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Precinct analysis: How the 2022 Harris County State Rep candidates did versus the 2020 and 2018 results

I still don’t have a full canvass of Harris County, so I’m looking around to see what kind of analyses I can do in the meantime. For this post, I’m comparing how the candidates in the contested State Rep contests did against the 2020 and 2018 numbers that we saw in the redistricting reports. This isn’t my preferred kind of comparison – there are too many uncontested races, some “contested” races really aren’t because of poor candidate quality, incumbents tend to have a bit of an edge – but it’s what we’ve got for now. My impressions of the numbers for the new State Rep districts are here, and the Texas Legislative Council reports can be found here for 2020 and here for 2018. First up is 2020:


Dist   Biden   Trump   Hegar  Cornyn     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    31.6%   67.1%   30.6%   67.2%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.2%   56.2%   39.4%   58.0%   39.2%   60.8%
131    79.6%   19.5%   77.3%   19.9%   80.5%   19.5%
132    42.9%   55.6%   40.0%   57.6%   40.3%   59.7%
133    48.4%   50.3%   43.2%   54.9%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.5%   36.1%   56.6%   41.7%   61.6%   37.1%
135    59.9%   38.7%   57.5%   39.4%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.6%   52.0%   42.8%   55.0%   42.9%   57.1%
145    70.1%   28.3%   66.2%   30.8%   71.3%   28.7%
148    58.1%   40.5%   55.3%   41.7%   55.5%   42.6%
149    61.7%   37.2%   59.7%   37.5%   59.8%   37.7%
150    42.1%   56.5%   39.5%   57.9%   39.3%   60.7%

Biden generally outperformed the rest of the ticket by two or three points, more in some places like HDs 133 and 134. It’s clear he drew some crossover votes, so matching his performance is a sign of great strength. MJ Hegar was more of a typical Dem performer, and ideally a Dem in 2022 would do at least as well as she did. Note that most of the individual State Rep races were straight up D versus R, but in the cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, assume there was a third party candidate as well. Most Dems met the Hegar standard, with incumbent Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Christina Morales (HD145) outdoing even the Biden number. On the other side, HD133 GOP candidate Mano DeAyala easily stomped a Democrat whose existence even I didn’t know about.

On to 2018:


Dist    Beto    Cruz  Valdez  Abbott     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    32.6%   66.8%   29.1%   69.7%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.8%   56.3%   36.8%   61.5%   39.2%   60.8%
131    85.2%   14.3%   80.4%   18.5%   80.5%   19.5%
132    41.8%   57.5%   36.2%   62.3%   40.3%   59.7%
133    46.1%   53.1%   37.9%   60.3%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.4%   36.8%   52.5%   45.3%   61.6%   37.1%
135    64.4%   35.0%   59.4%   39.2%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.4%   52.8%   39.6%   58.7%   42.9%   57.1%
145    75.0%   24.1%   67.5%   30.4%   71.3%   28.7%
148    62.7%   37.5%   56.1%   42.4%   55.5%   42.6%
149    68.7%   30.6%   64.0%   34.8%   59.8%   37.7%
150    41.2%   58.1%   36.3%   62.4%   39.3%   60.7%

Beto and Valdez represented the top and bottom of the scale for Dems this year. It’s clear that Dems fell short of the 2018 standard this year, with the 2022 version of Beto being somewhat above the Valdez line. In general, Biden did about as well in most districts as Beto had done two years before, though there are exceptions, of which HDs 135 and 149 are the most interesting. I don’t want to read too much into any single number here – this was a year I’d classify as an underperforming one for Dems overall, though at a much higher baseline than we were used to for off years, and I’d expect better numbers in 2024. Dems have the same targets as before in HDs 132 and 138, while if I were the Republicans I’d take a closer look at what’s going on in 135 and 148. The actual me really wants to see the full canvass data to see how the broader ticket did in these districts. Let me know what you think.

DPS asks to be rewarded for its abject failure at Uvalde

I like to think that I don’t get easily shocked, but this did it to me.

The Texas Department of Public Safety wants $1.2 billion to turn its training center north of Austin into a full-time statewide law enforcement academy — starting with a state-of-the-art active-shooter facility that would need a nearly half-billion-dollar investment from Texas taxpayers next year.

“You play like you practice,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told budget officials last month. “You need to practice in a real environment.”

If approved, the requested $466.6 million “down payment,” as McCraw called it, in the state’s 2024-25 budget — which won’t be finalized until the middle of next year — would be the start of a six-year proposal to turn the nearly 200-acre Williamson County DPS Tactical Training Center complex in Florence into a Texas law enforcement academy for use by agencies across the state, he said.

The $1.2 billion project figure does not appear in the agency’s legislative appropriations request, which comes at a time when agencies are making their bids for a share of a historic state cash surplus in the next biennium — and against the backdrop of an emotional debate over what the state needs to do to prevent more mass killings.

A “state-of-the-art” active-shooter facility would be built with the first round of funding next year and could be used “right off the bat,” independent of the rest of the proposed upgrades, to immediately enhance active-shooter response by Texas law enforcement, McCraw said in a brief presentation before the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Oct. 4.

If fully funded over the next three budget cycles, the training academy would cost $1.2 billion and eventually include dormitories, a cafeteria and other elements, McCraw said.

“It’s a cost we recognize as a cost that can’t be borne in any one session. It takes time to build it,” McCraw said of the proposed academy.

He did not specify whether the center would charge fees for other law enforcement agencies to use the facility, if it would draw down any federal funding or what it would cost to run the center beyond the six-year construction budget.

DPS officials did not respond to repeated requests for a copy of the proposed plans for the active-shooter facility or the larger multiyear proposal for the academy, information about whether additional land purchases would be needed or the breakdown of the cost estimate for the upgrades.

The proposed active-shooter facility was part of a presentation made by McCraw to captains at the Texas Highway Patrol, an arm of the DPS, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Texas Tribune. The minutes said the facility would include the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program — an active-shooter response training system developed 20 years ago at Texas State University in San Marcos that has been the national standard for active-shooter training for a decade.

[…]

Pete Blair, executive director of the ALERRT center at Texas State, said his San Marcos facility is used for several types of first-responder training as well as active-shooter training on site.

Blair hasn’t seen the DPS plans for the proposed site but said a facility that would be considered state of the art might include reconfigurable walls, cameras and similar technological upgrades.

That’s the sort of technology that would be found at facilities like the federal Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility in Quantico, Virginia, which has 17 structures including a school scenario. Another of the nation’s top-tier facilities is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Glynco campus, a 1,600-acre facility near Brunswick, Georgia.

Most of the quarter-million first responders the Texas ALERRT center has worked with in the past two decades were trained somewhere besides the Texas State center in San Marcos, Blair said.

“I will say there is a need for training facilities across the state,” Blair said. “We’ve always had more demand than we have money to provide training. So every cycle, it’s been a situation of us having to put departments on the waitlist and say, ‘We’re coming to you, but it’s going to be a while.’”

Here’s my proposal for DPS active shooter training: A single PowerPoint slide that says “Don’t stand around with your thumb up your ass while kids are being murdered.” I can deliver that for a lot less than $1.2 billion, and the results can’t possibly be any worse than what we already had. The idea that we could turn mass shooter situations into a growth industry is just…I can’t. I’m going to go eat some pie. Reform Austin.

Weekend link dump for November 27

“Fox News significantly decreased its volume of violent crime coverage in the week of the midterms, down 63% from the week prior.”

You’re Not Ready for How Much These Jokers Want to Talk about Hunter Biden’s Laptop”.

“This model prosecution memorandum (or “pros memo”) assesses the potential charges against former President Donald Trump emanating from his handling of classified documents and other government records since leaving office on January 20, 2021.”

“How the news media – long in thrall to Trump – can cover his new run for president responsibly“.

I don’t know enough about “effective altruism” to know if it’s a worthwhile movement or mostly bogus, but I agree that Sam Bankman-Fried was a terrible face for that movement and to whatever extent it continues to exist they’re better off without him.

The comic strip Funky Winkerbean will cease publication on December 31 after fifty years.

“Buffalo Bills fans in New York rallied [last] Saturday to shovel out players, amid a dangerous lake-effect snowstorm, in an effort to get them to the airport in time to travel to Detroit for their game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.”

World’s biggest crybabies, bar none.

The conservative SCOTUS justices are even more corrupt than you thought.

“Do you have any idea how embarrassed the creator of a television show must be of that show to have his name removed?”

“The Messaging Mistake That Cost Republicans the Midterms”.

“Malta’s government is to propose a change in the law to allow doctors to terminate a pregnancy if a mother’s life or health is at risk.”

Congratulations to Olivia Pichardo, the first female baseball player to be on an active NCAA Division I roster.

“The Illustrated and Admittedly Incomplete History of the Turducken“.

“Whatever the reason, actual turkey prices right now are nowhere near what the Farm Bureau says they are—a fact the group sheepishly admitted in the press release announcing the survey last week. But those “sharply lower prices” didn’t make it into News at 10.”

“[A] voting rights advocate is an election denier who lost a close election.”

“If the 11th Circuit does what now seems likely, once the newly appointed special counsel gets up to speed, an indictment of the former president for unlawful possession of the materials found at Mar-a-Lago should quickly follow. The case is both a prosecutorial “slam dunk” and the most effective way to begin prosecuting all matters related to the Jan. 6 riot and the attempts to overturn the 2020 election.”

The story of Jake Powell, a sort-of Kyrie Irving from the 1930s.

“As data continues to roll in, however, it seems quite likely that long COVID is a significant part of why the labor market is currently so tight: it has forced people out of the workforce, plunging them into financial turmoil, which is making it harder for employers to find workers. One international online study of nearly 4,000 long COVID patients found that 22 percent had left the workforce due to their symptoms.”

RIP, John Y. Brown, Jr., former Governor of Kentucky, NBA owner, KFC mogul, and husband of former Miss America Phyllis George.

Shame on you, CBS Sports. Shame on you.

RIP, Irene Cara, actor and singer best known for the theme songs to the movies Fame and Flashdance.

Cartoonists celebrate the 100th birthday of Charles M. Schulz, creator of “Peanuts” and an all-around beloved figure in the comics world.

We do need to find someone to run against Ted Cruz

I don’t know who that ought to be yet, but surely someone is out there.

