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Election 2016

Looking ahead in CD07

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

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of voter registration

The Chron notes the latest milestone.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

For the first time in history, Texas has topped 16 million registered voters and is adding voters faster than its population grows heading into the 2020 presidential election.

With the voter registration deadline for the March 3 primaries just two weeks away, the state is already on the brink of having 2 million more registered voters than it did just four years ago when President Donald Trump was first elected.

“What you’re seeing is a true transformation of the Texas electorate,” said Antonio Arellano, interim executive director of Jolt, a voter advocacy group focused on registering young Latino voters and getting them involved in politics.

He said despite all the barriers Texas has put in place to depress voter registration and voter turnout, groups like his are drawing younger and more diverse voters, which is making the politics of Texas more reflective of its demographics — about 40 percent of the state’s population is Latino, census data shows.

Since 2017, the population in Texas has grown by about 5 percent. But the state’s voter registration has grown about 8 percent during that period. The increase is even more dramatic in urban areas such as Harris County, the state’s most populous county. While Harris County’s population has grown an estimated 4 percent since 2014, its voter registration has jumped 14 percent.

In Bexar County the population has grown an estimated 11 percent since 2014, while the voter registration has jumped 19 percent.

[…]

While Texas doesn’t require voters to register by party, Texas Democratic Party officials say their internal data shows that the voter gains are largely due to voters that skew their way — younger and more diverse.

Cliff Walker, Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Democratic Party, said as the state has looked more competitive with each election, that in turn has drawn even more younger and diverse voters to sign up, which then makes the state still more competitive. In other words, the success begets more success, he said.

See here for the background. The correlation with the growth in urban voter registration is no surprise. I’ve tracked the Harris County numbers before, and while the surge in statewide voter registration lags a bit behind, it’s all happened in the last couple of years. Which, not coincidentally, is when Democrats and Dem-aligned groups have made voter registration a priority and really put a bunch of resources into it. That latter bit is key, because registering voters in Texas is even harder than you thought.

In 2013, former campaign operatives who worked with President Barack Obama launched a group called Battleground Texas. The mission was to more aggressively register voters in Texas, a place that has a history of making it difficult to register to vote. That was a tall task, given a 2011 Texas law that significantly toughened voter registration rules to require people wanting to register voters to go through county-specific voter registrar training; the law also blocked non-Texans from joining that work.

So to register voters statewide, a volunteer would be forced to attend 254 different trainings. Texas also does not accept online voter registration applications — the paperwork must include a handwritten signature, and that signature cannot be a copy, digital signature or photo of a signature.

But slowly Battleground Texas and other groups started to make headway. Other groups have joined the cause, with Jolt, The Lone Star Project and Be One Texas among them.

This strategy also includes litigation, over things like the “motor voter” law and electronic signatures, but those won’t yield any fruit for this election. In a sane world, voter registration would be easy, but this is Texas. We have to do it the hard way. Put fixing all this on the agenda for when Dems finally control state government.

One more thing, which I have discussed but which I don’t see get mentioned in other stories, is that boosting registration totals is by itself a turnout program. I’ll say again, turnout as a percentage of registered voters was down in Harris County in 2016 compared to 2008, but because there were so many more registered voters the total number of folks who showed up increased. Statewide turnout in 2016 was 59.39%, for 8,969,226 total voters. Taking the 16,106,984 number we have now – and remember, that will go up some more before the primary deadline – and at the same 59.39% turnout rate you get 9,565,937 voters, or 600K more. If the 18 million goal is reached, that puts turnout at 10.7 million if the rate is the same. Now of course there’s no guarantee of reaching the same rate – as was the case in Harris County, the statewide turnout rate in 2008 (59.50%) was higher than it was in 2016 – my point is that you can catch more fish with a bigger net. Add in a real turnout push on top of that, and who knows what can happen. It all starts with getting more people registered.

After-deadline filing review: Fort Bend County

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

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

County Attorney

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

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

Sheriff

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

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

Tax Assessor

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

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

Commissioners Court

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

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

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

A view of Texas and polling

The premise of this is sound, but don’t read too much into it.

In Texas, the nation’s biggest, most important red state, Trump’s disapproval rating has consistently lagged behind many of the 30 states he carried in 2016. This potentially puts the state — a must-win for the president if there ever was one — in play for 2020.

To think Trump’s unpopularity in Texas is because of Twitter, or Ukraine, or the media, or a smear job by the left is to underestimate the problem. The reality is that Trump’s signature policies are out of step with what most Texans want.

Take Trump’s threat of tariffs against Mexico as punishment for the flow of unauthorized immigrants across the border. While railing against Mexico might work at a campaign rally in the Midwest, Texans perceive it as a direct threat to their bottom lines. Mexico is Texas’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 35 percent of state exports in 2018. In comparison, Mexico accounts for only 5.8 percent of exports for Ohio.

Polling from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that roughly half of voters believe that tariffs against Mexico would hurt the Texas economy. Only 16 percent of suburban voters and 18 percent of women — coveted 2020 voting blocs — think tariffs on Mexico would benefit Texas.

[…]

Trump’s immigration policy is also unpopular. While one might assume that the state with the longest southern border, the largest share of Mexican Americans, and one of the highest rates of illegal immigration would appreciate Trump’s hard-line immigration approach, the opposite is true.

Texas has maintained one of the nation’s most moderate stances on immigration. It is one of only seven states — and the only red state — to provide in-state tuition rates and state financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Those provisions were signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry and a Republican-controlled legislature. More recently, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families at the border “disgraceful.

While the United States struggles to adjust to a changing demographic makeup, Texas has been “majority minority” for more than a decade, with Hispanics expected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites in the next few years. Hispanics and non-Hispanics live by, work with, are friends with and go to school with each other, and this familiarity increases fondness. Which is why Trump’s fear and disparagement of immigrants — and Mexicans, in particular — falls flat here.

According to a Texas Politics Project poll, more Texans strongly disapprove of Trump’s immigration approach than strongly approve. Only 39 percent of Texans support additional federal spending on border barriers along the Mexican border, according to a November 2019 report by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center.

In the same poll, the majority of Texans — 60 percent — agreed that “We should find alternatives to immigration detention for families fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the U.S.” And a majority, 65 percent, agreed that “unaccompanied children caught attempting to cross the border illegally should be placed into the care of child-welfare specialists, not border or immigration enforcement officials.” Turns out the cowboys are a bunch of bleeding hearts.

This article is in the Washington Post, and as you know I’m always interested in outside views of our state, partly to see how the perspective differs and partly to see what kind of dumb mistakes they make. In this case, the author is a Texan, an economist and pundit named Abby McCloskey who also writes for the Dallas Morning News. I’d not read anything by her before, and checking Facebook and Twitter I found almost no overlap between the political types I know and her. Doesn’t really matter, it was just curious to me.

Anyway. As I said up front, the basic premise is sound. Polling of Trump in Texas has been weak, in terms of approval, favorable/unfavorable, and re-elect numbers; as I’ve noted before, there’s some correlation between those things, though it’s not particularly strong. One way I look at this is that in the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney was always above 50% in Texas, usually around 55%, while President Obama hovered around 40%. Trump is usually in the low-to-mid 40’s, occasionally nearing 50 but almost always below it. That’s just not great for him, and as we saw in 2018 if Republicans overall aren’t performing in the 55%-plus range, they have a hard time winning districts and counties they’ve been used to winning.

The rest doesn’t impress me much. There may be some Chamber of Commerce types who voted for Trump in 2016, mostly out of loathing for Hillary Clinton and a longtime affinity for Republican politics, who won’t vote for him in 2020 because of trade policy, but I suspect you could count them all individually if you put some effort into it. Immigration policy is a multi-layered subject in Texas, but the Republicans who voted for that 2001 bill to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition aren’t the Republicans that are in charge of the state now. The Texas GOP is far, far to the right of that cohort – the modern Texas GOP officially opposes that 2001 law (see item 134 from the 2016 platform and item 129 from the 2018 platform). Citing that 2001 law as evidence of “nuance” is to me ignorant in the way that people who still say that “the Texas Governor is only the fourth or fifth most powerful official in the state” is ignorant. Keep up with current events, please.

Julian Castro ends his Presidential bid

Sorry to see him go.

Julian Castro

Julián Castro has ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, capping a nearly yearlong bid during which he distinguished himself as a progressive crusader but never found the polling or fundraising support to gain wide appeal.

“I’m so proud of the campaign we’ve run together,” Castro said in an almost four-minute video Thursday morning. “We’ve shaped the conversation on so many important issues in this race, stood up for the most vulnerable people and given a voice to those who are often forgotten. But with only a month until the Iowa caucuses and given the circumstances of this campaign, I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time.”

The video highlighted some of the causes he championed during his campaign — in some cases, largely on his own — that endeared him to the progressive wing of the party but did not translate into the traction needed to thrust him into the top tier of the sprawling Democratic field.

[…]

After years of being regarded as a rising star in Texas politics, Castro threw his hat into the ring early, months before some of his fiercest competitors launched their respective bids. But he consistently raised millions of dollars less than his rivals and polled in the low single digits, failing to qualify for the two most recent debates despite launching a do-or-die fundraising drive before the first of them. He hit his $800,000 target and stayed in the race but still did not make the cut for that debate.

I’m sad to see him depart – Lord knows, I can think of several candidates I’d rather see get out. It’s a lot easier to stay in a race if your goal is something other than winning. Be that as it may, this is far from the end for Castro. He’d be a good VP choice – I thought that in 2016 as well, but that’s the way it goes – and h could certainly wind up in someone’s Cabinet. I for one will be rooting for him to run for Governor in 2022. I don’t think I need to explain that one. Thank you for running, Julian Castro. I look forward to seeing you on the trail again, hopefully soon. The Observer has more.

After-deadline filing review: The Lege

Now we come to the State House, which is where most of the action will be in 2020. In 2018, much of the energy and focus was on Congressional races, to the point where some hand-wringing articles were written about the lack of focus and resources on the legislative races. Dems managed to win 12 seats anyway, and by now we all know of the goal of winning nine more to take the majority. Both parties, and a lot of big-money groups, are locked in on this. That’s where we are as we enter the primary season.

So with all that, see here, here, and here for previous entries. The top target list, or at least my version of it, is here. As before, I will skip over the Houston-area races and focus on the ones I haven’t been talking about. Finally, one correction to that post on Houston-area races: I have been informed, and a look at the SOS candidate info page confirms, the two would-be primary challengers to Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 have been disqualified.

The top targets: I will start with the districts that Beto carried, then move to the next tier.

HD64Angela Brewer, adjunct professor of communication studies at UNT and Collin College. You can see a short video of her talking to a local journo here. This district is in Denton County, where HD65 flipped in 2018.

HD66Sharon Hirsch, a retired Plano ISD employee who came agonizingly close to winning in 2018 (she lost by less than 400 votes, 0.6 percentage points), will try again. Physician Aimee Garza Lopez is also running to take on lousy incumbent Matt Shaheen.

HD67 – Four candidates are running (a fifth withdrew) in a Collin County district that Beto carried by five and a half points (incumbent Jeff Leach held on by 2.2 points). Attorney Tom Adair, attorney and El Salvador native who fled its civil war in the 80s Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, former teacher and legislative director Anthony Lo, and real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez are your options.

HD108 – Another heartbreaking loss, as 2018 candidate Joanna Cattanach fell short by 220 votes, 0.2 percentage points. This was the most Republican district in Dallas County – in some sense, still one of the two most Republican districts, since there are only two left held by Republicans – and yet Beto took 57.2% here in 2018. Cattanach, a teacher, is running again, and she has company, from Tom Ervin and Shawn Terry, both businessmen.

HD121 – I feel like this district, which used to be held by Joe Straus, is a bit of an illusion. It looks less red than it is. Beto won it, but only with 49.7%, while new Rep. Steve Allison (who beat a wingnut in the 2018 GOP primary) took it by eight and a half points. I feel confident the Democratic Presidential candidate will carry it, and it may be Dem in some county races downballot, but much like HD134 has done I expect it to stick with its moderate Republican State Rep. Yeah, I know, I’m a buzzkill. Anyway, 2018 candidate Celina Montoya, founder of an educational non-profit, is back, and she’s joined by consultant and Moms Demand Action state leader Becca DeFelice and Jack Guerra, listed on the SOS page as a “small business owner”.

HD96 – We’re now in the districts Beto didn’t carry, though he only missed this one by 91 votes. I’ll be doing these in decreasing order of Beto’s performance. HD96 is one of five – count ’em five – target districts in Tarrant County, mostly thanks to Beto’s performance in 2018. This is now an open seat thanks to a last-minute decision not to file by Bill Zedler, one of the main anti-vaxxers in the Lege. Attorney Joe Drago has the task of flipping this one.

HD54 – Most of the pickup opportunities for Dems are in the urban and big suburban counties, where you would expect them to be. HD54 is one of three that are not. It’s in Central Texas, split between Bell (blue) and Lampasas (red) counties, it’s been a low-key swing district for some time, and Beto got 49.0% there in 2018. Likeithia “Keke” Williams is listed as the candidate – SD24 candidate Clayton Tucker had originally filed for HD54 but switched to the Senate race following her filing. I can’t find any online presence for her – Tucker mentions she’s a veteran, so we know that much – but I sure hope she gets the support she needs to run a serious campaign, because this is a winnable seat.

