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The digital divide

Online learning is great, if you can get online.

The lack of access to technology among students — commonly referred to as the “digital divide” — has come into sharper focus in recent weeks as school districts across Houston transition to online-based learning amid widespread school shutdowns.

Districts throughout the region are scrambling to equip tens of thousands of children with computers and internet access, jockeying with each other to secure coveted devices in high demand during the pandemic. In the meantime, many districts are providing those students with rudimentary paper materials, asking families to return completed coursework to their schools or take pictures of completed worksheets and send them to teachers.

“This has been on the education docket for, gosh, probably at least 20 years,” said Alice Owen, executive director of the Texas K-12 CTO Council, an association that supports school district chief technology officers. “It’s been a struggle for people to realize that this is an important piece of learning for students if we want to keep them competitive on a global scale.”

Educators and advocates long have warned about the digital divide facing American children, with the nation’s most impoverished children suffering most. The ubiquity and declining cost of computers and internet access has helped shrink the gap, but stark disparities remain.

In the Houston area’s 10 largest school districts, about 9 percent of households — nearly 142,650 — do not have a computer, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates. Nearly twice that number — about 267,250 households — lack broadband internet access.

Three of the region’s largest and most impoverished districts — Alief, Aldine and Houston ISDs — face the greatest shortages, according to Census data and estimates from district leaders.

[…]

Despite extensive warnings about the digital divide, state and federal legislators have not allocated nearly enough funding to schools to cover costs associated with providing laptops, wireless internet devices and broadband services to all students at home.

Districts can obtain some technology and internet access at steep discounts through a federal program known as E-Rate, but the benefit does not extend to take-home computers or wireless hotspots for students.

“If we want our kids to be competitive and stay up-to-date with tech, we need to be investing in our students for the future,” Owen said. “We’ve got to get over the way school used to be run, and we need to think about the ways that schools are run in the future.”

In a letter sent last week to the top four ranking members of Congress, 35 Democratic senators called for providing $2 billion in E-Rate funds that would allow schools and libraries to deliver wireless internet devices to students without connectivity at home.

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” the senators wrote. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home Internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

Maybe addressing this could be part of Infrastructure Week, or maybe it can be its own item. As the story notes, HISD and some other districts issue laptops to high school students – my daughter has one – which helps with those students, but obviously only goes so far. Charters are not exempt – KIPP reports a similar issue with its students. This is, plain and simple, an issue of poverty. If fixing the underlying issue is too hard, then maybe we can agree that all students need to have the equipment required for an education, and provide them all with laptops and Internet access. The choice is ours – are we going to learn from this crisis, or are we going to face the same problems the next time, without the excuse that we didn’t know any better?

Coronavirus is taking its toll on the Census

The timing of this pandemic really sucks.

The nonprofit Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston had more than 15 tabling events planned over the next several weeks where volunteers were going to post up at festivals, fairs and other community gatherings and educate people about the value of filling out the census.

Then the coronavirus crisis hit. One by one, gatherings were canceled, and Texans increasingly became subject to stay-at-home orders.

“This is a very challenging census,” said Ana Mac Naught, census coordinator of the Houston in Action coalition, a collaboration between the city of Houston, Harris County and more than 50 local organizations, including Interfaith Ministries. “We are focusing on what we’re able to do at this moment.”

Local governments and nonprofits knew they already had their work cut out for them when Texas — in keeping with many other Republican-led states — declined to approve funding for grassroots census outreach.

Initial returns show Texas is already behind the rest of the nation: The self-response rate statewide is 31.3 percent compared to 36.2 nationally, as of Monday, the most recent data available. Most households have responded online. After the last census in 2010, Texas tied for the 7th lowest response rate in the country at 64.4 percent.

Now, leaders of groups helping with the count say they’re facing a whole new set of challenges as the coronavirus crisis thwarts their efforts to engage people face-to-face, and they’re forced to quickly pivot to digital and phone-based alternatives.

[…]

Harris County trails the rest of the state with a 30.7 percent response rate while Bexar County is ahead at 32.7 percent. So far, the more affluent, suburban parts of both metropolitan areas are participating at higher rates than the urban cores. That’s something local leaders say they are watching closely, as they try to target the large Hispanic and other hard-to-count communities in both cities.

It’s too early to tell whether the decline is related to coronavirus, but Texas has faced an uphill battle.

According to the Center for Urban Research, one in four Texans belong to a hard-to-count population, which includes racial and ethnic minorities, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants and refugees, renters, college students, children under the age of 5, and the LGBTQ community.

This time period of self-response is especially important, local leaders say, because the more households participate now, the fewer people that stand to be missed later and the fewer households that will require a visit from a census taker.

“People definitely understand that the census is not on the top of people’s priority list,” said Katie Martin-Lightfoot, coordinator of Texas Counts, a statewide initiative from the left-leaning Center for Public Policy. “We are trying to look for these very non-intrusive ways to get the message out there about the census.”

See here for the background. As I said before, the most obvious answer is to do to the Census what has been done with the primary runoffs, the Olympics, and so many other things – push the deadlines back by however long you think it may take to get past the worst of this, and adjust from there. There’s no reason at all why we have to be slaves to the original schedule, given the life-altering event that has disrupted literally everything else on the planet. If that pushes back the 2021 redistricting process and the 2022 primaries, then so be it. The only impediment is our own willingness to recognize the truth. Houston Public Media, which interviews County Judge Lina Hidalgo about this, has more.

Is it finally going to be Infrastructure Week?

I have three things to say about this:

Lawmakers have been talking about striking a deal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure for years. It might take a pandemic to finally get them to do it, and Texas officials are already working on their wish lists, with ports, highways, high-speed internet and more potentially on the line.

There’s growing talk of tackling infrastructure as the next step in Congress to stave off economic collapse from the coronavirus outbreak, following the $2 trillion stimulus package that passed last month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are beginning work now on the next package, including “bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.”

President Donald Trump appears to be on board.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!”

In Texas that could mean a massive injection of federal funding to rebuild highways and bridges, expand ports and brace waterways for future floods. The federal push could also expand much-needed broadband — which 2 million Texans don’t have — with many Americans now stuck at home, relying on the internet for work, school, telemedicine and more.

“Getting the infrastructure bill done makes a lot of sense,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It will be a really important driver to get our country up and running and back to work once we’re on the other side of COVID-19.”

[…]

In the Houston area, planned widening of Interstate 10 in Fort Bend and Waller counties could be at the top of a priority list of projects, along with expanding Texas 146 from two to three lanes in each direction to relieve a well-known truck bottleneck.

Metropolitan Transit Authority has a long list of projects, but also is still drafting much of its $7.5 billion plan, making it unclear whether Houston’s costliest train and bus projects are ready to reap federal dollars.

Then there are the ports and the Intercoastal Waterway, which will likely be at the top of the list for any major federal infrastructure package, said Ed Emmett, the former Harris County Judge who is now a senior fellow at Rice University.

The Houston Ship Channel needs to be deepened and widened, for one thing. Officials with the Port of Houston have been lobbying for federal help for the $1 billion project that would allow the nation’s busiest waterway to accommodate two-way traffic.

[…]

Emmett said he’ll believe there’s federal infrastructure money coming when he sees it.

“I’m a total cynic when it comes to this,” he said. “Anytime there’s a crisis Congress always says infrastructure — ‘we’re going to go spend on infrastructure’ — and it never happens.”

1. What Ed Emmett says. Past attempts at Infrastructure Week have failed because Donald Trump has the attention span of a toddler who’s been guzzling Red Bull. Show me a bill that at least one chamber has on track for hearings and a vote, and get back to me.

2. If we do get as far as writing a bill, then please let’s limit the amount of money we throw at TxDOT for the purpose of widening highways even more. Fund all of Metro’s projects. Get Lone Star Rail, hell even the distant dream of a high speed rail line from Monterrey to Oklahoma City, off the ground. Build overpasses or underpasses at as many freight rail traffic crossings as possible. Make broadband internet truly universal – hell, make it a public utility and break up the local monopolies on broadband. You get the idea.

3. Ike Dike. Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike. Seriously, any gazillion-dollar infrastructure plan that doesn’t fully fund some kind of Gulf Coast flood mitigation scheme is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Ike Dike or GTFO.

Cities and counties are going to need their own bailout

This story is about the rough financial future that the city of Houston faces as we go through the coronavirus shutdown, but it’s not just Houston that is in this position.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

As Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration continues efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Houston, another dire challenge looms for City Hall: its budget.

The economic downturn caused by the pandemic and plummeting oil prices has thrown an already cash-strapped spending plan into more arduous territory, raising the specter of the first furloughs or layoffs of city employees since 2011.

Controller Chris Brown, who recently finished a recession stress test for the city’s coffers, has said he thinks the situation is likely to rival the recession that began in 2008, approaching the test’s worst-case scenario: a budget deficit in excess of $300 million.

He told council members Tuesday they should begin dusting off the recession playbook.

“Unfortunately, they had to do some furloughs and cut some expenses and things like that, because you can’t control the revenue right now,” said Brown, the city’s independently-elected financial watchdog. “These are tough decisions that are going to have to be made, I think.”

Turner said budgeting is always difficult under a revenue cap, but the city in the past has forged its way through challenging deficits and will do so again.

The mayor would not say whether he thinks layoffs will be necessary, but he sees other actions that can help cut the deficit. Turner plans to use some of the city’s current fund balance, which is projected between $187 and $203 million. The rainy day fund, he pointed out, will also have $15 million when it comes time to adopt the budget.

Some job vacancies have already gone unfilled, he said.

“We always assume there is going to be a budget shortfall with the revenue cap,” Turner said, referring to Houston’s voter-imposed ceiling on increased property tax revenue. “There’s always some elephant in the room. The elephant here now is the coronavirus and the impact on your sales taxes.”

The city’s two largest streams of money are property and sales taxes. All eyes are on the latter, which are expected to take an unprecedented hit as most businesses have been ordered to close and the region’s residents have been told to stay home in a bid to slow the virus’ spread.

It’s not just sales tax revenue, which will hammer the state budget as well. No one’s flying into or out of the airports, no one is staying in hotels or renting cars or booking conventions. All of those things affect the enterprise fund, which is a part of the city’s budget that is largely not subject to the revenue cap. And as noted, it’s not just Houston. Every city, in Texas and elsewhere, will be facing this. Part of the solution here, very simply, needs to be a federal relief package for local and state governments, all of which would otherwise have to lay people off and drastically cut back on services, all of which would just further exacerbate the recessionary effects we are now feeling. Just as we expect business activity to more or less return to normal once everyone can leave their homes again, we should expect local tax revenues to more or less return to normal. All of that assumes that the business are still there to return to, which is why we needed the first stimulus bill, to prevent them all from suffocating in the meantime. We all want to return to normal, but we have to do everything we can to preserve what was normal until we can get back to it. That’s what the federal government can do, and what it needs to do.

But we should also recognize that forcing cities and counties and states to observe “balanced budget” requirements at a time like this is not only ridiculous, it’s self-mutilating. Mandating an artificial deadline for when one number must be shown to equal or exceed another is beyond stupid and pointless, and that’s even more so if we not-unreasonably assume that the feds will eventually come in with a check to make up for the sales taxes that did not happen. The single best thing Greg Abbott could do with his emergency powers once we’re at or near a point where we can begin to think about easing up on the stay-at-home rules is to declare that all “balanced budget” requirements are suspended for the next two budget cycles, along with the revenue cap that was passed in the last Lege. That won’t be carte blanche for cities and counties to start spending like crazy – they’ll still have to get their budgets to “balance” later on – it will just be a recognition that this was something entirely beyond their control, and they deserve a chance to recover from it. It won’t happen, of course – I’m sure Greg Abbott and the entire army of financial ghouls he has behind him are salivating at the prospect of forcing their local nemeses to slash their budgets – but it should. I will never stop beating this drum.

The federal stimulus package includes money for elections

What we’ll do with it remains unknown at this time.

Be like Hank, except inside

The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package Congress is working to pass this week includes $400 million for election costs states face in wrestling with how to hold high-profile 2020 elections in a time of social distancing.

Advocates estimate the that could mean as much as $20 million for Texas, where state officials have so far opted to delay election dates — including pushing back a runoff to pick the Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn until mid-July — rather than expand vote-by-mail options or offer up online voter registration.

It’s unclear how the state would use the funding — which still has to clear Congress and get signed by President Donald Trump — but advocates were already pushing for state leaders to consider expanding mail-in voting and offering online registration, something 39 states do now.

“Every Texan needs should be able to safely register to vote and cast their ballot whether by mail or in person,” Anthony Gutierrez, Executive Director of Common Cause Texas, said in a statement. “The way we make that happen is to use these funds to implement online voter registration, expand vote by mail, extend early voting, recruit more election workers, and ensure all poll sites meets public health safety standards.”

I don’t know if $20 million is enough to accomplish that, but then I also don’t know what if any conditions there are on this money. I hope there are some and that they are clear, because I have no doubt that our state leadership would use the money in some way that they could claim was about supporting the 2020 elections but really wasn’t. I have no idea what that may be, but I have faith in their ability to conjure something.

Elisa Cardnell suspends campaign in CD02

From the inbox:

Elisa Cardnell

Monday morning, Elisa Cardnell, Democratic candidate for US House of Representatives in Texas’s 2nd District, suspended her campaign. She released the following statement.

