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Election 2020

Still no new Election Administrator

C’mon, y’all.

Harris County officials canceled an election commission meeting for the second time this week, again citing a lack of quorum because only two members were able to attend in person. The rescheduled meeting now is set for Tuesday.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, one of five members of the commission, announced Sunday evening that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

When they meet, members of the county’s election commission are expected to pick a new official to run elections, as outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation went into effect Friday.

At their most recent meeting on June 15, members of the commission narrowed their search to two finalists. Both candidates live outside Texas and have previous election experience, according to Hidalgo.

See here and here for the background. Again, I would like to know who (besides the presumably still-testing-positive Judge Hidalgo) was unable to attend and why, and I would like to know when we might reasonably expect the next meeting to occur. We may be at risk of losing out on one or both of these candidates if we don’t move forward, and that would be a catastrophe. I want to see this done by the end of next week. Please!

No new election admin yet

Hope this delay is brief.

Harris County’s top election position remains unfilled, after a Monday meeting of the county’s election commission to select a candidate was canceled due to a lack of quorum. Their final pick will face a narrowing time frame to prepare for his or her first test: Early voting for the November election begins Oct. 24, less than three months after the new administrator’s likely start date.

The tight schedule adds to an already daunting job in a sprawling county with more than 2.5 million voters, an adversarial political climate with frequent election lawsuits, and a startlingly high rejection rate of nearly one out of five mail ballots in this year’s March primaries under the state’s new voting laws.

Only two of the five members of the commission were able to attend the Monday meeting in person, a day after County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she had tested positive for COVID-19. The commission has not yet rescheduled the meeting.

With outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation going into effect Friday, Beth Stevens, chief director of voting for the county, will become the interim administrator until the new hire begins, which Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said is likely to be Aug. 1. The new administrator’s appointment will be voted on at a later meeting after the selected candidate meets a residency requirement to become a voter under the Texas Election Code.

The commission was slated to hold a closed-door executive session to interview two finalists for the position and take “possible action” to name the administrator at Monday’s meeting. Both finalists have prior experience running elections and are located out of state, according to Hidalgo.

See here for some background. I agree with Campos, it would have been nice to know who besides Judge Hidalgo (who had a perfectly good excuse) didn’t show up and why. May have been valid reasons, but the clock is ticking and we deserve to know. I get the impression that there’s no real dissension on the committee, they just need to finish the job.

The target date to have the new admin in place is still August 1. That’s a brief time to get up and running, but if they are hiring an experienced person and the operational staff is in place – and hopefully we have a way forward on the ballot collection question for Election Day – then I think we’ll be fine. So with that in mind, let me comment on this:

At the commission’s most recent meeting on June 15, Rob Icsezen, deputy chair of the Harris County Democratic Party’s primary committee, presented a letter to the commission signed by around 100 members of the public, many of them current or former Democratic election workers, asking that Longoria be reinstated as elections administrator. One of the reasons they cited was the time frame left until the November election.

“Any new elections administrator would have the same challenges as Ms. Longoria, without the benefit of a year and a half of hands-on experience,” the letter stated. “In short, they would be starting from scratch. November is rapidly approaching. The voters of Harris County do not have time for this.”

This will not be the first time an administrator has overseen a major Harris County election on relatively short notice. In June 2020, Chris Hollins took over as county clerk shortly before the November election, after outgoing clerk Diane Trautman resigned her position, citing health concerns during the pandemic.

“On my first day as County Clerk in 2020, we had just four months to figure out how to administer an election in pandemic conditions for the first time in Texas history,” Hollins said in a statement. “That included acquiring the necessary protective equipment, recruiting the election workers we needed, and creating and training our team on new safety procedures.”

Hollins benefited from an unprecedented budget to administer the 2020 election, after Commissioners Court approved $27 million — much of that coming from federal CARES Act dollars — to fund his plan, which included additional polling locations, up to 12,000 election workers and an extra week of early voting.

“Many core planning items (e.g., number and location of voting centers) should be well under way by August, but the new EA will need to ensure that solutions are in place for issues that have arisen in recent elections, as well as problems created by the recent voter suppression law,” Hollins said. “These include record rejection rates for mail ballots, which we saw in March, and intentional disruption by partisan poll watchers, which will be something we face for the first time in November.”

I was contacted by Icsezen and a couple of other folks, all people I respect, with this pitch. I did not join them. I like Isabel Longoria and I totally get where Icsezen and the others are coming from, but I just think that ship has sailed. It didn’t work out. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Let’s get the new person in there, give that person all of the support and financing they will need to run a successful election, and do everything we can to help. At least COVID ought to be a much smaller issue this time around. We can do this.

Lock Louie up

He believes he committed at least one federal crime. Who are we to disbelieve him?

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert was one of a handful of Republicans in Congress who asked former President Donald Trump for a pardon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to testimony shown by the House committee investigating the insurrection.

Witnesses told the committee that the president had considered offering pardons to several individuals, said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the committee.

Cassidy Hutchison, who served as an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in recorded testimony shown Thursday that the Tyler Republican was one of the members who had sought a pardon. Others included U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

“The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” Kinzinger said.

Gohmert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What could he possibly say? His actions speak for themselves. Over to you, Justice Department.

Where are we with the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit?

We are in the familiar position of waiting for the drawn-out appeals process to conclude. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

Best mugshot ever

The appeals process has grown a bit longer in state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit by four top agency officials who claim they were improperly fired in 2020 after accusing him of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Paxton turned to the Texas Supreme Court 7½ months ago after two lower courts rejected his bids to toss out the lawsuit.

Last month, the Supreme Court told Paxton and the whistleblowers to provide justices with a deeper dive into the legal issues involved, kicking off a second round of legal briefing that was recently extended when the court granted Paxton’s request for an extra month to file his expanded brief.

Paxton’s brief is now due July 27, and although the court told Paxton that additional extensions aren’t likely to be granted, the move means the final brief isn’t due until Aug. 31 at the earliest.

That moves the case into election season as Paxton seeks a third four-year term against a Democrat, Rochelle Garza, who has made questioning Paxton’s ethics a campaign centerpiece. Three opponents tried the same tactic against Paxton in this year’s GOP primaries without success.

The timing also puts the case close to the two-year anniversary of when eight top officials of the attorney general’s office met with FBI agents and other investigators to relate their suspicions that Paxton had misused the powers of his office to help a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

See here and here for the most recent updates. Paxton’s argument is that as an elected rather than appointed official, he doesn’t count as a “public official” under the Texas Whistleblower Act, so the employees who fired him have no grounds to sue. He has other arguments, but that’s the main thing that will be of interest to the Supreme Court. I’m sure you can surmise what I think, but if you want to dig deeper you can click the Texas Whistleblower Act tag link and review other posts in this genre.

Just as a reminder, we are also waiting for the FBI to take some kind of action in their investigation of the Ken Paxton-Nate Paul dealings, the State Bar complaint against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election should have a hearing sometime later this summer, and of course there’s the granddaddy of them all, the original state charges that Paxton engaged in securities fraud, which are now eight years old. He’s sure been a busy boy, hasn’t he?

Look for the grifters

In any rightwing political movement, there will always be grifters. It’s absolutely an ants-to-a-picnic situation.

Over the last two presidential election cycles, True the Vote has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered tide-turning voter fraud. It’s promised to release its evidence. It never has.

Instead, the Texas-based nonprofit organization has engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology. Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, “2000 Mules,” plays in cinemas across the country.

Along the way, she’s gained key allies across the conservative movement. Former President Donald Trump, who shouts her out by name during rallies and held a private screening for the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort, exploited the group’s declarations to proclaim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Provocateur Dinesh D’Souza partnered with Engelbrecht on the film. And she’s represented by the legal heavyweight James Bopp Jr., who helped dismantle abortion rights, crafted many of the arguments in the Citizens United case that revolutionized campaign finance law and was part of the legal team that prevailed in Bush v. Gore.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns and court records, however, paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud. According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips. Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, Bopp’s law firm and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.

Legal and nonprofit accounting experts who reviewed Reveal’s findings said the Texas attorney general and Internal Revenue Service should investigate.

“This certainly looks really bad,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch.

And while the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been dismissed out of hand by courts and debunked by audits, even those led by Republicans, the story of True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise, growing from a cottage industry to a thriving economy.

The records show:

  • True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing. Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.
  • Companies connected to Engelbrecht and Phillips collected nearly $890,000 from True the Vote from 2014 to 2020. The largest payment – at least $750,000 – went to a new company created by Phillips, OPSEC Group LLC, to do voter analysis in 2020. It’s unclear whether OPSEC has any other clients; it has no website and no digital footprint that Reveal could trace beyond its incorporation records. The contract, which one expert called “eye-popping” for its largess, did not appear to be disclosed in the 2020 tax return the organization provided to Reveal.
  • True the Vote provided Bopp’s law firm a retainer of at least $500,000 to lead a legal charge against the results of the 2020 election, but he filed only four of the seven lawsuits promised to a $2.5 million donor, all of which were voluntarily dismissed less than a week after being filed. The donor later called the amount billed by Bopp’s firm “unconscionable” and “impossible.”
  • The organization’s tax returns are riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended. Experts who reviewed the filings said it makes it difficult to understand how True the Vote is truly spending its donations.

In one instance, True the Vote produced two different versions of the same document. A copy of the 2019 tax return Engelbrecht provided to Reveal does not match the version on the IRS website.

There’s more, but that will get you started. I hope this story will lead to a criminal investigation of Engelbrecht and Phillips and TTV; it seems to me that perhaps both state and federal laws may have been broken, so there’s room to go around. We know that Ken Paxton won’t touch this, but surely one of the local Democratic DAs could give it a go.

I wrote about Engelbrecht and her crowd a couple of times in 2010 and 2012. I’m honestly a little surprised they’re still around, but given the money people seem to have been willing to throw at them, why wouldn’t they milk that cow till it’s all dried out?

Juanita has far more experience with this crowd, and she just enjoyed the heck out of that story. I can add a little context to the story she tells in return, which you can see here.

Readers with long memories may also recognize the name of Engelbrecht’s co-conspirator, who has his own long history of grifting, which of course later morphed into Trumpian “election fraud” bullshit, because that’s where the money is these days. As I said in one of those posts, guys like Gregg Phillips are basically cockroaches – you just can’t get rid of them. But this time it sure would be nice to try.

Flores wins CD34 special election

Groan.

Republican Mayra Flores prevailed Tuesday in a special election for an open congressional seat in South Texas, marking a major breakthrough for Republicans eager to blaze new inroads in the historically blue region.

She beat Dan Sanchez, the leading Democrat, outright in the closely watched race and will be the first Mexican-born congresswoman. She will get to serve only until January, but Republicans heralded her win as a shot of momentum in their new South Texas offensive.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores had 50.98% of the vote and Sanchez had 43.33%. There were two other, lesser-known candidates — Democrat Rene Coronado and Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera — in the race.

Sanchez is a Harlingen lawyer and former Cameron County commissioner, while Flores, a respiratory therapist, is the Republican nominee for the seat in November.

[…]

Sanchez conceded in a statement that pointed the finger at national Democrats for not doing enough to defend the seat. They had argued the race was not worth the investment.

“Based on the results, we came up short tonight despite being outspent by millions of dollars from out of state interests and the entire Republican machine,” he said. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The special election was called to finish the term of former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who resigned in March to work for the lobbying firm Akin Gump.

See here for some background. I don’t want to overreact or underreact to this result. Obviously, it’s not great – a longtime Dem seat, making the existing Dem margin that much smaller, furthering a lot of bad narratives about Dems and the 2022 election, etc etc etc. It’s also the case that this election was created in a lab to be friendly to Republicans, who had a ready-made candidate in place with money and an existing infrastructure, while Dems had to go looking for someone to run specifically as a temp. I was hoping to get this to a runoff, but nope. It is what it is, and what it is basically sucks.

