From the notebook: Travis County Sheriff candidates’ platform on ICE detainers

Candidates look on as they hear from community members who have experienced the impact of sheriff’s policies firsthand about the issues they have deemed most critical at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin on Saturday, Feb 13, 2016. from left to right: Todd Radford,Don Rios, Debbie Russell and John Sisson. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Candidates look on as they hear from community members who have experienced the impact of sheriff’s policies firsthand about the issues they have deemed most critical at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin on Saturday, Feb 13, 2016. from left to right: Todd Radford, Don Rios, Debbie Russell and John Sisson. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

At a public forum last week, Democratic candidates for Travis County Sheriff traded barbs over whether they would fully comply with a controversial federal immigrant detention program.

One candidate even invoked a conversation during the candidates’ endorsement interview with the Statesman’s editorial board, where the candidates were also asked what their position was on cooperating with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in detaining immigrants, American-Statesman’s Nicole Barrios reported. Of the six candidates seeking to succeed Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, only one said he would keep the sheriff’s most controversial policy.

During the forum held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin on Saturday, former Austin police Lt. John Sisson, a Democratic candidate, told the audience that he’s been advocating to end Travis County’s participation in the ICE program since 2007, when he ran against Hamilton.

“I was sitting with the editorial board, and the question was, ‘Will you cooperate with immigration officials?’ Todd (Radford) and Sally (Hernandez) said yes, they would, except for minor violations; Don (Rios) and I said no,” Sisson said at the forum. “You cannot pick and choose who goes and who stays.”

Two things from Barrios’ story stood out to me: Hernandez taking offense to Sisson’s claim and Rios’ telling Saturday’s audience that the first goal of his campaign was to end ICE detainers.

So, I listened to my recording of the interview to see where Sisson’s memory (or notes) and mine didn’t match and to see if Rios made it clear to us his intention with ICE detainers.

To Sisson’s point, he and Rios were the only two candidates who stated that they would not comply with ICE at all, while Radford and Hernandez said they would draw a line in certain cases.  But Rios never mentioned his position on ICE detainers until he was asked directly.

Yes, the topic of ICE came up several times, but it was during a specific portion of our hour-long conversation where each candidate gave details to their position on the issue. Sisson was the only candidate who made the issue part of his introduction.

Off the bat, answering a question of why he was running for the position, Sisson said: “What I want to do for Travis County is end our collaboration with immigration officials, I want to put body cameras on all deputies and consistent training, de-escalation training, sensitivity training cultural diversity training , mental health training.” No other candidate referenced ICE in their answer to the same question.

Later in our conversation, the candidates were asked to name three important planks of their criminal justice reform or platform. Rios was the only candidate who did not mention cooperation with ICE as a reform. The others mentioned cooperation to some degree in their platforms.

When editorial board member Alberta Phillips asked John Sisson to name any sheriffs in Texas who are not currently cooperating with ICE officials, Sisson pointed to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who as Sisson explained, is “cooperating somewhat, she’s just not holding (immigrants) for minor violations.” And when asked if he would cooperate at all, Sission responded, “No ma’am”.

Hernandez told us her platform would mirror Sheriff Valdez’s program in Dallas.

When asked the same question, Radford replied, “this broad brush stroke effect that we’re going to send everybody to ICE and cooperate in that fashion doesn’t make sense to me.”

Since Rios was the only candidate who had shared his views on cooperating with ICE, we him directly if he would. His answer: “ I would not cooperate at all.”

The candidates then were given the opportunity to explain their position on ICE detainers. Their responses included:

Radford: “The issue for me is [that] it’s not equitable. When we start to infringe upon issues of inequity, that’s when we have to take a stance. For me there are two issues: One, crossing: coming into our state which is an illegal act and federal illegal act. But the issue staying past, is more an administrative issue, more of a civil issue. ..if we have people in our facilities who have answered for our state issues and they’re ready to be released (but aren’t because of an ICE retainer), it would be very much akin to someone calling and saying the person violated the tenants of their contract I need you to hold them 28 more hours. I wouldn’t do that to anybody else nor should I be expected to do so with this one person just based on their immigrant status.”

Rios: “It’s not a criminal act it’s actually a civil violation of the immigration law. That’s what we’re talking about. We are also talking about people who have been arrested but not convicted of anything…We are talking about who are innocent. We are not talking about people who are guilty. Those people who are guilty will get deported.”

