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October 16th, 2020:

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

Last but not least, here are the 30-day finance reports from the 10 non-Houston-area seats that Dems flipped in 2018, plus four others of interest. Part One of my stroll through the 30-day finance reports, for statewide, SBOE, and State Senate candidates, is here. Part Two, with State House races from the Houston area, is here. Part Three, for the other House races of interest, is here. The July reports for these candidates can be found here. Let’s do this.

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Justin Berry, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD31   Guillen         70,625    24,066          0     493,094
HD31   Knowlton        14,390    11,515          0      13,391

HD34   Herrero         95,325    80,201          0     240,175
HD34   Hernandez       19,546    12,865          0      23,441

HD45   Zwiener        417,524   154,920          0     169,357
HD45   Isaac          227,503   104,256          0     155,094

HD47   Goodwin        134,569    66,855     13,000     201,970
HD47   Berry          446,275   106,578          0      75,601

HD52   Talarico       147,900    73,299          0     191,497
HD52   Valdez         157,845     4,683          0      18,519

HD65   Beckley        201,301    70,787          0     108,005
HD65   Thimesch       269,935    38,322     10,000     130,222

HD74   Morales         44,078     7,697    215,000      42,890
HD74   Falcon           2,300     2,224      5,000          75

HD102  Ramos          139,061    39,314        310      98,053
HD102  Koop           261,349    91,189          0      58,993

HD105  Meza            75,860    31,737          0      85,926
HD105  Hernandez       37,115    20,425      8,500      16,690

HD107  Neave           50,432    53,321          0      78,451
HD107  Smith           44,729    31,426      2,400      23,914

HD113  Bowers         180,175   114,854          0      74,693
HD113  Douglas        450,556   135,201          0     401,426

HD114  Turner         165,163   143,114      7,000     457,498
HD114  Del Rosal      398,601   183,323     10,000     268,392

HD115  Johnson        163,755    52,629          0     330,655
HD115  Brownlee        47,434     9,916     11,000      61,613

HD136  Bucy           109,468    87,022     46,375     109,579
HD136  Guevara         31,460    10,724      2,000       8,709

As before, we can confidently say that while all these districts are competitive on paper, some of these races are a lot more competitive than others, at least judging by the way candidates are raising (or not raising) money. A quick bullet-point recap:

– It’s not a surprise that none of HD31, HD34, nor HD74 are being seriously challenged. Republicans just have not made much effort in South Texas and the Valley, at least not at the State House level. I wouldn’t expect any of these races to be all that competitive, but HD74 is an open seat. If I were a Republican, I’d be annoyed by this.

Jennifer Fleck, who had a SPAC report as well as her personal report as of July, did not have a report for either that I could find as of yesterday. She didn’t have much to report in July, but she was in the primary runoff, so she had a reason to be starting at a lower point. This was the one Republican district in Travis County, and it had been won by a Republican every election except for 2006 and 2008 going all the way back to at least 1992 before Vikki Goodwin took it in the blue wave of 2018. I know that the Travis County Republican Party in particular is a dumpster fire, but still. It’s a bit mind-boggling that they’re not putting up much of a fight here.

UPDATE: I managed to have the wrong candidate here – Justin Berry defeated Jennifer Fleck in the primary runoff, and I just goofed on it. Berry has an impressive amount raised, but as you might guess, it’s mostly in kind – indeed, $294K of it is in kind. Still, this is real money being spent on him, so I take back everything I said about this district not being contested. My apologies for the error.

– My mind is also boggled at the thought of a freshman Democrat in Williamson County drawing such un-spirited opposition, but that’s where Rep. John Bucy is. Not a complaint, mind you, just a head-scratcher.

– Some day, when we can be together in person again, I hope to corral a Dallas political type and ply them with beer so they can explain to me why HD115 is essentially being ceded. To be fair, Julie Johnson won by thirteen points in 2018, but then John Turner won by eleven. I mean, I don’t expect Rep. Johnson to have been in any trouble, but again – freshman Rep, longtime Republican seat, and you have to have some belief in yourself. What I’m taking away from all this is that the Republicans for the most part just aren’t on offense all that much. It’s defense, defense, defense, with a few energetic challengers and the Associated Republicans of Texas PAC doing a lot of heavy lifting. And again, to be fair, they just need to limit their losses to stay in the Speaker’s seat and have redistricting all to themselves again. You’d just have thought – or at least, I clearly did – that they’d have had bigger ambitions than that.

