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Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

Endorsement watch: A smattering

The Chron endorses Stephanie Morales, the Democratic challenger in HD138.

Stephanie Morales

Stephanie Morales began her interview with the editorial board with a story about children who wind up in the care of Child Protective Services, fleeing harsh conditions at home only to find themselves sleeping in somebody’s office because the agency is so strapped for resources. Such are the heartbreaking realities that motivated her to run for the Texas House.

“I knew that there was a need,” she told us. “This is the perfect place for me to run where I can actually make a difference, because we need someone who has been boots-on-the-ground, actually representing kids and parents to truly change the system.”

Morales is a Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law-educated criminal defense lawyer whose cases often involve parents and juveniles in the CPS system. In her meeting with us, she talked at length about the “unintended consequences” of recent legislation meant to improve how the agency works. She displayed an expertise that would benefit the Legislature, and her constituents. She wants to add funding for more trauma-informed courts like the ones in use in Harris County, and to build and fund a halfway-house program for people who age out of the foster care system.

Morales, 33, is running for House District 138, which covers Jersey Village, Spring Branch and other parts of west Harris County. She argues that she’ll be more civically engaged, particularly with supporting children’s needs, than Republican incumbent Lacey Hull. “This district needs someone who will really advocate for them and wrangle resources that we need here,” she said.

She told us that her legislative priorities also would include bolstering protections against flooding, passing whatever “commonsense” gun-safety laws might be possible, improving the credit-recapture system in Texas schools and increasing teacher pay.

Hull was another Republican who didn’t bother to screen with them, and the Chron rightly dings her for her anti-trans activism. This is as noted one of the few competitive State House districts in the area, likely the only one in Harris County that has a chance of flipping. I’ll be very interested to see how it performs in comparison to 2020. You can listen to my interview with Stephanie Morales, who is indeed a strong candidate and would make a fine legislator, here.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses three Republican Supreme Court incumbents, two Republican CCA incumbents, the Libertarian candidate in CD22, as the Republican incumbent is an insurrection-loving MAGA-head and the Democratic candidate appears to be an apparition, State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, now in a much bluer district, US Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and a bunch of Criminal District Court nominees, slightly more than half of whom are Dem incumbents. They still have a ton of races to get to, and as has been the case in a number of elections they will have to do many of them after voting has begun.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Collier

The Chron writes one of the longest and most effusive endorsements I’ve ever seen for Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier won’t just promise to lower your property tax bill, he’ll tell you how he’s going to do it. And if you don’t quite understand all the math and jargony tax code talk, the affable certified public accountant and longtime consultant for investors in the energy industry will make it real simple with a few water bottles or any other props within his grasp.

That’s what he did during his screening with the editorial board last week. When our furrowed brows apparently belied some confusion about the particular loophole he claims is the holy grail to Texas tax relief, the candidate for lieutenant governor grabbed one water bottle that represented a skyscraper in a thriving, highly developed part of town that’s worth $500 million, and another bottle that represented a skyscraper in a run-down, lower-end part of town a few miles away that’s worth $200 million.

“This is full of people paying high rents and is very valuable property,” he says lifting one water bottle. “This is very different,” he says lifting the other, “It’s in a part of town where the values are not nearly as high, it’s only half full and it’s less valuable.”

You’d think the corporate owners of the more expensive property would have to pay more taxes, as homeowners do when our houses are appraised higher. But no. The owner just gets his lawyers to go down to the appraisal district and argue that both skyscrapers should be taxed at a similar level.

Astonishingly, they’ll likely get away with it, just like many other owners of large commercial and industrial properties across the state who each year deprive the state coffers of billions — Collier estimates it’s at least $7.5 billion. Homeowners have to make that up in our tax bills. Why? Because of a simple loophole that lawmakers could fix if they wanted but won’t: the state of Texas doesn’t define what a “comparable” property is.

So the rich guys get to claim it’s whatever they say it is and the apraisal districts often don’t have the time or high-power lawyers to fight them. Collier says he first started studying the problem around 2011 when he saw lawmakers cutting public education by $5 billion and yet his property taxes kept going up.

“I smelled a rat,” he told us.

Collier says he’d pass a few simple tweaks to close the loophole: define “comparable” by such things as location, age, utility. Pass a mandatory sales price disclosure, like most states have. And require everybody to pay their own legal fees in litigation rather than only losers paying.

That isn’t the only way Collier plans to get ordinary Texans some tax relief, but it’s one his favorite ways and one of our favorite reasons for endorsing the Democrat perhaps more enthusiastically than any other candidate on the ballot.

It goes on from there and you should read it. What’s amazing is how much of this very long endorsement is about Collier and his ideas and plans, and how relatively little is about Dan Patrick, despite how easy it would be to write a couple thousand words about why no decent person should think about voting for Dan Patrick. Being good enough and exciting enough to overcome the urge to trash Dan Patrick – that’s really saying something. Let’s hope enough people are listening.

In other endorsements, the Chron recommended Democrat Jon Haire in CD36, partly because Haire is a mensch and partly because incumbent Rep. Brian Babin is an insurrectionist. They also endorse State Rep. Christina Morales for re-election in HD145. As a constituent of hers, I concur.

Endorsement watch: I had totally forgotten who her opponent is

The Chron endorses Teneshia Hudspeth for a full term as Harris County Clerk.

Teneshia Hudspeth

As the parent of a young child, Teneshia Hudspeth is familiar with the back-to-school rush for documents, including birth certificates. For families without reliable internet access, that might be more of a challenge than usual. And a trip to the county clerk’s office often means taking off work. So, as Harris County Clerk, Hudspeth helped launch an event in 2021 that let parents and guardians come in on a Saturday to get birth certificates at select offices.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of families who needed this service,” she told the editorial board.

She’s continued the event this year, partnering with local organizations that helped cover the costs of the documents for families that needed it and supplied backpacks. Her office added a service that allows people to order a birth certificate online.

These are the small things that a county clerk’s office can do to improve life and ensure that people are getting their needs met by an office that few residents likely understand well.

[…]

With a full term, Hudspeth will be able to seamlessly continue her efforts to make the office more responsive and accessible to all of Harris County.

Under her watch, the office has digitized thousands of marriage license records, prepared an estate-planning virtual series launching this month, added digital monitors in the courts with information in Spanish and English and overseen upgrades to the annex offices, some of which were begun before her tenure.

Among future plans: an e-certification program, an update to marriage license that will allow couples to add their photographs, and more outreach efforts.

In between is a discussion of the former role that the County Clerk played in running elections. That includes a mention of Stan Stanart, the deservedly former Clerk who is running for his old job and wants to do the election-running thing again. However you judge Stanart as the elected official in charge of elections, know that it was Teneshia Hudspeth doing the real work behind the scenes while he was spending a bunch of money on iPads he never deployed. As the headline indicates, the fact that Stanart is on the ballot just doesn’t stick in my mind – I confront that fact when I do campaign finance roundups, and now as I read this endorsement piece, and in an hour or so it will have flitted right back out of my memory again. This is a happy place for me to be. Please don’t ruin it. Vote for Teneshia Hudspeth, for the betterment of the Clerk’s office and my peace of mind.

You can listen to my interview with Teneshia Hudspeth and hear all the reasons why she is a very fine County Clerk here. On the B-side, the Chron endorsed their first Republican of the cycle, giving the nod to Morgan Luttrell in CD08, a district that unlike some others can reasonably be described as “bright red”. As noted, it is somewhat less crimson now than it was before redistricting, but the voters to shore up Dan Crenshaw and Mike McCaul have to come from somewhere and it’s those “bright red” districts like CD08 that are the obvious source. If you’d prefer an alternative to hoping that Luttrell will “bring more substance with him” when he gets to Congress as the Chron does, you can listen to my interview with his Democratic opponent Laura Jones.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first

The Chron endorses Duncan Klussman in CD38, partly by default.

Duncan Klussman

When we gave Wesley Hunt our endorsement in the Republican primary, he made it clear he’d rather go without it. Now, in the general election, we are more than happy to oblige him.

Democratic challenger Duncan Klussmann faces an uphill-both-ways battle, but his years of public service and deep understanding of his district make him our pick for the race.

By all measures, U.S. House District 38 seems tailor-made for Hunt, a West Point graduate endorsed by former President Donald Trump. One of Texas’ two new congressional districts, this one is ultra-red, including bits of River Oaks, the Energy Corridor and western Harris County. Voters there went for Trump by 18.2 percentage points in 2020, a fair indication that Hunt would’ve fared much better there than he did in congressional District 7, where he lost to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher by a few percentage points.

Hunt, 40, was a clear frontrunner in this year’s primaries. Compared with many of his challengers, “steeped in conspiracy theories and fear-mongering,” as we wrote in February, Hunt stayed focused on more substantive conservative priorities, “namely border security, reining in federal spending and funding flood infrastructure projects.” He also boasts an impressive 20-year military record.

It was an easy pick then. This time around, it’s easy to pass.

Klussmann, 59, has a lengthy resume of public service and involvement in the district. His 11 years of experience as a school district superintendent in Spring Branch and his time serving as a Jersey Village city council member give him a distinct grounding in the district itself.

