Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

redistricting

LULAC files that lawsuit to end Houston City Council At Large districts

We’ve been waiting for this.

The League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against the city of Houston, seeking to get rid of at-large City Council seats that it says leave Hispanic residents with insufficient representation at City Hall.

The group, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, first announced plans to take legal action against the city in January.

While 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic person holding a seat on the 16-member body, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The federal lawsuit aims to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats dedicated to certain geographic areas. Houston’s current election system has created barriers to Hispanic representation and deprived hundreds of thousands of minority Houstonians of their voting rights guaranteed by law, the complaint says.

“The Latino voters of Houston have waited for fair redistricting plans. They have waited for years for the city of Houston to end its long relationship with ‘at-large’ districts that dilute the electoral strength of Hispanics,” the lawsuit says. “The time has come to replace this old election system that functions solely to dilute the power of Houston’s Latino voters.”

Houston City Council was comprised of all at-large positions until 1980, when it switched to a mix of district seats and five at-large seats. The change led to more diverse council bodies and better representation of minority voters, according to the complaint. Still, only four with Spanish surnames have been elected to one of the five at-large districts since then because Latino-preferred candidates rarely do well in citywide races, it says.

While many local Latino candidates also face other challenges, such as a lack of resources, the council structure remains a major hurdle for them, according to Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor in political science at University of Houston.

“When you look into political science literature, you’ll find that at-large seats tend to decrease the likelihood for minority candidates to win an election,” he said.

It is, however, not sufficient to simply look at the absence of Latino city council members, Cortina said. To substantiate LULAC’s claim that Houston is in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the organization would have to prove that Latino Houstonians have been acting as a cohesive voting bloc but unable to elect a candidate of their choice.

“It would take a lot of time and a lot of data,” Cortina said. “But the fact is that Latinos have been running and Latinos are not winning these elections.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’ve said all I have to say in that first link. Whatever happens with this lawsuit happens, and I’ll be fine with it. Courts have ordered cities like Pasadena and Farmers Branch to incorporate City Council districts in recent years, but those places began with all-At Large systems, and they were much more clearly discriminatory in my opinion. They were also decided in a time before SCOTUS went all in on destroying the Voting Rights Act. This could go either way, and I’ll be surprised if there is a temporary restraining order in place to block the use of the current Council map for the 2023 election. After that, we’ll see. The Trib has more.

A few words from Judge Hidalgo

Plus a few words that she could have said but didn’t, which I will fill in.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who narrowly won re-election last week over a strong push from GOP candidates and donors, outlined plans for her next four years in office, including continuing anti-crime efforts and doubling down on early childhood education.

“In some ways, it’s a continuation of the past four years — the work we’ve done to tackle violent crime, for example. We’ve already been able to bring down that violent crime rate by at least 10 percent. These are August numbers. We need to do more. We’re going to continue doing that,” Hidalgo said in a press briefing held Thursday.

Hidalgo took a jab at the two Republicans on commissioners court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who broke quorum for more than six weeks to stop Democrats from passing their proposed property tax rate. While the Democrats were proposing a tax rate decrease, Ramsey and Cagle argued for a slightly lower rate on the grounds that residents needed more tax relief.

Because the court was not able to reach a state-required quorum of four members present to set the tax rate by the end of October, the county defaulted to what is known as the no-new revenue rate, the levy that would generate the same revenue as last year. The county is projected to take in an additional $45 million from new properties on the tax roll.

Facing a lower tax rate, the court voted to approve a lower budget, cutting nearly $100 million that was to be allocated to law enforcement, including raises for sheriff deputies.

“I’m proud of the record investments we’ve made in public safety, even despite the fact that two colleagues boycotted our budget process and forced us to cut some expenses we’d planned,” Hidalgo said. “Even with that, we’ve been able to see results and we’re working really hard, including with the recent bond that passed, to try to strengthen our criminal justice system.”

County government will keep tackling issues that traditionally have not been on the agenda, she said.

That’s what she said. She didn’t say anything about Constable/JP redistricting, either as a political goal or a policy goal. She didn’t say anything about taking all of those $100 million in forced budget cuts from Tom Ramsey’s precinct, which I would totally tell her to at least publicly muse about if I were advising her. She didn’t say anything about whiny crybaby sore losers pursuing their completely bogus “investigation” of the Elections office. She’s a responsible elected official, and I’m a yahoo on the Internet, so that probably has something to do with it. But these are things that could be said, and maybe will be said in a more measured and nuanced way at some point in the coming weeks. We’ll see. Oh, and be sure also to see the hilariously thin-skinned response she drew for her victory celebration from a local furniture salesman and gambling aficionado. Someone needs a nap, I’d say.

UPDATE: Said furniture salesman gets roundly panned by Chron readers.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HISD redistricting is on the docket

Already happening, in fact.

Current districts

Houston ISD plans to redraw the boundary lines for its nine school board trustees based on population changes reflected in the latest U.S. Census.

HISD officials emphasized that the changes only impact voting, not what schools children are zoned to. The district is required to adjust those boundaries when the U.S. Census reflects a significant population shift.

The board presented two plans, which are fairly similar, and aim to decide by mid-December. Both aim to return each district to within 10 percent of a predetermined ideal size of about 164,000 people.

District VII, represented by Bridget Wade and spanning from River Oaks to Briarmeadow in west Houston, has seen the most growth, so it will be redrawn.

That district also saw growth 10 years ago, the last time the Census was done. However, the growth wasn’t considered significant enough to warrant being restructured. District I, which represented the north side, and District IX, the south, were the only two to be restructured 10 years ago after the last Census.

On the flip side, this year’s Census data showed that District III in southeast Houston shrank. Dani Hernandez represents that district.

It’s difficult to adjust just one or two districts, said Sydney Falk, an attorney of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado and Acosta LLP, an Austin-based law firm that did the analysis.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Falk said. “As soon as you touch one, you need to adjust the others.”

He added that all the changes were relatively minor. Districts I, III, IV, VII and VIII will all be restructured. Districts II, V, VI, IX generally won’t change.

I couldn’t find anything about the proposed plans on the HISD website, but I’m sure something will appear sooner or later. There are some community meetings happening if you want to discuss the matter; I’m sure the proposed maps will be present at these.

HISD did a small redistricting in 2011 as noted, and then had to do it again in 2014 after the annexation of North Forest ISD. I expect the process to be pretty peaceful and straightforward this time around.

And if you’re wondering if HCC will go through a similar process, the answer is Yes, they will, and they are.

The Houston Community College Board of Trustees is conducting a once-per-decade redistricting process to better align HCC districts based on equitable population distribution.

The board is considering redistricting options at meetings over the next several months. Options currently under consideration are available for the public to comment on and review at an HCC information web page on redistricting located at www.hccs.edu/about-hcc/board-of-trustees/hcc-redistricting-information.

Community residents can review proposed maps and provide map suggestions via a redistricting form at the web page or by emailing [email protected] All submitters must provide their full name, home address, a phone number and, if available, an email address.

“Redistricting is the process by which the boundaries of elective single-member districts are periodically redrawn in response to changes in population,” said Board Chair Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary. “We encourage members of the public to visit this site for information and updates concerning redistricting and the proposed maps we will be reviewing.”

Districts are determined based upon U.S. Census data. If population numbers show that a single-member district exceeds the population of the least populated, single-member district by more than 10 percent, the district map must be re-drawn. The goal is to ensure that each single-member district consists of near equal population across the system.

That was posted on October 10; I trust you’ll forgive me for not having that at the forefront of my mind at the time. Their index page for redistricting has all the information you could want. Current and proposed maps are here – not surprisingly, they all look very similar – and the timeline tab indicates they plan to adopt a map next April. Like I said, all the info is there for you to see.

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

The case for redrawing Constable/JP precincts

A Twitter thread of interest:

Note that he means the Justice of the Peace courts. Current maps for those precincts are here. Note that the Constable and Justice of the Peace precincts are the same. Note also how large geographically precincts 4 and 5 are. I’m sure they were quite empty in the 70s, but that was a long time ago. That’s one of the main theses in the accompanying article, which focuses on population growth and caseloads, and how they affect people facing evictions, which are handled by the JP courts.

Every Monday morning, Judge Israel Garcia, Jr., who serves as Harris County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5, stares down a punishing docket of eviction, debt collection, and traffic cases for the week. His courtroom has a line out the door of parents and children, desperate to resolve a dispute with their landlord or settle a longstanding debt. But the law can be unfriendly to these defendants, and Judge Garcia must know that relief will never come.

All Justice of the Peace Courts in Harris County deal with large caseloads, but the number of cases in Precinct 5 is seemingly endless. If you visit our Harris County Evictions Dashboard, you’ll see how imbalanced the caseload really is – there are 10 times as many cases in Precinct 5 compared to Precinct 6.

What’s going on here? Do renters in Precinct 5 have a much higher risk of eviction than renters in other areas? Are its residents that much more likely to fall behind on their credit card payments or speed through a school zone? No. The reason why Precinct 5 has more cases is because it has more people –  a lot more people. And it has more people because Harris County hasn’t redrawn the boundaries of JP courts since 1973.

For this blog post, I explore just how lopsided the caseloads in Harris County’s JP Courts have become due to a lack of redistricting over the past 50 years. I also show the results from a simulation I ran of 1,000 new maps for the courts that account for population change. Every single one is better than what we have today.

I discussed the political case for redistricting the Constables in an earlier post. That’s a separate matter from what David McClendon is advocating. The two goals, if they are indeed goals for Commissioners Court, would be in some tension here. My first thought is whether McClendon took the Voting Rights Act into account in this exercise, because Precinct 6 – one of two precinct with Hispanic Constables and (with the election of Dolores Lozano in Precinct 2) all Hispanic JPs – would be first in line to be made larger. Precinct 2, the other of those two precincts, is right next to it. Precincts 3 and 7 have Black Constables and JPs. Any potential redrawing of these precincts needs to ensure that Black and Hispanic voters aren’t losing representation.

The Constables are currently five Dems and three Republicans, with Precincts 4 and 8 being all-GOP, while Precinct 5 has one JP from each party following Israel Garcia’s win in 2020. As a practical political matter, Commissioners Court is not going to draw a new set of maps that will make it harder for Democrats to win. Again, as far as I can tell, McClendon didn’t take that into account.

