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November 10th, 2020:

Looking ahead to 2022

Continuing with the brain dumps, which are my post-election tradition. This is a collection of thoughts about the next big election, in 2022.

As I said earlier, I take no position on the question of what effect the disparity in door-to-door campaigning had. I can buy there was some effect, but we have no way of how much of an effect it was. The good news is, whatever the case, this isn’t a trend, it’s a one-time effect of an election in a pandemic. I feel pretty confident saying that barring anything extraordinary, traditional door-knocking will be a big component of everyone’s 2022 campaigns. Perhaps Democrats will have learned something useful from this year’s experience that will enhance what they can do in 2022; admittedly, what they have learned may be “this sucks and we never want to do it this way again”.

There are a couple of things that concern me as we start our journey towards 2022. The first is that after four long years of hard work, with one rewarding election cycle and one disappointing cycle, people will be less engaged, which needless to say will make keeping the ground we have gained, let alone gaining more ground, that much harder. I think people will be focused on bringing change to our state government, but we can’t take this for granted. People are tired! These were four years from hell, and we all feel a great weight has been lifted. I get it, believe me. But we felt this way following the 2008 election, and we know what came next. We cannot, absolutely cannot, allow that to happen again. We know what we need to do.

Second, and very much in line with the above, the national environment matters. What President Biden will be able to accomplish in the next two years depends to a significant extent on the outcome of those two Georgia Senate runoffs, but however they go we need to remember that there are significant obstacles in his way. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans were greatly rewarded for their all-out obstructionism throughout the Obama presidency. We can’t control what McConnell et al do, but we can control our reaction to it. Do we get discouraged and frustrated with the lack of progress, or do we get angry with the people whose fault it really is? How we react will be a big factor in determining what the national mood in 2022 is.

I’m already seeing people give their fantasy candidate for Governor. They include the likes of Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro (my choice), Cecile Richards, Lina Hidalgo, and others. I don’t know who might actually want to run – it is still early, after all – but we just need to bear in mind that every candidate has their pros and cons, and we need to worry less about matters of personality and more about building coalition and continuing the work we’ve been doing.

For what it’s worth, four themes I’d like to see our eventual candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor emphasize: Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization, emergency/disaster preparedness and response, and improving the voter experience, with a focus on online voter registration. The first two have proven they are popular enough to be adopted by voter initiative in deep red states, the third is obvious and should include things like hurricanes, flooding, and drought in addition to pandemics in general and COVID-19 in particular, and the fourth is something there’s already bipartisan support for in the Lege. Let Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick defend the status quo here.

(Increasing the minimum wage was also a ballot initiative winner in states like Florida, and it generally polls well. I very much support raising the minimum wage, but don’t have as much confidence that it would be an electoral winner here. I’m open to persuasion otherwise.)

Here are some numbers to contemplate as we look towards 2022:

I’d attribute the regression in performance in the biggest 15 counties to Republican improvement more than Democrats falling short – as noted multiple times, Democrats hit new highs in the big urban counties, but so did the GOP. There’s still room for growth here, especially in an environment where turnout level is much more volatile, but the marginal growth is smaller now. Putting that another way, there’s no longer a deficit of voter registration in these counties. We need to maintain and keep up with new population growth, but we’re not behind where we should be any more. If we do that, and we prioritize maximizing our own base, we’ll be fine.

It’s the bottom two groups that we need to pay some attention to. A lot of these counties have medium-sized cities in them, and that’s an obvious place to focus some effort. (I’ve been beating that drum for months and months now.) But we really need to do something about the small rural counties, too, or face the reality of huge vote deficits that we can’t control and have to overcome. I know this is daunting, and I have no illusions about how much potential for gain there is here, but I look at it this way: If Donald Trump can convince some number of Black and Latino people to vote for him in 2020, after four years of unrelenting racism and destruction, then surely nothing is impossible. I think marijuana legalization could be a good wedge issue here. Remember, the goal is to peel off some support. A few points in our direction means many thousands of votes.

It’s too early to worry about legislative and Congressional races, because we have no idea what redistricting will wrought. I think we should be prepared for litigation to be of limited value, as it was this decade, and for the Republicans to do as much as they can to limit the number of competitive districts. They may be right about it in 2022, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right in subsequent years.

