Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August, 2019:

We have a new SOS

Yippie.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After losing his last chief election officer over a botched review of the state’s voter rolls, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday appointed a new secretary of state: Ruth Ruggero Hughs.

Ruggero Hughs is moving from the Texas Workforce Commission, which she has chaired since August 2018. She joins the secretary of state’s office nearly three months after Democratic senators blocked the confirmation of her predecessor, David Whitley, who questioned the voter registration of thousands of naturalized citizens.

Whitley resigned on May 27, lacking enough votes in the Texas Senate to keep the job after he oversaw an effort to scour the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens. The review instead threatened the voting rights of tens of thousands of voters of color, landed the state in federal court and prompted a congressional inquiry into voting rights violations.

[…]

Ruggero Hughs is likely to face a challenge in repairing the secretary of state’s relationship with the hundreds of local officials it depends on to run elections. Some county officials have said they’re still waiting for an explanation from the secretary of state’s office on how they got the review so wrong.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Abbott took his sweet time naming a replacement, because he’s Greg Abbott and he does what he wants. Whether Ruggero Hughs winds up being a better SOS than David Whitley was isn’t a high bar to clear, but the real question is whether she’ll be Abbott’s flunky or an honest broker. We’ll have to wait and see, and keep a very close eye on her in the meantime. Because the Lege is not in session, she’ll get to serve until 2021, at which point she’ll need to have won over at least a couple of Dems if she wants to stay in that job. The Chron has more.

“Coordinated cyberattack” on several Texas cities

That doesn’t sound good.

Twenty-three Texas towns have been struck by a “coordinated” ransomware attack, according to the state’s Department of Information Resources.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software, often delivered via email, that locks up an organization’s systems until a ransom is paid or files are recovered by other means. In many cases, ransomware significantly damages computer hardware and linked machinery and leads to days or weeks with systems offline, which is why it can be so costly to cities.

According to a weekend update by the Texas DIR, the attacks started Friday morning and though the locations aren’t named, “the majority of these entities were smaller local governments.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a “Level 2 Escalated Response” on Friday following the incident, according to a statement from Governor’s Office deputy press secretary Nan Tolson. This response level, determined by the state’s Department of Emergency Management, is part of a four-step response protocol, and is one step below the highest level of alert, level 1 or “emergency.”

According to state emergency management planning guide, this means “the scope of the emergency has expanded beyond that which can be handled by local responders. Normal state and local government operations may be impaired.”

In addition to the state and local agencies assisting with the response, “Governor Abbott is also deploying cybersecurity experts to affected areas in order to assess damage and help bring local government entities back online,” Tolson said.

This NPR story has more details.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state cybersecurity experts are examining the ongoing breach, which began Friday morning and has affected mostly smaller local governments. Officials have not disclosed which specific places are affected.

Investigators have also not yet identified who or what is behind the attack that took the systems offline, but the Texas Department of Information Resources says the evidence so far points to “one single threat actor.”

Elliott Sprehe, a spokesman for the department, said he was “not aware” of any of the cities having paid the undisclosed ransom sought by hackers. He said the areas impacted are predominantly rural. The department initially put the number of cities attacked at 23.

Two cities so far have come forward to say their computer systems were affected. Officials in Borger in the Texas Panhandle, said the attack has affected city business and financial operations. Birth and death certificates are not available online, and the city can’t accept utility payments from any of its 13,25o residents. “Responders have not yet established a time-frame for when full, normal operations will be restored,” city officials said.

[…]

Experts say that while government agencies have increasingly been hit by cyberattacks, simultaneously targeting nearly two dozen cities represents a new kind of cyberassault.

“What’s unique about this attack and something we hadn’t seen before is how coordinated attack this attack is,” said threat intelligence analyst Allan Liska. “It does present a new front in the ransomware attack,” he said. “It absolutely is the largest coordinated attack we’ve seen.”

Liska’s research firm, Recorded Future, has found that ransomware attacks aimed at state and local government have been on the rise, finding at least 169 examples of hackers breaking into government computer systems since 2013. There have been more than 60 already this year, he said.

The city of Keene, near Fort Worth, was also hit, and their Mayor said the attack came via their IT provider, as these small towns outsource that task since they don’t have sufficient resources to do it themselves. This is a real problem that’s going to keep happening, and we really should put more money and effort into fighting against it at a state and national level. Good luck to all involved in cleaning up the mess. A more recent statement from the Texas DIR is here, and the Star-Telegram, the Chron, and the Trib have more.

Special election set for HD148

Straight from the source.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00PM on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

Early voting will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

That is the same as the special elections in HD28 and HD100. Already some candidates are circling around this, some of more interest to me than others.

Also on Monday, HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos announced she is exploring a run to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who announced her retirement last week. Santos, whose seat is not up for re-election until 2021, would not be required to vacate her position to run.

All due respect, but no. Not with all that is going on with the Board right now. I mean, I understand the desire to jump ship, but no.

One person says she’s in:

After 2018, several leaders asked if I planned to run again, my reply was- we have great seasoned leaders in my district. The Honorable @RepFarrar has served District 148 since 1994 and has earned the utmost respect for her decades of services, especially for women’s health issues & civil jurisprudence.
Like Jessica, I will also bring my legal background (19-year attorney) to this legislative office.
I ask for your support as I seek to uphold and bring continued progress to the community that I grew up with.
Vote Penny Morales-Shaw for 148.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

Shaw was a fine and hardworking candidate for Commissioners Court last year. She would be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

Also considering the race, in a post that is not public, is John Gorczynski, currently serving as the Chief of Staff to Rep. Sylvia Garcia; he was also her Chief of Staff while she was in the State Senate. He would also be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

I’m sure we’ll hear from others in short order, as September 4 is not far away. As with the specials that happened during the session, this will be a sprint, and it will also carry the need to run for the nomination in March. I feel pretty confident saying that the winner of the special will be the heavy favorite for the nomination (yes, I’m assuming a Dem will win), I’m just saying that this is a more-than-one-race deal. We’ll know soon enough.

HISD has a lawsuit against the TEA over that ethics investigation

I missed the first act of this story, but that’s okay because this is where it gets interesting.

Lawyers for Houston ISD’s school board are seeking to stop the Texas Education Agency from replacing the district’s elected trustees following a state investigation into alleged misconduct, arguing the agency conducted a “one-sided investigation” that reached conclusions “unsupported by any credible evidence.”

In an amended lawsuit filed Friday, lawyers for the nine-member board cite several ways in which agency leaders violated trustees’ rights and failed to fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing. The lawsuit comes two weeks after TEA investigators determined several trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, improperly influenced district contracts and overstepped their governance role — allegations denied by the HISD board’s lawyers.

The 49-page complaint argues that TEA officials were determined from the outset of the inquiry to oust HISD’s school board, failed to fully investigate allegations and incorrectly applied the law to their findings. In addition, the lawsuit alleges the agency is violating federal civil rights laws by only replacing school boards in districts where a majority of residents are people of color.

“TEA intends to punish the district by replacing Houston ISD’s elected board of trustees with an unelected board of managers — a sanction that is unavailable under the law and facts of this case,” David Campbell, a lawyer hired by HISD’s school board, wrote in the complaint.

[…]

TEA officials already had appointed a conservator to oversee the district due to chronically low performance at several campuses. Appointing a state board of managers is considered the next most serious sanction at the agency’s disposal. Morath has not issued a final decision, which likely will come in the next several weeks.

The HISD board’s lawsuit, however, seeks to negate virtually all of the TEA’s findings and stop Morath from replacing the board. Trustees originally filed the suit in June, seeking to preempt possible state sanctions resulting from any finding that board members violated the open meetings law. Friday’s amended petition expands trustees’ defense in response to specific allegations by TEA investigators.

Lawyers for the trustees argue that board members did not violate the Texas Open Meetings Act because they did not meet together as a group of five or talk about replacing Lathan.

“At the time of these discussions, no board members discussed any terms of employment, or any other matters regarding the potential appointment of Dr. Saavedra as interim superintendent,” Campbell wrote.

As noted, this lawsuit is about the results of the ethics investigation. That investigation began in January and expanded to include things beyond the original open meetings complaint. The lawsuit was filed in June, and if there was a story about that I missed it. I’m not going to comment on the merits of this lawsuit or its likelihood to succeed – in addition to Not Being A Lawyer, I haven’t had a chance to read the thing yet – but as noted even if this succeeds then the HISD Board is still not out of the woods because of the accountability ratings. Oh, and yesterday was the filing deadline, and none of the four trustees up for re-election had filed as of the weekend; I don’t know yet who’s in and who’s not, but will have an update on that by tomorrow. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

The Bonnen-MQS saga makes the Times

Gotta love it when our little intramural squabbles go national.

