Voting Rights Attacked by Blanco County

Statement to the Blanco County Commissioners

by the Blanco County Democratic Party

February 12, 2019

I am the Chairman of the Blanco County Democratic Party and I am before you this morning to discuss the actions of the Texas Secretary of State and of Blanco County to conduct a “voter purge.” I want to be clear that the State of Texas has put Blanco County in a difficult situation. I am not here to condemn any individual County official but there are questions that need to be answered and given the fact that the County is now being sued the answers are not forthcoming. Note that item number 21 on today’s agenda seeks approval to hire outside counsel to defend the suit.

On January 25, by order of the acting Secretary of State (SOS), David Whitley, the Texas Director of Elections, issued Elections Advisory 2019-02 providing counties with a list of 85,000 voters whose US citizenship and ineligibility to vote the state questioned (purge list). The SOS identified this as “actionable information” and provided specific instructions on how counties could begin investigating the individuals on the purge list. These actions by the SOS were publicly supported by Attorney General Paxton and Governor Abbott.

Immediately various civil rights groups, many State Legislators, the Texas Democratic Party, and former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos expressed concerns about the purge list and called for it to be rescinded. Yet, Blanco County appears to have followed the SOS instructions without pause even though many other counties in the state elected to not pursue it. Other counties pursued the purge on a limited basis after a due diligence process. Since the initial release, the SOS has removed approximately 20,000 names on the list due to a “clerical error.” These have proven to be naturalized citizens. The state has no centralized database of naturalized citizens yet sent out without regard to its accuracy.

As of today, three different lawsuits have been filed contesting the legality of the voter purge. One of these suits – from the League of Women Voters of Texas – specifically names Blanco County as a defendant. Blanco County is one of only five counties to be sued for its actions. We have been unable to as yet understand why the county was named but it is clear that Blanco County was one of the few counties to immediately send out letters to its voters without any type of due diligence or pause to consider the consequences. As of this week Comal, Hays, Kendall, Burnet, Travis, and Lampassas Counties have delayed action on the purge list and have not sent out letters demanding proof of citizenship.

The Blanco County Election Commission met in a regularly scheduled meeting on February 4th. In open session of this meeting, I asked for details regarding Blanco County’s participation on the voter purge and learned that seven names were received from the SOS. Blanco County mailed letters to each of these voters demanding that they prove their citizenship or lose their right to vote. It was also stated that, as of that date, three of these voters had demonstrated citizenship. There had been no contact from the other four voters. It was also revealed that some of the voters were angry because their citizenship had been questioned.

Based on this information, I attempted to persuade the members of the Election Commission that Blanco County’s actions related to the Voter Purge where ill-advised and put the County under unnecessary risk. I pointed out that many other counties exercised caution and did not send out the letters. I also advised that the SOS had admitted there were errors and has removed “tens of thousands” of voters from the list. Many news reports indicated that naturalized citizens were appearing on the list. This discussion demonstrated that no other members of the Election Commission where sympathetic to my position, that all other members supported the voter purge, and they were unconcerned by the subsequent risks. The members of the Election Commission are County Judge Brett Bray, County Clerk Laura Walla, County Tax Assessor Collector/Voter Registrar Kristen Spies, Republican County Chair Al Poteet, and Democratic County Chair Terry Casparis.

Yesterday I requested an update from Kristen Spies on how many voters have responded and proven citizenship. Ms. Spies responded that, on the advice of County Attorney Deborah Earley, the information could not be released because of the lawsuit.

We believe that the Secretary of State has failed in his duty to defend the laws of the United States including the Voting Right Act of 1965. It is a sad irony that Lyndon Baines Johnson worked for passage of the Voting Right Act and signed it into law as President. Now, his home county is being sued because it has defied the Act.

Beyond the specifics of the seven people whose citizenship has been questioned, we must ask ourselves if this voter purge was also intended to send a message to minorities, naturalized citizens, and those who want to become naturalized citizens that their rights will be monitored. Have we played a role in discouraging certain groups of citizens from enjoying their legal right to vote? Is this how we want to be known in Blanco County?

