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Politics & Government

Q&A: Doug Deason, Major Dallas Trump Donor, Talks the Election

| 2 weeks ago

Doug Deason is the president of Deason Capital Services, LLC, but I know him as someone I love to verbally arm wrestle with. We share common ground on criminal justice reform, where he is my hero. But mostly our world views are … not the same. He describes himself as right of center, I’m left of center, but I doubt we would agree on the exact location of center.

He was, and continues to be, involved in the inner workings of the Trump administration. In 2016, he and his father, Darwin, donated $900,000 to the Trump campaign. He has organized fundraisers for Trump across the country and has helped the president prioritize criminal justice reform. So, obviously, I wondered what he thought about the current state of things. Highlights: he believes the president contesting the election is a good thing; that Trump’s greatest legacy will be the criminal justice reform he signed into law with the First Step Act; and that a Biden presidency should not scare anyone. Brantley Hargrove profiled Deason for in May of this year, if you’d like to know more about him.

The interview was edited for length and clarity, but I have a transcript if anyone wants to know Doug’s strategy for fly-fishing in a shallow stream when trout are spawning (don’t worry, he doesn’t hurt the mamas).

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Politics

Explainer: What Does the Election Mean for Healthcare?

| 3 weeks ago

Election Day is here, and several issues hang in the balance. The pandemic has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds throughout the debates, but there are longer-lasting policies at play that could impact the future of our healthcare. Both candidates are all about reducing the unsustainable cost of healthcare in this country, but getting there looks very different.

Much will depend on who wins what election, though most predictions believe Democrats will retain the House of Representatives. If they don’t win the Senate and presidency, there will probably be more of the same kind of stalemate that existed during the Trump and Obama years.

Biden’s plan would embrace something close to a universal payer, with a return of the individual mandate; it would allow undocumented immigrants access to a plan as well. The plan would also give Americans the ability to buy into a Medicare-like health insurance option and expand coverage to low-income earners.

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Politics & Government

Election Day Arrives on the Heels of Historic Early Voting Turnout in North Texas

| 4 weeks ago

In the presidential election four years ago, 770,590 people cast a ballot in Dallas County. In 2020, early voting alone closed with 802,972 votes. (Of those, 70,827 were mailed in.) As with other Texas counties, early voting in Dallas County just about matched total turnout of the entire 2016 presidential election.

Of the 1.4 million registered voters, 57.2 percent have already voted. That’s about 1 percentage point shy of what we saw in the entire 2016 election. If the same percentage share of voters turns out on Election Day as they did in 2016, that would mean a little over 305,000 will vote on the day of. That’s good for a voter turnout of 1.1 million, about 78.8 percent of all registered voters. It will be unprecedented.

That this happened during a pandemic is remarkable, and we owe deep gratitude to all the volunteers who showed up to work the polls over the last three weeks, as well as to those who will work them on Tuesday.

Looking at precinct turnout, just over 32,000 people voted at the American Airlines Center, more than any other polling location in Dallas County. This was the first year the stadium opened its concourse for polling machines, considering there was no hockey or basketball filling the evenings. University Park United Methodist brought out more than 27,000 and Our Redeemer Lutheran, where hundreds of voters snaked through a soccer field, had a little over 25,000.

Tarrant County’s turnout is at 60.2 percent, compared to a total of 62 percent in 2016. Collin County has 69.1 percent, up from 66.4 percent in 2016. Denton is also up: 67.4 percent through early voting compared to 63.9 percent total turnout four years ago.

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Education

Why the Dallas ISD Bond Election Won’t Really Increase Property Taxes

| 1 month ago

A commenter in Leading Off this morning asks an important question: Why do ballots claim that the Dallas ISD bond election represents a vote to increase property taxes while supporters of the bond say it will not?

The short answer is that regardless of the details of this particular bond election, the property tax language is a new blanket requirement of any school bond election that was included in the Texas school finance reform bill that passed during the last legislative session. In a video urging for the passage of the DISD bond, state Rep. Rafael Anchia says that the inclusion of the language in the bill was part of a legislative compromise that helped get the lege’s large school finance bill passed. But even so, is the language correct – is the DISD bond vote a vote to raise taxes?

Well, not really. And here’s why.

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Politics & Government

A Guide to Early Voting in North Texas

| 2 months ago

The polls are open across Dallas-Fort Worth.

From now until October 30, you can vote between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays or from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. If you’re in line by closing time, you’ll be able to vote. Early turnout appears huge across the city: lines immediately wrapped around the University Park United Methodist Church in the Park Cities, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in South Dallas, the Oak Lawn Branch Library, and the Lochwood Branch Library, among many others. A steady stream of voters queued up outside the American Airlines Center, the first time the stadium has served as a polling location. Hundreds of voters at Redeemer Lutheran Church on Park Lane are formed into a serpentine line that has taken over the soccer field.