“When we began this campaign no one thought this race was possible. Every rating had Dan Crenshaw in a safe seat with no chance of flipping, but we knew that wasn’t true. We organized, we built a movement here in Houston, and showed that voters across the spectrum want to hold their leaders accountable. That’s what this race has always been about, putting country over party and holding Dan Crenshaw accountable.

“Our movement is strong. We received over 5,000 contributions to our campaign. We received over 17,000 votes, more than the past Democratic nominee for TX-02. But unfortunately, after a hard look at the numbers, we do not have the resources and clear path to reach a majority in the runoff. That is why today I am suspending my campaign for the US House of Representatives for the Texas 2nd district.

“This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for, but ultimately it is the best thing for our party so the fight against Dan Crenshaw can start today, not in May. Dan Crenshaw has built a multi-million warchest funded by private prison groups, Big Pharma, the Koch’s, and other corporate donors. He has voted with Trump over 93% of the time and is the 5th most frequent Congressional visitor to the Trump properties. If we are going to hold him accountable, we need to start that work today instead of giving him more time to build a corporate war chest.

“I am deeply humbled by the support we have received. The fight for working class representation in DC doesn’t end here. I’m not done fighting for universal healthcare, a living wage, a green economy, safe schools, our veterans, and ending the influence of money in politics.

“I hope you’ll join me in supporting Sima Ladjevardian in this fight against Dan Crenshaw and his corporate donors.” said Cardnell.

The statement doesn’t say so it’s not clear at this time if Cardnell is withdrawing or just not campaigning. If she withdraws, there is no runoff in CD02 and Sima Ladjevardian becomes the nominee. My reading of the Elections Code is that the deadline for officially withdrawing is three days after the result is canvassed. She can work that out with the county and state parties as needed.

Of more importance right now is that this is a selfless and generous act by Cardnell, who was the first candidate in the race – indeed, one of the first candidates for any race in this cycle – and who ran hard and did a decent job fundraising. The DCCC has put CD02 on its target list, and they have affirmed their support of Sima Ladjevardian in this race. I’ve mentioned before that Cardnell is a friend of mine from the Rice MOB. I was happy to see her enter this race, and I’m proud of her and the race she ran. This had to be a tough decision to make, and I salute her for making it. Thank you, Elisa. The Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

DNC to target Texas

Game on.

The Democratic National Committee [added] Texas to its list of 2020 targets just days before Super Tuesday, vowing to invest heavily in the state to help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in the latest sign that the national party is taking Texas more seriously than it has in years.

That investment includes getting more organizers on the ground as the party also seeks to take control of the Texas House from Republicans who have held it for a generation. While the DNC is focused on helping the Democratic presidential nominee beat President Donald Trump, the party also says it will help with the race against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, as well as efforts to win the nine seats needed to flip the state House.

[…]

“You’ve got a whole new era of Democratic politics in Texas, and you have a national party making a commitment to lift Texas up,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “This is a significant investment from the DNC to make sure we lay the groundwork necessary for a competitive and strong battleground presidential race.”

The party would not disclose how much the national arm plans to pour into Texas and said it will roll out more detailed plans for the funding in the coming weeks. But the investment will include additional staff and organizers.

The DCCC is already here in multiple races, and the DSCC is backing MJ Hegar, though what that might mean for November is unclear at this time. There’s enough polling to suggest that Texas can be competitive in November in the Presidential race, but the downballot rewards are great as well, including and especially at the legislative level where flipping the House would give Dems leverage for Congressional redistricting. The surprise here would have been if the DNC had decided to stay out of state for November.

Runoff roundup

Here, as best as I can determine, are the runoffs of interest for May:

US Senate – MJ Hegar versus Royce West

CD02 – Sima Ladjevardian versus Elisa Cardnell
CD03 – Lulu Seikaly versus Sean McCaffity
CD10 – Mike Siegel versus Pritesh Gandhi
CD17 – Rick Kennedy versus David Jaramillo (D), Pete Sessions versus Renee Swann (R)
CD22 – Troy Nehls versus Kathaleen Wall (R)
CD23 – Tony Gonzales versus Raul Reyes (R)
CD24 – Kim Olson versus Candace Valenzuela
CD31 – Christine Eady Mann versus Donna Imam

Note that Wendy Davis (CD21), Sri Kulkarni (CD22), Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23), and on the Republican side Wesley Hunt (CD07) all won outright. I skipped a couple of Republican runoffs in safe D districts, because life is short.

Railroad Commissioner – Chrysta Castaneda versus Roberto Alonzo

SBOE5 – Robert Morrow versus Lani Popp (R, wackadoo versus what passes for normal)
SBOE6 – Michelle Palmer versus Kimberley McLeod

SD19 – Xochil Peña Rodriguez versus Roland Gutierrez
SD27 – Eddie Lucio versus Sara Stapleton-Barrera

Didn’t mention this yesterday, but Susan Criss prevailed in SD11.

HD02 – Dan Flynn versus Bryan Slaton (R)
HD25 – Ro’Vin Garrett versus Cody Vasut (R, this is Dennis Bonnen’s old seat)
HD26 – Suleman Lalani versus Sarah DeMerchant (D), Matt Morgan versus Jacey Jetton (R)
HD45 – Carrie Isaac versus Kent Wymore (R)
HD47 – Jennifer Fleck versus Don Zimmerman (R)
HD59 – Shelby Slawson versus JD Sheffield (R)
HD60 – Jon Francis versus Glenn Rogers (R)
HD67 – Tom Adair versus Lorenzo Sanchez
HD100 – Lorraine Birabil versus Jasmine Crockett
HD119 – Liz Campos versus Jennifer Ramos
HD138 – Akilah Bacy versus Jenifer Pool
HD142 – Harold Dutton versus Jerry Davis
HD148 – Anna Eastman versus Penny Shaw

Note that in that HD47 primary, one (1) vote separates second and third place, according to the Travis County Clerk. I assume there will be a recount, and even before then late-arriving mail ballots could change this. In the event of an actual tie, there will be a coin flip to determine who goes to the runoff. I’m rooting so hard for that outcome, you guys.

In the HD67 primary, 63 votes separate Lorenzo Sanchez and Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, or 0.3 percentage points. I would expect a recount there as well, but with a far lesser chance of affecting the outcome.

Lorraine Birabil was the winner of the special election in HD100 to fill out the unexpired term of Eric Johnson, who is now Mayor of Dallas. Anna Eastman was the winner of the special election in HD148 to succeed Jessica Farrar.

14th Court of Appeals, Place 7 – Tamika Craft versus Cheri Thomas

164th District Court – Cheryl Elliott Thornton versus Alex Smoots-Thomas
339th Criminal Court – Te’iva Bell versus Candance White

County Commissioner, Precinct 3 – Diana Martinez Alexander versus Michael Moore

Moore was leading most of the night, but Alexander caught and passed him as final results came in. I don’t care to go through the various Constable and JP races, but the good Jerry Garcia was leading problematic incumbent Chris Diaz going into the Precinct 2 Constable runoff.

Whatever turnout there will be in the runoffs will be driven primarily by the Dem Senate race and the Congressional races on both sides. Won’t be much, but it ought to be a bit more than usual, and surely more on the D side if there were no Senate runoff.

2020 primary results: Senate and Congress

In the US Senate primary, MJ Heger is clearly headed to the runoff. It’s less clear who’s in second place, in part because the statewide results are so out of date on both the Trib and SOS pages. As of this draft, these pages show Royce West trailing Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez by three points, with 64,041 votes cast for him. However, as of the same time, the Dallas County election results show West with 58,873 votes, just in Dallas. Suffice it to say, the statewide results are not up to date. My guess is that West finishes second, but check back later.

For Congress:

– Sima Ladjevardian was close to 50% in CD02 after early voting, but slipped back a bit from there and will be in the runoff with Elisa Cardnell.

– Mike Siegel was leading in CD10 as far as I could tell, but it’s not clear who he’ll face in the runoff.

– Sri Kulkarni appears to be over 50% in CD22. I very much hope that race ended last night.

– Wendy Davis (CD21) and Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23) were winning easily, and Julie Oliver (CD25) was also headed to victory. Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela were basically tied in CD24 and will face off in May, as will Sean McCaffity and Lulu Seikaly in CD03. Christine Eady Mann and Donna Imam made the cut in CD31. Elizabeth Hernandez appeared to be leading Laura Jones in CD08.

– Henry Cuellar seems to have held on in CD28, and on the Republican side Kay Granger was doing the same in CD12. So Republicans will still have at least one female member of Congress from Texas.

– Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green won easily against their challengers.

– Pete Sessions will be in the runoff in CD17, and Troy Nehls gets to face Kathaleen Wall and her millions of dollars in CD22. I pity everyone who will have to suffer through the TV commercials.

One more of these to go.

UPDATE: The Chron says it’s Mike Siegel and Pritesh Gandhi in the CD10 runoff, with Shannon Hutcheson finishing third. That’s a rare failure for a female candidate in any Dem primary from this year.

Six questions for today’s voting

In some semblance of an order…

1. How will the early vote differ from the Tuesday vote? I’m mostly talking about the Presidential race here. We strongly suspect today will be a very big day at the ballot box, in part because people have been waiting, to see what the latest developments have been, before deciding, You know, so they don’t accidentally vote for a candidate who has dropped out, or one who seems unlikely to get any delegates. Bernie has the poll surge, Biden has the South Carolina surge, which has earned him a number of late endorsements. Which will have the greater effect?

2. Who finishes second in the Senate primary? Every single poll has MJ Hegar in the lead, sometimes by a few points, sometimes by a significant margin, with every other candidate in a pack after her. None of the other candidates has raised much money, and in each of the recent polls at least one of the no-money-at-all candidates has been up in the high single digits, ahead of at least one candidate who has an actual campaign. If I had to guess I’d say Royce West and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez have the edge for the second runoff slot, but in a race with 12 candidates and where fifteen percent might be enough to finish second, who knows?

3. What surprises are out there? Here I’m mostly thinking of the Congressional primaries for the DCCC-targeted seats where there’s one candidate with a lot more money than the others: CD02, CD21, CD22, CD23, and CD24. Do the candidates with the most money win, or at least lead the pack, or does that matter less in a year where turnout is super high and voters may not know as much about the non-Presidential candidates?

4. Do we have to have the “insurgents versus establishment” debate again? There are a few races where that’s on the menu, at least in a high profile way. I’ll check back on that sometime after tomorrow, I don’t feel like it right now.

5. How random is the bottom of the ballot? We have a lot of judicial races in Harris County, and in the primaries where you don’t have a party label to give you some guidance, we have a lot of voters who know diddly squat about a lot of these candidates. Here in Harris County, we have a number of challengers to sitting District Court judges, some of whom are more serious than others (the same can be said about the incumbents). Some candidates have racked up the endorsements and have been very visible, others not so much. Will there be any correlation between those who worked at is and those who won? History says at best a weak link, but maybe this year will be different.

6. Will the Republicans succeed at their diversity effort? They’d sure like to say they were successful. Maybe that’s good enough.

Chron overview of the CD02 primary

Gonna be an interesting one.

Elisa Cardnell

Near the end of a recent forum for the three Democrats looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a seemingly innocuous moment hinted at some friction between candidates Elisa Cardnell and Sima Ladjevardian.

“At the end of the day, you’ve seen that all three of us are united here behind one goal: defeating Dan Crenshaw in November,” Cardnell said in her closing remarks. “And no matter who the nominee is, we have DCCC backing. … Whoever wins this primary will have the resources and the support to take on Dan Crenshaw.”

Cardnell’s reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — House Democrats’ campaign arm, which added the district to its battlefield map in January — drew a smirk and head shake from Ladjevardian. The reaction suggested that Ladjevardian, who declined comment on the matter, may be skeptical the DCCC would deploy resources to Texas’ 2nd Congressional District if Cardnell wins the nomination.

The DCCC has not indicated its involvement is tied to a particular candidate, though the group announced it was targeting Crenshaw and several other Republicans a day after Ladjevardian said she had raised more than $400,000 in the first three weeks of her campaign.

Sima Ladjevardian

Democrats will need all the help they can get in this Houston-area district, where Crenshaw won by more than 7 percentage points in 2018, but Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by just one point. The three candidates — Cardnell, Ladjevardian and former Department of Homeland Security employee Travis Olsen — align ideologically, rejecting policies such as Medicare for All while preaching the importance of winning moderate voters.

Where they differ is on style and their distinct backgrounds, which they are using to fashion their electability arguments.

“It’s going to take a veteran who can reach across the aisle and bring back independent voters,” Cardnell, a Navy veteran, said at the forum. “This district, Beto lost by 3,000 votes. But (Republican Gov. Greg) Abbott won by 13 percent. That means we have swing voters in this district and we have to be able to talk to them.”

Ladjevardian’s supporters say her fundraising ability, ties to O’Rourke as his former campaign adviser, and background as an Iranian immigrant and cancer survivor make her the most formidable threat to Crenshaw. She also has garnered the most support from local elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Sylvester Turner, eight members of the Legislature and the district’s 2018 Democratic nominee, Todd Litton.

We know the basics here. The Chron endorsed Sima largely on the basis of her fundraising strength, which they argue gives her the best chance to win. Cardnell, who has been a decent but not spectacular fundraiser, argues her status as a veteran is more important to winning, noting that Crenshaw outperformed Ted Cruz in the district. I don’t live in this district, I like all of the candidates, and I still hope to interview Sima if she makes it to the runoff.

