All posts by L. Wayne Ashley

Thanks for visiting!! My name is Wayne, and I live in Houston, Texas. I wouldn't consider myself a "diehard" liberal activist, but I definitely have a Progressive view on most issues. I'm a proud Millennial, and I feel like the voice of my generation in Texas gets overshadowed by the older, more established groups. This is my effort to change that. Please come back and read when you can.

Houston’s Diversity: America Discovering What Locals Already Know

If you live in or frequently visit the city of Houston, then the term “diversity” is surely nothing new.  A stop in virtually any of the city’s major stores, malls or public spaces will quickly reveal a racial/ ethnic mosaic.  Even when Houstonians are segmented in an area of town dominated by one persuasion, they are never too far from others.  This is just the lived experience of those in the city of Houston, Harris County or Fort Bend County.

But to others across the United States, Houston’s Diversity remains something of a secret.  Shrouded by poor representation by our state government, and a disengaged Texas electorate, it’s easy to see why the Houston story is so difficult to grasp for outsiders.  Luckily, jounalists like Brittny Mexia and Gary Coronado of the Los Angeles Times decided to give it a try…

Houston boomed through the mid-20th century, thanks to the oil bonanza, and most of those who came to get rich were white. Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees began arriving in the 1970s, and after an oil collapse in 1982, they were followed by an influx of Latinos driven by cheap housing and employment opportunities. Whites, meanwhile, started drifting out.

The multi-ethnic boom has occurred deep in the heart of a state that has often seemed to regard conservatism, and Texas identity, as an element of religion.

The state’s Republican leadership has helped lead the fight this year not only on sanctuary cities, but to defend President Trump’s order on border security and immigration enforcement. Texas went to court in 2015 to successfully block expanded deportation protections for young “Dreamers” and their parents who brought them here illegally.

Yet demographic experts say the Houston metro area, home to the third-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country — behind New York and Los Angeles — is a roadmap to what U.S. cities will look like in the coming decades as whites learn to live as minorities in the American heartland.

Census projections have opened a window into the America of 2050, “and it’s Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University.

“This biracial Southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become, by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country,” Klineberg said. “Who knew Houston would turn out to be at the forefront of what’s happening across all of America?”

If there’s anyone in the country that knew, it’s Dr. Klineberg, as his Houston Area Survey has meticulously tracked these changes for over 35 years.  The strength of Houston’s diversity has also produced real results in other areas.  As ranked by Expert Market, Houston is currently the Best City for Minority Entrepreneurs in the United States. The rapid ascent of educational institutions like the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has been fueled by the region’s minority population growth.

But the demographics are only a small part of the story.  Even as the area swells with new energy, those folks are not being accurately reflected in state and local government.  Though the 2016 elections saw an increase in overall voter participation and the minority vote, there’s little guarantee of those results being a trend. So even if Houston looks like a city of the future,  many more aspects of the area’s way of life are rooted firmly in the past. Until these minority communities discover the true political power which they hold, they will continue to be underserved, underrepresented and under-appreciated.

As more of America looks to places like Houston to chart a successful path forward, let’s hope they see not only an example of how a big diverse community can live together, but how everyone in those communities can have opportunities for success.

 

The Congressional Death Panel: House GOP Votes To DESTROY Healthcare Protections

Let’s just say that today was a most remarkable day in Washington.

At the White House’s famous Rose Garden, members of the Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives gathered around President Donald Trump.  It was clear that they were in a most jovial mood.  Today was indeed a first big step toward what could be a signature legislative achievement of the Trump Presidency and Republican members of Congress.

Here’s the story from Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear of the New York Times…

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday narrowly approved a bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, as Republicans recovered from their earlier failures and moved a step closer to delivering their promise to reshape American health care without mandated insurance coverage.

The vote, 217-213, on President Trump’s 105th day in office, keeps alive the Republican dream to unwind the signature legislative achievement of former President Barack Obama. The House measure faces profound uncertainty in the Senate, where the legislation’s steep spending cuts will almost certainly be moderated. Any legislation that can get through the Senate will again have to clear the House and its conservative majority.