Not Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz said on Saturday that he would seek a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2024, though he also did not rule out running for president.

“I’m running for reelection in the Senate, I’m focused on the battles in the United States Senate,” Cruz told reporters after addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. He said he was also focused on the Senate runoff in Georgia on Dec. 6, according to a video of his discussion with reporters posted by Fox News.

The Texas Republican reiterated his disappointment that his party failed to take control of the Senate in this month’s midterm elections, a setback he blamed on a lack of determination within the party.

Cruz was one of 10 Republican senators who voted against the reelection of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as minority leader on Wednesday. McConnell easily fended off a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, by a vote of 37-10.

I know I just said that I don’t want to engage in wischcasting for this, and I still don’t. But we do need to be prepared to think about who we want to see run for this nomination, and the sooner the better. It’s still the case that no Texas Republican has come as close to losing statewide this century as Cruz did in 2018, and it’s still the case that all decent people loathe Ted Cruz. I’m sure there are some people who will relish the opportunity.

I know we just came off a mediocre at best election, but the optimistic view is that Dems have been steadily gaining ground overall, and we’ve done better in Presidential years. The lunatic fringe of the Republican-majority House will make a very easy foil for President Biden, and Donald Trump will either be the Republican nominee – and nobody has done more for Democratic turnout efforts over the past three cycles than he has – or will be enraged and embittered over not being the nominee – and nobody has done more to sow division and turmoil in the Republican Party over the past six years than he has. There are any number of ways that things could be bad, and that’s before we consider whether Biden should be running for a second term, but there is a very plausible optimistic case to be made. Of course, I said the same thing about 2022 not long after Biden was inaugurated, so take all that into account. The point still is, at least at this time, there’s no need to fear running in 2024.

As to who, we can debate that as we see fit. Maybe Julian Castro, if he hasn’t reached his sell-by date. Maybe a current (Ron Nirenberg, Eric Johnson) or recent (Annise Parker) Mayor might want to take a step up. Maybe a State Senator who wins the draw to not be otherwise on the ballot in 2024. Who knows? My argument is simply that this is an opportunity that someone should want to take. We know we can raise enough money for whoever it is. Just think about it, that’s all I’m asking.

Yeah, the crypto lovers here are still all in

I mean, at least they’re consistent.

The crypto community in Austin was buzzing.

Hundreds of investors, legislators, professionals and enthusiasts packed the halls of the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center at the University of Texas on Nov. 17-18 for the Texas Blockchain Summit. For two days, there were discussions on everything from bitcoin mining to cryptocurrency regulations to blockchain innovations. But one thing was on everyone’s minds: the spectacular collapse earlier this month of major crypto exchange FTX and its billionaire CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, who was once the industry’s face in Washington and a Democratic megadonor who gave $1 million to Beto O’Rourke.

So when Lee Bratcher, president of nonprofit trade association Texas Blockchain Council, took the stage to open the summit on Thursday, he was quick to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

“The obstacles we face as an industry have just expanded significantly as a result of FTX’s incompetence and potentially fraudulent activity,” he said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Other community members who spoke to The Texas Tribune echoed the sentiment. For them, FTX’s implosion has been a huge setback for the industry, especially one that just experienced a market meltdown following the fall of another high-profile crypto venture in May. But while these events have burned and likely turned away many retail investors, the members say they will continue investing in the space because of their belief in the technology and philosophy behind crypto and blockchain. And Texas politicians attending the conference also remain bullish on an industry that the state has strongly courted.

[…]

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is a Bitcoin investor and a leading advocate for crypto, also reaffirmed his unwavering enthusiasm for the industry during his event at the summit on Friday. “I want Texas to be an oasis for Bitcoin and crypto,” he said.

Later on the same day, a bipartisan panel of state legislators — including Sens. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, and Royce West, D-Dallas, as well as Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and John H. Bucy III, D-Austin — similarly expressed their support for strengthening crypto’s presence in Texas. FTX’s bankruptcy, they said, should be viewed more as a lesson rather than a reason for doing away with the industry.

“Any conversation I’ve had in response to FTX, it’s been what do we do to make sure we’re not like them,” Bucy said. “It’s how do we have commonsense policies to protect people without stopping progress.” Bucy is vice chair to the executive committee of the Texas House’s Innovation & Technology Caucus. Capriglione is the committee chair.

“This is the oil boom of this generation,” Bucy added.

[…]

In Texas’ upcoming legislative session, Bratcher said the Texas Blockchain Council will be talking with its legislative partners to see if they want to enact stronger consumer protections. Meanwhile, ATX DAO members are soldiering on with their current work by looking for state legislators to champion a bill that would legalize decentralized autonomous organizations — entities without a central authority that depend on blockchain-based contracts that self-execute when preset conditions are met.

I wonder if Beto got that contribution in actual money or one of FTX’s shitcoins. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Let’s just say I’m not convinced by Rep. Bucy or his colleagues and leave it at that. As for decentralized autonomous organizations, I don’t have a kneejerk reaction based on the five seconds of reading I’ve done so far. I strongly suspect that those things are coming whether we like it or not. I also strongly suspect that whatever the right kind of laws are to govern them, we’re not going to get them in the first attempt. The lawyers who will be working in that space are going to get a lot of business in the near future. Beyond all that, we’ll see if anyone’s enthusiasm for this stuff dims at all when the next crypto failure occurs. Oh, and to Democratic candidates in Texas, please do have some standards for the currency in which your contributions are received. And be very careful about where you store anything that isn’t a US dollar.

A too-early look at who’s running for Houston city offices in 2023

Because it’s never not election season.

With the midterm elections behind us, city election season is now heating up. Next November, Houston will elect a new mayor, a new controller and 16 City Council members.

The campaigns actually got underway long before the midterm elections were over. State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, announced his plans to run for mayor way back in November 2021. Chris Hollins, the former Harris County clerk, announced in February, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards launched her campaign in March.

Those announcements, and the millions of dollars the mayoral candidates collectively have raised for their bids so far, have set Houston off on its earliest start to campaign season to date.

As the candidates start making more public appearances and vying for voters’ attention, here’s your early primer on city elections, and who is running so far:

[…]

Mayor Sylvester Turner is serving out his second and final term, which means Houston will elect a new mayor in 2023. Voters also will decide 16 spots on City Council — 11 members representing geographic districts, and five members elected citywide in at-large seats — to round out the City Hall horseshoe.

City Controller Chris Brown also is term-limited, meaning the city will have a new controller as well. The controller is the city’s independently elected financial watchdog.

Six council members face term limits, meaning their seats will be open. Ten council members are eligible for re-election and presumably running.

They have a list of the Council members who are not term-limited, as well as a list of people who claim they are running for something at this time. We’ll get some idea of who is serious and who is just a name when the January finance reports come out. From past experience, nothing is truly set in stone until the filing deadline, and we’re a long way away from that.

One more name that is out there as a potential Mayoral candidate is former Metro chair Gilbert Garcia. Don’t be surprised to hear of other names, though at this point it’s not very likely there will be any more high-profile names.

The incumbent Council members who are term limited include Dave Martin (District E), Karla Cisneros (H), Robert Gallegos (I), Mike Knox (At Large #1), David Robinson (AL #2), and Michael Kubosh (AL #3). I expect there to be a lot of At Large candidates, assuming At Large seats are still a thing next November.

There are also races for HISD and HCC boards of trustees. In HISD, Kathy Blueford-Daniels (District II), Dani Hernandez (III), Patricia Allen (IV), and Judith Cruz (VIII) are up for re-election. In HCC, the candidates whose terms are up are Reagan Flowers (Distrct 4), Robert Glaser (5), and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (9). Glaser is under accusation of sexual harassment, and as such I have to think there’s a decent chance he’ll choose not to run again. That is 100% fact-free speculation on my part, so take it for what it’s worth.

This is the situation as it stands now. As I said, we’ll know more when we see the January finance reports. If you know of someone not listed in the Chron story who’s running for something next year, please let us know in the comments.

Our property tax system is soooooooo awesome!

How awesome is it? So awesome you don’t even have to live here to get a tax break.

Herschel Walker, the former Dallas Cowboys running back and Republican candidate running for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, is slated to get a tax break on his $3 million residence in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb — potentially running afoul of Texas tax law.

According to Tarrant County property and tax records, Walker claimed a homestead exemption on his four-bedroom home in Westlake in 2021 and is expected to do so again this year — even after he registered to vote in Georgia last year. Walker has since voted in two elections there, CNN reported.

The exemption saved Walker more than $1,200 on his property tax bill last year, records from the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector show, and would net him more than $1,500 in savings this year.

Walker’s Texas homestead exemption might also raise questions about his Senate run in Georgia. He is in a runoff with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, in a race to determine just how tightly Democrats will control the Senate for the next two years. The U.S. Constitution requires officeholders to live in the state in which they’re elected.

Under Texas law, homeowners can claim a homestead exemption — which exempts a certain amount of a home’s value from taxation — only on their primary residence. But homeowners may continue to claim the exemption if they “do not establish a principal residence elsewhere … intend to return to the home … [and] are away less than two years,” according to the state comptroller’s office.

Walker bought the house in Westlake in 2011, according to Tarrant County appraisal records. He has claimed the exemption on his Texas home since 2012, records show, allowing him to pay a lower tax bill toward the city of Westlake and Keller Independent School District. School districts make up the bulk of any given Texas homeowner’s tax bill.

So, um, anyone feel like filing a complaint? I can only imagine what a spectacle an attempt to enforce the law in this instance might turn into. The DMN has more.

What to expect when you’re expecting a (larger) Democratic majority

I have three things to say about this.

Despite narrowly winning reelection against bruising campaigns by well-funded challengers, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court has made clear it intends to continue its progressive remake of Harris County.

Though neither County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia or Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis invoked the word “mandate,” their public promises of four more years of what they have been doing leaves little doubt about their intentions.

Adding a fourth Democrat in Precinct 4, where former county court at law judge Lesley Briones ousted incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle will only strengthen that resolve.

It also will prevent the lone Republican remaining on court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey from pulling off a quorum break as he did this year with Cagle to prevent the Democratic majority from passing its preferred property tax rate.

“Democrats will likely lean into a more progressive agenda now that they have uniform control of the court,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “They as much as campaigned on this promise.”

