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Election 2020

We should have a full statewide slate

Nice.

Judge Gisela Triana

For Brandon Birmingham, a state district judge in Dallas, the 2020 race for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals started on election night 2018.

As he watched Beto O’Rourke win more votes than any Texas Democrat ever had in a statewide race, Birmingham — who himself won reelection that night with 100% of the vote in his countywide district — began to mull his own chances at winning Texas. Within weeks, he’d reached out to the state Democratic Party. By December, he’d sat down with party officials over breakfast in Dallas to discuss a possible run.

Now, as the 2020 election season begins in earnest after the start of the filing period Nov. 9, Birmingham is one of 14 Democrats seeking one of seven seats on the state’s two high courts — an unusually crowded and unusually qualified field for races that have over the past two decades plus proved suicide missions for Democrats. This year, with a controversial Republican president on the ballot and sky-high stakes for Texas Democrats, candidates are hoping the races look more like heroes’ journeys.

“In 2018, 2016, 2014, 2012, the last four cycles, the month of October was spent talking and begging people to come to us, to run for these kinds of offices,” said Glen Maxey, a former Texas House member who is coordinating statewide judicial races for the Texas Democratic Party. “That’s what’s different about 2020. We did not make a single phone call. … We have not twisted a single arm about doing this.”

In past years, Maxey said, the party was often scrambling to find “any qualified attorney” to put on the ballot. This year, nearly every race involves at least one sitting judge or justice with years of experience.

[…]

Strategists sometimes consider statewide judicial races the best measure of the state’s true partisan split: Whom do voters pick when they know little or nothing about either party’s candidate?

Statewide judicial races are “important to watch in terms of partisan vote behavior,” said Mike Baselice, a GOP pollster. They show a “good reflection of base Democratic and base Republican vote in the state.”

That also means that judicial candidates typically rise and fall as a slate: Most likely, either all of them will win or none of them will, strategists acknowledge. It’s a blunt theory, but it offers clear strategic guidance: A rising tide lifts all boats.

“We won’t have them each deciding to be at the same chicken fry in Parker County on the same Friday,” Maxey said. Instead, he said, they’ll tell nominees: “We need you to travel. We need you to be making appearances as seven people in seven different media markets every day, so that people are hearing a Democratic message about equal justice, all over, everywhere.”

I agree with Mike Baselice that judicial races do indeed do a good job of measuring partisan vote behavior. As you know, I’ve been using CCA races across the years as my point of comparison. I like judicial races at the county level even more because they are almost always straight up R-versus-D contests, but a lot of these go uncontested in counties that have strong partisan leans, so the statewides are the best overall proxy.

By that measure, 2018 was easily the most Democratic year in recent memory. The Supreme Court and CCA Democratic candidates ranged from 45.48% (in a race that included a Libertarian) to 46.83%, the best showing since Sam Houston got 45.88% in 2008 and Margaret Mirabal got 45.90% in 2002. I’d quibble slightly with the assertion that all the Dems will win or none of them will – there is some spread in these races, so if the state is basically 50-50, you could have a couple Dems sneak through while others just fall short. That’s basically what happened in Harris County judicial races in 2008 and 2012, after all. The presence or absence of third party candidates could be a factor as well, as more candidates in the race means fewer votes, and only a plurality, are needed to win. Again, this is only relevant if the state is truly purple, and the range of outcomes that include a split in the judicial races is narrow, but it could happen.

My one complaint here is that the story only names one Democratic CCA candidate, while teasing that there are many more. So I asked some questions, of reporter Emma Platoff and Patrick Svitek, reporter and proprietor of the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet of announced candidates, and now that Statewide tab is full. Here. for your perusal, are your Democratic statewide judicial candidates:

Amy Clark Meachum – Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice)
Jerry Zimmerer – Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice)

Supreme Court, Position 6 – Brandy Voss
Supreme Court, Position 6 – Staci Williams

Supreme Court, Position 7 – Kathy Cheng
Supreme Court, Position 7 – Lawrence Praeger

Supreme Court, Position 8 – Gisela Triana
Supreme Court, Position 8 – Peter Kelly

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – William Demond
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Elizabeth Frizell
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Dan Wood

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4 – Brandon Birmingham

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Tina Yoo Clinton
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Steve Miears

Kelly is a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, elected in 2018. He doesn’t appear to have an online campaign presence yet, but a search for “peter kelly texas supreme court” yielded this.

William Demond is a “constitutional rights attorney” in Houston. Elizabeth Frizell is a former County Criminal Court judge in Dallas who ran for Dallas County DA in 2018 but lost in the primary. This story in The Appeal has some information about her candidacy from that year. Dan Wood is a criminal appellate lawyer who ran for the Fifth Court of Appeals in 2012 and for CD05 in 2018.

Brandon Birmingham, the one candidate named in the story, was elected to the 292nd Criminal District Court in Dallas in 2014, re-elected in 2018.

Tina Clinton serves as Criminal District Judge Dallas County Number 1, which is a felony court. I don’t know why the nomenclature is different from the other District Courts as I had not heard of this kind of court before, but similarly-named courts exist in Tarrant and Jefferson counties as well. She was elected to this court after serving eight years as a County Criminal Court judge, and you can scroll down the 2018 election results page to see more judges like her. Steve Miears is a criminal and criminal appellate attorney from Grapevine.

And now we’re as up to date as we can be The Secretary of State is now providing candidate filing information, which tells me that as of Friday Lawrence Praeger was the only one to have formally filed. More are to follow, and I’ll keep an eye on it.

Filing period preview: Harris County

Previously: Congress, Statewide, and SBOE/Senate/House.

For County races, I cannot use the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, as it doesn’t include local races. I am instead using the Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports for Various County Offices link on the County Clerk webpage, as it includes Appointments of Treasurer. I set the filter for a time frame beginning July 15, and including all offices. Not perfect, and may miss candidates who filed Appointments of Treasurer, but it’s close enough. Earlier candidates will have been included in my roundup of July finance reports for county candidates.

So with all that said, here we go. I’m not looking for incumbents’ campaign webpages, we already know about them. I’m trying to identify the party for each of the candidates I found, but some are not easy to determine, so I left them as “unknown”. Feel free to correct me if you know more.

District Attorney

Note: I used some information in this Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center post in the following.

Kim Ogg (D)
Audia Jones (D). Has been running for several months.
Carvana Cloud (D). Former division chief within the DAO (see link above).

Mary Nan Huffman (R) Former ADA in the Montgomery County DA’s office, now working for HPOU.

Lori DeAngelo (Unknown) Another former assistant DA (see link above again). I can’t find much else about her.
Todd Overstreet – (Unknown). I have no new information about him since the July post.

Finally, rumor has it that our old buddy Lloyd Oliver is running for DA as a Republican. I don’t see any filings for him so I can’t readily confirm that, but 1) I’m sure he has an appointment of treasurer always on file, and 2) Lloyd Oliver is a barnacle on the body politic, so it pays to always expect something annoying from him.

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez (D)
Harry Zamora (D). I have no new information on him since the July post.
Jerome Moore (D). Ran in the Dem primary in 2016. No new info on him, either.

Paul Day (R). He is a “Pro-Life, Christian Conservative”, and he ran in the Republican primary for Sheriff in 2008, against then-incumbent Tommy Thomas, getting 17% of the vote.
Joe Danna (R). As noted in July, a multi-time candidate for Constable in Precinct 1.

Lawrence Rush (Unknown). Current employee of the HCSO.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan (D)
Christian Menefee (D)
Ben Rose (D)

Nothing new here, both of these challengers have been running for months. I don’t see any evidence of a Republican candidate for County Attorney as yet.

Tax Assessor

Ann Harris Bennett (D)

Chris Daniel (R)

Daniel is the former District Clerk, elected in the 2010 wave and then un-elected in the 2018 assertion of Democratic dominance. His Appointment of Treasurer was filed on Wednesday but not yet viewable. His Friends of Chris Daniel PAC reported $438 on hand and $25K in outstanding loans as of July.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Rodney Ellis (D)
Maria T. Jackson (D). We know about this one. I could not find any web presence for her – her personal Facebook page still lists her occupation as a Judge – but I did find this Houston Style article about her campaign launch. I will be very interested to see what her January finance report looks like.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack (R)
Brenda Stardig (R)

Diana Alexander (D)
Michael Moore (D)
Kristi Thibaut (D)
Erik Hassan (D)
Luis Guajardo (D)

The first three Dems, we know about. Alexander was the first candidate in. Moore is the former Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill White. Thibaut served one term in the Lege in HD133. Erik Hassan was a candidate in the 2016 Dem primary for Precinct 3, losing to Jenifer Pool. Luis Guajardo is a very recent filer whose personal Facebook page lists him as an urban planner. As for Brenda Stardig, soon to be former Council Member in District A, she filed her Appointment of Treasurer on November 8. Chron reporter Jasper Scherer says that Radack is running for re-election, so there’s another contested primary for you. Radack has a pile of cash on hand, and he may have to spend some of it in the next couple of months. As with Maria Jackson, I will be very interested to see what Brenda Stardig’s January finance report looks like.

I’m going to stop here, in part because this is long enough and in part because I’m not prepared to do the same exercise on Constables and Justices of the Peace. Just remember that Beto carried all eight Constable/JP precincts in 2018, so ideally every Republican incumbent should have a challenger, this year and in 2022 as well. I may take a stab at this next week, but for now this wraps up my look ahead at the filing period. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as actual filings pile up.

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

Filing period preview: Statewide

Previously: Congress. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Statewide elections are much less exciting in Presidential years in Texas, since the state offices are on the ballot in the off years. We do have a US Senate race of interest, which I think you are familiar with. Beyond that, there’s the one Railroad Commission spot (there are three Railroad Commissioners, they serve six year terms, with one slot up for election each cycle), and the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals positions. We’ll take a look at those this time around.

Railroad Commissioner: We discussed this recently. Chrysta Castañeda and Kelly Stone are in, 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about it, and I will worry about Grady Yarbrough rising like a zombie to sow chaos until the filing deadline.

Supreme Court: There are four races, thanks to a previous retirement and appointment by Greg Abbott. Three of the races are contested.

Against Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, in Position 1, we have Amy Clark Meachum, a District Court judge in Travis County first elected in 2010, and Jerry Zimmerer, a Harris County judge elected to the 14th Court of Appeals in 2018.

