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Election 2020

Paxton thumbs his nose at open records demand

Water is wet. The sun rises in the east. Ken Paxton DGAF about government, ethics, accountability or any of that other namby-pamby stuff.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Travis County district attorney’s determination that Paxton violated open records laws by withholding information related to his trip to Washington D.C. on the day of the Capitol insurrection was “meritless” and that his office had fulfilled its obligation under the law.

Last week, the district attorney’s office gave Paxton four days to turn over communications requested by the state’s leading newspapers relating to his trip or face a lawsuit.

On Friday, Austin Kinghorn, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, dismissed the district attorney’s findings, saying the office had provided no provisions under the state’s open records law that had been violated and implied that the newspapers had made the requests to publish stories about them.

“In each instance, complainant’ allegations rely on unsupported assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings of the PIA and its requirements,” Kinghorn wrote. “Frustrated that they have failed to uncover anything worth reporting following ‘numerous open records requests to AG Paxton office for various documents,’ complainant newspaper editors have sought to leverage your office’s authority to further their fishing expedition, or worse, manufacture a conflict between our respective offices that will give rise to publishable content for the complainants’ media outlets.”

[…]

In the letter, the attorney general’s office said the newspaper editors base their complaint on an “awareness of a small number of inconsequential documents they believe should have been produced” in public records requests and “baselessly speculate” that Paxton is failing to comply with the open records law.

Kinghorn said the “inconsequential documents” include a text message sent to Paxton’s personal cell phone by a Dallas Morning News reporter and two “spam” emails and an internal email that announced the temporary closure of an office parking garage.

See here for the background and here for a copy of Paxton’s response. This was of course the most predictable event imaginable, and basically serves as the pregame warmup for whatever comes next. Which will be a lawsuit filed in Travis County district court, and after that a million legal maneuvers by Paxton to delay, obstruct, and as feasible ignore the whole process. It will end with a final ruling from the Supreme Court sometime between now and the heat death of the universe. If somehow Ken Paxton is still in office when this is ultimately resolved, it will be incontrovertible proof that we are indeed in the darkest timeline. Adjust your expectations, is what I’m trying to say here. The Chron has more.

“Unprecedented” meddling in the Census

They weren’t subtle about it.

A newly disclosed memorandum citing “unprecedented” meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.

The document was shared among three senior executives including Ron S. Jarmin, a deputy director and the agency’s day-to-day head. It was written in September 2020 as the administration was pressing the bureau to end the count weeks early so that if President Donald J. Trump lost the election in November, he could receive population estimates used to reapportion the House of Representatives before leaving office.

The memo laid out a string of instances of political interference that senior census officials planned to raise with Wilbur Ross, who was then the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. The issues involved crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count unauthorized immigrants.

Most of those issues directly affected the population estimates used for reapportionment. In particular, the administration was adamant that — for the first time ever — the bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Mr. Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates.

The census officials’ memorandum pushed back especially forcefully, complaining of “direct engagement” by political appointees with the methods that experts were using to find and count unauthorized noncitizens.

“While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy,” the memo stated, “the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency.”

[…]

Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University public-affairs scholar who ran the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that the careful bureaucratic language belied an extraordinary pushback against political interference.

“This was a very, very strong commitment to independence on their part,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to run the technical matters in the way we think we ought to.’”

The officials’ objections, he said, only underscored the need for legislation to shield the Census Bureau from political interference well before the 2030 census gets underway. “I’m very worried about that,” he said.

See here and here for some background; I wrote about Census-related topics and shenanigans a lot while it was happening. We got lucky this time around, but there’s no reason to believe our luck will hold. My advice would be to put some criminal penalties in for the various forms of interference and intimidation that the Trump thugs used, and don’t require proof of intent for the crime to have occurred. My advice would also be to prioritize democracy and good governance over ant-democratic Senate trivia, but what do I know? Texas Public Radio and Mother Jones have more.

Paxton accused of violating open records law

Put it on his tab.

Best mugshot ever

The Travis County district attorney has determined that Attorney General Ken Paxton violated the state’s open records law by not turning over his communications from last January, when he appeared at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The district attorney gave Paxton four days to remedy the issue or face a lawsuit. The probe was prompted by a complaint filed by top editors at several of the state’s largest newspapers: the Austin American-Statesman, The Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News.

In a letter hand delivered to Paxton on Thursday, the head of the district attorney’s public integrity unit said her investigation showed the attorney general’s office broke state law by withholding or failing to retain his own communications that should be subject to public release.

“After a thorough review of the complaint, the (district attorney’s) office has determined that Paxton and (his office) violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code,” wrote Jackie Wood, director of the district attorney’s public integrity and complex crimes unit, referring to the open records statute.

The district attorney’s office will take Paxton and his agency to court if they do not “cure this violation” within four days, Wood warned. For open-records complaints against state agencies, the law says the Travis County district attorney or the attorney general must handle them. The newspapers filed the complaint with the district attorney.

[…]

Jim Hemphill, the immediate past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Paxton may take issue with the DA’s investigations — or he could voluntarily choose to release this and other records to the public.

“It’s a rare occurrence where a requestor actually has tangible evidence,” Hemphill said. “It will be interesting to see how the attorney general responds to this.”

The Texas Public Information Act guarantees the public’s right to government records, even if those records are stored on personal devices or public officials’ online accounts. The attorney general’s office enforces this law, determining which records are public and which are private.

On March 25, six news outlets jointly published a story that raised questions about whether Paxton was breaking open records laws.

On Jan. 4, five newspaper editors filed a complaint asking the district attorney to investigate the alleged violations. Anyone can file a complaint with a local prosecutor if they believe a public agency is withholding information in violation of the Public Information Act.

Wood’s notice to Paxton said the district attorney’s office concurred with the allegations in the editors’ complaint.

First, the editors raised concerns that Paxton’s office was using attorney-client privilege to withhold every single email and text message sent to or received by him around the time of the Jan. 6 rally, which preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Paxton and his wife were in Washington that day and appeared at the rally.

Wood said withholding all of Paxton’s communications during that week violated the law. As evidence, she noted the attorney general’s office released nearly 500 pages of communications sent to or received by First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster — including some emails that included Paxton as a recipient.

The newspaper editors also said the attorney general’s office had no policy for handling work-related records kept on personal devices or accounts.

When a Morning News reporter sent Paxton a work-related text message and another reporter requested all his messages that day, Paxton’s office responded that no responsive messages existed. A spokesman for Paxton later said the attorney general doesn’t have to retain “unsolicited and unwelcome text messages to personal phones.”

Wood noted that the attorney general’s office stated in the past that the communications of government officials were subject to retention policies and the open records law.

Finally, the editors raised concerns that Paxton was turning over other people’s communications in response to requests for his own text messages.

The DA’s investigation agreed that Paxton had not provided his own text messages with officials at the attorney general’s office in Utah — where Paxton and his wife traveled during the February freeze — and instead turned over a copy of another person’s text to Paxton. The attorney general’s office did not explain why Paxton didn’t provide his own version of the text exchange.

See here for some background. The answer to how Paxton will respond is obvious: He’ll denounce the Travis DA’s actions as unfair, biased, and partisan, and he’ll not only not comply he’ll do everything in his power to delay a court decision that might force him to comply. Honestly, even then I doubt he’ll actually comply – I’d bet he destroys records first, and dares everyone to do something about it. I don’t think anything short of handcuffs and a jail cell will move him. What in his past record suggests otherwise? As the Trib notes, the January 6 commission in Congress is also seeking records relating to communications between Paxton and Donald Trump at that time. What do you think are the odds he’ll comply with them?

We know who and what Ken Paxton is. He’s shown us, every day. I commend the newspapers for pursuing this, and the Travis County DA for taking action. It’s just that it will take more than a lawsuit to make him budge. He’s going to require a consequence he fears. We’re nowhere close to that. The DMN and the Statesman have more.

Former Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton sues a blogger

Obviously, a story like this is going to attract my attention.

Ryan Sitton

A former Texas oil and gas regulator has accused a blogger of helping derail his 2020 reelection campaign by falsely claiming he had an extramarital affair.

In a lawsuit filed last month in Galveston, Ryan Sitton said the blogger, Joshua Matthew Pierce, had claimed in two online posts that Sitton sought to engage in “racial fantasies” with an unnamed Jamaican woman. The piece also included a supposed picture of them together, though the photo was later shown to be a generic, unrelated image used on several websites, according to the suit.

The second post alleged that Sitton had referred to fellow Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick with an ethnic slur. Both were published during early voting in the 2020 primary, which Sitton lost in a huge upset to fellow Republican Jim Wright.

“He published a hit piece, containing salacious lies about an upstanding businessman and public official,” the lawsuit says. “Unfortunately, his silly and false story gained some traction, and influenced an election.”

The complaint also suggests Pierce may have been working for Wright’s campaign at the time, though it does not present any clear evidence.

Pierce responded to the lawsuit over the weekend in a series of tweets, saying, “And to think that little old blogger down here in #CorpusChristi, #Texas could influence an election.”

“Lets get this right out of the way—you can deny, deny but the proof of the “infactual basis” is on plaintiff,” he wrote.

Sitton is seeking $10 million in damages. I went looking on Twitter to see if there was any commentary on this. Didn’t find anything, but I did come across this Yahoo News story that added a couple of details as well as a link to the lawsuit. The main thing I learned there is that Sitton is represented by Tony Buzbee, because of course he is.

My very basic take on all this is as follows: I have no trouble believing that this “blogger” printed false information. I have no idea whether someone who was a public figure has a chance at collecting from a person who while probably not a “journalist” from a legal perspective was nonetheless engaging in political speech, however crappy it was. I also have some real doubts about how much this “blogger” might have affected the election. How big an audience did that guy have? How much were his claims being amplified and repeated, in a way that Texas GOP primary voters might have seen or heard it? I’m not exactly plugged into that world, but if it had gotten real traction there might have been some reporting or even gossip about it in places I could have seen. Maybe it was there for me to see and I just missed it. All I’m saying is, you’re going to need to show me some data to convince me that this effort moved votes, especially enough votes to knock Sitton out. Not saying that can’t be done, just that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If that exists, I can’t wait to see it. I just won’t be expecting to see it.

On the campaign trail again

It’s good to be back.

In the 2020 election cycle, many campaigns in Texas went fully virtual as the coronavirus pandemic, then a new and uncertain threat, bore down on the state. They held virtual rallies, phone banks and fundraisers, trading in clipboards and walking shoes for webcams and microphones.

As the weeks went on, though, Republicans resumed in-person campaigning and managed to stave off a massive Democratic offensive in November. Democrats later admitted that their decision to suspend door-knocking and other in-person activities hurt them.

Now, nearly two years later and with a new COVID-19 variant surging across the state, Democrats appear set on avoiding the same mistake. Few, if any, Democratic campaigns have gone fully virtual, and many are pressing forward with in-person campaigning while taking some precautions.

“Like everyone else across the globe, we are keeping a close eye on the Covid-19 Omicron Variant and assessing the risks associated with this surge,” Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Angelica Luna Kaufman said in a statement. “However, there is a lot at stake this midterm election and in-person campaigning will be a critical component to engaging voters and winning these races.”

She emphasized the country is “not in the same situation as we were in 2020.” Vaccines are widely available, and people are well-practiced in how to stay safe in public.

Still, the omicron variant looms large, and the campaign trail has not been immune to it. Some forums are still being held virtually, and candidates, staffers and volunteers are having to deal with the logistical challenges that come when one of them tests positive amid the fast-spreading variant.

[…]

Democrats’ most celebrated candidate this cycle, gubernatorial contender Beto O’Rourke, has been regularly campaigning in person since launching his bid in November. He has been holding larger events outside, and his campaign asks attendees to wear masks and encourages them to be vaccinated. The campaign has made rapid testing available to attendees at some events.

“Speaking with Texans one-on-one is at the heart of our campaign,” O’Rourke’s campaign manager, Nick Rathod, said in a statement. “After holding 70 events in 30 cities during the first weeks of our campaign, we remain committed to meeting Texans where they are and will continue to closely follow” public health guidelines.

O’Rourke’s first campaign event since omicron began surging in Texas was Saturday in El Paso. Attendees were told “masks are strongly encouraged regardless of vaccination status” and that they would be provided for those who need them. On event sign-up pages, attendees were also told that by attending, “you understand and accept the risks associated with COVID-19.”

O’Rourke’s campaign is already block walking, though those who volunteer to do so have to sign a “COVID-19 Block Walk Safety Agreement Form.” Among other things, the form requires volunteers to wear masks when not eating or drinking and maintain their distance from voters “at all times possible.”

O’Rourke was among the Democrats who lamented the party’s refusal to campaign in person ahead of the 2020 election. He had been deeply involved in the fight for the Texas House majority through his Powered by People group, which shifted virtually all its activities online because of the pandemic. Writing to supporters days after Republicans swept Texas in the election, O’Rourke said one of the lessons was “nothing beats” talking to voters “eyeball to eyeball” and that “there is a safe way to do this, even in a pandemic.”

Not much to add here. To whatever extent the virtual campaigning of 2020 led to lesser outcomes than we might have had otherwise, no one wants to do that again. Most in-person events right now are being done virtually, but that is temporary. I’m certainly ready to see a bunch of my political friends in person again, in our natural environment. To that, here’s a little song you might know:

Happy trails, y’all.

It would seem that the San Marcos Police Department has some major problems

Geez.

The city of San Marcos admits in new court documents to text exchanges among its police officers about the Joe Biden bus incident in October 2020.

But it denies what it calls a “characterization” of the exchanges by the original complainants.

In documents filed in federal court Dec. 30, attorneys for the defendants denied almost all of the 173 allegations laid out in the original complaint. The defendants include the city’s public safety director, Chase Stapp; an assistant police chief, Brandon Winkenwerder; a police corporal, Matthew Daenzer; and the City of San Marcos.

In the lawsuit, which originally was filed in June 2021 by campaign staffers and volunteers for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, the plaintiffs say the Police Department refused to provide a police escort or assistance for their campaign bus after it was surrounded by a pro-Trump caravan on Interstate 35 in October 2020.

The lawsuit alleges that Biden staffers called 911 and “begged” for help from police, but the police “privately laughed and joked about the victims and their distress, including by calling them ‘tards,’ making fun of a campaign staffer’s ‘hard’ breathing, and retorting that they should just ‘drive defensively’ or ‘leave the train.’”

