Author Archives: Matthew Choi

Judge blocks Texas secretary of state from giving voter information to Trump commission

People wait in line at the George Washington Carver Library in Austin, Texas, to cast their vote on Election Day 2016.

A Texas district judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos from handing voter information to President Donald Trump‘s voter fraud investigation commission.

The order, which came out Tuesday, adds Texas to a growing list of states not complying with the president’s investigation into the 2016 elections, which Trump says suffered from large-scale voter fraud.

Judge Tim Sulak of the Austin-based 353rd Texas Civil District Court issued the order in response to a lawsuit filed July 20 by the League of Women Voters of Texas, its former president Ruthann Geer and the Texas NAACP against Pablos and Keith Ingram, the Texas Elections Division director in the the secretary of state’s office. The lawsuit seeks to stop the state from handing over voter data from the state’s computerized voter registration files to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The suit argues that doing so would reveal voters’ personal information, “which may be used to solicit, harass, or otherwise infringe upon the privacy of Texas voters.”

The secretary of state’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment for this article.

The League’s current president, Elaine Wiant, said the organization is especially concerned that releasing the data could make millions of voters’ personal information public, making it vulnerable to commercial use. Texas law forbids public voter information from being used commercially, but with the presidential commission, Wiant said “there is no guarantee how it will get used.” Wiant also said the League is concerned that releasing the data would make voters’ birthdates public.

“In today’s world, that is just way too much information to be made available to the public,” Wiant said. “There are serious security concerns.”

The order, which expires Oct. 17 or with further order from the court, says that handing over voter information could cause “irreparable” injury. Without “appropriate safeguards,” the order argues, the data is likely to become public, potentially violating voters’ privacy rights, their interests in “avoiding commercial solicitation, chilling of their First Amendment rights, and the diminution of their efforts to encourage voting.”

Trump launched the commission by executive order in May following his unsubstantiated claim that “millions” of votes were cast illegally. The White House previously told The Texas Tribune that Trump “wants to ensure that the integrity of all elections, which are the cornerstone of our democracy, is preserved.”

The commission sent requests on June 28 to all states’ secretaries of state for a wide array of voter information. Several states, led by both parties, immediately refused to hand over data, with Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann famously saying the presidential commission could “jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Pablos, however, said at the time: “The Secretary of State’s office will provide the Election Integrity Commission with public information and will protect the private information of Texas citizens while working to maintain the security and integrity of our state’s elections system. As always, my office will continue to exercise the utmost care whenever sensitive voter information is required to be released by state or federal law.”

The hearing for the suit is set for Oct. 16. Wiant said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the case.

“It’s just hard to know,” she said.

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Texas business mogul Mark Cuban offers details for hypothetical 2020 presidential run

Mark Cuban is a tech billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

Texas business mogul Mark Cuban offered new details about how he would hypothetically run for president in 2020 in a podcast posted Tuesday.

In an episode of “ViewPoint” hosted by CNN contributor Bakari Sellers, Cuban, who describes himself as “independent all the way through” and “not traditional in terms of politics at all,” said he was “considering” a run for the White House and drew strong contrasts between himself and President Donald Trump.

“I don’t think anybody who knows me, anybody who listens to me, anybody who talks to me is going to think I’m anything like Donald Trump,” Cuban said on the podcast.

Cuban said were he to run, he would have “no problem” with publicly declaring his business holdings and releasing his tax returns — which Trump famously refused to do. But he said he would not divest from personal business interests if he were elected, saying Trump has only faced problems with his business possessions because he “isn’t transparent about them.”

Cuban, who created a massive personal fortune after investing in startups and other business interests, is famous for being a “shark investor” on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” and his high-profile ownership of a majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

During the 2016 presidential election, he endorsed Hillary Clinton and was a vocal critic of Trump, though he had previously expressed interest in joining both Clinton’s and Trump’s tickets as vice president.

When Sellers asked Cuban if he would be willing to campaign against Republicans during the 2018 midterm elections, Cuban said, “Probably not.”