– The rest are being challenged in a way one might expect, though as we have discussed before, some of those fundraising totals are misleading due to in kind contributions, which in this case is ART PAC money for the most part. Lucio Valdez only raised about $15K himself, and Linda Koop only raised $77K. Neither Carrie Isaac ($48K in kind) nor Kronda Thimesch ($166K in kind) had much cash on hand in July but have acquitted themselves well since then. The candidates themselves may not have raised all that much overall, but the money being spent on them is still money being spent on them. I feel generally confident about the Dem freshlings holding their seats, but there are definitely some races I’ll be keeping a closer eye on.

That wraps up my stroll through the state 30 day reports. I’ll have the Q3 Congressional reports next week – they’re only just now in the system. Let me know what you think.

State judge halts Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff limit order

Remember there was a state lawsuit over the executive order that limited counties to one mail ballot dropoff location? That suit had a hearing this week, and the plaintiffs prevailed. For now, at least.

A Travis County state district judge on Thursday ordered a halt to Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive limiting Texas counties to one drop-off location for hand delivery of absentee ballots. The ruling is the latest turn in a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts challenging Abbott’s Oct. 1 order, which shut down multiple ballot drop-off locations in Harris and Travis counties..

On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld the Republican governor’s order under federal law, overturning a lower court’s ruling. The Travis County decision, however, applies to potential violations of state law.

A Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, voting rights advocacy group and a voter filed the lawsuit in Travis County district court last week arguing that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot delivery locations. The lawsuit also claimed Abbott’s order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution.

In a short order Thursday, Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak ruled against Abbott and the Texas secretary of state.

“The limitation to a single drop-off location for mail ballots would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections, and needlessly and unreasonably substantially burden potential voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things,” Sulak wrote.

It’s unclear if and when additional mail-in ballot drop-off locations might be re-opened. Travis County had four drop-off locations before the Oct. 1 order, and Harris County had a dozen in place. But the decision is expected to quickly be appealed to a higher state court.

See here for more about the state lawsuit, which as we had heard was scheduled for a hearing this week. The Statesman has some more details.

In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, state District Judge Tim Sulak, who presided over a hearing in the matter on Tuesday, told lawyers that he will issue a temporary injunction against Abbott’s Oct. 1 order.

“The limitation to a single drop-off location for mail ballots would likely needlessly and unreasonably increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections, and needlessly and unreasonably substantially burden potential voters’ constitutionally protected rights to vote, as a consequence of increased travel and delays, among other things,” Sulak wrote.

As the Chronicle notes, this ruling is (very likely) stayed for the time being:

Paxton said his appeal in the case means an automatic stay of Sulak’s decision. The constitutionality of that part of the Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure, which allows governmental bodies’ appeals to supersede lower court orders, is being questioned in a case currently before the Texas Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether they agree with Paxton’s interpretation.

Remember a million years ago when the Libertarian/Green challenge to filing fees was still in effect despite the lower court ruling because of superseding? That’s the principle here. I’ll leave it to the lawyers to explain if it should be the principle here or not, but that’s where it’s at. The question now is, how quickly does this get to SCOTX? It seems likely to me that the ruling would be upheld by the Third Court of Appeals, but we all know where this is headed. It’s just a matter of when. So offer a halfhearted cheer for now, but keep your expectations in check until it’s all over.

And it’s off to SCOTX for the Republicans who want to stop drive-through voting

It was inevitable.

State and local Republicans have taken their challenge of drive-thru voting in Harris County to the Texas Supreme Court.

In separate petitions, the Texas and Harris County GOP are asking the state’s highest court to limit drive-thru voting, which Clerk Christopher Hollins opened this year at 10 sites and made available to all voters.

The GOP argues the new practice is a form of curbside voting, which only is allowed for people who are sick at the time, have a physical condition that requires personal assistance or are at risk of injured health if they venture inside a polling location.

