Saturday, October 3, 2015

These are my responsibilities as precinct judge.

Some highlights from the training.

9am - intro by county commissioner el Franco Lee

9:05am - assistant county attorney Douglas Rae offers his help and catches is up on the status of the voter ID requirement. It has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge, that decision was upheld by the court of appeals. That had been appealed by the state of Texas to the Supreme Court, but the decision was stayed meaning it is still in force. One of seven forms of ID are required. 

- attorney with Stan standarts office walks through the process for voting provisionally if a voter does not have acceptable ID. 

- Sonya. An assistant with stanart's office goes over odds and ends. 

- the size of Harris county requires that it conduct its elections differently than the law allows. The law is designed for smaller counties. 

- by the way, I'm getting paid to be here! Plus breakfast. 

- who cannot be an election judge? List includes office holders and campaign officials. Makes sense. 

- one way I can go to jail: let someone in with campaign material. Class C misdemeanor. Electioneering.

- We must bathe! We must not smell bad! We must dress well! We might end up being on TV!

- the day to pick up election supplies is Halloween. Fitting. She's encouraged us to come in costume. 

- I got a 50 cent raise! I'm going to make $11 an hour. Everyone else gets $9 an hour. That's just how valuable I am. 

- If we do not open at 7am we have failed in our job! Failure is not an option! Great. I can always use additional stress. 

- elected officials cannot walk around the polls. The county clerk and staff can. It's a class c misdemeanor to let an ejected official in the poll. 

- new procedure: we have to call the clerk's office to let them know that we have opened the polls on time (or not).

- poll watchers are allowed, but must have a certificate stating who they are. It's another misdemeanor to get in the way of a poll watcher, but they can't interfere with voters. 

- reviewing acceptable forms of ID. Texas allows fewer than other states. That's why it's been challenged in the city's. Other photo ID requirements have been accepted by the courts. 

- what if the name on the poll book does not match the name on the ID? That's what I'm paid the big bucks to reconcile. 

- is Michael Mouse the same person as Mickey Mouse? Look at the totality of the circumstances. 

- they want us to be kind if someone has gained a lot of weight since they took their ID photo. 

- I may have multiple precincts voting at my poll. Each may have a different list of candidates. That means they get different ballots. 

1030am - new speaker. Michelle! She's talking about provisional ballots. This allows someone to cast a ballot who may not be eligible to vote. Maybe they do not have proper id. A question may exist that needs resolution. Once the issue is resolved the provisional ballot will be accepted if it is resolved favorably this is a pain in the butt. No one likes to do this. I don't like to do this. 

- there's a big form to fill out to do this. 

- the voter has six days to clear up the issue. The process is called curing.

- another way to go to jail: if I let a provisional voter vote regularly. And I'll get in big trouble if I lose the provisional ballot. 

- Sonya is back. Walks over how we can and cannot assist voters. 

- there is a different between an interpreter and an assistant. An assistant had to take an oath. This seems new to me. 

- more ways to go to jail. To allow someone who cannot vote to vote, to not allow an eligible voter to vote. It is a felony to disclose how someone voted.

They threatened to keep us until 1pm, but were done by 11. I just made $33 before taxes! The next meeting will be instructions on how to physically set up the voting booth. Stay tuned.

My morning so far ....

Kevin's most excellent precinct judge adventure

This'll be my fourth stint working the polls and the third as a precinct judge, which means that I'm in charge of the whole thing and if anything goes wrong, I'm the one that goes to jail. I'll be working precinct 20, which covers midtown and downtown. The polling location is an old church on Main Street about four blocks from the Continental Club, if you're familiar with those types of places. 

Since all this fits within the subject of elections, especially the nuts and bolts aspect of it we cover in 2306, I'll drag you along with me so you can see how these things work. I'll back track later and provide details regarding how I was asked to do it again, and the range of my responsibilities as judge, and the many ways I could possibly break the law if I'm not careful. This morning I'm sitting in the gym at the Finnegan Park rec center in Houston's Fifth Ward with a couple hundred of my closest precinct judge friends ready to be trained    - or retrained - in election law. Special attention will be given to recent changed like the ongoing issues with the photo ID requirement. I really don't want to go to jail. 

It's a pretty diverse group this morning. Makes sense, since Houston is pretty diverse as well. Photos and commentary to follow. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

From the Hill: Bill would create ethics code for Supreme Court justices

We brought this up in 2305 Tuesday. The Supreme Court lacks and ethics code - the legislature is about to give it one. Is this constitutional?

- Click here for the story.

As the Supreme Court is gearing up to hear arguments Tuesday in what could be the nation’s most influential case on gay marriage, Democratic lawmakers are calling on the high court to adopt a code of ethics for justices.
The Supreme Court Ethics Act, reintroduced Thursday, would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of the ethics within 180 days. The nine justices are currently exempt from the code of conduct U.S. judges follow to ensure neutrality and transparency in the nation’s courts.
“There is absolutely no reason why Supreme Court Justices shouldn’t be subject to the same code of conduct as all other federal judges,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a news release. “The American people deserve to know that our highest court is held to the highest ethical standards, which is why we introduced the Supreme Court Ethics Act.”
A similar bill was first introduced in 1973. In 2012, 212 legal scholars sent Chief Justice John Roberts a letter urging him to adopt a code of conduct for U.S. judges. To date, more than 130,000 Americans have signed a petition asking Roberts to adopt a code of ethics for the high court.
Because Congress determines how many justices sit on the Supreme Court and what they are paid, lawmakers say creating a code of conduct is part of their purview as well.
"The questionable activities of some of our Supreme Court justices have been well documented — participating in political functions, failing to report family income from political groups, and attending fundraisers,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said in a press release. “It doesn’t make sense that members of the highest court in the land are the only federal judges exempt from the code of conduct.”

- Click here for the Supreme Court Ethics Act.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

Vox is impressed that the Senate might actually pass something substantive. The bill shows that the nation has drastically changed its opinion on criminal justice in the past 20 years.

- Click here for their story.

On Thursday, a group of senators introduced a bill they called "the biggest criminal justice reform in a generation" — an effort that, unlike other bills, actually has a shot at moving through the chamber.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would reduce sentences of some current federal prisoners, and allow future prisoners to get shorter sentences. It's not the first bipartisan criminal justice reform bill to be introduced in Congress, but it's the first one with a clear path to passage in the Senate. That's thanks to an important ally: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he's opposed past criminal justice reform bills — which has been enough to keep them from coming up for a vote in the full Senate. But the growing pressure for reform, both from advocates and within his own party, appears to have convinced him that he needed to do something. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, written by Grassley after months of negotiations with colleagues, is the result.
This means the bill isn't just a compromise between Democrats and Republicans — it's a compromise between criminal justice reformers and at least one prominent skeptic. But reformers hope Grassley's support will be enough to ensure that this bill makes it further than previous efforts have — and even ends up on the president's desk.

