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November 3rd, 2022:

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

You’re kind of close to getting it, John. You do need to do better, though.

Speaking in July to a group of concerned conservative voters in Dallas, Texas Secretary of State John Scott declared that Texas elections were the nation’s most secure.

But just a few minutes earlier, he was joking with the crowd about a Texas county with more voters than residents, rumors of dead men voting and stories of electioneering dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign.

“Cheating is not something that’s isolated to Democrats or Republicans,” Scott said to members of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives that summer evening. “People have been cheating in elections for as long as there’s been elections. The trick is to try and catch them.”

Then, Scott fielded questions from the group who expressed serious skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. Over the next hour and a half, Scott batted down disproven claims of widespread fraud and, in one instance, briefly defended himself from insinuations that he too was part of the anti-democratic scheme that audience members were convinced was happening in real time.

The evening was in many ways emblematic of Scott’s tenure as the state’s chief elections officer, marked by occasional mixed messages in an effort to build trust in an election system without alienating a base of voters who increasingly view election denialism as a party platform.

[…]

In an interview last week, Scott expressed some regret about his choice of words when talking to the Dallas Jewish Conservatives group earlier this year. But Scott said he has not spread election misinformation, whether that night or throughout his yearlong tenure. Rather, he said, he has sought to meet people where they are as a means of gaining trust and assuage their concerns through transparency.

“Am I probably more flippant than most? Yes,” he said. “Are there better public speakers? I’m sure there probably are. Are there better messengers? Yeah, I’m sure there’s better messengers. But I don’t know that there’s a better way to convey a message to someone that may not necessarily be open to your message other than being a little understanding of, potentially, how they got where they are.”

Over the course of his tenure, Scott has repeatedly insisted that Joe Biden is the rightful president and that Texas’ elections are and have been free, fair and secure.

“Our elections are more accessible and safer than they’ve ever been,” he told The Texas Tribune last week.

At the same time, Scott has on occasion given oxygen to the very misinformation that he now battles full time, including through his office’s audits of elections in four of the state’s largest — and mostly Democratic-leaning — counties. Those audits are rooted in false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and have yet to produce any evidence of serious fraud. Yet Scott has continued to justify the reviews by saying they will provide transparency and assuage the concerns of those who’ve bought in to disproven conspiracy theories.

Voting rights groups see it otherwise and fear his pronouncements on election integrity are too little, too late. They say Scott’s ties to myth-spreading Republican leaders — and his willingness to go along with audits — have needlessly injected more doubt into an already skeptical electorate ahead of a consequential midterm election. And they worry that Scott has helped lay the groundwork for a new round of even stricter voting rules — enhancements of laws that have already disenfranchised many Texans.

“He’s supposed to act as an arbiter of truth when it comes to elections,” said Alice Huling, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit founded by the former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission that has previously sued Scott’s office over voting laws.

Huling said election officials across the country need to be much more vocal in denouncing those in their own party who have spread misinformation.

“It is not sufficient to just throw your hands up and say, ‘I’m not pushing conspiracy theories,’” she said.

It’s like I was saying. I like making jokes as much as anyone, but sometimes they’re just inappropriate. And while Scott might claim that his jokes were bipartisan in nature – the aforementioned “county with more voters than people” is the famously Republican Loving County – unless he spelled it out very clearly it’s likely that his audience took it as further evidence of rampant cheating by Democrats. Being extremely consistent in delivering the message that elections are handled with care and integrity around the country, not just in Texas, is what is needed now.

And the problem isn’t just misplaced humor, either:

But voting rights groups say Scott should have better used the bully pulpit of his office to push against those doing the duping. They say that Scott’s proximity to prominent election-deniers has made it difficult to trust what he says — and has created ambiguity that fuels fraud myths.

For example: At the July event with the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, much of the conversation centered around “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked propaganda film by longtime GOP political operative Dinesh D’Souza that alleges there was serious fraud at drop-off ballot locations in 2020. The film has been promoted by top Texas Republicans, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the exceedingly rare number of voter fraud prosecutions in the state. At the event, Scott spoke alongside Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who also represented Trump and has been a key driver of more restrictive voting laws.

While Scott did note that the premise of the film was not applicable to Texas because the state does not use drop-off balloting, he did not reject D’Souza’s debunked theory outright.

“It’s really amazing,” Scott said of the film, which he said he had recently watched. “You get an enormous amount of information … and I guess it’s scary, right? It leaves you a little angry, a little scared that that’s going on.”

