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Land Commissioner

The state will be handling the Harvey relief funds

Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it.

Texas is likely another nine months from getting $4.3 billion in federal post-Hurricane Harvey recovery money aimed at better protecting the state from future flooding and disasters. But when it finally arrives, Gov. Greg Abbott made clear Friday the state will be handling the money directly and not turning it over to cities and counties to manage.

While some local officials expressed frustration over the decision, Abbott said he’s turning to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush to lead the program aimed at large-scale, regional projects. Bush has already been tasked with dealing with housing recovery issues since Harvey hit Texas in August 2017.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she was hoping for more direct control over the funding.

“While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Similarly Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will continue to work closely with Bush’s agency, but made clear who will be to blame for delays in getting work completed.

“If there will be any delay in the distribution and use of flood mitigation aid, it will come from the federal and state government,” Turner said.

Texas has been waiting for the money since February 2018, when Congress first approved the disaster mitigation program. But it took until August for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to publish rules on how the money can be used.

Now, Bush and the Texas General Land Office are required to develop a “state action plan” that must later get yet another approval from HUD. According to a joint statement put out by Abbott and Bush on Friday, that could take another “nine months or more to complete.” That would mean July 2020 — just short of three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Here’s Mayor Turner’s statement about this. If one wants to feel cynical about this, one might note that while control of the funds will be with the state, blame for any delays or deficiencies will be laid on local officials, who are much more likely to be Democrats. How many people are going to understand it when blame gets pointed at the Land Commissioner? That’s not an intuitive place for these funds to originate, at the very least. Maybe this will all go well – if George P. Bush continues to have aspirations to run for Governor, he’ll have incentive to not screw this up or play politics in too obvious a fashion – but the incentives are not in alignment. Keep that in mind if and when there is something to complain about.

Oh, and since this story was published, both Greg Abbott and George P. Bush have been yelling at Mayor Turner on Twitter, for not being sufficiently grateful to them for the federal funds, which by the way still have not been released. So yeah, there’s good reason for being cynical.

The Ike Dike debate continues

There’s more than one way to mitigate against flooding, and it may be best to adopt more than one of them.

For about a decade, two of Texas’ top universities have pushed dueling plans to protect the Houston-Galveston region from hurricanes.

A concept championed by Texas A&M University at Galveston appears to be winning out as the federal and state governments pursue a plan similar to one proposed by A&M oceanographer Bill Merrell in early 2009, months after Hurricane Ike smashed ashore at Galveston Island.

But that project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office, which calls for the installation of beachfront sand dunes and massive storm surge barrier gates, won’t become reality for at least 15 years — and probably much longer. That leaves plenty of time for a worst-case hurricane to devastate the densely populated, highly industrialized region — a reality that’s coming into sharper focus as sea levels rise and the ocean warms.

The so-called coastal barrier system also carries a significant price tag — as much as $20 billion — and a significant part of the system may guard against only a modest 100-year storm.

In the meantime, Rice University is pushing a plan that it says could become a reality faster and more cheaply than the coastal barrier system. While the Galveston Bay Park Plan isn’t designed to protect as much land as the coastal barrier system, the chief spokesperson for the university’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center — known as SSPEED — says it would offer a significantly higher level of protection than the coastal barrier system for the most populated and industrialized areas in Houston and Galveston.

The park plan, conceived in 2015, calls for the use of clay dredged from the Houston Ship Channel, where a $1 billion deepening and widening project is in the works to accommodate more and larger ships, to create a 25-foot-tall levee along the shipping lane, which is the nation’s busiest. Additional dredged material would be piled behind it to form parkland. The dike would connect to an existing levee at Texas City, which would be raised to 25 feet from 17 feet.

A significant amount of dredged material has already been disposed of along the channel, forming marshy islands and a wildlife management area. That means it would not have to be built entirely from scratch.

A large storm surge gate — much like ones called for in the coastal barrier system — also would be installed and would be closed only when big storms threatened the area. Like the coastal barrier system, the park plan also calls for a “ring” levee around the city of Galveston to protect it from incoming and outgoing storm surges, the deadliest effects of hurricanes. The new north-south levee, which would cut through Galveston Bay, would be punctuated by smaller gates to allow boats to pass through.

See here for some background on the SSPEED plan, and here for more on the plan that has been selected as the preferred plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The SSPEED alternative is touted by Jim Blackburn, who has been a critic of the Corps’ Ike Dike study. Blackburn says this plan could be done as early as 2027 for $3 billion to $6 billion, which means it could be locally funded; that would also speed up the process, as it would not need to go through so much federal review. It could also be done as a complement to the Ike Dike. The Corps disputes SSPEED’s cost estimate and argues their plan would have a significant environmental impact. I’m not qualified to sort that out, but I do like the idea of having a more nimble plan in place that could get some mitigation going right now, rather than a decade or more from now. Read the story and see what you think.

The Dutch way to mitigate against floods

We can learn a lot from this largely-below-sea-level country.

David Zacek for The Texas Tribune

On a sunny Friday in late May, a jubilant wedding party scrambled to the top of a colossal sand dune in this tiny Dutch beach town for a photoshoot, bridesmaids’ arms flailing as their high heels sunk in. The wedding ceremony had just ended at an outdoor venue nestled behind the six-story mountain of sand, which blocked the view of the North Sea.

At the town’s main strip nearby, a mostly older crowd sipped beers and wine and nibbled on ice cream cones. No one seemed to mind that they couldn’t see the water.

Unlike in the United States, such obscured ocean views are common in the Netherlands, where people aren’t allowed to build homes or businesses directly on the coast — and for good reason. Three of Europe’s major rivers run through the compact country on their way to the ocean, and almost one-third of it lies below sea level, making it extremely vulnerable to deadly storm tides.

The dunes in Noordwijk are part of a world-renowned storm defense system that covers the entirety of the Netherlands’ coastline — much of it hefty enough to protect against a monster, 10,000-year storm. The system has become a beacon for Texas as it looks to guard the eastern flank of the low-lying Houston-Galveston region — home to millions of people and the nation’s largest petrochemical complex — from hurricanes. Despite its vulnerability to deadly storm surges, the upper Texas coast has no comprehensive storm protection system.

That vulnerability became apparent after Hurricane Ike in 2008, when scientists warned that the storm — the costliest to ever hit Texas at the time — could have been much worse for the Houston-Galveston region if it hadn’t changed course at the last minute. And although 2017’s Hurricane Harvey made landfall much farther down the coast, its torrential rains put large swaths of Houston underwater and drove home the widespread damage a hurricane could inflict on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The Netherlands experienced a similar reckoning after a freak storm in 1953.

That North Sea flood, which the Dutch simply call “the disaster,” breached neglected and war-battered dikes, inundated an area bigger than the city of Houston and drowned more than 1,800 people — a death toll nearly identical to that of Hurricane Katrina after it swamped New Orleans and parts of Mississippi. Within weeks, a special Dutch commission initiated a sweeping public works program that it vowed would keep the country dry forever.

“The 1953 flood was a wake-up call,” said Marcel Stive, a hydraulic engineering professor at the Delft University of Technology. “While the economy was resurrecting and doing well [after World War II], the public and politicians realized our vulnerability.”

The Delta Works, later declared one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, surrounded a fifth of the country’s population with an ingenious combination of dams, dikes, locks and first-of-their-kind storm surge barriers. It took decades to finish it all — much longer than expected — but the first project was complete just five years after the storm.

In the 66 years since the disaster, no Dutch citizen has died in a flood. In Texas, hundreds of citizens have perished in floods and hurricanes just in the past two decades.

Flood risk has remained so low in the Netherlands that homeowners don’t buy flood insurance and building codes behind the flood barriers are virtually nonexistent.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The Ike Dike is based on the Dutch storm surge system. Go read the rest of the story and see what that means.

Another big flood would be bad

Breaking news, but this is worth paying attention to.

Housing sales would drop, gasoline prices would increase and Texas would lose hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output if a major storm struck an unprotected coastline, according to a new study.

The joint study by Texas A&M University at Galveston and the Texas General Land Office assesses the storm surge impacts on the three counties along Galveston Bay — Galveston, Harris, and Chambers — and explores how flooding from a severe storm would impact different sectors of the local and national economies.

The study finds that a 500-year storm would result in an 8 percent decrease in Gross State Product by 2066, an $853 billion loss. (A 500-year flood has a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in a given year. Hurricane Harvey was the third such event in the Houston area in three years.)

With a coastal barrier in place, the study found, economic losses would be significantly less harmful. Gross State Product would still decline after a 500-year storm, but only by 2 percent. Housing sales would decrease by 2 percent, while petroleum and chemical output would decline by 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

[…]

The economic outlook for an unprotected Houston-Galveston region ravaged by a storm surge is bleak, the report shows.

Housing sales would decline by nearly 8 percent, a $39.5 billion loss. Revenues in the petrochemical sector would decline by 19 percent, a $175.4 billion loss, while prices on petroleum products would increase by 13 percent.

Nationally, following an unprotected, 500-year surge event in Galveston Bay, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product would be 1.1 percent lower by the end of the 50-year period, an estimated $863 billion dollar economic decline.

The GLO press release is here, and the website showing the result of various scenarios is here. The Army Corps has recommended a particular plan for a coastal barrier, though some people disagree with the option that was selected. Be that as it may, the point here is that however expensive an Ike Dike may be, the cost of doing nothing is potentially much greater, with long-lasting effects. We have seen very clearly that the “500 year” part of “500 year storm” doesn’t mean what it once did. How much are we willing to risk remaining unprotected when the next one hits?

Who should be managing the Permanent School Fund?

It’s a good question, and I’m not sure what the best answer to it is.

Lawmakers are proposing a wide range of fixes for the state’s public school endowment, which has lost out on billions in growth during the past decade while paying out less to schoolchildren.

One bipartisan bill backed by high-powered legislators would restore the State Board of Education’s control over nearly all of the investments for the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund, reverting to the way it was before a 2001 law change.

Another would allow the School Land Board, which now controls about $10 billion of the endowment, to double the amount it can send annually directly to schools — up to $600 million. Yet another would take most of the money away from the feuding boards and create a new nine-member governing body appointed by the governor to decide how the endowment invests and distributes its dollars.

[…]

A key point in the debate is which governing body should have the authority to retain and invest the state’s oil and gas royalty revenue from leases on state land. Until 2001, the land board collected the money and sent it passively along to the education board to invest. But a law passed that year allowed the land board to retain the money and invest it.

A series of law changes and constitutional amendments since has changed the way money is sent to schools. The education board was tasked with setting a distribution rate based on a complex formula that, in part, depends on how much money it receives from the land board. Lawmakers also authorized the land board to send up to $300 million per year directly to schools, instead of to the education board, but it has no requirement to do so.

The changes created a serious governance issue, said Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who has introduced a bill that would return the royalty revenue to the education board to invest. That bill has the backing of five Republican Senate committee chairs. Republican Rep. Ken King has filed identical legislation in the House.

It also is supported by the education board’s chairwoman, Donna Bahorich, who said it aims to “permanently and efficiently fix the decision-making structure that affects the performance, distributions and expenses. Consolidation of the two pieces of the Permanent School Fund into one decision-making structure would be for the benefit of putting more money to work for the school children.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the Chron’s “Broken Trust” series, which uncovered a lot of these problems. The Land Board has had the worse performance, but the SBOE’s management isn’t perfect, and it was just ten years ago that there were proposals to take PSF management away from the SBOE. At some level, I don’t care who manages the PSF. What I do care about is ensuring accountability and maximizing returns. What are the best practices – what do other institutions that manage similar endowments do, for example – and what are the gaps that need to be addressed? That’s what I want us to focus on.

No more PSF investing for you, Land Board

Seems worth considering.

Austin Lawmakers filed bills this week that would strip the School Land Board of its ability to invest billions of dollars on behalf of Texas schoolchildren.

The bipartisan legislation, submitted Wednesday, comes amid mounting scrutiny over the management of the $44 billion Permanent School Fund, which is run jointly by the land board and the State Board of Education. The two boards are the subject of a yearlong Houston Chronicle investigation that began publishing Sunday, which found that the fund has lost out on as much as $12 billion in revenue, fueled by anemic returns, skyrocketing fees and questionable investment deals.

At the same time, students in Texas have received less annually from the endowment over the past decade, in real dollars, than they did in the two decades prior, even as the overall size of the fund has swelled.

The land board’s role has been especially contentious. It manages its portion of the portfolio — now at $10 billion — by collecting the state’s oil and gas royalty revenues and investing them, primarily in private equity. The land board has only three members, often meets behind closed doors, and since 2006 has committed or invested nearly $3.7 billion with companies run by friends, business associates or campaign donors.

The bills would end that, revoking the land board’s investment power and returning it entirely to the education board. It would still gather fees from royalties, but pass them straight on to the education board.

Consolidating the two will “put more money to work for the benefit of our schoolchildren,” Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who is leading the effort, said in a statement. “The legislature created this flawed structure, and it’s time we fixed it.”

Five Republican Senate committee chairs have signed on to the legislation, including Jane Nelson, Brian Birdwell, Paul Bettencourt, Dawn Buckingham and Bob Hall. Republican Rep. Ken King has filed identical legislation in the House.

See here for the background, and here for the full series published by the Chron. The SBOE had full responsibility for the PSF until 2001, so this would revert things to the earlier setup. Not that the SBOE has been a perfect steward of the PSF, but they’ve been a little better than the Land Board. I would not object to an overall higher level of scrutiny on the whole process. This is at least a step in the right direction.

