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Interview with Sherrie Matula of Sisters United Alliance

Sherrie Matula is a longtime Democratic activist (she was a founder of the BAAD Women club) and two-time candidate (for HD129 in 2008, and for HCDE in Precinct 2 in 2016, which she lost by 0.2 percentage points), but that’s not the reason I’m interviewing her. I’m interviewing her because she’s the founder and President of Sisters United Alliance, a small data-driven effort to turn out Democratic-aligned women voters in Texas. Beginning in 2016 and focusing in that election on Harris County, SUA identified 89,000 low-propensity women who were already registered to vote and contacted them by mail and by phone to encourage them to vote for Democratic candidates. Forty-three percent, or 39K of those 89K women they targeted, did cast a vote. They followed that up in 2018 with a larger focus that included Fort Bend, Galveston, Brazoria, and Montgomery Counties plus four small counties between Houston and Austin, and had similar results.

Sisters United has expanded their reach again for 2020, and it’s an effort that deserves more attention. SUA is aiming at precisely the kind of voters that campaigns tend to overlook, and they have been successful at getting them to vote. You can see their numbers from 2018 here and their 2020 universe here, and you can visit their website to learn more here. We all know what’s at stake in this election. Sisters United is doing the kind of work that’s needed to make victory possible. Give a listen to hear what they’re about:

If you like what you hear and want to help, go here to donate to Sisters United Alliance.

SCOTX rejects multiple Hotze petitions

Some good news.

The Texas Supreme Court has refused to hear several challenges by a Houston conservative power broker to emergency orders on coronavirus issued by Gov. Greg Abbott and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Without comment, the nine Republican justices on Friday denied a request that they review a trial court that upheld Hidalgo’s April 22 mask order.

The order required residents to wash hands before leaving home and wear masks, stay 6 feet away from each other and avoid touching their faces in public. For a time, Abbott, a Republican, prevented Hidalgo, a Democrat elected in 2018, from enforcing it. The governor later reversed course and issued his own mask order.

Experts said Friday they weren’t surprised that in five recent lawsuits, the state’s highest civil court has declined Dr. Steve Hotze’s demands that it step in and overturn Abbott and Hidalgo’s COVID-19 orders. Each time, the court ruled on procedural grounds.

Hotze, a staunch conservative who for decades has wielded influence with his “slate cards” telling Harris County voters whom to back in Republican primaries, said his bid to protect Texans’ state and federal constitutional rights will continue.

“We fight on,” he said. “It’s obvious to me some members of the Supreme Court just don’t want this case to come up. They don’t want to go against Abbott. Six of them were appointed by Abbott.”

See here for the background, and here for the one-line denial. This follows on the heels of an earlier denial over Abbott’s statewide mask order.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit disputing Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders closing nonessential businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, but one justice expressed concern he is improperly taking the role of state lawmakers.

The Republican-controlled high court dismissed without comment the lawsuit filed by lead plaintiff and Republican activist Dr. Steven Hotze for a lack of jurisdiction.

Justice John Devine agreed with the dismissal, concluding a lawsuit against the governor is the incorrect vehicle. Nonetheless, Devine said Abbott’s emergency actions are not “categorically immune” from review by the courts and he finds it “difficult to square” the governor’s orders and state law.

“I share relators’ concern in what they describe as ‘an improper delegation of legislative authority’ to the executive branch,” his five-page concurring opinion states. “During declared states of ‘disaster,’ the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 bestows upon the governor the power to issue executive orders that have ‘the force and effect of law.’ Disaster or not, the Texas Constitution doesn’t appear to contemplate any circumstances in which we may condone such consolidation of power.”

Devine, a Republican, said the constitution’s ban on a branch of government exercising another branch’s powers “is not simply a suggestion.”

“In the first article, it states: ‘No power of suspending laws in this state shall be exercised except by the Legislature,’” he wrote. “This provision means what it says. The judiciary may not suspend laws. Nor may the executive. Only the Legislature.”

The Texas Legislature is only in regular session once every two years for 140 calendar days beginning in January. Abbott has so far ignored calls by state lawmakers to call a month-long special session to replace his executive orders during the pandemic.

Devine wrote the court’s dismissal “should not be misperceived as a judicial kowtow” to Abbott, saying there is no “pause” button to the Texas Constitution. He expressed worry that more executive orders will come when a second wave of the virus hits, resulting in “short-term orders could continually escape” the court’s review.

See here for that background, and here for that denial. This recapitulates what I’ve been saying all along – there are serious questions to be asked about the Governor’s powers at this time and what the role of the Legislature should be, questions that I sincerely hope are addressed by the next Lege, but Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill and their shambling evil Lawsuits R Us clown car is absolutely the wrong way to examine those questions. I would also add that SCOTX’s loopiest Justice John Devine is exactly the wrong person to be setting the outlines of this debate, but at least he did so in a concurring opinion. I’ll take what I can get at this point.

On a side note, in that first article Rice poli sci professor Mark Jones is quoted saying that in a 2015-2017 context, Greg Abbott very likely would have given more weight to the demands of the fringiest wingnuts in the Republican Party, because there would have been no political counterweight to them. But now, at a time when Donald Trump is at best running even with Joe Biden in the polls of Texas and the Democrats have a legitimate shot at taking the State House and knocking off a bunch of GOP members of Congress, some discretion on his part is the better part of valor. In other words, elections do have consequences.

Finally, since all news of bad things happening to Steven Hotze is good news, I was recently sent some relevant court documents by a very helpful reader that I will chare with you here. First, is this by a Harris County judge, issued on his own volition (the fancy Latin legal term for this is “sua sponte”), chiding Hotze and Woodfill for not properly serving all parties of his various lawsuits the relevant pleadings he’d been filing with SCOTX in a timely manner. Even more interesting is this one, filed by the Harris County Attorney on behalf of County Judge Lina Hidalgo and County Fire Marshal Laurie Christianson, accusing Hotze of filing multiple bullshit lawsuits against the county as a harassment tactic and asking for sanctions. Here’s a taste:

Hotze filed five lawsuits and two appeals against Judge Hidalgo in the last four months. Many of these cases are based on fabricated facts, and they all make identical constitutional challenges to the Texas Disaster Act. Based on Hotze’s own statements and actions, it is clear that he brought these duplicative suits for the improper purpose of harassing Judge Hidalgo.

Not only are these duplicative suits made for an improper purpose, but Hotze litigates them in a manner orchestrated to be as harassing as possible. Hotze presents all of his cases as urgent matters requiring emergency temporary restraining orders and emergency petitions for writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court. However, these cases are never urgent, have typically been pre-filed for days or weeks, are often set for hearing long after the orders they complain about have expired, and have nothing to do with science, liberty, or the Constitution. Their “urgency” is manufactured to deny Defendants due process by preventing them time to respond.

Hotze’s five lawsuits were designed to maximize delay and cost and create a never-ending conveyor belt of litigation using a six-step formula: (1) Hold a rally and generate negative media attention toward Judge Hidalgo, (2) solicit plaintiffs for a choose-your-own-adventure style lawsuit, (3) file a lawsuit, never serve it, then email opposing counsel about a hearing on a few hours’ notice, (4) make false claims, (5) amend, dismiss, or appeal before the court considers sanctions, and (6) start over with a new lawsuit and repeat the cycle.

It goes from there. It was filed in the 189th Civil Court, the same one whose judge issued that sua sponte order, and it requests “$10,000 in attorney’s fees and a conditional $10,000 in attorney’s fees if this matter is unsuccessfully appealed” on behalf of Hidalgo and Christianson in their official capacities. I have no idea what the odds of success of this motion are, but you do love to see it.

Recount requested in CD23 Republican runoff

This race is still unsettled.

Raul Reyes announced Friday night that he will seek a recount in the razor-thin Republican primary runoff to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, in his national battleground district.

Reyes’ announcement came after the Texas GOP certified the results of his July 14 runoff against Tony Gonzales. The campaigns said the final margin was Gonzales by 45 votes, though the party had not confirmed that as of late Friday night.

“We worked too hard, for too long, not to ensure every legal vote was counted properly,” Reyes said in a statement.

Reyes’ move all but ensures another chapter in the dramatic runoff, particularly when it comes to endorsements. President Donald Trump supported Gonzales, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz backed Reyes.

Reyes came out of Election Night down seven votes and did not concede, wanting to see the counting of final mail-in, provisional and military-overseas ballots. As those came in over the past few weeks, Gonzales repeatedly claimed victory and increasingly urged the party to unify for November. But Reyes held firm against conceding and began fundraising for a potential recount while waiting for the state party canvass.

Take all the time you need, fellas. Gina Ortiz Jones will be over here, doing actual campaigning and figuring out all the ways she’s gonna kick whoever’s butt it is that comes out of this.

Coronavirus and coins

If you’re not using cash, you’re not circulating any coins.

Show some love for Millard

Stores around the U.S. are struggling with an unexpected shortage. (No, not toilet paper — sorry, we’ve already made that joke.) They’re running low on coins.

Supermarkets and gas stations across the U.S. are asking shoppers to pay with a card or produce exact change when possible. Walmart has converted some of its self-checkout registers to accept only plastic. Kroger is offering to load change that would normally involve coins onto loyalty cards. Some Wawa gas stations are accepting coin rolls in exchange for bills.

The trouble began weeks ago, when the coronavirus pandemic delivered a bizarre double blow to the U.S. supply of quarters, dimes, nickels and even pennies. Social distancing and other safety measures slowed production of coins at the U.S. Mint. But also fewer coins made their way from customers to banks, coin-sorting kiosks and stores’ cash registers as people holed up at home.

“The flow of coins through the economy … kind of stopped,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers in June.

That month, the Fed began rationing coins. Soon after, business groups — representing grocers, convenience stores, retailers, gas station operators and others — wrote to Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the situation was an emergency.

“We were alarmed to hear that the system for distributing coins throughout the country is at the breaking point,” they wrote on June 23, offering a series of suggestions for how to fix it. A week later, the Fed announced it would convene a U.S. Coin Task Force to address the matter.

All things considered, I’d generally rather use cash for buying lunch and other small purchases. Old habits, I suppose, plus I know that no one is taking a cut of the cash away from the merchant I’m patronizing. But since we all started staying home and doing contactless transactions, I’ve barely used the stuff. I haven’t hit an ATM since February. I do tip more, and more often, now that it’s all credit card all the time. That’s something I need to pay attention to going forward. I do look forward to the day when I can just hand over a $20 for my lunch, if only because it will be a sure sign that things have returned to some kind of normal.

Weekend link dump for August 2

The Space Force has a horse. Of course, of course.

“An extraordinary new archaeological discovery has revealed that humans arrived in the Americas at least 11,000 years earlier than previously thought – rewriting the human story of the continent and dramatically changing our understanding of world prehistory.”

We can virtually eliminate the virus any time we decide to. We can be back to a reasonably normal existence: schools, travel, job growth, safer nursing homes & other settings. And we could do it in a matter of weeks. If we want to.”

“There was no significant difference by mode of interview on any of four questions asking directly about Trump.”

“Not once in the hour did Stepien mention the coronavirus or how the campaign would handle messaging around the pandemic’s toll.”

“Biden has been able to grow his lead by keeping the focus on Trump — a job made easier by the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.”

“When It Stops Being A Joke: Did We All Indulge Suspected Killer By Mocking Him?”

“Which is to say, dogmatic adherence to conservative orthodoxy is not even in the best interest of the conservative ideological project. If your primary concern is curtailing progressive redistribution, preventing the Democratic Party from taking power in the midst of a historic economic crisis should be a top priority. But a critical mass of congressional Republicans missed the memo differentiating what the conservative movement actually believes (that economic policy should be directed toward maximizing plutocratic prerogatives) from what it pretends to believe (that countercyclical spending doesn’t work). And so McConnell must reason with colleagues who genuinely think the party can revive the economy by removing all fiscal life support.”

“These Photos Of Lonely Baseball Mascots In Empty Stadiums Are A Whole Mood”.

