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June 21st, 2020:

Weekend link dump for June 21

“The 2024 GOP presidential nominee is highly likely to be an acolyte of the president’s.”

“It’s been five years since Glee left the airwaves and I struggle to think of a television show of its caliber that became so popular and so critically welcomed, only to sour in an absurd fashion and descend into the ranks of self-parody as spectacularly as this one did. Nowadays, we talk more about the behind-the-scenes chaos of the show rather than its on-screen drama, and when we do, it’s seldom in a complimentary manner. No series, at least in my lifetime, rose so high and fell so low. At least Lost gave us a polar bear.”

How newspaper comic strips dealt with coronavirus.

“As tantalizing as the prospect of a flying motorcycle is, this unfortunate incident is exactly why it’s going to be a very long time before personal flying vehicles will be available to the public—if ever.”

If you don’t know who Donald Trump’s niece Mary Trump is yet, don’t worry. You will.

“We managed to disrupt our economy [and] skyrocket unemployment, and we didn’t control the damn virus.”

“Airport Surveillance Is About to Reach a Whole New Level of Ridiculousness”.

The Shake Shack Shit Show, and what it means.

“All this is a recipe for 1,000-2,000 deaths per day for the next year or so, and quite possibly many more than that.”

“Diego, a libidinous giant tortoise credited with saving his species, has finally retired to an uninhabited island off the coast of Ecuador after decades of service in a breeding program.” Now there’s a retirement notice.

“How Rich Investors, Not Doctors, Profit From Marking Up ER Bills”.

“The [long-running CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful] is planning to film sex scenes amid the coronavirus pandemic by utilizing lifelike blow up dolls.” And thus we have a new contender for “most 2020 news story”.

The homemade remake of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure you didn’t know you needed.

“Most people never think about Biglaw namesakes (though we’ve been pointing these guys out for years). It’s doubtful if anyone even considers the men behind these names when they glance at the letterhead. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some ugliness lurking there.”

There are still over forty thousand cruise ship workers stuck on ships at sea.

RIP, Ian Holm, versatile British actor.

RIP, Jean Kennedy Smith, diplomat and last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy.

“What could cause Trump and Barr to take the rash step of trying to force the sudden resignation of Manhattan attorney involved in investigations of so many Trump associates on a Friday night, a move almost certain to cause an enormous scandal, right at a time when the Trump campaign is desperately trying to regain its footing in an election trending against them?”

Runoff reminder: State House

Previously: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate.

There are seven Democratic primary runoffs for State House districts. Let’s have a look at what we’ve got.

HD26

Located in Fort Bend County, HD26 is an open seat now held by Rep. Rick Miller, who dropped out of his contested primary after some racist remarks he’d made were publicized. Sarah DeMerchant, the Dem candidate in 2016 (42.1% of the vote) and 2018 (47.6%) faces off against first-time candidate Dr. Suleman Lalani. Lalani led in March 31.7%, DeMerchant had 29.6%. I do not know if either of the other two candidates from March have endorsed in the runoff. HD26 is a prime target for Dems, one of the nine districts carried by Beto won by Republicans last time around. My primary interview with Sarah DeMerchant is here, and my primary interview with Lalani is here. A brief Q&A with all of the primary candidates from a local paper is here.

(UPDATE: Since I first drafted this, Rish Oberoi has endorsed Suleman Lalani.)

HD67

Moving up to Collin County, this is one of two near-misses for Dems from 2018, where Sarah Depew took 48.8%. (Sarah Hirsch, who got 49.7% in 2018, is back for another crack at HD66.) Four new candidates lined up for this race, with Tom Adair (32.9%) and Lorenzo Sanchez (27.0%) ending as the top two. Adair was endorsed by the DMN in March, and is quoted in this story from the Plano Against Police Brutality march in early June. Sanchez has been endorsed by Latino Victory Fund and also by former Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez. Both appear to have been quite active at recent protests and rallies, going by their respective Facebook pages.

HD100

This is an open Democratic seat, vacated by Eric Johnson, who is now the Mayor of Dallas. Lorraine Birabil won the special election to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term, so she is the incumbent, though she has not participated in a legislative session yet. (There’s another race like this later, as you may know.) She led the field of six with 29.3%, followed by Jasmine Crockett at 25.9%. The Lone Star Project recently sent out an email touting Rep. Birabil’s accomplishments in her short time in office – she has called for a special session to address police violence and has vowed to file legislation on the topic. Crockett for her part has been representing protesters and co-filing lawsuits on behalf of people injured by rubber bullets. Rep. Birabil is an Annie’s List-endorsed candidate.

