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Jim Wright

Bloomberg drops some money in the RRC race

I have four things to say about this.

Chrysta Castañeda

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money — or attract much political interest outside Texas.

Bloomberg’s contribution helped Castañeda raise $3.5 million on her latest campaign finance report, according to her campaign. The filing covers Sept. 25 through Oct. 26 and is due to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day Monday.

“Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans — her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear,” Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president this year, said in a statement. “I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

Bloomberg gave $2.625 million total to Castañeda, $2.5 million in direct money and the rest in in-kind contributions, according to her campaign. It said her report will also show she received $500,000 from environmentalist philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence, and that the Sierra Club donated $90,000 and has pledged another $125,000.

[…]

In a statement, Castañeda said the seven-figure support “has allowed us to place television ads in every major Texas market,” educating voters about the little-known commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Her commercials have also taken aim at [Republican opponent Jim] Wright, pointing out, among other things, that the commission fined a business he once owned in 2017 for environmental violations.

On the previous round of campaign finance reports, covering early July through Sept. 24, Castañeda was competitive with Wright on donations, taking in $230,000 to his $244,000. She also had $81,000 in in-kind contributions. But he outspent her nearly 3 to 1 and ended the period with more cash on hand, $170,000 to her $104,000.

1. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for this. Castañeda has raised a few bucks and gotten some commercials on the air as noted, but not nearly enough to make much of an impression. This kind of money is enough to run ads statewide for two weeks, and that will mean something.

2. Which leads to the obvious: Sure would have been nice to have had this in place sooner. I need to look at the 8 day report to see exactly when Bloomberg cut the check, but Castañeda started having ads on the air a month ago, so it’s not quite as late in the cycle as I first thought when I read the headline of the story. At least she seems to have gotten the money before people started voting, which was my main concern.

3. It is very much the case that the outcome of this race will be closely correlated with the Presidential race. There’s only so much Castañeda can do to move the needle (more on that in a minute), but if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, she can put herself in a position to win. It should be noted that downballot statewide Dems have generally lagged the top of the ticket by a few points, and that was the case in 2016 and 2018. There is some variation from race to race – generally speaking, in lower-profile races, having a Latino surname is a benefit. Note that the top downballot votegetters in 2016 were Eva Guzman (top overall in her case) and Dori Garza, both Supreme Court candidates. Castañeda has that going for her, which is likely to be worth a point or so in the final tally. If there’s one downballot Dem that I think could out-perform Biden, at least on a percentage basis, it’s Chrysta Castañeda.

4. The presence of third party candidates means that one does not need fifty percent of the vote to win. That, and who third party candidates tend to draw some votes from, was the basis for all that litigation that ultimately did not result in any candidates being thrown off the ballot. The RRC races, which are pretty obscure for most voters and which have featured some, um, less than optimal candidates in recent years, is a prime example of this. Here are the combined third-party vote percentages from the past three Presidential elections:

2016 – 8.56%
2012 – 4.23%
2008 – 3.52%

There were Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 and 2012, and just a Libertarian in 2008. The 2016 race had two of the worst candidates ever for this office, bad enough that the Libertarian got several major newspaper endorsements. The point here is that it is likely 48% of the vote will be enough to win; 49% for sure will win. And while RRC is very close to the top of the ballot – fourth in line, after the three federal races – it’s likely more people will skip it than perhaps the Supreme Court races because they have no idea what the RRC does. That means fewer votes are needed as well. Anything Castañeda can do to minimize undervoting by Dems and to tempt soft Rs and indies to cross over will help. That’s what this money can do. The Chron has more.

UH-Hobby: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here’s a poll result that stands in contrast to the others we have seen lately.

President Donald Trump is leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by more than five points among likely voters in Texas, according to a poll released Monday by the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, found 50% of voters said they already had or will vote for Trump, while 44.7% said they had or will vote for Biden.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence carried Texas by nine points in 2016.

The Republican edge held for statewide contests down the ballot, including for U.S. Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and three statewide judicial races covered by the poll.

“Record turnout in early voting clearly shows the state’s Democrats are energized, but at least at the top of the ticket, that enthusiasm appears unlikely to overcome the Republican advantage among men, Anglos and older voters,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In fact, we found the Republican candidate leading by wider margins in statewide races farther down the ballot.”

Among the findings:

  • More than 40% had already voted at the time of the poll. Biden held a substantial edge among those voters, leading Trump 59% to 39%. Almost two-thirds of those who plan to vote on Election Day said they will vote for Trump.
  • Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 48.9% to 41.6%.
  • Republican Jim Wright is leading in the race for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, with 46.8% of the vote; Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has 38.4%.
  • Biden holds a slight edge among women, 49.5% to 46%. Trump is preferred among men by a notably larger margin, 54.3% to 39.5%.
  • While 63% of Anglos support Trump, and 87% of African-American voters back Biden, the gap is narrower among Latino voters: 56% support Biden, and 38% back Trump.
  • Republican Nathan Hecht leads Democrat Amy Clark Meachum 47.5% to 40% for Texas Supreme Court chief justice. For Supreme Court Justice Place 6, Republican Jane Bland leads Democrat Kathy Cheng 49.2% to 40.1%.
  • Republican Bert Richardson leads Democrat Elizabeth Davis Frizell 48.2% to 38.3% for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Place 3.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The Hobby School did a primary poll in February and one Trump-Clinton poll around this time in 2016; they also did a couple of polls of Harris County in 2016. As noted in their introduction, this was a YouGov poll, so similar in nature to the UT/Texas Tribune polls. As I alluded to in the headline, this is the first poll we’ve had in awhile that was this positive for Trump, and it especially stands in contrast with that UT-Tyler poll that came out over the weekend. What does one make of this?

