A Daily Conversation About Dallas


Which Dems Are Dallas Donors Supporting?

| 3 weeks ago

Here’s a Friday afternoon time suck: the New York Times has a detailed map of the donors who are contributing to the 2020 Democratic campaigns. Basically, you can click on the map, run your cursor over the zip codes, and find out which candidate has the most individual donors in that area. You can read the New York Times piece for an analysis for how the national fundraising scene is shaking out (spoiler: Bernie’s killing it and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are fighting for silver and bronze). What I wanted to know is who Dallas voters are spending their money on.

The big takeaway from Texas is that Beto still dominates throughout the state, and Julian Castro is having trouble funding donors outside of his San Antonio base. Beto’s appeal, however, appears very limited to Texas, which made me want to dig into the map and see which candidate local voters might support if Beto doesn’t make it to the final rounds.

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Texas State Government Not Alone In Stripping Cities of Political Power

| 3 weeks ago

This past Texas legislative session was a tough one for Texas cities. A series of bills passed by the lege made it a lot more difficult for municipalities in Texas to generate revenue. The state banned red light cameras and fees charged to telecommunications companies for using the public right of way. But the biggest hit to city budgets was a bill that limits cities’ ability to grow property tax revenue without holding a “roll back” election. Dallas can expect to have $7 million less in its budget this season, but it’s the cumulative effect of the bills that will have the largest impact. As Matt reported back in July, a Moody’s analysis of the bill found that “the cap would generate ‘minimal’ homeowner savings but would ‘hurt local governments substantially.’”

Texas is not alone when it comes to state governments meddling in their cities’ business. The recent attempts in the state legislature to limit municipal power—which went far-beyond the bills that passed and included a large number of failed bills that would have installed all sorts of preempted legislation—are part of a growing national trend. A new report by the Local Solutions Support Center and the State Innovations Exchange has found that since 2011 state governments have stepped up their efforts to pass broader and more punitive preemption laws that limit cities, towns, and counties own legislative autonomy. The effort, the report argues, is being driven by special interests, and the new bills filed in state legislatures throughout the county tend to gravitate toward laws that limit local governments’ ability to regulate businesses and protect civil rights.

The full report is available here, but let’s drill into what it found in Texas.

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How Philip Kingston Helped Eric Johnson Become Mayor

| 4 weeks ago

It was early 2017, and the progressive slate of Dallas City Council candidates was gathered at Philip Kingston’s Lower Greenville house for a campaign kickoff confab. Novice candidates Omar Narvaez, Dominique Torres, and Candy Evans talked policy and strategy with incumbents Mark Clayton and Adam Medrano (on speakerphone). Evans asked many questions: “What’s a clawback?” “So, what is the deal with the homeless thing?”

No surprise, but incumbent Scott Griggs offered the most detailed answers. He tried to keep his explanations simple: the city of Dallas pension crisis can be blamed on Richard Tettamant; the solution to the coming public safety crisis is more cops on the street. Inevitably, though, he would hop down a lawyerly rabbit hole and find himself explaining the Flynn compromise, the annuitization of DROP, unfunded accrued liabilities, how COLA is tied to CPI, and so forth.

If one wanted to fix the problems at hand, Griggs had the right tools, but his lengthy explanations didn’t translate easily to a campaign placard. A deep-dive discussion of DART’s budgetary woes, for example, didn’t exactly electrify the newcomers in the room, who just wanted a compelling narrative they could sell to voters.

Fortunately for the candidates, Kingston has always been a live wire. “I don’t say this lightly,” he began. “Mike Rawlings is a corrupt person. He has used the office for personal gain, and there is no f’ing doubt about it. Now, the good news about Mike Rawlings is, he’s the least competent mayor we’ve had. Otherwise, we’d be in real fucking trouble.”

That’s a verbatim quote from a recording of the meeting. The room’s pulse quickened.

