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Watch out for your electric bill

Noting this for the record.

As Texans continue paying off the costs of the deadly 2021 winter storm, state lawmakers are considering a Republican-backed proposal that would allow for more frequent rate hikes and prevent cities from challenging the increases.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1015 say it would help bolster the power grid, making it easier for utilities to recover the costs of building poles and wires to transmit electricity across growing cities.

For years, cities have negotiated settlements with electric utilities over these proposed rate hikes, securing lower costs for residents and businesses if they can show the increase is excessive.

While electric utilities have to go before the Public Utility Commission every four years to justify what they charge overall, they have also been allowed since 2011 to periodically hike rates to cover new distribution lines and any related costs. As of now, companies can do a distribution-related increase  only once a year, and only if an existing rate isn’t under review by the PUC.

SB1015 would let utilities seek two distribution rate hikes a year, including when they have a rate case pending. And it would make the PUC, not cities, responsible for reviewing and challenging the hikes.

Critics say the bill would cost ratepayers millions. It would amount to “utility self-regulation,” with “the potential of multiple, sizable increases to ratepayers over a very short period,” argued Tina Paez, director of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

“The current law strikes a good balance between the utility that makes the capital investment and the ratepayers that fund it,” Paez told a panel of Senate lawmakers this week. “But the proposed bill would eliminate that balance, tipping the scales entirely in the utilities’ favor.”

The bill’s author, state Sen. Phil King, said the measure “is about trying to bring consistency and efficiency” to the process of recouping costs.

Aside from distribution costs, utilities are allowed to seek rate hikes up to twice a year for work on transmission lines, which carry electricity from power stations to substations (as opposed to from substations to homes and businesses). King said his bill would apply the same standard to both transmission and distribution lines.

The Weatherford Republican also said he wants to reduce the legal fees that utilities pay when cities challenge their interim rate hikes. Utilities are entitled to pass those litigation costs on to ratepayers.

“At the end of the day, whatever we do to streamline the administrative process, the review process, theoretically reduces attorneys fees, reduces other costs involved, and that ultimately saves the person paying the bill a lot of money,” King said.

The proposal comes as CenterPoint Energy, the regulated utility that distributes most of the electricity in the Houston area, prepares to recoup $200 million it spent to lease mobile power generators during emergencies.

I don’t know enough about this to say with any confidence what the effect of SB1015 would be. But I do know that I don’t trust Phil King, I fear the Republican attacks on cities’ authority, and any bill involving regulation of utilities that doesn’t come with the support of stakeholders like cities and consumer groups is automatically suspicious to me. Your mileage may vary, but that’s my perception of this one.

We finally have a reason for the timid police response in Uvalde

It was because the shooter was using an AR-15, and the cops didn’t want to get slaughtered.

Almost a year after Texas’ deadliest school shooting killed 19 children and two teachers, there is still confusion among investigators, law enforcement leaders and politicians over how nearly 400 law enforcement officers could have performed so poorly. People have blamed cowardice or poor leadership or a lack of sufficient training for why police waited more than an hour to breach the classroom and subdue an amateur 18-year-old adversary.

But in their own words, during and after their botched response, the officers pointed to another reason: They were unwilling to confront the rifle on the other side of the door.

A Texas Tribune investigation, based on police body cameras, emergency communications and interviews with investigators that have not been made public, found officers had concluded that immediately confronting the gunman would be too dangerous. Even though some officers were armed with the same rifle, they opted to wait for the arrival of a Border Patrol SWAT team, with more protective body armor, stronger shields and more tactical training — even though the unit was based more than 60 miles away.

“You knew that it was definitely an AR,” Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Donald Page said in an interview with investigators after the school shooting. “There was no way of going in. … We had no choice but to wait and try to get something that had better coverage where we could actually stand up to him.”

