Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Criminal justice implications of Texas 2010 elections

Yesterday's election included several notable results from a Texas criminal justice perspective:

As expected, all the statewide races went Republican, including Michael Keasler handily defeating Keith Hampton to retain his seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Hampton's percentage was notably lower than D candidates for CCA judgeships in past cycles, and contrary to my prediction lower than Bill White's totals. Attorney General Greg Abbott easily sailed to reelection.

A whopping 15% of the Texas House of Representatives turned over, all flipping to Republicans who won 22 new seats. House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds numbered among the unexpected casualties, as rural Texas essentially turned completely red, just in time for redistricting. The result led Paul Burka to declare "The Democratic party will not be a factor in Texas politics for a decade. I guess that’s not such big news. They haven’t been a factor for the past decade." That sounds about right.

What that means for criminal justice reform remains unclear, though one reader emailed to opine that "Progressive criminal justice legislation may have been set back a decade in this election.  Just sayin.'" I'm not sure I buy that. Chairman McReynolds' loss is significant, but none of the other Dems who took a hit were particularly leaders on criminal justice reform topics, and much of Texas' reform legislation in recent years has passed in the House with bipartisan majorities. Even conservatives don't want innocent people falsely convicted, and it was GOP concern over rising corrections costs that spurred prison diversion legislation in 2003 and 2007.

It remains to be seen whether 22 new House members change that dynamic: A lot depends on who is Speaker and who chairs the House Corrections Committee. But the overall problem of a bloated corrections budget in the face of a gaping budget shortfall really doesn't change much. Indeed, with so many new members (and the Governor) elected on "no new taxes" pledges, to my mind the prospects for closing prison units and significantly cutting the corrections budget probably just got brighter. If you're not going to raise taxes, cutting costs is the only remaining way to balance the budget, and the corrections budget comes nearly 100% from state general revenue.

In Dallas, DA Craig Watkins eked out a victory after trailing in the count for much of the night. Though at one time Dallas Dems indulged speculation that Watkins' campaign may have coattails, on election night he "was one of the Democratic Party's lowest performers" in Dallas, reports the Dallas News, being outpolled by county-level judicial and commissioners court candidates, where Democrats generally found more success.

Democrats lost ground in Houston, both on the commissioners court and in local judicial races, where they'd swept nearly all 2008 contests. This year it was the GOP sweeping most of the Harris judicial seats. Those races will likely be quite competitive again in 2012, one would expect.

Remarkably, both Houston and Baytown passed measures banning the use of red-light cameras, following the lead of College Station which ended their use in a plebiscite last year. That's encouraging. I hope it leads to more local initiatives to repeal them and potentially legislation at the statehouse to end this local money-grab once and for all. Clearly whenever Texas voters are asked their preference on red-light cameras, they're consistently turning them down.

Overall, my take is that national trends overwhelmed local concerns in many of these races. The old adage is that "all politics are local," but the opposite appeared true yesterday. At the national level, a few pundits have suggested that GOP victories in the face of the continuing economic crunch may amount to the dog catching the car, and with a $25 billion budget shortfall there's a lesser extent to which that's true in Texas, too. Republicans' biggest prize is solid control of the Texas Legislature during redistricting, though even gerrymandering of state House districts more difficult with so many new incumbents in swing districts to protect.

In any event, the stage is now set for the 82nd Texas Legislature, which thanks to redistricting, the budget crisis and all the rookies who'll need to learn the ropes on the fly, promises to be a particularly stressful session.


Anonymous said...

The Speaker released his pledge cards lasst night which gives him a substantial majority, if they stick. And I think most of them will.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I notice Jerry Madden is on Straus' list this time. Perhaps with McReynolds out he'll get his chairmanship back on Corrections.

Anonymous said...

I guess Jim Dunnam won't be impeaching Sharon Keller after all, Grits! LMMFAO!!! Good riddance!

Anonymous said...

I went to bed last night without watching all the gruesome news. Woke up with a stomach ache this morning anyway. I think your line about the dog catching the car may be apt. How do guys who hate government govern? I live in Warren Chisum's district. He ran w/ no Dem on the ballot, as he did the last time. He wants to be Speaker. What a ghastly thought. Joe Heflin, in the district just south of me, was one of the Dems who went down. Joe is conservative. Landtroop, who beat him, is religious right. I fear we'll have an onslaught of that kind of thing--vouchers, school prayer, etc. What's to stop them?