And that’s fine. That wasn’t his idea, and his goal was to even out the caseloads to enable a better process and hopefully better outcomes for tenants facing eviction. The good news here is that McClendon ran a thousand maps, each of which were better than the existing one for his purposes. That strongly suggests to me that the political purpose of not making it harder for Dems to get elected – while also at the least not making it easier for a few specific Constables to get re-elected – can be achieved at the same time as making the courts function better for everyone. Maybe there’s not an optimal solution for each in the same map, but surely improvements can be made. I would absolutely advocate for Commissioners Court to take a long look at this.

The Lege is a little more diverse now

A good thing.

Salman Bhojani

Voters in Texas added to the diversity of their state Legislature on Tuesday, tripling the number of openly gay Black lawmakers holding office and electing the first two Muslim lawmakers to serve in the Capitol.

As recently as May, there were no openly gay Black members of the Legislature. Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, became the first when she won a special election that month. She was elected to a full term on Tuesday. She’ll now be joined by Democrats Christian Manuel Hayes and Venton Jones, who both won their races Tuesday night. Hayes will represent House District 22, based in Beaumont, and Jones will represent House District 100 in Dallas.

“They’ve never backed down when our rights are on the line and we are confident they’ll channel this courage and compassion in Austin,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

The two candidates will take office ahead of a legislative session in which LGBTQ issues are likely to play a large role. Conservative lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about books in schools that portray the experiences of gay and transgender people and indicated an interest in banning some content.

The first two Muslim lawmakers are Salman Bhojani, who won election to House District 92 in Tarrant County, and Suleman Lalani, who won election to House District 76 in Fort Bend County.

Both men are also immigrants. Bhojani, whose family is originally from Pakistan, moved to the United States as a teenager. Lalani came to the country in the 1990s to begin his career as a doctor.

In the Texas Legislature, Muslims haven’t always been met with open arms. In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, boycotted the Texas Senate’s first-ever prayer by a Muslim cleric.

I’m sure he’s so much more compassionate and tolerant now. HD76 is a Democratic seat moved from El Paso to Fort Bend in redistricting. HD92 is a new Democratic-drawn seat in Tarrant County. HD100 is the seat vacated by US Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett, and HD22 is the seat in Jefferson County made vacant by the retirement of Rep. Joe Deshotel. I wish I could say that all the newbies were coming into a welcoming place where they’ll have a fair chance to pass bills of interest to their constituents, but signs point to No on that one. Nonetheless, I welcome them and wish them all the best. Whatever they can do to make that place and our state better, we’ll be happy for it.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Judge Hidalgo celebrates her win

Winning is sweet. Victory laps are even sweeter.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Fresh off a narrow reelection that was anything but assured, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday held a news conference to praise colleagues, thank supporters and call out some members of her own party for not backing her campaign.

“There were some elected officials that weren’t there because they didn’t think it was convenient, those in my own party that wouldn’t do an ad for me, that wouldn’t have a fundraiser, that wouldn’t help when it got tough,” Hidalgo said. “And oh, I remember who they are.”

The Hidalgo campaign declined to specify which officials she was addressing.

Hidalgo also addressed critics during the election cycle who accused the Democrats on Commissioners Court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.”

She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“This person who is supposed to represent justice in this county more than once said with a straight face ‘stop the defunding’ knowing full well that the budget had increased,” Hidalgo said.

[…]

Despite being significantly out-funded by Republican newcomer Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Hidalgo emerged from early voting ahead of her opponent and narrowly maintained that lead throughout the night as votes were counted. The final unofficial tally, released just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, put Hidalgo in front of Mealer by slightly more than 17,000 votes, or 50.8 percent of the nearly 1.1 million votes cast. That was a narrower margin of victory than her surprise election in 2018, when the then-27-year-old ousted popular Republican Ed Emmett.

Mealer tweeted her concession around 9:30 a.m.

“While we did not accomplish our goal of changing leadership in Harris County, we were successful in elevating the profile of critical issues like the need to appropriately resource our law enforcement and criminal justice system as well as the desire to eliminate corruption and increase transparency in local government,” Mealer said in a statement. “This campaign was always about good government and I am hopeful that we have played a role encouraging that going forward.”

Hidalgo acknowledged her opponent’s hard-fought campaign, much of which centered on crime, blaming policies championed by Hidalgo for rising numbers of homicides the past two years, and accusing the first-term judge of corruption, mostly related to a controversial COVID vaccination outreach contract that resulted in indictments against three of her aides.

Since July 1, Mealer raised more than $8.5 million, much of it from large donors like Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, an early supporter of her campaign. Hidalgo, who has refused to accept campaign contributions from county vendors, raised $2.4 million in that period.

“She had almost $10 million in the bank and she had a U.S. senator and she had a furniture salesman,” Hidalgo said in her speech, taking a swipe at McIngvale who ran several campaign ads in support of Mealer.

“I want to thank Alex Mealer for running a hard fought campaign,” Hidalgo said. “I want to thank her for her concession. And I want to thank her again for her service to our country.”

Surrounded by union leaders and Democratic party elected officials, Hidalgo thanked her supporters for helping her block walk, raise money and host campaign events.

Much of her speech was of a celebratory nature, citing past accomplishments with current Commissioner Court colleagues Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia.

“We have done so much from the very first meeting,” Hidalgo said, citing countywide voting as one example of successes while she has been in office. “We did that at the first meeting in 2019.”

In re: the margin of victory, they are referring to the raw vote differential. In 2018, Judge Hidalgo won by 19,277 votes, while in 2022 it was 17,397 votes. Of course, there were more total votes cast in 2018 than in 2022, which has an effect. As it happens Judge Hidalgo’s margin of victory as a percentage of the vote is greater now than it was then: In 2018 she won 49.76% to 48.18% (there was a Libertarian candidate that took the rest). In 2022, it was 50.79% to 49.19%, with a write-in candidate getting the other 0.02%. That means she won this year by 1.60 percentage points, compared to 1.58 in 2018. Pick your preferred measure of expression.

As for what may be on the agenda for 2023, I’m not the first person to suggest this, but don’t be surprised if Commissioners Court looks at redrawing the Constable/JP precincts. Most counties just have the Constable and JP precincts be the same as the Commissioners Court precincts. Harris has its own weird precincts for them that don’t match up in population and (as I understand it haven’t been updated since the 70s. There’s also no shortage of bad blood between (at least some) Constables and the Court, so a bit of payback may be in order. I suspect this would be a complex matter and would surely invite litigation so I don’t think it will be undertaken lightly, but I will be surprised if it doesn’t at least come up.

Beyond that, I expect the Court to do more of what it’s been doing, with the freedom of knowing that their next budget can’t be busted by no-shows. The main obstacle will continue to be interference from the state and whatever new BS legislation may come down. This is where I remind you that Harris County was under a Republican majority on Commissioners Court going back to at least the mid-70s, which is as far back as I’ve been able to verify, up until 2019 when Dems finally achieved a 3-2 advantage. We’ve done things a certain way for a long damn time. Making changes to make things better will take time, too. For now, we can celebrate a bit as we look forward. Let it out, Judge Hidalgo. You’ve earned it. The Press has more.

We have already entered Speaker’s Race season

And I’m already exhausted.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, announced Friday he is running for speaker, challenging fellow Republican Dade Phelan.

Tinderholt is one of the furthest-right Republicans in the chamber, and in a statement, he made clear he would be running on his opposition to Democratic committee chairs.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor?” Tinderholt said in a statement. “The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control.”

Phelan is expected to run for speaker again but has not made it official yet. His office declined to comment on Tinderholt’s announcement.

Tinderholt has served in the House since 2015 and once was a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus. Even before Texas’ latest restrictions, he has been an ardent opponent of abortion, filing legislation that would make it possible to charge a woman who has an abortion with criminal homicide.

Phelan has been speaker since 2021, when he was elected with near-unanimous support of the 150-member chamber. He helped steer the state further right through his first session, allowing passage of the state’s new laws banning almost all abortion and allowing permitless carry of handguns.

But his critics on the right have not been satisfied, arguing conservative priorities will always be held back if the minority party is permitted to chair committees and control what legislation reaches the floor. Like his GOP predecessors, Phelan has given some chairmanships to Democrats, including on the prominent House Public Education Committee.

I mean, this session is going to be a shitshow in any circumstance other than a Democratic majority in the House, which to put it mildly is highly unlikely. Tinderholt is the kind of politician that will be unappealing to most normal people, but first he has to get himself elected Speaker, and that’s always harder than it looks. If he really has some juice, we’ll start seeing other members publicly backing him. In the meantime, note that his HD94 is not very red, though it used to be; it is slightly redder than it was pre-redistricting. If we’re lucky, Tinderholt will do us the favor of making himself a bigger electoral target. May take a couple of cycles to get there, but keep hope alive.

Houston City Council approves its new map

Now we wait for the lawsuit(s).

City Council on Wednesday approved new boundaries for the city’s 11 districts for the 2023 elections, featuring modest adjustments affecting parts of downtown, Braeburn, Greater Inwood and a few areas in southeast Houston.

The new boundaries aim to balance district populations based on the latest census data.

By law, the most populous district should not have more than 10 percent more residents than the smallest district. Based on the 2020 census, Districts C and G need to give up some neighborhoods. Districts H, I and J, on the other hand, have lost too many constituents and need to expand. Overall, fewer than 3 percent of the Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts.

The redistricting plan had gone through several iterations based on months of internal discussions and public feedback. On Wednesday, four council members also offered amendments to the proposal, three of which were successful.

Despite the majority support for the new maps, council had to vote twice to approve them after it was revealed late Wednesday that the city secretary called out the wrong agenda item before the council voted during the morning session.

The council reconvened at 6 p.m. for a public hearing on a proposed bond election. Following the hearing, which drew no speakers, the council confirmed the new maps by a 14-2 vote, with District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos and District E Councilmember Dave Martin dissenting.

[…]

City Demographer Jerry Wood said throughout the design process he had to juggle competing interests from council members and the public and was unable to accommodate some requests.

