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September 2nd, 2022:

Data For Progress: Christian 44, Warford 40 (RRC)

From the inbox:

Luke Warford

The race for Texas Railroad Commission is up for grabs this November, with voters looking for change and Democratic nominee Luke Warford in a statistical tie with incumbent Wayne Christian.

A new poll from Data for Progress shows Democratic challenger Luke Warford with just a 4-point deficit to Republican incumbent Wayne Christian:

  • Once positive and negative messaging are applied, that gap narrows to just 2 points.

  • Notably, after positive bios of both candidates, Warford has a significant favorability lead: +44 compared to just +3 for Christian.

  • The 4-point margin shows a considerable tightening in the race from the last public poll, conducted in March, which showed an 11-point gap. The most recent poll was conducted from August 17-22 of 676 likely Texas voters.

“The race for the Texas Railroad Commission is ridiculously winnable,” said Luke Warford, Democratic Nominee for Texas Railroad Commission. “Texans are rightfully enraged at last February’s grid failure and the failures of the Texas Railroad Commissioners in preventing it. Time and time again, we see Commissioner Wayne Christian enriching his billionaire oil and gas executive donors at the expense of Texas consumers and Texans have had enough. As I’ve traveled across the state, folks have told me that they are fed up with the failed leadership at the Texas Railroad Commission and plan to hold Wayne Christian accountable this November.”

For obvious reasons, a poll featuring two low-profile candidates – in the details for each survey, you can see that very few people know who “Wayne Christian” or “Luke Warford” are – should be taken very lightly. But what the people who took these polls do know, because they were told, is that Christian is the Republican incumbent and Warford is the Democratic challenger. As such, I don’t think it’s a stretch to take these as proxies for basic partisan preference. On that score, the initial question in the March poll, in which respondents were only given names and parties, Christian led 46-35; in the August poll it was 44-40. For the followup question, asked after the respondents were given a brief biography of each, it was 48-40 in March and 45-43 in August, which is where that “statistical tie” claim comes from.

These are different polls, they both have “don’t know” or third party responses totaling over ten points, and there’s going to be a lot of money spent boosting multiple other candidates in the coming weeks. With all that, it seems clear that Dems are in a better position now than they were in March, which given everything we’ve seen nationally is perfectly reasonable. Where we go from here remains an open question, but this is the data we have today. Make of it what you will.

Harris County approves the option of suing Comptroller over baloney “defunding” claim

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Wednesday authorized a pair of private law firms to sue Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who accused the county of defunding law enforcement last week, forcing a halt to consideration of its $2.2 billion budget.

The move, approved by a 3-1 vote, came a week after Hegar sent a letter to county officials saying the court could not approve its proposed fiscal 2023 budget without approval of voters because of a change in policy that he said would result in the county funding two constable offices at a lower level in violation of a new state law.

The constables — Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap — had complained to Gov. Greg Abbott last year after the county changed its policy to do away with “rollover” budgeting that had allowed departments to keep unspent funds and use them in future budget cycles. Hegar’s letter said the change would result in the county, under its proposed budget, cutting funding to the two constable offices by $3 million.

[…]

In a letter to Hegar on Tuesday, County Administrator David Berry asked the Comptroller’s Office to clarify its investigation and whether it prevents the county from adopting a tax rate and budget.

The comptroller responded Wednesday by modifying his claim, alleging the proposed budget would result in a cut in law enforcement spending for a different reason — by comparing the proposed spending plan to this year’s 2022 short fiscal year budget, when broken down by month.

In addition to eliminating rollover budgeting, the county is changing its fiscal year to begin Oct. 1 rather than March 1. To accomplish that, Commissioners Court planned to pass two budgets this year. The first, a shortened budget, was approved in February and runs through September. The second, beginning Oct. 1, will span a full year.

Berry criticized the comptroller for using “fuzzy math,” saying the short fiscal year budget covered 16 pay periods.

“There’s no other reasonable way to do it,” he said. “When you properly annualize the budget, it’s clearly higher in FY23 (the proposed budget).”

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Hegar’s second letter suggests the Comptroller’s Office is walking back its original defunding claim.

“They’re beginning to realize that the allegations they made make little sense,” Hidalgo said. “They’re moving away from talking about the rollover. They know that that’s absolutely nonsensical and are trying to take a different tack that also doesn’t make sense.”

Berry also took issue with the comptroller’s assertion the county should work the issue out with the constables.

“We believe we’ve complied with the law,” Berry said. “If the comptroller doesn’t, they have to explain. All we’ve gotten so far is some fuzzy math.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioners Court hired two law firms to represent the county — Yetter Coleman LLP and Alexander Dubose & Jefferson LLP — in a split vote, with the court’s three Democrats in favor and Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle opposed. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey was absent.