Just took two antacids. I have a feeling I'm gonna need them pretty regularly the next couple of years.

Charles in Tulia

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:14, you're confused. It's Lon Burnam who wanted to impeach Sharon Keller, and he's coming back.

Visit back in April and May when they're drawing up the budget to let me know if you're still laughing then. The problem with winning elections is that afterward you actually have to govern.

Anonymous said...

The really disgusting thing about Texas voters though, look at the numbers. 4.2 million turned out for the Gov election. 4.2 million!?!?!? there are 24 million people in the state, and you can tell me all but 2.4 million are too young or incarcerated. Methinks the citizens of this state are completely disillusioned as to the political process.

doran said...

Charles, it is gonna get worse than most people think. The voters of Texas have things just about where the religious/authoritarian/plutocracy want them.

The budget "shortfall" is very likely to be closer to $35-$40 billion than to 25.

The plutocracy will continue to carry on with their lies about cutting taxes but they will be increasing taxes, most likely. While the Lege will probably reduce franchise tax rates on businesses, they will be increasing taxes on everyone else.

The sales tax rate (which, as you know, falls most heavily on those who have the least income) will have to be raised as a contribution to balancing the budget. Fees (which are taxes in disguise) -- for just about everything, including license plates, drivers licenses, occupation taxes/fees, all those miscellaneous State fees on your telephone bills, surcharges on your electric bills, gasoline taxes -- all will be raised.

As Grits says, the only way to balance the budget when taxes are not raised sufficiently is to cut expenses. That means entire departments of the State of Texas are going to go away, putting those employees into the ranks of the un-employed. Others will see their budgets drastically reduced. Child protective services will probably suffer. Health department inspections will drop off due to lack of people to do the inspecting. Teacher salaries will stagnate, as will those for law enforcement, Parks and Wildlife, and all other State agencies. Grants to people and agencies which really need them, such as local or area family crises centers and food banks, will just about dry up. Unemployment comp will be reduced, either actually or by "freezing" any new increases.

The Republican legislature will push responsibility for funding programs onto the Counties. You think elected Commissioners are going to raise taxes? Ha! Rural roads will deteriorate, community supervision departments will suffer, local agricultural agencies will be down to one half-time office help.

And of course, we can expect a continuation of the Republican assault on sensible regulation of the Insurance industry, the oil and gas industries, the coal and coal-burning industries, air and water polluters, and water hustlers.

I think that whoever wrote the script for "Ghostbusters" is writing the script for Texas.

Is there a silver lining? Grits suggests that closing prisons is possible, and I think that is a silver lining. Maybe there will be a down-grading of offense levels for victimless crimes, another silver lining.

The good news is that Perry and Dewhurst are very likely to be left holding the bag, or the car as Grits suggests, by the time of the next election.

Texas voters are finally going to get hit upside their collective thick skulls and learn that the Republican mantra of cut-taxes, cut State/Federal government, is a huge pack of propaganda and lies. Maybe they will be paying attention this time.

Indeed, the potential for a spectacular failure by Perry and the Texas Republican Party is so great, that even Burka may be wrong in his prediction that Texas Democrats are irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Charles...move to California cause ain't nothing changing in Texas. Plenty of homes available.

On second thought, if it makes you noxious here in Texas, why are you still here?

Anonymous said...

There is really only one legitimate purpose of government: Defend our population from all threats, foreign and domestic. To some extent, some might legitimately argue that the regulation of currency and commerce; and the provision of civil justice system for the resolution of private disputes, is important. Beyond those, all of the extra services, health care, welfare, transportation, and education are worthwhile, but not essential purposes of government. The criminal justice system falls squarely within the principal responsibility of government, unless we want to return to vigilantiism. The Legislature needs to adequately fund the criminal justice system so we might be protective from those domestic criminals who would do harm to individuals or society. Otherwise, it's time to the free market and basic principals of evolution of the species take over. Let the carving begin!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:21, you don't know who you're talking to. Rev. Kiker earned his Texan stripes years before you were a glint in your Daddy's eye. He's not moving because he's got more guts than to run away when faced with taunting twits like yourself, or he'd have moved out of Tulia long before now. Respect your elders, and in Charles' case, your betters.

10:39, would a 5-10% cut for corrections still be "adequate"? Or are you saying TDCJ's budget should be sacrosanct?

Anonymous said...

