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Congress

Get ready for redistricting

The next special session starts Monday, and we should expect to see proposed redistricting maps. It’s going to be a rough few weeks, in part because the guardrails are gone, which will allow Republicans to run amuck.

The 2020 census captured a Texas that does not exist in its halls of power: a diverse state that is growing almost exclusively because of people of color and where the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size.

But when the Texas Legislature convenes Monday to do the work of incorporating a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps, the Republicans in charge — nearly all of whom are white — will have a freer hand to cement their power and try to shield themselves from the change that growth represents.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

You can read the rest – none of it is unfamiliar. Tensions are already high due to the quorum break plus the general unhinged racism from state leadership. The early word is that State Senators have already seen a draft map, which will be drawn to be 20-11 for the Republicans, a net loss of two seats for the Dems if it works out that way. The Cook Political Report expects the eventual Congressional map to add two Republican seats to the existing total. It’s going to be fun, just wait and see.

All this assumes that the Lege is allowed to draw non-Congressional maps, which remains a matter of dispute.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators against Gov. Greg Abbott over his plan to redraw political districts during an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

In a Wednesday motion, the attorney general’s office argued that the lawsuit is “wrong about Texas law” and is “inconsistent with past practice and judicial precedent.” It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed or suspended until after the redistricting process is concluded.

The lawsuit — filed Sept. 1 by Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — argues that the state constitution explicitly requires political districts in the state to be redrawn during the first regular session after the publication of the U.S. census.

[…]

The lawsuit argues that a federal judge has the “exclusive obligation” to draw temporary maps to be used in the 2022 elections and that the legislative redistricting process should wait until 2023, when the next regular session is scheduled to occur.

The senators’ “theory — which seeks to exploit delays in the federal census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — turns the Texas Constitution on its head,” reads the motion from the attorney general’s office. “That provision prescribes what the Legislature must do, but neither it nor any other provision prohibits the Legislature from redistricting at other times when circumstances call for it.”

See here for the background. I have to assume some kind of ruling is close at hand, if only to prevent future messes. I have not seen any indication of a hearing date, however, so who knows. In any event, enjoy your last weekend before new maps get drawn.

The wrong track

Interesting, but there are some key questions left unasked.

According to a poll conducted by Texas 2036, at least 92 percent of Texas voters said they were concerned about the future of the state, with 58 percent also stating they felt extremely concerned about it.

The Texas 2036 is a nonprofit organization that aims to build long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity. They recently commissioned a poll to longtime GOP pollster Mike Baselice’s firm, and who has worked with both Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the past.

The poll results, which were released on Tuesday, paint a grim picture of what Texans feel right now and their hopes for the future. It had 1,001 participants and was made 43% by cell phone, 23% by landline, and 34% through the web. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

The report shows that for the first time in the six years the question has been asked, more Texas voters (26%) said they feel financially worse off than they did the year before. Only 20 percent of the people being polled said they believe they are better off.

52 percent of voters said they believe that Texas is worse off than it was this time last year, a truly concerning fact considering last year the pandemic was at a considerable height and vaccines were not yet released. Only 13 percent said they thought the state was headed in a better direction.

The overwhelming majority of Texas voters agree with using federal COVID-19 relief money to fund large-scale projects and promote the state’s economy. This is something that state lawmakers can actually do in the upcoming third special session of the legislature.

The poll landing page is here, the press release for it is here, and all the data provided can be found here and here. It’s interesting and easy to read, so go check them out. The main thing that I came away thinking is “but who will the voters blame for their negative feelings?” I’ve noted the flip side of this question before, when I’ve asserted that the best hope for Democrats in general and Texas Democrats in particular is a strong performance by President Biden and a good economy to go with it. That works to a point, but only to the extent that the President gets the lion’s share of the credit for those good things. You can be sure Greg Abbott and his minions will do everything they can to grab that credit, and it will be up to the voters to decide who deserves it. The same is true for the blame – do you pin it on the Governor or the President? I can’t answer that question, and the pollsters don’t ask.

There are no electoral questions, and this is the first poll of its kind, so we don’t have any bases for comparison. One can certainly argue that this is a tricky spot for statewide Republican incumbents to be in, since they’re the closest ones to the situation and the ones that voters can take out their frustrations on in 2022. But again, they get to have a say in that, and they will do what they can to redirect and distract, as anyone in their position would. This is the kind of place where having a gubernatorial candidate would really help, since there would be a natural conduit for the message that the blame should apply to the guys in charge of the state. We don’t have that yet, so that task needs to be diffused outward for the time being. The point here is that this kind of data can be used by anyone, and so there needs to be a coherent message and a recognized messenger to get the viewpoint you like out into the discourse. For now at least, that’s on all of us. Robert Rivard has more.

It’s not too late to pass a voting rights bill

Look, we have one queued up.

Senate Democrats are close to an agreement on updated voting rights legislation that can get the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, three Democratic aides familiar with negotiations said.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both have been voted on along party lines.

The member-level discussions are complete, a source said, but staff members are going through the text to fix technical issues. No further details have been shared.

The legislation would require the votes of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, and it’s unlikely that Democrats will get enough Republican supporters.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia.

Senators, who return from their August recess this week, face a number of items, such as a voting rights measure and an ambitious infrastructure spending package.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few different Republicans who are very interested in doing something that makes sense,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin said he has been working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Well, Sen. Murkowski plus fifty Democrats is still well short of 60. Might there be some other option?

With a make-or-break vote looming in the Senate on a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill, President Joe Biden and his advisers have said in recent weeks that Biden will pressure wavering Democrats to support reforming the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting bill.

According to three people briefed on the White House’s position and its recent communications with outside groups, Biden assured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he was ready to push for filibuster reform. Biden’s pressure would aim to help Schumer convince moderate Democrats to support a carveout to the filibuster, a must for the party if it’s going to pass new voting protections without Republican votes. According to a source briefed on the White House’s position, Biden told Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

The Senate returns to work this upcoming week, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to call a vote on the For the People Act, the most ambitious reform bill in decades and the Democrats’ best shot at countering the wave of state-level GOP voter suppression laws this year. But to get the bill out of Congress, Senate Democrats will almost certainly need to change the filibuster, the procedural tactic used by the minority party to block many types of legislation.

Publicly, there are two centrist Democrats who have stated their opposition to changing or abolishing the filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Activist groups and fellow Democratic senators say Manchin and Sinema are the likely 49th and 50th votes both on any voting-rights legislation and especially any filibuster reforms. Sources say both senators are likely targets for when Biden launches his final push to pass a compromise version of the For the People Act.

“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”

[…]

Some outside activist groups say Biden and his administration haven’t done enough to make the case for a new voting-rights bill in Congress. “For a long time there was no engagement,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the government-reform group Democracy 21. Tiffany Muller, president of the anti-corruption group End Citizens United, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer that the lack of urgency from the administration felt even more acute given the energy and organizing happening outside of Washington in support of the For the People Act. “We need that same effort and help (from the Biden administration) on this,” Muller said at the time.

That frustration extended to Biden’s top allies in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose timely endorsement helped rescue Biden’s flailing presidential campaign in early 2020, begged Biden to endorse a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. During a late-July meeting in the Oval Office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed Biden to do more on voting rights; Democrats needed action from him, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

In that Oval Office meeting, the source says, Biden made a pledge: If Pelosi and Schumer tried every option they had to pass a voting-rights bill with Republican votes and got nowhere, Biden would get involved himself and lobby the handful of moderate Democrats to convince them to weaken the filibuster so that the For the People Act could pass without any Republican votes.

Since then, the tenor has shifted in the White House in the last month, multiple sources tell Rolling Stone. The White House has devoted more staff to the issue. More importantly, it has given assurances to outside supporters that Biden now plans to push for filibuster reform when necessary. “They have really engaged in a way that can make a difference both on substance and particularly on process as we get closer to this day of reckoning,” Rep. John Sarbanes says. “They appreciate that the electorate that showed up for Joe Biden in 2020 now wants to see Joe Biden show up for them in 2021.”

Here’s where I shrug my shoulders and mumble something about how I hope Joe Manchin, who is one of the sponsors of the John Lewis Act in the Senate, might prefer to do something to help pass his own bill than let it die by inaction. I have no idea what he’ll do and neither does anyone else, but I do like this theory about what animates a Joe Manchin.

So we have all these theories: Manchin is a crypto-Republican; he’s doing the work of his funders; he and Biden have a secret understanding and it’s all going to work out. My own theory is a bit different. It’s not even my theory. Someone mentioned it to me several months ago. But I can’t remember who. The theory is this: all of Manchin’s actions hold together and make sense if you imagine he got up on a particular day, absorbed the CW of the moment and said the first or second thing that came into his head.

This is admittedly a somewhat diminishing read. But Manchin clearly likes the limelight and he doesn’t pretend to be an ideologue. If you use this framework all the various shifts and turns start to make sense. Manchin is the quintessential Washington player, very much a creature of Washington insider culture with all its shibboleths and conventional wisdoms.

It doesn’t get us any closer to where we need to be, and it doesn’t do anything to keep my head from exploding, but at least it makes some sense. As for the rest, light a candle, throw some salt over your shoulder, avoid stepping on any cracks, and hope for the best. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 1

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE

In addition to the SBOE data, we finally have 2020 election results for the Congressional districts as well. With the redistricting special session about to start, let’s look at where things were in the last election.


Dist   Biden    Trump  Biden%  Trump%
=====================================
01    83,221  218,689   27.2%   71.5%
02   170,430  174,980   48.6%   49.9%
03   209,859  214,359   48.6%   49.6%
04    84,582  258,314   24.3%   74.3%
05   107,494  172,395   37.9%   60.8%
06   164,746  175,101   47.8%   50.8%
07   170,060  143,176   53.6%   45.1%
08   109,291  274,224   28.1%   70.5%
09   178,908   54,944   75.7%   23.2%
10   203,937  210,734   48.4%   50.0%
11    58,585  235,797   19.7%   79.1%
12   140,683  224,490   37.9%   60.4%
13    54,001  219,885   19.4%   79.1%
14   124,630  185,961   39.5%   59.0%
15   119,785  115,317   50.4%   48.5%
16   160,809   77,473   66.4%   32.0%
17   137,632  172,338   43.5%   54.5%
18   189,823   57,669   75.7%   23.0%
19    71,238  195,512   26.3%   72.2%
20   177,167   96,672   63.7%   34.7%
21   220,439  232,935   47.8%   50.5%
22   206,114  210,011   48.8%   49.7%
23   146,619  151,914   48.5%   50.2%
24   180,609  161,671   51.9%   46.5%
25   177,801  216,143   44.3%   53.9%
26   185,956  248,196   42.1%   56.2%
27   104,511  170,800   37.4%   61.1%
28   125,628  115,109   51.6%   47.2%
29   106,229   52,937   65.9%   32.9%
30   212,373   50,270   79.8%   18.9%
31   191,113  202,934   47.4%   50.3%
32   187,919  151,944   54.4%   44.0%
33   117,340   41,209   73.0%   25.6%
34   106,837   98,533   51.5%   47.5%
35   188,138   84,796   67.6%   30.5%
36    82,872  221,600   26.9%   71.9%

Joe Biden carried 14 of the 36 Congressional districts, the 13 that Democratic candidates won plus CD24. He came close in a lot of others – within two points in CDs 02, 03, 10, 22, and 23, and within five in CDs 06, 21, and 31 – but the Congressional map gets the award for most effecting gerrymandering, as the Presidential results most closely matched the number of districts won.