In Harris County, we should expect competitive primaries for all of the countywide positions, and for many of the judicial spots. Judge Lina Hidalgo has done an outstanding job, but we know there are people who could have run in 2018 who are surely now thinking “that could have been me”. Don’t take anything for granted. We need to keep a close eye on the felony bail reform lawsuit, and news stories about how the current judges are handling bail hearings, because we are going to have to hold some of our folks accountable. We need to make sure that all of the Republican justices of the peace have opponents, especially the ones who have refused to do same-sex marriages.

Overall, there’s no reason why we can’t continue to build on what we have done over the past decade-plus in Harris County. Complacency and disunity will be our biggest opponents. The rest is up to us.

What might the Lege do to make voting easier, or harder?

I confess, I didn’t read most of this story about the various problems some people had in voting, and the various theories as to what was happening during voting, mostly because it contained way too many quotes from Jared Woodfill. I’m going to focus on one piece of this, and then jump to the question I posed in the title.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas, which was recently ranked 50th in the nation by the Election Law Journal for ease of voting, the stories of disenfranchisement in this election are plentiful, because the hurdles state lawmakers have erected to registering and voting create many chances for the system to fail.

The state GOP leadership has steadfastly resisted modernizing voter registration, including blocking attempts at online registration. Voter ID laws, limits on qualifications for absentee ballots and rigidity in the mechanics of balloting all weed out untold numbers of voters along the way.

“These things will feed into the ability of someone to either participate easily and conveniently and effectively, or for someone to encounter barrier after barrier after barrier and at some point throw up their hands in disgust and quit trying,” said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser to the elections team at the Democracy Fund in Washington, D.C.

It certainly was difficult for East Texas resident Serena Ivie, who had to reeducate herself on the registration process after sitting out elections for 20 years.

Ivie wanted to vote for President Donald Trump because she worried about the direction of the country if he left office. She sent in her voter registration application in early September, she said.

She figured out too late that her registration was never activated, and she still has not gotten an explanation, she said.

Ivie, 49, is angry that the state hasn’t created easy, online registration since the last time she voted.

“I was disappointed that I’d let myself down, and I really felt that I screwed up,” Ivie said. “It’s a huge letdown, and I, in turn, feel like I am letting my country down.”

There really is no good reason why our voter registration process is so antiquated. There is a good reason why the law that controls how voter registration may be done has not been updated in forever, and that’s because the Republicans have opposed it, as we have covered here numerous times. Not all Republicans, to be sure – the bill cited in that post had numerous Republican co-sponsors, but never got a hearing in committee. The difference now is that Republicans have been actively registering voters these days, and as they discovered, it’s harder than it needs to be. There is also now a very limited form of online voter registration available, thanks to a federal lawsuit. These two factors may finally allow for our voter registration laws to be dragged into the 21st century. I wouldn’t bet on it until someone like Greg Abbott announces support for it, but the possibility exists.

Unfortunately, that’s probably about where the potential good news ends. There’s a zero percent chance that any expansion will be made to voting by mail – I’d be more worried about some bills that will attempt to make it harder, or perhaps to define “disability” in a way that would explicitly exclude pandemic-related risk factors. Along the same lines, I expect there to be bills that codify limiting ballot dropoff locations to one per county, and to limit if not outlaw drive-through voting that isn’t part of the already-allowed curbside voting for people with (perhaps more strictly defined) disabilities. Finally, as part of the larger conversation about the role and power of the Governor and the Legislature during a disaster, there may be legislation that codifies the Governor’s ability to do things like extend early voting hours as part of a disaster response. A bill like that doesn’t have to be bad, but it would be easier to make it bad than to make it good.

As far as I’m concerned, the best case scenario here is keeping trash like that from getting passed. Maybe the new Speaker will put his thumb on the scale in a good way, or maybe Republican legislators will have heard from enough voters that they liked the longer early voting period and/or drive-through voting to mess with it, or maybe they’ll just be too damn busy with all of the other business they’ll have to deal with to have time for this. I’m just saying be prepared for some nonsense here. It’s coming, and we need to be ready for it.

UPDATE: Bill pre-filing is now open, and there are numerous election-related bills already, including one that would “prohibit state officers and employees from distributing applications for early voting ballots”. I’m sure you can guess what motivated that. Remember that zillions of bills get filed but only a handful make it through, so don’t draw conclusions from any of this just yet.

Luhnow sues Astros

This ought to be entertaining.

Did not age well

Jeff Luhnow sued the Houston Astros for breach of contract on Sunday, alleging that Astros owner Jim Crane and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred negotiated penalties for the sign-stealing scandal that enabled the team to paint Luhnow as “the scapegoat for the organization” and fire its general manager “in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary.”