Hidalgo said she is willing to move forward through legal action or negotiation, but the county needs to be careful in how it responds to allegations of violating the new state law.

“I am pretty opposed to giving in to any kind of extortion,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t know what precedent that would set.”

See here for the background. This new explanation is even dumber and more insulting than the original one. Of course an eight-month budget is going to have less of pretty much everything in it than a 12-month budget. If the Comptroller had been at all serious about this, the matter could have been easily resolved. Instead, they charged ahead with this stupid allegation, which unfortunately comes with the power to prevent the county from passing a budget, a situation which as noted would result in an actual decrease in funding to the Sheriff and Constables. It’s like they looked around to make sure there was a rake in easy stepping distance before they moved forward.

The response from Harris County – minus Commissioner Cagle, of course – and Judge Hidalgo was entirely appropriate. The county cannot take lightly an accusation that it is violating the law. The fact that the accusation itself is completely specious is almost beside the point, but given that it is there are only two acceptable resolutions: The Comptroller retracts its claim and absolves Harris County of any alleged wrongdoing, so that it can pass its budget as planned, or we go to court and let them try to prove their foolish claims. No concessions, because there’s nothing to concede.

Which brings me to this:

Herman and Heap said the court’s action on Wednesday took them by surprise. The two Republican constables said they had met with county officials late last week and Monday and thought they had come up with a solution.

The pair, Herman said, had agreed to write letters saying their concerns had been resolved. Hegar would have to write his own letter rescinding his previous communications with the county.

“Both sides were agreeing,” Herman said. “We agreed to put this thing to rest.”

Then, he said, he learned that Hidalgo had put an item on the agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting to pursue possible legal action against Hegar.

“It’s almost like a slap in the face,” he said. “We’re kind of disappointed. We’ll see what happens.”

Herman said if the county continues forward with a strategy of suing Hegar, he and Heap would request their own legal counsel to represent their interests in the broadening fight.

In a brief text message, Heap confirmed he had met with county officials in recent days and echoed Herman’s frustration.

“We have been in negotiations with the office of budget management for several days and I was very encouraged with the progress,” he texted. “However, the actions of Commissioners court today as well as some of their post on social media platforms disappoint me.”

You dudes started this fight. If you don’t like the way the Court is finishing it, that’s tough. Maybe don’t be such crybabies next time.

Abbott weasels on raising the minimum age to buy an assault weapon

Typical.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that it would be unconstitutional to increase the minimum age to buy assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old — a key proposal Uvalde parents have called for after an 18-year-old gunned down their children’s school in May.

“It is clear that the gun control law that they are seeking in Uvalde — as much as they may want it — has already been ruled as unconstitutional,” Abbott said at a reelection campaign event in Allen.

The gunman in Uvalde bought two AR-15-style rifles days after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas, and used those weapons to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Texas Senate Democrats have asked for a special legislative session to increase the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Families of Uvalde victims and survivors also have pushed for a three-year increase to the legal purchasing age.

[…]

In the days after the shooting in Uvalde, Abbott was asked if he would consider banning assault-style weapons for 18-year-olds. The governor at the time appeared hesitant.

“Ever since Texas has been a state, an 18-year-old has had the ability to buy a long gun, a rifle. Since that time, it seems like it’s only been in the past decade or two that we’ve had school shootings. For a century and a half, 18-year-olds could buy rifles and we didn’t have school shootings. But we do,” Abbott said. “Maybe we’re focusing our attention on the wrong thing.”

Abbott that day was immediately interrupted by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who said, “Your own colleagues are telling me, calling me and telling me an 18-year-old shouldn’t have a gun. This is enough. Call us back, man.”

“Simply doing nothing is about as evil as it comes,” Gutierrez later said in June.

See here for the ruling Abbott refers to. I’ll get to the legal stuff in a minute, but first as you might imagine, not everyone cared for this response.

A video of Abbott making the claim circulated on social media, drawing reactions from Texas leaders and Uvalde parents. Brett Cross, father 8-year-old victim Uziyah Garcia’s father, tweeted a video in response to Abbott, noting the “parents matter” signs.

“What parents are you referring to actually? Because it’s not us in Uvalde,” Cross said. Cross also claimed that during a conversation he had in person with Abbott, the governor shut down any talks about changing gun laws because it wouldn’t have changed anything. Abbott allegedly pointed to the 17-year-old gunman from the Santa Fe High School shooting in 2018, Cross said.

“Except it would have,” Cross said. “You see that piece of s–t that murdered our children legally bought that damn gun. You could do something about it. You’re just too chicken s–t to do it. So don’t sit there and act like you’re for the people, that you’re for the parents, that you’re for the children, because you don’t give a damn.”