In a statement, Land Commissioner George P. Bush called the proposal a “power grab.” He said he welcomes reforms, but only if they’re based upon sound financial expertise.

“Without expert evaluation, the school children of Texas stand to lose,” he said.

Bush, who oversees the land board, said after a meeting on Tuesday that he had not read the Chronicle’s reporting and didn’t plan to.

“I’m trying a new strategy in 2019 by not reading my media,” he said. He said his office would review the series’ findings and follow up later.

Remember when George P. Bush was the fresh new exciting face of the Texas GOP? Boy, those were the days.

What’s wrong with the Permanent School Fund?

For starters, it should have more money in it.

It was a grand promise, one our forefathers made 165 years ago to all Texas children, to theirs and ours and those not yet born.

With $2 million and the state’s most abundant and precious resource — its land — they created the Texas Permanent School Fund to forever support public education. It was called a “sacred trust.”

That trust, dedicated to K-12 schools, is now valued at $44 billion, bigger than even Harvard University’s endowment.

It is also broken.

The Permanent School Fund has failed to match the performance of peer endowments, missing out on as much as $12 billion in growth and amassing a risky asset allocation, a yearlong Houston Chronicle investigation reveals.

Outside fund managers have charged the endowment at least a billion dollars in fees during the past decade, records show. Some of them have had professional or personal relationships with Texas School Land Board members, who govern a portion of the fund.

And, critically, the fund is sending less money to schools than it did decades ago, in real dollars. The amount dropped to an average of $986 million annually over the past decade from an average of $1.14 billion in the previous 20 years, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Last year, the fund distributed only 2.8 percent of its value — roughly half the share paid out by many endowments.

That decline, coupled with a 2 million increase in the number of students over 30 years, has slashed the fund’s per-student distribution.

Per student, the fund has paid an average of $207 annually over the past decade compared with $322, adjusted for inflation, over the prior two decades, a drop of more than one-third.

According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1998 and 2017, the average payout from higher education endowments has ranged between 4.2 percent and 5.1 percent. If the Texas fund paid out 5 percent of a four-year average market value, as many endowments try to, Texas schools would have received $720 million more in 2018.

That’s the opening of part one of a promised four-part series. Here’s part two, in which we find that however the fund is doing, the fund managers are doing great.

Since the land board started investing with outside fund managers on behalf of the state’s K-12 endowment in 2006, it has committed or invested nearly $3.7 billion with companies run by friends, business associates or campaign donors.

Those donors together have given more than $1.4 million since 2006 to board members or elected officials with the power to appoint them, a Houston Chronicle investigation reveals.

And they’ve since charged the fund more than $218 million in fees, records show.

While the fees climbed during the past decade, the amount of money the $44 billion Texas Permanent School Fund sends to schools has declined, in real dollars, compared with the two decades prior.

Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin, said it’s time to reassess how the school fund is managed.

“Without the right oversight, the PSF is ripe for conflicts of interest,” she said. “We have a responsibility for due diligence here.”

Read the rest, and come back for parts three and four. A better-managed PSF would not solve school finance by itself, but it sure would help. Seems like this is a prime opportunity for some high-profile legislation to improve how this works.

Precinct analysis: The two types of statewide candidates

When we look at the precinct data in Harris County, we can separate the statewide candidates into two groups. Here’s the first group:


Dist   Abbott   Valdez   Tipp  Abbott% Valdez%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  146,399  112,272  4,345   55.66%  43.40%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  127,414  111,248  4,285   52.45%  46.61%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   18,751    9,906    390   64.55%  34.57%		
CD09   27,929   90,968  1,450   23.21%  76.51%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   75,353   37,952  1,530   65.62%  33.50%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   46,703  135,085  2,924   25.28%  74.31%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   16,713   14,587    450   52.64%  46.60%		
CD29   35,234   81,191  1,209   29.95%  69.74%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   64,462   34,237  1,486   64.34%  34.69%		
							
SBOE6 311,568  259,847  9,961   53.59%  45.47%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  31,307   23,705    756   56.14%  43.09%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  44,013   23,782    918   64.05%  35.08%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  36,496   15,196    657   69.72%  29.40%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  38,653   25,449  1,079   59.30%  39.70%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  53,877   21,741  1,037   70.29%  28.75%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   7,736   33,845    479   18.39%  81.39%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  35,033   30,977    924   52.34%  46.93%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  44,317   26,343  1,278   61.60%  37.28%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  42,650   45,268  1,967   47.45%  51.49%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  28,819   26,636    853   51.18%  48.03%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   8,239   15,723    398   33.82%  65.62%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  25,204   22,706    839   51.70%  47.39%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  12,409   34,289    665   26.20%  73.43%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   6,188   17,271    207   26.15%  73.62%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   5,126   26,059    327   16.27%  83.56%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142  10,236   29,142    476   25.68%  74.01%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   8,772   19,764    263   30.46%  69.26%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   9,806   13,427    255   41.75%  57.79%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145  10,959   21,631    495   33.12%  66.37%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   9,927   33,073    645   22.74%  76.91%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147  12,239   42,282  1,017   22.04%  77.55%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  17,912   29,255  1,070   37.13%  62.02%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  15,348   23,283    513   39.21%  60.27%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  43,692   26,599    951   61.33%  37.84%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    73,833  212,930  4,401   25.36%  74.25%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   115,327  111,134  3,044   50.25%  49.07%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   178,630  151,009  5,301   53.33%  45.81%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   191,168  152,373  5,323   54.80%  44.35%  51.22%   44.42%


Dist    Hegar   Cheval Sander   Hegar% Cheval%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  141,744  111,763  7,347   54.34%  42.85%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  124,558  109,747  6,674   51.69%  45.54%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   18,139    9,973    744   62.86%  34.56%	
CD09   24,211   92,612  3,102   20.19%  77.22%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   73,125   38,247  2,784   64.06%  33.50%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   41,793  136,421  5,291   22.77%  74.34%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   15,699   14,868    917   49.86%  47.22%		
CD29   31,025   82,379  3,547   26.53%  70.44%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   61,944   34,609  2,847   62.32%  34.82%		
							
SBOE6 303,287  257,168 16,226   52.59%  44.59%  48.92%   46.59%
		
HD126  30,142   23,892  1,398   54.38%  43.10%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  42,379   24,118  1,729   62.12%  35.35%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  35,212   15,517  1,260   67.73%  29.85%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  36,953   25,598  2,034   57.22%  39.63%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  52,413   21,902  1,867   68.80%  28.75%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   6,299   34,617  1,050   15.01%  82.49%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  33,520   31,387  1,765   50.28%  47.08%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  43,710   25,739  1,843   61.31%  36.10%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  43,113   43,043  2,548   48.60%  48.52%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  27,400   26,976  1,576   48.97%  48.21%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   7,616   15,855    774   31.41%  65.39%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  24,206   22,771  1,438   50.00%  47.03%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  11,085   34,800  1,223   23.53%  73.87%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,335   17,585    638   22.65%  74.65%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   4,010   26,763    682   12.75%  85.08%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   8,720   30,011    976   21.96%  75.58%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,578   20,159    879   26.48%  70.45%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   9,069   13,595    738   38.75%  58.09%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145  10,071   21,588  1,157   30.69%  65.78%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   8,749   33,458  1,166   20.17%  77.14%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147  11,030   42,308  1,741   20.03%  76.81%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  17,117   28,580  1,885   35.97%  60.06%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  14,471   23,550	1,002   37.08%  60.35%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  42,040   26,807	1,884	59.44%  37.90%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    66,298  215,259  7,805   22.91%  74.39%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   108,715  112,237  6,847   47.72%  49.27%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   173,303  150,515  8,863   52.09%  45.24%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   183,922  152,608  9,738   53.12%  44.07%  51.22%   44.42%

Dist     Bush    Suazo   Pina    Bush%  Suazo%  Trump% Clinton%
==============================================================
CD02  139,352  114,931  7,003   53.33%  43.99%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  121,500  114,267  5,747   50.31%  47.31%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   17,965   10,096    794   62.26%  34.99%		
CD09   24,634   93,291  1,961   20.55%  77.82%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   72,059   39,108  3,029   63.10%  34.25%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   42,340  137,629  3,572   23.07%  74.99%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   15,614   15,120    804   49.51%  47.94%		
CD29   32,067   83,045  1,983   27.39%  70.92%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   61,471   35,448  2,621   61.76%  35.61%		
							
SBOE6 297,321  265,718 14,551   51.48%  46.00%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  29,781   24,312  1,386   53.68%  43.82%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  41,767   24,635  1,922   61.13%  36.06%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  35,019   15,710  1,327   67.27%  30.18%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  36,480   26,417  1,800   56.39%  40.83%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  51,579   22,543  2,081   67.69%  29.58%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   6,567   34,764    600   15.66%  82.91%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  33,218   31,761  1,697   49.82%  47.63%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  42,447   27,278  1,761   59.38%  38.16%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  41,172   45,935  1,991   46.21%  51.56%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  27,294   27,394  1,327   48.73%  48.90%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   7,570   16,080    586   31.23%  66.35%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  23,878   23,298  1,236   49.32%  48.12%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  11,284   35,000    805   23.96%  74.33%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,582   17,665    333   23.67%  74.92%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   4,200   26,800    425   13.37%  85.28%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   9,075   29,961    663   22.86%  75.47%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,907   20,265    472   27.60%  70.75%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   9,202   13,759    454   39.30%  58.76%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145  10,172   21,989    737   30.92%  66.84%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   8,700   33,902    789   20.05%  78.13%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147  11,071   42,903  1,162   20.08%  77.81%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  16,967   29,451  1,362   35.51%  61.64%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  14,405   23,854    753   36.92%  61.15%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  41,665   27,259  1,845   58.87%  38.52%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    66,399  217,832  5,280   22.93%  75.24%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   108,715  114,022  5,408   47.65%  49.98%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   170,023  155,106  7,985   51.04%  46.56%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   181,865  155,975  8,841   52.46%  44.99%  51.22%   44.42%

Dist    Cradd  McAllen Wright   Cradd% McAlln%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  142,254  112,407  5,821   54.61%	43.15%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  124,873  110,377  5,224   51.93%	45.90%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   18,184   10,028    604   63.10%	34.80%		
CD09   24,262   93,623  1,880   20.26%	78.17%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   72,996   38,698  2,336   64.01%	33.94%	63.61%   32.36%
CD18   42,236  137,094  3,852   23.06%	74.84%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   15,798   14,978    685   50.21%	47.61%		
CD29   31,169   83,638  2,009   26.68%	71.60%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   62,167   35,017  2,135   62.59%	35.26%		
							
SBOE6 304,098  258,654 12,833   52.83%  44.94%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  30,251   24,086  1,030   54.64%  43.50%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  42,508   24,260  1,399   62.36%  35.59%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  35,341   15,690    935   68.01%  30.19%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  37,121   25,810  1,593   57.53%  40.00%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  52,323   22,196  1,573   68.76%  29.17%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   6,309   34,963    620   15.06%  83.46%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  33,485   31,713  1,390   50.29%  47.63%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  43,854   25,773  1,499   61.66%  36.24%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  43,326   42,975  2,125   49.00%  48.60%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  27,450   27,296  1,167   49.09%  48.82%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   7,649   16,001    542   31.62%  66.14%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  24,239   22,956  1,126   50.16%  47.51%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  11,169   35,002    865   23.75%  74.42%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,367   17,822    347   22.80%  75.72%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   4,009   27,021    417   12.75%  85.93%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   8,785   30,256    626   22.15%  76.27%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,582   20,499    483   26.54%  71.77%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   9,100   13,835    444   38.92%  59.18%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145  10,152   21,880    733   30.98%  66.78%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   8,760   33,730    801   20.24%  77.91%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147  11,235   42,469  1,283   20.43%  77.23%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  17,266   28,762  1,437   36.38%  60.60%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  14,470   23,827    675   37.13%  61.14%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  42,188   27,038  1,436   59.70%  38.26%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    66,771  216,622  5,478   23.11%  74.99%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   109,186  113,684  4,717   47.98%  49.95%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   173,478  151,759  6,871   52.24%  45.70%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   184,504  153,795  7,480   53.36%  44.48%  51.22%   44.42%

These candidates, all of whom won by at least ten points statewide, carried CD07 and SBOE6, carried or narrowly lost HDs 132, 135, and 138, and did as well as Trump or better pretty much everywhere. Unlike Ted Cruz, these candidates held the base Republican vote and won back the Gary Johnson and Evan McMullen Republicans. These were the Republicans who had the least amount of controversy dogging them, the ones who for the most part could claim to be about doing their jobs and not licking Donald Trump’s boots. Yes, George P. Bush had Alamo issues, and Harvey recovery money issues (as did Greg Abbott to a lesser extent), but they weren’t enough to dent him. The most notable result in here is Abbott losing HD134. I’m guessing Sarah Davis will not be fearing another primary challenge in 2020.