[…]

“The aforementioned criteria for curbside voting is equally applicable to ballots by mail voting,” the petition said. “With respect to ballot by mail voting, the Texas Supreme Court has already held that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code, and therefore, is not a sufficient basis to permit a voter to validly vote by mail.”

The county argues its drive-thru sites are not a form of curbside voting. The 10 sites are contained within a parking garage or tent facilities, a quality attorneys argue satisfies the criteria to be polling sites in their own right.

“The basic requirement for polling places is that it’s in a building,” Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray said. “We’re interpreting that as long as we have a permanent or temporary structure,” it’s OK.

Even if it were curbside voting, Ray argued, it is up to the voter to decide whether he or she has a disability. The county does not have the legal authority to question disability claims, he said.

It is not clear how the votes already cast at drive-thru sites would be handled if the Supreme Court were to side with the plaintiffs.

The state GOP’s petition asks for a ruling forcing Hollins to “reject any curbside voting efforts” that do not comply with its interpretation of the law.

See here and here for the background, and here for both of the plaintiffs’ petitions. I have no idea how quickly the Supreme Court might move on this, but we’ve had three full days of drive-through voting so far, and going by the daily report, thousands of people have used it. I can’t imagine any ruling for the plaintiffs that wouldn’t be deeply disruptive, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s not supposed to happen with court rulings close to an election. But like I’ve said, the Supreme Court’s gonna do what the Supreme Court’s gonna do, and all we can do is adjust when they do it. Stay tuned.

Paxton accuses his accusers

Well, that’s one way to do it.

Best mugshot ever

In Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s first interview since seven of top aides accused him of accepting bribes and abusing his office, he said Tuesday that he was about to put one of them, first assistant attorney general Jeff Mateer, on administrative leave when Mateer made those accusations and resigned instead.

“I think he found out about it and decided he wanted to leave and set the narrative,” Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record.

Paxton also told the paper that he has placed two remaining executive employees — David Maxwell, director of law enforcement, and Mark Penley, deputy AG for criminal justice, who were among his seven accusers — on administrative leave while he investigates their actions.

Paxton’s statements on Tuesday provide the public’s first glimpse into how he is handling the matter inside the office of the Attorney General, where more than half of the executive staff has accused him of committing crimes.

[…]

In his interview Tuesday, Paxton reiterated his counterclaims against the whistleblowers, saying that they were trying to impede a legitimate investigation of the law enforcement agencies.

“It seems like my office did everything possible to stop an investigation of some law enforcement agencies,” Paxton said. “I can only come to the conclusion that there was an effort to cover up the reality of what really happened. This wasn’t supposed to be a complicated investigation.”

[…]

Paxton also backed accusations by Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, who said in a letter released late Sunday that Maxwell, a former Texas Ranger, berated Paul for even bringing the complaint. Paxton said he watched a video of the meeting between Maxwell and Paul.

“It was not a good interview — it was pretty harsh,” he said. “It was clear he had no interest in doing an investigation.”

In the interview, Paxton said Mateer also insisted that the attorney general did not have the authority to sign contracts and that only he, as first assistant, did. Paxton said he reviewed support documentation provided by Mateer and found it to be false.

“I don’t know why there’s so much turmoil over this investigation. I’m not impugning every law enforcement agent,” Paxton said. “We all should be held accountable. We all have to follow the law.”

Well, he was going to defend himself one way or another, and given what the accusations were, a defense of “no, they’re the real criminals” seems like the best option. That would then lead to the question of how it is Paxton managed to hire so many bad actors for high-ranking positions in his office, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, keeping his own ass out of trouble is the main goal.

Here we must pause and note that so far all we know is there were a bunch of accusations leveled against Paxton. We don’t know if there’s an investigation into the actions he’s alleged to have taken, much less if he did do the things he’s accused of. We do know that his accusers are fellow travelers in conservative circles, and that former Paxton lieutenant Chip Roy sided with them. We know that folks like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and John Cornyn have been in full “wait and see” mode, which may suggest that they genuinely don’t know what to make of all this, or that they’ve heard enough scuttlebutt to think there’s something to it, but they’re either not ready to throw Paxton overboard, or they’re seeking a more graceful way out of this mess. A lot of information has come out so far, none of which looks great for Paxton, but nothing yet that would force him to resign. That may be what this is like for awhile, and then either the feds do something to make it clear they’re going after him, or we get a press release saying he’s in the clear. Until then, this is what we have to sustain ourselves.