In Dallas County, there are 61 early voting locations. Head here to find the one nearest you and gauge the wait times. If you’re in Tarrant County, here is a PDF of the 50 early voting locations. For those in Collin County, here is your interactive map of early voting locations. And, finally, here is Denton County’s interactive map.

Three days in, and 173,887 voters have cast their ballot in Dallas County. That’s an increase of about 12,000 over the 2016 election.

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Politics

Mayor Eric Johnson Loses Again As His Budget Priority Flops

| 3 months ago

Mayor Eric Johnson was embarrassed by his colleagues on the City Council last week. This week, it happened again, and the Council went on the offensive.

Last week, the City Council unanimously voted down the mayor’s amendment to order the city manager to cut staff salaries by $6.5 million, freeing up money for infrastructure improvements, among other things. They instead voted to take $7 million from police overtime. After the defeat, Johnson left at lunch and didn’t return to the meeting, which dragged on late into the night. Then he spent the week telling anyone who would listen that he was up against a City Council seeking to “defund the police” instead of the bureaucracy. Johnson went on a tour of local outlets: the Morning News editorial board, conservative talk radio, television news stations, his 35,200 or so Twitter followers, subscribers to his email newsletter.

But the Council refused to let Johnson control the narrative of this budget cycle, refuting the idea that they were defunding the police department. They also sent a message to activists that the current City Council will not adopt sweeping reforms to police funding in next year’s budget.

What they are willing to do is take $7 million from the line item for police overtime — just under a third of its total budget for overtime — and spend it on more civilian positions in the department, adding lighting in neighborhoods that need it, funding infrastructure improvements, and building more bike lanes. Council and the mayor are aligned on what to fund, but not how to fund it.

Johnson instead wanted to direct City Manager T.C. Broadnax to cut $6 million from the salaries of city staffers, leaving the particulars to Broadnax to figure out. (His second attempt was $500,000 less than his first.) His colleagues on Wednesday refused to do so, voting Johnson’s amendment down 13-2.

“Those are city employees who earn right around $60,000 a year; they’re our most vulnerable city employees,” said Councilman Chad West, who represents North Oak Cliff. “My [Housing and Homelessness Solutions] committee assists families who make $60,000 a year and try to live off that and we try to find them affordable housing. This could put many of our employees into that category.”

It’s worth noting that $7 million is pennies in the context of the entire general fund budget, which totals $1.4 billion. The budget for the police department is $514 million, about 40 percent of all the city’s general fund spending. There remains $17 million left for police overtime spending, even with the cuts. Opponents to the mayor noted that, in 2010, the police department spent $12 million in OT when it had hundreds more police officers on the force. They believed cutting salaries of employees could have a far more significant impact on their households than it would the operations of the police.

Cuts will have to come. This year’s budget is balanced. The city got help through federal coronavirus relief funds and a healthier-than-expected commercial property tax roll. But next year, the city’s chief financial officer says she expects a $62 million hole in the budget, mostly a result of cratered sales tax. So if public salaries get cut now, what will it look like when the wound gets even deeper?

Last week was the first set of straw votes to figure out how the Council wanted to change the city manager’s proposed budget, a final version of which will be voted on September 23.

During that meeting, the Council unanimously shot down the mayor’s budget amendment that would’ve ordered the city manager to cut staff salaries by a total of $6.5 million, a progressive cut for employees who made $60,000 or more. Johnson wanted the city manager to take 25 percent from the city’s highest earners. Those who made less received less of a cut; the mayor’s desire for the lower end of staff salaries was a 1 percent cut. He said his plan would affect just 10 percent of City Hall employees.

This is apparently the hill that Johnson will die on during this budget cycle, arguing it is necessary to send a message to the private sector that public employees are sharing in their economic pain.

Council hasn’t agreed.

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Transportation

Dallas City Council Blocks I-345 Soccer Field Proposal

| 3 months ago

It was fitting that the strange saga of Roddrick West’s proposal to develop soccer fields under a stretch of elevated highway downtown ended today in a confusing tangle of parliamentary procedure. The soccer development was mired in political obfuscation from the get-go.

At its Wednesday meeting, the Dallas City Council voted unanimously to deny a resolution that would have seen the city of Dallas relinquish its control over land under I-345 between the downtown Farmers Market and Deep Ellum so West could build a soccer complex. The vote, however, came only after Far North Dallas’ Councilman Lee Kleinman deconstructed the resolution so that the denial wouldn’t affect the development of Carpenter Park downtown as well as the future of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas.

There was no good reason why those other projects were ever tied up with West’s soccer fields in the first place. The idea for locating a soccer complex under the highway first emerged last year when West, who has no previous development experience and is the son of State Senator Royce West, emerged with a deal already in hand. The Texas Department of Transportation would let West’s private company build fields on its land, but first the city would have to amend its Multiple Use Agreement with TxDOT to allow the state to lease the land to the state senator’s son. Dallas city staff supported the deal. The city council and Deep Ellum stakeholders, however, had some questions.