The people who oppose the high speed rail line still oppose the high speed rail line

In case you were wondering.

In the same room where many mobilized against the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor freeway project 15 years ago, critics of a proposed Houston-to-Dallas bullet train promised to shoot that down, too. No matter how long that takes.

“Unfortunately, we are five years in and I can see five more years,” said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail.

At a Wednesday night town hall organized by the group and attended by local and state officials along with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, elected leaders promised the crowd a fight starting in Washington, where regulators are expected to release safety requirements for high-speed trains and consider whether the Texas Central project is a federally-recognized railroad.

“After we stop them again in Washington, this battle shifts back to Texas,” Brady told the crowd of landowners, mostly from Grimes, Montgomery, Waller, Harris and Madison counties.

[…]

In a statement, Texas Central said it remains committed to the project, noting the support of more than 100 groups and organizations.

“It is not surprising that those few detractors would also attempt to be vocal as progress is being made,” the company said.

I don’t think anything has changed recently. Either Texas Central can get to a point in their construction where they’re basically unstoppable, or the opposition may be able to put up a roadblock they can’t overcome. At this point it looks like they may have to survive one more legislative session, and who knows where that may go. I think as long as the US House stays Democratic it’s fairly unlikely that such an obstacle will come from there, as the Democrats from Houston and D/FW are not going to support anything to kill this. The courts remain a wild, but they may also be too slow-moving to be a factor. One way or another, the race is until construction really gets started.

A look at the CD25 primary

CD25 in Central Texas is a lower-tier race but after a much closer result in 2018 than before it’s on the radar this year and there’s an interesting primary to see who gets to take the shot at it.

Julie Oliver

When Julie Oliver lost to U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, in a closer-than-expected race in November 2018 she felt a numbness that by December thawed into a deep sadness.

“I felt like I had let a lot of people down, that I had failed in my responsibility to the people of the district,” Oliver said. “By early February I started thinking, ‘I could do this again,’ by the middle of February, ‘I should do this again,’ and by the beginning of March, I was, ‘I have to do this again.’”

And so she is.

But what Oliver, 47, didn’t realize at the time is that before she can get another crack at Williams, a 70-year-old car dealer seeking his fifth term in Congress, she must get past a Democratic primary challenge from Heidi Sloan, a dynamic 34-year-old activist springing from Austin’s fertile socialist movement, inspired to electoral activism by the success of fellow democratic socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Williams, meanwhile, is facing a primary challenge from Keith Neuendorff, 53, a software engineer and political novice from West Lake Hills, who is running a low-budget campaign — he has raised and spent less than $6,000 — talking to voters about what he finds to be Williams’ “lack of connectivity with his constituents.”

Heidi Sloan

Sloan, who had been involved in organizing campaigns with the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America to pressure U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, to embrace Medicare for All (he did), for paid sick days and to decriminalize homelessness, said that last spring, allies “just kept mentioning, `We really like organizing with you, we like your leadership style, have you ever thought about running?’”

She said she had not, but Mike Nachbar, a democratic socialist organizer, now managing her congressional campaign, “sat me down and he said, `This is what 2020 is going to look like. Obviously, DSA is going to organize for Bernie as long as Bernie continues to be who he has been for the last 4 years, but it can’t just be that. We have to build a coalition to win Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. And we have to get started right now.’”

[…]

If Oliver seems an unlikely target from the left, she will be tough to beat March 3 in a race that offers a glimpse at how, even as the center of gravity of the Democratic Party has shifted left since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the battle for primacy among the party’s progressives is intensifying.

Much of the Democratic elected and progressive activist leadership and most of the Democratic clubs in Austin back Oliver, believing she has earned another shot in a tough, gerrymandered district, stretching from East Austin to Burleson, just south of Fort Worth. She sliced Williams’ 21-point margin in 2016 to 8.7 points in 2018.

There’s not much difference between the two candidates as far as issues go, so this is more of a “who do you like” situation. Julie Oliver worked hard in her 2018 run, clearly met or exceeded expectations, and has done well with fundraising this cycle (Sloan hasn’t been as strong there, but she’s done all right). That to me is enough to merit support for another run, though I can understand why someone would want to give another person the chance. This is a district that by all rights shouldn’t be competitive for Dems – it’s a lot more rural than the other targets, for one thing – and it will likely take an even better environment than what we had in 2018 to truly be winnable, but it’s in scope and we should put our best candidate forward. I like Julie Oliver, but if Heidi Sloan wins then good on her.

What is “safe”?

Saw this on Twitter, and it got me thinking:

AOC isn’t the only person I’ve observed referring to CD28 as “safe” Democratic. This WaPo story from 2019, reprinted in the Trib, calls CD28 “a strongly Democratic district…which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016”. This DMN story has a subhed that calls CD28 “Vast and overwhelmingly Democratic district”, and notes that “Trump lost here by 20 percentage points”. The American Prospect is a bit more circumspect, saying CD28 is “a safely (though not extremely) blue district, with a +9 Democratic lean”, and also noting the 20-point margin for Clinton over Trump in 2016.

But 2016 isn’t the only election we’ve ever had, and the Clinton-Trump matchup isn’t the only data point available. Here’s a broader look at the recent electoral history in CD28:


Year  Candidate    Votes    Pct
===============================
2012  Obama      101,843  60.2%
2012  Romney      65,372  38.6%
2012  Sadler      90,481  55.1%
2012  Cruz        68,096  41.5%
2012  Hampton     93,996  58.5%
2012  Keller      61,954  38.6%

2014  Alameel     41,901  46.6%
2014  Cornyn      42,010  46.7%
2014  Davis       48,451  52.7%
2014  Abbott      41,335  45.0%
2014  Granberg    45,658  51.7%
2014  Richardson  38,775  43.9%

2016  Clinton    109,973  57.8%
2016  Trump       72,479  38.1%
2016  Robinson    95,348  52.6%
2016  Guzman      77,590  42.8%
2016  Burns      102,778  57.1%
2016  Keasler     69,501  38.6%

2018  Beto        97,728  58.7%
2018  Cruz        67,483  40.5%
2018  Valdez      87,007  52.7%
2018  Abbott      75,939  46.0%
2018  Jackson     94,479  58.3%
2018  Keller      63,559  39.2%

Yes, in 2014, John Cornyn topped David Alameel in CD28. To my mind, if it is possible for a candidate of the other party to beat a candidate of your own party in a given district, that district is by definition not “safe”. It’s true that in Presidential years, most Democrats win CD28 comfortably, with the closest call being a win by just under 10 points. But in off years, even factoring out the crapshow that was the Alameel campaign, Dems generally win CD28 by smaller margins.

None of this is to say that CD28 is a swing district. It’s not, and I have no reason to be concerned about it in 2020. But if Trump-versus-Clinton-in-2016 is the gold standard here, I’ll point out that of the six districts Dems are targeting this year, four of them (CDs 02, 10, 22, and 31) were won by Trump by larger margins than Wendy Davis won CD28 by in 2014 and Lupe Valdez won it by in 2018. Different years, different conditions, and different candidates may provide a different perspective.

Another way of looking at this is to see how Democratic CD28 is compared to other Congressional districts represented by Democrats:


Dist  Clinton    Beto
=====================
CD07    48.2%   53.3%
CD32    48.4%   54.9%
CD15    56.2%   57.4%
CD28    57.8%   58.7%
CD34    59.1%   57.7%
CD20    60.2%   66.2%

All other Dem-held districts were at least 63% for Clinton and 70% for Beto. Again, none of this is to say that CD28 is vulnerable. Whoever wins the CD28 primary will be the strong favorite, like 99%+, to win it in November. This is not a comment on that race, but on public perception and objective reality. It’s why I generally try not to make blanket statements like “safe district” but try instead to put a number or two on it, so you have some context to my evaluation. I doubt anyone will adopt this as their style guide, but it’s very much how I prefer to operate.

And I have to say, I might have let this go by if I hadn’t also seen this little gem in the Chronicle story on the announced resignation of State Sen. Kirk Watson:

Abbott soon will have to schedule a special election for the remainder of Watson’s four-year term, which ends in 2022. Watson’s District 14, which mostly lies in Austin, leans Democratic.

“Leans Democratic”??? Here’s that same set of numbers for Watson’s SD14:


Year  Candidate    Votes    Pct
===============================
2012  Obama      193,112  60.2%
2012  Romney     116,001  36.1%
2012  Sadler     187,717  59.4%
2012  Cruz       109,877  34.7%
2012  Hampton    181,614  59.1%
2012  Keller     106,581  34.7%

2014  Alameel    123,058  56.2%
2014  Cornyn      80,818  36.9%
2014  Davis      140,602  63.3%
2014  Abbott      75,206  33.9%
2014  Granberg   127,108  59.7%
2014  Richardson  73,267  34.4%

2016  Clinton    249,999  65.3%
2016  Trump      106,050  27.7%
2016  Robinson   218,449  58.8%
2016  Guzman     124,165  33.4%
2016  Burns      223,599  60.8%
2016  Keasler    120,727  32.8%

2018  Beto       289,357  73.8%
2018  Cruz        98,589  25.1%
2018  Valdez     257,708  66.3%
2018  Abbott     119,889  30.9%
2018  Jackson    264,575  69.4%
2018  Keller     104,375  27.4%

LOL. SD14 “leans” Democratic in the same way that a wrecking ball leans against the side of a building. Data is your friend, people. Use the data. I know I’m tilting against windmills here, but at least you can see why I noticed that tweet.

Who will carry the flag in CD31?

This primary interests me mostly to see if we can get a truly viable challenger in this district or not. No one person has emerged yet, that’s for sure.

Democrats who want to be Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter’s challenger in November think focusing on health care will turn the 31st District north of Austin blue. But Republicans, who have long held the seat, say their opponents won’t have much luck without a high-profile candidate like 2018’s MJ Hegar, who is now focusing on a U.S. Senate run.

Democratic candidates Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, Dan Janjigian, Christine Mann and Tammy Young are vying for their party’s nomination in the district includes suburban Williamson County and the more rural Bell County. They say rising health care costs and support for military veterans are voters’ top priorities — and most want to expand access to affordable health care to address those concerns.

“I would put health care at the top of the list because we have a lot of people that don’t have access to health care because it’s not affordable,” said Hanke, a 41-year-old singer-songwriter who recorded a new song, “Turn Texas Blue,” for a campaign ad.

But whoever snags the party’s nomination will need to unseat Carter, who was first elected in 2002 and said the general election in November will be about economic security and safety.

[…]

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer, became a strong challenger to Carter after a viral ad documenting her military service garnered millions of views. She came within 3 percentage points of unseating Carter, making the district a target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle.

“MJ really put this race on the map and showed us that this was possible,” said Young, a 51-year-old Round Rock City Council member. “For too long, we’ve allowed Washington insiders to stay in office as long as they want, not believing things could change. MJ showed us what is possible with the right candidate.”

[…]

So far, there is no clear Democratic front-runner, according to State Rep. James Talarico. He campaigned alongside Hegar for his seat in the Texas House and said the key to flipping the congressional district is to have an inclusive platform and work across the aisle.

“It’s going to take a candidate who has a message that appeals to a broad base of community members. One that fires up our Democratic base while still being inclusive of independents and even some disillusioned Republicans,” said Talarico.

Mann, who entered the primary before the other four candidates, has been the top fundraiser in contributions, collecting $171,000 through Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission records. Imam has raised $208,000, though it includes a $100,000 loan to herself.

Steve Armbruster, chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, sees Hegar’s 2018 run as lightning in a bottle and is doubtful Democrats will replicate her performance.

“I don’t think that the Democrats have anybody on their side of the aisle that they could choose that would have the ability to draw voters out like they had two years ago,” Armbruster said.

Hegar said she believes this year’s Democratic lineup is competitive enough to finish what she started in 2018.

“We have a strong batch of candidates, and I am confident that by continuing to mobilize volunteers and voters the eventual nominee will close the 2.9 [percentage point] gap we had left and send John Carter to retirement in 2020,” Hegar said in an email.

The story of CD31 is like the story of several other Congressional districts, in that it took a small step in a blue direction from 2012 to 2016, then went really far in that direction in 2018. It’s no surprise at all that CD31 is on the DCCC target list, but let’s do keep in mind how far we have come.


2012

Carter  61.3%  Wyman   35.0%
Romney  59.4%  Obama   38.1%
Keller  57.8%  Hampton 36.8%

2016

Carter  58.4%  Clark   36.5%
Trump   52.6%  Clinton 40.1%
Keasler 56.8%  Burns   37.3%

2018

Carter  50.6%  Hegar   47.7%
Cruz    50.5%  Beto    48.4%
Keller  52.7%  Jackson 44.2%

That’s incumbent John Carter versus his opponent that year, then the top of the ticket, and then a Court of Criminal Appeals race for further context. Carter was used to doing better than other Republicans in CD31, but that did not happen with MJ Hegar as his opponent. The blue shift has occurred up and down the ballot, but the top has gone farther in our direction, as you can see. That means there’s still work to be done, and that the candidate quality will matter. It also means that if the environment isn’t quite as good as we hope it will be, what looks competitive now will be less so later. On the other hand, if the Presidential race remains as close as recent polling has indicated it is, then we should expect to see conditions much like 2018, with the extra benefit of further demographic change and Presidential year turnout.

