Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Scattershooting sanity: per-diems, Straus v. Patrick, and straight-ticket voting

Not this kind of scattershooting.

-- Following up on this post, the Texas Ethics Commission approved -- despite stated objections from chairman Paul Hobby -- a per-diem increase for state legislators, which means the legions of Austin lobbyists can spend more on plying them with food and drink.  Kirk Watson is a voice of sanity in this regard.

The public would know a lot more about which lawmakers are getting wined and dined under legislation filed Monday by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Watson filed three bills that would effectively shut down a giant loophole that allows lobbyists — often under pressure from legislators — to avoid naming names when they fill out their mandatory spending and entertainment reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Watson said he’s not casting “aspersions” on anyone but hopes his legislation will increase public confidence in state officials as they interact with lobbyists representing various interests at the Capitol. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, has filed similar legislation, but Watson's bills take the concept a few steps further. They extend the reporting requirements to spending on relatives of state officials while building in protection against future loopholes.

“Anything we can do to assure confidence in that and assure that it’s being done in the appropriate way, we should,” Watson said. “And that is generally best served by better reporting, better disclosure and more knowledge.”

Do you suppose this is the kind of ethics reform Governor Abbott has in mind when he gives the State of the State later this morning?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

-- There's a real showdown brewing between the Texas House and Senate, which actually means the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor.  How it pans out might be the biggest story of the 84th session.

House Speaker Joe Straus became the legislative Border Patrol last week, tapping the brake when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed booking the National Guard for an extended stay on the Texas-Mexico line.


Patrick wants to put in $12 million to keep those troops in place until May, which would give him time to push for a longer deployment during the legislative session.

Straus called him on it, saying in effect that only Gov. Greg Abbott, as the state’s commander in chief, has the power to play army.


Abbott has not said anything about the arm-wrestling, at least in public.

This tension is not just about the border thing.

In an interview with James Henson, a Texas Tribune pollster and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, Straus added to the list that starts with border security. He said there are questions to resolve about blocking colleges’ bans on concealed handguns and opposes the repeal of in-state tuition for certain children of undocumented immigrants. That puts him at odds with Patrick on those issues. During the weeks ahead, we all get to find out whether the House and the Senate are taking the same positions as their leaders on those issues.

But it’s not just about issues, either.

Go read the rest.  Large fault lines are bound to crack open between the Tea Party Caucus and the Sanity Caucus in both chambers.  No bets taken yet on who has or could get the upper hand.  It'll all play out over the next four months or so.

-- Speaking of even more sanity, Republicans agree that straight-party voting in Texas must come to an end.  To wit, State Representative Ron Simmons, Republican from Carrollton:

Virtually all voters educate themselves on candidates at the top of the ticket (president, governor, etc.). But many voters, partially because of straight-ticket voting, make little or no effort to educate themselves on the candidates at the bottom of the ticket running for offices that have the most direct effect on individual citizens — think county clerk, county commissioner, justice of the peace and state representative. These voters simply check the one box, either Democrat or Republican, and move on without giving it a second thought.

This is bad for Texas.

Let me give you just one example. My Democratic opponent last year was the vice presidential candidate for the Socialist Party USA in 2012. In our race, he put forth little effort to inform voters about himself or his platform. However, on Election Day he received about 35 percent of the vote — almost identical to the percentage of the vote that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis received in the district. Even I, a conservative Republican, don’t believe that 35 percent of Democrats in my district are Socialists or believe in what Socialists believe. But the way they voted in November tells a different story.

The answer to this is to join the 39 other states in the U.S. that have no straight-ticket voting. Voters will still be able to vote a straight-party ticket, but they’ll have to take a little extra time to go step by step down the ballot and select a candidate for each elected office. This will hopefully encourage voters to learn about the candidates in each race. But even if voters choose not to educate themselves, they can still vote along party lines or decide to not vote for any candidates in a particular race.

Are our liberty and way of life not important enough to really know whom we’re voting for to run our local and state governments? If people don’t make the effort, those who want to deceive, manipulate and abuse our representative form of government for their gain will be the only ones left standing in our halls of government.

I’ve filed House Bill 1288 to eliminate straight-ticket voting in Texas. I encourage you to contact your state representative and state senator to request their support of this legislation.

