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Not quite the same old gambling story

This Trib story about the state of gambling expansion in the Lege is not the usual formula. It has a lot of the usual elements, but for the first time there’s some hint of maybe something could happen. Maybe.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Gambling legalization advocates in Texas are going all in again this legislative session, confident that they have built more support since their efforts came up far short in 2021.

The push is still an uphill battle, however, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, continues to pour cold water on the idea. But supporters have found promising signs elsewhere, and they have returned to the Capitol with an army of well-connected lobbyists after doling out millions of dollars in campaign contributions during the 2022 election.

There are two main camps pushing for expanded gambling in Texas — and right now, they appear to be operating on parallel tracks. The first is a continuation of a lavishly funded and high-profile effort initiated by the late Sheldon Adelson and his gaming empire Las Vegas Sands to legalize casinos, specifically high-quality “destination resorts” in the state’s largest cities. The other lane is the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of professional sports teams in the state and betting platforms that is exclusively focused on legalizing mobile sports betting.

Gambling is largely illegal in Texas with exceptions including the lottery, horse and greyhound racing and bingo. Texas has three tribal casinos, which are allowed to operate under federal law.

The Sports Betting Alliance already made a splash in the lead-up to this session by hiring former Gov. Rick Perry as a spokesperson.

“What’s changed [since 2021], I think, is the continuing education of the general public that this is not an expansion of gambling,” Perry said in an interview, suggesting that Texans already participate in this sort of gambling in other states or illegally. “It’s going on, it’s gonna continue to go on and the state of Texas needs to regulate it and make sure that its citizens’ information is protected.”

[…]

Given the stiff headwinds to getting any expansion in gambling passed, sports betting and casino advocates may be competing against each other, rather than working in tandem.

The Sports Betting Alliance is officially neutral on legalizing casinos, but the Sands team has welcomed collaboration, noting its proposal would additionally legalize sports betting.

Advocates for sports betting see their cause as a standalone issue that is more palatable for lawmakers. Perry said there is a “clear delineation” between what the Sports Betting Alliance is pushing for compared with legalized casinos.

“The other issues that are out there, they’ll have to stand or fall on their own,” Perry said. “I don’t think these will be tied together in any point in time.”

It is unclear if Patrick, the highest-ranking hurdle to expanded gambling, sees a similar distinction between the causes and could be more amenable to sports betting. His top political strategist, Allen Blakemore, recently signed up to lobby for the Sports Betting Alliance through the end of the year. And Patrick is close with Perry, once calling him “one of my best friends in life.”

Neither Patrick’s office nor Blakemore responded to requests for comment.

In the December TV interview, Patrick said no one had mentioned expanded gambling to him and no Republicans had filed bills on it yet. But advocates are making the case to Senate Republicans, and at least one of them, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, is giving thought to the sports-betting push.

“It’s true that Senator Kolkhorst is studying legislation to regulate ongoing app-based sports betting in Texas but she doesn’t comment on pending legislation,” Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said in a text message. “She will have more to say once a bill were to be filed.”

Neither Perry nor Blakemore as lobbyists impresses me. If hiring the right lobbyists was the key, this would have happened a long time ago. If there’s one thing the gambling interests know how to do, it’s hire lobbyists.

What does make me raise my eyebrows and go “hmmm” is the possibility that Sen. Kolkhorst could file a pro-gambling bill. That would at least contradict Dan Patrick’s statement about there being no Republican-filed bills; note that for these purposes, what he really means is a Senate Republican-filed bill. He doesn’t really care if House GOPers file these bills. Kolkhorst is a big Patrick ally, and I just don’t think she’d waste her time on a bill that she knows going in won’t get a committee hearing. If she does file a bill, it will be after she’s had some conversations, and assurances, from Patrick about its future.

Now, note that we don’t actually have Kolkhorst saying she’ll file a bill, nor do we know what might be in that hypothetical bill. We have chatter from the lobbyists that she’s thinking about it. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than we’ve seen before. I do think that whoever sourced that info to the Trib wouldn’t have done so without Kolkhorst knowing about it. It would be an extreme rookie mistake for a lobbyist to drop a name like that and have it vehemently denied and maybe get that legislator mad at you.

The dynamic of the two main interests competing against each other, and thus possibly decreasing the already slim chances that something could get voted on, is something we’ve seen before. Back when the discussion was about casinos and slot machines, we had the horse racing interests pushing for casinos at their racetracks, while the casinos were pushing for, you know, casinos. Here, the sports betting interests don’t need for there to be casinos for them to operate – as we know from those tedious Mattress Mack stories, where he drives to Louisiana to place one of his ridiculous bets on his phone, an app is all they need – but you can of course also bet on sporting events at casinos, and that’s what those folks would want. And “destination-style” casinos are what Abbott and Phelan have said they’d be interested in. You can have both but you don’t need both, and they’re both incentivized to say “hey, if you only want to support just one, support us!”

Two more points. One is that these interests have already spent a crap-ton of money, mostly on Republicans since that’s who they really need to convince, and will spend a lot more before all is said and done. I don’t know how much that has actually gotten them – the old adage about “if you can’t take their money and drink their liquor and screw their women and vote against ’em anyway you don’t belong in the Lege” still applies – but it’s what they do. You can feel however you want about expanded gambling – as you know, I’m adamantly ambivalent about it – but if you’re a Democrat and you support gambling, you should keep that in mind. And two, the usual opponents of expanded gambling are quoted at the end of the story like they’re not worried, they’ve seen this all before and they say they’re not seeing anything new. I tend to believe them – the “gambling expansion will fail” position has been correct for a long time – but to be fair, they could well want to project that same calm and confidence even if the tide was turning. So draw your own conclusions.

More on the PUC’s attempt to fix the grid

From TPR:

After the last big blackout, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3, telling the commission to improve grid reliability. So, commissioners have been working on changing the state’s electricity market. They want to reform how energy is bought and sold on the power grid to create a market that makes sure power is there when people need it.

To do that, the commission hired a consulting firm that came up with a plan called a Performance Credit Mechanism, PCM for short.

Basically, this plan would create reliability credits that electricity providers (the companies most Texans pay their power bills to) have to buy from power generators (the companies that own the power plants). The credits represent a commitment from those power generators to deliver electricity when the grid is most stressed.

“I believe that PCM is the right solution because it’s a comprehensive solution that sets a clear reliability standard as required by [Senate Bill] 3,” Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission, said earlier this month.

The consulting firm that came up with the plan says it will cost $5.7 billion more a year. Supporters say power generators will use that money to invest in new power plants and to keep the energy supply humming in extreme weather. They also argue that not all that extra money will be shouldered by consumers. But, in Texas, consumers typically end up eating extra costs.

The plan is supported by power plant owners, who stand to earn money from the credits. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, is in favor of it. Gov. Greg Abbott and Public Utility Commissioners, including Lake, who are appointed by Abbott, also support the PCM.

The list of opponents appears to be significantly longer.

The independent market monitor, a position that serves kind of as a third-party auditor for the Texas grid, does not think it is a good plan. Consumer and environmental groups oppose it or are skeptical. The Texas Association of Manufacturers, a group that represents big industrial energy users in the state, is against it. The oil and gas lobby is not convinced it will work, and many state politicians also oppose it.

This group of opponents represent diverse interests, so their reasons for opposing the PCM vary.

Environmentalists point out that the plan is designed to bring more natural gas power plants to Texas, which is bad for climate change and air pollution.

Others, who want more natural gas plants built, argue that the PCM may not accomplish that goal. Some would prefer more direct subsidizing of new plants instead of the addition of a new layer of rules into the already complex Texas energy market.

And others say a big overhaul of the energy market is not even necessary, and that the grid can be improved without investing billions in building more power plants.

“I think we have an operational flexibility problem,” Carrie Bivens, the PUC’s independent market monitor, told a state Senate Committee late last year. “I do not believe we have [an energy] capacity problem.”

One thing all opponents agree on is that the plan is untested. It will cost billions, but there’s no real-world example to show it will work.

See here for the background. At this point, it’s not about whether this plan works or not. The issue is with going forward with an untested plan when there was a lot of disagreement about what that plan was and even a lack of consensus that this was the right kind of plan. It’s also not clear to me what the definition of success is for this plan. If new plants are built, which is the goal of this plan, but big outages still occur, is that a “success” because the new plants were built? If the capacity issues that Carries Bivens identifies are fixed before any new plants get built and the outages go away, is that a success for the plan? This is a basic thing that happens in the business world. If we can’t be sure that the plan worked, how will we know if it’s a good idea to do again if the same problems arise later? We’re just rolling dice and hoping for the best here.

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

More on the collegiate TikTok bans

An interesting perspective from a professor in Texas.

The bans have come in states where governors, like Texas’s Greg Abbott, have blocked TikTok from state-issued computers and phones. Employers can generally exercise control over how employees use the equipment they issue to them. The move to block TikTok on public university networks, however, crosses a line. It represents a different type of government regulation, one that hinders these institutions’ missions.

The bans limit university researchers’ abilities to learn more about TikTok’s powerful algorithm and data-collection efforts, the very problems officials have cited. Professors will struggle to find ways to educate students about the app as well.

Many, as my students suggested, will simply shift from the campus Wi-Fi to their data plans and resume using TikTok on campus. In this regard, the network bans create inequality, allowing those who can afford better data plans more free expression protections, while failing to address the original problem.

Crucially, TikTok isn’t just a place to learn how to do the griddy. It has more than 200 million users in the U.S., and many of them are exercising free-speech rights to protest and communicate ideas about matters of public concern. When the government singles out one app and blocks it on public university networks, it is picking and choosing who can speak and how they do so. The esteem and perceived value of the speech tool should not factor into whether the government can limit access to it.

The Supreme Court has generally found these types of restrictions unconstitutional. Justices struck down a North Carolina law in 2017 that banned registered sex offenders from using social media. They reasoned, “The Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.” Years earlier, the court struck down a law that criminalized digital child pornography. It reasoned lawmakers “may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech.”

Nearly a century ago, the first instance in which the Supreme Court struck down a law because it conflicted with the First Amendment came in a case that involved a blanket ban by government officials on a single newspaper. The newspaper was a scourge to its community. It printed falsehoods and damaged people’s reputations. Still, justices reasoned the First Amendment generally does not allow the government to block an information outlet because it threatens the “morals, peace, and good order” of the community.

Each of these laws, while put in place by well-meaning government officials, limited protected expression in their efforts to halt dangerous content. The First Amendment, however, generally doesn’t allow government officials to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Any limitation on expression must only address a clearly stated government interest and nothing else.

So, what is the government interest in blocking TikTok? Perhaps the most coherent statement of TikTok’s perceived national-security threat came from FBI Director Chris Wray in December. He emphasized, because of China’s practice of maintaining influence in the workings of private firms who do business in the country, Chinese officials might manipulate the app’s powerful recommendation algorithm in ways that distort the ideas Americans encounter. American TikTok users might see pro-China messages, for example, while negative information might be blocked. He also averred to TikTok’s ability to collect data on users and create access to information on users’ phones.

The University of Texas’s news release from earlier this week parroted these concerns, noting, “TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices—including when, where and how they conduct internet activity—and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government.”

These are valid concerns, but apps such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube also harvest vast amounts of data about users. Their algorithms do far more than simply supply information. Facebook’s and YouTube’s algorithms, for example, have both been found to encourage right-wing extremism. They are, as Wray and Texas’ news release lamented regarding TikTok, distorting the ideas Americans encounter. Why aren’t we blocking them, too? The obvious answer is that none of these companies are owned by a Chinese firm. But can’t firms such as Meta, Twitter, and Google execute the same harms officials have listed from within the U.S.?

See here and here for the background. The author didn’t say where he teaches, but Google suggests he’s a journalism prof at SMU, which has no compunction to follow suit as it’s a private school. The main thing I took away from this is the possibility that someone at one of these schools, or multiple someones aiming for a class action, could file a First Amendment lawsuit to overturn the bans. The distinction between enacting a workplace ban on (basically) company-owned devices and a more general ban at a university seems clear to me. Whether anyone will take this up or not I couldn’t say – filing a federal lawsuit is no small thing. But it could happen, so we’ll keep an eye out for that.

PUC makes an attempt to fix the grid

People are skeptical.

The Public Utility Commission voted Thursday to make a substantial change to the state’s electricity market in a controversial effort to get the whole system to be more reliable. The agency said it will let the Legislature review its plan before moving forward with putting it in place.

The idea, known as the “performance credit mechanism,” is a first-of-its-kind proposal. It’s meant to help produce enough power when extreme heat or cold drives up demand and electricity production drops for various reasons — such as a lack of sun or wind to produce renewable energy or equipment breakdowns at gas- or coal-fired power plants.

Under the new concept, which still has many details to work out, companies such as NRG would commit to being available to produce more energy during those tight times. The companies would sell credits to electricity retailers such as Gexa Energy, municipal utilities and co-ops that sell power to homes and businesses.

The credits are designed to give power generators an added income stream and make building new power plants worthwhile.

Theoretically, the credits help retailers and customers by smoothing out volatile price spikes when demand is high — but there’s wide disagreement over whether this will happen in practice. Some electricity providers filed for bankruptcy after the 2021 winter storm because they had to pay so much for power.

Critics of the plan say the idea is risky because it wasn’t properly analyzed and has never been tested in another place. Members of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce wrote to the PUC in December that they had “significant concern” about whether the proposal would work.

[…]

Experts disagree on whether the performance credits will actually convince power companies to build more natural gas plants, which are dirtier than wind and solar energy but can be turned on at any time. Some say new plants will be built anyway. Others say companies can simply use the credits to make more money from their existing plants without building more.

Michele Richmond, executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates, wrote in her comments to the commission that the group’s members were “ready to bring more than 4,500 [megawatts] of additional generation” to the state grid if the new system were adopted. That would be enough to power 900,000 homes. The group’s members include Calpine, Luminant and NRG.

If the PUC doesn’t change the market, there won’t be enough reason to invest in building new power generation facilities and keep operating existing facilities, she wrote.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was among groups that asked the PUC to spend more time considering whether the new credits are the best solution “before making fundamental changes to our market that would increase costs to consumers,” as Conservation Director Cyrus Reed wrote.

The independent market monitor, Potomac Economics, which is paid by the PUC to watch the market for manipulation and look for potential improvements, does not support the idea. The group believes enough corrections have been made already to make sure the grid is reliable.

Still others, such as Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC and the Texas Public Power Association, which is made up of municipal-owned utilities, cautioned that there wasn’t enough reliable information and analysis about the proposed credits to make such a significant decision.

The grid’s reliability must improve, Silverstein wrote to the PUC, but “we cannot do so at any cost, and we cannot do so using poorly understood, poorly-analyzed, or unproven market mechanisms to address unclear problem definitions and goals.”

Silverstein added: “If the commission makes a bad decision on … market reform due to haste, erroneous problem definition, sloppy analysis or misguided rationalizations, all Texans will bear the consequences for years through higher electric costs, lower reliability, and a slower economy, and millions of lower income Texans will suffer degraded health and comfort as they sacrifice to pay their electric bills.”

See here for some background. The PUC unanimously approved the plan, which was spearheaded by Greg Abbott’s appointed Chair. I sure don’t know enough to say whether this will work or not. It sounds like it could, but there’s more than enough uncertainty to make it a risky proposition. I get the argument against waiting for more data, but I have to wonder if there were some other ideas with greater certainty that could have been used in the meantime. Not much to do but hope for the best now, and maybe take the idea of “accountability” more seriously in the next election. The Chron, whose headline says that electricity prices are likely to rise under this plan, has more.

UT bans TikTok on campus WiFi

This feels like a bit of an overreaction to me, but we’ll see if others follow suit.

