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Lee Merritt

Joy Diaz

A bit of “potential candidate” news is tucked into this story about the current state of the Democratic statewide slate.

Joy Diaz

If Democrats had a mantra, it would probably be something like “diversity and inclusion.”

So it’s kind of strange that since jockeying in Texas began for positions on the party’s 2022 statewide ballot, nearly all of the focus has been on white men. You might argue that there’s some diversity within that group: One of the white guys is in his late 40s, one is in his late 50s, and two recently crossed into their 60s.

For the record, we’re talking about Beto O’Rourke, who’s 49 and expected to someday officially announce he’s running for governor; 59-year-old Joe Jaworski, a former mayor of Galveston who’s running for attorney general; and the two 60-year-olds, Mike Collier, who wants a rematch with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Matthew Dowd, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who also wants to take on Patrick.

[…]

But a more diverse statewide field appears to be shaping up on the Democratic side. On Monday, Brownsville lawyer Rochelle Garza dropped plans to seek an open South Texas congressional seat that was redrawn to give Republicans an edge and announced she was joining the race for attorney general. Dallas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is Black, has been running a low-key race for AG since July. Merritt has not been chasing headlines, but he has assembled a somewhat impressive list of small donors to his campaign.

And on Wednesday, a newcomer teased out vague plans about entering the political arena. Broadcast journalist Joy Diaz, who since 2005 has covered politics and public policy for Austin’s public radio station, said she could no longer mask her biases while “covering the issues of race and inequality.”

In a story posted on her station’s website, Diaz said she plans to run for office. She didn’t say which office, but a handful of Democratic operatives said she’s been putting out feelers for a possible run for governor.

If that holds, it would pit her against O’Rourke — assuming he runs — and certainly test his strength both among Hispanic Democrats and across the party’s base. In the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, before he transformed into the money-raising machine he would become in the general election contest against Ted Cruz, O’Rourke vastly underperformed in several heavily Hispanic border counties against little-known opponent Sema Hernandez.

Statewide, O’Rourke’s margin of victory in the primary was a bit better than 60-40, which might be considered modest for someone who at the time was a three-term congressman running against a political novice.

Here’s the story. Hard to say much more until such time as she gets more specific, but if she does run for something then I welcome her presence. I will also welcome Beto’s presence when he finally makes it official.

I’d like to address the last two paragraphs as well, since Beto’s performance in the 2018 primary has been a regular talking point even though he did just fine in all those counties in the general election when it really counted. Did you know that in the 2018 Republican primary, George P. Bush and Sid Miller, both incumbents running for re-election, did worse than Beto in their own primaries? Miller got 55.65% against two no-name candidates (well, okay, one was Internet legend Jim Hogan, the 2014 Democratic nominee for Ag Commissioner), while Bush got 58.22% against three candidates, two no-names and former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Beto got 61.81% in a three-way race that included Sema Hernandez. That was his first statewide run, while again those guys were incumbents. Somehow, that never gets mentioned, possibly because the “Anglo Dem underperformed against a no-name Hispanic in South Texas” angle is always sexy.

Also, since this story also mentions a couple of non-Anglo Republicans running for Attorney General (P Bush and Eva Guzman) and Ag Commissioner (James White), I’ll note that if you go farther down the Dem ticket there’s more diversity as well. Austin attorney and community organizer Jinny Suh announced her candidacy for Land Commissioner back in September. We’re still a few days out from the start of filing season, and I fully expect there will be plenty more candidates that we’re not currently talking about to make themselves known.

We have a third Dem candidate for AG

Welcome to the race, Rochelle Garza.

Rochelle Garza

Democrat Rochelle Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union from the Rio Grande Valley, is running for attorney general after redistricting complicated her campaign to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville.

Garza previously faced off against Attorney General Ken Paxton in the courts in 2017 when she represented an undocumented teenager fighting to get an abortion, which she obtained after a federal appeals court ruled in her favor. Garza said protecting abortion rights is one of her top priorities.

