Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Joan Huffman

Endorsement watch: Briones, Garcia, Garza

The Chron attempts to make some amends for their tortured endorsement of Judge Lina Hidalgo’s opponent by endorsing Lesley Briones for Commissioners Court in Precinct 4 over the incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle.

Lesley Briones

What do we want out of county government? Public safety. Roads. Flood control. The traditional core services of Commissioners Court must be carried out with integrity, focus and competency. But we also want more, particularly in a county where double-digit gaps in life expectancy exist between some neighborhoods. We think we can do better and we think can do both.

So does Lesley Briones, who represents the “yes and” candidate for Precinct 4.

Originally from Laredo, she became a lawyer and worked in litigation and tax law before eventually serving as a civil court judge here. Briones, 42, is bilingual and one of the few candidates we’ve seen whose website has a Spanish-language page.

Thanks to her professional experience, she has a good grasp of the nuances of the crime problem, many of which are particular to Harris County. She favors misdemeanor bail reform but also, as a crime victim herself, expressed an urgency during the Democratic primaries and, now, in the general election to addressing violent crime through smart, targeted efforts. She supports, for example, the micro-zone approach launched last year. And she noted that calls for more boots on the ground — a key platform among Republican candidates in local races this year — need to contend with the already funded but vacant positions in law enforcement agencies.

And while she has detailed plans for the basic services county government must provide, she is also supportive of the quality-of-life efforts we believe county government should pursue. Many of these, she said, can be aided through more strategic grant applications and philanthropic partnerships.

This kind of robust vision for county that doesn’t skimp on the core services but wants to leave things better than it found them is even more appealing because she promises to deliver it without partisan politics.

The incumbent has struggled to do that as of late.

Much of the rest is about Cagle’s failures, though they have more nice things to say about Briones at the end. They give Cagle no inch on his budget-preventing quorum breaking, noting how Cagle’s actions stand in contrast with his previous words. I’m never going to not be mad about their County Judge endorsement, but at least they got this right. My interview with Lesley Briones from the primary is here if you want to know more about her.

Over in Precinct 2, they endorse Commissioner Adrian Garcia for another term.

Adrian Garcia

To hear Adrian Garcia tell it, his first four years as a Harris County commissioner were a repudiation of his predecessor, Jack Morman.

Garcia, a Democrat, likes to say that he brought Precinct 2 — which encompasses Aldine and Northside, along with much of east Harris County, including Galena Park, Deer Park, Pasadena, La Porte and Baytown — “out of the stone age.”

Garcia claimed Morman, a Republican now running to reclaim his old seat, was tracking the precinct’s infrastructure projects in a red notebook with pencil and paper. Lower-income neighborhoods that Garcia claims were long neglected under Morman are safer, healthier and more vibrant with better sidewalks, hike-and-bike trails and parks. Parts of the county that for years were acutely vulnerable to flooding would now have first dibs on flood mitigation projects.

That narrative of rebalanced priorities certainly benefits Garcia politically; it also has some truth to it. Garcia, 61, former Houston police officer, city councilman and Harris County sheriff, has delivered on a number of the issues he ran on in 2018, from criminal justice reform to environmental justice to health care. Few would argue that his precinct is worse off than when he took office, and in some corners it is markedly better.

[…]

No, Garcia isn’t perfect. But even his detractors would acknowledge that he’s been effective. Morman’s personal style may be more agreeable, but his vision for the office lacks ambition. We want a county commissioner who will continue to use the levers of power to make their constituents’ lives tangibly better beyond fixing potholes and digging drainage ditches.

Voters should send Garcia back to Commissioners Court for another term.

I’ve seen more ringing endorsements, but I’ll take it. The editorial board really has a burr in their saddle about the redistricting of Commissioners Court, for which they ding Garcia, and I just have no patience with the argument that Democrats need to be angels about that while Republicans are actively working to completely repeal the Voting Rights Act. When the Legislature, and Congressional Republicans, and especially the cabal on SCOTUS, make even a small step in the direction of actual fairness and equity and racial equality, then I’ll be willing to hear those complaints. Until then, please spare me. My interview with Commissioner Garcia is here.

The third spoke in the Sunday trifecta is Rochelle Garza for Attorney General, because no decent person supports a repeat and unredeemed criminal for elected office.

Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza, Democratic candidate for attorney general, may or not enjoy a good joke. Although we see her smiling and laughing in photos and newsreels, we didn’t ask her that question when she visited with the Chronicle editorial board a few days ago. If she happens to be a connoisseur of jokes, we have one she might appreciate:

A lawyer walks into the HR department of a major law firm. Filling out a job application, he includes the following information on his resumé:

Under felony indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges; trial postponed repeatedly (although under order from a judge to sit for a deposition in the case next month)*** Under FBI investigation for assisting a real estate developer who allegedly hired a woman with whom he, the applicant, was having an extra-marital affair*** Is being sued by four former top aides in the office he now heads; they claim they were fired in violation of the state’s whistleblower protection law for reporting their boss’ potential crimes to the FBI*** Instigated a frivolous lawsuit seeking to throw out 2020 presidential election votes in states where he did not reside or represent; court laughter ensued*** Faces court sanctions from the state ethics association for peddling false claims about 2020 voter fraud*** Was warm-up act for former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021,“Stop the Steal” rally*** Recently headed major investigation into human trafficking and child sexual assault; rank incompetence wrecked investigation*** Vacancies abound in his sprawling office; can’t seem to find attorneys eager to work for him.

A job applicant with such a resume would be laughed out of any law firm in the land, any corporation with a legal department, any government agency. We Texans, though, have elected such a man as our attorney general — not once, but twice and some among us want to make it three times. Ken Paxton is his name. As long as he remains in office, the joke’s on us.

You get the idea. My interview with Rochelle Garza is here. You know what to do.

Also in the endorsement bucket: Ginny Brown Daniel for HD150 over her wingnut incumbent opponent, and Sen. Joan Huffman for re-election in SD17. Note what they say about Huffman’s role in redistricting at the state level this cycle, and compare it to their words about redistricting in Harris County. See what I mean?

The only constant is change

This DMN story is about the wave of changes to the various legislative caucuses in North Dallas, but if you pull the lens back just a little, you can see how universal it is.

Proponents of term limits complain that elected lawmakers often overstay their welcome.

That’s not the case these days in the Texas House, where turnover is occurring across the state. In North Texas, the 2022 elections could bring an array of new faces to the House and Senate.

When the Legislature convenes in 2023, there will be eight new members of the House. And a new senator will replace the retiring Jane Nelson of Denton County. Statewide, 28 House lawmakers have retired or left their seats to run or another office. Five senators are not running for reelection, including several moderate Republicans, including Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.

The story goes on to list the folks from the Metroplex – mostly Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties – who are retiring or running for another office in 2022, and it’s a long list. But as we’ve discussed, there’s always a fair amount of turnover following a redistricting year, and there’s a lot more natural turnover in elected office than you might think.

My case in point: Here’s your list of federal and state election winners in 2012 from Harris County. Following the 2022 election, this is how many new names there will be:

– Six of nine members of Congress are gone, with only Reps. Al Green, Mike McCaul, and Sheila Jackson Lee remaining.
– All three SBOE members will be gone, as Lawrence Allen is running for HD26 this March.
– At least six out of eight members of the State Senate will be gone, with only Sens. Whitmire and Huffman still on the ballot. To be sure, two of those people are now statewide office holders, and one is on Commissioners Court, but this is about turnover. All three of their seats are now held by someone else.
– At least sixteen of the 24 State House members will be gone. Only Reps. Alma Allen, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Hubert Vo are on the ballot.

If you want to take it one step further, note that four out of five members of Commissioners Court are gone, with the fifth (Jack Cagle) likely to be voted out this November. All holders of executive office, all members of the HCDE Board of Trustees, and nearly every District Court judge is new since then as well.

To be sure, some of the holdovers have been there for a long time. My point is that they’re a pretty rare exception, and that the norm is for most legislators to serve a couple of terms and then either lose an election or move on to something else, which may be another political office and may be something outside of electoral politics. This is one of the many reasons why I disdain term limits. Our very real lived experience shows that they are not necessary.

The flip side of this, as a companion story notes, is that turnover means that a fair amount of legislative and subject matters knowledge goes away when a veteran lawmaker moves on, voluntarily or otherwise. But that’s life, and as someone who has been in the corporate world for a couple of decades, I can tell you that the world will keep spinning. New people will get their chance, and generally speaking they’ll be fine, even if they do things differently.

Now if you want to complain that the kind of Republicans being elected these days in place of the Jane Nelsons and Larry Taylors and Kel Seligers and so forth are a couple of notches below them in terms of knowledge, seriousness, deportment, and a whole host of other qualities, you’ll get no argument from me. That’s a different problem, and it’s going to take both the election of more Democrats and a return to something approaching sanity and respect for democracy among Republicans as a whole to solve it.

The SD10 redistricting lawsuit gets off to a rousing start

I did not see this coming.

Sen. Beverly Powell

In a sworn declaration submitted as part of an ongoing federal court challenge, a senior Republican state senator with redistricting experience said he believes his party violated federal voting laws when it drew new boundaries for state Senate District 10 in the Fort Worth area.

“Having participated in the 2011 and 2013 Senate Select Redistricting Committee proceedings, and having read the prior federal court decision regarding SD10, it was obvious to me that the renewed effort to dismantle SD 10 violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution,” state Sen. Kel Seliger said in a declaration signed in November.

The statement from the Amarillo Republican emerged this week as part of a dayslong hearing before a three-judge panel considering a lawsuit that claims the district was intentionally reconfigured to discriminate against voters of color in Tarrant County.

[…]

Seliger chaired the Senate’s redistricting committee last decade, redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census when a similar attempt to reshape the district was found to be discriminatory. A federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled in 2012 that lawmakers had discriminated against voters of color in dismantling the district and cracking apart their communities. As a result, the Legislature went back to restore the district’s configuration.

Seliger affirmed his declaration in a video deposition taken earlier this month — portions of which were played in open court in El Paso this week — during which he also said that “pretextual reasons” were given for how political boundaries were decided during the 2021 redistricting process.

Seliger pointed to the redrawing of his own district in the Texas Panhandle as an example. The district was reconfigured so that it lost several counties from the region while picking up about a dozen on the southern end of the district, closer to Midland, from where Seliger had picked up a primary challenger. He ultimately decided against seeking reelection.

[…]

On Wednesday, Seliger told The Texas Tribune that his statement about the illegality of SD-10 was “more of a concern than it was an assertion” of whether there was a violation.

“When you draw a map that essentially takes out minorities or, in what was more the point, take out the chance that there would ever be a Democrat elected there, was there a violation?” Seliger said. “It’s not an assertion on my part because I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but that was my concern about Sen. Powell’s district — to take that district and completely change it and it still marginalized minorities in that district.”

He added that there was a “context” surrounding the drawing of SD-10 — even as Huffman asserted she had not paid any attention to racial data in drawing its boundaries — that requires lawmakers to consider race.

“The Voting Rights Act says if you can create a district in which a historically marginalized minority can elect a candidate of their choice, you must draw that district,” Seliger said. “You start with that principle in every single district.”

See here for the background. Basically, he’s saying that the Republicans did the same things that they did ten years ago that were cited as illegal under the Voting Rights Act by a federal court in 2012. That’s a strong argument that the district as drawn now is also illegal, though it’s hardly conclusive. The previous lawsuit was settled rather than taken to a verdict, so the state will probably just argue now that they shouldn’t have settled then. It’s a good and unexpected (for me, anyway) start for the plaintiffs, who for now are just trying to get something like the old district restored for the 2022 election, but we haven’t heard from the state yet.

More from the hearing:

Two of Tarrant County’s local elected officials testified Tuesday that new political maps passed by Republicans in the Texas Legislature will dilute the voting power of minority voters in a Fort Worth state senate district.

The testimony from Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio Leon and County Commissioner Charles Brooks came during a hearing in El Paso in one of several challenges against the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew political maps following the 2020 U.S. Census.

And although this week’s hearing is limited in scope — it pertains to one state senate district in North Texas — attorneys said testimony could foretell what is to come later this year when a slew of other redistricting challenges are heard in a consolidated redistricting lawsuit.

[…]

During testimony Tuesday in El Paso, De Leon said much of his Precinct 5 was originally in Senate District 10 before redistricting. But now, the Senate District has been split in two. This has shifted some Black and Hispanic voters — formerly in the northern part of his precinct — into a Senate District with more Anglo voters. Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic voters in the southern part of his precinct are grouped with rural white voters.

“They’ll have zero impact” on upcoming races, DeLeon said.

Brooks, who was first elected as a county commissioner in 2004, said redistricting has grouped Black and Hispanic voters with Anglo residents who do not share the same values.

“Their voices will be greatly diminished to the point of not being heard and effective in getting their points of view across,” he said, adding that his precinct is about 60% Democrats and 40% Republicans. But Tarrant County generally tends to vote Republican, he said.

Not quite as much any more. If these plaintiffs can get a favorable ruling, then that is probably a good sign for the others, though of course there are no guarantees and SCOTUS remains hostile to voting rights. If these plaintiffs can’t get anywhere, it’s hard to see how any of the others will fare better. If nothing else, we should have an answer quickly. Spectrum News has more.

What does “race blind” redistricting even mean?

Good question.

In states like Texas and North Carolina, Republican lawmakers in charge of redrawing the political maps for the next decade say that the new plans are “race blind.” Their opponents in court say that the claim is implausible and one that, in some situations, is at odds with the Voting Rights Act.

Several lawsuits, including from the Justice Department, allege that the maps drawn after the 2020 census discriminate against voters of color.

Between a 2013 Supreme Court decision that scaled back the federal government’s role in monitoring redistricting and a 2019 ruling that said partisan gerrymanders could not be challenged in federal court, voting rights advocates have been left with fewer tools to address what they say are unfair and illegal redistricting plans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the states where the redistricting legal fights have been most pitched have adopted an approach that claims that racial data played no role as they drew the maps for the next 10 years. Legislators say they’re avoiding the use of race data after decades of litigation where they’ve been accused of unconstitutionally relying on race to gerrymander.

“I don’t view this as a serious legal defense, but more of a PR defense,” said Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas lawmakers over their new maps.

Challengers to the maps say that such an assertion of “race blind” maps is dubious as well as a betrayal of states’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in redistricting. The law requires that in some circumstances, map-makers must draw plans in a way that creates minority-majority districts where voters can elect the candidates of their choice. In lawsuits alleging a failure to comply with the law, states like Texas have been accused of drawing maps that instead dilute the votes of communities of color.

Legislators may be trying to “immunize” themselves from most of the claims that are used in court to strike down redistricting maps, according to Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor and redistricting expert.

“By saying race was not in the minds of the people who drew the lines, you potentially get out of those constitutional causes action that you are intentionally diluting the vote of racial minorities or that race was the predominant factor in the construction of a district,” Persily told CNN, adding that such an approach doesn’t shield map-drawers from cases alleging Voting Rights Act violations.