Generally speaking, Biden did a little worse than Beto in 2018, which isn’t a big surprise given that Beto lost by two and a half points while Biden lost by five and a half. Among the competitive districts, Biden topped Beto in CDs 03 (48.6 to 47.9), 07 (53.6 to 53.3), and 24 (51.9 to 51.6), and fell short elsewhere. He lost the most ground compared to Beto in the Latino districts, which is a subject we have covered in much detail. I only focused on the closer districts in my 2018 analysis, but you can see the full 2018 data here. Biden’s numbers are far more comparable to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 – I’ll get into that in more detail in a subsequent post.

As we have also seen elsewhere, Biden’s underperformance in the Latino districts – specifically, CDs 15, 28, and 34 – was generally not replicated by other candidates down the ballot. Again, I’ll get to this in more detail later, but with the exception of John Cornyn nipping MJ Hegar in CD15, Democrats other than Biden generally carried those districts by five to ten points, still closer than in 2016 but not as dire looking as they were at the top. Interestingly, where Biden really overperformed compared to the rest of the Democratic ticket was with the judicial races – Republicans carried all but one of the statewide judicial races in CD07, for example. We discussed that way back when in the earlier analyses, but it’s been awhile so this is a reminder. That’s also not too surprising given the wider spread in the judicial races than the Presidential race, and it’s also a place where one can be optimistic (we still have room to grow!) or pessimistic (we’re farther away than we thought!) as one sees fit.

I don’t have a lot more to say here that I haven’t already said in one or more ways before. The main thing to think about is that redistricting is necessarily different for the Congressional map simply because there will be two more districts. (We should think about adding legislative districts, especially Senate districts, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) I have to assume that Republicans will try to give themselves two more districts, one way or another, but I suppose it’s possible they could just seek to hold serve, if going for the gusto means cutting it too close in too many places. I figure we’ll see a starter map pretty soon, and from there it will be a matter of what alternate realities get proposed and by whom. For sure, the future plaintiffs in redistricting litigation will have their own maps to show off.

For comparison, as I did in other posts, here are the Congressional numbers from 2016 and 2012:


Dist Clinton    TrumpClinton%  Trump%
=====================================
1     66,389  189,596  25.09%  71.67%
2    119,659  145,530  42.75%  52.00%
3    129,384  174,561  39.90%  53.83%
4     60,799  210,448  21.63%  74.86%
5     79,759  145,846  34.18%  62.50%
6    115,272  148,945  41.62%  53.78%
7    124,722  121,204  48.16%  46.81%
8     70,520  214,567  23.64%  71.93%
9    151,559   34,447  79.14%  17.99%
10   135,967  164,817  42.82%  51.90%
11    47,470  193,619  19.01%  77.55%
12    92,549  177,939  32.47%  62.43%
13    40,237  190,779  16.78%  79.54%
14   101,228  153,191  38.29%  57.95%
15   104,454   73,689  56.21%  39.66%
16   130,784   52,334  67.21%  26.89%
17    96,155  139,411  38.43%  55.72%
18   157,117   41,011  76.22%  19.90%
19    53,512  165,280  23.31%  71.99%
20   132,453   74,479  60.21%  33.86%
21   152,515  188,277  42.05%  51.91%
22   135,525  159,717  43.91%  51.75%
23   115,133  107,058  49.38%  45.92%
24   122,878  140,129  44.28%  50.50%
25   125,947  172,462  39.94%  54.69%
26   109,530  194,032  34.01%  60.25%
27    85,589  140,787  36.36%  59.81%
28   109,973   72,479  57.81%  38.10%
29    95,027   34,011  70.95%  25.39%
30   174,528   40,333  79.08%  18.27%
31   117,181  153,823  40.07%  52.60%
32   134,895  129,701  48.44%  46.58%
33    94,513   30,787  72.78%  23.71%
34   101,704   64,716  59.07%  37.59%
35   128,482   61,139  63.59%  30.26%
36    64,217  183,144  25.13%  71.68%

Dist   Obama   Romney  Obama% Romney%
=====================================
01    69,857  181,833  27.47%  71.49%
02    88,751  157,094  35.55%  62.93%
03    93,290  175,383  34.13%  64.16%
04    63,521  189,455  24.79%  73.95%
05    73,085  137,239  34.35%  64.49%
06   103,444  146,985  40.72%  57.87%
07    92,499  143,631  38.57%  59.89%
08    55,271  195,735  21.74%  76.97%
09   145,332   39,392  78.01%  21.15%
10   104,839  159,714  38.77%  59.06%
11    45,081  182,403  19.55%  79.10%
12    79,147  166,992  31.65%  66.77%
13    42,518  184,090  18.51%  80.16%
14    97,824  147,151  39.44%  59.32%
15    86,940   62,883  57.35%  41.48%
16   100,993   54,315  64.03%  34.44%
17    84,243  134,521  37.76%  60.29%
18   150,129   44,991  76.11%  22.81%
19    54,451  160,060  25.02%  73.55%
20   110,663   74,540  58.77%  39.59%
21   119,220  188,240  37.85%  59.76%
22    93,582  158,452  36.68%  62.11%
23    94,386   99,654  47.99%  50.67%
24    94,634  150,547  37.98%  60.42%
25   102,433  162,278  37.80%  59.89%
26    80,828  177,941  30.70%  67.59%
27    83,156  131,800  38.15%  60.46%
28   101,843   65,372  60.21%  38.65%
29    75,720   37,909  65.89%  32.99%
30   175,637   43,333  79.61%  19.64%
31    92,842  144,634  38.11%  59.36%
32   106,563  146,420  41.46%  56.97%
33    86,686   32,641  71.93%  27.09%
34    90,885   57,303  60.71%  38.28%
35   105,550   58,007  62.94%  34.59%
36    61,766  175,850  25.66%  73.05%

Looking at the 2016 numbers, you can begin to see the outlines of future competitiveness. That’s more a function of Trump’s weak showing in the familiar places than anything else, but Democrats got their numbers up enough to make it a reality. Looking back at 2012 and you’re reminded again of just how far we’ve come. Maybe we’ll reset to that kind of position in 2022, I don’t know, but that’s a little harder to imagine when you remember that Mitt Romney won the state by ten more points than Trump did. We’ll be going down that rabbit hole soon enough. As always, let me know what you think.

The final Ike Dike plan

It’s taken a long time to get to this point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released the final version of its Coastal Texas Study, which examines a proposed coastal barrier to protect the Houston region against storm surge. The report’s completion marks a significant step for a concept that has taken years to develop. It began with the early imaginings of a Texas A&M professor, who designed a so-called “Ike Dike” to protect against devastating surge such as that seen on Bolivar Peninsula from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Environmental advocates, regional planners and concerned residents are among those who have offered feedback on various project drafts. The details and big picture have been argued every which way. Now begins a years-long process before it can be built, leaving the region and the Houston Ship Channel still vulnerable to hurricanes as the design is sorted out and funding secured.

Here’s what you need to know now:

You can click over to read the report itself and the Chron summary. A few things have changed along the way, but the basics are still all there. The study also includes a final environmental impact statement, if you want to know more about that. The Army Corps of Engineers will sign off on the plan and send it on to Congress on or before October 12, at which point the question of funding this project, which has a $29 billion price tag, can begin in earnest. I have no idea at this point if Ike Dike funding will be part of the budget reconciliation process – I don’t think it was in the Senate’s infrastructure bill, but I could be wrong about that. I can’t wait to hear what excuse Ted Cruz will come up with to vote against this.

The contract health worker surge

Don’t know how sustainable this is.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System, said the hospitals in the system were at a breaking point when he learned that 100 temporary medical workers were being sent to help.

As cases surged, the hospitals were admitting more children and pregnant women with complications from COVID-19, and patients who needed intensive care waited in emergency rooms for ICU beds to become available.

The nurses, respiratory therapists and other contract staff “definitely arrived here at a pivotal moment,” Porsa said. “They did exactly what I had hoped that they would do, which is allowing us the opportunity of a couple of things: to provide a little bit of relief for front-line staff who have been running around ragged, but also created an opportunity for us to expand our capacity.”

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the Texas Department of State Health Services would deploy state-funded relief workers to hospitals, and 8,100 have either arrived from other states or are expected soon.

It’s the second time the state has taken such action. At the height of the state’s winter surge, almost 14,000 medical workers were deployed across the state, according to DSHS. From July 2020 to early August of this year, the state spent more than $5 billion in federal disaster funds and coronavirus relief funds on medical personnel.

Abbott’s move came after hospitals and local health officials complained that they were having to outbid each other to hire contract nurses amid a statewide shortage of hospital staff.

W. Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said that competition among hospitals meant “they’re going to take from Peter to give to Paul, so to speak. That’s why using the state with their purchasing power [is important].”

The new push to bring more health workers to Texas comes as many have reached their limits, said Carrie Williams, spokesperson for the Texas Hospital Association.

“This surge has come faster and stronger than previous surges, and it comes at a time when the frontline [worker] is burned out,” Williams said in a statement. “We were already starting from behind when this surge hit.”

According to DSHS, the state’s hospitals requested more than 15,000 temporary staffers between Aug. 12 and Aug. 25. As of Aug. 25, almost 4,000 have been deployed, with most going to regions with the state’s most populous counties and metro areas.

[…]

Health officials continue to stress that the main way to reduce the need for additional staff is clear: more vaccinations. As of Aug. 25, about 47% of Texans were fully vaccinated.

Since Jan. 1, Porsa said, everyone who has died at LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital from COVID-19 has been unvaccinated.

“Space is not unlimited, resources are not unlimited,” Porsa said. “At some point it doesn’t matter how many nurses you throw at the problem, we are going to arrive at a situation where we’re not going to have enough clinicians, we’re not going to have enough doctors, we’re not going to have enough something else.

“We will run out of options at some point, and this is really really important for people to realize that this cannot go on forever, and they know what the solution is.”

It’s still not clear to me how there could even be that many not currently working medical staff out there to be brought in, but they do exist in some number, for which we are grateful and lucky. It’s also not clear at what point demand will outstrip supply, and as noted above, we may run into other limits even sooner than that.

How long can we last? There’s actually a tiny bit of cause for optimism in the most recent data.

The average number of daily COVID hospitalizations in the Texas Medical Center dropped for the first time since early July from a record 390 patients to 388, the medical center reported Monday.

The metric reflects the daily average of hospitalized patients over the previous week. The drop comes amid declining COVID hospitalizations both nationally and statewide.
A three-day decline in total COVID hospitalizations in Texas brought the number to 13,557 on Saturday, the most recent day for which data is available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported a drop in the average number of new daily hospitalizations nationwide, from 12,354 on Thursday to 12,051 on Friday. More recent national data is not yet available.

Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, said the decline is part of the natural course of the pandemic.

“When you see an outbreak like this, the virus kind of runs through the population until it gets to the point where it starts running out of people to infect,” he said, adding, “That does not mean herd immunity.”

He warned that the virus still has room to spread, especially as schools reopen. In an interview last week, McDeavitt said hospitals will continue to feel the strain of the current surge as cases decline.

Burnout among nurses, lingering staffing shortages and the record number of hospitalizations all factor into a longer recovery period.

“From the peak, we’re probably still a month-and-a-half to getting to something that feels like business as usual,” he said last week. “So best case, we’re into October now before we start to get some relief.”

So don’t get too cocky. It’s good that maybe we’ve peaked and will start to see a decline, but we’re still a long way out from where we were in May and June, and we could easily reverse course again. We need to keep getting people vaccinated, because the alternative is more of what we’re going through now.

Sine die’d

Special session 2.0 is over. And what a lousy thing it was.

The Texas Legislature adjourned its second special session Thursday evening, ending a nearly 30-day stretch that was called to pass a GOP elections bill after House Democrats carried out a weekslong quorum break to block the passage of that legislation during the summer’s first overtime round.