It is true that Dems have done rather poorly in special elections in purple Latino districts in recent years, with HD118 in 2016 and SD19 in 2018 as Exhibits A and B. The SD19 result was for a brief minute seen as a bad sign for Dems in 2018, and we know how that turned out. Dems retook those seats, in 2020 in both cases. The new lines for CD34 are considerably more Dem-leaning than the old ones (CD15 took the brunt of that exchange), so Rep. Flores is probably also going to be a temp. Probably. It would have been nice to get some evidence of that in this race. We seem to like playing with matches, for some reason.

Not much else to say except to say once again that this is all because Filemon Vela couldn’t wait a couple of months to glom onto that cushy lobbyist gig he now has. If he had resigned in August instead of April, this election would have been in November and no one would have cared about it. He is forever invited to kiss my ass. The Observer has more.

When we had more deaths than births in Texas

Seems like that would be a bad thing.

In the midst of the nation’s deadliest pandemic, Texas recorded more births than deaths every month since 2016 — with one exception.

Provisional data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that January 2021 was the only month when, statewide, the number of deaths was greater than the number of births.

Nine months before in April 2020, the world was one month into the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2021, the seven-day average number of deaths from COVID-19 peaked in Texas, according to The New York Times, and vaccines had just become available to select groups of individuals.

Twenty counties — including Bexar County — recorded more births than deaths every month until the pandemic, when they began having months with more deaths than births.

The number of births for a county is determined by the mother’s residence.

Thirty one counties — including more populous ones like Harris, Dallas and Travis — always recorded more births than deaths, even during the pandemic.

Five counties — Bowie, Kerr, Potter, Smith, and Wichita — reported more deaths than births for all 22 months of pandemic data available.

There are charts and maps in the story, and they calculate the birth and death rates on a per 100K people basis to make everything more easily comparable. One thing the story doesn’t go into, which is a thing that has been widely reported on elsewhere, is differences in voting patterns across the counties. I’m not going to dive into all of the data here, but I will note this much about those five counties that had a net loss (not counting migrations) for each month:

Bowie – Trump 70.9%
Kerr – Trump 75.3%
Potter – Trump 68.5%
Smith – Trump 69.0%
Wichita – Trump 69.7%

You get the picture.

So what’s going on in the CD34 special election?

We started with this.

Early voting continues for the June 14 special election for CD34 open (Lean R) through June 10. Candidates for that special election were required to file pre-special election reports today (Thurs.) if they meet the reporting thresholds. These reports disclose contributions received and expenditures made between April 1 and May 25.

Mayra Flores (R) out-raised former Cameron Co. Comm. Dan Sanchez (D), $734K to $46K, and outspent him, $754K to $42K. They each have just over $100K on hand. Sanchez has a $100K loan balance. Flores has raised $1.1M for the race so far including funds raised for the March 1 primary election, which she won outright with 60% of the vote.

Not great! Flores’ report is here, and Sanchez’s is here. Flores had raised $347K as of the April report, which means her combined total is now over a million, while Sanchez had not yet filed a report as of then as he had barely entered by that time. There’s now some national Democratic money in the race, which closes the gap a little, but not that much (Politico link via Daily Kos Elections).

Then we got this.

Early voting continues for the June 14 special election for CD34 open (Lean R) through Friday. As of yesterday (Mon.), just over 8K people – 2.1% of registered voters – have cast ballots early in person (78%) or by mail (22%). About three quarters of all early votes have been cast in Cameron Co., representing 2.7% of registered voters there. Those voters break down as follows:

  • 49% also voted in the March 1 Democratic primary election (2,982 voters)
  • 29% also voted in the Republican primary election (1,767 voters); and
  • 22% did not vote in either party’s primary election (1,360 voters).

These numbers suggest Democrats Dan Sanchez and Rene Coronado could receive a majority of early votes combined. Republican candidates this cycle have tended to perform better among Election Day voters. The difference-makers will likely be non-primary voters who are motivated to cast ballots in a low-turnout election. Republican Mayra Flores and allied PACs have greatly outspent the Democrats so far, which could provide more motivation for those non-primary voters who lean Republican.

Democratic PACs are making a late, albeit significantly smaller, push this week. The House Majority PAC released a new Spanish-language ad, “Lawless,” which uses an endorsement from a gun rights group to tie Flores to images of the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

You can see the ad in question there. The next-biggest piece of the existing CD34 is in Hidalgo County, which was also comfortably Dem in 2020; it would be nice to know how it’s going there. I agree that a Sanchez-Flores runoff is the single most likely outcome here, and if that happens this race will surely get louder and more expensive. Whether Dems up their investment or not may depend on how next Tuesday turns out. Stay tuned. The Trib has more.

Houston vies for 2024 DNC

It would be nice, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before and I know how it ends.

Houston is vying to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention held the summer before the next presidential election, in which Texas could be a highly-sought battleground state.

The city is competing with Chicago, Atlanta and several other major cities to host the internationally-televised, week-long presidential nominating extravaganza before voters head to ballot boxes in 2024. City Council approved the bid on Wednesday.

Officials are betting that Houston’s track record as a seasoned host to Super Bowls, petroleum conventions and, this weekend, the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting will help lure the DNC to the Bayou City. Another bonus? Its position as a Democratic stronghold in one of the country’s largest conservative states.

Texas’s rapidly changing electorate — and its role at the center of national debates on gun control, abortion rights and immigration — may make it an ideal place to energize voters within the state and across the country, said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at University of Texas Austin.

“The fact that Houston is even a possible destination for the convention shows the degree to which Texas has become a competitive state in the eyes of Democrats,” Blank said.

For those hoping to turn the Lone Star state blue, he said, hosting the convention and the media spectacle it ensues would offer a valuable chance to reach undecided voters and highlight up-and-coming local politicians.

The same arguments were made in 2020 as I recall, and we lost out to Milwaukee, in the much more traditional swing state of Wisconsin. I can already see Atlanta having the edge on us for similar reasons. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

And for the record:

The city is not being considered to host the 2024 Republican National Convention, city officials said, because the dates “conflicted with other events” at convention venues.

I know someone was wondering about this, so there you have it.

The national trend is for less voting by mail

Of interest.

The great vote-by-mail wave appears to be receding just as quickly as it arrived.

After tens of millions of people in the United States opted for mail ballots during the pandemic election of 2020, voters in early primary states are returning in droves to in-person voting this year.

In Georgia, one of the mostly hotly contested states, about 85,000 voters had requested mail ballots for the May 24 primary, as of Thursday. That is a dramatic decrease from the nearly 1 million who cast mail ballots in the state’s 2020 primary at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trend was similar in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, which held primaries this month; comparisons were not available for Nebraska, another early primary state.

A step back in mail balloting was expected given easing concerns about COVID-19, but some election officials and voting experts had predicted that far more voters would seek out the convenience of mail voting once they experienced it.

Helping drive the reversal is the rollback of temporary rules expanding mail ballots in 2020, combined with distrust of the process among Republicans and concerns about new voting restrictions among Democrats. And a year and a half of former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing false claims about mail voting to explain his loss to Democrat Joe Biden has also taken a toll on voter confidence.

“It’s unfortunate because our election system has been mischaracterized and the integrity of our elections questioned,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Mail ballots are a safe and secure method of voting used by millions of Americans, including myself.”

A record 43% of voters in the U.S. cast mail ballots in 2020, compared with 24.5% in 2016, according to the commission’s survey of local election officials. The number of voters who used in-person early voting also increased, although the jump was not quite as large as in mail ballots, the survey found.

Before the November 2020 election, 12 states expanded access to mail ballots by loosening certain requirements. Five more either mailed ballots to all eligible voters or allowed local officials to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, eight states will mail ballots to every eligible voter.

[…]

Requesting a mail ballot is significantly harder now in Georgia than in 2020, when voters could go online to request a ballot be sent to them without a printed request. Part of the 2021 voting law pushed by Republicans required voters to print or obtain a paper form, then sign it in ink before sending it in by mail, email or fax.

Voters also must include their driver’s license number or some other form of identification after Republicans decided that the process of matching voter signatures was no longer enough security for an absentee ballot application.

“I couldn’t even figure it out,” said Ursula Gruenewald, who lives in Cobb County, north of Atlanta. “Before, I used to just click a button on a website, and they’d send me my ballot. I don’t know what they want now.”

Gruenewald said she usually votes by mail but decided last week to seek out a nearby early voting center, recalling she had waited in line for two hours to vote in person in 2016.

I’m not surprised that voting by mail is down from 2020. Lots of people just like voting in person, I think. I know I do, though I’m a weirdo who actually knows a lot of the candidates and their campaign staffs. I’m also not surprised that it’s down this much given how much harder it is now to vote by mail and how much abuse and disinformation has been heaped on the practice. I think longer term it will tick back up, if only because a significant portion of the population is heading into senior citizen territory and those are the biggest mail ballot users, but who knows how long the Trump/GOP damage will last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t once again harp on the mail ballot rejection issue here in Texas, which wasn’t noted in that story. I have no doubt that there are now people who would have voted by mail, who may have tried to vote by mail in March, who will instead vote in person because of the significant risk of their mail ballot not being counted. I’m still waiting to see if voting by mail in May was any less messy than it was in March. Keep your fingers crossed.

State Bar finally files that professional misconduct lawsuit against Paxton

We’ve been eagerly awaiting this.

Best mugshot ever

A disciplinary committee for the State Bar of Texas on Wednesday filed a professional misconduct lawsuit against Attorney General Ken Paxton for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in four battleground states won by President Joe Biden.

The filing in Collin County by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a standing committee of the state bar, is an extraordinary move by the body that regulates law licenses in the state against the sitting attorney general. It stems from complaints against Paxton for a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out, saying Texas lacked standing to sue and that Paxton’s political opponents called “frivolous.”

It seeks a sanction against Paxton, which will be determined by a judge, that could range from a private reprimand to disbarment.

In its filing, the commission said Paxton had misrepresented that he had uncovered substantial evidence that “raises serious doubts as to the integrity of the election process in the defendant states.”

“As a result of Respondent’s actions, Defendant States were required to expend time, money, and resources to respond to the misrepresentations and false statements contained in these pleadings and injunction requests even though they had previously certified their presidential electors based on the election results prior to the filing of Respondent’s pleadings,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit also says Paxton made “dishonest” representations that an “outcome determinative” number of votes were tied to unregistered voters, votes were switched by a glitch with voting machines, state actors had unconstitutionally revised their election statutes and “illegal votes” had been cast to affect the outcome of the election.

The lawsuit says Paxton’s allegations “were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the Court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The complaint asks for a finding of professional misconduct against Paxton, as well as attorney’s fees and “an appropriate sanction.”

[…]

The lawsuit against Paxton stems from multiple complaints filed by Kevin Moran, president of the Galveston Island Democrats; David Wellington Chew, former chief justice of the Eighth District Court of Appeals; attorney Neil Kay Cohen; attorney Brynne VanHettinga; and Gershon “Gary” Ratner, the co-founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

See here, here, and here for some background; this post contains some technical details from the original complaint. As far as I can tell, this encompasses all of the 2020 election-related complaints against Paxton; there’s a separate complaint having to do with his threats against the Court of Criminal Appeals for not letting him prosecute “voter fraud” cases at his discretion, whose disposition is not known to me at this time. There’s also the complaint against Brent Webster, which will be litigated in Williamson County, and more recently a complaint against Ted Cruz that will presumably take some time to work its way through the system. That first 2020 election complaint against Paxton was filed last June, so it took nearly a year to get to this point. I have no idea if that’s a “normal” time span for this – I suspect nothing about this is “normal” anyway.