HD97 – Get ready for a lot of Tarrant County, with one of the other non-traditional targets thrown in. HD97 (Beto 48.6%) was blue for five minutes in 2008, after Dan Barrett won a special election to fill out Anna Mowrey’s term, then lost that November when Republican turnout returned to normal levels. It’s not been on the radar since, and incumbent Craig Goldman won by nine points last year. No one ever said this would be easy. Attorney and veteran Elizabeth Beck and Dan Willis, listed on the SOS page as an eye doctor, fight it out in March to take their shot in November.

HD14 – The second on the three “wait, where is that district again?” seats (it’s in Brazos County, for the record), HD14 put itself on the list by having Beto (48.4%) improve on Hillary Clinton’s performance (38.1%) by over ten points. Was that a fluke, either in 2016 or in 2018? I have no idea, but any district where Beto can get 48.4% is a district where we need to compete. Certified public accountant Janet Dudding and Raza Rahman, a senior at Texas A&M, have the honors of trying to do that competing.

HD92 – This is – or, thankfully and more accurately, was – Jonathan Stickland’s district. Need I say more? The air is fresher already. Steve Riddell, who lost by less than two points to Stickland in this 48.3% Beto district, and attorney and Air Force veteran Jeff Whitfield, are in it.

HD93 – Staying in Tarrant County, we have yet another anti-vaxxer’s district, this one belonging to Matt Krause. What’s in the water out there, y’all? It’s Beto at 48.2%, and Lydia Bean, sociology professor and non-profit founder and 2018 Dem candidate in the district, is back.

HD94 – Tarrant County has punched way above its weight in the Idiot Legislators department lately, thanks to a cluster of loudmouth anti-vaxxers. That group contains HD94 incumbent Tony Tinderholt, who entered the Lege by knocking out a leading pro-public education Republican incumbent, and who is a dangerous lunatic for other reasons. Tarrant County will be less toxic next session with Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler retiring, and taking out Tony Tinderholt would also help. Alisa Simmons, who does not have a campaign presence yet, has that task.

HD32 is a weird district. Located in Nueces County, it was a swing seat in the previous decade, finally flipped by then-rising star Juan Garcia in 2008, when Dems held a total of 74 seats. Todd Hunter, who had represented it in earlier years, won it back in 2010 and hasn’t faced a Democratic opponent since. With Beto taking 47.0% there, it’s again in the mix. Eric Holguin, the Democratic candidate in CD27 in 2018, is running in HD32 this cycle.

HD106 – We’re now very much into “stretch” territory, as the last four districts are all under 45% for Beto; this one, which was rehomed from Dallas to Denton County in the 2011 redistricting, scored at 44.2% for Beto and was won by first-term incumbent Jared Patterson with 58.3%. But if 2018 taught us anything, it’s that things can move in a hurry, so I don’t want to overlook potential possibilities, even if they’re more likely to be of interest in the longer term. Jennifer Skidonenko, who identifies herself as a mother and grassroots activist and who is clearly motivated by gun violence, is the candidate.

HD89 – This is the district that used to be held by Jodie Laubenberg. Remember Jodie Laubenberg? She was the author of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually rejected. Have I elevated your blood pressure just a little? Good. Laubenberg went off to do whatever horrible things people like her do after they leave the Lege, and Candy Noble is her replacement in this Beto 43.5% district. Sugar Ray Ash, the 2018 Dem nominee who is a veteran, former postal worker, tax attorney, DMN endorsed, and all around interesting guy, is back for another shot, and he has company in the person of Jon Cocks, whose website is from a prior race for Mayor of Fairview.

HD122 – The most Republican district in Bexar County, held by Greg Abbott frenemy Lyle Larson, Beto got 43.4% here, while Larson himself was getting almost 62 percent. Claire Barnett is a consultant for adult education programs and was the Democratic nominee here in 2018. She’s making another run in 2020.

HD84 – Last but not least, this is in some ways my favorite district on the list because it’s where you might least expect it – HD84 is in Lubbock County. Calling it a swing district is certainly a stretch – Beto got 43.1% in 2018, a big improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 34.8% in 2016, and incumbent John Frullo won by 20 points. But the direction is encouraging, and we’ve known since the 2011 redistricting cycle that one could build a Dem-leaning district in Lubbock if one were so inclined. If nothing else, keep that in mind as a thing to work for in the 2021 session. John Gibson, attorney and the Chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, announced his candidacy on Monday, deadline day, which made me happy because I’d been afraid we were skipping that race. I’m so glad we’re not.

I’ve still got judicial candidates and maybe a look at Fort Bend County candidates to look at. Stay tuned.

Flynn to “challenge” GOP decision to boot him from HD138 ballot

Still more filing finagling.

Josh Flynn

Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is challenging a decision by the Harris County Republican Party to rule him ineligible for the House District 138 primary because he did not “properly” submit his resignation from the county education department.

Flynn, a Republican who was elected to the Harris County Department of Education board of trustees in 2018, resigned last week after his eligibility for the Legislature came under question and a Houston attorney formally requested the Harris County GOP deem Flynn ineligible.

Under a state law that makes people who hold a “lucrative office” ineligible for the Legislature, Flynn’s position on the HCDE board appeared to bar him from running for the House. Though trustees earn just $6 per meeting, the Texas Supreme Court has determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Last week, Flynn submitted his resignation from the board and re-filed for the House District 138 primary. However, in a letter sent to Flynn Tuesday, Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson said Flynn was ineligible to run because he apparently submitted his resignation to the wrong person at the county education board.

“After you withdrew that initial application, HCDE administrative assistant Theresa Perez received notification of your resignation from the office of HCDE Trustee,” Simpson wrote. “The public records do not show that your resignation was delivered to the presiding officer, clerk, or secretary of the Harris County Department of Education.”

In the letter, Simpson cited a section of the Texas Election Code that says if an official is resigning from a governmental body, the resignation “may be delivered to the presiding officer of the body or to its clerk or secretary.”

Flynn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told the Texas Tribune Wednesday that he is “fighting” Simpson’s decision, and on Thursday sent an email to supporters assuring them he would appear on the ballot despite the party’s decision.

“While it is unfortunate that they came to this conclusion, I have great confidence that I will indeed be running to be your next State Representative in next year’s election as the Election Attorney feels it is an open and shut case,” Flynn wrote.

See here and here for the background. I assume this means that Flynn plans to take legal action to force his way back onto the ballot, in the same way that Judge George Powell has done. I have a bit more sympathy for Flynn’s position, though as before this is one of those things where good advice from a seasoned campaign professional probably would have saved the day. I have no dog in this fight, but I am very curious to see what happens. And again, the Lege could take action to clean up these bits of law – this here would likely take a constitutional amendment as well – so as to avoid this situation in the future.

Meanwhile, in other HCDE news:

The Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees voted Dec. 18 to replace trustees George Moore, Position 1, Precinct 2 and Josh Flynn, Position 4, Precinct 3 with Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon, respectively. Both Moore, board vice president, and Flynn, president, had tendered their resignations prior to the meeting.

“I give my sincere appreciation to Dr. George Moore and Josh Flynn for their service to the students and citizens of Harris County,” HCDE School Superintendent James Colbert Jr. said. “Dr. Moore is an outstanding man and has left a significant fingerprint on this organization as a fierce advocate for the underserved and as a great supporter for our 1,100 employees. Mr. Flynn was a good leader who is very well read, extremely efficient and took pride in his leadership post, and I wish him well in his new endeavors.”

Hinojosa, a Pasadena resident, was sworn into office shortly after her appointment. She is a 16-year, oil-and-gas project manager. She volunteers with an education advocacy group called ProUnitas. “I’m passionate about serving my community and about improving student outcomes,” said Hinojosa. “I look forward to the work ahead, and I’m excited.”

Duhon, a Katy resident, is a small business financial advisor who has a record for advocating for public education programs such as Head Start. HCDE currently serves 1,250 Head Start children and families in northeast and east Harris County. “I look forward to serving the community on behalf of the students of Harris County,” Duhon said.

Duhon, as the Chron story noted, lost by about 2,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points, to Flynn in the 2018 election. I had completely forgotten this, but George Moore had won an even closer election in 2016, barely edging Sherri Matula by less than 500 votes and 0.2 percentage points. Duhon has filed for the Position 7 At Large seat in the 2020 primary, but in response to my question said she will be withdrawing from that race (there are three other candidates, including David Brown, who along with Duhon (then seeking the Position 5 At Large spot) had been an early entrant) and will serve the remainder of Flynn’s term, which runs through 2024. Some other mid-term appointments would require her and Hinojosa to run next year to fill out the unexpired terms, but apparently that is not the case for the HCDE Board.

This also means, as the Chron story points out, that the HCDE Board is now a 4-3 Dem majority, which had been the goal with the two At Large positions up for election. If the Dems win them, it’ll be a 6-1 split, with only Eric Dick on the Republican side (and, if you believe him, only kinda-sorta on the Republican side). That’s both exciting and a little worrisome, since the HCDE has been a target for some Republicans in the Lege to eliminate. Consider that a further incentive to win the State House in 2020. Also, too, At Large incumbent Michael Wolfe – you know, that guy – will not be running for re-election in 2020, as he takes another shot at knocking off Republican JP Russ Ridgway. Lots of changes on the HCDE Board, now and next year.

UPDATE: Flynn has now officially taken action:

Texas House candidate Josh Flynn sued the Harris County Republican Party on Thursday, alleging that party Chairman Paul Simpson erred in declaring Flynn ineligible for the House District 138 primary this week.

Flynn’s lawsuit, filed against the party and Simpson in state District Court, seeks a temporary restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions to bar Simpson from ruling him ineligible.

[…]

In the lawsuit, Flynn contended that he effectively delivered his resignation to the board secretary — in this case Superintendent James Colbert Jr. — by leaving it with an administrative assistant in Colbert’s office while the superintendent was away.

Flynn, who also served as board president before resigning, claimed that he was personally the “presiding officer” of the board and therefore “delivered his resignation to himself.”

His attorney in the case is Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican Party chair whom Simpson unseated in 2014.

We’ll see what happens with it.

Filing update: Focus on Harris County

One more look at who has and hasn’t yet filed for stuff as we head into the final weekend for filing. But first, this message:


That’s general advice, not specific to Harris County or to any person or race. With that in mind, let’s review the landscape in Harris County, with maybe a bit of Fort Bend thrown in as a bonus. Primary sources are the SOS candidate page and the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet.

Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Fletcher do not have primary opponents, though the spreadsheet does list a possible opponent for Garcia. As previously discussed, Rep. Al Green has a primary opponent, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has three so far, with at least one more to come. Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen have filed in CD02. Mike Siegel and Shannon Hutcheson have filed in CD10, and none of the three known contenders have filed yet in CD22. (Before you ask, no, I don’t know why some candidates seem to wait till the last minute to file.)

In the Lege, the big news is that Penny Shaw has filed in HD148, so the voters there will get their third contested race in a four month time period. At least with only two candidates so far there can’t be a runoff, but there’s still time. Ann Johnson and Lanny Bose have filed in HD134, Ruby Powers has not yet. Over in Fort Bend, Ron Reynolds does not have an opponent in HD27, at least not yet. No other activity to note.

Audia Jones, Carvana Cloud, and Todd Overstreet have filed for District Attorney; incumbent Kim Ogg has not yet filed. Christian Menefee and Vince Ryan have filed for County Attorney, Harry Zamora has entered the race for Sheriff along with incumbent Ed Gonzalez, and Jack Terence, last seen as a gadfly Mayoral candidate in the late 90s and early 2000s, has filed for Tax Assessor; Ann Harris Bennett has not yet filed. Andrea Duhon has switched over to HCDE Position 7, At Large, which puts her in the same race as David Brown, who has not yet filed. Erica Davis has already filed for Position 5, At Large.

In the Commissioners Court races, Rodney Ellis and Maria Jackson are in for Precinct 1; Michael Moore, Kristi Thibaut, Diana Alexander and now someone named Zaher Eisa are in for Precinct 3, with at least one other person still to come. I will note that Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has not yet filed for re-election, but three other candidates, two of whom filed within the first week of the period, are in for that position. Rosen’s name has been bandied about as a possible Commissioners Court challenger to Steve Radack, and if he is planning to jump to that race it makes sense that he’d take his time, since he’d have to resign immediately afterward. I have no inside scoop here, just a bit of idle speculation. There are no Dems as yet for either Constable or JP in Precincts 5 or 8.

This brings us to the District Courts, and there’s some interesting action happening here. There are a couple of open seats thanks to retirements and Maria Jackson running for Commissioners Court. Herb Ritchie is retiring in the 337th; two contenders have filed. One person has filed in Jackson’s 339th. Someone other than George Powell has filed in the 351st, and someone other than Randy Roll has filed in the 179th. I’m not sure if they are running again or not. Steve Kirkland has a primary opponent in the 334th, because of course he does, and so does Julia Maldonado in the new 507th. Alexandra Smoots-Thomas does not yet have a primary opponent.