The question, Rottinghaus said, is how far Democrats should go in a progressive direction.

“Voters didn’t provide an overwhelming mandate for a major left shift and probably signaled some modest opposition to or, at least, different emphasis on priorities from the prior four years,” Rottinghaus said.

I’m old enough to remember the 2006 election, you know, the one where Rick Perry was elected with 39% of the vote. There was some Discourse at the time about how Perry should be humbled by his weak showing and should mend his ways and just somehow not be so Rick Perry-like. He did none of those things, was easily re-elected again in 2010, was briefly a Presidential candidate in 2012, and eventually became a Cabinet member. Mandates are what you make of them.

With the new stronger majority on the court, Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said she is concerned Democrats will be punitive toward those who have challenged them, pointing to Hidalgo’s victory speech delivered the day after the election.

In those remarks, Hidalgo spoke about her critics who have accused Democrats on the court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.” She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“That was sort of what was implied with her statement addressed to those people who didn’t support her. So, does that mean she’s not going to be supportive of the constables and the DA’s office?” Siegel said. “Because it’s one thing saying that you’re for funding and you want to make crime go down, but now it’s time to deliver. That’s what she told people.”

Oh, Cindy. Have you seen what Republicans are promising to do in Congress now that they have a slim majority? That’s what being punitive looks like. There are some significant policy differences between Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court on the one hand and Kim Ogg and the Constables on the other. Judge Hidalgo has – I’m gonna say it – a mandate to use her office to implement the policies she and the Court campaigned on and think are best. If Ogg and the Constables, who are all up for election in 2024, disagree about that, they can make a campaign issue out of it and hope to get their own mandate at that time. If Hidalgo and the Court really do overstep, that can be ammunition in their fight.

Still, Rottinghaus said, the opposition Democrats faced during the election cycle reflected the difficulty they had messaging on crime issues.

“Governing a massive and ideologically diverse county like Harris means compromising,” he said. “So, despite a solid majority, the close election shows Democrats on the Court need to encourage Republicans to come back to the table.”

This is just your periodic reminder that Harris County Commissioners Court operated with a Republican majority for at least 40 years – I’m only able to verify the Court’s makeup via election results back to about 1974 – before Dems took it in 2019. We operated under Republican laws, rules, norms, and assumptions for a long, long time. Only so much of that can be changed to reflect the current political reality in four years’ time, especially when a Republican minority was still able to wield a budget veto. The fact is that this now-larger Democratic majority – which even with the benefit of redistricting was still hard won – will continue to modify, update, and undo some of the things that we had long done under Republican rule. Everyone needs to wrap their heads around that.

Who else can we think of who’s alleged to have violated Texas securities law?

Into every story about cryptocurrency, some amount of absurdity is sure to follow.

Texas is investigating celebrities who had endorsed FTX, the now bankrupt cryptocurrency firm, for potentially violating state securities laws.

The Texas State Securities Board started looking into FTX’s operations last month over whether the exchange’s yield-bearing crypto accounts were providing residents with unregistered securities. Since the company’s collapse on Nov. 11, the board has significantly expanded its probe to examine the impact of this multibillion-dollar bankruptcy.

And promotions of FTX by celebrities such as the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady are now part of this broadened investigation, as first reported by Bloomberg News and confirmed by The Texas Tribune.

It also comes amid a class-action lawsuit filed in Florida against Curry, Brady and other celebrities — mostly high-profile athletes — which alleges that FTX had used their endorsements as part of a scheme designed to take advantage of “unsophisticated investors.” It also names FTX’s former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

“Anyone who renders investment advice in Texas typically needs to be registered and they typically have to truthfully disclose all known material facts,” said Joe Rotunda, the state board’s enforcement director. “In Texas, there is not a different system of justice or regulation for people who are celebrities.”

It’s currently unclear if any prominent Texan would be investigated, but Rotunda said his team is still compiling a list of relevant parties based on recent court filings by FTX’s current CEO John J. Ray III and the class-action lawsuit. In particular, it will be looking at what the promoters disclosed, how they were compensated and how their promotions were scripted and filmed.

“It’s important from a securities regulation standpoint, and from a bankruptcy standpoint, to determine the ways FTX was encouraging clients and Texans to use FTX and invest with FTX,” he said.

He added that his team will also have to consider how the relevant law applies in this situation, since it was established via a 1985 case involving an investment and financial newsletter being distributed via fax.

“That’s a far cry from social media and broadcast advertisements, let alone tokens and blockchains, right?” Rotunda said.

I mean, okay, that’s their job and I appreciate that they are not giving anyone a pass for being a celebrity. It’s just that I personally don’t expect a celebrity endorser to be an actual expert on the thing they’re being paid to endorse. Maybe they should have some level of knowledge, when we’re talking about a financial product, but as a general rule I just figure either they like the thing they’re shilling for or they like the money they’re getting for the shilling. I don’t need for Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman to be salsa connoisseurs in real life. It’s just an ad.

On the other hand, given the best known example we have of a prominent person being accused of violating state securities law (hint: his name rhymes with Pen Kaxton), it could be a decade or more before any of them find themselves answering to the charges in question. If I’m Tom Brady’s lawyer, I’m probably telling him to worry about other things over this one. He’s not in any near-term danger.

Thanksgiving video break: A return to something resembling normalcy

Let’s spend a few minutes with an old friend:

The day may come when I will get tired of that video, but that day is not today. I am as always thankful for my family and friends, my health, my ability to engage in local and state politics via this silly old blog, and for those of y’all who keep on reading it. Happy Thanksgiving, stay safe, and enjoy whatever celebration you indulge in today.

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

Forced birther lawsuit targets abortion pills

Did you think you were going to have a nice, peaceful Thanksgiving week? Sorry, no can do.

Abortion opponents who helped challenge Roe v. Wade filed a lawsuit Friday that takes aim at medication abortions, asking a federal judge in Texas to undo decades-old approval of the drugs that have become the preferred method of ending pregnancy in the U.S.

Even before the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to an abortion earlier this year, the use of abortion pills had been increasing in the U.S. and demand is expected to grow as more states seek abortion limits.

The lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which was also involved in the Mississippi case that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned. The lawsuit argues the U.S. Food and Drug Administration erred in approving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol and overstepped its authority in doing so.

Reached for comment, the FDA said it does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Amarillo, Texas. The state banned abortion after the Roe decision and is among the states where GOP lawmakers have banned mail delivery of the pills.

The number of medication abortions has increased since regulators started allowing them and now account for roughly 40% of U.S. abortions. The medication can cost as little as $110 to get by mail, compared with at least $300 for a surgical abortion. Research has shown the pills are safe.

However, people seeking abortion pills often must navigate differing state laws, including bans on delivery of the drugs and on telemedicine consultations to discuss the medication with a health care provider. And until Democrat Joe Biden became president, U.S. government policy banned mail delivery nationwide.

Axios has a copy of the lawsuit. And before you ask the answer is yes, of course this is about sheer opportunism, not anything resembling facts.

Medication abortion accounts for more than half of abortions in the U.S. In response to the pandemic, the FDA allowed abortion pills to be mailed, which contributed to a significant jump in its use. For decades now, it has been used safely and effectively up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. It has been extensively researched for decades, and has proven safe, effective, and convenient for doctors and patients alike.

There is absolutely no scientific or medical basis for the assertions in this case. It is “an incredibly safe medication,” Loren Colson, a family medicine physician in Idaho and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told The Washington Post. “It’s been well-studied and much safer than a lot of things you can find over the counter,” Colson said. “If they are trying to argue the safety, they have very little ground to stand on. It’s just a clear and blatant attack on abortion.”

One legal expert who has written extensively about the pill calls the safety claims in the suit “ridiculous.” Greer Donley, associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said, “Mifepristone is one of the safest drugs on the market, safer than Viagra and penicillin,” citing the decades of research: “We have a lot of studies and a lot of data on it.” This case, she said, is “really weak.”

Which is why the group chose Texas, where they could find a friendly federal district judge. They did. The case is going to Trump appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk, one of the young extremists the Federalist Society handpicked. He is vehemently anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic, and so extreme in his anti-LGBTQ writings that Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted against him.

His hostility to abortion is no secret. He has described Roe v. Wade as wrongly decided. “On January 22, 1973, seven justices of the Supreme Court found an unwritten ‘fundamental right’ to abortion hiding in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the shadowy ‘penumbras’ of the Bill of Rights, a celestial phenomenon invisible to the non-lawyer eye.”

It’s a junk case with no basis in science or medical research. But we’ve been here before with junk cases, this federal court district, and the 5th Circuit in which it operates. Kacsmaryk will rule for the plaintiffs and possibly even try to put a national injunction on the use of medication abortion. The administration will appeal and it will go to the abortion-hostile 5th Circuit, from where it will be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court.

So yeah, this is bad, not because of the law or anything like that but because of numbers and court-shopping. I don’t know how long it will take to get to a hearing and then to a preliminary ruling, but it’s out there. Be prepared for it. Bloomberg Law and Kaiser Health News have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Do we actually know how to fix the grid?

The evidence is unclear.

Texas lawmakers and experts who study the state’s power grid aren’t thrilled with a proposal by state energy officials aimed at preventing future widespread outages such as the one during the 2021 winter storm.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas last week unveiled a proposal, backed by Chair Peter Lake, that would essentially pay power generators to make sure they have enough reserve electricity to feed the state’s electrical grid in times of extremely high demand. Generators would receive “performance credits” after proving their ability to keep the lights on during those periods — a system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, according to the commission’s consultant.

In the days since, state legislators and energy experts have cast doubts on the proposal, which would cost power customers an additional $460 million yearly, according to the PUC’s estimate. They also questioned the plan’s complexity and the time it would take to implement such a novel system.

“There are huge reliability stakes and huge dollar stakes,” said Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC, which regulates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator. “We need certainty. But there are ways to create certainty without making potentially billion-dollar errors.”

The Texas Legislature last year ordered the commission to overhaul the state’s energy market, which functions mostly off of supply and demand, in the wake of the winter storm. Texas’ electrical grid nearly collapsed as ice and snow blanketed the state. Below-freezing temperatures caused the demand for electricity to surge, triggering widespread power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark without heat for several days. Hundreds of people died as a result.

Power suppliers were allowed to charge sky-high prices for energy as demand spiked during the storm — but frozen equipment meant that they couldn’t meet that demand.