And then there’s the other group:


Dist  Patrick  Collier McKenn Patrick%   Coll%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  134,530  123,364  4,744   51.22%  47.84%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  113,520  124,555  4,659   46.77%  52.32%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   17,737   10,768    482   61.19%  37.78%		
CD09   24,176   94,548  1,535   20.10%  79.64%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   70,715   42,023  1,959   61.65%  37.27%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   39,805  141,631  3,053   21.58%  78.06%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   15,438   15,694    554   48.72%  50.41%		
CD29   31,998   83,846  1,559   27.25%  72.38%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   60,359   37,854  1,812   60.34%  38.54%		
							
SBOE6 282,567  287,230 10,933   48.66%  50.41%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  29,104   25,673    917   52.26%  46.87%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  41,357   26,160  1,106   60.27%  38.75%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  34,655   16,787    832   66.29%  32.63%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  35,547   28,216  1,308   54.63%  44.25%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  50,658   24,612  1,309   66.15%  32.70%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   6,413   35,123    485   15.26%  84.56%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  32,599   33,062  1,174   48.78%  50.35%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  39,252   31,191  1,400   54.64%  44.28%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  36,006   52,016  1,881   40.05%  59.09%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  26,706   28,541    976   47.50%  51.66%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   7,279   16,593    460   29.92%  69.51%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  23,146   24,601    914   47.57%  51.52%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  10,774   35,909    643   22.77%  76.92%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,635   17,734    267   23.84%  75.89%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   4,259   26,894    339   13.52%  86.33%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   8,914   30,427    475   22.39%  77.34%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,979   20,410    356   27.76%  71.89%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   9,204   13,892    340   39.27%  60.15%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145   9,874   22,500    624   29.92%  69.50%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   8,240   34,720    661   18.89%  80.82%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147  10,055   44,357  1,005   18.14%  81.52%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  15,427   31,591  1,139   32.03%  67.19%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  14,187   24,362    560   36.28%  63.20%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  41,008   28,912  1,186   57.67%  41.35%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    62,356  224,149  4,325   21.44%  78.24%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   107,321  117,954  3,820   46.85%  52.36%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   162,085  166,470  6,044   48.44%  50.67%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   176,516  165,710  6,168   50.67%  48.42%  51.22%   44.42%


Dist   Paxton   Nelson Harris  Paxton% Nelson%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  131,374  125,193  5,584   50.11%  47.76%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  110,526  126,567  5,145   45.63%  52.25%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   17,461   10,905    580   60.32%  37.67%		
CD09   22,756   95,621  1,776   18.94%  79.58%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   69,879   42,292  2,315   61.04%  36.94%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   37,644  143,124  3,522   20.43%  77.66%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   14,945   16,014    661   47.26%  50.65%		
CD29   30,107   85,124  2,006   25.68%  72.61%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   59,422   38,390  2,064   59.50%  38.44%		
							
SBOE6 276,028  291,144 12,389   47.63%  50.24%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  28,595   25,962  1,059   51.42%  46.68%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  40,368   26,724  1,388   58.95%  39.02%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  34,331   16,926    953   65.76%  32.42%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  34,659   28,775  1,503   53.37%  44.31%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  50,144   24,667  1,597   65.63%  32.28%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   5,962   35,453    594   14.19%  84.39%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  31,919   33,536  1,333   47.79%  50.21%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  38,500   31,627  1,519   53.74%  44.14%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  34,670   53,010  1,988   38.66%  59.12%  39.58%   55.12%
HD135  26,040   28,961  1,137   46.39%  51.59%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   6,947   16,823    508   28.61%  69.29%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  22,512   24,996  1,056   46.36%  51.47%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  10,181   36,255    806   21.55%  76.74%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,278   17,999    326   22.36%  76.26%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   3,945   27,091    461   12.53%  86.01%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   8,433   30,706    636   21.20%  77.20%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,497   20,734    470   26.12%  72.24%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   8,863   14,133    440   37.82%  60.30%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145   9,363   22,898    704   28.40%  69.46%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   7,745   35,131    702   17.77%  80.62%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147   9,489   44,762  1,125   17.14%  80.83%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  14,665   32,054  1,298   30.54%  66.76%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  13,639   24,788    628   34.92%  63.47%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  40,369   29,219  1,422   56.85%  41.15%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    59,111  226,367  5,082   20.34%  77.91%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   104,324  119,859  4,573   45.60%  52.40%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   158,349  168,865  6,731   47.42%  50.57%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   172,330  168,139  7,267   49.56%  48.35%  51.22%   44.42%


Dist   Miller    Olson   Carp  Miller%  Olson%  Trump% Clinton%
===============================================================
CD02  133,022  122,897  4,709   51.04%  47.15%  52.38%   43.05%
CD07  112,853  123,473  4,148   46.93%  51.35%  47.11%   48.47%
CD08   17,596   10,756    460   61.07%  37.33%		
CD09   22,400   95,979  1,478   18.69%  80.08%  17.56%   79.70%
CD10   70,489   41,589  1,954   61.82%  36.47%  63.61%   32.36%
CD18   37,934  142,586  2,937   20.68%  77.72%  19.95%   76.46%
CD22   14,922   16,056    539   47.35%  50.94%		
CD29   29,391   85,809  1,720   25.14%  73.39%  25.46%   71.09%
CD36   59,684   38,022  1,678   60.05%  38.26%		
							
SBOE6 280,395  285,147 10,318   48.69%  49.52%  48.92%   46.59%
							
HD126  28,820   25,649    901   52.05%  46.32%  52.96%   42.99%
HD127  40,782   26,205  1,164   59.84%  38.45%  61.23%   34.90%
HD128  34,432   16,815    751   66.22%  32.34%  68.17%   28.75%
HD129  34,853   28,512  1,234   53.95%  44.14%  55.33%   40.06%
HD130  50,592   24,186  1,322   66.48%  31.78%  68.08%   27.94%
HD131   5,817   35,639    466   13.88%  85.01%  13.33%   84.31%
HD132  32,187   33,275  1,119   48.34%  49.98%  50.04%   45.68%
HD133  39,476   30,381  1,235   55.53%  42.73%  54.54%   41.11%
HD134  36,062   50,855  1,612   40.73%  57.44%  39.58%	 55.12%
HD135  26,173   28,770    954   46.82%  51.47%  48.91%   46.80%
HD137   7,027   16,723    444   29.04%  69.12%  28.95%   66.96%
HD138  22,745   24,700    896   47.05%  51.10%  47.80%   47.83%
HD139  10,210   36,245    632   21.68%  76.97%  20.60%   76.12%
HD140   5,137   18,147    295   21.79%  76.96%  21.89%   75.07%
HD141   3,844   27,252    347   12.23%  86.67%  12.58%   85.20%
HD142   8,357   30,855    466   21.06%  77.76%  20.97%   76.20%
HD143   7,196   20,967    432   25.17%  73.32%  26.02%   71.03%
HD144   8,757   14,258    391   37.41%  60.92%  38.41%   57.72%
HD145   9,296   22,924    597   28.33%  69.85%  28.73%   66.91%
HD146   7,705   35,073    583   17.77%  80.89%  17.31%   79.44%
HD147   9,614   44,494    987   17.45%  80.76%  16.76%   79.00%
HD148  14,974   31,507  1,108   31.47%  66.21%  30.49%   63.83%
HD149  13,659   24,763    558   35.04%  63.53%  32.51%   64.25%
HD150  40,576   28,972  1,129   57.41%  40.99%  59.18%   36.62%
							
CC1    59,268  225,889  4,130   20.49%  78.08%  19.74%   76.83%
CC2   104,218  119,731  3,843   45.75%  52.56%  46.79%   49.48%
CC3   160,755  165,766  5,607   48.40%  49.91%  48.22%   47.63%
CC4   174,050  165,781  6,043   50.32%  47.93%  51.22%   44.42%

Basically, these three are the exact opposite of the first group: Controversy, Trump-humping, ineffectiveness at what they’re supposed to be doing for the state, and underperformance relative to 2016. Not only did they all lose CD07, they lost SBOE6 and all three competitive State Rep districts. I mean, Justin Nelson won HD134 by over 20 points; Mike Collier just missed that mark. Except in the strongest Democratic districts, they all failed to achieve Trump’s numbers. (This suggests the possibility that Dem performance in 2018, as good as it was, could have been even better, and that there remains room to grow in 2020.) This is the degradation of the Republican brand in a nutshell. This isn’t just strong Democratic performance. It’s people who used to vote Republican not voting for these Republicans. Seems to me there’s a lesson to be learned here. What do you think are the odds it will be heeded?

Initial reactions: Statewide

I’m going to do a few of these “Initial reaction” posts about Tuesday’s elections as I try to make sense of all that happened. Here we go.

Let me start with a number. Two numbers, actually: 4,017,851 and 48.26%. The former is how many votes Beto O’Rourke has right now, and what his percentage of the vote was. That first number, which may still creep up a bit as there are a tiny number of precincts unreported as I write this, is the largest vote total any Texas Democrat has ever received. It’s more than 500K greater than Barack Obama in 2008, and it’s about 130K greater than Hillary Clinton in 2016. I had thought Clinton’s 3,877,868 votes were the absolute ceiling for any Dem this cycle, but I was wrong. Somehow, Beto O’Rourke built on what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That is truly amazing.

Oh, and do note that Beto’s losing margin was 2.68 points, which was closer than all but four of the polls taken in this race – the one poll where he was tied, the one poll where he was leading, the one poll where he was trailing by one, and the one poll where he was trailing by two. It couldn’t have been easy for the pollsters to model this year’s electorate, but when they did they were generally more pessimistic about this race – though not necessarily about the state as a whole – than they should have been.

Now here are two other numbers to consider: 4,685,047 and 4,884,441. The former is what Donald Trump got in 2016, and the latter is what Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman got that same year. Those are our targets for 2020, to truly make Texas a competitive electoral battleground. We know a lot of people with no previous electoral history voted this year, and I think it’s safe to say most of them voted for Beto. We need to figure out who the people are that did vote in 2016 but not in 2018, and make sure they vote in 2020. We also need to keep registering voters like crazy, and keep engaging the voters we got to come out this year. I know everyone is sad about Beto falling short – at this writing, he trails by 2.57 percentage points, which among other things means that the polls generally did underestimate him – but we need to stay focused and work to ensuring the level he achieved is a stepping stone and not a peak.

By how much did Beto outperform the Democratic baseline? First we have to decide what the baseline was. For the executive offices, the totals are bifurcated:


Valdez     3,520,868   Collier   3,833,069
Chevalier  3,545,626   Nelson    3,870,345
Suazo      3,540,153   Olson     3,794,683
McAllen    3,586,198

One might argue that Collier and Nelson and Olson might have done better if they’d had more money. Maybe, but there was a ton of money spent in the Senate race, and it’s not clear to me what the marginal effect of another million or two might have been. It’s hard for me to imagine any of them making it over the top if Beto wasn’t at least within automatic-recount distance of Cruz. The point here is that there was significant variation in these contests. That’s one reason why I usually default to the judicial races as my benchmark for partisan strength:


Kirkland   3,820,059
Sandill    3,765,102
Cheng      3,769,290
Jackson    3,707,483
Franklin   3,723,541

Much closer, as you can see. They lost by a range of 6.55 points (Kirkland) to 8.39 points (Franklin). In 2016, the closest any statewide Democratic judicial candidate got was Dori Garza’s 13.22 point loss. Based on the 2018 vote totals, I’d say the Democratic baseline is around 3.7 to 3.8 million. Compare the judicial race vote totals from this year to 2016:


Kirkland   3,820,059   Westergren  3,378,163
Sandill    3,765,102   Garza       3,608,634
Cheng      3,769,290   Robinson    3,445,959
Jackson    3,707,483   Meyers      3,496,205
Franklin   3,723,541   Johnson     3,511,950
                       Burns       3,558,844

That’s a nice step up, though do note that in 2016 all of the statewide judicial races also had a Libertarian candidate, and all but one also had a Green, while this year only Terri Jackson had company from a third party. Still and all, I think this shows that Beto wasn’t the only Dem to build on 2016. It also suggests that Beto got on the order of 300K crossover votes, while Collier and Nelson and Olson got 100K to 150K.

I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw just yet. We built on 2016. We still have room to grow – remember, as high as the turnout was this year, beating all off years as well as 2008 and 2012, turnout as a percentage of registered voters was still less than 53% – and with the right candidates we can attract some Republican voters. We should and we must make our goal be a competitive state for the Presidential race in 2020. I’ll look at the county by county canvass later, then of course do some precinct level reporting when the dust clears a bit. In the meantime, read Chris Hooks’ analysis for more.

We have an Ike Dike plan

Now we need a plan to pay for it.

A decade after Hurricane Ike devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that a more ambitious version of the proposed “Ike Dike” — a 70-mile-long coastal barrier that could cost as much as $31 billion — is the preferred choice for protecting the state’s coastline from future storm surges.

The decision moves the project closer to ultimately being built, but leaves unanswered how to pay for it, especially with the estimated cost skyrocketing to between $23 billion and $31 billion — two to three times above original estimates.

The option backed by the Army Corps and the Texas General Land Office is similar to the original “Ike Dike” proposal developed by researchers at Texas A&M University in Galveston after Ike hammered southeast Texas in 2008, with some subtle differences.

“This study actually incorporates both coastal storm risk management features and ecosystem restoration features up and down the coast and some coastal storm risk management down on South Padre (Island),” said Kelly Burks-Copes, the project manager for the Army Corps’ study. “It’s a comprehensive study so it’s looking at the entire coast of Texas, much bigger than the Ike Dike per se.”

[…]

The coastal barrier would be a system of levees and sea gates beginning on high ground north of High Island and running the length of the Bolivar Peninsula. It would then cross the entrance of Galveston Bay and extend the length of Galveston Island, incorporating the existing seawall. It would end at San Luis Pass.

At the entrance to Galveston Bay, a system of storm surge gates would be constructed to protect the coastline during storm events but otherwise allow for navigation to the ports of Galveston, Texas City and Houston. A large navigation gate would also be placed along the ship channel. These gates are modeled after similar structures in London on the River Thames and on the coast of the Netherlands.