“If you go into this thinking that you’re going to make everybody happy, you’re going to be sorry for thinking that,” Wood said. “If you go into this thinking that you’re going to make as few people unhappy as possible, then you might have some success.”

See here for some background. The map I’ve embedded is from the early part of the process and doesn’t include any of the changes made at that Council meeting, so go here for the latest details. CM Gallegos has some issues with the process and with an amendment that affected District I; the story did not say why CM Martin voted no. Overall, this was pretty painless, certainly easier than it was in 2011 when we had to add two new districts. That doesn’t mean there won’t be legal issues:

Much of the discussion around redistricting has centered on the lack of Hispanic representation at City Hall.

While about 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic council member out of the 16, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the council.

The goal of the lawsuit is to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area, to improve minority representation.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of the legal challenge.

“We are asking for equity and fairness, and we just don’t have that with the current districts,” said Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with the organization. “That’s why we are filing the lawsuit to push for changes.”

Some are worried that Kamin’s amendment could have an adverse effect on Hispanic votes.

The areas set to move to District H instead of Freedmen’s Town, have high percentages of Hispanic constituents, but are experiencing gentrification and are expected to see a decline in Hispanic populations in the following years, according to Wood.

Gallegos said that he did not originally agree with LULAC’s demand to abolish Houston’s at-large seats, but in light of these new developments, he plans to work closely with the organization to advance its cause.

“After what happened this morning, I agree that we need all single-member districts to make sure that we have the representation we need,” he said.

See here for some background. I don’t have anything to add to what I wrote then. I think the plaintiffs would have a decent chance of prevailing if they file, but it’s not a slam dunk. An alternate possible outcome would be to agree to move City Council elections to even-numbered years, as the natural boost in turnout would create a more diverse electorate and thus could raise the chances of Latino candidates in citywide races. That was one of the things that happened in Austin, in addition to the switch to districts from At Large; their elections had been in May of odd years, for maximal non-turnout. Greg Wythe wrote on this topic some years ago at his sadly defunct blog, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There are good reasons to keep city elections in the odd years – Lord knows, we have enough to vote on in the even years, and putting them in the even years would very likely make them more overtly partisan – I’m just saying it’s a possible option. We’ll see what happens.

The imminent Latino plurality

It may already be here, but it’s not quite officially official just yet.

A closely watched estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday indicates that Texas may have passed a long-awaited milestone: the point where Hispanic residents make up more of the state’s population than white residents.

The new population figures, derived from the bureau’s American Community Survey, showed Hispanic Texans made up 40.2% of the state’s population in 2021 while non-Hispanic white Texans made up 39.4%. The estimates — based on comprehensive data collected over the 2021 calendar year — are not considered official.

The bureau’s official population estimates as of July 2021 showed the Hispanic and white populations virtually even in size. But in designating Hispanics as the state’s largest population group, the new estimates are the first to reflect the foreseeable culmination of decades of demographic shifts steadily transforming the state.

The incremental trend demographers have been tracking for years reflects the state’s profound cultural and demographic evolution. The state lost its white majority in 2004. However, the Hispanic population’s relative growth, through both migration and births, has not been reflected in many facets of the state’s economic and political landscape.

The 2020 census captured how close the state’s Hispanic and white populations had come, with just half a percentage point separating them at the time. By then, Texas had gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident over the previous decade. And Hispanics had powered nearly half of the state’s overall growth of roughly 4 million residents since 2010.

Hispanic Texans are expected to make up a flat-out majority of the state’s population in the decades to come, but they are already on the precipice of a majority among children. The latest census estimates showed that 49.3% of Texans under the age of 18 are Hispanic.

Without corresponding political and economic gains, Hispanic residents’ economic and political reality is captured in the persistent disparities also reflected in the latest census data. Hispanic people living in Texas are disproportionately poor. They are also less likely to have reached the higher levels of education that often serve as pathways to social mobility and greater economic prosperity.

It was sometime during my first decade of blogging, maybe 2004 or 2005, when Anglos ceased to be the majority in Texas. The trends have kept on trending since then. As far as political representation goes, maybe we’ll get a shot at that in 2031 redistricting cycle – it ain’t happening this time around, not with this SCOTUS. But as Campos notes, we can at least do something about that locally this year. The Chron has more.

Republicans for Collier

Two of them, anyway.

Mike Collier

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, one of Texas’ most prominent Republican local leaders, is backing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger.

“The one person who I’ll support statewide that will get me a little in trouble: Mike Collier for lieutenant governor,” Whitley said on Y’all-itics, a WFAA politics podcast.

Whitley and Patrick have frequently clashed, and on the podcast Whitley slammed Patrick for waging “war on local elected officials.”

Just days after Whitley made the endorsement that crossed party lines, an out-going Republican state senator from Amarillo has followed suit. Kel Seliger plans to vote for Collier in November, a spokesperson for Seliger told The Texas Tribune. Seliger is one of the most senior Republicans in the upper chamber, but has also famously been at odds with Patrick. Neither Whitley nor Seliger are running for reelection.

At the center of Whitley’s disdain for Patrick is a bill shepherded by the lieutenant governor in 2019 meant to slow the growth of Texans’ property tax bills. The bill requires many cities, counties and other taxing units to hold an election if they wish to raise 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year, not counting the growth added by new construction.

But Whitley said the bill put Tarrant County in a tight position because property taxes are a major source of revenue for local governments. Meanwhile, Whitley said Tarrant County jails are housing more than 700 inmates that should be in state custody without additional funding from the state. The COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to make jail transfers contributed to state inmates being held in county jails, Community Impact reported.

“We’re paying 20 million plus a year because the state is not paying anything and yet they’re sitting down there talking about all the cash that they’ve got,” Whitley said.

For Seliger, his vote against Patrick this November comes after years of tensions with the lieutenant governor. Seliger is rare among Republicans in the upper chamber for his occasional willingness to go against Patrick. He has said he’s been punished for voting against a pair of the lieutenant governor’s top priorities in 2017, a bill aimed at restricting local governments’ abilities to raise property taxes and a program that would have subsidized private school tuition and home-schooling expenses. In the following session, Patrick stripped Seliger of his title as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. During a 2021 redistricting session, Seliger also voiced concern that Patrick was drawing his district to favor Seliger’s competitor.

[…]

Whitley said he is backing Collier because of Collier’s experience controlling budgets. Collier, an accountant and auditor from the Houston area, is a self-described “numbers guy.” Collier also worked as a landman for Exxon, which Whitley said indicated the Democratic nominee understood the oil business.

“And I just think he’s someone who understands local control. And that’s what I’m looking for,” added Whitley, who as county judge is the county’s top elected official and administrator. “We do everything. We’re the front door for basically all the federal and the state services that the state and the federal government passed laws for us to do.”

This is all nice to see, as is Dan Patrick’s little temper tantrum in response. I’ve said before (many, many times) that nothing will change until Texas’ government changes, and the fastest way for that to happen is for enough people to change how they’ve been voting. I generally don’t believe that endorsements move a lot of votes, but they can move a few, and they can also signal that something is in the air. We’ll know soon enough if this makes any difference – if nothing else, we’ll see what if any effect there is in the precinct data – but I’ll say this much: If Dan Patrick’s political demise can be traced even in part to a fight over local control and bad blood over redistricting, there’s not enough sugar in the world to emulate how sweet that would be. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: And today, outgoing Sen. Eddie Lucio endorses Dan Patrick. I am so glad we are seeing the last of that jackass.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

CC4 poll: Briones 44, Cagle 42

From the inbox:

Lesley Briones

Lesley Briones, candidate for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4, released the results of a new poll today that shows her in the lead: Briones 44% / Cagle 42%.

The poll was conducted August 9-13 by the national firm, Lake Research Partners, and surveyed 400 likely 2022 general election voters in Precinct 4.

Click here to read a summary memo prepared by the polling firm.

Among the key findings:

• Briones leads Cagle by a margin of 44% to 42%

• After positive information about both candidates was provided, Briones’ lead grew to 47% to 42%

• The new Precinct 4 has a 7-point Democratic advantage: 41% Democrats / 34% Republicans / 15% Independents

It’s an internal poll, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The only other Harris County data we have so far was that UH/Hobby poll that had Judge Hidalgo up by a point over Alexandra Mealer. We’re in a new Commissioners Court map, and Judge Hidalgo was an atypical candidate in 2018, with a lot of Dems crossing over to vote for then-Judge Ed Emmett, so I have no sense of the correlation between the two races at this time. Maybe one can win if the other loses, maybe not, I just don’t know. I will say I found this bit from the memo heartwarming:

Cagle is uniquely vulnerable to attacks on abortion and birth control. Of all the tested negatives against Cagle, his anti-choice views and extreme actions to deny women health care in the past generate the most serious doubts about him (39% serious doubts, 47% total doubts). Meanwhile, 41% of voters are very convinced, and 57% are convinced overall, to support Briones due to her commitment to fight to protect abortion access.

You know how I feel about this. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Let’s name a few legislative battlegrounds

It’s getting to be that time of the election cycle.

Mihaela Plesa

Two years ago, Democrats were gearing up for a rare opportunity in modern times: capturing the Texas House majority.

But after they came up woefully short — and Republican-led redistricting reduced the number of competitive races — the battlefield heading into November is notably smaller.

Still, both sides see important stakes in the state House races this time around. While the majority is not on the line, the hottest races are unfolding in key areas that each party understands is critical to their growth for the next decade.

Look no further than the three districts that both Democrats and Republicans see as their highest priorities. Two of them are in South Texas, where Republicans are working to make inroads with Hispanic voters, while the other is in North Texas’ Collin County, a place emblematic of the fast-growing suburbs where Democrats have gained ground over the last few election cycles.

The GOP is especially serious about the two seats in South Texas — House District 37, a new open seat in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, and House District 118, a San Antonio-based seat that Republican John Lujan flipped last year in a special election. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect Republicans to state legislatures, are announcing Monday that they are funding $360,000 in TV ads aimed at the two districts, a substantial opening salvo on the battlefield.