Found on the Twitters

In Texas, they are calling it the case of “The Speaker and the Creeper.”

The political imbroglio started last month, when Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative pit bull who routinely antagonizes establishment politicians, accused the Republican House speaker, Dennis Bonnen, of offering his organization coveted House media credentials if it would work to defeat 10 incumbent House members from Mr. Bonnen’s own party.

Mr. Bonnen denied it, and the bombshell was initially greeted with some skepticism. Why would one of the state’s top politicians court a back-room deal — to undermine his own bench — with a man Texas Monthly recently described as “one of the biggest snakes in Texas politics”?

Except there was a tape.

Now Mr. Sullivan’s accusations are at the heart of the biggest scandal to hit Texas in years, one that is throwing the state’s Republican-led House of Representatives into turmoil and threatening to bring down the speaker.

[…]

The big question many are trying to answer now in the Texas capital is why Mr. Bonnen would have approached a group about which he has been openly dismissive.

After Mr. Sullivan criticized the latest “amazing LOSER #Texlege session” on Twitter, Mr. Bonnen brushed it off. “They speak only for themselves,” he told reporters. “They aren’t worth responding to. The reality of it is, if we passed every pro-life bill filed in the history of the state they would say we have not done enough. You will never please or appease those folks and I’m sure as hell not going to waste my time trying.”

That was at the end of May. Then came the meeting in the speaker’s office, in June. Mr. Sullivan said he was expecting a “tongue-lashing” for not supporting what he called the “lackluster results” of the legislative session, but instead, according to his account, he was asked by the House speaker to refrain from further criticizing the just-ended legislative session, leave a select group of Republicans alone and target 10 others.

In exchange, Mr. Sullivan said, he was offered press credentials for Texas Scorecard, the media arm of Empower Texans — though the House speaker has since pointed out he would not have the authority to grant such credentials.

Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Mr. Bonnen may have been seeking to soften the “enmity” between Republican factions and head off “incoming fire” from Empower Texans and affiliated groups in the future. “What Sullivan did was lay a trap for him,” Professor Jillson said.

In a July 29 press statement before Mr. Sullivan revealed that he had taped the conversations, Mr. Bonnen said that he had “one simple reason for taking the meeting — I saw it as an opportunity to protect my Republican colleagues and prevent us from having to waste millions of dollars defending ourselves against Empower Texans’ destructive primary attacks, as we have had to do in the past several cycles.”

Mr. Bonnen has said he supported the Texas Rangers investigation and has called on Mr. Sullivan to release the statement “in its entirety.”

Texas is no stranger to scandal, and a few old hands around the Capitol still remember the granddaddy of them all — the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal of 1970-72, which centered on quid pro quo stock purchases that resulted in charges against more than two dozen current and former state officials and led to a wholesale turnover in state government.

The latest investigation, which is becoming known as “Bonnenghazi” or “Bonnghazi,” will determine whether the current speaker hangs on to power or is forced to the sideline, further casting Republicans in disarray in a race for a new leader and perhaps even giving an opening to Democrats in their perennial efforts to regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

The question of what exactly Bonnen was doing talking to MQS in the first place remains the big mystery to me. None of it makes sense, including the list of alleged targets. I’m happy to continue to stoke the flames on this, but I think we would all be well advised to maintain some skepticism until such time as the full tapes come to light. The odds that MQS has been bullshitting us all this whole time via selective editing or other trickery remain non-trivial. Bonnen deserves a heaping pile of criticism for his actions, but that doesn’t mean we should believe anything MQS says.

Interview with Tiffany Thomas

Tiffany Thomas

We move now to District F, a district that will have its fourth Council member since 2013 with the departure of controversial first-term member Steve Le. Six people are lined up to compete for this open seat, many of whom had entered the race when it was still a challenge against an incumbent. One of them is Tiffany Thomas, who served from 2013 to 2017 as a Trustee on the Alief ISD school board. She has been in non-profit development management for over fifteen years, working for a variety of agencies focused on education, healthcare, and direct services, and is now an assistant professor at Prairie View A&M. She is a founding member of New Giving Collective, the first Black giving circle in Houston with the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, my 2015 interview with then-challenger, now outgoing incumbent Steve Le is here, and my 2015 interview with then-incumbent CM Richard Nguyen, who is also running for this seat, is here.

We await HISD’s fate

I mean, I think we know what it’s going to be, but there are still some questions.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath came to and left the Greater Houston area Thursday without addressing one of the biggest issues on his agenda: the fate of Houston ISD’s school board.

In the coming weeks, Morath likely will be forced to decide whether to replace all trustees governing Texas’ largest school district or close one of HISD’s most historic campuses, the consequence of historic Wheatley High School failing to meet state academic standards for a seventh consecutive time. While Morath was in no mood to discuss the looming decision following the release of academic accountability ratings Thursday — he hurried out of an Aldine ISD school without answering questions or making a statement on HISD — a review of comments by the commissioner, his top deputies and state education leaders offers insight into the likely process.

Barring a successful appeal of Wheatley’s grade, which became public Thursday, Morath is widely expected to strip power from the nine HISD trustees and appoint a new board of managers comprised of Houston-area residents. The process likely would take multiple months to complete, with a replacement board seated sometime in early 2020.

“These are not going to be people that live in Austin,” Morath told the Houston Chronicle in the spring of 2018, when asked about the possibility of a state-appointed board taking control of HISD. “These are going to be well-qualified people that live in Houston that just didn’t want to run for school board before, but they wouldn’t mind being appointed.”

See here for the background, with the reminder that the Wheatley academic rating issue isn’t the only peril that the HISD Board faces. I was told by someone who teaches at Wheatley that their rating basically comes down to one student. The reason for this is that there are myriad sub-categories at each school that are also included in the accountability ratings, and not meeting standard in any one of them can cause the school to get an F even if the rest of their ratings were sufficient. It’s possible Wheatley could prevail in that appeal, and by all means they should pursue it, but as noted that would still not be the end of HISD’s troubles.

At this point it seems clear that the TEA will not close down Wheatley, which is the right call, so barring anything unexpected it’s all about how they go about replacing the Board. The Chron asks some good questions about how this may play out.

Intervention must be undertaken with respect and careful attention to community concerns. New board members must reflect the district’s diversity and its values. They must understand the communities they serve as well as grasp the importance of inclusion and best practices in their governance. The panel should include experienced educators, as well as candidates with financial expertise and civic involvement. There must be a clear plan for implementation, for measuring success — and a defined exit strategy.

Parents, educators, students and taxpayers, therefore, must step up to ask hard questions and demand that the state provide honest answers. How will members be chosen? What criteria will be used to ensure that state appointees prioritize the needs of HISD students? Will there be additional financial resources to help schools improve? Will a strong ethics policy be in place and enforced?

Above all, Morath and TEA must promise — and provide — transparency. Parents need to be confident that their children’s welfare is at the center of every decision, every discussion. Houston is done accepting any less.

As we know, and as both the story and the editorial state, the history of TEA intervention is mixed at best, so we better know going in what the goals are and what the path to achieving them is. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time.

City moves forward on Vision Zero

Good.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday adopted a plan that aims to end traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries in Houston by 2030.

The “Vision Zero Houston” plan is considered a significant step in the city’s mobility strategy and will change how officials design roads and sidewalks, according to a city news release. The plan, adopted as part of an executive order, will prioritize “engineering, education, enforcement, equity and evaluation,” the release said.

“Some will say this goal is unachievable,” Turner said in the release. “But I say, no loss of life is acceptable on our roadways, None, ZERO.”

Many cities that have adopted the plan reported steady declines in traffic deaths and injuries over the last few years, the release said. The mayor will establish an executive committee of leaders from city departments, surrounding counties, METRO and the Texas Department of Transportation to devise the strategy by this time next year.

See here and here for more on Vision Zero as it pertains to Houston, and here for further blogging. While Vision Zero has been adopted by San Antonio and Austin, but it’s been awhile since we’d heard much here. The Mayor’s press release is here, and if you want to do a deeper dive on what this means, see here, here, and here. This is a long-term process that’s going to involve things like lower speed limits, more and better sidewalks, and a bunch of other changes big and small that will be phased in, with new construction being done to the Vision Zero standard. You’ll be hearing plenty more as we go along.

Weekend link dump for August 18

The “Bin Laden” bill is finally going out of circulation.

“A multibillion-dollar business that embraces advanced technology and cherishes precision, Major League Baseball would prefer not to need an oozy substance harvested by one family in a secret location along the Delaware River. But for decades it has, and that won’t change anytime soon.”

Leaders of the “religious right” continue to be a bunch of fatuous, immoral troglodytes.

A Charlie Pierce article about the awfulness of NFL owners is a joy forever.

