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Election 2020

Bye bye, Bonnen

Wow.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 — completing a stunning fall for the Angleton Republican who enjoyed near unanimous support in the House just months earlier.

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans — a majority of the House GOP Caucus — that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.” (Bonnen’s own brother, Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, was among those on the list.)

[…]

Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.

With Bonnen’s exit, members will be jockeying among one another to become the next speaker. That election officially won’t happen until the next time the Legislature convenes, which is scheduled to happen in January 2021. In the meantime, if Bonnen remains in place until then, he can carry out typical interim duties, which include assigning issues for committees to study ahead of the next legislative session.

The race to replace Bonnen is coming ahead of a competitive election cycle for Republicans, who, after losing a dozen House seats to Democrats in 2018, are gearing up to hold onto their majority in the lower chamber. If Democrats were to flip nine seats and hold onto the dozen they picked up, they could be the party in power in the House and, consequentially, elect a member from their caucus to lead the lower chamber.

It’s unclear what role — if any — Bonnen will play in 2020 in helping to hold onto the GOP seats. In July before Sullivan’s allegations surfaced, Bonnen announced he had infused a new political action committee with $3 million to support House Republicans running for reelection. Since the speaker became engulfed with the drama though, some members have privately wondered whether Bonnen would be a help or hindrance to their fundraising efforts heading into the election cycle.

Shocking, but in retrospect not at all surprising. The day had started with this story about Republicans abandoning the Bonnen ship:

Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.

Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it. Even Dan Flynn of Van, who just days before had reiterated his support for Bonnen, said he could no longer support the speaker.

See here for the previous update. Clearly, things snowballed from there. Bonnen likely could have won re-election – HD25 is indeed a strong R district, where Ted Cruz got nearly 70% – as there were no big name primary challengers yet, but he was certainly toast as Speaker, and I guess he didn’t want to deal with life as a regular member again. I’d have had a hard time with that too, given all that has come out. I supported Bonnen as Speaker this year – he was hardly ideal from my perspective, but he was smart and was effective as Speaker pro tem. Dems did all right under him. I’m still shocked that he was dumb enough to trip over his own dick like this. Rick Casey summarizes it well in describing Bonnen’s ill-fated meeting with MQS as “almost criminally stupid – both tactically and strategically.” I don’t know what happens from here – obviously, Dems winning enough seats to put one of them at the podium would be best, but someone from the wingnut faction could end up on top as well – but at this point it’s hard to be sorry about what happened. Dennis Bonnen brought this on himself. He deserves what he’s getting. Good riddance. A statement from the TDP (which has also moved to dismiss its lawsuit over the recordings) is here, and Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Texas Signal, the Observer, and the Current have more.

Jackson to challenge Ellis in Precinct 1

Here we go.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what with Bonnen?

Democrats will wait and see.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

On Thursday night, as Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s political fate continued to hang in the balance, some of the most influential Democrats were in El Paso for a town hall and were split on whether the first-term leader should immediately resign from his post.

“That decision, ultimately, isn’t mine,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a top Bonnen ally. “Like all other situations, that decision is best left up to the voters in the state of Texas. I trust them.”

“There is this urgency to respond in kind with negativity or delight in this situation,” Moody added. “[But] I am sad about this, I am disappointed in it. I don’t delight in this.”

Others were less measured.

“He’s done damage to the body,” state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin, the new head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, told a reporter for The Texas Tribune. “And for that reason, I think he should resign.” (Just months before, at the end of the legislative session, Israel said Bonnen was “the right man at this point in Texas history.”)

Those two answers — and that vast departure from where most members stood earlier this year — provide a glimpse into a caucus that’s navigating how to respond as the minority party to the drama that has dogged Bonnen over the past few months.

[…]

On Wednesday evening, roughly half the House Democratic Caucus met in Austin for a meeting that was already on the calendar. The Bonnen issue, of course, took center stage, and while no formal action was taken, multiple members there said there was talk of calling another meeting sometime soon to discuss potential further actions.

“I think there’s a desire to bring the entire caucus together with a specific agenda to have a discussion that could result in a vote,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told the Tribune on Thursday. “Certainly [Wednesday’s] discussion was clear that there was no one in the room who felt anything but anger and betrayal and disappointment.”

“The general consensus … was that people should feel free to put their own messages out there and that we should be united as a caucus moving forward,” Howard said. “So far I’ve heard nothing that would indicate that we’re not all on the same page.”

But there has been variation in Democrats’ public positions. There’s also the question of whether it would be politically advantageous for Democrats to act beyond what the caucus chair, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, has already said — that the latest “revelations are incompatible” with Bonnen serving another term — before Republicans have a chance to move on the issue themselves.

I don’t have any problem with deliberation, and the potential is there for the Republicans to fracture and generate some heat for us, but at some point we need to be speaking with one voice on the topic. Pick a direction and take it.

Meanwhile, the Republicans use harsh language.

After gathering behind closed doors for hours Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a secretly recording meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members,” the statement said. “Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.”

[…]

“We completely and fully support the [House] members mentioned in the recording,” the statement said. “Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials.”

The statement was released as members, on the tail end of their annual retreat, left the ballroom at a resort in Austin. Most of them declined to comment as they departed the meeting, which was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted for just over four hours.

But soon after, a group of four Republican lawmakers from North Texas — state Reps. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano — issued a joint statement calling on Bonnen “to work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas, that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House and our state forward.

“If that is not possible, the people of Texas expect and deserve a new Speaker of the House during the 87th Legislature,” the members said.

You can see the full statement here. Like I said, there’s plenty of potential for further dissension on the GOP side, and it’s fine to give them some room to express it. Just have a strategy and a plan to execute it, that’s all I ask.

Chrysta Castañeda

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

Chrysta Castañeda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So are there any legal consequences to the Bonnen tape?

Probably not, but maybe a little. Does that help?

It was, according to his critics, “hurtful,” “vindictive” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.” But was House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s June 12 meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan illegal?

In June, when Bonnen met with the hard-charging Tea Party activist, he asked Sullivan to stay out of, and get into, certain electoral battles — “help us out, and maybe kill off one or two or three [moderate Republican House lawmakers] that are never going to help” — and in return offered Sullivan media credentials for the news arm of his organization — “If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

During that meeting — a recording of which was released to the public Tuesday — Bonnen seemed to blur the line between the official and the political. It prompted the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has subpoena power, to request a probe by the state’s elite investigative unit, the Texas Rangers.

With that investigation ongoing and little word from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who is expected to make the decision on whether to bring a criminal charge, there’s been ample room for speculation — which only escalated after the secret recording was made public Tuesday morning. In Capitol circles, the rule is generally: Don’t offer official tit for political tat. But whether the smudging of those boundaries constitutes criminal activity is a case-by-case consideration, a decision ultimately made by a prosecutor and, if it gets that far, a jury.

“With just the information we know at this time, it’s not clear that a crime was committed,” said Buck Wood, an Austin ethics lawyer who helped rewrite the state’s restrictions in the 1970s after a major political scandal. “But it’s also not clear that a crime wasn’t committed.”

See here for the background. Long story short, while the DPS is still doing its investigation, it seems unlikely that any criminal charges will ever result. The law in question is narrowly tailored to be about personal financial gain, and it would take a pretty broad reading of it to try to get an indictment. Unless there’s new evidence to uncover, I don’t see any danger for the Speaker here.

What about a civil case, though?

Democrats were in court in Travis County Tuesday pressing forward with their lawsuit arguing that Sullivan’s recording revealed serious violations of Texas campaign finance law. The party, along with state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, sued Sullivan in August, demanding the release of the full recording of the meeting.

The lawsuit was also filed against an “unknown political committee” that the lawsuit said includes Bonnen and Burrows. But the two lawmakers are not named defendants. At the hearing, attorney Chad Dunn argued for the Democratic Party that the newly released recording confirms there was discussion in the Capitol about political spending and requested the release of more documents about the meeting.

He said if the judge orders the information released, the party will use those documents to decide if Bonnen and Burrows should also be named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Under Texas election law, a political contribution can’t be made or authorized inside the Capitol. A violation of the law could result in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In civil court, it could mean having to pay back targeted candidates or opposing PACs. Dunn said the recording contains “a whole lot of authorizing.”