Well, there’s also this.

[Brandon] Cammack declined to answer questions about his work for the agency or speculate as to why Paxton called him about the job. But said he “rose to the occasion” in accepting a major assignment from the state’s top lawyer and that the fallout has been “unexpected.”

“When one of the highest elected officials in the state reached out to me to go conduct this investigation, knowing what my background and knowing what my experience was, with regards to state law claims… I took it seriously,” Cammack told The Texas Tribune Tuesday.

“I don’t know anything about office politics… I don’t know anything about [the relationship] between people. I was called to duty. I showed up for duty,” he said.

Cammack’s work for the attorney general’s office has ended, though he said it was “beyond” him to know if the review would go forward in someone else’s hands.

[…]

Legal experts have questioned the precise nature of Cammack’s job — Paxton described him as both an “outside independent prosecutor” and as “independent counsel” — and asked how he was able to issue subpoenas that aides said “related to private business concerns of Nate Paul.”

They also raised concerns that Cammack — who is connected to [Nate Paul’s attorney Michael] Wynne through their involvement in the Downtown Rotary Club of Houston and the Houston Bar Association — lacked the experience for such a high-profile assignment.

Cammack said the subpoenas were issued by a Travis County judge and that he never went before a grand jury. He submitted an application for subpoenas to the Travis County district attorney’s office and they assisted in getting them issued, he said. He declined to answer other questions about the subpoenas, including which judge issued them, and his role.

Cammack also disputed the notion that he lacked experience, saying he’d had a “successful practice” in Houston for about two and a half years, handling primarily criminal defense work. His investigation for the attorney general’s office centered on violations of the Texas penal code — “something I’m very well versed in having handled hundreds of cases for hundreds of families here in Harris County and contiguous counties.”

He said he was “not friends” with Wynne, but declined to say why Wynne was present when at least one subpoena was delivered. He also would not specify Paxton’s involvement in his work or provide specifics about his investigation.

Cammack said he was interviewed for the outside counsel position on Aug. 26 by Paxton and Mateer. He declined to provide specifics about the conversation, but said he understood there were a few other candidates for the job, and that Paxton asked about his educational and professional history.

A few days later, Cammack received a call from Ryan Vassar, deputy attorney general for legal counsel, about his contract, he said. Signed in early September, the agreement says Cammack would be paid $300 an hour to investigate a complaint and compile a report about any potential criminal charges. It did not give him the authority to indict or prosecute, and said he could work only as directed by the office of the Attorney General.

Cammack’s work on the case largely ended in late September when he received a cease and desist letter from Penley, the deputy attorney general for criminal justice, and then Mateer.

I mean, we still don’t know much, but what we do know just looks sketchy. And so we wait for more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Three: It’s still raining voters out there

People want to vote.

About 1.9 million Texans had cast ballots in-person or by mail as of Wednesday, according to state and county election data, continuing to crush state records for early voting.

The 2020 presidential election is expected to be one of the highest turnout elections in recent memory, with many ballots flooding in by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. Texas surpassed 1.1 million ballots cast on the first day of early voting on Tuesday. Early voting will continue through Oct. 30 – six days longer than the usual two-week period because of the public health crisis.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The record-breaking tallies come amid multiple legal battles to expand voter access in Texas. The state is one of just five that do not allow voters to use the fear of the coronavirus as a reason to vote by mail, but all seniors ages 65 and older are automatically eligible for it.

Honestly, I believe that all of the blatant attempts to make it harder to vote are just pissing people off at this point, and we Dems were pretty damn mad to begin with. I understand why the Republicans are doing what they’re doing, but I think it will backfire on them – I think it already is backfiring on them. The thing is, most people actually want the voting process, which includes voter registration, to be easier and more convenient, for the simple reason that it’s good for them. You can fearmonger all you want about “fraud”, but people will like the experience, in the same way that they like same-day delivery for online shopping and home delivery for takeout. Who doesn’t like that kind of thing? Whatever electoral benefits there may be for the Republicans this year, it’s very much a long-term loser to oppose this stuff, at every turn and with complete vehemence.