For Position 7 against Jeff Boyd, the candidates are Brandy Voss, an attorney and law professor from McAllen, and Staci Williams, a District Court judge from Dallas County, first elected in 2014.

Position 6 is the open seat, where Jeff Brown was replaced by Jane Bland, a former First Court of Appeals judge who was defeated in 2018. Kathy Cheng, a Houston attorney who ran for this same position in 2018, finishing with 46.3% of the vote, and Lawrence Praeger, also a Houston attorney, are the contenders.

Position 8, held by Brett Busby, is the only one that has a lone Democrat, at least so far. Gisela Triana, a longtime District Court judge in Travis County who was elected to the Third Court of Appeals in 2018.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Three positions are up, as per usual: Bert Richardson (Place 3), Kevin Yeary (Place 4), and David Newell (Place 9). There are candidates running for Place 6, except that that election may not happen this cycle. The spreadsheet only lists the Place 3 race and doesn’t mention any Dem candidates, so at this point I don’t have any knowledge to drop on you. I’m sure there are people running for these positions, but for what it’s worth the one statewide office that Dems did not challenge in 2018 was a CCA slot. I will of course keep my eyes open for this.

Next up: SBOE, State Senate, and State House. Let me know what you think.

Filing period preview: Congress

So even though we still have the 2019 runoffs to settle, the 2020 election is officially upon us. I say this because the filing period for 2020 candidates began on Saturday the 9th, closing on December 9. I expect there will be a tracker of filed candidates on the TDP webpage, but until such time as we have something like that, my guidebook for this is the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet of declared and rumored candidates. I’m going to do a series of posts on who has announced their candidacies for what this week, and I’ll be using that as the springboard.

I begin with Congressional candidates. We’ve sort of been tracking this all along via the quarterly finance reports, since you can’t be a candidate (or at least, you can’t be taken seriously as a candidate) unless you’re filing finance reports. My roundup of Q3 filing reports is here, and I’ll supplement that in this post.

The first thing I noticed after I clicked over to the spreadsheet to begin my research was that there’s a new Democratic candidate in CD02. And sure enough, there was a Chron story to go with it.

Travis Olsen

Former Homeland Security Department employee Travis Olsen this week joined the race for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, becoming the second Democrat to vie for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

Olsen, who filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday and launched his campaign Thursday, said he would seek to “provide an alternative” for residents “looking to move past partisanship and polarized politics,” contending that Crenshaw has not sought common ground with Democrats during his first term.

“We need leaders in Congress who are going to put country above party,” Olsen said in an interview. “And what we have seen is that Rep. Crenshaw will just follow the party line, follow the president, in his choices.”

[…]

To take on Crenshaw, Olsen first would have to win a Democratic primary next year that already includes Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran who filed her candidacy in February.

In response to Olsen’s campaign launch, Cardnell said in a statement that the race “has been, since day one, about how we put country over party and defeat Dan Crenshaw in 2020.”

“We’ve been making the case now for six months; if we want to hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for voting against lower prescription drug costs and against reauthorizing the national flood insurance program, it’s going to take a female veteran who can make him come to the table and talk about the issues, not just his past service,” Cardnell said.

Here’s Olsen’s website. He’ll need to start raising money ASAP, Crenshaw has bags and bags of it, and Cardnell has taken in $177K so far. From my perspective, this means another set of interviews to do for the primary. You’ll note as we go on there’s more where that came from.

Among Democratic incumbents, only Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 has no primary opponent. I won’t be surprised if some character wades in, but she won’t have much to worry about. Not in March, anyway; she will have a well-funded Republican opponent in November. Reps. Al Green in CD09 and Sylvia Garcia in CD29 each have one primary opponent. Melissa Wilson-Williams has reported $31K raised, though it all appears to be her own contributions. Someone named Nile Irsan says he’s running in CD29, but he has no web presence or finance reports as yet.

The primary for a Democratic seat with the most action is in CD18, where four announced candidates face Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee: Marc Flores (Q3 finance report), Bimal Patel (Q3 finance report), Stevens Orozco (Q3 finance report), and Jerry Ford (Q3 finance report). Flores and Patel have been in the race for awhile and have raised a few bucks; Orozco has only taken in $3K, while Ford has loaned himself $50K. Jackson had a token challenger in 2018 and took 85% of the vote. She had more serious challengers in 2010, including then-Council Member, now State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, but still won with 67%. It’s hard for me to believe she’ll face much adversity this time around.

The main event races are CDs 10 and 22, and there’s no change in status for them. It won’t surprise me if some stragglers file for them, but the contenders are as they have been all along – Mike Siegel, Shannon Hutcheson, and Pritesh Gandhi in CD10; Sri Kulkarni, Nyanza Moore, and Derrick Reed in CD22. The newest candidates are in CD08, the Kevin Brady district mostly in Montgomery County. Jacob Osborne established a campaign committee in May and has a campaign finance account, but no money raised or web presence as far as I can tell. Laura Jones is a more recent entrant and the Chair for the San Jacinto County Democrats, but has not filed any finance reports yet. Democrat Steven David got 25% in CD08 in 2018 so this is not exactly a prime pickup opportunity, but it’s always nice to see qualified candidates take a shot.

Elsewhere in the state, most of what we know I’ve covered in the finance report posts. I’m still hoping for a more serious contender in the admittedly fringey CD17, and we have things to sort out in CDs 03, 06, 25, and 31. We may yet see some new entrants here and there but for the most part the big picture is fairly clear. I’ll take a look at legislative offices next.

The evolving CD31 candidate landscape

We have a lot of Democratic candidates raising 2018-type money in the big, targeted Republican-held Congressional districts. Some have clear frontrunners, at least based on money raised – Wendy Davis in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23 – while CDs 10 and 24 have multiple candidates raising competitive amounts of money. And then there’s CD31, the district that MJ Hegar put on the map last year, where no one has yet raised much money or established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. With candidates still coming and going, let’s check in and see who’s who and what’s what.

Tammy Young

Round Rock City Council Member Tammy Young announced her bid for U.S. Rep. John Carter’s seat Wednesday, joining a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat the Round Rock Republican.

Young moved to Round Rock after leading a nonprofit in New Mexico for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In Round Rock, she taught special education and later worked as a real estate broker. She was elected to the City Council in May 2017.

Democrats have been eyeing the district, which encompasses most of Williamson and Bell counties, after Carter defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by 2.9 points last year.

Young has hired major Democratic consultants, including AKPD, an ad firm that worked for U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in 2018 and is now Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s ad maker; AMHC, which did mailing for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns; GQR for polling and 4Degrees for digital.

Young, 50, said she was a teenage mother and a survivor of domestic violence. She has two children with ADHD, which led her to write a book for parents titled “Slow Down, So I Can Tell You I Love You.”

“I know what it’s like to struggle and to have to find solutions to what seem like impossible challenges,” Young said.

On the City Council, Young worked to pass a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and worked with the city’s Chamber of Commerce to invest in workforce skills training.

“Through that experience on council, I’ve learned that it’s possible to work in a bipartisan way,” she said. “I know that this can be replicated in Congress.”

[…]

Computer engineer Donna Imam raised more than $60,000 between July and August and has $53,000 in cash on hand. Christine Eady Mann, a family practice physician who ran for the seat last year, announced in August that she would run again. She raised $53,000 between July and September, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Omar Kadir, a former candidate for Williamson County treasurer; singer Eric Hanke and Dan Janjigian, an actor and ex-Olympic bobsledder, are among the other Democrats in the race.

Here’s Tammy Young’s webpage; she has a pretty compelling life story. Other candidates in the race include Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, and 2018 returnee Christine Eady Mann, who was runnerup to MJ Hegar in the primary that year. Murray Holcomb has apparently dropped out, as have a couple others mentioned in this August AusChron story that I linked to in my Q3 finance report roundup. We’re less than a week out from the beginning of the filing period, so we should be getting clarity real soon. At this point what we need is for one or more of these candidates to demonstrate the ability to raise the kind of money that will enable them to run the kind of race that will be needed for CD31 to be competitive again. Hegar, with a big assist from Beto, moved the ball a long way in 2018. CD31 was on paper one of the less likely to flip districts in 2018 – Hillary Clinton lost it by 12 points in 2016. Hegar made it close enough that it’s already on the DCCC target lists for 2020. What we need at this point is for one (or more!) of these candidates to show that they can take that next step. I hope the Q4 finance reports will provide some evidence of that.

You really have to plan for every election

Whether or not they actually happen.

Judge Michael Keasler

For months, Democrats Mark Watson and Mike Snipes have been running 2020 campaigns for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6. They’ve raised money, filed official paperwork, gathered signatures, traveled to far corners of the state, devoured East Texas delicacies, created Facebook pages, won endorsements, launched websites and given interviews with journalists.

There’s just one problem: There is probably not going to be an election.

The current occupant of that seat, Republican Judge Michael Keasler, is 77, and according to the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, he must finish his decades of service on the state’s highest criminal court by the end of next year at the latest. State law permits him to finish four years of the six-year term he was elected to in 2016.

According to the Texas Constitution, Keasler’s seat will become vacant at the end of next December, and Gov. Greg Abbott is empowered to fill judicial vacancies. But the little-known and rarely relevant law seems to have led to some confusion: Would Keasler’s seat be filled in 2021 by the governor, or in 2020 by the voters?

If the Democrats were confused, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

In August, when an official from the state Democratic Party emailed state elections administrators to ask whether there would be a race, a lawyer for the secretary of state’s office reported that there would.

“I figured it out,” wrote Christina Adkins in an Aug. 15 email obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Judge Keasler is subject to mandatory retirement so his position is on the ballot in 2020.”

The race was included on the state’s list of offices up for election in 2020, posted earlier this year, and remained there as recently as Wednesday morning. Later that day, a Texas Tribune journalist emailed the agency to ask whether the seat would be up in 2020. As of Thursday, it was no longer listed on the state’s website.

A spokesman for the agency said Friday that “there is no vacancy until December 31, 2020, and the office is not already on the ballot.”

The story includes a before-and-after screenshot from the SOS website, which one day did list CCA6 as a 2020 race and then the next day did not. At this point, I’d have to say that barring anything unexpected this race will next be on the 2022 ballot as currently scheduled. At least Watson and Snipes will be ready to hit the ground running when that time comes around.

