the third time. Also preached his going-away speech during the final days of the lege. Safe Dem seat and there will be a long line of potential replacements. Biggest name to date is HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R - Bell County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. No known names for the seat early on, but the district has potential for a Democratic pickup in 2016 (followed by an almost certain return to GOP control in a non-Presidential year).

Rep. Joe Farias (D - Bexar County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. Like Aycock's seat, the district has some potential for swinging to the other party.

Sen. Troy Fraser (R - Central Texas) - announced via letter to Senators after the legislative session. Rep. Aycock was asked to consider running for the seat by Fraser's campaign manager, but declined. There shouldn't be a shortage of candidates for this seat, but the field could be thinned out by fundraising ability. Of some interest is that former Representative (and failed Comptroller nominee) Harvey Hilderbran represented the southern portion of the Senate District.

Rep. Patricia Harless (R - NW Harris County) - announced on June 8 that she would not run again. District is safe GOP. Two names to watch for may be Harless' husband (who toyed with a run for SD7 after Dan Patrick announced for Lt. Gov). Former HD126 candidate John Devine has since successfully run for state Supreme Court. The only semi-announced candidate thus far is attorney, Kevin Roberts.

And in other activity:

Thomas Ratliff (R - East Texas) - announced he would not run for re-election to the State Board of Education.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R - East Texas) - hasn't announced whether or not he'll run for re-election. But State Rep. David Simpson is rumored to be running for the GOP nomination regardless. Outgoing State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff has said he would consider running if Eltife opted to retire.

Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R - North Central Texas) - Rep. Sheffield has a very visible voting record that allows him to be identified as a moderate in a GOP primary. But his speech against the Schaefer amendment that would ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks gave even more ammunition to opponents. Rep. Jonathan Stickland announced via twitter that "[t]his could be Rep. Sheffields last speech on the #txlege floor." Stephenville realtor Brent Graves announced his intention to challenge Sheffield prior to the end of the legislative session.

Rep. Jim Keffer (R - North Texas) - Hasn't made an announcement. Michael Quinn Sullivan seems to believe he will retire rather than face another tough primary challenge (allegedly from RR Commish David Porter). That may be wishful thinking on Sullivan's part, however.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R - Tarrant County) - Hasn't made an announcement. Presumed to be running again. But already has a primary challenge. Given the growing strength of the Tea Party in Tarrant County and more relaxed campaign finance laws (not to mention Geren's pointed opposition to same), it could potentially be more entertaining than prior primary challenges against Geren.

Updates are a given ...

28Aug/130

The Next War on Early Voting

Daily Beast: Republicans Admit Voter ID Laws Are Aimed at Democratic Voters

I'm generally not very big on covering the "OMG, some right-winger said something nutty. Here's my outrage over that!" beat. But here's something nutty that Phyllis Schlafly said ...

“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.’

“The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”

She later adds that early voting “violates the spirit of the Constitution” and facilitates “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” I’m not sure what she means by “illegal votes,” but it sounds an awful lot like voting by Democratic constituencies: students, low-income people, and minorities.

To which I'll offer a measured response. We had a bill up in the past session to cut the number of days available for Early Voting throughout the state, HB 2093 by Patricia Harless. The bill went nowhere and actually has a little bit of interesting history in that it was pitched to another Republican legislator, Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen. Aycock, in an exercise of good judgement, opted to not move the bill forward when he realized what it did. What resulted from the Aycock story was that the bill was being peddled by Skipper Wallace, head of the Texas GOP County Chair Association. Wallace's group has been a fairly good marker for Rick Perry's view on bills as there have been some cases where bills pass the House and Senate, Wallace is the only witness against, and Perry ends up vetoing the bill. Of more interest is that the bill was supported by Harris County Clerk, Stan Stanart's office. Just so we know where the battle lines are drawn.

The bill ultimately got "stood down" when Harless was shocked to see so many people opposed to the bill. After all, we're led to believe that the idea for this bill just popped into Rep. Harless' head when she and a volunteer were discussing how hard it was for them to work Early Voting locations over two weeks. You can watch the two hours of committee fun if you feel so inclined. But while the bill didn't make it to the floor in 2013, bills have a funny way of finding their way back with better odds of success a second time around. That's how we ended up with HB148, the bill that will allegedly end mail ballot harvesting (either "as we know it" or "as some have conjured it up in their imagination").

