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February 24th, 2021:

Here’s the TDP 2020 after action report

Reasonably informative, though nothing here that I found terribly surprising.

Texas Democrats have come to the conclusion that they fell short of their expectations in the 2020 election largely because Republicans beat them in the battle to turn out voters, according to a newly released party report.

The Texas Democratic Party laid the blame in part on their inability to campaign in person, particularly by knocking on doors, during an unusual election cycle dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The party also said its voter turnout system was inefficient. It contacted reliably Democratic voters too often and failed to reach enough “turnout targets” — people who were inclined to support Democrats, but weren’t as certain to actually show up at the polls.

“Despite record turnout, our collective [get out the vote] turnout operation failed to activate voters to the same extent Republicans were able to,” according to the “2020 Retrospective” report, which was authored by Hudson Cavanagh, the party’s director of data science, and was first obtained by The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News.

Texas Democrats did manage to register and turn out voters in record numbers in 2020, but Republicans likewise beat expectations — enough to erase any gains made by Democrats and stave off what some hoped would be a “blue wave.”

[…]

The report described the party’s voter targeting efforts as “inefficient,” saying it didn’t have reliable contact information for some of its highest priority targets.

“The pandemic prevented us from getting the most out of our most powerful competitive advantage: our volunteers,” the document said. “We struggled to reach voters for whom we did not have phone numbers, who were disproportionately young, folks of color.”

But Texas Democrats pushed back on the idea that they lost ground with Latino voters — particularly in counties in the Rio Grande Valley, which Biden carried by 15 points after Clinton won them by 39 in 2016.

Texas Democrats conceded that Latino voters in parts of the state did move toward then-President Donald Trump, but said those same voters continued to support other Democrats down the ballot.

In addition, Texas Democrats contend that data suggesting a massive shift toward Republicans among Latino voters is more accurately explained by increased turnout among Republican Latinos.

“Roughly two-thirds of Latinos continue to support Democrats, but Republicans Latino voters turned out at a higher rate than Democratic Latino voters in the 2020 cycle, relative to expectations,” the report found.

Despite an underwhelming performance in 2020, Texas Democrats continued to paint an ambitious picture of a “sustainably blue” state over the next 10 years.

The party concluded that with “sufficient investment and ambition,” Democrats can register 100,000 to 150,000 more voters than Republicans per cycle and flip Texas blue by 2024.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the report. They answered a couple of my questions, but most of the rest were outside their scope. Overall, I found the report a little frustrating to read – the graphs were quite technical, but there wasn’t much explanation for how the numbers were calculated. I don’t have any cause to quarrel with any of the data, but I don’t feel like I understand it enough to explain it to someone who hasn’t read the report.

I don’t want to sound too grumpy. I appreciate that the TDP did this at all, and made the results public. The big picture is clear, and the basic causes for what happened in 2020 were also easily comprehensible. I’d note that in addition to dampening turnout, the lack of in-person campaigning also helped erode the Dems’ voter registration edge, with Republicans doing a lot of catching up in the last three months of the campaign. I’ve said before that the lack of traditional campaigning is a one-time event, and while it had bad effects in 2020 it still gave the Dems the chance to try new things, and it also showed them the need to bolster their data collection and management. If that can be turned into improved performance in 2022, it will at least not have been wasted.

The report paints a pretty optimistic picture for the Dems’ trajectory over the next couple of election cycles, which the Republicans deride and which I feel a bit wary about. The GOP’s ability to boost their own turnout, their continued and increasing advantage in rural Texas, the uncertainty of the forthcoming Biden midterm election, the growth of lies and propaganda as campaign strategy, these are all things I worry about. Again, much of this was outside the scope of the project, but I do wonder if a report written by outsiders would have come to similar conclusions. I don’t want to be a downer, but I also don’t want to be naive.

Like I said, I’m glad they did this. It’s a good idea, and it should be done after every election, because the landscape is constantly evolving and we have to keep up with it. I hope that it inspires action and not just a sense of “okay, now that’s over with”. What did you think?

President Biden will visit Houston on Friday

Here he comes.

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden plans to come to Texas on Friday in the wake of extensive winter storm damage in the state.

The president and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Houston, according to a White House announcement. Biden has engaged from afar with state and local officials but stated a reluctance to come to Texas too soon because he didn’t want his traveling entourage to pull resources from the crisis at hand.

“When the president lands in a city in America it has a long tail,” he told reporters on Friday.

At a briefing soon after the announcement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden would “meet with local leaders to discuss the winter storm, relief efforts, progress toward recovery and the incredible resilience shown by the people of Houston and Texas.”

“While in Texas, the president will also visit a COVID health center where vaccines are being distributed,” she said.

Psaki said more details of the trip are coming together and that the White House will have further information soon.

See here for the background. I’m sure Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo will be among those “local leaders”. I remain curious as to whether any Republicans will care to meet with him. I expect Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick will have been invited, but who knows what they will do. There was a time when this would not have been particularly mysterious, but here we are. The Chron has more.