You can add “being invited to throw out the first pitch at the Yankees-Nationals game on August 15 at Yankee Stadium” to the long list of things Donald Trump has lied about. Speaking as a Yankees fan, I’m very happy to hear that.

“Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine“. And she’s here in Houston, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

“A watchdog group is alleging that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has laundered $170 million through companies controlled by campaign officials as part of an effort to avoid disclosing which vendors it is really paying for services.”

“NASA Invites Public to Share Excitement of Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Launch”.

Hey, remember when Joe Biden suggested that Donald Trump might try to do unsavory things with the November election and people thought he was crazy? There sure were a lot of people who were very sure that was a crazy thing for Joe Biden to say. Not so crazy now, is it?

Three things Congress needs to do now to facilitate election security.

“Just to repeat that: Trump deliberately decided to let Americans die, in huge numbers, not because there was nothing that could be done, but because it was decided that it would “politically advantageous” to have people dying in states with Democratic governors.”

RIP, Wilford Brimley, versatile actor known for playing characters a lot older than he himself was.

Congressional Dems winning the money race in Texas

The times, they have definitely changed.

Early this election cycle, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn publicly worried about complacency within the Texas Republican political class — even after Democratic gains made in 2018.

So in early 2019, the state’s senior senator encouraged Texas Republicans in the U.S. House to bolster their fundraising and think twice about sending money out of the state.

“There’s an attempt by the leadership to extract as much money as possible out of the state as they can and use that wherever they need it, and I understand that,” he told The Texas Tribune in June 2019. “But we need to make sure our Texas races — from the president and all the way down to the courthouse — are adequately financed and resourced. And that’s going to require us to raise a significant amount of money.”

More than a year later, a Texas Tribune analysis of recent campaign finance reports shows that Cornyn’s fears of a funding problem have come to life. Democratic U.S. House candidates in Texas have millions more aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts. It marks an extraordinary six-year shift within the Texas delegation.

In 2016, U.S. House Republican candidates in Texas had $32.3 million on hand in July of that year. Their Democratic counterparts reported $11.4 million.

The next cycle, boosted by a backlash to President Donald Trump, Democrats saw a jump in fundraising. In 2018, Texas Republican U.S. House candidates had $34.8 million in cash on hand, compared with $21.8 million on the Democratic side.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show a complete shift this year. Republicans running for the U.S. House in Texas reported $19.2 million. Democrats had $26.7 million.

[…]

And the money affects more than just the seven or so competitive U.S. House races on the ballot.

Take the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Situated entirely in North Texas’ Collin County, it has been a longtime undisputed GOP stronghold. Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 with 64% of the vote to Barack Obama’s 34%. But in 2018, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, carried the county by only six percentage points, and U.S. Rep. Van Taylor of Plano saw the district’s margin narrow from 27 points in 2016 to 10 points during his first run for the seat in 2018.

Taylor took that race seriously, advertising on broadcast television, and he has over $1 million in cash on hand this year. His opponent, attorney Lulu Seikaly, only had about $40,000 on her last financial report, but the way she is spending that money is noteworthy. That same report revealed she had hired a national direct mail consultant. Additionally, her campaign said in a news release that it had raised $100,000 since the mid-July runoff and has had a well-regarded polling firm conduct an internal poll of the race.

Should a Democratic wave hit the state in the fall, Seikaly will already have poll-tested messaging and located vendors to potentially take advantage of the environment. If not, her efforts to bring Democrats in her district to the polls could still help others in her party above and below her on ballot. Taylor’s district overlaps considerably with that of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who is one of more than a dozen GOP incumbents Democrats are targeting in an effort to flip the state House.

You can see the July finance reports for Democratic Congressional candidates here. As this story notes, much of the difference comes from the two freshman Dems who knocked off Republican incumbents in 2018, Reps. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 and Colin Allred in CD32, plus the challengers in CDs 21, 22, and 23. Sri Kulkarni in CD22 is the laggard of the bunch, with $2.5 million raised and $1.2 million on hand; the others all have at least $3.8 million raised and $2.9 million on hand. Wendy Davis has practically lapped Rep. Chip Roy in CD21. Mike Siegel in CD10 and Candace Valenzuela have less cash on hand after having to compete in the primary runoffs, but both had raised a lot as of the Q2 report and I expect they will keep it up. Sima Ladjevardian may not be able to keep up with the moneybags Dan Crenshaw, but she’s still hauled in $1.6 million.

It’s not just about what the candidates themselves have raised. Republican Congressional incumbents have been asked to kick in a bunch of money to the RNC, but their on requests to get a little help coming back have fallen on deaf ears. Usual suspects like the Club for Growth will spend big to protect their own, but the list that needs defending keeps getting longer. If there are three takeaways from all this, they’re 1) Dems should have all the resources they need to make a maximum push this November; 2) expect to be bombarded with ads like you’ve never been before – seriously, live sports is going to be a wasteland of political ads, if there are live sports this fall; and 3) Dems have no excuse for not raising a ton of money to win statewide elections in 2022.

Revisiting the May elections

I’m ambivalent about this.

Most cities in Texas — from Galveston to Lubbock — moved their May elections to November under a pandemic-era decree by Gov. Greg Abbott.

But the choices facing voters will remain limited to candidates who filed for office months ago — at least for now.

State Rep. Mayes Middleton, a Galveston County Republican, wants to reopen the filing period for candidates to lead cities and other political jurisdictions, including school boards. He believes voters may have soured on incumbents facing little or no competition.

Middleton is asking Attorney General Ken Paxton whether the state should give candidates who want to run in a postponed local election until mid-August to file for a spot on the ballot.

“I think it’s also only fair that this occur because there are a lot of people that have been frankly unhappy with how some of the decisions… have been made in local government during this pandemic,” Middleton said.

The legal rub: Abbott’s March 18 order was silent on the filing deadline. But Abbott’s secretary of state, Ruth Hughs, wrote local officials that “the postponement does not have the effect of reopening candidate filings.”

Middleton believes that guidance is not supported by election law and Abbott’s order. Middleton, who chairs the arch-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, contends in his July 2 letter to Paxton that Texas law clearly states that if the election day is changed or moved, the filing period rolls forward with it.

He said the ripple effects of a legal opinion by Paxton go well beyond proving greater scrutiny for elected officials who have issued shutdown orders or mask requirements, which have drawn the ire of many conservatives. Some local officials believe that tax rates adopted by cities for the coming fiscal year could greatly exceed what voters have the appetite for amid curtailed local tax revenues due to the pandemic.

I mean, I don’t agree with Mayes Middleton on much, and I think his motives for this action are screwy. But I confess that a part of me thinks that an election held in November, even if it was supposed to have been held in May but had to be postponed for whatever reason, should have a filing deadline that’s standard for a November election. On the other hand, the original filing deadline for the May 2 elections was February 14, more than a month before Abbott’s order that rescheduled the thing. As such, it’s hard to argue that people may have been unfairly excluded from filing. Obviously, conditions have changed, and I think there’s a valid case to be made that if these elections had been scheduled for November in the first place, there would be a very different lineup for them than what exists now. I think you can also make a valid case that the voters have it in their power to persuade the candidates they do have to prioritize the things they want now, as opposed to the things they would have wanted then.

On the related question of whether we should have regular elections in May at all, I’m also ambivalent. No question, turnout would be much greater in November elections, and as a general principle I think that’s preferable. But November elections, especially November elections in even-numbered years, are full of races with a lot more money and noise-making ability, which combine to drown out whatever local issues would be heard in a quieter context. It would be so much better if people simply took a greater interest in their local and school board elections, so that they could be held at any time and didn’t need the boost of a Presidential or gubernatorial election to get even semi-decent participation. I’d like to have a robust debate about this, but I fear that only the hardcore, vote-in-every-election types would be tuned in for it, and that would miss the point entirely. I don’t know what else to say.

One more thing:

Republican Cheryl Johnson, the Galveston County tax assessor, wrote Paxton in support of Middleton’s position. She said the pandemic has “opened the eyes” of Texans to potential government overreach, namely local tax rates that could soar as cities try to bridge budget shortfalls. Johnson wants officials considering tax hikes to feel the pressure of a campaign challenge.

Johnson noted that Senate Bill 2, signed into law by Abbott during the 2019 legislative session, requires cities to receive voter approval before levying taxes that would result in collections 3.5 percent higher than the previous year. But the bill contains a disaster provision that permits a city to collect more than twice as much for at least two years if any part of the city is declared a disaster area during the current tax year.

State and local officials are at odds over whether the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a “disaster” to trigger this provision.

“I’m of the opinion that COVID-19 is not the type of disaster that would warrant the disaster provision of Senate Bill 2,” she said.

The Texas Municipal League says it conducted a survey of cities recently and found the “vast majority” plan to keep increased collections below the 3.5 percent threshold allowed by Senate Bill 2.

Yeah, sorry, if you don’t think what we’re in now counts as a “disaster”, then I’m afraid I just can’t take you seriously. SB2 was a terrible bill for many reasons, and this is one of them. But look, if you don’t want cities and counties to try to deal with their massive revenue shortfalls on their own, then there is a simple alternative, and that’s to push the Senate to pass the HEROES Act, which the House passed months ago, to provide fiscal relief to local governments for precisely this purpose. If you’re not down for that either, then I think we know all we need to know about your priorities.

The Renaissance Festival will go on

I haven’t gone to RenFest in years, and I can’t say I was itching to go this year, but it will be there for those who want it.

The 46th annual Texas Renaissance Festival will go on as scheduled this year, but things will look a little different due to the pandemic.

Beginning Saturday, Aug. 1, tickets will be available for the 2020 festival, which starts Oct. 3 and runs through Nov. 29. Tickets will be date-specific, sold in advance online only and will not be available at the gate, according to the festival website. Tickets may also be purchased at participating H-E-B stores beginning Sept. 1.

The most visible change at the nine-week-long festival is that all staff, performers and vendors will be required to wear a face-covering and receive daily temperature checks before each shift, according to a press release.

If a statewide mask order is in place at the time of the festival, patrons will also be required to wear face masks. If no state order is in place, patrons will not be required but “strongly encouraged to do so.” In line with the festival’s long-standing tradition of themed weekends and creative costumes, a face mask contest will be held every day in search of the attendee with the most creatively decorated mask.

Texas counties with more than 20 coronavirus cases are currently under a statewide mask order. Grimes County, where the festival is held, has 828 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the latest available data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Houston region is still considered a COVID-19 hotspot and is currently at 98,565 cases total. Texas saw the second-highest day for newly reported deaths on Wednesday, per a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data.

[…]

[Texas Renaissance Festival Marketing Manager Marlena] Solomon said the festival’s 200-acre campground typically never meets 50 percent capacity during a normal season, so capacity limitations will not be issued for this season. She added that in anticipation of capacity limitations that could be issued closer to October, the festival grounds will be limited to 22,500 guests per day.

My interpretation of this is that all guests would be required to wear a mask at this time, since Grimes County is covered by that statewide mask order. But after reading this additional story, I’m not so sure of that.

The mask-optional policy has left some workers feeling that the festival will be unsafe. Niki Korontana has been working at the Renaissance Fest for 12 years, performing as a Transylvanian and pirate for 10 of those years.

She is anemic and has to have iron infusion treatments to correct the disorder. Her fragile immune system leaves her vulnerable to COVID-19, she said, and the festival’s resistance ro institute a mask order puts her in danger. She said she resigned via email and has not received a response from management.

“I do understand that we’re dealing with a lot of upheaval,” she said. “Maybe getting back to me is not a priority, but I put a lot into this job. There’s no way to socially distance in a lot of places. There’s limited access to water and hand-washing. The faire population, as a whole, is broke with no access to health care. On the regular we all get ‘faire sick’ every year even without the outbreak. We’re used to working through all of that, and I can easily imagine people infecting others.”

The festival has lost more than half of their performing staff this year, said marketing and communications manager Marlena Solomon. That estimate includes elderly workers, people in at-risk populations and those who may not want to wear masks in the hot early weekends of the event.