From Newsweek: Senate Passes Bill to Fund Government Through December 11

This is becoming a pretty standard part of the budgeting process.

- Click here for the story.
On the eve of the government’s annual budget expiration, Senate passed a continuing resolution to provide temporary funding for the government through December 11. The resolution now makes its way to the House and if it is passed, a government shutdown will be avoided for the time being.
The resolution received 78 “yes” votes out of 100, though it only needed 51 to pass.
This decision comes after Cecile Richards, the leader of Planned Parenthood, testified before Congress on the matter of defunding the healthcare provider. Members of the Republican Party, including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, have sought a government shutdown in order to defund Planned Parenthood after the release of controversial videos by a pro-life activist purporting to expose the illegal practices of the health organization.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, harshly opposed a government shutdown, opting to temporarily fund Planned Parenthood in order to avoid such an outcome.
Congressional Republicans used these brinkmanship tactics in 2013, when Cruz gave a 21-hour marathon speech, opting for a government shutdown in protest of funding the Affordable Care Act. Democrats argued the move produced economic insecurity. With national election campaigning in full force, Republican leadership has been wary of the political dangers of a shutdown.

How to implement campus carry?

We'll have to deal with this soon as well. Here UT struggles with it.

- Click here for the story.
A strong majority of speakers at the University of Texas at Austin’s first campus carry forum on Wednesday night voiced concern about the contentious law that will allow licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns in campus buildings.
But since lawmakers didn’t allow public universities to totally opt out of campus carry – as private schools can – many of those opposed to the proposal focused more on imploring school officials to make classrooms and other specific areas gun-free.
“I’m here to say as emphatically as I possibly can: Guns don’t belong in classrooms,” said Joan Neuberger, a UT-Austin history professor. “Not in the hands of criminals. Not in the hands of responsible gun owners. Not in the hands of CHL holders.” That nuance signals the next phase of the campus carry debate, as UT-Austin and other four-year universities start to get a handle on how they will implement the law in fall 2016.
Public university presidents have the ability to declare parts of campus, but not all of it, off-limits to gun. But it remains an open question of how much discretion the schools have, given that the law says only that the gun-free zones must be “reasonable.”
And town hall meetings – attended at UT-Austin by several dozen students, faculty, staff and graduates – are a critical step that several schools are now taking to gather feedback before making some preliminary recommendations likely by the end of the year.
“We are here to listen,” said Steven Goode, a UT-Austin law professor who’s leading the school’s campus carry working group.
Existing state law allows individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry their firearms onto university grounds. But expanding that right to dorms, classrooms, cafeterias and other public campus buildings was a priority for pro-gun Republicans.
Campus carry ended up joining open carry as the major gun bills passed this year. Though open carry uses existing concealed carry law as its basis, lawmakers made it so licensed Texas still won’t be able to openly carry handguns on campus.

From the Texas Tribune: Amid Lawsuit, Patrick Defends Medicaid Cuts to Therapy

The Lieutenant Governor doubles down.

- Click here for the article.

Amid an ongoing lawsuit over deep cuts that lawmakers made this year to a therapy program for children with disabilities, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday offered a sternly worded defense of the Legislature’s move.
"Anyone claiming the Legislature arbitrarily instructed [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission] to save taxpayers $100 million by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse without consideration of the potential impact on Texas' most vulnerable citizens — is just flat wrong,” Patrick said in a statement.
The comments came after state lawmakers in recent weeks wrote to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor, urging him to use caution when making the cuts included in the lawmakers’ biennial budget. The tone of those letters ranged from politely outraged to cautious, with lawmakers from both parties either urging state officials not to move forward with the cuts, or to at least be sure not to jeopardize children’s access to care when making them.
Patrick reiterated that the cuts passed with bipartisan support and would not endanger access to care and were meant to “make sure no provider or anyone else takes advantage of the families they serve or the taxpayers."

From the Houston Chronicle: Harris County should stop jailing small-time drug offenders

Here's an opinion piece arguing that the Harris County District Attorney should use her discretion to restrict how it implements one of the laws on its books. I offer this since it illustrates a point made in the section on counties in the state. While they are administrative units, the actual administration is done by locally elected officials, which means that it is done in a manner that is in sync with local public opinion - or at least the opinion of people who show up at the polls.

- Click here for it.
While the state of Texas has not yet reformed its drug laws, many local jurisdictions, frustrated with the lack of results from locking up citizens for nonviolent drug offenses, have begun to exercise discretion in their enforcement of drug laws. In the interest of saving valuable taxpayer dollars and conserving scarce law enforcement resources, these jurisdictions have sought out alternatives to jail that allow them to hold drug users accountable without saddling these individuals, many of them young, with a criminal record.
Increase the initiative now
Harris County is one of these places. Faced with an overcrowded jail and a criminal justice budget that will account for more than 75 percent of the county's total general revenue budget in the next fiscal year, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson instituted the First Chance Intervention Program in October of last year. The program allows those arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana with no criminal record to avoid starting one through cognitive classes or community service. However, because the program targets first-time offenders only, its reach is limited. We argue that the full potential for economic and social improvements cannot be realized with the program in its current form.
The initiative has been effective so far. From its rollout through August 2015, more than 1,800 individuals enrolled in the program, with 85 percent of those enrolled completing the program or still actively participating. The program is reaching a diverse audience, with blacks and Hispanics making up over two-thirds of the program's enrollment - a positive sign since arrest numbers show that blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented for all marijuana arrests relative to their populations. Further, the median age of program participants is 20 years, indicating that the program is furnishing opportunities for young people to avoid a lifetime of consequences that come with a drug conviction. So far the evidence shows that the county's initiative is a promising avenue for reducing the collateral costs that accompany a criminal record and the race and age disparities in drug arrests, all while saving taxpayer money.
Won't endanger public
The success of this pilot program should encourage Harris County to expand eligibility to all marijuana offenders, regardless of past drug arrests, as well as to offenders facing felony charges for possession of less than a gram, or a sugar packet's worth, of other controlled substances. The problems associated with misdemeanor marijuana arrests - high costs, racial disparities and collateral consequences - are only exacerbated in the case of felony drug arrests.

From the Dallas Morning News: Texas Senate leaders: $350 million cut to Medicaid therapy is goal, not requirement

For 2306 students mulling over week 6's assignment. The state is trying to argued that the cuts will not limit access to care. Here they make their point.

- Click here for the article.

