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Time for another COVID roundup

Let’s start with some good news, which comes wrapped in a warning.

The number of coronavirus patients crowding hospital wards in the Houston area is now in its sixth week of steady decline, a welcome reversal of the virus’ alarming surge in June and July.

The headcount of COVID-19 patients has fallen by half since its mid-July peak in hospitals affiliated with the seven systems based in the Texas Medical Center. And the number of intensive care patients at those facilities has dropped by a third.

The subsiding wave has merely shifted civic leaders’ concerns, however — and not only because hospital headcounts, new cases, and other metrics remain well above their levels before the spike.

Worried that Houstonians will invite another crisis by concluding it is safe to attend cookouts or crowd onto restaurant patios, public officials and medical leaders are stressing that the best measures of success are not empty intensive care beds but an absence of widespread infections.

“I do worry about people listening to this news and taking it the wrong way, saying, ‘Whew that’s over, now let’s go back to life as normal,’” said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of Harris Health, the county’s public hospital district. “This is not the time.”

[…]

In every case, these metrics suggest the Houston region remains well short of containing the virus. The testing positivity rate, for instance, is about 15 percent in the city and county, and 10 percent among TMC institutions.

What about case counts? Harris County over the last week has averaged more than two and a half times as many daily cases as the 400 it would take to step down from Hidalgo’s top threat level. And the nine-county Houston region is averaging almost nine times as many new daily cases as the TMC goal of 200.

Another of Hidalgo’s metrics calls for the share of intensive care patients who have COVID-19 to not exceed 15 percent; the share of ICU patients in the county who have COVID-19 remains more than double that.

We’re headed in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Stay home. Maintain social distancing. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.

And while case numbers may be coming down, fatality numbers are higher than we’ve counted.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas, the state’s death toll from all causes has soared by thousands above historical averages — a sobering spike that experts say reveals the true toll of the disease.

Between the beginning of the local pandemic and the end of July, 95,000 deaths were reported in Texas, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data. Based on historical mortality records and predictive modeling, government epidemiologists would have expected to see about 82,500 deaths during that time.

The CDC attributed more than 7,100 deaths to COVID-19, but that leaves roughly 5,500 more than expected and with no identified tie to the pandemic. The CDC’s chief of mortality, Dr. Bob Anderson, said these “excess deaths” are likely from a range of pandemic-related problems, including misclassifications because doctors did not initially understand the many ways that COVID-19 affects the circulatory system and results in a stroke or a heart attack.

“It can cause all sorts of havoc in the body,” he said.

The CDC data offers an opaque but important estimate of how deadly the virus has been in Texas, which suffered from testing shortages for weeks as COVID-19 case counts climbed.

“It has shocked me to see people think that there’s overcounts of the COVID deaths, because I can’t even imagine that that’d be the case,” said Mark Hayward, a professor at the University of Texas who studies mortality trends. “The undercount is so dramatic.”

And there is a clear racial disparity in the undercounts. Between March and the end of July, Texas recorded more than 21,000 deaths of Latinos — more than 5,000 higher than epidemiologists predicted. Of those, about 2,100 were attributed to COVID-19. That leaves more than 3,000 deaths in excess of the expected number, many of them in border counties that lack resources for testing.

This is a phenomenon we’ve seen literally around the world. We’ve certainly known that it’s happening in Texas. The expert opinion is that we’ve already passed 200K deaths nationally, or about 25% more than the official count. If you could read one of the names of those 200K dead Americans every second, it would take you over 55 hours, nonstop, to read them all. Think about that for a minute. Or for 55 hours.

Also, too, we still suck at testing.

After plummeting for days, the number of COVID-19 tests reported in Texas suddenly jumped by 124,693 on Thursday, which state health officials said was a result of coding errors and a system upgrade.

Backlogs at a hospital lab and a commercial lab accounted for most of the tests, which could not be added to the state’s official tally until the coding errors had been fixed, said Lara Anton, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Of the 124,000 tests reported on Thursday, approximately 95,000 were from a lab that served several hospitals, Anton said, adding that the lab sent files containing an error in one of the data fields, which DSHS’ electronic system could not read.

DSHS doesn’t know when the tests were actually conducted and is working with local health departments to find out, she said.

[…]

Whether because of human error, shifting benchmarks or bureaucratic changes, it’s not the first time that Texas officials have corrected their data since the beginning of the pandemic. Almost every major data point has come with caveats, sometimes blurring for days the big picture of the pandemic in Texas.

It is what it is. I don’t know what else to say.

Finally, the coin shortage is real, y’all.

Some retailers have started posting signs notifying customers that they might not be able to provide exact change for their purchases, and instead ask for them to pay with a credit or debit card or exact payment.

“It’s not like coins are not there,” said Venky Shankar, professor and director of research at the Center for Retailing Studies in Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. The coins are just being used less as business has slowed and more people stay home.

Another hurdle for coin usage, Shankar said, is the fear that money could carry the novel coronavirus, even though experts don’t know definitively whether cash actually poses a threat.

In order to keep coins circulating, the U.S. Mint has asked people to pay with exact change. “We ask that the American public start spending their coins, depositing them, or exchanging them for currency at financial institutions or taking them to a coin redemption kiosk,” the mint said in a news release. A new task force — the U.S. Coin Task Force — has also been charged with determining how to reinvigorate the supply chain.

[…]

According to Shankar, roughly 45 to 50 percent of sales in smaller stores — places such as convenience stores — are made in cash. But big grocers such as H-E-B, Kroger and Walmart have also faced a shortage of coins.

In response to the shortage, some retailers and restaurants have started to pay or reward customers for their coins.

The U.S. Mint has also increased production from 1.2 billion coins in June to 1.35 billion coins per month for the rest of 2020, according to a Statista review.

But that doesn’t solve everything.

“That still will not unlock the coins that are already in the drawers and the banks,” Shankar said.

Laundromats, which rely heavily on coins to function, are among the businesses directly impacted by the coin shortage.

Yeah, that would suck if no one has any damn quarters. This is a problem all over, and offhand I have no idea what to do about it. I normally like paying for things in cash, but have barely used any since March. This is a teeny tiny reason for saying this, but we live in very strange times.

Do not wait with your mail ballot

You have been warned.

The U.S. Postal Service has warned Texas officials that some ballots cast by mail may not arrive in time to be counted for the November election thanks to certain state deadlines for mail-in ballots being incompatible with its delivery standards.

“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be retuned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the USPS, wrote to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in a letter dated July 30. “As a result, to the extent that the mail is used to transmit ballots to and from voters, there is a significant risk that, at least in certain circumstances, ballots may be requested in a manner that is consistent with your election rules and returned promptly, and yet not be returned in time to be counted.”

It is unclear how many Texas voters may be affected should such delays occur. A spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, which provided The Texas Tribune with a copy of the USPS letter, could not immediately be reached for comment about whether the agency plans to make changes ahead of the election.

Texas was among 40 states, including Florida and Michigan, that received a warning from the USPS over their long-standing deadlines, according to The Washington Post. Six other states and Washington, D.C., received more mild warnings from the Postal Service that said some ballots may be delayed for a smaller group of voters.

You can see a copy of the letter here. This is of course all a part of the larger Trump strategy to suppress votes by destroying the Postal Service. This has to do with the deadline for requesting a mail ballot, which is eleven days before the election, or October 23 this year, according to the SOS calendar. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is very clear that that is way way way too late this year.

So what to do about this, other than hound your elected officials to raise holy hell about this? Well, if you receive a mail ballot application and intend to use it, get that sucker in ASAP. Like, seriously, next day. If at all possible, once you receive and fill out your mail ballot, take it to a dropoff location, wherever your county has them. They can be open all three weeks of early voting, so again, get on it early and take no chances. The rest of you, make a plan to vote in person. I guess the good news for Texas is that the vast majority of us vote in person anyway, so that’s what we need to do the heavy lifting for. But for crying out loud, if you are voting by mail this year, get on it ASAP and either use a dropoff location of send it in right away. There is truly no time to lose. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: From Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins:

“In Harris County, we are expanding voter access to give voters more options to have their voice heard and cast their votes safely. Voting by mail is hands down the safest method to vote this November. I encourage all eligible voters to apply to vote by mail and return their application and ballot as soon as possible to avoid delays.

“Voters concerned with mail delays will be able to drop off their marked ballot in-person at any of the County’s eleven offices and annexes during business hours, beginning whenever they receive their ballots and continuing through Election Day, November 3, at 7:00 PM. This is the first time in Harris County history where voters can drop off their marked ballots during the Early Voting Period to ensure on-time delivery. We encourage eligible voters to use this method of voting to avoid long lines at voting centers.

“The earlier you apply to vote by mail, the faster my office can mail your ballot to you. Don’t hesitate to mail it back to us, but you also have the choice to utilize our drop-off locations to return your ballot directly.”

There will be dropoff locations at some if not all early voting locations as well. You have options. Just don’t wait to use them.

Harris County to buy digital devices for students

An excellent use of CARES money.

Harris County commissioners on Tuesday voted to spend up to $32 million in federal COVID-19 funds on providing hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots and devices to children in school districts across the county.

The funds, provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, will go toward the purchase of more than 200,000 devices, such as Chromebook laptops, and more than 80,000 WiFi hotspots. The county is partnering with the Texas Education Agency and T-Mobile as part of the initiative.

Commissioners stressed that the programs are targeted at low-income students, many of whom attend schools that could hold classes remotely during the fall due to the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott recently said public health authorities could not block schools within their jurisdictions from reopening, though he allowed for certain measures delaying the start of in-person instruction.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis cited a recent study that found about a quarter of Texas students lack the devices needed for at-home instruction, while about a third lack adequate internet access. Among the latter group, two-thirds are Black, Latino or Native American, the study found.

Honestly, this is the sort of thing that should have been done long ago, with the state providing the funds to every school district to ensure that all students everywhere could get online when they needed to. In the absence of that, this will have to do. Good job, Commissioners. A press release about this, with some extra details, from Commissioner Garcia is beneath the fold.

(more…)

College sports roundup

Southland Conference postpones fall sports.

After much deliberation, the Southland Conference has postponed league competition in all of its fall sports with the intent of playing a football season in the spring of 2021 due to concerns over COVID-19.

The Southland will, however, allow teams to play nonconference games if they choose.

Houston Baptist, for example, plans on playing its three scheduled nonconference football games this fall, including at Texas Tech. HBU’s other nonconference opponents are North Texas and Louisiana Tech.

The Huskies also will participate in nonconference games in volleyball and women’s soccer.

[…]

Sam Houston State will not try to play any sports in the fall, but Stephen F. Austin said it would.

HBU will play three opponents (North Texas, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech) who will pay them for the game. That’s one way to mitigate the financial hit for this.

West Coast Conference postpones fall sports.

Keeping in line with many other leagues around the country, the West Coast Conference, which includes BYU, announced Thursday that it has postponed all conference fall competition due to the coronavirus pandemic and is looking at ways to compete in the spring.

The decision was reached by the WCC Presidents’ Council after consulting with the league’s 10 athletic directors and commissioner Gloria Nevarez over the past several weeks.

This move impacts women’s volleyball, soccer, men’s cross-country and women’s cross-country. But it doesn’t affect men’s and women’s basketball, which is scheduled to tip off in November.

The conference “remains fully committed and continues to work closely with campus leadership on plans to ensure a safe environment to conduct the 2020-21 WCC men’s and women’s basketball seasons in the winter,” according to league officials. “The conference intends to explore various models for conducting WCC competition in the fall sports of men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball in the spring of 2021. The WCC strongly supports efforts to encourage the National Collegiate Athletic Association to conduct fall NCAA championships in the spring.”

The WCC includes Gonzaga, so you can understand the desire to play basketball.

Southern Conference postpones fall sports.

VMI will not play Virginia nor any other football team this fall.

The Southern Conference announced Thursday that it is postponing its fall sports season until next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. SoCon presidents voted on the matter Thursday afternoon.

Although SoCon games are moving to the spring, the conference is permitting its teams to still play nonleague games this fall.

But VMI decided not to exercise that option. So the Keydets will not play their scheduled game at UVa on Sept. 11.

“We made the decision, our CEOs did, regarding fall moving to spring, and we support that and believe it’s in the best interest of our cadet athletes to shift things to the [spring],” VMI athletic director Dave Diles said Thursday in a phone interview. “And therefore [VMI] didn’t feel it was the right thing to have any additional parts separated from that decision.”

VMI would have received $375K to play UVa.

Horizon League postpones fall sports.

The Horizon League has canceled sports this fall.

On Thursday afternoon, the league announced it has postponed all competition for fall sports. Among the schools in the Horizon League are Detroit Mercy and Oakland.

In total, 10 sports have been canceled, including men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, baseball, softball, men’s tennis and women’s volleyball.

The league said any decision to move fall sports competition to the spring will be made at a later date. Individual schools will implement their own rules involving team workouts, in accordance with NCAA and state guidelines.

