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February, 2022:

2022 primary early voting statewide

Turnout information for early voting for all counties is available on the Secretary of State website. They used to only have this for the 30 most populous counties, which skewed things in a Democratic direction, but a law passed in 2019 required the data to be made available for all counties. Now that early voting has been completed, let’s see what the totals looked like in other counties of interest around the state.

Unfortunately, we can’t make a direct comparison for some of the counties I was interested in because as noted the SOS only has EV data for thirty counties. So what I did instead was collect the final turnout information for the 2018 Senate primaries in both parties. What that means is that the data below is a bit skewed, since we’re comparing EV turnout to overall turnout. Even there, “overall turnout” is a bit misleading since there are always undervotes, and the data I’ve captured for 2018 doesn’t include that. The 2022 numbers includes everyone who showed up, the 2018 data only has the ones who voted in their Senate races. It’s the best I can do. Here’s what it looks like:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Bell            7,282     18,149     4,550     9,574
Bexar          81,408     67,977    60,033    50,025
Brazoria       10,085     24,376     6,809    20,323
Brazos          5,131     12,365     2,241     7,902
Collin         34,669     66,078    20,784    43,779
Comal           4,150     17,662     3,040    13,530
Dallas        123,671     80,583    66,109    38,928
Denton         27,025     49,474    14,683    37,288
El Paso        54,184     12,096    20,320     9,199
Ellis           4,243     15,906     2,479     8,136
Fort Bend      29,322     34,707    25,646    28,275
Hays           11,397     11,881     7,316     8,210
Johnson         2,618     12,280     1,224     8,175
Lubbock         5,900     21,964     3,267    17,184
Montgomery      9,701     48,921     6,052    41,596
Nueces         12,345     12,553     6,682     9,962
Smith           4,704     22,826     3,933    15,481
Tarrant        71,876    105,317    38,674    70,021
Travis        113,070     39,177    58,329    23,357
Williamson     25,681     35,675    14,558    26,672

For the most part, nothing terribly exciting. Overall Democratic turnout is about 627K, about 62% of the 2018 Senate race total of 1.04 million. Republicans are at about 1.02 million, or about 66% of the way to the 1.55 million they had in their Senate primary. While I talked about the “premier races” driving turnout statewide in the last entry, conditions in an individual county can vary. High profile and/or expensive races for Congress, County Judge, or other local offices can have an effect. Different counties have different patterns for how much of the vote is cast early versus on Election Day. We also have to consider the effect of SB1 on mail ballots. So far this year there have been 49,888 Republican primary ballots cast by mail, compared to 71,329 for the Dems. We don’t know the total figures for 2018, but a look at the top 30 county numbers makes it clear that Republicans used mail ballots a lot more four years ago.

So overall I don’t see too much that stands out. The one place that is a bit remarkable is El Paso, where Democratic voting is down quite a bit from 2018. We know that Beto was a big draw overall in El Paso, more so in the general, but remember that in 2018 there was also the primary to succeed Beto in Congress, and it was a fairly expensive race that featured then-County Judge and now Rep. Veronica Escobar. I suspect that drove some people to the polls as well.

What about the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley counties that shifted red in 2020? Here’s the same sample I looked at before, updated for the 2022 numbers:


County       2018 Dem   2018 GOP  2022 Dem  2022 GOP
====================================================
Cameron        14,123      4,003    14,500     6,455
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050    31,924    10,398
Maverick        6,300        111     6,895       440
Starr           6,729         15     5,188       969
Webb           21,137      1,426    13,384     1,499

Definitely more participation on the Republican side, exceeding the final 2018 totals in all five counties, though overall those numbers are still quite low compared to the Dems. Democratic numbers in Cameron and Maverick have also topped their 2018 counterparts, and are not far behind in Hidalgo and Starr. I’m a little puzzled by Webb, since that’s the center of the CD28 primary battle, but maybe that’s a mostly-vote-on-Election-Day place. We’ll see tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

The only constant is change

This DMN story is about the wave of changes to the various legislative caucuses in North Dallas, but if you pull the lens back just a little, you can see how universal it is.

Proponents of term limits complain that elected lawmakers often overstay their welcome.

That’s not the case these days in the Texas House, where turnover is occurring across the state. In North Texas, the 2022 elections could bring an array of new faces to the House and Senate.

When the Legislature convenes in 2023, there will be eight new members of the House. And a new senator will replace the retiring Jane Nelson of Denton County. Statewide, 28 House lawmakers have retired or left their seats to run or another office. Five senators are not running for reelection, including several moderate Republicans, including Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.

The story goes on to list the folks from the Metroplex – mostly Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties – who are retiring or running for another office in 2022, and it’s a long list. But as we’ve discussed, there’s always a fair amount of turnover following a redistricting year, and there’s a lot more natural turnover in elected office than you might think.

My case in point: Here’s your list of federal and state election winners in 2012 from Harris County. Following the 2022 election, this is how many new names there will be:

– Six of nine members of Congress are gone, with only Reps. Al Green, Mike McCaul, and Sheila Jackson Lee remaining.
– All three SBOE members will be gone, as Lawrence Allen is running for HD26 this March.
– At least six out of eight members of the State Senate will be gone, with only Sens. Whitmire and Huffman still on the ballot. To be sure, two of those people are now statewide office holders, and one is on Commissioners Court, but this is about turnover. All three of their seats are now held by someone else.
– At least sixteen of the 24 State House members will be gone. Only Reps. Alma Allen, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Hubert Vo are on the ballot.

If you want to take it one step further, note that four out of five members of Commissioners Court are gone, with the fifth (Jack Cagle) likely to be voted out this November. All holders of executive office, all members of the HCDE Board of Trustees, and nearly every District Court judge is new since then as well.

To be sure, some of the holdovers have been there for a long time. My point is that they’re a pretty rare exception, and that the norm is for most legislators to serve a couple of terms and then either lose an election or move on to something else, which may be another political office and may be something outside of electoral politics. This is one of the many reasons why I disdain term limits. Our very real lived experience shows that they are not necessary.

The flip side of this, as a companion story notes, is that turnover means that a fair amount of legislative and subject matters knowledge goes away when a veteran lawmaker moves on, voluntarily or otherwise. But that’s life, and as someone who has been in the corporate world for a couple of decades, I can tell you that the world will keep spinning. New people will get their chance, and generally speaking they’ll be fine, even if they do things differently.

Now if you want to complain that the kind of Republicans being elected these days in place of the Jane Nelsons and Larry Taylors and Kel Seligers and so forth are a couple of notches below them in terms of knowledge, seriousness, deportment, and a whole host of other qualities, you’ll get no argument from me. That’s a different problem, and it’s going to take both the election of more Democrats and a return to something approaching sanity and respect for democracy among Republicans as a whole to solve it.

The 11th Street makeover

Gonna be interesting to see how this turns out.

A main thoroughfare through Houston’s Heights is the latest street where city officials are preparing for fewer car lanes, in an effort to consider more ways that people get around.

The plan by the city’s planning and public works departments is to transform 11th Street from two vehicle lanes in each direction to one, with bike lanes and occasional turn lanes.

The changes, which city officials argue will not severely impact drivers but will provide huge safety benefits, come as many communities struggle to improve sidewalks and smooth barriers to the use of bicycles and wheelchairs along roads while also providing capacity for cars. A recent plan for Broadway in San Antonio, for example, pitted city and state officials against one another last month over what is the best design for the street.

In Houston, while some have voiced skepticism, there is less political maneuvering as many concede changes are needed along some streets.

Convenient, safe options for walking, running or bicycling in the Heights all run into the same problem as local drivers: 11th Street.

Lined mostly by businesses between Shepherd and Studemont, the street acts as the main east-west road for the neighborhood. Other streets may cover some of the neighborhood, but 20th is the only other major roadway that runs the entire width, mostly straight, with few stops.

As a result, drivers on 11th tend to hit the gas.

“People drive way too fast,” said David Fields, chief transportation planner for Houston, noting average speeds on the street often top 40 mph.

For folks trying to cross at the Heights Hike and Bike Trail near Nicholson, that can pose problems.

“Never mind stopping, people speed up,” Scott Bottoms, 36, said as he waited to cross 11th Tuesday afternoon on his way back to his townhome.

[…]

Some of the biggest coming changes, however, will be at major intersections where the city is hoping to eliminate conflicts. Traffic along Yale is unaffected, but the planned street redo removes left turns at Heights, from all directions. The ensuing lack of left turns could send traffic circling onto nearby streets and force drivers familiar with the area to alter their habits.

Planners defend the decision as one that de-complicates common collision points in the neighborhood. Bike lanes, turning drivers, runners along the Heights Esplanade and proceeding traffic make for a variety of movements, which leads to confusion and close calls, although only a few dozen crashes in the past decade.

Fields said officials still are trying to resolve concerns about sending traffic onto side streets, but will not sacrifice significant safety gains for ease for drivers. The hope, he said, is to balance both, for all road users.

“When we can do something that checks all those boxes, then we think the community will embrace it,” he said.

That was from a couple of weeks ago. This opinion piece from last week addresses some of the issues that opponents have raised.

For starters, this is not a thrown-together plan the city is trying to sneak past neighborhood stakeholders. It’s part of the 5-year-old Houston Bike Plan and the more recent Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city by the year 2030, and the city has provided traffic data that shows the street is more dangerous and prone to crashes than other roads with similar configurations.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, in a statement provided to The Leader on Wednesday afternoon, reiterated the city’s commitment to “making our streets safer for all” and said the 11th Street project is moving forward.

“(Eleventh Street) is a high-crash corridor with 10 percent more crashes than similar streets across the state,” Turner said. “After three years of significant engagement, including with the council members offices, Super Neighborhood and Houston Heights Association, incorporating perspectives from the community, we are moving towards final design to make 11th St. safer for all.”

The point of the project is to provide protections for cyclists and pedestrians – think moms pushing strollers along the Heights Hike-and-Bike Trail – and to slow down drivers on 11th who have a demonstrated history of driving too fast and making unsafe movements. Let’s not forget the No. 1 priority for the city employees working on this project, which is being funded with taxpayer money, is to keep people from getting killed or seriously injured.

And as I’ve reported during the last three years, Houston Public Works and the city’s Planning & Development Department have held multiple, regular public engagement sessions in which they’ve explained the project and its finer points to residents, businesses and property owners, giving them the opportunity to provide support or criticism as well as suggestions for improving the plan. The city’s planning and traffic engineers have heeded much of the feedback, too, making several tweaks and even broader changes, including during the last few months.

For example, residents did not like the idea of limiting left turns to only two intersections between North Shepherd Drive and Yale Street, because of concerns about increased cut-through traffic on residential side streets. So the city amended the plan and now intends to allow left turns at all but three intersections on that stretch of the project area, which extends east to Michaux Street and then south toward Stude Park.

[…]

[David Fields, the chief transportation planner with the city and the project co-leader,] refuted one of the big concerns expressed about the project, that a street that’s already busy with car and truck traffic will become overly congested. He said traffic counts show the proposed lane configuration will be more than adequate to move vehicles along 11th, even at peak hours. He also said the current four-lane, two-in-each direction setup would not even be on the table if the city were constructing a new 11th Street from scratch, because the traffic counts do not warrant that much lane capacity.

He also challenged the notion that bike lanes are not necessary because people do not frequently ride bikes along 11th, saying that cyclists did not ride along Houston’s bayous until bike lanes were added there. But now that infrastructure is regularly used.

To borrow a line from one of my favorite baseball movies, if you build it, they will come. And why would anyone come while it’s still too dangerous to ride bikes on 11th?

The 11th Street Bikeway is part of a broader initiative to make the city more bike-friendly and to reduce its reliance on automobiles and by extension, fossil fuels with byproducts that pollute the air. There’s a reason why Houston often has hazy-looking skies.

And this particular project will help provide further trail connectivity in the future, with it slated to link up with the bike lanes going in along Shepherd and Durham drives as well as along Interstate 10 in the southern part of the Heights.

See here for more on the project. I’ve noted the Shepherd/Durham plan to make the larger Heights area more bike and pedestrian friendly, which complements this one. The bike trail on Nicholson and the protected bike lanes on Heights Boulevard will also connect the 11th Street lanes to more existing bike infrastructure. That’s kind of the point.

Not everyone is on board with the idea, of course – you can see one example of such pushback in the embedded picture, which I took about two weeks ago. On this past Friday’s CityCast Houston podcast, Evan Mintz noted a similar meeting at Buchanan’s, a block away from Berryhill (both meetings were also noted in the second article). Evan also observed that the response to this project is basically split between the urbanists on Twitter, who love it, and the NextDoor crowd (however you would describe them) who very much do not. Yet another reason I’m glad I quit reading NextDoor all those years ago.