Suing Griddy

This is going to be interesting.

A Chambers County resident filed a class-action lawsuit against electricity retailer Griddy on Monday, accusing the provider of price gouging customers during last week’s freeze. She is seeking $1 billion in relief for affected customers.

Attorneys for Lisa Khoury said in the lawsuit that her bill spiked to $9,340 the week of the storm, compared to her average monthly bills that range from $200 to $250. Griddy drafted payments from Khoury’s bank account several times, according to the lawsuit, pulling $1,200 before she blocked further charges from her bank. She still owes thousands.

Griddy passes wholesale electricity rates directly to customers, who in turn pay the company $10 a month. This differs from fixed-rate electricity plans which offer a consistent rate regardless of market conditions.

But because of a price hike fueled by a shortage of supply and skyrocketing demand, some customers were faced with bills charging tens of thousands of dollars. While electricity bills are likely to rise across the board, Texans on variable rate plans faced immediate and alarmingly high prices.

Texas’ Public Utility Commission, appointed by Abbott, raised the wholesale market price of electricity to $9 per kilo-watt hour — a 7,400% increase over the average 12 cents per kilo-watt hour — in response to rising demand. The hope was power generators would be enticed to produce more electricity.

“Energy prices should reflect scarcity of the supply,” the order stated.

Representatives for Griddy could not immediately be reached for comment. The electricity retailer addressed concerns of price gouging on its website and firmly placed the blame on the Public Utility Commission. The company states that it did not profit from raised prices.

A quick perusal of Griddy’s Twitter shows that they are blaming the PUC, and that they did suggest alternate electricity providers for their customers to switch to during freeze days; there are several news stories, including this one that ran in the Chron, about that as well.

This is one of those situations where the system is working exactly as designed – here are a couple of stories that explain the mechanics of this. I guess the courts could rule that what the PUC did violated the state’s laws on price gouging, but that seems like a stretch to me. I Am Not A Lawyer, so if you know better than me, please speak up.

More likely, there will be some kind of legislative solution to this. This Trib story goes into that option.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas lawmakers are promising relief for Texans hit with massive electric bills after a winter storm bludgeoned the state’s power grid, leaving millions of residents freezing without electricity.

But how they’ll accomplish that remains unclear. The state’s deregulated electricity market not only allows for staggering price spikes, but effectively compels them for some customers.

While many Texans are on “fixed rate” electricity plans that insulate them from market swings, others pay rates tied to the spot price of wholesale electricity, which skyrocketed during the storm.

As the bad weather bore down, it froze natural gas production and wind turbines, choking off the supply of electricity as demand skyrocketed. In response, the Public Utility Commission, appointed by Abbott, let the wholesale market price of electricity rise to $9 per kilo-watt hour, a 7,400% increase over the average 12 cents per kilo-watt hour.

The rate hike was supposed to entice power generators to get more juice into the grid, but the astounding costs were also passed directly on to some customers, who were suddenly being billed more for electricity each day than they normally pay in a month.

[…]

Kaiba White, an energy policy specialist with consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said the costs would be passed on to customers one way or another.

“If they [the electric provider] don’t have a mechanism that allows them to do that in the immediate — like on the next bill or the next several bills — it’ll end up getting rolled into the overall cost of service,” she said. “It’s just a matter of whether it’s going to get passed on in an immediate way, in a shocking way … or spread out over time.”

Tim Morstad, associate state director with the Texas AARP, said “prices are going to rise” but with a delay for those not on variable rate plans.

“Forgive me for stepping back to say — this system is truly designed to have high prices and huge fluctuations. And putting consumers through that by design is a bad process. It’s setting people up for pain,” he said.

Texas has an unusually deregulated electricity market that’s touted for offering customers the ability to pick from hundreds of plans offered by dozens of electric providers. Parts of the state are carved out, including cities like Austin, that get energy from a municipally owned utility, or people served by cooperatives. Those too could see cost increases down the line.

Lawmakers and Abbott have pledged to protect consumers from the big bills, and excoriated the Electric Reliability Council of Texas for the outages last week. The reliability council, which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, is overseen by a Public Utility Commission.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question about what options were on the table.

Lawmakers have demanded that the utility commission roll back its decision to allow the huge rate increases, or suggested cobbling together some package of emergency waivers or relief money to buffer Texans’ from the high bills.

“We cannot allow someone to exploit a market when they were the ones responsible for the dire consequences in the first place,” said state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa.

I have no idea what Abbott will suggest. He’s nobody’s picture of a creative thinker, and “solving problems” is not in his skill set. I’m hardly an expert either, but it seems to me that the first order of business is to prevent people from getting multi-thousand-dollar electric bills, and the simplest way to do that is probably just to order everyone’s bill capped at some value that relates to their usual experience, and have the state pick up the difference since the providers do in fact have the legal right to charge these amounts. That’s the easy part. The much harder question, at least for the leadership we are stuck with, is what to do about it for the future. That either involves some form of re-regulation that puts limits on how “free” the electricity market is, or ignoring it and hoping you survive electorally. I know what I’d do, but I’m not a Republican. Good luck with that.