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Early Campaign Donations Show A Major Fight For Texas Legislative Seats in 2020

| 1 month ago

The kumbayah of the 86th legislative session’s comity and bipartisanship led to the passage of historic and costly school finance legislation. It was one without fist fights or bill-killing massacres. But the gloves are off: 2020 is upon us.

For the first since 2009, when Republicans only held a two seat majority, both parties are on defense.

Texas House seats in Dallas County—and even neighboring Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties—are in play. Both parties need to defend what they have, including the six Democratic Dallas pickups and the two remaining Republicans in the local delegation. With the first major campaign finance reports of the season now available, a glimpse of what is to come predicts a wild ride.

Here’s where we stand:

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Dallas’ Confederate War Memorial Isn’t Going Anywhere (For Now)

| 2 months ago

Last February, the Dallas City Council voted to pull down the Confederate War Memorial, a massive obelisk in Pioneer Park Cemetery that is surrounded by statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his rebel generals. The monument has been shrouded in a black tarp ever since, as the city negotiates with a contractor who will remove the monument. But for now, the memorial will remain thanks to an emergency stay filed in the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The legal challenge to the city’s efforts to rid Dallas’ landscape of its prominent totems to the Confederacy has been rumbling in the background of the public debate over the meaning, significance, and fate of the monuments. Warren Johnson, who recently lost a bid for the District 14 council seat, launched an effort to keep Dallas from removing its Confederate monuments after the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park was removed in September 2017. Johnson’s group–Return Lee Park–argues that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Antiquities Act in its removal of the statue.

Other legal efforts to block the removal of the monuments have been dismissed, but Johnson’s case is winding its way through the appeals process. Arlington attorney Warren Norred filed an emergency stay on demolishing the memorial while the appeal process plays out, and on Monday Justice Bill Whitehill issued an order that granted the motion.

So where does that leave us?

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U.S. Rep. Colin Allred Shouts Out Mike Rawlings

| 2 months ago

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred yesterday gave a minute of his time to honor outgoing Mayor Mike Rawlings in front of Congress. Citing his “eight years of exceptional service to our city,” Allred sang the hits: the “grace and leadership” after the July 7 shooting, the new parkland and trails paid for through private dollars and bond funding, the attempt to “close the gaps of opportunity in our city,” and his constant travels abroad to market Dallas to outside investors. He ends with a quote from Maya Angelou, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” The whole thing is below. And if this makes you want to revisit Wick Allison’s exit interview with the mayor, here you are.

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Texas Monthly Shouts Out Good, Bad, ‘Cockroach’ North Texas Lawmakers on Annual List

| 2 months ago

Today, Texas Monthly posted its yearly feature on the best and worst legislators in Texas. As always, Dallas-Fort Worth is well-represented, in all kinds of ways.


Bedford Rep. Jonathan Stickland has been on the bad side of TM’s list for two straight years. He’s been dishonored around these parts, as well. He tried to kill a bipartisan mental health bill on a simple technicality just last month. Par for the course. So TM decided to name Sticky their first “cockroach,” because he “accomplishes nothing but always manages to show up in the worst possible way.” On the bad list this year, McKinney Senator Angela Paxton gets a nod after filing legislation that could’ve helped cool the hot water around her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton. And Plano Rep. Jeff Leach shows up for “cozying up to power” and pandering to voters.

There are a couple of high notes. We have Dallas Rep. Victoria Neave earning a spot for pushing Texas to reckon with its rape-kit backlog. Rep. Julie Johnson, also of Dallas, takes home freshman of the year. Johnson helped create the LGBTQ caucus and walked the walk by using a point of order to weaken what became the “Chick-fil-A” bill. Dive into the feature here.

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Teens Turn Trip to the Border Into a Play About Immigration

| 2 months ago

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email with a link to a trailer for “Crossing the Line,” an upcoming documentary play about immigration co-produced by Cry Havoc Theater Company and Kitchen Dog Theater. It’s emotional stuff. (You can watch the trailer below.)

