Friday, October 21, 2016

From the Washington Post: When the facts don’t matter, how can democracy survive?

This fits an ongoing question we raise in class.

- Click here for the article.

Americans — or, at least, a particular subset of Americans — have had enough of experts, facts, math, data. They distrust them all.
This rising cynicism, sown recklessly by opportunistic politicians, will not only make it increasingly difficult for policymakers to make good choices and govern peacefully; it could also become a significant economic challenge.
The latest evidence of this anti-evidence trend comes from a Marketplace-Edison Research Poll released last week.
The survey found that more than 4 in 10 Americans somewhat or completely distrust the economic data reported by the federal government. Among Donald Trump voters, the share is 68 percent, with nearly half saying they don’t trust government economic data “at all.”

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Rising local school property taxes ease state budget woes

This is good news, I guess.

- Click here for the story.

It would not be completely accurate to say billions in local school tax money is being used for general state spending.
But it wouldn’t exactly be wrong, either.
Property-rich school districts in Texas hate sending money to the state to help property-poor school districts. But the state has little incentive to change that system: Every dollar the rich districts send in is a dollar the state itself doesn’t have to spend.
The money coming in from those property-rich districts is quite a pile, too. For lawmakers writing the 2018-19 budget, that “recapture” money will increase by an estimated $1.44 billion, freeing that much state money for other general spending.
The richer school districts (“richer” here refers to the value of their real estate and not to the incomes of the residents) are sending $3.69 billion to the state in the 2016-17 budget period. The state has to use that money on public education; it’s an effort to level out the differences in how much money is available to educate kids from different parts of the state.
That said, any money that comes in from the rich districts allows the state to spend the dollars it would have spent on education on other programs and services. The numbers are rising, too. The Texas Education Agency estimates it will “recapture” $5.13 billion during the next budget period, up from $3.69 billion in the current budget.
At the same time the agency’s official budget request to state lawmakers would require the state to spend 8.4 percent less from general revenue than the current budget a drop that’s partly attributable to the increase in recapture money available to the state.
Intentionally or not, it’s a great political deal for state lawmakers. They can squawk at local school districts for high property tax rates at the same time they’re using some of that money to lower the state’s expenses for public education.
The locally raised taxes recaptured from property-wealthy districts lower the amount of state-raised money — sales taxes and so on — that have to be spent on schools. Local taxpayers, in this case, are saving state taxpayers some money.
Intentionally or not, it’s a great political deal for state lawmakers. They can squawk at local school districts for high property tax rates at the same time they’re using some of that money to lower the state’s expenses for public education. The state budget is easier to balance because of the local tax money marbled into school spending.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Grits for Breakfast: Pop Quiz on Fourth Amendment and the criminalization of the normal

For our look at due process in both 2305 and 2306, and especially for out look at appellate courts in Texas in 2306.

- Click here for the article.

Pop Quiz from the Texas Seventh Court of Appeals: Which of the following are NOT an indicia of drug trafficking under Texas law?
  • Breathing.
  • Having two hands.
  • Driving a clean vehicle.
  • Looking at a peace officer.
  • Looking away from a peace officer.
  • A young person driving a newer vehicle.
  • Driving in a car with meal wrappers.
  • Driving carefully.
  • Driving on an interstate.
The answer, according to a majority opinion from the Seventh Court of Appeals written by Chief Justice Brian Quinn, is that only the first two cannot be considered suspicious behavior that justifies an investigative detention, according to Texas courts. A dissent by Justice Campbell scolded his colleagues for failing to defer to the trial judge and "assume the court made implicit findings of fact supporting its ruling that are supported by the record." But the majority opinion is quite a read, lamenting that "most anything can be considered indicia of drug trafficking to law enforcement personnel."

Apparently if the police want to search you for drug possession for any reason, the Texas Courts say they can.

Fact Checking the Third Debate

- NPR: Fact Check And Full Transcript Of The Final 2016 Presidential Debate.
- NYT: Fact Checks of the Third Presidential Debate.
- Politifact: Live fact-checking the third Trump, Clinton presidential debate.
- Washington Post: Fact-checking the third Clinton-Trump presidential debate.

FULL: Final Presidential Debate 2016 - Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton -...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

1987 60 Minutes Is Justice For Sale in Texas

I just added this to some of the slides for 2306. It's an oldie, but it points out the problems with an elected judiciary.

Not so tough on crime

One way to reduce crime is to not define every problem as a criminal act subject to law enforcement. Two Texas Tribune stories touch on this idea.

- Most embrace some reforms in Court of Criminal Appeals races.

Regardless of party, most of the candidates for the state's highest criminal court say they want to see more cases involving drug addiction and mental illness moved out of the criminal justice system.

. . . Keasler and Meyers – a conservative and progressive, respectively, and two of the longest-serving judges on the court – said people dealing with drug addiction and mental illness don't belong in the criminal justice system. Walker said he's faced the issue with his clients.
"I see people all the time – I've had several cases recently where my clients are competent to stand trial, but they're not really capable of keeping up with probation. They honestly can't," Walker said. "And they need a very intensive type of probation with a whole lot of help. The system can't just put those kind of people out on the street and expect them to show up when they're supposed to show up and do all the programs they're supposed to do without some very intensive help."
Burns, who has presided over a diversion program for more than four years, said helping these offenders instead of punishing them works out in the long run.
"When it comes to drug offenses, I'm a big believer in diversionary programs," Burns said. "I really think that treatment works much better than incarceration because if you don't treat people who have drug problems, they're going to fail on probation and then they're going to end up in prison. It really starts a cycle of failure and criminality."

- Two school districts accused of violating new truancy law.

Two Texas school districts are not following a new law designed to reduce the number of students who end up in truancy courts, an alliance of advocacy groups claimed on Monday.
In complaints filed with the Texas Education Agency, Disability Rights Texas, Texas Appleseed and the National Center for Youth Law accused the El Paso and Mesquite independent school districts of violating provisions of House Bill 2398, a measure designed to decriminalize multiple absences and encourage schools to intervene before court action is taken.

Under the new law, school districts are no longer able to send students with three unexcused absences within a four-week period to truancy courts. School officials must instead notify parents of the absences and warn them of the penalties, which include a fine or loss of driving privileges if the student acquires more absences. A criminal complaint against the parents may eventually be filed as well.

The bill also requires public schools to implement truancy prevention programs and develop new methods of punishing students are punished after multiple absences. It also mandates that parents and educators have face-to-face meetings, and that students be enrolled in a truancy prevention program.

From the Washington Post: Can you rig a U.S. presidential election? Experts say it’s basically impossible.

This is topical.

Expect much more on the subject.

- Click here for the article.