The Horizon League had previously voted to delay the start of the fall sports season until October 1.

Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences postpone fall sports.

There won’t be any sports competitions this fall in either the Big Sky Conference or Western Athletic Conference due to health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both leagues made their announcements Thursday and are looking at the possibility of moving fall competition to the spring. It impacts four Utah colleges: Weber State and Southern Utah in the Big Sky, and Utah Valley and Dixie State in the WAC.

The Big Sky had previously announced it would postpone the league’s conference competition in football this fall, and Thursday’s news confirms there won’t be any nonconference play in any sport. The decision also impacts Big Sky competition in sports like men’s and women’s cross-country, soccer and volleyball that compete for their championships in the fall, as well as those in their nonchampionship portion of the season, including men’s and women’s golf, softball, men’s and women’s tennis.

[…]

The Big Sky punted making a decision on when the league’s winter sports — men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field — could start competition.

The WAC’s fall championship sports impacted include men’s and women’s cross-country, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. The league also said the earliest possible competition date for sports in the nonchampionship portion of their season is Jan. 1, 2021, affecting men’s and women’s golf, baseball, and softball.

The WAC will discuss winter athletics competition at a later date, while saying competition in men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming and diving competition will be postponed through the end of October.

All of these conferences are FCS; the WAC used to be FBS, but dropped football after lots of schools moved to other conferences. Also, FCS school New Mexico State postponed its fall sports, becoming the third independent FCS school to do so, following the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts. They all join the Big 10 and the PAC 12 in sitting it out for now, leaving the fall to the Big 12, SEC, and ACC

I don’t know what other FCS conferences there are out there, but for now at least this is what we’re going to get. I’m still quite skeptical that these three Power 5 conferences, plus the non-P5 FCS schools that are still in, can do this safely, but they’re going to try. And who knows, maybe they can. Sean Pendergast makes the case that the conferences that postponed were the foolish ones.

Regular students are coming back to campus anyway
At many of these schools, particularly in the Big Ten, regular students are actually returning to on campus classes this month. Yes, thousands of kids on campus, left to determine social distances and left for us to trust their masking policies. Football players at those schools will now be spending MORE time near the rest of those students. Also, if the Big Ten schools with student returning to campus are THAT concerned about COVID-19, to where they re canceling football, then why on earth are they bringing students back? It makes no sense.

Players in the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will have better access to testing and medical care
When they ultimately nail down hard and fast protocols, it is widely assumed that the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will obviously have some sort of regular testing for COVID-19. This, along with the access to top notch medical staff and facilities, make the players at those schools the most cared-for college students anywhere when it comes to COVID-19. Between frequent testing, the structure of a football regimen, and great doctors, you could argue the safest students in the country are the football players of the SEC, ACC, and Big XII. I feel for the Big Ten and Pac-12 kids who are now left without testing, and many of them being sent back to their hometowns, where depending on their family’s healthcare coverage, it’s hit or miss as to just how protected they are from the coronavirus.

Athletic departments budgets are about to be plundered, say goodbye to non-revenue sports
It would be naive to ignore the fiscal suicide being committed by the Big Ten and the Pac-12, who stand to lose tens of million of dollars by canceling the 2020 football season, basically out of fear — fear of bad press, fear of future litigation, fear of whatever. It’s why I wanted to establish first that the student-athletes in the conferences PLAYING football are actually safer from COVID-19, so my argument doesn’t appear mercenary. Big Ten schools pocket over $50 million per year from the Big Ten Network ALONE. Athletic departments stand to drown in a sea of red ink approaching nine figures. Non-revenue sports, basically everything that’s not football and basketball, that provide scholarship opportunities for literally thousands of kids, many female and minorities, are going to die under a financial guillotine when this is all said and done.

Playing a spring season is actually MORE dangerous than playing in the fall
Here is perhaps the least logical part of the whole thing — the Big Ten and Pac-12 are reportedly wanting to play in the spring. So this would mean playing a football season, which I’m assuming is a minimum of eight games, starting in, say March. This would run through May. Training camp for the fall season, assuming there’s a COVID vaccine and/or therapeutic medicine, would begin in July. That’s LESS than two months between seasons. Seasons of FOOTBALL. This is beyond malpractice, and far more abusive than any sort of exposure players would have to COVID-19. It seems that everyone wanting to cancel football, stuck in their coronavirus fetal position, conveniently forget that they’ve been watching and enjoying a sport for years that includes the risk of permanent head trauma.

Maybe! I think #3 is a legitimate concern, and #4 is a concern for a different reason, which I’ve seen expressed elsewhere: You’re moving football games from October and November to January and February, which are a lot colder and have more snow. That’s not great for a variety of reasons. Multiple football programs have had COVID outbreaks among their players already, some bigger than others, and I have plenty of doubts that the coaches, ADs, and whoever else is making these decisions has any idea what they’re going to do if a team has a similar outbreak during the season. And Lord help us if they all insist on having fans in attendance. I will readily admit, moving these sports to the spring has its share of risks and downsides. But let’s not underestimate the risk of staying the course.

The Kamala effect

I assume you are all aware that California Sen. Kamala Harris is now the Democratic nominee for Vice President. I didn’t post about that on Wednesday because it was hardly news by the time I published, but there are things to discuss. Pretty much as humidity follows the rain in Houston, we now have several articles about how Harris’ place on the ticket may have an effect on the race in Texas. So let’s take a look and see what we can learn.

From the Trib:

Kamala Harris

“I think Kamala Harris is the perfect choice for the moment,” Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “She’s the perfect pick for Texas and for this entire country. … A lot of us knew her potential and what she could bring.”

In Harris, Texas Democrats see a winning formula — someone who can excite key members of their electorate but who holds positions that won’t alienate the more moderate voters the party is trying to win over with President Donald Trump on the ballot. The party faithful, still energized by former U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected margin of defeat in 2018, think that the mainstream Democratic politics shared by both Biden and Harris will give the state the much-needed boost to flip the state blue. Texas hasn’t nominated a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

[…]

This year the once-reliable Republican stronghold of Texas is approaching swing state status. A June 3 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Trump a 1-percentage-point lead in the state. A July poll by the same university gave Biden a 1 point lead over Trump.

Though Harris’ selection may have eroded any hope for progressives that Biden would choose someone from the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren-led wing, others in the party are hoping Harris can get more suburban women to the polls and can help hone Biden’s pitch to Black voters, a bloc that needs to turn out in strong numbers if Democrats are going to have a chance in the state.

Harris is the daughter of immigrants; her father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India. By picking her, Democrats argue, Biden may have given the party’s most loyal voters a reason — beyond animosity toward Trump — to work for and elect the ticket.

“The Black, Hispanic and South Asian communities have been engaged in the political process for quite a number of years,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. “These communities were largely already there for Biden, but this is going to solidify that support. These communities aren’t just casting votes, but they’re going to get out there and work.”

Along similar lines, here’s the Chron:

“For Texas, there is not a better pick,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist in Houston.

“She has a multicultural background,” Tameez said. “Having someone who can authentically speak to those populations in the suburbs is going to create momentum. Having somebody like that on the ticket automatically jump starts it.”

Political scientists say Democrats are probably right about the boost Harris can provide in the suburbs, even though she may not excite progressives in the state who were crucial to elevating O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign and mobilizing younger voters in general in Texas.

Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants, could be especially effective in areas like Fort Bend County, one of the biggest and fastest growing counties in the state, where more than 28 percent of the population is foreign born and more than 20 percent are Asian-American.

“By selecting someone who isn’t overwhelmingly identified with the most progressive wing of the party, Biden’s pick can technically appeal to both sets of voters — moderate whites and moderate white women who may be considering the Democratic party, and people of color in Texas,” said Joshua Blank, research director at the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project.

Harris also could appeal to minority voters who make up the bulk of the Democrats’ base in Texas — both the Asian-Americans who are driving much of the growth of the state’s suburbs, and with Black women who “have been the base and buckle of the Democratic party,” said Michael O. Adams, a political scientist at Texas Southern University

“There’s a lot of energy there,” Adams said.

[…]

Harris addresses the biggest concern that Democrats had coming out of 2016, when a record 137.5 million Americans voted in the presidential election.

But data from the Pew Research Center shows that while almost every demographic group saw a corresponding boost in turnout, black turnout declined for the first time in 20 years, falling from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016.

In the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania there was a huge drop-off in turnout among women of color who previously voted for President Barack Obama, said Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, a California-based group that has been pushing Democrats to more genuinely address issues of importance to women of color. All three of those states wound up voting for Donald Trump, paving his way to the White House.

“Women of color are one of the largest and most influential Democratic constituencies — and no candidate can win the nomination or the White House without us,” Allison said earlier this year.

In 2019, Allison organized the first She The People rally in Houston at Texas Southern University, an ode to former Houston Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. That event put Harris and other early Democratic contenders for the White House before an audience of mostly women of color in an early test of who could connect with that critical base of voters.

For Harris, it would be one of three stops at Texas Southern University while she tried to build momentum in Texas — a state where her campaign never gained traction despite those early forays into Houston.

Still those trips illustrated Harris’ ties to historically Black colleges and universities. Harris is a graduate of Howard University and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a Black sorority with 300,000 members and more than 1,000 local chapters.

“Things like this resonate well in the Black community and the Black electorate,” said Adams at TSU.

A lot of opinions, but not a lot of data. It’s really hard to say what the actual effect of Kamala Harris as the VP candidate as opposed to any of the other possible candidates may be. She has her strengths and her drawbacks, but overall and in many ways looks to be a big positive for the ticket. The main job of any VP nominee is to first do no harm, and then from there to be the most effective voice for the Presidential nominee that one can be. I appreciated the insights that Morgan State poli sci professor Jason Johnson gave in this episode of the What Next podcast. I tend to agree with the position that Donald Trump will have the biggest effect on the election, because the election is entirely about Donald Trump. I think Harris advances the argument that a vote for Biden (now Biden/Harris) is a vote to restore sanity and stability in America, and I’m confident she will be an outstanding campaigner. That’ll play just fine in Texas.

There is another factor to consider.

On a quiet street in Bellaire, the Sinha sisters, in seventh and fifth grade, already know all about the historic nomination of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Vice President on the Democratic ticket.

“I think that Kamala Harris has inspired young women like me that we can do anything we put our minds to,” 10-year-old Anisa Sinha said.

“Kamala, she comes from a culture that really celebrates the strength of powerful women,” said older sister Reva, who is heading into seventh grade. “I just feel like she helps me and other young women feel seen and heard.”

The girls’ parents smile with pride hearing those words from their daughters. As Indian Americans, the fact that a child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants is nominated for the second highest office in the country is a point of pride.

“I think the intersection of her being Black and Asian is really important,” said Pranika, the girls’ mother. “Not only is she a woman of color, but the fact that she is representing two populations that are historically underrepresented in politics is really important. My great aunt’s name is Kamala, so I identify with that as well.”

Meanwhile, Judge R.K. Sandill, the first civil district judge of South Asian descent elected in Texas, shares the same sense of hope.

“If my Twitter and Facebook feed is any indication, the South Asian community is pumped,” he said. “We’ve been huge (monetary) contributors to both parties for a long time. But now that we’re on a track to engage, not just with activists, but also for our kids.”

Sandill remembers when he first ran for office 13 years ago, South Asian candidates were almost unheard of in Texas. Now, there are several other judges from his community, and the Fort Bend County Judge, K.P. George, is Indian American.

Harris’ background could increase voter turnout in November, and could possibly make a difference in a few tight races down the ballot.

“In a diverse state like Texas, she brings a lot to the table,” political consultant Keir Murray said. “Texas has more Black voters than any state in America, more than 1.5 million. And she’s South Asian, and the Asian American population is the fastest growing and most politically dynamic in Texas.”

In fact, as Michael Li notes, Texas is home to over 700K Asian voters, more than double what any other battleground state has. Asian-Americans voted strongly Democratic in 2018, so if there is a boost in turnout with them thanks to Kamala Harris, that will be a benefit as well. That might be a good topic for some political scientists to look into, now and after the election once the voting results are in. We know she has a lot of strengths as a candidate. Now we look forward to seeing her use them.

Now we’re getting favorable State House polls

From the inbox:

Natali Hurtado

A recent poll of Texas House District 126, conducted for Democratic challenger Natali Hurtado’s campaign shows her essentially tied with Republican incumbent Sam Harless.

The poll of 401 likely voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, showed Hurtado trailing Harless by just a few points on the initial ballot test, within the poll’s 4.9% margin of error. After hearing balanced positive and negative messages about both candidates, Hurtado pulls to a dead heat, 47-47 percent.

The poll shows Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by just one point, 48-47 percent, in a district he won by 10 points in 2016.

“I am very encouraged by the results of this poll,” Hurtado said. “It shows that less than three months out from the election, we are surging and well positioned for victory on November 3rd.”