Fort Bend County went blue in 2018 as we know, but Dems did not have a full slate of candidates to take advantage of that. They don’t appear to have that problem this year, as there are multiple candidates for Sheriff (where longtime incumbent Troy Nehls is retiring and appears poised to finally announce his long-anticipated candidacy for CD22, joining an insanely large field), County Attorney, and Tax Assessor (HCC Trustee Neeta Sane, who ran for Treasurer in 2006, is among the candidates). The Dems also have multiple candidates trying to win back the Commissioners Court seat in Precinct 1 that they lost in 2016 – one of the candidates is Jennifer Cantu, who ran for HD85 in 2018 – and they have candidates for all four Constable positions.

There are still incumbents and known challengers who have been raising money for their intended offices who have not yet filed. I expect nearly all of that to happen over the weekend, and then we’ll see about Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on it all.

Our first Congressional race ratings

From Politico, here’s the early view of the state of Texas’ Congressional races in 2020.

Lean Dem

CD23 (Open, R)
CD32 (Allred, D)

Tossup

CD07 (Fletcher, D)
CD22 (Open, R)
CD24 (Open, R)

Lean GOP

CD02 (Crenshaw, R)
CD10 (McCaul, R)
CD21 (Roy, R)
CD31 (Carter, R)

Likely GOP

CD03 (Taylor, R)
CD06 (Wright, R)
CD17 (Open, R)
CD25 (Williams, R)

The rest are all Solid for their respective parties. A few thoughts:

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

– I think they are underrating CD07. It’s a Lean Dem to me, based on Rep. Fletcher’s performance, the continued anti-Trump atmosphere, the overall strength of the HCDP and the overall weakness of the Harris County GOP. Until and unless I see something to make me think otherwise, CD07 and CD32 are equivalent.

– The three Republican-held-but-open seats that are Lean Dem or Tossup seem right to me. I’ve been burned by CD23 before, but I’ve chosen to believe that Rep. Will Hurd had some special sauce that enabled him to survive two elections he really should have lost. We’ll see if I’m right about that or if this district will bedevil us again.

– The Lean GOP districts sure seem to be on a spectrum. On the one end, CD10 was carried by Beto O’Rourke in 2018, and all three Dems are raising good money; CD21 is a bit redder, but Wendy Davis is killing it in fundraising. On the other end, we still have no idea who might emerge as a serious contender in CD31, while Dan Crenshaw is getting Will Hurd levels of undeserved media attention, while also sitting on three million bucks in his campaign coffers. Both are trending in the right direction, and Elisa Cardnell is a good candidate (who now has a primary opponent), but it’s not hard to imagine these races being classified as “likely GOP” in the future or by other prognosticators.

– The Likely GOP districts seem about right, though the inclusion of CD17 is optimistic, to put it mildly, even if it is an open seat and even if the Ukraine-compromised Pete Sessions is the GOP nominee. (Unless someone persuades Chet Edwards to jump in, which would change things considerably.) CDs 03 and 06 have candidates with fundraising potential, and could possibly get upgraded if everything goes well. CD25 is a step behind them, but having it on the radar at all is a sign of how much things, and the perception of things, have changed since 2016.

– We’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves, but the GOP is going to have to think long and hard about what the landscape is going to look like over the next decade. The 2011/2013 gerrymander worked very well for them in a state that was 55-60% Republican. In a state that’s a tossup or close to it, they have a lot of seats to defend. Texas will get more Congressional seats in 2021, assuming its idiotic penury in supporting the Census doesn’t cause a dramatic undercount, which will give a bit more latitude, but the basic questions about how many reasonably safe GOP seats the state can support will remain. And if the Dems take the State House and gain leverage over the process, those questions will get even trickier for them.

Chron overview of the District J runoff

This unfortunately misses a relevant piece of information.

Sandra Rodriguez

The candidates vying for the District J city council seat in December’s runoff election have different backgrounds and separate bases of political support but have arrived at similar conclusions about the way forward for southwest Houston.

Edward Pollard, 35, was raised in the Meyerland-Westbury area and was an academic All-American basketball player at Morehouse College. He played professionally overseas, then returned to Houston to earn a law degree, open a practice and start a nonprofit. He has wanted to run for office since working a 2011 internship at the state Legislature, and sought the 2016 Democratic nomination for District 137 state representative, losing to current Rep. Gene Wu.

Sandra Rodriguez, 40, grew up in Gulfton. The first-generation American lived in an abusive home, a one-bedroom apartment she shared with her parents and four siblings. She joined the city’s anti-gang office shortly after high school, earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013, and is now in her 12th year with the city Health Department. She recently decided to run for council as a way to do community work full-time rather than volunteering on off hours.

Pollard pushes a centrist message — “That pothole could care less whether you’re a Democrat or Republican” — and touts endorsements from the Houston Police Officers Union, business groups like the Houston Realty Breakfast Coalition and industry groups representing city contractors, engineers and Realtors.

“No matter who you are, where you come from, we’re all in this community together,” he said. “You couldn’t run this type of race in most other districts because they’re so heavily partisan one way or the other, but in a true purple district like J it gives you the opportunity to really push that message, and I’m glad I’m at the forefront of being able to do that.”

Rodriguez stresses the need to engage new immigrants and improve the district’s poor civic engagement, and is backed by SEIU Texas and other labor groups, the Texas Organizing Project, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and a host of Democratic politicians at the federal, state and local level.

“I just want to do the work. I’ve been doing the work for 20 years, I enjoy what I do, and if this will help me push policies and move our district forward in Southwest Houston, to change the image — because you hear Sharpstown, Gulfton, Westwood, you think crime, you think prostitution, all the negativity — if this will help me serve the district, then I’ll run. That was the ultimate decision-maker.”

Ed Pollard was also accused by Beth Martin, the then-District Director for Rep. Gene Wu, of verbally harassing her during that 2016 campaign. I have no idea what has happened since then, if Pollard has owned up to the incident and sincerely tried to make amends, or if it has just gone down the memory hole like these things usually do. I do know it’s a legitimate thing to mention in a story about this person’s candidacy, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t in this article.

Be that as it may, my interview with Sandra Rodriguez is here. If I lived in District J, I would be voting for Sandra Rodriguez. If you live in District J or know someone who does, that’s my recommendation to you.

Filing period preview: Harris County

Previously: Congress, Statewide, and SBOE/Senate/House.

For County races, I cannot use the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, as it doesn’t include local races. I am instead using the Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports for Various County Offices link on the County Clerk webpage, as it includes Appointments of Treasurer. I set the filter for a time frame beginning July 15, and including all offices. Not perfect, and may miss candidates who filed Appointments of Treasurer, but it’s close enough. Earlier candidates will have been included in my roundup of July finance reports for county candidates.

So with all that said, here we go. I’m not looking for incumbents’ campaign webpages, we already know about them. I’m trying to identify the party for each of the candidates I found, but some are not easy to determine, so I left them as “unknown”. Feel free to correct me if you know more.

District Attorney

Note: I used some information in this Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center post in the following.

Kim Ogg (D)
Audia Jones (D). Has been running for several months.
Carvana Cloud (D). Former division chief within the DAO (see link above).

Mary Nan Huffman (R) Former ADA in the Montgomery County DA’s office, now working for HPOU.

Lori DeAngelo (Unknown) Another former assistant DA (see link above again). I can’t find much else about her.
Todd Overstreet – (Unknown). I have no new information about him since the July post.

Finally, rumor has it that our old buddy Lloyd Oliver is running for DA as a Republican. I don’t see any filings for him so I can’t readily confirm that, but 1) I’m sure he has an appointment of treasurer always on file, and 2) Lloyd Oliver is a barnacle on the body politic, so it pays to always expect something annoying from him.

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez (D)
Harry Zamora (D). I have no new information on him since the July post.
Jerome Moore (D). Ran in the Dem primary in 2016. No new info on him, either.

Paul Day (R). He is a “Pro-Life, Christian Conservative”, and he ran in the Republican primary for Sheriff in 2008, against then-incumbent Tommy Thomas, getting 17% of the vote.
Joe Danna (R). As noted in July, a multi-time candidate for Constable in Precinct 1.

Lawrence Rush (Unknown). Current employee of the HCSO.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan (D)
Christian Menefee (D)
Ben Rose (D)

Nothing new here, both of these challengers have been running for months. I don’t see any evidence of a Republican candidate for County Attorney as yet.

Tax Assessor

Ann Harris Bennett (D)

Chris Daniel (R)

Daniel is the former District Clerk, elected in the 2010 wave and then un-elected in the 2018 assertion of Democratic dominance. His Appointment of Treasurer was filed on Wednesday but not yet viewable. His Friends of Chris Daniel PAC reported $438 on hand and $25K in outstanding loans as of July.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Rodney Ellis (D)
Maria T. Jackson (D). We know about this one. I could not find any web presence for her – her personal Facebook page still lists her occupation as a Judge – but I did find this Houston Style article about her campaign launch. I will be very interested to see what her January finance report looks like.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack (R)
Brenda Stardig (R)

Diana Alexander (D)
Michael Moore (D)
Kristi Thibaut (D)
Erik Hassan (D)
Luis Guajardo (D)

The first three Dems, we know about. Alexander was the first candidate in. Moore is the former Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill White. Thibaut served one term in the Lege in HD133. Erik Hassan was a candidate in the 2016 Dem primary for Precinct 3, losing to Jenifer Pool. Luis Guajardo is a very recent filer whose personal Facebook page lists him as an urban planner. As for Brenda Stardig, soon to be former Council Member in District A, she filed her Appointment of Treasurer on November 8. Chron reporter Jasper Scherer says that Radack is running for re-election, so there’s another contested primary for you. Radack has a pile of cash on hand, and he may have to spend some of it in the next couple of months. As with Maria Jackson, I will be very interested to see what Brenda Stardig’s January finance report looks like.

I’m going to stop here, in part because this is long enough and in part because I’m not prepared to do the same exercise on Constables and Justices of the Peace. Just remember that Beto carried all eight Constable/JP precincts in 2018, so ideally every Republican incumbent should have a challenger, this year and in 2022 as well. I may take a stab at this next week, but for now this wraps up my look ahead at the filing period. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as actual filings pile up.

The evolving CD31 candidate landscape

We have a lot of Democratic candidates raising 2018-type money in the big, targeted Republican-held Congressional districts. Some have clear frontrunners, at least based on money raised – Wendy Davis in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23 – while CDs 10 and 24 have multiple candidates raising competitive amounts of money. And then there’s CD31, the district that MJ Hegar put on the map last year, where no one has yet raised much money or established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. With candidates still coming and going, let’s check in and see who’s who and what’s what.

Tammy Young

Round Rock City Council Member Tammy Young announced her bid for U.S. Rep. John Carter’s seat Wednesday, joining a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat the Round Rock Republican.

Young moved to Round Rock after leading a nonprofit in New Mexico for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In Round Rock, she taught special education and later worked as a real estate broker. She was elected to the City Council in May 2017.

Democrats have been eyeing the district, which encompasses most of Williamson and Bell counties, after Carter defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by 2.9 points last year.

Young has hired major Democratic consultants, including AKPD, an ad firm that worked for U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in 2018 and is now Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s ad maker; AMHC, which did mailing for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns; GQR for polling and 4Degrees for digital.

Young, 50, said she was a teenage mother and a survivor of domestic violence. She has two children with ADHD, which led her to write a book for parents titled “Slow Down, So I Can Tell You I Love You.”

“I know what it’s like to struggle and to have to find solutions to what seem like impossible challenges,” Young said.

On the City Council, Young worked to pass a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and worked with the city’s Chamber of Commerce to invest in workforce skills training.

“Through that experience on council, I’ve learned that it’s possible to work in a bipartisan way,” she said. “I know that this can be replicated in Congress.”

[…]

Computer engineer Donna Imam raised more than $60,000 between July and August and has $53,000 in cash on hand. Christine Eady Mann, a family practice physician who ran for the seat last year, announced in August that she would run again. She raised $53,000 between July and September, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Omar Kadir, a former candidate for Williamson County treasurer; singer Eric Hanke and Dan Janjigian, an actor and ex-Olympic bobsledder, are among the other Democrats in the race.

Here’s Tammy Young’s webpage; she has a pretty compelling life story. Other candidates in the race include Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, and 2018 returnee Christine Eady Mann, who was runnerup to MJ Hegar in the primary that year. Murray Holcomb has apparently dropped out, as have a couple others mentioned in this August AusChron story that I linked to in my Q3 finance report roundup. We’re less than a week out from the beginning of the filing period, so we should be getting clarity real soon. At this point what we need is for one or more of these candidates to demonstrate the ability to raise the kind of money that will enable them to run the kind of race that will be needed for CD31 to be competitive again. Hegar, with a big assist from Beto, moved the ball a long way in 2018. CD31 was on paper one of the less likely to flip districts in 2018 – Hillary Clinton lost it by 12 points in 2016. Hegar made it close enough that it’s already on the DCCC target lists for 2020. What we need at this point is for one (or more!) of these candidates to show that they can take that next step. I hope the Q4 finance reports will provide some evidence of that.

District Court Judge Smoots-Thomas accused of wire fraud

Yikes.

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

A Harris County judge is facing federal charges that accuse her of using campaign donations for personal expenses, including for mortgage payments, private school tuition and travel.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, is charged with wire fraud charges, according to federal prosecutors. She turned herself in to U.S. Magistrate Peter Bray, appearing before him with chains wrapped around her waist and ankles.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the magistrate set a pre-trial conference for Jan. 6.

