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Sarah Davis

Maybe that Republican convention won’t happen after all

First, there was this.

The Texas Medical Association is encouraging Texans to practice social distancing, stay home when possible and wear masks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. But despite the potential mixed message it may send, the state’s largest medical organization said Monday it is not reconsidering its sponsorship of the Texas Republican convention next month. Some 6,000 people from across the state are expected to gather indoors without a mask mandate at the convention in Houston, one of the nation’s fastest-growing COVID-19 hot spots.

A spokesperson for TMA, which represents more than 53,000 Texas physicians and medical students, told The Texas Tribune that it will honor its commitment to the event.

“The agreement will not be revisited,” Brent Annear said in an email Monday.

He added that despite the fact that the GOP organizers won’t require attendees to wear masks, TMA “encourages everyone who goes anywhere to wear masks.”

“To our Republican friends — and our Democrat friends (and independents and those of other parties) — we say wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant if you must be in groups, and stay home if you can,” Annear said.

[…]

Annear said TMA’s agreement with the Republican Party of Texas was set in stone “before the pandemic was a major issue here — before we hit any stay-home suggestions or mandates, mask policies or anything like that.”

And because the group signed on to the sponsorship before the pandemic began and “no conditions like that were discussed,” it will not back out of the agreement, he said.

“This low-rung sponsorship entitles TMA to have a brief video play for the conventiongoers that reminds them that Texas physicians are here to care for Texas patients,” Annear said. “We paid the same low-level sponsor amount to the Democrats for their convention, and we had a video play during their virtual convention with essentially the same message.”

Dr. Diana Fite, the president of the Texas Medical Association, wrote in an online letter to Texas physicians that they should encourage patients, friends and family members to “for your sake, for your neighbors’ sake, for my sake, and for your grandma’s sake, wear a mask, Texas.”

Earlier this spring, TMA canceled its own annual conference, TexMed 2020, which was scheduled to take place from May 1-2 in Fort Worth, and suspended the 2020 TMA House of Delegates meeting both in-person and online “until the crisis has subsided.”

See here for the background. I get the rationale for participating in the convention and have no quarrel with that. But my goodness, this is not a great look for the TMA. It’s really hard to make the case for wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding risky behavior, etc etc etc, when you’re hanging out at a crowded indoor venue with a bunch of people who thinks mask wearing is a commie plot meant to bring down the President. It’s exactly this kind of mixed message that has gotten us into the trouble we’re in now. And boy, that’s some weak justification by the TMA.

But it turns out, there was another option. And so on Tuesday, we got this.

The Texas Medical Association on Tuesday called on the Republican Party of Texas to cancel its in-person July convention scheduled to take place in Houston, one of the country’s fastest growing coronavirus hot spots.

The latest development comes one day after The Texas Tribune reported on the Texas Medical Association’s sponsorship of the convention, an indoor gathering that is not requiring masks of the 6,000 people expected to attend. On Monday, TMA told the Tribune that it would not rescind its sponsorship. But at the time TMA had not yet called on the Republican Party to cancel its convention.

In an open letter to party leadership Tuesday, Dr. Diana Fite, TMA president, cited the growing number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Harris County as a reason for the Texas Republican Party to cancel its Houston convention. The county has the highest number of cases and deaths in the state.

“The daily chart of active cases in Harris County has been nearly a straight line upward for the past two weeks,” Fite wrote. “As an emergency physician in Houston treating patients with COVID-19, I speak from firsthand experience: It would be best for the health of your conventiongoers and the residents of Houston for the RPT not to hold its biennial convention there as planned.”

TMA said it made $5,000 contributions to both the Republican Party of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party in exchange for a brief video advertising TMA’s mission at each convention.

“Our staff reassured RPT staff that TMA would advertise in a virtual gathering, but asked that if an in-person meeting would occur to please utilize CDC, state and local guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks,” Fite wrote Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday, Fite said a variety of factors influenced TMA’s decision to send a letter to the Republican Party of Texas, including pressure from members after The Tribune’s story published.

“We were hearing from a lot of members and some of our board members were concerned,” she said. “And so we definitely want to discuss that situation. We had just heard very recently that the event was going to be held in Houston.”

[…]

Fite’s letter mentioned that TMA previously canceled its own in-person convention in May, stating that “like the RPT, a sizeable fraction of the TMA annual convention consists of longtime activists and leaders — men and women who are now at that age where they are particularly susceptible to the worst that a case of COVID-19 can deliver.”

Protecting the group’s elderly members was “among the reasons” TMA canceled its May convention, Fite said, and is urging the Texas GOP to do the same.

“This is just not the time to bring thousands of the party faithful from around the state to an indoor meeting in a county that, as I write, reports more than 18,000 active COVID-19 cases,” Fite said.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I mean, yeah. Anyone can see the logic in Dr. Fite’s argument. As the story notes, the RPT is actually thinking about it. Scott Braddock is on the spot.

I’ll post an update when I see one. This is clearly the right answer. It may be difficult for the GOP to switch to a virtual convention now, given that the real thing was scheduled to start July 16, but that’s on them. The risk/reward calculation is clear. They just have to recognize it.

UPDATE: Still in wait-and-see mode:

The Texas GOP’s plan for an in-person convention next month in Houston is looking increasingly uncertain as criticism mounts over plans to host thousands of people indoors as the new coronavirus surges across the state.

Party Chair James Dickey said Tuesday that the State Republican Executive Committee will meet Thursday to consider options for the future of the event, which he assured includes an “ultimate contingency plan” to move the event online.

“We have prepared for an online convention as the ultimate contingency plan if we are forced by a government order at any level and not able to hold our convention in person,” Dickey said during a livestreamed announcement Tuesday evening. “We’ve had that plan in place since the beginning of the pandemic so that we can be fully prepared for any turn of events.”

The State Republican Executive Committee, a 64-member body including Dickey and Vice Chair Alma Jackson, could take action ranging from mandating masks at what is expected to be a roughly 6,000-person event to relocating it to another city or moving the convention online.

[…]

State Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston-area Republican, said it seemed “incredibly irresponsible” to hold such a large gathering and said she does not plan to attend this year’s event.

“I think it’s a horrible idea to proceed with holding the in-person convention,” Davis told the Tribune on Tuesday. “Houston is the last place we need to have a crowd of 6,000 gathering, given our COVID-19 positivity rate increases.”

Other Republicans, such as state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, have brushed aside such concerns, arguing instead that Texans should return to some sense of normal in an effort to prevent further damage to the economy.

“Canceling the convention sends the exact opposite message that Republicans should be sending,” Hall said in a statement Tuesday. “There is no reason to cancel a gathering that will help unite Republicans behind a limited government platform.”

Well, good luck unifying your factions. We’ll see what they decide tomorrow night.

From the “Live by the leaked audio, die by the leaked audio” department

Oh, the irony.

Two staffers for the hardline conservative group Empower Texans have been caught on an audio recording disparaging Gov. Greg Abbott with profanity and joking about his wheelchair use.

Upon the comments surfacing Friday morning, Abbott’s office and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick denounced them and Empower Texans said the staffers were “suspended from all public activities with the organization immediately.”

The comments came on an unedited version of the group’s podcast, Texas Scorecard Radio, featuring Empower Texans’ vice president, Cary Cheshire, and general counsel, Tony McDonald. The audio was published — apparently inadvertently — Thursday. The unedited version was replaced with an edited episode later in the day.

After the show ends in the unedited version, McDonald and Cheshire laugh about references they made to Abbott that could be perceived as highlighting the fact he has used a wheelchair since being partially paralyzed in a 1984 accident.

“I feel like before there was a switch I could flip to avoid that, and I’m just so frustrated that I’ve flipped it off,” Cheshire says. “He’s such a revolting piece of shit.”

The two had been venting over Abbott’s recent comments allowing local officials to order businesses to require customers to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. The governor’s approval of such policies came after a stretch of confusion over what exactly local officials could do to mandate regarding mask use under his statewide orders. In clarifying the statewide mask rules earlier this week, Abbott said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff had “finally figured” out what was allowed.

The sentiments by Cheshire and McDonald are not dissimilar from criticism of Abbott they have lodged publicly, though without profanity and reference to his disability. Empower Texans and some other hard-right activists have been generally critical of Abbott lately for ceding too much power to big-city Democratic leaders to fight the virus.

“It’s like, I have created this riddle for you and you have figured out how to fuck your citizens with it — ‘Great job, I’m with you,'” Cheshire says in the unedited podcast while talking about Abbott’s mask confusion. “And it’s like, you’re an awful piece of shit.”

McDonald adds that Abbott “created a shitty policy that’s vague because he wanted to avoid accountability.” As for Abbott’s eventual clarification that counties and cities can require businesses to mandate mask wearing, McDonald says, “Well, just like, fuckin’ say it. Don’t clown around. ‘You read between the lines.’ Well, fuck you.”

It was the Quorum Report that broke the story, though of course much of what they wrote is behind their paywall. You can hear the full audio here. Somewhere, I figure future ex-Speaker Dennis Bonnen is grimly enjoying a double Scotch and a cigarette.

Let’s make three points here. One of course is that lots of people, myself included, have criticized Abbott’s ridiculous “riddle me this” statement as well. He’s been doing his best to dodge accountability for his own actions, and non-actions, all along, and he deserves all the brickbats he’s gotten for it. The issue here, in addition to their awful ableist slurs, is that Empower Texans themselves, from their wingnut billionaire sugar daddy Tim Dunn to their loathsome leader Michael Quinn Sullivan on down to their staffers, are the epitome of shitty politics in Texas. (Note that while Sullivan made a typically pious statement about how “unacceptable” this was and how “heartbroken” it made him, moneybags Dunn has not said anything yet.) You don’t have to believe me about this. Go read what a former staffer had to say, or go have a look at some of Cary Cheshire’s tweets. These guys are the worst.

Two, they’re also huge supporters of many elected Republicans, including the likes of Dan Patrick, who did a little pearl clutching of his own. I’m sure he went right back to counting all the money he’s gotten from them in the past.

And on that note, credit where credit is due:

Pretty sure no one, least of all Dollar Bill Dan, will be handing their donations back to Empower Texans. The Chron has more.

A bipartisan equality bill

I appreciate the effort, but we can’t expect too much to come of this.

Five Democratic and two Republican state legislators announced plans Wednesday to file a bill next legislative session that would bar discrimination against LGBTQ Texans in housing, employment and public spaces.

The bill, which has the early support of state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, and Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would extend protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are 21 states that already have enacted such policies.

“Quite frankly, we are already behind the curve on this issue,” Davis said. “Nondiscrimination is not just good for LGBTQ community, but it’s good for all Texans.”

Lawmakers rolled out the bill during a virtual news conference where they touted an economic study that found a statewide nondiscrimination policy would generate $738 million in state revenue and $531 million in local government revenue next biennium. It also would add 180,000 new jobs in technology and tourism by 2025, the study found. The benefits, the authors said, largely would come from Texas’ greater ability to attract talent and heightened opportunity for tourism and conventions.

“We should want to treat people fairly because it’s the right thing to do, whether it has economic effects or not,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco-based economist who led the study. “This shouldn’t be the reason to do it, but it is a very important aspect of it in today’s society, and there are very significant economic costs associated with discrimination.”

The legislation likely will face strong headwinds in the Republican-controlled Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the upper chamber, prominently opposed a similar measure that was rejected by Houston voters in 2015, and later backed the so-called bathroom bill opposed by LGBTQ advocates that would have required people to use facilities matching the gender identity on their birth certificates.

The lawmakers largely dismissed political concerns Wednesday, arguing instead that their early push for the bill — more than seven months before the session is slated to begin — heightens their odds of passing it.

“I think a lot of this is going to take talking to our colleagues and explaining the results of this study,” said Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, a member of the House LGBTQ Caucus and author of the bill. “It’s going to take a lot of groundwork.”

[…]

The bill faces good odds of passing the lower chamber, where Democrats have gained ground and some Republicans have moderated their positions, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. He was less bullish on the bill’s chances in the Senate.

“It’s a different animal on that side of the chamber,” Rottinghaus said. “You do all the political calculations and it’s a tall order to get it passed. But, in some ways it’s a marker: these members see the future of Texas as one where the economy needs to be put front and center, and if that theory can get some grip among the members, then there’s hope for it in the future. But as it is now, it’s a pretty tough sell.”

That’s really about all there is to it. This bill may pass the House, but if so then Dan Patrick will stick it in a shredder, have the shredder blown up by the bomb squad, and then have the debris shipped to Oklahoma. We ain’t getting a bill like this passed while he’s Lite Guv, and that’s even before we consider getting it signed and then having it reasonably enforced by the Attorney General. It’s nice that there are two House Republicans willing to sign on to this – no, really, that is important and could very well matter if we oust Patrick in 2022 but still have a Republican-controlled Senate – but it will take either more of them than that to get this passed, or fewer Republicans in the House overall. I don’t know who our next Speaker will be, but I like the odds of this passing with a Democrat appointing committee chairs than with pretty much any Republican that could inherit the gavel. Needless to say, one way of getting the requisite number of Dems in the House is to oust Sarah Davis, as her seat is high on the list of pickup possibilities. Todd Hunter’s HD32 is on that list as well, but farther down; if he loses in November, Dems have had a very, very good day.

