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Meet the man at the center of the battle over the Texas voter ID law

Jonathan Tilove, Associated Press

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos entered the Karnes County Courthouse one morning last week with the usual spring in his step to tell an attentive audience of about 30 local officials and interested parties about the state’s voter ID law, struck down by a federal judge as unduly restrictive and discriminatory.

Any of seven photo IDs will work, he begins, reiterating the parameters of the original law, by way of introducing court-ordered changes.

“Where the change is now is that if someone is unable to obtain one of those seven IDs, that’s OK — they can come in and they need to file a declaration saying that they’ve been impeded or there’s a reasonable impediment as to why they’ve been unable to obtain one of the seven approved IDs,” he says.

Only then should poll workers accept other forms of identification to vote, such as a birth certificate, voter registration card, pay check, utility bill, bank statement or government document, he explains.

“It’s really not that complex,” Cascos says, in a presentation he gives several times a week.

Civil rights lawyers, U.S. Justice Department officials and Texas Democrats, however, say that, instead of making clear how easy it is to vote, Cascos further muddies the waters to discourage turnout, especially among Hispanic voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.

The state’s top election official, Cascos is a Democrat-turned-Republican, but this job demands nonpartisanship, an even-handedness complemented by the kindly countenance he carries with him.

But all that is being put to the test as Cascos finds himself in the thick of one of the most contentious issues in Texas politics, presiding over his office’s campaign to educate Texans between now and Election Day, Nov. 8, about court-ordered changes in the state’s voter ID law.

For both the state’s Republican leadership and the GOP base, that law is viewed as an indispensable and common-sense bulwark against voter fraud, and lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office will be back in U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ courtroom in Corpus Christi on Monday resisting efforts by the Justice Department to force further changes in Cascos’ voter ID education campaign.

After the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the Texas voter ID law, enacted in 2011, discriminated against minority voters, Ramos was given the task of establishing acceptable voter ID rules for this November, and to determine whether the Texas law was intentionally discriminatory.

Monday’s hearing comes at the request of the Justice Department, which filed a complaint that Texas officials, notably Cascos and the secretary of state’s website, were continuing to miseducate and confuse Texans about their eligibility to vote.

A plum job

Secretary of state is a plum job, named by the governor, confirmed by the Senate, and then serving at the pleasure of the governor for as long as the officeholder likes.

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Former Houston mayor speaks at first Rice Dems event

Anna Ta

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker (Jones ’78) strongly encouraged students to get involved in the political process at the Rice Democrats and Rice for Hillary’s first meeting of the year on Sept. 14. Parker, who is now the inaugural fellow at the Doerr Institute, served as mayor for six years. Throughout her speech, she spoke regarding the upcoming election and local politics.

“You’re going to have a disproportionate impact, because so few people participate in the process,” Parker said. “Not enough of us vote, but fewer of us take the time to get engaged with candidates and campaigns. In order for our democracy to function, it requires people to be informed and engaged, to contribute ideas and energy into the system.”

The Rice Democrats and Rice for Hillary President David Cirillo organized the event and stressed the importance of the upcoming election.

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Texas Says It Will Appeal Voter ID Ruling To SCOTUS Next Week


The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it planned to appeal a circuit appeals court ruling that weakened the state’s voter ID law to the Supreme Court next week. The announcement came in the state’s response to a court order Tuesday, instructing it to fix language in its voter education materials so that it was in line with a court-approved agreement after the appeals court ruling, which said the 2011 law was discriminatory in its effect.

“Our office still maintains the common-sense measures in the Texas voter ID law are valid and will be filing a petition this week for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case,” the statement said.

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RERsports: Big 12 watch: Could BYU, Houston both get left out?; Texas lieutenant governor weighs in

While nothing concrete has come out in a while there has been plenty of speculation in recent days about Big 12 expansion.

Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman had thoughts on ifBYU and Houston could both be left out. He writes, “It seems clearer and clear that BYU isn’t getting into the Big 12. Just too many negatives for the conference, which knows all about negatives. Remember, it takes only three “no” votes to kill any expansion candidate, and BYU’s stance on its Honor Code, gays and lesbians, not playing on Sundays, the issues of it already having its own TV network and geographical distance from the Big 12 has definitely hurt the Cougars’ chances.”

He then talks about who might be included if neither of the Cougars gets an invite: “At this point, I think there’s just as much chance that the Big 12 invites Cincinnati and maybe South Florida to put the league in new TV (and recruiting) markets. People have slept on USF even though it’s invested more than $170 million into its sports infrastructure, plays in Tampa (the nation’s 11th biggest market) and is a Top 25 public research university.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also had plenty of thoughts on the subject as shared by Mark Berman on Twitter.