Wearing a gray and black suit, she kept her head down for most of the arraignment. Smoots-Thomas has breast cancer, and had a round of chemotherapy on Thursday, attorney Kent Schaffer said.

Schaffer denied the charges after the proceeding, alleging that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under Ryan Patrick, was targeting Smoots-Thomas because she is a black female Democrat.

“She has not defrauded anybody,” he said.

Patrick’s office has been contacted for comment on Schaffer’s allegations.

A federal grand jury on Oct. 24 returned a seven-count indictment against Smoots-Thomas, who presides over the 164th District Court and has jurisdiction over civil cases within Harris County. The indictment was unsealed on Friday.

[…]

The indictment alleges Smoots-Thomas of soliciting campaign contributions on the premise the money would be used to help facilitate her re-election campaigns in 2012 and 2016, prosecutors said. She concealed the expenses from her campaign treasurer and the Texas Ethics Commission by filing false campaign finance reports, according to the charges.

Obviously, this is bad and upsetting. She is of course innocent until proven guilty, but federal prosecutors tend to prefer bringing charges in cases they feel confident about winning.

Judge Smoots-Thomas was first elected in 2008. She was known as Alexandra Smoots-Hogan then; I know she had gotten divorced, and I presume remarried. There’s always a question about whether elected officials who are accused of crimes should resign when that happens. This is where I point out that Ken Paxton is still Attorney General, and I have not called for his resignation because he has not yet been convicted of anything. I’m inclined to believe that Kent Schaffer’s allegation about Assistant US Attorney Ryan Patrick is more defense lawyer strategy than anything else, but if all it took was an indictment to force someone out of office, then it’s certainly possible to imagine a politically motivated prosecutor filing sketchy charges as a partisan tactic. Plenty of people have been unjustly prosecuted in other contexts, after all. It’s a terrible look and I’m sure Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee over the potential attack ads, but even public officials get their day in court.

Jackson to challenge Ellis in Precinct 1

Here we go.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Former Harris County criminal court judge Maria T. Jackson will challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner, her campaign announced Monday.

Jackson, the county’s longest serving felony judge until her resignation last month, plans to hold a campaign kickoff on Tuesday. She said she was unavailable for comment Monday.

Jackson, a Democrat, served as presiding judge of the 339th State District Court in Harris County between 2008 and 2019. Previously, she was a Houston municipal court judge. She unsuccessfully ran for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2018.

Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and graduated from the Texas A&M School of Law. She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, was first elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, first was elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

On his most recent campaign finance report filing in July, Ellis listed a war chest of $3.8 million, more than any other elected official in Harris County. Jackson listed $13,812 cash on hand for her judge campaign account, which she can transfer to her campaign for commissioner.

University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the fundraising deficit is one of several significant challenges Jackson would have to overcome to have a chance of victory. Rottinghaus said Ellis is widely known to the public and popular among Democratic voters. He also said judges often struggle to transition to legislative or executive elected positions.

“Judges tend not to be visible, politically,” Rottinghaus said. “They aren’t used to talking about core political issues and using that to build coalitions.”

See here for the background, and here for my 2016 judicial Q&A with Jackson. Ellis formally announced his re-election campaign on the same day, not that there was any doubt about his intentions. I tend to agree with Prof. Rottinghaus on this, especially when the other candidate is as well known as Commissioner Ellis is. I support Ellis, I voted for him as a precinct chair in 2016, and I’m happy with what he’s done. Guess I need to add this race to my list for primary interviews.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Senate race will be the top statewide contest in 2020, but beyond that it’s the judicials and the one Railroad Commissioner slot on the ballot. Candidate Chrysta Castañeda has thrown her hat into the ring for that job.

Chrysta Castañeda

The 2020 race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission is beginning to seriously take shape as prominent Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda enters the Democratic primary to challenge Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton.

“The Railroad Commission’s number one job is to protect our natural resources and prevent the waste of oil and gas, but in its current configuration, it has abandoned that duty,” Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing her candidacy.

The Railroad Commission is usually one of the lower-profile statewide races on the ballot, but in election cycles like 2020, the candidates play an important role for their parties because they top the non-federal statewide ticket. The contest for Sitton’s seat, one of three on the commission, will appear on the ballot after the races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Castañeda has decades of oil and gas experience, first as a software engineer for companies and then as a lawyer for operators and others in the industry. In 2016, she won a $146 million verdict for the late Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in a high-profile drilling rights dispute.

Castañeda is centering her campaign on the issue of flaring, or the burning of natural gas that companies do not move to market. The practice, which emits harmful pollutants into the air, has become increasingly rampant; Oil and gas producers say it’s because of a shortage of pipelines, while environmentalists say it’s due to economics with natural gas being far cheaper than oil. They also blame the Railroad Commission, which has approved a historic number of flaring permits, and extensions to flaring permits.

In her announcement video, Castañeda says the state “might as well be burning cash” and charged Sitton with refusing to enforce laws to curtail the waste.

“Texans deserve someone who will enforce the law and work for all of us,” she said. “Let’s stop wasting energy.”

No one can say she doesn’t have experience, though I’m sure some folks will be more impressed by it than others. I learned from this story that there is another candidate already in, Kelly Stone, who is clearly from a more progressive background. That should make for an interesting primary, with at least some possibility that either or both candidates could raise some money for the purpose of running a real campaign in the primary. (It’s not just for Senate hopefuls!) The story also notes that 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about running again. You may say to yourself “I don’t remember seeing Cody Garrett on the November 2016 ballot”. That’s because he wasn’t – he lost to perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. I would not put it past Yarbrough to clutter up the 2020 ballot as well, but whether or not he does it’s important that we get a real campaign, with people being aware of their choices. Every race matters.

Our increasingly diverse swing districts

Current trends keep on trending.

New 2018 census data shows that some of the most competitive congressional districts in Texas are continuing to become more diverse, as campaigns gear up for what’s expected to be the state’s most competitive election cycle in nearly two decades.

The numbers, which come from the American Community Survey, a yearly query conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and released at the end of last month, bring into clearer view the trends that political experts say are fueling the rise in heated Texas races, especially in Harris County.

Margins of victory for Republicans tightened in 2016, and in 2018, Democrats won a western Harris congressional seat long held by the GOP.

[…]

Nearly every Houston-area swing district saw its white population go down since 2016, the data shows. Hispanic populations moved very slightly up or down depending on the district but stayed around 30 percent in most.

The 2018 snapshot suggests that election results last year indeed came along with long-anticipated shifts in the population.

One of the main drivers for the changes, state demographer Lloyd Potter said, is white, often affluent Harris County residents moving into suburban counties like Montgomery or Fort Bend, while others, including international immigrants often with lesser means, stay near work hubs in the cities. The county has also seen a large increase in international migration, he sad.

It has yet to be seen how those changes will translate to votes for either party in 2020. But if the same patterns continue, the Democrats have reason to believe the money and energy they are spending in Texas will pay off.

The Texas Democratic Party still has a lot of work to do in turning out supporters, but spokesman Abhi Rahman said the party sees big potential, especially in the untapped populations of newly registered and unregistered voters. At least 670,000 voters have registered in Texas for the first time since President Donald Trump took office, Rahman said.

“We estimate that those newly registered voters are 50 percent under the age of 35, and 38 percent under the age of 25,” Rahman said. “That is an incredibly young electorate coming up, it is a diverse electorate coming up, and it continues to signal the competitiveness of Texas and why change is coming to the state.”

The Democrats have set a number of goals heading into the 2020 election: increase turnout in communities of color to 53 percent, or by at least 400,000 voters who are registered but did not vote in 2018, and raise it to 45 percent, or by at least 225,000 votes, in urban and Democratic base counties.

The party also hopes to register suburban Texans from fast-growing cities with a goal of at least 130,000 new voters and to persuade 5 percent of rural voters for an increase of at least 100,000.

The voter registration stuff is straight from the TDP 2020 Plan. There’s a brief note later in the story about an uptick in CD10 of people with a college degree, which political scientist Rachel Bitecofer identifies as a key favorable factor for Democrats. I wish there had been a detailed breakdown of the numbers in the relevant districts, but the very high level macro view is what we get. Thankfully, Michael Li provided a useful graphic, so check that out. Good story, but I’ll always want to know more.

Barohich not running again in SBOE6

Another open seat.

Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education chairwoman Donna Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, announced Friday she will not seek reelection in 2020 as the District 6 representative.

“I have 8 years of service on the board,” Bahorich said. “I feel like I’ve given it quite a bit of work.”

In a statement, Bahorich said her tenure has been “exceptionally challenging and gratifying.” One of 10 Republicans on board, Bahorich was first elected in 2012. She has served as chairwoman since 2015, after being appointed to the role by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Prior to her election, Bahorich served as a district director for then-state Sen. Dan Patrick. Before that, she worked in telecommunications.

Bahorich wasn’t as bad as she could have been, all things considered, but this is a definite upgrade opportunity for 2020. SBOE6 shifted significantly Democratic from 2016 to 2018, after a modest but decent shift from 2012 to 2016. Beto got 51.5%, and Mike Collier took a plurailty with 49.5%. SBOE5 with Ken Mercer is actually a brighter opportunity, but this one is right behind it. Two Dems are already in – Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner – so it’s a matter of who the GOP puts forward.

Couple things to add here. I have no idea if Bahorich is stepping down for the reasons she states or if the Democratic movement in the district pushed her in that direction. The SBOE is an unpaid, low-glamour-but-high-friction post, and it’s not hard for me to believe that two terms is enough for any rational person. It’s also not hard for me to believe that Bahorich decided she had better things to do than sweat out an election she wouldn’t have much control over, given the partisan tides, the lack of funds in these races, and the futility of campaigning for this low-profile position with so many voters in it. This is the kind of race where overall GOTV efforts are key, and while the lack of straight ticket voting is a new challenge to overcome, SBOE races are fairly near the top of the ticket – after the three federal races (President, Senate, Congress) and the statewides, which this year is just Railroad Commissioner and the Supreme Court/CCA. It’s before all of those county and district court races, so there should be no fatigue factor. After the 2018 sweep, Bahorich is the only non-statewide elected Republican who will be on my ballot. Or at least she would have been, but whatever the case I’m hopeful about changing that. With any luck, that just got a little easier.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

One thing our state loves spending money on

Defending unconstitutional anti-abortion laws in the courts.

As Texas defends abortion laws in federal court that mandate fetal burials and seek to outlaw certain medical procedures, the state has been ordered to pay pro-abortion attorneys $2.5 million — fortifying women’s reproductive rights groups that have repeatedly sued over restrictions passed by the state Legislature.

The August order from a federal judge in Austin is seemingly the final decision in a high-profile battle over a 2013 Texas abortion law the U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down as medically unnecessary and thus unconstitutional. The law, which was in effect for three years, required abortion providers to comply with all the regulations for ambulatory surgical centers, forcing many to undergo expensive renovations, and required their physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The judge’s order brings the state’s total cost for defending those now-defunct pieces of the law to an estimated $3.6 million.

“Passing regulations that are blatantly unconstitutional, and then wasting people’s resources to fight them, costs money and precious resources and time. And people are harmed in the process,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider and lead plaintiff in the case who notes that half of the state’s abortion clinics closed before the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling. “That is a precious resource of Texans’ dollars being used toward that.”

Because the state lost the case, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled it must pay the plaintiffs $2,297,860 attorney’s fees, $170,142 in nontaxable expenses and $95,873 in other costs. The amount represents nearly half of the $4.7 million in costs the plaintiffs say they incurred preparing and trying the case. The Texas attorney general’s office did not contest the judge’s ruling.

The award for the opposing attorneys is more than double the nearly $1.1 million the attorney general’s office reported spending on its own attorney’s salary, overhead, travel expenses and other costs associated with defending the law, according to open records obtained by the Texas Tribune in 2016.

Hardly the first time – that 2016 SCOTUS ruling cost the state even more – and until we get a different government, hardly the last time. The AG’s office declined to comment for the story, but we both know that Ken Paxton would gladly spend down the entire Rainy Day Fund in defense of these laws. It’s not really a cost, as far as they’re concerned. It’s an investment.

On a related note:

[Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life which advocates for stiffer abortion regulations,] said anti-abortion advocates need to think long-term if they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established legal precedent protecting a woman’s right to an abortion. The long-time activist said he is not confident the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is favorable to overturning Roe v. Wade — but it could be in a few years.

“We are telling our people that they need to stay focused on re-electing President Donald Trump because he has a track record of nominating justices who are possibly willing to take an honest look at Roe v. Wade,” said Pojman.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and people who voted for Jill Stein in 2016 have ridiculed the notion of judicial appointments as an electoral issue. Joe Pojman would like to thank them for their dedication to their principles.

Appealing the Crystal Mason illegal voting conviction

This continues to be an appalling travesty.

When Crystal Mason got out of federal prison, she said, she “got out running.”

By Nov. 8, 2016, when she’d been out for months but was still on supervised release, she was working full-time at Santander Bank in downtown Dallas and enrolled in night classes at Ogle Beauty School, trying, she said, to show her children that a “bump in the road doesn’t determine your future.”

On Election Day, there was yet another thing to do: After work, she drove through the rain to her polling place in the southern end of Tarrant County, expecting to vote for the first female president.