That's what makes Schlafly's comments worth noting here. I fully expect to see a bill cutting the number of Early Voting days in the next legislative session. I also fully expect that Schlafly's quote will come up in that conversation.

1Apr/112

Redistricting Harris County State Reps: First Draft

File this under "Ain't Gonna Happen," but this is the first semi-reasonable basis of a plan that I landed on after doodling around with Harris County State Rep districts. The assumption here is that there will still be 25 seats. But the dicier assumption is that Beverly Woolley draws herself out. For that reason, I don't see this as being likely. At least not until I hear her retirement announcement.

But this draft accomplishes the tasks of protecting Legler and Bohac and a Baytown-based district. What's new about this district is a Willowbrook-area district. That's the way this map factors in the population growth on that side of town. What's curious is that if such a new district were to sprout up in that area, it would mean that another Rep would have to go. I don't see a way of mapping it out so that each of the incumbents' homes are included in some magical tortilla strip to remain safe. The likelier target for this would seem to be Legler since dropping his district makes it easier to add population to Alvarado and Hernandez. As this draft stands, several of the Dem districts on the north side of town are woefully under-populated. I think that's an inevitable bump in how the map-making proceeds in Austin. So it'll be interesting to see how the ultimate, final map deals with it all.

Politically, this is drawn to be somewhat realistic in that I don't see the GOP leadership in the county delegation drawing anything that has less than 13 GOP seats. But in a 2006/2008 style election, the map could easily become a 16-9 Dem map. What makes that possible, if the map were to sail through and become reality, is that Sarah Davis has a hard time being drawn significantly more safely than the current District 134 really is. Likewise, I think Districts 126 and 132 would look pretty interesting in a good Presidential year. 2010 is the GOP high-water mark for each district and the demographics are still changing in each of them. 132 could be drawn stronger, splitting the growing Democratic vote on the west side of town. The only thing working in favor of keeping 126 red is that Patricia Harless is on the Redistricting Committee.

But all of that raises one question in my mind: would it not be the smartest thing the GOP could do if they drew 12 pretty darned safe seats instead of shooting for 13? The demographics of Harris County are going to push the GOP out in some significant ways this decade.

Legally, there's an issue with Farrar's district. She'd have no problem being elected out of that district. But after her, the growing Anglo population in the Heights makes it less likely that Hispanic voters have a strong enough situation to elect a Representative of their choosing. It's not dissimilar to the results seen in the City Council District H special election in 2009. It's also symptomatic of the decrease in Hispanic population seen in the current iteration of Farrar's district. The challenge is this: does this mean that the Heights is going to have to be drawn in with Bohac's district? Coleman's Afr.-Am. numbers are already on the low side, so it's unlikely that you could add Montrose to his district.

There are two drivers that I see making the drawing a challenge ... the diffusion of minority voting age population places a bind on the GOP's ability to do another HD133/HD126 drawing in the present map. Those minority populations are now too valuable and necessary for VRA districts in order to keep a redistricted map VRA-compliant. But the same phenomenon also places Hispanic and African-American boundary lines at risk due to a large number of precincts being roughly 40% Hispanic and 40% African-American. In other words, it's not hard to draw an appropriate number of Hispanic districts in theory ... but the political realities that go along with redistricting are likely to make it more contentious.

Anyways, here's the draft map. Number for Voting Age Population and 2010 Governor election math is below.