“If we live in a state of laws, there’s not going to be private conversations with the Speaker in the people’s Capitol authorizing illegal political contributions and expenditures,” he said.

Roark said in the August memo to the Texas Rangers that there was no political contribution authorized at the June meeting, so the law was not applicable in this case.

See here for the background. I don’t have enough information to make a reasoned guess about this one. I will say, one thing the next Lege could do is review the existing laws on what constitutes bribery and political contributions, to see if they could be improved. That would never get through Dan Patrick’s Senate, but as was the case with ethics-related bills last session, it would still be worth the effort. Would be more likely to happen with a different Speaker, that much is for sure.

The Bonnen tape is out

It’s a doozy.

During a June conversation at the Texas Capitol, Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen urged hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target members of their own party in the 2020 primaries and suggested he could get Sullivan’s group media access to the House floor, according to a secret recording of the conversation released Tuesday.

Bonnen could also be heard speaking disparagingly about multiple Democrats, calling one House member “vile” and suggesting that another’s “wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The 64-minute recording of Sullivan’s June meeting with Bonnen and another top House Republican, then-GOP caucus chair Dustin Burrows, was posted on Sullivan’s website and the website of WBAP, a talk radio station in Dallas on which Sullivan appeared Tuesday morning. The recording largely aligned with Sullivan’s initial description of that June 12 meeting — and with what certain Republicans who listened to the audio before it was public had described.

While its release prompted immediate outcry from Democrats and silence from Republicans, Bonnen said in a statement that the audio makes clear he did nothing criminally wrong in the conversation, adding that the “House can finally move on.”

Roughly nine minutes into the recording, after discussing Sullivan’s recent trip to Europe, Bonnen tells Sullivan he’s “trying to win in 2020 in November.”

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen says. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

Roughly five minutes later, the speaker said, “Let me tell you what I can do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you.”

“I don’t need anything,” Sullivan responded.

[…]

Before Bonnen made his offer, he also disparaged a number of House Democrats. The speaker said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, “makes my skin crawl” and is “a piece of shit.” Bonnen, after saying he’s”begging this is all confidential,” then recounted a meeting with the freshman, after which he asked his chief of staff, Gavin Massingill, what he thought about the new House member.

“Massingill said it best,” Bonnen recalled. “Well, his wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The room dissolved in laughter before Bonnen turned to discuss other members of the lower chamber’s minority party.

“We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile,” he said, referring to the freshman Democrat from Carrollton who unseated a Republican in 2018. He exhorted Sullivan to help target these Democrats in competitive districts.

See here for the previous update. I kind of don’t think there’s going to be any “moving on”, except in the sense that no Democrat has any reason to support Bonnen’s re-election as Speaker now. All well and good if Dems take the House in 2020, and still theoretically possible even if they come up a member or two short. Remember, Bonnen was also targeting ten of his fellow Republicans, who may well want to keep their own options open. It’s hard to imagine a Republican in a Republican-majority House backing a Democrat for Speaker, but at this point I think we can all agree that crazier things have happened.

By the way, in regard to those ten targeted Republicans, the Rick Casey theory that they were in Bonnen’s crosshairs because they opposed a bill to ban local government entities from hiring lobbyists sure looks on the money given this quote from the tape: “My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Quite the sentiment, no?

Anyway, there’s plenty more out there. The Signal has some clips, the Trib – which is all over this – has choice excerpts, and other outlets like the Chron, the Observer, Texas Monthly, and the Dallas Observer are going to town. If that’s still not enough, go search the #txlege hashtag on Twitter. On a side note, the TDP claimed victory in their lawsuit now that the tape has been released, but there was still a court hearing about it. All that’s left – before the next election, anyway – is for the DPS to finish their investigation. Hope this helps with evidence collection, guys.

Our increasingly diverse swing districts

Current trends keep on trending.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ogg continues to have problems with the bail settlement

I don’t like this.

Kim Ogg

District Attorney Kim Ogg is rallying police officers across Harris County to show up in federal court en masse to oppose to a landmark bail reform agreement at a final hearing set for this month.

She emailed about 100 police chiefs to invite them to attend an Oct. 28 court proceeding before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to lend support on an issue she says “endangers the public.”

In addition to recruiting top brass to the hearing, Ogg also requested that her lieutenants be present to support her concerns about portions of the settlement that allowed most defendants arrested on minor offenses to await trial at home without posting up-front cash bail, according to her spokesman, Dane Schiller.

Ogg expressed misgivings about the proposed consent decree approved last summer by Commissioners Court after months of intensive meetings between county leaders, judges and the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the 2016 class action.

Ogg, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, is among a number of parties, including many from the bail bond industry, who submitted concerns about the settlement in court during the summer.

“The district attorney has always supported bail reform, so that nobody is held just because they are poor, but she also says public safety should always be considered,” Schiller said.

[…]

The county public defender, who has been friends with Ogg since law school, said he suspects Ogg’s approach will be perceived as overkill by Rosenthal, the region’s highest ranking lifetime appointee to the federal bench.

“A courtroom full of police officers is not going to intimidate her,” said Harris County Public Defender Alex Bunin. “She might be insulted that they would do that to her.”

“It’s over the top, and this kind of bravado backfires every time,” Bunin added. He said the majority of the concerns Ogg raised were resolved by a judicial rule passed in January.

See here and here for the background. I agree with Alex Bunin here, this is not going to help and will serve as fuel for Ogg’s primary opponents. The fears being expressed are overblown, and frankly it’s fine by me if the county has to experience a little inconvenience to accommodate a non-violent offender who need assistance getting back to court. As I’ve said before, I’d much rather pay for an Uber for that guy than pay to feed, clothe, and house him for some number of weeks or months. Maybe – stay with me here – we could arrest fewer of these non-violent mostly drug offenders in the first place, which would go a long way towards reducing inconvenience for everyone. In the meantime, the bail agreement is in place and it is going to be the law. Let’s all do what we can to make it work.

The need for voter registration never ends

A small step back, but I expect a big step forward next year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democrats in Texas see registering new voters as crucial to winning statewide elections in 2020, but the number of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest, has declined since last year.

Harris County’s voter roll has shrunk by 4,146 voters since Election Day in November 2018, when Democrats swept every countywide and judicial post.

The deadline to register for next month’s municipal elections is Monday.

Two of the state’s five largest counties this week reported fewer registered voters than 11 months ago. Dallas County lost 19,400, while Bexar County increased by 7,554. Tarrant County gained 1,406 voters and Travis County added 13,454. Texas as a whole added just more than 30,000 voters between November 2018 and September, according to the most recent tally by the secretary of state.

Voter registration officials in Dallas and Bexar counties said voter rolls typically dip after general elections in even-numbered years. They said that period is when counties remove inactive voters, who have not participated in two consecutive federal elections nor responded to a letter from the voter registrar, from the rolls. The number of registered voters usually rebounds as new voters submit applications, they said.

“That’s why you see numbers fluctuate,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jackie Callanen said. “We may purge 40,000.”

[…]

Harris County removed 127,852 voters from the roll between November 2018 and August, according to a cancellation list published by the secretary of state. Bennett’s office did not respond to a request to disclose how many voters have registered in the county since this past November.

Bennett shared a slideshow presentation with the Chronicle that noted her office had signed up a record 4,100 volunteer deputy voter registrars this year and has held registration drives at local high schools and colleges.

The Harris County voter roll has grown in each annual November election since 2012, according to election reports published by the Harris County Clerk. The last year-over-year decrease was in 2011, when there were 48,000 fewer voter than the previous year.

Here are the yearly totals since 2012, which marks the beginning of the modern registration expansion period:


Year   Registered
=================
2012    1,942,566
2013    1,967,881
2014    2,044,361
2015    2,054,717
2016    2,182,980
2017    2,233,533
2018    2,307,654

The big gains are in the even years, but even this year there’s been a lot of activity. If 128K people were removed but the rolls only dipped by 4K, that’s a lot of new and renewed registrations. People do move and they do die, it’s just that now we have a chief voter registrar who’s interested in building things up rather than holding them down. You want to do your part, sign up to be a volunteer deputy voter registrar and get us on the road to 2.5 million for 2020.

Fallon stands pat

Big John Cornyn can breathe a little easier.

