- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. March 11, 2019.

Another court ruling makes clear that the Trump administration’s reasons for an attempted insertion of a citizenship question in the U.S. census were contrived - as in, built on what amount to lies. And, disturbingly, the ruling also points to the certainty that the question’s intent is to achieve an undercount specifically to maintain and broaden one party’s dominance.

How does it do that? An undercount undermines one key function of the census. The count, aside from determining federal spending in the states, also is used to determine each state’s representation in Congress and the number of Electoral College votes. A census that fails to accurately count, say, immigrants - even if they’re not documented - will mean less representation for those states with high immigration populations.

Think Texas, California and other Southwestern and Western states. But the fact is that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are everywhere. They are, however, concentrated in a handful of states.



A citizenship question in the census can’t help but dampen response both from households solely with undocumented immigrants in them and households with legal residents but which also contain undocumented relatives. And in some cases, this will mean even citizens aren’t counted in those households with undocumented immigrant parents and citizen children.

This chilling effect on participation is a certainty in these fevered times on immigration. The president’s us-them, they’re-all-criminals rhetoric and his zero tolerance and deportation policies are fresh in memory.

In these communities, there will be absolutely no confidence that the census will remain anonymous, nor that the data won’t be used to target immigrants. The commerce secretary made what the court described as “bad faith” rationales for the question. Instilling this fear, it’s clear, was the point.

The Constitution is even clearer on another point. It says the census should count every person, not just those eligible to vote, as in just native-born and naturalized citizens.

The administration may be attempting an end run around the courts with a pending agreement - first reported by The Associated Press - between the Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security that the latter agency share its data on noncitizens. The agreement stipulates that the Census Bureau cannot share that information with other agencies, but there will simply be no trust that this will be honored. The mere existence of this deal will undermine such confidence amid fears that the Census Bureau will craft a noncitizen registry.

As with a previous court ruling in New York, this ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco slams Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for essentially lying about why the citizenship question was necessary. He initially said it was at the Justice Department’s request to help it in applying the Voting Rights Act.

It soon became plain that he asked the Justice Department to make the request and that Census Bureau analysts believed the question would hurt an accurate count.

This latest ruling goes a step further than the previous one. It found a breach of the Constitution’s enumeration clause. The U.S. Supreme Court was already scheduled to hear an appeal on the New York ruling next month. It might now consider the constitutionality question. It should.

So, if Texas is a state with a high concentration of immigrants, why would it not be leading the charge against this citizenship question? For the answer to that, one need look no further than the state leadership’s efforts for years to stay Republican red - a voter ID law, third-party voter registration rules and gerrymandering, to name a few.

But there is a larger question here. On voter ID and gerrymandering alone, various courts have laid bare the discriminatory intent to restrict voting of those likely to vote Democratic - think not just minorities but young people.

This evidence of intent will exist even if the U.S. Supreme Court - stacked with conservative justices, thanks in part to a GOP Senate’s refusal to act on an Obama nominee - overturns these rulings. Where is the outrage over intentional discrimination by elected officials and public entities?

Our hope is that the Supreme Court majority not find some expedient justification in the law’s technicalities to paper over the unforgivable, but that it look at what is hiding in plain sight - that intentional discrimination.

In the case of the census and for voting laws and redistricting, the desire to maintain political dominance should have no place.

___

The Dallas Morning News. March 12, 2019.

It may seem obvious to say that the best cure for political corruption is electing good people. But so few of us show up to vote in local contests, it’s hard to expect we will elect candidates who have the public interest at the top of their agenda.

The recent high-profile corruption cases that have stung North Texas are a cause for all of us to reflect on what we can do to improve local government. Since last fall, former Dallas City Council members Dwaine Caraway and Carolyn Davis each pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, and Laura Jordan, the former mayor of Richardson and her developer husband, were convicted of federal bribery and corruption. In each instance, the elected official succumbed to the pay-for-play mentality that is at the root of most corruption cases.

Electing a city council member may not feel as important as voting for a president or senator, but local officials often are more central in our day-to-day lives. They have the power to raise property taxes, sign contracts and make your commute better or worse.