When she got there, she was surprised to learn that her name wasn’t on the roll. On the advice of a poll worker, she cast a provisional ballot instead. She didn’t make it to her night class.

A month later, she learned that her ballot had been rejected, and a few months after that, she was arrested. Because she was on supervised release, prosecutors argued, she had knowingly violated a law preventing felons from voting before completing their sentences. Mason insisted she had no idea officials considered her ineligible — and would never have risked her freedom if she had.

For “illegally voting,” she was sentenced to five years in prison. Now, as her lawyers attempt to persuade a Fort Worth appeals court to overturn that sentence, the question is whether she voted at all.

Created in 2002, provisional ballots were intended to serve as an electoral safe harbor, allowing a person to record her vote even amid questions about her eligibility. In 2016, more than 66,000 provisional ballots were cast in Texas, and the vast majority of those were rejected, most of them because they were cast by individuals who weren’t registered to vote, according to data compiled by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In Tarrant County, where Mason lives, nearly 4,500 provisional ballots were cast that year, and 3,990 were rejected — but she was the only one who faced criminal prosecution.

In fact, Mason’s lawyer told a three-judge panel in North Texas last Tuesday, hers is the first known instance of an individual facing criminal charges for casting a ballot that ultimately didn’t count.

Her case, now pending before an all-Republican appeals panel, is about not just her freedom, but about the role and risks of the provisional ballot itself.

Prosecutors insist that they are not criminalizing individuals who merely vote by mistake. Despite those assurances, voting rights advocates fear the case could foster enough doubt among low-information voters that they’ll be discouraged from heading to the polls — or even clear a path for prosecutors to criminally pursue other provisional ballot-casters.

“There are a lot of people who have questions about whether they can vote or where they can vote,” said Andre Segura, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “You want all of those people to feel comfortable going in and submitting a provisional ballot.”

[…]

Tarrant County prosecutors have brushed off concerns the Mason case could lead to voter suppression. “The fact that this case is so unique should emphasize why this case should in no way have a ‘chilling effect’ on anyone except people who knowingly vote illegally,” Jordan said.

But during the 2019 legislative session, some Republican lawmakers pushed to erase Mason’s legal defense for future defendants by making it easier to prosecute people who cast ballots without realizing they’re ineligible.

Currently, to commit a crime, voters must know they are ineligible; under the proposed law, they would commit a crime just by voting while knowing about the circumstances that made them ineligible. In other words, Mason would have been illegally voting because she was aware of her past felony conviction — even if she was not aware her “supervised release” status made her ineligible.

The fact that Mason’s provisional ballot wasn’t actually counted would have also been ruled out as a legal defense under the proposed changes to state law. That legislation ultimately failed in the House amid major opposition from Democrats.

See here for some background. The appellate hearing was last week, and it drew national coverage. There are three legal justifications given by the ACLU on behalf of Crystal Mason why her attempt to vote was not illegal, but even if you think those arguments are insufficient, there’s still no possible justice in a five year prison sentence for this. I mean, there’s plenty of other crimes that are punished far, far less. This is about scaring certain people so they don’t feel confident about voting. This is why reversing the tide of voter suppression laws has to be a priority for the next Democratic Legislature. Further reading about the case from the ACLU is here and here, and the Observer has more.

Univision News poll: Trump 42, Dem 47

Here’s a fun poll.

Days away from the third Democratic debate in Houston and over a year from the 2020 presidential election, an exclusive poll by Univision News found that 40% of registered voters in the state say they will vote for the Democrat who prevails in the party’s primary, while 33% say they will support president Trump. If undecided voters leaning one way or the other are included, the advantage would be 47% to 42% in favor of the Democrats.

The Latino vote could be decisive. A large majority of Hispanics (69%) surveyed in the state said they intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, compared with 19% who plan to support Trump (also including undecided voters who are leaning one way or another).

According to Census data, Hispanics represented 40% of the population of Texas last year and during the 2018 elections Hispanics constituted more than 24% of registered voters. The Univision national poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion, measured the presidential preferences of Hispanics in this election cycle and included a specific module for Texas with the support of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston in which included a sample of all state voters.

Senator Bernie Sanders would win the state (48% against 42%). Similarly, former Vice President Joe Biden would win the state (47% to 43%), and the same would happen with Senator Warren (44% to 42%).

[…]

According to the national poll, President Trump’s management style continues to generate a strong rejection among Hispanics, with four out of five registered voters disapproving of the president’s performance. At the same time, according to the survey, Democrats have gained support from Latinos who were undecided.

In this latest poll, which comes on the eve of Thursday’s debate in Houston in which all the leading Democratic candidates will share the same stage for the first time, 62% of Latinos reported that they will support any Democrat who opposes the president.

This is the most favorable poll for Dems versus Trump in Texas so far – compare to the Quinnipiac June poll, the UT/Trib June poll, the UT-Tyler July poll, and the August Emerson poll. In part, this is because Trump’s approval numbers are terrible – 44% approve of the job he’s doing, 56% disapprove. There does seem to be a correlation between the two in the polls we’ve seen so far, which makes sense but may not be conclusive. Trump did outperform his approval numbers in 2016, but he wasn’t President then, he didn’t have a record to defend, and he had the good luck to run against someone whose own approval numbers were lousy. At least the first two of those will not be true this time.

The poll has three results for each question – there’s a national Latino result (1,043 Latino RVs), a Texas Latino result (641 Texas Latino RVs), and an overall Texas result (1,004 Texas RVs). You can see how the questions break out, in many different combinations of candidate and query, and you can see it in tabular form with the wording of the questions here. To save you some clicking and scrolling, here are the headline numbers:


Matchup     LatinTX  All TX
===========================
Trump           19%     42%
Democrat        69%     47%

Trump           19%     43%
Biden           60%     47%

Trump           19%     42%
Sanders         68%     48%

Trump           20%     42%
Warren          64%     44%

Trump           19%     44%
Harris          60%     45%

Trump           20%     41%
Castro          62%     44%

Trump           21%     41%
Booker          63%     43%

Cornyn          22%     41%
Democrat        58%     40%

All numbers are for Texas, with the first number being from the Latino subsample and the second number being overall. Not a whole lot of difference, and where there are differences it’s usually in the Undecideds. Note they also threw in a Senate question, though just a generic one. It probably wouldn’t make much difference if they asked about individual candidates, as the polls we’ve seen so far, one from August and one from this week suggest the Dem candidates aren’t sufficiently well known for there to be much difference between them. On that note, here’s the more recent poll of the Texas Senate primary:

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, of Round Rock, an Afghanistan War veteran who nearly unseated a veteran GOP congressman last year, came out on top – barely.

Hegar polled at 12 percent, followed by three candidates with 10 percent: State Sen. Royce West; activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Chris Bell, a former congressman from Houston, had 9 percent in the poll.

The survey of 600 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted from Sept. 3-5 by Ragnar Research Partners of Austin and Washington. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Dem Senate primary polls for now. In the Univision poll, John Cornyn does about as well as Trump, with the slight differences on both sides again coming from an increase in the undecideds. Cornyn did basically as well as John McCain in the 2008 election, the main difference in the two races being the larger share of the vote going to the third-party candidate. His 12-point margin over Rick Noriega was identical to McCain’s 12-point margin over Barack Obama. This suggests that there won’t be that much difference between Cornyn and Trump when the 2020 votes are counted. That in turn suggests to me that the not-Trump voters from 2016 who voted more or less Republican otherwise but went much more Democratic in 2018 will likely repeat their more recent behavior in 2020. I don’t want to go too far out on the limb for this – polling data is still preliminary and scarce – but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s long been my belief that the not-Trump voters will stay with the Dems in 2020, and after that who knows, and if so that makes the path for Dems easier to navigate. But as they say, there’s still a lot of time. Now we wait for the next poll.

The Harris County GOP thinks it can come back in 2020

They’re so adorable.

Never forget

Once a rock of Republican politics in Texas, Harris County has become nothing short of a nightmare for the GOP over the last four years as Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Rourke carried the county and Democrats dominated further down ballot in local races.

But as bad as it has been of late, party leaders say it’s foolish to consider Harris County blue, based on just two election cycles. They insist the party has learned key lessons over the last four years and made changes that will not just stop the Democratic trends, but lead to GOP victories in 2020 and beyond.

“We are still a strong force here,” Harris County Republican Party chairman Paul Simpson said.

He sees 2016 and 2018 as more of temporary Democratic run than a change of the guard. There have already been big changes that will affect 2020, he said, pointing to the end of straight-ticket voting, better minority community outreach and a renewed commitment to registering new voters as three things that will lift GOP candidates in Harris County.

That’s not to discount the pain of the last two election cycles. Shifting demographics and an emboldened Democratic Party that has registered new voters at record speed allowed Clinton in 2016 to win the biggest share of the vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in Harris since Texas icon Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot in 1964.

And in the governor’s race in 2018, Democrat Lupe Valdez — who ran a campaign that was mediocre at best — won Harris County over incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, becoming only the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to carry Harris County in 25 years.

“There was shell shock,” Republican media consultant Vlad Davidiuk said.

[…]

Months before the 2018 election, Abbott’s political team was warning allies about what was happening in Harris County. That summer at a training session in San Antonio, Abbott campaign advisers told workers that Democratic-leaning voter registration groups such as Battleground Texas were making big gains registering new voters in Harris County.

Davidiuk, who was working with the Harris County Republican Party then, said others saw it coming, too.

“We didn’t have a response to that,” he said. “If there was a response, it was too fractured.”

That voter registration push has only grown the Democratic advantage at the polls the last two years.

“Our historic voter base is shrinking in both real and absolute terms,” the 2016 post election analysis says. “As a consequence, we are at risk of becoming a minority party within Harris County.”

Later it makes clear that “Donald Trump’s loss in Harris County and its down-ballot impact in 2016 could foreshadow future elections if we do not broaden our voter base.”

I’ve already said most of what there is to say about this. The rationales they give – it was Beto! straight ticket voting! Trump! why don’t those minorities like us? – are as predictable as they are pathetic and self-unaware. The straight ticket thing I’ve beaten to death (but feel free to reread this for one of my responses to that trope), but I think what we need here is to throw some numbers at these claims.


Year    R Pres   D Pres   R Judges   D Judges
=============================================
2004   584,723  475,865    535,877    469,037
2008   571,883  590,982    541,938    559,048
2012   586,073  587,044    563,654    568,739
2016   545,955  707,914    605,112    661,404

Republicans have basically not done any better at the Presidential level in Harris County since George W. Bush in 2004. They have grown some at the judicial level (the numbers you see above are the average totals from the District Court races, my go-to for measuring partisan vote totals), which highlights Trump’s extreme underperformance, but their growth (plus 70K from 2004 to 2016) is dwarfed by Democratic vote growth (plus 192K) over the same period. This is my thesis, which I’ve repeated over and over again and which has clearly not sunk in. This is the problem Republicans need to solve.


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2004   535,877    469,037  370,455  325,097   69.1%   69.3%
2008   541,938    559,048  343,919  391,488   63.5%   70.1%
2012   563,654    568,739  404,165  406,991   71.7%   71.6%
2016   605,112    661,404  401,663  472,030   66.4%   71.4%

These are the countywide straight ticket voting totals, and the percentage of each side’s average judicial total that came from straight ticket votes. Looked at this way, Democratic straight ticket vote total growth is proportionate to their overall vote total growth. In other words, the increase in Democratic straight ticket voters wasn’t inflating their overall strength, it was merely reflecting it. Meanwhile, fewer people voted straight ticket Republican in 2016 than they did in 2012. Sure, some of that is a reaction to Trump, but that’s still a big problem for them, and it’s not something that the elimination of straight ticket voting will help them with in 2020. Note also that Republicans have been pretty heavily dependent on straight ticket voting as well. I do not understand the assumption that its removal will help them.


Year  Voter Reg   R Pres%  R Judge%  D Pres%  D Judge%
======================================================
2004  1,876,296     31.2%     28.6%    25.4%     25.0%
2008  1,892,656     30.2%     28.6%    31.2%     29.5%
2012  1,942,566     30.2%     29.0%    30.2%     29.3%
2016  2,182,980     25.0%     27.7%    32.4%     30.3%

The first column is the total number of registered voters in Harris County in the given year, and the percentages are the percentage of each of the total registered voter population. As a share of all registered voters, Donald Trump did worse than John Kerry, while Hillary Clinton did better than Dubya. The share of all voters choosing Democratic judicial candidates increased twenty percent from 2004 to 2016, while the share of all voters choosing Republican judicial candidates declined by three percent. This is what I mean when I say that the Republicans first and foremost have a “not enough voters” problem in Harris County. Their second problem is that they have no clue what to do about it.

For what it’s worth, here’s a similar comparison for the off years:


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2002   333,009    270,564  185,606  171,594   55.7%   63.4%
2014   359,842    297,812  254,006  210,018   70.6%   70.5%
2018   531,013    651,975  410,654  515,812   77.3%   79.1%

Year  Voter Reg  R Judge%  D Judge%
===================================
2002  1,875,777     17.8%     14.4%
2014  2,044,361     17.6%     14.6%
2018  2,307,654     23.0%     28.3%

Couple things to note here. One is that there wasn’t much in the way of growth for either party from 2002 to 2014, though as we know there were some ups and downs in between. The 2018 election was a lot like a Presidential election in terms of turnout – you’ve seen me use 2012 as a point of comparison for it before – but one in which the Dems did a much better job. No Republican, not even Ed Emmett, came close to getting 600,000 votes. Here, I’ll agree that having unpopular politicians at the top of the ballot, like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, as well as having to fly under the Trump banner, helped propel Dems, in part because of former Republicans crossing over. But they were starting from a lower point to begin with.

