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Just a reminder, no one is enforcing Abbott’s mask mandate ban

In case you had forgotten.

While Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is speaking out against mask mandates in schools and suing to stop some Texas school districts from enacting them, in reality his order banning such mandates has gone largely unenforced — so much so that the federal government doesn’t consider it active.

Abbott threatened $1,000 fines for officials who try to impose mask mandates, although no such fines have been handed down. And if he wanted to, Abbott could send state troopers or deputize the Texas National Guard to enforce his order, as he has done on the border, but he hasn’t. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has a published list of 71 non complying cities, counties and school districts; is fighting in court with at least six of them and sent letters threatening more legal action to others.

But in the court filings from the lawsuits, Paxton has acknowledged that neither he nor Abbott will directly enforce the ban on mask mandates, instead leaving it to local district attorneys, some of whom are already on-record saying that they don’t intend to prosecute.

Abbott’s own Texas Education Agency on Aug. 19 said that the ban on mask mandates would not be enforced until the courts have resolved legal challenges to his authority to do it. And the federal Department of Education chose Monday not to open an investigation into the matter in Texas, even as it launched probes of five other states with active bans.

[…]

The five largest counties in the state are Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. The district attorneys for Harris and Bexar counties have already announced they don’t intend to prosecute school districts over mask rules, and a prosecutor with Travis County said the office would remain focused on violent crime, although they would evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis.

Tarrant County did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokeswoman for Dallas County said: “This issue is working its way through the civil courts. At this point in time — until that’s concluded and depending on how that’s concluded — there’s no reason to consider a position on that.”

On Monday at a House Public Education Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Allison, a San Antonio-area Republican, acknowledged there’s “an appearance of dysfunction” in government right now over the mask orders and Abbott’s ban.

See here and here for the background. I’m not sure why the Travis and Dallas DAs are being so equivocal, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s no way they’ll prosecute anyone over this, not if they want to avoid having their asses handed to them in the next primary election. We all know this is about Greg Abbott trying to look macho for the Republican primary voters. There’s no need to help him with that in any way.

Morning Consult also finds a decline in Abbott’s approval rating

Now we have two points.

Two Republican governors famed for their antagonistic approach to some COVID-19 safety measures have seen their popularity decline this summer as they presided over some of the country’s worst COVID-19 spikes. But for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the virus’s toll has hardly hurt either of them with their party’s base as they look toward their political futures.

According to Morning Consult Political Intelligence polling conducted Aug. 21-30, 48 percent of voters in Florida and Texas approve of their governor’s job performance, while similar shares disapprove. The downturn since daily polling that concluded on July 1, before COVID-19’s delta variant spread rapidly across their states and prompted concerns about accessibility of hospital beds and oxygen, has been especially stark for DeSantis.

The first-term Florida governor’s net approval rating – the share of voters who approve of his job performance minus the share who disapprove – has fallen 14 percentage points since the beginning of July, larger than the 7-point drop in sentiment about Abbott over the same time period.

[…]

Roughly 4 in 5 GOP voters in Florida and Texas approve of their Republican governors. The figure has dropped slightly for DeSantis (from 87 percent to 83 percent) since July 1, while it went virtually unchanged for Abbott (from 80 percent to 79 percent).

Most Republican voters in Florida (59 percent) still “strongly” approve of DeSantis — down 7 points over the course of two months but more than 10 points above where he began the year.

In Texas, where Abbott is facing at least two major conservative challengers for re-election next year, the incumbent is a bit weaker with the GOP base compared with DeSantis: 42 percent of Republicans strongly approve of his job performance, compared with 47 percent who did so at the beginning of July.

Abbott’s numbers in this poll are 48 approve, 47 disapprove. That’s better than in the Texas Politics Project poll, but as with that one it represents a decline from the months before. The trend graph shows a steady decline, and in the accompanying table, Abbott was at 51-43 in the July 1 poll. The specific numbers aren’t what’s of interest, it’s the direction they’ve been going. As noted, that can certainly change, and two data points aren’t that much better than one. But so far at least we’re getting a consistent story. Via Harvey Kronberg.

Now we look to see what happens with Greg Abbott’s approval ratings

The first data point is bad for him. Which means it’s good for the rest of us.

Gov. Greg Abbott had the lowest approval rating since February 2016 and his highest disapproval numbers during his tenure as governor, The Texas Politics Project’s August polling found.

The poll queried 1,200 registered voters in Texas, finding that 50 percent disapproved of Abbott’s job performance and 41 percent approved. Nine percent didn’t know or did not have an opinion, the lowest such number of Abbott’s time in office. The margin of error was 2.83 percent, and the poll was conducted from Aug. 20 through Monday, Aug. 30.

The Texas Politics Project, which is housed at the University of Texas-Austin, has been conducting surveys since 2008, and has measured Abbott’s approval since November of 2015. Abbott’s previous high for disapproval was April 2021, at 45 percent.

The poll also found that 52 percent of respondents said Texas was “headed in the wrong direction,” the highest such number it has posted. A spokeswoman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Everywhere you look in the poll there’s just signs that the mood here is very dour. And when you have one party that owns the policy environment, that’s not good news,” said James Henson, director of the poll. “The Republicans have had a pretty easy ride for the two-decades-plus they’ve been in power in the state. And there’s now a convergence of factors that’s really going to test their ability to govern. And we’ve seen a very clear approach to that in this last legislative session, and it doesn’t seem to going over very well.”

[…]

The poll also asked whether respondents approved of Abbott’s handling of COVID-19 specifically, and the findings closely mirrored his overall approval numbers: 53 percent disapproved, 39 percent approved and the rest didn’t know or had no opinion.

“The election isn’t tomorrow, it’s not until next year, but it’s been a long time since there was a widespread sense in the state that things aren’t going well, and I think we’re seeing more indications of that,” Henson said.

The usual caveat about this being one data point applies. It’s also important to remember, as we have seen in UT/Trib polls (among others) that Abbott’s numbers tend to be the best among the officials whose ratings are being checked, with President Biden being the closest competition. This poll only tracks Abbott, so we lack that context. Given the dip in Biden’s poll numbers (which I think will be at least somewhat transitory, but I am an optimist), it’s reasonable to think that he may still compare well to others. We won’t know until we see more data.

Just looking at these numbers, the two things that stand out are just how far Abbott has fallen from his early COVID peak, and how the number of “don’t know/no answer” respondents have fallen. He was still in solidly positive territory as recently as February, and was at even levels in June, when we were still thinking we’d get a hot vax summer and everyone was feeling good. It’s not unreasonable to think that the right wing legislative onslaught has eroded his numbers a bit – remember, as we have discussed before, he used to poll decently for a Republican among Democrats – and my guess that the numbers now reflect his intransigence on COVID mitigations. Moreover, with more people having an opinion on him now, it’s likely the case that the fence-sitters have been making up their minds, and what they have decided is they don’t like him.

Again, this is one poll, and as Prof. Henson says, we’re a long way out from next November. Abbott also doesn’t have a Democratic opponent yet, and as we know that matters a lot. Intensity of feeling matters as well, especially in an off year election when turnout is critical. Abbott has been focusing exclusively on the hardcore base, mostly because he wants to win his primary but also because he wants to have a lot of “victories” to crow about to keep them engaged. Maybe this means Abbott’s stature will suffer. There’s plenty of reasons why that should be the case. It’s still too soon to tell for sure, that’s all I’m saying.

Perry the pitchman

How can we miss you if you won’t go away?

We’ll always have corndogs

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Monday jumped into the middle of the debate over mask mandates in public schools by trying to sell state officials on a product from a company in which he has a financial interest.

The Republican led a nearly hour-long press conference a the Texas Capitol on Monday that sounded more like an infomercial as he tried to convince state leaders to buy a brand of air filtration products from a company — Houston-based Integrated Viral Protection — that he acknowledged he has “a part” in.

When asked how much of a part, Perry replied: “Well, that’s none of your business. I’m not a public official anymore.”

And yet there you are using the Capitol as your own personal Etsy platform, as if that were a normal thing for non-public officials to do. Or anyone, honestly, though as we know the vast majority of the commerce that happens in that building does so in a far more discreet manner. But if we were going to ask you questions about your little side hustle, after we got to the ones about whether this thing is an effective and cost-effective mitigation strategy (masks are pretty cheap, after all), we’d then have to ask about the questionable characters that are also involved. But hey, you’re just a private citizen who only wants my tax dollars and not my vote, so I guess we’re done here.

Greg Abbott remains COVID’s best friend

It’s hard to even know what to say.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced an executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates regardless of a vaccine’s approval status with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

He also said he was adding the issue to the agenda for the current special session of the Texas Legislature.

The order comes two days after the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. That raised questions about the fate of a previous Abbott order that prohibited vaccine mandates, but only for those under emergency authorization.

Abbott’s latest order is simple, saying “no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.” The order preserves exceptions for places like nursing homes and state-supported living centers.

At the same time, Abbott asked lawmakers to consider legislation addressing whether state or local governments could issue vaccine mandates and, if so, which exemptions should apply.

“Vaccine requirements and exemptions have historically been determined by the legislature, and their involvement is particularly important to avoid a patchwork of vaccine mandates across Texas,” Abbott said in a statement.

[…]

There specifically appeared to be the fresh potential for cities, counties and school districts to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. San Antonio Independent School District had already announced mandatory employee vaccinations, prompting a lawsuit from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

District officials said Wednesday they will move forward with the mandate — despite Abbott’s latest order.

“We strongly believe that the safest path forward as a school district is for all staff to become vaccinated against COVID-19,” the district said in a statement.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the order. As the story notes, this would prevent government entities from ordering their employees from getting COVID shots, though as you can see that’s already being challenged. Private employers are not affected by this, so if you work for one of the increasing number of them that are imposing COVID vax mandates, you’re out of luck. A bill passed during the regular session forbids businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from their customers, though that doesn’t take effect until September 1 so Harry Styles can still do what he wants.

I don’t think this is anywhere near the end of it. The same arguments being made about mask mandate bans – successfully, so far – by multiple counties and school districts is that the Disaster Act of 1975 doesn’t actually give Abbott this power. That would be equally true for vaccine mandate bans, I would think. That doesn’t mean the courts, by which I mostly mean the Supreme Court, will eventually accept that argument, just that these same entities will give it a try. The federal government will have a say as well, and let’s not forget the federal lawsuit, too. We’re also going to have an election next year, and we have the option of electing a Governor who wants to fight against the COVID virus instead of fighting for it. There’s a lot more of this story to be written. The Current and the Chron have more.

More on the Paxton self-exoneration report

More and more ridiculous.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office refuses to release the names of the authors or the taxpayer cost of the internal report published Tuesday that concluded that whistleblowers’ accusations that Paxton broke the law were unfounded.

Yet the body of the report indicates that a key author was Paxton’s top deputy, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, who was hired on Oct. 5 — the same day the internal investigation was initiated and just days after seven senior officials at the agency had notified Paxton that they had reported him to law enforcement.

Webster, whose annual salary was $265,000 as of July, was hired to replace Jeff Mateer, one of the whistleblowers, who resigned Oct. 2. Webster did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

[…]

An AG spokesman, Alejandro Garcia, said Tuesday that the report was written by a group of lawyers who “were not involved in the underlying matters that were the subject of the report.” He did not respond to questions about why the office was declining to provide their names.

In response to an open records request by Hearst Newspapers, the attorney general’s office said it cannot calculate the cost to taxpayers of the 10-month internal investigation because the authors belong to the executive administration and do not keep timesheets. Lauren Downey, the agency’s public information coordinator, would not name the authors, saying the office did not have a list.

Under the General Appropriations Act, the state’s biennial budget, the office is required to “continue an accounting and billing system by which the costs of legal services provided to each agency may be determined.”

The internal report contains multiple references to Webster, including one instance in which Webster told the Travis County District Attorney’s office attorneys that he was conducting an investigation in an Oct. 8 email.

“General Paxton recently appointed me to be his First Assistant Attorney General,” he wrote. “One of my tasks is to collect our agency documents and other evidence to determine what has transpired internally with our agency … If you have any documents or email communications you are willing to release to me that would assist me in understanding what has transpired, I would appreciate it.”

Webster’s name also appears in annotations on various documents included in the report, and he is described at least five times in the report as someone asking questions of others at the agency or collecting information about whistleblower-related issues.

See here for the background. We’re not going to tell you who wrote this thing, we’re not going to tell you how much it cost to write it, and you’re just going to have to take our word on everything because we’ve established such a long track record of truthfulness and reliability. I think that about covers it.

Stop investigating yourself, you’ll go blind

There’s not enough snark on the Internet for this.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on Tuesday released an internal report that found that Paxton did not accept bribes and did not misuse his office to benefit his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, despite a continuing FBI investigation of the matter.

The office did not immediately respond to questions about who completed the unsigned report, or why the office handled the matter internally, rather than hiring outside investigators to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

The bribery and abuse of office accusations were made by eight of Paxton’s top aides last fall. Four of the whistleblowers have sued Paxton for retaliating against them for reporting him to law enforcement.

“The takeaway from this internal report is that, although Ken Paxton remains under active federal investigation, the people who still work for Paxton say he did nothing wrong,” the whistleblowers’ attorneys said in a joint statement. “Of course, the one-sided internal report is full of half-truths, outright lies, and glaring omissions.”

The attorneys added that it was notable that “whoever in Paxton’s office wrote this report was not willing to put their name on it.”

The “report”, if you can even call it that, is here. The only appropriate response to this is guffaws and mockery, so I’ll start with my own.

OK, fine, a little sober skepticism is all right, too.