What would rigging an election actually entail?
Rigging an election would require a widespread, nationwide effort with the two major parties colluding at every level. This is why election law experts say it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to “rig” an election. In this country, voting is an open, multi-step process with scores of witnesses from both parties each step of the way.
Chris Ashby, campaign finance and election lawyer at Virginia-based Ashby Law, points out that American elections are held in open, public rooms, such as school gyms, community centers and community centers.
“There are no back rooms, secret doors or hidden hallways,” Ashby wrote recently. The ballots, voting machines and election materials are locked and sealed when they arrive in the voting place, and when they are removed after the election is over, they are locked and sealed again.
In most states, there are “poll observers” in each county who have been chosen and trained by both the Republican and Democratic parties to watch for problems or efforts to disenfranchise voters during the voting process. The poll observers are allowed to watch the poll workers and other election officials, who have also undergone training to run the polling places and help conduct the election.
Voters use equipment that is publicly tested and observed by party representatives and representatives of the campaigns, Ashby said. After it’s tested, voting equipment is locked and sealed. 
“Rigging” an election would require the cooperation of the Republicans and Democrats who are the polling place election officials, along with the poll watchers from each party who are watching the election officials conduct the election, Ashby said. It would also require, he points out, the cooperation of the another group of Republicans and Democrats after the election who are watching the counting of ballots.

From the Pew Research Center: The Parties on the Eve of the 2016 Election: Two Coalitions, Moving Further Apart

More on the shifts in party identification that seem to be underway this electoral cycle, but in greater detail.

Also some detail on what's driving party polarization.

- Click here for the report.

Ahead of the presidential election, the demographic profiles of the Republican and Democratic parties are strikingly different. On key characteristics – especially race and ethnicity and religious affiliation – the two parties look less alike today than at any point over the last quarter-century.
The fundamental demographic changes taking place in the country – an aging population, growing racial and ethnic diversity and rising levels of education – have reshaped both party coalitions. But these changes, coupled with patterns of partisan affiliation among demographic groups, have influenced the composition of the two parties in different ways. The Democratic Party is becoming less white, less religious and better-educated at a faster rate than the country as a whole, while aging at a slower rate. Within the GOP the pattern is the reverse: Republican voters are becoming more diverse, better-educated and less religious at a slower rate than the country generally, while the age profile of the GOP is growing older more quickly than that of the country.

From the Texas Tribune: Odd Texas voting law on interpreters scuttled before November election

More voting rights conflict between Texas and the U.S.

And more adjustments to election law in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

Mallika Das, a U.S. citizen who was born in India, walked into a Williamson County polling place in 2014 eager to cast her ballot.

Because she was not proficient in English and had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das brought her son, Saurabh, to help her. They both spoke Bengali, an Asian dialect. But when Saurabh told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, the duo ran into an unexpected requirement.
By law, a poll official determined, Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was not registered to vote in the county. Saurabh was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.
Das proceeded to vote without her son’s assistance but was unable to “vote properly” for all of the electoral measures because she could not “sufficiently comprehend the ballot,” according to a lawsuit she later filed.
Das died before the lawsuit was resolved, but her dilemma, laid out in court filings, is part of an ongoing legal battle over a little-noticed provision of Texas election requiring interpreters to be registered voters in the same county in which they are providing help. Ahead of the November election, a federal district judge has blocked Texas from enforcing that provision, ruling it violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Texas is appealing that ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The requirement will not be in effect during the upcoming election. The Secretary of State’s office has updated poll worker training material to be consistent with the ruling, said spokeswoman Alicia Pierce. And voter education groups that focus on language-minority voters like Asian Texans are working to ensure that voters get the word they can bring just about anyone, including their minor children, to help them vote.
But the case has highlighted a provision of Texas election law that appears to be at odds with federal protections for voters unable to read or write in English. At the heart of the case is whether voters are expected to know the difference between an “interpreter” and an “assistor” in the eyes of Texas election law.
The federal Voting Rights Act requires that any voter who requires assistance because of visual impairments, disabilities or literacy skills can be helped in casting a ballot by the person of their choice, as long as it’s not their employer or a union leader.

From the Austin American Statesman: Why only 1 Texas congressional race is competitive

Texas does gerrymandering right.

And despite all this talk of kicking the bums out, it seems we are completely happy with the bum we have.

- Click here for the article.

Texas has 36 congressional districts, second only to California, but only one seat appears to be competitive heading into early voting next week — District 23, a vast West Texas seat that has switched between Republican and Democratic hands in each of the last three elections.
Elsewhere, 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats are likely to win re-election, by dint of gerrymandering and the power of incumbency. Only two Texas districts are open seats — District 15, a predominantly Hispanic and Democratic-leaning district in South Texas, and District 19, a largely rural and heavily Republican district in parts of West Texas and the Panhandle where no Democrat is on the ballot.
In Central Texas, all six members of Congress who represent a slice of Austin are sitting on large war chests but running light campaigns. Each Austin incumbent had more than $200,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, with Democrat Lloyd Doggett topping the list with more than $3 million on hand. No challenger in those races has more than $30,000, and many have no money on hand.
“We know for a fact incumbency is powerful,” said Chad Long, an associate professor of political science at St. Edward’s University. “It’s the single most powerful predictor of congressional elections, even more than the money. If you have an incumbent in the election, you pretty much know who’s going to win.”
According to Long, a district is considered competitive when the winning candidate garners no more than 55 percent of the vote. Under this definition, only two of the six U.S. House members representing the Austin area have ever experienced a competitive race — Doggett and Republican Michael McCaul.

Here is the only competitive U.S. House race in Texas

Its the 23rd District

Texas's 23rd congressional district - since January 3, 2013.

For info on the district:

- GovTrack.
- BallotPedia.
- The Texas Tribune.

And on the current race:

- Hurd raises almost twice as much as Gallego in latest report.
- Trump Haunts Hurd, Gallego Congressional Rematch.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

From the Houston Chronicle: State to HISD officials: Get leadership training or face punishment

It has a large number of low performing schools - and a dysfunctional board.

- Click here for the article.

The Texas Education Agency has directed the Houston school board and superintendent to undergo leadership training or face serious sanctions. Those could include trustees being forced from their elected positions and the closing of schools.
The order comes as the state takes a hard line on districts with chronically low-performing schools.
A.J. Crabill, a deputy commissioner at the state education agency, sent letters this week to the Houston Independent School District and 10 other districts, citing concerns with the plans they submitted to improve their low-performing campuses. Because of that, he wanted the boards and superintendents to agree to "agency-directed governance training."
If the districts reject the training, Crabill said, he would not approve their school improvement plans, which means the agency would be required under state law to take major action. It could send in a state-appointed board to run the district, close the schools or assign an outside manager to oversee those campuses.
The board has been particularly divided since January. Two new trustees, Diana Davila and Jolanda Jones, took office, and at their first meeting then-board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones surprised some veteran trustees by bringing forward several controversial proposals, including renaming campuses named after Confederate loyalists and banning suspensions of young elementary school students.

