Big news: Working America has opened an office in Houston, their first in Texas!
Working America is an organization allied with the AFL-CIO that focuses specifically on outreach to non-unionized workers. They'll have plenty of work to do. Texas has one of the lowest rates of union affiliation, since we're a "right-to-work" state. "Right-to-work" laws don't guarantee jobs -- rather, they prohibit many forms of unionization among private-sector workers. Workers in "right-to-work" states make less money, receive less benefits, and are at a higher risk of dying in the workplace.
This is a really important effort to build relationships with working Texans that deserve the same labor protections as organized workers. (Newsflash: everyone deserves the great worker protections that unions fight for every day, but most non-unionized workers are at the mercy of their employers in terms of receiving them.)
What's Working America working on? As the organization writes on their Working America blog (emphasis in original):
Our first focus? The expansion of Medicaid, which the federal government is offering as part of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. This provision of Obamacare is key to helping the nearly 2 million Texas families without insurance get access to affordable coverage - but it is being blocked by Governor Rick Perry.
Gov. Perry, as we know from his 2012 campaign, has national ambitions. His so-called "stand" against Obamacare is great for riling up conservative activists and attracting millions of dollars from right-wing mega-donors. But it does nothing for 1 in 4 Texans, including 1.2 million children, who don't have health insurance - according to the latest Census, that's the highest rate of uninsured in the country.
This is great news for Texas. We have a tremendous need for this kind of populist grassroots organization in our state. It's also a welcome harbinger of increased infrastructural support by progressive organizations. Investment from groups such as Working America can do a lot to flip this state and make it more worker-friendly for unionized and non-unionized working people.
Working America already has a petition calling on Rick Perry to accept the federal Medicaid expansion.Sign it here.
If you believe the poll, Democrats may carry the day, for the most part, in Harris County this Tuesday night.
The poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio indicates Obama leads Romney in Harris County, but not by much. That gives some indication how election night might go for politicians running for offices that are down the ballot.
The poll shows the president leading in Harris County with the support of 46 percent of surveyed voters, compared to Romney's 42 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson cracked the survey with 2 percent.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Paul Sadler's 44 percent leads Republican Ted Cruz with 42 percent in Harris County. With a 3.5 percent margin of error, that's a statistical dead heat in the largest county in Texas.
Nonetheless, the poll revealed that large numbers of voters allied with both parties are breaking away from casting straight-ticket ballots in two high-profile races. In both campaigns, Republicans and Democrats are eschewing party loyalty to vote against candidates who've been hit with waves of bad publicity.
The two races where voters break away from their parties are Sheriff and District Attorney. Sheriff Adrian Garcia (D) is up 51-32, and Republican District Attorney candidate Mike Anderson, who faces a little qualified Democrat, is up 41-35. Both races find cross-over support in the poll. The pollster, Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, suggested that the much bigger lead for Garcia compared to Anderson might mean that Republicans might be more willing to split their tickets in Harris. Kuff brings up another possibility, however; that Adrian Garcia has a better message to Harris County voters than Mike Anderson and has campaigned more effectively, too.
Overall, this is still good news for Harris County Democrats. We'll see on Tuesday, but the news of this poll combined with some of the heaviest early voting turnout in the state indicate positive trends for the Democrats with less than one week remaining.
And there may be at least a little bit of truth to Bob Stein's hypothesis. Topline data (hat-tip to Kuff for getting this) shows that of the respondents who plan to vote straight ticket, 56% plan to pull the Democratic lever compared to 41% for Republicans. Not only is this good news for Democrats like Adrian Garcia; but also for candidates in even smaller districts, like Ann Johnson, where statewide Republicans have a better history of success.
Harris County is certainly not a shoe-in for either party, though. Only 5 days left.
Thousands of eligible voters are likely to be kicked off the voter rolls by the the Lone Star State through no fault of their own, as Texas continues to utilize faulty procedures, inaccurate databases, and outdated computer programs to purge its voter lists, the Houston Chronicle reported on Sunday:
"More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 -- often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data."
County election offices reportedly utilize an unreliable "matching" method to identify voters to target for removal from the rolls, where voter registration records are matched to lists of individuals who are ineligible to vote. Such lists include deceased persons, persons with disqualifying criminal convictions, and voters who claimed to be non-citizens to avoid jury duty. To be targeted for removal, all that may be required is that you share a last name and birthdate with someone who has died or been convicted of a crime. This matching method yields predictable errors, and it has already led to legitimate voters being targeted for removal from the voter rolls.
