Houston Mayoral Candidate Forums – This Week!

Arts Forum
Wednesday, June 3
Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: Asia Society
1370 Southmore Blvd, Houston, TX 77004


City Budget & Economic Development Forum
Thursday, June 4
Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: University of Houston Student Center South (ballroom)
UC – Building 565
126 University Drive, Houston, TX 77004


Area Labor & Community Organization Forum
Saturday, June 6
Time: 9:00 a.m.

Location: Talento Bilingue
333 S Jensen Dr, Houston, TX 77003

Americans United: Bills Threatening Church/State Separation Defeated

I got some good news from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in the inbox. Some pretty awful bills were killed with the end of the Texas Lege session this week. Here’s the story:

The Texas legislature introduced a variety of bills that threatened to violate the separation of church and state that is vital to true religious liberty. But, thanks to your action and hard work, these bills were defeated! Here is an example of some of the problematic bills that did not pass:

Anti-Sharia Bills:Texas House Bills 562, 670, and 3698 did not mention Sharia law specifically, but were really motivated by anti-Muslim animus. Their purpose was to combat the unfounded fear that Sharia law could be applied in Texas courts. This precaution is unnecessary as Texas courts are already empowered to refuse to enforce foreign law judgments if they violate Texas and U.S. laws.  The bills’ only effect, therefore, would have been to spread anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Voucher Bills: Senate Bills 4, 642, and 1178, each would have created a different kind of voucher scheme. Whether in the form of a “scholarship,” “grant,” or tax credit, these voucher programs would have funneled taxpayer money into primarily religious schools, violating our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state.  Studies show voucher programs do not improve academic achievementor provide greater educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.  According to multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. They also often lack accountability, oversight, and civil rights protections.

So-Called “Religious Freedom” Bills: The Texas legislature introduced over 20 of these so-called “religious freedom” bills that could have trumped the civil rights of all Texans, and the LGBT community in particular. House Bill 4105, which was later added to House Bill 2977, attacked marriage equality specifically. Even if the Supreme Court decides this month that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, this bill would have prohibited state or local public funds from being used for an activity that includes the licensing, support, or recognition of a same-sex marriage. This bill would have also codified a particular religious view of marriage to the exclusion of other religious views held by many Texans.

House Bill 3864 would have allowed state-funded child welfare agencies to discriminate against potential parents for religious reasons. For example, adoption agencies could have refused to place a child in a good home with a same-sex couple, previously divorced individuals, or adherents to a religion with which they disagree. Not only would this bill have permitted government-funded discrimination, but it would have placed the child welfare agency’s interest above that of a child’s.

Thank you for contacting your legislators and helping us defeat these bills! There will be no legislative session in Texas in 2016, but please watch for our Federal action alerts and help to make a difference defeating bad bills in Congress!

As long as right-wing zealots exist, these bills will continue to re-appear. Thankfully, good activists exists who advocate for those who are constantly under attack.

Adrian Garcia Campaign Announces Grassroots Organizing Experience

The Adrian Garcia for Houston Mayor campaign announced a pretty awesome opportunity to earn some organizing experience–and it’s paid.

Adrian Garcia is a product of Houston, and is personally committed to empowering Houstonians to own a piece of his campaign for Mayor. Typically, campaign internships are unpaid, which tends to severely limit the diversity of the applicant pool. The Adrian Garcia for Mayor campaign is committed to cultivating the next generation of Houston grassroots organizers by offering those accepted a monthly stipend of $500.

Over the course of the eight week program, Fellows will:

  • learn and implement modern grassroots organizing best practices
  • learn requisite technical skills for grassroots organizing
  • empower volunteer leaders to organize their neighborhoods together

With comprehensive training and support from Deputy Field Directors, Fellows will empower and train volunteer leaders to organize their neighborhood’s voter contact and volunteer recruitment activities.

Requirements:

  • A minimum of 20 hours a week
  • 20 hours a week must include nights and weekends

You should apply if:

  • You thrive in a fast-paced environment, surrounded by people from various and diverse communities
  • You are a natural leader, with strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • You are both a self-starter and upbeat team member

We’d be especially interested in your application if:

  • You are bilingual
  • You have knocked doors or made phone calls for a campaign before

Empowering and developing volunteers within our organization is a cornerstone of our campaign. Fellows will be tasked with providing volunteers the tools and resources they need to organize their neighborhoods.

I can vouch for your future bosses, which includes one of the architects of Annise Parker’s historic 2009 victory. So, if you want to be a part of the Adrian Garcia campaign, apply.

The 84th Lege is Over!

Well, this time around, I didn’t get to blog much about Lege happenings. My compadres in the blogosphere did a lot of good writing and that was good enough for me.