The Texas Senate’s GOP leaders have told state social services officials that a state budget provision requiring reductions in Medicaid spending on outpatient therapy services sets a dollar amount for a goal.
But that isn’t an absolute requirement, and disabled children’s access always was supposed to be considered, even if it keeps the savings from hitting the goal, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson said publicly on Wednesday.
“There has been a dramatic increase in the cost and utilization of acute care therapy services in the Texas Medicaid program,” the two Republican leaders said in a letter to Chris Traylor, head of the Health and Human Services Commission, which runs the state-federal health program for the poor.
“Costs have increased from roughly $436 million a year to an estimated $722 million from 2009 to 2014,” Patrick and Nelson wrote. “Speech therapists also represent a disproportionately high number of therapy investigations within your Medicaid Provider Integrity Unit. Overall, therapy providers represent 12 percent of the investigations caseload and 14 percent of the legal sanctions caseload.”
Then came the caveat: The provision, known as “Rider 50″ in the commission’s two-year budget, tells the commission to “reform” rate-making for outpatient therapy “to be in line with industry standards,” as well as change any policies that are allowing possible overuse of some services. Two-thirds of the projected two-year savings of $350 million in state and federal funds “should be achieved through rate reductions,” and the rest perhaps “may be achieved through various medical policy initiatives,” the provision says. But the commission should cut rates “while considering stakeholder input and access to care."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

From Politico: How McConnell outfoxed Ted Cruz

There have been several articles recently about how Cruz has been contained in the Senate.

- Click here for this one.

Ted Cruz called out Mitch McConnell seven times by name on Monday night. Afterward, the Senate majority leader barely uttered a word about his chief Republican adversary.
Asked about Cruz’s diatribe on the Senate floor, during which the Texas Republican suggested McConnell is a puppet for Democratic leaders and a foe of conservatives, McConnell couldn’t conceal his smile on Tuesday.
“I have tried very hard to stay out of the presidential race, and I think that’s probably a good rule for me,” he said with a chuckle.
McConnell may not like to talk about Cruz, but he and his leadership lieutenants have quietly and methodically worked to isolate the conservative senator and minimize his effect on the critical fall spending debate. The end result, in spite of Cruz’s invective toward Republican leaders, is music to McConnell’s ears: no government shutdown.
“We had to be prepared,” said John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “He’s running for national office. He’s got a different endgame than we do. There are things we have to do here. We’ve got to fund the government every year.”

From the Economist: Regicidal Republicans - The party faithful are keen to decapitate politicians with experience of politics

The author tries to put his finger on what's motivating the Republican base (or the Tea Party wing anyway) to take out their leaders. The insurrection against Boehner - and current one against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - are the latest examples.

This is the latest on an emerging theme - the "experts" have no idea what's going on right now.

- Click here for the article.

The concluding paragraph:

Republican primary voters are not in a revolutionary mood, then, but a regicidal one. They think their rulers are corrupt, inept and mendacious, if not actually treasonous. But they are at the same time ready to swoon before new rulers promising to fix America in an instant. The key credential required to earn that trust is a lack of experience. Will those outsiders disappoint their followers in their turn, triggering a still deeper loss of public trust? Probably. This is going to be a bumpy year.

Here's the secret to Boehner's success - as it were.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is one of the strongest campaign fundraisers in his conference, but he still can't hold a candle to outgoing SpeakerJohn A. Boehner, say Republicans mulling McCarthy as Boehner's successor.
Boehner’s fundraising operation was so extensive and successful — he donated tens of millions to his colleagues and candidates via multiple campaign committees and PACs — that his departure will leave a massive hole in Republican Party and GOP candidate coffers.
McCarthy is a Boehner protégé who has emulated the speaker’s fundraising practices — something that gives him a huge leg up in the contest to replace Boehner.
The only other House Republican considered in McCarthy’s league as a political money rainmaker is House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate who chairs a fundraising arm of the Republican National Committee known as the Presidential Trust. Ryan has taken himself out of the running for the speakership.
McCarthy has netted $13.1 million for his campaign committee and his personal leadership PAC since the beginning of 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks political money. In the 2014 election cycle, a lucrative McCarthy joint fundraising committee known as the McCarthy Victory Fund pulled in $4.2 million.
But in that same election cycle, Boehner’s joint fundraising committee netted eight times that amount, with $35.4 million in receipts for the 2014 midterms alone. The Boehner for Speaker joint fundraising committee — a type of campaign account that raises large contributions and divvies them up amongst smaller committees — collected more than $71 million during Boehner’s tenure as speaker, CRP data show.
“The political operation that Speaker Boehner put together, I think, is unmatched, unparalleled,” said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. “He just raises a phenomenally large sum of money for members of the House and for candidates, and it remains to be seen what the future of the organization will be.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From The Texas Legislative Council: Analyses of Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Let's start talking about the proposed amendments in class.

- Click here for the document.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Dancing With Those Who Brung Ya

Here's a great comparison between what it takes to be a good Speaker of the House in the Texas Legislature as opposed to the U.S. Congress - especially if you have a divided majority. Straus was better able to control the Tea Party than Boehner.

- Click here for it.
Splitting the majority party in the House of Representatives leaves a potential speaker with two routes to the top. Lawmakers did it one way in Texas and another way in Washington, D.C. Right now, the Texas way seems to function better. In the Texas House, Joe Straus, a Republican, built a ruling coalition that included the Democrats and limited the power of the Tea Party Republicans. In the U.S. House, John Boehner, also a Republican, made his coalition out of the Republicans alone, shutting out the Democrats and empowering the Tea Party conservatives.
The 2010 elections were a turning point for both leaders. That election gave Republicans a majority in the U.S. House and Boehner, until then the minority leader, became speaker. Two years earlier, Straus ascended to the speakership by banding fewer than two dozen Republicans with most of the Democrats in an almost evenly divided House.
After the 2010 elections, he could have ditched the Democrats and relied on a large Republican majority to stay in office — that’s what Boehner did — but he stuck with one of the oldest rules in politics: Dance with who brung ya.
Boehner’s coalition has been the much more volatile of the two. U.S. House Democrats are largely shut out — the decisions are made in the Republican Conference, which then attempts to stick together as a ruling bloc. The strength of the most vocal conservatives is increased in the conference.
The Straus coalition, while still conservative, frustrates the loudest and most doctrinaire of the Republicans, giving the Democrats some power and shutting out the far right. Those movement conservatives are just as rambunctious as their federal cousins, but they’re outsiders instead of insiders.
It’s not a perfect comparison. Straus operates in a government with 100 percent Republican leadership. Boehner has to deal with a Democrat in the White House. But Straus has had a longer tenure and had more legislative success than his federal counterpart, in part because he has had more success managing his potential antagonists.

For a bit more on the topic: Analysis: The Hard Way to Win a Speaker's Race.

More about those cuts to reimbursements for child therapy

This the subject of week 6's 2306 written assignment and I posted on it previously.

- Click here for it.

Remember that I want some consideration of how this case illustrates the checks and balances in Texas. Here are a variety of links that I'll add to as I find more.