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Dallas police officer sues Black Lives Matter, Obama for stoking ‘race war’

By Jessica Chasmar

A Dallas police sergeant has filed a federal lawsuit against Black Lives Matter leaders, President Obama, George Soros and others for allegedly inciting racial violence against law enforcement.

Sgt. Demetrick Pennie, president of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation and a 17-year law enforcement veteran, filed the amended complaint in federal court Friday seeking between $500 million and $1.5 billion, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The defendants named in the class-action suit also included Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, Malik Zulu Shabazz and the New Black Panther Party.

The lawsuit said the defendants “stoked a race war” and “repeatedly incited their supporters and others to engage in threats and attacks” against police officers. The complaint singled out George Soros as “the financier of the BLM Defendants and similar organizations with the goal of inciting a race war and inciting and advocating deadly violence against law enforcement officers, Caucasians, and Jews,” Breitbart News reported.

Sgt. Pennie, who is black, is being represented by attorney Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch.

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What Texas did to its special-education students

By Valerie Strauss

An investigation by the Houston Chronicle has revealed that unelected state officials in Texas “arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services” more than a decade ago and then began auditing school districts that did not comply.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

The newspaper’s reporter, Brian Rosenthal, found that state officials set a cap of 8.5 percent of students who should receive special-education services, far lower than the national average. According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, the overall percentage of those being served in programs for students with disabilities was 12.9 percent in 2012-13, the most recent year for which statistics are available, down 13.8 percent in 2004-05. In 2015, the 8.5 percent was reached for the first time, dropping from 12 percent a dozen years ago, the newspaper reported. It said:

If Texas provided services at the same rate as the rest of the U.S., 250,000 more kids would be getting critical services such as therapy, counseling and one-on-one tutoring.

In its response to the Chronicle, the Texas Education Agency denied that it had set 8.5 percent as a mandated goal and instead described it as an “indicator.” It also said that it did not punish districts that did not comply. Still, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said his agency would conduct a detailed review of the special-education program in the state, and House Speaker Joe Straus (R) said he would work with the agency to address this issue.

According to the Chronicle, Texas is the only state that has limited the percentage of students to whom it will provide special-education services in this manner.

The newspaper reported that districts that provided more than 8.5 percent of students with special-education services were asked to file “corrective action” plans for how they were going to lower their special-education populations.

The Chronicle also found that TEA officials arbitrarily established the 8.5 percent standard in the face of a $1 billion budget cut without the benefit of any research on its impact or on how deeply to reduce special education. The national average for students receiving special education is about 13 percent.

Ironically, the 8.5 percent cap was set in 2004, the same year that Congress updated the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was passed to ensure that all children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education.

Texas, however, is hardly the only state that has mismanaged its special-education program.

For example, the Connecticut State Department of Education said last month that the two largest school districts in the state — Hartford and Bridgeport — were not meeting federal and state laws in regard to providing students with disabilities an appropriate education, according to the CT Monitor.

The Iowa Department of Education recently cited more than 100 incidents of noncompliance with federal laws and regulations in the Iowa City school district’s special-education program, according to the Gazette.

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Rising Illegal Immigration Reported on Univision, Telemundo

By Edgard Portela

Univision and Telemundo are reporting on the increased influx of unauthorized immigrants coming across Mexico’s border with the United States. In contrast, Univision and Telemundo’s English-language counterparts at ABC, CBS and NBC have yet to report on the trend.

Univision last week highlighted the dramatic increase of entire families crossing the border into the United States. Correspondent Pedro Rojas reported that the 68,000 family units that have unlawfully entered the country during fiscal year 2016 exceed the 66,000 that came in 2014, the year that saw a spike in unauthorized Central American children and parents crossing the border.

Telemundo, meanwhile, reported on a growing crisis in Tijuana, Mexico where thousands of Haitian, along with Central American, migrants have gathered hoping to cross into the United States.

Correspondent Raúl Torres reported the Haitian migrants initially falsely claimed they were from Africa, and Mexican officials facilitated their movement through Mexico to the U.S. border.

Upon discovering the Haitian migrants’ false papers, Torres went on to report that instead of removing them from the country, Mexican officials have requested that the U.S. Government determine whether or not they can be received as humanitarian refugees.

Reporting on the same surge as Univision, the Washington Times noted that things have gotten so bad that some adults making the unlawful trek North from Central America to the United States are reportedly kidnapping children “so they can pose as families and earn easier treatment here.”

