Category Archives: State

Angela Paxton, Texas attorney general’s wife, eyes Texas Senate run

Angela Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sings "Pistol Packin' Mama" at a NE Tarrant Tea Party gathering in 2016. 

Angela Paxton, the wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, is considering a run for state Senate, according to people familiar with her thinking.

Paxton has her sights set on Senate District 8, which is currently held by Van Taylor, R-Plano. He’s expected to give up the seat to run for Congress in 2018.

Paxton is a guidance counselor at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco. She’s also active in Collin County Republican politics.

A Paxton candidacy would shake up the current race to replace Taylor. Phillip Huffines, the chairman of the Dallas County GOP, has emerged as a frontrunner after two Republican state representatives from Plano, Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen, considered running but ultimately took a pass.

“I’m excited to hear that she’s prayerfully considering it and think she would make an incredible state senator for our district,” Leach said. “She already has my support.”

Shaheen, who announced Friday he would instead seek re-election to the House, said Paxton running is a “great idea” and she would “absolutely” have his support. She’s a “needed voice to replace Van,” Shaheen said.

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, also said Paxton would have her support.

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Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller criticizes Six Flags’ removal of Confederate flag

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in his office in Austin, Sept. 14, 2016.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — the cowboy-hat wearing Republican known for wading deep into partisan and cultural divides — is furious with the Six Flags amusement park chain, calling its decision to take down the Confederate flag and four others that had flown over the park part of a “militant, anarchist movement sweeping our country, destroying and attempting to sanitize our nation’s history.”

Miller took aim at the iconic amusement park in a lengthy statement he circulated Monday that also criticized nationwide efforts to remove larger monuments to the Confederacy in the wake of a deadly Nazi and white supremacist rally around a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“The monuments honoring our southern soldiers are but a first step in a trend that very well could eventually bring down the American flag at some point if this trend is allowed to continue,” Miller said. “I was extremely disappointed to hear that Six Flags over Texas in Arlington had succumb to this scourge of race baiting, liberal activism and that the company had decided to bring down the six historic flags that flew over Texas.”

On Friday, Six Flags announced that it would only fly American flags over its parks, reversing its decades-long tradition of displaying banners of the four other nations that have governed Texas: Spain, France, Mexico and the Republic of Texas.

“We always choose to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us,” Sharon Parker, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Entertainment Corp, said in a statement reported by several media outlets. “As such, we have changed the flag displays in our park to feature American flags.”

In his statement, Miller suggested the park was “implying that one should look upon them with shame and dismay,” and appeasing a  “band of socialistic fear mongers.”

Miller, in his first term in office, has gained notoriety for polarizing statements, often posted to social media. Those have included as a tweet that called Hillary Clinton the C-word, a Facebook post that endorsed the atomic bombing of the “Muslim world” and a Facebook post that compared refugees to rattlesnakes.

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El Paso City Council votes down city ID program

The Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

The El Paso City Council narrowly voted against creating a municipal identification card program amid concerns that the measure would lead to the border city being perceived as the kind of “sanctuary” jurisdiction that has been the target of President Donald Trump and Texas’ Republican leaders.

In a 5-4 vote, the council voted down funding the program, which immigrant rights groups and advocates for the poor have called for since 2014 as a way for those unable to obtain a driver’s license or other state-issued identification sign up for bank accounts and access city services such as libraries. Applicants would have had to prove they reside in the city to obtain the card.

Mayor Dee Margo cast the deciding vote against the measure, explaining that he didn’t want El Paso to be perceived as “sanctuary” city – the common term for a jurisdiction that doesn’t enforce state or federal immigration laws.

In May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4, which punishes elected and appointed officials for enacting policies that ignore federal immigration laws. The punishment for doing so could be jail time and the denial of grant funds from the entity in violation. Opponents of the measure have filed a lawsuit to halt the law, which takes effect Sept. 1. A federal judge has yet to rule on that case.

The Trump administration has also spoken in recent months about cutting off some federal funds from “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

“I do not want to give the inference that we are a sanctuary city, as we are not,” Margo, a former Republican state representative, said in a statement. “Redevelopment grants are critical to the economic development of our community, and we cannot afford to put those funding opportunities in jeopardy.”

Margo added that the cost of the program was too high when he considered the city’s other pressing needs like public safety. The city was debating a potential match of $320,000 with the county for the identification program, according to the city council agenda.

In a statement, the Border Network for Human Rights, which launched the petition in support of creating the program in 2014, said the city gave in to political pressure.

“Fear mongering ran deep in today’s discussion. SB 4 was invoked — even though it does nothing to prohibit a Community ID program,” BNHR spokesperson Gabriela Castaneda said. “The Council was threatened, intimidated, and bullied by racists, and, ultimately, it worked. This bodes ill for our city.”

The vote shouldn’t be a complete surprise after the council expressed concerns as early as April 2016 over how the ID card would be viewed by state leaders, according to a city report issued then.

“In the past year, there has been legislation filed at both the state and federal level regarding ‘sanctuary cities.’ These bills seek to prohibit local government entities from having policies, ordinances, and rules that prohibit or interfere with the enforcement of immigration laws,” the city’s report states.

Proponents of the measure cited similar projects in Oakland and San Francisco as examples of where the municipal ID program has worked. They also made clear that the card wouldn’t have the same benefits as a Texas driver’s license and couldn’t be used for travel or to get through a TSA checkpoint.

El Paso County is still considering an ID card for its residents.

Disclosure: Dee Margo has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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UT-Austin removing Confederate statues in the middle of the night

A look at the sun setting over the University of Texas at Austin Tower in 2011.

Late Sunday night, 10 days before classes were scheduled to start, workers at the University of Texas at Austin began removing multiple Confederate statues from a prominent grass mall on campus.

The statues of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan were being removed because they depict parts of American history that “run counter to the university’s core values,” university President Greg Fenves wrote in an e-mail to the campus community just before 11 p.m. Sunday. A statue of former Texas Gov. James Stephen Hogg was also removed.

“We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus,” he wrote. “As UT students return in the coming week, I look forward to welcoming them here for a new academic year with a recommitment to an open, positive and inclusive learning environment for all.”

The removal of the statues comes about a week after unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia surrounding the removal of Confederate statues in that college town. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists protested those statues’ removal, and clashed violently with counter-protesters. One person died in the violence.

“These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” he said.

A UT-Austin spokesman said in a text message that the university deliberately chose to remove the statues in the middle of the night “for public safety and to minimize disruption to the community.”

The three Confederate statues will be relocated to the Briscoe Center for American History. The statue of Hogg “will be considered for re-installation at another campus site,” Fenves said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Confederate Monument Protest Draws Hundreds in Houston


Several hundred protesters (and a couple dozen counter-protesters) are attending the “Destroy the Confederacy!” protest in Sam Houston Park in Houston.