Lawmakers’ description of maps as “race blind” is both “political rhetoric” and “test case rhetoric,” said Ben Ginsberg, a former Republican redistricting lawyer who is not involved in the current lawsuits. “But still, the standard is you can’t dilute minority voting power and minority opportunity to vote for their candidates of choice. And by not using race data they run the risk of being found to have diluted minority voting strength from what’s in the current map.”

[…]

In tension with legislators’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act are the limits the Constitution — under Supreme Court precedent — put on the use of race in redistricting.

The Supreme Court has said, via the 1993 decision in Shaw v. Reno, that use of race as a sole factor in drawing districts unconstitutional in most circumstances. However, the Voting Rights Act presents the sort of compelling government interest that allows for race to be considered.

Jason Torchinsky — a Republican election lawyer who has defended North Carolina legislators in redistricting cases in the past, but is not involved in the current cases in North Carolina or Texas– told CNN that map-drawers have to walk the line between their VRA obligations and not running afoul of the Constitution.

“Legislatures have to use very localized data to determine if they are required to draw [Voting Rights Act] Section 2 districts,” Torchinsky said. “If they are, then they have to consider race in those parts of the states because they’re required to under the Voting Rights Act.” But when states aren’t required to draw VRA districts, Torchinsky said, the use of race could pose a potential Constitutional problem.

I mean, if SCOTUS hadn’t killed preclearance back in 2013, we wouldn’t be having most of this debate right now, because none of these extreme maps would have seen the light of day. The claim at the time that we didn’t need preclearance any more because racial discrimination was a thing of the past was ludicrous then and is beyond obscene now. The 2019 ruling that said SCOTUS was unable to deal with partisan gerrymandering claims, even as the lower courts had no trouble adjudicating them, was cowardly and shameful. Of course, we do have what could be a pretty good answer to all that sitting on the Senate agenda, if we can somehow manage to convince two loathsome Senators that American democracy is a bigger concern than arcane and anti-democratic Senate rules. Until then, the only thing you can count on is that something is legal if SCOTUS says it is, no more and no less. And down the rabbit hole we go.

I think we are going to have a regular March primary

This happened in the second special session, after the Dems came back from Washington DC.

Senate Bill 13, from Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), has been sent to Governor Greg Abbott after being approved by the House and Senate this week.

The bill gives the Secretary of State the authority to change the dates of the primary election and any runoff election, along with related dates for candidate filings, depending on when a redistricting plan is finalized.

If the bill is signed into law, it would keep all current primary election and associated administrative dates the same, as long as a redistricting plan is completed by November 15th. This would set a primary date of March 1, 2022 and a runoff of May 24, 2022, with candidate filing taking place between November 29th and December 13th.

However, if a redistricting plan is not finished by November 15th, but is completed before December 28th, the primary election would be delayed to April 5, 2022 and the runoff would shift to June 21, 2022. Candidate filing would occur from January 10-24, 2022.

If the redistricting plan is not completed until after December 28th but before February 7, 2022, the primary would move to May 24, 2022, while the runoff would be pushed back to July 26, 2022. Candidates would be able to file between February 21 and March 7, 2022.

There was a bill to do this in the regular session that passed the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House. As you may have noticed, all of the redistricting bills have been passed, and they await Greg Abbott’s signature, which I assume will happen shortly. Given that it’s not even November yet, we’re in plenty of time for that deadline. So, barring a court ruling that puts those maps on hold, I assume that the filing season will begin on November 15 as usual, with the primaries to follow in March. I haven’t seen any news stories to confirm this, perhaps because everyone had been assuming this all along, but we very much could have had delayed primaries, so I wanted to make note of this. If you have some reason to think otherwise, let us know in the comments.

Congressional map passes

And so the work is done. The lawyers are warming up their engines as we speak.

The Texas Legislature has signed off on new congressional districts that shore up the GOP’s dominance and yield little ground to the people of color who have driven the state’s growth.

Wrapping up their work to build a decade of population change into new political maps, the Senate and House on Monday each approved a negotiated, final version of the congressional map, which will go to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. In complete control of the redistricting process, Republicans designed a map that will tighten their hold on diversifying parts of the state where the party’s grip on power was waning and lock in the GOP’s majority in the 38-seat delegation for the U.S. House.

The map also incorporates two additional House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment. Though Texas received those districts because of explosive population growth — 95% of it attributable to people of color — Republicans opted to give white voters effective control of both, which were drawn in the Houston and Austin areas.

The Senate approved the map on a 18-13 vote. The House followed with an 84-59 vote.

Previewing the legal battles that will follow, Democrats decried the lack of adequate representation for voters of color, shunning a map that diminishes their voices instead of reflecting the state’s changing racial and demographic makeup. Half of the 4 million residents the state gained in the past 10 years were Hispanic.

“What we’re doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas. What we’re doing is hurtful to millions of Texans — it’s shameful,” state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, told his colleagues before the vote. “I’d love to be able to say it is a stain on the legacy of voting rights, but that seems to be the playbook decade after decade after decade in this state.”

The Republicans who led the redistricting process offered little defense of the maps from the Senate and House floors before the final votes. They have previously said the congressional map was drafted based on a series of “priorities,” including partisanship and keeping communities of interest together. They’ve also argued the map complies with federal laws protecting voters of color from discrimination, though they have declined to offer specifics about their legal analysis.

[…]

Republicans placed a new district, the 37th Congressional District, in the Austin area to capture Democratic-leaning voters that were endangering the prospects of Republican incumbents in nearby districts. They also drew in a new district, the 38th Congressional District, that would offer Republicans safe territory in the Houston area. In both districts, white residents would make up more than 60% of eligible voters.

During the Senate’s first debate over the map earlier this month, state Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who led the Senate’s redistricting process, told her colleagues her team had seen “no strong basis in evidence” to create a new opportunity district for voters of color.

Like I said, the lawyers are ready. You can see the map here. As the story notes, one significant change was to undo the scrambling of CDs 09, 18, and 29 that left Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green living in different districts. They got what they asked for, and in the process they put most of my neighborhood, including myself, back into CD18. You should check and see where you wound up.

I don’t have much more to say about the maps at this time. I’ll keep a lookout for electoral data when it becomes readily available, and of course I’ll keep an eye on the inevitable litigation. In the meantime, the big question is are we finally done with all this crap?

Early Tuesday morning, both the House and Senate adjourned the third special session of the year, capping a grueling stretch that featured a weekslong Democratic walkout over the GOP’s priority elections bill and a series of proposals to build on what was already a triumphant regular session for conservatives.

But the latest special session ended without lawmakers passing two of Abbott’s priorities — legislation to increase an illegal voting penalty and to ban vaccine mandates by any entity in Texas.

In each of the previous three legislative sessions this year, Abbott was firm that he would keep calling lawmakers back to Austin until they addressed the legislation he required of them — most notably the GOP elections bill and changes to the bail system targeting violent offenders. He placed a bill targeting transgender student athletes on each of the three special session agendas, until it was finally passed in the most recent session.

On Monday night, as the chambers were nearing sine die, Abbott declined to say whether a fourth special session would be necessary. He also did not say anything Tuesday about the possibility, but he did issue a statement applauding lawmakers for their work in the third special session that suggested he was satisfied with what they had gotten done.

“These dynamic achievements would not have been possible without the men and women of the Texas House and Senate who worked tirelessly through the third Special Session to ensure these priorities made it across the finish line,” he said. “Because of their efforts, the future of Texas is stronger, safer, and freer.”

But the unfinished bills are fraught with intraparty politics, and could expose Abbott to attacks from his right, which he has been increasingly attuned to as he prepares for his 2022 reelection campaign.

Some lawmakers expect there to be a fourth special session, but not in the short term — and maybe closer to primary season.

May the Lord have mercy on us all. At least we know that the remaining items Abbott might want are more contentious among Republicans, and that may act as a brake on them. But man, do I never want to have to depend on Republicans doing the thing that I want them to do, because that trick never works. The Chron has more.

Down to the wire for Congressional redistricting

Time is running out in this session. Of course, there’s always the next session shudder.

A redraw of the state’s congressional map to include a decade of population growth could be headed to last-minute backdoor negotiations after the Texas House made a series of changes to the Senate’s proposed boundaries.

The House approved the congressional map on a 79-56 vote early Sunday, leaving in place district configurations that largely protect incumbents while denying Hispanics control of either of the two additional seats the state earned based on the 4 million new residents it gained, according to 2020 census results. Half of the new residents were Hispanic.

But the House late Saturday tweaked the Senate-approved map so that two Black Democratic members of Congress in the Houston area would not be pitted against each other. The chamber also amended the map to just barely restore the Hispanic-majority electorate of a Central Texas district stretching from Austin to San Antonio that the Senate plan had shrunk.

Early Sunday morning, the Senate rejected those changes and requested what’s known as a conference committee, made up of members of both chambers, to hash out the differences. That deal would require an additional vote by each chamber before this third special session ends Tuesday.

[…]

Throughout the evening, Democrats warned of “blatant legal defects” that undermine the electoral strength of voters of color in choosing their representatives in Washington, D.C. At times offering vague reasoning for their opposition, the House’s Republican majority repeatedly rejected their bids to rework the map and create additional districts in which voters of color could control elections.

A failed proposal to create such a district for Hispanics in western Dallas County grew particularly contentious as state Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, spoke against the proposal, noting it would reduce the Hispanic population in a neighboring Democratic district.

In response, state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who had offered the proposal, questioned why Republicans would object to the new district while signing off on a configuration that instead draws some of those Hispanics into a massive rural district with almost surgical precision.

Under the plan Republicans approved, the 6th Congressional District — which stretches across seven mostly white rural counties to the south of Dallas — extends a finger northward into Dallas County to capture Hispanic neighborhoods. That engineering simultaneously boosts white voters’ control of the district while stranding Hispanic voters who in the past were concentrated enough to influence election outcomes.

“You really have to try hard to deny Latinos in North Texas the ability to select that candidate of their choice, but that’s what’s baked in this plan,” Anchía said.

[…]

In reconfiguring the Austin-area districts, the Senate had brought the share of Hispanic eligible voters in the 35th Congressional District down from 52.6% to 48%. House Republicans voted to give Hispanic voters a marginal majority by bringing them up to 50.5% of eligible voters in the district, which is currently represented by longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

In that same amendment, Republicans also upped the percentage of Hispanic eligible voters to exactly 50% in CD-27, a district that runs from the Gulf Coast up to Central Texas. But the seat would likely remain under Republican control, giving Donald Trump a hypothetical 20.5-percentage-point margin of victory at 2020 levels of support. The district is currently represented by Republican Michael Cloud of Victoria.

Democrats voted against those changes because they also served to further boost Republican performance in neighboring CD-15, which is anchored in Hidalgo County. The Senate reconfigured that district to flip it from one that Joe Biden narrowly carried to one that Trump would’ve won by 2.6 percentage points. Under the House’s changes, Trump’s margin of victory increases to 4.6 percentage points.

The CD-15 incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, has said he would move to run for reelection in the reconfigured CD-34, which was unexpectedly close in 2020 but was shored up as a safe Democratic seat. But it appears he will be able to stay put, thanks to a Democratic amendment passed Saturday that would draw his residence into CD-34.

Save for exceptions like CD-15, the GOP appeared to prioritize incumbent protection over aggressively running up the party’s numbers in the congressional delegation. But the map does in fact give Republicans a bigger edge, increasing from 22 to 25 the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The state’s current delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

See here and here for the background. I expect that the conference committee will produce a final map that will get approved in time, which would at least have the benefit of lessening the need for yet another special session. That’s all up to Greg Abbott of course, and if there’s some other dumbass wingnut thing he wants to do to fake looking tough for Republican primary voters, he can do it. Having Congressional maps in place would mean he doesn’t have to, for whatever that’s worth. This map is trash, but we know the courts will rubber stamp it, so the Republicans have no need to care. Pass it and get out of town, it’s the best we can hope for.

The Lege is now 3/4 done with redistricting

All but the Congressional maps are done. They’re just plowing through it.

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of its work to incorporate a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps — pressing forward with efforts to cement GOP dominance of the statehouse and deny voters of color a greater say in who gets elected.

In the final stretch of a 30-day special legislative session, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on Friday almost simultaneously signed off on new political maps for the opposite chamber, sending them to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, for his signature. The votes were largely procedural as neither chamber made any changes. It’s customary for each chamber to defer to the other in drawing up maps for its own members, but both must give them a vote.

By a vote of 81-60, the House granted approval to a Senate map that would draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.

The Senate gave an 18-13 vote to a House map that would fortify the Republican majority of the 150 districts, bolstering those that had grown competitive over the last decade and devising new battleground districts.

The House also signed off on a new map for the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, which sets standards for Texas public schools. Still left on the docket is a House vote on a redraw of the state’s congressional map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. That vote is expected Saturday.

If adopted, the maps could remain in place for the next 10 years, though it’s all but certain that they will face legal challenges that could result in changes.

[…]

Sixteen Republican incumbents will be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats would also likely lose Senate District 10 in North Texas, represented by Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth. That would shift the Senate’s partisan makeup from the current 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats under the proposed map.

Voters of color in the district, which sits entirely in Tarrant County, have banded together with white voters over the last decade to elect their candidates of choice. Its eligible voters are 21% Black, 20% Hispanic and 54% white.

But under the proposed map, SD 10’s Black and Hispanic populations are split into two other districts with majority-white electorates.

The voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10 would also see major changes. Black and Hispanic voters in urban areas of south Fort Worth would be lumped in with seven rural counties to the south and west that would drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters to 62% while diminishing its population of voters of color.

Tarrant County House Democrats warned that federal courts had ruled that a similar attempt to redraw the district last decade was discriminatory. They offered multiple amendments to keep District 10 entirely in the county.

[…]

The House’s new map also pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The map moved through the Senate chamber without any discussion, save for an earlier objection from state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, during a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday morning.

Lucio denounced a revision to the map that would carve up predominantly Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley in service of creating a new competitive House district in the typically blue region. The change, forced by a member who does not represent the affected districts, blindsided the House members from the area.

“Members, this is my fourth redistricting session,” Lucio told other members of the committee. “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

Meanwhile, Republicans shot down Democratic proposals to create new opportunities for Hispanic or Black Texans to control elections.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican serving as the House’s chief map-drawer, has previously argued the map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas” while complying with federal law.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

The House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump at 2020 levels of support and 65 that would have voted for Biden. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current districts in 2020.

See here and here for some background. The speed with which these maps have been approved is I believe one part there being basically no changes proposed in the other chamber, and one part a sense of urgency on the legislators’ part to get the hell out of town already. I can hardly blame them for that, but in the end it’s up to Greg Abbott.