His experience serving local constituents is unmatched and he shows a willingness to work across the aisle to get things done.

As I often seem to do in stories that like to overstate the redness of a given district, going 58% for Trump is not “ultra-red”. It’s just red. There are districts in which Trump got over 75%. If you’re describing a 58% district as “ultra-red”, what can you say about the latter? There’s no description that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. I consider this yet another way in which people fail to understand numbers. Be more measured in your quantitative adjectives, y’all.

Anyway. You can listen to my interview with Duncan Klussman from the primary here. The Chron also issued some endorsements in non-competitive races, giving their nod to Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, a district that Joe Biden won by thirty points in 2020 and yet whose blueness went unremarked upon; State Rep. Ann Johnson in HD134; and State Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Don’t bother looking for a pattern in the order of their endorsements. I’ve tried, and all I have to show for it is a minor facial tic. Whatever the race is you’re looking for, they’ll get to it when they get to it, unless they decide they’re not doing endorsements in that race, in which case they won’t.

The SPURS bills

I admit that I tipped my cap to this one.

What if it took an act of Congress to keep the Spurs in San Antonio?

With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10 percent share of the team last year, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales worries it might, even as the Spurs’ owners have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s absolutely smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said.

“Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, both of which now call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine the Spurs would leave San Antonio, but what if they do?” Gonzales said. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take that seriously.”

So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible move up Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from ditching communities that have invested time, tears — and a whole lot of cash — in them.

His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakings for Retaining Sports Act — or SPURS Act for short — would set up strict requirements for teams to relocate. A franchise would have to lose money for five years in a row, plus prove that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team.

The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they want to relocate, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also force teams that do move to reimburse whatever financial assistance or incentives were provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena financing. Local governments could sue teams for damages, as well.

[…]

The legislation comes after Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt in May wrote an open letter to fans seeking to ease months of suspicion that the team might be eyeing a move. The Spurs are under a non-relocation agreement with Bexar County that runs through 2032, but county commissioners have agreed to a one-year pilot program allowing the team to play “home” games in Austin and Mexico City.

The team has said it’s all part of an effort to broaden the fan base as attendance has plummeted amid a franchise record three-year playoff drought.

“We will keep making memories, together, inside of Bexar County,” Holt wrote.

Gonzales said he believes Holt, but worries about future owners. Dell buying a share of the team could be the first step toward building an ownership more open to a move, he said.

Some background reading on this if it’s all new to you. I don’t know if this bill makes any sense legally or economically, but if you want to find a non-partisan issue to support that might draw you some crossover voters, it would be hard to top a pro-Spurs-in-San-Antonio bill for a guy who represents a lot of their fanbase. Whatever happens to this – I will bet you $1 right now that it doesn’t get a committee hearing in this Congress – it’s a brilliant piece of politics.

Voting has already started for 2022

Military voters are getting their ballots now.

Voting in the Texas governor’s race is officially underway.

While in-person early voting is still four weeks away, Texans on military bases around the U.S. and overseas are getting their ballots as part of a nationwide push to help give service members more time to get their ballots returned and counted.

About 8,000 ballots already have been sent out statewide, with up to 30,000 potentially going out over the next few weeks if it follows the trends of past election cycles.

Nationwide, federal officials have been pushing states to move more quickly to get ballots out for deployed soldiers and overseas voters. Historically, those ballots get rejected at a much higher rate than other vote-by-mail ballots largely because many of them just don’t make it back to Texas in time.

The Department of Defense has put more effort into outreach to soldiers through voter assistance offices set up at military bases across the nation. Even ships at sea have a designated voting assistance officer onboard to help get ballots filled and sent back in time to count.

That’s a big change from decades ago. In 2006, nationwide, 1 million ballots were sent out to people in the military and overseas, but just one-third of those ended up being counted.

Congress responded in 2009 with new laws requiring all local election officials to get requested military ballots out to soldiers domestically and overseas 45 days before an election. This year, that meant ballots had to be out by Saturday.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly small number of votes. But every vote matters, and I hope we all agree that we should make some effort to accommodate active military personnel. And if you’re out there casting doubt on the legitimacy of mail ballots, these are among them. So show some respect, and show it to all voters.

Interview with Laura Jones

Laura Jones

For my second Congressional interview this week we stay up north for a visit with Laura Jones, the Democratic candidate un CD08, which is open this year following the retirement announcement of Rep. Kevin Brady. Jones is a small business owner who grew up in Houston before moving with her husband to Cold Spring, on the north end of the Sam Houston National Forest, four years ago. She got involved in local politics and has served as Chair for the San Jacinto County Democratic Party and as the Field Director for Texas Senate District 3 under the Non-Urban Rural Caucus of the TDP. She ran for CD08 in 2020 but lost in the primary, and is back for another run. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Interview with Robin Fulford

Robin Fulford

This week I have interviews with two Congressional candidates. First up is a very familiar name to local Democrats, Robin Fulford. Fulford is an activist, organizer, and founding member of the Democratic Club of The Woodlands. Fulford comes from a working-class and union background and has been a highly visible presence in the red northern suburbs of Houston. She also has a deep personal understanding of what is at stake in the fight for reproductive rights. For her first candidacy, she has the challenge of taking on the money-raising machine known as Dan Crenshaw. We talked about that and many other things in the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Stephanie Morales – HD138

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

In which I indulge in a bit of schadenfreude

A base instinct, I admit, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The district director for Texas’ newest congresswoman, Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

The far-right website Current Revolt first reported a series of long-running allegations against Aron Peña in a story published last week. The website, which is associated with the far right in Texas politics, said it was told Peña is ​​“accused of multiple instances of harassment of teenage staffers,” including “unwanted touching, inappropriate sexual comments, and forcing himself on staffers.”

The Texas Tribune found that Peña’s previous employer, the state Republican Party, had investigated allegations of harassment against him. And when he was then Flores’ district director, he was accused of touching and kissing an intern without her consent. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The accusations are serious and not a reflection of our values,” Flores spokesperson Daniel Bucheli said in a statement. “We addressed the allegations as soon as we were made aware, and Mr. Peña resigned.”

Bucheli’s statement referred to the allegations in the Current Revolt piece. Flores’ office declined any additional comment and would not discuss the specific allegations related to the intern. The office also would not answer questions about when Peña resigned and whether it was before or after the Current Revolt article was published.

“I emphatically deny the allegations,” Peña said in a statement to the Tribune, calling them politically motivated.

“After losing several campaigns in the primary a handful of Republicans in the losing camp motivated by revenge have engaged in a long-standing effort to discredit the good work of the Hidalgo County Republican Party,” he said. “Attacks have been made against anyone who disagrees with their efforts.”

He said he left the Flores campaign due to “serious health issues (blood clots in the legs and lungs)” and so he would not be a “distraction in the closing days of an election.”

The allegation against Peña was that he assaulted an intern while driving her and a second intern home at the end of a workday, according to two people familiar with the situation. Peña was said to have dropped off the second intern first, even though it was out of the way, the people said. Once he was alone with the first intern in the car, he was reported to take longer routes to her house and began touching her and kissing her, despite her telling him to stop, according to the people.

Peña did not deny the incident took place but told the Tribune that the intern started it and that it was consensual.

Peña is a member of a prominent family in Republican politics in South Texas. His sister, Adrienne Peña-Garza, is the chairperson of the Hidalgo County GOP. His father is Aaron Peña, a former state representative who is running for a state appeals court seat.

There’s more, and you should also read these two stories from Texas Public Radio that add a lot more detail about the many allegations against this guy. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he is at the least a serious creep – hell, just note the nickname he was given, as per that first TPR story. I have a strong urge to go wash my hands right now.

Normally, I wouldn’t devote a post to a story like this. There’s a flood of news about things I want and need to follow, and sadly a shitty dude in politics is common and mundane and let’s be honest far too bipartisan these days. The reason I’m picking up this one is because of the connection to former State Rep. Aaron Peña, who was a Democrat until he switched parties in the most obsequious and ladder-climbing way after the 2010 election. Just two years before that he’d been cheerfully hobnobbing with a bunch of us progressive bloggers (there were a lot more bloggers back then) at the 2008 TDP convention in Austin. There are plenty of pictures documenting it. Peña himself had been a blogger and had gotten a lot of attention from us as a result. All of it was casually discarded when he saw an opportunity to sidle up to victors in a wipeout election year. His new buddies couldn’t find a way to draw him a district he could win in 2012, so that was the end of the line for him, at least as far as the Legislature went. I hadn’t given him any thought since then. Seeing his name in this story now, well, I got a good bitter laugh out of it. The elder Peña got plenty of attention when he made that switch over a decade ago. He’s getting some more now thanks to his sons ugly behavior. Hope you enjoy this return visit to the spotlight, dude.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 40

Feels kind of familiar.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 5 percentage points, according to a new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The survey found that Abbott received 45% of support among registered voters, while 40% supported O’Rourke and 4% supported third-party candidates. Three percent of respondents named “Someone else” as their choice, and 8% said they have not thought about the race enough to have an opinion.

The result is almost identical to the margin from when the pollsters last surveyed the race in June, finding Abbott ahead of O’Rourke 45% to 39%.