Scott has since explained those comments: “My point is that none of that stuff took place in Texas,” he said last month. “I didn’t do a great deal of research on what happened in other states. So I don’t know if voter fraud was widespread or not.”

[…]

Some of the harassment has been directed at Scott, too. In an interview last month with Texas Monthly, Scott again proclaimed that the 2020 election was not stolen and disputed the findings of “2000 Mules.” His office was immediately inundated by angry voters, some of them threatening.

“You little RINO piece of shit,” one man said in a voicemail that Scott’s office provided to the Tribune. “We want everyone in this country to see what you goddamn bastards did to this country. … There’s a reason Trump reinstituted capital punishment as hanging and firing squads.”

Scott said he’s been surprised by the vitriol that’s been flung at his office and other county elections administrators over the last year.

“I think there’s a group of people that make a living off of spreading misinformation,” Scott said last week. “I think that there are some people that are absolutely mentally disturbed out there, and this gives them a purpose.”

He added that the issue didn’t emerge overnight or even in the past year — it has been “getting more and more aggravated, probably over the last six years.”

“I probably was informed enough to know that it was not necessarily going to be a clover patch here. But I don’t know that I was fully anticipating as much venom,” he said.

I mean, this is “the dog ate my homework”-level excuse-making, plus a feigned innocence that just beggars belief. If you have to be told to stay away from widely-debunked propaganda, and even worse fail to understand why it’s propaganda, then you really are completely unqualified for this job. You just can’t be trusted. I don’t know what else to say.

By the way, the grid is still not fixed

In case you were wondering.

A federal assessment indicates the Texas electricity grid remains almost as vulnerable to extreme winter weather as it was when it nearly collapsed during a prolonged deep freeze in February 2021 — although state utility regulators contend the analysis is flawed.

“The (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) report contained inaccuracies and ERCOT has called on the agency to correct the report,” said Rich Parsons, a spokesperson for the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

The Public Utility Commission oversees the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid.

Mary O’Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, released an updated version of the agency’s assessment late Tuesday, but it drew the same conclusion as the original version dated Oct. 20 in terms of a potential shortfall during extreme winter conditions.

According to the document, the ability of the ERCOT grid to handle extreme winter weather along the lines of what hit the state in February 2021 appears to be only marginally better, despite more than 18 months of effort to make the grid more dependable — as well as assurances from state regulators, and from Gov. Greg Abbott, that it is significantly improved.

Consumer demand for electricity on the Texas grid could exceed available generation capacity by 18,100 megawatts under a winter scenario similar to what triggered the 2021 disaster, the report says.

[…]

The federal assessment indicates the ERCOT grid will have more than enough generating capacity this winter under typical weather conditions.

“Basically, what (the federal energy commission) is saying is if we get weather conditions like in February ’21, we would have close to a repeat of what happened,” said Doug Lewin, president of Austin-based energy consulting company Stoic Energy.

The federal agency “is sounding the alarm very clearly,” Lewin said. “The risk that existed (in February 2021), for all intents and purposes, is about the same heading into this winter.”

FERC had issued an initial report last November that criticized the lack of weatherization in the grid. I was unable to locate a copy of this report, but I’m sure it will turn up online. To be sure, we don’t expect weather conditions this winter to be like what we got in February 2021. But we didn’t really expect that either – at least, I’d say that while most of us knew it was going to be colder than usual, we were blithely unaware of the disaster potential – and we know from recent history that sooner or later another storm like that is going to pass through. As was the case following the 1989 and 2011 storms, it’s just a matter of whether we did anything about it. So far, not so much.

Mayor Turner’s cancer treatment

I’m very glad to hear he’s doing well.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed Wednesday that he was diagnosed with cancer this summer, for which he had surgery and received six weeks of radiation treatment.

Turner said he went to the dentist for a root canal, and doctors ultimately found osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his jaw. He had surgery for nine hours on July 30, the mayor said, followed by an eight-day hospital stay and weeks of radiation in August and September.

Turner discussed the illness publicly for the first time in a question-and-answer discussion with former ABC-13 anchor Tom Koch after his seventh annual “State of the City” address.

“I’ve also had my own personal medical situation. For all of my life, I’ve been the healthiest ever,” Turner said. “I go to the dentist to get a root canal, on my way to France with the trade mission. Doctors come and say, ‘Well, it’s a little bit more than a root canal.'”