You can read the rest yourself. Honestly, this is one of those situations where the headline to the story tells you all you need to know. Save the self-serving BS for the appellate court and quit insulting our intelligence, please. The Trib, which has quite a few details, has more.

Abbott tests positive for COVID

I’m going to be succinct about this.

Gov. Greg Abbott tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19, according to his office.

Abbott, who is fully vaccinated, is not experiencing any symptoms and is isolating at the Governor’s Mansion, spokesperson Mark Miner said in a statement. He is getting Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment.

Public health officials have noted that while breakthrough cases like Abbott’s are occurring, vaccines are still proven to be effective at reducing the severity of the virus.

“The Governor has been testing daily, and today was the first positive test result,” Miner said. “Governor Abbott is in constant communication with his staff, agency heads, and government officials to ensure that state government continues to operate smoothly and efficiently.”

Miner added that “everyone that the Governor has been in close contact with today” has been informed of his positive test. The first lady, Cecilia Abbott, tested negative.

Abbott addressed the diagnosis in a video posted to his Twitter account about two and a half hours after his office’s announcement. He reiterated he was not feeling any symptoms and suggested one reason for that may be the fact he is vaccinated. Abbott got his first shot late last year, and the vaccine is known to prevent serious cases.

[…]

Abbott has kept up public appearances in recent days. He spoke Monday night at what he called a “standing room only event” in Collin County, later tweeting photos of him addressing a maskless crowd. His campaign tweeted video of him mingling with the crowd, taking photos.

The Collin County event was organized by the Heritage Ranch Republican Club. Neither the club nor Abbott’s office immediately responded to requests for comment on the event.

Less than three hours before his diagnosis was announced Tuesday afternoon, Abbott tweeted pictures of a meeting with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. The musician’s team said in a statement Tuesday evening that “Jimmie and family have tested negative and are doing fine.”

I don’t want anyone to get COVID. I don’t want anyone to die from COVID. I hope Greg Abbott recovers fully from his bout with COVID. I hope every maskless person at that packed event has the sense to quarantine and get themselves tested so they don’t get COVID and especially so they don’t give it to anybody else. And I never, ever want to hear anyone talk about how “personal responsibility” is what we need to beat COVID.

State follows through on Abbott’s attack on trans kids

Revolting, though fortunately not particularly consequential. For now, at least.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has responded to Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for an interpretation of state law sent last Friday, agreeing that some gender confirmation surgeries for transgender children constitute child abuse.

According to the letter, signed by DFPS commissioner Jaime Masters, allegations of such surgeries “will be promptly and thoroughly investigated and any appropriate actions will be taken,” though it’s unclear what impact the ruling will have.

Medical experts said gender-affirming care for transgender children rarely, if ever, includes use of the surgeries — orchiectomies, hysterectomies and mastectomies — that Abbott cited in his letter Friday to Masters. Most care for transgender children includes social transitioning and puberty blockers, which are reversible.

Abbott vowed last month to take action to restrict transition-related medical care for transgender minors in Texas. The move comes after a bill that sought to define several types of gender-affirming health care as child abuse was passed by Texas Senate during the regular session before gaining little traction in the House.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the Texas division of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the letter seems to carry little weight or merit.

“It seems to us that this is mainly a political attack and political stunt as a way to attack transgender kids,” Klosterboer said. “…This letter, it is official in the sense that what the commissioner says might influence how DFPS does their work, but it doesn’t change the law in this area.”

Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, a founding member of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus, said legislation would have to be passed to change the Texas Family Code for there to really be any major change. However, the letters could present detrimental affects to transgender children seeking gender-affirming care.

“This opens the door to any parent of a trans kid being accused of child abuse,” Zwiener said.

[…]

Ricardo Martínez, CEO of Equality Texas, said rhetoric within the letters from Abbott and DFHS, which include the term “genital mutilation,” are an attempt to institute fear mongering and do not reflect actual gender affirming care.

“I think that it’s important to address that current best practice, health care approach for transgender children is a social transition which requires no medical intervention,” Martinez said. “I think that the letters that have been changed between Governor Abbott and the state agency are really not taking that into account. For older adolescents and teens the prevailing standards of care best practices and guidelines, look nothing like the contents of those letters.”

See here and here for the background. It’s good that this new directive means little in terms of actual policy change, but that’s of limited comfort when you remember that anti-trans bills are on the agenda for the special session. Abbott is not going to give up on this. He cares way more about hurting trans kids than he does about protecting kids in general, as his utter failures on COVID make clear. The Chron has more.

As it happens, this news story came out on the same day that one of my cousins sent an email to a bunch of family members. It was a reply to an email he had sent five years ago, announcing the birth of his first child, a son. In this email, he informed us that his partner is pregnant with their second child, and also that their first child had been telling them since they were three that they were not a boy but a girl. It took my cousin and his partner, a couple of Brooklyn hippie types, some time to understand what this meant and come to terms with it, but they had done so and were re-introducing the larger family to their daughter and her new name. He included a picture, which was lovely. I’m happy for my cousin and his family, and I hope they never live in a place where the government is actively trying to harm their children. No one should have to deal with that.

One million reasons why Greg Abbott thinks the grid is just fine

Or 2.4 billion reasons, depending on how you want to count it.

The Texas electric grid collapse during the February winter storm killed hundreds of Texans and caused an estimated $295 billion in damages, while generating seismic gains for a small and powerful few. The natural gas industry was by far the biggest winner, collecting $11 billion in profit by selling fuel at unprecedented prices to desperate power generators and utilities during the state’s energy crisis. No one won bigger than Dallas pipeline tycoon Kelcy Warren: Energy Transfer Partners—the energy empire Warren founded and now is executive chairman of—raked in $2.4 billion during the blackouts.

That immense bounty soon trickled down to Governor Greg Abbott. On June 23, Warren cut a check to Abbott’s campaign for $1 million, according to the governor’s latest campaign finance filing, which covers January through June. That’s four times more than the $250,000 checks that the billionaire has given to Abbott in prior years—and the most he’s ever given to a state politician in Texas.

In the months after one of the worst energy disasters in U.S. history, Abbott has dutifully steered scrutiny away from his patrons in the oil and gas industry. Last month, the governor signed into law a series of bills that strengthened regulation of the state’s grid. But experts warned that lawmakers didn’t go far enough to prevent another grid failure and failed to crack down on natural gas companies. At a bill signing ceremony on June 8, Abbott proclaimed that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

The unusually large contribution from the blackout’s biggest profiteer raises questions about Warren’s influence over the governor and has prompted outrage at what many see as a blatant political kickback for kowtowing to the powerful natural gas industry.

[…]

As he gears up for a reelection bid in 2022, Abbott has resisted calls to include further power grid fixes in a special session. Instead, his current special session agenda centers on sweeping “election integrity” legislation that prompted House Democrats to break quorum for the second time this year and hole up in Washington, D.C., until the session expires.

The governor has relentlessly pinned blame for the grid failure on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, Electric Reliability Council of Texas officials (ERCOT), and even the state’s giant power generators, all while ignoring the significant failures of the natural gas industry. Lawmakers watered down proposed regulations on the gas supply system in the face of aggressive industry lobbying.

By refusing to include additional grid reforms in special sessions, Abbott has ensured that the natural gas sector will avoid any further legislative scrutiny. That, experts warn, means the state’s grid remains at risk of future collapse. Earlier this month, Abbott issued another love letter to his fossil fuel benefactors, ordering his three brand-new Public Utility Commission (PUC) appointees to create incentives for fossil fuel and nuclear power generators and impose new costs on wind and solar plants.

While gas companies made huge profits during the winter storm, the financial fallout has been passed on to Texans. In May, lawmakers passed legislation that provided several billion dollars in state bonds for power companies that were waylaid by the exponential hike in energy costs. Texans will be paying that off through higher gas bills for at least the next decade.

Not really much to add to this, is there? It’s not like this is anything new, but it sure feels more blatant than usual. If there isn’t an effective advertising message in this, I don’t know what one might be.

Abbott tells the PUC to, like, “do something” about electricity and stuff

He’s a Very Serious man making Very Serious proposals.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday gave state electricity regulators marching orders to “improve electric reliability.”

In a letter to the Public Utility Commission, Abbott directed the three-person board of directors, who he appoints, to take action that would require renewable energy companies to pay for power when wind and solar aren’t able to provide it to the state’s main power grid, echoing a move state lawmakers rejected in May.

Abbott also told the PUC to incentivize companies to build and maintain nuclear, natural gas and coal power generation for the grid — which failed spectacularly during a February winter storm, leaving millions of Texans without power or heat for days in below freezing temperatures.

Texas energy experts were skeptical that Abbott’s orders would actually improve the reliability of the state grid, which operates mostly independently of the nation’s two other major grids.

“What is here is not a serious or prudent plan for improving the grid,” Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University, said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s more of a political job favoring some [energy] sources over others. For Texans to have a more reliable power supply, we need clearer thinking that makes the best of all the sources we have.”

Abbott’s letter also called on the PUC to direct the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, to better schedule when power plants are offline, an issue that caused tension between state regulators and power generators after some power plants unexpectedly went offline in June and led ERCOT to ask Texans to turn their thermostats up to 78 degrees for a week during a heat wave to conserve energy.

Abbott responded to the plant outages by declaring the power grid “is better today than it’s ever been.”

Does anyone believe that? I don’t know what the odds are of another major power failure between now and, say, next November, but does anyone think such platitudes will be accepted by the public if one does happen? Even Dan Patrick thinks that power grid reform items – most of which never went anywhere during the session – should be on the special session agenda. Maybe we all get lucky and nothing bad happens any time soon, but if that’s the case it won’t be because Abbott was busy urging us all to clap louder.

UT/Trib poll: Abbott has the best of a bunch of weak approval numbers

Same story, new chapter,

Texas voters are split over whether they approve of Gov. Greg Abbott’s job performance, though he remains popular with Republicans and more popular among Texans than President Joe Biden, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The June 2021 poll shows that 44% of Texans approve of Abbott’s job as governor, while 44% disapprove. That leaves him with an overall approval rating from Texas voters that’s better than those of Biden, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dade Phelan. Abbott enjoys the approval of 77% of his own party’s voters, with 43% of Republicans saying they “strongly approve” of his performance.

Democratic disapproval for Abbott remains potent. Eighty-two percent of Democrats disapprove of Abbott, with 75% of those Democrats saying they “strongly disapprove” of his performance.

“What we’re seeing now is that Democrats are registering as much disapproval with him as they are with really any kind of national Republican figure,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project.

Abbott earned higher marks among Texas voters regarding his COVID-19 response at the start of the pandemic, Blank pointed out. In April 2020, 56% of Texans approved of Abbott’s response to the pandemic, but that slipped to 44% in the latest June poll.

“One of the things that benefited Greg Abbott was Donald Trump,” Blank said. “So Donald Trump’s inability to appear to be seriously dealing with the pandemic made Abbott’s attempts early on — even if they were criticized — much much more serious-looking, both to Republicans and Democrats, and I think that’s why his numbers were so high.”

As the pandemic drew on, Democratic disapproval of Abbott increased steadily. In the last poll, 81% of Democrats disapproved of Abbott’s COVID-19 response, with 67% saying they strongly disagree. Meanwhile, 74% of Republicans approve and 45% strongly approve.

[…]

Biden’s ratings have remained steady among both Democrats and Republicans since the February UT/TT Poll. His overall job approval with Texan voters is at 43% who approve and 47% who disapprove. When filtered by partisanship, 88% of Democrats approve of the job he’s doing, including 53% who strongly approve. As for Republicans, 84% disapprove of the job he’s doing with 77% strongly disapproving.

Texans see Biden’s COVID-19 response as a strength, while border security remains a weak point.

Overall, 49% of Texas voters approved of the president’s COVID-19 response, while 36% disapprove. Of those, 91% of Democrats approve, while 64% of Republicans disapprove.

See here for the February UT/Trib poll, which had Biden at 45 approve, 44 disapprove. There was also a May end-of-session poll that had him at 44/46. While it is true (and we have discussed before) that Abbott’s approval numbers had been bolstered in the past to some extent by him not being completely despised by Democrats, that moment has passed. It’s hard to compare his numbers to almost anyone else in the state because the “don’t know” response for them is so much higher – Ken Paxton has 32/36 approval, for instance, and for Dan Patrick it’s 36/37. My tentative conclusion is that there will likely be less of a gap between Abbott’s numbers next November and those of Patrick and Paxton (if he’s on the ballot), but that’s not set in stone. Who the Dems get to pick matters, too.

In reading this story, I got curious about how Biden was comparing to President Obama in Texas. I have mentioned that a decent approval rating for Biden next year would help Democrats on the ballot, and while it’s still early and the overall political environment is different, I thought it might be useful to have a bit of context. So I poked around in the UT Politics polling archive, and this is what I came up with:

June 2009 – 43 approve, 46 disapprove

October 2009 – 41 approve, 52 disapprove

February 2010 – 41 approve, 50 disapprove

May 2010 – 35 approve, 58 disapprove

September 2010 – 34 approve, 58 disapprove

May 2012 – 36 approve, 54 disapprove

February 2013 – 39 approve, 53 disapprove

June 2013 – 43 approve, 50 disapprove

October 2013 – 37 approve, 54 disapprove

February 2014 – 34 approve, 55 disapprove

June 2014 – 37 approve, 56 disapprove

October 2014 – 36 approve, 57 disapprove

Obama was pretty much in the same place at this point in 2009, and boy howdy did it go south from there. I’m pretty sure his overall approval numbers were better than Biden’s are now – again, the overall climate is much different – but the infamous Rick Santelli “tea party” rant had already occurred, and we know what happened next. Note that other than an outlier in June of 2013, the numbers were pretty stable and generally lousy through the first two years of each term. I included the May 2012 numbers because I came across them in my own post, but as you can see they still fit the pattern.

