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Kendall Scudder

More on the TDP 2020 audit

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the final report, but I don’t have a clear idea of the objectives from this story.

[Unsuccessful State House candidate Brandy Chambers’] election night confusion mirrors the second-guessing going on within the Texas Democratic Party, the members of which received every advantage they hoped for in 2020 — enough campaign cash to keep pace with a well-funded GOP, a polarizing candidate at the top of the Republican ticket and historically high voter turnout — but still gained virtually nothing.

The early diagnosis: A national push to avoid in-person campaigning because of the pandemic was ruinous, especially with Latino voters who are key to the party’s fortunes in Texas. Early polls were skewed against conservatives and gave Democrats a false sense of security. Republicans effectively characterized calls to defund the police as a threat to public safety. And the party’s message did not connect with the average voter worried about recovering from the economic hurt inflicted by COVID-19.

Texas Democrats believe the lack of in-person campaign events and door-knocking especially hurt them come Election Day, as Republicans continued to meet with voters.

“This was probably the most difficult thing that we faced — the most impactful thing in our election,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “You had the Republican Party engaged in all of these races in a massive canvassing campaign and bragging about it. … We were left at a very, very severe disadvantage.”

Hinojosa said President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign had advised down-ballot candidates to avoid in-person events and that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued similar rules for its candidates, threatening to withhold funds from campaigns if they went door to door.

About two months before the election, Hinojosa said, he’d heard concerns from congressional candidates and organizers who said they “were having a hard time reaching Hispanic voters by the phone. … They really needed to be freed to knock on doors.”

But the national officials wouldn’t budge, he said.

A DCCC spokesman confirmed that there was a nationwide policy directing candidates not to canvass in person during the pandemic but denied that the organization threatened to take away funding from Texas Democrats if they persisted.

[…]

The members demanded 12 action items to move forward, including changes in senior leadership, the creation of a 10-year strategic plan and a request for assistance from states where Democrats had successfully run campaigns this cycle.

“The ultimate goal was ‘let’s start a conversation.’ It was not meant to be petty or divisive,” said Jen Ramos, a member of the state party’s executive committee and co-author of the letter. “We just decided that we’ve got to be firm about this but also really have a means to healing.”

[…]

“Republicans were talking about how we could keep you working,” [SDEC member and letter co-author Kendall] Scudder said. “Democrats were talking about shutting the economy down. Democrats were being the most responsible, but sometimes you don’t love the parent who spanks you. You love the parent that buys you candy.”

Scudder said the party must improve its communication with minority voters and stop pushing only issues that “we ascribe to them as important,” such as immigration for Latino voters or criminal justice reform for Black voters.

[Committee co-chair Chris] Hollins said the committee will meet soon to settle on an initial list of objectives. Revamping party messaging is at the top of his list, too — especially as it relates to the specific identity and goals of the Texas Democratic Party and how they differentiate from those of more liberal states.

See here for the background and some more information about the letter. While it’s important to really understand what happened and learn from it, I hope this committee looks forward at least as much as it looks back. Every election is unique in its own ways, and I think the conditions of 2020 are especially singular. We already know that there’s no debate about issue of in-person campaigning – everyone agrees it was a net negative, and no one has any plans to try it again, so it’s not like this is some new ongoing advantage the Republicans have gained. Figure out what if anything was good about the other forms of campaigning everyone did, recommend ways to build it into future campaigns, and more on.

As far as the messaging stuff goes, I feel like it’s the post-2004 election all over again, though at least this time we won the Presidency. So much time and effort and money and think-pieces were spent on What The Democrats’ Message Needs To Be and How Do We Connect With Those Bush Voters and so on, and then Hurricane Katrina happened and public opinion turned sour on the Iraq War, and Democrats dominated the next two elections. I’m not suggesting that things will magically turn around and get better, nor am I saying that the post-2004 effort had no lessons for us, but I am saying that events can and will shape the political environment in substantial and unforeseeable ways, and that’s why we need to be looking forward as much as possible, while doing everything we can to make the opportunity we have in front of us – fixing the economy, successfully rolling out the COVID vaccine, getting people back to work, protecting our democracy, and more – so that the future environment is as filled with recent positive achievements we can point to as possible. Nothing succeeds like success.