“We respect their decision not to come this season due to their concerns regarding facemasks,” Solomon said. “They will be welcome back next year. No one will be penalized for not being a part of this season.”

Ginnie Eatchel, who has worked at the festival for five years, doesn’t have health issues, but she said she’s quitting, too, without at mask mandate. She said she doesn’t understand how patrons can expect performers to work in full medieval dress, including suits of armor, while they balk at being asked to wear a mask.

“Many of these people at fair are of the Trump mindset saying, ‘No one can impede on my freedom’ or ‘If they make me wear a mask, I’m not buying a pass this year,’” she said. “It’s such a selfish mindset. You’re doing it for other people.”

Solomon said that partisan concerns are not behind the voluntary mask policy. “The decisions are not being made based on political views of our patrons,” she said.

Sure seems like a good case for mandating masks to me. I’d prefer that the RenFest require mask wearing, but I’m not likely to attend anyway, so who cares what I think. Honestly, I’m a little surprised to see that they’re open at all, since many other outdoor events have been cancelled. I would have thought RenFest is sufficiently spaced out that they can reasonably minimize the risks, but now I’m rethinking that. Sure would be nice to be able to do reliable contact tracing just in case. Anyway, RenFest has been going through some changes, so maybe this was just about trying to have a little more normality in our lives. I can sympathize with that.

Restaurants may get to use parking lot space for dining

I like this idea.

Restaurants in Houston, currently limited by 50% indoor capacity limits, may soon be able to serve diners in parking lots to accommodate more guests.

Pending a vote by the Houston City Council, a “More Spaces” plan developed by Houston’s Chief Transportation Officer David Fields would allow restaurants to convert 50% of off-street parking spots to dining spaces.

The ability to make such conversions would allow restaurants to serve more guests in an open-air environment that limits the spread of the coronavirus more effectively than dining indoors, according to Centers for Disease Control guidance. The efforts mirror that of other cities, such as Austin and Atlanta.

Restaurant owners would not need to apply for the authority to do so; instead, they would file a notification with the city so that the planning department can track restaurants’ compliance with the new protocols. The proposal prohibits music in the adapted outdoor dining areas and limits closing hours to no later than midnight. Participating restaurants must also ensure that ADA-accessible parking spaces remain available.

If enacted, the policy will only remain in place under coronavirus emergency orders, but it could serve as a test period for future efforts.

“I think we could learn a lot from this pilot in the immediate term and go back out to the industry and the community and show what we have learned,” Fields said.

I know, eating outdoors on a concrete or asphalt surface in July and August may not sound appealing, but fall is coming, plenty of dining hours are as or after the sun goes down, and I’m sure the restaurants themselves can figure out what will work for them. The point here is that outdoor is safer than indoor, and this will add capacity to restaurants that are currently limited to fifty percent of their indoor capacity. Their parking lots are already underutilized, so why not give them some options? It can’t hurt to try.

A slightly less rosy view of Democratic prospects

Here’s the latest race ratings from Texas Elects:

Texas Election Source has updated 27 race ratings based on the latest polling, July campaign finance reports and primary runoff results. Twenty of those races moved one column toward the Democrats’ advantage. Our complete ratings are located here. Thirteen Republican-held seats in the legislature or congressional delegation are rated Toss-up or Lean Democratic. No Democrat-held seat is rated below Lean Democratic after several seats formerly in the Toss-up column were shifted into the Lean Democratic column.

The most significant impact of the new ratings on our projections is in the Texas House. Democrats need a net of nine seats to retake a majority in the chamber. We project they will get six, up three from our April ratings, which would cut the Republicans’ advantage to 77-73 entering the 2021 legislative session. Seven more Republican-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of the range we consider a toss-up race. Only two Democrat-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of a toss-up.

Four Republican-held seats are rated Lean Democratic, listed from greatest to least lean:

  • HD134 – Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) vs. Ann Johnson (D)
  • HD138 open – Lacey Hull (R) vs. Akilah Bacy (D)
  • HD108 – Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) vs. Joanna Cattanach (D); and
  • HD66 – Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) vs. Sharon Hirsch (D).

Since 2010, the four House seats on the list have drifted an average of 7.3 percentage points bluer, relative to the state as a whole. Two seats in other chambers – CD23 and SD19 – are also rated Lean Democratic. They have gotten relatively redder but remained 3.9 and 9.1 percentage points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018. We are projecting SD19 to get another 1.4 percentage points redder, but even that keeps it just .07% from being labeled as Likely Democratic.

Incidentally, HD134 would rate as Likely Democratic but for Davis’s consistent over-performance of other Republicans in the district. In 2018, the average Democrat received 55% of the vote in her district measured head-to-head against the Republican, but Davis survived thanks to ticket-splitting voters. Longtime political observers will remember former Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) who held onto his district by finishing as much as 19 points better than the rest of the Democratic slate. He was overwhelmed by rising Republican leanings in 2010 but still over-performed the rest of the ticket by 12 points. We project Davis’s ability to win over ticket-splitting voters will not be enough this year.

Dallas Co. was the epicenter of the Democratic surge in 2018. Only two Republicans represent the county in the state House currently, and we project that number will be zero after November. Tarrant Co., home to five races rated Toss-up or Lean Republican, and Fort Bend Co., with three seats in the Lean and Likely Republican columns, are expected to be the chief battleground counties in the House this year.

There’s more, so go read the rest. Texas Elects has a lot of premium content, but the free stuff is worth checking regularly.

Unlike the exuberant Capitol Inside projections, Texas Elects has the Dems falling short of a majority in the House, though it does expect three Congressional seats and SD19 to flip, and it has all of the statewide races as “Lean Republican”. You might be wondering about the inclusion of some Dem-held seats on the table, but as noted before, HDs 31, 34, and 74 are three of the four most purple districts out there that were held by Dems prior to 2018. They could be vulnerable in a bad year for Dems, though I don’t think this is that kind of year. As for HD41 and HD144, I can’t say I’m worried about them.

As that Capitol Inside projection was ebullient for Dems, this one is more sober. It sounds a little crazy to say when you think of the decade in total, but a six-seat pickup by Dems in the Lege would feel disappointing. It’s well within the range of possibility, and if all we ever think about is the best case scenario we’re not being honest with ourselves. All projections are art as well as science, in that you have to decide which factors are the most important and by how much. Individual candidates and fundraising prowess mean a lot, but so does the national environment, and so do demographic trends.

As far as candidates mattering goes, read that analysis of the HD134 race carefully. I come back to this a lot, but the key thing that happened in HD134, and in CD07 (which includes almost all of HD134) is exactly that the Democratic shift from 2016 to 2018 went much deeper than the top of the ticket. The average Republican judicial candidate won CD07 by thirteen points in 2016, and won HD134 by eight. In 2018, the average Republican judicial candidate barely won CD07. I didn’t do the exact same analysis for the State House districts, because I spent so much time talking about straight tickets and undervoting, but in service of that analysis I did this sample of judicial races, and as you can see each Dem was over fifty percent in HD134, by varying amounts. The point is, the fundamental nature of HD134 has shifted from “a Republican district that will sometimes support specific Democrats” to “a Democratic district that has – at least till now – supported Sarah Davis”. That’s what she’s up against this year, not just her November opponent but the baggage of the entire Republican Party and the prospect of a Democratic Speaker. She could hang on, and for sure she should not be underestimated, but this year, for the first time, she’s the underdog.

Anyway. I love this kind of analysis because it makes me think about my own assumptions and expectations for the year. Go take a look and see what you think.

Hey, remember District B?

This makes me so mad.

Cynthia Bailey

For the last couple months, Tarsha Jackson has organized north Houston neighborhoods around criminal justice reform, helping to release a “Justice Can’t Wait” policy platform she said the city could enact immediately.

Cynthia Bailey has been working in the same communities, solving what she calls “neighborhood issues” and distributing masks and food amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected underserved communities like those in north Houston.

Renee Jefferson-Smith said she has helped ensure seniors there have hot meals and groceries.

They are familiar roles for candidates running for local office, but lately frustrating ones. Other candidates who ran on the same ballot last fall have been in office for seven months now, working within City Hall to enact policies they favor and helping to deploy city services to constituents that need them.

Tarsha Jackson

The election Jackson, Bailey and Jefferson-Smith ran in — the District B seat on city council — has been on hold since December amid an ongoing legal battle over the ballot.

District B, a majority Black and Latino area between just northeast of downtown to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, has been particularly challenged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Incumbent Jerry Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for a spot in the Texas House, has remained in the seat to ensure district residents have representation. Still, many residents and community leaders there feel left behind.

“They have gone from being upset about it, to trying to understand, to now they’re mad as hell,” said Angeanette Thibodeaux, president of the Acres Homes Super Neighborhood Council. “How ironic is this? How terrible is this? That in a time when we need representation and leadership and support, the one district that needs it more than any is disenfranchised once again. That hurts. In the pit of my stomach, that hurts.”

[…]

The candidates’ lawyers expect an appellate ruling in early August, perhaps as soon as next week, that they hope will settle the matter. Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the city will call an election as soon as the courts decide it can.

See here, here, and here for some background. First and foremost, I’m mad that our laws continue to punish people who have otherwise completed in full the sentence for whatever past crime they may have committed. Cynthia Bailey had as much right to be on that ballot as anyone. We need to fix these racist old laws.

Second, I’m mad at Renee Jefferson Smith for dragging this out. I can understand that she felt like the system wronged her, but the damage she has caused far outweighs any injury she may have received. At any point, she could have accepted the result, allowed the voters of District B to select their next Council member, and worked to change or clarify the law so that this situation would not happen again. She could have chosen to put the district’s needs ahead of her own, but she did not. She may prevail in court – I don’t think that would be a just outcome, because you cannot conclusively determine that she would have finished in the runoff had Cynthia Bailey never been on the ballot, but it is a possible ruling we could get – but if so she does not deserve to be rewarded for it. The only acceptable result at this point is for Tarsha Jackson or Cynthia Bailey to be the next Council member in B.

And just think, this situation could be even worse right now. If Jerry Davis had won his primary runoff against Harold Dutton, then District B would have no one sitting at the Council table for them, for however long it would take to get a court ruling. Even that could come with a down side, as the possibility still exists that someone will file a lawsuit over some vote or other action Davis has taken while serving as Council member-in-overtime, on the grounds that he was not legally able to serve past the end of his term. That hasn’t happened yet thank God, but it still could.

At this point, if we get a ruling before August 17, I think we can have the runoff on the November ballot. I’m assuming here a ruling that denies Jefferson Smith’s appeal and verifies that Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey are the only candidates for the office. I don’t know if this has to be approved by City Council or not, but if so we’ll need the ruling even sooner than that, say by August 10. It would be very nice to get that ruling this week. And if Jefferson Smith prevails and we need to have some kind of do-over…I don’t even want to think about it. Let’s just file this in the “Underappreciated Ways In Which 2020 Has Sucked” folder and go from there.

So we really were undercounting the COVID-19 death rate

Can’t say I’m surprised.

After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.

The revised count indicates that more than 12% of the state’s death tally was previously unreported by state health officials before Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is now counting deaths marked on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. Previously, the state relied on local and regional public health departments to verify and report deaths.

Public health experts have said for months that the state’s official death toll is an undercount. State health officials said Monday that the policy change would improve the accuracy and timeliness of their data.

Texas law requires death certificates to be filed within 10 days.

“This method does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a news release.

[…]

After the number of infections in Texas soared to new highs in June and early July, the rate of deaths in Texas has been accelerating. It took 53 days to get from the first death to 1,000 deaths and 39 days to get from 1,000 to 2,000 deaths. On July 10, the state surpassed 3,000 deaths — 24 days after 2,000 deaths were reported. And it took only 10 more days for Texas to reach 4,000 deaths.

While Texas continues to report daily deaths in the triple digits, the number of new daily cases seem to be stabilizing. In the past week alone, state data appears to show new daily infections leveling off, albeit at nearly record highs.

The state recorded its largest number of daily new cases July 15, at 10,791. On Sunday, that number was 5,810.