Rios continued: “When a judge has that affidavit, it is his or her responsibility to ensure the safety of our community and that particular bond setting of what they feel that crime…This comes truly down to a violation of the Fourth Amendment, for me. If ICE would have probable cause and get that reviewed by a judge, having judicial review, then we wouldn’t be talking about this issue.”

Hernandez said her choice of non-cooperating with ICE was about making everyone in the community feel safe, including the immigrant community. Sisson agreed with Rios’ response.

Sisson was correct to say that during our endorsement meeting he and Rios were the only candidates to take a firm stance against cooperating with ICE detainers, while Hernandez and Radford suggested they would cooperate with ICE in violent criminal cases. But it took reading Barrios’ story for me to understand that eliminating ICE from the Sheriff’s office was a priority for Rios.

 

 

Here’s why we are not endorsing in the presidential race

GOP 2016 Debate
In the Republican primary races, Texas’ largest newspapers split endorsements last weekend between  Ohio Gov. John Kasich, left, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, pictured here during the CBS News Republican presidential debate in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Over the weekend editorial boards in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio weighed in with their presidential primary endorsements. On the Democratic side, the message was unanimous — vote for Hillary Clinton, warts and all.

On  the Republican side, the results were more varied: The Dallas Morning News made its case for Ohio Gov. John Kasich; while San Antonio and Houston picked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But one message unified the three: Please, please, for the love of God, don’t pick Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, and let pragmatism prevail.

Here’s a bit from the Dallas Morning News endorsement that hit the internet on Friday and was printed on Sunday:

As much as we’d like to see a Texan in the White House, we fear that Cruz’s brand of politics is more about disruption than governing and threatens to take the Republican Party to a dark place. As we’ve written before, continuing obstructionist paths might excite primary voters, but it won’t benefit the nation or the conservative cause.

All the hubbub left those who watch such things wondering where the American-Statesman’s presidential endorsement might be. The short answer is that there won’t be one.

We didn’t endorse in 2012, and we won’t be endorsing in the presidential races in March or in November.

Why? In a political cycle that has already generated more heat than light, even with the talents of our writers, it is unlikely that we would unearth any new nugget that might sway readers from one candidate to the other. The presidential candidates do not sit down with our editorial board, so we are operating off the same sources of information and sound bites as the average voter. This year, very few of the presidential campaigns even bothered to fill out our voters guide.

Anyone who has read our columns and blogs over the past two years may not know for sure what primary we may vote in as individuals, but our institutional values are fairly clear. And in a world where national commentary and presidential election news are produced daily by the truckload, I have great confidence that our readers will be able to sort out where and who they stand with on the presidential race.

So, to that end, we’ve doubled down on what we do best — provide insight on our state and local races. Our last endorsement, on the area’s Congressional races will run in print Tuesday, coinciding with the start of early voting.

The choice has allowed us to dig deep into the Travis County and Williamson County District Attorney’s races, as well as the race to replace State Rep. Elliott Naishtat. The past two election cycles our endorsements have tried to shed as much light as possible on the rationale behind our choices, which is just as important for voters as the choices themselves.

One of the first-time candidates we interviewed this election season asked, “How do you decide?”

We decide based on the values you see on these pages on a daily basis: a commitment to transparency, fiscal responsibility, voter accountability, leadership, experience, knowledge of the community, respect for the rule of law, an orientation toward social justice, decisions based on verifiable information rather pure ideology, a strong work ethic, trustworthiness and an understanding of the responsibilities of representative government.

We don’t always get it right; but that’s the lens we use. It’s not a secret formula; there is no secret handshake. These are the qualities that have served Central Texas well. And it provides a clear framework in this very messy business of politics.

Click here for links to all of our endorsements for the March 1 primary

Support Reed Williams for Texas Senate District 24

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Reed Williams on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Reed Williams. PHOTOS BY DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Texas Senate District 24 seat once occupied by Troy Fraser is up for grabs. In June, the senator from Horseshoe Bay announced he would be stepping down after 19 years. Vying to replace him are six ready and capable Republican candidates.

As expected, the contenders agree on a variety of issues that would resonate with Republican party politics, including limiting government, opposing immigration and supporting anti-abortion policies. On the matter of Austin Energy, most of the candidates would support the deregulation of the city owned public utility provider, as did Fraser.