The University of Texas at Austin has blocked access to the video-sharing app TikTok on its Wi-Fi and wired networks in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent directive requiring all state agencies to remove the app from government-issued devices, according to an email sent to students Tuesday.

“The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the university’s network and to our critical infrastructure,” UT-Austin technology adviser Jeff Neyland wrote in the email. “As outlined in the governor’s directive, TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices — including when, where and how they conduct internet activity — and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government.”

[…]

Abbott’s Dec. 7 directive stated that all state agencies must ban employees from downloading or using the app on government-issued devices, including cellphones, laptops and desktops, with exceptions for law enforcement agencies. He also directed the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to create a plan to guide state agencies on how to handle the use of TikTok on personal devices, including those that have access to a state employee’s email account or connect to a state agency network. That plan was to be distributed to state agencies by Jan. 15.

Each state agency is expected to create its own policy regarding the use of TikTok on personal devices by Feb. 15.

The ban could have broad impacts particularly at universities serving college-age students, a key demographic that uses the app. University admissions departments have used it to connect with prospective students, and many athletics departments have used TikTok to promote sporting events and teams. It’s also unclear how the ban will impact faculty who research the app or professors who teach in areas such as communications or public relations, in which TikTok is a heavily used medium.

See here for the background. As the Chron notes, students will still be able to access TikTok off campus, but I’m sure this will cause a whole lot of complaining. It’s not clear to me that this is necessary to comply with Abbott’s previous directive, but I presume UT’s lawyers have given the matter some consideration and I’d take their conclusions over mine. Other big public universities have not yet announced anything, though on my earlier post a commenter who works at a Texas public university said that their school has done something similar. This will be very interesting to see.

There are a couple of big questions here. One is whether the TEA will weigh in on the matter for Texas public schools, or if it will be left up to individual districts. Far as I know, HISD has not taken any such action, and as it happens they have their own TikTok account. The other thing is how this might affect the ability of athletes to make NIL (name, image, likeness) money for themselves. NCAA athletes with a significant social media presence can earn a ton of money for themselves. If this starts to affect recruiting, you can be sure that people will hear about it. Even if the TEA takes action in the public schools, it’s not likely to have much effect since the UIL still bans athletes from making NIL money, but if this really does cause a ripple then anything can happen. Like I said, very much worth keeping an eye on this.

UPDATE: As of later in the day, Texas A&M and TSU have followed suit and implemented similar bans. That certainly lends credence to the “no it wasn’t an overreaction” thesis. UH had not taken any action as of this publication.

UPDATE: The University of North Texas joins in, as do all of the other schools in the UT system.

Precinct analysis: Inside and out of the city

Most years we don’t get the data to differentiate between votes cast by residents of Houston and votes cast by Harris County non-Houston residents. There needs to be a citywide referendum of the ballot in order to get at this data. Fortunately, we had that this year, so we can take a look at how the races of interest shaped up. The usual caveat applies here, which is that this data is not exact. There are multiple precincts that are partially in Houston and partially not in Houston. Many of them have a tiny number of Houston-specific votes in them, with a much larger contingent of non-Houston votes. Counting these as Houston precincts means you wind up with a lot more total votes in Houston than were cast in the referenda elections, and gives you a distorted picture of the candidate percentages. I filter out precincts with ten or fewer votes cast in the Houston proposition elections, which is arbitrary and still yields more total votes than in the prop races themselves, but it’s close enough for these purposes. So with all that preamble, here’s the data:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Beto          317,736   277,917  63.43%  46.22%
Abbott        175,533   314,728  35.04%  52.34%

Collier       312,803   273,337  62.81%  45.64%
Patrick       171,319   312,803  34.40%  51.84%

Garza         312,022   272,513  62.83%  45.61%
Paxton        170,642   309,499  34.36%  51.80%

Dudding       294,958   255,993  59.69%  43.03%
Hegar         185,671   324,329  37.58%  54.52%

Kleberg       296,878   257,563  60.34%  43.45%
Buckingham    184,006   323,967  37.41%  54.65%

Hays          308,304   269,169  62.61%  45.36%
Miller        184,139   324,228  37.39%  54.64%

Warford       290,364   251,323  59.02%  42.41%
Christian     181,355   319,465  36.86%  53.91%

To be clear about what this data shows, Beto won the city of Houston by a margin of 317,736 to 175,533, or 63.43% to 35.04%, while Greg Abbott carried the non-Houston parts of the county 314,728 to 277,917. This is about 493K ballots cast for those two candidates, which doesn’t count third party and write-in candidates or undervotes; I didn’t tally them all up but we’d be at around 510K total ballots defined as being “Houston”. In actuality, there were 486K total ballots cast, including undervotes, in the city prop races. Like I said, this is plenty good enough for these purposes.

As noted, I don’t have a whole lot of data for this from previous elections, but what I do have can be found in these posts:

2008
2012
2018

There were city propositions in 2010, for red light cameras and ReNew Houston, but I didn’t do the same city-versus-not-city comparisons that year, almost certainly because 2010 was such a miserable year and I just didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about it than I had to.

Looking back at those earlier years, Beto fell short of the top performers in Houston, which in 2008 and 2012 was Adrian Garcia and which in 2018 was himself, but he did better in non-Houston Harris County. That’s consistent with what I’ve said before about how Democrats have overall grown their vote in the former strong Republican areas, while falling short on turnout – this year, at least – in the strong Democratic areas. Note how even the lowest scorers this year exceeded Obama’s performance in non-Houston by three or four points in 2008 and four or five points in 2012, while doing about as well in Houston. As I’ve said, Harris County is more Democratic now. This is another way of illustrating that.

Here’s the same breakdown for the countywide races:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Hidalgo       294,968   257,935  59.79%  43.39%
Mealer        198,286   336,434  40.19%  56.59%

Burgess       290,267   255,860  60.14%  43.81%
Daniel        192,368   328,119  39.86%  56.19%

Hudspeth      293,030   256,624  60.84%  44.00%
Stanart       188,573   326,633  39.16%  56.00%

Wyatt         293,352   256,862  60.86%  44.00%
Scott         188,623   326,849  39.14%  56.00%

No third party candidates here, just a write-in who got a handful of votes for County Judge, so the percentages mostly add up to 100. More or less the same story here, with the distinction between Houston and not-Houston being smaller than in prior years. There won’t be any citywide propositions in 2024, not if we have them this coming November, but I’ll try to use the precinct data I have here to analyze that election. In what should be a stronger Democratic year, I’ll be very interested to see how things change. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Uvalde parents will take their fight to the Lege

They’re not going to get what they want and they know it, but they’re still going to fight. I have so much respect for them.

More than seven months after a teenage gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School, the speaker of the Texas House was in Uvalde for a private meeting with relatives of the victims.

Dade Phelan had never met them. After the introductions in a room at the local community college, a family member started with the group’s main question: Will the Legislature raise the minimum age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21?

Phelan was up front with them: No.

The House doesn’t have the votes, he said. And no, he doesn’t personally support it, either.

The tense discussion on Jan. 4 lasted just shy of an hour and a half, and Phelan spent most of it discussing potential mental health legislation, participants said. The families left discouraged, unsure of their next steps in a state where Republicans, most of whom oppose any firearm restrictions, control the Legislature.

It marked an awkward transition for the Uvalde activists, who have spent months advocating for gun control laws. They felt welcomed and heard on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and several of them campaigned heartily for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who lost his challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 8.

Phelan was one of the few lawmakers to address the Uvalde shooting when the legislative session began Tuesday, promising “sensible, meaningful change.” Republican leaders have focused on bolstering mental health resources and improving the physical defenses of schools — both of which have bipartisan support as the session starts.

But the prospects for any gun regulations in Texas are dim, leaving the Uvalde families convinced that the next mass shooting is only a question of time.

“I just feel like we’re in new territory,” said Kim Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, at Robb Elementary School. “When this happened, there was a lot of talk at the federal level about making changes, so we really hit the ground running toward that. Now, we’re back at square one.”

It’s kind of painful, but you can read the rest. The best the Uvalde parents can hope for is a state ban on straw-person sales, which is already a federal crime. Beyond that, it’s the usual bunkum about guns not being the problem and there being nothing we could do to stop the next school shooter even if guns were the problem, some promises to increase security at schools, and some vague and meaningless words about mental health. The school security measures have some value, and I’d be all right with them for the most part if they were part of a larger deal that included real gun reform, but they’re not. As these parents know all too well, it’s just a matter of time before some other group of parents are in the same unfathomable position they’re in now. They’re trying to do something about that, but they really can’t, not right now. This isn’t a lobbying or legislating matter, it’s a political and electoral one. That’s a bigger and more long-term problem. I wish them all the best anyway.

Nobody knows the state of the gas supply in Texas

That can be a problem during freezes. You know, like the one we had over Christmas.

As questions continue to swirl about widespread outages Atmos Energy customers experienced in North Texas and beyond last week, the opacity of Texas’ sprawling natural gas industry is being scrutinized.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday called for the Texas attorney general and the chief regulatory agency of the state’s natural gas industry to investigate Atmos Energy for the outages in Grand Prairie and elsewhere.

The Railroad Commission opened an investigation Tuesday. No timeline for any findings has been provided, and Atmos Energy continued to avoid answering basic questions about what led to service outages, including questions The Dallas Morning News sent to the utility Thursday.

But some answers might have been available already if Texas had an independent market monitor for natural gas akin to what is in place for Texas’ electric grid. Following the deadly 2021 February freeze, ERCOT, the power grid operator, has also proposed the idea of a so-called gas desk to provide real-time information on the resource.

[…]

Austin-based energy expert Doug Lewin said the opacity of Texas’ natural gas system remains a problem for Texas’ energy system. While the public can see in real time how much electricity is being generated, consumed and the price, none of that can be said for Texas’ lightly regulated gas industry.

ERCOT’s former interim CEO Brad Jones proposed creating a “gas desk’’ after he took the reins of the power grid operator following the dismissal of most of its leadership in the aftermath of the February 2021 deadly winter storm that killed more than 200 Texans.

Natural gas outages contributed in part to the vast outages that plagued the state during the freeze. And the Legislature, in a sweeping grid overhaul bill, set up a confidential body designed to foster honest cooperation and intercommunication between the power industry and the natural gas industry.

But no further action was taken to strengthen the transparency of the natural gas industry, which provides fuel on a global scale. While Texas’ oil and gas industry is vast, it enjoys lax regulations and is overseen by the exas Railroad Commission, an agency some argue is only in place to serve the industry it regulates.

“There effectively is no regulator of the intrastate gas system,” Lewin said.

Creating a so-called gas desk would be the bare minimum Texas could do, Lewin said.

“If we don’t do that, then the policymakers, the legislators are just telling the state of Texas, ‘Sorry, you’re on your own. Y’all better go buy generators,’” Lewin said.

But the idea of a gas desk has already faced pushback from legislators. At a Dec. 5 meeting of the Texas House State Affairs Committee in which legislators were questioning the ongoing power grid redesign, Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter told the head of that process, Public Utility Chairman Peter Lake, that he would have a lot less pushback on his proposed untested market model if he could assure the gas desk idea was dropped.

“If you say yes, there are a lot of questions that will just disappear,” Hunter said.

Lake did not make any assurances.

That story was from December 30, so adjust your inner calendars accordingly. I assume Rep. Hunter pushed back on the gas desk idea because his benefactors in the industry squeezed him about it. If that’s not the case then someone will have to explain to me where that reluctance came from. It sure seems like a sensible idea, and given that the Railroad Commission isn’t interested in doing this on their own initiative, it would be up to the Lege to make them. I would not hold my breath in anticipation of that, of course. We were assured that the grid was fixed, so what more do you want? KERA and the Chron have more.

Two out of three state leaders open to expanded gambling

As we know, two out of three ain’t bad, but it also ain’t enough.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday left the door open to legalizing sports betting and casino gambling in Texas, the latest sign that opposition may be softening among state Republican lawmakers, though the proposal still faces major hurdles in the Senate.

Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who leads the Texas House, told reporters in a roundtable interview he believes voters would approve a referendum on expanded gaming options. With limited exceptions, most forms of gambling are prohibited by the Texas Constitution, which can only be amended if two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers agree to put the matter to a statewide vote.

Echoing Gov. Greg Abbott, who voiced support last fall for expanding gambling options, Phelan said he doesn’t want to “walk into every convenience store and see … slot machines.”

“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high-quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyles of those communities,” Phelan said.

[…]

This session, the gambling industry has hired an army of lobbyists to push for casino and sports betting legalization. Last month, however, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he isn’t expecting the issues to go anywhere.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the 140-day legislative session, which kicked off Tuesday.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling, but he hasn’t seen any Senate Republicans file a bill on the issue yet. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting, however.

See here for some background. I’m not saying Dan Patrick can’t change his mind on this. I have no idea what Dan Patrick will do. I’m just saying that until he says he’s changed his mind, nothing has changed. That’s really all there is to it. Reform Austin has more.

The only pre-session gambling expansion story you need

Just re-run a version of this for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Although casino giants and sports betting groups are making a big push in Texas, the head of the state Senate said he isn’t seeing much progress on the issue going into 2023.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the legislative session that begins Jan. 10.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling but that he hasn’t seen any Republican in the Senate file a bill on the issue yet. Republicans hold a strong majority and control the Senate’s agenda.

[…]

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting. Under her proposed Senate Joint Resolution No. 17, up to four “destination resorts” in metro areas with at least 2 million people would be allowed, in addition to limited casinos at horse and dog tracks, plus authorization for Native American tribes to operate casino games and slot machines.

In 2021, Patrick similarly doused expectations for expanded gambling in Texas, but even more forcefully.

“It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick told Lubbock-based talk radio host Chad Hasty about sports betting legislation in 2021.

Every session, we get a breathless story about how much the gambling lobby will be spending on their hundreds of lobbyists to persuade the Lege to pass a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment to allow some form of expanded gambling. And then we get the same basic story the next session, because the one constant has been Dan Patrick, and even before him the general – and sufficient – Republican opposition to this idea. Never mind that Patrick wasn’t forceful about it this session – nothing has changed from his perspective since the last time, and none of those Republican Senators are going to file anything because they’re all Patrick’s puppets. Never mind that Greg Abbott has, in his typically mealy-mouthed fashion, expressed “openness” to the “idea” of some form of expanded gambling. Abbott’s a wuss who isn’t going to get into a fight with Patrick over this. All he’s saying here is that if Dan Patrick changes his mind and decides to allow something to come to a vote, he won’t oppose it. Nothing has changed, nothing to see here. File this story away for 2025, because it will be as relevant then as it is now.

Eventually, one of two things will change. Either Dan Patrick will decide that he’s okay with some more gambling, or someone else will become Lite Guv, and then we can find out what that person thinks. Until then, try to remain calm. And see if you can get one of those gambling lobbyist gigs. They have to be a great job, as there’s no expectation of success and they’ll be hiring again next time around.

Precinct analysis: The not-as-good statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races

The difference between these statewide races and the ones we have already looked at, including the Governor’s race, is very simple: These Republican candidates did better than the ones we have seen, and the Democrats did less well. The Dems in the first four races we analyzed all topped 53% of the vote in Harris County. The high score with these three is Jay Kleberg’s 51.11%. Luke Warford, who had a Green opponent as well as a Libertarian opponent, fell short of a majority in Harris County, getting 49.95% for a plurality. Let’s see how this breaks down.