Garza had been campaigning for Vela’s seat for months, but neighboring Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, recently announced he would seek reelection in Vela’s 34th Congressional District after redistricting made his current seat more competitive for Republicans.

“Given my background, my work, I believe that this race is the right place to be,” Garza said in an interview. “I also believe that if we’re gonna change anything in Texas, it’s gonna have to come at the state level because we’ve seen the damage that the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general have done to this state and the harm they’ve done to the people.”

“Obviously, I believe Congressman Gonzalez is going to continue to provide good representation to the people of South Texas,” Garza added, “but my fight is gonna be statewide and my fight is gonna be for the people of Texas.”

Garza is launching her attorney general campaign with the support of both Gonzalez and Vela, who said in a statement, “We can trust Rochelle to never forget where she came from and never stop fighting for us.”

Garza joins a Democratic primary for attorney general that already includes at least two candidates: Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, and Lee Merritt, the nationally known civil rights attorney from the Dallas area. The primary is slated for March 1.

[…]

Garza’s campaign is highlighting how she is the only woman and Latina running for attorney general — relevant given that some Democratic groups have been pressing for a more diverse slate of statewide candidates. Last month, Progress Texas and Annie’s List issued a call for more progressive women to run statewide.

Garza had raised about $200K for her now-ended Congressional campaign. I don’t know what the rules are for using that in a state race. I’ve said before that I know Joe Jaworski, and I’ll say again that I’ll be happy with any of these candidates as Ken Paxton’s opponent. It’s not just that the bar to clear to be better than Ken Paxton is several feet belowground, it’s that all three of these candidates are well qualified and would be an infinite step up. Stace has more.

Meanwhile, in Congressional action:

Democrats in the Rio Grande Valley are scrambling to make up for lost time after U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, decided to seek reelection in a different district, leaving an open seat in what is expected to be the state’s most competitive congressional race next year.

With less than a month and a half until the candidate filing deadline, Democrats are sorting through their options for a primary that had been an afterthought given the perception Gonzalez would remain in the 15th Congressional District.

[…]

At least two Democrats declared for the 15th District as it became increasingly anticipated that Gonzalez would bail on a reelection bid there, but recruitment is only just beginning.

Civic engagement group LUPE Votes is launching on Monday what it describes as a “people-powered nomination process” — called We the Pueblo — to find a candidate the political organization can champion. The group, whose priorities include Medicare for All and a $15-per-hour minimum wage, is inviting people in the 15th District to nominate someone who “shares the values of working Texans,” said Dani Marrero Hi, a spokesperson for LUPE Votes. She said the group is looking for someone intimately familiar with those struggles and not “from the top 1% of the Valley.”

“We’re tired of establishment Democrats making promises after promises every year, then leaving or abandoning the district, like Vicente Gonzalez is doing, when times get tough,” Marrero Hi said. “When they do that … it leaves our region vulnerable to Republicans to come in and write our story.”

[…]

The clock is ticking. While litigation over the new maps could postpone the primary, the secretary of state’s office confirmed last week that the filing period is still set to begin Nov. 13 and end Dec. 13.

Daniel Diaz, LUPE’s organizing director, acknowledged their efforts are “gonna have to move pretty fast.” LUPE Votes plans to keep its nomination process open for 20 days.

The Democratic field for the 15th District includes at least two candidates so far: Ruben Ramirez, who previously ran for the seat in 2016, and Eliza Alvarado, director of partnerships and career pathways at the Region One Education Service Center, which assists public school districts in Rio Grande Valley and other parts of South Texas. She previously worked for Gonzalez’s predecessor in the 15th District, former Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Edinburg.

In an interview Friday, Alvarado said the 2020 results were a “call to action” and that Democrats were “absolutely” playing catch-up due to Gonzalez’s decision.

“I think that we knew it was coming, but that didn’t mean that we were sure that was going to happen,” Alvarado said. “Definitely stepping up and having to make up for lost time is something that’s going to be really important. I hope this race draws attention from the national party … and the state party, and they put funds into this race because it’s really important. Hidalgo County has been the Democratic stronghold since the 1800s, and this is something that’s not going to be given up lightly.”

