Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ken Paxton

Who else can we think of who’s alleged to have violated Texas securities law?

Into every story about cryptocurrency, some amount of absurdity is sure to follow.

Texas is investigating celebrities who had endorsed FTX, the now bankrupt cryptocurrency firm, for potentially violating state securities laws.

The Texas State Securities Board started looking into FTX’s operations last month over whether the exchange’s yield-bearing crypto accounts were providing residents with unregistered securities. Since the company’s collapse on Nov. 11, the board has significantly expanded its probe to examine the impact of this multibillion-dollar bankruptcy.

And promotions of FTX by celebrities such as the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady are now part of this broadened investigation, as first reported by Bloomberg News and confirmed by The Texas Tribune.

It also comes amid a class-action lawsuit filed in Florida against Curry, Brady and other celebrities — mostly high-profile athletes — which alleges that FTX had used their endorsements as part of a scheme designed to take advantage of “unsophisticated investors.” It also names FTX’s former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

“Anyone who renders investment advice in Texas typically needs to be registered and they typically have to truthfully disclose all known material facts,” said Joe Rotunda, the state board’s enforcement director. “In Texas, there is not a different system of justice or regulation for people who are celebrities.”

It’s currently unclear if any prominent Texan would be investigated, but Rotunda said his team is still compiling a list of relevant parties based on recent court filings by FTX’s current CEO John J. Ray III and the class-action lawsuit. In particular, it will be looking at what the promoters disclosed, how they were compensated and how their promotions were scripted and filmed.

“It’s important from a securities regulation standpoint, and from a bankruptcy standpoint, to determine the ways FTX was encouraging clients and Texans to use FTX and invest with FTX,” he said.

He added that his team will also have to consider how the relevant law applies in this situation, since it was established via a 1985 case involving an investment and financial newsletter being distributed via fax.

“That’s a far cry from social media and broadcast advertisements, let alone tokens and blockchains, right?” Rotunda said.

I mean, okay, that’s their job and I appreciate that they are not giving anyone a pass for being a celebrity. It’s just that I personally don’t expect a celebrity endorser to be an actual expert on the thing they’re being paid to endorse. Maybe they should have some level of knowledge, when we’re talking about a financial product, but as a general rule I just figure either they like the thing they’re shilling for or they like the money they’re getting for the shilling. I don’t need for Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman to be salsa connoisseurs in real life. It’s just an ad.

On the other hand, given the best known example we have of a prominent person being accused of violating state securities law (hint: his name rhymes with Pen Kaxton), it could be a decade or more before any of them find themselves answering to the charges in question. If I’m Tom Brady’s lawyer, I’m probably telling him to worry about other things over this one. He’s not in any near-term danger.

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Harris County can include about 2,100 ballots cast during an extra hour of Election Day voting when officials certify the midterm results. But the state’s highest civil court also ordered Harris County to determine whether those late-cast ballots would affect the outcome of any races — and kept alive Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to counting them.

It’s a win, at least temporarily, for Harris County officials in a fight against Paxton’s attempt to discard thousands of midterm ballots as election results are set to be certified Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee said that about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. Election Day should be counted. Those ballots were cast after a district court judge ordered Harris County polling places to remain open an extra hour because many locations had opened late that morning.

“The votes that were cast during that time period pursuant to a court order are still perfectly legal. And there’s nothing in the law that prohibits them from being counted,” Menefee said. “So our perspective is that those provisional ballots are no different than any other provisional ballots — they are to be counted.”

Harris County officials argued as much in a filing to the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday. That came one day after Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court to toss the late-cast ballots.

[…]

In at least one race, the provisional ballots could impact the outcome. After provisional and mail-in ballots were counted, the incumbent for Harris County’s 180th Criminal State District Court, DaSean Jones, went from trailing Republican Tami Pierce to leading by less than 500 votes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

See here for the background and here for the court’s order. It’s just one page long, and the gist of it is this:

In this mandamus proceeding, which challenges Harris County election officials’ processing of the “later cast votes,” we grant the following temporary relief under Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.10(b):

  • Respondents are directed to conduct the canvass of the November 2022 election as required by the Election Code.
  • As part of the canvass, respondents are ordered to separately identify in the vote tabulations the number of “later cast votes” for each candidate in each race and for or against each proposition, so that candidates, the parties, and this Court may ascertain whether the “later cast votes” would be outcome-determinative and so that the parties can assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.
  • Respondents are ordered to provide the Court with a copy of the canvass results, including the separately tabulated “later cast votes,” as soon as they are available.

The petition for writ of mandamus remains pending before this Court.

I presume that last line is there in the event the provisional ballots have an effect on the 180th Criminal District Court race, in which event (again, I presume) the merits of the arguments will have to be addressed. Lawyers, please feel free to correct me as needed. The only other race that is close enough to be even theoretically affected by the provisional ballots is the County Criminal Court #3 race, where Porsha Brown trails by the even smaller margin of 267 votes. However, given that the provisional votes cast on Election Day favored Democrats, it’s even less likely for that race to be affected, and it would be impossible for both of them to be in a position to change.

I maintain as I said yesterday that it is highly unlikely that the 180th Court will be affected. If you throw out all of the Election Day provisional ballots, DaSean Jones still leads by 89 votes. There are apparently 2,100 provisional Election Day ballots in question, out of 2,555 total E-Day provisionals and 2,420 that included a vote in this race. The odds that Jones could lose the entire 360 vote net he got from the E-Day provisionals plus another 90 votes in this subset of the total ballots just strike me as extremely remote. I wish the stories that have been published about this would go into more detail about this as I have done – yes, I know, math is hard, but you could at least use “highly unlikely” language to offer some context. By the time this runs in the morning we’ll know what the official canvass says, and from there we’ll see if an election challenge will follow.

The Chron story, from a bit later in the day, has more details.

While the provisional ballots are included in the official count certified by Commissioners Court, the Supreme Court also is ordering the county to include in the final canvassed results a separate report that details the votes of the “later cast votes for each candidate in each race.” That way, candidates can determine whether this group of ballots would change the outcome of their race and “assess the extent to which further litigation is warranted.”

Given that Harris County voters cast more than 1.1 million ballots overall, the 2,000 provisional ballots have little chance of changing most election outcomes. However, a handful of candidates in tight races may consider legal challenges over election results.

“At this point, we do not anticipate that it impacts the outcome of any races,” Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne said. “Of course the [Texas Supreme Court] proceedings remain pending and the court could rule on something. And of course there can always be election contests. Many of those races were close, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see candidates filing election contests.”

[…]

On Election Night, the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas obtained a court order from a judge requiring all Harris County polling locations to extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after the groups argued in a lawsuit that late openings at some polling locations prevented some residents from voting.

Voters who were in line by 7 p.m. were able to vote normally, while those who arrived between 7 and 8 p.m. were allowed to cast provisional ballots.

That evening, in quick succession, Paxton’s office filed its writ of mandamus asking the Texas Supreme Court to vacate or reverse the court order, and the Supreme Court responded by staying that order, saying votes cast after 7 p.m. “should be segregated,” without specifying whether they must be excluded from the final count.

Because the proceedings are still ongoing, it is too soon to know whether the ability to extend voting hours in the future could be impacted.

“The court hasn’t specified whether or not that’s legal,” Fombonne said. “The proceedings are pending. There may be an opinion in the future that addresses that question.”

Hani Mirza, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program, was part of the team that sought the court order extending voting hours this year. The group also filed a lawsuit in 2018 obtaining a similar court order in Harris County. Mirza said in the case four years ago, Paxton’s office did not ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene.

Nor did Paxton’s office intervene this year when voting hours were also extended by one hour in Bell County because of early morning glitches with check-in systems. The Bell County attorney confirmed last week that a court order there had not been challenged by the Attorney General’s Office or another party.

“It doesn’t make any sense outside of, obviously, cynical partisanship and these targeted actions against Harris County, the most diverse county in the state” Mirza said.

That sort of addresses my question above about the last line in the SCOTx order. We’ll just have to keep an eye on that. The election has been certified by Commissioners Court, which if nothing else avoids the drama of any further delays. As to who might file a contest, again we’ll have to see. Seems like a lot of fuss for something that is unlikely to go anywhere, but who knows.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office is attempting a last-minute intervention to toss out 2,000 provisional ballots before a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday to certify the November election.

The ballots in question were cast during a one-hour period on Nov. 8.

“Although the ballots were processed, Harris County now intends to include them in the final vote canvass,” Christopher Hilton, chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division said Monday. “We have never agreed that these ballots can be part of the final election results, and this afternoon we’re going to ask that the Texas Supreme Court rule that these late-cast votes should be excluded as Texas law requires.”

The petition was filed Monday afternoon. Hilton declined to comment on why the office did not ask for the ruling sooner.

“A court of law ordered Harris County to keep the polls to open for an additional hour on Election Day and people across our county cast their ballots during that time,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “My office is going to do everything we can to protect every single vote that was cast. Republican, Democrat, or Independent — no eligible voter should have their ballot thrown out because the Attorney General can’t accept the results of Harris County elections.”

[…]

According to emails shared with Chronicle, parties including the Texas Attorney General’s office, Harris County Attorney’s office, Texas Civil Rights Project, Harris County Republican Party and Harris County Democratic Party all signed off an agreement on Nov. 11 for processing the provisional ballots.

First Assistant County Attorney Jonathan Fombonne wrote the Harris County Attorney’s office was approving the agreement “based on the understanding that the Texas Supreme Court’s order does not prohibit the tabulating of those votes as long as the ballots themselves remain segregated.”

Kimberly Gdula, deputy chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, signed off on the agreement in an email: “The State is good with this.”

However, Sunday evening, two days before the commissioner’s court meeting to certify the election results, Hilton, the chief of the Attorney General’s office general litigation division, sent an email to the parties questioning the legal basis for including the provisional ballots cast after 7 p,m. in the final count and seeking clarification “so that the parties can pursue any legal remedies, if necessary.”

In a statement Monday, Harris County Attorney’s office spokesperson Roxanne Werner said: “Representatives from the Attorney General’s office and the Harris County Republican Party asked for the language describing that process to be removed from the agreed order, leaving Harris County to process and count the late ballots as they would other provisional ballots while ensuring they were kept segregated. All parties were put on notice that the votes would be counted.”

“This 11th-hour ask to throw those votes away should not be tolerated, especially considering the State rejected the County’s offer to hold off on counting these votes while it sought clarification from the Supreme Court,” Werner added.

See here and here for some background about the litigation that allowed polling locations to remain open until 8 PM. As the story notes, Bell County had similar issues with some polling locations and also got a court order allowing locations to remain open until 8 PM, which the AG’s office has not opposed. The main takeaway here is that not only can you not trust anything Paxton says, you also can’t trust anything his office says, even if they sign their names to it. No wonder he’s having a hard time retaining staff.

As a reminder, and as you can see from the report released by the Elections Office on the 18th, DaSean Jones netted 360 votes from the provisional ballots cast on Election Day. However, he is leading by 449 votes, so if you threw out all of the E-Day provisionals, he would still be ahead by 89 votes in his race. He had already overcome the 165-vote deficit he had in earlier reports thanks to the counting of cured mail ballots, which had gained him 259 votes.