- Official Website: The Honorable Tim Sulak.
- BallotPedia: Tim Sulak.
- Texas Tribune: State Didn't Study Budget Cuts for Children's Therapy.
- Tribpedia: Health and Human Services Commission.
- Official Website: Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

This appears to be a website devoted to the topic:

- My Therapy Rehab.

About the race to replace Boehner

A second option for this week's written assignment for GOVT 2305 is to look at the impact the resignation of John Boehner - who became speaker because he was the leader of the House Republicans. His resignation from Congress was also his resignation from that leadership position. Some background might be in order - the section on parties and committees in Congress covers this as well.

For a look at whose who in party leadership and in what the House Republican Conference is, click here:

- Wikipedia: Party Leaders in the United States house of Representatives.
- House: Leadership.
- Wikipedia: House Republican Conference.
- House: House Republicans.

Here is, roughly, a rank ordering of leaders in the House Majority

1 - The Speaker of the House
2 - The Majority Leader (Kevin McCarthy)
3 - The Majority Whip (Steve Scalise)
4 - Republican Conference Chairman (Cathy McMorris Rodgers)
5 - Republican Policy Committee Chairman. (Luke Messer)
6 - The National Republican Congressional Committee. (Greg Walden)

Now that the top has been - or is about to be - vacated, there will be a struggle to move up. The question will be whether this will be a smooth process where people go up a notch, or whether there will be a power struggle, especially among those members of the more conservative wing of the party who want to increase their influence over policy.

Here are some random readings about what's up as of now - as of tomorrow all this will be dated.

- Politico: Resignation triggers all-out leadership scramble.
- NYT: Candidates in Play for Republican Leadership.
- Politico: Paul Ryan endorses Tom Price over Steve Scalise for House majority leader.
- Huffington Post: Months After White Supremacy Scandal, Steve Scalise May Become House Majority Leader.
- CNN: Majority leader race: Price gets support, McMorris Rodgers declines bid.
- Politico: McMorris Rodgers urges GOP to pull together.
- IndyStar: Tully: GOP ‘Hail Marys’ aren’t enough, Rep. Messer says.
- Roll Call: Leadership Roundup: Scalise Is in; New Talk of a Trey Gowdy Bid.

Monday, September 28, 2015

From the Washington Post: 5 reasons why being Speaker of the House ain’t what it used to be

The rules in Congress have changed dramatically in recent years, so it might be unfair to compare Speaker Boehner with his predecessors. The author argues that the institutional powers that allowed previous speakers to control the House don't exist anymore.

- Click here for the article.

Here's a list of what's changed:

1. Earmarking ban.
2. Politics/ideology trumps loyalty. 
3. More paths to power.
4. The weakening of political parties.
5. Job uncertainty.

From the Intercept: Lobbyists Mourn House Speaker John Boehner's Departure

Not everyone is happy to see Boehner go:

- Click here for the article.

House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation on Friday was reason to celebrate for members of his own caucus who often complained that he let corporate lobbyists exercise undue influence over Congress.
But for lobbyists, Boehner’s announcement was a reason to mourn.
“We are grateful for Speaker Boehner’s leadership in so many areas,” saidChip
Bowling, the chief lobbyist for the corn growers industry. “Speaker Boehner’s departure will leave a hole, to be sure,” said John Engler, a lobbyist who represents the chief executive officers of major American corporations.
Other lobbyists used social media to express grief and salute Boehner’s tenure as Speaker of the House.
. . . Lobbyists enjoy access to establishment politicians of both major parties. But Boehner leaves behind a career that is marked by a particularly extreme coziness with K Street.
He was once caught handing out tobacco industry campaign checks on the House floor before a vote on tobacco legislation.
In 2009, Boehner slowed down House proceedings to allegedly attend the “Boehner Beach Party,” an annual event hosted by lobbyists. Before he became Speaker, Boehner served as the House GOP contact for regular meetings with lobbyists and convened a weekly meeting with lobbyists called the “Thursday Group.”
And for a period of time, Boehner rented a Capitol Hill apartment from a lobbyist.
As he raised millions from corporate political action committees, Boehner encouraged lobbyists to have a direct influence over the policy process. Under Speaker Boehner, the reverse revolving door became a blur, with more and more corporate lobbyists hired to manage the day-to-day business of key congressional committees and to serve as senior staff.
Boehner at one point called on bank lobbyists to be more aggressive when dealing with congressional staff, declaring: “Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you.”

This makes you think he'll land on his feet.

Was this the greatest Speaker of the US House?

Henry Clay-headshot.jpg

Meet Henry Clay.

Do not even think about comparing him to the Grinch.

How good a speaker was John Boehner?

I've yet to make up my mind, but a simple search turns up a lot of articles claiming he was pretty bad. If you are one of my 2305 students and you want to take that option, read through a few. Democrats wont say much nice about him, and neither will more conservative elements of the House Republican Conference, but that's likely more a function of their policy preferences rather than how Boehner was able to manage the institution itself.

I'll add more viewpoints soon - but here's a start:

- Freedom Works: Boehner's Ten Worst Moments as Speaker.
- Forward Progressives: John Boehner Will Go Down As One of the Worst House Speakers in History.
- The Week: How one Tea Partier learned to love John Boehner.
- NYT: Boehner, American Hero.
- The New Yorker: The Pointless Cowardice of John Boehner.
- Fox: Give Boehner a break: GOP Speaker brings real leadership to 114th Congress.
- Fox: Boehner resigns: The one thing you must understand about the Speaker's decision.

I'll add more - it'll be helpful to gather an objective list of the pros and cons of his speakership before making a judgement. In case you are interested, here is a completely unreliable ranking of the top 25 speakers in American history.

- The top 25 from Rankopedia.

It has Henry Clay at the top of the list, he's worth a look.

Week 6's written assignments

In case you haven't checked them out yet, here they are:


Here's a last minute change in topic - last week John Boehner, the Speaker of the House announced that he was not only resigning as speaker, but from Congress in general. I posted a few things recently about insurrections against him among Republicans in the House - he was hardly conservative enough for them. Nevertheless he had his proponents.

I want you to read up a bit on the fallout from the resignation and address one of the following:

1 - How effective a speaker was he? Where might he rank among past speakers?2 - Who is likely to replace him? How will this shakeup affect the power structure among Republicans in the House?3 - What impact is this likely to have on the performance of the 114th Congress? Think especially of the small range of issues that are now on the front burner: for example, passing appropriations bills.

I'll post a few items on the blog to help you find a few things - but do what you can on your own. Just select one of these.
150 words at a minimum as always.


I've posted a few items related to recent efforts by interest groups to use the Texas courts to undo cuts to mental health care spending made by the legislature to programs for poor and disadvantaged children.

- Click here for a recent article.

Since this story touches on the nature of checks and balances in the state - and since that was a topic we've touched on recently in class - I want you to read up on the issue and describe it fully. Look at what each of the different branches of government are doing regarding the cuts and detail how each is impacting - if not negating - what the others are doing.