See here for some background. I might have liked to see Rochelle Garza choose to run in CD15 instead, but I don’t get to make that decision. I don’t have any insight into this race or who the best person for it might be, I just agree with the assessment that we better figure it out quickly. This is going to be a top national race whether we like it or not.

The Republican AG primary just got bigger

The more, the more miserable.

Rep. Matt Krause

Attorney General Ken Paxton just got another Republican primary challenger, but this time it is someone who has been close to him for years: state Rep. Matt Krause.

The Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus says he is running as the “faithful conservative fighter,” hoping to bring a similar conservative ideology to the position that Paxton is known for — but without the legal troubles that have dogged him for most of his time in office.

“I think Texas needs — and wants — an attorney general who can give his or her full focus to the job,” Krause said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

[…]

Krause is the third serious primary opponent to announce against Paxton. The field already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Krause said he is “not sure either one of them could win a primary.”

But the most remarkable aspect of his candidacy may be that unlike Bush and Guzman, Krause has been a friend of Paxton and political ally. They served in the Legislature together from 2013-15, and Krause endorsed Paxton early in the 2014 primary for attorney general.

Whatever. Krause is the most Paxton-like of the other candidates, but as a State Rep he will have the least name recognition among them, and if you don’t think that matters in a statewide primary, you haven’t been paying attention to recent primaries. Krause doesn’t have much money – the Trib story says he had about $100K on hand in his July filing – and that’s the fastest route to getting voters to know who you are. He’s giving up a seat he won by nine points in 2020 – it was eight points in 2018, and 20 points in 2020, before Tarrant County took its big step towards Democrats – which makes me wonder if he’s not confident about his future post-redistricting. He may also just think he’s the only one that can beat Paxton, and that in turn may be a reflection of the belief that Paxton is a weak link for the Republicans.

Along those lines, and coincidentally just before Krause’s announcement, the Chron profiles the two Dems who seek to oust Paxton, or whoever does that in the Republican primary.

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney.

Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well.

“Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.”

[…]

If elected, Jaworski said he plans to push for policies that increase voter access to the polls, support the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid and legalize cannabis. Jaworski, like Merritt, says the attorney general’s office is wasting tax dollars on investigating rare voter fraud cases.

“We don’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a Ken Paxton problem,” he said. “He is using this as an ideological pivot for his base and to justify whatever few prosecutions he can muster.” Jaworski said Paxton should instead be doing more to address gun violence, adding “people are actually dying in those instances.”

Both Merritt and Jaworski have said they would create a civil rights division within the office.

Merritt, though he entered the race this summer, almost a full year later than Jaworski, has wasted no time fundraising. In the last reporting period that spanned July 7 to Aug. 6, Merritt raised more than $285,000, more than any Republican in the race, including Paxton.

Over the same period, Jaworski raised about $30,000, while Bush raised about $158,000 and Guzman raised $193,000. Paxton raised about $39,000, but the incumbent maintained the most cash-on-hand by millions at last count.

Merritt rose to prominence in recent years for taking on high-profile police accountability cases and representing families of Black Americans killed by police, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean. If elected, he would be the state’s first Black attorney general.

In 2017, online magazine The Root named Merritt the eighth-most-influential African-American between ages 18 and 45 in the U.S, three spots ahead of Beyoncé.

Having worked on criminal justice reform issues with attorneys general in other states, even Republicans such as Chris Carr of Georgia, Merritt said he could see a stark contrast between the work they were doing and what little Paxton has done.

For instance, Carr in May signed a law repealing the “citizen’s arrest” that was used as a defense in the fatal shooting of Arbery. Meanwhile, Merritt said, he sees Paxton’s office regularly allowing law enforcement to keep video evidence of police abuse of force outside of public view.

“It was that frustration of: The most basic responsibility of the attorney general is to uphold the constitution and protect life, liberty and property,” he said about his decision to jump in the race. “And we have an attorney general who has been completely asleep at the wheel, and people are dying.”