The eight actors are all Dallas-area high school students. Mara Richards Bim, Cry Havoc founder and artistic director, and Tim Johnson, managing director of Kitchen Dog Theater, took them on a pilgrimage to the Rio Grande Valley over spring break in order to collect first-person interviews. Those interviews will become the dialogue for the play.

This is the first co-production of Cry Havoc and Kitchen Dog, but this is not the first time Cry Havoc has tackled an issue of cultural relevance through documentary-style theater. Last year the theater company produced “Babel,” a play about gun violence derived from interviews with parents of children lost in school shootings, gun control advocates, and elected officials.

Johnson says this year’s show draws from more than twice the material. I sat down to talk with him and two of the student actors, M. Bandy and Leonela Arguello, about what the experience was like. Bandy is a recent graduate of W.T. White High School and will be heading to Bennington College in the fall; Arguello is a junior at Booker T. Washington High School. “Crossing the Line” runs from July 19 to August 4 at the Trinity River Arts Center. You can purchase tickets here.

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Local Government

At His Inauguration, Mayor Eric Johnson Charts His Vision for Dallas’ Next Four Years

| 2 months ago

Dallas met its new mayor and City Council on Monday. At the Winspear, seven new faces and seven returning ones—with one absence—took their oaths and swore to faithfully execute the duties of the office.

Former Mayor Mike Rawlings earned a standing ovation. He told the packed Winspear Opera House that today was a day for thank yous and for welcomes.

“Our city is special. It will face harsh winds at times, but we are made of something unique,” he said, and then referenced the city’s response after literal harsh winds took power from hundreds of thousands of Dallasites over the last two weekends and did much worse to residents of an apartment complex in Old East Dallas.

But more than anything, Monday was about one man, Eric Johnson, who officially became Dallas’ 60th mayor at about 10:40 a.m. Later in the day, Johnson and his colleagues took their seats around the horseshoe for the first time and unanimously selected Adam Medrano as mayor pro tem.

The new Council then voted down a motion to make fourth-term Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates the deputy mayor pro tem. Johnson and Gates voted for it along with Cara Mendelsohn, Chad West, and Carolyn King Arnold. The Council then unanimously selected Adam McGough for the role instead, meaning three men will again occupy the horseshoe’s highest seats. (The mayor pro tem and deputy mayor pro tem titles have traditionally gone to black and Latino council members when there is a white mayor, to ensure diversity among the leadership roles. Johnson is black, Medrano is Latino, and McGough is white. The mayor pro tem assumes the mayor’s duties should the mayor step down, and also runs meetings in his absence.)

But back at the morning’s inauguration, Johnson took the microphone, declared campaign season dead, and delivered his vision for his next four years. That vision carries distinct similarities to his campaign priorities. It also ventures into new territory and digs deeper into areas he’d only touched on during debates. He did not address the shooting outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building about two hours earlier.

Those who closely followed the race won’t be surprised to see the inclusion of Johnson’s goals to bring greater civility to City Hall, eradicate corruption, and develop Dallas’ workforce. He delivered those as three prongs of his five-part agenda.

Often as an indictment of his opponent, the term-limited Councilman Scott Griggs, civility and divisiveness became some of Johnson’s biggest talking points on the campaign trail. During one debate, he went so far as to say the tactics of former Councilman Philip Kingston, a Griggs ally, helped motivate his run for Dallas mayor. On Monday, Johnson said he’d be keeping an open door and an open mind, and asked that Council members treat each other “with a spirit of grace, a tone of civility, and we need to be coming from a posture of friendship.”

He said he’d work with that Council to solve the city’s well-documented ethics problems. And on workforce development, which he called his No. 1 priority while campaigning, he brought into focus his plan. He will create a new City Council committee focused on education and workforce needs and appoint a “czar or czarina” with the same aim.

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Politics & Government

Lorraine Birabil Joins the Race for Eric Johnson’s House Seat

| 2 months ago

Lorraine Birabil will run for the Texas House District 100 seat mayor-elect Eric Johnson will soon vacate. The former aide to U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey has worked on campaigns for Beto O’Rourke, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis.