It’s actually not clear from the story how many ballots we’re talking about. The story refers to “2,000 provisional ballots”. I can’t tell if this is just using a round number because exact figures are confusing or if this is the exact figure. There were 2,555 provisional ballots cast on Election Day, of which 2,420 included a vote in the DaSean Jones – Tami Pierce race. I guess it’s theoretically possible that of the provisional E-Day ballots that were specifically cast by people who got in line after 7 PM (because if you were already in line you were always allowed to vote), Jones had a net advantage of at least 450 over Pierce. To say the least, that would be an extraordinary circumstance. (*)

I point this out to say that barring something truly weird, Paxton’s bad faith filing will not – can not – have any effect on any race. That doesn’t change the fact that his filing is trash and should be rejected by SCOTx on the grounds that these people deserve to have their votes counted. The remedy for having to vote late because of voting location problems is to extend voting hours to accommodate those that were affected. Just like what happened in Bell County (won by Greg Abbott 59.04% to 39.52%, in case you were curious), which the AG has accepted as fact. I for one don’t see any difference between the two.

(*) I did search on the Supreme Court webpage for Paxton’s mandamus filing, which might have been more specific and thus answered my questions. Looking on the Electronic Filings search, I think this case is number 22-1044. However, the hyperlink for that case didn’t work when I tried it, and searching for the case via that number returned no results. If you can do better than I did, or if the webpage eventually fixes itself, let me know.

UPDATE: The Trib story also references “2,000 ballots”, which does not help clear up my confusion. They also refer to the overall total of about 4,000 provisional ballots – the actual overall total is 4,333, of which 1,778 were cast early and are clearly not at issue. So, until I hear otherwise, it is my contention that these provisional ballots are not enough to alter any race’s result, and also that this doesn’t matter because all of the ballots should be counted. We’ll see what the Court says.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

Collin County DA denies sexual harassment allegations

Pretty damn forcefully, but also in a way that’s kind of telling.

Greg Willis

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis repeatedly called accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation against him “false, defamatory and outrageous” at a news conference Wednesday, where he presented “extraordinary evidence” he says debunks allegations in a federal lawsuit filed last month.

Willis — flanked by about three dozen supporters, including his wife, State District Judge Jill Willis, and prosecutors inside the McKinney courthouse — played an audio recording and displayed notes written by the six current and ex-employees suing the DA. He said he had been “unfairly attacked” in the 75-page lawsuit.

“We have spent our entire professional lives fighting for the rule of law, and the rule of law is what holds our society together,” Willis said, speaking of himself and his wife. “Fair, equal and unbiased justice must always prevail, and in our roles we have the duty to seek justice at all times. The truth matters.”

The suit says Willis inappropriately touched and propositioned female employees. It also alleges that Willis’ top prosecutor, First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye, fostered a toxic workplace and that county officials were complicit in covering up the systemic misconduct.

The office’s chief and deputy chief investigators, as well three former employees and a current prosecutor, lodged the accusations against the county’s two highest-ranking prosecutors, County Judge Chris Hill and commissioners Susan Fletcher, Darrell Hale, Duncan Webb and Cheryl Williams. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Willis’ attorney, Rogge Dunn, said in a prepared statement that Willis “revealed only a small sampling of the compelling mountain of evidence proving the plaintiffs’ claims are false and completely trumped up.”

He added: “In 35 years of handling employment lawsuits, this is one of the most frivolous lawsuits I’ve ever seen.”

Jeffrey Simon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement that the employees “greatly feared [Willis’] rage and retaliation” if they defied him.

“Efforts by Mr. Willis to characterize those acknowledgments as proof of his innocence are consistent with the allegations that he remains consumed with trying to cover his tracks in the event he’s exposed,” the statement said.

[…]

One of the former employees, Fallon LaFleur, alleges Willis gave her a “full-frontal hug” as she left the district attorney’s office following her exit interview. LaFleur worked as a prosecutor from 2019 to 2021, according to the lawsuit. She resigned from the office, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Willis hugged her “while her arms were stiff beside her body” and “he rubbed her lower back with his hands and pressed her breasts against him.”

In an audio recording of the exit interview, a woman Willis said is LaFleur can be heard saying, “Can I give you a hug?” and, “You are so wonderful! Thank you so much! And I will see you around.” Willis described her tone during this interaction as “animated” and cheerful.

“The truth is now clear for all to see what she said in this lawsuit did not happen,” Willis said. “It is a lie. It is false.”

It is unclear why Willis recorded the exit interview.

According to the lawsuit, LaFleur attempted suicide because of the “severe and pervasive discriminatory workplace.” Later, Wirskye was overheard calling LaFleur “crazy” and insinuating LaFleur attempted suicide to get out of a trial, the lawsuit says. LaFleur has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.

Simon, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said recording their conversation may have violated the Collin County employee handbook, which “expressly prohibits the recording or taping of conversations” inside the DA’s office or county offices.

“The fact that Mr. Willis appears to have tried to secretly set her up in the event she later exposed his behavior is again entirely consistent with the conduct alleged against him,” Simon said in his statement.

See here for the background. KERA dug into the code of conduct matter.

KERA obtained a section of a 2006 Collin County handbook, which says employees are “not allowed to film, record or tape in any format, a conversation or activity taking place on county property or where county business is being performed, unless you inform and obtain the consent of all parties to the conversation or activity.”

On Wednesday, Willis released portions of a May 2021 exit interview with Fallon LaFleur, one of his former subordinates. Willis had called a press conference to dispute allegations of sexual harassment against him that were detailed in a federal lawsuit. LaFleur had worked as a misdemeanor prosecutor.

LaFleur’s attorney, Jeffrey Simon, said she didn’t know Willis was recording the conversation. Simon said the fact Willis recorded LaFleur’s exit interview without her consent or knowledge is suspicious.

“What kind of workplace is one running that a boss feels compelled to secretly record their employees? Did Mr. Willis foresee that one day he and a toxic workplace that our clients alleged to exist would be exposed?” he said.

The handbook also says the rules about recording apply “even if you yourself are taking part in the conversation or activity.” Simon said Willis didn’t reveal to LaFleur at any point in their conversation that he was recording.

“What if in the interview he added to at least one or all of those comments of fawning praise and personal assurance, I’ve been secretly recording you?” he said.

I presume that if he did inform LaFleur about the recording, that would be on the recording as well. Recording the exit interview, when that’s against the county’s code of conduct, sure seems sketchy to me. It can’t be policy to do that, since that policy would (presumably, at least) be in violation of the code, and if it was done as a one-off you have to wonder why, as attorney Simon does. Let’s just say that I look forward to the court hearings, when people will be speaking under oath. KERA and the Dallas Observer have more.

UPDATE: OMFG.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis this week argued a snippet of a recorded conversation cast doubt on allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation against him by current and former employees.

But the entire 20-minute conversation with then-prosecutor Fallon LaFleur shows she told Willis in spring 2021 she was sexually harassed during the nearly three years she worked for him.

Willis posted the recorded interview and a transcript to his new website, collincountytruthfiles.com, but played only 11 seconds at a news conference Wednesday when he challenged the accusations.

[…]

“I worry there is a lot you don’t know,” LaFleur said timidly to Willis, about three-fourths of the way into the exit interview.

“I’m aware that there is a lot I don’t know,” Willis said. “The person at the top usually knows the least.”

LaFleur then described comments by First District Attorney Bill Wirskye: “I’ve personally been called a whore in a whorehouse.”

“It felt mean. It felt like sexual harassment,” she said.

In the clip Willis played at the news conference, LaFleur asks the DA for a hug. In the lawsuit LaFleur alleges Willis gave her a “full-frontal hug” while her arms were stiff beside her body. Willis rubbed her lower back and pressed her breasts against him, according to the lawsuit.

This interaction was the only accusation of inappropriate physical contact LaFleur lodged against Willis in the lawsuit. Several other women made similar allegations of unwanted massages, moaning as he touched them and unwanted sexual advances.

Willis, who would not answer questions Wednesday after his news conference, did not acknowledge the rest of the recording. His spokeswoman said she would ask Willis and his attorney questions from The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. But she didn’t follow up with answers to why Willis didn’t discuss it, why the full recording and transcript were posted to the website, and if Willis recorded other conversations with Willis recorded other conversations with employees.

Wirskye did not attend the news conference or respond this week to requests for comment. He previously called the allegations “politically motivated and politically timed” and made “by some very disgruntled and very troubled individuals.”

Jeffrey Simon, a lawyer for the former and current employees, said in an interview the audio “clearly corroborates paragraph after paragraph of allegations” LaFleur made in the paragraph of allegations” LaFleur made in the court filing.

“It’s astonishing to me, to us, that [Willis] thought that by virtue of the 11 seconds that he played that somehow disproved the importance of the 20 minutes of audio,” Simon said.

“If Mr. Willis believes that at his grandstanding … hurts Ms. LaFleur’s case, he is mistaken. He’s helping to prove it.”

That sound you heard was my jaw hitting the floor. There’s more to the story, none of which sounds good for Ken Paxton’s buddy Greg Willis. Like I said, I can’t wait for this to get a hearing.

If Greg Abbott demands an investigation, Greg Abbott will get an investigation

This is all still so dumb.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is launching an investigation into “alleged irregularities” during last week’s election after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Ogg sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw asking for the Texas Rangers’ assistance on Monday, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation and the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit accusing Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum and the county of numerous violations of the Texas Election Code.

The allegations include paper shortages at 23 polling locations, releasing early voting results before polls closed at 8 p.m., the improper disposition of damaged ballots and inadequate instructions on how poll workers were to manage instances in which the two-page ballots were not completely or adequately scanned into machines.

Under Harris County’s countywide voting system, residents had 782 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day. The paper shortages affected a small number of polling places.

The GOP lawsuit, however, claims “countless” voters were turned away due to the paper shortages and did not go to a second location to vote.

See here for the background. Ogg, who was not exactly an asset to Democrats in this election, has taken some heat for this. I get that and I’m not here to defend any of her recent actions, but I’m not exercised about this. There was going to be an investigation of some kind once Abbott threw his tantrum, and given that it can’t be Ken Paxton unless he’s invited in, it may as well be the local DA. Having the Texas Rangers assist makes sense in that it’s best to have outside help for an internal political matter. If this turns out to be much ado about nothing, as I believe it is, then let the Rangers take the blame from the Republicans for not finding anything. I am not going to waste my energy sweating about this at this time.

In the meantime:

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, speaking at length publicly for the first time since Election Day, pledged a complete assessment of voting issues Tuesday but said the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

“A full assessment is in order,” Tatum told Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. “We have started that assessment, but I’d like to remind you and the public we are still counting votes.”

He said his office still was working its way through about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A state district judge ordered the county to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. because some voting locations failed to open on time. Those provisional ballots are being kept separate from the unofficial count, pending a court ruling on the validity of those votes.

The deadline for the county to canvass the vote is Nov. 22.

[…]

Tatum told Commissioners Court his staff is contacting each election judge to gather feedback and assess challenges they faced, including any technical difficulties and the response they received.

At least one polling place had a late opening and certain locations ran out of paper, Tatum confirmed.

Tatum took over the job in August, just two months before early voting in the November election began. So far, he noted the county is in “dire need” of some critically needed improvements, including a better communication system, more maintenance and operations personnel and a tracking system for monitoring requests from the election workers running polling locations.