I’m a supporter of this project. Many people, myself included, drive way too fast on 11th Street. I’m not at all surprised that stretch of road is more crash-prone than average. I’m afraid of fatalities, because you do see pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross the road, as well as other vehicles pulling into and out of parking lots and driveways along the way. For the most part, there’s not nearly enough traffic on West 11th to justify it having two lanes each way. I understand that some people get very upset whenever something comes along to challenge the notion of moving the maximum number of cars along at the maximum speed, but this is a neighborhood. It’s okay to want to let people traverse it by other means.

(If White Oak/6th Street went all the way through instead of truncating just past Yale, maybe this would be less contentious. West 11th is the main east-west route through the Heights, I get it. It still doesn’t have to be a speedway. Also, too, I’m old enough to remember when Heights Blvd was two lanes in each direction. We survived the change to its current one-car-lane-plus-one-bike-lane configuration, we’ll survive this.)

I suspect we’re in for a long battle, and it’s just a matter of time before I see a sign in front of a business somewhere advertising a website for the opposition. I will try to keep you updated on developments.

Two more May special elections

Looks like May will be busier than expected around here.

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Saturday, May 7, 2022 as the special election date for the Texas State House of Representatives District 147 seat recently vacated by Representative Garnet F. Coleman.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00 PM on Monday, March 7, 2022. Early voting will begin on Monday, April 25, 2022.

Rep. Coleman had announced his retirement from the Legislature in November. We’re familiar with the cast of candidates seeking to succeed him. More recently, Coleman announced that he would formally leave his seat at the end of February, which is to say today. The timing of his announcement made it just in time for a special election to be called for May, with March 7 the statutory deadline for candidate filings. Note that this election, much like the 2016 special elections for HDs 120 and 139, as well as the more contentious November 2015 special election for HD118, is only to fill the remainder of Rep. Coleman’s term. Whoever wins this election only gets to serve through the end of this year. As such, the most likely candidates will be whoever the top two finishers are in the primary, since they would also be competing for the chance to get an edge in seniority on other incoming House members next year. If the winner of the special is someone other than the November nominee, that person gets little more than a participation trophy.

While this election is unlikely to be of great interest locally, it does join with the HCC special election and the statewide special election to put more action on the local calendar than we usually get. There will also be a special election in HD38 to fill out the remaining term of State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, which might have been interesting in a “are the Republicans really making progress in South Texas” kind of way, except that no Republicans filed for HD38 in the primary, so this one doesn’t even have symbolic value. It’s either some extra seniority for the primary winner, or nothing more than an asterisk. But it is on the calendar, and now you know.

Weekend link dump for February 27

What’s up with all the goats on TV?

“But set aside all of those Baptist and Protestant objections. The problem here is what the problem has always been with the Inquisition, that it punitively enforces a strained formulation of the very worst of Catholicism while trampling on and disregarding other, greater, more essential aspects of Catholic doctrine. And that it does so, as it always has, in the interest of wielding spiritual power in order to exercise temporal power and control over others.”

“The remains of a miniboat launched by New Hampshire middle schoolers have been discovered by a sixth-grade student in Norway, 462 days and more than 8,300 miles later.”

“That Edmund Hillary might set off in search of the abominable snowman, then, was not the wild, conspiracy-theory-baiting story it would appear to be today. That he and [British journalist Desmond] Doig might actually encounter a wild yeti was considered a very real possibility.”

I don’t expect any “religious” skeptics of COVID vaccines to be won over by this different version of the shot, but it sure would be nice if they were.

“A federal judge shot down former President Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” from multiple lawsuits accusing him of inciting the deadly Capitol insurrection last year.”

Lock them up (except for the few “friendly compliance” ones).

“A District Judge Just Gave DOJ a Precise Rationale for Prosecuting Trump”.

“If you were reading Hal Lindsey’s Rapture-mania best-sellers back in the ’70s and ’80s, then you’re not as young as you used to be. In fact, you’re now far older than those books insisted you’d ever be.”

“But whatever news you read today about Kanye’s behavior, let’s be clear about one thing: it’s abuse. It is emotional abuse.”

“They failed to follow basic security procedures for years, failed to protect teachers’ Social Security numbers, and failed to take responsibility, instead choosing to instigate a baseless investigation into two Missourians who did the right thing and reported the problem.”

“Despite being billed as a venture to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump’s new platform will utilize AI censors to police its content.”

RIP, Gary Brooker, lead singer for Procol Harum.

RIP, Joe Bravo, San Antonio soul and Tejano musician.

“A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Internal Medicine confirms that not only does Ivermectin not help you recover from/fight off COVID-19, but you may end up with some pretty severe side effects.”

“Okay, I was staying out of the TED LASSO bullshit, but this actually leads to an interesting discussion about comedians vs. normies and public spaces, so here we go.”

RIP, Kenny Burrough, former NFL wide receiver who wore the uniform number 00 for the Houston Oilers.

RIP, Sally Kellerman, Oscar-nominated actor and singer best known for her role as “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the movie version of M*A*S*H.

Ketanji Brown Jackson’s husband’s brother is married to Paul Ryan’s wife’s sister. The English language really needs more words to concisely describe these extended family situations.

RIP, Dr. Paul Farmer, physician and humanitarian who co-founded the global nonprofit Partners in Health.

“I’m trying to imagine liberals in the Iraq War run-up talking about Saddam Hussein the way conservatives are talking about Putin, and coming up empty.”

RIP, Yvonne Washington, Houston blues, jazz, soul, and gospel singer.

Final 2022 primary early voting totals

It’s been a strange two weeks for early voting, so let’s get to the wrapup. Here are your final early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    22,695  70,152  92,847
2018 R    24,500  61,425  85,925

2020 D    22,785 116,748 139,533
2020 R    22,801  82,108 104,909

2022 D    13,713  82,342  96,055
2022 R     9,684  96,439 106,123

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here. Please note that the “2018 final totals” file I have is actually from the penultimate day of early voting. I either never got the last day’s totals, or I forgot to save the file to my Google Drive. The numbers in the table above are from the Election Day report for 2018, which means that the mail ballots include those that came in between the Friday and Tuesday. It would have been a smaller number if I had that day-of EV report.

Clearly, mail ballots were down. I had thought that the good number of mail ballots returned on Tuesday heralded an upswing for them, perhaps because of corrected ones getting in, but that wasn’t to be. Indeed, the combined total for Dems over the remaining three days was just a bit higher than the Tuesday total. The mail ballot total for Dems this year so far is 60% of what it was four years ago, though that will tick up a bit as the last batch rolls in. The number for Republicans dropped even more, though that is undoubtedly due in part to Republicans swallowing the former guy’s propaganda about mail ballots. Both Dems and Republicans saw more in person voters, and I’d say for sure some of that is connected, more on the R side than the D side.

How many people were actually unable to vote as a result of the new and needless voter ID requirements for mail ballots is hard to say. If I have the time, I’ll try to compare the vote rosters for the two years, to see what the mail voters of both parties from 2018 did this year. I’m sure some number of them voted (or will vote on Tuesday) in person. For those that voted by mail in 2018 but fail to vote this year, it will still be hard to say why. Primaries always have low turnout, so a no-show this year may just mean lack of interest or opportunity, for whatever the reason. I hope someone with a better view of the data comes up with a more holistic and analytic report. I fear it will mostly be all anecdotal otherwise. For sure, any suggestion that Republicans may regret their new voting restrictions are extremely premature. I’ve not doubt that some Republican consultants would prefer not to have to do new things, but they’re not representative of the party as a whole. Believe me, if they ever do come to regret this change, they will make that clear.

The Republicans had more voters this year than the Dems did, after the Dems outvoted them in 2018 and 2020. Does this worry me? Not really. Like I said, primaries are low turnout. That means people don’t participate for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason normal people do – by “normal” I mean the non-activist and news junkie portions of the population – is when there’s a headline race that grabs their attention. There wasn’t one in the 2018 primary – Beto didn’t have to run a serious primary campaign because he didn’t have a serious primary opponent, and indeed he faced questions afterward when Dems barely broke 1 million total voters statewide (compared to 1.5 million for the GOP even though they didn’t really have a headline primary race that year either) and he got “only” 62% of the vote. He’s in the same position this year – the entire story of the race so far is about Beto versus Abbott, not Beto versus Joy Diaz. On the other hand, at least as much of the story on the Republican side is Abbott versus West and Huffines, and that’s before you factor in the clusterfuck of an AG primary. Those are the kind of races that draw people to the polls.

Look at it this way: In 2016, nearly 330K people voted in the GOP primary in Harris County, compared to 227K for Dems. The November vote went pretty well for Dems in Harris County that year.

As for final turnout, it’s a little hard to say because samples are small and context changes greatly from Presidential to non-Presidential years. A little more than 40% of the Democratic vote was cast on Election Day in 2018 and 2014, while more than half was cast in 2010 and 2006. More than half was cast on Election Day in 2020, 2016, and 2008, while slightly less than half was cast in 2012. Going just by 2018, we’d probably approach 170K for final turnout. Republicans in 2018 had about 45% of their vote on Election Day, which projects them to 185-190K overall. Take all of that with a huge grain of salt – I just don’t know how to factor in the mail ballot changes, the recent aggressively revanchist policy moves by Greg Abbott et al, and just the overall state of the world. All I can say is we’ll see.

I’ll have a look at the statewide numbers tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

The hotly contested SD15 primary

This may be the most compelling primary race in the county.

Sen. John Whitmire

On the last day for candidates to file for the 2022 primary in Texas, things were looking good for state Sen. John Whitmire.

The longtime Democrat, sitting on an $11 million campaign war chest, had recently announced his plan to run for mayor of Houston in 2023. The more pressing matter — Whitmire’s re-election to the state Senate in 2022 — seemed a mere formality, with the filing deadline hours away and no other Democrat running in his deep-blue district.

Instead, Whitmire drew a last-minute challenge from Molly Cook, an emergency room nurse and progressive activist who appears to be the incumbent senator’s most formidable opponent in decades.

The longest-serving member of the Senate, Whitmire is heading into Tuesday’s election with clear-cut advantages over Cook, having outspent her roughly 3-to-1 and represented the district since nearly a decade before she was born. Still, Whitmire’s declared — and potential — mayoral opponents are keeping a close eye on the contest, which poses a fresh test of the senator’s electoral strength in a district that takes in a large chunk of the Houston electorate.

Whitmire said he takes “each and every opponent very seriously,” including Cook. He has shaped his re-election bid around his 39 years of experience in the Senate, arguing that his knowledge of the legislative process and presence on key committees — as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the budget-shaping Finance and Business & Commerce committees — give him clout even in the Republican-dominated chamber.

“I think my chairmanship of Criminal Justice is reason alone for people to support me,” said Whitmire, 72. “Experience matters. … I don’t even think it’s a close call on who is prepared, from Day One, to represent Houston.”

Molly Cook

Though Cook, 30, is making her first run for elected office, she entered the race after spending more than a year as a lead organizer behind Stop TxDOT I-45, the group opposing the state transportation agency’s controversial $7 billion plan to remake Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston. She said her deep ties to grassroots organizing would shape her approach to serving in the Senate, vowing to seek input from community advocates through “bottom-up planning.”

At the same time, Cook argues that Whitmire — who was elected to the House in 1972, while a senior at the University of Houston, before moving to the Senate a decade later — has lost touch with the district through his nearly half-century in office. She has also accused Whitmire of “running for two offices at once” by way of his early mayoral announcement.

At a forum in late January, Cook said Whitmire’s “way of doing things is no longer serving our district or our state. She touted her own “fresh perspective and public health and policy expertise.”

“Sen. Whitmire has been in the Legislature since he was 23,” Cook said. “I have the experience of being a health care worker, making sacrifices to afford my health care, renting my home, and grassroots organizing. Sen. Whitmire is weighed down by experience, decades of campaign contributions, backroom deals and protecting personal political capital.”

Whitmire insists that he is completely focused on his current election, and dismissed charges from Cook that he would already have one foot out the door during the 2023 legislative session. He noted that Mayor Sylvester Turner also ran for re-election to the state House in 2014, even as he was gearing up for a mayoral run the following year.

“Nothing matters more to me right now than the Senate race. Any future race, we’ll take up after this race. I see no conflict,” Whitmire said. “So, that’s just a smokescreen. My opponent had to say something. She’s not going to say I’m a good guy. She should, but, you know, there’s no core Democratic issue to talk about. I voted nearly exactly like (state Sens.) Borris Miles and Carol Alvarado. We work very closely as a delegation.”

As a reminder, my interview with Sen. Whitmire is here, and my interview with Molly Cook is here. There are a lot of Molly Cook signs in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t claim we’re indicative of anything, but it’s interesting to me anyway. I know Cook has blockwalked here – she knocked on my door a few weeks ago – and as far as I know Whitmire has not. That can make a difference, especially in a neighborhood like mine that is often not visited by canvassers. It’s also the case that the I-45 expansion plan is very unpopular here – we have been dreading TxDOT’s plans for I-45 for at least the last 20 years – and I suspect that Cook has found more than a few supporters by talking about her involvement in the opposition to TxDOT.