Attorneys for the campaign staffers and volunteers obtained text messages via a public records request between Stapp, Winkenwerder, Daenzer and other police officers that they said showed the officials mocking and laughing at the bus occupants.

In the defendants’ response to the complaint filed last week, attorneys for Stapp, Winkenwerder, Daenzer and the city denied almost all the allegations in the lawsuit or said that they did not have enough “knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief” about them.

They did admit that the text exchanges occurred, but they denied the “characterization of the communication” contained in the complaint.

In one text exchange, an officer asked “did Kamala show?” — a reference to Biden’s vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris — and another officer answered, “no, just a couple other yards,” which the plaintiffs’ lawyers claim was a misspelling of his intended word, “tards.” Lawyers for the city denied that characterization.

In another text, Stapp said: “from what I gather, the Biden bus never even exited I-35 thanks to the Trump escort.” Lawyers for Stapp and the city admitted that text was factual.

See here and here for the background. I have nothing against the city of San Marcos, but they have a real problem on their hands, and they need to do something about it. The trial is scheduled for November. I’ll be rooting very hard for the plaintiffs. The Current has more.

Fraudit fizzling

Who could have ever predicted this would be a big ol’ nothingburger?

The Texas secretary of state’s office has released the first batch of results from its review into the 2020 general election, finding few issues despite repeated, unsubstantiated claims by GOP leaders casting doubts on the integrity of the electoral system.

The first phase of the review, released New Year’s Eve, highlighted election data from four counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin — that showed few discrepancies between electronic and hand counts of ballots in a sample of voting precincts. Those partial manual counts made up a significant portion of the results produced by the secretary of state, which largely focused on routine voter roll maintenance and post-election processes that were already in place before the state launched what it has labeled as a “full forensic audit.”

On Friday, Samuel Taylor, a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office, said the review was needed “to provide clarity on what issues need to be resolved for the next elections.”

But Remi Garza, president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said there wasn’t anything in the review’s first set of results that raised any alarms for him.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything too far out of the ordinary with respect to the information that’s provided,” said Garza, who serves as the election administrator in Cameron County. “… I hope nobody draws any strong conclusions one way or the other with respect to the information that’s been provided. I think it’s just very straightforward, very factual and will ultimately play a part in the final conclusions that are drawn once the second phase is completed.”

According to the state’s review of the counties’ partial manual counts, which they are already required to conduct under state law, there were few differences between electronic and manual ballot tallies — and counties were able to justify those inconsistencies.

See here for the previous update. Boy, nothing says “we want people to see this news” like putting out a press release on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. In each case cited here, there was a literal handful of vote count differences, and the reason each of the tiny discrepancies was already known. And this is in four counties that totaled over four million ballots cast in 2020. It’s hard to imagine a cleaner or clearer result.

The state’s progress report for phase one of its audit also included data related to regular maintenance of the state’s massive list of registered voters — it surpassed 16.9 million in November 2020 — that goes beyond its four-county review. But some of the figures highlighted by the state either appear to be faulty or remain unverified.

For example, the secretary of state’s office noted it had sent counties a list of 11,737 records of registered voters it deemed “possible non-U.S. citizens.” But the Tribune previously reported that scores of citizens, including many who registered to vote at their naturalization ceremonies, were marked for review.

Although it has yet to finish investigating the records, the state also included an unverified figure of 509 voter records — about 0.0045% of the 11.3 million votes cast in November 2020 — in which a voter may have cast a vote in Texas and another state or jurisdiction. The state said the work of reviewing those records to eliminate those that were “erroneously matched” because of data issues wouldn’t be completed until January.

The state also highlighted the investigation of 67 votes — about 0.0006% of the votes cast in the 2020 general election — cast by “potentially deceased voters.” This review also has not been completed.

In its report, the secretary of state emphasized that the removal of ineligible or deceased voters from the voter rolls “in and of itself does not indicate that any illegal votes were cast.”

What they almost always find in the latter case is that the voter died after their vote had been cast. In a state with millions of people, that sort of thing happens. I would expect that in most of the former cases, closer inspection shows that the votes in question were actually cast by different people. Accurate name-matching is a tricky business. As for the “non-citizen voter purges” the state regularly tries and fails to do with any accuracy, well, just keep that in mind whenever the state of Texas or any of its officials make claims about voting irregularities. The motivation to find bad things blinds them to such a degree that any bad things they find are inherently tainted by the nature of their search. Only by removing that motivation, and thus enforcing a careful and deliberate process, can any claims be considered credible.

An early look at the primary for Commissioners Court, Precinct 4

I have a few thoughts about this.

With a new Harris County precinct map in place, Democrats may have their best chance in a dozen years of capturing Precinct 4. That’s set up a fierce, three-way contest in the Democratic primary to challenge the incumbent Republican, Commissioner Jack Cagle.

The Democratic primary to face Cagle includes former civil court judge Lesley Briones, former state representative Gina Calanni, former county elections official Ben Chou, and Alief ISD board president Ann Williams.

Briones joined the bench as presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law Number 4 in April 2019, when Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court appointed her to fill out the term of Bill McLeod. Briones won a full term in 2020, but resigned from the bench in order to run for county commissioner.

Gina Calanni previously served as state representative for House District 132, representing portions of Katy. She served a single term, defeating Republican State Rep. Mike Schofield in 2018 but losing a rematch to him in 2020.

Ben Chou has held no elective office. He previously served in the Harris County Election Administrator’s office, overseeing 2020 voting innovations that included expansion of drive-thru voting. Before that, he worked for former governor of Maryland and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and for then House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Ann Williams was first elected as Alief ISD board trustee in 2007 and has served as the board’s president for the past seven years.

“This will be a primary runoff election,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who prefaced his remarks by saying Chou was a former student of his. “I don’t think any one of these…candidates is likely to win 51% of the vote or 50% + 1.”

[…]

Even if the new map stands, Stein said, the power of incumbency means it is far too early to count Cagle out. He noted Cagle, who was first elected in 2010, has a long record of addressing flooding and road congestion problems that gives him broad appeal.

“I would think at this point,” Stein said, “if you’re going to beat an incumbent Republican, you’re going to have to have a Democrat who can draw on some Republican voters, or at least some independents.”

Stein doubted Calanni’s ability to do that, noting her record as much more progressive than her two Democratic rivals. “It remains to be seen whether Ben Chou has that, what I’d call, ideological moderate or centrist position,” Stein said. “But clearly, I would say former Judge Briones is in a strong position.”

First, there’s an error correction appended to the story that says it should have referred to this race being a four-way contest, not three. That said, there are actually seven candidates running, the four named in this story plus Jeff Stauber, Clarence Miller, and Sandra Pelmore. Stauber has run for Sheriff in 2016 and for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020. Miller and Pelmore are first time candidates as far as I know, with Miller making the pre-COVID and pre-redistricting rounds as a candidate. He has a campaign website, the others do not. I doubt any of them will get much in the way or financial or establishment support, but they are in the race and they will get some votes.

We haven’t really had a Democratic primary for a Commissioners Court seat like this before. There were multi-candidate primaries in 2020 for Precinct 3, which was open after the announced retirement of Steve Radack. The Republicans were favored to hold the seat, so their primary was a reasonably close analog for this one, and all three of their candidates were current or recent elected officials. On the Democratic side there were multiple candidates, but no electeds. I feel like the stakes are higher for Democrats than they were in 2020, since they invested capital in redrawing the Commissioners Court map, and if they fail to expand their majority they don’t really get another shot until 2026. And yes, there is a low but non-zero chance Dems could lose the majority they have now, and maybe see any chance to do more go away as Republicans would surely try to redraw the existing map.

As for Commissioner Cagle, it is true that incumbent Commissioners have punched above their weight in the past. Jack Morman ran ahead of other Republicans in 2018, even against a strong and well-known Democratic opponent in Adrian Garcia, and came close to hanging on. Garcia only took the lead in that race late at night, around the same time that Judge Lina Hidalgo was finally pulling ahead. Going back a little farther, then-Commissioner Sylvia Garcia also came close to hanging on in 2010 – again, she ran well ahead of other Dems on the ticket that year. If the environment is sufficiently favorable to Republicans, or if Cagle can really convince the muddled middle to stick with him, he could survive. That said, I say it’s Cagle who is going to have to draw on these voters, at least as much as the Democratic nominee. The whole point of the redistricting exercise was to make this precinct as favorable as reasonably possible for a more or less generic Democrat. If that’s not enough to unseat Cagle, it’s a pretty massive failure.

I’m not sure why Professor Stein singles out Calanni as less electable than any of the others. I mean, with rare exceptions (Jasmine Crockett comes to mind), freshman Democratic legislators tend to not get noticed all that much. I can’t think of anything in her record that would stand out as a clear liability. That’s not to say that she couldn’t be attacked for something that the Dems supported or opposed in the 2019 legislative session, though that was a fairly modest and serene one all things considered. But really, anything she could be attacked for, I’m pretty sure the others could be as well. I don’t quite understand this thinking.

I do think Briones has an early advantage, at least in the primary, for having received endorsements from Commissioners Garcia and Ellis. I expect that to show up in the campaign finance report as well, and that’s something that can extend to the general election also. But I would not sleep on Ann Williams as a candidate, as she has easily the longest electoral record, having been an Alief ISD Trustee since 2007. Those are very different elections, in terms of turnout and the electorate, but still. She’s the only one who’s been elected to something more than once, and I think that counts for something. Calanni also had more challenging races to win in each of her times on the ballot, and I’d say she overperformed in 2018. None of this is intended in any way as a slight to Lesley Briones, just my observation that there’s more nuance to this than what is expressed in the story.

Anyway. I hope to see a lot more stories like this one, as we are very much in the swing of primary season. It will be early voting before you know it, so let’s get to the campaign and candidate overviews. I’ll be running interviews with at least these four named Democratic candidates the week of January 10.

Another look at the Aguirre/Hotze debacle

Man, do I ever want this to be the end of Steven Hotze as a political force.

A well-funded far-right group—that made inroads with Stop The Steal organizations, paid a former police captain more than $200,000 to hunt ballots, and became entangled in a roadside stickup—was making war plans for Election Day 2020 months ahead of time, documents reveal.

The fringe group, the Liberty Center for God and Country (LCGC), led a lucrative fundraising blitz in the run-up to the election and quietly networked with now-notorious election denialists. Their work came to light in October of that year when former Houston Police captain Mark Aguirre allegedly rammed his SUV into a man’s truck, forced the man onto the ground at gunpoint, and accused him of transporting 750,000 fraudulent ballots. Aguirre’s claims were baseless—his victim was an innocent air conditioner technician—and no widespread voter fraud has been found in the 2020 election. Aguirre was indicted this week for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The criminal charges outed the LCGC, which had quietly moved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of preventing voter fraud in the months before the election, launching a website and fundraisers in the months before Nov. 3.

In the fall of 2020, as Donald Trump trailed Joe Biden in the polls, Republican activists sought ways to sow doubt in the event of a possible Trump loss. Aguirre and LCGC were among them.

Aguirre’s description of himself as a “retired” police captain (he’d actually been fired for a disastrous raid) was the least of the fundraiser’s lies. Although the fundraiser shed little light on Aguirre’s “team,” the fundraiser was launched one day after Aguirre signed an affidavit in a lawsuit accusing Houston-area Democrats of widespread voter fraud.

The lawsuit, filed by Republican activist Steven Hotze, accused Texas Democrats of a plot to defraud voters, in part by offering early voting and more voting locations. Some of its claims rested on supposed evidence collected by Aguirre and a former FBI agent who, like Aguirre, later became a private investigator.

“Based on interviews, review of documents, and other information, I have identified the individuals in charge of the ballot harvesting scheme,” Aguirre wrote. Aguirre’s involvement with Hotze went deeper than the lawsuit suggested. In late August, according to business records, Hotze formed the LCGC. The group’s earliest web presence called on Trump to designate three days “for national repentance, fasting, and prayer.”

[…]

In order to crack down on alleged fraud pre-election, the LCGC allegedly hired Aguirre to investigate people it suspected of running fake ballot rings. According to charging documents, Aguirre admitted to surveilling the home of air-conditioning technician David Lopez-Zuniga, on the suspicion that the Houston man was running a scheme to force children to sign 750,000 fraudulent ballots. Aguirre allegedly rammed Lopez-Zuniga’s car off the road, forced him onto the ground at gunpoint, and knelt on his back before an actual police officer was able to intervene. The day after the incident, the LCGC sent $211,400 to Aguirre’s bank account.

The LCGC was pulling in big money, its fundraisers suggest. In addition to Aguirre’s GoFundMe, which earned at least $2,600, the group operated its own GoFundMe, which raised nearly $70,000 from mid-October to mid-December.

The LCGC also registered as a nonprofit—a status that would be useful when networking with a burgeoning movement of voter fraud hoaxers.

See here, here, and here for a bit of background; there’s more if you go looking for the bogus and universally losing lawsuits Hotze filed in 2020. The Washington Post did a deep dive on this about a year ago, and I’m glad to see others are continuing that quest. The possible key to ending this little piece of madness is the lawsuit filed by AC repairman David Lopez, which has survived a motion to dismiss and will surely provide a lot more evidence of wrongdoings as it proceeds. All I want for Christmas for the next 20 years or so is for a verdict to come down that absolutely bankrupts Steven Hotze. Link via Daily Kos.

The “prison gerrymandering” lawsuit

Of the many lawsuits filed so far over Texas redistricting, this is the one I know the least about.

Nearly a quarter of a million people were incarcerated in Texas when the Census was taken last year. When lawmakers redrew the state’s voting maps this fall, these inmates were counted in the prison towns where they were locked up, rather than where they lived beforehand.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of Census and prison data found this practice, which opponents call “prison gerrymandering,” inflates the political power of Republican districts while draining clout from Democratic strongholds. It also makes more conservative, rural areas of the state look larger and more diverse than they truly are.

Republicans say the maps are legal and fair. They argue there isn’t a viable alternative for counting prisoners, and changing that won’t shift the balance of power in Texas to Democrats.

But The News found the state’s new legislative maps would look significantly different if Texas stopped this practice. Reallocating prisoners to the place where they were charged would cause nearly one in five counties — most of which went for Donald Trump last year — to lose population to more urban, liberal areas. Not counting prisoners at all would throw more than two dozen House districts out of population boundaries, making them subject to court challenge.

