Fri October 10, 2014 12:18 pm By Paul Burka

I was gratified today to open up my computer and see the news that a federal judge in Corpus Christi has struck down Texas's voter ID law. In past years, the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of Voter ID laws, most notably in the Indiana case of 2008's Crawford vs. Marion County, and in 2013 it struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that a number of states, including Texas, would no longer be subject to federal preclearance before changing voting rules. As the Brennan Center notes, the state announced that the voter ID law would be implemented on the day Shelby County was decided.  

There has never been any doubt in my mind, though, that Voter ID is all about voter suppression, notwithstanding Greg Abbott's claims to the contrary. Anyone who sat through the heated Senate debate on the subject in 2011 could not have failed to get it, and people following this issue since then may have been influenced by the widely noticed recanting by distinguished jurist Richard Posner--who wrote the majority opinion in the circuit court's decision on the Indiana case in 2007, but wrote last year that such laws are now "widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention." The opinion from the Corpus Christi judge, Nelva Gonzales Ramos, makes a strong case against Voter ID as well (PDF), calling it "an unconstitutional poll tax." 

None of this can be good news for the attorney general, who reacted to yesterday's ruling by promising to appeal it to the Fifth Circuit. He may find the Fifth Circuit more receptive than Judge Gonzales Ramos--who is, as Republicans were quick to note, an Obama appointee--but he is facing likely defeats in future cases concerning same-sex marriage and redistricting. His best shot at a win is the school finance case before the Texas Supreme Court. He'll probably win that one. The Court is in the tank for the state, but then what do you expect from a body that consists primarily of judges appointed by Rick Perry.

Thu October 9, 2014 4:45 pm By Erica Grieder

Yesterday Dan Patrick, the Republican nominee for lieutenant-governor, released a new television ad arguing that the pragmatic approach to illegal immigration favored by his Democractic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, has left Americans vulnerable "while ISIS terrorists threaten to cross our border and kill Americans."

He's referring, implicitly, to the United States's southern border with Mexico, and Patrick is not the only Republican to be raising this specter. Last month Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, said that he "had reason to believe" that four terror suspects--not affiliated with ISIS, but affiliated with other terrorist organizations--had been apprehended in Texas on September 10th. Several days ago Duncan Hunter, a Republican representative from California, told Fox News host Greta van Susteren that "at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas." 

There are many substantive disagreements between Patrick and Van de Putte about illegal immigration and border security, and Patrick has been calling for a greater focus on border security for years, but since he dragged ISIS into it, let's talk about that. Hypothetically speaking, an ISiS fighter could try to enter the United States by sneaking across the border into Texas, but the "evidence" cited in all three cases doesn't stand up. In reality there is no evidence that any ISIS fighters have illegally entered Texas, and no evidence that any are even making a serious attempt to do so. 

Read More
Wed October 8, 2014 10:31 am By Paul Burka

Abbott's fundraising breaks the bank, and it reinforces what I have been speculating about why he is stockpiling so much cash. He's not worried about Wendy Davis any more. He's worried about lieutenant governor Dan Patrick.

Read More
Mon October 6, 2014 2:33 pm By Erica Grieder

Over at The Dallas Morning News, Gromer Jeffers Jr has a piece about Ken Paxton, the Republican attorney-general nominee: 

In a rare interview last week with The Dallas Morning News, Paxton said he is mindful that political rivals are pushing a narrative that he faces a possible indictment, perhaps even after he takes office as the state’s top lawyer.

In May, the Texas State Securities Board said Paxton violated state law by soliciting clients, for pay, for a company that dispenses investment advice even though he had not registered with the board. He was fined $1,000. It can be a crime, but Paxton describes it as an administrative error.

I find myself in a state of genuine (although inconsequential) confusion over several things. First of all, this comment, "It can be a crime." In certain cases, that sentence makes sense. Rick Perry's efforts to encourage the Travis County district attorney to resign, for example, may be tantamount to coercion, which is a crime; hence his indictment on charges of coercion (abuse of official capacity). In Paxton's case, however, authorities have already determined that the action described--soliciting paying clients as an investment advisor, without having registered with the Texas State Securities Board--was a violation of state law. That's why they fined him. Paxton himself, in describing his failure to register as an administrative error, is only commenting on his motive, not on the supposed legality of his actions. And as a number of sources reminded me with regard to Perry, if you broke the law by accident, it still counts.

My second point of confusion is why Paxton's presenting himself as the victim here. I get it, as a political gambit, but this is not, let's say, an argument one would take to appellate court. The suggestion that Paxton could possibly face indictment over actions that violated the law and that he's already admitted to isn't a "narrative" being pushed by political rivals. It's a factual comment about a possibility, a possiblity that Paxton himself acknowledged to Jeffers: "We have [a lawyer] ready, if anything does happen.” It's arguably a possiblity that should concern Republicans more than Democrats; the last time I heard someone raise a concern about this, in fact, it was a conservative lawyer, and the concern was that the looming possibility of an indictment would potentially give the federal government leverage against the Texas attorney general. And for that matter Paxton's actual political rival--the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Sam Houston--did tell Jeffers that Paxton might be indicted, but his main point was about the action itself, the failure to register as an investment advisor: “He wants to be the state’s top law enforcement officer, and he broke the law." 

Third point of confusion: As the Republican nominee, Paxton has to be considered the presumptive successor to Greg Abbott, the current attorney general. Yes, Texans are notoriously disinterested in government, and yes, it's a downballot race, and no, the Texas Constitution doesn't even say that the attorney general has to be a lawyer. Still...I mean, come on. 

Speaking of which, today is the last day to register to vote in this year's general election. (If you're not sure whether you're registered, you can check via the secretary of state's website.) 

Thu October 2, 2014 12:33 pm By Paul Burka

I'm not surprised that the race for governor has tightened according to the recent Lyceum Poll. This is a contest between two candidates who have the support of large constituencies that stretch far beyond Texas. Abbott is among the state's most prominent attorneys and is no stranger to the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis staked her claim to fame with her memorable filibuster of HB 2. Republicans have the advantage in numbers, this being Texas, but Democrats seem to be somewhat resurgent, and Davis gave them a shot in the arm with her strong performance in the final debate. Abbott has to be the favorite, but this is not a particularly strong Republican ticket, and the full force of the Texas Enterprise Fund scandal has yet to be felt. It's going to be closer than people think.