There’s more in the story about Jaworski, but he’s familiar to me, so I included more about Merritt. Both would be a vast improvement, and not just over Paxton. Who I still think is the favorite to emerge on the GOP side, almost certainly in a runoff. We’ll see what the next campaign finance reports look like.

P Bush slightly outraises Paxton

Meh.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush kicked off his attorney general campaign by outraising the incumbent, fellow Republican Ken Paxton, and another primary challenger, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. But Paxton has more money saved up for the battle than both of his opponents.

According to campaign finance reports released Friday, Bush raised $2.3 million over the last 10 days of June, while Paxton took in $1.8 million and Guzman collected $1.1 million. The campaigns had announced those figures earlier in the week, making clear Bush would be the fundraising leader for the period.

The filings that came out Friday, though, showed Paxton with a clear cash-on-hand advantage — $6.8 million in reserves. Bush reported $2.7 million in cash on hand, while Guzman disclosed $611,000.

[…]

In the GOP primary for attorney general, Paxton’s top donors included the Republican Attorneys General Association and Midland oilman Douglas Scharbauer. Each donated $250,000.

Bush got some of his biggest contributions in installments of $100,000 each from Dallas oil mogul Trevor Rees-Jones, Woodlands lawyer Arnulfo Eduardo Treviño Garza and H.H. ‘Tripp’ Wommack Ill, the CEO of a Midland oilfield services company.

Guzman’s donor list was led by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the tort reform group that backed her quickly after she launched her bid. She got $200,000 from TLR, as well as $100,000 from its founder, Dick Weekley.

On the Democratic side of the race, the candidates include Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, and Lee Merritt, the well-known civil rights attorney from North Texas.

Jaworski raised $452,000 during the first half of the year, according to his latest TEC filing, and ended the period with a balance of $525,000. Merritt did not officially announce his campaign until Tuesday — after the period covered by the latest reports — though he has had a TEC account open since early June and reported $100,000 in donations from Real Justice PAC, a national group that mainly works to elect progressive prosecutors at the local level.

See here for some background. It’s better to outraise than to be outraised, but 1) the difference isn’t that much, 2) as noted, Paxton still has a lot more cash, and 3) nobody has nearly enough to make a big splash in our super expensive state. Bush and Paxton each held their own, no one landed a heavy blow, and Guzman still has to prove she can bring it. As for the Dems, as long as Paxton is in the race they get the benefit of being Not Ken Paxton. It will be nice for them to bring in more, but as with Presidential years it’s the top of the ticket that drives most of the action.

Lee Merritt officially joins the AG race

We now have a contested Democratic primary for Attorney General.

Lee Merritt

Lee Merritt, the nationally known civil rights attorney, is officially running for Texas attorney general as a Democrat.

Merritt is set to launch his campaign at a 9 a.m. news conference outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, with an emphasis on the voting rights battle that prompted state House Democrats to flee the state Monday.

“Texas Republicans have launched an all-out assault on voter rights and civil liberties,” Merritt said in a statement, adding that incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton and other GOP leaders are “blatantly attempting to turn back progress in the Lone Star State using the familiar tactics of voter suppression, divisive rhetoric and corporate money.”

“This campaign is a response from the people of Texas,” Merritt said.

[…]

In addition to voting rights, Merritt’s camapign said it would focus on “fixing Texas’ failing power grid, reigning in soaring property taxes, ending mass incarceration and challenging gubernatorial overreach.”

Merritt joins Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, in the Democratic primary against Paxton. The incumbent has his own competitive primary, featuring challenges from Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Merritt announced his intent to run in March, with a promise to make a formal announcement later. Joe Jaworski has been in the race for awhile, and of course there’s the Republican side of things. It will be interesting to see how Democratic interest groups line up for this one. I know Jaworski, I have not yet met Merritt, but he’s got a great resume and I’m eager to hear what he has to say. It’s good to have some contested primaries among good candidates on the Democratic side, as that will generate some much-needed attention. Good luck to Lee Merritt and Joe Jaworski, and may the best candidate win.