During their first chance to weigh in on potential reforms to the market, lawmakers on a key Senate panel this week made it clear they’re not impressed with the commission’s main proposal.

“This plan is so convoluted, has a long timeline to be put into place, that it’s a set-up for failure for everybody,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, adding that the additional costs of the plan will ultimately be paid by power customers.

“The end loser is the end user,” Campbell said.

Senators expressed concerns about making the state’s power customers pay more for an untested system on top of paying off billions of dollars in costs incurred during the storm — costs that energy experts have said Texans will be paying off for decades.

“There was already a wealth transfer that we saw happen [during Uri], probably the largest in the state’s history,” state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said.

I’ve read this story and the Chron story about the same hearing a couple of times, and I’m still not really sure what was on the table here. Part of the reason for this is that PUC Chair Lake rejected the recommendations of the consulting firm they hired, which among other things called for requiring electric providers to buy “reliability credits” from power generators, the idea being that generators would commit in advance to provide enough power during periods of high demand. Given that this kind of robustness was cited as a key problem from last February it at least sounds like a decent starting point. If that’s not the plan, and we don’t care what FERC has to say, then where exactly are we? I don’t know, and it sounds like the Lege doesn’t either. Maybe we should do better about that? Just a thought. TPR has more.

A few words from Judge Hidalgo

Plus a few words that she could have said but didn’t, which I will fill in.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who narrowly won re-election last week over a strong push from GOP candidates and donors, outlined plans for her next four years in office, including continuing anti-crime efforts and doubling down on early childhood education.

“In some ways, it’s a continuation of the past four years — the work we’ve done to tackle violent crime, for example. We’ve already been able to bring down that violent crime rate by at least 10 percent. These are August numbers. We need to do more. We’re going to continue doing that,” Hidalgo said in a press briefing held Thursday.

Hidalgo took a jab at the two Republicans on commissioners court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who broke quorum for more than six weeks to stop Democrats from passing their proposed property tax rate. While the Democrats were proposing a tax rate decrease, Ramsey and Cagle argued for a slightly lower rate on the grounds that residents needed more tax relief.

Because the court was not able to reach a state-required quorum of four members present to set the tax rate by the end of October, the county defaulted to what is known as the no-new revenue rate, the levy that would generate the same revenue as last year. The county is projected to take in an additional $45 million from new properties on the tax roll.

Facing a lower tax rate, the court voted to approve a lower budget, cutting nearly $100 million that was to be allocated to law enforcement, including raises for sheriff deputies.

“I’m proud of the record investments we’ve made in public safety, even despite the fact that two colleagues boycotted our budget process and forced us to cut some expenses we’d planned,” Hidalgo said. “Even with that, we’ve been able to see results and we’re working really hard, including with the recent bond that passed, to try to strengthen our criminal justice system.”

County government will keep tackling issues that traditionally have not been on the agenda, she said.

That’s what she said. She didn’t say anything about Constable/JP redistricting, either as a political goal or a policy goal. She didn’t say anything about taking all of those $100 million in forced budget cuts from Tom Ramsey’s precinct, which I would totally tell her to at least publicly muse about if I were advising her. She didn’t say anything about whiny crybaby sore losers pursuing their completely bogus “investigation” of the Elections office. She’s a responsible elected official, and I’m a yahoo on the Internet, so that probably has something to do with it. But these are things that could be said, and maybe will be said in a more measured and nuanced way at some point in the coming weeks. We’ll see. Oh, and be sure also to see the hilariously thin-skinned response she drew for her victory celebration from a local furniture salesman and gambling aficionado. Someone needs a nap, I’d say.

UPDATE: Said furniture salesman gets roundly panned by Chron readers.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

The cryptomining surge in rural counties

Here’s one possible answer to that question I posed the other day.

Jacob Rodriguez was driving a John Deere tractor in a West Texas cotton field when he received a phone call that would change his life.

“I was pulling a 59-foot air seeder … and at the same time I was on the phone having my interview,” Rodriguez, 29, said.

On the other end of the phone early this year were representatives from a new business that was coming to Dickens County, a community of around 2,000 people an hour east of Lubbock.

By March, Rodriguez had quit farming cotton — something he called “just another job” — and began training to work in a cryptocurrency mine.

The county had exactly what London-based Argo Blockchain was looking for: plenty of open land and easy access to affordable power, thanks to a large wind farm built there more than a decade ago.

Texas political leaders have been promoting the state as a destination for companies producing bitcoin and other digital currencies, touting the state’s reputation for low taxes and cheap power. Around 30 have come in the past decade, and dozens more have expressed interest in moving to Texas.

But instead of moving to the state’s large urban areas — which have the extensive infrastructure and large workforce that attracts most relocating companies — cryptocurrency companies have largely done the opposite and located in rural areas, according to Lee Bratcher, president of the Texas Blockchain Council, a group promoting crypto growth and innovation.

Crypto companies have been welcomed by many small towns hungry for an economic boost. Argo Blockchain opened its 125,000-square-foot Helios facility in Dickens County in May and hired a couple dozen locals, including Rodriguez. It has also added $17 million to the local tax base, according to Kevin Brendle, the county judge. The county’s overall assessed property tax value is $283 million, he said.

That economic infusion has allowed Dickens County to cut county property taxes by around 1.5%, give small raises to county staff, and purchase new equipment for the sheriff’s office and for road and bridge improvements.

“The end result is enhanced services to the community,” Brendle said. “We’re going to be able to do a better job of serving them, and we’ll be able to be competitive in our wages.”

In Milam County, northeast of Austin, a large crypto facility owned by Riot Blockchain that opened in 2020 has added hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars for the local tax base, according to County Judge Steve Young. He said the boost in taxes has allowed the county government to pay for basic services such as road improvements. When the crypto company needed to employ contractors for various projects, it hired locally, he added.

See here for my question. The article notes that the recent crackdown on crypto mining in China has led to opportunities in places like Texas to pick up the slack. The Republican obsession with cryptocurrency and the fact that these places are locating in rural areas makes a lot of sense politically. And of course, as always, there’s this:

Many rural counties are offering crypto companies tax breaks to lure them to their communities. Milam County, which lost its biggest employer — an Alcoa aluminum plant that employed nearly 1,000 people at its peak and closed in 2008 — offered Riot Blockchain a 45% discount on local taxes for 10 years, said Young, the county judge.

“Businesses are typically not going to come to your county unless you’re willing to give them a tax abatement,” Young said.

Crypto companies still add millions of dollars to the local tax base, Young said, and in Milam County, Riot Blockchain also helped rebuild the local animal shelter and installed new lights at local sports fields.

On the other side of the state, Brendle said Argo Blockchain has committed to refurbishing the county-owned public pool, which closed more than a decade ago.

Brendle and Young both said local residents didn’t oppose the new businesses but had lots of questions about cryptocurrency and whether outsiders would flock to their rural counties.

“When they first came here, people had no idea what it was — neither did I,” Young said. “As it’s gone forward, the county as a whole has started to get a grasp of what’s going on and clearly appreciates the fact that they’re out there providing jobs, enhancing county services, hiring local contractors for the most part and spending a ton of money here. It’s a huge benefit to the county.”

Dig down far enough, there’s always a tax break. Look, I hope this works out well for these communities. Rural Texas has been losing population for a variety of reasons, and they could use the economic boost. I remain skeptical of cryptocurrency as a long-term endeavor, and I remain very worried about the demand it puts on our power grid, but there’s not much I can do about that. All I can say is that the last Big Economic Thing that happened in rural Texas was the private prison industry, and I really hope this turns out better all around than that. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I will need to see it to believe it.

NOTE: This is the time of year when I clear out some posts that have been sitting in my Drafts while other more important news items got blogged about. This one was from early October, well before the crash of FTX. I’ll have a separate post about that shortly; the news hook for that is what prompted me to finally publish this one.

Your 2023 Hall of Fame ballot is out

Should be a quieter year, at least for the writers.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame revealed the 2023 Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot on Monday, with several notable names appearing for the first time, as well as returning candidates hoping to continue trending toward possible enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Former slugging outfielder Carlos Beltrán, who belted 435 home runs and stole 312 bases during a 20-year MLB career, appears on the ballot for the first time, as does former All-Star closer Francisco Rodríguez and his 437 career saves. Other notable first-timers are Huston Street, Matt Cain, John Lackey, R.A. Dickey, Jered Weaver, Bronson Arroyo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andre Ethier, Mike Napoli, Jhonny Peralta, J.J. Hardy and Jayson Werth.

Among the returning candidates, three received more than 50 percent of the vote in 2022, with 75 percent needed for election: Scott Rolen (63.2 percent), Todd Helton (52 percent) and Billy Wagner (51 percent). Rolen is in his sixth year of eligibility (candidates are on the ballot for up to 10 years), while Helton is on his fifth and Wagner is on his eighth.

There’s been a bit of a logjam on the ballot in recent years, with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling receiving sizable shares of the vote without being elected. Though all three are no longer eligible on the BBWAA ballot, they appear on this year’s Contemporary Era ballot.

[…]

Another notable candidate, in his second year of eligibility, is Alex Rodriguez, who received 34.3 percent of the vote on his first ballot despite his then-fourth-place ranking on the all-time career home run list. His connection to performance-enhancing drugs could keep his vote totals low, though he’s another candidate who may benefit from Bonds, Clemens and Schilling falling off the BBWAA ballot.

The general consensus on Beltrán is that he’s an absolutely worthwhile candidate, and also that he’s tainted by the Astros’ cheating scandal. No one knows how much that will hurt him, but I’d bet money he doesn’t get close to being elected this year. Maybe over time, but not right away. No one else new to the ballot is worth serious consideration, and those three top votegetters from last year are all likely to benefit from that. As for A-Rod, well, he’s not likely to go anywhere either.

The Contemporary Era Ballot has the most recent problem children on it, as well as some curious omissions. Perhaps this is Fred McGriff’s big moment; I don’t have strong feelings about that but it would be nice for him if it happens. As usual, we’ll know the results in early January. Fangraphs has more.

Precinct analysis: Early voting versus Election Day

In his pre-election analyses of the early vote, Republican consultant Derek Ryan (whose numbers I have used in the past) suggested that there was still a significant number of regular Republican voters who had not voted yet, which could make Election Day redder than early voting was. I thought I’d take a look at the data to see how accurate that was. Short answer: Pretty accurate.