The latest survey also gave Republican incumbents single-digit leads in two other statewide races. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led Democrat Mike Collier by 7 points, and Attorney General Ken Paxton registered a 5-point advantage over Democrat Rochelle Garza. More voters remain undecided in those contests than in the gubernatorial election — 20% in the lieutenant governor’s race and 21% in the attorney general one.

See here for the previous UT/TPP poll, and here for the pollsters’ report. The Lite Guv and AG numbers are 39-32 for Patrick and 38-33 for Paxton, and I just don’t give much weight to results that have such high numbers of non-responses. Joe Biden clocks in with a 40-52 approval rating, up from 35-55 in June. Abbott was at 46-44, up from 43-46 in June.

You may look at this and conclude that there’s been no noticeable boost in Democratic fortunes since the Dobbs ruling. Based just on post-Dobbs polls (minus that Echelon poll) that may be correct. I will note, however, that Abbott has slowly been losing ground to Beto in this particular poll over time:

February: Abbott 47-37
April: Abbott 48-37
June: Abbott 45-39
August: Abbott 45-40

I will also note that this poll, like previous ones, has generic US House/Texas House questions. If you look in the crosstabs for this poll (questions 21 and 22), those numbers are 47-43 and 46-43 in favor of Republicans, respectively. It was 46-41 GOP for both in June, and 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) for the GOP in April. So while maybe not a sharp turn, there has been a gradual bend all along.

Echelon Insights: Abbott 48, Beto 46

Make of this what you will. It’s a national poll plus samples of likely voters in a variety of states, some red and some blue and some purple, including Texas. The numbers of interest for us:

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Joe Biden?

Very favorable = 20%
Somewhat favorable = 21%
Somewhat unfavorable = 13%
Very unfavorable = 44%
Other/Unsure = 0%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Donald Trump?

Very favorable = 26%
Somewhat favorable = 20%
Somewhat unfavorable = 9%
Very unfavorable = 44%
Other/Unsure = 2%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Greg Abbott?

Very favorable = 27%
Somewhat favorable = 22%
Somewhat unfavorable = 10%
Very unfavorable = 36%
Other/Unsure = 5%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Beto O’Rourke?

Very favorable = 28%
Somewhat favorable = 18%
Somewhat unfavorable = 10%
Very unfavorable = 38%
Other/Unsure = 6%

If the election for Governor were held today, would you vote for

Abbott = 48%
Beto = 46%

If the 2024 presidential election were being held today, would you vote for

Trump = 48%
Biden = 43%

If the election for U.S. House of Representatives in your district were held today, would you vote for

The Republican = 50%
The Democrat = 43%

I’m not familiar with this pollster. In the states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, they have pretty enthusiastic leads for Democratic candidates, but in the states where you’d expect Republicans to win they have them up by expectedly large margins. The Abbott/Beto race is the closest we’ve seen in any poll so far, but it’s not really an outlier. Abbott’s level of support is pretty consistently around 47-49 – he rarely if ever tops 50% in the polls – while Beto is usually around 42 or 43. It’s plausible to get this result just by the “don’t know” respondents leaning towards Beto. Note that this poll did not name either of the third party candidates, as some other polls have, so that could have a boosting effect for both Abbott and Beto as well. This is an optimistic result, and I’d like to see more like it before I fully bought in, but it’s not a bolt out of the blue. The Trump approval and 2024 numbers, the generic Congressional numbers, the Biden approval numbers, they’re all in line with other polls or in the case of the Congressional one leaning a bit Republican. Like I said, make of this what you will. See Lakshya Jain’s Twitter thread for more.

All interviews and judicial Q&As with nominees so far

Back in February, right before the primary, I posted a list of all of the candidate interviews and judicial Q&As I had done. A couple more Q&A responses came in after that, and I did some further interviews for the primary runoffs, so that post is out of date and also now contains people who will not be on the November ballot. So with that in mind, here’s a full updated list as I prepare to bring you more of these for November. Enjoy!

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38

Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Janet Dudding, Comptroller

Staci Childs, SBOE4

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15

Jolanda Jones, HD147

Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)

Judicial Q&As

Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Gemayel Haynes, 183rd Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Beverly Armstrong, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Dedra Davis, 270th Civil District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8

Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

As before, you can see a full list of my interviews and a whole lot more info about the Democratic candidates on the Erik Manning spreadsheet. Look for many more to come starting tomorrow.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

Texas will get a lot from the Inflation Reduction Act

Thanks, Biden!

Texas’s clean energy sector is expected to be one of the largest beneficiaries of the climate and health care legislation President Joe Biden has signed into law, according to estimates released by the White House Wednesday.

Over the next eight years, Texas is expected to see $66.5 billion in investment through the legislation, expanding wind and solar energy, advanced batteries and other sources of clean electricity — more than CaliforniaNew York or Florida.

Named the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill provides almost $370 billion in federal funding for the clean energy sector, with government officials hoping to spur far larger investment from the private sector.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan described the legislation in a press conference Wednesday as, “the linchpin to putting us on path to reach net zero (greenhouse gas emissions) no later than 2050.”

“It invests in American workers, the back bone of this country, by spurring supply chains for clean energy,” he said.

Texas has long led the nation in clean energy, with three times as many wind turbines as the next closest state. And while California still has the most solar energy capacity, Texas is beginning to catch up, with more installations last year than any other state, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Here’s a quote of interest from Bloomberg: “Of the top 10 congressional districts in the country for operating and planned wind, solar and battery capacity, four are in Texas, more than in any other state and including the No. 1 district, Texas’ 19th.” So of course every Republican voted against it. Which won’t stop them from claiming credit for the good things that will happen. It’s the circle of life.

Fortunately, at least some of the goodness should go places that can honestly claim credit.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee wants environmental justice funds in the Inflation Reduction Act to flow into northeast Houston as freely as the concrete batch facilities that have come to plague the predominantly Black area.

Legislation passed Friday includes $60 billion for environmental justice programs that can help communities such as Trinity and Houston Gardens fight polluters and reduce emissions, the congresswoman said during a Sunday event at Trinity Gardens Church of Christ attended by around 25 community advocates and concerned residents.

Issues such as the illegal dumping of industrial trash, cancer clusters stemming from creosote used by rail companies and air and water contamination from a growing number of industrial sites make the city’s northeast corner “a fitting example” of communities the legislation aims to help, Jackson Lee said.

The bill also earmarks $3 billion for community centers that can “address disproportionate environmental and public health harms related to pollution.” Northeast Houston should have one such center, she said, describing the area as the new “concrete batch Mecca.”

The bill offers a hand to advocates in communities across Texas, where restraints on polluters are lax. Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was investigating state environmental regulators accused of violating residents’ civil rights when Texas updated its standard permit for concrete batch plants.

The plants have become infamous in the community for billowing dust clouds and concrete-laced water seeping into neighboring properties. There are three schools within a half-mile of the plants, said Keith Downey, super neighborhood president representing Kashmere Gardens.

Jackson Lee told advocates the new federal funds can offer relief for a community fighting these fights largely by themselves.

That would be great. Rooting for this to happen.

Vote No and take the credit anyway

It’s a tale as old as time.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans in Texas are proud to stand and announce local grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The problem is they all voted against it. All of them.

For the second time in two weeks, Houston scored a big grant from the Department of Transportation, and for the second time in two weeks, Republicans were quick to show up for the ribbon cutting. The back-to-back $21 million announcements, first for the Telephone Road Main Street Redevelopment project and then for 20 new electric buses, were celebrated by local Houston officials, even Republicans who opposed the projects.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, both of whom proudly supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act back in 2021, talked about how these funds make needed investment in often overlooked communities. Both programs will serve low to moderate income communities by providing cleaner and more efficient public transportation as well as safer streets.

The announcement also attracted representatives of the “C” team – Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw – who lined up to show support. Staffers from all stood with METRO Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to make Monday’s announcement.

Earlier this year, Texas Republican Representative Ronny Jackson claimed an “instrumental” role in securing funding for a water purification project in his district despite vocal opposition to the infrastructure bill, which is funding the project. Jackson voted against the measure and mocked it as “bloated,” but apparently not too bloated for his pet project.

Newly-elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Brownsville also opposed the infrastructure bill, but is now touting the federal largesse pouring into South Texas without revealing that she vehemently opposed the enabling legislation as “wasteful” and smearing Republicans who voted for the bill “the RINO Bunch.”

She joins a long list of Republicans who have recently “voted no and taken the dough,” in refusing to support investments in their communities to please their far-right base, but then being the first in line to take credit.

See here for the background. The “C” team (great name, btw) also voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. But if you’re going to laugh, it’s best to point fingers at the objects of your laughter as well.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

The independents

Recently I got an email from a gentleman named Ted Wood, who wrote to inform me that he had successfully completed the requirements to be an independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals on the November 2022 ballot. The basic requirements to be an independent candidate for non-statewide office are filing a declaration of intent to run as an indy – this is to be done at the filing deadline – and then collecting 500 signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries.

