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October 4th, 2022:

Judicial Q&A: Justice Julie Countiss

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Justice Julie Countiss

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

I am Justice Julie Countiss. I am a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas and I’m running for Chief Justice of this court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

We hear appeals from every trial court in our ten-county district. Our cases cover almost every area of Texas law. We hear criminal, civil, family, juvenile and probate cases. We interpret and apply Texas law and write our decisions as legal “opinions” that determine the outcome of the case. It could be a divorce, a custody battle, a lawsuit between two businesses, a family dispute over a will, a personal injury case or a murder conviction–just to name a few types.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m now in my fourth year serving as a judge on the First Court of Appeals. Our Chief Justice is retiring and her seat is up in November 2022.

I would like to succeed her as chief justice to ensure our court continues to run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m the only person running for chief justice who serves on this court now. As such, I have the most experience and am most familiar with the way our court runs. I have worked closely with all my colleagues and our staff since I took the bench. We navigated a ransomware attack in May of 2020 that paralyzed our computer system for over 6-weeks while also dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Through that experience, I learned a lot about leadership from our retiring chief justice. But most importantly, I am deeply committed to my work and to my First Court of Appeals family here and will work tirelessly to ensure we deliver justice and fairness for all.

5. Why is this race important?

In the Houston area, the First Court of Appeals is the last opportunity for justice to be served. In the vast majority of cases, our court has the last word. The courts above us (Texas Supreme Court and
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have discretion to choose which cases they hear. They only hear a small number of cases depending on how important they deem the case. But our court hears every properly filed appeal. So we are almost always the last word for those parties. We are interpreting and applying Texas law, in very important ways, every single day. Our decisions impact your life, your liberty and your property.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This race is especially important because of the upheaval we’re seeing in Texas law lately. The future of Texas–especially women and children–is at stake in this election.

At least one local voter purge effort has been thwarted

For now, at least. Like flies to garbage, though, you know they’ll be back for more.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office received a flood of affidavits this summer challenging the eligibility of thousands of registered voters throughout the county, accusing them of not living at the addresses listed on registration records.

None of the affidavits led to county elections officials removing any names from the voter rolls.

The affidavits are linked to efforts by a conservative grass-roots organization called the Texas Election Network, which earlier this year attempted to get Sunnyside residents to sign forms verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

Each affidavit alleges that numerous registered voters in Harris County “do not reside at the addresses listed on their voter registration records,” as required by state election law. Upon receiving a sworn statement challenging a voter’s residence, election officials must send a “Notice of Address Confirmation” to the voter in question.

The challenges were first reported by The New York Times, which found the affidavits disputed the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters.

In all, the Elections Administrator’s Office received 115 affidavits, according to Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the elections office.

Of those, Shah said, 66 were rejected because they “did not meet statutory requirements and contained incomplete information.”

Another 49 challenges came in after Aug. 10, the 90th day before the election. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “motor voter act,” bars election officials from performing most voter roll maintenance activities within 90 days of a federal election. The restriction applies to any program intended to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,” including “general mailings and door to door canvasses,” according to the Justice Department.

Each of the forms submitted by various Harris County residents cited voter registration data retrieved by the Texas Election Network, along with the residents’ own canvassing efforts.

“I have personally been told by persons actually residing at these addresses that the challenged voter does not reside at that address and is not only temporarily absent from that address with an intent to return,” the affidavits read. “I am requesting that the Harris County Elections Administrator take the actions required by the Texas Election Code.”

Shah said the office “will work in coordination with the county attorney’s office to review and determine the validity of all challenges on a case-by-case basis” after the midterm election.

When the Texas Election Network’s canvassing efforts in Sunnyside came to light in early July, County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office said it was “investigating this issue and exploring legal options to protect residents and prevent this from happening again.”

Asked about the status of the investigation this week, county attorney spokesperson Roxanne Werner said, “Although we have not found any further activity by this group, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if appropriate. We won’t allow any group to engage in illegal conduct to try and remove registered voters off the rolls.”

See here (scroll down) for the background. I do hope the County Attorney’s Office keeps an eye on this activity, because we know it’s ill-intentioned bullshit and it deserves to be closely scrutinized. Don’t ever give them an inch.

Tell me again why we’re encouraging all these crypto-miners to come to Texas

Seriously, what are we doing here?

Cryptocurrency miners are accelerating their push to expand in Texas far beyond what authorities had initially expected, threatening to send the state’s electricity use skyrocketing.