“We weren’t equipped to make entry into that room without several casualties,” Uvalde Police Department Detective Louis Landry said in a separate investigative interview. He added, “Once we found out it was a rifle he was using, it was a different game plan we would have had to come up with. It wasn’t just going in guns blazing, the Old West style, and take him out.”

Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was fired in August after state officials cast him as the incident commander and blamed him for the delay in confronting the gunman, told investigators the day after the shooting he chose to focus on evacuating the school over breaching the classroom because of the type of firearm the gunman used.

“We’re gonna get scrutinized (for) why we didn’t go in there,” Arredondo said. “I know the firepower he had, based on what shells I saw, the holes in the wall in the room next to his. … The preservation of life, everything around (the gunman), was a priority.”

None of the officers quoted in this story agreed to be interviewed by the Tribune.

That hesitation to confront the gun allowed the gunman to terrorize students and teachers in two classrooms for more than an hour without interference from police. It delayed medical care for more than two dozen gunshot victims, including three who were still alive when the Border Patrol team finally ended the shooting but who later died.

Mass shooting protocols adopted by law enforcement nationwide call on officers to stop the attacker as soon as possible. But police in other mass shootings — including at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida — also hesitated to confront gunmen armed with AR-15-style rifles.

Even if the law enforcement response had been flawless and police had immediately stopped the gunman, the death toll in Uvalde still would have been significant. Investigators concluded most victims were killed in the minutes before police arrived.

But in the aftermath of the shooting, there has been little grappling with the role the gun played. Texas Republicans, who control every lever of state government, have talked about school safety, mental health and police training — but not gun control.

There’s more, so go read the rest. That includes a note that the House committee report on the law enforcement response to the Uvalde massacre didn’t include any of these quotes from the officers present, and it also includes a deeply stupid and offensive quote from the deeply stupid and offensive Sen. Bob Hall. While the news of the cops’ hesitation to run into AR-15 fire is something we hadn’t heard before, the rest of this isn’t new at all. Mostly, we know what we’re not going to get from this Legislature and our state leaders. It’s just a matter of what we do about that.

Look, if we banned AR-15s and anything like them today and then began an aggressive program to buy them back and/or confiscate them, there would still be AR-15s and other guns like them out there. But there would be fewer of them, and that would lower the risk. If even the so-called “good guys with a gun” don’t want anything to do with a bad guy with an AR-15, then I don’t know what else we could do that might have the same effect. Like I said, it’s up to us. Daily Kos has more.

Chron story on the anti-Open Beaches bill

Glad to see it.

A bill that would reshape future legal battles over Texas’ public beach boundaries is stirring backlash from advocates and former state leaders, who claim the proposal would give beachfront property owners the green light to vacuum up pieces of the state’s public beaches.

Senate Bill 434, filed last month by state Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would give private property owners the upper hand in legal disputes over public beach access between their residences and the Gulf of Mexico.

Such disputes are governed by Texas’ Open Beaches Act, which has long established the public’s right to use privately owned beach area extending from the vegetation line — the beach’s inland boundary, where sand gives way to foliage — to what’s known as the “mean high tide line” along the water.

Under current law, property owners can only scrap a public easement in front of their property — thus blocking the public from passing through it — if they offer legal proof that the area shouldn’t be covered by the easement.

Middleton’s bill would upend the law, shifting the legal “burden of proof” to the state or anyone looking to establish that a public easement exists on someone’s beachfront property. Critics say the change would embolden property owners to fence off beach area long accessed by the public — access that could only be regained through legal action.

Middleton did not respond to a request for comment. He defended his legislation in a statement to the Galveston County Daily News last month, arguing it would “not in any way take away our open beaches or limit them.”

“Right now, all over the state of Texas, if the state claims your land as theirs — then they have to prove it. But, sadly, on beachfront property, if Texas claims the property as theirs, it’s presumed to be the state’s — unless the landowner is able to refute the rebuttable presumption,” Middleton said. “My bill is a beachfront private property rights bill that makes beachfront land treated like land in the rest of the state and changes the presumption so that the state must prove it is state lands and the landowner no longer has the burden of proof.”