Wood told me his candidacy is the first Independent run for an appellate bench in Texas since 1996. I hadn’t checked that at the time he told me, but I believed it. In my experience, most of the independent candidates run for Congress or the Legislature. I’ll get to some past numbers in a minute, but did you know that there’s no public listing of independent candidates for the 2022 election right now? Obviously there will be one in about a month when the ballots are finalized and printed to be sent to overseas voters, but if you want to know right now who besides Ted Wood is an independent candidate running for state or federal office in Texas, you have to make a Public Information Act request to the Secretary of State. Seems crazy to me, but here we are.

Anyway, Wood did this and shared the list with me, which you can see here. It’s six candidates for Congress, two for the State House, and him. Two of the Congressional candidates are repeat customers – Vince Duncan has been an indy for Cd18 in 2020, 2018, and 2014, while Chris Royal ran as an indy for CD34 in 2020. The current cycle and the last two have been relatively busy ones for independent candidates for Congress – six this year, seven in 2020 and 2018, though in 2018 there were two in CD09, so indy candidates were only in six races – but for whatever the reason it wasn’t like that at all before 2018. I found no independent candidates for Congress in 2016, two in 2014, and one in 2012. I have no explanation for that – if you have one, let me know. I found one independent candidate for State House in each of 2014, 2016, and 2018; I didn’t search 2020 because the new format on the SOS website is a pain in the ass for that sort of thing. I found no independent candidates for any other offices since 2012, which was as far back as I checked for state elections.

Wood also inquired with Harris County about any independent candidates running for county offices. He was informed by Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office that there were no independent candidates for county office on the ballot in Harris County in 2022. This didn’t surprise me, as I couldn’t think of any recent examples of such a candidacy offhand. I went back through Harris County election results all the way to 1996, and found two non-legislative indies in that time. One was a candidate for the 245th Civil District Court in 2002, an Angelina Goodman, who got 3.69% of the vote. That’s not a county office, though – it’s a state office. I finally found a genuine indy for a county office in 1996. In the race that year for Constable in Precinct 7, a fellow named Andy Williams was the sole opponent to Democrat A. B. Chambers, and he got 6.39% of the vote. You learn something new every day.

Anyway. Wood as noted is running for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals, a seat that is being vacated by Sherry Radack. Democrat Julie Countiss, who is currently a Justice on this court but for another bench (she can run for Chief Justice without giving up her current seat), and Republican Terry Adams, who had been appointed to the First Court for Place 5 in 2020 then lost to Amparo Guerra that November, are his opponents. He’s working now in the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Before that, he worked for the General Counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) in Austin, and served two terms as County Judge in Randall County. As a Democratic precinct chair I am supporting Julie Countiss, who is also someone I know in real life and who I voted for the First Court in 2018. But I enjoyed having the chance to talk to Ted Wood, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a nerdy blog post out of it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into electoral miscellania as well.

Redistricting plaintiffs get a win on discovery

Every little bit helps.

A federal judge on Monday issued a wide-ranging discovery order requiring Texas state lawmakers to turn over documents related to the state’s congressional redistricting plans.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several other civil rights groups, is part of a broad effort to correct what critics say is voter intimidation and discrimination in Texas heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

[…]

Like the separate lawsuit over Texas election laws, this redistricting case has continued to swell since its initial filing, with six other lawsuits consolidated into the legal fight. Days after the case was filed, the Fifth Circuit appointed a three-judge panel to oversee the increasingly complex case.

In November, the Justice Department also joined those suing state officials. It was doing so, the federal government said, because Texas redistricting plans had raised “important questions” about possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has largely hinged on issues of discovery. Texas lawmakers have battled against subpoenas, arguing that much of their work on redistricting was privileged information. They filed hundreds of pages of court documents detailing information they do not think they should have to turn over, including what they’ve described as “confidential communications” reflecting “thoughts, opinions and mental impressions.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to enforce subpoenas. The feds argue Texas officials have “inappropriately” claimed attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents from decades ago and “advanced an overbroad conception” of legislative privilege that has withheld “even communications with members of the public.” As a result, they say, lawmakers have disclosed “merely one-third” of the documents requested in subpoenas.

In his order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Guaderrama, an Obama appointee, agreed with arguments from the DOJ and the civil rights groups. He found that Texas lawmakers were using overly broad theories of legislative privilege and could not “cloak conversations with executive-branch officials, lobbyists, and other interested outsiders.”

Guaderrama ruled the factors in this case weighed in favor of granting discovery requests. He cited the “seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved,” including allegations of lawbreaking and “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

While Texas lawmakers asserted attorney-client privilege, the judge ruled they could not simply decline to release any documents referencing legal analysis, including scheduling calendars and communications with outside firms involved in redistricting. These documents are not “categorically privileged,” he wrote.

In the end, Guaderrama ordered Texas lawmakers to turn over a wide array of documents relating to redistricting, including “talking points” defending the maps. For any documents that contained “bona fide legal advice” or “privileged material,” Guaderrama ordered lawmakers to produce redacted versions.

About two months ago, the plaintiffs scored a different win in that three Republican legislators who had tried to avoid having to sit for depositions failed to get a lower court ruling against them overturned. If this ruling stands – always a dicey proposal when the Fifth Circuit is involved – then what the plaintiffs will gain is a lot of insight into what the legislators and their staff and advisors were saying to each other at the time. The experience from previous rounds of redistricting litigation is that there will be some good stuff there for the plaintiffs. Which still might not matter in the end, since SCOTUS has made its preferences very clear, but as I said in that last post, you have to start somewhere. Link via Reform Austin.

Texas is sooooooooo gerrymandered…

How gerrymandered are we? By this measure, we’re literally as gerrymandered as we could possibly be.

But just how biased have modern-day maps become in the state of Texas? The map that was approved last October is so highly biased, it is quite literally off the charts, according to the SMU findings.

The open-source software that the SMU researchers use helps them generate millions of maps that follow state guidelines for drawing districts.

The software allowed the researchers to answer a simple question: “If you didn’t try to design [maps] to maximize Democratic seats or Republican seats, if you just pick them randomly to satisfy the law — what would you get?” said Andrea Barreiro, associate professor of mathematics at SMU.

Using this large set of randomly generated maps, the group established a baseline for what a typical map that follows state guidelines looks like. With this baseline, the researchers were then able to measure how far from the baseline a proposed map was — and, therefore, how biased it was.

“If you have something that’s way outside of [the baseline], then there must have been some design goal that pushed it away from all these randomly generated maps, and that’s what we would call a biased map,” said Scott Norris, SMU associate professor of mathematics.

As soon as Texas’ first proposed congressional maps were made available on the Capitol Data Portal in late September, the SMU team got to work analyzing how the maps fared.

As different maps were proposed, the team generated over a million maps to create an unbiased baseline, offering key measures that are commonly used by political scientists to assess gerrymandering.

They completed this analysis for 59 proposed congressional maps. (The SMU team also shared their analysis for proposed Texas House, Senate and city council maps.)

Of the 1.5 million maps that the team generated and analyzed to compare with the final proposed Texas congressional district map, not a single baseline map showed levels of bias as high.

The proposed map was more biased than every single map their software had generated, the SMU researchers showed.

With their findings in hand, the SMU team reached out to all members of the Texas subcommittees involved in redistricting, as well as the researchers’ own local legislators.

They sent emails and posted to the comment portals provided by the legislature. Several of them testified at an open community hearing, explaining how this software works and advocating for its use to create less biased maps.

But they only heard back from a few offices. “The only people that we have actually spoken to are Democrats. … As you might expect, we haven’t had any interest from Republican members of the committees and, you know, that makes sense from their perspective,” said Norris.

[…]

The SMU group’s software revealed that the approved Texas map reduced the competitiveness of almost 50% of congressional districts in the state. This means that Republicans can win 50% of the state’s congressional seats, with only 42.2% of the state’s votes, the researchers showed.

In addition to dampening the need for officials to earn votes, gerrymandering can also leave large numbers of voters in a district with a representative who is out of touch with their community, said SMU researchers.

“When we testified to the House about this, I was struck [by] how many rural Republican voters were basically pleading with legislators not to break up their districts,” said Matthew Lockard, SMU associate professor of philosophy.

Farmers worried that their lives are so different from those of the city voters they might be in a district with that it just didn’t make sense.

You can see all the data here. I will confess, I don’t really understand the numbers they have in the tables there, but you don’t need a deep understanding of their methods to grok that the Republican-drawn ones were more gerrymandered than all 1.5 million randomly-drawn legal maps done by the team. We saw last decade that in a rapidly growing and diversifying state like Texas big changes can happen in a short time. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, just that the future isn’t set in stone. But that’s not for lack of trying on the Republicans’ part.

House passes assault weapon ban

Another bill that won’t pass the Senate, but nonetheless shows the gap in values and priorities between the two parties.

As the House passed legislation to ban assault weapons for the first time in nearly two decades Friday, Democrats pointed to a string of mass shootings in Texas where such weapons were used to kill dozens of people: Nineteen children and two teachers in Uvalde in May; 23 shoppers in an El Paso Walmart almost exactly three years ago; 26 congregants in a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.

“We’ve turned our churches, our schools, our shopping centers, our entertainment venues — almost any place — into a battleground, with one massacre after another,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said some of her constituents who survived the mass shooting there in 2019 are still recovering from their injuries.