I don’t know any of these candidates well enough to have a preference. I’m sure they’d all be fine. I also don’t expect anyone to raise money like Hegar did, but we do need someone to start raking it in, so that they can have the resources they will need in November. I’m hoping the primary will give us some clarity, at the very least.

Endorsement watch: The rest of Congress

I think we are finally getting to the end of the Chron’s primary endorsements. We had the Senate and Tax Assessor, there are these four Congressional endorsements, all of which ran on Saturday, and I think the only races left may be the HCDE primaries. We’ll see, I’m probably forgetting something. Anyway, let’s go through these:

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee for CD18.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Jackson Lee, one of the most senior Democrats in Congress, is consistently ranked as one of the most effective lawmakers. In 2019, according to GovTrack.us, she cosponsored 772 bills and resolutions and introduced another 38.

Last month, the president signed into law a bill authored by Jackson Lee and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, commissioning a federal study for a 51-mile Emancipation Trail between Galveston and Houston — a rare bipartisan effort in this politically polarized atmosphere. She has also taken up the late John Conyers’ effort to create a commission to study reparations, an effort applauded by this editorial board.

That record earns Jackson Lee our endorsement in the Democratic primary for Houston’s 18th Congressional District.

It is worth noting that Jackson Lee faces six challengers in the primary, a sign that many in her district are hungry for change.

[…]

Jackson Lee would do well to listen to her opponents’ concerns and the issues for which they are advocating.

I question the logic behind the claim having multiple opponents in this primary is “a sign that many in her district are hungry for change”. Maybe if she loses the primary or is forced into a runoff, that would be such a sign. John Cornyn had seven challengers in the 2014 Republican primary, which he wound up winning with 59% of the vote. Anyone with the right paperwork and a check for the filing fee can run for office. I don’t know what the number of candidates has to do with the electorate’s desire for change. And in the brief recitation (that I have omitted from this excerpt) of her opponents’ concerns and issues, I didn’t see anything that Jackson Lee would have been opposed or even indifferent to. Maybe be a little more specific here? Just a thought.

Sima Ladjevardian for CD02:

Sima Ladjevardian

With hopes of flipping a seat held by a high-profile Republican, the question of “electability” will be a top priority for Democratic voters in the March 3 primary for House District 2.

That would make Houston lawyer, political activist and former Beto O’Rourke adviser Sima Ladjevardian the logical choice.

A late entry in the race, filing just hours before the Dec. 9 deadline, Ladjevardian still reported the most money raised and cash on hand at the end of the year. She also has the best potential for raising the cash needed for the Nov. 3 election face-off with incumbent Dan Crenshaw, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

National pollsters and analysts put the race in the “likely Republican” category, but Crenshaw’s 53 percent vote in 2018 suggests he is not invulnerable.

The other Democratic challengers are Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran, a single mom and high school math and physics teacher, and Travis Olsen, who resigned his job with the Department of Homeland Security last year in protest of the administration’s family separation policy and other immigration issues.

Plenty of primary endorsements come down to this sort of practical assessment – these candidates are all roughly equivalent in terms of their positions and their experiences, so which one do we think will have the best shot at winning? I feel like it’s relatively uncommon for the Chron to state it this baldly, but there it is. Sima (*) has indeed been a brisk fundraiser, which is no doubt the reason why the DCCC added CD02 as a target. It’s easy to understand the rationale for all this, but it has to be a little frustrating for the candidates, not just for someone like Elisa Cardnell, who has been in this race for almost a year and hasn’t done too badly in fundraising herself while also making the “electability” argument based on her status as a Navy veteran, but also for Sima, whose own qualities get de-emphasized due to her ability to bring in money. It’s important to remember that the main reason for this rationale, whether you agree with it or not, and whether you agree with this particular conclusion to it or not, is that all three candidates are well-qualified and appealing, and we have to find a distinction somewhere.

(*) I recognize that it is often patronizing to refer to candidates, especially female candidates, by their first names. In this case, the candidate is doing that branding herself, on her domain name and campaign materials. I’m sure that’s in large part because “Ladjevardian” is much longer and more intimidating to pronounce and spell than “Sima” is – for sure, “Sima” fits quite nicely on a yard sign or T-shirt – and in part because there’s a well-documented penalty that candidates who have “funny” or “foreign-looking” surnames suffer. All this is a much more involved discussion for another time, I just wanted to acknowledge it.

Laura Jones for CD08:

Laura Jones

Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez see themselves as “regular people” who decided to do more than just complain about things. They each independently decided it was time to run for Congress.

For now, that means the two Democrats are trying to get their message out to voters in a solidly Republican House District 8 that sprawls across all or part of nine counties. They have little financial resources and almost no name recognition.

The winner of the March 3 Democratic primary will advance to the November election, almost certainly to face 12-term incumbent Kevin Brady, the top-ranking Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Brady was re-elected in 2018 with 73 percent of the vote.

Brady reported having more than $1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2019. Jones reported a little less than $2,000 and Hernandez had $0.

[…]

Jones, 42, said she has also made a point of meeting with mayors and other elected officials across the district, including many Republicans, to talk about these “regular people” problems.

It is that work and her experience in county politics that makes Jones the best choice in this Democratic primary.

It’s easy to look at a race like this and say it’s pointless, it’s hopeless, let’s put our energy and resources into races we can win. I get that, and I agree that a Democratic win in CD08 would be a monumental upset. But I’d also argue that running these races, with quality candidates, is important in their own fundamental way. For one, we can’t ever abandon any part of the state or subset of the population, not if we truly believe that our values and beliefs are beneficial to all. For another, things do change over time – see, for example, the former Republican stronghold known as Fort Bend County – and it’s so much better to have been a presence all along. At its most practical level, we Democrats need to give all our compatriots a reason to vote. We’re lucky to have people like Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez doing that work in places where the challenges are greater and the rewards are not as apparent.

Mike Siegel in CD10:

Mike Siegel

Democratic voters in Texas’s 10th Congressional District have a difficult choice to make, as the three candidates in the primary race — Shannon Hutcheson, Pritesh Gandhi and Mike Siegel — all offer compelling reasons why they should be selected to take on seven-term U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul.

Hutcheson, a lawyer who has represented Planned Parenthood, impressed us with her passion for education and bringing affordable health care to Texas families. Gandhi, a doctor and Fulbright scholar, protested the treatment of migrant children at the border and founded Doctors Against Gun Violence.

All promise solutions to issues such as climate change, gun control and health care, but in this race, we give the edge to Siegel.

His efforts in 2018, a race he lost by 4 percentage points to the powerful incumbent, convinced Democrats that the district was within grasp. He formed that challenge on a grassroots appeal that built upon his record of service as a teacher and assistant city attorney in Austin, where he led the charge in the suit against Texas’s anti-immigrant SB 4 law. During his campaign, he succeeded in protecting the voting rights of students at the historically black Prairie View A&M University.

“As Democrats, the way we’re going to win in Texas is by establishing this reputation that we will fight for the people here,” he told the Editorial Board.

Interestingly, this is in some ways a reverse of the endorsement in CD02, in that Siegel has raised the least money of the three candidates. Siegel did run before, and that’s valuable experience to have, and unlike in 2018 this race has been on the radar from the beginning, so the considerations are a little different. I’m just noting this in part because the distinction one has to find among otherwise equally attractive candidates doesn’t have to be about money. Other things can serve as a tie-breaker, too.

Trib overview of the CD10 primary

I have three things to say about this.

Mike Siegel

When Mike Siegel made a long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, two years ago, few were watching — until he surprised political observers and came within 5 points of flipping the longtime Republican seat. Now the seat is up for election again, and national Democrats are paying attention.

Siegel’s 2018 result means the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from metro Austin to the northwest outskirts of Houston, is finally considered in play after a 2003 redistricting left it deeply gerrymandered and solidly red. Many more eyes are now on the race, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s. But for Siegel, that has translated to tougher competition.

A former lawyer for the city of Austin, Siegel is vying for the Democratic nomination along with two newcomers: labor and employment lawyer Shannon Hutcheson and physician Pritesh Gandhi, both also from Austin.

A primary runoff is likely in TX-10, but with two weeks to go until Super Tuesday, it’s still uncertain who will make the cut. Siegel and his supporters put the district “on the map” last cycle after “the state and national party had left [it] for dead,” Siegel told The Intercept in June.

“People across this district remember me for showing up when for decades Democrats hadn’t really shown up, in some of these rural communities in particular,” Siegel told The Texas Tribune. “They appreciate that we brought this race so close without a lot of outside support.”

Siegel faced even more primary opponents in 2018 but won the nomination relatively easily. He garnered more than double the votes of each of his opponents in the first round of voting and went on to win the runoff by nearly 40 percentage points.

But Siegel holds views that might raise questions about whether he’s the right candidate to flip a traditionally red district. Because he is the most progressive candidate and the only one who supports “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, his bid could be seen as a riskier choice to challenge McCaul in the historically Republican district.

Hutcheson and Gandhi have taken more moderate positions, and each is getting some national support. Hutcheson has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, the influential group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Gandhi, meanwhile, has the backing of 314 Action, which backs scientists running for office.

Fundraising in the primary has been competitive, especially between Gandhi and Hutcheson. In the fourth quarter, Gandhi and Hutcheson raised $257,000 and $216,000, respectively, while Siegel has trailed behind with $96,000. This was the first quarter Gandhi out-raised his opponents.

1. I feel like we all need to aim for a higher level of precision when we use the word “gerrymandering”. A district that heavily favors one party is not necessarily “gerrymandered”. The old, pre-2003 CD10, which was a nice, compact, entirely-within-Travis-County district, was a safe Democratic seat and not at all “gerrymandered”. CD13, which hews almost entirely to state and county borders and is ridiculously Republican, is almost the exact opposite of “gerrymandered”. A funny-looking district isn’t necessarily “gerrymandered”, either. CD18 is an African-American opportunity district, and has been drawn the way it is to encompass many African-American neighborhoods. For sure, Texas is a longtime and notorious hotbed of gerrymandering, and we should expect more of it in 2021. But context matters, and it would be helpful to have a clear idea of why a particular district’s boundaries are offensive or illogical or just plain nakedly partisan, if only to pick the right battles.

The current CD10 was certainly drawn with ill intent, partly to defenestrate Lloyd Doggett (oops) and partly to deprive the city of Austin of representation. The irony here is that, at least based on the 2018 election, the end result was to conjure up a fairly competitive district, which was not at all what the Republicans had in mind. A combination of booming growth in Travis County, and a one-two punch of demographic change and Trump-inspired suburban shifting in Harris County – compare CD10 2012 and CD10 2018 to see the effect – has worked to threaten what Tom DeLay once envisioned. None of that undoes the malice in the map, but it does show that the best-laid plans can (maybe) be undone by sufficiently rapid increases in population and diversity.

2. It’s important to remember, though, that as hard as CD10 swung towards Democrats in 2018, it was not at all clear it would be as competitive as it turned out to be following the 2016 election. Trump still carried CD10 by a 51.9 to 42.8 margin, and no other Democrat reached 40% in the district. As the 2018 cycle went on, and it became clear what the political environment was like, it made sense to put some resources into longer-shot districts like CD10. Mike Siegel did raise almost $500K in the 2018 cycle, which sounds like nothing now but was one of many record-breaking hauls at the time. He was also on the low end of the spectrum, raising less money than candidates like Julie Oliver and Jana Lynne Sanchez. The DCCC has to make choices about where it spends its money, and CD10 wasn’t at the top of the list in 2018. Maybe a million bucks or two dropped on that district might have helped, who knows. I don’t think it was outrageous the way priorities were made last cycle .

3. Siegel is doing better on fundraising this time around – as of the January 2020 report, he had almost matched his entire total from the 2018 cycle. It’s just that this time, he has opponents who are doing even better on that score. Several repeat candidates from 2018 are far outpacing their opponents in fundraising – Gina Ortiz Jones, Sri Kulkarni, Julie Oliver – but Mike Siegel is not in that class. He can very much win this primary, and whoever does get the nomination will justifiably have establishment support going forward. He happens to have drawn strong opponents this year. That’s the way it goes.

Endorsement watch: Not Borris

The Chron makes its second major endorsement against an incumbent.

Melissa Morris

Texas Senate District 13 stretches through Harris County into the northeastern corner of Fort Bend County. It winds through struggling neighborhoods such as Sunnyside and the world-renowned Texas Medical Center and reflects our city’s rich diversity in the East End, Greater Fifth Ward and Chinatown.

Its residents deserve an elected representative attentive to its needs and able to pass legislation that will make a difference where it’s most needed.

State Sen. Borris Miles has been effective in getting funding for programs such as the Miles Ahead Scholars Program, a mentoring initiative for boys of color. He also introduced legislation to stem maternal mortality and end criminal prosecutions for failing to keep up with rent-to-own payments.

But Miles fell short in his response to the discovery of a suspected cancer cluster in Fifth Ward. Miles told the Editorial Board that he first learned of the cluster in 2017 and responded by holding community meetings and sending a strongly worded letter to TCEQ. It wasn’t until U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee got involved, Milessaid, that the issue got the attention it deserved.