See here for the argument against, as presented by former Land Commissioners Dewhurst, Patterson, and Mauro. I have no reason to trust Sen. Middleton on this, and that’s even without me already being a steadfast Open Beaches Act supporter. I don’t know what the odds are of this bill passing, but I would take it seriously, as it’s the kind of thing that may get by because no one gives it all that much thought. To that end, the sunshine may help. Reform Austin has more.

Former Land Commissioners oppose anti-Open Beaches bill

From the inbox:

Among coastal states Texas is unique. The 1959 Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA), as well as time-honored common law and tradition in existence since long before 1959, provides that Texas beaches are open to the public. In 2009, Texans voted by a 77% to 23% margin to enshrine TOBA into the Texas Constitution.

Unfortunately, public access to Texas beaches may soon end if legislation filed in Austin passes into law.

Senate Bill 434, by Senator Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would strip the authority of the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to define the boundaries of the public beach and would allow the upland beachfront property owner to make that determination. The property owner could then deny access to the public beach easement that existed between the line of vegetation (LOV) and the mean high tide mark. That would then limit Texas beachgoer’s access to only what is known as the “wet beach” – the area between the low tide and the high tide lines. When that area is washed by waves during periods of high tide, SB 434 would result in there being no beach at all for Texans to use.

If SB 434 passes, don’t be surprised if you show up at your favorite beach spot and you’re confronted with a fenced off beach or no trespassing signs. The only remedy available to you then would be a suit against the adjacent upland landowner. Yes, on your next trip to the beach you should consider bringing along your lawyer. You should also be prepared to drag your kids, your cooler, and your beach gear through the shallow tidal waters in order to enjoy the beach.

Beachfront property owners can’t claim ignorance of the public beach easement. Since 1986 they have received notice of the public beach easement in the documents they signed at closing.

Ironically, SB 434 doesn’t just hurt Texas beachgoers, it hurts beachfront property owners as well. Public money must be spent for a public purpose. The GLO and local governments will be unable to spend money on improving property with no public access. There will be no beach renourishment projects, no beach cleanup, and no beach maintenance in areas where property owners claim the beach has no public access easement. There is currently an expansive beach renourishment project ready to go at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island that will be cancelled. In addition, developers of coastal property will be handicapped if the GLO is no longer able to determine survey data needed to designate set back lines for coastal construction.

Please join us in opposing SB 434. Contact your State Senators and State Representatives. You can find their contact information at Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.texas.gov.

God Bless Texas,
David Dewhurst, Garry Mauro and Jerry Patterson, Former Texas Land Commissioners

I get a lot of unsolicited requests to run op-eds here, the vast majority of which come from bots and SEO-addled PR flaks who wouldn’t know me from a Buzzfeed listicle. This one came from someone I do know, former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who I spoke to several times during his tenure. We absolutely disagree on a lot of policy matters, but I always respected him as Land Commissioner, and he ran an open and transparent office. On the matter of the Texas Open Beaches Act, we are in firm agreement. I’ve blogged about it before, most recently after a couple of lousy SCOTx opinions that weakened the Open Beaches Act. I’m happy to cosign this.

Here’s SB434. I have not seen any public statements from the current Commissioner, Dawn Buckingham, about this bill, but all indications are that she opposes it and supports public beach access along with these three and unlike her immediate predecessor, George P. Bush. Hopefully that will carry some weight. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to tell your legislators that you also oppose this bill and hope that they will stand for keeping Texas’ beaches open, as they should be.

UPDATE: The op-ed is in the Chron as well. But you saw it here first.

Lege targets Harris County election administrator

We knew something like this was coming.

House and Senate bills filed by Republican lawmakers in response to Harris County’s mismanagement of its recent elections could give the Texas secretary of state the authority to step in, suspend county election administrators when a complaint is filed and appoint a replacement administrator.