Taunting twits you say? I'm not taunting. If you don't like or can't change it, shut up, be quiet, or move out.

I'm not sure he is my elder. So how old is he Grits?

Anonymous said...

Right on 10:39. Let the carving of government programs begin.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:54, If you don't like free people speaking their opinions even when they disagree with yours, maybe it's you who should move. Saying if someone doesn't like the election results they should move to California definitely qualifies you as a "taunting twit." On the bright side, it's a curable ailment.

And just to say so: Kiker's worked harder to change things in the justice system than you'll likely ever work at your day job. As for the Rev's age, he'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd guess he's pushing 80, or pushed passed it.

Anonymous said...

The voters in California didn't even vote to legalize the liberals' sacrament, the Holy Weed.

doran said...

Anon, 10:39, you don't really mean it.

If you do, please write to my State Rep., Tim Kleinschmidt, and to yours, whomever it may be, and prevail upon them to introduce legislation to privatize every damn highway, country lane, and public sidewalk in the state of Texas, and to cut all funding for TexDOT. My place in Lee County is burdened with a dirt road which is a "prescriptive easement" giving the public a right use it, even though I own the dirt and pay taxes on it. I would just love to fence it closed and/or collect toll from all who use it. I'm sure you would enjoy having to pay a toll to walk down to the convenient store for your daily dose of sugar, tobacco and alcohol, all of which will, under you theory, be un-regulated and potentially chock-full of ethylene glycol and rocket fuel.

Next, get with some of the people who think as you do, and destroy all the dams on the highland lakes, which as I'm sure you will agree, are nothing more than monuments to the sickness of socialism that swept over Texas in the early part of the 20th century.

Next, start a movement to abolish eminent domain in the State of Texas. That will put the nail in the coffins of all the MUDs created to benefit real estate development, of all the gas and oil pipelines, and all the electric transmission lines. It will also make the water hustlers get out and look for a different line of work.

Next, prevail upon the Congress to abolish the FCC and to open up the radio/TV electromagnetic spectrum to a contemporary "evolution of the species," in which the people with the biggest transmitters can roll right over those puny little no-count public FM stations. VIVA pirate radio!!!

Oh beauteous, beauteous!! The list goes on.

Once you get started, check back and let us know how it goes. I might even be willing to help with road abolishing part of it.

Have a nice, evolutionary day.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Grits! He's got me by 25. BTW, those stripes were not black and white were they? LOL!

BTW Grits, if you typically complain about Texas as the Rev and Doran do, then maybe you ought to look for another place to live. The Rev winds up Doran and Doran acts like the sky is about to fall in.

Looking for perfection and it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

Scott, thanks for your kind words. I don't mind saying how old I am. I'm pushing eighty from the bottom side; still have a few years to go. I'll be 77 before this month is over.

When McEachern accused me of being an outside agitator, I reminded him, through the pages of the Plainview paper, that the first breath I ever breathed was laden with Swisher County dust, the first cow turd I ever kicked was a Swisher County cow turd, and that when I shuffle off this mortal coil my earthly remains will be laid to rest in the Texas Panhandle.

So I ain't goin' anywhere until I go to heaven. And I retain my right to speak out against political chicanery even against majority opinion. I've never spit on my finger and raised it to see which way the wind is blowing. And I don't plan to start that now.

Rev. Charles

Prison Doc said...

Sure is a lot of rude invective on this site today. I wish you folks would sweeten up and act like good southern boys and girls. Grits runs a great site and only his forebearance keeps you from getting banned.

All of us love Texas or we wouldn't be here. I tried Colorado once and moved back as fast as I could.

Just simmer down. Let the Republicans put everything back in good order, and after Burka's decade is over, the Dems can start throwing it away again.

It's the American System.

Let's just focus on making criminal justice work better.

Anonymous said...

I don't LOL with your remark about black and white stripes. Never wore them. BTW, never wore yellow either. Not afraid to sign my name.

doran said...

Anon 11:32. What do you mean, I'm acting like the sky is about to fall in? What did I say that gives you that impression? If it was the list of things that I think will happen over the next two years, are not those just exactly the things YOU advocate? Carving up the government, cutting taxes, screwing the poor so they can't reproduce? Things like that? What's your beef?

Take a deep breath, give it some thought, and try to make up your mind or at least try to communicate what you really mean. We all really care for you, you know.

Anonymous said...

I'm anonymous 11:35--not afraid to sign my name, just omitted. And I can't get my passwords etc. to work.

