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Bill Flores

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

Five for fleeing

There goes another one.

Rep. Bill Flores

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday morning that he would not run for reelection in 2020 — making him the fifth Texas Republican to announce his retirement from Congress.

“Serving my country as the Representative of the hardworking Texas families in the 17th Congressional District has been an honor and one of the greatest privileges of my life,” Flores said in a statement. “Following the end of my current term in January 2021, I look forward to spending much more time with my family and our grandchildren,” he said in a statement. “I also intend to resume business activities in the private sector and to stay politically active on a federal, state and local level.”

Flores joins several other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and Will Hurd.

[…]

Flores represents the 17th district, which stretches across a swath of Central Texas encompassing Waco, College Station and a small cut of north Austin. It is a reliably conservative district, and unlike the districts of several of the departing GOP Texans, the 17th did not see a marked Democratic surge in the 2018 midterms. His departure does not seem to be one of retreat in the face of steeper reelection odds.

A surge, no, but 2018 was a high water mark for Dems in CD17:


Year      CCA R    CCA D
========================
2012      57.9%    38.1%
2014      62.4%    33.5%
2016      58.9%    36.5%
2018      55.6%    41.7%
2018 Sen  54.3%    44.8%

The CCA numbers all come from races with a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian. I included the Beto-Cruz race at the bottom for comparison. CD17 was never on the radar, in part because it was and is more Republican than other contested districts, and in part because 2018 Dem candidate Rick Kennedy didn’t raise much money. Kennedy is running again, but Flores’ departure may draw the interest of someone who can run more vigorously. That person will have to be a self-starter because this race will not get any national interest – if CD17 is seen as competitive, then Dems are already likely to flip a bunch of seats – but CD17 includes all of HD14, which is a Dem target for the Lege, so having a strong candidate here has ancillary benefits. I’ll be interested to see who emerges on both sides. Daily Kos, Think Progress, and the Texas Signal have more.

What if he does it anyway?

That’s my question.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. House members released a letter stating their staunch opposition to raiding Texas’ hard-fought Harvey money.

“Recent reports have indicated that your administration is considering the use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds, appropriated by Congress and intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation efforts, in an effort to secure our southern border,” they wrote. “We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel. However, we are strongly opposed to using funds appropriated by Congress for disaster relief and mitigation for Texas for any unintended purpose.”

Congressional signatories included nine lawmakers from the Houston metropolitan region: Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson and Randy Weber; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Texans from other regions also signed on: Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Mike Conaway of Midland, Bill Flores of Bryan, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Roger Williams of Austin; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville

See here for the background. That certainly is a letter. Nicely typed, good sentence structure, no spelling errors as far as I could tell. Now what happens if and when Donald Trump goes ahead and declares an emergency and tries to tap into these funds anyway, because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him mean names again? What are you, Greg Abbott, and you, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and you, Republican members of Congress, going to do then? We wouldn’t be here in the first place if Donald Trump were a rational actor. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. What are those of you who enable him at every step going to do when that happens?

No special session for redistricting

Buried in my Wednesday post about the SCOTUS ruling that declared North Carolina’s Congressional map to be an illegal gerrymander was a note that the court in the Texas redistricting case asked the state to consider a special session to redraw Texas’ map, taking that ruling into account. The DMN had a story about that:

In striking down North Carolina’s congressional district map, the Supreme Court sent Texas a firm warning Monday about how the state’s case may fare if it reaches that stage.

Hours after the ruling, the federal district court in San Antonio currently overseeing the Texas case issued an order to the relevant parties asking them to submit briefs detailing how the North Carolina ruling will affect their claims, with a deadline of June 6.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, on behalf of the panel, also directed Texas to consider whether it would like to “voluntarily undertake redistricting in a special session” of the legislature in light of the North Carolina ruling, giving the state until Friday to decide.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said he interpreted the district court’s new order as a message to the state.

“The way I read it is that the court is warning the state of Texas to fix these intentionally discriminatory maps or it will in a way the state might not like,” said Anchia, D-Dallas.

[…]

Michael Li, a redistricting expert and senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said the North Carolina ruling will be an “important decision” for the other districting efforts winding through the legal system, including those in Texas.

“It makes clear that this isn’t about any sort of talismanic test or anything like that, but that you actually have to delve into the facts and circumstances about how maps are drawn,” Li said. “So even a district that looks pretty and has nice lines, and everything like that, can still be problematic. And it’s really up to the trial court to delve into that.”

Democrats in Texas celebrated the ruling as a promising indication of how their arguments will fare moving forward.

“I am happy that North Carolina voters secured another victory against the national Republican crusade to undermine the voting power of African Americans and Hispanics in local, state, and federal elections,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been on the front lines of another legal case against Texas’ voter ID law.

The request from the district court in San Antonio for new filings in the wake of the North Carolina decision confirmed the potential impact of the ruling. Matt Angle, the director of the Lone Star Project, a liberal advocacy group, said the court “is all but screaming in the ears of Texas Republican leaders to pull back from their culture of racial discrimination” by redrawing the map.

“Don’t count on Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick or other Texas Republican leaders to listen or care,” Angle said in a written statement. “Texas Republicans have adopted discrimination and vote suppression as essential tools to hold power.”

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent two letters earlier this year to Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, asking her to hold a hearing on the matter as chairwoman of the House Redistricting Committee. But the committee has not met at all this session.

The court had given the state till today to decide whether or not to take its own shot at drawing a legal map first. Yesterday, they gave their answer.

In response to a question from the court, the State of Texas said in a filing today that it has no plans to hold a special session to redraw state house and congressional maps.

The state said that its position remained that the state house and congressional adopted in 2013 to replace earlier maps were free of discriminatory purpose, did not use race as a predominant factor, or violate the Voting Rights Act – saying that it acted in good faith when it adopted court-drawn interim plans on a permanent basis.

The state also said that “any further attempt to reconfigure the State’s electoral districts will only result in new legal challenges.”

All righty then. That filing may disappoint the Texas Republican Congressional delegation, however.

Several congressional Republicans told the Tribune they want Abbott to call a special session to redraw the Congressional lines. They believe such a maneuver would put their allies in the state legislature in the driver’s seat, circumventing Republicans’ worst fear: that a panel of federal judges will draw a less favorable map of its own.

“I can’t speak for my whole delegation but I’ve already reached out to some of my friends back in the legislature…I said, ‘Give me a holler,'” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber R-Friendswood, on his hopes for a special session.

“My thought is, if the legislature doesn’t [redraw the map], then the court is going to drop the map, which I think is way outside their constitutional purview,” he added.

[…]

To be sure, the Congressional delegation would like to keep the current lines. But its calls for a special session are rooted in fears that the map will not hold up in court.

And even those fears are not uniform within the delegation itself.

“One attorney will tell you one thing, another attorney will tell you something different,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan. “There’s more confusion than consensus.”

I’m pretty sure there will be a new map, though it may be that the changes are fairly minimal, and it’s also possible that the state can force a delay until 2020. I don’t know that I’d bet my own money on those outcomes, however. Note that Greg Abbott may well call a special session for other reasons, just not for this because the state thinks it’s totally going to win. I have a feeling this subject will come up again during the scheduled hearing on July 10. Stay tuned.