Perry   White                     Population  Dev.   Hisp.   Anglo   Afram   Asian
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
59.7%   38.6%  126  Harless     R   166,301  -0.80%   25.9%   46.7%   18.0%   7.9%
63.9%   34.2%  127  Huberty     R   163,413  -2.52%   19.4%   64.0%   12.1%   3.0%
59.8%   38.3%  128  Smith       R   161,991  -3.37%   30.6%   55.1%   11.7%   1.3%
56.2%   41.9%  129  Davis       R   167,855   0.13%   19.7%   62.8%    6.8%   8.9%
64.9%   33.4%  130  Fletcher    R   168,764   0.67%   24.6%   54.3%   11.8%   7.9%
20.6%   78.2%  131  Allen     D     174,564   4.13%   42.7%    9.1%   40.2%   6.9%
59.5%   38.6%  132  Calegari    R   169,641   1.20%   39.6%   38.1%   14.0%   6.8%
62.3%   34.9%  133  Murphy      R   165,313  -1.39%   18.4%   58.0%   11.3%  10.4%
51.7%   46.9%  134  Davis       R   166,183  -0.87%   12.4%   71.4%    4.0%  10.6%
56.8%   41.5%  135  Elkins      R   171,150   2.10%   44.1%   36.9%    8.2%   9.5%
60.1%   38.4%  136  Bohac       R   166,362  -0.76%   35.9%   51.4%    5.7%   5.7%
39.3%   58.8%  137  Hochberg  D     173,074   3.24%   53.6%   18.7%   15.9%  10.3%
63.5%   34.7%  138  OPEN        R   164,240  -2.03%   23.6%   52.9%   11.8%  10.1%
19.6%   79.3%  139  Turner    D     147,490 -12.02%   39.1%   12.4%   42.9%   4.7%
37.5%   60.9%  140  Walle     D     157,662  -5.95%   79.2%   11.6%    7.8%   0.8%
37.9%   60.7%  141  Thompson  D     151,869  -9.41%   38.3%   12.1%   44.7%   3.7%
20.0%   79.1%  142  Dutton    D     145,031 -13.49%   30.8%   14.1%   52.9%   1.2%
42.1%   56.5%  143  Hernandez D     163,235  -2.63%   61.6%   20.1%   15.7%   1.7%
52.8%   45.3%  144  Legler      R   165,181  -1.47%   58.3%   34.4%    4.3%   2.1%
29.6%   68.7%  145  Alvarado  D     170,005   1.41%   85.9%    9.4%    2.8%   1.3%
24.7%   74.0%  146  Miles     D     168,300   0.40%   20.6%   23.8%   45.9%   8.3%
26.5%   72.1%  147  Coleman   D     164,426  -1.92%   34.7%   19.5%   37.0%   7.5%
34.2%   63.7%  148  Farrar    D     146,877 -12.38%   38.8%   45.4%   11.0%   3.2%
42.5%   56.1%  149  Vo        D     170,821   1.90%   35.6%   15.1%   25.7%  22.0%
68.4%   29.7%  150  Riddle      R   162,577  -3.02%   17.5%   67.3%    7.5%   6.1%
21Mar/111

The Voter ID Debate

Word for the day: microchub.

The "Voter ID" bill is due up on the floor of the State House today, but was initially postponed by Patricia Harless in order for a bill that Rick Hardcastle had on the original calendar for the naming of a highway.

It's 12:13 and Harless is up, reading the initial argument for the bill. I'll throw in an update here or there as things unfold. But elections have consequences and more Rs showed up than Ds last time. So the 100+ GOP members shouldn't have much problem passing an authoritatively restrictive bill to inhibit the ability of people to cast their most democratic right. Next time, Dems ... get out to vote. If you can.

Rafael Anchia now up to question Harless about voter impersonation. She says she's "not advised" on how often impersonation happens. She says we don't have the tools to detect voter impersonation. After some back & forth on how the current law penalizes voter impersonation, she says she doesn't want to get into Anchia's point about whether fraud is scalable if one vote is likely to cost someone prison time and a few thousand bucks in a fine. Harless brings up the 2-vote margin that Donna Howard won by, but as Anchia points out, there were no instances of voter impersonation noted in that contest. Anchia then turns into the administration of elections, referencing Harless' words that election administrators are "helpless" in the face of voter impersonation. Anchia then reads current law to her, which grants an election official the ability to arrest someone. I have to admit - I knew that, because I would have loved to have some need to arrest someone when I've run an election in years past. Anchia asks if someone is granted the ability to carry out the law to this extent, who's fault is it if voter impersonation takes place. Harless blames the lege.

Anchia shifts a bit, asking why this bill doesn't address mail-in ballots. Harless has no example of voter impersonation, yet is very concerned about the integrity elections. Anchia notes that mail-in ballots do have numerous examples of problems. It's a good argument that scores points. But at the end of the day, this one's about the votes on the floor. It's a very lawyerly back & forth that Anchia is engaged in. It won't move a vote, but it at least captures the inanity of this bill.