Justice Higley resigns

This is clearly the best course of action.

Justice Laura Higley

Justice Laura Carter Higley, who lives in West University and served on the Houston-based court, submitted her notice to Gov. Greg Abbott, the appeals court’s clerk confirmed Tuesday. In the letter, she did not offer a reason for stepping down from the bench, he said.

“Her service is appreciated by us and the state of Texas,” clerk Christopher Prine said.

The justice, a Republican, has held Place 5 on the court since 2002. She was re-elected in 2008 and 2014, with her term set to expire December 2020.

[…]

It’s unknown whether Justice Higley has been on the receiving end of any official complaints related to her work. Those would be brought to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the oversight group for judges, interim executive director Jacqueline Habersham has said.

See here for the background. Greg Abbott has accepted the resignation, and will appoint a new justice, who will be on the ballot in 2020 as Higley would have been. If recent patterns hold, he’ll appoint one of the Republican judges who were ousted in either 2016 or 2018. Regardless, I wish Laura Higley all the best with her health and care.

Roland Gutierrez running in SD19

Most of the action in Texas in 2020 is in the Congressional and State Rep races, but there’s one big State Senate pickup opportunity, and we need to close the deal on it.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, is set to announce Saturday that he is running again for Senate District 19 after coming up short in a special election last year that ended in a Republican upset.

Gutierrez’s campaign said he will make the announcement at 2 p.m. at an event in San Antonio.

After the 2018 debacle, conditions are expected to be much more favorable for Democrats in November 2020, and they are confident they can knock off Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. But first there will be a contested Democratic primary: San Antonio lawyer Xochil Peña Rodriguez is already running. She is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio.

For now, SD-19 is the only Texas Senate race expected to be competitive in the general election next year. Still, it has high stakes: If Democrats flip the seat, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick could lose the 19-member supermajority that is required to bring bills to the Senate floor without Democratic support.

That story was from Friday; Rep. Gutierrez subsequently did formally announce his candidacy. He’ll have to give up his State Rep seat to do this, but he will likely be the strongest candidate against Pete Flores. I feel like residual bad blood following the 2018 special election, in which later entrant Pete Gallego finished ahead of Gutierrez but then lost the runoff, was a part of why Dems failed to hold this seat. Having Presidential year turnout in a district that was basically 55-45 Dem in 2016 will certainly help, but having unity would be nice as well. Whoever wins the primary needs to have the support of everyone else going into November. No screwups this time, please.

October 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

Moving on to the Q3 FEC reports, we again have new candidates making their appearance. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April report is here, and the July report is here. For comparison, the October 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Royce West – Senate
Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Sean McCaffity – CD03
Tanner Do – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Jennie Lou Leeder – CD21
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Derrick Reed – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Rosey Ramos Abuabara – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Crystal Lee Fletcher – CD24
John Biggan – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Heidi Sloan – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Murray Holcomb – CD31
Dan Jangigian – CD31
Eric Hanke – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         2,058,080  1,211,904        0    893,657       
Sen   Bell            206,629     94,894   10,000    111,734
Sen   Edwards         557,430    219,645        0    337,785
Sen   West            347,546    172,926  202,162    376,782
Sen   T-Ramirez       459,442    233,953        0    225,489
Sen   Hernandez         7,551      7,295        0      3,891
Sen   Ocegueda          1,048        262      900        786
Sen   Cooper

07    Fletcher      1,789,359    391,448        0  1,439,978
32    Allred        1,705,723    355,711        0  1,453,457  

28    Cuellar       1,099,758    400,328        0  3,244,434
28    Cisneros        465,026    173,329        0    291,697

02    Cardnell        177,733    115,886        0     61,847
03    McCaffity       155,404      7,080        0    148,324
03    Do               16,947     15,725        0      1,221
06    Daniel          111,009     70,409        0     40,600
10    Siegel          355,691    207,532   20,000    161,650
10    Gandhi          527,967    209,989        0    317,978
10    Hutcheson       534,515    161,665    4,000    372,850
17    Kennedy          31,298     15,079   11,953     17,646
21    Leeder           15,697     14,509        0      1,188
21    Davis           940,581    336,645    8,863    603,936
22    Kulkarni        817,139    299,219        0    545,687
22    Moore           112,311    102,863   12,915      9,447
22    Reed            114,137     60,268        0     53,868
23    Ortiz Jones   1,652,739    303,861        0  1,440,396
23    Wahl              9,000      6,521    1,000      2,478
23    Abuabara
24    McDowell         57,515     52,519        0     18,316
24    Olson           567,394    241,708   20,000    325,685
24    Valenzuela      201,377     92,814        0    108,563
24    Fletcher        122,427     35,099      823     87,327
24    Biggan           45,893     35,999   13,834      9,894
25    Oliver          223,417     75,836    2,644    147,580
25    Sloan            56,043     23,125        0     32,918
26    Ianuzzi          67,828     35,539   47,604     32,288
31    Mann             95,449     58,685        0     38,200
31    Holcomb          66,610     57,770        0      8,840
31    Jangigian        23,265      2,248    1,500     21,016
31    Hanke            18,302      9,098        0      9,203
31    Imam             60,441      7,088        0     53,353

There’s a lot here – so much that it’s taken me this long to post, and so much that I thought about splitting this into two separate posts – but let’s start with the Senate candidates. MJ Hegar has been in the race the longest, and she has raised the most, matching her performance from the previous quarter. All the other candidates (save for the low-profile no-hope types, and hey isn’t it nice to finally see Sema Hernandez file a finance report?) entered during Q3 and their finance reports can be graded on a curve as a result. That said, time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, and John Cornyn keeps on raising piles of money, so everyone needs to kick it up a notch or two. It was nice that every candidate at the Texas Signal candidate forum was asked about their path to victory, but raising money is a key part of that, even if it is a tacky subject to bring up. We’re going to need to see a lot more in the January reports.

Incumbents Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred are doing what they need to do. Their potential Republican opponents are raising a bunch of money, but they’re staying ahead of them, which they need to keep doing. Jessica Cisneros has done well in her challenge to Henry Cuellar, who is made of money, and she is getting some national press for her efforts. I still don’t know how much either money or national attention will mean in this race, but I do know that if she does win, it will be a very big deal and will make a lot of Dem incumbents look over their shoulders.

There are a number of new names on this report. Hank Gilbert is not going to win in CD01 because it’s a 70%+ Trump district, but Hank is a mensch and Louie Gohmert is a death eater from a hell dimension, so the least I can do is note that Hank is taking on the thankless task of challenging Gohmert. We noted last time that Lorie Burch has ended her campaign in CD03, and now several others have stepped in. Sean McCaffity, who is off to a strong fundraising start, and Tanner Do have reports for this quarter, and they will have company next time. Chris Suprun, whom you may remember as one of the wannabe faithless electors from 2016, has entered the race. He had also run in the CD27 special election last year, and had a brush with the voter ID law before that. Plano attorney Lulu Seikaly is also in the race, and I apologize to her for making her follow that.

Elsewhere in new candidates, Heidi Sloan has entered the race in CD25. Julie Oliver, the nominee from 2018, is well ahead of her fundraising pace from that year, so we’ll see how that goes. There are now a bunch of candidates in CD31, though I can tell you now that that article from August is out of date. I’ll have more on that in a separate post. Among the newcomers here are Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, and Donna Imam. Jangigian may have the most interesting resume of any Congressional candidate in recent memory – he’s a onetime Olympic bobsledder, and acted in the legendary bad movie The Room. He was subsequently portrayed in the movie The Disaster Artist, the movie about the guy who made The Room, by Zac Efron. And now he’s running for Congress. What have you done with your life?

A more familiar candidate making her first appearance here is Wendy Davis, who took in nearly a million bucks for CD21. That’s one of several top target races where there’s a clear frontrunner, at least as far as fundraising goes, which is a change from 2018 when most of the hotter primaries had the money more widely dispersed. Gina Ortiz Jones did even better, topping $1.6 million already. Rosey Abubara, who I thought might give her a challenge, has not filed a report. Candace Valenzuela and Crystal Fletcher have raised a few bucks in CD24, but Kim Olson is well ahead of them both, while Sri Kulkarni is lapping the field in CD22. The exception is in CD10, where all three candidates are doing well, but 2018 nominee Mike Siegel is a step behind Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson.

Rounding up the rest, Elisa Cardnell stepped it up in CD02, but faces a steep challenge as Dan Crenshaw is one of the biggest fundraisers in Congress now. Stephen Daniel is doing all right in CD06. I know their totals don’t look like that much compared to some of these other folks, but remember how much time we spent in 2018 talking about how rare it was for any Democratic challenger to raise as much as $100K for an entire cycle? We’ve come a long way. And I’m still hoping for either Rick Kennedy to start doing more in CD17 or for someone else to jump in, even if that race is a big longshot. The Quorum Report made my heart flutter with a teaser about a poll testing former CD17 Rep. Chet Edwards against carpetbagger Pete Sessions. I don’t know if this is a real thing or just someone’s idea of a cool thought experiment, but I’d be all in on another run by Edwards. We’ll see if there’s anything to it.

UT/Trib: Impeachment inquiry more popular than not

Seems like a big deal.

Not quite half of Texas registered voters agree that “Congress is justified in conducting impeachment investigations into actions Donald Trump has taken while president,” according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Almost as many — 42% — disagree with that statement. Republican and Democratic voters are predictably partisan in their responses, while independent voters are more likely than not to say the investigations are merited: 46% agree, while 32% do not.

“The rank and file is still mostly solid behind the president,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project. “But among voters who identify themselves as conservatives first, there are some reservations.”

Texas registered voters are evenly divided — and strongly partisan — about whether Trump ought to be removed from office before the end of his term, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Although Trump hasn’t been impeached or tried, voters are drawing some conclusions. To the question, “Based on what you know, do you think that Donald Trump has taken actions while president that justify his removal from office before the end of his term?” 43% of registered Texas voters say yes and 44% say no. Again, the partisan splits are what you might expect — 79% of Democrats say early removal is justified, while 79% of Republicans say it’s not. Independents were divided, 34% yes, 33% no and 24% unsure.