After taking a closer look at each candidate, we urge voters to choose Reed Williams in the March Republican primary race.

What sets Williams apart from the others is his elected office experience and willingness to look at a much broader picture, which would be an asset for constituents of this  solidly Republican district that stretches about 20,000 square miles, from Abilene to the northwest suburbs of Austin. Williams, a retired oil executive who now grows grapes for wineries,  amassed valuable experience on the issues of energy, water and budgetary planning during his six-year tenure as a San Antonio public servant. He spent four years as a councilman representing North Side and two years as a San Antonio Water System board trustee. Williams’ knowledge on of the issues that affect both urban and rural residents would make him  an effective voice for Senate District 24.

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Dawn Buckingham on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Dawn Buckingham.
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Ryan Downton on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Ryan Downton.

That said, this is a crowded race and Republican voters have a capable group of candidates from which to choose.

Also running are Dr. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, Ryan Downton of Temple, Jon Cobb of Lakeway, State Rep. Susan King of Abilene and Dr. Brent Mayes of Fredericksburg.

Buckingham, an Austin ophthalmologist, served on the Lake Travis Independent School District’s board and as vice chair of the State Board of Educator Certification. Buckingham also served as a lieutenant governor appointee to the Sunset Advisory Commission in the past legislative session and has the backing of former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Charles Schwertner.

Downton, a businessman and lawyer, ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for Texas House District 47.

Mayes is a small businessman and former radiologist. Cobb owns a small business.

State Senate 24 Republican candidate Jon Cobb on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Jon Cobb.
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Brent Mayes on Monday, February 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
State Senate 24 Republican candidate Brent Mayes.

Williams is not the only candidate in the group with experience in an elected role.  King — who did not accept our invitation for a meeting — has served five two-year terms in the Texas House. King, R-Abilene, suspended her House race to run for Fraser’s empty seat. In her tenure in the House, King has consistently championed conservative policies, especially with regard to immigration. Last session she authored a bill that would have pushed chronically ill immigrant children down on a growing waiting list for services through a state and federally funded program. The bill died in the Senate.

Never having held a legislative post shouldn’t slow down Williams. His knowledge of the issues facing District 24 and beyond will ease his transition into the Texas Legislature.

In San Antonio he earned a reputation as a strong unifying voice on the council. His colleagues and critics praise his ability to tackle complicated and controversial issues, including successfully taking on prominent issues like rate increases at CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System. Voters should take note of such experience.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder of Llano in November. Early voting begins Feb. 16.

Latino voters are watching

(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

If the results of the Iowa caucuses are any indication, candidates may want to start changing their tunes a little and focusing more of their attention on Latinos.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of several groups nationwide trying to increase Latino voter participation, said Monday they hit their goal of getting at least 10,000 Latino Iowans to pledge to participate, reported NBC Latino.

And just as analysts and media experts use the Iowa caucuses as a guide to predict how the rest of the nation will vote, so do candidates use the caucuses to woo more voters. Candidates who have waged anti-Hispanic rhetoric or who have chosen to err on the side of caution by avoiding specific topics important to Latinos may want to reconsider their strategies. From the looks of it, Latinos will be coming out to vote, and in droves.

Ten thousand Latinos showed up to have their voices heard in Iowa, up from 1,000 in 2012. And if efforts continue, the number will be even higher on election day in November as the League of United Latin American Citizens has identified 50,000 Latino registered voters in that state. Mind you, Hispanics make up only 5.6 percent, or 174,000 individuals, of the Iowa state population. Those may seem like small numbers next to Texas, where one of every four eligible voters is Hispanic (and where the Hispanic population tops 10 million). So Iowa’s results should not go unnoticed.

How did Latinos in Iowa vote? Exit polls showed that Latinos were 4 percent — 6,840 of 171,000 — of Democratic caucus participants and 2 percent — 3,700 of 185,000 — of Republican participants. The total: 10,540.

Which Democratic or Republican candidates Latino Iowans voted for is still unclear. What is known is that the one candidate who could have connected solidly with Latinos, as my American-Statesman colleague James Barragan pointed out, is no longer in the running: Democrat Martin O’Malley.