The two chambers gaveled out minutes apart after giving final approval to a number of Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda items, including so-called critical race theory legislation and a bill that will, among other things, restore funding for the Legislature itself.

The House adjourned first, with House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, wishing members a happy Labor Day weekend before gaveling out.

Over in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told senators he was proud of their work and nodded to another yet-to-be-called special session that will focus on the redistricting process in the coming weeks — where lawmakers will draw new political maps for the state’s congressional delegation, the Legislature and the State Board of Education.

“We’ll be back soon,” he said. “There’s a little bit of unfinished business yet to be done.”

Earlier Thursday, state lawmakers passed legislation that restores funding for the Legislature — including salaries and benefits for some 2,100 state employees — that was set to run out at the end of the month after Abbott vetoed those dollars earlier this summer. The governor’s veto was intended as retribution for House Democrats who walked out of the Capitol in the final hours of the regular legislative session to block a GOP elections bill in May.

In addition to restoring the funding, the Legislature this week passed a similar version of that controversial GOP elections bill. State lawmakers also reworked the process for releasing accused criminals on bail, beefed up border security fundingexpanded virtual learning for studentsrestricted use of abortion-inducing drugs and banned the storage or disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas.

The small bit of good news is that the transgender sports bill and the last-minute fraudit bill did not pass, though as noted there will be another shot at that. Redistricting is up next, and the rumor mill suggests we will have two weeks off before the machinery cranks up again. I suppose it’s possible there could be a temporary restraining order in the lawsuit filed against doing legislative redistricting, but as Congressional redistricting would still be on the menu that would not stop the session from being needed. Anyway, enjoy the brief respite before the next bout of madness begins.

January 6 committee seeks answers from Paxton

Good. Play hardball and do not let him get away with anything.

Best mugshot ever

The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has requested communications between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Trump White House officials in the months leading up to the insurrection.

The request was issued this week as a part of a series of letters seeking materials from the National Archives and Records Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and other executive agencies.

Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, demanded that the National Archives hand over “all documents and communications referring or relating to the 2020 election results between White House officials and officials of State Governments.” The document then listed Paxton specifically, along with seven officials from other states.

In the letter, Thompson emphasized the urgency of the request and gave a deadline of no later than Sept. 9 to comply.

“This is our first request for materials, and we anticipate additional requests as our investigation continues,” Thompson wrote.

This demand comes after Paxton spoke at the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., before the insurrection began, touting his unsuccessful legal effort to overturn the 2020 election.

“We will not quit fighting. We’re Texans, we’re Americans, and the fight will go on,” Paxton told the crowd.

As others have documented, the January 6 committee is asking for a lot, and they’re not fooling around. Paxton was there in DC inciting the crowd, he filed the kind of seditious lawsuit to overturn the election that recently got the Kraken lawyers sanctioned and for which there have been two complaints filed against him, and he’s generally been a remora on Trump’s shark from the beginning. If he doesn’t have something to hide, that will be an upset. All I want from the committee is to not take any bullshit from him. Hit him hard, hit him with subpoenas, and do not let up until you’ve gotten everything there is to be gotten from him.

Metro moving forward on new BRT line

As they should.

Even with fewer riders hopping aboard and a more dour financial outlook, Metro officials say the agency is full steam ahead on a host of projects aimed at adding buses to scores of routes and neighborhoods.

That includes an approval scheduled for Thursday by the Metropolitan Transit Authority board to commit $40 million to development of a planned bus rapid transit line from around Tidwell and Interstate 69 to Westchase, via Denver Harbor, downtown, Midtown, Greenway Plaza and Uptown.

The project, similar to the Silver Line along Post Oak that opened a year ago and uses dedicated bus lanes to deliver service to stations akin to light rail, is one of dozens in Metro’s $7.5 billion long-range plan. That plan, approved by voters in November 2019, relies heavily on federal grants, which could come quickly if Washington lawmakers approve budget and infrastructure bills in the coming weeks or months.

“If we can get our ducks in a row on as many corridors as we can, that is good for the agency,” said Metro board member Sanjay Ramabhadran.

Metro submitted a preliminary application for funding related to the so-called University Line bus rapid transit project to the Federal Transit Administration in late July. Houston transit officials heard back from their federal counterparts in one week, a quick turnaround for a first series of questions, said Shri Reddy, executive vice-president of planning, engineering, and construction at Metro. Among the issues raised by federal officials was more assurance that Metro had committed money for developing the project, prompting Thursday’s vote.

That story was published on Wednesday; on Thursday, the board approved the money as planned, while giving me a bizarre sense of deja vu.

Seriously, Afton Oaks? After all this time? I mean, it’s all residential on that stretch of Richmond, so I doubt any stops there would be busy, but geez. Anyway, Metro is projecting less revenue now than it had originally planned for and that could lead to some uncomfortable decisions about service levels down the line if actual revenue is in line with that, but that’s a concern for later. For now, this is a good start.

Texas gets its Medicaid 1115 waiver back

Hrmph.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

A federal district judge on Friday temporarily reinstated a 10-year extension of a federal health care program that Texas uses to help pay for health care for uninsured Texans and is worth billions of dollars annually.

The agreement was set to expire next year after federal health officials in April rescinded the Trump-era extension to the 1115 waiver agreement — which Texas has had with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since 2011 and is up for review every few years — and ordered Texas to collect public input, as the agreement requires, while it renegotiates a new extension beyond its original October 2022 expiration date.

The decision did not stop the funding for the current waiver, which provides $3.87 billion in annual funding to partly offset free care provided by Texas hospitals to the uninsured, and to pay for innovative health care projects that serve low-income Texans, often for mental health services.

In his order on Friday, the U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Parker granted a preliminary injunction sought by Texas to block the federal government from rescinding the original Trump-era agreement. The decision removes the requirement, at least for now, for Texas to negotiate its deal with CMS if it wants 1115 funding beyond October 2022.

The decision by CMS was “likely unlawful” and resulted in “turmoil in the state’s Medicaid program,” in part because the state had already begun “reassigning staff, making plans, appropriating money, passing regulations, and engaging stakeholders to work towards implementing the necessary changes” allowed by the original deal, which was confirmed in January before it was rescinded by the Biden administration in April, Barker said in the order.

[…]

The 1115 waiver was meant to be temporary while Texas transitioned to an expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but that never happened because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states couldn’t be forced to expand Medicaid.

Since then, the state has relied on the waiver for various programs to care for Texas’ uninsured, with Republican state leaders frequently leaning on it in their arguments against Medicaid expansion.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t know the technical details well enough to know if this is a reasonable decision on the merits or if Paxton once again found himself a super friendly judge. I’m not even sure if this means that the entire Trump-approved ten-year extension is back in play, or if there will be another opportunity for the Biden administration to force the issue, perhaps next year when the previous agreement was to expire. Perhaps if one of the alternate means of allowing/forcing Medicaid expansion is part of the reconciliation package, the issue can be revisited, or perhaps largely rendered moot. It does seem likely to me that Congress could change the terms of the 1115 waiver, as the issue here was over the executive action, I just don’t know who would be pushing that in the legislative process. All in all, a deeply unsatisfying state of affairs at this time.

Is it really a quorum?

It is if no one is counting too closely.

Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP’s priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity,” Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum” and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way.”

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern.” He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House next meets on Monday.

[…]

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor’s edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can’t do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey’s seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco’s seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members that effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leadership actually counts how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement” of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?” one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

See here for the previous entry. Monday is a hearing day for the voter suppression bill, so if there is going to be a quorum challenge, that would be the day to do it. It’s also possible – likely, perhaps – that more Dems will be there on Monday on the grounds that once the session has begun and business will be conducted, there’s little value in continuing to stay away. At that point, you may as well fight it out in person as best you can. It’s a fight you’ll lose, of course, but the alternative is losing by forfeit. There is definitely a big conversation to be had about why some members decided now was the time to return, but that’s for another day. This is the task at hand. Stace, who focuses on the latest voting rights bill in DC – it is very much not too late to pass that bill, and as an extra added bonus it would defang the Supreme Court and its ability to rubber stamp voter suppression – has more.

We have a quorum

Welp.

For the first time in nearly six weeks, enough lawmakers were present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that prompted Democrats to flee the state in July in an effort to shut down the legislation.

[…]

Although the House reached the minimum number of lawmakers to conduct official business Thursday, it’s unclear whether the chamber will be able to maintain those numbers for the duration of the second special session, which ends Sept. 5.

The House’s return to regular order was boosted by the return of several Democrats who had opted to stay away during the first special session. Democrats like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville had boosted the chamber’s numbers after holding out during the first special session.

On Wednesday night, Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman told The Dallas Morning News that he would be returning to the chamber, bringing the House one lawmaker closer to the 100 lawmakers it needed to conduct business. When San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco’s resignation went into effect Thursday, the quorum requirement dropped to 99 lawmakers. (Pacheco is reportedly resigning to teach public administration at San Antonio College).

Houston Democrats Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez joined Coleman in his return Thursday evening, with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman who’d recently undergone surgery on his leg.

In a joint statement, the three Democrats said they were “proud of the heroic work and commitment” their caucus had shown in breaking quorum.

“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access. Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation,” the statement read. “Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”

The lawmakers pointed to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, an overwhelmed hospital system and the return of children to school as efforts that the Legislature needed to work on.

“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events,” the statement said.

Suffice it to say that the reaction I’ve seen from folks on Twitter is not particularly positive to this. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I don’t understand the thinking here. Maybe it will make more sense in the coming days, but right now you can count me among the puzzled and disbelieving. The Senate has already passed all of Abbott’s bills, so at any time the House will be able to finish the job, and that will more or less be that.

This was going to have to happen sooner or later, it was just a matter of how. I would have preferred it to be a consensus decision, but here we are. There is another voting rights bill queued up in Congress, with our friend Sen. Manchin as a co-sponsor, and while it will get an August vote there’s still no indication that it will get a waiver on the filibuster. Maybe that does pass, and the Texas Dems are cited as an inspiration, and I’ll feel differently. Right now, I’m not sure what was accomplished. The Chron has more.

Census data is out

Get ready, there’s about to be a whole lot more legislative activity.

Setting the stage for what is expected to be a bruising battle over political representation, the results of the 2020 census released Thursday showed that Texas’ explosive growth over the past decade was again powered by people of color.

And it is the state’s cities and suburbs that are booming, with Texas home to three of the country’s 10 largest cities and four of the fastest-growing.

Texas gained the most residents of any state since 2010, and its Hispanic population is now nearly as large as the non-Hispanic white population, with just half a percentage point separating them. Texas gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident since 2010.

Texans of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth. The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — a 16% jump from 25.1 million in 2010. Hispanic Texans were responsible for half of that increase.

Non-Hispanic white Texans now make up just 39.8% of the state’s population — down from 45% in 2010. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanic Texans has grown to 39.3%.

The Hispanic population’s approach to becoming Texas’ largest demographic group marks a significant milestone ahead of this year’s redistricting, during which state lawmakers will draw new political maps divvying up seats in Congress and the state House and Senate in what will no doubt be an intense and protracted fight over political control of the state for the next decade.

Texas Republicans hold every lever of power to try to lock in or even expand their majorities at the state Capitol and in Congress. But they will be working to redraw the state’s political maps while confronting the demographic reality that the state is growing in ways that put the party’s stranglehold in question.

[…]

The state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers that serve as Democratic strongholds and suburban communities, several of which have either already turned blue or are trending in that direction. Since 2010, 44% of the state’s growth took place in its five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. All 10 of the state’s fastest-growing counties in the last decade were suburban.

Hays County — between Austin and San Antonio — experienced the most growth, doubling its population in the last decade.