I also think that Whitmire’s announcement of his Mayoral campaign last November didn’t do him any favors. Whitmire has noted correctly that Mayor Turner ran for re-election in 2014 and then served ably in the Legislature in 2015 before his successful Mayoral campaign. I don’t remember Turner announcing his Mayoral candidacy that early, though it was hardly a secret that he intended to run. It may just be that things are different now, and people feel differently about that. It also may be that the backlash to Whitmire’s dual candidacy announcement is totally overblown and nothing more than a tempest in the teapot-sized world of the very inside and very online local politics contingent. Ask me again after the election results come in.

One more thing:

Even if Cook loses, a strong showing could establish her as a frontrunner in what would likely be a crowded race to replace Whitmire if he wins the November 2023 mayoral race, said University of Houston political science associate professor Jeronimo Cortina.

“Perhaps what she wants to do is get on the ballot early and claim that particular space that is going to be opened,” Cortina said. “I think it’s a smart move on her behalf.”

If she comes up short next week, Cook said she would likely run for the seat again if the opportunity arises in 2024.

“I don’t like to make promises or commitments looking forward, because anything could happen,” Cook said. “But I would say that there’s a high likelihood.”

I fully expect that Cook has an eye on 2024, because winning this race was always going to be tough, and because there is an opening for someone to get in front of the field for that potential special election. One step at a time, obviously. We can talk about this after the election as well.

Orange is the new threat level

New again, anyway.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo lowered Harris County’s COVID-19 threat level to “significant” Thursday, signaling the city is emerging from the worst of the omicron wave as infection rates plummet.

Harris County has met all four metrics needed to lower its threat level from red, its highest level indicating “severe risk,” to orange, the second-highest possible threat level. Under orange, officials still recommend that residents minimize all unnecessary contact and avoid large gatherings to stem the spread of the virus.

“The omicron wave hit Harris County very, very hard,” Hidalgo said in a statement. “In fact, only now have our hospitalization rates dropped to levels that don’t immediately threaten the capacity of our healthcare system.”

[…]

The two other metrics that were keeping the county in red — ICU capacity and new cases per 100,000 — have improved in recent days, leading to the downgrade Thursday. The overall percentage of COVID patients in the ICU fell to the county’s threshold of 15 percent, and the seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 people declined to 83, well below the county’s goal of 100.

Hidalgo encouraged residents to get vaccinated to avoid another “dangerous” COVID spike.

“While we’re moving in the right direction, there are no guarantees we won’t see another wave in the future,” Hidalgo said.

We were last at orange in December, on the way to red a couple of weeks later. At this rate, we’ll likely be back to yellow soon, and after that who knows. The good news is that between our vaccination level and the sheer number of people who contracted omicron, our overall immunity level for the short term is as good as it’s ever been. The bad news is that our vax level is still way too low, far too few kids have been vaxxed, and the waning omicron wave is causing fewer people to get vaxxed now because the threat is receding. It really is just a matter of time before we’re back in a crisis situation again. If we’re lucky, and we make a strong effort to get a lot more people vaccinated in countries that have not had nearly enough vaccine supply, then maybe that next wave is farther off. If not, well, I probably don’t have to tell you what that means. Stace has more.

“The Dead Sea of West Texas”

Not a vacation spot.

Photo from Sergio Chapa on Twitter

About twenty-five miles north of Fort Stockton sits what looks, at first blush, like an oasis amid the West Texas desert. When I recently visited what might be Texas’s newest sizable body of water, its color was a pleasant sea green. A flock of ducks circled in the sky above and landed on the choppy surface.

Yet Lake Boehmer covers more than sixty acres of scrubland with a noxious brew. You wouldn’t want to sate your thirst with its water, which is three times saltier than the ocean, with a sulfate level twenty-five times greater than legally allowed for drinking. Lake Boehmer belches hydrogen sulfide gas, which at low concentrations generates a rotten egg smell and at higher concentrations kills the occasional waterfowl and causes headaches and nausea in humans.

A muddy jetty pokes a couple of dozen feet out into the shallow lake. At its end is a partially submerged cement box around a wellhead. Spouting there is a toxic fountain, a mushroom head of water gushing at two hundred gallons a minute. It first appeared around 2003, though it’s unclear why the water started flowing then, and the lake has been growing ever since. Thanks to bureaucratic buck passing, it shows no sign of stopping.

Lake Boehmer flows from one of several abandoned wells near the tiny community of Imperial. Each of these wells appears to have been drilled in the forties or fifties, when wildcatters were plumbing the area in search of oil. Most of their wells came up dry for petroleum, but produced water of decent quality. Rather than plugging the wells, the oil companies deeded them over to landowners. For a time, they were used to irrigate farms, but most appear to have fallen into disuse in the decades since.

No one is sure who owns the Lake Boehmer well property. Forty different absentee owners have some shares of the various parcels onto which the lake flows, but the Pecos County Appraisal District doesn’t know for sure who owns what. Locals dubbed the body of water Lake Boehmer after a former landowner, Bernard Boehmer. That’s not an official name, but the term has made its way onto Google Maps. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation tried in 2005 to track down Bernard Boehmer, but sent a certified letter to an address in “O’Fallow, Missouri.” They likely meant O’Fallon, a St. Louis suburb. There’s no record of whether any other letter was sent, or if it reached him.

[…]

Yet no one has stepped up to plug the well or most of the other abandoned wells in its vicinity. Landowners like Schuyler Wight, a 58-year-old cattle rancher who owns the Santa Rosa ranch across the highway from Lake Boehmer, have been left to go it alone. “The oil company just dumped its liability,” he told me. These wells were drilled 2,600 feet down, much deeper than the typical 200-foot water well. Plugging a well like that is both expensive and tricky.

Wight should know. Earlier this month, he paused an attempt to plug one of these deep wells on his ranch. He spent more than $100,000 and poured at least a thousand sacks of cement into the well, which simply swallowed the cement and kept flowing a couple hundred gallons a minute. Then he ran out of money. “The wells are corroded. They are in very bad shape. There’s collapsed casing, collapsed wellbore, there’s cavities. There’s all kinds of problems,” he said.

Lake Boehmer has been allowed to exist and grow for nearly two decades. The cost of plugging it now is likely far greater than what it would have been in 2003. Makes you wonder what similar problems lie ahead—and who will take responsibility for them—in an aging oil field like the Permian Basin. Neglect is an option, but not a good one.

In addition to the Trib story linked above, a quick Google search found other stories about this ecological hellhole from 2015, 2016, and 2018, plus an interview with this story’s author that followed its publication. (I drafted this in December, so there may be something more recent since then.) The Railroad Commission says it has no jurisdiction, the Texas Water Development Board doesn’t have Lake Bohmer in its database, and for sure no one is ever going to be able to hold those absentee owners or those surely long-gone wildcatter accountable. Hope it doesn’t cause too much more damage in the future, I guess.

SCOTx hears SB8 argument

I’ll be honest, I had not realized this was on the calendar.

The Texas Supreme Court got its first chance to weigh in on the state’s new abortion law Thursday, hearing arguments in a narrow challenge to the restrictions, which have blocked access to abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy for nearly six months.

This hearing before the nine-justice high court is an interim step in the ongoing federal lawsuit brought by abortion providers trying to challenge the law. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on a question of state law before the appeals court proceeds with its own ruling in the case.

The law, passed as Senate Bill 8, is designed to evade judicial review, a goal at which it has so far been successful. It specifically precludes state officials from enforcing it, instead deputizing private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

Lawyers representing the abortion providers are trying to prove that the state itself actually will enforce the law, which would open a legal window for them to seek an injunction on some aspects of the law. They argued that the law is enforced by court clerks who docket the lawsuits, judges who hear them, the attorney general and others.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out most of those arguments in a December ruling that allowed the law to remain in effect. The justices did allow one question to proceed, over whether state medical licensing officials play a role in enforcing the law.

Those agencies would potentially be responsible for disciplining or revoking the licenses of doctors, nurses and pharmacists who violate the law; an injunction would stop them from doing so, but would leave the crux of the law in place.

[…]

At Thursday’s hearing, Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone argued that there was no “ordinary English interpretation that entertains any possibility of public enforcement.”

The justices questioned whether doctors might be obligated by the rules of the state’s medical licensing board to report any lawsuits brought against them for violating the abortion law, and whether that would constitute state enforcement.

Stone said the board could simply make a rule saying that it has no role in enforcement, so even if a report was made, it would be precluded from taking further action, like revoking a doctor’s license.

That argument, and the narrowness of the challenge more generally, presented a problem for lawyers representing the abortion providers, who found themselves in the tricky position of arguing against themselves.

Their current argument is that the state’s enforcement authority, through medical licensing officials, contributes to the chilling effect on abortion providers. If the state Supreme Court decides that medical licensing officials do not have enforcement authority — or the boards add language to their rules confirming that — that chilling effect is lifted.

Justice Evan Young asked Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, whether that would be a win for the abortion providers.

“If you were to do that, that would, at a minimum, provide our clients some certainty,” Hearron said. “It would, however … essentially end our challenge.”

Without state enforcement, there is no one to bring a constitutional challenge against, and the law would remain in effect.

[…]

Abortion providers and advocates are fighting the law on several fronts, including in state court, where a judge in Austin declared the law unconstitutional. He did not enjoin the law from being enforced, though, and that ruling is being appealed.

It is possible that case will eventually return to these same chambers. The justices acknowledged that Thursday’s hearing is unlikely to be the last time they are asked to rule on this unprecedented new law.

Thursday’s case before the Texas Supreme Court is a question of whether the abortion providers can bring a federal “pre-enforcement” challenge.

If that option is foreclosed to them, one option would be to do what a San Antonio doctor did immediately after the law was passed: violate the law, get sued and challenge the statute on its merits in court.

See here, here, here, and here for some background. Perhaps the timing of this hearing on Thursday explains the forced-birthers’ move earlier in the week. I have no idea what SCOTx will do, and there’s no indication from them as to when they’ll do it, but I do know what they should do, and that’s what the federal district court did and would have done again if the Fifth Circuit hadn’t shredded normal practice to put this case before them: Issue a temporary restraining order against any SB8 activity until the matter is resolved in the courts. It’s ridiculous and infuriating how the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS have played politics with this case. Do what is clearly the right thing under the law, and let the matter proceed from there. I don’t expect them to do this, but they should. The Chron and the Texas Signal have more.

Let’s pay some attention to the Gulf Coast Protection District

They may raise some tax revenue to help pay for the Ike Dike, so best to know what’s happening with it. Especially since they didn’t exactly go out of their way to make it easy to do that.

Danielle Goshen spent months trying to figure out when and where the new group that will work on funding the so-called Ike Dike was meeting. The environmental advocate was eager to know how the Gulf Coast Protection District would cover the local cost if Congress approves the sweeping coastal barrier project.

Goshen is a policy specialist and counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. She’s concerned about pursuing a $29 billion dollar plan, with the prospect that the project could cost even more. The proposal calls for building a massive series of gates across the mouth of Galveston Bay to stop hurricane storm surges from pushing up the industry-lined ship channel.

The legislature created the protection district to find local funding for 35 percent of the portion of the project built here — perhaps by levying taxes. Supporters say the concept is necessary as climate change will likely strengthen the winds and rains of future storms. Advocates such as Goshen caution it will take at least 12 years to design and build. Non-federal funding needed for the barrier system is about $10 billion.

Environmental advocates have expressed wide-ranging concerns about the proposal, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized last fall. They’ve pressed for more information about how the foundations of the gates will restrict water flow between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, potentially impacting water quality and marine life. The barrier also won’t stop the worst of storms and it will still leave the region especially vulnerable during the years it takes to build.

Harris County is the most populous of the five counties the district represents, and residents could be responsible for some 85 percent of the local tax share for the proposal, making for about a 20 percent tax increase, Harris County Administrator David Berry said in December. Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties are also in the district’s jurisdiction.

The costly burden makes it all the more pressing for stakeholders and residents to be tuned into the decision making, Goshen said.

“The real concern is that they’re not doing enough to make these meetings accessible to the public and to really get the word out that they’re having these meetings in the first place,” Goshen said, adding, “We really think that it’s imperative that this district has public engagement at the top of mind.”

Goshen kept searching online for months for information about the meetings, she said, and found nothing. It wasn’t until near the end of 2021 that someone forwarded her an agenda.

It turned out Gov. Greg Abbott had appointed six board members in June. Each county’s commissioners court picked one additional board member. The group had been getting together since August. The meetings were open to all, and met legal requirements, whether or not they’d been thoroughly advertised, according to those in charge.

[…]

The newly formed district now has a website and email distribution list but as the pandemic stretches on, the group still offers no way for the public to watch meetings online. It also has pages on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter. Goshen, as well as a Houston Chronicle environment reporter and an environmental advocate, Bayou City Waterkeeper’s legal director Kristen Schlemmer, were its only three Twitter followers before the Chronicle covered the group Wednesday.