The main bills I kept an eye on were targeted ones, like legalized racial profiling (sanctuary cities), a ban on in-state tuition for undocs, and, because I have family members who work in higher education, guns on college campuses. If Abbott signs the campus carry bill despite the amendment which allows University and college presidents to designate gun-free zones, then I’ll have gone two out of three. Not that that’s a good thing, considering the danger of allowing concealed guns on campus.

There were other victories that came in the form of dead bills–bills that either didn’t make the cut or were chubbed by Democrats, especially anti-LGBT bills. Of course, some of our favorite reps and senators passed bills that affected or impacted their respective districts. I’m sure the press releases will start trickling in.

One huge pile of waste is the almost one billion dollars that will go to Greg Abbott’s brand of border security through the use of an overburdened DPS. It’s already been proven a waste, but in order for gringo Republicans to feel the warm and fuzzies, I guess this needs to be done, right? It certainly doesn’t make Texas safer.

So, while this session is over, I’m sure we’re in for more during the 85th, including a whole new fight over sanctuary cities and in-state tuition, and anything else the bigots come up with in the name of “sovereignty” and “border security.”

Anyway, Happy Sine Die!

Crucial Deadline Passes on In-State Tuition Ban, Racial Profiling Law

Our friends at KeepHB1403.com remind us that the Texas Senate missed a deadline on Saturday to pass SB1819, a bill to ban in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who meet local residency and other requirements.

According to the group, if the Senate had passed the bill by the deadline, it also needed to have gone to a Texas House committee for consideration prior to a vote by the full House. Since none of these occurred, it becomes a lot more difficult to pass a ban, but not necessarily impossible if it is attached as an amendment.

Also, SB185, which would allow immigrant status checks by local law enforcement (a racial profiling law) seems to have experienced the same situation after it was “not placed again on intent calendar” on Saturday. Could it be added as and amendment? Well, you never know. With a few days left in the Texas Lege, all eyes are on a lot of legislative battles over amendments and bills that made the deadline.

Obviously, Abbott could call a special session for any of these things, and if he doesn’t, they’ll come up again in a couple of years.

We’ll keep an eye and ear open.

Update:  The DMN reports on this, too, as does the Amarillo paper. The AGN had some surprising GOP quotes, too. In fact, even Charles Perry, the senator who wrote SB185, says it is dead.

State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, gave stronger reasons for opposing SB 185 and Senate Bill 1819, the in-state tuition bill filed by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.

“Let me just say that there are three problems with (SB) 185,” Estes, said. “It is absolutely important to realize that it’s the federal government’s job to enforce our immigration laws, and I worry about the burden that it puts on our local police.

“Point No. 2 is this: I feel that the bill lacks the protections for American citizens being stopped at random. American citizens, no matter what their ethnic origin, have the right to go about their daily business and not be stopped and be questioned. … Let me say this: The phrase ‘Show me your papers’ is more like Nazi Germany than it is about the U.S.A.

“The third reason is a political reason. … For the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party to be viable in the future, we have to compete for the American Hispanic vote. And nothing could alienate Hispanic Americans more than being stopped at random arbitrarily and asked their status because of the color of their skin.”

Well, OK, then!

Find Your Towed Car…

Originally posted on :

Ever had your car towed and you just don’t know where it went? After smacking your head for not paying your parking fines, you can now go to a website which may point you in the right direction.

The city of Houston has just added a convenient little tool to help you deal with the tremendous inconvenience of having your car towed.

A Houston Police Department bulletin to the media announces a new Web site, www.findmytowedcar.com, which provides access to information about towed vehicles.

By entering your license plate or vehicle identification number, you can find out where your car is.

Here’s a link to Police Chief Charles McClelland explaining the site, which launched last week.

This hasn’t happened to me (knock on wood), but one time in college I came close. Considering that the City or any impound yard could make a killing during the time you seek your…

View original 17 more words

More Border Surge Realities

ef6ca-shrp2Lisa Falkenberg at the Chron offered up even more strong evidence regarding the lack of a need for Rick Perry’s Border Surge. Long story short:  The image provided by Rick Perry and other politicians about violence on the border doesn’t match up to crime stats.

The statistics also inject hard numbers into a debate that has been raging since a spike in unaccompanied children crossing the border captivated public attention last spring. The spike started subsiding before the surge and continued to trend downward, leading Republicans and Democrats to argue about the role the extra troops played.

Republicans also have said the surge was needed to combat crime brought by foreign gangs and drugs, while Democrats have questioned the value of the more than $100 million price tag for a region they described as safe.