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3 brothers in south Texas, one a Border Patrol agent, charged in drug cartel-linked murder case

Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Joel Luna seemed an ideal Border Patrol hire: south Texas native, high school ROTC standout, Army combat veteran.

Luna worked out of a border checkpoint about 100 miles north of Mexico in Hebbronville, patrolling ranch land frequented by smugglers of humans and drugs. The covert work drew upon his infantry experience.

But now Luna, 31, is preparing to stand trial on a charge of capital murder for his role in what prosecutors say was a cartel drug trafficking conspiracy that left a decapitated corpse floating off the Texas coast during spring break.

To hear prosecutors tell it, the conspiracy is a tale of three Lunas — brothers Joel, Fernando and Eduardo.

Fernando, also known as “Junior,” is the oldest—35,  heavyset and bespectacled. The youngest is 25-year-old Eduardo, who sports a shaved head and goatee and goes by “Pajaro,” or “Bird” — a nickname  that would play a key role in the case.

Prosecutors say Joel helped Fernando and Eduardo run a criminal family business.

Joel’s attorney says he didn’t kill anyone, that in a region where cross-border families often include a mix of law enforcement and immigrants, it’s Fernando and Eduardo, Mexican citizens in the U.S. illegally, who are to blame for the slaying.

“There’s an argument to be made against my client that’s guilt by association. People get swept up with those who are really guilty. It’s family,” said Joel’s attorney, Carlos A. Garcia. “Associating or going to a quinceañera is not a crime. He was just a family man, a working man. Think about how many Border Patrol members who live on the border have relatives here without visas.”

According to his U.S. birth certificate, Joel was born in San Juan, less than 10 miles north of the Rio Grande, but he was raised south of the border in Reynosa, a Gulf cartel stronghold. Fernando and Eduardo were born in Mexico.

The boys’ parents obtained a Mexican birth certificate for Joel so that he could attend elementary and middle school in Mexico, Garcia said. “This is a common thing along the border. Joel was no different. People who are born here, their families take them into Mexico to attend school up until high school, until they have to pay for it,” he said.

Thanks to his U.S. birth certificate, Joel attended Pharr-San Juan Alamo High School, joined Army ROTC, and became a commander. Yearbook photos show him running laps and posing in uniform, a short, trim figure trying to look serious with the shadow of a mustache.

“He knew what he wanted to do from a young age,” Garcia said. “He wanted to defend his country.”

After graduating, Joel joined the Army in 2004 and served a combat tour in Iraq. In 2008, he was discharged as a specialist to the Army National Guard, serving for four more years in the Rio Grande Valley.

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Dallas cop files lawsuit against Black Lives Matter, Obama

A Dallas Police sergeant filed a lawsuit on Friday against Black Lives Matter and its supporters, alleging the group is inciting a race war.

Sgt. Demetrick Pennie, a 17-year veteran of the force, is seeking between $500 million and $1.5 billion in the complaint filed in federal court, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The defendants in the class-action suit include Black Lives Matter; President Obama; Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and billionaire activist George Soros.

“Defendants incite people to violence and cause violence by telling those people that they are under attack. Defendants are encouraging disaffected blacks, Black Muslims, Muslims and others allied with them including certain whites to ignore, disrespect, and assault law enforcement officials, and commit violence and lethal force,” the lawsuit states, according to the paper.

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Obama Administration Says You’re A Bigot If You Live Your Religion

‘The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’…remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.’


The battles over religious liberty—or “religious liberty,” as many media reports term it—have been much in the news in the last several years, from the Obama administration’s attempts to compel the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception through their health insurance to fining bakers and photographers for declining to assist in same-sex weddings. Now, a donnybrook has erupted over a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called (ironically) “Peace Coexistence.”

The USCCR dusted off the scare quotes and had sharp words for those opposed to some recent changes in public policy: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance,” said Chairman Julian Castro. He added, “today, as in past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality. In our nation’s past religion has been used to justify slavery and later, Jim Crow laws.”

Archbishop William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty,responded with no minced words, “shocked” at the claims being made. The thought that religious institutions are inherently bigoted is absurd, he said. “Can we imagine the civil rights movement without Rev. Martin Luther King, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel?” he asked.

“We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our own lives and work,” he said. “The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us. We ask that the work of our institutions be carried out by people who believe in our mission and respect a Christian witness.”

Lori’s comments would have seemed a commonplace in the not-too-distant past, an almost trivial restatement of the sort of thing that everybody knew. Yet now we live in a time where students at one of our most prestigious universities gladly sign a (unbeknownst to them) joke petition to repeal the First Amendment. Thus, it seems, some major truths need restating.

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