Tatum said he has spoken with election judges who requested technical help and did not receive it.

“Because I can’t track that technician within the system that I have, I can’t tell you what happened,” Tatum said.

I dunno, maybe wait until all the work is done and see what happens before storming the barricades? And yes, especially now that they have full control over the budget, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court needs to ensure this office has sufficient resources. We need to do better. Reform Austin has more.

Paxton taken off the hook for testifying in abortion funds’ lawsuit

By the Fifth Circuit, of course.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will not have to testify as nonprofits that help patients legally obtain abortions seek clarity on whether they can do their work in states like Texas where the procedure is outlawed, a federal appellate court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an Austin federal court judge should have granted Paxton’s motion to quash subpoenas he was served by the plaintiff abortion funds.

The subpoena made national headlines after Paxton evaded a legal messenger who had shown up at his house on the eve of a hearing in the case. Paxton later called the messenger “suspicious” and “erratic” and said he “justifiably feared for his personal safety.”

The abortion funds are suing the state for protection to resume their work amid the state’s newly enforced abortion bans. They have said Paxton’s testimony is necessary because he and his office have made conflicting statements about the legality of helping Texas residents legally obtain abortions in other states, and he is the only person who can clarify their meaning and intent.

“We are happy that Judge Pitman can move forward in the case now, and that the Fifth Circuit has acknowledged the real threats against our clients related to assisting people to access reproductive health care out of state,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a joint statement.

[…]

At first, the district court granted Paxton’s motions to quash the subpoenas; however, after more information came to light — Paxton had claimed he was served “on the literal eve of trial,” yet emails submitted to the court by the abortion funds’ lawyers showed he had at least four days notice — the judge changed course and ordered Paxton to testify.

The appellate judges disagreed with the lower court’s finding that there were “exceptional circumstances” requiring Paxton to testify.

“Paxton’s personal ‘thoughts and statements’ have no bearing on his office’s legal authority to enforce Texas’s abortion laws or any other law,” the panel wrote in the ruling. “It is entirely unexceptional for a public official to comment publicly about a matter of public concern. If doing so imparts unique knowledge, high-level officials will routinely have to testify.”

The panel also disagreed with the lower court’s contention that testifying would not cause a significant burden for Paxton.

“‘High ranking government officials have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses,'” they wrote, citing prior case law. “Those duties often involve communicating with the public on matters of public interest. The fact that a high-ranking official talks to his constituents does not ipso facto mean he also has ample free time for depositions.”

See here for the background. This is one of those times where I wish the story included a quote or two from an actual legal expert about the opinion. We all know how deeply in the tank for Paxton the Fifth Circuit is, but based on what is reported in the story, the ruling seems at least defensible. But the Fifth Circuit is so utterly corrupt that I can’t rely on my judgment here, and they deserve absolutely no benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to be a chump here, so I’d like to see someone who knows these things render an assessment. In the absence of that, all I have is my well-honed instinct to not trust that terrible court. And we’ll all have the Internet mockery of Ken Paxton for his pusillanimous efforts to evade the process server. Sometimes the snark is the most dependable thing out there.

This is all so dumb

I’m going to quote a large swath of this Reform Austin story because it sums up what has been happening the past couple of days better than I could.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Harris County’s election practices last Tuesday, saying that he wanted to get answers as to why a myriad of election administration issues occurred. Delayed openings at some polling places openings, a shortage of paper ballots at some polls, and understaffing problems plagued the county on election day.

“The allegations of election improprieties in our state’s largest county may result from anything ranging from malfeasance to blatant criminal conduct,” Abbott said in a statement but did not offer further details.

He added: “Voters in Harris County deserve to know what happened. Integrity in the election process is essential. To achieve that standard, a thorough investigation is warranted.”

But Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum responded that the county is “committed to transparency” and is already participating in the state’s election audit process.

“The office is currently reviewing issues and claims made about Election Day and will include these findings in a post-elections report to be shared promptly with the Harris County Elections Commission and the County Commissioner Court,” Tatum said in an emailed statement.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said that any problems on Election Day were technological and were related to the new voting machines Harris County was forced to purchase to bring the county into compliance with the new state law.

That law mandated the new models would be used as they produce a paper backup in addition to electronically capturing voter input. GOP state legislators passed the legislation called SB1 in their post-2020 “election integrity” campaign, despite any evidence of irregularities or fraud.

“Rather than waste resources on this nonsense, Gov. Abbott ought to investigate how many permitless guns have been used in violent crime,” Garcia said.

Also Monday, the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Tatum and the county, alleging paper shortages at some voting centers amounted to violations of the Texas Election Code.

But Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu disputed the GOP’s assertions, saying that “The claim that there was, like, thousands and thousands of people who were disenfranchised, there’s no claim to that, there’s no proof of that,” Evbagharu said.

The delayed openings of roughly a dozen polling places on election day led a state district judge to allow an extra hour of voting time at those sites in response to a last-minute lawsuit filed by progressive advocates.

The Texas Civil Rights Project argued the case on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project, which sued to keep polls open. The suit stated it felt compelled to take legal action because election operation disruption earlier that day had caused voter disenfranchisement.

Hani Mirza, voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project said in a statement “We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

Harris County District Judge Dawn Rogers ruled the effort was likely to prevail, and that the government had infringed upon voters’ rights, and thus she approved the additional time.

Not surprisingly, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed the organization’s suit immediately, prompting the Texas Supreme Court to order the county to segregate votes cast during the extension while it reviews the judge’s action.

Honestly, all things considered, I thought Election Day didn’t go as badly as some people are saying. There were some glitches, and for sure we could do a better job with the paper, but we’re talking twenty-some locations out of 782. One reason we have so many locations is to give people plenty of other options if the place they went to is having issues. It’s a pretty small percentage, and so far as I can tell, no one has come forward to say that they were prevented from voting. Even more, the obvious remedy to voting locations that opened late or had to shut down for a period while paper issues were being sorted would have been to allow voting to go on for some extra time, so that anyone who was unable to get to another location and could not return before 7 PM would still have a chance to vote. Which the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Civil Rights Project sought to do and got an order from a district court judge, which was then opposed by Ken Paxton and shot down by the Supreme Court. You can’t have it both ways.

The Elections Office is going to have to make its mandated reports. There was already going to be an audit of the November election, in case anyone has forgotten. Paxton is going to do whatever he’s going to do. If the local GOP is claiming that there was some kind of conspiracy to make it harder for Republicans to vote – pro tip: never believe a word Andy Taylor says – all I can say is good luck proving intent. Until shown otherwise, this all looks like a bunch of hot air and sour grapes. The Trib, the Chron, and the Press have more.

So what if anything will come of that SCOTx ruling on the extra voting time?

I have no idea.

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday set the stage for a legal fight over whether to count ballots Harris County voters cast during an extended hour of voting ordered by a lower court.

That lower court ordered that the state’s most populous county extend voting hours until 8 p.m. after several polling places were delayed in opening. The state’s highest civil court blocked that ruling and ordered Harris County to separate ballots cast by voters who were not in line by 7 p.m., the normal cutoff for voting in Texas. The Supreme Court’s order followed a request by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to reverse the lower court’s order. The Supreme Court posted the order on Twitter at 8:30 p.m.

It’s unclear how many votes were cast during the extra hour of voting, but Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee raised the prospect that the state would ask for those votes to be thrown out. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they would pursue such action.

Voters who got in line after 7 p.m. were required to cast a provisional ballot, which the county had already said would take more time to process and would not be initially counted in election night returns. Harris County is home to nearly 2.6 million registered voters.

The order to keep polls open an extra hour at nearly 800 polling places came after the Texas Organizing Project sued Harris County, citing issues at numerous polling locations that opened more than one hour late Tuesday. Many Harris County voting locations also experienced voting machine malfunctions that caused delays and temporary closures throughout the day, the lawsuit claimed. The county did not fight the request for extra voting time.

“We didn’t oppose the original relief because we want to make sure every single eligible voter in Harris County has the chance to cast their ballot, and there were polling places that had some issues,” Menefee said. “But the Supreme Court of Texas will decide what happens here.”

In its request for extra voting time, the Texas Organizing Project argued the delayed openings violated the Texas Election Code because polling locations that opened after 7 a.m. would not remain open to voters for 12 hours. State law says polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In a court motion filed earlier Tuesday, the attorney general’s office argued that a county’s failure to open polls at 7 a.m. does not justify ordering them to remain open past 7 p.m.

[…]

“We went to court because these closures and errors, especially in communities of color across Harris County, robbed voters of the opportunity to cast their ballot,” said Hani Mirza, the voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, which filed the lawsuit. “These folks got to the polls early, wanting to do their civic duty, and they would have were it not for these issues.”

Earlier in the day, a state district judge also ordered polling places to remain open an extra hour in Bell County in Central Texas. It is unclear if the attorney general’s office is also challenging that extension.

See here for some background, and here for a Twitter thread from the TCRP about their filing. At this point, I don’t believe any election is close enough to be potentially affected by however many provisional votes there could be. (I have no idea what that number is now, we’ll find out after the election is canvassed.) It would be nice to settle this as a matter of law and precedent, of course, and I would strongly argue that the voters shouldn’t be put in a position to be disenfranchised because of issues with a polling location – sometimes things go very wrong and it’s nobody’s fault – but I’m under no illusion that the Supreme Court will see it that way. Honestly, they’ll probably declare it moot once the provisional ballot numbers are confirmed, and that may be the best result we can hope to achieve. At least then there will be hope for the next time these things happen.

UPDATE: From the Chron:

Harris County officials declined to provide the number of voters who cast ballots during the extended period. The state’s highest civil court ordered these ballots be set aside until it issued a final ruling. In the meantime, all the votes during this period remain in legal limbo.

The Harris County district judge ordered that votes after the original 7 p.m. closing time be cast as provisional ballots, which are not counted until election workers confirm a voter’s eligibility.

Harris County Election Administrator Clifford Tatum declined to state how many ballots were cast during the extended period, but said Wednesday he didn’t believe any races would be affected by those provisional votes – or any provisional ballots left to count for other reasons.

“I don’t believe there are enough provisional ballots,” he said.

[…]

As of unofficial results, at least four district and county judicial races that flipped from Democrat- to Republican-held were close, separated by vote margins in the thousands and one as small as about 500.

As noted above, incumbent judge Dasean Jones is currently trailing by 465 votes, the closest countywide race. Jones won on Election Day with 50.24% of the vote. That means that if there are 10,000 provisional votes resulting from the problems with voting locations – this is, I want to emphasize, a huge over-estimate of the number of provisional ballots, but it’s a nice round number and will be nicely illustrative – and they vote at the same percentage for Jones, he’d have a net gain of 48 votes (524 to 476 for Jones). Of course, these problems occurred at specific locations which likely have more partisan characteristics – there’s no reason why they’d vote in exactly the same way as the county overall. Jones would need to win these 10K votes with 52.33% in order to pull ahead. If there are 5,000 provisional votes, he’d need to win them with 54.66% of the vote. If it’s 1000 provisional votes, it would need to be 73.3% of the vote. You get the idea. I don’t think it would be impossible for Dasean Jones to win with these votes, but unless those are extremely Democratic locations, the math is pretty challenging. For the candidates who lost by larger margins, even if those margins are tiny in absolute terms, it quickly becomes impossible to make up the ground. This is why recounts basically never change the outcome of even the closest elections.