So the House passed the sent it on to the Senate.  It seems worth a celebration… that is until you dig a little deeper.

This is the second push for the American Health Care Act.  But by most indications, it seems an even worse bill than the first try.  The new bill finds a back way to gut the requirement that pre-existing conditions must be covered by allowing states to opt out.  Which means a state like Texas could just decide that its most vulnerable citizens don’t deserve healthcare, and kick them off of the rolls leaving them to die.  And 217 Republicans actually voted for that.

They also voted to reinstate insurance high-risk pools.  You may remember what obtaining health coverage was like before the ACA.  If you’re completely healthy, rich and young, health insurance was no problem!  But if you’re someone that is already sick, or poor or elderly, obtaining health insurance was next to impossible because it was so expensive.  Again House Republicans didn’t see a problem with that system.

And perhaps the biggest shoe to drop… they voted to basically destroy the Medicaid Expansion starting in 2020.  If this bill became law, literally millions of our poorest citizens which have Medicaid coverage today would be phased out of that coverage.  Someone like Representative French Hill of Arkansas, who has over 80,000 people in his district which stand to lose Medicaid from the vote today, and he still voted for it.

But hey!!  If you didn’t read the bill anyway before voting , why would you care?  Yes, 217 Republicans voted for a bill they likely haven’t read, and have no idea how much it costs.  Who cares how many people might lose their insurance?  Who cares how many at risk children might die if they live in a state that “opts out” of covering folks with pre-existing conditions?  I guess they didn’t catch Jimmy Kimmel’s impassioned speech about his infant son this week.

Who cares??  The American People care.  These members of Congress now have some worries going into their next electoral cycle.  To even vote for such a travesty of legislation is shameful.  But this bill does not have to become law, nor do we have to send these 217 folks back to Congress.

Listed here are the 217 members which passed this bill.  If one of them represents you, let them know how you feel about the American Health Care Act.  Let them know that you would rather not be represented by a member of the Congressional Death Panel.   We may have to deal with these folks today, but come 2018, we can send this Death Panel packing.

Congress’ Death Panel

UPDATE 5/24/2017:  As if we needed more proof that the House Republican Caucus is basically a Death Panel, the Congressional Budget Office released it’s Official Score of the American Health Care Act, Take 2, and their result??  23 million people would be left uninsured, mostly due to Medicaid cuts.  Here’s more from CNBC…

The current Republican bill to repeal and replace major parts of Obamacare will lead to 23 million more Americans not having health insurance coverage by 2026 if it becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday.

That is only 1 million fewer uninsured people than had been projected for an earlier version of the GOP bill.

Most of the coverage losses still would occur next year, when 14 million more people would become uninsured than would otherwise be if Obamacare remained in place, CBO said in its new report.

The controversial bill would “tend to increase” average premium prices of individual health plans by about 20 percent relative to the current law in 2018, according to the analysis, but just 5 percent higher than Obamacare prices would be expected to be in 2019.

However, starting in 2020, premiums in different states would be affected in different ways by the bill, because of an amendment that would allow states to obtain waivers from current Obamacare rules mandating the design of health plans, and barring insurers from charging less-healthy people higher prices, CBO said.

As referenced in the earlier post, those waiver basically allow states to gut the fundamental protections that the Affordable Care Act set originally.  Again, one has to ask why are they even doing this?  Do they want to lose their jobs in 2018??

Federal Court: Texas Redistricting Scheme Intentionally “Cracked And Packed” Minority Vote

You gotta hand it to politicians… if there’s one thing they know how to do, it’s getting reelected. Part of the reason I suppose you could say the same for any politician halfway worth their salt.

Those elections are certainly how Texas perseveres as a reliably “Red State” even as our demographics have shifted so dramatically that many folks are puzzled as to how there are so few competitive races in this Republican dominated state.

But for those that have been paying attention, the answer to that conundrum is clear… illegal redistricting.   As James Barragan with the Dallas Morning News reports, one Federal Court is sending state leaders a clear message…

Texas statehouse districts drawn by the Republican-led legislature in 2011 intentionally diluted the votes of minorities, violating the U.S. Constitution and parts of the Voting Rights Act, a federal court ruled Thursday.