You can see a copy of the press release here. I have no further information about the poll, so make of it what you will. I do have a point to add, but first, have a look at this:

Click over to see further data on how the districts have shifted since 2012. The source for this tweet was these three tweets from Trib reporter Patrick Svitek. In those polls, Celina Montoya leads 49-42 in HD121, Brandy Chambers leads in HD112 48-46, and Joanna Cattanach leads in HD108 48-43.

Beto won all three districts in 2018, HD108 by 15, HD112 by ten, and HD121 by less than one. He lost HD126 by six points, while Trump carried it by ten. Other Republicans were winning it by twenty. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Joe Biden is trailing him by one point there, that’s yet another clear sign we have a statewide tossup.

Later on, after I first drafted this post, we got this in the inbox as well:

Ann Johnson, the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 134 is already posting a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Sarah Davis, according to a new poll released today by the Johnson campaign.

The poll of likely voters was conducted by nationally acclaimed pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. A memo by Lake Research Partners can be downloaded here: www.AnnJohnson.com/poll.

It shows Johnson with 44 percent of votes and Davis with 42 percent of votes, with 13 percent of votes undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent. Only 27 percent of voters say they plan to re-elect Davis, “one of the lowest ‘hard re-elect’ ratings we have seen this cycle,” according to Lake Research.

There is of course a Patrick Svitek tweet for this as well. The Biden number is 57-39 over Trump; it was 55-40 for Clinton over Trump in 2016, and 60-39 for Beto over Cruz in 2018. Facing an opponent with money and a real campaign with that backdrop, it’s hard to see how Sarah Davis survives.

You know the drill with internal polls, and with polls where the questions and detailed data are not made public. You also know that the Republicans are free to release their own polls, if they have any worth releasing. I’m happy to keep reporting these as long as they keep coming in.

Harris County to join TDP lawsuit over vote by mail

They do lots of stuff at Commissioners Court.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted on Tuesday to join a lawsuit by Texas Democrats suing Gov. Greg Abbott to expand vote-by-mail in Texas.

The Democratic-led commissioners court voted 3-2 to join the lawsuit. The litigation seeks to allow all Texas voters to cast a mail-in ballot during the pandemic, arguing that absentee ballot restrictions in Texas violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution. Texas Democrats filed the suit against Abbott and the Texas Secretary of State in April.

[…]

Democrats attempted to leapfrog over the appeals court by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene before the July primary runoff elections, but the justices declined to do so until a decision by the lower appeals court was reached. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to revisit the case sometime this month.

See here for the most recent update that I have, and here for a tweet from Chron reporter Jasper Scherer, which is the only other place I’ve seen this noted. It’s unclear to me what difference it makes from a practical perspective for Harris County to join in, but from a political and symbolic perspective it means a lot. Let’s do hope we hear something from the Fifth Circuit soon.

Hurricane season is just getting started

Just, you know, because we don’t have enough to be anxious about.

Already smashing records, this year’s hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season is about to get even nastier, forecasters predict. In the coming months, they expect to run out of traditional hurricane names and see about twice as much storm activity as a normal year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday upped its seasonal forecast, now predicting a far-above-average 19 to 25 named storms — seven to 11 of them to become hurricanes and three to six of those to become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph). That’s a few more storms than the agency’s May forecast. The agency increased the chance of an above average hurricane season from 60% to 85%.

“It looks like this season could be one of the more active in the historical record,” but it’s unlikely to be beat 2005’s 28 named storms because the oceans were warmer and other conditions were more conducive to storm formation 15 years ago, said NOAA lead forecaster Gerry Bell.

This year’s forecast of up to 25 is the highest number NOAA has ever predicted, beating the 21 predicted for 2005, Bell said.

Colorado State University, which pioneered hurricane season forecasts decades ago, on Wednesday amped its forecast to 24 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes — all higher than their June forecast.

[…]

An average year, based on 1981 to 2010 data, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Lead Colorado State forecaster Phil Klotzbach said all the factors that cause hurricane seasons to be busy are dialed up, including increased storminess in Africa that seeds the biggest hurricanes, warmer water that fuels storms and reduced high level winds that kill storms.

In a normal year, about 90% of storm activity comes after August 6, with mid-August to mid-October as peak season. So far this year, there have been nine named storms, with most setting a record for being early. The most destructive so far has been this month’s Hurricane Isaias which killed at least nine people and left millions of people without power.

“Nine storms to this date is crazy,” Klotzbach said. Since 1995, when the Atlantic started a more active period for hurricanes, the average season has seen 12 named storms forming after August 5, he said.

The number of storms don’t matter as much as where they go, MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said, noting the busy 2010 hurricane season that barely touched the United States.

While the predictions are about the number of storms and don’t say where they strike, Klotzbach’s forecast says more storms increases the chance of another U.S. landfall. It says there’s a 74% chance that yet another storm will hit the U.S. coastline somewhere, with a 49% chance of a hit on the East Coast and Florida peninsula and a 48% chance of a hit on the Gulf Coast.

Most of this year’s storms so far have been weak, decapitated by high level winds and dry air, but Klotzbach said that’s about to change.

Sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic are nearly 2 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal. That not only provides more fuel for storms but changes air pressure and winds to make favorable conditions for storms to form and strengthen, he said.

You can see the NOAA’s release here. Just a reminder, 2005 was the fun year that brought us Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, among others. As noted, it’s not the number of hurricanes but where they go and what they do that really matters. Then again, the more hurricanes there are, the greater the chances that one will come your way. Who feels any confidence in Donald Trump’s FEMA to respond when that happens? Yeah. Stock up on supplies, have an evacuation plan just in case, and hope like hell these storms mostly blow out at sea.

We don’t need a vote to expand Medicaid

There’s a fundamental truth that needs to be addressed in this.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On Tuesday, Missouri became the 38th state to expand Medicaid, opening healthcare to over 230,000 Missourians. It joins a lengthy list of GOP-led states in expanding healthcare, including Nebraska, Utah, and Oklahoma. Meanwhile in Texas we still lead the country in the number of uninsured and, since the COVID-19, pandemic another 650,000 have lost their health insurance.

The ballot initiative to expand Medicaid passed in Missouri by 53 percent, with several suburban counties in St. Louis and Kansas City voting overwhelmingly for the measure. The governor of Missouri, a staunch conservative, actually added the ballot initiative to the August primary ballot instead of November’s presidential ballot, hoping a smaller turnout would defeat the measure.

Clearly, the voters of Missouri felt expanding Medicaid was important for their state. The vote also comes as the Trump administration continues its effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, potentially kicking 20 million Americans off their health care and denying preexisting conditions coverage to over 120 million. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton support ending the ACA.

Texas has been in a health crisis for a long time, well after the state decided not to expand Medicaid through the ACA. According to a report from 2018, over 17 percent of Texas residents lacked health coverage. That’s about 5 million Texans without access to health care.

With COVID-19, that health crisis has only exacerbated. While cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have gone down in parts of the state, those numbers will likely rise precipitously as schools open. Over 7,000 Texans have died from the coronavirus. Many hospitals, particularly rural ones, are overwhelmed. The health care status quo has never felt so dangerous and untenable.

So will Texas ever get a chance to vote on expanding Medicaid? According to Republican lawmakers in the state, that would be a “no.” Rep. Celia Israel commented on Twitter that she and Rep. John Bucy sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would allow voters to “weigh in and expand Medicaid,” but that it never got a hearing.

[…]

If Texans do get a chance to vote on expanding Medicaid, it will surely be opposed by Republicans statewide and in the legislature. If history is any guide, however, improving health care will transcend partisan lines.

The people of Missouri voted on the question of expanding Medicaid because the state of Missouri allows for laws to be enacted by referendum. In other words, in the state of Missouri and a number of others, you can collect petition signatures to put a proposed law up for a vote by the people, which is then enacted if it passes. Different states have different rules for this, but that’s the basic idea. The city of Houston allows for charter amendments to be put up for a vote via the petition process, which is always a fun thing to endure. For better or worse, the state of Texas does not allow for this.

The key thing to understand here is that the folks who pushed Medicaid expansion in Missouri via referendum did so for the explicit purpose of bypassing Missouri’s legislature and governor, both of which opposed Medicaid expansion. Most states early on passed Medicaid expansion via their legislatures, including some Republican states, but in recent years most of the action has come via the ballot box, in states like Idaho and Nebraska and Oklahoma. The key ingredients there were a combination of legislators and governors that opposed expanding Medicaid, and a petition process that allowed for the legislative process to be circumvented.

So if you’ve wondered why if those states can vote to expand Medicaid why can’t Texas, the answer is because the law doesn’t allow for it. It can only be done via the Legislature. Indeed, bills to do some form of Medicaid expansion have been proposed but have not gotten anywhere. The reason for that of course is intransigent Republican opposition, but guess what: The Democrats have a shot at taking the majority in the State House this year (as you may have heard), which would overcome one of those obstacles. We’d still need to take the Senate and elect a new Governor to finish the job, but at the very least the House could pass a Medicaid expansion bill, or put something for it in the budget, and dare the Senate and Greg Abbott to oppose it. I for one would be fine with having the 2022 Governor’s race be defined in large part by expanding Medicaid (in addition to, you know, COVID-19 response).

If that’s the case, then what was Rep. Israel tweeting about? Very simply, it was a political move to try to force the issue in a slightly different way. What Reps. Israel and Bucy proposed was a Constitutional amendment, which is something that the voters have to approve, which would have expanded Medicaid. Why propose a Constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, instead of a regular old bill that needs only a simple majority? Three reasons: One, constitutional amendments do not need the governor’s approval, so it would go to the voters regardless of what Greg Abbott wanted. Two, it offered Republican legislators who opposed Medicaid expansion but might have felt the need to do something a way out, as in “just vote to let the people decide, and we’ll never bother you about it again”. And three, constitutional amendments can only be changed or repealed by subsequent constitutional amendments, with their two-thirds-majority requirements, thus protecting Medicaid expansion via this avenue from the whims of a future Republican legislature.

The point is, though, we don’t need to vote to expand Medicaid. At least, we don’t need to vote on a ballot proposition to do it. We just need to vote for a Legislature and a Governor who are willing to do it. We’re a lot closer to that than we’ve ever been, and we’re closer to it than states like Missouri and Idaho and Nebraska and Oklahoma had any hope of being. The votes we need to expand Medicaid are this November, and November of 2022. Those are the prizes to keep your eyes on.

Harris County issues guidance for opening schools

They can’t issue mandates, so this will have to do.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday unveiled the county’s guidance for school reopenings, recommending based on a handful of COVID-19 metrics that schools offer only virtual instruction in the coming weeks until the virus is further curbed.

County officials are issuing the guidance as families and education officials continue to grapple with the idea of resuming in-person classes in the coming weeks, and after Gov. Greg Abbott barred local officials from ordering campus shutdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the non-binding guidance, Hidalgo and county health officials recommended that school districts offer only virtual instruction as long as Harris County, across a 14-day span, records more than 400 new COVID-19 cases per day, remains above a 5 percent test positivity rate or continues to devote more than 15 percent of hospital beds to COVID-19 patients.

School districts are advised to reopen with reduced capacity as those metrics improve and Harris County hospitals see a 14-day average flattening or decrease in their general and intensive care unit bed populations. At that point, school officials can consult with Harris County Public Health officials on their plans to reopen.

“We simply cannot responsibly reopen schools to in-person instruction right now,” Hidalgo said, acknowledging the frustration of parents, teachers and others. “But we can’t ignore this. We can’t tap our heels together and wish the current numbers away.”

Harris County officials are recommending schools remain closed longer than some other organizations.

[…]

County officials have not yet publicly released the rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive, though Umair Shah, the director of Harris County’s public health department, announced Tuesday that the rate is between 15 and 16 percent. The Houston Health Department and Texas Medical Center on Monday reported positivity rates of 14.6 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively. The city’s 14-day average has continued to decline since peaking at nearly 30 percent in early July, but remains above the county roadmap’s 5 percent threshold.

Hidalgo and Shah lack the authority to order compliance with the roadmap before the school year begins. Abbott said July 31 that local school boards and state education officials can limit the reopening of buildings in the first eight weeks of the school year, but county officials may not shut down campuses preemptively.

The governor said local health authorities may shut down campuses in response to confirmed outbreaks in a building, but Texas Education Agency leaders said public school districts risk losing state funding if schools remain closed for longer than five days.

You know how I feel about this, so I’m mostly going to peace out here. Judge Hidalgo had ordered schools closed for in-person instruction until at least September 8, back when that was a thing the locals could do. HISD is beginning remote learning only on that date now, and even as a parent of two HISD students, I have no freaking idea when they will be ordered back to the classroom. You can see the Ready Harris roadmap here and the metrics for success here. Maybe if Greg Abbott took this stuff half as seriously as Judge Hidalgo does, we’d be in a better position to reopen schools with some confidence.

Hemp lawsuit

This ought to be interesting.

New rules prohibiting the retail sale and distribution of “smokable” hemp products are unconstitutional, companies argue in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Travis County.