My viewpoint in that paragraph is affected greatly by this WaPo story about the national Democratic reckoning; it’s where the post-2004 parallels occurred to me, because so much of the language was familiar. Again, I agree there’s a ton of value in auditing what just happened so we can understand what went well and what did not, and what we can learn from each. I just don’t want to get too bogged down in that, because what we do now, over the next 12-18 months will, I guarantee you, have a bigger effect on the 2022 election. If we’ve made progress in making people’s lives better, and we’ve been up front about taking credit for it, which is one trick from the Trump playbook that we really do need to appropriate, then we’ll be in good shape.

One last thing, which I have not seen mentioned in any of these “what did Dems screw up in 2020” stories is the effect of disinformation, propaganda, and fake news on voters’ behavior. We are seeing the effect of the constant barrage of bullshit coming from Trump and too many Republican leaders to count in the lawsuits, the increasing threats of violence from riled-up fringe types, the outrageous legislation being proposed around the country, and so forth, but that barrage began well before the election, and it’s being aimed at immigrants and people of color as well, with the same dispiriting effect. There was plenty of evidence of this occurring before the election, and I personally believe it’s a key part of the explanation for why Trump did better among Latinos and Asian-Americans than he had done before. Any strategy to improve Democratic performance, whether in Texas or nationally, has to take this into account. We can’t stop the liars from lying, but we can and we must figure out a way to blunt the effect of that lying. If that’s not a pillar of our plans going forward, then those plans are inadequate and not meeting the moment.

TDP will review what happened in the 2020 election

I support this.

The head of the Texas Democratic Party has appointed a committee to take a “deep dive” on what went wrong in the November election after a group of executive committee members wrote to him demanding answers, reforms and a shakeup in senior staff.

The chair of the party, Gilberto Hinojosa, said he always intended to convene a formal effort to review the election results, but the news of the panel comes after 38 executive committee members sent him a letter urging sweeping changes at the party after what they described as an “electoral failure” in November.

“Even though we very much disagree with the allegations that are made in the letter, we think it is important to find out exactly what happened in this election because we were just as shocked as everyone else,” Hinojosa said in an interview Monday.

[…]

Democrats have since said they were misled by bad polling and lamented their decision to hold off on in-person campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic. Hinojosa cited both those factors in a letter responding to the executive committee members, while saying he agrees that a “complete analysis needs to be done on this to determine what really happened.”

“The Party is committed to conducting a ‘deep dive’ analysis of the election, using outside persons or entities, and partnering with other allied groups to fund it if necessary,” Hinojosa wrote.

The Tribune obtained a copy of the letter that was dated Friday. In it, the State Democratic Executive Committee members raise a host of issues related to the governing body’s relationship with party staff — which appear to predate this election cycle — as well as the party’s role in the November election.

“From messaging to organizing, political data to simple administration, the Texas Democratic Party has dropped the ball and it is becoming more and more apparent every day that our senior leadership is refusing to take responsibility or, more importantly, the actions necessary to resolve the many shortfalls of our party this election cycle,” the letter said.

The letter makes a dozen requests, including a change in senior staff, a “full accounting” of party finances, a “full roster” of party employees and consultants, a “10-year strategic plan,” an “overhaul” of the party’s approved vendors list, outreach to state parties in places like Georgia and Virginia, and a task force on the party’s headquarters.

The letter was organized by two SDEC members, Kendall Scudder and Jen Ramos. A copy of the letter obtained by the Tribune did not include the signees, but Scudder and Ramos said it was signed by 38 members of the 108-member executive committee.

The Texas Signal has a copy of the letter, as well as responses from Chair Hinojosa and other TDP staff. As a general matter, doing a post-election review of what happened just seems like a good idea, even in a year where everything goes your way. A few questions I’d want to see answered:

– How much did not doing in-person campaigning really matter? I actually don’t worry too much about this because it’s a one-time thing, but it would still be nice to try to quantify it in a reasonably rigorous way.

– Along those same lines, what of the not-in-person campaign practices that we adopted as our alternatives were good and useful and worth keeping in some fashion? How might they integrate with and enhance the old-school stuff?