Be as descriptive as you can - I'll post a few more article on this subject on the blog.
150 words at a bare minimum.

From Politico: Supreme Court may hear Texas abortion case

Something for 2305 students as the quizzes for the judiciary open up today - and the Supreme Court convenes next week.

For 2306 students, another area of conflict between Texas and the national government.

- Click here for the story.

Supreme Court justices will meet behind closed doors Monday to start the process of deciding which cases to take up this term, with all eyes on a challenge to a Texas abortion law that could roil the presidential race just months before voters go to the polls.
The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, centers on a series of far-reaching restrictions on Texas abortion providers and clinics, which led to the closure of about half of the state’s abortion facilities. It promises to be the most significant abortion case in at least two decades, and could inject divisive social issues into the presidential race at a key moment.
If the justices hear the case after their term officially begins Oct. 5, they are expected to focus on two of the most significant restrictions in the Texas law — that abortion providers must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that abortions be performed in facilities that meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Many other states — mostly red states where opposition to abortion is strong — have also imposed such restrictions.
Supporters say such laws ensure that women terminating pregnancies will get safe, quality care. But abortion rights advocates say that the regulations are unnecessarily onerous, often forcing clinic closures and that they are designed to restrict abortion, not make it safer.

Friday, September 25, 2015

John Boehner announces plans to resign from Congress at the end of October

In 2305 we discussed internal attempts within the House Republican Conference to remove him as Speaker. He wasn't conservative enough according to some of its members. He's done them - apparently - a favor by stepping down.

Here's some detail:

- Roll Call: Boehner Stuns Colleagues With Resignation Announcement.
- 538: John Boehner Had A Good Run.
- Vox: Speaker John Boehner to resign from Congress.
- Roll Call: Potential Successors to Boehner in Ohio.
- Roll Call: K Street Crushed, Conservatives Elated over Boehner Departure.
- The Hill: McCarthy seen as favorite to succeed Boehner.

From Vox: Political scientists think "the party" will stop Trump. They shouldn't be so sure.

The author takes on the "party decides" theory of candidate selection.

- Click here for the article.

So far the normal rules do not apply - at least on the Republican side - but maybe among Democrats also.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

About those joint meetings of Congress

One happened today - Pope Francis spoke before Congress for about an hour. He's the fourth foreign leader to speak before a joint meeting of Congress - since he's the head of Vatican City he's considered to be both a religious and political leader.

The House website provides background:

- Foreign Leaders & Dignitaries Who Have Addressed the U.S. Congress.

And - of course - Wikipedia has a list of all joint meeting and sessions of Congress since day one.

- Click here for it.

As well as information about the event.

- Click here for that.

So this happened today in Congress . . .

For past posts related to the 2016 budget . . .

. . . click here.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: When "We" Doesn't Include You

Here's a look at the close relationships that can develop between regulatory agencies and the indistriy they seek to regulate.

In this case it id the Texas Railroad Commission and the oil and gas industry.

- Click here for the story.
What happens when an elected official says “we” is that we think they’re talking about us — the people who elected them. Sometimes, that’s right. In fact, it’s right most of the time.
Not at the Texas Railroad Commission. It’s a three-person state commission elected by Texas voters and seemingly owned and operated by the oil and gas industry it regulates. Go hear one of their speeches at an industry conference sometime and listen for this: Do they call it “your industry” when talking to oil and gas people, or do they call it “our industry.” A recent sampling suggests the latter.
The latest chapter in the remarkably consistent history of the Railroad Commission is about a letter from Chairman David Porter to the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC is suffering from a case of regulatory constipation, as reported by The Texas Tribune’s Jim Malewitz, that is blocking some oil and gas companies from getting their hands on some wireless frequencies that would help them monitor their pipelines.
The companies want the FCC to free the frequencies, which are licensed to an unrelated outfit that has encountered bankruptcy and other legal challenges. One of them wrote a letter and got Porter to put it on Railroad Commission of Texas letterhead and sign it himself. This is all documented in emails, which are surely the greatest thing ever invented for lawyers and others who want to piece a story together after the fact.
Porter’s chief of staff, Caleb Troxclair, traded messages last month with Justin Stegall, a Houston intermediary for Enbridge, one of the companies hoping to get its hands on those wireless frequencies. The company’s Washington, D.C., lawyers drafted a letter that he forwarded to Porter’s office with some suggestions about adding some language of their own.
Troxclair wrote back a couple of days later, saying Porter had agreed to send it. Two days later, he sent along a version on state letterhead that was added to the FCC’s files by the lawyers in Washington.
None of this cost taxpayers much money. There was a little staff time involved, but it’s not like anyone on the state payroll had to write his or her own letter or anything.

For 2305 today

Another hodge-podge related to the 2016 campaign:

- An Embarrassment of Riches. The author looks at the consequences of the increased amount of money spend on the campaign - especially on Republicans - and wonders if it has led to fragmentation and a further weakening of party organizations. He suggests, ironically, that increased spending on the Republican side might actually benefit Democrats.

- The GOP Is Killing Itself. This was written by a Republican commentator - Peter Wehner - who is concerned about how the party is being impacted by the "outsider" candidates, especially Trump and Carson, who may be positioning the party too far outside the mainstream to win general elections.

- Why Republicans are starting to panic, in 1 paragraph. The author provides comment on the article listed above. Here is the paragraph from it he refers to:

The message being sent to voters is this: The Republican Party is led by people who are profoundly uncomfortable with the changing (and inevitable) demographic nature of our nation. The GOP is longing to return to the past and is fearful of the future. It is a party that is characterized by resentments and grievances, by distress and dismay, by the belief that America is irredeemably corrupt and past the point of no return. “The American dream is dead,” in the emphatic words of Mr. Trump.

He provides data that shows that the Republican Party is increasingly becoming the "white" party just about the time that the share of the electorate that is Anglo is declining. He joins the previous author - along with many other commentators - in wondering how the party can win national elections as a result.

Walker's campaign manager unloads. Here's a great opportunity to look - after the fact - at the operations inside a presidential campaign - a failed one to be sure, but those are just as good as the successful ones for a look at how elections are won and lost. The campaign manager was a man named Rick Wiley - click here for info on him.

Here's a juicy part of the story - due to poor performance on the national state, funds just dried up:

By Wiley’s telling, the end came fast. “June and July, up through that first debate, were good, fundraising-wise — really good,” he said. "Hitting your numbers. And we thought maybe we could even project [that] outward, like tick our numbers up a little bit. And then the [Aug. 6] Cleveland debate happened. ... The press corps wrote that he didn't help himself but didn't hurt himself. But the didn't-help-himself narrative took over. And fundraising started to go down.”
The problems snowballed, all self-inflicted. “The week after the debate, our events fell a little bit flat,” Wiley said. “And so then we roll into the Iowa State Fair, and the ‘birthright citizenship’ [gaffe] came up. And that was another one where the donors were like, ‘What's going on over there?’”
After five weeks, it was clear: Madison, we have a problem. “It culminated with a trip through Texas, the three days leading up to Labor Day weekend, where ... we're supposed to raise half a mil and we brought in $184K,” Wiley said. “That, coupled with we were in the mail with [a] mailing to our donors, and that was the first time that [an internal] file had lost money. ... So, at that point, we can say, ‘OK, we have a huge revenue problem.’”