Democrats in Congress are more likely to get good marks on the impeachment proceedings than Republican members, but both groups have more detractors than cheerleaders. While 25% of voters approve of the way Republicans are handling the investigations, 49% don’t. For Democrats, it was 40% approval and 45% disapproval. Trump’s numbers are in the same neighborhood: 39% approve of the way he has responded to the impeachment investigations, and 45% do not.

“The difficulties Republicans in Congress are having in dealing with this are evident here,” said James Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads UT’s Texas Politics Project. “Republican voters are split on Congress, and Republicans in Congress are trying to figure out how to defend the president without defending his conduct.”

This all tracks with the national numbers, though there a plurality already support impeachment and removal. Pollsters Jim Henson and Joshua Blank share their thoughts about the poll here. The poll also showed Trump with 47% approval and 48% disapproval, which are actually better numbers in that department than he’d had in September. The June UT/Trib poll doesn’t directly ask the approve/disapprove question, but the partisan breakdown on who will or won’t vote for Trump net year look a lot like the approve/disapprove numbers for the impeachment inquiry. All of this is just more evidence that Texas is in play next year. Trump is a drag on the Republicans, and while we’re a long way out from anything, it doesn’t look like that’s going to get any better for them.

The case of Justice Laura Higley

This is a sad situation, one with potentially fraught political implications.

Justice Laura Higley

An appeals court justice serving Southeast Texas continues to sit on the bench as she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, all while facing familial discord over the control of her $8 million estate, court records show.

Her sons launched an effort this month to become her legal guardians, alleging that Justice Laura Carter Higley, 72, is continuing with her daily routine in a manner contrary to the path of her failing cognitive health. That includes driving herself to work downtown and serving in her capacity on the First Court of Appeals based in Houston, said sons Garrett C. Higley and Robert Carter Higley.

“Due to the recent (and rapid) progression of her Alzheimer’s disease, Justice Higley’s mental state has deteriorated to the point that she is no longer able to care for her own physical health or manage her own financial affairs,” the Higley brothers said in the filing for guardianship.

Laura Carter Higley became the subject of the guardianship case in mid-October, just a week after receiving an official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, according to documents filed in Harris County Probate Court No. 2. Her wellness issues began more than a year earlier with a diagnosis of an unspecified mild neurocognitive disorder, the sons said in their attempt to pull decisions regarding Higley’s care away from her husband, West University Place Mayor Bob Higley.

[…]

The judge began experiencing mild neurocognitive issues as early as November 2017, according to her sons’ filing. The unspecified disorder progressed to a mild neurocognitive disorder stemming from possible Alzheimer’s disease in March, which again worsened to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease on Oct. 9, court records show.

The justice’s name is not listed next to any decisions made on appeals cases since her diagnosis earlier this month, according to the First Court of Appeals website. But she has been involved in hundreds of decisions on civil and criminal cases since March.

Higley is one of nine justices on the court, which serves Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller and Washington counties. The judges mostly hear appeals on cases decided in lower district and county courts in their jurisdiction.

Lillian Hardwick, a Texas attorney who wrote the “Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics,” said that judges may be fearful of leaving their bench too early while facing an illness. They might enjoy the work, be hesitant to cut off retirement benefits or may not know the scope of their problem.

On the other hand, a justice might feel they’re having issues remembering certain things at home, but “by golly, she can tell you the family law code backwards and forwards,” Hardwick said. Only in the event their disability impedes the ability to perform their duties would they be violating constitutional requirements.

“They should either be retired by somebody or they should be removed,” she said. “That judge is not able to be a judge, it’s pretty simple.”

The justice’s colleagues might be in the best position to notify the commission of a potential unfitness for office, said Jonathan Smaby, the executive director at the Texas Center for Legal Ethics.

The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to be competent and diligent, he said, although the justice might not be aware of their own lack of competence.

“It’s not always obvious to the person when they’re suffering from age-related decline,” Smaby said. “To say it’s an ethics violation makes it sound like it’s intentional.”

There’s a lot more in there about the dispute between Justice Higley’s husband and sons. I don’t want to get into that, but we have to consider the implications of Justice Higley’s health. That assumes there is an issue with her health – we have allegations but no confirmation, so we’re in the realm of speculation, which is an uncomfortable place to be. I hope she is well, and I hope that if that changes, or if any of her colleagues has reason to believe that it has changed, that they take appropriate action with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The people who have cases before the First Court of Appeals deserve judges who are all at the top of their game.

In the meantime, Justice Higley will be up for re-election in 2020. It is certainly possible that she will step down and allow Greg Abbott to appoint someone to her seat, so that person would run instead. Like I said, all speculation. I expect we’ll hear something more in the near future.

The Democratic Senate candidate forum

This was a good event.

Six of the Democrats hoping to defeat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year will square off in the first big candidate’s forum in Houston tonight in what promises to be one of the hottest political races in Texas.

Former Congressman Chris Bell, Houston City Council member Amanda Edward, combat veteran MJ Hegar, 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Sema Hernandez, civil rights activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and Texas State Sen. Royce West are all scheduled to attend the forum sponsored by The Texas Signal, a self-described progressive media company. A total of 11 Democrats have filed statements of candidacy with the U.S. Federal Elections Commission to run for the Senate in 2020.

The Signal, which organized the event, which I attended, has its own report. Basically, each candidate was on stage for 20 to 30 minutes, answering questions posed to them by moderators Kevin Nix and Royce Brooks. Questions ranged from issues (health care, gun violence, immigration, voting rights, etc) to impeachment (everyone was on board with the inquiry, and letting it come to completion before committing to further action) to their roadmap to victory.

As I said, I attended this event, and I thought it was a useful introduction to the candidates, especially for people who didn’t know them as anything more than a name. There’s video of each of the conversations with the candidates on the Texas Signal Facebook page, which I’ll link to here. Check them out, you’re going to have to decide on someone to take on Big John Cornyn in four months’ time.

MJ Hegar

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez

Amanda Edwards

Chris Bell

Royce West

Sema Hernandez

Warren’s interest in boosting Texas Dems

I heartily approve of this.

Elizabeth Warren

As Elizabeth Warren climbs the polls — threatening Joe Biden’s lead in the Democratic primary — her campaign is turning its attention to Texas, a state she called home for a decade and a place her campaign has deemed the “future of our party.”

Warren announced this week she’s soon to dispatch staff to Texas, and her campaign manager says her commitment to the state includes pouring money into down-ballot races here, part of a broader national strategy to help candidates in other races.

“We’re targeting our resources to invest in places that will be critical to keeping the House, taking back the U.S. Senate, and regaining ground in key state legislatures in 2020,” Roger Lau, Warren’s campaign manager, wrote in a strategy memo this week. And he vowed that the campaign is “continuing to build the future of our party by investing in states like Texas.”

The memo comes as Warren rises in the polls, surpassing Biden to take the front-runner spot in several, including a Quinnipiac University poll released this week that showed Warren with a lead of 2 percentage points over the former vice president.

It’s also the latest example of national Democrats paying serious attention to a state they long saw as a Republican stronghold beyond their reach. The party picked Houston to host a presidential debate earlier this month. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has opened an office with senior staff in Austin and has operatives working in the half-dozen GOP-held congressional districts they’re targeting for the 2020 election. And the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a Washington entity headed by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has said it plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in hopes of seizing the nine seats that Democrats need to take back the Texas House.

Warren’s campaign manager summed up the effort: “If we want to make big, structural change, we need to make sure Democrats control the U.S. House and Senate and win important gubernatorial and state legislative races across the country.”

That was from a couple of weeks ago; I forgot I had it in my drafts. We don’t know what the shape of this effort will be, but so far Team Warren is saying all the things I’d want a Democratic frontrunner to say. She has already endorsed in the CD28 primary, which is either bold or meddling, depending on one’s perspective. This is a different type and level of commitment, and it won’t be clear what it means till some time next year. I’ve said before that putting real resources in Texas is a must-have for me in a Presidential candidate. This is a good example of what I’m talking about. Well done.

Still more Bonnen business

I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be obsessing over the Bonnen implosion, but we’re not done yet. Today’s topic is What It All Means for 2020.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

“The quarterback and coach have been taken off the field,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Republican lobbyist. “It’s short notice, it’s a big leadership change, and they don’t have a lot of time. It’s problematic for Republicans.”

One of the more obvious questions is what happens to Texas Leads, the political action committee that Bonnen unveiled in July to help keep the majority — and touted in his conversation with Sullivan. Bonnen started the group with $3 million transferred from his own campaign, which saw a seven-figure flood of donations after he emerged late last year as the likely next speaker. Bonnen promised an “ongoing commitment” to the PAC, though its first campaign finance report is not due until January, so it is unclear how much more he raised since the PAC’s July launch.

In any case, the money now carries the stain of Bonnen’s scandal — “I don’t see how any of us could take any money from him,” recently remarked a member targeted in the Sullivan recording — and likely would only make a race more complicated. Still, Democrats are not taking any chances.

“I can give you 3 million reasons why Democrats are not gonna let their guard down going the 2020 election cycle,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who Bonnen referenced in the recording while talking about his rule against member-versus-member campaigning. “Speaker Bonnen’s announcement is by no way a message that Democrats can take the day off. We have a lot of work to do.”

[…]

In addition to the fate of Texas Leads, uncertainty abounds about Bonnen’s end-of-session threat of consequences for members who campaign against other members. Bonnen’s edict was already undermined by comments he made in the recording, but his decision to not seek reelection only further invalidated his self-appointed role as political disciplinarian.

“I don’t think that Speaker Bonnen — and we heard it on the tape — I don’t think he ever was sincere about that edict,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, which works to elect Democratic women at the state level who support abortion rights.

Brooks and other Democrats involved in House races said Tuesday it was full steam ahead regardless of Bonnen’s political standing throughout the rest of the cycle. For Annie’s List, that means following through on its plan to have female nominees in at least 20 of the 29 seats that it believes are in play.

See here for the previous update. Honestly, I think the main effect of the Bonnen affair will be to depress and disorganize Republicans by at least a little bit. The ten Republicans who were targeted by Bonnen have every reason to be pissed off, and in being pissed off pull back a bit from being a team player in favor of focusing on themselves. Is that a difference-maker at a state level, or in the most hotly contested districts? Probably not. But it won’t help them, and this year they need all the help they can get. On the other hand, it clarifies things greatly for Democrats, and puts focus on the goal of winning the House. I’d say there was already clarity and focus in abundance, but a little more can’t hurt. It’s not much but it’s better for us than for them, and that’s good enough.

