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Mitch McConnell

The bar conundrum

Ugh.

Halloween this year in downtown Austin was a raucous affair. Nightclubs advertised dancing and drink specials. Thousands of people crowded 6th Street, partying shoulder to shoulder, some with masks and some without.

All of this happened as bars in Austin were still under a shutdown order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Those bars and nightclubs are some of the more than 2,500 so far that have been permitted to reopen by the state on the promise that in the middle of a pandemic, they’d convert themselves into restaurants.

Shuttering Texas’ nearly 8,000 bars has been one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s most drastic safety restrictions. He most recently allowed bars to open in parts of the state where coronavirus hospitalizations are relatively low, with permission from the local officials.

But in areas where bar bans are still being enforced, many of those businesses are still operating like, well, bars. Just weeks after Halloween, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, frustrated health experts and local officials say the loophole is defeating the purpose of the bar ban and could be one reason the state is battling its largest outbreak in months.

“The restrictions were put in place for a reason,” said Dr. Philip Huang, the director of Dallas Public Health. “And if you get around it, if you’re trying to cheat, then you’re sort of eliminating the reduced transmission that you’re trying to achieve.”

Public health officials and experts have said since this spring that bars pose unique dangers for spreading COVID-19. The Texas Medical Association notes it is one of the worst ways to spread the virus.

“Packed bars, where people are talking very close to each other and they’re shouting, or they’re yelling and people are touching a lot — that’s super high risk,” said Aliza Norwood, a medical expert at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin.

If the current trend continues — over 8,300 Texans were hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections Monday, up by nearly 900 from last week — “there may be a time in which it is appropriate to shut down bars and restaurants completely,” Norwood said.

Austin health officials agree.

“We are at a precarious spot right now where cases are rising across the country,  cases are rising across Texas,” said Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, before adding, “We really have to find a way to stabilize things to avoid that surge.”

But Abbott, who has concentrated power within himself to take action on COVID-19, said he has no plans to do so. He did not respond to requests for comment.

I’ve been an advocate for taking steps to help bars survive, with the rule interpretation that lets them be classified as restaurants a key component of that. I’ve done this because I want to see these businesses survive and their employees keep their jobs, and I believed it could be done in a reasonably safe fashion, with an emphasis on outdoor and to-go service. That obviously hasn’t worked out so well. The best answer would have been to pay the bars to shut down long enough to get the virus under control. It’s still not too late to do that, but that’s going to require Mitch McConnell’s Senate to take action, and I think we both know that’s not going to happen. One can only wonder what some advocacy from Republicans like Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz and John Cornyn might have accomplished, but that would have required them to take this seriously in the first place. In the meantime, just because these places are open doesn’t mean you have to go to them, or that you have to be inside of them if you still want to support them in some way. Keep yourself safe, at least.

Looking ahead to 2022

Continuing with the brain dumps, which are my post-election tradition. This is a collection of thoughts about the next big election, in 2022.

As I said earlier, I take no position on the question of what effect the disparity in door-to-door campaigning had. I can buy there was some effect, but we have no way of how much of an effect it was. The good news is, whatever the case, this isn’t a trend, it’s a one-time effect of an election in a pandemic. I feel pretty confident saying that barring anything extraordinary, traditional door-knocking will be a big component of everyone’s 2022 campaigns. Perhaps Democrats will have learned something useful from this year’s experience that will enhance what they can do in 2022; admittedly, what they have learned may be “this sucks and we never want to do it this way again”.

There are a couple of things that concern me as we start our journey towards 2022. The first is that after four long years of hard work, with one rewarding election cycle and one disappointing cycle, people will be less engaged, which needless to say will make keeping the ground we have gained, let alone gaining more ground, that much harder. I think people will be focused on bringing change to our state government, but we can’t take this for granted. People are tired! These were four years from hell, and we all feel a great weight has been lifted. I get it, believe me. But we felt this way following the 2008 election, and we know what came next. We cannot, absolutely cannot, allow that to happen again. We know what we need to do.

