Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Bexar County poll: Biden 52, Trump 35

From the San Antonio Report:

The new Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden with a sizable lead over President Donald Trump among registered Bexar County voters.

Poll results released Tuesday, two weeks before early voting begins, found 52 percent of Bexar County voters support Biden while 35 percent back Trump. In 2016, Bexar County voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by 14 percentage points.

[…]

Pollster David Metz, whose firm conducted the Bexar Facts survey of 619 registered Bexar County voters Sept. 12-21, noted that age, race, and gender – in addition to party affiliation – play roles in determining whom voters support for the presidency. Voters under 50 said they will vote for Biden at a 2-to-1 margin, while 48 percent of voters age 65 and over are voting Trump, with 8 percent of senior citizens undecided.

Sixty-three percent of local voters of color said they supported Biden, and 49 percent of whites said they would vote for Trump. Ten percent of white voters were undecided or indicated support for another candidate. Fourteen percent of voters of color were undecided or indicated another candidate.

Only 27 percent of women said they would vote for Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence. Meanwhile, 64 percent favored Biden, whose running mate is California Sen. Kamala Harris.

The Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll also asked voters about other items on the November ballot, including propositions concerning use of sales tax revenue to fund Pre-K 4 SA, a workforce development initiative, and mass transit.

The latest poll surveyed individuals online and by phone (both landlines and cellphones) in English and Spanish. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level, which is typical of large community polls.

The Bexar Facts website hosts the poll data, which they have annoyingly broken up into a million individual posts about each question, all presented as graphics with text you can see when you hover your mouse over the graph item. For the record, Biden leads Trump 52-35 in Bexar County, with 13% in the “don’t know/no answer” column. As noted, Hillary Clinton won Bexar County 54.2 to 40.8 in 2016, so Biden is ahead of that pace. On a proportional basis, Biden is leading by a bit more than 60-40, though if you allocate the independents (Biden leads 42-30 among indies) that make up nearly all of the “DK/NA” respondents, you get 59-41 for Biden. In 2018, Beto took Bexar County 59.5 to 39.6, so Biden is just a hair behind that pace in this poll. In other words, this is consistent with Biden trailing statewide by two or three points.

There was also a question about the Senate race, and in Bexar County MJ Hegar leads John Cornyn 49-38, again with 13% answering “don’t know” or “no answer”. This is consistent with Hegar lagging Biden by a couple of points statewide, though as we have often discussed, that may be a function of lower name ID, which may come out in the wash when people are presented with the basic partisan choice. I stand by my belief that Hegar probably needs Biden to carry Texas for her to have a chance at winning.

I should note that the poll has some basic demographic subtotals. Biden leads Trump 60-25 among Latino voters, and 96-3 among Black voters. White voters go for Trump by a 49-41 margin, much smaller than his lead has been statewide in other polls. For Hegar, it’s 55-27 among Latinos, 89-7 among Blacks, and 54-39 for Cornyn among whites.

Biden’s margin of victory in Bexar County will have an effect on several key races, including CD21 (Chip Roy beat Joe Kopser in Bexar County 49.9 to 48.3, less than 2000 votes, in 2018), CD23 (Will Hurd beat Gina Ortiz Jones 51.1 to 46.8, but in 2016 he had defeated Pete Gallego 53.5 to 40.9), SD19, SBOE5, and HD121. If Jones in CD23 and Wendy Davis in CD21 can break even in Bexar, I feel pretty good about their chances.

Turner signs cite-and-release order

Good.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday signed an executive order authorizing a new cite-and-release program for the Houston Police Department, aiming to let people accused of certain misdemeanors off with a ticket instead of a trip to jail.

Turner and Chief Art Acevedo also promised to release monthly public updates on its implementation, ensuring the public can review how the policy is applied. The order takes effect 6 a.m. Tuesday.

“The program gives them an opportunity to make changes in their lives and face responsibility for their actions without having the stain of an arrest, or serving jail time, on their record,” Turner said of accused offenders.

[…]

The policy has buy-in from HPD executives, the Houston Police Officers’ Union, and some advocates, who have called it an imperfect step in the right direction.

However, the city’s policy allows for exceptions that some argue are too expansive. The exceptions include if an alleged offender cannot provide a government ID, if there is reason to believe they will not appear in court, and if “an officer believes that offering Cite And Release to an otherwise qualified suspect is not the best course of action.”

In those cases, the officer must get supervisor approval and document the name of that supervisor in his or her offense report.

Those exceptions have given pause to criminal justice advocates who have pushed for a cite-and-release policy for years.

The Right2Justice Coalition, a group that includes many prominent local justice organizations and drafted a model cite-and-release ordinance this summer, wrote an open letter to the mayor last week asking him to strengthen the new policy.

It said the policy, as laid out by HPD, leaves officers with too much discretion and carves out too many exceptions. It is not legally binding and does not include all citation-eligible offenses under state law, the letter said.

Houston’s policy has 16 exceptions, whereas San Marcos has six and Austin has seven, according to the letter.

“We project that their program, as presented, will fail to significantly improve community safety, wellbeing and equity in the city,” the letter said.

See here, here, and here for the background. The detailed reporting is good, as that will let everyone know how this is working. Even better would be a commitment to make changes when the data shows there are opportunities for improvement. I can understand why the activists are still critical, but we’ll see how this goes. We are expecting the task force report in the next couple of days, so we will be continuing this discussion further, and maybe make some more progress as well.

SCOTX hears mail ballot case arguments

Here we are.

Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins’ plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county far exceeds what the state Election Code allows, the attorney general’s office argued before the Texas Supreme Court Wednesday.

In oral arguments before the high court, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said the part of the Election Code requiring clerks to send applications to any registered voters who request them means the distribution of applications is limited to those voters. Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins, he warned, cannot claim powers the Election Code has not expressly granted him.

“If Hollins’s actions are allowed to proceed, it will fundamentally upset the balance of power between states and counties,” Hawkins said. “That conception of power has existed for a century.”

[…]

Susan Hays, a private attorney representing Harris County, said the purpose of the Election Code is to make voting safe and accessible to all registered Texans. Requiring applications to be sent to voters who request them is a minimum requirement, she argued, not a limit.

“A statute that says we have to give an application to someone if they ask doesn’t prohibit implicitly giving it to people because we think it’s a good management practice and we think it will make this election safe,” Hays said.

The eight justices in attendance peppered both attorneys with questions during their 20-minute arguments.

Responding to a question about whether the county’s plan would be out of step with how other parts of the state are handling mail ballots, Hays said all 254 counties should send mail ballot applications to registered voters. In an amicus brief, the Dallas County clerk argued the same.

Justice Eva Guzman asked Hays if Harris County’s plan would create more opportunities for voter fraud. Hays said it would not, noting that each ballot is reviewed by a bipartisan committee to ensure the signatures on the ballot and application match.

Justice Brett Busby asked Hawkins if the state’s position that clerks only have power explicitly granted by state law would bar them from developing new, innovative ways of providing services to customers.

“This is going to have ramifcations outside this case,” Busby said. “How do we tread that line to ensure clerks can continue to do, as they see it, good customer service?”

Hawkins said clerks would be fine so long as they are able to connect every action to a “specific grant of power” from the Legislature.

See here for the previous update. I don’t have any new insights, I still think the state’s arguments are crap, but it’s not up to me. All I ask at this point is a quick decision.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance believes that any SCOTUS nomination made at this time by Donald Trump is illegitimate as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

And straight ticket voting is off again

No surprise, but boy are we all getting whiplash over here.

Texas voters will not be able to select every candidate of a major political party with one punch, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, upholding a 2017 state law that ends the popular practice of straight-ticket voting for this year’s general election.

The Texas Legislature years ago acted to end straight-ticket voting in time for the 2020 presidential contest, but a federal judge earlier this month reinstated the practice, citing complications to the voting process caused by the pandemic.

A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision on Wednesday, ruling that the law ending the one-punch option should go into effect even as voters and election administrators contend with the coronavirus pandemic, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s “emphasis that courts should not alter election rules on the eve of an election.”

“The Texas Legislature passed HB 25 in 2017, and state election officials have planned for this election accordingly. The state election machinery is already well in motion,” the judges wrote. Upholding the law and eliminating straight ticket voting, they wrote, “will minimize confusion among both voters and trained election officials.”

[…]

The opinion, which was not signed, came from a panel of three appointees of George W. Bush: U.S. Circuit Judges Edith Clement, Catharina Haynes and Jennifer Walker Elrod. The court had already paused the lower court’s ruling with a brief administrative stay, but Wednesday’s eight-page decision is a firmer word on the matter.

See here and here for the background. I don’t agree that this ruling would have been disruptive of confusing to voters, who had been used to being able to vote straight ticket, but I thought the original ruling against the plaintiffs was correct, so I’m not going to get too exercised over this. I will say, now that SCOTUS is again on everyone’s mind, that this case is a reminder that many cases get resolved well before they get to SCOTUS, or to SCOTX if we’re talking about state litigation. It’s clear that the courts we have are not going to save us. The route we need to take to fix our ridiculous voting laws is winning enough state elections to pass new and better voting laws. Whatever happens with SCOTUS, we should be plenty of motivated to do that.

Luther and Springer advance to SD30 runoff

By the way, that special election in SD30 to succeed Pat Fallon was on Tuesday, and the two presumed leading contenders were basically tied at the top.

Sen. Pat Fallon

Republicans Shelley Luther and Drew Springer are advancing to a runoff in the special election to replace state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, according to unofficial election returns.

Each was getting about 32% of the vote late Tuesday in the six-way special election, with all polling locations reporting. Luther is the Dallas salon owner who was jailed earlier this year after refusing to close her business due to coronavirus restrictions, and Springer is the state representative from Muenster. The runoff has yet to be scheduled.

The sole Democratic candidate, Jacob Minter, was trailing in third with 21% of the vote. None of the other three candidates broke double digits.

Tensions were already running high between Luther and Springer, and the runoff is poised to be even more contentious. Addressing supporters shortly after 10 p.m. in Aubrey, Luther sought to prepare them for a brutal second round.

“I refuse to act like a politician,” she said. “I refuse to sling personal mud and lies … so when we go to this runoff, no matter how dirty they get, no matter how disgusting they are, we will rise above that because we don’t need to be that way.”

Springer briefly thanked his supporters on social media a short time later. “On to the runoff!” he wrote.

See here for the background. The runoff will be scheduled by Greg Abbott after the vote has been officially cannvassed; my best guess is it will be in early December. The choice, such as it is, is between standard issue conservative Republican Drew Springer and Empower Texans-backed Abbott-bashing loose cannon Shelley Luther. May God have mercy on the souls of everyone who will be subjected to another sixty days or so of advertising in this race.

Interview with Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez

How I proceed with doing candidate interviews can vary from election to election. The last couple of even-year cycles, I’ve focused more on the primaries than the general, because there have been so many highly competitive primaries. Even there, I can’t get to everything, and as I mentioned after the primaries I do try to get back to the candidates I couldn’t cover for March. There was a competitive primary in CD08, the Congressional district that is centered in Montgomery County but which also includes a piece of Harris and a number of rural counties. Elizabeth Hernandez emerged victorious from that primary, and has been someone I’ve wanted to talk to since. An accountant by trade, she graduated high school in Pasadena and now lives in the Woodlands, where she’s doing her part to turn Montgomery a bit more purple, if not blue. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36
Julie Oliver, CD25

CD10 poll: McCaul 45, Siegel 43

One more Congressional district polled.

