Saturday, May 23, 2015

From the Texas State Historical Association: This Day in History #1

Edgewood v. Kirby filed:

On this day in 1984, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a landmark suit against Texas education commissioner William Kirby in Travis County. In Edgewood ISD v. Kirby, filed on behalf of the Edgewood Independent School District, MALDEF charged that the state's methods of funding public education violated at least four principles of the state constitution, which obligate the state legislature to provide an efficient and free public school system. Initially, eight school districts and twenty-one parents were represented in the suit; eventually, sixty-seven other school districts and many other parents and students joined the original plaintiffs. The plaintiffs in Edgewood contested the state's reliance on local property taxes to finance public education on the grounds that property values vary greatly from district to district, thus creating inequality in education funds. The case took years to work its way through the courts, but in 1990 the Texas Supreme Court delivered a unanimous decision siding with the plaintiffs. In 1993, after several earlier attempts were declared unconstitutional, the legislature passed a school finance reform plan comprising several options for equalizing funding. In 1995 the Texas Supreme Court found the plan constitutional but ruled that the legislature still needed to work on equalizing and improving school facilities throughout the state.

America's Territorial Expansion Mapped (1789-2014)

Territorial History of the USA: Every Month for 400 Years

For our look at counties in 2306.

For more, click here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Main points from 2306

For our review of a semester's worth of material today:
  • The need for public education was written into both the Texas Declaration of Independence and the 1876 Texas Constitution. It explains why you have to take this class.
  • The precise role of the states within the national governing systems was fluid from 1776 to 1789.
  • In the U.S. Constitution delegates from the original states gave up some their claims to national powers.
  • The U.S. Constitution carves out specific roles for the state to play in running elections and provides guarantees and obligations for them. It also establishes that new states can be formed and that they are to be organized into republics.
  • With few exceptions, the United States Constitution allows the states to pass whatever policies it chooses.
  • However, the Texas Constitution – independently – places limits on policymaking in the state.
  • Most of the states after the original 13 were US territories prior to becoming states.
  • Texas was never a US territory. This explains why it controls so much of its land.
  • Expansion westward happened almost immediately after the Constitutional was ratified. By mid-century, all the territory that would become the lower 48 was acquired.
  • The U.S. Constitution says nothing about cities.
  • The precise relationship between the state and nation governments has been debated ever since.
  • This involves debates over the meaning of the commerce and equal protection clauses among many others.
  • Conflicts over those two clauses form the heart of the conflict between Texas and the national government.
  • Major periods of expansion of national power over the states include the post Civil War era, The New Deal and the Great Society.
  • The people who populated Texas came primarily from Southern, protestant slave states. This created conflict with the Mexican government.
  • Political culture still helps explains the conflict between Texas and the national government.
  • The state of Texas had several constitutions between 1824 and 1876. Each was a reflection on the politics and circumstances of that era.
  • The Texas Constitution is quite long and detailed due to the amount of times it has been amended.
  • The structure of the Texas Constitution is designed to place specific limits on what the state government can do.
  • The design of Texas government – and the ideas Texans have about the relationship between government and the people – was heavily influence by the Jacksonian movement.
  • The Texas Bill of Rights provides a more explicit set of guarantees of individual rights to Texans than the US Bill of rights.
  • Cities are primarily economic entities, political entities second once they are granted governing authority by the state.
  • Cities do not have an independent sovereign status – they exist because states allow them to.
  • Counties serve as administrative units of the state.
  • County officials elected locally.
  • Key positions in all three branches of government in Texas are elected – this creates problems for the separation of powers in the state.
  • The Texas Legislature only meets in session briefly every two years.
  • Texas legislators are expected to hold other jobs or positions.
  • There are significant limits placed on spending in the state, including pay as you go requirements that can only be surpassed if allowed by a constitutional amendment.
  • Executive power in the state is divided into separately elected positions in order to distribute power.
  • The Texas Governor is argued to be among the weaker among the states.
  • Texas elects its judges – this is alleged to have consequences since judges need campaign contributions in order to run successful.
  • Each state is in charge of its own election rules.
  • These rules include the ability to regulate political parties and primary elections.
  • Texas has open primaries – voters do not register as members of a political party.
  • The national government can hear challenges to election rules based on the Voting Rights Act – which rests its authority on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
  • - The U.S. government had no authority over suffrage until the 15th Amendment.
  • - Texas has a tendency to be dominated by one political party.
  • - Policymaking in the states – Texas included – tend to focus on the “police powers.”

