This is a weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger. Let us know what you think.
This week, in news from Dallas-Fort Worth, the mayor of Dallas has jumped parties, quelle surprise. Also, some local follow-up on the Paxton impeachment, an actual report on the Dallas ransomware attack from this spring, a local media lawsuit ends up settled (thanks Biden! no, really), Dallas wins a DARPA-H hub, education news, public transit news, Operation Kindness and #EmptyTheShelters in October, Deep Ellum anniversary exhibits, Lorenzo the tortoise goes home safely, and more.
This week’s post was brought to you by the music of Depeche Mode, whom I will be seeing on Sunday. They still put on an excellent show and I commend their tour to you if you can get tickets.
In a move that surprised absolutely nobody who’s been paying attention, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced he was switching parties and becoming a Republican in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece (Local coverage: DMN; Observer; Dallas Free Press; plus Star-Telegram opinion; Texas Tribune; Texas Public Radio). You can read all those or you can decide there’s too much there and either celebrate that Dallas now has a Republican mayor or, well, not mourn but acknowledge the truth of the oft-quoted Rep. John Bryant tweet: “Switching parties? I didn’t know he was a Democrat.”
As Rep. Bryant notes, it’s not like Johnson has been acting like a Democrat for a while. Despite having spent time as a Democrat in the state House, he’s definitely been on the conservative end of Dallas politics for a while. His recent mayoral campaign (more on that later) was tilted toward the Park Cities/north Dallas crowd. He’s been at odds with liberal members of the city council, he couldn’t get the city manager fired, and he lost the recent battle over the city budget. As Gromer Jeffers, the DMN’s local politics writer, points out, Johnson is betting on the resurgence of Republicans motivated by money rather than culture wars by the time he leaves office in 2027 and is ready to run for higher office in 2028.
I’ll tell you upfront that you can take this to the bank for the subscription fees you paid our host, but I don’t understand this bet. Maybe he’s been hanging out so much in the Park Cities that he believes their BS, but there’s not a lot of room for Dallas-style Republicans in politics right now and that won’t change between now and 2027. The MAGA types control the primaries. Sure, Republicans have been eating their own for years now, and with Ken Paxton’s acquittal, the infighting is only going to get more vicious. Where that leaves room for Johnson in a statewide primary when Joe Straus is staying home is beyond me. If I saw a path forward for Johnson, it would be a Dallas-area House seat, but which one? Is he thinking he can take CD 32 back from whoever succeeds Colin Allred? Or is he thinking he can pry Jasmine Crockett out of CD 30? Or Marc Veasey out of CD 33? With the state of the gerrymandered Congressional districts he’ll have a hard time unseating a Democratic incumbent; beating an incumbent in a Republican primary looks impossible.
Leaving politics with Mayor of Dallas as your highest office is hardly shameful. Maybe he just plans to write a book and go on the rubber chicken/well-done steak-with-ketchup talk circuit, or take some of that sweet think-tank and lobby money. Or maybe he wants to sit on a bunch of boards that wouldn’t have him as a Democrat. That sounds more realistic than betting your career on a post-MAGA return of business Republicans in 2028 when we don’t know how 2024 is going to turn out.
Speaking of that mayoral job: the local Democratic Party is testing the water for a recall with a web petition for him to resign. Full disclosure: I signed it because I’m curious to see what action items they’ll send me. The Dems aren’t pushing for an actual recall, probably because the bar for signatures to start a recall is high (15% of eligible voters in the last election). I haven’t investigated the web site someone put up so I can’t say who’s behind it, but it’s not that hard to buy a URL, slap up some graphics, and make an Instagram account.
Realistically, we’re stuck with Johnson for another three years. He’ll be the same lousy mayor he’s always been when he actually shows up. He’ll just have an R after his name instead of a D along with the Ls.
In other news:
- Our host has been all over the Paxton fallout beat so I’m not going to go into detail on that. The latest is the DMN telling us that Paxton is going to have to sue to get back pay if he wants to, and you know he does. But I would like to call attention to a few local items:
- TFG is coming to Dallas on November 1 and the DMN’s copy of the invitation has Paxton’s name right under Dan Patrick’s at the top of the credits list.
- As noted by basically everybody, Paxton’s victory lap included threats to House leadership and that includes Jeff Leach of Plano. All five of the Collin County reps voted for the impeachment in the House, so while Leach is first in line, I foresee retaliation against all of them. The primaries this spring should be interesting.
- The Star-Telegram has an interview with Kelly Hancock of Richland Hills about his decision to vote to convict. As noted in this Texas Tribune article, apparently Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, the other Republican who voted to convict, isn’t expected to run again in 2026. Hancock has health issues including a kidney transplant so his 2026 plans aren’t clear either.
One of the things about the Johnson announcement that boggles me is that this is the Republican Party Eric Johnson is joining. TFG may not be around in 2028, though when (knock wood) he loses in 2024, he’ll immediately start planning for 2028. He’s not a great Democrat and he’s not in sync with where Dallas Democrats are going, but jumping into the Republican Party at this junction seems bizarre.