You can peruse the poll data as you wish. I’m going to note one thing that really stood out to me. The following is a list of how Independent voters went in each of the last nine polls over the past month for which that data was available (in other words, skipping the Morning Consult polls). See if you can see what I saw:


Poll      Biden   Trump
=======================
UH-Hobby     34      51
UTT/DMN      51      29
Q'piac Oct   50      39
DFP          40      36
PPP          60      35
UT-Trib      45      37
UML          43      39
NYT/Siena    41      37
Q'piac Sep   51      43

Yeah, that’s a very different result for independent voters than for basically every other poll we’ve seen. Note that the UT-Trib poll had Trump up by five, as did the Quinnipiac poll from September (both were 50-45 for Trump, in fact), and that UMass-Lowell poll had Trump up 49-46. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

There are other things that can be said about this poll – I appreciate the “who has voted” versus “who has yet to vote” distinction, and I appreciate the inclusion of downballot races though I tend to discount those results because of the increase in “don’t know” responses – but this is the main thing I wanted to cover.

Links to the cited polls, and their data or crosstabs page where the numbers I included can be found:

UT-Tyler/DMNdata
Quinnipiacdata
Data for Progressdata
PPPdata
UT-Trib (data about indies in quoted excerpt)
UMass-Lowelldata
NYT/Sienadata
Quinnipiacdata

I will also note that Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have observed a shift in independents’ preferences in Texas towards indies this cycle. And now I will stop beating this horse.

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 1

Time once again to look at campaign finance reports. I don’t usually review the 30-day reports but this is a special year, and there’s a lot of money sloshing around, so let’s keep an eye on it. As before, I will split these into four parts. Part one will be statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, part two will be State House races from the Houston area, part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state, and part four will be for Democratic incumbents that may be targeted. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for statewide candidates can be found here, January reports for various SBOE and State Senate races can be found here, and the July reports for the candidates in this post are here.

Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Jim Wright, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8
Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7
Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, SBOE5
Lani Popp, SBOE5

Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Will Hickman, SBOE6

Marsha Webster, SBOE10
Tom Maynard, SBOE10

Susan Criss, SD11
Larry Taylor, SD11

Roland Gutierrez, SD19
Pete Flores, SD19


Candidate   Office    Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Castaneda      RRC   310,709   161,145   27,166     103,934
Wright         RRC   243,765   452,473   45,000     169,761

Meachum      SCOTX   103,704    27,920        0     200,072
Hecht        SCOTX   176,761   806,375        0     105,298

Triana       SCOTX    37,075    19,945        0     134,736
Busby        SCOTX   314,946   580,588        0     342,010

Cheng        SCOTX    17,901     5,196   90,174      80,371
Bland        SCOTX   167,487   490,849        0     132,174

Williams     SCOTX   127,667    69,733    1,000      78,572
Boyd         SCOTX   128,500   168,373        0     466,196

BellMetereau SBOE5    63,473    18,316    2,250      66,834
Popp         SBOE5    64,012    22,713   60,000      50,637

Palmer       SBOE6    17,395     8,251        0      12,982
Hickman      SBOE6     2,660       819    2,500       2,887

Webster     SBOE10     4,195     3,200       25       4,523
Maynard     SBOE10     4,332    14,797    4,000         848

Criss         SD11    18,137    29,403        0       5,048
Taylor        SD11    47,775   138,166        0   1,054,841

Gutierrez     SD19   199,270    50,785        0      11,309
Flores        SD19   627,919   531,779        0     606,589

I didn’t have a whole lot to say about these reports last time, and I don’t have much to add now. Chrysta Castaneda raised a few bucks and has done a bit of TV advertising, but there’s not a whole lot you can do statewide with less than a million bucks as an opening bid. She has done well with earned media, and I think Democrats may be more aware of this race than they usually are, which could have an effect on the margins if it keeps the third-party vote level low. To be sure, the Presidential race is by far the single biggest factor here. The hope is that Castaneda can outpace Biden, even by a little, and if so then she just needs it to be close at the top.

The same is true for the Supreme Court, where Dems at least are fired up by the rulings relating to mail ballots. I think the potential for crossovers is lower than in the RRC race, where Jim Wright is so obviously conflicted, but just retaining a sufficient portion of the Presidential vote would mean a lot. I know people like to talk about the lack of straight ticket voting, but 1) these races are all near the top of the ballot, following the three federal contests, and 2) the message about voting out Republicans at all levels has been pounded all over the place. How much will it matter? I have no idea. All this may be little more than a social media mirage. It’s just what I’ve observed.

I am a little surprised that Roland Gutierrez hasn’t raised more money, and it’s equally odd to me that Pete Flores has outspent him by that much. But like everywhere else, the top of the ticket will drive this result more than anything else. In the context of 2016, this was basically a 10-12 point Dem district. Flores has to convince a lot of people to cross over in order to win. That’s the challenge he faces.

More of these to come. Let me know what you think.

Castaneda on the air

More of this, please.

Chrysta Castañeda

Chrysta Castañeda, the Democratic candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, is investing in six figures worth of television ads in the Houston area starting Friday.

Castañeda is facing off against Republican Jim Wright, best known for his campaign’s glaring conflict of interest with his own company, DeWitt Recyclable Products, a company overseen by the same state agency he seeks to help guide.