The damage that has been done leads us to make the following requests of the Commissioners Court:

  • Blanco County will rescind its demand to the remaining voters who were notified through this Voter Purge Process

  • Blanco County will issue an apology to all seven voters and confirm that no further action has or will be taken to purge them as voters unless and until there is conclusive evidence that they are not US citizens.

  • Blanco County will issue a public apology and include a positive statement that the County affirms the right of all Americans, native born and naturalized to vote, and state that the full participation in civic rights is both welcomed and encouraged in Blanco County.

  • Commissioners should adopt a Resolution disavowing the SOS actions and reaffirming that Blanco County encourages the widest civic participation for all citizens to register and vote.

  • Beginning immediately, Blanco County will require the Voter Registrar and/or the Elections Administrator to report to the County Elections Commission: 1) immediately of any mass purge of the voter rolls prior to execution of that purge, and 2) monthly of all voters removed from the rolls due to routine maintenance (moves, death, etc.)

  • The Blanco County Commissioners will continue to support the hiring of a highly qualified County Elections Administrator who fully supports the right to vote and has no cloud of partisanship in their record even if this means the timing and budget for this position needs to be re-examined.

These steps are essential to show good faith with our citizens, begin to put this embarrassment behind us, reduce further risks, and be the best possible stewards of our citizens tax dollars.

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Christian and Democrat

By Barbara Hudson, Dawn Capra, John Wilson and Mary Wilson

World-religion-symbolsAs Americans, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This means the United States government is not in the business of establishing a state religion nor is it in the business of establishing a religious test for persons running for elected office. The founders held religious freedom near and dear to their hearts. They left countries where a state religion was central to the government and where they were persecuted for practicing a different religion. They wished to be free to worship as they pleased.

Our Democratic values align with our Christian values. When we look at the instructions Jesus gave His disciples, He said love your neighbor as yourself, take care of those in need, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry, etc. In other words, Jesus asked us to continue the work He started in His name. We practice and live this truth today by focusing on sharing the love of God with all in word, act and deed.

What does it mean to love our neighbor? According to the story of the Good Samaritan, it means helping those in need. Our neighbor is not only someone who looks like us or who thinks like us, but simply someone in need. For us, that means people fleeing the violence of Central America or Syria are our neighbors, and it is our Christian calling to do what we can to help them.

Loving our neighbor means caring whether he or she is going bankrupt due to healthcare costs. It means caring whether every child attends a good school and learns and has a healthy lunch to eat. It means caring whether working people are paid a living wage or whether they are exploited while others get rich off their backs. It means caring whether our prison system is rooted in systemic racism. It means listening and being responsive to the suffering of those affected by sexual assault.

Democrats use the term “inclusion” to describe these concepts of loving our neighbor. In Texas, we have candidates who are running on platforms of inclusion. Beto O’Rourke says, “This moment of pettiness, meanness, partisanship and division will be met by the kindness, courage, strength, leadership and the big heart of Texas.”

Likewise, Joseph Kopser, who is running to replace Rep. Lamar Smith and is a graduate of West Point, 20-year combat veteran, Bronze Star recipient and technology entrepreneur, has this message for Republicans: “We have more in common than that which separates us.” Erin Zwiener is an educator, author and conservationist running to represent us in the Texas House. Like us, she lives her Christian and Democratic values by defending the rights of all Texans.

Paul tells us in Galatians 6:13 that we live by the Spirit: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As Christians and Democrats, we seek to embody these characteristics. Beto O’Rourke has refused to run negative ads. In response to negative attack ads launched by his opponent, he is running an ad stating, “Texans in all 254 counties are proving that together, we will be the…confident answer to the small, petty, negative ads coming our way.” For any candidate, speaking up for inclusion takes courage in this age of political bullying. Words are used as weapons. Words are used to scare and intimidate. Words are used to create a caricature of a candidate based on falsehoods.

There are issues confronting our state and nation that are not partisan issues: funding for public schools, addressing local water needs, protecting clean air and water, creating good jobs that pay a living wage, building workforce housing, bringing doctors and hospitals in our rural county, just to name a few. Democratic candidates, such as Congressman O’Rourke, and his message of inclusion and loving our neighbor give us hope that together we can make a difference and build a stronger Texas for all of us.