I’m not sure I fully understand what was changed, so I don’t have much to say about this. I think one can argue that we’re still undercounting the true number of COVID-19 deaths, because it has been known for a long time that some people who almost certainly had the virus die at home without ever having been tested. More broadly, people have died as a result of delaying or skipping medical care for other issues because they feared catching COVID from going to the doctor’s office or emergency room. Maybe those aren’t “official” deaths, but they are deaths that wouldn’t have happened in a non-pandemic situation. I suspect we won’t really understand the scope until some years from now when academics can do a deeper analysis of all the data. In the meantime, this is what we have. The Chron has more.

Abbott finally speaks about schools

Of course, he mostly says weasel words.

Gov. Greg Abbott clarified Friday that Texas schools will be required to provide in-person instruction this fall, but that some districts may be eligible for extended waivers on a “case-by-case basis.”

In a letter signed jointly with fellow Republican state leaders, the governor said local health authorities do not have the power to shut down schools solely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The guidance, which does not appear to be legally binding, is the first detailed instruction from Abbott in the reopening plans. Earlier this week, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Education Commissioner Mike Morath said districts would not be able to close campuses for prevention purposes alone, and in fact could lose state funding should they try.

Currently, districts are allowed to delay in-person instruction for up to eight weeks.

“If any school district believes they need an extension beyond eight weeks due to COVID-19 related issues, the (Texas Education Agency) will review that request on a case-by-case basis,” the statement says.

The remarks do not give details about the requirements school districts must meet in order to suspend in-school learning. Even if districts reopen campuses, children in public schools across the state can remain at home, continue online-only classes and still receive course credit.

See here and here for the background. Basically, we don’t know anything today that we didn’t already know. Counties and school districts maybe have some flexibility to make their own decisions, but there are no objective criteria by which those decisions can be judged. Paxton’s opinion still doesn’t have the force of law, because Abbott still hasn’t updated his executive order, but it will take either a lawsuit or open defiance of the opinion to test that proposition. In the meantime, we have this deluded fantasy that in person classroom learning will be like it has been before while the pandemic is still raging. Meanwhile, other school employees fear for their health and safety, with no assurances that anyone is looking out for them. And oh yeah, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that people will die as a result of this. Good luck sorting it all out, fellow parents.

One more thing:

An Abbott spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the governor plans to follow-up with an executive order.

That should be carved into his goddam tombstone some day. What a feckless coward. The Trib has more.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 1

I’m going to take a look at the July finance reports from the various state races, which I will split into three parts. Part one will be statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, part two will be State House races from the Houston area, and part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for statewide candidates can be found here, and January reports for various SBOE and State Senate races can be found here.

Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Jim Wright, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8
Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7
Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, SBOE5
Lani Popp, SBOE5

Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Will Hickman, SBOE6

Marsha Webster, SBOE10
Tom Maynard, SBOE10

Susan Criss, SD11
Larry Taylor, SD11

Roland Gutierrez, SD19
Pete Flores, SD19


Candidate   Office    Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Castaneda      RRC    43,072    38,785   27,166      16,043
Wright         RRC   384,282    90,680   45,000     350,856

Meachum      SCOTX    51,093    44,271        0     132,303
Hecht        SCOTX   312,030   106,598        0     727,648

Triana       SCOTX    17,592     9,781        0     113,567
Busby        SCOTX   207,080   116,130        0     611,700

Cheng        SCOTX     7,637     4,033   90,174       9,292
Bland        SCOTX   264,370   106,000        0     417,335

Williams     SCOTX    14,135    47,262        0       7,466
Boyd         SCOTX   104,743   171,002        0     492,183

BellMetereau SBOE5    27,439     8,027    2,250      20,935
Popp         SBOE5    22,930    98,185   10,000      25,354

Palmer       SBOE6     6,873     9,134        0       6,076
Hickman      SBOE6     1,800     2,225    2,500       1,047

Webster     SBOE10     2,480     1,589       25       3,529
Maynard     SBOE10     3,170     1,103    5,000       4,216

Criss         SD11    22,586    14,071        0      13,644
Taylor        SD11    64,150   116,848        0   1,129,009

Gutierrez     SD19    60,074    99,208        0      11,309
Flores        SD19   295,760    65,577        0     563,459

I skipped the Court of Criminal Appeals races because no one raises any money in them. Jim Wright is the no-name Republican challenger who ousted incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP Railroad Commissioner primary, in an upset no one saw coming. He had $12K on hand in his eight-day report for the March primary. You can see where he is now, thanks to the Republican money machine including Tim Dunn (evil rich guy behind Empower Texans, $20K) and a slew of PACs. Ryan Sitton had $2.5 million in his account at the time of his defeat (all of which he can now donate to other campaigns, if he wants), so Wright isn’t in that league yet, but the point is that Wright wasn’t a no-name nobody for long. The establishment just moved over to his camp and did their thing. The Republican Party of Texas is currently a dumpster fire, and many of its county parties (see, in particular, Harris and Bexar) are even worse off, but the real power structure is still operating at peak efficiency.

The larger point I would make here, as we begin to see Joe Biden and Donald Trump ads on TV – I saw one of each while watching the Yankees-Nationals game on Saturday night – is that there’s more than one way to do a statewide campaign in Texas. For a million bucks or so, you could probably blanket local and cable TV in many of the media markets with ads for Chrysta Castaneda and the statewide Democratic judicial slate. I have seen my share of “vote for Republican judges” ads on my teevee, as recently as 2016 and 2018. Our Congressional candidates have shown there’s plenty of financial support out there for Democratic contenders, even those in odds-against races. There are many people who know enough to create a PAC, get some dough in the door, then cut an ad and buy some time for it. The numbers say this is the best chance we’ve had in a quarter century to win statewide. What are we going to do about that?

As for the Senate races, SD11 isn’t really competitive. It’s on the list of “races that may end up being closer than you might have thought because of prevailing conditions and recent political shifts”, but it’s too far out of reach to expect more than that. The thing I’d ponder is if the likes of Larry Taylor, and other Republican Senators in safe districts or not on the ballot this year, will put some of their spare cash towards helping their fellow partymates who are in tough races. I’m sure we can all think of a few of them. As for SD19, I’m not too worried about the current gap between Roland Gutierrez’s and Pete Flores’ cash on hand. I fully expect Gutierrez, the one Dem running in a truly flippable district, to have the resources he needs. But I’ll still check the 30-day report, because SD19 officially makes me nervous after the 2018 special election fiasco.

Nobody ever raises money in the SBOE races. It would have been fascinating to see what might have happened had cartoon character/performance artist Robert Morrow won that primary runoff, but alas. It’s just another boring contest between two normal people. Which, given the history of the SBOE, is actually quite comforting.

Update on that other vote by mail lawsuit

From Daily Kos:

A federal judge has rejected Republican Secretary of State Ruth Hughs’ motion to dismiss a case brought by several Texas voters and civil rights organizations seeking to expand access to absentee voting for the November general election.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to order the state to prepay the cost of postage; require officials to count ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward (currently, they must be received by the day after the election); prevent the state from using arbitrary standards to reject absentee ballots for allegedly non-matching signatures without giving voters a chance to fix any problems; and allow third parties to collect and turn in completed absentee ballots.

Based on a schedule the judge previously set out, a ruling on plaintiffs’ requests is not likely until after Labor Day.

See here for the background. This lawsuit, unlike the TDP lawsuit that is awaiting action from the Fifth Circuit or the age discrimination lawsuit, which is also on hold pending action with the first lawsuit (info per the DKos Elections Litigation Tracker), is not about who is allowed to vote by mail. It is about the barriers that exist for those who are eligible to vote by mail. Here’s a summary of the plaintiffs’ claims, from the court ruling (the first link in my excerpt above):

First, Plaintiffs challenge Section 86.002 of the Texas Election Code’s failure to provide prepaid postage for mail-in voters. Id.; Tex. Elec. Code § 86.002 (“Postage Tax”). Second, Plaintiffs challenge the requirement mail-in ballots be postmarked by 7:00 p.m. on election day and then received by the county no later than 5:00 p.m. on the day after the election in order to be counted. See Tex. Elec. Code § 86.007 (“Ballot Receipt Deadline”). Third, Plaintiffs challenge the requirement that voters must submit two signature samples that “match,” according to local election officials, in order to have their early voting ballots counted. Id. § 87.027 (“Signature Match Requirement”). Fourth, Plaintiffs challenge the criminalization of a person assisting a voter in returning a marked mail ballot. Id. § 86.006 (“Voter Assistance Ban”).

The effect of this lawsuit, if the plaintiffs prevail, would be to make it easier for the people who can vote by mail to do so, and would likely reduce the number of ballots rejected for not having a legally accepted signature. That would be fairly small in the aggregate, but it would be quite meaningful for some number of people. The defense had also filed a motion opposing an expedited schedule, which the judge (Orlando Garcia, whom you may recall from previous redistricting cases) also rejected. The last filing in that schedule is for September 4, so perhaps we’ll get a ruling not too long after that. I have also read somewhere – it may have been on Daily Kos, I just don’t remember – that the Fifth Circuit is going to expedite the appeals hearing for the TDP vote by mail case, so who knows, maybe we will get some clarity before November. Doesn’t mean it will be good clarity, but it ought to be something.

Gohmert’s gonna Gohmert

On brand, possibly to the end.

Louie Gohmert

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, a mask skeptic who tested positive for the coronavirus Wedneday as he was pre-screened to join President Donald Trump on a visit to Midland, told Fox News that he plans to take the controversial anti-malaria drug that medical experts have warned against for its health risks.

“My doctor and I are all in,” Gohmert told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That will start in a day or two.”

Trump and other Republicans like Gohmert have touted the drug, though evidence continues to accumulate of its serious side effects and ineffectiveness treating the new coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against using the drug and last month revoked its emergency use authorization for it, saying the potential, unproven benefit isn’t worth the risk.

Gohmert told Hannity that he has a friend who is a doctor who is taking the drug to treat his own coronavirus. He said his own regimen would consist of the hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin and zinc.

See here for the background. I mean, I don’t know why anyone would expect Gohmert to do something normal or rational or conventional now. I’m reminded of something my buddy’s mom said to him when we were kids and were about to do something crazy, “Well, if you break your leg, don’t come running to me”. You do you, Louie, but if it goes south please don’t expect any sympathy for your dumb decisions.

Matt Glazer: A way to end surprise medical bills

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

At a young age, I had to deal with medical issue after medical issue. It started with trips to M.D. Anderson and ended with an emergency appendectomy. Three major illnesses in 2 years was hard, but we were fortunate enough not to be financially destroyed by these unexpected medical expenses.

Fast forward to now and I am constantly nervous to go see a doctor. Yes, I have insurance now (something that was impossible before the Affordable Care Act), but I am also a pawn in a subterranean fight between health care providers and insurance companies. Basic treatments that should be covered sometimes aren’t and with no rhyme or reason. Then I am hit with unexpected bill that sends me back to eating ramen or cutting expenses again.

There is a real, bi-partisan opportunity to do something about this and protect consumers.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt life in Texas throughout the country, health care access has never been more important. Now more than ever, people need to see a doctor when they’re sick – not just for their own health, but (given the contagiousness of the disease) for the health of those around them.

Yet some in Washington, D.C. are putting that access at risk in a ham-fisted attempt to stop surprise medical bills.

Most of us have dealt with the shock of a surprise medical bill in recent years – those charges you get billed for after getting medical care, when your insurance company refuses to foot the bill for an out-of-network health provider. Congress has been debating this issue for over a year, and two main camps have emerged. One group wants to end these disputes by creating an independent dispute resolution (IDR) system, where providers and insurance companies are pushed toward a negotiating table to figure out their differences, and patients are left out of the process. The other group wants pre-determined reimbursement rates for services based on insurance companies’ in-network rates.

The first option, IDR, is similar to what we passed last year for insurance plans regulated by the state of Texas – one of the country’s most patient-friendly surprise medical bill laws which won bipartisan support. Other states, such as New York, have instituted a similar system with successful results. (Unfortunately, these state fixes only apply to plans regulated by the state, which is why Congress needs to act. For example, in Texas only 16% of health plans are covered by the state surprise billing law.)