The ad focuses on wasteful and illegal flaring from oil and gas companies and Castañeda’s promise to put a stop to it. It also mentions some of the violations issued by the Texas Railroad Commission to Wright’s company, and some of the lawsuits that Wright has found himself in.

“Many Texans don’t know a thing about the Railroad Commission, but for the countless Texans who work in the oil and gas industry, it’s probably the elected body with the biggest impact on their lives,” Castañeda said in a prepared statement. “Houston is synonymous with oil and gas, so it’s the ideal place to roll out our first TV ad.”

There’s a video of the ad embedded in the story. Most likely, if you encounter this it will be on a cable station, probably during a sporting event. (That’s when I see political ads the most, anyway.) Polling data has suggested that Castaneda can move the needle with targeted attacks on Wright, but it will take much more of this to have a measurable impact. I’m glad to see it, don’t get me wrong, I’d just like to multiply it by at least ten, so it could get out there beyond Houston. But it’s a start.

Endorsement watch: Three to get started

But first, why do endorsements, anyway?

If newspapers are objective, why do you recommend candidates?
Newspapers don’t endorse candidates. Editorial boards do. The editorial board is separate from the newsroom. It is made up of opinion journalists with wide-ranging expertise whose consensus opinions and recommendations represent the voice of the institution — defined as the board members, their editor and the publisher. We do it as a service to our readers and to our democracy, which cannot flourish without an informed citizenry. For many busy people, researching each candidate isn’t possible. Rather than turn to partisan slates, some with pay-to-play motivations, we offer an alternative: informed candidate recommendations from nonpartisan journalists informed by facts, borne of careful analysis.

[…]

What’s our process?
General elections always involve hundreds of hours of screening, writing and editing to ensure trustworthy recommendations that readers can access readily and even take to the polls. The pandemic has forced a few changes. For congressional and local top races, we’re conducting Zoom interviews with all who accept our invitations. For many other races, we’ve conducted one-on-one interviews. In most races, lead writers for each research, conduct outside interviews and background candidates before making recommendations to the full board, which reaches a consensus.

Consensus isn’t always easy, especially when parties have failed to draw qualified candidates. Still, voters must vote, so we feel we must decide. When recommending someone we have reservations about, we’ll explain why to readers, same as we do when there are multiple excellent candidates.

Sometimes, an extra level of focus and expertise is needed to make the right call. As in past years, we’ve enlisted the help of retired longtime journalists in the 20 local judicial races. Mary Flood and Jeff Franks research and background candidates and then make recommendations for the board to consider.

Do we only endorse candidates who agree with us?
No. While we look favorably upon candidates whose values mirror our basic commitments to responsible spending, economic growth, strong public schools, improving health and protecting the environment, we often endorse candidates who don’t share our opinions on more contentious issues. To better serve voters in a diverse array of districts, we prioritize broader expectations of elected leaders: experience, willingness to work across the aisle, knowledge of issues, strong sense of ethics, fit with the district and general viability of the candidacy. For judges, fairness, competence and temperament are also strong considerations and, at times, the ideological diversity of the court as a whole. We give weight to incumbency, especially if it means seniority benefiting constituents, but we also scrutinize incumbents’ records on effectiveness, leadership, constituent services and ability to keep promises to voters.

Whether readers agree with our ultimate choices or not, we hope the facts, observations and analysis in each written editorial recommendation serves as a helpful tool in voters’ own research and decision-making.

I appreciate the Chron’s efforts and I find their process to be useful and valuable, even though I (sometimes very strenuously) disagree with some of their selections. Honestly, this is more of an academic exercise for me in an election where there’s no doubt about who’s getting my votes, but it is of great value to me in other contexts. It is good to have some reasonably objective and process-oriented sources for the races where the decision is truly hard.

Anyway, on to the endorsements. We start statewide with the Railroad Commissioner’s race and an endorsement for Chrysta Castaneda.

Chrysta Castañeda

Texas and Houston depend mightily on a thriving oil and gas industry, and that’s why it’s so important that the Railroad Commission of Texas be led by experienced, capable commissioners.

Fortunately, as an engineer and a lawyer, Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has the combination of knowledge and experience to help the RRC shepherd the crucial industry through one of the most challenging economies in decades.

As the founding law partner of the Castañeda Firm, which focuses on oil and gas litigation, she also understands the importance of crafting and enforcing regulations to protect the state’s environment.

That is why we recommend Castañeda, 57, in the statewide Railroad Commission race in the Nov. 3 election. If elected, she would join two Republican commissioners who, like her opponent, can be counted on to give the industry’s needs top billing over environmental concerns. What’s really needed is a balance between helping the industry thrive and minimizing its harmful impacts.

[…]

While [Republican candidate Jim] Wright also would bring experience to the job, it would be solely from the industry side. Texas needs at least one member of the Railroad Commission who takes to heart both the mandate that the commission promote the oil and gas industry and its charge to safeguard the water and air Texans drink or breathe.

Wright has some other issues, which the Chron does not delve into. With Presidential-level polling showing a very tight race, the other statewides are being seen as tossups this year. Castaneda may draw some crossover support if she can get enough of a message out. You can listen to my interview with her here if you haven’t yet.

Next, Michelle Palmer for SBOE.

Michelle Palmer

Long-time history teacher Michelle Palmer was troubled when the Texas State Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that describes Moses as an influence on the Founding Fathers.

The Aldine ISD teacher saw the 2018 decision as a particularly egregious example of the board incorporating historical inaccuracies into textbooks and curricula used to teach 5.4 million Texas public school students.