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. Looks like mostly mail ballots – there are another 1,116 of them in the latest report. County turnout is just over 1.1 million now. The bottom line, since mail ballots were much more Democratic than in person ballots, is that as of this writing Dasean Jones is now trailing by 165 votes, having closed the gap by 300. However, I think this is the end of that line. But if indeed there are a significant number of provisional ballots and they are mostly accepted, then the chances that Jones could edge ahead are greater than what the math had suggested before. I still think it’s unlikely, but it’s less unlikely now.

What AG “task force”?

Who knows?

Best mugshot ever

The fact that Paxton – who helped lead the charge to overturn the 2020 national election results and promoted false claims that it was stolen – now planned to send people from his office to monitor Harris County elections was seen as an intimidation tactic by local Democrats and non-partisan voting rights organizations. Several implored the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to send federal election monitors to watch the state election monitors, a request the federal government has since granted.

But for all the attention on the effort in the lead up to Election Day, very little was actually known about it. Who was on the task force and how big was the operation? What exactly would they be doing? Where in Harris County would they be stationed? Here’s what the Chronicle was able to learn.

[…]

Has anyone in Harris County seen or interacted with members of Paxton’s task force?

Spokespeople for the Republican and Democratic parties in Harris County reached out to their teams that manage election workers to ask this same question. They said nobody on their team had reported any interactions from Paxton’s office yet.

“Imagine they’re here, but no reports that I’ve heard yet,” said Genevieve Carter, the Republican Party spokesman in Harris County, in a text message.

“Just checked with our elections folks,” Elisha Rochford, of the Democratic Party in Harris County, wrote in a text. “We have not heard anything about the AG’s office task force being in HC. We haven’t had any election workers report seeing anyone from AG.”

Alan Vera, a well-known conservative activist who has made numerous complaints about election problems in Harris County, said “I have not heard from anyone.”

Paul Bettencourt, a Republican state senator from Houston who has often complained about how Harris County administers elections, said he wasn’t aware of a team being sent to Houston from Paxton’s office. He said he would make some calls, but didn’t learn anything more. He said he believes the AG’s office is working with the Secretary of State’s office “remotely.”

Does the task force actually exist?

The Chronicle wasn’t able to find any evidence of a team from the attorney general’s office dispatched to Harris County.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t know if there was ever supposed to be a real “task force”. Maybe it was but it failed to materialize due to incompetence, laziness, or a lack of employees. Maybe it was always a stunt. Maybe it was 11-dimensional chess intended to mess with our minds and get the feds all scurrying about, in which case, mission accomplished, I guess. All I know is that the absence of Ken Paxton is always better than the alternative, so I’m going to chalk this up as a win.

Justice Department agrees to send election monitors

Good.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris and Dallas are the state’s largest and second-largest counties. Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus.

Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

See here and here for the background. When Ken Paxton and his minions are involved, you need all the help you can get. And while the early voting period was pretty calm, we know there’s a lot of bad stuff lurking. I feel better having these folks in the city. Politico and the Press have more.

The Ken Paxton problem is bigger than Ken Paxton

It’s that there’s just no accountability, barring the election result we’re all desperately hoping for.

Best mugshot ever

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Republican officials around the country have been giving increasing attention and resources to investigating election crimes. Most have focused on the alleged wrongdoing of voters.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is also working a different angle: His office has been criminally investigating the people who help run elections.

Over the past two years, Paxton’s office opened at least 10 investigations into alleged crimes by election workers, a more extensive effort than previously known, according to records obtained by ProPublica. One of his probes was spurred by a complaint from a county GOP chair, who lost her reelection bid in a landslide. She then refused to certify the results, citing “an active investigation” by the attorney general.

In at least two of the cases, Paxton’s office unsuccessfully tried to indict election workers, attempts that were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. In the remaining eight investigations identified by ProPublica, it is unclear just how far the probes went. As of mid-October, none of the cases resulted in criminal charges.

The story covers the ordeals of Dana DeBeauvoir and Rob Icsezen, both of whom Paxton tried to indict for incidents that any unbiased observer would have taken to be at worst honest misunderstandings. He even pursued those charges in neighboring Republican counties instead of the counties where the “crime” allegedly happened. Put aside for the moment the mess and dysfunction going on in that office, and the alleged criminality of Paxton himself. The office of Attorney General is traditionally one that pursues civil cases, not criminal ones, yet the guy in charge is off pursuing quixotic political indictments while letting human traffickers go free because they can’t keep track of witnesses. I’m old enough to remember when that sort of thing would have been a huge scandal, the kid of screwup that might force an official to resign because they had lost the faith of the public.

Not anymore, though. Short of it becoming a national story, there’s no way to focus enough attention on that kind of scandal to make it become an issue for anyone but the most plugged-in news-watcher. Republican voters don’t care, and neither do Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick or the Republicans in the Legislature, who at least nominally have some oversight of the Attorney General. At this point, Ken Paxton could murder someone on Sixth Street, and I doubt more than a handful of Republican legislators would call for him to step down. The only way that this Legislature will become interested in that oversight role will be if Rochelle Garza wins, at which point they’ll become very invested in having a say over what the AG does and does not do. Ken Paxton is what happens when people with power believe, with complete justification, that they can act with impunity.

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

You’re kind of close to getting it, John. You do need to do better, though.

Speaking in July to a group of concerned conservative voters in Dallas, Texas Secretary of State John Scott declared that Texas elections were the nation’s most secure.

But just a few minutes earlier, he was joking with the crowd about a Texas county with more voters than residents, rumors of dead men voting and stories of electioneering dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign.

“Cheating is not something that’s isolated to Democrats or Republicans,” Scott said to members of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives that summer evening. “People have been cheating in elections for as long as there’s been elections. The trick is to try and catch them.”

Then, Scott fielded questions from the group who expressed serious skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. Over the next hour and a half, Scott batted down disproven claims of widespread fraud and, in one instance, briefly defended himself from insinuations that he too was part of the anti-democratic scheme that audience members were convinced was happening in real time.

The evening was in many ways emblematic of Scott’s tenure as the state’s chief elections officer, marked by occasional mixed messages in an effort to build trust in an election system without alienating a base of voters who increasingly view election denialism as a party platform.

[…]

In an interview last week, Scott expressed some regret about his choice of words when talking to the Dallas Jewish Conservatives group earlier this year. But Scott said he has not spread election misinformation, whether that night or throughout his yearlong tenure. Rather, he said, he has sought to meet people where they are as a means of gaining trust and assuage their concerns through transparency.

“Am I probably more flippant than most? Yes,” he said. “Are there better public speakers? I’m sure there probably are. Are there better messengers? Yeah, I’m sure there’s better messengers. But I don’t know that there’s a better way to convey a message to someone that may not necessarily be open to your message other than being a little understanding of, potentially, how they got where they are.”

Over the course of his tenure, Scott has repeatedly insisted that Joe Biden is the rightful president and that Texas’ elections are and have been free, fair and secure.

“Our elections are more accessible and safer than they’ve ever been,” he told The Texas Tribune last week.

At the same time, Scott has on occasion given oxygen to the very misinformation that he now battles full time, including through his office’s audits of elections in four of the state’s largest — and mostly Democratic-leaning — counties. Those audits are rooted in false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and have yet to produce any evidence of serious fraud. Yet Scott has continued to justify the reviews by saying they will provide transparency and assuage the concerns of those who’ve bought in to disproven conspiracy theories.

Voting rights groups see it otherwise and fear his pronouncements on election integrity are too little, too late. They say Scott’s ties to myth-spreading Republican leaders — and his willingness to go along with audits — have needlessly injected more doubt into an already skeptical electorate ahead of a consequential midterm election. And they worry that Scott has helped lay the groundwork for a new round of even stricter voting rules — enhancements of laws that have already disenfranchised many Texans.

“He’s supposed to act as an arbiter of truth when it comes to elections,” said Alice Huling, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit founded by the former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission that has previously sued Scott’s office over voting laws.

Huling said election officials across the country need to be much more vocal in denouncing those in their own party who have spread misinformation.

“It is not sufficient to just throw your hands up and say, ‘I’m not pushing conspiracy theories,’” she said.

It’s like I was saying. I like making jokes as much as anyone, but sometimes they’re just inappropriate. And while Scott might claim that his jokes were bipartisan in nature – the aforementioned “county with more voters than people” is the famously Republican Loving County – unless he spelled it out very clearly it’s likely that his audience took it as further evidence of rampant cheating by Democrats. Being extremely consistent in delivering the message that elections are handled with care and integrity around the country, not just in Texas, is what is needed now.

And the problem isn’t just misplaced humor, either:

But voting rights groups say Scott should have better used the bully pulpit of his office to push against those doing the duping. They say that Scott’s proximity to prominent election-deniers has made it difficult to trust what he says — and has created ambiguity that fuels fraud myths.

For example: At the July event with the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, much of the conversation centered around “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked propaganda film by longtime GOP political operative Dinesh D’Souza that alleges there was serious fraud at drop-off ballot locations in 2020. The film has been promoted by top Texas Republicans, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the exceedingly rare number of voter fraud prosecutions in the state. At the event, Scott spoke alongside Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who also represented Trump and has been a key driver of more restrictive voting laws.

While Scott did note that the premise of the film was not applicable to Texas because the state does not use drop-off balloting, he did not reject D’Souza’s debunked theory outright.

“It’s really amazing,” Scott said of the film, which he said he had recently watched. “You get an enormous amount of information … and I guess it’s scary, right? It leaves you a little angry, a little scared that that’s going on.”

Scott has since explained those comments: “My point is that none of that stuff took place in Texas,” he said last month. “I didn’t do a great deal of research on what happened in other states. So I don’t know if voter fraud was widespread or not.”

[…]

Some of the harassment has been directed at Scott, too. In an interview last month with Texas Monthly, Scott again proclaimed that the 2020 election was not stolen and disputed the findings of “2000 Mules.” His office was immediately inundated by angry voters, some of them threatening.

“You little RINO piece of shit,” one man said in a voicemail that Scott’s office provided to the Tribune. “We want everyone in this country to see what you goddamn bastards did to this country. … There’s a reason Trump reinstituted capital punishment as hanging and firing squads.”

Scott said he’s been surprised by the vitriol that’s been flung at his office and other county elections administrators over the last year.

“I think there’s a group of people that make a living off of spreading misinformation,” Scott said last week. “I think that there are some people that are absolutely mentally disturbed out there, and this gives them a purpose.”

He added that the issue didn’t emerge overnight or even in the past year — it has been “getting more and more aggravated, probably over the last six years.”

“I probably was informed enough to know that it was not necessarily going to be a clover patch here. But I don’t know that I was fully anticipating as much venom,” he said.

I mean, this is “the dog ate my homework”-level excuse-making, plus a feigned innocence that just beggars belief. If you have to be told to stay away from widely-debunked propaganda, and even worse fail to understand why it’s propaganda, then you really are completely unqualified for this job. You just can’t be trusted. I don’t know what else to say.

Collin County DA accused of sexual harassment

Oh, boy.