Posted by The Texas Observer on Saturday, August 19, 2017

A week after a ferocious and fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, about 300 people gathered for a “Destroy the Confederacy” protest in downtown Houston.

“These statues remind black people of all the horrible things racist white folks have done,” Houston Black Lives Matter organizer Ashton Woods told the Observer Saturday afternoon near Sam Houston Park. “Their existence only encourages racist white people to keep doing crazy crap.”

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue in downtown Houston.  Iván Abrego/flickr

The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the “Spirit of the Confederacy” monument in a leafy corner of the park in 1908. Confederate memorials often feature rifle-welding sentinels, but the Houston memorial depicts a 12-foot-tall nude male angel holding a sword and palm leaf.

“To all the heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states rights,” reads an inscription.

Prior to the demonstration, Woods warned that the event could turn violent — on Facebook he advised attendees “NOT to bring children” — but the protest stayed relatively calm and no arrests were reported.

In an effort to pre-empt violence and protect the statue, dozens of Houston Police Department officers closed the park to protesters, who gathered on a nearby street. A few dozen pro-Confederate demonstrators, several donning body armor and brandishing semi-automatic rifles, were kept about 100 feet away from anti-Confederate protesters by officers on horseback. 

“This monument has been around since 1908 and never hurt nobody,” said Vince Powers, a 56-year-old counter-protester from New Waverly, about 60 miles north of downtown Houston. Powers wore a Confederate flag T-shirt and waved a Confederate flag during the protest.

“The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Southerners just wanted to be left alone,” Powers insisted.

Academic consensus holds that slavery was precisely the cause of the war, and Texas’ Ordinance of Secession, the document that officially separated Texas from the Union in 1861, states that Texas seceded because non-slave-holding states “demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the Confederacy.”

Asked about black Texans who might find the monument offensive, Powers replied: “Too bad.”

Since the fatal Charlottesville protest, the debate over memorials that glorify the Confederacy has reached a fever pitch. City officials in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and San Antonio reacted quickly and took steps toward removing or renaming Confederate memorials. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner ordered a study of Houston’s Confederate monuments. There are at least two such memorials in the Bayou City and at least 178 throughout Texas. A large rally is expected Saturday night in Dallas.

Houston Black Lives Matter organizer Ashton Woods  John Savage

“I do think it’s important for us to review our inventory and then to make the most appropriate decision that’s in the best interest of our city and that does not glorify those things that we shouldn’t be glorifying,” Turner said Tuesday during a city council meeting.

Woods, the Black Lives Matter activist, said he thinks Turner will remove the statues.

“There’s no reason that Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, a city with a black mayor, should have Confederate statues on display in 2017,” Woods said.

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Remember the Alamo (Differently)

Gun-rights advocates rally at the Alamo.  Jen Reel

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, the big question everyone is asking is how do we stop white supremacy? I think not teaching it would be a good place to start. And in the wake of the removals or planned removals of Confederate monuments in Texas and across the country this month, it’s high time we start rethinking other racist American monuments and the narratives that surround them. The Alamo should be in that conversation, too.

The Alamo is, after all, dedicated to the American fear of the Mexican body, of Mexican invasion, of Mexican agency that firmly and directly contested agendas of white supremacy in early 19th-century Texas.

The Battle of the Alamo, as we’ve internalized it in the American psyche, is almost never considered in the full context of facts surrounding the event. This is especially true of the fact that race had everything to do with Texas independence and with how we remember the Alamo.

As historian H.W. Brands has written, the Battle of the Alamo’s “contribution to the strategy of the Texas Revolution was nil or negative.” At best, it was “a military mistake of mythic proportions.” But it’s often taught as a watershed moment in Texas history — a parable about white heroes pushed to their limits by a tyrannical Mexican federal government.

Tropes of honor, pride and liberty are explored through anecdotes like William Travis’ line in the sand or Davy Crockett’s brave death (it’s debated whether he was killed in battle or executed for surrendering in a cowardly manner), or the brazen sabotage of Mexican cannons by stealthy Texian defenders against sleeping (read: “lazy”) Mexican soldiers. White martyrdom in the fight against tyranny is often central to these anecdotes, and this is supposed to be the basis for Texan identity. One of my favorite mistakes from an illustration in a seventh-grade textbook was the Gadsden flag flying over the Alamo. (“Don’t Tread On Me” was a slogan used during the American Revolution).  

But the hard facts are almost never given for context: that race had everything to do with Texas independence; that before the supposed “tyranny” that spurred the Texas Revolution due to the Anglo population’s fallout with the 1824 Mexican constitution, future Alamo hero James Bowie was already conspiring to overthrow the then-Spanish government in Texas as part of the Long Expedition in 1819; that private white supremacist armies regularly attempted to declare independent republics within Spanish (and subsequently Mexican) Texas to take land away from the “lesser peoples”; that after the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 there was literally a secret society dedicated to destabilizing and financing wars in Latin America to then incorporate those acquired lands as slave states to hedge power against free states in the North; that Sam Houston, the man who transitioned the Republic of Texas into the United States, subsequently introduced a resolution into the U.S. Senate for the “United States to declare and maintain an efficient protectorate over the States of Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and San Salvador.”

What ensued from decades of interventionist policy was the supposed great battle of the Alamo: Thirteen days of resistance from 182 antifederalist Texians against 1,800 Mexican troops, resulting in the complete massacre of Anglo Texians by Mexican forces who eventually scaled the walls in an invasion of the former mission to restore order. As it’s taught, the battle supposedly turned the tide in the movement for Texas independence.

But as a native Texan of Mexican descent (and citizenship), the story always struck me as odd. Of course, there was a racial element to it, but beyond that I also wondered why any of us would study a battle that was so strategically insignificant, that was one of the most thorough military defeats ever, and that bore no small resemblance to the 1993 Waco siege, in which more than 100 Branch Davidian members staged a standoff with the federal government for 51 days. In an eerie parallel, just as William Travis gave soldiers unwilling to die beside him an out with his famous line in the sand, Koresh allowed certain members to leave the compound before more than 900 law enforcement officials descended on it and a fire killed everyone inside.

Clive Doyle, former spokesperson for members of the Waco Branch Davidians and one of the survivors of the compound fire, has said himself: “People have likened Waco to the Alamo and said it was a wake-up call for Americans about their government, but wise people don’t go out and rectify that with terrorist acts.”

It didn’t occur to me at the time that the ideas celebrated in the curated narrative of the Alamo (anti-tyranny, anti-federalism, pro-guns, religious freedoms) were undeniably echoed in the rhetoric surrounding the Waco massacre itself and, indeed, in the reaction of white supremacists and white terrorists who were deeply moved and felt compelled to act in reaction to the Waco siege.