You can click over and look at the charts and the interactive map, but the key to all this is the growth in the cities and suburbs, which have been the drivers of Democratic strength as well. I have no doubt the Republicans will have some tricks up their sleeves, but this is the big challenge for them. Remember, even as 2020 is cast as a Democratic failure for not gaining more seats, the map went from 95-55 in 2012, with a lot of stability over the first three elections of the decade, to a big shift in 2018 and a realistic vision of Democratic control, even if that turned out to be illusory.

I’ve said before, I don’t know yet what the Republicans’ risk appetite will be. The more they are comfortable with drawing themselves 53-47 districts instead of 60-40 districts, the more seats they can draw for themselves. The downside to that strategy is obvious, but that’s the decision they have to make.

Meanwhile, Houston did some growing this past decade as well.

Houston’s population grew nearly 10 percent in the last decade, fueled by large gains in the number of Latino and Asian residents that will shape the political future of Texas for years to come.

With 2,304,580 residents as of April 1, 2020, Houston remains the fourth-largest city, still lagging behind Chicago’s 2,746,388, according to 2020 census data released Thursday after a grueling, unprecedented effort to collect comprehensive data on the nation’s population in the midst of a global pandemic.

Houston’s 9.8 percent growth rate from 2,099,451 residents in 2010, however, was only second only to Phoenix’s 11.2 percent among the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. The Bayou City was also second in terms of raw population growth, adding 205,129 residents in the last decade. Only New York City ranked higher, adding 629,057 people.

One of the only areas in the region that shrank was the white population. Notably, Houston’s white population fell about 30 percent in the last decade, from 1,060,492 people in 2010 to 739,873 in 2020. The decline was smaller —5 percent — in Harris County as a whole.

“There’s a net out-migration of non-Hispanic whites from urban cores like Houston and Dallas and moving out into suburban rings, and at the same time you have this international migration occurring, and a lot of that is going to be people who are Hispanic and also Asian,” Texas Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

The story didn’t cite numbers for Harris County, but the map in that Trib piece tells me that it increased by 15.6%, from just under 4.1 million to over 4.7 million. Among other things, we will see if Harris County gets its 25th legislative seat back. We will have some answers soon:

T-minus 18 days and counting. The San Antonio Report has more.

The march for voting rights

Good work, but it can’t be the end.

Saturday marked the third time in as many months that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has headlined a voting rights rally at the Texas Capitol, as Democrats hope to keep momentum with just a week left before the end of the special session in Austin.

The rally, which drew several thousand attendees, marked the end of a Selma-style march to the state Capitol — a roughly 27-mile journey from Georgetown to Austin that activists split over four days. It was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, a group inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

As demonstrators finished the last leg of their march, they greeted a crowd in front of the Capitol holding signs: “Texas deserves better,” “It’s about us,” “We care, we vote.” They sang along with the performers on the center stage as they belted out the labor movement anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

“The right time to do right is right now,” the Rev. William J. Barber II, a national civil rights leader who spearheaded the march, repeated throughout the rally.

It culminated with a live performance by Willie Nelson, who sang the classics “Whiskey River” and “Good Hearted Woman.” His set ended with a newer song, “Vote ‘Em Out,” which opens with the line: “If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ‘em out; that’s what Election Day is all about.”

The marchers have demands ranging from a $15 minimum wage to immigration reform, but their most pressing concern is new voting restrictions that have been proposed or passed in GOP-led states. Texas, which already has some of the nation’s strictest laws on voter registration and mail ballots, is among them.

Lots of positive energy came out of this, and I hope it helps to sustain us through the next few weeks, which are going to be tough. But really, what I want to see next are headlines that say things like “Senate Democrats agree to pass voting rights bill that includes redistricting reform and new preclearance requirements”, and “Beto O’Rourke announces his entry into the Texas Governor’s race”. I’m not asking for much here.

Day 17 quorum busting post: Testify

Ladies and gentlemen, Ms T.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson described to a U.S. House committee on Thursday occasions in 2010 and 2012 when white Republican poll watchers showed up at a Houston polling place where she and many other Black voters cast ballots.

“They had people that looked like they was from the Proud Boys looking at you like you were in the wrong place,” the Houston Democrat testified. “In a minority area, that has a chilling effect. The word gets out that these people are at your polls looking at you like they want to arrest you, keep you from voting.

“You’re damn right I left Texas, and I’m glad I did,” Thompson said. “I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon.”

It was one of several instances in which Texas Democrats detailed the ways they say Republican-backed legislation would make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans, meanwhile, said the Texas Democrats were exaggerating the effects of the bill and should be back in Austin debating it in the Legislature, not complaining about it to Congress.

[…]

Three Texas Democrats — Thomspon, San Antonio state Rep. Diego Bernal and Dallas state Rep. Nicole Collier — gave impassioned testimony to the House panel as they urge Congress to advance new federal voting laws to head off GOP efforts in Texas and other states.

The congressional hearing also brought a bit of news: U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, a Sherman Republican, said his colleagues in Texas informed him they would remove a provision from the proposed legislation that would require voters applying to vote by mail to include a driver’s license number or social security number that they used when registering to vote.

“That speaks well for coming to Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “You made a little bit of progress.”

It all made for a big day for the more than four dozen Democrats who have drawn a national spotlight and met with a slew of their party’s leaders since their arrival in D.C. three weeks ago. The group left Texas earlier this month to break quorum in the state House and stop Republicans from passing new voting restrictions.

That’s what they’re there for, to make this not only real but timely for the Washington Democrats. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope on the horizon.

Senate Democrats have been crafting a revised voting rights bill that Sen. Joe Manchin might deign to vote for, particularly since he is in the group that’s working on it. The Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to convene the group to rewrite the bill, he told The Washington Post, and he, Schumer, Manchin and a few other senators met Wednesday. Further, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday to discuss moving forward on voting rights, perhaps before August recess.

“It’s important that the American people understand that this is very much on our radar, and we understand the urgency, and we’re committed to getting some progress,” Warnock said. Manchin added, “Everybody’s working in good faith on this … It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe … got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said. Other Democrats in the meeting included Sens. Alex Padilla of California; Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who is lead sponsor of the For the People Act in the Senate; and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, chair of the committee in charge of the bill.

A Democrat who did not wish to be named told the Post that the bill would largely follow the proposal for revisions Manchin put forward last month. It could also potentially include language to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, restoring provisions gutted by recent Supreme Court decisions. It’s not clear now whether it would incorporate the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or just some provisions from it. That bill hasn’t been acted on in the House yet.

The same source also told the Post that it could include language to counter “election subversion”—specifically the kind of action the Republican legislature in Georgia is trying to pull by taking over the duties of elections officials in the state’s largest—and most Black—county.

As I said before, getting a federal voting rights bill passed would be the big, ultimate slam-dunk win for the legislative Dems. This may be the best opportunity yet, if it can get that crucial buy-in to not let the stupid filibuster be the roadblock. But time is running out, at least for our Dem legislators. The special session is nearly over, both chambers of Congress are fixing to go on recess, and then there’s also this:

If you want there to be preclearance, then you have to have it in place before the new maps get drawn. Leadership is aligned, but the Senate is as always the bottleneck. Keep pushing, it won’t happen on its own.

Jake Ellzey wins CD06 special election runoff

I confess, I had totally forgotten about this.

Jake Ellzey

State Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie beat fellow Republican Susan Wright on Tuesday to succeed her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, and pull off a major upset against a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump.

With all precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Ellzey got 53% of the vote, while Susan Wright, a longtime GOP activist, received 47%, according to unofficial results.

Ellzey declared victory in a speech shortly after 9 p.m., addressing supporters in Ennis.

[…]

Susan Wright and Ellzey came out on top of a May 1 special election that featured 21 other candidates. She finished first with 19% of the vote, while Ellzey got 14%.

Trump endorsed Susan Wright in the final days before the May 1 election. He got more involved in the runoff, issuing three statements reiterating his endorsement, starring in a robocall for her and headlining a telephone rally for her on Monday night.

Ellzey relied on support from former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston, a fellow Navy veteran who came off the sidelines in the runoff. Perry and other Ellzey allies suggested Trump had been misled into endorsing Susan Wright.

National attention on the race dimmed after Democrats narrowly missed the runoff, a disappointment for the party in a district that Trump won by only 3 percentage points last year. But Ellzey kept things competitive in the intraparty matchup, significantly outraising Susan Wright during the latest campaign finance reporting period and rallying his supporters against a barrage of attacks from the pro-Wright Club for Growth.

The DMN goes into the campaign and the Trump effect.

Ellzey’s victory was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Wright over the objections of several major Texas Republicans, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Trump is perceived to be the leader of the Republican Party, both nationally and locally, and the 6th Congressional District race was a test of his political clout in his post presidency. Though he didn’t campaign for Wright in Texas, he hosted two tele-rallies on her behalf, but couldn’t push her past Ellzey.

[…]

The contest, which featured two Republican candidates, was largely a test on whether Trump is still the most influential player in the Republican Party.

His backing of Wright is believed to have helped her in Ellis and Navarro counties, both Republican strongholds easily carried by Trump in his presidential elections, and where Ellzey, who lives in Waxahachie, had hoped to establish a beachhead. He represents a Texas House district that is anchored in Ellis County.

Wright won Trump’s endorsement upon the advice from officials at the Club for Growth, and his belief, according to several with knowledge of his decision, that Wright had a built-in advantage because she’s the widow of Ron Wright.

In the days leading up to the general election, Trump stepped up his outreach to voters, twice restating his endorsement of Wright, recording automatic phone calls that went throughout the district and advertising through his super PAC on television.

Ellzey’s biggest challenge was to overcome Trump’s endorsement, and he struggled at times to find an answer to why the former president saw fit to get involved in the race.

For most of the campaign, Ellzey, with surrogates like Perry, appealed to base Republican voters. But days before the election he sent campaign mailers to Democratic Party voters in the district. Those mailers, along with text messages voters received from some source, portrayed Ellzey as a fighter for public education, while pointing out that Wright is endorsed by Trump.

It’s possible that Ellzey was able to mine Democratic voters who otherwise would have skipped a race featuring two Republicans. Wright’s campaign had already been pounding Ellzey as a tool for Democrats, so he couldn’t openly court those voters until the final days of his campaign.

“He would like it if Democrats vote for him, but he sure doesn’t want to go out on a date with one,” Democratic strategist Matt Angle said of Ellzey’s imagery.

There was some discourse, mostly on Twitter, about how this result was a referendum on Trump and his influence. I would advise anyone to take that with an extreme grain of salt, as we should always be at least a little skeptical of special election and runoff results. That said, if Wright had won, Trump would be crowing about it, and the received wisdom would be that his influence was the difference maker. That would have been way overblown as well, but to the extent that one accepts that premise, it’s worth keeping the counterexample in mind.

Ellzey’s last-minute campaign pitch to Democrats was a smart play. They were obviously not the main targets in the race, but this wasn’t a primary runoff and they were allowed to participate. One might also recall that CD06 is (at least as currently drawn) a purple district, one in which Joe Biden got 48% of the vote. In other words, there were plenty of Dems to court, even with a very simple message, and that could be a big deal in an otherwise close race. If what Dem voters got out of it was a finger in the eye to Trump, it was worth it. As relationships go, this was a total one-night stand, but it got Ellzey where he wanted to go.

One more thing:

It doesn’t change the math directly – 51 missing Democrats still make for a lack of quorum – but if a couple of Republicans are not there as well, for whatever the reason, then you’d need more Democrats to be back to get to the minimum number of 100 present members. I would normally expect the special election to replace Ellzey in the House (his district is HD10) to be this November, but it’s possible Greg Abbott will expedite it because of the forthcoming special session(s) on redistricting. We should know for sure in a couple of weeks. Daily Kos has more.