Second, and very much in line with the above, the national environment matters. What President Biden will be able to accomplish in the next two years depends to a significant extent on the outcome of those two Georgia Senate runoffs, but however they go we need to remember that there are significant obstacles in his way. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans were greatly rewarded for their all-out obstructionism throughout the Obama presidency. We can’t control what McConnell et al do, but we can control our reaction to it. Do we get discouraged and frustrated with the lack of progress, or do we get angry with the people whose fault it really is? How we react will be a big factor in determining what the national mood in 2022 is.

I’m already seeing people give their fantasy candidate for Governor. They include the likes of Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro (my choice), Cecile Richards, Lina Hidalgo, and others. I don’t know who might actually want to run – it is still early, after all – but we just need to bear in mind that every candidate has their pros and cons, and we need to worry less about matters of personality and more about building coalition and continuing the work we’ve been doing.

For what it’s worth, four themes I’d like to see our eventual candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor emphasize: Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization, emergency/disaster preparedness and response, and improving the voter experience, with a focus on online voter registration. The first two have proven they are popular enough to be adopted by voter initiative in deep red states, the third is obvious and should include things like hurricanes, flooding, and drought in addition to pandemics in general and COVID-19 in particular, and the fourth is something there’s already bipartisan support for in the Lege. Let Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick defend the status quo here.

(Increasing the minimum wage was also a ballot initiative winner in states like Florida, and it generally polls well. I very much support raising the minimum wage, but don’t have as much confidence that it would be an electoral winner here. I’m open to persuasion otherwise.)

Here are some numbers to contemplate as we look towards 2022:

I’d attribute the regression in performance in the biggest 15 counties to Republican improvement more than Democrats falling short – as noted multiple times, Democrats hit new highs in the big urban counties, but so did the GOP. There’s still room for growth here, especially in an environment where turnout level is much more volatile, but the marginal growth is smaller now. Putting that another way, there’s no longer a deficit of voter registration in these counties. We need to maintain and keep up with new population growth, but we’re not behind where we should be any more. If we do that, and we prioritize maximizing our own base, we’ll be fine.

It’s the bottom two groups that we need to pay some attention to. A lot of these counties have medium-sized cities in them, and that’s an obvious place to focus some effort. (I’ve been beating that drum for months and months now.) But we really need to do something about the small rural counties, too, or face the reality of huge vote deficits that we can’t control and have to overcome. I know this is daunting, and I have no illusions about how much potential for gain there is here, but I look at it this way: If Donald Trump can convince some number of Black and Latino people to vote for him in 2020, after four years of unrelenting racism and destruction, then surely nothing is impossible. I think marijuana legalization could be a good wedge issue here. Remember, the goal is to peel off some support. A few points in our direction means many thousands of votes.

It’s too early to worry about legislative and Congressional races, because we have no idea what redistricting will wrought. I think we should be prepared for litigation to be of limited value, as it was this decade, and for the Republicans to do as much as they can to limit the number of competitive districts. They may be right about it in 2022, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right in subsequent years.

In Harris County, we should expect competitive primaries for all of the countywide positions, and for many of the judicial spots. Judge Lina Hidalgo has done an outstanding job, but we know there are people who could have run in 2018 who are surely now thinking “that could have been me”. Don’t take anything for granted. We need to keep a close eye on the felony bail reform lawsuit, and news stories about how the current judges are handling bail hearings, because we are going to have to hold some of our folks accountable. We need to make sure that all of the Republican justices of the peace have opponents, especially the ones who have refused to do same-sex marriages.

Overall, there’s no reason why we can’t continue to build on what we have done over the past decade-plus in Harris County. Complacency and disunity will be our biggest opponents. The rest is up to us.

Cornyn’s colleagues cool to him as FBI Director

Boy, with friends like these

Big John Cornyn

There is a growing obstacle standing in the way of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, becoming the next director of the FBI — his own Republican colleagues.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a chorus of GOP senators has signaled that they would prefer President Trump to nominate somebody other than the second-ranking ­Republican senator, despite his status as a well-liked and influential figure on Capitol Hill.