Anti-tyranny, anti-federalism and a general anxiety about the erosion of freedoms were part of Timothy McVeigh’s radicalized patriot movement ideology that led to his desire for martyrdom. Most recently, we’ve heard these echoes again in events such as the Cliven Bundy standoff and the rhetoric of the various militia groups that have multiplied in recent years and in places like Charlottesville.

We hear echoes of the Alamo, too, in Trump’s call for a border wall not unlike that behind which the Alamo defenders fought. It’s no secret that demographic and cultural change is a major concern for Trump voters, white supremacists, various militia groups and even Trump himself. Rhetoric referring to a perceived brown invasion was central to his campaign and is now integral to policy being adopted by the Republican Party today.

Deportation cases have increased as ICE agents have been deployed to increasingly and indiscriminately deport brown bodies from American streets. The Trump administration has curtailed immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. And my native Texas has passed a “show-me-your-papers” law that will allow police to ask people who’ve been detained — not just arrested — to prove citizenship.

Beyond the expulsion and exclusion of brown bodies via a wall, or the outright destruction of them via terrorist acts like what happened in Charlottesville or Charleston, it’s not a stretch to say, too, that “Make America Great Again” and the movement it represents are part and parcel of the same ideologies that drove the early land grab efforts in Texas. The “lesser peoples” now have this land and a voice in it; now we must take it back (even if by lethal force).

Already, conversations in Texas are turning violent on the matter of the value and place of brown bodies in our society, though this is nothing new to those of us who studied the Alamo in Texas schools. It wasn’t uncommon, year after year, in my early Texas public education to watch hours of John Wayne in The Alamo killing people who looked like me, who looked like my family. It took me about seven years until I realized, Oh, that’s the point.

None of this is to say that the Alamo itself should be dismantled; no one is disputing the significance of the historic Spanish mission. But it should be noted that the mythology we’ve built around the Alamo isn’t only widely skewed by omission of historical facts largely unexamined or untaught. It’s also designed to celebrate and revere some of the darkest ideologies that have shaped our American fabric: anti-federalism as linked to white terrorism, white supremacy, and the destruction of brown bodies at all costs.

We think of those ideologies as relegated to history, but they’re still very much alive in the American psyche. They resonate with the contemporary anxieties that have roots in the way we’re taught to remember the Alamo. If we want to move forward as a country, we have to rethink the false narratives we’ve built around monuments like the Alamo and honestly ask where they came from. The complexities of history are so much larger and more interesting than our prejudices. We have to critically think about our learned versions of history and examine why we feel the need to celebrate them. Dismantling our adulation for the mythology of the Alamo is a good place to start.

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With Supreme Court appeal, Texas wants to keep congressional map intact

Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and former Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer speak to reporters on April 27, 2017, following a status conference on a years-long challenge to Texas' political maps. 

If Gov. Greg Abbott calls a second special legislative session this summer, it won’t be for redistricting.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revealed Friday that Abbott won’t ask lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional map — found by a federal court this week to discriminate against Latino and black voters — in a fresh round of legislative overtime.

Instead, Paxton is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and trying to keep the boundaries intact for the 2018 elections, according to his filings to a panel of three judges in San Antonio.

On Tuesday, the panel ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, setting up a redistricting scramble ahead of the 2018 elections.

The judges ruled that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it, the judges wrote.

The judges asked Texas whether lawmakers would return to Austin to try making a new map, or if Republican leadership would wait for court-drawn boundaries.

In his filings Friday, Paxton revealed a state plan to wriggle free of any consequences ahead of the 2018 elections. While asking the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters — the fourth such federal ruling this year — Paxton also requested an injunction that would protect Texas from needing a new map.

Barring a Supreme Court order, the San Antonio judges would approve new boundaries.

“Judges should get out of the business of drawing maps,” Paxton said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the maps Texas used in the last three election cycles are lawful, and we will aggressively defend the maps on all fronts.”

Redesigning the embattled map, which Texas used for the past three election cycles, would affect congressional races statewide, since boundary changes in the two flagged districts would also reshape their neighbors.

For now, Texas and its legal foes — groups representing minority communities — are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to fight over a new map.

An open question is whether judges will approve new boundaries without delaying the 2018 primaries, an outcome that could shake up some races.

Remember Ted Cruz’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2012? Legal wrangling over the state’s map pushed that year’s primary elections and subsequent runoffs into the dog days of summer, when Cruz pulled out an upset win over then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

In filings, Paxton argued Texas risks “irreparable injury” if the drawing of new maps disrupted its upcoming elections. Leaving the boundaries in place would not harm minority groups, he wrote.

Local elections administrators say they need clarity by October to meet deadlines for sending out voter registration cards, and December is the filing deadline for candidates.

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Dallas, Houston Protests Planned as Confederate Monuments Under Fire in Texas

A protest is planned at the Spirit of the Confederacy statue in downtown Houston.

After a white supremacist allegedly drove a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville last Saturday, killing activist Heather Heyer, calls for the removal of Confederate statues have spiked across the country — and Texas is no exception.

Protesters clashed in San Antonio last weekend, and demonstrations are planned this Saturday in Dallas and Houston. Over the past week, officials in five of the state’s biggest cities took steps toward removing or renaming Confederate memorials.

Texas hosts 178 public memorials to the Confederacy, more than any state other than Virginia. Many were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy long after the Civil War ended.

“The monuments are easy to understand; they were placed there by people who were trying to send a message that they wanted white supremacy to either be the law of the land or the practice in the land,” said Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, who announced a proposal Monday to remove the city’s monuments.

“Dallas has a violent and vicious history of racism,” Kingston said. “Getting rid of them would be a symbolic stance saying we’re not that city anymore.”

The Confederate War Memorial in downtown Dallas, dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1896, features statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Johnston and Jefferson Davis.  Wikimedia Commons

Dallas has at least five Confederate memorials, including the Confederate War Memorial, which features a towering 60-foot marble and granite pillar topped by the likeness of an anonymous soldier. Mayor Mike Rawlings also proposed a commission this week to study the matter.

Those proposals face opposition from former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, who told CBS-DFW that she thinks the statues should stay up. “We don’t want America to think that all African Americans are supportive of this,” Crenshaw said.

A protest billed as “Dallas Against White Supremacy” is set to draw thousands to the war memorial on Saturday. Follow Observer civil rights reporter Michael Barajas for live coverage Saturday.

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner called Tuesday for an inventory and study of the city’s Confederate monuments.

The city will also be the site of protest Saturday, when demonstrators will gather in Sam Houston Park for an event titled “Destroy the Confederacy.” On Facebook, organizers advised activists “NOT to bring children.”

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue in downtown Houston.  Iván Abrego/flickr

Sam Houston Park contains the Spirit of the Confederacy monument, a bronze statue of an angel holding a palm branch and sword above a plaque reading: “To all heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states’ rights.” In North Carolina, protesters physically removed a Confederate statue earlier this week.