See here and here for the background. I confess I had totally forgotten about this – it’s not like we’ve been in a low-news environment lately, but still – but I am now a Twitter follower of the GCPD, whose count was up to 119 including me as of Monday evening. I hope that whatever business the conduct going forward, it’s better publicized and better covered. This is a big deal, and we deserve to know what they’re up to.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Dedra Davis

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. One more late entrant for the series.

Judge Dedra Davis

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Dedra Davis. I preside with great pride over the 270th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I have the pleasure of presiding over a plethora of cases. As a Civil District Court judge, I hear matters dealing with Structured Settlements, Minor Settlement hearings, Expunctions, Employment disputes, Jones Act disputes, tax disputes, personal injury matters, and a host of other important and potentially life-changing matters.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I have had exceptional results since having the honor of serving as the presiding judge of the 270th Court. To quote William Ewart Gladstone, “access delayed is access denied.” As an entrepreneur for over 22 years, I developed strong survival skills that have actually served me well in my role as presiding judge of the 270th Court.

1) In 2019, I implemented a telephone docket. Many of the civil court judges were having to share courtrooms with the criminal court judges and with other civil court judges and there was no where to have trials or hearings in a timely manner.
2) In 2019, I was the only court, of the 24 Civil District Courts in Harris County, that allowed virtual appearances via CourtCall. No matter where a person was, they had access to justice.
3) In 2019, I opened the doors to the 270th court to school field trips. I have had over 1000 students visit the 270th court, sit on the judge’s bench, hit the gavel, give an order, and get pictures galore. We discussed jobs at the courthouse, setting goals and having dreams.
4) In 2020, when the courthouse closed due to Covid19, I immediately began hold virtual hearings via Zoom, once the service was provided.
5) In 2020, when the courthouse closed due to Covid19, I held virtual trials. As an entrepreneur, I focused on what I COULD do and not what I could NOT do. Even though no juries were being called to duty, the court still had many trials that COULD be held and heard. I was able to get 45 trials to verdict! I finished 2020 with 52 trials to verdict! Number 1, of the 24 Civil District Courts, in trials to verdict that year!
6) In 2021, when the District Clerk’s office got a system in place to do virtual jury calls, I began doing virtual juries. I am the only District Court judge in Harris County, of the 60, that is has been holding virtual jury trials with 12 jurors. This has had an monumental affect on justice being served. I’ve had parties in Scotland, France, and other parts of the world get their day in court, Covid19 Free.
7) Instead of hearing motions only 1 day a week, I changed the court’s practice and now matters are heard 5 days a week. This practice has allowed the court to maintain one of the lowest inventories of the 24 Civil District courts.
8) I changed the “official record” of 270th Court proceedings to a more efficient and cost effective system. Lawyers and litigants no longer have to call and beg for the “official record” of the court. Lawyers no longer have to pay thousands of dollars for the “official record” of the court. They now receive the “official record” of the 270th Court FOR FREE and within 15 minutes of the end of the proceeding. I recognize that all clients and lawyers do not have the resources to pay for the “official record,” and justice was being denied.
9) I require lawyers requesting hearings to be heard to schedule them within 30 days, if law allows. No more waiting months to get a hearing.
10) I demand WORLD CLASS customer service be given to any and everyone that does business with the 270th Court. Good or great customer service is just not enough.
11) I have opened the court to internships for over 30 law students, paralegals, college students and high school students. Majority are volunteers that are trying to learn about the courts and being a judge. Fueling the future.
12) I created an Expunction seminar that I give all across Texas.
13) I created a seminar entitled “How To Become A Judge,” that I have presented all across the USA to law students and pre-law students.
14) I have many more accomplishments since taking the bench in 2019. I just listed a few.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to make sure law and order equals justice.
I have already implemented new policies and procedures that have drastically changed the access to, as well as the efficiency of, the 270th
Court.
I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to treat all parties in the court equally. All trials need to be heard, not just the ones where the party can afford to pay a fee for a jury. As the presiding judge of the 270th court, I have a responsibility and a duty to serve all the parties. I refuse to discriminate against a party just because they can’t pay a jury fee.
As you may be aware, when the party files a lawsuit, that party decides if the case will be heard as a jury trial or a nonjury trial. If the party wants it to be a jury trial, the party will pay the jury fee. The parties in the case 100% decide if they want a jury to hear their case or if they want a judge to hear their case, all the way up to 30 days before the date of trial.
I have a PROVEN record. I have and will continue to be innovative, creative in serving the citizens of Harris County. I am dedicated.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important for many reasons. One reason this race is important is because truth and honor are a huge part of the job. When I pulled the 1/1/2019 to 2/13/2022 report, it reflected that I had 88 nonjury trials and 16 jury trials to verdict, that is over 100 trials to verdict. I have been consistently sharing the correct number of trials to verdict, jury and nonjury. There is no room for mistake or confusion.

Another reason this race is important is because the citizens deserve a judge with sound legal judgment. Two occasions when my rulings were taken to the Texas Supreme Court, my rulings were upheld. In one case, two different Courts Of Appeals (6 justices) and the Texas Supreme Court (9 justices) all upheld my decision. That’s 15 justices that upheld my opinion. Sound legal judgment.
PROVEN.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have over 35 years of legal experience.
I have almost 10 years as a civil litigation paralegal and more than 25 years as an attorney doing litigation and transactional work. I have over 20 years as a Certified Mediator, specializing in civil litigation.
I bring a broad knowledge of the system and the law.
I bring an expertise that is incredibly necessary for the position. Tunnel vision from one perspective is not an ideal trait for a presiding judge.
I have over 3 years as the presiding judge of the 270th Court and have made incredible improvements.
Justice. Fairness. Equality. Judicial temperament.
I am an award winning judge. The Houston Lawyers Association recognized my work and presented me with a “Judicial Service” award. The Texas Bar Foundation, a prestigious organization of elite attorneys, voted me in as a “Fellow.” I am now a “Lifetime Fellow” of the Texas Bar Foundation.

The voters in Harris County do not have to GUESS if I will perform. They have a PROVEN track record that shows I am devoted, driven, dedicated, creative and innovative. No guessing necessary.

The people should vote for me because litigants deserve a leader, not a follower.
If I followed everyone else, I would not be the only District Court in Harris County providing an 100% free Covid19 environment for jury trials.
I would not be the only District Court in Harris County that gives the litigants the “official record” of the court FOR FREE, and within minutes of the end of the proceeding.
The people should vote for me because I have PROVEN that I an innovative and creative.
I have PROVEN that I am a hard worker that thinks outside the box.
I have PROVEN that the citizens and the community are of the utmost importance to me as the presiding judge of the 270th Civil District Court. PROVEN, no guessing necessary.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

“You put an electric engine…in a DeLorean??”

Everything old is new again.

Hold onto your flux capacitors: The DeLorean Motor Company is back and making San Antonio its home.

Economic development officials announced Monday that the once-defunct 1980s-era car manufacturer, whose gull-wing car was best known as a time-travel machine in the Back to the Future movies, will establish its reconstituted headquarters at Port San Antonio as it seeks other locations for manufacturing operations.

The brand is staging a comeback in the realm of electric vehicle (EV) production, a plan the car company teased in a 15-second spot during the Super Bowl LVI game Sunday.

[…]

Electric vehicle manufacturing is a new venture for DeLorean, known best for its stainless steel sports car that debuted in 1981.

First established by auto industry executive John DeLorean in 1975, the car company produced about 9,000 cars at a plant in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1982 before the company went bankrupt and its founder was arrested for drug trafficking. The cars have lived on in pop culture lore thanks partly to their distinctive design and starring role in three Back to the Future films beginning in 1985.

British-born mechanic Stephen Wynne purchased the rights to the DeLorean name and remaining parts inventory in 1995. Since then, the company has provided service to the 6,000 DeLorean cars still in existence from its home in Humble, north of Houston.

Its entry into electric vehicle manufacturing will be the company’s first go at building cars since the original plant closed in 1982. DeLorean joins a list of at least 17 automakers planning to electrify their models in coming years.

Why not do it with some style, right? I have no idea if this will be a success or if it’s even worth trying, but I don’t care. The thought that there might someday be electric DeLoreans out on the street someday makes me smile.

We can’t end this post without the proper homage:

I hope that’s enough to distract you from the realization that “Back To The Future 2” was set in that mystical far-off year of…2015. Missed it by that much on the Cubs winning the World Series, too.

Anti-abortion zealots make their move under SB8

This is where it really starts to get scary and ugly.

For nearly six months, as Texas’ novel abortion law has wended its way through the courts, abortion providers and opponents have been locked in a stalemate.

The law, known as Senate Bill 8, empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. With one exception as soon as the law went into effect, abortion providers in Texas have stopped performing these prohibited procedures — so opponents haven’t tried to bring one of these enforcement suits.

But that could be changing. A group of anti-abortion lawyers have taken steps to potentially bring lawsuits under SB 8, claiming in state court petitions that the leaders of two abortion funds have information about illegal abortions they helped patients procure.

This is a significant escalation on the part of abortion opponents, who have so far seemed satisfied with the chilling effect that even just the threat of lawsuits has had on abortion providers and their affiliates.

The petitions were filed by two women, Ashley Maxwell of Hood County and Sadie Weldon of Jack County. They are represented by Jonathan Mitchell, the architect of SB 8 and a former solicitor general for Texas; state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), the law’s chief legislative advocate; and lawyers from the right-wing Thomas More Society and America First Legal Foundation.

Maxwell and Weldon are asking a judge to allow them to depose the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund and the deputy director of the Lilith Fund before any lawsuits are filed.

If granted, the depositions will allow the petitioners to discover “the extent of involvement of each individual that aided or abetted post-heartbeat abortions in violation of SB 8” so they can “better evaluate the prospects for legal success.”

While abortion providers have reported significant declines in patient loads since the law went into effect, abortion funds have seen a surge in demand from clients trying to access abortions before the deadline or leave the state to seek the procedure.

“What [these petitions] mean to do is chill pregnant people from seeking out the help of abortion funds,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “If someone thinks that their identity and circumstances are going to be revealed to the world at large by a lawsuit … they’re going to hesitate before they pick up the phone and call for help.”

The petitions seek to depose Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, and Neesha Davé, deputy director of the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, two nonprofit abortion funds that provide financial assistance to patients seeking abortions.

Conner and Davé both admitted, in sworn affidavits in state court, that their organizations helped fund abortions “after the period in which cardiac activity is usually detectable.” That would put them in violation of SB 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, and open them up to potential lawsuits.

The organizations helped fund these abortions during a brief period last fall in which a federal district judge had enjoined the law from being enforced. A higher court quickly overturned that ruling; SB 8 specifically notes that an injunction that is later overturned is not a protection from future lawsuits.

That aspect of the law hasn’t been tested in court, and experts say it’s unclear whether it would hold up.

“In part, this attempt to get a deposition is also an attempt to figure out if claims can be brought based on the abortions performed in those few days where SB 8 was not in effect,” said Sepper.

The depositions are also seeking to identify who, in the language of the law, “aided and abetted” in these abortions — and the petitions indicate they’re taking a very wide view of that term. According to the filing, they’re seeking information on the funds’ role in facilitating abortions, the identity of individuals that they collaborated with and access to documents on the funds’ sources of financial support.

See here for the background on the state lawsuit, and here for the federal suit, which as we now know was routed to SCOTx by the Fifth Circuit precisely to keep it from being enjoined again. Make no mistake, the ultimate goal here is not just to go after people like Conner and Davé (who is a friend of mine), but everyone who donated to their organizations. The point of this awful law was to stop abortion, but the cherry on top for them was the chance to get rich doing so. I’m too disgusted to say any more.

Some DAs refuse to enforce Abbott’s anti-trans order

More like this, please.

District attorneys in five of the largest counties in Texas on Thursday announced that they will not comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) and state attorney general Ken Paxton’s (R) directive that state agencies begin investigating gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths.

The district attorneys of Dallas, Travis, Bexar, Nueces and Fort Bend counties condemned the directive in a statement issued Thursday. The group, which is comprised of five Democratic district attorneys, slammed Abbott and Paxton’s characterization of gender-affirming care for minors as “child abuse.” They declared Abbott and Paxton’s recent rhetoric is an “onslaught on personal freedoms” that is on its face “un-American.”

“We also want to be clear: we will enforce the Constitution and will not irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents, and their medical physicians,” the district attorneys wrote. “We trust the judgment of our state’s medical professionals, who dedicate themselves to providing the highest degree of care not only for our transgender youth, but for all youth in our communities.”

The group of district attorneys also assured parents that they are “safe” to continue seeking gender-affirming care for their children.

“We will not allow the Governor and Attorney General to disregard Texan children’s lives in order to score political points,” they wrote.