But I'm Charles from Tulia

Anonymous said...

As long as these new legislators will try to read Raped By The State by Randal Chance so they can get an idea about the most corrupt state agency in Texas. An agency that has a 120+ year history of physically, mentally, academically, and sexually abusing children who come to them for help, tyc.

I can’t wait to get the new list to start the letter writing campaign to abolish state sponsored child abuse by tyc.


doran said...

Prison doc, it is my theory that criminal justice works better in a culture than works better. That is why discussion on this blog seems to me to necessarily include discussion about our various Texas cultures.

doran said...

Prison doc, it is my theory that criminal justice works better in a culture that works better. That is why discussion on this blog seems to me to necessarily include discussion about our various Texas cultures.

Hook Em Horns said...

Let's be realistic for a minute. Criminal justice was not exactly an issue in this election. Barack Obama was. The 2010 vote was a repudiation of Obama and progressive spending it was NOT, by any means, a referendum on Perry or the GOP leadership.

The far right can dance and sing all they want. The epic that threw them out two years ago is lurking right around the corner and if they fail to govern for all of us, they will be shown the door.

As for criminal justice in Texas, it's exactly where it was before. Mired in "tough on crime" nonsense, corruption and malfeasance that is clearly not working. As soon as it rises to the level of discussion among the electorate, the sooner those responsible are in trouble.

It's not over until the fat lady sings and she is still warming up.

Charlie O said...

I can only say how happy I am to no longer be a resident of Texas. I remember not so fondly living less than a mile from downtown Fort Worth (Tarrant County), yet being represented in Congress by Michael Burgess along with the rest of DENTON County. Thank you Tom Delay and the rest of the asshole GOP of Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So 11:32, now I should leave the state too? Guess what, pal? I'm from here. So are Charles and Doran. We ain't going anywhere. Texas will never be a place where everybody either agrees with your or else "shut up, be quiet, or move out." Whatever you think was won yesterday, you didn't win that.

This sort of drivel deserves the same sort of scornful response as Texas songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver heaped upon a prosecuting attorney earlier this year when she asked why he didn't retreat upon realizing a parking-lot argument was escalating. (He ended up shooting an attacker in the face.) Shaver replied, "Ma'am, I'm from Texas. If I were chickenshit, I would have left, but I'm not."

And therein lies the precise reason why neither Charles nor I are about to "move to California" anytime soon.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and sorry Charles, for overestimating your age. :) 1999 seems both like yesterday and a lifetime ago, doesn't it?

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

Charles...move to California cause ain't nothing changing in Texas. Plenty of homes available.

On second thought, if it makes you noxious here in Texas, why are you still here?

11/03/2010 10:21:00 AM
Charles is likely still here for the same reason the rest of us are. We love Texas and are not about to stand by while anonymous trolls such as yourself drag it down.

Enjoy your day, you and your ilk earned it but rest assured, your days and the ideas you tout are numbered. One day Texans WILL wake up and realize that stink they have been smelling is not from the farm.

Anonymous said...

Those darn Texans! Don't they know they are supposed to get their ideas from Berkeley or Boston?

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

Those darn Texans! Don't they know they are supposed to get their ideas from Berkeley or Boston?

11/03/2010 07:09:00 PM
What a dumb-ass. Texans should formulate opinion out of healthy and spirited debate with a healthy dose of realism and compassion. We will all be better off when idiots, like the anonymous trolls who post on Grits, stop trying to lead us around by the nose assuring us that "everything is O.K." when it clearly is not.

Good luck with the deficit dumb-ass!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people want to run up another 11 trillion in debt?

sunray's wench said...

"The really disgusting thing about Texas voters though, look at the numbers. 4.2 million turned out for the Gov election. "

Possibly the most important and pertinent statement so far out of all the responses. Politicians now have 2 years to get their act together, stop spending millions on their TV "campaings" and channel the money into getting their supporters to the voting booths.

Anonymous said...

One does not have to want to scrap all government aid to understand the federal government is trying to do too much for too many.

The United States, with record debt, is taking on unsustainable obligations.

Here's an economic indicator that may be even more depressing than the nation's 9.5 percent unemployment rate: Americans' dependence on government is at unprecedented high for modern times.

And based on most of the posts here, it's obvious that many do believe the government, based upon which group by party label is in charge, can cure the lots in their life.

It ain't so Joe.

Anonymous said...