HD119

Also an open Democratic seat, now held by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who as we know is running for SD19 and is in a primary runoff there. Elizabeth “Liz” Campos (whose website was offline when I drafted this) and Jennifer Ramos were the top two contenders, with 46.1% and 43.8% in March, respectively. Ramos was endorsed by the Express-News in March, and was also endorsed by Latino Victory Fund. I don’t have much else to tell you about this race.

HD138

Our last three races are all in Harris County. HD138 is the only one currently held by a Republican, and it is another Beto-carried top target, which fell short of flipping in 2018 by a handful of votes. Akilah Bacy led the way in the primary with 46.8%, followed by Jenifer Rene Pool with 29.2%. (Google still does not show a campaign webpage for Pool when I search for her.) Bacy was endorsed by the Chronicle in March, by 2018 candidate Adam Milasincic before that, and is on the Annie’s List slate. My interview with Akilah Bacy is here, and with Jenifer Pool is here.

HD142

Remember this one? Longtime Rep. Harold Dutton, forced into a runoff against still-serving-on-City-Council-in-District-B-because-we-can’t-get-a-damned-runoff-scheduled-there Jerry Davis? The race with the mystery candidate that other State Reps want investigated? That investigation is ongoing, I’ve not heard anything since then. Yeah, I don’t know what I can add to this.

HD148

Last but not least, the other district in which a special election winner is trying to be the official November candidate. Anna Eastman won the special election and runoff to fill out the remainder of Jessica Farrar’s term. She took 41.6% in the field of five in March. Penny Shaw, who was a 2018 candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 and who finished sixth in the 13-candidate special election, took 22.1% in March. Eastman was endorsed by the Chron in both the special election and the primary. She has been touting vote by mail for the runoff, and along with Rep. Jarvis Johnson and Sen. John Whitmire has promised to introduce legislation making it easier for homeowners associations to change deed restrictions to easily allow old racist language to be removed. Shaw was endorsed by Farrar for the primary, and has the larger share of organizational endorsements. I interviewed both for the special election – my conversation with Rep. Eastman is here, and with Shaw is here. Both also participated in a forum held by the 2020 Democratic Candidates Debates group on Facebook, and you can see that here.

That covers most of the races of interest. I will do an update on the Commissioners Court Precinct 3 runoff, and I will remind everyone who’s running in the judicial races. Let me know what you think.

Our wishy-washy Governor

It’s all about evading responsibility. At least now it’s starting to become clear to people.

Counties and cities across Texas swiftly followed Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s lead this week after he ordered businesses — without opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott — to require employees and customers wear face masks when social distancing is not possible.

Although the governor issued an executive order June 3 banning local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don’t wear masks in public, Abbott on Wednesday commended Wolff for putting the onus for face masks on businesses. In an interview with KWTX, Abbott said the local official “finally figured that out.”

“Government cannot require individuals to wear masks,” he added. “Local governments can require stores and business to require masks. That’s what was authorized in my plan.”

But those assertions have brought quick criticism from local officials — and lawmakers from within Abbott’s own party.

City and county officials, some of whom signed on to a letter asking for the power to mandate face masks, fault Abbott for two things. They say he should have explicitly told them that businesses could require face masks. And, they say, his lack of a statewide mandate even as he emphasized the importance of wearing a mask prompted some Texans to let their guards down against taking precautions to stop the virus’ spread.

A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Abbott’s comments about Wolff figuring out what the governor’s order allows came the same week that Texas continuously set new records for coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. More than 3,100 Texans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, the eighth day in a row that a new record for hospitalizations was set. And the state reported more than 3,000 new infections a day three times this week, after previously never exceeding that threshold. Those infections and hospitalizations come several weeks after Abbott allowed businesses to begin reopening.

“Our best tool for fighting this pandemic is public trust, and the work that we have to do and putting the public health guidance out front, so that people have the information that they need to make good decisions for their businesses, for themselves and their families is critical,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Friday. “When the orders at any level of government are so obtuse that our partners can’t figure them out, it’s not to be celebrated.”