The board, however, united over the summer to hire Superintendent Richard Carranza, the former schools superintendent in San Francisco.

For more:

Surprise announcement: HISD Trustee Mike Lunceford is resigning

From Off The Kuff: Two point of view on the HISD ballot proposal.

Yes - Interview with Jay Aiyer.
No - Interview with David Thompson.

From the Houston Chronicle: Robbing HISD - Voters should say 'no' to putting district under the Robin Hood recapture plan.

Voters who live in the boundaries of HISD have the chance to approve or disapprove subjecting itself to recapture - otherwise known as the Robin Hood plan.

The paper argues that voters should vote against the referendum.

- Click here for the article.

Voters will face a test on Election Day, and whether they answer correctly will determine the future of the Houston Independent School District. It should be a simple question, but it's written in the obtuse vernacular of lawmakers who really don't want voters to understand it.
The ballot provision will ask voters to authorize the board of trustees of HISD to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenue. That sounds like a good, progressive measure, but be warned - it is a trick question.
The ballot is really asking whether HISD should submit itself to state recapture and send $162  million in local property tax dollars to Austin. The correct answer is "NO," or "AGAINST."
If this misleading ballot provision passes, HISD will not only be required to send $162 million in local property tax dollars to the state next year. The district will also likely face higher annual payments for the foreseeable future under the state's broken school finance system.
The mandate comes about because rising property values have made HISD subject to "Robin Hood" provisions under the Texas Education Code. All those skyscrapers and rapidly appreciating homes have apparently pushed HISD over the top.
As Texas schools are financed through property taxes, the recapture provisions (what we know as Robin Hood) were supposed to provide a way to equalize school funding across the state - for poor and wealthy schools alike.
In May, the Texas Supreme Court held that this system of school finance is marginally constitutional. Consider that assessment a D-minus grade. The fact of the matter is that the state's school funding formula fails to accomplish its intended goals of helping poor school districts.
Technically these recaptured funds are supposed to help schools that need the resources. If the provision worked like a true Robin Hood, it would "rob" from the rich and "give" to the poor. But in reality, the system robs from the poor and gives to legislators so that they don't have to raise state taxes. There's no guarantee that poor schools will receive a single extra dime if HISD pays up.
How does this work? Simply put, the state keeps two bank accounts: one for general revenue and one for the recaptured Robin Hood sums. Every dollar that the state pays from Robin Hood frees up general revenue money that the state otherwise would have to spend to help poor schools. So instead of giving extra money to needy districts, any HISD money will essentially be spent on highways, border security or some other appropriation besides education.
If this passes, then HISD is projected to send more than $1 billion of our local property taxes to the state over the next four years. Not only does that hurt HISD, but it looks an awful lot like a state property tax - which is prohibited in the Texas Constitution.

For the relevant statutes: TEA: Chapter 41: Wealth Equalization.

And there's this:

- Wikipedia: Robin Hood Plan.

From the Austin American-Statesman: Why only 1 Texas congressional race is competitive

Texas does gerrymandering right.

And despite all the talk of throwing the bums out - we keep them in. All the other guys are bum,s apparently, our's is perfectly fine.

- Click here for the article.

Texas has 36 congressional districts, second only to California, but only one seat appears to be competitive heading into early voting next week — District 23, a vast West Texas seat that has switched between Republican and Democratic hands in each of the last three elections.
Elsewhere, 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats are likely to win re-election, by dint of gerrymandering and the power of incumbency. Only two Texas districts are open seats — District 15, a predominantly Hispanic and Democratic-leaning district in South Texas, and District 19, a largely rural and heavily Republican district in parts of West Texas and the Panhandle where no Democrat is on the ballot.
In Central Texas, all six members of Congress who represent a slice of Austin are sitting on large war chests but running light campaigns. Each Austin incumbent had more than $200,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, with Democrat Lloyd Doggett topping the list with more than $3 million on hand. No challenger in those races has more than $30,000, and many have no money on hand.

“We know for a fact incumbency is powerful,” said Chad Long, an associate professor of political science at St. Edward’s University. “It’s the single most powerful predictor of congressional elections, even more than the money. If you have an incumbent in the election, you pretty much know who’s going to win.”

- Click here for the 2016 Texas Primary results.
- Click here for the general election races.

From 538: How Evan McMullin Could Win Utah And The Presidency It’s unlikely, but far from impossible.

Lot's of strange things have been predicted for this electoral cycle - brokered conventions, splintered parties - but none have happened. This might not happen either, but that's no reason to not speculate about it.

- Click here for the article.

With the election only weeks away, Hillary Clinton appears to have the lead and the momentum. As of this writing, the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast gives her around an 87 percent chance of winning — up from around 55 percent in late September – and that may not have fully absorbed the fallout of Trump’s lewd video, debatable debate performance or the daily deluge of fresh scandal jeopardizing his candidacy.
But if Clinton doesn’t run away with this, there is another candidate who may also have seen his chances of becoming president skyrocket. The third-most likely person to be the next president of the United States: Evan McMullin.
It would take a fascinating scenario — in which much of the technical detail of how we select presidents comes into play — for McMullin to be sworn in as the 45th president, but the chances of its happening are slim, not none.

. . . According to the bio on his website, he served in the CIA for about a decade, and spent time in investment banking, as an adviser for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and as policy director for the House Republican Conference. On the issues, McMullin has taken fairly orthodox Republican positions, including supporting free trade. He has been critical of Trump on immigration, refugees, anti-Muslim rhetoric and on temperament and fitness to be president.
The idea that an independent candidate could swoop in to win has been largely dismissed, on the grounds that any conservative-leaning third-party candidate would be more likely to hurt Trump than Clinton, thus making a Clinton victory more likely. But McMullin may have one advantage that other second-tier candidates do not: Utah.
His path to the presidency basically looks like this:
  1. Win Utah
  2. Deadlock the Electoral College
  3. Win in the House

An Update: Here’s How We’re Forecasting The 4-Way Presidential Race In Utah.

From Politico: The People Who Pick the President

This is sweet!

Background on the handful of people who will cast the actual votes for the president on the real election day: December 19.

They might not vote as expected - see this link to faithless electors.

- Click here for the complete calendar.

- Click here for the article.

Tear up your countdown calendar: The 2016 election will not end on Nov. 8. In fact, it'll carry on until mid-December, when 538 members of the Electoral College huddle in their respective state capitals and cast the only ballots with the power to formally elect the next president.