“As we’ve seen both before his election and since, Trump is a minority candidate, essentially a factional leader, who has incredibly durable support of between 35% and 45% of the population. He really, really needs the presence of spoiler candidates to pull the contest down into the mid-40s where it was in 2016. I’d never say never. But I think there’s a good argument that a significant third party/spoiler candidacy – or ideally more than one – are the necessary predicate of Trump’s reelection.”

“While the idea of breaking the United States into separate racial territories is, of course, ludicrous, it doesn’t come without an audience. And if anything, that audience is growing, with flames fanned by actors both foreign and domestic. American state fracture — breaking up the country, outright — has gained increasing credence among the far-right over the past few years. And with last weekend’s terrorist attack, the domestic push to dissolve the United States outright entered a new phase — one whose end remains unclear.”

My kids loved Legos when they were younger. They love watching Friends now. I am not going to tell them that a Friends-themed Lego set is a thing you can buy now.

“By now, Trump’s party in Congress, the members of his Cabinet, and even his White House entourage all tacitly agree that Trump’s occupancy of the office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and Eisenhower must be a bizarre cosmic joke, not to be taken seriously.”

Tumblr has been sold again, but there are no plans for the naughty pictures to come back.

“That weirdly reduced notion of blasphemy is, itself, a kind of blasphemy. It allows white evangelicals to chant white supremacist slogans at a rally for a white supremacist president and to imagine that’s all hunky dory just as long as they don’t cuss while doing so.”

“By its very definition, white privilege is the ability to film yourself conducting a “social experiment” with military-grade weapons at the same store where a mass shooting just happened, without being shot dead in your tracks.”

That bizarre story about the Harvard law professor and the women who allegedly sex-scammed him has gotten even more bizarre.

“A guide to driving in America from a hapless Brit.”

“Our galaxy’s black hole suddenly flashed a bright light — and scientists don’t know exactly why”.

“It’s not perplexing to me that Christians have a multitude of beliefs that don’t all come together as a uniform and internally logical system. But I do notice what is negotiable and what is not. With evangelicals, not much is supposed to be negotiable, but it turns out that the truth is almost the complete opposite. You can be the worst, most disrespectful person towards the actual tenets of the faith so long as you insult and belittle the people who don’t share the faith.”

“There have been hundreds of articles and broadcast stories since the attack in El Paso, reporting with depth and compassion about this moment. But the banner headlines and the segments at the top of newscasts reflect the value editors assign to aspects of a story. The front page still speaks volumes. The top story in a broadcast signals to the audience which topics matter most. And despite the fact that the attacker purposefully targeted Latinos, that is not what most outlets chose to emphasize.”

“If Trump were correct that China pays the entirety of his tariffs, as he has repeatedly claimed, why would the commerce secretary say the decision to delay tariffs was made to protect U.S. consumers for holiday shopping?”

“Trump has never been a reasonable man, but for two years, he has gotten worse. He literally cannot tell the truth from a lie, he often seems completely unable to comprehend even basic information, and he flies off the handle in ways that would make most of us take our children to a pediatrician for evaluation.”

Serena Williams versus drones. What more do you need?

The world is terrible, but there’s a new John Coltrane album, so at least we’ve got that going for us.

“NO-ONE COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS: unintended yet entirely foreseeable results of boneheaded trade policy.”

RIP, Richard Williams, animator best known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

RIP, Peter Fonda, actor best known for Easy Rider, son of Henry and brother of Jane.

Beto is still not running for Senate

Sorry, y’all.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke will return to the presidential campaign trail Thursday for the first time since the Aug. 3 massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in his hometown by a suspect who told police he was hunting “Mexicans” and who O’Rourke said drew “vile inspiration” from President Donald Trump.

According to O’Rourke’s campaign, he will relaunch with a morning speech in El Paso that will outline the path forward for a presidential campaign that began with great promise five months ago but is now mired at 2% in national polls.

O’Rourke has been importuned with increasing urgency, both publicly and privately, to consider swapping his struggling presidential campaign for a more promising and potentially more consequential second run for the U.S. Senate, challenging the reelection of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“He just needs to get home and take care of business,” former Houston Mayor Annise Parker told The New York Times in the aftermath of the El Paso tragedy. “We wouldn’t have five people running for Senate if Beto came back.”

An Emerson College poll conducted during the first three days of August found that more than half of Texas Democrats thought O’Rourke should run for Senate instead of president.

The poll found that most Democratic voters had not formed an opinion on the Senate race without O’Rourke, and that none of the candidates already in the race had gained much traction.

The filing deadline for the March primary is not until December, but Thursday’s announcement by O’Rourke would seem to effectively foreclose the possibility that he would enter a race now so crowded with lesser-known candidates that it appears destined for a May runoff — potentially hobbling chances of defeating the state’s senior senator.

See here for the background. Here’s the money quote:

As I always say, nothing is certain until after the filing deadline. Up until then, Beto could change his mind if he wanted to. I don’t think he will, and you know why I don’t think he will, but until December 15 it’s at least a theoretical possibility. My advice is to accept what he’s saying at face value, and move on. The Trib has more.

Rep. Dustin Burrows steps down as House GOP Caucus Chair

Noted for the record.

Rep. Dustin Burrows

State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock has resigned as chair of the Texas House GOP Caucus, according to two people familiar with the matter. Burrows’ departure comes amid allegations that he and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen planned to politically target members from their own party in the 2020 primaries — and it marks the largest fallout yet since the accusations surfaced.

Burrows has served in the House since 2015. His resignation is expected to be announced to House Republicans sometime Friday. State Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, who serves as vice chair of the caucus, will be elevated to chair.

Burrows has not yet publicly responded to the accusations made by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist who heads Empower Texans. Over the past few weeks, a number of House Republicans have privately expressed frustration that their caucus leader was largely remaining silent on the accusations made against him.

In a statement, Bonnen said that Burrows “was a strong leader for the caucus.” He added, “I respect his decision and I remain committed to strengthening our majority.”

Normally, this is super-deep Inside Baseball stuff, of interest to almost no one outside of the people who actually inhabit the Capitol. But these are not normal times, and Burrows is enmeshed in the current unpleasantness surrounding Speaker Dennis Bonnen and professional troglodyte Michael Quinn Sullivan. The fact that Burrows has maintained such strict radio silence is either a tribute to his loyalty to Bonnen or a measure of how deep the doo-doo is. Some day, perhaps we’ll find out which is the case.

On to the next big financial issue for the city

It’s always something.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Four years ago, the main source of Houston’s deteriorating financial health — billions of dollars in unfunded pension obligations — loomed over the race for mayor, promising a massive test for the winner.

Now, Mayor Sylvester Turner, having overhauled the city’s troubled pension systems, is running for re-election and touting the reforms as his signature policy accomplishment. He faces several challengers, including Bill King, the businessman he defeated four years ago, millionaire lawyer and self-funder Tony Buzbee, City Councilman Dwight Boykins who has clashed with the mayor over firefighter pay and former Councilwoman Sue Lovell, as well as a handful of lesser known candidates.

Whoever wins will be forced to confront another simmering financial problem: Houston’s $2.4 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care costs, the result of years of deferred contributions, an aging city workforce and, experts say, growing medical costs that outpace the city’s revenue.

The total has grown in recent years by an average of $160 million a year, or more than $400,000 a day. That is less than the $8.2 billion unfunded pension liability’s $1 million-per-day growth rate, but enough to require swift and sweeping changes, experts and local officials say.

“We’re in the earlier stages in this. It’s not a crisis by any means, but it would be better to address it now,” Controller Chris Brown said. “We don’t want to let this thing grow to another $8 billion unfunded liability. … Let’s pay a little now instead of paying a lot later.”

The unfunded liability refers to the city’s obligations in the coming decades for retired employees’ medical, life and prescription drug insurance, commonly called other post-employment benefits, or OPEB. Houston has covered its OPEB expenses through a pay-as-you-go system, akin to making a minimum credit card payment while the balance grows.

[…]

“We have also been in discussions with the employee groups working toward consensus, while keeping in mind the sacrifices employees have made to help us achieve the city’s historic pension reform,” Turner said.

The proposals align with recommendations from a separate firm, Philadelphia-based PFM, which said in its 10-year Houston financial plan the city should eliminate OPEB coverage altogether for retirees or dependents who have access to other coverage.

Other cities have taken a similar approach, limiting cuts for retirees and older employees who were promised certain benefits, while requiring bigger sacrifices from younger and future employees with more time to prepare.

The good news here is that the city doesn’t need to go through the Lege to fix this, and the basic plan for a fix is already in the works. Mayor Turner will be proposing his plan later in the year, and most likely that will put the city on a path towards containing this problem. There’s still a big piece of the puzzle missing, though.

