Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 12th, 2019:

Eyes on HD28

The special legislative election in Fort Bend is on everyone’s radar.

Eliz Markowitz

When Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, visited Austin this past weekend for the state party’s annual fundraiser, there was no race he mentioned more than the special election for House District 28, a suburban Houston seat vacated by Republican state Rep. John Zerwas last month.

It was among the first topics Perez mentioned in a pre-dinner gaggle with reporters. And once he took the stage later in the night, he brought it up four times, twice urging donations for the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, who sat at the table closest to the stage.

“This ain’t Tom DeLay’s Fort Bend County anymore,” Perez said, touting the politically changing terrain on which the Nov. 5 contest is unfolding. He reveled in the relation to the former House GOP leader, later telling Markowitz: “You are a remarkable role model — in Tom DeLay’s county. I love saying that.”

The race’s top billing at the dinner was no accident. Democrats both inside and outside Texas have become intent on flipping HD-28 as they charge toward 2020 with hopes of capturing the lower-chamber majority. For Democrats, a win in HD-28 would not only serve as a momentum boost heading into next year — potentially bringing them within eight seats of the majority — but provide a gauge of just how many seats are really in play.

“We think we’re gonna take back the state House,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “This will be a good barometer of how big the wave is.”

The GOP has been defiant in the face of the Democratic push to take HD-28. In a recent email to local Republicans, county party chairwoman Linda Howell said the district “is our Alamo and we will defend it.”

“I don’t think a Democrat is going to capture House District 28 — it’s just not gonna happen,” one of the Republican candidates, Tricia Krenek, said in an interview. “We’re working hard every single day. Our voters are energized. They are clearly aware of what’s at stake and they are committed to keeping House District 28 red.”

As I said before, it’s the election in 2020 that really matters, since the 2019 election winner will not get to do much other than run again for the seat. It’s definitely possible that the winner this time will lose the next time, and that would be the case regardless of who wins. That said, I do think a Markowitz win would be at least a minor shock wave through the system, while a loss by her in the runoff by, say, more than ten points would be at least a little deflating. There’s not much other than the Constitutional amendments pushing people to the polls in HD28 in November (and December, unless someone pulls a majority in the first round), so turnout in this race is entirely on the campaigns. Get involved if you can, and remember you’ll want to do it again next year. The Chron has more.

How’s that investigation into the Bonnen-MQS kerfuffle going?

About how you’d expect.

Found on the Twitters

If recent history is any indication, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has little to fear from a Texas Rangers investigation into allegations he offered a bribe to a conservative activist.

Investigators who have delved into accusations of impropriety against the state’s most powerful politicians over a 15-year period delivered just five cases that led to convictions. The Rangers inherited the public integrity caseload in 2015 and have yet to secure a conviction of a lawmaker at any level, records reviewed by Hearst Newspapers show.

Experts say these cases are difficult to prove, often caught in the gap between suspicious behavior and violations of law.

“Is this really a corrupt move or was this just some stupid thing that a politician did, or a cop did, or just a normal citizen did? Usually it’s pretty clear,” said Johnny Sutton, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas from 2001 to 2009. “That’s why we tend to look for the real bribes, the cash-in-the-pocket type of activities, which there’s plenty of, even to this day here in Texas.”

[…]

Investigators for the Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit will have to unearth facts to help a committee of lawmakers — and possibly a prosecutor — decide whether Bonnen offered a bribe or committed offenses such as official misconduct or retaliation. But that could be a difficult case to make.

Bonnen says he has no control over whether any group receives press credentials, which guarantee access to the House floor and lawmakers while they debate and vote on bills. The Texas Scorecard, which is affiliated with Empower Texans, has been denied the credentials in the past because Empower Texans makes millions of dollars in political donations, and House rules forbid interest groups from having them. But the credentials also seem to have little, if any, monetary value — one of several potential sticking points in the investigation.

Without having heard the tape, it’s difficult to determine exactly what Bonnen said and what the understanding was, said Buck Wood, a prominent ethics lawyer of more than 50 years. But investigators don’t need a “magic word” from Bonnen to determine whether the offer constitutes a bribe or threat, he said.

“All you have to do is ask someone to do something and, ‘If you do that, I will do something for you,’” said Wood. “You don’t have to say, ‘By the way, I want to give you a bribe.’”

See here and here for the background. The rest of the story goes into the long and often unsuccessful history of pursuing prosecutions against politician peccadilloes, the transfer of the responsibility for such prosecutions from the Travis County DA to local DAs with unfunded assistance from DPS, and so forth. In short, don’t expect much (or for it to happen soon), and never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. That said, with the pending release of the tape, we may at least get a bit more clarity than we have now. The Texas Standard has more.

On Abbott, Austin, and homelessness

What Chris Hooks says.

On Wednesday, the governor plunged headfirst into a political controversy that has dominated discussion in the city since June. Back then, the city council partially neutered several ordinances that essentially made being homeless in the city a crime by allowing cops to ticket people for sitting or lying on sidewalks or camping in public places. As a result, homeless people became more visible on the city streets, to the consternation of downtown residents and business owners.

This has led to a tremendous improvement in the quality of life of many homeless people. The old rules meant they were pushed to unsafe places to sleep and live, where they were vulnerable to being raped, robbed, and assaulted. Many were ticketed or arrested dozens of times, inhibiting their ability to get off the streets. At the same time, it’s deeply unpleasant to bear witness to extreme poverty and desperation, and some downtown residents have spoken about dirty streets and feeling unsafe.

[…]

The letter is deeply strange. It consists of two parts: why Abbott is acting, and what he’ll do. The first bit contains a declaration that “as the Governor of Texas, I have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Texans, including Austin residents.” That’s a big responsibility, one that makes Abbott sound a bit like the All-father, and it might sound strange to you if you’ve come to think of the governorship as a traditionally ornamental sinecure where people earn a paycheck while they wait to run for president.

The line is footnoted, which looks good and proper, but when you follow the footnote it goes to the section of the Texas Constitution that basically just says there is a governor, and that he’s the head of the executive branch of state government. Presumably the fellows who wrote the 1876 constitution, ex-Confederates scalded by their hatred of Reconstruction-era activist governors, didn’t plan to give future governors the power to supervise “the health and safety of all Texans,” but who can say? They’re all dead and were mostly jerks anyway.

The second part lays out what the governor might do to Austin, and by what powers. The most alarming is the declaration that the Department of Public Safety “has the authority to act” to “enforce the state law prohibiting criminal trespassing. If necessary, DPS will add troops in Austin areas that pose greater threats.” It would be a significant overstatement to call this martial law, but the prospect of the governor deploying a surge of state troopers to Austin streets to selectively enforce laws is—well, bizarre, and a little unsettling. Other Texas cities should take note.

There’s more, so go read the rest, and see here for the origin story. It’s hard to see this as anything but a bit of chest-thumping in Austin’s direction, an easy target for Abbott and unlike the gun issue, one where his preferred way forward (at least rhetorically) is clear. And as Nancy LeTourneau notes, it’s a way for Abbott to hug Donald Trump, with liberal cities and homeless people as the victims. In other words, par for the course for our weak and feckless governor. Grits for Breakfast has more.