Bye bye, Bonnen

Wow.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 — completing a stunning fall for the Angleton Republican who enjoyed near unanimous support in the House just months earlier.

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans — a majority of the House GOP Caucus — that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.” (Bonnen’s own brother, Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, was among those on the list.)

[…]

Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.

With Bonnen’s exit, members will be jockeying among one another to become the next speaker. That election officially won’t happen until the next time the Legislature convenes, which is scheduled to happen in January 2021. In the meantime, if Bonnen remains in place until then, he can carry out typical interim duties, which include assigning issues for committees to study ahead of the next legislative session.

The race to replace Bonnen is coming ahead of a competitive election cycle for Republicans, who, after losing a dozen House seats to Democrats in 2018, are gearing up to hold onto their majority in the lower chamber. If Democrats were to flip nine seats and hold onto the dozen they picked up, they could be the party in power in the House and, consequentially, elect a member from their caucus to lead the lower chamber.

It’s unclear what role — if any — Bonnen will play in 2020 in helping to hold onto the GOP seats. In July before Sullivan’s allegations surfaced, Bonnen announced he had infused a new political action committee with $3 million to support House Republicans running for reelection. Since the speaker became engulfed with the drama though, some members have privately wondered whether Bonnen would be a help or hindrance to their fundraising efforts heading into the election cycle.

Shocking, but in retrospect not at all surprising. The day had started with this story about Republicans abandoning the Bonnen ship:

Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.

Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it. Even Dan Flynn of Van, who just days before had reiterated his support for Bonnen, said he could no longer support the speaker.

See here for the previous update. Clearly, things snowballed from there. Bonnen likely could have won re-election – HD25 is indeed a strong R district, where Ted Cruz got nearly 70% – as there were no big name primary challengers yet, but he was certainly toast as Speaker, and I guess he didn’t want to deal with life as a regular member again. I’d have had a hard time with that too, given all that has come out. I supported Bonnen as Speaker this year – he was hardly ideal from my perspective, but he was smart and was effective as Speaker pro tem. Dems did all right under him. I’m still shocked that he was dumb enough to trip over his own dick like this. Rick Casey summarizes it well in describing Bonnen’s ill-fated meeting with MQS as “almost criminally stupid – both tactically and strategically.” I don’t know what happens from here – obviously, Dems winning enough seats to put one of them at the podium would be best, but someone from the wingnut faction could end up on top as well – but at this point it’s hard to be sorry about what happened. Dennis Bonnen brought this on himself. He deserves what he’s getting. Good riddance. A statement from the TDP (which has also moved to dismiss its lawsuit over the recordings) is here, and Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Texas Signal, the Observer, and the Current have more.

Jackson to challenge Ellis in Precinct 1

Here we go.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Former Harris County criminal court judge Maria T. Jackson will challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner, her campaign announced Monday.

Jackson, the county’s longest serving felony judge until her resignation last month, plans to hold a campaign kickoff on Tuesday. She said she was unavailable for comment Monday.

Jackson, a Democrat, served as presiding judge of the 339th State District Court in Harris County between 2008 and 2019. Previously, she was a Houston municipal court judge. She unsuccessfully ran for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2018.

Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and graduated from the Texas A&M School of Law. She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, was first elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, first was elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

On his most recent campaign finance report filing in July, Ellis listed a war chest of $3.8 million, more than any other elected official in Harris County. Jackson listed $13,812 cash on hand for her judge campaign account, which she can transfer to her campaign for commissioner.

University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the fundraising deficit is one of several significant challenges Jackson would have to overcome to have a chance of victory. Rottinghaus said Ellis is widely known to the public and popular among Democratic voters. He also said judges often struggle to transition to legislative or executive elected positions.

“Judges tend not to be visible, politically,” Rottinghaus said. “They aren’t used to talking about core political issues and using that to build coalitions.”

See here for the background, and here for my 2016 judicial Q&A with Jackson. Ellis formally announced his re-election campaign on the same day, not that there was any doubt about his intentions. I tend to agree with Prof. Rottinghaus on this, especially when the other candidate is as well known as Commissioner Ellis is. I support Ellis, I voted for him as a precinct chair in 2016, and I’m happy with what he’s done. Guess I need to add this race to my list for primary interviews.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Senate race will be the top statewide contest in 2020, but beyond that it’s the judicials and the one Railroad Commissioner slot on the ballot. Candidate Chrysta Castañeda has thrown her hat into the ring for that job.

Chrysta Castañeda

The 2020 race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission is beginning to seriously take shape as prominent Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda enters the Democratic primary to challenge Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton.

“The Railroad Commission’s number one job is to protect our natural resources and prevent the waste of oil and gas, but in its current configuration, it has abandoned that duty,” Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing her candidacy.

The Railroad Commission is usually one of the lower-profile statewide races on the ballot, but in election cycles like 2020, the candidates play an important role for their parties because they top the non-federal statewide ticket. The contest for Sitton’s seat, one of three on the commission, will appear on the ballot after the races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Castañeda has decades of oil and gas experience, first as a software engineer for companies and then as a lawyer for operators and others in the industry. In 2016, she won a $146 million verdict for the late Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in a high-profile drilling rights dispute.

Castañeda is centering her campaign on the issue of flaring, or the burning of natural gas that companies do not move to market. The practice, which emits harmful pollutants into the air, has become increasingly rampant; Oil and gas producers say it’s because of a shortage of pipelines, while environmentalists say it’s due to economics with natural gas being far cheaper than oil. They also blame the Railroad Commission, which has approved a historic number of flaring permits, and extensions to flaring permits.

In her announcement video, Castañeda says the state “might as well be burning cash” and charged Sitton with refusing to enforce laws to curtail the waste.

“Texans deserve someone who will enforce the law and work for all of us,” she said. “Let’s stop wasting energy.”

No one can say she doesn’t have experience, though I’m sure some folks will be more impressed by it than others. I learned from this story that there is another candidate already in, Kelly Stone, who is clearly from a more progressive background. That should make for an interesting primary, with at least some possibility that either or both candidates could raise some money for the purpose of running a real campaign in the primary. (It’s not just for Senate hopefuls!) The story also notes that 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about running again. You may say to yourself “I don’t remember seeing Cody Garrett on the November 2016 ballot”. That’s because he wasn’t – he lost to perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. I would not put it past Yarbrough to clutter up the 2020 ballot as well, but whether or not he does it’s important that we get a real campaign, with people being aware of their choices. Every race matters.

Our increasingly diverse swing districts

Current trends keep on trending.

New 2018 census data shows that some of the most competitive congressional districts in Texas are continuing to become more diverse, as campaigns gear up for what’s expected to be the state’s most competitive election cycle in nearly two decades.

The numbers, which come from the American Community Survey, a yearly query conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and released at the end of last month, bring into clearer view the trends that political experts say are fueling the rise in heated Texas races, especially in Harris County.

Margins of victory for Republicans tightened in 2016, and in 2018, Democrats won a western Harris congressional seat long held by the GOP.

[…]

Nearly every Houston-area swing district saw its white population go down since 2016, the data shows. Hispanic populations moved very slightly up or down depending on the district but stayed around 30 percent in most.

The 2018 snapshot suggests that election results last year indeed came along with long-anticipated shifts in the population.

One of the main drivers for the changes, state demographer Lloyd Potter said, is white, often affluent Harris County residents moving into suburban counties like Montgomery or Fort Bend, while others, including international immigrants often with lesser means, stay near work hubs in the cities. The county has also seen a large increase in international migration, he sad.

It has yet to be seen how those changes will translate to votes for either party in 2020. But if the same patterns continue, the Democrats have reason to believe the money and energy they are spending in Texas will pay off.

The Texas Democratic Party still has a lot of work to do in turning out supporters, but spokesman Abhi Rahman said the party sees big potential, especially in the untapped populations of newly registered and unregistered voters. At least 670,000 voters have registered in Texas for the first time since President Donald Trump took office, Rahman said.

“We estimate that those newly registered voters are 50 percent under the age of 35, and 38 percent under the age of 25,” Rahman said. “That is an incredibly young electorate coming up, it is a diverse electorate coming up, and it continues to signal the competitiveness of Texas and why change is coming to the state.”

The Democrats have set a number of goals heading into the 2020 election: increase turnout in communities of color to 53 percent, or by at least 400,000 voters who are registered but did not vote in 2018, and raise it to 45 percent, or by at least 225,000 votes, in urban and Democratic base counties.

The party also hopes to register suburban Texans from fast-growing cities with a goal of at least 130,000 new voters and to persuade 5 percent of rural voters for an increase of at least 100,000.

The voter registration stuff is straight from the TDP 2020 Plan. There’s a brief note later in the story about an uptick in CD10 of people with a college degree, which political scientist Rachel Bitecofer identifies as a key favorable factor for Democrats. I wish there had been a detailed breakdown of the numbers in the relevant districts, but the very high level macro view is what we get. Thankfully, Michael Li provided a useful graphic, so check that out. Good story, but I’ll always want to know more.

Fallon stands pat

Big John Cornyn can breathe a little easier.

Sen. Pat Fallon

State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, has decided against a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Fallon revealed the decision Thursday, about a month after he announced at a North Texas Tea Party meeting that he was exploring a run.

“Susan and I wanted to share that I will NOT be a candidate for US Senate in 2020,” Fallon said in a statement to friends first shared with The Texas Tribune. “This was a difficult decision as I was personally looking forward to reaching … thousands of fellow Texans and visiting with them, asking them what their thoughts, concerns and ideas are for our state and our country.”

Fallon cited concerns about being away from his family — he has two young sons — as well as the $6 million price tag that he estimated would be the “bare minimum to be competitive for the GOP nomination.”

[…]

Fallon’s decision leaves Cornyn with two lesser-known primary challengers: Dallas financial adviser Mark Yancey and Dwayne Stovall, who finished third in the 2014 primary. In the other primary, 10 Democrats have lined up to take on Cornyn.

See here for the background. Fallon is basically a lunk, but his assessment is both accurate and understandable. He probably got some feedback from the moneybag types that his candidacy would serve no purpose and had no real chance of succeeding, so maybe pick another race at another time. This makes the GOP Senate primary more boring, but not much more than that.