Note, by the way, the jump in voter registrations from 2012 to 2014. Mike Sullivan deserves some credit for that, as he was the first Tax Assessor in a long time to not be hostile to voter registration, but this was also the point at which Dems started really focusing on registering voters. For sure, that has helped, and I’ve no doubt that Abbott’s people had reason to be alarmed going into 2018. I find it kind of amusing that Republicans are turning to voter registration themselves as a way forward. I have to wonder if that will lead to any bills getting advanced that would make voter reg easier and more convenient. My guess is still No, on the grounds that they probably figure they can throw money at the problem and would still rather have it be hard for Dems, but we’ll see.

I could go on, but you get the point. And as a reminder, the numbers themselves aren’t the whole story about why Republicans are struggling and will continue to do so in Harris County:

Simpson, for one, is glad to see the parade of Democratic presidential contenders coming to Harris County because it puts their ideas — particularly on climate change — front and center. Let them bring their calls for banning fossil fuels, he said.

“They don’t want us to eat beef, drill for oil or even use straws.”

Because it there’s one thing younger voters really hate, it’s trying to solve climate change. Way to be on top of the trends there, dude.

A reminder about the local legislative races

Let’s review the facts together.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal wasn’t supposed to win his Texas House seat last year. He was too much of a Democrat for the swath of northwest Harris County that had long elected Republicans.

But in the 2018 election, amid buzz over Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and frustration with the Trump administration, the longtime engineer and first-time candidate emerged as one of a dozen Democrats to turn a Republican seat blue.

Now Rosenthal, 56, has a political target on his back. Republican operatives say Rosenthal’s seat is one of about a dozen nestled in the Texas suburbs that they can win back. Most of the hottest races are expected in the Houston area or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly $2 million has already been poured into coffers for candidates as both parties brace for the fight.

“The 2020 year is going to be really wild in terms of what outside influences and national parties spend in our areas,” said Rosenthal.

Democrats will have to work the hardest to defend their new turf in Harris County, analysts say, after flipping two seats by slim margins in 2018.

In 2020, the stakes will be considerably higher, as the party that controls the House in 2021 will have a commanding influence on redrawing congressional and legislative district maps that will be in use over the next decade, shaping the political direction of the state.

Republicans have set their sights on Rosenthal, who won District 135 by 3 percentage points in his northwest Harris County district, which spans from Jersey Village to Westgate. Further west in Katy, first-time candidate Gina Calanni eked out a win in District 132 against another Republican incumbent by 113 votes.

“We need to take these two seats back to expand the majority and certainly heading into redistricting next session. It’s critical to taking Texas Republican after the census,” said Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County GOP.

Although population growth in those areas is on the rise, Republicans doubt those districts are shifting as liberal as Democrats think. The districts were victim of a “Beto wave,” Simpson said, noting that voters in both 132 and 135 also favored Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Democrats are counting on long-awaited demographic changes to widen the margins and keep both Rosenthal and Calanni in office.

“I think the population has changed dramatically over the past few years and I think there’s a lot more anti-Trump sentiment to add fuel to the fire, said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Let me start with the assertion that Rep. Rosenthal “wasn’t supposed to win” in HD135. Sure, he was an underdog in a Republican district that was trending Democratic, but it was not at all hard to imagine this swingy district going blue in a good year for the Dems. It’s a weird start to the article.

I’m not here to argue that Rosenthal’s HD135, or Rep. Gina Calanni’s HD132, are not legitimate targets for the Republicans in 2020. These are districts that had voted Republican for a long time, they were close races in 2018 – especially close in Calanni’s case, as she won with less than 50% with a Libertarian also in the mix – and what else are the Republicans going to do in 2020? They’d be committing political malpractice if they didn’t go all out in those districts. But for crying out loud, can we quit with the “Beto wave” foolishness? Sure, Beto won HDs 132 and 135. So did Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, and Kim Olson. The statewide Republicans that carried those districts did so by small margins. At the judicial race level, both districts were basically 50-50. Both Calanni and Rosenthal won a majority of the non-straight ticket voters in their districts. And at the risk of repeating myself, both districts were trending Democratic before 2018. There’s no reason to think they’ve trended any less Democratic since then.

None of this is to say that either or both of Rosenthal and Calanni can’t lose. Those races were actually kind of low profile in 2018. No one is sneaking up on anyone in 2020, especially not in HDs 132 and 135. The incumbents start out as favorites, as they had in 2018, but upsets are possible. Just be sure to show your work if you’re going to predict that they will happen.

The Republicans say it’s the Democrats who will have more trouble at the top of the ticket, with no O’Rourke.

“I’m not being arrogant when I say this, but our numbers should have been higher according to the polling,” said Rep. Sam Harless, a relatively moderate Republican who won his first election in 2018 by 9.7 percentage points. “The Beto factor was huge.”

“I think the Democrats see a little blood in the water, they’re getting excited, but I think the Republicans will pick back up five to seven seats,” he said.

In total, Democratic and Republican party operatives have identified 34 seats across Texas as potential toss-ups. Of them, 14 were won within a 5-percent margin in the last election. Another 13 contests came within a 10-percentage point margin, and seven are seen as vulnerable for other reasons.

Yeah, it’s the (probable) lack of Beto at the top of the ticket that will make a difference. Have y’all heard of Donald Trump? I mean, seriously. I’ll take that bet, Rep. Harless. Indeed, while this story correctly identified HDs 138 and 134 as top Democratic targets for 2020, and mentioned HDs 129 and 133 as stretch targets, HD126 was actually more Democratic than either of those two. Are those footsteps you hear, Rep. Harless? Beyond that, I’d like to see the complete list of those 34 seats, especially the seven that are “seen as vulnerable for other reasons”. What does that even mean? We can’t tell from this story, so feel free to speculate in the comments.

Yet another story about suburbs shifting away from Republicans

Collect the whole set!

Texas is currently experiencing two trends that are favorable to Democrats: increasing urbanization, and big demographic shifts.

The Texas Tribune recently reported that Hispanics are expected to become the largest demographic group in the state by 2022, with Texas gaining nearly nine times as many Hispanic residents as white residents.

As the Tribune noted, almost half of Texas’ Hispanic population is concentrated in the state’s five largest counties, and Hispanic voters in Texas “are registering and voting at significantly higher rates than their population is growing,” according to a Houston Chronicle analysis.

The current rate of population growth among non-white Texas residents is a positive development for Democrats, but they can’t take voters of color for granted.

Despite Latino turnout doubling in Texas between the 2014 and 2018 midterms, according to one analysis, Democrats do not hold a monopoly on Hispanic and Latino voters.

As the Pew Research Center noted, 65% of Hispanics voted for Rep. Beto O’Rourke while 35% backed Sen. Ted Cruz in their high-profile Senate race in 2018. And a slim majority of Hispanic voters — 53% — backed Democrat Lupe Valdez over incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who received 42% of the Latino vote.

[…]

Benjamin Ray, a Democratic strategist and communications specialist at the pro-choice political action committee EMILY’s List, told INSIDER that long-time Republican members of Congress retiring in formerly safe districts presents a “great opportunity” for Democrats and a glaring warning sign for the GOP.

Ray further pointed out that many of the districts in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin suburbs were specifically gerrymandered to optimize the chances of a Republican victory, making it all the more concerning that Republicans’ margins of victory in those areas are getting slimmer over time.

“They drew these maps for one particular version of the Republican party to do well in, and the voters that they’re counting on don’t think that their Republican representatives are speaking for them anymore,” Ray added.

He said of the retiring congressmen, “these folks have been in politics for a while, they can tell which way the wind is blowing, and they’re heading for the exits. That doesn’t just happen by accident.”

The story touches on the Romney-Clinton voters, who by and large are the suburbanites that helped drive the big political shifts in 2018 and are expected to do so again next year. I wish there was some detailed polling data about these folks in Texas. We can see the effect, but it sure would be nice to have a deep dive into what motivates them.

I have to say, I’m a little amused by the bits about Latino turnout, and Latino levels of support for Dems. Sixty-five percent support sounds pretty good to me, and it’s fairly close to the overall level of support that Dems get nationally from Latinos (these numbers can vary depending on the time and circumstance). There’s also evidence that lower-propensity Latino voters tend to me more strongly Democratic, which is both the reason why everyone talks about how a spike in Latino turnout would be huge for Dems, and also why Republicans expend so much energy making it harder to vote. There was a surge in Latino turnout in 2018, certainly as compared to 2014, and it definitely helped the Dems overall. The only thing you could want – and what we will have to work hard to achieve – is even more of that. Another million Latino voters at that level of support in 2018 – for all of the turnout boom in 2018, Texas was still under fifty percent of registered voters, and low in the national rankings, so there’s plenty of room for growth – would have given us not only Sen. Beto O’Rourke, it would have also given us Attorney General Justin Nelson. Think about that for a few minutes. What we need in 2020 is what we got in 2018, but more so.

Our all-important metro areas

Another look at the trouble Republicans face in Texas now.

The key to Texas’ political future is whether it finally follows the geographic realignment that has transformed the politics of many other states over the past quarter century.

Across the country, Republicans since the 1980s have demonstrated increasing strength among voters who live in exurbs at the edge of the nation’s metropolitan centers or beyond them entirely in small-town and rural communities. Democrats, in turn, have extended their historic dominance of the nation’s urban cores into improved performance in inner suburbs, many of them well educated and racially diverse.

Both sides of this dynamic have accelerated under Trump, whose open appeals to voters uneasy about racial, cultural and economic change have swelled GOP margins outside the metropolitan areas while alienating many traditionally center-right suburban voters.

In Texas, only half of this equation has played out. In presidential elections since 2000, Republicans have consistently won more than two-thirds of the vote for the two parties in 199 mostly white nonmetropolitan counties across the state, according to a study by [Richard] Murray and Renee Cross, senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. (Trump in 2016 swelled that number to three-fourths.) The GOP has attracted dominant majorities from those areas in other races, from the Senate and US House to the governorship and state legislative contests. Democrats consistently amassed big majorities in 28 mostly Latino South Texas counties, but they have composed only a very small share of the statewide vote.

The key to the GOP’s dominance of the state is that through most of this century it has also commanded majorities in the 27 counties that make up the state’s four biggest metropolitan areas: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Demographically similar places in states along the coasts and in the upper Midwest have moved consistently toward the Democrats since Bill Clinton’s era. But in Texas, Republicans still carried 53% to 59% of the vote in those metropolitan counties in the four presidential races from 2000 through 2012, Murray and Cross found.

In the Trump era, though, that metro strength has wavered for the GOP. In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump across the 27 counties in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas. Then in 2018, Democrat O’Rourke carried over 54% of the vote in them in his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, Murray and Cross found. O’Rourke won each of the largest metro areas, the first time any Democrat on the top of the ticket had carried all four since native son Lyndon B. Johnson routed Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, according to Murray and Cross.

Looking just at the state’s five largest urban counties — Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Tarrant (Fort Worth) and Dallas — the change is even more stark. In 2012, Obama won them by a combined 131,000 votes. By 2016, Clinton expanded the Democratic margin across those five counties to 562,000 votes. In 2018, O’Rourke won those counties by a combined 790,000 votes, about six times more than Obama did in 2012. Along the way, Democrats ousted Republican US House incumbents in suburban Houston and Dallas seats and made substantial gains in municipal and state house elections across most of the major metro areas.

“We have now turned every major metropolitan area blue,” says Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state.

Yet that, of course, still wasn’t enough for O’Rourke to overcome Cruz’s huge advantages in smaller nonmetro communities. That outcome underscores the equation facing Texas Democrats in 2020 and beyond: They must reduce the GOP’s towering margins outside of the major metropolitan areas and/or expand their own advantage inside the metro centers.

Few in either party give Democrats much chance to record many gains outside of metro Texas, especially given Trump’s national strength with such voters. O’Rourke campaigned heavily in Texas’ smaller counties and made very limited inroads there, even relative to Clinton’s abysmal performance in 2016. Exit polls conducted for a consortium of media organizations including CNN found that O’Rourke carried just 26% of white voters without a college education, only a minuscule improvement from the 21% Clinton won in Texas in 2016.

O’Rourke’s very limited rural gains have convinced many Texas Democrats that while they can’t entirely abandon smaller parts of the state, their new votes are most likely to come from the metropolitan centers.

“It’s a matter of emphasis,” says Smith, a senior adviser to the liberal group Progress Texas. “You’ve got to do urban/ suburban areas first. You’ve got to maximize your advantage there.”

The stakes in the struggle for Texas’ big metro areas are rising because they are growing so fast. While the four major metro areas cast about 60% of the statewide votes in the 1996 presidential election, that rose to about 69% in 2016 and 2018, Murray and Cross found. Murray expects the number to cross 70% in 2020.