The problems with the second option become obvious quickly: If insurance companies are setting rates, they have all the negotiating leverage. Surprise bills go from being a dispute over how much to charge for a medical procedure to a take-it-or-leave it edict to hospitals, doctors, and other care providers. The rate-setting option would artificially drive insurance payouts down and create dire financial situations for doctors and hospitals – particularly in rural areas, where hospitals function as major hubs for local health care services. It would pad the bottom line for health insurance companies, though – not like they need it, since they have been among the few companies making more money during the pandemic.

Worst of all: Rate-setting would allow insurance companies to further enrich themselves on the backs of the doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, shouldering more risk than any of us in fighting COVID-19.

(Last month, the Trump administration proposed a third option: an outright ban on surprise medical bills with no outline for resolving the underlying dispute. That figures to throw any disputed bill into the court system, with costly lawsuits driving up the costs of both health care and insurance premiums. Everyone except the lawyers would lose in that scenario.)

Thankfully, surprise medical billing is one of the few truly bipartisan issues on Congress’s agenda, outside the drama of November’s elections. And there is bipartisan support for an IDR-based solution, which means that we can have some hope that Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the rest of our Congressional delegation will step up and do the right thing. And there are legislative options, put forward by members of Congress who are actual doctors: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has more than 30 bipartisan co-sponsors for his “STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act,” and more than 110 House members have similarly signed on to the “Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act,” sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Ca.). Both of these bills solve surprise medical bills using IDR and keep the patients out of it.

We still have a long way to go in facing COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, and the time to come after, one thing should be crystal clear: We cannot make it harder for people to get health care when they need it. Access to health care will be essential as the economy struggles to recover in fits and starts, we need workers and customers who don’t have to worry about finding care if they get sick.

Forcing doctors out of business and pushing hospitals to the brink of financial collapse is no way to fight a pandemic – or to help patients.

This is a necessary solution for millions. A generation later, I am still terrified to go see a doctor because of the uncertainty surrounding every trip. I am still affected by the bad luck I was afflicted with before I could drive a car, vote, or serve our country. A generation later, I still feel the effects of being a pawn in a game I don’t want to play. There is a real opportunity to do something about this now. All it takes is for our elected officials to do it.

Matt Glazer is the past Executive Director of Progress Texas and co-founder of Blue Sky Partners.

CD25 poll: Roger Williams 45, Julie Oliver 43

This is genuinely astonishing.

Julie Oliver

To showcase just how extensively Trump’s decline has shifted the playing field, the DCCC shared with the Washington Post details of an in-house poll it conducted of Texas’ deep-red 25th Congressional District that finds Joe Biden edging Donald Trump 47-46 and puts Republican Rep. Roger Williams up just 45-43 on his Democratic challenger, attorney Julie Oliver.

That’s a huge shift from 2016, when Williams’ district went for Trump by a wide 55-40 margin. And that’s exactly what Republicans intended: The 25th is part of a careful gerrymander that cracked the Austin area six ways and allowed the GOP to win five of those seats. One of those is Williams’ district, which stretches far to the north toward Dallas-Forth Worth, combining a slice of the state capital with rural regions well outside of it.

As a result, the 25th is more rural (and whiter) than most of the suburban seats in Texas that are at the top of Democrats’ target list. As DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn put it, the district had only been “maybe on the outer edges of our battlefield,” but that may now change. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz only carried this seat 52-47 over Beto O’Rourke, so it’s plausible that the leftward march here is continuing.

Here’s the WaPo story that originated this, which goes a lot broader but doesn’t add anything to the CD25 story. What’s most remarkable about this is that of the nine Congressional districts that Dems have some hope to be competitive in, this one is probably last in line. It’s the only one not projected to be won by Biden in the event of a Biden win in Texas. In terms of 2018 performance, CD25 was one of the two weakest for Dems overall, closely aligned with CD03 but without the rapid growth and suburban characteristic of that district. It’s been generally seen as a “likely GOP” seat, with only Rachel Bitecofer being more bullish than that.

So yeah, if Biden is truly leading in CD25, then 1) he’s also truly leading statewide, by more than just a hair, and 2) by enough that he’s also leading in eight other Republican-held Congressional districts. He’s probably leading by enough that the entire statewide Democratic slate is in position to win in November. He’s probably leading by enough that it’s not a question of whether the Dems would take the State House, but by how much. Like I said, astonishing.

Now again we have to trot out the caveats: It’s one poll, it was commissioned by the DCCC, which doesn’t make it suspect in and of itself but does mean that they could have put the result in a desk drawer if they hadn’t found it useful, and Congressional polling is always more variable than statewide polling. That said, it’s not really out of line when districts like CD03 are also polling as even for Biden. At this point, you can only wish there were more competitive districts available.

As noted by the dKos post, Julie Oliver’s main flaw is that she has little cash on hand, despite raising $681K so far, a greater sum than she raised in the entire last cycle. I don’t know what she’s been spending her cash on, but she’s going to need to make it stretch a bit more. Or maybe the DCCC will decide to come in and play, which at this point seems hard to argue against. If this is where the numbers are, maybe we should believe them.

The school situation remains a big ol’ mess

You can blame Greg Abbott for all this confusion.

After weeks of confusion and conflicting signals, Texas has settled into policies that effectively compel schools to reopen their classrooms this fall no later than eight weeks after the academic year begins, whether they want to or not.

Teachers, parents, school administrators and public health officials have been seeking clarity for weeks on how the state will approach reopening schools safely as coronavirus infections and deaths rise across Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott has not responded directly to questions from reporters about who has the authority to order schools closed in areas hard-hit by the virus, and the Texas Education Agency has sent mixed messages on reopening guidelines.

But despite the lack of any formal announcement from the governor, the die was cast in in a rapid two-step process Tuesday. First, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released nonbinding legal guidance saying local public health officials do not have the power to preemptively require all schools in their jurisdictions to remain closed, even as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in many Texas hotspots.

Then, state education officials reversed an earlier decision by announcing they will not fund school districts that keep classrooms closed for longer than the state allows even if ordered to do so by a local health mandate. Taken together, the actions put school districts in the position of reopening classrooms on the state’s timetable or losing funds and risking potential litigation.

Educators and families must now once again rethink their back-to-school plans this fall. The education agency has given school districts up to eight weeks to limit the number of students permitted on their campuses, after which they must open classrooms to all students who want to attend.

That ninth week is looming large for superintendents who are not sure what the public health landscape will look like at that point. Now, they can’t depend on their local health officials to give them more time, without losing money.

“Starting in the ninth week of our respective school years, regardless of the status of the virus in our communities, as the guidance is written today, we would be faced with two options,” said Northside Superintendent Brian Woods in an interview with the San Antonio Express News editorial board Wednesday. “One would be to ignore a local health order, and in doing so likely put our students and staff and families at risk, or lose funding, which is essential to teaching and serving our families.”

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, Woods indicated he and other superintendents would consider filing a lawsuit seeking to keep their classrooms closed longer if necessary. Paxton’s decision to step into the fray weeks before the school year begins has prompted more questions than answers, including whether a deluge of lawsuits is expected to hit Texas courts demanding health mandates be revoked or enforced.

Emphasis mine, and see here for the background. The Chron’s Jacob Carpenter tries to make sense of this hash.

What is the impact of Paxton’s letter?

Paxton’s letter is not legally binding. The only way the local health authority orders can be negated is through an executive order issued by the governor or a judge’s ruling in a lawsuit.

As of now, Abbott has not issued an executive order declaring that local health authorities cannot mandate school closures, and nobody has filed a lawsuit challenging the local closure orders.

As a result, at this time the school closure mandates issued by local health authorities are legally valid and enforceable.

What did Morath do Tuesday?

Hours after Paxton published his letter, Morath issued new guidance saying public school districts risk losing state funding if they keep campuses shuttered solely as a result of a local health authority closure order.

Districts still can require students with at-home technology access to remain in online-only classes for up to the first eight weeks of the school year. School boards also can push back their school start dates.

If local school closure orders are legally valid, why did Morath say districts risk losing state funding if they follow closure orders?

Morath cited Paxton’s letter in issuing the new guidance on school funding.

“As a state agency, we will follow the Attorney General’s guidance,” Morath said in a statement. “Consequently, a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction for an indefinite period of time.

However, another section of TEA guidance says the agency will continue to provide funding to districts that are forced to close campuses by an entity “authorized to issue such an order under state law” — and as of now, local health authorities have issued legal orders.

Essentially, the TEA has provided two potentially conflicting pieces of guidance.

Who can clear up this conflict?

The simplest answer: Abbott.

At any time, Abbott could issue an executive order that negates all local health orders, or he could announce he will allow the orders to stand.

Abbott has made no move in either direction.

Asked multiple times by the Houston Chronicle earlier this month whether he planned to allow local health officials to order school closures, the governor’s office never directly answered the question. Abbott’s staff also did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday following the release of Paxton’s letter.

Yes, our Governor continues to be basically useless. At this point, the best advice seems to be just wait and see what happens. Maybe Abbott revises his executive order. Maybe all the school districts and county health authorities cave. Maybe someone (or multiple someones) files a lawsuit – unfortunately, one of those someones is gonna be Jared Woodfill, so prepare yourself for the stupid – and a judge makes a ruling that forces the issue one way or another. It’s still the case that schools don’t have to open till September 8, which is what HISD is doing, and the first six weeks after that can be online-only. It’s after that it gets dicey. So sit tight and wait to see how it gets sorted out.

Who gets to be on the I-45 panel?

I’m not thrilled about this.

Houston will have a say in a regional response to design differences in the planned widening of Interstate 45 within the city — and so will Sugar Land, Montgomery County and Waller County.

After voting last month to establish a working group focused on improving the plans by the Texas Department of Transportation for rebuilding I-45, members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council approved the members of the panel Friday over the objections of critics and Harris County officials.

“I do take exception that those who are going to be most impacted are not as represented,” Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said.

[…]

Houston, via a letter from Mayor Sylvester Turner to TxDOT officials, has sought changes to the project north of downtown to ease those effects. City officials want frontage roads in some areas eliminated or reduced to two lanes, and a greater reliance on transit instead of carpools by making the center lanes bus-only rather than HOV. TxDOT has said it is studying the proposal, but said that after years of discussion it is committed to moving its designs along to keep construction on track while addressing possible changes later.

Regional officials with the transportation council ultimately will decide whether $100 million or more of locally-controlled federal money is spent on the project as phases begin over the next five years, a sum that while small in comparison of the $7 billion-plus cost, significantly affects TxDOT’s ability to leverage state-controlled dollars. That leaves the council to support or not support the changes as a condition of its funding, or allow TxDOT to move forward with its own plans.

The 16-person working group approved Friday includes some Houston-centric officials — including At-Large Councilman David Robinson, Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairwoman Carrin Patman and Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther. Half of the members, however, hail from outside Harris County, including Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman, Waller County Commissioner Justin Beckendorff and Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough.

Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, chairman of the transportation council, said his aim in appointing people to the group was to reflect the entire region’s interest in the project.

“Their commuters are driving their freeway roads all over the place,” Clark said. “I thought it was important we had a group that had that … a critical working group if you will.”

Zimmerman, who last month argued Houston-area officials needed to put the project “in a positive light” noted that the regional body’s role was to reflect the entire eight-county area.

“The intent was to keep politics out of this,” Zimmerman said.

Critics, who have said for two years that their concerns have been heard by TxDOT with little progress toward resolving the issues, said a regional group that includes no members from the project area speaking directly for residents and neighborhoods indicates their concerns are being ignored.

“This proposal is inequitable and unacceptable,” said Jonathan Brooks, director of policy and planning for LINK Houston, a local advocacy group that has organized some of the opposition to the project.