[…]

Millions of dollars are expected to pour in to HD-37 and HD-118 — the two South Texas seats — and then HD-70, the one in Collin County. President Joe Biden would have carried each of the three seats over Donald Trump in 2020, but only by margins of 2 to 11 points, which gives them battleground status in the current environment, according to operatives. HD-37, which Republicans rammed into the map overnight during redistricting, is the closest on paper, with a Biden margin of only 2 percentage points.

Lujan is easily the most endangered Republican incumbent, but a few others can be expected to have competitive races, including Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Angie Chen Button of Richardson. However, all three have had tough general elections before — especially Meyer and Button — and Republicans have faith in their ability to defend themselves.

There are also some additional open seats that the GOP will have to monitor, like the Houston seat where Republican state Rep. Jim Murphy is retiring.

On the Democratic side, the most endangered incumbent may be Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass, who represents a massive district covering most of the Texas-Mexico border.

As for the issues, the GOP messaging is set to take on a national tone, seeking to tap into Biden’s deep unpopularity in Texas, especially on border security and inflation. The House Democratic Campaign Committee said its candidates are focusing on “good jobs, strong public schools and access to affordable health care.”

“In contrast, Republicans are obsessed with banning abortion with no exceptions and making sure anyone can carry a gun with no training or license,” an HDCC spokesperson, Stella Deshotel, said in a statement.

With the primaries over, candidates across the races are sounding notes of independence and bipartisanship. Mihaela Plesa, the Democratic nominee for HD-70, said in an interview it was important for representatives to go to Austin and “not just be another vote for the party line.” Her Republican opponent, Jamee Jolly, said she was optimistic she would appeal to the Biden voters in the district, which he would have carried by 11 percentage points.

“I think a lot of people chose Biden because they didn’t like the Republican option. I know that for a fact because I have friends who have said that,” Jolly said, adding that her friends found Trump “divisive” and that she would legislate as “much more of a convener, a solutions-seeker,” reaching across the aisle.

Plesa said the No. 1 issue she hears about is public school finance, along with concerns about the “social wars” that are erupting in the classroom. But she said she is also hearing a lot about abortion after the Roe v. Wade decision, which triggered a ban without exceptions in Texas. Jolly said that her focus is now on “how we continue to support maternal health care.”

First and foremost: San Antonio is not South Texas, and I will die on that hill. I am begging you to be more precise in your geographical descriptors.

Second, just to provide some perspective, here are the 2020 Biden/Trump numbers for all of the districts name-checked in this story:


Dist  Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
=================================
037  27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
070  45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
074  31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
108  54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%
118  36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
133  40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%

Most of these districts got more Democratic between 2012 and 2020, often much more Democratic. HDs 37 and 74 are the exceptions in that list. You can go read that earlier post for all the context. HD70 is a current Republican district that was redrawn to be Democratic, whose incumbent is not running for re-election, and should be the most likely of the bunch to flip. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that if Dems don’t pick up HD70, it will have been a disappointing Election Day. It’s impossible to imagine a good overall result if the Republicans can hold that one. Republicans flipped HD118 in a low-turnout special election, which is a thing they had done before as well. Dems won it back that November, but HD118 was a more Democratic district in the previous map. Bexar County moved strongly Democratic overall last decade, though (Pre-redistricting) HD118 was at the bottom of the progress list. I also feel confident saying that Dems will be disappointed if they don’t take this one back.

Fundraising numbers are also a factor, and likely a reason some other relatively even districts were not mentioned in this Trib story. HD70 Dem candidate Mihaela Plesa has done pretty well, while HD118 candidate Frank Ramirez, who fell short in the runoff of that earlier special election, has done less so. I’ll want to take a look at the 30-day numbers in some of these races to see what other signals there may be.

I don’t want to get too deep into all this, as I don’t know much about these races beyond the numbers. I do believe that we will see a different, perhaps broader, class of contested races in 2024, partly because a lot of Republican seats were drawn with relatively tight margins, and partly because this year may tell us something new about the trends we have been seeing in the past three elections. There are always some districts that over- or under-perform their expected numbers, and this time should be no exception.

Redistricting plaintiffs get a win on discovery

Every little bit helps.

A federal judge on Monday issued a wide-ranging discovery order requiring Texas state lawmakers to turn over documents related to the state’s congressional redistricting plans.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several other civil rights groups, is part of a broad effort to correct what critics say is voter intimidation and discrimination in Texas heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

[…]

Like the separate lawsuit over Texas election laws, this redistricting case has continued to swell since its initial filing, with six other lawsuits consolidated into the legal fight. Days after the case was filed, the Fifth Circuit appointed a three-judge panel to oversee the increasingly complex case.

In November, the Justice Department also joined those suing state officials. It was doing so, the federal government said, because Texas redistricting plans had raised “important questions” about possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has largely hinged on issues of discovery. Texas lawmakers have battled against subpoenas, arguing that much of their work on redistricting was privileged information. They filed hundreds of pages of court documents detailing information they do not think they should have to turn over, including what they’ve described as “confidential communications” reflecting “thoughts, opinions and mental impressions.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to enforce subpoenas. The feds argue Texas officials have “inappropriately” claimed attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents from decades ago and “advanced an overbroad conception” of legislative privilege that has withheld “even communications with members of the public.” As a result, they say, lawmakers have disclosed “merely one-third” of the documents requested in subpoenas.

In his order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Guaderrama, an Obama appointee, agreed with arguments from the DOJ and the civil rights groups. He found that Texas lawmakers were using overly broad theories of legislative privilege and could not “cloak conversations with executive-branch officials, lobbyists, and other interested outsiders.”

Guaderrama ruled the factors in this case weighed in favor of granting discovery requests. He cited the “seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved,” including allegations of lawbreaking and “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

While Texas lawmakers asserted attorney-client privilege, the judge ruled they could not simply decline to release any documents referencing legal analysis, including scheduling calendars and communications with outside firms involved in redistricting. These documents are not “categorically privileged,” he wrote.

In the end, Guaderrama ordered Texas lawmakers to turn over a wide array of documents relating to redistricting, including “talking points” defending the maps. For any documents that contained “bona fide legal advice” or “privileged material,” Guaderrama ordered lawmakers to produce redacted versions.

About two months ago, the plaintiffs scored a different win in that three Republican legislators who had tried to avoid having to sit for depositions failed to get a lower court ruling against them overturned. If this ruling stands – always a dicey proposal when the Fifth Circuit is involved – then what the plaintiffs will gain is a lot of insight into what the legislators and their staff and advisors were saying to each other at the time. The experience from previous rounds of redistricting litigation is that there will be some good stuff there for the plaintiffs. Which still might not matter in the end, since SCOTUS has made its preferences very clear, but as I said in that last post, you have to start somewhere. Link via Reform Austin.

Texas is sooooooooo gerrymandered…

How gerrymandered are we? By this measure, we’re literally as gerrymandered as we could possibly be.

But just how biased have modern-day maps become in the state of Texas? The map that was approved last October is so highly biased, it is quite literally off the charts, according to the SMU findings.

The open-source software that the SMU researchers use helps them generate millions of maps that follow state guidelines for drawing districts.

The software allowed the researchers to answer a simple question: “If you didn’t try to design [maps] to maximize Democratic seats or Republican seats, if you just pick them randomly to satisfy the law — what would you get?” said Andrea Barreiro, associate professor of mathematics at SMU.

Using this large set of randomly generated maps, the group established a baseline for what a typical map that follows state guidelines looks like. With this baseline, the researchers were then able to measure how far from the baseline a proposed map was — and, therefore, how biased it was.

“If you have something that’s way outside of [the baseline], then there must have been some design goal that pushed it away from all these randomly generated maps, and that’s what we would call a biased map,” said Scott Norris, SMU associate professor of mathematics.

As soon as Texas’ first proposed congressional maps were made available on the Capitol Data Portal in late September, the SMU team got to work analyzing how the maps fared.

As different maps were proposed, the team generated over a million maps to create an unbiased baseline, offering key measures that are commonly used by political scientists to assess gerrymandering.

They completed this analysis for 59 proposed congressional maps. (The SMU team also shared their analysis for proposed Texas House, Senate and city council maps.)

Of the 1.5 million maps that the team generated and analyzed to compare with the final proposed Texas congressional district map, not a single baseline map showed levels of bias as high.

The proposed map was more biased than every single map their software had generated, the SMU researchers showed.

With their findings in hand, the SMU team reached out to all members of the Texas subcommittees involved in redistricting, as well as the researchers’ own local legislators.

They sent emails and posted to the comment portals provided by the legislature. Several of them testified at an open community hearing, explaining how this software works and advocating for its use to create less biased maps.

But they only heard back from a few offices. “The only people that we have actually spoken to are Democrats. … As you might expect, we haven’t had any interest from Republican members of the committees and, you know, that makes sense from their perspective,” said Norris.

[…]

The SMU group’s software revealed that the approved Texas map reduced the competitiveness of almost 50% of congressional districts in the state. This means that Republicans can win 50% of the state’s congressional seats, with only 42.2% of the state’s votes, the researchers showed.

In addition to dampening the need for officials to earn votes, gerrymandering can also leave large numbers of voters in a district with a representative who is out of touch with their community, said SMU researchers.

“When we testified to the House about this, I was struck [by] how many rural Republican voters were basically pleading with legislators not to break up their districts,” said Matthew Lockard, SMU associate professor of philosophy.

Farmers worried that their lives are so different from those of the city voters they might be in a district with that it just didn’t make sense.

You can see all the data here. I will confess, I don’t really understand the numbers they have in the tables there, but you don’t need a deep understanding of their methods to grok that the Republican-drawn ones were more gerrymandered than all 1.5 million randomly-drawn legal maps done by the team. We saw last decade that in a rapidly growing and diversifying state like Texas big changes can happen in a short time. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, just that the future isn’t set in stone. But that’s not for lack of trying on the Republicans’ part.

Meet the new billionaires in charge of Texas

Somewhat worse than the old billionaires, who were already pretty bad.

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview.

Over the last decade, Dunn and his wife, Terri, have contributed more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees, while Wilks and his wife, Jo Ann, have given more than $11 million, putting them among the top donors in the state.

The beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the farthest-right members of the legislature and authors of the most high-profile conservative bills passed in recent years, according to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data. Dunn and Wilks also hold sway over the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy groups that push conservative policy issues.

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it.”

[…]

Texas’ far-right shift has national implications: The candidates Dunn and Wilks have supported have turned the state legislature into a laboratory for far-right policy that’s starting to gain traction across the US.

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature.

“I don’t think regular Texans are as conservative as their elected officials,” Kennedy said. “The reason that Texas has moved to the right is because the money’s there.”

There’s more, so read the rest. I’m old enough to remember when James Leininger was the scary right wing billionaire main character of Texas. We have a never-ending supply of these assholes. Yes, gerrymandering is a part of the problem here, but there will always be some number of deep red districts, and the same problem exists at the statewide level as well. Money is a big factor, though as noted it’s not always the difference-maker. Ultimately, the problem and the solution remain the same. I don’t know any way out of this but through it.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The runoffs are now over, and we’re fully into the fall election season. As before, I’ve consolidated this list down to the elections of interest, which means I’ve dropped CD30 as it was a primary-only affair. I’m also dropping CD10 and CD22, because while those are districts that are of interest to me, neither Linda Nuno nor Jamie Jordan has managed to file a report so far, and so I just can’t be bothered. Better candidates next time, please. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, the April 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     14,140,850 13,216,975        0  2,776,589
02    Fulford         109,995    100,957   15,595      9,038
03    Self            314,699    240,821        0     73,877
03    Srivastava      160,121    141,656   65,000     18,464
15    Vallejo         699,131    540,643  100,000    158,488
15    De la Cruz    2,914,515  2,366,992        0    555,028
21    Roy           1,757,556  1,047,612        0  1,173,526
21    Zapata           77,500     68,918        0      8,581
23    Gonzales      3,346,655  2,054,016        0  1,323,998
23    Lira            486,541    395,459        0     91,081
24    Van Duyne     3,022,405  1,366,847        0  1,723,967
24    McDowell         44,677     27,975    3,843     16,701
28    Cuellar       3,351,820  4,664,602        0    237,690
28    Garcia          695,640    470,707        0    224,932
34    Gonzalez      2,251,211  2,201,071        0  1,420,633
34    Flores        1,765,515  1,651,532        0    113,983
38    Hunt          4,238,227  2,390,809        0  2,071,360
38    Klussman        180,323    145,198    7,000     35,125

I get kind of a 2012 vibe from looking at these numbers. Dems raised big money in two races – the eternal target of CD23, and the open seat CD14 which only drew interest because former Congressman Nick Lampson made a run at it – and decent money in CD27, a former Dem district lost in the 2010 debacle that was made more Republican in redistricting. No Dem candidate in a red district approached raising as much as $100K for the entire cycle outside of those three; I remarked on that multiple times in 2018 as Dem candidates were shattering records left and right.

It’s a little less bleak this time, but the shape is similar. CD15 is the new CD23, though for this cycle at least it’s still a Dem hold and not a flip. CD23 is redder than before though still closer to 50-50 than any other district, with a stronger Republican incumbent; Quico Canseco was a typical “dog that caught the car” in 2010, and that surely helped Pete Gallego in his quest to win it back. John Lira is not in Gallego’s fundraising neighborhood, but he might approach a million bucks before it’s all said and done. Duncan Klussman, Sandeep Srivastava, and Robin Fulford have all topped $100K already, with Claudia Zapata likely to get there. That’s a symbolic figure more than an impactful one, but given how bleak things were in 2012 we can at least reset some expectations. I have hope that the districts I’ve quit following will rejoin the conversation in future cycles. As for Jan McDowell in CD24, at least some things never change.

The top Democratic fundraiser in a district that ought to be competitive this fall was Jessica Cisneros, who raised over $6.5 million in her ultimately losing race against Henry Cuellar. Cisneros complained loudly and at length about Dem leadership supporting the incumbent in this race. I get that and I will not offer any defenses of Cuellar, but I will note that the lack of support she got on that front did little to hinder her ability to raise money. I’m pretty sure we’ve not heard the last of her. She did succeed in wiping out Cuellar’s cash on hand advantage over Cassy Garcia, but I assume Cuellar will reopen that gap this quarter.

Along those lines, that special election in CD34 certainly helped Mayra Flores rake it in, though Vicente Gonzalez still has a large lead in cash on hand. Flores has a lot more visibility now, but she’s running in a different CD34 in November, one that was drawn to be a lot friendlier to Dems. We’ll see if she has a big Q3 or if she comes back to earth in that reality.

On the Republican side, I still have no idea what’s going on with Keith Self. How is it he hasn’t raised more than $314K at this point, having had all of Q2 to himself as the nominee in CD03? It’s a mystery to me. Unlikely to matter much, as he should easily win this year, but it will get harder for him in this blue-trending district. Mostly, I just don’t understand why he’s lagging his peers. Not complaining, you understand, just puzzling.

I’m working on posts for the other finance reports of interest. Let me know what you think.

Chron story on the proposed new City Council map

Remember, you heard it here first.

Houston’s proposed City Council maps for 2023 elections make only minor changes to district boundaries near Rice University, Freedmen’s Town and parts of downtown.

Overall, less than 3% of Houston’s 2.3 million residents will change districts under the proposal, which is designed to balance district populations based on 2020 Census data, while complying with city requirements and the Voting Rights Act, according to City Demographer Jerry Wood.

By law, none of the 11 districts should vary by more than 10 percent from the average district population of approximately 209,000 residents. This means that Houston’s three most populous districts – Districts C, D and G – will lose some of their lands. Meanwhile, Districts H, I and J will need to expand.

“Unlike redistricting for legislative districts, there’s a lot more identification with a neighborhood that the civic leaders have and also the relationship that they establish with their council members,” Wood said. “So the desire is to create as little disruption as possible.”

[…]

In recent months, the public has repeatedly requested the city to keep super neighborhoods together, Wood said, something that demographers did not have in mind when initially dividing up the population.

The proposal managed to move Braeburn, a super neighborhood on the southwest side, into a single district and bring together most of Eastex – Jensen, one in north Houston. But Wood said he was not able to unite Greater Heights in north central or South Belt on the southeast side.

“Sometimes there are requests that simply are impossible,” Wood said.

The city has hired a law firm in anticipation of legal challenges. For one, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, has promised to sue the city over what its advocates characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos on the City Council.

The lawsuit hopes to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats, which cover a certain geographical area. Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with LULAC, said his team is on track to file the lawsuit later this month.

“We anticipated that there would not be any major changes to the maps this time and that the city was not going to disrupt things too much,” Lira said. “It’s going to take a lawsuit in order to change the system.”

See here for my post on the new map, along with the schedule for public hearings, and here for my post about the promise of a lawsuit to ditch the At Large Council seats. Several cities have moved partly or fully away from At Large Council systems to all-district or hybrid systems in recent years, some with more of a fuss about it than others – Austin, Pasadena, Irving, Farmers Branch. It’s hard to say how litigation on this matter might go in this current climate, but on the other hand if the city lost in a federal district court it’s not clear to me that they’d pursue an appeal. This is an excellent place to get caught making dumb predictions, so I’ll stop myself before I go too far. I’ll wait and see what happens when LULAC files their complaint. In the meantime, attend one of those hearings if this interests you.

City Council redistricting on the agenda

Get ready for some public hearings.

The City Council of the City of Houston, Texas, will hold the following public hearings in the City Council Chamber, City Hall, 2nd Floor, 901 Bagby, Houston, Texas 77002. The purpose of the hearings is to receive comments, suggestions, and alternate plans from the public regarding the Proposed City Council Redistricting Plan, in accordance with the City Charter, Article V, Sec. 3:

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.

All persons desiring to be heard at any of the public hearings must reserve a specific amount of time (up to 3 minutes) by contacting the City Secretary’s Office at 832-393-1100. Details for signing up to speak in-person or virtually are posted at https://www.houstontx.gov/council/meetingsinfo.html(External link). Reservations for each hearing will be received up to 3:00 p.m. the day before each hearing is scheduled to begin.

See here, here, and here for some background. The current map is here and the proposed new map is here. As expected, the changes are fairly minor, to correct population imbalances. The Let’s Talk Houston redistricting page has more details, both overall and for each district. I don’t think this is going to be particularly eventful, but it’s redistricting so there’s always the potential. The question of whether we should get rid of At Large seats will need to be a separate discussion; it may come up here, but it’s not in the scope. Look for a lawsuit down the line. What do you think of the new map?

Two redistricting lawsuit updates

Legislators involved in the most recent redistricting effort can be made to sit for depositions.

The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block the deposition of Texas lawmakers in redistricting suits.

Mum as to whether there were any dissents, the order from the justices keeps in place a lower court ruling that will force Republican lawmakers to appear for depositions in suits claiming that Texas’ redistricting plans are discriminatory. Per their custom, the justices also did not offer any explanation for their ruling.

The United States subpoenaed three Texas lawmakers at the beginning of the month to testify in a challenge to the state’s 2021 congressional and state House redistricting plans. The Department of Justice and voting rights groups claim the new maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against minority voters in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Representatives Ryan Guillen, Brooks Landgraf and John Lujan tried to limit their testimony to matters in the public record, but a federal judge denied their motion and their attempt to block the testimony altogether. Likewise the Fifth Circuit refused to enter a stay pending appeal that would block their testimony.

In their application to the high court, Texas lawmakers claim they have the privilege and immunity to avoid testifying in the suits.

“The legislators’ depositions will probe the very innerworkings of the legislative process, examining the legislators’ thoughts, impressions, and motivations for their legislative acts,” wrote Taylor A.R. Meehan, an attorney with Consovoy McCarthy representing the lawmakers.

He also warned that lawmakers would have to answer questions in full the “proverbial ‘cat is out of the bag.’ And the twin safeguards of legislative immunity and privilege — older than the country itself — are no safeguards at all.”

The Justice Department said the depositions were routine.

“Courts, including this Court, often rely on such testimony both in assessing the motive and justification for districting choices and in considering the ‘totality of circumstances’ relevant to minority voters’ electoral opportunities, as the VRA directs,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the government’s opposition brief.