Registration records that are matched to ineligible persons are placed on the list of "suspended voters." Once on the list of suspended voters, voters are purged from the voter rolls if they don't vote or update their information for two consecutive federal elections. Ten percent of Texas voters' registration is currently "suspended", including 20 percent of voters under 30.The Houston Chronicle again:
"In Harris County alone, more than 100,000 voters share their name with at least one other voter. The phenomenon is even more common among Hispanics -- a fact that worries voter participation activists like Garcia, the former county commissioner, who shares her name with 35 other county voters.
Statewide, 21 percent of the people who received purge letters later proved they were valid voters, compared with 16 percent in Harris County, according to a Chronicle analysis of the latest U.S. Election Assistance Commission data. Other counties had higher percentages: 37 percent of voters who received removal letters in Galveston County were valid voters, 40 percent in Bexar County and 70 percent in Collin County."
While removing duplicates and keeping voter rolls up-to-date is both reasonable and legally necessary, our current procedure for purging the rolls doesn't do enough to protect legitimate voters. It also seems that the current procedure may rely too much on the discretion of elected officials to target registrants for removal and initiate the removal process.
As Harris County learned in its experience with Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Suppressor Paul Bettencourt, who quit his job one month after winning a third term in office in the face of a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party for violation of voter registration laws, it may not be a good idea to rely firmly on staunch partisans to protect everyone's right to vote. Quittencourt, who lied to the Texas House Elections Committee about "381 ironclad" cases of of voter fraud that turned out not to be so ironclad during Voter ID hearings, rejected thousands of voter registration applications based on technicalities. He denied applications that provided Social Security numbers in lieu of license numbers - but failed to check the box that says they lack a license. Quittencourt also rejected voter registration applications from voters who had recently moved because his office was using outdated property records, and he created a massive backlog of voter registration cards that prevented voters who had registered legally from casting regular ballots in 2008.
Quittencourt's successor, Lying Leo Velasquez, was also sued by the Texas Democratic Party for denying valid voter registrations, failing to register voters because of an overly technical review of registration applications, releasing voter registration data under different terms to different groups, disclosing certain voting procedures only insofar as disclosure benefited his political allies, failing to secure pre-clearance for changes in voting requirements, and violating an agreement the Texas Democratic Party had negotiated after Quittencourt prevented voters from casting regular ballots.
It's clear, with hacks like Quittencourt and Lying Leo Velasquez running elections, that we need to ensure voter purges are conducted in a way that protects legitimate voters from incompetence and partisan political machinations. If legislators are aware of problems with present procedures for purging voter rolls, and they maintain the current system through the next session, I may begin to wonder if some of the folks at the pink dome possess a cavalier disregard for voting rights.
It's worth considering what could be done, so please consider this report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law: Voter Purges
Early Tuesday morning, the Travis County Clerk's office conveyed 250 pieces of voting equipment to Harris County. Travis County Commissioners approved the loan agreement to help Harris County after its entire election inventory was lost in a warehouse fire on August 27.
Since the devastating fire destroyed all of that county's equipment, the Texas Secretary of State and counties across Texas have rallied to offer support for the voters of the state's largest county. Charles Kuffner noted the assistance in post last week remarking on the breadth of support.
The first batch of election equipment which totals 875 pieces comes from Ft. Bend and Tarrant County. Harris County has accepted assistance offers from 14 counties and one city. Together, the assisting counties are providing 2,146 pieces of electronic voting equipment and accessories, including 399 Judges Booth Controllers (JBC) 1,104 eSlates with booths and 278 Disabled Access Units with booths. Additionally, counties are providing 4,056 booths, 1,675 ballot boxes with accompanying locks and keys.
At this point, the assisting entities include Bexer, Brazoria, Comal, Dallas, Denton, Ft. Bend, Galveston, Gregg, Grimes, Jefferson, Lubbock, Montgomery, Travis, Tarrant and Wharton County, the City of Friendswood, and Arapahoe County in Colorado.
A right-wing group in Houston engaged in a systematic voter suppression and intimidation effort used a doctored photo in its showcase video. Tellingly, a hand-lettered sign carried by an African-American woman at a 2000 Florida, Gore-Lieberman recount rally was changed from, "Don't Mess With Our Vote," to read, "I Only Got to Vote Once."
In addition, a Gore/Lieberman sign was altered to read, "I'm With Stupid." Here is the doctored video as presented in King Street Patriots' video, followed by the original photographs.
The King Street Patriots video has disappeared from their website (soon after the deception was revealed), but it remains on YouTube. UPDATE: Video still at King Street Patriots site affiliate, TrueTheVote.org. Here it is:
In the video, King Street leader Catherine Engelbrecht says their effort is all about the truth, that they just want true, fair, honest elections. But if they are so committed to the truth, why did they use doctored photos? Why did they lie?
Because their real intent -- as it has been for similar voter suppression efforts for decades -- is to create barriers between the ballot box and the voters. They want to suppress the vote of people they suspect of opposing their agenda. In this case, as in most, that means assaulting the voting rights of the poor and minorities.