Main points from 2305

This is intended to be less a review than a review of key points made over the course of the semester. We will review these today in class.
  • An educated public is considered essential to the preservation of a democratic republic
  • American governing institutions and systems are based on history dated back at least to the Magna Carta.
  • A side effect of this history is a governing arrangement is individual liberty.
  • The government is legitimized by its resting on the authority of the general population, but the people  do not rule directly. 
  • Governments do three basic things: they make, execute and adjudicate the law. Tyranny occurs if these three powers are controlled by one entity. The point of the separated powers is to ensure that these powers do not accumulate.
  • The people who wrote the Constitution took human nature into consideration in how they designed each branch.
  • Any action of the national government has to be justified by the Constitution – either directly or indirectly. This is not true of the states.
  • The United States Constitution is written with vague terminology, which makes it subject to interpretation. Battles rage over how the Constitution should be interpreted.
  • The Constitution says very little about the internal workings of each branch. They have evolved considerably over the years, and continue to evolve. 
  • Some phrases in the Constitution can be traced to Magna Carta and the British Bill of Rights. 
  • The Constitution says nothing about political parties, but parties developed very quickly as effective ways to organize Congress and then to organize the electorate.
  • The Constitution allows the states to make rules concerning elections, and until the 15th Amendment states has full power to determine who go to vote. This also includes the power to design House districts, which has led to gerrymandering on the state level.
  • The Bill of Rights applied only to the national government prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment.
  • The Bill of Rights is focused primarily on limited the substantive and procedural powers of the national government. 
  • The rights established in the Bill of Rights are generally balanced against the greater interests of society. They can all be limited. 
  • The First Amendment is focused primarily on limiting the ability of Congress to pass laws regarding religion and political participation.
  • States have the power to pass laws which organize political parties, primaries and how electoral votes are awarded.
  • The right to vote - suffrage - was very limited in the early years of the republic but has expanded gradually over time. This has occurred largely because the national government has forced the states to expand suffrage.
  • Some of the most important – or consequential anyway – checks and balances are not written in the Constitution.
  • Voter turnout tends to be low in the United States.
  • The relationship between the national government and the states was impacted significantly by the Civil War and the Great Depression.
  • Equality was not a dominant concept in the Constitution until the 14th Amendment.
  • The bulk of elections in the United States are winner take all. This led to the development of a two party system. While there are multiple parties in the United States, only two are competitive.
  • The two major competitive parties are not monolithic – they are composed of various factions which compete to determine what the parties actually stand for each election cycle.
  • The Supreme Court has made it increasingly difficult for Congress to regulate campaign finance.
  • Not all interests are effectively represented by groups. The most powerful groups are those that can overcome the free rider problem.
  • Interest groups are especially effective when they are able to work themselves into the decision making processes of each of the branches of government.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Review material for the 2306 final

Here's what you should prioritize as you prep for the test, but don't limit yourself to these.

I might get tricky.

Current events – 10 to 15 questions
- these will be based on items posted on the blog over the semester
A basic comparison of the Texas and US Constitutions
The content of the Texas Bill of Rights
Differences between the US and Texas Bill of Rights
The functions of local governments – both multi purpose and single purpose
Major periods in the shift from Democratic to Republican control in the state
The powers of the Texas Speaker
The powers of the Lieutenant Governor
The plural executive
The amateur legislature
The elected judiciary
The pros and cons of judicial elections
The influence of Jacksonianism on the design of Texas government
The impact of Supreme Court decisions on Texas
The organization of public education in Texas – ISD’s specifically
What is a city?
What is a county?
The chief elections officers of the state and of the county
The bill making process in Texas – constitutional requirements
Initiative, referenda, and recall elections statewide and on the local level
The impact of the Voting Rights Act in Texas
The constitutional powers of the governor
The content of the Texas Constitution – the headings of the articles
Qualifications to vote in Texas
The argument in the Texas Declaration of Independence
Suffrage in Texas – the impact of the national government on suffrage
State powers contained in the U.S. Constitution
Basic facts about the Texas Legislature
Primary elections in Texas
State and local sovereignty
Spending in Texas – which institutions get what? Where does the money come from?
The Economic Stabilization Fund
The role of the trial and appellate courts
The Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals
The various designs of city governments
Types of single purpose governments
The powers denied to the states by the U.S. Constitution
The reserved powers
The budgeting process
The current lawsuit regarding cuts in education spending
How elections are managed in Texas
The voter registration process
The districting process – gerrymandering and its consequences
Committees in the Texas legislature
The selection of electoral college members in the state
The members of the temporary party organization
Term limits in Texas – who is and is not subject to it?
The State Board of Education
School Boards – Board of Regents
Home rule cities in Texas
At–large and single member districts
The White Primary
Police Powers
Political culture in Texas
The functions of each member of the plural executive
Party membership in the state legislature
Tactics the national government uses to compel the state to follow national laws
The governor’s influence on the bill making process
The politics surrounding the drafting and ratification of the 1876 Constitution
Rules regarding debt and the size of the budget in Texas
Tax policy in the state
Amendments to the Texas Constitution
County officials
The relationship between counties and the state
County chairs of the major parties in the state

Review material for the 2305 final

Think broadly about the following specific items. I might add a few things over the next week - so don't limit yourself to these items - but this list should help you perform at least adequately if you fully understand the concepts and terms below:

Current events – 10 to 15 questions pulled from the blog
The subject matter of each of the articles of the Constitution – especially the first 3
The delegated, reserved, implied, and denied powers
The police powers
The denied powers
The elastic clauses and their consequences
The purpose and content of the Bill of Rights
The basic principles within the Constitution
The impact of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments
The equal protection clause
The privilege and immunities clause
The history of the equal protection clause, including Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education
The expressed and inherent powers of the president
The commander in chief powers
Judicial review
The mechanisms which separate - and maintain the separation - of powers
The origin and purposes of political parties
The party eras
The winner take all system and its consequences
The factions within the major parties
The marketplace of ideas
The role of free speech in a free society
The rationale behind public education
The self-evident truths
The substantive liberties
The procedural liberties
Agency capture
The definition of democracy
The checks and balances
What are the respective bases of liberalism and conservatism?
Strict scrutiny, intermediate review, rational basis review
The argument contained in the Declaration of Independence
Key phrases in the Federalist Papers
Voter turnout – rates
The debate over interpreting the Constitution
Judicial Review
What is public policy?
The nature of religious liberty
The basic purpose and goals of social welfare, foreign, and economic policy
The nature of apportionment and the drawing of districts
The pros and cons of political parties
The role of state and local governments
The basic design of elections and appointments to national office
The development of judicial review
Iron Triangles
The revolving door
Constitutional governments
Winner take all elections
The two party system
Debates over interpreting key phrases in the Constitution
The debate over the powers of the president
Unified and divided government
The basic principles in the Magna Carta
The basic principles in the British Bill of Rights
Baker v Carr
The unitary executive

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Supreme Court - narrowly - upholds limits on judicial elections.