P Bush officially challenges Paxton

The primary no one asked for.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced Wednesday that he is running for attorney general, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton with a sharp focus on Paxton’s legal troubles.

“Enough is enough, Ken,” Bush said during a campaign kickoff at a downtown Austin bar. “You’ve brought way too much scandal and too little integrity to this office. And as a career politician for 20 years, it’s time for you to go.”

The 2022 matchup could be the marquee statewide primary of this election cycle, and former President Donald Trump already looms large. He said in a statement last week that he would issue an endorsement in the race — and do so “in the not-so-distant future.” Bush told reporters after his announcement that he has asked Trump for his endorsement.

Both Bush and Paxton have histories with Trump. Bush — son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — was the only prominent member of his famous political family to support Trump in 2016, and Trump has praised him as the only Bush “that got it right.” Paxton has positioned himself as one of the most pro-Trump attorneys general — especially after the November election, when Paxton led an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging Trump’s reelection loss in four battleground states.

Paxton’s campaign responded to Bush’s launch by touting the attorney general as the “tip of the spear in protecting President Trump’s America First principles.”

[…]

During his speech to supporters, Bush warned that Democrats are eager to face Paxton in November because they see him as “our weak link.”

“They know that if he is our nominee again, they will have their first statewide elected office in close to 30 years,” Bush said.

At least one Democrat, Joe Jaworski, has already launched a campaign for attorney general. Jaworski is a Galveston attorney and former mayor of the city. Lee Merritt, the nationally recognized civil rights lawyer from North Texas, has said he plans to challenge Paxton but has not specified which primary he would run in.

Despite the long-running indictment, Paxton faced no primary opposition for a second term 2018. He ended up having a closer-than-expected race in the general election, when the Democratic nominee, Justin Nelson, campaigned heavily on Paxton’s legal troubles and finished within 4 percentage points of him.

See here/a>, here, and here for the background. Bush is right about one thing – I’d rather we get to run against Paxton, for all the obvious reasons. No guarantees, of course, but come on. Between the criminal charges that may finally see the inside of a courtroom and the whistleblower lawsuit, the potential for bad news for Paxton is high.

As for who Trump endorses, let’s just say that’s of niche appeal, and if the guy he picks loses in the primary he’ll likely endorse the other guy anyway. None of this is for my interest, after all. It’s moderately interesting that Trump endorsed Greg Abbott in his race, much to Don Huffines’ annoyance and without waiting to see if Sid Miller will wallow into the contest. Try to avoid watching any live TV during primary season next year, the ads are going to be brutal.

On the Dem side, Joe Jaworski is a friend, very well qualified, and actively campaigning right now. I have no idea what to make of Lee Merritt, but I hope he at least clarifies his intentions soon. We need to be ready to focus on this race, whoever the opponent ends up being.

Lee Merritt

We have a new contender for Attorney General.

Lee Merritt

Civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt has announced he’s running for Texas Attorney General in 2022 via his social media pages Saturday.

“Texas deserves an attorney general that will fight for the constitutional rights of all citizens,” tweeted Merritt.

In a video posted Saturday evening, Merritt said he didn’t plan to announce his run for the position this soon.

He expressed how his concerns for a lack of inaction and the lack of resources available for people in mental health crisis in Texas led to his decision on the heels of the death of Marvin Scott III.

Scott died at the Collin County jail after seven guards tried to restrain him in a cell on Sunday, March 14. Those employees have been placed on leave while the Texas Rangers conduct an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Merritt is the attorney for the Scott family. He told WFAA that Scott’s mental health crisis was not appropriately addressed by police and detention officers.

You can see Merritt’s announcement here. He joins Joe Jaworski, and maybe George P Bush on the Republican side in challenging our official state felon, Ken Paxton, for the AG’s job. I don’t know much about Lee Merritt, but he sounds like he’s perfectly well qualified and won’t be afraid to mix it up. If he can raise some money, so much the better. Welcome to the race, Lee Merritt.