- Noted for Six Degrees of Clarence Thomas: Secretly Participated in Koch Network Donor Events. Drip drip drip drip.
- Finally we’re starting to get more information about the Dallas ransomware crisis that started more than six months ago. The DMN tells us that stolen credentials were used to log in in the first week of April, the hackers spent a month downloading data, and the ransomware was set off on May 3. Also a problem: not all the city’s software had been updated.
- Here’s an interesting analysis of the upcoming primary and general for Ted Cruz’s seat around the issue of gun control. Although there are in theory a number of candidates in the Democratic primary, the DMN article focuses on Colin Allred and Roland Gutierrez. Carl Sherman didn’t respond to their inquiry and Mark Gonzalez was bottom of the pack.
- I’m not a sports person, so I don’t listen to Dallas radio station the Ticket, but I’ve been watching their legal wrestling match with former employees who started a Patreon podcast for a while. This week, the two sides settled this week. D Magazine has some good analysis and there’s also a Washington Post story focusing on how a Biden administration ruling on non-compete clauses helped them.
- Dallas won one of three DARPA-H biotech hubs this week. The other two will be in Cambridge MA and DC. More details on what happens next Axios.
- A roundup of area education news:
- RISD has dropped its tax rate (which is good for my pocketbook).
- Denton and Arlington has joined the lawsuit against the TEA’s accountability measures. And Dallas ISD’s superintendent has things to say about it.
- FWISD is “rightsizing” as enrollment declines. In 2016 they had just over 87,000 students and they have just under 73,000 this year. While some of the decline may be related to private, charter, and home schooling, there are also larger demographics at play here. Millennials are starting to age out of their baby-having years and, putting on my economic historian hat, I’d like to point out when the economy sucks or is uncertain, people have fewer kids. FWISD won’t be alone in facing this trend.
- Carroll ISD may withhold its recapture payment from the state in 2024-2025, following Keller ISD which has already voted to withhold. I’m putting a finger on this because I think there will be fallout, either when the state lands on these districts like a ton of bricks or when the districts force the state to tell them what they’re doing with the recapture money.
- Of course you wanted to know about The Book Loving Texan’s Guide to the November 2023 School Board Elections. According to the Guardian and PEN, Texas is now number 2 in book bans after Florida but pretty sure between READER and all the other state misfeasance around books, we’ll get first place back.
- Here are two ugly stories about how we can’t have nice emergency services in Dallas. First, in the 2016 death of Tony Timpa, a mentally ill man who called 911 for help and then died after the cops put a knee in his back, a federal jury decided that Timpa’s civil rights had been violated but three of the four cops involved were shielded by qualified immunity. And a paramedic who kicked a mentally ill man several times during a 2019 call has been reinstated. Demoted, but reinstated, so he’ll be out there answering calls again.
- Tarrant County has a new county administrator, the second in its history, and the Star-Telegram has a profile of him.
- In Dallas-area public transit news, the DART board approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2024, not without some controversy about directors’ travel expenses. Look for more on that. Meanwhile the DMN would like to know whether Collin County and DFW would support regional rail transit (Note: Betteridge’s Law applies). Also, in news that is certainly in no way related to our poor public transportation and urban sprawl, the DFW metro area ranks third in the world, behind NYC and LA, and ahead of Houston, for transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. That last link is worth your time if you’re interested in climate and pollution issues; I learned some interesting things from it.
- Let’s have a little good news after all that. The CEO of local business the Container Store cut his pay by 10% so his employees could get raises after a difficult quarter.
- Operation Kindness, an area animal rescue charity, is moving into Dallas proper. They’ve been in Carrolton for a while but following their decision to step up after the SPCA stopped partnering with Dallas Animal Services back in February, they needed a hub closer to the city’s animal services HQ. They should be operating early next year. Meanwhile, if you’re local and need a furry friend, the Empty the Shelters campaign is October 1-15 and you can adopt a pet for free.
- Today I learned that there used to be a Chevrolet plant in Fort Worth. It ended production in 1921 and was demolished in 1986, a few years too early to be repurposed as a loft.
- It’s Deep Ellum’s 150th anniversary this year! KERA would like to teach you about it before the area turns into high-rises. Read up, that’s pretty interesting. Also check out these exhibitions in more detail. I’m going to add them to my museum list.
- Speaking of museums, the Crow Museum of Asian Art here in Dallas has named a new curator ahead of opening their new building at the UT Dallas campus next fall. (The original museum in the Arts District will remain open.) And in Fort Worth, the Kimbell has acquired a new Gainsborough landscape.
- Last, but not least, you may remember there was a tortoise on the loose last week. I’m pleased to report that Lorenzo has been reunited with his human. Even before his escape and five weeks on the lam, Lorenzo had led an exciting life. He was in Joe Exotic’s zoo (of Tiger King fame) before his current owner purchased him.