Even after reigning in the city’s OPEB liability, Brown said, the city faces numerous looming financial problems, including annual deferred maintenance and, in the recent city budget, recurring spending that outstrips recurring revenue. In addition, Houston has been operating under a voter-imposed cap on property tax revenue since 2004 and has trimmed its tax rate to avoid collecting more money than allowed.

“This is another piece of the larger problem that’s looming for the city of Houston, which is the structurally imbalanced budget,” Brown said. “Essentially, we want to be paying for all of our current expenses in the fiscal year in full. And we don’t want to defer anything out, i.e. kick the can down the road.”

Yes, the revenue cap, which costs the city many millions of dollars for no good purpose. There’s a lot the city can do to control costs, but not everything is within its power. Some things just get more expensive over time, and if the city is not allowed to reap the benefit of economic growth, it cannot deal with those expenses. If we can get past this issue, and Mayor Turner gets re-elected, then maybe, just maybe, we can get a rev cap repeal measure on the 2020 ballot. There will never be a friendlier electorate to deal with t.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar departs

This was unexpected.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat who has served in the Texas House for over two decades, is retiring from the lower chamber at the end of September.

“I want to thank my constituents and the people of Texas for the high honor and privilege of representing them in the Texas Legislature these last 25 years,” Farrar said in a statement Friday. “My time in public service has provided me the opportunity to serve my state and community in ways for which I will forever be grateful.”

Farrar, an attorney first elected to the lower chamber in 1994, represents House District 148, which covers parts of northern and western Houston. The district has historically been a safe seat for Democrats.

In her statement, Farrar called her decision to retire a “very difficult and emotional decision” — and said her constituents “will always be deep in my heart.”

An early departure, Farrar said, would allow for her successor to take office and “hit the ground running” ahead of the 2021 legislative session. She called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for her seat on Nov. 5, the same day as Houston municipal elections, “to afford the most robust voter turnout at the least taxpayer expense.”

“I am encouraged in my decision to retire by enthusiasm and intelligence of emerging progressive leaders who will ensure that the momentum of positive change will continue forward,” she said. “While I will be stepping back from public office, be assured that I will continue being involved when the cause is good and just.”

Farrar served as vice chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence during this year’s legislative session. She also chaired the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. During the legislative session in 2011, Farrar served as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

You can see her announcement on Facebook here. She cites the recent deaths of her father and father-in-law, and the need for her and her husband to be able to care for their mothers as factors in her decision to step down. Once you reach that point, and you’re reasonably sure there are no special sessions in the air, you may as well go all the way and give your successor the chance to get a head start and a boost in seniority. I’m going to presume that like HD28, we’ll get a November special with an early September filing deadline. Figure we’ll see the announcement from Greg Abbott on Monday or Tuesday.

I’m still kind of shocked by this, and more than a little sad. Jessica Farrar is one of the good ones, and she was my Rep from the time I moved into the Heights in 1997 until they redistricted me out of HD148 in 2011. She’s a friend, she did a lot to move Texas forward in her 25 years of service, and I wish her and Marco and the dogs all the best.

Once again with GOP anxiety

I recommend Xanax. Or, you know, marijuana. I’ve heard that’s good for anxiety.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.

“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.

For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.

[…]

According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9 million Texans showed up to the polls in 2016, when Trump won the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton – a notably smaller margin than in 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 16 percentage points.

And in 2018, turnout was nearly at presidential-cycle levels at 8 million, compared with 4.6 million in 2014, the previous midterm election year.

Cruz said those figures should alarm Republicans nationally about potential Democratic turnout in 2020 – and make donors and party leaders recommit to investing in statewide and congressional races in Texas rather than assuming that Trump’s political brand and a few rallies will be enough.

The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.

U.S. Census data shows Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote – 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”

“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple – not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”

This is a national story, reprinted in the Chron, so it doesn’t have much we haven’t seen before. I’d say that the historic strength of Republicans here has been in the suburbs and exurbs – the fast-growing parts of the state – which is similar to GOP strength elsewhere. It’s also where they suffered the greatest erosion of that strength in 2018, and if that continues in 2020 they really do have to worry about losing statewide. Honestly, loath as I am to say it, Ted Cruz has a pretty good handle on the dynamic. Not that he’ll be able to do anything about it, being Ted Cruz and all, but he does understand the predicament he and his fellow travelers are in.

A call to embrace scooters

Chron business writer Chris Tomlinson is a fan of scooters.

Photo: Josie Norris /San Antonio Express-News

After years of riding bicycles in traffic, I’m comfortable riding a scooter on the street where they belong. I find them a convenient and environmentally-friendly alternative to automobile congestion. But I’m in a distinct minority, according to new polling by Zpryme, an Austin-based research and events firm.

About 72 percent of Americans do not want electric scooters in their neighborhoods, according to the survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers. More than half of Americans believe that electric scooters are unsafe.

Only 5 percent of those polled have ever ridden one.

[…]

The scooters’ average top speed is 20 miles per hour, and the range is about 20 miles. An electric scooter performs about as well as the average bicycle commuter, but without sweating.

Zpryme’s survey of scooter users found most trips were less than a mile and cost less than $10 nationwide. But a substantial number said they routinely use scooters to travel up to 5 miles.

About 70 percent said they ride scooters for fun, according to the poll, and in San Antonio tourists use them for sightseeing. More than half said they use scooters because they are faster than walking, and a third use them for a daily commute to work. Last year, scooter users made 38.5 million trips in just a few dozen cities.

Because they are electric and consume little energy, the environmental benefits of scooters are substantial. A person on a scooter also takes up much less space on the road, which helps relieve congestion.

As long as they are banned from sidewalks and there is a plan in place to ensure that abandoned scooters do not hinder the mobility of others, especially disabled folks, then I can sign onto this. I still have my doubts about the scooter sharing industry as a business model, and I’m still not convinced that they’re safer on the roads for the rider than bikes are, but I do agree that they can play a role in various urban areas to reduce car trips. And they are coming to Houston whether we like it or not, so let’s try to make the best of it.

HISD misses on accountability ratings

There’s now a second reason for the TEA to step in and take over HISD.

Houston ISD moved a major step closer to temporarily losing local control over its school board Thursday, as long-awaited state academic accountability ratings showed one of the district’s longest-struggling campuses received its seventh consecutive failing grade, triggering a Texas law requiring harsh sanctions.

Barring a successful HISD appeal of Wheatley High School’s rating in the next several weeks, state law mandates that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath now must close the historic Fifth Ward campus or replace the district’s much-maligned school board with a state-appointed governance team. Morath and the agency’s leaders have strongly suggested they would appoint a new school board if forced to act.

The state law demands action against any district with a campus receiving five consecutive failing grades as of 2018, regardless of the district’s size. Wheatley avoided triggering sanctions last year because it received an accountability waiver due to Hurricane Harvey, but the campus narrowly fell short of meeting standards this year.

HISD received a “B” grade for districtwide performance, on par with many of the state’s largest urban districts. Its overall score of 88 marked a 4-point improvement over last year.

Twenty-one HISD schools received an “F” grade, equal to 7.5 percent of all district campuses. An identical number of HISD schools did not meet state academic standards last year, though most received a Harvey waiver.

Notably, several HISD high schools met standard after struggling in recent years. Kashmere High School received a “C” grade, the first time it has met standard in 11 years. Madison, Sterling and Washington high schools also earned “C” grades, while North Forest and Yates high schools narrowly missed a “C” rating and scored “D”s.

See here, here, and here for the background.As with the ethics investigation, in which the HISD board has a chance to respond, there’s an appeal process available for Wheatley. It should be noted, they came pretty close to making the grade, and the other three all did quite well. Which is not to say that all is wine and roses, as other schools got failing grades, and we could wind up in a similar place in a couple of years. Plus, as the Trib noted, other school districts in the same situation as HISD took advantage of the partnership provision of HB1842 to put the day of reckoning off for two more years. As we well know, that option was rejected by HISD in response to public pressure, without ever being fully explored. I thought that was a bad decision at the time, and I feel very justified in feeling that way today.

At this point, the only viable way forward that I see for anyone who wants to fight this is to explore legal action. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has been very clear in past public statements that the law does not give him any discretion in this matter. Either the failing schools (just Wheatley in this case) are closed, or a new Board of Trustees is appointed. A lawsuit could challenge that interpretation, and who knows, maybe it could succeed. I doubt it, but it’s got to be better odds than trying to put pressure on state leadership to find an alternative.

HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard wrote this op-ed about how we got here, detailing several points of failure by the Board. Perhaps if all nine Board members offered to resign on the spot, thus allowing an election of a new Board, that might satisfy the TEA. It would have to happen right now, because the filing deadline in Sunday, and we’d need to get a bunch of candidates up and running by then. This too is probably a pipe dream, but I don’t know what else there is to suggest at this time.

