Fighting for election integrity and transparency

DAT joins effort to restore trust in Midland elections

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This week, Direct Action Texas agreed to partner with Better Bond for Midland to investigate a recent bond election in Midland, Texas.

This election is an important one to examine, as it illuminates important correctable flaws and exposes tactical approaches that can be countered to slow runaway bureaucratic creep.

Before getting to the specifics of the election, note, this is no longer about the bond itself but about a process that has undermined trust in our form of governance.

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Recent history of crimes by Texas lawmakers

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This week, two more members of the Texas House called on Poncho Nevarez (D) to resign from office. The calls come after Nevarez was found to have dropped an envelope full of cocaine at the Austin airport in early September.

Reps. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) and Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) added their names to the list of lawmakers who have already called for Nevarez’s resignation.

While the Democrat from Eagle Pass has said he will not seek reelection in 2020, Nevarez remains chairman of the powerful Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. He’s also racking up time on the job which might be padding his pension.

In light of the Nevarez charing, pending legal case, and questions about why he has yet to resign, we thought it would be interesting to take a survey of recent criminal prosecutions of elected officials in Texas.

Another motivating factor, coverage of the Nevarez debacle in the Texas Monthly, took an opportunity to lash out at lawmakers (exclusively conservatives) who have not been charged or convicted of crimes while ignored the list below, likely because Democrats dominate it.

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What is going on in Midland?

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Two weeks ago, a local election involving the issuance of a $569 million bond for Midland ISD was unofficially said to have passed.

Then, when the votes were officially tabulated, the measure was shown to have failed.

Now, after a recount, the bond appears to have passed but there is a discrepancy that could mean this debacle will continue.

In addition to the seesawing results, there are other worrisome things about this election.

On election night members of a well organized and funded pro-bond group were allowed to witness ballot-counting while members of an anti-bond organization were excluded. Absent paperwork was blamed.

Well funded pro-bond group?

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Small Towns, Big Loopholes: Joshua’s Mayoral Election

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Citizens of Joshua are facing a locked door and a lack of confidence in the integrity of their November 23rd Mayoral Special Election. Could the current administration of Joshua use gray areas and loopholes in the code to steal a hotly contested election? That is the question many are asking in Joshua right now.

A Brief History

Earlier this year Kenny Robinson defeated 3-term Mayor Joe Hollarn. The Citizens of Joshua wanted a change. Then, after less than three months in office, Mayor Robinson resigned.

Robinson stated in a letter addressed to city officials and the Joshua City Council that the “wants of the city manager and members of the city council are at a difference.” He further stated that “The stress from the differences has caused me health issues. After discussion with my wife and family, it is with a heavy heart and much praying I have decided to resign as mayor of Joshua effective immediately.”

The conflict in Joshua is one that is common in small-town Texas today, economic development. The big question is should Joshua retain its country living feel or focus on growth into a larger city. Those that supported Kenny Robinson don’t want Joshua to become another Frisco. 

Special Election

The candidates vying to fill the vacant seat are formerly ousted Joe Hollarn and Robert Fleming. Hollarn is once again backed by those that want to push for growth and Fleming’s supporters are largely the same as those that backed Robinson. Hollarn’s advantage is the backing of the City Manager and City Council, especially since that City Council appointed City Manager Josh Jones to administer the election and serve as Election Judge for the City’s single precinct.  

The previous Mayoral Election was administered by City Secretary Lisa Cabrera.  She did not administer the November elections as she was terminated by the City Council in October. Her termination came after Mayor Robinson vacated his office and not long before the election of his replacement. The Council remains tight-lipped on the cause for her termination. The City Secretary vacancy appears to have paved the way to appoint the City Manager. The City Council held a Special Council Meeting November 14th to appoint City Manager Jones to the Early Voting Clerk position (election administrator) for the November 23rd election as well as ratifying his actions as Early Voting Clerk for the November 5thelection. This action was clearly after the fact, but the Secretary of State tends to look the other way when cities make “mistakes” like this.

While this appointment is legal, many citizens of Joshua feel the fox is guarding the henhouse. This sentiment is further aggravated by the polling location’s locked door.

There is only one voting location and it is inside City Hall behind a closed, locked, door that requires a code for entry. When a voter enters City Hall, the City Manager is paged, he enters the room from an interior door, lets the voter in, and processes the voter. If the City Manager is not available, the Assistant City Manager/Election Clerk processes the voter. This process makes some voters uneasy.

The City may argue that this is the best procedure to both keep the ballots safe and save money for the city. However, there have been reports of voters showing up to the polling location, finding the locked door and no one at the reception desk, and leaving without voting. This is very problematic. How many voters’ votes were suppressed by this setup? This election could be determined by a handful of votes, so every vote does matter. Hopefully, those voters will return on Election Day, but they may not. 

The City of Joshua did not contract with Johnson County for this election so the voters cannot turn to the County for assistance. They must instead appeal to the Secretary of State (SoS).  The SoS can bring in State Inspectors to oversee the administration of the election and ensure its integrity. Candidate Robert Fleming has made those appeals if only to reassure the citizens of Joshua. However, as of the posting of this article, calls to the SoS have not been returned. 

Lost Opportunity

Over a dozen bills were filed in the Texas Legislature in the 86th session that dealt with uniform election dates. Uniform election dates would demand that City and ISD elections be held on the same dates as County and State Elections. This would be a huge step toward ensuring that cities and school districts would contract with the County for their elections. Ultimately contracting with the County adds an extra layer of oversight and impartiality to the election.

Unfortunately, all of these bills failed along with most of the other legislation that would have improved election integrity in Texas. We must now wait until the next session in 2021 to help cities like Joshua.

Breaking: Cook Children’s Hospital Sues to Have Judge Recused

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It seems, based on legal filings reviewed by Direct Action Texas, that Cook Children’s Hospital really wants to wash its hands of infant Tinslee Lewis.

Cook Children’s is suing to have Judge Alex Kim recused from legal proceedings after the jurist issued a temporary restraining order preventing the hospital from pulling the plug on Lewis on November 10. Judge Kim later scheduled a hearing within the statutorily required timeframe.

On October 30, Cook Children’s evoked the 10-Day Rule on Lewis, a Texas law that permits hospitals to end life-sustaining treatment against the wishes of a patient’s family. Lewis, a 10-month-old, was born prematurely and requires a ventilator to breathe.

In judge shopping legal filings, the hospital contends Kim should be recused because of the mechanics used to get the restraining order in place and on the grounds that Kim compromised his ability to oversee further proceedings.

Neither appears to be true based on representations from the hospital.

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