On the subject of litigation over these maps, on claims of racial discrimination and voting rights violations, I remain pessimistic about the likelihood of any redress from the courts. Not because I think the maps are fair and accurately reflect the population, but because I have no expectation that this Supreme Court will countenance any voting rights claims. We could still do something about that at a federal level, but until Senators Manchin and Sinema let go of their bizarre obsession with the filibuster as it is currently defined, that ain’t going anywhere.

That said, I am reasonably optimistic about the potential for gains in the State House, if not in 2022 then in the coming years. The Chron story on the passage of these maps is a reminder of why.

The new Texas House map will protect Republican control by shedding Democratic-leaning areas where the party has lost support and moving those to blue districts while shoring up red ones.

That give-and-take is evident in west Harris County where two red districts, represented by Republican state Reps. Mike Schofield of Katy and Lacey Hull of Houston, are redrawn to include red-leaning precincts from Democratic state Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s nearby district; Rosenthal’s district will get blue-leaning areas now represented by the two Republicans.

As the state’s demographics change, however, there are only so many reliably red areas from which to pull. That meant for some districts, the best Republicans could do was make changes to benefit incumbents.

For example, the Energy Corridor district represented by state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican who is not seeking re-election, would give up some GOP precincts to Hull. Former President Donald Trump won Murphy’s district by 4 percentage points in 2020, but under the new map, that margin would drop to 2 points.

You’ve seen me make a version of this argument in previous posts. In the House, unlike the other maps, the Republicans were constrained by the county rule, which did not allow them to extend mostly rural districts into urban and suburban counties to dilute their Democratic communities. That forced them to draw a large number of districts with a relatively modest margin for Donald Trump, and the large majority of them are in counties where the trends have been moving strongly in a Democratic direction. Things can certainly change, and any given election can favor one party or the other, but overall that seems like a highly unstable equilibrium for the GOP.

The fourth map is of course the Congressional map. The Senate approved a map a few days ago, and the House committee approved it with no changes, as House Redistricting Chair Todd Hunter insisted that any amendments be made on the House floor. That puts them in position to be done with the entire business by the time the session ends, though I expect there to be a big fight when this map comes up for debate. The proposed map does some truly outlandish things to break up urban counties and communities of color, which I’m sure will draw a ton of heat and more threats of litigation from Dems. I expect them to get the job done, though if there are changes it will have to go back to the Senate for final approval. If it needs to go to a conference committee, that will almost surely require a fourth special session to finish it off. God help us all. Daily Kos has more.

Senate passes Congressional map

Start the litigation countdown. Yes, I know, this still has to pass the House, but still.

The Texas Senate approved a map Friday that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters — stymieing the growth of the state’s Democratic Party representation in Washington, D.C.

The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from blue to red. But the map, proposed by GOP state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.

In anticipation of federal challenges to the map, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the Senate, said in a statement Friday that the proposal approved by the chamber was “legal and fair” and represented a “commitment to making sure every Texan’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C.”

[…]

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.

But Republicans rejected the proposal, with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate’s vote on the maps and would result in a “detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander” in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic-majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.

“How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy.”

Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in the congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.

The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 although the state’s white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.

See here for more on the initial map, which looks to be largely the same as the final map. Which we know is totally fair and representative because Dan Patrick says it is. The House will likely make some changes, but it seems unlikely to be substantively different. I’ll say this much, they’ve given Harris County Democrats a new district to target, and I feel confident that any Republican who wins the new CD38 is never going to get a free pass. I’ll be interested to see who files for this on the Democratic side.

As for the coming litigation, the arguments are clear, it’s just a matter of what SCOTUS will allow in the post-Voting Rights Act world that it wants. I will say again, it’s not too late for a new Voting Rights Act to be passed. We’re going to need an upgrade in the US Senate to make that happen, I fear.

Speaking of litigation, I would love to know what the status of the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit is. That had to do with the legislative maps, not the Congressional map, but given the speed with which those maps are moving along, we will be reaching a point of no return soon. Let’s at least have a hearing on this one before events make it moot, OK?

UPDATE: I should have spent more time looking at the District Viewer, because I have just now realized that this map moves me out of CD18, where I’ve been for 30 years, and into CD29. I feel a little weird about that.

Senate approves its map

They wasted no time, which is another way of saying that they didn’t bother giving anyone else much time to provide input or feedback.

Definitely protecting herself

The Texas Senate has approved a new political map for its own members that would entrench Republican dominance in the chamber for the next 10 years, even as Democrats argued the changes do not reflect the interests of people of color in the state who have fueled Texas’ growth over the last decade.

The proposal, put forth by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was approved late Monday by a vote of 20-11 and would draw safe districts for GOP incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified in recent years and started voting for more Democrats.

Sixteen Republican incumbents would be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

At the same time, Huffman’s proposal added no additional districts where people of color would represent a majority of the district’s eligible voters, even as Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans drove 95% of the state’s growth since the last census. Hispanics, in particular, were responsible for half of the increase of nearly 4 million people in the state’s population and now nearly match the number of white Texans in the state.

The state currently has 21 districts where the majority of eligible voters are white, seven with Hispanic majorities, one where Black residents are in the majority and two where no racial group makes up more than half of the total.

“The maps that are being proposed are not an accurate reflection of the growth of Texas,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who leads the Senate Hispanic Caucus. “Without any changes to this current map, the state of Texas could potentially go 30 years, think about that, three decades, without having added a Hispanic or Latino opportunity district.”

Menéndez proposed a map that he crafted with civil rights organizations to add one district in North Texas where Hispanics would make up the majority of eligible voters and be poised to select their preferred candidate. Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in Dallas County. That proposal was rejected.

Upon pushback from Democratic senators, Huffman insisted that she’d drawn the maps “blind to race.”

“I have followed the law, I have drawn blind to race, I believe the maps I’ve drawn are compliant under the Voting Rights Act,” she said.

See here and here for the background. I’m sure Sen. Huffman would like you to believe what she said – she may even believe it herself – but the odds that one could reduce the number of Hispanic opportunity districts after a decade in which half the population growth was driven by that community without having a clear idea of what one was doing and why are just really small. If there’s one thing I trust about the Republicans in this process, it’s that they know what they’re doing. They might be blinkered by longer-term demographic changes – the 2011 map was supposed to be a 20-11 Republican map, as this one is supposed to be 19-12 – but there’s nothing blind about their actions. Their eyes are wide open.

Speaking of 20-11:

As Braddock notes elsewhere, redistricting is first and foremost “every person for themselves”, and the votes surely reflect that. There could have been a more aggressive gerrymander that might have made life more difficult for one of those three Democrats, but there wasn’t. And since this was going to pass anyway, this is what happens. The SBOE map was also approved by the Senate, with everyone paying about as much attention to it as I had expected. Both go to the House now, which is working on its own map.

More redistricting stuff

Just a roundup of some redistricting stories. We’ll start with the DMN.

The new map, part of a process of redrawing legislative boundaries every 10 years, makes significant changes in North Texas, where Democrats likely will gain a seat held by Republican Jeff Cason. The district would move to an area made up of mostly minority voters.

But the Republican proposal also adjusts the southern Denton County district represented by Democrat Michelle Beckley to make it more favorable for a GOP candidate. Beckley has opted to run for Congress in 2022 against Republican incumbent Beth Van Duyne in Congressional District 24.

Meanwhile, the North Dallas district represented by John Turner would move west and become a majority Hispanic district in Oak Cliff and Grand Prairie. Turner is retiring after his term ends, and had he stayed, he would have been paired with a Republican Morgan Meyer.

In North Texas, Republicans had the goal of protecting their incumbents who could be in trouble during the next decade. They made alterations that now have the Dallas County seats held by Republicans Angie Chen Button of Garland and Meyer, who lives in University Park. The new maps place them in areas won in 2020 by Donald Trump, but only at a 50% to 49% margin. Those districts will remain battlegrounds as Democrats try to make Dallas County a blue oasis.

Republicans bolstered their Tarrant County seats, except for the one held by Cason, which will become more Democratic. Cason also was one of only two Republicans who voted against House Speaker Dade Phelan in January. And they made the Collin County districts represented by GOP Reps. Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach stronger for a Republican, but as with the case in Dallas County, the Collin County seats will remain targets for Democrats.

“Republicans did their best to cement their majority and, from a partisan gerrymandering standpoint, they played this very smart,” said David de la Fuente, a senior policy analysts for the center-left group called Third Way. “They didn’t go overly aggressive for new pickup opportunities for themselves because they know that a lot of this growth that’s happening in Texas is growth that could benefit the Democratic Party, so they tried to stop losses more than anything else.”

[…]

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrats who represents District 100, which includes parts of southern and eastern Dallas County, as well as West Dallas, is upset that her district is slated to incur a radical drop in its Black population. Under the new maps, the number of voting age Black residents District 100 will drop from 34.6% to 27%. The white voting age population would increase from 22% to nearly 37%. Crockett’s voting age Hispanic population drops from 41% to 29%.

“They have taken the voice away from African Americans in my district and that’s a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” Crockett said. “They are spitting on the legacy of HD 100. They went too far.”

Most of the Black population lost by Crockett will be moved to the nearby District 104 that is represented by Dallas Democrat Jessica González. Her new constituents would include residents from the historic Joppa neighborhood, a community built by freed slaves. District 104 has largely changed, González said. The district now extends to Mesquite and Garland.

While she would pick up Black population from districts represented by Crockett and Rose, González said the number of eligible voters with Hispanic surnames would drop from over 50% to about 48%. That could be a Voting Rights Act violation, analysts say.

Crockett and González were vocal participants of the quorum break by House Democrats to stall a controversial elections bill.

“I’m not too shocked that it ended up being me they targeted,” Crockett said. “I kind of wear it as a badge of honor…It is still a safe Democratic seat, but partisan gerrymandering is legal and when you slice and dice communities of interests, you end up with a problem.”

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, would also have the Black population in her district sharply reduced, and she would lose Paul Quinn College. Rose’s district would see a drop in Black voting age population–from 34% to 26%. The Hispanic voting age population in the district would rise from 58% to 63%.

Black residents represented 25% of the growth in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Well, that answers my question about what Rep. Cason did to offend the redistricting gods. Gotta say, I was under the impression that doing what was done here to Rep. Crockett’s district was called “retrogression” and it was a no-no under the Voting Rights Act. It’s not clear to me if that slicing and dicing was done for strategic reasons or just out of spite. Wait for the lawsuits, I guess.

Here’s the Chronicle:

“The map gives Republicans a slight advantage,” said Ross Sherman of the advocacy group RepresentUs, which works with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to grade redistricting proposals. “This seems to be a trend this cycle: another map producing safe seats and insulating politicians from their constituents.”

The Gerrymandering Project gave the proposed House map a “C” in fairness for its GOP advantages. It’s the highest grade a Texas map has received so far, after proposals for congressional and state Senate maps earned “F” grades.

[…]

Speaking in general about the maps, GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser said the Republicans tried to “lock in the gains” they earned during the 2020 election, rather than “be too aggressive” and shift blue seats their way.

The House seats currently are divided almost equally between districts that favored Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. The current map includes 76 Trump-led districts and 74 Biden-led districts, but the new map shifts that support to 86 in favor of Trump and 64 in support of Biden.

Texas grew by roughly 4 million people over the past decade, a surge driven almost entirely by people of color, especially Latinos. Updating the political maps is required every 10 years, to account for such shifts.

Still, the proposed House map reduces the number of majority-minority districts by voting age population. Previously, 67 districts were majority-white; the new map proposes 72 districts that have mostly white voters.

Those numbers change dramatically when evaluating estimates for adult citizens. Using those figures, the House currently has 83 majority-white districts, compared with 89 under the new map. And while the current districts include 33 with Hispanic majorities and seven with Black majorities, those numbers would fall to 30 and four, respectively.

“These maps do nothing but preserve the status quo at the expense of Black and brown Texans,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Texas.

Same observation about the reduction of majority-minority districts. I mean, I get that the Voting Rights Act may as well be written on toilet paper with this Supreme Court, but it’s still theoretically the law of the land. The Republicans may have had more challenges with the State House districts because of the law that requires districts to be entirely within counties where possible, which prevented them from putting pieces of urban counties in the same district with rural counties, which was not the case for the Congress or State Senate maps. Again, I figure the lawyers will have a lot to say about all this when the dust settles.

Speaking of Congress:

In a strongly-worded letter, U.S. Reps Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green said they oppose the Republicans’ proposed redrawing of their districts and say they were not consulted before the map was released to the public.

The map “makes radical and unneeded changes to the two local congressional districts that include the majority of Black voters in Harris and Fort Bend counties,” the letter to the Texas Senate Redistricting committee states.

There are massive changes for Harris County in the congressional redistricting plan the Texas Senate released earlier this week. The county would still have nine members of Congress, but the district lines would be dramatically altered to improve the re-election chances of current Republicans and create a new congressional seat that appears to have been drafted to ensure another Republican would be elected to Congress.

The map would have a dramatic impact on the districts represented by Jackson Lee and Green, changing who represents 200,000 mostly Black residents.

Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District would not only lose the Third Ward, but also downtown Houston, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University — most of those areas would instead be shifted to the 29th Congressional District, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia.

And the Republican map would put Jackson Lee’s home in Riverside Terrace into Green’s 9th Congressional District, meaning she would not even be able to vote for herself unless she moved. It would also put Jackson Lee’s main district office for the 18th in Green’s district, forcing her to move it.

“No other member of the large Texas delegation is so severely impacted by the proposed map,” the letter notes, pointing out at Jackson Lee’s 18th Congressional District has roots that tie back to Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 became the first Black woman to represent Texas in Congress.

I said before that Reps. Green and Jackson Lee would easily win the new districts as drawn, but what was done to them is clearly an insult. For Sen. Huffman to claim that no one got in touch with her about the maps she was drawing is disingenuous, especially when she knows what effect those maps are going to have. You have the power, you have the responsibility. Spare me the whining.

More from the Statesman:

Nonwhite residents accounted for about 95% of the population growth that gave Texas two additional seats in the U.S. House.

Despite that, the number of predominantly Hispanic congressional districts in Texas would fall from eight to seven, while majority Anglo districts would rise from 22 to 23, in the Republican-drawn map unveiled this week, said Gloria Leal with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

[…]

“Toss-up seats, which presented an opportunity for Hispanics to elect candidates of choice, were cut from 12 to one,” Leal said. “This blatant attempt to increase partisanship in districts not only results in the suppression of minority votes, but it eliminates the opportunity for Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.”

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and chairwoman of the committee, said the map was drawn in a “color-blind way,” without taking into account the race of residents.

“We did not consider race in drawing the maps at all,” Huffman said. “Once we drew the maps, we provided them to our legal counsel … and we are advised that they were legally compliant” with the Voting Rights Act.

Michael Li, with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified that creating the map without regard to race is not enough to insulate it from legal challenges, particularly if lawmakers know about its adverse impact on nonwhite Texans.