Let’s be clear that lots of substantive bills take more than one session to get passed, so bringing this up now even without any assurance that it could get out of committee is the right call. Start talking about this now – the real benefits a true equality bill would bring, the ridiculous arguments that opponents will throw at it, and very importantly the potential legal pitfalls that the true wingnuts and their sympathetic judges will try to exploit – and we’ll be better positioned when the timing is better. I can’t say when that might be – elections have consequences, I’m told – but it’s best to be prepared.

Chron overview of HD134

Is this the year Sarah Davis loses? That’s the question.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The March primaries are weeks away, but the first question at a recent forum for the three Democrats running to unseat state Rep. Sarah Davis centered on November: “How do you plan to win this race if you are the nominee?”

The answer has evaded Democrats since the 2010 tea party wave, when Davis flipped the highly affluent and educated House District 134. Widely viewed as the most moderate Republican in the Texas House, she comfortably has retained the seat in four subsequent elections, despite strong headwinds atop the ballot the last two cycles.

Those electoral results are on the minds of voters, and the candidates themselves, in the sleepy Democratic primary between educator Lanny Bose and attorneys Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers. With little evidence of public rancor between them, they instead are directing their attacks toward Davis’ record, each trying to convince voters of their ability to beat her in November.

“My attitude is, we’ve got three folks who are applying to be team captain. I’m going to be a part of this race in the general whether or not my name is on the ballot,” Bose said. “This primary is about talking about our shared vision for what this seat and what Houston should look like.”

[…]

Republicans are skeptical Democrats will be able to wield the Abbott endorsement against Davis, or that she will lose under even the most unfavorable conditions.

“I don’t think the voters really — other than the inside baseball participants — care about political endorsements,” said Chris Beavers, a Republican strategist who is not involved in the race. “They care about service, and there is nobody who serves their district more passionately and fully than Sarah Davis does.”

Last cycle, Davis accurately predicted that some statewide Republicans could lose her district — which encompasses the Texas Medical Center, Southside Place, Bellaire, Rice University and West University Place, where she lives — amid a “blue wave” of Democratic voters. The results varied wildly: Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won 60 percent of the House District 134 vote, while Republican Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick narrowly beat her Democratic opponent there.

Davis captured 53 percent, winning by about 5,600 votes out of nearly 89,000.

That, Davis said, shows the district’s voters “cross the ballot to vote for people, not for parties.”

“My opponents who refer to the district as ‘flippable’ just don’t get it,” Davis said. “It isn’t about the party label, it’s about representing the priorities of this unique district regardless of party.”

Here’s the sum total of Republicans who carried HD134 in 2018:
Ed Emmett (56.31%) beat Lina Hidalgo (41.46%).
Glenn Hegar (48.60%) beat Joi Chavalier (48.52%).
Christi Craddick (49.00%) beat Roman McAllen (48.60%).
Seven Republican judicial candidates out of 74 total judicial races.

That’s it. Every other Republican, running for every other office, lost in HD134. Some by a hair, others by a landslide, they all lost. You can hang your hat on Christi Craddick and Glenn Hegar if you want, those are some strong headwinds.

It’s also the key reason why HD134 looks so much more winnable than in the past. Far fewer Democrats won HD134 in 2016, including judicial candidates. The district wasn’t just blue at the tippy top in 2018, it was blue pretty much all the way through.

There are plenty of antecedents for this race. Former Congressman Chet Edwards won three races in a very Republican, DeLay-redrawn district, until 2010 when a bunch of people who used to vote for him decided they were better represented by a Republican. Former State Rep. Ellen Cohen won two terms in this same HD134, which was about as Republican downballot then as it is Democratic now, until 2010 when a bunch of voters who had once supported her decided they were better represented by someone like Sarah Davis. I’m not saying that’s how this election, under very similar circumstances, will go. I’m just saying we’ve seen elections like it before. The voters there may still decide that she represents them well, regardless of her party. Or they may decide that even if she is the best that the Republican Party has to offer these days, the fact that it’s the Republican Party that’s making the offering is enough for them to change their minds.

That’s the point that the three Dems running for the nomination, all of whom are running actual, active, engaged campaigns unlike Davis’ opponent in 2018, would like to make with the voters. You may say that boiling this down to red versus blue is a disservice to the voters, and that making up their own independent non-partisan minds is more valuable. I say the difference between re-electing Sarah Davis and ousting her in favor of one of those three fine Dems is at least possibly the difference between a State House that spends 2021 passing a bunch of anti-trans bills and anti-abortion bills and anti-immigrant bills (Sarah Davis co-sponsored SB4, the “show me your papers” bill, and voted for the sonogram bill in 2011, in case you’ve forgotten) and new maps that heavily favor Republicans, and a State House that doesn’t do those things. The voters can decide for themselves which of those outcomes they prefer.

In case you need a reminder, my interviews with the HD134 candidates are here:

Ann Johnson
Ruby Powers
Lanny Bose

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House, part 1

I’m going to take a two-part look at the finance reports in State House districts. Part One will be from Harris County, looking at both contested primaries and contested November races. Part Two will focus on races in the counties around Harris. Previous entries in this series include Harris County offices, and statewide races.

Undrai Fizer, HD126
Natali Hurtado, HD126

Sam Harless, HD126

Josh Markle, HD128
Mary Williams, HD128

Briscoe Cain, HD128
Robert Hoskins, HD128

Kayla Alix, HD129

Dennis Paul, HD129
Ryan Lee, HD129

Bryan Henry, HD130

Tom Oliverson (PAC), HD130

Alma Allen, HD131
Carey Lashley, HD131
Deondre Moore, HD131
Elvonte Patton, HD131

Gina Calanni, HD132

Angelica Garcia, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133

Jim Murphy (PAC), HD133

Lanny Bose, HD134
Ann Johnson, HD134
Ruby Powers, HD134

Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135

Merrilee Beazley, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Jenifer Pool, HD138
Josh Wallenstein, HD138

Josh Flynn, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138
Claver Kamau-Imani, HD138

Jarvis Johnson, HD139
Angeanette Thibodeaux, HD139

Senfronia Thompson, HD141
Willie Franklyn, HD141

Harold Dutton, HD142
Richard Bonton, HD142
Jerry Davis, HD142
Natasha Ruiz, HD142

Shawn Thierry, HD146
Ashton Woods, HD146

Garnet Coleman, HD147
Colin Ross, HD147
Aurelia Wagner, HD147

Anna Eastman, HD148
Adrian P. Garcia, HD148
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, HD148
Penny Shaw, HD148
Emily Wolf, HD148

Lui La Rotta, HD148

Michael Walsh, HD150

Valoree Swanson, HD150


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Fizer            800       319        0         500
Hurtado       25,091     9,588        0      11,752

Harless       73,265    11,022   20,000     103,669

Markle        78,906    12,426        0      68,081
Williams

Cain         125,891    39,462        0     133,616
Hoskins        4,575    26,033        0       3,804

Alix           2,141     1,343        0         898

Paul          85,621    38,444  156,000     116,486
Lee           10,720     4,779        0       5,879

Henry          3,385     2,901        0       3,385

Oliverson     56,555    62,895   60,000     101,693

Allen         11,100    13,251        0      32,798
Lashley
Moore
Patton        43,075     1,100        0      10,000

Calanni       82,002    24,571        0      70,770

Garcia        28,045    20,076        0      21,309
Schofield     27,400    24,152        0     152,549

Moore          2,000     2,539        0       1,502

Murphy       120,076   132,583        0     487,913

Bose          54,573    13,702        0      40,871
Johnson       58,287    31,075        0     148,054
Powers        43,015    40,852        0      18,299

Davis         89,750    76,040        0     230,958

Rosenthal     70,841    42,143        0      41,320

Beazley            0       465        0           0
Ray           52,666    24,644        0      47,082

Bacy          28,066     6,799        0      14,455
Pool
Wallenstein   42,137    35,766   10,000      51,786

Flynn         12,080    20,761        0       9,166
Hull          50,068     4,551        0      45,516
Kamau-Imani   18,800     2,229        0      16,570

Johnson        8,775     3,619    2,500      26,946
Thibodeaux     7,000     2,069        0       4,931

Thompson     104,216   136,801        0     889,738
Franklyn           0     1,873        0       1,336

Dutton        26,876    16,676        0      79,263
Bonton
Davis        139,565     9,787        0     129,928
Ruiz

Thierry       13,710    11,825        0      13,446
Woods          1,485     1,263        0       1,690

Coleman       97,990   129,532        0     110,589
Ross
Wagner

Eastman       75,378    57,861        0      33,967
Garcia        12,100     2,500        0       4,000
Reyes-Revilla  3,547         0    8,000       3,547
Shaw          11,635    15,531   34,000      15,454
Wolf               0         0      200         235

La Rotta      11,280    10,602        0       4,095

Walsh              0        33        0          33

Swanson       10,201    27,643   34,040      34,657

You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post about the finance reports in the top tier House races. I don’t have the bandwidth to look at all of them, so check them out for their reporting on it.

There are several contested Democratic primaries, including five challenges to incumbents in safe D districts. This was a popular pastime in the 2000s, during the Craddick era – Alma Allen beat Ron Wilson, Armando Walle beat Kevin Bailey, Borris Miles took three out of four against Al Edwards. The latter of those occurred in 2012, and while there have been primary opponents to incumbents over the past few cycles, none have come close to succeeding; Edward Pollard in HD137 and Demetria Smith in HD149, both of whom got about 35% in their races in 2016, came closest. The one this year that has the greatest potential to upset the status quo is in HD142, where longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton faces unrest over his role in passing the TEA takeover bill as well as the tumult in City Council District B. Still-current District B incumbent Jerry Davis, who transferred all of his city campaign funds into his State Rep campaign treasury, is the main threat to Dutton. I can’t wait to see how the endorsements play out – Davis has already gotten the nod from the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO, the only challenger to an incumbent in Harris County to do so. Elvonte Patton, who was a candidate for HCDE in the 2018 primary, has a nice fundraising total, but most of that is in kind, and Alma Allen has vanquished previous challengers with 85% or more of the vote in the past.

On the Republican, there’s not much action outside of an attempt to install a grownup in HD128. As I understand it, Robert Hoskins has some establishment support in his effort to knock out Briscoe Cain, but as you can see not a lot of money. We both know which speaks louder.

The four most hotly contested seats, one of which is open, is where the bulk of the action is. All three contenders in HD134 raised similar sums, but Ann Johnson has a commanding lead in cash on hand thanks to a big first half of the year. Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein both raised a few bucks in HD138, with Wallenstein doing a bit better, while Lacey Hull led the pack on the Republican side. I have to assume now that his spot on the ballot is assured, Josh Flynn will ramp it up. Freshman Reps Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal both outpaced the totals of their potential opponents. The HD132 GOP race will be interesting, as Angelica Garcia has Greg Abbott’s endorsement but former Rep. Mike Schofield still has cash left over from his 2018 loss. To some extent, none of these totals matter that much because there will be a ton of PAC money on both sides in all of the competitive districts. Still, a candidate or incumbent who can raise cash on their own is stronger than one who relies mostly on others doing that work.

In HD148, where there’s both a contested primary and a special election runoff (happening now!), the main thing to note is that these totals are all from October 27 through the end of the year, as all of the candidates save Emily Wolf had eight-day finance reports from their November 2019 races. Penny Shaw has gotten a couple of early endorsements, so the 30-day report in early February will tell a more detailed picture for this race. As for the special election runoff, there’s nothing to suggest anything unusual, Erica Greider’s weekend daydreams aside.

Beyond that, not a whole lot else to discuss. Jim Murphy’s cash on hand total is one reason why I speculated he might consider a run for Mayor in 2023 if the Lege is no longer amenable to him. Sarah Davis would probably have more cash on hand right now if she hadn’t had to fend off primary challengers in the past. As above, I’m pretty sure she’ll have the funds she needs to run that race. The Dems have some longer shots out there, with HD126 being the most competitive of them, so keep an eye on Natali Hurtado. I’ll be back next time with the State House races from elsewhere in the region.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

Who might run for Mayor in 2023?

Mayor Sylvester Turner

So Election 2019 is (modulo District B) safely in the books, and Sylvester Turner is in office for his second and final term. In years past at this time I’d be taking a look ahead at the next city election – who’s termed out, who could be vulnerable, who might be priming for a run, etc – but with the next election not until 2023 that seems like a stretch. We can start thinking about who might throw their hat into the ring for Mayor, however. The field in 2015 was quite large, and I’d expect something similar in 2023. Houston Mayor is a prime gig, and it doesn’t come open very often.

I’m going to run down a list of names that seem like potential contenders. I want to stress that this list is entirely the product of my imagination. I have no inside knowledge of anyone’s intentions, and I make no warranty on any of these claims. I’m just thinking out loud. So with that in mind…

Chris Brown – He’s the current City Controller, he’s won twice citywide (which among other things means he’ll be term-limited and thus would need to run for something else, if he wants to stay in city elected office), he’s a strong fundraiser, he’s got a long history in city politics. Annise Parker and Kathy Whitmire were both Controllers before they were Mayors. He does have a bit of baggage, and his win over Orlando Sanchez was not by much, but if there’s one person on this list who would surprise me by not running, it would be Chris Brown.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado – Served three terms as Council member in District I and was Bill White’s Mayor Pro Tem before winning election to the Lege in 2008, and continues to be involved with city issues as a legislator. If she has statewide ambitions – and as a young Senator looking at a Democratic-trending state, she should – Mayor of Houston would enable her to run from a bigger base. Legislators have been elected Mayor in various cities recently, including Dee Margo (El Paso), Eric Johnson (Dallas), and of course Mayor Turner. As an incumbent, she’d be in a strong position to build up a campaign treasury in advance of running, as Turner did in 2015. The main negative here is the old story of Latinos having a hard time winning citywide elections, but someone is going to break through, and being a veteran establishment Democratic elected official is a good way to get there.