Election administration experts told Votebeat the legislation was an overreaction to the desire to hold Harris County accountable for years of election mismanagement, and would disrupt the state’s ability to help county election offices improve and address systemic problems.

If passed, the secretary of state’s office would change from being a guide and resource for election workers to being an auditor that can investigate and fire them. Some election officials are concerned this change could prevent local election workers from asking questions or seeking help from the office for fear of being reprimanded.

“Currently we work hand-in-hand. [The secretary of state’s staff] are our No. 1 resource, and that benefits all voters,” said Jennifer Doinoff, Hays County elections administrator. “Putting them in the position of oversight would definitely change the dynamic.”

Authored by state Rep. Tom Oliverson and state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, both Harris County Republicans, the bills are among several already filed this legislative session in reaction to the long lines, late openings and reports of shortages of ballot paper on Election Day in Harris County. More than 20 lawsuits from losing Republican candidates have also been filed against the county, citing those problems and seeking a redo of the election. Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum did not respond to Votebeat’s request for his comment about the legislation.

House Bill 2020 and Senate Bill 823 would allow the secretary of state’s office to take action in a county if a complaint is filed by one of several officials and organizations involved in elections, and if there’s “good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration exists.”

The bills list five causes for suspension of an elections administrator:

Currently, any problems that arise in an election or with an elections administrator are handled by the county’s election commission. Those commissions are made up of the county judge, the tax assessor-collector, the county clerk and the chairs of local political parties. The commission’s oversight powers allow it to appoint, terminate or accept the resignation of the county’s election administrator.

Some Texas voting rights groups worry the Legislature will use the problems in Harris and those lawsuits as “an excuse” to advance bills such as these. The League of Women Voters of Texas in a statement last week said such legislation, if passed, “is fraught for potential abuse, infringes on the rights of county governments to select their own elections administrator, and demeans the meaning of local governance.”

Slightly more than half of Texas counties appoint nonpartisan election administrators to run their elections. This legislation would apply only in those counties and not in the 122 that elect county clerks or tax assessors tasked with running elections and handling voter registration.

“We are subject to the authorities of those that appointed us,” said Remi Garza, Cameron County elections administrator and the Texas Association of Elections Administrators legislative committee co-chair. “It does cause concern that somebody from outside that jurisdiction would be able to usurp the authority of the elections commission in dealing with their elections administrator.”

There’s more, but I don’t have the mental energy to continue, so go read the rest for yourself. This story came out the same day that a Senate committee approved a bill making “illegal” voting a felony with even harsher punishments and lower standards for “illegality” than before. So, you know, a banner Monday.

My first thought is that I’m not really clear what these guys are aiming at. I mean, Harris County could in effect call their bluff, restore election administration to the County Clerk, have Cliff Tatum move over and be the chief of elections under Teneshia Hudspeth, and this bill would no longer apply to us. Democrats would still be running the elections. Maybe they actually think Stan Stanart can win that ridiculous election contest, I don’t know. At this level, this is just weird.

Second, these bills – I assume they’re identical in each chamber – are just a mess. The story goes into detail about how absurdly vague the provisions are, which could put a whole lot of election administrators in solidly red counties in danger if something goes wrong, as things sometimes do. I obviously wouldn’t expect the Secretary of State to crack down on, say, Bell County as they’re slavering to do to Harris, but it could be that the first example to be made is in a red place. This is what happens when you let your rage control you.

(Of course, if we had managed to pass a federal voting rights law over the past two years, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this now. But hey, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema preserved the filibuster, so.)

Third, I kind of suspect that in the same way that the TEA probably doesn’t actually want to take over HISD, the SOS probably wants no part of administering Harris County elections. It’s big, it’s hard to do, and most importantly now everything that goes wrong is your fault. Who wants that? But the Republicans in the Lege don’t care about that. Slapping around Harris County is the point. If there’s collateral damage, so be it.