Li said the proposed map raised several “red flags,” particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Black and Hispanic populations increased sharply in the past decade, yet no new districts were created to give nonwhite voters an opportunity to elect preferred candidates. At the same time, SB 6 would move a significant Latino population from a district held by U.S. Rep. Mark Veasy, D-Fort Worth, and into an Anglo majority district that includes seven rural counties, he said.

Li also questioned changes made to District 22 — centered on Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse suburban counties in America — where the voting age population would rise to 55% Anglo, up from the current 46%. Dismantling a district where rising numbers of Hispanic, Black and Asian voters were able to create voting coalitions “raises many red flags,” he said.

Have I mentioned that the lawyers are going to be busy? I don’t have much faith in the courts, but I believe in the lawyers.

Decision Desk:

Texas gained two Congressional districts through 2020 reapportionment. One district went into Austin, which the GOP previously divided between five Republican districts in 2010. All five ended up as marginal races by 2020. This new Democratic district releases pressure on the five seats allowing them to absorb Democratic voters from other parts of the state. The second new Congressional seat is roughly the successor to the old Seventh district in west Houston, with the new TX-07 traveling between Houston and her suburbs as a new, safe Democratic seat.

TX-03, TX-06, TX-07, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23, TX-24, TX-25, TX31, and TX-32 were all potential competitive seats in 2020. TX-15, TX-28, and TX-34 became competitive because of newfound Republican strength among South Texas Hispanics. All but one of the districts are now uncompetitive. Republican Districts gain more Republican voters, and the few Democratic held seats become more Democratic. All of the former Republican suburban seats reach deep into the rural and exurban areas and drop Democratic suburbs. Former rural and exurban seats – TX-04, TX-05, TX-08, TX-13, and TX-36 – reach deeper into the suburbs to carve up Democratic areas. The result is  districts with obtuse borders where the Democrats gained the most voters, such as the north Dallas suburbs with the new TX-04.

In South Texas, past voting rights litigation prevents Republican map-makers from exploiting recent party gains. The resulting districts resemble the present lines and stretch northwards, but the most GOP-favoring Hispanic areas are now congregated in TX-15 which makes it a potential swing district. O’Rourke did win this seat by over 10%, so the district will not be competitive if the 2020 results end up as a one-off occurrence.

Texas mappers still found ways to cater to their protected incumbents. In TX-10, Senior Republican Michael McCaul gets a district that squiggles narrowly around Austin from his neighborhood west of the city to rural Texas. New TX-06 Republican Jake Ellzey’s district takes in more rural areas where he is better known and loses Arlington Republican voters who backed Susan Wright during the 2021 Special Election. TX-25 previously did not include Republican Roger Williams’ base in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth. Now it does.

Republicans also released their proposed Legislative and Board of Education district maps, which can be viewed here. Biden in 2020 and O’Rourke in 2018 won a majority or a near-majority of districts on the former maps for these bodies, so Republican mappers were even more desperate to gerrymander these lines. Both maps protect incumbents in a similar manner to the Congressional plan with the rural and exurban areas reaching into the suburbs. The legislative plans however go beyond incumbent protection and each attempt to carve up a marginally Democratic seat in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. 

The desire to protect incumbents may end up dooming State House Republicans in future years. County nesting requirements prevented the GOP from linking the Republican dominated rural areas to the suburbs. By giving former Biden-District Republicans seats Trump won, other, formerly safe Republican seats needed to take in Democratic voters. Even more districts than previously become marginal districts that could potentially swing heavily away from the GOP.

Voting rights litigation is a constant factor in Texas redistricting. For example, plaintiffs forced Texas Republicans to draw the new Dallas-based TX-33 into a Hispanic Democratic seat in 2010 (initial 2010 map here). This new Congressional gerrymander disadvantages minority communities across the state, especially since nearly all of Texas’s recent growth came from minority groups. The proposed TX-23 is only 60% Hispanic compared to the 80% or higher in other South Texas seats, limiting minority opportunity. TX-27 has several majority Hispanic counties, including the city of Corpus Christi, inside a seat where White voters historically pick the representative. TX-38 could be a second, overwhelmingly Hispanic seat in the Houston area. TX-18 was previously an African American district, but is here majority Hispanic, an example of regression. Fort Worth minority voters are distributed between four Districts and there could be a fourth minority seat in the region. A majority-minority coalition seat can be drawn in the suburbs north of Dallas. Expect this criticism and more to potentially be levied in future court cases.

I suspect he means that only CD15 is competitive, but CD23 is only Trump+7, which seems competitive enough to me. I also think that over time several others will become more competitive as well, if these districts are allowed to go into effect as is. I’m sure there will be changes, and then of course the lawsuits, though as we well know they will take years to resolve. What we eventually get here is what we’re going to have for awhile. The Current and the Trib have more.

Initial Senate and SBOE maps approved by committee

Still a lot of changes likely to come.

A panel of lawmakers on Tuesday advanced draft maps of the Texas Senate and State Board of Education, sending both to the full upper chamber for further debate.

The maps, both authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who leads the Senate Special Redistricting Committee, will likely see further changes before the Legislature sends them to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for the signature. The initial drafts of both maps have so far attempted to strengthen Republican majorities by protecting incumbents and creating more GOP-friendly districts.

Senate Bill 4, the draft of the Senate’s 31 district map, was tweaked by lawmakers before the chamber’s redistricting committee approved it along a 12-2 vote.

One of the more notable changes, offered in amendments by Huffman, involved Senate District 10, which is represented by state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson. In the latest draft, the district — which is currently contained in Tarrant County and voted for President Joe Biden during the 2020 general election — was redrawn to include parts of the more conservative Parker and Johnson counties as well as other GOP-leaning surrounding areas in the state. The Senate’s first draft would have included parts of Tarrant County along with Parker and Johnson counties.

After that first draft was released, Powell argued that the proposed map would be “a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination.” At the time, Powell said the latest census data showed that her district’s population was already “nearly ideal” — but on Tuesday, Huffman said that neighboring districts had to also be accounted for before emphasizing that her proposals had been “drafted blind to racial data.”

Another change before Tuesday’s vote involved Senate Districts 22 and 23, which are represented by state Sens. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Royce West, D-Dallas, respectively. The amendment, authored by West but laid out by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would swap several precincts between the two districts, including some in Tarrant County from Senate District 22 to 23. Zaffirini said the move would keep both districts within the acceptable population deviation.

See here for the background on the Senate maps. You can see the initial map here and the committee substitute map that was approved here, with more data on the plan here. SD10, which as noted goes from having some of Tarrant plus all of Parker and Johnson to having some of Tarrant, some of Parker, all of Johnson and all of a few smaller counties west of there, is the main difference. As noted, the House still gets to have input – by tradition, each chamber gets first crack at its own map – so expect further changes.

In addition, there may be some complaints from unexpected places.

Montgomery County commissioners urged the Texas Legislature to reconsider the proposed redrawing of state congressional maps that would dilute the county’s conservative representation by adding a third senate district.

County Judge Mark Keough said he traveled to Austin last week to express the county’s “disapproval” of the redistricting plan.

[…]

Currently, Keough explained, Montgomery County has two senate districts. However, the proposed changes would add a third district that would divide Magnolia and extend Harris County districts into Montgomery County.

“We are deeply concerned about this as we move forward,” Keough said.

The story keeps talking about the Congressional map while these MoCo folks are whining about the Senate map; it’s annoying and confusing. The current Senate map has SDs 03 and 04 in Montgomery, while the new maps move SD03 out and move pieces of SDs 07 and 17 in, to bolster those incumbents from the ravages of a bluer Harris County. Their complaints had no effect on the committee, but there’s still time for them to make a case to the rest of the Lege.

Back to the Trib story:

The committee unanimously approved the draft of the State Board of Education map on Tuesday, without amendments. The board is a 15-member, majority Republican body that determines what millions of public school students in the state are taught in classrooms. Nine Republicans and six Democrats currently sit on the board.

The current version of that map did not make any changes to the racial breakdown of the board’s 15 districts — based on eligible voters, Hispanic residents make up a majority in three of those districts, 10 districts with white majorities and two have no majority.

See here for the background on the SBOE map, whose demographic breakdown makes no sense to me, but here we are. Maybe this time it will be part of the inevitable litigation.

First proposed Congressional map is out

It’s a thing.

Texas lawmakers on Monday released their first draft of a new congressional map for the next decade that includes two new districts in Austin and Houston — metropolitan areas with diverse populations tht fueled much of the state’s population growth over the past 10 years.

Republicans constructed this map with incumbent protection in mind — a strategy that focused on bolstering Republican seats that Democrats targeted over the last two election cycles rather than aggressively adding new seats that could flip from blue to red. However, the map does in fact strengthen Republican positioning overall, going from 22 to 25 districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The number of districts that voted for Joe Biden would shrink by one, from 14 to 13.

Texas members of the House GOP delegation were closely involved in the drawing process and approved the map last week, according to two sources close to the Texas delegation.

While many incumbents appear safe in these maps, others were drawn into districts that overlap with one another — for example the proposed map pits Houston Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw against Democrat Rep. Sylvia Garcia. It also pits two Houston Democrats — Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — against each other.

The maps were proposed by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who leads the chamber’s redistricting committee.

[…]

Huffman’s first 38-district proposal would widen the gap between the parties, creating 25 districts that voted for Trump in 2020 and 13 that voted for Biden.

The racial makeup of the congressional maps is also expected to change as Texas added two new congressional seats based on last decade’s population growth, which was mostly driven by people of color. Based on eligible voters, the current map includes 22 districts with white majorities, eight with Hispanic majorities, one with a Black majority and five that have no majority. The newly proposed map includes 23 districts with white majorities, seven with Hispanic majorities, none with a Black majority and eight that have no majority.

Available data can be found here. Patrick Svitek has some numbers, which I’ll summarize briefly:

– Of the 14 districts carried by Biden in 2020, 12 were carried by him under this map. The exceptions are Republican-held CD24, which goes from Biden +5 to Trump +12, and Democratic-held CD15, which goes from Biden +2 to Trump +3. That may make CD15 the new CD23, which went from Trump +1 to Trump +7.

– Of the two new districts, CD37 in Travis County is deep, dark blue (Biden +53), while CD38 in Harris County is Trump +18. Let’s just say I don’t think it will remain that red over time.

– Regardless of what the story says, it seems clear to me that Reps. Crenshaw, Green, Jackson Lee, and Garcia would run in and win the same-numbered districts as they have now.

– Reps. Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher get much bluer districts. Maybe that makes them vulnerable to primary challenges, I don’t know. Rep. Henry Cuellar in CD28 gets a district that is less favorable for his 2020 primary challenger, Jessica Cisneros.

– Overall I think I agree with Michael Li:

This map uses the same strategy as the Senate and SBOE maps in that it shores up a Harris County incumbent (in this case Crenshaw) by extending his district into Montgomery County, and shores up some other incumbents (see in particular Reps. Williams in CD25 and Carter in CD31) by making their districts more rural. As the meme says, it’s a bold strategy, we’ll see how it works for them.

The Chron focuses on the Harris County piece of this, with the following observation:

A spokesman for Wesley Hunt, a Republican who ran against Fletcher in 2020, said the former Army helicopter pilot would run for the new District 38 seat if lawmakers were to adopt the initial map proposal.

Hunt had previously announced he was running in 2022 but had yet to settle on a district while awaiting the proposed map.

That sound you hear is me rolling my eyes, and yes I am rolling them hard enough for it to be audible. The Texas Signal has more.

Here’s your first proposed Senate map

Behold. This dropped on Saturday afternoon while normal people were running errands or watching college football, so commentary and coverage is limited at this time. Here’s one view:

Other data is here. I don’t see past election results, but it’s clear at a glance that SD10 would become Republican. As for the rest, and for other maps, we’ll have to see. Even with more sophisticated technology, the first map is never the final map, so expect to see some variations soon. Thanks to Reform Austin for the heads up.

UPDATE: Here’s coverage from the Trib. Sen. Powell, who is clearly targeted by this map, is not happy about it.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, immediately called foul on the initial draft of the map, which was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination,” she said in a statement. “The 2020 census revealed the population of Senate District 10 is nearly ideal. There is no need to make any changes to district lines. Moreover, since 2010, the minority population percentage within the district increased dramatically while the Anglo percentage has dropped. The changes now proposed are intended to silence and destroy the established and growing voting strength of minority voters in Tarrant County.”

[…]

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

“The release of the proposed map is only the beginning of the fight. I’m proud to be the candidate of choice of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and will do everything within my power to stop this direct, discriminatory, and illegal attack on their voting rights,” Powell said.

She has a point, and then-Sen. Wendy Davis was able to negotiate a settlement last decade that took the Senate map out of the litigation. I just don’t expect her to get much reception from the courts.

Other things the Lege has been up to

A brief roundup, to clear some tabs…

Bad Bail Bill 2.0 moves forward.

A sweeping revision of the process for releasing accused criminals on bail won initial approval from the Texas House on Friday night, nearly three months after the GOP-priority legislation stalled in the regular legislative session.

Senate Bill 6, which would require people accused of violent crimes to put up cash to get out of jail, tentatively passed the House on an 82-37 party line vote. The Senate passed the legislation earlier this month on a 27-2 vote.

A House committee advanced the bill Monday after taking out a controversial provision that would have restricted charitable groups from posting bail for defendants, a practice that gained popularity last summer when groups posted bail to release people arrested while protesting the death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer.

On Friday, House members added a related provision back into the bill that does not limit the ability of such groups to post bail. Instead, the amendment would require charitable bail funds to be certified by county officials as nonprofit organizations and file reports on who they bond out of jail.

“The original bill that came over [from the Senate] was essentially going to outlaw … the charitable bail process,” said state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, on his amendment. “We made it very clear to the other side of the building that this would not stand.”

The bill still needs to pass the House a final time before it is sent back to the Senate, which can either accept the House changes or enter into closed-door negotiations. State Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who authored the bill, did not respond to questions about House changes this week.

See here and here for some background. This is bad, and there’s a decent chance parts if not all of it will eventually be found unconstitutional, but in the short term it will do some damage. Go read Grits for Breakfast or follow him on Twitter for a deeper dive.

Some virtual learning gets funded.

After months in limbo, Texas lawmakers took a step toward expanding and funding virtual learning as the pandemic still proves a threat to families not yet comfortable sending their children back to classrooms.

The Texas House approved Senate Bill 15 on Friday night in a 115-3 vote. The bill will go to a final reading and vote in the House before making its way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The House’s initial approval of the bill will give some parents a measure of relief that there could be more virtual learning options as the pandemic once again strains the state’s resources. Hospitalizations and cases are surging due to the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

Necessary, albeit regrettable. We wouldn’t be revisiting this topic if we had a better handle on COVID, but given that we are not we need to acknowledge reality where we can. This is one reasonable place to do so.

More border boondoggling.

The Texas House approved nearly $2 billion in additional funding for border security operations, giving Gov. Greg Abbott more state dollars to implement his plans to build a border wall and incarcerate migrants for state criminal offenses in an effort to deter migrants from coming to the state.