I signed.  But I still think it's cool that a Socialist disguised as a Democrat got 35% of the vote in the Dallas suburbs, even if nearly everyone that voted for him was likely a moron.  It was the scourge of straight-ticket votes, after all, that helped Archie Bunker get elected Texas agriculture commissioner, defeating Junior Samples, the (alleged) Democrat.

Another Republican state representative -- not exactly renowned for sanity -- has filed a similar bill, but it limits the partisan designation removal to judicial candidates and county executives.  That's still a good thing.

State Rep. Jason Villalba has filed legislation that would exempt judges and county officials from straight-ticket ballots.

The bill relates to elections in Texas’ largest counties, including Dallas County. The offices of sheriff, district attorney, tax assessor and constable would be removed from party-line voting. Criminal and civil court judges would also be exempt.

“We need to get away from straight-ticket voting and focus more on qualifications, criteria and ability, rather than party affiliation,” Villalba said.


Villalba, R-Dallas, said he prefers removing all “non-policy making elected offices” from partisan elections, but that would take a Constitutional referendum.

“If we thought we could get a Constitutional Amendment passed, that’s the direction we would go,” Villaba said.

As it stands, Villabla is unlikely to get this bill through the Legislature. Most Democrats and Republicans like the current system.

“It will be a tough one,” Villalba said.

Strong bipartisan support for straight-ticket voting in Texas.  Imagine that.

There is, as you might suspect, a hidden agenda for these bills filed by two Dallas-area Republicans: they think they might have a shot at swinging Dallas County back into the red column.  Despite whatever nefarious intentions may exist, it's still on Democrats to educate their voters and potential ones, turn them out on Election Day, and otherwise put forth the required effort to win elections, not rely on a tool that allows those who can drag themselves to the polling place their fifteen seconds' worth of civic engagement every two years.  Not to be too harsh about it, but it's lazy and a little craven to depend on STV to keep you in power in the big cities where the intelligent people have congregated, and the gerrymandered minority districts Republicans have allowed you to keep.

There's only so much blaming the media in this day and age that they deserve.  I fault the emerging Idiocracy myself, and that includes us all at some depth.

What the block on Obama's immigration action means

Vox has it.

-- Relief is delayed for millions of people

Here's what this means: Until this ruling is reversed or a different ruling comes down in the future, the federal government isn't allowed to do anything to implement either of the new programs President Obama announced in November to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Between the two programs, millions of immigrants were supposed to be eligible for deferred action (three years of protection from deportation) and work permits. Neither of those programs had actually started accepting applications yet, although one was supposed to start on Wednesday. Now they won't be able to start until further notice.


-- Why this is a serious threat to Obama's immigration policy


When the administration created the first deferred-action program in 2012, for young unauthorized immigrants, they discovered the success of the program relied on people signing up — and on the ground, organizers learned that finding eligible immigrants and getting them to apply was the hardest part. Now, community groups are trying to educate a much larger, more diffuse immigrant population about the new deferred-action programs, and persuade them that it's safe to apply. But news and misinformation about the lawsuit is spreading confusion and fear among the very people these groups are trying to reach.

Organizers are worried about a "chilling effect": by the time applications do open for deferred action, immigrants will have been intimidated out of applying, because they won't believe the program is safe or permanent.

-- Does this mean Obama's executive actions have been found unconstitutional?

No. The reason that Judge Hanen is stopping Obama's actions actually isn't about the Constitution at all. As Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law who filed a brief on behalf of the states in this case, says, "Generally, courts will not reach the constitutional question unless they need to."

Instead, Hanen's ruling is about a procedural law called the Administrative Procedures Act, and in particular the "notice and comment requirement" which is the typical procedure for making federal regulations. According to Cecilia Wang, Director of the Immigrant Rights Project for the ACLU, Hanen's ruling says that "if (the government) wanted to do these things it should have provided notice in the Federal Register, with period for comment." But because the Obama administration didn't do that for these actions, the ruling says, it violated the law.

Furthermore, this isn't even Judge Hanen's final opinion on the matter. This ruling is an injunction: it means that while Judge Hanen hasn't decided whether or not the president's executive actions are unconstitutional or illegal, the government has to stop acting on them while the judge makes up his mind.