Sen. Pat Fallon

State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, has decided against a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Fallon revealed the decision Thursday, about a month after he announced at a North Texas Tea Party meeting that he was exploring a run.

“Susan and I wanted to share that I will NOT be a candidate for US Senate in 2020,” Fallon said in a statement to friends first shared with The Texas Tribune. “This was a difficult decision as I was personally looking forward to reaching … thousands of fellow Texans and visiting with them, asking them what their thoughts, concerns and ideas are for our state and our country.”

Fallon cited concerns about being away from his family — he has two young sons — as well as the $6 million price tag that he estimated would be the “bare minimum to be competitive for the GOP nomination.”

[…]

Fallon’s decision leaves Cornyn with two lesser-known primary challengers: Dallas financial adviser Mark Yancey and Dwayne Stovall, who finished third in the 2014 primary. In the other primary, 10 Democrats have lined up to take on Cornyn.

See here for the background. Fallon is basically a lunk, but his assessment is both accurate and understandable. He probably got some feedback from the moneybag types that his candidacy would serve no purpose and had no real chance of succeeding, so maybe pick another race at another time. This makes the GOP Senate primary more boring, but not much more than that.

Eyes on HD28

The special legislative election in Fort Bend is on everyone’s radar.

Eliz Markowitz

When Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, visited Austin this past weekend for the state party’s annual fundraiser, there was no race he mentioned more than the special election for House District 28, a suburban Houston seat vacated by Republican state Rep. John Zerwas last month.

It was among the first topics Perez mentioned in a pre-dinner gaggle with reporters. And once he took the stage later in the night, he brought it up four times, twice urging donations for the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, who sat at the table closest to the stage.

“This ain’t Tom DeLay’s Fort Bend County anymore,” Perez said, touting the politically changing terrain on which the Nov. 5 contest is unfolding. He reveled in the relation to the former House GOP leader, later telling Markowitz: “You are a remarkable role model — in Tom DeLay’s county. I love saying that.”

The race’s top billing at the dinner was no accident. Democrats both inside and outside Texas have become intent on flipping HD-28 as they charge toward 2020 with hopes of capturing the lower-chamber majority. For Democrats, a win in HD-28 would not only serve as a momentum boost heading into next year — potentially bringing them within eight seats of the majority — but provide a gauge of just how many seats are really in play.

“We think we’re gonna take back the state House,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “This will be a good barometer of how big the wave is.”

The GOP has been defiant in the face of the Democratic push to take HD-28. In a recent email to local Republicans, county party chairwoman Linda Howell said the district “is our Alamo and we will defend it.”

“I don’t think a Democrat is going to capture House District 28 — it’s just not gonna happen,” one of the Republican candidates, Tricia Krenek, said in an interview. “We’re working hard every single day. Our voters are energized. They are clearly aware of what’s at stake and they are committed to keeping House District 28 red.”

As I said before, it’s the election in 2020 that really matters, since the 2019 election winner will not get to do much other than run again for the seat. It’s definitely possible that the winner this time will lose the next time, and that would be the case regardless of who wins. That said, I do think a Markowitz win would be at least a minor shock wave through the system, while a loss by her in the runoff by, say, more than ten points would be at least a little deflating. There’s not much other than the Constitutional amendments pushing people to the polls in HD28 in November (and December, unless someone pulls a majority in the first round), so turnout in this race is entirely on the campaigns. Get involved if you can, and remember you’ll want to do it again next year. The Chron has more.

How’s that investigation into the Bonnen-MQS kerfuffle going?

About how you’d expect.

Found on the Twitters

If recent history is any indication, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has little to fear from a Texas Rangers investigation into allegations he offered a bribe to a conservative activist.

Investigators who have delved into accusations of impropriety against the state’s most powerful politicians over a 15-year period delivered just five cases that led to convictions. The Rangers inherited the public integrity caseload in 2015 and have yet to secure a conviction of a lawmaker at any level, records reviewed by Hearst Newspapers show.

Experts say these cases are difficult to prove, often caught in the gap between suspicious behavior and violations of law.

“Is this really a corrupt move or was this just some stupid thing that a politician did, or a cop did, or just a normal citizen did? Usually it’s pretty clear,” said Johnny Sutton, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas from 2001 to 2009. “That’s why we tend to look for the real bribes, the cash-in-the-pocket type of activities, which there’s plenty of, even to this day here in Texas.”

[…]

Investigators for the Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit will have to unearth facts to help a committee of lawmakers — and possibly a prosecutor — decide whether Bonnen offered a bribe or committed offenses such as official misconduct or retaliation. But that could be a difficult case to make.

Bonnen says he has no control over whether any group receives press credentials, which guarantee access to the House floor and lawmakers while they debate and vote on bills. The Texas Scorecard, which is affiliated with Empower Texans, has been denied the credentials in the past because Empower Texans makes millions of dollars in political donations, and House rules forbid interest groups from having them. But the credentials also seem to have little, if any, monetary value — one of several potential sticking points in the investigation.

Without having heard the tape, it’s difficult to determine exactly what Bonnen said and what the understanding was, said Buck Wood, a prominent ethics lawyer of more than 50 years. But investigators don’t need a “magic word” from Bonnen to determine whether the offer constitutes a bribe or threat, he said.

“All you have to do is ask someone to do something and, ‘If you do that, I will do something for you,’” said Wood. “You don’t have to say, ‘By the way, I want to give you a bribe.’”

See here and here for the background. The rest of the story goes into the long and often unsuccessful history of pursuing prosecutions against politician peccadilloes, the transfer of the responsibility for such prosecutions from the Travis County DA to local DAs with unfunded assistance from DPS, and so forth. In short, don’t expect much (or for it to happen soon), and never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. That said, with the pending release of the tape, we may at least get a bit more clarity than we have now. The Texas Standard has more.

“Congressman 1”

Way to go, Pete!

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is an unnamed member of Congress mentioned in an indictment against two business associates of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, according to NBC News.

The two Soviet-born men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were arrested late Wednesday night at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C, per ABC News. The Wall Street Journal reported that the two men are accused of “violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.”

Regarding Sessions, the indictment against the two men states that they “committed to raise $20,000 or more for a then-sitting U.S. Congressman” who is referred to in the court document as “Congressman-1.” The indictment goes on to state that the congressman “had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million” in donations from a campaign committee. NBC News and other outlets identified that person as Sessions and reported that the committee was a Trump-aligned super PAC.

Federal authorities alleged that around the same time, Parnas “sought Congressman-1’s assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall” the American ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was a well-regarded diplomat who came into disfavor within the Trump administration and was removed from her post earlier this year.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Sessions, in his capacity as House Rules Committee chairman, advocated for the ouster of Yovanovitch.

I’ll provide a few links for supplemental reading in a minute, but just ponder that this story came out a week after Sessions announced his intention to move to another city so he could run in a now-open Congressional district, much to the displeasure of the outgoing incumbent, a fellow Republican. Timing is everything in this life, ain’t it? Slate, the Signal, Daily Kos, and TPM, which was way ahead of the curve, has more.