Obviously, if Biden is sporting similar approval numbers next year, we’re almost certainly doomed. I don’t think that will happen, but I don’t have anything solid to go on for that, so all we can do is watch and see. At least we have something to compare Biden to now.

Another data point on Biden and Latino support

Of interest.

Hispanic voters were one of President Joe Biden’s biggest weaknesses in the 2020 election. Although sources differ on his exact margin, Biden’s advantage with Hispanics was the worst for a Democratic presidential nominee since 2004 — even as he had the strongest performance overall for a Democrat since 2008.

A look at recent history and polling reveals, however, that Biden may be primed for a comeback among Hispanics for a simple reason: He’s now the incumbent.

Take a look at Gallup polling during the Biden presidency. Aggregating all the polls it has conducted so far (in order to get a large sample size), Biden’s approval rating with Hispanics stands at 72% compared to a 55% overall approval rating.

That 72% is a clear improvement from how Biden did in the election with Hispanics. Biden won 65% of Hispanics, according to the network exit polls. An estimate from the Democratic firm Catalist (which lines up well with what we saw in pre-election polls) had Biden taking 61% of Hispanics. So this Gallup data suggests Biden’s support may be up anywhere from 7 to 11 points from the election.

Biden is doing better overall now than he did in the election. His approval rating is at 55% in the Gallup data we’re using here. Even controlling for a higher approval rating overall, Biden has had a disproportionate rise in support from Hispanics. He’s now doing 17 points better with Hispanics than overall, while he was doing 10 to 14 points better with them in the 2020 election.

Keep in mind, too, that unlike in an election, there are undecideds allowed in a poll. If we allocate undecideds equally between approval and disapproval for both Hispanics and overall, Biden’s approval rating is about 20 points higher with Hispanics than overall in Gallup polling.

(An average of recent CNN/SSRSFox NewsMarist College and Quinnipiac University polls compared to their pre-election equivalent finds that Biden has had a similar disproportionate rise with Hispanics.)

This 20-point gap between how Hispanics and adults overall feel about Biden is wider than the last Democratic president saw in his first months on the job.

In aggregated Gallup data with undecideds allocated, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 17 points higher with Hispanics than overall in the first four months of his presidency. In the 2008 election, Obama did 14 points better in the exit polls with Hispanics than overall.

Obama saw an improvement with Hispanics relative to his overall performance, but not to the same extent that Biden may be getting.

We’ve discussed the incumbency effect before – David Beard was the first to call it to my attention, and I noted it my State Senate district analysis. As author Harry Enten points out, this effect for Presidents persists for winning and losing incumbents – George H.W. Bush also saw a rise in Latino support from 1988 to 1992, even as his overall vote share dropped tremendously. Obviously things can change, 2024 is a looooooooooong way off, and we don’t know if this effect is more or less uniform geographically and across different nationalities (i.e., Mexicans versus Puerto Ricans versus Cubans versus Dominicans, etc) or if it might be greater in places like California and Colorado versus Texas and Florida, but this is a thing to keep an eye on. It could make a difference in some key states next time around.

It may also have an effect in 2022, to the extent that approval of the President has an effect on the fortunes of the party in power for the off year. Specifically in Texas, where the Trump shift in Latino areas has been talked to death, this could mean that 2020 was an outlier, or at least it could mean that a trend in favor of Republicans for at least some Latino voters will be smaller in magnitude this next election. As noted in my first post about the State House districts, there really is a difference between the level of support Trump got in Latino areas and the level of support other Republicans got. Things did move in the GOP’s direction from 2016 to 2020, but not by nearly as much once you got past the Presidential race. I’ll have those numbers for you soon. One could argue that if the initial shift towards Trump was about jobs and keeping the economy open, that might actually benefit Greg Abbott more than any Democrat, since Abbott was singing from Trump’s playbook. Abbott’s favorability has taken some hits in recent months as we know, but the farther we get from the legislative session the more likely in my opinion that may fade. While this may be a leading indicator of good things for 2024, we just don’t know what effect if any it may have next year. It’s something to consider, but don’t put too much weight on it.

SOS Hughs resigns

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming.

Ruth Hughs

Texas Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs announced Friday she will step down from her post as the state’s top elections official, less than two years into her term.

The decision comes after Republicans in the Senate failed to take up her nomination, which was required for her to remain in the role past this legislative session. Hughs oversaw the presidential election last year, in which Harris County officials implemented several alternative voting measures, including 24-hour voting and voting by drive-thru.

Republicans have vilified the county’s efforts as part of their ongoing effort to discredit the election results, and have put forth legislation this session to crack down on what they see as opportunities for fraud at the ballot box. Democrats and voting rights advocates have called the effort voter suppression.

Hughs is the second Texas Secretary of State in a row to leave after the Senate did not confirm an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott.

[…]

The departure, effective at the end of this month, leaves a hole for the Republican governor to fill as he faces reelection to a third term late next year. Under state law, legislators won’t vet Abbott’s next choice until they reconvene again in 2023.

SOS Hughs’ statement about her resignation is here. She was in many ways the opposite of the incompetent partisan hack David Whitley, who resigned almot exactly two years ago following his botched voter registration purge attempt.

It was easy to forget about Hughs because she didn’t make a lot of news. What did her in was that her office approved the various election innovations that Harris County (and others) put forth last year in response to COVID. For all of the caterwauling and litigation over drop boxes and drive-through voting and overnight hours and sending absentee ballot applications to voters who hadn’t specifically requested them, there was nothing in existing law that said those things were illegal. We all know what happened next, and so here we are.

The later version of the Chron story makes this more clear.

While Republicans have not publicly expressed any lack of faith in Hughs, Democrats point to her office’s assertion that Texas had a “smooth and secure” election in 2020.

“Apparently, that wasn’t what leadership wanted to hear,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, in a tweet on Saturday.

The “smooth and secure” line became a highlight of the Democrats’ fight against a slew of Republican voting restrictions in the ongoing legislative session.

The Republican-led Senate is backing voting restrictions, saying they are needed to prevent fraud at the polls, despite no evidence of widespread cheating.

In pushing against the legislation, Democrats pointed to testimony from one of Hughs’ top deputies, Keith Ingram, director of elections.

“In spite of all the circumstances, Texas had an election that was smooth and secure,” Ingram told lawmakers in March, referring to the effect of the pandemic. “Texans can be justifiably proud of the hard work and creativity shown by local county elections officials.”

[…]

Chris Hollins, the former Harris County Clerk, said it was clear to him that Hughs’ office was under “intense partisan pressure” in 2020. Hollins said the county generally worked well with the secretary of state’s office in the 2020 elections until legal battles began over the county’s voting expansions. That’s when communication between the two offices abruptly ended, he said.

“They were supportive of us until, it seemed like, somebody of power put in a call to the governor’s office and told them not to be supportive of us,” said Hollins, now a vice chair for finance with the Democratic Party.

Across the country, “secretaries of state and election administrators have stood up and said ‘no, this was a free and fair and secure election,’ but that fact flies in the face of this entire lie that they’re trying to build, so folks who stand behind those facts have to go,” Hollins said.

“On the ultimate question of was this a safe and secure election, they said yes,” he said. “Right now the Republican Party line is no. So if you don’t bend to that, if you don’t bend to this ‘Big Lie,’ you are ousted.”

I had been wondering if Hughs had come under pressure last year to reject what Harris County (and again, other counties as well) was doing or if this is all an after-the-fact reaction to her office’s actions. Seems likely it’s the former, but maybe once she’s free of her constraints she’ll let someone know. I hope a reporter or two tries to chase that down regardless. Whatever the case, it doesn’t speak well for the state of our state’s democracy. In theory, if the massive voter suppression bill passes, a lot of this might not matter because so many of these previously un-quantified actions have now been explicitly outlawed, which leaves a lot less room for counties to get clever and SOSes to give them that latitude. But there are always new frontiers to explore, and I expect the big urban counties are not going to go quietly. The next SOS will have an opportunity to put a thumb on the scale – and that’s before we consider future voter roll “cleanup” efforts – and I would expect the next Abbott appointee to be fully versed on that. Get ready to have these fights all over again, this time with more resistance. The Trib has more.

Abbott ends mask mandates

This guy, I swear.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that public schools can no longer require masks on their campuses starting June 5. The decision was part of a new executive order that bans governmental entities in Texas — like cities and counties — from mandating masks in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Friday, any government entity that tries to impose a mask mandate can face a fine of up to $1,000, according to the order. The order exempts state-supported living centers, government-owned or -operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

The order is arguably the most consequential for public schools. After Abbott ended the statewide mask requirement in early March, school systems were allowed to continue with their own mask-wearing policies unchanged. But after June 4, “no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering,” according to Abbott’s new order.

While 30% of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the vast majority of children are unvaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized last week for children as young as 12. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still only authorized for those 18 and older. School-age children have seen lower infection rates than other age groups. COVID-19 cases among those 5-17 years old make up 10% of total cases in the country, according to the latest CDC data.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor places.

The Texas State Teachers Association called Abbott’s latest move premature. In a statement, the head of the association, Ovidia Molina, said Abbott should have waited until the CDC issued updated guidance on masks for the 2021-22 school year. Molina acknowledged that some Texas school districts have already ended their mask requirements but said the association believes “that also is ill-advised.”

“The health and safety of our students, educators and communities must remain our first priority as we attempt to emerge from this pandemic,” Molina said.

Abbott’s new rules will take effect as the school year is winding down for most students — or already over. The last day of classes for the state’s biggest school district, Houston ISD, is June 11, while May 27 is the last day for most students in the state’s second biggest district, Dallas ISD.

Why can’t you just wait another week? School is almost over here in Houston, and it will be over in some parts of the state before this kicks in. Vaccination levels still aren’t that great, though we can reasonably expect them to be significantly better by August, and we know that fully reopening schools when we did increased the COVID infection rate. Surely Abbott isn’t that afraid of little ol’ Don Huffines. One more week, that’s all that was needed. The Chron has more.

Trib polling roundup, part 3

Once more, with approval ratings.

President Joe Biden

Texas Democrats think Joe Biden is doing a good job as president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Texas Republicans don’t.

Overall, the president gets good grades from 44% of Texas voters and bad grades from 46% — numbers that are better or roughly the same as the state’s most popular Republican leaders. Underneath Biden’s overall numbers, as with other officeholders in Texas, are starker partisan grades: 88% of Democrats said Biden is doing a good job, and 86% of Republicans disapprove of the work he’s doing.

Biden does a little better — but still poorly — with Republicans on how he’s handled the response to the pandemic; 14% approve, and 67% disapprove. But 92% of Democrats approve. And overall, 49% of Texas voters give Biden good grades on the pandemic, while 35% think he’s done a bad job.

Overall, 38% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy and 46% disapprove. Only 23% of voters approve of his response to immigration and border security, while 59% disapprove.

See here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. I had noted that 49-35 rating in Part 1 and was surprised by how positive it was. This makes more sense. It’s still good, and likely has boosted his overall rating, and it may make it harder for Greg Abbott et al to claim all the credit as COVID (hopefully) continues to retreat in Texas. Hard to know if it will have any effect on how people will vote – we know that Trump overperformed his approval rating in 2020 in part because people had a higher approval of him on economic matters. Biden lags a bit there, but that question is now mostly a proxy for partisan identification. We’ll see if that changes as the economy continues to recover.

As for the rest of the politicians polled, let’s make a table:


Name     App  Dis  None
=======================
Biden      44   46   11
Cruz       43   48    9
Cornyn     31   43   25
Abbott     43   45   13
Patrick    35   39   26
Paxton     32   36   31
Phelan     20   22   57

Congratulations to Ted Cruz for being the politician most people have an opinion about. I’m not sure he has anything further to aspire to. Maybe this is why John Cornyn is tweeting so much now, so he can close that gap.

The gaudy approval levels Greg Abbott had last year during the Summer of COVID are officially over. As noted before, his high approvals were mostly a function of him doing OK with Democratic respondents, who did not have the visceral dislike that others generated. Not any more. What this tentatively suggests to me is that there will be less separation in 2022 between Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, who along with Sid Miller ran several points behind Abbott in the 2018 election. If this holds, and all else being equal, I’d still expect Abbott to outperform Patrick and Paxton, but not by much, maybe a point or two.

It’s interesting to me that everyone has a net negative rating. Even before his COVID boost, Abbott was usually in the black on this. I looked in the crosstabs for the three Republicans that are up for re-election next year, and they tell the story of why they’re under water:


Name       Dem     Rep     Ind
==============================
Abbott    7-83   77-13   34-37
Patrick   5-75   63-10   24-33
Paxton    5-68   59-11   23-26

I’d have to do some more research, but I feel confident saying that Abbott was received less negatively by Dems in the past. Again, this might change as we move away from the legislative session – Rick Perry always seemed to be in worse shape at this point in the cycle than he was headed into an election – but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Trib polling roundup, part 2

The issues polling is mostly on our side, for what that’s worth.

A solid majority of Texas voters don’t think adults should be allowed to carry handguns in public places without permits or licenses, though the idea is popular with a 56% majority of Republicans. Overall, 59% oppose unlicensed carry — a number driven up by the 85% of Democrats who oppose it. On the Republican side, the gun questions revealed a gender gap. Among Republican men, 70% said they support unlicensed carry; 49% of Republican women oppose that position.

More people carrying guns would make the United States safer, according to 34% of Texas voters, while 39% said that would make the country less safe. Another 16% said more armed Texans would have “no impact on safety.”