UPDATE: From this morning’s version of the story:

During an appearance with Morath on Thursday, state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, said HISD officials did not take advantage of funding opportunities and legislative maneuvers that could have staved off intervention. He cited the school board’s refusal to surrender control of long-struggling campuses to outside entities, an arrangement that could have temporarily prevented sanctions and brought an additional $1,800 per student to those campuses.

“We’ve given them every opportunity to be successful, and they continue to choose not to,” said Huberty, who chairs the Texas House’s Public Education Committee.

I hate to keep harping on the partnership thing, but as you can see it’s going to be used against the Board. And I hadn’t even known about the extra funds for students that was available.

Tzintzún Ramirez gets off to a quick start

Impressive.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez raked in more than $200,000 in the 24 hours after she announced her run for Senate, her campaign said today — giving her a quick start as she tries to catch up to the several other Democratic contenders who have a head start on fundraising.

The Austin-based advocate for the rights of workers and immigrants said in a video posted on Twitter that her campaign “blew through” the $100,000 fundraising goal it set on its first day.

“That’s going to help fuel our campaign to speak to voters across this great state and transform our government to actually represent our interests and our needs,” she said.

See here for the background. It’s a great start, and shows a lot of potential for her and her candidacy. MJ Hegar raised a million dollars in about half of Q2, while Royce West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. At some point, everyone is going to have to find a higher gear, because John Cornyn has a lot of money, and it’s super expensive campaigning in Texas. But this is a very promising start.

Special election set in HD28

Looks like I was a bit confused about this.

Rep. John Zerwas

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday set a Nov. 5 special election to fill the Texas House seat being vacated by state Rep. John Zerwas, who last month announced he would retire from the lower chamber.

Candidates have until Sept. 4 to file for the seat, and early voting begins Oct. 21, Abbott’s office said in a news release.

Zerwas, R-Richmond, was first elected in 2006 and chaired the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee during the last two legislative sessions. He said he would step down Sept. 30 from his seat, which covers parts of Fort Bend County from Simonton to Mission Bend and Katy to Rosenberg.

[…]

Last week, former Fulshear city councilwoman Tricia Krenek announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination in Zerwas’ district, House District 28. Democrat Eliz Markowitz, a former candidate for the State Board of Education, is also running.

See here and here for the background. I had assumed that since Zerwas was not officially resigning until September 30 that no special election could or would be scheduled till after he was out. Maybe I’m just scarred by the Sylvia Garcia situation. Anyway, this will still be an interesting test of the trends that began last year, though probably more muted since it will be just another election in November rather than a headliner in May. I expect other candidates to get in, though probably no one serious unless they also plan to run for their party’s nomination in March, since that’s the more important of the two. In the meantime, if you live in this district, keep your eyes open for an opportunity to help out Eliz Markowitz.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: HISD and HCC

One last look at July finance reports. I’m lumping together reports for HISD and HCC, in part because there’s some crossover, and in part because there’s not all that much to these. As always, refer to the Erik Manning candidate spreadsheet, and note that for a variety of reasons people may not have had a report to file for this period. January reports for all HCC incumbents are here and for all HISD incumbents are here. I only checked on those whose terms are up this year for this post.

Yes, despite the recent unpleasantness (which as of today may be compounded), there will be elections for HISD Trustee. HISD incumbent reports can be found via their individual Trustee pages, while reports for candidates who are not incumbents are found on a separate Elections page for the year in question, which for 2019 is here. Annoying, but it is what it is. Reports for HCC incumbents and candidates can be found here, though this includes a number of people who are not running for anything but have had reports in the past. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it, but at least they’re online now. Here are the reports of interest:

Rodrick Davison – HISD II

Sergio Lira – HISD III

Jolanda Jones – HISD IV
Matt Barnes – HISD IV
Ashley Butler (CTA) – HISD IV

Diana Davila – HISD VIII
Judith Cruz – HISD VIII

Dave Wilson – HCC 1

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – HCC 2

Neeta Sane – HCC 7


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Davison            0          0        0           0
Lira               0          0        0       6,007
Jones              0          0        0      12,260
Barnes        18,246      2,586    2,491      15,310
Davila             0          0   19,178           0
Cruz          14,717      3,340        0      10,043

Wilson             0          0   12,782           0
S-Jones        9,300      4,310        0       5,281
Sane               0      4,766        0       6,553

As before, not a whole lot of activity, so let’s talk again about who’s running for what. So far, Rodrick Davison is the only candidate for the now-open HISD II position. Amazingly, Rhoda Skillern-Jones was first elected in 2011 when the seat was vacated by Carol Mims Galloway, and she was unopposed in that race. I did not find a website or campaign Facebook page for Davison (his personal Facebook page is here), but a Google search for him found this, which, um. Matt Barnes, Ashley Butler, and perennial candidate Larry McKinzie are running in HISD IV, which is now also an open seat. Still no word about what Diana Davila will do, but the filing deadline is Sunday, so we’ll know soon.

As we know, Monica Flores Richart is the candidate tasked with ending the execrable Dave Wilson’s career on the HCC Board. Brendon Singh is also running in HCC 2. Cynthia Gary, who has been a Fort Bend ISD trustee and past candidate for Sugar Land City Council, is the only candidate so far seeking to win the seat being vacated by Neeta Sane. We’ll check back on this after the filing deadline, which is August 16 and thus rapidly closing in. If you know of any further news relating to these races, please leave a comment.

Metro referendum is set

Here we go.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members voted Tuesday to ask voters in November for permission to borrow up to $3.5 billion, without raising taxes. The money would cover the first phase of what local leaders expect to be the start of shifting Houston from a car-focused city to a multimodal metro region — even if it does not put everyone on a bus or train.

“Even if you ride in your car, it is more convenient if there are less cars on the road,” Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

The item will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, the first vote for new transit projects in 16 years for the Houston region.

The bond proposition would authorize Metro to move forward on a $7.5 billion suite of projects including extending the region’s three light rail lines, expanding the use of bus rapid transit — large buses operating mostly in dedicated lanes — along key corridors such as Interstate 10 and to Bush Intercontinental Airport, and creating two-way high-occupancy vehicle or high-occupancy toll lanes along most Houston’s freeways.

“It doesn’t do everything we would like to do, but it does everything we can afford to do,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said.

In addition, the ballot item calls for extending the general mobility program, which hands over one-quarter of the money Metro collects from its 1 percent sales tax to local governments that participate in the transit agency. The 15 cities and Harris County use the money mostly for street improvements, but they can use it for other projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes and, in limited cases, landscaping and traffic safety and enforcement.

Local elected officials and business leaders will soon stump for the plan, which has not drawn sizable or organized opposition but is likely to require some persuasion.

[…]

Transit officials would also need to secure an estimated $3.5 billion in federal money, most likely via the Federal Transit Administration, which doles out money for major transit projects. Federal officials contributed $900 million of the $2.2 billion cost of the 2011-2017 expansion of light rail service.

The federal approval will largely dictate when many of the rail and bus rapid transit lines are built as well as where the projects run, Patman said. Though officials have preferred routes for certain projects — such as light rail to Hobby Airport or bus rapid transit along Gessner — those projects and others could change as the plans are studied further.

“Routes will only be determined after discussions with the community,” Patman said. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about a route being forced upon them.”

Metro would have some latitude to prod some projects along faster than others, based on other regional road and highway projects. Speedier bus service between the Northwest Transit Center at I-10 and Loop 610, for example, could happen sooner if a planned widening of Interstate 10 within Loop 610 remains a priority for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which has added the project to its five-year plan. Work on widening the freeway is scheduled for 2021, giving Metro officials a chance to make it one of the first major projects.

I must admit, I’d missed that HOV lane for I-10 inside the Loop story. I wish there were more details about how exactly this might be accomplished, but as someone who regularly suffers the torment of driving I-10 inside the Loop, I’m intrigued. This would effectively be the transit link from the Northwest Transit Center, which by the way is also the location of the Texas Central Houston terminal and downtown. This is something that has been bandied about since 2015, though it was originally discussed as a rail line, not BRT. (I had fantasies about the proposed-but-now-tabled Green Line extension down Washington Avenue as a means to achieve this as well.) Such is life. Anyway, this is something I definitely need to know more about.

You can see the full plan as it has now been finalized here. Other BRT components include a north-south connection from Tidwell and 59 down to UH, which then turns west and essentially becomes the Universities Line, all the way out to Richmond and Beltway 8, with a dip down to Gulfton along the way, and a north-south connection from 290 and West Little York down Gessner to Beltway 8. The Main Street light rail line would extend north to the Shepherd park and ride at I-45, and potentially south along the US90 corridor into Fort Bend, all the way to Sugar Land. Go look at the map and see for yourself – there are HOV and park and ride enhancements as well – it’s fairly well laid out.