Amanda Edwards – OK, sure, she’s running for US Senate now, but so are multiple other viable candidates, only one of whom can survive the primary, never mind the uphill battle that would follow. While she would certainly prefer to be well into her first term in Washington, it’s hardly crazy or insulting to say she might be available for this race. She was an At Large Council member, one who I thought would have been in a decent position to run for Mayor this year anyway before she changed course, with a strong fundraising history. Running statewide, especially for a federal office, is a great way to vastly expand your donor base. She may well be done with city politics regardless of what happens this year, but I’d be remiss if I left her off this list.

State Rep. Sarah Davis and State Rep. Jim Murphy – Both are incumbent Republican State Reps, and I’m lumping them together here. Davis has a decent chance of losing this year, and while Murphy will be a favorite to win in 2020, he may find himself in the House minority, and decide it’s not to his liking. Houston is a Democratic city, but as establishment, business-friendly, moderate-by-modern-GOP-standards Republicans, you could imagine one of them at least making it to a runoff in the way Bill King did in 2015, and if things broke right, they could win. As with everyone else on this list they can raise plenty of money, and if Texas is still run by Republicans in 2023 they could argue that they’re better positioned to defend our local autonomy better than any Dem running.

Abbie Kamin – I know, she was just elected to District C, and incumbent Council members don’t have a strong track record in Mayoral races (Dwight Boykins, Steve Costello, Peter Brown, Orlando Sanchez, Chris Bell, Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz…you get the point), but in both the November and December races her performance was impressive, she was one of the best fundraisers of the cycle, and having District C as your base is a pretty good jumping off point, especially in a multi-candidate field where the goal is to make it to round 2. Like I said, this is just me thinking out loud.

Orlando Sanchez – Yeah, him again. You just know he’s going to keep running for things. He has name recognition, he did better than expected in losing to Chris Brown, and hey, the third time was the charm for Sylvester Turner. Why not Orlando?

The field – Not every Mayoral contender is visible from a distance. Every recent competitive race has featured at least one wealthy non-politician type, some more successful than others (Bob Lanier, Bill White, Rob Mosbacher, Gene Locke, Ben Hall, Bill King, that guy from 2019). I’ll be surprised if 2023 is an exception, but I have no idea who that person may be at this time. Similarly, every competitive race has had at least one strong black candidate, and if Amanda Edwards sits it out, someone else will step up. One or more people that no one is thinking of now will be on the radar in 2023. Ask me again in a couple of years and we’ll see who that might be.

That’s my list. Who would you add?

Bye bye, Bonnen

Wow.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 — completing a stunning fall for the Angleton Republican who enjoyed near unanimous support in the House just months earlier.

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans — a majority of the House GOP Caucus — that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.” (Bonnen’s own brother, Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, was among those on the list.)

[…]

Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.

With Bonnen’s exit, members will be jockeying among one another to become the next speaker. That election officially won’t happen until the next time the Legislature convenes, which is scheduled to happen in January 2021. In the meantime, if Bonnen remains in place until then, he can carry out typical interim duties, which include assigning issues for committees to study ahead of the next legislative session.

The race to replace Bonnen is coming ahead of a competitive election cycle for Republicans, who, after losing a dozen House seats to Democrats in 2018, are gearing up to hold onto their majority in the lower chamber. If Democrats were to flip nine seats and hold onto the dozen they picked up, they could be the party in power in the House and, consequentially, elect a member from their caucus to lead the lower chamber.

It’s unclear what role — if any — Bonnen will play in 2020 in helping to hold onto the GOP seats. In July before Sullivan’s allegations surfaced, Bonnen announced he had infused a new political action committee with $3 million to support House Republicans running for reelection. Since the speaker became engulfed with the drama though, some members have privately wondered whether Bonnen would be a help or hindrance to their fundraising efforts heading into the election cycle.

Shocking, but in retrospect not at all surprising. The day had started with this story about Republicans abandoning the Bonnen ship:

Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.

Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it. Even Dan Flynn of Van, who just days before had reiterated his support for Bonnen, said he could no longer support the speaker.

See here for the previous update. Clearly, things snowballed from there. Bonnen likely could have won re-election – HD25 is indeed a strong R district, where Ted Cruz got nearly 70% – as there were no big name primary challengers yet, but he was certainly toast as Speaker, and I guess he didn’t want to deal with life as a regular member again. I’d have had a hard time with that too, given all that has come out. I supported Bonnen as Speaker this year – he was hardly ideal from my perspective, but he was smart and was effective as Speaker pro tem. Dems did all right under him. I’m still shocked that he was dumb enough to trip over his own dick like this. Rick Casey summarizes it well in describing Bonnen’s ill-fated meeting with MQS as “almost criminally stupid – both tactically and strategically.” I don’t know what happens from here – obviously, Dems winning enough seats to put one of them at the podium would be best, but someone from the wingnut faction could end up on top as well – but at this point it’s hard to be sorry about what happened. Dennis Bonnen brought this on himself. He deserves what he’s getting. Good riddance. A statement from the TDP (which has also moved to dismiss its lawsuit over the recordings) is here, and Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Texas Signal, the Observer, and the Current have more.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: State Reps

State legislative races tend to get less attention than Congressional races. Fewer candidates, less money, very little news coverage. That’s probably going to be less true this year, as both parties are going to expend a lot of effort and resources to gain or maintain control of the State House, but for now at least these races are mostly beneath the radar. Here’s a look at what’s happening in districts in and around Houston.

Rep. Rick Miller – HD26
Sarah DeMerchant – HD26

Rep. John Zerwas (PAC) – HD28
Elizabeth Markowitz – HD28

Rep. Ed Thompson (PAC) – HD29

Rep. Phil Stephenson – HD85

Rep. Sam Harless – HD126
Natali Hurtado – HD126

Rep. Gina Calanni – HD132

Rep. Sarah Davis – HD134
Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134

Rep. Jon Rosenthal – HD135

Rep. Dwayne Bohac – HD138
Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
026   Miller           19,890     27,815        0      7,076
026   DeMerchant       10,760      5,509        0      5,294

028   Zerwas           20,168    192,575        0     17,480
028   Markowitz        18,118      5,406        0      6,457

029   Thompson          2,000     27,236        0    396,460

085   Stephenson        6,177     11,535   24,997      7,077

126   Harless           5,000     12,540   20,000     40,952
126   Hurtado             350        477        0        318

132   Calanni           8,791     17,470        0     15,328

134   Davis            24,821     36,796        0    202,672
134   Johnson         130,645      3,658      500    119,422
134   Powers           22,044      1,625        0     19,282

135   Rosenthal         9,568     37,169    1,075     13,111

138   Bohac            27,390     58,724        0     28,261
138   Bacy             21,492      2,628        0     20,683
138   Wallenstein      54,164      7,445   10,000     53,141

As you may surmise, I started writing this before Rep. John Zerwas announced his retirement. He’s actually leaving on September 30, meaning there will be a special election to fill out the remainder of his term. Things will change for that district as people line up for the special, which will have to be after November since there won’t be time for it by then, and as Republicans jump in for next year. I had looked at Zerwas’ report before his announcement and was curious about his spending during this period. Now it all makes sense.

Legislators cannot raise money during the session, and as such there’s usually a spike of activity right after it. Not much evidence for it in these totals, though. Ed Thompson and Sarah Davis have healthy totals, as did Zerwas before his clearance spending, but I’m a little surprised that the likes of Rick Miller and Dwayne Bohac don’t have more in the kitty. Of course, Thompson was unopposed in 2018, and Davis may as well have been, so they didn’t need to spend much going into this year, unlike Miller and Bohac. I feel pretty confident saying that all of them, as well as freshmen Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal, will sport much bigger totals in the January reports.

Beyond that, the big numbers belong to Ann Johnson, taking a second crack at HD134, and Josh Wallenstein in HD138. Johnson was the last Dem to make a serious run against Davis in 2012, and while HD134 has always looked purple, the underlying numbers plus Davis’ moderate reputation always made it look more like a mirage to me. But there was a shift in 2016, and even more so in 2018, so that plus the overall closeness of the Lege catapulted this one back up the target list. I expect Ruby Powers to post some good numbers as well going forward. Same for HD138, which came agonizingly close to flipping last year. Wallenstein got off to a strong start, but I expect Akilah Bacy to be in there as well.

Finally, the incumbents who don’t have opponents as of this report should not rest easy, as these are all competitive districts. Please note, it’s entirely possible I’ve missed someone, as there’s not a way that I could find to search by office on the TEC reporting page. With all of the other entities – city of Houston, HISD, HCC, Harris County, the FEC for federal races – you can easily see everyone who’s filed, and I’ve used that to discover candidates I’d not known about before. Not so much with the TEC. So if you know more than I do about who’s running in these districts, please leave a comment and enlighten me.

Two for HD134

From the inbox:

Ruby Powers

Local attorney and business owner Ruby Powers announced on Thursday that she is running to represent District 134 in the Texas House of Representatives.

“Our district deserves a state representative who will ensure that families can send their children to quality school programs, champion smart public policy that keeps us safe, and strengthen the Houston economy,” Powers said. “I’m running to be that voice for District 134 in the Texas Legislature.”

The Houston-based attorney, entrepreneur, and mother launches her candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination with a background she believes will appeal to a wide range of district voters.

“As a mother with two children in public schools, I’m concerned by the lack of funding from our state that shorts our Houston-area schools and robs our children of a quality education,” Powers added. “If elected, I’ll fight to pay our teachers a quality salary, shore up our schools, and keep our school districts in the hands of their local communities.”

With nearly 10 years of experience running her own law firm, Powers understands the day-in, day-out issues that often confront Houston-area businesses. The Houston Business Journal recognized her business savvy with a 40 Under 40 Award in 2014 and named her a Women Who Mean Business Women to Watch finalist in 2016.

Her role as a community leader continues to lead her back to Austin. In 2017, Powers testified before the Texas Senate on the public safety issues that Senate Bill 4 creates. These days, she routinely speaks on programs like those on MSNBC and NPR and receives coverage for her work in news media outlets ranging from the Houston Chronicle and the Texas Tribune to the BBC and the New York Times.

“A humane immigration policy and safe community are not mutually exclusive ideas, and when we have both we strengthen our local economy,” she said. “I look forward to running a positive campaign on these issues and working with District 134 residents to pass laws that work for all of us.”

Powers will launch her campaign at a kickoff event on Wednesday, June 5.

Her website is here. Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate for HD134, is also running; her website is here. I’ve known Ann since 2012 and think highly of her. Ruby reached out to me a couple of months ago to talk politics, so I knew she was interested in this seat, and I was impressed by her background and determination. HD134 shifted Democratic in a big way in 2018, and while it had always had a majority of voters willing to support Democrats against some Republicans, it went full blue last year. Rep. Sarah Davis did not have a strong challenger in 2018, but that will not be the case in 2020. Expect to see and hear a lot about this race.

On straight tickets and other votes

I have and will continue to have more to say about straight ticket votes. Part of me is reluctant to talk about this stuff, because I feel like we’ve reached a point where straight ticket votes are seen as less than other votes, and I don’t want to contribute in any way to that. But given all the talk we’ve already had, and the unending stream of baloney about the ridiculously outsized effect they supposedly had in this election, I feel like I need to shed what light I can on what the data actually says. So onward we go.

Today I want to look at a few districts of interest, and separate out the straight ticket votes from the other votes. Again, I hesitated to do this at first because I object so strenuously to the trope that straight ticket votes tipped an election in a particular way, to the detriment of the losing candidate. If a plethora of straight ticket votes helped propel a candidate to victory, it’s because there was a surplus of voters who supported that candidate, and not because of anything nefarious. We call that “winning the election”, and it stems from the condition of having more people vote for you than for the other person. Anyone who claims otherwise is marinating in sour grapes.

So. With that said, here’s a look at how the vote broke down in certain districts.


CD02:

Straight R = 109,529
Straight D =  87,667

Crenshaw      29,659
Litton        32,325

CD07:

Straight R =  90,933
Straight D =  86,640

Culberson     24,709
Fletcher      41,319

If you want to believe in the fiction that straight ticket votes determined the elections, and not the totality of the voters in the given political entity, then please enjoy the result in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw rode the straight ticket vote to victory. Those of us who refuse to engage in such nonsense will merely note that CD02 remained a Republican district despite two cycles of clear movement in a Democratic direction. And then there’s CD07, which stands in opposition to the claim that straight ticket votes are destiny, for if they were then John Culberson would not be shuffling off to the Former Congressman’s Home.