One more thing: I presume this was filed in Collin County because that’s where Paxton passed the bar, or some other technical reason like that. The Chron adds a bit of detail about that.

Under the state bar’s rules, disciplinary suits are filed in the county in which the attorney primarily practices. If there’s more than one, the bar files in the county where the attorney lives — Paxton indicated Collin County. Similarly, the suit against Webster was filed in his hometown of Williamson County. That determination is up to the subject of the suit, according to the rules.

Also per the bar’s rules, these suits are heard by an appointed judge from another district.

In Paxton’s case, it will be Judge Casey Blair of Kaufman County, a Republican elected in 2014. Webster’s case will be heard by Judge John Youngblood of Milam County, also a Republican who was first appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 and first elected in 2012.

Good to know. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

State Bar complaint filed against Ted Cruz

Good.

Not Ted Cruz

A group of lawyers want the State Bar of Texas to investigate Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his “leading” role in attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Lawyers with the 65 Project, an organization aiming to hold attorneys accountable for trying to keep former President Donald Trump in power despite his reelection loss, filed an ethics complaint with the association Wednesday. It cites Cruz’s role in a lawsuit seeking to void absentee ballots, numerous claims he made about voter fraud, plus an attempt to stop four states from using 2020 election results to appoint electors — all of which failed.

“Mr. Cruz knew that the allegations he was echoing had already been reviewed and rejected by courts. And he knew that claims of voter fraud or the election being stolen were false,” the complaint says.

[…]

Cruz represented Pennsylvania Republicans in their efforts to cast out nearly all 2020 absentee ballots in their state, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected. Cruz accused the state court of being “a partisan, Democratic court that has issued multiple decisions that were just on their face contrary to law.”

The complaint wants to see Cruz disciplined. It does not say how, though it mentions a New York appellate court’s suspension of Rudy Giuliani’s law license. Guiliani was one of Trump’s lawyers who also repeated false voter fraud claims.

Cruz also agreed to represent Trump in a Texas lawsuit aiming to bar Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin from using its election results. The complaint argues Cruz pushed forward with a frivolous claim, which the U.S. Supreme Court quickly denied.

Here’s the 65 Project webpage; the “65” refers to the “65 lawsuits based on lies to overturn the election and give Trump a second term” that were filed by “an army of Big Lie lawyers. You can see the complaint filed against Cruz here, and the tracker they have of other complaints here. There were several filed on March 7 of this year; the one filed against Cruz was the first since then. None have been resolved yet so it’s too soon to say how effective this group will be. The one thing I can say is that this group was not involved in any of the State Bar complaints against Ken Paxton. Here’s a Vanity Fair story dated March 8 with some background on the group and its members.

Will this work? The State Bar complaints against Paxton over his dangerous and frivolous lawsuit against four Biden-won states is proceeding, though the formal lawsuit that represents the next step has not yet been filed as far as I can tell. I’d say there’s a reasonable argument that Paxton was more directly involved in the seditious and unethical behavior than Cruz was, which may make the State Bar less receptive to the filers’ case, but he wasn’t just a bystander either. Given how long it’s taken the Paxton case to get to a resolution point I’d say don’t hold your breath waiting on something to happen with this one. If it does move forward, great. Hope for the best. But do please put your energy into beating Ted Cruz in his next election, and if he steps away from the Senate to run for President do what you can to elect a Democrat to replace him. That will ultimately have a much bigger effect.

One more thing: This NYT story is headlined “Group Seeks Disbarment of Ted Cruz Over Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election”. While the complaint lays out multiple alleged violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (TDPRC), it does not suggest a remedy. Instead, it merely asks that the State Bar investigate and “apply the standards set for lawyers within the TDRPC, and impose sanctions against Mr. Cruz for violating those requirements”. Certainly, based on the complaints against Paxton for similar behavior, having Cruz’s law license suspended would be on the table if the State Bar were to rule against him, but I presume there would be other options as well. We’ll see if and when it ever gets that far. TPM has more.

UPDATE: Texas Lawyer provides a bit more detail.

In Cruz’s case, the 65 Project alleges he agreed to act as a lawyer in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court in two bogus cases, Kelly v. Pennsylvania and Texas v. Pennsylvania. Acting in tandem with Trump’s legal team, Cruz had a significant role in an “anti-democratic plot, intentionally amplifying false claims about the 2020 election on multiple occasions,” the complaint states.

The Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed by Paxton and Assistant Attorney General Brent E. Webster, has to date resulted in a State Bar lawsuit against Webster in Williamson County’s 368th District Court. Also, Paxton acknowledged on May 6 that the bar would be filing suit against him.

The Commission for Lawyer Discipline’s petition in the Webster case is instructive in that it lays a roadmap for how the bar might proceed against Paxton and Cruz.

The Texas v. Pennsylvania suit, which also challenged the vote count in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, alleged without evidence several forms of vote rigging.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest. His allegations were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law,” the commission’s petition states.

The filing against Webster refers to the bar rule against lawyers engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

See here for more on the Webster case. We’ll see if indeed the State Bar follows this roadmap.

A bunch of well-financed wackos won school board races in Tarrant County

Not great.

All but one of the 11 Tarrant County conservative school board candidates, who were backed this year by several high-profile donors and big-money PACs, defeated their opponents during Saturday’s statewide election, according to unofficial election results. The one candidate backed by the groups who didn’t win outright advances to a runoff election in June.

The 10 candidates won the school board races for the Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller, Mansfield and Carroll school districts.

The candidates’ sweep shows a large swath of voters across the county responded to their calls to eradicate so-called critical race theory from classrooms and remove books discussing LGBTQ issues, which concerned parents have described as “pornographic.” Education experts, school administrators and teachers all say that critical race theory, a university-level concept that examines the institutional legacies of racism, is not taught in classrooms.

The victories also show that the staggering amounts of money that were poured into the once low-profile and nonpartisan local races are producing their intended effect. PACs organized by parents, as well as a newly-formed PAC from a self-proclaimed Christian cell phone company, collectively raised over half a million dollars for the local races this year. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on top political consulting firms that bolstered an anti-CRT platform with flyers saying the candidates were “saving America.”

See here for some background, and here for the cumulative election results. Turnout was way up from 2018 and I’m sure the money and the hot-button issues played some role in that, but it was also the case that many of those races were uncontested four years ago, and I daresay the population of these suburbs is a lot higher now, so the turnout as a share of registered voters (we don’t have that data on the 2022 report, it may be there after the official canvass) may be up by a smaller amount. I don’t mean to diminish what happened, I’m just trying to give some context. Anyone who knows more about the area or those races, please feel free to chime in.

It’s also instructive to compare to the 2020 election, where you may recall that the May races were postponed until November of that year due to COVID. Not all of those ISDs had races in 2020, or at least races that were reported by the Tarrant County election office, but Grapevine and Mansfield did, and the turnout comparison is of interest – I’ve listed the races in ascending order of total voters:

Grapevine 2018 = 6,666
Grapevine 2022 = 12,001
Grapevine 2020 = 45,453

Mansfield 2018 = 4,022
Mansfield 2022 = 11,035
Mansfield 2020 = 74,523

The 2020 totals for Grapevine and Mansfield are exaggerated a bit, as there were 10K undervotes in Grapevine (so about 35K actual voters there) and 23K undervotes in Mansfield (51K actual voters). It’s still the case that the November elections had vastly more participants, even in this charged and big-money environment. I don’t know how the Grapevine and Mansfield wingnut candidates might have done in a turnout context like that, or like what this November would be, which is to say less than 2020 but still considerably more than May, but those were the closest races among those reported in this story. For sure, it was easier for those outside agitators to have a more effective channel to the voters, without a much-bigger-money top of the ticket drowning them out. Against that, it may be that the default voter in those districts would have leaned towards the wingnuts anyway, just based on what they might have absorbed by osmosis. I say this all to note once again that the right wing activists once thought that forcing school board elections to be held in November of even-numbered years would partisanize them in their favor. I don’t think they think that now, and you can cite these races as evidence for it.

Chron editorial board wins another Pulitzer

Congratulations!

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on Monday won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series on voter suppression in Texas.

The prize, which is the nation’s most prestigious for journalists, was awarded to writers Lisa Falkenberg, Michael Lindenberger, Joe Holley and Luis Carrasco. Mostly published in a series called, “The Big Lie,” their winning work examined and debunked GOP-driven falsehoods about voter fraud that have persisted for decades.

“Our editorial team is committed to journalism excellence each and every day,” Houston Chronicle Publisher Nancy Meyer said following the announcement. “The award-winning work surrounding voter fraud and reform continues to prove the positive impact our reporting has for improving the lives of Houstonians and the people of Texas.”

Jurors who decided the award wrote that the Chronicle won for a “campaign that, with original reporting, revealed voter suppression tactics, rejected the myth of widespread voter fraud and argued for sensible voting reforms.”

This is the Chronicle’s — and Falkenberg’s — second Pulitzer. She won the newspaper’s first prize in 2015 for commentary.

The series in question is indeed excellent, and you should read it if you haven’t. I wish we lived in a world where that kind of writing could have a positive effect on the public discourse, but then if we did live in that world there would have been no need for those editorials. I really hate this timeline.

Now, Chron editorial board, please, I implore you, use that prize-winning space to give us some endorsements in the primary runoffs for the judicial races you ignored in March. You can do it, I know you can. Thanks.

Oh yeah, Hotze knew all about the Aguirre attack

Who could have ever guessed that a lifelong lying lair was lying to us?

Two days before a private investigator looking into a voter fraud conspiracy theory smashed into an air conditioning repairman’s truck and pulled a gun on him, far-right activist Steven Hotze called then-U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and told him about the plans to have “a wreck,” court documents show.

Hotze, who funded the investigation and now faces felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint, asked Patrick whether he could send federal marshals to help his private investigator. The investigator, former Houston Police Department captain Mark Aguirre, faces the same charges.

Hotze’s attorneys long have claimed Hotze was unaware of the encounter between Aguirre and the repairman until he saw it on the news after the episode. The transcript suggests otherwise.

“We’ve surveilled them for the last two nights and still my, my, Mark Aguirre, he said he wants to capture them when they bring (the ballots) out and leave tonight to deliver them but he needs a federal marshal with him,” Hotze says in the Oct. 17 call, according to a transcript submitted in Hotze’s criminal case by the Harris County district attorney’s office.

Hotze added later in the call: “In fact, (Aguirre) told me last night, hell, I’m gonna have, the guy’s gonna have a wreck tomorrow. I’m going to run into him and I’m gonna make a citizen’s arrest.”

Two days later, Aguirre allegedly rammed his SUV into the back of the air conditioning repairman’s truck and pulled a gun on the man around 5:30 a.m.. He expected to find thousands of ballots in the man’s truck, but there only were repair tools.

In addition to the criminal case, the repairman has sued Hotze in a civil case.

The transcript says Patrick recorded the call. It is unclear what Patrick did with the information or the recording after talking with Hotze.

[…]

According to the transcript, Patrick rejected Hotze’s request, telling him that as U.S. attorney he did not have marshals that report to him or investigative staff. Even if he did, Patrick said, he would need probable cause and approval from the Department of Justice to assist.

“I can’t just send marshals. That’s not, the marshals don’t work for me,” Patrick said. “I don’t have any, there are no federal agents that work for me. I don’t have officers, I don’t have investigators, like a DA’s office. I don’t have any peace officers or federal agents that work for me.”

Both Hotze and Aguirre have denied wrongdoing.

A former Harris County prosecutor called the recording “extremely significant,” because the district attorney’s office will have to use the “law of parties” principle — which can hold people criminally responsible for the actions of someone else — in their case against Hotze.

“Having a conversation ahead of time, whether recorded or with a reputable individual such as Ryan Patrick, that there was a plan to have an accident — that certainly shows he was involved in this conspiracy,” said Nathan Hennigan, a former prosecutor who worked at the district attorney’s office from 2008 to 2017.