Comptroller


Dist    Hegar  Dudding     Lib
==============================
HD126  36,931   21,555   1,269
HD127  40,053   24,746   1,441
HD128  32,350   12,795   1,014
HD129  38,119   24,936   1,559
HD130  46,320   18,701   1,229
HD131   6,114   24,275     906
HD132  36,340   23,387   1,259
HD133  35,123   24,187   1,043
HD134  32,915   46,611   1,330
HD135  17,107   22,475   1,135
HD137   8,263   12,428     646
HD138  32,580   23,012   1,269
HD139  12,325   30,301   1,174
HD140   5,761   12,183   1,066
HD141   4,586   20,094     815
HD142   8,957   24,548     997
HD143   8,538   14,611   1,218
HD144  11,734   13,368   1,167
HD145  13,855   29,642   1,839
HD146   9,031   32,118     953
HD147   9,676   35,412   1,338
HD148  16,203   19,567   1,251
HD149  12,278   18,681     882
HD150  34,841   21,318   1,294
							
CC1    72,584  195,779   6,893
CC2    97,146   99,729   7,605
CC3   225,304  134,394   7,641
CC4   114,966  121,049   5,955
							
JP1    65,832  117,292   5,140
JP2    22,125   28,127   2,055
JP3    35,715   40,576   2,117
JP4   173,366  120,182   6,806
JP5   146,733  136,478   6,730
JP6     5,130   16,223   1,342
JP7    12,325   64,437   1,904
JP8    48,774   27,636   2,000

Dist   Hegar% Dudding%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  61.80%   36.07%   2.12%
HD127  60.47%   37.36%   2.18%
HD128  70.08%   27.72%   2.20%
HD129  58.99%   38.59%   2.41%
HD130  69.92%   28.23%   1.86%
HD131  19.54%   77.57%   2.90%
HD132  59.59%   38.35%   2.06%
HD133  58.20%   40.08%   1.73%
HD134  40.71%   57.65%   1.64%
HD135  42.01%   55.20%   2.79%
HD137  38.73%   58.25%   3.03%
HD138  57.30%   40.47%   2.23%
HD139  28.14%   69.18%   2.68%
HD140  30.31%   64.09%   5.61%
HD141  17.99%   78.82%   3.20%
HD142  25.96%   71.15%   2.89%
HD143  35.04%   59.96%   5.00%
HD144  44.67%   50.89%   4.44%
HD145  30.56%   65.38%   4.06%
HD146  21.45%   76.29%   2.26%
HD147  20.84%   76.28%   2.88%
HD148  43.77%   52.85%   3.38%
HD149  38.56%   58.67%   2.77%
HD150  60.64%   37.11%   2.25%
			
CC1    26.37%   71.13%   2.50%
CC2    47.51%   48.77%   3.72%
CC3    61.33%   36.59%   2.08%
CC4    47.51%   50.03%   2.46%
			
JP1    34.97%   62.30%   2.73%
JP2    42.30%   53.77%   3.93%
JP3    45.55%   51.75%   2.70%
JP4    57.72%   40.01%   2.27%
JP5    50.61%   47.07%   2.32%
JP6    22.60%   71.48%   5.91%
JP7    15.67%   81.91%   2.42%
JP8    62.20%   35.25%   2.55%

Land Commissioner


Dist     Buck  Kleberg     Grn   W-I
====================================
HD126  36,849   21,629   1,070     1
HD127  40,131   24,789   1,092     0
HD128  32,446   12,873     706     9
HD129  38,169   25,015   1,149     3
HD130  46,145   18,886     963     5
HD131   6,081   24,219     829     1
HD132  36,155   23,542   1,053     2
HD133  34,565   24,654     915     2
HD134  31,902   47,475   1,190     6
HD135  17,116   22,492     963     1
HD137   8,141   12,532     562     2
HD138  32,324   23,310     968     2
HD139  12,258   30,317   1,025     1
HD140   5,859   12,433     613     3
HD141   4,635   20,039     691     3
HD142   8,984   24,532     839     4
HD143   8,646   14,845     732     5
HD144  11,869   13,567     682     4
HD145  13,820   30,044   1,276     3
HD146   8,914   32,076     990     0
HD147   9,684   35,282   1,243     1
HD148  16,142   19,762     959     2
HD149  12,314   18,717     714     0
HD150  34,884   21,411   1,016     3
								
CC1    71,640  196,243   6,241    17
CC2    97,762  100,816   4,930    24
CC3   224,673  135,288   6,151    14
CC4   113,958  122,094   4,918     8
								
JP1    64,874  118,648   3,973    11
JP2    22,268   28,432   1,306     7
JP3    35,847   40,620   1,612     8
JP4   173,174  120,696   5,428    13
JP5   145,487  137,664   5,652    10
JP6     5,253   16,428     881     4
JP7    12,214   64,137   2,011     2
JP8    48,916   27,816   1,377     8

Dist    Buck% Kleberg%    Grn%  W-I%
====================================
HD126  61.88%   36.32%   1.80% 0.00%
HD127  60.79%   37.55%   1.65% 0.00%
HD128  70.48%   27.96%   1.53% 0.02%
HD129  59.33%   38.88%   1.79% 0.00%
HD130  69.92%   28.62%   1.46% 0.01%
HD131  19.53%   77.80%   2.66% 0.00%
HD132  59.51%   38.75%   1.73% 0.00%
HD133  57.48%   41.00%   1.52% 0.00%
HD134  39.59%   58.92%   1.48% 0.01%
HD135  42.19%   55.44%   2.37% 0.00%
HD137  38.33%   59.01%   2.65% 0.01%
HD138  57.11%   41.18%   1.71% 0.00%
HD139  28.11%   69.53%   2.35% 0.00%
HD140  30.99%   65.76%   3.24% 0.02%
HD141  18.27%   78.99%   2.72% 0.01%
HD142  26.15%   71.40%   2.44% 0.01%
HD143  35.69%   61.27%   3.02% 0.02%
HD144  45.44%   51.94%   2.61% 0.02%
HD145  30.61%   66.55%   2.83% 0.01%
HD146  21.23%   76.41%   2.36% 0.00%
HD147  20.96%   76.35%   2.69% 0.00%
HD148  43.79%   53.61%   2.60% 0.01%
HD149  38.79%   58.96%   2.25% 0.00%
HD150  60.86%   37.36%   1.77% 0.01%
				
CC1    26.13%   71.58%   2.28% 0.01%
CC2    48.03%   49.53%   2.42% 0.01%
CC3    61.36%   36.95%   1.68% 0.00%
CC4    47.29%   50.67%   2.04% 0.00%
				
JP1    34.60%   63.28%   2.12% 0.01%
JP2    42.81%   54.66%   2.51% 0.01%
JP3    45.91%   52.02%   2.06% 0.01%
JP4    57.86%   40.32%   1.81% 0.00%
JP5    50.37%   47.67%   1.96% 0.00%
JP6    23.28%   72.80%   3.90% 0.02%
JP7    15.59%   81.84%   2.57% 0.00%
JP8    62.62%   35.61%   1.76% 0.01%

Railroad Commissioner


Dist    Chris  Warford     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  36,287   21,192   1,384     648
HD127  39,533   24,297   1,535     651
HD128  32,057   12,551     995     399
HD129  37,473   24,455   1,607     766
HD130  45,640   18,396   1,369     597
HD131   5,986   23,853     942     400
HD132  35,684   22,981   1,395     627
HD133  34,391   23,900   1,215     616
HD134  31,677   46,420   1,533     844
HD135  16,804   21,988   1,227     559
HD137   8,017   12,261     612     350
HD138  31,928   22,708   1,350     641
HD139  12,044   29,784   1,169     555
HD140   5,685   11,976     991     277
HD141   4,527   19,765     784     332
HD142   8,851   24,073   1,025     411
HD143   8,457   14,290   1,159     373
HD144  11,679   13,015   1,125     328
HD145  13,535   29,065   1,855     677
HD146   8,716   31,720     927     581
HD147   9,406   34,678   1,363     730
HD148  15,938   19,168   1,217     514
HD149  12,101   18,269     925     429
HD150  34,404   20,882   1,366     623
								
CC1   70,449   192,875   7,107   3,563
CC2   95,951    97,604   7,402   2,627
CC3  221,887   132,181   8,202   3,726
CC4  112,533   119,027   6,359   3,012
								
JP1   63,938   115,819   5,264   2,359
JP2   21,846    27,531   2,021     648
JP3   35,348    39,739   2,132     865
JP4  170,806   118,025   7,219   3,145
JP5  143,838   134,221   7,231   3,484
JP6    5,019    15,850   1,277     447
JP7   11,907    63,400   1,926   1,109
JP8   48,118    27,102   2,000     871

Dist   Chris% Warford%    Lib%    Grn%
======================================
HD126  60.98%   35.61%   2.33%   1.09%
HD127  59.88%   36.80%   2.33%   0.99%
HD128  69.69%   27.28%   2.16%   0.87%
HD129  58.28%   38.03%   2.50%   1.19%
HD130  69.15%   27.87%   2.07%   0.90%
HD131  19.20%   76.50%   3.02%   1.28%
HD132  58.80%   37.87%   2.30%   1.03%
HD133  57.20%   39.75%   2.02%   1.02%
HD134  39.36%   57.68%   1.90%   1.05%
HD135  41.41%   54.19%   3.02%   1.38%
HD137  37.74%   57.73%   2.88%   1.65%
HD138  56.38%   40.10%   2.38%   1.13%
HD139  27.65%   68.39%   2.68%   1.27%
HD140  30.03%   63.27%   5.24%   1.46%
HD141  17.82%   77.79%   3.09%   1.31%
HD142  25.76%   70.06%   2.98%   1.20%
HD143  34.83%   58.86%   4.77%   1.54%
HD144  44.67%   49.78%   4.30%   1.25%
HD145  29.99%   64.40%   4.11%   1.50%
HD146  20.78%   75.62%   2.21%   1.39%
HD147  20.37%   75.10%   2.95%   1.58%
HD148  43.27%   52.03%   3.30%   1.40%
HD149  38.14%   57.59%   2.92%   1.35%
HD150  60.07%   36.46%   2.38%   1.09%
				
CC1    25.71%   70.39%   2.59%   1.30%
CC2    47.13%   47.94%   3.64%   1.29%
CC3    60.63%   36.12%   2.24%   1.02%
CC4    46.71%   49.40%   2.64%   1.25%
				
JP1    34.12%   61.81%   2.81%   1.26%
JP2    41.97%   52.90%   3.88%   1.25%
JP3    45.27%   50.89%   2.73%   1.11%
JP4    57.09%   39.45%   2.41%   1.05%
JP5    49.81%   46.48%   2.50%   1.21%
JP6    22.21%   70.15%   5.65%   1.98%
JP7    15.20%   80.93%   2.46%   1.42%
JP8    61.62%   34.71%   2.56%   1.12%

Not too surprisingly, what we see in all three of these races is…more votes for the Republican candidate and fewer votes for the Democrat across the precincts, with a couple of exceptions here and there. The effect was generally stronger in the Republican districts than in the Democratic ones, with HDs 133 and 134 being the most notable.

The total number of votes in these elections is comparable – the number declines gently as you go down the ballot, but more undervoting does not explain the shifts in percentages. In a few cases you can see a greater number of third-party votes, which can explain a part of a Democratic vote decline, but again the overall effect is too small to be generally explanatory. The only logical conclusion is that across the board, some number of people who votes for Beto and Collier and Garza and Hays also voted for Glenn Hegar and Dawn Buckingham and Wayne Christian.

The question then is why. To me, the most likely explanation is that the most visible Republicans, the ones most likely to loudly and visibly stake out unpopular and divisive positions – and yes, this means “unpopular”, or at least “less popular” with Republicans, with opposing marijuana reform and expanded gambling and rape/incest exceptions for abortion – are losing votes that their lower profile/less visibly extreme colleagues are not losing.

This makes sense to me, but as it agrees with my priors, I’d like to check it. I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but if I had the power and the funds I’d order a study, to try to identify these voters and ask them why they did what they did. Not out of disbelief or derision but curiosity, to get a better understanding. Maybe other Democratic candidates could get them with the right message, and if they were the right candidates. Maybe they just didn’t know enough about the Dems in these races to be in a position to consider them. Maybe a strategy that attempts to maximize Democratic turnout overall – we have already discussed how Dems fell short in this election on that front – would make them less likely to cross over, even for Republicans they don’t approve of. We can speculate all week, but there’s only one way to find out. I really wish I could make that happen.

One more thing to note is that despite the lesser Democratic performance, these candidates all still carried the three Commissioner Court precincts that are now Democratic. I’ll be paying closer attention to these precincts, because this isn’t always the case going forward. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Precinct analysis: The better statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer

As noted before, Greg Abbott got 490K votes in Harris County, far less than the 559K he received in 2018 running against Lupe Valdez. Of the other six races for statewide executive offices, three were similar in nature to the Governor’s race and three were friendlier to Republicans. This post is about the first three, and those are the races for Lite Guv, Attorney General, and Ag Commissioner. For those of you whose memories stretch back as far as 2018, yes those were the three best races for Dems after the Beto-Cruz race for Senate as well. Let’s look at the numbers.

Lieutenant Governor


Dist  Patrick  Collier     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,244   23,460   1,482
HD127  38,578   26,405   1,691
HD128  31,548   13,748   1,148
HD129  36,347   26,966   1,802
HD130  44,307   20,934   1,434
HD131   5,886   24,670     933
HD132  34,417   25,498   1,374
HD133  31,931   27,421   1,396
HD134  28,262   51,502   1,828
HD135  16,373   23,514   1,050
HD137   7,690   13,164     650
HD138  30,328   25,534   1,383
HD139  11,536   31,304   1,246
HD140   5,850   12,681     647
HD141   4,494   20,290     851
HD142   8,641   25,030   1,043
HD143   8,469   15,270     804
HD144  11,551   14,029     854
HD145  12,368   32,031   1,449
HD146   8,285   33,018   1,148
HD147   8,809   36,618   1,383
HD148  15,383   20,840   1,065
HD149  11,923   19,315     824
HD150  33,548   22,898   1,431

CC1    65,573  204,223   7,632
CC2    94,272  105,549   6,218
CC3   214,555  146,441   8,815
CC4   107,368  129,927   6,251
							
JP1    58,698  126,202   5,083
JP2    21,608   29,498   1,599
JP3    34,975   41,776   2,126
JP4   166,204  128,604   7,578
JP5   137,161  147,432   7,185
JP6     4,941   17,062     885
JP7    11,370   65,643   2,250
JP8    46,811   29,923   2,210

Dist Patrick% Collier%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.56%   38.98%   2.46%
HD127  57.86%   39.60%   2.54%
HD128  67.93%   29.60%   2.47%
HD129  55.82%   41.41%   2.77%
HD130  66.45%   31.40%   2.15%
HD131  18.69%   78.34%   2.96%
HD132  56.16%   41.60%   2.24%
HD133  52.56%   45.14%   2.30%
HD134  34.64%   63.12%   2.24%
HD135  40.00%   57.44%   2.56%
HD137  35.76%   61.22%   3.02%
HD138  52.98%   44.60%   2.42%
HD139  26.17%   71.01%   2.83%
HD140  30.50%   66.12%   3.37%
HD141  17.53%   79.15%   3.32%
HD142  24.89%   72.10%   3.00%
HD143  34.51%   62.22%   3.28%
HD144  43.70%   53.07%   3.23%
HD145  26.98%   69.86%   3.16%
HD146  19.52%   77.78%   2.70%
HD147  18.82%   78.23%   2.95%
HD148  41.25%   55.89%   2.86%
HD149  37.19%   60.24%   2.57%
HD150  57.96%   39.56%   2.47%

CC1    23.64%   73.61%   2.75%
CC2    45.75%   51.23%   3.02%
CC3    58.02%   39.60%   2.38%
CC4    44.09%   53.35%   2.57%
			