“We always have enough officers on hand to ensure the safety of everybody involved, and not just the safety of persons but the safety of property,” Jodi Silva, a spokesperson with the Houston Police Department, told the Observer. “At none of the assemblies in the past have people destroyed property.” Follow Observer writer John Savage, who will be covering the Houston protest.

In San Antonio, two city council members have submitted a request to consider removing a 40-foot Confederate statue from Travis Park. A militia-like group called This Is Texas Freedom Force is threatening to recall them and any other members who vote to remove it.

In Austin and El Paso, city officials made moves this week to rename roads named for Robert E. Lee. And at the statewide level, Representative Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, brought the fight to the Capitol — which hosts at least 12 Confederate symbols.

Children of the Confederacy
A plaque in the hall that rings the Capitol’s main rotunda. It declares the Civil War was not fought over slavery. Representative Eric Johnson has called for its removal.  Kelsey Jukam

“I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” wrote Johnson in a letter Wednesday to the State Preservation Board. “… The Confederacy exemplified treason against the United States and white supremacy.”

Texas’ 1861 “declaration of causes” makes clear the state seceded to maintain slavery, which it called “mutually beneficial to both bond and free.”

Governor Greg Abbott responded Wednesday, arguing the monuments should stay.

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With Trump’s Infrastructure Plan, Rural Texas Could be Left in Disrepair

Cattle crossing in Wharton County.  Jen Reel

Arnie Amaro, the city administrator of La Villa, knows Hidalgo County’s sprawl will eventually reach his town. In the last decade, the border county’s population has exploded from 684,000 to 850,000, transforming scrub brush into South Texas suburbia. But for the moment, La Villa, located on Hidalgo County’s eastern edge about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a small town with the tax base to match.    

“We need to get our infrastructure beefed up and ready,” Amaro said. La Villa’s most pressing need, he said, is expanding the town’s overburdened wastewater treatment plant. But upgrading the facility to accommodate the coming population boom is an expensive undertaking. Generally, cities consider raising property taxes and water rates to fund such capital improvements, but those are difficult propositions for a community where the poverty rate is 36 percent, more than twice the state average.

But La Villa has help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Rural Development Office, awards grants and loans to rural communities for a wide range of projects, including economic development, home repairs and infrastructure. Recently, Amaro secured a $4 million deal with the agency to expand the town’s wastewater treatment plant. (About $1.6 million of that amount comes in the form of a grant; the remaining $2.4 million is a low-interest loan).

“Now, $4 million may not seem like much to a large community, but to us, it’s huge,” Amaro told the Observer. “We’re going to take this project on without increasing any taxes or water rates.”

In fiscal year 2016, the USDA awarded 85 grants totaling $29.1 million to rural Texas communities for water and wastewater projects. It also approved about $68 million in loans for those projects last year, agency statistics show. So far this year, the Rural Development Office has awarded grants and loans totaling $42,000 to the water provider serving Study Butte and Terlingua to buy new equipment and a $3.6 million loan to Monahans’ water supply corporation to upgrade wastewater treatment equipment.  

Under Trump’s proposed federal budget for 2018, La Villa and those West Texas water providers may be among the program’s final beneficiaries. In 2017, the USDA took on an estimated $492 million in obligations through the initiative, but Trump’s budget proposes taking on no new program obligations in 2018.

“I hear some of the stuff that’s going on up in D.C., and I know all that stuff trickles down to us eventually,” Amaro said. “When you restrict these small communities’ funding, that hamstrings us even more …  We need assistance down here. We really do.”

Without federal funding, the equipment at small water facilities eventually will fall into disrepair, a problem exacerbated by the plant continually being run at full capacity. “This existing plant is going to start nickel and diming us, but with wastewater, you’re not talking about nickels and dimes. You’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars,” Amaro said, noting that the city recently replaced two clarifiers (machines that remove particulates from water) to the tune of $30,000.     

The president’s budget proposal also suggested massive cuts to other rural development initiatives, such as those involving power lines, internet connectivity and subsidies for rural housing repairs. All told, rural America stands to lose billions in assistance funding if the proposal becomes law.

A Texas pothole  Daniel Lobo/flickr

Trump’s plan also has yet to address Texas’ aging infrastructure, despite the fact that the state has more miles of roads as well as more bridges, ports and dams than most others. Some of it’s in bad shape, too, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the state’s infrastructure a “C” rating overall in 2012.

This month, a coalition of organizations representing farmers, power providers, banks, schools and other interests sent a letter to the White House to urge support for rural infrastructure funding. “Your effort to make investment in our nation’s infrastructure a priority is critically important and we look forward to working with you to help reinvigorate rural America,” wrote the Rebuild Rural Coalition. At least five of the coalition’s members represent interests in rural Texas: Alliance for I-69 Texas, Texas Ag Industries Association, Texas Elective Cooperatives, Texas Grain and Feed Association and Texas Vegetation Management Association.

Loyd Neal, Nueces County judge and chairman of Alliance for I-69 Texas, said that securing funding  for improvements to rural roads can be difficult because few federal transportation dollars are set aside for such projects. Ultimately, communities outside major metropolitan areas must compete with big cities. “They’ve got more congressmen and more representatives and just more dad-gummed people. It’s a tough fight,” Neal said. “Our part in signing that letter was, ‘Texas is a big state and has a lot of rural areas. Don’t forget the rural areas.’”

The Alliance for I-69 project aims to improve existing highways, such as U.S. 77 and 59 in South Texas, so that they meet interstate standards. Neal said improving the roadways will relieve congestion caused by freight traffic on Interstate 35 and better connect small communities to the state’s major hubs. But that work will cost an estimated $18 billion over 25 years, and it’s unclear how Trump’s budget proposal bodes for the project. When I asked Neal, a Republican, whether he thinks the austere spending plan will hurt the I-69 endeavor, he was noncommittal. “I learned a long time ago that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and the Lord is usually someone in Washington, D.C. In Texas, we try to work with what we have.”

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Abbott: Removing Confederate monuments “won’t erase our nation’s past”

Gov. Abbott announces he's running for governor in San Antonio on July 14, 2017.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday weighed in on the renewed debate over Confederate monuments in Texas, saying that removing them “won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”

Abbott’s statement follows deadly violence that broke out Saturday at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where participants were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The unrest in Charlottesville led elected officials in some of Texas’ biggest cities to begin looking into taking down similar monuments in their areas.

“Racist and hate-filled violence – in any form — is never acceptable, and as Governor I have acted to quell it,” Abbott said in the statement. “My goal as governor is to eliminate the racist and hate-filled environment we are seeing in our country today.”

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future. As Governor, I will advance that future through peace, not violence, and I will do all I can to keep our citizens safe.”