- What Happens To All That SuperPAC Money When A Candidate Drops Out? Apparently there is no law stating what must happen to it, but the money that went to the SuperPACs that backed Rick Perry has gone back to the donors.

- Scott Walker, Rick Perry show limits of super PACs: Turns out, billionaires can’t buy the White House. Perhaps all that concerns over SuperPACs and the influence of money on the presidential campaign were overstated.

His [Scott Walker's] withdrawal from the GOP primary ― like that of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry earlier this month ― highlights the limitations of the new strain of megadonor-subsidized presidential politics. Big-money outside groups devoted to the two failed candidates combined to raise more than $43 million through the end of June. But when they began looking for ways to spend the bounty to boost their respective candidates’ flagging poll numbers, their efforts were complicated by tricky election laws, quirky debate qualification rules and the unpredictable rise of Donald Trump as the GOP primary leader.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

From the Texas Tribune: Judge Temporarily Halts Cuts to Children's Therapy

Checking and balancing in Texas. Notice the reference to ambiguous language in the state budget.

- Click here for the story.

Deep cuts to a therapy program for poor and disabled children will not take effect Oct. 1, a state district judge ruled Tuesday afternoon — the second such delay in recent weeks.
“Procedurally I'm not making a determination that these acts are valid or invalid,” said State District Judge Tim Sulak in his announcement that he would grant a temporary injunction to prevent the state from slashing payments to therapists. But he said he made his ruling in part because he’d been convinced the cuts could jeopardize the health of children receiving the therapy services.
It marked the first decision in a series of legal challenges filed by therapy providers and families of children with disabilities, who seek to prove that by slashing payments to therapists, the state will cause as many as 60,000 children to lose access to those services. The idea is that the low pay will force providers to drop out of the program.
State lawmakers this year ordered the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to reduce funding for therapy services by roughly $350 million in state and federal funds over two years. Those savings would primarily come from reductions in the rates paid to therapists by Medicaid, the public insurance program for the poor and disabled — in some cases by about 20 or 25 percent.
But that seemingly simple goal to reduce payments has been complicated by some ambiguous language in the state budget, which directs the health commission to consider “access to care” when applying the cuts. Families of children who need the services say the speech, physical and occupational therapy covered by Medicaid can be life-saving — by helping kids learn to nurse, walk and speak, for example — and that the state is poised to limit access by forcing providers to drop out of the program.

From the Atlantic: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet.

A nice concise description of who is running, why, who supports them and whether they can win.

- Click here for it.

I offer this in case you are still hunting around for a paper topic - 2305 students. Here's an example of what you'll find:

Jeb Bush
Who is he? The brother and son of presidents, he served two terms as governor of Florida, from 1999 to 2007.
Is he running? Yes, as of June 15.
Who wants him to run? Establishment Republicans;George W. Bush; major Wall Street donors.
Can he win the nomination? Soon after Bush entered the race, predictions of a Bush-Clinton rematch of 1992 were common. Now, it’s hard to say. Clinton has stumbled, and so has Bush. He now lags well behind Trump, and has hit some fundraising turbulence (ironically caused, it seems, by his early prowess). Trump continues to treat Bush as his main rival, saving his most vicious attacks for Bush. There’s an amorphous expectation that once Trump’s bubble bursts, Bush will regain some altitude. But no one knows exactly how that would work, or how it will happen. Bush remains more moderate than much of the Republican primary electorate (especially on immigration—as the Trump boom has highlighted), his name remains a double-edged sword, and he just doesn’t look all that comfortable or joyous on the trail.

A look inside Walker's campaign

This helps explain what went wrong for a candidate some had high hopes for.

- From Politico: The emergency meeting that led Walker to quit: The governor left his closest supporters in the dark, even his biggest financial backers.

It’s almost always bad news when a candidate’s spouse calls an emergency meeting.
But that’s what happened late last week when Scott Walker’s wife, Tonette, and his campaign chairman, Mike Grebe, reached out to a small number of longtime Walker aides and summoned them to the governor’s mansion on Monday morning.
The topic was obvious: the future of Walker’s struggling presidential campaign.
Walker had just limped out of a disappointing second presidential debate. The governor had spent weeks preparing for the showdown, knowing his political life depended on it. He’d practiced giving punchier answers and making sure to use up all his allotted time.
But the reviews had been brutal. Donors were grousing, and money was drying up. It was a painful turn for Walker, who had quickly vaulted to the top of the Iowa polls, powered by a fiery January speech in Des Moines, only to drop precipitously in the summer amid Donald Trump’s rise. He had gone from front-runner to also-ran in a matter of months.
So on Monday morning, the group of advisers — including veteran Walker hands John Hiller, Bill Eisner, Ed Goeas, and Jim Villa — huddled with Scott and Tonette Walker. The top of the agenda, according to campaign sources: polling and fundraising. And the numbers were bad.
Shortly after the meeting wrapped, Walker arrived at his decision: He was out. It was a shocking and sudden move that blindsided many of Walker’s closest allies, threw the power of super PACs into doubt and opened opportunities for rivals to pick up patrons, staff, and supporters.

From the Washington Post: Political parties go after million-dollar donors in wake of looser rules

More on the current state of money in the 2016 campaign. Parties are trying to catch up with SuperPACs.

- Click here for the story
The national political parties are urging wealthy backers to give them 10 times more money than was allowed in the last presidential election, taking advantage of looser restrictions to pursue ­million-dollar donors with zeal.
Under the new plans, which have not been disclosed publicly, the top donation tier for the Republican National Committee has soared to $1.34 million per couple this election cycle. Democratic contributors, meanwhile, are being hit up for even more — about $1.6 million per couple — to support the party’s convention and a separate joint fundraising effort between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.
In return, elite donors are being promised perks such as exclusive retreats with top party leaders, VIP treatment at the nominating conventions and special dinners organized by contribution rank at this month’s RNC finance committee gala.
The new donor packages mark the latest major erosion of campaign finance limits and are reminiscent of the 1990s, when the parties were flush with huge “soft money” contributions from rich backers and corporations. The new push also further elevates the uber-wealthy at a time when independent big-money groups known as super PACs are dominating the 2016 presidential race.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From the Hill: GOP wants budget talks with Obama — not Pelosi and Reid

- Click here for the article.