JP1    30.90%   66.43%   2.68%
JP2    41.00%   55.97%   3.03%
JP3    44.34%   52.96%   2.70%
JP4    54.96%   42.53%   2.51%
JP5    47.01%   50.53%   2.46%
JP6    21.59%   74.55%   3.87%
JP7    14.34%   82.82%   2.84%
JP8    59.30%   37.90%   2.80%

Attorney General


Dist   Paxton    Garza     Lib
==============================
HD126  35,146   23,166   1,681
HD127  38,480   26,208   1,817
HD128  31,566   13,692   1,110
HD129  36,386   26,643   1,914
HD130  44,397   20,427   1,713
HD131   5,857   24,875     694
HD132  34,454   25,125   1,539
HD133  31,901   26,700   1,898
HD134  28,201   50,706   2,371
HD135  16,314   23,615     964
HD137   7,704   13,091     643
HD138  30,154   25,204   1,732
HD139  11,438   31,372   1,145
HD140   5,605   13,078     466
HD141   4,487   20,489     610
HD142   8,580   25,228     859
HD143   8,346   15,595     594
HD144  11,375   14,337     662
HD145  12,220   32,097   1,425
HD146   8,320   32,991     999
HD147   8,731   36,766   1,206
HD148  15,221   20,981   1,035
HD149  11,876   19,423     706
HD150  33,382   22,726   1,595
							
CC1    65,204  204,223   7,257
CC2    93,611  106,606   5,426
CC3   214,042  144,575  10,162
CC4   107,284  129,131   6,533
							
JP1    58,125  125,740   5,522
JP2    21,364   29,906   1,317
JP3    34,843   42,072   1,833
JP4   165,760  127,783   8,087
JP5   136,969  146,132   7,898
JP6     4,815   17,369     687
JP7    11,411   65,835   1,804
JP8    46,854   29,698   2,230

Dist  Paxton%   Garza%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  58.58%   38.61%   2.80%
HD127  57.86%   39.41%   2.73%
HD128  68.08%   29.53%   2.39%
HD129  56.03%   41.03%   2.95%
HD130  66.73%   30.70%   2.57%
HD131  18.64%   79.15%   2.21%
HD132  56.37%   41.11%   2.52%
HD133  52.73%   44.13%   3.14%
HD134  34.70%   62.39%   2.92%
HD135  39.89%   57.75%   2.36%
HD137  35.94%   61.06%   3.00%
HD138  52.82%   44.15%   3.03%
HD139  26.02%   71.37%   2.60%
HD140  29.27%   68.30%   2.43%
HD141  17.54%   80.08%   2.38%
HD142  24.75%   72.77%   2.48%
HD143  34.02%   63.56%   2.42%
HD144  43.13%   54.36%   2.51%
HD145  26.72%   70.17%   3.12%
HD146  19.66%   77.97%   2.36%
HD147  18.69%   78.72%   2.58%
HD148  40.88%   56.34%   2.78%
HD149  37.11%   60.69%   2.21%
HD150  57.85%   39.38%   2.76%
			
CC1    23.57%   73.81%   2.62%
CC2    45.52%   51.84%   2.64%
CC3    58.04%   39.20%   2.76%
CC4    44.16%   53.15%   2.69%
			
JP1    30.69%   66.39%   2.92%
JP2    40.63%   56.87%   2.50%
JP3    44.25%   53.43%   2.33%
JP4    54.95%   42.36%   2.68%
JP5    47.07%   50.22%   2.71%
JP6    21.05%   75.94%   3.00%
JP7    14.44%   83.28%   2.28%
JP8    59.47%   37.70%   2.83%

Dan Patrick (481K votes) and Ken Paxton (480K) were the two low scorers among Republicans. Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza both had leads against them of just over 100K votes, right in line with Beto’s lead against Abbott. That’s not as robust as what Dems did in 2018 as we know, but I can’t blame Collier and Garza for that. They were still top scorers, it was mostly that the environment wasn’t as good for them.

Overall, it looks like Collier and Garza did about as well percentage-wise as Beto did. Collier actually did a tiny bit better in HD133, and both did better in HD134. In some cases, like HD132 and HD138, Collier and Garza were about equal with Beto but Patrick and Paxton were a point or two behind Abbott. That looks to me to be the effect of the larger Libertarian vote in those races – there were about 29K Lib votes in these two races, while there were about 16K third party and write-in votes for Governor. At least in those cases, you can make the claim that the Libertarian received votes that might have otherwise gone to the Republican.

In the Ag Commissioner race, Sid Miller got 507K votes to top Abbott’s total, but he was aided by not having any third party candidates. Susan Hays did pretty well compared to the other Dems in that straight up two-way race:

Ag Commissioner


Dist   Miller     Hays
======================
HD126  36,872   22,678
HD127  40,060   25,992
HD128  32,447   13,641
HD129  38,091   26,236
HD130  46,273   19,792
HD131   6,091   25,170
HD132  36,189   24,576
HD133  34,548   25,581
HD134  31,793   48,687
HD135  17,174   23,491
HD137   8,207   13,090
HD138  32,276   24,389
HD139  12,291   31,372
HD140   5,904   13,079
HD141   4,667   20,779
HD142   9,047   25,391
HD143   8,631   15,710
HD144  11,849   14,344
HD145  13,871   31,301
HD146   8,922   33,114
HD147   9,761   36,482
HD148  16,238   20,657
HD149  12,270   19,513
HD150  34,895   22,408
						
CC1    71,746  202,649
CC2    97,753  106,167
CC3   224,670  141,583
CC4   114,198  127,074
						
JP1    64,850  122,675
JP2    22,256   29,898
JP3    35,923   42,332
JP4   173,381  126,119
JP5   145,619  143,496
JP6     5,243   17,412
JP7    12,266   66,242
JP8    48,829   29,299

Dist  Miller%    Hays% 
=======================
HD126  61.92%   38.08%
HD127  60.65%   39.35%
HD128  70.40%   29.60%
HD129  59.21%   40.79%
HD130  70.04%   29.96%
HD131  19.48%   80.52%
HD132  59.56%   40.44%
HD133  57.46%   42.54%
HD134  39.50%   60.50%
HD135  42.23%   57.77%
HD137  38.54%   61.46%
HD138  56.96%   43.04%
HD139  28.15%   71.85%
HD140  31.10%   68.90%
HD141  18.34%   81.66%
HD142  26.27%   73.73%
HD143  35.46%   64.54%
HD144  45.24%   54.76%
HD145  30.71%   69.29%
HD146  21.22%   78.78%
HD147  21.11%   78.89%
HD148  44.01%   55.99%
HD149  38.61%   61.39%
HD150  60.90%   39.10%
		
CC1    26.15%   73.85%
CC2    47.94%   52.06%
CC3    61.34%   38.66%
CC4    47.33%   52.67%
		
JP1    34.58%   65.42%
JP2    42.67%   57.33%
JP3    45.91%   54.09%
JP4    57.89%   42.11%
JP5    50.37%   49.63%
JP6    23.14%   76.86%
JP7    15.62%   84.38%
JP8    62.50%   37.50%

Miller was definitely a slight notch up from the first three. How much of that is the lack of a third choice versus some other consideration I couldn’t say, but you can see it in the numbers.

I’ll get into it a bit more in the next post when we look at the higher-scoring Republicans, but my sense is that these three Dems, plus Beto, received some crossovers. Beto and Collier and Garza had enough money to at least run some ads, while Hays was still running against perhaps the highest-profile (read: got the most negative news for his ridiculous actions) incumbent after those three. We have definitely seen races like this, certainly in elections going back to 2016 – Hillary versus Trump, Biden versus Trump, Beto and the Lite Guv/AG/Ag Commish triumvirate this year and 2018. We saw it with Bill White in 2010, too – as I’ve observed in the past, White received something like 300K votes from people who otherwise voted Republican. That’s a lot! Democrats can persuade at least some Republicans to vote for their statewide candidates, but only under some conditions. If we can get the baseline vote to be closer, that could be enough to push some people over the top. We’re still working on the first part of that equation.

Like I said, I’ll get into that a bit more in the next post. Looking at what I’ve written here, I need to do a post about third party votes, too. Let me know what you think.

A closer look at the maternal mortality report

I take no joy in predicting that the Legislature will take no action on this.

Nakeenya Wilson was at a meeting of Texas’ maternal mortality review committee when she got the call: Her sister, who had recently had a baby, was having a stroke.

Wilson raced to the hospital, leaving behind a stack of files documenting the stories of women who had died from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Many of the women in those files were Black, just like Wilson, who experienced a traumatic delivery herself.

“The whole thing just reminded me, if you change the name on those files, it could be me. It could be my sister,” said Wilson, who serves as the committee’s community representative.

A decade ago, when Texas first formed the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Black women were twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

Those disparities haven’t improved, according to the committee’s latest report, published Thursday.

In 2020, pregnant Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia and sepsis. While complications from obstetric hemorrhage declined overall in Texas in recent years, Black women saw an increase of nearly 10%.

Wilson said these statistics show the impact of a health care system that is biased against Black women.

“We’re still dying and being disproportionately impacted by hemorrhage when everybody else is getting better,” Wilson said. “Not only did it not improve, it didn’t stay the same — it got worse.”

The causes of these disparities aren’t always simple to identify, and they’re even harder to fix. It’s a combination of diminished health care access, systemic racism, and the impact of “social determinants of health” — the conditions in which someone is born, lives, works and grows up.

Wilson said she and her sister are prime examples. They grew up in poverty, without health insurance, routine doctor’s visits or consistent access to healthy food.

“We started behind the ball,” she said. “We’ve had so many hard things happen to us that have contributed to our health by the time we’re of childbearing age.”

Maternal health advocates in Texas say addressing these disparities will take more than fixing labor and delivery practices. It will require building a comprehensive health care system that addresses a community’s needs across the board, starting long before pregnancy.

In the end, Wilson’s sister survived her postpartum health scare. But the experience reminded Wilson why she volunteers her time to read, review and analyze stories of women who have died from pregnancy and childbirth.

“When you look at the work marginalized people do, they do it because they don’t feel like they have any choice,” she said. “If we want to see things change, and we want to be safe, we have to advocate for our own safety.”

See here for some background. There’s way too much for me to try to capture in an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. Rep. Shawn Thierry, who experienced some of these problems herself a few years ago when she was giving birth, is and has been working on getting legislation passed to address the issues, which includes things like expanding health care access, gathering better information, and strengthening the maternal mortality review process. See above for my assessment of the likelihood of passage. Rep. Thierry will need a lot more like-minded colleagues to make that happen, and we are very much not there yet. But the work is happening, and will continue to happen.

Will we finally close the “dead suspect” loophole?

The short answer is no we won’t, but it will be worth the effort anyway.

Rep. Joe Moody

In November, state Representative Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who served on a committee that investigated the Uvalde killings, filed House Bill 30, a multifaceted measure that would close what’s called the “dead suspect loophole.” Under current law, Texas cops and prosecutors may withhold from the public many records stemming from investigations that did not result in a conviction. This statute arguably protects the reputations of innocent Texans, but it also casts a veil of secrecy over cases where there’s no conviction because the suspect is deceased—including when cops kill someone during an arrest, or a person dies in jail, or a school shooter’s rampage ends, as happened at Robb Elementary, with his own demise. Moody’s bill would specifically open up many cases where the lack of a conviction resulted from a suspect’s death.

Since May, state police have withheld records such as video and audio recordings from the Uvalde scene on the premise that the local district attorney is still investigating—a standard reason that agencies hold back much detailed information. Under the dead suspect loophole, however, those records can plausibly be kept secret forever. HB 30 would head this off.

“I certainly respect the investigatory process, but at some point you turn the corner and the public deserves to scrutinize the records, and that is at the heart of the Public Information Act,” Moody told the Observer. “The government doesn’t get to decide what is good for us to know and what is bad for us to know.”

In June, GOP Speaker of the House Dade Phelan tweeted support for closing the dead suspect loophole in Uvalde’s wake, and a spokesperson confirmed in early December that the speaker continues to support such a policy though he is “not yet familiar with the specifics of legislation that has been filed.”

In its present form, HB 30 would also expand public access to information about police misconduct in general and to videos of jail deaths or shootings by police, along with creating a public database of reports related to such shootings, among other provisions.

Next year’s legislative session, to begin in January, will mark the fourth time that Moody has tried to close the dead suspect loophole. In past sessions, discussion of his bills centered on prominent cases in which Texans were shot on their porches, tased in the back of squad cars, or left to perish in jails. Moody nearly succeeded in closing the loophole in 2019—with help from a contingent of small-government Republicans open to criminal justice reform—but he was derailed by a last-minute, scorched-earth campaign from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), the state’s largest police union, in a fight that left the El Paso lawmaker and the lobbying powerhouse as bitter adversaries.

Transparency advocates hope that Uvalde will make the difference this time around, but they won’t be getting any help from CLEAT. “Just like it has been in the past, this is a George Soros-funded fishing expedition that seeks to tear down our profession by false innuendo,” said CLEAT spokesperson Jennifer Szimanski, homing in on parts of the bill dealing with police personnel files. “We’ll definitely be fighting this piece of legislation.”

Szimanski—who also said of the bill: “This is ‘defund the police’”—added that there was likely no path for her group and Moody to discuss any compromise because “the author of this bill has not contacted us since 2019.”

Moody countered that his bill is “properly tailored” to only target information in police personnel files necessary to shed light on misconduct and specific incidents including ones involving dead suspects. “This is a serious policy. It’s not political grandstanding, but the people of that organization are completely disingenuous,” he said of CLEAT, adding that he has not received backing from George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire—often used as a bogeyman by the political right—who’s funded criminal justice reform efforts in recent years.

In addition to overcoming CLEAT, Moody would also need acquiescence from archconservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who controls the state Senate, and freshly reelected Governor Greg Abbott, who wields the veto pen and may harbor presidential ambitions. Neither responded to requests for comment for this article.

See here and here for some background. As I’ve said before on things like marijuana reform and expanded gambling, nothing will happen unless Dan Patrick changes his mind. We had our chance to do something about that, but we failed. Rep. Moody may be able to get a bill through the House again, but it will never make it through the Senate. It’s still worth the effort because of the stakes involved, but this is a long-term project. There’s no other way.

The rest of the story is about the history of this loophole, which has only existed since the late 90s – things were actually much better before then. Worth your time to read, I had no idea about it. For what it’s worth, Rep. Moody will surely have at least one cranky and pissed off ally in the Senate, and maybe that will have some effect.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, lambasted the emergency response to the Robb Elementary School shooting as “the worst response to a mass shooting in our nation’s history” during a congressional hearing Thursday.

“It was system failure, it was cowardice,” Gutierrez said. He joined family members and supporters of the victims in calling for stronger federal action to prevent gun violence.

Gutierrez, a Democrat, made the remarks during a hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that was focused on bipartisan legislative solutions to gun violence. But bipartisanship was hardly present as Democrats continued to point out what they called common-sense gun policy and Republicans accused them of trying to take away constitutional gun rights.

[…]

Congress passed a bipartisan law spearheaded by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting — the first major gun safety law in decades. The law increased funding for mental health resources, barred convicted violent domestic partners from buying guns, created grants for states implementing red flag laws and set money for state crisis intervention programs.

But Gutierrez criticized the bipartisan gun law as lacking basic provisions that would have stopped the massacre. He was angered that the Senate stripped a provision raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons to 21.

“The fact is in Texas you got to be 21 to buy a handgun, 21 to buy a beer, 21 to buy a pack of cigarettes, but you can be 18 and buy an AR-15, and that’s what happened here because this governor allowed it,” Gutierrez told reporters during a recess in the hearing. “It’s time for change, not just in Texas but throughout this country.”

As we know, Sen. Gutierrez plans to be a pain in the Senate’s ass about Uvalde and gun control. I’m sure he’d be persuaded to add this item to his list.