30 Day finance reports: Special legislative elections

As I said earlier, I’m still working my way through the unfathomably ginormous number of 30-day campaign finance reports for City of Houston candidates. There are other elections of interest for which 30 day reports are required, so we’ll take a look at those. First up will be the two special legislative elections for the Houston area. Here are the reports for HD148:

Michele Leal
Anna Eastman
Rob Block
Chris Watt
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Penny Shaw
Carol Denson
Adrian P. Garcia
Alva Trevino
Lui La Rotta
Mia Mundy
Terah Isaacson
Chris Carmona
Ryan McConnico


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
148   Leal            108,824      9,384        0     61,526
148   Eastman          50,477     22,735        0     28,494
148   Block            38,885     11,147        0     27,787
148   Watt             32,999      8,163        0     27,845
148   Camarena         17,370     10,531   10,000      9,260
148   Shaw             13,237      7,976   14,000     14,787
148   Denson           11,265      2,095    1,000      4,527
148   Garcia            8,525      3,980        0      4,525
148   Trevino           7,150      5,549    5,549      5,226
148   La Rotta          6,511      3,889        0      3,219
148   Mundy             3,170      3,000        0      1,148
148   Isaacson          1,327      8,561        0      1,327
148   Carmona             830      5,473   10,000        830
148   McConnico           415        733        0          0

Anna Nunez did not have a report showing as of yesterday; all the others are present. Some clear separation here among the candidates, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. Michele Leal leads the way with an impressive total. Of that $108K, $10K came from Latino Texas PAC, which she once led, and $1K came from State Rep. Christina Morales, who as far as I can tell is the only legislator to have gotten involved in this race. Anna Eastman received $250 from Dianne Johnson and $50 from Mike Lunceford, two of her former HISD Board colleagues. Rob Block, who is an HFD firefighter, got $20K from the HPFFA PAC, and $10K from Peggy Robinson; I don’t know who that is, but that’s a big enough piece of his haul that I thought it was worth mentioning. Chris Watt gave $5K to his campaign, which reminds me to note that the difference between that and a loan is that a loan is supposed to be paid back at some point. Finally, Carol Denson had literally broad support, as 33 of her 58 donations came from outside Houston, which is to say any city for which something other than “Houston” was listed in the address. Of those, 15 were from outside Texas. This is not a criticism in any way, as the first group of people one turns to for contributions to a political campaign is one’s personal network, which in Denson’s case includes people around the country. That’s Fundraising 101 right there.

Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates combined to raise less than $8K, with Chris Carmona loaning himself $10K to make it all slightly less embarrassing. I mean sure, this is a seat Jessica Farrar won with 68% of the vote in 2018 so it’s no one’s idea of a swing district, but in a race with 12 Dems there’s surely a path for a Republican to sneak into the runoff, and then who knows what can happen. That prospect, or perhaps the candidates who would be a part of it, does not seem to have had much appeal to the Republican establishment.

One last thing. I noticed that Eastman had several contributions of exactly $148, while Lui La Rotta had several of $17.87. Sometimes donations of an oddly specific amount are made as part of a particular appeal, or for a reason that has special meaning to the campaign or candidate. The reason for the $148 donations to Eastman is obvious, but I’m unclear on what $17.87 is supposed to mean. I guess it could be a reference to the year the US Constitution was signed, which is adorable, but if it’s not that then I have no idea.

Meanwhile, here’s HD28:

Eliz Markowitz

Anna Allred (PAC)
Gary Gates
Gary Hale
Tricia Krenek
Sarah Laningham
Clinton Purnell


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
28    Markowitz        61,845     15,591        0     38,080
28    Allred          158,570    142,234   20,000     86,279
28    Gates               265    213,552  821,100      7,191
28    Hale                421     10,525        0      9,150
28    Krenek           30,058     67,213  150,000    113,067
28    Laningham           100      2,199        0        100
28    Purnell               0         55        0      1,195

Here, Eliz Markowitz is the sole Dem in a field of Republicans, which offers her a clear path towards a runoff, likely at the head of the pack. She too took in a decent amount, having previously collected $18K for the July report, which was before we knew there would be a special election.

On the Republican side, about eighty percent of Anna Allred’s haul comes from a collection of medical interests. She got $37,500 from US Anesthesia Partners, $25K from American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, $25K from Texas Medical Association PAC, $25K from Texas Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, and $10K from Metropolitan Anesthesia PAC. Who even knew there were that many anesthesia-related PACs in existence? Former Rep. John Zerwas is himself an anesthesiologist, and US Anesthesia Partners is where he practices, so I guess we know who his choice to succeed him is. Gary Gates has run for office a couple of times before, and his report lists only some of those outstanding loans on his total. Basically, assume he’s gonna spend however much of his own money, and there’s not much more to it than that. Tricia Krenek is the only other Republican to raise any money, along with writing herself a check. On the assumption that this will be a Markowitz-versus-Republican runoff, it will be interesting to see if one or more of the Rs who fail to make the cut take another shot at it in March. I’ve speculated about that for the plethora of Dems in HD148 as well, and there’s no reason to think the same dynamic won’t be true here.

Cagle and Radack break quorum

They did it.

Two Harris County Commissioners Court members skipped Tuesday’s meeting to prevent the Democratic majority from voting on a property tax rate hike that would increase revenue by 8 percent.

Republican commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle were absent when County Judge Lina Hidalgo gaveled in the session at 10:03 a.m. A staff member for Cagle placed a two-foot stack of constituent comments at his place on the dais, indicating their widespread opposition to the tax increase.

Without a vote, Harris County will revert to the effective tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which will collect more than $195 million less than the rate Democrats had proposed, according to county budget analysts.

[…]

Cagle and Radack remained at large when their colleagues began discussing the tax rate at 11 a.m. In a statement, Cagle said he and Radack skipped the meeting to block an “unwise, unfair and unjustified” tax increase.

“The residents of Precinct 4 elected me to represent them. They did not elect me to lord over them or to repress them,” Cagle said. “This is the taxpayers’ money, not the government’s.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a statement from Commissioner Ellis. I will just say this: The people of Harris County, who voted 52-46 for Lupe Valdez over Greg Abbott, and 56-42 for Mike Collier over Dan Patrick, did not vote for the imposition of a restrictive and damaging revenue cap. Collier, for that matter, carried Radack’s precinct and came damn close in Cagle’s, so one could plausibly argue that their own constituents didn’t vote for that revenue cap, either. I can appreciate that Radack and Cagle opposed this plan and used the tool that was available to them to stop it, but they picked a really short-sighted hill to die on. The property tax system in Texas is rigged against homeowners, and Radack and Cagle’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature refuse to do anything about it. By this action, they demonstrate they are part of the problem. Commissioners Court can’t do anything about what the Lege has imposed on them now, but the voters can do something about Steve Radack next year. The Court has undergone a lot of change, but clearly more is needed.

Secondhand Sessions

If at first you don’t succeed, find something easier to do.

Rep. Bill Flores

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions formally launched his campaign Thursday to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, opting against running again in his old Dallas-based district and pressing forward in Flores’ seat despite some local Republican unease.

“My goal is to work together to restore the Republican majority in the House and maintain our control of the Senate and White House,” Sessions said in a news release Thursday afternoon. “My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda.”

Later in the afternoon, Sessions held an announcement event at the McLennan County GOP headquarters in Waco, where he railed against Democrats who he said have gone “completely left,” and promised to be “vigorous” in his campaign.

Sessions lost reelection last year to Dallas Democrat Collin Allred, who defeated Sessions by 7 percentage points. Sessions spent months toying with a rematch in the 32nd District until emerging Tuesday as a likely contender for Flores’ seat, which is about 80 miles south of the 32nd Congressional District and in more safely Republican territory.

Sessions, who plans to move to the 17th District, was born in Waco and grew up there. He previously represented some of the counties that are now in the 17th District. One of those counties is Limestone County, and its GOP chair, Lance Phillips, introduced Sessions on Thursday, emphasizing his connections to the area.

“This is not foreign territory for him by any stretch of the imagination,” Phillips said.

The notion of a Sessions bid for Flores’ seat prompted a backlash from some local Republicans in the 17th District. Among those speaking out was Flores himself, who balked at Sessions moving toward a run without consulting the incumbent and who said the feedback from district GOP leaders was “not positive.”

“TX17 is blessed with a strong cadre of emerging leaders who live, work, raise families, and serve the communities in our district,” Flores told The Texas Tribune after Sessions’ announcement Thursday. “Some of these leaders would be world class Congressional candidates for whom I would be honored to vote and to have represent our neighbors and me in Congress.”

It’s pretty funny, and even after Sessions belatedly reached out to his former colleague, Flores was still like “yeah, whatever, try to beat the candidates that actually do live here then we’ll see”. Sessions has been putting out statements about how he’s all in on Trump, and while that’s much more likely to help him in CD17 than it would have in CD32, maybe even here that will wear a bit thin. Democrat Rick Kennedy is running again, and I’m hoping either he can raise more money this time around, or someone else who can raise more money decides to give it a try. This could be a way-under-the-radar opportunity if Pete Sessions gets on the ballot again. The Observer has more.

John B. Love III

Meet the ninth Democratic candidate in the Senate primary.

John Love

John B. Love III, a Midland city councilman, is the latest Democrat to jump into the crowded race to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, saying in his announcement that gridlock in Washington is “taking a toll on Texas families.”

