George Recommends

Some faith, business leaders back gay marriage in Texas

Photo: File

Religious leaders, major corporations, mental health experts and a host of others are urging a federal appeals court to eliminate Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, calling it state-sanctioned discrimination that harms families and perpetuates bigotry.

Supporters of same-sex marriage have deluged the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with 27 friend-of-the-court briefs, many attacking points made by social and religious conservatives who had filed a similar spate of briefs last month because of an earlier deadline.

The vigorous debate gained added urgency when the 5th Circuit Court announced last week that the same three-judge panel will hear cases from Texas, where the same-sex marriage ban was struck down in February, and Louisiana, where a federal judge recently upheld a similar law.

On an issue bound for the U.S. Supreme Court, the 5th Circuit will be the only body to examine same-sex marriage from both perspectives.

In the Texas case, one of the recently submitted briefs — signed by 36 corporations — argued that Texas’ ban on gay marriage is bad for business.

Another, signed by 240 religious leaders, disputed claims that same-sex marriage would violate the religious liberty of faiths that oppose the unions. If the courts allow gay couples to unite in civil marriages, no religion would be forced to change doctrine or practice, they told the court.

“All religions would remain free — as they are today with 19 states and the District of Columbia permitting same-sex couples to marry — to define religious marriage any way they choose,” the leaders wrote. “All faith groups could continue to withhold spiritual blessing from any marriages and indeed bar those entering into them from being congregants at all.”

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia overturned Texas’ prohibition on gay marriage in February, but he allowed Texas to continue enforcing its ban while the state’s appeal proceeds.

But while the 5th Circuit Court has charted a leisurely path for the case — oral arguments have not yet been set, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s final brief is due Oct. 10 — three other federal appeals courts have overturned similar bans in five states.

The U.S. Supreme Court will meet in a private conference Monday to decide whether to accept any or all of the cases out of Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Texas still has time to join what could be a landmark case, and the 5th Circuit Court — which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — offers an intriguing scenario with conflicting rulings to review:

• Garcia, who sits in San Antonio, found the Texas ban unconstitutional, ruling that it relegates gay couples to “second-tier status” and demeans their dignity for no legitimate reason.

• Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans said same-sex marriage, a relatively new concept, isn’t a fundamental right. In preserving Louisiana’s ban on same-sex unions, Feldman also said the state had an interest in encouraging the formation of families with two biological parents, which he said offer more benefits for children.

Prior to Feldman’s decision, 21 federal judges across the nation had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Last week, the 5th Circuit Court put Louisiana’s case on a fast track, setting a schedule that makes oral arguments likely to be heard in November.

Meantime, the court has 27 recently filed briefs to review, including one from the attorneys general of 15 states that allow same-sex couples to wed.

Banning gay marriage hurts children by depriving families of two spouses, they argued.

“All states would benefit from expanding the pool of willing and supportive parents. Thus, Texas’s marriage amendment actually undermines legitimate state interests, including the interest in ensuring that all children are cared and provided for,” the attorneys general said.

Groups representing Jews and Hindus, among other faiths, reminded the court that Christians who define marriage only as the union of opposite-sex couples don’t speak for all faith groups.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment to deny individuals the right to marry on the grounds that such marriages would offend the tenets of a particular religious group,” their brief said.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noting that interracial couples were denied the right to marry in some states until 1967, said history shows how denying the right to marry enforces a caste system in America.

“Like early laws that were designed to oppress African Americans, Texas’s denial of the right to marry to lesbian and gay couples consigns them by law to an unequal and inferior status,” the NAACP said.

Others weighing in included:

• Emergency personnel, including police and firefighters, who argued that “sexual orientation bears no relation to one’s ability to perform in or contribute to society.”

“Texas denies these men and women the equal dignity and respect they deserve,” particularly those who die on duty, leaving partners who are denied access to death benefits because the state doesn’t recognize their union, the brief said.

• Three dozen corporations — including Alcoa, Amazon, CBS, eBay, Google, HomeAway, Intel, Levi Strauss, Pfizer, Staples, Starbucks and Target — said Texas’ ban on gay marriage places them at a competitive disadvantage when trying to recruit employees to the state.

“We recognize the importance of that equality to our employees, and we have seen the real-world, positive impact that fostering diversity and inclusion has on our productivity and performance, just as we have seen the harm that denial of equality causes our businesses,” the corporations said.

• The American Psychological Association disputed claims that heterosexual couples are better parents than same-sex couples. “The vast majority of scientific studies … have found that gay and lesbian parents are as fit and capable as heterosexual parents, and that their children are as psychologically healthy and well adjusted,” the association said.