See here for the background. A copy of the DAs’ letter is embedded in the story. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee has issued a similar statement, but his is a civil law office, not a criminal law office. I’d very much like to know where Harris County DA Kim Ogg – and every other Democratic DA in this state – is on this. As others have noted, AG opinions are non-binding, and it’s not at all clear that Abbott’s order is enforceable – remember how he himself admitted that his no-mask-mandate executive order could not be enforced? This is entirely discretionary, so take a stand. Someone in power needs to be standing up for these kids and their families.

Beaumont versus Disney, Netflix, and Hulu

Oh, this is going to be fun.

The City of Beaumont is suing Netflix, Hulu, and Disney for failure to pay franchise fees.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the city attorney was officially authorized to file the lawsuit.

The city alleges that the companies violated the 2005 Texas Video Service Providers Act, according to a public notice published last week.

“The city’s desired outcome in pursuing the litigation is to recover from the VSPs damages owed to the city for failure to pay franchise fees and obtain an order requiring the VSPs to pay the franchise fees going forward,” the public notice stated.

This is not a nationwide law, City Attorney Sharae Reed said. It is Texas specific, and to her knowledge, Netflix, Hulu and Disney are not paying the franchise fees to any cities in Texas.

“I’m not privileged to say what other cities are doing, but I am aware of some other cities who are in a class action lawsuit,” Reed said. “It’s each city filing their own individual lawsuits, and then we’re coming together.”

All three companies are expected to vigorously oppose the charge, so the city is hoping to employ highly-skilled lawyers on the case. Beaumont intends to work with three law firms on the lawsuit — McKool Smith, P.C., Ashcroft Sutton Reyes LLC, and Korein Tillery LLC.

[…]

Should the lawsuit prove successful for the city, recovered franchise fees will be used to pay for essential municipal services going forward.

I mean, I think the odds of this succeeding are pretty low. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I am a guy who has some insight into how this kind of lawsuit tends to play out in this state. If nothing else, the AG’s office tends to jump in front of a parade like this when it’s viable. But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe a bunch of other cities will look at this and think “we gotta get in on that”. Any real lawyers out there who want to tell me if I’m off base or not, please do so.

Here comes Waymo on I-45

They’ve actually been on this road for a couple of months, but now they’re doing more.

Waymo will begin hauling freight for North America’s largest logistics firm on autonomous big rigs traveling between Dallas and Houston on Interstate 45.

The California-based subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., announced the partnership Wednesday with C.H. Robinson, which moves 20 million shipments a year. The self-driving trucks will carry a safety driver in the front seat.

Waymo spokesperson Julianne McGoldrick said pilot runs will start in the coming months on what is becoming a common Dallas-to-Houston testing ground. Waymo has been hauling freight between the Texas cities with self-driving trucks since last year for other partners like J.B. Hunt and UPS.

[…]

In partnership with France-based public transport company Transdev, the Texas routes will create hundreds of jobs at Waymo’s new 9-acre hub in South Dallas. The new hub was built specifically for Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous trucking operations and accommodates hundreds of trucks from its carrier partners.

In June, Waymo began testing self-driving freight runs between Fort Worth and Houston on Interstate 45 in partnership with trucking company J.B. Hunt. The company reported zero accidents or speeding events involving the vehicles, concluding that the trials were a success. This led to a long-term partnership with the trucking company.

McGoldrick said Texas’ reputation as one of the biggest freight hubs in the U.S. makes it a key spot to test the vehicles. The Dallas-to-Houston route on Interstate 45 is especially important because it connects freight arriving at major cargo airports such as DFW International and AllianceTexas and at railroad yards in southern Dallas with Houston’s busy shipping port.

“We can test our Waymo Driver on highly dense highways and shipper lanes, further understand how other truck and passenger car drivers behave on these routes, and continue to refine the way our Waymo Driver reacts and responds in these busy driving regions as we advance our operations,” McGoldrick said.

As noted, driverless trucks love I-45. That post mentioned Waymo’s entry into I-45 trucking, but I didn’t have a post specifically about it. Just another thing to watch out for if you’re driving that same route. The Dallas Observer has more.

Go ahead and blame Greg Abbott for your high electricity bills

They really are his fault.

The former head of the Texas power grid testified in court Wednesday that when he ordered power prices to stay at the maximum price cap for days on end during last year’s frigid winter storm and blackout, running up billions of dollars in bills for power companies, he was following the direction of Governor Greg Abbott.

Bill Magness, the former CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said even as power plants were starting come back online former Public Utility Commission Chairman DeAnn Walker had told him that Abbott wanted them to do whatever necessary to prevent further rotating blackouts that left millions of Texans without power.

“She told me the governor had conveyed to her if we emerged from rotating outages it was imperative they not resume,” Magness testified. “We needed to do what we needed to do to make it happen.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year the governor’s spokesman, Mark Miner said the governor was not “involved in any way” in the decision to keep prices at the maximum of $9,000 per megawatt hour – more than 150 times normal prices. He described a decision to send an aide to ERCOT’s operations center in the middle of the crisis as based on the feeling the grid operator was spewing “disinformation.”

Magness’s decision to keep power prices at the maximum cap for more than 24 hours after conditions on the power grid began to improve is now at the center of a bankruptcy trial waged by the Waco-based electric co-op Brazos Electric.

Brazos contends that decision was made recklessly, adding up to a $1.9 billion power bill from ERCOT that forced them into bankruptcy.

“It did nothing at all to cause more generation to come online,” said Lino Mendiola, one of the attorneys representing Brazos. “It was an attempted remedy that didn’t solve any of the problems caused by the winter storm.”

The original order to raise power prices to the cap was made by the Public Utility Commission on Feb. 15, to try to get power plants back online and encourage large power users like factories and petrochemical plants to stay offline. ERCOT elected to keep prices at the cap until Feb. 19, a decision that the Texas Independent Market Monitor criticized in a report last year as having, “exceeded the mandate of the Commission.”

“This decision resulted in $16 billion in additional costs to ERCOT’s market,” wrote Carrie Bivens, director of ERCOT’s Independent Market Monitor.

See here, here, and here for some background. Seems like kind of a big deal, doesn’t it? Maybe also puts some recent pronouncements by Abbott in a different context, too. Abbott, through a spokesperson, has now denied the claims of the testimony, which of course he would. I can’t wait to hear what else comes out of this lawsuit.

A handful of stories about statewide primaries

Let’s talk about Sarah.

Sarah Stogner

One November evening in far West Texas, Sarah Stogner decided to strip down to pasties and her underwear, plus boots and a cowboy hat, and climb onto an oil pumpjack while a small film crew watched.

The crew, in town to film a documentary about an unplugged oil well spewing contaminated fluids, was sharing beers with Stogner when one of the videographers said they always wanted to do an artistic photo shoot on a pumpjack, Stogner recalled.

“And I thought, oh my God, yes, what if I got naked or almost naked on top of it?” Stogner said. “This will be hilarious. Just for our own fun. I didn’t have any grand schemes with it. But fuck it, this will be fun.”

In February, the video turned into a now-viral campaign ad for the 37-year-old oil and gas attorney from Monahans, who is running for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory agency in charge of the state’s massive oil and gas sector. Stogner released the five-second video on Super Bowl Sunday in a tweet with the caption: “They said I needed money. I have other assets.”

“I need to get people’s attention, right?” Stogner said in an interview, adding that she didn’t want to do that in a “pornographic” way.

“And here we are, it’s working,” she said, listing various news stories about her campaign since the video went public.

Stogner’s seminude stunt is only the latest twist in what has become the strangest Republican primary campaign for Railroad Commission in decades. The incumbent, Railroad Commission Chair Wayne Christian, is facing corruption allegations after he voted — against the recommendation of Railroad Commission staff — to approve a permit for an oil field waste dump facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.

Another candidate, Marvin “Sarge” Summers, died earlier this month on the campaign trail after crashing into a tanker truck in Midland.

Despite the agency’s power over Texas’ largest industry — including the natural gas system, a crucial element of the Texas power grid that failed last year during a powerful winter storm, leaving millions of people without power for days — elections for the three-member board that oversees it typically don’t generate much attention from voters.

“They might know about it now because of Sarah Stogner,” said Tom Slocum Jr., a 38-year-old engineering consultant from the Houston area who is one of the four surviving candidates in the Republican primary.

The Chron was all over Stogner’s attention-grabbing ad last week, which one must admit achieved its purpose. Stogner makes some good points, which is not something I’m accustomed to saying about Republican politicians in their primaries these days. It’s easy enough to look good in comparison to the extreme sleaze of incumbent Wayne Christian, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into coherent policymaking or campaigning; one of her opponents is running on “building the border wall and protecting gun ownership”, two things that the Railroad Commission does not do. That said, Stogner also voted for Allen West and Louie Gohmert, so don’t go holding her up as some kind of exemplar. Democrat Luke Warford, who is unopposed and therefore not mentioned in that Trib story, is still by far your best bet.

For Land Commissioner, you have some good choices, and then you have the Republicans.

Most Republicans seeking the GOP nomination list the Alamo project as a top priority, though one also wants to use the office to decrease immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The top focuses of Democrats running include prioritizing public school funding, limiting how the agency contributes to climate change and improving natural disaster responses.

[…]

The Democratic nominating contest is also wide open. Sandragrace Martinez, a licensed professional mental health counselor from San Antonio, led her opponents in the Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, with 17% of primary voters saying they would support her.

She did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Democrats in the race are focusing on public education funding and how the agency can mitigate climate change.

The land commissioner also heads the School Land Board, which manages a portfolio that financially supports public schools. In 2018, the School Land Board declined to pass money to the State Board of Education and instead opted to give $600 million directly to schools.

Democratic candidate Jay Kleberg of Austin, director of the nonpartisan civic engagement group Texas Lyceum, disagrees with the School Land Board’s decision. And he wants to remove a cap on how much money the School Land Board can give the SBOE.

The General Land Office is authorized to undertake land leases to develop solar, wind or other renewable energy. Kleberg, the former associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, also wants to capture and store carbon emissions beneath acres of state lands. He said doing this will reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“We can start to reverse again that No.1 ranking as a [carbon dioxide] emitter in the nation by burying that in the ground, by operating more responsibly on General Land Office lands and by diversifying our portfolio into lower emission, cleaner energy production,” Kleberg said.

Candidate Jinny Suh of Austin, founder of Immunize Texas, a statewide pro-vaccine advocacy group, similarly wants to adopt renewable energy sources and maximize protocols for oil and gas companies the General Land Office leases with.

“Things like capping their methane emissions, things like making sure that they take care of cleaning up whatever water that they use in their processes, so that they don’t damage the environment. These are all things that will help reduce our carbon footprint and also help prepare us for the future,” Suh said.

Michael Lange, an investment and operational risk director from Houston, said his background in corporate America will allow him to support students and teachers who need more assistance. Lange acknowledges climate change as a factor for natural disasters happening in Texas. The General Land Office has the authority to administer funds in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes. Lange said the office should also help with relief long after an event, since disasters can displace people for months.

“If you had after the event disaster plan that didn’t last just for six weeks, but it lasted until it was done and included things like working in partnerships along the coast, like to use an area women’s center and say, ‘Look, we have to have these facilities available to help people,’ so the planning is not just the preparatory for the hurricane, but after it finishes, that’s the responsibility of the Texas land commissioner,” Lange said.

You can still listen to my interviews with Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. The Meyerland Area Dems had a statewide candidate forum on Monday night, the video for which is here – scroll to the 47:00 mark to see the Land Commissioner part of it, which included Suh, Kleberg, and Lange. Martinez has been the least visible candidate so far, and I fear she’ll make it into the runoff anyway. These things happen in lower-profile races.

The Trib doesn’t have a recent story about the Ag Commissioner race, but the Chron does.

The three Republicans running for Texas agriculture commissioner sat next to each other behind a wooden table, all wearing white cowboy hats, none of them speaking.

In the middle, state Rep. James White stared straight ahead at the crowd that had gathered for the candidate forum at Sirloin Stockade, hosted by the Williamson County Republican Women. His arms were crossed.

For weeks, White has attacked Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for his history of run-ins with the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Rangers, saying it is evidence of a lack of personal integrity and a culture of misconduct within his office. White also has attacked Miller’s political record, describing him as a “fake conservative” and accusing him of jacking up fees on farmers to fund his pet projects at the department.

The other challenger, rancher and economics professor Carey Counsil of Brenham, has blasted Miller as “just not an ethical person.” Counsil launched his candidacy after Miller’s top political adviser was arrested on theft and bribery charges last year.

“I told you it was going to get sporty,” one spectator near the back whispered as Counsil attacked Miller as dishonest.

Sid Miller could give Ken Paxton a run for his blood money in the “sleaziest person currently in Texas politics” race. Not that any of his primary opponents are good, mind you, they just have less baggage. If you go back to that Meyerland Dems candidate forum video and either scroll to the 56-minute mark, or just keep watching after the Land Commissioner candidates finish up, you can hear from Susan Hays and Ed Ireson, both of whom would be an infinite improvement.