“In August, a mass shooting came to Midland,” Love said in his announcement, citing the mass shooting in which a gunman killed seven people and injured two dozen more in Midland and Odessa. “Tomorrow it will come to someone else’s town. We can fix these tough problems if we work together.”

Love, a three-term councilman who serves as Midland’s mayor pro tem, is pitching himself as the small-town cure for the problems in D.C.

“I grew up in West Texas where neighbors talked to each other,” Love said in his announcement. “I’m a proud Democrat, but in a small city you have to talk to your Republican neighbors. We’ve gotten a lot done in Midland and I’m ready to bring the same approach to Washington.”

Love is one of nine Democrats who have so far filed paperwork to run in the primary, in which gun violence has already become a top issue.

[…]

Love said he’s a “proud gun owner who supports a ban on assault weapons.”

“I’m for comprehensive background checks and closing the gun show loophole,” Love said. “But more importantly, we need real action, real votes and leadership to reduce gun violence.”

I did not find a Senate campaign page for him, but this local news story about his announcement has an image that appears to be what he’ll be using. Love is the ninth candidate, and the fourth African-American in the field, along with Amanda Edwards, Royce West, and Michael Cooper. If he draws a non-trivial level of support, that could affect Edwards and West’s chances of making it to the runoff. At first glance, he looks like an interesting candidate, and in a cycle that doesn’t already have a bunch of interesting candidates, I bet he could make an impression. If he ends up in the conversation for a statewide race in 2022, I would not consider that a bad outcome. We’ll know soon enough how far behind he is in fundraising, and then we’ll get to see how much ground he can make up. The Midland Reporter-Telegram has more.

The clown show is coming for Drag Queen Story Time

The words, they fail me.

The group that opposed and defeated Houston’s equal rights ordinance in 2015 announced Tuesday it is launching a petition drive aimed at prohibiting Drag Queen Storytime, the program shuttered earlier this year by city officials over reports that a participant was a registered sex offender.

Houston Public Library officials in March said they would seek to “improve upon policies” and “re-organize the program,” in which drag queens read books to children at the Freed-Montrose Library. A spokesperson for Mayor Sylvester Turner declined comment and did not respond to an inquiry about the status of the program.

The group Campaign for Houston seeks to amend the city charter to bar the program “or any variation thereof where a biological male dresses up in women’s clothing representing himself as a Drag Queen or a biological woman dresses up in male clothing representing herself as a Drag King.”

The proposed amendment also would prohibit “any content, programs or people related to adult sexually oriented business” from reading stories to children at Houston public libraries.

Jared Woodfill, a Campaign for Houston spokesperson, alleged the program is “targeting kids” and called it “out of step with the moral values” of Houston.

Just a reminder, Jared Woodfill also spends his time defending the honor of accused child molesters. But sure, it’s drag shows that are the problem. I have a hard time seeing this proposition as worded surviving a First Amendment challenge, and I’m also not sure if the intent is to put something on the May ballot or the next November ballot. A previous lawsuit alleging that Drag Queen Story Time had somehow violated people’s religious freedom was dismissed (in addition to a lack of standing) not having established any constitutional problems. I don’t doubt their ability to get the petition signatures, but how it proceeds from there is unclear. Deeply stupid, and unclear.

Barohich not running again in SBOE6

Another open seat.

Donna Bahorich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gina Ortiz Jones is doing big fundraising numbers again

Nice.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the leading Democratic candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised over $1 million in the third quarter, her campaign announced Tuesday morning.

The figure represents a massive haul that her campaign described as the “largest off-year quarterly fundraising total the district has ever seen.”

“I’m honored by the groundswell of support we’ve received and together we’re building a grassroots campaign to stand up to the corporate special interests and bring commonsense priorities like quality, affordable health care and lower prescription drug costs to Washington, D.C.,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ campaign expects to report having about $1.4 million cash on hand — a hefty stockpile for a race that is at the top of national Democrats’ priority list this cycle in Texas.

[…]

The GOP primary for the seat is still forming, but national Republicans like Tony Gonzales, a retired Navy cryptologist from San Antonio. He entered the race a few days after Hurd’s announcement and raised over $100,000 in his first month, according to his campaign.

The candidates are not required to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

Ortiz Jones was a big fundraiser in 2018, but so was Will Hurd. This time around, she’ll be the one with the head start. Yes, this presumes she’ll win her contested primary. If that doesn’t happen, then whoever does will have some big shoes to fill. We’ll see how everyone else is doing later this month.

On a side note, this came into my mailbox:

Michele Leal, candidate for State Representative for House District 148, raised over $100,000 in the first 24 days of her candidacy.

“Michele’s strong fundraising is a result of her hard work and her strong relationships with people who care about the future of Houston and Texas,” said State Representative Christina Morales. “We need leaders like Michele in the State House – who will stand up for everyday Texans and advocate for our diverse communities.”

Leal – a former legislative staffer in the state House and Senate, and a proven community advocate and activist, announced her candidacy on September 3rd, to complete the term of her former employer, retired State Representative Jessica Farrar.

“We have the opportunity to bring real change to Austin, which is only possible when we stand together,” said Leal. “I am committed to earning the support of Houstonians across our entire district, and we will have the resources we need to share our vision for a better Texas.”

I haven’t received any other fundraising press releases from HD148 candidates, so I thought I’d run this one as a measure of what is possible. They, like the city candidates running in this November’s election, have 30 day reports due this week. I’m very interested to see who raised the kind of money to quickly and effectively get their name out there in this short period of time. So far, at least one person has.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

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

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

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

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

PPP: Competitive Congressional districts are competitive

Some nice data points for you.

A handful of Republican-held House seats in the Texas suburbs represent fertile ground for competitive races in 2020, according to recent Democratic polling.

The surveys in six GOP districts, shared first with CQ Roll Call, are a sign that Democratic outside groups are willing to spend resources in the Lone Star State, where party leaders believe they can make gains next year. The polls were commissioned by House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of House Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to the chamber’s Democratic leadership.

Three of the districts surveyed have GOP incumbents running for reelection, including Reps. Michael McCaul in the 10th District, Chip Roy in the 21st and John Carter in the 31st. Polls were also conducted in three open-seat races in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th districts. Republicans won all six seats in 2018, all by margins of 5 points or less.

The surveys, conducted by Public Policy Polling, tested a generic Democrat against a generic Republican in each of the districts.

Respondents backed a generic Republican candidate over a Democratic one in four of the six races. In the 10th, 21st and 22nd districts, 49 percent supported a GOP candidate, compared to 46, 44 and 45 percent respectively for a Democrat. Fifty-one percent backed a Republican in the 31st District, compared to 44 percent for a Democrat.

A generic Democratic candidate garnered more support in two districts. Fifty-three percent backed a Democrat in the 23rd District, where GOP incumbent Will Hurd is retiring, to 41 percent for a Republican. In the 24th District, where GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring, 47 percent of respondents supported a Democrat while 46 supported a generic Republican.

The polls surveyed between 523 and 656 likely voters in each of the congressional districts and had margins of error between plus or minus 3.8 and 4.2 percentage points. They were conducted Sept. 19-21 via landline telephone interviews using IVR technology, also known as automated phone polling.

I get that not that many people will know who a particular member of Congress is, but I don’t understand why you’d do a “generic R versus generic D” matchup in CD21, where freshman Chip Roy is running for re-election and he will most likely face off against Wendy Davis, who is as well known as a potential candidate is going to be. In CD10 and CD31, I’d do “Rep. Mike McCaul vs generic Dem” and “Rep. John Carter vs generic Dem” for similar reasons, though perhaps there’s a chance that CD10 will be open next year, too. The “generic Dem” approach is most appropriate in CD31, where I have no idea yet if there’s a candidate who can raise the kind of money needed to make that a real race. I hope the Q3 finance reports give me some good news there.

In CD23, where Gina Ortiz Jones is raising gobs of money, I’d love to have seen a “generic R vs generic D” question followed by a “generic R vs Gina Ortiz Jones” question, just to see if there’s any difference. I’ve said that Will Hurd was an overperformer for the Republicans in CD23, but I don’t think he was twelve points above the baseline. As for the rest, it’s still very early and on both sides candidate quality is going to matter, but the fact that these races are almost certainly going to be very competitive is nothing new. I made this point multiple times in 2018, but the shift in the Congressional districts is a microcosm of the shift in the state, and we’ve seen what that polling looks like so far. Where the numbers go from here is the big question.