Secondhand Sessions

If at first you don’t succeed, find something easier to do.

Rep. Bill Flores

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions formally launched his campaign Thursday to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, opting against running again in his old Dallas-based district and pressing forward in Flores’ seat despite some local Republican unease.

“My goal is to work together to restore the Republican majority in the House and maintain our control of the Senate and White House,” Sessions said in a news release Thursday afternoon. “My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda.”

Later in the afternoon, Sessions held an announcement event at the McLennan County GOP headquarters in Waco, where he railed against Democrats who he said have gone “completely left,” and promised to be “vigorous” in his campaign.

Sessions lost reelection last year to Dallas Democrat Collin Allred, who defeated Sessions by 7 percentage points. Sessions spent months toying with a rematch in the 32nd District until emerging Tuesday as a likely contender for Flores’ seat, which is about 80 miles south of the 32nd Congressional District and in more safely Republican territory.

Sessions, who plans to move to the 17th District, was born in Waco and grew up there. He previously represented some of the counties that are now in the 17th District. One of those counties is Limestone County, and its GOP chair, Lance Phillips, introduced Sessions on Thursday, emphasizing his connections to the area.

“This is not foreign territory for him by any stretch of the imagination,” Phillips said.

The notion of a Sessions bid for Flores’ seat prompted a backlash from some local Republicans in the 17th District. Among those speaking out was Flores himself, who balked at Sessions moving toward a run without consulting the incumbent and who said the feedback from district GOP leaders was “not positive.”

“TX17 is blessed with a strong cadre of emerging leaders who live, work, raise families, and serve the communities in our district,” Flores told The Texas Tribune after Sessions’ announcement Thursday. “Some of these leaders would be world class Congressional candidates for whom I would be honored to vote and to have represent our neighbors and me in Congress.”

It’s pretty funny, and even after Sessions belatedly reached out to his former colleague, Flores was still like “yeah, whatever, try to beat the candidates that actually do live here then we’ll see”. Sessions has been putting out statements about how he’s all in on Trump, and while that’s much more likely to help him in CD17 than it would have in CD32, maybe even here that will wear a bit thin. Democrat Rick Kennedy is running again, and I’m hoping either he can raise more money this time around, or someone else who can raise more money decides to give it a try. This could be a way-under-the-radar opportunity if Pete Sessions gets on the ballot again. The Observer has more.

John B. Love III

Meet the ninth Democratic candidate in the Senate primary.

John Love

John B. Love III, a Midland city councilman, is the latest Democrat to jump into the crowded race to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, saying in his announcement that gridlock in Washington is “taking a toll on Texas families.”

“In August, a mass shooting came to Midland,” Love said in his announcement, citing the mass shooting in which a gunman killed seven people and injured two dozen more in Midland and Odessa. “Tomorrow it will come to someone else’s town. We can fix these tough problems if we work together.”

Love, a three-term councilman who serves as Midland’s mayor pro tem, is pitching himself as the small-town cure for the problems in D.C.

“I grew up in West Texas where neighbors talked to each other,” Love said in his announcement. “I’m a proud Democrat, but in a small city you have to talk to your Republican neighbors. We’ve gotten a lot done in Midland and I’m ready to bring the same approach to Washington.”

Love is one of nine Democrats who have so far filed paperwork to run in the primary, in which gun violence has already become a top issue.

[…]

Love said he’s a “proud gun owner who supports a ban on assault weapons.”

“I’m for comprehensive background checks and closing the gun show loophole,” Love said. “But more importantly, we need real action, real votes and leadership to reduce gun violence.”

I did not find a Senate campaign page for him, but this local news story about his announcement has an image that appears to be what he’ll be using. Love is the ninth candidate, and the fourth African-American in the field, along with Amanda Edwards, Royce West, and Michael Cooper. If he draws a non-trivial level of support, that could affect Edwards and West’s chances of making it to the runoff. At first glance, he looks like an interesting candidate, and in a cycle that doesn’t already have a bunch of interesting candidates, I bet he could make an impression. If he ends up in the conversation for a statewide race in 2022, I would not consider that a bad outcome. We’ll know soon enough how far behind he is in fundraising, and then we’ll get to see how much ground he can make up. The Midland Reporter-Telegram has more.

Barohich not running again in SBOE6

Another open seat.

Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education chairwoman Donna Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, announced Friday she will not seek reelection in 2020 as the District 6 representative.

“I have 8 years of service on the board,” Bahorich said. “I feel like I’ve given it quite a bit of work.”

In a statement, Bahorich said her tenure has been “exceptionally challenging and gratifying.” One of 10 Republicans on board, Bahorich was first elected in 2012. She has served as chairwoman since 2015, after being appointed to the role by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Prior to her election, Bahorich served as a district director for then-state Sen. Dan Patrick. Before that, she worked in telecommunications.

Bahorich wasn’t as bad as she could have been, all things considered, but this is a definite upgrade opportunity for 2020. SBOE6 shifted significantly Democratic from 2016 to 2018, after a modest but decent shift from 2012 to 2016. Beto got 51.5%, and Mike Collier took a plurailty with 49.5%. SBOE5 with Ken Mercer is actually a brighter opportunity, but this one is right behind it. Two Dems are already in – Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner – so it’s a matter of who the GOP puts forward.

Couple things to add here. I have no idea if Bahorich is stepping down for the reasons she states or if the Democratic movement in the district pushed her in that direction. The SBOE is an unpaid, low-glamour-but-high-friction post, and it’s not hard for me to believe that two terms is enough for any rational person. It’s also not hard for me to believe that Bahorich decided she had better things to do than sweat out an election she wouldn’t have much control over, given the partisan tides, the lack of funds in these races, and the futility of campaigning for this low-profile position with so many voters in it. This is the kind of race where overall GOTV efforts are key, and while the lack of straight ticket voting is a new challenge to overcome, SBOE races are fairly near the top of the ticket – after the three federal races (President, Senate, Congress) and the statewides, which this year is just Railroad Commissioner and the Supreme Court/CCA. It’s before all of those county and district court races, so there should be no fatigue factor. After the 2018 sweep, Bahorich is the only non-statewide elected Republican who will be on my ballot. Or at least she would have been, but whatever the case I’m hopeful about changing that. With any luck, that just got a little easier.

Gina Ortiz Jones is doing big fundraising numbers again

Nice.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the leading Democratic candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised over $1 million in the third quarter, her campaign announced Tuesday morning.

The figure represents a massive haul that her campaign described as the “largest off-year quarterly fundraising total the district has ever seen.”

“I’m honored by the groundswell of support we’ve received and together we’re building a grassroots campaign to stand up to the corporate special interests and bring commonsense priorities like quality, affordable health care and lower prescription drug costs to Washington, D.C.,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ campaign expects to report having about $1.4 million cash on hand — a hefty stockpile for a race that is at the top of national Democrats’ priority list this cycle in Texas.

[…]

The GOP primary for the seat is still forming, but national Republicans like Tony Gonzales, a retired Navy cryptologist from San Antonio. He entered the race a few days after Hurd’s announcement and raised over $100,000 in his first month, according to his campaign.

The candidates are not required to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

Ortiz Jones was a big fundraiser in 2018, but so was Will Hurd. This time around, she’ll be the one with the head start. Yes, this presumes she’ll win her contested primary. If that doesn’t happen, then whoever does will have some big shoes to fill. We’ll see how everyone else is doing later this month.

On a side note, this came into my mailbox:

Michele Leal, candidate for State Representative for House District 148, raised over $100,000 in the first 24 days of her candidacy.

“Michele’s strong fundraising is a result of her hard work and her strong relationships with people who care about the future of Houston and Texas,” said State Representative Christina Morales. “We need leaders like Michele in the State House – who will stand up for everyday Texans and advocate for our diverse communities.”

Leal – a former legislative staffer in the state House and Senate, and a proven community advocate and activist, announced her candidacy on September 3rd, to complete the term of her former employer, retired State Representative Jessica Farrar.

“We have the opportunity to bring real change to Austin, which is only possible when we stand together,” said Leal. “I am committed to earning the support of Houstonians across our entire district, and we will have the resources we need to share our vision for a better Texas.”

I haven’t received any other fundraising press releases from HD148 candidates, so I thought I’d run this one as a measure of what is possible. They, like the city candidates running in this November’s election, have 30 day reports due this week. I’m very interested to see who raised the kind of money to quickly and effectively get their name out there in this short period of time. So far, at least one person has.

PPP: Competitive Congressional districts are competitive

Some nice data points for you.

A handful of Republican-held House seats in the Texas suburbs represent fertile ground for competitive races in 2020, according to recent Democratic polling.

The surveys in six GOP districts, shared first with CQ Roll Call, are a sign that Democratic outside groups are willing to spend resources in the Lone Star State, where party leaders believe they can make gains next year. The polls were commissioned by House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of House Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to the chamber’s Democratic leadership.

Three of the districts surveyed have GOP incumbents running for reelection, including Reps. Michael McCaul in the 10th District, Chip Roy in the 21st and John Carter in the 31st. Polls were also conducted in three open-seat races in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th districts. Republicans won all six seats in 2018, all by margins of 5 points or less.

The surveys, conducted by Public Policy Polling, tested a generic Democrat against a generic Republican in each of the districts.

Respondents backed a generic Republican candidate over a Democratic one in four of the six races. In the 10th, 21st and 22nd districts, 49 percent supported a GOP candidate, compared to 46, 44 and 45 percent respectively for a Democrat. Fifty-one percent backed a Republican in the 31st District, compared to 44 percent for a Democrat.

A generic Democratic candidate garnered more support in two districts. Fifty-three percent backed a Democrat in the 23rd District, where GOP incumbent Will Hurd is retiring, to 41 percent for a Republican. In the 24th District, where GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring, 47 percent of respondents supported a Democrat while 46 supported a generic Republican.

The polls surveyed between 523 and 656 likely voters in each of the congressional districts and had margins of error between plus or minus 3.8 and 4.2 percentage points. They were conducted Sept. 19-21 via landline telephone interviews using IVR technology, also known as automated phone polling.