The government notes that Lujan has a particularly weak claim to legislative privilege since he was not in the Legislature when the redistricting plans were passed.

“Representative John Lujan, does not have even an arguable claim of legislative privilege with respect to the challenged districting plans because he was not in the legislature when the plans were passed — a critical fact that applicants do not mention,” Prelogar wrote.

This is from the LULAC lawsuit, which is now consolidated with most of the other federal lawsuits. The order is from a couple of weeks ago, as the depositions were set to begin the week of May 24. SCOTUS just never took up the defendants’ motion, so they did not get an order to protect them from being deposed. This is not going to change the overall trajectory of the litigation, but it ought to lead to some interesting facts for the eventual hearings. Lujan as noted was not a legislator when the maps were passed in the special session, so who knows what he thinks he has to keep quiet about, while Guillen was still a Democrat when this was all happening. Should make for some fun questions, if nothing else.

The other federal lawsuit, which was not combined with the LULAC et al complaint, is the one filed by the Justice Department. That one survived a motion to dismiss:

A federal judge has ruled that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland can proceed with voting and civil rights claims against Texas over a state law passed last year to address purported voter fraud.

State officials had asked U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez to dismiss the case, arguing that federal officials did not have standing to sue them. They argued that local election officials — not state ones — were charged with implementing the new law.

The George W. Bush appointee disagreed in an order Tuesday, finding the U.S. attorney general has “broad constitutional power to protect the right to vote” and is “congressionally authorized” to go after voting rights violations.

The federal government had a “significant stake” in protecting “the general welfare of its citizenry,” Rodriguez wrote. He found the U.S. government had plausibly alleged that Texas law would “disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their vote,” including those with disabilities, limited knowledge of English and “members of the military deployed away from home.”

[…]

In November, the U.S. attorney general’s office intervened, expressing an interest the [LULAC et al consolidated] case and urging Rodriguez not to dismiss the claims. Voting lawsuits brought by private groups were necessary, the filing argued, due to the “limited federal resources available for Voting Rights Act enforcement” and because states with histories of voter restrictions no longer had to seek federal preclearance for voting changes following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Later that month, the AG’s office also filed suit against the Lone Star State. In a strongly worded complaint, federal officials argued that Texas already had some of the “strictest [voting] limitations in the nation” and that SB1 would “impermissibly” restrict and disenfranchise voters.

Texas’s “history of official voting-related discrimination against its disfavored citizens is longstanding and well-documented,” the complaint said. “Federal intervention has been necessary to eliminate numerous devices intentionally used to restrict minority voting in Texas.”

This lengthy and complex legal battle, involving a variety of parties, led up to Tuesday’s order. Over the months, Texas officials have tried numerous avenues to dismiss the case.

Among other things, state officials zeroed in on the state’s new voter ID and mail-in ballot requirements. Because the state allows voters to “cure” their ballots, they argued, the law did not deny the right to vote.

Rodriguez rejected this argument and others, writing that a voter’s opportunity to cure their ballot “does not necessarily mean” that SB 1 did not violate the Civil Rights Act. The law does not allow state officials to “initially deny the right to vote…as long as they institute cure processes,” he wrote. Instead, it bars these actions altogether.

He also found that, while local elections officials may be in charge of implementing the law, SB 1 was in fact “traceable” to state officials, and therefore they could be sued. Since the law has so far been in effect for the state’s primary elections, the U.S. government had also alleged an injury, he found.

Rather than issuing an injunction preventing enforcement of parts of SB 1, Rodriguez’s order instead simply allows the U.S. government to continue with its lawsuit. It remains to be seen how the case will play out, including whether controversial aspects of SB 1 will remain in effect for the 2022 midterm elections later this year.

There’s a long road ahead for this litigation, and at the end awaits a US Supreme Court that is extremely hostile to voting rights. But you have to start somewhere, and who knows, maybe the landscape will change by that time.

Radack drops his redistricting lawsuit

From the inbox:

Former Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit he filed against Harris County Commissioners Court alleging Commissioners Court violated the Open Meetings Act during county redistricting.

Below is a statement from Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee on the lawsuit:

“I’m glad this frivolous lawsuit was dismissed. The County ran a transparent, thorough redistricting process. My office will continue working with each of the Commissioners to ensure the transition process is as seamless as possible.”

The suit sought to have the new Commissioners Court map invalidated and alleged court members violated state law by not making the map public at least 72 hours prior to the meeting at which that map was approved.

As you may recall, first there was a lawsuit filed by Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey along with a couple of voters, which claimed that redrawing of Commissioners Court precincts was a voting rights violation because people who would have voted for Commissioner in 2022 would have to wait until 2024. It was dismissed by a Harris County civil district court judge on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have jurisdiction to sue. A subsequent writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court was denied mostly on procedural grounds, as there would be no time to take any action as the primaries had already begun. The initial lawsuit is as I understand it pending an appeal to the First Court of Appeals, and SCOTx did not rule on the merits of the litigation so we could see a ruling against the county at some point in the future.

The Radack lawsuit was filed on December 31, shortly after the first lawsuit was dismissed by the district court. It claimed that commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act because they did not make public the map that ultimately was approved within 72 hours of the meeting. As far as I know, this suit never had a hearing in court. I checked with the County Attorney’s office and the pending appeal to the First Court is the only active litigation over county redistricting at this time. So there you have it.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story about it.

Another look at how Galveston County disenfranchised its voters of color

The Trib takes a deep dive.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Carver Park in Texas City, created during segregation, is considered the first African American county park in the state. It sits on land donated by descendants of freedmen who survived slavery and pioneered one of Texas’ oldest Black settlements, the footprint of which sits just a few blocks away.

Until last year, the park sat at the heart of Galveston County’s Precinct 3 — the most diverse of the four precincts that choose the commissioners court, which governs the county along with the county judge. Precinct 3 was the lone seat in which Black and Hispanic voters, who make up about 38% of the county’s population, made up the majority of the electorate.

The precinct sliced the middle of coastal Galveston County, stretching from the small city of Dickinson on the county’s northern end through residential areas of Texas City and down to the eastern end of Galveston Island. Its residents included medical professionals and staff drawn in by The University of Texas Medical Branch, petrochemical workers that operate a large cluster of refineries and commuter employees of the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center.

The area stood as an exemplar of Black political power and progress. For 30 years, Black voters — with support from Hispanics — had amassed enough political clout to decide the county commissioner for Precinct 3, propelling Black leaders onto a majority white county commissioners court. They worked to gain stronger footholds in local governments, elevating Black people into city halls across the precinct. Two years ago, they reached a milestone, electing Texas City’s first Black mayor and a city commission on which people of color are the majority.

But the white Republican majority on the Galveston County’s commissioners court decided last November to dismantle Precinct 3. Capitalizing on its first opportunity to redraw commissioner precincts without federal oversight, the court splintered Black and Hispanic communities into majority-white districts.

Under the final map, which will be used for this year’s election and possibly for a decade, white voters make up at least 62% of the electorate in each precinct, though the county’s total population is only about 55% white. Because white voters in Galveston — like Texas generally — tend to support different candidates than Black and Hispanic voters, the map will effectively quash the electoral power of voters of color.

The new map was so egregious to officials at the U.S. Department of Justice that it prompted the department to file its only federal lawsuit at the county level in the entire nation challenging a redistricting plan as discriminatory.

Black residents here have often needed federal intervention to help them pursue equality and fairness. Without it, it’s possible the white power structure will never voluntarily grant them them political equity and would continue threatening the gains they’ve achieved over the last few decades.

“With the district, people feel that they have a voice and a choice. Without it, no voice, no choice,” said Lucille McGaskey, a longtime Galveston County resident whose community in the city of La Marque was drawn out of Precinct 3. “It’s a shame … that it has come to people trying to wipe other people out.”

See here for a bit of background. The piece goes into Galveston’s racial and political history, and recaps how the soon-to-be-all-Republican Commissioners Court rammed through this new map with no real alternatives and with basically zero public input on the last day to adopt a new map. There are two federal lawsuits that have been filed over this new map, which was able to be adopted because preclearance was killed in 2013, but you know how I feel about the likelihood of any justice that way. Indeed, the story notes that Galveston County has “asked for a postponement in the case until possibly 2023 while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge out of Alabama that could further contract the Voting Rights Act’s protections from discrimination in redistricting”. The writing is on the wall here. The only way forward is more voting, at a time when the powers that be have made it as difficult as possible to vote, and to have your vote make a meaningful difference. I don’t know what else to say.

We really missed counting a lot of people in Texas

Over half a million, by the latest estimate.

Tripped up by politics and the pandemic — and with only a last-minute investment in promotion by the state — the 2020 census likely undercounted the Texas population by roughly 2%, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

The once-a-decade national count put Texas’ official population at 29,145,505 after it gained the most residents of any state in the last decade, earning two additional congressional seats. In a post-count analysis using survey results from households, the bureau estimated that the count for people living in Texas households — a slightly smaller population than the total population — failed to find more than half a million residents. That’s the equivalent of missing the entire populations of Lubbock, Laredo and then some.

The undercount means that many residents were missing from the data used by state lawmakers last year to redraw congressional and legislative districts to distribute political power. For the next decade, the undercount will also be baked into the data used by governments and industry to plan and provide for communities.

Texas is just one of six states that the bureau determined had a statistically significant undercount. The others were Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee.

[…]

Even as other states poured millions of dollars into census campaigns, Texas left local governments, nonprofits and even churches to try to reach the millions of Texans who fall into the categories of people that have been historically missed by the count — immigrants, people living in poverty and non-English speakers, to name a few.

Already without state funds, the local canvassing and outreach efforts relying on in-person contact were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic just as they were ramping up in the spring of 2020. The bureau extended time for counting by a few months, but the Trump administration later accelerated the deadline.

As Texas fell behind in the counting compared to other states, organizers struggled to reach groups at the highest risk of being missed as the pandemic continued to ravage their communities. It wasn’t until the 11th hour that Texas quietly launched a sudden pursuit of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to promote the count using federal COVID relief dollars.