State officials have largely used anecdotes to illustrate how the surge has succeeded in combating organized crime. A classified report to lawmakers obtained by the Chronicle in February listed examples of encounters with cartel members, immigrant “stash houses” and more, but it lacked detailed data.

The numbers DPS has released have mixed state efforts with federal and local law enforcement and concerned illegal immigrant apprehensions, drug seizures and interactions with gang members, which do not speak to overall crime rates.

Surely, the waste of tax dollars at the hands of Republicans should speak volumes as to future political implications, whether they affect Rick Perry’s presidential bid, or the future of Abbott, Patrick, and the rest of these alarmist Republicans who will blame immigrants for just about any problem caused by Republicans. Unfortunately, when top-of-the-ballot Democrats attempt (miserably) to co-opt the issue for their own political gain, it’s hard to participate in the usual point-and-blame game Dems usually play against Republicans.

Of course, there are those Dems who seem to do it correctly.

“DPS has been unwilling to release this information, and now we know why,” said state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston. “These numbers show that what our Republican leaders have been telling us has not been true.”

Of course, we need solutions; in this case, to stop the waste of our tax dollars on political war games that make for great campaign photo ops. Unfortunately, that takes ejecting the current people in positions of power. It is said that voting matters, but it takes strong, progressive-minded politicians who are willing to fight for what is right to earn those votes.

There’s Some Buzz Going Around about 2016

donkey-fightOne of the best sources for local political news, especially if you’re not an insider, is the Facebook. Whether it’s an actual announcement or someone putting out feelers with the hope of getting some attention, you find out what’s going on. Here are some of my observations, thus far.

President:  Looks like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will be joining Sanders and Clinton in the race for the Dem nomination on May 30. I’m a fan of O’Malley’s, actually. He would be the only one of the three to have made a strong statement in support of the Central American kids–or, at least nothing hateful that called for jailing and deporting them; at least not without legal representation and due process. I haven’t seen any policy pronouncements about Latin America, but at least Maryland wasn’t involved in the Honduran coup. All this said, I’m leaning O’Malley at this point.

The Local Judges:  When I emceed the Kingwood Area Dems brunch the other day, 151st District Judge Mike Engelhart was hard at work collecting signatures for his re-election campaign. I noticed thru FB that 127th District Judge Ravi Sandill was back on the trail for his re-election campaign. Former 165th District Judge Josefina Rendon FB-announced a run for her former seat. Immediately after Judge Al Bennett was confirmed as a Federal Judge, former District Judge Dion Ramos announced he would be running for Bennett’s old 61st District bench. Kristen Hawkins announced for the 11th District Court. Out in Precinct 3, Galena Park ISD trustee Joe Stephens, whom I met at the Kingwood shindig, seems to be running hard to replace retiring Judge Mike Parrott as Justice of the Peace.

There are also some exploratory campaigns that I’ve noticed, including Ursula Hall for the 165th District; Shawn Thierry for the 333rd District. Joe Montemayor has been putting out feelers for a possible JP3 run, too.

And given that there has been some stepped up activity by others who have run for something in the past (patriotic and partisan meme sharing and attending all sorts of events), there may be others. No doubt, we may see some Democratic Primary battles, and that’s probably good thing, even though some of the candidates may not want to be in these battles.

Sheriff:  It is becoming more and more obvious that a Democrat needs to announce for Sheriff–and soon. Given the Republican new guy’s hiring practices, it seems we need a Democrat. Anyone? Anyone?

If you’re actually running in 2016, let me know at my contact page.

Former Trustee Debra Kerner Responds to Chron Editorial on HCDE

Some of you may have seen a scathing editorial in Sunday’s Chron in which various complaints were listed against the Harris County Department of Education. HCDE has been under attack by Republicans for a long time and there is a current movement by Paul Bettencourt of the Texas Senate to get rid of it.

According to former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner, the editorial contains a lot of misinformation that she wanted to clear up. Here is her own letter-to-the-editor which, hopefully, the Chronicle will also run.

Dear Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Editor,

Regarding “HCDE draws sharp look” (Sunday, May 24, 2015, pg.1), I served as a countywide elected Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) from January 2009 to January 2015. During that time, I held various Board positions including Vice President. I read the article, “HCDE Draws Sharp Look” from Sunday, May 24, 2015 with intense interest and felt that as a private citizen and former board member, I had to respond.  I would ask that the public consider these clarifying facts.

1) HCDE serves students, educators and school districts.  Their services are provided at the request of Harris County school districts.  They seek to enhance and innovate and provide services to the school districts and the residents of Harris County.  All 25 of the school districts in Harris County choose to use at least some of the services from HCDE.  HCDE provides even more services than are listed in the article, including Safe and Secure Schools.  As told to me by the head of Region 4, all of these services cannot be duplicated by the Education Service Center (Region 4).  Who would provide these services, if HCDE had to close?