In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that the maps gave Republicans an advantage in elections and weakened the voting strength of minority voters. House Districts in Dallas and Tarrant counties were among those in which the judges ruled minority voters had seen their clout weakened.

The ruling is yet another blow to the state in its six-year legal battle over the redrawing of the maps. Last month, the same court found that the state’s congressional maps were drawn with intent to discriminate against minority voters and invalidated three congressional districts. And last week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s voter ID law was written with intent to discriminate.

“The evidence of the mapdrawing process supports the conclusion that mapdrawers were motivated in part by an intent to dilute minority voting strength,” U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in the 171-page ruling. “Discussions among mapdrawers demonstrated a hostility to creating any new minority districts as those were seen to be a loss of Republican seats, despite the massive minority population growth statewide.”

Here is the full court ruling, for those interested.

Redistricting is a very complicated process, but here are the basics.  After each Federal Census (every 10 years), the Texas Legislature is required to divide the state by election districts which most closely match the shifts that have occurred.

It’s definitely no secret that the state of Texas grew from 2000 to 2010, as was reflected in the 2010 Census.  But what many folks may not know is that growth was overwhelmingly led by one group:  the Latino community.  Of the 4.2 million residents Texas gained between 2000 and 2010, nearly 2.8 million of them were Latino.  That is 65 percent.. a clear majority of population within the state.

Texas Latino Growth

We also know that much of this growth occurred in occurred the state’s largest metropolitan areas.  So Texas didn’t just grow in population, it also became more urban and more suburban.

As a result of Texas’ enormous growth, the state was allotted 4 additional seats in the United States House of Representatives, increasing our overall representation in the House to 36 members.

Yet when creating new Congressional Districts, the communities holding the population gains were last in line to be ensured representation. Two ways Texas Republicans used to achieve this dilution?  Cracking and Packing.

With Cracking, you dilute an area’s voting power by slicing up its Congressional Representation.  Urban residents in Austin certainly share some common concerns in Austin, but they are cracked between 5 different members of Congress.

Gerrymandering 101: Cracking

With Packing, you take certain groups and shove them all together in the same district them together in a way which undermines to their voting power.  District 35 is a great example of this, where the minority communities of Austin and San Antonio are cracked, then knit together in something of an awkward dumbbell.

Gerrymandering 101: Packing

Cracking and packing often work in tandem.  As an example, both Austin and San Antonio have sizable Latino populations.  But if they’re in different cities, what would they have to do with each other?  Under Texas’ redistricting scheme one chunk of the Latino population from San Antonio is packed in with minorities in East Austin, while other district residents are connected by a small sliver along Interstate 35.

It through techniques like Cracking and Packing that Texas Republicans were able to do what is called Gerrymandering… they drew districts which are manipulated to enhance the strength of rural and suburban (mostly) white voters, while undermining the rapidly growing (mostly) minority vote.

In the present political era, it’s tough to tell how such rulings would be enforced by Attorney General Sessions.  But whatever accountability may be lacking in the Federal Government, we can take notice and make legislators pay the consequences in 2018 and 2020.

‘Missing’ Ted Cruz Ignores Constituents

Sure, it’s a popular mantra among Democrats since his failed run for President, but for everyday Texans on both sides of the political spectrum “You Cruz You Lose” is suddenly sounding with a much deeper resonance.

As Katherine Blunt of the Houston Chronicle reports, Ted Cruz may be well known in Washington, but in his home state of Texas,  the distinguished Senator is essentially M.I.A…

Ted Cruz is still missing.

The U.S. senator from Texas didn’t appear at a town hall meeting Saturday, much to the dismay of several organizations that have for months tried to corner him during his trips to Houston. Hundreds of constituents appeared in the hope of peppering him with questions before he returns to Washington, D.C., but they were forced instead to address a panel of speakers assembled in his absence.

Cruz isn’t really missing, of course. His spokesman noted that the senator took questions from 200 employees at a NASA subcontractor in Stafford last week.