By then, with just a month of counting to go, the self-response rate for Texas households had barely topped 60%. As census workers followed up in person with households that hadn’t responded, the share of households accounted rose, but Texas remained far behind several other states and several percentage points behind the national average.

[…]

Because it’s based on comparing the 2020 census to a followup population survey, the Texas undercount is more of a statistical guess and carries a margin of error. In the case of Texas, the bureau estimates the undercount could have been as large as 3.27% or as small as .57%. By limiting its analysis to people living in households, it leaves off people living in college dorms, prisons and other group quarters.

The bureau did not report any statistically significant undercounts after the 2010 census.

The bureau will not be providing more detailed undercount figures to determine which areas of the state or residents were missed in the census. But earlier this year, it reported the communities were not equally left off. Nationally, the census significantly undercounted communities of color, missing Hispanic residents at a rate of 4.99% — more than triple the rate from the 2010 census. Black residents were undercounted at a rate of 3.3% and Native Americans at a rate of 5.64%.

The 2020 Census also had a larger undercount of children under the age of 5 than every other census since 1970.

A previous estimate had the undercount at around 377K. That could still be accurate – note that this is a range, not a single number – but it is likely that it was higher. We certainly could have added one more Congressional district if the Republicans had given a damn, but since the undercount was mostly people of color, what did they care? Cities can still file a challenge to their official tally, but so far none have. It is what it is at this point. The Chron has more.

April 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The primaries are over, and while we do still have some runoffs plus now a weird special election in CD34, we do have a smaller set of races and candidates to review. Given how many I had to cram into the previous posts, I’m sure you can feel my relief at that. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Mike McCaul – CD10
Linda Nuno – CD10
Ruben Ramirez – CD15
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Ricardo Villarreal – CD21
Troy Nehls – CD22
Jamie Kaye Jordan – CD22
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Derrik Gay – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessica Cisneros – CD28
Sandra Whitten – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Jane Hope Hamilton – CD30
Jasmine Crockett – CD30
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     12,249,172 10,844,572        0  3,257,314
02    Fulford          95,297     50,703   15,595     44,594
03    Self            235,044    225,791        0      9,253
03    Srivastava      100,619     96,231   55,000      4,388
10    McCaul        1,749,060  1,243,137        0    513,656
10    Nuno                  0          0        0          0
15    Ramirez         356,758    257,059   12,250     99,698
15    Vallejo         299,915    217,293  100,000     82,621
15    De la Cruz    2,313,272  1,957,129   13,000    363,649
21    Roy           1,454,476    830,885        0  1,087,173
21    Zapata           54,801     43,550        0     11,251
21    Villarreal       32,586     17,015   20,563     13,866
22    Nehls           670,482    322,270    5,726    367,417
22    Jordan                0          0        0          0
23    Gonzales      2,261,907    985,463        0  1,307,803
23    Lira            251,642    195,017        0     56,625
24    Van Duyne     2,035,203    731,839        0  1,371,774
24    Gay             208,661    165,886        0     42,774
24    McDowell         11,183      5,632        0      5,550
28    Cuellar       2,753,040  2,864,938        0  1,438,575
28    Cisneros      3,248,787  2,214,132        0  1,037,623
28    Whitten          58,037     57,036        0      9,142
28    Garcia          219,408    104,225        0    115,183
30    Hamilton        555,455    460,356   15,014     95,098
30    Crockett        502,506    384,575        0    117,931
34    Gonzalez      1,990,337  2,021,196        0  1,339,633
34    Flores          347,758    227,100        0    120,657
38    Hunt          3,385,520  1,743,508        0  1,865,954
38    Klussman        121,440     72,934    7,000     48,505
38    Alexander        33,812     30,882        0      2,930

I’ve taken out the people who are no longer running after the primaries, and I’ve removed some districts that aren’t particularly interesting for the general election; CD30 will be the next to go once that runoff is settled. Still a long list, but it will be shorter for Q3.

It’s weird to see the two nominees in CD03 having less than $10K on hand at this point in the cycle, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Keith Self was supposed to be in a runoff, one he just barely squeaked into, but then Rep. Van Taylor self-immolated, resetting everything in the race. I’m sure Self will post much bigger numbers for July. I would hope that Sandeep Srivastava is able to capitalize a bit as well – this district isn’t really competitive on paper, especially not in a tough year for Dems, but Collin County overall has been moving rapidly in a blue direction, and a good showing by Srivastava could put him in strong shape for 2024, which may be a much better year to run there. I’d love to see him at $250-300K raised in the Q3 report.

Also remarkable for his modest total is Rep. Troy Nehls, who really stands out in a “one of these things is not like the others” when compared to Reps. Chip Roy, Tony Gonzales, and Beth Van Duyne. I don’t know if this reflects a lack of interest in fundraising on his part, a lack of interest in him by the donor class, a lack of urgency given that his opponent hasn’t raised anything, or some combination. CD22 is another district that I expect to be competitive in a couple of cycles, so if Nehls proves to be a lackluster fundraiser that could be an issue down the line.

We’ve talked about the CD34 special election and the financial edge that the Republicans should have in it. The filing deadline for that was in April, so the candidates in that election, other than Mayra Flores who is the GOP candidate for November, is on this list. Flores also has less money than I would have thought, but as with Keith Self I expect that to grow between now and the next report. There will be some interim reports available before the election on June 14, I’ll check in on that in a few weeks.

Not much else to say at this time. Let me know what you think.

Here’s your public meeting schedule for Houston City Council redistricting

Attend one and be In The Know.

Houston residents will have a chance to preview potential changes to Houston’s 11 City Council districts at a series of public town hall meetings in April and May.

[…]

The town hall meetings will start at 6 p.m. Residents can find redistricting information, sign up for meetings, ask questions and submit comments at letstalkhouston.org/redistricting.

The meetings are set for:

Tuesday, April 19 : District E, Councilmember Dave Martin, Kingwood Park Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Dr., Kingwood

Monday, April 25: District H, Councilmember Karla Cisneros, Moody Park Community Center, 3725 Fulton St.

Tuesday, April 26: District A, Councilmember Amy Peck, Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.

Monday, May 2: District J, Councilmember Edward Pollard, Sharpstown Park Community Center, 6855 Harbor Town Dr.

Tuesday, May 3: District C, Councilmember Abbie Kamin, Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Blvd.

Wednesday, May 4: : District K, Councilmember Martha Castex-Tatum, Fountain Life Center 14083 S. Main St.

Tuesday, May 10: District I, Councilmember Robert Gallegos, HCC Southeast Campus, 6815 Rustic St.

Thursday, May 12: District G, Councilmember Mary Nan Huffman, Grace Presbyterian Church, 10221 Ella Lee Lane.

Monday, May 16: District D, Councilmember Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, HCC South Campus, 1990 Airport Blvd.

Tuesday, May 17: District F, Councilmember Tiffany Thomas, Alief ISD Center of Talent Development, 14411 Westheimer

Wednesday, May 18: District E, Councilmember Dave Martin, Johnson Space Center Special Event Room, 2101 E. NASA Pkwy.

Thursday, May 19: District B, Councilmember Tarsha Jackson, Acres Home Multi-Service Center, Senior Service Room, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd.

See here and here for some background. Most likely these will end up being minor changes, unless there’s further effort to get rid of the At Large positions. That said, there’s always some support for or opposition to joining or splitting particular neighborhoods – there was an effort to put all of the Heights into a single Council district back in 2011, for example – and that might be a thing that you have opinions about. Attend one or more of these meetings and find out for yourself.

Second lawsuit filed over Galveston redistricting

Similar grounds, different plaintiffs.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A coalition of civil rights groups in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Galveston County, alleging that the county’s redistricting plan intentionally discriminates against a growing minority population in the Gulf Coast community.

The complaint, shared first with CNN, marks the second lawsuit that seeks to overturn maps approved by the Republican majority on the county’s governing body. Last month, the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against the county on similar grounds — in a redistricting dispute that has garnered national attention.

The new lawsuit — brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of local branches of the NAACP and the Galveston League of United Latin American Citizens Council 151 — alleges that the new map diminishes the voting power of Black and Hispanic voters by splitting up the only majority-minority precinct.

The new map endangers the reelection of Stephen Holmes, the county’s only Black commissioner, who has served on the board for 22 years. Holmes is next on the ballot in 2024.

The lawsuit alleges the Republicans majority pushed through a “racially discriminatory map” that “largely took place behind closed doors.”

Sarah Chen, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the map — and the process used by the Republican majority in the county to approve it — “egregious examples of people in power … exercising that power to dilute the votes of racial minorities.”

[…]

Both this lawsuit and the complaint by the Justice Department underscore the difficult legal terrain that voting rights advocates now face in challenging alleged discriminatory maps. This cycle marks the first round of redistricting since the US Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the so-called preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That provision required states with a history of discrimination to first obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.

With those powers gone, the Justice Department’s lawsuit relies largely on another section of the federal voting rights law, Section 2, which puts the burden on the federal government to prove its case.

The lawsuit filed Thursday cites Section 2, but also argues that map violates the constitutional rights of Black and Latino voters to equal protection of the law.

Chen said civil rights groups are looking for “different pathways” in voting rights cases “because victory is never assured.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the complaint. The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is co-counsel along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has a tweet thread about this as well. I haven’t read through the two of them so I can’t say where they are specifically similar and different, but the coverage suggests they have overlap. It won’t surprise me if these two lawsuits are eventually combined. I remain less than confident that the plaintiffs will get the relief they seek given the hostility the federal courts have shown towards voting rights in recent years, but I will say that I’m old enough to remember a day when a white majority reducing the political power of communities of color for the reasons of “because we can, that’s why” was considered to be in poor taste. I feel like we should try to return to those days, but what do I know? Daily Kos has more.

Sen. Powell ends her re-election bid

Disappointing but understandable.

Sen. Beverly Powell

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, ended her reelection campaign Wednesday morning, citing an “unwinnable race” in a district that Republican lawmakers had redrawn to make a Democratic win impossible.

“Under the new map that will remain intact through November, the results of the 2022 election are predetermined,” she said in a video message published Wednesday morning. “Election prospects for any candidate who relies on a diverse voter coalition will be thwarted. So after a great deal of thought, prayer and consultation with family, friends and supporters, I have decided to withdraw my name from the ballot.