Yet, in 2015, the last time our city voted for Dallas mayor, only 6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, the worst turnout of any of America’s 30 largest cities, according to a study by Portland State University. Dismal turnouts aren’t just a Dallas problem. The percentage of all Dallas County voters casting ballots in May municipal elections has been in single digits for years. Apathy also has stifled turnout in local elections in surrounding counties, especially in years when high-profile statewide or national races aren’t on the top of the ballot.

An unengaged electorate is exactly what mediocre candidates for public office need to succeed. At its worst, voter apathy allows corrupt public officials to think that no consequences exist for bad behavior. We all know the worst behavior happens when we think no one is watching.

We’re not so naive to believe that corruption can be swept away by people showing up to vote. There will always be people who promise to serve the public and then serve themselves. But as citizens, we owe ourselves and our community our engagement in the political process. Every vote matters matter, and here’s why.

A vote creates accountability, and a strong voter turnout sends a signal to whomever is elected that they can’t fly under the radar. When large numbers of voters go to the polls, the cumulative impact can diminish the impact of special interests to influence local politics. The more voices that rise, the more eyes that watch, the tougher it becomes for the politician to slide into corruption.

Pathetically, in Dallas, we often see the opposite. Sometimes a few dozen votes decide who sits on the city council. Why would anyone stay on the sidelines and allow a small handful of voters to speak for a broader community?

Civic engagement requires taking the time to register and to become an informed voter. This newspaper considers proven track records of accomplishment to be an important qualification for elective office during our recommendation process. We urge voters to hold candidates to this standard, too.

On May 4, a large number of elected municipal offices, including Dallas mayor, the entire Dallas city council and numerous seats in suburban government will be contested. If you aren’t registered to vote, do so. And then vote.

Voters hold the power to shape communities, to support true public servants and to weed out the pretenders. But that only happens when citizens step up to exercise their civic duty and demand the best from elected officials.

___

Longview News-Journal. March 12, 2019.

During his time as U.S. minister to France, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a statesman from Virginia about the importance of a free press to our nation.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers, wrote in 1787. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

In 1914, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote this: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants …”

We remind you of those words today because this is Sunshine Week, an annual campaign to highlight Americans’ right to know what their elected officials are doing and how their tax dollars are being spent.

This is important, because our system of government is designed to utilize public participation, by voting officials in and out of office, attending meetings and hearings and petitioning our government for certain actions. That means meetings and records of official government actions must be open to the public.

In Texas, open government ideals are enshrined in the Texas Open Meetings Act, an anti-corruption measure from nearly a half century ago that set three basic rules: All government bodies must reach their decisions in meetings. Those meetings must be open to the public, and announced in advance so residents can attend. The actions at those meetings also must be documented, in minutes and recordings, available for anyone to review.

Even if you don’t have time to attend the meetings or read the minutes, the law guarantees access so various watchdogs - journalists, advocates for causes, neighborhood leaders and so forth - can keep you informed and help hold elected officials accountable.

Unfortunately, too many government officials try to duck the light, to keep their actions in the shadows. And lately, decisions by our states’ highest courts are providing cover for those who would avoid the light.

We have commented before on the latest of those bad decisions, by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which recently struck down part of the law barring officials from privately communicating among themselves before they vote in public. In effect, it allows officials to conduct discussions and reach agreements in secret, with no public oversight. Again today, we call on the Legislature to reverse the ruling.

Beyond such questionable decisions, government officials and offices often put up roadblocks ranging from outright denial to unreasonable fees for providing public information. Here in East Texas, it has become common practice for officials to delay releasing public information by asking for an opinion from the attorney general’s office. This newspaper routinely challenges such attempts to hide public information, but many individuals facing roadblocks probably throw up their hands and walk away, thinking the battle is not worth the trouble.

But it is worth it, and that is why media outlets across the nation this week are highlighting the importance of sunshine. It is a reminder that government transparency and the public’s right to know are foundational tenets of a fair and functioning democracy. As such, they must be insisted upon, spurred on and fought for - this week and every week.

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