Cuban said key issues facing the country include income inequality, health care and technological competitiveness. Calling health care a “right,” he said the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health law, was a “step in the right direction” — but adding that “any system built on insurance will fail.”

Ultimately, Cuban said he still hasn’t decided whether to run for office.

“If I can come up with solutions I think people can get behind and truly solve problems, then it makes perfect sense for me to run,” he said. “If it comes down to, do I think I can win because I can convince more people to vote for me, then no, I won’t run.”

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Houston mayor calls off property tax hike after Abbott delivers $50 million

Gov. Greg Abbott presents Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner with a $50 million check for Hurricane Harvey relief during a news conference in Houston on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.

HOUSTON — Gov. Greg Abbott presented Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner a $50 million check for Hurricane Harvey relief Friday, prompting Turner to rescind a proposed property tax hike for his city.

The money, which comes from the $100 million disaster relief fund appropriated to Abbott’s office during the last legislative session, will go toward immediate relief needs such as reconstruction, Abbott and Turner said at a joint news conference in Houston. Abbott said long-term recovery and preventive measures would be funded by the federal government and the state’s $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, but not until exact costs for recovery are known.

“The time to use the thrust of the Rainy Day Fund is when the expenses are known,” Abbott said. “So the members of the Legislature know how best to use the Rainy Day Fund.”

Turner had planned to raise property taxes for one year in order to raise $50 million for hurricane recovery, which would have cost the average Houston homeowner $48. Though the plan drew criticism, Turner said at the time that he would not have proposed the tax increase had Abbott called a special legislative session to use the Rainy Day Fund immediately.

The news conference appeared to resolve a weeklong spat between Abbott and Turner. In early September, Abbott said a special session of the Legislature wasn’t necessary to deal with the response to Hurricane Harvey, but in a Monday interview with The Texas Tribune, Turner said the lack of immediate state funding for relief efforts was forcing him to push for the tax hike. Abbott responded in a Tuesday news conference, saying Houston already had enough funds for hurricane relief and that if the state were to use Rainy Day money, it would come during the next regular legislative session in 2019.

During the Friday news conference, Abbott said there “is a possibility for a special session” to allocate funds for recovery and prevention once those costs are better known.

“Now that the hurricane winds are calm … it’s time that we begin the process of rebuilding Texas, and that’s a tall task,” Abbott said. “This is what the state of Texas is for … We’re proud to be here wearing the same jersey working for the same team.”

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Abbott: Houston has enough funding for Harvey recovery

John Sharp, Texas A&M University chancellor and head of the new Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Nim Kidd, Chief of Texas Emergency Management, get briefed on recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey at the FEMA Joint Field Office in Austin on Sept. 14, 2017.    

If the state taps into the Rainy Day Fund to help with recovery following Hurricane Harvey, it won’t be until the next legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference Tuesday.

Abbott’s announcement comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to the governor asking the state to use the $10 billion fund. Turner said without significant state help, Houston will be forced to raise property taxes for one year to bring in $50 million for recovery efforts.

Turner said he would not have proposed the tax hike had the governor called a special session to tap into the fund.

Abbott, who has said the state has enough resources to address Harvey-related needs between now and the next legislative session, added Tuesday that the state has already granted Houston almost $100 million for debris removal and established an “accelerated reimbursement program” for recovery efforts.

Abbott said he would pay any invoice the city submits to the state within 10 days.

Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “He just needs to tap into it.”

“In times like these, it’s important to have fiscal responsibility as opposed to financial panic,” Abbott said. He later added that “the mayor seems to be using [Harvey recovery] as hostage to raise taxes.”

Abbott also reaffirmed his support for Senate Bill 4, legislation aimed at outlawing “sanctuary cities,” during the news conference.

“During the initial phase, the focus was on saving lives,” Abbott said. “As we get back into the normal course of daily activities, it’s gonna be important for all people who live in this country to follow the law.”

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