-- What happens next?

At this point, it's up to the Department of Justice to decide whether they want to ask for a stay — basically, something to enjoin the injunction. They're (obviously) expected to do that. Then it'll be up to the Fifth Circuit to consider the stay. If they side with the federal government, the program will start running again; if they shoot down the federal government again, implementation will have to wait.

The ruling on the stay will determine whether or not the president's policies move forward for the next several months. During that time, the Fifth Circuit will be considering whether to uphold Judge Hanen's injunction. That could take four to five months, if they fast track the case, or seven to eight months if they don't. At the end of that time, they'll have another opportunity to stop the program or restart it: even if they grant the government a stay this winter, if they uphold Judge Hanen's ruling later in the year, the government has to stop again.

Meanwhile, Judge Hanen himself still has to issue his final ruling on whether or not the executive actions were constitutional.


-- The Silver Lining

Ironically, however, the fact that Hanen’s opinion casts a cloud of doubt over the legality of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) may be its most hopeful sign for undocumented immigrants. The Arizona decision did not simply emphasize the executive branch’s “broad discretion” over many immigration-related matters, it was handed down just days after Obama announced the DACA program. Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia railed against DACA in his opinion dissenting from the majority in Arizona.

If a majority of the justices found DACA legally problematic, it would be very unusual for them to emphasize the scope of the executive branch’s discretion just days after President Obama announced the DACA program. It would be even more unusual for them to do so when one of their brethren specifically criticized that policy in dissent.

The fact that Hanen’s logic appears to extend to DACA, in other words, may be Hanen’s undoing. A majority of the Supreme Court, including two of the Court’s Republicans, have already hinted that Hanen’s opinion is wrong.

So to summarize: Greg Abbott went shopping for a federal judge to rule in his favor, found one, got just what he wanted, and now the case slowly moves on to the Fifth Circuit, and from there to the Supreme Court.

Abbott will, by all appearances, eventually lose yet another lawsuit to the feds, with which he has a .230 batting average to this point.  That's bottom-third of the lineup, and on some teams, worth a seat on the bench (not the judicial one, the pine one).  Another typical lose-even-as-he-thinks-he's-won scenario for Abbott.  And his conservative base will only complain about his waste of taxpayer dollars, activist judges, and frivolous lawsuits when they get beaten.

Update: Judge Hanen is a crank, and the injunction creates lots of hurdles for the administration to clear.  Which was precisely his point.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance sends warm thoughts to everyone who's digging themselves out from under the snow again as it brings you this week's roundup of the best of the Lone Star lefty blogs from last week.

Off the Kuff reports on opposition to the proposed high speed rail line.

Libby Shaw, writing for Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos, is appalled by efforts to pass an open carry law in Texas. What should Texans fear the most? ISIS or Open Carry?

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is tired of Republicans using hurtful, hateful tactics to appease their racist base and cause harm to the people in the Valley.

Neil at All People Have Value wrote about the ongoing federal cover-up of a plot to kill members of Occupy Houston in 2011. Occupy Houston protestors were peaceful people. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson notes that the Texas GOP plans to give the wealthy in Texas a tax cut, no matter what. The cost will be high for everyone else: The Cost of Tax Cuts.

Texas Leftist reports on the most significant changes to the Houston region's public transit infrastructure since the creation of METRO. With System Reimagining now approved and the final route maps in selected, transit in Texas' largest city will never be the same.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is coming to Denton this weekend, and Houston next week, as part of the kickoff to her bid for the presidency of the US. PDidddie at Brains and Eggs has the details.

The Lewisville Texan-Journal updates the list of events for the area this coming week.

Egberto Willies reminds us not to overlook that 'atheist' part about the man who shot three Muslim honor students in North Carolina.

Dos Centavos was on the scene for the Americans United presentation on "The Bible in Texas Schools? Why Not?"

And jobsanger emphasizes that Dan Patrick's desire to keep Texas National Guard troops on the Rio Grande border is butting heads with fiscal responsibility.


And here are some posts of interest from other Lone Star bloggers.

The Anti-Media has a list of the ticking time bombs in Texas.

Moving forward after the jury verdict in Houston's equal rights ordinance trial, Free Press Houston says that we still need a HERO.