That raised serious questions for us — and for one of his challengers in the Democratic primary,

During our candidate screening, attorney Melissa Morris asked Miles why he had not contacted Jackson Lee when he first learned of the cluster.

“I didn’t share it with her in 2017,” Miles responded. “I felt it was a state issue.”

Morris countered that such a serious issue merited a more urgent response from the senator representing the afflicted neighborhood. We agree. Miles’s contention that he had to follow a process doesn’t hold water when the health and lives of the people in his district are at stake.

They mention, in passing, the harassment allegations against Sen. Miles, which were an issue in the GLBT Caucus endorsement process but have otherwise been largely ignored, but this cancer cluster and Sen. Miles’ response to it was their red line. I don’t know how consequential this will be. Morris has little money, no other endorsements, and a poorly constructed webpage that doesn’t display her banner photo correctly (on two machines, and in two browsers) and links to facebook.com and twitter.com (and Google Plus, for crying out loud) instead of her own campaign Facebook account (no Twitter or Instagram, as far as I could find for her). Point being, she may be a good person and a qualified candidate, she’s probably not the most formidable opponent one could imagine.

Also endorsed yesterday: US Rep. Al Green in CD09.

While other congressional Democrats are facing primary challenges from the left wing of the party, eight-term Rep. Al Green has the opposite problem.

His lone opponent in House District 9, political newcomer Melissa Wilson, describes herself as “pro-life,” especially concerning late-term abortions, opposes an assault-weapons ban and is against imposing a higher minimum wage on small businesses.

Far from criticizing Green for not being progressive enough, Wilson says she is running against the incumbent as a “moderate” who will bring much-needed “young blood and fresh eyes” to Congress.

While a greater diversity of thought would make both political parties healthier, there is no evidence that Green’s more traditional liberal positions are out of step with his district. He was reelected with 89 percent of the vote in 2018, 81 percent in 2016 and 91 percent in 2014.

It also would be counter-productive for area voters to surrender Green’s seniority and leadership position on the Financial Services Committee when Democrats are expected to retain control of the House.

Green, 72, points to his work in securing $90 million for flood protection projects along Brays and Sims bayous. He says he continues to work on legislation to streamline recovery aid in future disasters.

Green is the right choice for voters in the March 3 Democratic primary.

I like Rep. Green and would have supported him regardless, but all this is a hard no from me. Better young blood and fresh eyes, please.

Endorsement watch: Sri again

The Chronicle endorses Sri Kulkarni in the CD22 primary.

Sri Kulkarni

We see Kulkarni as the strongest possible candidate for Democrats hoping to turn the seat blue. A former Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, Kulkarni is the son of an immigrant father and a mother whose family descends from Sam Houston. That mix of insider and outsider perspectives has served him well in a career that involved compromise and dialogue with hostile parties all over the world. He seems to prioritize civility and is open to finding common ground with those who differ from him ideologically.

He said he quit his post in the Foreign Service in 2017 when it became difficult to defend positions adopted by President Trump on race and immigration and decided to run for Congress. But for all his global perspective – he says he speaks six languages well – Kulkarni impressed us with his commitment to help people in his district. He wants Congress to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic so it can more readily be used as medicine for veterans and others whom it can help. He also promised to help area residents reduce the flood risk along the Gulf Coast region.

Given his close finish against Olson two years ago, Democrats can be optimistic about Kulkarni’s prospects for flipping the seat. He’s raised enough money for his campaign to contest even the best-financed Republican opposition in November. We recommend Democrats take advantage of that head start and vote for him in the primary.

The Chron endorsed Kulkarni in 2018, so this is not a huge surprise. They also had some nice things to say about Derrick Reed and Nyanza Moore despite the recent unpleasantness between them. Maybe they wrote this before that happened, or maybe they just decided not to clutter up their endorsement of Kulkarni with that side issue, I dunno. They also endorsed the latest Bush progeny in the Republican primary, if anyone cares.

Also in their meandering path to finishing off the endorsements, the Chron recommends Elizabeth Frizell for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.

As a criminal defense attorney, Elizabeth Frizell has seen defendants who are wrongfully convicted and others who receive the death penalty in cases where a life sentence would have been more appropriate. She has seen higher courts rule verdicts in criminal trials must stand, even when lawyers or judges made significant errors in the trials that produced them.

Frizell, who is running in the Democratic primary for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3, says those issues would be among her top priorities in reviewing cases if elected.

The former Dallas County Criminal District Court judge, who has 26 years of legal experience, has also served as a municipal court judge and county family law judge. She narrowly lost her 2018 bid to be the Democrats’ nominee for Dallas County District Attorney. Prior to becoming a judge, she was a criminal defense attorney for 13 years and handled death penalty and court-appointed cases.

Frizell would bring a much-needed voice to the Court of Criminal Appeals, long an all-Republican bench. Her experience as a lawyer gives her insight into the flaws of the legal system, something that would help her weigh the life-and-death decisions that come before Texas’s highest criminal court. In the last fiscal year, for instance, the Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed eight death penalty cases.

Frizell has also been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express News, according to the invaluable Erik Manning spreadsheet. William Demond has collected most of the group endorsements. Make of that what you will.

The interviews I didn’t do

As was the case with the 2019 Houston elections, there were too many candidates and too many races (and in this case, too little time as well) to do a full slate of interviews. I did what I could, and did a pretty good job of covering the races of interest in Harris County if I do say so myself, but if there had been more time I’d have done more. In some cases, I can point to previous interviews or other resources, so let’s have a review, and look ahead to what might be on tap for the runoffs.

US Senate: I’d have loved to interview some of these candidates, but it was unlikely I’d be able to get time on their calendars, especially after the filing deadline. The Texas Signal has done some Senate candidate forums, and you can see links to Facebook videos from one they did in Houston here. The Texas Trib also did a series of interviews with the five leading candidates, and they can be seen here, as well as a Q&A series here.

CD02: I interviewed Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen very early in the cycle, before the filing deadline and thus before Sima Ladjevardian entered the race. I’ve tried but have not succeeded at setting up a time to talk with her, and if there’s a runoff that she’s in that will be a top priority for me.

CD08: This is obviously not a district that anyone expects to be competitive, but I regret not having the time to speak to Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez. They both look like super candidates, and it’s important to support efforts to build Democratic infrastructure in places like Montgomery County. That race is on my list for November.

CD09: Rep. Al Green is the one Democrat in Congress from the area that I’ve never had the chance to interview. Tried to chase him down once a few years ago but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t see this as a competitive race and there’s no need to do a November interview, but one of these days I’d like to talk with him, just to have done it.

CD10: I interviewed Mike Siegel for the 2018 runoff. This race is on my list for the May runoff, if there is one.

CD18: I interviewed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee back in 2010. I would enjoy talking with her again, but I did not have it in me to do seven (!) interviews for this race. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

CD22: I interviewed Sri Kulkarni for the 2018 runoff. My original thought was that if this goes to a runoff I’ll be there for it, but after the recent bizarre allegations between the two candidates who might make it into a runoff besides Sri Kulkarni, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

SD11: I interviewed Susan Criss when she ran for HD23 in 2014. I may or may not do this race for November, we’ll see.

SD13: I’ve interviewed Sen. Borris Miles twice, most recently in 2012, when he was running for re-election in HD146. Let’s just say I’d have to ask him some very different questions now, and leave it at that.

HD126: As it happens, I interviewed both candidates in 2018 – Natali Hurtado, and Undrai Fizer. I’ll probably do this one for November, we’ll see.

HD142: I have never interviewed Rep. Harold Dutton, I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I have interviewed Jerry Davis a couple of times, most recently in 2013. I will definitely want to do interviews in this race if there’s a runoff.

HD146: I have not interviewed Rep. Shawn Thierry, but I did run a judicial Q&A from her in 2010. I interviewed Ashton Woods for City Council last year.

HD147: I have interviewed Rep. Garnet Coleman multiple times, most recently in 2012. He’s always been a favorite person to talk to. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

HD148: Had it not been for the special election in November, I’d have been all over this race. That said, thanks to the special election I’ve already done interviews with Rep.-elect Anna Eastman, Penny Shaw, and Adrian P. Garcia. I also interviewed Cynthia Reyes-Revilla for City Council. I might possibly revisit this in a runoff, but because I’ve done these interviews so recently it’s not clear to me I’d have anything new to ask these folks. We’ll see.

Sheriff: I’ve interviewed Sheriff Ed Gonzalez multiple times, including in 2016 when he first ran for Sheriff. I also interviewed Jerome Moore after he made it to the runoff with Gonzalez in 2016. I didn’t see this race as a particularly serious challenge to Gonzalez, so I put a higher priority on the DA and County Attorney races. If it turns out I was wrong and this one winds up in a runoff, I will of course revisit it.

HCDE: I also regret not doing interviews in the two At Large HCDE races, but there just wasn’t the time, and unlike with legislative offices there’s just so many questions about this position I can reasonably ask. I’ll probably do Position 7 if that race goes to a runoff, but we’ll see.

Yeah, I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years. Always room for more, though not always the time. I’ll be back to the task in March, and again later this year. Hope you find this useful.

Five questions for the primary

Five questions I thought of, anyway. With my own answers, some of which are admittedly on the weaselish side. Feel free to discuss/disagree/ask your own questions/etc.

1. What kind of turnout are we going to have?

The short answer is “a lot”. Texas doesn’t always get to be a part of a contested Presidential primary, but when we are, we go to the polls. Dems in 2008 and Republicans in 2016 both topped 2.8 million voters – hell, more Dems voted in the 2008 primary than in the 2004 general election. I think the bidding on the Dem side starts at 3 million, with at least 500K in Harris County (we had 410K in 2008). I think 3.5 million is in play, which means a lot of first-time Dem voters. It’s going to be really interesting to see people’s voting histories in VAN after this.

2. What does this mean for all of the other races on the ballot?

It’s really hard to say. I feel like when turnout is super low, it levels the field a bit for those who are challenging incumbents or maybe haven’t raised a ton of money because the electorate is limited to the hardcore faithful, who probably know more about the candidates, or at least pay attention to endorsements and stuff like that. In a normal high turnout environment, I figure incumbents and candidates who have raised more money have the edge, since they’re better positioned to be known to the voters. In a super high turnout election, where a significant number of people won’t be all that familiar with the many names before them, who knows? I still think incumbents will be better off, but even the high-money candidates will have to fight for attention as most voters are tuned into the Presidential race. I really don’t feel comfortable making any predictions. At least the number of goofball candidates is pretty low, so even with the likelihood of some random results, there don’t appear to be any Gene Kellys or Jim Hogans out there.

That said, some number of people who vote will just be voting in the Presidential race, so the topline turnout number will be higher, maybe a lot higher, than the size of the electorate downballot. I went and looked at primary turnout in recent elections to see what this factor looks like:


Year    President  Next Most    % Pres
======================================
2004 D    839,231    605,789     72.2%
2004 R    687,615    567,835     82.6%

2008 D  2,874,986  2,177,252     75.8%
2008 R  1,362,322  1,223,865     89.8%

2012 D    590,164    497,487     84.3%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,406,648     97.0%

2016 D  1,435,895  1,087,976     75.8%
2016 R  2,836,488  2,167,838     76.4%

“President” is the number of votes cast in that Presidential primary race, “Next Most” is the next highest vote total, which was in the Senate primaries in 2008 and 2012 and in either the Railroad Commissioner or a Supreme Court race otherwise, and “% Pres” is the share of the highest non-Presidential total. Some people could have voted for President and then skipped to a Congressional race or some other non-statewide contest, but this is a reasonable enough approximation of the dropoff. Bear in mind that context matters as well. In 2004, none of the Dem statewide primaries were contested, which likely meant more people skipped those races. The infamous Senate primary between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst and other lesser candidates was in 2012, which is why nearly everyone also voted in that race. All but one of the Dem statewide races are contested, though none are as high profile as 2012 R Senate – we may never see a race like that again.

So my best guess would be that if 3 million people vote in the Dem Presidential primary, somewhere between 2.2 million and 2.4 million people will then vote in the Senate and other statewide primaries. That’s still a lot, but the downballot races will have a slightly more engaged electorate as a result.

3. What about that Presidential primary?

Again, who knows? The polling evidence we have is mixed. Before the UT/Trib poll, the evidence we had said that Joe Biden was the leading candidate, though whether he has a big lead or a small lead over Bernie Sanders depends on which poll you’re looking at. Throw that UT/Trib poll in there, and maybe he doesn’t have a lead at all. Who knows?

The primaries that take place between now and March 3 will have an effect as well – candidates may gain or lose momentum before March 3. Bear in mind, though, that a whole lot of Texas primary voting will happen before either the Nevada caucus or the South Carolina primary happen, so the effect from those states will be limited. And Texas is one of many states voting on Super Tuesday, so candidates can’t just camp here, they have other states to worry about as well. They do all have campaign presences, however, with some of them having been here for months. Finally, quite a few candidates who have already dropped out, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro will still be on the ballot and will get some number of votes. That UT/Trib poll still had Andrew Yang in it, and he polled at six percent, higher than Amy Klobuchar. There are a lot of moving parts here.