July 2021 campaign finance reports: Congress

It’s July, and that means its campaign finance report season. I’m going to do a tour through the finance reports as I have done before, beginning with Congressional reports. I have posted reports from January 2021, which is the completion of the 2020 cycle, and the October 2020 reports, which gave a look back on that cycle and the 2018 cycle, but these are the first reports I’ve posted from the 2022 cycle, not counting the CD06 special election. Because we’re in that weird pre-redistricting period, when no one knows what districts will be where, there’s not a lot of new candidate activity. The list of mostly incumbents below will likely change over time, but for now here are some reports that may be of interest.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Van Taylor – CD03
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Morgan Luttrell – CD08
Mike McCaul – CD10
Vicente Gonzalez – CD15
Monica de la Cruz Hernandez – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Troy Nehls – CD22
Matthew Berg – CD22
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Derrik Gay – CD24
John Carter – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw      5,184,216  3,143,696        0  3,893,234
03    Taylor        1,137,073    250,293        0    909,277
07    Fletcher      1,225,493    182,475        0  1,104,114
08    Luttrell        461,429     12,672        0    448,757
10    McCaul          745,285    260,682        0    492,336
15    Gonzalez        607,467    454,132        0  1,523,826
15    Hernandez       438,341    218,901        0    226,945
21    Roy             678,470    385,959        0    756,093
22    Nehls           312,512    112,897        0    218,821
22    Berg            113,753     41,564    5,100     72,189
23    Gonzales      1,088,487    331,330        0    788,516
23    Lira            100,789     49,833        0     50,955
24    Van Duyne     1,084,713    296,053        0    857,070
24    Gay
31    Carter          429,329    216,023        0    413,711
31    Imam              7,682          0        0      7,682
32    Allred        1,216,765    329,397        0  1,046,790

Couple of things. I’m including Republicans here mostly because there just aren’t that many reports of interest otherwise. That will likely change later, but for now this is what I’ve got. I’ve no idea what districts will be of interest this cycle yet, but we know these were all of interest last time. CD08 is an open seat, and as you can see there’s a candidate who has established a presence to note. CD34 is also an open seat, but as yet no one has filed a report with anything of substance. There are a couple of Democrats filing reports in CD30, where longtime Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson may or may not step down – she’s had challengers in most of the last few cycles, but no one has come close to really threatening her.

So far there are announced Democrats in four districts that were competitive in 2018 and 2020, and will likely be at least somewhat competitive in 2022. Derrik Gay and Donna Imam, who was the CD31 challenger in 2020, entered late enough in the cycle to not have anything to report. I find it somewhat heartening that even without knowing what the districts will look like, Matthew Berg and John Lira started out with totals over $100K; as you recall, almost no Dem challengers raised as much as $100K for the entire 2012 cycle. We’ve come a long way from that. That said, freshman incumbents Tony Gonzales and Beth Van Duyne are not taking their upcoming challenges lightly.

Along with the now-open CD34, CD15 was unexpectedly close in 2020, and the challenger from that cycle is back for another crack at it. Monica de la Cruz Hernandez raised some decent money, but incumbent Vicente Gonzalez maintains a strong lead in cash on hand. For all of the districts with two candidates, I listed the incumbent first.

Not much else to say here. Given when we’ll get the apportionment data, and assuming we’ll have the redistricting-oriented special session in September as expected, we probably won’t get a feel for who’s running for what until the Q4 reports come in next January. There will probably be some further announcements before then, and there’s always the possibility than an incumbent will choose to step down, but everything is written in pencil until we know what the new districts – including the two extra ones – look like.

UPDATE: This was drafted before State Rep. Michelle Beckley announced her intent to run in CD24. Her July report from the TEC is here – she reports $25K on hand, with her ability to raise funds limited by being in session for most of the year. Also, there is now a candidate in CD10, but he announced in July, so we won’t see a report from him until Q3.

Day 9 quorum busting post: See you in August

Here’s your endgame, more or less.

Texas House Democrats will not return to the state until after the special session of the Legislature is over, one of the leaders of their walkout confirmed Tuesday.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said they expect to return to Texas on Aug. 7 — when the 30-day special session aimed at passing new voting restrictions is required to end.

“It will be our plan on that day — on or about — to return back to Texas,” Martinez Fischer told advocates of a group Center for American Progress Action Fund, that is led by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, a Democrat. “Then we will evaluate our next option.”

[…]

He said Democrats want to soften some of the “sharp edges” of the voting restrictions Republicans are proposing — specifically, how the GOP bill enables felony charges against election officials who violate its provisions, as well as for people who help voters fill out their ballots without the proper documentation, even for inadvertent offenses.

“There really has been no attempt to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We are all putting our hopes in a federal standard.”

Other Texas Democrats have said their plan right now is to keep their caucus unified and focused on spurring national action. State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said Abbott’s threats to have them arrested or to call more special sessions don’t mean much to her.

“Our presence here together ensures that those Texans who are not being heard by Gov. Greg Abbott continue to be stood up for,” Johnson said.

Democrats on Tuesday said while in Washington, they are pushing for a meeting with President Joe Biden and were continuing to meet with key leaders. That included a strategy session with U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a top leader in the House from South Carolina.

But if the Texans are counting on Congress acting, they don’t have much time. The U.S. House goes on its annual August recess starting July 30 and the U.S. Senate leaves a week later. Neither returns to Washington until after Labor Day.

When Texas Democrats do finally return, Abbott has made clear he’ll call them back into special session again to pass an elections bill and other key priorities of Republicans who control the agenda in state politics. The Texas Constitution allows the governor to call as many special sessions as he wants, but each cannot last for more than 30 days.

It’s the Senate that matters, and their recess (assuming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allows it in full) corresponds to the end of Special Session #1. The House is not the problem for the Dems. Same story, different day.

Timing may be a problem for Greg Abbott, as Harvey Kronberg suggests.

HK: Article X Veto may have compromised full Republican control of redistricting

In theory at least, Democrats may have leverage they should not otherwise have; Article X cannot be revived without a special and with a hard August 20 deadline looming, the Legislature is on the edge of mutually assured destruction

“The Democrats’ claims about the governor’s veto ‘cancelling’ the legislative branch are misleading and misguided. The Constitution protects the legislative branch, and as the Democrats well know, their positions, their powers and their salaries are protected by the Constitution. They can continue to legislate despite the veto” – Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to the Democrats’ Texas Supreme Court request to overturn his Article X veto.

Let’s be clear up front.

The conventional wisdom is that although there is a threat of arrest upon arrival, the House Democrats will come back at some point and watch Republicans pass some version of their election bill. A substantive question is whether the bill becomes more punitive due to Republican anger over the quorum break.

Let’s not bury the lede here. The House is boiling and Governor Abbott’s veto of legislative funding could conceivably lead to Republican loss of control in redistricting. While there is much chest beating and both feigned and real anger over the quorum bust, it camouflages a much bigger issue.

The rest is paywalled, but I was able to get a look at it. The basic idea is that per Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the state has until August 20 to reinstate legislative funding for the software to be updated in time to write checks for the next fiscal year beginning September 1. If that hasn’t happened by then, the Texas Legislative Council, which does all of the data crunching for redistricting, goes offline. No TLC, no ability to draw new maps. Pretty simple, as far as that goes.

What happens next is unclear. If the Lege can’t draw maps, that task falls to a federal court for the Congressional map. They wouldn’t have the needed data, and they wouldn’t have a default map to use as a basis, since the existing map is two Congressional districts short. The Legislative Redistricting Board draws the House, Senate, and SBOE maps if the Lege doesn’t, but they wouldn’t have data either, and per Kronberg “the LRB cannot constitutionally convene until after the first regular session in which census numbers have been received. (Article 3, Section 28).” Which is to say, not until 2023. You begin to see the problem.

Now maybe funding could be restored quickly, if Abbott were to call everyone back on August 8 or so. But maybe some TLC staffers decide they don’t need this kind of uncertainty and they move on to other gigs. Maybe Abbott declares another emergency and funds the TLC himself, though that may open several cans of worms when the litigation begins. Maybe the Supreme Court gets off its ass and rules on the line item veto mandamus, which could settle this now. Indeed, as Kronberg points out, the amicus brief filed by the League of Women Voters is expressly about the failure of the Lege to do its constitutional duty in the absence of funding for the TLC.

There are a lot of things that could happen here, and Kronberg is just positing one scenario. His topline point is that any outcome that includes a court drawing maps is a big loss for Republicans, for obvious reasons. Does that provide some incentive for “good faith negotiation”, if only as a risk mitigation for the Republicans? I have no idea.

One more thing:

When Texas Democrats staged a walkout at the end of the regular legislative session in late May, they successfully killed Republicans’ prized bill: a slew of restrictions on voting statewide. Or that’s how it seemed at the time, at least.

Less than three weeks later, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session specifically aimed at passing an equivalent version of the so-called election integrity bill alongside other conservative legislative priorities.

The same day Abbott announced his plan for the special session, AT&T, whose CEO has said the company supports expanding voting rights nationwide, gave Abbott $100,000 to fund his reelection campaign.

[…]

In April, AT&T CEO John Stankey told The Hill that the company believes “the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”

In an email, an AT&T spokesperson said, “Our employee PACs contribute to policymakers in both major parties, and it will not agree with every PAC dollar recipient on every issue. It is likely our employee PACs have contributed to policymakers in support of and opposed to any given issue.”

How could the left hand possibly know what the right hand is doing? It’s a mystery, I tell you.

Michelle Beckley announces for Congress

Interesting.

Rep. Michelle Beckley

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, one of the House Democrats who is camped out in Washington, D.C., announced Tuesday that she is challenging U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, a national Democratic target.

Beckley unveiled her plans in a video filmed inside a hotel room in the nation’s capital, where House Democrats fled earlier this month to break quorum in protest of Republicans’ priority elections bill. In the video, Beckley contrasted her commitment to the voting rights battle with Van Duyne’s vote earlier this year to object to the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania.

“Beth Van Duyne can walk away from her duty to defend democracy, but not me,” Beckley says.

Beckley launched her campaign with endorsements from 30 fellow House Democrats, including caucus Chair Chris Turner and Joe Moody, whom House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, removed as speaker pro tem in retaliation for the quorum break.

Beckley is the second serious Democratic opponent that Van Duyne has attracted. Earlier this month, she drew a challenge from Derrik Gay, a Carrollton tax lawyer and former intelligence officer in the Marine Corps.

You can find Beckley’s announcement video here. The quorum break is sure to come up in any campaign, so she’s correct to address it head on. Derrik Gay made his announcement on July 6. We don’t know what CD24 will look like, but it’s already a DCCC target, and it seems reasonable to think it will be competitive in 2022.

We also don’t know what Beckley’s HD65 will look like. She won 51.2 to 48.8 in 2018, and 51.5 to 48.5 in 2020, and as we have discussed, it’s the biggest mover in a Dem direction in Denton County. But not the only big mover, and that means the Republicans’ choices in map-drawing are not obvious. As Scott Braddock notes, until we have a clear idea of what all the districts will be, someone who holds one office and announces for another has room to change their mind if the numbers say they should. So we’ll see. Either way, there should be plenty of interest in CD24.

How HISD intends to spend its COVID relief money

Seems reasonable.

Houston ISD expects to spend $1.2 billion of federal relief shoring up academic losses from the pandemic under a wide-ranging plan that would target accelerated instruction to kids that have fallen behind, bolster tutoring and after-school services, seek to retain and recruit teachers with $2,500 stipends, provide laptops to more middle school students and boost technology in the classroom.