Candidate   Early%  E-Day%  Total%  Ratio
=========================================
Abbott     53.75%   57.05%  54.80%   1.06
Beto       45.14%   40.98%  43.81%   0.91
Others      1.11%    1.97%   1.39%   1.77

Note that “Early” here includes mail ballots, as the Secretary of State website combines mail ballots with early in person ballots to give that number. “Ratio” is just the Election Day percentage divided by the Early percentage, which you can interpret to mean that Abbott did about six percent better on Election Day while Beto did about nine percent worse. The Others include the Libertarian and Green candidates plus two write-ins. I am greatly amused by the fact that their voters are the real traditionalists for voting on Tuesday.

If you’ve followed the numbers from Harris County, you know that Democrats overall did at least as well on Election Day as they had done in early voting. I assumed there was a range of outcomes here, so I sorted the data by Abbott’s Ratio, to see where he did best and worst – relatively speaking – on Election Day. Here are a few counties of interest for each. First, where he improved on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Travis Early          24.07%   74.83%   1.10%
Travis E-Day          30.52%   66.96%   2.52%

Bastrop Early         53.93%   44.58%   1.50%
Bastrop E-Day         64.15%   33.53%   2.32%

Williamson Early      47.73%   50.94%   1.33%
Williamson E-Day      54.19%   43.20%   2.62%

Hays Early            42.52%   56.01%   1.46%
Hays E-Day            46.87%   50.30%   2.84%

Bowie Early           73.12%   25.96%   0.92%
Bowie E-Day           80.32%   18.17%   1.52%

Dallas Early          34.85%   64.18%   0.97%
Dallas E-Day          38.08%   60.02%   1.90%

There are numerous small counties in there that I haven’t listed, I’m just highlighting the ones of interest. Travis County was in fact the top Ratio value for Greg Abbott – he did 29% better on Election Day than he did in early voting. This is where I point out that “doing better (or worse) on Election Day” is not the same as doing well (or poorly). That said, Abbott did well enough on Election Day in Williamson County to nudge past Beto’s vote total for that county. Now here are a few where Abbott dropped off on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Fort Bend Early       47.58%   51.07%   1.35%
Fort Bend E-Day       44.72%   52.94%   2.33%

Lubbock Early         70.30%   28.64%   1.06%
Lubbock E-Day         67.54%   30.49%   1.97%

Harris Early          45.06%   53.79%   1.15%
Harris E-Day          43.31%   54.45%   2.24%

Gregg Early           73.76%   25.52%   0.72%
Gregg E-Day           71.09%   27.35%   1.56%

Jefferson Early       56.56%   42.33%   1.10%
Jefferson E-Day       54.61%   43.38%   2.01%

It’s interesting to me to see Central Texas counties filling up that first table, while the Houston area is more present in the second one. I could have included Waller, Wharton, and Chambers in the latter as well. Whether that’s a fluke or a tendency, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s finding weird things like this that makes doing this kind of exercise so much fun.

Does any of this matter on a more macro level? Again, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much, in the sense that the votes all count the same and from the perspective of a campaign’s win number it doesn’t make a difference. It’s certainly nice to have a bunch of votes banked before Election Day – if nothing else, it mitigates some risk from bad weather and technical difficulties at voting locations. But ultimately, either your voters show up in the numbers you need or they don’t. I think this data is interesting, and it may suggest some strategies for how better to deploy campaign resources. Beyond that, it’s what you make of it.

Electric trucks and the power grid

Very interesting.

Next month, Tesla Inc. plans to deliver the first of its electric Semi trucks—able to haul a full 40 ton-load some 500 miles on a single charge. These massive batteries-on-wheels may accelerate the transition to electrified transport, but those responsible for delivering the power are starting to ask: Are we ready for this?

Probably not, according to a sweeping new study of highway charging requirements conducted by utility company National Grid Plc. Researchers found that by 2030, electrifying a typical highway gas station will require as much power as a professional sports stadium—and that’s mostly just for electrified passenger vehicles. As more electric trucks hit the road, the projected power needs for a big truck stop by 2035 will equal that of a small town.

Even the authors who planned the study were caught off guard by how quickly highway power demands will change. A connection to the grid that can handle more than 5 megawatts takes up to eight years to build, at a cost tens of millions of dollars. If power upgrades don’t start soon, the transition to electric vehicles—let alone electric trucks—will quickly be constrained by a grid unprepared for the demand, warned Bart Franey, vice president of clean energy development at National Grid.

“We need to start making these investments now,” Franey said in an interview. “We can’t just wait for it to happen, because the market is going to outpace the infrastructure.”

The key bit of information from the rest of the story, which you should read, is that we don’t need to add very much grid capacity to handle all of the EV charging stations we will soon require. It’s that this new infrastructure will take some time to build out, and we need to get started on it ASAP to stay ahead of the demand for it. If we don’t, it will likely slow down the rollout of electric vehicles, with all of the knock-on economic and climate effects that would have. So keep an eye on that, it’s a big deal.

Weekend link dump for November 20

“Meet the Pollster Who Convinced Republicans There Would Be a Red Wave”.

“A Step Back from the Precipice on Election Denialism and a Slightly Rosier Forecast for a Free and Fair Election in 2024″.

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. How about if we waste less time trying: A proposal.”

“Your Creation Museum Report, 15 Years On”.

“Could a rebranded MAGA movement continue by just replacing the frontman? Is it still Journey without Steve Perry, or the Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia? In a way, yes. MAGA could Jefferson Starship itself indefinitely as long as the crowds keep vibing. But without the original magic the venues tend to shrink, the fans get old, and it all starts to seem a little pathetic.”

“Voters Want Impartial Election Administration—And Tuesday’s Results Confirm It”.

“Here’s why 51 is much better than 50, even if we don’t keep the House. And no, it’s not (mostly), about Manchin and Sinema.”

The emoluments clause of the Constitution was there for a reason.

RIP, Budd Friedman, founder of The Improv comedy club. Mark Evanier shares some stories about him.

RIP, Keith Levene, guitarist and co-founder of the bands The Clash and Public Image Ltd.

RIP, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, Iranian man whose 18-year residence in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport loosely inspired the 2004 Steven Spielberg film The Terminal.

RIP, Dan McCafferty, lead singer for the rock band Nazareth. I commend you to read this Popdose article, which I know I linked to back in the day when I was regularly doing Friday Random Tens, about the origin of Nazareth’s biggest hit, “Love Hurts”.

RIP, Virginia McLaurin, national treasure. If you don’t remember her name, go watch this and you will. She was 113 years old, born in 1909. What an amazing life.

“Pro-abortion rights ballot measures outperformed Democrats on the ballot in three states, while Republican politicians ran ahead of failed anti-abortion ballot measures in two states.”

“The numbers are in, and the Machiavellian scheme worked. In the six races where Democrats got the Republican nominee they wanted—after running reverse-psychology ads highlighting the candidates’ conservative bona fides—Democrats won.”

“Could I say something about Kari Lake, you guys?”

“Helmed by erratic new owner Elon Musk, Twitter is no longer fulfilling key obligations required for it to claim Ireland as its so-called main establishment under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)”. (More here.)

“Seeing as this the one moment where being a Grover Cleveland biographer has any social utility, let me save you all a lot of Googling: Cleveland and Trump are starkly dissimilar figures.”

“Trump’s announcement was exactly what it looked like: a desperate, low-energy attempt to head off 2024 GOP primary challengers; possibly ward off ongoing investigations into his seizure of classified documents, January 6th, and attempts to overturn 2020 vote results in Georgia; and consolidate his wavering support. He is too weak not to run; his dwindling political assets are still worth too much to abandon.”

“Ticketmaster might be used to criticism from advocates and Capitol Hill when it screws something up so publicly. But the company has never shaken a beehive quite like the Swifties. Swift’s fanbase is as rabid as they are loyal to the megastar, and the Eras presale nightmare focused the collective’s attention on a new enemy: Ticketmaster and its monopoly power.”

“Larry David sued for crypto ad in which he talked crap about crypto, which feels about right”.

RIP, Robert Clary, actor, singer, and Holocaust survivor.

“Pelosi is the strongest congressional leader I’ve ever seen. McCarthy is the weakest.”

“Hundreds of Twitter’s remaining employees have resigned ahead of Elon Musk’s “extremely hardcore” cultural reset of the company”.

When grifters get grifted.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

Concept Neighborhood’s Second Ward project

Sounds really cool. I hope they can pull it off, and in a reasonable amount of time.

Plans to turn a swath of the East End into a walkable district are getting larger and more ambitious – setting the groundwork for what could become Houston’s next 15-minute neighborhood — where everything a resident needs is within 15 minutes of walking distance.

Houston real estate firm Concept Neighborhood – a group of entrepreneurs that include some of founders of the Axelrad beer garden — previously unveiled plans to convert the former W-K-M warehouse complex in the East End into a mixed-use destination with hyperlocal businesses and walkable streets.

Now, the scale of the project — estimated at $350 million — has grown to 17 acres, and developers plan to incorporate up to 1,000 mixed-income apartments with 250,000 square-feet of retail and office space over the next decade. Working with global architecture firm Gensler on a master plan, Concept Neighborhood is expanding its vision for the district after purchasing additional land from Union Pacific Railway and a handful of other property owners over the past few months.

While some neighbors are nervous about gentrification, the developers, if successful, could achieve what urban planners say could be the first project of its kind in the city: a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of adaptive reuse buildings where low- and middle-income residents can live affordably, and where owning a car would be optional.

“Houston does not have a neighborhood for people that want to rely on micro mobility, biking and transit,” said Jeff Kaplan, principal with Concept Neighborhood who lives in the district he’s helping to redevelop. “People can choose to have a car if they want to, and if they want to live car-free, they can.”

In the project called The Plant/Second Ward, developers are stitching several parcels together to create a nearly mile-long corridor of streets lined with small businesses, restaurants and housing across a mix of about 21 old and new buildings — starting from Harrisburg Boulevard in the south and extending north to Navigation Boulevard, a critical thoroughfare in the East End a few blocks south of Buffalo Bayou. Concept Neighborhood also plans to convert a section of a former Union Pacific railway into a hike-and-bike trail running one-third of a mile through the development from Commerce Street to Navigation Boulevard.