Anyway, people are very much still voting in force in Harris County.

Harris County is on pace to welcome another 100,000 voters to its polls Thursday, continuing its record-breaking early voting turnout.

Roughly 80,000 people had cast their ballots as of 4 p.m. Thursday, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office, a rate of about 8,800 voters per hour. If that pace holds up through 7 p.m. when the polls close, the county would process another 106,000 or so ballots Thursday.

The tally was 128,186 on Tuesday and 114,996 Wednesday. More than a quarter million Harris County residents already have cast ballots, with more than two weeks of early voting remaining.

In 2016, the county fielded roughly 884,000 early votes.

We may surpass that number by early next week. I mean, at some point we will stop seeing such high daily totals, as we will literally run out of voters eventually, but with 2,468,559 total registered voters, the well is still pretty deep.

Let’s go back to what I said earlier about ease and convenience, because Harris County, under Judge Hidalgo and with Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia and of course County Clerk Chris Hollins, has done the work to make this all happen.

Elections matter, y’all. Here’s Judge Hidalgo on MSNBC talking about it.

Yesterday I got the first Derek Ryan email breaking down the statewide vote roster so far. A taste:

Through the first two days of early voting, nearly two million people have voted by mail or in person. That is roughly 10% of all registered voters in Texas. I say roughly because so many people registered to vote during the week before the registration deadline that we don’t know what the total number of registered voters in the state is.

Of all the people who have voted through the first two days of early voting, about 90% have previously voted in a General Election in Texas. What does this tell us? There are a lot of people eager to vote, but they aren’t necessarily “new” voters.

What else does the data tell us? Democrats are energized and ready to vote (but you didn’t necessarily need me to tell you that). For example, of all voters who have voted in all four of the last four Democratic Primaries, 40.6% have already voted early. Of all voters who have voted in all four of the last four Republican Primaries, 24.6% have voted early. It is worth noting that when everything is said and done, 95%+ of both of these groups will end having voted.

When reviewing the breakdown of early voters by age, please note that ballot by mail voters are nearly all age 65 or older. Because early voting has only been taking place for a few days, senior voters who voted by mail will skew the percentages. Their share of all votes cast will likely come down as we continue through early voting.

There’s more, and you can see his nice charts for the data. It remains the case that about 30% have no previous primary history, which includes the new voters.

While we are clearly seeing a ton of energy from the old faithfuls, especially on the Dem side, there are some advantages to that. One, that energy is contagious, and when people see that their friends have voted, they’re more likely to vote. Most importantly, it means the campaigns can concentrate their energy and resources on the lower-propensity folks, since they don’t have to spend nearly as much time contacting the regulars. Believe me, every Democratic candidate and campaign manager is happy with this.

There’s also one more thing, which hadn’t occurred to me before I saw this tweet:

I mean, if you’ve already voted, then there are no adverse conditions on Election Day that can stop you – bad weather, traffic problems, illness, electric outages, bear attack, whatever. These things do happen.

Anyway. Here are your Day One and Day Two numbers, and despite my previous mumblings about comparisons across years in this weird season, here’s an extension of what I did yesterday:


Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three    Total
============================================
2008     39,201    43,411    43,782  126,394
2012     47,093    51,578    52,051  150,722
2016     64,471    73,542    76,098  214,111
2018     63,188    64,781    62,476  190,445
2020    128,186   114,996   105,175  348,357

Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three    Total
============================================
2008     68,502    44,428    47,991  160,921
2012     87,679    55,105    53,744  196,528
2016    129,014    76,376    81,744  287,134
2018    115,601    66,315    64,035  245,951
2020    169,523   118,008   111,435  398,966

Top table is in person votes, bottom is all votes. The Day Three daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. Note that we are now at 50,609 mail ballots returned, so basically at 2018 levels, with three more mail delivery days to come.

One last thing, as we await a final word on drive-through voting: A lot of people have used it. 32,509 votes have been cast by drive-through voters. I don’t know what the Supreme Court is gonna do with that mandamus petition, but the potential for them to wreak havoc is non-trivial.