Superintendent Millard House II sent an email addressed to “Team HISD” Thursday evening with a 54-slide presentation attached about how the district would use the money, according to a copy obtained by The Chronicle on Friday.

The money comes from $122 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief funds included in the American Rescue and Relief Plan Act, passed by Congress in March.

HISD has been awarded $804 million from that. It is the second round of education relief funding. The district was allocated $358 million from that earlier round this month.

According to the plan distributed by House, about a quarter of the overall funding will go toward reversing learning losses in reading, math, science and social studies. About $76 million would be spent on before- and after-school programs, $50 million would go to special education, $53 million for college and military readiness, and $60 million would be directed at social and emotional learning, including the hiring of up to 150 additional counselors and social workers.

It is not clear if the plan is final. A timeline included in the presentation lists two dates to submit applications to TEA and July 28 as the date to share the plan with “community.”

These priorities seem right to me. The first order of business is to get students back to previous levels, and that’s going to take a lot of resources. You can see an embed of the plan in the story, and there will be at least one virtual meeting to discuss it. This is a big challenge for the new Superintendent right off the bat, and I wish him and the Board and everyone else all the best with it. We need them to use this funding to its best advantage.

GLO defends P Bush in Congressional hearing

Dude couldn’t be bothered to show up himself, so he had someone else there to defend him.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush did not play a role in the process that left Houston and Harris County without any federal aid for flood mitigation projects, according to a top disaster official with the General Land Office who defended the agency’s scoring criteria during testimony to a congressional committee Thursday.

Bush, who is challenging incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton in the upcoming Republican Party primary, has received bipartisan backlash over the GLO’s allocation of $1 billion in flood project funds tied to Hurricane Harvey, none of which went to the 14 projects sought by the city or county. Bush since has announced that he will ask the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to direct $750 million to the county.

“For the record, the Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was by design recused from the scoring committee and the scoring process,” Heather Lagrone, the GLO’s deputy director of community development and revitalization, told members of a House Financial Services subcommittee. “The commissioner was informed of the competition result only after the projects had been through eligibility review and scored in accordance with the federally approved action plan.”

U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, accused the GLO of using a “rigged formula” to distribute the relief money, defining the process as “the hijacking of a federal mitigation appropriations process.”

“I think that the time has come for a course correction,” Green said.

See here for the background. Didn’t you hear the lady, Rep. Green? LEAVE GEORGE P. BUSH ALOOOOOOOOONE!

It was a chicken move for P Bush to not show up and explain himself, but that’s hardly surprising. And let’s face it, had he been there himself, we’d have gotten the same lies about the ridiculous GLO formula and the “red tape” that was actually in place under Trump, and we never would have gotten a rational explanation for why their formula made any sense.

While coastal communities bore the brunt of Harvey, the GLO disproportionately sent the $1 billion in aid to inland counties that suffered less damage and, by the state’s own measure, are at a lower risk of natural disasters, a Houston Chronicle investigation found last month.

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock noted during the committee hearing that the GLO declined to award a penny in mitigation funds to Aransas and Nueces counties, where Harvey made landfall, nor to Jefferson County, which saw the heaviest rainfall during the storm, nor to Houston and Harris County, which saw the most damage from the storm.

“The Texas General Land Office’s process for allocating granted zero dollars to all of these localities, and it was only after bipartisan political pressure that the GLO retroactively requested $750 million for Harris County,” Haddock said.

The GLO process got the result it intended. Everything else is details, and a reminder of why you cannot put bad faith actors in positions of power.

More federal stimulus money for education coming

Good.

Texas soon will receive another $4.1 billion in federal stimulus money to address the post-pandemic needs of public school students, many of whom fell behind academically during months of remote learning.

The funding comes come as the U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that it has approved Texas’ plans for spending $12.4 billion allocated to the state. The state’s plan was among the first proposals to receive approval from the federal government. While some of the money will be spent on improving academics, the funding also aims to address student inequities that were worsened by the pandemic, as well as kids’ social and emotional needs.

The Texas Education Agency’s plan calls for mitigating learning loss as a top priority. The agency estimates students in the state lost an average of 5.7 months of learning last school year. Meeting student and staff mental health needs, expanded tutoring, high-quality instructional materials and job-embedded learning are included in the plan.

“The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release.

We have all the evidence we need to know how vital this is. The next year or more has to be about getting kids back up to where they would have been without the disruption of the pandemic. Their future depends on it.

The next level of vaccine resistance

I’m speechless.

Some Texas Republicans are pushing back against President Joe Biden’s push for greater outreach to get more Americans to receive COVID-19 shots, as vaccination drives in states like Texas have stagnated.

“Not on my watch!” Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted in response to the president’s comments on Tuesday that “we need to go community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and oft times door-to-door, literally knocking on doors.”

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a San Antonio Republican, on Wednesday directed a tweet at Biden with a play on the “Come and Take It” flag that shows an image of a syringe with the words “Come Inject It.” In a separate tweet, the congressman said he thought a door-to-door push would be unconstitutional, as such an approach was “only really contemplated in Constitution for the census.”

“Don’t knock on my door to ask about vaccines…or anything else,” U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon, a Sherman Republican, tweeted. He said there are “BIG red flags anytime the federal government is ‘going door to door.’”

[…]

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that nearly half of Texas Republican voters say they do not plan to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. A Harvard University analysis of vaccination rates by congressional district shows Texas Republicans represent the 14 districts in the state with the lowest rates.

Roy’s Central Texas district bucks the trend, however. It has among the highest vaccination rates in the state, with nearly 49 percent of its residents fully vaccinated.

That’s because Chip Roy’s district isn’t really Republican, it’s basically fifty-fifty. And if he and his galaxy brain think this effort is unconstitutional, there’s a well-known method to get an objective opinion on that. I’m sure Ken Paxton is familiar with the process. As for the rest, I don’t even know what to say.

Testify, George P!

I’m ready for this.

A congressional panel is set to review the Texas General Land Office’s denial of federal flood mitigation funding to Houston and Harris County, the latest in an ongoing spat over more than $1 billion in aid approved by Congress and doled out by the state.

The Democrat-led House Financial Services Committee wants Land Commissioner George P. Bush to testify about the decision during a hearing next week, said U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who chairs the panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee. It’s unclear yet if Bush will appear at the July 15 hearing.

[…]

Green said he wants Bush to explain the initial denial, as well as why it has taken so long to get the federal funding out. The funding is part of a relief package that Congress approved in 2018 after Hurricane Harvey.

“This is pretty serious, when you look at the time that has lapsed … then not to have the money spent on people who are still suffering and waiting to have the relief and the money is in the hands of GLO,” Green said. “I think GLO should explain.”

These are all good questions, and we deserve to hear answers to them. We should also recognize that in the tradition of the Trump administration, there’s a decent chance that Bush just blows this off. If that happens, then Congress needs to do the stand-up thing and subpoena him, and hold him in contempt if he continues to defy them. Do not wimp out on this. Either there’s accountability or there isn’t, and enforcement is a key part of that. If he’s not there willingly, make him be there, or else.

Let a thousand Justice Department probes of Texas voter suppression bloom

Just don’t expect too much to happen.

With Texas lawmakers poised to push for new voting restrictions in a special session next week, the state’s congressional Democrats are urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Texas’ existing voting laws.

In a letter to Garland on Thursday, the Democrats — led by U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth — urged the U.S. Department of Justice to examine what they called “unconstitutional voter suppression” in Texas. They pointed to a number of existing practices that they say disproportionately affect Black and Latino voters, including the closure of polling sites across the state, reports of voter intimidation and a lack of Spanish-language voting materials.

They also reminded Garland that Republicans are likely to bring back a revised version of a controversial elections bill as early as next week, asking that federal officials keep a close eye on any changes.

“The Department of Justice must protect voting rights for all Texans,” wrote the group of 12 lawmakers, which includes all of the state’s Democratic members of Congress except U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo. “I am requesting that the DOJ Civil Rights Division focus its investigative powers in key areas reported over the last several elections that present a pattern of racially discriminatory voting practices in Texas.”

This was motivated in part by AG Garland puttint Texas on notice after suing Georgia over its voter suppression law. I applaud the move, but I don’t expect much from the federal courts, especially now. Put the maximal pressure on the poll watcher stuff and the “mistaken” provision to make it easier to overturn elections. Make some noise and hope to score some PR wins, if nothing else.

And the STAAR results ain’t great either

Oof.

The COVID-19 pandemic appeared to undo years of improvement for Texas students meeting grade requirements in reading and math, with students who did most of their schooling remotely suffering “significant declines” compared to those who attended in person, according to standardized test results released Monday by the Texas Education Agency.

In districts where fewer than a quarter of classes were held in person, the number of students who met math test expectations dropped by 32 percentage points, and the number of students who met reading expectations dropped by 9 percentage points compared to 2019, the last time the test was administered. In districts with more than three-quarters in-person instruction, the number of students meeting math expectations only dropped by 9 percentage points and those who met reading expectations by 1 percentage point. Students of color and lower-income students saw greater gaps as well, although those gaps were smaller than the one between remote and in-person instruction.

“The impact of the coronavirus on what school means and what school is has been truly profound,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told reporters Monday. “What we know now with certainty is that the decision in Texas to prioritize in person instruction was critical.”

[…]

Since 2012, test results in the state had been steadily improving, but after COVID-19 related disruptions, the percentage of students meeting reading expectations dropped back to 2016 rates and the percentage meeting math expectations dropped to 2013 passing rates. Math test performance saw the most significant drop, from 50% of students meeting their grade level in 2019 to only 35% this year.

Hispanic students in districts with over three-quarters of learning done remotely saw the largest drops compared to other demographics, with a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of students meeting reading expectations and a 34 percentage point decrease in those meeting math expectations. This is followed by Black students taking mostly remote classes, who saw a 6 percentage point decrease in those meeting reading expectations and a 28 percentage point in those meeting expectations for math.

Students who took the test in Spanish also saw “far more significant declines in rates of grade level” than those who took the test in English, Morath said.

“The data may be disheartening, but with it, our teachers and school leaders are building action plans to support students in the new school year,” he said. “Policymakers are using it to direct resources where they are needed most.”

He said parents can also sign in to TexasAssessment.gov to go over their children’s results and strategize how to catch them up.

As the story notes, there were places where remote learning was not associated with declines; indeed, some remote-heavy districts did just fine. The Lege is going to look into that, and so hopefully if nothing else we’ll get some good data about how and why remote learning can be successful. The STAAR was not the only standardized test to see significant declines, with math being the bigger issue than reading. There will be plenty of funds available, from a bill passed this session to the most recent COVID relief package from Congress, that will provide resources for tutoring, and that will be very necessary. If we work hard and get lucky then maybe this won’t have a big lasting impact on students’ lives. But we need to get serious about making up the lost ground, and we have no time to lose. The Chron has more.

You can’t use that money for your stupid wall

So say Democratic members of Congress from Texas, and they’re asking the Treasury Department to back them up.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Texas Democrats in Congress are irate that Gov. Greg Abbott can divert federal funds intended for COVID-19 relief to build a border wall. On Monday, they asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to step in and block the state from using any of its $15.8 billion windfall for this “costly monstrosity.”

“We are concerned by the prospect of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s potential misuse of these funds to continue the misguided plans of President Trump to extend a wall along the border between Texas and Mexico,” the 13 Texas lawmakers wrote.

Abbott announced a $250 million “down payment” on June 16 for Texas to build its own border wall, using funds from the state prison budget.

That’s one-tenth of the annual prison budget, but law and order allies seemed unconcerned. In March, Congress approved $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, including $350 billion for state and local governments to use in almost any way they want, other than tax cuts or deposits to a pension fund.