But he has for months declined requests from left-leaning groups including Indivisible Houston, Pantsuit Republic Houston and others to attend town hall meetings with local voters concerned about education, health care, immigration and other issues that became particularly contentious when President Donald Trump took office. With Congress in recess until Friday, the groups raised $5,000 to host the event in a Texas Southern University auditorium regardless of whether Cruz showed up.

“We are legitimately concerned about things happening in Texas,” said Lauren Summerville, an organizer with Pantsuit Republic. “The people have a lot of questions.”

If you’re struggling to keep track, this now marks the Second Congressional Recess in a row that Senator Cruz has REFUSED to hold an official public Town Hall.  This being the case while several of Cruz’s colleagues are doing their civic duty as elected officials, even if it isn’t always easy.

So what could be the reason that the Texas Senator can’t seem to muster the courage to meet his own constituents face to face?? I suppose Texans could understand if the expense of having to fly back and forth from Washington placed an undue burden on Cruz’s paltry salary of $174,000 per year (multiply that by 6 years in office, and you’ve hit over $1 million that Cruz has been compensated by the very Taxpayers he seems to ignore), but luckily for Senators, flights to and from the Capitol are are covered by… well, us.

Granted, this has been Cruz’s first term in office.  Hosting Constituent questions in a Town Hall can be of great challenge to even the most experienced elected official.  I guess that could be an excuse, if not for all of those Town Halls, Teleconference Sessions, Open Forum Debates that Cruz seemed to master during his 2015-2016 Presidential Campaign.  From the looks of it, Senator Cruz seems to have spent more time listening to the concerns of Iowa and New Hampshire residents than those who sent him to Congress in the first place.  Not a good statistic for a politician rapidly approaching reelection.

And in case you’re wondering… at least one opponent for Ted Cruz’s seat is having no problem facing the public.  Just last week, Congressman Beto O’Rourke held another Town Hall in El Paso, facing tough questions from his constituents concerned his bid to challenge Cruz would detract from important work for the people of his district.  O’Rourke is now 4 for 4 on his promise to host monthly Town Halls, even after the launch of an ambitious Senate campaign.

Sounds like the current Senator could take a couple of cues from his rival.  In any event, he better do something.  Like the warming temperatures, this campaign won’t stay cool much longer.  Let’s hope Texas finds its Senator soon.

 

Does Ossoff Race Reveal Trouble Ahead For Millennial Leaders?

So it isn’t exactly Texas.

But like the rest of the nation, many Texan eyes will be trying to read some political tea leaves after tonight’s Special Election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.  As the first such contest since Donald Trump took power, many Progressives have pinned their hopes on Jon Ossoff, the top Democrat in the race.  As Richard Fausset of the New York Times reports, this race is rife with implications for the nation’s thoughts on Trump and the overwhelmingly Republican, grossly under-performing Congress…

Voters in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District will have 18 candidates to choose from Tuesday when they decide who should fill the seat vacated by former Representative Tom Price, a Republican who was tapped to become President Trump’s health and human services secretary.

But none have earned more press, or raised more money, than Jon Ossoff, 30, a Democrat and documentary filmmaker who bills his campaign as a way to “Make Trump Furious.” Now, in one of the first political tests of the Trump presidency, the question is whether he can turn anti-Trump anger and energy into enough votes to send him to Congress from a wealthy suburban district that has not sent a Democrat to Washington in decades.

The Times also provides an excellent 2017 Elections timeline, so you can keep up with some other key races in the coming months.  For an off-year cycle, there is plenty to watch.

We’ll hear plenty from tonight’s results, but ultimately that’s only one part of a much deeper story.  The most important events from this special election actually happened during the campaign.  As one of a precious few Millennials seeking federal office, Mr. Ossoff has had to endure the ire copious attack ads from Republican groups wishing to tarnish his credentials.  No surprise there.

But as Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the attacks they may have broad implications for virtually all aspiring Millennial leaders…

A Republican super PAC has unleashed a $1.1 million ad barrage against Jon Ossoff, a Democratic newcomer who is attracting national attention and a torrent of fundraising in his campaign to flip a conservative suburban Atlanta district.