Did I just mention Ken Paxton? Sigh…

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his three Republican primary challengers are firing in all directions in the final days before the closely watched election.

Paxton is airing TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler over his attendance record in Congress, while Gohmert is countering with his own commercial accusing Paxton of desperation. Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running TV ads targeting Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, who says Bush’s claims are “ludicrous.”

It is all making for a hectic end to the hotly contested primary, which recent polls suggest could go to a runoff. The polls have been less clear, though, on who Paxton could face in an overtime round. The election is March 1.

Blah blah blah…look, there are three truly terrible candidates in that race, plus one candidate who would be a more polished and presentable version of terrible. Don’t be fooled.

Finally, there’s this story about Lee Merritt, one of the Dem candidates for AG.

Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who has made a name for himself nationally by representing the families of police brutality victims, is taking heat ahead of his race to be Texas’ top lawyer because he’s not licensed to practice in the state.

He has represented the families of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed in his apartment by a Dallas police officer; George Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes; and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood by three white men and then shot to death.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, Merritt has lined up an impressive list of endorsements including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Dallas state Sen. Royce West and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But as Merritt’s star has risen, so have questions about his legal record in Texas.

The state constitution does not require the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. But that question isn’t the only shadow hanging over his practice. Merritt has also experienced notable blunders, like when he represented a woman in 2018 who falsely accused a Department of Public Safety trooper of sexually assaulting her. Merritt brought national attention to the incident, but police camera footage disproved it just days later, forcing him to apologize for the misstep.

During a Democratic primary debate hosted by the AFL-CIO labor union in January, candidate Joe Jaworski brought up Merritt’s lack of a Texas license and said his ability to practice law in the state was a “big difference” between the two candidates.

“I have a Texas law license and I’ve had it for 31 years,” said Jaworski, the former Galveston mayor, during the debate. “Lee, I have great respect for his civil rights practice — I think he is truly an awesome agent of social change — [but] that is a big difference between us. He needs to be able to show that he can go into Texas state court, like an attorney general should.”

Merritt, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, said he’s in the process of getting licensed. “I am working on it,” he said. “I’m doing that because it helps minimize confusion, but I don’t see it as a necessity of the office.”

Jaworski declined to comment for this story, as did Rochelle Garza, one of the other candidates in the race. The primary is March 1.

Mike Fields, another candidate in the race, said it could create a “weird situation” if the employees under the attorney general had met a requirement that the elected official had not, but he gave Merritt the benefit of the doubt.

“It shouldn’t impede his ability to do the job, but I understand the concern,” Fields said. “Based on what I’ve heard from him and looking at his history, certainly he’s up to the task, and I think he’s rectifying that situation. But that’s gonna be between him and the state bar.”

I don’t really have anything to add to that. Merritt is a highly accomplished attorney, I have no doubt he can easily be licensed, and I’m also sure his current status will be made an issue if he is the nominee. It is what it is. One more time, I will direct you to the Meyerland Dems candidate forum video, where at the 22-minute mark you can hear from Merritt, Jaworski, Garza, and Fields. You can also start from the beginning and hear from Mike Collier and Carla Brailey for Lite Guv, and in between the AGs and the Land Commishes there are Comptroller candidates Janet Dudding and Tim Mahoney. If you’re still figuring out who to vote for, that will help.

Abbott and Paxton step up their attack on trans kids

Brutal.

The state’s child welfare agency says it will begin investigating instances of transgender youth receiving gender-affirming health care as possible child abuse, after direction from Gov. Greg Abbott based on a recent legal opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton, in a non-binding opinion issued Monday, concluded that sex “reassignment surgery,” as well as hormonal medications, fall under the state’s broad definition of child abuse that includes “mental or emotional injury” as well as physical injury.

“Children and adolescents are promised relief and asked to ‘consent’ to life-altering, irreversible treatment—and to do so in the midst of reported psychological distress, when they cannot weigh long-term risks the way adults do, and when they are considered by the state in most regards to be without legal capacity to consent, contract, vote, or otherwise,” Paxton wrote in the opinion.

The immediate ramifications were unclear Tuesday, as the office’s opinions are not law but rather interpretations of law. The Texas Department of Family Protective Services has said previously that it would deem some types of transgender health care as potential child abuse, but a spokesman said Tuesday that there are no pending cases.

The opinion runs contrary to the recommendations of the largest professional medical organizations’ in the state and nation. If it were to be adopted statewide, it would make Texas one of the most restrictive states in the nation for transgender youth seeking medical treatment.

Despite Paxton’s focus on surgery, that medical option is not recommended for patients who are under their country’s legal age of maturity, which is 18 in the United States, and who have not “lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity,” according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH, which advises doctors on best practices.

DFPS said Tuesday its Child Protective Investigations unit would look into any future allegations.

[…]

Already there are signs that the policy will be challenged.

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee, whose office represents the state in civil child abuse cases in the county, said Tuesday that his office will not adhere to guidance from Paxton and Abbott, saying they are “ignoring medical professionals and intentionally misrepresenting the law to the detriment of transgender children and their families.”

“My office will not participate in these bad faith political games,” Menefee said. “As the lawyers handling these cases, we owe a duty of candor to the courts about what the law really says. We’ll continue to follow the laws on the books — not General Paxton’s politically motivated and legally incorrect ‘opinion.’”

Just a reminder, this is happening in a state whose foster care system is so deeply fucked up that a federal judge, who has been hearing litigation over this for literally a decade, has accused that same DFPS of not being able to keep track of where the kids supposedly in its care are. The cruelty, the shameful pandering to slavering primary voters, the ongoing trauma being inflicted on children and their parents who have done nothing wrong, it’s so infuriating I can barely see. I wish I had something more constructive to say than we have to keep fighting, but I don’t. Slate has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes a Happy Presidents Day Mattress Sale to all who celebrate as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Deshaun Watson will face some depositions

A long-awaited update on this case.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson must undergo depositions in connection to at least some of the 22 misconduct allegations made against him before April, a judge on Monday ordered.

Lawyers involved in civil litigation against the athlete on Monday argued whether Watson should wait until after April 1 to take questions on the allegations. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, expressed concern that depositions could provide evidence in a separate criminal investigation being conducted by the Houston Police Department.

“We know that the police have forwarded to the (Harris County) district attorney’s office their findings and their conclusions,” Hardin said in the 113th District Court.

From that point, a grand jury will decide whether criminal charges against Watson are merited. When that could happen is uncertain — but Hardin appears to believe his client’s fate in the criminal matter may be known by April 1.

Watson is accused of sexual misconduct during several massage therapy sessions, the bulk of which are said to have happened in 2020. Eight of the 22 accusers have filed police reports.

Hardin argued that his client should hold off on sitting down for a deposition — while lawyer Tony Buzbee, representing the accusers, argued that Hardin should stick to the schedule they agreed upon at the suit’s beginning. The ongoing HPD investigation should not make a difference in the civil case either, he said.

Buzbee said delaying Watson’s deposition further is unfair to the plaintiffs who have already endured 75 hours of questions as part of their lawsuit against him. Depositions are a procedure that allows lawyers in the case to question those involved about the allegations. Watson is accused of sexual misconduct during several massage therapy sessions, the bulk of which are said to have happened in 2020.

[…]

Judge Rabeea Collier ruled, partially, in Hardin’s favor.

Six women have yet to undergo depositions, lawyers said. Of those women, Buzbee can depose Watson on their allegation ahead of April 1 — as long as the accuser is not among those who filed a police report, Collier ruled.

“I’m allowing you to take Mr. Watson’s deposition on case specific details for those who have not filed a criminal complaint,” Collier said in court.

The police investigation was among the reasons why Hardin asked Collier last week to postpone Watson’s deposition until April 1.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen on April 1,” the judge said, adding that Hardin can seek a stay if he wants.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The court had signed an agreement in May that said Watson could not be deposed before February 22, which is to say this past Tuesday, and that some of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct would be deposed beginning in September. As Sean Pendergast notes, this likely means that the criminal case that HPD has investigated will come to some sort of resolution in the next month or so, as the case is now in the hands of the DA’s office. Though if he’s indicted on one or more charges, that just moves things to another stage, one that may also take a long time to work through. There’s also that FBI investigation, and who knows what that may mean.

So we’re getting closer to something, whatever it may be. As for Watson’s football fate, go read Pro Football Network and Rivers McCown for more. There’s a chance that could get resolved as well in the next couple of months, but it seems that a lot of things would have to happen for that.

Using the Texas model to protect voting rights

Some blue state needs to do this.

In the midst of the ongoing debate over Republicans’ siege on voting rights in states they control, here’s an unconventional suggestion: Democratic state legislators should take a page from the Republican playbook and empower private citizens to sue people who are “aiding and abetting” voter suppression efforts.

After all, that’s exactly what the Texas GOP has done with the abortion bill it enacted last year, which effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, despite the fact that our Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion until a fetus is viable, which is generally about 24 weeks into pregnancy. As the Supreme Court declared in 1992 in its ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there’s a “constitutionally protected liberty of the woman to decide to have an abortion before the fetus attains viability and to obtain it without undo interference from the State.”

[…]

While personally I believe this law is atrocious, if the GOP is going to use that legal model to infringe on the rights of women, why can’t Democrats use that same tactic to accomplish a monumental goal of their own: protecting voting rights? Democrats cannot simply roll over and let the GOP suppress the vote — and potentially rig elections — because new federal voting rights legislation was recently blocked by way of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. Democrats need to be tenacious fighters on this all-important issue — and that means using every single tool available.

One way to show that commitment would be for states with Democratic governors and legislatures to enact laws that enable private citizens to sue anyone who is found “aiding and abetting” making it more challenging to vote. And if the person wins, they would be rewarded with $10,000 plus the cost of their legal fees from the defendant for each action they took that “aided and abetted” in restricting voting.

For example, New York could enact a law that enables people to sue any person in the state who is found “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter suppression efforts. This arguably would include elected New York Republican officials, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik, who championed former President Donald Trump’s election lies that have been used to justify the voter suppression laws in other states. That includes Stefanik claiming that President Joe Biden’s win in Georgia was because “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone.” And in May, she was on Steve Bannon’s podcast, where she continued to further Trump’s “big lie.”

Lawsuits could also be potentially filed against GOP donors living in New York who give to organizations like the Republican National Committee, which has been vocally opposing federal laws to protect voting rights and continues to recognize Trump as its standard-bearer. This could all arguably be considered “aiding and abetting” the GOP’s voter restriction efforts.

The law could even be crafted so that Republicans in other states who engage in “aiding and abetting” the restriction of voting and do “business” in New York can be sued in the Empire State since it would arguably fulfill jurisdictional requirements. For example, when Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who touted and signed into law sweeping voting restrictions in his state — traveled to New York in September for a political fundraiser, he was in effect “doing business” in New York by targeting New Yorkers for their donations. And he would be fair game to catch a lawsuit under this hypothetical anti-voting restriction law.

Further justifying this law is that voter restrictions in any state ultimately affect those in blue states since they impact races for federal office, and those federal officeholders in turn can enact laws that impact the entire nation — such as on climate change and gun safety.

I get that this sounds unconstitutional and insane — but it’s built in the exact image of the Texas abortion law. A women’s right to abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is a constitutional right — just like freedom of speech. Given that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court didn’t swiftly strike down the Texas abortion law, it would be hard-pressed to strike down these “protect the vote” laws without exposing itself as being nothing more than an arm of the Republican Party.

I have no doubt that this Supreme Court is up to the challenge of justifying the Texas abortion law while knocking down this hypothetical statute, but having the fight and making them do it would definitely be worth the effort. I also agree that it’s all ridiculous, but given all that’s happened it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is the most feasible path available at this time. New York and California, y’all are the best bets for this. Someone please get the ball rolling on it.

2022 primary early voting, Day Eight : Time for the upswing

I still think it’s a little weird to have a day off from voting in the middle of early voting. Either tack on an extra day at one end or the other or modify the calendar to avoid the holiday. Or, you know, since Presidents Day is hardly a day of universal indulgence, maybe have voting on it anyway? I suppose some places might not be available, but maybe enough would be? I’m just thinking out loud here.

Anyway. Here are your Day Eight early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    12,915  36,835  49,750
2018 R    15,512  33,140  48,652

2020 D    18,503  54,325  72,828
2020 R    19,410  47,271  66,681

2022 D    10,843  40,001  50,844
2022 R     6,955  49,786  56,741

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here.

Final turnout in 2018 was 167,982 for Dems and 156,387 for Republicans. I don’t see any reason why those totals won’t be eclipsed this year, though maybe not by that much on the Dem side. For what it’s worth, yesterday was the strongest mail ballot day for Dems so far, including Day One, with 2,717 ballots returned. If we are managing to fix the problems that had caused a bunch of ballots to be rejected initially, that would be a big deal. I would still very much like to know how the rejection numbers, both for applications and returned ballots, break down by party.