Their message: It’s nothing personal. But if Trump were to nominate Cornyn, who has shown interest in the job, it would trigger a raft of consequences that could be detrimental to McConnell and the broader GOP agenda.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, offered a response that was common among Republican senators Monday, praising Cornyn’s qualifications before adding: “I’d hate to lose him.”

“My own selfish thing would be to say, ‘Oh, he’s a terrible person — don’t do it,’ ” Tillis quipped.

Senate Republicans are hoping Trump takes their concerns into consideration as he zeros in on his choice. The president said Monday that his search was “moving rapidly.” McConnell predicted that Trump would make an appointment “in a week or so.”

[…]

Among other concerns, some fear that nominating a top political leader would roil a confirmation process in which Democrats are already emboldened to cry foul over former director James B. Comey’s abrupt firing. Since Trump’s inauguration, Cornyn has been a loyal defender of the president — including on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which have been looking at the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I told him I thought he’d be a good FBI director under normal circumstances,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in an interview. “But I think the politics of this is just — he gets it. He’d be an outstanding FBI director. But I just, quite frankly, think that last week made it tough.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said there is a need now for “someone who can lead us in the direction we need to go, and that doesn’t eliminate partisan folks, but there’s no question that the country seems to be — to find more confidence and credibility in someone who’s probably not involved in partisan politics.”

See here and here for the background. Can’t imagine why the Republicans might be a wee bit concerned about the politics of this, but I’m sure they’ll figure out what their story is. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who Trump picks. Left to his own devices, he will either pick a toady or someone who will be forced to tarnish his own reputation in the service of his new lord and master. (And yes, it will be a dude. Donald Trump does not put the ladies into positions of real power.) In addition, whoever Trump picks will and should cause Senate Democrats to shut the place down until he pledges to continue the Russia investigation that Comey started, with the increase in resources that Comey had asked for just before getting canned. Basically, there’s no acceptable candidates that Trump himself might be willing to appoint. (No, Merrick Garland doesn’t count – the only reason he’s being mentioned is one part troll job, and one part to get a vacancy on the DC Court of Appeals. No thanks.)

So anyway, I get where the Republicans are coming from on this, and that’s before factoring into the equation the possibility, no matter how slim, that a Democrat could win the seat in a special election. There’s no upside here. If I were advising someone with a role in this, I’d say just elevate the top deputy director, who is now serving as the acting director, and be done with it. Which Trump won’t do because the guy won’t swear personal loyalty to the toddler king, but that’s their problem. Have fun with it, fellas.

Eva Longoria

She’s much more than an actor.

At a panel discussion on achieving economic and social mobility at the Clinton Global Initiative

Over the past five years of the Obama presidency, the 38-year-old Corpus Christi native who rocketed to fame in Hollywood has slowly but surely made her mark in Washington as a serious student of issues, a formidable fundraiser for Democratic causes and a spokeswoman for the emerging, increasingly empowered young generation of Latinos.

Longoria has become such an ascendant star in Democratic circles that the party’s national finance chairman, Henry Muñoz of San Antonio, says donors are sometimes disappointed when he shows up alone.

“I get that everywhere I go these days: Why isn’t Eva Longoria here?” jokes Muñoz, CEO of the architecture firm Muñoz & Co.

The answer is simple: There’s only so much politicking the actress can do while pursuing her day job in Hollywood and running her charitable foundations.

In addition to Eva’s Heroes, a charity that aids developmentally disabled children, she launched the Eva Longoria Foundation last year to promote college access and support business startups among young Latinas. The foundation’s first big move, announced in April, involves doling out $2 million in microloans to Latina business owners in Texas and California, stemming from a partnership with Warren Buffett’s son, Howard. Her efforts landed Longoria a seat alongside former President Bill Clinton to talk economic empowerment at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting Thursday in Chicago.

In Washington, she has appeared on Capitol Hill at hearings and news conferences, shining a spotlight on child-labor abuses in agriculture, the struggles of the learning impaired, the need for better schools to boost young Latinos out of poverty, the dearth of Small Business Administration programs for Latino entrepreneurs, and, of course, immigration reform.