In 2305 we've been discussing how the Supreme Court has overturned a number of laws limiting spending on elections base don the argument that such limitations do not serve the compelling public purpose required to clear the strict scrutiny standard.

Here's one that did.

The case is Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, and here are the questions presented before the court:

Whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.

The court narrowly decided that it does not. State judges are to be above the political fray. By soliciting contributions, judicial candidates may appear to be on take. The compelling public purpose is to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Here's a bit from the NYT coverage of the decision.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruledthat states may prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking their supporters for campaign contributions. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority.
“A state’s decision to elect judges does not compel it to compromise public confidence in their integrity,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the decision was a disguised attack on judicial elections that “flattens one settled First Amendment principle after another.”
The decision effectively upheld measures in 30 states that forbid judicial candidates to make personal appeals for money. Such solicitations, the states say, threaten the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial system.
For more:

- Click here for a symposium on the decision in Scotublog.
- Oyez: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

Oral arguments on same sex marriage bans heard in the Supreme Court.

We spent the early part of this week covering this in both 2305 and 2306, since it applies in different ways to each class. In 2305 - civil rights, the equal protection clause and the Supreme Court. In 2306 - federalism.

The case was Obergefell v. Hodges, and it forced the court to address two questions:

1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 
2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

As we discussed, this provides the court the first opportunity to consider whether the 14th amendment's equal protection clause applies to sexual orientation. They have yet to consider this issue. The states - including Texas - argue that they have the right to discriminate in this matter because the states have a legitimate interest in promoting pro-creation, among other things.

Commentators inferred from the questions asked that the judges were split on whether this was an appropriate reason to do.

For additional info:

- Audio of the arguments can be found here.
- Transcript for the argument in question 1 here.
- Transcript for the argument in question 2 here.
- The Wikipedia page.
- The Dangers of a Constitutional 'Right to Dignity'.
The Here and Now of Same-Sex Marriage.
Same-sex marriage is back in the Supreme Court. Here's what a ruling will mean.

From the Washington Post: Where the political 1 percent of the 1 percent live, in 5 maps

This supports the argument that increased inequality in the nation, coupled with the increased ability of people to spend as much money as they wish on campaigns, has made the United States more plutocratic and less democratic.

We may be ruled - more or less - by a group of 32,000 people.

- Click here for the article.

In 2014, one out of every five dollars that was contributed to political candidates came from a group of about 32,000 donors -- one-one-hundredth of one-one-hundredth of the population of the country. Spending by the "1 percent of the 1 percent" has been tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation, which on Thursday published an analysis of the last three cycles of activity among this group.
The very short version: A smaller group of bigger donors is composing an increasing amount of political giving.
The donors, CRP and Sunlight found, share a number of things in common. They're usually men, and they come largely from the finance industry, which will perhaps not shock you. But we were interested in a subset of that data, the geography. Most donors live in or near big cities, the groups report -- but the cities near which they live vary pretty dramatically by party.
It's very much worth your time reading the full report.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Texas Monthly: The Big Three Breakfast Blows Up

Things are looking rough in the legislature.

- Click here for the article.

The weekly kumbaya breakfast between the big three Texas lawmakers broke down today into a round-robin of recriminations that concluded with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick declaring he was tired of Governor Greg Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus “picking on me.”

The blow-up, confirmed by multiple sources, represents the boiling point of long-simmering disputes. The House has been upset that Patrick declared his inauguration marked a “New Day” in Texas and that he pushed a conservative agenda quickly through the Senate with expectations that the House would just pass his legislation. But, instead, most of the Senate’s bills on tax cuts, licensed open carry of handguns and moving the Public Integrity Unit have languished in the House without even being referred to committee by Straus.

The House instead has passed its own version of the same legislation, putting the Senate in a take-it-or-leave-it position. To pass the Senate bills now, the House would have to have an entirely new debate on controversial measures it already has approved.

So the Senate, in what looked like retaliation on Tuesday, ignored a House-approved border security bill to vote on its own measure, putting the House into a take-it-or-leave-it position on border security – a measure that House Ways and Means Chair Dennis Bonnen had crafted to win support of border Democrats.

This may be Patrick’s New Day, but Straus’ Old Guard still runs the House.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Getting ready for the final

Click on these two links for a list of items I gave previous classes for the final review.

- Final 2305.
- Final 2306.

The questions won't be exactly the same, but if you're well versed in this material you should do well on the final. Also remember to review the previous quiz questions - you might see a few on the final.

Lecture students will also see a handful of current event questions largely based on what we've covered either in class, or I posted on this site. Online students will not see these questions. You should review what I've posted going back to January of this year. I won't ask questions with tremendous detail - so don't get lost in this stuff, but do have a general idea of what's been going on this year.

Here are a few hints about what types events of questions I might ask:

- Who has and has not announced that they will run for president?
- Who are the most and least competitive candidates?
- The current stage of the federal budgetary process.
- The conflict over President Obama's executive order on immigration.
- The Keystone Veto
- The Republican Senator's letter to the Iranian leadership
- The Freedom Caucus
- Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans
- What is a natural born citizen?
- The impact of money in the upcoming election
- Factions within the Republican Party
- Voter turnout in the United States
- Employment Division v Smith
- The Iranian Nuclear Deal

- What topics are dominating the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature?
- What is not dominating the current session?
- The "pick a pal" grand jury system.
- The conflict between the state of Texas and local governments.
- The governor's emergency items
- Judicial elections
- The Texas budget
- The conflict over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
- The Texas Sunset Commission
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Debt in Texas

Consider this a start - more could be added to this, but the test will likely be finished at the end of this week, so nothing that happens after this week will be on the test.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Proposals for paper about open carry.