A “ring levee” would also be placed around Galveston to protect the bayside of the island, a densely populated area, from surge and flood waters. Gates and other barriers would be built near Clear Creek as well as Dickinson, Offatts and Highland bayous.

The plan also includes beach and dune restoration along the lower Texas coast, and nine ecosystem restoration projects to increase resilience.

Bill Merrell, a Texas A&M University Galveston professor who proposed the Ike Dike concept more than nine years ago, noted some minor differences between his original plan and the one backed by the two agencies.

Merrell’s plan included a gate at San Luis Pass, which is south of Galveston, and a mix of gray and green infrastructure along the coast, most notably a series of 17-foot high dunes on Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston in lieu of a seawall. Built after the catastrophic 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 17-foot-high seawall spared the island from many storms but was overtopped by Ike’s storm surge and waves.

He also did not include any protection for High Island, nor a ring levee around Galveston, which he called an “extreme” measure that would require a sophisticated pumping system in the event of heavy rains.

“It’s a fishbowl effect. You have to pump it, and if your pumps work, you’re happy, and if your pumps don’t work, you drown,” Merrell said. “You’d have to pour a lot of maintenance money into it.”

Burks-Copes said that dunes and beach nourishment are “still in play” as options for Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula as opposed to a more hardened barrier.

See here for the background, here for the four alternatives that were under consideration, here for the plan that was chosen, and here for the related documents for public review. I just want to stress that the federal government absolutely, 100%, no questions asked can afford this. We may need to chisel back a tiny portion of the massive giveaway to the rich known as the Trump tax cuts to make us feel like we can afford it, but we can afford it. What we can’t afford is to do nothing.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 3

Remember when Land Commissioner George P. Bush was considered a rising star? The Chronicle does.

Miguel Suazo

Four years ago we enthusiastically endorsed George P. Bush for land commissioner. We said he was “the real deal.” Turns out, we were really off.

You don’t have to take our word for it.

Bush’s predecessor in the office, Republican Jerry Patterson, not only has refused to endorse Bush. He is actually reaching across the aisle to endorse Democratic candidate Miguel Suazo.

The defection from the party line is more widespread than a single Republican activist: Bush’s other Republican primary opponents — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — all signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

In these divisive times, when allegiance to political parties has become tribal, the bipartisan objection to Bush says a lot.

Suazo has our endorsement as well.

In contrast to so many politicians who like to play a hardscrabble cowboy in campaign ads, Suazo, 37, has lived that role. He grew up on a cattle ranch and labored as a janitor to put himself through the University of New Mexico. He has experience working as a staffer on Capitol Hill for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who retired in 2013.

Today, Suazo works as an Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney and has an expert’s knowledge of oil and gas law, and water law. These are key issues for the man in charge of Texas’ oldest state agency. The position’s most important job involves the massive oil and gas reserves under state soil. Revenues from those mineral rights serve as a core asset for the state’s Permanent School Fund.

See here for more on the Patterson endorsement, and read the rest for the Chron’s list of grievances against Bush. Bush was one of the top votegetters in 2014, and it’s a little hard to envision him losing even in a great Democratic year, but he’s not only been bad at his job, he’s also had his own share of headlines about questionable decisions and ethical morasses. In a state without Sid Miller and Ken Paxton, he might seem to be the most vulnerable statewide incumbent running. The fact that this is all barely a ripple says a lot about the Republican slate.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses more judges, and unlike the theme of these last three endorsement posts, they generally like the Republican incumbents. If it weren’t for the bail lawsuit, they would have endorsed an overwhelming number of them by now, with nearly all of the star-system ties going to the office-holder. Keep that in mind if you hear anyone grumble about bias.

Army Corps to present Ike Dike options

About time.

Later this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will recommend a multi-billion-dollar plan to help protect the Texas coast — the Houston area in particular — from hurricanes. When it will become a reality, however, is anyone’s guess.

The more than 200-year-old agency — in partnership with the Texas General Land Office — embarked on the largest study in its history in 2014 to determine how best to guard the Bayou City and other coastal communities from devastating storm surge.

Four years later, the agency has devised four proposals for the Houston area; it will announce which one it thinks is best on Oct. 26 and open a 75-day public comment period, according to Kelly Burks-Copes, a project manager at the Army Corps’ Galveston District.

The plans are distinctly different — one of them has an alternate variation — but all include a mixture of new levees, improvements to existing levees and seawalls and the installation of so-called “navigation” gates, which would be closed ahead of storms to protect densely populated areas southeast of Houston and the city’s port — home to the largest refining and petrochemical complex in the nation, which saw significant flooding during Hurricane Harvey — from the deadly swells generated by a hurricane’s strong winds. That storm surge can result in major flooding even before a storm makes landfall.

One of the plans calls for the construction of a 17-foot-high levee along the entirety of Galveston Island, which is about 27 miles long, and the barrier island to its north, Bolivar Peninsula — a concept that has been dubbed the “coastal spine.” Another includes a levee through most of Bolivar but not Galveston. Others call for the construction of new levees and floodwalls further inland. All the plans include the installation of navigation gates in various places and the construction of a so-called “ring levee” around the heart of the Galveston that would protect the island’s backside from retreating storm surge.

Here’s the study. The four proposals are:

Alternative A: Coastal Barrier/Nonstructural System, with or without a Galveston Ring Levee
Alternative B: Coastal Barrier (Modified)
Alternative C: Mid Bay Barrier
Alternative D: Upper Bay Barrier/Nonstructural System, with or without a Bay Rim

Click over to read what they mean. There are also nine Ecosystem Restoration proposals to go along with this. As the story notes, both the original “Ike Dike” idea, proposed in 2008, and the more recent SSPEED Centennial Gate, or maybe the even more recent mid-bay gate, I’m honestly not sure, are in the running. Like I said, go see for yourself what’s on the table. One winner will emerge, and we’ll get a public comment period after that, and then we just need to solve the trivial problem of funding. No big deal, right?

Change Research (Land Commissioner): Bush 41, Suazo 36

From the inbox:

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic nominee for Texas Land Commissioner, is within 5 points of incumbent George P. Bush. The poll was conducted shortly after Suazo was endorsed by former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican.

The poll shows the two major party candidates within 5 points, with the Libertarian taking an unusually high percentage:

Suazo (D): 36%
Bush (R): 41%
Pina (L): 13%

Bush is clearly being hurt by his handling of the Alamo, a landmark that is overseen by the General Land Office. Managed by a handful of non-profits, it’s left many people wondering: who’s in charge over there?

“The Alamo has experienced nothing short of a failure of leadership under George P. Bush,” said Miguel Suazo. “While true Texans want to remember the Alamo, George P. Bush wants to reimagine it. This is unacceptable and it’s just one of the many areas that the General Land Office is demonstrating a lack of competency.”

The poll was conducted by Change Research from September 19-21 among more than 1,700 registered voters in Texas.

This is literally all I know about this poll, which came out before the recent Senate polls, so I’m not going to get very deep. As you might imagine, we don’t have much history of Land Commissioner polling, mostly because most people know nothing about the General Land Office or the candidates for it. We do have this result from June 2014, in which then-candidate George P. Bush led former El Paso Mayor John Cook by a 36-25 margin, in a poll where Greg Abbott led Wendy Davis 44-32. (Here’s where I say that I sure wish this poll also included a Beto/Cruz number, for comparison purposes.) In some sense, this is probably akin to a generic R/D poll result, and I will note that the UT/Trib poll from this June had a “generic Congress” and “generic Lege” question, in which Dems were even closer than this. Does any of this mean anything? I don’t know. But now you know what I do know.

Endorsement watch: Crossing over

Nice.

Miguel Suazo

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, has endorsed Democrat Miguel Suazo in his bid to replace current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Patterson, a former political rival of Bush, cited what he called mismanagement of the Alamo and Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Patterson isn’t the only Republican taking the unusual approach of withholding support from Bush. Three other former Republican primary opponents of Bush — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

“There are things that are more important than your party,” Patterson said. “The Alamo is Texas.”

[…]

Patterson told The Texas Tribune he had spoken with Suazo and liked what he heard. He acknowledged that it is unlikely Bush loses in November; Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But he said there was a “very, very remote chance.”

“The statewide candidates in Texas in November, some of their fortunes may be dependent of the fortunes of Donald Trump,” Patterson said. “But that’s not the point. I don’t have any compulsion to always back the winner. My compulsion is to be true to my convictions.”

Suazo said he was “honored” to have Patterson’s endorsement, saying the former commissioner had put “Texas before Party.”

If you care to search the archives here, you will see that I have long had some affection for Jerry Patterson. There’s plenty I don’t agree with him on, but he always took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, and I respected him for that. He was also a rare member of the ruling class that was not himself a plutocrat; as a story about the financial disclosures of statewide officeholders revealed, his two sources of income as Land Commissioner were his salary for that job, and his military pension. I saw him express some approval of Miguel Suazo’s positions regarding the Alamo a couple months back, and I wondered at this time if that might culminate in an endorsement. I’m glad to see that it did. He’s right that in the end it probably won’t have much effect on the outcome, but it’s good to know that Patterson is still the kind of person I thought he was when he was in office. Thanks for that, Jerry.

And then later in the same day, we got this.

Bennett Ratliff, a Republican who preceded Matt Rinaldi as state representative for his Dallas County district, endorsed Rinaldi’s Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson.

“As a lifelong Republican, I have supported and worked for Republican candidates since before I was able to vote, I have voted Republican since I was able and served as a Republican elected official. I have supported the party, our nominees, and I have never endorsed a Democrat for office. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Ratliff wrote in a message to supporters on Friday.

Ratliff represented House District 115 — which covers Irving, Coppell, Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Addison — in 2013 after defeating Rinaldi in the 2012 Republican primary. But Rinaldi won the seat from Ratliff in a rematch in 2014. Rinaldi once again beat back a challenge from Ratliff in 2016, before narrowly edging out his Democratic opponent.

Ratliff said the upcoming session would be a critical moment for Texas public schools and said Rinaldi was “in the pocket of a small group of wealthy donors” and had failed to advocate for Texas schoolchildren and local taxpayers.

“In addition to his complete ineffectiveness and lack of decorum in office, Representative Rinaldi voted 10 times against legislation to reform our school finance system, legislation that would have helped public schools and provided local tax relief,” Ratliff said. “As a result, I believe it’s time we change our representation, so we can refocus the priorities of our State Legislature.”

[…]

In his letter, Ratliff, a former Coppell school board member, said he believed Johnson would be a good advocate for Texas school students, teachers and local taxpayers.

“While we don’t agree on every issue facing our state, we both agree and understand that Republicans and Democrats must come together on the issue of public education for the future of our children,” Ratliff said. “I encourage my friends and neighbors to join me in voting for Julie Johnson.”

Johnson is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, a bipartisan political action committee that advocates for high quality public education. Ratliff is on the PAC’s leadership board.

Johnson, a personal injury lawyer from Addison who was also endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, said she has Republican support because many of the district’s constituents don’t feel represented by Rinaldi.

“Former Representative Ratliff’s support for my candidacy in House District 115 is proof of what we’ve been saying for months– Texans are tired of extremist partisan politics and want their elected officials to put people first, no matter what,” Johnson said in an email statement. “It’s time to focus on the issues that affect us the most, like fully funding our public schools and taking care of our teachers. I will work with anyone in the Texas House who has a good idea and I will vote down bills that are bad for Texans regardless of where they come from.”

Very nice. And the fact that Rinaldi is one of the worst members of the House makes it that much sweeter. Now if three makes a trend, we have a trend, because right after the primary, Lt. Governor candidate Scott Milder endorsed Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. How much difference these endorsements all make I couldn’t say, but I’d sure rather have them than not.

One year out from Harvey

We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

One year after Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas coast, 8 percent of the people impacted by the disaster have not been able to return to their homes, according to a report from two nonprofits that surveyed Texans about how the storm affected their finances, health and living conditions.

Fifteen percent of the hundreds of thousands of homes damaged by the storm are still unlivable. And of the 1,651 people from 24 counties who answered the survey, 30 percent of those impacted by the storm said their lives are still “somewhat” or “very” disrupted by the devastating storm’s lingering damage.

Those survey results, released by The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation on Thursday, may be the clearest picture of how many people are still struggling to put their lives back together after Harvey. Federal and state officials aren’t keeping track of how many people remain displaced.

[…]

While most survey respondents said their financial situations and quality of life are about the same as they were before Harvey, 23 percent said that Harvey worsened their financial situation and 17 percent said it lowered their quality of life. Twelve percent of respondents said their financial situation is better and 11 percent said their quality of life has improved.

But the results found that people of color, those with lower incomes and people living in certain geographic areas are not recovering as quickly as many Texans.

“This survey shows how much Harvey continues to haunt many across coastal Texas, with significant shares reporting ongoing challenges with their housing, finances and health,” Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

Among black Texans impacted by the storm, 60 percent say they are not getting the help they need. That compares to 40 percent of Hispanic respondents and 33 percent of white respondents.

For example, Kashmere and Trinity Gardens One Year After Harvey: A Follow-Up Report by Lara Purser:

Rosa Randle, a senior, isn’t the only Kashmere Gardens resident wandering through this labyrinth without a map. She remains in limbo. Lacking critical assistance a year after Hurricane Harvey landed, Ms. Randle’s story is all too common. Mr. Keith Downey, Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood President, says he receives calls and texts like hers daily. Nearly one year after reporting on Kashmere Gardens after Harvey, I found residents and community leaders are engaged in short-term relief and recovery as well as long-term planning.