“I cannot in good faith ask my dedicated supporters to spend time and contribute precious resources on an unwinnable race,” she said. “That time and those resources are better spent on efforts that will advance our causes and on the continuing efforts to restore voting rights.”

In withdrawing her nomination, Powell all but gives the election to Republican nominee state Rep. Phil King of Weatherford. Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, said on Twitter that the Texas Democratic Party can only replace its nominee if Powell is withdrawing due to a catastrophic illness, no other party has a nominee, or she’s appointed or elected to another office.

[…]

Powell and a group of the district’s voters and civil rights organizations sued the state in federal court to block the map’s implementation for the March primary. But a three-judge panel in El Paso denied their request to block the map’s use in the primary, keeping it in place until later in the year when the panel will hold hearings on challenges to the state’s political maps for the Texas House, Senate, Board of Education and congressional seats.

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

In her message, Powell said the newly drawn map will be in effect “for at least the November general election.”

Powell said she will continue to serve through the end of her term in January and will look for other opportunities to serve the public.

“Serving as your Texas state senator has been the honor of my lifetime,” she said. “Thank you for entrusting me with this sacred privilege.”

See here and here for some background. SD10 was easily the main Republican target in redistricting, going from 53-45 Biden to 57-41 Trump in the process. It’s likely to trend Democratic over this decade as it did over the previous one, but even an optimistic projection would suggest 2026 or 2028 before it might become competitive. I hate the idea of giving up on a district, even if it’s not winnable, on the grounds that local campaigns are a part of the overall turnout effort, but if the idea behind this is to do some triage and direct funds away from a race like this one, where an endangered incumbent could generate a lot of cash for their likely-to-be-doomed effort, and to ones with a greater chance of success, I can’t argue with it. I thank Sen. Powell for her service and hope that we have better luck with the lawsuit and the demographic trends. Reform Austin has more.

The dark side of redistricting litigation

The state of Texas is taking a big swing in defense of its gerrymanders, and if they connect it’s going to be devastating.

Beyond the immediate legal fight over whether Texas lawmakers again discriminated against voters of color when drawing new political districts, a quieter war is being waged that could dramatically constrict voting rights protections nationwide for years to come.

For decades, redistricting in Texas has tracked a familiar rhythm — new maps are followed by claims of discrimination and lawsuits asking federal courts to step in. Over the years, Texas lawmakers have repeatedly been ordered to correct gerrymandering that suppressed the political power of Black and Hispanic voters.

The pathway to federal court has been through the Voting Rights Act. Key portions of the landmark law have been weakened in the last decade, but Texans of color still find a way to file lawsuits under its Section 2, which prohibits discriminatory voting procedures and practices that deny voters of color an equal opportunity to participate in elections.

Those protections are the vehicle being used by voters and various civil rights groups to challenge political maps for Congress and the state legislature drawn by Texas Republicans in 2021 to account for population growth. In what promises to be a protracted court fight, Texas will defend itself against accusations that it discriminated — in some cases intentionally — against voters of color.

But tucked into the legal briefs the state has filed with a three-judge panel considering the redistricting lawsuits are two arguments that reach far beyond the validity of the specific maps being challenged.

First, the Texas attorney general’s office is arguing that private individuals — like the average voters and civil rights groups now suing the state — don’t have standing to bring lawsuits under Section 2. That would leave only the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue alleged violations of the act, putting enforcement in the hands of the political party in power.

Second, the state argues that Section 2 does not apply to redistricting issues at all.

Should either argument prevail — which would almost certainly require it to be embraced by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that has already struck down other portions of the law — the courthouse door will be slammed shut on many future lawsuits over discriminatory map-drawing and voting practices.

“Fundamentally, this Supreme Court thinks we are past the time in which we need the Voting Rights Act, so of course if you’re a state like Texas, you’re going to bring every argument that’s ever been made to challenge the constitutionality of the rest of it,” said Franita Tolson, a vice dean and law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

[…]

The turnover at the Supreme Court has cracked the door for “audacious attacks on Section 2,” that would have “never had a chance” under previous iterations of the court, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who specializes in voting law. Texas is trying to push the door wide open.

In legal briefs, Texas’ argument that Section 2 does not apply to redistricting relies almost exclusively on a series of comments in opinions by Justice Clarence Thomas, who has plainly endorsed the idea in cases dating back to 1994. Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee who joined the court in 2017, echoed the view in one of Thomas’ recent opinions.

In a recent case over Arizona voting laws, Thomas and Gorsuch also joined an opinion indicating they agreed with the argument Texas is offering now that private individuals cannot sue to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The fallout if the Supreme Court agreed with the state on either argument would be radical, upending long established procedures for litigating claims of discrimination in voting and redistricting, and making it harder to enforce what has endured as the chief federal protection for voters of color in a post-preclearance world.

Covering its bets, the state is also pressing a backup argument — that even if individual voters are allowed to sue under Section 2, organizations that serve voters of color cannot bring claims on their behalf. That could knock out of the box groups like the NAACP and LULAC who may have more resources and membership across the state to prop up the complex challenges.

If affirmed by the court, that prospect would put even more pressure on private individuals to protect themselves from alleged discrimination by the state, said Noor Taj, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who is representing various civil rights and community groups that serve Texans of color, particularly Asian Texans, in a lawsuit against the maps.

“It’s either taking their rights altogether or increasing the burden,” Taj said. “Both ends of that are problematic and incorrect.”

If the high court ultimately decides redistricting lawsuits simply aren’t allowed under Section 2, the recourse left for Texans of color to challenge political maps would be litigation under the U.S. Constitution’s broader promise of equal protection.

That would require challengers to show lawmakers intentionally discriminated against them — “which is the hardest case to win, particularly before a Supreme Court,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The state’s efforts to overturn protections for voters of color is ironic given its long history of violating the same law it is now looking to gut, said Perales, who is suing the state over its latest maps on behalf of a group of individual voters and organizations that represent Latinos.

“Since the beginning of the modern era of decennial redistricting, Texas has been found liable for violating the voting rights of Latinos in every single cycle,” Perales said.

The more “aggressive attacks” on Section 2 have come as it’s getting harder for Republicans to comply with the law while preserving their power, Hasen said.

If you can’t comply with the law but you have the power to change it so that you don’t have to, well, it’s obvious what you’ll do. The state’s arguments have not gained any purchase with the three-judge panel at the district court level, but we know where it goes from there. The Democrats would like to do something at the national level about this, but as long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are deciding votes, they don’t actually have the power. (Beating Ken Paxton this fall would also help, but this argument is going to get before SCOTUS one way or another eventually regardless.) And so we get to watch this play out like a slow-motion train wreck, and we’re all standing close enough to it to be collateral damage. Isn’t that nice?

Chron story on City Council redistricting

Lots more info now.

As Houston begins to redraw its City Council map for the 2023 elections, two districts representing western portions of the city, including Montrose, the Heights, River Oaks, and Uptown, among other neighborhoods, have out-sized populations that likely will have to be reduced, according to census data.

Meanwhile, majority-Hispanic districts on the Near Northside, East End and in southwest Houston — predominantly Sharpstown and Gulfton — now include fewer residents than the average district and likely will have to expand.

The population distribution, released district-by-district on Tuesday, is based on the 2020 census, which the city must use to create new boundaries. That survey was conducted during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and under-counted Hispanic and Black populations nationally, according to the Census Bureau.

[…]

City staff presented the population numbers but have not yet begun to discuss how to redraw the lines. They are aiming to maintain relatively equal population numbers, have easily identifiable boundaries, and retain the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interest.

Another priority: “preserve incumbent-constituency relations,” which means they will try to keep communities in their existing districts when possible. That also makes it unlikely any incumbent council member will be drawn out of his or her district. Eight of the 11 current district council members are eligible to run for re-election.

While redistricting often is overtly political at the county, state and national levels, city offices are nonpartisan. City council redistricting is more focused on balancing populations and demographic representation.

Residents can sign up for meetings, ask questions and submit comments at letstalkhouston.org/redistricting. In addition to 11 district council members, the city has five at-large council members elected by voters citywide. Houston is the only large city in Texas that still elects at-large members.

The city has hired a law firm, Thompson & Horton, to help the planning and legal departments produce the maps and defend against any legal challenges.

One such lawsuit already has been promised. The League of United Latin American Citizens has said it plans to target Houston’s at-large seats, arguing they should be replaced with four seats in heavily Hispanic districts. Hispanic residents make up 45 percent of the population, but only one council member right now is Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I.

The group also plans to pursue a charter amendment, which would present the same argument to city voters.

“It’s just a glaring example of inequitable representation.” said Sergio Lira, a local leader with LULAC. When other cities converted at-large seats to district members, he added, “the effect was more minority representation.”

See here and here for some background. This PowerPoint presentation is a good overview including the current district populations, and the Let’s Talk Houston page for redistricting has the schedule, the current Council map, the dates for each community meeting, and more. I don’t have anything else to add, I’ll obviously be paying close attention to all this, and I would encourage you to attend one of those community meetings if you can, they will have a lot to offer for you.

City Council redistricting is on the dock

Here’s a schedule of events related to redistricting for Houston City Council. Some of this has already happened. Last week, unless it got tagged in which case it will come up again at the next Council meeting, Council should have adopted a “Resolution containing Redistricting Criteria for establishing single-member Council districts and Redistricting Guidelines for proposed plans from the public”. As we know, Council districts need to be approximately the same size, with a bit of wiggle room on either end, and as of the 2020 Census there are some significant differences that will need to be ironed out.

Normally, and unlike ten years ago when two new districts needed to be added as a result of a lawsuit settlement from years before, this is no big deal. Move a few precincts around to get everyone within constitutionally acceptable ranges, and move on. There are some other items that will surely come up, including the elimination of At Large seats and the separation of Clear Lake and Kingwood into their own districts. Those are optional, and much less likely to happen, though there will be voices calling for them. There will be community input town halls in April and May, a draft plan produced in June, public hearings in July, a revised plan based on feedback from those town halls in August, and if all goes well, an adopted plan in September. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about at each step of the way.