Anchia's next argument is about voting rights. The fiscal not has over $2M being spent on voter education. There are $43M in HAVA funds left over from the last sessions. So there will be a request put in to the DOJ in order to use those funds for this purpose. Anchia focuses a bit more on the amount spent on educating Hispanics particularly. Harless runs down the ad budget - $1.5M ($750k for TV, $300k for radio, $300k for print, $150k for internet). Harless points out that there is no designated amount to Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians. Anchia jumps on this while Harless sticks to talking points ... repeatedly. After the third effort, she gives in and notes that there is nothing designating particular outreach advertising. After a bit of evasiveness, Harless notes that there was committee testimony that the Secretary of State would look at "best practices" of other states for outreach efforts. It'll be interesting to see what the DOJ says about this, in particular.

Anchia then turns to academic studies on the impact of requiring an ID for voting. Harless says they (academic studies) all look alike to her, but she's not aware of any. Yeah, I know ... weird. She "believes with all my heart" that turnout will increase because of Voter ID. She notes the increase in turnout in the two states that have already enacted Voter ID. True. Kinda. Indiana and Georgia both saw large turnouts in 2008. You might have heard about a Presidential election going on about then.

Time is called after (IIRC) one extension of time. Anchia moves for an extension of Harless' time, which Harless objects to. It's now amendment time and Anchia once again leads on this front. He references the history of this debate, going back to the Heflin-Vo contest in 2004. He points out that there was one example of the Norwegian voter in that election. I believe Anchia left out that the man voted for Heflin in that election. He goes over the numerous examples, one by one, of the various quests for fraud that others have tried in years past. In each one turns up no instances of voter impersonation.

Anchia still talking, me still reading/searching. Here's Anchia's amendment. You've gotta love the simplicity of it. Here's the link for the bill being debated (SB14).

In laying out his amendment, he notes that Texas ranked 42nd (2000) 46th (2004) and 48th (2008) in terms of turnout. In the last one, Texas was 50th. His point: there's not a crisis of too many people voting in Texas ... but there is one of too few people voting. Van Taylor looks to be first up to question Anchia.

Taylor notes that he was an election observer in Anchia's district, noting that he witnessed a voter attempt to vote with an ID, yet was told that she had already voted. Essentially ... he's offering an example of voter impersonation. Anchia asks if the case was turned over to the local DA. Taylor can't really nail down that what he saw was fraud, or the result of other errors that take place in the administration of elections. He offers an "Unknown."

There's a point raised by Taylor about Voter Registration cards, which gives Anchia the opening to point out that the state could put a photograph on Voter Registration cards now, but they don't. Voter Reg cards would be redundant under enactment of SB14. So much for small government. Anchia withdraws his amendment at the end of it all.

Amendment 2 is by Helen Giddings of Dallas. Her amendment essentially allows people to sign an affadavit if they have a police report that they are a victim of identity theft. It's a smart amendment since it essentially mirrors the process for casting a ballot provisionally. Patricia Harless moves to table the amendment. Scott Hochberg now up to question Harless. He asks for clarification about why someone who has had their ID stolen should be allowed to have their vote stolen, as well. Harless suggests that police reports can be faked. Harless notes that such a voter could cast a vote provisionally, but they would have to show up in 6 days with their ID for thier vote to count. Unfortunately, DPS doesn't work that fast. So, according to the letter of this bill, all you have to do to prevent someone from voting is steal their purse or wallet during late October.

Mando Martinez raises a point of order over whether the bill should read "business days" instead of "days" in reference to how much time you have to get back to the downtown election office to prove you were who you (provisionally) said you were on Election Day. Unless Gidding's amendment passes, it won't matter to victims of identity theft in October. They're just out of luck.

The Trib's Julian Aguilar tweets: Point of order by Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco. Alleges bill violates House rules because it does not properly define a "business day." Welcome to "Sonogram 2.0." Things are slowed to a crawl now while they figure out the meaning of "business day."

More newsie reading while the House stalls. TX Observers' Abby Rapoport notes that the necessity of the bill going through pre-clearance with DOJ. That's what makes this debate so critical - demonstrating the possible alleviations that the House GOP could have taken, but aren't willing to.

Straus is back up to clarify the point of order. It's sustained. That kicks the can for another day on this bill.

   

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