A large handful of 2306 students are looking at the open carry proposals in the Texas Legislature - some of which we've been following in class. The Texas Tribune provides a list of the bills that were introduced in the legislature regarding gun rights.

- Click here for the page.

These are the bills that have gone the furthest in each chamber:

HB 910.
SB 17.

Each has passed their respective chambers but have yet to be heard in the other - as far as I can tell.

A variety of specific topics have been proposed, these include:

- law enforcement's position on open carry
- are gun fees unconstitutional?
- what impact will open carry have on crime rates?
- interest group conflict over open carry
- what impact has open carry had in other states?
- the pros and cons of campus carry

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This what you missed if you didn't come to class today

Waka Flocka Flame for President: Watch His Exclusive Campaign Video.

"I'm dead ass running for president in 2016," 

From Vox: Why it's legal to fire someone for being gay in 28 states

Something to chew on prior to next week's oral arguments on gay marriage and the equal protection clause. It also applies to 2306's look at political culture.

- Click here for the article.

In most states, a landlord can evict someone simply because he is gay — and it would be totally legal to do so.
The cause isn't a religious freedom law like the one that triggered a national firestorm in Indiana, which critics said would enable discrimination on religious grounds. Instead, 31 states, including Indiana, have long allowed discrimination against LGBT people because they don't include sexual orientation or gender identity in existing civil rights statutes. In these states, it's not religious freedom laws that allow discrimination; it's the lack of civil rights laws.
"If there's a 'license to discriminate,'" Robin Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois who helped write Utah's nondiscrimination law, said, "it's the fact that the state hasn't said this is an unacceptable basis for saying no to people."
Thirty-one states don't ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, and other places that serve the general public).
As a result, more than half of LGBT Americans, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT advocacy group, live in a state where an employer can legally fire someone because he's gay, a landlord can legally evict someone because she's lesbian, and a hotel manager can legally deny service to someone who's transgender — for no reason other than the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Currently, 19 states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while three additional states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some other states protect public but not private employees from discrimination. Many municipalities have nondiscrimination laws that only apply within their local borders, even in states that don't have such laws. And some companies prohibit discrimination in their own policies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Covered in 2306

All from the Texas Tribune.

Bonnen: Patrick "Playing Games" With Border Security.
- Self-Driving Car Bill Stalled by Google, Carmakers.
Analysis: Legislative Dance Partners, Stepping on Toes.
Analysis: Bickering Over Inquiries, With a Legislative Audience.

From the NYT: A Snapshot of the Campaign Finance Landscape

Right now, the race for the White House is all about who can get the money necessary to make a legitimate run. The NYT evaluates the financial picture as of March 31

- Click here for the article.

Here's more:

- USA Today: Super PACs move to forefront of 2016 campaigns.
- National Journal: Marco Rubio and the 'Moneyball' Campaign.

If a police officer has stopped you for a traffic violation, can he make you wait for a drug sniffing dog?

No - according to 6 people on the Supreme Court.

- Click here for the scoop from ScotusBlog.

From ScotusBlog's analysis:

The Court issued a seemingly simple rule today in Rodriguez v. United States: “A seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police investigation of that violation” – not more — and “authority for the seizure . . . ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are – or reasonably should have been—completed.” Because being stopped by police officers for traffic violations is a common occurrence for us all (not just drug dealers), this six-to-three decision probably gives some (small) comfort to many. Traffic stops have to be reasonably short, and unless there is reasonable suspicion of some other crime, officers can’t use the stop as a subterfuge for extraneous investigation. Most specifically, says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion for the Court, officers can’t prolong a traffic stop just to perform a dog-sniffing drug search.
But as Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas point out in separate dissents, the world is usually more complicated and nuanced than sound-bite summaries can accommodate. In fact, says Justice Thomas, the majority’s rule will lead to “arbitrary results,” depending on how efficient, or technology-adept, the individual officer who stops a car is. And Justice Alito predicts, whether cynically or just realistically, that officers will now be trained on the “prescribed” protocols that will still enable them to conduct traffic-stop dog sniffs if they want to. (He says he “would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall” for such training sessions – really?) Moreover, he finds it “perverse” that if the officer in this case had not waited for a back-up officer for safety reasons, he could have performed a solo dog sniff without any constitutional problem.

- Here's more from Oyez.
- Plus an analysis from CityLab.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Ku Klux Klan Act

Among other things, 4/20 is the anniversary of the passage of the Enforcement Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Here's a description from Wikipedia:

. . . [theh act] empowered the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacy organizations during the Reconstruction Era. The act was passed by the 42nd United States Congress during the Reconstruction Era and signed into law by PresidentUlysses S. Grant on April 20, 1871. The act was the last of three Enforcement Acts passed by the United States Congress from 1870 to 1871 during the Reconstruction Era to combat attacks upon the suffrage rights of African Americans. The statute has been subject to only minor changes since then, but has been the subject of voluminous interpretation by courts.

The act marks a shift in the relationship between the national government and the states regarding law enforcement, so it adds to our understanding of the changing nature of federalism.

The opening moves in the 2016 presidential race

There's little surprise that this has been popular. The only issue with this subject is how it is framed - what specific topic is drawn from it.

Too many students are proposing make an overview of the candidates and assess their competitiveness in some unspecified manner. While there are ways that this can be done well, I'm worried this might leads to rambling, disjointed commentaries. I don't want that. It would likely turn into the writer's personal feelings about this person and that person, which says nothing about their actual competitiveness.

The chore for this topic will be to find an interesting approach to the subject.

Some of the proposals so far have proposed the following:

- looking at where the money is coming from.
- comparing this stage of the election process with where we were in 2012.
- analyzing the dominant issues in the race so far.
- determining what criteria tends make the best candidates and whether that criteria also makes for the best presidents.
- comparing the strategies for winning the Republican nomination with that for winning the Democratic nomination.