Mike Siegel

A new internal poll from the Democratic nominee for Texas’ 10th Congressional District, Mike Siegel, showed the race against Rep. Michael McCaul within just two points.

The poll found a narrowing lead for McCaul, who defeated Siegel by four points in 2018. McCaul holds a 45-43 lead over Siegel with just over two weeks remaining before early voting begins, according to the poll.

The poll was conducted Sept. 21-24 by GBAO Strategies, a progressive polling firm in Washington. The results are based on live phone calls to 400 likely voters with a margin of error of 4.9%.

GBAO Strategies conducted a poll for the Siegel campaign in August which showed McCaul leading by seven points, according to a release. That poll was not made public by the campaign.

I’ve not been able to find any poll data for this, which is not unusual for an internal poll whose topline results were released. The Texas Signal reported that the poll also included a Presidential number, and it has Biden tied with Trump in the district, 47-47. Beto topped Ted Cruz by a tenth of a point in CD10 in 2018, so this is consistent with Trump having a small lead in the state. At this point I’ve seen at least one poll result from most of the targeted districts – I’d love to see one from CD02 but have not as yet – and they have tended to tell a consistent story about the state as a whole. The rest is up to us.

Paxton opposes Hotze mandamus to curb early voting

From Reform Austin:

In a brief filed with the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the GOP group suing Gov. Greg Abbott to prevent him from extending early voting for the November election has no standing and has failed to prove any harm.

Conservative activist Steve Hotze and a long list of high-profile Texas Republicans claim Abbott is violating Texas election law and overstepping his authority without first consulting with the Texas Legislature.

Paxton counters that delegation of powers is both necessary and proper in certain circumstances.

“The Legislature properly exercised its delegation power when it enacted the Disaster Act because it contains adequate standards to guide its exercise,” Paxton’s brief reads. “It sets parameters for what constitutes a disaster, provides a standard for how the governor is to declare one, places limits on his emergency powers, and specifies when the disaster ends.”

See here for the background. A copy of the Paxton brief is here. The introduction is worth a read:

To the Honorable Supreme Court of Texas:

Relators direct their petition at the Secretary of State, even though they do not allege that she has undertaken or threatened to undertake any unlawful action. Neither the Governor’s July 27 proclamation (“the Proclamation”) nor the Election Code imposes any ministerial duty on the Secretary. And the provisions of the Election Code concerning early voting are administered by county election officials, not the Secretary of State. Although the Election Code designates the Secretary as Texas’s “chief election officer,” this Court has long held that does not give her generalized enforcement power over every provision of the Election Code. Moreover, the Proclamation independently binds each county’s early-voting clerk, so any mandamus issued against the Secretary would not remedy Relators’ grievances. Indeed, granting the relief Relators seek would have no impact at all—which makes this petition nothing more than a request for an advisory opinion.

Relators’ merits arguments are similarly misguided. They raise multiple constitutional challenges to the Disaster Act, but none is properly before this Court because the Disaster Act delegates no power to the Secretary. And in any event, the Governor’s discretion and authority under the Disaster Act are cabined by reasonable standards, so it is a lawful delegation of legislative power, and the July 27 Proclamation is a proper exercise of that delegated power.

Relators waited two months to file this mandamus petition, yet they ask this Court to “alter the election rules on the eve of an election.” Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., 140 S. Ct. 1205, 1207 (2020). They are not entitled to relief.

Well, now we know where Ken Paxton’s line in the sand is: He’ll value the Governor’s executive power over a challenge to voting rights. Well, he’ll value this Governor’s executive power over a challenge to this Governor’s use of that executive power to enhance voting rights. Good enough for these purposes, I suppose.

Other court documents related to this writ are here. There are now documents available relating to the latest Harris County writ as well, which you can find here. Responses to that are due today at 4 PM. Have I mentioned lately that I will be happy to ease up on all the legal blogging? Please get me past this election, that’s all I ask.

Endorsement watch: Carol and Borris

This is another easy call.

Sen, Carol Alvarado

When Carol Alvarado was elected to represent state Senate District 6 in a special election in 2018, she already had an impressive record under her belt.

After serving on Houston City Council and as the city’s mayor pro tem, she was elected in 2008 to the Texas House of Representatives to represent District 145. She was appointed chair of the Urban Affairs Committee and worked with Republican colleagues to get bills passed, including a 2015 grand jury reform bill that became law.

In her freshman term as a state senator, Alvarado has continued that run.

She co-sponsored 32 bills, 29 of which became law. The legislation ranged from a bill requiring insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms to one that gives every student the option of having an ECG heart screening as part of his or her athletic physical exam.

[…]

Alvarado, 52, whose opponent in the race is Libertarian Timothy Duffield, told the editorial board Medicaid expansion will be her top goal in the 2021 Legislature.

That’s an especially worthy goal during the current economic downturn as thousands lose employer-sponsored insurance. We strongly recommend Alvarado for State Senate District 6.

I think in a year where there are a lot of races to endorse in, it’s all right to skip the ones like this where there’s no major party opponent. But even if you do that, Sen. Alvarado would be an obvious choice. She’s done everything you’d want her to do as your Senator.

This one is a bit more nuanced.

Sen. Borris Miles

Outside the Legislature, state Sen. Borris Miles can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble.

The list of scandals include his indictment (and acquittal) over charges of deadly conduct after he allegedly pulled a gun and threatened the host of a holiday party in 2007, his threatening to “beat up” a plainclothes DPS trooper who was protecting Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2015, reports by the Chronicle in 2016 that he repeatedly failed to disclose his business interests in three companies as state law requires, and a 2017 Daily Beast piece that detailed sexual harassment accusations.

His constituents, first in House District 146 and now in Senate District 13, have found none of these allegations disqualifying, sending Miles back to Austin year after year. They have been rewarded with a solid Democratic lawmaker who represents the interests of a region that cuts across Harris County and includes neighborhoods such as Sunnyside, East End, Greater Fifth Ward and International District.

[…]

His opponent, Republican Milinda Morris, is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist and U.S. Air Force veteran. She opposes abortion rights, and supports unrestricted gun carry and school vouchers. In recommending her in the GOP primary last March, we praised her support for public health and openness to expanding Medicaid.

Based on his troubling pattern of behavior, we believe voters can do better than Miles and have twice endorsed his primary opponents. But in this race, his track record in the Legislature and the fact that his positions are far more in sync with his district than his opponent’s make him the best choice on Election Day.

For what it’s worth, the most recent allegation the Chron cites is from 2017, so perhaps Sen. Miles has been keeping himself out of trouble lately. But maybe it’s just not making the news right now.

One could draw a parallel, in terms of unbecoming behavior, from Sen. Miles to Rep. Briscoe Cain, whom the Chron declined to endorse. Cain is also in sync with his district, as I noted. I would argue that Sen. Miles has an actual record of accomplishment, in the House as well as the Senate, while Rep. Cain is basically a whoopie cushion with a Twitter account (when it hasn’t been suspended for making threats, anyway). Again, though, one might claim that he’s just doing what the people in his district voted for him to do. If one is sympathetic to Rep. Cain’s viewpoint, I can understand how one might conclude that the main difference is that the Chron mostly agrees with Sen. Miles on the issues, and as that is the case that’s why the Chron is mostly endorsing Democrats (these days, anyway). I doubt I could persuade you otherwise.

PPP/TDP: Trump 48, Biden 48

More polls.

A new poll of likely voters found that President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are tied in Texas. The poll, commissioned by the Texas Democratic Party through Public Policy Polling, is the latest reflecting a dead heat race in the state.

Trump and Biden both received 48% support with 4% of respondents undecided.

Trump has led six of the last seven statewide polls in Texas, according to a tracker of 2020 presidential polls compiled by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. Before that, Biden had led five of seven polls.

[…]

The poll also found an underwater approval rating for Trump in Texas, 47-to-48. Trump and Biden will participate in the first 2020 presidential debate on Tuesday.

Polling data is here. They did not include a question about the Senate race, unfortunately. Biden wins 2016 Clinton voters 93-3 and the “Other/Did not vote” contingent 66-25, while Trump carries his voters from 2016 by an 89-8 margin. (The sample reported voting for Trump in 2016 by 50-41.) Biden wins Democrats 88-7, Trump wins Republicans 87-11, and Biden wins independents 54-41. Biden wins Black voters 88-7, Latinos 63-32, and “Other” voters 68-19, while Trump takes white voters 66-32. Voters 18 to 45 go for Biden 56-41, voters 46 to 65 go for Trump 49-47, and voters older than 65 back Trump by a 58-37 margin. None of those data points stand out as being out of whack with other polling.

I should note that the aforementioned poll tracker shows an August 22 PPP poll done for the TDP that had Biden up 48-47. I either missed that one or didn’t get around to it. I have a June 5 PPP/TDP poll that also had a 48-48 tie, which the tracker does not include. For whatever the reason, some polls get Chron/DMN/Trib coverage, while others do not. There is a lot of news out there, I get it.

Along those lines there was a Data for Progress poll from last week that was interesting in a couple of ways.

For this November’s election, Biden trails Trump by 1 point in Texas. Senator John Cornyn maintains a 2-point lead over his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar. In the Senate race, it is notable, however, that a significant block of voters (22 percent) say they’re not yet sure for whom they will vote. In the GCB, Democrats trail by five-points.

In 2022, Texas will hold elections for governor and attorney general. These positions are held by Republicans Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, respectively. Currently, Abbot enjoys a 12-point lead over a generic Democratic challenger. In the 2018 race for attorney general, Democrat Justin Nelson ran against Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, and when we retested this race, we found that Paxton leads Nelson by 4 points. Like with our other 2022 polling, about one in five voters remains unsure for whom they will be voting.

The numbers, which they are only showing in graphical form, are 46-45 for Trump, 40-38 for Cornyn, and 46-41 for the Generic Congressional Ballot (GCB). There was a Data for Progress poll done in early September for the HDCC that had Biden up 48-45, so this isn’t a terrific result when put next to that, but it’s in line with most other polls. DfP also polled Florida (three point lead for Biden) and Arizona (one point lead for Trump, which is better for Trump than other polls).

The 2022 polling is interesting but not worth taking too seriously. Greg Abbott may be leading a generic Democrat 46-34, but he’s very likely not going to have a generic Dem running against him, at least not if all the candles I’ve been lighting for Julian Castro have any effect. Ken Paxton’s 41-37 lead over Justin Nelson makes some sense, but as of today Paxton’s opposition comes in the form of Joe Jaworski, though as that post notes Jaworski is sure to have company in the primary, and it would shock no one if that company includes Justin Nelson. Take this all for pure entertainment value and check with me again in a year or so.

Of course the Fifth Circuit paused the straight ticket voting ruling

Water is wet, the sky is blue, the Fifth Circuit gives Ken Paxton whatever he asks.