“It’s basically what you would need to prosecute this case,” he said.

[…]

Previous court documents said Aguirre had called the attorney general’s office days before the alleged assault and asked it to conduct a traffic stop of the repairman.

In the new transcript, Hotze tells Patrick the attorney general’s office “is just AWOL” and he cannot try enlisting the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, “obviously because they’re Democrats.” Hotze suggests he may try to find a constable who would assist Aguirre.

Hotze also said Aguirre planned to have an official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement there, in hopes of threatening to deport the man to coerce a confession. Hotze said the people “running the ring are all illegals.”

About six minutes into the call, Patrick tells Hotze he has received the information but he has to go. Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, then was serving as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

There’s a ton of backstory here, but this is a good place to start. I have some sympathy for Ryan Patrick, who I can picture with a pained expression on his face as he’s trying to disconnect from this raving lunatic on his phone. In retrospect, maybe he could have tried to warn someone about what Hotze was up to, but it’s not clear to me who he could have tipped off, and what could have been done about it by whoever he informed. The fact that he declined to get involved in the seditious insanity is sufficient, with a lot of bonus points for recording the call. He did not disgrace himself or his office, and honestly that’s all I really want from most Republicans these days.

Anyway, Hotze’s attorney Jared Woodfill, who has as strained a relationship with truth and reality as Hotze does, claims in the story that this recording will actually bolster Hotze’s defense and prove that he’s innocent, and yeah, no. Given how this has gone so far, and the depraved character of the main players, it won’t shock me if more evidence along these lines surfaces. I’m sure the attorneys for David Lopez, the AC repairman that Hotze’s goons attacked who is suing Hotze for hopefully every last penny he has, are busy taking notes right about now. In the meantime and in conclusion, lock him up. The streets are not safe as long as Steven Hotze is free to walk them.

More State Bar disciplinary stuff

A new twist, as a new player enters the picture.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas State Bar has filed a suit in Williamson County district court against First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster for his involvement in the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, alleging Webster committed professional misconduct by making false and misleading statements in the petition.

A similar disciplinary suit is expected against Paxton, who reiterated Friday his contention that the group is targeting him because it disagrees with his politics. As of Friday afternoon, no suit had been filed.

Texas’ 2020 suit before the U.S. Supreme Court was almost immediately tossed, and Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome. The bar is treating the case as a frivolous lawsuit as it seeks sanctions including possible disbarment for the two public officials.

“I stand by this lawsuit completely,” Paxton said on Twitter. “I am certain that the bar will not only lose, but be fully exposed for what they are: a liberal activist group masquerading as a neutral professional association.”

Then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, the state’s chief litigator who resigned about a month after the election challenge was tossed, was notably absent from the filing, though Hawkins never explained why, raising questions about whether he supported the legal challenge. Solicitor generals are typically involved in all major appellate litigation.

[…]

The bar complaints against Paxton and Webster alleged that their petition to overturn the 2020 election was frivolous and unethical, and that it includes statements that they knew to be false. In Webster’s case, it is clear that the bar agrees.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest,” the suit states. “His allegations were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The suit also alleges that Webster “misrepresented” that Texas had “uncovered substantial evidence,” raising doubts about the integrity of the election and had standing to sue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The four battleground states that Texas sued — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were then forced to have to spend time, money and other resources responding to these claims, it said.

The suit does not specify what type of punishment the bar recommends for Webster.

The suit against Webster was sparked by a March 2021 complaint by Brynne VanHettinga, an former member of the bar who described herself as a “citizen concerned about fascism and illegal overthrow of democracy.” VanHettinga could not be immediately reached Friday.

See here and here for some background. Looking at that Trib story that I based yesterday’s post on, I see it also includes a couple of paragraphs about the action against Brent Webster, who replaced Jeff Mateer after he was purged as a whistleblower against Paxton, and who co-authored the self-exoneration report from that saga. I was not aware of any State Bar complaints against Webster in this matter – the two against Paxton were filed after the VanHettinga complaint against Webster. A Google News search on VanHettinga’s name only yielded the Chron and Trib stories. You can see what a challenge it is to keep up with all this.

As for the Paxton piece of it, this is more of the story I blogged about yesterday. The main thing to learn, which the Trib story also noted, is that there hasn’t yet been a lawsuit filed against Paxton. It sounded like that would be filed in Travis County when it happens, but maybe this means it will happen in Williamson instead. Since it seems that the judge will be selected from the broader judicial administrative region, it’s not clear that where the trial itself is matters.

TDP officially applies for early primary status

They’ll have a lot of competition.

More than a dozen states and at least one territory are applying to be among the first to vote for Democrats’ next presidential nominee — with the biggest pile-up coming out of the Midwest, where states are jockeying to take Iowa’s long-held early spot.

Fifteen state parties and counting, plus Puerto Rico, have submitted letters of intent to the Democratic National Committee ahead of a Friday deadline to be considered as a 2024 early state, according to a POLITICO tally. The process — the first major reimagining of the early-state presidential order in years — is being run through the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will hear pitches from different states in late June and recommend a new early-state lineup to the full DNC by July.

The roster of states looking to go early hails from all over the country, including New Jersey, Washington, Colorado and Georgia. But a particularly intense competition is brewing in the Midwest, where Iowa — whose lack of diversity and messy caucus process drew Democratic ire in 2020, sparking the new look at the calendar — has been forced to reapply for its traditional slot. It is under pressure from five other states seeking to be the regional representative in the early-state lineup, depending on how broadly the DNC defines the region: Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The shakeup is part of a broader move by forces in the Democratic Party that want to eliminate caucuses and give more influence to voters of color. While Democrats moved Nevada and South Carolina forward on the calendar in 2008 to increase the racial diversity of the voters who get an early say on presidential nominations, the party voted this spring to fully reopen the nominating process, including the first two spots occupied for a half-century by Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Nothing is locked in,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and a member of the rules committee. “There are no sacred cows here.”

The sixteen state and territory Democratic Party organizations applying for early-state status in the next Democratic presidential primary: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

See here for the background, and here for the TDP’s statement on the matter. As I said before, I’m fine with where we are now in the primary process. Mostly, I don’t want to move the primaries any earlier, and I definitely don’t want to separate the Presidential primary from the rest of the races. It’s far from clear we could get the Lege to move the primary date up anyway, so this may just be an academic exercise. We’ll see what happens.

Paxton whines about the disciplinary process he selected

My head hurts.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s top lawyer, said Friday the state bar was suing him for professional misconduct related to his lawsuit challenging the 2020 presidential election.

“I have recently learned that the Texas State Bar — which has been waging a months-long witch-hunt against me — now plans to sue me and my top deputy for filing Texas v. Penn: the historic challenge to the unconstitutional 2020 presidential election joined by nearly half of all the states and over a hundred members of Congress,” Paxton said in a statement released on social media. “I stand by this lawsuit completely.”

A few hours after saying he was being sued by the bar, Paxton’s office announced an investigation into the Texas Bar Foundation for “facilitating mass influx of illegal aliens” by donating money to groups that “encourage, participate in, and fund illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border.” The foundation is made up of attorneys and raises money to provide legal education and services. It is separate from the State Bar of Texas, which is an administrative arm of the Texas Supreme Court.

Representatives for the Texas Bar Foundation could not immediately be reached for comment. Trey Apffel, executive director of the State Bar of Texas, said the bar and the foundation are privately funded and don’t receive taxpayer funds.

“The foundation is separately funded through charitable donations and governed by its own board of trustees,” Apffel said. “While we are unsure what donations are at issue here, we are confident that the foundation’s activities are in line with its mission of enhancing the rule of law and the system of justice in Texas.”

Paxton, an embattled Republican seeking a third term, said state bar investigators who now appear to be moving on a lawsuit against him are biased and said the decision to sue him, which comes a week before early voting in his GOP runoff for attorney general, was politically motivated. He is facing Land Commissioner George P. Bush in the May 24 election.

“Texas Bar: I’ll see you and the leftists that control you in court,” he said. “I’ll never let you bully me, my staff or the Texans I represent into backing down or going soft on defending the Rule of Law — something for which you have little knowledge.”

In fact, the investigation into Paxton has been pending for months. Last July, a group of 16 lawyers that included four former state bar presidents filed an ethics complaint against Paxton arguing that he demonstrated a pattern of professional misconduct, including his decision to file a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential elections in battleground states where former President Donald Trump, a Paxton ally, had lost. The attorneys said the lawsuit was “frivolous” and had been filed without evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed it, saying Texas had no standing to sue.

In March, the investigation moved ahead and Paxton was given 20 days to decide whether he wanted a trial by jury or an administrative hearing to resolve the complaint.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the state bar said the group had not been notified of a decision. Jim Harrington, a civil rights attorney and one of the lawyers who filed the ethics complaint, said he also had not been notified of a trial but that Paxton would have received notification.

“I was as surprised as you were to see that tweet this morning,” Harrington said.

See here for some background. You may note that happened in early March, almost two months ago, which is considerably more than 20 days. I don’t know if time moves more slowly in this context or if there just wasn’t any mechanism to enforce the decision Paxton had to make. Whatever the case, he made it and now he’s fundraising off of it. At least that much is par for the course, at least for him. While this case will be heard in Travis County, the judge who oversees it will be selected from the Texas Judicial Branch’s administrative region, which is a fairly large area. I don’t know how any of that works, either – this whole thing is kind of a black box. But it’s moving along, which is more than we can say for some other messes involving Ken Paxton.

UPDATE: Via email, a statement from the Texas Bar Foundation:

“The Foundation is extremely disappointed to learn that AG Paxton has decided to use taxpayer dollars on a fruitless exercise. Had AG Paxton taken the time to come and speak with us rather than issue a press release, I am confident that he would have found no wrongdoing on the part of the Foundation. Nevertheless, the Foundation is happy to cooperate and provide the AG’s office with documents and information relevant to the investigation.

Thousands of Texans have had their lives changed because of grants received from the Texas Bar Foundation. General Paxton is misinformed. The Foundation does not receive funding from taxpayer dollars. To the contrary, our grants are made possible by the generosity of Texas lawyers. We receive voluntary contributions from the Fellows of the Foundation, and those contributions enable the Foundation to award millions of dollars in grants. We will proudly continue to award grants to much-needed charities throughout Texas going forward.”

There’s a story in today’s Chron that has more information than this Trib story. I’ll do a separate post on that.

April 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The primaries are over, and while we do still have some runoffs plus now a weird special election in CD34, we do have a smaller set of races and candidates to review. Given how many I had to cram into the previous posts, I’m sure you can feel my relief at that. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Mike McCaul – CD10
Linda Nuno – CD10
Ruben Ramirez – CD15
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Ricardo Villarreal – CD21
Troy Nehls – CD22
Jamie Kaye Jordan – CD22
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Derrik Gay – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessica Cisneros – CD28
Sandra Whitten – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Jane Hope Hamilton – CD30
Jasmine Crockett – CD30
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     12,249,172 10,844,572        0  3,257,314
02    Fulford          95,297     50,703   15,595     44,594
03    Self            235,044    225,791        0      9,253
03    Srivastava      100,619     96,231   55,000      4,388
10    McCaul        1,749,060  1,243,137        0    513,656
10    Nuno                  0          0        0          0
15    Ramirez         356,758    257,059   12,250     99,698
15    Vallejo         299,915    217,293  100,000     82,621
15    De la Cruz    2,313,272  1,957,129   13,000    363,649
21    Roy           1,454,476    830,885        0  1,087,173
21    Zapata           54,801     43,550        0     11,251
21    Villarreal       32,586     17,015   20,563     13,866
22    Nehls           670,482    322,270    5,726    367,417
22    Jordan                0          0        0          0
23    Gonzales      2,261,907    985,463        0  1,307,803
23    Lira            251,642    195,017        0     56,625
24    Van Duyne     2,035,203    731,839        0  1,371,774
24    Gay             208,661    165,886        0     42,774
24    McDowell         11,183      5,632        0      5,550
28    Cuellar       2,753,040  2,864,938        0  1,438,575
28    Cisneros      3,248,787  2,214,132        0  1,037,623
28    Whitten          58,037     57,036        0      9,142
28    Garcia          219,408    104,225        0    115,183
30    Hamilton        555,455    460,356   15,014     95,098
30    Crockett        502,506    384,575        0    117,931
34    Gonzalez      1,990,337  2,021,196        0  1,339,633
34    Flores          347,758    227,100        0    120,657
38    Hunt          3,385,520  1,743,508        0  1,865,954
38    Klussman        121,440     72,934    7,000     48,505
38    Alexander        33,812     30,882        0      2,930

I’ve taken out the people who are no longer running after the primaries, and I’ve removed some districts that aren’t particularly interesting for the general election; CD30 will be the next to go once that runoff is settled. Still a long list, but it will be shorter for Q3.