Click on the label - 2016 election - to look through what I've posted so far. Scroll down to the e's and look through past stories on previous elections for more.

All about that executive order on illegal immigration

President Obama's executive order on immigration is also topical to 2305 students - as well as some 2306 students that are approaching it from the state's perspectives.

- In case you're interested, if you click on this label - illegal immigration - you'll go to past blog posts on the subject. This label - immigration - might be helpful too.

These are some of the questions raised in the proposals. Some papers will address more than one.

- Is it constitutional?
- What roles do each level of government play in immigration policy?
- Is it good policy?
- Beyond the order itself, is our immigration policy broken?
- What impact do illegal immigrants have on the budget?
- Do employers like illegal workers?
- Do they really destroy the economy? Might they benefit it in someway?
- Will it be reversed by the Republican Congress?
- Will it be reversed by the courts?
- What impact will the order have on Texas?

From the Huffington Post: The 114th Congress at 100 Days

On the heels of the previou post, there's this assessment of the current Congress. The author argues it has been very kind to wealthy contributors.

- Click here for it.

April 15 marks the 100th day of the 114th--some might call the best Koch money could buy--Congress. The first 100 days of any new Congress is a well-established timeline to evaluate its priorities, efficacy and focus. After sweeping into 2015 with overwhelming midterm election victories, and majorities in the House and Senate, Congressional Republican leadership looked poised to enact policies that best represented the interests of their constituents. But given the time they devoted to advancing policies that benefit their wealthy contributors and dark money donors, perhaps the clearest thing we know about their priorities is that donors and polluters outrank the will of the people.

For more:

- NYT: Why Congress Is Having Trouble Governing.
- Denver Post: After a few stumbles, GOP lawmakers regain footing on budget.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Is Congress dysfunctional?

A few 2305 students are investigating congressional dysfunction and trying to determine whether the 113th Congress was the most dysfunctional yet. Here are some sources.

- From Vox: What is Congressional Dysfunction?
- From Politico: The Least Productive Congress in History?
- CNN: Don't say "dysfunctional Congress."
- The Hill: Worst Congress ever?
- The Fiscal Times: How the 113th Do-Nothing Congress Lived Up to Its Name.
- Pew Research Center: Congress ends least-productive year in recent history.
- NYT: Senate Prepares to Wrap Up Sluggish 2013.
- CQ Roll Call: 2013 Legislative Summary

Remember that there is no reason to agree with the premise. A key issue here will be defining just exactly what the word "dysfunction" refers to. What is Congress supposed to do anyway?

From Vox: Corporations now spend more lobbying Congress than taxpayers spend funding Congress

Interesting detail:

- Click here for the story.

Well, this isn't good:

Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures – more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.16 billion) and Senate ($820 million).
Those numbers come from political scientist Lee Drutman, author of the book The Business of America is Lobbying, who notes, over email, that they've fallen slightly out of date. In 2014, the House's operating budget was $1.18 billion, and the Senate's operating budget was $860 million. That pays for, among other things, all congressional staff. Add in the funds for the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Research Service — the two most important agencies meant to inform members of Congress about the issues corporate America is lobbying them on — and you've added another $150 million to the tab.
Which is to say, Drutman's point stands: businesses* are spending more money lobbying the House and Senate than taxpayers are spending running the House and Senate and informing its members. And that should scare you

Update: A related story from The Hill:

Lobbyists begin to cash in on Republican-led Congress.

K Street’s largest firms are starting to reap the rewards of the new GOP-controlled Congress, leaving lobbyists bullish about 2015.
Nearly all of two-dozen firms that provided their first-quarter earnings totals to The Hill on Monday — the deadline to report the figures to the House and Senate — saw their revenues increase.
While some reported only modest gains, many in the influence industry say the uptick is likely just the beginning of an influx of new business generated by November’s elections.
“With the return to regular order and a robust pent-up policy agenda, we’re seeing renewed energy and efforts for bipartisan progress that should last at least until mid-2016, when campaign dynamics may finally take over,” Bruce Mehlman told The Hill.
His firm, Mehlman Castagnetti Bingel Rosen & Thomas, saw first-quarter advocacy revenue on par with the same period in 2014. Although it lost one of its major partners and underwent a rebranding last year, the firm earned $2.82 million from January through March.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Criminal justice in the 84th legislature

A number of 2306 students have opted to analyze the various proposals for modifying criminal penalties. These include proposals to look at the debate over specific bills, including the interest groups that are aligning themselves on different sides of the issues.

Marijuana and the death penalty are dominating attention, but there are also proposals in the leg to alter punishments for infractions at school (truancy for example) and other issues involving juvenile justice.

Many of the proposals are focusing on the argument that current punishments are not cost effective, a reasonable approach in my opinion.

These source might be helpful.

- Grits for Breakfast is a great general resource.
- Here's Grits for Breakfast's a look at the what 83rd session did regarding criminal justice.
- Texas Tribune: Texas Among States Facing "Raise the Age" Debate.
- Texas Tribune: Lawmaker Says Death Penalty in Jeopardy.
- Texas Tribune: Law and Order.

For activities in the legislature:
- Texas Legislature Online: Bills that came up in a search on "criminal justice."
- Legiscan: Bills that came up in a search on "criminal justice."
- Texas House of Representatives: Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
- Texas Senate: Jurisprudence Committee.

Just in case you want to peruse through the existing Texas Penal Code - click here for it.

Just cause I'm on a roll


So you want to be a Political Operative

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Operatives Prominent in 2016 Campaigns

You want a job in politics?

- Read this and do what these people do.

The story lists the people from Texas - political professionals - who are working with the various 2016 campaign, declared or undeclared.