[…]

The ad takes aim at Ossoff’s assertion that he worked for five years as a national security staffer who held top security clearances.

Ossoff and his campaign said he was granted those privileges working for Johnson after his 2006 election, while the super PAC depicts him as a college student “dressing up with his drinking buddies” for part of that time.

In a statement, Johnson called the ad “absurd.”

“Jon spent five years working on National Security issues for me, and he worked on such sensitive programs that he received a top secret security clearance from the Department of Defense,” said the DeKalb Democrat. “Washington political operatives are coming into Georgia to spread false personal attacks – it’s what the American people are sick and tired of.”

Instead of attacking Ossoff’s positions or his record directly, the PACs used old social media clips to paint him as an “irresponsible college student”, and make no mention of his career accomplishments since his 2009 graduation.

In essence, Mr. Ossoff is being punished in these ads because he is a Millennial.  Take a look at the “attack ad” in question.

Anyone that is around and under the age of 35 is likely to have similar clips on social media from an earlier point in their life.  A silly picture here, a politically incorrect comment there.  It’s part of the young adult experience to capture the less serious moments of their lives.  But if Ossoff’s race is any indication, these moments of past fun could wreak havoc for our nation’s next generation of leaders.

If by chance you’ve forgotten, folks like Ossoff are an anomaly.  Forget even running for office… Millennials are still struggling to even go and vote, as was well evidenced by the 2016 Presidential election.  But if they don’t show up and vote for their peers, they are leaving electoral decisions to an older generation which may view ads like the one above as an actual problem.

A loss for Ossoff means a validation of this strategy where younger candidates are made to look like fools from Social Media posts, and left far more vulnerable to defeat than their likely older counterparts.  In the years to come, who won or lost this race may be far less important than why behind.

So I’d like to hear your feedback in the comments.  Should Millennial candidates like John Ossoff be punished for having a Social Media history?  Let me know your thoughts.  

 

UPDATE: A big congratlations to Mr. Ossoff, who was the top finisher in last night’a Congressional Primary. Though the Democrat fell just shy of the 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a run-off, he was still far and away the winner of the contest, earning a larger percentage of the vote than all of his Republican challengers COMBINED. It’s on to the final contest, where he will face where he will face former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

One can only hope that the conversation moves beyond the baseless attacks waged during the Primary Campaign. But in the era of Trump, don’t hold your breath.

 

That Ole Time Division: Ideological Battle Threatens GOP

In 2017, everything’s coming up roses for the Republican Party. Fresh off the heels of a sweeping Electoral victory, the GOP has taken control and is working feverishly to Make America GREAT Again.

At least that’s what they thought they would be doing back on November 8th.  But now that post election reality has set in, the Republican-led Congress has revealed itself to be no more capable of actual governance than they were during the Obama era.  Their most recent attempt at a major legislative achievement, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, went down in flames. With today’s resignation of embattled Chairman Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the Election has proven to be virtually invalid (if not damaging on its own.  And the hope of lawmakers to pass significant tax reform is proving far more difficult than originally anticipated.  And despite the President’s litany of controversial Executive Orders, his Administration is caught in their own ideological battle.  At least for the start of the Trump Era, governing is not getting done.

So as for what Republicans are doing well, what would be the answer?  To sum it up, they’re fighting with each other.  Freedom Caucus vs. Moderates, Speaker Ryan and the leadership vs. the insurgency.  Governing responsibilities be damned… the inner party Civil War has now been exposed for the American People to see.  As Kyle Cheney and Rachel Bade of Politico report, Obamacare is still a central point of contention…

Republican efforts to unite around a plan to repeal Obamacare devolved into a heated round of intra-party sniping Wednesday, as conservative groups publicly pummeled moderate GOP lawmakers — all while the White House talked of unity and progress.

The failure to reach a deal in late night talks Tuesday, which were held by competing factions of House Republicans and brokered by Vice President Mike Pence, led conservative advocacy groups Heritage Action and Club for Growth to lash out at centrist Republicans for resisting proposals to undercut Obamacare’s regulations.

