Thursday, June 18, 2015

Charleston

There just aren't appropriate words.

A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, killing nine people, including the pastor, in an assault authorities described as a hate crime.

The suspect attended the meeting at the church Wednesday night and stayed for nearly an hour before the deadly gunfire erupted, Police Chief Greg Mullen said.

Among the dead are pastor and SC state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.  The gunman spared the life of one woman, saying 'tell everyone what happened here'.  Another little girl survived when her grandmother instructed her to 'play dead'.  Prior to the killings, the shooter allegedly said: "You rape our women and are taking over our country & you have to go."

The scene of the crime, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is the oldest black church in the South.  Dr. Martin Luther King spoke there; it has been at the epicenter of many of the civil rights issues of the times.

Police are releasing surveillance video photos of the assassin and his automobile.  But in contrast to Boston, where the city went on lockdown when the Tsarnaevs were on the loose, nothing like that has happened yet in Charleston.

And that's only the first difference in how the American criminal justice system operates differently for white and black people.  There will be plenty more differences, as we have already seen so many times recently.

Where's that post-racial America Republicans say we live in?  I mean, where is it outside their gated communities, their churches, their clubs.


Update: Dylann Roof, 21, has been captured.  No shots were fired by LEO or the suspect during his apprehension.  Roof's parents gave him a .45 pistol for his birthday two months ago, and he has a police record for drug use and a reputation of racist statements and actions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Texas Monthly's Best and Worst state legislators for 2015

Best (those with which I heartily concur are in bold; links to selected mentions here and elsewhere):

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen; also here)
Rep. César Blanco (D-El Paso)
Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton)
Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler)
Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth)
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio)
Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton)
Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound)
Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston)

Worst:

Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (R-Magnolia)
Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston)
Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston)
Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)
Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso)
Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler)
Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford)
Rep. Molly White (R-Belton)

It's hard to pick a bone with any of these, but I thought Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) should have made the 'Best' list just for his perservering against the likes of most of those on the Worst list.  And I thought Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) had a seriously bad session.  As previously posted, she blew up the craft brewers, dishonored Houston's music legacy, shot down "Mr. Tesla" and not only carried the anti-fracking ban bill but also convinced nearly all Houston Democrats in the Texas House to vote for it.

The feature also includes honorable and dishonorable mentions; Furniture; assessments of Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus; and a look at Representative Charlie Geren, our biennial Bull of the Brazos.

The rest of these may get feted with Texas Monthly's write-ups linked in updates to this post, but are just as likely to get follow-up postings depending on how much they (RG Ratcliffe and Erika Greider at TM) and I have to say.

Keffer, Harless join Straus loyalists going out

The Speaker is going to have a difficult time getting re-elected, and if he does, then another dirty job maintaining discipline in the next legislative session (January 2017).

State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who was one of the earliest supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus, has decided not to seek re-election next year...

First elected in 1996, Keffer is finishing his 10th term in the Texas House. He chairs the Natural Resources Committee and previously led the committees on Energy Resources, Ways and Means, Property Tax Relief and Economic Development.

His departure leaves only three members of the original Polo Road Gang — the 11 Republicans who met privately at state Rep. Byron Cook’s house on Polo Road in Austin before the 2009 legislative session to decide who they would unite behind in the race for speaker of the House. The 2008 elections left the House split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, destabilizing then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s coalition and setting the stage for a change in leadership. The 11 Republicans chose Straus, picked up some other Republicans and a majority of Democrats, and elected him that January.

Now, only Straus, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Cook remain in office.

Greg and Charles and also I have covered some of the bailouts already.  I never thought I would ever say that losing Patty Harless was big.  But it is.  (This is how far right we have moved in Texas over a short period of time.  And 2016 isn't going to slow it down very much.)

Harless said she has become frustrated with infighting among Republicans in the Legislature and hopes to stay involved in GOP politics and campaigns after her term ends at the end of 2016. "I'm just really disappointed in the way the Republicans act in the Texas House," she said. "People need to know that consensus and moderation and working across the aisle is not a bad thing.

"Some Republicans cater to the 4 or 5 percent who vote in the Republican primaries," she said. "That's not who we represent; we represent everybody in our districts."

Harless is one of House Speaker Joe Straus' stalwarts and serves on three powerful House committees: Calendars, State Affairs and Transportation. She said she thought about leaving after her fourth term: "I stayed last time for Straus. I'm leaving this time for me."