And finally, with a less-predatory state government, we could have a reasoned discussion and admit there are problems that could be fixed with some help from that state government and Lege find ways to do elections better that aren’t predicated on punishment and the exercise of raw power. And if I flap my arms and think happy thoughts, I could fly.

I’ve made the decision to pay less attention to the Lege than I have in the past because I don’t need the mental torment. The Republicans are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and we can’t stop them. One fine day we’ll win enough elections to make it stop, but until then this is what we’re gonna get. I don’t know what else to say.

A bigger House

Proposals like this come along every few years.

The size of the House of Representatives hasn’t kept up with population growth for a very long time—in fact, it hasn’t even tried to—but one congressman has a solution.

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon just introduced a bill that would increase the House to 585 members from its present 435 following the next census in 2030, reducing the number of constituents each representative would have and, hopefully, making government more responsive and more reflective. While the proposed change wouldn’t take effect for another 10 years, we’ve envisioned how it would have affected congressional reapportionment following the 2020 census in the map at the top of this story (click here to enlarge).

Up until the 1910s, the House had increased in size nearly every decade as the population grew, but with only a two-year exception—when Alaska and Hawaii first became states—it’s been stuck at 435 members since 1913. At the time, America’s population was just one-quarter of what it currently is, yet the number of seats in the House has been frozen in place by law since 1929. Consequently, the number of constituents in the average House district has grown from 210,000 after the 1910 census to 761,000 today, and that number could pass 1 million in the coming decades if the law does not change.

[…]

The House’s large ratio of constituents to representatives is also a major outlier among advanced democracies, and scholars have long noted that the size of the lower chamber in most country’s parliaments tends to correspond to the cube root of their population. If the U.S. adhered to that formula, the House would now have about 690 seats, making it more than one-half larger than it is today.

Blumenauer’s bill doesn’t expand the House quite that much; rather, he explains his 585 figure by noting that 149 total seats have shifted between states during reapportionment since the current cap of 435 was reached and adds one more to keep an odd number of members. Nonetheless, his proposed one-third increase could still go a long way toward making the chamber itself more representative of America’s diverse population.

It’s been a few years, but I’ve seen proposals like this before. They’re philosophically sensible but there are practical obstacles, such as creating the office space for all those extra people, and that’s before you get to the resistance any number of folks would have to a very literal expansion of government. I noted this mostly to point out that here in Texas, the problem is even more exacerbated at the state level, mostly in the Senate. Twenty years ago, there were 31 State Senators and 32 members of Congress, which meant that they each represented about the same number of people. But as Texas has gotten six more members of Congress after the last two Census counts, the gap between the size of a Senate district and a Congressional district is growing. Given the continued growth of Texas, it makes just as much sense to expand the size of the Legislature – yes, both chambers, for the same reasons as cited above. And also for the same reasons, it ain’t gonna happen. Look for me to write another post like this in another decade or so, and we can acknowledge the same outcome for the same reasons once again. Daily Kos has more.

It’s definitely Colin Allred Speculation Season

Keep the articles coming.

Rep. Colin Allred

In 2018, Colin Allred beat Republican Pete Sessions to flip a Dallas congressional district from red to blue.

Now the former NFL player and Hillcrest High School standout is considering challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate in 2024, according to 11 Democrats and activists contacted by The Dallas Morning News. The move would put him in line to make history, or become the next candidate in a long string of Democratic Party disappointments.

Allred has been talking to strategists, donors and supporters across the state to determine if running against Cruz makes sense. At the same time, his media office has been in overdrive, distributing updates about his congressional work and stressing his bipartisan approach to problem-solving.

[…]

Other potential Democratic contenders include former San Antonio Mayor and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and former state Rep. and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Allred worked under Castro at the Housing Department.

Already campaigning is businessman and former Midland City Council member John Love.