“Moses was not much of an influence on Thomas Jefferson. He was not much of an influence on many of the Founding Fathers,” Palmer told the editorial board. “I find it very troubling that they have that as a standard that is supposed to be taught to our 13- and 14-year-old eighth graders.”

Even more troubling: It was part of a pattern for the 15-member state board of education, which is more often guided by conservative ideology than by good curriculum design.

That history motivated Palmer, 50, to run for the position currently held by Chair Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, who is not seeking re-election.

“As a board member, I would listen to the experts,” said Palmer, a Democrat.

That sounds basic, and it should be. But too many on the current board have refused to do so. That is why we are recommending Palmer for SBOE Position 6. The state board of education has responsibilities critical for the education of Texas children: setting curriculum standards, adopting textbooks and other instructional materials for public schools, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund and reviewing charter school applications.

We’re all familiar with the clown show that has been the SBOE. To be fair, it has gotten somewhat less bad in recent years, thanks in large part to the eviction of Don McLeroy from its ranks. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, and adding Michelle Palmer would be a step in that direction. My primary interview with Palmer is here.

Finally, there’s Natali Hurtado for HD126.

Natali Hurtado

In a repeat of the 2018 race for state House District 126, Democrat Natali Hurtado is facing off against Republican Sam Harless.

Two years ago, we recommended Harless for this seat based in large part on the Republican’s wise and politically brave support for expanding Medicaid and his contempt for the unscrupulous far-right activist group Empower Texans.

Unfortunately, Harless has backed away from Medicaid expansion at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made access to health care more important than ever. In a recent screening with the editorial board, he said he looked forward to a debate about expansion and expected it would happen someday. But he would not express support outright.

He also voted against a 2019 amendment that would have directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to seek a federal waiver to expand Medicaid in the state. That vote just happened to earn a green check mark from Empower Texans.

As our state battles COVID-19, Harless has appeared at campaign events without a mask and taken issue with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mask order. Those actions show a troubling tendency to ignore science and turn a public health crisis into a partisan issue.

All this led us to take a fresh look at Hurtado. We like what we see.

You can read the rest for the affirmative case for Hurtado. She’s got a compelling biography, and actually means it when she says she supports Medicaid expansion in Texas. HD126 is on the target list for Dems this year, though not as high up as HDs 134 and 138. It’s looking like a competitive race, and an Election Day that includes a Dem win in HD126 almost certainly means a Democratic House.

The Chron also endorsed Republican Rep. Dan Huberty in a non-competitive race for HD127. More to come as they run ’em.

Data for Progress: Biden 48, Trump 45

From the inbox:

New polling data from Data For Progress shows Texas Democrats in a strong position to capture control of the Texas House of Representatives in the November general election.

A late-August survey of likely Texas general election voters in 30 battleground house districts found an unnamed Democratic state house candidate leading the Republican 45-42. In those same districts, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 49-42.

“This polling data confirms what we are seeing in targeted house districts across the state,” said HDCC Chairwoman Celia Israel. “Texans want new leadership in Austin, focused on meeting their needs during this challenging time. Our candidates are offering that leadership and voters are responding.”

The poll, conducted August 20-25, surveyed 2,295 likely general election voters, including 1,032 voters in battleground state house districts, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points.

You can see the polling memo here and the poll data here. The poll used online web panels. Of interest from the polling memo:

● Biden leads Trump by 3 points statewide (48% Biden, 45% Trump)
● Democrat MJ Hegar trails Republican incumbent John Cornyn by six points in the U.S. Senate race (40% Hegar, 46% Cornyn), with 15% of voters undecided
● In competitive state House districts, Democrats lead Republicans by 3 points (45% Democrats, 42% Republicans), with Biden leading by seven points in those districts (49% Biden, 42% Trump)
● Democrat Chrysta Castañeda trails Republican Jim Wright by six points in the Texas Railroad Commission race (33% Castañeda, 39% Wright), with 25% of voters undecided
● A majority of voters (65%) say they are more likely to support a candidate for office who pledges to achieve 100% clean energy by 2035 and create millions of new clean energy jobs as America transitions to a clean energy economy
● A majority of voters (58%) say they are more likely to support a candidate if they refused to take money from fossil fuel companies, executives, or lobbyists

And from the poll data:

[1] If the 2020 presidential election was held tomorrow and the candidates for president were Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, who would you vote for?


                                  D    R    I
Democrat Joe Biden         48%  94%   9%  47%
Republican Donald Trump    45%   4%  87%  33%
Not sure                    8%   3%   4%  21%

[2] If the election for U.S. Senator from Texas was held tomorrow, who would you vote for?


                                  D    R    I
Democrat MJ Hegar          40%  84%   7%  32%
Republican John Cornyn     46%   6%  85%  36%
Not sure                   15%  10%   8%  32%

[3] If the election for Texas state house was held tomorrow, who would you vote for?


                                  D    R    I
The Democratic candidate   43%  92%   6%  34%
The Republican candidate   45%   4%  88%  33%
Not sure                   12%   5%   6%  34%

[4] If the election for Texas Railroad Commissioner was held tomorrow, which of the following candidates would you vote for?


                                  D    R    I
Democrat Chrysta Castaneda 35%  80%   4%  22%
Republican Jim Wright      41%   4%  82%  26%
Libertarian Matt Sterett    3%   2%   1%   8%
Not sure                   21%  13%  13%  44%

Where the Democrats lag in these races is with Democratic and independent voters. That suggests the real results will be closer to the Presidential race; compare to the previous poll of the RRC race. In the 34 contested Hous3 districts (12 held by Dems, the other 22 held by Republicans), the numbers are 49-42 for Biden, 43-41 for Cornyn over Hegar, 39-36 for Wright over Castaneda, and 45-42 for the Dem State House candidate. We’ll see how this poll compares to the others when they start coming out.