Best mugshot ever

A federal appeals court on Monday put a temporary hold on a lower court’s ruling last week that reinstated the practice of straight-ticket voting, again casting into uncertainty whether Texas voters will have the option in the Nov. 3 election to vote for every candidate of a political party with one punch. A final ruling is expected after the court weighs the arguments more thoroughly.

[…]

Early voting is set to start Oct. 13, leaving election administrators little time to make major changes to voting procedures.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo wrote that ending straight-ticket voting would “cause important delays at polling places, place Texan voters at increased risk of catching a deadly virus, and discourage voters, particularly those most vulnerable to the disease or under significant economic pressure, from exercising their rights on election day.”

The three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a momentary pause on that decision Monday while it considers the case. It set quick deadlines for both sides to submit their arguments.

The case was brought by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Democratic groups.

No matter the end result, the litigation has meant hours of chaos for scores of election administrators scrambling to ready their polling places for a Texas election unlike any other.

See here and here for the background. This is what I expected, so I’m not surprised, just appropriately cynical. The court has ordered a briefing to be held on Wednesday, so at least this should be resolved quickly one way or the other. You can see why I suggested we be deliberate about discussing this. Until we get a final ruling for this election, please pour one out for the state’s elections administrators, as they chug Maalox and chain smoke while the courts meddle with their perfectly nice election. The Chron and the Statesman have more.

Hotze’s latest Supreme Court gambit

He has nothing else to do, clearly.

A litigious conservative activist in Houston, the Harris County Republican party, and a number of Republican officials and candidates are asking the Texas Supreme Court to limit in-person and absentee voting options for Harris County voters during the pandemic.

The county, the state’s most populous and a major Democratic stronghold, began letting voters drop off absentee ballots Monday for the Nov. 3 general election at 11 annexes. In line with a directive from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the county also intends to begin in-person early voting Oct. 13.

Prominent activist Steve Hotze, as well as Wendell Champion, a Republican candidate for Congress; Sharon Hemphill, a Republican candidate for judge; and the local GOP chair, are suing to stop that, arguing Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is overreaching the bounds of state election law. They’re asking the state’s highest civil court to order Harris County to not begin early voting until Oct. 19 — the date set by state law that Abbott extended by executive order, citing safety concerns — and not accept absentee ballots delivered in person until Nov. 3.

[…]

The conservative plaintiffs also argue that state law does not allow Hollins to permit voters to drop off their ballots at the 11 sites, a strategy they claim “creates an opportunity ripe for fraud.”

According to the Harris County clerk’s website, voters who complete absentee ballots may drop them off at any of 11 locations during specified hours, including 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the early voting period and on Election Day. Voters can deliver only their own ballots in person, and when they do they must present identification.

As the story notes, this is in addition to the mandamus request to halt the extra week of early voting statewide. I have a hard time imagining even this Supreme Court thinking that the law supports halting the extra week in only one county. The use of County Clerk annexes and locations like NRG Arena as mail ballot dropoff locations has been discussed for weeks and weeks, so you have to wonder why this is just being filed now. (It may be because it wasn’t an issue that could be litigated before now – the legal system can be funny that way.) Hotze of course was also the first to try to stop the sending out of mail ballot applications, for which there should be a SCOTX hearing on Wednesday. The other stuff, I have no idea. There’s nothing to indicate any action from SCOTX on the mandamus to halt the extra week of early voting, but I suppose that could happen out of the blue at any time between now and October 12, so who knows. Hotze is basically Pennywise without the makeup, but that doesn’t mean that SCOTX won’t join him down in the sewer.

Castaneda on the air

More of this, please.

Chrysta Castañeda

Chrysta Castañeda, the Democratic candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, is investing in six figures worth of television ads in the Houston area starting Friday.

Castañeda is facing off against Republican Jim Wright, best known for his campaign’s glaring conflict of interest with his own company, DeWitt Recyclable Products, a company overseen by the same state agency he seeks to help guide.

The ad focuses on wasteful and illegal flaring from oil and gas companies and Castañeda’s promise to put a stop to it. It also mentions some of the violations issued by the Texas Railroad Commission to Wright’s company, and some of the lawsuits that Wright has found himself in.

“Many Texans don’t know a thing about the Railroad Commission, but for the countless Texans who work in the oil and gas industry, it’s probably the elected body with the biggest impact on their lives,” Castañeda said in a prepared statement. “Houston is synonymous with oil and gas, so it’s the ideal place to roll out our first TV ad.”

There’s a video of the ad embedded in the story. Most likely, if you encounter this it will be on a cable station, probably during a sporting event. (That’s when I see political ads the most, anyway.) Polling data has suggested that Castaneda can move the needle with targeted attacks on Wright, but it will take much more of this to have a measurable impact. I’m glad to see it, don’t get me wrong, I’d just like to multiply it by at least ten, so it could get out there beyond Houston. But it’s a start.

Interview with Julie Oliver

Julie Oliver

If the story of the 2018 Congressional elections in Texas was the unprecedented number of serious candidates and their equally unprecedented success at fundraising, the story of 2020 is how many of those Congressional races are seen as credibly winnable by the Democratic challenger. Democratic flips of “only” two seats would be seen as mildly disappointing, while up to ten seats could go blue in a maximal year, based on the polling data available and the interest by national groups and the DCCC. Julie Oliver has been at the forefront of both stories, as the energetic newcomer in 2018 and as the more seasoned candidate with the poll numbers that show how much her CD25 has changed in that time. Oliver is a healthcare professional who has lived the themes of her campaign, as a onetime dropout and teen mother who relied on Medicaid and Pell grants to get her through school and onto a successful career, and who has a son who was born with a pre-existing heart condition. Here’s our conversation:

PREVIOUSLY:

Hank Gilbert, CD01
Rashad Lewis, CD36

Paxton appeals stright ticket voting ruling

Letting no moss grow.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office filed an appeal and motion to stay Saturday following a federal judge’s order to reinstate straight ticket voting ahead of the November general election.

Lawyers representing the Texas Secretary of State argued that U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo erred when she ruled Friday that the elimination of straight ticket voting this year would illegally impede the ability of Texas residents to vote by causing long lines at the polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Attorney General’s office also argued the ruling came too late for elections officials to properly alter ballots.

“Eighteen days before in-person voting begins is insufficient time for election administrators in 254 counties and their vendors to meticulously re-program, re-proof, and re-test thousands of different ballot styles,” state officials wrote in their motion to stay.

[…]

Some county elections officials have issued warnings that Marmolejo’s ruling came too late in the planning process. Marmolejo found that only in-person ballots must have a straight-ticket voting option.

It is not immediately clear how quickly the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will act or when Marmolejo might rule on the motion to stay.

See here for the background. This was of course completely expected, and if the Fifth Circuit doesn’t break records issuing a stay of Judge Marmolejo’s order I’ll be shocked, but here we are for now. Gotta admit, Paxton complaining about the timing after his official support of reinstating Green Party candidates within a week of the supposed deadline for printing absentee ballots is a nice touch. You have to respect the dedication to his craft.

I have to admit, I’m a bit hesitant to even talk about this litigation. I don’t want to start telling people “Hey, it turns out you can vote a straight party ticket like you did before”, only to have to retract that following the inevitable Fifth Circuit action and tell people again that they need to vote in each race. I’d just like to know what the rules are so we can prepare for them. Allowing straight ticket voting again, even at this late hour, isn’t confusing, it’s what people are used to. Not having it isn’t great, but we have a message for that. Taking it away, then giving it back, then taking it away again, that’s what would suck. So for now, don’t go sharing this stuff all over social media. Wait till we know what’s for real first.

The people responded to the call for poll workers

In Harris County, bigtime.

Muhammed Nasrullah was ready to call it quits. After working as an election judge in every Harris County contest since 2004, the COVID-19 pandemic discouraged the 67-year-old retired mechanical engineer from signing up again.

He is in a high-risk age group, and he knew friends who had contracted the virus. Then he began to read news stories about a nationwide shortage of poll workers during the pandemic. And he was worried that delays in the U.S. Postal Service have undermined the public’s trust in mail ballots.

In such a consequential election Nov. 3, with record turnout expected in Harris County, Nasrullah decided he would serve again.

“I convinced myself that the election is so important that I’m willing to take the risk,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing my civic duty, and it’s a good feeling.”

He is one of 11,000 poll workers Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins hopes to recruit this year, twice as many as in 2016. Hollins’ ambitious $27.2 million election plan includes nearly tripling the number of early voting sites and an 8 percent increase in poll locations on Election Day. He needs an army of poll workers to staff them.

The clerk’s office in August launched an aggressive social media campaign to recruit workers, and Hollins recorded a commercial.

By this week, 29,000 applications had arrived.

Rachelle Obakozuwa, polling locations and recruitment manager for the clerk’s office, attributed part of the increased interest to many residents believing the November presidential election is especially important.

“And for another, people really need work because of COVID and a lot of layoffs,” Obakozuwa said. “We’re seeing both equally.”

Pay was also a factor – poll workers are receiving $17 per hour for their work, nearly double the $9 per hour they got in 2016. Decent pay for meaningful work, who knew that would be attractive to so many? They – and we – can thank Diane Trautman for upping their pay.

Fuentes is one of more than 100 student clerks Harris County recruited from Houston-area schools. As they often are more tech-savvy than older workers, Obakozuwa said one of the students’ tasks will be to update the clerk’s wait time app for polling places.

That task will be crucial to ensuring a smooth experience for residents, as the clerk’s office estimates each voter will spend far longer in the booth this year because of the elimination of straight-ticket voting. The hours-long lines to vote at some locations in the March primary election were partly blamed on a failure of poll workers to update the app, leading voters to visit sites that already were crowded.

Under the Texas Election Code, counties do not hire most poll workers directly. Rather, county clerks recruit and train poll workers, who are selected by the Democratic and Republican election judges at each polling site.

The loss of straight ticket voting may turn out not to be a concern, but until the Fifth Circuit speaks, it’s too soon to say. Be that as it may, my first thought when I saw this story was “Gosh, I sure hope other counties are this successful at getting poll workers”. But other counties may not be paying as well, or may not be able to pay as well. That’s an inequity situation if so, because it shouldn’t be the case that voting is easier and more accessible in one place due to financial constraints. This is another thing that could be addressed by the Legislature, by mandating a minimum level of pay and a minimum number of poll workers per location and locations per county, and allocating the money to cover costs above a certain level for each county so they can comply. I’m being overly simplistic here, but the point I’m making is that the state could be doing what Harris County has done this year, which is spend the money necessary to improve access to voting. I think we all know what will be required for that to happen. I’m just saying it’s something we can work to make happen.

Endorsement watch: Ed and Kim

This is an easy call.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Anyone who has been led by personal experience or the events of the past year to conclude that cops are callous and jaded hasn’t meant Ed Gonzalez.

The compassionate approach of this 51-year-old homicide detective-turned-city councilman-turned-sheriff might even win over some in the “defund the police” crowd.

Gonzalez doesn’t just give lip service to criminal justice reform or decriminalizing mental illness health, drug addiction and homelessness. He is enacting policies within the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

“The word defund is not effective,” he says. “We need right-sized policing.”

To him, that means more focus on fighting violent crime and forming a regional task force to reduce drunken-driving deaths.