These are the staffers and advisers — listed by the candidate they're working for — who wield enormous power in the day-to-day mechanics and strategy of each 2016 bid. Some were reared in Texas and now live on the East Coast or are on the campaign trail. Others on this list may not be Texans by birth but are established figures here who spent at least a decade building their names in Lone Star circles.

Some related stories:

- So You Want to be a Political Operative.
- Politico: 50 politicos to watch: Political operatives.
- The Atlantic: The Life of a Political Operative, Explained.
- And for fun: - Shit Political Operatives Say.

Note that a degree in political science is not considered to be helpful to being a political operative - I agree.


This would have been a good addition to our look at the Texas executive branch.

- Click here for it.

I'll save it here for a look with the summer classes.

Here's a cut to the chance:

- Transparency and Ethics: C
- Criminal Justice: B
- Economic Development: A
- The Environment: D+
- Public Health: D-
- Higher Education: B-
- Public Education: D
Transportation: C

Helpful Hints: 5 Things to Know Before Recording the Police

Don't say I'm not here to help. A proposal was made - and rescinded - in the legislature to increase punishment for recording the police.

- Click here for the article.

Cutting to the chase:

1. You Have a First Amendment Right to Record
2. Can the Officer Delete Your Pics or Video? No.
3. You Cannot Break Laws While Filming
4. Are You Violating Wiretapping Laws?
5. Know When to Walk Away or Stop

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From CityLab: The Murky Law on Free-Range Kids

This hits some of the themes the story about vaccinations discussed previously this semester hit. How much latitude are we willing to give parents in how they raise their kids, especially if the general public believes the choices parents are making put their kids at risk. Being an area where states have the ability to make this decision, the rules vary across the nation.

- Click here for the story.

On April 12, it happened again: Rafi and Dvora Meitiv, the “free-range kids” of Silver Spring, Maryland, were picked up and detained by police. The siblings, aged 10 and six, were playing unsupervised in their neighborhood when a man walking his dog spotted them and called the authorities.
Back in December, Rafi and Dvora made national headlines when police picked them up as they walked home from a local park. The children’s parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, subscribe to the philosophy of “free-range” parenting, which holds that children develop self-reliance by exploring their neighborhoods or riding public transportation on their own, if their parents judge them ready. (Disclosure: the Meitiv children attend the same school as my son, though I don’t know them or their parents.)
After the first incident, Montgomery County Child Protective Services investigated and found the senior Meitivs responsible for “unsubstantiated neglect.” Now an attorney for the couple says they will file a lawsuit over their family’s treatment. In fact, the law is not clear on free-range parenting in the state of Maryland, or anywhere else in the country: states and cities generally do not specify the youngest age at which a child can play or walk outside alone.
A few states have laws stipulating the minimum age when a child can be lefthome alone. In Illinois it is 14, in Maryland, eight, and in Oregon, 10. Maryland’s law further stipulates that a young child left in the care of a person under 13 is “unattended.” Many more states offer home-alone guidelines, which vary as widely as the laws do (age six in Kansas, age 12 in Mississippi).
In North Carolina, the state fire code prohibits leaving children younger than eight home alone. Rarely, a city will have its own ordinance establishing the home-alone age, as Albuquerque does (the age there is 10). In most cases, whether such home-alone rules extend to outdoor spaces is something lawyers could argue either way.

Hillary Clinton is in

The announcement came on Sunday the 12th.

- The NYT describes it here.

Like other candidates she made the annoucement via video.

- Which you can see here on You Tube (of course).

For commentary (so far):

- Vox: What losing in 2008 taught Hillary about how to win in 2016.
- Vox: Hillary Clinton's uncontested nomination is dangerous for her and her party.
- The National Journal: Hill Progressives Look to Push Clinton to the Left.
- The National Journal: Progressives and Elizabeth Warren Die-Hards Are Preparing for Life With Hillary Clinton.
- New York Magazine: Why Hillary Clinton Is Probably Going to Win the 2016 Election.
- The New Republic: There's Nothing Inevitable About Hillary.
- New York Magazine: Is Hillary Clinton any good at running for president? And how much does it matter, anyway?
- Open Secrets: Will Clinton Win Back Wall Street for Democrats?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lincoln Assassination Eyewitness (Feb 9, 1956)

From the National Journal: Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee Are on a Collision Course as Evangelicals Audition 2016 Contenders

We mentioned in class that Senator Cruz's assumed strategy was to get the support of this part of the Republican coalition first before reaching out to other groups. But Mike Huckabee is not going to give up without a fight. The story suggest that a third potential candidate from this faction - Rick Santorum - may step back.

- Click here for the article.

"Those are the two," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said of Cruz and Huckabee. "And they share the same core base, so I do think there's probably only room for one of them to be successful."
Perkins is not alone in this view. Conversations with some of the country's most influential and well-connected evangelical power-brokers suggest an emerging consensus—out of private gatherings like CNP as well as public events like the Values Voters Summit—that 2016 is shaping up as a two-horse race. Even a senior adviser to former Sen. Rick Santorum, who won Iowa in 2012 and is considering another run, admitted that talk of Cruz and Huckabee distancing themselves from the field is "accurate."
It's still early, and neither Cruz nor Huckabee has stated publicly their intention to run in 2016. But the Texas senator has sent clear signals to his allies that he's planning to jump in, perhaps as soon as the end of this year; and the former Arkansas governor has left little doubt in private meetings with Christian leaders and GOP consultants that a campaign is imminent.
Of course, the race to win evangelical hearts (and wallets) is only part of the GOP's 2016 nominating contest. More establishment-allied Republicans—Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. John Kasich, Rep. Paul Ryan, former Gov. Jeb Bush—all are considering a bid. Sen. Rand Paul is perhaps the farthest along in the planning, though also the hardest to pin within the traditional GOP structures.
But the early indicators of a head-to-head contest for the social-conservative contingent could have a significant impact on the Republican primary season. And both the Cruz and Huckabee camps know it.
In recent months, allies of both men have eyed one another as mutual threats in the quest to win the evangelical endorsement—and have even launched early efforts to undermine the other. Cruz allies have suggested that conservatives won't be able to ignore Huckabee's questionable fiscal record; Huckabee's team has questioned Cruz's ability to connect with religious audiences.
While some have doubted aloud whether Huckabee will run, as he sits comfortably hosting a Fox News program and singing the praises of the Florida beach life, his travel schedule and rhetoric are suggesting otherwise.