We are fortunate to live in a democracy. Each of us has one vote. Voting is the equalizer among us, our friends and neighbors and others in our great nation. It is our responsibility to study candidates and support and vote for those who do their best for the most.

Join us in supporting Democratic candidates. Early voting begins on Monday, Oct. 22. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

If not now, when?

Vote HereLast year, Joyce and I joined the Indivisible movement because of our disgust with Trump and fear of the impact of Republican policies on our country. Our worst fears have come true. The EPA has been gutted. Children are being separated from their parents and put in cages. Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, SNAP, and other vital public programs are being systematically defunded. Public schools are under attack.

Around this time last year, it became obvious that the next step was to get involved in our county Democratic party. Our goal is to create a Blanco County party that takes action. Everyone who has contributed should take pride in the fact that we are doing exactly that. Due to your work, Blanco County is changing for the better.

The anger and disgust we all feel about the Republican administration is legitimate and continues to be a motivation. However, the need today is to focus on our Democratic candidates and the positive message they are delivering about our shared desire to build a better nation—one that is fair, inclusive, and prosperous. This will be the reward for our thousands of hours of hard work.

Let’s rise and embrace the challenge we face. We know that Democratic turnout is low in mid-term elections. We know that the best way to motivate Democrats and progressives to vote is one-on-one contact. Up until 6 months ago, Joyce and I had not participated in block walking or phone banking. But 18 months ago, we likewise had not participated in a protest or sent a letter to a member of Congress. Indivisible’s collective courage drove us then, and your courage drives us now.

Kim Olson, our candidate for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture has said it better than I ever could: “Believe in something. Even if it means being the only Democrat in the neighborhood.” I repeat that to myself every morning when I wake and every night before I sleep.

The time is now. What more can you do? What will you do?

Workforce Housing Benefits Everyone

Johnson City is facing a workforce housing crisis. Home sale prices are upwards of $250,000 and rent is $1,000+ per month. People working at restaurants, retail shops, wineries and other local businesses or in trades can not afford to live here.

LBJ NPFor example, LBJ National Park, which currently serves 140,000 visitors per year, is unable to fill all its 40 staff positions. Not because of a lack of qualified candidates willing to relocate to Johnson City, but because of the cost of living, which is driven primarily by housing costs.

To rent a two-bedroom house in Johnson City for $1,200 per month without exceeding 30 percent of your wages for housing, you need to make $24.54 per hour for 40 hours per week. Jobs here typically pay $10-$15 per hour.

This problem affects more than just working folks looking for housing and business owners. It affects everyone with children in our school district. Johnson City Independent School District is considered a wealthy school district. With declining school population, we must give a portion of our property taxes to the state, to the tune of $2.1 million for the coming school year. If school attendance was growing, we could keep more to improve our schools.

JC New home photoLack of workforce housing affects anyone who wants to see our town prosper. Whether it is opportunities for our high school graduates or young families looking to build a life and raise their children, the housing shortage is preventing them from making Johnson City their home.

But, there is another side to this problem. Let’s take a look at wage stagnation. This phenomenon has occurred in the United States since the 1970s and was exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008. Low-wage workers earn 5 percent less than they did in 1979 (adjusted for inflation), while middle class workers earn only 6 percent more. Those with very high wages saw their pay rise 41 percent.

In 1965, CEO pay was about 20 times that of a typical worker. Today, it is 300 times.

Think it’s because workers today aren’t as productive as workers back then? Not true. Productivity has risen dramatically. If the minimum wage had kept up with growth in American worker productivity, it would be $18 per hour today.

What can we do about these problems?

Consider serving on the Johnson City Planning and Zoning Commission. The Commission JC Mapcurrently has two openings. You do not have to reside in the city to serve. Also, as a community, let’s agree that we need multi-family housing, so the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council can make zoning decisions that help us solve this problem.

Regarding wage stagnation, Republican lawmakers aren’t telling the truth about this. One example: our Congressman Lamar Smith and Senator Ted Cruz say last year’s tax cuts are the solution. But most of the cuts benefit the wealthy, not you or Blanco County. In November, let’s elect the Democratic slate of candidates to fight for us.