Their pious and sanctimonious rhetoric works -- most of the time. Political journalists seldom get beyond the "he said/she said" accusations and counter-accusations in voting controversies. This deception, in a showcase video, puts the lie to King Street Patriots claims to the truth and destroys whatever credibility they might have had.
The Texas Democratic Party won a major fight last Friday by forcing Leo Vasquez and the Harris County Voter Registration office to admit to using voter suppression tactics. Additionally, Rep. Scott Hochberg played a key role in unearthing the details about how the office was rejecting tens of thousands of voter registration ballots. (Read more about those details below the fold...)
TDP Chair Boyd Richie released the following statement about the settlement:
“From my first days as Chairman, the Texas Democratic Party has worked vigilantly in both the legal and legislative process to protect Texans’ right to participate fully in our democracy. The Texas Democratic Party will monitor the current Harris County Voter Registrar’s practices with that same vigilance to make sure the terms of this agreement are carried out properly.
“It’s a shame that the Texas Democratic Party has been forced to go to court time and again to do what our state and local officials should be doing – protect the right to vote. As a great Texas Democrat, President Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965: ‘It is wrong--deadly wrong--to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.’”
The lawsuit settled a number of lies that Vazquez, Paul Bettencourt, and other Harris County Republicans had been pushing for months. As the Lone Star Project explains:
Earlier this year, in a hostile and dishonest op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Leo Vasquez, responded to Lone Star Project reports detailing corruption within his office by calling Texas Democratic Party legal action a ”nuisance lawsuit” with “no merit” and saying that the “partisan attacks” were led by the Lone Star Project. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 6/16/2009) However, Vasquez was forced to acknowledge in the settlement that the TDP lawsuit was based on facts that showed the Tax Assessor's office had engaged in improper behavior regarding the handling of voter registration applications and the handling of provisional ballots.
Vasquez would not have agreed to the settlement if he did not believe that there was a strong chance that he would lose the lawsuit and more corruption would be uncovered.
Here's a look at the lies Leo told -- and the truth he finally admitted in the lawsuit settlement:
“It is also my highest priority and the goal of the employees of the tax office to register every eligible voter in Harris County.”
24.4% of those applying to register to vote in Harris County were denied registration in time to vote in the 2008 elections. (Source: TX Secretary of State and Harris County Voter Registrar)
“These attacks are nothing more than partisan witch hunts”
As part of a court settlement, Vasquez acknowledged widespread voter registration problems detailed by the Lone Star Project. Vasquez was forced to accept more than a dozen changes insisted upon by Democrats to protect the rights of Harris County voters. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 10/23/2009)
Commenting upon Ed Johnson, Vasquez said, “There is nothing illegal about this activity, and it has nothing to do with his [Johnson’s] official duties with the tax office.”
While refusing to fire Johnson outright, Vasquez has acknowledged the Johnson is unfit to serve as Associate Voter Registrar and has reassigned him within the Tax Office. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/1/2009)
Responding to the Lone Star Project’s call to fire Ed Johnson for working as a paid Republican campaign consultant while also on the County payroll, Vasquez said, “This assertion is preposterous …”
Vasquez acknowledged the obvious conflict of interest and, as part of the legal settlement, was forced to initiate a policy prohibiting outside work as a partisan political consultant. (Source: Vasquez Settlement, 10/23/2009)
I think everyone should congratulate the Texas Democratic Party for taking the lead on work that should have been done by Harris County elected officials -- but was not, for obviously corrupt reasons.
More on the history of this story below the fold...
Harris County Criminal Court Judge Donald Jackson has been indicted on a charge of misdemeanor official oppression.
Sources close to the investigation tell 11 News that Jackson allegedly told a female defendant things would go better for her in court if she submitted to his sexual advances.
KHOU will have more on the story at 5pm and 6pm; if you're in the Houston area, be sure to watch. We'll update more as the story develops...
4:07pm Update:The following is a statement from Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg:
Today's indictment of Harris County Criminal Court Judge Don Jackson is another shocking and disappointing example of the citizens of Harris County being terribly let down by another Republican official in a county controlled by Republican officeholders.
Last year Harris County voters removed 23 incumbent Republicans from the bench and replace them with 23 new Democratic judges, sending a message that they are tired of the way Republican judges had been running things at the courthouse for too many years now. Republican corruption, incompetence, and lack of integrity have marred county government for too long now. The indictment of Don Jackson is just one more example of that kind of taint, as he follows in the footsteps of Chuck Rosenthal, Tommy Thomas, Jerry Eversole, and other Republican officeholders who have betrayed the public trust.
