Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

November 16th, 2022:

One weird trick for maybe doing better with the next election

The Texas Democratic Party does another election post-mortem.

The odds were more stacked than usual against Texas Democrats this election cycle, with an unpopular president from their party going against them. Yet there was still hope and cautious optimism within the party that if anyone could pull off the upset, it would be Beto O’Rourke.

At a minimum, he could give a repeat performance of his 2018 matchup against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, where he came close enough to defeating the Republican — less than 3 percentage points — that Democrats could convincingly make the case that Texas is a battleground state worthy of national attention and investment.

Instead, O’Rourke, the most promising Texas Democrat in recent history, got walloped by Gov. Greg Abbott by 11 percentage points, and every other statewide candidate lost by double digits.

The drubbing has left Democrats in a familiar position: wounded after a disappointing election night while contemplating their strategy and their future.

“It’s been one [election] after another where we ramp everybody up and set up these expectations that we’re going to finish in first — and then we finish in second,” said Joel Montfort, a Democratic consultant in North Texas. “I don’t see any indication that we can win at statewide levels or won’t continue to bleed house seats to the other party.”

In an internal party memo obtained Thursday by The Texas Tribune, Democratic Party executive director Jamarr Brown blamed historic midterm trends, voting restrictions enacted in last year’s priority Republican legislation, redistricting that benefited the GOP, “mind-blowing” amounts of funding for Republicans, and a lack of national investment for Texas Democrats.

But perhaps the most damning mistakes Democrats identified in interviews and the memo was their inability to get voters to show up at the polls coupled with their candidates’ weak response to the GOP’s united messaging around immigration and the economy.

“We as Texas Democrats can no longer be seen as sticking our heads in the sand on issues that poll after poll tell us Texans care deeply about,” Brown said in the memo, singling out border security at length. “This election has made clearer the immense challenges we face over the next two years to continue making Texas into a state where all working families can thrive.”

O’Rourke’s campaign leaders are set to offer their own takeaways in a call with reporters on Monday.

Here’s what I think: I think we are not the ones that should be judging our performance. I think it’s past time to get some outside eyes in here and have a look at how we operate and what assumptions we make and what things we don’t do and render their opinion on it. Form a committee of politics knowers and doers from other states and let them at it. I’m thinking group of people from other mostly purple states, which is the status we are aiming for, with a diversity of ages, geographies (i.e., urban, suburban, exurban, rural), races, and expertises. I’d like to have folks from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia. I want a top to bottom look at everything, a set of reports that clearly states what we do well and what we don’t do well, and recommendations for action. I want it then to be shared with the SDEC, county parties, clubs and organizations, and affiliated friendly groups. Do whatever it takes to get the money to pay for all this, and then let it rip.

This may be impossible to do for any number of reasons. It may be that there are only medium-to-long term solutions available. It may be that we can’t really move forward without federal action on the border and immigration, which may very well involve legislative solutions that we Texas Democrats won’t like. It’s also super easy for an idiot on the Internet like me to propose such things. All I can say, after too many years of having the same feelings after the election, is that my first reaction upon seeing the headline to this story was “oh, not, not another one of these”. I personally would like to see us try something different this time. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

This is all so dumb

I’m going to quote a large swath of this Reform Austin story because it sums up what has been happening the past couple of days better than I could.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County’s election practices last Tuesday, saying that he wanted to get answers as to why a myriad of election administration issues occurred. Delayed openings at some polling places openings, a shortage of paper ballots at some polls, and understaffing problems plagued the county on election day.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” Abbott said in a statement but did not offer further details.

He added: “Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.”

But Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum responded that the county is “committed to transparency” and is already participating in the state’s election audit process.

“The office is currently reviewing issues and claims made about Election Day and will include these findings in a post-elections report to be shared promptly with the Harris County Elections Commission and the County Commissioner Court,” Tatum said in an emailed statement.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said that any problems on Election Day were technological and were related to the new voting machines Harris County was forced to purchase to bring the county into compliance with the new state law.

That law mandated the new models would be used as they produce a paper backup in addition to electronically capturing voter input. GOP state legislators passed the legislation called SB1 in their post-2020 “election integrity” campaign, despite any evidence of irregularities or fraud.

“Rather than waste resources on this nonsense, Gov. Abbott ought to investigate how many permitless guns have been used in violent crime,” Garcia said.

Also Monday, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Tatum and the county, alleging paper shortages at some voting centers amounted to violations of the Texas Election Code.

But Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu disputed the GOP’s assertions, saying that “The claim that there was, like, thousands and thousands of people who were disenfranchised, there’s no claim to that, there’s no proof of that,” Evbagharu said.

The delayed openings of roughly a dozen polling places on election day led a state district judge to allow an extra hour of voting time at those sites in response to a last-minute lawsuit filed by progressive advocates.