When Texas legalized hemp last year, the legislation explicitly outlawed manufacturing and processing hemp products meant to be smoked. But rules released Sunday defining the state’s hemp program also banned the sale of these products.

That cut off a major source of income for many small businesses that sell hemp in Texas.

[…]

The lawsuit argues the ban of manufacturing and processing smokable products enacted as part of the law is unconstitutional and that the ban on distributing and selling these products is not valid.

Jax Finkel, executive director of the Texas Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said banning the sale of smokable products goes beyond the intent of the bill.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. There’s a more detailed story here.

In a lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court on Wednesday, the companies are asking a judge to declare the ban unconstitutional and allow hemp products intended for smoking or vaping to be produced and sold legally across the state.

“At a time when the Texas economy is reeling from the fiscal impact of COVID-19, it is unfortunate that the State chose to foreclose such a large economic opportunity for our state and instead chose to force long-standing Texas businesses and jobs across the border to neighboring states, such as Oklahoma,” said attorney Chelsie Spencer, counsel for lead plaintiff Crown Distributing LLC.

“Crown Distributing, which manufactures the popular Wild Hemp brand of smokable products, stands to lose $59.6 million in revenue over the next five years if the bans are upheld,” Spencer told Marijuana Moment in an email. “The state of Texas stands to lose $2.9 million in sales tax revenue alone.”

Texas legalized hemp in 2019, in large part to capture a piece of an industry that is booming following the federal legalization of the crop through the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp, a category of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, has a variety of uses: Its seeds are a nutritious food source, its fibrous stalks can be made into textiles or building materials and its flowers can produce a variety of cannabinoids, most notably cannabidiol (CBD).

Texas’s hemp law as passed by the legislature specifically prohibited the manufacture of hemp products intended for smoking or vaping, though it left open the door for selling products made out of state. But a year later, regulators at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) issued rules extending that ban to forbid the retail sale of any smokable hemp products. That restriction took effect on Sunday.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that both those provisions should be overturned. The state legislature’s ban on processing and manufacturing smokable products violated the state constitution’s protection of economic freedom, they say, while DSHS lacked the authority to extend lawmakers’ ban to include retail sales.

“DSHS characterizes banning distribution and retail as ‘a logical extension’ of banning manufacturing,” the lawsuit says. “But even if this were true (it is not), agencies have no authority to enact rules that they deem to be a ‘logical extension’ of law.”

[…]

“If allowed to move forward, these bans on smokable hemp products will shutter businesses across the state, resulting in a loss of jobs and tax revenue,” the companies said in their complaint. “They impede the economic liberty of Texas businesses, pose an existential threat to Texas hemp manufacturers, farmers, and retailers, and are sure to stifle growth of a budding Texas industry.”

As for the ban on producing and manufacturing smokable hemp products, the companies say it violates the state constitution’s protections against arbitrary economic restrictions.

“There is no plausible law enforcement benefit from banning the Texas manufacture and processing of smokable hemp products,” the lawsuit argues. “Imposing an arbitrary constraint here is particularly perverse because the law does not ban the use or consumption of smokable hemp products. As such, Texas consumers will simply buy smokable products made out-of-state.”

“Stated differently,” it continues, “if Texas had banned the processing and manufacture of cheese in Texas, Texans wouldn’t stop eating cheese.”

See here for more on the hemp legalization bill (HB1325), which has also had the effect of making it a lot harder to prosecute marijuana cases. I’d be very interested to hear what a lawyer thinks about this complaint. I’ll say that the bits quoted here sound a lot like political arguments, which were made during the discussion of the bill. Don’t get me wrong, I largely agree with those arguments, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have any purchase in a courtroom. Still, this could be interesting, and it may help push the broader legalization argument forward. Perhaps we’ll get another incremental bill this session; we are for sure not getting anything more ambitious than that as long as Dan Patrick is Lt. Governor. But there’s a lot of room for small steps, and who knows, maybe this will end up being a big one. I wouldn’t count on it, but you never know. Reform Austin and the Hemp Industry Daily have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance has been making the Jonathan Swan face for months as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

The Big 12 will play football

That’s their plan, anyway.

The start of the Big 12 Conference’s college football season will move forward as scheduled, conference officials said Wednesday, meaning four major Texas football programs are one step closer to playing this fall.

“Ultimately, our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete in the sports they love this season and it is up to all of us to deliver a safe, medically sound, and structured academic and athletic environment for accomplishing that outcome,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. The season will kick off Sept. 26, with the conference championship pegged for Dec. 12.

Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin are Big 12 members. The conference presidents’ decision to allow football during the coronavirus pandemic was made official Wednesday morning, a day after the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced their seasons would be postponed until the spring semester.

Bowlsby said member schools have committed to enhanced COVID-19 testing, with three tests per week in high contact sports. Non-conference football opponents must also adhere to testing protocols that match conference standards.

Texas A&M University is part of the Southeastern Conference, which has also signaled its intent to allow teams to play this fall.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement Tuesday.

So that’s two Power 5 conferences not playing in the fall, two that say they are, and the ACC. Of course, there are a ton of questions that will have to be addressed before this can be taken seriously, such as “how exactly are you going to keep all those people safe”, “what will be the protocol when someone (or several someones) tests positive”, and “do you really think that allowing fans in the stands is a good idea”. You can have all the bravado you want, but you better have some idea of what you’re doing when something inevitably goes wrong. In the meantime, all I can say is that it’s going to be an interesting autumn. Or possibly spring, if things do change. Reform Austin has more.

Fallon fallout

Of interest.

Sen. Pat Fallon

After Sen. Pat Fallon’s impressive though not unexpected victory this weekend in the insider’s race to be the GOP nominee for Congressional District 4 – being vacated by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe – rumors are flying and announcements are expected quickly in the coming race to succeed him in the Texas Senate.

If the early buzz is any indication, it’ll perhaps be more of a rural versus suburban fight than a “conservative versus moderate” one.

But there are other fault lines developing and there’s some chatter about whether House members considering a promotion could put the GOP House majority at risk when it comes time to vote for a new speaker.

This is a Quorum Report story, so the rest is behind their paywall, but what I quoted is what you need to know. Fallon, who became the Republican nominee for CD04 over the weekend and is sure to win in November in this deep red district, has not yet said when he plans to resign from the Senate. There could be a special election in SD30 in November if he steps down in the next week or two, but after that it will be post-November. As you may recall from 2018, the SD06 special election was held on December 11th following now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s resignation from the Senate, which came after she was officially elected in CD29. That’s one path Fallon could follow, but the complications set in if the winner of the SD30 special election is a sitting member of the State House, because then there would have to be a special election for that seat. Again, going back to 2018, the special election in HD145 that was necessitated after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado won that race was held on January 29, with a runoff on March 5.

So what? Well, as the QR story suggests, we could have a very closely divided House this session. Indeed, it could wind up being 75-75, which would surely make for an entertaining Speaker’s race. But then remember the SD30 special election, in which an elected State House member moved up to that chamber. Now all of a sudden it’s 75-74 in favor of the Dems, and you have a whole new ballgame. And remember, it’s quite common for a newly-elected veteran member of the House to resign following the November election. That also happened in 2018, when Joe Pickett resigned, citing health concerns. It’s not out of the question that a 76-74 GOP majority turns into a 74-74 tie with the SD30 election and some unexpected retirement throwing a spanner into the works. Crazy things do happen.

Another potential chaos factor: Carol Alvarado won the SD06 special in 2018 in the first round, which allowed the HD145 special to take place when it did. If there had needed to be a runoff, it would have happened in late January instead of the HD145 special. But if that had been the case, Alvarado would have still been in her House seat. What that means is that if there’s a runoff in SD30, the Republicans might not actually be down a seat at the time that a Speaker is chosen, but would be later on, possibly stretching into April. They’d have a Speaker but they might not have a functional House majority, especially if the Speaker continues the tradition of not voting on most bills. (And of course, on any given day, some number of members will be absent.) Again, the potential for Weird Shit to happen is non-trivial.

This is ultimately why Rep. Eddie Rodriguez made the decision to withdraw from the SD14 special election runoff, to ensure that his seat was occupied in January. Would every State House member whose district overlaps with SD30 make the same selfless decision if the GOP doesn’t have a clear majority in the lower chamber? That’s the $64,000 question. Of course, there would need to be a non-legislative candidate to rally around. There are many variables, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This is super inside baseball, but this is also the kind of year where these esoteric considerations need to be taken seriously. I will of course be keeping an eye on this.

Appeals court upholds District B ruling

We will finally get a runoff election in District B.

Cynthia Bailey

An appeals court ruled early Tuesday that Houston did not err when it declined to disqualify a District B city council candidate who had a felony conviction, clearing the way for a long-delayed runoff in the district.

Renee Jefferson-Smith, the third-place candidate in the race who filed the lawsuit, said she does not plan to appeal the ruling, which would effectively end the nine-month dispute.

“I am pleased with the court’s decision and I pray that Cynthia Bailey and Tarsha Jackson remain safe as they continue on with their campaigns to become the next City Council Woman for District B,” Jefferson-Smith said in a statement.

Tarsha Jackson

“It’s been long enough and the District deserves to know who will represent them. My family and I are truly excited about the opportunity to move forward and focus on what’s ahead in our lives.”

It is not yet clear when an election can be held. Attorneys involved in the case said they believe it will return now to the lower court, where visiting judge Grant Dorfman can order a new election date. In February, he ordered a May 2 election, which was derailed amid appeals.

One wrinkle is that the Texas Election Code mandates the runoff be held on the same day of the week as the original election, which was a Saturday, according to Assistant Harris County Attorney Doug Ray. That would mean the District B race cannot go on the Nov. 3 ballot, he said.

See here for my previous update. The law in question is quiet clear, mandating that a runoff election that was delayed by an election contest must be held on the same day of the week as the originally scheduled runoff. I hate the idea that this election can’t be held on the same day in November that everyone will be voting anyway, but I don’t know what can be done about it, other than Judge Dorfman saying “screw it” and daring someone to challenge him.

The central question of the case is whether Bailey, who finished second and qualified for the runoff with Jackson, is eligible for office despite her felony conviction.

Jefferson-Smith, who finished third and missed the runoff, had argued she is not. Jefferson-Smith filed two lawsuits seeking to have Bailey removed from the runoff ballot.

The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas, like others that have handled the case, did not address directly the question of Bailey’s eligibility. A state statute says candidates cannot have felony convictions from which they have not “been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” but it does not define that phrase, which has led to varying interpretations and enforcement.

Instead, the court addressed Jefferson-Smith’s claim that the City of Houston erred in administering the election by failing to declare Bailey ineligible. Her team had sent the city a packet of documents, after the election but before the vote was certified, proving Bailey was convicted.

A trial court judge said the packet did not conclusively prove Bailey was ineligible because it did not say whether she had been pardoned or otherwise released. (Bailey has argued she is released because she completed her sentence.)

In a decision posted after midnight, the three-justice panel of the First Court of Appeals agreed.

“Because the documents that Jefferson-Smith presented to the Mayor’s Office in connection with her Demand for Administrative Declaration of Ineligibility present a fact question—whether Bailey has been pardoned or otherwise relieved of her disabilities—that the Mayor had no authority to resolve, the Mayor had no ‘duty imposed by law’ to declare Bailey ineligible and made no ‘mistake’ in declining to do so,” Chief Justice Sherry Radack wrote.

Candidates who run for office in Houston check a box on their application form swearing they have not been finally convicted of a felony. The city verifies they have checked the box but does not vet their accuracy.

I’ve read the decision, and while it’s pretty dry and technical, it’s easy enough to understand. The takeaway I got from it is that Jefferson Smith might have prevailed had she taken somewhat different actions, but given what she did do, it wasn’t enough to meet the requirements of the law. I suppose it’s possible the Supreme Court could have seen it differently – for what it’s worth, the panel that ruled on the case was two Republicans and one Democrat – but Jefferson Smith ultimately chose to end her pursuit, and for that I thank her. Now let’s get this election scheduled. Houston Public Media has more.

Latino voter engagement 2020

We have a poll for that.

Latinos in Texas say they are much more motivated to vote this November than they were in 2016, with gun safety being a big factor after the shooting in El Paso a year ago, according to a new poll.

The survey of 800 Latinos in Texas who are registered to vote found that 57 percent are “much more” motivated to vote in November, with 74 percent saying they are “almost certain” to vote in the presidential race and even more — roughly 80 percent — saying they were “almost certain” to vote in the U.S. Senate and congressional races.

The poll, shared exclusively with Hearst Newspapers, was conducted by the gun safety group Giffords — one of a handful of national advocacy groups that have vowed to make Texas their big target in November — and the Latino Victory Project, a progressive group that seeks to grow Latino political power. The survey carries a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The poll is likely welcome news for Democrats who have long hoped they will be carried to victory statewide by a wave of Latino voters — who make up 30 percent of eligible voters in the state, according to the Pew Research Center. But Latino turnout has lagged, with just 28 percent voting in the 2018 midterms, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group tracked by U.S. Census data.