Once again, please pay some attention to the Railroad Commissioner race

It does matter.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Republican candidate running to join the Texas oil and gas regulatory agency has run afoul of state environmental rules and is embroiled in a series of lawsuits accusing him of fraud in the oil patch.

Jim Wright, owner of an oilfield waste services company, says he has done nothing wrong and that he’s the victim of a Democratic Party smear job.

If nothing else, South Texas court filings and public records showing more than $180,000 in state fines levied against Wright point to the fractiousness of the oilfield.

Wright, who lives on a ranch outside Orange Grove, 35 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, faces Democrat Chrysta Castañeda, a Dallas oil and gas attorney and engineer, in November for a spot on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission.

At the center of the disputes is DeWitt Recyclable Products, a company Wright started nearly a decade ago near Cuero to take oily muds and other drilling site byproducts and recycle them into crude oil, diesel fuel and cleaned-up dirt.

[…]

James McAda, who has run an oilfield services company for more than three decades and is fighting Wright in court, said he is owed more than $200,000 by Wright.

“I think a man who wants to do that kind of job should be following the rules of the agency that he’s going to help run,” McAda said. “This wasn’t just some little small type infraction violation; this was a pretty major deal involving disposal of waste.”

“I’m a dedicated Republican voter, but I don’t think Jim Wright is the man for the job,” he added.

Another company that had sued Wright over cleanup issues, Tidal Tank, settled with him after his March primary victory.

In a separate case, oilfield services firm Petro Swift LLC of Kerrville has accused Wright, his partners and DeWitt Recyclable Products of failing to pay for construction work the Kerrville company did at the Cuero-area site.

Petro Swift attached a lien to the property, but company officials accuse Wright of “fraudulent transfers” of the property through different companies to avoid payment.

Petro Swift co-owner Travis McRae told the American-Statesman that going after Wright was “like chasing a ghost through the woods.”
He said Wright owes Petro Swift about $205,000 on the original bills, plus at least $70,000 in attorney’s fees.

“If the guy can’t follow the rules of his own permits — if he doesn’t have respect for rules that are assigned him that he has to comply with — what makes anyone think he’s going to try to enforce rules when he holds that office?” McRae said.

McRae described himself as a “hardcore conservative, Republican all the way down the ticket.”

But, he said, “I’m not voting for Jim Wright.”

“I always thought the Democratic side is anti-oil, anti-fracking, so let’s have a Republican on the Railroad Commission,” he said. “In this particular case, based on personal experience, I don’t want that dude running anything — even if that means voting Democratic.”

We’ve seen these allegations before, and there’s not a lot of new factual information in this story. The main difference is these quotes from two people who know Jim Wright from being in the same industry and would normally vote for him as the Republican candidate for RRC, except they know who he is and won’t vote for him as a result. I’m not so naive as to think that the negative opinion of two Republicans in an election where we might see upward of ten million votes is in any way a factor in this race. But the differences between the two candidates is a factor in Chrysta Castaneda’s favor, as her recent poll indicated, and thus it’s why she hopes to raise enough money to get that message out. The next time you happen to talk politics with one of your less-engaged friends, this is the kind of race you should make them aware of. It’s the best chance we have.

A poll of the RRC race

Here you go:

Chrysta Castañeda

A new survey from nationally respected polling firm Global Strategy Group (GSG) shows that the combination of Chrysta Castañeda’s unique biography, her opponent Jim Wright’s potent negatives, and Donald Trump’s free-fall in Texas give Castañeda a clear path to victory in the race for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Unsurprisingly, the race for Texas Railroad Commission — which oversees Texas’ oil and gas industry — is currently unformed as neither candidate is well known, and a quarter of voters are undecided. But after voters hear balanced profiles of both candidates, Castañeda emerges with a six-point lead in an informed ballot test. That lead expands to 10 points after balanced negatives against each of the candidates are provided.

“I have seen few polls in recent years that show so clearly how much stronger one candidate is versus the other,” said Andrew Baumann, Senior Vice President at GSG, who conducted the poll. “Not only does Castañeda’s biography and agenda resonate strongly, but Wright’s negatives are also disqualifying.”

The poll didn’t just include good news for Castaneda. According to their findings, former Vice President and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden leads Republican President Donald Trump by two points in Texas — a result that, if it holds, would have profound implications for the presidential race.

“It’s clear that Texans are hungry for change,” Chrysta said. “I believe that we can balance our demand for energy and a healthy oil and gas industry with the critical need to address the environmental concerns that endanger our children’s future. This is not a binary choice. I’m ready to bring practical, creative solutions to the Railroad Commission, and it looks like Texans are ready for me to do just that.”

For more on the survey, including the methodology, read the polling memo here.