Senate committee makes small Uvalde recommendations

Par for the course.

A special Texas Senate committee that convened in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting made a series of policy recommendations Wednesday regarding school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.

In an 88-page report, the Special Committee to Protect All Texans acknowledged “more must be done to ensure the safety of Texas school children” in the wake of the May massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. The report was based in part on two days of testimony from police, mental health and education professionals, and gun safety advocates in June.

The committee made a single recommendation related to guns: Make purchasing a gun for someone who is barred from owning one a state-level felony. Straw purchases of firearms — when a person stands in to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from having one — are illegal under federal law, though the committee expressed concern that U.S. attorneys too seldom prosecute offenders.

Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 recommended banning straw purchases under state law in a report his office produced after the El Paso Walmart mass shooting. But the Legislature failed to pass it.

Such a law would not have prevented the Uvalde shooter from purchasing guns. He legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles in the days before the shooting.

On school safety, the committee proposed the creation of review teams to conduct on-site vulnerability assessments of school campuses and share the results with school leaders. It also suggested additional funding for grants to improve security at individual campuses based on needs.

It called for adding training centers for the school marshal program, through which teachers and staff can become certified to carry guns on campus. Since the program debuted in 2013, just 84 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have joined.

On mental health care, the committee recommended expanding access to the state’s telemedicine system for mental health to all school districts within a “reasonable time frame.” It also implored lawmakers to look for ways to increase the number of mental health professionals to support this expansion, such as allowing practitioners to volunteer; offering loan repayment benefits for professionals, especially in rural areas; offering paid fellowship and internships; and streamlining licensure requirements.

There are more recommendations, but none that will make you say “yeah, that will definitely help”. Certainly, there’s nothing to try to keep high-risk people from getting guns, and nothing to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying them. Most of these recommendations are reactive in nature; one of the few that are proactive is the vulnerability assessment plan, which will expose problems that may or may not be able to be remediated. Why would we expect anything different? Oh, and as a reminder, the single biggest and most effective thing the state of Texas could do to improve access mental health care is to expand Medicaid. Yeah, yeah, I know. Reform Austin has more.

More on the post-marijuana decriminalization referendum conflict

The Trib takes a long look.

The fight in several Texas cities to decriminalize marijuana has entered a new phase, as some city leaders have rebuffed voter-approved rules that largely end criminal enforcement against having small amounts of the substance.

Last month, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights overwhelmingly approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than 4 ounces of marijuana in most instances. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests, plus removing marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure in most cases.

Winning over voters was just half the battle.

Since then, organizers behind the ballot questions in some cities have clashed with their city and county leaders who are tasked with putting the new laws in place, as well as law enforcement. Those officials have said the effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

The battle has been the toughest in Harker Heights, a town of 33,000 about 55 miles southwest of Waco. Despite the proposition winning more than 60% of the votes, the City Council decided to repeal the ordinance just two weeks later. City Manager David Mitchell said in a subsequent letter that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the state.

For Harker Heights residents who supported decriminalizing marijuana, the repeal is a stinging show of disrespect for their exercise of democracy.

“I don’t do any kind of drugs nor does my wife, but we’re here for the vote,” said Brian Burt, who casted his ballot for the proposition.

“A vote is a vote,” Alexandra Burt chimed in. “We are also aware that minorities disproportionately take the brunt of the law, so it is time for that proposition to go through.”

To force the City Council’s hand, the Burts and hundreds of other residents backed a new petition by Ground Game Texas, a progressive group that co-led the decriminalization campaign, to put the council’s decision to repeal on the May ballot and revive the ordinance in the meantime.

Julie Oliver, the group’s executive director, said the council’s decision to revoke a popular choice by voters has backfired.

“Shutting down someone’s vote is ill-advised, so this has really brought the community together,” she said.

Organizers across the state facing similar pushback also say they would prefer the Texas Legislature to pass laws that would decriminalize or even legalize marijuana — though they acknowledge how unlikely that is given the state’s conservative power structure.

“We can all see the way that this country is heading, state by state, but it looks like Texas is going to be one of the last,” said Deb Armintor, a Decriminalize Denton organizer and a former City Council member who championed decriminalization during her two terms. “There’s no point in cities waiting.”

[…]

Several cities and towns have since followed. Elgin, a city of about 10,500 people that sits just east of Austin, voted to decriminalize by almost 75%. Its council has made the least amount of noise in putting the ordinance in place.

Other city and county officials, however, have raised concerns about a statute from the Texas Local Government Code that says municipal bodies like city councils and police departments “may not adopt a policy under which the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to drugs.”

Last month, Republican Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza cited it when asking the police chief of Killeen, where close to 70% of voters favored decriminalization, to reverse his order telling officers to follow the vote. Following a pause, Killeen City Council approved the ordinance on Dec. 6 after removing the section banning officers from using marijuana smell as probable cause for search and seizure.

“The amendment was not preferable but now our residents do not have to fear an arrest that will affect their employment opportunities, education opportunities and housing opportunities,” said Louie Minor, a Bell County commissioner-elect who worked on both the Killeen and Harker Heights campaigns.

More recently, Republican Hays County Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau requested an attorney general opinion about the ordinance’s enforceability over similar questions. Mano Amiga — the group co-leading the effort in San Marcos — immediately pushed back, as voters had passed the proposition by almost 82% and the City Council already approved it in November.

Mau said he has “no plans to file a lawsuit” in his last month of office. His Democratic successor Kelly Higgins supports decriminalization.

“The Attorney General cannot overturn the referendum, nor am I asking him to,” Mau said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “But an opinion as to whether the ordinance is enforceable may be helpful to the City moving forward.”

In the North Texas suburb of Denton, where voters approved decriminalization by more than 70%, the City Council has also certified the initiative, thus enacting the ordinance. But organizers worry about its enforcement because City Manager Sara Hensley has opposed implementing parts of it due to similar issues. Organizers responded in November with a memo arguing that Hensley doesn’t have policymaking authority and that the city has discretion to enact policies conserving scarce resources.

See here and here for some background. I take the concerns of the opponents seriously, even as I would have voted for these measures myself. I expect the Legislature will respond, most likely in a disproportionate matter, to these referenda if they are not at least modified by those city councils. I also think this is a fight worth having, in the courts as well as at the ballot box. There really is a significant disconnect between public opinion and legislative action on this matter. So far, too many people who disagree with the Republicans in general and the Lege/Greg Abbott/Dan Patrick in particular have nonetheless voted for them, or not shown up to vote against them. The point here is to try to change some minds of the former and motivate more of the latter. At the very least, that means seeing this through, whatever happens along the way. I do think the pro-decriminalization side will eventually prevail, but who knows how long that may take. Letting up won’t make it happen any sooner.

Texas drops appeal of ruling that forbade banning the sale of handguns to people under 21

Least surprising headline of the week. And month, and year, and pretty much any other arbitrary timeline you choose.

Texas will no longer fight to ban 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public. A judge ruled earlier this year that a state law banning the practice was unconstitutional, and Texas initially filed a notice that it would appeal. But Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw withdrew the appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman’s ruling was the first major decision about Texas gun laws since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment protected individuals who carry weapons for self-defense.

In September, the state filed a notice of appeal, which angered gun rights activists.

“Once again, government officials in the state of Texas are proven to be anti-gun stooges,” Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said in a news release at the time.

Neither the notice of appeal nor the withdrawal listed legal arguments or reasons for doing so; DPS and the Texas attorney general’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

See here and here for the background. I’m quite certain that the legal reasoning behind this is “we never wanted to appeal this in the first place but there was an election coming up and we wanted to tread carefully, and now that everyone has been safely re-elected we can drop the pretense”. This was predictable enough to be visible from orbit. My question for the lawyers is, could some other group pick up the appeal in place of the state, the way the then-Republican Congress took up the defense of DOMA after the Obama administration dropped out? I don’t know what the conditions are for that.

No, really, are we emotionally prepared for this freeze?

Ready or not, here it comes.

State officials warned residents Wednesday to prepare their homes and vehicles for the coming freeze while trying to reassure on-edge Texans that the electric grid will stay online.

Temperatures are expected to plummet Thursday into single digits — with even lower wind chills. Leaders urged residents to check their car tires and batteries to be sure no one gets stranded on the road, to burn wood or gas inside only if there’s proper ventilation, and to insulate pipes.

“This is a dangerous storm coming our way,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “The temperatures will be extremely cold and the winds will be high, which will generate some very dangerous wind chills.”

Forecasters predicted life-threatening minus-10-degree wind chills in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and wind chills as low as minus 30 degrees in the Panhandle, Kidd said. Aside from light precipitation in the Panhandle, the state was expected to stay dry.

The lack of concerns over icy roads and infrastructure makes this a different threat than the 2021 Winter Storm Uri, which overwhelmed the state’s main electric grid and killed hundreds of people. Officials are promising that, this time, the power will stay on.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid that powers most of Texas, and the Public Utility Council made improvements after Uri, such as ensuring natural gas-fired plants have additional sources of fuel on site and improving communications among electricity regulators, oil and gas regulators, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“The grid is ready and reliable,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission, which regulates grid operators, on Wednesday. “We expect to have sufficient generation to meet demand throughout this entire winter weather event.”

ERCOT officials expected power demand to be highest from Thursday night through Saturday morning. The peak — near 70,000 megawatts — was predicted Friday morning, when grid operators expected to have nearly 85,000 megawatts of supply if all goes as planned.

“We do expect to have sufficient generation supply to meet the forecasted demands,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT’s president and CEO.

Of course, in an extreme scenario, the grid could still face rolling blackouts or tight conditions, and ERCOT could still issue a conservation notice. There may also be local power outages that have nothing to do with the viability of the power grid, caused by things such as wind knocking trees onto power lines.

See here for the background. We’ll find out soon enough. You’ll forgive me, and millions of other Texans, if we remain skeptical. I hope you all stay warm and safe, and that we have a good long time before we have to worry like this again.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was neither widespread voter fraud nor other serious issues in Texas’ 2020 elections, according to an audit of four of Texas’ largest counties released Monday evening by Secretary of State John Scott’s office.

While the 359-page report did find some “irregularities,” it nonetheless reinforced what election experts and monitors — including Scott, the state’s chief election official — have routinely said: that the 2020 contest was not riddled with widespread fraud, and Texans should be confident that future elections will be similarly secure.

“When the Texas Election Code and local procedures are followed, Texas voters should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” the report stated. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities.”

[…]

The report found that “many of the irregularities observed” in 2020 were likely caused by the “extraordinary challenges” posed by the pandemic and ensuing staffing shortages. And, auditors said, such problems are even less likely to occur in future contests because of legislative changes, including those in Senate Bill 1.

Of the four counties the report analyzed, the Harris County general election had the most issues, including improper chain of custody of mobile ballot boxes at 14 polling locations. Auditors also found thousands of discrepancies between electronic pollbook records and audit logs.

See here for a bit of background. No one who doesn’t have to is going to read the entire 359 page report, but you can get a high level summary at the beginning of it. I have two points to add. One comes from the Chron story, which addresses some of the items raised in the audit about Harris County:

Harris County did not properly handle certain electronic voting records during the 2020 election, according to an audit from the Texas secretary of state’s office that uncovered numerous administrative mishaps but no evidence of widespread voter fraud in four of the state’s largest counties.

In a report released Monday evening, the state elections office found that Harris County failed to properly document the “chain of custody” — a required step-by-step accounting of voting records — for thousands of ballots across at least 14 polling locations. The finding was among those mentioned by state elections officials last month in a letter to the Harris County elections administrator, delivered days before the November midterms.

The report outlined a number of slip-ups across the four audited counties, which included Republican-controlled Collin and Tarrant counties and Democratic-run Dallas and Harris counties. It concluded that Texas voters “should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections” when counties follow the state election code and their own local procedures.

“Each of the four counties has detailed procedures and detailed forms to document compliance with the code and ensure that only lawful ballots are cast and counted,” the report reads. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities. In some cases, however, they did not.”

When counties did not properly follow state law and local procedures, “discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued,” the report said.

State officials singled out Harris County for “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media,” finding that the county lacked records to explain the origin of 17 “mobile ballot boxes” — the pieces of hardware that store vote tallies and transmit the data to and from polling places. The report also identified disparities between electronic records from the polls and “tally audit logs” at numerous locations.

Since the 2020 election, Harris County has switched to a new system that stores voting records on vDrives — a type of USB thumb drive — with “procedures in place to document proper chain of custody … in the event a vDrive fails,” the report reads.

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum has pledged a complete assessment of the issues that arose during the midterm while warning the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

Last month, Tatum penned a letter to state officials seeking to address the audit’s preliminary findings, including the chain-of-custody problems.

Writing to Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, Tatum said the issue with the 14 locations cited in the report arose when votes were “stranded” on devices used at Harris County’s drive-thru voting and other locations.

To read the “stranded” results, Tatum wrote, county officials had to create 30 “replacement” mobile ballot boxes.

“The number of cast votes on those 30 MBBs align with the expected number from the voting sites,” Tatum wrote to Ennis. “This explains why there were more than 14 MBBs created to read the results and why those initial 14 were not read into the tabulator.”

The poll book disparities, meanwhile, were the result of voting machines being moved from one location to another during the election.

“While this may have been done to address long lines at any of the vote centers during the 2020 election, this is a practice that our office no longer follows,” said Tatum, who was appointed elections administrator in July.

We have the joy of being “randomly” audited again for this November’s election, so we’ll see what they have to complain about this time.

The other point I would raise, which was mentioned in passing in that Chron story, was that this audit was released on Monday night (the Trib story published at 8 PM) during Christmas week. I don’t know about you, but I think that if they had something juicy to report, they’d have dropped it at a time when people would be actually paying attention. This has all the hallmarks of a “nothing to see here” report.

The medical response also failed at Uvalde

This is a very hard story to read, with graphic descriptions of injuries suffered by the shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Click over very carefully, but whether you read or not know that the failures at the site of this shooting were not limited to law enforcement’s response.

The chaotic scene exemplified the flawed medical response — captured in video footage, investigative documents, interviews and radio traffic — that experts said undermined the chances of survival for some victims of the May 24 massacre. Two teachers and 19 students died.

Law enforcement’s well-documented failure to confront the shooter who terrorized the school for 77 minutes was the most serious problem in getting victims timely care, experts said. But previously unreleased records obtained by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and The Washington Post for the first time show that communication lapses and muddled lines of authority among medical responders further hampered treatment.

Three victims who emerged from the school with a pulse later died. In the case of two of those victims, critical resources were not available when medics expected they would be, delaying hospital treatment for [teacher Eva] Mireles, 44, and student Xavier Lopez, 10, records show.

Another student, Jacklyn “Jackie” Cazares, 9, likely survived for more than an hour after being shot and was promptly placed in an ambulance after medics finally gained access to her classroom. She died in transport.

The disjointed medical response frustrated medics while delaying efforts to get ambulances, air transport and other emergency services to victims. Medical helicopters with critical supplies of blood tried to land at the school, but an unidentified fire department official told them to wait at an airport 3 miles away. Dozens of parked police vehicles blocked the paths of ambulances trying to reach victims.

Multiple cameras worn by officers and one on the dashboard of a police car showed just two ambulances positioned outside the school when the shooter was killed. That was not nearly enough for the 10 or more gunshot victims then still alive, though additional ambulances began arriving 10 minutes later. Six students, including one who was seriously wounded, were taken to a hospital in a school bus with no trained medics on board, according to Texas EMS records.

[…]

Although helicopters were available, none were used to carry victims directly from the school. At least four patients who survived were flown by helicopter to a more fully equipped trauma center in San Antonio after first being driven by ambulance to a nearby hospital or airport.