Derek Ryan put out another report on Monday. Of interest:

A lot has been made about South Texas and whether Republican growth was a temporary trend under President Trump. In Cameron County, turnout in the Republican Primary is 76% of the way to reaching turnout in the 2018 Republican Primary. In Hidalgo County, turnout is 65% of the way to reaching the 2018 totals. This is with five days early voters (today and the remainder of the work week) and Election Day voters left to increase those numbers. On the Democratic side, turnout in Cameron County is 59% of the way to reaching the turnout in the 2018 Democratic Primary and 47% of the way in Hidalgo County.

I expressed curiosity about that early on as well. It should be noted that there were 14K Dem primary votes in Cameron County in 2018 compared to 4K for the Republicans, and nearly 38K Dem votes in Hidalgo in 2018 compared to 7K for the GOP. In other words, still a lot more Dem votes being cast in each county. We’ll see where they all end up, but so far this doesn’t look like it’s going to rewrite anyone’s paradigms. Ask me again after the primary is over.

Judicial Q&A: Denise Brown

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. This is one of two late entrants I am running today.

Denise Brown

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Denise Brown. I’m running to be judge of the 270th Judicial District Court of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 270th Civil District Court hears all matters except criminal, family, juvenile, and probate. The civil courts handle every type of case from personal injury to employment, defamation, and tax cases, but does not handle criminal, family, or probate cases. The court handles cases involving $200+ in dispute.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Being a trial lawyer and litigator means I know the value of a jury trial. My clients depend on jury trials to have their cases decided. When a judge fails to hold jury trials, the people of Harris County are affected. To date, there have only been 9 jury trials since January 1, 2019 according to the District Clerk’s website. Judges should be held to the highest levels of honesty and ethics. I will bring integrity to this court so the people of Harris County know what I am saying is the actual truth. I am also running so there is equality in this court. Litigants, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public will get equal treatment in my court and not have to wonder if they will get a fair trial.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a licensed attorney for more than 21 years. I am a litigator and trial attorney. I’ve handled multiple bench and jury trials representing both plaintiffs and defendants. I have handled cases from motor vehicle wrecks to complex fraud and breach of contract cases to Dram Shop to construction defect to DTPA. A judge should have trial experience before becoming a trial judge.

5. Why is this race important?

Jury trials are the backbone of our judicial system. Without them, cases come to a standstill and parties are denied justice. As a litigator and trial lawyer for more than 21 years, I am not afraid of jury trials. A trial setting motivates parties to resolve a case without the need of a jury. Cases that cannot be resolved are then able to have their day in court and reach a resolution. Since January 1, 2019, there has only been 7 jury trials in the 270th District Court. Not having jury trials is simply unacceptable for this court. I will ensure that the court is managed efficiently and access to justice is available to all parties.

Judges should be held to the highest levels of integrity, honesty, and ethics. Representations made by a judge or on behalf of the court must be truthful, accurate, and beyond reproach. From denying litigants the right to trial by jury (https://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=14723357-
f7cc-4f74-95b4-aace505320b6&coa=coa01&DT=Opinion&MediaID=c8f87cd1-9515-414c-a1b4-56dbfbd330a9) to publicly commenting on cases pending before the Court, the 270th needs someone who believes the rules apply not only to the parties and attorneys but also to the judge. I will restore the 270th to a respectable and honorable court.

Everyone who appears in front of the Court must be treated equally, with respect and dignity, and the knowledge that they will get a fair hearing or trial, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, who they love, or what their beliefs are.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am the best candidate for the position. A trial judge should have litigation and trial experience before taking the bench. I am the only candidate who has that experience. My background with both plaintiffs and defendants gives me a unique perspective as I understand the challenges faced by each bar as litigation proceeds as well as preparing and trying a case. By bringing efficiency, integrity, and equality to the 270 th , I will raise the level of decorum and dignity in this Court to where Harris County deserves. I am the most qualified person to be judge of the 270th .

Judicial Q&A: Gemayel Hayes

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. This is one of two late entrants I am running today.

Gemayel Haynes

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Gemayel Haynes, and I am running to be the next Judge for the 183rd District Court in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd Criminal District Court handles criminal cases ranging from low level state jail felonies to capital murder. The range of punishment for these cases is anywhere from 6 months in a state jail to life in prison or death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 183rd Criminal District Court because I believe a Judge who presides over a felony criminal court should be an experienced criminal attorney. My opponent never practiced criminal law before he took the bench in 2019, but I have done nothing but criminal law for almost 15 years. Inexperience can lead to decisions that harm the accused, the victims, and the community.

I also chose the 183rd District Court because it is closed every Friday during a historic backlog of pending felony cases. A closed courtroom causes unreasonable and unnecessary delays in justice for crime victims and the accused. My opponent inherited the lowest court docket in 2019 but the docket numbers have more than doubled due to frequently closed courtroom and lack of trials.

Finally, I want to restore trust and confidence in the criminal justice system. We should have a court that is efficient, transparent, and most importantly, fair to all. I believe every person that appears in court is a human being and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have almost 15 years of criminal trial experience. I began my career as a prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. I worked in the felony, misdemeanor, juvenile and justice of the peace divisions, and I had jury trials on everything from class c tickets to murder cases. After I left the DA’s office, I opened my own law office. I represented juveniles and adults charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses in Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, and Harris counties. I had jury trials on misdemeanor and felony offenses. I also worked on three capital cases, including a death penalty case, as part of a team of lawyers.

I am now an Assistant Public Defender serving as Senior Litigator and Team Lead in the Felony Trial Division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. In this role I supervise a team of eight lawyers, I mentor other lawyers in our office, and I represent indigent clients charged with first and second-degree felonies. I am in trial, either as first chair on my own clients’ cases or a second chair with younger lawyers, several times a year on everything ranging from state jail felonies to first degree murder and sex cases. I teach Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes to criminal lawyers locally and across the state on various topics including bail, pretrial investigation, search and seizure, revocation and adjudication hearings, trial prep, trial strategy, and sentencing issues. During my career I have also taken hundreds of hours of CLEs directly related to criminal law. I have also been a board member of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers
Association since 2014.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the criminal justice system is getting a lot of attention. The community can’t afford to have inexperienced criminal judges. I believe in smart bail reform that protects the community and respects the right of those accused of crimes. We need judges who will be fair to all, ensure due process rights are protected, and hold people accountable for their actions. The public deserves judges that aren’t learning criminal law while making decisions that have a major impact on lives.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

People should vote for me in the Democratic Primary Election because I am the most experienced and most qualified candidate in this race. My opponent was a civil attorney for over 30 years before he was elected to the felony criminal bench. As a public defender, I fight to protect the Constitutional and legal rights of people accused of crimes. As a prosecutor I worked with the police to protect Harris County citizens and seek justice for crime victims. I am the only candidate in this race who has represented the State and the accused in criminal court, and I am the only candidate with jury trial experience on both sides of the aisle. Serving as a prosecutor and public defender has given me the perspective and experience that is currently missing from this Court.

The criminal justice system has failed far too many crime victims and people accused of crimes. If elected, I want to use my knowledge and experience to address deficiencies in the system and restore trust between the community we serve and the courts. I will work to make the Court more transparent, accessible, efficient, and fair for all.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 45, Beto 38

From the DMN, via another source that I can get to.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is leading former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-Texas) by 7 points in a new poll tracking November’s gubernatorial race.

The survey, conducted by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler, found that in a race between Abbott and O’Rourke, 45 percent of registered voters polled would support the incumbent governor, while 38 percent would vote for the former congressman.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they would vote for someone else, and 1 percent said they remain unsure.

Abbott received a greater share of support among independents at 36 percent to 29 percent.

The survey, conducted between Feb. 8 and Feb. 15, comes roughly nine months before Texans will head to the polls to vote for the next chief executive of the Lone Star State.

[…]

Sixty percent of registered voters polled said they plan to support Abbott in the GOP primary. No other candidate polled double digits. Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) came in second with seven percent support.

Fifteen percent of respondents, however, said they do not know who they plan to vote for.

A similar situation emerged on the Democratic side. O’Rourke is dominating the field with 68 percent support among primary candidates in the new poll, with no other candidate securing more than five percent. Former Austin public-radio journalist Joy Diaz polled second with four percent support.

Fourteen percent of respondents, however, do not yet know who they will vote for in the primary.

Poll data is here. They have Dan Patrick at 54% in his primary, with 31% “don’t know” and all of the no-names in low single digits. They also have Ken Paxton at only 39%, with P Bush trailing at 25%, but you know my mantra – don’t put much stock in primary polling. That said, for what it’s worth, only 16% of respondents in the GOP AG primary poll said they didn’t know who they were voting for. The polls for Dem Lite Guv showed everyone with low totals and no clear advantage, while Rochelle Garza was ever so slightly ahead for the Dem AG race, though “ahead” at 22%, with Joe Jaworski at 13%, doesn’t really mean much.

One month ago, the DMN/UT-Tyler poll ad the race at 47-36 for Abbott, and before that at 45-39. This is kind of a goofy polling outfit, but so far at least they’ve been pretty consistent. As noted in that post, there was also a UH Hobby School poll that was mostly about the primaries but also had the Abbott-Beto general election matchup at 45-40. The February UT-Trib poll had Abbott up 47-37.

I saw this on Friday and now have no idea where the link came from, but a group called Climate Nexus did a poll that was mostly about climate change and green energy, but it also included a question about Biden’s approval rating (40-56, very much in line with others) and an Abbott-Beto question (45-40 for Abbott). You can see the poll data here – that link should take you to the last page, where the general election question was. I really need to start tracking these things on the sidebar. Put it on my to-do list for this week, I guess.

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

I regret to inform you that Ken Paxton may not be an honest broker

You should maybe be sitting down for this.

Best mugshot ever

The whistleblowers who sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he fired them for accusing him of bribery and abuse of office are speaking out against him publicly for the first time since filing their lawsuit, in response to what they say are Paxton’s “numerous false and misleading public statements” on the campaign trail.

The four whistleblowers – former deputy attorneys general James Blake Brickman, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar, as well as the office’s former director of law enforcement David Maxwell – said they previously intended to stay silent about their case while it played out in the judicial system.

“Our preference was to remain silent while the wheels of justice turned, and our civil case progressed in the courts,” they said in a joint statement Monday. “However, in recent weeks, Paxton has made numerous false and misleading public statements that we feel obligated to correct.”

The whistleblowers also said they had remained quiet to respect the “ongoing FBI investigation,” indicating that a federal criminal probe into Paxton continues. The FBI has declined to comment on the matter in the past.

“The most basic qualifications of an attorney general are respect for truth and respect for the law. Ken Paxton has neither,” the whistleblowers said in their statement. “The day will come when Ken Paxton must testify under oath about his and his agency’s actions. Until then, we call on Ken Paxton to start telling the truth to the people of Texas.”

[…]

Many of what the whistleblowers call Paxton’s “misleading public statements” came during a Jan. 31 interview with conservative radio host Mark Davis about the attorney general’s race. In the interview, Paxton claimed the whistleblowers “didn’t come to him” and “didn’t explain” the issues they had with the behavior that led to their complaints. In a separate interview with conservative outlet Texas Scorecard this month, Paxton claimed the FBI had “infiltrated” his office to investigate him before the whistleblowers made their complaint.

But the whistleblowers said in their statement they approached Paxton multiple times about their concerns with his push to get involved in Paul’s affairs before reporting him to the FBI. Their whistleblower lawsuit details specific dates when the whistleblowers individually and as a group warned Paxton that his actions in legal matters related to Paul were unlawful.

They said they first reported their concerns to the FBI on Sept. 30, 2020 after they could not convince Paxton to follow the law.

“We had no previous contact with the FBI before that date and believe this was the first time the FBI became involved with the investigation of Paxton and his office,” they wrote in their statement released Monday.

The whistleblowers also took issue with Paxton’s comment on Davis’ show that “no one has ever disputed” an unsigned 374-page report generated by his office in August that exonerated him of the whistleblower’s allegations.

“This is false. Paxton’s self-exonerating report is directly disputed by the detailed allegations in the whistleblower lawsuit,” the statement read. “Unsurprisingly, Paxton’s report selectively ignored some of the most troubling allegations we reported to the FBI, like Paxton providing blatant political favors to a campaign donor – the same campaign donor who has admitted in sworn testimony to hiring a woman at Paxton’s behest, a woman with whom media reports reveal Paxton had an extramarital affair.”

The whistleblowers also blasted Paxton for accusing them of committing crimes in the Davis interview, calling his accusations “ridiculous.”

“We confronted Ken Paxton about his and his agency’s corrupt and criminal conduct, and, when he would not abide by the law, we reported him to the FBI,” they said in their statement. “Paxton is under criminal investigation, not the whistleblowers.”