The American Sociological Association concurred, saying children fare no differently if raised by same-sex or opposite-sex couples. “Unsubstantiated fears regarding same-sex parents do not overcome these facts and provide no justification for upholding the marriage bans,” the group said.


Court ties up Solis’ property


BROWNSVILLE — U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen issued an order attaching property owned by former state Rep. Jim Solis, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence.

Hanen recently issued the writ of garnishment at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but details are not available as the federal court record is sealed.

The writ is believed to be connected to a lien placed by federal prosecutors on Solis’ properties to ensure three of Solis’ victims can receive restitution of more than $118,000, Cameron County property records show.

In August 2013, Hanen sentenced Solis, 51, to almost four years in federal prison for aiding and abetting extortion in connection with his role in ex-404th state District Judge Abel C. Limas’ racketeering schemes.

Solis began serving his sentence on Nov. 26 at the Forrest City Low Satellite Camp Prison in Forrest City, Arkansas.

At the time of his sentencing, Hanen also ordered Solis to forfeit $250,000 to the U.S. government. He was also ordered to provide restitution of around $40,000 to former Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda De Leon; about $39,000 to attorney Peter Zavaletta; and $40,000 to Freedom Communications, former owners of Rio Grande Valley newspapers including The Monitor, Valley Morning Star and the Brownsville Herald.

Solis has forfeited the $250,000 to the U.S. government, but has yet to compensate De Leon, Zavaletta, and Freedom Communications.

Public records show the lien against Solis’ properties was filed on June 17, and it continues until the $118,000 amount is paid.


Group of Valley Democrats endorse Cornyn for re-election

Photo: Delcia Lopez

EDINBURG — The No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, John Cornyn, of Texas, made a campaign trip to the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday that was alternately hyper-partisan and bipartisan.

In a question-and-answer session with Dr. Nolan Perez, of Harlingen, Cornyn took shots at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and the Obama administration. He called for his party to take over the Senate in November.

“Ask me in 40 days whether we have a few more votes for the kind of policy that you and I would support,” he said to a question criticizing President Barack Obama’s approach to natural gas production and exports.

But Cornyn also made overtures to Democrats in the crowd.

“We do have good people of good faith on both sides of the aisle who would actually like to get some things done,” the senator said. “But just think how much better things could be if we actually worked together in the best interest of our state and our country.”

More than a dozen elected officials and business leaders joined Cornyn onstage after the session inside the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Many of them were Democrats, including former County Judges Rene Ramirez, of Hidalgo County, and Manny Vela, of Cameron, as well as Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas and major fundraiser Alonzo Cantu, of McAllen.

Ramirez, the former Hidalgo County judge and active Democrat, said Cornyn’s appeal crosses party lines.

“He’s a good listener, and he’s a problem-solver and not a problem,” Ramirez said. “He’s attractive to everybody, including Democrats.”

But certainly not all Valley Democrats are supporting Cornyn, the Senate Republican whip.

As the leader of Texas’ congressional delegation, Cornyn should shoulder more blame for Congress’ inability to pass immigration reform, said Ric Godinez, the Democratic Party chair for Hidalgo County.

The senator, Godinez continued, is beholden to far-right Republican primary voters — a problem Dr. David Alameel, Cornyn’s Democratic challenger, doesn’t face.

“I just believe that Dr. Alameel, he’s less dependent on any of that influence to his decision making,” the county chairman said.


Dead criminal’s family whines that Dallas homeowner didn’t warn home invader before shooting him

File Photo

Lakesha Thompson sports a particularly warped view of the entitlement mindset:

An elderly man shot and killed a would-be burglar inside his Oak Cliff home.

Police say the homeowner saw Deyfon Pipkins, 33, trying to climb into the window and fired his weapon at least once at the intruder.

The homeowner is legally protected by the Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to defend his or her home against an intruder.

“It means they don’t actually have to retreat once someone comes in their home,” Sergeant Calvin Johnson, Dallas Police Department, said. “You have the option of using deadly force if you believe your life is in danger.”

After police notified relatives of Pipkins’ death, some showed up at the house. They were upset, and questioned the homeowner’s actions.

“He could have used a warning,” Lakesha Thompson, Pipkins’ sister-in-law, said. “He could have let him know that he did have a gun on his property and he would use it in self-defense.”

Pipkins had a lengthy criminal record. He served time in prison and was convicted of theft, possession of a Controlled Substance and criminal trespassing.

Thompson almost seems to view home invasion as a “no-harm, no foul” game until someone in her family earns a bullet as a result of his criminal activity.

It bears noting that the homeowner had been robbed repeatedly before this incident.