Because they have rarely deviated from the will of the voters—and never changed the outcome of an election—this constitutional process remains an obscure and anonymous relic of the Founding Fathers. But for six weeks, this assortment of party insiders, donors and, in some cases, fringe activists will be the most powerful force in American democracy. And most Americans will never know who they are.

They include people like Tim Dreste, who was convicted of inciting violence against abortion providers in the 1990s and still wants them to fear him, and Monica Acosta-Zamora, the Texas Democrat who despises Hillary Clinton but became an elector to help a jailed friend. They also include Sybrina Fulton—Trayvon Martin’s mother—and Chris Christie’s dad, Wilbur. There’s a 93-year-old granddaughter of slaves and a 19-year-old Republican activist. Others still are Bernie Sanders supporters and political trailblazers, a motorcycle lobbyist and a Powerball winner.

Though voters will cast ballots for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and several third-party candidates on Election Day, their votes will actually elect partisan slates of Electoral College members. The smallest have just three, and the largest, California, has 55. Republicans and Democrats in each state choose a set of electors—and if their candidate wins the popular vote on Election Day, their slate of electors gets picked to cast ballots in December.

These members are largely bound—by law and by oath—to uphold the will of the voters. And throughout history, few have deviated from that path.

But 2016 is an upside-down year featuring deeply unpopular candidates. A few electors have already threatened to break from Trump or Clinton and vote their conscience—even if that means bucking the will of their state's voters.

From Politico: Obama, Holder to lead post-Trump redistricting campaign The former attorney general heads up a new Democratic effort to challenge the GOP's supremacy in state legislatures and the U.S. House.

We are two years away from the next census - which apportions House seats to the states - and six year away from the next redistricting, which will be done by state legislatures. Democrats seek to undo what Republicans were able to accomplish the last go around.

- Click here for the article.

As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform—with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.
The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group—which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps—as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.
Though initial plans to be active in this year’s elections fell short, the group has been incorporated as a 527, with Democratic Governors Association executive director Elizabeth Pearson as its president and House Majority PAC executive director Ali Lapp as its vice president. They’ve been pitching donors and aiming to put together its first phase action plan for December, moving first in the Virginia and New Jersey state elections next year and with an eye toward coordination across gubernatorial, state legislative and House races going into the 2018 midterms.
“American voters deserve fair maps that represent our diverse communities—and we need a coordinated strategy to make that happen,” Holder said. “This unprecedented new effort will ensure Democrats have a seat at the table to create fairer maps after 2020."
Obama strongly endorsed Holder’s selection, and is planning more involvement in state races this year. But it’s in his post-presidency that redistricting will be a priority for his fundraising and campaigning.
“Where he will be most politically engaged will be at the state legislative level, with an eye on redistricting after 2020,” said White House political director David Simas, who’s been briefing Obama on the group’s progress since it started coming together at the beginning of the summer.
The group’s incorporation follows a pitch made to major donors in Philadelphia during the Democratic convention in July, led by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Ben Ray Luj├ín. The group hasn’t filed any financial reports as of yet and isn’t releasing figures for money raised, but operatives say that several organizations have donated initial funds in its early stages of fundraising.

From the Houston Chronicle: Texas hits voter registration milestone, but what does it mean after 2016?

For 2305 and 2306.

- Click here for the article.
On Thursday, Carlos H. Cascos, the Texas secretary of state, reported that 15 million Texans are now registered to vote, an all-time high for a state that routinely ranks near the bottom for voter turnout.
As of Thursday morning, 15,015,700 Texans are registered to vote, which constitutes about 78 percent of the state’s total voting age population, according to a news release from Cascos’ office. The estimate for the entire voting-age population is about 19.3 million voters, meaning there are approximately 4 million Texans who can cast a ballot if only they’d get on the rolls. To put that in perspective, it’s as if the entire population of Houston, the state’s largest city, decided to sit out an election – and then double that effect.
“The number will likely increase a bit as last-minute applications continue to be processed during the next few days,” according to Cascos' office, citing the Oct. 11 deadline to register before the November election.
Let’s look at the historical increases behind the new numbers. The agency said Texas had 13.6 million registered voters, or 75 percent, during the 2012 presidential election. In 2008, that number stood at 13.5 million, or 77 percent.
So, in those four years – bookmarked by a competitive Democratic presidential primary and a fierce attempt to make President Obama a one-term chief executive – only about 71,000 new registrants joined the process. Consider it in this context now, considering, of course, that people turn 18 years old every day: From 2012 to today, the state saw an increase of 1.3 million registered voters.
A lot can happen in four years, to say the least, especially in a state whose booming population tracks younger and less white by the second. So, what accounts for the astronomical growth this time around? For one, the level of attention this presidential race has attracted among voters is unprecedented.

For more:

Record 15 million Texans registered to vote.

And a caution: Analysis: High Voter Registration Figures Are Great — Sometimes.

Voter registration, however healthy it might be, isn’t a good indicator of voter turnout. It has varied widely in presidential elections over the last 40 years in Texas, and as you might expect, voter turnout — as a percentage of registered voters — has varied widely, too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

From the Pew Research Center: In Presidential Contest, Voters Say ‘Basic Facts,’ Not Just Policies, Are in Dispute

More evidence of political polarization - as well as selection bias.

- Click here for the article.

Some graphics pulled from the article:

From the Dallas Morning News: To Fix CPS, Texas must be willing to pay workers more like it never has before.

Another potential agenda item for the 85th session.

- Click here for the article.

Democratic lawmakers reacted angrily, and their Republican colleagues cautiously, to evidence of another breakdown in Texas Child Protective Services investigations — this time in Harris County.

“This is infuriating,” said Rep. Armando Walle, a Houston Democrat who has filed a flurry of bills over the past five years to try to force the agency to ask for what it needs — higher pay, more bodies — to lower workers’ staggering caseloads. “I’m just angry at this whole situation.”

Through early September, half of children referred to Harris County’s CPS investigators weren’t being seen on time, The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday, after analyzing an agency database that tracks initial visits with children mentioned in over 7,300 child abuse cases in the Houston area. In 1 of every 5 open cases there, children weren’t being seen at all.

. . . Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus, all Republicans, reacted to the findings — and accounts of CPS failings last week by The News and other media outlets — by sending agency overseer Henry “Hank” Whitman a letter.

In it, the leaders said not getting out and making timely checks on potentially abused children is “completely unacceptable.” They ordered the protective services department, CPS’ parent, to quickly develop an “innovative plan” to hire and train more child-abuse investigators to address the extreme backlogs. However, with 23 percent annual turnover among all caseworkers — and one-third of all investigators quitting each year — many existing slots are unfilled.