Abbott’s office does not dispute that he intends to backfill the prison budget using the pandemic relief funds, though he hasn’t touted that aspect of his plan.

[…]

Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin circulated the letter among fellow Texas Democrats in the House.

“Just as he unsuccessfully tried to steal federal education money from our schools, I would not be surprised if Abbott tries to divert other federal recovery funds from Texans” to project toughness on border security ahead of his reelection bid next year, Doggett said.

In the letter to Yellen, the Texans argue that the federal relief fund was meant to help states provide “premium pay to essential workers, assistance for small businesses, public health measures to respond to COVID-19, and investments in government services, including public facilities and infrastructure.”

Not a single Republican in the House or Senate supported the $1.9 trillion package, which makes it even more galling to Democrats that the largesse could subsidize more border wall.

Treasury is finalizing rules on exactly how states can spend the funds.

The Texans asked the department to make clear “that these Recovery Funds cannot be used for a border wall, fence, or similar installation. This rule should also be clear that this prohibition cannot be subverted by accounting tricks that use Recovery Funds to supplant state funds, which are then used to construct a wall.”

While the $250 million Abbott shifted from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice isn’t enough to build more than “a token, symbolic portion of this costly monstrosity,” the Democrats wrote, “it certainly should not be paid for directly or indirectly with federal Recovery Funds in defiance of President Biden’s direction to cease wall construction.”

Here’s the letter, which was signed by all 13 Congressional Dems from Texas. This seems like a pretty clear case to me, and I would have a hard time seeing why Secretary Yellin would say no to this. That said, this will surely draw a lawsuit from Abbott and Paxton, so we should make sure there’s legal ground to stand on. Assuming there is, then by all means block this money grab. Let Abbott crowdfund his way out of this; he’s got a long way to go at this rate. The Chron and the Current have more.

Lawsuit filed against suspension of federal unemployment benefits

Not sure how likely this is to succeed, but it’s worth a try.

Thousands of Texans have banded together and hired an attorney to file suit to block Gov. Greg Abbott from ending emergency federal unemployment benefits before the programs expire in September.

The plaintiffs, two groups that organized over Facebook with more than 30,000 people, argue that the decision to end the benefits early exceeded the governor’s authority, according to the lawsuit, filed this week in state district court in Austin. The benefits, aimed at providing relief to workers during the pandemic, are scheduled to expire Saturday under Abbott’s order.

“Texas has what is known as a weak governor and a large part of Texas is run by commissions,” David Sibley, an attorney for the group of unemployment groups, said. “We just believe the governor is acting outside of his authority, and it’s something the TWC (Texas Workforce Commission) should address.”

Abbott last month ordered the early end to federal programs that provided supplemental payments of $300 a week to unemployed workers and extended jobless benefits to gig workers and other self-employed people not covered by the traditional unemployment system. Abbott argued that job openings in the state are plentiful and the additional benefits were no longer needed.

[…]

On Friday, Judge Dustin Howell denied a temporary restraining order to block the governor from ending the federal benefits while the case is proceeding. Despite the ruling, Sibley said his clients will continue with their case. “A denial of a (temporary restraining order) does not mean the case is over,” Sibley said.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Texas Workforce Commission to make the decision on whether and when to end the benefits. They acknowledge that the workforce commission could reach the same decision as the governor, but it would delay when the federal benefits would expire.

See here and here for the background. The only other news story I found about this is a paywalled DMN story, so I don’t have any more details. Seems to me getting denied the motion for a temporary restraining order is a big setback, but maybe there is still a way forward. I found a Facebook group with 30K members that appears to be related to this, but it’s private and I don’t want to go poking my nose in places where it doesn’t belong. I wish these folks well, but I don’t think they’re going to get what they’re asking for. The Texas Signal has more.

Suing the “Trump Train”

Good.

A group of people traveling on a President Joe Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway last fall when it was surrounded and followed by former President Donald Trump’s supporters have filed a lawsuit against at least seven people who allegedly were following the bus, claiming the group violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Texas law by organizing a “politically-motivated conspiracy to disrupt the campaign and intimidate its supporters.”

The Klan Act prevents groups from joining together to obstruct free and fair federal elections by intimidating and injuring voters, or denying them the ability to engage in political speech.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, claims the defendants violated that law when they followed the bus, yelling death threats and streaming their activities on social media.

The plaintiffs include former state Sen. Wendy Davis, David Gins, a then-campaign staffer who now serves as deputy director for operations for Vice President Kamala Harris, Eric Cervini, another campaign volunteer, and the bus driver, Timothy Holloway. The lawsuit also states that the plaintiffs continue to suffer psychological and emotional injury from the event. The bus driver, Holloway, has been unable to drive a bus following the experience. They are asking for compensatory and punitive damages and for legal fees to be covered.

“What Defendants cannot do under the law is use force, intimidation, or threats against those with whom they disagree politically. Yet that is precisely what Defendants did by conspiring to use their vehicles as weapons to interfere with the constitutional rights of those who supported the Biden-Harris Campaign,” the lawsuit reads. “The Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, association, and assembly is empty if those rights cannot be freely exercised. And where groups are permitted to terrorize those with whom they disagree into forgoing their constitutional rights, the functioning of our democracy demands accountability.”

[…]

In an exclusive interview with the Tribune in January, Davis said she didn’t think law enforcement had taken the situation seriously enough. She said in San Antonio, police responded to a request for assistance, pushing the trucks with Trump flags back. But once they left San Antonio, the caravan once again surrounded the bus. Davis said they called 911 again in San Marcos but they could not get an officer to respond.

“They just kept saying, ‘Where are you now? Where are you now,’” Davis said in January. “We kept giving them landmark after landmark, mile marker after mile marker. … Never were we able to get anyone to come out. It was unbelievable.”

I didn’t blog about that incident at the time because there was a lot going on and there wasn’t much to add to it except inchoate anger. The Texas Civil Rights Project has a landing page for this – it appears there are two complaints, both of which have some unnamed defendants – with a one page explanation of the lawsuit and the law it has been filed under. The one pager says that the Klan Act has been “mostly unused” over the past hundred years, so who knows how a judge will view it. There is apparently still an FBI investigation of the incident, so perhaps we’ll be able to hear about what they have learned.

The Chron provides some details about the two suits.

The first of two lawsuits filed Thursday targets at least seven individuals who were driving the vehicles that surrounded the bus. The second addresses local law enforcement officers, whom the plaintiffs contend did not properly respond to the incident.

[…]

The first lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that the individuals involved in surrounding the bus violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which prohibits people from conspiring to inhibit individuals’ political speech via force, intimidation or threats.

“Plaintiffs feared the Trump Train might run the bus off the road, or that they might crash into a vehicle, wall barrier, sign, pillar, or other obstacle on or by the highway,” the lawsuit states. “They feared what the Trump Train might do if they succeeded in stopping the bus or forcing the bus off the road. Plaintiffs were terrified that someone on the bus, or someone else driving on the interstate, would be injured or killed.”

The second lawsuit claims that, as Biden staffers solicited aid from the San Marcos Police Department, they “were failed by the very officials charged with upholding both their safety and their foundational democratic rights.” The plaintiffs allege that they contacted San Marcos police with safety concerns a day in advance of their travels, and that officers declined to provide help when the bus was surrounded on the highway.

A spokesperson said last fall that the San Marcos Police Department had received a request for a police escort, but they couldn’t catch up with the vehicle before it left the city.

The lawsuit contradicts that claim, asserting that officers said they wouldn’t respond unless the campaign was “reporting a crime.”

OK then. Assuming they survive a motion to dismiss, I will be very interested to see what comes out of the discovery process, because the potential is there for this to connect to some public figures. I mean, it sure seems likely to me that what happened didn’t come as a complete surprise to various Republican campaigns and the state and county parties. I will also be interested to see if some fancy high-priced attorneys materialize for the defense. It’s surely best to keep one’s expectations low on this, but the potential is there for some accountability to be had. Here’s hoping.

Everyone’s waiting on Beto

Pardon me while I brew myself a cup of tea and stare meaningfully out the window.

Beto O’Rourke

Texas’ Republican statewide primaries are heating up as challengers emerged in recent weeks for both Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. But for all the Republican maneuvering, Democrats are remaining quiet about primary plans.

Texas Democrats are in a holding pattern as they plan for the 2022 cycle for two main reasons. First, the party establishment is waiting on former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to announce whether he will run for governor.

Secondly, and crucially, incumbents and potential candidates across the state are awaiting the release this fall of new district maps to decide whether they’ll retire, run for reelection or consider a statewide bid. The new maps will come from the decennial redistricting process where lawmakers redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts.

“There’s a lot of planning and strategizing behind the scenes,” said Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie’s List, the Texas Democratic women-in-politics group. “Whatever Beto decides to do is the domino that affects everybody.”

[…]

Beyond O’Rourke, there is some chatter that former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro or U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro might make a run for governor. Otherwise, the field of potential candidates are a mix of current and former state legislators.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo remains a much pined-for candidate, particularly among female Democratic operatives, but so far she has not expressed interest in running statewide next year.

And there are some Democrats who have announced runs for statewide offices, but few are well-funded. Two candidates that have earned the most notice are Mike Collier, who ran for lieutenant governor two years ago and is making another run, and former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, who is running for attorney general.

[…]

In a traditional election cycle, candidates tend to roll out their campaigns over the spring and summer of the off-year, but this year potential candidates are still watching and waiting for the new district maps.

The entire Texas election calendar could also be moved back, due to the delayed census amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on reapportionment and the Texas Legislature’s ability to draw maps.

Some statewide Democratic candidates could emerge after the maps are finished. If a Democratic incumbent finds themselves in a carved up district where he or she has no chance at reelection, the notion of running statewide — still an incredible challenge for Democrats — actually could be an easier lift than reelection.

See here for the previous update. I would say that one race has “heated up” on the Republican side, and that’s the race for Attorney General, where the opportunity to challenge a guy who’s been indicted by the state, is being investigated by the FBI and sued by several former top staffers who accuse him of being a crook, and also facing a State Bar complaint for filing a frivolous and batshit crazy lawsuit to overturn the Presidential election, would normally be seen as an obvious thing for anyone with ambition to do. The entry of a low-wattage one-term former State Senator into the gubernatorial primary is in my mind no different than Steve Stockman’s 2014 primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn, but your mileage may vary.

I’m as big a fan of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo as anyone, but I say there’s a zero percent chance she runs statewide in 2022. There’s no evidence to suggest that this is something she wants to do. My personal belief is that she wants to finish the job she started as County Judge, and only then will she consider something different (which may be retiring from politics). I could be wrong, and if Democrats do break through in 2022 and President Biden carries Texas in 2024 then it’s certainly possible Judge Hidalgo could be one of presumably many Dems to throw a hat in for 2026, but the very composition of this sentence should be acting to cool your jets. I will be extremely surprised if she does something other than run for re-election in 2022.

The prospect of someone who loses out in redistricting running for something statewide is one I hadn’t really considered before. It didn’t happen in 2012, mostly because there wasn’t anyone for the Republicans to screw out of a seat that year, given how they beat anyone who was beatable in 2010. Republicans will have more targets this time, though they are also operating on much tighter margins, but I could see a legislator who gets left without a winnable district deciding to run for something statewide. If nothing else, it’s a good way to build name ID and a donor base, and puts you in the conversation for next time. It’s all too vague and theoretical now to toss out any names, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Oh, and before I forget: Please don’t make us wait too long, Beto.

You can announce any time now, Beto

Sunday at your rally would have been a good time, but honestly I’m not too picky about that.