– How did we do with the new voters we registered and the low-propensity voters we targeted? Did we hit the metrics we expected to hit? Where did we over-perform and where did we under-perform?

– Do we have a strategy for the medium-sized metro areas and the Black voters in rural areas? If not, why not?

Campos mostly credits Beto for the 2018 success. I agree with that to a point, but I’m hesitant to assign too much credit or blame to any one person for any large event. My hope for 2020 had been to build on what Beto had done, to learn from it and to adapt it to the next election. Did any of that happen?

– Do we have enough home-grown campaign managers and consultants, and do they have what they need to succeed? I know that a lot of folks come in from out of state when we have a big field like this year. Some of them are from here but moved elsewhere because elections are seasonal, others are just hired guns. Is there a disadvantage to using out of state campaign people?

I’m sure there are more, but that’s a good start for me. The response from the TDP has been generally well received so far from the letter writers as well. I’m less interested in some of the questions about staff and governance, but by all means let’s study those as well. At the bottom of it all, are we listening to the folks that are doing the real work? Are we learning from our experiences, or is every year its own story in a bottle? Let’s put this time and effort to good use, we have some more consequential elections coming up in 2022.

Criminal complaint filed against AG Ken Paxton

I should say “another criminal complaint”, this one over his bullying tactics about vote by mail.

MOAR MUG SHOTS

Two voting rights advocates have filed a complaint with the Dallas County district attorney, alleging Attorney General Ken Paxton committed voter fraud in each of the state’s 254 counties by contradicting a judge’s order expanding the availability of mail-in voting during the pandemic.

“Attorney General Ken Paxton’s letter intentionally misled Texas elections officials about eligibility to vote by mail,” said Kendall Scudder, one of the complainants. “Mail-in ballots aren’t where the election fraud is happening, it’s happening in the office of our indicted attorney general.”

Travis County District Judge Tim Sulak on April 17 issued a temporary injunction stating that any voter concerned about exposure to the coronavirus can avoid in-person voting and request a mail-in ballot by claiming a disability.

Paxton, a Republican who has argued disability claims should be reserved only for those who currently fall under that category, wrote in a filing that same day that Sulak’s order was automatically stayed when he filed an appeal.

[…]

Two attorneys reached by Hearst Newspapers agreed with Paxton’s assessment that the April 17 order was stayed when Paxton appealed.

Any appeal of an order that grants a temporary injunction or denies a plea to the jurisdiction, both of which occurred in this case, places an immediate stay on that order, said Dallas appellate lawyer Chad Ruback. On top of that, the Attorney General’s office noted in its appeal that governmental entities are entitled to automatic stays in this situation, under Texas law.

In the Dallas County case, complainants Scudder and Woot Lervisit, who live and vote in the county, say that under the Texas election code, their complaint should trigger a criminal investigation of Paxton’s conduct.

See here and here for the background. You can see the press release relating to this action here, a copy of the complaint here, and a copy of the tweets submitted as supporting evidence here. This is another one of those times when I don’t feel qualified to evaluate the action, but if as the lawyers quoted in the story indicate, Paxton was correct to assert that the order was stayed, then I don’t know what the case is for action against him. I presume the Dallas County DA is better positioned to answer that question, and we’ll know his answer by the action he takes. In the meantime, it’s at least fun to note the irony of Ken Paxton being tripped up by a voter fraud charge. I don’t expect to get any more out of this than that, but we’ll see.

UPDATE: The DMN notes that Dallas County DA John Creuzot declined comment on the complaint. It also reports that Paxton has asked one of the Houston-area appeals courts to vacate the Sulak ruling. I don’t understand the jurisdiction there, given that the lawsuit originated in Travis County, but that’s all the story says.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State Senate

In addition to having a full slate of Congressional candidates for the first time since the 90s, we have a nearly-full slate of contenders for the State Senate as well. Of the twelve Republican-held Senate seats up for election this cycle, eleven of them attracted Democratic contenders. Many of those districts are not particularly competitive, but some of them are, and a pickup of even one or two seats would be a big deal. Here’s a look at how those eleven have been doing. I did not do a report on the January finances, mostly because there were so damn many primary candidates and I just couldn’t get to it. But here we are now.