First of all, you can never “keep the politics out” of an inherently political process. I cringe at this because the implication here, one that is widely made and shared, is that by keeping “politics” out of this process you are somehow keeping it “clean” and “fair”, because “politics” is dirty and tainted. But “politics”, as a process, is all about engaging communities and getting consensus. You can’t do that if key communities are being excluded while others that have a lesser stake in the outcome are given power over the process. The people whose homes, neighborhoods, jobs, and lives are going to be directly affected by the I-45 project need to have a seat at that table. It’s just wrong that they don’t.

Second, maybe the reason Houston-area officials haven’t been putting such a “positive light” on this project is because we don’t see it as being all that positive. Certainly, plenty of people who live in Houston don’t see it that way. Maybe the problem isn’t branding but the product itself.

And look, none of this would be a problem now if the people who will be the most affected by this project had truly been heard along the way. They’ve been airing the same complaints about the I-45 rebuild because so many of their key concerns are still there. You may say there’s no way to do this project without setting aside most of those concerns. We would say that’s exactly the problem, and should call into question the fundamental assumptions about this project in the first place. If you can’t do it without causing significant harm, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 27

The Texas Progressive Alliance says “Person, woman, man, camera, TV”. Also, “Play ball!”, “Get the federal stormtroopers out of American cities”, and “Here’s this week’s roundup”.

(more…)

Louie Gohmert gets COVID-19

The universe works in mysterious ways.

Louie Gohmert

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, he said in an interview with East Texas Now where he speculated that he may have caught the virus from wearing his mask.

Gohmert, who spends ample time on the U.S. House floor without a mask, was one of several Texas officials scheduled to fly to West Texas this afternoon with President Donald Trump. He took one test, which tested positive, then took a second test during a pre-screen at the White House which also tested positive.

“I can’t help but wonder … if I injected the virus into my mask when I was moving,” he said in an interview.

[…]

Gohmert said he received guidance from the doctors at the White House and the attending physician at the Capitol that he only needed to self-quarantine for 10 days. He said he will drive back to his East Texas home and that his staff is all getting tested for the virus.

“Like Dorothy said, there’s no place like home,” Gohmert said.

The Republican lawmaker has been known for speaking at length with Capitol colleagues while not adhering to social distancing guidelines. Last month, he told CNN that he was not wearing a mask because he was getting tested regularly for the virus.

“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I’ve never had it,” he said in June. “But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask.”

We’ll see about that. Gohmert is truly one of the worst people in Congress, and one of the worst in Texas. He has spent his long, miserable career in Congress working to make his district, the state, and the country a worse, poorer, meaner, dumber, unhealthier, less safe, and more violent place. According to Slate, Gohmert “returned to his congressional office after his positive test to personally inform his staff of the result”, which is to say he knowingly put his entire staff at risk for no good reason. I have one wish for Louie Gohmert, and that’s that he gain some small measure of empathy for everyone who has suffered from this pandemic. I don’t have much hope for that wish, but it’s what I’ve got. The Chron and Mother Jones have more.

Morning Consult: Biden 47, Trump 45

The hits keep coming.

Another day, another poll showing that Texas is up for grabs despite President Donald Trump’s bluster.

Former vice president Joe Biden leads 47-45, with only one in 20 voters still undecided, in a Morning Consult poll released Monday night.

A raft of recent polls have found a dead heat, with the candidates within a point or two, and Trump returns to Texas on Thursday for the 16th visit of his presidency – an investment of time that would be out of proportion if Texas were as safely in his column as he professes.

In Odessa, he’ll meet with campaign donors before heading to Midland to inspect an oil rig at Double Eagle Energy and give a speech about energy policy.

[…]

Biden started running ads in Texas about two weeks ago, a one-minute spot urging Texans to wear masks and noting that “people are frightened” as the COVID-19 pandemic rages.

At the time, the Trump campaign called the outreach to Texas a “pipe dream.”

Trump’s last visit to Texas was only last month: a June 11 campaign-style event on police and race relations at a North Dallas church.

His 9-point margin over Hillary Clinton in Texas 2016 was the worst showing by a GOP nominee for president since 1976, when President Gerald Ford lost Texas and Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter ousted him from the White House.

Anyone want to place a bet on how many people are wearing masks at those Odessa and Midland events? More info on that Morning Consult poll, which covered numerous states, is here. I don’t see any crosstabs, so I can’t tell you much more about it. FiveThirtyEight rates them as B/C, so maybe not gold standard. It was a “likely voter” sample, so we’ve probably crossed that boundary now. In fourteen polls, Trump leads Biden by the skinny margin of 45.8 to 45.3, and if we limit ourselves to the ten polls since June 1, it’s a 45.9 to 45.6 lead for Biden. Have fun in Odessa, Donald!

Making NRG Arena the 2020 election headquarters

Sounds like a good idea.

Chris Hollins

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking permission from Commissioners Court to use NRG Arena as a headquarters for the fall presidential election, converting the expansive space for voting, ballot counting and a call center.

The proposal would use $5.1 million of the $12 million former county clerk Diane Trautman secured to run elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agenda item submitted by Hollins for Tuesday’s meeting states the clerk’s office plans to transfer all of its elections operations to Hall D of the arena. The 100,000-square-foot space would be used for walk-in voting, drive-through voting, a call center, ballot by mail operations, the county’s vote-counting operation and include a space for administrative personnel and equipment storage.

Hollins said the clerk’s office downtown is too small for elections staff to socially distance, and using a facility already owned by the county was a logical solution to that problem.

“It’s all about spacing. What we have on the fourth floor of 1001 Preston, we physically cannot fit while following social distancing guidelines,” Hollins said. “We need to move, just to be able to run our election operation at full staff.”

The polling place at the arena may be one of the largest the county operates, he said.

In a letter to court members, Hollins said the cost includes expenses for laptops needed for the ballot by mail, call center and administrative staff operations, as well as other IT needs.

This makes sense. As the story notes, the arena isn’t being used for anything else at this time, so scheduling is not an issue. This would also serve well as a mail ballot drop-off location, which is allowed during the extended early voting period. The arena is accessible by mass transit (the Red Line and the Kirby bus line, for sure) and is close to a lot of residences and businesses, including part of the Medical Center. Honestly, I can’t think of a good reason not to do this.

Paxton overrides county health orders on schools

So much concern for the children here.

Best mugshot ever

Local health officials do not have the authority to shut down all schools in their vicinity while COVID-19 cases rise, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in nonbinding guidance Tuesday that contradicts what the Texas Education Agency has told school officials.

Shortly after Paxton’s announcement, the Texas Education Agency updated its guidance to say it will not fund school districts that keep classrooms closed because of a local health mandate, citing the attorney general’s letter. Districts can receive state funding if they obtain TEA’s permission to stay closed, as allowed for up to eight weeks with some restrictions.

The change represents an about-face for the agency, which previously said it would fund districts that remained closed under a mandate. It will impact schools in at least 16 local authorities, many in the most populous counties, that have issued school closure mandates in the past month.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, whose county is among those with a mandate to close schools, said local officials will continue to make decisions to keep students safe “regardless of what opinion General Paxton comes up with.”

“The only way that it would really screw things up is if Abbott tried to take away the control from the local groups,” Jenkins said.

The guidance is non-binding, but local health authorities could face lawsuits especially now that Paxton has weighed in. Paxton’s office declined to comment on whether it would sue local health officials that don’t retract mandates, saying it could not comment on hypothetical or potential litigation.

[…]

The governor’s executive order allowing all school districts to operate overrules local mandates to close, Paxton said. Local health officials have some authority to order schools closed if people in it are infected by COVID-19, but not as a preventive measure.

See here and here for the background. I don’t know what happens next – maybe the counties fold and rescind their orders, maybe someone files a lawsuit to force the issue, maybe we wait and see what happens when schools are supposed to start in a non-pandemic world – but it is clear that one person could end the confusion. The head of the TEA is hand-picked by Greg Abbott, after all, and one presumes Mike Morath would not have let the TEA issue that directive if Abbott was not aware of it. Plus, as noted in the story, Abbott’s own executive order is part of the reason the counties don’t have this authority, at least according to Ken Paxton. So we just need Greg Abbott to come forward and clarify things and

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not respond to a request to clarify this earlier this month.

Yeah. You know, whoever runs against Abbott in 2022, they need to make a video montage of all of the “Abbott did not respond to a request for comment” lines in every damn story about coronavirus. If there’s a single defining trait of his reign of error, that’s it. Reform Austin has more.

UPDATE: This says a lot:

Truly, we have a weak and feckless Governor.

Checking in on CD21

Thar’s the race where Wendy Davis is trying to unseat the mini-Ted Cruz known as Chip Roy, and the pundits are thinking she can do it.

Wendy Davis

All signs are pointing toward a competitive race between incumbent conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Democratic mainstay Wendy Davis in Texas’ 21st Congressional District.

The district, which stretches from northern San Antonio to Austin and includes a swath of the Hill Country, has long been viewed as a GOP stronghold. Roy’s predecessor, Republican Lamar Smith, held the seat for more than 30 years. But in 2018, Roy won it with a margin of less than 3 percent.

With $4.4 million raised, Davis has pulled in 75 percent more in campaign donations than Roy — a rare feat for a candidate facing a Republican incumbent.

The politically polar-opposite candidates have already begun casting each other as extremists of their parties. Roy’s campaign has sent a barrage of emails to supporters saying Davis “would be one of the most extreme liberal members of Congress, right there with AOC, Ilhan Omar, Pelosi and the rest of the socialist Democrats.”

Davis, a former state Senator best-known for her 2013 filibuster against an anti-abortion law, has seized on Roy’s response to the pandemic, criticizing his rejection of coronavirus relief funding for businesses. Roy was one of 40 GOP House members who voted against the bill and said he did so because he did not have enough time to review the legislation before voting.

She called Roy, who once served as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, “an extreme voice who has spent his time in Washington looking out for corporate drugmakers and wealthy special interests.”

Roy-Davis is one of four congressional races in Texas where Republicans have been favored but are seeing their opponents gain momentum, according to the Cook Political Report, a prominent nonpartisan political ratings group. The publication on Friday switched the 21st District from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up.” It was welcome news for the Davis campaign and other national Democrats.

We’re seeing a lot of Congressional ratings updates now, mostly I think because the Q2 finance reports are out, but also because of the seismic changes in Donald Trump’s approval and re-elect numbers. CD21 is to me in the second tier of pickup opportunities for Dems – CDs 23 and 24 are on top, and at this point I’d consider it very disappointing if Dems didn’t take them both. CD21 is in the next tier, along with CDs 10 and 22, and I’d consider it an upset at this point if Dems didn’t win at least one of them. After that comes all of the longer-shot districts, namely CDs 02, 03, 06, 25, and 31. The fact that we are seeing favorable internal polls getting released by the Democratic challengers in these races, including now a poll from CD21, says something about where we are now in the campaign. Granted, the poll numbers have been more favorable to Joe Biden than to the Dem challengers, but especially in districts with incumbents running for re-election, I think it’s likely that Biden will have to top 50% in most if not all of them for the Dems to have a strong chance. There’s likely more slack in the open seat races, but I’d expect even the more-ardent Trump-humpers to outperform the rest of the ticket on their turf, so a boost from Biden would be very nice.

Davis should also get a boost from the relentless voter registration efforts, which have been especially fruitful for Dems along the I-35 corridor, which overlaps quite a bit with CD21. (And CD23, and CD24, and CD31, and to a lesser extend CDs 03, 06, 10, and 25.) Davis has vastly outraised Roy, and while putting some of that towards tying him to Trump is needed, I’d hope she spends a lot of it on more voter registration and a ton of GOTV. (She will have to spend some of it countering the gobs of PAC money being spent to defend Chip Roy.) The opportunity here is about as good as it gets, and the more Democrats that get elected this year, the harder it’s going to be for Republicans to draw themselves a maximalist Congressional map in the 2021 redistricting process.

What a Democratic House means for redistricting

Rick Casey makes a point about what a Democratic-majority State House will and won’t be able to do in 2021, in particular with redistricting.

I would put the Democrats’ chances of taking back the State House of Representatives as better than the fulfillment of either of their two other dreams — beating President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — though recent polls show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden running even and a large “undecided” cohort in the Senate race.