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Arts & Entertainment

Former President George W. Bush To Release Art Book of Immigrant Portraits

| 4 months ago

Preston Hollow resident George W. Bush has been spending much of his retirement, like Winston Churchill, engrossed in the finer art of painting. And while he’s no Bob Ross, Bush has honed a talent for portraiture, though 43’s choice of subject matter often raises more eyebrows than his chiaroscuro. Case in point: his latest batch of paintings engage with the very pressing and politically charged subject of immigration.

Bush is set to release a book of portraits of immigrants (43 of them, of course), and the subject matter is already creating some controversy. Critics point out that the former president is responsible for creating US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the agency that has implemented the current administration’s immigration policy, which led to families and children being detained and separated, often in squalid, inhumane conditions. The authority given to ICE by the Bush administration has allowed the U.S. government to commit some of the most abominable human rights abuses in this nation’s history.

Bush acknowledges that the subject is controversial in an introduction to the new book:

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Local Government

Will the City Manager’s Budget Reflect the Mayor’s Priorities? We Find Out Today.

| 4 months ago

If you have been following City Hall over the past few months, you’ll know that the stress of the pandemic and the ongoing protests against police violence have created some friction between Dallas’ two top officials: Mayor Eric Johnson and City Manager T.C. Broadnax. You can catch up on the passive aggressive war of dueling memos here. Today we will see how that pivotal working relationship may play out over an all-important budgeting season. At a 3 p.m. press conference, the city manager will unveil his 2020-2021 city of Dallas budget.

By way of background, because Dallas has a council-manager form of government (it is the third largest city in the country that hasn’t switched to a so-called strong mayor, or council-mayor, form of government) the city manager is tasked with drawing up the annual budget. The mayor and City Council offered some initial input. Over the coming month, a series of town halls (virtual this year, of course) will be held before a series of council workshops and hearings, and the Council will finally approve the budget on September 23.

This system places a lot of power in the hands of the manager and city staff. After the budget is rolled out, it is difficult to make sweeping changes to it. Council members jostle to get their pet projects into the budget, perhaps with some feedback from the community, but much of budget season can feel more like performance than process. The key is getting your projects into the budget before the manager’s draft.

Last week, the mayor issued a memo laying out what he would like to see in this year’s budget.

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Politics

What the Census Deadline Change Could Mean for Dallas

| 4 months ago

As I mentioned yesterday in Leading Off, the Trump administration decided to end the 2020 United States census four weeks sooner than expected, leaving only six weeks to get the Constitutionally mandated, once-a-decade headcount right. Moving up the deadline, however, basically ensures that the Census Bureau won’t get the count right, and Dallas may stand to be disproportionately affected by the move.

For one, the region is home to the fourth largest population of undocumented immigrants in the nation, and the deadline change will only make it more difficult to track down a population already fearful of being noticed. Secondly, communities of color tend to be undercounted during censuses, and Dallas is a minority-majority city. A severe under count could affect Dallas in many ways. Here’s one: according to a report in the Dallas Observer, a mere 1 percent undercount could cause Dallas County to lose around $40 million a year in funding.

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Controversy

Witch Joins Fight to Banish UNT Young Conservatives of Texas from Campus

| 5 months ago

An effort to ban a conservative group from the University of North Texas has reached for the heavy artillery: magic.

According to social media posts picked up by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news outlet, witches have joined the fight to push-out UNT’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas by casting spells intended to inflict misfortune (if not physical harm) on the leader of a group of what they call “Hex racists.”

Follow that? Me neither. Here’s a quick breakdown of this perfectly 2020 controversy:

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Arts & Entertainment

Dallas Arts Still Can’t Catch Federal Funding Break

| 5 months ago

About a year ago, I wrote about how Dallas arts and cultural organizations struggle to secure funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Looking back over two years of grants, Dallas received around 45 cents in federal arts funding per resident. Compared to a city like Seattle, which received around $3.20 per resident during that same time frame, that’s not good.

The city’s Office of Arts & Culture hoped to mentor more arts groups through the federal endowment’s application process. A year later, however, and things haven’t improved. The latest round of NEA grant funding has been announced, and out of 1,114 recipients, only 54 are in Texas and just four are in Dallas. As Deep Vellum founder Will Evans points out on Twitter, that’s four grants for the arts in the ninth largest city in the country. Yikes.

Why should we care? Well, as I wrote last year, NEA funding not only helps pay for important cultural activity, it is something of a barometer of the health of a local arts community. Cities that receive the lion’s share of NEA funding also tend to have strong sources of local and state funding. Healthy local patronage enables arts organizations to build capacity for long-range planning and foster a depth of development experience that can help craft successful NEA grant applications. The lack of successful NEA grant applications in Dallas is one indication that our local arts ecology is ill.

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