The poll indicates gun safety could be a motivating factor this time around.

A poll like this is about demonstrating that public opinion aligns with your group’s values, not about any particular race or candidate. As the story notes, multiple gun control groups have pledged to make a big investment in Texas this year. Among other things, they’re going to need to make sure voters are fully informed about who supports or opposes what – the respondents in this poll were not as clear about that in the Senate race, for example, as one would like. We’ll know more when we start seeing the actual ads. In the meantime, know that they’re coming.

Big 10 and PAC 12 scrap football for this fall

Boom.

Big Ten Conference presidents and chancellors voted Tuesday to postpone all fall sports seasons, including football, with the hopes of playing in the spring, it announced Tuesday.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.

“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”

[…]

In making its decision, the Big Ten said it relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” Morton Schapiro, the Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University president, said in a statement.

The University of Nebraska, after Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost on Monday said his program is prepared “to look at any and all options” in order to play this fall, on Tuesday issued a joint statement saying “we are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten.”

“We have been and continue to be ready to play,” the Nebraska joint statement said. “Safety comes first. Based on the conversations with our medical experts, we continue to strongly believe the absolute safest place for our student athletes is within the rigorous safety protocols, testing procedures, and the structure and support provided by Husker Athletics.

“… We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”

See here for the background. Here’s the official statement from the Big 10. Something I noticed after rereading my draft was that basketball, which obviously starts in the fall but has a sprint championship, was not mentioned in the news stories. It’s not mentioned in the statement either, so at this point there’s no news. Any postponement of basketball will have further effects, but for now that decision has not been made.

A few hours later, the PAC 12 followed suit.

The Pac-12 CEO group voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone fall sports and will look at options to return to competition next year, the conference announced.

“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”

Impacted Pac-12 student athletes will continue to have their scholarships guaranteed. The conference is also encouraging the NCAA to grant students who opt out of playing this academic year an additional year of eligibility.

The league’s medical advisory group had “concerns that many of its current recommendations cannot be achieved consistently across all universities at this point in time. Currently, the availability of frequent, FDA-approved, accurate testing with rapid turn-around time vary at each of the Pac-12 institution locations. In addition, in many locations within the Conference, community test positivity rates and number of cases per 100,000 in the surrounding community exceed levels which infectious disease and public health officials deem safe for group sports.”

The medical advisory group said “it is anticipated that over the next few months, rapid point of care tests will become more available and we will have a greater understanding of potential short- and long-term health effects of COVID-19 to better inform medical decision-making.”

Here’s their statement, which says they will “postpone all sport competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year”. That also doesn’t mention basketball, but as noted since a bunch of (generally non-conference) games are played in the fall, it would seem to affect that as well. We’ll see what that means.

Looking at the other Power 5 conferences, it seems that the SEC is most likely to try to have a season, while the Big 12 may be the last one to made a decision. Whatever happens from here, this was a first step. There will be tons of fallout and repercussions from this, and we may not see a return to “normal” for some time. And that’s without factoring in the financial consequences. Hold onto your hats. The AP, CBS Sports, Slate, and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: An interesting fact from the Chron: “As of Tuesday, 53 of the 130 FBS schools will not play football this fall.” Just a guess here, but that number is going to go up.

Texas Dems ramp up mail ballot outreach

It’s a smart move, with some caveats.

The Texas Democratic Party [announced] Monday that it is doubling down on its vote-by-mail campaign with a goal of reaching 1.7 million potential mail voters by the end of the month — the most for an election cycle in the state party’s history.

To reach that goal, party officials will launch an effort to send out more than 815,000 vote-by-mail applications by the end of August to those already eligible to receive the ballots — like those over 65 or people with disabilities.

Those mail ballot applications may play a major role in this year’s crucial elections, as voters weigh whether voting in person is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic officials said voting by mail is the safest way to vote and cast their campaign as an effort to keep Texans safe in the absence of action by the Republican-dominated state government.

“Now more than ever, to have our seniors vote safely, voting by mail is the best option for them,” Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “This historic investment in our Vote-by-Mail program is the next phase of our plan to win the state of Texas. We will continue to register new voters, expand the electorate, fight back against all Republican attempts to suppress the vote, and harness the energy and enthusiasm that we’ve seen across the state.”

[…]

The practice does not usually give either party an advantage, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. But with more than 140,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, an application to vote by mail could entice an otherwise apathetic voter to cast her ballot.

“We know from decades of research in voting that if you reduce the cost of voting for people, they’ll be more likely to vote,” Rottinghaus said. “It makes their job easier and ultimately that’s the goal.”

For Democrats, getting those mail ballot applications out three months ahead of the election sends a signal to voters that elections need to be top of mind and preparations need to be made, Rottinghaus said.

While research shows that younger voters, as well as Black and Latino voters — all demographics the Democrats are targeting — have their mail ballot applications rejected at higher rates or do not return them, the party is looking to seize on a captive audience during the pandemic.

“This early, it’s a stand to get people to return the ballots early on,” he added. “Ultimately, the Democratic party is worried that they’re going to lose an opportunity to turn Texas blue with Trump at the top of the ticket. This will be their last chance to harness anti-Trump fervor. The party doesn’t want to make mistakes and wants to do everything they can to get favorable ballots back in.”

You can see the TDP press release that announced this here. I want to clarify one thing first, and that’s the 815K and 1.75 million numbers. I contacted TDP spokesperson Abhi Rahman, and confirmed that the 1.75 million number represents all mail ballot applications sent for the 2020 cycle, which includes the March primary and the July runoff. The 815K applications that just went out are for November, so that’s the number to keep in mind for these purposes. There will surely be more than that in the end, as the TDP may send more applications later, and there are other efforts like the one Glen Maxey does for rural counties. The point is, that 1.75 million number was cumulative, so do bear that in mind.

(The Monday press release, made after the official announcement, is more clear about what the numbers mean. The DMN story was written prior to this press release coming out.)

As for these 815K, I was told that the vast majority are folks 65 and over – the ones who are not have Democratic primary histories and have voted by mail in the past – and most of them have Dem primary histories but some do not. Those folks were identified as people who would likely vote Democratic if they voted. In that sense, it’s the same idea as the Sisters United project. We know from the primary runoffs that some number of people who receive a mail ballot application will end up voting who might not have voted otherwise. That’s the goal here.

As the story notes, the Dems have been fighting in court to allow more people to vote by mail, with two lawsuits still pending over the matter plus a third that is about other voting access issues. There’s no guarantee there will be a ruling on any of these lawsuits, much less a favorable ruling, before the election, so this is where we are for now. We must also acknowledge the ongoing Trump campaign of destruction against the US Postal Service, which is making vote by mail a riskier proposition. Along those lines, let me hand the mike to the aforementioned Glen Maxey:

If people apply early, and vote as soon as they get their ballots a lot of things fall into place.

The Clerk will have your ballot “in the can” long before early voting occurs.

You can call your Clerk and they’ll tell you the status of your ballot. If, god forbid, something DID happen, you can go vote early, vote provisionally, and your provisional ballot gets counted if the mail ballot doesn’t show up in time.

Additionally, if you decide to go in person later, you MUST just take the mail ballot, they’ll cancel it, and you vote on the machine in the polling place (a stupid thing to do for two reasons: 1) you take up time in line or polling both and keep some young person who aint gonna stand in line decide to skip voting. 2) It puts you, election workers, and other voters at risk of dying. Neither of these options is something a good Democrat would do.

The Clerk will only have to be processing emergency situations at the end and not your lazy ass who waited and then complains you didn’t get your ballot in time.

The people who whined “I didn’t get my ballot until election day” in most cases didn’t ask for their friggin’ ballot until the week before the election. There is processing time. There is the post office moving applications and ballots four times back and forth. It all takes time.

Do it now. Do it fast. Don’t sit on your ass. Donald Trump and the Republicans are counting on you to procrastinate so their USPS delays have an effect. If you mail early, you have fucked p their plans. And there is nothing more satisfying that fucking up Trump.

Note also that if you are in a big county like Harris, there will almost certainly be dropoff locations for mail ballots, which should all be in operation during early voting. In Harris County, Reliant Arena will be one of several mail ballot dropoff locations. Bottom line, once you have your mail ballot if you want to make sure it gets received without having to worry about mail delivery, that is a great option for you. Just whatever you do, don’t procrastinate. Get it done ASAP, for your good and the good of everyone you voted for. The Chron and the Star-Telegram have more.

More election innovation, please

Some good stuff here:

There’s a lot to like in there and in the embedded letter he wrote to Bexar County Commissioner Nelson Wolff, to formalize these ideas. Several of them have been done or have been proposed for Harris County, including sending mail ballot applications to every registered voter 65 and over, having a mega-voting location, expanding early voting hours during the EV period, and having more curbside voting options. Some ideas are new, or at least new to Harris County, such as having a 24-hour early voting location, having more mail ballot dropoff locations, and mailing “a Notice of Election, Sample Ballot, and information on voting safely during COVID-19 to every registered voter” in the county. I love the creativity, the commitment to making voting easier, and especially since this is coming from a County Commissioner, the willingness to put up the money to make it happen. I hope County Clerk Chris Hollins and Harris County Commissioners Court are paying attention.

The other point I would make here is that we could keep doing some or all of these things in future elections, when there will hopefully not be a pandemic to force the issue, for the simple reason that they do in fact make voting easier. I mean, that’s how it should be.

Of course, a key assumption underpinning all this is that there will be enough people to work the elections. Here’s another idea I like for that:

It turns out that this is already legal and open to students 16 years old and older, so it just needs to be better known. Pass it on to the students you know.

For those of us who don’t need a principal’s permission, here’s what we can do:

The Harris County Clerk’s Office is looking for election workers to staff more than 800 voting centers that will be open for the November 3, 2020 General Election. Election workers are also needed three weeks prior to the election to work at approximately 100 voting centers during the Early Voting period, October 13-30.

“We expect a high turnout for the upcoming general election. Early predictions indicate that more than 65 percent of the 2.4 million registered voters in Harris County will cast a ballot in November,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. “We need more than 1,000 election workers for the Early Voting period – which has been extended to three weeks – and more than 8,000 election workers for Election Day. I highly encourage all civic-minded residents of Harris County to consider serving our communities as election workers.”

To serve as an election worker, you must be a registered voter in Harris County, have transportation to and from the polling location, and be able to attend training. Bilingual election workers are needed and encouraged to apply. Students 16 years of age and older can apply to work as student clerks. All of these positions are paid.

“We will take every possible measure to keep voters and election workers safe, from keeping voting centers sanitized, to enforcing social distancing, to providing personal protective equipment to all election workers and voters,” said Clerk Hollins.

If you are interested in becoming an election worker, click here to apply online or call 713.755.6965.

This is all-hands-on-deck time. If you can do this, or know someone who can, please take action. ABC-13 has more.

So where are we with college football?

Possibly on the brink of postponing the season.

Commissioners of the Power 5 conferences held an emergency meeting on Sunday, as there is growing concern among college athletics officials that the upcoming football season and other fall sports can’t be played because of the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

No major decisions were made on Sunday night, but multiple sources in several Power 5 conferences have told ESPN the commissioners talked about trying to collaborate if their respective presidents do decide to cancel or postpone fall sports.

Several sources have indicated to ESPN that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, are ready to pull the plug on its fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge if commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will fall in line with them.

Sources told ESPN that a vast majority of Big Ten presidents have indicated that they would vote to postpone football season, hopefully to the spring. A Big Ten official confirmed to ESPN that no official vote took place during Saturday’s meeting.

“It doesn’t look good,” one Power 5 athletic director said.

[…]

Several sources have told ESPN over the past 48 hours that the postponement or cancellation of the football season seems inevitable. Many of those sources believed it ultimately will take a Power 5 conference to move things in that direction and that either the Big Ten or Pac-12 would probably be the first league to do it.

“Nobody wanted to be the first to do it,” a Power 5 coach told ESPN, “and now nobody will want to be the last.”

A Power 5 administrator added: “It feels like no one wants to, but it’s reaching the point where someone is going to have to.”

As we know, all of the not-FBS conferences, as well as the MAC, have cancelled or postponed their fall sports. On Monday, the Mountain West Conference joined them. Today, the PAC 12 will have a meeting, and we’ll see what they decide. This could be the week when the plug gets pulled, which would mean spring football if everything is finally better by then.

Or maybe not. The University of Nebraska is considering its options in the event the Big 10 postpones its season. (As of last night, there were conflicting reports about the Big 10’s plans.) There is definitely support from some athletes and politicians for having a season, though as that story notes the reasons each group has for advocating its position are different. One possible outcome is some kind of massive realignment, maybe with a smaller number of schools playing, and/or a bunch of athletes moving to other schools to participate. I’m sure we’ll know more soon. But just remember, in a country where we had the political leadership to get COVID-19 under control, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.

UPDATE: Just noticed that Rice is pushing back the start of its season to September 26, with the intent to reschedule games against UH and Army that were originally planned for before that date. I guess that’s a baby step towards postponing till spring, but as of this writing Conference USA and the AAC were still on for the fall.