Lawmakers gave initial approval Friday to a funding bill by a vote of 81-38 that would triple what the state allocated for border security during the last biennium. The $1.88 billion appropriated by House Bill 9 is in addition to the $1.05 billion lawmakers approved for border security this spring.

“There’s a crisis on our southern border with serious consequences extending throughout our state,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who authored the bill. “Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep.”

In June, Abbott announced Texas would build a state-funded border wall to decrease the number of migrants entering through its border with Mexico. Earlier this year, the two-term Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star, an effort that directed state military and police resources to the border to aid local and federal authorities fighting the smuggling of people and drugs across the border.

Abbott, who is seeking reelection next year, had previously said he expects the state to build hundreds of miles of wall along the state’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico, but had not specified where the wall would be or how much it would cost.

This message has been paid for by the Greg Abbott campaign.

More money for “temporary” hospital workers.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that for the second time amid a recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that Texas will increase the number of state-funded relief workers it will be sending to Texas hospitals, bringing the total to 8,100.

The Texas Department of State Health Services had previously authorized contracting 5,600 medical personnel, and Thursday’s announcement adds 2,500 more.

During the state’s winter COVID-19 surge, more than 13,500 temporary medical workers were deployed across the state, according to DSHS. Those numbers began to dwindle once cases started to decrease and vaccinations became more widely available.

Now, the highly-contagious delta variant has pushed the state to reverse course and again take the lead in alleviating staffing shortages as hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients and intensive care unit beds are becoming scarce. On Aug. 9, Abbott directed DSHS to use staffing agencies to secure out-of-state medical personnel for Texas hospitals and asked hospitals to voluntarily halt elective medical procedures.

The state will fully fund the temporary health workers through Sept. 30.

Not technically a Lege thing, but Lege-adjacent. See my previous point about things we wouldn’t need to be doing if we had handled COVID better. I have no idea where we will find all these relief workers, but that’s yet another mess Greg Abbott will have to clean up for himself.

And finally, one thing the Lege hasn’t been doing:

And yet here we are. Still not too late, I suppose, but with every passing day this becomes more and more true.

Bad bail bill 2.0

This was also happening over the weekend.

Days into a short legislative session, Texas lawmakers are moving quickly to pass a GOP priority bill that would make it harder for some people who have been arrested but not convicted to bond out of jail without putting up cash.

Legislators in the House and Senate filed matching bills to change state bail practices earlier this week, echoing legislation that failed to pass in the regular session. On Saturday, committees in both chambers approved the bills and sent them to the full chambers after nearly three hours of debate in the Senate and nine hours in the House.

The sweeping bail legislation would change how and if people can be released from jail before their criminal cases are resolved, while they are still legally presumed innocent. The bill would ban the release of those accused of violent crimes unless they had enough cash, as well as restrict charitable groups’ ability to pay to get people out of jail.

While the two Democrats on the Senate committee supported Senate Bill 6, House Democrats down the hall spoke out strongly against the identical House Bill 2, arguing it would lead to mass detention disproportionately affecting people of color, and it would create an overreliance on money in Texas’ pretrial system that is unfair to people who are poor. Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have a Republican majority.

During the hearings, the Republican bill authors, crime victims and their supporters argued new bail laws are needed to keep dangerous people behind bars before their trials, pointing to rising crime rates and numerous examples of defendants accused of violent crimes having been released from jail on bond and then accused of new crimes.

Bill supporters have also fought against the increase in courts releasing defendants on personal bonds, which don’t require them to have cash to get out of jail but can include restrictions like GPS ankle monitoring or routine drug testing.

“SB 6 is legislation which is really a direct response to the increase in violent and habitual offenders being released on personal bonds along with low-cash bonds,” State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican and author of the bill said Saturday. “We have failed our communities, we have failed our citizens, definitely we have failed the victims, and it’s time to do something about it.”

House Democrats and civil rights advocates opposing the legislation took aim at the bills’ continued reliance on cash bail, noting that it primarily penalizes low-income people.

“What does ability to post a cash bond, how does that make a community safe?” questioned state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who leads the House Criminal Justice Reform Caucus. “The bill pushes more people into the cash bail system by precluding their ability to have a personal bond in a laundry list of situations.”

See here and here for my blogging about this from the regular session. Note that these hearings were held before the voter suppression bill hearings, which is one reason why those went so late – they started late, too. You should also read Scott Henson’s testimony before the committee, in which he suggests that this will have a big negative effect on rural counties. You know how I feel about this, and you also know that if the Republican majority is determined to pass this, they can and they will. So let me remind you of this:

For years, civil rights groups and federal courts nationwide and in Texas have scrutinized bail systems’ reliance on cash. In Harris and Dallas counties, federal courts ordered changes to bail practices ruled unconstitutional because they led to the systematic detention of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime simply because they were poor.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit in Houston, civil rights attorneys pointed to the case of Preston Chaney, a 64-year-old man who caught the coronavirus in the Harris County jail and died. He’d been kept in jail for months, accused of stealing lawn equipment and meat from a garage. If he’d been able to pay about $100, he could have walked out of jail shortly after his arrest.

Whatever gets passed here is going to wind up in the federal courts, and the state is likely to lose. Not that the Republicans are concerned about that – these bills are about primaries, not policies. This whole session, and most of the regular session, were about primaries. I’m sure you can guess what my prescription for getting less of this in the future is.

Republican bail reform bill passes House

Meh.

Rep. Andrew Murr

The Texas House on Tuesday passed a bill to alter the way criminal defendants can be released from jail before trial. The priority legislation would, in part, require judicial officers to use a risk assessment tool when making bail decisions and ban cashless release for those accused of some violent or sexual crimes.

House members approved House Bill 20 after significant changes — largely by the bill’s author — were made on the floor Monday.

“The goal today is to strike a balance in which we provide … credible information to our trained magistrates so that they can determine that those that are low risk have a chance to get out while those who are higher risk, with a violent offense or a violent criminal history, they don’t easily pay and immediately walk on the street the next day and do something else that harms us,” state Rep. Andrew Murr, the Junction Republican who authored the bill, said Monday.

Named the Damon Allen Act after a slain state trooper, HB 20 was deemed an emergency item by Gov. Greg Abbott at the beginning of the legislative session after similar legislation failed in 2019. The suspect in Allen’s shooting death during a 2017 traffic stop was out of jail on cash bail at the time.

After tentatively approving the bill Monday, the House finally passed HB 20 on a 98-to-46 vote Tuesday. It is now headed to the Senate — where its future is uncertain. Last month, the Senate passed a competing priority bail bill which varies significantly from the House’s measure. Senate Bill 21 since has stalled in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

When making bail decisions, courts decide what restrictions are needed to release from jail a defendant who is legally presumed innocent while ensuring the person comes back to court and does not present a threat to public safety. Most often in Texas, that decision is currently based on a dollar amount.

The cash-reliant system has long prompted criticisms from bail reform advocates who argue it unfairly keeps poor people locked up while similar defendants with cash walk free. And federal courts have found bail practices in Texas’ two most populous counties unconstitutional for discriminating against poor defendants.

See here for the background. As this Chron editorial notes, HB20 is better than SB21 but still falls short because of its prioritization of cash bail. A fair and just system does not determine who gets to go home and who gets to stay locked up for weeks or months before even going on trial based on ability to pay. As Grits noted a month ago, any bail-related bill that has Greg Abbott’s support is highly unlikely to be upheld by the federal courts going forward. As such, the best move is to vote against HB20 and SB21, and wait for further direction from the Fifth Circuit.

Senate approves pointless appeals court

There’s more than one way to attack Democratic appellate court justices.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The Texas Senate passed a bill Wednesday to create a new statewide court of appeals that would hear cases that have statewide significance — including ones that challenge state laws, the constitution or when the state or its agencies are sued.

Currently, when such cases go to the intermediate appellate level, they are mostly heard by the 3rd Court of Appeals based in Austin. That court’s judges are elected by voters in Democratic-leaning Travis County. Senate Bill 1529, though, would send the cases to the new appellate court whose judges would be elected by voters statewide — an electorate that skews Republican.

Some of the state’s highest profile cases could be affected by this proposed court. Bill author Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said that recent lawsuits surrounding Gov. Greg Abbott’s pandemic emergency orders are examples of types of litigation the proposed court would have jurisdiction over.

Critics say the proposed new court is a Republican attempt to yank jurisdiction of these cases from Democrats.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals has five Democrats and only one Republican. Currently, all statewide elected judges are Republican, including on the Texas Supreme Court — and it’s likely the proposed court would also be all Republican.

“Since the [3rd Court of Appeals] deals with issues facing state government, it’s a thorn in the Republican Party side,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University, said in an interview. “And so by transitioning that by moving that to a statewide election where Republicans have the advantage, they would be able to, most likely, flip from being a Democratic majority… to a [5-0] Republican advantage.”

Huffman maintains that she wrote the bill to promote consistency — not for partisan reasons.

“The new court has five justices elected statewide so that all Texans have a voice in electing those who decide cases of statewide significance,” she said from the Senate floor Tuesday. “It’s important for judges deciding cases of statewide importance to be familiar with specialized jurisprudence to provide consistent rulings for state litigants.”

[…]

Democrats on Tuesday raised constitutional concerns related to this bill, asking if the Legislature has the authority to create an appellate court with statewide jurisdiction, overlapping the current district system. Huffman maintains that it does.

“We’ll have to see you in court on this one,” Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said.

Darlene Byrne, chief justice on the 3rd Court of Appeals and a Democrat, said in an interview she thinks the bill is “bad policy and bad for statewide jurisprudence.”

Byrne also said the new structure would promote large campaigns.

“I don’t know of a Supreme Court race that costs less than a million dollars per candidate,” she said. “So this new statewide court is going to be mega-big donors infusing big money to influence the judiciary. And I thought we were trying to get away from that — but apparently not.”

Linda Thomas, a former Republican chief justice of the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals, said she believed the bill was unnecessary.

“As a retired judge, I think it’s a little disingenuous, and in some ways, insulting to the sitting justices of this state to indicate that they are not capable of handling complex business cases,” Thomas said.

I noted this in passing in my initial post about appellate court redistricting, the bill for which has since been withdrawn for the time being. I tend to agree with Justice Thomas, and I also think that insult was a feature and not a bug. Sen. Huffman’s justification for this new court is ridiculous on its face, because all of the lawsuits in question start out in a district court, with a judge that was elected by local voters in far lesser numbers than for appellate court justices. That’s not exactly conducive to “consistent rulings for state litigants”. Why not go whole hog and create an entirely separate court system for “cases of statewide importance” (whatever that means, and I’ll bet that very topic becomes a contentious point of appeals in itself) so as to avoid local yokel judges making insufficiently erudite rulings? One could argue that Sen. Huffman is actually making a back-handed case for ending the election of judges in the first place. At least that would be a more honest approach to this.

I have no idea what the prospects are for this in the House, but I do feel confident that there will be litigation if and when this does pass. That lawsuit would eventually come before a district court of appeals, as one presumes it would be halted from taking effect pending the litigation, before ultimately being decided by the Supreme Court. I’ll leave it to you to sort out where that all lands on the Irony-o-Meter.

Bill to delay primaries passes Senate

As expected.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The 2022 primary elections in Texas could be pushed back to April or May under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

Because of delays in U.S. Census Bureau data needed to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, the Texas Senate passed a bill on Thursday that could push the state’s primary to April 5, or if the delays persist, to May 24.

State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, said at this point Texas might not have the needed census data until deep into the summer. If they get the maps drawn up and passed into law fast enough, the March 1 primary would go on as planned. But if the maps aren’t put into law until after Nov. 22, the primary would shift to April 5.

If the maps are not done until after Jan. 3, the primary would shift to May 24.

[…]

Huffman said she’s trying to put the Legislature in the best position possible in light of the census data delays.

“The bill will serve as a signal that the Legislature fully intends to complete the redistricting task once the census data is received,” she said.

We’ve known about the need for this for months, due to issues with receiving the Census data. It was just a question of how far back the primaries would need to be pushed. Sen. Huffman’s bill is SB1822, and I expect it will easily pass the House and be signed with no fuss.

Appellate court redistricting bill withdrawn

I had a post all ready to go yesterday with more on the bill to redistrict the appellate courts, and then this happened on Thursday night:

This is not the end of it – there will be at least one special session on legislative redistricting, after all – but whatever does happen, it won’t be in this session. So the post that I had queued up for Friday morning became out of date, and so here we are. The original post is beneath the fold because it’s still worth reading, so click on for more. Whatever made this delay happen, I’m glad for it. Hopefully we will get a better bill out of this in the end, but we can’t take that for granted. The Chron story from Friday about this is here.

(more…)

Let’s get rid of Democratic appellate court justices

If that’s the Legislature’s goal, then this would be an effective way of accomplishing it.

A Texas Senate committee [heard] public comment Thursday on a controversial proposal to consolidate the state’s 14 intermediate appellate courts into just seven, a move opponents have criticized as gerrymandering but that supporters say will make the courts more efficient and cure knotty court splits.

A committee substitute to S.B. 11 proposes dramatic changes to the organization of the state’s appellate districts: It would combine Houston’s two appellate courts, merge the Dallas and Austin districts together, lasso Waco and Eastland into a division with Texarkana and Fort Worth, and move two San Antonio justices to Midland in a district that would span roughly 500 miles — from Kendall County just southwest of Austin to the state’s western edge and include El Paso — among other changes.

The state’s current number and location of appellate courts largely reflects the state’s demographics, economy and travel conditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Scott Brister wrote in a 2003 Houston Bar Association article.

Brister, who formerly served as a Texas Supreme Court justice and chief justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, told Law360 the districts need to be updated and consolidated.

“I just think 14 is too many,” he said. “They’re not located where all the people and the cases are.”

Yet opponents of the consolidation plan say it is blatant gerrymandering, and the worst instance of it they’ve seen in the Texas judiciary.

Elsa Alcala, a former justice on the First Court of Appeals in Houston and Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals, took to Twitter to call out the plan, writing “This has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with electing Republicans to the bench.”

Since the 2018 general election, a wave of Democratic justices have ousted Republican from Texas appellate benches in record numbers, largely concentrated in urban population centers.

Alcala told Law360 that in the past the Legislature has changed jurisdictions one county at a time, but lawmakers have never proposed completely eradicating certain appellate courts like the proposed committee substitute bill does.

“This is the most significant and blatant change I’ve ever seen,” she said.

S.B. 11 originally called for a realignment of five counties that are currently under the jurisdiction of two appellate courts outside of the Houston district to eliminate overlapping jurisdiction between multiple courts.

Details for the new bill were leaked and spread on social media Tuesday, but the bill’s text [hadn’t] yet been made public. Law360 has reviewed a map detailing the new appellate districts as well as a bill summary and a table explaining how the 80 Texas justices would be distributed among the new districts.

According to the bill summary, consolidating the appellate districts would balance a “highly unbalanced” workload across the courts, an issue the Texas judiciary has dealt with for years through a docket equalization program that transfers cases when needed. The summary cites workload data showing that, between 2015 and 2019, the Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso received an average of 79 appeals per justice compared to 158 appeals per justice in the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

[…]

During her time on the First Court of Appeals, which has nine justices, Alcala said she would frequently review opinions handed down by her colleagues to make sure she didn’t have any qualms about their rulings. But on a court with 21 justices, it would be impossible to review all those decisions, she said.

Lawyers are also concerned that larger benches could cause issues at the ballot box.

Alcala said there’s already an issue with the public being able to make informed choices during elections about the various judges on the ballot. Expanding the court’s jurisdictions would mean more judges for the public to inform themselves about before voting.

Brister acknowledged that under the committee’s substitute, voting would look different. He would be concerned if he were a judge in Texarkana on the state’s eastern border with Arkansas, for example, because under the new district alignment, there’s a good chance voters from the more populous Fort Worth would control outcomes in the district and knock some small-town judges off the bench.

Christopher Kratovil, managing partner of Dykema Gossett PLLC’s Dallas office, told Law360 he can see both sides of the consolidation argument but believes the committee’s substitute isn’t the proper way to redistrict the state.

“I do think there are some good-faith efficiency arguments for reducing the number of intermediate appellate courts in the state,” he said. “That said, this is not based on efficiency. If we’re being honest about this, it is a partisan gerrymandered map to return control of the majority of the state intermediate appellate courts to the Republican party.”

Other attorneys, like solo appellate practitioner Chad Ruback, are upset that information about the committee substitute bill hasn’t been released ahead of Thursday’s public hearing. The original version of S.B. 11 is currently attached to agenda materials for the meeting.

“That doesn’t give the appellate judiciary — or appellate lawyers who regularly practice in front of them — much time to analyze the potential ramifications of the proposed changes in advance of the hearing,” he said. “That looks awfully suspicious.”

See here for the background. Not being transparent about the process or giving anyone the time to review the bill in question is on brand for the Republicans. To give you a sense of what this looks like, here’s a picture from the story:

This Twitter thread from Dylan Drummond gives you the data:

Maybe the new Fifth Circuit, with Dallas and Travis Counties, or the Third, with Bexar County and South Texas, would lean Democratic. I’d have to do a more in depth analysis. Katie Buehler, the reporter of the story linked above, attended the hearing and reported that Sen. Nathan Johnson said it would be a 5-2 split. Whatever the case, I guarantee you that someone with strong Republican credentials has already done such an analysis, and these districts are drawn in a maximally beneficial way for Republicans. What would even be the point from their perspective if that wasn’t the case?

You’ve read many bloviations from me over the years about why calls to change the way we select judges from the current system of partisan elections to something else were mostly a smokescreen to disguise complaints about the fact that Democrats were now winning many of those elections. It has never escaped my notice that we only began seeing those calls for change after the 2008 election, when Dems broke through in Harris County, and it moved to DefCon 1 following the 2018 election. If nothing else, I thank Sen. Joan Huffman for putting the lie to the idea that the motivating factor behind those calls for change was a fairer or more equitable or more merit-based system for picking judges, or that “taking politics out of the system” had anything to do with it. No, it is exactly what I thought it was from the beginning, a means to ensure that as many judges are Republican as possible. There may well be legitimate merits to rethinking the appellate court system in Texas – I’m not an appellate lawyer, I have no idea – but it’s crystal clear that this ain’t it. This is a full employment program for Republicans who want to be judges. That’s what we’ll get if this bill passes.

Which it has now done from the Senate committee, on a partisan 3-2 vote. For a report from the committee hearing, where multiple appellate court justices from both parties testified against SB11, see Law360 and The Texas Lawbook. This is easily the biggest redistricting matter going on right now it’s getting very little attention so far. (The DMN has a story, but it’s subscriber-only, which limits the impact.) Let’s not let this slip through without being noticed.

UPDATE: The Chron now has a story as well, and it contains this knee-slapper:

Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, also an attorney, asked Huffman if she took partisanship into consideration when making the maps.

“Some people think this is going to result in five Republican courts and two Democratic courts,” Johnson said. “Do you think that would accurately represent the partisan breakdown of this state?”

Huffman said she did not consider political makeup in drawing the maps and didn’t know how her plan might alter that.

Yeah, that’s obvious bullshit. Anyone with a list of counties per appellate district and access to recent state election results could tell you in five minutes what the likely orientation of each district would look like. Joan Huffman isn’t stupid, but if that’s what she claims then she thinks the rest of us are.

One more thing:

Another bill introduced by Huffman would create a statewide Court of Appeals that would have exclusive jurisdiction over civil cases of statewide significance filed by or against state agencies or officials. The justices on the court, seated in Austin, would be elected on a statewide ballot. No Democrat has won statewide office since 1994.

That bill was met with similar opposition and accusations of partisan motivation. It, too, was referred to the full Senate on a 3-2 party line vote.

This appears to be SB1529, and I heard about it yesterday for the first time. I have no idea what problem (real, imagined, or political) this is intended to solve. Any thoughts from the lawyers out there?

Republicans take aim at bail reform

Lots of bad ideas in here.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Members of the Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence held their first hearing this week over Senate Bill 21, a controversial bail reform bill backed by Republicans.

The purpose of the bill according to its author Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is to prevent repeat violent offenders from committing new crimes after being released on personal bond. A personal bond is an agreement to appear in court that allows a defendant to be released without any financial obligation, unlike a cash bond or a surety bond with a bail company.

Opponents who testified against the legislation Thursday warned that language of the bill goes much further than simply attempting to keep violent criminals locked up.

“This is a work in progress, I know this bill is not perfect, I know it’s not ready to be passed,” Huffman, who chairs the committee said at the beginning of the hearing.

Under the text of the bill, a person charged with a crime would not be eligible for release if they have recently failed to appear in court for another offense, if they have been charged with any other crime after being released on bond, or if they have been recently convicted of a felony, Class A or B misdemeanor. That includes charges for resisting arrest, possession of marijuana, prostitution and many other non-violent offenses.

To be clear, so-called violent repeat offenders would still be able to be bailed out of jail, just not on personal bond, which waives the financial obligation meant to incentive someone to appear in court.

[…]

Mike Fields, a former Republican judge in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 14, testified against the bill calling it an “overreach” and a return to the bad old days.

Fields said he was an original defendant in the O’Donnell lawsuit, the major lawsuit that was filed against the county’s wealth-based bail detention system and which ended in a settlement that allowed for the release of a majority of misdemeanor defendants.

“I switched from my position of opposition to the O’Donnell lawsuit to agreeing with it, I was only one of two judges who did,” Fields said.

He said that the 72 homicides in Harris County committed by people out on bond in 2020 — a figure cited by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg earlier in her testimony in support of the bill — were largely done by defendants with surety bond, or bonds posted by a bail bond company.

“I learned after 20 years of being a Republican judge in Harris County, that money does not make us safer,” Fields said. “Conditions make us safer. Assessment makes us safer. Using smarter strategies to keep people who need to be incarcerated, incarcerated, and those who don’t out. That’s what makes us safer.”

Fields said the conflation with misdemeanor and felony cases had led to legislation like SB 21 that would cast a broad net hurting taxpayers and slowing the work of criminal courts.

Emily Garrick, an attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project, a criminal justice nonprofit and one of the groups involved in the O’Donnell v. Harris County lawsuit, said SB 21 would allow people who don’t have money to stay in jail and those who do to be released from jail despite having similar charges — a violation of the decision by federal judges that ruled Harris County’s wealth-based pre-trial detention system to be unconstitutional for that very reason.

Another aspect of SB 21 grilled during the hearing was the bill’s restrictions on charitable bail organizations, or groups (often churches or advocacy groups) that organize bail funds to help defendants who could otherwise not pay for their release. Among other things, the bill would only allow charitable bail organizations to pay bail bonds for defendants charged with misdemeanors and would restrict them from paying no more than $2,000 for each defendant they want to help.

This Trib story from earlier in March covered a lot of this ground already, while Grits has noted that much of this bill is or will be in conflict with federal court rulings. This is a classic “solution in search of a problem” situation, with a side order of retaliation against Harris County and its Democratic judiciary. It’s very likely that this bill will evolve before it comes to a vote, but it’s much less likely that it will transform into something productive.

Republicans are determined to learn the wrong lessons from the blackouts

It’s kind of amazing, and yet completely on brand.

With millions of Texans having lost power during the winter storms, key players in the Legislature say one of the most immediate reforms they will push for is recalibrating the state’s electricity grid to ensure more fossil fuels are in that mix and fewer renewables.

While all energy sources were disrupted during the historic freeze, Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature say renewables have been given all the attention over the years, yet proved to be unhelpful during the state’s crisis.

“It’s cool to be into wind and solar these days, but the problem is it leaves us frigid in the winter,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who leads the GOP caucus in the Texas Senate.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said most of the generating plants that went offline this week were natural gas, coal or nuclear facilities. But still, Republicans have singled out wind and solar as targets over the objections of Democrats and renewable energy advocates.

Texas utilities ratepayers have funded more than $7 billion over the last eight years building transmission lines to take wind power from West Texas to the big cities. It’s made Texas the biggest wind producer in the nation.

But Bettencourt and other Republicans say advantages like federal subsidies for wind and solar have to be evened out.

“We need a baseload energy generation strategy in Texas that is reliable and not based upon renewables so strongly,” he said.

Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, this week reupped a bill he filed last session that would require ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission to write rules that would “eliminate or compensate for market distortion caused by certain federal tax credits.”

“It’s not just the frozen wind turbines; it’s the fact that they even exist that is creating the problem,” said Patterson, who works as an energy consultant. “Their existence, their heavily subsidized existence on our grid is creating a shortage of energy supply because no one else can compete against them.”

[…]

Blaming renewables is misguided and politically motivated, said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

“There is no energy source that doesn’t receive subsidies,” Shelley said. “There have been energy tax credits for fossil fuel sources for a hundred years, so to target the renewable tax credit … it’s pretty disingenuous.”

[…]

But while there may be reforms to ERCOT, not many Republicans are talking about the prospect of ordering the state’s nearly 700 power plants to invest in weatherization and what that would cost.

ERCOT officials said earlier this week in a statewide press conference that while it was recommended power plants weatherize after winter storms in 2011 knocked out power, those were voluntary requests and not mandatory.

Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat and senior mechanical engineer in the oil and gas industry, said he is working on legislation that would build in more reserve energy supply for Texas, such as by hooking up the state to the nationally interconnected system, or offering financial incentives for providers to increase back-up power.

Rosenthal would also like to see reliability standards introduced that require generators to weatherize their systems. He said he knows that adding more regulations will be an uphill battle in the Republican-majority Legislature but believes there is a “happy medium” that can be struck.

“While the common argument ‘we don’t want regulation so we can provide electricity as cheaply as possible’ does provide cheap energy a lot of the time, these disasters are horrendously expensive,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve heard insurance folks saying this could be the costliest ever natural disaster in Texas. So you make a little bit of an investment in your infrastructure to ensure that you don’t have these disastrous consequences.”

He added: “And it’s not just the cost of it. It’s the human suffering.”

How it is that they could have missed the voluminous reporting about how the same freeze we all just endured also caused problems for gas and coal plants since they both involve water and that water was frozen solid is an eternal mystery, but here we are. We’ve literally had thirty years’ of warnings about the need to weatherize our power plants and wind turbines, and this is the response we get from Paul Bettencourt and his cronies. It would cost money – I forget where I read this now, but I saw one back-of-the-envelope estimate of about $2 billion for the whole system – but that can be paid in part by the power generators and in part by the state, with cash from the Rainy Day Fund or a bond issuance if need be.

Doing that might require changing the financial incentives for the operators, and it might require shudder regulating the energy market – certainly, ERCOT or some other governing body will need enforcement power, because simply asking the operators nicely to invest in weatherizing hasn’t worked so far – and it even might require rejoining the national power grid, which has its own pros and cons but would come with federal enforcement of weatherization standards. There are many viable options. We don’t have to choose the stupid, head-in-the-frozen-tundra option that Bettencourt et al seem hellbent on doing.

One more thing, which I find equal parts amusing and puzzling: All this antagonism towards wind energy seems to overlook the fact that a large number of wind farms and turbines are in the Panhandle and West Texas, easily two of the most Republican parts of the state. Do these Republican legislators and other currently trashing wind energy – the Observer quotes a Facebook post by Sid Miller that says “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas”, for instance – not realize that they’re kicking sand on their own people? I don’t even know what to make of that, but I do know that part of the 2022 Democratic message needs to be targeted at those folks. Texas Monthly has more.

Appellate court redistricting

We’ll need to keep an eye on this.

Justice Bonnie Sudderth

Justices on the state’s 14 intermediate appellate courts are talking—some are concerned—about a pair of bills filed in the Texas Legislature that propose redistricting the courts’ boundaries.

House Bill 339 by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Senate Bill 11 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, currently only propose minor tweaks to the Fifth, Sixth and 12th Courts of Appeal to remove their overlapping jurisdictions over five rural Texas counties.

However, multiple sources told Texas Lawyer that the current versions are only “placeholders” or “shell bills” that would change during the legislative session to make bigger changes to the appellate court boundaries.

King and Huffman each didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.

But the uncertainty about what the bills will wind up doing is leading to concern among justices.

“I can’t speak for 80 justices across the state, but I’d say there are certainly justices who are talking about it,” said Chief Justice Bonnie Sudderth of Fort Worth’s Second Court of Appeals, who is chairwoman of the Council of Chief Justices. ”What is there to talk about, until we see what it is?”

David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, said that staff for the House and Senate committees that handle bills about the justice system have requested data from his office about the courts’ workloads and the number of appeals that are transferred between appellate courts.

“I think they are looking at it for those reasons,” he explained, adding that his office isn’t taking any position about redistricting. “We haven’t seen a plan. It’s hard to read or think of how it would affect the administration of justice, without seeing a plan.”

He added that the idea to redistrict the appellate court lines did not come from inside of the Texas judiciary.

“There’s some proposals out there from groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform that reduce the number of appellate courts,” said Slayton.

[…]

That plan proposes:

  • First District: Merger of current First and 14th Courts of Appeal in Houston with 18 justices.
  • Second District: Merger of Third, Fourth and 13th Courts of Appeal in Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi with 19 justices.
  • Third District: Merger of Fifth and Sixth Courts of Appeal in Dallas and Texarkana, but without four counties that overlap in another district, with 16 justices.
  • Fourth District: Merger of Second, Seventh, Eighth and 11th Courts of Appeal in Fort Worth, Amarillo, El Paso and Eastland, with 16 justices.
  • Fifth District: Merger of Ninth, 10th and 12th Courts of Appeal in Beaumont, Waco and Tyler, with 11 justices.

The other proposals in the paper would create different mixes based on mergers of existing appellate districts.

The paper in question is here, and TLR’s priorities for the appellate courts are here. It should go without saying that Texans for Lawsuit Reform is a villain, and while some of their ideas in this instance may have merit, everything they do should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

George Christian, senior counsel with the Texas Civil Justice League, another tort reform advocacy group, said that the current districts aren’t in line with modern Texas. Redrawing the boundaries could make the judiciary more efficient. Yet he acknowledged redistricting involves politics and stirs up intense debate.

In recent elections, appellate courts in Travis, Harris and Dallas counties were swept by Democratic candidates. The discussion about redistricting the appellate courts now may lead to questions.

“There is a very legitimate question people will ask,” Christian said. “Why the sudden interest in the appellate courts, now that a lot of Democrats are winning those elections?”

I think we know the answer to that question. I’ve raised this point before, and it’s just another thing we have to watch out for. In theory, this could be done during the regular session, as these court districts are not based on Census data and don’t have a mandate to have equal sizes. We’ll know when and if HB339 and SB11 get committee hearings.

Census apportionment shenanigans to be officially curtailed

As it should be.

The Trump administration’s protracted efforts to keep some immigrants from being counted when congressional seats are divvied up after the 2020 census ended with the former president’s departure from the White House, but President Joe Biden’s administration inherits a census running far behind schedule.

Among his first acts after being inaugurated, Biden on Wednesday is expected to sign an executive order undoing his predecessor’s plan to keep undocumented immigrants from being included in the state-by-state tallies that determine how those living in the U.S. are represented in Congress for the next 10 years.

Trump’s scheme to fundamentally alter the process had already been foiled by processing delays, but Biden’s order serves as an official reversal as state lawmakers wait for the detailed census results they need to reconfigure political districts to reflect a decade’s worth of population growth.

The most significant effect for Texas politically remains an extended delay in the Legislature’s efforts to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, and part of the job could ultimately fall to a Legislative Redistricting Board or the courts.

Texas lawmakers would ordinarily expect to receive detailed data from the census as soon as mid-February — marking an unofficial kickoff to the redrawing of political districts so they’re roughly equal in population. Instead, the Texas Legislature is operating on uncertainty.

The coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country last year just as it was set to begin the high-stakes, once-a-decade count of every person living in the U.S., setting back elaborate plans for counting communities and the deadline for tallying by several months. With the release of that data delayed — and amid political turmoil at the Census Bureau — it remains unclear whether lawmakers will even be able to embark on the redistricting process before the end of the regular legislative session in May.

“It appears to me [that] a reasonable person would look at what is occurring today and believe the numbers would not come until early summer, but don’t hold me to that,” state Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who chairs the Senate redistricting committee, said on the Senate floor last week.

[…]

The Census Bureau was statutorily required to produce the population numbers that determine how many congressional seats each state gets by Dec. 31, but lawyers for the federal government indicated in court hearings that those counts won’t be ready until early March because anomalies in the data must be fixed. The detailed census results used to redraw districts come in a second dataset that must be delivered to states by March 31. The federal government has not provided details on when that data will be available.

In 2011, the Census Bureau began delivering the second dataset to Texas lawmakers on Feb. 17.

In announcing his executive order on Wednesday, the Biden transition team indicated the president would “ensure that the Census Bureau has time to complete an accurate population count for each state” in search of apportionment that is “fair and accurate so federal resources are efficiently and fairly distributed for the next decade.”

“I think at this point the delays are probably a good thing” because the data is being scrubbed for accuracy, said Joaquin Gonzalez, a voting rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which has been pushing for a more transparent redistricting process at the state Capitol.

In a joint statement released earlier this month, a group of former directors of the Census Bureau indicated it was “appropriate” for the bureau to take the necessary time to ensure the count was accurate given the delays caused by the pandemic.

However, state lawmakers are up against a constitutional clock that says state House and Senate seats must be redrawn by the Legislature during the first regular legislative session after the census is published. If they fail to do so, the Legislative Redistricting Board — a panel made up by the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state land commissioner — takes over the mapping with no requirement to hold hearings for public input.

“In some ways, the worst case scenario is that the data comes down to the states in May or something like that because then the Legislature really doesn’t have time to do its job correctly, but because of the state constitution, the state districts would automatically get sent to the [Legislative Redistricting Board],” Gonzalez said. “In terms of public participation and transparency, that’s sort of the worst case scenario.”

See here for the previous update. I have been assuming that the redistricting process would have to occur in a special session anyway – it just never seemed like there would be enough time to fit it into the regular session. Dems strategy will apparently be to force the matter to the courts, which was the scenario for Congressional map-drawing if they had taken the House and no agreement could be reached. Don’t know if that can work, but it’s a strategy. Putting that aside, the main result here is that Texas will get a full count, and will get the likely three new Congressional districts that it merits. I’ll never get over the fact that our state leaders didn’t fight for that, but it happened anyway without them. You’re welcome.

No consensus on partisan judicial elections

Even the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection can’t agree.

There’s always been room for disagreement on the question of how to select judges in Texas. That won’t change in recommendations by the Lone Star State’s latest commission looking at the issue.

With a report to the Texas Legislature coming due this month, the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met on Friday to vote on the recommendations it would include for Texas lawmakers to consider. The commission members’ votes were split down the middle when they were asked if Texas should stop electing judges as Republicans or Democrats and switch to a method where a commission initially appoints judges, who then run in retention elections. But the members found more agreement with smaller reforms, such as increasing the minimum qualifications to be a judge or further regulating how judges can use money in their campaigns.

When the final report comes out, it will say that Texas should not continue with partisan judicial elections. But that decision was highly divisive, with an 8-7 vote.

Most of the “no” votes came from Texas senators and representatives—both Republicans and Democrats—who serve on the commission. If their view is similar to their colleagues in the Texas Legislature, the recommendation has a slim-to-none chance of passing the lawmaking body.

“Constituents have relayed to me they do not want to have their rights taken away from them on judges they want to serve on these benches,” said Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said he would not take away Texans’ constitutional rights.

“I’m going to be voting to stay with the current method of partisan selection, but I’m encouraging us to increase qualifications on the judges,” he said.

Considering that a majority of the commission did vote to recommend eliminating partisan judge races, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she would not sign off on the commission’s report, and did not want her name associated with it, unless the report clearly explained her disagreement.

“We’re going to set forth exactly what the vote was, so everyone knows what they are agreeing to and what they are not,” replied commission Chairman David Beck, a partner in Beck Redden in Houston who added that Huffman could write a separate statement in the report about her viewpoint.

Another divisive vote asked if the commission should recommend that Texas create a judicial selection commission that would initially appoint judges to the bench, and then they would run in retention elections to keep their seats. The commission was tied on the idea by a 7-7 vote, with one member abstaining. Again, it was the legislator-members of the commission who said no.

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, and I said quite a bit of it in those two posts, so I’ll leave it at that. The Commission‘s report is due today, so we’ll see what they have to say. They did find more agreement on questions of mandating more experience for judicial candidates and for further regulating campaign contributions for judicial races. As a philosophical matter, I’m fine with those ideas, though of course the details will matter. The bottom line here seems to be that there’s zero appetite in the Legislature to make fundamental changes to our judicial election system. As I’ve said many times, until someone actually comes up with a viable alternate system that addresses the actual complaints people have with the current system without introducing other problems, this is how it should be.

UPDATE: Here’s a Trib story about this.

Will we have redistricting hearings?

Not looking great for it right now.

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Republicans have quietly halted plans to hold a series of public input hearings across more than 20 cities, slated to occur earlier this year, to collect public testimonials from Texans about redistricting. These testimonials would be a critical tool to help group communities which share common social and economic interests, voting patterns, and local preferences as new district maps are being drawn.

A coalition of 42 advocacy groups have taken notice of this indefinite stoppage and are demanding for the resumption of public hearings on redistricting in a safe and accessible format.

[…]

In an effort to remedy urgent concerns about the lack of preclearance and increase transparency in the upcoming 2020 redistricting process, Texas lawmakers planned for a series of public input hearings earlier this year, led by the House and Senate Redistricting Committees. Both committees are led by Republicans, Rep. Phil King and Sen. Joan Huffman, respectively.

The House and Senate originally planned for a limited public hearing schedule, however, the Texas Civil Rights Project built a coalition of groups to successfully agitate for the geographic expansion of these public hearings to reach across every corner of the state, from Austin and Houston to Amarillo and Weslaco. Then, COVID-19 swept across the state.

Because state leadership prematurely opened the state and failed to enact safety measures to control the pandemic, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed to nearly 600,000 infections and have claimed nearly 11,000 lives, disproportionately killing Black and Latinx Texans. South Texas communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have the highest infection rates across the entire nation.

Due to the pandemic, public hearings for redistricting were indefinitely postponed in March. However, in the past four months since, the legislature has failed to provide a plan to resume the hearings with a modified schedule or different format.

The Texas Civil Rights Project argues that resuming this process to hear from Texans and receive community input is both urgent and vital to avoid further suppression and the dilution of voting power of Black and Brown communities.

You can see a copy of the letter and who signed it, along with a list of the cities where hearings had been tentatively scheduled, here. I attended one of these for the 2011 reapportionment, and there was a lot of interesting information that was presented, with several members of the public having useful things to say. The point of these hearings is to give the public a chance to understand what the data looks like and how any proposed new maps may affect their communities, while also giving the committee members a chance to hear about concerns and issues that they might not otherwise know about. It’s the least they can do, in my opinion, and even with a pandemic there needs to be a way to bring this opportunity to the people. Zoom meetings have their pros and cons, but they could certainly be used here, and would allow for people not in any of those 20 cities to attend without having to travel. Something is better than nothing, and right now nothing is what we have.

Texas Central opponents see an opportunity

Never waste an opportunity.

Examination of a planned high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas should be halted as the country addresses the new coronavirus pandemic and the company rethinks its financial shape, 30 elected officials in Texas told federal regulators.

In two separate letters to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, 28 state lawmakers and two members of Congress said work by the Federal Railroad Administration on the Texas Central Railway project — which has faced stiff opposition for six years even as Dallas and Houston officials showed support — should stop entirely.

“It has become clear Texas Central simply does not have the financial resources required or expertise employed to continue with this project,” state lawmakers, led by state Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson, wrote. “To proceed otherwise would be an inexcusable waste of taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the integrity of the rules making process.”

Leman, a long-time critic of the project which rural residents have assailed as a boondoggle that will ruin the Texas countryside and never be financially sound, said the aim of the letter is to stop all analysis of the project’s safety procedures and environmental effects, which the FRA has been working on since 2014 with Texas Central. Federal regulators must approve the safety of the trains — unlike any other trains in the United States — and apply federal soil, air, noise and species protection rules to the construction and operations.

Texas Central last month said COVID-19’s effect on financial markets could impact the project, tightening its ability to secure the $15 billion or more necessary to build a 240-mile sealed corridor along a utility alignment between Houston and Dallas. Global response to the pandemic hits every sector of the company’s plans, which rely on Japanese trains, a Spanish rail operator and engineering from Italy. Within Texas, the company has laid off 28 employees.

It was also last month, right before the coronavirus shit hit the fan, that Texas Central was expressing hope they would begin construction this year. That sure seems like a no-go at this point, regardless of what effect this may have on their finances. As far as that goes, I would expect the process would take into account the financial solvency of the firm in question – certainly, Metro’s finances were closely scrutinized during its journey to get funds for the light rail expansion – so I don’t see why this would carry any more weight than that. This seems more like a signal from the prominent bullet train opponents to their supporters that they’re still out there fighting the good fight than anything else, but you never know.

Speaking of which, the signers of this epistle are for the most part the usual suspects who have opposed the high speed rail line all along. The two names on there that caught my eye are Rep. Tom Oliverson, whose HD130 in northwest Harris County would be on the path of the train, and Sen. Joan Huffman, the one legislator in there from a mostly urban area. I’d think at least a few of her constituents might actually want to ride this thing some day, so my eyebrows went up a notch upon seeing her name. Make of that what you will. The DMN has more.

Will Ken Paxton ever be prosecuted?

At this point, I’d have to say it’s very unlikely.

Best mugshot ever

After mulling the question for nearly six months, the nine Republican judges on Texas’ highest criminal court will not reconsider their 2018 ruling that threatens to imperil the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In November, a fractured Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a six-figure payment to the special prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial for felony securities fraud fell outside legal limits for what such attorneys may be paid. A month later, the attorneys asked the high court to reconsider that decision in a spirited legal filing that went unanswered until this week.

The court did not provide any reason for rejecting the motion, nor did any judges write dissenting opinions. Few expected that the high court would reconsider its own ruling.

Payments for special prosecutors are based on strict fee schedules, but judges are permitted to approve payments outside those strictures in unusual circumstances, as a North Texas GOP judge did for the prosecutors in the Paxton case. But after Jeff Blackard, a Paxton donor, sued in December 2015, claiming that the fees were exorbitant, the Dallas Court of Appeals voided the prosecutors’ invoice and the payment has been in question. Meanwhile, the trial itself has been derailed again and again.

Wednesday’s ruling threatens the long-delayed prosecution of Texas’ top lawyer, as the prosecutors —unpaid in years — have signaled they may withdraw from the case if they cannot be paid. The prosecutors have also argued that the pay ruling, in limiting how much attorneys may be paid even in cases of extraordinary circumstances, threatens the state’s ability to adequately compensate lawyers representing indigent defendants.

See here, here, and here for the latest updates, and here for even more, if you want to do a deeper dive. We should all have friends as steadfast as Ken Paxton has in Collin County, both on their Commissioners Court and in the person of Jeff Blackard. Friends help you move, real friends help you game the criminal justice system to effectively quash felony indictments.

At this point, either the existing prosecutors decide to stick it out and maybe extract a bit of revenge via jury verdict, or they throw in the towel and the whole thing starts over with new prosecutors. Which in turn would open a whole ‘nother can of worms, thanks to the Lege.

Under Senate Bill 341, which moved quietly and without controversy through the Texas Legislature, only county attorneys, district attorneys and assistant attorneys general would be qualified to serve in the high-stakes, often high-profile affairs that require specially appointed prosecutors. Currently, judges may appoint “any competent attorney,” which some have argued is an insufficient standard.

The author of that bill, Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, has presented it as a cost-saving effort for counties — special prosecutors will now be government attorneys who would not require additional funds — and also as a way to raise the bar of qualifications for special prosecutors.

That would limit the selection pool from the more than 100,000 practicing attorneys in Texas to a much smaller group of several hundred elected prosecutors or attorneys employed by the agency Paxton runs. The replacement for Wice and Schaffer would have to be either a Democratic district attorney, who might be seen as overly aggressive in her prosecution of a Republican statewide official; a Republican district attorney, who could be seen as overly sympathetic to a leader of his own party; or an assistant attorney general, who would be an employee of the defendant.