Socratic Gadfly points out that state Rep. Molly White is one of the many reasons that we just can't have nice things in Texas.

Lone Star Ma calls on doctors to do a better job explaining the need for vaccinations.

Texas Vox would like you to tell President Obama to veto the Keystone XL pipeline, while Tar Sands Blockade wants us to remember that KXL South is already fully operational.

Jef Rouner and his five-year-old daughter encounter an open carry demonstration.

Purple City sees cultural undertones in the opposition to the proposed high speed rail line in Texas.

Texans Together reports on the State of Black Houston 2015.

Jeff Balke goes back to high school to explore when kids and faith collide.

Grits for Breakfast is encouraged by the possibility of grand jury reform.

Austin Contrarian demonstrates how street design can lead to major traffic problems.

Joe the Pleb at BOR takes a look at the Texas rebels who are up in arms about a 13-year-old boy's plan to rename "Confederate Heroes Day".

Finally, Fascist Dyke Motors is welcoming our new aquatic overlords in her post entitled "Phantom Fins of Pharmacology".

Jill Stein in Denton and Houston later this month

*Updated schedule of events with dates in College Station and Laredo below.

The presumptive Green Party presidential nominee knows that the Lone Star State is the cradle of all of the worst of conservative experiments incubated, cultivated, and then exported nationally, and she has a base of support here (however nascent it may actually be).  Which is why Texas is at the top of her list for this early campaign tour, following last week's announcement of her intent to seek the presidency of the United States.

Next weekend in Denton, the first Texas city to ban fracking:

The South by Southwest Ecosocialist Conference will take place beginning Friday, February 20 at 5 pm and lasting through Sunday, February 22, at Wooten Hall, on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton. The event is sponsored by System Change Not Climate Change; coalition partners include the Ecosocialist Coalition, of which Solidarity, the Socialist Party-USA is a member, along with ISO, DSA, and others. SCNCC currently has Texas chapters in the DFW Metroplex and Houston.

Speakers at the conference will include Green Party 2014 presidential candidate Jill Stein and ecosocialist author Chris Williams, as well as panel discussions featuring a broad spectrum of Metroplex activists. Panels will include intersectionality between the climate and environmental crises and social and economic justice issues. The conference will also include nonviolent civil disobedience training and a "World Cafe" small group discussion session.

Cost is $50 for standard registration, $25 for low income, and $75 for supporters wishing to make an additional donation to support the cause.  Registration is now free, as fundraising has exceeded expectations.  Donations remain welcome.  Please register online at this URL: http://www.southbysouthwestecosocialistconference.com

The website also provides detailed location info for persons unfamiliar with the UNT campus and a daily schedule for the conference. The facility can accommodate up to 120 attendees, so please register now.

And following that, in Houston. 

She will likely meet with striking USW members on the picket lines at area refineries, with some additional speaking engagements at community colleges in the suburbs in the days following.  Details on those appearances to come later.

Gallup poling has revealed for several years now that Americans want other options besides the Democrats and Republicans.

A majority of U.S. adults, 58%, say a third U.S. political party is needed because the Republican and Democratic parties "do such a poor job" representing the American people. These views are little changed from last year's high. Since 2007, a majority has typically called for a third party.

The results are based on Gallup's Sept. 4-7 (2014) Governance poll. The first time the question was asked in 2003, a majority of Americans believed the two major parties were adequately representing the U.S. public, which is the only time this has been the case. Since 2007, a majority has said a third party is needed, with two exceptions occurring in the fall of the 2008 and 2012 presidential election years.

Italicized emphasis at the end of that excerpt is mine, because you may recall that -- among many similar electoral results -- Kenneth Kendrick, the only sane candidate running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 2014, polled as high as 9% in mid-October... but received just under 2% of the vote.

Maybe this is obvious already, but I'll let Sudden Clarity Clarence underscore it.

Wake up and smell the coffee, y'all.  Get yourself out to one of the events above and see if Jill Stein's words and actions are what you've been looking for.  If they do, then follow through on that the next time a presidential election rolls around.

Update (2/23): Stein's itinerary now includes a speaking engagement at Texas A&M in College Station on Tuesday the 24th and a trip to the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday the 25th.  Find all the details -- times, locations, etc. at the calendar posted here.