I feel like this referendum starts out as a favorite to pass. It’s got something for most everyone, there’s no organized opposition at this time, and Metro has not been in the news for bad reasons any time recently. I expect there to be some noise about the referendum in the Mayor’s race, because Bill King hates Metro and Tony Buzbee is an idiot, but we’re past the days of John Culberson throwing his weight around, and for that we can all be grateful. I plan to reach out to Metro Chair Carrin Patman to interview her about this, so look for that later on. What do you think?

CD23 update

The Rivard Report takes a look at the state of play in CD23 following Rep. Will Hurd’s surprise retirement.

Gina Ortiz Jones

In the wake of Hurd’s announcement, former U.S. Navy officer Tony Gonzales, a Republican, has entered the race. Gonzales was not 24 hours into his campaign for the 35th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), when he got the news Hurd would be leaving office. That’s when a flurry of phone calls and texts came in urging him to declare his candidacy for the 23rd district.

“No one saw Congressman Hurd retiring,” Gonzales said. “It was kind of a shock to a lot of folks.”

Unlike statehouse seats and other elected positions that require candidates to establish residency within the district one seeks to represent, running for the U.S. Congress only requires residency in the state in which one is running for office.

Gonzales has joined a field in the Republican primary that includes retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raul Reyes Jr., who owns a home construction business in Del Rio, and Uvalde dentist Alma Arredondo-Lynch, who challenged Hurd in the 2018 primary. That list could potentially grow in light of Hurd’s exit from the race.

Reyes has a five-month head start on Gonzales and has raised more than $15,000 in campaign contributions. He had more than $9,000 cash on hand as of the last quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission. Arredondo-Lynch did not report any campaign contributions last quarter.

But Gonzales has garnered significant endorsements in his incipient campaign. On the day the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran announced his run, he picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, who represented the 23rd district for 14 years. Days later, another former Republican representative of the 23rd district, Quico Canseco, endorsed Gonzales’ bid.

[…]

Altogether, the news of Hurd’s impending exit was both a surprise and not a surprise, [Gina Ortiz] Jones said.

“We came within 926 votes of taking out the most formidable Republican, raised $6 million to do it,” she said. “We’re going to work just as hard. So I think he saw the writing on the wall.”

But the decision to run again was not taken lightly, Jones said. The U.S. Air Force veteran who served as an intelligence officer during her service was so close in the last election that she held off conceding for two weeks until all outstanding ballots were counted. The John Jay High School alumna even attended orientation for freshmen members of Congress.

“You don’t go through that and say, ‘Let’s do that all over again,’” she said. “You assess and say, ‘What did I learn?’ For me, it’s always been about how best can I serve. When I made the decision, it was always based on the fact that my community’s needs were still not being met.”

In the Democratic primary, Jones will face former broadcast journalist Liz Wahl and activist and surgical practice administrator Rosey Abuabara.

Abuabara, 54, a Latina who was born and raised in West San Antonio, said she believes she can better represent a district that is 70 percent Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

“I wanted to come up and represent because we are the largest population,” she said. “I feel like I could do more.”

Just a guess here, but Tony Gonzales sure sounds like the establishment candidate for CD23. The amount that Raul Reyes has raised so far is not at all an obstacle, and you can be sure there will be big Republican money coming in. I’ll be a little surprised if an Anglo candidate doesn’t get in on the Republican side, because why wouldn’t an Anglo candidate get into that primary? History suggests any such candidate will have a shot.

Gina Ortiz Jones is for sure the establishment candidate on the Dem side, having done everything but eke out the win in 2018. It remains to be seen how much of a challenge Rosey Abuabara will present to her (no, I’m not taking Liz Wahl seriously). She got in too late to have a Q2 finance report, so we don’t know yet what her fundraising chops are. The high turnout in the primary will likely help Abuabara, but Ortiz Jones got 102,359 votes in 2018, so the voters should know who she is. Ortiz Jones should prevail – ask me again how confident I feel about that after the Q3 numbers are in – but don’t take this for granted.

UPDATE: As I said, I’m not taking Liz Wahl’s candidacy seriously, but here’s a story about her, if you’re interested.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands with the people of El Paso as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Cynthia Reyes-Revilla

Cynthia Reyes-Revilla

We continue today with another interview in District H, where first-term incumbent Karla Cisneros has drawn two challengers so far (the filing deadline is Sunday, so we’ll see if there are others). Cynthia Reyes-Revilla was the first candidate to enter the race, and posted some decent fundraising numbers for the June reporting period. Reyes-Revilla is a realtor and resident of the Near Northside. She has a broad background in civic engagement, serving on PTOs and Shared Decision Making Committees at her neighborhood schools, neighborhood groups such as Near Northside Safety Committee and Northside Dawgs, and on the City of Houston Safety Committee. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, my interview with candidate Isabel Longoria is here, and my 2015 interview with CM Cisneros, then a candidate for H, is here.

Back to the Beto question

As in, should Beto abandon his run for President and come back to Texas to make another run for Senate? The Chron says Yes.

Beto O’Rourke

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press — what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

[…]

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

Nonsequiteuse was already on board this train. I mean, I get it. Beto polls strongly. The other candidates have so far not established themselves yet, though to be fair, neither had Beto at this time in 2017. Beto’s a known quantity, he’s the main reason why the state is now viewed as winnable, he’s got the fundraising chops, and a non-trivial number of people who want to see him come home and try again for the Senate.

And yet, I can’t quite get on board. It’s not lost to me that Beto never talked about running for Senate again this cycle. The fact that MJ Hegar was openly talking about running for Senate in February, when Beto had not announced his intentions – and you’ll note in that story that there was speculation about other potential Dem candidates – says to me that maybe another Senate run was never in his plans. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be persuaded to switch now, but we’re asking him to change to something he may not have wanted to do in the first place, and by the way he’d have to beat multiple talented candidates who are already in first. All of this, especially the other candidates, always get overlooked by the “please come back, Beto” wishers. Seems like a big thing to ask, if you ask me.

I really think the current situation makes it a lot trickier for Beto to change course. He had the field to himself in 2018, but now he’d have to defeat a large primary field, very likely in a runoff. Not a tragedy as I’ve said before, but it would put a damper on the “champion riding in to save the day” narrative. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a decent portion of the Democratic electorate isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy about that white-guy champion barging into a field that contains multiple women and people of color. (You know, like the reaction to Beto and all of those more generic white guys getting into the already-stuffed Presidential race.) Again, I’m not saying Beto isn’t the strongest possible candidate, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a big favorite to win that crowded primary. I’m saying it’s not as simple as “Beto changes his mind and swoops in to run against John Cornyn”.

If after all that you’re still pining for Beto, I get it. I always thought a repeat run for Senate was his best move, assuming he wanted to run for something in the first place. But here we are, and while we could possibly still get Beto in that race – in theory, anyway, as he himself continues to give no sign that he’s wavering in his path – we can’t roll the clock back to February, when Beto would have had near-universal support, and no brand name opponents, for that. At the time, I evaluated Beto’s choices as “clear path to the Senate race, with maybe a coin flip’s chance to win” versus “very tough road to the Presidential nomination, with strong chances of winning if he gets there”. That equation is different now. We should be honest about that.

So what’s the goal of a TEA takeover of HISD?

The history of TEA takeovers of school districts is mixed, so we ought to be clear about what the forthcoming takeover of HISD is supposed to do.

In recent years, districts subject to state-appointed boards successfully have balanced budgets and repaired leadership fissures but mostly struggled to immediately raise student achievement.

The immediate track record of state-appointed school boards does not bode well for drastic, quick repairs in the state’s largest school district, which has been dogged by chronically low performance at several schools and allegations of misconduct by trustees. HISD could trigger the appointment of a replacement school board if any one of four long-struggling schools fails to meet state academic standards this month, or if Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath upholds his staff’s recommendation this week to remove trustees following an investigation into alleged misconduct.

However, HISD presents a unique case with no precedent in state or national education. Never before has a public school district with 200,000-plus students, relatively strong districtwide academic performance and a solid balance sheet lost local control over its governance. A replacement board likely would be tasked with addressing the district’s lowest-rated campuses and resetting governance of HISD.

Ben Melson, director of public policy for the Greater Houston Partnership, which has advocated for installing a board of managers in HISD, said replacement boards in other Texas districts have “had a lot of success in addressing very specific issues” that prompted their appointment. Districts such as Beaumont and Edgewood ISD in San Antonio, however, remain low-rated academically, each receiving the equivalent of a “D” grade last year under the state’s accountability system.