While the state GOP leaders acknowledged “associated financial costs,” they directed Whitman to essentially bolster existing efforts. They were mute about the factor that advocates stress most in improving worker performance and retention: higher wages for caseworkers and child abuse investigators.

From the Washington Post: And now, some legitimately good news for Republicans

Trump's low numbers may not have the down ballot effect some have predicted.

- Click here for the article.

The nightmare scenario for Republicans has long been that Donald Trump would crash and burn, and drag every other Republican on the ballot down with him.
The first part of that could very well be happening. The second half? Perhaps not.
Of the four high-quality mainstream media polls conducted since that "Access Hollywood" video emerged, Trump has trailed by 11 points, 9 points, 7 points and 4 points. And even that last, closest poll, from The Washington Post and ABC News on Sunday, includes some big red flags for Trump.
But those same polls don't suggest doom and gloom for downballot Republicans just yet. And in fact, there's real reason for GOP optimism that Trump won't ruin their year completely.
For one, the so-called generic ballot -- i.e., whether people prefer a generic Democrat for Congress or a generic Republican -- still only favors Democrats by a small margin: 3 points in both the Post-ABC poll and NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, among likely voters. That same Democratic edge on the generic ballot is actually down from 6 points in last week's NBC-WSJ poll.
Put plainly, these generic ballots are unremarkable and don't suggest a big Democratic wave ahead.
Part of the reason Trump's woes might not have filtered downballot could be that a strong majority of people don't really associate Republicans with their party's presidential nominee. And many people also appear to dislike Clinton enough that they like the idea of a Congress that could keep her in check.
The Post-ABC poll includes a question about whether people think Trump represents the "core values" of the Republican Party, and a strong majority of likely voters say he doesn't -- 57 percent overall.

For a timeline of generic poll results, click here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

From TribTalk: Texas squanders $40 billion a year in taxpayer health care contributions

For 2306's look at the Texas executive, federalism, spending on health care, federal funds, etc . . . .

- Click here for the article.

Many Texans I talk with are concerned about health insurance costs and tax dollars we spend on Medicaid and other programs for the poor. Yes, we are right to be concerned, but often we are misled into blaming federal programs or medical providers. Actually, a huge percentage of our tax dollars are wasted by state laws and policies we could fix here in Texas.
Texas taxpayers finance crucial health care services through at least seven different Texas-inflicted cost-shifting fees and hidden taxes totaling more than $40 billion each year. But does our current investment, averaging $4,750 per Texas household each year, give us better health? No. Texas still has the most uninsured in the nation and some of the worst health outcomes.
Tax dollars we contribute are absorbed by a fragmented, overly complex, wasteful "non-system" because some would rather grandstand and complain than actually make health care work well for us. As faithful taxpayers, we Texans should find this unacceptable. Let's take action against the waste and mismanagement in our current state system and develop a more rational, streamlined process.

From the Texas Tribune: Court's immigration ruling could affect Texas "sanctuary city" debate

Add this to our ongoing look at federalism - plus possible agenda items for the next session of the legislature.

- Click here for the article.
A decision last month by a federal judge in Illinois undercutting a major tool the federal government uses to deport criminal immigrants could ripple across the country, changing how local jails hold people thought to be in the country illegally.
On September 30, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee ruled that the Department of Homeland Security’s use of detainers — formal requests from federal immigration authorities for a local jail to hold non-citizen inmates — exceeds its legal authority.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally issues the requests when it thinks someone being held on local or state charges might also be deportable for violating the country’s immigration law. When it receives a detainer on one of its inmates, a local jail typically holds that person beyond the time it ordinarily would, usually 48 hours, giving federal authorities a chance to come get them.
Lee ruled that the detainers were “void” because “immigration detainers issued under ICE’s detention program seek to detain subjects without a warrant — even in the absence of a determination by ICE that the subjects are likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained.”
Lee's decision applies to Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin and some detainers issued in about two dozen more states, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center. But the ruling's impact could expand if it is upheld by appellate courts or spurs copycat lawsuits in other states.

What's on the Harris County Ballot?

Lot's more than on the Brazoria County ballot - as well as most of the country. Often it's the longest ballot presented to voters anywhere in the US, which means Harris County citizens have lot;s of homework to do it they are going to cast informed votes.

. . . if. ;)

- Click here for it.

We'll walk through it now and then.

From the Austin American Statesman (January 12, 2015): Comptroller predicts better-than-expected growth in Texas economy

It didn't work out this way though.

- Click here for the article.

Plummeting oil prices have incited much speculation in recent weeks about how much Texas’ coffers might suffer and how much less money might be available to a Republican-dominated Legislature that wants to cut taxes significantly and also spend on things like roads.

On Monday, freshman Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar settled the deliberation with his much-anticipated official estimate of how much the state will bring in and have to spend over the next two years. And it was higher than many expected it to be, although tempered because of low energy prices.

Hegar’s approximation – formulated, he has said, under much and diverse advisement – showed that state lawmakers, who convene at noon on Tuesday, will have $113 billion in general revenue to spend on the 2016-17 budget. That is a sizable $18 billion more than general revenue spending in the current two-year budget cycle, which ends Aug. 31.

The estimate assumes oil prices – currently at less than $50 a barrel – will be $64 per barrel on average for current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31, and to nearly $70 per barrel by the end of 2017. The last revenue estimate, released in 2013, assumed taxable oil prices of about $80 per barrel.

Hegar estimates the state will have $221 billion to spend from all funds, including federal money. The current budget spends about $200 billion.

As Hegar has previously asserted, his estimate shows that expansion of other sectors of the economy such as construction that will benefit from low fuel prices will somewhat buoy the declining tax revenue that will come with an inevitable slow-down in drilling. His estimate assumes that oil and gas taxes will decline 14.3 percent in 2016-17, bringing in $5.7 billion over the biennium, while sales tax — the state’s largest source of tax revenue — will increase by 8.9 percent, generating $61.2 billion.

“This revenue estimate anticipates a moderated yet expanding Texas economy and revenue collections through fiscal 2017, in part due to the uncertainty around oil prices and the possibility of slow global economic growth,” Hegar said in a statement.

Budget experts at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities described Hegar’s estimate as healthy.

Eva DeLuna Castro of CPPP said it was a little higher than they expected, noting there hasn’t been any wiggle room in the overly conservative estimates of the recent past and that this one appears to more closely track actual past tax collections. Susan Combs, Hegar’s predecessor, came under fire for low-balling a revenue estimate in 2011 that helped inspire billions in cuts to schools and health care.