Almost half of Texas voters (46%) would make gun laws stricter, while 30% would leave them alone and 20% would loosen them. The partisan lines were sharp: 85% of Democrats would make gun laws stricter, while 53% of Republicans would leave them as they are and another 29% would loosen them. That GOP gender gap appeared again here: 20% of Republican women would make gun laws more strict, while only 10% of GOP men would; 19% of Republican women would loosen those laws, while 41% of GOP men would.

Three-fourths of the state’s voters believe Texas should require criminal and mental background checks before any gun sales, including those at gun shows and private transactions. Only 18% oppose such checks.

“A lot of the [legislative] agenda right now seems at odds with public opinion,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. He said Republican lawmakers are pursuing some ideas that “come from the most conservative wing of the majority party.

[…]

Most Texans (54%) oppose automatically banning all abortions in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — what’s known as a “trigger” law that would take effect in the event of such a ruling — but about a third would support a ban.

Nearly half of the state’s voters (49%) support making abortions illegal after 6 weeks — except in the case of a medical emergency. That includes the support of 74% of Republicans. Among Democrats, 67% oppose the idea.

For all of that, there’s no consensus about changing the state’s current abortion laws: 33% would make them stricter, 33% would make them less strict and 22% would leave them alone. The partisan break is evident in those answers, too: 55% of Republicans would tighten the state’s abortion laws and 63% of Democrats would loosen them.

See here for part 1, and here for polling data. These numbers are consistent with the results we have gotten from UT-Tyler and from Data for Progress. It’s good to get more data, but the bottom line remains that 1) people’s voting behavior doesn’t always line up with their stated policy preferences, and 2) until Democrats start winning more elections in Texas, the Republicans have no incentive to back off from their only-popular-with-the-wingnuts agenda. I think there’s a lot here to campaign on, but that’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Trib polling roundup, part 1

On COVID and vaccinations.

Texas voters are feeling safer about being out in public, and better about getting COVID-19 vaccines, but a majority of the state’s voters still consider the coronavirus a “significant crisis,” according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In the first UT/TT Poll of the pandemic, conducted a year ago, 63% of Texans said they were “only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to.” That has fallen to 21%; in the current poll, 33% said they were “living normally, coming and going as usual,” and another 44% said they are still leaving home, “but being careful when I do.” The majority of Democrats, 55%, were in that last group, while 55% of Republicans said they are living normally.

“Democrats are still living as if it’s April of last year, but Republicans are pretty much back to normal,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Those Texas voters haven’t thrown caution to the wind, however: 74% said they’re staying away from large groups, 64% are “avoiding other people as much as possible,” and 80% are wearing masks when in close contact with people outside their households.

I personally am in the “I leave home but am careful when I do” group – I’ve been in that group for awhile, and I expect to stay in it for the foreseeable future. Mostly that means I wear a mask when inside someplace other than my house, and it means I try to avoid being inside someplace other than my house if there isn’t a good reason for it. In other words, shopping is fine, ordering at restaurants (I’m eating outside or taking it to go for now) is fine, visiting the doctor or getting a haircut is fine, but I’ll pass on going to a bar or movie theater at this time. We have been to hotels, and we will travel via airplane in July. When the societal vax level is higher, I’ll be more open to more things. Your level of risk acceptance may vary.

Two-thirds of Texas voters said vaccines against the coronavirus are safe, while 18% said they’re unsafe and 16% were unsure. Democrats (86%) were more likely than Republicans (53%) to hold that view. Likewise, 66% said the coronavirus vaccines are effective, including 86% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans.

Asked whether they’ll get vaccinated when they can, 64% either said yes or that they’ve already been vaccinated, 22% said they won’t get a shot and 14% were unsure. Again, there was a partisan split behind those results, with 84% of Democrats saying they would get vaccinated or already have been, 51% of Republicans and 51% of independent voters saying the same.

In a June 2020 UT/TT Poll — before vaccines had been developed — 59% of Texas voters said they would get the shots if they became available, 21% said no and the rest were undecided. In October’s poll, 42% planned to get vaccinations, and 51% said in February of this year that they would either get the vaccination or already received it. Vaccine hesitancy has dropped accordingly, from 57% saying they were not going to get shots or were undecided in October, to 48% in February, to 36% in the most recent poll.

It’s that fourteen percent we need to concentrate on. Maybe over time pressure from family members or the threat of being fired will get some of the total resisters to get vaxxed, but the folks who are merely hesitant or who have obstacles in their way need to be accommodated in whatever way we can. Getting above 75% for the total vaccination rate would be big.

When it comes to government response to the pandemic, Texans hold the performance of their local governments above either state or federal governments. More than half (53%) approve of how their local officials have handled things, while 45% approve of the state’s work and 47% approve of the federal government’s response.

The good marks for local government, unlike those for state and federal governments, come from both parties. Among Democrats, 56% approve of local handling of the coronavirus, and 54% of Republicans feel the same way. The federal government, with a Democrat in the White House, gets 76% approval from Democrats and 58% disapproval from Republicans. And the state, with a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion, gets approval from 72% of Republicans and disapproval from 71% of Democrats.

Almost half of Texas voters (49%) approve of President Joe Biden’s handling of the coronavirus, while 35% disapprove. For Gov. Greg Abbott, 43% approve of his work and 48% disapprove; a year ago, 56% thought the governor was doing a good job with the coronavirus.

That’s a pretty robust approval number for President Biden, and a surprisingly poor one for Greg Abbott. It may just be that Democratic approval for Abbott has fallen to the kind of levels that Dan Patrick gets, but that would still be a big deal, since Abbott significantly outperformed Patrick in 2018. If Biden’s approval level remains in that ballpark, 2022 may be a pretty decent year for Dems here. Insert all the usual caveats about how far off things are, it’s one poll, the national environment matters, etc etc etc.

On the Big Freeze and its power outages:

Texas voters overwhelmingly support requiring energy providers to protect their facilities from bad weather, and a slim majority thinks the government should pay for that weatherization, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Having lived through a statewide winter freeze and electricity outages in February, 84% of Texas voters said those facilities should be weatherized, and 52% said government funds should pay for it.

“The main thing that the Legislature is talking about — weatherization — is the main thing that voters say they should do,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Other proposals have strong support: 81% of voters think the members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the state’s grid manager, should live in the state; 81% said companies and regulators should be required to ensure higher levels of reserve power to meet spikes in demand; 78% want a statewide disaster alert system.

It remains to be seen what the Lege will actually do, but as far as what candidates should be talking about in 2022, it’s pretty clear on this front.

On voter suppression:

Asking whether the state’s election system discriminates against people of color depends on whether you are talking to Hispanic voters, who are split, Black voters, a majority of whom say it is discriminatory, and white voters, most of whom say it isn’t, according to the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, 52% of Texas voters said the system doesn’t discriminate. But the question is divisive: 73% of Democrats said it does and 88% of Republicans said it doesn’t. Among white voters, 62% said the system doesn’t discriminate, but 58% of Black voters said it does. Hispanic voters were divided, with 43% saying it does discriminate and 42% saying it doesn’t.

[…]

Most voters (80%) agree that counties should keep paper records so voters can verify that their ballots are counted. And 65% agree that vote-counting equipment shouldn’t be connected to the internet or other computer networks. Smaller majorities — 56% each — said they would require the state’s biggest counties to livestream and record areas where ballots are counted, and that they would prohibit counties from sending vote-by-mail applications to people who didn’t request them.

“Texas voters are open to increasing security, against increasing barriers and decreasing convenience,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “When convenience begin to compete with election integrity and fraud, the Republicans back off a little.”

Other proposals have the support of most Republicans, but not of most voters. Allowing volunteer poll watchers to take pictures, record video and audio of voters has the support of 48% of Texans, but 71% of Republicans. While 47% of Texans would allow drive-thru voting, 64% of Republicans said that should be prohibited. Only 36% of Texas voters would prohibit counties from allowing more than 12 hours per day during the last week of early voting, which has the support of 60% of Republicans.

The data is here, though that’s just the high-level stuff. Giving more latitude to poll watchers got a plurality, but drive-through voting (47-42) and extended early voting hours (47-36) were preferred by the voters, so that’s two out of three for the good guys. People like convenience, it’s a simple enough thing. I’ll take my chances campaigning on that next year.

The Big Lie

I was glad to see the Chron run a week-long series of editorials on The Big Lie of “voter fraud”, and how the Republican Party has been pushing it for a lot longer than 2020, and how it has been used to justify all kinds of draconian restrictions on voting. Here’s how they started it off last Monday.

So, if voter fraud is the scourge of our democracy, if it’s capable of stealing a presidential election, as some claim, if it’s widespread enough to qualify for “emergency” status in the state Legislature to ratchet up voting restrictions, then surely, the proof of its magnitude lies in Texas.

Indeed it does. After 15 years of looking for election fraud among the 94 million votes cast in Texas elections since 2005, the Texas Attorney General’s office has dutifully prosecuted all of 155 people. Add to that 19 cases cataloged by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which include federal and county prosecutions, and you get a grand total of 174.

That’s not a typo. It’s not 174,000 or 17,400 or even 1,740.

It’s 174 little ol’ Texas souls.

Together, they represent .000185 percent of the total votes cast — or 1 in 540,000 voters. Statistically, voters are more likely to get struck by lightning than to be prosecuted for voter fraud.

And yet, 174 isn’t nothing. If even one of these individuals perpetrated wide-scale fraud that robbed other Texans of their electoral voice or stole a major election or even resulted in a hefty prison sentence, that might provide a whiff of excuse for the zealous pursuit of fraudulent voters.

Alas, most crimes were so minor that only 33 of the 174 perpetrators went to jail, most for less than a year. An analysis of media accounts and the attorney general’s prosecution records obtained by this editorial board through the Texas Public Information Act shows that most cases ended with plea agreements — pre-trial diversion deals or probation. Of the 33 people who were sentenced to any jail time, none were the criminal masterminds conjured up to instill fear in the hearts of freedom-loving Americans.

We’re all familiar with the numbers, if not these specific numbers. However you look at it, the total number of incidents – which by the way tend to be wildly exaggerated by the likes of Ken Paxton – is ridiculously small. As I’ve said, for going on twenty years now we’ve had the most fanatical vote fraud hunters on the planet operating in our state government, and all they’ve ever been able to find is the weakest of sauces, yet they continue to insist that fraud continues unabated and undetected. I don’t know, maybe the real problem here is that these guys truly suck at their jobs, and that if we had more competent and honest people in those positions we’d be able to have a greater sense of security in our elections. Just a thought.

Anyway. The subsequent editorials in the series:

The Big Lie – Is Crystal Mason proof of Texas election fraud – or of a political ploy? I think we know the answer to that one.

The Big Lie – Texas has been crying ‘election fraud’ since it blocked ex-slaves from voting. However far back you think this goes, you’re underestimating it.

The Big Lie – For 20 years, GOP has groomed their voters to believe in fraud. The big change in recent years has been the attack on the voting process itself, and with proposed legislation in Georgia and Arizona and elsewhere the ability for a partisan body to explicitly overrule local and state election officials who count and verify the results. If a state legislature can say basically “we don’t care who the voters elected, we’re going to declare the candidate we like the winner”, that doesn’t say much for our democracy.

The Big Lie – What happens when a GOP state tells the truth about voter fraud? Ask Kentucky. Good luck finding a current Republican elected official who’s willing to tell the truth, in public, about this.

Medicaid expansion by any means necessary

Whatever it takes. But I’ll believe it when I see it, and I have a very hard time believing that the current cast of characters will do anything to make it happen.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas Republicans have been swift to condemn the Biden administration for rescinding early approval of a multibillion dollar Medicaid program that would help fund emergency care for the state’s booming uninsured population through 2030.

Gov. Greg Abbott said the federal government was “deliberately betraying Texans.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to “use every legal tool available to regain the assistance Texans need.”

But the decision federal health officials announced Friday could end up being one of the biggest steps yet to extend government health coverage to low-income people in Texas since the Affordable Care Act, according to health advocates and political observers. That’s true even if it doesn’t spur immediate change.

“The Biden administration has all the cards here,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, who teaches political science at the University of Houston. “They aren’t playing nice anymore with health care expansion. They’ve got the money, so they have the leverage.”

Pressure is also coming from inside the state. On Tuesday, a group of more than 150 organizations, including chambers of commerce, trade associations and local officials signed a letter calling on lawmakers to “support increased health coverage for Texans.”

“We specifically support a coverage initiative that is bipartisan, funded through available federal dollars, structured to be neutral for the state’s budget, and designed to meet Texas’ specific needs, values and circumstances,” it said.

The letter notably did not include the Texas Hospital Association, which criticized Friday’s decision. It has supported expanded coverage in the past.

[…]

Health care advocates have been quick to downplay Friday’s announcement, saying there is still plenty of time for the state to apply again for the waiver before next year. Texas was originally approved for the extension as part of a flurry of eleventh-hour orders by Trump health officials. In doing so, it allowed the state to forgo the normal comment period.

“I think of it in terms of, Texas didn’t follow the rules, and now it’s being told to follow the rules,” said Elena Marks, president of Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston. “It’s not being told, ‘you can’t have an uncompensated care pool.’ In fact, we need an uncompensated care pool, we ought to have one. But we have to follow the rules.”