A former governor of Maryland, O’Malley called for criminal justice reforms in areas that disproportionately affect people of color and proposed investing more in job-training programs and restoring voting rights to people with felony records who had served their penalties. And, unlike other candidates — Democrats and Republicans — O’Malley offered the most immigrant friendly agenda, including proposing expanding due process protections in the immigration system. Yet, he was able to win only 0.6 percent of the Democratic caucus.

In tight primary races and caucuses, every vote will matter. The Latino vote could make a difference. Various Hispanic voter registration and “get-out-and-vote” drives have been ongoing throughout the country, including in Texas. Those efforts should help improve the number of Latinos who make it to the polls.

To win those votes, however, candidates will have to make a more concerted effort to reach Hispanic voters.

In 2013, 25 percent of Texas Hispanic voters said they were contacted by campaigns or organizations encouraging them to vote, according to a 2014 report from the polling company Latino Decisions. The national average was 31 percent that same year.

Then there is the issue of language. Candidates who refuse to connect with voters in Spanish are making a big mistake. The Pew Research Center reported that 25 percent of Hispanics speak “only English,” and 30 percent of Latinos speak both English and Spanish, while 38 percent speak primarily in Spanish.

With plenty of time to garner Latino support, Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba, and Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico, have an edge over other candidates with their Spanish fluency. Though he is Latino, Ted Cruz — whose father also immigrated from Cuba — may have a harder time, not for his lack of Spanish fluency (he speaks none at all), but for what some consider anti-Latino policies. The opposite effect may occur if Hillary Clinton were to win the Democratic candidacy and, as rumors suggest, select Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro as her running mate. Castro does not speak Spanish but can effectively connect voters through his personal Mexican American experience.

Hispanic millennials will account for nearly half or 44 percent of the record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters projected for 2016, according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. For that set of voters, that number is greater than any other comparable group of voters of any racial or ethnic group, according to the report. Parental influence undoubtedly will play a role in how some of these young adults, many of whom come from Spanish-speaking households, will vote. After all, the majority of young Americans share their parents’ social and political ideology, or so says a Gallup study.

Make no mistake, Latinos are taking notice of who is listening to them.

Ann Kitchen recall petition bodes ill for Austin

dyc recall 10.JPG

Welcome to “Groundhog Day,” Austin.

If the petition being circulated to oust Council Member Ann Kitchen has the required 4,811 signatures, Austin politics will likely become its own version of the cult classic movie. You know, where the character by Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again trying to get a different outcome.

Although exhausting, all turns out well for Murray. He, eventually, gets the girl and comes out on the other side a better person. For Austin, policy by petition and political harassment has ominous implications.

Of course, the power to recall elected representatives is an important tool as part of the checks and balances on local government. It prevents elected officials from being allowed to run amok until their term expires. However, it is a power best reserved for correcting incompetence, neglect of duties, corruption, misconduct — allowing the work of the city to continue rather than being derailed by poor or improper governance.

There are costs of course — financial and political — which is why it should only be pursued in extreme cases. The city moved its municipal election day to November in part to reduce expense and encourage greater voter participation. If the petition is submitted and certified before Feb. 19, an election will likely be called for May,

However valuable a recall election might be, it is the wrong tool for settling disagreements on policies. Although its unclear what group is behind the recall effort, it stands to reason that the petition is connected to Kitchen’s position on transportion networking companies such as Uber and Lyft.

From Statesman transportation columnist Ben Wear:

The petition, at the top, offers these grounds for sacking Kitchen, who, if not recalled, would face reelection in November 2018: “The reason for her recall is because she has purposefully hurt businesses that employ citizens of Austin.”

Pretty general. I’m guessing every council that has ever come along, in Austin or any other American city of any size, has passed ordinances that “hurt” businesses by imposing some sort of limitations on them for environmental, safety, road access, zoning or other reasons. Building codes harm businesses in this manner, as do parking requirements. Heck, any city fee on a business hurts it, and they are always done purposefully. Or should that be “purposely?” Maybe both.

Austin has always functioned best when stakeholders work together to reach consensus. This take no prisoners approach to government is much more akin to the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., where it seems to make perfect sense to vote more than 50 times to undo legislation to no effect. The method proposed by Austin4All, the nebulous group behind the Kitchen petition, is even worse, preferring to remove leaders they don’t like until they wear down the elected representative or get someone they like.