“On that front, you see student assessment results, student outcomes overall, really stay stagnant,” said Melson, who has researched the efficacy of boards of managers for the partnership. “There really was no significant increase or decrease over the time of the board of managers. It’ll be an interesting opportunity for a board of managers to have their sole focus on students and improving student outcomes.”

The possible appointment of a replacement board largely has split the HISD community, with supporters arguing the move would refocus district efforts on students and opponents decrying it as an undemocratic seizure of power by state bureaucrats. To date, public outcry about losing local control over the district has been relatively muted.

See here and here for the background. There are two reasons why the TEA will or may exercise its authority to oust the Board of Trustees: The ethics investigation that has already led to a recommendation to take over, and the need for those four schools to make standards, which may lead to the same recommendation. That suggests two obvious goals: To get those schools up to standard, and to improve the functioning of the Board. The latter seems more achievable – at least, there’s a direct path to it, by the simple expedient of most if not all of the current members stepping down. Two of them are already doing so, with a third being rumored to do so this year. No guarantees of course – maybe the next generation of Board members that get elected will have similar problems – but it’s the obvious way to go.

Bringing the four schools up to standard is another matter. Ideally, the work HISD has done already will accomplish that – we’ll know very soon one way or the other. If one or more of them don’t make it, then it’s on the TEA and its appointed Trustees to do better. As noted in the story, that’s not so easily done. The way forward is not clear. If I’m the TEA, I know what outcome I’m rooting for.

As for the reaction to the TEA stepping in, I’m not happy about what is happening, but as I said before, it’s hard to be too vehement in defense of the Board. It’s hard for me to say that – I know most of the Trustees, and I like them. For whatever the reason, they didn’t function well together. The report is unflattering. I wish none of this was the case. I have no particular reason to trust the TEA, or to think the appointed Trustees will be any better qualified or more likely to make progress on the issues HISD now faces. But this is the situation we’re in, and the aim should be to get HISD’s governance back on track. I don’t know what else to say.

Five for Senate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is in.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.

The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.

Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.

The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.

“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.

We first heard about Tzintzún Ramirez’s potential candidacy a month ago. I hadn’t seen any followups to that so this announcement came a bit out of the blue to me. Tzintzún Ramirez has a great resume and a campaign team built in part from the Beto 2018 crew, so she’s got some advantages. Like everyone else in the field, her main tasks at this point are to raise money and get her name out in front of the voters. I’m very interested to see how she will do.

So is the field set now, modulo any no-names that file for reasons known only to themselves? I suppose that depends on the Beto question, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I’ll say this much: What I want more than anything is a candidate that can beat John Cornyn. There are three basic possibilities at this point. One is that no one can beat Cornyn. The state isn’t ready yet, he’s got enough money and isn’t as widely loathed as Ted Cruz to fend off any adversary, even a favorable climate isn’t enough at this time. A second possibility is that basically anyone can beat him, because the climate is sufficiently favorable and the state is ready and he’s disliked enough. If #1 is true I just want someone who’ll put up a good fight and do nothing to harm the downballot candidates. If #2 is true then ideally I’d want the candidate closest to my own political preferences, but honestly they’ll all be such a huge upgrade that I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.

It’s possibility #3 – that The Right Candidate can beat Cornyn, but only The Right Candidate can do so – that will keep me awake at night. There’s no objective way to evaluate that question, but it’s what we’re going to be arguing about for the next seven to ten months. The candidate that can convince you that they’re the one is the one you should probably vote for in the primary. I’ll leave that to you to ponder for now. The DMN, the Observer, Stace, and Texas Monthly have more.

Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

Revisiting City Council redistricting

This would be interesting.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, District E Councilmember Dave Martin said the city should consider redrawing city council district boundaries, particularly in his own district.

District E includes two far-flung suburbs, Kingwood and Clear Lake. Martin said it’s a “ridiculously arranged council district” where it is difficult to coordinate meetings.

“I’ve always felt that the folks in Clear Lake do indeed deserve their own representation there, because it is tough for someone to drive 60 miles on a weekend to get to a certain area,” Martin said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with Martin’s assessment of District E.

“I will tell you it is an interesting drawing,” Turner said. “Because you certainly cannot go from Kingwood to Clear Lake for a town hall meeting, two town hall meetings.”

Turner said he would support taking a look at the map after the 2020 census.

“I don’t know what the thinking was back then,” Turner said. “But it does seem to be not in the best interest of two areas that are so geographically separated. I think it’s worth taking a look at.”

There’s a copy of the map embedded in the story, and you can also see it here, with links to individual district maps here. It’s true that District E is this two-headed amalgam of far-apart suburbs, with a bit of connecting tissue in between, but any proposed solution to address that is complicated. The problem is that the Kingwood part of E abuts District B, and the Clear Lake part borders on Districts D and I. Any redesign of the current map that would split District E into separate parts has to take into account merging a bunch of white Republicans with a bunch of black and Latinx Democrats. Even before we take Voting Rights Act requirements into consideration, I can guarantee you that a substantial number of people would be unhappy with any alternative.

What you could do is reduce the size of individual districts to be roughly the size of the Kingwood and Clear Lake pieces, then redraw the map with however many districts there would be with such smaller population requirements. That would result in a map with anywhere from 15 to 21 districts, depending on how much you padded out the two halves of E. We can debate whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea, but we’d also probably need a charter amendment to make it happen.

Personally, I’d be willing to at least explore the idea, and maybe have someone draw a few sample maps, to give a picture of what this might look like. Honestly, I think we ought to consider the same for the Legislature, where individual districts have grown in population quite a lot in recent years. This is especially true for Senate districts, which used to be smaller than Congressional districts but are now larger and will get more so in 2021 when Texas is given additional seats in Congress. It’ll never happen of course, but that doesn’t mean we should never think about it.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

As I’ve said before, I’m going to be doing a limited set of interviews this fall, with some more likely to follow for the runoffs. (Which will then blend right into the 2020 primaries, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) My schedule and the sheer number of candidates don’t allow for anything more. One race that I do need to focus on is the one in my own district, District H, where two challengers have emerged against first-term incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. Isabel Longoria is someone I’ve known for a few years, through her work on the staffs of Rep. Jessica Farrar and then-Sen. Sylvia Garcia. She has also worked as a political consultant, and serves on the City of Houston’s Planning Commission, the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and a bunch of other things. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, and my 2015 interview with CM Cisneros, then a candidate for H, is here.

Astros to extend netting

Glad to hear it.

The Astros are joining the growing list of Major League baseball teams that are extending protective netting around ballparks amid growing concern over fan safety.

The team’s decision to extend netting beyond each dugout at Minute Maid Park comes 10 weeks after a 2-year-old girl suffered head and brain injuries after being hit by a foul ball during a game there on May 29.

The netting will be in place for the Astros’ next home game on Aug. 19 against the Detroit Tigers.

Since the incident at Minute Maid, the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals have installed expanded netting, and the Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays have announced plans to do so for next season.

The Astros had been one of the first teams to extend netting to the far edge of each dugout in 2017, a policy later adopted by MLB for all teams in 2018.

“I think that it’s important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said after the girl was hit at Minute Maid. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different.”

[…]

The website FiveThirtyEight examined 580 foul balls in June and found that every line-drive foul ball with a recorded speed off the bat exceeding 90 miles per hour had landed in areas not protected by netting.

The young girl who was hit at Minute Maid was seated in section 111, just beyond the third-base dugout and the first section that is not protected by netting. The ball, hit by the Cubs’ Albert Amora, left his bat at a speed of 106.3 mph.

“I was two sections away when that child was hit,” Matthew Seliger said. “I would rather watch through a net than have to witness that again.”

Richard Mithoff, the Houston attorney who represents the family of the child, said family members were pleased to learn of the Astros’ plans.

“They are gratified to hear that the Astros have made the decision to extend the netting.” Mithoff said. “I wanted to give (Astros owner) Jim Crane the opportunity to do the right thing, because I thought he would, and so I congratulate the Astros and Jim Crane on the decision. It is the right decision for the fans and the right decision for baseball.”

Mithoff said the child remains on anti-seizure medication “and will for some time.” She is scheduled for another MRI exam next week and also continues dealing with other medical issues, he said.

“There is some kind of stumbling issue with her, and they are watching her closely,” he said. “She does not have headaches quite so severely, so there is some improvement.”

See here and here for the background. I’m glad to hear the little girl is doing better, but it’s clear she still has a long road to travel. Extending the nets is the only way to ensure that there won’t be more injuries to fans like this in the future. It’s 100% the right call.

Some flood mitigation funds are coming

Good.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded Houston its first grant aimed at mitigating flooding since Hurricane Harvey hit nearly two years ago, laying the groundwork for new gates on the Lake Houston dam and detention basins in Inwood Forest.