Democrats remain committed to changing all that and to improving our local judicial system by offering superbly qualified candidates of the highest ethical standards, who are dedicated to the fair and even-handed administration of justice for all who enter their courtrooms, without soliciting favors - financial, sexual, or otherwise - from folks who appear before them.
Harris County residents deserve more and better than what the indictment of Don Jackson alleges he provided.
The Texas Democratic Party doesn't stand for anything. To win, our candidates must offer a compelling vision of change.
It is not enough to have an excellent field staff, to have a good media campaign, to have a great yard sign campaign, to have attractive/experienced/qualified candidates. It is also necessary to make a strong case for change.
KHOU-TV in Houston last night aired a powerful story about Republican voter suppression tactics in Harris County, tactics being carried out by GOP Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.
Valid voter registration certificates are being wrongly and illegally rejected by the registrar. Meaningless typos, nicknames or spellings that don't match a spurious comparison to a driver license database, any excuse is being used to reject the voting applications of full U.S. citizens whose Constitution guaranteed them the right to vote. Why? Because a few Republican officials fear these voters are about to vote against them. Rather than try to persuade them, to win their favor by adopting policies that might appeal to them, the GOP is, in Houston, in Texas, and around the country, conducting the most massive national voter disenfranchisement campaign in history.
Republicans have been pressing for sweeping voter purges in many states. They have also fought to make it harder to enroll new voters. Voting experts say there could be serious problems at the polls on Nov. 4.
It is an easy thing to stir the anger of progressive Texans over this issue. They are rightly outraged. But I have many Republican friends and family members who just don't know this is going on. Though we disagree on many, many, things, not one of them that I've spoken to condones the denial of a citizen's right to vote. That right is the very essence of democracy. That's so fundamental it sounds like a superficial truism that should need to further argument or justification.
Voter suppression is not new. Back in 1982, Republicans were embarrassed when a so-called "felons list" was sent by the GOP Secretary of State to local voter registrars with instructions to purge the names from voter rolls. The list was laughably inaccurate. A Democratic candidate for the House with no criminal record whatsoever turned up on the list. A humiliated SOS dropped the whole thing.
In the past, some have dressed up as police or border patrol to intimidate would-be voters at the polls. Unfounded challenges to voters have been raised at the polls. Minority voting precincts have been shortchanged on voting machines and ballots in hopes that long lines will discourage voting. Phone calls are made into Democratic precincts giving wrong voting locations in inaccurate instructions.
Next session, many Republican leaders hope to pass a bureaucratic, duplicative and unnecessary voter identification requirement whose only purpose is to make it harder for U.S. citizens to vote.
I don't think BOR has many GOP readers. So I hope you will take the time to pass this message or a message of your own to Republican friends, neighbors, family members and colleagues who might be among the uninformed on this issue.
Some details from the KHOU story below will shock them. I believe we need their help to protect the right to vote in Texas. We can yell at them, or make them allies on this issue. I think the latter will be far more effective. We don't need to use incendiary language to sanctimoniously prove our own commitment to voting rights. We need others to join us in the fight to protect that right.
Readers might be interested in this email I received from Sarah Weddington about the Harris County Judge race.
You know how politically active I am and how intensely involved I am
regarding issues that impact woman's health and reproductive rights.
Typically I focus on federal or state races in this regard. However,
there is a particular Harris County race that we need to pay very
close attention to as well.
The Harris County Judge is the equivalent of the "Mayor of Harris
County". For example, the Harris County Judge oversees the Harris
County Hospital District. The person is this position can have a
tremendous impact upon woman's health concerns locally.
David Mincberg is currently running for the position of Harris County
Judge. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin School of
Law. He is a long-time friend of our issues and is a past board member
of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas.
His opponent Ed Emmett is the polar opposite. His record when he
served in the Texas House of Representatives shows that he twice voted
to eliminate family planning funding. Had either measure passed it
would have cut funds to Planned Parenthood. He also failed to support
an amendment providing that parental consent for abortion would not be
necessary for a teenager who had been raped and voted to require
parental consent in cases of incest.
Access to appropriate woman's health care in Harris County should not
be subject to someone with knee-jerk approval of the Texas Republican
Party platform. (See excerpts from that platform I've attached FYI.)
Emmett hasn't been publicly discussing his views on choice much; some
even think choice is not a big issue for him. I am sending this email
because in many ways Emmett is no different on our issues than the
most vocal of opponents. And there is a great candidate also in that
David Mincberg provides us a viable option to ensure woman's health
and reproductive rights in Harris County. We need to get him elected.
Please make a donation by visiting www.mincbergforcountyjudge.com.
Forward this email to as many of your friends as you can and urge them
to support Mincberg.
Early voting begins soon. Please use the address in the prior
paragraph to contact his campaign if you have any questions.
Thanks in advance for your help. It is vitally important that we make
2008 a great year for the choice community!