HD126:

Straight R =  24,093
Straight D =  19,491

Harless        6,306
Hurtado        5,544

HD132:

Straight R =  27,287
Straight D =  26,561

Schofield      5,441
Calanni        6,280

HD134:

Straight R =  27,315
Straight D =  30,634

Davis         19,962
Sawyer        11,003

HD135:

Straight R =  22,035
Straight D =  22,541

Elkins         4,666
Rosenthal      5,932

HD138:

Straight R =  18,837
Straight D =  18,746

Bohac          5,385
Milasincic     5,429

HD126 and HD135 were consistent, with straight ticket and non-straight ticket votes pointing in the same direction. Gina Calanni was able to overcome Mike Schofield’s straight ticket lead, while Adam Milasincic was not quite able to do the same. As for HD134, this is one part a testament to Sarah Davis’ crossover appeal, and one part a warning to her that this district may not be what it once was. Republicans are going to have some tough decisions to make in the 2021 redistricting if they want to hold onto this district.


CC2:

Straight R =  86,756
Straight D =  92,927

Morman        25,981
Garcia        21,887

CC3:

Straight R = 132,207
Straight D = 122,325

Flynn         32,964
Duhon         40,989

CC4:

Straight R = 144,217
Straight D = 122,999

Cagle         42,545
Shaw          34,448

Finally, a Democrat gets a boost from straight ticket voting. I had figured Adrian Garcia would run ahead of the pack in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, but that wasn’t the case. I attribute Jack Morman’s resiliency to his two terms as incumbent and his millions in campaign cash, but in the end they weren’t enough. As was the case with CD02 for Dan Crenshaw, CC2 was too Democratic for Morman. That’s a shift from 2016, where Republicans generally led the way in the precinct, and shows another aspect of the Republican decline in the county. You see that also in CC3, where many Dems did win a majority and Andrea Duhon came close, and in CC4, which is at this point the last stronghold for Republicans. Democrats are pulling their weight out west, and that had repercussions this year that will continue to be felt in 2020 and beyond.

There’s still more to the straight ticket voting data that I want to explore. I keep thinking I’m done, then I keep realizing I’m not. Hope this has been useful to you.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

The Chron endorses Lizzie Fletcher over Rep. John Culberson, which may be the biggest non-surprise so far of the election season.

Lizzie Fletcher

More than longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, or even her opponents from the heated Democratic primary, Fletcher understands this diverse, changing district and has demonstrated a passion for putting its residents ahead of rank partisanship.

No doubt, Culberson did his job after Hurricane Harvey. He used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to help transform an insultingly sparse White House recovery bill into an adequate funding package. As we said at the time, we don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Harvey without Culberson in Congress. But Culberson’s tenure in Washington didn’t begin when the rain started to fall, nor did his responsibilities end after the floodwaters receded.

Culberson was first elected to public office in 1986 and has rarely faced a serious challenger outside a Republican primary. It shows. His career has been spent promoting his own pet projects rather than serving the local needs of his home district. That’s why it took the greatest natural disaster in Houston history to compel him to act with necessary passion.

[…]

On firearms, Culberson is unwilling to consider reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. During their meeting with the editorial board, Fletcher said she believed that federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should share information with the gun background check list to ensure that people deemed mentally incapable cannot purchase deadly weapons.

“Two times in the past three years I have woken up to hear there’s a gunman in our congressional district who had mental illness issues randomly shooting people,” Fletcher said.

Culberson grew visibly agitated at the idea and argued that the only circumstance when someone should be prohibited from buying a gun is by a judicial order.

When it comes to health care, only Fletcher has an articulable vision for bringing costs under control. She wants a public option to create a baseline safety net for all Americans and to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Culberson, on the other hand, still doesn’t have much beyond repealing Obamacare.

You get the idea. It’s not just that Fletcher is clearly superior to Culberson (four stars to three in the Chron’s new rating system), it’s also that the Chron has literally never endorsed Culberson in a November election, at least not since 2006. I look forward to their biennial not-Culberson editorial like some people look forward to sweater weather.

Also not a surprise, the Chron endorsed Sarah Davis for re-election in HD134. Someone pursuing a master’s in political science needs to write a paper comparing Sarah Davis to Susan Collins, just to see where they land up on it. That’s all I have to say on the topic of Sarah Davis.

Sarah Davis’ balancing act

As it will be for many of her Republican colleagues, especially in Harris County, 2018 is a challenging year for Rep. Sarah Davis.

Rep. Sarah Davis

To understand how Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis plans to survive a possible Democratic blue wave in her House district, consider the front lawn of Jeanne and Michael Maher.

Like several others in their neighborhood near West University Place, the Mahers have staked yard signs in front of their house for two political candidates of opposing parties: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat running for Senate, and Davis, a moderate, pro-choice conservative.

“It is a Republican-dominated Legislature, it will continue to be a Republican-dominated Legislature, and I would like to have someone who would be pulling some of the Republicans in the other direction,” Michael Maher said, explaining his support for Davis.

The 65-year-old Rice University energy researcher described himself as a moderate unmoored by party affiliation.

If the blue wave does wash over Texas, Davis might be the Republican best equipped to withstand it. She represents a swing district in an affluent section of Houston that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014.

I would bet a considerable sum of money that Sarah Davis will run well ahead of the Republican baseline in HD134. You know who else once ran well ahead of her party’s baseline in HD134? Former Rep. Ellen Cohen, that’s who. She lost to Davis in the tsunami of 2010, as even her ability to get crossovers was not enough. Davis has the advantage of running in a district that leans Republican. She has the disadvantage of being roundly despised by the billionaire-coddlers and raving lunatics in her party, who may for their own perverse reasons want to see a Democrat take the seat.

My guess is that she hangs on, and assuming she does so again in 2020 there will be an interesting dilemma for Republicans when it comes time to redraw the district lines. They could do like they’ve tried to do to Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Congress and simply erase her district altogether, perhaps distributing some of her voters to HDs 135 and 138 to shore them up and adding the rest to Democratic districts. My guess is that if they do that they would then draw a new red district in the western/northwestern part of the county. That would have the dual effect of ridding themselves of someone they find troublesome, and swapping a swing district for a less-swingy one, while helping out some other Republicans. The traditional and collegial thing would be to tinker around the edges of HD134 to make it a little redder, as they did in 2011, and of course they could do that. The fact that this is even a possibility to contemplate is kind of amazing, but these are the things that can happen when your own Governor wants you out.

(Note – if Allison Lami Sawyer defeats her, or if a different Dem knocks off Davis in 2020, it’s a sure thing that Republicans do what they can to make this district redder. It’s the one thing I had to console myself after Cohen’s loss in 2010, that there was no way the Republicans were going to give her a district she could win in 2012. One way or another, I think we are in the waning days of what we now know as HD134.)

Precinct analysis: One of these things is not like the others

Let’s finish up our look at the primary precinct data with a peek at the Republican side of things. As a reminder, my analysis of the Democratic Senate primary is here, my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here, and my analysis of the countywide races is here. We start here with the Senate race, where Ted Cruz had four opponents:


Dist    Sam    Cruz  Stef  Miller Jacobson   Cruz %
===================================================
HD126   217   9,385   222     429      295   88.97%
HD127   263  12,657   301     598      354   89.30%
HD128   151   8,585   106     313      207   91.70%
HD129   242   9,345   217     535      280   88.00%
HD130   236  12,193   233     511      321   90.36%
HD131    50   1,280    44      83       41   85.45%
HD132   161   7,077   164     316      221   89.14%
HD133   300  12,431   390     823      503   86.05%
HD134   492  10,749   824   1,283      720   76.41%
HD135   159   6,226   146     321      194   88.36%
HD137    56   1,903    59     134       70   85.64%
HD138   151   6,716   216     337      185   88.31%
HD139    66   2,534    89     159       77   86.63%
HD140    23   1,054    16      27       26   91.97%
HD141    13     882    15      32       18   91.88%
HD142    41   1,656    51      84       49   88.04%
HD143    30   1,580    25      61       41   90.96%
HD144    43   2,102    30      79       69   90.49%
HD145    52   2,082    78     126       75   86.28%
HD146    79   2,174   125     189       82   82.07%
HD147    99   1,684   151     201       96   75.48%
HD148   118   3,164   237     275      154   80.14%
HD149   101   3,046    75     194      117   86.22%
HD150   206  11,161   227     430      284   90.68%

Cruz got just over 87% in Harris County. If he did any campaigning here, I didn’t see it – the one sign I did see of any activity was one sign for Stefano de Stefano a few blocks from my house. In most districts, Cruz is right around his countywide total, but there are two that really stand out. I doubt anyone is surprised to see that HD134 was a low-performing district for Cruz, but I didn’t see HD147 coming. It’s an inner-Loop district, and I’d bet the Republican voters there skew a little younger than average, so it’s not like it’s a shock, just unexpected. Now let’s move to the Governor’s race:


Dist  Kilgore Krueger  Abbott  Abbott%
======================================
HD126     115     759   9,623   91.67%
HD127     192     970  12,921   91.75%
HD128      97     497   8,720   93.62%
HD129     130     839   9,644   90.87%
HD130     131     793  12,535   93.13%
HD131      27     133   1,329   89.25%
HD132      86     515   7,289   92.38%
HD133     153   1,335  13,024   89.75%
HD134     278   2,701  11,042   78.75%
HD135     103     489   6,422   91.56%
HD137      38     187   1,999   89.88%
HD138     112     545   6,936   91.35%
HD139      41     259   2,618   89.72%
HD140      28      57   1,056   92.55%
HD141       4      59     897   93.44%
HD142      24     128   1,706   91.82%
HD143      33      76   1,621   93.70%
HD144      29     126   2,153   93.28%
HD145      47     208   2,147   89.38%
HD146      54     311   2,277   86.18%
HD147      78     339   1,780   81.02%
HD148      84     481   3,370   85.64%
HD149      58     287   3,187   90.23%
HD150     151     745  11,385   92.70%

If you look the term “token opposition” up in the dictionary, you’ll see the two non-Greg Abbott candidates in the definition. Abbott got 90.09% in Harris County against a fringe candidate’s fringe candidate and a first-time no-name. Like Ted Cruz, Abbott performed mostly to spec around the county, once again with the notable exception of HD134. Nearly three thousand Republican primary voters, more than 20% of the total in HD134, basically said “anyone bu Greg Abbott”. There were a few people during the primary who thought Sarah Davis was being a bit nonchalant about the campaign against her, being spearheaded as forcefully as it was by Abbott. Maybe she knew something, you know?

Last but not least, Lite Guv:


Dest   Milder Patrick Patrick%
==============================
HD126   1,826   8,802   82.82%
HD127   2,289  11,890   83.86%
HD128   1,540   7,904   83.69%
HD129   1,768   8,878   83.39%
HD130   2,203  11,406   83.81%
HD131     257   1,242   82.86%
HD132   1,268   6,696   84.08%
HD133   3,144  11,470   78.49%
HD134   4,748   9,589   66.88%
HD135   1,174   5,906   83.42%
HD137     399   1,831   82.11%
HD138   1,208   6,428   84.18%
HD139     524   2,441   82.33%
HD140     107   1,032   90.61%
HD141      92     863   90.37%
HD142     275   1,605   85.37%
HD143     173   1,555   89.99%
HD144     274   2,025   88.08%
HD145     406   2,007   83.17%
HD146     576   2,084   78.35%
HD147     614   1,622   72.54%
HD148     892   3,072   77.50%
HD149     618   2,915   82.51%
HD150   1,839  10,583   85.20%

On the one hand, the protest candidacy by Scott Milder didn’t amount to that much, as Dan Patrick got 81.45% of the vote in Harris County and over 76% statewide. On the other hand, there were still a lot of people who did vote for Milder, including one out of three participants in HD134. To the extent that there’s hope for some anti-Trump crossover backlash this November, the Republicans who refused to vote for their top three name brands would be the starting point.

One other point to address with the Lite Guv race is the question of turnout in that race compared to other Republican primaries. We know there was an effort by education and business groups to encourage people to vote in the Republican primary to support more moderate candidates, with Scott Milder being the poster boy for that. If people who were not normally Republican primary voters were coming to vote against Dan Patrick, it stands to reason that they may not have bothered voting in the other races, since they presumably held less interest for them. The evidence for that is mixed. In Harris, Travis, and Tarrant counties, it was indeed the case that more people voted in the Lt. Governor race than in the Senate and Governor races; the other statewide races had far lower totals than those three. Indeed, the undervote in Harris County in the Lite Guv race (2.38%) was lower than it was in the hotly contested open-seat CD02 race (2.48%). However, in Bexar and Dallas counties, the Lite Guv vote total was third, behind Senate and Governor, which is what you’d normally expect given ballot order and profile of the offices in question. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion about any of this – some of those drawn-in voters may well cast ballots in other races, especially visible ones like Senate and Governor, and in all of these cases the differences are small. I just like looking for this sort of thing and felt it was worth pointing out even if it’s ambiguous.

So that’s what I have for the precinct data. As always, I hope this was useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions.

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 5

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here and the full endorsements page is here.

We finish with the Republican races with challenged incumbents. And the first thing to note is the races in which no endorsements are made: US Senate and Governor. Yes, Greg Abbott has ridiculous token opposition, and none of Ted Cruz’s challengers are likely to be recognized by anyone on the street, but still. Not even a cursory “none of the alternatives are worthwhile” piece? That’s gotta sting a little. Of course, it could be worse. The DMN went whole hog and endorsed Stefano de Stefano over Cruz:

Texas Republicans have an opportunity in the March 6 primary featuring incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and four Republican opponents to vote for the kind of public leadership that inspires America rather than divides it. A kind of leadership that gives America its best chance to address the very real challenges ahead.