“Posting a flyer just won’t do,” Mr. Downey quips when asked how residents – many of whom lack internet access – successfully connect with Harvey relief services. Handshakes. Hugging. Hearing. That is the gospel Mr. Downey preaches. Human connection helps build trust, he says, and that personal touch encourages residents to advocate for their own needs. He estimates at least 40 percent of Harvey-affected residents in his community are living in homes still needing remediation, are in various stages of repair, or remain displaced altogether and faults his community’s lack of political and economic influence for delays in receiving assistance. FEMA data analysis by non-profit Texas Housers confirms that the highest concentration of residents with unmet housing needs a year after Harvey are in low-income, minority neighborhoods like Kashmere Gardens, where the median household income hovers around $23,000.

The Center for Disease Control ranks Kashmere Gardens among the nation’s most socially vulnerable neighborhoods, as determined by “degree to which a community exhibits… high poverty, low percentage of vehicle access, [and] crowded households.” In short: Hurricane Harvey continues to complicate lives that were complicated enough already.

The canyons of flooded waste are gone making ongoing struggles less visible. It’s hard to understate the extent of loss in this community of 10,000 residents. Based on City of Houston estimates, the Community Design Resource Center at the University of Houston found that a staggering 79 percent of all homes in the Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Data from the United Way Community Profile for the 77028 zip code, which includes parts of Kashmere Gardens, show there were twice as many applicants with FEMA Verified Loss (FVL) as other Harris County zip codes. Just half of these FVL applicants received any level of FEMA assistance. Of those households “lucky” enough to get FEMA aid, four in ten still had thousands of dollars of unmet needs in that zip code. This substantial gap in assistance has been met in piecemeal fashion through an estimated 50 organizations and agencies servicing the area. But as Ms. Randle’s experience illustrates, securing help is a long and frustrating journey.

And it’s not just in Houston.

Nobody knows exactly how many of Rockport’s roughly 10,000 residents left after Harvey blasted through here as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25, 2017, but a loose consensus among local officials is that population is down about 20 percent. According to the Aransas County Independent School District, student enrollment fell about 15 percent after the hurricane, and [Aransas County Judge Burt] Mills estimates the county lost about one-quarter of its taxable property.

A survey released this week by the Kaiser Family and Episcopal Health foundations found that 62 percent of people in coastal areas hit by Harvey, including Aransas County, suffered damage to their homes, while 27 percent said someone in their household experienced job or income loss. Eight percent of the respondents said they haven’t been able to return home.

But Mills is optimistic that the majority of the people who left won’t stay gone forever.

“They’re gonna come back,” he said. “This is home. This is my little piece of paradise, and I believe everybody that lives in Aransas County feels that way.”

But whether Rockport and the surrounding communities can make a complete rebound will depend on their ability to provide affordable housing for the lower-income workers displaced by the storm whose labor fuels the local tourism economy, and on their ability to withstand the rising tides and more extreme storms forecasted for a warming planet.

Go read the rest of both stories. Those of us who are lucky enough to not have been affected by Harvey, or who have been able to get back on our feet, need to remember and advocate for those of us who haven’t been so lucky. We are all in this together. ThinkProgress has more.

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Debating debates

We have an agreement for a debate (mostly) between Greg Abbott and Lupe Valdez.

Lupe Valdez

Incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott agreed Wednesday to participate in a televised statewide debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, the first in the general election runup.

Abbott said he has accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group for a statewide debate with Valdez in Austin from 7-8 p.m. on Sept. 28 at a location to be determined

The debate will be broadcast statewide on television and online, and will be carried on the twelve stations Nexstar Media Group owns and operates across Texas, in addition to partner stations in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

In a Tweet, Valdez accepted the chance to debate Abbott — but not on Sept. 28, a Friday night when most Texans watching high school football, not politicians on the tube.

“Thanks @GregAbbott_TX for accepting a debate!” she said in her message. “We’re in and always happy to discuss our vision for a Texas that works for all. We haven’t agreed to the terms yet — but seriously, during Friday Night Lights? Texans deserve better. Call me, maybe?”

Getting a debate scheduled at all is a decent accomplishment. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if Abbott had basically pretended he had no opponent and didn’t respond to any request for a debate. Don’t put too much hope in a better time slot, is what I’m saying.

Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz are debating the terms of their debates.

O’Rourke, a Congressman from El Paso, said on Tuesday that he sent Cruz’s campaign a second letter calling for them to begin coordinating six debates before the Nov. 6 general election. O’Rourke wants two of the debates in Spanish.

“At this critical moment for our country, when everything we are about is on the line, when the stakes couldn’t be higher, Texans deserve a serious debate on these issues and it’s a debate I want to have,” O’Rourke said in statement to the media.

Cruz’s campaign sent O’Rourke’s campaign acknowledgment of the second request for a debate and noted Cruz “has made it quite clear he is looking forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke.”

“However, your arbitrary timeline for coordinating between the campaigns remains irrelevant to our decision-making process” a letter from Cruz for Senate advisor Bryan English states. “We will let you know when we are ready to discuss the details of joint appearances.”

I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be fewer than six debates, and they will all be in English. Keep pushing for what you want, Beto, but be ready to settle and actually get debating.

Last but not least, from the inbox:

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic Nominee for Land Commissioner, is calling on George P. Bush to follow the lead of Greg Abbott and debate his Democratic challenger.

“With the fall schedule filling-up, now is the time to commit to a public debate,” said Miguel Suazo, who is an energy and natural resources attorney based in the Austin area. “Every other George Bush has debated for public office – I’m encouraging you to continue the legacy.”

The most appropriate place to debate might be the Texas Tribune Festival, but Suazo is open to debating anytime and any place.

Added Suazo: “I think all statewide Republicans should debate their Democratic opponents. And like Gov. Abbot, we can pick a time when your supporters won’t see it, since I am going to dismantle your record as Land Commissioner. How about between 6-8AM while you are reading Trump’s tweets?”

It would be nice to have debates for all the statewide offices. That’s what democracy is about, right? Good on Miguel Suazo for putting it out there.

Council approves initial Harvey housing aid

It’s a start.

Houston City Council has approved a plan to direct how the first long-term federal housing aid headed this way after Hurricane Harvey will be spent, targeting $600 million to repair or build single-family homes and $375 million to fix or construct apartments.

The action plan is a key step in the city’s effort to draw on $1.15 billion in federal housing aid, part of the $5 billion allocated to Texas from Congress’ first hurricane-related appropriation last fall. Harris County will get a similar amount.

The plan now awaits approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, after which it will be attached as an amendment to the Texas General Land Office’s plan that addresses recovery along the rest of the Gulf Coast.

HUD approved the state’s plan this week, though housing advocates have filed a complaint against it, aiming to ensure the recovery money will benefit low-income Texans and people of color.

At least 70 percent of the HUD funds must benefit families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income, or about $60,000 for a family of four. The funds must address the city’s “unmet housing need” — families displaced by the storm whose lives and homes were not restored to normal with whatever aid they may have received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Small Business Administration.

The city’s action plan is here, and data from the community engagements is here. A Chron story about that housing discrimination complaint is here. There’s a lot going on with this, and a lot of people who are still in need as we are already in the next hurricane season. We need to get this right. ThinkProgress has more.

Remember the (gross mismanagement by George P. Bush’s Land Office at the) Alamo

Maybe remember this in November.

As the election season rolls on, keep this in mind when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush opens his mouth: The officeholder from the state’s best-known political family certainly knows how to spin a story.

Back in February, Bush was in a noisy Republican primary fight with his predecessor, Jerry Patterson. Among other things, Patterson is an Alamo buff. He has made it abundantly clear that he thinks Bush has mismanaged things at that monument. And he got some support of that view from a draft of an internal audit critical of the “structure and funding model” at the Alamo put in place by the General Land Office.

“Internal” is an important word in the previous sentence. That draft audit — along with the final version that came out this week — was issued by the internal auditor in Bush’s own agency. That’s what internal auditors are supposed to do, to tell you when there’s spinach on your teeth, toilet paper stuck to your shoe, oddities in your accounting and so on.

They point things out to management. Management is supposed to clean things up.

The draft audit was first revealed by the Austin American-Statesman in early February, and other reporters caught up with the land commissioner to see what he thought about it. “I can’t really comment on the document,” Bush said at the time. “I cannot disclose, but we do have evidence that it was a doctored memo.”

Here’s the lead paragraph from the draft audit — also the lead paragraph of the final audit:

“GLO should reconsider the structure and funding model it uses for operating the Alamo. A contractor performs the daily operations, but it uses state resources to do this, as it does not have its own funds or other assets. This is an unusual situation that has created complexity and a lack of clarity regarding the nature and the use of the funds used for Alamo operations. It is also the root cause of several of the observations in this report.”

[…]

Auditors typically give space to the people and organizations under the microscope, a place to make arguments, to disagree or to point out things the auditors might have missed. In this audit, the top line sort of slams the door: “Management concurs with the recommendations.”

Here’s a copy of the audit report, with more recent news coverage from the Statesman and the Chron. You have to admire the gall it takes to claim that an audit report by his own agency, signed off by his own management, is “fake news”, but that’s how stupid Baby Bush thinks you are. Here’s the key takeaway:

Bush faces Democrat Miguel Suazo in the fall. Suazo said Thursday the audit “clearly demonstrates that George P. Bush is in over his head and lacks the competence to manage our state’s most historic landmark.”

There’s a reason why Jerry Patterson came out of retirement to try to win his old job back. I hope you’re still committed to bringing change to the GLO this November, Jerry.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

No real surprises here. Lupe Valdez and Andrew White will fight it out in the runoff. They combined for about 70% of the vote. Beto O’Rourke was a bit over 60% on his way to the Senate nomination. To be honest, I thought he’d score higher than that, but whatever. Statewide primaries are hard.

Miguel Suazo was near 70% for Land Commissioner, and Roman McAllen was near 60% for Railroad Commissioner. Mike Collier was leading by about seven points for Lt. Governor. The closest race was for Comptroller, where Joi Chevalier had a tiny lead over Tim Mahoney.

On the Republican side, Greg Abbott (90%), Ted Cruz (85%), Dan Patrick (75%), and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick (75%), who I didn’t even realize had an opponent, all cruised. Baby Bush and Sid Miller were in the high 50’s and so also on their way to renomination. That means the only statewide runoff will be for the Democratic gubernatorial race.

One note on turnout: In 2014, there were 554,014 total votes cast in the Democratic primary for Governor. The early vote tally for the Dem gubernatorial primary was 555,002. So yeah, turnout was up. Republicans will probably have 30-40% more total turnout statewide, but I fully expect Dems to top one million at this point.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 3

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, the full endorsements page is here, and today we have the rest of the statewides, which I appreciate since these are the races I wanted more input on.

US Senate: Beto O’Rourke

Although there are three candidates on the ballot in this primary, the obvious choice for Texas Democrats is O’Rourke.

Unlike Cruz, who’s widely disliked even by many of his Republican colleagues, O’Rourke has a reputation for reaching across the aisle to get what he wants. As the congressman for the city that’s home to Fort Bliss, O’Rourke has used his post on the House Committee for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs to secure bipartisan support for legislation to expand mental health care.
O’Rourke is refusing to accept PAC money, a principled decision that’s forcing him to run a vigorous grassroots campaign. He’s vowed to visit all 254 counties, including Republican strongholds where he hopes to win over not only swing voters but also Trump supporters disillusioned with Cruz. O’Rourke will need all the ground game he can get; Cruz rose to power by running a startlingly effective grassroots campaign against former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Yeah, completely obvious. Let’s not belabor this, there are more endorsements to get through.

Comptroller: Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier’s background as a project leader and strategist in the tech sector gives her the managerial experience to serve as the state’s chief financial officer and oversee the office’s key responsibility of crafting budget projections for the Legislature.

Chevalier, 49, currently works in Austin as the owner of Cook’s Nook, a culinary incubator that offers space and resources to aspiring restaurateurs. Like so many Democratic candidates this election cycle, she told the editorial board that she was inspired to run by the current status of state and national politics, specifically pointing to the fact that Texas policymakers had no plan or response in place if the federal government failed to adequately fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She thinks that the comptroller’s office should use its available data to proactively publish reports that will make clear the consequences of losing CHIP, or not expanding Medicaid, or the litany of other decisions faced by Texas policymakers.

“Those numbers, while they are budgetary numbers, represent real lives and real people,” she told the editorial board.

Overall, she hopes to treat the office not just as a place for accurate accounting, but as a platform to set a vision of how the state should be governed.

Both Comptroller candidates got in late. Chavalier looked like the more interesting candidate at first glance. I’m glad to see my impression had merit to it.

Land Commissioner: Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, 37, is a Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney who also has offices in Colorado and New Mexico. Tex Morgan, 38, is a software engineer who served on the board of VIA Metropolitan Transit – San Antonio’s Metro system.

Based on his experience in the energy industry issues that comprise so much of the General Land Office responsibilities, and his more robust campaign, we endorse Suazo in the Democratic primary.

During his meeting with the editorial board, Suazo explained how the land commissioner should be working to help Houston recover after Hurricane Harvey and also prepare for the next storm. That includes better management of federal community development block grants and relatively inexpensive ideas for protecting the coast, such as restoring oyster reefs and erosion control.

“That’s just where I see lackadaisical leadership coming from the general land office,” he said.

This is the toughest race for me, with two candidates who appear to be pretty well matched. I don’t think you can go too far wrong in this one.

Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen

Roman McAllen

Even though the odds are heavily against them, two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face the winner (probably Craddick) in November. Roman McAllen, 52, is a bow-tie-wearing intellectual with a background in historic preservation and urban planning. Chris Spellmon, 60, is an easygoing veteran of local Democratic politics with a background in banking and business who’s now working in real estate.