The Texas Civil Rights Project argued the case on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project, which sued to keep polls open. The suit stated it felt compelled to take legal action because election operation disruption earlier that day had caused voter disenfranchisement.

Hani Mirza, voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project said in a statement “We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

Harris County District Judge Dawn Rogers ruled the effort was likely to prevail, and that the government had infringed upon voters’ rights, and thus she approved the additional time.

Not surprisingly, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed the organization’s suit immediately, prompting the Texas Supreme Court to order the county to segregate votes cast during the extension while it reviews the judge’s action.

Honestly, all things considered, I thought Election Day didn’t go as badly as some people are saying. There were some glitches, and for sure we could do a better job with the paper, but we’re talking twenty-some locations out of 782. One reason we have so many locations is to give people plenty of other options if the place they went to is having issues. It’s a pretty small percentage, and so far as I can tell, no one has come forward to say that they were prevented from voting. Even more, the obvious remedy to voting locations that opened late or had to shut down for a period while paper issues were being sorted would have been to allow voting to go on for some extra time, so that anyone who was unable to get to another location and could not return before 7 PM would still have a chance to vote. Which the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Civil Rights Project sought to do and got an order from a district court judge, which was then opposed by Ken Paxton and shot down by the Supreme Court. You can’t have it both ways.

The Elections Office is going to have to make its mandated reports. There was already going to be an audit of the November election, in case anyone has forgotten. Paxton is going to do whatever he’s going to do. If the local GOP is claiming that there was some kind of conspiracy to make it harder for Republicans to vote – pro tip: never believe a word Andy Taylor says – all I can say is good luck proving intent. Until shown otherwise, this all looks like a bunch of hot air and sour grapes. The Trib, the Chron, and the Press have more.

Sen. Gutierrez begins his mission to be a pest about Uvalde

One of the things I’ll be watching this session.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio has pre-filed three bills ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that would reform state gun laws and set up a state fund to compensate victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

The two gun-related bills would establish high risk protective orders to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people and raise the age limit to buy any firearm from 18 to 21.

The other proposal would set up a $300 million fund for Uvalde victims and their families and waive legal immunity for state and local law enforcement who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting on May 24.

“We are doing what should have been done after Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa,” the Democrat said in an emailed statement. “Making sure that young killers cannot get their hands on the weaponry that is used in most of these shootings.”

[…]

The next session of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature session starts in January. So far, Texas GOP leaders have shown no willingness to impose new limits on gun ownership despite multiple high-profile mass killings across the state.

“It’s time for the killing in Texas to stop,” Gutierrez said. “We cannot continue to live in fear of going to school, going to church, shopping for groceries, and just living our lives.”

See here for the background. To be clear, many, many, many bills are filed every session. Few ever see the light of day, and fewer still even get a committee vote. Without Republican backing, these bills aren’t going anywhere. That’s where Sen. Gutierrez’s pledge to force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation comes into play, and is what I’ll be watching for. In the best case scenario, he manages to succeed and get one of these bills passed. More likely, he’s a thorn in Dan Patrick’s side. I’ll take either outcome.

Still rough times for oysters

Continuing from earlier in the year.

Tuesday marks the start of Texas’ commercial and recreational oyster season, but the bulk of the state’s oyster reefs are already closed for harvesting. This follows last year’s season during which the majority of reefs were closed by mid-December, leading to a clash between industry stakeholders and state wildlife officials over how to manage the resource.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) closes reefs if samples come back with too many small oysters or too few oysters overall. The idea is to give oysters time to recover and repopulate.

This year, 20 of the state’s 29 oyster harvesting areas are closed for the start of the season on November 1.

“What we as an agency have tried to do at the start of this season, with some of these thresholds, is to find a balance between understanding the economic hardship that this causes, but also doing what’s best to conserve the oyster population for the future,” said Christopher Steffen, a natural resource specialist with TPWD.

Oysters grow about one inch a year, and have to reach three inches before they can be legally harvested. Steffen said though there weren’t enough oysters above market size in their samples to open the reefs, the samples showed oysters have been recovering.

“We’re pretty fortunate in the sense that we do have quite a bit of undersized oysters, which is good for the future,” Steffen said. “We are seeing a lot of spat, which are the small oysters that settle on the substrate. And then some of the spat leftover from last year that’s grown into that two to three-inch size range.”

Oysters are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality, and Steffan said the drought in much of the state could put further pressure on them in the coming months.

In the past decade, Texas oysters have endured multiple hurricanes, drought, and heavy rainfall.

“It just takes time for those populations to rebound,” said Steffen, adding that they serve important ecological functions, such as preventing shoreline erosion and filtering water.

See here for some background. There are actually a few more harvesting areas open now than there were at the beginning of 2021, though that’s probably not much of a comfort to the fishers. Hope for better conditions, and remind the incoming Legislature that climate change is a problem we’re going to deal with one way or another whether they want to or not, I guess. The Chron and the Observer have more.