It’s not just in Texas’ cities that the debate over Confederate monuments is heating up. Earlier Wednesday, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a letter to the State Preservation Board asking it to immediately remove a Confederate plaque outside his office. The plaque, Johnson wrote, “has no rightful place in the Texas Capitol.”

“Also, given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Johnson wrote, asking for a meeting of the board to discuss the issue and requesting an inventory of such iconography at the Capitol.

Even in recent history, this discussion is not new for Texas lawmakers. Two years ago, after the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds, a group of five Democratic state legislators from Texas asked the state’s top leaders, including Abbott, for the creation of a task force to study the numerous Confederate monuments, markers and statutes on the Capitol grounds in Austin.

It’s unclear whether anything ever came of the lawmakers’ request. At the time, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus said he’d visit with the legislators to hear their concerns. The offices of Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not return requests for comment.

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Selena’s brother taken into custody after landing on most wanted list

Abraham Quintanilla III, who goes by “A.B.,” was taken into custody Wednesday. He began the month on the 10 most wanted list of fugitives released by the Nueces County Sheriff’s Office in Corpus Christi.

Quintanilla is the brother of the late Tejano singer, Selena.

Quintanilla was sought for alleged contempt of court and nonpayment of child support.

The musician was a member of his late sister’s group, Selena y Los Dinos. He also co-wrote music for Selena and produced songs for her.

The Grammy-winning singer was murdered on March 31, 1995, by Yolanda Saldívar, an employee who oversaw Selena’s boutiques and fan club.

Quintanilla, 53, continued in the music industry, most recently as founder of the group Elektro Kumbia.

President Trump weighed in on the story, commenting on Twitter that “there is plenty of blame to go around, on both sides.”


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In special session rubble, spotlight shines bright on Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, emerges smiling from a caucus of Republican members after the 85th Legislature adjourned sine die on Aug. 16, 2017.  

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and his chamber emerged from the rubble of a bruising special session Wednesday as a subject of both intense criticism and speculation about his future as head of the lower chamber.

There did not appear to be any immediate threats to Straus’ speakership, though the post-session finger-pointing signaled the intra-party conflict that consumed most of it is not going away anytime soon.

The House abruptly closed out the special session a day early Tuesday, declining to further negotiate on a key property tax bill after it agreed to Senate changes to a school finance package. Over the next 12 hours, both the governor and lieutenant governor of Texas sharply criticized Straus, a fellow Republican, making clear they both believed that the blame for measures that didn’t survive should be laid at his feet.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, declared the House “quit on the taxpayers of Texas” and unfurled a bevy of jabs at Straus — one of them invoking the Battle of the Alamo — at a late-night news conference following the Senate’s decision to follow the House’s lead and end the session in their chamber a day early. The Senate did so without accepting a House version of the property tax bill, rejecting what one senator described as a “take-it-or-leave-it” proposal.

Gov. Greg Abbott cranked up the heat Wednesday morning, assigning blame to Straus and the House for slow-walking his agenda and not giving all 20 items a vote on the House floor. He also portrayed Straus as an obstructionist when it came to the most controversial legislation on the call, a so-called “bathroom bill” that would have regulated which restroom transgender Texans can use.

“There’s no evidence he’s going to change his mind on it, and that’s why elections matter,” Abbott told Houston radio station KTRH, immediately stoking speculation that he was laying the groundwork for a Straus ouster.

In a subsequent radio interview, Abbott stopped short of calling for a new speaker but made clear many of the unfinished items on his agenda are unlikely to become law as long as Straus is speaker. “We’ve got to get the votes in the House,” said Abbott, whose well-funded political operation is gearing up for a much bigger role in the upcoming primaries than it had last time around.

Abbott’s blows landed as Straus attended a closely watched meeting of the House Republican Caucus. It had been requested by the conservative Freedom Caucus, which is looking to establish a process for Republican lawmakers to determine a candidate for speaker before the next session — potentially someone other than Straus, who intends to seek a record-breaking sixth term behind the gavel in 2019.

The House elects its speaker on the first day of the regular session. Historically, all of the 150 members in the chamber have voted on their own, leading to speakers supported by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the past. Democratic support played a role in Straus’ original election to Speaker in 2009, prompting critics who view Straus as too moderate to argue that the caucus could draw a more conservative speaker if they could unite behind another candidate.

Over 80 of the chamber’s 95 Republican members reportedly showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, which lasted roughly an hour and a half and ended with a standing ovation for Straus. Freedom Caucus members came out of the meeting saying they were looking forward to continuing a discussion about speaker nomination rules at the House Republican Caucus’ September retreat.

“Nothing was decided except that it’s a conversation that’s worthy of being continued,” said state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, chairman of the Freedom Caucus. “We’re not talking about a person. We’re talking about a process.”

Straus briefly spoke with reporters as he left the meeting, making a short walk from the room where the caucus met to a bank of elevators.

“We had a very good conversation, and I enjoyed it,” Straus said. “I think all of us did. Very constructive, very positive, very unifying in a lot of ways.”

He did not answer shouted questions about Patrick’s criticism Tuesday night. In a statement after the meeting, Straus said the House “considered every idea carefully, listened to constituents, and acted on a number of critical issues” during the special session. He also thanked Abbott for working with the lower chamber on his “very ambitious agenda.”

A number of Straus lieutenants were tight-lipped about how the caucus meeting went as they darted out of it. “Very good,” said state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, chairman of the Calendars Committee. “Good, productive meeting,” repeatedly said state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. State Rep. Dan Huberty — a Houston Republican who was deeply involved in end-of-session talks as the House’s education chief — declined to comment.

Straus’ situation was not just the talk of Republicans on Wednesday morning. He was repeatedly mentioned at a nearby Capitol rally featuring Democratic lawmakers, where U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, a former member of the Texas House, spoke of a “very ugly internal fight” in the Texas GOP and accused Abbott and Patrick of seeking to “cannibalize” Straus. As for the speaker’s future, Democrats suggested they were watching the GOP caucus deliberations with interest.

“The jury’s out,” state Rep. César Blanco of El Paso said, “and we’ll see what Republicans decide.”

Straus has easily survived various challenges since he rose to power in 2009. The last time the GOP caucus chose to collectively nominate a speaker candidate — in 2011 — Straus prevailed with the support of an overwhelming majority of members.

Straus does not seem fazed by his critics as of late. With a few days left in the regular session in May, Straus quietly filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission declaring his candidacy for speaker in the 2019 session. Asked if he was definitely running again Wednesday, Straus offered a smile and few words as he waited for elevator doors to close, a pack of reporters in tow.

“No big announcements in that room,” Straus responded. “It was a good conversation. Very positive.”

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Federal court invalidates part of Texas congressional map

Federal judges have invalidated two Texas congressional districts, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

The 107-page ruling — the latest chapter of a six-year court battle over how Texas lawmakers drew political maps — sets up a scramble to redraw the districts in time for the 2018 elections.