Neither of them have a professional history in the energy industry. Maybe some people will find that refreshing, because railroad commissioners often have incestuous ties to the business they’re supposed to regulate. But neither of these Democrats seems deeply involved in the issues facing the railroad commission.

Both of them rightly complain RRC commissioners take too much campaign money from the energy industry. Both of them recognize the importance of fracking, but believe local communities should have the power to regulate it. And both of them firmly believe the RRC needs a new name reflecting its 21st century mission, because calling this important state agency a railroad commission helps it hide beneath the radar of too many voters.

Between these two candidates, McAllen seems to have a deeper awareness of the issues facing the RRC. He gets visibly riled up when he talks about drillers polluting water, injection wells causing earthquakes and the state government outlawing local fracking ordinances. If for no other reason, McAllen’s passion makes him a stronger candidate for Democrats to put on the ballot in November.

Well, it’s not like the RRC is currently overflowing with industry experience. Having a voice on there to balance the crazy and the corrupt would be useful.

Overall I’d say I approve of the Chron’s choices. We’ll finish this series off tomorrow with the races that feature Democratic incumbents.

UT/TT poll: Trump approval more or less the same as before

A tad bit more positive than last time, but still nothing to write home about.

With the usual disclaimers about partisan imbalance, President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are holding steady, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, equal numbers of Texas voters approve and disapprove of the job Trump is doing. Beneath that, the poll found, Republicans are highly supportive, with 83 percent saying they approve, while 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove. The president’s numbers are remarkably similar to those in last February’s UT/TT Poll — the first survey after Trump took office. Then, as now, Republicans were solidly behind him and Democrats were solidly against him, making the blended numbers appear balanced.

[…]

The contrasting voter impressions of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators continue. John Cornyn had approving marks from 29 percent of all voters, 47 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats. Overall, 38 percent of voters disapprove of the job Cornyn’s doing as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate majority’s leadership. That’s driven by the disapproval of 59 percent of Texas Democrats.

Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, gets about the same number of good grades — 40 percent — and bad ones — 41 percent. As with other officeholders, it’s about party, but only Trump’s numbers are as strongly divided on those lines. Cruz’s high grades from 72 percent of Republicans are offset by his bad grades from 73 percent of Democrats.

In another question, voters were asked their opinion of Cruz, which yielded similar results. Overall, 40 percent said they have a favorable impression of him and 42 percent have an unfavorable one. It’s a party thing, with 71 percent of Democrats holding negative opinions and 70 percent of Republicans holding positive ones. Fewer than one in five said they had no opinion at all.

Contrast that with his likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat has never been on a statewide ballot, and it shows, with 58 percent of all voters saying they have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him. Among Democrats, 52 percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 44 percent have no opinion at all. Among Republicans, 8 percent were favorable, 22 percent were unfavorable and 70 percent were neither positive nor negative.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the most popular elected state official, if job assessments are the measure. Overall, 46 percent said he’s doing a good job and 31 percent said he’s not. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers almost break into three equal parts: 36 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval and 31 percent neutral. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who is not seeking another term, remains the least well-known high official in Austin: 27 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove and 48 percent remain neutral.

For comparison purposes:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove

There are other pollsters that have shown poorer results for Trump in the past year. For apples to apples purposes, the numbers above all come from the UT/Trib poll. This was Trump’s best showing since last February, and it may represent the passage of the tax bill, the onset of primary season and the partisan stirrings that brings, random variations, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. I think his numbers are more likely to sag a big going forward than improve, and there’s always the chance that some factor like the Mueller investigation could cause him to crater. Overall, though, I think this is more or less what we should expect.

What does it mean? Well, overall probably not much. Not because of anything having to do with this poll or any other poll, but because for November purposes I don’t think the right questions are being asked, or more to the point I don’t think the right people are being asked. We all know this election is about who will turn out, so why not focus on the voters who are the biggest variables in that? What I’d love to see are surveys of 1) Democratic voters who turned out in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 but not 2010 or 2014; 2) people who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 and who have a history of voting in the off years; and 3) Republicans who voted for Clinton in 2016. Ask them what their plans are for this year, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what to expect in 8.5 months.

And on a related note:

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are far ahead of their Republican primary opponents in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but the Democrats running for those two high offices face more difficult paths to their party’s nomination.

Two other statewide Republican incumbents — Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — have the support of a majority of likely primary voters, but with a caveat. When those voters had the option of saying they weren’t ready to make a choice, 44 percent listed no preference in the land race and 60 percent said the same in the agriculture race.

With high numbers of undecided voters, Bush led his primary with 36 percent of the vote, and Miller led his with 27 percent. Only when they were asked how they’d vote if they had to make a choice now did the majorities appear for the incumbents.

[…]

The Democratic primary for governor is a muddle, with two clear frontrunners and no candidate close to enough votes to win without a runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had the support of 43 percent of likely primary voters responding to the poll, while Andrew White of Houston had 24 percent. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will go to a May runoff. Grady Yarbrough and Tom Wakely each got 7 percent in that primary poll, Adrian Ocegueda and Jeffrey Payne got 5 percent, and Cedric Davis Sr., Joe Mumbach and James Jolly Clark each got 4 percent or less.

The Democratic race for lieutenant governor won’t end in a runoff — there are only two candidates. But their names are similar — Mike Collier and Michael Cooper — and their numbers are close. Collier, whose name was on the statewide ballot four years ago when he ran for comptroller, got 55 percent in the latest UT/TT Poll. Cooper got 45 percent.

“You have two lieutenant governor candidates whose names are very similar to one another, who have received very little public attention and who are not very well known,” Henson said.

The Trib’s primary polls from 2014 were, in a word, trash. They were worse than useless, and they didn’t have a strong track record in Democratic primary polls before that. Their November polling has been good, but I emphatically advise you to take any and all of their March numbers as being strictly for entertainment purposes only. You have been warned.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

Whoa, all of a sudden the Chron is chock full of endorsements. Let’s run through ’em. Actually, let’s start to run through them. So many appeared all at once that I’m going to need to break this into more than one post.

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

Scott Milder has become the tip of the spear in this statewide effort to fight back against Patrick, and we endorse his run to unseat the incumbent as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. A former City Council member in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, Milder, 50, is aligned with the schools, business interests and pastors who are hoping to restore the conservative values of local control and pro-growth that for decades sat at the core of Texas politics. It is a movement that wants to put an end to the potty-bill politics that have dominated our state Legislature under Patrick.

From El Paso to Texarkana, Brownsville to Canadian, local cities and counties are starting to stand together against a state government obsessed with the political minutiae that excites the partisan wings but does little to make our state a better place to live. A vote for Milder will be a vote to fix school funding and return Texas to normalcy.

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

In the Democratic primary for this important post, the Chronicle recommends Mike Collier, the more experienced, better qualified of the two candidates vying to face off against the Republican winner in the November general election.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree and MBA, Collier wants to see more state money directed to public schools, arguing that overtaxed homeowners cannot afford to carry what ought to be the state’s share of education funding. An accountant by training, Collier held high-level positions in auditing and finance during his career at a global accounting firm, giving weight to his proposal to close a corporate tax loophole as a means of raising revenue for public education and property tax relief.

Collier, 56, is well-versed in this region’s need for storm surge protection and Harvey recovery, and he’s ready to tap the state’s substantial rainy day fund to pay for it. “Let’s crack it open and stimulate recovery as fast as we can,” he told the editorial board.

Collier supports expanding Medicaid to improve health for poor children, and he wants to improve care for rural Texans dealing with local hospital closures and few physicians wanting to practice outside large cities.

I count myself lucky that I have not yet been subjected to Dan Patrick’s TV ad barrage. I’m all in for Mike Collier, but for sure Scott Milder would be a step away from the dystopia that Patrick is determined to drag us all to.

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

Four years ago, this editorial page enthusiastically supported Bush in his first bid for elected office. We were mightily impressed with his command of the complex issues facing the General Land Office. Anybody who thought this guy was just coasting on his family name was wrong. “George P. Bush is the real deal,” we wrote.

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

Bush has repeatedly stumbled during his first term in his first elected office. He directed the General Land Office to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to keep at least 40 employees on the payroll for as long as five months after they’d actually quit their jobs, but only if they promised they wouldn’t sue Bush or the agency. Three days after a contractor scored a $13.5 million hurricane cleanup contract, Bush’s campaign accepted almost $30,000 in contributions from the company’s executives.

But his highest profile problem has been his plan to “reimagine” the Alamo. It’s an ongoing mess criticized not only by Texas history buffs but also by Republican lawmakers irate about the way it’s being managed. Among other problems, Bush played a cynical shell game with state employees, shifting about 60 people over to a taxpayer-funded nonprofit so he could brag that he cut his agency’s staff. As one incredulous GOP fundraiser put it, “How do you screw up the Alamo?”

To his credit, months before Hurricane Harvey, Bush wrote President Donald Trump a detailed letter requesting funding for a coastal storm surge barrier. Unfortunately, since then we haven’t seen him do much to advance the cause of this critical infrastructure project.

Losing faith in a man who once looked like a rising political star is disillusioning, but voters in the Republican primary for Texas land commissioner should bypass Bush and cast their ballots for Jerry Patterson.

I feel reasonably confident that Jerry Patterson will not buy any secret mansions with secret money. He was a perfectly decent Land Commissioner whose service I respect as you know, but just clearing that bar would have been enough to prefer him. I only wish the Chron had expressed an opinion on the Democratic side, as that’s a race where I don’t feel like I know much about the candidates. Maybe we’ll get that later.

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

Three Democrats are running in this friendly race. All seem to be self-starters, and all recognize that taxpayers need to get more for their dollar than a mere office figure head who oversees routine financial operations conducted by professional staff. All want to increase efficiencies and cost savings, and improve service through better use of technology.

Our choice, Dylan Osborne, 36, is the candidate with the background in customer relations and experience in community service needed to elevate this job from one of sinecure to public service.

Osborne, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, currently works in the city of Houston Planning and Development Department. The University of Houston graduate got his start as the manager of a restaurant and an auto parts store and has risen his way through city ranks. While employed by two city council members, the personable Osborne organized events with civic clubs and super neighborhoods to educate citizens about local issues.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with Nile Copeland is here; Cosme Garcia never replied to my email. The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez in the last couple of general elections. Maybe this year they’ll break that habit.

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

This Democratic primary is a coin toss between Josh Wallenstein and Richard Cantu.

The HCDE has come under political fire in recent years, and it needs to achieve two goals to stay on course. The department needs to avoid conflicts of interest and maximize its use of the public dollar. Wallenstein was chief compliance officer of a major corporation before starting his own law firm and could bring to the board the skill of contract review and analysis including, minimizing waste, fraud and abuse, conflict of interest and self-dealing and maximizing efficiencies for schools. He graduated from Stanford Law School.

The department does a good job of offering school districts services at a much reduced rate, but it does a poor of job of communicating to voters how it saves taxpayer money. Cantu, who holds a masters in public administration from St. Thomas University, would be in the best position to develop partnerships and collaborations around the city and to help the department get the word out. He’s held management positions with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker Ripley, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office and currently he’s deputy executive director of the East Aldine Management District.

It was a tough choice but choose we must, and we endorse Wallenstein.

County School Trustee, Position 6, Precinct 1: Danyahel (Danny) Norris

There is no Republican running for this seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Erica Lee Carter, which stretches from the portion of Friendswood in Harris County to near Galena Park in the south. The winner of this primary will become a trustee on the HCDE board. Two candidates — John F. Miller and Danyahel “Danny” Norris — stand out in this three person race. We tip our hat to the only candidate with experience in education policy: Norris.

Norris, 37, holds the distinction of being a chemical engineer, a former teacher and tutor for math students, a lawyer with a degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a law professor, and a librarian with a masters of library science from the University of North Texas.

Miller, who is also a chemical engineer, demonstrated an admirable commitment to the board position, having attended all of its meetings since September. However, he didn’t convince us that his budgeting or hiring skills would fill a gap in the board’s expertise.

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

Prince Bryant did reply to my email request for an interview a week ago, but then never followed up when I suggested some possible times to talk. I agree with the Chron that the choices we have in these races are good ones.

The Land Office in the news

Please enjoy this coverage of a downballot statewide race, which is not something we get all that much of.

Jerry Patterson

Incumbent George P. Bush, the 41-year-old grandson and nephew of U.S. presidents, is facing off against his outspoken predecessor Jerry Patterson, 71, who wants his old job back after leaving it to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor.

Despite its low profile, the land commissioner has one of the state’s most critical jobs, especially now as hundreds of communities, including Houston, continue to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“The (governor), the lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials, including the land commissioner, are important positions because they touch so many lives,” said David Dewhurst, who served as the land commissioner from 1999 to 2003.

The Texas land commissioner is responsible for cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, raising money for schools, preserving the state’s most iconic landmark, doling out benefits to veterans and helping communities recover from a natural disaster.

“Our land commissioner oversees extensive programs that benefit our veterans, and our oil and gas activities, which are important to provide more funding for public education, particularly when the Legislature has not been as aggressive as it has in the past to provide funding for public schools,” Dewhurst said.

[…]

Tex Morgan, who is running as a Democrat, said that if elected he’ll work to increase awareness about the land office’s duties.

“Too few Texans know the scope or depth of the GLO’s responsibilities, programs and opportunities,” Morgan, 31, said.