Julián Castro will not be running for Senate, either

In case you were wondering.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in 2020 even if he were to drop out of the presidential race.

“No, I’m not going go run for the Senate, that’s never what I intended to do,” Castro said in an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur in the penultimate event at the Paramount Theatre, preceding the closing keynote address by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

While Castro is guaranteed a spot on the next Democratic stage in Ohio in October, his chances of qualifying for the November debate are dicey. Castro is at 1.7% in the RealClearPolitics polling average. The raised threshold requires that a candidate earn 3% support in at least four early state or national polls that meet the Democratic National Committee’s methodological requirements — up from 2% for the September and October debates — or at least 5% in two early state polls. The early states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Tur noted that Castro had sent out a note to funders saying if he doesn’t qualify for the November debate, he would drop out of the race.

“If that happens would you consider running against John Cornyn?’ Tur asked Castro.

In explaining why he would not do that, Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said, “People ask me, `Why are you running for president?’ My experience is actually as an executive. I actually have some of the most relevant experience in running for president. When you’re a president, you’re a chief executive. I was a chef executive of a federal agency with a $48 billion budget. I’m running for what’s relevant to my experience.”

Castro as a Senate candidate has been discussed before, though not nearly as often as “why won’t Beto run for Senate again?” has been discussed. You know how I feel about that, so I’ll just say again that I have always assumed “Castro for Governor 2022” is the backup plan, assuming 1) Castro isn’t in someone’s cabinet, and 2) he actually wants to run for Governor. It is an executive position, he could get an awful lot done, and it would put him in good position to run for President again in 2028, following (God willing) two terms of one of his current opponents in the primary. Not that beating Greg Abbott would be easy, but that would be the time to try. The Current has more.

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

Will Hurd has delusions about running for President

Sure, buddy.

Rep. Will Hurd

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said Thursday he is considering a run for president in 2024.

The third-term Republican congressman from Helotes is leaving the House at the end of this term, and his retirement announcement sent shockwaves throughout national politics.

In an interview Thursday with The Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, Hurd addressed a slew of issues, including background checks and redistricting.

“If they’re still not being addressed in a macro way, if I’m still the only person that’s still talking about these things, if I’m put in a position in order to evaluate that, then I will do what I have always done when I’ve had the opportunity to serve my country,” he said when asked if he’s considering a run for the presidency. “I will think about it.”

[…]

During his time in Congress, Hurd has proved to be a prolific fundraiser and was able to lock down the 23rd Congressional District, a seat that regularly flipped between the two parties.

“Everybody keeps saying I’m retiring,” Hurd said. “I’m 42. I’m just getting started.”

Hurd also discussed the state of politics back home.

Despite his retirement, Hurd insisted he would have won a fourth term in a rematch against Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones.

“I would have won,” he said. “This would have been a four-peat.”

Yes, and the Red Sox would have won the World Series this year, if only they had made the playoffs. I do think it’s possible Will Hurd will run for something again. Whether he could survive a Republican primary for whatever he might want to run for is another question. In the meantime, of course you would have won again in CD23, Will. We always win the races we only ever run in our heads.

Rodney Ellis may have an opponent in 2020

Keep your eye on this:

Here’s a Chron story about Judge Jackson’s resignation, which does not mention the challenge-to-Rodney-Ellis possibility, since at this point that’s mostly informed gossip. It does mean, as the story notes, that Greg Abbott will get to appoint a replacement, which if past patterns hold will be a Republican that had been booted out by voters in either 2016 or 2018. Which in turn means there will be at least one judicial slot available in 2020 for a Democrat who doesn’t want to have to primary someone. I’m sure that will draw some interest.

As far as the rumored challenge to Commissioner Rodney Ellis goes, no one gets or deserves a free pass, and a real challenge is better for democracy than the usual no-name crank filing against an otherwise unbothered incumbent for the office. If we’re going to have an election, let’s have one between real, qualified, purposeful candidates. I supported Ellis in that weird precinct chair election in 2016, I’ll happily support him in 2020, and I fully expect he’ll cruise to an easy win in March, if indeed Jackson runs against him.

Jackson will have several obstacles to winning a primary against Ellis (if, again, that is what she intends to do). Ellis is popular, has a strong base, has been a prime mover of policies widely supported by Democrats while on Commissioners Court, especially while he’s been in the Dem majority post-2018, and has a lot of money in his campaign treasury. Jackson, by contrast, has $13,812 on hand, and will now have to raise money in large quantities in a short time frame. Her one contribution from this cycle came from the Texans for Fairness PAC, which supported a lot of local Dems in 2018, and whose co-founder is Amir Mireskandari, of that weird poker club situation that I haven’t said anything about in part because I have no idea what to make of it. It’s not hard to see how that could be a loud sideshow in a Jackson-Ellis primary battle, which again, as of this time isn’t a thing. But it could be, and so we ought to be aware of what might come with it. Stay tuned.

I’m not that worried about the Green Party effect in Texas

It’s not nothing, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Texas House Bill 2504, passed along party lines by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in May and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June, lowers the threshold that minor political parties — defined in the law as parties that nominate by convention, as opposed to by primary — must meet to have their candidates appear on the ballot.

Under the new law, a third party’s candidates can qualify to appear on the ballot if any one of them got 2 percent of the vote in a statewide race in the last five elections. Previously, a third party’s candidates earned a spot on the ballot if any one of them won 5 percent of the vote in any of the most recent statewide elections.

The law also requires minor parties to pay a filing fee to ensure their candidate actually appears on the ballot — or collect the required amount of signatures under existing Texas ballot access laws within a certain amount of time. (For 2020, under state statute, the number of signatures would be more than 83,000, the equivalent of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s race). Previously, filing fees had only been required for the two major political parties.

Republican supporters of HB 2504 say it bolsters the electoral system by both making it easier for smaller parties to have access to the ballot and by evening the playing field for such access.

But a far greater number of critics — including political scientists, Democratic Party and progressive strategists, as well as the two most prominent third parties in Texas — say the bill is designed to pull votes from Democratic candidates by making it easier for Green Party candidates, who are more likely to attract disaffected Democratic voters, to appear on the ballot.

The result could prove to make a defining difference in a handful of closely watched races in an increasingly purple Texas, including its U.S. Senate race where Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election, a number of state House races and possibly even the presidential race — although Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 0.8 percent of the vote in 2016 and only 0.3 percent in 2012.

“When you hear about Republicans trying to get Green Party candidates on the ballot, it really makes you wonder what’s going on. Because, obviously, they’re not aligned — today’s GOP is not engaged at all with issues dear to the Green Party,” said Paul Brace, a political science professor at Rice University, in Houston, who specializes in state politics. “And the reality is that allowing the Greens on the ballot helps Republicans, and so there’s good reason to be cynical about this.”

Most of what I would have to say in response to this I said in this piece, where I discussed HB2504. I’ll add two things to that here. One is that third party voters in a given race have, I believe, an assortment of reasons for doing what they did. One conclusion I drew from that is that downballot statewide candidates – both Republicans and Democrats – would probably benefit from more resources being invested in their races. Republicans have had a very strong brand in Texas this century, though there are signs it is weakening. Democrats have a chance to improve their brand, and if they do I believe they’ll be better positioned to retain voters who might have strayed to a Libertarian or Green candidate in previous elections.

The other thing is that the real issue with third party candidates – and independents, and to a much smaller degree write-ins, too – is that they enable a situation where someone can win with less than a majority of the vote. If someone can get to the magical fifty percent plus one, then who cares if the ballot also included Libertarians, Greens, Bull Mooses, or the Very Silly Party. When a candidate does win with just a plurality, as I said above it’s often hard to determine what the “other” voters were thinking, or what they might have done in a two-person race. I get the conventional wisdom that making it easier for Greens to qualify is likely to benefit Republicans, if it benefits anyone. I certainly believe that the Republicans believe that, and passed this bill for that reason. We are in a situation where control of the State House could come down to one race, and there are certainly going to be plenty of close ones this cycle. I don’t dismiss the possibility that we’ll all be cursing the fates and the Greens next November. But I’m also not going to over-value it, either. If we Dems do our jobs, we’ll maximize our returns. That’s the best way to think about it.