President Trump commented on the story, saying on Twitter that “there is plenty of blame to go around, on both sides.”

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Texas to receive millions in federal funding for wildlife conservation projects


U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt today announced more than $2.5 million will go to Texas state wildlife agencies through the State Wildlife Grants program.

The funds, which are provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, give support for a diverse array of species and habitats across the country.

“The Trump Administration is working hard with states and local communities to find solutions that are driven at the local level, rather than in Washington, D.C.,” said Deputy Secretary Bernhardt. “As a hunter, I know the work of state wildlife agencies is absolutely critical to wildlife conservation in the United States. We’re thrilled to be able to collaborate with them, their local communities and other partners to ensure important fish, wildlife, habitat and cultural needs are met. Tribal and state wildlife grants are foundational to protecting our nation’s wildlife legacy, including game and non-game species.”

The $2,503,634 in funding through the SWG program, which is part of $48 million being distributed nationwide, will support imperiled species and habitats listed in approved state wildlife action plans.

All 50 state and U.S. territorial wildlife agencies have these plans, which proactively protect species in greatest conservation need. Projects funded through SWG involve research, monitoring, wildlife surveys, species and habitat management and other activities.

SWG funds are administered by the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and are allocated to states and territories according to a congressionally mandated formula based on population and geographic area.

Grant funds must be used to address conservation needs, such as research, wildlife surveys, species and habitat management, and monitoring identified within state wildlife action plans. The funds may also be used to update, revise or modify a state’s plan.

President Trump commented on the story, saying on Twitter that “there is plenty of blame to go around, on both sides.”


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Deputies Go Unpunished for Invasive Cavity Search on Houston Roadside

Harris County Sheriff’s Office dashcam footage of the June 2015 stop and search.  Sam Cammack/courtesy

The courts have long ruled that warrantless body cavity searches are, in most circumstances, unconstitutional. Impromptu roadside anal and vaginal probes are prohibited by both state law and policies adopted by many of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean cops who engage in warrantless roadside cavity searches will always face consequences. This month, Harris County prosecutors dropped criminal charges against two Harris County sheriff’s deputies accused of helping vaginally probe Charnesia Corley after they smelled weed during a June 2015 traffic stop in north Houston. The sheriff’s office has already cleared both deputies of any wrongdoing, and both are expected to stay with the department. One of them could even soon return to patrol duty.

That’s what prompted the attorney handling Corley’s federal lawsuit against the county to release dash-cam footage on Monday that he says proves she was subjected to an illegal search. The video, first published by the Houston Chronicle, appears to show the deputies forcing Corley face-first on the pavement near her car before spreading her legs and shining a flashlight around her genitals.

Corley’s attorney, Sam Cammack, also called for officials to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue charges against the deputies. In a phone call with the Observer this past weekend, ahead of the video’s release, Cammack called the footage “undeniable proof this woman was violated.”

The deputies’ attorneys have claimed they “never penetrated” Corley during the stop, something that the dash-cam footage released Monday doesn’t seem to prove or disprove. In a response filed in the federal lawsuit, Harris County attorneys deny the deputies ever conducted a body cavity search, but rather forced Corley to the ground during a “visual strip search.” Natasha Sinclair, chief of the DA’s civil rights division, which investigates allegations against police officers, told the Observer that while grand jurors didn’t think the deputies committed any crime, “We don’t condone this type of search at all. This is by no means us saying this is an appropriate way to conduct a search.”

The courts have long ruled that the kind of warrantless search Corley says she endured is only justified when police can show that waiting for a judge’s approval would have resulted in “imminent loss or destruction of evidence,” which the county hasn’t even argued in Corley’s case.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office dashcam footage of the June 2015 stop and search.  Sam Cammack/courtesy

However, roadside probes like Corley’s have surfaced in state and federal courts across Texas in recent years. In 2014, a North Texas state trooper pleaded guilty to two counts of official oppression after sticking her hand inside the pants of two women on the side of the George Bush Turnpike while searching for drugs. Even after DPS updated its policy to ban warrantless roadside cavity searches, drivers still complained of deputies probing them during traffic stops. In 2015, state lawmakers passed a new law requiring cops to obtain search warrants before conducting roadside body cavity searches.

That law, which went into effect three months after deputies strip-searched Corley in a Texaco parking lot, carries no criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who violate it.

Citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, Sinclair wouldn’t explain why her office dropped charges against the deputies in Corley’s case earlier this month, other than to say her office had discovered new evidence they presented to another grand jury, which on August 4 cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing. “I’m prohibited from commenting on exactly what that content was,” she told the Observer.

Cammack meanwhile bristles that the deputies, who were both cleared of wrongdoing by an internal sheriff’s office investigation, will likely remain with the department. In a statement published by the Chronicle on Monday, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said, “I understand and respect the community’s concerns” regarding Corley’s treatment. Gonzalez said both deputies are expected to remain with the department. One of them, he said, “will be allowed to return to patrol duties.”

Cammack says that’s an unacceptable outcome. “This woman was half-naked, handcuffed and face-down on the ground when they penetrated her,” he said. “That deserves some kind of accountability.”

The post Deputies Go Unpunished for Invasive Cavity Search on Houston Roadside appeared first on The Texas Observer.

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Map details where Texas hate groups are in 2017

Hate groups are still active in every state in America in 2017.

According to a map on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, there is a total of 917 active hate groups in the country.

Of those active groups, 55 are in Texas, including 10 in the greater Houston area

The hate groups range from neo-Nazi to black separatists.

55 Texas groups:

Faith and Heritage – White Nationalist (Killeen)

Daily Stormer – Neo-Nazi (Austin)

Israel United in Christ – Black Separatist (Austin)

Nation of Islam – Black Separatist (Austin)

Power of Prophecy – General Hate (Austin)

Southern National Congress – Neo-Confederate (Texas)

Atomwaffen Division – Neo-Nazi (San Antonio)

ACT for America – Anti-Muslim (San Antonio)

Israel United in Christ – Black Separatist (San Antonio) – Holocaust Denial (Kerrville)

Ku Klos Knights of the KKK – (Gatesville)

New Black Panther Party – Black Separatist (Tomball)

Israel United in Christ – Black Separatist (Houston)

Conservative Republicans of Texas – Anti-LGBT (Houston)

League of the South – Neo-Confederate (Conroe)

Stop the Islamization of the World – Anti-Muslim (Houston)

ACT for America – Anti-Muslim (Houston)

New Black Panther Party – Black Separatist (Houston)

Nation of Islam – Black Separatist (Houston)

American Freedom Party – White Nationalist (Granbury)

East Coast Knights of the True Invisible Empire – KKK (Venus)

League of the South – Neo-Confederate (Waxahachie)

Nation of Islam – Black Separatist (Fort Worth)

Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – (Fort Worth)

Stedfast Baptist Church – Anti-LGBT (Fort Worth)