Pond scum about to float away aside, the House is going to harden a little, much like the Senate did this year.  That's a bad thing if you're not wealthy, not a white male who owns guns, and especially bad news if you're a woman who wants a choice about whether to give birth or not.   The tie that binds all of these disparate winners and losers here is voting.  Mad-dog Republicans do so and everybody else does not.  Not for lack of trying in some cases.  But far too many who could close the gap, or even the score a bit, simply cannot tear themselves away from 'Real Housewives'.

With Houston municipal elections coming up quickly, we'll see another record low before the high tide comes in 2016, when some of these Lege retirees get replaced.  And we can only hope their replacements aren't too kooky (an early bet I would not take).

Update (barely related): Harold Cook pre-writes the statements of legislators who will be receiving Texas Monthly's "Best" and "Worst" awards, due today.  A post on that announcement will follow here in short order.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Will Houston's mayoral race mimic San Antonio's?

In some ways I expect that it will.

Ivy Taylor, the socially conservative Democrat who received the backing of the Republicans in the runoff, nosed out Leticia Van de Putte, the more liberal of the two but still a pro-business centrist.  As noted last week, both black and white church-going types -- they call themselves Christians, as we know, though they rarely act like such in word and in deed -- decided to make the election about who hews closest to the bible.  Not much about potholes, or pensions, or budgets, or any of the myriad policy questions of the kind that Charles has frequently posed.  There's a country-club set of GOP in San Antonio (River Oaks-ish types here), and there's a far-flung suburban type who will only consider voting for Republicans.  Of the fourteen candidates in the race for Alamo City mayor, there were two Republicans of some prominence running (Tommy Adkisson and Gerald Ponce), neither of whom gained any traction in the general.  The two highest-profile Latino Dems, Van de Putte and her former colleague in the Texas Legislature, Mike Villarreal, split a majority (56.5%) of the turnout in the first round, with Taylor barely edging Villarreal to move into the runoff.  So while VdP led in the general election, and turnout for the runoff was higher (about 16% versus 12%) she was still narrowly defeated, by all indications by Republican and conservative voters.  The lack of an endorsement from the vanquished Villarreal -- his campaign treasurer did endorse Taylor -- could have played a part in VdP's loss.

This mirrors the result from the 2005 race, where Julian Castro lost to Phil Hardberger by precisely the same 51.5% margin that Taylor defeated Van de Putte.

Update:  Democrats were downbeat...

“At the end of the day, we needed 3,000 Democrats to get off their asses and go vote, and they didn’t," said Colin Strother, a Democratic consultant who had worked for the fourth-place finisher in the first round of the race, former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. "And that’s the story of our life in Texas politics, is that Democrats could elect anyone they wanted to any position — statewide, local, you name it — if they would get off the couch and go vote, and they don’t do it.”

... and Republicans were exultant.

"There's no doubt that Ivy has turned the era in San Antonio politics that we haven't seen in my lifetime," said Robert Stovall, chairman of the Bexar County Republican Party. "This is what Republicans are typically so happy to get, which is good leadership and good government. ..."

Weston Martinez, a conservative leader in San Antonio, said Taylor's win was "delivered by the social conservatives, evangelicals, Protestants and Catholics," groups encouraged to see she "doesn't leave her faith at the door when she goes into the mayor's office."

The Democrats voting in Houston -- white, black, brown -- might split over their respective ethnic coalition candidate (Chris Bell, Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia), sending one of those three (whomever is best at turning out his vote in November) into the final round.  That leaves Bill King and Stephen Costello, and to a lesser degree Ben Hall, to fight over whatever percentage of Republican/conservative votes there may be in the first round.

I don't see money being a factor in the Houston race, despite whatever spin gets generated from the reporting of campaign finance fundraising and spending.  The three conservatives can spend any amount they choose; the Democrats, particularly Garcia, will be limited mostly due to the size of their individual wallets.

I still rank Turner at the head of the current field of seven, but the Republican most likely to join him in the runoff at the time of this posting appears to be Bill King, by virtue of his appeal to the angry white conservative caucus.  In a runoff between Turner and King, Turner can prevail, no matter how bitter King tries to make things over bathrooms or street/flooding conditions or any other piss-value issue.  If two Democrats clear the bar and advance to the runoff, all bets are off.  As with San Antonio, one is going to have to run to the right to win, and I can't fathom which that might be.