See here for the background. Rescinding the 1115 waiver extension and making Texas follow the process to re-apply for it is a shot across the bow, but a limited one. If Texas does re-apply correctly, that extension will almost certainly be granted, though perhaps for a shorter period of time or with more strings attached. The current position of the Texas Hospital Association, which is on the sharp end of the stick right now, gives Abbott et al some cover. And as the story notes, Abbott has a primary election coming up, and the very last thing he will want to do before he wins that is anything that will make it look like he capitulated to Joe Biden and the Democrats. Maybe something happens after that, but politically speaking the incentives are all wrong.

This Trib story from Wednesday afternoon appears to offer a bit of hope, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s more than that.

Among several bills filed in the conservative Texas Legislature is a Medicaid expansion plan with bipartisan support that is similar to those adopted in some Republican-led states.

Nine House Republicans and all 67 House Democrats have publicly signed on to House Bill 3871, which would give it enough votes to pass the 150-member chamber. Although none of the proposals have gotten a hearing this session, Medicaid expansion is expected to be introduced in some form as a floor amendment Thursday when the House debates the state budget.

[…]

“The time to do this is now,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, the author of House Bill 3871. “The deal on the table that the [federal] government offered to us is, in my opinion, irresponsible not to accept.”

Conservative lawmakers are weighing their historic opposition to Medicaid expansion against the potential of billions in federal incentives coming to Texas during a tight budget cycle.

“There is a bipartisan desire to see the cost of health care decrease. The unsustainable increase in prices, whether at the hospital, the doctor, or in health insurance premiums hits all Texans,” GOP state Rep. James Frank, chair of the House Human Services Committee, said in emailed comments to the Tribune. “But there is also concern that when Medicaid expands, that adds pressure to the private insurance market to make up the difference in reimbursements. Hence, expansion is a hidden tax on those who have private insurance, driving up the cost of care for everyone.”

[…]

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s and Gov. Greg Abbott’s offices did not respond to requests for comment, but both have opposed expanding Medicaid in the past. In January, House Speaker Dade Phelan expressed doubt that Medicaid expansion would happen this session.

Among other arguments, opponents say it would crowd out current Medicaid patients who are already getting a low quality of care due to the limited number of physicians who accept Medicaid patients because of low reimbursements.

It’s nice that there are 76 votes for a bill that hasn’t gotten a hearing and would still have to get through the Senate and be signed by Greg Abbott, but it’s still vaporware for now. (Rep. Frank, the House Human Services Committee Chair, is not among the nine Republican co-authors.) The same old tired arguments against Medicaid expansion, by people who don’t like Medicaid but claim to want to “protect” it, continue to have sway. Honestly, about 95% of this story could have been written in 2019, or 2017, or 2015, or 2013. It’s a tale as old as time at this point. The urge among Republicans to stick it to Obamacare at all costs has not abated. I don’t see anything to suggest to me that something has changed in this dynamic. I will be delighted to be wrong, but until I am proven wrong I say it ain’t gonna happen until we elect enough Democrats to make it happen.

Show me your vaccine papers!

Wiat, wrong papers. Forget I just said that.

Gov. Greg Abbot issued an executive order early Tuesday banning state agencies from requiring “vaccine passports” to enter public spaces or receive public services.

The passports, either digital or printed, would verify that a person has been fully immunized against COVID-19 and allow people to more freely travel and shop.

So far, they only exist in a limited capacity in New York. Still, the passports have emerged as the latest subject of political clashes over the virus, with GOP politicians decrying the passes as an infringement on individual rights.

“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives,” Abbott said in a news release. “We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health — and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms.”

“Unless you want to get an abortion or cast a vote, in which case we’ll be all up in your grill,” he did not say. I’m not going to waste your time on this silliness, but I will leave you these two items to ponder:

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Why North Texas?

The Trib reprints a WaPo story about a cluster of Capitol insurrectionists in the Dallas suburbs, and it’s something.

Hope for Trump’s return is fervent in Frisco and across the northern Dallas suburbs, an area of rapid growth and rapidly increasing diversity. Nineteen local residents have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to federal authorities, one of the largest numbers in any place in the country.

Many of the rioters came from the “mainstream of society,” according to the FBI’s Dallas field office, including three real estate agents, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, an oilman and an actor who once appeared on the popular television show “Friday Night Lights.” They were driven by a “salad bowl of grievances,” the FBI said, including anger over the presidential election, white-supremacist ideology and the discredited extremist ideology QAnon, which holds that Trump will save the world from a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Their groundless claims are being fed by conservative politicians and from the pulpits of large, powerful evangelical churches with teachings that verge on white nationalism, both motivated by fear that they are losing a largely white, conservative enclave that views these changes with suspicion.

More arrests are coming, and North Texas remains a focus for investigators who expect to charge as many as 400 people from across the country in the attack on the Capitol.

[…]

Over the past two decades, Collin County, north of Dallas, more than doubled its population to 1 million, according to census data, with newcomers drawn by the mild weather, good schools, low taxes and the arrival of several big employers and new corporate headquarters, including Toyota, Liberty Mutual and the Dallas Cowboys. The rapid expansion created an air of Disney World built on the clay soil of the Texas plains, one Frisco consultant noted, where everything is new and planned. The median household income is $97,000, well above the U.S. median of $69,000.

But this utopia on the Dallas North Tollway has its fissures, which have deepened in the last year, with debate over pandemic restrictions, the country’s racial reckoning and the divisive 2020 presidential election that pitted neighbor against neighbor and continues to divide. Unlike many other suburban counties in the country that helped sway the election for Biden, Collin County stayed red, with 51% voting for Trump and 46% for Biden.

The county’s rapid growth has increased its diversity — with the Latino and Asian American populations growing, and the white population in decline — causing tensions, some residents say. In 2017, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere was challenged by an opponent who promised to “keep Plano suburban,” which LaRosiliere, who is Black, said was a “dog whistle” for residents wanting to keep the town white and affluent. LaRosiliere won the four-way nonpartisan race with 52% of the votes, but his “keep Plano suburban” opponent won 42%. This year, Plano City Coucil member Shelby Williams came under fire when he said in a post-riot blog post that “things could be much worse . . . People in many parts of the Muslim world are still slaughtering one another today.”

Frisco Realtor Hava Johnston said some residents feel the area has become “too diverse.”

“They created this perfect little bubble of the way they wanted things … now we’ve got true diversity, and those Christian nationalists are afraid of losing their power,” said Johnston, a Democratic activist and one of the internet sleuths who helped unmask local residents who participated in the Capitol riots. “These are the very people who would do things like have Trump parades every weekend and take a private jet to a riot.”

There’s a lot here, and I’ll get to one specific criticism in a moment, but I personally object to the “Collin County stayed red” line, not because it’s untrue but because it really misstate what has happened in Collin County this past decade. I mean:

2012 – Romney 65.0%, Obama 33.5%
2016 – Trump 55.6%, Clinton 38.9%
2020 – Trump 51.4%, Biden 47.0%

You can say “Collin County stayed red”, as if it were some act of defiance against the prevailing political winds, but come on. Collin County shifted a net 27 points in the Democrats’ direction, at least at the Presidential level, since 2012. That’s a seismic change, and very much in line with what was happening nationally. Collin County didn’t quite make it to blue county status in 2020, but boy howdy has it come a long way.

D Magazine had other complaints, starting with the charge that non-Texan authors who parachute in for this kind of analysis often fail to understand what’s actually happening and miss details that make locals scratch their heads. I have some sympathy with this, though I do think there’s some value in getting an outside perspective sometimes. Honestly, my main beef with this article was more along the lines of “oh God, are we still doing entire stories on the feelings of Trump voters? Make it stop already.” I guess the question of why there were so many insurrectionists from this part of the world is an interesting one, but please give me many more articles about the newly activated and energized Democrats of Collin County to balance it out, thanks. In the meantime, please feel free to blow a raspberry at that blonde realtor from Frisco who may well be the poster child for this whole story.

Another report on the South Texas vote in 2020

Some interesting stuff in here.

Cambio Texas, a progressive organization whose mission is to increase voter turnout and elect leaders that reflect the community, has released a post-election report that relies on extensive interviews with elected officials, campaign workers, consultants, and most importantly, voters in the Rio Grande Valley.

In an interview with Texas Signal, the Executive Director of Cambio Texas, Abel Prado, walked us through some of the big takeaways from their post-election report. One of his first points from the report was that many of the voters who came out in the Rio Grande Valley were specifically Donald Trump voters, and not necessarily Republican voters.

Many of Trump’s traits, including his brashness, a self-styled Hollywood pedigree, his experience as a businessman, and his billionaire status, resonated with many voters in the Rio Grande Valley. “The increase in Republican vote share were Donald Trump votes, not conservative votes, and there’s a difference,” said Prado. With the caveat that Trump is a unique figure, there are still plenty of lessons the Democratic party should take from 2020.

The first is that Republicans up and down the ballot were highly effective in using local vendors. “Every single Republican candidate that was on the ballot purchased locally,” said Prado. Many Democratic campaigns abide by a well-intentioned edict to use union printers. The closest union printer to the Rio Grande Valley is in San Antonio.

Local printers worked with many Republican campaigns, including Monica de la Cruz, who came within three points of defeating incumbent Rep. Gonzalez. The report from Cambio Texas highlights the goodwill that the Republican Party of Hidalgo County fostered with several local vendors, which had no Democratic counterpart.

Prado even recounted a story from an interview with a vendor in the Rio Grande Valley, a proud Democrat and a Biden voter, who nevertheless reveled in the “Trump trains” that county Republican parties put on during the weekends. The liberal vendor was able to set up shop next to the vocal Trump supporters and sold merchandise like Trump flags..

The report also pinpoints where “investment in the Valley” went awry. According to Prado, that “investment” included parachuting national campaign operatives into the Rio Grande Valley, where they had no attachment to the local community. When there was high spending in the Rio Grande Valley, it often went towards outside groups or PACs. For Prado, that investment “depriv[ed] a lot of local vendors to earn a slice of that through their services and local input.”

Though many post-election autopsies around Texas have focused on the lack of in-person campaigning from Democratic candidates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambio Texas conducted a survey of Trump voters to distill where they received the bulk of their messaging. A majority of those Trump voters were actually reached by television and radio. Less than 14 percent of the Trump voters received a home visit from a canvasser from the campaign.

The report also notes that Republicans in the Rio Grande Valley invested heavily in texting. About 38 percent of Trump voters surveyed received a text message from the Trump campaign or an organization supporting the Trump campaign.

The whole report is here and it’s not very long, so give it a read. The bit about “investment” and purchasing locally resonated with me, and I hope will spark some discussion within the party. It’s not a consideration I had seen before, but it makes a lot of sense. The main takeaway for me is that there are a lot of dimensions to this issue, and anyone who says they have the one sure trick to solve the problem is almost certainly overstating things.

The Trb also had a long piece on the same question, spurred in part by the Filemon Vela retirement, and its broader and contains a lot of quotes from various political types, but didn’t make me feel like I learned anything. Still a good perspective, and a clear indicator that the 2022 and likely 2024 campaigns in South Texas and the Valley will be very different from the ones we have been used to seeing, so go read it as well.

At this point we’ve seen numerous analyses of the 2020 election, from the TDP to David Beard to Evan Scrimshaw (more here) and now these two. The big challenge is trying to extrapolate from limited data – in some sense, just from the 2020 election – and in the (so far) absence of the main factor that caused all of the disruption in 2020. Which is all a fancy way of saying what are things going to be like without Donald Trump on the scene, if indeed he remains mostly off camera like he is now? I’ll tell you: Nobody knows, and we’re all guessing. We’ll know a little bit more in a year, and more than that in a year and a half, but until then – and remember, we don’t know what our districts or our candidates will look like next year yet – it’s all up in the air. Look at the data, keep an open mind, and pay attention to what’s happening now.

What is Ken Paxton hiding?

I was almost tempted to start this post with the rhetorical “Just when you think Ken Paxton couldn’t sink any lower” gambit, but then I realized I have never thought Ken Paxton couldn’t sink any lower. Even with that, this is amazing.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas attorney general’s office is attempting to withhold all messages Ken Paxton sent or received while in Washington for the pro-Donald Trump rally that devolved into a riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Several news organizations in Texas have requested copies of the attorney general’s work-related communications. The Texas Public Information Act guarantees the public’s right to government records — even if those records are stored on personal devices or online accounts of public officials.

After Paxton’s office refused to release copies of his emails and text messages, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, The Austin American-Statesman, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and The San Antonio Express-News are working together in an effort to obtain the documents and review Paxton’s open-records practices.

The news outlets discovered that Paxton’s office, which is supposed to enforce the state’s open records laws, has no policy governing the release of work-related messages stored on Paxton’s personal devices. It is unclear whether the office reviews Paxton’s email accounts and phones to look for requested records, or whether the attorney general himself determines what to turn over without any outside checks.

[…]

Amid a massive FBI investigation into the Capitol riot, the public has been eager to understand why and how their elected officials attended the rally. Paxton has refused to release his communications about the event, which could illuminate his real-time reaction to the riot, who booked him as a speaker for the rally and who covered his travel expenses.

As Texas attorney general, Paxton oversees an office of lawyers who determine which records are public or confidential under the law. Any government body in Texas, from police departments to the governor’s office, must seek the agency’s approval to withhold records from the public.

The Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News have requested all of Paxton’s messages from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11. Lauren Downey, the public information coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General, said she didn’t need to release the records because they are confidential attorney-client communications.

Downey sought confirmation from the agency’s open records division, arguing the messages included communications between the attorney general’s executive leadership and its criminal prosecution division to discuss litigation, as well as texts between Paxton and a lawyer in the attorney general’s office regarding “legal services to the state.”

The open records division has 45 business days to issue a ruling on whether the communications should be open to the public. That decision is pending.