But what if the Democrats win the Texas House? How much difference would it make?

One of the points I’ve seen made in the national media is that it would prevent the Republicans from gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts in the wake of the 2020 census. But that is wrong.

The Texas Constitution includes a provision, passed in 1951, for what happens if the Senate and House of Representatives can’t agree on lines for legislative seats. The lines are then drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board which includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the commissioner of the General Land Office. Since the only office in play this November is the speaker, he or she would have little impact on the likes of Republicans Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Glenn Hegar, and George P. Bush.

[State Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, however, thinks it may be possible for the Legislature to agree on lines.

“Lawmakers are probably not as trusting for a third party to draw their districts,” he said, suggesting that a Democratic House and a Republican Senate might compromise by agreeing to the plans each came up for their own members.

I’m skeptical. I think there would be a strong temptation for Republican leaders to try to take back the House through creative redistricting.

And no matter what plan the Legislature or the redistricting board come up with it will almost certainly end up in federal court. There, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, severe gerrymandering for political (as distinct from racial) purposes is perfectly acceptable. Martinez Fischer suggests, however, that a Democratic House could, through witnesses at hearings and floor debate, build a record that would make lawsuits more feasible.

The Constitutional provision Casey references is here. Note, though, that it only applies to the legislature itself, the House and the Senate. It does not apply to the apportionment of Congressional districts. That job, if the 2021 Lege is unable to draw a map that passes both chambers, will fall to the federal courts. That’s exactly what happened in 2001. The fact that a court had drawn the Congressional map in 2001 was cited by Tom DeLay as a justification for his 2003 re-redistricting effort – he insisted that the Congressional map needed to be drawn by the Lege, and if that couldn’t happen in 2001 it could happen in 2003. (The fact that both chambers were now Republican-controlled was a happy coincidence, of course.)

My point here is that while Republicans would have a backstop for legislative redistricting, they would have much less control over Congressional redistricting in this scenario. I don’t know what court would get this assignment – maybe they’ll get a panel with a majority of Trump-appointed judges, who knows – but it’s a roll of the dice. The members themselves would likely prefer to avoid that outcome,. In addition, if Democrats do pick up a boatload of Congressional seats – or, you know, if Joe Biden carries Texas – the argument that the Congressional map should strongly favor Republicans kind of falls apart. Doesn’t mean Republicans couldn’t take a crack at it again in 2023 if they take back the State House in 2022, but that’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s not crazy to think that some kind of compromise, in which each side gets a few concessions in all of the maps, could be reached. No guarantee, of course, and again the Republicans would very much want to maximize their chances of having full control in 2023 to clean up anything they don’t like, but having that lever of control is worth something. Not as much as the national media might portray, I agree, but not nothing. Just having a seat at the table means something.

(Also, too, Democratic control of the House means things like the budget can’t get passed without Democratic input and assent. Redistricting would be done in a special session thanks to the later completion date for the Census, but this is still influence for the Dems. Even if it’s not directly influential on redistricting, it’s a pretty big deal in its own right, especially in a session where revenue is scarce and cuts will be on the table. Anyone who remembers the bloodbath of 2011 knows what that would mean.)

So yes, while taking the State House isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s a mighty fine goal with lots of ways to pay off. Twitter user Kafka provides an intro to the Democratic candidates in most of the districts of interest, and you can learn more at FLIP The Texas House. If you’re wondering how best to spend your campaign donation dollars this cycle, find a State House candidate or three and toss a few bucks in their direction. This is a great opportunity, and we need to maximize it.

Rep. Rodriguez concedes in SD14

No runoff after all.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will succeed former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, in the Texas Senate after state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said Monday he is dropping out of the race. Eckhardt and Rodriguez, both Democrats, were poised to face off in a special election runoff for the seat after the two finished first and second, respectively, in the six-way race on July 14.

After Rodriguez’s announcement, Eckhardt said she looked “forward to joining forces with him in the next session to advance our shared progressive values” for the community. Rodriguez congratulated Eckhardt on the race in an email he sent to supporters and said he is looking “forward to working with her to carve a progressive path forward for our shared community.”

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt

Pressure had been building over the past several days for Rodriguez to end his bid for the Senate and instead focus his efforts in the House, where he has served since 2003. Eckhardt finished first in the six-way race for Senate District 14 on July 14 with 49.7% of the vote — just shy of winning outright. Rodriguez, meanwhile, received nearly 34% of the vote for the historically Democratic seat that covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County.

[…]

Some Eckhardt supporters and Capitol observers argued that Rodriguez was better off helping Democrats gain control of the House, which they are effectively nine seats away from doing, instead of focusing his energy and money on a Senate bid that Eckhardt nearly won outright earlier this month. There were also questions about the timing of a special election runoff and how that could impact Rodriguez’s seat in the House if he were to win the Senate race. Such a vacancy during a legislative session, some argued, could have implications if there is a slim margin between Democrats and Republicans next year.

First, congratulations to Sen.-elect Sarah Eckhardt. This race was a tough choice between two stellar candidates, and I have no doubt she will be a fine, fine Senator.

Second, this is a true team-first move by Rep. Rodriguez. Sure, Eckhardt had a commanding lead and came very close to an outright win on July 14, but Trey Martinez Fischer had a larger lead over now-Sen. Jose Menendez in the SD26 special election in 2015, and we know how that turned out. Because the two candidates were so well-qualified and differed so little on the substantial issues, this would have been the kind of nasty intramural fight over perceived differences and other minor issues that everyone pretty much hates, all happening at a time when we’re otherwise completely focused on November. And yes, you could imagine partisan control of the State House being affected by the need for Rodriguez to resign if he won, since a special election to replace him could not happen until after November. By far, this was the cleanest and least disruptive solution from a holistic perspective.

But even with all that, it’s still asking one person to put aside their legitimate ambition and aspirations for someone else’s, and given how fierce the competition can be to move up the ladder, that’s asking a lot. Rep. Rodriguez deserves a ton of thanks from Texas Dems. If there’s a way that his next preference for something, whether a legislative push or electoral opportunity or whatever, can be prioritized, that would be great. You can see Rep. Rodriguez’s announcement of his concession on Twitter. Go thank him there if you feel so moved.

Abbott officially extends early voting for November

It’s just by a week, but at least the announcement has been made early.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday extended the early voting period for the November election by six days, citing continued challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election will now begin Oct. 13 instead of Oct. 19. The end date remains Oct. 30.

The extension of the early voting period is not a surprise. During a TV interview in late May, Abbott said he would add more time to the early voting period for the November election — as he did for the primary runoff election earlier this month — but did not elaborate.

Last week, Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins asked Abbott to provide more details so that election officials could have enough time to prepare. In a letter to the governor, Hollins requested that Abbott move the start date to Oct. 13 at the latest.

[…]

But the Monday announcement from the governor gave eligible mail-in voters more time to turn in their completed ballots in person if they would like to do so. Current law allows those voters to submit their ballots to the early voting clerk’s office in person instead of mailing them in — but only while polls are open on Election Day. Abbott’s latest move expands that option to the entire early voting period.

Democrats said Abbott’s latest moves were still not enough to create a safer environment for voting in November.

“Abbott’s decision to extend early voting by six days is exactly like his COVID-19 response: the bare minimum and not fully thought through,” state Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.

See here and here for the background. I certainly would have preferred a second extra week of early voting, but this is what we’re gonna get. Note that the extra week actually starts on Tuesday, because Monday the 12th is a holiday (Columbus Day), and early voting doesn’t happen on national holidays because some buildings that are used for early voting are closed.

The extra days for early voting will help, not as much as it could have, but it will help. And god knows, we really better be in an improved position with the virus by October, or we’ll have a whole lot of other big problems to be concerned with. I would expect that election administrators will try to extend voting hours where possible, and hopefully will work to have as many locations open as possible. The restriction on mobile voting sites still sucks and was an otherwise pointless attack on voting access, but there remains unresolved litigation about that, so who knows. The ability to drop off mail ballots in person any time during early voting (confession: I hadn’t known about the prior restriction on that) is good, and I’ll bet Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins sets up numerous dropoff locations.

This is the situation we have, and we have to make the best of it. Apply for a mail ballot if you’re 65 or older or if you believe you meet the disability requirement. Plan when and where you will vote, to try to avoid using the busier sites. Volunteer now to work the election if you can. Don’t be the jerk who refuses to wear a mask when voting. And keep raising hell about the overall response to the pandemic, because getting the infection rate down is by far our best friend. You can read Chris Hollins’ press release in response to this announcement here.

A whole lot of Paxton case news all of a sudden

Brace yourselves.

Best mugshot ever

A Houston appeals court on Monday abated a recent decision to move the criminal cases against Attorney General Ken Paxton from Harris to Collin County, giving a new judge on the case the chance to revisit that order.

The abatement is a win for special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice. It will also allow the judge, Jason Luong, to consider whether to reinstate pay to the prosecutors, who have not been paid since 2016. The prosecutors confirmed the appeals court decision to The News but declined to speak to the matter further.

Paxton’s lawyers said they were “disappointed” and “troubled” that the appeals court ruled without giving them a change to respond.

“Mr. Paxton’s response brief on the merits of returning the case to Collin County was due today and filed after the Court had already decided to abate the case,” Paxton defense attorney Bill Mateja told The News in a statement. “As such, we intend to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling.”

I did not know that it was in play for the First Court of Appeals to “abate” the ruling that moved the Paxton case back to Collin County. (I also don’t exactly know what “abate” means here, and how it differs from “overturns or “reverses”. You lawyers out there, please chime in.) I did know that Robert Johnson, the judge in Harris County who ruled that the case should go back to Collin, then recused himself because the AG’s office will be representing criminal district court judges in Harris in the latest bail reform lawsuit. I had not known that a new judge – who, it should be noted, is in the same boat as Judge Johnson in re: the bail lawsuit, unless he decides to make like Chuck Silverman and side with the plaintiffs. I’m putting all that in here so as not to quote the whole damn story. Now back to the excerpt:

Paxton’s legal team applauded the decision [to move the case back to Collin County] at the time and said the attorney general is ready to have his day in court.

“We are gratified by the Court’s ruling and look forward to getting Mr. Paxton’s case back on track. This case has gone on far too long,” Paxton lawyer Dan Cogdell said in an emailed statement that day. Bill Mateja added: “The Prosecutors need to let Judge Johnson’s decision stand and allow Mr. Paxton to have his day in court.”

The special prosecutors appealed his decision.

In early July, the 1st Court of Appeals delayed moving the cases to Collin County until it could rule on the merits of the prosecutors’ arguments that they remain in Houston. Now, the prosecutors say the court has abated Johnson’s decision and allowed Luong, a Democrat, to revisit the move back to Collin County.

Luong, who is also being represented by Paxton’s office in the same separate case as Johnson, has not answered questions about whether he too will recuse himself from this case.

Did you know that the original Paxton indictments are now five years old? Let’s just say I don’t believe Attorneys Cogdell and Mateja in their assessment of how long this has taken and their client’s desire to see the inside of a courtroom, even one in front of a presumably friendly judge. It ain’t the not-paid-since-2016 special prosecutors who have dragged this out for so long. I have no idea what issue there may be for Judge Luong to decide in re: their pay, but 1) they deserve to be paid, and 2) any further action on that front will for sure drag this out until the heat death of the universe. In the meantime, the ball is literally in Judge Luong’s court, and we’ll see what the next action item is. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: I have been given the following explanation of what an “abatement” is:

A Texas appellate court “abates” a case when it decides that there is some action a trial judge must take before the case goes forward. The same word is used in other circumstances but it almost always means a court is pausing proceedings.

This is a mandamus in which the prosecutors are challenging Judge Johnson’s transfer order. A mandamus is technically a suit against the trial judge in their official capacity. The First Court’s order yesterday abated the case because it had learned Judge Johnson had recused himself and Judge Luong is the new judge. The case against Judge Johnson can’t proceed because there’s a new judge who must be given an opportunity to either agree or to vacate Judge Johnson’s order. If Judge Luong agrees with Judge Johnson, the mandamus will proceed against the new judge. If he vacates, it will be up to Paxton’s defense counsel to try the case here or appeal the new judge’s order.