“It’s a good, strong number,” said Talmadge Heflin, the director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at TPPF, said of Hegar’s estimate. He said the sum would be plenty for tax cuts.

Is Texas becoming bluer?


- Conservative Texas Justice Terry Jennings Bucks GOP to Become Democrat.

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.
Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.
When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that's when I started thinking, Well maybe I'm not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.
The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state's 14 courts of appeal.

A couple prominent Republicans have left the conservative think thank the Texas Public Policy Foundation and joined the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities.

- Here's the announcement from the CPPP.

Quorum Report offers this quote:

Retiring Rep. Keffer said “the Texas Public Policy Foundation is so off the rails. I wanted to be part of a legitimate think tank.”

From Vice: How Republicans Could Prevent the Rise of Future Trumps

Trump's rise was made possible by internal rules the Republican Party established to select a nominee. Normally these rules allow for an establishment candidate - normally the person considered next in line - to become the party's nominee. Democrats did that this year.

The author suggest those rules might be tweaked this year to prevent a similar candidate in the future.

- Click here for the article.

"People look at Trump and say, 'Oh, that's who you are! That's who the Republican Party is!'" Mickey Edwards, a former Oklahoma congressman who is a prominent NeverTrump Republican, lamented to me.
In Edwards's estimation, a few problems converged to create the Trump phenomenon: a crowded primary field in which "everybody in our party knew that Hillary [Clinton] was extremely beatable, and that's why they ran"; the involvement of too many independent voters, "some of whom have never voted"; and a primary season that gave too much credence to the views of the fringe in vital early-voting states. "You can't just dismiss the idea of momentum," he explained.
Trump took advantage of all this by winning the early states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada (he placed second to Ted Cruz in Iowa), taking the majority of delegates despite never getting a majority of votes in those states. And throughout primary season Trump won primaries open to voters who weren't registered Republicans, suggesting that he was less popular among people who were really committed to the GOP.
"We've created a very bad system that allows—I don't know whether you would say it's too democratic—but it basically dilutes the power of the people who really are the party," Edwards said. A functioning candidate-selection process, he feels, would be "a matter of making sure that you nominate someone qualified for the job, even if their policies are controversial." So in short, he wants a process that would keep another Trump from being the nominee.
"Another Trump" could be any charismatic populist Republican the party elites don't actually want in power, not necessarily someone with Donald Trump's particular, um,attributes or campaigning style. The term "Trump" as we're using it here could include another run from Trump himself, or a candidate like Sarah Palin, or David Duke, or Michelle Bachman, or the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.
Earlier this year, Republican leaders unhappy with Trump were looking to change the primary rules to close them to independents in the future (on the theory that those people would be the most likely to back another Trump), but that effort still failed at the Republican National Convention. Edwards feels that significant changes were shot down in an attempt to suppress any sense that the party was questioning Trump.
Edwards blames party leadership for this, Reince Priebus in particular. "He and [Paul] Ryan, with the weight of their titles and positions, were strengthening the narrative that Trump was putting out there, that we would steal it from him."

The article goes on to caution about over correcting. The rules changes following Romney's defeat in 2012 created Trump's opportunity.

- Click here for more on that.  

From the NYT: Some in G.O.P. Who Deserted Donald Trump Over Lewd Tape Are Returning

The dump Trump movement didn't last long.

Republican incumbents are worried about their base - who not only support Trump, but participate feverishly. A wrong move now can encourage a potentially powerful primary opponent in 2018, if not a defeat in three weeks.

To me, this demonstrates the importance of voter turnout - otherwise, why should incumbents care?

- Click here for the article.

Stung by a fierce backlash from Donald J. Trump’s ardent supporters, four Republican members of Congress who had made headlines for demanding that Mr. Trump leave the presidential race retreated quietly this week, conceding that they would still probably vote for the man they had excoriated just days before.
From Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the only member of the Republican leadership in either chamber who had disavowed Mr. Trump, to Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey, who is in a difficult re-election fight, the lawmakers contorted themselves over Mr. Trump. Some of them would not mention him by name, preferring instead to affirm their support for the generic “Republican ticket,” still grasping for a middle ground.
They said that if Mr. Trump would not make way for his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, to lead the party after the release of a recording on Friday showing Mr. Trump bragging about groping women, they had little choice but to vote for their embattled nominee. But the collective about-face owed less to his refusal to exit a race in which ballots are already being castthan to the fury his supporters unleashed at the defectors at rallies and on social media.
And Mr. Trump himself escalated his bitter feud with the country’s highest-ranking elected Republican, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, saying at a rally in Florida on Wednesday that Mr. Ryan’s refusal to actively support his candidacy was part of a “sinister deal going on.”

For some numbers, click here:

- Nevada Republicans Abandon Heck For Abandoning Trump.

From the NYT: How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages

A study in what can go wrong - and in this case very wrong - in a poll when they try to weigh their results to fit a population.

- Click here for the article.
There is a 19-year-old black man in Illinois who has no idea of the role he is playing in this election.
He is sure he is going to vote for Donald J. Trump.
And he has been held up as proof by conservatives — including outlets like Breitbart News and The New York Post — that Mr. Trump is excelling among black voters. He has even played a modest role in shifting entire polling aggregates, like the Real Clear Politics average, toward Mr. Trump.
How? He’s a panelist on the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the U.S.C./LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took a nominal lead.
Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent.

From 538: Where Do Clinton And Trump Have The Most Upside?

Yet more on a theme that seems to grow over the course of the campaign:
Non-college-educated whites are moving toward Donald Trump. Non-whites and college-educated whites are swinging Hillary Clinton.

Plus the follow up question: are we finally witnessing the realignment in the parties that has been anticipated for several election cycles?

- Click here for the article / study.

The 2016 election is poised to be among the most polarized elections ever, not only along gender and generational lines, but especially along lines of race and educational attainment.
In August, Nate Cohn of The New York Times put it well when he wrote: “The simple way to think about Mr. Trump’s strength is in terms of education among white voters. He hopes to do much better than Mitt Romney did in 2012 among white voters without a degree so that he can make up the margin of Mr. Romney’s four-point defeat and overcome the additional losses he’s likely to absorb among well-educated voters and Hispanic voters.”
There’s evidence that Trump is underperforming Romney among Asiansand African-Americans, not just Latinos and college-educated whites. Clinton, on the other hand, has been underperforming President Obama among non-college-educated whites.
To get a handle on how these shifts could affect the electoral landscape, we modeled how many of Romney’s votes came from college-educated whites and minorities and how many of Obama’s votes came from non-college-educated whites in each state, county and congressional district. The difference between these two vote totals, shown in the map above, can tell us where Clinton and Trump have the most potential to build on 2012.
Then we went a step further: How would the 2016 map look if one out of every five whites without a college degree who voted for Obama in 2012 defected to Trump and if one out of every five non-whites and college-educated whites who voted for Romney in 2012 switched to Clinton?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unitary v Plural Power

We're discussing the plural executive in GOVT 2306 at the moment and contrasting its use on the state level - in Texas anyway - with the unitary form on the national level. The former limits power, the latter enhances it.