“The domestic terrorist who attacked my community was able to do so with a legally purchased assault weapon,” Escobar said. “What was once an unthinkable tragedy — the mass carnage we saw in El Paso — is now commonplace across America.”

[…]

The bill narrowly passed the House on a 217-213 vote as five Democrats joined all but two Republicans in opposing the legislation.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen — two Democrats whom Republicans have targeted in competitive South Texas midterm races — voted against the ban.

Gonzalez said in a statement that he “strongly supports” expanded background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“But there are tens of millions of assault rifles already in circulation across America, many of them are used by responsible gun owners for hunting in South Texas,” he said. “And a ban on some of those models will do nothing to reduce overall risks.”

The vote comes at the urging of gun safety advocates and survivors and family members of victims of recent mass shootings. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed at Robb Elementary School, asked lawmakers to ban the weapons during testimony before the House Oversight Committee last month.

“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony, thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain.’ Not knowing that our reality one day will be hers,” Rubio said. “Unless we act now.”

The bill would ban new sales of assault-style rifles and create a voluntary buyback program. It would add new safe storage requirements for existing assault weapons.

Three points of interest here. One, while I would have preferred for Reps. Cuellar and Gonzalez to have voted with the majority, I’m less concerned by such votes when the bill passes anyway. As long as you’re not preventing it from passing, like some Senators I could name, it doesn’t bother me that much. Your mileage may vary on that.

Two, I’m not interested in litigating what the definition of an “assault weapon” is. We’ve had such a ban on the books before, and if this bill is modeled after that law, it’s good enough for me. Including buyback and safe storage provisions are bonuses. I don’t need this law to be perfect, I just need it to have a positive effect.

Which leads to the final point, that Rep. Gonzalez’s complaint that this bill won’t reduce the overall risk is wrong on its face and is wrong in the way that the more sweeping critique of any gun control law that it won’t stop every gun death ever is wrong. I’m not going to make the cyberdefense analogy here again, but that’s the basic idea. It’s fine for each law to focus on one or two specific aspects of the issue. Do that enough and the sum total will be a robust attack on the overall risk level. You can never get the risk to zero, in cybersecurity or public health or climate change or gun safety or national defense or any number of other large multi-faceted threats. But you can significantly lower your risk and improve your ability to respond effectively when something unwanted happens. We do this all the time in many other fields, and making the “we shouldn’t do this thing because it won’t solve all of our problems” argument in those contexts would mark you as ignoramus. It’s way past time we stopped giving those arguments against basic gun safety laws any credibility. The Trib has more.

Senate passes Ike Dike bill

This thing is actually gonna pass.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would authorize federal agencies to plan for an estimated $31 billion project intended to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already gone into studying the idea to build a system of concrete gate barriers at the mouth of Galveston Bay. Nicknamed for the destructive hurricane that hit Galveston Island in 2008, the so-called Ike Dike could be the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history.

The project is included the Water Resources Development Act, which contains various federal water, coast and flooding projects that require congressional approval to move forward, but does not allocate funds. The bill passed with 93 yes votes in the Senate on Thursday; only Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, voted no.

The U.S. House passed its version of the act in June. The legislation will go back to the House for the two chambers to iron out differences before sending it to President Joe Biden for approval. But the Texas coastal spine project is authorized in both versions.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the project brings Texas “one step closer” to ensuring the state’s coast will be as “prepared as possible” for future hurricanes.

“Protecting the Texas coast from devastating hurricanes is a top priority when it comes to preserving the livelihoods of Texans and ensuring the massive amount of international trade that relies on our state can resume after a storm,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The Ike Dike is part of the larger Texas Coastal Project, which was proposed to protect the state’s shoreline against hurricane storm surge and rising sea levels. It includes a series of other coastal infrastructure and environmental projects, from artificial barriers to beach and dune restoration.

The Ike Dike gate project alone would account for at least $16 billion and require 18 years to build, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates. The gates would span a nearly 2-mile gap from the island to Bolivar Peninsula.

The act doesn’t include funding for the Ike Dike and the rest of the Texas coast projects, which will require a separate request to Congress from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Congress is expected to fund the project in smaller appropriations rather than all at once.

If — or when — Congress does appropriate money, the state and local governments will be on the hook for a local match, which could total at least $10 billion, but inflation and changes in building costs mean estimates vary widely. Typically, such projects require a 65%-35% split in federal and nonfederal funding.

See here, here, and here for the background. Honestly, I’m a little surprised when anything passes the Senate. I guess there’s still the reconciliation to go through, but at this point that seems like small potatoes. (If I just jinxed the entire thing, I apologize.) It will take years as noted for this to be built, but better to start now than to still be waiting on it. The Chron has more.

Another story about the chaos that has been unleashed by banning abortion

There will be more to come for as long as this situation remains.

A sexual assault survivor chooses sterilization so that if she is ever attacked again, she won’t be forced to give birth to a rapist’s baby. An obstetrician delays inducing a miscarriage until a woman with severe pregnancy complications seems “sick enough.” A lupus patient must stop taking medication that controls her illness because it can also cause miscarriages.

Abortion restrictions in a number of states and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade are having profound repercussions in reproductive medicine as well as in other areas of medical care.

“For physicians and patients alike, this is a frightening and fraught time, with new, unprecedented concerns about data privacy, access to contraception, and even when to begin lifesaving care,” said Dr. Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association.

In the past week, an Ohio abortion clinic received calls from two women with ectopic pregnancies — when an embryo grows outside the uterus and can’t be saved — who said their doctors wouldn’t treat them. Ectopic pregnancies often become life-threatening emergencies and abortion clinics aren’t set up to treat them.

It’s just one example of “the horrible downstream effects of criminalizing abortion care,’’ said Dr. Catherine Romanos, who works at the Dayton clinic.

Dr. Jessian Munoz, an OB-GYN in San Antonio, Texas, who treats high-risk pregnancies, said medical decisions used to be clear cut.

“It was like, the mom’s life is in danger, we must evacuate the uterus by whatever means that may be,” he said. “Whether it’s surgical or medical — that’s the treatment.”

Now, he said, doctors whose patients develop pregnancy complications are struggling to determine whether a woman is “sick enough” to justify an abortion.

With the fall of Roe vs. Wade, “the art of medicine is lost and actually has been replaced by fear,” Munoz said.

Munoz said he faced an awful predicament with a recent patient who had started to miscarry and developed a dangerous womb infection. The fetus still had signs of a heartbeat, so an immediate abortion — the usual standard of care — would have been illegal under Texas law.

“We physically watched her get sicker and sicker and sicker” until the fetal heartbeat stopped the next day, “and then we could intervene,” he said. The patient developed complications, required surgery, lost multiple liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine “all because we were essentially 24 hours behind.”

In a study published this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, doctors at two Texas hospitals cited the cases of 28 women less than 23 weeks pregnant who were treated for dangerous pregnancies.

The doctors noted that all of the women had recommended abortions delayed by nine days because fetal heart activity was detected. Of those, nearly 60% developed severe complications — nearly double the number of complications experienced by patients in other states who had immediate therapeutic abortions. Of eight live births among the Texas cases, seven died within hours. The eighth, born at 24 weeks, had severe complications including brain bleeding, a heart defect, lung disease and intestinal and liver problems.

[…]

Becky Schwarz, of Tysons Corner, Virginia, found herself unexpectedly thrust into the abortion controversy even though she has no plans to become pregnant.

The 27-year-old has lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause the body to attack tissue surrounding joints and organs, leading to inflammation and often debilitating symptoms. For Schwarz, these include bone and joint pain, and difficulty standing for long periods of time.

She recently received a notice from her doctor saying she’d have to stop taking a medication that relieves her symptoms — at least while the office reviewed its policies for methotrexate in light of the Supreme Court ruling. That’s because the drug can cause miscarriages and theoretically could be used in an attempt to induce an abortion.

“For me to have to be essentially babysat by some policy, rather than being trusted about how I handle my own body … has made me angry,” she said.

The Arthritis Foundation and American College of Rheumatology have both issued statements of concern about patients’ access to the drug. Steven Schultz of the Arthritis Foundation said the group is working to determine how widespread the problem is. Patients having trouble getting the medication can contact the group’s helpline, he said.

I mean, what is there to say? This is all a feature and not a bug. The collateral damage to literally everyone else is of no concern to the forced birth fanatics. It’s time for doctors and other medical professionals who don’t want the state meddling in their ability to treat patients to vote and organize like it. Passing some federal laws if the next election allows for a continued Democratic majority in the House and enough anti-filibuster Senators to actually do something will help, but the chaos will continue until there’s also some action taken to mitigate the damage of 20 years’ worth of Federalist Society judges legislating from the bench. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to be bad until we can get it done.

More dimensions for privacy in the post-Roe world

The fall of Roe is a big boon for cyberstalkers.

All too frequently, people monitor our intimate lives in betrayal of our trust—and it’s often those we know and love. They don’t even need to be near us to capture our data and to record our activities. Surveillance accomplished by individual privacy invaders will be a gold mine for prosecutors targeting both medical workers and pregnant people seeking abortions.