[…]

Miguel Suazo, a Democrat on the primary ballot, has repeatedly called out Bush for not demanding that the state tap its rainy day fund, which has about $10 billion available for budget emergencies.

In a January interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Bush expressed support for calling a special session so that the state could provide more money for Harvey relief. A few days after the interview was published, Bush walked back the statement saying he “misspoke.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has said calling a special session is unnecessary.

“I agree that calling a special session is not necessary,” Bush said. “I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Since recovery efforts began, Bush has said the land office is at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which determines eligibility for the recovery programs and distributes the funds.

Bush has three primary opponents, of whom his predecessor Jerry Patterson would appear to be his biggest threat. I feel like he’ll probably win, but let’s remember, Baby Bush was the top votegetter in the state among Republicans with Democratic opponents in 2014. He toyed with the idea of running for Governor before “settling” on the Land Office while he built his resume and bided his time till the old farts got out of his way and he could ascend to the throne vie for the top spot. He was a rising star, the half-Latino face of the Republican future, and now he could actually fail to win re-nomination. The fact that he has non-token opposition at all is remarkable.

(Oh, and also, too: Secret mansions financed by undisclosed loans. I mean, seriously?)

On the Democratic side, Suazo was the first candidate in, while Morgan filed at the last minute. They both look all right, though at this point I don’t know enough about them to make a choice yet. This is one of those races where I’ll probably let myself be guided by endorsements more than anything else. If you have a strong feeling about either Suazo or Morgan, leave a comment and let us know.

The statewide lineups

Here’s the statewide lineup for Democrats. I’ll add in some notes afterwards.

U. S. Senator Beto O’Rourke
U. S. Senator Edward Kimbrough
U. S. Senator Sema Hernandez
Governor Adrian Ocegueda
Governor Andrew White
Governor Cedric Davis, Sr.
Governor Demetria Smith
Governor Grady Yarbrough
Governor James Jolly Clark
Governor Jeffrey Payne
Governor Joe Mumbach
Governor Lupe Valdez
Governor Tom Wakely
Lieutenant Governor Michael Cooper
Lieutenant Governor Mike Collier
Attorney General Justin Nelson
Comptroller of Public Accounts Joi Chevalier
Comptroller of Public Accounts Tim Mahoney
Commissioner of the General Land Office Miguel Suazo
Commissioner of the General Land Office Tex Morgan
Commissioner of Agriculture Kim Olson
Railroad Commissioner Chris Spellmon
Railroad Commissioner Roman McAllen
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Steven Kirkland
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 R.K. Sandill
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 Kathy Cheng
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Maria T. (Terri) Jackson
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Ramona Franklin

Just a few tidbits about some of the later entrants into the races:

Sema Hernandez was on the SOS filing page for a day or two, then disappeared from it until deadline day. I have no idea what was up with that.

Edward Kimbrough is apparently from Houston. I can’t find anything online about him.

There were two late filers in the Governor’s race, because apparently eight was not enough. James Jolly Clark is from Austin and appears to have been involved in some interesting lawsuits. Demetria Smith is a perennial candidate from Houston.

Joi Chevalier is a culinary entrepreneur. At first glance at least, she appears to have an interesting profile. It would have been nice to have heard of her before now.

Tex Morgan is a programmer in San Antonio who serves as a VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee, and has an even more interesting profile.

Chris Spellmon was a candidate for HCDP Chair who ultimately endorsed Eartha Jean Johnson in that race.

Some of these races are perhaps a bit more interesting than I expected them to be. I’ll do a separate post looking at Congressional and legislative candidates later.

There weren’t any late entrants of interest for statewide races on the Republican side. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Baby Bush got multiple challengers but no one opposed Ken Paxton. Given that there is a nonzero chance he could get convicted of a felony next year, that seems like a curious outcome. Hey, their problem, not mine.

The TDP touted its ginormous candidate tally late Monday. I’ll summarize as follows:

All 36 Congressional seats are contested, with 110 total candidates.
14 of 15 State Senate seats are contested, with 24 total candidates.
133 of 150 State House seats are contested, with 189 total candidates.

Someone with a much more in depth knowledge of Texas’ political history will have to say when the last time was that we had a similar set of Democratic primary races. I’ll try to do a similar let-me-Google-that-for-you overview of these folks in the coming days, as time allows.

Finally, one more news item of interest:

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson just filed to run as a Democrat for Jefferson County judge, KFDM/Fox 4 has learned.

The deadline to file was 6 p.m. Lampson will not face an opponent in the primary, but is challenging Republican incumbent Jeff Branick in next November’s general election.

I’m a longtime fan of Nick Lampson’s, so I’m happy to see him stay involved. The incumbent switched from D to R this year, so it would be nice to send him packing. Stace and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Filing news: Jerry’s back

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson would like his office back, please.

Jerry Patterson

Patterson, who was first elected as the state’s land commissioner in 2003, wants to head the agency that manages state-owned lands and the Alamo. He gave up the job to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, but came in last in a four-way GOP primary race.

Patterson has long been critical of Bush, including the office’s response to Hurricane Harvey. Since 2011 the office has also overseen housing recovery efforts after natural disasters.

“If your headline is that Jerry Patterson wants his old job back, that would be wrong,” Patterson told the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t need this job and I would prefer to be praising George P. Bush.”

He decided to run himself — after looking for someone else to make the race against Bush — because he believed he was “watching this agency crater for the past three years.” That criticism comes after watching the agency refuse to disclose details about the Alamo restoration project that the Land Office is overseeing and after seeing tens of thousands of Texas homeless after Hurricane Harvey while just two homes have been rebuilt so far.

“This morning, Harvey victims who have been sleeping in tents awakened to the snow,” Patterson said.

I’ll say this about Jerry Patterson: I disagree with him on many things, but he was without a doubt one of the more honorable people serving in government while he was there. He took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, he was a stalwart defender of the Texas Open Beaches Act, and in my view he always acted with the best interests of the state at heart. He’s not going to be my first choice, but I’d take him over Baby Bush in a heartbeat.

Land Commissioner was one of two statewide offices for which there had not been a Democratic candidate, but as the story note, that is no longer the case:

[Miguel] Suazo, an attorney from Austin, announced Friday he would run for the post as a Democrat.

No stranger to politics, Suazo worked as an aid to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, in Washington D.C. and has also worked as an energy and environment associate for Wellford Energy Advisors, a manager for regulatory affairs for the the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. He has also worked as an oil and gas attorney in Houston.

“I am running for Land Commissioner because I am qualified for the office and eager to bring new leadership to Texas,” Suazo in a statement declaring his candidacy. “I represent small and large companies and also regular folks who need a job done. I know business and I know people . . . I’m self-made, nothing’s been handed to me. I intend to bring that approach to the General Land Office.”

Suazo, a proponent of block-chain technology, said he may be the first candidate in Texas to launch his campaign using proceeds from Bitcoin investments.

Here’s his campaign Facebook page. I’m so glad there will be a choice in November.

Other news:

– The other statewide office that was lacking a Democratic candidate was Comptroller. That too is no longer the case as Tim Mahoney has filed. I don’t know anything about him as yet beyond what you can see on that website.

– Someone named Edward Kimbrough has filed in the Democratic primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez had previously shown up on the SOS candidate filings page, but hasn’t been there for several days. Not sure what’s up with that, but be that as it may, it’s a reminder that Beto O’Rourke needs to keep running hard all the way through. On the Republican side, someone named Mary Miller has filed. As yet, neither Bruce Jacobson nor Stefano de Stefano has appeared on that list. It will break my heart if Stefano de Stefano backs out on this.

– Scott Milder’s campaign sent out a press release touting an endorsement he received for his primary campaign against Dan Patrick from former Education Commissioner Dr. Shirley J. (Neeley) Richardson, but as yet he has not filed. He did have a chat with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune the other day, so there’s that.

– Believe it or not, Democrats now have at least one candidate for all 36 Congressional offices. CD04 was the last holdout. Among other things, this means that every county in Texas will have the opportunity to vote in March for at least one non-statewide candidate. Very well done, y’all. Republicans are currently skipping a couple of the bluer Congressional districts. They also have nine candidates for CD21, which is the biggest pileup so far.

– Here in Harris County, in addition to the now-contested race for County Judge, there are a couple of challenges to incumbent legislators. Damien LaCroix is once again running against Sen. John Whitmire in SD15, and Richard A. Bonton has filed in HD142 against longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton. Also, there is now a Democrat running in SD07, the district formerly held by Dan Patrick and now held by his mini-me Paul Bettencourt, David Romero, and a candidate in HD129, Alexander Karjeker. Still need someone to file in HD135.

The filing deadline is Monday, and that’s when any real surprises will happen. Enjoy the weekend and be ready for something crazy to happen on the 11th, as it usually does.

Filing news: Lupe Valdez is in for Governor

Here she comes.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced Wednesday morning that she is running for governor, giving Texas Democrats a serious candidate for the top job with five days until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries.

“Like so many hardworking Texans, I know it’s tough deciding between buying food, finding a decent place to live, and setting aside money for college tuition,” Valdez said in a statement before filing at the Texas Democratic Party headquarters in Austin. “Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state, but it is out of reach for far too many, that’s why I’m running for Texas Governor. I’m a proud Texas Democrat. I believe good government can make people’s lives better, and I intend to do just that.”

Until Wednesday, six little-known Democrats had filed to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a second term in 2018. Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, has been exploring a run for weeks and is set to announce his campaign Thursday in Houston.

Any Democrat running for governor faces a steep climb against Abbott, who easily defeated the party’s 2014 nominee, Wendy Davis, and has built a $40 million-plus war chest for re-election. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in over two decades.

Speaking with reporters after filing, Valdez said she was undaunted by the challenge, particularly when it comes to fundraising.

“I think we’re going to raise whatever money’s necessary. I don’t believe that we need 40, 60, 90, bazillion dollars,” Valdez said. “Abbott may have the money — we’re going to have the people.”

The Trib has video of Sheriff Valdez’s announcement here. As you know, she was said to be in, then confusion reigned, and after that settled down it was assumed that she was in fact in, and so here we are. I think it’s reasonable to tamp expectations down a bit about how much money one can raise – no one is going to out-money Greg Abbott unless they have their own nine-figure checkbook to play with – but people power hasn’t gotten us very far, either. Valdez, if she wins the primary (more on that in a minute), ought to draw a lot of earned media and should gin up a fair amount of excitement, both of which in turn should help her bring in some cash so she can establish name ID. Of course, all these things were also true of Wendy Davis at this time in 2013, so. We have a lot of evidence to suggest that this year is different in ways that benefit Democrats, but certain fundamental rules still apply.

Speaking of that primary:

With less than a week left in the filing period, six little-known Democrats have filed to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott next year, with two more prominent names expected to enter the race by the Monday deadline: Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White. An eight-way primary could be the party’s most crowded nominating contest for governor since at least the 1980s.

While Valdez — the only current elected official among the eight candidates — would immediately secure frontrunner status if she runs, she faces no guarantee of the kind of cakewalk to her party’s nomination that former state Sen. Wendy Davis enjoyed in 2014. White, who is set to announce his campaign Thursday in Houston, has been laying the groundwork for a serious bid, while some of the other contenders have been campaigning for months.

“I think that if Sheriff Valdez runs and if Mr. White also announces, then I think that the two of them would likely be the higher-profile candidates in the primary, and I think that voters in the Democratic primary in 2018 will have a lot of choices,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs the party’s caucus in the House and served as Davis’ campaign manager. “I think that dynamic is good and hopefully makes for an interesting choice and conversations for Democrats in 2018 in the primary.”

“I expect we’ll have a competitive primary, and I think that’s a good thing — it’s healthy,” added Ed Espinoza, the executive director of Progress Texas, a liberal advocacy group.

I agree with that, and I look forward to it. I’m working on a post about the huge volume of contested primaries up and down the ballot, and I think this will help shape the narrative to start out the 2018 election. That said, Dems don’t have candidates for Comptroller and Land Commissioner as I write this, and the thought occurs to me that we could reasonably repurpose a couple of the candidates in this race for better use elsewhere. Andrew White would make a fine candidate for Comptroller, where his more conservative social views won’t really matter but his business background should be a plus. And if I could pick one person from this crop to spend the next year haranguing silver spoon lightweight George P. Bush, it would be Tom Wakely. Neither of these will happen, of course, and both gentlemen could no doubt give me many reasons why this is all wrong. Get me decent candidates for Comptroller and Land Commissioner and I promise to forget I ever brought this up. For more on the Valdez announcement, see WFAA, the Current, the Trib again, Burkablog, and the Chron.

Elsewhere, there were a couple of Congressional announcements as Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Ted Cruz, announced his candidacy for CD21, and longtime WFAA reporter Brett Shipp entered the fray in CD32, running as a Dem, bumping the total number of candidates there to six.

There were no major announcements in Harris County, but as has been the case every day there has been a lot of activity on the Democratic side. While the HCDP has not been publishing a running list of candidates for all offices, it has been updating this list of judicial candidates. It’s a bit oddly sorted, but you can at least get a feel for who’s running for what. By my count, in the district, county, and appeals courts – i.e., everything but the JP courts – there are 19 competitive primaries so far.

In other races, Alison Sawyer officially filed in HD134, leaving HD135 as the only box that really needs to be checked. There are now contested primaries in HDs 126 (Natali Hurtado and Undrai Fizer), 133 (Martin Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and the candidate whose name I won’t mention, for whom you most emphatically should not vote), 138 (Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool), 139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson and Randy Bates), 140 (Rep. Armando Walle and Matthew Mendez), 146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owen), and 147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman and Daniel Espinoza). At the county level, the HCDE At Large Position 3 race is now contested as well, as Elvonte Patton joins Josh Wallenstein. Let’s just say that endorsing organizations are going to have their hands very, very full.