In public statements made since May, law enforcement officials have defended their officers’ actions as reasonable under difficult circumstances. Federal, state and local agencies that responded to the shooting have not directly addressed the medical response, nor did they answer detailed questions from the news organizations that worked jointly on this investigation.

Eric Epley, executive director of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, a nonprofit that helps coordinate trauma care in Southwest Texas during mass-casualty events, said medics encountered challenges, including a faulty radio system.

“These scenes are inherently confusing, challenging, and chaotic,” Epley said in an email. He later added, “We remain steadfast that the decisions by the on-scene medical leadership were sound and appropriate.”

The Texas Rangers, an arm of the state Department of Public Safety, are investigating what went wrong in Uvalde, including whether any victims might have survived if they had received prompt medical care. The local district attorney has said she will use that investigation to determine whether to charge anyone with a crime, including law enforcement officers.

[…]

It’s difficult to know whether Mireles or anyone else who died that day might have survived their wounds, in part because local officials have refused to release autopsy reports. But footage shows that Mireles was conscious and responsive when she was pulled from the classroom, an indicator that she probably had survivable wounds, according to medical experts.

“Had medics gotten to her quickly, there’s a good chance she would’ve survived,” said Babak Sarani, director of critical care at George Washington University Hospital.

The flawed coordination among police and medical crews echoes missteps during other mass shootings, despite the development of recommended practices after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. In several of those cases, the communication problems resulted in delays in getting medical care for victims.

Medics on helicopters and in ambulances who responded to the Uvalde shooting told investigators they were confused about who was in charge, where they should be stationed and how many victims to expect. Some of them pleaded to be allowed closer to the scene. In the absence of clear guidance, experts said medics did the best they could while trying to save lives.

“They were told, essentially, to go to the airport and wait,” according to an interview the Texas Rangers conducted with Julie Lewis, the regional manager for AirLIFE, an air medical transport service that sent three helicopters from the greater San Antonio area. “They couldn’t figure out who was in command.”

There’s a lot more. The bottom line is, as we have learned before, that there was no clear command structure, so those who were trying to help didn’t know who to talk or listen to and didn’t know what they needed to know to proceed. It remains the case that a lot of official information about what happened is still closely guarded and not available to reporters or the public. More infuriating is that we have learned what the best practices are to respond to one of these tragedies, as there have been so many to learn from, and yet the same type of failures keep happening. Given the regularity with which they occur in Texas and the certainty that the next one is a matter of when and not if, that failure is owned not just by local officials but also by our state “leaders”. We know that failure will continue, because they have no interest in doing anything about it. Go read the rest of the story if you can stand it.

Are we emotionally prepared for the oncoming freeze?

That’s the real question at this point.

ERCOT on Friday notified power generators in Texas that they need to be online and ready to provide power during an expected wave of cold air that could drop overnight temperatures into the 20s late next week.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s nonprofit grid operator, issued the notice effective Dec. 22-26, though officials said they expect there will be enough power to meet demand.

The state’s power grid has been bolstered since a February 2021 winter storm knocked out power to large parts of Texas for several days and was linked to about 200 deaths. During that storm, demand for power soared while power generation equipment froze, knocking several producers offline.

“As we monitor weather conditions, we want to assure Texans that the grid is resilient and reliable,” said Pablo Vegas, ERCOT President and CEO. “We will keep the public informed as weather conditions change throughout the coming week.”

The coming burst of cold isn’t expected to be as strong as what was seen during the 2021 freeze, according to Space City Weather.

“While we will continue to watch this forecast very closely, we do not believe that the intensity, duration, or impacts of the cold will rival what we saw in 2021, which saw mid or low teens for lows,” wrote Space City Weather meteorologist Matt Lanza.

In the wake of the historic storm almost two years ago, state officials forced ERCOT to improve the power grid and make it less likely to falter in severe weather.

[…]

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow with the University of Houston, said those changes still fall short of larger market concepts he said could strengthen the grid’s reliability. The Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, is reviewing proposals for doing that and is expected to vote on a proposal recommendation at its Jan. 12 meeting. The Texas Legislature will debate the recommendation and other options during the 2023 legislative session.

“It takes more than 20 months to fix something broken over 12 years of underinvestment,” he said. “We’ll find out if the Band-Aids the PUC put in place will hold.”

That’s where I am right now, as I remember the forty-plus hours that we went without power in February of 2021. My family was pretty well equipped to handle the cold – not “fuck off to Cancun” privileged, but we were never in any real danger. Even with that, it was very unpleasant. We had our pipes bust in 13 places – thankfully, we were able to get a plumber out quickly to fix that – we lost a Meyer lemon tree that had produced a lot of fruit over the years, and it was just damn traumatic on the girls. I’m a little in denial about this freeze coming in, for reasons I can’t quite grasp other than I’m an idiot and this is how I cope with stuff like this. If the grid does fail in spectacular fashion again, the one thing we have learned is that there won’t be any political consequences for it. There’s never an election around when you really need one. Anyway, I hope we all manage to stay warm this time, with the exception of Greg Abbott and everyone on his campaign staff. The rest of you, bundle up and hope for the best. TPR, Reform Austin, and the Trib have more.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus the spread

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott

So last time we saw the numbers for the 2022 Governor’s race. But what numbers need in order to be meaningful is context, and that means other numbers to compare them to. We’re going to do that in a few different ways, and we’ll start with the numbers from the Texas Redistricting Council for these new districts. Specifically, the numbers from 2018 and 2020.


Dist    Abbott    Beto     Cruz    Beto
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   38,851  26,028
HD127   39,102  26,791   40,573  28,326
HD128   31,983  13,915   32,586  15,892
HD129   37,118  27,144   38,281  29,112
HD130   44,983  20,891   42,747  20,968
HD131    5,963  25,387    5,628  33,440
HD132   35,079  25,603   32,220  23,431
HD133   33,195  26,971   34,930  30,329
HD134   29,592  51,010   32,114  54,514
HD135   16,443  24,121   16,162  27,762
HD137    7,860  13,421    8,713  19,309
HD138   31,077  25,464   32,754  28,778
HD139   11,643  32,115   11,599  38,842
HD140    5,717  13,400    5,393  19,532
HD141    4,549  20,922    4,459  28,096
HD142    8,666  25,793    8,265  29,705
HD143    8,420  16,047    8,751  23,602
HD144   11,566  14,683   12,511  21,278
HD145   12,631  32,765   12,101  37,672
HD146    8,511  33,610    9,227  40,111
HD147    8,952  37,366    9,575  45,020
HD148   15,451  21,460   16,281  26,815
HD149   12,068  19,844   12,097  27,142
HD150   33,857  23,303   33,084  23,466


Dist   Abbott%   Beto%    Cruz%   Beto%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   59.40%  39.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   59.30%  40.00%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   66.80%  32.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.30%  42.80%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   66.60%  32.70%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   14.30%  85.20%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   57.50%  41.80%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   53.10%  46.10%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.80%  62.40%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   35.00%  64.40%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   30.90%  68.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.80%  46.40%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   22.90%  76.50%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   21.50%  78.00%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   13.60%  85.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   21.60%  77.80%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   26.90%  72.50%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   36.80%  62.50%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   24.10%  75.00%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   18.60%  80.70%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   17.40%  81.90%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   37.50%  61.70%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   30.60%  68.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   58.10%  41.20%

Greg Abbott got 490K votes in 2022, whereas Ted Cruz got 498K in 2018. It’s therefore not a surprise that Abbott generally matched Cruz’s vote totals in the districts, with a bit of variation here and there. Beto, meanwhile, got 595K votes in 2022 after getting 700K in 2018, a significant drop. You can clearly see that in the district data. What’s interesting to me is that Beto was pretty close to his 2018 performance for the most part in Republican districts. His dropoff was almost entirely in strong Democratic districts, which accounts for the decrease in vote percentage he got. This is consistent with reports that Republicans had the turnout advantage nationally, due in part to weaker Democratic turnout among Black voters.

You can shrug your shoulders about this or freak out for What It All Means for 2024 as you see fit. I tend to lean towards the former, but I will readily acknowledge that the job of working to get turnout back to where we want it for 2024 starts today. I’ll have more to say about this in future posts as well, but let me open the bidding by saying that the target for Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2024, if we want to make a serious run at winning the state for the Democratic Presidential nominee, is one million Democratic votes; it may actually need to be a little higher than that, but that’s the minimum. It’s doable – Biden got 918K in 2020, after all. Ed Gonzalez got 903K in his re-election for Sheriff. Really, we may need to aim for 1.1 million, in order to win the county by at least 300K votes, which is what I think will be needed to close the statewide gap. Whether we can do that or not I don’t know, but it’s where we need to aim.

I also want to emphasize the “Abbott got more or less the same number of votes in each district as Cruz did” item to push back as needed on any claims about Abbott’s performance among Latino voters. His improvement in percentage is entirely due to Beto getting fewer votes, not him getting more. That’s cold comfort from a big picture perspective for Democrats, and as we saw in 2020 a greater-than-expected share of the lower-propensity Latino voters picked Trump, so we’re hardly in the clear for 2024. All I’m saying is that claims about Abbott improving his standing with Latino voters need to be examined skeptically. Remember that if we compared Abbott to Abbott instead of Beto to Beto, he got 559K votes in 2018, so he dropped off quite a bit as well. He got fewer votes in each of the Latino districts in 2022 than he did in 2018:

HD140 – Abbott 6,466 in 2018, 5,717 in 2022
HD143 – Abbott 10,180 in 2018, 8,420 in 2022
HD144 – Abbott 13,996 in 2018, 11,566 in 2022
HD145 – Abbott 15,227 in 2018, 12,631 in 2022
HD148 – Abbott 18,438 in 2018, 15,541 in 2022

So yeah, perspective. I suppose I could have done the Governor-to-Governor comparison instead, but I was more interested in Beto’s performance, so that’s the route I took. Beto would look better from a percentage viewpoint if I had done it that way. There’s always more than one way to do it.

One last thing on turnout: In 2014, Wendy Davis led the Democratic ticket with 320K votes in Harris County. Beto was at over 401K even before Election Day. His total is almost twice what Davis got. We can certainly talk about 2022 being “low turnout”, but we’re in a completely different context now.


Dist    Abbott    Beto    Trump   Biden
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   50,023  35,306
HD127   39,102  26,791   53,148  38,332
HD128   31,983  13,915   46,237  21,742
HD129   37,118  27,144   51,219  38,399
HD130   44,983  20,891   58,867  29,693
HD131    5,963  25,387   10,413  42,460
HD132   35,079  25,603   46,484  35,876
HD133   33,195  26,971   42,076  40,475
HD134   29,592  51,010   38,704  66,968
HD135   16,443  24,121   26,190  40,587
HD137    7,860  13,421   12,652  24,885
HD138   31,077  25,464   42,002  37,617
HD139   11,643  32,115   17,014  49,888
HD140    5,717  13,400   10,760  24,045
HD141    4,549  20,922    8,070  38,440
HD142    8,666  25,793   13,837  41,332
HD143    8,420  16,047   15,472  28,364
HD144   11,566  14,683   20,141  25,928
HD145   12,631  32,765   18,390  45,610
HD146    8,511  33,610   12,408  51,984
HD147    8,952  37,366   14,971  55,602
HD148   15,451  21,460   24,087  34,605
HD149   12,068  19,844   21,676  35,904
HD150   33,857  23,303   45,789  34,151

Dist   Abbott%   Beto%   Trump%  Biden%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   57.80%  40.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   57.30%  41.30%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   67.10%  31.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.20%  42.20%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   65.50%  33.00%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   19.50%  79.60%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   55.60%  42.90%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   50.30%  48.40%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.10%  62.50%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   38.70%  59.90%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   33.20%  65.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.00%  46.60%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   25.10%  73.70%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   30.60%  68.30%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   17.20%  81.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   24.80%  74.10%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   34.90%  64.00%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   43.20%  55.60%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   28.30%  70.10%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   19.00%  79.80%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   20.90%  77.60%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   40.50%  58.10%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   37.20%  61.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   56.50%  42.10%

Obviously, the vote totals don’t compare – over 1.6 million people voted in 2020, a half million more than this year. But for the most part, Beto was within about a point of Biden’s percentage, and even did better in a couple of districts. Abbott did best in the Republican districts compared to Trump. As we’ll see when we look at the other statewide races, Abbott (and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton) was one of the lower performers overall among Republicans, as was the case for Trump in 2020, but maybe there were slightly fewer Republican defectors this year.

It will take an improvement on the 2020 Biden and 2018 Beto numbers for Dems to put any State Rep districts into play, with HD138 being the first in line; remember that HD133 was a bit of an outlier, with a lot of Republican crossovers for Biden. Incumbency has its advantages, and as we have seen Dem performance can be a lot more variable downballot than at the top, especially when the top has the most divisive Republicans, so it will take more than just (say) Biden getting 50.1% in HD138 for Rep. Lacy Hull to really be in danger. It’s more that this will be another incentive to really work on boosting overall turnout. Having a good candidate in place, which I think Stephanie Morales was this year, and making sure that person has the financial and logistical support they need (which she didn’t have) will be key.

I’ll have more to say as we go along. Please let me know what you think and ask any questions you may have.

Here at last is that updated report on maternal mortality

We’re still really bad at preventing it, especially for Black women.

At least 118 women dead and nearly 200 children left without a mother.

This was just a portion of the death toll from pregnancy and childbirth in Texas in 2019, according to a long-awaited state report published Thursday.

Severe medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth also increased significantly between 2018 and 2020, surging from 58.2 to 72.7 cases per 10,000 deliveries in Texas.

As in past years, the tragedy of maternal mortality unfolded unevenly across the state, impacting Black women worst of all.

This is the fifth biennial report from the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee since the Legislature formed it in 2013, and the first to review more timely cases; the previous report reviewed cases from nearly a decade ago.

In 2013, Black women were twice as likely as white women and four times as likely as Hispanic women to die from pregnancy-related causes. A preliminary assessment of 2019 data indicates those trends have persisted.

The report determined that discrimination contributed to 12% of pregnancy-related deaths in 2019. This was the first such report since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added discrimination, including structural and interpersonal racism, as a potential cause of maternal death. The specific nature of discrimination varied between the cases identified by the committee and did not show a specific trend, the report said.

In 2018, a subcommittee was created to address these continued disparities by helping design a tool to better determine when and if discrimination plays a role in maternal deaths.

The report also found that most of these deaths were preventable — in 90% of 2019 cases reviewed by the committee, there was at least some chance of saving the woman’s life.

See here and here for some background. Easy to see why there might have been political pressure to delay the release of this report until after the election, not that it likely would have mattered. The people who care about this already care, and the people who don’t already don’t. I’ve made my share of pointed observations about the gap between all of the anti-abortion rhetoric and the actual amount this state officially cares about human life; I don’t believe the people who are the problem here are capable of being shamed about it. But as long as we’re talking about abortion:

Obstetric hemorrhage was the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in Texas, accounting for a quarter of cases. While there were fewer severe complications from hemorrhage overall, Black women saw their rate of complications increase nearly 10%.

The most common cause of hemorrhage deaths was ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Left untreated, these nonviable pregnancies can rupture, causing life-threatening complications such as severe blood loss and sepsis.

You can expect those numbers to continue to go up. The Lege and Greg Abbott will do nothing about it. The Chron has more.

Abbott is now attacking immigration-focused non-profits

Always be finding a new enemy, that’s the motto.

Gov. Greg Abbott called Wednesday for the state to investigate whether nonprofit organizations have helped people enter the country illegally, adding another talking point to his border hawk arsenal and another headache to humanitarian relief groups that help migrants in Texas.