That law goes into effect September 1. This law does make some sense, and if the Paxton prosecution had been handed off to a DA or County Attorney there would not have been an issue with payment. I for one would argue that this case should absolutely be turned over to a big urban county DA’s office – Harris, Dallas, Bexar, or (oh, the delicious irony) Travis – since an aggressive prosecution is exactly what is needed, and the DAs in those counties will have less to fear from the voters than, say, the Denton or Tarrant or Montgomery County DAs would. I will be very interested to see what the presiding judge decides to do, if it comes to that. In the meantime, we need the voters of Collin County to start voting out members of their Commissioners Court, and the voters of Texas to start electing better jurists to the CCA. You want a lower-level cause to get behind in 2020, there’s two of them for you.

Daylight Saving Time lives

Oh, thank goodness.

Rep. Lyle Larson

A House-approved plan to stop Texans from having to change clocks twice a year and let them pick either daylight saving or standard time year-round is dead.

On Monday, author Rep. Lyle Larson said he was “very disappointed” that his proposal was “summarily dismissed by the Senate.”

Though Larson’s proposed constitutional amendment and an enabling bill easily cleared the House last month, the idea of letting voters weigh in on clock changes never gained traction in the Senate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t refer either Larson measure to a Senate committee. As end-of-session deadlines approached, Patrick’s inaction all but killed them.

Also, Senate State Affairs Committee chairwoman Joan Huffman, R-Houston, sat on two Senate-authored measures. One, by San Antonio Democratic Sen. Jose Menendez, would have abolished daylight saving time. The other, by Houston GOP Sen. Paul Bettencourt, would have let voters decide on keeping or ditching daylight saving time for good.

Huffman never gave either a hearing.

“She said no ‘time bills’ were going to be heard. That’s her public policy decision,” Bettencourt recounted from a conversation with Huffman.

[…]

One criticism of Larson’s measures was that he wouldn’t offer Texans the option of staying with the current system. One House member warned that Sunday churchgoers might miss the start of Dallas Cowboys games. Other critics noted that while a state can go to year-round standard time — joining Arizona, Hawaii and various U.S. territories — it would require an act of Congress for Texas to go to year-round daylight saving time.

See here and here for the background. I like Daylight Saving Time, so this is fine by me. I find the first criticism listed above to be particularly relevant. If you put this to a vote, there has to be a No option. That would complicate things, if the intent is to give people more than one option for how to change, but as a confirmed No voter that’s not my problem. And as noted, only one of the options presented is currently legal. There’s a bill in the US Senate to make that other option available, but if you think Mitch McConnell cares about doing anything legislative, well, I admire your idealism. I figure this is an issue that will never go away, and sooner or later the anti-DST forces are going to prevail, but until then I’m going to enjoy some sweet status quo.

Senate passes scooter safety bill

Cool.

Sen. Royce West

Texans could soon be banned from riding electric scooters along sidewalks in the cities where the divisive devices have recently popped up. The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would add that prohibition and require that scooter users be at least 16 years old.

Citing safety concerns, some local governments have imposed restrictions on electric scooters, like creating restricted areas where they can’t be used — but Texas legislators wanted to impose minimum statewide guidelines.

“It’s like the wild, wild west out there with no rules,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Senate Bill 549, authored by Dallas Democrat state Sen. Royce West, would also prohibit more than two people from riding a scooter at once. Plus, the bill adds new guidelines for parking, so a rider can’t obstruct a road or sidewalk when they finish their ride.

[…]

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, decried the prohibition from riding on sidewalks, saying that there are some situations where it’s safer for a rider be on the sidewalk than on the street. But Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman, who says she’s been nearly hit three times by a scooter, said the sidewalk ban is key for safety.

“What about my personal liberty, my personal safety, when I’m walking on a sidewalk?” she said. “Not a side scooter-way, a side runway, or a side speedway — but a sidewalk.”

See here for the background. I don’t know what Sen. Hughes’ experience is, but we ban bicycles on sidewalks, too, and for the same reason. I’ll be rooting for this one in the House.

Raising the smoking age

I’m fine with this.

A long-stalled push to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes in Texas has a puff of momentum, thanks to early hearings in both chambers, strong support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a surprising and quiet change of position by one of Big Tobacco’s leading corporations.

GOP leaders of powerful committees in the House and Senate are again lead authors of proposals that would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Since 2007, such proposals have failed to pass into law for lack of support from Republicans who control the Legislature.

But there’s another new twist: Big Tobacco registering support for raising the legal age for buying smokes. Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company, “supports raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one.” and encourages the Texas Legislature to enact the proposal “without delay,” an Altria Client Services executive, Jennifer Hunter, said in written testimony submitted to the House Committee on Public Health this month.

Hunter’s statement did not acknowledge that Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and owns a stake in Juul, the leading maker of e-cigarettes, opposed a similar Texas proposal during the 2017 session. That year, an age-hiking measure offered by Republican Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond physician, died short of House consideration.

Hunter’s statement said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s 2018 call to address a national surge in the use of e-vapor products among 12- to 17-year-olds led Altria to “believe the time has come to enact legislation” raising the legal purchasing age to 21.

“We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rate,” Altria’s statement said. “Data shows that youth under eighteen get tobacco products — including e-vapor — primarily through ‘social access,’ that is, from friends or siblings who are” 18 or older, Hunter said.

Hunter added: “By raising the minimum age to twenty-one, no high school student should be able to purchase tobacco products legally.”

[…]

Several vape shopkeepers urged the House panel to reject the change in age while Schell Hammell of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association — which has as a slogan, “Saving Vaping Every Day” — said the group hopes lawmakers clarify the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate sales.

In 2017, Zerwas, who chairs the budget-drafting House Appropriations Committee, shrugged off criticisms of the raise-the-age proposal.

“There’s obviously some people who are going to see this as an infringement on rights and stuff, and those voices need to be heard,” Zerwas said then. “And yeah, that’s a loss of potential revenue, but one we can probably make up somewhere else.

“What’s more important than the health of our youth and future generations?”

Multiple individuals told the Senate panel Monday that the move to raise the age is a bad idea, particularly because the change would incongruously keep young men and women who risk their lives by enlisting in the military from being able to make their own choices to use cigarettes and e-cigs.

That’s the one argument that has any merit, in my opinion. Eighteen isn’t universal, however, as the drinking age can attest. The very clear health benefits of a 21-year smoking age versus an 18-year smoking age is more than enough to outweigh the philosophical objections. According to the Chron, one of these bills – SB21 in the Senate, HB749 in the House – has a solid chance of passing. I’m rooting for them.

Precinct analysis: 2018 State Senate

The day I look forward to since November has finally arrived – all the data from the last election is now available on the Texas Legislative Council webpage. You know what that means: It’s statewide precinct analysis time! Let’s start where we started two years ago at this time, with the State Senate, for whom 2018 data is here. I will boil this down into the bits of greatest interest.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
SD02   40.6%   41.3%   36.0%   40.1%   40.5%   39.5%   37.3%
SD05   41.5%   44.6%   38.1%   42.5%   42.8%   41.9%   39.2%
SD07   40.3%   43.9%   38.5%   42.3%   42.9%   42.5%   39.5%
SD08   48.8%   50.6%   43.0%   47.6%   48.6%   47.1%   44.3%
SD09   46.0%   48.9%   42.8%   46.0%   47.0%   46.2%   43.8%
SD10   51.7%   53.3%   47.1%   50.8%   51.6%   50.9%   48.3%
SD11      NA   41.5%   36.2%   39.9%   40.7%   40.6%   37.5%
SD12      NA   43.3%   36.5%   40.5%   41.2%   40.2%   37.3%
SD16   54.1%   55.9%   46.9%   52.6%   53.9%   52.3%   48.1%
SD17   46.8%   51.8%   44.6%   49.7%   50.7%   50.0%   45.1%
SD19      NA   56.8%   50.2%   53.7%   55.4%   55.3%   53.3%
SD25   42.3%   45.2%   38.4%   42.4%   43.6%   42.9%   39.2%

SDs 11, 12, and 19 were not on the ballot in 2018 and are thus the districts of interest for 2020. SD19, which Dems fumbled away in a special election last year, is the obvious, and realistically only target for 2020. The good news is that in a normal turnout context, it’s a sufficiently blue district to favor whoever challenges Sen. Pete Flores. No guarantees, of course, but as you can see it was more Democratic than SDs 10 or 16, the two seats that Dems won last year. A decent candidate and a November-of-an-even-year level of unity among Dems should be enough to win it back.

In SD05, it would appear that Sen. Charles Schwertner was not damaged by the sexual harassment allegations against him. He wasn’t the top performer among Republicans in his district, but he was solidly above average. The allegations, which were ultimately resolved in a non-conclusive fashion, were vague enough to let voters conclude that they didn’t really know what may have happened, and they voted accordingly.

I did not expect SD08 to be as close as it was. Looking at past data, it was a step below SDs 10, 16, and 17. The shift in suburban county politics, plus perhaps a bit of Paxton fatigue, put this one on the cusp for Dems. Might it have made a difference if more money had been dumped into Mark Phariss’ campaign. We’ll never know, but I’m going to be a little haunted by this one. It’s close enough to think that maybe it could have gone differently.

As for SD17, don’t be too mesmerized by the gaudy Dem numbers for the top candidates. SD17 contains the bulk of HD134, and that means a lot of nominal Republicans who crossed over in certain elections. It would seem that Sen. Huffman was not on their naughty list, and that enabled her to get by without too much discomfort.

One other way to look at this is to compare numbers over time. Here’s how this breaks down:


Dist  08Obama 12Obama 16Clinton 18 Beto 
=======================================
SD02   38.2%    35.5%     35.4%   41.3%
SD05   38.8%    34.5%     36.4%   44.6%
SD07   33.0%    32.0%     38.3%   43.9%
SD08   39.3%    36.6%     42.6%   50.6%
SD09   41.3%    39.2%     41.8%   48.9%
SD10   47.1%    45.4%     47.3%   53.3%
SD11   36.5%    33.5%     36.6%   41.5%
SD12   36.1%    32.2%     35.4%   43.3%
SD16   43.9%    41.6%     49.9%   55.9%
SD17   41.4%    39.2%     47.2%   51.8%
SD19   55.5%    54.6%     53.4%   56.8%
SD25   37.4%    33.9%     37.9%   45.2%

2018 had Presidential-level turnout, so I’m comparing it to previous Presidential elections. Some big shifts in there, most notably in SDs 08 and 16, but even districts that weren’t competitive in 2018 like SDs 07 and 25 moved by double digits in a Dem direction from 2012. Some of this is demographic change, but it sure seems like some of it is reaction to Trump and his brand of Republicanism. I do not believe that SD16 goes that blue without a lot of people who used to vote Republican switching sides. How long that effect lasts, in particular how long it lasts once Trump is a nightmare we’ve all woken up from and are trying to forget, is a huge question. If the shift is permanent, or at least resilient, Republicans are going to have some very tough choices to make in the 2021 redistricting process. If not – if things return more or less to what we’ve seen this past decade once a Democrat is back in the White House – then they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and dare Dems to do something about it. We won’t know till we experience it, which God willing will be 2022, a year when every Senator will be on the ballot. In the meantime, electing enough Dem Senators to force Dan Patrick to either change the three-fifths rule or get used to wooing Dems for his preferred bills is on the table for next year. I’ll have more numbers in the coming days.

The other Senate races that Republicans are worried about

They’re concerned about the State Senate, too.

Beverly Powell

Republican lawmakers in the Texas Senate were sitting pretty last year.

For years, the GOP had faced roadblocks to passing some conservative measures by the chamber’s two-thirds rule, which normally required the support of 21 members to get a bill to the floor. With 20 Republicans in the chamber, that left Republicans one short of moving out bills without the help of a single Democrat.

But then in 2015, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led a successful move to lower the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths. Suddenly, any measure with the backing of all of the chamber’s Republicans had all the support it needed. For that session and the ones that followed in 2017, the GOP effectively ran the Senate floor.

Now, with less than two months until Election Day, Republicans are finding that keeping that supermajority in the Texas Senate is no longer a sure thing.

Nathan Johnson

“We’re emphasizing the possibility of losses,” said Darl Easton, the Republican Party Chairman in Tarrant County, where state Sen. Konni Burton’s re-election bid as seen is a potential toss-up. “The more complacent you become, the more likely it is that you won’t win. We definitely have to keep the voters alert to the possibility of losing some seats. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

“We are working and making sure we’re leaving no stone unturned,” added Missy Shorey, the Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman, speaking of the party’s efforts in assisting state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. “People in Dallas certainly know there’s no chance that seat is going to flip. [Huffines] is working for every vote out there.”

The Senate is still poised to remain GOP-dominated during next year’s legislative session. What’s at stake for the chamber’s Republicans this election cycle is losing their three-fifths majority — the crucial threshold for bringing legislation to the Senate floor without any support from Democrats.

[…]

If at least two of [Konni Burton, Don Huffines, and Joan Huffman] lose their seats this election cycle, the political repercussions could be far-reaching: not only would it loosen Patrick’s stronghold over the upper chamber, Republican senators themselves would have to work across the aisle to get their bills passed.

Rita Lucido

“When you have to cross the aisle, you have to cross the river and that changes everything,” said Bill Miller, a veteran political consultant and lobbyist. “If [Dan Patrick] were to lose that three-fifths majority, his power would be diminished. That doesn’t mean he won’t be powerful, but he won’t be the most powerful person to ever hold the office — which is what he’s been up to this point.”

“If you haven’t had any power in a while and I give you power, it’s going to be tasty,” he added. “It’s a tasty morsel. If Democrats get back at the table, that will change how the Senate behaves.”

What’s also at risk is the ability to get conservative legislation to the governor. Without a Republican Senate supermajority, Easton said, measures important to hard-line conservatives might not get a hearing in the Texas House — let alone be brought up for debate on the Senate floor.

“Obviously, it’s going to be harder to get conservative stuff through the Senate if we don’t have the numbers, and if we don’t get it through the Senate then the House doesn’t even have to look at it,” Easton said. “It’s politics as usual. The stronger your base is, the more likely it is you’re going to get stuff through the House and eventually to the governor’s desk.”

Miller agreed, adding that Republicans in the Senate might have reason to worry.

“In recent cycles, Republicans have looked at every election cycle as just a reaffirmation of their dominance, and that has absolutely been the case,” he said. “This is the first time in memory where not only is that dominance in question, but there’s a high degree of confidence on the part of Democrats. So it’s a whole new world out there.”

There’s at least some polling evidence to suggest that both Powell and Johnson are in decent shape, though it’s one poll in each case and you know what we say about individual polls. I just want to observe that I wrote about the effect of Dems picking up two Senate seats last year, right after the filing deadline. Patrick could of course seek to eliminate the three-fifths rule in the same way that he eliminated the two-thirds rule; the Senate adopts the rules it abides by each session, and it only takes a majority vote to do so. All I know is that anything that clips Dan Patrick’s wings, even a little bit, is a good thing. Both Powell and Johnson have been endorsed by the DMN, for whatever that’s worth. These are all winnable races. It’s a matter of proving Dems can win in districts that weren’t drawn for them.