Elected in 2016, the Democrat brought the long-troubled Harris County Jail into state compliance and later made it the first in the state to address the opioid crisis by offering a drug that helps curb cravings and prevent relapses. He was among the first local officials to support reform of a misdemeanor bail system a federal court deemed unconstitutional.

The sheriff led the way in implementing cite-and-release, a program seeking to reduce the jail population by treating some misdemeanor charges like speeding tickets — that is, with citations rather than arrests.

Gonzalez says conversations are underway about how health providers could respond first to lower-risk calls that don’t require armed deputies. Other programs connect domestic violence survivors with social services and another improves interactions with people with autism.

Basically, Sheriff Gonzalez is doing it right. He’s as clear a choice as there is.

This could have been a more difficult choice.

Kim Ogg

To determine if Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is doing a good job, consider the claims of the opposition she has drawn this election year.

In the Democratic primary, she faced a challenge from the left, with opponents who believed her support for bail and other reforms has been too tepid. In the general election, her Republican opponent complains she’s too soft on law and order.

Neither claim hits the mark. For Ogg, 60, has approached the job of district attorney as she should: making it her priority to ensure a fair process that engenders trust in the system, supporting both reform and law enforcement with eyes open to their potential flaws and pushing back accordingly.

“I believe reform and public safety can mutually exist,” Ogg told the editorial board. “I believe Harris County is safer today because they have an independent district attorney.”

We agree.

There’s certainly room to criticize Ogg on criminal justice reform – Audia Jones and Carvana Cloud tried but didn’t succeed. A similar criticism from the right, based on cost savings and prioritizing violent crime over nonviolent crime – something Ogg herself highlighted in 2016 – would surely have been received favorably by the Chron editorial board. It might even be a general election winner. That’s not the argument that Ogg’s opponent was making, and the board wasn’t buying what she was selling. We’ve seen plenty of crossover votes in the DA race in previous elections – for Ogg in 2016, for Mike Anderson in 2012 – but I don’t expect much of it this year.

Weekend link dump for September 27

We don’t have Election Day, we have Election Season. That’s a good thing, and it’s been a thing for decades now.

“A group of some of the most revered and longest-active environmentalists issued a dire warning to the next generation of activists on Monday: Don’t vote for the Green Party this year. And don’t sit out the election either.”

“Why I Changed My Mind About the Caster Semenya Case”.

“Los Angeles is just one of a number of US cities now plotting a comeback from the pain of the pandemic by tackling another, but longer-term, emergency—the climate crisis. By extending measures to turn streets over to pedestrians and cyclists, bolstering jobs in clean energy or building of new defenses to risks such as flooding, some US cities are attempting a “green recovery” to COVID-19.”

“With all the talk about expanding the Supreme Court and adding new states, why no discussion of adding a couple hundred seats to the House? We did it nearly every decade for 150 years. It’d also make it less likely that the electoral college picks the popular vote loser.”

“The price — and big potential payoff — of turning Texas blue”.

“A Notorious COVID Troll Actually Works for Dr. Fauci’s Agency”. Not anymore, apparently, but still.

“Our top newsrooms need to start producing campaign coverage with a clear, relentless message: that Trump is unfit and democracy is in danger. His constant lying alone is enough to justify taking this approach; it is an affront to journalism’s central mission, of telling the truth.”

The degradation of the CDC, turning the world’s premier public health institution into another propaganda arm, would be the biggest atrocity of the Trump administration, if it weren’t for literally everything else.

RIP, Roy Head, Houston-based R&B singer best known for the 1965 hit “Treat Her Right”.

RIP, Adeline Fagan, a 28-year-old New York native who was completing her second year of residency as an OB-GYN in Houston. She tested positive for COVID-19 in July and had been on a ventilator since mid-August.

Just go read these two posts from Teh Slacktivist about white evangelicals, Q-Anon, and tentacle porn.

And then, if you really want to scare yourself, read this Atlantic article about the looming electoral disaster that awaits us when Donald Trump refuses to concede.

“I thought, ‘It’s funny that you had a rough summer because everyone was calling out all of the allegations of your toxic work environment and now you’re the one suffering?”

“The ongoing pandemic has had weird consequences for both food producers and consumers. Stores have found their shelves bare due to both panic buying and producers cutting back on the variety of items they make, and with stadiums closed peanut farmers have been sitting on a mountain of unsold legumes. Now, thanks to movie theaters largely being closed as well, the same thing is happening to farmers raising corn destined to be popcorn.”

RIP, Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, also well known for his appearance in the movie Brian’s Song.

“Surprise! The ‘real people’ in Trump ad campaign are actually Republican operatives“.

“Even allowing for some variability in the accuracy of the economic modeling and underlying assumptions that drive our analysis, we conclude that Biden’s economic proposals would result in a stronger U.S. economy than Trump’s.”

“Nearly 500 National Security Experts Endorse Biden For President”.

“Every time Trump spouts this kind of garbage, he is revealing that he is TERRIFIED. Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Terrified. His **existential** fear is losing. And he knows that there is a very good chance he is going to lose. And he can’t do a damn thing about it. He will be a LOSER.”

Hey, look, it’s online voter registration!

And they said it couldn’t be done.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

When Jarrod Stringer updated his driver’s license address in 2014, the Texas Department of Public Safety website asked if he wanted to register to vote. He clicked yes and thought he was registered. That fall, when he went to vote in San Antonio, he was denied. According to the system, he had never registered. It was past the registration deadline, so he couldn’t vote.

That kicked off a six-year legal battle that included two lawsuits for the right for Texans to register to vote online while updating their licenses.

“It’s traumatic when you can’t vote,” Stringer said. “It’s implicitly saying, ‘You don’t have a voice. You can’t participate in change.’”

On Wednesday, Stringer won that “mind-boggling” fight with the state of Texas two weeks before the deadline to register to vote in 2020. Acting on a federal judge’s orders, the state updated its online systems to allow people to add their names to the voter rolls when they update their licenses.

While it’s a limited step — the online option is still only available to people updating their licenses — the change marks the first time Texans have been able to register to vote online, which advocates say could significantly increase turnout both this year and for future elections.

Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which brought forward the lawsuits, said the change specifically helps marginalized Texans, who most often move.

“This is absolutely a victory for voting rights for all Texans,” Marziani said. “It’s a particular victory for younger Texans, poorer Texans and Texans of color.”

[…]

Previously, Texans like Stringer who tried to register while using the state’s online license portal were directed to a blank registration form they had to fill out, print and send to their county registrar. The state was forced to change that system after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last month that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application. Garcia had ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Wednesday.

“The Secretary of State and Texas Department of Public Safety are in compliance with the court’s order,” said Kayleigh Date, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, in a statement.

See here for the background. My guess is that the total number of people who will register for this election via this method will be countable on one’s fingers, but that’s not the point. The point, as Marziani rightly says, is that this shows how easily the state of Texas could have done this, and how easily it could be adapted for general purposes as soon as the law allows it. Given the challenges that voter registrars have faced in these COVID times, that’s a big deal. It’s still going to take a Democratic trifecta to happen, but once we get there the rest will be easy. The Chron has more.

October Census deadline restored

Good news, though as with everything we can’t be sure just yet that it’s for real.

A federal judge in California late Thursday blocked the Trump administration from stopping the 2020 Census count next week, saying it should continue until Oct. 31, the date the Census Bureau had planned on before the administration abruptly shortened the count.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction in the case brought by the National Urban League — a group of counties, cities, advocacy groups and individuals — and other groups. Koh had, earlier this month, issued a temporary restraining order to keep the count underway. The case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a hearing Tuesday, Koh had expressed irritation with Justice Department lawyers for missing a deadline she had set for them to produce internal documents connected to the case.

She referred repeatedly to documents finally released over the weekend and Monday in which career bureau officials said the data could not be properly collected and delivered to the president on the government’s new timeline.

See here and here for the background. The Chron lays out what’s at stake locally.

Natalia Cornelio, legal affairs director for [County Commissioner Rodney] Ellis, said at the point Trump yanked back the deadline in early August, only 63 percent of households nationwide and 54 percent in Houston had responded to the census.

Despite those numbers, on Aug. 3, the census director abruptly announced what the court is calling the “re-plan,” which shortened the timeline for households to respond by Sept. 30.

Cornelio said the accuracy of the census count is critical to Harris County’s future.

“Its outcome determines political representation and billions of dollars of funding for healthcare, education, disaster relief, and housing,” she said.

Right now, Harris County is looking at an estimated undercount of 600,000 households, based on data from Civis Analytics, the company the county has partnered with to track its census outreach, she said.

One area likely to suffer from an undercount is the southern portion of the county, a pie-slice-shaped region extending from downtown Houston to Bellaire to League City, according to Steven Romalewski, who maps census data for the Center for Urban Research at CUNY. In that area, 11 percent of the door-knocking has yet to be completed, a feat that would likely would have been impossible with less than a week to spare to the Sept. 30 deadline, he said.

In parts of Fort Bend and Galveston counties, nearly 18 percent of the door-knocking needs to be finished. And in Montgomery County 12 percent of homes have yet to be documented.

Romalewski said the ruling could have a major impact on areas with a relatively low “completion” rate for the door-knocking operation that’s meant to visit every household that has not responded. With more time to complete the process, census enumerators can attempt to visit households more than once and will be likelier to talk with someone in-person or determine that a unit is vacant. The fallback, which census officials consider less accurate, is to to count residents through administrative records.

I have a hard time understanding why any decent person would think this was a good state of affairs. At least we have a chance now to try and get this close to correct. That’s pending the likely appeal to SCOTUS, and who knows what they may do at this point. But at least for now, there’s a chance.

Trib overview of CD24

The focus of this story is mostly on Democrat Candace Valenzuela, as it should be.

Candace Valenzuela

She experienced homelessness at a young age. She worked several odd jobs throughout high school and college to make ends meet. A high school car accident left her with a chronic health condition.

Now she’s running for Congress hoping to flip a red seat blue, and Candace Valenzuela thinks her story as a political outsider who overcame hardships will win over voters.

“My story does resonate,” Valenzuela said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “As soon as my constituents hear my story, it’s incredibly easy for them to relate.”

Seemingly overnight, Valenzuela has become a new face of Democrats’ optimism for 2020. Six months ago, she was an underdog in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 24, a mostly suburban North Texas district that straddles parts of Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Now, she’s being touted as a potential future star — someone who could win a seat long held by U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, a retiring Tea Party Republican, and become the first Black Latina elected to Congress.

That Valenzuela is considered a viable candidate is another sign of the changes in Texas politics that have spurred a wave of Democratic optimism. Until recently, suburban areas like Congressional District 24 had been viewed as weak spots for the Texas Democratic Party. Now those sites are key to Democrats’ big plans for Texas in 2020. All 10 of the congressional districts Democrats hope to flip in the state are at least partially suburban — and the voters in suburban neighborhoods could decide whether the party can truly compete for the state’s Electoral College votes and win control of the Texas House.

“We need to make our Texas delegation look more like the Texans they’re designed to serve,” Valenzuela said. “We’re seeing record participation and engagement, and folks looking at what they want to see out of their representatives. If we see a win here, it’ll be the people stepping up and saying we want someone from our community who’s going to work for the community.”