Greg Willis

Six individuals who currently work or have worked in the Collin County District Attorney’s office filed a federal civil suit Monday, alleging that they were sexually harassed, discriminated against because of their gender, and faced retaliation after reporting the allegations about their boss and his top lieutenant.

The suit names Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, his first assistant Bill Wirskye, Collin County Judge Chris Hill, and county commissioners Susan Fletcher, Darrell Hale, Cheryl Williams, and Duncan Webb. The suit was filed by the district attorney’s chief investigator, Kim Pickrell; deputy chief investigator Keith Henslee; former misdemeanor prosecutor Fallon LaFleur; prosecutor VyKim Le; and two plaintiffs identified as Jane Doe.

The suit alleges that Willis sexually harassed female employees then retaliated against them. It says he repeatedly made sexual comments and inappropriately touched them. The lawsuit also alleges that Willis propositioned the women for sex during work trips and during regular closed-door meetings. It also claims that Wirskye routinely hazed female employees.

Le said that Willis had touched her inappropriately on at least two occasions, and the two unnamed plaintiffs recounted instances of unwanted touching and propositioning. After Pickrell and Henslee went to Wirskye with their concerns, the lawsuit alleges he retaliated by complaining about their performance.

Wirskye is also accused of referring to groups of prosecutors profanely, and called female prosecutors “bitches, whores, and sluts.” Henslee, Le, and LaFleur all recounted instances where Wirskye was allegedly retaliatory or crass.

The county commissioners were included because they “have known of this misconduct for years but have continued to enable it by refusing to take remedial action or even conduct a reasonable investigation.” A spokesperson for the county said it would not comment on pending litigation.

In addition to filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say they have also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission.

A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story. This case is obviously a potential blockbuster on its own, but I am specifically interested in it because Greg Willis is a good buddy of Ken Paxton’s and one reason why Paxton is being pursued by special prosecutors in his neverending Servergy fraud case, as Willis (properly!) recused himself at the beginning. Maybe any Collin County DA would have had to do the same – politics is a small world, after all, and politicians like to avoid hot potatoes when they can – but in another world maybe that doesn’t happen, and if so then the years-long saga of how the special prosecutors would or would not be paid would never have happened. Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this. The DMN, whose story I was unable to read as I drafted this, has more.

DMN\UT-Tyler: Abbott 50, Beto 44 (LV) – Abbott 47, Beto 44 (RV)

Pick your preference.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott holds a 6 percentage point lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke as the race to the Nov. 8 election grinds toward the finish line, a poll released Sunday by the University of Texas at Tyler shows.

The poll of 973 likely voters contacted randomly Oct. 17-24 shows Abbott ahead 50% to O’Rourke’s 44%. When the field is expanded to registered voters, 1,330 of whom were contacted, Abbott’s lead shrinks to just 3 points.

The results differ from a recent poll by the University of Texas Politics project that showed the incumbent with a strong 11-point edge, and with one conducted by Beacon Research that was commissioned by the Democratic Policy Institute that showed just a 3-point difference in Abbott’s favor. But UT-Tyler’s findings are in line with several non-aligned polls conducted in late summer. The margin of error for the “likely voters” breakout is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Moving down the ballot, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was leading Democratic challenger Mike Collier 44%-35% among likely voters and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was ahead of Democrat Rochelle Garza 42%-38%. Like Abbott, Patrick and Paxton are seeking third terms.

The poll’s data is here. I appreciate the fact that they gave us both a likely voter and registered voter result – this pollster has done that in the past, but it wasn’t always presented in a way that made it clear. I also appreciate that this story mentioned other polls and where this one fit in rather than rely on the ridiculous language of this candidate or that losing or gaining ground when comparing one isolated poll result to another, different, poll result. Having context is always better than not having context.

These numbers look reasonable enough. Both Beto and Abbott get about the same amount of support from their own voters, with independents split evenly. Beto does well among Black (78-16) and Latino (59-36) voters while Abbott crushes with white voters (63-31). Of interest in the AG race, one possible reason for Rochelle Garza to be the top performer, is that she is at 47-33 among indies, a significant difference from the Governor’s race. That’s of a small sample of a single poll, so don’t put any actual weight on it, but I’ll file it away for later if it becomes relevant. Even with their LV sample, there were a lot of “don’t know” responses in the Lite Gov and AG races, so who knows what that means. I don’t know if we’re expecting any more poll data at this point – now that we have actual votes, polling becomes of less value – but for what it’s worth, this is where we are.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that in their September poll, which was of registered voters, Abbott was leading 47-38.

Endorsement watch: Ash for Garza

You can say that again…

Here’s his opinion piece, which I hope gets picked up by some larger papers.

Rochelle Garza

My parents came to America from ex-Yugoslavia with no property or money. They had to learn American English and America’s customs. Like so many immigrants, they built a life in America for my brother and me. And they both became proud U.S. citizens.

Our family’s story of authoritarianism has informed nearly every aspect of my life. It propelled me into the profession of law, to safeguard the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. It compels me to represent people accused of violating those laws and who can’t afford an attorney. And it is why I am a Libertarian. I fight every day to ensure that the State does not overstep its authority, and to protect our freedoms.

That’s also why I decided to run for Attorney General of Texas. A democracy should offer choices. With only two major political parties on the ballot in an extremely important race, I entered this race to give Texans a third choice.

But on the eve of the election, giving Texans a third choice feels inadequate. The stakes are now simply too high for me to settle merely to be another option for Texans who, like me, love our state, love our country and value our freedoms.

I have thought long and hard how to say this, and I don’t say this lightly. Ken Paxton is the poster child for corruption and authoritarianism. And if he is allowed to continue, we might have to be the ones to flee.

The office of the Attorney General is incredibly powerful and not very well understood. Basically, it acts as the police officer for the state, enforcing our laws.  At least, that’s what it’s meant to do. Under Ken Paxton, it is a weapon that is used against innocent Texans. It is also a tool for him to avoid obeying the law himself. Like a bad cop on steroids, he is using his insider knowledge to get away with crimes, and his very great power to take away our freedoms, from intimidating people from voting to stealing property owners’ land.

I know that many voters are reluctant to throw away their votes on a third-party candidate. So if you feel that your vote may not count, then voting for Rochelle Garza is the better choice. Therefore, I am taking the extraordinary of recommending Rochelle Garza for Attorney General over Ken Paxton. Not voting or voting for me may not be enough.

This is a pivotal moment in American history that we are facing. Our way of life hangs in the balance. Ken Paxton isn’t playing politics-as-usual. He is taking pages from the authoritarian playbook. And we cannot afford to play politics-as-usual. That is why I am taking this unheard-of step.

We must kick Ken Paxton out of office in order to save our liberties.

While Rochelle is the Democratic candidate, there is a lot of overlap with our Libertarian values.  She believes in legalizing marijuana and is against using public domain to steal our land for an ineffective border wall. I believe not only that she will respect the rule of law but that she will fight for our freedoms.

While we have seen some prominent Republicans endorsing Democratic candidates this cycle, I can’t recall a situation like this before, in which a candidate running in a partisan race endorsed one of their opponents. I’d have to search to find the examples, but it’s happened in primaries and special elections and non-partisan races, usually when one candidate for whatever the reason suspends their campaign. If you can think of a recent on-point example to accompany this, please leave a comment.

Does this make much of a difference in the race? Probably not much. It will be interesting to see if Ash score less than his Libertarian peers, as that will at least provide some kind of metric. And it only really matters if Paxton fails to get at least fifty percent of the vote. Whatever happens, I thank Mark Ash for recognizing the stakes of this race, and doing his part to make a difference.

Charges dropped against Hervis Rogers

Good, but this whole thing was an enraging travesty and in no way makes things right.

Hervis Rogers

Voter fraud charges against Hervis Rogers, who garnered widespread attention for waiting hours in line to vote at a Houston polling location during the March 2020 presidential primary, have been dismissed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered Rogers’ arrest in July 2021 on charges that he voted while on parole. Over a year later, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated that the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to unilaterally prosecute election crimes, a district court judge has dropped the two counts of illegal voting against Rogers.

“I am thankful that justice has been done,” Rogers said in a statement.

Rogers is over 60 years old, so a conviction could have resulted in what amounted to a life sentence.

“It has been horrible to go through this, and I am so glad my case is over. I look forward to being able to get back to my life,” he added in the statement.

See here for the background. As a reminder, Hervis Rogers was initially jailed on a $100,000 bond – which is higher than what is often assessed on murder suspects – in Montgomery County. Not Harris County, where he voted, but Montgomery because Ken Paxton figured he’d have a better shot at conviction there. Literally everything about this was wrong, and it’s only because the Court of Criminal Appeals actually applied the state constitution that an even larger miscarriage of justice was avoided. Now if there were justice, Hervis Rogers would be able to sue not only the state of Texas but Ken Paxton personally for the needless suffering inflicted on him. None of that is going to happen, but the one thing we can do is vote Ken Paxton out of office, and never give him the chance to do this to someone else. The Chron has more.

UT/Texas Politics Project: Abbott 54, Beto 43

Not great.

With in-person early voting set to begin in Texas on October 24, the latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll finds Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race, 54%-43%, among Texans likely to vote in the 2022 election. While more than half of Republican voters say immigration and border security is the most important issue area informing their vote, Democratic voters’ attention is divided among a list of several issues, topped by abortion.

The poll surveyed 1,200 self-declared registered voters using the internet from October 7-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 for the full sample. From among this overall sample, likely voters were defined as those respondents who indicated that they have voted in every election in the past 2-3 years; or those respondents who rated their likelihood to vote in the November elections on a 10-point scale as a 9 or a 10. This likely voter screen yielded a pool of 883 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3% for the full likely voter sample.

Beyond the two major party candidates, Green Party Candidate Delilah Barrios and the Libertarian Party’s Mark Tippets each earned 1% support while 2% preferred an unspecified “someone else.”

[…]

The results among likely voters found Republican candidates maintaining wide leads in the five other major races for statewide office. In all of the trial ballots, including for governor, undecided, but likely, voters were asked whom they would choose if forced to make a decision. All results for the trial ballots report the results of the initial question combined with this “forced” response. (The poll summary reports the share of voters who expressed no preference in the initial question in each race.)

Lt. Governor. Incumbent Dan Patrick led Democratic challenger Mike Collier, 51%-36%, in their rematch of the 2018 race.

Attorney General. Incumbent Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Garza 51%-37%.

Comptroller of Public Accounts. Two-term incumbent Republican Glenn Hegar leads Democrat Janet Dudding 47%-35%.

Agriculture Commissioner. Incumbent Sid Miller leads Democrat Susan Hayes 51%-39%.

Land Commissioner. Republican State Senator Dawn Buckingham leads Democrat Jay Kleberg 47%-36%.

The generic ballots for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas legislature also revealed continuing advantages for Republican candidates: Republicans lead 53%-44% in the generic ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives, and 53%-42% for the Texas legislature.

This is upsetting mostly because the August poll had Abbott up by only five and had shown a slight but steady drift towards Beto over time. The one caveat here is that the previous polls were of the full registered voters sample, and this is of “likely voters”, which is about three-fourths of the original. It’s not a direct comparison as a result, though of course the pollsters will have done what they think is best to reflect the electorate accurately. If they provided numbers for the full sample in October, I didn’t see them.