Republicans want President Obama as a negotiating partner when it comes to budget talks, something Democrats are determined to avoid. With a little more than a week to prevent a government shutdown, the GOP thinks the talks should be between them and Obama since they now have control of the House and Senate.
Losing the Senate in last year’s midterm elections should force Obama to deal with them, they say. Democrats, however, are determined to keep a seat at the table — in part because they think they’ll drive a tougher bargain than Obama, whose past efforts to make deals with Republicans unnerves Capitol Hill liberals.
In this case, Obama seems likely to go along with congressional Democrats — especially after bruising fights over trade policy and the Iran nuclear deal. But Democrats are leaving nothing to chance.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Obama at the White House on Thursday. At the end of the meeting, Pelosi and Reid spoke to reporters and said all agreed on their strategy moving forward. And on Monday, the White House stated its desire for Republicans to negotiate with congressional Democrats.

Scott Walker bows out of presidential race

He joins Rick Perry on the sidelines.

For analysis:

National Journal: 5 Takeaways From Scott Walker’s Withdrawal.
National Journal: Scott Walker’s Tragedy of Timing.

In Congress right now

From the Hill:

- Senate Democrats block 20-week abortion ban in 54-42 vote.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The measure failed to advance in a 54-42 vote, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed.
Democratic Sens. Robert Casey, Jr. (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who all oppose abortion rights, joined Republicans in voting to advance the bill. Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Ill.), who support abortion rights, voted against it.
The vote comes amid a roiling debate over Planned Parenthood funding that could lead to a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Republican leaders are hoping the vote on the 20-week abortion ban, which comes the same day that Pope Francis arrives in Washington, will help give members a chance to register their anti-abortion views without running the risk of a government shutdown.
The measure would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. The ban after 20 weeks is based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain at that point in its development, something that remains a matter of fierce debate.

Click here for detail on H.R.36 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

From the Bureau of Land Management: The Manual of Surveying Instructions

I was surfing around looking for info to add to the stories about the Texas General Land Office and came across the following sentence in the TSHA's page on the office:

Texas is the only public-land state with complete control over its public lands and over the proceeds resulting from the administration and sale of lands.

I was curious about what the the term public land state referred to and the following link to the Bureau of Land Management's manual of surveying instructions popped up.

- Click here for it.

It doesn't mention Texas, but it does provide thumbnail info about how the lands for 30 state were acquired and where the official records related to the land acquisition are held. Here are a few samples related to Texas:

Colorado. Acquired largely under the Louisiana Purchase in 1808, but including additional land, title to which was quieted through treaty with Spain, in 1819, with other lands annexed with Texas in 1845, and lands ceded by Mexico in 1848; admitted into the Union August 1, 1876 (18 Stat. 474; 19 Stat. 665); records in the State Office of the Bureau of Land Management in Denver.

New Mexico. Included in the lands annexed with Texas in 1845, with lands ceded by Mexico in 1848, and the Gadsden Purchase in 1853; admitted into the Union January 6, 1912 (36 Stat. 557, 37 Stat. 1723); records in the State Office of the Bureau of Land Management at Santa Fe.
Wyoming. Included with lands acquired under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, with lands annexed with Texas in 1845, with lands included in the Oregon Territory, title to which was established in 1846, and with lands ceded by Mexico in 1848; admitted into the Union July 10, 1890 (26 Stat. 222); records in the State Office of the Bureau of Land Management at Cheyenne.

For a link to the entire document click here.

For the Bureau of Land Management click here.

And here's the BLM's Wikipedia Page.

In a previous post I pointed out that the national government owns all of the land in red below:

From the previous Land Commissioner: Reform the Land Office" Give it a reboot? Really?

Time to break out the popcorn.

Jerry Patterson, the man who George P. Bush replaced as land commissioner, takes issue with Bush's moves and claims about how he ran the agency. It worth a read.

- Click here for the article.

What is the General Land Office?

The previous story mentioned the office, so here's background on it. As with other aspects of Texas' political and governing history, we can begin with info from the Texas State Historical Association.

- TSHA: General Land Office.

The General Land Office was established on December 22, 1836, by the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. John P. Borden, the first commissioner, opened the office in Houston on October 1, 1837. He was enjoined by law to "superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas." The Constitution of the Republic of Texas honored all grants made by Spain and Mexico that were deemed valid by the republic; later, the state followed suit. The commissioner assembled from the archives of the former governments a record of valid land grants and translated them. The Spanish archives section of the Land Office is the depository of records of 4,200 Spanish and Mexican land grants. Valid Spanish and Mexican grants cover 26,280,000 acres within the present boundaries of Texas. Some of these grants have received special confirmation by the state legislature, but most of them stand on the original titles from the governments of Spain and Mexico. Borden moved the land archives from Houston to Austin in 1839.

Here's some neat trivia. The first commissioner was the brother of Gail Borden - who later invented a process for condensing milk. Perhaps you drink his milk today. John and Gail were both surveyors and helped lay out both Galveston and Houston. A useful skill if one is to be land commissioner.

For more info and related topics:

- TGLO: History of the Texas General Land Office.
- TGLO: History and Archives.
- TSHA: Land Appropriations for Education.
- TSHA: Tidelands Controversy.
- TSHA: Veteran's Land Board Scandal.

The Texas Fiscal Siz-Up also contains an overview of the TGLO. You can find it by clicking below and looking through pages 431-439.

- Click here for the link.

The head of the General Land Office faces criticism over staff turnover

The new land commissioner - a member of Texas' plural executive - has been criticized for job performance since he took office earlier this year. This adds to the list. The Austin American-Statesmen sets the story up.

- George P. Bush trims more than 100 jobs from Texas land office.

At least 111 state workers have been fired, retired or have quit the Texas General Land Office — about 17 percent of the agency’s workforce — under the leadership of George P. Bush, whose so-called reboot has drawn criticism from his predecessor, who says the agency is suffering under “a purge.”
Bush, who was elected last November to his first public office, said this week that he’s fulfilling his campaign promise to make theGeneral Land Office more efficient.
“I campaigned as a fiscal conservative with proven experience in the private sector seeking to make government more efficient and responsive,” he told the American-Statesman, adding he’s taking a “surgical approach to reforming the agency.”
. . . But Dennis Ku, a former manager in the office’s disaster recovery unit, said many employees were shocked when they were told they no longer had jobs before being escorted out of the building by security.
. . . Ku said he’s worried the agency will languish because “they’ve gotten rid of the kind of institutional knowledge that’s been there a long time.” “If you look at who the leadership is at the GLO now, they’re mostly under 40,” Ku said. “They’re more enamored with Twitter and that stuff than actually doing a good job of running the agency.”
The San Antonio Express-News points out that the new hires are connected to the new commissioner's family and political supporters:

Bush runs Land Office with campaigners, family friends.