It’s weird to see the two nominees in CD03 having less than $10K on hand at this point in the cycle, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Keith Self was supposed to be in a runoff, one he just barely squeaked into, but then Rep. Van Taylor self-immolated, resetting everything in the race. I’m sure Self will post much bigger numbers for July. I would hope that Sandeep Srivastava is able to capitalize a bit as well – this district isn’t really competitive on paper, especially not in a tough year for Dems, but Collin County overall has been moving rapidly in a blue direction, and a good showing by Srivastava could put him in strong shape for 2024, which may be a much better year to run there. I’d love to see him at $250-300K raised in the Q3 report.

Also remarkable for his modest total is Rep. Troy Nehls, who really stands out in a “one of these things is not like the others” when compared to Reps. Chip Roy, Tony Gonzales, and Beth Van Duyne. I don’t know if this reflects a lack of interest in fundraising on his part, a lack of interest in him by the donor class, a lack of urgency given that his opponent hasn’t raised anything, or some combination. CD22 is another district that I expect to be competitive in a couple of cycles, so if Nehls proves to be a lackluster fundraiser that could be an issue down the line.

We’ve talked about the CD34 special election and the financial edge that the Republicans should have in it. The filing deadline for that was in April, so the candidates in that election, other than Mayra Flores who is the GOP candidate for November, is on this list. Flores also has less money than I would have thought, but as with Keith Self I expect that to grow between now and the next report. There will be some interim reports available before the election on June 14, I’ll check in on that in a few weeks.

Not much else to say at this time. Let me know what you think.

I’m not sure I want us to be an early Presidential primary state

We’re pretty early already. I’m fine with that.

The Texas Democratic Party is planning to apply to be one of the first states to vote on the 2024 presidential nomination.

The Democratic National Committee recently decided to allow new states to bid for the coveted status, which has long belonged to places like Iowa and New Hampshire. But after complaints throughout the 2020 primary — and Iowa’s disastrous caucus — the national party is looking to overhaul the calendar to kick off the nominating process in states that better reflect the diversity of the broader electorate.

The Texas party had been considering a bid and was planning to meet Wednesday with the DNC to go over the process, according to a state party spokesperson, Angelica Luna Kaufman. She said later Wednesday that the party had decided it would submit an application.

“Because Texas has such a vibrant and diverse population, we believe candidates that would emerge from our primary would better represent and be better prepared to face the country’s growing dynamic and diverse population,” Luna Kaufman said. “The candidates that would come out of an earlier Texas primary would be quite a force. And a force is exactly what it’s going to take to win in 2024.”

However, it could be a tricky process and starts out with uncertain odds. Moving up the primary date would ultimately be up to the Legislature, where Republicans are in charge.

States have until May 6 to submit a letter of interest to the DNC and then until June 3 to submit an application. The DNC could finalize the new calendar by the end of the summer.

In 2020, Iowa had its contest on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire on Feb. 11, Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29.

Our primary is right after South Carolina, and as the story noted it was pretty important in 2020. In 2008 too, as there wasn’t a clear leader going in and then all of a sudden we were the center of attention for a couple of weeks. I don’t want our primary to be any earlier in the year – to be honest, this is as much a selfish desire on my part as anything, as the Christmas holiday works really well for me to do a ton of candidate interviews, and moving this up would ruin that. Nor do I want a split primary, where we do a separate Presidential vote before we do the rest of the races. I seriously doubt the Lege is interested in doing anything to accommodate Democratic Presidential hopefuls, but even on its own merits I’d expect there to be a lot of reluctance. We can debate it all we want, in the end I think this will be an academic exercise. And that’s fine by me.

Hotze gets bail

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel much safer if this guy had been locked up.

Far-right activist Steven Hotze on Thursday made his first court appearance since being indicted on criminal charges after funding a private investigation into voter fraud that ended with the investigator pointing a gun at an innocent air conditioning repairman.

State District Judge Maritza Antu set a combined bail at $18,500 on the two charges of aggravated assault and unlawful restraint, Hotze’s attorney Jared Woodfill said after the court hearing.

Hotze, 71, declined to comment after the hearing. Woodfill said Hotze could not comment due to pending litigation.

Woodfill also said the bail was lower than what prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney’s office sought, which he called a “victory” for his client.

Prosecutors sought bail of $30,000 on the assault charge and $5,000 on the restraint charge, the agency said. Woodfill sought $10,000 on the assault charge on $3,000 on the restraint charge.

See here for the background. By a weird coincidence, Hotze drew the one Republican judge on the bench in Harris County – Judge Antu was appointed by Greg Abbott to the newly-created 482nd Criminal District Court. One less thing for him to whine about being SO UNFAIR to him, I guess. Disgraced former HPD cop and Hotze hired goon Mark Aguirre was levied the bail amounts that prosecutors had requested for Hotze. I’m sure I will blog obsessively about this, so thank you in advance for your indulgence.

Hotze indicted for his bogus “voter fraud investigation”

Lock him up.

Steven Hotze, the far-right agitator who funded a private investigation into voter fraud that ended with a private investigator pointing a gun at an innocent air conditioning repairman, has been indicted for his role in the episode.

A Harris County grand jury has indicted Hotze for charges of unlawful restraint and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to his attorney, Gary Polland.

The former police officer whom Hotze hired, Mark Aguirre, was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon late last year. Terry Yates, who represents Aguirre, said he has been re-indicted on the same charges as Hotze.

[…]

Through a group called Liberty Center for God and Country, Hotze funded a private investigation into a conspiracy theory that Democrats had collected hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots, prosecutors have alleged. The group paid Aguirre, a disgraced former Houston police captain, $266,400 to investigate the claims.

Before 6 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2020, Aguirre allegedly slammed his black SUV into the back of the repairman’s truck and drew a pistol. He ordered the repairman to the ground and put a knee on his back, prosecutors have said.

Aguirre thought the repairman had hundreds of thousands of ballots in his truck. Instead, there were only air conditioning parts and tools, prosecutors said. Aguirre later told police he had followed the repairman for four days.

The vast majority of the money from Hotze’s group, $211,400, arrived to Aguirre one day after the alleged assault, previous grand jury subpoenas showed.

Even after Aguirre’s indictment, the organization has sought donations for more investigations. Hotze hosted a “Freedom Gala” fundraiser April 2 in Houston with Attorney General Ken Paxton and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive who has pushed former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Invites for the event said any money raised would be used to investigate voter fraud in Harris County and Texas, recruit poll watchers, and pay for the legal defense “and offensive efforts” to stop voter fraud.

See here, here, and here for some background. The AC repairman that Hotze’s goons attacked has filed a lawsuit against Hotze that I hope will end up wiping him out. But even that isn’t enough, and I’m so ready to see Hotze as a criminal defendant. And hopefully, one day, as a convicted felon. The Trib has more.

Four candidates file for CD34 special election

The sprint is on.

Rep. Filemon Vela

Two Democrats and two Republicans have filed for the June 14 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in a South Texas congressional seat that the GOP wants to flip.

The filing deadline was 5 p.m. Wednesday, and the candidates are Democrat Dan Sanchez, a Harlingen attorney; Republican Mayra Flores, the current GOP nominee for the seat in the November general election; Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera, one of Flores’ competitors from the March primary; and Democrat Rene Coronado of Harlingen, who listed his occupation as “city civil service director.”

The special election was triggered by Vela’s resignation last month to take a job with Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm. He had already announced he was not seeking reelection.

The winner of the special election will only get to finish Vela’s term, which extends until January. But Republicans are eager to capture the seat as they try to gain new ground in South Texas, and the special election is happening under the current, more competitive boundaries of the 34th District. The November election for a full term in Congress will be held under new district boundaries that were redrawn during last year’s redistricting process.

Top Republicans have already consolidated behind Flores. She has been endorsed for the special election by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi, Texas GOP vice chair Cat Parks and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the leading super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership.

Sanchez, a former Cameron County commissioner, has the support of Vela, as well as U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who is currently the Democratic nominee for the full term in the 34th District. He declined to run in the special election.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t feel any better about this race than I did before, but at least the Dems found someone with a bit of a pedigree to run in this otherwise thankless race. We’ll see if that shows up in the fundraising, for which there’s not much time – early voting for this thing begins May 31. Those of you in the current CD34, take note.

CD34 special election set for June 14

Wasting no time.

Rep. Filemon Vela

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called a June 14 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in a South Texas seat that Republicans are working to flip.

The filing deadline for the special election is April 13, and early voting starts May 31, according to Abbott’s proclamation.

Vela resigned Thursday to take a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm. He had already announced he was not seeking reelection.

The special election will be held under the previous, more competitive boundaries of the district, under which President Joe Biden carried it by only 4 percentage points. His underperformance throughout South Texas emboldened Republicans who are now trying to make fresh inroads throughout the region.

The winner of the special election will only get to finish Vela’s term, which goes through January 2023. Still, Republicans are eager to score an early win on their way to November, and the current GOP nominee for the full term in the 34th District, Mayra Flores, has already said she would run in any special election.

[…]

Abbott had the option of scheduling the special election for the Nov. 8 uniform election date or calling an “emergency special election” to slate it sooner. He went the latter route, citing his disaster declarations on COVID-19 and the Mexican border to argue that it is “imperative to fill this vacancy to ensure that Congressional District 34 is fully represented as soon as possible.” He also cited the coming hurricane season.

See here and here for the background. The “emergency” justification seems awfully weak to me – compare and contrast with Rick Perry calling a November 2005 special election for HD143, which he did in late May following the death of Rep. Joe Moreno, even though he was about to call what turned out to be two special sessions of the Legislature, running in total from June 21 to August 19. I’m not sure it would be possible to challenge this in court – who would even have standing to sue? – and recent precedent shows that SCOTx is not all that interested in limiting the Governor’s powers even if someone tried. And, even if I don’t like the politics involved here, I can’t say I like the idea of forcing delays in elections, also for political reasons. Just because we’re not holding a great hand doesn’t mean we should sue to stop the game.

Anyway. We’ll see if Dems can scrounge up a respectable candidate for the position of placeholder, and if that person can get any financial support if they do materialize. Just remember, the real villain in this, the person who put us in this unenviable position, is Filemon Vela, who I remind you is a DNC official. We’re here because he couldn’t wait a couple more months before cashing in as a lobbyist. Thank you ever so much for your service, Filemon.

Filemon officially resigns

Feh.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela will formally resign from Congress late Thursday in a move that officially kicks off what’s expected to be a scramble to replace him in a special election.

Vela, D-Brownsville, previously announced his intention to step down before the end of his term because he intends on taking a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm.