Who needs testing?

It’s the surest way to see the infection rate decline, am I right?

The number of Texans being tested for the coronavirus has fallen sharply in recent weeks, a trend that has worried public health experts as officials consider sending children back to school while thousands more Texans are infected each day.

In the week ending Aug. 8, an average 36,255 coronavirus tests were administered in Texas each day — a drop of about 42% from two weeks earlier, when the average number of daily tests was 62,516.

At the same time, the percentage of tests yielding positive results has climbed, up to 20% on average in the week ending Aug. 8. Two weeks earlier, the average positivity rate was around 14%.

On Saturday, the state set a record for its positivity rate, with more than half of that day’s roughly 14,000 viral tests indicating an infection.

Taken together, the low number of tests and the large percentage of positive results suggest inadequacies in the state’s public health surveillance effort at a time when school reopenings are certain to increase viral spread, health experts said.

“Opening the schools is a really complicated problem, and the best thing we can do is get the number of cases down so kids can go back to school safely,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston. “There are so many reasons why kids need to be in school, particularly younger kids, but we’re finding out more and more they can get infected, and the concern is them bringing it home and spreading in the community and spreading to teachers.

“I think the worst thing would be for schools to open, then close,” she said. “That really makes it hard on parents, that unpredictability, and there’s a lot of costs associated with opening the schools safely.”

[…]

The number of tests performed in Texas has “never been great,” said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, but “it’s extremely troubling” that the numbers have dipped since last month.

“It’s troubling because we can guess at some of the reasons, but we’re not sure,” she said.

She suggested that some people may have been discouraged by long wait times for test results, or less concerned about the virus’ toll in Texas after a frightening peak in July began to flatten out.

A declining number of tests is a particularly thorny issue for schools, Ho said. “No public school has the resources to do testing under the current circumstances. There are huge class sizes and crowded hallways,” she said.

Does any of that sound good to you? Because none of it sounds good to me. Again I say, remember when Greg Abbott’s plans for reopening included sufficient testing capacity and a positivity rate under ten percent? Boy, those were the days. Oh, and as the story notes, the TEA still hasn’t yet released any specifics on which districts will be able to receive waivers to limit in-person instruction beyond eight weeks or under what circumstances. So, you know, the school situation remains a mess. Isn’t this fun?

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

So yeah, after my previous entry I went and talked myself into checking on the finance reports from the 10 non-Houston-area seats that Dems flipped in 2018, plus four others of interest. It’s a sickness, I admit it, but here we are. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races (statewide, State Senate, and SBOE) is here, Part 2 (the Houston-area State Rep districts) is here, and Part 3 (the other seats Dems are challenging) is here.

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Jennifer Fleck, HD47
Jennifer Fleck SPAC, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD31   Guillen         41,395    22,139          0     439,602
HD31   Knowlton        11,329     7,239          0      10,678

HD34   Herrero         41,245    32,142          0     252,892
HD34   Hernandez       42,546    10,857          0      29,863

HD45   Zwiener        131,664   101,551          0     101,387
HD45   Isaac           98,202    83,016          0      24,129

HD47   Goodwin        137,230    63,990     19,000     170,429
HD47   Fleck           19,064    32,948     19,188       4,342

HD52   Talarico       148,975    70,941          0     130,711
HD52   Valdez          13,671     6,398          0       6,901

HD65   Beckley         64,004    44,016          0      48,569
HD65   Thimesch        88,416    63,987     10,000      63,885

HD74   Morales         15,950    13,593    215,000      13,000
HD74   Falcon           1,600     2,419      5,000           0

HD102  Ramos           72,737    36,654        310      51,422
HD102  Koop            88,745    77,489          0      48,630

HD105  Meza            42,266    11,670          0      78,310
HD105  Hernandez        9,794     9,549      8,500       9,789

HD107  Neave           64,849    22,869          0      61,931
HD107  Smith            9,107     4,693      2,400       7,044

HD113  Bowers          96,329    59,424          0      68,221
HD113  Douglas        240,579    71,091          0     266,347

HD114  Turner         157,316   145,704      7,000     425,567
HD114  Del Rosal      120,708   151,281     10,000     255,201

HD115  Johnson        108,452    72,228          0     236,842
HD115  Brownlee        13,970     6,597     11,000      28,698

HD136  Bucy            79,511    45,209     46,375     103,770
HD136  Guevara         13,500    11,275          0       2,588

HD74 is an open seat. HDs 31 and 34 are the two purplest seats held by Dems from a year before 2018, with HD74 being the third-purplest. All three are on the Texas Elects watch list. HD107 was flipped by Rep. Neave in 2016, and she withstood a drunk driving arrest to win re-election easily in 2018. All of the other seats were flipped by Dems in 2018.

Reps. Erin Zwiener and Michelle Beckley had primary opponents, while everyone else had a free pass in March. Zwiener had a more expensive primary than Beckley, but she raised more and has more on hand, so no worries there. John Turner is the only other Dem to have spent a significant amount in the first six months of the year, and it was fairly normal stuff – staff, contract, and consulting salaries and fees, and monthly rental for an office were the bulk of it. An $18K charge for polling was the single biggest (and most interesting) expense.

Turner, son of former Congressman Jim Turner, is one of two Dem incumbents whose opponent raised at least $100K in this period. Turner’s opponent Luisa Del Rosal, who actually spent more than she raised over the past six months, has an impressive $255K on hand, in part because she’s been running and raising money since early 2019 – she has a July 2019 finance report, so she’s been fundraising for well over a year now, as long as Turner has been an incumbent. He maintains a significant cash advantage, but she’s got the resources to put up a fight.

Also impressive on the Republican side is Will Douglas in HD113, who raised double what Del Rosas did in the first six months of 2020, and now has a big cash advantage on first term Rep. Rhetta Bowers. Bowers’ $96K raised wasn’t bad, but she started out with a lot less on hand and is almost $200K behind Douglas. Rep. Michelle Beckley, who was outraised by challenger Kronda Thimesch and has less cash on hand, is the only other Dem incumbent in that position. Ana Ramos was slightly outraised by Linda Koop, the former incumbent in HD102, but she holds a modest cash on hand lead, thanks in part to Koop having to spend more (Koop had a primary opponent).

I should note that both Bowers, who won in 2018 by seven points, and Turner, who won by 11, are in districts that performed pretty strongly for Dems in 2018. Beckley had a closer win, but her district has been trending rapidly Democratic. They have challenges, but none of them are in a weak position to begin with.

Beyond that, Dem incumbents look to be in pretty solid shape. We should also acknowledge that there will be plenty of money spent by third party groups, and that everyone here is likely to raise a bunch more money in the interim. As I’ve said elsewhere, the 30 day reports will tell a better story. I’m mildly concerned about HDs 65 and 113, and I’m not going to rest easy until after November, but I see no red flags. That’s not a bad place to be.

Paxton (again) wants another judge on his case

Round and round they go.

Best mugshot ever

Defense attorneys for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — whose indictment for felony securities fraud is now more than five years old — are again asking for a different judge to oversee the case. It’s the latest turn in a long-delayed prosecution that has bounced all the way from a trial court in North Texas to the state Supreme Court in Austin, and now sits in legal purgatory in Houston.

Paxton’s attorneys wrote Thursday that Judge Jason Luong should recuse himself from the case because the attorney general’s office is representing him — among a group of about 20 Harris County district court judges — in an unrelated lawsuit over bail practices. Robert Johnson, who oversaw the case until recently, voluntarily recused himself from the case for that reason earlier this summer. A Houston appeals court reassigned the case to Luong late last month.

“Judge Luong’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned” because Paxton is defending him, Paxton’s attorneys argued in a filing this week.

[…]

The prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial shot back Friday, arguing that Luong should remain on the case.

“Because Paxton’s palpable fear that Judge Luong will follow the law and keep these felony cases in Harris County does not come within a time zone of meeting the Draconian burden required for recusal, his motion is without merit and should be denied,” prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer wrote.

And they noted that last month, Paxton’s attorney Philip Hilder told the Houston Chronicle that Johnson “did not need to recuse himself on the matter since … the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity.”

See here for the previous update. I don’t think the Paxton argument about a potential conflict of interest due to the bail lawsuit is completely without merit, but I do agree that it’s a thin reed. I mean, the AG’s office is basically defending the office of Criminal District Court Judge in this lawsuit, and Jason Luong just happens to be in that category. It’s Jason Luong in his official capacity, not Jason Luong, person of Texas. It’s true that Judge Robert Johnson agreed to recuse himself on those grounds, but that doesn’t mean other judges would agree with that position. It’s also true that the question could be made moot, either by Judge Luong making like Chuck Silverman and Brian Warren and filing a motion in agreement with the plaintiffs, or by the presiding judge in the bail case granting the motion to dismiss that was recently filed. Of course, a ruling on that motion could take months, and we needn’t wait that long. The point is, though, that there are other ways to resolve this conflict, if one agrees that there is a conflict.

And I too would point out that Team Paxton was just the other day talking about how their guy is ready for his day in court and that the prosecutors should quit fighting the effort to move the case back to Collin County so we can get this show on the road already. Funny how one’s perspective can change on that. It’s been pretty much entirely the work of Team Paxton and his political supporters that have caused this case to drag on for now more than five years. The DMN, in its reporting on this latest action, provides a handy timeline.

The prosecutors, Paxton’s lawyers added, are improperly trying for a do-over on this change-of-venue decision.

“It simply defies belief that the State can get two bites at the apple on the critical jurisdictional issue that Judge Johnson already properly ruled on by allowing a new judge who is similarly situated with Judge Johnson (i.e., both represented by the Texas Attorney General in the same case) to review Judge Johnson’s prior ruling. This is the ultimate appearance of impropriety.”

In their response, the prosecutors said Paxton’s own lawyers already undercut their argument when they told the Houston Chronicle last month that Johnson never needed to step off the case.

“He did not need to recuse himself on the matter since it had been ordered back to Collin County and the allegations against Mr. Paxton do not involve his official capacity but rather his individual capacity that predates his election to that office,” Paxton attorney Philip Hilder told the Chronicle.

A Collin County jury indicted Paxton in July 2015. Since then, his case has been repeatedly delayed by fights over where the trials should take place, how much the prosecutors should make and what judge should preside. Paxton’s defense team spent more than a year attempting to have the charges against their client thrown out. They failed.

Hurricane Harvey also delayed the case and many others in Houston. The COVID-19 pandemic could further push any possible trial back.

Paxton is charged with two first-degree felonies over allegations that he persuaded friends to invest in a McKinney technology company called Servergy Inc. without telling them he received 100,000 shares of stock. He also is charged with a third-degree felony, accused of funneling clients to a friend’s investment firm without being registered with the state. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded and fined Paxton $1,000 for this failure to register in 2014.

If found guilty, Paxton could face two to 10 years in prison for the third-degree felony and five to 99 years for each of the first-degree felonies, as well as fines. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

When I started writing this post, I began with the post title, and I was pretty sure that it was Paxton who had demanded a new judge in the past, but I wasn’t sure and I knew it would take a lot of archive-diving find an answer. I’m thankful the DMN did that work for me. Who wants to bet this case will still be active when the voters go to choose an AG in 2022?

In which Houston becomes more walkable

It’s a start.

On 19th Street, one of Houston’s most enduring strips of shops and restaurants, there is a vacant lot tucked between two stores, about a block from the landmark “Heights” sign.

When developers recently expressed interest in putting a new building there, however, they suffered a setback.

Houston’s planning codes, written in the 1990s with automobiles in mind, meant the developers would have to put the new building 25 feet back from the road, set awkwardly behind the street-side strip of storefronts.

The city planning commission granted them a reprieve from the rule, but the episode illustrated how Houston’s code served as an impediment, not a spark, for so-called “walkable” development, said Bill Baldwin, a real estate agent and member of the planning commission.

City council on Wednesday took a first step toward changing that, unanimously approving ordinances aimed at making pockets of Houston more friendly to pedestrians and moving the city away from its car-centric planning code. The new regulations only apply to new buildings and redevelopment in certain parts of the city.

In those areas, the ordinances will bring buildings — not parking lots — closer to the street, widen sidewalks, and reduce or altogether eliminate the number of parking spots developers are required to offer.

[…]

The ordinances create two distinct programs: areas with a ““Walkable Places” designation, where the city seeks to foster pedestrian-friendly development; and areas in the “Transit-Oriented Development” program, where the city hopes to bring the same principles to most streets that fall within a half-mile of a bus or train station.

While the underlying regulations are similar, the Walkable Places” program initially takes shape in three pilot projects along Emancipation Avenue, Midtown, and Hogan and Lorraine Streets in the Near Northside. Other areas can pursue a “Walkable Places” designation if a majority of property owners support it. City council will have final say over all such designations.

The “Transit-Oriented Development” program will apply to city-designated areas across Houston that are close to transit stops.