There’s more, so go read the rest. I’ll be honest, I would have voted for Kim Olson in the CD24 primary based on her strong candidacy for Ag Commissioner in 2018 and her excellent fundraising. Valenzuela started out more slowly in that department but had caught up by the time of the July finance reports, and she prevailed by a convincing margin in the runoff. CD24 was a Beto-majority district, and the early polling is good. It seems very likely to me that Biden will carry CD24 by several points, and Valenzuela’s opponent is a major Trump shill, which should help. I have felt for a long time that not flipping CD24 would be a huge disappointment. I’m excited about the possibility of getting a Rep. Candace Valenzuela.

I should note, by the way, that Valenzuela has some company in the category of “would be the first person of this type elected to Congress from Texas”. (In her case, from the entire country as well.) Sima Ladjevardian and Lulu Seikaly would be the first people of Middle Eastern/North African descent to be elected to Congress from Texas. Sri Kulkarni and Gina Ortiz Jones would be the first Asian-Americans elected to Congress from Texas. We really do have a diverse state. This year we have a unique opportunity to better reflect that diversity in our elected leaders.

A new way to deliver rural Internet access

Pretty cool.

From his 500-acre spread in Paige, just 50 miles east of Austin, Francisco Artes can send an email, check a website or two and conduct a chat session.

But there are some days when streaming video or participating in a teleconference is out of the question. Like a lot of folks with homes and businesses in rural America, Artes struggles with his internet connection – and really, he’s lucky to have one at all.

“We get maybe 1 (megabits per second) uploads, maybe 10-12 (Mbps) downloads,” he said. “It’s really hit or miss whether you’ll have a good Zoom call.”

Artes’ primary internet service uses a form of WiFi, beamed to an 80-foot tower on his land, where he operates a winery and a festival site. He’s supposed to be getting 25 Mbps for both downloads and upload.

Help may soon be on the way. Artes is testing a new kind of internet service being developed by a Houston startup called Skylark Wireless. It turns the unused frequencies normally associated with television stations into internet service, and it’s seen as a real possibility to get high-speed data service to people in rural areas who’ve had to do without for decades.

Known as TV white space technology, or TVWS, it already has sold Artes, who is now able to join those Zoom teleconferences without missing a beat.

“We’ve gotten speeds that at times were mind-boggling for out here in the country,” Artes said, adding he’s getting 30 megabits a second for both download and upload speeds. “We can’t wait we can start using it commercially.”

That could happen as soon as the end of this year or early next, say Skylark co-founders Ryan Guerra and Clayton Shepard. The company, which will license its technology to rural internet service providers, already has customers lined up to deploy it.

[…]

While other companies are using TVWS to do rural broadband internet access, Skylark’s approach is unique. It uses software-enabled radios that can be programmed to run on different frequencies, making the tech less expensive to configure and change as conditions and customer needs warrant.

Guerra, the CEO, and Shepard, the chief technical officer, say the same signals used for television are perfect for getting internet access to people in out-of-the-way places.

“The low frequencies in TV that are occupied by television broadcasters allow (the signal) to go much further and propagate through trees, buildings, materials, very well compared to other bands,” Guerra said. “In rural areas, the main challenge is to provide connectivity to people that are spread so far apart and in such difficult terrain. You have all the same challenges that television broadcasting has already solved: Getting through trees, going long distances, etc.”

That makes the signals that TV uses so valuable that they are referred to as “beachfront spectrum.” The Federal Communications Commission has allowed it to be used for data when it’s not being used for television, for the express purpose of solving the problem of getting internet access to rural areas.

In a city the size of Houston, there are literally dozens of television stations operating on many different channels. But out in the country, there may be only a few that can be received by TVs in any given area. The other channels go unused, which is why they are referred to as “TV white space.”

For example, Shepard said that Francisco Artes’ test setup is receiving internet service on what would normally be channels 53 or 58. Those channels are actually licensed for use in the area, but currently are not occupied. With permission from the holder of the frequencies – in this case, Lowell Feldman, a Skylark investor and CEO of wireless service provider Evolve Cellular – the startup is allowed to test on them.

True “white spaces” are frequencies that are unlicensed, and when Skylark Wireless goes commercial, it will be moving the technology to use those bands. That requires an FCC certification.

There’s more, so read the rest. Skylark is a Houston company with connections to Rice University. As the story notes, there are 21 million Americans (or more, depending on how you do the estimate) that lack broadband Internet access. This approach solves a lot of the technological challenges, which in turn should make it cost-effective. The big cellular companies are looking at this space as well, so perhaps there will be a viable solution soon. Given the need for remote learning and e-commerce these days, that can’t happen soon enough.

Straight ticket voting reinstated (for now)

That was unexpected.

Less than three weeks before early voting begins in Texas, a U.S. district judge has blocked the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting as an option for people who go to the polls this November.

In a ruling issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo cited the coronavirus pandemic, saying the elimination of the voting practice would “cause irreparable injury” to voters “by creating mass lines at the polls and increasing the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19.”

Marmolejo also found that the GOP-backed law would “impose a discriminatory burden” on black and Hispanic voters and “create comparatively less opportunities for these voters to participate in the political process.”

She acknowledged the burden the decision could put on local and state election officials, who will have to recalibrate voting machines or reprint ballots. But she reasoned that the potential harm for those suing, including the Texas Association for Retired Americans, was “outweighed by the inconveniences resulting.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party joined other Democratic groups and candidates in suing the state in March to overturn the law, but Marmolejo dismissed the case. Another suit was then filed, but with the Texas Association for Retired Americans added as plaintiffs and the state party removed. Nonetheless, Democrats celebrated the judge’s order Friday.

“Time and time again Republican leadership has tried to make it harder to vote and time and time again federal courts strike it down,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement after the ruling. “Texas Democrats will have to continue to win at the ballot box to protect the right vote. Until the new Texas majority wipes out these out-of-touch Republicans, Texas Democrats will never stop fighting for Texans in court.”

See here and here for the background. This was a Democracy Docket case, and so they have a copy of the original complaint and the judge’s order. The complaint wasn’t any different the second time around, but the set of plaintiffs was. Beyond that, the main difference was the extent of the pandemic since the original case was dismissed in late June. The judge cites how much worse the spread of the virus has gotten, as well as the difficulties counties had running the primary runoffs in July – fewer voting locations, harder time getting poll workers – as justification for reversing her original dismissal. She also noted the extra time it takes to vote Texas’ long ballots; I’m guessing this opinion was written a few days ago, because that recent Harris County study was not cited.

I presume this will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit before the weekend is out, and I expect they will put a stay on the order pending whatever review they’re going to do. Or maybe not, I don’t know, we’re getting awfully close to “we really need to finalize the ballot and configure the voting machines” time. The judge also noted in the ruling that it would be less confusing to the voters to restore straight ticket voting at this late time than to not have it, since we have not had such an election yet. I think the real danger of confusion is having everyone talk about this ruling for a few days and then have it blocked by the appeals court, but that’s just me. For now, we’ll be voting like it’s 2018 again. For now. The Chron has more.

Trib overview of the Senate race

It really comes down to the top of the ticket. There’s no getting around it.

MJ Hegar

Even before a pandemic struck, protests over racial justice took to the streets and a vacancy opened on the U.S. Supreme Court, this year’s U.S. Senate race was poised to be different from the last one in Texas.

John Cornyn is not as polarizing as Ted Cruz, the thinking went, and MJ Hegar is no Beto O’Rourke.

Add in a wave of news and other high-profile 2020 contests, and Texas voters are getting a much lower-octane race, a far cry from Cruz’s battle royale against O’Rourke and all its theatrics.

But that does not mean this year’s race is lacking in contrast.

As he embarks on the final several weeks of his quest for a fourth term, Cornyn is pitching himself as a “steady hand on the wheel” who has the stature to guide Texas through a turbulent time. Hegar, meanwhile, is happily running to the contrary — as a disruptive change agent who can usher in a new era of federal representation for a changing Texas.

While Hegar’s pitch is broadly similar to what O’Rourke’s was, Cornyn is taking a notably different path than Cruz, a student of base-first politics who believed what he needed most in 2018 was maximum conservative turnout. Instead, Cornyn is running for reelection with more appeals to the political center, often inviting questions — most vocally from Hegar — about whether his rhetoric matches his record.

But in any case, it is a dynamic destined to shape the final several weeks of the top statewide race after the presidential contest.

[…]

At the end of the day, Cornyn’s fate may be tied to Trump more than anyone else come November. Asked about his biggest challenge this November, Cornyn brought up the massive turnout that is expected, largely driven by the polarizing president, and how different it will be from when he was last on the ballot. A total of 4.6 million people participated in the 2014 Senate election, and Cornyn said he likely will have to garner more votes than that alone this fall to win a fourth term.

With Trump dominating the political landscape across the country, Cornyn said he does not “just want to kind of surf the waves of national news cycles” and wants to make a case for himself independent of Trump. The president gave Cornyn an early reelection endorsement, helping to ensure a noncompetitive primary.

Cornyn occasionally offers gentle dissent with the president but has not emphatically broken with him on any major issue in recent memory. When it comes to the November election, he said he would like Trump to talk more about his accomplishments, namely on the economy — and that he has expressed as much to the president.

“To me the real question in this election is: Who do you think is best suited to help rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic?” Cornyn said. “Is it Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? Or is it Donald Trump and Mike Pence? And for me, it’s not even close.”

Beyond policy, though, Hegar has sought to make the race almost as much about character, pitching herself as a stronger avatar of Texas toughness.

In ads, Hegar talks up her military heroism and rides her motorcycle, and on the stump, she has denounced Cornyn as a “spineless, pantywaist, bootlicking ass-kisser.” She defended the approach in the interview, saying it is “important people understand his level of cowardice because I’ve been to D.C.” — to lobby for women in combat — and she has seen firsthand what it takes to overcome adversity there.

I agree with John Cornyn, it will take more than 4.6 million votes to win in November. That’s actually not saying much – even Wayne Christian topped 4.6 million in 2016, with the statewide judicial candidates all exceeding 4.7 million and in some cases 4.8 million. Five million seems like the bare minimum to win, and let’s be honest, that is a bigger leap for Dems to make, since Beto was the first Dem ever to top four million. To that extent, the Presidential race almost certainly helps Dems like Hegar more than it does Republicans like Cornyn. It’s still a big gap to close. The capacity is there, and Dems took a huge leap forward in 2018, but let’s keep the magnitude of the task in mind.

How much this race will be distinguished from the Presidential race is unclear. This is literally the first race on the ballot after the Presidential race, so any concerns about the lack of straight ticket voting should be minimal. I’ve seen maybe one ad for each candidate so far – Lacey Hull and Lizzie Fletcher, neither of whom are on my ballot, have been a much more frequent presence on my teevee. The Beto/Cruz race in 2018 was the top of that ticket, both literally and practically, since the Governor’s race was a much quieter affair. Some people may decide to vote in this race, in particular to split a ticket in this race, based on the campaigns, but my guess is that will be minimal. If Joe Biden wins Texas, MJ Hegar has an excellent chance of beating John Cornyn; if Donald Trump wins Texas, Cornyn will almost certainly get re-elected. I think a Biden/Cornyn combination is slightly more likely than a Trump/Hegar parlay, but how probable either scenario is I have no idea. The main message here is what it’s always been: Vote. Make sure everyone you know votes. It’s as simple as that.