Kendall Scudder
Shirley Layton
Meg Walsh
David Romero
Mark Phariss
Gwenn Burud
Beverly Powell
Nathan Johnson
Rita Lucido
Steven Kling
Kevin Lopez


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Scudder          60,060   28,143        0    18,115
03    Layton           11,828   12,040    2,000     1,174
05    Walsh            25,403   31,016    8,500    34,671
07    Romero            1,735      244        0     1,735
08    Phariss         220,043   86,019        0   128,981
09    Burud            14,544    8,910        0     1,389
10    Powell          265,807  136,025   20,000   140,749
16    Johnson         362,581  153,825    5,000   261,567
17    Lucido          178,869  128,663    3,000    71,355
25    Kling            60,617   23,015   18,000    19,974
30    Lopez            43,867   16,488        0     8,660

First things first: Congressional finance reports follow the same schedule, with reports due every quarter. There are 30-day reports due before elections as well, but every report is cumulative, so the quarterlies are always comparable. In Texas, reports are semi-annual – January and July – with 30-day and 8-day reports before elections. These reports are not cumulative – they just show what happened since the last reporting period. Things can get a little dicey during primary season, because not everyone will have the same reporting requirements. Kendall Scudder, for example, was unopposed in March, which exempted him from 30-day and 8-day reports, so his July report shows all activity for the first six months of the year. Most of the others were in two-candidate primaries. Beverly Powell’s report is from February 25, which is to say all activity since eight days before the March election. Rita Lucido is the only one who was in a May runoff, so the report linked above for her is all activity for the much shorter period from May 14 onward. Because of that, I added the Raised and Spent numbers from each of her reports this year to present the numbers in the table. She’d have shown half as much raised otherwise, which would not have been a fair reflection of her funding.

The top fundraisers are who you’d expect, as they represent four of the five districts that can be classified as competitive; Gwen Burud in SD09 is the outlier. Powell’s SD10 is the district formerly held by Wendy Davis and the most purple of them all. It’s hotly contested with a lot of outside Republican money going to Sen. Konni Burton. Expect to see even bigger numbers on the 30-day reports.

Nathan Johnson did a great job. His SD16 is the only one to have been carried by Hillary Clinton, though that includes a lot of crossovers. Still, Dallas County has seen a steady drain of Republican support, and there was one poll released that showed a very tight race there. Johnson is up against Don Huffines, who can write his own check and will surely spend whatever he needs to.

I was rooting for Mark Phariss to be the nominee in SD08, which is an open seat as Van Taylor departed to run in CD03. As one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that eventually toppled Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law, he’s both a compelling figure and (I hoped) someone with good fundraising potential. I’m glad to be proven correct, but boy howdy is that district drenched in money.

The Republican primary for state Senate District 8 between Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines was one of the most bitter in recent memory — and now the state’s most expensive. The two candidates spent more than $12 million in the Collin County race.

According to reports filed Monday, McKinney educator Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, spent $3.7 million in her campaign against Huffines, a Richardson real estate developer who spent $8.4 million. Paxton’s campaign included a $2 million bank loan from her husband’s campaign.

Despite being outspent by more than 2-1, Paxton secured her party’s nomination in March, with 54.4 percent of the vote.

[…]

State senators in Texas make only $7,200 a year, or $600 per month, plus a daily stipend of $190 for every day the Legislature is in session. That adds up to $33,800 a year for a regular session.

Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said candidates don’t decide to run for the legislature for the financial rewards, but for the career boost if they have their sights set on higher office.

“If you’re a Democrat or a Republican and you want to work your way up the food chain,” he said, “you look for opportunities, (like) open districts or to contest against an incumbent that you see is vulnerable.”

To put the District 8 primary numbers in perspective, the seat’s price tag even rivals spending for some competitive Dallas-area congressional seats in the general election.

There probably won’t be as much spent in the general, if only because of the lack of a Huffines brother, but still. Keep raising that dough, Mark.

Beyond that, Scudder, Steve Kling, and Kevin Lopez have all raised a few bucks in some super tough districts. As with the Congressional candidates in similar districts, anything they can do to give Democrats a reason to get out and vote will help. I’ve got more reports in the works, so stay tuned.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.