And the concentration of Texas’ population into its biggest metropolitan areas shows no signs of slackening. The Texas Demographic Center, the official state demographer, projects that 70% of the state’s population growth through 2050 will settle in just 10 large metropolitan counties. Those include the big five urban centers that O’Rourke carried as well as five adjacent suburban counties; those adjacent counties still leaned toward the GOP in 2018 but by a much smaller cumulative margin than in the past. Overall, O’Rourke won the 10 counties expected to account for the preponderance of the state’s future growth by a combined nearly 700,000 votes.

We’ve been talking about this literally since the ink was still wet on the 2018 election results. I touched on it again more recently, referring to a “100 to 150-county strategy” for the eventual Democratic nominee for Senate. None of this is rocket science. Run up the score in the big urban areas – winning Harris County by at least 300K total votes should be the (very reachable) target – via emphasizing voter registration, canvassing apartments, and voters who turned out in 2008 and/or 2012 but not 2016. Keep doing what we’ve been doing in the adjacent suburbs, those that are trending blue (Fort Bend, Williamson, Hays), those that are still getting there (Collin, Denton, Brazoria), and those that need to have the curve bent (Montgomery, Comal, Guadalupe). Plan and implement a real grassroots outreach in the Latino border/Valley counties. We all know the drill, and we learned plenty from the 2018 experience, we just need to build on it.

The less-intuitive piece I’d add on is a push in the midsize cities, where there was also some evidence of Democratic growth. Waco, Lubbock, College Station, Abilene, Amarillo, Killeen, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, etc etc etc. There are some low-key legislative pickup opportunities in some of these places to begin with. My theory is that these places feature increasingly diverse populations with a decent number of college graduates, and overall have more in common with the big urban and suburban counties than they do with the small rural ones. Some of these places will offer better opportunities than others, but they are all worth investing in. Again, this is not complicated. We’ve seen the data, we will definitely have the resources, we just need to do the thing.

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

[Democratic operative Jason] Stanford has a theory about how [Texas Democratic] angst started. He says it began with the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats were recovering from losing two years earlier and were hoping to stem another round of losses.

As a result, he says, the primary was stacked with impressive candidates running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The field included two incumbent congressmen, a county party chair and a teacher named Victor Morales, who eventually won the nomination.

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

“After we lost, that was two losses in a row and Democrats lost hope for generation,” Stanford says.

For years after, he says, it was hard to convince people to run for office as a Democrat in the state.

“We couldn’t get good people to run,” he says. “We would just try to fill the ballot instead of recruiting actually good candidates.”

That’s partially why the last time a Democrat won a statewide election of any kind was back in 1994.

Even though Democrats have still been shut out of statewide races, in the past few years, the party has been able to get at least one thing back: hope.

“The political changes are astronomical in Texas,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

After 2016, Democratic-leaning Texans who had been sitting out elections started to vote again.

“I think of it like a seat with four legs,” Rottinghaus says. “You’ve got white progressives, you’ve got young people, you’ve got people of color, and you’ve got low-income people. That forms the platform for the Democratic Party. And in all of those elements, you’ve got increases in voting.”

In the 2018 election, Texas had higher voter turnout among all those groups. Republicans had been winning statewide races by double-digit margins, but that year a Democratic Senate candidate lost by only 2.6 percentage points.

Rottinghaus says this trend bodes well for Democrats in 2020, but a win is not a sure thing.

“There’s no guarantee Texas will be blue or any statewide office will be won,” he says. “But the pieces are in place to be able to be competitive. And that’s what Democrats are looking for and why a lot of people are running for these positions.”

In the past several weeks, a slew of candidates has announced they want to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

The field is up to nine candidates, including former Congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Most recently, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a well-known immigrant rights and political activist, said she’s joining the race, too.

“Good candidates are just showing up,” Stanford says. “It’s amazing. This is a huge sea change.”

1. The story calls it a “psychological shift”, and I’ve called it “changing the narrative”, but we both refer to the fact that now everyone believes that the state is competitive for Democrats. The previous belief that basically all of the elections, save for a couple of swing districts, were settled in the primaries, is no longer operative. This isn’t just wild-eyed optimism by Democrats or a scare story being used in fundraising emails by Republicans. Democrats actually did make Texas competitive in 2018, and despite some chest-thumping by Republicans about it all being about Beto, the objective evidence suggests we are in for more of the same this year. And everyone with skin in the game is acting accordingly. That’s how you get five experienced politicians, all of whom come with fundraising promise, lining up to take on John Cornyn.

2. The fundraising bit is important in ways that can’t be overstated. Only two Democrats since the 2002 debacle have raised sufficient money to truly compete statewide, Bill White in 2010 and Wendy Davis in 2014. Beto broke through on this in a big way in 2018, but he was the only one who did. Other statewide candidates, who ran against deeply flawed opponents and who came almost as close as Beto did to win, did not get that kind of support. Would Mike Collier, or Justin Nelson, or Kim Olson have done better if they had had $10 million or more to work with? We’ll never know, but I’m confident that the candidates on the 2022 statewide slate will not have it as tough as they did. And I hear a lot less now about how Texas is just an ATM for Democratic candidates everywhere else.

3. To an extent, the shift began right after the 2016 election, with the swarm of candidates who entered the Congressional races and raised a ton of money in them. That was part of the national wave, of course, so it was in its way a separate thing, but still. I spent all of that cycle talking about how unprecedented much of it was, in particular the fundraising. The point I’m making here is that this shift didn’t begin post-Beto, it’s been going on for two years now. The main difference is that it’s happening at a statewide level, and not just downballot.

Bonus commentary on 2019 lineup

There was a lot of last minute activity at Monday’s filing deadline, as there usually is. Probably more so this year, as approximately ten percent of Houston adults are running for office this November. The point here is that the news stories and other available sources at the time had a lot to do to keep up with it all, and those of us who follow them now recognize there were things we missed the first time around. So, after another review of the Erik Manning spreadsheet and the City of Houston 2019 election page, here are some semi-random observations about things I didn’t note or comment on the first time around. I’ll run this down race by race.

Mayor: Mostly, I’m going to point out the filers and non-filers that are worth mentioning for one reason or another. The usual reason is going to be because my reaction to the late filers was along the lines of “oh, Lord, not that person again”. Exhibit A is Kendall Baker, who has cluttered up multiple ballots since the 2007 special election in At Large #3. Most recently, he ran in HD137 as a Republican in 2016, and in District F in 2015. Baker wasn’t a late filer – he had a June finance report – but as I prefer to think pleasant thoughts I’d forgotten he was in the race. He was one of the anti-HERO loudmouths who has his own problems with inappropriate behavior.

District B: Willie D did not file, so we will have a maximum of one Geto Boy on Council.

District C: Kendra Yarbrough Camarena did not file. She instead filed for the special election in HD148. Erik is tracking those filings in his spreadsheet as well. Yarbrough Camarena appears to be the first official entrant in this race. And don’t worry about District C, there are still thirteen candidates for that office.

District D: Andrew Burks rises from the ash heap to run again. Can you still be a perennial candidate if you once won something? My ruling is Yes. Burks served one action-packed two year term in At Large #2 from 2011 to 2013 before being defeated by David Robinson. I was wondering about how the term limits charter amendment would apply to him, and I found the answer, in Article V, Section 6a: “Persons who served a single term prior to 2016 who are not serving in City elective office in 2015 and thus not subject to subsection (b), shall be eligible to serve one additional four-year term in the same City elective office.” So there you have it.

District F: Adekunle “Kay” Elegbede is listed as a Write-In Candidate. Obviously, this means he will not appear on the ballot, so what does it mean? Here’s the applicable state law. Basically, this means that any write in votes for this candidate will actually count (as opposed to write-ins for, say, “Mickey Mouse” or “Ben Hall”), and there’s no filing fee.

District J: Jim Bigham, who ran against Mike Laster in 2015 did not file. He did not have a finance report, so no big surprise.

District K: Republican Gerry Vander-Lyn, who ran in the special election that Martha Castex-Tatum won, and one other person filed. Neither will provide much of a challenge to Castex-Tatum, but their presence means that no one is unopposed this cycle.

At Large #1: Ugh. Yolanda Navarro Flores, defeated by Zeph Capo in 2013 from the HCC Board, is back. In addition to her ethical issues while on the HCC Board, she was also pals with Dave Wilson. ‘Nuff said.

At Large #2: Apparently, it really isn’t an election without Griff Griffin. I had honestly thought he’d gone away, but no. The funny/scary thing is that he could easily wind up in a runoff with CM Robinson.

At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino also jumps out of District C into this race. There are now 11 candidates in AL4, so it’s not like he landed in that much smaller a pond.

At Large #5: I guess Eric Dick isn’t having any fun on the HCDE Board, because here he is. As per the Andrew Burks Rule, which I just created, I label him a perennial candidate as well. Note that HCDE Trustees are not subject to resign to run, so Dick may continue on in his current gig, as Roy Morales had done for most of the time when he was on the HCDE Board.

HISD II: Lots of people signed up for this one after all. The one name I recognize is Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who had run for City Council in District B previously. Here’s an interview I did with her back in 2011, and another from 2013. Rodrick Davison, the one person to post a June finance report, wound up not filing for the office

HISD IV: Reagan Flowers was a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 1 in 2012. I interviewed her at the time. I feel like she ran for something else since then, but if so I can’t find it.

Once again with GOP anxiety

I recommend Xanax. Or, you know, marijuana. I’ve heard that’s good for anxiety.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.

“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.

For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.

[…]

According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9 million Texans showed up to the polls in 2016, when Trump won the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton – a notably smaller margin than in 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 16 percentage points.

And in 2018, turnout was nearly at presidential-cycle levels at 8 million, compared with 4.6 million in 2014, the previous midterm election year.

Cruz said those figures should alarm Republicans nationally about potential Democratic turnout in 2020 – and make donors and party leaders recommit to investing in statewide and congressional races in Texas rather than assuming that Trump’s political brand and a few rallies will be enough.

The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.

U.S. Census data shows Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote – 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”

“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple – not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”

This is a national story, reprinted in the Chron, so it doesn’t have much we haven’t seen before. I’d say that the historic strength of Republicans here has been in the suburbs and exurbs – the fast-growing parts of the state – which is similar to GOP strength elsewhere. It’s also where they suffered the greatest erosion of that strength in 2018, and if that continues in 2020 they really do have to worry about losing statewide. Honestly, loath as I am to say it, Ted Cruz has a pretty good handle on the dynamic. Not that he’ll be able to do anything about it, being Ted Cruz and all, but he does understand the predicament he and his fellow travelers are in.

There will be a special election in HD28

Missed this the other day.

Rep. John Zerwas

The chair of the powerful House budget-writing Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Zerwas, will be the new executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.

Zerwas, a doctor by training, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Legislature effective Sept. 30, after representing Richmond as a Republican for more than a decade. He was first named the lower chamber’s chief budget writer in 2017, and he previously chaired the House Higher Education Committee and served on the Public Health Committee.

[…]

Zerwas’ appointment at the UT System is effective Oct. 1. He will succeed Ray Greenberg, who served as the UT System’s top health executive for five years before stepping down in March.

See here for the background. What this means is that HD28 will be vacant as of September 30, and that means there will need to be a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of this term. That will happen next year, probably in May. It’ll be one of those weird elections where the candidates may or may not include the nominees for the seat in the November election, and barring a highly unlikely special session the only value to the special election winner will be a boost in seniority if he or she goes on to win that November race, assuming he or she had previously won their party’s nomination.

So, on the one hand, much like the special elections in HDs 120 and 139 in 2016, this will be a low-stakes affair for a short-term prize. On the other hand, it will be a dry run in a contested district that Democrats will hope to flip in their quest to take control of the House, and wittingly or unwittingly it will serve as a proxy for how the November election is shaping up, thus making it likely to attract national attention. So, you know. Just another special election for a State House seat.

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

That UT-Tyler poll

I suppose I have to talk about this.

A poll conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler showed [Beto O’Rourke] leading among Texas voters in the Democratic presidential primary. The survey showed O’Rourke with a 27% to 24% lead over former Vice President Joe Biden. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was third at 15%, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 11% and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 9%.

The poll of 465 registered Texas voters found that O’Rourke led President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup by a 49% to 37% margin.

You can see a copy of the polling memo here and the data here. I’ll note that the poll itself says it’s a sample of 1,445 registered voters, so I’m not sure where that 465 figure comes from. Here’s a bit from the polling memo:

President Donald Trump’s job approval is down 2 points from our last survey in February. It now stands at 40 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval among all registered voters. These results are a part of an overall downward trend in job approval for the president since our pre-midterm election survey in October 2018 (45 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval). That said, when asked if the House of Representatives should or should not begin impeachment proceedings of President Trump, a plurality of respondents (45%) said, “No” (34% believe the House ought to begin impeachment proceedings).

In head to head contests, President Trump is trailing all Democrats except Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, though a sizable percentage of respondents answered “neither/other” or “not sure” in each contest.

Senator John Cornyn, heading into the 2020 reelection cycle, is at 25 percent approval, with 27 percent disapproving and a sizable 48 percent answering, “Don’t know.” His junior colleague, Ted Cruz, has a 41 percent approval rating, with 44 percent disapproving of his job performance.