Beyond the world of legislation, she’s put her clout behind efforts in the nation’s capital to create an American Latino museum on the National Mall, a Latino heritage fund for the National Parks and management training for Latino arts groups.

In her spare time, she received a master’s degree in American Hispanic history from California State University, Northridge, last month with a focus on math and science coursework for Latina students. She earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

She’s compiled quite an impressive resume, and is attracting plenty of notice for her political activities as well. Longoria was co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign and his inauguration. Those aren’t things you get to do just by being a pretty face. This being Texas, and Longoria being a star Democrat in a state that could use all the Democratic star power it can get, speculation is inevitable.

Some wistful Democrats see Longoria as a 21st century Ronald Reagan – a dynamic communicator with the potential to alter the partisan landscape in Texas and appeal across economic and social lines nationwide.

“It would appear that for many Texas Democrats, Longoria has now replaced Tommy Lee Jones as their fantasy celebrity candidate for public office,” said Mark P. Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University.

Jones warned, however, that fantasies about Longoria the politician may never be fulfilled.

“While many celebrities are effective at advancing specific causes, a much smaller number have been able to move to the next level and become effective actors within the political system,” he said.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard anyone mention Longoria as a potential candidate for anything, wistfully or otherwise. As I recall, the ultimately short-lived Ashley Judd for Senate boomlet got started when Judd was shown to be a potentially competitive candidate in a race against Sen. Mitch McConnell. The lesson I would draw from that, if I were interested in initiating a similar phenomenon here, would be to convince a respectable pollster to do some hypothetical matchups for Sen. John Cornyn, with Eva Longoria of course being one of the hypothetical opponents, and see what happens. You never know, right?

On a side note, this article was written before the Wendy Davis filibuster and its fallout. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if Longoria commented on that on either her Twitter or Facebook accounts; as far as I can tell, the answer is No. No one is required to say anything about anything, it was just one of those things that occur to me now and again, so make of that what you will.

Perry’s poll

For your reading pleasure, a poll of Republican primary voters (PDF) by Rick Perry’s pollster Mike Baselice that shows a 45-39 lead by Kay Bailey Hutchison. You can read a poll memo to supporters that spins the results, but the points I’ll make are as follows.

1. The basic result feels about right to me. I think KBH is a favorite, but never underestimate Rick Perry in a nasty political campaign. As I’ve observed before, Perry has had all the initiative in this fight so far. I keep waiting for KBH to show up and try to set the terms of the debate on turf more favorable to her. I’m sure she has a strategy that goes beyond simply being herself, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. Perry’s strategy may not be one that will appeal to all that many people, but at least he has an identifiable plan.

2. Having said that, isn’t it a bit odd for a two-term incumbent to tout a poll that shows him trailing? The basic message here is “We’re not losing by as much as y’all think we are.” Seems like a strange thing to brag about.

3. I’m fascinated by the lopsided amount of blame being put on “Washington Republicans” as opposed to “Texas Republicans” for the GOP being on the wrong track. One wonders who they mean by that – John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Michael Steele? George W. Bush? I’d argue that almost all of their problems can be laid at the feet of the latter, but given the amount of fealty he still commands from the rump of the party, it’s hard to imagine that’s who they mean. And will they feel that way about Big John “Chair of the NRSC” Cornyn in the event the Senate GOP caucus gets reduced again in 2010?

4. I continue to wonder what a poll that also included Debra Medina and Leo Berman might look like. I doubt they’d grab more than a few points, but in a close race that could matter, and I don’t really know who’d give up more of their share to them. I’ll be very interested to see the June finance reports to see if either of them has raised any real money.

5. What do you suppose KBH’s pollster’s numbers look like? Perhaps they’ll feel compelled to leak their own results so we can compare. Here’s a non-poll response from him, for what it’s worth.

UPDATE: Via Texas Politics, a new Rasmussen poll shows Perry with a 42-38 lead. Still not great numbers for an incumbent, but it beats being behind. This bit is my favorite:

Perry leads by 15 percentage points among conservative voters but Hutchison leads by 35 points among the moderates.

Which should give you some idea of the ratio of “conservatives” to “moderates” in the sample. Good luck courting the base, Kay.