From the National Journal: Conservative Leaders Plan Two Secret Meetings Aimed at Picking a 2016 Candidate

Here's an addition to our discussion of the nature of democracy in the United States. Are we better understood as being an oligarchy - or more specifically a plutocracy?

- Click here for the article.

A secretive group that serves as the umbrella operation for leaders and activists within the conservative movement will host two meetings in the coming months,National Journal has learned, the first to vet Republican presidential candidates and the second to discuss coalescing behind one of them.
The Council for National Policy, a shadowy organization of several hundred dues-paying members, typically meets three times a year in various locations around the country. But with the 2016 cycle accelerating, and many conservative leaders intent on rallying behind a single candidate, CNP's leadership is taking extraordinary measures—scheduling two top-priority meetings outside of Washington—and inviting a large number of nonmembers to both.
The group will host a two-day summit on May 15 and 16 at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. The format will be simple: Candidates will have an hour on stage to address the room and answer questions, followed by 30 minutes of meet-and-greet with guests. Organizers say they've begun sending invitations to all of the major Republican candidates—"even Chris Christie," one said—and several candidates have already committed to the event.
The candidates' performances in May could have enormous implications. That's because five months later, CNP will reconvene—in the same city, at the same hotel—but with a different agenda: To begin narrowing its list of candidates with the aim of collectively supporting just one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TADA hates Tesla

Here's proof.

Tesla Store at Houston Galleria (Part 1 of 4)

Your federal tax receipt

- More from the White House.

From Vox: Lots of stuff on federal taxes

This might be worth perusing in 2305. Its a series of slides explaining different issues associated with federal taxes. Much of this information is contained in the sections on budgeting and economic policymaking.

- Click here for it.

They answer basic questions about the variety of taxes collected at the national level.

This looks provocative also: |

The greatest trick the rich ever pulled was making us believe they pay all the taxes.

Democratic Convention in Houston 1928

From the Texas Tribune: Tesla Makes Sales Pitch to House Panel

An item brought up in 2306 today;

- Click here for it.

At a packed committee hearing Monday evening, advocates for Tesla Motors told a panel of Texas House members that it was time to bring state car sales laws into the 21st century and allow the company to sell its luxury electric vehicles in Texas.
“The future is here,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, author of a bill that would allow Tesla to operate up to 12 stores in Texas. “The way in which we buy and sell goods is changing and we must adapt.”
The California-based company builds cars and sells them directly to consumers, bypassing car dealerships — a business model prohibited by Texas law. Tesla currently operates three “galleries” in Austin, Dallas and Houston, but employees there are barred from normal dealership activities like discussing prices or offering test-drives.
. . . For now, buyers in Texas have to order the car online from the company’s headquarters in California. The vehicles are delivered in unmarked trucks, and customers have to unwrap their new cars themselves, because the law prohibits Tesla employees in Texas from engaging in any sales- or delivery-related activity.
Opponents pushed back against Rodriguez’s bill on Monday, arguing that it creates two separate systems for car sales — one for Tesla and one for everyone else.
“Everyone should play by the same rules,” said Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business.
“It’s a solution looking for a problem. Tesla’s problems are self-imposed,” said Carroll Smith, who represents Texas on the National Automobile Dealers Association board in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Big Sort

- Click here for it.

More in a second.

From the National Journal: THE EMERGING REPUBLICAN ADVANTAGE The idea of an enduring Democratic majority was a mirage. How the GOP gained an edge in American politics—and why it’s likely to last.

The author argues that Republicans have been able to lure away members of the middle class.

- Click here for the article.
American parties routinely go through periods of ascendancy, decline, and deadlock. From 1896 to 1930, the Republican Party reigned supreme; from 1932 to 1968, the New Deal Democrats dominated; following a period of deadlock, the Reagan Republicans held sway during the 1980s. After the parties exchanged the White House, Democrats appeared to take command of American politics in 2008. In that election, Obama and the Democrats won not only the White House but also large majorities in the Senate and House, plus a decided edge in governor's mansions and state legislatures.
At the time, some commentators, including me, hailed the onset of an enduring Democratic majority. And the arguments in defense of this view did seem to be backed by persuasive evidence. Obama and the Democrats appeared to have captured the youngest generation of voters, whereas Republicans were relying disproportionately on an aging coalition. The electorate's growing ethnic diversity also seemed likely to help the Democrats going forward.
These advantages remain partially in place for Democrats today, but they are being severely undermined by two trends that have emerged in the past few elections—one surprising, the other less so. The less surprising trend is that Democrats have continued to hemorrhage support among white working-class voters—a group that generally works in blue-collar and lower-income service jobs and that is roughly identifiable in exit polls as those whites who have not graduated from a four-year college. These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced.
The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called "the office economy." In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)
The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans. The question, of course, is whether it is going to continue. It's tough to say for sure, but I think there is a case to be made that it will.

Do Republicans have an electoral advantage in US House elections?

The same people that argue that Democrats may have a lock on the White House in the near future argue that Republicans may have a similar lock on the United States House of Representatives.