On issues, 54 percent of registered Texans support expanding “Medicare for all” (20% oppose it), particularly when private insurance plans are allowed (55% support). Nevertheless, expanding “Medicare for all” while eliminating private insurance plans is less popular (40% support eliminating private insurance, 33% oppose it). So, too, is the idea of decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings (33% either “somewhat” or “strongly” disapprove while 29% “somewhat” or “strongly” approve), an issue that caused a contentious exchange between Texans O’Rourke and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro at June’s Democratic debate.

This poll was conducted over a four-day period (07/24/19 – 07/27/19).

Methodology

The UT Tyler-Texas Opinion Survey was conducted using a Dynata panel of registered voters that opt-in to take surveys. This is known as Aristotle. The online panel generated a sample of 1445 registered Texas voters, 18 or older.

The data were weighted to be representative of Texas adults. The weighting balanced sample demographics to population parameters. The sample is balanced to match parameters for gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, and geographic region using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2016 Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Tables, as well as voter registration information from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas.

In this poll, the sampling error for 1445 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.6 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Online polls have been shown to be fine, but I don’t know much about this particular pollster’s reputation. Here’s the key graphic from that polling memo:

Seems weird to me – I can imagine Beto doing better in Texas than some candidates, but not by this much. G. Elliott Morris notes his objections. I don’t have a problem with an RV sample, especially this early on, but the partisan mix (38.2% self-identified Republican, 35.7% Dem) seems too Democratic to me. Trump’s 40-55 approve-disapprove numbers are considerably more negative than any other poll I’ve seen, and are way more negative than this own poll found just before the 2018 election. Their February poll had only slightly better numbers for Trump. It’s hard to imagine what caused that to go that far down that quickly. The most likely explanation to all of this is that they have a screwy sample, in which case have plenty of salt at hand. If they really are capturing something, there will be more polls to bolster this one. Keep your expectations modest, that’s my advice.

Anyway. The UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research page is here if you want to see more. Enjoy these numbers for what they are, but don’t go making any bets on them.

An update on election security

Nothing to see here.

Russian hackers probed election systems in all 50 states, a new Senate report confirmed Thursday.

The report comes one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that the Russian government is working to meddle in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed previous comments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian hackers scanned election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. DHS initially acknowledged Russian attempts to hack into election systems in just 21 states.

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Democrats used Mueller’s testimony Wednesday as the backdrop to bring a trio of election security bills to the Senate floor, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked each one in succession.

Two of the measures, one by Warner and the other by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require campaigns to report offers of foreign support. The third, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would have allowed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to help secure personal electronic devices belonging to senators and their staff.

Hyde-Smith has not said why she blocked the measures, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has long opposed bringing election-security measures up for vote. Last year, for example, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking another election security bill, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”

“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”

Remain calm, all is well.

Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) each issued statements with the report’s release. Burr said that in 2016, the United States was “unprepared at all levels of government” for attacks on election infrastructure, and has improved in the time since. Burr noted that the Department of Homeland Security and state election officials have a much better working relationship than before, but that “still much work remains to be done.”

It’s unclear whether Burr considers federal elections security legislation as part of the work that remains to be done. Mitch McConnell, Burr’s Republican colleague and the Senate majority leader, has prevented most of this type of legislation from coming to the Senate floor, arguing that Congress has done enough and that pending election security legislation is merely the Democrats’ effort to usurp states’ rights and bolster their chances at the polls.

Warner, who a day ago was part of a group of Congressional Democrats that blasted McConnell for holding up election security legislation, alluded to the need to get past the partisan gridlock. “I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it,” he said in a statement.

The report notes that the Russian operation dates back to “at least 2014.” It reveals that state and local officials, who are mostly in charge of running elections, “were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor,” and that officials at all levels of the government debated whether to publicly acknowledge what was happening, with some concerned that disclosing it “might promote the very impression they were trying to dispel—that the voting systems were insecure.” At the time, McConnell took an active role in preventing further public disclosure of the Russian operation, theWashington Post reported in December 2016.

Go about your business.

Hacking individual voting machines would be an inefficient way to throw an election. But J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who has tested vulnerabilities for more than a decade, testified to the Senate committee that he and his team “created attacks that can spread from machine to machine, like a computer virus, and silently change election outcomes.” They studied touch-screen and optical-scan systems, and “in every single case,” he said, “we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and steal votes.”

Another way to throw an election might be to attack systems that manage voter-registration lists, which the hackers also did in some states. Remove people from the lists—focusing on areas dominated by members of the party that the hacker wants to lose—and they won’t be able to vote.

One former senior intelligence official told me, “If I was going to hack such a system, I’d leave the records alone and corrupt the tally software”—the programs that count the votes and transmit results to a central headquarters. The transmission is done through a network, which is vulnerable to hackers. Some data are transmitted from the voting machines via USB ports, which are also easy to hack.

In the past decade, many states have installed voting machines with paper backups. (One of the measures blocked in the Senate this week would have required them.) But the Senate report notes that 19 states do not conduct complete postelection audits to compare these ballots to the electronic results; five of them do not audit at all. Paper backups mean little if nobody looks at them.

Computerized voting might be inherently vulnerable. Matt Blaze, who holds the McDevitt Chair of Computer Science at Georgetown Law, said at a hacking conference in Washington earlier this year, “Voting security is by far the hardest problem I have ever encountered.”

That last link does have a proposed solution, if you’re not too depressed to read it. But as with most things in this life, if we want to make progress on fixing the problem, we have to first solve the Mitch McConnell problem.

We’ll have a much better idea of who the candidates are soon

There are a lot of people filing to run for Congress as Democrats. It remains to be seen how many of them are viable.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Three times as many Democrats have already filed to run for Congress in Texas this year as in 2012 or 2016, yet another sign that Texas will be more of a battleground for the two major political parties in 2020.

With the elections still well over a year away, Democrats already have 66 candidates who have signed up to run in 30 different congressional districts. At this same point four years ago, Democrats had just 19 candidates ready to run in 16 of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm statewide,” said Abhi Rahman, director of communications for the Texas Democratic Party.

The increase is a sign that fired-up Democrats want to take on President Donald Trump and his policies, and is a testament to the party’s success in 2018, when Democrats flipped two Congressional seats previously held by the GOP, picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate. In addition, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Republican powerhouse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest statewide race in Texas in decades.

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It’s not just that Democrats flipped two congressional seats in 2018, but also how close they came to flipping a half dozen others in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Six Republican members of Congress won their elections in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote or less. Those six districts have become magnets for Democratic candidates, with 26 Democrats already filing official statements of candidacy to run with the Federal Election Commission.

Two San Antonio-area districts lead the way. In 2018, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, won his re-election in the 23rd Congressional District with 49 percent of the vote. And U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, won his seat with just 50.3 percent of the vote. Hurd already has four Democrats who have filed to challenge him, including his 2018 opponent Gina Ortiz Jones. Roy meanwhile has drawn three opponents.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 24th Congressional District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, won his re-election with 50.7 percent of the vote. Similarly, near Austin, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 31st Congressional District where Republican John Carter won his re-election with 50.6 percent of the vote.

In Houston, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Olson won their districts with 51 percent of the vote. Three Democrats have filed to take on McCaul, and two to take on Olson.

It’s a little curious to me that they used 2012 and 2016 as a basis of comparison rather than 2018. We already know that 2012 and 2016 were not great years for Democratic Congressional campaign recruiting, while 2018 was off-the-charts good. I realize those were Presidential years, as 2020 is, but until further notice 2018 is the basis for all meaningful comparisons.

So as far as that goes, here’s my look at finance reports from Q1 of this year and Q2 of 2017. That doesn’t tell you how many people had filed – I mostly didn’t pay attention to the non-competitive districts, and there were plenty of fringey candidates I didn’t put much effort into – but it does tell you how many candidates of interest to me there were. The Q2 finance reports are still trickling in, so you’ll see an updated list of interesting candidates when the data is there. You can see some candidates’ names now, but until I see a finance report I don’t feel confident about who is a potential difference maker, and who is just taking up space. It’s good to know there are four contenders in CD31, for example, but I need to know more than that. Give it a week or so, and we’ll get that.

There’s no reason to trust the Republican study to “reform” the judicial election process

Oh, hell no.

After a punishing election for Republican judges, state leaders are set to take a long look at Texas’ often-criticized judicial selection system — a partisan election structure that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has described as “among the very worst methods of judicial selection.”

This summer, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law creating a commission to study the issue — signaling that the GOP-led Legislature could overhaul the system as soon as 2021. That move comes after Democrats killed a sweeping reform proposal that Abbott had quietly backed.

In Texas, one of just a few states that maintains a system of partisan judicial selection all the way up through its high courts, judges are at the mercy of the political winds. They are required to run as partisans but expected to rule impartially. They are forced to raise money from the same lawyers who will appear before them in court. And in their down-ballot, low-information races, their fates tend to track with the candidates at the top of the ticket.

That means political waves that sweep out of office good and bad, experienced and inexperienced judges alike. And while sweeps are perennial problems for the judiciary, 2018’s elections “set records,” said Tom Phillips, a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice.

Democrats, riding on the coattails of Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, left the election with majorities on appeals courts where they had previously held zero seats. Republicans were entirely shut out of major urban counties. Voters, largely uninformed about judicial races, differentiated very little between well-funded, experienced candidates and those who had done little but throw their hats in the ring. The judiciary lost hundreds of years of experience.

“Make no mistake: A judicial selection system that continues to sow the political wind will reap the whirlwind,” Hecht warned lawmakers in January, exhorting them to change the system.

But reform is similarly fraught with politics. Voters don’t like having choices taken away from them, even if vanishingly few recognize judicial candidates’ names on the ballot. And any new system has to win the approval of both parties, as a two-thirds majority in each chamber is required for the constitutional amendment needed to change the system.

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Texas Republicans dominate the state’s judiciary: All nine members on each of the state’s two high courts are Republicans, as are lower-court judges across much of the state. But that dominance began to wilt after last fall’s elections, particularly on intermediate courts of appeals, where Democrats now hold majorities on 7 of 14 courts.

After scores of Republican judges lost their jobs last fall, Abbott set about appointing many of them back to the bench. He also became more vocal on the issue of judicial selection reform.

Eyebrows went up in February, when he tweeted a Houston Chronicle column criticizing the partisan judicial election system. The governor commented, “We need judges devoted to the constitution and strict application of the law, not to the political winds of the day.”

Advocates began to believe this might be the year to push the issue — or at least to tee it up for a big swing in 2021. It was around that time that a group of would-be reformers — attorneys, former judges and donors — formed a non-profit organization, Citizens for Judicial Excellence in Texas, to push the issue in Austin. One lobbyist registered to represent the group at the Capitol this spring.

With powerful supporters in his ear calling for change, Abbott was also pushing the issue more quietly. In March, he met with state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, a Republican lawyer from Lubbock. Two days later, on the Legislature’s filing deadline, Landgraf proposed a constitutional amendment that would have overhauled the system, centralizing much of the power to pick judges in the governor’s office.

The Landgraf pitch — which ultimately stalled out for a lack of bipartisan support — would have scrapped the partisan judicial election system, replacing it with a multi-step process: gubernatorial appointment, qualifications evaluation by a non-partisan commission, Texas Senate confirmation and retention elections. Since judges tend to win retention elections, barring scandal, the proposal would effectively have allowed Abbott to appoint judges likely to serve for three four-year terms — giving Republican-appointed judges a dozen years in power even as Texas creaks toward the political center.

Landgraf’s proposal carved out small, rural — conservative — counties, where voters would still have had the opportunity to elect judges on partisan ballots, unless they voted to opt into the appointment system.

Landgraf’s pitch, blessed by Abbott, didn’t sit well with Democrats, who demanded to know why the urban centers they and their colleagues represent would be treated differently from Republican strongholds. They feared overhauling the system would mean losing the new class of Democratic judges elected in last year’s sweep — a class that brought unprecedented diversity to the bench. And they questioned whether centralizing that power in Abbott’s office might effectively give the Republicans control over the judiciary for longer than the party can hold the other two branches of government.

In April, a House committee hosted a spirited debate on the bill, then left the pitch pending. Landgraf said he wouldn’t push to advance it without bipartisan support; Democrats cheered its defeat.

First of all, no way is it acceptable to put this power in the hands of the Governor. Putting aside who the governor is now, how does that take the politics out of the process? All it does is incentivize anyone who wants to be a judge to suck up to the Governor. Sure, you could redesign things so that no one person or one party has control over the process, but any way you slice it you are granting this power to a small, unelected, unrepresentative group of people. But if this does get traction, then no way do “small rural counties” get exempted from it. If this is a good system for Harris and Dallas, it’s a good system for Loving and Deaf Smith.

But the bottom line remains that this is only ever an issue when Democrats have a good year at the ballot box. The first time Republicans started talking about changing the partisan election system was in 2008. It then got mostly dropped (except for its most ardent supporters, and I will admit that the likes of Wallace Jefferson and Nathan Hecht continued to bang this drum at every opportunity) in the 2010 to 2014 period, only to be revived in 2016. First they ended straight ticket voting (though not in time for 2018, poor things), and now this. The goal is to install Republican judges, hopefully before Democrats can elect a majority to either of the statewide courts. Come back with a proposal that isn’t primarily about that, and then maybe we can talk. Until then, there’s no reason for any Democratic legislator to support this.