Concept Neighborhood’s website is here and a website for this project, called The Plant/Second Ward, is here. The southeast end of this neighborhood abuts the Coffee Plant/Second Ward light rail stop on the Harrisburg (Green) line, as you can see in the embedded image. One of the bigger issues they’ll be dealing with is maintaining affordability for the mostly lower-income residents already in the area. It’s safe to say that if this succeeds it will be the first of its kind in Houston. I’m rooting for them, but I also know that we often hear of large planned real estate projects that seem to go nowhere. I hope this one achieves its vision. (And boy do I wish Swamplot was still around to have a take on it.)

Remnants of the Challenger found

Wow.

By Acroterion – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Divers searching the Bermuda Triangle for World War II-era aircraft found a piece of NASA history: wreckage from the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986.

This wreckage, discovered well northwest of the Bermuda Triangle, will be part of a History Channel documentary called “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters,” which will air Nov. 22.

“While it has been nearly 37 years since seven daring and brave explorers lost their lives aboard Challenger, this tragedy will forever be seared in the collective memory of our country. For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to uplift the legacies of the seven pioneers we lost and to reflect on how this tragedy changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is — and must forever remain — our top priority, especially as our missions explore more of the cosmos than ever before.”

The last Challenger mission, STS-51L, was commanded by Francis R. “Dick” Scobee and piloted by Michael J. Smith. The other crew members were mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka and Judith A. Resnik; payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and teacher S. Christa McAuliffe.

All seven astronauts died. A second space shuttle disaster in February 2003, when Columbia broke apart upon reentry, killed an additional seven astronauts.

NASA said it’s considering how to use the newly found artifact to honor the legacy of Challenger’s astronauts. It also emphasized that space shuttle artifacts remain property of the U.S. government. Anyone who finds artifacts should contact NASA at [email protected]mail.nasa.gov to return the items.

Gotta say, as someone who vividly remembers the news of the Challenger exploding, this hit me when I read it. Regardless of whether you remember that day or not, I urge you to listen to this episode of One Year: 1986, in which three of the teachers that were finalists for the Teacher in Space contest talk about their experiences. Be prepared to feel some real feels when you do. CultureMap has more.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

Collin County DA denies sexual harassment allegations

Pretty damn forcefully, but also in a way that’s kind of telling.

Greg Willis

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis repeatedly called accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation against him “false, defamatory and outrageous” at a news conference Wednesday, where he presented “extraordinary evidence” he says debunks allegations in a federal lawsuit filed last month.

Willis — flanked by about three dozen supporters, including his wife, State District Judge Jill Willis, and prosecutors inside the McKinney courthouse — played an audio recording and displayed notes written by the six current and ex-employees suing the DA. He said he had been “unfairly attacked” in the 75-page lawsuit.

“We have spent our entire professional lives fighting for the rule of law, and the rule of law is what holds our society together,” Willis said, speaking of himself and his wife. “Fair, equal and unbiased justice must always prevail, and in our roles we have the duty to seek justice at all times. The truth matters.”

The suit says Willis inappropriately touched and propositioned female employees. It also alleges that Willis’ top prosecutor, First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye, fostered a toxic workplace and that county officials were complicit in covering up the systemic misconduct.

The office’s chief and deputy chief investigators, as well three former employees and a current prosecutor, lodged the accusations against the county’s two highest-ranking prosecutors, County Judge Chris Hill and commissioners Susan Fletcher, Darrell Hale, Duncan Webb and Cheryl Williams. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Willis’ attorney, Rogge Dunn, said in a prepared statement that Willis “revealed only a small sampling of the compelling mountain of evidence proving the plaintiffs’ claims are false and completely trumped up.”

He added: “In 35 years of handling employment lawsuits, this is one of the most frivolous lawsuits I’ve ever seen.”

Jeffrey Simon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement that the employees “greatly feared [Willis’] rage and retaliation” if they defied him.

“Efforts by Mr. Willis to characterize those acknowledgments as proof of his innocence are consistent with the allegations that he remains consumed with trying to cover his tracks in the event he’s exposed,” the statement said.

[…]

One of the former employees, Fallon LaFleur, alleges Willis gave her a “full-frontal hug” as she left the district attorney’s office following her exit interview. LaFleur worked as a prosecutor from 2019 to 2021, according to the lawsuit. She resigned from the office, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Willis hugged her “while her arms were stiff beside her body” and “he rubbed her lower back with his hands and pressed her breasts against him.”

In an audio recording of the exit interview, a woman Willis said is LaFleur can be heard saying, “Can I give you a hug?” and, “You are so wonderful! Thank you so much! And I will see you around.” Willis described her tone during this interaction as “animated” and cheerful.

“The truth is now clear for all to see what she said in this lawsuit did not happen,” Willis said. “It is a lie. It is false.”

It is unclear why Willis recorded the exit interview.

According to the lawsuit, LaFleur attempted suicide because of the “severe and pervasive discriminatory workplace.” Later, Wirskye was overheard calling LaFleur “crazy” and insinuating LaFleur attempted suicide to get out of a trial, the lawsuit says. LaFleur has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.

Simon, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said recording their conversation may have violated the Collin County employee handbook, which “expressly prohibits the recording or taping of conversations” inside the DA’s office or county offices.

“The fact that Mr. Willis appears to have tried to secretly set her up in the event she later exposed his behavior is again entirely consistent with the conduct alleged against him,” Simon said in his statement.

See here for the background. KERA dug into the code of conduct matter.

KERA obtained a section of a 2006 Collin County handbook, which says employees are “not allowed to film, record or tape in any format, a conversation or activity taking place on county property or where county business is being performed, unless you inform and obtain the consent of all parties to the conversation or activity.”

On Wednesday, Willis released portions of a May 2021 exit interview with Fallon LaFleur, one of his former subordinates. Willis had called a press conference to dispute allegations of sexual harassment against him that were detailed in a federal lawsuit. LaFleur had worked as a misdemeanor prosecutor.

LaFleur’s attorney, Jeffrey Simon, said she didn’t know Willis was recording the conversation. Simon said the fact Willis recorded LaFleur’s exit interview without her consent or knowledge is suspicious.

“What kind of workplace is one running that a boss feels compelled to secretly record their employees? Did Mr. Willis foresee that one day he and a toxic workplace that our clients alleged to exist would be exposed?” he said.

The handbook also says the rules about recording apply “even if you yourself are taking part in the conversation or activity.” Simon said Willis didn’t reveal to LaFleur at any point in their conversation that he was recording.

“What if in the interview he added to at least one or all of those comments of fawning praise and personal assurance, I’ve been secretly recording you?” he said.

I presume that if he did inform LaFleur about the recording, that would be on the recording as well. Recording the exit interview, when that’s against the county’s code of conduct, sure seems sketchy to me. It can’t be policy to do that, since that policy would (presumably, at least) be in violation of the code, and if it was done as a one-off you have to wonder why, as attorney Simon does. Let’s just say that I look forward to the court hearings, when people will be speaking under oath. KERA and the Dallas Observer have more.

UPDATE: OMFG.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis this week argued a snippet of a recorded conversation cast doubt on allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation against him by current and former employees.

But the entire 20-minute conversation with then-prosecutor Fallon LaFleur shows she told Willis in spring 2021 she was sexually harassed during the nearly three years she worked for him.

Willis posted the recorded interview and a transcript to his new website, collincountytruthfiles.com, but played only 11 seconds at a news conference Wednesday when he challenged the accusations.

[…]

“I worry there is a lot you don’t know,” LaFleur said timidly to Willis, about three-fourths of the way into the exit interview.

“I’m aware that there is a lot I don’t know,” Willis said. “The person at the top usually knows the least.”

LaFleur then described comments by First District Attorney Bill Wirskye: “I’ve personally been called a whore in a whorehouse.”

“It felt mean. It felt like sexual harassment,” she said.

In the clip Willis played at the news conference, LaFleur asks the DA for a hug. In the lawsuit LaFleur alleges Willis gave her a “full-frontal hug” while her arms were stiff beside her body. Willis rubbed her lower back and pressed her breasts against him, according to the lawsuit.

This interaction was the only accusation of inappropriate physical contact LaFleur lodged against Willis in the lawsuit. Several other women made similar allegations of unwanted massages, moaning as he touched them and unwanted sexual advances.

Willis, who would not answer questions Wednesday after his news conference, did not acknowledge the rest of the recording. His spokeswoman said she would ask Willis and his attorney questions from The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. But she didn’t follow up with answers to why Willis didn’t discuss it, why the full recording and transcript were posted to the website, and if Willis recorded other conversations with Willis recorded other conversations with employees.

Wirskye did not attend the news conference or respond this week to requests for comment. He previously called the allegations “politically motivated and politically timed” and made “by some very disgruntled and very troubled individuals.”

Jeffrey Simon, a lawyer for the former and current employees, said in an interview the audio “clearly corroborates paragraph after paragraph of allegations” LaFleur made in the paragraph of allegations” LaFleur made in the court filing.

“It’s astonishing to me, to us, that [Willis] thought that by virtue of the 11 seconds that he played that somehow disproved the importance of the 20 minutes of audio,” Simon said.

“If Mr. Willis believes that at his grandstanding … hurts Ms. LaFleur’s case, he is mistaken. He’s helping to prove it.”

That sound you heard was my jaw hitting the floor. There’s more to the story, none of which sounds good for Ken Paxton’s buddy Greg Willis. Like I said, I can’t wait for this to get a hearing.

Labor complaints filed against Tesla gigafactory in Austin

Some non-Twitter Elon Musk news, in case you felt the need for that.

On Tuesday, the Austin-based nonprofit Workers Defense Project announced it was filing complaints with the federal Department of Labor (DOL) alleging wage theft and falsified safety training during construction of auto manufacturer Tesla’s so-called Gigafactory in Travis County. The 2,500-acre factory along the Colorado River opened in April following almost two years of construction. Tesla’s CEO is the centibillionaire Elon Musk, also of SpaceX and Twitter fame.