2) During my tenure, HCDE underwent several audits and a Texas legislative study.  These studies determined that HCDE’s education services saved taxpayer dollars and that it would cost school districts significantly more to replicate. While areas for improvement were identified, none of the studies recommended closure.  The Board had always taken steps to improve the department and continues to do so.

3) One example that was noted in the article was the policy on hiring political consultants.  The Board did not have the chance to vote on the Eversole contract.  Once the board learned about these hirings, the policy was changed to bring more transparency to the process of hiring political consultants. While I understand, the concern about using tax dollars for this purpose, I believe it would be unfair to the students and educators served by HCDE to not give them a voice regarding the educational resources that are so valuable to them. Many school districts also hire lobbyists and political consultants to help educate legislators and others about their needs.  In addition, HCDE has a group consistently seeking its abolishment.  Three year olds and other students with severe disabilities cannot go to Austin to indicate the true value of HCDE, so HCDE does it for them.  HCDE is a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

4) Ms. Vera and the Houston Chronicle have initiated countless open records request.  HCDE has been compliant and constantly sought to increase transparency.  Responding to these requests has been costly; however, none of these requests have yielded information that rises to the level of criminal activity. Any issues that were found, the Board had already initiated steps to improve the situation. At the same time, HCDE has continued to educate students, train teachers and provide valuable wraparound services.

5) We should focus on what HCDE is doing now. HCDE has hired a new superintendent, James Colbert, who is moving forward. The Board has made changes to address policies and procedures to ensure that things are done correctly and transparently.   HCDE continues to respond to the needs of partner districts. I participated in the hiring of Mr. James Colbert and from what I’ve seen thus far, he is a true leader who is very responsive to the educational needs in Harris County.  The reason HCDE has fought against additional studies regarding abolishment is that it is hard to plan for the future when the threat of closure hangs over their heads.

I was honored to serve with Trustees who truly cared about enhancing education in our county in a fiscally responsible way.  It is a shame that the voices of a few are taken as fact when thousands of students and the 25 Harris County school districts find value in HCDE every single day.

Thank-you,

Debra Kerner

Former Trustee, Harris County Department of Education

NPR: Ballooning Importance of Latino Vote

donkey-fightNPR had an interesting article based on recent Pew Hispanic Center polling about the increasing importance of the Latino vote in 2016.

Much is being said about how Bush and Rubio on the Republican side have been courting Latinos; of course, there’s not much description as to how it is being done or how effective it has been.

Bush has used references to his support for what he calls immigration reform, which basically turns out to be a push for a second class of citizen based on work permits. Hillary Clinton pointed that out recently in a challenge to all of the Republicans on the immigration issue.

Today, the Clinton campaign released info on some new hires, including a Latino outreach director, Lorella Praeli.

Born in Peru, Praeli was brought to the U.S. by her family at age 10 to provide her with better opportunities; Praeli lost a leg in an accident when she was 2. The family moved to Connecticut and her mother, who was a psychiatrist in Peru, worked as a housekeeper. Praeli attended Quinnipiac University, where she graduated summa cum laude and where she also came out as undocumented and became active as a young DREAMer.

So, it looks like Clinton has someone who can speak to the realities of immigration and has organized on the issue, which is a good thing. Something else that caught my eye was this:

Praeli’s mother is currently undocumented, while her younger sister Maria obtained deferred action status through DACA and made headlines after confronting President and Mrs. Obama on immigration, also stating DREAMers were looking at the positions of potential candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

Always the cynic, I hope that this is about standing strong on the side of deportation reform and immigration reform. Again, Clinton’s experience with Latin American relations and her call for immediate deportation of Central American child victims of violence is not something most Latinos see as a positive.

All of this said, there is a lot more to Latinos than immigration. Latinos support the health care law, an increase in the minimum wage, public schools, and want some real job growth. Latinos are increasingly pro-choice and pro same-sex marriage. So, it would seem that Latinos would still be on the Democratic side of things which should make increasing turn-out the goal of campaigns.

Certainly, the Republican outreach playbook is all about culture wars, as Ted Cruz proved yesterday. So, Democrats from the top to the bottom of the ballot need to excite Latinos, rather than just use the same old songbook. That Clinton is loved by Latinos isn’t news. But if the goal is to attract newer, younger voters to the “D” side from no-side, then energy and excitement are necessary; not to mention a strong stance on issues of importance.

Of course, let’s not leave out Bernie Sanders who has excited young voters. And I’m not sure what’s up Martin O’Malley’s sleeve, but the fact that we could have a little longer-than-short-term Democratic Primary could pump some energy into voters.