Less than a year after being elected to lead the oldest state agency in Texas, Land Commissioner George P. Bush has dramatically remade the General Land Office by ousting a majority of its longtime leaders and replacing many of them with people with ties to his campaign and family.
Eleven of the top 18 officials on the agency’s organizational chart a year ago have been fired, forced out or quit, and more could leave soon under an ongoing overhaul that Bush has described as a “reboot.”
In their place, Bush has given top jobs to two of his law school classmates, two relatives of members of two Bush presidential administrations and at least three other people with ties to the family or other political leaders.
In all, Bush has hired at least 29 people who worked on his campaign or have political connections, according to a review of personnel records. The agency did not advertise any of the openings publicly.
State law requires all agencies considering external candidates for a job to post the opening with the Texas Workforce Commission. Newly elected statewide officials often ignore the requirement for some core positions — Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller already have been publicly criticized for it this year — but Bush’s hiring differs because of how far-reaching it has been, with the hires ranging from a temporary transition director to five campaign veterans hired permanently for the new position of “regional outreach coordinator.”

Houston Chronicle: Active role in father's campaign taking George P. Bush away from day job.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has been out of the state or otherwise off of work nearly half of the time since his father entered the GOP race for president, records show, raising questions about whether the scion is fulfilling his pledge to remain focused on his first elected office.
Personal time - both related to the presidential race and for other reasons - took the commissioner away for the equivalent of 23 of the first 50 work days after father Jeb Bush announced his bid on June 15, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of records obtained under the Public Information Act. The total includes 15 full days off and dozens of smaller chunks of time off on other work days that add up to eight more days.
It is impossible to tell exactly how much of the time off was spent campaigning, because the commissioner's official calendar does not say what he did in those hours. Social media posts indicate he spent a significant amount of it on the trail, however, speaking at his father's announcement in Florida, publicly stumping for him in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, headlining a fundraiser in Texas and attending a campaign staff retreat in Maine.

The  Texas Tribune: Bush: Time Spent on Father's Campaign "Nominal"

Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Sunday night rejected the suggestion that his involvement in his father's presidential campaign has significantly cut into his official duties, saying the amount of time he has spent stumping for his dad has been "nominal."

In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Bush echoed his office's aggressive pushback throughout the day on a Houston Chronicle story that concluded he "has been out of the state or otherwise off of work nearly half of the time since his father entered the GOP race for president." The newspaper reported that Bush was away for the equivalent of 23 of the first 50 workdays after his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, launched his 2016 campaign.
"I'm extremely disappointed by the findings," Bush said. "The evidence will strongly show that I've put my heart and soul into this position."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Government Disservice: Overcoming Washington Dysfunction to Improve Congressional Stewardship of the Executive Branch

The Partnership for Public Service analyzes the various ways that government can become dysfunctional and offers solutions for them.

- Click here for the report.

Bullet point items can be found on pages 2 and 3.

From the Texas Tribune: Lawyers, Scientists Try to Unravel Thorny New DNA Standard

We chewed on this story on 2306 today. Criminal justice reform has been topical in Texas for most of the year.

- Click here for the article.
Texas prosecutors left a meeting Friday without the precise roadmap they were looking for when it comes to navigating the more conservative DNA standards used by crime labs in Texas and nationwide.
But they didn't leave the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences empty-handed, they said. “It would have been nice to see more answers," Inger Chandler, chief of the conviction integrity unit in the Harris County district attorney's office. "As lawyers, we tend to see things in black and white, and we're learning there's a lot of gray."
Chandler was one of many prosecutors who attended a Texas Forensic Science Commission meeting on how past and future cases could be affected by a new standard in analyzing data involving "mixed DNA." That type of DNA refers to when more than one person's DNA is found on evidence.
While there's no proof that the new standard — adopted by the Texas Department of Public Safety crime labs and other labs used by DA's offices — would exclude a defendant, the new protocol could reduce the likelihood that an individual's DNA is the only source of genetic material left at a crime scene.

. . . "One of the problems was DNA was called the gold standard," Bruce Budowle, director of the University of Texas Health Science Center's Institute of Applied Genetics, said. "Big mistake."
DNA analysis provides answers, but there has to be rigorous interpretation of DNA results, the experts said.
Crime labs have recently adopted the new “mixed DNA” standard. The DPS switched to it on Aug. 10. The move has prompted prosecutors like Chandler to resend evidence in pending cases to the lab to have the data analyzed using the new standard. In Houston's Harris County, that's about 500 pending cases where DNA evidence will be introduced at trial.
The mention of a conviction integrity unit stood out to me. I've never heard of such a thing.

Here is a white paper on the subject:

Conviction Integrity Units:Vanguard of Criminal Justice Reform.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Laws passed so far by the 114th Congress

Here are two sources:

- Wikipedia (of course)
- Thomas.

One of the points we'll make in class this week is that very few bills spend time in committee. It might be interesting to open these up and see what laws did and did not get reported out of a committee.

What is an Acela Republican?

I've never heard of Acela Republicans before. You learn something new everyday don't you?

Apparently "Acela" refers to the Acela Express, an Amtrak line that runs from Boston to Washington DC. This is a more liberal part of the country, meaning that Republicans there are more liberal than Republicans in other parts of the country - especially here in Texas. Republicans from that part of the country tend to be derided as inauthentic, or of being a RINO.

From what I can tell, the phrase may stand today for what the term Rockefeller Republican stood for a few decades ago.

- From the Federalist: A Field Guide To Acela Republicans.

- From Ricochet: The Acela Republican.

Who is the Acela Republican?
The Acela Republican is as comfortable in the green rooms of MSNBC as he is at a green energy conference. The Acela Republican isn’t one of those horrible Tea Party yahoos who comes from somewhere other than a big, coastal metropolis. The Acela Republican is softer, smoother, and less confrontational…unless he’s taking on his own party.
Then, he’s a ferocious scold. “Taking on his own party” is the passport of the Acela Republican to hundreds of stories about how he—and only he—can save the GOP. He talks about bringing people together, working with the other party, getting things done for everyone, regardless of politics…if only his own backward, hick, red-state, cousin-kissing bumpkin party will see the light.
Right now of course, it’s Governor Chris Christie. In 2012, it was Jon Huntsman. Most famous of all, of course, was John McCain. They’re not entirely new, but in an age of rising conservatism, the Acela Republican is just the kind of candidate America’s media class pretend they could almost possibly contemplate thinking of voting for in the general election. The Acela Republican is the one Republican who shares their contempt for the GOP broadly, and modern conservatism specifically.

Local House Reps Olson and Weber are on the following committees and subcommittees

Presumably both members choose these committees because they touch in issues that are important to the local constituency. We'll review these in class.

Randy Weber

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy
- Member, Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy

House Committee on Foreign Affairs
- Member, Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa
- Member, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.
Pete Olson

House Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Vice Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Power
- Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade
- Member, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology