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And straight ticket voting is off again

No surprise, but boy are we all getting whiplash over here.

Texas voters will not be able to select every candidate of a major political party with one punch, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, upholding a 2017 state law that ends the popular practice of straight-ticket voting for this year’s general election.

The Texas Legislature years ago acted to end straight-ticket voting in time for the 2020 presidential contest, but a federal judge earlier this month reinstated the practice, citing complications to the voting process caused by the pandemic.

A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision on Wednesday, ruling that the law ending the one-punch option should go into effect even as voters and election administrators contend with the coronavirus pandemic, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s “emphasis that courts should not alter election rules on the eve of an election.”

“The Texas Legislature passed HB 25 in 2017, and state election officials have planned for this election accordingly. The state election machinery is already well in motion,” the judges wrote. Upholding the law and eliminating straight ticket voting, they wrote, “will minimize confusion among both voters and trained election officials.”

[…]

The opinion, which was not signed, came from a panel of three appointees of George W. Bush: U.S. Circuit Judges Edith Clement, Catharina Haynes and Jennifer Walker Elrod. The court had already paused the lower court’s ruling with a brief administrative stay, but Wednesday’s eight-page decision is a firmer word on the matter.

See here and here for the background. I don’t agree that this ruling would have been disruptive of confusing to voters, who had been used to being able to vote straight ticket, but I thought the original ruling against the plaintiffs was correct, so I’m not going to get too exercised over this. I will say, now that SCOTUS is again on everyone’s mind, that this case is a reminder that many cases get resolved well before they get to SCOTUS, or to SCOTX if we’re talking about state litigation. It’s clear that the courts we have are not going to save us. The route we need to take to fix our ridiculous voting laws is winning enough state elections to pass new and better voting laws. Whatever happens with SCOTUS, we should be plenty of motivated to do that.

Of course the Fifth Circuit paused the straight ticket voting ruling

Water is wet, the sky is blue, the Fifth Circuit gives Ken Paxton whatever he asks.

Best mugshot ever

A federal appeals court on Monday put a temporary hold on a lower court’s ruling last week that reinstated the practice of straight-ticket voting, again casting into uncertainty whether Texas voters will have the option in the Nov. 3 election to vote for every candidate of a political party with one punch. A final ruling is expected after the court weighs the arguments more thoroughly.

[…]

Early voting is set to start Oct. 13, leaving election administrators little time to make major changes to voting procedures.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo wrote that ending straight-ticket voting would “cause important delays at polling places, place Texan voters at increased risk of catching a deadly virus, and discourage voters, particularly those most vulnerable to the disease or under significant economic pressure, from exercising their rights on election day.”

The three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a momentary pause on that decision Monday while it considers the case. It set quick deadlines for both sides to submit their arguments.

The case was brought by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Democratic groups.

No matter the end result, the litigation has meant hours of chaos for scores of election administrators scrambling to ready their polling places for a Texas election unlike any other.

See here and here for the background. This is what I expected, so I’m not surprised, just appropriately cynical. The court has ordered a briefing to be held on Wednesday, so at least this should be resolved quickly one way or the other. You can see why I suggested we be deliberate about discussing this. Until we get a final ruling for this election, please pour one out for the state’s elections administrators, as they chug Maalox and chain smoke while the courts meddle with their perfectly nice election. The Chron and the Statesman have more.

Paxton appeals stright ticket voting ruling

Letting no moss grow.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office filed an appeal and motion to stay Saturday following a federal judge’s order to reinstate straight ticket voting ahead of the November general election.

Lawyers representing the Texas Secretary of State argued that U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo erred when she ruled Friday that the elimination of straight ticket voting this year would illegally impede the ability of Texas residents to vote by causing long lines at the polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Attorney General’s office also argued the ruling came too late for elections officials to properly alter ballots.

“Eighteen days before in-person voting begins is insufficient time for election administrators in 254 counties and their vendors to meticulously re-program, re-proof, and re-test thousands of different ballot styles,” state officials wrote in their motion to stay.

[…]

Some county elections officials have issued warnings that Marmolejo’s ruling came too late in the planning process. Marmolejo found that only in-person ballots must have a straight-ticket voting option.

It is not immediately clear how quickly the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will act or when Marmolejo might rule on the motion to stay.

See here for the background. This was of course completely expected, and if the Fifth Circuit doesn’t break records issuing a stay of Judge Marmolejo’s order I’ll be shocked, but here we are for now. Gotta admit, Paxton complaining about the timing after his official support of reinstating Green Party candidates within a week of the supposed deadline for printing absentee ballots is a nice touch. You have to respect the dedication to his craft.

I have to admit, I’m a bit hesitant to even talk about this litigation. I don’t want to start telling people “Hey, it turns out you can vote a straight party ticket like you did before”, only to have to retract that following the inevitable Fifth Circuit action and tell people again that they need to vote in each race. I’d just like to know what the rules are so we can prepare for them. Allowing straight ticket voting again, even at this late hour, isn’t confusing, it’s what people are used to. Not having it isn’t great, but we have a message for that. Taking it away, then giving it back, then taking it away again, that’s what would suck. So for now, don’t go sharing this stuff all over social media. Wait till we know what’s for real first.

Straight ticket voting reinstated (for now)

That was unexpected.

Less than three weeks before early voting begins in Texas, a U.S. district judge has blocked the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting as an option for people who go to the polls this November.

In a ruling issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo cited the coronavirus pandemic, saying the elimination of the voting practice would “cause irreparable injury” to voters “by creating mass lines at the polls and increasing the amount of time voters are exposed to COVID-19.”

Marmolejo also found that the GOP-backed law would “impose a discriminatory burden” on black and Hispanic voters and “create comparatively less opportunities for these voters to participate in the political process.”

She acknowledged the burden the decision could put on local and state election officials, who will have to recalibrate voting machines or reprint ballots. But she reasoned that the potential harm for those suing, including the Texas Association for Retired Americans, was “outweighed by the inconveniences resulting.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party joined other Democratic groups and candidates in suing the state in March to overturn the law, but Marmolejo dismissed the case. Another suit was then filed, but with the Texas Association for Retired Americans added as plaintiffs and the state party removed. Nonetheless, Democrats celebrated the judge’s order Friday.

“Time and time again Republican leadership has tried to make it harder to vote and time and time again federal courts strike it down,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement after the ruling. “Texas Democrats will have to continue to win at the ballot box to protect the right vote. Until the new Texas majority wipes out these out-of-touch Republicans, Texas Democrats will never stop fighting for Texans in court.”

See here and here for the background. This was a Democracy Docket case, and so they have a copy of the original complaint and the judge’s order. The complaint wasn’t any different the second time around, but the set of plaintiffs was. Beyond that, the main difference was the extent of the pandemic since the original case was dismissed in late June. The judge cites how much worse the spread of the virus has gotten, as well as the difficulties counties had running the primary runoffs in July – fewer voting locations, harder time getting poll workers – as justification for reversing her original dismissal. She also noted the extra time it takes to vote Texas’ long ballots; I’m guessing this opinion was written a few days ago, because that recent Harris County study was not cited.

I presume this will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit before the weekend is out, and I expect they will put a stay on the order pending whatever review they’re going to do. Or maybe not, I don’t know, we’re getting awfully close to “we really need to finalize the ballot and configure the voting machines” time. The judge also noted in the ruling that it would be less confusing to the voters to restore straight ticket voting at this late time than to not have it, since we have not had such an election yet. I think the real danger of confusion is having everyone talk about this ruling for a few days and then have it blocked by the appeals court, but that’s just me. For now, we’ll be voting like it’s 2018 again. For now. The Chron has more.

The Green Party owes Ken Paxton a thank-you note

He did them a solid, that’s for sure.

Turns out it is easy being Green

In the legal fight to exclude minor party candidates from the November ballot, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton took a flexible view of time and deadlines.

After the Texas GOP filed suit Aug. 21 to remove 44 Libertarians from the ballot for failure to pay a required candidate filing fee, Paxton told the Texas Supreme Court that there was plenty of time to pursue the challenge.

This week, however, Paxton told the same court that a Democratic bid to oust three Green Party candidates — filed four days before the unsuccessful GOP challenge — was begun much too late and needed to be overturned.

“The (Democrats’) dilatory conduct and unjustified delay in seeking relief imposed an undue burden on the Green Party officials,” Paxton told the court in a brief filed Monday.

[…]

[F]acing an Aug. 21 deadline to declare candidates ineligible, Democrats sued Aug. 17 to strike three Greens running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and Railroad Commission.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals gave the Greens less than 48 hours to respond, then issued an Aug. 19 order declaring the three Green Party candidates ineligible for failure to pay the filing fee. The 2-1 ruling had two Democrats in the majority and one Republican dissenting.

The ruling drew the notice of Republican Party leaders, who quickly demanded that Libertarian leaders drop a long list of candidates for the same reason.

When those demands were rejected, Republican organizations and candidates asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to follow the precedent set in the Democratic challenge and order the Libertarians removed from the ballot.

But the GOP filed its challenge on Aug. 21, the deadline to declare candidates ineligible, and the appeals court tossed it out, ruling that there wasn’t time to hear from all parties and gather the necessary information before the deadline expired.

The GOP turned to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that instead of challenging candidate eligibility under an expired deadline, it was challenging the Libertarians’ candidate applications as improper — giving them until Sept. 18 to seek court intervention.

Paxton, in a letter brief to the Supreme Court, agreed with the GOP interpretation of state election law.

“Under Texas law, there is still time for this Court to compel compliance,” Paxton told the court on Sept. 4.

The all-Republican Supreme Court disagreed, ruling Sept. 5 that the GOP and Paxton were looking at the wrong section of the Election Code on deadlines. The court concluded that the Libertarians could not be removed from the ballot because the GOP challenge was filed too late.

[…]

Then on Friday, the Green Party asked the Supreme Court to reinstate its three candidates, arguing that like the GOP, the Democrats relied on the wrong part of the Election Code, rendering their challenge void as well.

The court asked Paxton’s office for its opinion.

In Monday’s response, filed 10 days after arguing that the GOP had not acted too late in challenging Libertarian opponents, Paxton urged the court to reinstate the Green candidates because the Democrats waited too long to act and because the 3rd Court of Appeals engaged in a rushed process that didn’t give the Greens, other political parties and other candidates time to weigh in.

“The 3rd Court abused its discretion,” Paxton wrote.

The Supreme Court’s one-paragraph order to reinstate the Green candidates did not explain the court’s rationale.

See here for the background. We expect SCOTX to publish its opinion on this ruling today, so we may get some idea if it’s all a bunch of sophistry or if they can make a principled argument that the Greens were deprived of their right to respond to the Dems’ legal action in a timely manner, which was a part of the ruling against the GOP in the Libertarian purge attempt. That Ken Paxton was willing to be morally and conveniently flexible on the subject should come as no surprise, given everything we know about him and his character. The Republican Party of Texas has a longstanding willingness to help the Greens whenever they think it might benefit them. This time that support came from an elected official instead of a deep-pocketed donor. Whatever works.

There was a debate in the comments of the last post about ranked choice voting (RCV) being a solution to this kind of legal gamesmanship. The theory is that since the people who voted Green or Libertarian (or independent, or whatever else may have been on the ballot) would still be able to express their electoral support for whichever major party candidate they like as their backup selection, which in turn would reduce the incentive for the major parties to bump them off the ballot. The logic has merit, though the lack of RCV around the country means there’s no data to test that hypothesis.

In this case, the argument that had been made by both the Ds and the Rs is that the other parties’ candidates had violated the law by not paying the newly-mandated filing fees – you may note, the Dems did not challenge the three Greens who did pay their filing fees, just the three candidates who had not – and there is a long history of candidates being challenged because they failed to meet eligibility requirements. If the filing fee law continues to survive the lawsuits against it, and there are Greens and Libertarians who refuse to comply with it in 2022, I would fully expect them to be taken to court again, surely in a more expeditious fashion, and I would expect that even in an RCV-enabled world. This is a basic tool in the political toolbox, one that I would not expect to go away if the method of determining the winner of an election changes. That too is a testable question, and perhaps one day we’ll have an answer for it. For now, that’s how I see it.

SCOTX puts Greens back on the ballot

That sound you hear is my head spinning.

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered three Green Party candidates to be restored to the November ballot after Democrats successfully sued to remove them.

Last month, a state appeals court sided with the Democrats, who were seeking to kick the candidates off the ballot because they had not paid filing fees. The three candidates are David Collins for U.S. Senate, Katija “Kat” Gruene for Railroad Commission and Tom Wakely for the 21st Congressional District.

The Texas Green Party appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Tuesday that the secretary of state “shall immediately take all necessary actions to ensure these candidates appear on the” November ballot. The Supreme Court did not give its rationale, but said a full opinion was forthcoming.

It is the latest development in a spate of legal battles over third parties on the November ballot. At issue is a new requirement that third parties pay filing fees like Democrats and Republicans do. The law, passed last year by the Legislature, is the subject of multiple legal challenges, and many third-party candidates had not paid filing fees amid the pending litigation.

A state appeals court upheld the 2019 law last week.

While the Democrats were initially successful in booting the three Green Party candidates off the ballot, Republicans more recently failed in their bid to remove 44 Libertarians from the ticket for a similar reason. In rejecting the GOP effort earlier this month, the Supreme Court said the party waited too long to raise the issue.

[…]

It is crunch time for finalizing ballots across the state, with a Saturday deadline for counties to mail overseas and military ballots. The state’s most populous county, Harris County, wrote to the Supreme Court on Monday saying that “it is too late to make changes,” even if the court acted that day.

In an email sent to county election officials shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Texas secretary of state indicated that counties that had already sent out mail ballots would need to send a corrected version “as soon as possible.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling and ballot change will not be an acceptable excuse for missing the [Sept. 19] deadline,” wrote Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections. “That deadline must still be met.”

State law requires corrected ballots to include both a written notice explaining the change and instructions to destroy “defective” ballots that have not yet been returned to a county. A defective ballot returned to the county will be counted if a corrected ballot is not returned in time.

See here and here for the background on the Dems’ effort to boot those three Green candidates, and see here and here for more on the Republicans’ failed effort to boot the Libertarians. A fourth Green candidate had withdrawn from the ballot before all this started because he had voted in the Democratic primary this year.

My first reaction on seeing this news was that it was awfully late in the game for further changes to the ballot. Looking at the case filings, the writ was filed by the Greens on September 11, the Dems had till the 14th to respond, and the ruling came down on the 15th. I’ll have an opinion on the ruling when it is available, but until then all I can do is shrug. It is what it is. You can read this Twitter thread, which began with the original rulings in the two cases, for some more context. The Chron has more.

Weekend voting litigation news

I have two news items about voting-related lawsuits. Both of these come via the Daily Kos Voting Rights Roundup, which has been increasingly valuable to me lately, given the sheer number of such lawsuits and the fact that some news about them either never makes the news or does so in a limited way that’s easy to miss. For the first one, which I have been unable to find elsewhere, let me quote directly from the DKos post:

A federal court has rejected the GOP’s motion to dismiss a pair of Democratic-backed lawsuits challenging a 2019 law Republicans enacted to ban mobile voting locations that operate in a given location for only part of the early voting period. The law in question requires that all polling places be open for the entire early voting period, but because this puts additional burdens on county election officials’ resources, many localities have opted not to operate so-called “mobile” polling places altogether.

Democrats argue that the law discriminates against seniors, young voters, voters with disabilities, and those who lack transportation access in violation of the First, 14th, and 26th Amendments.

This was originally two lawsuits, one filed in October by the Texas Democratic Party, the DSCC, and the DCCC, and one filed in November by former Austin Assistant City Manager Terrell Blodgett, the Texas Young Democrats (TYD) and Emily Gilby, a registered voter in Williamson County, Texas, and student at Southwestern University serving as President of the Southwestern University College Democrats (the original story listed this plaintiff as Texas College Democrats, but they are not mentioned in the ruling). These two lawsuits were combined, and the ruling denying the motion to dismiss means that this combined lawsuit will proceed to a hearing. Now, I have no idea how long it will take from here to get to a hearing on the merits, let alone a ruling, and as far as I know there’s no prospect of an injunction preventing the law in question (HB1888 from 2019), so this is more of a long-term impact than a 2020 thing, but it’s still good news. I should note that there was a third lawsuit filed over this same law, filed in July by Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP and two Texas voters. That one was filed in San Antonio federal court, while this one was in Austin. I do not know anything about that lawsuit other than the fact that it exists. Like I said, this stuff is hard to keep up with.

The ruling is here, and it’s not long if you want to peruse it. The motion to dismiss argued that the Secretary of State could not be sued because it didn’t enforce voting laws, that the plaintiffs did not have standing because the injuries they claimed under HB1888 were speculative, and that HB1888 was constitutional. The judge rejected the first two claims, and said that once standing and the right to sue were established, the constitutionality question could not be answered in a motion to dismiss because the state had a burden to meet for the law to be constitutional, even if that burden is slight. So it’s on to the merits we go. Now you know what I know about this particular offensive against one of Texas’ more recent attempts to limit voting.

Later in the Kos roundup, we learned about a brand new lawsuit, filed by the Hozte clown car crowd, which is suing to overturn Greg Abbott’s executive order that extended early voting by an additional six days.

Conservative leaders and two Republican candidates have filed suit to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that added six days of early voting for the November election as a pandemic-inspired safety measure.

The extension, they argued, must be struck down as a violation of the Texas Constitution and state law.

“This draconian order is contrary to the Texas spirit and invades the liberties the people of Texas protected in the constitution,” the lawsuit argued. “If the courts allow this invasion of liberty, today’s circumstances will set a precedent for the future, forever weakening the protections Texans sacrificed to protect.”

The lawsuit was the latest attempt by prominent conservative activist Steven Hotze to overturn Abbott’s executive orders and proclamations in response to the coronavirus.

None of Hotze’s suits to date has succeeded, but the barrage of legal challenges highlights the difficulty Abbott is having with his party’s right wing, which questions the severity of the pandemic and opposes limits on businesses and personal decisions.

The latest lawsuit, filed late Thursday in Travis County state District Court, was joined by Republican candidates Bryan Slaton, running for the Texas House after ousting Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, in the GOP primary runoff, and Sharon Hemphill, a candidate for district judge in Harris County.

Other plaintiffs include Rick Green, a former Texas House member from Hays County, and Cathie Adams, former chair of the Republican Party of Texas and a member of Eagle Forum’s national board.

In late July, when Abbott extended the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election, he said he wanted to give Texas voters greater flexibility to cast ballots and protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

Beginning early voting on Oct. 13, instead of Oct. 19, was necessary to reduce crowding at polls and help election officials implement safe social distancing and hygiene practices, Abbott’s proclamation said. To make the change, Abbott suspended the election law that sets early voting to begin 17 days before Election Day.

At the same time, Abbott also loosened vote by mail rules allowing voters to deliver completed ballots to a county voting clerk “prior to and including on election day.”

The Hotze lawsuit, which sought to overturn that change as well, argued that Abbott’s emergency powers do not extend to suspending Election Code provisions and that the early voting proclamation violates the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine because only the Legislature can suspend laws.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order barring the Texas secretary of state from enforcing Abbott’s proclamation and a court order declaring it unconstitutional.

See here for a copy of the lawsuit. Abbott did extend early voting, though whether it was in response to Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ request or if it was something he was always planning to do – remember, he did do the same for the primary runoff election – is not known. What is known is that the State Supreme Court has shown little patience for Hotze and his shenanigans lately. The quote in the story from the lawsuit may be one reason why – there’s a lot more heat than facts being alleged, and even a partisan institution like SCOTX likes to have some basis in the law for what it does. The fact that the extension of early voting for the July runoffs went unchallenged would seem to me to be relevant here – if this is such a grave assault on the state Constitution, why was it allowed to proceed last month? The obvious answer to that question is that there’s a partisan advantage to (potentially) be gained by stopping it now, whereas that wasn’t the case in July. My guess is that this goes nowhere, but as always we’ll keep an eye on it. Reform Austin has more.

Finally, I also have some bonus content relating to the Green Party candidate rejections, via Democracy Docket, the same site where I got the news about the mobile voting case. Here’s the temporary restraining order from the Travis County case that booted David Collins from the Senate race and Tom Wakely from CD21; it was linked in the Statesman story that I included as an update to my post about the mandamus request to SCOTX concerning Wakely and RRC candidate Katija Gruene, but I had not read it. It’s four pages long and very straightforward, and there will be another hearing on the 26th to determine whether the Texas Green Party has complied with the order to remove Collins and Wakely or if there still needs to be a TRO. Here also is the Third Court of Appeals opinion that granted mandamus relief to the Democratic plaintiffs regarding all three candidates:

Molison and Palmer are hereby directed to (1) declare Wakely, Gruene, and Collins ineligible to appear as the Green Party nominees on the November 2020 general statewide ballot and (2) take all steps within their authority that are necessary to ensure that Wakely’s, Gruene’s, and Collins’s names do not appear on the ballot. See In re Phillips, 96 S.W.3d at 419; see also Tex. Elec. Code § 145.003(i) (requiring prompt written notice to candidate when authority declares candidate’s ineligibility). The writ will issue unless Molison and Palmer notify the Clerk of this Court, in writing by noon on Thursday, August 20, 2020, that they have complied with this opinion.

“Molison” is Alfred Molison and “Palmer” is Laura Palmer, the co-chairs of the Texas Green Party. Since the question of the state lawsuit filed by the Libertarian Party over the filing fee mandate came up in the comments on Friday, here’s what this opinion says about that, in a footnote:

We note that although the Green Party and other minor parties and candidates have attempted to challenge the constitutionality of the filing-fee or petition requirement in federal and state court, the statute is currently in effect and enforceable. The federal court denied the parties’ and candidates’ motion for preliminary injunction on November 25, 2019. See Miller v. Doe, No. 1:19-CV-00700-RP, (W.D. Tex., Nov. 25, 2019, order). Although the state district court granted a temporary injunction on December 2, 2019, temporarily enjoining the Secretary of State from refusing to certify third-party nominees from the general election ballot on the grounds that the nominee did not pay a filing fee or submit a petition, the State superseded the temporary injunction, and an interlocutory appeal is pending before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. See Hughs v. Dikeman, No. 14-19-00969-CV, (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.], interlocutory appeal pending).

Emphasis mine. So there you have it.

Further thoughts on the Dems defenestrating the Green candidates

But first, the Chron story about yesterday’s legal action.

An appellate court on Wednesday blocked three Green Party candidates from the November ballot because they failed to pay candidate filing fees.

The candidates are David Collins, who was running for Senate; Tom Wakely, who was running for the 21st Congressional District, and Katija “Kat” Gruene, who was running for the Railroad Commission. The legal challenge was filed by their Democratic opponents: MJ Hegar, Wendy Davis and Chrysta Castañeda, respectively.

Two members of a three-judge panel of the court sided with the Democrats late Wednesday.

In their majority opinion, Justice Thomas Baker wrote that Wakely, Gruene and Collins are ineligible to appear on the ballot and compelled the Green Party to “take all steps within their authority” to ensure they don’t appear on the ballot. Due to the time sensitivity, Baker said the court would not entertain motions for a rehearing.

Chief Justice Jeff Rose dissented, saying providing no other explanation than that relief was “not appropriate based on the record before us.”

[…]

Davis’ campaign declined to comment. Hegar’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Randy Howry, Hegar’s lawyer in the Travis County case, referred questions about the impetus for the suit to attorney Alexi Velez, who was not available for comment.

Castañeda said the suit was a matter of fairness and that the timing was “based on the fact that the Green Party tactics only recently came to light.”

“I and my fellow candidates worked very hard to get on the ballot, and the statute is clear for all of us,” she said, adding that if the candidates didn’t want to or couldn’t pay the fee, they “could have acquired the signatures to petition to be on the ballot but chose not to do so.”

[…]

Wakely said it was clear to him that the last-minute pile-on of lawsuits was a coordinated strategy to eliminate competition. He added that it was curious that Libertarian candidates, including the one in his 21st District race, Arthur DiBianca, who also did not pay fees, were facing similar scrutiny.

Gruene added that the last-minute nature of the case also seems to be part of the Democrats’ strategy, as it leaves the Green candidates without many options for relief.

Charles Waterbury, a lawyer for the Green Party candidates, agreed that the timing seemed like a tactic and said Democrats should have raised the issue sooner.

“The Democrats waited so long for what I would argue is kind of an artificial emergency,” Waterbury said. “If this is such a huge deal, if keeping the juggernaut that is the Green Party off the ballot is so important, this is something they should have filed way before. … They know the difficulty faced by a party like the Greens is basically insurmountable.”

Gruene said she views the suit against her in the same way as Wakely.

“It’s a way to siderail a campaign to shift into dealing with legal matters instead of campaigning,” Gruene said. “The Democratic Party has always seen the Green Party as their opposition, and they, from 2001 until today, have used lawsuits as a way to bankrupt candidates, bankrupt parties and prevent voters from having the choice of voting for Green Party candidates.”

See here and here for the background. Let me begin by saying that yes indeed, the Democratic Party and the Green Party are opponents, by definition. Only one candidate in a race can get elected, so by definition every candidate in a given race is an opponent to the others. I have no patience at all for the whining of these candidates about how mean the Democrats are being to them because I am old enough to remember the 2010 election, in which deep-pocketed Republican backers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Green candidates get on that year’s ballot, an act of charity that the Green Party was only too happy to accept. Those Republicans did that with the intent of making it just a bit harder for Bill White to beat Rick Perry in the Governor’s race. It turned out they needn’t have bothered, but that wasn’t the point. So please spare me the hand-wringing, and pay the filing fee or collect the petition signatures as long as that is required by law, or face the consequences of your actions.

Along those same lines, I respectfully disagree with RG Ratcliffe:

I have never voted for the Green Party and never will, but it is really chickenshit of Texas Democrats to complain about voter suppression and then try to suppress the choices of voters who want to cast ballots for candidates of a party with ballot access over a filing fee the party candidates did not have to pay until this year. And this is about more than a few candidates, this is about denying the Greens ballot access in the future.

I don’t agree that challenging candidates who did not follow the law as written – and please note, a couple of the Green candidates did pay the filing fee, so it’s not that they all shared this principle or all lacked the ability to pay – is in the same universe as passing discriminatory voter ID laws, refusing to expand vote by mail in a pandemic, aggressively pursuing felony prosecutions against people who made honest mistakes (two words: Crystal Mason), but I’ll allow that filing these motions to oust the Greens is not exactly high-minded. To respond to that, let me bring in Evan Mintz:

Here’s an important lesson: Hypocrisy in politics isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. There is no grand umpire or arbiter who punishes elected officials for inconsistency (besides the voters, and they usually don’t mind). Politics isn’t about truth; it’s about power. If past positions get in the way, change them.

I’d say that’s a lesson they don’t teach you in school, but actually they do. Rice University graduate student Matt Lamb told me it’s the first thing he teaches students in his Introduction to American Politics class: “Politics is about power.”

It’s the power to implement an agenda, impose one’s own morality on others, or distribute resources. It’s the reason people try to get elected in the first place.

Texas Democrats must’ve missed that class, because for the past 30 years or so they’ve acted as if noble intentions alone are enough to merit statewide office. Uphold the process. Act professionally. Do the right thing. Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said essentially that in a May conference call with journalists in response to the governor’s plan on ending COVID lockdowns. “The Democratic Party is not looking at the response through a political lens,” he said. “We’re looking at what is good for the public. If that costs us votes, so be it.”

There’s a slight flaw in Hinojosa’s plan: You can’t pursue the public good if you don’t get the public vote.

I’d say it’s clearly the case that the Democrats took legal action to remove these Green Party candidates from the ballot for the same reason why the Republicans paid money in 2010 to help put them on the ballot: They want to increase the chances that their candidates can win these elections. Obviously, there are limitations to this. One need only look at the utter degradation of the Republican Party and the principles it once held on subjects like free trade and personal morality under Donald Trump, where the only principle they now have is winning at all costs for the sake of holding onto power, to understand this. I’d like the Democratic candidates I support to hold principles that I support as well. But you also have to try your best to win elections, because as I’ve said way too many times over the past decade-plus, nothing will change in this state until the Dems start winning more elections. If that means I have to live with the knowledge that we booted some Green Party candidates off the ballot for the purpose of maybe upping our odds some small amount, I’ll do that. If you want to judge me for that, you are free to do so. I can live with that, too.

More challenges to Green Party candidates

From Patrick Svitek:

As we know, the Green Party candidate for Supreme Court Chief Justice withdrew following a challenge that alleged he had violated election law by voting in this year’s Democratic primary. The writ makes the following allegations:

1) The passage of HB2504, the same bill that lowered the statewide vote threshold from five percent to two percent for third parties to automatically qualify for the ballot also mandates a filing fee (or collection of petition signatures), with the same fees or petition requirements for third parties as for Dems and Republicans.

2) Candidates Wakely and Gruene did not pay the filing fees or collect the petition signatures, and the Green Party was aware of this. Indeed, the Green Party specifically stated in their April newsletter that some of their candidates did pay the filing fee while others (including Gruene, Wakely, the already-withdrawn Waterbury, and Senate candidate David Collins, who for whatever the reason was not named in this mandamus) did not.

3) Both the Greens and the Libertarians filed lawsuits alleging that the filing fee was illegal for them, since the idea of the fee was to help pay for the primary elections, which they don’t have. The Libertarians won a temporary injunction against the fee in December, but that was put on hold by the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, and as of today the filing fee is still in effect. (This had caused some confusion for the Ls and Gs, and I have no idea how many other candidates there may be in this particular boat.)

4) Because of all this, the Green Party was required to disqualify these candidates, and since they did not, the Dems are asking the Supreme Court to do so. They are asking via mandamus because Friday the 21st is the statutory deadline for candidates to be included or excluded from the November ballot.

So we’ll see what happens. In theory, I’ll have an update to this by the weekend. The Libertarians’ lawsuit over the legality of the filing fees is still ongoing, it just won’t be resolved in time for this election. Two side notes of interest that I discovered while writing this: One, Katija Gruene also tried to file for HD51, but was not allowed to file for two different offices by the SOS. Pretty sure it’s clear in state law that’s a no-no. Also, a candidate who had applied to run for HD45 was disqualified by the Greens at their convention because he had voted in the Dem primary. Just like Charles Waterbury, except I guess he was up front about it. So there you have it.

UPDATE: Apparently, there was more than one effort going on.

A Travis County judge issued an order Wednesday that temporarily blocked two Texas Green Party candidates for Congress from appearing on the November ballot.

The 14-day temporary restraining order was granted after Democratic Senate candidate MJ Hegar, joined by two national Democratic organizations, argued that her Green Party opponent, as well as a Green candidate opposing Democrat Wendy Davis, should not be placed on the ballot because they failed to pay a candidate filing fee as required by a new state law.

District Judge Jan Soifer’s order blocked the Texas secretary of state’s office from certifying David Collins, the Green candidate for U.S. Senate, and Tom Wakely, running for U.S. House District 21, to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Both candidates were “indisputably ineligible” to appear on the ballot, Soifer said.

Soifer, who was head of the Travis County Democratic Party before becoming a judge, also set an Aug. 26 hearing to determine if the Democrats’ request for an injunction should be granted.

[…]

Hegar’s challenge was one of two that Democrats had recently filed in state courts seeking to keep Green Party challengers off the ballot over failure to pay the fees.

Davis, running for the House seat held by U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Hays County, and Chrysta Castañeda, running for the Railroad Commission, filed an emergency petition Monday asking the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals to issue an order blocking their Green Party opponents from the ballot.

Hegar, seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also joined that effort Wednesday. The appeals court has not yet ruled on the request.

Green Party candidates are generally believed to take votes that would otherwise go to Democrats.

The Green Party acknowledges that its candidates – Collins, Wakely and Katija Gruene for railroad commissioner – did not pay the filing fee or collect the needed number of petition signatures to avoid the fee.

But the party believes the fee, as it applies to third parties, is unconstitutional and improper, said Laura Palmer, Green Party co-chair.

Wow. I had wondered about Collins, given that he wasn’t mentioned in the mandamus request. If all of these motions succeed, the Greens will end up with no statewide candidates, one Congressional candidate (in CD36), one State Senate candidate (SD26), and two State House candidates (HDs 92 and 119). That’s not a lot, but even if the Greens prevail they’d still only have seven total candidates on the ballot. Seems like maybe there’s a bigger issue than the filing fee here, but maybe that’s just me.

UPDATE: And here’s a Trib story by Patrick Svitek with further information.

On Wednesday, both a Travis County district judge and a state appeals court blocked the Green Party nominees for U.S. Senate and the 21st Congressional District from appearing on the ballot. The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals additionally forced the Green Party nominee for railroad commissioner off the ballot.

Earlier this week, it surfaced that a Green Party contender for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court had withdrawn after the Democratic nominee questioned his eligibility.

The Democrats are largely targeting Green Party candidates because they have not paid filing fees — a new requirement for third parties under a law passed by the Legislature last year. The filing fees were already required of Democratic and Republican candidates. The new law is being challenged by multiple lawsuits that remain pending, and the Green Party of Texas has been upfront that most of its candidates are not paying the fees while they await a resolution to the litigation.

[…]

The rulings Wednesday came in response to lawsuits in two different courts that involved some of the same candidates. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, MJ Hegar, had sued in Travis County district court to disqualify the Green Party nominees for U.S. Senate, David Collins, and for the 21st District, Tom Wakely. Meanwhile, Hegar had joined the Democratic nominees for the 21st District, Wendy Davis, and for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, to seek an ineligibly ruling for their three respective Green Party candidates before the 3rd Court of Appeals.

In the appeals court’s opinion, Justice Thomas Baker ordered the Green Party of Texas to declare their three candidates ineligible and do all they can to make sure they do not appear on the ballot. Baker said the court would not accept motions for rehearing, citing the “time-sensitive nature of this matter.”

In the Travis County district court decision, Judge Jan Soifer said her order is in effect for the next two weeks. However, she scheduled a hearing for Aug. 26 — two days before the state’s ballot certification deadline — where she could reevaluate the decision.

Four things: One, as of these rulings we are now at the point I mentioned earlier, where there are no statewide Green candidates. Two, this may moot the mandamus request to the SCOTX. Three, apparently I was wrong earlier, because August 28 is the deadline for party nominees to be certified for the ballot. August 21 is the deadline to withdraw. And finally, that strategy of not paying the filing fees while the lawsuit over filing fees carries on, even though there is no injunction stopping the filing fees, sure does not appear to have worked out well for the Greens.

Hegar to get a boost

Nice.

MJ Hegar

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it will spend at least $1 million to help MJ Hegar in her challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The DSCC said it will be the first time the committee has made a coordinated investment in a general election in Texas, and the money will go toward TV ads, polling and other campaign resources. The announcement comes after the DSCC commissioned a poll that found Cornyn and Hegar in a tight race.

“This race is a dead heat, and our increased investment reflects how MJ’s campaign and the increasingly competitive climate has put another offensive opportunity on the map,” DCCC Executive Director Scott Fairchild said in a statement to Politico, which first reported the news.

The DSCC called the spending a “seven-figure coordinated investment” but did not elaborate further. The Federal Election Commission has capped such spending — known as coordinated party expenditures — at $2,239,500 for the general election this cycle in Texas, and the DSCC already spent toward the limit supporting Hegar in her primary runoff.

[…]

The DSCC said its polling, conducted late last month, found Cornyn barely leading Hegar among likely voters, 43% to 42%, with 15% undecided. Public polling has painted a less rosy picture of the race for Hegar. A Morning Consult survey released Tuesday morning gave Cornyn a 6-point lead with likely voters, 44% to 38%, with 14% undecided. While the margin was wider than the one in the DSCC poll, it was nonetheless the smallest advantage Cornyn has registered so far in a public survey.

The DSCC investment is much-needed financial aid for Hegar, who entered the general election with a large cash-on-hand deficit against Cornyn. She had less than $1 million in reserves at the end of June, while Cornyn had $14.5 million. Cornyn did not have a competitive primary.

See here for more on that Morning Consult poll, and here for the Politico story. The DSCC has backed Hegar for months, so it’s good to see them stick with her. I don’t know a thing about this poll – this tweet from Hegar shows the first paragraph of the email she got about it – but as I’ve said before, the big thing to me is that Cornyn is more or less running even with Trump; he’s been ahead of Trump in a couple of polls, and behind him in some others, but usually within a point or two. If that remains the case, and if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, that may be all that Hegar needs. Raising her name ID, mostly to prevent lower-information voters from wandering over to a third-party candidate, will help with that.

One more thing:

Of course, Beto was also on his way to raising $80 million and becoming a national phenomenon, neither of which are likely to happen for Hegar. But she does have the Presidential race on her side, and a template to follow. Beto did eventually lead Cruz in a couple of polls later in the race, but overall he trailed by about five points. Which, as we know, he outperformed. Now it’s on Hegar to match that.

(PS – Another thing I don’t know is what the Presidential number was in this poll. You’d think if it showed Biden leading it might have been mentioned, but then given how frequently he’s been leading, maybe not. Maybe if this poll had Biden leading by, like, three or four, it might have been reported as “Hegar lags behind Biden”, as it was in that Morning Consult story, and if so the Hegar campaign may have been reluctant to release that, since this was supposed to be about them. And if Biden had trailed Trump, say by the same one point margin, that might have been the story as well. In other words, there’s more than one possible explanation for why we only got what we got. In any event, all this is baseless speculation – we just don’t know. I actually think it’s slightly more plausible that Biden led Trump by a couple of points in this poll than he trailed him by any amount, but I’m just guessing. Feel free to play along.)

Another lawsuit filed over mobile voting locations

Don’t know that there’s enough time for this to be heard, but it’s a good idea.

Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP and two Texas voters this week filed a suit against the state over its election policies, alleging they discriminate against minority voters who are disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

The suit, filed Thursday in San Antonio federal court, alleges that the state’s “insufficient” number of polling places and “limited and inaccessible” early voting locations will result in unsafe voting conditions and voter suppression.

“Texas proposes to rely on election policies that, during the pandemic, will create inordinate burdens on the right to vote,” the suit states. “The burden will be particularly high for Black and Latino voters. Without the relief this lawsuit requests, voters’ exercise of the franchise will be compromised.”

The wide-ranging suit seeks a court order to suspend the Texas law that limits mobile early voting sites, to force the state to extend the duration of early voting and allow the opening of additional polling places in counties where lines typically exceed 20 minutes.

There’s some additional detail in the Trib.

Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs are named as defendants, but the suit targets some decisions that are ultimately up to local officials. The long list of changes the plaintiffs are seeking includes a month of early voting, an across-the-board mask mandate for anyone at a polling place and a suspension of rules that limit who can vote curbside without entering a polling place.

The plaintiffs also want to overturn a relatively new statewide election law that ended the long-established practice of setting up temporary or mobile early voting sites that could be moved around during the early voting period to reach as many voters as possible near where they live, work or go to school. They are asking the court to allow counties a temporary reprieve from that 2019 law, which is the target of a separate lawsuit filed last year.

To “ensure that polling sites are safe and of low risk to the health of all registered voters,” the suit also seeks that the state be ordered to open additional polling places and provide enough voting booths and workers to keep waits to less than 20 minutes.

(Polling places for general elections are ultimately designated by county commissioners courts.)

[…]

Without offering details, Abbott has previously indicated he will be ordering an expansion to the typical two-week early voting period for November. Extended early balloting has been one of the main ways in which state Republican leaders, who have vehemently opposed an expansion in voting by mail, have modified election processes during the pandemic.

I’m aware of two previous lawsuits filed over HB1888 from the last legislative session, which basically required that any early voting location had to be in operation for the entirity of early voting, so no more one-day popup locations on a college campus or at a senior center or whatever. That will have the effect of reducing voting locations, since the whole reason these had been temporary before was that there wasn’t enough money and/or poll workers for them to operate the whole time. Anyway, the TDP, DCCC, and DSCC filed one suit, and the Texas Young Democrats and Texas College Democrats filed the other, both last November. Both stories only referenced the TDP/DCCC/DSCC lawsuit, which maybe is an oversight and maybe means the second suit got tossed or joined with the first one. Far as I know, there’s been no court action on either of them, so I can’t say I expect a result from this one. But it can’t hurt to try.

Straight ticket voting lawsuit tossed

Not a big surprise.

A federal judge on Wednesday threw out Democrats’ effort to reinstate the straight-ticket voting option in Texas.

Siding with the state, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo found that Democrats lacked standing to challenge Texas Republicans’ decision to kill straight-ticket voting ahead of the November general election. The judge dismissed the federal lawsuit after ruling that Democrats’ claims of the electoral fallout that could come from eliminating straight-ticket voting were too speculative.

The Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — filed the lawsuit in March on the heels of Super Tuesday voting that left some Texans waiting for hours to cast their ballots.

They claimed the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and Black voters.

[…]

In her order, Garcia Marmolejo ruled that that Democrats’ predictions about the negative effects the lack of straight-ticket voting would have on voters and the election process were “uncertain to occur.” She also found fault with their assumptions that the Texas secretary of state and local officials would not work to “ameliorate the situation.”

Garcia Marmolejo also pointed to the likelihood that in-person voting would be transformed by the new coronavirus, which has led to long lines in other states where elections have already occurred during the pandemic, regardless of whether straight-ticket voting was eliminated.

“Considering the pandemic has already caused long lines at polling-places, many Texans will endure longer lines at polling places indefinitely, irrespective of any order issued by this Court,” she wrote. “And other Texans will experience shorter lines given that voters have been encouraged to steer clear from in-person voting where possible.”

See here for the background. I thought this case was weak, and I am not surprised by the ruling. I do find it ironic that the judge is citing vote by mail as a mitigation of the concerns raised by the plaintiffs. From your lips to John Roberts’ ears, Your Honor. Anyway, there’s still a lot of legal action going on out there. We’ll hope to get ’em next time.

DNC to target Texas

Game on.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Lawsuit filed over straight ticket voting ban

Lots of litigation lately.

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Laredo, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — claims the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and black voters.

“In ending a century-old voting practice that Texans have relied on to exercise their most fundamental and sacred rights — the rights to political participation and association — Texas has recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020,” the Democrats wrote in their lawsuit.

The popular practice allowed general-election voters to vote for all of the candidates of either party in an election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of the ballot. But Texas Republican lawmakers championed a change to the law during the 2017 legislative session, arguing it would compel voters to make more-informed decisions because they would have to make a decision on every race on a ballot.

Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who fear the change will be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter dropoff, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state.

[…]

Citing violations of the First and 14th Amendments and the federal Voting Rights Act, Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting ahead of the general election.

“The end of straight-ticket voting was yet another Republican attempt to suppress the vote, alter the electorate, and take away power from the rising Texas majority,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “In minority-majority districts, lines to vote have already proven to be hours long.”

Courthouse News has the details of the lawsuit.

The Democrats say in the lawsuit that Texas’ longest polling-place lines are in its most populous counties, which have large concentrations of Democratic-leaning black and Latino voters.

The biggest counties also have the longest ballots, with voters wading through dozens of candidates, exacerbated by the fact Texas is one of a handful of states that selects judges in partisan elections.

For years, Texans could complete their civic duty in minutes by stepping into the voting booth and clicking one box to vote for all the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ticket — and millions of Texans chose that option.

“During Texas’s 2018 general election, approximately two-thirds of voters — more than 5.6 million Texans — cast their votes using STV [straight-ticket voting],” the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)

But in 2017 the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 25 along party lines to end straight-ticket voting on Sept. 1, 2020 and Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed it into law.

Texas Democrats brought a federal complaint Thursday against Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in Laredo, seeking an injunction to stop House Bill 25 from going on the books.

The party says in the lawsuit that HB 25 is a “recipe for disaster,” especially after Super Tuesday saw voters waiting more than two hours in Houston and Dallas to get to voting booths.

Well, the tie-in to the Super Tuesday mess is clever and timely, though how legally relevant it may be remains to be seen. As both stories note, there’s been quite the fusillade of voting rights lawsuits lately, from Motor Voter 2.0 to electronic signatures for voter registration to mobile voting locations. Some have more merit than others, though I remain skeptical that the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS would ever allow any of them to succeed. As has been the case before, I agree with the basic premise of this lawsuit – I remain a staunch defender of straight ticket voting, even as I doubt its loss will affect Dems more than it will affect Republicans – and I have no doubt that the 2017 bill was passed for the express purpose of making it harder on Democrats. I mean, no one in the GOP had any problems with straight ticket voting when it clearly benefited their side.

I also think the claim that eliminating it is weak, given that Texas was an anomaly by having straight ticket voting, and even if voluminous evidence exists to show that the bill outlawing it was racially motivated, such issues didn’t bother SCOTUS in the redistricting and voter ID litigation. I’m fine with this aggressive approach – it puts the Republicans on the defensive, there’s always the chance something juicy comes out during discovery, and who knows, one or more of these might actually win despite my skepticism. I’m just going to keep my expectations in check. The Chron has more.

Another voter registration lawsuit filed

This time, the point of contention is electronic signatures.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday in San Antonio, the Texas Democratic Party and the campaign arms for Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate allege that Texas is violating the U.S. Constitution and federal and state law by rejecting voter registration applications without an original signature.

The legal challenge springs from a 2018 electoral kerfuffle over the Texas secretary of state’s rejection of more than 2,400 registration applications filled out by voters using Vote.org, a website run by a California nonprofit. That online application asked Texans to provide personal information and a picture of their signature to auto-populate a paper voter registration form that was then mailed to county registrars.

Days before a registration deadline that year, the secretary of state’s office indicated that applications submitted through the website should be considered invalid because they included electronic signatures, not physical ones.

In the lawsuit, the Democrats argue the secretary of state’s signature requirements are unconstitutional and impose “an arbitrary requirement that limits access to the franchise.” While the state allows eligible Texans to submit registration applications in person, by mail or by fax, Texas law “makes no reference” to requiring an original signature, they argue in the legal challenge.

[…]

In suing the state, the Democrats pointed out that the secretary of state does allow for one kind of electronic signatures — those submitted on voter registration applications received through the Texas Department of Public Safety. That agency allows Texans obtaining or renewing a driver’s license in person to enter their signatures on electronic keypads, which then may be used to populate voter registration applications. (Texas has been wrapped up in separate litigation for more than a year over claims it is violating federal law by not allowing voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online to reregister to vote.)

Bolstered by Republicans’ narrowing margins of victory and polls showing that Texas might be at least slipping from the GOP, Democrats have signaled they see voting rights litigation — and the voters that might be helped through it — as part of their long-term strategy in the state.

See here for more on that “motor voter” lawsuit, which like all good things went to the Fifth Circuit to die. This same Democratic coalition has also filed a lawsuit over the law banning temporary voting locations, one of two such suits in the courts. You know my feeling about pursuing voting rights litigation in this climate, with the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS standing in the way, but I do agree that pursuing these cases anyway sends a strong signal to voters about who stands for making it easier for them to vote. And honestly, who has not electronically signed dozens of documents by now? One of the original (and silly) arguments for voter ID was that if you have to show a drivers license to rent a movie from Blockbuster (this is a truly old-school argument), there’s nothing wrong with having to show your drivers license to vote. Well, I’ve electronically signed documents at bounce house and indoor skydiving places affirming that I forsake my right to sue them if me or my kids wind up getting maimed by their services. If that’s legally binding, then an electronic signature on a voter registration form should be plenty good enough for the Texas Secretary of State. See the TDP press release for more.

Endorsement watch: DSCC picks MJ Hegar

I’m sure no one will have any feelings about this.

MJ Hegar

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is endorsing MJ Hegar in the crowded primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The move by the DSCC, the political arm of Senate Democrats, is one of the biggest developments yet in the nominating contest, which has drawn a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no decisive frontrunners.

Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate, entered the primary in April and has emerged as the top fundraiser. But polls show the race remains wide open as Democrats look to pick up where they left off from Beto O’Rourke’s near-miss 2018 loss to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz.

“Texas has emerged as a battleground opportunity for Democrats up and down the ballot, and MJ Hegar is the strongest candidate to flip the U.S. Senate seat,” the DSCC’s chairwoman, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a statement.

“As a decorated combat veteran and working mother, MJ has both the courage and independence to put Texas first and is running on the issues that matter most to Texans: making health care and prescription drugs more affordable, protecting coverage for Texans with pre-existing conditions, and taking action to address climate change,” Cortez Masto continued. “We are proud to support MJ in her fight to continue her public service in the U.S. Senate.”

This is where I point out that the entire mission of the DSCC is to elect (and re-elect) Democratic Senate candidates, and that a big part of their function is fundraising. Hegar is so far the best fundraiser among the Democratic candidates, partly because she’s been in the race the longest, and she has track record of strong fundraising from 2018, as well as being the most recent candidate to have run that kind of underdog race. From a strictly pragmatic perspective, it makes sense, and if the DSCC believes that Texas is a viable pickup opportunity and Hegar represents the best shot at it, the rest follows easily enough. Those who align more closely with other candidates and/or believe that another candidate will be stronger against Cornyn will of course disagree with this assessment.

On a broader level, there are arguments to be made for and against an outfit like the DSCC entering a contested primary, especially one without a frontrunner, when they would presumably want to support one or more of the other candidates as well. Bad blood is a thing, as anyone who survived the CD07 primary last year can attest. Perhaps the DSCC was motivated by that, in the sense that they wanted to help someone they already liked break out.

Democrats now officially have their work cut out for them as a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no clear frontrunners — vie for the chance to face U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, despite universally low name ID and modest fundraising at best.

Tensions in the field have run mostly low, but that is beginning to change. At least one candidate, Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, has started moving more aggressively to distinguish herself, while additional areas of potential scrutiny have begun to emerge around other candidates. Tzintzún Ramirez has increasingly found a foil in rival MJ Hegar, who is holding firm on a general election-focused campaign while resisting the progressive impulses that Tzintzún Ramirez and some others have shown.

To that end, Tzintzún Ramirez’s credentials are getting a boost Friday with the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a labor-aligned third party that backed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016 and is supporting Elizabeth Warren for 2020. The group, which has an increasingly active Texas chapter, shared the endorsement first with The Texas Tribune.

“We think she’s the true progressive in the race, and that’s why we’re getting behind her,” said Jorge Contreras, the party’s Texas state director. “We’ve worked with Workers Defense and Jolt” — two organizing groups that Tzintzún Ramirez helped start — “and we see that she’s actually been throwing down for a long time in the state.”

Tzintzún Ramirez is campaigning on “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons — all proposals that Hegar has not embraced or has even overtly rejected. Hegar, an Air Force veteran, is touting herself as neither a moderate nor a progressive but an “ass-kicking” working mom with broad appeal. For months, she has talked openly about training her campaign exclusively on beating Cornyn, ignoring primary rivals and declining opportunities to criticize them.

On a conference call with reporters after filing Monday, Hegar said she had no plans to change that approach as the primary gets closer and the field remains muddled, saying, “This is who I am, and who I am is not interested in taking shots at people who share my values” and are also trying to “move the needle.”

Still, Hegar’s strategy ran into some controversy a couple of days later when she was asked about Tzintzún Ramirez suggesting the primary was coming down to her and Hegar — and Hegar replied, “Well, it is a two-person race. It’s me and John Cornyn.” While Hegar added that she was not taking the primary for granted, Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign fired back in a fundraising email hours later that said it “seems like MJ forgot that Cristina was most recently shown to be leading this primary, or that there’s a diverse crowd of other incredible Democratic candidates running too.” (The campaign was apparently referring to a November poll that had Tzintzún Ramirez in the No. 1 spot but within the margin of error of other candidates clustered in the single digits.)

[…]

Hegar’s supporters brush off the growing scrutiny, noting she is the fundraising leader in the primary — $2.1 million raised as of last quarter — and arguing she will be the strongest Democrat against Cornyn with her resources and ability to appeal to independent voters and even Republicans. They point to her military background as well as her stronger-than-expected performance in a traditionally red congressional district last year, losing by fewer than 3 percentage points to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

“I think she’s the frontrunner — I thought that before, and I think that now,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets, Hegar’s earliest national endorser. “When you have a huge state with a lot of media markets, it’s gonna come down to who voters get to know first. MJ’s raised more than anybody else.”

I’ll leave the debate over who stands for what and who should be supported for another time. I mean, that’s what a primary is for, and may the best candidate rise to the top. For what it’s worth, I like Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez both quite a bit, and I also like West, Edwards, and Bell. I’ll pick which one I want to vote for eventually, but in the meantime I’m all about beating Cornyn. They’d all be far better than he has been, so the rest is strategy and fundraising. Let’s see what the January reports tell us, and let’s see who can get their voices heard. The Texas Signal has more.

Lawsuit filed over bill banning temporary voting locations

Of interest.

Worried about the suppression of young voters in 2020, national and Texas Democrats are suing the state over a newly implemented election measure that’s triggered the shuttering of early voting places, including on college campuses, in various parts of the state.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Austin, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the Democratic campaign arms for the U.S. House and Senate — alleges that the state’s move to effectively end the use of what were known as temporary or mobile early voting sites is unconstitutional because it discriminates against young voters by shrinking their access to the ballot box.

Republican lawmakers pushed the law, introduced during the last legislative session as House Bill 1888, to curb what they saw as abuse in school bond elections by requiring voting sites to remain open for all 12 days of early voting. Despite warnings from local election officials, HB 1888 was crafted broadly enough to outlaw the long-established practice of moving polling places during the early voting period to reach as many voters as possible near where they live, work or go to school.

As a result, both young and rural voters are losing access to early voting sites that were legitimately used to offer a day or two of early voting to places in places where it wasn’t practical or cost-efficient to maintain a site open for all of early voting.

“HB 1888 now mandates that, based on where they live, some voters will enjoy the same consistent access to early voting they had previously, but voters who live near now defunct temporary voting sites, especially young voters, will suffer reduced or eliminated access to the franchise,” the Democrats claimed in the lawsuit.

Citing violations of the First, 14th and 26th Amendments, the Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from implementing HB 1888.

See this Observer story and this earlier Trib story for the background. I mentioned this new law, along with a link to the Observer story, in a post that was more about the likely effects of no straight ticket voting. I’m always happy to see a pro-voting rights lawsuit, and I have zero doubt that the intent of this law was primarily to make it harder for students to vote, but I’m just not going to be optimistic about any voting rights litigation in federal court at this time. The Fifth Circuit, and SCOTUS if it comes to that, are just too hostile to voting rights. We are just going to have to add this to the ever-growing to do list for the next Democratic government in Texas, however long that may take. Yes, yes, I Am Not A Lawyer, and maybe this is a slam dunk case. It’s not the law or the Constitution I’m evaluating here, it’s the courts and the justices. Believe me, I wish I could be more optimistic and less cynical about this, but not on this kind of case. A statement from the TDP about the lawsuit is here.

Today is Joaquin Castro Decision Day

At least, that’s what we were told last week. Maybe it won’t be today but a few days later. In any event, it’s safe to say that expectations are not high right now.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

“I would say at this point, he’s not going to run,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

One Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity put the odds at 50-50 but added, “If somebody bet me $50 he’s running, I wouldn’t take it.”

Castro, who still has his admirers, has promised supporters he will announce his decision by the first week of May.

But to many observers, the signs are clear that he is already out of the running — and a lot of it has to do with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

[…]

Schumer, who sources said had been frustrated by Castro’s indecisiveness, has taken an outsized interest in defeating Cornyn, the former majority whip. Earlier this year, Schumer tried to recruit Beto O’Rourke, who nearly defeated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

When O’Rourke made it clear he was running for president, Schumer interviewed Castro and then summoned Hegar to Washington.

Hegar was bolstered by polling done by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, a PAC that supports female pro-choice candidates, that showed her with a wide lead over Castro, according to three sources who had been briefed on the private polling.

Schumer’s stance does not prevent Castro from running, although the leader has made clear that Hegar is his preference, say Democratic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“I don’t think Schumer was ever for Castro,” one Democratic operative who has spoken privately with the Senate leader told the American-Statesman. “He felt it was a mistake for both Castro brothers to run. Schumer never did think that (Joaquin) Castro was the right choice.”

[…]

“A lot of us wish he would decide,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic PAC. He added that many Texas Democrats were “scratching their heads” at the delay.

“This is a cold-blooded business. In Texas, it’s a $50 million proposition to run for U.S. Senate,” he said

Donors are already deciding. Aimee Cunningham, an Austin philanthropist and Democratic contributor, told the American-Statesman that she has been a longtime Castro supporter but supported Hegar, as well, in 2018, and urged the military vet to run for office again.

“I told Joaquin that if MJ ran for Senate, I would have to enthusiastically support her,” Cunningham said.

Latino lawmakers who want a Hispanic candidate near the top of the ballot in Texas, in a presidential year with anticipated high turnout, are particularly upset by Castro’s delay.

“Incredibly indecisive, and you can use that,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, by text, adding that he was “exasperated” with Castro.

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said, “The line between caution and indecisiveness can be hammered pretty thin, and it is pretty much see-through at this point for Castro.”

This story came out the same day as others that were asking the same questions, but I didn’t see it at the time, and this one has more details. I’m sure people won’t be thrilled with Chuck Schumer’s involvement, but at least he’s invested in beating John Cornyn. The bottom line is that the story about Castro being “all but certain” to be in for Senate was in mid-March, more than six weeks ago. Usually, when you see a story like that, it’s followed up withing a couple of days with something official. It means a decision has been made, and the announcement will happen once the last few loose ends have been tied up. It doesn’t take this long. I have no idea what was happening here, but it’s hard to escape the impression that the initial story, which I presume was the result of some authorized person giving the big-picture view so that the ground could be laid for the forthcoming announcement, came before the decision was made. Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. Whatever the case, something went wrong.

None of this means Joaquin Castro can’t or shouldn’t announce for Senate. He’s lost most of the advantage he would have had if he had followed the expected script and timetable, but he’s still an incumbent Congressman with a built-in base and some establishment support awaiting him. Give him a splashy rollout of his own, followed by strong fundraising for the rest of the quarter (and going forward), and this little episode will fade away. I would advise being quick about it, but after that there’s plenty of time to get back on track. It still fundamentally comes back to what Joaquin Castro wants to do, and when he’s prepared to tell us about it.

No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 43

Two polls in one week.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday morning suggests a tightening race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

The newly released poll from Quinnipiac University gives Cruz a 6-point lead: 49 percent of registered Texas voters reported backing the Republican incumbent while 43 percent said they support O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat. The poll’s margin of error is 3.5 percent. The results are closer than a poll Quinnipiac released in late May, which showed Cruz holding an 11-point lead over his opponent.

“U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star state would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”

The poll found 50 percent of Texas voters had a favorable view of Cruz while 42 percent had an unfavorable view. O’Rourke, on the other hand, had a 33 percent favorability rating, with 43 percent of voters not knowing enough about the congressman to form an opinion of him.

You can see the Quinnipiac writeup of the poll here. They also show Greg Abbott leading Lupe Valdez in the Governor’s race 51-38. This Q-poll lands right in the middle of the other two. Remember when the second one, showing an 11-point lead for Cruz, was considered the “correct” poll? Averages are more useful than single results, and with this result our averages are 46.5 for Cruz and 40.2 for Beto. A persistent lead for Cruz, but not a big one.

And thus the continued closeness of this race has caused it to draw national attention.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke of El Paso had a very good day Wednesday. Publicly, two new polls showed him in striking distance of incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Privately, his Wednesday might have been even better. That’s because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and about a dozen other senators in the Democratic leadership suddenly became interested in the Texas race. That was followed by a serious look at Texas from officials of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose sole function is to help finance Democrats to win seats in the upper chamber of Congress. The DSCC hasn’t shown much interest in Texas for a least a generation.

The senators held a briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning with at least four political polling companies about the time that the first poll, the Texas Lyceum 2018 Poll, showed Cruz with a two-point lead over O’Rourke: 41 to 39 percent. Hours later, a Quinnipiac University Poll had Cruz leading O’Rourke by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. This is the third poll that Quinnipiac has released of likely Texas voters this election season and the six-point difference in Wednesday’s poll represents momentum by O’Rourke who was down by 11 percentage points when its last poll was released May 30.

Numbers such as these, combined with O’Rourke raising more money than Cruz in two consecutive quarters, had at least one of the pollsters present at Wednesday’ meeting declare to Schumer and his colleagues that there was a potential path to victory for Democrats in Texas, according to at least one witness present. Schumer took great interest in that assessment and began digging deeper, the witness told Texas Monthly.

There are two things that are interesting about this. One is that as we know, Democrats have a lot of seats to defend in red states this year. Conventional wisdom was that they’d be spending nearly all their resources on defense, plus Nevada and Arizona. For them to even have a meeting to talk about Texas means they’re feeling pretty good about their position, and can look to spend some money elsewhere. It also means they think there’s a chance that Texas could be in play. Maybe not a great chance, but a non-trivial one, which could grow in magnitude if the national environment gets friendlier. I suspect this is more of a move to explore options in the event of such an upgrade to the national atmosphere than anything approaching a commitment to Beto and Texas, but even that tells you something.

More Beto in the national news

From Splinter, part of the Gawker universe, a story that was front-paged on Deadspin and Jezebel:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke sticks around to meet every single person in Burnet who wants to meet him. He doesn’t leave until the last hand has been shaken, the last selfie snapped. It wouldn’t be impressive—that’s what politicians are supposed to do—except that nobody in Burnet can remember the last time a Senate candidate stopped by to talk to them at all, let alone hung around until he’d met everybody personally.

People are enthusiastic about him—because he showed up, sure, and also because of how he comes off. His staff is protective of his time; even though I was in the truck with him for more than an hour, we were only slated for ten minutes of interview time, so he can make calls to the coast and stream the drive on Facebook Live. But he’s not particularly guarded in how he talks. He’s a legit cusser, and he talks about how he came to conclusions about policy—even ones that may seem contradictory to his party or his background—in a naturalistic way.

He’s big on working with veterans because of the community in El Paso around the army base in town. He’s for ending marijuana prohibition because he grew up across the border from Juarez, where cartel violence once made the city the world’s most dangerous. He’s in favor of term limits, even though they’re an idea mostly championed by conservatives, because he believes that Washington is inherently broken and corrupt—but he thinks that maybe limiting the amount of time people spend in office could fix it. He’s to the left of most of the Democratic Party, but he cherishes bipartisanship as an ideal and an end unto itself.

“When you look at the DNC or the RNC or national politics, it’s corporate rock and roll. It has very little soul to it. Maybe no soul at all.”

That all matters for O’Rourke in order to have a chance of defeating Ted Cruz. He’s running an innovative campaign, avoiding the pitfalls of doomed candidates like Wendy Davis. He hasn’t hired a single out-of-state consultant or pollster, and with the exception of the volunteer driving the car, everybody I’ve met from his campaign is either from El Paso or from the congressman’s D.C. office. But it’s still as uphill a battle as there is in politics right now.

Turning Texas blue, or at least purple, has been a dream of progressives for decades. It’s also one that seems, somehow, to always be at least four to six years away. So can a former punk rock guitar player from a part of Texas that’s never produced a statewide elected official be the one to break the streak?

It’s a good profile, and it has a few things I hadn’t seen before, so go check it out. The whole visiting-places-no-one-usually-goes-to thing has been the main news hook in stories about Beto O’Rourke. It’s sexy, it appeals to people who disdain consultant-driven campaigns, and it makes a lot of intuitive sense. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. Texas is a big state (I know, where else can you get this kind of cutting-edge analysis?), and something like 4.5 million people normally vote in off year elections. I don’t care how much time you spend driving around, it’s hard to speak in person to a significant fraction of that amount, and that’s a number that implies the usual low level of Democratic turnout. Beto needs a lot of Presidential-year Dems to vote to have a chance. The good news is that by doing what he’s doing, he’s building a narrative for those voters, one that tells them he’s something different, someone who isn’t following a playbook that hasn’t worked since Beyonce was in kindergarten. Again, it may not succeed – Vegas sure wouldn’t give good odds on it – but at least it’s not doing the same thing again and hoping for a different result.

And from Mother Jones, which devoted four stories this past week to Texas politics:

When O’Rourke announced his candidacy for what, on paper, could be the party’s tie-breaking 51st seat in the Senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was tempered in its enthusiasm. “Wild things can happen in 2018,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the DSCC’s head, but he emphasized that the committee’s focus would be on protecting incumbent senators. “We’re realistic.” (Translation: Good luck!)

O’Rourke, well aware of the long odds he faces, reasons that if nothing Democrats have tried before has worked, he might as well attempt something completely different. He announced early on that he would not hire a pollster or contract with consultants, with the exception of Revolution Messaging, the firm that built Bernie Sanders’ online mint in 2016. (O’Rourke outraised Cruz in his first full quarter as a candidate.) He is his own press secretary. Many of O’Rourke’s early trips have focused on deep-red areas that see ambitious Democrats about as often as they see snow—when he visited George W. Bush’s hometown of Midland in March, the local newspaper wrote an editorial congratulating him “for being able to find Midland.”

His approach to campaigning is similar to his approach to his day job—he does things differently. O’Rourke moved quickly into the senior ranks of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he tells supporters, not just because of El Paso’s high concentration of military personnel, but because his colleagues had flocked to other committees such as finance that offered more access to donors. He is a rare politician who has actually given himself a term limit in the House, and he promises to serve no more than 12 years in the Senate. He was one of the last members of Congress to endorse Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary, but he supported Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan’s bid for leader of the Democratic caucus in November, arguing that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had reached a dead end.

What he’s offering instead of the status quo is a post-Clinton (and for that matter, post-Obama) style of politics. The party’s leading lights have run from the idea that they’re soft on drugs and immigration, but backing a border fence and a surge of Border Patrol agents didn’t fix Democratic politics—it just made things worse for Texas. So why not run on marijuana legalization and against militarization of the border? The same goes for a hawkish foreign policy. He’s proposing to turn off the spigots for overseas interventions and instead pour money into student-loan forgiveness and Medicare-for-all—a single-­payer system, he tells voters, will save them “somewhere between a lot and a shit ton.”

O’Rourke’s independent streak is a reflection of El Paso itself, which feels a world away from the rest of the state and its political power brokers. He has met Cruz just twice in the four years they’ve served together in Congress, even as Cruz and other Texas Republicans have treated O’Rourke’s beloved borderlands as a piñata.
“Ted Cruz doesn’t have an office anywhere near El Paso. John Cornyn doesn’t have an office anywhere near El Paso. Presidential candidates don’t come to El Paso. Gubernatorial candidates don’t come to El Paso. People who are focused on power don’t come to El Paso,” he said. “And I was saying that in front of the crowd in Tex­arkana, and this lady in front of the crowd said, ‘That’s how I feel!’”

“That’s how a lot of Texas feels—they feel forgotten, left behind, unrepresented, unimportant to the centers of power and the system as it currently works,” he added. “It doesn’t work for them. A lot of the state feels like El Paso feels, and a lot of the state wants their state back and wants to be recognized and represented and served. I think this campaign is all about that.”

In its simplest form, the challenges facing candidates like O’Rourke are the same ones that have confounded Democrats everywhere since 2008, only, as Texas would have it, bigger. They have to help voters navigate a system that is designed to be difficult if not discouraging. They have to battle the kind of political disengagement that sank Clinton; in Texas, “It’s not a Republican state, it’s a nonvoting state” may as well be the official Democratic Party mantra. Obama-era progressives approached the electorate with a scientific rigor, believing they could selectively target and activate different groups as needed, but huge setbacks in three of the last four national elections—including in Texas—exposed holes in that theory. By narrowing their focus in the name of precision, Democratic campaigns left millions of votes on the table, particularly in places like Texas. Awakening that sleeping giant may require connecting with communities where they are rather than expecting them to connect to the ongoing national debate. The folks at the Texas Organizing Project believe that many of those people live in Houston. O’Rourke is betting they’re in Amarillo and Texarkana, too.

That story actually covers quite a bit of ground, so reading it will not be a rerun of the first piece. There’s also a Q&A with O’Rourke here, a story about Texas’ voter ID saga here, and a brief overview of “women who are leading the resistance” here. How much does the positive press help O’Rourke? Like chemistry on a professional sports team, it’s hard to quantify. We’ll see what his third quarter finance report looks like, that’s the closest proxy for that we’re going to get.