On the GOP side, Cruz told The Dallas Morning News last week that he would focus on running for reelection instead of another campaign for president.

See here and here for some background. I generally assume that these candidate speculation stories don’t happen without the potential candidate’s knowledge and blessing, if not actual participation. I don’t mean the “other potential candidates include” stuff, for which I’ll get to in a minute, but the “Person X is considering a run for Y office” stories, where there’s a main character and everyone but that main character talks about their political standing and potential future. Rep. Allred declined to comment for the story, as per the accepted norms and practices for this kind of thing (boilerplate statements about focusing on their job at hand, not thinking about next year, keeping all options open, etc etc etc, are within the bounds of allowed responses), but I feel confident saying he knew about it before he was contacted. He or someone employed by him is likely to have been the original source for the story. Doesn’t mean he will eventually run, just that this is what laying the groundwork for such a run often looks like.

As for the “other potential candidates” section, we know about Julian Castro, who among other things serves as the clear “just because you’re the one spotlighted in this kind of story doesn’t mean you’ll actually run” counterexample. I’ll need to see at least two more of those stories about Julian Castro before I’ll take them seriously. John Love announced his candidacy for Senate in 2020 but dropped out without filing. He has a campaign website this time, so if nothing else he should be mentioned in these stories going forward. I’ll need to check the Q1 campaign finance reports to see if he’s begun to raise money. As for Mayor Turner, that’s the first time I’ve seen his name mentioned in this context. I have heard that he was considering a run for SD15 in the event John Whitmire is elected Mayor, so maybe this is some confusion over that? I can’t see him doing this – he won’t have any time to campaign or fundraise before the end of the year, and especially if an Allred or a Castro is running that would be a huge disadvantage. I’ll be surprised if I continue to see his name connected to this race. But maybe I’m wrong, so leave a comment or send me an email if you know better.

One more thing:

Former Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman said Cruz would beat Allred. He said that Allred is largely unknown to most Texans and that Democrats aren’t in a position to boost his candidacy.

More Republicans vote in Texas statewide elections than Democrats, and the GOP is said by many consultants to have an advantage of over a million votes.

“If Colin were to call me and ask for my advice, I would say, ‘You’re in a safe seat. Build up seniority, and if the Democrats take back control, try to become a chairman,’” Neerman said. “I don’t think he has the ability to beat Ted Cruz on a statewide basis.”

I doubt Mr. Neerman reads this blog, and I would not take the word of a professional adversary in these matters, but that advice he’d give to Rep. Allred is basically identical to the case against his candidacy that I laid out in that Castro post above. If he were to ask me for my advice, I would never tell him not to run, but I would spell it out that way as the choice he has to make. We’ll see what he chooses.

Three stories on Uvalde and gun control

First, a story about locks and why an obsession with locking school doors is not really going to improve safety.

In the aftermath of school shootings like the one in Uvalde, what can get overlooked is basic: Schools need doors that work and don’t require special knowledge or keys to secure; they need locks that can be accessed from inside classrooms; and a system for accessing master keys swiftly when minutes matter.

The day of the Robb Elementary School shooting, a teacher had propped open the west exterior door of the school’s west building—added to the school campus 23 years ago—to get food from a colleague, when she saw the shooter heading toward the building. She slammed the door shut, according to the teacher’s attorney, Don Flanary. The door should have kept the shooter out—or at least delayed his entry. It didn’t. Contrary to school policy, all three of the west building’s exterior doors were unlocked that day.

The west building’s exterior doors weren’t the only problem on May 24. Several of the classroom doors had problems latching, including room 111—the classroom through which the shooter “most likely” entered, per the Texas House of Representatives investigation report. KENS5 further reported that the door’s bolt didn’t fit its frame. In addition, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said that the strike plate that allows the door to latch was damaged.

Whatever the cause, securing the door required extra effort to ensure the latch engaged. Room 111 was not the only classroom whose door had problems. The fourth-grade teacher in room 109 testified in the Texas House report that she also “slammed [her] door shut because otherwise the lock would not [otherwise] latch.”