One more thing, as long as we are talking about freeze/blackout-related lawsuits:

The family of an 11-year-old boy who died last week in Conroe during power outages while Texas endured a freezing winter storm is suing Entergy Texas and operator of the state’s power grid for a total of $100 million.

In the lawsuit filed Saturday, the family said Cristian Pineda died of hypothermia after the temperature in his house plunged due to the forced blackouts. Pineda’s family of five shared a single room for warmth, and Cristian shared a bed with his younger brother, the lawsuit states.

His family found Cristian unresponsive in the morning. The Houston Chronicle first reported news of the lawsuit.

The family is suing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the decentralized electrical grid system. The Texas grid is not governed by federal regulations.

As the story notes, our old buddy Tony Buzbee is filing this lawsuit, along with at least seven others, against ERCOT. Whether or not he can do that is an open question.

ERCOT has sovereign immunity, a well-established legal principle that protects governmental agencies from lawsuits. ERCOT, a private nonprofit corporation overseen by the Texas Legislature and the Public Utility Commission, is the only grid manager in the country with such protections.

A pending decision by the Texas Supreme Court, however, could change that. Justices on the state’s highest court are expected to rule this year on a case between Dallas utility Panda Power and ERCOT that could strip the Texas grid operator of its sovereign immunity, leaving it open to lawsuits that ERCOT has said could cripple the agency.

The ruling by the high court will have widespread implications in the wake of last week’s blackouts. It would not only determine whether Texans can use the legal system to hold ERCOT accountable for power outages that led to more than 48 deaths and billions of dollars of property damage, but also the future of ERCOT and the state’s power markets if the court opens the door to the likely flood of lawsuits.

[…]

“The political rhetoric around ERCOT and the weather emergency has embraced transparency and accountability,” Rottinghaus said. “A ruling that holds ERCOT immune from such lawsuits may run against that. It could be a political liability.”

Panda Power filed suit in 2016 against ERCOT, alleging the grid operator issued “seriously flawed or rigged” energy demand projections that prompted the Dallas power company to invest $2.2 billion to build three power plants early last decade. The plants ended up losing billions of dollars, with one forced into bankruptcy.

ERCOT’s reports calling for more power generators came in the aftermath of a major ice storm in February 2011, which crippled Texas power plants and forced rolling blackouts across the state.

Panda Power’s case was halted in 2018 when an appeals court in Dallas asserted ERCOT was protected from lawsuits by sovereign immunity. The Texas Supreme Court in June 2020 said it would review the appellate court decision, heard the case in September 2020 and is expected to render a decision before it recesses in June.

We’ll see about that. There’s definitely some pressure, on the courts and on the Lege and on Greg Abbott, to Do Something about all this – and again, I remind you, that the “all this” in question is what was supposed to happen based on existing laws. How long that pressure lasts, and what happens if there are no legal or legislative outlets for it, that’s the big political question.

UPDATE: Multiple ERCOT board members have resigned. All are folks who did not live in Texas, which yes is one of the weirder things about ERCOT. Not directly related to this story, but this is as good a place as any to note it.

May 1 special election date set for CD06

Here we go.

Rep. Ron Wright

Gov. Greg Abbott has selected May 1 as the date for the special election to succeed late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

Wright died earlier this month after a yearslong struggle with cancer and testing positive for COVID-19 in January.

The candidate filing deadline for the special election is March 3, and early voting starts April 19.

The special election for the Republican-leaning seat is set to draw a large crowd, and several candidates have already announced or filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

On the Republican side, Wright’s wife, Susan Wright, is expected to launch a campaign as soon as this week. She could be joined by a slew of potential GOP contenders including state Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie; Katrina Pierson, the former Trump campaign spokesperson; and Brian Harrison, who was chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Trump.

Two Democrats have declared their candidacies: Jana Lynne Sanchez, the 2018 Democratic nominee for the seat, and Lydia Bean, last year’s Democratic nominee for state House District 93.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. Note that this is not the same date as for the regular May elections. That was how it was in 2012 when the primaries were moved to May, and how it surely will be next year when we have to have May primaries. If you live in CD06 and also in a city or school district or other jurisdiction that has May-of-odd-year elections, congratulations, you’ll be voting twice – possibly in different locations – this May.

As for the potential candidates, I’ll say this much: I have no preference between Jana Sanchez and Lydia Bean, but having them both in the race greatly decreases the odds that we can get a Democrat into the runoff. According to Texas Elects, Fort Worth educator Shawn Lassiter is also in the race as a Dem, plus three more Republicans you’ve never heard of. We’ve seen this movie before, in Houston City Council At Large races, and we know how it ends. Don’t know that there’s anything to be done other than point that out, but there it is.