Swisher County? You lost credibility there, buddy.

/Navarro County snob

Anonymous said...

Majority Rules
by Elise Hu
2 hours ago Texas Tribune

Whether you call it a wave, a rout or a tsunami, one thing is clear: Republicans in the Texas House won a massive mandate for conservative bills — and budgeting — in the coming legislative session.

Couldn't have said it better.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:10, I welcome "conservative budgeting" on criminal justice. I'm for 10% cut at TDCJ, so long as they do it smartly by closing prison units and using a fraction of the savings to community supervision and diversion programming.

Whether it's a mandate for "conservative bills," it depends on what you mean. I'd guess Voter ID will get through, but some of the wackier anti-immigrant stuff, etc., will find R opposition from the business community. Ideology aside, the whole process is designed to kill bills, not pass them (the budget is the only one that has to pass). I can promise you from bitter experience that just having widespread support for an idea doesn't in and of itself get a bill passed.

Anonymous said...

It's not as much about partisanship in the Texas Legislature as it is the responsibility to get the best results with the least investment. Whitmire, a Democrat, is always chosen to chair the Senate Criminal Justice Committee based out of respect for the years he has been involved with criminal justice-related issues. Others are granted chairmanships by the Lt. Gov. and/or Speaker outside their political party.

Anonymous said...

7:04 a. m. Anonymous
"Navarro County snob"

I'm going to assume that you, being from Navarro County, are speaking tongue in cheek about losing credibility by being from Swisher.

Just in case you're being dead serious, I'll ask how many people from Swisher do you know? I don't know many--maybe not any--from Navarro. But I would bet my last dollar that there are some very intelligent, enlightened people who live there. Just like there are in Swisher.

Rev. Charles from Tulia (Swisher County)

Anonymous said...

Scott, no problem with over-estimating my age. I've got a lot of miles per year.

It has been a while since yesterday's 1999.


doran said...

Anon 7:10. I have to assume that you and the TexTribune writer have either been out of the country, holed-up in a Himalayan monestary, or deep into prolonged unconsciousness, for the past 10 to 15 years.

Mandate for conservative bills? Baloney!

George Bush became governor of Texas in 1995; that office has been held by a Republican ever since.

Republicans took control of the Texas Legislature in 2002 and have held it since.

Are you of the opinion that the Republican controlled government of the State of Texas has NOT been passing conservative bills during at least the past eight years?

Tuesday's election was neither a wave, a rout nor a tsunami. It was the usual vote that Texans have been making for the past 8 to 15 years. It most certainly was not a vote against Texas Democrats for screwing-up the Texas budget and the Texas economy. Republicans have been in control and if there is blame to pass around for the sorry state in which the Legislature has allowed this State to get into, the blame goes to Republicans.

The most amazingly depressing thing about this election is that Texas Democrats let Texas Republicans successfully run against themselves and their own performance! Republicans were able to do that, because way too many Texans have an attention span shorter than the length of a football field, as evidenced by your comment and the Texas Tribune article.

Conservative bills? What does that mean: More tax breaks for the oil and gas and health insurance industries? An increase in the sales tax? Cuts by the Legislature in school financing, which will cause local school boards to raise their own tax rates? These are the kinds of bills that will be introduced and maybe even passed. These are the kinds of bills the Republican Legislature has passed for years: Doya think maybe these kind of conservative bills might in some perverse way be at least a little bit responsible for the budgetary crises? Huh?

The budget shortfall will probably be stated by the Legislative Budget Board in the next month. I've good reason to suspect that the shortfall will exceed $30 billion. Try to pay attention and make notes, so we can continue this conversation over the next two years.

Don said...

One question, Scott. Why do you encourage this this idiot by responding to him, at least with so much prose. Two words will suffice. His first post demonstrates that he doesn't know "nauseous" from "noxious". Reverend, are you really a "substance that can harm or kill an organism"? That's a definition of noxious. :)

Anonymous said...

I was joking Reverend Charles.

And there are few (if any) enlightened individuals in Navarro County. Used to be, but the smart ones move or die. Not sure what that says about me.

Anonymous said...

Sheldon is testing your limits Grits with that reference to the banned book. Just like a good former state school boy would do.

Anonymous said...

Its really eating up your day.

Anonymous said...

no. not really. just a passing observation.

Anonymous said...

You're obsessed plus an idiot. Cut your wrists, then cry at the blood! Call mom, afterwards.