“I write to inform you that I have notified Texas Governor Greg Abbott of my resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives, effective today at 11:59 PM EST,” he wrote to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It has been a profound honor to represent the people of the 34th Congressional District of Texas for the last nine years, and my distinct pleasure to serve under your leadership.”

Now that the resignation is official, Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to set a special election date — a development that Republicans are relishing as part of their offensive targeting three congressional seats in South Texas this fall.

A special election will be a complicated affair.

Whoever wins will only serve for the remainder of Vela’s unfinished term, which is a matter of months. The November general election will determine who serves the next full term representing the 34th Congressional District.

See here for the background. If the special election isn’t until November, the next uniform election date since it’s too late for May, then this won’t amount to anything more than the Dems being a member light for most of the year. If it happens before then, which it will if Greg Abbott declares the need for an emergency election (as I expect he will), then the Republicans will have the advantage of a candidate who’s already running and has money to spend and a sure source of national donations, while the Dems will need to find someone willing to be a placeholder. Not a great situation, obviously. It’s a mess, one with no clear solution, and one that is entirely the responsibility of now ex-Rep. Vela, who I remind you is a DNC official and should really want to avoid making such messes for his team. It is what it is at this point. We’ll see when the election is called and go from there.

Guess who’s paying for Ken Paxton’s defense against those state bar complaints?

You are, of course. What did you expect?

Best mugshot ever

Texas taxpayers are on the hook for $45,000 so far in legal defense for Attorney General Ken Paxton as he attempts to ward off multiple complaints to the State Bar over his failed lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Paxton faces at least three professional misconduct complaints that have been filed against him since the December suit, which the high court swiftly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The election case involved disputed presidential election ballots in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Two complaints — one filed in June by a Democratic Party activist, consolidated with a few others, and another in July filed by the nonprofit Lawyers Defending American Democracy and 16 Texas lawyers, including four former presidents of the state Bar — alleged the Supreme Court suit was frivolous and that it included pleadings that Paxton knew to be false.

The Lawyers Defending American Democracy complaint is moving forward and will be heard by either a district court judge or an administrative panel, the complainants say.

“This is about his individual license, which is irrelevant to his position in office, so why shouldn’t he pay for it?” said Jim Harrington, one of the lawyers who filed a complaint against Paxton and a retired founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit that advocates for voting rights. “He gets to do this game on Jan. 6, this unconstitutional Supreme Court action, and then turn around and have us pay twice for it? It’s outrageous.”

[…]

Attorneys with the Austin-based Gober Group and College Station-based West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry billed more than 94 hours at various rates for work related to the bar complaints. Chris Gober, a GOP election lawyer known for his work defending the state’s political maps, had the highest rate at $525 an hour.

Some of the work described in the invoices included reviewing documents related to the complaints, discussing strategy and considering options, preparing for meetings with the Texas State Bar and reviewing and revising correspondence with the agency.

However, a response to the June batch of bar complaints against Paxton, which the office posted on its website, was signed by Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Grant Dorfman; none of the outside attorneys’ names appear on the filing. It’s unclear why both in-house and outside counsel appear to have been engaged in Paxton’s defense.

Because there’s free money to give to Paxton’s pals. This has been another edition of “Simple Answers to Simple Questions”.

See here for the most recent update. There is of course a hypocrisy angle in all of this, because of course there is.

Steve Fischer, elected State Bar director for the Western District of Texas and one of the attorneys who filed the 2015 complaint, said taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the cost of Paxton’s defense.

“People elect an attorney general to do child support, whatever — not for that,” Fischer said. “To turn his office into his defense team, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

According to a response to some of the latest complaints by the attorney general’s office in July, the State Bar Disciplinary Counsel received 81 grievances against Paxton and three against First Assistant Brent Webster related to the 2020 Supreme Court suit. All were dismissed upon initial review. Some were reinstated after appeals.

[…]

While the attorney general’s office’s role in fighting bar complaints may be a legal gray area, the agency is statutorily required to defend state officials and state agencies in court. Yet Paxton’s office has declined to represent those state agencies on several recent occasions, typically when it conflicts with his political inclinations.

In 2018, for example, his office refused to defend the Texas Ethics Commission as one of his largest political donors sues to dismantle the agency. Then again, in January 2020, the office abandoned the State Commission on Judicial Conduct when it was sued by a Waco judge whom the agency disciplined for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

Paxton’s main complaint about the State Bar allowing this matter to proceed is that both the filing and the State Bar itself are motivated by partisan politics. Not him, though, of course. Never him.

You may think well, maybe we don’t want the government to pay for this government official’s defense because he’s so odious, but what happens when we elect a Democratic AG? Should Rochelle Garza or Joe Jaworski have to pay for their own defense against the avalanche of frivolous partisan complaints that will surely be filed against them? That would be bad, except that as the story notes the vast majority of the ones against Paxton got dismissed for lack of merit. I doubt it would be any different with a different AG. At least, it better not be. As long as it isn’t, and as long as the next AG has better ethical standards than Ken Paxton – an exceptionally low hurdle to clear – it shouldn’t be an issue.

Of course Ted Cruz supported sedition

None of this is surprising. And I’m certain there will be more, that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz was dining near the Capitol on the evening of Dec. 8, 2020, when he received an urgent call from President Donald Trump. A lawsuit had just been filed at the Supreme Court designed to overturn the election Trump had lost, and the president wanted help from the Texas Republican.

“Would you be willing to argue the case?” Trump asked Cruz, as the senator later recalled it.

“Sure, I’d be happy to” if the court granted a hearing, Cruz said he responded.

The call was just one step in a collaboration that for two months turned the once-bitter political enemies into close allies in the effort to keep Trump in the White House based on the president’s false claims about a stolen election. By Cruz’s own account, he was “leading the charge” to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Now, Cruz’s efforts are of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in particular whether Cruz was in contact with Trump lawyer John Eastman, a conservative attorney who has been his friend for decades and who wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Biden’s victory.

As Eastman outlined a scenario in which Vice President Mike Pence could deny certifying Biden’s election, Cruz crafted a complementary plan in the Senate. He proposed objecting to the results in six swing states and delaying accepting the Electoral College results on Jan. 6 in favor of a 10-day “audit” — thus potentially enabling GOP state legislatures to overturn the result. Ten other senators backed his proposal, which Cruz continued to advocate on the day rioters attacked the Capitol.

The committee’s interest in Cruz is notable as investigators zero in on how closely Trump’s allies coordinated with members of Congress in the attempt to block or delay certifying Biden’s victory. If Cruz’s plan worked, it could have created enough chaos for Trump to remain in power.

“It was a very dangerous proposal, and, you know, could very easily have put us into territory where we got to the inauguration and there was not a president,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a Jan. 6 committee member, said earlier this year on the podcast “Honestly. And I think that Senator Cruz knew exactly what he was doing. I think that Senator Cruz is somebody who knows what the Constitution calls for, knows what his duties and obligations are, and was willing, frankly, to set that aside.”

It’s a long story, from the WaPo and reprinted in the Trib, and it just gets worse from there. I believe that Cruz knew exactly what he was doing and that he had no legal leg to stand on, and also that he didn’t care. Maybe he’d get lucky with the judges, who can say. It was all about winning and power anyway. Of course, it’s a fine line between that kind of blase nihilism and Ginni Thomas’ full-on Qanon ravings. For that, they both richly deserve an in depth investigation from the January 6 committee, and a criminal contempt citation if they refuse.

One more thing:

In the weeks that followed, as Trump allies lost a string of election cases, Cruz began suggesting he could lead a more effective legal strategy. He talked about his success in helping Bush’s legal team and how he had argued a total of nine cases before the Supreme Court, mostly as the Texas solicitor general. Two days later, he announced he had agreed to represent Pennsylvania Republicans in their effort to block certification of that state’s presidential results. The Supreme Court rejected that request, though, a near-fatal blow to efforts to overturn the election in the courts.

But the next day, Trump and Cruz focused on another avenue to put the matter before the Supreme Court: a case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argued his state had standing to ask the court to throw out election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

When Trump called on Dec. 8 as Cruz dined out, the president asked whether he was surprised about the loss of the Pennsylvania case, Cruz later recalled on his podcast, “Verdict with Ted Cruz.” Cruz said he was unhappy but “not shocked” that the federal court did not take a case about state law: “That was a challenging hurdle.”

When Cruz agreed to Trump’s request to argue the Texas case, it shocked some who knew him best. One adviser said he called Cruz to express dismay, telling the senator it went against the principles on which he built his political brand.

“If you’re a conservative federalist, the idea that one state can tell another state how to run their elections is outrageous, but he somehow contorted in his mind that it would be okay for him to argue that case,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who had served as Cruz’s chief of staff and was a former first assistant attorney general in Paxton’s office, tweeted that the case “represents a dangerous violation of federalism” that “will almost certainly fail.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

Cruz’s spokeswoman said that he agreed to Trump’s request because “he believed Texas deserved to have effective advocacy” but said that “he told President Trump at the time that he believed the Court was unlikely to take the Texas case.”

Just as a reminder, this ridiculous lawsuit was the basis for two State Bar of Texas complaints against Ken Paxton (and another against Sidney Powell) that in a just world will result in their disbarments. Surely a similar complaint against Cruz might be warranted. The Texas Signal has more.

Rep. Filemon Vela to step down

Another special election, though this one is already a little chaotic.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela confirmed Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks, a decision that comes after he announced last year he would retire from the House.

The South Texas Democrat will leave before the end of his term to work for Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm.

The Washington-based publication Punchbowl first reported the news Thursday morning, and the Brownsville Democrat confirmed it to The Texas Tribune.

That development will set off a unique special election to replace him. His 34th District is based in Brownsville.

Rep. Vela had previously announced he was not running for re-election. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, the incumbent in CD15, switched to CD34 after redistricting made his district redder, and won the primary for that. My initial thought was that this was going to be a November special election, since it’s too late for May, and with Rep. Gonzalez not running there’s a good chance we’d get ourselves a two-month Congressperson, who would have a mighty tough act to follow in that department.

But that was too simplistic, and didn’t take a couple of things into account. This followup Trib story goes into more detail. I don’t have the energy to do a deep dive, so let me sum up. First, in regard to when the election might be:

The main factor here is that Rep. Vela hasn’t resigned yet. No special election can be set until he actually leaves Congress. The longer he waits, the less likely we’ll get an election before November. I don’t know how long he’d have to wait to make anything but a November election practicable, but if held on until like July 4, there would probably be little reason to bother with anything before November.

Why does this matter? Well, that’s the other thing. The special election in CD34 will be in the current CD34, which was only a 51-47 Biden district in 2020. The new CD34 is 57-42 for Biden, though as we’ve often seen downballot Dems did better. While Mayra Flores, the Republican running in November in the new CD34, has announced she will run in a special election in the old CD34, Dems don’t have an obvious candidate. Remember, Vicente Gonzalez is still representing CD15, and would have to resign there to run in a CD34 special. That’s a big advantage for the Republicans, since who would even be open to being recruited to run as a placeholder in a tough race? But not running anyone, or just letting the usual flotsam that signs up for random races be the standard-bearers, isn’t a great option either.

You would think that Filemon Vela, who is among other things a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, would be sensitive to those concerns. And maybe he is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if he leaves his position in Congress for the obviously plush and lucrative position as a hired gun for Akin Gump he’s putting his fellow Democrats in a tough spot. All he needs to do to avoid this is not resign until, like, August or so. (July might be good enough, but why take a chance?) We’re talking four more months in Congress. That’s not much to ask. If you’re a constituent of Rep. Vela, I’d recommend you call his office and urge him to stay put for the time being. This is an easily avoidable mess, but it’s all on him whether it needs to be cleaned up or not.

First “Trump Train” lawsuit to proceed

Good news.