Both projects have estimated price tags of about $47 million, with $35 million coming from the federal government. The state, through legislation passed during the recent session, will cover about $9 million for each, with the city paying the rest.

The announcement drew swift praise from local and federal officials, who had been awaiting the money since Houston applied last year.

“This is a breakthrough moment for the City and one we have been waiting for very patiently,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Houston has bounced back from Harvey, but we need the federal government as a full partner as we work to prevent flooding from the next storms that will surely come.”

[…]

The Lake Houston project will add 10 gates to the dam, allowing the city to release larger amounts of water ahead of heavy rains. In a news release, Turner’s office said the project would protect about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures.

Meanwhile, the Inwood basin project is a joint venture between the city and Harris County, who are aiming to build 12 detention basins on a defunct golf course in northwest Houston. The basins will be able to hold about 1,200 acre-feet of water, which equals roughly 592 Olympic-size swimming pools, or enough water to fill the Astrodome, Turner’s office said.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which has more details. The projects are slated to be done by 2022. I don’t have anything to add to this, I’m just glad it’s happening.

Weekend link dump for August 11

What lawyers can learn about criminal liability from Beavis and Butthead“.

Phree the Phanatic!

What “doing life together” really means.

More than you wanted to know about the spinning wheels used on game shows.

Reconsidering Tracy Flick, the actual heroine of the movie Election.

The candidate for president was seething with disdain for a large swath of Real Americans. The candidate scoffed at their suffering. The candidate oozed with haughty superciliousness as he wrote off all those Americans as unworthy of concern or outreach. All the while, the candidate’s audience, cloistered in their bubble, insulated from those Americans and their travails, tittered with glee.”

“There are several bipartisan election-security bills in the Senate, and McConnell is blocking every single one of them.”

“But, although these Republicans probably don’t know it, there is a clear and obvious connection between video games, white nationalist terrorism, and the image board where the El Paso shooter posted his manifesto. That connection is Gamergate, the campaign of misogynistic harassment by aggrieved gamers that began in 2014, and which moved to 8chan from 4chan when the latter refused to allow Gamergaters to use that board for coordinated harassment campaigns and doxing.”

RIP, Cliff Branch, three time Super Bowl champion with the Oakland Raiders.

“To put that in the form of a question, what *good* do incitement standards, as we currently have them, do for the people most likely to be the victims of the kind of racial violence black people have known in this country for 400 years?”

Keep it classy, Mitch.

RIP, Toni Morrison, Pulitzer and Nobel-winning author and novelist.

My in-laws are great. Not everyone’s are. This woman’s in-laws are The Very Worst.

“There must always be room in politics for uncivil, intemperate, even vitriolic language. But justifying or glorifying political violence is different. Most politicians do not encourage their supporters to shoot people, as Trump did in Florida in May. Trump’s repeated invocations of redemptive political violence are what grants him a measure of responsibility when those who take his rhetoric seriously decide to engage in such violence. Neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on acts of political violence, but there is no leader on the left who delights in it and encourages it the way Trump does. At least three times now, men convicted of planning or carrying out violent crimes targeting individuals or communities singled out by Trump have cited the president as inspiration by name.”

“To paraphrase Elizabeth Warren from last week’s debate, why talk about what we can’t do? More to the point, why talk about things that this isn’t about? If a guy drives about nine hours from Dallas to El Paso to murder 20 people, and then we lay blame for that on immigration, we buy into his framing. No, the root causes of these actions are almost always threefold: easy access to guns, adherence to white-supremacist ideology, and a history of misogyny and associated violence. We already see all three threads running through the Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton shootings, to varying degrees — and that is before much investigation has taken place.”

You had one job.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

A new poll has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Beto O’Rourke in the Texas presidential primary and toppling Donald Trump in a head-to-head showdown.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College for The Dallas Morning News, signals that even with two favorite sons in race, Lone Star State voters want a familiar face as their nominee.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination, was third with 16% and the only other Democrat beating Trump in the general election.

The poll also projects a wide-open Democratic primary race for the Senate seat held by longtime incumbent John Cornyn. At 19%, “someone else” is leading the field, a blow to former Army helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who’s been campaigning for most of the year.

That “someone else” is leading the entire field is an oddity, but reflects the complexity of the primary race and the conundrum felt by many Democrats.

Hegar was the choice of 10% of those polled, followed by state Sen. Royce West at 8%, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at 7% and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards at 5%. A whopping 51% of respondents were unsure.

West, Bell and Edwards are all relatively new to the race.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people jump into the race,” said Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College polling director. “It’s just that wide open.”

The news is not great for Cornyn, the powerful incumbent who’s held the seat since 2003. Only 37% approved of his job performance, while 31% disapproved. The polls found that 33% of Texans were neutral or had no opinion.

For whatever the reason, the story only includes the head-to-head results in a non-embeddable graphic, so I will reproduce it here:


Candidate   Pct   Trump
=======================
Biden       51%     49%
Bernie      51%     49%
O’Rourke    48%     52%
Buttigieg   48%     52%
Warren      48%     52%
Castro      47%     53%

The poll is of 1,033 registered voters, with a 3% margin of error. They use a combination of automated calls to landlines and an online panel, as described here. You can find the crosstabs here, in a downloadable spreadsheet. They really didn’t want to make this easily to summarize, did they? The head-to-head numbers are very similar to the ones from their April poll, and are not far off from the Quinnipiac poll from June; the UT/Trib poll from June didn’t include two-candidate matchups.

I find the Emerson numbers dicey because I just don’t trust polls where the responses add up to one hundred percent. I guarantee you, there are “don’t know” and “someone else” responses in there, but their questions (scroll down past the disclosure stuff) do not allow for those answers. The crosstabs show that everyone surveyed picked someone, but if you have no choice but to give an answer, I don’t know how much I trust that answer. I’m much more comfortable with a poll that allows for “someone else” and “don’t know”. Emerson has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, but I remain skeptical.

I don’t much care for Spencer Kimball’ analysis of the Senate race, either. MJ Hegar has been in the Senate race for ten weeks, not “most of the year”. She did say she was considering a run for Senate in February, but wasn’t raising any money or doing any campaigning until late April. All the other candidates have gotten in more recently. As I’ve noted before, Beto was still polling in the “majority of people don’t know who he is” area right up to the March 2018 primary. It’s going to take time – and money – for the people to know who the candidates are.

Also, too, the field for Senate is highly unlikely to get much bigger. There’s one potential new candidate out there, though nearly a month after that story I haven’t heard much about her. It’s already later than you think in the cycle, and it’s not going to get any easier to start fundraising and traveling the state to meet interest groups and primary voters. And as I’ve noted before, the fields for all of the Congressional races of interest in 2018 were basically set by this time two years ago. Each of the four top tier candidates entered the race only after some period of weeks or months of speculation, expressions of interest, exploration, and so forth. The only non-candidate out there right now with any association to the race is Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and she only gets mentioned occasionally. If the primary field isn’t set, it’s close.

Anyway. I’m still waiting for some head-to-head Senate polling. Even if the candidates are basically unknowns at this point, a “Cornyn versus generic Dem” question still has value. Maybe the Trib will give me that in their October poll. In the meantime, enjoy the results we do have, for whatever they are worth.

Previous interviews with current candidates

I’ve said a few times that I’m going to be doing just a few interviews this fall. I will start publishing them tomorrow. I may pick up some more for the runoffs, but for now my schedule just does not accommodate anything more than that. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to past interviews with some of the people on your November ballot. Many of the people running now have run for something before, and in many of those cases I interviewed them. Here then is a list of those past interviews. The office listed next to some of them is the office they now seek, and the year in parentheses is when I spoke to them. Note that a few of these people have been interviewed more than once; in those cases, I went with the most recent conversation. Enjoy!

Mayor:

Sylvester Turner (2015)
Bill King (2015)
Dwight Boykins (2013)
Sue Lovell (2009)

Council:

Amy Peck – District A (2013)
Alvin Byrd – District B (2011)
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena – District C (2010)
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz – District D (2017)
Richard Nguyen – District F (2015)
Greg Travis – District G (2015)
Karla Cisneros – District H (2015)
Robert Gallegos – District I (2015)
Jim Bigham – District J (2015)
Edward Pollard – District J (2016)

Mike Knox – At Large #1 (2013)
Georgia Provost – At Large #1 (2013)
David Robinson – At Large #2 (2015)
Michael Kubosh – At Large #3 (2013)
Letitia Plummer – At Large #4 (2018)

Controller:

Chris Brown – City Controller (2015)

HISD:

Sergio Lira – District III (2015)
Jolanda Jones – District IV (2015)
Judith Cruz – District VIII

HCC:

Monica Flores Richart – District 1 (2017)
Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District 2 (2015)