The October poll data is here and the August data is here. The underlying atmosphere has not changed in any significant way. Biden’s approval was 40-52 in August and it’s 39-52 in October (the approval numbers are still based on the full sample in each case). Abbott went from 46-44 to 47-44. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton were actually slightly worse in October, going from 38-37 to 37-39 for Patrick and from 37-38 to 36-39 for Paxton. Either a lot of people changed their minds or that likely voter screen is a big difference maker.

I’ve put my faith in the “the screen is too tight” beliefs before without much success, so I don’t want to go overboard here. If these numbers are accurate, they don’t bode well for Harris County either, suggesting Beto might end up with 52 to 54 percent. At the high end, as I’ve said before, I’d still feel pretty confident about Harris County Dems. Less than that, and I would expect Republicans to win at least some races. Maybe this year is another inflection point, and maybe the dip in the gap between Harris and the state that we saw in 2020 following years of games will not be a one off. No way to know until we start to see some real numbers.

The poll also includes this demographic breakdown in the vote:

White/Anglo: Abbott 64%, O’Rourke 32%
Hispanic: O’Rourke 48%, Abbott 48%
Black: O’Rourke 86%, Abbott 11%

Those are the strongest numbers Beto has had for Black voters in awhile. They’re not great for white voters – compare to the Marist poll, for example, which had Abbott leading Beto by a much smaller 57-37 margin among those voters – and this is another poll that has Beto with no advantage among Hispanic voters; note that was also true in the Marist poll. We saw a great disparity in Hispanic preferences in the 2020 polls, and in the end the ones that showed a smaller lead for Dems were more accurate. I don’t know what else to say here.

I will add that we saw one more poll result released yesterday, from the Democratic AG’s Association (DAGA), which claimed Rochelle Garza was trailing Ken Paxton by two points, 48-46. That linked poll memo is the entire thing – no Beto/Abbott numbers, no Biden approval numbers, no crosstabs, nothing – and it’s basically an internal poll, so maintain a higher level of skepticism for this one. I will note the following from the memo:

The survey was conducted between October 12th-16th using live calls to landlines, SMS text-to-web and live calls to cell phones, and an online panel. The sample includes 879 registered voters and is weighted to reflect a likely 2022 Texas general electorate. The margin of error is +/- 3.24% at a 95% confidence interval.

The results of the survey show that when asked who they’ll vote for as Attorney General and Texas undecided voters are allocated to a candidate, Paxton is only ahead by 2 points, within the margin of error for the survey, landing at 48% Paxton, 46% Garza, with 6% of voters say they’re voting for Libertarian Mark Ash in the AG race.

Another “likely voter” result, though with less detail. They also seemingly pushed the initial non-respondents into picking a side, which I had initially frowned at but I guess if the UT/TPP folks can do it, they can too.

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

Houston and Harris County officials are asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division to send monitors to assist in the upcoming November election in response to a letter the county received from the Texas secretary of state’s office this week informing it that state election observers would be monitoring the county’s election and vote tally.

The request to the federal agency was sent Thursday by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In a statement, Menefee questioned the state’s intentions in sending election monitors to the county.

“We cannot allow unwarranted disruptions in our election process to intimidate our election workers or erode voters’ trust in the election process,” Menefee said. “As the county attorney, I will be at central count on Election Night, ensuring outside forces do not interfere with our elections. I hope the Department of Justice will be there, too.”

[…]

In response to the local leaders’ request for federal election monitors, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that suggestions made by local leaders were a “cynical distortion of the law.”

The office reiterated that its decision to send monitors to Harris County was a matter of routine.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year and has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to ‘monitor the monitors,’” the statement said. “This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas election law and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors — dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end.”

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said: “Mayor Turner welcomes a discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is confident that if they send election monitors to Harris County, they will operate effectively to ensure that no registered voter’s rights are trampled on as they attempt to cast a ballot legally.”

See here for the background. I don’t care if the SOS is miffed about this, but even if we take them at their word there’s still the Attorney General’s “task force”, which absolutely cannot be trusted and needs to be watched like a tachyon in a particle accelerator. This was absolutely the right move. Reform Austin and the Texas Signal have more.

State Bar complaint against Ted Cruz was dismissed

This story ran a few days ago.

Not Ted Cruz

A lawyer group that brought ethics complaints against Trump attorneys is trying to make it tougher for lawyers to use the legal system to overturn elections.

The group, called the 65 Project, aims to change bar rules of professional conduct in 50 states and the District of Columbia to eliminate “fraudulent and malicious lawsuits” against fair election results.

“Lawyers purport to be self-regulatory and special stewards of the rule of law,” Paul Rosenzweig, a group advisory board member, told reporters Wednesday. “They failed in that responsibility” with the 2020 election.

The effort is a new front in the group’s self-described battle to protect democracy from abuse of the legal system. 65 Project has already filed 55 state bar ethics complaints against lawyers for former President Donald Trump over their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The group’s targets have included former Foley & Lardner partner Cleta Mitchell, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and lawyers Joseph diGenova and Boris Epshteyn.

Part of 65 Project’s new effort includes proposing rules to prevent attorneys in public office from violating attorney standards by amplifying false statements about elections.

The group is focusing initially on about a dozen states, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and DC, said Michael Teter, a former Utah assistant attorney general who is Project 65’s managing director.

See here for the background. The Bloomberg Law story says that all of the 65 Project’s complaints are active, but that is not accurate. According to the DMN, which I was able to quickly peruse before the paywall came up, the complaint was dismissed by the State Bar of Texas on June 13, a few weeks after it was filed. The reason, as noted in the sub-head of the story, is that the State Bar said they lacked oversight since Cruz was acting as a Senator and not a lawyer; their dismissal letter didn’t address the merits of the complaint. A minor consolation, that. We are still waiting for a ruling in the complaint against Ken Paxton; a ruling by a different judge in the case against Paxton deputy Brent Webster does not bode well for the complainants, but I suppose it’s not over till it’s over. There’s still a possible appeal of that ruling, which as far as I know has not yet been filed. I fear all of them will get away with it, which is too depressing to contemplate. We’ll know soon enough.

Trib profile of Rochelle Garza

Good story with a lot of details you probably don’t know about the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. It also includes this bit of annoying news:

Rochelle Garza

Polls show the contest is the tightest of all statewide races. Garza, 37, is within single digits of Paxton, who was endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump but long plagued by legal trouble that has turned him into the most vulnerable among Republican incumbents. Indicted seven years ago for securities fraud charges still pending, Paxton is under investigation by the FBI after several former aides claimed he abused his office by helping a wealthy donor. The whistleblowers sued Paxton after he fired them. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

But despite the incumbent’s weaknesses, Paxton is still popular with Texas Republicans. Garza remains the underdog, battling her own low name recognition and a fundraising disadvantage in an expensive statewide race that is already demanding considerable resources for travel and TV ads.

“Garza is clearly competitive in this race, but she’s competitive based on Paxton’s weaknesses, because she’s not well known,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

The Democratic establishment “does seem reluctant to put money behind her campaign, even though it’s the closest race and Paxton has weaknesses that make him the most vulnerable of statewide office holders,” Jillson said. “So they’re hanging back.”

The Garza campaign had nearly $500,000 on hand as of July, after raising about $1.1 million. Paxton has raised more than $8 million and still has about $3.5 million on hand to spend during the same period. The next campaign finance reporting deadline is in October.

Bill Compton, a Dallas lawyer who’s often donated to Democratic candidates in the past, would agree with Jillson. He said he’s still hesitant to write a check to Garza, whom he described as “an unknown.”

Compton attended the Dallas Democratic Forum where Garza spoke earlier in the day and said he liked what he heard. But he and others view the candidate right now only as an “alternative” to Paxton.

[…]

The Democratic Attorneys General Association launched a digital ad buy targeting attorney general candidates in various states, including Texas, said Geoff Burgan, a spokesperson for the group. “We’ve also provided focus groups, polling, and video throughout her time as the nominee,” Burgan said in an email.

Indirectly, Garza was helped by the messy, Republican primary and runoff that included many negative ads targeting Paxton.

“These were Republicans in these ads saying, “I don’t trust Ken Paxton to be attorney general,” Burgan said. “These are people that Republican voters listen to.”

Candidates without name recognition typically work with their donors to raise enough money to talk to the general public over a period of months, said Jillson, the political scientist. “You introduce yourself with a series of ads and then slam your opponent toward the end,” he said.

“And she just hasn’t had the money to do that and doesn’t have the money today,” Jillson said.

Garza said her campaign outraised Paxton in the last reporting period: “We have the momentum.”

“I keep telling folks this is our race to lose,” Garza said. “This is the closest we have come in almost 30 years and it’s time we elect a Democrat to this office.”

On the one hand, the Attorney General race usually doesn’t draw much money. On the other hand, I couldn’t explain Bill Compton’s reasoning if you gave me an answer key and a psychological profile of him. The story refers to recent polling, in which Garza is generally the closest Democratic candidate to their opponent, albeit by point or two and often with more undecideds. I’m always skeptical of stories about how this downballot Dem or that is “the Democrats’ best chance of winning statewide office” because I think the ticket will rise and fall mostly on how the guy at the top does and what the national environment is like, but we have seen crossover support for Paxton opponents before. I expect we’ll see it again, and for sure some extra cash would help with that. I still think the best thing that can happen to Rochelle Garza – and Mike Collier, and Susan Hays, and the rest – is that Beto wins or comes very, very close. It’s a lot easier to see her and others’ paths to victory from there.

You can be gay, you just can’t act gay

So rules a notoriously anti-gay Trump judge, narrowing a SCOTUS ruling from just two years ago at the behest of the usual suspect.

A federal judge has ruled that Biden administration guidelines requiring employers to provide protections for LGBTQ employees go too far, in a win for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who brought suit against the rules last fall.

The rules were first issued after the landmark ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex or religion, includes protection for gay and transgender people.

In 2021, the Biden administration released guidance around the ruling, noting that disallowing transgender employees to dress and use pronouns and bathrooms consistent with their gender identity constituted sex discrimination.

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump-appointed U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Texas, found that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against an individual for being gay or transgender, “but not necessarily all correlated conduct,” including use of pronouns, dress and bathrooms.

Earlier this year, after Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors could be considered child abuse, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra released additional guidance that federally funded agencies can’t restrict people from accessing “medically necessary care, including gender-affirming care, from their health care provider solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth or gender identity.” Kacsmaryk also ruled to vacate that guidance.

[…]

Kacsmaryk is himself known for his opposition to expanding or protecting LGBTQ rights. Before being nominated to the bench, Kacsmaryk was the deputy general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal organization focused on religious liberty cases. In a 2015 article arguing against the Equality Act, Kacsmaryk wrote that the proposed legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity would “punish dissenters, giving no quarter to Americans who continue to believe that marriage and sexual relations are reserved to the union of one man and one woman.”

In a 2015 article for the National Catholic Register titled “The Abolition of Man … and Woman,” Kacsmaryk called the term gender identity “problematic” and wrote that, “The campaigns for same-sex ‘marriage’ and ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ (SOGI) legislation share a common legal theory: Rules predicated on the sexual difference and complementarity of man and woman are relics of a benighted legal regime designed to harm ‘LGBT’ persons, or at least deny them ‘full equality.’”