Intimate partners and exes download cyberstalking apps to personal devices that give them real-time access to everything that we do and say with our phones. To do this, they only need our phones (and passwords) for a few minutes. Once installed, cyberstalking apps silently record and upload phones’ activities to their servers. They enable privacy invaders to see our photos, videos, texts, calls, voice mails, searches, social media activities, locations—nothing is out of reach. From anywhere, individuals can activate a phone’s mic to listen to conversations within 15 feet of the phone.

Now and in the future, that may include conversations that pregnant people have with their health care providers—nurses, doctors, and insurance company employees helping them determine their life’s course and the future of their pregnancies. Victims of such privacy violations are never free from unwanted monitoring. Abusers count on them to bring their cellphones everywhere, and they do, as anyone would.

For abusers, finding cyberstalking apps is as easy as searching “cellphone spy.” Results return hundreds of pages. In my Google search results, a related popular search is “spy on spouse cell phone.” More than 200 apps and services charge subscribers a monthly fee in exchange for providing secret access to people’s phones. When I first began studying stalkerware in 2013, businesses marketed themselves as the spy in a cheating spouse’s pocket. Their ads are more subtle now, though affiliated blogs and videos are less so, with titles like “Don’t Be a Sucker Track Your Girlfriend’s iPhone Now: Catch Her Today.”

Though we don’t have precise numbers of stalkerware victims, domestic violence hotlines in the United States help more than 70,000 people every day, and according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence as many as 70 percent of those callers raise concerns about stalkerware. A 2014 study found that 54 percent of domestic abusers tracked victims’ cellphones with stalkerware. Security firm Kaspersky detected more than 518,223 stalkerware infections during the first eight months of 2019, a 373 percent increase from that period in 2018. Millions of people, right now, are being watched, controlled, and manipulated by partners or exes. The United States has the dubious distinction of being one of the leading nations in the number of stalkerware users around the world. That destructive accomplishment has a disproportionate impact on women, LGBTQ individuals, and people from marginalized communities.

Abusers will use intimate data obtained from stalkerware to terrorize, manipulate, control, and—yes—incriminate victims. Now that a woman’s exercise of her reproductive liberty is soon to be, or already is, a crime in many states, abusers have even more power to extort and terrorize victims. They may threaten to disclose information about abortions unless women and girls give into their demands, including having unwanted sex or providing intimate images, both forms of sextortion. (Sextortion routinely involves threats to disclose intimate information like nude images unless victims send more images or perform sex acts in front of webcams.) If victims refuse to give into their demands (and even if they do), privacy invaders may post information about abortions online and report it to law enforcement. Two birds, one stone: the ability to humiliate, terrorize, and financially damage victims and to provide evidence to law enforcement. Exes can extinguish victims’ intimate privacy by enabling their imprisonment.

The law’s response to intimate privacy violations is inadequate, lacking a clear conception of what intimate privacy is, why its violation is wrongful, and how it inflicts serious harm upon individuals, groups, and society. Legal tools—criminal law, tort law, and consumer protection law—tackle some privacy problems, but few (if any) capture the full stakes for intimate privacy. In criminal law, privacy violations are mostly misdemeanors, which law enforcers routinely fail to pursue when reported. Criminal law is woefully underenforced when the illegality involves gendered harms, like privacy violations and sexual assault where victims are more often female and LGBTQ individuals. (Yet when the very same people are the alleged perpetrators, law enforcement eagerly investigates.) Because policymakers fail to recognize the autonomy, dignity, intimacy, and equality implications of intimate privacy violations, we have too few protections.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see any chance that legislation to deal with these issues will pass in the next Texas legislative session. Maybe in the next Congress, if Dems can hold the House and pick up a couple of Senate seats to overcome the Manchin/Synema blockage – in other words, possible but a longshot. We know the House can do it, at least. Otherwise, good luck to you.

Another place where existing law falls short: HIPAA doesn’t cover medical apps.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA, does not apply to most apps that track menstrual cycles, just as it doesn’t apply to many health care apps and at-home test kits.

In 2015, ProPublica reported how HIPAA, passed in 1996, has not kept up with changes in technology and does not cover at-home paternity tests, fitness trackers or health apps.

The story featured a woman who purchased an at-home paternity test at a local pharmacy and went online to get the results. A part of the lab’s website address caught her attention as a cybersecurity consultant. When she tweaked the URL slightly, a long list of test results of some 6,000 other people appeared.

She complained on Twitter and the site was taken down. But when she alerted the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees HIPAA compliance, officials told her they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s because HIPAA only covers patient information kept by health providers, insurers and data clearinghouses, as well as their business partners.

Deven McGraw is the former deputy director for health information privacy at the HHS Office for Civil Rights. She said the decision overturning Roe, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, should spark a broader conversation about the limits of HIPAA.

“All of a sudden, people are waking up to the idea that there’s a lot of sensitive data being collected outside of HIPAA and asking, ‘What are we going to do?’” said McGraw, who is now the lead for data stewardship and data sharing at Invitae, a medical genetics company. “It’s been that way for a while, but now it’s in sharper relief.”

McGraw noted how that’s not just the case for period-tracking apps but also some apps that store COVID-19 vaccine records. Because Congress wrote HIPAA, lawmakers would have to update it to cover those cases. “Our health data protections are badly out of date,” she said. “But the agencies can’t fix this. This is on Congress.”

Consumer Reports’ digital lab evaluated eight period-tracking apps this spring and found that four allowed third-party tracking by companies other than the maker of the app. Four apps stored data remotely, not just on the user’s device. That makes the information potentially subject to a data breach or a subpoena from law enforcement agencies, though one of the companies surveyed by Consumer Reports has said it would shut down rather than turn over users’ data.

In a press release last week, HHS sought to allay worries with some advice that sounds reassuring.

“According to recent reports, many patients are concerned that period trackers and other health information apps on smartphones may threaten their right to privacy by disclosing geolocation data which may be misused by those seeking to deny care,” HHS said in the release.

The document quoted HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about the protections provided by HIPAA: “HHS stands with patients and providers in protecting HIPAA privacy rights and reproductive health care information,” Becerra said. He urged anyone who thinks their privacy rights have been violated to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

See above in re: the chances of federal legislation passing. Also note that until the law is updated, if a Republican wins the Presidency, they’ll appoint the HHS secretary and will set the direction for that agency regarding patient privacy. How much faith do you want to put in that?

House passes bill to protect access to contraception

They’re on a roll.

The House on Thursday passed legislation that would protect access to birth control, the latest move in a broader effort by Democrats to enshrine into federal law rights they fear could come under threat by the Supreme Court following its decision to wipe away the constitutional right to an abortion.

The vote was 228-195, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor. All 195 “no” votes came from Republicans.

[…]

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, now goes to Senate, where it is unlikely to attract the support of 10 Republicans needed to pass it. The measure would create a statutory right for people to access birth control and protect a range of contraceptive methods, as well as ensure health care providers have a right to provide contraception services to patients.

“We are not willing to play defense on this critically important issue,” Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who sponsored the measure, said during a press conference to promote the bill on Wednesday. “We are playing offense.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to roll back the clock for American women by curtailing access to birth control, but declared “we are not going back.”

“This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear, right down to the fundamentals of privacy they want to erase,” Pelosi said of Republicans. “With this passage, Democrats will make clear we will never quit in the fight against the outrageous right-wing assault on freedom.”

[…]

While Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion urging his colleagues to reconsider landmark decisions that recognized rights regarding contraception and same-sex relationships.

No other justice joined Thomas, but his opinion, coupled with decisions this term from the court’s conservative majority involving the environmentreligionguns and abortion, has prompted Democrats to push back legislatively.

“This rallying call by Justice Thomas and the actions of extremist Republican legislators are about one thing: Control,” said Manning, the North Carolina Democrat. “These extremists are working to take away the rights of women, to take away our right to decide when to have children, to take away our right to control our own lives and our own bodies, and we will not let this happen.”

As noted, the House also recently passed bills to protect access to abortion and same sex marriage. The latter has some chance of passing the Senate, while the former and this bill will need a larger Democratic Senate to go along with a Democratic House to have a chance. Not a bad set of issues to run on this year, and it’s always good to be seen taking real action. As you might imagine, no Texas Republicans voted in favor, though Rep. Mike McCaul did not vote on it. I’d be perfectly happy for the House to find a few more items like these to vote on. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Chron have more.

House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage

A surprisingly bipartisan vote, by which I mean “more Republicans than you can count on your fingers voted for it as well”.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to pass a bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.

The bipartisan final vote was 267 to 157 with 47 Republicans joining with Democrats to vote for the bill. It’s not clear, however, whether the bill can pass the Senate where at least 10 Republicans would need to join with Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

The vote comes amid fears among Democrats that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could take aim at same-sex marriage in the future, after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade in a highly consequential reversal of longstanding legal precedent.

The bill — called the Respect for Marriage Act — was introduced by Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

In addition to safeguarding the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, the bill also includes federal protections for interracial marriages. The measure holds that a marriage must be recognized under federal law if the marriage was legal in the state where it took place.

The bill would also enact additional legal safeguards for married couples intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, including empowering the attorney general to pursue enforcement actions.