James Hemphill, a lawyer and open records expert who serves as a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the records described by Downey appear to fall under confidential communications. But it’s odd, he added, that Paxton would have no other routine emails or texts during that six-day time frame that could be released.

“It would seem unusual for every single communication made by any kind of lawyer to be subject to attorney-client privilege,” Hemphill said, cautioning he hasn’t seen the records himself.

Downey also told the Chronicle that the attorney general’s office does not have any written policy or procedures for releasing public documents stored on Paxton’s personal devices or accounts.

It’s a long story involving multiple news outlets, as well as Paxton’s Utah trip during the freeze, which he appears to have been lying about. Part of the problem here is Ken Paxton’s utter contempt for the rule of law, and part of it is that there’s no obvious mechanism for holding him accountable. Filing a lawsuit may eventually result in some of this information turning up – assuming Paxton doesn’t just delete it all, while citing a data retention policy to back his actions up – but who knows how long that could take. For sure, the Republican legislature isn’t going to do anything. The voters get the ultimate say, but that’s a long way off as well, and as long as this communication is being withheld, they don’t have the full story. I know that you already know this, but Ken Paxton is the worst. See Lauren McGaughy’s Twitter thread for more.

More storm polling

Not sure things are as negative as this story makes it sound.

Two out of three Texans lost electricity, water or both in last month’s devastating winter storm, though it’s unclear their harrowing experiences will have lasting political consequences, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.

By a 2-1 margin, Texas registered voters say state and local leaders failed to adequately alert the public about the deadly punch the storm could deliver to power and water services so residents could prepare. Leaders underestimated the threat, a majority of Republicans and more than 70% of independents and Democrats believe.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s response to the arctic blast and prolonged blackouts and water outages divides Texans. The poll found 53% say the Republican governor did well or very well, while 46% say he performed either not well or not well at all.

“Memories of what leaders could have done may fade, because it is not clear that one entity is to blame,” said UT-Tyler political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the survey.

The poll, taken Feb. 22 to March 2, was conducted after the ice melted, power was restored and most residents regained water service, though some boil-water notices remained in effect. The poll surveyed 1,210 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.84 percentage points.

Interviews ended the same day Abbott lifted his July requirement of face coverings in public spaces and rolled back COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and public venues, so the poll was unable to gauge Texans’ reactions.

Before Abbott’s surprise announcement, though, the poll found 92% of registered voters wore a mask in the previous week.

Of those, 34% reported masking up because of the governor’s order — and half said they donned face coverings because local businesses posted signs requiring them.

“Mask-wearing increased after the statewide mandate, compared with 68% in April 2020, so I expect many will continue with the habit,” Owens said. He noted that 83% of respondents say their choice to wear a mask is personal and not affected by the state’s or local businesses’ requirements.

[…]

By a 3-1 margin, registered voters say they already have received one dose or are definitely or probably going to get vaccinated when more shots become available. Though 16% say they have decided they will not take the vaccine and 10% are unlikely to do so, the results should hearten those hoping for the state to achieve herd immunity.

The poll results are here, and the UT-Tyler polling homepage is here. They had some goofy numbers for the Presidential race in 2020, so I’m not going to take this as anything but another data point. The vaccination-willingness numbers are better than the ones in the UT/Trib poll, for what it’s worth. I think we’ll have a much clearer picture of that in a month or two.

They did give us some approval numbers as well:

The poll also was taken shortly after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he regretted and had changed his mind about slipping off with his family to Cancún, Mexico, amid the power outages that affected more than 4 million Texans and inflicted widespread damage and hardship.

While in October, 44% of Texas’ registered voters had a favorable impression of Cruz and 37% did not, his numbers dipped last month to 42% favorable, 45% unfavorable.

[…]

Despite COVID-19, a recession and the double whammy of blackouts and water outages, Abbott’s job approval has dipped only slightly and remains the most favorable among top state Republicans. By 53%-42%, voters say they trust Abbott to keep their communities safe and healthy during the virus outbreak.

The poll found 52% approve or strongly approve of the way Abbott is handling his job, while 31% disapprove or strongly disapprove. In October, his job rating was 54%-34% — just slightly more robust.

Though former President Donald Trump carried Texas in November by 6 percentage points, new President Joe Biden is more trusted by Texans to keep their communities safe from COVID-19. By a narrow margin of 51%-46%, state voters express confidence in Biden’s handling of the pandemic. In October, just 44% trusted Trump to handle it, while 54% did not.

By a plurality, state voters approve of Biden’s performance as president, 47%-40%. Owens, the pollster, noted that before Biden’s Feb. 26 visit to Houston to witness post-storm relief efforts and COVID-19 vaccinations, his job rating was almost even — 43%-42% in this poll.

As the poll by The News and UT-Tyler went into the field, Attorney General Ken Paxton was dogged by negative publicity, such as accusations by former employees that he swapped political favors for a donor’s help with a home remodel and job for his alleged “mistress.”

Though he flew to the snowy intermountain West and not a tropical beach as Cruz did, and had some official business, Paxton’s trip to Utah during the recent storm, first disclosed by The News, raised questions about why he, too, chose to leave the state as many constituents shivered amid outages and frontier-style living conditions.

When poll respondents were asked if Paxton has the integrity to be the state’s top lawyer, 32% agreed he does, 29% disagreed and 39% were unsure.

As before, ignore the Cruz numbers, at least until we have a more consistent trail. Again, Abbott just seems to defy gravity. It’s going to take a lot of work to knock him down, and as we see later in the story, the various items on the Republican legislative to do list poll pretty well, too. This is also a reminder that many people have not paid all that much attention to the Paxton saga, so don’t take anything for granted there. I’d say it’s highly likely that Paxton would run well behind Abbott, as he did in 2018, but that may not be enough. The good news is the good approval numbers for President Biden, which are better than those in the UT/Trib poll, and also the Data for Progress poll. As noted, if Biden can stay up there, it can only help the Dems’ efforts next year. Not mentioned in the poll were the numbers for Beto (37 favorable, 42 unfavorable) or Donald Trump (43 favorable, 47 unfavorable). That’s a lot better for Beto than in that DfP poll, and about the same for Trump. He won’t be on the ballot, but we know he’ll be a presence, one way or another.

Please don’t pay any attention to Ted Cruz’s approval ratings

I know, I know, I’m part of the problem. But seriously, this is utterly meaningless.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s approval rating took a hit after his family trip to Cancún during the Texas freeze, according to polling by Morning Consult, though he still remains popular among Texas Republicans.

Polling conducted Feb. 19-28 found Cruz’s approval rating at 43 percent among Texas voters, 48 percent of whom said they disapprove of the senator. It was a reversal of his standing — and a double-digit drop in net approval rating — from polls Morning Consult conducted 10 days earlier.

Nationally, 49 percent of Republicans said they approve of Cruz — a 9 percentage point drop — even as his footing in his home state remained strong, with the approval of 71 percent of Texas Republicans.

One, this kind of poll, and Morning Consult’s polls in particular, are always volatile. Two, and this is a partial restatement of the first point, it’s just one damn result. We know better than that. And three, as I have said before, Ted Cruz will not be on any ballot until 2024. There’s literally no poll now that can tell us anything useful about what might happen to Ted Cruz in 2024. Please spend you limited time and brain energy on something more productive, like your fantasy football draft or what the next “Star Wars” spinoff will be on Disney+. Thank you.

PUC Chair resigns

The body count increases.

The chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the agency that regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities, resigned Monday, according to a resignation letter provided to the Texas Tribune.

The Gov. Greg Abbott-appointed commission came under public criticism in the aftermath of Texas’ power crisis that left millions of people in the dark for days and claimed the lives of dozens.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for PUC chairwoman DeAnn Walker and Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness to resign.

[…]

Lawmakers began to call on the commissioners to resign Thursday after hearing testimony from Walker, who took little responsibility for the crisis during the house and senate committee hearings on the power outages. Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, wrote on Twitter that he has “zero confidence” in her after the Thursday hearings and that she “must” resign.

Walker came under fire during questioning for not doing more to prevent the crisis from occurring. Lawmakers probed how much information she had on whether the state’s power system could withstand winter storms, and questioned why she didn’t raise concerns about the possibility of outages sooner.

Walker, during her testimony to lawmakers last week, largely deflected blame to ERCOT and Magness, who testified in front of state senators on Thursday before Walker did.

“You know, there’s a lot of things Bill said about our authority over them that I simply disagree that that’s how it’s actually playing out in real life,” Walker told lawmakers.

But lawmakers countered that she leads the regulatory agency with the oversight of the power sector: “When you say you don’t have authority,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, “I’ve got you down as a pretty powerful person.”

Walker said the commission has “not been given legal authority by the Legislature to require winter weatherization,” a primary concern after the power crisis was precipitated by power plants tripping offline. Many power generators are not built to withstand extreme cold weather temperatures in Texas.

Walker deflected blame to ERCOT, the entity her agency oversees, and added of winterization: “It costs a lot of money.”

In her resignation letter to Gov. Abbott, Walker said she was resigning because she believed it to be in the best interest of the state. She also pushed back on criticisms that she did not take responsibility for the outages.

“I testified last Thursday in the Senate and House and accepted my role in the situation,” Walker wrote.

She went on to call on others, including the Railroad Commission, ERCOT, the Legislature, gas companies, electric generators and other industry players to “come forward” to acknowledge how their actions contributed to the power crisis — all of them, she wrote, “had responsibility to foresee what could have happened and failed to take the necessary steps for the past 10 years to address issues that each of them could have addressed.”

See here for why we all needed more focus on the PUC and its all-Greg-Abbott-appointed board. I didn’t write about Walker’s testimony before the Senate, but the reaction was swift and unsurprising. I’m not going to defend De Ann Walker, but all this is a little precious given the warning the state got 10 years ago and the Legisnature’s steadfast refusal to take any action in response. It’s right for the Lege to call out ERCOT and the PUC and hold them accountable for their failures, but who’s going to do the same to the Lege and Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the Railroad Commission? That’s on us, and if we’re not still paying attention next year when we get the chance to exert that authority, we’ll let them get away with it again. The Chron has more.

Why is Greg Abbott doing so little to help Texas recover from the freeze?

If this Politico story doesn’t make you mad, then either you’re a Greg Abbott shill or you really need to check your priors.

Assessing the effectiveness of disaster response is a famously fraught political game. What looks like a master class in bureaucratic crisis management from inside an emergency operations center can seem laughably insufficient to the people bundled in blankets outside an overwhelmed food bank. But all sorts of Texans, from shivering private citizens to frustrated public officials, say that Texas’ state leaders failed them.

In the face of a monstrous storm Abbott’s response was tepid, at best. He didn’t deploy the National Guard in any sizable numbers before, during or after the storm. There are no state aid facilities handing out water or food. In his Feb. 13 letter to Biden, Abbott asked for direct financial assistance and help with emergency services. Normally, governors, including Abbott, request military help, money for local governments and hazard mitigation to make sure properties are habitable, and even social services. But not not this time. His request was comparatively minuscule. His office in Austin did not respond to a request for comment.

The storm revealed an uncomfortable power-play between GOP leaders in Austin and their mostly Democratic counterparts in the state’s big cities. In Texas, examples of local autonomy routinely run afoul of a governor who jealously guards his prerogatives to override everything from plastic bag bans to mandatory mask orders. But when the cities are in crisis, the sense is that it’s their problem to sort out, not his. Millions of Texans have nearly frozen in the dark and have been on a boil-water notice, without running water in days.

“The state government must provide emergency assistance to repair water infrastructure, or we risk millions being without water for a week,” Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary, pleaded on Twitter. Abbott “failed to prepare for this storm, was too slow to respond, and now blames everyone but himself for this mess.”

[…]

In his Feb. 13 letter to Biden, it was what the governor didn’t ask for that stuck out. He asked for no military help with logistics or aid distribution. He didn’t ask for disaster unemployment insurance, money for local governments, not even hazard mitigation for damaged homes, not even food or water. He asked for no military assistance. Abbott asked only for direct financial assistance for individuals and help keeping emergency services going until the storm passed.

In sharp contrast, Abbott asked for and got massive federal help before Hurricane Harvey even came ashore in August 2017. At his request, FEMA pre-positioned people and supplies, linking up with the Texas Emergency Management Agency, bringing in over 1 million meals, 3 million bottles of water, blankets and cots, and providing medical services to more than 5,000 Texans. The federal government even brought in 210,000 pounds of hay for livestock, according to FEMA’s 2017 after-action report. The Air Force flew 30 missions, mostly ferrying supplies. Abbott activated all 30,000 members of the Texas National Guard. But none of that happened this time.

Abbott was in a different political situation. On the one hand there was a Democratic president in office, not his old ally Donald Trump. On the other hand, Abbott’s biggest threat, as he prepares to run for reelection in 2022 and possibly the presidency in 2024, isn’t to his left but to his right. Florida transplant Allen West chairs the Texas GOP and is even calling for secession.

“My sense is that Abbott is calibrating his relationship with a Democratic president,” said James Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite the human toll, Abbott, say, doesn’t want ads in 2022 portraying him as hat-in-hand to Biden. “The Republicans just want to do the bare essential here, and they don’t want to do too much. Plus, Abbott doesn’t want this storm to be the focus of another news cycle.”

“Federal assistance is needed to lessen the threat of disaster, save lives, and protect property, public health and safety,” he wrote to Biden without mentioning the long tail of the storm, prolonged lack of water, and the likelihood of continuing financial turmoil about how to pay bills as simple as essential as next month’s rent. And potentially worse: the rising specter of hunger in the poor parts of San Antonio and all of South Texas.