Posted by Staff

Seven accused in straw purchase make court appearance

Photo: MGN Online

BROWNSVILLE — Seven Cameron County residents accused of making straw firearms purchases pleaded not guilty Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ignacio Torteya III.

Ike Samuel Jr., 25; Jose De Jesus Ruiz, 23; Fabian Medina, 23; and Geovanni Alexis Teran, 22, all of Brownsville; Miguel Angel Luiton, 23, of San Benito; and Jose Dosal, 34, and Ester Cardenas, 28, both of Harlingen, are accused of knowingly making false statements and representations on firearms purchase records.

Cardenas, Luiton, and Teran were released on $50,000 unsecured bond. Both Samuel and Medina also were issued a $50,000 unsecured bond but were awaiting release pending their compliance with court orders. Dosal and Ruiz are being held without bond.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Texas, said the indictments were the result of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation code named “Operation Six Corners.” The operation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

If convicted, the seven each face up to five years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.


Five suspected Sinaloa cartel hit men arrested near Juárez

Photo By DAVID MONROY/AFP/Getty Images 

Chihuahua state police arrested five suspected hit men for the Sinaloa drug cartel allegedly involved in a double homicide east of Juárez last week, authorities said.

The group allegedly killed Ricardo Lopez Garcia, 27, and Rodolfo Hernandez Carbajal, 46, and wounded another person in a shooting Sept. 17 at a tire repair shop on the Juárez-Porvenir road in El Sauzal, the state attorney general’s office said during the weekend.

Officials alleged that Luis Adrian “El Chato” Zuñiga Gonzalez, 19, was the shooter while accompanied by Jesus Alejandro “El Weber” Muñoz Ravago, 19, and as Jesus Alberto “El Benito” Hernandez Mijares, 18, acted as a lookout. They had received a telephone call from Jorge Antonio “El Ixo” Soto Padilla, 21, allegedly ordering the killing.

Manuel Ivan Lopez Gamiño, 24, allegedly hid a .45-caliber handgun used in the shooting.

Police officials alleged that the five men are drug dealers and hit men for a cell of the Sinaloa cartel. The five were arrested during a state police operation.


By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times

Police nab two men with 200 pounds of pot, cocaine

Police File Photo

McALLEN – Two men were arrested Monday following a narcotics seizure that hauled in more than 200 pounds of marijuana and one gram of cocaine, authorities said.

Dagoberto Garza, 38, and Daniel Recio, 46, were caught in a drug bust on the 2700 block West Hibiscus, a news release said.

Both men are charged with possession of marijuana, a second-degree felony. Garza is also charged with possession of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony.

In an arraignment Tuesday, bonds were set for Garza at $800,000 and Recio at $300,000, police said.

If convicted of the more serious offense of possession of marijuana, both men could face between two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.


Did Dallas ISD’s principal evaluation identify the good and bad principals?

Source: Dallas ISD 

Dallas ISD principals have now entered their second year of being evaluated under a system designed by Superintendent Mike Miles.

The plan evaluates principals in two categories: performance and student achievement. And starting this month, principals are being paid based on their ratings.

How did the evaluation system perform in its first year?

One measure is to compare the principal scores with their schools’ accountability ratings. It wouldn’t make sense, for example, for a principal to receive an Exemplary principal ratings — the highest score — but receive an “improvement required” — the lowest score — from the Texas Education Agency.

DISD’s principal evaluation measures a campus administrator on a scale of 0-100. Sixty percent is based on performance — Are you an effective manager?. The other 40 percent is on achievement, including STAAR results, college readiness rates and the minority achievement gap. Only 14 points on the entire report come from STAAR results.

So, were Dallas ISD’s evaluation incongruent with the school accountability ratings? No, according to principal evaluations obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

No schools that “met standard” had principals who were rated the lowest level, Unsatisfactory. And 59 percent of the “met standard” principals received an evaluation of Proficient I or better.

On the other side, only two principals with “improvement required” schools got Proficient I or better. Full results are below.

Matthew Haag writes about the Dallas Independent School District. Follow @matthewhaag.

State comptroller criticizes wind power subsidies


Reflecting a wider discomfort among some top state officials on renewable power, the state’s chief financial officer says the state should rethink its support for wind energy.

Comptroller Susan Combs said that it was “time for wind to stand on its own two feet” as she released a report Tuesday encouraging lawmakers to discontinue subsidies for electricity generation. While the subsidies, chiefly in the form of federal tax credits as well as school property tax exemptions, have helped make Texas the national leader in wind power, Combs’ report, “Texas Power Challenge: Getting the Most From Your Energy Dollars,” argues that the energy source falls well short in the summer months when Texans use the most power.