Together, the filings allege that an unspecified number of workers were not paid at all or were shorted on overtime pay during construction of the Tesla site and that a worker named Victor was provided with falsified Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certificates for training he did not actually receive. These workers were not employed directly by Tesla, but rather by an assortment of contractors and subcontractors. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division and OSHA are empowered to investigate such claims, and the companies involved could face monetary or even criminal penalties. Workers Defense redacted the contractors’ names and full names of workers to avoid retaliation or impeding federal investigation, a spokesperson said.

“We have dozens of workers who have come forward to Workers Defense with wage theft allegations … from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars,” staff attorney Hannah Alexander said Tuesday, “and workers report this wasn’t just happening to them but to others building the Tesla Gigafactory—potentially hundreds more.”

In an interview with TheGuardian, Victor—the worker who allegedly received fake OSHA certificates—also said he was made to work on a metal roof at night without lights and to keep working in a flooded area. “Nobody deserves what happened in the gigafactory to happen to them, or their family members, or whomever,” he told the British newspaper.

In an email Tuesday, DOL spokesperson Juan J. Rodriguez wrote: “The Wage and Hour Division takes allegations of workers’ rights abuses very seriously, and the division will investigate the alleged violations. The division works closely with groups like the Workers Defense Project to promote and ensure that employers comply with federal labor regulations that protect the nation’s workers.” Information pertaining to the OSHA complaint did not immediately appear in the agency’s online database.

[…]

Outside Texas, Tesla has become well known for wide-ranging worker safetyrecord-keeping, and union-busting violations. In choosing Texas for its Gigafactory, Musk’s company—whose market value has dropped lately amid issues including Musk’s questionable Twitter takeover—chose the state already home to arguably the deadliest construction industry in the nation.

I don’t have anything to add to this. I just wanted to flag it so that those of you who may be enjoying a moment of schadenfreude at Musk’s expense get the fullest experience you can. You’re welcome. TPR and the Austin Chronicle have more.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

The advertisements rolled out with weeks to go until the November election. In one TV spot, the sister of Martha Medina urged Harris County voters in Spanish and another in English to honor her sister, killed in 2021 during a purse snatching, by electing new tough-on-crime judges.

Stop Houston Murders PAC made similar calls to action in TV ads and online, pleading with the public to rid the felony courts of Democratic judges. The action committee blamed Judge Hilary Unger for facilitating Medina’s death when she set bail for her accused assailant on an earlier capital murder charge. The group blasted other felony judges for similar bail decisions, implying that pretrial releases had led to a rise in violent crime.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the Houston Police Officers Union joined the effort, tweeting a photo of the criminal courthouse stating there would be “zero sympathy” for the judges voted out of office.

By Wednesday morning, the damage to Democrats on the felony bench was contained. Seven incumbents, including Unger, narrowly survived the barrage of rhetoric — winning their races and seemingly validating their progressive approach to bail and punishment decisions.

[…]

Judge Josh Hill, an incumbent Democrat, addressed his win Thursday, saying he had feared voters would take the conservative messaging to heart. For months, he had been unable to response to misinformation in attack ads and news reports because judicial rules prohibit judges from speaking about pending cases.

But the ads didn’t sway enough voters to topple him or remove most of his colleagues.

“If it did anything — it was minimally effective at best,” Hill said.

The crime-focused PAC, with endorsements from loved ones of Harris County crime victims, began pouring more than $2 million into local races months before the November election. The committee blamed the wave of Democratic judges elected in 2018 and thereafter for what they described as a crime crisis in the region.

The PAC said it supported reducing the backlog of felony cases by forcing trials to take place within a year of arrest and prohibiting the release of defendants accused of crimes related to firearms.

I know this PAC spent a lot of money on this – you should definitely read that linked story about who the sources of the money were, and then go re-read that Endorsement Regrets editorial; good times, good times – but it was mostly invisible to me. I think maybe I saw one TV ad for them, there was one billboard on I-45 South just north of the I-10 exit, which was high up and hard to read, and a few yard signs around. No online ads that I can recall, which is usually where I get the most exposure. I’m sure it was different for others, but the joy I get imagining them setting all that money on fire is real.

Nothing new in this article about the numbers, which I wrote about on Monday. On Thursday, I got a mention in the Chron’s latest lament about judicial elections.

The lesson is clear: Texans’ compulsion to vote straight-ticket, even if we have to do so manually these days after lawmakers took away the quick option, is strong enough to ensure that the solidly Democratic counties remained blue. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke may have lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — he won Harris County by half the margin he did when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 — but his coattails were just long enough to drag down-ballot candidates across the finish line.

And yet the narrow margins for Democrats in Harris County suggest that the money funneled by Republicans targeting certain candidates as soft on crime was effective and resonated with voters concerns about public safety. These ads singled out many felony judicial candidates for making bail decisions in cases where defendants were freed on bond and then were re-arrested on new violent charges — including, in some cases, murder.

As local politics blogger Charles Kuffner noted in a recent post, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County typically outperform the statewide candidates. This year’s election broke with that trend: Only eight of the 61 Democrats running for criminal and civil district and county courts won more than 51 percent of the vote. The gap between the top of the ticket — O’Rourke with 54 percent — and the lowest vote-getter among Democratic judicial candidates — misdemeanor court candidate Je’Rell Rogers with 49.3 percent — was the largest since 2010.

“That shows you that there was a lot of defection,” Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, told the editorial board. “With judicial candidates, I think people made rational choices. They thought Democrats were really bad, not bad enough to replace, but not good enough to give them the kind of margins they got in 2016, 2018 and again in 2020.”

There were, however, some down-ballot results that defied conventional wisdom. While there are still some provisional ballots to be counted in Harris County, as of Wednesday, District Court Judge DaSean Jones, a Democrat, trailed his Republican opponent, Tami Pierce, by 165 votes. In another district court race, Harris County public defender Gemayel Haynes, a Democrat, trailed Republican candidate Kristin Guiney by about 4,300 votes. In the misdemeanor courts, Democratic candidates Rogers and Porscha Brown, as well as incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, also lost their election bids.

There may be a less sophisticated explanation for some results: Voters pay so little attention to down-ballot races that some pick their candidates based on nothing more than cosmetic biases. All five of these Democratic judicial candidates who lost are Black with non-traditional first names. That, combined with a tougher-than-usual political climate for Democrats, is a recipe for outliers.

First, thanks for reading. I recommend you also read the many posts I have about why non-partisan judicial elections aren’t such a great idea, at least not for the problem that the editorial board and various folks like former Justice Wallace Jefferson say they want to fix. You might also listen to Thursday’s What Next podcast, in which we find out that candidates in non-partisan judicial races don’t feel any compunction to be non-partisan themselves, and the big money interests that back candidates of a political party are also spending a bunch of money backing their preferred “non-partisan” judicial candidates. It’s like some local politics blogger once said, you can’t take the politics out of an inherently political process.

As for what Prof. Stein says, I mean I guess, to some extent. If Dems were wiped out in the judicial races then sure. But we still won 56 out of 61, which last I looked was a pretty good percentage. Also, the Chron quoted my post incorrectly – I said only 8 of the 61 got more than the 51.75% that the average statewide candidate got. By my count 38 of the 61 exceeded 51%, with there being two very near misses at 50.99% and 50.96%. My point is that the effect, for which I have said that the anti-Democratic ads likely was a factor, wasn’t very big – a few thousand votes overall. There may have been other factors, as the Chron points out. The range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the low-scoring one was tight, more so than in other years. I mentioned the ad spending because it would have been ignorant and disingenuous not to mention it. We’ll never really know how much of an effect it had. We just can’t say it had no effect.

Finally, a bit of accountability for myself: I had also suggested that in past years weak Democratic statewide candidates lost fairly significant vote totals to third party candidates, which dragged down their percentages and made the local and judicial candidates, who were mostly in two-person races, look better by comparison. That’s true for some years, but to my surprise when I looked this year it was not the case, at least in percentage terms, when compared to 2018. The effect isn’t uniform and I’ll want to take a closer look, but I’m going to discount that now as a factor. Not quite enough Democratic turnout is the better suspect.

HISD redistricting is on the docket

Already happening, in fact.

Current districts

Houston ISD plans to redraw the boundary lines for its nine school board trustees based on population changes reflected in the latest U.S. Census.

HISD officials emphasized that the changes only impact voting, not what schools children are zoned to. The district is required to adjust those boundaries when the U.S. Census reflects a significant population shift.

The board presented two plans, which are fairly similar, and aim to decide by mid-December. Both aim to return each district to within 10 percent of a predetermined ideal size of about 164,000 people.

District VII, represented by Bridget Wade and spanning from River Oaks to Briarmeadow in west Houston, has seen the most growth, so it will be redrawn.

That district also saw growth 10 years ago, the last time the Census was done. However, the growth wasn’t considered significant enough to warrant being restructured. District I, which represented the north side, and District IX, the south, were the only two to be restructured 10 years ago after the last Census.

On the flip side, this year’s Census data showed that District III in southeast Houston shrank. Dani Hernandez represents that district.

It’s difficult to adjust just one or two districts, said Sydney Falk, an attorney of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado and Acosta LLP, an Austin-based law firm that did the analysis.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Falk said. “As soon as you touch one, you need to adjust the others.”

He added that all the changes were relatively minor. Districts I, III, IV, VII and VIII will all be restructured. Districts II, V, VI, IX generally won’t change.

I couldn’t find anything about the proposed plans on the HISD website, but I’m sure something will appear sooner or later. There are some community meetings happening if you want to discuss the matter; I’m sure the proposed maps will be present at these.

HISD did a small redistricting in 2011 as noted, and then had to do it again in 2014 after the annexation of North Forest ISD. I expect the process to be pretty peaceful and straightforward this time around.

And if you’re wondering if HCC will go through a similar process, the answer is Yes, they will, and they are.

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees is conducting a once-per-decade redistricting process to better align HCC districts based on equitable population distribution.

The board is considering redistricting options at meetings over the next several months. Options currently under consideration are available for the public to comment on and review at an HCC information web page on redistricting located at www.hccs.edu/about-hcc/board-of-trustees/hcc-redistricting-information.

Community residents can review proposed maps and provide map suggestions via a redistricting form at the web page or by emailing [email protected] All submitters must provide their full name, home address, a phone number and, if available, an email address.

“Redistricting is the process by which the boundaries of elective single-member districts are periodically redrawn in response to changes in population,” said Board Chair Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary. “We encourage members of the public to visit this site for information and updates concerning redistricting and the proposed maps we will be reviewing.”