To make the most of the moment, we urge voters to choose Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano over Cruz. Stefano, 37, is an earnest if mostly untested conservative who offers Republicans a way past the bruising style that has characterized Cruz’s time in public life.

Hell hath no fury like a Republican-cheerleading editorial board scorned. Still, the fact that the Chron skipped the US Senate and Governor primaries is even more remarkable when you consider…

CD07: John Culberson

Rep. John Culberson

We don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Hurricane Harvey without U.S. Rep. John Culberson in Congress.

In Harvey’s wake, cities from Port Aransas to Houston waited for the Trump administration to release its proposed disaster recovery bill, which mayors, county judges and families of all stripes hoped would provide the robust federal support needed to rebuild destroyed towns and keep the coast safe from the next big storm.

We didn’t get it. Instead, the White House released a pathetic $44 billion proposal that attracted criticism even from fellow Republicans.

Luckily for Houston, Donald Trump doesn’t decide how federal dollars are spent. That duty falls on Congress and, specifically, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees – which includes Culberson.

The west Houston representative worked with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to double the size of the hurricane recovery proposal, turning a failure of a bill into a passable piece of legislation. Throughout the process, Culberson was a point-man for City Hall, ensuring that areas hit by flood after flood – such as Houston – would be first in line for federal dollars.

The bill wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the alternative.

[…]

If you ignore the most recent term, Culberson’s accomplishments for the 7th Congressional District, which covers west Houston neighborhoods from West University through the Energy Corridor, seem pretty thin. That historically weak record, combined with a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has attracted a strong group of Democratic challengers for the general election.

It should be an exciting race, and there’s little reason for Republican primary voters to deny Democrats their shot at the incumbent.

I don’t think the Chron has ever endorsed Culberson in a November race, not even in 2010 when he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. I have no doubt this year will be the same. Seeing them say anything nice about him is kind of a weird experience, but here we are.

HD150 (Republican): James Michael Wilson

An interesting battle is taking place in the Republican primary in District 150 where first-term incumbent state Rep. Valoree Swanson is being challenged by James Richard Wilson for being a political extremist.

Swanson, 45, is a tea party member who became the first woman in the Freedom Caucus last year in the Texas Legislature. Her district covers a largely unincorporated area of north Harris County that includes parts of Spring, The Woodlands and Tomball.

She didn’t have much luck in Austin passing legislation, which she blamed on House Speaker Joe Straus and his supporters, who spent much of the session fending off what they considered bad bills.

But Wilson, 44, a long-time Republican who worked for Republican state representatives and then-U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas, thinks the problem was more Swanson’s zealotry for causes only popular with the political fringe.

“I don’t feel and a large number of people in our community don’t feel that our state representative is representing the interests of our community,” Wilson told the Chronicle.

Swanson is the type of wingnut that can make one almost nostalgic for the likes of Debbie Riddle. If Wilson can make the Lege an inch or two less crazy, then I wish him well.

HD134: Sarah Davis

Last year Texas Monthly listed state Rep. Sarah Davis as one of the best legislators in the session and called her “one of the few true moderates left in an increasingly strident Legislature.”

Gov. Greg Abbott apparently doesn’t agree and has endorsed her opponent in this primary – Susanna Dokupil.

Before explaining our endorsement, we have to ask: Is moderate really the best way to describe Davis? Moderate implies compromise, a willingness to change one’s positions and seek out the path of least resistance.

If that were Davis, then she would have spent her time in Austin acting more, for lack of a better word, extreme. At at time when the Texas GOP welcomes conspiracy theories about Jade Helm 15 and the panic about transgender bathrooms, Davis could have spent her days prattling on about black helicopters and the threat of chupacabras in West University and probably avoided a primary challenger. She could have acquiesced to the governor’s bizarre personal goal of overriding local tree regulations and easily earned his support.

But Davis did not seek out the path of least resistance. Instead, she stood alongside House Speaker Joe Straus against the reckless political antics of Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their acolytes. She held various leadership roles in the House, which she used to get money for foster care, mental health and women’s health programs and tried unsuccessfully to secure property tax relief for some Hurricane Harvey victims.

She fought Patrick’s attempt to include private school vouchers in the school funding bill and led an investigation into shenanigans at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that resulted in the resignation of the commission’s seven top officials, two of them Abbott appointees.

This one appeared earlier, but I’m including it here. I don’t care about Sarah Davis, and I figure we Dems have a much better shot at that seat if she gets ousted in the primary. That said, I hate the idea of Greg Abbott and his goons, which in this race includes the anti-vaxxers, degrading our politics even more than they already have. All I’ll say at this point is that if I were Sarah Davis and I’m still standing on March 7, I’d tweet this picture at Greg Abbott every day for the rest of my life. Maybe someone can set up a fake Twitter profile to do that for her in the likely even she has too much class to do it herself. RG Ratcliffe has more.

HD127: Dan Huberty

State Representative Dan Huberty is effectively already the winner in the race for District 127 in northeast Houston because his only opponent in the Republican primary, Reginald C. Grant Jr., has been ruled ineligible for living outside the district and nobody is running for the Democratic nomination.

Even though Grant’s name will remain on the ballot, it would take a very strange occurrence for Huberty not to win a fifth consecutive term to the Texas House of Representatives, which is good news because he has emerged as a competent, well-intended legislator and the body’s leading expert on the very complicated topic of school finance.

Huberty has drawn his own share of ire from the Taliban wing of the local GOP, presumably because of his support for public education. If they succeed in taking out Sarah Davis, don’t be surprised if he’s on the hit list in 2020.

And that’s a wrap. I hope you feel like you have enough information to make educated decisions in the primary of your choice.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

The lost Harvey tax break

I have mixed feelings about this.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Owners of nearly 300,000 homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey in Texas won’t see any break in their property taxes because of political wrangling this year in the state Legislature over completely unrelated issues – including, one Houston Republican says, the bathroom bill.

A property tax reform bill that would have required all local governments to reappraise damaged homes and businesses and lower the tax bills came within a single round of votes on four different occasions. If the mandatory reappraisal proposal had become law, it would have all but assured that the tens of thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed statewide because of Harvey would have received a reduction in property taxes this year.

But it never passed, and according to the state lawmaker who came up with the idea, it’s because of the bathroom bill. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, lays the blame on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who she contends was trying to blackball her bills.

“I have little doubt its slow death in the Senate is because of social issues like the bathroom bill,” said Davis, whose district flooded badly during the 2015 Memorial Day storms and the 2016 tax day storms.

Currently, reappraisals after natural disasters are optional for local governments and most are like Harris County and Aransas County in saying they won’t do it because they cannot afford it.

A home in Houston that was valued at $200,000 before the hurricane, but worth just $30,000 after, would have seen a $700 cut just in school taxes, according to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which strongly backed the Davis proposal.

“It was really one of my No. 1 priorities,” said Davis, whose original bill would have taken effect Sept. 1.

But that is likely why the bill never cleared the Senate, she said. Davis was a vocal opponent of the so-called bathroom bill that was a top priority in the Texas Senate.

[…]

Texas law already allows counties, cities and other local governments to reappraise properties after a storm, but few ever do because of the lost revenues that it could result in and because of how expensive and time consuming the reappraisal process could be during a time governments are trying to finalize their budgets. If governments do the reappraisals, the full cost is on the local governments.

“It’s not a very workable solution,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said about why he has not voluntarily called for the reappraisals in Harris. “It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for people and what they’ve lost.”

He said the problem is the reappraisals would cost $10 million in a county as big and urban as Harris County. Plus the county would lose revenue from tax collections at a time it most needs the money to address the natural disaster recovery.

He added that property owners still will get the benefit of the Jan. 1 appraisals for the next year’s taxes. That almost certainly will result in lower tax bills for homeowners with damaged properties next year.

Similarly, in Aransas County – where Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 and demolished 36 percent of all homes and businesses – there will be no reappraisal. Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said there isn’t time or money to get it done and said it would only hurt tax revenues at a time when every source of funding the county relies on is in jeopardy.

“All of our income is in the toilet,” Mills said of a county that relies heavily on tourists to generate sales taxes and fill rental properties.

Let’s start with the obvious. Of course the bathroom bill was the reason why this bill never got a vote in the Senate. This is how Dan Patrick operates. You can admire his hard-nosed tactical consistency, or you can bemoan his willingness to sacrifice the greater good in service of his narrow partisan interests, but you can’t deny the premise.

I certainly get the impetus for Rep. Davis’ bill. Though all the activity on this came before Harvey, Davis represents neighborhoods that were hard hit by the floods of 2015 and 2016. Giving people whose houses have been greatly damaged or destroyed a break on their property taxes has a lot of obvious appeal. That said, I agree with Judges Emmett and Mills. The counties – and cities and school districts – that these houses are in will be facing large extra expenses as a result of the disaster in question, and they’ve built their budgets for the year based in part on the original values of those houses. When the houses are reappraised for the next year, everyone can plan their budgets based on the expected lower values. Is the benefit of an extra year’s lower tax bill for affected homeowners worth the cost?

There is, of course, a simple enough way to resolve this: Have the state cover the difference. We agree that homeowners whose houses have been devastated deserve a break. We agree (I hope) that the cost of that break should not be a burden on counties and school districts that are themselves recovering from the damage of the natural disaster. The amount in question would be a relative pittance for the state. Why not let the state budget make the affected local government entities whole? Because that’s not what we do. Dan Patrick and his buddies take from the locals, they don’t give back. They’d be more than willing to take the credit for the cut, but it’ll be a cold day in August before they’d be willing to bear the cost. I appreciate what Rep. Davis was trying to do with her bill, but without this I can’t quite support it.

Ethics, schmethics

This little exchange says so much about our weak and insecure Governor.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The fireworks began with a press conference called by GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Davis, flanked by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, noted that Abbott had made ethics reform an “emergency” priority in the past two regular sessions. Though it’s not currently on the agenda for the special session this summer, she said the need for reform is greater than ever.

As an example, the Houston-area Republican said she is moving forward this week with ethics legislation — including a bill that would close a major loophole allowing state lawmakers during special sessions to hit up contributors for campaign cash at the same time they’re considering legislation that could affect those donors’ interests.

“I think we need to go ahead and close that loophole,” Davis said.

Such fundraising is illegal during regular sessions, under the theory that lawmakers shouldn’t be simultaneously casting votes and taking campaign money. But there is no such ban during these 30-day special sessions called by the governor. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have voluntarily pledged not to fundraise during this summer’s special session, but Abbott continues to seek donations in email solicitations.

Davis was joined by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who took a more direct slap at the governor. He said he is again pushing a bill attacking what he calls a “pay for play” system in the governor’s office when it comes to appointments to state boards and commissions.

Larson’s legislation would limit the amount of money an appointee could give a governor. Donors who give more than $2,500 would be ineligible to serve, though Larson said he’s considering raising the amount to $5,000 and putting the effective date as 2022 in a bid to garner Abbott’s support.

Larson said donors who give amounts well into six figures can receive the most prestigious appointments — such as spots on a major university’s board of regents. He said Abbott and his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, have used appointments to attract huge sums for their campaigns.

“I think it’s imperative that if we control both the legislative and the executive branch of government that we should reform the most egregious ethics violations we’ve got in the state, and that’s where people have to pay large sums of money to get appointed to highly coveted seats,” Larson said.

Speaker Straus agrees with Reps. Davis and Larson. What about Greg Abbott?

Abbott spokesman John Wittman, minutes after the press conference concluded, blasted the two lawmakers in a written statement.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call,” Wittman said. “Their constituents deserve better.”

So very touchy. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that these proposals are perfectly reasonable on their merits and focus on the fact that Greg Abbott, who controls the special session agenda, says we can’t talk about them until the Lege passes the entire 20-item agenda he has already laid out. Which means that Abbott is saying that his bizarre obsession with trees and his insistence on overriding all kinds of local ordinances is more important than ethics reform, which by the way was something that he had once labeled an “emergency” priority. I’d be hypersensitive about this, too.

The anti-vaxxers had another good legislative session

Sure would be nice if we could put a stop to this.

It was mid-April, more than halfway through the legislative session, and Texans for Vaccine Choice was finally getting the fight it had been spoiling for. On April 11, a bill to require schools to report the number of unvaccinated kids had been heatedly debated in a House committee. Doctors, public health experts, parents and others had testified in favor of House Bill 2249, calling it a transparency measure that would simply provide information about vaccination rates at individual schools. The matter was pressing, they said, because more and more parents were opting their kids out of vaccinations using a “reasons of conscience” exemption created by the Legislature in 2003. Without action, recent high-profile outbreaks of mumps and measles in Texas would only grow worse.

But Texans for Vaccine Choice has a radically different frame. While the pro-vaccination crowd appeals to legislators on the basis of science and public health, the anti-vaxxers have their own funhouse mirror version. Vaccines contain toxic chemicals, they say. They cause autism. They overwhelm the immune system. But more than that, the activists, many of them mothers, framed their position as one of parental choice and personal freedom — a message that commands attention at the Texas Legislature.

“The responsibility for my son does not fall on the state or any other family,” said one woman at the committee hearing. “And I would never rely on the herd to keep my son safe.”

Two days later, Texans for Vaccine Choice held a “Freedom Fight” rally on the South Steps of the Capitol. The event featured two prominent members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler, close allies of the anti-vaccination activists.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you associate with those crazy vaccine people?’” said Stickland. “I said, ‘Because I am one’.”