Legislative hearing on emergency leave

Figure this will be on the legislative agenda next spring.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

At a Texas House hearing Tuesday looking into how some state agencies were able to keep some departing employees on the public payroll by granting them emergency leave, lawmakers expressed frustration that vague state rules may have allowed the practice.

“I want to know exactly … if there [were] any violations of the law or violations of the process, and I think that’s incumbent upon everybody on this committee to figure out if that transpired,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “If the law wasn’t broken, then I want to know exactly how we can correct it.”

Lawmakers on the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics were looking into whether heads of agencies have too much discretion when it comes to awarding emergency leave.

“There’s going to be absolute certain change to this statute, but let’s work together to get it right,” said Committee Chairman Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, during the hearing.

Texas does not award severance pay to state employees, but recent news reports showed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid both his first assistant attorney general and communications director for months after they left the agency by categorizing both as being on emergency leave. Other reports revealed a similar practice in the General Land Office where departing employees continued to receive compensation, though not through emergency leave.

Emergency leave is often used as a way of permitting state employees to take a leave of absence for a death in the family, but the law also allows agency heads to grant it for other unspecified situations.

In June, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the Legislature to examine the issue. He had previously called for limiting the practice in order to ensure “that agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately.”

See here and here for the background. There’s a request for an investigation by the Rangers into the severances, but I don’t know where that stands. As a philosophical matter, I don’t particularly object to severance packages for state employees. There ought to be some limit on them, but I don’t think they need to be banned completely. The use of emergency leave as a form of severance package, done as a way of keeping people quiet as they’re being shown the door, is another matter, one that deserves a close look from the Lege. I don’t know what action they’ll take, but it will be something. The Chron has more.

Abbott orders state agencies to obey the law

Better late than never.

Droppin’ dimes, droppin’ dimes

Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday ordered state agencies to stop paying departing employees by placing them on “emergency leave.”

“Pursuant to this directive, the use of emergency leave, administrative leave or other mechanisms to continue paying state employees who have ceased to work will be prohibited,” the directive from Abbott and Hegar stated. The directive will remain in place until the Legislature takes up the issue during next year’s legislative session, Abbott’s office said.

The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets have recently reported on the growing practice by agencies to keep departing employees on the payroll by placing them on “emergency leave,” often as a form of severance.

The practice first came to light after reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid his first assistant attorney and communications director for months after they left the agency. Subsequent stories revealed the General Land Office continued to pay departing employees without using the emergency leave designation.

Representatives of both agencies said they will follow the governor’s new order.

“We appreciate Governor Abbott’s leadership,” said Marc Rylander, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “We do not disagree with the Governor’s new policy for all agencies subject to the direction of the governor, and we will concur with it moving forward.”

Brittany Eck, GLO spokeswoman, said the agency will suspend the use of separation agreements until lawmakers decide how to proceed.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor, Comptroller, and members of the Texas Legislature to not only clarify the law on this issue but also discuss how state agencies should manage its workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner,” Eck said.

See here and here for the background. The Lone Star Project requested an investigation into this a couple of days ago. I guess it had finally gotten to the point where Abbott could no longer ignore the issue. Trail Blazers and the Chron have more.

Lone Star Project requests investigation of severance packages

From the inbox:

BagOfMoney

Today, Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle sent letters to the Texas Rangers, the State Auditor and the Travis County District Attorney requesting formal investigations into a series of questionable payments made by Attorney General Ken Paxton, State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, State Land Commissioner George P. Bush and other state officials.

Improper Payments Detailed in Investigative News Reports

Widespread abuse of state employee compensation has been detailed in a series of investigative news reports by the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and other Texas publications over recent weeks.  The reports point to the systematic use of “emergency leave” as well as document manipulation to allow some state employees to quit or be removed from their state jobs but continue receiving thousands of dollars in state pay.   In some cases, the payments appear intended to provide special treatment to politically connected or otherwise favored employees.  In other instances, the payments may be a form of hush money to keep specific employees from criticizing state officials or disclosing information that might prove incriminating or embarrassing.

Angle’s letter to the Texas Rangers can be seen here and reads in part:

“These reports confirm that, contrary to the intent of law, multiple statewide officeholders have provided certain employees with emergency leave packages as a form of severance pay or even settlement agreements.”

“The intentional misuse of state funds violates both the spirit and the letter of the emergency leave provision of state law and could be viewed by Texas taxpayers as the equivalent of tax-payer funded hush money.”

“Specifically, the facts outlined by state news media and Texas state law merit a full investigation of the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Land Commissioner, Teacher Retirement System, Water Development Board and potentially other agencies for violations of Texas Penal Code 39.02 (Abuse of Official Capacity), Section 36.02 (Bribery), and Section 37.10 (Tampering with a Government Record).”

See here and here for the background. I had assumed someone would file a complaint over this sooner or later. The Rangers and the State Auditor can add it to their growing to-do list. The Chron has more.

More on severance pay and the Land Commissioner’s office

The law doesn’t apply here.

BagOfMoney

After reports of state agencies keeping former employees on the payroll after they stopped working, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other agency heads have taken heat for stretching the rules on paid “emergency leave” to keep the ex-workers on the books.

But when 26 employees were paid for an additional one to two months after they quit working for the General Land Office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush didn’t use emergency leave or any other type of paid leave established in law to compensate them. Instead, Bush’s agency treated the former employees as if they were still working, sending time sheets to the comptroller’s office indicating they had shown up to work.

The arrangement raises questions about whether the agency properly awarded and reported the paid leave, which amounted to at least $383,000 for the 26 employees let go during Bush’s “reboot” of the agency after he took office in January 2015.

An additional 14 employees signed separation agreements when they left the agency after Bush was elected in November 2014 but before he was sworn in. Bush’s predecessor, Jerry Patterson, said those terminations should also be included as part of Bush’s agency reorganization because Patterson allowed Bush and his interim team to decide who should be hired and fired during that period.

[…]

State law spells out several types of paid leave — for such events as illnesses, vacation and deaths in the family — and the comptroller’s office requires agencies to indicate what type of leave an absent employee is getting by selecting a time sheet code that matches a leave category established in law.

The General Land Office, however, didn’t select any type of leave for the 26 employees with separation agreements, and the agency has since said it left the leave field blank because there was no leave category that corresponded to their circumstance. “Because there was not a more accurate code, we used what was readily available to us, and we didn’t want to miscategorize it as something that is not accurate,” agency spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.

For Buck Wood, a former deputy comptroller and expert on Texas government and ethics law, that omission is proof that the leave wasn’t authorized by state law.

“There’s got to be an appropriation, and there’s also got to be a law behind an appropriation that authorizes it,” Wood said. “In this case, neither exists. There is no such thing as severance pay (in state law), and there’s no appropriation for it, so it’s just totally and completely illegal.”

Also, Wood said, any time sheets approved by the General Land Office that indicated employees were still working after they had left the agency might constitute falsification of government records, a felony offense.

Bush’s staff said such payments are standard practice in the business world because they are efficient. Noting that none of the 100 employees who left the agency under Bush have sued for discrimination, Eck said the agreements save taxpayer money by reducing potential litigation risks and legal fees.

See here for the background. You almost have to admire their tenacity with the “it’s totally legit in the private sector” defense. Who cares that this is the public sector, or that knowing how our money is spent and how our public offices are being run are things we are supposed to value? Not George P. Bush, that’s for sure. You won’t get that kind of clarity of vision from just anyone. Ross Ramsey has more.

You get a severance! And you get a severance!

Everybody gets a severance package!

BagOfMoney

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to entice dozens of people fired by his administration to agree not to sue him or the agency, a practice that may run afoul of a ban on severance pay for state workers.

Bush, a first-term Republican, has directed the General Land Office to keep at least 40 people on the payroll for as long as five months after ending their employment, according to an analysis of records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The ex-staffers did not have to use vacation time, and, in fact, continued to accrue more time for as long as they were on the payroll. In return, they agreed in writing not to sue the agency or discuss the deal.

Many of the recipients were top aides to former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who were fired during an agency “reboot” in which Bush replaced more than 100 employees.

Such separation arrangements are made frequently in the corporate world, but are not allowed in Texas government, where there is no severance and staffers generally are required to work to be paid, according to employment lawyers, union leaders and former state officials.

“I can understand the thinking of an agency head who wants to get rid of someone and thinks that this is an easy way to do it, but this is not the way to do it,” said Buck Wood, an ethics expert and former deputy state comptroller, noting the detailed rules that govern how agencies can spend money do not authorize that purpose. “Keeping someone on the payroll when they’re not coming to work so you can avoid the hassle of a lawsuit is just illegal.”

Malinda Gaul, a San Antonio employment lawyer who has represented state workers for 33 years, said she had never heard of such an arrangement.

[…]

Steve Aragon, a former general counsel for the Health and Human Services Commission, said he thinks there are justifiable reasons to pay employees for not working, including to prevent litigation in cases in which it was clear that a staffer likely would not come back. However, he said, it is not something that state agencies should do frequently.

“These situations should be exceptional and would not be expected as a matter of routine,” Aragon said.

Others objected to any use of the practice, including Seth Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Texas State Employees Union.

“It’s not an appropriate use of state funds,” Hutchinson said. “If people are being wrongfully fired, they’re being wrongfully fired, and they shouldn’t be using state funds to cover it up.”

After being told that it is not uncommon in the corporate world, Hutchinson scoffed.

“State government should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” he said.

This is getting to be quite the pattern, isn’t it? It’s almost like Baby Bush and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller have no regard for the law but only care about their own interests. I presume someone will file a complaint about this, thus providing Greg Abbott another opportunity to profess ignorance about what’s happening in his government. Keep it up, fellas.

Don’t expect Congress to pay for a Gulf Coast floodgate system

I sure don’t.

After nearly a decade of bickering and finger pointing, Texas scientists and lawmakers finally seem to agree that building some version of a “coastal spine” — a massive seawall and floodgate system — would best help protect the Houston region from a devastating hurricane.

But with a price tag sure to reach into the billions, the spine will almost certainly require a massive infusion of federal money, state officials agree. Whether Texas’ congressional delegation has the political backbone to deliver the cash remains to be seen.

While state officials say the project enjoys the full support of Texans in Congress, almost every member has been silent on the issue, including those who hold the most sway.

“Everything depends on how long it takes us to get Congress,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a local economic development organization. “We could have a hurricane in three months.”

In March, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica published an extensive look at what Houston’s perfect storm would look like. Scientists, experts, and public officials say that such a hurricane would kill thousands and cripple the national economy.

Building some sort of coastal barrier system around Galveston and Houston would rank as one of the nation’s most ambitious public works projects and would be unlikely to succeed without champions in Washington. State leaders and Houston-area congressmen cited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin Brady of Houston as those most likely to fill the role of standard bearer.

Cornyn and Brady, both Republicans, declined repeated interview requests about the coastal project over a period of months. The state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, is busy running for president, and his staff has said he is waiting results of further studies. Of the 36 members representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, only five agreed to interviews on the subject.

At the state level, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has made coastal protection one of his top priorities, said he hopes for support from Brady, who chairs one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. House. He also mentioned Cornyn.

Congressman Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, said he is already pushing the issue, but added that a senator’s support will be critical.

“John Cornyn, of course, a senior senator, majority whip over on the Senate side, would be a great one to champion the cause,” he said.

[…]

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also just started studying the issue, and Cornyn’s office emphasized that he signed a letter last October in support of that effort. But the study will take at least five years.

In another letter sent last November, 32 members of the House delegation urged the Army Corps to speed up the process even though it is at the mercy of funding from Congress.

Meanwhile, the next hurricane season is just two months away.

“Don’t just write a letter and think that you’re done with it,” said Michel Bechtel, the mayor of Morgan’s Point, an industrial town on the Houston Ship Channel that was nearly wiped out during Hurricane Ike in 2008. “Let’s get some dollars flowing down here and let’s build it.”

Republican Congressman Pete Olson said the Corps is taking too long and should have started its efforts earlier. But for years it didn’t have the money to study hurricane protection for the Houston region. The agency was able to start last fall only because the Texas General Land Office agreed to pay for half the $20 million study at the insistence of Bush.

Congress is supposed to provide the rest, but the Army Corps will have to ask for it every year until the study is complete.

Asked if he thinks Congress will commit to the $10 million, Olson said the Corps had never given him that dollar figure. “They told you that, but not me that,” he said.

[…]

Weber said he thinks the federal government should help pay for a hurricane protection barrier, but he wouldn’t comment on whether his colleagues in Congress agree with him.

“I don’t know, well, maybe,” he said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I say the odds of Congress agreeing to pony up some $10 billion or so for a coastal floodgate system are pretty damn low. I cannot imagine Randy Weber’s nihilistic teabagger caucus members going along with it. Hell, I’d bet money right now that the Texas Republican Congressional caucus is not all on board with the idea, and I’ll even exclude Ted Cruz from consideration. Look at the recent track record of Congressional Republicans not wanting to appropriate funds to places that had been hit by actual disasters (two words: Superstorm Sandy) and ask yourself why they would vote to spend money on a disaster that hasn’t happened and may never do so in their lifetime. All spending is political now, and the death of earmarks makes dealmaking a lot harder. The fact that there isn’t unanimity about the best kind of flood mitigation system doesn’t help, either. Maybe someday, in a different political climate, but not now. Don’t be surprised if you see another article like this being written a couple of years from now.