[…]

House Democrats, leaning into cultural issues in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, also are looking at moving a bill this week to guarantee access to contraception.

The Supreme Court’s bombshell opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has set off a debate over whether other precedents are now in danger.

The majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito attempted to wall off its holding in the abortion case from those other rulings, but Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to call explicitly for other rulings to be revisited.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote, referring to decisions on contraception and same-sex relationships.

Liberals have said that those rulings are now at risk.

In their dissent, the court’s three liberal justices wrote “no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work.”

“The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone,” they wrote. “To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception. In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage.”

The liberals added: “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.”

See here for my post about the House passing a bill to restore abortion access. This one got one Republican vote from Texas, one more than the abortion access bill got (and yes, one more Democratic vote, as Henry Cuellar can get stuffed). Unlike the abortion access bill, this one may have a chance to pass the Senate; at the very least, it’s got Senate Republicans all discombobulated. (To be fair, Ted Cruz remains solidly un-discombobulated.) They apparently just never expected Dems to make them vote on this stuff, which honestly doesn’t say anything good about either of them. But at least the Dems are pressing the issue now, and it will either result in a good law being passed or a good campaign issue presenting itself. More like this, please. The Chron and The 19th have more.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The runoffs are now over, and we’re fully into the fall election season. As before, I’ve consolidated this list down to the elections of interest, which means I’ve dropped CD30 as it was a primary-only affair. I’m also dropping CD10 and CD22, because while those are districts that are of interest to me, neither Linda Nuno nor Jamie Jordan has managed to file a report so far, and so I just can’t be bothered. Better candidates next time, please. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, the April 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     14,140,850 13,216,975        0  2,776,589
02    Fulford         109,995    100,957   15,595      9,038
03    Self            314,699    240,821        0     73,877
03    Srivastava      160,121    141,656   65,000     18,464
15    Vallejo         699,131    540,643  100,000    158,488
15    De la Cruz    2,914,515  2,366,992        0    555,028
21    Roy           1,757,556  1,047,612        0  1,173,526
21    Zapata           77,500     68,918        0      8,581
23    Gonzales      3,346,655  2,054,016        0  1,323,998
23    Lira            486,541    395,459        0     91,081
24    Van Duyne     3,022,405  1,366,847        0  1,723,967
24    McDowell         44,677     27,975    3,843     16,701
28    Cuellar       3,351,820  4,664,602        0    237,690
28    Garcia          695,640    470,707        0    224,932
34    Gonzalez      2,251,211  2,201,071        0  1,420,633
34    Flores        1,765,515  1,651,532        0    113,983
38    Hunt          4,238,227  2,390,809        0  2,071,360
38    Klussman        180,323    145,198    7,000     35,125

I get kind of a 2012 vibe from looking at these numbers. Dems raised big money in two races – the eternal target of CD23, and the open seat CD14 which only drew interest because former Congressman Nick Lampson made a run at it – and decent money in CD27, a former Dem district lost in the 2010 debacle that was made more Republican in redistricting. No Dem candidate in a red district approached raising as much as $100K for the entire cycle outside of those three; I remarked on that multiple times in 2018 as Dem candidates were shattering records left and right.

It’s a little less bleak this time, but the shape is similar. CD15 is the new CD23, though for this cycle at least it’s still a Dem hold and not a flip. CD23 is redder than before though still closer to 50-50 than any other district, with a stronger Republican incumbent; Quico Canseco was a typical “dog that caught the car” in 2010, and that surely helped Pete Gallego in his quest to win it back. John Lira is not in Gallego’s fundraising neighborhood, but he might approach a million bucks before it’s all said and done. Duncan Klussman, Sandeep Srivastava, and Robin Fulford have all topped $100K already, with Claudia Zapata likely to get there. That’s a symbolic figure more than an impactful one, but given how bleak things were in 2012 we can at least reset some expectations. I have hope that the districts I’ve quit following will rejoin the conversation in future cycles. As for Jan McDowell in CD24, at least some things never change.

The top Democratic fundraiser in a district that ought to be competitive this fall was Jessica Cisneros, who raised over $6.5 million in her ultimately losing race against Henry Cuellar. Cisneros complained loudly and at length about Dem leadership supporting the incumbent in this race. I get that and I will not offer any defenses of Cuellar, but I will note that the lack of support she got on that front did little to hinder her ability to raise money. I’m pretty sure we’ve not heard the last of her. She did succeed in wiping out Cuellar’s cash on hand advantage over Cassy Garcia, but I assume Cuellar will reopen that gap this quarter.

Along those lines, that special election in CD34 certainly helped Mayra Flores rake it in, though Vicente Gonzalez still has a large lead in cash on hand. Flores has a lot more visibility now, but she’s running in a different CD34 in November, one that was drawn to be a lot friendlier to Dems. We’ll see if she has a big Q3 or if she comes back to earth in that reality.

On the Republican side, I still have no idea what’s going on with Keith Self. How is it he hasn’t raised more than $314K at this point, having had all of Q2 to himself as the nominee in CD03? It’s a mystery to me. Unlikely to matter much, as he should easily win this year, but it will get harder for him in this blue-trending district. Mostly, I just don’t understand why he’s lagging his peers. Not complaining, you understand, just puzzling.

I’m working on posts for the other finance reports of interest. Let me know what you think.

House passes national abortion access bill

They’re doing what they can. It’s the Senate that’s the problem.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House on Friday passed two bills that would restore abortion access across the country and prevent states like Texas from barring patients from crossing state lines to receive reproductive health care, the first major legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

While the bills are almost certain to stall in the evenly divided Senate, House Democrats cast their passage as a necessary effort after the Supreme Court ruling triggered laws in Texas and other red states banning abortion and sparked calls from the right to go further by stopping patients from crossing state lines to get abortions and cracking down on anyone who helps them.

“Right now, the rights of women and every American are on the line,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “House Democrats are ferociously defending freedom with these two important bills and we need two more Democratic pro-choice senators so that we can eliminate the filibuster and make this legislation the law of the land.”

[…]

The bill that passed Friday would make it clear that the freedom to travel to other states is a constitutional right, and would prohibit states from restricting travel for those seeking to obtain a lawful abortion. The legislation would also bar states from banning businesses or groups from assisting in that travel.

It comes as the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June sparked uncertainty in states where old statutes on abortion, some dating back a century or more, remain on the books. Some Texas GOP legislators claim those old laws — revived by the Roe ruling — already do more than just ban abortion in the state, with clauses barring anyone from “furnishing” abortions as well, which they argue prohibits businesses or advocacy groups from covering a patient’s travel costs.

“In my beloved home state of Texas, we are in a crisis. A health care crisis. A humanitarian crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat who authored the bill.

“Texans who can do so have been traveling out of state to obtain abortion care, first to Oklahoma and Louisiana and New Mexico and, as some of these states have now banned abortion, they are now traveling even further,” Fletcher said. “And now in response to this exercise of their constitutional right to travel between the states, lawmakers in Texas — and in other states across the country — are threatening to take away that right, too.”

Fletcher pointed to a letter the Texas Freedom Caucus sent last week to Dallas law firm Sidley Austin LLP saying the firm was “exposing itself and each of its partners to felony criminal prosecution and disbarment” for reimbursing travel costs for employees who “leave Texas to murder their unborn children.” The letter said the caucus also plans to push legislation next session that would prohibit any employer in Texas from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses, regardless of where the abortion occurs.

“This is not hypothetical and it is not hyperbole,” Fletcher said.

The House has done its part, on this and on other issues like voting rights and gun control, to move the country forward or at least keep it from sliding back. The Senate remains the problem, as Dems are two members short of having a majority that will allow bills to be passed by a majority. The stakes of the 2022 election are now being stated as if the Dems can hold their majority in the House and if the Dems can pick up at least two seats in the Senate – hold their existing seats and flip Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, at least – they will reconvene in January 2023 and get bills like these to President Biden’s desk. Those are some big ifs, and you’d get fairly long odds on them in Vegas. But it’s where we are, and it’s the reason why we can’t give up. Whatever else it is, it’s as simple as that.

GLO threatens to take away more Harvey relief funds from Houston

Oh, hell no.

The state General Land Office says it may have to take over more of the city’s Hurricane Harvey housing relief programs, citing what it says is consistently sluggish progress on a slew of the initiatives.

The land office said in a July 1 letter to city officials that it has “little confidence” Houston will be able to rectify its issues and complete the programs. The state agency said it will consider adjustments necessary to get those programs across the finish line, which could include removing funds from the city’s portfolio. The exact remedy, though, is not yet clear, and the GLO stressed that any money taken from the city’s portfolio would still go to victims in Houston.

City officials say the letter fails to account for progress they say they have made in recent months, and they are preparing a formal response to address the specific points outlined in the letter.

The warning marks the latest development in a years-long dispute between state and city officials involving billions of dollars in relief money, which was approved by Congress after Hurricane Harvey to replenish housing stock in the region. The city got about $1.3 billion of that money from the land office to rebuild and reconstruct single family homes damaged in the storm, construct new and affordable apartment complexes, and buy out flood-prone properties, among other programs.