This type of abatement is not unusual and is all but mandatory when there is a change in judges in the middle of a mandamus. It’s unfortunate that the appellate brief was filed after the abatement, but that happens sometimes. It would be unusual if the court of appeals had not abated the mandamus to allow Judge Luong time to rule.

That makes sense to me, and as you can see from the court order, the abatement is for 45 days. So, in the next six weeks or so we should know if the ruling to move the case back to Collin County is still in place or if it has been vacated. (This is assuming Judge Luong doesn’t recuse himself, in which case I presume the main effect would be to push the timeline further back, because sure, why not.) Once we have that, we’ll know who’s appealing what. Isn’t this fun?

Interview with Teneshia Hudspeth

Teneshia Hudspeth

As you know, HCDP precinct chairs will be picking a nominee for Harris County Clerk, to run for Diane Trautman’s unexpired term. The leading candidate for this is Teneshia Hudspeth, who has worked in the Clerk’s office for fifteen years and has been a top lieutenant in the elections division. I’ve interacted with Teneshia multiple times over the years, and I plan to vote for her in my role as precinct chair. With the selection process coming up on August 15, I wanted to take the opportunity to interview her, so my fellow precinct chairs and everyone who’ll get to vote for her in November can get to know her a little better. The job of County Clerk will be different when she takes office thanks to the adoption of an elections administrator by Commissioners Court, and that made this interview a little weird for both of us, since my questions to Clerk candidates have usually been about election matters, and right now we don’t know exactly what that will mean going forward. But we persevered, and you can hear the result here:

You can review the Q&As I did with the HCDE candidates as well:

Jose Rivera
David Brown
Obes Nwabara

How to lose a Congressional seat

As things stand right now, Texas will gain three Congressional seats in the 2021 reapportionment, as Texas continues to be the fastest-growing state in the country. There is one thing that can stop that, however: Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump opened a new front Tuesday in his effort to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted when lawmakers redraw congressional districts next year, a move that could cost Texas several seats in Congress if it succeeds.

Trump attempted last year to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, but was shot down by the courts. On Tuesday, he signed a memorandum directing Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude undocumented immigrants who might be included in the census count from the “apportionment base,” or the base population that’s used to divide up seats in Congress.

The order, which will surely be challenged in court, is Trump’s latest effort to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens when states redraw the boundaries of political districts each decade to account for growth. Recent estimates indicate the size of the undocumented population in Texas has reached nearly 1.8 million. Excluding those residents from population counts to draw up congressional districts would likely lead to a drastic realignment of representation and power throughout the state.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that representation in Congress be divided among states based on a count every 10 years of every person residing in the country. But the Constitution, Trump wrote, does not define “which persons must be included in the apportionment base.”

“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government,” the memo reads. “Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to States on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles.”

[…]

“The Constitution requires that everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “President Trump can’t pick and choose. He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court. His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again.”

Litigation has indeed been filed, in multiple lawsuits and venues at this point. My interest in pointing this out was the very narrow one of showing what this would mean to Texas.

If unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the apportionment count, California, Florida and Texas would each end up with one less congressional seat than they would have been awarded based on population change alone. California would lose two seats instead of one, Florida would gain one instead of two, and Texas would gain two instead of three, according to analysis based on projections of Census Bureau 2019 population estimates and the Center’s estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population.

Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would each hold onto a seat that they would have lost if apportionment were based only on total population change. Alabama filed a lawsuit in 2018 seeking to block the Census Bureau from including unauthorized immigrants in its population count.

[…]

The Census Bureau does not regularly publish counts or estimates of unauthorized immigrants, although the Department of Homeland Security has done so. Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, the president ordered the Census Bureau to assemble a separate database, using other government records, on the citizenship status of every U.S. resident. This has also been challenged in court.

The Center’s analysis relies on assumptions about populations to be counted in the 2020 census and estimates of unauthorized immigrants. The actual figures used for apportionment will be different from these, and so the actual apportionment could differ regardless of whether unauthorized immigrants are excluded from the apportionment totals.

You might think that Texas’ political leaders would be up in arms about this. That Congressional seat belongs to Texas! State’s rights! You know the drill. And sadly, you also know that our Trump-hugging Attorney General would never, ever say or do anything that would contradict his Dear Leader. What’s a Congressional seat (or two, or even three, if our dismal failure to support a complete Census effort causes the official count to be unexpectedly low) compared to a favorable tweet from Donald Trump? That’s a question we should all be asking, loudly and often, in 2022, when they are up for re-election.

One more thing:

Texas House leaders have previously indicated to The Texas Tribune they have no plans to alter the way Texas redraws political districts even if the Legislature obtained more detailed data on citizenship.

“Bottom line, the law for the Texas House and the Senate — and frankly the courts and the State Board of Education — requires it be done by total population, as does the U.S. Constitution with regard to congressional seats,” said state Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford who chairs the House Redistricting Committee.

That’s good to hear, but my understanding is that while the State House is explicitly mandated to use total population in redistricting, the State Senate is not. That’s why it was the Senate map that was targeted in the Evenwel case. So, while I hope Rep. King means what he says here, the possibility very much exists that the Lege will try a different tack. (Also, it’s usually the House that draws the House map, and the Senate that draws the Senate map. I’d like to know what the relevant Senate committee chair has to say about this.)

UPDATE: From Ross Ramsey at the Trib:

In a letter urging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to take legal action to stop the proposal, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, framed the idea as an attack on Texas.

“Filing suit to block the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Commerce dated July 21 would be wholly consistent with your official biography that explains as Attorney General, you are ‘focused on protecting Texans and upholding Texas laws and the Constitution’ and ‘fighting federal overreach.’ Indeed, if unchallenged, the President’s actions would likely hurt Texas more than any other state.”

The partisan politics here are clear enough. Turner is the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. Paxton, a Republican, is the newly branded co-chair of the national Lawyers for Trump.

But not all that is political is partisan, even in an election year. Does anyone in elected office here think Texas should have less influence in Washington, D.C.?

Good question. Someone should ask Ken Paxton, and Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick, and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and all of the Republican members of Congress.

The contact tracing debacle

Let us never forget about this.

Just as coronavirus infections began rising a few weeks ago in Texas, contract workers hired by the state to track down exposed Texans were spending hours doing little or no work, received confusing or erroneous instructions and often could not give people the advice they expected, interviews and records indicate.

Health authorities around Texas also say they are running into technical snags with new contact tracing software the state has deployed, known as Texas Health Trace, saying it isn’t ready for widespread use in their counties.

The chaotic beginning and technical glitches — combined with exploding case counts and widespread testing delays — have undermined the goals of boosting COVID-19 monitoring statewide and the state’s massive deal for a privatized contact tracing workforce.

“I know that a lot of local health departments are still trying to figure out how to utilize that contract and some have decided to do the work on their own,” said David Lakey, chief medical officer at the University of Texas System and former commissioner of the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). “There is concern with local health department individuals I’ve talked to related to how they are going to benefit related to this large investment from the state.”

DSHS said problems identified by the Houston Chronicle have since been fixed and that “every week” more counties are using its software.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said months ago that robust contact tracing capacity would help Texas “box in” the coronavirus. But after the state reopened its economy, infections, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketed, making it impossible for many health departments to keep up with contact tracing.

“When you kind of jump the gun a little bit and open too soon, and you skip the processes that need to be in place, this kind of thing happens,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “You might have the most successfully designed contact tracing program or you may not, but honestly it’s not gonna make a difference because you’re setting yourself up to fail.”

At the state level, Texas moved to ramp up and modernize contact tracing in May, when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission quietly awarded a $295 million contact tracing deal to little-known MTX Group, a tech startup that has a headquarters in North Texas. Abbott’s office has staunchly defended the emergency expenditure, but it’s been controversial from the get-go.

The bid for the work, which was never publicly posted, was awarded to MTX without input from top state leaders, and more than a dozen legislators subsequently called for the state to cancel the contract.

More recently, four people who performed contact tracing work for MTX or one of its partners raised questions about the tech company’s performance. They spoke to the Chronicle on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record about their employment. Three said they fielded only a handful of phone calls during several weeks in May and June.

You can read on for details of the various failures of the program as implemented, and you can see here for more on Texas Health Trace. My point is that having a certain number of contact tracers in place, a number that was never met, was one of the four conditions of reopening set by Greg Abbott. The real failure here, as has been the case with everything else, was the complete lack of effort to meet those metrics that were set out. The failure to do so led directly to the situation we’re in now. The fact that MTX was given a no-bid contract on Abbott’s say-so and no one else’s input is a separate issue, one that deserves a fuller exploration, but not necessarily a main cause of the failure. It’s possible to imagine a scenario in which a legitimate and fully-resourced company could have gotten this contract in a similar fashion and done a better job with it. The process would have still been a problem, but at least the result was okay. Here we had both a bad process and a bad outcome, and both of those need to be investigated. They also need to be hung around Greg Abbott’s neck from now until November of 2022.

Weekend link dump for July 26

The COVID risk chart we really need.

“Folks, this is the nature of child-rearing.”

“The detonation forever changed the course of history, ensuring the end of World War II and marking the dawn of the atomic age. After 75 years, the test is both revered for the scientific advancements it helped to usher in and vilified for the moral and diplomatic implications that still linger in its wake.”

One of the weirdest murder stories you’ll ever read, with implications for how crimes in outer space may be handled someday.

“Woman Who Refused To Wear Mask At Starbucks Wants Half The $100k In Tip Money Barista Got From GoFundMe Campaign”.

“The African continent is very slowly peeling apart. Scientists say a new ocean is being born.”

“The Roman Empire would have a better reputation if it had enjoyed more leaders like Augustus and Marcus Aurelius and fewer like Caligula and Nero, and someday a couple of thousand years from now there will be some blogger saying the same about America. Bad leadership matters, and George W. Bush and Donald Trump have provided the kind of leadership that leaves an indelible stain.”

“The key to Biden’s success is simple: He’s slicing into Trump’s coalition, pulling back the older, whiter voters Democrats lost in 2016. The Biden campaign’s insight is that mobilization is often the flip side of polarization: When party activists are sharply divided by ideology and demography, what excites your side will be the very thing that unnerves the other side.”

RIP, Vincent Mandola, longtime Houston restauranteur.

From the Bad Uses For Drones department.

“Trader Joe’s said it will change the names carried by some of its international food products in response to an online petition that called on the grocery chain to ‘remove racist branding and packaging.'”

“This is a thread of fun times I had while enforcing the new company policy of required masks at the grocery store I work at”. My God, so may people are huge entitled babies.

“Such resentment is a choice. It is not an easy choice, both because it is unpleasant and because it is laughably absurd. But if one is stubbornly determined to make such a choice, and to repeat it, and to stick with it, one can train oneself to ignore the absurdity of it and to learn to enjoy and to savor the bitter acquired taste of resentment. Stick with that choice long enough and you can lose your taste for anything else.”

“Guilt by association is really not a thing in American law.”

As long as we are rooting for Major League Baseball to be played in safety for its entire season, let us also root for someone to hit .400 during that season.

RIP, Pam Francis, Houston photographer known as the Annie Liebovitz of Texas.

MLB players take a knee on Opening Day. Good for them.

“Trump used northeastern states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which lowered their infection curve with strict stay-at-home orders, as part of a misleading argument that much of the US was free of the virus. What he didn’t say is that those states succeeded because they ignored his calls to reopen.”

“And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. Lastly, what I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women.”

RIP, Regis Philbin, best known for being Regis Philbin.

“There is no acknowledgement here that Ted Yoho, not lacking political and professional ambition himself, was also building his brand by deciding to accost Ocasio-Cortez in front of reporters. Nor is there acknowledgment that it worked for him.”

RIP, Olivia de Havilland, two-time Oscar winner from Hollywood’s Golden Age.