And the PAC12 flip flops, too

Everyone’s playing football again.

The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season beginning Nov. 6, the league announced Thursday.

The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group on Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This has been the result of what we said back in August — that we’d follow the science, follow the data, follow the advice from our medical experts,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, “and that we know how badly our student-athletes want to compete, as student-athletes for the Pac-12, but that we would only do so when we felt that we could do so safely.”

In a release, the Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball can begin Nov. 25 while other winter sports can begin in line with their respective NCAA seasons. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as cross country, soccer and volleyball, will continue to plan for a spring season.

[…]

In August, the Pac-12’s CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible during the fall.

However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide daily tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are expected to be operational in early October.

Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test per week.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports remains our guiding light and number one priority,” Pac-12 CEO group chair and Oregon president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our CEO Group has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decision, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on the evolving information and data related to health and safety.”

The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to change course, and eventually did, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.

After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six Pac-12 schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.

See here for the background, and here for the PAC 12’s statement. No one will be allowed at on campus games until at least January. It does indeed seem inevitable that once the Big Ten came back, the PAC 12 would follow. Now even some non-Power Five conferences are also returning, as the Mountain West Conference made a similar announcement. Just because they’re back doesn’t mean they’ll end up playing all the games they intend to play – just ask the University of Houston, which has had four games against four different opponents get cancelled for COVID reasons. And if you think all this is weird and perhaps ill-advised, just wait till basketball starts.

UPDATE: And the MAC is back, too, meaning that all FBS conferences will be playing some form of a football schedule this fall.

Endorsement watch: Three more for the Lege

In numerical order…

Rep. Jon Rosenthal, HD135:

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

As a political novice Jon E. Rosenthal pulled off one of the biggest upsets of 2018 when he knocked off 12-term Republican Rep. Gary Elkins to win the state House District 135 seat in what turned out to be a big year for Democrats.

The 57-year-old mechanical engineer has since proved to be an able legislator, willing to work across party lines to get things done for his district and the state. He also appears refreshingly free of the conflicts of interest that plagued his predecessor’s time in the state house.

We recommend that voters in this west Harris County district give Rosenthal another term.

[…]

Rosenthal was named Freshman of the Year by the Legislative Study Group, a nonpartisan caucus that “focuses on developing mainstream solutions and advancing sound public policy that benefits all Texans.”

He was a co-author of the bipartisan House Bill 2195, which was signed into law and mandates Texas schools to have refined emergency plans.

Rosenthal said he was especially proud of helping open access roads surrounding the construction of the Texas 6 bridge over U.S. 290 in response to businesses worried about losing customers.

Voters were smart to entrust the seat to Rosenthal and they’d be smart to do it again.

Rep. Rosenthal has some serious Scott Hochberg energy around him, by which I mean he’s really smart, understands complicated technical subjects, and is just a genuine, down-to-earth guy. Swapping him in for Gary Elkins was one of the biggest upgrades the Lege has had in awhile.

Rep. Gene Wu, HD137:

Rep. Gene Wu

State Rep. Gene Wu’s understanding that “budget is policy” will come in handy next year as the pandemic’s strain on the economy will demand creative thinking from lawmakers in finding new sources of revenue and to ensure vital services are protected.

“Education cuts are off limits — period,” Wu told the editorial board. “It took us twenty-something years to even get to this point where we can say education is at least somewhat well-funded. We don’t want to go backward.”

The Democrat’s experience last session as a member of the powerful House appropriations committee is just one more reason why voters in Texas House District 137 should send Wu back to Austin for another term.

“I believe in Texas, I believe in this country and I believe the people deserve to be represented by someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate about making people’s lives better,” Wu says.

[…]

Elected in 2012, the 42-year-old former prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office hit the ground running. He has introduced and fought for a variety of bills, many of them focused on battling human trafficking, juvenile and adult criminal justice reform, and protecting children from abuse, including an overhaul of Child Protective Services that received widespread bipartisan support.

Rep. Wu, whom you should be following on Twitter if you’re not already, is going to be a force to be reckoned with when the Dems have a majority in the House, and even more so when they have more than that. I also get the sense that he will run for something bigger at some point. I could picture him as a candidate for District Attorney, Mayor of Houston, a Congressional district if there’s a clear opportunity after redistricting, or even something statewide, as the tide in Texas continues to turn. And if I’m wrong and he’s still in the House ten years from now, he’ll either be Speaker or a senior member of the Speaker’s leadership team. If I’m still writing this thing ten years from now, you can fact-check me on this.

Akilah Bacy, HD138:

Akilah Bacy

Investing in education, making affordable health care available to more Texans and ensuring big businesses pay their fair share are some of the top priorities for Democrat Akilah Bacy, our choice in the race for Texas House District 138.

The district, which includes Spring Branch and Cypress-Fairbanks, has been represented by Republican Dwayne Bohac since 2003, but changing demographics have turned it into a battleground. Bohac, who kept his seat in 2018 by just 47 votes, is not running again.

Bacy, 35, is a graduate of Texas Tech law school and was an assistant district attorney for Harris County before opening her own firm. She grew up in northwest Houston and understands her community’s strengths and its challenges. Although she is a “solid blue Democrat,” Bacy stressed, if elected, she would legislate for all Texans.

“I am running to make sure that I am a representative who speaks for our district, not just the Democrats, not just the independents, not just the Republicans,” she told the editorial board.

Her opponent, Republican Lacey Hull, testified in Austin for parents who opt out their children from mandatory vaccines and a “parental rights” group she co-founded wants to dismantle Child Protective Services. Despite repeated invitations, she did not meet with the editorial board.

My interview with Akilah Bacy from the primary is here. I think she’ll make a fine State Rep. I get that some Republicans think that the Chron isn’t fair to them in the interview/endorsement process, and if you do think that then there’s no point in talking to them. But I have to say, if you’re anti-vaxx and pro-dismantling CPS, you should feel like a pariah.

NYT/Siena: Trump 46, Biden 43

The second of two polls from yesterday, both of which are interesting in their own way. The NYT story about the poll, which included results from Iowa (Biden leading by3) and Georgia (tied), is behind their firewall, so I’ll give you a tweet summary and then dive into the data, which is available to me. First, the tweet:

The data for all three polls is here, and you can find the Texas results beginning on page 23. I will present the highlights here.

– The first question is about how likely you are to vote. The five responses (not counting Don’t Know/Refused) are Almost Certain, Very Likely, Somewhat Likely, Not Very Likely, and Not Likely At All. Putting aside what distinguishes those labels, every subgroup – including 18 to 29 year olds, Latinos, and any other group you might consider to be lower propensity – was over 90% for Almost Certain plus Very Likely. Democrats were 65% Almost Certain and 32% Very Likely, with Republicans 62% Almost Certain and 34% Very Likely, and Independents 61% Almost Certain and 30% Very Likely. At 91% for the sum of those two categories, Indies were the “least” likely to vote.

– The second question was about how you will vote: In person on Election Day, In person before Election Day (i.e., early in person), and vote by mail. Fifteen percent of voters overall said vote by mail, which is a lot more than what we’re used to, but shouldn’t be a total that will overwhelm local election administrators. For example, in Harris County in 2016, 7.3% of all ballots were mail ballots, so this would be double that as a percentage, slightly more in real terms since there will likely be more total votes. Putting it another way, there were 101K mail ballots in Harris County in 2016, for turnout of just under 1.4 million. If we have 1.5 million votes, and 15% are mail ballots (the “Houston” region subgroup had 14% saying they would vote by mail), that’s 225K mail ballots. I don’t believe that will cause any major problems in processing.

(The Quinnipiac poll had 13% of respondents say they would vote by mail. That poll is a bit goofy as we’ve discussed, but these two numbers largely agree with each other.)

– The two subgroups that say they will vote by mail the most were those 65 and older (33%, and no surprise) and the 18 to 29 year olds (19%), which I’m going to guess will be a slight overestimation in the end. Democrats (16%) planned to vote by mail more than Republicans (12%), but not by much. However, Dems will be voting early overall more than Republicans – 57% early in person plus 16% by mail for Dems, to 51% early in person and 12% by mail for Republicans. If this is accurate, we could have a bit of a “red shift” on Election Day, which is very much what happened in Harris County in 2008 – Dems voted so heavily during the early period that there just weren’t as many left to vote on Election Day. Something to keep an eye on, especially if various Dem hopefuls have an early lead.

– The list of candidates included the Libertarian and Green nominees in the Presidential race, each of which drew one percent, but just the Libertarian in the Senate race; he took four percent. Both questions allowed the respondent to volunteer that they were voting for someone else, but in each case the number for that was zero percent; a couple of subgroups in each reached one percent for Someone Else. In 2016, the “other” candidates received a collective 4.52% of the vote in the Presidential race.

– Biden carried Democrats 91-2, while Trump won Republicans 93-5. Six percent of Democrats said “Don’t know”, with one percent each specifying the Libertarian or Someone Else. Only two percent of Republicans said they didn’t know, and none gave any other answer. Black respondents were at 20% for Don’t Know, and Latinos were at 8; given that Black respondents went for Biden 71-7 and Latinos went for him 57-32, it seems likely that Biden’s overall totals are a bit lower than they will be in the end. Biden also carried indies by a 41-37 margin.

– There were five regions given as subgroups: Austin/San Antonio/South (presumably South Texas), Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Minor, and Rural. No, I don’t know what “Minor” means or how it is distinguished from Rural, nor do I know what specific counties are in the first three groups. Here’s how this shook out:


Candidate    Aus/SA/South   D/FW  Houston  Minor  Rural
=======================================================
Biden                 50%    47%      51%    34%    25%
Trump                 38%    34%      36%    58%    71%
Others                 3%     3%       3%     2%     0%
Don't know             8%    16%      10%     6%     3%

Seems clear where most of the Black and Latino vote is coming from, not that this is a surprise. Given that, these numbers would seem to portend very well for the various legislative and Congressional Democrats in those regions. I wish I knew more about this so I could try to do some kind of comparisons, but I don’t. Sorry.

– The Hegar/Cornyn numbers largely recapitulate the Biden/Trump numbers, with Hegar having slightly softer numbers among Dems and groups that tend to vote Dem than Biden does. She’s 81-6 among Dems (Cornyn is at 84-6 among Republicans), with 2% for others an 11% Don’t Know. Black voters go for her 66-9, but the Libertarian candidate gets six percent with another 18% on Don’t Know. Latino voters are 52-32 for Hegar, with 13% Don’t Know. As I’ve said multiple times, I think this race will closely mirror the Presidential race.

That largely covers it, and for more you can read Nate Cohn’s Twitter thread, in which he adds some thoughts. In particular, talking about the likely voter model, “Texas is a state where turnout is particularly uncertain and the upside is likely on the side of Mr. Biden”.

Quinnipiac: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here we have a new Quinnipiac poll, one of two that came out yesterday, and it’s a bit of a puzzle.

In Texas and Ohio, two states where President Trump won easily in 2016, the president holds a slight lead in Texas and it’s too close to call in Ohio, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University poll of likely voters in both states. These are the first surveys from the Quinnipiac University Poll in both Texas and Ohio to use likely voters and results cannot be compared to prior surveys of registered voters.