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of plaintiffs in Cervini v. Cisneros, the “Texas Trump Train” lawsuit filed against individuals in a convoy of Trump supporters who conspired to mount a coordinated vehicular assault against a Biden-Harris campaign bus on October 30, 2020. The court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case and allowed it to go forward on allegations that these individuals engaged in political violence that violated the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Texas state law.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, Protect Democracy, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP filed the suit last year on behalf of four plaintiffs—bus driver Tim Holloway, politician Wendy Davis, historian Eric Cervini, and former Biden campaign staffer David Gins. Holloway, Davis, and Gins were on the Biden-Harris campaign bus, and Cervini was in an accompanying vehicle, when the bus was ambushed on I-35 between San Antonio and Austin on the last day of early voting in Texas.

For more than an hour, dozens of trucks and cars encircled the campaign bus, having coordinated to threaten, harass, and intimidate those aboard. They live-streamed their attempts to run the bus off the road, and one of their vehicles ultimately collided with a campaign vehicle. With today’s decision, the case against participants in this caravan who conspired to ambush the bus and its passengers will continue with discovery, and the plaintiffs will have a chance to prove their case at trial.

“Today the court reaffirmed that political violence has no place in our democracy,” said Tim Holloway, who was driving the Biden-Harris bus during the incident. “And though the threats and intimidation we experienced are haunting, at least there is hope that our harassers will be held accountable.”

“While we were peacefully exercising our right to campaign, we were ambushed by individuals engaged in a conspiracy to threaten us with violence,” added Eric Cervini. “With this ruling, the court recognizes that what we experienced that day was exactly the sort of political intimidation the Ku Klux Klan Act was designed to address.”

With today’s decision, plaintiffs can continue to seek a jury verdict declaring the incident a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act. Congress passed the Reconstruction statute to protect free and fair federal elections from widespread Klan violence against Black and Republican voters by making it illegal for individuals to join together to intimidate and injure Americans participating peacefully in the political process.

“Today’s ruling reaffirms that violations of the Klan Act need not invoke racial or other class-based animus, or state action,” said John Paredes, counsel at Protect Democracy. “Anyone who conspires to intimidate or attack a political campaign in a federal election — regardless of their motivations — is guilty of a Klan Act violation.”

“Free and fair elections depend on voters — no matter their color, party, or zip code — being protected from the threat of violence. The attack on our clients on the Biden-Harris campaign bus is part of a troubling pattern of increasing political violence in the U.S. in recent years — culminating in the insurrection at Congress on January 6, 2021,” added Emma Hilbert, senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Today’s decision serves to reaffirm the freedom of political expression, and serves as a warning that justice awaits those who may conspire to terrorize or menace voters.”

More information about this case is available here and here.

See here and here for the background, and here for the court order. There were two lawsuits filed over this debacle, one against individual drivers of the “Trump Train”, and one against the San Marcos police department, which was quite the hot mess. The ruling here is for the first lawsuit, though it seems likely to me that it would apply for the second as well. I don’t know at this time when the trial is going to happen, but of course I’ll be keeping an eye on it. KVUE has more.

Amanda Edwards to run for Mayor

The field is now at three.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards, a former at-large member of Houston City Council and candidate for U.S. Senate, announced Wednesday she is running for mayor of Houston in 2023.

Edwards’ return to politics comes two years after her fifth-place finish in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary. She previously had served a single term as one of Houston’s five citywide council members, before passing up a second term to run for Senate.

With Edwards’ announcement, there now are three major candidates vying next year to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who cannot run again due to term limits. Edwards, who would be the first Black woman to lead Houston city government, said her experience at City Hall sets her apart from the other two candidates, former Harris County clerk Chris Hollins and state Sen. John Whitmire, both of whom, like Edwards, are Democrats and attorneys.

“There are complicated issues that are facing the next mayor. The easy stuff, that was done many years ago,” Edwards said. “It’s the hard stuff that’s left, and you’ve got to have somebody at the helm on Day One that is ready to lead and knows how to navigate the city and all of its challenges and opportunities that may be in front of us.”

During her four-year tenure on Houston City Council, Edwards served as vice chair of the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and helped direct a task force focused on boosting the city’s tech and startup economy.

She proposed amendments to the annual city budget — one of the few levers of power for council members under Houston’s strong-mayor form of government — that sought to speed up the permitting process, expand internet access for low-income communities and improve conditions for women- and minority-owned businesses.

As mayor, Edwards said she would focus on “cultivating opportunity for everyone,” including businesses owned by women and minorities, who she said face “great disparities when they’re trying to access traditional forms of capital” to grow their businesses.

I thought Edwards would be an obvious contender for Mayor back when she was a Council member, for a variety of reasons – she was young and had a strong showing in her first election, did well raising money, would be term-limited at the same time as Mayor Turner, had plenty of opportunity to make things happen on Council, and so on. She chose a different path, declining to run for re-election before entering the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020, where she raised a respectable but not impressive amount of money and finished a disappointing fifth place in that large field. Even when she was a candidate for Senate I still thought she might wind up running for Mayor. And so here we are. (You can also see what a genius I was at predicting the future.)

Whatever route she took to get here, she’s here now. As I’ve said many times, we’ll have a better handle on how her candidacy, or anyone’s, is doing when we see the first batch of campaign finance reports. Money isn’t everything, but at least early on it’s a decent proxy for how much interest there is in a particular contender, and where that interest is coming from. Right now we have three candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, and they’re out there introducing themselves to the wider audience that they’ll need to appeal to. It’s likely that field will grow, so making a good impression now while there’s less competition is of great value. There’s a lot happening right now, and we should all rank the 2022 election ahead of the 2023 one, but do keep an eye on these people, as one of them could be our next Mayor. Edwards’ intro video is here. I wish her luck. The Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

Precinct analysis: The new Senate map

Previously: New State House map, New Congressional map, new SBOE map.

The good news is that all 31 Senate seats will be on the ballot this year, as it is a post-redistricting year. The bad news is that the only seat likely to flip is the maybe-illegal-but-still-in-effect SD10; the second most likely is SD27, the one now held by Sen. Eddie Lucio. That will be a gain if the Dems hold it, which I think they probably will, but will put the Senate back at 20-11 for the Republicans otherwise. There are some potential opportunities for Dems going forward, but nothing likely to happen this year.

As before, I’m tracking how things changed over the course of the past decade, this time using the new data. You can find the 2012 election results for the new map 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%
====================================================================
06   105,626   52,984  65.8%  33.0%   145,880   72,715  66.1%  32.7%
13   187,437   43,220  80.5%  18.6%   226,746   60,286  78.1%  20.8%
14   191,555  103,810  62.4%  33.8%   345,920  108,857  74.4%  23.4%
15   142,022  106,550  56.2%  42.2%   230,947  119,685  64.9%  33.6%
16   119,834   97,550  54.4%  44.2%   187,870   99,542  64.4%  34.1%
19   109,976   83,451  56.1%  42.5%   175,552  134,463  55.8%  42.7%
20   110,074   71,399  59.9%  38.9%   144,904  118,940  54.3%  44.6%
21   117,376   71,625  60.8%  37.1%   174,822  123,149  57.7%  40.7%
23   204,165   61,090  76.3%  22.8%   264,146   72,143  77.5%  21.2%
26   139,600   92,037  59.2%  39.1%   212,130  109,171  64.9%  33.4%
27   111,764   70,555  60.6%  38.3%   136,710  124,352  51.7%  47.1%
29   120,466   64,673  64.1%  34.4%   185,726   94,771  65.2%  33.3%


Dist   Obama   Romney Obama%Romney%     Biden    Trump Biden% Trump%
====================================================================
02    94,149  177,976  34.1%  64.5%   161,107  220,682  41.6%  57.0%
05    82,888  160,877  33.3%  64.6%   156,179  228,271  39.8%  58.2%
07    79,567  188,133  29.3%  69.4%   168,148  233,850  41.2%  57.4%
08    88,143  185,954  31.6%  66.7%   191,671  245,415  43.1%  55.1%
09    90,737  172,539  33.9%  64.5%   165,645  216,751  42.6%  55.7%
10   110,253  175,089  38.1%  60.6%   155,339  214,676  41.4%  57.2%
11    93,575  181,599  33.5%  65.1%   159,989  228,246  40.6%  57.9%
12   100,021  216,120  31.2%  67.3%   199,086  253,764  43.3%  55.2%
17    86,387  190,448  30.8%  67.9%   159,728  227,577  40.7%  57.9%
18    92,022  166,546  35.2%  63.7%   154,983  232,105  39.5%  59.2%
22    95,398  182,516  33.8%  64.7%   147,821  232,500  38.3%  60.2%
24    91,044  176,436  33.4%  64.7%   156,584  233,635  39.4%  58.7%
25    93,417  215,045  29.7%  68.5%   199,751  290,020  40.1%  58.3%


Dist   Obama   Romney Obama%Romney%     Biden    Trump Biden% Trump%
====================================================================
01    87,651  239,661  26.5%  72.5%    98,697  292,767  24.9%  73.9%
03    96,180  229,714  29.2%  69.7%   102,401  286,961  26.0%  72.9%
04    75,007  202,881  26.7%  72.1%   136,167  260,866  33.8%  64.8%
28    69,681  214,055  24.2%  74.4%    90,616  255,182  25.8%  72.7%
30    73,532  181,183  28.4%  69.9%   159,983  258,982  37.6%  60.8%
31    48,092  193,082  19.7%  79.0%    62,274  239,238  20.4%  78.2%

My analysis for the 2020 election under the old map is here, and my look at the decade shift under the old map is here. You can see the new map in the District viewer, and you might find the District population by county useful.

I split the districts into three groups: Dem seats, which is to say the seats that I’d expect Dems to win in 2022 (in other words, not counting the likely doomed SD10), seats Dems could reasonably think about targeting in a future cycle, and Republican seats. For the first group, SD27 is as discussed a potential problem, in future elections if the trend in 2020 holds, though as previously noted it was more Democratic downballot. I’m actually a little surprised the Republicans didn’t go after SD19, but at least by the numbers they left it more or less as it was. SD20 is mostly Hidalgo and Nueces counties, so I don’t expect too much more movement based on past history, but we’ll keep an eye on it anyway.

The middle group contains a few districts that are mostly optical illusions, where the net voter deficit hasn’t really changed but the percentages have shifted towards the mean, because that’s how math works. It also contains some districts that legitimately moved quite a bit in the Dem direction over the past decade – SDs 02, 07, 08, 09, 12, and 17, with 08 and 12 being on the far outer fringes of competitiveness now. These are all mostly urban/suburban districts, so one would expect the trends to continue, though whether that can happen fast enough to matter is the key. I grouped these together because it’s kind of impressive to see how tightly they cluster in that 55-60% range. We talked several times pre-redistricting about what level of risk the Republicans were willing to tolerate this time around, as they were now dealing with a state that had far fewer surplus Republican voters to slosh around. All of the maps we’ve looked at have had similar clusters, of similar sizes, so I guess we have an answer to that question now.

That leaves a small number of deep red districts, and even that is a tiny bit of a misnomer, as SD30 had a modest net gain in Dem voters. Obviously, Republicans needed to have more not-so-dark-red districts to maximize their membership, but some places are just geographically inclined to be that intensely crimson. I note that SD30 went from being about one-third comprised of pieces of Denton and Collin counties to a bit more than half made up of Denton and Collin. Unlikely to be enough to make it long-term competitive, but it won’t shock me if its topline Republican percentage falls below 60 at some point.

That’s all there is for this series. The next step is to see how the 2022 numbers stack up against 2018 and 2020, and see what trends emerge, continue, and end. The single most likely outcome of this new map is that SD10 flips as it is designed to do, but what to expect after that is up in the air.

Still more on the mail ballot rejections

The Associated Press moves the ball forward now that the votes have been canvassed.