According to the Texas House report, Arnulfo Reyes, the teacher in Room 111, had alerted school administrators multiple times about the issue with the door prior to May 24. Yet a work order was never issued nor was there documentation of Reyes’ complaint in Robb Elementary maintenance records.

[…]

Part of the reason doors were propped open or left unlocked was because of a key shortage. The manufacturer had discontinued production of the door locks used at Robb; the school district had acquired a supply of key blanks, but those were gone by May 2022, Uvalde CISD Maintenance & Operations Director Rodney Harrison said in the Texas House report. Because of the key shortage, substitute teachers were told to use magnets and other methods to get around the locks in violation of school district policy.

Reading this story, and because I have a cybersecurity mindset, reminded me of two things. One is that there’s always a tradeoff between security and ease of use. Think about passwords. People use simple passwords and reuse the same password on multiple systems and fail to enable two-factor authentication because it’s easier that way, and because there’s a big price to pay for forgetting a password and getting locked out of an account or application that you really need. Finding shortcuts and conveniences and workarounds is human nature. You can spend a ton of money on fancy security systems – the story talks about how much money school districts have had to spend, usually via bond issuances that can be hard to convince voters to support, to meet new state requirements for physical security in schools. But if these systems don’t take the human factor into account, a lot of that money is wasted.

And two, no single security measure is ever sufficient on its own. This is why effective cybersecurity for an enterprise network is all about multiple layered, redundant, overlapping defense mechanisms. We expect there to be gaps and failures and weaknesses, which is why there are backups in place. You can “harden” schools all you want, but you can’t make them safe until you address the gun problem, and that’s something our Legislature just won’t do as things stand now.

It has become a mournful pattern. Following mass shootings, lawmakers in many states have taken stock of what happened and voted to approve gun control legislation to try to prevent additional bloodshed.

In Colorado, the Legislature passed universal background checks in 2013 after a shooter at an Aurora movie theater killed 12 people. After 58 people were shot dead during a 2017 concert in Las Vegas, the Nevada Legislature passed a red flag law that allows a judge to order that weapons be taken from people who are deemed a threat. And in Florida in 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that raised the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21 after a teenager with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at a Parkland high school, killing 17 people.

But not in Texas.

In the past six decades, the state has experienced at least 19 mass shootings that have killed a total of nearly 200 people and wounded more than 230 others. Yet state leaders have repeatedly batted away measures that would limit access to guns, opting instead to ease restrictions on publicly carrying them while making it harder for local governments to regulate them.

As the state Legislature convenes for the first time since the Uvalde school shooting last May, lawmakers have once again filed a slate of gun control bills. If history is an indicator, and top legislative leaders predict it will be, they are unlikely to pass.

An analysis by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune of hundreds of bills filed in the Texas Legislature over nearly the past six decades found that at least two dozen measures would have prevented people from legally obtaining the weapons, including assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, used in seven of the state’s mass shootings.

At least five bills would have required that people seeking to obtain a gun undergo a background check. Such a check would have kept the man involved in a 2019 shooting spree in Midland and Odessa from legally purchasing the weapon because he had been deemed to have a mental illness.

Seven bills would have banned the sale or possession of the semi-automatic rifle that a shooter used to kill dozens of people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.

And at least two bills would have raised the legal age to own or purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21 years old, which would have made it illegal for the Uvalde shooter to buy the semi-automatic assault rifles.

A state House committee that investigated the Uvalde massacre found that the shooter had tried to get at least two people to buy a gun for him before he turned 18 but was unsuccessful. Immediately after his birthday, he purchased two AR-15-style rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, which he used to kill 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

“If that law had been 21, I guarantee you he would have continued to be frustrated and not be able to obtain that weapon,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso who served as vice chair of the House committee.