From that polling memo:

  • The Texas political terrain has become much more favorable for Democrats as Trump trails by two after winning statewide by nine points in 2016. Joe Biden has a two-point lead over Trump in the race for president (47% Biden/45% Trump), including a six-point lead among self-identified independents (37% Biden/31% Trump). This is driven by Trump’s acute unpopularity among independents (33% fav/55% unfav). Republicans have just a two-point lead on the generic ballot for state representative (44% Democrat/46% Republican) and Democrats are more motivated to vote this November (79% of Democrats are extremely motivated to vote vs. 75% of Republicans who are extremely motivated to vote).
  • Wright holds a name ID advantage thanks to the contested GOP primary and sharing a name with the former Speaker of the U.S. House, but Castañeda starts within striking distance in a very open race. Jim Wright competed in a competitive Republican primary, which drove his name ID up with Republicans, but he is actually has higher name ID with Democrats, many of whom are likely mistaking him with the former Speaker of the U.S. House from Texas with the same name. As a result, his name ID, while not high at 26%, is higher than Castañeda’s (18%). Despite the lower level of familiarity, Castañeda is behind Wright by only six points, 31% Castañeda/37% Wright, with 8% going to Libertarian Matt Sterett and 24% undecided – with Democrats significantly more likely to be undecided than Republicans.
  • After a balanced introduction, Castañeda moves into a six-point lead which expands to double-digits after balanced negative. Following the initial ballot, voters heard profiles of equal length about both Castañeda and Wright (with Wright’s based on information from his own website). Following this simulated debate, Castañeda takes a six-point lead (45% Castañeda/39% Wright/5% Sterett), with 11% undecided. Voters then heard critiques of both candidates, with the critique of Wright focused on his legal troubles and the attack against Castañeda attempting to paint her (inaccurately) as a liberal Democrat who is backed by “radical environmental groups” and running on a “platform of implementing massive new job-killing regulations on the oil and gas industry” that will “kill the Texas Miracle.” As the table below shows, this exchange expands Castañeda’s lead to 10 points.

See here for more on that Jim Wright business, and you can click over to see the table. It’s 42-32-8, with 18 undecided, when the Libertarian candidate is named, and 47-38, with 15 undecided, when it’s just Castañeda and Wright. It’s always tricky to poll low-profile races like this precisely because the candidates are not well-known, but this is a plausible result. The Presidential numbers are in line with other recent polls, the initial Wright-versus-Castañeda totals make sense, with lots of undecideds that are mostly Democrats, and the push part of the poll is not outrageous. The key here of course is that Chrysta Castañeda would need to have enough money to run ads that deliver that information about herself and her opponent for any of this to matter. That’s one reason why candidates commission polls like these and then release them if they’re good enough. Castañeda doesn’t have that kind of money, or at least she didn’t as of July 6, but the money could be raised. And for sure, as with MJ Hegar and the judicial candidates, the better Joe Biden does in Texas the better the position Chrysta Castañeda will be in. The point here is that it is all quite doable. See The New Republic for more.

Please allow me to turn your attention to the Railroad Commissioner race for a moment

Because there’s a serious issue with one of the candidates, and this sort of thing never gets the attention it deserves.

Chrysta Castañeda

There is a glaring conflict of interest with Jim Wright, the Republican candidate running for Texas Railroad Commissioner, the state agency responsible for regulating the oil & gas industry and mining in the state.

On Wednesday, Texas Democrats circulated a news release detailing 255 logged violations of Wright’s company, DeWitt Recyclable Products. The inspections and violations were issued by the Texas Railroad Commission and date back to 2016, two years after his oilfield waste disposal company was founded.

Most striking, 50 of the violations for Wright’s company are for the unpermitted disposal of oil and gas wastes at his company’s facility in DeWitt County.

It’s clear why owning a waste disposal facility — one of only 24 facilities in Texas permitted to receive oilfield waste — could be problematic for someone running for a spot in the three-person Railroad Commission. The agency is ultimately responsible for the regulation and enforcement of oil & gas companies that must adhere to pages and pages of Texas administrative code.

But inspections and violations aside, Wright’s company is also engaged in a slew of litigation that presents even more problems for his candidacy. One such lawsuit was profiled in great detail by the Houston Chronicle this week. The report explains how Wright’s waste disposal company, which he sold Watson Energy Investments (but remained listed as the president) was shut down by the Texas Railroad Commission.

“Shortly after the facility was shut down, Watson Energy Investments fell behind on its payments to Wright,” the Chronicle’s Sergio Chapa reported. “He excercised an option in the contract to take control of the facility. In a lawsuit filed in March against his former business partners, Wright maintains that Watson still owes him $495,000 of payments from sale and another $180,000 in crude oil royalties.”

Here’s that TDP press release, and you should read the Chron story as well – there’s too much there to excerpt. The TL;dr of all this is that Jim Wright would be in an excellent position to make a lot of these problems for himself go away if he were elected to the Railroad Commission, even if as he claims he’d recuse himself from anything having to do with his own businesses. I submit to you, being on the regulatory body that oversees your business is a problem. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for this, and that’s to elect Chrysta Castañeda, a very well-qualified candidate without any of this baggage. You can listen to my interview with her here if you haven’t already. And now you can return to obsessing about coronavirus, Trump’s latest tweets, destroying the post office in the name of voter suppression, the Senate’s unwillingness to take action to help the people who have been devastated by the COVID crisis, or whatever else is eating your brain.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 1

I’m going to take a look at the July finance reports from the various state races, which I will split into three parts. Part one will be statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, part two will be State House races from the Houston area, and part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for statewide candidates can be found here, and January reports for various SBOE and State Senate races can be found here.

Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Jim Wright, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8
Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7
Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, SBOE5
Lani Popp, SBOE5

Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Will Hickman, SBOE6

Marsha Webster, SBOE10
Tom Maynard, SBOE10

Susan Criss, SD11
Larry Taylor, SD11

Roland Gutierrez, SD19
Pete Flores, SD19


Candidate   Office    Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Castaneda      RRC    43,072    38,785   27,166      16,043
Wright         RRC   384,282    90,680   45,000     350,856

Meachum      SCOTX    51,093    44,271        0     132,303
Hecht        SCOTX   312,030   106,598        0     727,648

Triana       SCOTX    17,592     9,781        0     113,567
Busby        SCOTX   207,080   116,130        0     611,700

Cheng        SCOTX     7,637     4,033   90,174       9,292
Bland        SCOTX   264,370   106,000        0     417,335

Williams     SCOTX    14,135    47,262        0       7,466
Boyd         SCOTX   104,743   171,002        0     492,183

BellMetereau SBOE5    27,439     8,027    2,250      20,935
Popp         SBOE5    22,930    98,185   10,000      25,354

Palmer       SBOE6     6,873     9,134        0       6,076
Hickman      SBOE6     1,800     2,225    2,500       1,047

Webster     SBOE10     2,480     1,589       25       3,529
Maynard     SBOE10     3,170     1,103    5,000       4,216

Criss         SD11    22,586    14,071        0      13,644
Taylor        SD11    64,150   116,848        0   1,129,009

Gutierrez     SD19    60,074    99,208        0      11,309
Flores        SD19   295,760    65,577        0     563,459

I skipped the Court of Criminal Appeals races because no one raises any money in them. Jim Wright is the no-name Republican challenger who ousted incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP Railroad Commissioner primary, in an upset no one saw coming. He had $12K on hand in his eight-day report for the March primary. You can see where he is now, thanks to the Republican money machine including Tim Dunn (evil rich guy behind Empower Texans, $20K) and a slew of PACs. Ryan Sitton had $2.5 million in his account at the time of his defeat (all of which he can now donate to other campaigns, if he wants), so Wright isn’t in that league yet, but the point is that Wright wasn’t a no-name nobody for long. The establishment just moved over to his camp and did their thing. The Republican Party of Texas is currently a dumpster fire, and many of its county parties (see, in particular, Harris and Bexar) are even worse off, but the real power structure is still operating at peak efficiency.

The larger point I would make here, as we begin to see Joe Biden and Donald Trump ads on TV – I saw one of each while watching the Yankees-Nationals game on Saturday night – is that there’s more than one way to do a statewide campaign in Texas. For a million bucks or so, you could probably blanket local and cable TV in many of the media markets with ads for Chrysta Castaneda and the statewide Democratic judicial slate. I have seen my share of “vote for Republican judges” ads on my teevee, as recently as 2016 and 2018. Our Congressional candidates have shown there’s plenty of financial support out there for Democratic contenders, even those in odds-against races. There are many people who know enough to create a PAC, get some dough in the door, then cut an ad and buy some time for it. The numbers say this is the best chance we’ve had in a quarter century to win statewide. What are we going to do about that?

As for the Senate races, SD11 isn’t really competitive. It’s on the list of “races that may end up being closer than you might have thought because of prevailing conditions and recent political shifts”, but it’s too far out of reach to expect more than that. The thing I’d ponder is if the likes of Larry Taylor, and other Republican Senators in safe districts or not on the ballot this year, will put some of their spare cash towards helping their fellow partymates who are in tough races. I’m sure we can all think of a few of them. As for SD19, I’m not too worried about the current gap between Roland Gutierrez’s and Pete Flores’ cash on hand. I fully expect Gutierrez, the one Dem running in a truly flippable district, to have the resources he needs. But I’ll still check the 30-day report, because SD19 officially makes me nervous after the 2018 special election fiasco.

Nobody ever raises money in the SBOE races. It would have been fascinating to see what might have happened had cartoon character/performance artist Robert Morrow won that primary runoff, but alas. It’s just another boring contest between two normal people. Which, given the history of the SBOE, is actually quite comforting.

2020 primary results: State races

I’m going to direct you to the Texas Tribune results page, which combines both parties’ results and is a couple orders of magnitude less sucky than the revamped SOS election night results pages. Good Lord, whoever designed that “upgrade” from the lower-tech previous version should be banished to a desert island. We’re gonna do bullet points here:

– As with the Harris County judicial races, female candidates swept the statewide judicial nominations. Brandon Birmingham, who was unopposed for CCA Place 9, will be the lone Democratic dude on the statewide judicial ballot. Staci Williams was leading Brandy Voss for Supreme Court Place 7. On the Republican side, incumbent CCA Place 3 incumbent Bert Richardson was holding on against Rick Perry fangirl Gina Parker. Good grief.

– Chrysta Castaneda and former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo were headed to a runoff for Railroad Commissioner. On the Republican side, incumbent Ryan Sitton was trailing his opponent, some dude named Jim Wright. I was paying no attention to that one, so I’ll be looking for some news stories today to explain what happened there.

– Michelle Palmer and Kimberley McLeod were headed to a runoff in SBOE 6, while Marsha Burnett-Webster was cruising in SBOE 10. Rebecca Bell-Metereau was on her way to another shot at SBOE5, and, well, lookie here:

Robert Morrow is leading in the Republican primary races for the State Board of Education District 5 seat, which represents an area spanning Austin to San Antonio, according to some voting returns Tuesday night.

With about 86,000 votes counted, Morrow, a provocateur who often posts photos of women’s breasts on social media, had 39% of votes, followed by Lani Popp, a speech pathologist at the Northside school district in San Antonio, who had 36% of votes. Inga Cotton, executive director of San Antonio Charter Moms, a nonprofit that provides resources to families about charter schools, has 25% of votes. If nobody wins more than 50% of votes, the two highest vote recipients will head to a run-off election May 26.