Bureau on American Islamic Relations – Anti-Muslim (Irving)

New Black Panther Party – Black Separatist (Dallas)

ACT for America – Anti-Muslim (Dallas)

Traditionalist Worker Party – White Nationalist (Dallas)

Daily Stormer – Neo-Nazi (Dallas)

Nation of Islam – Black Separatist (Dallas)

Israel United in Christ – Black Separatist (Dallas)

Probe Ministries – Anti-LGBT (Plano)

Israel School of Universal Practical Knowledge – Black Separatist (Texas)

United Klans of America – KKK (Texas)

Soldiers of Odin – Anti-Muslim (Texas)

Vinlanders Social Club – Racist Skinhead (Texas)

White Lives Matter – White Nationalist (Texas)

Gallows Tree Wotansvolk Alliance – Neo-Nazi (Texas)

Ku Klos Knights of the KKK – (Texas)

National Socialist Movement – Neo-Nazi (Texas)

Aryan Renaissance Society – Neo-Nazi (Texas)

American Vanguard – White Nationalist (Texas)

Texas Rebel Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – (Quinlan)

Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – (Flint)

Yahushua Dual Seed Christian Identity – Christian Identity (Livingston)

League of the South – Neo-Confederate (La Porte)

Patriotic Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – (Gladewater)

ISD Records – Hate Music (Denison)

Daily Stormer – Neo-Nazi (Wichita Falls)

Israel United in Christ – Black Separatist (Corpus Christi)

United White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – (New Boston)

Nation of Islam – Black Separatist (Texarkana)

Repent Amarillo – General Hate (Amarillo)

Tom Brown Ministries – Anti-LGBT (El Paso)

This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports. Groups that appear in the center of states represent statewide groups.

‘White Lives Matter’ rally canceled by Texas A&M officials due to safety concerns

President Donald Trump, facing mounting pressure from Republicans and Democrats alike, did what he declined to do over the weekend during an event at the White House on Monday when he directly condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis in a brief statement to reporters.

“Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said in response to the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” Trump said.

The comments came in a hastily scheduled White House event in the Diplomatic Reception Room, where Trump — speaking with the help of a teleprompter — spoke straight to camera after meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the attack.

“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable,” he said. “Justice will be delivered. ”

Trump had been excoriated for his unwillingness to condemn the groups behind the violent protests that left one woman dead who was hit by a car allegedly driven by a man with ties to white supremacy groups.

After blaming the violence “on many sides” Saturday, Trump stayed silent for close to 48 hours, letting his trademark bluntness and campaign pledges to call terrorism what it is, succumb to silence and vagueness.

Trump was asked by reporters after he spoke why he waited so long to condemn these hate groups by name and did not respond.

President Trump commented on the story, saying on Twitter that “there is plenty of blame to go around, on many sides.”


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New Mexico Bandidos members held in Texas in firearms case

New Mexico members of a motorcycle gang authorities have labeled a criminal organization have been arrested on firearms charges in El Paso.

The El Paso Times reports that five members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club were arrested last week after a traffic stop.

Police said all five men were arrested on charges of unlawful carrying of a firearm.

Authorities say the members were in El Paso for the funeral of club chapter leader Juan Martinez Jr., who died after he was shot in a bar fight July 30.

Tensions between the Bandidos and the rival Vagos Motorcycle Club in Santa Fe have forced authorities there to increase patrols

The FBI says the Bandidos are known as a criminal organization made up of more than 5,000 members and associates.

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Legislature advances annexation bill to Gov. Abbott

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, answers questions from Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, about Senate Bill 6, the municipal annexation bill that would require citizen elections for cities to annex adjacent property, on Aug. 13, 2017. 

The Texas Senate advanced a municipal annexation bill to Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday, the fifth bill sent to the governor’s desk during the special legislative session that ends in three days.

The measure’s author, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, moved to accept amendments made in the lower chamber – which passed the bill, with changes, on Friday.

“Members, this is a great deal,” Campbell said Sunday. “… It is a huge victory for property rights of Texans.”

The legislation allows Texans to vote on whether cities in large counties can annex areas outside of their limits — a contentious issue that prompted a filibuster from state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, in May.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune Sunday, Menéndez said he was glad he successfully filibustered the bill during the regular session. Had he not done so, he said, lawmakers wouldn’t have added an amendment to the bill that provides a five-mile buffer around military zones.

A similar provision was included in the House version of annexation reform that passed during the regular legislative session, but that provision was stripped out in a conference committee.

“Obviously, in one huge respect for the city of San Antonio, it’s a much better bill from the perspective that we finally got the five-mile buffer that I had asked for during the regular session,” Menéndez said. “Had [Campbell] kept that five-mile buffer, we wouldn’t have had to filibuster.”

Previously Menéndez and other proponents of the five-mile buffer argued that land development around military bases could hinder base missions. That’s why it’s important, they argued, that cities don’t face barriers to regulating that land when necessary — in part to make sure the nearby base’s needs are considered as development expands.

But Menéndez again voiced opposition to the measure Sunday, this time about how the bill would impact residents’ access to public services, like trash pick-up and police protection. He referenced a land-swap agreement between the cities of San Antonio and Converse, in particular.

“The reason I voted against it was my concern with the city of Converse and the city of San Antonio’s 17-year land swap agreement that was not excluded in this version, as it was when the first bill came through during the regular session,” Menéndez said. “I’m concerned many of my constituents may not have those services extended to them as they would when they come into the city of Converse.”

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White nationalist rally, counter protest planned at Texas A&M on Sept. 11

State police in riot gear face protesters at Texas A&M during white nationalist Richard Spencer's visit on December 6, 2016.

As the nation watched tension between white nationalists and counter protestors turn violent Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, worries began to emerge that the discord would come to a Texas college town next.

Preston Wiginton, a Texan with deep ties to white nationalist movements, announced Saturday afternoon that he plans to host a “White Lives Matter” rally next month on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. At the top of a press release announcing the event, he declared “TODAY CHARLOTTESVILLE TOMORROW TEXAS A&M.”

Word of the planned rally, which Wiginton said will take place on Sept. 11, generated immediate outrage on social media. Within hours, a counter protest had been planned. That event will be called “BTHO Hate,” the name of which borrows from an A&M football chant expressing the desire to “beat the hell outta” the opposing team.

The organizer of that protest said the event would be nonviolent, and was organized to “demonstrate that members of the Aggie community do not support the hateful bigotry espoused by Wiginton and the planned speakers.”

“White supremacists keep coming to our campus thinking we’re going to support them,” said Adam Key, a doctoral student at A&M and the organizer of the counter protest. “Just like the last time they showed up, we want to demonstrate as clearly as we can that their ideas are not welcome here.”