This design issue is featured in the post below on the constitutionality of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and I though this passage helps illustrate the point.

- Click here for the article it is pulled from.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the "unchecked power" given to the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled (PDF) on Tuesday, fashioning a remedy that gives the president the power to remove and supervise the agency’s director, (sub. req.) reports.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion finding that the structure of the CFPB violated Article II of the Constitution, which gives the president authority to exercise executive power.
Under Supreme Court precedent, Congress may create independent agencies—agencies that allow removal of the director only for cause—that can exercise executive power, Kavanaugh wrote. To help mitigate the risk to individual liberty posed by their “massive power,” independent agencies have traditionally been headed by multiple commissioners or board members who act as checks on each other, Kavanaugh said. No head of an independent agency has operated without a check on his or her authority—“until now,” Kavanaugh said.
When the CFPB was established, it was structured to be headed by a single director rather than a multi-member commission. The director wields “enormous power,” with the power to enforce 19 federal consumer protection statutes, Kavanaugh said. The director can alone decide what rules to issue, how to enforce the laws, and what sanctions to impose.
“In short, when measured in terms of unilateral power, the director of the CFPB is the single most powerful official in the entire U.S. government, other than the president,” Kavanaugh said. “In essence, the director is the President of Consumer Finance.”
Rather than strike down the entire CFPB, Kavanaugh said, the court would strike down the provision requiring cause for removal of the agency’s director. “With the for-cause provision severed, the president now will have the power to remove the director at will, and to supervise and direct the director,” Kavanaugh wrote. “The CFPB therefore will continue to operate and to perform its many duties, but will do so as an executive agency akin to other executive agencies headed by a single person, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.”

From the Chicago Tribune: Court says Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional

It's organization violates the separation of powers.

- Click here for the article.

A U.S. consumer watchdog agency that helped unravel the Wells Fargo & Co. scandal has an unconstitutional structure because it gives too much power to its director, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The court said the way that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is organized violates the Constitution’s separation of powers because it limits the president’s ability to remove the agency’s director, currently Richard Cordray, a Democrat and former Ohio attorney general.
The ruling, if upheld, would curtail the authority of an agency that has been opposed by the banking industry and some Republican critics.
They view the CFPB — established as part of the Dodd-Frank reforms after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 — as a thorn in the side of the industry and one that has overreached in its regulation of consumer financial matters.
“This is a good day for democracy, economic freedom, due process and the Constitution,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.
The law now states that the bureau’s director can be removed only “for cause,” such as neglect of duty. The court said that conflicted with the Constitution, which allows the president to remove executives for any reason.
Hensarling has proposed overhauling Dodd-Frank, including replacing the CFPB’s single director with a bipartisan, five-member commission. On Tuesday he called the CFPB “arguably the most powerful and least accountable Washington bureaucracy in American history.”
But consumer advocates and some top Democrats decried the court’s ruling, saying it opened the door to the prospect that the CFPB’s efforts could be weakened under increased political pressure from the White House and Congress.
The law creating the CFPB “carefully struck a balance between protecting the consumer bureau from politics and the (financial) industry’s political allies while ensuring it was accountable and had effective oversight,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of the consumer advocacy group Better Markets.
The court’s ruling is “damaging to American consumers” and “it’s going to embolden the industry that’s been trying to kill” the agency, Kelleher said.
The CFPB said it disagreed with the ruling by the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and asserted that the ruling would not slow its efforts to investigate wrongdoing and seek enforcement actions.

- Click here for more from the ABA Journal.
- Click here for the decision.

From Texas Statutes: The Texas Ethics Commission

For background purposes.

Government Code

- Title 5. Open Government; Ethics

- - Subtitle B. Ethics

- - - Chapter 571. Texas Ethics Commission.

From Vox: Trump’s campaign wants to salvage his ground game. But an expert says “the damage is done.”

In addition to providing a look at campaigns, this also provides a glimpse into the the decentralized nature of political parties and the advantage a party has when it holds the White House.

- Click here for the interview.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
One thing that is a little bit overlooked is the extent to which building a good ground game relies on years of investment, in staff but also in technology: building voter databases and interfaces, and making them useful in the field. It’s just clear not only that the Democratic Party was ahead of the Republican Party in 2012 but also that the ability of the Republican Party to narrow that gap or to overcome that gap has been significantly undermined by the fact that the party nominee has not prioritized investing and catching up here.
One side of this question of campaigning is: Where do you place your bets, where do you invest your money, what is your messaging in terms of strategy and organization?
But you can’t buy this off the shelf. You can’t order a good database even if you have all the money in the world. You can’t just go to Amazon and buy a perfect voter file and the technology to put it to use. There is an important question of whether the Republican Party is falling even further behind in having an effective infrastructure for an effective ground game and a competitive ground game.
Tara Golshan
So when Kellyanne Conway admitted that the Trump campaign was behind in building a ground game, but that they weren’t going to give up, you’re saying the damage has been done.
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
The damage is done. You can’t unfurl a cutting-edge ground operation in such a short period of time. There is no question about that. That is simply impossible. You can always invest and always improve, but you can’t possibly put together the kind of operation or the kind of infrastructure that it would require to have a fully competitive organization.
The fundamental issue here is that when you think about American political parties, there is no centralized decision-making. The only time you have that is when you have an incumbent president who will run for reelection.
We saw this very clearly in the 2000s. George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2004 was the most sophisticated, well-organized, and professional campaign in a long time. It was an extraordinarily well-run and well-thought-through campaign in part because they knew who the candidate was going to be. They could fundraise. They could invest. They could collaborate with the state parties and other actors. Again, the 2012 Barack Obama campaign was a similar story: It was a very well-run and professionally organized and well-thought-through campaign in part because of the fact that they knew who was running and they could build the organization around that.
But if you are out of power and you don’t have a presumptive nominee, and then you have a primary process that leads to a candidate that then is regarded with some skepticism by many of the players you need to line up — but also if that candidate, in particular, himself does not chose to catch up — then it becomes very difficult.

From ProPublica: Voting Has Started, and Electionland Is on the Case Much of the country will vote before Election Day. Starting this week, our Electionland project has begun looking for problems that prevent people from voting.

A look at how elections are being run across the country - early voting has started - with special emphasis on the problems that can arise.

- Click here for the article.