Terry C.

Texas Has a Children’s Mental Health Crisis

In last week’s column, I wrote about the crisis in county jails resulting from community members with untreated mental health disorders coming into contact with law enforcement. This week’s focus is the crisis in children’s mental health.

The suicide rate among girls in the United States reached a record high in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and has doubled since 2007. The suicide rate for young girls, ages 10-14, increased 300 percent. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15-24. In fact, more children and young adults die from suicide than from all natural causes combined.

Twenty percent of children and teens in our country have a mental health disorder. In Blanco County, this equals 433 children.

The most common children’s mental health disorders are anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorders such as depression, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. These are medical conditions that require treatment from doctors. Children with mental health disorders face daunting challenges in obtaining treatment, not the least of which is the judgment of being a bad kid.

Children, their families and our state pay the price. A child with an untreated mental health condition may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs or engage in high-risk activities, putting them at risk for academic failure and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Fifty percent drop out of high school. Seventy percent of children in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder.

sad childPediatricians play an important role in the solution because early diagnosis and treatment is key to a positive outcome. Mental health screenings must take place at regular intervals during childhood, just like hearing and vision screenings. Unfortunately, there is no pediatrician and only one general practitioner in Blanco County.

There is a shortage of doctors in general practice and pediatrics in rural Texas. We rank 47th in the nation for having enough primary care physicians for our population.

The Texas Medical Association recommends three steps to alleviate this crisis. First, provide a path for doctors who are immigrants and licensed in other countries to practice in Texas. Second, allow independent practice for nurse practitioners and offer incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, to practice in rural areas. Third, create incentives for medical schools to fund additional residency positions so all medical school graduates can continue on the path to becoming doctors.

It takes government intervention to make these steps happen. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that children get the medical care they need. It is an appropriate function of government to address community problems with a broad impact.

Current state leadership is more concerned about niche issues that appeal to the Republican base than in finding real solutions to complex issues. Ask the candidates in the November election about these issues. Vote for those who understand these problems and offer solutions, not those that resort to name-calling and finger-pointing. Our children deserve better.child troublemaker

Terry C

Let’s Keep Residents and Officers Safe

Some violent interaction between civilians and law enforcement officers is inevitable. In some communities, this may take the form of conflict between African Americans and police. Law enforcement agencies may respond by saying the threats faced by officers are under-reported and unappreciated.

JC Police badgeTo prepare this column, I visited Blanco County Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and Johnson City Interim Police Chief Marty Corcoran to hear their thoughts about this week’s topic. According to Leonard, rather than race, the greater challenge in Blanco County is conflict between law enforcement and radical right groups, such as Sovereign Nation and Republic of Texas.

On-duty officer deaths in the United States have been dropping since the early 1970s. In 2015, it was at the lowest level since 1960. This coincides with a 49 percent decline in violent crime between 1994 and 2014.

Leonard and Corcoran agree that a pressing law enforcement issue in Blanco County is interactions with people who have mental health challenges. These interactions put residents and people passing through into contact with law enforcement, providing opportunities for violence to occur.

Nationwide, 25 percent of people killed by police have an untreated mental health disorder. These people—our family members, friends, and neighbors—are 16 times more likely than you or me to be involved in a police shooting.

Blanco Sheriff emblemTexas has the 7th highest number of incarcerated people with mental health needs in the nation. One in five Texans has a mental health need, and the burden of caring for those who are untreated often falls on county jails. This issue gained mainstream attention with the suicide of Sandra Bland in the Waller County Jail in 2015. According to Leonard, the Sandra Bland Act requires training for jailers to recognize and assist people who are in crisis. The Blanco County Sheriff’s department now has three mental health officers who have received special training.

Corcoran said police officers bear their fair share of the responsibility for interactions with civilians. He noted that while it is important to practice tactical skills, officers must also gain the communication skills and confidence to deal with people who may be agitated, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who may come from a different culture.

Democrats understand that everything is connected. There are no easy answers to the complex issues facing our country and community. For example, there is a connection between Texas rejecting the expansion of Medicaid and the millions of uninsured Texans who are unable to obtain or pay for mental healthcare services.