She joins a field that could swell to around a dozen candidates, according to the Dallas Morning News’ political wonk Gromer Jeffers. Birabil announced her candidacy yesterday with a list of endorsers highlighted by Jenkins, Veasey, state Rep. Terry Meza, County Commissioner John Wiley Price, and Oak Cliff advocate Edna Pemberton.

Birabil, who has lived in District 100 for the last 20 years, does have the blemish of an arrest on her record, although it’s a bizarre one. During an incident in 2013, police took her in for reportedly approaching an officer who was arresting her father after she’d been told to stay back. Her father was in a confrontation with two people over catering equipment and pay. Birabil would file a use-of-force complaint against the officers.

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Local News

On Election Night, Eric Johnson Becomes Mayor and Scott Griggs Says Goodbye

| 2 months ago

At Eric Johnson’s election night party, the crowd, like the candidate, took its time. Maybe the group was so confident that they were willing to spend a few more minutes at home or pop over to another candidate’s gathering first. From here, the result seemed like a foregone conclusion. Johnson’s campaign had even printed the phrase “VICTORY PARTY” on the staff and media passes. Regardless, it made for a strange moment when early voting results appeared on the county’s election website at 7 p.m. The party had yet to take off, but Eric Johnson had won.

There were a few slow conversations at the sparsely populated tables inside the Fairmont Hotel’s International Ballroom, in downtown. One gentleman at a table was on his phone, maybe checking the results and maybe not. There had been months of buildup to this moment, with nine candidates, dozens of forums, millions of dollars spent. Johnson emerged with what proved to be an insurmountable lead—a full 7,000 votes up, 16 percentage points.

His opponent, North Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs, hadn’t arrived at his own party when those results were published. His campaign had booked the historic Longhorn Ballroom in the Cedars, a 2,500-person venue that attracted maybe 250 to 300 during the peak of the night. At one point, the power even went out—an ominous sign. There had been hope that Griggs’ message resonated with voters in the month before the runoff election. The candidate courted support from the largest police and fire unions and called public safety his top concern. In May, there were 40 homicides in Dallas, the most in a single month in almost three decades. It became the headline-grabbing topic of the many debates—Griggs calling it a “crisis,” Johnson arguing that the mayor should instead keep a cool head about it.

The two had emerged as very different candidates, with Johnson courting support from the city’s business class. Griggs mostly stayed at the neighborhood level, garnering more donations in the runoff but about $500,000 less than his opponent. When there were nine people vying for your vote, it was tough to tell what set them apart. With two, you saw Griggs the policy wonk, a man who took to forums the depth of knowledge that comes with being a councilman for eight years, doing his best to avoid the alphabet soup of acronyms that sustains city policymakers. Johnson, meanwhile, spoke in broad terms about growing the tax base in southern Dallas and reforming the ethics policies at City Hall, a place where multiple council members had admitted to taking bribes in recent years. Johnson tied Griggs to his allies, namely the hawk-eyed but volatile Councilman Philip Kingston, whose bombast Johnson said was partly why he decided to seek the mayor’s seat in the first place.

Johnson argued that he was the man to bring the city together, that Kingston and Griggs had done more to create an unhelpful us-versus-them atmosphere.

Like in any Dallas municipal election, you are speaking to a narrow slice of registered voters. About 10 percent of the registered voters went to the polls. So true or not, Johnson’s pitch was welcomed by far more. By the end of the night, Johnson had vanquished Griggs by 11 percentage points, and Kingston had been defeated by a man whom he had beaten easily in 2013, the mortgage banker and father of seven David Blewett.

“I saw my city at a turning point,” Johnson said. “At a very, very important juncture in its history where we had a choice to make as to whether or not we were going to double down on division and name calling and lack of decorum and lack of unity of purpose and lack of unity of spirit. Or we were going to change direction?”

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