Paxton also told Texas Scorecard that he still does not know the specific allegations against him. The whistleblowers said the allegations against him are clearly spelled out in their lawsuit and include: bribery, tampering with government records, obstruction of justice, harassment and abuse of office.

See here for the latest installation of the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit saga, in which he tries to get the Supreme Court to wipe the slate clean, and here and here for the incredible self-exoneration report. If only the world worked this way for all of us! (“I conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations against me, honey, and I can confirm that I did in fact take the garbage out last night.”) I realize that I am a bitter, shriveled husk of a man, but nothing on this earth will give me more joy right now than seeing the FBI perp-walk Paxton out of his office. We all do what we need to do to get through the day. The Chron has more.

2022 primary early voting, Day Seven : All caught up now

This year, the Monday of early voting was in Week One. In 2018 and 2020, it was in Week Two. Maybe we could do this at a time that doesn’t include Presidents Day? Just a thought. In any event, in all cases we have now had seven days of voting, and from here on out the days will line up. Let’s review where we are – remember, there was no voting yesterday, but each year’s totals below reflect seven voting days. Here are your Day Seven early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    11,208  30,714  41,922
2018 R    13,812  27,497  41,309

2020 D    16,651  44,349  61,000
2020 R    18,669  39,216  57,885

2022 D     8,126  31,348  39,474
2022 R     6,115  38,383  44,498

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here.

Dems are a little behind their 2018 pace so far, while Republicans are ahead of theirs. The Republican advantage has mostly been powered by in person voting – they are way ahead of their 2018 pace for in person voting, while having less than half as many mail ballots returned as before. Dems are slightly ahead on their in person pace but behind on mail ballots, for reasons we all know at this point. Saturday was a lighter voting day than I would have thought, though it was slightly ahead of the Dem daily average and below that for the Republicans. Both parties had near identical in person totals for each day over the weekend. Maybe this is where Dems start to catch up, or maybe Republicans just prefer voting during the week. Maybe we see more mail ballots get returned, as hopefully the many problems that have been experienced get fixed. We’ll know soon enough. Have you voted yet?

Judicial Q&A: Treasea Treviño

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Treasea Treviño

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Treasea Treviño and I am running to be the Democratic Candidate for Judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Harris County Courts at Law have jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County including evictions. These courts have jurisdiction over statutory eminent domain proceedings, any civil matter where the amount of controversy is less than $250,000. It decides matters regarding title to real or personal property, enforcement of liens on real property, and have exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

As you know, the pandemic has affected the underprivileged the most, with many working families struggling to stay afloat, keep a roof over their heads, and food on the table. I decided to run for this bench specifically to help such working families. One of the most important tasks of the Civil Courts at Law is to hear eviction appeals and I want to ensure that everyone who is facing eviction will be treated fairly and have the opportunity to be heard regardless of their socioeconomic status.

This race is also important for demographic reasons. If I am elected, I will be the only Latina Civil Court at Law judge, with over 43% of Harris County’s population being Latino, it is important for Latinos to have representation at every level of the judiciary.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a practicing attorney for over 14 years and have tried over 700 cases during that time. I have spent six years as Assistant Attorney General and six years as assistant county attorney my time practicing law has been devoted to public service and defending the wellbeing of Harris County’s residents. I have vast experience dealing with multiple parties, I am bilingual and my experience as a trial lawyer will allow me to hit the ground running from day one.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because this court will be making important decisions regarding eviction appeals and because it is a bench that needs a judge committed to service, a judge who is efficient, follows the law, is fair and will utilize her discretion for the benefit of the residents of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I know that my professional experience coupled with my life experience, make me the most qualified candidate for this open bench. I am the one who has the most trial experience, in the past 14 years I have been at the courthouse almost every day trying cases, involving complex issues and multiple parties. Also, because I am hard worker, determined, and I have good judicial temperament which would allow me to be a good judge.

Hey, remember when disability rights advocates were worried about the voter suppression bill?

They were right to be worried. Because of course they were.

As polls opened up for early voting this week, disability advocates say they still do not have adequate guidance from the state about new voter assistance rules and worry that the lack of clarity on what constitutes a violation might dissuade people who provide assistance services from helping voters with disabilities.

Republicans enacted restrictions last year on the state’s voting process, including rules on how Texans can assist voters when casting ballots. Texans assisting other voters must now fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship, indicate whether compensation was provided and recite an expanded oath, now under the penalty of perjury, stating that they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance.

Texans who offer or accept compensation for providing voter assistance would be in violation of the new rules, creating anxiety among those who assist people with disabilities as part of their job.

“There are voters with disabilities who use their personal aides or personal attendants to assist them in completing daily tasks, and voting is a daily task,” said Molly Broadway, a voting rights training specialist at Disability Rights Texas, adding that she has already received calls from assistants afraid of incurring criminal charges for activities that are usually part of their duties. “It’s a very present, very real need that exists.”

Texans who drive at least seven voters to the polls are also considered assistants and must comply with new rules on compensation. Broadway said she has heard concerns from nursing home employees who provide transportation to polling places.

The new legislation also limits any kind of voter assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.” But voters with intellectual and developmental disabilities might need additional help, such as gestures or reminders about how they had intended to vote, to get through the process, Broadway said.

Broadway has instructed those providing assistance to sign the expanded oath, inform poll workers about the help they’re providing to the voter and reach out to county election offices and request additional accommodations when necessary.

If an assistant appears to be breaching the new rules, poll watchers have been instructed to inform their county’s election administration office. Upon reviewing the case, election administrators may reach out to authorities to investigate the case.

If there’s evidence that an assistant was paid for their services, Potter County elections administrator Melynn Huntley said she would need to refer the case to the attorney general.

“We gather screenshots or copies of the actual papers that may have been signed or not signed, and then we submit them to the appropriate enforcement authority,” Huntley explained.

Brazoria County election director Lisa Mujica said her office has trained clerks around the new regulations for voter assistance. If an assistant appears to be violating the rules, clerks are instructed to step in and educate them about the limitations of their role.

But Chase Bearden, the deputy executive director at the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that’s part of the problem: Inadequate state guidance has created confusion among voters and leaves the responsibility of determining what may constitute a violation to election workers.

“At the end of the day, we aren’t sure how this is going to play out,” Bearden said. “We’re kind of in the dark and are hoping that most election workers will be fair and want to make sure that people get the assistance they need.”

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Disability Rights Texas and other disability rights groups have said they have received little guidance from the secretary of state, which oversees elections, about the steps voters with disabilities should take if they need assistance that conflicts with the regulations established in the new rules.

See here for the background; don’t be confused by the bill number in that post, it became SB1 in the subsequent special session where it ultimately passed. There is of course a lawsuit filed by disability rights activists (among others) against this law, but it has not advanced to the point where action could be taken. (More on that lawsuit here.) Of course these issues were raised at the time, and of course bill authors Briscoe Cain and Bryan Hughes ignored them, because why would they care? And now, if a confused or poorly trained election worker decides that someone’s health assistant is violating the law, the matter may wind up in Ken Paxton’s hands, and we know how fairly and compassionately he handles these matters. So yeah, this is all a giant bag of suck. And that was the point.

HISD’s strategic plan

It sounds good. Let’s see what feedback it gets.

Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II on Thursday unveiled his long-awaited five-year strategic plan, offering an equity framework that would aim to equip all campuses with library, nursing and counseling staff, as well as fine arts, gifted and talented programming and special education support.

The plan also would increase teachers’ base salaries, offer signing bonuses to new educators, expand early childhood education and reorient how the district communicates with families.

HISD officials plan to outline the monetary details of the plan during a March 3 meeting to workshop the upcoming academic year’s budget. House said administrators have a “solid handle” on how the plan will be funded but declined to elaborate until that information is presented to the board in two weeks. Some initiatives will be funded with federal COVID-19 relief money.

“We know that everything that HISD does has a bearing on this great city,” House said. “When I say I am excited about the entire plan, I really am excited about the entire plan — from being able to compensate our educators in a manner that I know and think they deserve (to) being able to set a base system in terms of how we support our schools and a staffing plan, as well.”

The plan calls for increasing the range of teacher’s salaries by several thousand dollars over the next couple of years. Currently, teachers make between roughly $57,000 and $84,000, according to numbers shared Thursday. Under House’s plan, that range would increase by the 2024-25 school year to between $64,000 and $90,000. Additionally, the plan would implement raises for police officers, principals and assistant principals while updating the master pay scale for all of the district’s other support staff.

HISD also will offer signing incentives for new teacher hires; those with at least two years of experience who sign by April area expected to receive $5,000, and others would get $4,000. Teachers hired through August are expected to receive a $2,000 signing bonus. Meanwhile, current teachers who commit to teaching three more years at HISD will get signing bonuses each of the next three years — $500, $1,000 and $2,500, respectively.

[…]

The plan calls for centralizing the funding of specific materials and services to ensure all schools contain them, including fine arts and athletic programs; gifted and talented programming; special education supports; and substitute teachers.

The plan also would create a baseline of staffing to secure all campuses have 11 key positions staffed: principal, nurse or associate nurse, assistant principal or dean, counselor or social worker, librarian or media specialist, student information representative, physical education teacher, art or music teacher, administrative assistant, clerical worker and wraparound specialist.

The move appears to be a direct answer to community members, staffers and parents who attended a series of community forums last fall to make the case for nurses and librarians at all campuses.

See here for some background, and here for the message Superintendent House sent to parents. A copy of the strategic plan workshop is embedded in the story. The broad outlines of this sound good, but of course the details really matter. HISD has certainly tried to revamp its magnet school program in the past. It’s hard to do because it creates winners and losers, or at least the perception of such, and people who like what they have now aren’t usually all that happy to see it get changed. In five years’ time I won’t be an HISD parent any more, but I still care very much about getting this right, which among other things means doing it with the participation and buy-in of the community. I wish the Superintendent and the Board all the best with this. The Press has more.

Speaking of cryptocurrency and electricity usage…

Congress has a few questions.

From wind farms in West Texas to an old aluminum refining operation outside Austin, crypto miners are flooding into Texas take advantage of some of the cheapest power in the country and positioning the state to become the state’s crypto mining leader. But the accompanying surge in energy consumption is drawing scrutiny from Congress when the world is trying to not only clean up its energy system but also reduce demand to fight climate change.

At a hearing this month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the chairman. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., questioned the sustainability of crypto mining’s business model.

“One estimate found that the energy required to process (one) transaction on the bitcoin network could power a home for more than 70 days,” Pallone said. “Last year, there were hundreds of thousands of transactions on this network. Just imagine the climate implications.”

recent study by scientists at Cambridge University found crypto mining operations globally consume 135 terawatt hours of electricity per year, more than the entire country of Argentina.

The majority of that electricity comes from hydroelectric dams and coal and natural gas plants, the scientists found. In New York, for instance, one firm has restarted an old coal-fired power plant to provide energy for its crypto mining operations.

[…]

In Texas, so far, crypto miners are being met with open arms. The Texas Legislature last year passed a bill creating a task force to aid the development of the cryptocurrency industry in Texas, with Governor Greg Abbott writing on Twitter, “It’s happening. Texas will be the crypto leader.”

That along with the state’s cheap power prices are attracting crypto mining firms from around the world, most of which were forced to look for new homes after the Chinese government banned cryptocurrency last year.

EZ Blockchain, a Chicago firm, has proposed setting up mobile computer rigs in Texas’s oil and gas fields, powering their mining operations with natural gas that would otherwise be flared.

Marathon Digital, based in Las Vegas, announced last month it was installing more than 100,000 bitcoin mining computers around Texas, primarily adjacent to wind and solar farms in West Texas.

“This industry has transformed over the last year since China shut down mining,” said Charlie Schumacher, director of corporate communications at Marathon. “The U.S. is unique because we have excess power here and we have a friendly regulatory environment. But we’ve gone through this transition so quickly it’s raised a lot of questions.”

Even as some crypto companies make strides to employ clean energy for their operations and reduce their energy consumption by using more efficient equipment, the sheer scale of their energy demand is giving many pause.

And as new miners flood the industry, there’s little sign of a slowdown. Electricity consumption for mining bitcoin, the most popular crypto currency, has almost doubled over the last two years, according to the Cambridge scientists.

“We’re making all these great strides to decarbonize and reduce our energy use and now were promoting this incredibly energy intensive new industry and wiping out any climate gains were struggling to make,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, an activist group. “It seems very wasteful and not what we need right now.”

Concerns about the environment, as well as concerns that all this demand for electricity could have negative effects on the consumer market, seem eminently reasonable to me. It’s nice that coin miners were willing to power down during this cold front, but what assurance do we have they will do so next time? Some regulation is needed, and I’d like to see some exploration of a way to tax high energy use by crypto companies, as a way to ensure that they won’t distort the market. The one thing I am sure of is that doing nothing and hoping it all turns out for the best is unlikely to work. Put some guardrails in place, and enforce violations. We can debate over what that looks like, but that needs to be the goal.