Stickland went on to lay out a case for “choice.”

“Where there is risk, there must be choice,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to try to influence our behavior. … The state of Texas doesn’t own our kids. They should be looking for ways to protect parents because we know what’s best for our kids.”

[…]

In the final days of the 85th legislative session, it looked like the pro- and anti-vaccine lobbies were going to have to make do with a draw. But at the 11th hour, a discussion over a bill authored by Representative Gene Wu, D-Houston, requiring Child Protective Services to give new children in its custody medical exams, suddenly turned into a feverish argument about vaccines.

Urged on by Texans for Vaccine Choice, Zedler proposed a surprise amendment that would exclude vaccinations from those checkups. Vaccines, he insisted, “do not qualify as emergency care.” He was joined by several Republican members of the Freedom Caucus, with Representative Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, arguing that it was an “issue of liberty.”

A plea from Representative Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, a cancer survivor, failed to move the majority of Republicans. Davis proposed a measure that would at least require foster children to be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Her proposal was defeated in a 74-64 vote. Zedler’s amendment, meanwhile, was adopted 74-58.

Though Wu’s bill died in the Senate, a similar version of Zedler’s amendment found its way onto another child welfare bill and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Texans for Vaccine Choice considered the session a win. In early June, the group held a victory party that featured a fajita buffet and “chips fried in a dedicated gluten free frier.“) Photos on the group’s Facebook page show Tinderholt posing with an American flag hat while Zedler opted for a crown.

Pro-vaccine lobbyist Jason Sabo is anxious that mainstream Republicans, who might ordinarily have voted against potentially harmful anti-vaccination legislation, now see it as a primary issue.

“Only the extreme of the extreme show up to vote in the primaries: the anti-vaxxers, the pro-gun people, and the anti-annexation guys. Get four or five of these groups together and you have a bloc. And it’s really smart,” Sabo told the Observer. “So next session we have a choice: We either do the same thing and get the same results, or we come back with a different strategy.”

See here for some background. Rep. Wu’s bill was HB39, and the record vote on the Zedler amendment is here. You will note that only Republicans voted for the Zedler amendment. All Democrats, and a half dozen or so Republicans voted against it. If this isn’t a partisan issue by now, it’s pretty close. I think the “different strategy” that is needed here is to recognize that this is a campaign issue, for both March and November, and to treat it as such. Follow the model of the Texas Parent PAC, recruit and support some pro-vaccination Republicans in strong-R districts, and support Democratic candidates in competitive districts, for which there ought to be more than usual this cycle. Bill Zedler won with 57% of the vote in 2016, Stickland with 55.6%; Tinderholt didn’t have a Dem challenger in 2016, but won with 56% in 2014. None of these districts are unassailable, and maybe – just maybe – making vaccinations an issue might swing a few votes away from these guys, none of whom have anything but hardcore Republican brand loyalty to recommend them. Perhaps there’s a better strategy to stem these losses in the future, but if so I don’t know what it is. I can’t guarantee that pro-vaccination forces will be successful if they try to win a few elections, but I can guarantee they’ll have a much better time of it in the 2019 legislative session if they do.

Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

Three candidates so far for CD07

Rep. John Culberson

One of the interesting things to come out of the early days of the Dear Leader regime is the number of candidates for office in 2018 who have already made themselves known. We all know that CD07 is on the national radar as a target for next year. What you may not know is that there are (at least) three people vying to be the candidate who opposes Rep. John Culberson. The first you know, and that’s James Cargas, who has run against Culberson in each of the last three years. The second candidate is former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner, who announced her intention to run in January. I don’t know if she has had a formal campaign kickoff yet – for that matter, I don’t know if Cargas has had one – but there is a meet and greet for Kerner coming up tomorrow, if you want to acquaint yourself with her.

Candidate #3 joined the fold last week, and in his case it was via a formal announcement. His name is Joshua Butler, and while I don’t know much about him right now, his policy page has an impressive amount of stuff on it. You want to know what he thinks about a broad range of issues, you can find out. His bio page says he is originally from Alabama and now works as a development officer for a research institute in the Medical Center. This is going to be an interesting race.

On a tangential note, we also have a candidate for HD134, where I daresay a lot of the CD07 campaign activity will also take place. Her name is Angie Hayes, and her campaign website is here; you may have noticed the mention of her and her candidacy in that story about millennials running for office. Hayes is a grad student at UTHSC in Biomedical Informatics in Public Health, a community activist and organizer, and the founder of Clinic Access Support Network, which provides logistical support to women seeking reproductive healthcare. She is having a campaign kickoff happy hour on April 10 if you want to learn more about her.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments and on the Facebook page, there are four candidates for CD07 at this time. My apologies to Jason Westin for missing him. You can meet all four candidates – who knows, by then there may be a fifth – at this town hall on May 9.

Still talking vaccines and measles

Because it keeps needing to be talked about.

Earlier this month, Dr. Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, detailed a disturbing prediction for 2017 in an op-ed for the New York Times: the country could be facing a measles outbreak, and the Lone Star State could among the earliest casualties. “Texas, where I live and work,” Hotez wrote, “may be the first state to once again experience serious measles outbreaks.”

[…]

The spread of measles—one of the most contagious and deadliest diseases—could be stopped by the Eighty-fifth Texas Legislature, where there are currently pending bills that take aim at correcting the anti-vaccination trend. In December, State Representative Donna Howard, a Democrat representing Austin, filed a bill that would require parents and students who choose not to be vaccinated to indicate that they will “opt-out,” as opposed to the current system in which people must “opt-in” in order to be vaccinated. The bill would also require education for parents and students before they choose to opt-out. A similar bill filed by Representative Sarah Davis, a Republican from Houston, would require parents to complete an online educational course to inform them about the dangers of opting out of vaccination.

But anti-vaxxers make up a strong political bloc, and they’ve successfully thwarted pro-vaccination efforts in the Lege before. In 2015, state Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas tried to pass a law that would have entirely removed the exemption protection for parents who claimed to have a “conscientious objection” to vaccinations. His proposal was promptly torn to pieces by a few thousand members of a Facebook group for Texas anti-vaxxers, which formed a PAC, Texans for Vaccine Choice, that ultimately killed Villalba’s bill.  “These people, they literally said it to my face—they hate me,” Villalba told the Texas Tribune in April 2016, after his bill flopped. “This is a group that is very dedicated, very organized; this issue is very important to them.” Even after the bill failed, the PAC kept on Villalba. Jackie Schlegel, the PAC’s creator, told KUT in January that PAC members “knocked on nearly 10,000 doors for his challenger.” Villalba narrowly avoided defeat. Villalba told KUT that he supports Representative Davis’s bill, but it seems unlikely he’ll try to revive his own. “I’m not interested in a suicide mission on this issue,” Villalba told the Tribune last April.

Texas remains one of only seventeen states that allow parents to exempt their children from receiving vaccinations due to philosophical objections. None of the currently pending bills in the Lege would change that. Still, the Texans for Vaccine Choice PAC has already started to push back against the pro-vaccine billse. The anti-vax crowd is active on social media, and let Davis know that they were upset about her bill. In several exchanges with these folks on Twitter in late January, Davis shot down claims that vaccines cause autism by calling such assertions “alternative facts.

See here and here for some background, then go read Rep. Davis’ Twitter battle with the anti-vaxxers. I’ve never been a big fan of hers, but my respect for her is higher than ever after seeing that. Despite the fact that the anti-vaxxers have a friend in the White House, I do believe we can get one or both of Rep. Davis and Rep. Howard’s bills passed. The anti-vaxxers are as we know an organized and vocal minority, but in the end they are still a minority. We do have them outnumbered, and we need to remember that. If you’ve gotten yourself in the habit of calling your legislators about this and that these days, please add these two bills to your list of things you ask them to support.

Initial thoughts: Harris County

vote-button

I’m still not quite ready to resume regular blogging. I’ve got a few things drafted from before the election, several of which are non-political, that I’ll begin to put in the queue, and a couple of ones that were political that may need to be amended now. For the time being, I’ve got some initial thoughts on the county and statewide races. This is the first of those.

You can see the election night returns for Harris County here; at some point, presumably after the results are officially canvassed, these will go into the Election Archives with a date-based URL. But for now, click that link and scroll through if you want to see what I’m talking about.

So Hillary Clinton led Harris County by 100,000 votes and ten points after early voting, but while nearly every Democratic countywide candidate (all but Ann Harris Bennett) also led as of 7 PM on Tuesday, they all had much smaller margins, and could have wound up losing if the Election Day turnout had favored Republicans. That was not the case – other than Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who led well into the night, and a couple of judicial incumbents who had small leads in absentee balloting, Democrats won each phase, with Election Day being the best of the three, in percentages if not always in absolute votes. It was clear from Clinton’s dominating performance in Harris County – she carried the county by over 12 points and 160,000 votes – that she got some Republican crossovers. Here’s a quick comparison:

Trump = 544,960 votes
Clinton = 706,471 votes

Avg R countywide judicial candidate = 605,112 votes
Avg D countywide judicial candidate = 661,403 votes

There was a fair amount of variance from race to race, the R statewide candidates did a little better, and some Republican voters clearly went for Gary Johnson, who collected 3.04% of the total. Putting it all together, I’d estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 people who generally voted Republican downballot voted for Hillary Clinton.

Now, the judicial candidates improved their performance as well. In 2008, the average Democratic judicial candidate got about 590,000 votes. In 2012, it was in the low 570’s – sorry, I’m too lazy to go back and recalculate it – with the high score being about 581,000. That’s about 90,000 more votes than 2012, with the Republican judicials (who averaged in the 560’s in 2012) improving by about 40,000 votes. If Harris County was like a swing state in 2012, it was more like a light blue state this year.

What does that mean going forward? Well, it’s now the Republicans who have been shut out in the Presidential year cycle, and that’s going to be a problem for them in 2020 unless something changes. For 2018, Democrats still have to solve the turnout issue, but 1) it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are just more Dems in Harris County than ever before, and 2) with Democrats being the out party nationally, one would think the off-year turnout dynamic might be a bit different than it was in 2010 and 2014. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves, but the bottom line is that I see no reason why Dems can’t break through in two years. Which is not the same as saying that they will, but they can and in some sense they should. Ask me again when 2018 rolls around.

All that said, it should be noted that while turnout was at a record level in absolute terms – 1,336,985 total ballots cast – it was down from 2012 in percentage terms, 61.25% this year versus 61.99% in 2012. There’s still work to be done and room for improvement.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

– I figured Sarah Davis would hold on in HD134, and she did indeed, winning by ten points and 9,000 votes. It was closer after early voting – she basically doubled her lead on Election Day. My guess when I get the canvass report is that Hillary Clinton carried HD134 by a narrow margin.

– Maybe HD144 isn’t such a swing district after all, as Mary Ann Perez romped to an easy win with 60.23% of the vote. Holding that seat in 2018 needs to be a top priority, and addressing the off-year turnout issue as noted above would go a very long way towards achieving that.

– HD135 needs to be on the radar in 2018, too. With basically no money or attention, Jesse Ybanez got 45.14% of the vote, which was better than Adrian Garcia did in HD135 in 2012, and nearly five points better than President Obama did in that district that year. I don’t know yet how things looked in HD132, the other district where Dem performance improved in 2012 over 2008 as there was no Democratic candidate for that seat, but right now I’d classify HD135 as a better pickup opportunity in 2018 than HD134 is.

– Another main target for 2018 needs to be Jack Morman’s seat on Commissioners Court. The HCDE Trustee race in Precinct 2 was my proxy for this. Alas, Sherrie Matula fell just short – I mean, she lost by 587 votes out of 247,773 total – but I think it’s fair to say that a strong candidate and progress on turnout could do it. You know who I want to see run here, so we’ll just leave it at that.

– As noted yesterday, Anne Sung will face John Luman in the runoff for HISD Trustee in District VII. Sung received 46.80% of the vote to Luman’s 29.25%; Victoria Bryant was in third with 17.03%, so Sung was a smidgeon ahead of the two top Republicans. I can’t wait to see the canvass data for this one, but there are two things to keep in mind. One, the universe of voters will be much smaller in December, and two, there were 35,819 votes cast in this race with 25,230 undervotes. That is, over 40% of the people who had this race on their ballot did not vote in it, most likely because they didn’t know anything about it or because they voted straight ticket and didn’t scroll down the ballot from there. That won’t be the case in December. If a precinct analysis shows that Hillary Clinto carried that district, it will be hard to see those undervotes as anything but a missed opportunity; Sung fell short of a majority by about 1200 votes, so it wouldn’t have taken much to push her across the finish line.

That’s it for the county. I’ll look at the state in the next post. Stace has more.

Chron overview of HD134

The Chron looks at that perpetual swing district, HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Sarah Davis

Artful redistricting has squeezed the general election suspense from nearly all of Harris County’s legislative races, rendering most districts solidly red or blue.

Democrat Ben Rose is hoping to prove his west Houston district can be the exception.

The 31-year-old political newcomer is seeking to leverage traditionally high Democratic turnout in presidential election years to oust three-term Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis. Doing so would return District 134 to Democratic hands for the first time in six years.

“To effectuate change, you’d have to want that change. And based on her record, I don’t think that she really is distinguishable,” Rose said during an interview in his Meyerland campaign office. “On cutting $5 billion from education, where was she? On accepting federal (Medicaid) dollars, where was she?”