Experts say The News’ findings raise questions about diluting the minority vote, fair representation and the principle of “one person, one vote.” Incarcerated people in effect become ghost constituents, they said, unwittingly boosting the power of prison towns, and helping Republicans stay in power, while largely lacking the right to vote.

[…]

Including jails, federal and state prisons and detention centers, Texas incarcerated more people than any other state, last year’s Census data show.

Counting these people at their place of confinement helped Republicans, The News analysis found. It’s impossible to know how these incarcerated people would vote. But while many inmates in state prisons were charged in urban areas, and most are not white, the vast majority were drawn into GOP districts.

According to The News’ analysis, Republicans in the state Legislature will represent two-thirds of incarcerated people under the newly redrawn maps. The number is even higher for the U.S. Congress: 76% of people incarcerated at Census time were drawn into districts represented by a Republican in Washington.

Two state lawmakers saw their district numbers inflated most by the count of incarcerated people: Rep. Kyle Kacal of College Station and Cody Harris of Palestine, both Republicans. One in 10 people in Kacal’s district, where death row and the prisons department headquarters is located, is behind bars.

In Harris’ district, which includes Tennessee Colony in Anderson County and all or part of three other counties in East Texas, nearly 8% are incarcerated.

The News analyzed how the state’s new electoral maps would be affected if incarcerated people were counted differently. We used data on more than 140,000 inmates incarcerated in state-run jails and prisons when the Census was taken. This analysis does not include the effect of moving federal inmates or those housed in local jails or ICE detention centers.

Of the 232 counties that went for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, 46 would shrink in population if incarcerated people were counted in the county where they were charged. This is the best measure The News could use for previous residence, since state and federal prison agencies declined to release comprehensive data on inmates’ previous home addresses.

The 46 counties would lose more than 104,000 people, The News’ analysis shows. When added together, pro-Trump counties would lose nearly 52,000 people. Nearly all of them — 49,667 people — would be reallocated back to one of the state’s five largest counties, which all went for President Joe Biden last year, with more than 11,000 going to Dallas County.

The News analysis also found counting incarcerated people at their prison address hurts GOP counties without lockups. McLennan, Smith and Montgomery Counties, all of which went for Trump in 2020, would gain more than 2,500 people each if incarcerated people were moved back to the county where they were charged.

If prisoners were excluded from population counts altogether, The News found that 29 state House districts might need to be redrawn. This is because every Texas legislative district is meant to represent roughly the same amount of people, and there should be no more than a 10% difference in population between the smallest and largest districts.

Those that don’t meet this requirement could be challenged in court; they are about equally split between Democrats and Republicans.

[…]

Experts acknowledge that Texas won’t suddenly turn blue if “prison gerrymandering” is banned.

In a state of 29 million, incarcerated people account for less than 1% of the population. Plus, as the party in power, Republicans could simply tweak district boundary lines to make up for a few thousand prisoners here or there.

But critics note it’s one of several tools the GOP uses to maintain power in a rapidly changing state. While they are a fraction of the population, there are more incarcerated people than needed for an entire House district and nearly one-third of a congressional district.

“The dynamics just described obviously favor white, rural Texas,” said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “[It] real questions of fairness.”

Rory Kramer, an associate professor at Villanova University who is completing a nationwide analysis of incarceration and redistricting, said The News’ findings did not surprise him.

“As your analysis demonstrates, this harms equal representation for people who live in neighborhoods with high incarceration rates,” Kramer said. “There’s no reason why living near a prison should mean some Texans have greater voices in the state legislature than other Texans.”

Mike Wessler, communications director for criminal justice advocacy group the Prison Policy Initiative, echoed Kramer’s concern: “It distorts political representation at all levels of government.”

This is related to the lawsuit that I mentioned here filed by inmate Damon James Wilson. This Courthouse News story is still the only writeup I have found about it. The key factor here in terms of drawing legislative districts, especially State House districts where the county line rule makes it harder for rural areas to dip into urban counties for help filling out district populations, is that there would just be fewer people in rural counties, and the net effect might be to force one or more fewer districts that are entirely or mostly within those counties. Add enough people back into Harris County and maybe you have to give it a 25th district again, as it had up to the 2011 reapportionment. West Texas lost a legislative district at that same time because the region didn’t have enough people to justify the higher number. Counting prison inmates in their home counties instead of where they are incarcerated might change the partisan balance by a district or two – it’s really hard to say, and the story doesn’t try – but in the end it’s more a matter of counting them where they consider their home to be, which by the way is the standard for residency and voter registration.

The other point, which I didn’t include in my excerpt, is that while inmates like Wilson are counted in the rural counties where they are locked up for the purposes of drawing legislative maps, they are not counted as residents of those counties when it comes to county-level redistricting.

Just as state lawmakers are in charge of legislative and congressional maps, local officials draw new county districts for positions like commissioners court, justices of the peace and constables after each Census. Many smaller, conservative counties with large inmate populations have long chosen to exclude incarcerated people when redrawing local maps because prisoners would skew their demographics.

Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston said counting the local 13,344 prisoners as constituents would inflate his actual population and result in one of his four commissioners representing only a handful of people outside the prison walls.

“[Prisoners are] not out roaming the streets, spending money in my county,” he said.

Mighty convenient, no? Just for the sake of consistency, there ought to be one standard. Perhaps as a result of this lawsuit there will be. Daily Kos has more.

Precinct analysis: The new SBOE map

Previously: New State House map, New Congressional map

I probably care more about the SBOE than most normal people do. It’s not that powerful an entity, there are only 15 seats on it, and their elections go largely under the radar. But the potential for shenanigans is high, and Democrats had about as good a shot at achieving a majority on that board as they did in the State House in 2020. Didn’t work out, and the new map is typically inhospitable, but we must keep trying. And if this nerdy political blog doesn’t care about the SBOE, then what’s even the point?

You can find the 2012 election results here and the 2020 results here. I didn’t use the 2016 results in my analysis below, but that data is here if you want to see it.


Dist   Obama   Romney Obama%Romney%     Biden    Trump Biden% Trump%
====================================================================
01   247,686  187,075  56.2%  42.4%   378,468  283,822  56.3%  42.2%
02   228,834  185,412  54.6%  44.2%   291,278  291,716  49.4%  49.4%
03   264,311  232,068  52.5%  46.1%   388,240  305,696  55.1%  43.4%
04   308,644  120,097  71.2%  27.7%   403,177  148,981  72.2%  26.7%
05   300,483  239,166  53.8%  42.8%   570,541  301,308  64.1%  33.8%
06   181,278  386,445  31.5%  67.1%   368,830  466,577  43.5%  55.0%
07   224,393  362,617  37.8%  61.1%   340,566  472,253  41.3%  57.3%
08   176,409  303,391  36.3%  62.4%   298,068  395,563  42.4%  56.3%
09   199,415  406,195  32.5%  66.3%   283,337  493,792  36.0%  62.7%
10   169,390  393,365  29.6%  68.6%   303,528  543,023  35.2%  63.0%
11   190,589  395,936  32.0%  66.5%   340,611  492,562  40.2%  58.2%
12   189,192  408,110  31.2%  67.3%   370,022  505,840  41.6%  56.8%
13   335,799  130,847  71.2%  27.7%   441,894  151,002  73.5%  25.1%
14   165,093  377,319  30.0%  68.5%   316,606  503,706  38.0%  60.4%
15   126,093  440,745  21.9%  76.7%   162,347  533,181  23.0%  75.5%

You can see the new map here, so you can visualize where these districts are. The current and soon-to-be-obsolete map is here, and my analysis of the 2020 election under that map is here.

You might note that none of the new districts look all that crazy. For the most part, the districts encompass entire counties. It’s mostly a matter of which counties are joined together. A good example of that is SBOE12, which used to be Collin County plus a slice of Dallas. In the days when Collin was deep red, that was more than enough for it to be safe Republican, but now that Collin is trending heavily Democratic – SBOE12 was a four-point win for Joe Biden last year – that won’t do. Now SBOE12 is a sprawling district that still has all of Collin but now a smaller piece of Dallas, the top end of Denton, and a bunch of smaller North Texas counties that had previously been in districts 09 and 15. In return, the formerly all-rural district 9 picks up about a quarter of Dallas, in a mirror of the strategy we’ve seen in the other maps to put heavily Democratic urban areas in with deeply Republican rural ones, to neutralize the former. District 11, which had previously been pieces of Dallas and Tarrant plus all of Parker and is now all of that plus Hood and Somervell and part of Johnson counties, is another example.

The other strategy that we see echoes of here is the more careful placement of dark red suburban counties. SBOE6, which used to be entirely within Harris County, is now hiked up a bit north to include a generous piece of Montgomery County, much as was done with CD02 and SD07, to flip it from being a Biden district back to a Trump district. Ironically, this has the effect of making SBOE8, which used to have all of Montgomery plus a lot of the counties east of Harris, more Democratic as it now wears both the eastern and western ends of Harris like earflaps. (Mutton chops also come to mind as I look at the map.) SBOE8 also picks up a piece of bright blue Fort Bend County, which had previously been in district 7. Meanwhile, over in Central Texas, SBOE5 jettisoned Comal County after it could no longer keep that district red; Comal wound up in district 10, which excised all of its Travis County population in return.

As far as the numbers go, there’s not much to say. Whether Democrats can win five or six districts will depend in the short term on whether they can hold district 2, which is actually a bit more Democratic in this alignment. In the longer term, districts 6, 8, 11, and 12 could all become competitive. District 3 is no more Democratic than any of those are Republican, but as you can see it trended a bit more blue over the decade, and it’s anchored in Bexar County, which should keep it from falling. 2022 is the one year when every district is up for re-election, and that will tell us something about how the trends we saw in 2020 are going. Maybe we’ll need to re-evaluate the prospects for change in this map, or as we’ve said before, maybe we’ll end up cursing the evil genius of it all. I mean, even as SBOE6 moved strongly towards Dems, the deficit to make up is still 100K votes. Nothing is going to come easy, if it comes at all.

Come watch Ken Paxton light your tax dollars on fire

I mean, Theranos would have delivered a greater return on investment than this.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has been one of former President Donald Trump’s most reliable allies in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud, particularly in the 2020 election, and frequently boasts that few states are as vigilant.

His office’s election integrity unit added two lawyers to the team in the last year, bringing it up to six staffers total, and worked more than 20,000 hours between October 2020 and September 2021. Its budget, meanwhile, ratcheted up from $1.9 million to $2.2 million during that time.

Yet records from the office show that the unit closed just three cases this year, down from 17 last year, and opened seven new ones. That includes the newly created unit focused on the 2021 local elections, which has yet to file a single case.

“This is an exorbitant amount of money that has resulted in no benefit for the average Texan,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a left-leaning nonprofit government watchdog that regularly files public information requests and files suits to force compliance with those requests. The organization shared some records it obtained from the Texas Attorney General’s Office with Hearst Newspapers for this report; others were obtained independently by Hearst Newspapers.

Evers added: “Taxpayers are funding a political stunt meant to fuel the false claim of a stolen election and justify voting restrictions.”

[…]

Richard L. Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California at Irvine, said there’s a more likely explanation, noting that Paxton, who is running for re-election, has “every incentive,” politically speaking, to vigorously go after voter fraud, as it’s an issue that energizes his party’s base.

“He’s finding very little of it despite spending a lot of money and using a lot of resources looking for it,” Hasen said. “The reason is not that such fraud is too hard to find. Those that commit voter fraud tend not to be brain surgeons. The reason he’s not finding a lot of it is because voter fraud is rare.”

Multiple academic studies and journalistic reviews have uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud, nor did a wide-ranging investigation of election fraud in 2020 conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.

There’s more, and the story does a good job of highlighting how Paxton takes the ridiculously small numbers involved in his crusade and exaggerates them to make them sound slightly less small, so read the rest. Just understand that facts have nothing to do with any of this, and won’t do anything to deter Paxton and his raving band of saboteurs. The argument here is exactly the same as the ones that Republicans have been using for at least the last 20 years for spending on “border security”: If they catch more cases of “vote fraud” it means that what they’re doing is working and so they need to get more money for it. If they catch fewer cases, it means that they’re falling behind and need to get more money to keep up. There are no circumstances under which spending less on this useless and harmful exercise makes sense.

One more thing:

While it’s true that the office has more cases pending this year over last year, 44 up from 38, that’s not because of a surge in new prosecutions. It’s because the vast majority of cases that were pending around this time last year are still making their way through the court system.

Among the cases pending include that of Hervis Rogers, a Black man from Houston who was charged this year with illegally voting while on parole, after he had made national headlines for waiting six hours to vote in the 2020 primary election.

A new ruling from the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday may afford legal relief to Rogers and potentially others, after it found that Paxton’s office does not have the constitutional right to prosecute voter fraud without the consent of local prosecutors.

Yes, given that recent ruling, one has to wonder how much of this activity is even legal at this point. I would suggest that attorneys for every one of the defendants in Paxton’s crosshairs, as well as all of those that have been convicted or pled guilty to something, start filing briefs to have cases and convictions tossed. Let’s expose this for the mockery it is.

The Lege will get worse before it gets better

I have three things to say about this.

More than two dozen members of the Texas Legislature are retiring or running for a different seat next year, creating a slew of vacancies that could push both chambers to become redder and more polarized by the time lawmakers reconvene in 2023.

Many of the outgoing members are center-right or establishment politicians with years of experience, opening up seats for younger and more ideologically extreme replacements. In many cases, their districts were redrawn to strengthen the GOP’s hold on the Legislature, eliminating all but a few of the battleground contests that tend to attract more moderate candidates.

Those changes, paired with new political maps that leave little opening for Democrats to gain ground in November, have laid the groundwork for an even more conservative Legislature, even as Republicans toast the 2021 legislative session as the most conservative in the state’s history.

“The tides are shifting again,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, a moderate Republican from north Houston who is not seeking re-election. “You have different political leaders, and the constituency has a view of what they want. You’re going to see a shift. I would assume it’s going to be more conservative.”

The Capitol is also poised to lose some of its longest tenured legislators to retirement, draining “a generation of policy expertise” on areas such as health care, education, agriculture and the border, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. The average tenure of the departing members is 13 years.