Austin has no shortage of contentious issues: environmental protection, affordable housing, development code rewrites, public safety, transportation. Resorting to a petition is a terrible way to write policy and an even worse way to choose leadership.

If it comes to a vote, hopefully Kitchen’s constituents in District 5 will take a stand and not allow her to be run out on a rail. I may not always agree with Kitchen, but I see no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to serve her term. There are plenty of ways to build consensus for change; a recall petition is not one of them.

Will Trump make history in Iowa, or will Iowa make Trump history?

Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks Sunday during a campaign event in Sioux City, Iowa. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Trust in history.

That’s been my mantra-like response to anyone who has fretted about the prospect of Donald Trump winning the White House. Trust in history, I’ve been saying. History says Trump will not be president. In fact, forget Trump winning in November; history says he will not even win the Republican nomination.

But here on the day Iowans caucus, with “the best pollster in Iowa,” as Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com describes the Des Moines Register’s Ann Selzer, showing Trump leading Texas Sen. Ted Cruz 28 percent to 23 percent, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that history is mutable. The unexpected sometimes happens.

The next several weeks will tell if Trump is the historical exception to the past several decades of Republican presidential politics. His lead in the polls certainly has proved to be more enduring than the various campaign surges we saw four years ago, when Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all briefly topped the Republican field (Michele Bachmann rose to second place at one point in the 2012 polls but never led any of them). A general willingness to accept that Trump might be the nominee has replaced the widespread certainty of a month or so ago that he would not win the nomination — that Republicans would behave rationally when it came time to actually vote and would reject Trump.

I still think it’s possible, maybe even likely, that the Republican nominee will be one of the so-called establishment candidates, and not Trump — or Cruz, for that matter. I search for guidance in history, which interests me more than polls and political predictions — “I don’t make predictions” is another of my mantras — so while it will be unusual if Trump wins the nomination, it will not be unprecedented. He will be following, more or less, in Wendell Willkie’s footsteps.

Willkie
Wendell Willkie

That’s right, Trump could turn out to be 2016’s Wendell Willkie, the New York utility executive and political neophyte who made a name for himself criticizing President Franklin Roosevelt in the late 1930s and used his political celebrity to win the Republican nomination in 1940. (Three recent articles on Willkie as forerunner to Trump can be read here, here and here.) As with Trump, who apparently has never voted in a Republican primary election, Republicans were skeptical of Willkie’s party loyalty — he had been a registered Democrat until 1939. And like Trump, outsider Willkie held several views contrary to those held by his chief insider rivals, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Thomas Dewey, the young, ambitious district attorney from New York (yes, that Thomas Dewey, the one who would famously lose to President Harry Truman in 1948). In the end, what Willkie won by winning the Republican nomination was the privilege of losing to FDR, who secured an unprecedented third term with 54.7 percent of the vote to Willkie’s 44.8 percent. By losing, Willkie also won almost instant obscurity.

Before there can be historical parallels, there must be real political victories. Someone will win Iowa tonight, though Iowa isn’t necessarily about winning. It’s about meeting and beating national media expectations. It’s about Trump showing he has a legitimate ground game and is running a real campaign, Cruz establishing momentum and showing he didn’t peak too soon in the polls, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio positioning himself as the alternative to Trump and Cruz. And it’s about everyone else doing well enough to avoid the inevitable winnowing that follows Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its primary next week.

Tonight also should be about Iowa proving that it merits the outsize attention its caucus gets. It doesn’t have a great track record picking presidential winners. Winners of the Iowa Republican caucus include George H.W. Bush in 1980 (yes, Iowa caucus-goers chose Bush over Ronald Reagan), Bob Dole in 1988 (when Bush, Reagan’s vice president at the time and the eventual president, finished third behind Dole and Pat Robertson), Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Santorum in 2012. Only three times since 1976 has the winner of a contested Iowa caucus won the Republican nomination (Gerald Ford in 1976, Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000), and only twice since 1972 has the winner of a contested Iowa caucus, either Democratic or Republican, won the White House (George W. Bush in 2000, Barack Obama in 2008).

Whatever tonight’s Iowa results bring, we at least have this certainty: We’re just a night and a day or two of post-caucus analyses away from being able to forget about Iowa again for another few years.