The turnout issue in 2014

Two recent articles of interest, both about the nature of the electorate in non-Presidential years. First, via Ed Kilgore, who has been beating the drum about the volatility of the Democratic base, comes this NYT story about what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hopes to do about it as it has to defend numerous seats in tough territory.

The Democrats’ plan to hold onto their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment, and requires more than 4,000 paid staffers. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get out the vote, and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

[…]

Both voter registration and mobilization efforts are at the center of the Democrats’ new strategy. In Georgia, for example, the committee estimates that there are 572,000 unregistered African-American voters, and that there are more than 600,000 likely supporters of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate candidate there, who voted in 2012 but not in 2010. The goal, then, is to register the African-American voters, and to target the likely Nunn voters to show up to the polls during a midterm election.

But black voters who did not register to vote in 2008 or 2012, amid all of the excitement surrounding the nation’s first black president, could pose a challenge to register in 2014.

The Bannock Street project is specifically focused on ten states — Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and West Virginia — with plans for senior field operatives and other staff members to be in place by the end of the month.

No, Texas isn’t on their list. This isn’t a surprise, for multiple reasons. One, the Texas Senate race is on no one’s list of races to watch, though that will likely change in the improbable event that Steve Stockman manages to oust incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in the primary. Two, we don’t know who the Democratic nominee is. I’d say David Alameel is the most likely to draw interest from the DSCC if Cornyn gets past Stockman, as he can provide plenty of seed money for his race, but I wouldn’t expect much more than an email or two sent on his behalf by the DSCC. They just have too many other, larger fish to fry.

In addition to all that, there’s already a Democratic-focused and well-financed statewide turnout operation going on, that being of course Battleground Texas. It remains to be seen what effect they can have in Texas, especially in a year they originally weren’t expecting to be competitive statewide. One thing for sure is that there’s plenty of slack in the system for them to work with. Too many Presidential year Democrats don’t come out at other times, and too many potential Democrats don’t come out at all. The Trib takes a closer look at that.

Battleground Texas, started by former Obama operatives who want to turn the state away from its Republican devotions, is trying to register new voters, identify Democrats and turn them out for this year’s elections. They started a year ago and said it would take four to six years to turn Texas their way.

A couple of promising candidates showed up early, putting faces on the effort. The candidacies of Wendy Davis, who is running for governor, and Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor, bring some focus to the organizing efforts. After all, it is easier to raise a crowd for a candidate or a cause than for the general promotion of civic health. It helps to be about something or somebody.

Up front, the math favors the Republicans. They have been winning statewide elections for 20 years, and it has become sort of a habit. Folk music has had a bigger comeback than Texas Democrats.

The Democratic administration remains remarkably unpopular in Texas, and conservative candidates from the bottom of the ballot to the top are running against either the president, his signature health care program or both. Even if Texas suddenly had equal numbers of voting Republicans and voting Democrats, those Democrats would have the political winds in their face this year.

That last paragraph is a fundamental misunderstanding of the race this year, one that I think is far too prevalent. The first priority of Battleground Texas is to get partisan Democrats who don’t generally vote in non-Presidential years out to the polls this year. That was the secret to the Republican wave of 2010. Having a bunch of increasingly right-wing Republican candidates out there bashing President Obama and saying all kinds of crazy and offensive things about immigration, marriage equality, abortion, Medicaid, and so forth isn’t a headwind for that effort. It’s a motivating factor. If people are angry about these things, that’s awesome. It’s much easier to channel already existing emotions into action than it is to try to get someone to feel something in the first place.

Now I agree that in a straight up turnout battle, Republicans have a clear advantage. But we can’t do anything about their level of turnout. All Dems can do is work to maximize our own numbers. Only by ensuring that piece of the puzzle can Democrats like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte hope to change the focus to soft Republicans that might be turned off by their candidates’ brand of extremity. This can be done as well, and again I’d call the expected amount of vitriol from the Republican side a potential asset in that. It is possible to peel away some voters – Bill White received between 200,000 and 300,000 crossovers in 2010, running against Rick Perry. In a 2008 turnout context, I believe he would have won. In the absence of that, as was the case in 2010, he didn’t come close. Maximize the base first, everything follows from there. We may well fall short, but accomplishing that much would be a huge step forward, as turnout on the Dem side has basically been flat since 2002. I’ll take a look at that in some more detail tomorrow.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

In case you haven’t heard, national Democrats may have found a Senate candidate for next year.

Democrats appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas, setting the stage for the party to field a well-known candidate in the 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, confirmed that Democratic Senate campaign chief Patty Murray, D-Wash., was referring to Sanchez on Thursday when she said Democrats were close to announcing a candidate in Texas.

Sanchez, reached by phone at his San Antonio home, asked where the reports of a Senate run came from and then said, “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq who was left under a cloud from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, would not discuss the Senate race. But he did respond to questions about his career and political philosophy.

“I would describe myself as during my military career as supporting the president and the Constitution,” Sanchez said. “After the military, I decided that socially, I’m a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense.”

Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native, said he was shaped by his upbringing.

“It’s my views and my history, having grown up in South Texas, depending on social programs and assistance, that America has a responsibility to its people,” he said.

It’s not official yet, but a story like this (which has also been picked up by wire services) doesn’t usually appear for no reason. It may turn out to be nothing, but not because it was a misguided rumor that got mistaken for news. I believe he’s seriously considering it, and will run or not run depending to some degree on the reaction he gets to this.

And given that the words “Abu Ghraib” will feature prominently in any story written about him, that reaction is unlikely to be muted. Juanita, Jobsanger, and McBlogger are encouraged, PDiddie most emphatically is not. Burka thinks Sanchez is the kind of candidate Dems need to run but he’s doomed anyway. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more as the news spreads.

Personally, I’m with those that are encouraged. We’re not exactly overflowing with credible potential candidates around here. If Sanchez can be decent on the issues and can get support from the money people (something that was never really available to Rick Noriega), then glory be. If not, there will be other races for me to care about next year. Sanchez is the only game in town now, as John Sharp appears to have given up the ghost. I want to hear what he has to say for himself, and we’ll go from there.

One thing to keep in mind here: Having Sanchez in the race doesn’t mean he’ll be the nominee. I expect there will be plenty of Democrats who aren’t happy with this announcement and will not want to support him under any circumstances. That presents an opening, and I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t try to take advantage of it. It’s not hard to imagine a nasty primary fight, and it’s not hard to imagine a multi-candidate scenario where Sanchez gets forced into a runoff. I hope the people who are gigging Sanchez to run have given some thought to this.

DSCC looks to Texas

Moe specifically, they’re looking at the Bill White campaign for a competitive race here.

Democrats see political opportunity in Texas thanks to a departing Republican senator, a special election to replace her and Houston’s mayor bidding for her seat.

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Tuesday Democrats could be on the road to a competitive Senate race in Texas.

“I’m not going to overstate it. Texas is a hard place, except that what we’re talking about here is a special election with a much different universe of voters coming out and someone like (Houston Mayor) Bill White” running, Menendez said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is expected to resign from the Senate as early as this year to focus on her challenge of incumbent Gov. Rick Perry to be the GOP nominee for governor.

Menendez said White is well positioned because he is from Houston — which is the state’s largest city — and is a Texas Democrat who “represents the values and positions that would appeal to a broad cross-section” of voters.

A special election to replace Hutchison would draw a “special universe of voters,” also giving Democrats a chance, Menendez said. Special elections do not include party primaries.

“In a special election … the turnout can create the opportunity for someone like Bill White to succeed,” he said.

The usual caveats apply. I’ll believe KBH is resigning when I actually see her do it. There may be a “special universe of voters” in this election, whenever it is, but that doesn’t mean it would be any less Republican. More to the point, the runoff is unlikely to be any less Republican than a regular statewide election, and that’s where the challenge really lies. Be that as it may, it is easy to see why the national folks are excited about Bill White’s candidacy. Wednesday was the campaign finance reporting deadline for the third quarter, so we’ll soon have another idea of how strong his campaign has been

As for John Sharp, who was also mentioned in this article? I’ll let KT handle that one.

That Gallup poll of partisan preferences

I’m sure by now you’ve seen that Gallup poll, which measured party affiliation in all 50 states and showed Democrats to have a slight edge, by a 43-41 margin, over Republicans in Texas. For a discussion of the methodology, you should of course read Nate Silver. I’ll note simply that while the national trend is for those who call themselves independents to lean Democratic, I don’t believe that to be the case here. For the most part, I think independents here are still folks who tend to vote Republican, though not monolithically as perhaps some of them once did, but aren’t calling themselves Republican any more. My best guess would be that these voters are similar to many of the now-Democratic-leaning independents elsewhere in the country, but who have mostly switched to Democrats at the local level. If and when they start voting for Democrats at the state level, then the description of Texas as “competitive” will be more fitting.

That’s one of the points that Burka raises in his lengthy analysis, with which I largely agree. Where I do disagree is that I think the Democrats can raise enough money to compete at both the state and local levels. There hasn’t been any focus on this – all the emphasis has been on local races, with great success – and the lack of a bench is a real problem as well. There’s just very few Democrats who start out with any kind of name recognition, which makes the hill that much steeper to climb.

But I do believe the money is there to make statewide races competitive. Not as much as there is for the Republicans – the advantage they have as incumbents is the ability to stockpile funds in a way that the Democrats cannot – but enough to be in the same ballpark. There are many more sources for raising funds for local races now, and a lot of that hasn’t really been tapped for statewide efforts. There’s still a lot of money being raised in Texas for races outside of Texas – the Presidential race, and that million dollar DSCC event from 2007 are two examples of this. And frankly, there’s a lot of Democratic incumbents (plus a few now-retired officeholders) at all levels of government, in safe seats, sitting on millions of dollars that could be used to help win other races. I don’t blame any of these folks for raising all that money for themselves, but I do wonder if any of their donors ever wonder why it is that we can’t seem to compete statewide. Seems to me there’s a connection there that maybe some of them ought to consider.