Districts are determined based upon U.S. Census data. If population numbers show that a single-member district exceeds the population of the least populated, single-member district by more than 10 percent, the district map must be re-drawn. The goal is to ensure that each single-member district consists of near equal population across the system.

That was posted on October 10; I trust you’ll forgive me for not having that at the forefront of my mind at the time. Their index page for redistricting has all the information you could want. Current and proposed maps are here – not surprisingly, they all look very similar – and the timeline tab indicates they plan to adopt a map next April. Like I said, all the info is there for you to see.

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

Christopher Busby: The Case for Texas Democratic Optimism

(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.)

The election came and went with a similar story. Texas Democrats just started to get their hopes up about the idea of finally breaking through for their first statewide win since their fall from voters’ graces in the early 90s. Then falling flat yet again in their efforts. 30 years in the wilderness can do a lot to sting the hopes of Democrats parched for any sign of success. In 2014 Wendy Davis sent shock waves among Texas Democrats in her voracious defense of abortion rights yet lost by 20 points. In 2018 Beto O’Rouke came within a three point margin of knocking off the firebrand Junior Senator from Texas Ted Cruz. In 2020 President Joe Biden lost by just 6 pts, the best Democratic Presidential performance since 1996.

Yet despite all the clear movement in Democrats favor, incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott decisively defeated Beto O’Rouke to win by approximately 11 points. My guess is that across the state Texas Democrats feel much like Charlie Brown lying on his back on the football field. Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me for three decades?

The message I want Texas Democrats to take away from this however is counter intuitive. My message is: Y’all are still headed in the right direction.

Before you think I’m just Lucy with her football again, hear me out.

In political statistics it is often most useful to compare the final performance of a candidate’s party relative to the national environment. In 2000 then Texas Governor George Bush lost the national popular vote in his race for president yet won Texas by 21 points in the same year. In parlance of political statistics that would make Texas an R+21 state. 8 years later when President Obama was carrying the country by 8 points he lost Texas by 12 points, meaning that despite a facially 8 point improvement, Texas was still R+20 compared to the nation as a whole. Little relative movement.

Taking this in mind we shouldn’t be too surprised by political consultants who got excited about Hillary Clinton’s Texas performance where she lost the state by only 9 points despite winning the popular vote by 2 points. Suddenly Texas moves from an R+20 state to an R+11 state. Suddenly Texas moves from a pipe dream to just… a dream.

In the years after Clintons narrow loss Texas Democrats have started taking themselves seriously again. What have the numbers since then told us? Looking at the presidential race President Biden lost the state by 6 points while winning nationally by 4 points. Now R+10 Texas inches ever closer to being competitive. BUT we just got done with a midterm year. Midterm numbers are where data nerds’ minds will pour over for the next few months.

2018 was the Texas Democrats banner year. Beto O’Rouke was cast as a political rockstar for almost upsetting Texas Senator Ted Cruz. His 3 point loss during a year when Democrats were winning by 8 points was very much in line with the R+11 numbers that Clinton and Biden would achieve in the elections before and after. Yet let’s look at Governor Greg Abbott who also was on that same ballot. He defeated Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez by approximately 13 points, an R+21 performance. Many will want to argue that Beto’s performance at the top of the ticket was indicative of Democratic performance that year however looking at the data it’s clear that most statewide officials fell closer to Abbott’s performance. Abbott was one of the top performing officials on the ticket year of either party.

2022 tells a story for state Democrats that they should take some optimism in. Taking the 2018 top performer from each party would seem like a recipe for a competitive race. Easy math would have expected an Abbott victory of 6-8 points if the year was the same. However the midterm years were very different. Numbers are still slowly trickling in so the data here will be less precise than the historical numbers, yet the initial measure of national vote seems like it will likely land somewhere between an R+1-2 year, much different from the D+8 year of the previous midterm. Moving almost 10 points redder Abbott lost 2 points off his victory margin and his performance fell from a solid R+21 to an R+9-10. The message should be clear: When Texas Democrats put up strong candidates with a real performance they can draw down the Republican ceiling more than Republicans can push Democrats to their floor.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the national picture. Governors across the country went up for re-election. Republicans had been hoping to score a host of upsets in swing states. Instead Democrats held on and in fact gained 3 governor’s mansions in open races. The story however was different for Republican incumbents. In every single state where a Republican governor ran for re-election they gained more support as compared to 2018. Except one: Texas. I’ll say it again for effect Texas was the ONLY governor’s race in the nation where the Republican incumbent lost support in re-election compared to 2018. In fact only Nevada and Georgia had governors races where the winning Republican candidate did worse than Greg Abbott and both those states were states which President Biden won in 2020. And looking briefly at President Biden’s performance you would see that of all states won by former President Trump, the only state to vote to the left of Texas was Florida. Florida, for the record, completely fell off the map for Democrats this year with Senator Marco Rubio winning by 17 points and Governor Ron DeSantis winning by 19 points.

So if I haven’t lost you in all the numbers, what does this mean for Texas Democrats in 2024? It means that Texas may be on the precipice of a major shift. Or may not. It depends on whether national Democrats want to fight for it or not. Ted Cruz is no Greg Abbott. While partisan Democrats might find equal distaste in the two I think you would be hard pressed to find the same polarization around Governor Abbott that you do Senator Cruz. Ted Cruz simply falls flat with the same independent voters who have proved crucial Republicans past successes. On a ticket with the equally, if not more, polarizing former President Trump Texas Democrats have a real opportunity. If Texas Democrats put up a real candidate who can draw investment and has a proven track record of campaigning they might just create an opening. Most importantly President Biden’s campaign team needs to take a hard look at the hundreds of millions dumped in Florida cycle after cycle even as it drifts more and more red. 2022 saw Texas and Florida cross each other’s paths in terms of state partisanship. Texas sits to the left of every major red state at this point and only the population sparse Alaska might argue an opportunity for an easier flip. If national Democrats are looking to expand the map beyond the states won by President Biden in 2020 they have their best opportunity in the lone star state.

Christopher Busby is a lifelong Houstonian and independent political campaign consultant and policy advisor. He is a currently pursing a medical doctorate, is former K-12 educator, and has worked extensively on local campaigns. All views and opinions expressed are his own and not representative of any affiliated entities.

If Greg Abbott demands an investigation, Greg Abbott will get an investigation

This is all still so dumb.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is launching an investigation into “alleged irregularities” during last week’s election after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Ogg sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw asking for the Texas Rangers’ assistance on Monday, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation and the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit accusing Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum and the county of numerous violations of the Texas Election Code.

The allegations include paper shortages at 23 polling locations, releasing early voting results before polls closed at 8 p.m., the improper disposition of damaged ballots and inadequate instructions on how poll workers were to manage instances in which the two-page ballots were not completely or adequately scanned into machines.

Under Harris County’s countywide voting system, residents had 782 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day. The paper shortages affected a small number of polling places.

The GOP lawsuit, however, claims “countless” voters were turned away due to the paper shortages and did not go to a second location to vote.

See here for the background. Ogg, who was not exactly an asset to Democrats in this election, has taken some heat for this. I get that and I’m not here to defend any of her recent actions, but I’m not exercised about this. There was going to be an investigation of some kind once Abbott threw his tantrum, and given that it can’t be Ken Paxton unless he’s invited in, it may as well be the local DA. Having the Texas Rangers assist makes sense in that it’s best to have outside help for an internal political matter. If this turns out to be much ado about nothing, as I believe it is, then let the Rangers take the blame from the Republicans for not finding anything. I am not going to waste my energy sweating about this at this time.

In the meantime:

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, speaking at length publicly for the first time since Election Day, pledged a complete assessment of voting issues Tuesday but said the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

“A full assessment is in order,” Tatum told Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. “We have started that assessment, but I’d like to remind you and the public we are still counting votes.”

He said his office still was working its way through about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A state district judge ordered the county to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. because some voting locations failed to open on time. Those provisional ballots are being kept separate from the unofficial count, pending a court ruling on the validity of those votes.

The deadline for the county to canvass the vote is Nov. 22.

[…]

Tatum told Commissioners Court his staff is contacting each election judge to gather feedback and assess challenges they faced, including any technical difficulties and the response they received.

At least one polling place had a late opening and certain locations ran out of paper, Tatum confirmed.

Tatum took over the job in August, just two months before early voting in the November election began. So far, he noted the county is in “dire need” of some critically needed improvements, including a better communication system, more maintenance and operations personnel and a tracking system for monitoring requests from the election workers running polling locations.

Tatum said he has spoken with election judges who requested technical help and did not receive it.

“Because I can’t track that technician within the system that I have, I can’t tell you what happened,” Tatum said.

I dunno, maybe wait until all the work is done and see what happens before storming the barricades? And yes, especially now that they have full control over the budget, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court needs to ensure this office has sufficient resources. We need to do better. Reform Austin has more.

Senate passes Respect For Marriage Act

Nice. And remember who opposed it, kids.

Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz tried to block a Senate vote to explicitly enshrine equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans into federal law Wednesday, after 12 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to clear the way for the bill’s passage.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013. The high court went further in 2015 and ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states can’t ban same-sex marriages, declaring that gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have a constitutional right to marry.

The core provisions of the Respect for Marriage Act would be relevant only if the Supreme Court reverses that decision in the way it revoked a constitutional right to abortion this summer.

The bill would not force states that currently have unenforceable bans on same-sex marriage, like Texas, to offer marriage certificates to gay, lesbian and bisexual couples if Obergefell is overturned. But it would mandate that the state recognize a same-sex marriage that occurred in a state where it is legal. The vote on Wednesday in the Senate clears the way for it to pass the chamber easily. It will then return to the House, where members will consider the amendments made in the Senate. The House passed the original version of the bill in July.

There was a push to get this to a vote before the election, but the decision was made to defer it to the lame duck session. Given that it has now passed the Senate, I can’t argue the logic – sometimes, the result is all that matters. The RFMA has some progressive critics, but the argument for its passage is strong. I have no doubt it will sail through the House. It’s a very good thing, but don’t rest on your laurels because there’s lots more to be done before the end of the year. Mother Jones, TPM, and The 19th have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 14

The Texas Progressive Alliance is relieved that democracy is still a thing as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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