Davis, known as a moderate, is campaigning on her fiscal conservatism and clout in the state Legislature as a member of the majority party.

“From just a general standpoint of who can get something done, your choice is someone who’s on the most powerful committees and has some experience and is in the majority party, versus a freshman with no seniority and in the minority party,” said Davis, 40, whose committee posts include appropriations and calendars.

District 134, which runs from Meyerland north to Timbergrove, has traded parties twice in the last decade, from Republican Martha Wong to Democrat Ellen Cohen in 2007, and Cohen to Davis in 2011.

Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Since then, it has become more Republican.

District 134 lost five precincts in 2011’s redistricting, all of them left-leaning. And the district gained 25 others, most of them right-leaning, according to a Chronicle analysis of straight-ticket voting.

[…]

Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy is expected to handicap many local Republican candidates, whose fate typically is tied to the performance of their party’s presidential pick and the turnout he draws.

However, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said he expects Davis to be more insulated than many of her GOP peers, who could be hurt by higher Democratic turnout or a lower percentage of Republican straight-ticket voting.

“The core of it is: Are there more Democrats in 134?” Rottinghaus said. “It seems to me they’ve already maxed out the number that are there, so i don’t think you’re going to find a lot more turnout … and some of those Democrats are supporters of Sarah Davis.”

Here’s my interview with Ben Rose. I basically agree with Prof. Rottinghaus that a boost in Democratic turnout is unlikely to have much effect on this race. For one, turnout in this district is always pretty high; it was 72% in 2012. For another, the district is indeed redder than it was in 2008 – President Obama got 42% of the vote in 2012 after topping 46% in 2008. I think the more likely path to victory for Rose is not higher turnout but lower turnout, with that being the result of more Republicans staying home. That could happen, but it’s not sustainable if it does.

What I think may happen is that Hillary Clinton carries the district due to a larger than usual number of crossovers and other Republicans who refuse to vote for Trump, though she may not have a majority in doing this. Beyond that, Republican candidates in other races, with the possible exception of the DA race, win the district, probably with a lower than expected margin. I don’t claim to be a fan of Sarah Davis, but she’s a good fit for the district and hasn’t done anything obvious to turn off her supporters. Barring a surprise, I expect her to win by an amount that keeps this district firmly in the “swing” category going forward.

Endorsement watch: Three State House races

Possibly the only State Rep race endorsements we’ll get, depending on how much the Chron cares about the less-competitive races.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

House District 23: Lloyd Criss

We endorse Lloyd Criss, a Democrat whom Texas Monthly rated as an outstanding freshman legislator back in 1979, the first of his six terms in office. Now the legislative expert wants to jump back into the game to fight for public education and a better funding mechanism for community colleges. Criss, 75, also says that he will hold the line on windstorm insurance. [Rep. Wayne] Faircloth did not meet for an endorsement interview.

House District 134: Sarah Davis

Davis, 40, told the editorial board that Texas is a deep-red state, and she insists on pushing an agenda that exists within the realm of the politically possible.

There’s a list of do-or-die issues that Houston needs to pass through the Legislature this upcoming session, such as pension reform and saving the Houston Independent School District from a broken funding system. Davis has the policy chops, seniority and close relationship with Speaker Joe Straus to push those changes through.

Our decision to endorse Davis is difficult. Democratic challenger, Ben Rose, has the makings of an excellent representative.

House District 144: Mary Ann Perez

This is an easy one. Mary Ann Perez, 54, lost her first reelection race two years ago after running a lackluster campaign against perennial candidate Gilbert Peña. Voters should put the former Houston Community College trustee back in her seat representing this heavily Hispanic district that stretches from Pasadena across the Houston Ship Channel to Baytown.

I expect Perez to win her seat back from the unserious and under-funded incumbent Rep. Gilbert Pena. HD144 was Democratic by about five points in 2012, and I expect it to be bluer this year. Rep. Davis will probably win, and Lloyd Criss (father of 2014 candidate Susan Criss) will probably lose, though the Trump effect makes both of those outcomes at least somewhat uncertain.

Side note: How close does Trump’s margin have to be for people to not call Texas some variation of “deep red” after this election? My guess is that this election will be seen as an outlier unless Trump manages to climb into double-digit territory, though I believe at least some doubt will creep into the narrative if Clinton comes within, say, six points. As such, I doubt the adjectives will change even in the event of a really close spread. I think it will require another atypical result in 2018 for people to stop defaulting to “[intensity modifier] red” as the state’s political description. What do you think?

Interview with Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Ben Rose

There are basically two interesting legislative races in the Houston area this November. The first is HD144, where former Rep. Mary Ann Perez should reclaim her seat against 2014 winner Rep. Gilbert Pena. I did an interview with Perez for the primary, which you can revisit here if you care to. The other is in HD134, which has had three incumbents lose November races since 2002 but has been fairly stable since the most recent victor, Rep. Sarah Davis, took over in 2010. Davis had an easy cycle against an invisible challenger in 2014, but this year she is opposed by Ben Rose, who has been far more active in both campaigning and fundraising. A fourth-generation Houstonian, Rose is an attorney and a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s Glass Leadership program. He is also a new father, and for you Bachelor fans, the brother of former contestant Erica Rose. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

July finance reports for State Rep candidates

Hey, it’s July, and you know what that means: Campaign finance reports! There aren’t many State Rep races of interest this November, but there are four that I wanted to look at.

HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis
Ben Rose


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Davis       92,972  252,457         0     53,839
Rose        83,047   31,278         0     54,691

I don’t really expect HD134 to be particularly tight – it will never be “safe” in the sense that most districts are, but it also won’t be any closer than 55-45 barring anything odd. Which, to be fair, could happen this year. Ben Rose has been pretty active so far, and he raised a decent amount of money; his campaign sent out an email on Tuesday bragging that they are “currently in 1st place with more cash on hand than our incumbent opponent”, which is true enough but not perhaps the most accurate way of viewing things, given that Davis spent a bunch of money in a contested primary. If he gets to make the same boast after the 30 Day reports come out, I will be genuinely impressed. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Rep. Davis retains the endorsement she received in 2014 from Equality Texas. She hasn’t done anything to forfeit it as far as I know, but unlike 2014 she has a viable opponent. We’ll see what happens.

HD144

Rep. Gilbert Pena
Mary Ann Perez


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Pena        14,920   15,932         0     13,643
Perez       38,304   37,814         0     48,362

Bear in mind here that Gilbert Pena is the incumbent, not the challenger. How an incumbent, even an accidental one like Pena, could have that little to show for two years in office is a good question, but perhaps the answer is that he’s a clear underdog, based on 2012 results. Mary Ann Perez, who lost to Pena in 2014 by a close margin, had to win a three-way primary and will likely have an incumbent-sized bank account by the time the next report is filed.

HD149

Rep. Hubert Vo
Bryan Chu


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Vo          34,763   44,541    45,119     56,071
Chu         27,668   42,732    46,475     17,593

As with Hd134, I don’t expect anything exciting here, but Republicans sometimes throw a bunch of money at Rep. Vo, and sometimes they find a self-funder to spare them the effort. Chu actually had a decent number of small-dollar donations, but in the end I doubt it will amount to much.

HD137

Rep. Gene Wu
Kendall Baker


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Wu          42,851   35,928    45,000    124,611
Baker           20   23,424         0         20

This district is closer to safe than swing, but Rep. Wu’s opponent was one of the anti-HERO leaders, who ran for District F last year and finished third in a field of three. I was curious to see if any of Kendall Baker’s fellow HERO-haters would show him some love in this race, for old time’s sake if nothing else. I think you can guess what the answer to that is. Baker’s expenditures all came from personal funds, including $20K to Aubrey Taylor Communications for “Election related banners on blog posts thru 11/8/2016”. I’d always heard there was money to be made in blogging, I guess I was just too dumb to figure out how to do it. Maybe next election.

Abbott vetos Huffman loophole bill

Good.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed legislation that would have allowed married elected officials to hide their personal financial business from the prying eyes of Texas voters, according to the author of the legislation.

The so-called spousal loophole provision had been tacked as amendments to two bills that were otherwise aimed at increasing disclosure and eliminating conflicts of interest. State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, said she never should have accepted the 11th-hour spousal loophole amendment from state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

As Abbott’s decision neared and Davis was asked for input, she wound up adding her voice to those calling for a veto.

“I haven’t seen a veto statement, but I have been advised by the governor’s office that both [bills] have been vetoed due to concerns about the so-called ‘spousal loophole’ added by the Senate in the last days of session,” Davis said. “I’m disappointed this Senate amendment put the governor in the position of having to veto two ethics bills that were originally written to make government more transparent and accountable.”

Davis said she would re-double efforts to pass “clean” ethics legislation in the next session of the Legislature.

[…]

The death of the two bills, HB 3511 and HB 3736, represented the final blow to Abbott’s calls for sweeping ethics reform in the notoriously loose Texas Legislature. After a series of far-reaching reform proposals went down in flames at the end of the session, those bills contained several compromise measures that Abbott wanted.

During his State of the State speech in February, Abbott urged lawmakers to “dedicate this session to ethics reform.”

Collectively, Davis’ two bills would have tightened requirements on personal financial disclosures, curbed conflicts of interest on state government boards and commissions, and required state elected officials to disclose government contracts and bond counsel work.

But the bills were marred by the inclusion of Huffman’s spousal loophole amendment. Huffman now faces a sworn ethics complaint, from a Democrat, related to her own spouse’s financial activity. Carol Wheeler, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, has alleged that the senator filed “false” information by failing to list more than 35 businesses in which her husband has a stake.

See here and here for the background. I never had much faith in Abbott’s embrace of ethics reform anyway, but even if the Davis bills had passed in their pre-Huffman form, Abbott’s continued embrace of dark money makes it all largely moot anyway. There’s no fixing the system as long as a handful of avaricious billionaires and their well-paid henchmen and henchwomen run amok over it.

The new closet

From this Observer story about how Democrats finally managed to put a stake through Rep. Cecil Bell’s awful anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill, comes word of the legislative preference that dare not speak its name:

RedEquality

[Rep. Jason] Villalba’s statements were a clear reminder that it wasn’t just Democrats who killed anti-LGBT proposals. And they were another sign of evolution, albeit glacially slow, on LGBT issues within the Republican caucus—punctuated by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), who last week came out in support of same-sex marriage.

“I think of the 93 members of the House that signed the letter, I think if you had private conversations with them, a significant number of them would feel like I do,” Villalba said. “I’m not ready to go on record saying that I support marriage yet, like Sarah has. Sarah was very brave and courageous to do that. I think she feels confident that she represents her district well. I’m not certain that my district feels that way yet, and I also believe this decision is not going to be within our hands.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) said at times during the session, he felt as though it was his freshman year in 2005, when he served on a small floor team of Democrats working unsuccessfully to defeat the state’s marriage amendment.

“I thought the Republicans had sort of played out the anti-gay thing, because we hadn’t seen it for a couple of sessions,” Anchia said. “It’s clear that public opinion is moving away from them rapidly. This feels like a desperate last gasp to pander to the most hateful elements of the Republican primary electorate.”

Nevertheless, Anchia acknowledged that when members of his party worked to defeat anti-LGBT bills, they sometimes did so with the quiet encouragement of Republicans—both “moderate” and “not-so-moderate.”

“I can’t tell you how many members of the House have come up to me and said, ‘Will y’all please kill these bills, Democrats? Because we don’t feel good about them,’” Anchia said. “The reality is there are many Republican members of this Legislature who have gay children, gay siblings, who may be gay themselves but are just not out. As a result, they understand firsthand how hateful this legislation is.”

One often hears of these mythical Republican legislators, who are – to some measure, at least – secretly not anti-gay, or even anti-abortion. Doesn’t mean that they’re pro-equality or pro-choice in any fashion you or I would recognize, but they do have a limited appetite for tightening the screws any further than they already are. It’s just that they can’t admit to any of that in public, lest they be tarred and feathered by the howling fanatics who vote in the Republican primary elections. So they hide in the closet, their existence hinted at by the likes of Rep. Anchia, while the rest of us are left to speculate about their existence like some History Channel “expert”. Maybe this is who those American Phoenix Foundation yahoos have been hunting for. Anyway, I for one would like to know some names. I am sure that more than a few of them would surprise me. Feel free to speculate irresponsibly in the comments.

Where the education reform bills stand

As we know, the attempt to take a first stab at school finance reform did not make it to the House floor. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some action on school-related issues. This Chron story from the weekend recapped a couple of the major bills that did make it through.

Jimmie Don Aycock

Lawmakers likely could have killed House Bill 2804, the A-F and accountability legislation, by delaying debate until midnight Thursday, the deadline for passing House bills out of that chamber. Instead, out of respect for [Rep. Jimmie Don] Aycock, the bill’s opponents chose to allow a vote even though they knew it would win approval.

On Friday, Aycock said he would be proud if the bill is the last piece of legislation he helps shepherd to passage.

“I was pleased and surprised that some people who opposed the bill, had every right to oppose the bill, chose not to kill it on the clock,” said Aycock, who is mulling whether to retire from politics. He was elected in 2007 and quickly rose to become chairman, but at nearly 70, says he wants to return to his central Texas ranch life.

[…]

Originally, House Bill 2804 sought solely to revamp the way schools are held accountable by placing less emphasis on state standardized test performance in grading campuses.