For the streets covered by either program, the ordinances undo many of the automobile-centered rules adopted in the 1990s. For example, under those rules, all development on major streets must be set back 25 feet from the road, businesses must offer a prescribed number of parking spaces for customers, and sidewalks must be 5 feet wide.

The new rules waive the set-back requirement, bringing buildings closer to the street and pushing parking lots to the side or behind new buildings. The transit-oriented development ordinance cuts or eliminates parking space requirements.

A preview version of the story from Wednesday morning is here. You should follow the links in the excerpt to see more about the program. It will take awhile for the effects to be truly visible, but the potential is great, and there are a lot more places that need this kind of intervention – I for one would put Washington Avenue at the top of the list of corridors to be added to the existing list. Though this story begins with a development on 19th Street in the Heights, as of today none of the Heights is in scope. Which is fine, as most of the commercial parts of the neighborhood – think White Oak, 11th, and 19th/20th – are pretty good with sidewalks to begin with. I guess what I’m saying is, I want to see this spread to more of the city. It’s a little crazy to think that we had these anti-pedestrian rules in the first place, but that was Houston in the 90s for you. Would have been great to do this kind of unwinding a long time ago, but better late than never.

Weekend link dump for August 9

“In much the same way that the toilet paper industry was overwhelmed by the coronavirus quarantine, so, too, is the agriculture industry dealing with a sudden and unexpected shift in their priorities.”

“While the killing of George Floyd has galvanized support for tearing down statues, renaming sports teams and otherwise removing markers of a (more) racist past, the renewed push for change hasn’t really touched the nation’s prison system. But some say it should. Across the country, dozens of prisons take their names from racists, Confederates, plantations, segregationists, and owners of slaves.”

“What am I getting at here is that everyone has different things that they want to see or experience at Comic-Con and too many of then act like the whole convention should only be about that.”

“We find that the workers who experienced larger increases in UI generosity did not experience larger declines in employment when the benefits expansion went into effect. Additionally, we find that workers facing larger expansions in UI benefits have returned to their previous jobs over time at similar rates as others. We find no evidence that more generous benefits disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time.”

Deep Space Nine‘s Radical Depiction of Black Love”.

“This Push to Open Schools Is Guaranteed to Fail“.

“Before the iPhone, Venmo, or Spotify, there were ringtones. You might remember them fondly as those lo-fidelity sounds we used to communicate our highly refined music tastes every time someone called our cell. But ringtones were so much more than that. A billion-dollar industry silenced seemingly overnight, ringtones laid the foundations of modern mobile consumer technology and set the stage for the app store and mobile commerce as we know it today. And they are proof that even silly-seeming products can have an impact long after their memory fades away.”

“Big majorities make it possible to do big things, and that’s what the country needs right now.”

“Be strong. Be of good cheer. Don’t cower. But keep notes of the unfolding crimes before our eyes. Because accountability must come. And it will.”

“Rezba’s exercise in psychological self-protection evolved into a bona fide mission. Soon she was spending a couple of hours a day scouring the internet for the recently dead; it saddened, then enraged her to see how difficult they were to find, how quickly people who gave their lives in service to others seemed to be forgotten. The more she searched, the more convinced she became that this invisibility was not an accident.”

Oh, just swimming a lap in the Olympic pool with a glass of chocolate milk balanced on my head. You know, the usual.

“Federal judges should not have to live in fear, U.S. District Judge Esther Salas of the District of New Jersey said in a video statement Monday.”

“But a zombie movie purposefully trying to tap into the public’s current fears about killer viruses would do well to draw on the real world’s uneven response to the spread of covid-19, a dark part of our reality that isn’t likely to come to an end anytime soon.”

RIP, Pete Hamill, legendary New York columnist and author. I found what Jelani Cobb had to say about him to be thoughtful and provocative.

Please don’t drink hand sanitizer. Thank you.

“The Trump administration could be in the process of planning several October surprises, which would mean even more chaos in the run-up to the November election.”

A brief peek inside the Astrodome. I don’t know how old that picture is, but it’s cool regardless.

RIP, Terry Cannon, founder of the Baseball Reliquary.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 3

Here I continue with a look at the State Rep races outside the Houston area where Dems are competing to flip seats. I did not look at the districts the Dems are defending, but I may return to that at a later date. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races is here, and Part 2 (the Houston-area State Rep districts) is here.

Janet Dudding, HD14
John Raney, HD14

Eric Holguin, HD32
Todd Hunter, HD32

Keke Williams, HD54
Brad Buckley, HD54

Angela Brewer, HD64
Lynn Stucky, HD64

Sharon Hirsch, HD66
Matt Shaheen, HD66

Lorenzo Sanchez, HD67
Jeff Leach, HD67

John Gibson, HD84
John Frullo, HD84

Ray Ash, HD89
Candy Noble, HD89

Jeff Whitfield, HD92
Jeff Cason, HD92

Lydia Bean, HD93
Matt Krause, HD93

Alisa Simmons, HD94
Tony Tinderholt, HD94

Joe Drago, HD96
David Cook, HD96

Elizabeth Beck, HD97
Craig Goldman, HD97

Jennifer Skidonenko, HD106
Jared Patterson, HD106

Joanna Cattanach, HD108
Morgan Meyer, HD108

Brandy Chambers, HD112
Angie Chen Button, HD112

Celina Montoya, HD121
Steve Allison, HD121


Dist  Candidate        Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD14   Dudding         30,064     5,975        782      24,482
HD14   Raney           40,550    13,736          0     123,179

HD32   Holguin         51,216    26,981          0      18,942
HD32   Hunter          43,750   293,821          0   2,125,012

HD54   Williams        66,107    16,840          0      26,165
HD54   Buckley         33,045    30,313     30,300      77,729

HD64   Brewer          55,651    14,009          0      40,548
HD64   Stucky          66,575    42,411          0     199,065

HD66   Hirsch         218,639    27,130          0     171,691
HD66   Shaheen         45,965    48,563    122,000     204,862

HD67   Sanchez         71,556    52,034     28,610       3,008
HD67   Leach          141,823   137,712          0     412,306

HD84   Gibson           4,310     2,738          0       4,533
HD84   Frullo          16,500    40,925          0     331,505

HD89   Ash                790       137     10,376         411
HD89   Noble           17,720     5,260    130,000     116,812

HD92   Whitfield      201,313    73,782     19,700     187,824
HD92   Cason           81,255    65,061      5,000      50,591

HD93   Bean           118,475    57,827          0     107,277
HD93   Krause         127,704    41,027          0     589,727

HD94   Simmons         62,265    28,203      1,090      38,466
HD94   Tinderholt      15,850    25,503          0      71,180

HD96   Drago          132,090    21,992          0     109,105
HD96   Cook            54,550    84,214          0     288,908

HD97   Beck           163,004    44,177          0     162,996
HD97   Goldman        292,777    85,870          0     866,662

HD106  Skidonenko      51,268    21,076      5,000      31,675
HD106  Patterson       79,575   125,850          0      91,055

HD108  Cattanach      181,290    65,495          0     122,179
HD108  Meyer          247,710   107,924          0     517,790

HD112  Chambers       168,585    61,104          0     157,394
HD112  Button          77,555    76,281          0     756,758

HD121  Montoya         90,861    13,313          0      61,233
HD121  Allison         73,190    94,274    235,000     113,077

As before, remember that those who were unopposed in March are reporting for the entire six month period of January 1 through June 30, those who won a contested March primary are reporting from February 23 through June 30, and those who had to win a primary runoff are reporting from February 23 through July 6. Check the individual reports if you’re not sure, and bear in mind that the presence or absence of a competitive race in this timeframe may have an effect on the numbers here.

While we saw a couple of Houston-area challengers raising serous money, we see quite a few more here. Several of them – Sharon Hirsch, Lydia Bean, Joanna Cattanach, Brandy Chambers, and Celina Montoya – are all repeat candidates, with Hirsch (who lost 50.3 to 49.7), Cattanach (50.1 to 49.9) and Chambers (51.0 to 49.0) being among the closest losses from 2018. The cash-on-hand situation is against them, though less so for Hirsch and Montoya than the others, but they will all have the resources they will need to compete. Overall, you really have to hand it to the Metroplex contenders, in Dallas and Tarrant and Collin and Denton, who really showed up in the first half of this year. If we do take back the House, this is where the bulk of it will happen.

We talked about the incumbency advantage in the last post, and wow does that vary from incumbent to incumbent. You have Todd Hunter, in a class by himself, with more typical results from the likes of Craig Goldman, Angie Chen Button, Morgan Meyer, Matt Krause, and Jeff Leach. Jared Patterson and Brad Buckley are first-termers, so you can cut them some slack; Candy Noble and Steve Allison are also first-termers, who have perhaps been a bit more diligent about the homework. Jeff Cason is defending an open seat. David Cook, also defending an open seat, is the honor roll recipient among the non-incumbent Republicans. These folks are all within the range of what one might expect, though I’d also expect Cason to step it up a notch if I were on that team.

And then there are the incumbents that make you go “Hmmm”. John Raney isn’t used to having competitive elections, but he’s been in the House since a 2011 special election, and you’d think he’d have a few bucks lying around just because. Tony Tinderholt has been targeted in November before, and as such his $15K raised in the period is just baffling. (Yes, I know, he is recovering from coronavirus, but as far as I can tell that was all in July, after this reporting period.) Now I feel like I really do need to check the targeted Dem incumbents, just to see if there are any equivalents to these guys in there.

As before, I suspect the 30-day reports will tell a much more revealing story. If you think there’s anything I’ve missed, let me know.

No eviction moratoriums

So opines Ken Paxton, and we all know what an unimpeachable source he is.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton advised Friday that local Texas governments’ attempts to delay evictions for renters grappling with the COVID-19 recession amounted to rewriting state law — something they can’t do, he said in nonbinding legal guidance.

“While local officials do possess certain emergency powers … statewide eviction procedures far exceed the requirement that those powers be exercised ‘on an appropriate local scale,’” Paxton said in a letter. “Government Code does not authorize local governmental entities operating under a declared disaster to independently rewrite state law as it applies to their jurisdiction to prohibit, delay, or restrict the issuance of a notice to vacate.”

Paxton’s letter, issued in response to a question from Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, seems to chide local officials like Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who last month extended the eviction moratorium in the city until Sept. 30. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe extended his ban until the same date. In other counties, like Harris and Dallas, some justices of the peace have decided to not hear evictions. It is unclear if Paxton’s opinion will influence those judges.

Adler said in a statement that his orders were lawful and “do not amend statewide eviction procedures,” but rather aim to “reduce person-to-person contact to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Hector Nieto, a spokesperson for Travis County, said officials there are reviewing the opinion.

Paxton’s opinion could have weight if someone were to sue a local government over its eviction moratorium.

“I can’t say I’m shocked that the state attorney general would side with landlords. Nothing he has done to date shows us that we could expect something different,” said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the housing advocacy group Texas Tenants Union. “A lot of tenants are facing eviction in Texas by zero fault of their own, and putting protections that are normal in almost every other state should be allowed in this pandemic.”

As we know, AG opinions don’t carry the force of law, but they are an obstacle. As with other contentious matters on which Paxton has opined, someone will have to take this to court to force the issue. Of course, this is also something the Legislature can review and revise, and I’d say it needs to be on the ever-increasing list of things the Lege very much needs to do at its first opportunity. On a side note, this adds some context to the city of Houston’s rental assistance program, which has been offered instead of an eviction moratorium order, which a number of people advocated for. A moratorium would certainly have been a more comprehensive tool to keep people who have been affected by the pandemic and the economic devastation that resulted from it in their homes, but not if it could not be enforced. Whatever you think of Mayor Turner’s approach, it was not affected by this action.

Once again with female Congressional candidates

This is another post that was drafted in the Before Times, specifically right after the March primary. I went through the runoffs and assessed all of the races that could or would contain a female candidate or incumbent against a male opponent or open seat with a retiring male incumbent, mixed in the likelihood of said female candidate winning, and presented a range of possibilities for the number of female members of Congress in Texas in 2021, a number that now stands at six. That’s six female members of Congress out of 36 total – five Democrats (out of 13 total) and one Republican (out of 23). With the lineups for November settled, let’s do a quick review, then you can click on to see what I had written originally.

First of all, the next member of Congress in CD24 will be a woman, either Democrat Candace Valenzuela or Republican Beth Van Duyne. It would be nice to say that this means the number of women in Congress from Texas will go up, but Rep. Lizzie Fletcher could lose her race to Wesley Hunt, which would leave us at six as before. I think as things stand right now Fletcher is a clear favorite to win, but we have to allow for the possibility.

Other than Van Duyne, the only Republican running in a competitive district is Genevieve Collins in CD32 against Rep. Colin Allred, who like his fellow freshman Fletcher is the favorite to win but could lose if things go poorly from here. CD24 is one of the more Dem-leaning seats that are currently held by Republicans, but since it’s Republican-held I’d say it has slightly better odds of staying red than CD07 or CD32 have of flipping to red. Republicans can add up to two women to their caucus, and they can subtract one from the Democratic caucus, but I think the single most likely outcome is that Rep. Kay Granger remains the only Republican woman in Congress, and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher gets another term.