Texas threw out mail votes at an abnormally high rate during the nation’s first primary of 2022, rejecting nearly 23,000 ballots outright under tougher voting rules that are part of a broad campaign by Republicans to reshape American elections, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Roughly 13% of mail ballots returned in the March 1 primary were discarded and uncounted across 187 counties in Texas. While historical primary comparisons are lacking, the double-digit rejection rate would be far beyond what is typical in a general election, when experts say anything above 2% is usually cause for attention.

“My first reaction is ‘yikes,’” said Charles Stewart III, director of the Election Data and Science Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It says to me that there’s something seriously wrong with the way that the mail ballot policy is being administered.”

Republicans promised new layers of voting rules would make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” But the final numbers recorded by AP lay bare the glaring gulf between that objective and the obstacles, frustration and tens of thousands of uncounted votes resulting from tighter restrictions and rushed implementation.

In Texas, a state former President Donald Trump easily won although by a smaller margin than 2016, the trouble of navigating new rules was felt in counties big and small, red and blue. But the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic (15.1%) than Republican (9.1%).

[…]

The AP counted 22,898 rejected ballots across Texas by contacting all 254 counties and obtaining final vote reconciliation reports. Some smaller counties did not provide data or respond to requests, but the 187 counties that provided full numbers to AP accounted for 85% of the 3 million people who voted in the primary.

Last week, AP reported that 27,000 ballots had been flagged in Texas for initial rejection, meaning those voters still had time to “fix” their ballot for several days after the primary and have it count. But the final figures suggest most voters did not.

The most rejections were around Houston, a Democratic stronghold, where Harris County elections officials reported that nearly 7,000 mail ballots — about 19% — were discarded. During the last midterm elections in 2018, Texas’ largest county only rejected 135 mail ballots. Harris County elections officials said they received more than 8,000 calls since January from voters seeking help, which they attributed to “confusion and frustration” over the new requirements.

In the five counties won by Trump that had the most mail-in primary voters, a combined 2,006 mailed ballots were rejected, a rate of 10% of the total. In the counties won by Biden with the most mail-in voters, which include most of Texas’ biggest cities, a combined 14,020 votes were similarly rejected, which amounted to 15.7%.

[…]

It is unknown how many Texas voters whose mail ballots were rejected may have still had their vote count by deciding to just show up in person instead.

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office did not yet have its own final comprehensive numbers on ballot rejections. He said a “significant portion” of their efforts this year will be awareness about the new mail-in rules.

“We are confident we will have all the information we need to apply any lessons learned during the primary to an even more robust voter education campaign heading into the November general election,” he said.

See here and here for the background. Saying that “the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic than Republican” is suggestive but not conclusive. We don’t know how many counties are included in that tally, how many of them were blue and how many red, how blue and how red they were, and most importantly how many ballots from each primary were rejected. Republican counties, especially the smaller ones, are a lot more red than Democratic counties are blue, though the Dem counties have a lot more voters in them. A lot of those Republican counties also have many more Republican primary voters than Democratic primary voters. We still need to have a total number of ballots rejected for each party to get a better idea of how this actually played out.

The Statesman adds on.

In the Austin-area counties, the overwhelming majority of the rejections were due to the law’s stricter ID requirement, which has caused confusion for voters since counties opened applications for absentee ballots earlier this year.

“It’s typical to see ballots rejected because they’re received after a statutory deadline — and we still had many ballots that were rejected for that reason — but the more prevalent cause in this case was ballots rejected for lack of the proper ID number, or ID issues,” said Chris Davis, elections administrator for Williamson County.

“It led to much higher numbers than we’ve ever seen, in terms of rejected ballots,” he said.

Mail-in ballot rejection rates in the primary election ranged from 7% to 11% in Austin-area counties, with more than 1,500 votes tossed out across Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

Those rates far exceed previous elections. In the 2018 primary, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots in Travis County was about 2%.

[…]

In Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, rejection rates ranged from 7% to 11% in the most recent election. The elections administrator in Hays County, Jennifer Doinoff, did not return multiple requests for information.

Official tallies for Travis County showed 948 absentee ballots were rejected out of 11,602 turned in to the county. Victoria Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the Travis County election administrator, said 72% of the rejected ballots were cast in the Democratic primary and 28% in the Republican primary.

Hinojosa said a majority of the rejected ballots were denied due to ID issues. Originally, at least 16% of absentee ballots received by the county were rejected, but Hinojosa said that number was cut in half as voters corrected ID errors after being notified by the county of the mistake.

The new election law requires counties to contact voters who made mistakes on their ballot to let them rectify problems before election day.

By comparison, Hinojosa said, in the 2018 primary 9,000 ballots were returned and about 2% were ultimately rejected.

In Williamson County, 11.6% of mail ballot voters had their ballots rejected. That rate was slightly higher among Republican voters (260 ballots out of 1,883 at a 13% rate) than Democratic voters (261 ballots out of 2,627 ballots at a 10% rate.)

Travis County had about 111K Democratic ballots overall, and about 48K GOP ballots. Which is to say about 70% of all ballots were Democratic, so if 72% of the mail ballots rejected were Democratic, that’s more or less in proportion.

Still, the basic outline is clear. This was a disaster, and it’s not at all a surprise that Greg Abbott et al have refused to comment on any of it. The one piece of good news is what I’ve been saying, that now that we know the scope of the problem we can work to overcome it. It’s going to take money and effort, and we shouldn’t have to do this, but we can. We really don’t have any choice. The Chron editorial board and Vox have more.

OAN sues AT&T over being dropped from their service

Worth keeping an eye on.

Right-wing cable network One America News is suing Dallas-based AT&T and DirecTV, alleging the companies breached their contract with OAN and conspired with a company currently suing OAN’s owners.

AT&T and DirecTV became the target of liberal criticism over the last year for continuing to carry the pro-Donald Trump OAN network — which helped spread misinformation about the 2020 election being stolen — in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The NAACP condemned AT&T for its relationship with OAN and allegations that it helped originate the idea for the network. DirecTV informed OAN it would not renew its agreement with the channel in early January. The current agreement is set to expire in April, according to OAN’s lawsuit.

The suit, filed by OAN owner Herring Networks, also attempts to link AT&T executive board chairman William Kennard as part of a sweeping conspiracy to “silence” OAN and remove it from DirecTV. AT&T spun DirecTV off into its own company last year, retaining a majority interest in the new company. Kennard previously worked as Federal Communications Commission chairman under President Bill Clinton and again for the Obama administration in 2009 as ambassador to the European Union.

“The damage caused by DirecTV’s non-renewal, if not addressed and reversed in the near future, will result in damage to Herring exceeding $1 billion,” the suit said.

[…]

The suit was filed March 7 in California superior court just days before Republican attorneys general in six states, including Texas’ Ken Paxton, called on DirecTV to reverse its decision to drop OAN.

A.J. Bauer, a conservative media scholar and professor of journalism at the University of Alabama, said the lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV reads like a “fishing expedition” for OAN.

“This feels to me like more of a calculated way to raise some conspiracy allegations in a way that will guarantee press coverage,” Bauer said. “You don’t need all of that in order to win a contract dispute… you just need to say, ‘Here are the terms of the contract. Here’s how the contract was not fulfilled.’ ”

I haven’t followed this story closely, other than a couple of links I’ve dropped into the Sunday roundups. I’m certainly glad to see AT&T (very belatedly) do the right thing here, and I agree that this is very likely to be much more show than substance on OAN’s part. The fact that they’re trying to make a connection to Dominion Voting Systems and their enormous lawsuit against OAN for flagrantly lying about the 2020 election and causing damage to Dominion in the process is quite telling. I have to admit, my first reaction on seeing the headline for this story was “I bet Ken Paxton files an amicus brief on OAN’s behalf”. Then I read the story, and I see I’m very much on the right track. Take this as yet another reminder, as if you needed one, that Ken Paxton has got to go. The Dallas Observer has more.

A trifecta of crap from the Fifth Circuit

It’s what they do.

A federal appeals court has ruled for Texas in three lawsuits challenging the state’s voting laws, including mail-in ballot provisions and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

In a series of 2-1 rulings Wednesday evening, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuits by civil rights groups, political organizations and voters targeted the wrong state agency — the Texas secretary of state’s office — when they sought to overturn a string of voting laws and practices.

Because the secretary of state is not in charge of enforcing the challenged laws, the agency is protected by sovereign immunity in all three lawsuits, said the opinions written by Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan and joined by Judge Don Willett.

Judge Patrick Higginbotham dissented in all three cases, writing that he believed the majority was splitting hairs by narrowly interpreting which state officers enforce election laws.

The secretary of state is the chief election officer of Texas who is charged by law with protecting the voting rights of Texans “from abuse by the authorities administering the state’s electoral processes,” Higginbotham wrote.

“The allegation in these cases is that the Secretary is failing in that duty. This charge should satisfy our … inquiry,” he said.

Reporter Chuck Lindell first posted about this on Twitter, so if for some reason the Statesman link doesn’t work or gets paywalled, you can see the basics there. Let’s break down the three cases:

A challenge by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and two national Democratic organizations sought to overturn a 2017 law that ended straight-ticket voting, also known as one-punch voting because it lets voters select all candidates of a particular political party in one step.

A state district judge barred enforcement of the law, ruling in September 2020 that the change unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote.

See here and here for the background. This one confused me at first, because there had been a basically identical challenge filed earlier in the same court by a different set of plaintiffs that was later dismissed by that judge. I don’t know why the subsequent challenge, which fell under the Democracy Docket umbrella, was more successful, but there you have it. You may recall I was skeptical of this one, and of the three it’s the one I’m the least upset about. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling is here.

A lawsuit by the NAACP and Texas Alliance for Retired Americans sought to block mail-in ballot regulations that require voters to pay for postage and mandate that ballots be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on the next day.

The lawsuit also challenged signature-matching requirements and a law that makes it a crime to possess another voter’s mail ballot.

See here and here for the background. I thought this was an interesting suit that made a reasoned case and that in a fair world would have gotten a more thoughtful review by the Fifth Circuit, but that ain’t the world we live in. I don’t know if this subject was addressed in one of the many voting rights bills that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema personally strangled (with the help of all 50 Republicans, of course), but if there’s ever another opportunity to address voting rights at a federal level, this should be an item on the to do list. The Fifth Circuit opinion is here.

A lawsuit by groups including the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities challenged the process of verifying mail-in ballots by ensuring that the voter’s signature on the outside envelope matches the signature on the vote-by-mail application.

A trial judge granted a detailed injunction limiting the practice in September 2020, but again the 5th Circuit Court stepped in to halt the injunction until the appeal was decided. Wednesday’s ruling vacated the injunction.

See here, here, and here for the background. Remember when signature matching was our biggest concern about mail ballots? Boy, those were the days. Anyway, even though this suit was filed in 2019, that injunction was halted by a different Fifth Circuit panel because it was too close to the election. There’s always, always an excuse. The opinion for this one is here.

The first and third cases were reversed and remanded to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion”, while the second was reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss. I’m not quite sure what further proceedings there may be, and it may be that the bigger problems caused by SB1 may make the third case not particularly relevant at this time, I dunno. I assume that since the issue cited by the Fifth Circuit was that the SOS was not the proper defendant, the cases could be refiled with some number of county election administrators as defendants instead. I don’t know how practical that would be, and I also don’t know if this is just a prelude to the Fifth Circuit (or later SCOTUS) ruling that actually you can’t sue those people either, because the whole idea that you can pursue redress in a federal court is just an illusion anyway or whatever. We’ll see if anything does get refiled, but I would not feel particularly optimistic about any of it.

UPDATE: And when I checked Twitter on Thursday, I saw that Prof. Vladeck had addressed my questions.

Always expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit. You’ll almost never be wrong.