I wonder sometimes how Ken Paxton would do if instead of being able to pick his judges he always had to argue his cases in front of a judge that, you know, ruled on the law and the merits of the case rather than on what they felt like. Probably would have a lower batting average, I’m thinking. Anyway, that ruling was 6-3, with Gorsuch the author and Roberts joining him and the (at the time) four liberals. That means that five judges who ruled for the plaintiffs are still there. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely, that the Biden administration read that ruling in as expansive a manner as they thought they could, and as such they could have overstepped what SCOTUS had in mind. I suppose we’ll get to find out, once the Fifth Circuit does its duty of upholding the ruling. We know that in general this SCOTUS doesn’t give a crap about precedent, but maybe they’ll feel differently when it’s their own precedent.

Evade this, Kenny

Paxton gets ordered to testify, along with an old-fashioned bench slapping.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in an abortion rights lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman had previously quashed the subpoena, which Paxton fled his home to avoid being served.

In a hearing last week, lawyers representing abortion rights nonprofits asked Pitman to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman granted their motion on Tuesday.

These nonprofits, called abortion funds, brought the lawsuit in August, seeking assurance that they will not be criminally or civilly penalized for helping Texans pay for abortions out of state. They have argued that Paxton’s statements on social media and in the press make it clear that the state’s top lawyer believes the abortion funds can and should be prosecuted for their work over state lines.

[…]

[I]n Tuesday’s order, [Judge Pitman] said he [originally quashed the subpoena] “on the assumption that counsel for Paxton had made candid representations to the Court … only to learn later that Paxton failed to disclose Plaintiffs’ repeated emails attempting to inquire as to whether Paxton could testify.”

Pitman also sided with the abortion funds’ argument that Paxton has unique, first-hand knowledge that requires him to testify.

“The Court will not sanction a scheme where Paxton repeatedly labels his threats of prosecution as real for the purposes of deterrence and as hypothetical for the purposes of judicial review,” Pitman wrote.

He also rejected the argument that requiring Paxton to testify would be too much to ask of the state’s top lawyer.

“It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” Pitman wrote. “The burden faced by Plaintiffs—the effective cessation of many core operations—outweighs the burden of testimony faced by Paxton.”

Pitman gave lawyers on both sides a week to determine how and when Paxton will testify.

See here, here, and here for the background. Judge Pitman’s order is practically perfect. I have no notes. I look forward to seeing how Paxton responds to questions from someone who isn’t a sycophant. The Chron has more.

You can add “incompetent” to “corrupt” when describing Ken Paxton

I can’t say this is a surprise, but it is shocking.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s staff this month quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases after losing track of one of the victims, a stumble in open court emblematic of broader dysfunction inside one of America’s most prominent law offices.

The Republican has elevated his national profile in recent years, energizing the right by rushing into contentious court battles that have affected people far beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policy and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

But as Paxton seeks to fend off legal troubles and win a third term as Texas’ top law enforcement official, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent.

An Associated Press investigation found Paxton and his deputies have sought to turn cases to political advantage or push a broader political agenda, including staff screenings of a debunked film questioning the 2020 election. Adding to the unrest was the secretive firing of a Paxton supporter less than two months into his job as an agency advisor after he tried to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.

The AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to talk publicly.

In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed “Operation Fallen Angel.” Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine” are now free. One is being held in the central Texas community on other charges. An eighth died in jail.

“It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,” Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.”

[…]

After the dramatic exit of Paxton’s top staff in 2020, those brought into senior roles included a California attorney who donated $10,000 to help Paxton fight his 2015 securities fraud indictment and Tom Kelly Gleason, a former ice cream company owner whose father gave $50,000 to the attorney general’s legal defense fund.

Gleason was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement adviser. Paxton’s office has not disclosed why, but three people with knowledge of the matter said Gleason included child pornography in a work presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters.

The people said Gleason displayed the video — which one of them described as showing a man raping a small child — in a misguided effort to underscore agency investigators difficult work. It was met with outrage and caused the meeting to quickly dissolve.

Afterward, Paxton’s top deputy, Brent Webster, told staff not to talk about what happened, according to one of the people.

Gleason, who began his career as a police officer in the late 1970s, did not respond to voicemails, text messages, emails and letters left at this home and business. A lawyer who has represented him also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As of August, payroll data show the number of assistant attorneys general — the line lawyers who handle daily case and litigation work — in the criminal prosecutions division was down more than 25% from two years ago. The data, which was obtained under public records law, show the group that handles financial and white-collar cases was cut by more than half and merged with another division.

“This is scary to me for the people of Texas,” said Linda Eads, who served as a deputy attorney general in the early 2000s, when she said it was rare for any division to have more than two or three vacancies.

Boyd said staff turnover in Paxton’s human trafficking unit contributed to the collapse of the cases in Gatesville. In the last two years, Republican lawmakers have doubled the division’s budget to $3 million, but Boyd questioned whether it was well spent.

On Sept. 13, the attorney general’s staff wrote in court papers that they were dismissing three trafficking cases because a witness had recanted and dropping the other four because they were “unable to locate victim.”

“For Pete’s sake, you’re the AG’s office. You can’t find the victim?” Boyd said. “The culture is broken.”

There’s more so read the rest, but honestly, how much more do you need? Screwing up a human trafficking case – which they took away from the locals in Coryell County – because they lost track of a victim, and hiring a failson of a big donor who thought it was a good idea to include actual video of a violent sex crime against a child in a presentation…this is an office for which the word “dysfunctional” is not nearly strong enough. This story needs to get a lot more attention. And for crying out loud, vote for Rochelle Garza in November. This is what you’re supporting if you don’t.

The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Texas to appeal that ridiculous ruling that forbade banning handgun sales to those under 21

Good. Now we’ll see if their heart is in it.

Texas is gearing up to fight a judge’s ruling that the state can’t ban adults under 21 from carrying handguns, a move that’s drawing anger from some gun rights groups.

Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed a notice of an appeal of the ruling on behalf of the Texas Department of Public Safety. It came almost a month after U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, issued the original ruling on Aug. 25, writing that the Second Amendment protects all adults’ right to bear arms without an age limit. The suit was brought on by two plaintiffs within the 18-to-20 age range and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. against the state of Texas.

The notice, which includes Paxton’s name on the filing, did not say the ground on which it would base its appeal. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for DPS said the agency does not comment on pending legal cases.

But in prior filings in the case, the state has argued that the law does not violate the Second Amendment as it is consistent with Texas’ “longstanding tradition” of restricting access to guns based on age.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder that Greg Abbott is either a bad lawyer, a bad liar, or both. A couple of gun-worship groups are quoted as being disappointed in this decision; I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I’m glad that the state didn’t just punt on this, but I’ll want to see how they actually act before I give them any credit for it beyond that.

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

The hearing that Paxton was trying to flee from

It’s about whether the First Amendment rights of abortion funds have been abridged by threats of prosecution from people like Ken Paxton. You know, no big deal.

Leaders of Texas’ most prominent abortion funds on Tuesday implored a federal judge to give them clearance to resume providing assistance to people seeking abortions in states where the procedure is legal.

The funds filed the class-action suit in August seeking to block state and local prosecutors from suing them if they get back to work offering Texans funding and support for travel, lodging, meals and child care, among other expenses incurred while they obtain abortions. On Tuesday, they sought to temporarily block any potential prosecutions until the case is decided.

The groups halted abortion support operations in June after the Supreme Court issued its decision this summer overturning federal protections for the procedure. The decision also led clinics throughout the state to stop providing abortion services.

The legal battle carries immense implications for thousands of Texans seeking abortions, who will inevitably incur higher costs as they depend on other states due to Texas’ near-total abortion ban. Studies show the vast majority of pregnant people pursue abortion for financial reasons, and most who obtain abortions are low-income people of color.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is named as a defendant in the suit, as well as a number of county and district attorneys who are responsible for enforcing the state’s abortion bans. Some local prosecutors in liberal-leaning counties have pledged not to prosecute, while others in redder counties have said they will.

The plaintiffs point to “myriad threats” of prosecution by the attorney general “and his associates,” including social media posts, statements and cease-and-desist letters sent by members of the hard-line conservative Texas Freedom Caucus to corporations.

Caucus member and Deer Park Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain has also sent similar letters to Texas abortion funds, including plaintiff organizations, saying their donors, employees and volunteers are subject to prosecution under the pre-Roe statutes, according to the suit.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that the state’s pre-Roe statutes, which make it illegal to “(furnish) the means for procuring an abortion,” are enforceable.

The plaintiffs also cited an advisory issued by Paxton just hours after the Dobbs decision was announced that stated the pre-Roe statutes could be enforced by district and county attorneys immediately.

[…]

The abortion funds claim in their suit that charitable donations are a protected form of freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, but the possibility of debilitating litigation has chilled their exercise of those rights. It has also, they argue, scared some donors out of giving freely to the group.

“Despite their strong desires and commitment to assisting their fellow Texans, Plaintiffs will be unable to safely return to their prior operations until it is made clear that Defendants have no authority to prosecute Plaintiffs or seek civil penalties from them for their constitutionally protected behavior,” they state in the suit.

See here for some background, and I’ll get back to this in a minute. The Trib adds some details.

They have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for a preliminary injunction that would stop Paxton from pursuing criminal charges or civil penalties against abortion funds. The state has countered that their fear of prosecution is “self-imposed,” as the attorney general cannot bring criminal charges and the law that allows him to bring civil penalties does not apply to abortion funds.

At the end of the seven-hour hearing Tuesday, Pitman noted that while attorneys for the state had repeatedly implied that the abortion funds had “nothing to worry about,” they had stopped short of saying so directly.

Pitman is expected to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks but in the meantime is also considering a motion to require Paxton to testify himself. Before the hearing Tuesday, Pitman quashed a subpoena seeking the attorney general’s testimony, but lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider. Paxton fled his home Monday to avoid being served with the original subpoena.

The lawsuit also seeks clarity on whether a Texas-based abortion provider can perform abortions for Texans in other states where the procedure remains legal, or provide telehealth services from Texas to patients in other states.

On that question, the attorney for the state was even less definitive about whether the attorney general would try to enforce the civil penalties in the law, saying that situation was not amenable to a clear “up or down” answer but would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

[…]

But all of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, allowing states to set their own laws on abortion. Immediately, Paxton issued guidance that said prosecutors could “immediately pursue criminal prosecutions based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature.”

“Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today,” Paxton wrote.

But those pre-Roe statutes don’t criminalize just abortion providers — they also criminalize anyone who “furnishes the means” for an abortion, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Immediately, abortion funds in Texas stopped their operations, citing confusion over whether paying for abortions out of state constituted furnishing the means for an illegal abortion. As the leaders of several abortion funds testified to on Tuesday, they were particularly alarmed by Paxton’s statement that his office would “assist any local prosecutor who pursues criminal charges.”

Their fears were exacerbated, according to testimony, when a group of conservative lawmakers in the Texas House, including Cain, issued a letter to Sidley Austin, a prestigious law firm that had offered to pay for its Texas-based employees to travel out of state to get abortions. In the letter, the lawmakers threatened the law firm with criminal prosecution for their actions.