“With six weeks to go until Election Day and most minds made up, Ohio could hinge on a sliver of likely voters who signal they may have a change of heart and the four percent who say they are unsure right now who they’ll back. At this point, it’s a toss-up,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow.

“It is close but leaning toward Trump in Texas. There are still a slim number of likely voters who are undecided or on the fence about their choice, which could leave just enough wiggle room for either candidate to take Texas’ many electoral votes,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

MIND MADE UP

In Ohio, 97 percent of likely voters who selected a candidate in the presidential match up say their minds are made up, with 3 percent saying they might change their minds. In Texas, 94 percent say their minds are made up, with 5 percent saying their minds might change.

VOTING IN 2020

In Ohio, 46 percent of likely voters plan on voting in person on Election Day. Thirty-five percent plan on voting by mail/absentee ballot, and 16 percent plan on voting at an early voting location.

In Texas, 47 percent of likely voters plan on voting at an early voting location, 38 percent plan on voting in person, and 13 percent plan on voting by mail/absentee ballots.

TEXAS: BIDEN VS. TRUMP

Likely voters in Texas give President Trump a mixed favorability rating, with 49 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him and 47 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion.

Former Vice President Biden has a negative favorability rating among likely voters in Texas, 41 – 52 percent.

Trump has clear leads in three of five categories among likely voters when asked who would do a better job handling issues:
On handling the economy: Trump 58 percent, Biden 39 percent;
On handling the military: Trump 52 percent, Biden 45 percent;
On keeping your family safe: Trump 52 percent, Biden 44 percent;
On handling the response to the coronavirus: Trump 49 percent, Biden 47 percent;
On handling racial inequality: Biden 50 percent, Trump 45 percent.

TEXAS: TRUMP APPROVALS

Likely voters are divided on the way Trump is handling his job as president, 50 – 48 percent, and are similarly split on his handling of the response to the coronavirus, 49 – 49 percent.

TEXAS: SENATE RACE

In the race for the U.S. Senate where incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn is seeking a fourth term, Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 50 – 42 percent. Eighty-four percent of voters say their minds are made up, while 15 percent say they may change their minds.

Thirty-nine percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Cornyn, 30 percent say unfavorable, and 30 percent say they haven’t heard enough about him. Twenty-nine percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Hegar, 19 percent say unfavorable, and 50 percent say they haven’t heard enough about her.

The Texas crosstabs are here. This is the best poll Trump has had in awhile, the first I can recall where he’s reached fifty percent, and a six-point improvement for him over the July Quinnipiac poll, in which he trailed Biden 45-44.

All of that is straightforward and somewhat ominous for Biden, but a peek under the hood raises some questions about what these numbers mean. To illustrate, let me compare some of the subgroups from this poll to those same groups from that July poll, for which that data is here.


             July    July     Sept    Sept
Group       Biden   Trump    Biden   Trump
==========================================
Men           39%     48%      41%     55%
Women         49%     40%      50%     46%

GOP            6%     89%       6%     91%
Dem           94%      3%      95%      4%
Ind           51%     32%      51%     43%

18-34         46%     32%      56%     42%
35-49         48%     40%      40%     56%
50-64         43%     52%      44%     51%
65+           42%     53%      46%     50%

White men     28%     61%      30%     67%
White women   31%     62%      43%     53%
Black         89%      6%      79%     19%
Latino        53%     29%      51%     43%

Let’s just say, there are some mighty big swings, in both directions. I’m not exactly sure how one could coherently account for all of them. I feel quite confident saying that Donald Trump will not get nearly 20% of the Black vote – every other poll tops him out at nine or ten percent, which I think is a tad high but plausible – and I have no idea how the 35 to 49 contingent could go from being a decent Biden plurality to a significant Trump majority. By the same token, Biden cutting a thirty-one point deficit among white women to ten points seems like a stretch. The most likely explanation in all this is some small sample size weirdness, and as such it’s not worth putting too much energy into trying to figure it all out. It is what it is, and if we’re lucky Quinnipiac will do an October poll, which will either see things revert back to what we have mostly seen before, or present us with more of a puzzle. I don’t know what else to say.

The 2022 election has officially started

And Joe Jaworski is the first candidate out of the box.

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, is not a fan of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican first elected to statewide office in 2014.

“I have always thought the attorney general should be the attorney for the people, not a particular political party or ideology,” he told me Tuesday.

That may sound naive to Texans who’ve followed state politics in recent years. But Jaworski, a Democrat, has a unique vantage point as the grandson of the late Leon Jaworski, the Houston lawyer and one-time Nuremberg prosecutor who gained fame as the second special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal.

Jaworski said his grandfather — “the Colonel,” to family members — put country over party. A Democrat, he became disillusioned with the party after Lyndon Johnson’s administration and voted for Richard Nixon twice. His legal clash with Nixon over Oval Office audio recordings culminated in Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

“Leon Jaworski was always on the right side of history, and that is a meaning that I feel very strongly about,” Joe Jaworski said of his grandfather.

Joe Jaworski announced his own bid for attorney general last week, getting an early start in a bid to unseat Paxton, a Republican, in 2022. Jaworski doesn’t expect to be the only Democrat vying for the job.

But Paxton might as well be on the ballot this cycle, Jaworski argued. Some of Paxton’s peers in statewide office have laid low this election cycle, or focused their efforts on fundraising for downballot GOP candidates. But the attorney general, who continues to fight his own five-year-old indictment for felony securities fraud, has vigorously inserted himself into the political fray.

We are familiar with Paxton’s actions. I met Joe some years ago and did an interview with him for his 2008 race for State Senate in SD11. He’ll be an energetic campaigner and I suspect a decent fundraiser. I’m not surprised that he expects company in the primary – I can imagine 2018 AG candidate Justin Nelson giving it another shot, and there will likely be others out there – but it’s exciting to think about a compelling lineup of primary contests. Lord knows, there will be no shortage of issues to highlight in a race against Ken Paxton, even if he still hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom for his alleged misdeeds by then.

Jaworski’s got a campaign Facebook page up, which I had come across a couple of days ago, before Erica Greider wrote that column. Obviously, what’s happening this November is the top priority, and the legislative session that follows will be next in line. But the 2022 election has a chance to be truly transformative in Texas, and even if you think that’s an overbid, there will surely be a hotly contested effort to take or maintain control of the House, plus all 31 Senate seats will be up. The sooner we can get some quality folks out there for the statewide positions, the better.

The HCDE makeover

One more world to conquer in Harris County.

David Brown

The future looked bleak for Texas’ last remaining county education department in early 2019.

After years of state-level efforts to abolish the Harris County Department of Education, a new majority of trustees signaled they would take a more critical look at the agency’s inner workings and whether it still served the core function of supporting local school districts.

Less than a year later, the entire makeup of the board has changed. Now a 5-2 majority of HCDE supporters oversee the department and its $128 million annual budget, a majority that could grow after the November election.

The two board seats on this year’s ballot — two of the three at-large positions — are held by Republicans Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, the remaining trustees who have been critical of the department in the past. Sumners is seeking re-election, and although Wolfe is not running for his old seat, his father, Bob Wolfe, is.

Sumners’ Democratic opponent is David Brown, an educator who works for Change Happens, a Third Ward-based nonprofit that provides mentoring, drug prevention and other services to low-income youth. Democrat Erica Davis, chief of staff for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, is running against Wolfe. If Brown and Davis capture the two at-large positions, board president Eric Dick — who has opposed efforts to shut down the department — would be the lone remaining Republican trustee.

[…]

Erica Davis

In recent decades, the department has been the subject of frequent criticism of some state and local conservatives who call it an unnecessary bureaucracy that would better serve districts if it were dissolved and its assets were given to local schools.

Republicans who shared that belief gained control of the board after the 2018 midterm elections and were quick to exercise their new role. Former trustee Josh Flynn was named board president during his first meeting in January 2019. Minutes later, the board voted to scrap a contract with a lobbying firm that represented HCDE interests in Austin.

They voted the following month to change the composition of an ancillary board that issues bonds and oversees construction contracts. They asked the board attorney to investigate the department’s Education Foundation, then put an item on two meeting agendas to replace the same attorney with a representative from Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s law firm, an ally of the Republican trustees. The board ultimately kept its original lawyer after the item to remove her was tabled.

Tempers flared between the new majority and those who supported the agency. Trustee Eric Dick, the sole Republican on the board who supported HCDE, frequently exchanged terse words with the new majority, especially former President Flynn and Trustee Michael Wolfe. The tension came to a head after Dick reported that Wolfe had made sexual advances on a woman who had applied to become the board’s secretary, and allegedly attempted to blacklist her among Houston Republican groups after she turned down his advances.

After reviewing a third-party report on the allegations commissioned by the board, trustees voted to censure Wolfe in April 2019, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan launched an investigation into the allegations. Wolfe has denied the allegations, and the county attorney has yet to release any findings.

Ultimately, the board’s Republican majority was short-lived. Former Trustee George Moore resigned after moving out of Harris County in May 2019, and the board later appointed Democrat Amy Hinojosa to replace him. Flynn resigned in December that same year after his eligibility to run for the Texas House was questioned due to his position on the board. The board appointed Democrat Andrea Duhon to take Flynn’s place, firmly shifting the board majority.

“I have to tell you, it seems like it’s working like a well-oiled machine,” Duhon said. “It’s been fabulous not having to worry about someone coming in and trying to tear it all apart.”

Sumners, Bettencourt and other Republicans have blamed Flynn for the shift in power. Though Republicans outnumbered Democrats for most of 2019, Dick sided with the Democrats amid an ongoing feud with the Republican trustees, resulting in a 3-3 deadlock that left the board unable to appoint Moore’s replacement. Moore was barred from voting.

In December, however, Flynn skipped a meeting where trustees were set to appoint his and Moore’s replacements. That allowed Dick and the two Democrats to appoint Hinojosa and Duhon.

See here for some background. I had wondered how it was that a board with a Republican majority managed to appoint two Democrats as replacement for departing Republicans, thus turning a 5-2 GOP majority into a 4-3 Dem majority. Pretty hilarious, if you ask me. It’s only the second time in my memory that the Dems have had a majority on the HCDE Board. A brief history:

2006: All seven members are Republicans, after Dems failed to field a candidate in the Precinct 1 position (the incumbent, who had not drawn a primary challenger, withdrew at the last minute).

2008: 5-2 Republicans after Jim Henley and Debra Kerner win the two At Large positions that were on the ballot, as part of the initial Democratic breakthrough in Harris County. Kerner’s opponent in that election, by the way, was none other than Stan Stanart.

2012: Erica Lee wins the Precinct 1 position, and Diane Trautman wins the third At Large spot, thus giving the Dems a 4-3 advantage.

2014: Republicans take back the two At Large positions they lost in 2008 and go back up by a 5-2 margin on the Board. Michael Wolfe, who had lost in 2012, and Don Sumners are elected.

2016: No change in composition, but Sherrie Matula loses the Precinct 2 race by a whisker. Eric Dick is elected in Precinct 4.