The traditional culprit is gerrymandering. Republicans did very well in the 2010 election and won a number of state legislatures. This allowed them greater control of redistricting than Democrats. The resulting districts spread Republican voters among a larger number of districts and packed Democrats in fewer. Thus the advantage.

On analysis pointed out that Democratic candidates for House seats in the 2012 election received more than a million votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans won 33 more seats.

- Click here for the numbers.

For detail click on these:

- GOP Has A Built-In Advantage In Fight For The US House.
- The Enduring Republican Grip on the House.
- GOP Has Built-in Advantage In Fight For The House.
Just how strong are the GOP's gerrymanders? Daily Kos Elections' median district scores explain.

Do Democrats have an electoral advantage in the electoral college?

There's an argument that they do. It's roughly based on the idea that Republicans are concentrated in a smaller number of large states and Democrats are more spread out across the nation. Democrats are therefore more competitive in more states than Republicans. The Democratic presidential candidate is therefor more likely to win the necessary electoral college votes. It doesn't matter if you win the state by 1 vote or if you win it unanimously. Every state except two allocate their vote in a winner take all.

Click on these for detail:

- In 2016 race, an electoral college edge for Democrats.
- A big Electoral College advantage for the Democrats is looming.
- Do Democrats have a permanent Electoral College advantage?
- Democrats Shouldn’t Count on an Electoral College Edge in 2016.
The Electoral College challenge facing the Republicans in 2016.
- Democrats' Electoral College Edge.
- Democrats have a built-in edge in the Electoral College. But it guarantees them nothing for 2016

Here's an image that looks forward to 2016. We of course have no idea who the nominees will be or what might transpire between now and then to change the landscape - bit its a start:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What impact will falling gas prices have on the Texas Budget?

A few 2306 students have focused on this topic - and here are a few resources that should help you develop a good paper. Remember that your paper much be built upon a strong and narrow topic, some of you have developed one, some of you have yet to.

Here are a few stories and resources that should help for now:

- Bloomberg Business: Energy and Oil Prices.
- Texas Tribune: Texplainer: Do Falling Oil Prices Threaten the Budget?
- Macrotrends: Crude Oil Price History Chart.
- Knoema: Crude Oil Price Forecast: Long Term 2015 to 2025.
- Fiscal Size-Up: Chapter 2 - beginning on page 54 - describes oil and gas taxes.
- Texas Comptroller: Crude Oil Production Tax.
- Texas Comptroller: Natural Gas Production Tax.
- TXOGA: Economic Impact.
- WSJ: Plunging Oil Prices Test Texas’ Economic Boom.
- WSJ: The U.S. Oil Story in Seven Charts.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What is the most gerrymandered U.S. House district in Texas?

Here are a few candidates, many of these are in our area:

These are pulled from the TLC's Texas Redistricting site.

- District 2.
- District 15.
- District 18.
- District 22.
- District 28.
- District 29.
- District 30.
- District 32.
- District 33.
- District 34.
- District 35.

The fight over local control continues

In the news today:

The Texas Tribune: Local Government, School Lobbying in Ethics Crosshairs.
Thursday unleashed a torrent of criticism against a pair of bills that would restrict how they can interact with members of the Texas Legislature.
The legislation, sponsored by freshman Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, is designed to bar school districts and local government entities from using tax dollars to hire lobbyists or pay associations that lobby for them in Austin, such as the Texas Association of Counties or the Texas Association of School Boards. Some last-minute tweaks would weaken the outright prohibition in some circumstances.

Dallas Morning News: Energy interests are threatening local control.
At the behest of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, bills rocketing through the Legislature would “expressly pre-empt” local ordinances that regulate drilling in urban areas. The bills would undermine drilling ordinances in more than 300 Texas cities, including Dallas. Limits on drilling near homes, prohibitions of drilling in parks and bans on waste injection wells could be eliminated.

Dallas Morning News: Senators debate tighter caps on city, county property taxes.
Tea party activists called Thursday for restrictions on what cities and counties can collect from property taxes, despite warnings by mayors and county judges that a “revenue caps” bill could result in fewer cops and more potholes.

Dallas Morning News: Local control looms over House committee debate on statewide rules for Uber, Lyft.
The vehicle-for-hire rules crafted by the city of Dallas last year in a laborious, months-long process would be effectively wiped out under legislation heard Thursday by House lawmakers. A bill by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would instead create statewide regulations for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft. The state Department of Motor Vehicles would administer the rules, which wouldn’t apply to cabs and limos.

Houston Chronicle: Unhappy businesses make Austin lobbyists rich.
Democracy is about giving the power of self-determination to the people, and in the United States we believe that power should be given to local governments as much as possible. Conservatives in the Texas Legislature rail all the time about federal environmental regulations designed to stop interstate pollution. They say the rules infringe on the rights of Texans to make their own laws. However, that same lawmaker is more than happy to pass a state law trumping a city ordinance. That's why business people spend millions of dollars a year on lobbyists in Austin. And this year is a very good year to be a lobbyist.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Factions in the current Democratic Party

For some reason there's not as much current usable information on this topic as for the Republican Party - perhaps because there's lots more action among Republicans. I'm still looking for good graphics on the subject, but for now this Wikipedia page will have to do.

Catching up with gerrymandering

Gerrymandered house districts - along with primary elections dominated by passionate ideological minorities - are argued to be a leading cause of the dysfunction on display in Congress. Here's some of the most recent commentary on the nature of and consequences of gerrymandered districts on governance.

For past blog posts on gerrymandering click here.

- Wonkblog: This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see.
- Ted Talk: Gerrymandering: How drawing jagged lines can impact an election.
- The Pernicious Effects of Gerrymandering.
- Hate our polarized politics? Why you can’t blame gerrymandering.
- The Great Gerrymander of 2012.