To me, the X factor in all this is Michael Bloomberg, who has been carpet-bombing the airwaves (seriously, where do I go to surrender?) and has been ramping up his field presence in a way that other candidates may have a hard time matching. He was basically tied for third or just behind third but still super close in the UT-Tyler poll, and fourth in the UT/Trib poll, in double digits in each case. I won’t be surprised if these polls underestimate his strength. I mean, he sure seems like a candidate positioned to do quite well among those less-frequent Dem voters, and if your top priority is beating Trump, he did quite well on that score in the UT-Tyler poll, too. He’s now getting some establishment support, too. To say the least, Bloomberg is a problematic candidate, and the inevitable round of scrutiny of his baggage may drag him back down, but if you’re not prepared for the possibility that Bloomberg could do quite well in Texas in March, you’re not paying attention.

4. What about the runoffs?

Three statewide races – Senate, RRC, and Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – as well as 15 Congressional races have at least three candidates and could go to runoffs, plus who knows how many other downballot contests. Runoffs generally get far less attention and participation than the main event, but this could be a year where a reasonable share of the initial vote turns out again in May.

Because that’s the kind of person I am, I looked at the recent history of primary runoff turnout. Here you go:


Year    President     Runoff    % Pres
======================================
2004 R    687,615    223,769     32.5%

2008 D  2,874,986    187,708      6.5%

2012 D    590,164    236,305     40.0%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,111,938     76.7%

2016 D  1,435,477    188,592     13.1%
2016 R  2,836,488    376,387     13.3%

There were no statewide runoffs in 2004 for Dems (those races were all uncontested) or in 2008 for Republicans. We already know that the 2012 GOP Senate race is a unicorn, and you can see another dimension of that here. There was a Senate runoff in 2012 on the Dem side as well, and that’s the high water mark for turnout in the modern era. This Senate race isn’t that high profile, but I think there will be some money in it, and there will be some Congressional races of interest, so maybe 300K or 400K in May for Dems? I’m totally guessing, but it wouldn’t shock me if we hit a new height this year. The bar to clear is not at all high.

5. What about the Republicans?

What about them? This is basically a 2004 year for them – incumbent President, a super low-key Senate race, no other statewide races of interest, with a few hot Congressional races being the main driver of turnout. They’ll have several of those to finish up in May as well, but my guess is they top out at about a million in March, and don’t reach 200K in May. There just isn’t that much to push them to the polls at this time.

What is happening in the CD22 primary?

Holy smokes.

Nyanza Moore

A state district judge on Wednesday barred Democratic congressional candidate Nyanza Moore from making domestic violence allegations against opponent Derrick Reed after the former Pearland councilman sued her for defamation.

Brazoria County Judge Patrick Sebesta issued a temporary restraining order after concluding that Reed would “suffer immediate and irreparable damage” to his integrity and reputation if Moore persisted with a series of social media posts implying that Reed “beats women.”

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Reed cited a handful of times in which Moore alleged or suggested that he had beaten his ex-wife or otherwise committed domestic violence. In one post, Moore indicated she possessed a protective order between Reed and his ex-wife.

In the court filing, Reed emphatically denied the allegations and said no protective order “exists between he and his ex-wife or any other woman.”

“Mr. Reed was with his ex-wife for approximately 20 years and has never beat or abused her,” the filing reads. “The police have never been called out to any of their residences for domestic violence or any physical altercation.”

In a statement, Reed’s ex-wife, Erin Reed, said, “The claim being made that my ex-husband, Derrick Reed, physically abused me during our marriage is false. This accusation is damaging and unfair to our young and impressionable children and is an untrue characterization of their father.”

The order prohibits Moore from making any allegations that Reed committed domestic violence, and instructs her to retract any prior statement “used to disseminate the defamatory statements.”

The lawsuit is embedded in the story, or you can see it here. There’s a high standard to meet to win in an action like this when you are a public figure and political speech is involved, as noted in the story. A hearing for the injunction will be held on February 25, after which there will be three more days of early voting. I think it’s safe to say that more people are now aware of this allegation than when it was first made.

We’re all more sensitive to claims about violence against women now, and we all know that just because such a claim was not decided in a courtroom doesn’t mean it was without merit. That said, there are two things about this particular case that stand out to me. One is Moore’s claim about that alleged protective order. She did’t say she heard that one existed, she said she had an actual copy of an actual order in her possession, which she has threatened to make public – “Keep it up and the Protective Order will see day light” was a response Moore made on one of the cited Facebook posts (see Exhibit B in the lawsuit). If you claim you have something like this, you better have it. If she doesn’t, that puts a big dent in her own credibility. Sooner or later in this process, she is going to be asked to produce that order.

The other thing is that if Reed is not being fully truthful, there is a chance someone else could come forward now that this has all been made public and provide their own evidence to back up Moore’s claim or make one of their own. We have certainly seen that dynamic play out in other cases. What we know for sure is that it cannot be the case that both of them are telling the truth. It could be the case that both of them are being less than fully honest, but at least one of them is wrong. We’ll see what happens in court.

One more thing, which isn’t relevant to the lawsuit but which I noticed in the document: Moore repeatedly referred to Reed as a Republican in the Facebook posts. The Erik Manning spreadsheet lists candidates’ primary voting history for the last four cycles. Derrick Reed did indeed vote in the Republican primary in 2016; he then voted in the Democratic primary in 2018. Nyanza Moore had no primary voting history shown. Make of that what you will.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: Congress

The big ones for this cycle the Q4 2019 Congressional finance reports. For the last time, we have new candidates joining the list, and a couple of folks dropping out. Let’s do the thing and see where we are going into 2020. The January 2019 roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April 2019 report is here, the July 2019 report is here, and the October 2020 report is here. For comparison, the October 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Royce West – Senate
Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate
Jack Foster – Senate
Anne Garcia – Senate
John Love – Senate (did not file for the primary)

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02
Sima Ladjevardian – CD02
Sean McCaffity – CD03
Tanner Do – CD03
Lulu Seikaly – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Elizabeth Hernandez – CD08
Laura Jones – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10

Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
William Foster – CD17
David Jaramillo – CD17
Jennie Lou Leeder – CD21
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Derrick Reed – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Rosey Ramos Abuabara – CD23
Jaime Escuder – CD23
Ricardo Madrid – CD23
Efrain Valdez – CD23

Jan McDowell – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
John Biggan – CD24
Richard Fleming – CD24
Sam Vega – CD24
Crystal Lee Fletcher – CD24 (suspended campaign)
Julie Oliver – CD25
Heidi Sloan – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Mat Pruneda – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Dan Jangigian – CD31
Eric Hanke – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31
Michael Grimes – CD31
Tammy Young – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         3,225,842  2,269,671        0  1,003,653       
Sen   Bell            318,983    310,983        0      8,000
Sen   Edwards         807,478    476,485   30,000    330,993
Sen   West            956,593    430,887  202,162    525,706
Sen   T-Ramirez       807,023    577,782        0    229,240
Sen   Hernandez         7,551      7,295        0      3,891
Sen   Ocegueda          5,773      5,273    5,600        500
Sen   Cooper            4,716      2,598       41       -660
Sen   Foster            6,957      5,604        0      1,353
Sen   Garcia           10,000      6,058   22,844      3,941
Sen   Love             31,533     27,610        0      3,922

07    Fletcher      2,339,444    544,518        0  1,836,992
32    Allred        2,370,113    555,774        0  1,917,783  

28    Cuellar       1,530,976  1,140,095        0  2,935,884
28    Cisneros        982,031    366,588        0    615,442

01    Gilbert         107,625     21,733   50,000     85,891
02    Cardnell        284,514    193,910        0     90,603
02    Olsen            29,141     24,271   11,037      4,870 
02    Ladjevardian    407,781     30,035        0    377,746
03    McCaffity       267,288     54,939        0    212,348
03    Do               17,815     17,523        0        291
03    Seikaly         109,870     43,518    3,000     66,351
06    Daniel          148,655    128,989        0     19,665
08    Hernandez
08    Jones             4,250      2,698    1,910      1,552
10    Siegel          451,917    303,847   10,000    151,560
10    Gandhi          786,107    335,354        0    450,752
10    Hutcheson       750,981    295,404        0    455,577
14    Bell             84,724     71,740        0     16,061
17    Kennedy          48,623     38,593   11,953     11,457
17    Foster
17    Jaramillo        14,280        163        0     14,116
21    Leeder           29,112     25,444    9,475      3,662
21    Davis         1,850,589    635,794   18,493  1,214,794
22    Kulkarni      1,149,783    515,958        0    661,592
22    Moore           142,528    141,373   38,526      1,154
22    Reed            142,458    104,196        0     38,261
23    Ortiz Jones   2,481,192    544,523    3,024  2,028,187
23    Abuabara
23    Escuder           8,454      2,985        0        926
23    Madrid
23    Valdez
24    McDowell         67,351     73,140        0      7,531
24    Olson           861,905    357,238   20,000    504,667
24    Valenzuela      333,007    191,231   33,956    141,776
24    Biggan           62,887     58,333   27,084      4,554
24    Fleming          16,813     16,414      300        398
24    Vega
24    Fletcher        122,427     35,099      823     87,327
25    Oliver          325,091    195,265    2,644    129,826
25    Sloan           136,461     54,257        0     82,204
26    Ianuzzi          72,607     56,912   42,195     15,695
26    Pruneda          30,117     15,546   16,000     16,935
31    Mann            170,759    126,616        0     45,580
31    Jangigian        36,127     27,383   14,681      8,743
31    Hanke            46,390     35,111        0     11,278
31    Imam            207,531     20,461  100,000    187,070
31    Grimes           15,300          0        0     15,300
31    Young            50,939     14,430        0     36,508

In the Senate primary, there’s MJ Hegar and there’s everyone else. Her totals above understate her lead in the money race, because VoteVets will be spending on her candidacy as well. I would have thought Royce West would have raised more, and I thought Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez might have done better as well, but here we are. I do think the eventual nominee will be able to raise plenty of money, and will likely get some national help as well. For sure, we know Hegar is on the DSCC’s list; whether that transfers to someone else if she falls short remains to be seen.

I’ve expressed some skepticism about Jessica Cisneros in her primary against incumbent Henry Cuellar, but she’s proven she can raise money – in fact, she outraised him for this quarter, though obviously Cuellar still has a big cash on hand advantage. I can’t say I’ve ever been enthusiastic about her candidacy – she seemed awfully green at the beginning, and as someone who had moved back to Laredo to run this race she didn’t strike me as the kind of candidate that could give him a serious challenge. But man, Cuellar is a jackass, and I’m sure that’s helped her in the fundraising department. He’s also now got some national money coming in, which suggests at least a little case of the nerves. This is the marquee race that’s not in Harris County for me, though I will reiterate what I said before about taking out Cuellar versus taking out Eddie Lucio.

Sima Ladjevardian made a big splash in CD02, and around the same time as her announcement of her Q4 haul the DCCC put CD02 on its target list, adding it to the six other seats (CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 31) that were already there. I assume the two are related, though Elisa Cardnell keeps chugging along.

Even though there was a long history of Democratic challengers to Republican Congressmen not raising any money, we all got used to the idea of our candidates breaking records and putting up very impressive totals in 2018. Look at the January 2019 summary that I linked to above, which adds it up for the cycle. Even candidates in completely non-competitive districts were topping $100K, even $200K or more. So maybe some of the totals you see here have you a bit jaded, like “oh, sure, we can raise money now, we’re good at that now”. If that’s what you’re thinking – and I don’t blame you, I feel that way too – I invite you to look back at the January 2018 summary, which is the point in time from that cycle that we’re in now. Look in particular at CDs 03, 10, 22, and 24, where candidates this time around have in some cases done better by an order of magnitude than their counterparts – who in some cases were themselves – did two years ago. Look at Julie Oliver in CD25 – she hadn’t even cracked $20K at this point in 2018. We are in such a different world now.

I could go down the list and look at all the race, but you can see the totals. There are no surprises here, in the sense that the candidates you’d expect to do well are indeed doing very well. Only CD31 is underperforming, at least relative to the other districts, but Christine Mann has stepped it up a bit and Donna Imam is willing to throw some of her own money in the pot. With the DCCC jumping into CD02, we’ve already expanded the field, and with the numbers so far it will be easy to expand it further. If this all still feels a little weird to you, I get it. Things were the way they were for a long time. They’re not that way any more, and I for one am glad to adjust to that.

Looking ahead in CD07

This story is primarily about the Republican primary in CD07. I don’t care about that race or those candidates, but there’s some good stuff at the end that I wanted to comment on.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Since she’s taken office, some Houston Republicans — old school, Bush-acolyte types — concede [Rep. Lizzie Fletcher is] an on-the-ground presence and a force to be reckoned with for whoever the Republicans nominate.

That assessment is, in part, thanks to her fundraising. She is the top Democratic fundraiser in the Texas delegation and only lags behind Crenshaw among U.S. House members from Texas. And while the Republican primary is expected to drag on into a runoff in May, Fletcher can watch from the sidelines while banking her money for the coming general election television ad wars.

Because of those factors, non-partisan campaign handicappers at Inside Elections rate the 7th Congressional District as “Lean Democratic.”

“She is formidable, as evidenced by nobody on the Democratic side running against her,” said Jason Westin, a rival from her 2018 primary fight who has donated to her campaign this time around. “She’s done an excellent job … and I think she’s been checking boxes and basically doing what she said she was going to do, which is what got her elected over an incumbent the first time.”