Cross continued: “But I implore you, make a liar out of me. Call a special session. Or don’t and prove me right. The choice is yours buddy.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately on Wednesday return a request for comment on his conversation with Cross.

The video also drew reactions from other Texas leaders. Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted in response: “Seven states have raised the minimum age to 21. It is possible.”

Abbott’s Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O’Rourke denied the governor’s claim, writing on Twitter: “Yes, it is. And thanks to the leadership of the families in Uvalde, we are going to do it.”

David Hogg, gun control activist and survivor of the Stoneman Douglass High School shooting tweeted: “Bulls–t we did it in Florida.”

The most obvious thing to point out here is that this ruling can be, and should be appealed. Indeed, the judge in question put his ruling on hold for 30 days pending appeal. That stay can be extended by the appeals court or SCOTUS, and at this point we don’t know what a final ruling will be. That ruling was about carrying handguns, and the demand here is about buying assault weapons, so even if the ruling in this case is eventually upheld, it doesn’t mean that a law raising the age to 21 for assault weapons would be illegal under it. Actual legal experts agree with me on these points!

At least seven states — California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Vermont and Washington — have passed legislation raising the legal purchase age for sales of long guns, and several are still cases regarding those laws are winding their way through the courts.

“It’s an unsettled question whether states can restrict guns to people under 21,” said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who studies gun policy. “There are court cases going both ways … This is one of many issues the Supreme Court is going to have to take up in the coming years.”

[…]

David Pucino, deputy chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said there is a well-grounded case to be made that age restrictions are lawful and in keeping with historical laws.

“There is really strong law and strong history to support the principle that you can have these restrictions,” Pucino said. “Historically, the age of 21 was the age of majority (legal adulthood); it’s only a far more recent development that it’s been lowered to the age of 18.”

Pucino added that the cases to which Abbott refers had to do with carrying of handguns, not purchasing of assault weapons.

“An important distinction is that handguns are recognized by the Supreme Court as being the quintessential weapon for self-defense, and that is absolutely not the case with assault weapons,” Pucino said. “These rifles in particular have offensive capabilities, and that’s their distinguishing feature is the fact that they can be used to inflict an incredible and horrifying amount of damage in a very short period of time.”

Greg Abbott is a lawyer and he knows these things perfectly well. He just doesn’t want to deal with them, and so he dodges the question. Oh, and did I mention that the state of Texas is the defendant in that handgun lawsuit? The state of Texas is the party that would be making the appeal of that ruling. If it chooses to, of course, which is also a thing Greg Abbott has a say in. Don’t believe his “we can’t do anything” baloney.

Another story about driverless trucks on I-45

The driverless trucks start coming and they don’t stop coming.

Waymo will partner in coming weeks with manufacturer Daimler Truck to put self-driving 18-wheelers on the road, further expanding the technology company’s autonomous testing between Dallas and Houston.

The big rigs will travel between the state’s two largest metro areas on Interstate 45, a corridor that’s become one of the country’s key testing grounds for driverless trucks.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., creates the technology that can be attached to trucks and other vehicles to make them fully autonomous. Its partnership with Daimler
began in 2020.

“We’re very excited to share this really big milestone for this trade partnership with Daimler and Waymo,” said Boris Sofman, director of engineering and head of trucking for Waymo. “We knew from the very beginning it would be very critical for us to partner with the right group of experts.”

The Waymo Driver technology is touted as a way to eventually eliminate the need for a human driver. Trucks equipped with it don’t need to stop for bathroom breaks or to sleep overnight, making them a more efficient way of getting goods from one place to another.

Waymo Via is used for transporting commercial goods, and it combines the driving capabilities of the Waymo Driver with the redundant systems of the Daimler trucks. Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia has been specifically designed for autonomous trucking, with redundant steering and braking systems, as well as increased battery storage to power the autonomous features.

[…]

The trucks are ready for the road after what Waymo and Daimler described as rigorous testing.

“We will be putting the first batch of these trucks into autonomous testing on public freeways in the upcoming weeks across Dallas and Phoenix, and that is an incredible milestone that both teams have been working a number of years toward,” said Waymo’s Sofman.

Waymo partnered with Uber Freight in June to move goods along the I-45 corridor, building on a February partnership on the same route with C.H. Robinson, a company that moves 20 million shipments annually. Waymo also partners with J.B. Hunt and UPS in Texas.

Waymo has been mentioned before, with that second story mentioning the C.H. Robinson partnership. I don’t think there’s anything really new with this one, it’s more of what we have already seen with the note that Waymo is a significant presence in the market. I wish there were an easy way to identify these autonomous trucks on the road, so we could get a more intuitive feel for how common a presence they are. For now, all we have are the news accounts. The Chron has more.