Enough miners have applied to connect to Texas’s power grid to use up to 33 gigawatts of electricity, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the system, said in an email Friday. That’s a third more than what the grid operator’s chief executive officer said in April that officials were preparing to handle over the next decade. It’s also enough to power all of New York State.

A spokeswoman for the grid operator, known as ERCOT, said officials expect to have enough power plants available to meet any rise in demand. The miners will need approval from ERCOT before connecting to the grid.

The surging interest underscores how appealing Texas remains to crypto miners, even as the value of Bitcoin has plunged more than 50% in the past year. And while many of those miners may never actually set up shop, the sheer number applying raises questions over whether the state’s grid, which collapsed during a deadly 2021 winter storm, will be able to meet the demand for electricity.

Crypto miners currently account for about 1.2 gigawatts of electricity demand in Texas, according to the Texas Blockchain Council, which represents miners. That’s enough to power about 240,000 homes. Over the past four months, the number of miners applying to plug into the grid has doubled.

The state has aggressively recruited miners, touting its cheap power, abundant renewable energy and business-friendly regulatory environment. Texas has some of the cheapest electricity rates for big consumers, averaging about 7.57 cents per kilowatt-hour in June, a third lower than the national average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It also has more wind power than any other state, which is appealing to miners pushing to appear more environmentally friendly.

In April, ERCOT’s interim CEO Brad Jones said he was working with miners to prepare the grid to handle about 25 gigawatts of crypto demand over the next decade. When asked if Texas aims to be the world’s largest mining center, he replied: “Yeah, that’s what we are planning.”

See here for some background. This story is from about a month ago, and it was the publication of another crypto story in the Trib that spurred me to finally hit publish on it. My main question is simply “Why?” What are we getting out of this? I’ll come back to that in the next crypto post. Yahoo News has more.

Endorsement watch: Starting out with Susan

The Chron kicks off endorsement season with a fulsome recommendation of Susan Hays for Ag Commissioner.

Susan Hays

Hays, 53, lives in Alpine, where she and her husband purchased land several years ago to grow hemp and hops. Her background is as an attorney and lobbyist, including her 2019 work helping craft the Texas law allowing any hemp product with less than 0.3 percent THC.

Like the Republican incumbent, Sid Miller, she has made medical marijuana legalization central to her campaign.

Hays said she’s taken a close look at other states’ cannabis policies and determined that the successful ones have a well-balanced “three-legged stool” of medicinal access, decriminalization and legalization, all working together to curb the black market and ensure people remain safe.

“You have to think of cannabis regulation holistically,” she told the editorial board, speaking of her frustration with Texas’ piecemeal approach and widely-varying regulations.

[…]

Hays promises to lead the department with integrity, and we think she presents Texans with a better shot at competent leadership than we ever had under Miller. If elected, she told us, her constituents “won’t have to worry if I’m off seeking pseudo medical treatment in another state or directing a staffer to commit unsavory acts for a quick buck.”

She vows to govern pragmatically, not politically, sticking to her duties as agriculture commissioner rather than partisan talking points: “That’s not just abortion and guns — it’s the freeze, it’s seeing the elected officials spend taxpayer dollars and money and media space on often made-up issues, issues based in fear, instead of actually governing,” Hays said.

She seeks to revitalize the State Office of Rural Health, a rural hospital program, and commit the department’s resources to improving rural health care, sorely needed in Texas. The agriculture department oversees the state’s school lunch program, and Hays seeks to make sure students — rural, suburban and urban — are getting healthy Texas food rather than processed food from elsewhere.

If you like a circus act that sucks up oxygen and taxpayer money, vote for Miller. If you want a serious candidate well qualified to run the Texas agriculture department fairly, efficiently, and honestly, we can’t recommend Hays highly enough.

If reading the words isn’t enough for you, listen to my interview with Susan Hays and hear her say these things herself. She’ll make a believer out of you. The Chron editorial necessarily gets into the case against Sid Miller, but they only have so much space for that. It’s so abundantly clear that Hays is the best choice, I don’t know what else to tell you.

On a side note, Beto O’Rourke had himself a pretty good weekend for endorsements, picking them up from the likes of Harry Styles, Willie Nelson, and thirty-five members of Uvalde shooting victims’ families. The ad now running that features the mother of one of the victims is just devastating. I saw it during a football game over the weekend, and it took my breath away. I’m not normally moved by ads, especially political ads – they’re just background noise to me, including the ones for candidates I like. This one was different. Wow.