A quick search for mental healthcare services in Blanco County found a state-run clinic and two licensed therapists. These providers cannot meet the needs of more than 2000 county residents with mental healthcare issues. Poor access to mental healthcare services is putting residents and officers at risk. Let’s elect a Texas legislature that will tackle these complex issues and come up with real solutions to keep us and our law enforcement officers safe.black policeman

Post Script

These blogs are often published in the Johnson City Record Courier as part of the ‘Record Discourse’ series that examines public policy issues from the perspective of an active Democrat and an active Republican in our community. Typically the Republican response is not worth comment. However, their commentary published on May 17 is an exception.

Here is a quote from the Republican column. “Democratic politicians need the support of low income and minority voters and in order to gain that support they need an enemy. If there is no enemy, then there is no one to blame other than the Democratic party themselves. The obvious source of blame in this situation was police officers. Just like many “hashtag campaigns,” progressives used celebrities, athletes and minority lawmakers to demonize law enforcement as a whole. Their plan worked. The hate dominoes back and forth across the country until 5 Dallas Police officers were assassinated in the line of duty as they protected the very people who marched against them [italics added].”

Wow. In one paragraph she accuses Democrats of needing an enemy then proceeds to make Democrats the enemy of law enforcement and ultimately places the blame of the unconscionable deaths of the Dallas Police officers on progressives, celebrities, athletes, and minority law makers.

Based on the very informative and candid conversations I had with Chief Deputy Neal Leonard and acting Johnson City Chief of Police Marty Corcoran, I can report that there was absolutely no indication of blame on the Democratic Party, individual Democrats, or progressives by either of these law enforcement leaders. I wonder what they will think and say about this column.

This is what we are up against folks.

Terry C

 

We Must Support Public Schools

child readingDemocrats believe in public school education. We believe in investing in our children, our communities, and our teachers. Texas must rise to create an informed citizenry and meet the needs of the future workforce, which includes both preparation for the university and vocational education.

Yet today, Texas ranks 40th in the nation in the quality of our public school education, according to Education Week. Their analysis shows that funding per student in 2017 was $8,484, the fourth lowest in the nation, and $4,000 less per student than the average in the United States.

The recent precipitous drop in the amount the state contributes to public education is alarming. In 2008, state funds covered 48.5% of the cost. By 2019, it will be 38%. The rest is made up by local property taxes, federal dollars, and “recapture” of funds from wealthier school districts.

kids with ipadThe Johnson City Independent School district (JCISD) is considered a wealthy school district and is penalized by recapture. Enrollment is low, at just under 700 students; however, property values are rising, which equates to higher property tax revenue. Last year, JCISD returned $1.3 million to the state through recapture. Next year, it will be $2 million.

JCISD should be allowed to use those funds to improve our schools. Rural school districts are challenged to provide access to technologies, such as iPads and broadband internet. Our students have fewer options for advanced placement classes and teachers have fewer opportunities for professional development.

teacherTeacher pay in Texas is average, ranked 27th in the nation, but the complex system of funding healthcare and retirement benefits for teachers provides among the lowest benefits in the nation. This harms our children’s education because we can no longer attract and retain the best teachers.

In 2017, Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives attempted to alleviate the tax burden on property owners, raise teacher pay, and improve the quality of public schools. Unfortunately, House Bill 21 never made it to the governor’s desk because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called it a “Ponzi scheme” and attempted to add a “school choice” provision, which would have subsidized private school tuition and taken tax dollars away from public schools.

Kids in autoshopDan Patrick’s actions do not reflect our values and priorities. We must elect representatives who are committed to finding ways to fund public schools without placing undue burden on property owners. We must support teachers by raising teacher pay and providing competitive healthcare and retirement systems.

We all benefit from an educated citizenry that is capable of critical thinking and contributing to the economy. For Texas to remain one of the most powerful economies in the world, we must embrace the educational needs of every child, whether they are rowdy little boys who can’t sit still, hungry little girls who didn’t get breakfast, kids with learning disabilities who require special education, transgender children who want to feel safe at school, college-bound teens, or skilled craftspeople. Our children—our future—deserve no less.

Terry CTeens reading.jpg