The mayor said he got a biopsy, and just before departing for France doctors told him he would not be able to make the trip. During the operation, Turner said surgeons took part of his leg bone to restructure his jaw. He had radiation every weekday morning at 7:30 a.m. from Aug. 1 to Sept. 12.

“Back at City Council that day, I continued to do what I needed to do in the city of Houston. Let me tell you, I have been blessed,” Turner said to applause. “As I look at the seven federally declared disasters, and then I look at what I’ve had to endure myself, and then you bounce back. What I would say to you is this is an incredible, incredible city.”

[…]

Turner’s office did not elaborate on the mayor’s prognosis after the event.

“That’s the extent of what he plans to share at this time,” said Mary Benton, Turner’s communications director.

There’s a larger conversation we could have about how much our political leaders need to tell us about their health, but I’ll save that for another time. In retrospect, given that there was no noticeable change in how the city was operating, it’s hard for me to say that we needed to know this information any sooner than now. Reasonable people may see it differently. As I said, I’m very glad that Mayor Turner is doing well, and I wish him all the best.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 31

The Texas Progressive Alliance says that the only thing scarier than Halloween is not voting. Think about that while you read this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Endorsement Regrets Watch: She’s not going to do that

I can’t. I just can’t.

Why do two West Texas oil billionaires — Christian nationalists waging war against secular public schools — care who becomes the next chief executive of Harris County, hundreds of miles from their homes? Why did a Houston real estate developer give $400,000, a staggering sum in a local campaign, to Republican county judge candidate Alexandra del Moral Mealer? Why did a furniture salesman, who became a celebrity by waving fistfuls of cash and promising to “Save! You! Money!” give $448,000 to Mealer in a single month? What — aside from earnest hopes of good governance — might these megadonors expect in exchange for their money? How much pressure will Mealer face to do their bidding if she wins?

These and other questions arise in reviewing Mealer’s latest campaign finance reports as she enters the home stretch of her bid to unseat one-term incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo. As the Chronicle’s Jasper Scherer reported, Mealer has raised $8.6 million since July 1, including $3.7 million in the past month alone. (By comparison, in the 2018 election, then-incumbent Republican Ed Emmett raised $446,000 from July through October). Mealer’s fundraising and spending in this cycle dwarfed that of incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo, who has raised $2.4 million since July 1, including $911,000 from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29.

One item that leaps out from Mealer’s reports is the pair of $100,000 donations from the Defend Texas Liberty Political Action Committee. This PAC is funded almost entirely by Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who made their fortunes in oil exploration and fracking and have donated lavishly to far-right candidates for the Texas Legislature and statewide offices. Among other notable gifts: Houston home builder Richard Weekley gave Mealer $400,000, the largest single donation in the July-through-September reporting period. Furniture salesman and philanthropist Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale and his wife, Linda, have given more than $600,000 to Mealer. McIngvale often appears in television ads with Mealer and was one of her earliest supporters.

On its face, the donation from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC is puzzling. The Harris County judge has no authority over the causes that have animated Dunn and Wilks: promoting vouchers that would provide state funding for private or religious school fees, outlawing abortion and resisting expanded recognition and rights for LGBTQ Texans. Yet they saw fit to give her as much money as they gave to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a key Republican ally in their right-wing culture wars. A review of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC’s donations, compiled by the nonprofit Transparency USA, shows at least one other donation to a local candidate: $13,000 in 2021 to Mary Bone’s successful campaign for the school board in Round Rock, near Austin.

[…]

Mealer should return the money she received from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, if only to signal her commitment to restoring good governance unbeholden to special interests and menacing, unholy alliances.

Short of that, well-intentioned voters are left to simply cross their fingers and hope that the candidates they support will demonstrate allegiance to the people they represent, not to the donors who helped get them elected. This board, which made the tough decision to recommend Mealer for the position, expects no less from her. If she prevails over Hidalgo, we urge her to resist any urge to repay donors such as Richard Weekley for their generosity, and to politely ignore the wishes of Farris Wilks, Tim Dunn, and other, like-minded donors — even if it means losing their support in any future campaigns.

She’s not going to do that. She’s delighted to collect their money and will give them her full attention if elected. She is laughing up her sleeve at how she put one over on those naive idiots at the MSM rag. The only correct words to say here were “We’re very sorry, Judge Hidalgo. We retract our endorsement of your opponent and endorse you instead.” I’m not surprised they don’t have the courage to do that. As with the last time, I will stop here before I say something I will later regret. But you own this, Chronicle editorial board. You own this.