If that’s the case, then Dems will add at least one woman to their caucus, but given the bigger picture it’s nearly impossible to imagine that it would be one and only one. I can’t envision a scenario in which Candace Valenzuela wins but Gina Ortiz Jones does not. Wendy Davis is a notch behind those two, and then a little further behind we have Sima Ladjevardian, Lulu Seikaly, Julie Oliver, and Donna Imam. A gain of two Democratic women feels like the single most likely possibility, followed very closely by a gain of three. Four or more is more remote, but not at all out of the question.

That’s the nickel summary. More recently, The 19th wrote about this from a national perspective, with a focus on Republican efforts to recruit more and better female candidates for Congress. They all pretty neatly avoid the Donald Trump-shaped elephant in the room, but that’s their problem. Read on for my original post, which included all of the candidates who are now out of the race or who are running for seats that are not competitive.

(more…)

FBS versus FCS

I’m referring in the title to the two types of Division I NCAA college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, which includes the power 5 conferences, and the Football Championship Subdivision, which used to be known as 1-AA and which has always had a playoff to determine its champion. Those of you who are fans of FCS football will have to wait till spring to see any of it.

The NCAA’s second-highest level of football won’t crown a 2020 champion as more schools announced Friday they wouldn’t take the gridiron this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Universities comprising the Missouri Valley Football ConferenceBig Sky Conference and Pioneer Football League all said they won’t play this fall, which effectively pulled the plug on postseason play for the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

As FCS teams and conferences pulled out of fall play in recent weeks, the NCAA announced that FCS playoffs would be cancelled if 50 percent of eligible teams pulled out. When the MVFC, Big Sky and Pioneer all opted out of autumn football, that minimum threshold was breached.

Before Friday, a host of other FCS leagues had called off fall football: the Ivy LeaguePatriot LeagueColonial Athletic AssociationNortheast ConferenceSouthwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The 2019 FCS title was won by North Dakota State University, which edged James Madison University in the final.

Lower levels of NCAA football, Division II and Division III, also had playoffs cancelled this week.

That’s an awful lot of college football that will not be happening this fall. And now some of the FBS action won’t be happening, either.

The Mid-American Conference has long been the home of Tuesday football, seven-overtime epics and the #MACtion hashtag that bonds together the most hardcore college football fans.

The MAC functions on the outer orbit of big-time college football, a key part of the food chain by providing early season buy games, midweek television inventory and early gambling opportunities for those who’ve endured lost weekends.

On Saturday, the MAC took over a new role in the college football universe — the center of attention. The MAC presidents met virtually Saturday morning and decided to cancel the fall football season, a source told Yahoo Sports. The MAC will focus on playing football in the spring. Stadium first reported the development.

All day Friday, athletic directors and coaches were fixated on the MAC as a potential harbinger for the sport. The MAC becomes the first FBS conference to cancel sports this fall, setting the table for a new question around the industry: “Who goes next?”

The Big Ten presidents are scheduled to meet on Saturday afternoon and discuss the league’s 2020 future, sources told Yahoo Sports. There’s some momentum among league presidents to cancel the fall season. But it’s unknown if there’s enough for a decision to be made immediately.

As noted before, the University of Connecticut, which now operates as an independent for football, cancelled its season as well. Optimism abounds elsewhere, with plans for mostly-full schedules and some fans in attendance. All I can say at this point is that it sure seems unlikely to me that “not playing football at all until spring” and “preparing to play football in the fall as if everything is more or less normal” cannot simultaneously be the optimal strategy. I don’t know at what point the FBS bubble bursts, but I feel like it has to sooner or later.

CD24 poll: Valenzuela 47, Van Duyne 41

From the Twitters:

You can see the poll info here. The 48-41 and 49-45 numbers are with leaners included – I just used the topline numbers. I would note that Trump carried CD24 by six points in 2016, while Beto won it by 3.5 points in 2018; I will say again, CD24 was the one that got away in 2018. Anyway, Biden leading by four points suggests a ten point shift overall from 2016, which is consistent with Biden leading the state by about a point. You can add your own caveats, I’m just adding this as another data point.

The school situation remains a mess

It’s a mess of Greg Abbott’s making.

Some superintendents say that despite Abbott’s statements to the contrary, their ability to respond to the pandemic is still limited, and many of their questions have gone unanswered even as school is slated to start in the coming weeks. They are worried their decisions could result in consequences from the state, including cuts to funding, and some say they would prefer high-stakes decisions affecting student and employee health to stay with medical experts.

“We’re going to make our decisions based on local scientific data, and we’re working with the health authority. That’s our guide,” said Juan Cabrera, superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District. “Nobody on our board, including myself and my administration, are medical doctors, so I’m going to try to take their advice.”

After about 18 local health authorities issued orders delaying in-person instruction because of coronavirus concerns, Abbott said last week that those health officials cannot issue blanket orders preventing all schools in their jurisdictions from opening classrooms before the academic year begins. His statement backed nonbinding guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton released earlier that week.

Abbott also said school districts could ask for more time to limit the number of students learning in classrooms, on a case-by-case basis, beyond the current eight-week maximum set by the Texas Education Agency. And he reminded school officials that they could move their start dates later in the year with a school board vote, as long as they make up the time. This, he said, gives local school boards the most authority to determine when and how it’s safe to have kids back.

The Texas Education Agency has not yet released any specifics on which districts will be able to receive waivers to limit in-person instruction beyond eight weeks or under what circumstances. But it said it will not fund school districts for unlawful school closures, worrying superintendents who want more certainty of state support while handling an unpredictable pandemic.

“After the eight weeks, there’s a threat to withhold funding if schools don’t have in-person learning. They’ve offered a waiver opportunity … but it takes it out of the hands of the local school district beyond the eight weeks, and that is not local control,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators and former superintendent of Alamo Heights ISD in San Antonio.

A spokesperson for Abbott, when reached for comment for this story, referred to the governor’s previous statements on the issue. Abbott has said that school boards are welcome to consult public health authorities as they make their decisions. And he said local health officials could shut down schools that have COVID-19 outbreaks after they reopen.

Some superintendents, especially in areas where the virus is rampant, balked at the idea of waiting for kids and teachers to get sick before shutting down their campuses in the middle of the year, instead of working with local health officials to close classrooms if cases spike again. And some still wondered: What options do they have if cases are still high after eight weeks?

“Districts, I think, are very concerned about creating these rolling situations where people come back on campus and then get sick and then everybody has to leave again,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services for the Texas Association of School Boards, on a recent podcast explaining the state’s guidance.

See here, here, and here for the background. Basically, school districts are being told they cannot prioritize safety until they have proof that their schools are unsafe. If they take action that doesn’t conform with regulations that are not currently documented, they risk losing funding. Greg Abbott is the sole decider on these matters, and he has nothing new to say at this time. Any questions?

Let the sun shine in

Make ’em disclose.

Empower Texans, the deep-pocketed conservative advocacy group, is well-known for its heavy hand in steering the Texas GOP further to the right and for its shadowy setup that hides its funding sources from the public.

But a court case seeking to force the group’s leader to register as a lobbyist could reveal more about the inner workings of the organization — and others like it in Texas — than ever known before, after the Texas Supreme Court last month ruled that it must divulge communications and financial records to the state ethics commission.

Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, through his dark money group — made up of a web of political action committees and of nonprofits that aren’t required to report donors — has made $9.5 million in political contributions since 2007, state records show. All the while, Sullivan has been able to keep secret even basic information such as his own compensation, which a Hearst Newspapers analysis found was hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the salary reported on tax forms.

[…]

The suit stems from a 2014 fine the Texas Ethics Commission assessed against Sullivan for failing to register as a lobbyist starting in 2010. Sullivan appealed, and a series of delays have held up the case from going to trial, including a fight over the county where it should be held and attempts by Sullivan to have it dismissed.

Sullivan and his attorney, Tony McDonald, did not respond to requests for comment.

In a parallel court case, Sullivan is trying to gut the state agency, alleging that the Texas Ethics Commission does not have the legal authority to carry out actions such as levying fines for campaign finance law violations, saying only an executive branch agency, not a legislative branch agency, can enforce laws.

That suit, which is before the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso, also has the potential to reorganize the ethics commission, which already has some of the weakest enforcement capabilities in the country.

But in a testament to the political influence of Empower Texans in Republican circles, Attorney General Ken Paxton has declined to defend the Ethics Commission in that suit.

Instead, Paxton, who has received more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from Empower Texans since 2009, has sided with Sullivan — saying he agrees with the group’s legal stand and has a “duty to uphold the Constitution,” despite his obligation by statute to defend challenges to state laws, state agencies and state employees.

The ethics commission has hired its own lawyers in the case.

I probably have some posts about this case in the archives, but I didn’t feel like spelunking for them. You already know everything you need to know about Empower Texans and MQS, truly the scum of Texas politics. The bottom line for me is that I do not understand the argument that this organization somehow deserves to be exempted from disclosure laws. Every single thing they do is for the purpose of influencing our government. The rest of us have a right to know who’s paying for that. It’s all just sophistry and special pleading after that.

Your Harris County Republican Party

What can one possibly say?

Keith Nielsen has taken office as the chairman of the Harris County GOP, despite saying he would not do so earlier this summer after facing backlash to an image he posted on Facebook juxtaposing a Martin Luther King Jr. quote with a banana.

Nielsen, elected in March, was set to automatically take over as the party leader in Texas’ biggest county, home to Houston, at 12 a.m. Monday. To forfeit the office, he would have had to notify the party secretary prior to midnight, which he did not do, according to party spokeswoman Genevieve Carter.

By Sunday night, over 120 precinct chairs had signed on to a statement reminding Nielsen of his early June “declination to take the office.”

In recent weeks, all signs pointed to Nielsen reneging on his promise to not take office. He showed up to a meeting with state Senate district chairs last month and left the impression that he was reversing himself, and last week, he announced an Aug. 18 meeting with precinct chairs in an email that he signed as the “chairman-elect.”

Nielsen never publicly confirmed his intentions as questions mounted about whether he was going back on his word. Meanwhile, some of the prominent GOP officials who had initially pressured him to step aside reiterated their calls. The group included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, of Conroe.

“A bigot whose word is no good,” Brady tweeted Tuesday. “This is not what the party of Lincoln stands for. He needs to be removed. Now.”

It was not immediately clear how Nielsen could be ousted.

See here for some background. As a reminder, there were quite a few other GOP county party chairs who said nasty racist things on Facebook following the George Floyd murder, and they’re still in their positions. Plus, you know, Sid Miller. Good luck sorting this all out, y’all.

It’s like we don’t want any extra Congresspeople

As someone once said, where’s the outrage?

For months, as Texans have been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, Jennifer Edwards has been doing the rounds at gas stations in a trio of counties near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Volunteering as a census community organizer, the Tarleton State University professor reasoned that gas stations, like grocery stores, would continue to see foot traffic during the pandemic. Setting up a booth just outside the front doors offered her face time with essential workers to deliver an essential message — please fill out the census.

“When we’re meeting with people in front of the tractor supply or the dollar store or the gas station … the communication is focused on ‘Well when does it end, what’s the deadline?’” said Edwards, who had been sharing the pandemic-induced October deadline for counting every person living in the U.S. for the once-a-decade census.

But on Monday evening, the U.S. Census Bureau upended the timeline Edwards and hundreds of other organizers, volunteers and local officials had been working under. After previously stating the census would run through Oct. 31, the bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30.

The October cutoff had offered organizers crucial overtime for the count after the coronavirus pandemic derailed a ground game for canvassing and outreach efforts that in some regions of the state had been in the works for years. Now, the earlier deadline is heightening risks that Texas will be undercounted and that some Texans, particularly those who are low-income or Hispanic, will be missed in the count as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage their communities.

The schedule change comes at a key point in the count. The bureau has started its door-to-door campaign to follow up with households that have not yet filled out the census online, by phone or by mail, but census workers won’t reach some communities in Texas, like the Rio Grande Valley, that are at the highest risk of being missed until next week.

“It seems like not only are they cutting back the time they’re giving themselves to do this nonresponse follow up, but they’re also allocating the least amount of time in the hardest-to-count places in the state,” said Lila Valencia, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center.

This follows Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude certain people from the Census data for redistricting purposes, as well as the state’s refusal to pay for any effort to do a thorough Census count. It’s like there’s a conspiracy to keep Texas from getting the up to three additional members of Congress that it would be due if everything went as it should. And also, you know, billions and billions of federal money that our taxes contribute to that will instead flow to other states because the Census says we have a lot fewer people than we actually do. I get what Trump’s motivations are here. I have a much harder time understanding why this isn’t a problem for Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and every Republican running for Congress. Why do they all want to hurt Texas like this? It’s a question that should get asked, a lot.