You can read on for the details, and there’s a later story with more of them. Normally, I’d highlight those details and try to assess their validity, and weigh the various actions and counterproposals and so on and so forth, but not this time. That’s because the GLO, under soon-to-be-former Land Commissioner George P. Bush, has proven itself to be a completely unreliable and untrustworthy source, both of the truth and of the funds. I don’t believe a word they say, I don’t give them any benefit of the doubt, and I refuse to accept their authority. If a year from now the next Land Commissioner – hopefully Jay Kleberg, but I’ll give Dawn Buckingham a chance to prove she’s not a total shill – is still complaining about Houston’s capabilities, then we can talk. Until then, I call bullshit.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 39

One more pre-Dobbs result to consider.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke narrowed to 6 points last month, according to a poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s a smaller gap than when Republican George W. Bush ousted Democrat Ann Richards in 1994 with a 7.6-point win.

Abbott’s unfavorability ratings are also the highest they’ve ever been at 44%, according to the poll, which was conducted after the deadliest school shooting in state history and almost entirely before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, said the mass shooting in Uvalde and scrutiny over how it was handled could have contributed to Abbott’s increased unfavorability, but it’s hard to say how much exactly.

The political poll did not include specific questions related to the shooting in Uvalde, but it did ask participants to rate Abbott’s performance on handling gun violence. About 36% of participants said they approve of how the governor has handled this issue, while 45% said they disapprove.

The mass shooting in Uvalde and the overturning of Roe v. Wade have laid the groundwork for a contentious final four months in the race to lead the state. While O’Rourke works to harness the anti-incumbent energy spurred by the seismic events of the past few months, Abbott is banking on a general election centered on stronger issues for him: the economy and the border.

Mounting expectations over how the Supreme Court would rule on abortion access could be another factor that contributed to Abbott’s weakened ratings, Henson said. Although the poll ended the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned, it included questions about abortion access that show how voters feel regarding the issue. About 36% of participants said they approve of how Abbott has handled policies related to abortion access, and 46% said they disapprove.

Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned and Texas is poised to completely outlaw abortion access, it will likely be a pivotal topic in the upcoming months, Henson said.

“If we look back at the half dozen times we’ve asked the standard abortion questions since 2014, no more than a quarter of Republicans have ever said that by law abortion should never be permitted,” he said.

A fuller writeup, plus links to all the poll’s data, is here. I don’t appear to have blogged about previous UT/TPP polls, though I have discussed their previous polling about abortion, but their April poll had Abbott up 48-37, and their February poll had him up 47-37. This poll was conducted from June 16-24, so just before the Dobbs ruling came down, and was on a sample of 1200 registered voters. That CBS/YouGov poll I mentioned yesterday was partially before the Dobbs ruling and partially after, though with no discussion of what effect if any was observed as a result.

The poll also notes that Sen. John Cornyn’s approval ratings took a hit after the passage of that modest gun control bill. I’m not terribly interested in that, but knock yourself out if you are. Two points to note from the crosstabs on this poll: One is that Abbott leads Beto among independents by a 32-22 margin, which I note mostly in response to my making a big deal out of the seemingly weird indie numbers from the CBS/YouGov poll. This poll also has a question about which party you’ll vote for in Congressional and Legislative races, and while Republicans lead 46-41 in both, this compares to their 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) lead in April. In other words, a bit of slippage for the GOP and a bit of gain for Dems at the top and in these races. We’ll see if that’s a trend or just a blip when we get the August numbers.

Congressional Dems ask Paxton to release Uvalde info

He won’t, because he sucks, but you gotta ask.

Best mugshot ever

Nine Democratic members of the U.S. House from Texas on Tuesday called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to order the release of government records related to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde that local officials are attempting to withhold.

In a letter, the group said that authorizing the release of records would help the families of victims heal by revealing the full truth about what happened at Robb Elementary School that day. They also said disclosure was important because officials have repeatedly changed their story about law enforcement’s response to the shooting.

“A first step in restoring trust in law enforcement and healing requires transparency from state and local officials,” the letter states. “You have a choice: shine a light on what went wrong to help Uvalde heal or be part of the cover up.”

It is signed by U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio; Colin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Veronica Escobar of El Paso; Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Al Green of Houston; and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde County, declined to join, Castro’s office said.

The city of Uvalde has declined to fulfill any records request from The Texas Tribune since the shooting, even those unrelated to the incident. In Texas, public agencies seeking to block the release of records must forward requests to the attorney general, citing specific exemptions under the Texas Public Information Act.

[…]

The members of Congress who signed the letter also said public officials should not hide behind what is known as the “dead suspect loophole,” an exemption to releasing public records meant to protect individuals who are never convicted of a crime. However, this exemption can also be applied to suspects who have died and thus won’t face prosecution, as is the case with the shooter in Uvalde.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said last month it would be “absolutely unconscionable” for officials to use the loophole to withhold records related to the shooting.

See here, here, and here for some background. That sure was a show of courage from Rep. Gonzales, wasn’t it? As for Paxton, he does six unconscionable things before breakfast, so I would not hold out much hope for him to do something non-hideous here. But as I said, you have to at least put him on the spot about it.

Biden signs modest gun control bill

It’s now the law. We’ll see for how long.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan measure to address gun violence, less than 24 hours after the bill was approved by the U.S. House and a month and a day after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Today, we say more than enough. We say more than enough,” Biden said at the White House. “At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”

The measure was negotiated by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. That shooting had come less than two weeks after a massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people dead.

In a statement announcing the signing, the White House thanked Cornyn and a small bipartisan group of other senators involved in its drafting.

The law is widely viewed as a series of modest changes to current gun regulations, falling far short of proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden to raise the age to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and expand universal background checks. The most noteworthy provision of the law would close what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

Current federal statutes prohibit firearm purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child. To close the loophole, the new law will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse.

Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The law will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.

See here for the background. Please note that first sentence in the last paragraph above, because I’ve been speculating about legal challenges to this new law ever since it became apparent that it was about to become law. I was called out in the comments of that earlier post for my assertion that “SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal”. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, but it’s absolutely the case that state gun control measures of all kinds around the country are now going to be challenged in federal court. Where do you think this Supreme Court will draw a line and say okay, no, that’s a reasonable and constitutional restriction and may stand? It’s not at all clear to me that they believe there is one. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – and even happier if we finally get around to reforming this completely radicalized and out of control SCOTUS – but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on it. In the meantime, let’s see when – and yeah, I mean “when” and not “if” – the first suit is filed against this law.

PS – I know I make a lot of podcast recommendations as supplemental material for my posts, so here’s another for you: This week’s Amicus podcast talks for about 30 minutes about the Bruen decision, with the actual legal expert doing the talking sounding a lot more sanguine about certain types of state gun laws surviving future review; he also specifically thinks this federal law will survive. I’m the opposite of an expert, but I am deeply cynical and have zero faith in the consistency or fidelity of this court. You make the call which of us will be more accurate about the future.

A big part of the Cornyn gun bill will do nothing in Texas

Just a reminder.

The bipartisan gun bill that is on a fast track through Congress and backed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn includes new state grants to incentivize red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed dangerous.

That means it’ll be up to states as to whether they want to take advantage of one of the key provisions of the landmark gun legislation. But despite last month’s Uvalde school shooting being the inspiration for the bill, Texas is unlikely to get on board.

Red flag laws likely remain a nonstarter among Republican leaders in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott already faced a conservative backlash after he asked the Legislature to consider them four years ago.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate and wields tremendous sway over what legislation is considered, indicated Wednesday he still opposes such an effort.

“After the Santa Fe shooting, we had the same move to do this and we did not support it,” he said in a radio interview. “I did not support [that], the Senate did not support that.”

Patrick said that if he were in the U.S. Senate, he would have been among the 36 Republicans — including Texas’ junior senator Ted Cruz — who sided against the bipartisan gun bill in an initial vote Tuesday. Patrick added that he was “very, very concerned about that and where that goes.”

See here for some background, in which the subject of red states and red flag laws was thoroughly discussed. I don’t really have anything to add to that, so go listen to this week’s episode of the Josh Marshall podcast, in which they discuss the politics of this bill and what might happen next. Our job here remains to elect leaders that will not be obstacles to sensible and meaningful gun reform.

One more thing:

Red flag laws are nonetheless popular with Texas voters. A poll released Tuesday found that 75% of the state’s voters support laws that “give family members or law enforcement a way to ask a judge to issue an order temporarily removing guns from someone who poses a violent threat to themselves or others.” The survey was conducted by Third Way, a centrist think tank, and GS Strategy Group, a GOP polling firm.

The poll doesn’t break any of their issues questions down by party (or any other subgroup, like gender or race or age), so it’s not very useful. That said, in addition to the number cited above, the poll had 89% support for “Requiring a background check before every gun purchase, including at gun shows and for online sales”, 80% support for “Increasing the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 years old”, 80% support for “Allowing law enforcement to access sealed juvenile records to ensure that young adults with a history of violent criminal behavior are restricted from purchasing firearms”, and 68% support for ” Funding research around the effectiveness of gun safety policies”. You’re not going to get those kind of numbers without a fair amount of Republican support. Getting them to vote for candidates that also support those positions, that’s a different matter. As we well know. The Chron has more.