Another primary challenger to Cornyn

Good luck, but don’t expect much.

Big John Cornyn

A Dallas investor branding himself a “Reagan Republican” has launched a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, calling one of the top-ranking GOP senators a lackey of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump.

Mark Yancey, the former owner of the Dallas Wings WNBA team, said in his campaign announcement that he has “good reason” to believe Cornyn is vulnerable as he jumped into a Republican field that could soon swell to include three challengers.

Even if Yancey falls short, the primary fight could force Cornyn to spend some much-needed cash ahead of what is widely expected to be the toughest election battle of his three-term career in the Senate. Democratic El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke came within three percentage points of beating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 elections, and the Democrats are redoubling efforts in Texas in 2020.

Yancey in his announcement branded himself a moderate Republican — a new tack against Cornyn, who has previously fended off primary attacks from the right.

“Senator Cornyn has frequently disappointed Texans with his strong alignment with both Mitch McConnell and Trump,” Yancey said in the statement. “He has shown repeatedly that he is a follower and a compromiser on the wrong side of an issue rather than a leader.”

Well, that’s certainly a clear contrast with Cornyn, but I don’t know how many primary-voting Republicans there are that would sign on to that statement. Trump isn’t polling that well in Texas, but his numbers are very strong among self-identified Republicans. If there is a serious challenge to Cornyn in the GOP primary, it’s more likely to come from State Sen. Pat Fallon, accusing Cornyn of being a big ol’ RINO squish. As the story notes, the establishment strongly supports Cornyn, but attacking from the right is never a terrible idea in a GOP primary. I’m not too worried if I’m Big John, is what I’m saying. And as I’ve been saying on the Dem side, money spent in a primary is an investment, not a sunk cost. Cornyn will have no trouble raising it back. He will not be hurting for cash, no matter what. I wish Mark Yancey good luck, but I sure hope he knows what he’s getting into.

One thing our state loves spending money on

Defending unconstitutional anti-abortion laws in the courts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a related note:

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

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

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

Let’s temper our expectations just a bit in HD28

It’s an important race, and winning it would be a big boost, but let’s no go overboard.

Eliz Markowitz

When Beto O’Rourke traveled to his home state of Texas for the recent Democratic presidential debate, he made a surprising stop: at a rally with a state legislative candidate who is barely known outside the exurbs of Houston.

But if she wins Texas’ 28th Statehouse District in November, Eliz Markowitz could help change the course of U.S. politics for the next decade.

That’s because, over the next 13 months, Democrats have a genuine shot at breaking Republicans’ iron grip on Texas — if they can flip just nine seats in the 150-member Texas House. And Markowitz, a longtime educator, is locked in a tight special election for one of the handful of seats Democrats have to flip to make that happen.

Control of the chamber would give Democrats a say in the all-important 2021 redistricting process — the decennial redrawing of legislative districts according to new census data — and give national Democrats a huge advantage in holding their majority in Congress.

Texas, thanks to severe Republican gerrymandering, currently provides the GOP with its single largest source of congressional power: Two-thirds of Texas’ U.S. representatives are Republican, even though in 2018 they won only 50.4% of votes cast for Congress.

Ahead of the Nov. 5 contest, Markowitz is drawing the focus of nearly every Democratic group in the country whose mission it is to win down-ballot races.

“We’ve had support from all over the country,” she said.

They’re sending strategic advice, voter data, targeting methods, email lists several hundred thousand-strong with small donors, and volunteers. Besides the O’Rourke campaign, Annie’s List, a Texas version of EMILY’s List that recruits and funds female Democratic candidates, is spending five figures to help her win, and the Texas Democratic Party is lavishing “a lot of resources,” said Abhi Rahman, the group’s spokesman. (Ahead of an October deadline to disclose its spending, groups are being cagey about precise figures.)

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Future Now Fund are also funneling unknown sums, and groups like Run For Something, which supports down-ballot progressives, are providing strategic advice.

“If Markowitz is able to somehow win or come very close, that would lend a lot of credence to the idea that Republicans are faced with the principal challenge in 2020 of holding onto [their] majority in the Texas House,” said Mark Jones, a political professor at Rice University. “That would be a signal of a real vulnerability to losing the chamber in 2020.”

I basically agree with Mark Jones’ assessment here, but let’s do keep in mind that win or lose, the turnout environment in HD28 this November – and December, if it goes to a runoff – will be very, very different than the turnout environment next November. Weird things can happen in low turnout races, especially when the stakes are relatively low. This race is quite reasonably been seen as a bellwether, but whoever wins in HD28 (and in HD100, and in HD148) will not get to cast any votes until the next regular session begins in 2021. That makes this different from, say, a Congressional special election, where the new member gets thrown right into a chamber where actual bills are being debated.

And that highlights the second point: Whoever wins this race may not get to be the person who is sworn in for the 87th Lege. That person will still have to win their primary, and that next November election. There are no guarantees here: Dems flipped HD97 in a November 2007 special election, and Republicans took over HD118 in January of 2018, but both seats flipped back in the next regular election. I feel confident saying Eliz Markowitz will be the Democratic nominee in HD28 in 2020, but that’s as far as we can go right now.

Point being: It would be great to win this race, and Markowitz (interview here) is a terrific candidate who is well worth supporting. But win or lose – and especially if she loses by an amount that is deemed “significant” or “disappointing” by pundits – she’ll be on the ballot again next November, and that’s when it will really count. We need to support her for the full cycle, that’s all I’m saying. Daily Kos has more.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac to retire

Another open seat for the Republicans to defend.

Rep. Dwayne Bohac

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, announced Wednesday he is not seeking reelection.

Bohac won reelection last year by just 47 votes, and his retirement gives Democrats a ripe pickup opportunity as they push to flip the House in 2020.

“It is time for me to focus on my family, new callings in my life, and allow someone else the opportunity to have the honor to represent our community in the Texas Legislature,” Bohac said in a statement.

Bohac has served in the House since 2003.

Democrats are 10 seats removed from the House majority. That number is nine if they hold on to a vacant seat in a November special election as expected.

Two Democrats, Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein, have already launched bids for Bohac’s House District 138 in 2020. The Democrat who gave Bohac a close call in 2018, Adam Milasincic, decided in April not to run again and gave his support to Bacy, a Houston attorney.

As we know, after that razor-thin victory by Bohac in 2018, HD138 is at the tippy-top of the Democratic target list for 2020. Beto got 52.7% in HD138, with Mike Collier and Justin Nelson and Kim Olson also taking a majority there. There were only three other districts in which Beto got a higher percentage and the Republican incumbent held on. One could credibly say that Dwayne Bohac overperformed in 2018, which is how he managed to stay in office. Republicans won’t have that advantage this time around.

Bohac didn’t have much cash on hand, so he won’t have much to bestow to whoever runs in his stead. I feel pretty confident that there will be plenty of money spent on this race. Sorry, Harris County GOP. Your to-do list for 2020 just got longer. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Republican State Rep. Mike Lang also announced his retirement. Lang’s HD60 went 83% for Ted Cruz in 2018, so not exactly a pickup opportunity.

The MJ Hegar movie

Coming to Netflix.

MJ Hegar

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar stepped away from her last movie deal as it became, as she says, “too blockbuster-y.”

The decorated war veteran now has a deal with Netflix for the movie that has long been in the works, but very well could drop in the middle of her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year. It’s a potential boon for a candidate who’s built a career writing, speaking and now making movies about her story — of getting shot down and wounded in Afghanistan, suing the Pentagon and lobbying Congress to scrap restrictions on women in combat.

That story has also fueled her political campaigns. It was told in a three-minute video that went viral as she launched her last campaign, drawing national attention to her race against U.S. Rep. John Carter in a Republican stronghold north of Austin.

Cornyn has deemed her “Hollywood Hegar,” in part because of the praise she has drawn from celebrities like Kristen Bell and Patton Oswalt. But Hegar says she’s trying to accomplish something real with the exposure: She’s long pushed for equality in the Armed Forces and believes it’s important for stories like hers — of women in combat — to be told.