I get that not that many people will know who a particular member of Congress is, but I don’t understand why you’d do a “generic R versus generic D” matchup in CD21, where freshman Chip Roy is running for re-election and he will most likely face off against Wendy Davis, who is as well known as a potential candidate is going to be. In CD10 and CD31, I’d do “Rep. Mike McCaul vs generic Dem” and “Rep. John Carter vs generic Dem” for similar reasons, though perhaps there’s a chance that CD10 will be open next year, too. The “generic Dem” approach is most appropriate in CD31, where I have no idea yet if there’s a candidate who can raise the kind of money needed to make that a real race. I hope the Q3 finance reports give me some good news there.

In CD23, where Gina Ortiz Jones is raising gobs of money, I’d love to have seen a “generic R vs generic D” question followed by a “generic R vs Gina Ortiz Jones” question, just to see if there’s any difference. I’ve said that Will Hurd was an overperformer for the Republicans in CD23, but I don’t think he was twelve points above the baseline. As for the rest, it’s still very early and on both sides candidate quality is going to matter, but the fact that these races are almost certainly going to be very competitive is nothing new. I made this point multiple times in 2018, but the shift in the Congressional districts is a microcosm of the shift in the state, and we’ve seen what that polling looks like so far. Where the numbers go from here is the big question.

Julián Castro will not be running for Senate, either

In case you were wondering.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in 2020 even if he were to drop out of the presidential race.

“No, I’m not going go run for the Senate, that’s never what I intended to do,” Castro said in an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur in the penultimate event at the Paramount Theatre, preceding the closing keynote address by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

While Castro is guaranteed a spot on the next Democratic stage in Ohio in October, his chances of qualifying for the November debate are dicey. Castro is at 1.7% in the RealClearPolitics polling average. The raised threshold requires that a candidate earn 3% support in at least four early state or national polls that meet the Democratic National Committee’s methodological requirements — up from 2% for the September and October debates — or at least 5% in two early state polls. The early states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Tur noted that Castro had sent out a note to funders saying if he doesn’t qualify for the November debate, he would drop out of the race.

“If that happens would you consider running against John Cornyn?’ Tur asked Castro.

In explaining why he would not do that, Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said, “People ask me, `Why are you running for president?’ My experience is actually as an executive. I actually have some of the most relevant experience in running for president. When you’re a president, you’re a chief executive. I was a chef executive of a federal agency with a $48 billion budget. I’m running for what’s relevant to my experience.”

Castro as a Senate candidate has been discussed before, though not nearly as often as “why won’t Beto run for Senate again?” has been discussed. You know how I feel about that, so I’ll just say again that I have always assumed “Castro for Governor 2022” is the backup plan, assuming 1) Castro isn’t in someone’s cabinet, and 2) he actually wants to run for Governor. It is an executive position, he could get an awful lot done, and it would put him in good position to run for President again in 2028, following (God willing) two terms of one of his current opponents in the primary. Not that beating Greg Abbott would be easy, but that would be the time to try. The Current has more.

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

Rodney Ellis may have an opponent in 2020

Keep your eye on this:

Here’s a Chron story about Judge Jackson’s resignation, which does not mention the challenge-to-Rodney-Ellis possibility, since at this point that’s mostly informed gossip. It does mean, as the story notes, that Greg Abbott will get to appoint a replacement, which if past patterns hold will be a Republican that had been booted out by voters in either 2016 or 2018. Which in turn means there will be at least one judicial slot available in 2020 for a Democrat who doesn’t want to have to primary someone. I’m sure that will draw some interest.

As far as the rumored challenge to Commissioner Rodney Ellis goes, no one gets or deserves a free pass, and a real challenge is better for democracy than the usual no-name crank filing against an otherwise unbothered incumbent for the office. If we’re going to have an election, let’s have one between real, qualified, purposeful candidates. I supported Ellis in that weird precinct chair election in 2016, I’ll happily support him in 2020, and I fully expect he’ll cruise to an easy win in March, if indeed Jackson runs against him.

Jackson will have several obstacles to winning a primary against Ellis (if, again, that is what she intends to do). Ellis is popular, has a strong base, has been a prime mover of policies widely supported by Democrats while on Commissioners Court, especially while he’s been in the Dem majority post-2018, and has a lot of money in his campaign treasury. Jackson, by contrast, has $13,812 on hand, and will now have to raise money in large quantities in a short time frame. Her one contribution from this cycle came from the Texans for Fairness PAC, which supported a lot of local Dems in 2018, and whose co-founder is Amir Mireskandari, of that weird poker club situation that I haven’t said anything about in part because I have no idea what to make of it. It’s not hard to see how that could be a loud sideshow in a Jackson-Ellis primary battle, which again, as of this time isn’t a thing. But it could be, and so we ought to be aware of what might come with it. Stay tuned.

I’m not that worried about the Green Party effect in Texas

It’s not nothing, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Texas House Bill 2504, passed along party lines by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in May and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June, lowers the threshold that minor political parties — defined in the law as parties that nominate by convention, as opposed to by primary — must meet to have their candidates appear on the ballot.

Under the new law, a third party’s candidates can qualify to appear on the ballot if any one of them got 2 percent of the vote in a statewide race in the last five elections. Previously, a third party’s candidates earned a spot on the ballot if any one of them won 5 percent of the vote in any of the most recent statewide elections.

The law also requires minor parties to pay a filing fee to ensure their candidate actually appears on the ballot — or collect the required amount of signatures under existing Texas ballot access laws within a certain amount of time. (For 2020, under state statute, the number of signatures would be more than 83,000, the equivalent of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s race). Previously, filing fees had only been required for the two major political parties.

Republican supporters of HB 2504 say it bolsters the electoral system by both making it easier for smaller parties to have access to the ballot and by evening the playing field for such access.

But a far greater number of critics — including political scientists, Democratic Party and progressive strategists, as well as the two most prominent third parties in Texas — say the bill is designed to pull votes from Democratic candidates by making it easier for Green Party candidates, who are more likely to attract disaffected Democratic voters, to appear on the ballot.

The result could prove to make a defining difference in a handful of closely watched races in an increasingly purple Texas, including its U.S. Senate race where Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election, a number of state House races and possibly even the presidential race — although Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 0.8 percent of the vote in 2016 and only 0.3 percent in 2012.

“When you hear about Republicans trying to get Green Party candidates on the ballot, it really makes you wonder what’s going on. Because, obviously, they’re not aligned — today’s GOP is not engaged at all with issues dear to the Green Party,” said Paul Brace, a political science professor at Rice University, in Houston, who specializes in state politics. “And the reality is that allowing the Greens on the ballot helps Republicans, and so there’s good reason to be cynical about this.”

Most of what I would have to say in response to this I said in this piece, where I discussed HB2504. I’ll add two things to that here. One is that third party voters in a given race have, I believe, an assortment of reasons for doing what they did. One conclusion I drew from that is that downballot statewide candidates – both Republicans and Democrats – would probably benefit from more resources being invested in their races. Republicans have had a very strong brand in Texas this century, though there are signs it is weakening. Democrats have a chance to improve their brand, and if they do I believe they’ll be better positioned to retain voters who might have strayed to a Libertarian or Green candidate in previous elections.

The other thing is that the real issue with third party candidates – and independents, and to a much smaller degree write-ins, too – is that they enable a situation where someone can win with less than a majority of the vote. If someone can get to the magical fifty percent plus one, then who cares if the ballot also included Libertarians, Greens, Bull Mooses, or the Very Silly Party. When a candidate does win with just a plurality, as I said above it’s often hard to determine what the “other” voters were thinking, or what they might have done in a two-person race. I get the conventional wisdom that making it easier for Greens to qualify is likely to benefit Republicans, if it benefits anyone. I certainly believe that the Republicans believe that, and passed this bill for that reason. We are in a situation where control of the State House could come down to one race, and there are certainly going to be plenty of close ones this cycle. I don’t dismiss the possibility that we’ll all be cursing the fates and the Greens next November. But I’m also not going to over-value it, either. If we Dems do our jobs, we’ll maximize our returns. That’s the best way to think about it.

Another primary challenger to Cornyn

Good luck, but don’t expect much.

Big John Cornyn

A Dallas investor branding himself a “Reagan Republican” has launched a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, calling one of the top-ranking GOP senators a lackey of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump.

Mark Yancey, the former owner of the Dallas Wings WNBA team, said in his campaign announcement that he has “good reason” to believe Cornyn is vulnerable as he jumped into a Republican field that could soon swell to include three challengers.

Even if Yancey falls short, the primary fight could force Cornyn to spend some much-needed cash ahead of what is widely expected to be the toughest election battle of his three-term career in the Senate. Democratic El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke came within three percentage points of beating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 elections, and the Democrats are redoubling efforts in Texas in 2020.

Yancey in his announcement branded himself a moderate Republican — a new tack against Cornyn, who has previously fended off primary attacks from the right.

“Senator Cornyn has frequently disappointed Texans with his strong alignment with both Mitch McConnell and Trump,” Yancey said in the statement. “He has shown repeatedly that he is a follower and a compromiser on the wrong side of an issue rather than a leader.”

Well, that’s certainly a clear contrast with Cornyn, but I don’t know how many primary-voting Republicans there are that would sign on to that statement. Trump isn’t polling that well in Texas, but his numbers are very strong among self-identified Republicans. If there is a serious challenge to Cornyn in the GOP primary, it’s more likely to come from State Sen. Pat Fallon, accusing Cornyn of being a big ol’ RINO squish. As the story notes, the establishment strongly supports Cornyn, but attacking from the right is never a terrible idea in a GOP primary. I’m not too worried if I’m Big John, is what I’m saying. And as I’ve been saying on the Dem side, money spent in a primary is an investment, not a sunk cost. Cornyn will have no trouble raising it back. He will not be hurting for cash, no matter what. I wish Mark Yancey good luck, but I sure hope he knows what he’s getting into.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac to retire

Another open seat for the Republicans to defend.

Rep. Dwayne Bohac

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, announced Wednesday he is not seeking reelection.

Bohac won reelection last year by just 47 votes, and his retirement gives Democrats a ripe pickup opportunity as they push to flip the House in 2020.

“It is time for me to focus on my family, new callings in my life, and allow someone else the opportunity to have the honor to represent our community in the Texas Legislature,” Bohac said in a statement.

Bohac has served in the House since 2003.

Democrats are 10 seats removed from the House majority. That number is nine if they hold on to a vacant seat in a November special election as expected.