Beto O’Rourke

About three weeks after Texas Democrats staged a dramatic walkout to temporarily kill a GOP-led voting restrictions bill, dozens of the party’s most active and well-known members gathered in front of the Texas Capitol to rally again for federal voting rights legislation.

The speakers ranged from one-time presidential candidates — former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who nearly unseated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, and Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio — to members of Congress, state representatives, city leaders and local activists. The rally was the last stop on O’Rourke’s “Drive for Democracy” tour, a statewide endeavor that included nearly 20 town halls across the Lone Star State.

Several thousand were in attendance, chanting “let us vote” between speakers and holding up signs: “Protect voting rights,” “Texas voters matter,” “Don’t mess with Texas voters.”

“They’re trying to rig the system to stay in office as long as they can, try to suppress the vote to make it harder — especially for Black and brown communities to vote in Texas — and we’re not going to let them,” Castro said of Republicans. “We’re going to fight back. We’re going to say no, and we’re going to show up.”

The rally comes as Congress is set to begin debating federal voting rights legislation — the so-called “For the People Act” — this week. The Democrat-led measures, H.R.1 or S.1, would mandate that all states implement automatic voter registration, offer mail-in ballots and use new voting machines, among other provisions.

I mean, we’ll know pretty quickly if we can have any kind of voting rights bill or if the filibuster is too precious to overcome. So, maybe by the end of the week? That would work for me. The Texas Signal has a brief interview with Beto that covers what he’s doing now and yes, the inevitable question about next year. For more on that last stop on the rally, see this other Signal story and the Austin Chronicle.

An alternate route to Medicaid expansion

I’m okay with this.

Texas Democrats have tried for years to convince Republican state leaders to increase access to Medicaid. Now they think they have found a way to do it with or without their help.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and lawmakers from 11 other GOP-led states introduced a measure this week that would give money directly to local governments that want to provide coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income Texans who currently fall into what is known as the “coverage gap.”

The Cover Outstanding Vulnerable Expansion-eligible Residents (COVER) Now Act would allow counties to apply for the money directly with the federal government, and it would prohibit state leaders from retaliating against them if they do.

Doggett said his aim is to avoid conflict with Republicans.

“You have your ideological objections to Medicaid expansion — I don’t agree, but I accept your position,” he said. “At least let those local leaders who want to take advantage of this and who recognize both the health and economic advantages of doing it, at least let them do that, and walk away and see how it works.”

[…]

Doggett estimated that if Houston, San Antonio and Dallas alone signed on to the proposal, half of the state’s eligible uninsured population would gain access. All three cities are led by Democrats and have pushed for Medicaid expansion.

Statewide, more than 1.2 million Texans would be eligible for Medicaid if state officials were to expand the program, according to a study by the The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

More than two million people are thought to be in the coverage gap today, meaning they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Most are people of color, and the biggest group is in Texas, a state that has long had the highest uninsured rate in the country.

Anne Dunkelberg, a policy analyst for the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, said the new legislation would also increase funding to state health officials for any added administrative costs.

“Congressman Doggett’s bill really recognizes how entrenched the ultra conservative opposition to expansion is in Texas and the need to really connect the dots about what it’s going to take for us to get possibly a million and a half uninsured adults — the vast majority of them working — coverage,” she said.

I don’t know if the reconciliation process that Rep. Doggett envisions for this would be part of the infrastructure package or as a later budget bill, but either way there will be opportunities. I think the odds of it avoiding conflict with Republicans is basically zero, so the more important consideration is how well-defended it will be from Republican attempts to screw with it or obstruct it. We have seen too many examples in recent times of the state having control over federal money intended for local governments that have resulted in all kinds of bad outcomes, from the delays in appropriating COVID relief to the GLO’s screw job against Houston and Harris County. Cut the state completely out of it, and then hope it’s too difficult for a future Republican Congress or President to mess with it.

Assuming this does go through, I would expect quite a few more counties than those three cited would jump at this. Travis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Cameron, Webb, some other South Texas counties, probably Hays, would certainly take advantage. Nueces, Tarrant, and Williamson would be interesting to watch, and I bet this would add some spice to county races in Collin and Denton and maybe Brazoria. It’s possible that some Republican counties, especially ones with hospitals teetering on the brink of financial disaster, might decide to put aside politics and grab the money, as several Republican states have done. I could definitely see this making a huge dent in the uninsured population, and providing some fodder for the 2022 elections as well. It’s mostly a question of how durable it is, and that’s something that Rep. Doggett can work on. Here’s hoping.

Get ready for your first Universities Line BRT map

Feel the excitement! No, seriously, we’ve waited a long time for this.

The largest and most-sought segment of Metro’s planned bus rapid transit expansion in Houston is poised next week to officially move from being just lines on a map to the starting line — even if construction remains years away.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members are scheduled Thursday to approve a preferred alternative for the 25-mile University Line, the mammoth route that acts somewhat as an east-west spine of the region’s future transit plans. Setting the preferred route does not lock the agency into that exact path, but instead acts as the goal as design continues, leading to eventual public response to a proposal.

Though preliminary, officials said the approval is a major step for luring federal funding, as well as building the route as soon as possible.

“This is the crown jewel of MetroNext,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said of the line, referring to the agency’s $7.5 billion long-range plan.

Central portions of the line, mostly along Richmond and Westpark, represent the most sought-after but controversial connections in the Metro system. When voters approved Metro’s long-range plan and $3.5 billion in bond authority in November 2019, Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said closing the gap in frequent, fast transit between downtown and Uptown was the “most logical” major project in the plan.

Construction, however, likely would not begin until 2024 at the earliest, after community meetings and Federal Transit Administration approval. Work likely will happen in sections.

Planning and technical work alone could take the next two years, with Metro set to approve a consulting agreement with engineering firm AECOM, paying it $1 million to start the initial designs. The total cost of the University Line is likely to exceed $1 billion.

As noted before, Metro is moving quickly to try to get federal funds so that design and construction can begin on the timeline indicated above. I support that and hope they’re successful, but I have to admit this all leaves me feeling bittersweet. Remember, the original Metro referendum passed in 2001. The Main Street line opened in 2004. We were talking about designs for what would have been the Universities light rail line in 2005. A combination of some cranky Afton Oaks residents, former Congressman John Culberson, the former Metro board’s incompetence, and the 2008 economic crash have all led to this, where we’re trying again to build something that in another universe might be celebrating its ten year anniversary by now. I feel pretty good about the current plan coming to fruition maybe five years or so from now, but the amount of time that was wasted with nothing to show for it is staggering and nauseating. Let’s please never do that again.

The Texas Dem legislators and the push for federal voting rights legislation

We know this happened.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday pointed to Texas Republicans’ push for sweeping new voting restrictions as a key illustration of the need to restore federal oversight of elections.

While meeting at the White House with a group of Democratic members of the Texas Legislature, Harris pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling to nullify the lynchpin of the landmark Voting Rights Act that kept states like Texas under “preclearance” of its voting laws to safeguard the rights of voters of color — a measure Democrats are hoping to bring back with new federal legislation.

“We have seen exactly what we feared when that case came down in 2013. Because that case was an opening of a door to allow states to do what otherwise we have protected against, which is states putting in place laws that are designed, in many cases quite intentionally, to make it difficult for people to vote,” Harris said. “And so this is what we’ve seen over and over again, and what’s happening right now in Texas is, of course, a very clear and current example of that.”

Harris’ remarks came at the start of a meeting with 16 Democratic members of the Texas Legislature. The vice president, who is leading the Biden administration’s voting rights efforts, invited the lawmakers to the White House after state representatives in May staged an 11th hour walkout of the state Capitol to break quorum and prevent a final vote on what is considered one of the most restrictive GOP-backed state voting bills following the 2020 election. On Wednesday, Harris called the Democrats “courageous leaders” and “American patriots.”

The bill Democrats defeated, Senate Bill 7, would have brought sweeping changes to Texas elections by restricting voting hours, narrowing local officials’ control of elections, further tightening the rules for voting by mail and bolstering access for partisan poll watchers, among several other provisions.

[…]

In a series of meetings with U.S. senators and congressional leaders, Democrats have been using the trip — and the national attention their quorum break garnered — to push for a pair of federal bills that could preempt portions of the Texas legislation they temporarily prevented from becoming law and restore expansive protections for voters of color. With Republicans in full control of the Legislature, Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to call lawmakers back this summer for a special legislative session to pass the bill into law.

The far-reaching federal For the People Act would overhaul elections, requiring states like Texas to offer automatic and same-day voter registration. Under the law, Texas would also have to drop its tight eligibility requirements for voting by mail, among several other changes to state law. The more narrowly tailored John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could place Texas back under federal oversight so its election laws could not go into effect before the federal government ensured they wouldn’t undermine the voting rights of people of color.

Under preclearance, various sets of political maps and voting restrictions were placed on hold with federal courts repeatedly finding Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in drawing them up.

The point of preclearance, and the reason for the urgency, is that in a world where preclearance has been restored, any new legislation that affects voting in any way will have to be reviewed before it can be implemented. In the world we’re in now, those bills go into effect until and unless they are put on hold by a federal court after a lawsuit has been filed. As we know from the past decade’s experience with voter ID and redistricting, there’s no reason to expect that to happen. The federal bills would re-establish preclearance in some updated fashion – remember, the Shelby decision was predicated on the fact that the formula used to determine which states needed to be under preclearance was outdated, and it said that Congress could fix that.

The key, though, is that this would only affect state laws passed afterwards. If SB7 had been passed, or if it passes before Congress can enact its bill, then preclearance doesn’t apply. That’s why the quorum break, which doomed SB7 for now, was so consequential, and why the Texas Dem legislators are good spokespeople for getting that ball rolling. I don’t know what will happen in terms of the Congressional calendar – really, the Senate’s calendar, as the House has already passed both of those bills and would be able to pass a revised version of either in short order – but at least the Dems had a receptive audience for their pitch.

Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jasmine Crockett met with [Sen. Joe] Manchin’s staff on Tuesday. In comments to Texas Signal, Crockett maintained that the meeting with his Chief of Staff and another aide was quite substantial. According to Crockett, they started going through all the provisions of the For The People Act, also known as H.R. 1, they agreed with.

“I’m not really one for this term incremental change they continually try to sell me in the Texas House, but if this is what incremental looks like that will at least provide us cover now,” said Crockett. She also told the Texas Signal there were certain things that Manchin supported, like vote by mail options for those who are sick or have a conflict with work, that would be a lot more expansive than what we currently have in Texas now.

Crockett believes a big factor in Manchin’s movements towards supporting some version of a voting rights bill stems from his former role as West Virginia Secretary of State. She also believes she and Martinez Fischer were able to really convey the totality of the voter suppression efforts of SB 7 to him and his staff. “We were able to give them some of the details that they just weren’t privy to because they’ve not lived and breathed SB 7 all session,” said Crockett.

Some members of the Texas delegation did actually meet with Manchin in Washington. U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green, and Henry Cuellar helped broker the last-minute meeting, which Garcia called “productive.” Senator Jose Menéndez posted on Twitter afterward, writing “Working together we’ll find a pathway forward to protect [voting rights] of all Americans and protect our democracy.”

[…]

The fact that Manchin was engaging in an earnest debate, was also for Crockett a step forward on voting rights legislation. That wouldn’t have happened if Texas House Democrats had not broken the quorum. “I really do feel like we were heard, and we were heard in a manner that we wouldn’t have been heard if we just sat there and pushed our buttons and said no and [SB 7] became law,” said Crockett.

There does appear to be some momentum now for the Manchin version of SB1, which received Stacy Abrams’ support as well. It’s when the Republicans filibuster it, and it becomes clear there isn’t any support on their side for the Manchin revision, that we’ll see whether the immovable object or the irresistible force wins.