We’ve covered this before. What distinguishes members like Dan Huberty and Chris Paddie and Lyle Larson and even otherwise crappy ones like James White is that they had policy chops, in at least one area, and took that part of legislating seriously. They were perfectly happy to vote for all of the destructive wingnut crap, and we should never forget that as we say nice things about their legislative experience, but the truth is that whoever survives the freak show primary to replace them will almost certainly be worse than they were. Until such time as Dems win a majority, or Republicans become collectively less sociopathic (whichever comes first), the Lege will become a worse place than it now is.

In 2011, Huberty was one of 37 mostly Republican freshmen in the Texas House — a mix of conservatives and moderates who rode the tea party wave into office, including three members who had served in the House previously, lost their seats and then gained them back that year.

By 2023, few of the moderate new members elected from that class will remain, with most of the remaining holdouts — including Huberty, John Frullo of Lubbock, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and Jim Murphy of Houston — declining to seek re-election next year.

We’ve discussed this before as well. What do all these members have in common? They will have served twelve years in the House, which makes them fully vested in the Lege’s pension plan. There may well be other reasons for their departures, and of course the first post-redistricting election is always an exodus, but I guarantee you that’s a factor.

In the Senate, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s seat could be the sole competitive race next year. The other open districts are solidly Republican, and those who are likely to replace the outgoing members are ideologically further right than their predecessors — or are, at least, closely allied with [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick, the leader of the upper chamber.

[Sen. Kel] Seliger was known for frequent fallouts with Patrick, defying him at times and blocking passage of priority bills. But state Rep. Phil King, the Weatherford Republican vying to replace him, has already earned Patrick’s stamp of approval.

[Sen. Larry] Taylor, one of the most moderate members of the Senate, is also poised to be replaced by a more conservative successor. Those running to replace him include [Rep. Mayes] Middleton and Robin Armstrong, a physician backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a tea party favorite. (Armstrong gained attention last year when he controversially administered hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients at the Texas City nursing home where he works.)

We really need a better descriptor in these stories than “moderate”, which has lost all meaning in the post-Tea Party, post-Trump era. Kel Seliger is conservative in the way someone from the Reagan/Bush years would recognize the term. He’s also a legitimate work-across-the-aisle guy, and was maybe the last Senate Republican to not care about whatever Dan Patrick wants. You could fit a term like “iconoclast” or “maverick” to him if you had to, but he’s just a guy who was generally faithful to his political beliefs, and voted in what he believed was the best interest of his district. Which these days is pretty goddamned quaint. As for Taylor, look, he’s as down-the-line a Republican as there is. It’s true, he doesn’t spew conspiracy theories every five minutes, he’s not performatively nasty on Twitter, and as far as I know he eats his food with a knife and fork, and chews with his mouth closed. That makes him fit for human society, but it has nothing to do with how he votes or whether there’s an inch of distance between him and Dan Patrick. If that’s what we mean these days when we refer to a Republican legislator as “moderate”, can we please at least be honest about it?

Aguirre indicted

Gotta admit, I had thought this happened long ago.

A Harris County grand jury on Tuesday indicted former Houston police captain Mark Aguirre on an assault charge after he was accused of running a man off the road and pointing to a gun to his head because he thought he was committing voter fraud in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Aguirre will face a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The trial currently is scheduled to begin in February.

Prosecutors allege Aguirre slammed into the back of an air conditioning repairman’s truck at about 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 19 of last year. He pulled a gun, forced the repairman to the ground and put a knee on his back. He ordered another person to search the truck. A police officer happened upon the scene shortly after.

Aguirre, who was fired by the police department in 2003, would later tell investigators he was conducting a “citizens investigation” into an alleged ballot harvesting scheme he thought was orchestrated by local Democrats. He told police they would find hundreds of thousands of ballots in the repairman’s truck.

They found only air conditioning parts and tools. Aguirre said he had been following the repairman for four days.

Aguirre, a licensed private investigator at the time, was hired to investigate fraud claims and paid about $266,400 by the Liberty Center for God and Country around the time of the incident. That group is led by Steven Hotze, the local conservative activist, and Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican Party chairman.

See here, here, and here for some background. Aguirre was arraigned almost exactly a year ago – I genuinely have no idea why it took so long for there to be a grand jury and an indictment. I mean, sure, COVID likely didn’t help, but he was arraigned in peak COVID times, so I don’t know what the effect would be. With the trial scheduled for February, maybe things will move a little faster now, but if you want to explain to me why this all just happened now, please feel free. In the meantime, at least the lawsuit against Steven Hotze is proceeding apace.

Fraudit update

Yes, it’s still a thing.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott announced late Friday that his office has presented an “exhaustive” document request to Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Harris counties as part of an audit of 2020′s election.

Scott’s office also announced that phase one of the audit is nearing completion, with a summary of findings expected to be made public by the end of December. The document request marks the beginning of the second phase of the audit, according to a news release from the secretary of state’s office.

The request, sent to election administrators at each of the counties, asks for the counties to provide information including a full accounting of mail-in votes and provisional votes, any reported chain of custody issues as well as complaints that those offices might have received regarding the 2020 presidential election.

[…]

Following Friday’s announcement, James Slattery, a senior counsel at the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the document request from the secretary of state’s office a “fishing expedition.”

“No other words to describe these unbelievably wide ranging document requests than ‘fishing expedition,’ ” Slattery said on Twitter. “It’ll tie these offices up in knots just as the primary season begins, diverting crucial resources from helping voters navigate all of 2021′s election law changes.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I think James Slattery pretty much nails it, so let me note instead that Collin and Tarrant counties were apparently caught off guard by the initial call for the fraudit.

Now, an investigation by the watchdog American Oversight has brought back communication records and documents that show election officials in Collin and Tarrant counties were caught on their heels when the audit was announced, and that they apparently had no idea what the process meant.

In one of the emails American Oversight obtained, Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet informed employees that the audit would kick off in November.

(Does the timing feel a bit funny to you? Well: “Governor Abbott, we need a ‘Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election,’” Trump wrote in an open letter to Abbott. “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.” A little more than eight hours later, boom: an audit is born.)

Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram had informed Sherbet of the upcoming probe, despite having previously told the Collin County elections administrator that the vote had been both “smooth and secure.”

On Sept. 24, Collin County Commissioner Darrell Hale wrote back to Sherbet and Collin County Administrator Bill Bilyeu. “What is the story?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“Just heard about it last night,” Sherbet replied. “Not sure of any details.”

Later, Hale confessed to an inquisitive constituent by email, “We are curious on the details ourselves.”

[…]

After the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced the audit, Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia urged election officials not to comment publicly until they figured out what exactly was going on and knew “what they need from us,” the email communications American Oversight obtained show. Garcia urged the officials to forward any media inquiries to him.

The American Oversight story is here. They say they intend to get similar documents from Harris and Dallas counties about their initial response to the fraudit request. I’ll keep an eye out for them.

Two Georgia election workers sue over post-election harassment

I am so rooting for them.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Gateway Pundit—one of the country’s leading sources of pro-Trump misinformation—helped instigate a vicious harassment campaign against two Black Georgia election workers, according to a new lawsuit. As Republicans desperately tried to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory, the two women—Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss—were reportedly stalked by strangers, doxxed, inundated with death threats and racist taunts, and driven from their homes.

Now, Freeman and Moss are fighting back in court. [Last] Tuesday, they filed a defamation suit against the Gateway Pundit, its founding editor Jim Hoft, and contributor Joe Hoft, accusing them of spreading “false and endlessly repeated accusations” about the women’s conduct on election night. The two women seek “compensatory and punitive damages” from the defendants, the removal of the inaccurate articles accusing them of election fraud, and an acknowledgement that the site’s coverage was false.

The alleged harassment followed a December 2020 hearing before Georgia lawmakers, when a Trump campaign attorney named Jacki Pick falsely claimed that a surveillance video from a ballot-processing room in Atlanta showed Fulton County election workers pulling suitcases of “illegal” ballots from under a table. The Gateway Pundit quickly identified the two workers as Moss and Freeman and, according to the New York Times, published dozens of false stories about them, calling them “crooked Democrats” and claiming that they “pulled out suitcases full of ballots and began counting those ballots without election monitors in the room.”

The claims were swiftly debunked by both Georgia’s secretary of state and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which concluded that the “suitcases” were standard ballot containers with legitimate votes and that Freeman and Moss were simply doing their jobs.

But Donald Trump, his surrogates, and the far-right media ecosystem continued to spread falsehoods about them over the next few months. On December 10, 2020, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared at another hearing with Georgia lawmakers, where he repeatedly identified Moss and Freeman by name and labeled them “crooks.” On December 22, Trump tweeted out a One America News Network segment featuring the Gateway Pundit’s “investigation” into the two women. And on January 2, 2021, during his infamous phone call with Brad Raffensberger, Georgia’s secretary of state, Trump called Freeman a “professional vote scammer and hustler” who had pulled out suitcases “stuffed with votes” and scanned each ballot “three times.” The Gateway Pundit itself continued to publish stories about the women through November 2021.

What happened to these women as a result of these reckless lies was horrifying, and I hope they ultimately take the people responsible for it for everything they have. There hasn’t been nearly enough accountability for the blatant attempts to overturn the election and overthrow the rightfully elected President, but the one place that has been forthcoming has been in the civil courts. It’s slow and painstaking, but the law is coming. It can’t come soon enough, or with enough righteous fury.

UPDATE: Daily Kos and TPM note a weird new development to this story involving a publicist for Kanye West. No, really.

Kim Olson running for TDP Chair

Of interest.

Kim Olson

A retired Air Force colonel and former nominee for agriculture commissioner is running for chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Kim Olson is the first major candidate to announce a challenge to the party’s current leader, Gilberto Hinojosa, who was elected nearly a decade ago. Party delegates will decide whether to retain Hinojosa at the Texas Democratic Convention next summer.

Olson said the party’s recent struggles, including a disappointing 2020 cycle, stem partly from what she called an overconcentration of resources in Austin and other urban centers.

The Mineral Wells resident who ran for Texas’ 24th Congressional District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last year said her time on the campaign trail revealed the need for more investment in Democratic parties in smaller counties, along with the down-ballot candidates running in those areas.

“I have an understanding of what it’s like to be the customer, if you will, of the Texas Democratic Party as a candidate, and where we have gaps in some of our support for candidates and the infrastructure that’s out there for us,” Olson said.

I don’t have a strong opinion about this. I think Chair Hinojosa has done a pretty good job, but it’s not unreasonable to think that we could use a change and a new perspective. I agree with the need for more investment in smaller counties – mostly, as long as we’re generally talking about counties that are part of a metro area in some fashion, as I’ve talked about in my counties of interest series and other places – and in downballot races. But I also think we can’t let up on the gas in the big cities and suburbs, especially since we could have done better in a lot of deep blue State Rep districts in 2020 and 2018. I’m happy to have that discussion at the State Chair level, and I hope in the end whoever wins learns from the other. The Trib has more.

Filing update: A primary challenger for Judge Hidalgo

Been wondering for a long time if someone might take the plunge…

I should point out, before I get too far into this, that Judge Hidalgo already had a primary opponent, our friend the perennial candidate AR Hassan, whose name is given on the SOS Qualified Candidates page as (I kid you not) “Ahmad R. ‘Rob-Beto’ Hassan”. Please feel free to take a moment to cringe. When I said that Judge Hidalgo has a primary opponent, I meant a serious primary opponent.

No news story yet, but I’m sure that will change soon. Erica Davis is an HCDE Trustee (scroll down to Position 5, At Large), elected in 2020 and one of the top performers in the November election, per the precinct data. She has a website that does not currently state what office she’s running for but which promises that’s “coming soon”. Her Facebook page does not mention her new candidacy, at least as of Monday late afternoon.

To answer your question: No, she does not have to resign from HCDE to run for another office. The HCDE is not one of the county offices for which the state constitution requires resign-to-run. Remember Roy Morales? He was on the ballot for something else like four times during his six-year term on HCDE. As to why Erica Davis might run against Judge Hidalgo, I’m sure she’ll tell us when her website is fully operational. In the meantime, you can read my speculation from a year ago about why someone might do this very thing – I’d say item #3 may be on point.

What I do know at this time is that now I have another set of interviews I’ll need to do for the primary. I’m sure I’ll be asking Erica Davis for her reasons for her candidacy, as I would with anyone else in a similar position. With that said, and with all due respect, I’ll be supporting Judge Hidalgo for re-election. We’ll see who’s with me on that.

Filing update: Judge Hidalgo makes it official

She has filed for re-election, in case you had thought there was some other possibility.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced her 2022 re-election campaign Friday afternoon as she filed paperwork at the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters.

Although progress has been made during her tenure, Hidalgo said her desire is for the county to continue its momentum on various social issues.

“This community has given so much to us, but we have to do better to remain competitive,” Hidalgo said. “Over the past few years we have done that on flood control, on early childhood education, on putting politics behind people… there is so much left to do.”

The incumbent Harris County judge will run against Republican candidate and Humble ISD School Board president Martina Lemond Dixon, who announced her candidacy on Sept. 22.

There are other candidates out there. Indeed, if you search the filings, Martina Dixon doesn’t appear yet. To be fair, neither does Judge Hidalgo as of Friday, but that may be updated by the time you read this. In my previous update I mentioned Republicans Vidal Martinez and Alexandra Mealer. On Friday, I heard that perennial candidate AR Hassan has filed as well, in the Democratic primary. Let’s just say I’m not worried about Judge Hidalgo’s chances there. If it makes her start campaigning in earnest earlier, that’s fine by me.

I see a new entrant in the race for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, Alief ISD Board President Ann Williams, whose Twitter account is here and whose personal Facebook page is here. I don’t know anything about her besides what I can tell from those sources. Oh, Williams’ colleague on the board Lily Truong has filed in the Republican primary in HD149 against Rep. Hubert Vo.

I don’t usually pay too much attention to the JP and Constable races, but I couldn’t help but notice that there are three people with filings for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 2, which is where I am and where incumbent David Patronella presides. All three – Sonia Lopez, Steve Duble, and Victor Lombrana – are Democrats, which makes me wonder if Judge Patronella is retiring and I missed an announcement. Anyone have any ideas?

In Congress, I still don’t see a Democrat running in CD38. Nor do I see any primary challengers for Reps. Fletcher, Green, Jackson Lee, or Garcia. All of which is fine by me, though given that we’re in a post-redistricting cycle and there’s still a week-plus to go, I would not think that’s the final word. The main news of which I am aware is that Donna Imam, who was the Democratic candidate for CD31 in 2020, has announced that she will run in the new CD37 this spring. That will pit her against Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and with all due respect, she will not win. But no one is entitled to a seat, so go forth and good luck.

We now have a couple of Dems listed on the Svitek spreadsheet for Comptroller. One is Tim Mahoney, who ran in 2018 and lost in the primary to Joi Chevalier. Another is Angel Vega, who is a resident of Fort Bend and works in the non-profit industry. The spreadsheet also lists former HD14 candidate from 2020 Janet Dudding, whose campaign webpage has not been updated if she is indeed running. Dudding is a CPA.

Finally, the other news of interest is that Sen. Larry Taylor will not run for re-election. As with pretty much everything else to do with the state Senate, this is almost certain to make it a worse place than it is today.

Taylor chairs the Senate Education Committee and has served in the Legislature since 2003, first as a member of the House. He is also chair of the Senate Republican Caucus.

His decision comes just under two weeks before the candidate filing deadline for the 2022 primary. Within minutes of Taylor announcing his retirement, state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, announced he had filed for for the Senate seat.

[…]

After news of Taylor’s retirement broke, he told a reporter with the Galveston Daily News that part of his decision was due to Middleton’s interest in his seat. Taylor told the reporter that he tried to dissuade Middleton, but that he is “ready to go and wanting to spend a lot of money.”

Middleton, an oil-and-gas businessman, is the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, where he has been a member since 2019.

I mean, Larry Taylor is your basic cookie cutter Republican. I have nothing nice to say about him, but he doesn’t make me want to scream. Mayes Middleton is a rich guy who primaried out the Republican that had been in HD23 because he wasn’t sufficiently wingnutty. We all need another guy like that in the Senate like we need another hole in the head, but that’s what we’re gonna get.

The filing deadline is December 13, a week from Monday. I’ll check in again as we go.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that Judge Patronella is running for the County Court bench that Lesley Briones is vacating to run for Commissioner. Also, there are even more Republicans than the ones I’ve listed here that are running for County Judge.

Beto and South Texas

Brace yourself for a lot of stories like this in the coming months.

Beto O’Rourke

In the first days of his campaign for governor, Beto O’Rourke made a beeline to this southernmost corner of the state, saying it was no mistake he was choosing to start his run in a part of Texas where Democrats have their work cut out for them after the 2020 election.

His supporters know it, too.

“We are being attacked at all ends,” Amanda Elise Salas said as she introduced him here Wednesday night. “This is a Democratic area, and there is no way we are gonna let Republicans come in here and take over.”

“They’re knocking at our door,” Mario Saenz, a Democratic precinct chair from Brownsville, said afterward. “We cannot let them in.”

A lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O’Rourke this election cycle, but few may be more consequential to the party’s future in Texas than his ability to stave off a strong GOP offensive in South Texas. Emboldened by President Joe Biden’s underwhelming performance throughout the predominantly Hispanic region last year, Republicans have been pushing hard to make new inroads there, and O’Rourke faces an incumbent in Gov. Greg Abbott who has been working for years to win Hispanic voters.

But it is not just about halting the GOP’s post-2020 march in South Texas. O’Rourke, who is facing an uphill battle in the governor’s race, has ground to make up after his own less-than-stellar performance with voters there in 2018 when he ran for U.S. Senate — and turning out more Latino voters has long been key to Democratic hopes statewide.

O’Rourke has been candid about the problem. Days after the 2020 election, which cemented Republican dominance across Texas, he told supporters that the fact that the border region “has been ignored for years by the national party, and even many statewide Democratic candidates, hurt us badly.” Last week, he began his campaign for governor with a swing through the region, calling the early itinerary “very intentional” and vowing to return frequently.

“If the great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, then that committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past,” O’Rourke told reporters in San Antonio, before heading south to Laredo and the Valley.

O’Rourke got a wake-up call in South Texas during the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing many counties in the region to a little-known and little-funded opponent, Sema Hernandez. While it was not the first time a candidate with a Hispanic surname beat expectations in a statewide Democratic primary, O’Rourke acknowledged afterward that he needed to do more outreach.

Months later, in the general election, O’Rourke failed to make significant gains in South Texas compared to his party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, which would have been key to defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the largest South Texas county outside San Antonio — Hidalgo — O’Rourke barely improved on Clinton’s vote share there, getting 68.8% after she got 68.5%.

Then came 2020, when Biden carried South Texas — and the Rio Grande Valley in particular — by a much narrower margin than Clinton did. He outright lost Zapata County, a longtime Democratic stronghold just north of the Valley.

[…]

Beyond any issue, though, South Texas Democrats say O’Rourke needs to show up, especially after a presidential election that left them wanting. Biden never visited Texas, let alone anywhere in South Texas, during the general election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, visited McAllen only in the final days of the race.

To that end, South Texas Democrats are not particularly concerned about O’Rourke, who is known for his relentless campaigning. He toured all 254 counties during his 2018 race, which included a bus tour specifically focused on the border.

“We’re the poorest region of Texas, maybe one of the poorest regions in the nation, and you know, it was a huge letdown that Kamala and Biden didn’t make a prolonged appearance here in the Valley, but Beto, you know, he’s been recurringly focusing his presence here, especially in his past campaigns,” said Sebastian Bonilla, a 25-year-old from the Valley who came to see O’Rourke speak in McAllen.

Abbott has put an emphasis on South Texas since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2014, and he has been increasingly traveling there in recent months, both in his official capacity and for political appearances.

You get the idea. This kind of story is going to be the “Trump voters in diners” lodestar of 2022.

Because I tend to zero in on any actual numbers that show up in this kind of “collect a bunch of quotes and anecdotes” piece, I wondered about that Hidalgo County comparison. Just for grins, I went back and checked to see what was the best Democratic performance in Hidalgo in recent years:

2004 – JR Molina, 64.08%. For comparison, John Kerry got 54.86% against George W. Bush.

2006 – Bill Moody, 62.54%.

2008 – Linda Yanez, 73.63%.

2010 – Hector Uribe, 67.14%. That sure correlated with good Democratic performance elsewhere, eh?

2012 – Michelle Petty, 70.69%. Barack Obama got 70.40%, an improvement over the 69.02% he got in 2008.

2014 – Leticia van de Putte, 67.57%.

2016 – Dori Garza, 70.98%. Hillary Clinton got 68.50%, as noted in the story.

2018 – Steve Kirkland, 69.34%, with Beto’s 68.81% right behind. Kirkland was in a two-candidate race, while Beto and Ted Cruz also had a Libertarian in their race. Cruz’s 30.64% was actually a tiny bit behind Jimmy Blacklock’s 30.66%, though several other Republicans failed to get to 30% in their three-way races.

Latino Dems, and candidates for statewide judicial positions, were generally the high scorers. Looking at the numbers, I agree with the basic premise that Beto could have done better in South Texas than he did in 2018, and he will need to do better than Joe Biden did in 2020. The new SOS elections result website is trash and doesn’t give you a county-by-county view like it did before, so I went and found the Hidalgo County Elections page, which informed me that Biden got 58.04% in 2020, with Elizabeth Frizell being the high scorer at 61.51%; yes, another judicial candidate.

One could also point out, of course, that Biden came closer to winning Texas than Clinton did, despite doing worse in South Texas. Beto himself came as close as he did mostly by making huge gains in urban and suburban counties – to pick one example, he got 46.53% in Collin County, losing it by 22K votes, after Clinton got 38.91% and lost if by 61K votes. Beto did net 12K fewer votes in Hidalgo than Clinton did (Biden netted 32K fewer than Clinton), and he lost another 10K in Cameron County – that does add up in such a close race, though it wouldn’t have been enough to fully close the gap he still had. Ideally, he’d do better in South Texas and in the big urban and suburban counties. At least we all feel confident he’ll do the work.

We continue to register more voters

Seventeen million and counting.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas has surpassed 17 million registered voters for the first time, continuing a pace that is reshaping the state’s electorate so rapidly that even the politicians cannot keep up.

Despite a series of new election regulations from the Republican-led Legislature and more purges of inactive voters from the rolls, the state has added nearly 2 million voters in the last four years and more than 3.5 million since eight years ago, when Gov. Greg Abbott won his first term.

The result is at least 1 of every 5 voters in Texas never cast a ballot in the Lone Star State prior to 2014 — a remarkable wild card in a state that had stable politics and a slow stream of new voters for a generation before that.

“You have a largely new electorate that is unfamiliar with the trends and the personalities in the area,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. “That rapid turnover leads to a lot of uncertainty for candidates.”

Texas was just short of 17 million people eligible to vote in the constitutional amendment elections Nov. 2. Harris and Dallas counties combined to add nearly 12,000 more voters as Election Day approached, putting the state over the threshold.

It’s all setting up for a 2022 election cycle that is more competitive, more expensive and more uncertain than statewide candidates are used to seeing in Texas.

Just a reminder, these are the voter registration figures for Harris County since 2014:

2014 = 2,044,361
2016 = 2,182,980
2018 = 2,307,654
2020 = 2,431,457
2021 = 2,482,914

That’s 438K new voters in the county over those seven years. I’ve gone over these numbers before, but 2014 was the first two-year cycle in the 2000s that saw a real increase in the voter rolls. It makes a difference having a government in place that wants to increase voter participation. (And yes, as I have said multiple times before, I credit Mike Sullivan, in whose tenure these numbers started to increase, for his role in getting that started.)

But there’s a group that deserves a lot of credit, too.

Texas is unique in how it runs voter registration, barring non-Texas residents from volunteering to help people through the process. Even Texans can’t help fellow Texans register without first jumping through a series of hurdles or facing potential criminal charges.

Anyone in Texas who wants to help voters register must be trained and deputized by county election officials. But going through the one-hour course in Harris County allows volunteer registrars to sign up voters only in that county. To register voters in a neighboring county, they have to request to be deputized there as well and take that training course, too.

To be able to sign up any voter in the state, a volunteer registrar would need to be deputized in all 254 Texas counties — and those temporary certifications last only two years.

Consequently, voter registrations in Texas grew at a glacial pace before 2014. From 2000 to 2014, the state added just 1 million registered voters — about the number of voters Texas now adds every two years.

Those boots on the ground that [Michael] Adams, the Texas Southern University professor, mentioned began to arrive in 2014, when a group of campaign strategists from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign launched an effort they called Battleground Texas to build an army of volunteer registrars.

“What we’re going to do is bring the fight to Texas and make it a battleground state so that anybody who wants to be our commander in chief, they have to fight for Texas,” the group’s co-founder, Jeremy Bird, said in a national interview with talk show host Stephen Colbert in 2013.

While pundits scoffed — especially after Abbott beat Democrat Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points in the 2014 gubernatorial election — Battleground Texas says it has identified and helped train 9,000 voter registrars across Texas to find eligible voters and sign them up.

It hasn’t gotten easier to register voters in Texas. There are just more people who are able to do it, and Battleground Texas deserves praise for that. Other groups have picked up the torch from there, and the results speak for themselves. We saw in the 2020 election that Republicans can register voters, too, so like all things this strategy needs to be refined and advanced by Democrats to continue making gains. Let’s keep moving forward.

A brief filing update

Just a few observations as we head out of the holiday season and into what I expect will be the busier part of the filing period. I’m using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, the SOS candidate filing resource, and the candidate filing info at the harrisvotes.com site for my notes.

– There’s now a fourth candidate listed for Attorney General on the Dem side, someone named Mike Fields, who along with Joe Jaworski has officially filed as of today. I can’t find anything to clarify this person’s identity – there’s no address listed on the SOS page, and Google mostly returned info about the former County Court judge who is now serving as a retired judge and who last ran for office as a Republican. I seriously doubt this is the Mike Fields who is running for AG as a Dem. I know nothing more than that.

– No Dems yet for Comptroller or Ag Commissioner, though I saw a brief mention somewhere (which I now can’t find) of a prospective Dem for the former. I feel reasonably confident there will be candidates for these offices, though how viable they are remains to be seen.

– Nothing terribly interesting on the Congressional front yet. A couple of Dems have filed for the open and tough-to-hold CD15; I don’t know anything about them. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, in her first term in the Lege, will run for CD30, the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who has endorsed Crockett for the primary. That race will surely draw a crowd, but having EBJ in her corner will surely help. No incumbents have yet drawn any primary challenges, though Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (now running in CD34) and Lloyd Doggett (now running in CD37) will have company for their new spots. I am not aware of any Dem yet for the new CD38, which should be Republican at least in the short term but which stands as the biggest prize available for Harris County Democrats.

Michelle Palmer has re-upped for SBOE6, which will be a tougher race this time around. I’m working on a post about the electoral trends for the new SBOE map.

– Sara Stapleton-Barrera and Morgan LaMantia have filed for the open SD27 Senate seat; Rep. Alex Dominguez has not yet filed. Nothing else of interest there.

– For the State House, I’m going to focus on area districts:

HD26 – Former SBOE member Lawrence Allen Jr, who ran in the 2020 primary for this seat, has filed.

HD28 – Eliz Markowitz still has an active campaign website and Facebook page, but I don’t see anything on either to indicate that she’s running again. One person who is running though he hasn’t filed yet is Nelvin Adriatico, who ran for Houston City Council District J in 2019.

HD76 – The spreadsheet lists four candidates so far. Two ran in 2020, Sarah DeMerchant (the 2020 nominee) and Suleman Lalani (who lost to DeMerchant in the primary runoff). Two are new, Vanesia Johnson and James Burnett. This new-to-Fort-Bend district went 61-38 for Joe Biden in 2020, so the primary winner will be heavily favored in November.

HD132 – Chase West has filed. He’s not from the traditional candidate mold, which should make for an interesting campaign. This district was made more Republican and is not the top local pickup opportunity, but it’s on the radar.

HD138 – Stephanie Morales has filed. This is the top local pickup opportunity – the Presidential numbers are closer in HD133, which does not yet have a candidate that I’m aware of, but it’s more Republican downballot.

HD142 – Jerry Davis is listed on the Svitek spreadsheet as a challenger to Rep. Harold Dutton. He hasn’t filed yet, and I don’t see any campaign presence on the web yet. That’s all I know.

HD147 – I am aware of a couple of candidates so far to fill the seat left vacant by Rep. Garnet Coleman’s retirement. Nam Subramaniam has filed. HCC Trustee Reagan Flowers sent out a press release over the weekend stating her intention to run. I would expect there to be more contenders for this open seat.

– For Harris County offices, there are already some people campaigning as challengers to incumbents. Carla Wyatt is running for Treasurer, Desiree Broadnax is running for District Clerk. On the Republican side, former District Clerk Chris Daniel has filed for his old office, and someone named Kyle Scott has filed for Treasurer. There are no Democratic challengers that I can see yet for County Clerk or County Judge, though there are a couple of Republicans for County Judge, Vidal Martinez and Alexandra Mealer. Finally, there’s a fourth name out there for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, Jeff Stauber, who last ran for Commissioner in Precinct 2 in 2018 and for Sheriff in 2016, falling short in the primary both times.

So that’s what I know at this time. Feel free to add what you know in the comments. I’ll post more updates as I get them.

Cracking Asian-American communities

The Trib explores what the new Congressional maps did to Asian-American communities, mostly but not exclusively in the Houston area.

When Texas lawmakers redrew congressional maps following the 2020 census, they split up Asian American populations in both Harris and Fort Bend counties.

One district line, winding between a local car wash and bar, severs most of the Korean neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants and a senior center from the community center itself, which now hangs on the edge of one congressional district while most of its members reside in the next district over.

“It’s like (lawmakers) don’t even know we are here,” said Hyunja Norman, president of the Korean American Voters League, who works out of the center. “If they were thoughtful, they could’ve included the Korean Community Center in (our district). But it’s like they are ignorant of us, or they just don’t care.”

As the Asian American and Pacific Islander population has grown and continued to mobilize politically, especially in the midst of rising hostility and targeted attacks, the community’s desire for representation in Texas and U.S. politics has become stronger. But many now feel their political aspirations became collateral damage in Republican efforts to draw political districts designed to preserve partisan power.

Although they make up only about 5% of Texas’ total population, Asian Texans accounted for a sizable portion of the state’s tremendous growth over the past decade. Nearly one in five new Texans since 2010 are Asian American, according to the census. They were the fastest-growing racial or ethnic voting group in the state, increasing from a population of about 950,000 in 2010 to nearly 1.6 million in 2020.

[…]

In Fort Bend County — which has ranked as the most diverse county in the country multiple times — Lily Trieu’s parents grew scared of even routine errands like grocery shopping or filling their gas tanks. They were afraid to wear masks in public.

And when Asian Americans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution condemning the Atlanta shootings, almost every Texas Republican voted against it, including Fort Bend County’s U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls.

“This is why representation matters,” Trieu told Texas lawmakers when she testified at redistricting hearings. “This is why splitting our community to dilute our votes is directly denying our opportunity to receive that representation.”

[…]

Previously, more than 9% and 11% of the eligible voter populations in CD-7 and CD-9, respectively, were Asian American. But under the approved plans, CD-7 would increase to 17% Asian American population, covering Houston suburbs, while CD-9 would decrease to 9% Asian population — shifting the majority into one district and lessening its power in another.

A majority of the Asian American population in the suburbs also got redrawn into CD-22, a mostly rural district, decreasing its percentage of the Asian population from more than 15% to 10%.

CD-22 also now includes all of Sugar Land, which is the most Asian town in Texas.

Similar manipulations took place around Dallas. In Collin County, lawmakers approved a map for CD-4 that takes most of the Asian community across Frisco and Plano and attaches it to a district stretching north to the Oklahoma border.

Asian American voters, who would have made up 10.8% of the vote in their old district, comprise just 5.6% of their new one.

Chanda Parbhoo, president of South Asian American Voter Empowerment of Texas, said she had organizations members — mostly from Collin County — submit almost 50 written testimonies against the proposed maps during redistricting hearings.

It still didn’t feel like it was enough, Parbhoo said.

“It makes it really difficult for the (South Asian) community, an emerging political entity, that we haven’t had years of experience (with redistricting),” Parbhoo said. “As soon as a map comes out, then I’ll have to try to explain it to my community, like, ‘This is what’s not fair. These are the numbers.’ Everything moves so fast that the process doesn’t really allow for people to absorb it and to be able to ask questions.”

Ashley Cheng, lead organizer of the Texas AAPI Redistricting Coalition, also testified multiple times as lawmakers redrew voting districts and said the community has various issues at stake that a continued loss of representation will exacerbate.

Cheng said translating documents for Asian American voters is vital for the community to participate in voting. She said during the winter storm, many emergency alerts were only in English and Cheng’s mother, who does not fluently speak English, was left without information at her house.

“We are in a time of history where we’re really rising up as a community and making sure that our political voices are heard,” Cheng said. “Part of that is because our lives are being threatened. There’s been a heightened sense of Islamophobia in the last few years, heightened anti-Asian hate because of all of the political rhetoric around COVID. We have so much in common in a need for representation.”

Those Asian-American communities that are now stuck in CD04 had previously been in CD03, which even after redistricting is becoming more Democratic but which has been moved backwards in the process. The most recent lawsuit filed against the redistricting plans, which has now been combined with most of the other lawsuits, had a focus on Asian-American communities and concerns, though as this story notes the courts have not previously recognized Asian-Americans as a minority population in need of protection at the voting booth. I doubt that will change now, but all you can do is try.

Precinct analysis: The new Congressional map

Previously: New State House map

We will now take a look at how the districts of interest in the new Congressional map have changed over the past decade. Same basic idea, looking at the closer districts from 2020 to see how they got there. You can find all of the data relating to the new Congressional map here, and the zoomable map here.

I’m not going to tally how many seats were won by each side in each year, for the simple reason that there just wasn’t any real movement like there was in the State House. You can browse the middle years, I’m just going to focus on 2012 and 2020.


Dist   Obama   Romney Obama%Romney%     Biden    Trump Biden% Trump%
====================================================================
03    67,799  153,969  30.1%  68.3%   152,288  204,514  41.9%  56.3%
07   101,379   82,810  54.1%  44.2%   179,334   96,259  64.2%  34.4%
10    73,300  150,282  32.1%  65.8%   134,799  198,754  39.7%  58.5%
12    73,392  141,316  33.6%  64.8%   130,111  188,548  40.1%  58.2%
15    82,049   64,589  55.3%  43.6%   109,172  115,719  48.1%  50.9%
21    87,795  195,130  30.5%  67.7%   164,243  246,188  39.4%  59.1%
22    64,502  149,023  29.8%  69.0%   138,243  191,927  41.2%  57.3%
23    85,081  107,169  43.7%  55.0%   134,574  155,579  45.8%  52.9%
24    87,716  206,535  29.4%  69.2%   168,176  216,381  43.0%  55.4%
26    60,849  148,265  28.6%  69.8%   144,834  212,009  40.0%  58.5%
28   103,701   66,693  60.1%  38.7%   131,699  114,156  52.8%  45.8%
31    63,054  139,030  30.5%  67.3%   132,158  201,379  38.8%  59.1%
34    95,897   42,597  68.5%  30.4%   116,930   85,231  57.2%  41.7%
38    70,264  186,032  27.0%  71.6%   143,904  208,709  40.2%  58.4%

I’m going to sort these into three groups. The first is the “don’t pay too much attention to the vote percentage gains” group. I explained what I mean by that, with the help of a sports analogy, here. I’d put districts 21, 23, and 31 as canonical examples of this, with districts 10, 12, and 31 being slightly less extreme. All of them saw a net decrease in the Republican margin of victory from 2012 to 2020, but the rate is so slow that there’s no reason to believe that any continuation of trends would make them competitive in this decade. (With the possible exception of 23, which is reasonably close to begin with but always finds a way to disappoint.) Maybe things will look different after the 2022 election – these districts do still include places with a lot of Democratic growth – but they’re not the top priorities.

The next group is, or should be, the top priorities, at least from an offensive perspective, because they did have real movement in a Democratic direction. I’d put CDs 24, 03, 22, 38, and 26 in this group, in that order. This of course assumes that trends we have seen since 2016 will continue more or less as before, which we won’t really know until 2022 and beyond, but those numbers do stand out. I know the DCCC is targeting both CD23 and CD24, at least so far in this cycle, but I’d make CD24 more likely to be truly competitive this year. CD03 now includes Hunt County while a big strip of Collin County was put into CD04, so it will take more than just turning Collin blue to make CD03 flippable, but it will help. CD38 is if nothing else the biggest non-Commissioners Court prize on the board for Harris County Democrats.

Finally, there are the districts Dems need to worry about. CD15 is already going to be a tough hold, and even if Dems manage to keep it in 2022, there’s no reason to think it will get any easier, and may well get harder. If that happens, then CD28 could well be in peril as well. As noted before, it’s more like a 10-12 point district downballot, and whatever you think of him Henry Cuellar has shown the ability to outperform that level. Who knows how long those things can last if the trends continue? CD34 is almost as blue now as CD38 is red, but it was also almost as blue as CD38 was red in 2012. Again, I don’t like that trend. The main difference here is that the 2020 election was the sole data point in the new direction, whereas the trending-blue districts have been doing so since 2016. But the numbers are what they are, and until we see evidence that the trend isn’t continuing, we have to be prepared for the possibility that it will. Don’t take any of this for granted.

The bottom line is that right now, only a couple of districts look competitive. That was the case in 2012 as well, and we saw what happened there after a couple of cycles. That said, the reason for the big change was only partly about changing demography – the Trump effect and efforts to register voters, by Dems at first and by Republicans later, all played roles as well. We can extrapolate from existing trends, but it’s hard to know how much that will continue, and it’s really hard to know what exogenous factors may arise. And for all of the movement that the 2011/2013 Congressional districts saw, in the end only three districts were held by the opposite party in 2020 than in 2012 – don’t forget, Dems won CD23 in 2012, but only held it that one term. As much as that map looked like it could be a disaster for the Republicans at the end of the decade, it mostly held to form for them. Would it be a big surprise if the same thing happens this decade? Obviously, I don’t want that to happen, but the GOP built itself some big cushions into this map. Overcoming all that isn’t going to be easy, if indeed it is possible. We have a lot of work to do.

Fraudit funding

It’s bullshit all the way down.

GOP leaders on Friday approved shifting $4 million in emergency funds for the Texas secretary of state’s office to create an “Election Audit Division” at the agency, which will spearhead county election audits as required by the state’s new election law set to take effect next month.

The additional funding, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, was requested by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week and approved by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and the Republican budget-writers of the two chambers, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood.

In a Nov. 18 letter to Patrick and Phelan, Abbott said the emergency shift in money — which is coming from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — was necessary because the secretary of state’s office “does not currently have the budget authority to adequately accomplish the goals sought by the Legislature.”

Friday’s news comes as the secretary of state’s office has a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election underway in four of Texas’ largest counties: Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin.

It also comes after the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a new election law this summer that further tightens the state’s election rules with a host of changes, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and new rules for voting by mail.

The new law, which is facing legal challenges, also requires the secretary of state’s office to select four counties at random after each November election and to audit all elections that happened in those counties in the prior two years. Two of the counties that undergo the audit must have a population of more than 300,000, while the other two must have a population lower than that.

In a statement later Friday, the secretary of state’s office referenced both its 2020 audit and future audits required under the new state law, saying that the latest funds would be used for “additional staff to oversee audit activities,” such as “verifying counties’ removal of ineligible voters from the rolls … and ensuring compliance with state and federal election laws.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Just a reminder, most of the counties with 300K or more people were carried by Joe Biden, while the large majority of counties with less than 300K were won by Trump. This particular division is less egregious than what Republicans originally wanted, but it’s still designed to put more scrutiny on Democratic counties. Who wants to bet that most of the “problems” they find are in exactly those counties? The Chron has more.

In the meantime, our new not-to-be-trusted Secretary of State is out there promoting the fraudit with the idea that it’s the only way to “restore voters’ confidence in the strength and resilience of our election systems”. Let me stop you right there, pal: The reason some people have lost faith in the election system is because the guy who lost the last election has been vocally and repeatedly lying about it being “stolen” from him, and demanding that his minions conduct these fraudits for the express purpose of sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt. He continues to tell the same lies, which are eagerly believed by his rabid followers, despite losing every lawsuit filed and the Arizona fraudit finding exactly nothing and all of his lies being repeatedly debunked. Why should the rest of us have any faith in an audit being done by people who fraudulently claim there is fraud?

The growing field for Land Commissioner

We have some interesting candidates on our side.

Jay Kleberg

A member of a South Texas family that owns one of the largest ranches in the country is seeking the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner, the statewide office overseeing the Alamo’s operations and the state’s natural disaster recovery efforts.

The seat will be open during the 2022 election as Republican incumbent George P. Bush runs for attorney general.

Jay Kleberg, an Austin-based conservationist whose family owns the sprawling King Ranch in Kingsville, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that his campaign will focus on fighting climate change, managing the state’s disaster recovery and improving benefits for veterans.

“It’s the responsibility of the land commissioner to combat climate change and it seems like a bold statement in Texas politics right now, but we’ve gotta follow the science,” Kleberg said.

The Texas General Land Office manages 13 million acres of public lands and mineral rights across the state. As a result, Kleberg said the office has the “ability to diversify its portfolio of renewables” and “lead the state toward a low-emission future.”

Kleberg formerly served as associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

[…]

Kleberg said he is optimistic, pointing to his experience with the responsibilities of the office and saying conservation brings a “lot of people together.” And he suggested his bid would be well-funded, noting he has been able to raise over $100 million for conservation efforts.

This will not be Kleberg’s first bid for public office. In 2010, Kleberg ran as a Republican for the El Paso-area Texas House District 78, which is currently represented by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. But Kleberg fell short in the three-way GOP primary that year to Dee Margo, who unseated Moody in the November general election.

Kleberg, asked Wednesday about his party switch, said that while he considers himself “a Texan first” he feels “strong about running as a Democrat” and is looking forward to the race.

“Texas deserves a representation that believes in combating climate change and bringing people together — not dividing them,” he said.

That’s Jay Kleberg of Kleberg County, where the King Ranch is. Fair to say, he’s a bit atypical for a Texas Democrat. You can see his announcement video here. He joins a field that according to the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet has four Republicans and four Democrats so far. The latter group includes Jinny Suh and two dudes I’ve not heard of.