Sensing he didn’t have the political support to pass the bill as it was, however, Aycock amended it to mandate schools be given A-F grades, a proposal popular with many Republicans. Educators and many Democrats oppose the A-F scale, saying it stigmatizes low-performing schools.

Aycock says having an A-F system won’t be an issue if the grades are determined fairly: “It’s not the horrible deal that everybody thinks it will be if you have an accountability system on which to base it. If you have the present accountability model, then it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Schools are graded now either as “met standard” or “improvement required,” based largely on student performance measures. Under House Bill 2804, 35 percent of a school’s grade would be determined by measures like completion and dropout rates, and by how many students take AP and international baccalaureate classes. Ten percent would be based on how well the school engages with its community, and 55 percent on state test scores with a particular emphasis on closing the gap between the top- and bottom-performing students.

[…]

House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock’s other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill “one of the most far-reaching bills of the session,” and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect.

“I think House Bill 1842 is the best bill on public education that helps students more than any bill that I’ve seen in this Legislature, and I’ve been here 30 years,” [Rep. Harold] Dutton said Friday. “We have never pressured districts to do something about (low-performing schools). This does that. This says to the school district, ‘Either you do it, or we’ll get someone who can.’ ”

The legislation would require any school that has received a failing grade for two straight years to create an improvement plan to take effect by the third year. If the school has not improved by the end of the fifth year, the commissioner of education would have to order the school’s closure or assign an emergency board of managers to oversee the school district.

Schools that have received consistently failing grades, such as Kashmere and Jones High Schools in the Houston Independent School District, would have one less year to implement a turnaround plan.

“Kashmere is what started me down this road,” Dutton said.

Kashmere earned the state’s “academically acceptable” rating in 2007 and 2008, but it has failed to meet standards every other year over the last decade. Its enrollment has fallen to about 500 students, most of whom come from poor families. Last school year, more than a quarter were in special education and 2 percent were designated as gifted, state data show.

“We’re just going to wait and see what the state does,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said about Aycock’s legislation. “If the state gives us the option of trying to manage it, we would implement some of the same strategies we have found to be successful in North Forest.”

I don’t care for the A-F grading system. I tend to agree with the critics that say it will stigmatize some schools. Not just the schools that get a D where they might have gotten a “meets standards”, but perhaps also the ones that get a B instead of an “academically recognized”. Who wants to send their kids to a B school if an A school is available? As for HB 1842, I don’t have any problem with the concept, but I’d like to know there’s some empirical evidence to suggest something like this can work, and has worked before. We haven’t done much to track the progress of students that were taken from failing school districts that the state shut down, so there’s not much of a track record here. What happens if we try this and it doesn’t work? What comes next?

The Observer updates us on some other education bills.

“Parent Empowerment”

Under a measure passed in 2011, parents can petition the state to turn schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings into charter schools, to have the staff replaced, or even to close the school. It’s a tactic known as a “parent trigger,” and Taylor’s Senate Bill 14 would reduce that period to three years.

“This is about parent empowerment,” Taylor said when he introduced his bill in March. “[Five years] is too long to have young children stuck in a school and to have people defending that failing school district.”

California adopted the nation’s first parent trigger law, and its use there has prompted controversy. Critics say the few instances when the law has been invoked led to community conflict, teacher attrition, and dubious results. Nevertheless, reform advocates hope to spread and strengthen such laws across the country.

SB 14 easily passed the Senate in April but has less support in the House. The measure will also be heard in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday.

Virtual Schools

Texas law allows public school students in grades 3-12 to take up to three online courses, paid for by the student’s school district at up to $400 per course. Senate Bill 894, by Taylor, would lift the three-course cap and extend online courses to students in kindergarten through second grade.

Texas needs to remove existing barriers and provide greater opportunity for students to access online courses, Taylor said as he introduced his bill in March.

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, has called SB 894 a “virtual voucher” that would drain funds from public schools and direct them to for-profit virtual school providers.

Research has shown that student performance lags in corporate-run virtual schools compared to their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts. “There is little high-quality research to call for expanding [virtual schools],” according to a 2014 report from the National Education Policy Center.

SB 894 was voted out of committee in April but has yet to be brought up on the Senate floor for a vote.

Vouchers

After numerous defeats by a coalition of rural Republicans and big-city Democrats during past sessions, the fight for school vouchers returned to the Capitol this session.

Senate Bill 4, by Taylor, would create scholarships to enable mostly low- and middle-income students to attend private and religious schools. Under the measure, private businesses would receive a tax credit for funding the scholarships.

Students from families with an income of not greater than 250 percent of the national free and reduced-price lunch guideline would qualify—for a family of five that means an annual income of about $130,000. Patrick proposed a very similar measure in 2013.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) memorably used a hearing on this measure to denigrate public education.

The bill passed the Senate, but several representatives told the Observer vouchers will be easily defeated in the House. SB 4 is currently stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Bonnen (R-Angleton). Bonnen has emerged as a fierce foe to Patrick this session, and it is not clear if he will even bring the bill up for a vote.

Here’s Raise Your Hand Texas testifying against the “parent trigger” bill. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see any of these die.

And finally, there’s still the budget, which as always has an effect on schools. Here’s some information of interest for anyone who lives in HISD from local activist Sue Deigaard:

HB1759, that would have made structural modifications to school finance and added $800 million more to the $2.2 the House added in their budget for public education, was pulled from the floor on Thursday. Basically, there were so many amendments it was unlikely there was time left to get it to a vote and the time spent on a HB1759 vote would have preempted other bills from being discussed. It also sounds like the vote in the Senate for HB1759 would have been especially steep even if it had been approved by the House.

So, HISD will go into “recapture.” That means that per Ch 41 of the Texas education code, because HISD is a “property rich, student poor” district, instead of HISD receiving money from the state we will have to send local tax revenue TO the state to redistribute to other districts. We are projected to lose as much as $200 million over the coming biennium. Here’s the fun part…the electorate in HISD gets to decide whether or not to send that money back to the state. Yet, not really. First, the HISD board will have to vote on whether or not to even have such an election. If they don’t hold an election, the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. If they do hold an election and voters do not approve to give money to the state (which is the likely outcome), then the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. The “ask” now is for the budget conferees, which include a few members of the HISD legislative delegation, to approve the House pub ed allocation that increases basic allotment for pub ed by $2.2 billion instead of the Senate version that increases it by $1.2 billion. Also, at least as I understand it, that “increase” still does not restore the per pupil allocation that was cut back in 2011, and like last session mostly just funds enrollment growth. As logic would dictate, adding the extra $1 billion in the House version over the Senate version infuses the system with more money so HISD has to send less back to the state through recapture. Basically….House budget = better for HISD.

Unfortunately, the Senate won this skirmish.

The budget conference committee — made up of five senators and five House members — approved a $1.5 billion boost to public education beyond enrollment growth, according to the LBB. The figure matches what the Senate had requested. The House had pushed for a $2.2 billion increase, and had briefly considered an additional $800 million on top of that tied to reforms in the state’s convoluted school finance system.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was the lone “no” vote on the committee’s decisions to set the level of public education funding, in large part because he felt the amount was too little compared to how much the state was putting toward tax cuts and border security, he said.

“Conservatives spend money like they’re printing money,” Turner said, except on education.

Budget conferees included Rep. Sarah Davis and Sen. Joan Huffman. When HISD has to raise taxes or cut programs to cover this loss, you can thank them for it.

Let the budgetary games begin

The House takes up the budget today, with over 300 amendments and riders queued up for votes. A couple of things to watch for as the debate goes on:

Killing vouchers.

BagOfMoney

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships.

If passed, the measure — one of more than 350 budget amendments covering topics from border security to abortion up for House consideration — would deliver a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

[…]

If Herrero’s amendment fails, it would represent a dramatic change in sentiment for the chamber, which overwhelmingly passed a similar budget amendment during the 2013 legislative session. Patrick, a Houston Republican who served as state senator before taking office as lieutenant governor in January, led that chamber’s education panel at the time.

Rep. Herrero’s amendment from 2013 passed by a 103-43 vote. Neither Speaker Straus nor Public Ed Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock is any more pro-voucher than they were last year, and neither is Dan Patrick any more beloved, so you have to feel pretty good about the chances this time, though it’s best not to count your amendments till they pass. If it does, that won’t fully drive a stake through vouchers’ cold, greedy heart for the session, but it’ll be a solid blow against them.

“Alternatives To Abortion”

As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program.

A group of Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen amendments to either reduce or eliminate funding for the program, which provides “pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance.

Since September 2006, the program has served roughly 110,000 clients. The network features 60 provider locations, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she filed an amendment to defund the entire program because the state is giving more money to “coerce women” into a “political ideology instead of providing information and services” at a time when Texas women’s access to health services is being reduced.

The proposed House budget allocates $9.15 million a year to the program in 2016 and 2017 — up from $5.15 million in the last budget.

“I think it’s troublesome that here we are going to almost double funding for a program that has not proven to be successful in any way,” said Farrar, chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus in the House. An additional amendment by Farrar would require an audit of the program.

Several House Democrats filed similar amendments, including Borris Miles of Houston, Celia Israel of Austin and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, whose amendments would transfer more than $8 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to family planning services and programs for people with disabilities.

“These facilities have very little regulation, no accountability and no requirement to offer actual medical services,” Turner said, adding that funding could be used for other medical programs. “My amendments are an attempt to address our state’s real priorities and needs.”

Two Republicans, meanwhile, filed measures to boost the program’s funding.

I don’t expect Dems to win this fight, but it’s a fight worth having.

Other women’s health funding issues

The state currently administers three similar women’s health programs that cover things like annual well woman exams, birth control and cancer screenings for low-income women.

The newest program, the Expanded Primary Health Care Program, created in 2013, is slated to get the funding bump, bringing the total for women’s health services in the House version of the budget to about $130 million per year.

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

  • Texas Women’s Health Program: $34.9 million in 2016, $35.1 million in 2017
  • Expanded Primary Health Care Program: $73.4 million in 2016, $73.4 million in 2017
  • Family planning program administered by Department of State Health Services: $21.4 million in 2016, $21.4 million in 2017

In 2011, motivated by a never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood, the Texas Legislature slashed family planning funding by nearly $70 million, leaving about $40 million for preventive and contraceptive services for low-income women. A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a research group that studies the effects of family planning budget cuts, found that more than 100,000 women lost services after the 2011 cuts and 82 family planning clinics closed. In 2013, the Legislature restored the $70 million and put it into the newly created Expanded Primary Health Care Program, which became a separate item in the state budget. Still, advocates and providers have consistently fought for more money, arguing that the state is only serving one-third of women eligible to receive services.

[…]

Here is a list of other women’s health amendments and riders to watch for:

  • State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) filed an amendment that would allow teenagers who are 15 to 17 years old and already mothers to get contraception without their parents’ consent. Right now, state law requires that all teenagers under the age of 18 get their parent’s permission for birth control. The amendment mirrors Gonzalez’s House Bill 468, which she presented to the House State Affairs Committee in mid-March.
  • State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) has proposed a rider that would ensure sex education programs teach “medically accurate” information to public school students.
  • State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposes adding even more money to the Alternatives to Abortion program by taking almost $7 million from the Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • A House budget rider by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) protects the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women, under attack this session by conservative lawmakers hell bent on, you guessed it, defunding Planned Parenthood.

Some possible winners in there – in a decent world, Rep. Gonzalez’s bill would be a no-brainer – but again, fights worth having. Rep. Sarah Davis has received some liberal adulation this session for trying to do good on women’s health issues. That budget rider will be a test of whether she can actually move some of her colleagues or not.

Public education

An amendment by the House’s lead budget writer, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto would allocate $800 million more to certain public schools as part of a plan announced last week to diminish the inequities that exist among districts under the current funding scheme.

[…]

At the news conference Monday, Austin state Rep. Donna Howard said at least 20 percent of public schools still will receive less per-student funding than they did in 2011 under the proposal. That year, state lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education, restoring about $3.4 billion two years later.

“We aren’t keeping up as it is,” Howard said.

She also noted the plan also does not include the $130 million that had been earmarked for a bill containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to bolster pre-K programs — an amount she described as insufficient considering it does fully restore funding to a pre-K grant program gutted in 2011.

Howard has filed a budget amendment that would allocate $300 million for pre-K.

Pre-K is one of Greg Abbott’s priorities this session, but his proposal is small ball. Rep. Howard’s amendment has a chance, but we’ll see if Abbott’s office gets involved.

And finally, same sex benefits, because of course there is.

Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) is again trying to bar Texas school districts from offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Springer has introduced a budget amendment that would eliminate state funding for districts that violate the Texas Constitution, which prohibits recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The amendment is similar to a bill Springer authored two years ago, which cleared committee but was never considered on the floor. Under Springer’s budget amendment, the education commissioner, in consultation with the attorney general, would decide whether districts have violated the Constitution. Districts would have 60 days to correct the problem.

According to Equality Texas, Springer’s amendment is aimed at the Austin, Pflugerville and San Antonio school districts, which offer “plus-one” benefits that are inclusive of same-sex partners. But the group says those benefits are in line with a 2013 opinion from former Attorney General Greg Abbott, which found that such programs are only illegal if they create or recognize a status similar to marriage.

Yes, as noted, Rep. Springer has tried to meddle in this area before. I admit, I’m more worried about a budget amendment this year than a bill in 2013. Keep a close eye on that one.