“What I’m trying to accomplish is change — culture change,” Hegar said. “And you do that through books and movies and TV in American culture.”

Hegar — one of nearly a dozen Democrats vying to take on Cornyn in 2020 — earned more than $150,000 over the last year and a half working toward that goal, according to recently filed personal finance disclosures. The disclosures, which Senate candidates are required to file and covers a period from the beginning of 2018 until mid-August, show earnings of $42,500 from the Netflix deal, more than $27,000 in book royalties and $99,000 from a slew of public speaking gigs across the country.

Most of that money was made while she was also running her surprisingly successful campaign against Carter, who she came within three percentage points of beating. Hegar — whose husband works at Dell and helps take care of their two kids in Round Rock — says it’s how she makes enough money to help her family get by as she makes her run at Cornyn.

“The political system the way it is now, you have to be independently wealthy, or have the kind of job like a lawyer, just to be able to run for office,” Hegar said. “So we end up with a lot of people in office who haven’t faced the challenges that our legislators are charged with finding solutions to.”

“I have an accidental opportunity to run for office,” Hegar said. “The dramatic nature of my story means that the place that I can make the biggest impact is, you know, in a public facing role. Even if that’s contrary to my personality type — I’m actually quite introverted.”

I’ve thought about this, and I’ve decided I basically agree with her assessment. She’s been afforded an opportunity, and it’s one I think most of us would take if we were in the same position. She does still have to help support her family while she’s running for office, and frankly this is a much less ethically tangled way of doing it than the various forms of consulting that many others engage in, mostly incumbents. Everyone agrees that our system of financing campaigns is terrible, but the point here is that just being able to run for office is something many regular people can’t afford to do. A larger share of such people than we’re used to seeing ran for office and got themselves elected in 2018, and some of them went through quite a bit of financial struggle to do so. I don’t have any easy answers for this, but it’s very much worth talking about and making visible. If Hegar’s situation can help a little with that, so much the better.

Will this movie ultimately work against her? It’s entirely possible. Cornyn will certainly use it – he already has been – but the other Dems in her primary are likely to take some shots as well. And even though many people would make the same decision she made to take Netflix’s offer, that doesn’t mean all of them will support her decision. It could go either way for her, and I’m sure she’s aware of that. I’m fine with it, and within reasonable bounds I’m fine with anyone criticizing it or not being fine with it. We’ll know soon enough if it made any difference.

UT-Tyler: Trump still looks weak in Texas

Two months later, there may be a story line to watch.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke remains competitive against President Donald Trump in a Texas head-to-head matchup, according to a poll released Thursday by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler.

The poll, conducted over three days following last week’s debate in Houston, shows O’Rourke polling better against Trump in a head-to-head matchup than every other Democratic contender except former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both led Trump by 2 percentage points in hypothetical matchups. Four other candidates tested against Trump lagged behind the president, though Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont trailed by less than the 2.8-percentage-point margin of error.

O’Rourke’s campaign boasted that the results vindicate his stance on gun control. He has caught flak from members of both parties since forcefully demanding mandatory buybacks of assault weapons in the Houston debate.

His gun confiscation proposal drew support from 49% of Texans in the UT-Tyler poll, while other plans drew broader support. Nearly 85% supported universal background checks for gun purchases. A “red flag” law that would let law enforcement take guns from someone deemed dangerous drew support from 65%.

Far more Texans — 59% — support an assault weapons sales ban that would let owners keep guns they already own. Gun rights advocates view confiscation as unconstitutional.

[…]

Trump continues to poll underwater in Texas, showing a 40% job approval rating among all respondents. Approval is much higher among Republicans and much lower among Democrats.

See here for the previous poll, from late July. The UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research press release is here and the poll data is here. Trump’s approval numbers were 40.3% approve, 54.5% disapprove in July, and 39.6% approve, 52.3% disapprove in September. The “will vote for” number he gets, in each matchup, is a close approximation of his approval number. A thing that I noticed that I want to point out, though it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about it, is how Trump does with Dems and with Republicans.


Candidates   Dem %  GOP %  Ind %  Tot %
=======================================
Biden        74.6%   8.0%  33.1%  39.6%
Trump         2.7%  81.5%  20.9%  38.0%
Neither/NS   22.6%  10.5%  46.0%  22.4%

Warren       69.2%   7.8%  28.1%  36.5%
Trump         3.0%  82.9%  25.9%  39.5%
Neither/NS   27.8%   9.3%  46.0%  24.0%

Harris       61.5%   6.5%  23.6%  31.8%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.5%  39.4%
Neither/NS   35.4%  11.5%  50.9%  28.9%

Sanders      72.0%   6.8%  32.5%  37.9%
Trump         2.6%  82.8%  26.4%  39.6%
Neither/NS   25.5%  10.4%  41.2%  22.5%

Buttigieg    57.0%   6.6%  25.1%  30.4%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.6%  39.3%
Neither/NS   39.8%  11.3%  49.3%  30.3%

Beto         79.2%   8.2%  35.4%  42.0%
Trump         3.5%  82.2%  26.5%  39.7%
Neither/NS   18.3%   9.6%  38.1%  18.3%

“Neither/NS” is the sum of the “Neither/Other” and “Not Sure” responses. Trump gets nearly identical levels of support among Dems and Republicans against each potential opponent. The range of support for him is a bit wider among indies, but indies are also the smallest sample so those numbers may just be more volatile as a result. All Dems get roughly the same amount of support among Republicans. There’s more variance among indies, but by far the biggest variable is the level of support among Dems for each candidate. Beto as native son does best, followed by the two previous Presidential candidates – and thus the best known among them – Biden and Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren a notch behind. Farther down are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. They had Julian Castro in the July sample but not this one.

You can compare to the July data, where Trump did a bit better among Republicans and Dems but worse among indies, giving him roughly the same overall numbers. This will be worth watching for trends if UT-Tyler keeps pumping these out every other month, but beyond that it’s only two data points. My main argument here is that Trump seems to have a ceiling, and it’s lower than that of the Dems. Dem voters who haven’t made up their minds or who have a preference than isn’t the named candidate in the given question have the option of giving a non-committal answer. They’re not defecting to Trump, they’re just keeping their powder dry. Fewer Republicans are similarly ambivalent about Trump, and quite a few more are actively against him. That leaves him less room to grow, at least among the easier to get voters. If all of this is for real, then when the Dems have a nominee, or at least a much smaller number of choices, I’d expect to see the Dem candidates’ support get consolidated. That’s what is worth watching.

Now again, there’s the apparent correlation between the approval number and the “would vote for” number, so if the former goes up the latter may as well. And as noted before, this sample seems unusually Democratic, which may be skewing things. The good news is that there is just a lot more polling activity here this cycle, so there will be many chances to see if this poll is in the mainstream or an outlier. For now, the basics of it look better for the Dems than for Trump.

As for the gun control questions, they’re interesting and worth considering, but even with the baby steps Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott have taken in that direction, I don’t think it means much. Lots of things poll well in Texas but have zero traction because literally no elected Republicans in the Lege or statewide agree with that position. There are some tiny cracks in the ice now because of the 2018 elections, but it’s going to take a lot more Republicans losing elections for it to truly matter.

Everybody hates Dan

You just hate to see it.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is doubling down on his call for closing loopholes in gun sales background checks despite withering criticism from other Republicans, conservative groups that have ardently supported him, and the National Rifle Association.

Even the Republican Party of Texas passed a resolution over the weekend rejecting any legislation that would include the enhanced background checks that Patrick supports.

After a gunman left seven people dead in a mass shooting through Midland and Odessa, Patrick said he was ready to take action and called for expanding background checks to include private stranger-to-stranger sales. Nearly two weeks of criticism from fellow Republicans and gun-rights advocates has not changed his position.

“I’m a strong NRA supporter and they’re a strong supporter of mine, but I believe they are wrong in not expanding background checks to stopping strangers from selling guns to strangers,” Patrick said in a Fox News interview after the second mass shooting in West Texas in just over a month.

Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has made clear that he wouldn’t touch gun transfers between family members or with friends, but that caveat has done little to appease even his one-time allies who are blasting him publicly.

See here for the background, and read the rest for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Dan’s “friends”. All I can say is that it can’t happen to a better bunch of people. Ken Herman has more.