Abbott made his request in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he cited the increased number of migrants expected at the border once Title 42 — a federal public health order issued near the start of the pandemic that officials have used to turn away migrants at the border — comes to an end in a few days at a time of record migrant crossings. Earlier this week, 1,500 people waded across the low waters in the Rio Grande and into El Paso in one crossing, stressing the city’s limited resources to deal with migrants.

Without citing any evidence, Abbott said he had received reports that nongovernmental organizations — a term that generally refers to nonprofit, humanitarian groups — “may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.”

“In light of these reports, I am calling on the Texas Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders,” Abbott wrote, adding that he is ready to “craft any sensible legislative solutions [Paxton’s] office may propose that are aimed at solving the ongoing border crisis and the role that NGOs may play in encouraging it.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question asking what reports his office was citing. Fox News reported Monday that Mexican police had escorted 20 buses from other parts of Mexico to nongovernmental organizations at Mexican border cities. The outlet reported that the migrants then walked from the nongovernmental organizations and crossed illegally into El Paso.

Texas does not have jurisdiction over Mexican nongovernmental organizations, and the reporting did not allege any improper action by a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.

Still, nonprofit groups working to help migrants on the border say Abbott’s call for investigations could make their jobs harder. The move drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and local officials.

“Governor Abbott’s decision to investigate NGOs that are providing humanitarian care for migrants is shameful and intended to intimidate and instill fear in non-profit and faith-based organizations that exemplify the values we should all aspire to,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “Most border NGOs that work tirelessly on the border help provide temporary shelter, food and hospitality to migrants, most of whom will be awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims with sponsors they have in different parts of the country. They have been doing this work for decades and deserve our praise, not persecution.”

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute, said in a statement that Abbott’s language was “alarming and an unequivocal attempt to intimidate humanitarian organizations working on the front lines.”

“This is a moment for border communities to come together to meet a humanitarian challenge. We need the support and collaboration of the government at all levels, not political grandstanding that dangerously approaches criminalizing Good Samaritans,” Corbett said.

In Texas, nonprofits that aid migrants play a crucial role. Once migrants are released by federal officials into border cities, which frequently do not have the resources to deal with the large number of people crossing the border, these groups help temporarily house the migrants and help them find transportation to other parts of the country. In many areas, immigration officials bring migrants to nonprofit groups once they have already been processed by the federal government and are free to be released.

[…]

But without the nonprofits’ work, border cities would likely have more migrants roaming the streets without any way to move on if they’re trying to reach a different destination where they may have family members or a support group to help them until their immigration process is finalized. Abbott has even partnered with some nonprofit groups to carry out his policy of busing migrants to Democrat-led cities like Washington, D.C.New YorkChicago and Philadelphia.

Nothing quite captures the zeitgeist of the modern “conservative” movement like an old white guy wildly overreacting to some bullshit story he just saw on Fox News. I bet Abbott was a top-notch chain email forwarder back in the day.

I make dumb jokes about stuff like this because honestly I’m not sure what else I can do right now. I’d love to hear some good strategic ideas because I’m fresh out, and the next election is obviously too far away to be of any importance right now. Maybe there was hope for some kind of action at the federal level in the lame duck section, but that’s not looking great right now either.

The immigration framework proposed by two bipartisan lawmakers that would have passed permanent relief for young undocumented immigrants in exchange for harsh border measures has reportedly failed.

Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema “did not strike a deal that would have been able to secure the necessary 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate during the lame-duck session,” congressional officials told CBS News. John Cornyn “and other members of GOP leadership said there was scant Republican support for the plan,” CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez tweeted Wednesday.

The termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through right-wing courts is not a matter of if, its a matter of when, and passage of a deal during the lame duck represented the last chance to pass some sort of relief before an anti-immigrant Texas judge issues his decision. Kevin McCarthy has already promised he’ll pass no humane relief, as part of his campaigning to become speaker. That includes a corrupt bargain targeting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for impeachment.

The immigration proposal came as young immigrants (as well as the farmworkers who feed America) rallied for legislative action before the current congressional term ends in January, and was a sweet-and-sour deal attempting to garner the 10 Republicans needed to overcome the Jim Crow filibuster.

The sweet: Relief for DACA recipients, who for five years have been watching the program be attacked by Republicans, both at the federal government level and in the courts. The sour: Harsh border enforcement measures, including an extension of Stephen Miller’s anti-asylum Title 42 policy for at least another year. CNN had also reported increased border security funding, anywhere from $25 billion to $40 billion, on top of the billions that border agencies already get. But apparently, none of that was enough to convince 10 members of the GOP caucus, according to Cornyn.

Cornyn, since we’re already discussing him, once made a laughable claim in a campaign ad that he’s supported legalization for undocumented immigrant youth, and that he’s actually been fighting for them behind the scenes. But given a real, high-stakes chance to do something about, like right now during the lame duck session and as an end to the DACA program is inevitable, he’s done nothing but throw cold water on the proposal.

It’s not hard to boil all this down to Republicans just not wanting to do anything about DACA recipients—even when presented with the kind of border measures they love—because they want to keep using immigrants as a political tool.

I guess nothing is truly dead until they all adjourn, but this is where we are right now. And as long as the Republicans feel like they’re doing better with the system remaining broken, why should they do anything different? The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus Abbott

All right, I have the full landscape data for Harris County and the November 2022 election, and I’ll be doing my usual thing with it. There’s a lot of data and a lot of ways to explore it, some of which I don’t realize until I’m in the process of looking at something else. I’m going to start here with the top of the ticket. Let’s roll out the numbers, and at the other side I’ll have all the words.


Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CD02   73,159   50,757   1,333     445
CD07   45,780   84,973   1,545     452
CD08   43,294   48,380     860     371
CD09   20,661   74,545     788     504
CD18   39,628  115,106   1,562     703
CD22   12,585    8,669     264      83
CD29   30,228   69,265     920     778
CD36   66,728   44,969   1,410     439
CD38  158,198   98,989   3,130     751

CD02   58.20%   40.38%   1.06%   0.35%
CD07   34.49%   64.01%   1.16%   0.34%
CD08   46.60%   52.07%   0.93%   0.40%
CD09   21.41%   77.25%   0.82%   0.52%
CD18   25.24%   73.32%   0.99%   0.45%
CD22   58.26%   40.13%   1.22%   0.38%
CD29   29.87%   68.45%   0.91%   0.77%
CD36   58.77%   39.60%   1.24%   0.39%
CD38   60.60%   37.92%   1.20%   0.29%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
SD04   55,846   36,950   1,005     312
SD06   41,043   85,936   1,225     927
SD07  153,513  106,557   2,933     853
SD11   57,156   35,725   1,214     339
SD13   22,813  100,559     958     680
SD15   83,653  160,077   2,850     932
SD17   59,143   51,734   1,307     363
SD18   17,094   18,115     320     120

SD04   59.34%   39.26%   1.07%   0.33%
SD06   31.78%   66.55%   0.95%   0.72%
SD07   58.18%   40.38%   1.11%   0.32%
SD11   60.52%   37.83%   1.29%   0.36%
SD13   18.25%   80.44%   0.77%   0.54%
SD15   33.80%   64.67%   1.15%   0.38%
SD17   52.55%   45.97%   1.16%   0.32%
SD18   47.95%   50.81%   0.90%   0.34%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  35,835   23,627     711     185
HD127  39,102   26,791     722     221
HD128  31,983   13,915     513     171
HD129  37,118   27,144     864     227
HD130  44,983   20,891     775     198
HD131   5,963   25,387     231     169
HD132  35,079   25,603     627     173
HD133  33,195   26,971     684     156
HD134  29,592   51,010   1,044     181
HD135  16,443   24,121     369     208
HD137   7,860   13,421     245     116
HD138  31,077   25,464     708     209
HD139  11,643   32,115     394     199
HD140   5,717   13,400     166     187
HD141   4,549   20,922     210     156
HD142   8,666   25,793     289     204
HD143   8,420   16,047     208     192
HD144  11,566   14,683     260     178
HD145  12,631   32,765     623     228
HD146   8,511   33,610     333     200
HD147   8,952   37,366     476     216
HD148  15,451   21,460     435     175
HD149  12,068   19,844     256     173
HD150  33,857   23,303     669     204

HD126  59.37%   39.14%   1.18%   0.31%
HD127  58.50%   40.08%   1.08%   0.33%
HD128  68.66%   29.87%   1.10%   0.37%
HD129  56.80%   41.53%   1.32%   0.35%
HD130  67.29%   31.25%   1.16%   0.30%
HD131  18.78%   79.96%   0.73%   0.53%
HD132  57.06%   41.64%   1.02%   0.28%
HD133  54.41%   44.21%   1.12%   0.26%
HD134  36.16%   62.34%   1.28%   0.22%
HD135  39.97%   58.63%   0.90%   0.51%
HD137  36.32%   62.01%   1.13%   0.54%
HD138  54.09%   44.32%   1.23%   0.36%
HD139  26.25%   72.41%   0.89%   0.45%
HD140  29.36%   68.82%   0.85%   0.96%
HD141  17.61%   80.98%   0.81%   0.60%
HD142  24.79%   73.80%   0.83%   0.58%
HD143  33.86%   64.53%   0.84%   0.77%
HD144  43.34%   55.02%   0.97%   0.67%
HD145  27.31%   70.85%   1.35%   0.49%
HD146  19.95%   78.80%   0.78%   0.47%
HD147  19.04%   79.49%   1.01%   0.46%
HD148  41.18%   57.19%   1.16%   0.47%
HD149  37.31%   61.36%   0.79%   0.53%
HD150  58.34%   40.15%   1.15%   0.35%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
CC1    67,070  207,830   2,747   1,167
CC2    95,270  108,943   2,266   1,188
CC3   218,228  147,384   4,148   1,218
CC4   109,693  131,496   2,651     953

CC1    24.06%   74.54%   0.99%   0.42%
CC2    45.88%   52.46%   1.09%   0.57%
CC3    58.83%   39.73%   1.12%   0.33%
CC4    44.81%   53.72%   1.08%   0.39%

Dist   Abbott     Beto     Lib     Grn
======================================
JP1    60,159  127,746   2,343     728
JP2    21,749   30,575     520     300
JP3    35,283   42,924     715     405
JP4   168,373  130,575   3,308   1,100
JP5   140,459  148,609   3,076   1,101
JP6     4,970   17,898     228     168
JP7    11,615   67,072     582     414
JP8    47,653   30,254   1,040     310

JP1    31.50%   66.89%   1.23%   0.38%
JP2    40.92%   57.53%   0.98%   0.56%
JP3    44.48%   54.11%   0.90%   0.51%
JP4    55.50%   43.04%   1.09%   0.36%
JP5    47.90%   50.68%   1.05%   0.38%
JP6    21.36%   76.93%   0.98%   0.72%
JP7    14.58%   84.17%   0.73%   0.52%
JP8    60.12%   38.17%   1.31%   0.39%

My notes:

– Going forward, for the most part, I’m going to skip the Congressional and State Senate districts. Most of them are not wholly contained within Harris County – only CDs 18, 29, and 38, and SDs 06 and 15 are fully represented here – so I don’t find there’s sufficient value for the added work. When we get the Texas Legislative Council dataset for the 2022 election, then I’ll return to these districts plus the SBOE districts (none of which are entirely within Harris County now that SBOE6 extends into Montgomery). Also note that CD10 no longer includes any of Harris County.

– I will have a separate post on this, but if you’re wondering how Beto did compared to expectations on the new maps, see here and here for a first look. There will be more, I promise.

– Beto was the top performer for Dems in Harris County, getting 54.03% of the vote. That makes his performance in the precincts the best case scenario (usually), at least for this election. He would be a top performer but not the top performer in 2020 or 2018, so this is hardly an upper bound. For districts that Dems would ideally like to target, like HDs 133 and 138, this shows where we’re starting out in an okay but not great year.

– Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say here. I think the more interesting stuff will come when I look at the comparisons to past years and when I look at some of the other races. Even without looking at past data, there wasn’t much of a surprise in anything here. All of the districts performed more or less as you’d expect. The one item of interest may be Beto carrying (barely) JP/Constable precinct 5, given our previous discussion of those precincts. I’m sure we could draw six, maybe even seven Democratic precincts, though whether we could do that while equalizing population and not violating the Voting Rights Act is another question. For sure, we could make five solid Dem precincts.

– So I’ll end here, with a note that I will also look at how the vote went in the city of Houston, the split in the statewide races, the easy passage of the Harris County bonds, and a very deep dive into judicial races. All this and more, coming up soon. Let me know if you have any questions.

Gender affirming care is happening in Dallas

Some good news that I had not been fully aware of.

The Dallas doctor who ran the state’s most prominent medical program for transgender youth says she has seen dozens of new patients since crucial court wins this summer and fall.

Dr. Ximena Lopez has seen 72 additional patients since May, when a Dallas judge allowed her to resume treating transgender youth newly seeking care at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. In September, Lopez celebrated another victory when the Dallas appeals court ruled the state also could not step in to halt these treatments.

The mandate in that appeal was issued Dec. 5, finalizing the decision.

Brent Walker, Lopez’s lawyer, said the number of new patients interested in gender-affirming care shows his client’s treatments are needed. He criticized the state of Texas, represented by the Office of Attorney General Ken Paxton, for trying to intervene.

“The only reason the Attorney General was trying to get into this case was for the sake of his personal politics, not because of his constitutional duties and certainly not because he has concerns about these children and parents, who need the kind of care Dr. Lopez and the others provide,” Walker told The Dallas Morning News in a statement.

Representatives with Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The rulings mean transgender adolescents in North Texas will have access to treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy until the case goes to trial as lawyers and politicians across the state continue to fight over the legality and efficacy of gender-affirming care.

[…]

Lopez, a pediatric endocrinologist who ran the program, sued Children’s over the Genecis decisions in May.

That month, Judge Melissa Bellan granted Lopez an injunction that allowed her to temporarily resume admitting new patients seeking medical treatments. Children’s agreed to the injunction, which will last at least until a trial is slated to start in April 2023. The decision was a huge win for Lopez, who immediately began to take appointments.

Objecting to the resumption in care, Paxton sought to intervene in the case on the grounds that his office believes these treatments can constitute child abuse.

In June, Bellan ruled against Paxton, who quickly appealed her decision.

On Sept. 23, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas agreed with Bellan that the state cannot intervene. The three-judge panel – two Democrats and one Republican – that issued the ruling did not elaborate on its reasoning.

See here, here, and here for some background; there’s more at that first link to go farther back, when both Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern both ceased offering these services in response to pressure from Greg Abbott. The last update I had was about Paxton’s appeal to the Fifth Court; I had not seen that there had been a ruling against him. This is a great victory but likely to be a temporary one. Even if Dr. Lopez prevails in the trial, you can be sure that the Lege will have a bill to send to Abbott to specifically outlaw what she’s doing. This fight is going to be bigger and longer and harder than this court case. But at least in the meantime, kids who need this help can get it.

A thousand days of the COVID disaster declaration

Happy COVID Disaster Declaration Thousand-Day Anniversary to all who celebrate.

Thursday marks 1,000 days that Texans have been living under Gov. Greg Abbott’s public health disaster proclamation — an era of unprecedented gubernatorial authority for the state’s chief executive, triggered by the March 2020 scramble to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to kill Texans every day.

The entire nation remains under a federal public health emergency at least through the winter season, which experts say could bring another wave of infections as families gather indoors for the holidays, immunity dips or virus variants sidestep older vaccines.

But after more than 92,000 deaths and 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas in the 32 months since the declaration was made, the state remains one of less than a dozen still under a statewide declared disaster or public health emergency.

The proclamations give executive branches more power to quickly respond to disaster situations that are too urgent to wait for the usual bureaucratic wheels to grind into action.