[…]

State Rep. Erin Zwiener believes the reason Abbott allowed for Bexar’s order to go through is because of the rising number in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. She said she doubts state officials would have allowed the order a month ago.

“Either the attorney general would have ruled it didn’t line up with his order or Governor Abbott would have adjusted his order to get rid of that loophole,” she said.

Abbott initially appeared largely amenable to cities and counties interpreting his earlier directives however they saw fit, deciding when to arrest or fine violators, warn them verbally, leave informational flyers or do nothing at all. Then, he changed his mind and, along with the state’s other Republican leaders, blasted local officials in Dallas and Houston for what they called overzealous enforcement of COVID-19 regulations.

“Ideas were being discussed, people were looking for loopholes, the issue is that the governor created a situation where locals felt like they had to be cautious to avoid being cracked down upon,” Zwiener said. “We wasted the benefit we got from our shut down by not having well-established practices in our businesses that they opened, and not clearly communicating to the Texas public the behavioral modifications they needed to make.”

At an April press conference where he talked about plans for reopening the state, Abbott took away local officials’ ability to issue fines for violating coronavirus-related orders, adding that his executive order “supersedes local orders, with regard to any type of fine or penalty for anyone not wearing a mask.”

You know the story. It’s hard for me to say which was more craven, the Shelley Luther flip-flop, or the “you solved my riddle” baloney. I get the need to reopen, and I understand that different parts of the state were affected in different ways. But that more than anything argues for letting local leaders have more autonomy, because the places that are being hardest hit now are the ones that had been able to get things under control initially, but were completely hamstrung by Abbott’s usurping of their authority. I’ve been asking for weeks what we were going to do if the numbers started to get bad. Now we know, but is it too little too late? If it is, we know where the blame lies.

Back to school, kids

Yeah, I don’t know about this.

Texas students will be returning to public schools in person this fall, Gov. Greg Abbott told state lawmakers Thursday morning.

The state’s top education officials confirmed the plans in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“It will be safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall. But there will also be flexibility for families with health concerns so that their children can be educated remotely, if the parent so chooses,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

When students return, school districts will not be required to mandate students wear masks or test them for COVID-19 symptoms, said Frank Ward, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA is expected to release additional guidance for school districts next Tuesday. Abbott has long said his intention is for students to return in-person this fall, saying this week that there will “definitely be higher safety standards in place than when they opened last year.”

[…]

According to state lawmakers on the 11 a.m. call, school districts will be able to also offer instructional alternatives for students. The decision comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise statewide, and local officials begin to put firmer restrictions in place to tamp down the spread in their cities and counties.

National surveys have shown many parents do not feel safe sending their students back to the classrooms, with one poll showing two-thirds in support of keeping schools closed until the pandemic’s health risk has passed.

School districts’ surveys of parents are showing that many students will stay home, even when the classrooms are open. That could pose a financial risk to districts, which receive state funding based on student attendance. Already, many districts are planning for hybrid programs, with some students learning virtually and some learning in person, allowing them to keep class sizes small.

Before we go on any further, just a little reminder:

Thursday marked the seventh consecutive day that Texas reported a record number of hospitalized coronavirus patients, with 2,947 people currently in hospitals being treated for COVID-19, according to data released Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The latest seven-day average for the number of people hospitalized is 2,468. Since the beginning of June, hospitalizations have increased almost every day. There’s almost twice as many people hospitalized because of the coronavirus than there was on Memorial Day.

You can click over and see the chart, but you probably already have the picture. Even as recently as last week, we were still talking about the different options school districts may choose to employ for the fall. So much for that, I guess. I mean, remote learning has been a challenge in many ways. Many students were not equipped for it, and many just simply never showed up for online classes once schools closed. Schools play a vital role in childcare for many families, and of course many children are fed at schools. I want kids to return to schools – hell, I very much want to get my own kids out of the house again, and I know they really miss their friends and teachers. But how can anyone feel confident about this, when the numbers are trending so strongly in the wrong direction, and our Governor speaks in riddles as a means of avoiding his responsibilities? We should have been able to send our kids back to school this fall with the assurance that all reasonable steps have been taken to minimize risk and drive infection levels down. We have neither of those things. What’s a responsible parent supposed to do? Right now, I have no idea.