And there’s an urgency in GOP circles that if they are to defeat Fletcher, it must be this cycle. Incumbents are traditionally at their weakest during their first term.

But also, the next cycle will take place after redistricting. Even if Republicans hold the map-drawing power in the state Legislature, it will be difficult to shore up the 7th District into their favor this time around. Any attempt to draw nearby Republican voters into the district could risk destabilizing the other Republican-held districts in the Houston metropolitan area.

In the here and now, members of both parties privately acknowledge that for all the fundraising, campaigning and strategizing, the 7th Congressional district is likely to be the Texas seat most susceptible to national winds.

After all, it is Trump who is most credited with pushing this district into the Democratic column. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the district by 21 percentage points. But in 2016, Trump lost the district by one percentage point, giving Democrats the impetus to compete in West Houston.

As I’ve said before, I consider CD07 to be Lean Dem. Rep. Fletcher could certainly lose, but she hasn’t done anything to make her position any more vulnerable. She’s done the things she campaigned on, she’s raised a ton of money, she’s not committed any gaffes, and she’s been very visible in the district. As the story notes, she won by five points in a race that was expected to be a photo finish, and in which the polling we had tended to show John Culberson up by a small margin. Don’t underestimate her, is what I’m saying.

If there’s one thing that gives me a little bit of pause, it’s that while Democrats in 2018 exceeded their countywide totals from 2016, Republicans lagged theirs, by 70 to 100K votes. Their turnout will be up from 2018, and so it’s a question of how much Dems can increase theirs. I expect it to be up to the task, but it is a factor. I mean, Culberson got 143K votes in 2016 but only 116K in 2018, while Fletcher got 128K. I expect she will need more than that to win this year.

Of course, some of those votes Fletcher got were from people who had previously voted mostly Republican. It was those people, who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump while otherwise voting GOP in 2016, that out CD07 on the map in the first place. These people voted for more Democrats in 2018, as precinct analysis makes clear, but they still voted for some Republicans. My sense is that those people will mostly stick with Dems in 2020 – if being anti-Trump drove their behavior in 2016 and 2018, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t drive their behavior in 2020 – but that is a variable. And as for what happens in 2022 when we are post-Trump (please, please, please), that’s anyone’s guess at this point.

As for redistricting, I don’t know what the Republicans will want to do with CD07. First, it matters whether they have control over the process or if they have to deal with House Democrats, and second it matters if they’re seeking to protect a new incumbent or enact a strategic retreat, in which case they can use CD07 as a Democratic vote sink and shore up all three of CDs 02, 10, and 22. Or, you know, try to win back one or more of them – if Dems take at least one of those seats, they’ll need to figure out how to protect those new incumbents, too. I know that redistricting is at a basic level a zero-sum partisan game, but it’s also more than two-dimensional. There are a lot of interests to balance, and it’s not always obvious what the best move is. I mean, who would have ever expected that we’d be talking about this back in 2011, right?

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

Stockman denied on appeal

At least one thing in this world is still righteous and wholesome.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A federal appeals court summarily rejected what it called a “self-serving” appeal by disgraced former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, finding the lower court properly convicted him of 23 felony counts in a massive fraud scheme involving illegal spending of more than $1 million in charitable donations.

The 5th U.S. Circuit on Friday slammed the “somewhat tortuous” argument by the ex-lawmaker that the trial judge erred by failing to acquit him and by improperly instructing jurors. The 18-page opinion was riddled with stinging barbs.

Stockman’s lawyer picked apart the lengthy jury instructions on appeal, but the court said those arguments were “confected on a foundation of sand” and found “ample support” for conviction. Each of six claims that the trial judge improperly instructed the jury lacked merit, the appellate panel found, in an opinion dripping with sarcasm.

“Stephen E. Stockman served four years in Congress and now faces ten years in prison,” begins the opinion written by Sen. U.S. Judge E. Grady Jolly. “He seeks to avoid this career detour.”

The opinion goes onto say that the Republican ex-congressman argued “that prison should not be the next item on his résumé because the convictions were tainted by improper jury instructions and unsupported by the evidence.” The appellate court strongly disagreed, in the ruling joined by Judges James E. Graves, Jr. and Stephen A. Higginson.

[…]

Stockman’s appellate lawyer David A. Warrington previously served as counsel to the 2016 Trump campaign at the Republican National Convention and describes himself on his firm’s website as “one of the leading Republican lawyers in the nation.” He argued in court documents that prosecutors failed to prove Stockman intentionally defrauded two major GOP donors when he solicited donations to pet projects.

“Stockman was convicted for nonprofit fundraising and political activities subject to protection under the First Amendment,” Warrington wrote, asking the court to dismiss the case because “The Government’s case against him turned his failure to achieve completion of certain nonprofit political activism and projects into fraud.”

However, the appeals court responded last week by referencing the painstakingly detailed evidence of money transfers showing the ex-congressman perpetrated “a scheme to separate wealthy donors from their money and to spend that money at Stockman’s pleasure and direction.”

The ruling ends with a final decisive punch:

“In sum, the judgment of the district court is, in all respects, AFFIRMED.”

See here and here for the background. This is a work of art and you should enjoy it as such.

Don’t count the other Jerry Garcia out yet

But do count his votes, because they are legally required to be countable.

Not that Jerry Garcia
(Photo by Carl Lender, CC BY 2.0.)

Reversing itself from a day earlier, the Harris County Democratic Party on Thursday said a constable candidate who was accused by another candidate with the same name of getting on the primary ballot to confuse voters and help the incumbent win, cannot withdraw from the race, after all.

Party officials on Wednesday said candidate Jerry Garcia had withdrawn from the race, but his name would remain on the ballot for the March 3 primary. Any votes cast for him, a party spokeswoman said, would not count.

The party revised its position Thursday, saying its legal counsel determined that the Texas Election Code does not allow candidates to withdraw from a general primary election “after the first day after the date of the regular filing deadline,” which was Dec. 9.

Votes for Garcia will count, though he has the option to withdraw from the race should he make the runoff. If he wins the primary outright, securing more than 50 percent of the vote, he could withdraw from the general election before August, the Democrats determined.

See here for the background. I was curious about this myself – as I said in that post, I didn’t see anything in the elections code that suggested to me that votes for him could be disregarded. And if he does somehow win and wants to withdraw again, then Section 145 of the Elections code would (I presume – remember, kids, I Am Not A Lawyer) apply, in which case there would be no Democratic nominee for Constable in Precinct 2. For those of you with long memories, this is basically the Tom DeLay 2006 situation. It could get more complicated than that, and as this is a county office and not a federal office there may be reasons to relitigate the whole matter, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Let me reiterate what I said on Friday: It would be best of the Other Jerry Garcia had no effect on the outcome of this race. Those of you in Constable Precinct 2, please know who you’re voting for.

After-deadline filing review: Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County had a big Democratic breakthrough in 2018 (though the gains weren’t fully realized, as some Republican incumbents were not challenged), but you could have seen it coming in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the county by almost seven points over Donald Trump. That did not extend to the downballot candidates, however, as all of the Republicans held on, but by very close margins; outgoing Sheriff Troy Nehls’ 52.05% was the high water mark for the county. With a full slate of candidates, a ringing victory in 2018, and four more years of growth, Fort Bend Dems look poised to continue their takeover of the county. Possibly helping them in that quest is the fact that none of the three countywide incumbents are running for re-election. Here’s a brief look at who the Dems have running in these races.

Previous entries in this series are for the greater Houston area, Congress, state races, the Lege, and the courts.

County Attorney

The first race we come to is Fort Bend County Attorney, where the outgoing incumbent is Roy Cordes, who has been in office since 2006. Cordes was not challenged in 2016. A fellow named Steve Rogers is unopposed in the Republican primary. (Former Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, whom Vince Ryan ousted in 2008, had filed for this race but subsequently withdrew.)

I am thankful that the Fort Bend Democratic Party has a 2020 candidates webpage, because the first person listed for this office is David Hunter, for whom I could not find any campaign presence via my own Google and Facebook searching. (In case you ever wondered what the value of SEO was.) The searching I did do led to this video, in which Hunter explains his practice as a DUI attorney. Sonia Rash has a civil rights background and clerked in the 269th Civil Court in Harris County. Bridgette Smith-Lawson is the Managing Attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Regions 5 and 6.

Sheriff

This is also an open seat, as incumbent Troy Nehls of “Fsck Trump bumper sticker” fame is one of a bazillion Republicans running for CD22. Someone smarter than me will have to explain why he hasn’t had to resign from office after making his announcement. Three Republicans are in the primary for Sheriff, including Troy Nehl’s twin brother Trever Nehls. Yeah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

There are three Democrats running: Eric Fagan, Geneane Hughes, and Holland Jones. I’m going to crib from this Chron story to tell you this much: “The Democratic primary features retired Houston Police officer and former president of the African American Police Officers’ League, Eric Fagan, U.S. Army veteran and former commander of criminal investigations for the Missouri City Police Dept. Geneane Hughes and U.S. Navy veteran Holland Jones, a former captain for the office of Harris County Precinct 7 Constable, who is also a licensed attorney currently working as an adjunct professor for Texas Southern University.” Without knowing anything more about them, all three would be a clear upgrade over Troy Nehls.

Tax Assessor

As previously noted, all of these offices are now open seats. Longtime incumbent Patsy Schultz, first elected in 2004, has retired. Commissioners Court appointed Carrie Surratt as a replacement, but she has apparently not filed to run this year. Four Republicans are on the ballot for this seat.

Two Democrats are running. Neeta Sane served two terms on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down at the end of her term in 2019 to run for this office. She had run for FB County Treasurer in 2006. She has degrees in finance and chemistry and is a Certified Life Coach, which is her current profession. Carmen Turner is a licensed property agent, and I can’t tell a whole lot more about her from her webpage.

Commissioners Court

Here we finally see Republican incumbents running for re-election. Vincent Morales is up for his first re-election bid in Precinct 1, and Andy Meyers, who’s been around forever, is up in Precinct 3. Dems have a 3-2 majority on the Court thanks to KP George winning the office of County Judge and Ken DeMerchant winning in Precinct 4 in 2018. It had been 3-2 Republican from 2008 through 2016, with Richard Morrison winning two terms in the Republican-leaning Precinct 1, then 4-1 GOP after Morales’ win in 2016. Precinct 1 is a definite pickup opportunity, though not as clear-cut as Precinct 4 was in 2018. I’d call it a tossup, and here I’ll admit I did not look at the precinct data from 2018, so we’ll just leave it at that. Precinct 3 is the Republican stronghold and I’d expect it to stay red, with a small chance of flipping.

Democrats running in Precinct 1 include Jennifer Cantu, an Early Childhood Intervention therapist who was the Democratic candidate for HD85 in 2018 (interview for that here); Lynette Reddix, who has a multifaceted background and has served as President of the Missouri City & Vicinity branch of the NAACP; Albert Tibbs, realtor, minister, and non-profit CEO; and Jesse Torres, who doesn’t have any web presence but appears to be a Richmond city commissioner and former Lamar Consolidated trustee. The sole candidate for the much more aspirational Precinct 3 is Hope Martin, an Air Force veteran and healthcare administrator.

There are also candidates for Constable and JP and the various courts, which I am going to skip. I still may come back and review the Harris County Constable and JP candidates if I have the time. As always, I hope this has been useful to you.

DMN profile of MJ Hegar

Third in the series, and first of the candidates to jump in the race, back when we still thought Beto would be a candidate.

MJ Hegar

As she looks confidently to November, and a chance to try to pack U.S. Sen. John Cornyn “off to take his three taxpayer-funded pensions,” MJ Hegar hustles a brand she insists is distinctive.

She’s a combat veteran who sacrificed a dream career to sue the military on behalf of other women. She’s also a “mama bear,” fiercely protective of her two young sons, a working mom, a tattooed motorcyclist and a rural Texan — OK, she grew up near Austin, but her high school in Leander still has hundreds of kids in FFA.

Most of all, Hegar casts herself as “a disrupter.”

Unlike the last such person she says Texas elected to the Senate, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, Hegar says she won’t sell out to party leaders or big donors, instead fighting for blue-collar Texans. Senate Republicans, though, assail her as “Hollywood Hegar,” someone too liberal for the state.

The one-third of Texans who are “in the middle” of the electorate distrust parties, Hegar said during a recent Texas Tribune event.

“They’re looking for character,” someone who will be a team player and “servant leader,” putting country above narrow or partisan interests, she said.

“We have not fielded a combat veteran as a Democrat in a statewide election in a state like Texas that is so pro-military and patriotic,” she told Tribune chief executive Evan Smith.

“It’s not just being a combat veteran, though,” she explained. “It’s being a disrupter. It’s not just being a veteran who goes along and does as they’re told. It’s being a veteran who took on the Pentagon, took on the establishment — and won.”

[…]

Hegar (pronounced hey-GARR) is 43 – in age, the median of the five major Democratic contenders. Last year, she came close to knocking off entrenched Central Texas GOP Congressman John Carter of Georgetown.

As she asks her party for its Senate nomination against Cornyn, Hegar is being followed at all her public appearances by three different “trackers,” who take video of her, she said an interview.

“A huge compliment,” she said. It means the GOP sees her as a threat, she noted. Of the Democrats running, Hegar has raised the most money by far — $2 million.