Based on these indications from Paxton and lawmakers, “we believed we would be prosecuted, to be frank,” Anna Rupani, the executive director of Fund Texas Choice said Tuesday.

This freeze on their work came with other consequences, according to Tuesday’s testimony. Several of the funds said they had lost donors or had to spend more time reassuring donors who were confused and worried. Some said they had lost staff or board members over fear of criminal prosecution.

Lawyers for the state, though, argued that this chilling effect was “self-imposed” and “unreasonable.” None of the people the abortion funds cited threats from — Cain, the other legislators or Paxton himself — have the ability to bring criminal charges against anyone.

Only district and county attorneys can bring criminal charges in Texas; the prosecutors named on this lawsuit have agreed not to press charges against abortion funds for paying for out-of-state abortions until the case is fully resolved.

Paxton, though, still has the ability to pursue civil cases and, in the case of Texas’ more recent abortion laws, is actually required to by state statute.

To me, the most salient fact of this case is this, and here I quote from my earlier post: “[I]n their amicus brief to a writ of mandamus that blocked a lower court order that would have enjoined the 1925 state law criminalizing abortion, 70 Republican legislators argued that criminal penalties should apply to people who help others get an abortion.” I Am Not A Lawyer, but it seems to me that a very credible threat of being thrown in jail for your political advocacy is a First Amendment issue. That said, I think we all know what will happen here: Judge Pitman will grant the restraining order, and the Fifth Circuit will block it for no good reason. And so back to SCOTUS we go, and I sure hope they enjoy being constantly dragged into every abortion fight that they said should have been a state issue. What happens from there, I have no idea.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

Run, Kenny, run!

Peak Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family’s safety.

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he wrote in a tweet.

You can see the affidavit here. I mean, seriously. If this had been a story in The Onion, I’d have rolled my eyes at it for being too on the nose. All this because Paxton was too much of a weenie to give a deposition in a lawsuit that had little to do with him. Other people have righteously mocked Paxton for his Brave Sir Robin impression, and now I will as well.

I think I’m done now. What a miserable, sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. The kindest thing we can all do for him now is to vote for Rochelle Garza, so that he and his family can go back home.

Spectrum News/Siena College: Abbott 50, Beto 43

A new pollster enters the chat.

Less than two months from Election Day, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has a seven-point, 50-43%, lead over Democratic challenger, former Congressman, Beto O’Rourke. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Republican Dan Patrick is up by nine points, 49-40%, over Democratic challenger Mike Collier. In the race for state Attorney General, incumbent Republican Ken Paxton has a five-point advantage, 47-42%, over Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza according to a new Spectrum News/Siena College (SCRI) poll of likely Texas voters released today.

Abbott has a 47-46% favorability rating, while O’Rourke has a negative 39-52% favorability rating. Patrick has a negative 33-36% favorability rating, compared to Collier’s 13-12% favorability rating. Paxton has a negative 29-41% favorability rating while Garza, like Collier is unknown to about threequarters of Texas likely voters, and has a 13-12% favorability rating.

“Governor Abbott, who won a landslide thirteen-point race against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez four years ago, has a seven-point lead with over six weeks until Election Day. Abbott has the support of 95% of Republicans and O’Rourke has the support of 93% of Democrats, while independents tilt toward Abbott by one point,” said Don Levy, SCRI’s Director. “White voters favor Abbott by over two-to-one, 64-31%, while Black voters prefer O’Rourke 79-10% and a majority of Latinos, 58-36%, plan to vote for O’Rourke.”

The crosstabs are here. The headline on the Chron story for this refers to Abbott’s lead “widening”, which I object to on the grounds that there’s no earlier Spectrum/Siena poll to compare this one to. I don’t like comparing one pollster’s poll to another’s because they all do slightly different things. Nobody asks me these about these things, so here we are.

Now, if we want to do comparisons to other polls, I will note that this one actually has solid numbers for Beto in terms of support from Dems, as well as from Black and Latino voters. Compare to the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from earlier this week that had Beto only winning Dems by a 77-12 margin, and multiple polls saying that Abbott is getting upward of 15% of Black voters. Why is the overall result not so great if these subsamples are so good? My guess would be that this sample’s partisan distribution is a bit weird – 27% Dem, 34% GOP, 32% Indie/Other (the remaining 8% are a mystery). The DMN/UT-Tyler poll had those distributed as 33-40-27, and in general I expect the Dem share to be higher than the Indie share.

Having written that, I decided I had to go back through earlier poll results to do a comparison. With one exception, my expectation matched the data:

UT-TPP: Dem 42, GOP 48, Indie 10

Echelon: Dem 35, GOP 43, Indie 20

UH/Hobby Center: Dem 41, GOP 46, Indie/unsure 13

Quinnipiac: Dem 24, GOP 30, Indie 36, Other 10

I went back as far as June. Not all of the recent results I’ve blogged about included partisan breakdown data that I could find. Color me surprised at some of the ranges here. You can make of all this what you will, it’s what I noticed.

The Biden student loan forgiveness plan will help a lot of Texans

Hope they’re all voters, because it’s very clear who is on their side and who is against them.

More Texans would benefit from President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt than residents of nearly any other state — and 1.6 million would have their balances completely cleared — according to new White House estimates released as Republicans call it an unconstitutional giveaway to the elite and seek to derail it.

More than 3.3 million Texans would be eligible to have at least $10,000 forgiven and most people in that group, 2.3 million, would have $20,000 forgiven. Texas is second only to California in the number of residents that would benefit from the debt forgiveness plan, according to the estimates, which were compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

[…]

Officials have said they plan to have applications available early next month, but the plan is likely to face a long legal battle.

Texas is among the red states looking for ways to stop it from becoming a reality. Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a recent interview on Fox News that Texas is “definitely looking at a strategy.”

It is the first time a president has sought to unilaterally cancel swaths of student debt and whether the administration has the authority to do so has been the point of heated debate. The administration says it can, citing a 2003 law that grants the secretary of education authority to offer loan relief during times of war or national emergencies.

But Republicans say Biden is going too far.

“The reality is, I don’t actually think Joe Biden thinks he can do this,” Paxton said. “We are absolutely looking at something we can do to protect the American people from a president that is just making up his own rules as he goes along.”

Republicans argue the plan is unfair to those who have already paid off their debt, as well as the vast majority of American adults who do not have student loans. They say the plan will cost too much — with some estimates as high as $600 billion — and will help those who need it the least.

“College may not be the right decision for every American, but for the students who took out loans, it was their decision: able adults and willing borrowers who knowingly agreed to the terms of the loan and consented to taking on debt in exchange for taking classes,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Biden with other Republican governors last week. “For many borrowers, they worked hard, made sacrifices, and paid off their debt. For many others, they chose hard work and a paycheck rather than more school and a loan. Americans who did not choose to take out student loans themselves should certainly not be forced to pay for the student loans of others.”

Paxton and Abbott are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and we’ll have to deal with it as we always do. There are absolutely root-cause issues here that are not addressed, but one of the big ones is the underfunding of state universities, which is why they’re so much more expensive now than they were even 20 years ago. Remember tuition deregulation, which the Lege did under Tom Craddick back in 2003 as an exercise in budget-cutting? Not much the President can do about that, and I don’t see Greg Abbott lining up to offer solutions. Anyway, policies that offer a lot of people a tangible benefit are usually good, and certainly attractive from a vote-getting perspective. I hope everyone involved in this remembers that.

District court judge dismisses State Bar complaint against Brent Webster

This is a bad ruling, and it needs to be appealed.

A Texas district judge has dismissed a professional misconduct lawsuit against a top aide of Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to discipline them for their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Milam County Judge John W. Youngblood ruled last week that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the matter, agreeing with the attorney general’s argument that doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering in an executive branch matter.

“To find in the commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s broad power to file lawsuits on the state’s behalf, a right clearly supported by the Texas Constitution and recognized repeatedly by Texas Supreme Court precedent,” Youngblood wrote.

A similar case filed by the State Bar against Paxton is still before a Collin County judge and has not yet been decided.

[…]

Jim Harrington, a member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a coalition of lawyers including two former State Bar presidents, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the State Bar, called the ruling a “legal charade.” The group also filed complaints that prompted the bar to file suits against Paxton and Webster.

“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” Harrington said in a statement. “In other words, the attorney general’s office is above the law. That is contrary to the principle of the Constitution, and we hope the State Bar will appeal the ruling.”

Ratner, a co-founder of the group and a Maryland attorney, said he, too, was disappointed in the ruling and added that it misconstrued the premise of the suit.

“While separation of powers authorizes the Attorney General to decide what lawsuits to file on the State’s behalf, we believe it does not authorize him to make misrepresentations and dishonest statements to a court in violation of his duties as a Texas-licensed lawyer,” Ratner said. “That’s what’s involved here.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter the judge sent. Not a formal opinion, though I suppose he could still write one, just a one page letter. Obviously, if this judge fully bought into Ken Paxton’s sleazy and self-serving line of defense, it doesn’t bode well for the complaint against him. I think Jim Harrington has this exactly right, and I hope the State Bar has the wisdom and the guts to appeal this. Anything less would be a dereliction of their duty. The Trib has more.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 47, Beto 38

Insert shrug emoji here, and insert link to the unreadable DMN story here. I’ll give you the main results of interest and then a few comments after that.

Abbott 47, Beto 38
Patrick 39, Collier 28
Paxton 37, Garza 30
State House GOP 50, Dem 48

The August poll had Abbott up 46-39. As I said in other posts while resisting the urge to attribute “momentum” to Beto, I find the claim that a one point shift for each candidate represents a “gain” for Abbott to be a bit tendentious. Like with other polls, the subsample that I tend to look at when considering these results is the partisan subsamples. Here, Beto wins Democrats by a lethargic 77-12, with Abbott at 85-8 among Republicans. It was 81-12 for Beto in August, with Abbott at the same level among Rs. I find the claim that more than ten percent of people who would credibly self-ID as Democrats support Greg Abbott to be implausible. I’ll just leave it at that.

I know that the Lite Guv and AG races are lower profile, but as I’ve said before, poll results this late in the cycle that can’t give me a better idea of how many people will vote for “the Republican” versus “the Democrat” are not ones I put much weight in. It is possible to do better than that. It’s especially humorous to me given the near-100% response rate for the Texas House race. The conjunction of these things doesn’t make much sense to me.

One last thing, in their suite of issues questions, this poll finds slightly less support overall for abortion rights, as approval for overturning Roe v Wade went from 42-49 in August to 46-46 in September, while the question on abortion being mostly or completely illegal versus mostly or completely legal went from 44-55 in August to 49-50 in September. This stands at odds with other recent polling. Which doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that I will cast a skeptical eye at it. The claim I saw in the snippet of the story I could read that this had to do with Abbott doing a lot of advertising strikes me as not very likely. Polls can be weird, which is why we try to look at them in bunches where possible.

UPDATE: I missed on first reading that this was a poll of registered voters, not “likely” voters, which is what all of the other recent polls have been. That explains the lower response numbers in the Lt. Governor and AG races. With their likely voter screen, this poll has Abbott up 50-39. My stated concerns about the likelihood of so many self-described Democrats saying they will vote for Greg Abbott remain.