In January, after a two-month investigation into how the Astros violated baseball rules by improperly deploying technology to decode signs in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Manfred suspended Luhnow and Astros manager A.J. Hinch for the 2020 season. Crane then fired Luhnow and Hinch.

Luhnow’s lawsuit uses quotation marks around the word “investigation” and calls it “a negotiated resolution” between Crane and Manfred “that enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane, and scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in.”

Manfred later suspended Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and then became manager of the Boston Red Sox, for the 2018 season. The Detroit Tigers hired Hinch as their manager last week, and the Red Sox re-hired Cora.

Luhnow has not found work in baseball. His suit, filed in Texas district court in Houston, alleges the Astros breached their contract with him because none of the conditions that would be considered as just cause for his dismissal actually occurred.

Yes, the first story appeared in the LA Times. Go figure. The Chron followed a little later with a copy of the lawsuit and some more details.

“The commissioner struck a deal with Crane to make Luhnow the scapegoat of the cheating scandal while absolving Crane, the players and others of responsibility,” the suit reads.

[…]

Luhnow’s lawsuit calls the league’s investigation “deeply flawed.” It paints Director of Advance Information Tom Koch-Weser as the scandal’s “actual ringleader” who, according to the suit, blamed Luhnow “to save his own job.”

Major League Baseball’s investigation included 22,000 text and chat messages to or from Koch-Weser that, according to the suit, Manfred “ignored … as part of the effort to scapegoat Luhnow.” Luhnow is not included in any of the messages, according to the petition.

The petition claims that Koch-Weser was the “only witness to claim that Luhnow mentioned electronic sign-stealing.” Luhnow’s lawsuit calls him a “biased source who has zero credibility.”

“The Astros told Koch-Weser that he could keep his job so long as his actions were sanctioned by his supervisors, including Luhnow,” the suit states.

Koch-Weser remained employed by the Astros throughout the 2020 season.

Luhnow’s lawsuit attempted to demonstrate his adherence to baseball’s crackdown on electronic sign-stealing during the 2017-19 seasons. In Major League Baseball’s report, Manfred excoriated Luhnow for “(failing) to take any adequate steps to ensure that his club was in compliance with the rules.”

You can add this to the season ticket holders’ lawsuit as part of your offseason things to watch. The suit was filed in the 125th Civil Court, so congratulations to Judge Kyle Carter for having this hot potato land on his bench. I have no idea if any of these allegations are true, but I can’t wait to find out more.

Republican Party Chair craps on Republican presumed Speaker

I expected this upcoming legislative session to be interesting, but I didn’t think it would be this interesting this quickly.

Rep. Dade Phelan

Texas GOP Chair Allen West said Monday that the state party “will not support, nor accept” state Rep. Dade Phelan as the next speaker of the Texas House, after the Beaumont Republican said last week he has the votes to win the gavel.

In an email to supporters, West took issue with the fact that Democrats had backed Phelan even though Republicans retained a majority in the 150-member lower chamber after Election Day.

Phelan said last week he had support from a “supermajority of the Republican caucus” and a “broad coalition of support” from Democrats. That support, should it hold until January when the Legislature convenes, would mean Phelan has more than enough votes needed to become the next speaker when House members elect a leader as one of the chamber’s first orders of business.

“Texas will not allow the undermining of our ‘Texas Republic.’ This is why the Republican Party of Texas is perplexed, and will not support, a potential Texas Speaker of the House who would seek affirmation from progressive socialist Democrats to attain that position,” West wrote, calling it “utterly absurd and demonstrably idiotic” that a Republican would join with Democrats to lead the GOP-controlled House.

West does not get to vote on the next speaker since he is not a House member. And past speaker candidates, including current Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who will retire at the end of his term, have claimed support from Democrats in their bids to help get to a majority of votes needed to preside over the House.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Tom Craddick and Joe Straus also had Democratic supporters when they were elected Speaker. It was Straus’ ouster of Craddick in 2009, in which the bulk of his support came from Dems (who had 74 members in the House that year, remember) plus a handful of renegade Republicans, that led to a GOP rule that Speaker candidates are supposed to be ratified by a majority of the Republican caucus first. Bonnen got around that, and no one other than West seems too exercised about it now, but throwing tantrums is a good way to raise one’s profile, so here we are. I regret to say that while we can now all begin the process of detoxing our brains of Donald Trump, we must acquaint (or re-acquaint) ourselves with Allen West. I’m so sorry, y’all. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.