In Texas, the disaster declaration gives Abbott’s executive orders — normally nonbinding — the weight of law.

Using them, he has the ability to suspend any regulatory statute or state agency rule without legislative approval, transfer money between agencies without legislative oversight, commandeer private property and use state and local government resources, evacuate populations and restrict the movement of the people, among other things.

[…]

The declaration was first made on March 13, 2020, and has been renewed 32 times since.

“Declaring a state of disaster will facilitate and expedite the use and deployment of resources to enhance preparedness and response,” the proclamation read.

At the time, 80 Texans had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. No deaths had been reported yet.

Under the public health disaster order, Abbott has made several unilateral decisions in response to the pandemic.

He extended the length of early voting in 2020 to help thin out Election Day crowds. He enacted mask mandates; directed state agencies to offer work-from-home options to employees; closed bars, gyms, nail salons and other businesses during one of the early surges; banned elective surgeries; limited long-term care visits; and capped venue occupancy until later removing those limits and banning cities from enacting them.

In his entire tenure as governor, Abbott has issued 42 executive orders. Most of them — 35 so far — are COVID-related and carry the weight of law. Only seven of them, none of which were binding, came in the four years before the pandemic hit.

His most enduring actions under the disaster declaration are a ban on cities and counties from enacting mask ordinances, vaccine mandates and occupancy restrictions — a provision that seems popular with most Texas Republican lawmakers and one of the main reasons Abbott’s office says he keeps renewing the disaster declaration.

There’s more so read the rest. As noted above, the main effect of this order has been to greatly increase Abbott’s executive powers, which he has used in part to wage his war on cities and Democratic counties. Some of those actions he has taken, specifically in regard to mask mandates, are still being litigated, with initial rulings going against Abbott but with the Supreme Court still to weigh in. Some of his actions have been helpful; the story cites an extension of emergency food assistance for needy families without additional oversight as an example. The Legislature could codify or rein in Abbott on any or all of these things, but they haven’t – you may recall the calls for a special session on various COVID-related topics that went unheeded – and they won’t. But I bet they would have if Beto had been elected Governor.

Abbott’s current COVID disaster declaration – we have to be specific here, as we are also under disaster declarations for the drought, the school shooting in Uvalde, the situation at the Texas-Mexico border and wildfires – ends on December 1, and it seems a likely bet that he will extend it again. He’s got a good thing going, no one will stop him, and yes, we may face another surge this winter for which such a declaration would be routine. It might even be a good idea in the hands of a better Governor. That’s not what we have here, but it’s probably going to be what we get.

“Heartbeat” lawsuit against doctor dismissed

I’d forgotten this was still a thing, it had been so long since it was filed.

In the first test of the Texas law that empowers private citizens to sue for a minimum of $10,000 in damages over any illegal abortion they discover, a state judge Thursday dismissed a case against a San Antonio abortion provider, finding that the state constitution requires proof of injury as grounds to file a suit.

Ruling from the bench, Bexar County Judge Aaron Haas dismissed the suit filed by Chicagoan Felipe Gomez against Dr. Alan Braid who had admitted in a Washington Post op-ed that he violated the state’s then-six-week ban, Senate Bill 8, which allows for civil suits against anyone who “aids or abets” an unlawful abortion.

Thursday’s ruling does not overturn the law or preclude similar suits from being filed in the future, lawyers for Braid said Thursday. Nor does it change the almost-total ban on abortion that went into effect in Texas when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections earlier this year.

“This is the first SB 8 case that has gone to a ruling, a final judgment,” said Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was part of Braid’s legal team. “It doesn’t necessarily stop other people from filing SB 8 lawsuits, but what we expect is other courts, following this judge’s lead, would say if you weren’t injured, if you’re just a stranger trying to enforce SB 8, courts are going to reject your claims because you don’t have standing.”

[…]

Haas said in court he would issue a written order in the next week, Hearron said. Gomez declined to comment until the ruling is finalized, though he said he would appeal the ruling. Gomez, who had no prior connection to Braid according to court filings, has said that he believed SB 8 was “illegal as written” given that Roe v. Wade hadn’t yet been overturned at the time, and he requested the court declare it unconstitutional.

Gomez told the Chicago Tribune after filing the suit that his purpose was not to profit from it, but rather to highlight the hypocrisy of Texas lawmakers when it comes to mandates on the state’s citizens.

“Part of my focus on this is the dichotomy between a government saying you can’t force people to get a shot or wear a mask and at the same time, trying to tell women whether or not they can or can’t get an abortion,” Gomez said. “To me, it’s inconsistent.”

The law, which was the most restrictive abortion law in the country when it went into effect in September 2021, purports to give anyone the standing to sue over an abortion prior to six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most patients know they’re pregnant.

The state later banned virtually all abortions except those that threaten a mother’s life, with violations by anyone who provides the procedure or assists someone in obtaining one punishable by up to life in prison. Abortion patients are exempt from prosecution under the law.

Haas agreed with plaintiffs that the constitutional standard is that a person must be able to prove they were directly impacted to sue over an abortion, Hearron said.

See here, here, and here for the background. According to the Trib, there were three lawsuits filed against Dr. Braid, but this was the only one served to him, so I believe that means there are no other active lawsuits of this kind still out there. It’s a little wild to look back and realize that this awful law ultimately led to so little direct action, but it most definitely had a chilling effect, and it set a terrible precedent that SCOTUS shrugged its shoulders at in the most cowardly way possible.

Dr. Braid’s intent, in performing the abortion and writing the op-ed that practically invited these lawsuits, was to challenge SB8’s legality on the grounds that Roe v Wade was the law of the land and thus SB8 was facially unconstitutional when it was passed. You could still make that argument now – a similar lawsuit in another state (I’m blanking on the details) hinged on that same point and prevailed in court – but in the end it wouldn’t much matter, as Texas’ so-called “trigger” law has gone even farther than SB8 did. I’m also not sure that Judge Haas’ ruling will stand on appeal, since it seems clear that the point of SB8 was that literally anyone had the standing to sue. But maybe the Texas Supreme Court will agree that “standing” does mean something less expansive than that. Again, it’s basically an academic exercise now, but you never know. And if anything about this makes the forced-birth caucus in the Lege unhappy, they’ll just pass another law to get what they want. My head hurts. Reform Austin has more.

So why wasn’t that report on maternal mortality released when it was supposed to be?

We’ll never really know, mostly because there’s no one with the power to compel an answer from those who do know that cares enough to use that power.

State health officials had completed a long-awaited report on maternal deaths and were preparing talking points about the findings just days before it was shelved until after the November midterms, according to emails obtained by Hearst Newspapers.

The messages suggest that the agency was moving toward a required Sept. 1 release of the state’s first updated count of pregnancy-related deaths in nearly a decade.

On Sept. 2, however, then-Commissioner John Hellerstedt, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott, said the agency needed more time to complete the analysis.

The last-minute delay infuriated maternal health experts who have spent years pressing the state to update its sluggish data review process. Members of the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which analyzes pregnancy-related deaths, said they were given no heads up about the announcement.

Advocates have since accused Gov. Abbott of instigating the delay in an effort to protect his re-election chances in the midterms.

Some of the strongest condemnation over the hold-up has come from the Black community, where women are three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. This year’s report would be the state’s first to analyze the causes behind racial disparities among those who die during or after childbirth.

While it’s true that the agency had not completed a full count as of September, as Hellerstedt said, a draft preliminary report on the majority of 2019 deaths was finished and in the final stages of editing, according to the emails. It has been the agency’s practice for years to release findings even before a full analysis is completed, in an effort to speed up public health interventions.

Agency staff were sharing final versions of the draft as late as Aug. 24, according to the emails.

Earlier that month, the health agency had been preparing to brief Abbott’s office and state legislators about the report’s findings.

See here for the background. There are answers to this question – they may vary depending on who is being asked, but they do exist. The problem is that no one who is being asked cares to answer, and no one who wants that answer has the power to make them give one. The people who do have that power – certainly the Legislature and maybe the Attorney General – don’t care any more about it than Greg Abbott does. So, unless someone like former Commissioner Hellerstedt starts telling tales out of school, we’ll never know. In the meantime, we may finally get that report as soon as this coming week, so at least we have that going for us.

Abbott bans TikTok on state-issued devices

Honestly, I’m fine with this.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday a ban of the popular app TikTok from all government-issued devices.

In a news release, the Republican said the Chinese government could use the app to access critical U.S. infrastructure and information.

“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices — including when, where, and how they conduct internet activity — and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” Abbott told state agency heads in a letter Wednesday.

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

On Wednesday, Abbott also sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan telling them “the Executive Branch will stand ready to assist in the codification and implementation of any cybersecurity reforms that may be deemed necessary.”

Abbott’s directive comes the same day as the state of Indiana filed a lawsuit against TikTok.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, also a Republican, claimed the app exposes minors to mature content and that it has deceived its “users about China’s access to their data,” The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Indiana’s lawsuit is the first against the app filed by a U.S. state. But a growing list of Republican governors have banned the app from government-issued devices. This week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued his directive and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster blocked the app from government electronics. Late last month, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem did the same.

From a cybersecurity perspective, there are valid reasons to assess TikTok as a higher-risk application. Indeed, as the story notes, the FBI raised national security concerns about it. It is also not unreasonable to declare that TikTok has limited value in the workplace and thus does not belong on workplace phones and computers. I’d make an exception for people whose jobs make use of social media – if the state of Texas doesn’t have any employees with that kind of job description, they really should – but banning it for others makes sense. One could also reasonably assess it differently – there’s always judgment in these matters. Speaking as someone whose workplace also blocks TikTok, I don’t see this as outside the mainstream.

Of greater interest to me is the note about implementing cybersecurity reforms. Given the recent ransomware attacks on state networks, as well as on various municipal governments, I’d say it’s long overdue. As with anything Greg Abbott says, the devil is in the details and I’ll believe it when I see it, but if this is a serious effort and it comes with the proper allocation of resources, it’s all to the good. The Trib and the Chron have more.

Beto tries again to get ridiculous defamation lawsuit dismissed

Hope he has better luck here.

The gubernatorial election is over, but Kelcy Warren’s defamation lawsuit against Beto O’Rourke lives on.

Warren, the Dallas pipeline tycoon, sued O’Rourke in February over accusations he made on the campaign trail that Warren effectively bribed Gov. Greg Abbott with a $1 million contribution following the 2021 power grid collapse. The lawsuit has since been working its way through the legal system, and a state appeals court heard oral arguments Wednesday on O’Rourke’s motion to dismiss it.

Addressing a three-judge panel at the Third Court of Appeals, O’Rourke lawyer Chad Dunn argued that O’Rourke’s scrutiny of the donation was protected by the First Amendment and involved someone who had become a public figure.

“The minute you give $1 million to a gubernatorial candidate in one of the largest states, in Texas, you can expect attention,” Dunn said. “Mr. O’Rourke’s attention was not libel or slander.”

Warren’s lawyer, Dean Pamphilis, maintained his client is a private citizen.

“What they’re asking you to do here is to conclude that a million-dollar — or any — campaign contribution makes you a public figure, opens you up to attack that you can’t defend against unless you prove actual malice, and there is no precedent for that whatsoever,” Pamphilis said.

[…]

Both lawyers suggested the case has broader stakes for freedom of speech and electoral politics.

“Do we wanna live in a world where after political campaigns, we’re gonna have jury trials about what candidates said along the way?” Dunn said.

See here for the last update. I maintain this is a nuisance suit being brought by a fabulously wealthy dude who wants to have big influence over politics and lawmaking but doesn’t want to be held accountable for it. He absolutely does not deserve this level of protection from his own actions.

Abbott to nominate Jane Nelson as next SOS

That was quick.

Jane Nelson

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he will nominate retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson to be secretary of state. The announcement comes one day after John Scott said he would step down from the role at the end of the year.

Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is retiring from the Senate this year after 30 years in the Legislature. Her nomination to be the state’s top elections official will give Abbott a strong candidate for Senate approval after his last three nominees dating to 2018 have failed to be confirmed.

“I look forward to this new chapter of public service and appreciate the confidence Governor Abbott has placed in me to serve as Secretary of State,” Nelson said in a statement. “Voters expect fair elections with accurate, timely results, and I am committed to making that happen. Texans with all political views should have faith in our election system.”

[…]

Nelson’s nomination brings a longtime veteran of state politics to the role. She is the longest-serving Republican in the Texas Senate and has passed bills on changes to medical liability, property taxes, the state’s long-troubled foster care system, mental health care, domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She also was the first woman to lead the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, and passed legislation to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In recent years, Nelson’s time at the Legislature has been focused on the state budget, and she has not been as involved in elections legislation. Like the rest of her Senate Republican colleagues, she voted in favor of a sweeping elections bill last session that tightened election laws in the state and that Democrats decried as voter suppression. The legislation banned programs that expanded access to voting like 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting and put limits on the number of hours counties could keep polls open.

Her office did not immediately respond to an interview request about her nomination.

Nelson’s nomination is a strategic political move by Abbott, who has seen a revolving door of elections officials who were unable to get through the confirmation process.

Scott did not have to undergo the Senate’s confirmation process because he is resigning before the Legislature’s biennial session to return to private practice. But Abbott’s last two nominees before him, David Whitley and Ruth Ruggero Hughs, held out for most of their respective legislative sessions waiting for confirmations that did not come.

Whitley was derailed by Democrats’ opposition to him because of his supervision of an attempt to purge the voter rolls of 100,000 voters, many of whom had Hispanic surnames and had previously not been U.S. citizens but subsequently became naturalized. Hughs’ confirmation process flew under the radar, but activists who have cast doubt on the integrity of elections without evidence opposed her confirmation because her office had claimed the 2020 elections were “smooth and secure.” She resigned before ever facing a hearing.

Nelson’s status in the Senate’s Republican Caucus and her proximity to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the chamber, make her confirmation more likely. And because Scott has pledged to release the results of the audit under his tenure, any lingering issues with that review will not fall on Nelson.

See here for the background. Whatever else one might say about Jane Nelson, she’s a serious policy person and has always struck me as an institutionalist. She’s certainly conservative, but I don’t associate her with the modern wingnut faction, in part because she’s been there for so long and in part because I’m just not aware of her saying crazy or radical things. There’s no one that Greg Abbott would nominate that I would prefer to be Secretary of State, but a serious policy person who has no track record of wanting to burn shit down is about as good as we can hope for. I wish her the best and hope she doesn’t make a fool out of me.

Time for the biennial salute to the new Secretary of State

So long, John. Hope the next guy is better than you were.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott will step down from his role as the state’s top elections official at the end of the year.

“When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters’ confidence in the security of our state’s elections,” Scott wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. Scott said he would be returning to private practice.

Scott has served as interim secretary of state since last October, but he has struggled to walk the line between reassuring the public that the state’s elections are safe and secure and entertaining questions from some vocal critics who cast doubt on the integrity of elections. The Dallas Morning News first reported the departure.

Scott oversaw four statewide elections during his time as secretary of state. He also supervised an audit of the 2020 elections in four of the state’s largest counties. Critics have falsely said those elections included outsized voter fraud and irregularities. The first phase of the audit was released on New Year’s Eve 2021 and found no significant evidence of widespread fraud.

A news release from Scott’s office said he would release the findings of the audit before his departure on Dec. 31.

Scott came close a couple of times to actually saying the right thing about election denialism, but in the end he never overcame his lack of trustworthiness. Sometime in the next few months Greg Abbott will nominate a new person for SOS, and either that person will get confirmed by the Senate or will have to step down in two years as Scott is now doing. The Dems in the Senate do have some leverage as far as that goes, so maybe Abbott will decide to appoint someone relatively non-controversial. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that, but you never know. Texas Public Radio and the Chron have more.