2018: Still no change in composition. Danny Norris succeeds Erica Lee in Precinct 1, Richard Cantu succeeds Diane Trautman in the At Large position, and Josh Flynn defeats Andrea Duhon by less than 2,000 votes for the Precinct 3 spot. While Republicans maintain a 5-2 majority on the Board, they now have a majority of Board members who want to undermine what the Board is doing.

Late 2019, after the filing period for 2020 closes: George Moore (who had defeated Matula by less than 500 votes in 2016) resigns for personal reasons, and Josh Flynn resigns (after a bit of a kerfuffle with the county GOP) to pursue the nomination in HD138 (he would lose the primary). As described above, Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon are appointed, giving the Dems a 4-3 majority again. With the Dems favored to win the two At Large seats back, they would have a 6-1 majority for next year. Hinojosa will be up for election in 2022, and Duhon in 2024.

So there you have it. There have been some attempts in the Lege to curtail the HCDE , and it won’t surprise me if there are bills to that effect filed in this session. Having a Dem House majority would block that. In the meantime, I don’t know what has gotten into Eric Dick, but I approve. Remember to vote in these races, they will be way down at the bottom of the ballot. Any chance you get to vote against Don Sumners, you owe it to yourself to take it.

Hotze and crew appeal to SCOTX to stop the extra week of early voting

Here we go again.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is facing a lawsuit over his extension of early voting for the November election from prominent members of his own party — including state party Chairman Allen West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and members of the Texas Legislature.

In July, Abbott added six days to the early voting period, moving the start date up to Oct. 13 from Oct. 19, citing the coronavirus pandemic. In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday with the state Supreme Court, Abbott’s intra-party critics say the move defied election law that requires early voting to start on the 17th day before the election.

It is the latest legal challenge to Abbott’s emergency powers, which he has wielded aggressively in dealing with the pandemic.

“Governor Abbott seems to have forgotten that the Texas Constitution is not a document that he consults at his convenience,” Jared Woodfill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “It is an uninterrupted charter of governmental structure that limits the Governor Abbott’s ability to act as a king.”

The plaintiffs argue Abbott needs to consult the Legislature before making such decisions and that “if ever a special session was justified, now is the time.”

One of the plaintiffs is Steve Hotze, the Houston conservative activist who has launched several lawsuits against Abbott’s coronavirus response that has seen minimal success so far. But in the latest lawsuit, he is joined by not only West and Miller, but also three state senators and four state representatives, as well as the chairman of the Harris County party, Keith Nielsen, and the Republican National Committeeman from Texas, Robin Armstrong.

West, who took over the state party this summer, has openly expressed disagreement with aspects of Abbott’s coronavirus handling, including his statewide mask mandate and the early voting extension. West seemed to telegraph the lawsuit Tuesday, saying in a statement that he would be partnering with Hotze to make election integrity a “top priority.” West said in the same statement that he opposes the “extension of early voting through the decree of a single executive instead of through the legislative process.”

[…]

In addition to making the early voting period longer for the November election, Abbott gave voters more time to turn in their mail-in ballots in person if they choose to do so. Usually those voters are permitted to submit their ballots to the early voting clerk’s office in person instead of mailing them in — but only while polls are open on Election Day. Abbott’s expanded that option to the entire early voting period.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday additionally seeks to stop the extended period for submitting mail ballots in person, also calling the move inconsistent with the election code.

Before we go on, I should note that what was filed was not a lawsuit but a writ of mandamus. Hotze and a smaller crew of jackals had already filed a lawsuit in Travis County district court about a month ago. I presume this writ was filed because they weren’t going to get a ruling in time, and everything is an emergency as far as Hotze is concerned.

The Chron adds some detail.

In the 40-page petition filed Wednesday, the Republicans wrote that the extension was unlawful because the Texas Election Code defines the early voting periods as “the 17th day before election day … through the fourth day before election day,” and the time for in-person submission of mail-in ballots as “only while the polls are open on election day.” The petition seeks to force Secretary of State Ruth Hughs to stick to the timelines in the law.

Hotze has filed a number of lawsuits aimed at Abbott’s COVID-19 emergency orders; in the early voting suit, he again alleges that Abbott does not have the authority, even during a disaster, to suspend laws through executive order. Instead, he says, Abbott should have convened the Legislature.

“If ever a special session was justified, now is the time,” the petition states. “Abbott’s Executive Orders are unprecedented and have had life and death implications, destroyed small businesses and family’s livelihoods, have had a crippling effect on every single community, and now have the ability to impact local, state and national elections. As long as this Court allows it to occur, one person will continue to unilaterally make these decisions under the guise of an unconstitutional statute.”

The lawmakers involved in the suit are state Sens. Charles Perry, Donna Campbell and Pat Fallon and state Reps. Bill Zedler, Cecil Bell, Jr., Steve Toth and Dan Flynn. Additional relators include former state Reps. Matt Rinaldi, Rick Green and Molly White; Harris County Republican Party Chair Keith Nielson; and several other candidates and Republican group leaders.

This story notes the earlier lawsuit. Of interest is the larger group of legislators that have joined in, which distinguishes this action from earlier Hotze/Woodfill joints. Perhaps the election of Allen West, who is as bananas as Hotze, has lent an imprimatur of establishment approval to this kind of rogue action. That said, this is the Hotze clown car we’re talking about, so of course there’s some unintentional comedy involved:

Never stop never stopping, Stevie.

Anyway. You know my opinion on all this – there are some legitimate questions buried under the mountains of palaver, but they are being asked by the worst possible people. I think there’s a strong case to be made that the very nature of our biennial legislature, which is not paid as an occupation but as a temp gig, makes this claim about calling special sessions impossible. It’s just not something that the system is designed to accommodate. My guess is that SCOTX will give this the same reception as they’ve given all of Hotze’s other writs and motions during the COVID times, but you just never know. And I can’t wait to see how Ken Paxton responds to this.

On a side note, this comes as Steve Toth, yet another froth-at-the-mouth type, officially announced that he is unfriending Abbott, which by itself isn’t that interesting but lends some fuel to the speculation that Abbott is going to get a challenger from the far wingnut right in 2022. All I can say to that is that we damn well better have a good candidate ready and waiting for whoever survives that mud fight.

Let’s not overstate the no-straight-ticket effect

With all due respect, this is some ado about not very much.

With straight-ticket voting no longer an option in 2020, the Harris County Clerk estimates the average resident will spend a significantly longer time in the voting booth this fall, which could cause long lines at polling sites in the state’s most populous county.

In an effort to avoid voting delays, Harris County Clerk Christopher Hollins has nearly tripled the number of early voting sites to 120 and increased Election Day polling places by 8 percent, to 808. The $27.2 million plan, the most expensive election in county history, also includes extended voting hours and drive-through balloting.

Gov. Greg Abbott also has added an extra week of early voting.

With a projected record turnout of as many as 1.7 million voters, the clerk’s office hopes residents vote early or by mail, if eligible, said Benjamin Chou, Hollins’ director of innovation.

“No matter how much we do, I think at the end of the day there will be lines,” Chou said. “It’s just a matter of will we avoid a nightmare scenario by doing as much as we can, by stretching the limits of what we thought was possible even just a few months ago.”

The Legislature abolished straight-ticket voting, effective in 2020, in an effort to ensure residents make informed choices about candidates.

The elimination of that method, combined with a ballot with more than 80 races and limited access to mail ballots have made this year particularly difficult for elections administrators. A stopwatch test by Hollins’ office calculated that a straight-ticket ballot takes two minutes to cast, while selecting a candidate for each individual race in November would take 15 minutes.

Using those estimates and turnout data from 2018, when 76 percent of voters selected a straight ticket, a Houston Chronicle analysis found county voters would spend a combined 187,000 more hours in the voting booth if forced to vote each race individually.

A more likely outcome is that some voters, late for work or family obligations or simply overwhelmed by the length of the ballot, make choices in only the top races, said University of Houston political science Professor Elizabeth Simas.

“The fear would be they go to vote for president, maybe vote for senator, and then they walk out,” Simas said. “And we’re not going to get a large number of votes cast for the races that are much lower down the ballot.”

I will stipulate that going from clicking one button and being done to having to click a button fifty-something times will make your stay in the booth that much longer. (I have no idea where that “ballot with more than 80 races” item comes from. I just checked my own sample ballot, and I counted 54 total races, and that includes a handful of races with just an unopposed Democrat. The non-Presidential ballot is longer, as there are more statewide contests and more local judicial races, but we’re not in 2022 just yet.) There’s no question that it will take voters longer to vote the whole ballot, and if you are the kind of voter who deliberates over every race and carefully chooses a candidate in each, then yes, you could be there for 15 minutes or so.

But here’s the thing: That kind of voter wasn’t the person who had been clicking the straight-party button before now. And I can tell you, from my own personal experience, if your intent is to mostly or entirely vote for just the candidates of your preferred party, then it doesn’t actually take all that long to complete the ballot. I feel pretty confident saying I’ve been in and out of there in five minutes or less.

I don’t want to minimize the problem. It is going to take longer for many people to vote this year. There will very likely be some lines as a result. It’s clear that part if not all of the reason for eliminating straight ticket voting was the belief by Republicans that making it take longer to vote would benefit them. There have been so many stories this cycle in which a Republican candidate or consultant refers to this, as if it’s a key part of their strategy to win in an electorate that does not favor them. Putting aside the fact that I don’t believe “ballot fatigue” is a thing that significantly favors Republicans, I just don’t think the time factor will be that big, either. We have plenty of voting locations, we have six extra days plus a whole lot of hours to vote, and we have a lot more people voting by mail this year. I appreciate that Chris Hollins is thinking about this, but it is not something that will keep me awake at night.

Is the GOP punting CD07?

That’s one possible interpretation of this, though probably not the most likely.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

The National Republican Congressional Committee has canceled about $2 million worth of advertising it had reserved for campaigning in the Houston television market, according to several Democratic and Republican sources tracking Houston media advertising who were not authorized to discuss the issue on the record.

The Houston region is home to several contested congressional elections, including the 7th Congressional District, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Democrat. Fletcher unseated Republican John Culberson in 2018, and she is one of two Democratic incumbents who Republicans have been targeting in Texas this year.

The $2 million was intended to cover advertising in the last two weeks of the election, according to the sources.

One source, a national Republican operative, said the money has been moved to the San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth media markets. The San Antonio market includes parts of Congressional District 23, where Republicans are trying to hold on to a seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The Dallas-Fort Worth market includes multiple districts that Democrats are trying to flip, and one district held by U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, that Republicans are targeting.

[…]

There is other national GOP money coming to the region. A Republican leadership aligned group, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is expected to spend about $6.25 million in Houston between media advertising and a field operation. The group’s television ad campaign is set to begin on Sept. 23.

In the absence of any further evidence, it’s probably best to read this as the NRCC making a strategic decision, which was almost certainly affected by the knowledge that the CLF was still spending big bucks in the Houston area. I can imagine them pulling out of CD07 in favor of other districts, but not if that means that CD22 and CD02 and CD10 were also left on their own. I really don’t think there’s all that much to this story, at least based on what we know now, but if there are further pullbacks then we’ve got something. And it should be noted, that canceling an ad buy now doesn’t mean there can’t be a new ad buy made later, though the rates will likely be higher in that instance. We need more data, that’s the main takeaway here.