In 2016, Hegar cast a vote in her first primary, she recalled. She voted in the GOP primary “to stop Donald Trump,” she said. “I voted for Carly Fiorina and she had already dropped out.”

After September’s disclosures about suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Hegar backed an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.

Following her recent Tribune appearance, several audience members old enough to be grandparents approached her to discuss climate change. Though Hegar said she favors “aggressive action,” she declined to bless a carbon tax measure, saying she wanted to make sure it doesn’t increase the cost of food for the middle class.

University of Texas law student Anthony Collier asked her position on Medicare for all, which would eliminate private health insurance.

Hegar said she favors preserving and improving Obamacare and adding a “public option” that would include subsidies for low-income people to be able to buy into Medicare. But she would keep private plans for Americans who want them, she said.

“We can still get there while offering people choice,” she told Collier.

Speaking to reporters after formally filing her papers Dec. 9, Hegar said people aren’t asking her about impeachment but about jobs, schools and health care.

“On some issues I’m this, on some issues I’m that,” she said. “I make up my mind based on what’s … right for my state. When Texans look at me, they don’t see a progressive or moderate. They see a bad-ass, ass-kicking Texas woman.”

Hegar probably comes into this race as the best-known candidate, thanks to her 2018 Congressional race against John Carter and the publicity she was able to generate thanks to her viral ad. The skimpy polling information we have shows her leading the primary field, though with numbers small enough for that to not really mean anything. She’s done the best at fundraising, but she’s raised Congressional numbers, not Senate numbers. We’ll see what the Q4 report has to say.

Hegar is more of a personality candidate, at least at this point, than an issues candidate, though as you can see from the story that she does have coherent positions on issues. As someone who talks to a lot of candidates and who hears a lot of answers of varying degrees of depth and understanding on basic issues, I tend to appreciate the latter more than the former, though history would suggest I’m in the minority. I also don’t want to overstate the case here or to be insulting to Hegar’s substance – she has plenty to say about issues, she just tends to lead with the “bad-ass, ass-kicking” stuff. Which, let’s be honest, is almost certainly a wise strategic move, one that makes an equal amount of sense in a future campaign against a milquetoast enabler like John Cornyn. Read the story for more.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards.)

We’re not going to get an independent redistricting commission

Nice to think about, but the set of circumstances that might lead to it are exceedingly narrow.

Most of the seven states that have independent commissions adopted them by a citizens’ initiative. Since Texas doesn’t have that option, the only way it would happen would be if lawmakers voluntarily gave up their redistricting power.

Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, said that’s unlikely to happen in Texas, but not impossible.

“The reality is that when a legislature is looking at potentially split control or the changeover of control from one party to another, they’re the most likely to entertain the possibility of redistricting reform,” Feng said.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said it would take a unique set of circumstances.

“It would take us reaching a tipping point where Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects for retaining a majority, but Democrats are also pessimistic about their prospects for taking a majority as well,” Jones said.

I think Jones’ assessment is basically accurate, but it’s important to understand what Republican pessimism about retaining a majority means. We’re talking about them being afraid that they might face unified Democratic government in 2031, the next time redistricting will come around. And not only must they fear this thing that might happen ten years and three statewide elections from now, they must conclude that their best option now would be to curb that future theoretical Democratic hegemony via the creation of an independent redistricting commission. All this happens following a Democratic takeover of the State House, because otherwise Republicans can do what they’ve done before, which is draw whatever districts they want without fear. You see what I mean by exceedingly narrow?

Let’s keep one other thing in mind here. If we do get a Democratic State House, Republicans can still push for whatever maps they want for the SBOE, the State Senate, and the State House. That’s because if the two chambers can’t agree on maps for those three entities, the job gets thrown to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is the Lite Governor, the Speaker, the AG, the Comptroller, and the Land Commissioner. In other words, a Board on which Republicans would have a 4-1 majority, and thus no trouble passing those Republican maps. The one map that would still be up in the air would be the Congressional map. If there is no map passed legislatively, it gets thrown to a federal court, over which neither side would have any control.

There is room in this scenario for some compromise. Republicans would prefer not to let a court do this work. Democrats would of course like to have some influence in the mapmaking process. You can imagine an agreement to draw maps for all four entities – Congress, SBOE, Senate, House – that leans towards incumbent protection rather than greatly advantaging or disadvantaging one party over the other. If that happens, you could also imagine them including an independent commission as a bonus Grand Bargain, but that seems a bridge too far. But compromise maps that mostly don’t make any incumbents’ lives too difficult, that I can see maybe getting done.

Maybe. The situation I’ve just described here is like what happened in 2001, which was the last time Dems controlled the House. The LRB drew the state maps, which led to the massive GOP takeover in the 2002 election, and a court drew the Congressional map. And then, once Republicans had control of the House, they went back and redid the Congressional map. That was the original, stated motivation when Tom DeLay pushed for re-redistricting in 2003: The Congressional map should be drawn by the legislators, not by a court. Obviously, they wanted a map that was much more favorable to Republicans, but that was the original reason they gave. It seems to me that this is a very plausible outcome in 2021 as well – the Republicans decide to let a court draw the map, which in all likelihood would be quite deferential to incumbents anyway, then take their chances on retaking the House in 2022 and doing a new Congressional map again. Hey, it worked once before, and now they have a more favorable Supreme Court to back them up.

Honestly, this may be the single most likely scenario – the LRB draws the state maps, a court draws the Congressional map, and everything hinges on the 2022 election. Maybe Dems keep the State House. Maybe we manage to elect a Democratic Governor, who could then veto any new Congressional map. Maybe Republicans win and do their thing. Heck, even in the Great Map Compromise scenario, who’s to say that Republicans wouldn’t tear it all up and start over in the event they retake the House and retain the Governor’s Mansion? I’d put money on that before I placed a bet on a redistricting commission. 2031 is a long, long way away. It’s not at all irrational to prioritize the now over what maybe could possibly happen if everything goes wrong.

DMN profile of Chris Bell

The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.

“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”

It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.

But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.

“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”

[…]

After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.

He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.

Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.

But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.

Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.

“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.

In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.

Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.

Texas is on track to pick up three more Congressional districts

Put an asterisk next to this, as the actual Census will need to bear that out.

The U.S. population continues to shift south and west, according to new Census Bureau data that offers the clearest picture yet of how the 435 congressional seats will be distributed among the 50 states.

The latest numbers, released Monday, represent the final estimates from the government before next year’s decennial Census, which will determine how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will have for the next decade. That reapportionment, expected in December 2020, will kick off the year-and-a-half-long process of redrawing congressional-district maps — still in many states a brazen partisan battle that makes strange bedfellows, unplanned retirements and intense member-versus-member races, especially in states poised to lose seats.

“The first two years of any decade when districts are drawn produce the whitest knuckles in Congress,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who led House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2012 cycle. “People are trying to hold onto their seats at all costs.”

According to projections from Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, 17 states are slated to see changes to the sizes of their delegations, including 10 that are forecast to lose a seat beginning in 2022.

The biggest winners appear to be Texas and Florida, which are on track to gain three seats and two seats, respectively, according to the projections. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and North Carolina are estimated to add one seat, as is Montana, which currently has just one at-large seat.

Meanwhile, 10 states are on track to lose one seat: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, Illinois and California, which would drop a House seat for the first time in its 169-year history.

[…]

The looming reapportionment brings into sharper focus the high stakes surrounding the partisan battle for control of state legislatures and the fight to ensure an accurate Census count.

Some states, such as Rhode Island and California, are actively working to avoid an undercount. Other state governments, such as Texas, have not made similar investments.

In his projections, Brace is using the estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau to predict what the states’ populations will be next year, when the Census is taken. Other estimates, which simply apportion House seats according to the 2019 estimates, show smaller gains for Texas and Florida, where the population has been booming year-over-year this decade.

Brace also noted he’s unable to take into account the accuracy of the Census, which will be a major factor in determining the final reapportionment. “We’ve seen it over the decades: Less and less people are likely to participate in the Census,” he said. “That participation rate has gone down each 10 years.”

Moreover, unsuccessful attempts by President Donald Trump and his administration to include a citizenship question on next year’s Census have advocates worried that millions of residents, especially nonwhites, won’t fill out the Census. That could negatively impact the count in heavily Latino states like Texas, where Democrats are plotting a political comeback — if they can get a seat at the table in redistricting.

How we are handling the Census has always seemed like a key aspect of this, but I admit I may be overestimating its impact. The rubber will be meeting the road soon enough, and we’ll have the official verdict in a year’s time. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be tumultuous no matter what happens. Daily Kos has more.

Beto PAC

In case you were wondering what he’s up to now.

Beto O’Rourke

Weeks after dropping out of the presidential race, Beto O’Rourke has launched a new political group to boost Texas Democrats in the 2020 election.

In an email to supporters Friday morning, O’Rourke said the group, Powered by People, will bring “together volunteers from around the state to work on the most important races in Texas.” He named a few battles in particular: the fight for the state House majority, national Democrats’ drive to flip six Texas congressional seats, the race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and the presidential general election in Texas.

“Powered by People will organize grassroots volunteers to do the tough, necessary work that wins elections: registering Texans to vote (especially those that have just moved to Texas and those who are just turning 18), knocking on their doors, making phone calls, and connecting the dots so that we all understand that in order to make progress on the issues we care most about — like gun violence, healthcare and climate — we will have to register, volunteer and vote,” O’Rourke said.

Powered by People is set up as a political action committee — notable given O’Rourke’s long aversion to PACs in his campaigns. As a congressman, 2018 U.S. Senate candidate and 2020 presidential candidate, O’Rourke refused to accept PAC donations, denouncing the influence of big money in politics.

“I think it’s a really good question — ‘Why would you then start a PAC?'” O’Rourke said in a Texas Tribune interview later Friday. “There literally was no other legal organization that would allow us to raise money and spend money to help organize people in Texas.”

O’Rourke said he looked at starting a 501(c)(4) nonprofit but was not comfortable with the lack of transparency — such groups do not have to disclose their donors. Those organizations also require that politics can’t become their primary focus.

I presume this is the mechanism Beto will use to support State House candidates in this cycle, and perhaps going forward. I’ve never been of the opinion that PACs are evil, or that one needs to shun them to be a “good” progressive. PACs are a tool, no more and no less. Where they are problematic is when they are used to circumvent disclosure requirements, and contribution limits. The fundamental problem isn’t PACs, it’s Citizens United. The only way to fix that is to put enough people who want to fix it in power, and that’s going to mean raising the resources to support them along the way. It’s the system we have, and we’ve got to do what we can to be able to change it. That’s what Beto is doing, and I applaud him for it.

Trib profile of Sima Ladjevardian

CD02 gets a boost in profile.

Sima Ladjevardian

In the final hours before the filing deadline on Dec. 9, Sima Ladjevardian arrived at the Harris County Democratic Party office in Houston to make a little bit of news: She was running for Congress.

The prominent Houston lawyer, Democratic activist and fundraiser, and former Beto O’Rourke adviser had been thinking about running for a while but had thrown herself into O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, which did not wind down until mid-November.

“It really wasn’t much time,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I just went in and did it then.”

Now Ladjevardian’s candidacy is shaking up the primary for a seat that Democrats consider more flippable than some think — and held by a high-profile target no less: rising star and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston. About an hour and a half after Ladjevardian announced she was running, O’Rourke endorsed her. The next morning, the 2018 nominee for the seat, Todd Litton, made clear he was supporting her. And 48 hours after filing, she announced she had already raised over $200,000.

In making the last-minute entry, Ladjevardian charged into a primary that already featured two candidates, including one who has been running since February, Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell.

“It wasn’t a complete surprise,” Cardnell said of Ladjevardian’s entrance. “I welcome her to the field, but since day one, this has been about how we hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for his voting record. Honestly, I’m just glad more folks are seeing what we knew back when we launched — that Dan Crenshaw is not safe in Texas 2 and this is a winnable race.”

The 2nd District is not among the six seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has prioritized flipping this cycle in Texas, but Democrats have ample reason to believe it is within reach. Litton lost by 7 percentage points in 2018, despite no significant national investment on his behalf and Crenshaw rocketing on to the national stage a few days before the election after “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson mocked his war wound. At the same time, the U.S. Senate nominee, Beto O’Rourke, lost the district by just a point.

The DCCC is nonetheless paying some attention to Crenshaw, targeting him in a statement for this story over his vote last week against a prescription drug price bill.

Sima has a webpage now, which she didn’t have when she entered the race. The fact that didn’t have that kind of basic campaign material readily available, and that there was no pre-filing announcement, leads me to believe this was a late-breaking decision on her part. Which is fine, and she’s done quite well since entering, in terms of attention, endorsements, and fundraising. Her experience with the Beto campaign suggests she can roll out her campaign quickly. The “but” that I’m leading up to is that there’s such a short runway for the primary – hello, early voting starts in less than two months – and there are going to be a lot of people participating in the primary, many of whom will not be plugged-in, habitual Democratic primary voters. That adds a level of randomness to any race, especially for candidates without much name ID.

Elisa Cardnell has the advantage of being in this race for most of the year. She’s been quite active. Weirdly, the fact that she had the field all to herself for most of that time is not an advantage, because a lack of competition for the nomination means a lack of news about the race. This race should get a lot more attention now, which will be good for all three of the candidates in it. It should be on the national Dems’ radar, and I think over time it will be more prominent. For now, the three people running need all the attention this race can get.