The fact that Kleberg once ran for office as a Republican doesn’t bother me. It should be clear by now that there are a significant number of former Republicans out there, and anyone who is going to put fighting climate change at the top of their agenda is going to get a full hearing from Democratic voters. The fact that he’d be another white guy on the Democratic ballot is not a problem of his making, but as he’d have to defeat a woman of color to get there, it’s a question he’ll have to address. I think we know by now that anything can happen in these lower-profile downballot statewide primaries – for all we know, one of those other guys may win the nomination and have to answer those questions.

Of interest to me is that Kleberg County is one of the places that moved towards Trump in 2020. Obama won it 53.4% to 45.6% in 2012, Hillary won it 49.6% to 45.9% in 2016, and Beto took it 51.8% to 47.5% in 2018, but Trump carried it 50.3% to 48.6% in 2020. I should note that Kleberg split tickets in every year I looked – Republican State Rep. JM Lozano won it every year, Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis in 2014 by a hair and Lupe Valdez by double digits in 2018, while Leticia van de Putte and Mike Collier won it in those years. Eva Guzman won it in 2016, while Chrysta Castaneda and several of the statewide Democratic judicial candidates took it in 2020. Maybe Kleberg can move the needle a bit in his home county – which by itself doesn’t mean much, as there were just under 11K votes cast there last year – and more importantly in other counties like it. I have no idea if this may be the case, or if he’d do better than Jinny Suh or one of the other dudes. It’s just the sort of thing I think about when doing posts like this. The main takeaway for you should be to pay attention to this race, the choice you make matters.

Gina Calanni joins the Commissioners Court Precinct 4 race

Gina Calanni

We’re up to three Democratic candidates for Harris County Commissioners Court in Precinct 4 as former State Rep. Gina Calanni throws her hat in. The announcement can be seen here, but it’s an embedded image so I’m not going to try to quote from it. Calanni won one of the closest races of 2018 in HD132 but was unable to hold on in 2020 as the district moved a few points to the right. As constituted now, HD132 went 56-43 for Trump, so not high on the list of potential takeover targets.

Calanni will face Ben Chou, Lesley Briones, and who knows who else. Her website is here and you can find out more about her here. Stace was first with the news.

Rep. Alex Dominguez to run for SD27

Another contender for Eddie Lucio’s soon-to-be-former seat.

Rep. Alex Dominguez

State Rep. Alex Dominguez is running for Texas Senate, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a fellow Brownsville Democrat, in a race filled with implications for Texas Democrats and the Rio Grande Valley.

“I think that our office is perfectly situated to take on the next generation of leading South Texas and” Senate District 27, Dominguez said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

Dominguez said his platform would center on improving health care access, workforce training and infrastructure. And he made clear he would run on his experience as a two-term House member and former Cameron County commissioner, noting Lucio also had that resume before getting elected to the Senate.

Lucio announced earlier this month that he was retiring after serving three decades in the upper chamber. He become well known for breaking with his party on some major issues — most notably abortion — and the race to fill his seat is set to test voters’ appetites for continuing his legacy.

Already, the primary challenger who forced Lucio into a runoff last year, Sara Stapleton Barrera, has announced she is running for the open seat.

Dominguez said he wanted to continue Lucio’s legacy of focusing on the Valley’s educational needs. But he suggested he would be different from Lucio in at least a couple ways, including on abortion.

“I think people know that we come from two different generations,” Dominguez said. “I’m a great deal more inclined to to let women make educated decisions about their own bodies and, more importantly, allow that personal responsibility and decision to lie in their hands and remove government meddling when it’s not necessary.”

Lucio is a devout Catholic, and Dominguez noted he grew up as Catholic but said he does not believe it is the the job of policymakers to “use that religion to influence other people’s views.”

Dominguez also pointed out that he and Lucio had different approaches to the battle earlier this year over the GOP’s priority elections bill. Dominguez was among the dozens of House Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., in protest of the legislation, and while Lucio voted against it, he declined to join most other Senate Democrats when they briefly visited the nation’s capital to support their House colleagues.

“The difference is I’m willing to bring the energy needed to do what we have to do as Democrats to preserve the rights of all Texans,” Dominguez said.

[…]

Dominguez currently represents House District 37, which he was drawn out of during redistricting and which is now a new battleground district in the Valley. Dominguez previously considered a run for the 34th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, is retiring. However, those deliberations were complicated by the decision by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, to seek reelection in the 34th District rather than his current district, which was redrawn to be more favorable to the GOP.

See here for the background. It would be hard not to be better than Lucio on a range of issues. The one downside to Rep. Dominguez running in SD27 is that he won’t be running in HD37, which was made considerably less blue in redistricting, and will be a tough hold as an open seat. Perhaps the MALC lawsuit in state court, which challenged the way the county line rule was broken to redraw HD37, will help with that. In any event, this will be a marquee race for Dems in March. The Texas Signal has more.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court finishes its redistricting

Things were unsurprisingly partisan, as is the nature of redistricting as we do it.

After much confusion, heated discussion, and repeated delays, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 on Friday to adopt new precinct boundaries.

The redistricting map was proposed by Fort Bend County Judge KP George. The map moves Needville and Fairchilds out of Precinct 1, Katy and Simonton out of Precinct 3, and extends Precinct 4 from Houston to Kendleton, dividing the county.

The map calls for Precinct 1 to include Simonton, Katy, Cinco Ranch, and part of Richmond and Rosenberg.

“After several weeks of discussions by Fort Bend County Commissioner’s, a clear majority adopted a progressive redistricting map that reflects the historic growth and change of the most diverse county in the nation, that will carry into the next decade,” said George, who voted in favor of his map along with fellow Democrats Grady Prestage, who represents Precinct 2, and Ken DeMerchant, who represents Precinct 4.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Vincent Morales Jr. and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers voted against the map.

Fort Bend County began the redistricting process in September and has worked tirelessly to meet the Nov. 13 deadline set by the state to submit redistricting maps, George said.

“We listened to the concerns of the public over these past several weeks and the desire for more equitable representation,” he said. “The map I presented best represents the county and is reflective of the growth and changes in our community. This is historic, we set out to achieve proportional, fair, and equitable representation for all Fort Bend County residents. The approved map is the consensus of all voices and brings everyone together.”

[…]

Morales proposed substituting George’s map with the Precinct 4 map submitted by Commissioner DeMerchant.

He and Meyers both believed DeMerchant’s map was fairer than George’s and provided for two Republican precincts and two Democrat precincts as present precinct boundaries call for. George and all four commissioners presented redistricting maps for consideration.

Members of the public also provided maps for consideration but they were not discussed at Friday’s meeting because the presenters were not available to explain the maps. George and all four commissioners said their maps were fairer than the others.

Meyers said his map would have kept communities of interest together in the same precinct, as well as subdivisions, neighborhoods, municipal utility districts, and levee improvement districts.

See here and here for some background. The county’s redistricting page hasn’t been updated since I first looked at it, but Dave’s Redistricting App confirms that the map should end up with three Democratic Commissioners. The twist here is that it won’t happen until the 2024 election, because the two current Republicans were on the ballot last year. Better make sure County Judge KP George wins re-election, so as to avoid another new map being drawn. Commissioner Meyers said there would be litigation over this map, though it’s hard to see on what grounds it would be challenged, given the current state of play.

As for this year, there will be a Commissioner’s race of interest as former HCC Trustee Neeta Sane has announced her intent to run in Precinct 4, against first-term Commissioner Ken DeMerchant. I don’t know yet what my primary interview schedule is going to look like, but I might try to cover that one. Filing season has begun, so I at least will have a better idea of how busy I’m going to be over the next couple of months soon. The Fort Bend Star and the Fort bend Independent have more.

Luke Warford announces for Railroad Commissioner

He’s got the right idea about what to run on.

Luke Warford

A 32-year-old former top staffer for the Texas Democratic Party is running for a spot on the three-person commission regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Wayne Christian with a chief focus on the power grid failure earlier this year.

Luke Warford, the party’s former chief strategy officer, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that he is running for the Texas Railroad Commission “because I genuinely think this is one of the most important elected offices in the state and because the current people serving on the commission are only looking out for their interests and the interests of their friends, not the interests of Texans.”

“No time was that clearer than during the winter storm,” Warford said, faulting the commission for not doing enough to ensure natural gas companies “weatherize” their facilities, or prepare them for extreme weather.

Christian announced months ago that he would seek a second term in 2022, and Warford is an underdog. The 2020 Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, lost by 9 percentage points, despite getting national money and facing a little-known Republican, Jim Wright, who had unseated an incumbent in the primary.

Warford is undeterred, saying he believes the grid failure “fundamentally changes the calculus” for the race. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that voters are very dissatisfied with how lawmakers responded to the crisis, with 18% approving and 60% disapproving.

Warford may or may not have the primary to himself – filing season still hasn’t begun, so we just don’t know yet. He may be a great candidate on paper, but we’ve all seen good candidates struggle to make themselves known to primary voters because they don’t have any money, and we know what kind of random results we can get because of it. So while I’m glad to see him in the race and I’m especially glad to see the issues he wants to prioritize, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All that said, Warford has the right idea for how to position this campaign. The freeze and the blackout are necessarily going to be big issues, and the Railroad Commission is uniquely placed to do something about what happened. I fully expect there will be similar messaging from the top of the ticket, which will help. I mean, probably 90% of the state has no idea who or what the Railroad Commission is, but thanks to that deeply scarring incident from earlier this year, more people have likely at least seen a mention of it, and should be receptive to hearing about what they have (not) done and what they can do to make sure another disastrous freeze-induced blackout doesn’t happen again.

Both incumbent Wayne Christian, a former backbencher in the Lege, and Democrat Grady Yarbrough, an annoying perennial candidate, were bigtime underperformers in the 2016 election. Both got the fewest votes for their party on the statewide ballot. Nearly 750K voters, a bit more than 8.5% of the total, picked one of the third-part candidates instead. Some of that is because voters’ attention tends to wander a bit in those lower-profile races, and some of that was because those two were and are unqualified chuckleheads. We can at least take care of our side of that equation this year. Beyond that, raising enough money to make sure the voters know who’s who on this ballot is going to be critical. I welcome Luke Warford to the race and hope he can pull his weight and get the support he’s going to need if he’s the nominee. The Chron has more.

County Court At Law Judge Lesley Briones announces for Commissioner Precinct 4

From the inbox (and on Facebook):

Lesley Briones

Today, I announce my candidacy for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4.

I have devoted my career to helping people – and serving as a county commissioner will allow me to help improve people’s lives in a more direct, impactful way.

Together, we can build a county government that keeps our families safe, protects our homes from flooding, expands access to health care, treats everyone fairly, and creates good jobs that help our families thrive.

I have been represented by the current Precinct 4 commissioner for the last ten years. In that time, Harris County has changed – and now is the time for new leadership that will get better results for our community.

As part of this transition, I have resigned from my position as judge, and will continue serving until my successor is appointed. It has been a tremendous honor to advance equal justice on the bench, and I look forward to building upon my experience as we work to create a safer, healthier, and more prosperous Harris County for all.”

County Commissioner Adrian García made the following statement:

I enthusiastically give my full support to Judge Lesley Briones in her campaign for County Commissioner, Precinct 4. Lesley’s professional qualifications and life experiences make her the best qualified to confront the issues facing Precinct 4 and all of Harris County – from public safety and flooding to health care and jobs. I am unequivocally all in for Lesley!

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis made the following statement:

I am proud to endorse Judge Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, Precinct 4. Lesley’s proven values of fairness and equal justice, combined with her proven skills at getting results for children, seniors, and families, will help keep Harris County safe, healthy, and thriving for all our residents.

Briones was appointed to the County Court At Law #4 bench in 2019 following the Bill McLeod “wait, do I have to resign now that I said I was running for another office?” kerfuffle. Note that she explicitly mentioned her intent to resign in the press release, so good form there. She then decisively beat McLeod in the 2020 primary and easily won a full term that November. She’s the first candidate to announce for the newly-Democratic precinct, and comes out of the gate hot with the two endorsements. I’m aware of at least one other person looking at this race, so she won’t have the primary to herself, but she’s off to a good start. This is the biggest prize on the ballot in 2022 for local Dems, so for sure there will be some further interest in that race. Her Facebook page is here, she’s got a website on the way, and we’ll see who the Court picks to fill that bench again.

Precinct analysis: The new State House map

Like it or not, we have new State House districts. We may as well acquaint ourselves with them. The coverage we’ve had so far has focused on the 2020 election numbers to say whether a district will be red or blue or (in a limited number of cases) purple. I think that we need to see more data than that to get a full picture. I’ve spent a bunch of time on this site looking at how districts changed over the course of the past decade. This post will do the same for the new State House districts. I may do the same for the other types of districts – we’ll see how busy things get once filing season opens – but for now let’s look at how things are here.

We now have a full set of election data for the new districts. All of the data for the new State House districts can be found here. I am using election data for these years in this post: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020

If you want to remind yourself of what the map looks like, use the district viewer, which allows you to zoom in all the way to street level. What would have happened in the last decade if we had had this map in place following the 2011 session?

2012 – 59 seats won by Obama
2014 – 51 seats won by Davis
2016 – 64 seats won by Clinton
2018 – 66 seats won by Beto
2020 – 65 seats won by Biden

This shows a couple of things. One is just how bad a year 2014 was. Two, how effective the 2011/2013 map was for the conditions that existed at the time. Note that with this map, the big shift towards the Democrats happened in 2016, not 2018. I have to wonder how things might have played out in 2018 and 2020 if that had been our experience. After that, it gets a lot more static. I’ll tell you which districts were won by Beto but not Clinton, and which district was won by Beto but not Biden, later in this post.

Enough setup. You’re ready for some numbers, right? I know you are. I’ve broken this down more or less by region, and am including districts that are within 20 points in the 2020 results.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
014  14,134  29,676  31.5%  66.1%   30,840  38,146  43.5%  53.8%
020  19,803  40,618  31.9%  65.4%   44,651  58,876  42.2%  55.6%
045  20,079  21,248  47.0%  49.8%   48,915  32,987  58.4%  39.4%
052  16,708  28,942  35.7%  61.8%   44,974  49,046  46.7%  51.0%
054  18,164  22,668  43.9%  54.7%   26,960  31,067  45.5%  52.4%
055  17,348  26,906  38.5%  59.8%   30,054  36,826  43.9%  53.8%
118  21,895  25,284  45.7%  52.8%   36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  25,850  47,798  34.5%  63.8%   50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
122  21,516  48,130  30.4%  68.1%   50,094  59,855  44.9%  53.7%

Call this the “Central” region – HD14 is Brazos County, HDs 20 and 52 are Williamson, HD45 is Hays, HDs 54 and 55 are the infamous “donut” districts of Bell County, and the other three are Bexar. Couple things to note, as these themes will recur. One is that if there’s a district you think might belong but which isn’t listed, it’s probably because it just doesn’t qualify as a “swing” district any more. A great example is HD47 in Travis County, which was a 52-47 district for Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2020, however, it was won by Joe Biden by a 61-36 margin. HD45 is more or less the same, but I included it here as a borderline case.