Two Democrats, Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein, have already launched bids for Bohac’s House District 138 in 2020. The Democrat who gave Bohac a close call in 2018, Adam Milasincic, decided in April not to run again and gave his support to Bacy, a Houston attorney.

As we know, after that razor-thin victory by Bohac in 2018, HD138 is at the tippy-top of the Democratic target list for 2020. Beto got 52.7% in HD138, with Mike Collier and Justin Nelson and Kim Olson also taking a majority there. There were only three other districts in which Beto got a higher percentage and the Republican incumbent held on. One could credibly say that Dwayne Bohac overperformed in 2018, which is how he managed to stay in office. Republicans won’t have that advantage this time around.

Bohac didn’t have much cash on hand, so he won’t have much to bestow to whoever runs in his stead. I feel pretty confident that there will be plenty of money spent on this race. Sorry, Harris County GOP. Your to-do list for 2020 just got longer. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Republican State Rep. Mike Lang also announced his retirement. Lang’s HD60 went 83% for Ted Cruz in 2018, so not exactly a pickup opportunity.

The MJ Hegar movie

Coming to Netflix.

MJ Hegar

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar stepped away from her last movie deal as it became, as she says, “too blockbuster-y.”

The decorated war veteran now has a deal with Netflix for the movie that has long been in the works, but very well could drop in the middle of her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year. It’s a potential boon for a candidate who’s built a career writing, speaking and now making movies about her story — of getting shot down and wounded in Afghanistan, suing the Pentagon and lobbying Congress to scrap restrictions on women in combat.

That story has also fueled her political campaigns. It was told in a three-minute video that went viral as she launched her last campaign, drawing national attention to her race against U.S. Rep. John Carter in a Republican stronghold north of Austin.

Cornyn has deemed her “Hollywood Hegar,” in part because of the praise she has drawn from celebrities like Kristen Bell and Patton Oswalt. But Hegar says she’s trying to accomplish something real with the exposure: She’s long pushed for equality in the Armed Forces and believes it’s important for stories like hers — of women in combat — to be told.

“What I’m trying to accomplish is change — culture change,” Hegar said. “And you do that through books and movies and TV in American culture.”

Hegar — one of nearly a dozen Democrats vying to take on Cornyn in 2020 — earned more than $150,000 over the last year and a half working toward that goal, according to recently filed personal finance disclosures. The disclosures, which Senate candidates are required to file and covers a period from the beginning of 2018 until mid-August, show earnings of $42,500 from the Netflix deal, more than $27,000 in book royalties and $99,000 from a slew of public speaking gigs across the country.

Most of that money was made while she was also running her surprisingly successful campaign against Carter, who she came within three percentage points of beating. Hegar — whose husband works at Dell and helps take care of their two kids in Round Rock — says it’s how she makes enough money to help her family get by as she makes her run at Cornyn.

“The political system the way it is now, you have to be independently wealthy, or have the kind of job like a lawyer, just to be able to run for office,” Hegar said. “So we end up with a lot of people in office who haven’t faced the challenges that our legislators are charged with finding solutions to.”

“I have an accidental opportunity to run for office,” Hegar said. “The dramatic nature of my story means that the place that I can make the biggest impact is, you know, in a public facing role. Even if that’s contrary to my personality type — I’m actually quite introverted.”

I’ve thought about this, and I’ve decided I basically agree with her assessment. She’s been afforded an opportunity, and it’s one I think most of us would take if we were in the same position. She does still have to help support her family while she’s running for office, and frankly this is a much less ethically tangled way of doing it than the various forms of consulting that many others engage in, mostly incumbents. Everyone agrees that our system of financing campaigns is terrible, but the point here is that just being able to run for office is something many regular people can’t afford to do. A larger share of such people than we’re used to seeing ran for office and got themselves elected in 2018, and some of them went through quite a bit of financial struggle to do so. I don’t have any easy answers for this, but it’s very much worth talking about and making visible. If Hegar’s situation can help a little with that, so much the better.

Will this movie ultimately work against her? It’s entirely possible. Cornyn will certainly use it – he already has been – but the other Dems in her primary are likely to take some shots as well. And even though many people would make the same decision she made to take Netflix’s offer, that doesn’t mean all of them will support her decision. It could go either way for her, and I’m sure she’s aware of that. I’m fine with it, and within reasonable bounds I’m fine with anyone criticizing it or not being fine with it. We’ll know soon enough if it made any difference.

UT-Tyler: Trump still looks weak in Texas

Two months later, there may be a story line to watch.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke remains competitive against President Donald Trump in a Texas head-to-head matchup, according to a poll released Thursday by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler.

The poll, conducted over three days following last week’s debate in Houston, shows O’Rourke polling better against Trump in a head-to-head matchup than every other Democratic contender except former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both led Trump by 2 percentage points in hypothetical matchups. Four other candidates tested against Trump lagged behind the president, though Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont trailed by less than the 2.8-percentage-point margin of error.

O’Rourke’s campaign boasted that the results vindicate his stance on gun control. He has caught flak from members of both parties since forcefully demanding mandatory buybacks of assault weapons in the Houston debate.

His gun confiscation proposal drew support from 49% of Texans in the UT-Tyler poll, while other plans drew broader support. Nearly 85% supported universal background checks for gun purchases. A “red flag” law that would let law enforcement take guns from someone deemed dangerous drew support from 65%.

Far more Texans — 59% — support an assault weapons sales ban that would let owners keep guns they already own. Gun rights advocates view confiscation as unconstitutional.

[…]

Trump continues to poll underwater in Texas, showing a 40% job approval rating among all respondents. Approval is much higher among Republicans and much lower among Democrats.

See here for the previous poll, from late July. The UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research press release is here and the poll data is here. Trump’s approval numbers were 40.3% approve, 54.5% disapprove in July, and 39.6% approve, 52.3% disapprove in September. The “will vote for” number he gets, in each matchup, is a close approximation of his approval number. A thing that I noticed that I want to point out, though it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about it, is how Trump does with Dems and with Republicans.


Candidates   Dem %  GOP %  Ind %  Tot %
=======================================
Biden        74.6%   8.0%  33.1%  39.6%
Trump         2.7%  81.5%  20.9%  38.0%
Neither/NS   22.6%  10.5%  46.0%  22.4%

Warren       69.2%   7.8%  28.1%  36.5%
Trump         3.0%  82.9%  25.9%  39.5%
Neither/NS   27.8%   9.3%  46.0%  24.0%

Harris       61.5%   6.5%  23.6%  31.8%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.5%  39.4%
Neither/NS   35.4%  11.5%  50.9%  28.9%

Sanders      72.0%   6.8%  32.5%  37.9%
Trump         2.6%  82.8%  26.4%  39.6%
Neither/NS   25.5%  10.4%  41.2%  22.5%

Buttigieg    57.0%   6.6%  25.1%  30.4%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.6%  39.3%
Neither/NS   39.8%  11.3%  49.3%  30.3%

Beto         79.2%   8.2%  35.4%  42.0%
Trump         3.5%  82.2%  26.5%  39.7%
Neither/NS   18.3%   9.6%  38.1%  18.3%

“Neither/NS” is the sum of the “Neither/Other” and “Not Sure” responses. Trump gets nearly identical levels of support among Dems and Republicans against each potential opponent. The range of support for him is a bit wider among indies, but indies are also the smallest sample so those numbers may just be more volatile as a result. All Dems get roughly the same amount of support among Republicans. There’s more variance among indies, but by far the biggest variable is the level of support among Dems for each candidate. Beto as native son does best, followed by the two previous Presidential candidates – and thus the best known among them – Biden and Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren a notch behind. Farther down are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. They had Julian Castro in the July sample but not this one.

You can compare to the July data, where Trump did a bit better among Republicans and Dems but worse among indies, giving him roughly the same overall numbers. This will be worth watching for trends if UT-Tyler keeps pumping these out every other month, but beyond that it’s only two data points. My main argument here is that Trump seems to have a ceiling, and it’s lower than that of the Dems. Dem voters who haven’t made up their minds or who have a preference than isn’t the named candidate in the given question have the option of giving a non-committal answer. They’re not defecting to Trump, they’re just keeping their powder dry. Fewer Republicans are similarly ambivalent about Trump, and quite a few more are actively against him. That leaves him less room to grow, at least among the easier to get voters. If all of this is for real, then when the Dems have a nominee, or at least a much smaller number of choices, I’d expect to see the Dem candidates’ support get consolidated. That’s what is worth watching.

Now again, there’s the apparent correlation between the approval number and the “would vote for” number, so if the former goes up the latter may as well. And as noted before, this sample seems unusually Democratic, which may be skewing things. The good news is that there is just a lot more polling activity here this cycle, so there will be many chances to see if this poll is in the mainstream or an outlier. For now, the basics of it look better for the Dems than for Trump.

As for the gun control questions, they’re interesting and worth considering, but even with the baby steps Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott have taken in that direction, I don’t think it means much. Lots of things poll well in Texas but have zero traction because literally no elected Republicans in the Lege or statewide agree with that position. There are some tiny cracks in the ice now because of the 2018 elections, but it’s going to take a lot more Republicans losing elections for it to truly matter.

Bell officially begins his Senate campaign

Yeah, I know, I also thought that this had already happened. Just a reminder that these things occur in stages.

Chris Bell

Democrat Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and gubernatorial nominee, is formally announcing his U.S. Senate campaign.

Bell, who has been campaigning since early summer, is set to rev up his bid Wednesday with a video in which he calls the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, a “water boy” for President Donald Trump and offers a sharpened pitch for why he is the best choice in the crowded primary.

“As the only candidate who’s been to Congress, I know how badly broken it is,” Bell says. “I’ve fought the same political insiders that keep John Cornyn in power, and I know how to take them down.”

[…]

Bell’s announcement comes toward the end of the third fundraising quarter, which should provide some new insight into the viability of the candidates, most of which began their campaigns over the past three months.

See here and here for the background. Bell was the first candidate to announce an intent to run after MJ Hegar’s entrance; in between then and now, Amanda Edwards and Royce West and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez have followed. The polling we have, which I don’t take too seriously at this time, does not indicate a clear frontrunner, which among other things means everyone needs to get their name recognition up. That in turn takes money, so I too will eagerly await the next round of finance reports. That may well tell us more than anything else we’ve seen so far. The Chron has more.