“Each one of these members of Congress is standing in the way of compromise,” Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham said in a call with reporters, fingering the 50-member Tuesday Group as the culprit that “refuses to get to yes.”

“Their commitment to [repealing] Obamacare is one that existed on the campaign trail but does not exist in the halls of Congress,” he said.

It was an attempt to flip the narrative that has dominated in Washington after last month’s failed attempt to gut Obamacare: That the archconservative House Freedom Caucus was the singular impediment to the GOP’s progress on a seven-year priority.

Sounds like some of them miss the days when they had President Obama to kick around.

As readers to this blog know, Republican In-fighting has been the central characteristic of the party since Barack Obama’s election. But now that they are in total control, time is short for the GOP to prove they can run the government better than Democrats.  After nearly seven years of “show votes” to Repeal Obamacare, a failure actually do so when given the chance should be unacceptable to Trump supporters, Republican party faithful, and the general public.  Not only does this legislative debacle demonstrate a failure of ideas, it shows the Congressional GOP’s failure to put the most basic needs of the American People ahead of their own self interests.

As President Trump said, this behavior is a recipe for defeat.

All of this turmoil may not be good for the country, but it is definitely causing voters to have second thoughts about their support, or tolerance of the new Administration.  Mid-term Elections, like the one coming quickly for 2018, are rarely positive for the party in power.  But if that party is viewed as incapable of doing the People’s Business, Democrats could have much to gain.

IF Voter Turnout increases!!!!

 

Beto O’Rourke Jumps Into 2018 Senate Race. Can He Win??

If you’re a Texas Democrat, it’s easy to say “we’ve been here before.”

Remember when Bill White was going to roll Rick Perry in 2010?  How about when Wendy Davis was going to sail into the Governor’s Office and “transform Texas” in 2014?  A polished, politically savvy Democrat is once again deciding to take a stab at the “red firewall” of Texas, and this time that politician is Beto O’Rourke, Congressman from El Paso who is challenging Ted Cruz for the United States Senate.

As Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune reminds us, the odds O’Rourke aren’t just long, but may seem astronomical…

No Texas Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in nearly thirty years or any statewide office since 1994. It is hard to find a political operative in Washington or back in Texas who would bet money – or professional credibility – on O’Rourke winning this race. 

But the El Paso Democrat is earnestly bullish that he will go to the Senate through a strategy of bringing retail politics to a state of 27 million people. 

He has no pollster and no consultants at this point, and said he has no interest in hiring operatives of that ilk. 

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” he said.

So that’s where we are.  But eventually, the Lone Star State have to suspend disbelief and focus on where we are going.

Texas Democrats are caught in a chicken vs. egg scenario. If we don’t run strong candidates, we’ll never build the infrastructure needed to win a statewide office. If a good candidate is out there, we would rather see them run now than us continue to wait for the “right moment”.

A Ted Cruz victory isn’t as sure as we may think.  Many folks in his own party would like to see the Senator lose his seat, and he may soon be facing some primary challengers.  When it comes to his actual job of representing 27 million Texans, the esteemed Senator doesn’t have much of a record on which to run.  Heck, citizens are lucky just to see the person they’ve paid over 1 million dollars in salary host a town hall meeting where they can express their concerns.  If O’Rourke can improve on these two paltry statistics, he’s off to a good start.

But the Congressman from Texas’ 16th District has an impressive record and some policy goals that will grab the attention of many young voters. His vocal support for the legalization of marijuana has already proven positive among Millennials. His record in local government proves the ability to work across the aisle and actually earn results for the people of his district.

With such depressing results, it’s easy to write Texas off as a wasteland for Democrats. But the potential of this State to surprise should also not be underestimated. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, and (ironically) the election of Donald Trump, Texas Democrats are energized and ready for change in 2018.  If that same coalition were to unite, reignite and stay energized around a statewide Democratic candidate, it’s more than possible that they could win. Indeed, Mr. O’Rourke has a Herculean task ahead of him, but with an early start and unconventional campaign, he might just take Texas by storm.