With little help from the state, the aid task has fallen on the local government, private citizens and local charities. Bexar County here was one of dozens forced to issue boil-water notices. Now, the city is still distributing water bottles for 14 days straight. Firefighters and fire department cadets loaded 31 pallets in cars at the parking lot of Our Lady of the Lake University on Sunday, Feb. 21.

“We still have lots of people without water,” said the firefighter in charge, who would only identify herself as Bertha. “As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve seen nothing like this.”

[…]

So, FEMA has shipped generators, for example, but there is little need for them now that the power is back on. The usual National Guard and active military response is almost completely absent. At FEMA’s direction, the Air Force has been ferrying water from Joint Base Charleston, S.C. and Joint Base Travis, Calif., aboard C-17s to Texas, according to military officials. Marines in Fort Worth and Army troops here in San Antonio have handed out water on the order of local commanders. But that’s it. That’s all the military help there is.

Asked if the lack of military help, which was out in force during Ike and Harvey before, wasn’t coming because the governor hadn’t asked, a Defense Department official sheepishly responded: “I didn’t want to say that but yes. Usually, the governor asks for help.”

Critics of the governor see Abbott’s political ambitions at play. He is running for reelection and said to be eyeballing a presidential run. And so, the less he asks of the federal government the more he can claim in 2022 or 2024, that he doesn’t ask Washington for help. He can’t seem beholden to Washington, pressed from his right by hard-liners West, or his powerful right-wing lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

“Abbott doesn’t want to be seen with both hands out to the government,” said Henson, at the University of Texas. “If Republicans can get away with doing the bare minimum, they can have their cake and eat it, too.”

Absolutely infuriating. I didn’t know any of this before I read this story, and as much as I can’t stand Greg Abbott, it had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t ask the feds for all the help he could get. I still can’t quite fathom it. However angry you are at Greg Abbott, you need to be angrier, and you need to make sure everyone you know is angry at him. This cannot stand.

Biden starts with decent approval numbers in Texas

Keep it up.

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, who today is making his first visit to Texas since his January inauguration, starts his term with about the same numbers of voters giving him good and bad marks for job performance, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Among registered Texas voters, 45% approve of the job he’s doing and 44% disapprove. Those results include 30% who said they strongly approve of his performance and 39% who strongly disapprove. The partisan lines are strong: 80% of Republicans disapprove, while 89% of Democrats approve.

“Election season always hardens partisan attitudes. That didn’t end with the election,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t know that we ever got out of election mode.”

Biden’s grades for responding to COVID-19 are better, with 49% approving what he’s doing and 36% saying they disapprove. That’s an improvement over his predecessor: In the October 2020 UT/TT Poll, 45% of voters approved Donald Trump’s coronavirus response, while 48% did not — including 43% who disapproved strongly.

“He’s starting out, in a Republican state, with fairly respectable numbers,” Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll, said of Biden.

The assessment of Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 response has improved a bit since October. In both polls, 44% said the governor is doing a good job, and the number who giving him bad marks has fallen 5 percentage points, to 41% from 46%. Public approval for Abbott’s handling of the pandemic peaked at the beginning; in the April 2020 UT/TT Poll, 56% of Texas voters approved of his responses and 29% disapproved.

[…]

The governor’s numbers held steady, with 46% of Texas voters giving him an approving job review and 39% giving him a disapproving one. In October, his results were 47% – 40% — virtually the same.

The same was true for [Sen. Ted] Cruz: 45% positive and 43% negative in this poll, compared to 46% – 42% in October.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn got positive marks from 32% of voters, and negative marks from 42% — a more negative showing than either Cruz or Abbott. In October, right before he was reelected, Cornyn’s job performance was rated positively by 39% and negatively by the same percentage.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s job review was flat: 37% of voters say he’s doing a good job and 36% saying they disapprove of his work. The state’s newest legislative leader, House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, elevated to that post by his peers just a few weeks ago, still hasn’t made an impression on most Texas voters; 60% said either that they have a neutral or no assessment of how he’s doing his job, while 22% gave him positive grades and 18% were negative.

As the story notes, the poll was in the field during the freeze week, almost entirely before Ted Cruz’s excellent adventure in Cancun. It’s likely his numbers would have dipped if the poll had been done a week later. It’s possible the same is true for Abbott, though that’s harder to say for sure. Even a modest decline for him would still be decent, and this is where I remind you again that his UH Hobby School poll numbers were not in fact bad.

There is one person of interest whose numbers are not noted, but we do have them in this story.

Texas voters are almost evenly split on the question of whether Donald Trump should be allowed to mount a comeback, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Asked whether “Trump took actions as president that justify preventing him from holding future elected office,” 45% said he did and 48% said he did not. Not surprisingly, 84% of voters who identified themselves as Democrats say he did, and 81% of Republican voters say he didn’t. Among independent voters, 38% said barring Trump would be justified, and 47% said it would not be justified.

“Almost all of the Democrats say he should be barred, along with 13% of Republicans,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

[…]

Trump is viewed about as favorably now in the state as he was in the UT/TT Poll in October 2020, right before the election: 46% of Texas voters view him favorably and 46% have an unfavorable opinion of the former president. In October, his favorable/unfavorable numbers were 49%-46%. And Trump remains in better light than he did right before his election four years ago. In an October 2016 UT/TT Poll, 31% of Texans had a positive opinion of him while 58% had a negative one.

“He has completely consolidated his Republican base in Texas,” Shaw said.

Well, he lost three points of favorability while his unfavorable rating remained the same. He’s a net zero, while Biden is a net plus one on his approval ratings. It could be worse, that’s all I can say. Note that we’re comparing “favorable/unfavorable” to “approve/disapprove” here, which isn’t quite the same thing but will have to do for these purposes.

The traveling Paxtons

Seriously?

Ski bunny

While millions of Texans languished in their homes last week without heat, many of them racking up astronomical electricity bills, the state official in charge of consumer protection left to take an out-of-state trip.

According to a campaign spokesman, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton left the state during the middle of the power outage crisis to meet with a fellow attorney general in Utah for a “previously planned meeting.” Hs wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, was also on the trip, reported the Dallas Morning News, which first broke the story.

The revelation marks the third instance of a Texas public official leaving the state during the disaster that affected nearly every one of the state’s 254 counties.

[…]

Ken Paxton spokesman Ian Prior said that Paxton met with Utah AG Sean Reyes to discuss several matters, including their multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google.

Reyes’ spokesman Richard Piatt confirmed that Paxton was in Salt Lake City for meetings on Wednesday and Friday, and had “lengthy discussions” on the Google case.

Prior said Paxton also attended a demonstration of Utah’s law enforcement scenario simulator, which includes a wide variety of situations law enforcement must deal with and is used for training. He said Paxton is considering the program for Texas. Reyes said that meeting would have taken place in the suburb of Murray, about a 15-minute drive away.

“While there, AG Paxton had a number of meetings with the Utah Attorney General over the course of several days,” Prior said. “I cannot further share additional details or the specific reasons on the need for the meeting concerning Google as it involves an ongoing investigation.”

Prior did not respond to questions about the timing of the Paxton’s trip, why the trip was not postponed or whether taxpayers funded the trip.

I’ll bet he didn’t. Not likely to be any good answers to those questions. Oh, and did we mention that Mrs. Paxton, a/k/a State Sen. Angela Paxton, was also there?

On the day of Paxton’s Wednesday meeting, the state’s electrical grid operator reported 2.7 million households in Texas remained without power. Water infrastructure in many cities was also being strained. By Thursday, nearly half the state had had its water disrupted in some way. Many lost running water altogether, while others were issued boil-water notices.

“AG Paxton did lose power, but did not leave Texas until after power had returned to most of the state, including his own home,” Prior said in a statement.

Follow up questions about whether the attorney general was back in Texas on Monday were not answered.

A spokesperson for Angela Paxton confirmed that she was also on the trip, which she said “included meetings that benefit her efforts to promote human dignity and support law enforcement.”

While away, Ken Paxton’s office did send a handful of advisories about his office’s plans to investigate the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — the state’s grid operator — “and other entities that grossly mishandled this week’s extreme winter weather.”

“We will get to the bottom of this power failure and I will tirelessly pursue justice for Texans,” he said in a press release Friday. The release made no mention of his whereabouts.

I’m sure you’re aware that I have a very low opinion of the Paxtons, as I do of Ted Cruz and all the other malfunctioning members of our Republican state government who have no call to service. But even I would have expected them to have slightly better political instincts than this. State Rep. Chris Turner speaks for me:

I don’t begrudge people a certain amount of business travel, but come on. This very easily could have been done remotely, and let’s not forget we are still in a pandemic, which makes any kind of air travel highly questionable at this time. And all of that is before the refusal to answer questions about the specifics of this little jaunt. What is wrong with these people? The Current has more.

Have Texas Republicans finally damaged themselves?

Some of them have. How much remains to be seen.

The brutal winter storm that turned Texas roads to ice, burst pipes across the state and left millions of residents shivering and without power has also damaged the reputations of three of the state’s leading Republicans.

Sen. Ted Cruz was discovered to have slipped off to Mexico on Wednesday night, only to announce his return when he was caught in the act. Gov. Greg Abbott came under fire over his leadership and misleading claims about the causes of the power outages. And former Gov. Rick Perry suggested Texans preferred power failures to federal regulation, a callous note in a moment of widespread suffering.

It’s more than just a public relations crisis for the three politicians. The storm has also battered the swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity on the national stage.

“Texans are angry and they have every right to be. Failed power, water and communications surely took some lives,” JoAnn Fleming, a Texas conservative activist and executive director of a group called Grassroots America, said in a text message exchange with POLITICO.

“The Texas electric grid is not secure,” said Fleming, pointing out that lawmakers “have been talking about shoring up/protecting the Texas electric grid for THREE legislative sessions (6 yrs),” but “every session special energy interests kill the bills with Republicans in charge … Our politicians spend too much time listening to monied lobbyists & political consultants. Not enough time actually listening to real people.”

[…]

Democrats sought to heighten the contrast between Cruz and his 2018 Senate opponent, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, by pointing out that the senator went to Cancun and tweeted about the death of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh while his former rival stayed in El Paso and tried to marshal his social media followers to help fellow Texans.

“It’s extremely important in governing and politics to be seen doing things,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas Republican strategist. “It’s important to be seen leading.”

Steinhauser said Abbott established himself as a leader in previous crises but took longer after the storm because he “had to find his footing. At first, he probably didn’t think the blackouts would last as long as they did.”

We’re at peak bad news for these guys – and now you can add State Rep. Gary Gates to that list – but who knows how long it will last. It’s also hard to take anything JoAnn Fleming says seriously, as she’s one of the major wingnut power brokers in North Texas. It’s one thing for someone like her to be mad at these guys, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to vote for a Democrat against them.

And that’s ultimately what this comes down to. Greg Abbott doesn’t have an opponent yet (though hold on, we’ll get back to that in a minute), Ted Cruz isn’t on any ballot until 2024, and Rick Perry is a Dancing with the Stars has-been. If there’s anger at them for their words and deeds and lack of action, that’s great, but it only goes so far. What if anything will this be channeled into?

One possible vehicle until such time as there’s a candidate running against Greg Abbott is President Biden. He’s done all the Presidential things to help Texas recover, and he’s coming for a visit next week, both of which have the chance to make people like him a little bit more. This is an opportunity for him as an example of good leadership, and also for future legislative proposals. If that translates into better approval/favorability numbers for Biden in Texas, that should help the Democratic slate next year. The longer the national GOP remains in disarray as well, the better.

The leadership example, if it can stand as a contrast to what Abbott et al have been doing, can serve as the baseline argument in 2022 and beyond for change in our state government.

What happened over the last four or five days, as the state became the subject of national and international pity and head-shaking, could undo years of economic development promotion, corporate relocation work and tourism campaigns.

It makes it a lot easier on the competition. Who wants to go to a failed state? Sure, there is no income tax. But we’re rationing gas, turning off electricity for millions of households and boiling water so it doesn’t poison us. Austin even closed a hospital and moved the patients when they couldn’t rely on heat or water.

In a hospital.

The light regulation here has been a key part of the business pitch. But the dark side was showing this week in the failures of our basic infrastructure.

Electricity here is cheaper than many other places, and it works, most of the time. But at some point, the corners we cut to keep electricity prices low turn into reliability problems. The cost-cutting shows up in the quality of the product. And the product, when it comes to infrastructure, is critical to the quality of life and the economy.

It’s a great state with a faltering state government. The political people running things too often worry more about their popularity than about their work. Too many of them are better at politics than they are at governing. And governing is the only real reason any of the rest of us have any interest in them.

Putting that another way:

Fixing ERCOT will require actual governance, as opposed to performative governance, and that is something the state’s leadership has struggled with of late. Rather than address the challenges associated with rapid growth, the state’s elected leaders have preferred to focus on various lib-owning initiatives such as the menace of transgender athletes, whether or not NBA games feature the national anthem, and—in a triumph of a certain brand of contemporary “conservatism”—legislating how local municipalities can allocate their own funds.

I’m anxious to see how our governor, in particular, will respond to this crisis, because I have never witnessed a more cowardly politician. When Abbott faces a challenge—and he has faced several in the past year alone—you can always depend on him to take the shape of water, forever finding the path of least resistance. I have no idea why the man became a politician, as I can discern no animating motive behind his acts beyond just staying in office.

During the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of 41,000 Texans so far, the governor first delegated as much responsibility—and political risk—as possible to the state’s mayors and county judges. When those same local officials decided that things like mask mandates and restaurant closures might be good ideas, which became unpopular with the governor’s donors, he overruled them. But when deaths spiked, Abbot decided that—surprise!—local leaders had retained the power to enforce mask mandates all along and that it was their fault for not solving his coronavirus riddle.