Chairman of the Travis County GOP Matt Mackowiak was already signaling his dismay at Morrow’s lead Tuesday night.

You may recall that Morrow was for a brief time the Chair of the Travis County GOP. Have fun dealing with that shit sandwich, Matt.

– Sen. Eddie Lucio was on the knife’s edge to win in SD27. He was just over 50% when last I looked. Sara Stapleton-Barrera was in second, with about 34%. This still could go to a runoff, we’ll see. In SD19, the main pickup opportunity for Dems, Xochil Pena Rodriguez led Roland Gutierrez and would face him in the runoff. Sen. Borris Miles was around 60% of the vote in his race.

– For the State House, Natali Hurtado (HD126) and Ann Johnson (HD134) won easily. Akilah Bacy was headed to a runoff with Jenifer Pool in HD138, and Anna Eastman will have to run one more race, this time against Penny Shaw, in HD148. As of this writing, Rep. Harold Dutton was at 50.03% in his race, eight votes above the line to avoid a runoff. Needless to say, that can change. All other incumbents, in Harris and elsewhere, were headed to victory, though on the GOP side Reps. Dan Flynn and JD Sheffield were facing runoffs. Suleman Lalani and Sarah DeMerchant were leading in HD26.

Like I said, a few things are still in flux, but this is where we are with about two-thirds of the Harris County vote in. I’ll do updates as needed and will have more tomorrow.

UPDATE: In the end, both Sen. Eddie Lucio and Rep. Harold Dutton fell short of fifty percent and will be in runoffs in May.

It’s about the people who don’t have ID

We’ve had plenty of blue-sky stories telling us that the voter ID law has been no big deal. A few provisional ballots and some number of affidavits, sure, but everyone who’s wanted to vote has been able to vote, right? Sure, as long as they had one of the accepted forms of ID. But what about the people who don’t have them?

Gracie Sills is one such person. Here’s her story.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The “secondary identification” category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of.

As fortune would have it, my daughter Graciela Sills was born in Austin, Texas on Nov. 5, 1995. She thus became a 2013 voting baby, qualified by virtue of turning 18 on the very day of the first statewide election under the controversial Texas “voter ID” law.

Guided by a well-meaning Dad who participates in Texas politics as part of his living, my daughter’s first adult experience at a polling place was to get rejected.

It’s an off-year election, but Gracie was excited about getting her voice heard on constitutional amendments, local housing bonds and a special election in Texas House District 50. She also wanted to vote early for an arcane reason – to take advantage of a rare chance to start exercising the franchise legally at age 17.

In Texas, you can’t register to vote until you are within 60 days of your 18th birthday, so the window for registering in Gracie’s circumstances was as short as it gets. My boss, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, personally and with much delight handed Gracie the voter registration card that she used to mail in the application. The Secretary of State’s web site showed Gracie registered by early October, and a voter registration card arrived well ahead of early voting.

Like a growing number in her generation, Gracie decided to put off getting a driver license. Her reasoning: It takes a lot less road time to get the license after one turns 18. My suspicion: The idea of spending 30 or 40 hours being drilled on the fine points of three-point turns and parallel parks by her parents didn’t appeal to her. While the actuaries may have to take my daughter into account when setting auto insurance rates in the future, the relevant fact is that Gracie lacks the most common form of identification needed to vote.

We went to vote early as a family on Saturday, however, bringing Gracie’s passport instead, which we knew was a legitimate form of ID under the Texas “voter ID” law. To our horror, we discovered that unlike adult passports that last a decade, passports that are obtained by children when they are less than 16 are good only for five years. Gracie’s had expired in July.

My daughter didn’t have a valid photo ID for voting purposes. No driver license. No personal ID card from the Department of Public Safety. No U.S. citizenship certificate. No passport. No concealed handgun license. No military identification. The photo ID card from school was useless.

Gracie did eventually get one of the free DPS voter ID cards. Lots of Americans her age are deferring getting their drivers license. Driving is expensive, and in case you haven’t noticed the economy has been especially rough on the millennial set. Plus, a lot of them are more environmentally conscious than the rest of of us are, and would rather walk, bike, or take public transit. Why should anyone have to drive in order to vote? If the Lege had allowed student IDs to be used for voter ID, it would solve the problem for a lot of folks like Gracie. But they didn’t.

Older folks also have problems with voter ID, for the same reason – not having a drivers license. One such person is former Speaker Jim Wright.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he’s seeing happen under the state’s new voter ID law.

“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had — a Texas driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID — do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright’s birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

Older folks often give up or don’t renew their drivers licenses when it becomes too difficult or expensive for them to drive. Unlike someone Gracie’s age, they do have the option of voting by mail, which doesn’t require ID. But a lot of these folks have been voting for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and voting to them means going to the ballot box and casting a vote in person, like they have always done. Why shouldn’t they be able to do this?

Now, both of these stories have happy endings. Gracie Sills and Jim Wright were able to get the IDs they needed in time to vote. Good thing they decided to vote early – if they’d started out today, like many people will, they would have had to cast a provisional ballot, then go through the bother of trekking to their election administrator’s office to make their votes count. They’re also both politically connected people – Gracie is the daughter of AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills – who knew their rights and didn’t get discouraged along the way. How many people who are used to just showing up and voting won’t be so well placed? Maybe it won’t be that many today, but I bet it will be a lot more next year if this law is allowed to stand. All in the name of preventing something that basically never happens. Well, that’s the stated reason, anyway. We know what the real reason is. I feel confident saying that objective will be met.