Here's a list of the problems they cite:

  • Long lines
  • Polling place location and staffing problems
  • Changed voting locations
  • Provisional/Affidavit ballot use
  • Enforcement of Voter-ID laws
  • Deceptive mailers/ads
  • Ballot design problems
  • Hacking
  • Voter impersonation

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From Robert Jackson: The Federal Prosecutor

This essay was flagged in the previous post.

Jackson was an attorney general under FDR, and later a justice on the Supreme Court.

Here he ruminates on the role of the prosecutor. a potentially dangerous force if malicious - and political.

- Click here for the address.

From Lawfare: Grab 'em by the Constitution: Trump and the Justice Department

Some commentary on Trump's promise to put Clinton in jail if he wins the election.

- Click here for the article.

The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president and thus can be directed to do as the president pleases. He can be fired if he does not do so and replaced with someone who will. The president also has the authority to have the attorney general name a special prosecutor. Assuming, perhaps charitably, that Trump's promise to jail Clinton is a promise to do so only after she is indicted and convicted of crimes, he has the power to do that too, provided that the special prosecutor he has named or the attorney general he directs can actually make and prove a case against her. I have serious doubts that there is any such case to make, given that FBI Director James Comey has said flatly that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a criminal against Clinton. But let's be clear that Trump here is not promising to do anything the president lacks the constitutional authority to do.
Yet Trump's comments induced horror among many commentators—and rightly so. The reason? His promise tramples on a number of cherished norms in the relationship between the Justice Department and the White House and in the conduct of the Justice Department itself. These norms restrict presidential and departmental behavior far more than the bare bones strictures of the Constitution. They are part of our constitutional fabric and rooted in important constitutional values. But our mode of enforcing them is not legal. It is political. It is a matter of our deepest expectations of the presidency and the Justice Department.

One of these norms is that the Justice Department doesn't use the criminal enforcement powers of the federal government to go after the administration's political opponents.

. . . Another norm Trump's promises assault is the notion that while the Justice Department is part of the administration and the President is thus entitled to set policy priorities for it, the White House does not involve itself in or direct specific law enforcement operations or decisions.

. . . Still another norm, one sometimes honored in the breach, is that senior law enforcement officials are not supposed to publicly presume someone's guilt.


In addition to the three important norms you explain such a statement violates, there’s a fourth: this wasn’t an action by a sitting President, but a campaign promise to take such action by a candidate. So on top of the fact that this would be a deeply improper action for any President to take, we also have the specter of someone running for office asking people to vote for him based on a promise to investigate and jail a particular person—having a national referendum over (in part) whether someone should be prosecuted. One could debate whether it’s better or worse to have prosecutorial decisions corrupted by the White House or by being subject to a popular vote, but worst of all is to have both.

Catching up with the executive branch in Texas

- Workforce Commission: Houston area adding about 700,000 jobs, 2014 to 2024.

The Texas Workforce Commission has released its occupation forecast for the Houston area. The agency found that between 2014 and 2024, this metro will add roughly 700,000 jobs.

"Now, that number is probably high given... their base year was a year of really strong job growth," Patrick Jankowski, regional economist with the Greater Houston Partnership, told Houston Public Media. "It'll probably be somewhat less than that. But it still shows that Houston, in spite of the current downturn, is going to have some significant job growth over the long term."
The sectors that are predicted to see the most growth are restaurants, hotels, education, healthcare and professional services.

Feds Force States to Follow Medicaid Agenda by Holding Funds Hostage.

A federal agency may be punishing states that refuse to expand Medicaid or adopt new program rules by withholding funds meant to help uninsured individuals.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has allegedly threatened several states for not expanding the program. States have also been penalized for not adopting new program regulations and rules. Cato Institute Scholar Michael Cannon notes the agency has a history of pressuring states into doing its bidding.
“It is problematic, of course, that CMS might be using funds to leverage or coerce states,” Cannon told InsideSources. “There’s a history of the federal government trying to coerce states into doing its bidding and there is a history of CMS trying to bend the law to get states to do its bidding.”
The Texas Health And Human Services Commission (HHSC) recently was disallowed roughly $27 million in funding Sept. 1 meant to help residents in the state without insurance. The notice came after the agency already assured the state last year that funds could continue on through 2017, reported The Texas Tribune.

- North Texas Hospitals Face $27 Million Penalty in Medicaid Dispute.

Hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth region were overpaid by $27 million in federal funds to provide health care for the uninsured, according to a new order from the Obama administration, which is threatening to take the money back.
Federal health officials allege that Texas has allowed private hospitals to leverage donations to local governments in order to improperly draw matching federal funds. Texas officials say they will challenge the decision, which appears to contradict an earlier directive by the Obama administration.

It’s the latest development in a protracted tug-of-war over a multibillion-dollar pot of mostly federal Medicaid funding known as the 1115 waiver, which Texas has come to rely on when footing the bill for its uniquely large population without health insurance. In May, Texas and the federal government agreed to a 15-month renewal of the funding stream, despite the Obama administration's preference that some of the money be used to buy health insurance for low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act. Nearly one in five Texans is uninsured, according to the federal government, the highest rate of any state.

- CPS crisis continues, with more endangered children going unseen across Texas.

As the state's child welfare system reels from an exodus of child abuse investigators, tens of thousands of potentially endangered children are going unseen for weeks and months, and the dangerous trend shows no sign of abating.
A new release of data by Child Protective Services indicates no region is more precarious than Harris County, which aDallas Morning News investigation in May showed was headed for trouble due to enormous backlogs of child abuse cases.
Across Texas, as of Sept. 12, more than 4,700 children at risk of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect should have already had face-to-face contact with a child abuse investigator but haven't, the data show.

When children are seen, CPS investigators across the state are failing about 31 percent of the time to make initial contacts with families within required deadlines.
"Imagine if you had 31 percent of your 911 dispatch calls going unanswered by the police — that's what this is the equivalent of," said Scott McCown, a law professor and director of the Children's Rights Clinic at UT-Austin.

- TDCJ to consider layoffs, prison closures to offset budget cuts.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials, warning that a $214 million cut in their proposed budget could force the layoffs of up to 1,200 guards and reduce key services, confirmed Thursday that they may consider closing additional prisons.
The acknowledgment came as the agency's governing board approved the shutdown of the 450-bed South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, a lockup for parole violators across from Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, as a way to help make up for a 4-percent budget reduction mandated by state leaders.
Bryan Collier, executive director of the corrections system, said that if legislative leaders cannot be convinced to exempt his agency from the mandate, then layoffs of guards remain a possibility, along with reductions in convict health care, meals, as well as prison and parole operations. The agency currently has just over 2,000 vacancies among its 25,000-plus correctional officer positions.