I am anxious to see how the governor weasels his way out of responsibility for what happens next. I wouldn’t want to be Texas’s new speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, to whom the governor will likely attempt to shift all the blame.

This is an opportunity for someone to say “It doesn’t have to be like this” and maybe get heard in a way that’s been nigh-impossible for Texas Democrats in recent years, Beto in 2018 semi-excepted. Even if the main effect is to make normal Republican voters less excited about supporting their team in 2022, that helps too.

But first we need someone to step up and make that argument. We know Beto is thinking about it, and at last report, Julian Castro was not inclined to run. But that Politico story also has this tidbit:

“Whether it’s Abbott’s failed response or Cruz’s abandoning of our state, we shouldn’t put people in charge of government who don’t believe in government. They fail us every time,” said former federal Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a Democrat who’s considering a bid against Abbott or Cruz.

Emphasis mine. Who knows what that means, or how it’s sourced. I mean, despite that earlier story about Castro, he’s a potential candidate until he’s not. Who even knows if Ted Cruz will run for re-election in 2024 – we all know he wants to run for President again, however ridiculous that may sound now – so considering a bid against Abbott is the only one that makes sense. I’d like to hear him say those words himself before I believe it, but I feel duty-bound to note that paragraph. We can hope from there.

When the going gets tough, Ted Cruz gets going

All the way to Cancun. Smell ya later, suckers!

At least he was wearing a mask

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was feeling the heat Thursday as photos circulated online showing the Texas Republican traveling to Cancún while millions in his home state were left in the cold without power and water, reeling from a major winter weather disaster.

The senator, who was spotted on a Wednesday flight, said in a statement that his family lost heat and power like many, and with school out for the week, his daughters asked to go.

“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Cruz said.

It was unclear whether the quick return was originally planned, but it wasn’t quick enough for many regardless. By Thursday morning, the trip had already sparked renewed calls for Cruz’s resignation — six weeks into 2021, the senator with 2024 presidential ambitions has also been the focus of scorn over his objections to certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory, an effort his campaign used to raise money that also led to calls for his resignation and an ethics complaint from Senate Democrats.

Cruz was also called out earlier this week for having mocked California’s rolling blackouts in 2020.

“I got no defense,” Cruz tweeted in response. “A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good. Stay safe!”

Political experts in Texas, however, don’t expect all this bad PR to stick. Even after the insurrection at the Capitol, Cruz consistently ranks among the most popular Republicans in the state. He was second only to Donald Trump in a University of Houston poll released last month, easily weathering the outrage from the Capitol attack.

“While he may be one of the most disliked politicians in Texas, he is also one of the most well liked — and his base is not going to budge, even under these circumstances,” said Renée Cross, senior director at UH’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, which conducted the poll.

Republican political operatives, however, were shaking their heads at the Cancún trip, even as they questioned what Cruz realistically could have done about the crisis in Texas that he couldn’t also do remotely.

Derek Ryan, a Republican political consultant in Texas, predicted the photos will haunt the senator for some time.

“‘Whether he can help or not, in 2024 the ads will be, ‘While you and your family froze, Cruz fled to Mexico,’” Ryan tweeted. “Perception is reality.”

“You need to be seen as engaged, you need to be seen as active in your community, helping out,” Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Texas, said.

“He is a senator, so what can he actually do right now? Most of what they can do is make calls, send emails, make statements … He could argue a lot of those things, I can do from my phone, from virtually anywhere,” Steinhauser said. “But he decided to come back home… he sees this is a perception problem.”

Let’s be clear about a couple of things:

1. Speaking as a dad, I get the desire to make life better for your kids, in whatever circumstance. I thought about packing us all up and going somewhere this week – where, I had no idea – because it did suck to be in a cold, dark house with nothing to do. I don’t actually blame him for that desire, but using the kids as a shield for his own questionable decision, that’s a coward’s move. You made the decision to fly to Cancun, as opposed to driving to a hotel or sleeping over with a friend who had power, or just toughing it out and commiserating the the millions of other Texans in the same boat. Own it.

2. Nobody cuts Ted Cruz any slack because Ted Cruz has earned his reputation as one of the biggest jerks in America. He’s always among the first in line to kick someone else when they’re down – see the tweets about California, or about Austin Mayor Steve Adler and his trip to Cabo a few months ago, which was noted later in the story – so people line up to do the same when he stumbles. He’s also been especially critical of politicians he doesn’t like who dare to take vacations, which again brings up the hypocrisy angle. Ultimately, Ted Cruz gets extended the same grace he extends to everyone else, which is to say none at all. It’s the purest application of the Golden Rule that ever existed.

3. Honestly, what did he think was going to happen here? He’s not only one of the most hated people in the country, he’s also one of the most recognizable. The odds of him travelling to Cancun and back without being noticed were exactly zero. Hell, even his supposed friends are adding to the feeding frenzy (more here).

4. Oh, and did we mention the pandemic that’s still going on? Ted Cruz and his family taking an international flight was a bad idea even without the “constituents freezing in the dark” optics. Go back to the story and review what Cruz said about Steve Adler. It’s almost as if that was completely cynical, because the rules only apply to other people, not to Ted Cruz.

5. I get that the people who love Ted Cruz really love Ted Cruz, but no one’s approval ratings are set in stone. Donald Trump’s approval ratings are now lower than they ever were during his reign of terror, and his sycophants are as zealous as they come. The thing about an event like this is that it doesn’t actually have anything to do with politics or a bill or some other argument that Republicans are having with Democrats. It’s about Ted Cruz doing something that looks to be deeply selfish and indifferent to anyone else. Some number of people who like him will like him less as a result of this. Maybe that’s not a big number, and maybe some of them eventually forgive him. Maybe even those who are done with him will never vote for the next Democrat that runs against him. My point is that with someone this evenly polarizing, it doesn’t take much to tilt the balance that currently favors him in this state. He had an awfully close election last time, though to be fair he was running in a tough year for Republicans. It wouldn’t have taken much to alter the outcome.

6. And he had a HPD escort when he arrived statewide. What a guy.

Anyway. The next time Ted Cruz will be on a ballot is a long time from now. The attack ads will write themselves, but who knows what might transpire between now and then to make us all hate Ted Cruz in a different way. In the meantime, please enjoy the voluminous Twitter snark at Ted Cruz’s expense. Politics is fleeting, but sincere mockery is forever.

UPDATE: Some more Twitter venom for Cruz.

Are people leaving the Republican Party?

Some people are, in at least some states, if you go by voter registration data.

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the phone lines and websites of local election officials across the country were jumping: Tens of thousands of Republicans were calling or logging on to switch their party affiliations.

In California, more than 33,000 registered Republicans left the party during the three weeks after the Washington riot. In Pennsylvania, more than 12,000 voters left the G.O.P. in the past month, and more than 10,000 Republicans changed their registration in Arizona.

An analysis of January voting records by The New York Times found that nearly 140,000 Republicans had quit the party in 25 states that had readily available data (19 states do not have registration by party). Voting experts said the data indicated a stronger-than-usual flight from a political party after a presidential election, as well as the potential start of a damaging period for G.O.P. registrations as voters recoil from the Capitol violence and its fallout.

[…]

The biggest spikes in Republicans leaving the party came in the days after Jan. 6, especially in California, where there were 1,020 Republican changes on Jan. 5 — and then 3,243 on Jan. 7. In Arizona, there were 233 Republican changes in the first five days of January, and 3,317 in the next week. Most of the Republicans in these states and others switched to unaffiliated status.

Voter rolls often change after presidential elections, when registrations sometimes shift toward the winner’s party or people update their old affiliations to correspond to their current party preferences, often at a department of motor vehicles. Other states remove inactive voters, deceased voters or those who moved out of state from all parties, and lump those people together with voters who changed their own registrations. Of the 25 states surveyed by The Times, Nevada, Kansas, Utah and Oklahoma had combined such voter list maintenance with registration changes, so their overall totals would not be limited to changes that voters made themselves. Other states may have done so, as well, but did not indicate in their public data.

Among Democrats, 79,000 have left the party since early January.

But the tumult at the Capitol, and the historic unpopularity of former President Donald J. Trump, have made for an intensely fluid period in American politics. Many Republicans denounced the pro-Trump forces that rioted on Jan. 6, and 10 Republican House members voted to impeach Mr. Trump. Sizable numbers of Republicans now say they support key elements of President Biden’s stimulus package; typically, the opposing party is wary if not hostile toward the major policy priorities of a new president.

“Since this is such a highly unusual activity, it probably is indicative of a larger undercurrent that’s happening, where there are other people who are likewise thinking that they no longer feel like they’re part of the Republican Party, but they just haven’t contacted election officials to tell them that they might change their party registration,” said Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “So this is probably a tip of an iceberg.”

But, he cautioned, it could also be the vocal “never Trump” reality simply coming into focus as Republicans finally took the step of changing their registration, even though they hadn’t supported the president and his party since 2016.

A more detailed case against this thesis is made by G. Elliott Morris, who notes that voter registration is not the same as voter behavior – in states where people register by party, they don’t necessarily vote that way – and that at least some of these former Republicans have changed their affiliation because the establishment GOP didn’t support Trump enough following the election and the insurrection. In other words, some number of these folks aren’t any more likely to vote for a Democrat. Finally, the total numbers here are really small in terms of overall voter registration, well less than one percent. In other words, what we have here looks more like a drip than a stream.

On the other hand, the public now has a very low opinion of the Republican Party and a significantly more favorable view of the Democratic Party. Republicans also have issues with corporate donors, which may be a drag on them at least through 2022. And while President Biden’s current approval ratings are extremely polarized, I note that he’s basically the inverse of Trump with independents, getting 60% of approval there where Trump had 40% at this same point in their presidencies. Who knows where any of this will go from here, but right now, you’d rather be on Team Biden than on his opposition.

None of this applies directly to Texas, since of course we don’t register by party. We measure affiliation by primary voting, so we will have much more limited data until whenever we get to have primaries in 2022. That said, the forthcoming special election in CD06, to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Rep. Ron Wright, may provide a yardstick as well. Trump carried the district in 2020 by a 51-48 margin, basically the same margin by which Ted Cruz carried it in 2018. Rep. Wright won by a more comfortable 53-44, and Trump won it 54-42 in 2016. A Democratic win in what I presume would be a June runoff would surely be a big deal, while a Republican victory would be seen as evidence that nothing much has changed. It’s super early and we have no candidates yet, so hold onto your hot takes for now.

Who believes in the myth of voter fraud?

Republicans do. Next question.

A new University of Houston survey reveals the stark partisan divide among Texans on the issue of voter fraud in the November election.

The survey found that 87 percent of Democrats believe there was no widespread fraud, while 83 percent of Republicans believe there was — despite the lack of evidence to indicate that it occurred. Overall, 55 percent of Texans believed there was no widespread fraud.

“While a sizable number of Texans believe that voter fraud occurred last November, a majority of Texans don’t agree,” said Kirk P. Watson, founding dean of the university’s Hobby School of Public Affairs and a former Democratic state senator. “We can and should build on that foundation of trust in our elections through education and potential reforms that protect election integrity without resulting in voter suppression.”

[…]

“Even though there have been multiple audits, recounts and dozens of court cases dismissed, many Republicans insist the election was compromised,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School.

The same survey also found that most Texans, or 83 percent, opposed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol led by supporters of former President Donald Trump who believed the election was stolen. Thirty-two percent of Republicans, 15 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats supported the events, however.

See here and here for previous blogging about this four-pack of polls. The press release for this survey is here and the full data set is here. There’s not a whole lot to add to this part of the discussion. It’s true that these Republicans are just believing the lies that their leaders have been repeatedly feeding them, and it’s hard to blame someone for being brainwashed. It’s also true that the facts are out there in abundance, that even Trump’s legal teams did not make any specific claims of fraud in their many lawsuits because they had to limit themselves to factual evidence, and that nothing is stopping anyone from learning the very simple and basic truth for themselves. I will welcome anyone who can find their way back to objective reality into the fold, but I will not forget where they had been before.

Not mentioned in this story are the questions the pollsters asked about favorability ratings for numerous politicians. Here’s a sample of the interesting ones, with the “very” and “somewhat” responses for each combined:

Greg Abbott – 39 favorable, 40 unfavorable
Dan Patrick – 27 favorable, 35 unfavorable

Joe Biden – 41 favorable, 42 unfavorable
Kamala Harris – 39 favorable, 43 unfavorable
Donald Trump – 39 favorable, 51 unfavorable

Ted Cruz – 38 favorable, 47 unfavorable
John Cornyn – 23 favorable, 44 unfavorable
Beto O’Rourke – 35 favorable, 41 unfavorable
Julian Castro – 29 favorable, 28 unfavorable

They also asked about Joaquin Castro, Dan Crenshaw, and Dade Phelan, but I’m skipping them because not enough people had an opinion to make it worthwhile. They did not ask about Ken Paxton, which I wish they had done.

Overall, that’s a better look for Dems, especially Beto, than that Data for Progress poll. Joe Biden’s number is all right – if you notice, basically no one has a net favorable total – Trump’s is terrible, and Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz are more negative than Beto. I have no idea how someone like John Cornyn can be in statewide elected office for that long and have so many people have a neutral opinion or not enough information to have an opinion about him (15% neither fav nor unfav, 18% not enough info). There’s a lot of room in most of these (Trump excepted) for opinion to swing, and it will be very interesting to see how this looks in six months or a year, when (hopefully!) things are better both economically and pandemically. And as always, this is just one poll so don’t read more into it than that.