Environmentalists criticized the report, saying it took a blinkered approach to energy policy.

It understates the subsidies given to natural gas, nuclear and coal plants, said Tom Smith, head of the Austin office of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, and “ignores totally the costs of hidden environmental damages caused by these types of plants – such as the wastes from coal mining, fracking or nuclear power generation.”

Russel Smith, head of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, said he had no comment on the Combs report, but in June he told the Statesman that rolling back support for wind power “ignores the obvious — that all energy sources have and continue to receive governmental support.”

But Combs’ attack on wind power echoes a change among some top Republican policymakers. It was GOP Gov. George W. Bush who gave the wind industry a leg up when he signed a law in 1999 mandating that utilities get a portion of their energy from renewable sources. (A federal wind tax credit predates the law signed by Bush.)

Only a few years ago, the state Public Utility Commission mapped the routes for $6.9 billion in transmission lines, paid for by the state’s ratepayers, to deliver wind energy from West Texas and the Panhandle to cities in the central part of the state.

But in June, Donna Nelson, the commission’s chairwoman, said she doesn’t want to add to the “subsidization” of the wind industry.

Behind the shift in attitude on wind lurks an old-fashioned energy turf war as industries compete to provide electricity to Texas’ growing appetite.

In 2007, natural gas was responsible for 45.5 percent of energy generated in Texas; wind clocked in with 2.9 percent. By 2013, natural gas had dropped to 40.5 percent and wind jumped to 9.9 percent.

The issue of renewable energy could be a tricky one for Republicans seeking higher office.

In his campaign for state attorney general this year, Barry Smitherman largely steered clear of discussing his role as the former PUC chairman who had overseen the adoption of transmission line maps. (He lost in the Republican primary.)

And it presents a special pitfall for Gov. Rick Perry: On the one hand, he could point to the state’s wind power success in a general election for president — about 100,000 people across the state work in the renewable energy sector; on the other, he could be weighed down in the Republican primary by his support for the huge investment in the transmission infrastructure, which will be paid by millions of Texans with increases of $5 to $10 a month on their electric bills.

In June, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who authored the 2005 legislation that led to the transmission line system, acknowledged the changing tide. “If (the transmission line system) came up today, it wouldn’t be as easy” to pass, he said.

By Asher Price - American-Statesman Staff

Dwaine Caraway says he has the votes on Dallas City Council to rename Lancaster Road for Nelson Mandela

Photo: David Woo/ The Dallas Morning News Staff photographer

On Wednesday the Dallas City Council will vote on council member Dwaine Caraway’s proposal to rename a six-mile stretch of Lancaster Road in honor of late South African president Nelson Mandela. He will need the support of three-fourths of the council. Caraway insists he has it.

Wednesday’s vote comes less than a week after the City Plan Commission recommended denying the name change by a vote of 13-1. The only commissioner to vote in favor of the name-change was District 4′s representative Betty Culbreath, Caraway’s appointee. The CPC’s vote came two months after its Subdivision Review Committee likewise recommended denial of the street name change. Said commissioner Bobby Abtahi in July, “There does seem to be a lack of support, and it doesn’t seem that this was a groundswell in the community.” But, he said then, this will ultimately be decided by the full city council.

“I believe in letting people have a voice and the right to their opinions,” Caraway says of the CPC’s vote. “But when it gets to the council I will make my points known. I expect to have the votes Wednesday to pass it. That’s the level where I’m hands-on. I don’t get into a big to-do about it. But I am a little disappointed with some of the planning commissioners, especially those that portray themselves to be of African descent.”

Some at Dallas City Hall say this is far from a sure thing, in part because of the sheer length of Lancaster — six miles, from Illinois Avenue all the way to Interstate 20, inside the Dallas city limits. That will impact hundreds living and working along that corridor, including the Dallas VA Medical Center, which has remained neutral, at least publicly, about the proposal. Several speakers at CPC Wednesday pointed out the sheer logistical nightmare of renaming a street that long.

But Caraway needs three-fourths of the council to sign off on the proposal for two reasons: Dallas City Code prohibits naming a street for someone who hasn’t been dead for at least two years; and there’s a 14-character limit on street names. Caraway says he isn’t concerned.

The name change to Nelson Mandela Boulevard is needed “if we’re going to grow south and change the attitude and give new hope and bring crime down and bring retail of quality,” he says. “All of the horrible conditions of Lancaster have been there forever. A new name brings about new opportunity. There are people who are excited about it. The rest who don’t want it, that’s the nature of the beast. Now I am lobbying for the votes, and I do have the votes.”

By Robert Wilonsky