Looking at the shifts, it’s not too hard to imagine the two Williamson districts moving into (back into, in the case of HD52) the Dem column, in a future election if not this year. Note also that HD118 was once a red district. It’s one of the two that Beto flipped and which Biden held. Sure, it’s accurately described in all of the coverage of the special election runoff as being more Republican than the current HD118, but one should be aware of the direction that it has traveled. I won’t be surprised if it outperforms the 2020 number for Dems in 2022. (No, the result of this special election runoff doesn’t change my thinking on that. It’s not the first time that Republicans have won a special election in HD118.)

Not all districts moved so dramatically – that parsing of Bell County looks like it will be durable for the GOP, at least at this time. The other two Bexar districts were a lot more Democratic at the Presidential level than they were downballot, so one has to wonder if the splits we see here are entirely about Trump, or if they will be the leading edge for Dems as the 2016 Trump numbers were in places like CD07 and all of the Dallas House districts that Republicans once held.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
034  28,030  19,409  58.4%  40.4%   32,171  26,232  54.4%  44.3%
035  19,519   5,678  76.7%  22.3%   22,629  16,478  57.3%  41.7%
036  21,416   7,022  74.5%  24.4%   26,905  19,328  57.6%  41.4%
037  21,580  17,109  55.2%  43.7%   27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
039  23,219   8,076  73.5%  25.6%   27,861  18,679  59.2%  39.7%
041  20,882  15,585  56.6%  42.2%   33,385  25,616  56.1%  43.0%
074  25,903  16,270  60.5%  38.0%   31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
080  26,122  16,344  60.9%  38.1%   27,099  29,572  47.3%  51.6%

Here we have South Texas and the Valley, where things are not so good for the Dems. Again, the districts you don’t see here are the ones that are not swing districts; check out the linked numbers to see for yourself. HD41 was pretty stable, and I will note that the current version of HD74 was carried by Trump, so the new map is a bit friendlier to the Dems, at least for now. HD80 is the Beto district that Biden lost, and as with every other Latino district we’re just going to have to see how it performs in a non-Trump year. If State Rep. Alex Dominguez, the incumbent in HD37, does indeed primary Sen. Eddie Lucio, that puts another Dem seat squarely in the danger zone. (Modulo the pending litigation, of course.)


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
033  16,134  40,104  28.2%  70.1%   35,618  53,384  39.3%  58.9%
057  13,506  30,350  30.3%  68.0%   36,387  47,660  42.6%  55.8%
061  15,178  34,157  30.3%  68.1%   43,274  50,795  45.2%  53.0%
063  20,983  40,571  33.5%  64.8%   42,303  47,444  46.4%  52.0%
065  18,851  36,946  33.3%  65.2%   43,265  51,231  45.1%  53.4%
066  19,348  41,191  31.5%  67.0%   43,902  51,608  45.2%  53.1%
067  16,268  32,870  32.6%  65.7%   39,889  47,769  44.6%  53.5%
070  23,926  36,395  38.9%  59.2%   45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
084  17,622  30,644  35.8%  62.3%   25,604  36,144  40.7%  57.5%
089  18,681  39,334  31.6%  66.6%   39,563  49,499  43.5%  54.5%
093  13,971  29,638  31.6%  67.0%   34,205  45,799  42.0%  56.2%
094  23,934  46,010  33.6%  64.6%   37,985  45,950  44.4%  53.8%
096  22,912  42,668  34.5%  64.2%   39,472  48,073  44.4%  54.1%
097  21,540  40,721  34.0%  64.4%   38,218  46,530  44.3%  53.9%
099  17,899  33,551  34.2%  64.2%   31,245  43,999  40.8%  57.5%
106  12,893  30,578  29.2%  69.3%   38,447  50,868  42.4%  56.2%
108  26,544  58,932  30.7%  68.1%   54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  24,601  44,320  35.2%  63.4%   44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%

So much action in the Multiplex. HD33 is Rockwall and a piece of Collin. HDs 61 and 70 are Collin, HD57 is Denton. I have lumped HD84 in here as well, even though it’s Lubbock and it remains on the fringe, but I don’t care. We will make a race out of that district yet! HDs 108 and 112 in Dallas are also much more Republican downballot than they were at the top, and while I think they will eventually fall, it’s unlikely to be in 2022. HD70, by the way, is the other district that flipped Dem in 2018.

Everywhere else I look, I see districts that are about as competitive as the formerly Republican-held districts of Dallas County were circa 2012. (Note how none of them have made an appearance in this post.) Look at how huge those splits were a decade ago. A decade in the future, either we’re going to be grimly hailing the evil genius of this gerrymander, or we’re going to be chuckling about Republican hubris and how if they’d maybe thrown another district or two to the Dems they could have saved themselves a bucketful of losses.


Dist  Obama  Romney Obama%Romney%    Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
================================================================
025  16,141  33,014  32.4%  66.2%   29,441  43,675  39.7%  58.9%
026  14,574  36,701  32.4%  66.2%   37,863  47,532  43.7%  54.8%
028  15,831  33,229  31.9%  67.0%   36,213  46,580  43.1%  55.4%
029  18,280  37,848  32.1%  66.5%   32,787  46,758  40.6%  57.9%
126  18,574  47,202  27.9%  70.7%   35,306  50,023  40.8%  57.8%
127  19,674  45,760  29.7%  69.1%   38,332  53,148  41.3%  57.3%
129  21,321  45,292  31.5%  66.9%   38,399  51,219  42.2%  56.2%
132  13,399  31,974  29.1%  69.5%   35,876  46,484  42.9%  55.6%
133  21,508  45,099  31.8%  66.7%   40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%
134  34,172  42,410  43.7%  54.3%   66,968  38,704  62.5%  36.1%
138  20,133  40,118  32.9%  65.6%   37,617  42,002  46.6%  52.0%
144  17,471  16,254  51.1%  47.6%   25,928  20,141  55.6%  43.2%
148  20,954  19,960  50.4%  48.0%   34,605  24,087  58.1%  40.5%
150  14,511  34,552  29.2%  69.6%   34,151  45,789  42.1%  56.5%

Finally, the Houston area. HDs 25 and 29 are Brazoria County, HDs 26 and 28 are Fort Bend. The now-in-Fort-Bend HD76 slides in here as another former swing district, going from 51-48 for Romney to 61-38 for Biden. I threw HD134 in here even though it’s obviously not a swing district by any reasonable measure in part because it was once the epitome of a swing district, and because damn, just look at how far that district shifted towards Dems. The open HD133 is unfortunately another one of those redder-downballot districts, so even though it’s an open seat don’t get your hopes up too much for this cycle. Maybe later on, we’ll see.

I’m fascinated by HD144, which like HD74 is now slightly more Dem than it was under the existing map. I guess Republicans had other priorities in the area. As for HD148, it’s a little jarring to see it as a genuine swing district from 2012, though it barely qualifies as of 2020. Rep. Penny Morales Shaw has complained about the changes made to her district, not just geographically but also by reducing that Latino CVAP by almost ten points. Finally, I will note that while the GOP shored up HD138, it’s another district that used to be a lot redder than it is now. Again, we’ll just have to see how resilient that is. That “genius/hubris” divide will largely come down to places like that.

I hope this helped shed some light on what these districts may be going forward. As always, let me know what you think.

Sen. Eddie Lucio will retire

Can’t say I’ll miss him.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, announced Thursday that he is not seeking reelection after three decades in the upper chamber.

He made the announcement during a news conference in Harlingen, saying he was retiring “because a lot of wonderful things are yet to come in my life.” He said he wanted to spend more time with family “and to do some of the things that I’ve been wanting to do like my own personal ministry to help the less fortunate in our community.”

“I want to continue to fight for what’s right in our community for our families,” Lucio said.

Lucio’s decision comes as a surprise — earlier this year he announced he was running for reelection, and his office confirmed that remained his plan during the redistricting process this fall.

Lucio, vice chair of the Senate Education and Finance committees, has served in the Senate since 1991, making him the third most senior member. He became known as a stalwart advocate for the needs of the Rio Grande Valley — and for breaking with his party on some major issues, making him easily the most moderate Democrat in the Senate.

Lucio opposes abortion and voted in support of Texas’ new abortion restriction law that went into effect in September. He supports school choice, putting him at odds with fellow Democrats who believe it harms public schools. And he infuriated the LGBTQ community in 2017 when he voted for the “bathroom bill” that would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities.

Lucio’s independence has endeared him to GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who regularly compliments him and has even campaigned for him.

[…]

As a senator, Lucio faced his first real primary opposition in a while in 2020 and got forced into a runoff, which he won by a comfortable margin. Lucio was facing the prospect of another competitive primary next year, with state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, exploring a run for the seat in Senate District 27.

Redistricting made SD-27 less safe for Democrats, changing it from a district that President Joe Biden won by 16 percentage points to one he would have carried by 6 points.

I noted the potential Dominguez candidacy a couple of days ago. Reform Austin, going by a story on the Quorum Report, mentions a couple of other potential candidates:

First is Morgan LaMantia, an attorney and daughter of Steve and Linda LaMantia, who has been making calls about a bid. Because of her family’s decades-long roots in the Rio-Grande Valley and her ability to self-finance a campaign, an observer told Braddock she could clear the field of any opposition. Also considering would be Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who previously challenged Lucio in the Democratic primary and took him to a runoff in 2020. Lastly, there is state Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville), who has been mulling a congressional bid but may also seek Lucio’s seat. On Wednesday, he sent out an email to supporters attacking Sen. Lucio as a tool of Republicans.

Morgan LaMantia is an attorney in McAllen. I don’t know anything else about her. I doubt anyone can truly clear the field, but it may well be that one person can dominate the finance reports. We’ll see about that.

As for the redrawn SD27, Biden actually carried it by 4.7 points in 2020, easily making SD27 the closest Senate district on either side. That said, it was a little bluer in other races – Chrysta Castaneda won it by ten points, and the Democratic statewide judicial candidates won it by a range of six to 11 points. As we have discussed elsewhere, this is a district that moved towards Republicans in 2020, and who knows what 2022 and beyond will bring. Lucio’s retirement will surely make this an attractive target for the Republicans.

I’m not going to miss Eddie Lucio. He’s been a pain in the rear for a long time. I expect there to be a big field to try to succeed him. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

More on the November 2021 election results

Here’s the Chron story on the Tuesday election results. It is mostly a straight recording of the individual races, including those I covered yesterday and others that I didn’t. Of the most interest to me is this:

Results were delayed until late Tuesday, in part because of a reported power outage at Harris County Elections’ counting center. Early and absentee totals were not available until after 10 p.m.,

“The machines are sensitive to any interference, so to ensure the integrity of the computers we conducted a full logic and accuracy test, which takes about two hours,” according to a Facebook post by the county’s elections administration office. “Though we want to get the results out quickly, we prioritize processing everything accurately even if it takes some extra time.”

The post said judges were dropping off equipment at the central counting location at that time.

People still were voting at 8 p.m., about an hour after polls closed, at one poll location, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria tweeted.

“Standby, watch the Astros, and we’ll catch you soon,” Longoria said in the Tweet.

The Astros advice probably didn’t help anyone’s mood, but that’s hindsight. The Facebook post in question, which contains video of Longoria explaining what is happening, is here – there are more vids further up the page as well. Campos was furious, called it a “botched” night and an “epic failure”, and expects “outrage” from Commissioners Court. Stace was more measured, saying “these glitches give the County a chance to fix things so we can avoid them when everyone shows up next November”. I lean more in that direction, but I get the frustration – I wore myself out hitting Refresh on Tuesday – and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. I will be interested to see how the Court reacts.

Longoria also had this to say, on Twitter:

The line about jail voting refers to this. Not sure where she’s getting the 12% turnout figure from – going by the Election Day totals posted, there were 227,789 votes cast out of 2,482,914 registered voters, for 9.17% turnout. Still, that’s a significant increase from 2017, which had 150,174 ballots cast out of 2,233,533 voters, for 6.72% turnout. That’s a 52% increase in voters, or a 36% increase in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, in a year where there was nothing sexy on the ballot. What gives?

It could be an effect of a more energized Republican base, going to the polls to express their feelings about President Biden. I don’t know that the Constitutional amendments were a great vehicle for that, but maybe the school board races were. Conservative challengers are in runoffs in three races, so maybe that had something to do with it. Here’s a comparison of turnout from 2017 to 2021:


Year  Dist   Votes  Voters  Turnout
===================================
2017     I   9,784  78,479   12.47%
2021     I  10,108  87,671   11.53%

2017     V  12,431  85,309   14.57%
2021     V  17,153  89,123   19.25%

2017    VI   7,399  73,575   10.06%
2021    VI   8,972  77,508   11.58%

2017   VII  12,219  89,177   13.70%
2021   VII  15,596  99,824   15.62%

2017    IX   8,622  84,185   10.24%
2021    IX   8,935  90,067    9.32%

On the one hand, the two races that didn’t prominently feature conservative candidates actually had less turnout (at least percentage-wise) than they did in 2017. On the other hand, outside of the District V race, the increase wasn’t that much. In District VI, it was a jump of 21% in total voters, and 15% in turnout of RVs, and in District VII, it was 27% for voters and 14% for turnout of RVs. Not nothing, but much less than Harris County as a whole. Even District V, at a 38% increase in voters and 32% increase in turnout of RVs, was below the county level.

So who knows? Final turnout was definitely higher than I thought it would be, and in the end it was still the case that almost exactly half of the vote came in on Election Day. Again, more than I thought it would be but still a big step down from 2017, when 59% of the vote was on E-Day. Given the huge turnout in 2020, it may be the case that there are just now more habitual voters. If that’s so, we’ll see some of that effect in 2022 and especially 2023, when the open Mayoral race will also drive people to the polls. I don’t think there are any big conclusions to draw here, but let’s put a pin in this and see what we think a couple of years down the line.