The last time was in December, when Wiginton hosted Richard Spencer, a leader of the white nationalist movement known as the alt-right. About 400 people attended Spencer’s speech, and the night seemed constantly on the brink of boiling over. Spencer’s talk was interrupted repeatedly with shouting, pushing and shoving among people in the crowd.

Outside, thousands of people protested, leading the Texas Department of Public Safety to clear A&M’s Memorial Student Center out of safety concerns. Meanwhile, A&M held its own simultaneous concert event at its football stadium across the street.

“We hoped that December was the last time we would have to protest them,” Key said. “Aggies started fighting Nazis in World War II. We have no plans to stop any time soon.”

The planned sight for Wiginton’s rally is a fountain named after famous Aggie Gen. James Earl Rudder, who led a group of Army Rangers up 100-foot cliffs to topple Nazi gun barracks during the D-Day invasion.

Wiginton, who briefly attended A&M and has organized several white nationalist events at the school, said in his press release that he has invited Spencer back to College Station for the September event. There will be other speakers and a DJ, too, he said. The focus, he said, will be to protest “the liberal agenda of White Guilt and white genocide that is taught at most all universities in America.” There will also protests against specific A&M professors.

“Various groups throughout the country concerned with the political status of whites in America will be attending as well,” he wrote.

Details for the counter event were less specific. Key said participants will try to get as close to Wiginton’s event as possible. On Facebook, organizers proposed forming a “maroon wall” of students to block Wiginton’s message from the general public. A&M students used a similar strategy when the infamous Westboro Baptist Church protested a military funeral in College Station in 2012.

A&M hasn’t officially responded to the protest plans.

Disclosure: Texas A&M has been a financial supporter of The Texas TribuneA complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Hundreds Clash over Confederate Monument in San Antonio

A group of protesters wave Confederate flags in defense of a monument in Travis Park.  Gus Bova

About 500 people converged on a San Antonio park in the blistering heat Saturday — some to call for the removal of a 118-year-old Confederate monument and others to defend it. The two groups held rallies on opposite sides of the downtown Travis Park for about five hours, and one person was reportedly arrested.

Jonathan David-Jones, organizer with SATX4.

“The truth is the Confederacy fought for slavery, so when you have Confederate monuments in public spaces, that’s a symbol of hate and fear,” said Jonathan David-Jones, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter-esque group SATX4. “For a lot of us, it’s disgusting. They can put [the statue] in the garbage can for all I care — or in one of those Confederate guys’ houses.”

The statue, which has stirred controversy in the city for years, is a 40-foot high obelisk topped with an anonymous Confederate soldier that was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1899. An inscription reads: “Lest we forget our Confederate dead.”

On July 4, SATX4 led a rally calling for the statue’s removal, and later that month, two City Council members — William Shaw and Robert Treviño — submitted a request for the city to consider relocating the statue to a museum. Their request calls the monument a reminder of the “second-class citizen status attributed to people of color — part of the cult of The Lost Cause.”

The 40-foot statue of the anonymous Confederate soldier in San Antonio.  Gus Bova

But hundreds of people, many armed with semi-automatic rifles, came out Saturday to defend the monument — led by a group called This Is Texas Freedom Force. The event coincided with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where at least one person died and nearly 20 others were injured Saturday after a person drove a car through a street of counter-protesters.

“Our motto is ‘protectors of all things Texas’; we are big proponents of Texas history and preserving it,” said the group’s vice president, Brandon Burkhart, aka ‘Milkbone’, who said he was formerly a Republican Party precinct chairman in Bexar County.

Burkhart said the group launched in mid-May and now has an online membership of about 5,000. Their rally Saturday was guarded by heavily armed activists wearing fatigues and body armor who turned away multiple journalists who tried to enter.

“At any type of rally we hold, we always encourage people to bring their rifles,” Burkhart said. “The opposition gets way out of hand and people get hurt, so we want to make sure people can defend themselves.”

Burkhart said the group’s members testified before the San Antonio City Council in support of the statue, and planned to launch recall campaigns against members who voted to remove it. He also claimed his group was responsible for Senate Bill 112, filed last month during the special session by Brandon Creighton, a GOP senator from Conroe, which would prevent the removal of Confederate monuments — along with any statute on public property that is at least 40 years old — throughout the state. The bill was not referred to a committee.

Armed militia members surround a “mobile command center” near Travis Park.  Gus Bova

This Is Texas Freedom Force was joined Saturday by militia groups, descendants of Confederate veterans groups and the so-called Proud Boys, an alt-right group that recently marched at a “freedom rally” in Austin. Attendees carried Texas, Confederate and American flags — organizers specifically forbade “KKK, Skin Head or racist flags” at the rally.

Lamar Russell, a member of the organizing group and the Alamo Militia, performed two hip-hop songs with pro-gun rights lyrics while waving a Confederate flag. Russell, who is black, told the Observer his family served in the Confederacy.

Joseph Gonzalez, who wants to keep the monument in place, held a sign reading “Tejano Mexicans fought with Confederates.” A San Antonio native, he argued the South did not secede over slavery or racism, but rather over taxes. “Most Tejanos here probably have a family member who fought in the Confederate army,” he said.

The state of Texas’ 1861 “declaration of causes” makes clear the state seceded to maintain slavery, which it called “mutually beneficial to both bond and free.”

On the other side of the park, masked “antifascist” activists armed with sticks and shields squared off with police as activists gave speeches and the group occasionally chanted: “Show me what democracy looks like,” and “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist U.S.A.”


At Travis Park in San Antonio, dueling rallies continue over the fate of a Confederate monument.

Posted by The Texas Observer on Saturday, August 12, 2017

Denise Hernandez, an activist with the group Maestranza, read a statement sent to her by Representative Diego Bernal, a former San Antonio city councilman whose state House district includes the park. “We are better off because the Confederacy lost,” wrote Bernal. “Whatever value keeping the statue in the park provides (I don’t believe there is much), is far outweighed by what we gain by removing it.”

A previous effort to remove the statue in 2015 failed, in part due to opposition from then-Mayor Ivy Taylor, the city’s first black mayor. Some activists said they were hopeful the new mayor, Ron Nirenberg, would be more supportive.

Three other council members signed onto the July 31 request by Shaw and Treviño, totaling five out of 10 members who support it.

“We’ve got council members still on the fence, so we have to be out here harnessing momentum,” said Mike Lowe of SATX4. Lowe led the crowd into the street for a march that was swiftly surrounded by police. Lowe and other activists said the police seemed unduly concerned with their unarmed demonstration.

“A black man, unarmed, nothing but a megaphone, is perceived as more violent than Bubba over there with the AR-15, a MAGA hat and a Confederate flag,” Lowe said through a megaphone in front of a line of officers. He then kicked off a chant: “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?”

The crowd was largely dispersed by 6 p.m. A request for more information regarding the arrest reported by organizers was not immediately returned by the San Antonio Police Department.

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