It’s funny, in a bitterly ironic and painful way, that the first line of argument advanced by the legislative gun-huggers and the paid shills they listen to is that this one specific gun control law would not have stopped that one particular mass shooter, so therefore all gun control laws are useless. Yet there they are in the Lege going back to the same “harden the schools” well, time and time again. It takes a comprehensive approach, but the Republicans just won’t allow it.

Despite that, the work continues.

As a new legislative session kicks into gear, [Rep. Tracy] King is working on a bill that would increase the age limit to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. The Uvalde gunman had tried to get at least two people to buy him firearms before he turned 18. Days after his 18th birthday, he purchased two AR-15-style rifles before invading the school and targeting students and teachers. In August, Uvalde residents and relatives of the shooting victims protested at the Capitol, calling on lawmakers to raise the age limit to buy the kind of firearms the Robb Elementary gunman used.

“In this particular case, that guy had tried to buy a gun,” said King, who previously wouldn’t support the legislation he plans to champion for his constituents. “It sure might have made a difference.”

Still, King’s legislation is a bold proposal in the state that leads the nation in gun sales and whose lawmakers have steadily loosened firearm restrictions amid eight mass shootings in 13 years. And it’s coming from a Democrat who previously voted to allow people to carry a handgun without training or a license. King hasn’t yet filed his bill, though other lawmakers have filed similar pieces of legislation this year.

Gov. Greg Abbott has dismissed the idea of raising the age limit as unconstitutional. In December, Texas dropped a fight to protect an existing state law that required people who carry handguns without licenses to be 21 or older after a federal district judge said it violates people’s Second Amendment rights. And Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has said a proposal such as King’s lacks the votes to pass the lower chamber. But Phelan also said that “will not prevent a bill from being discussed and being debated.”

King knows he faces an uphill battle. But he’s also committed to trying, after spending nearly eight months helping folks — some of whom he knew before the tragedy — grapple with a staggering amount of loss.

“We have to go in it with our eyes open,” he said during a recent interview in his Texas Capitol office. “It’ll be a challenge. It’ll be a difficult conversation for a lot of people.”

King isn’t the only lawmaker who represents Uvalde and is pushing to limit access to semi-automatic rifles. State Sen. Roland Gutierre, a San Antonio Democrat whose district includes Uvalde, has already filed a bill in the Senate that would address the same issue.

Gutierrez has publicly criticized the law enforcement response, Texas’ loose gun laws and officials who have withheld information about the investigations into the shooting. Gutierrez has also filed legislation that would create robust mass shooting response training for all public safety entities and improve radio communication between certain agencies.

“I’m for Tracy’s bill, I’m for my bill, I’m for anybody’s bill if a Republican wants to come up and have a bill that raises the age limit on long guns right now to 21,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not taking anybody’s guns away. We’re regulating guns for what I would argue are minors, just like we do alcohol, just like we do cigarettes in Texas.”

I greatly respect what Sen. Gutierrez has been doing, and I’m glad to have Rep. King on board. I’ve also seen this movie before and I know how it ends. You know what my prescription for this problem is. If Gutierrez and King can change a few minds along the way, that will help. We have a long way to go.

Where we are on the agenda

Greg Abbott targets transgender college sports ban.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to ban transgender college students from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, adding momentum to a Republican proposal that’s condemned by LGBTQ advocates and progressive groups.

“This next session, we will pass a law prohibiting biological men to compete against women in college sports,” Abbott said in a Saturday interview at the Young America’s Foundation “Freedom Conference” in Dallas.

The Republican governor said he believes “women, and only women, should be competing [against each other] in college or high school sports.”

Transgender K-12 student athletes are already prohibited from competing on teams that don’t associate with their sex at birth, under a measure passed by Republican lawmakers in 2021. The author of that bill, state Rep. Valoree Swanson of Spring, is proposing extending the restriction this session to the college level.

State Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, has introduced a similar measure in the upper chamber.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already said he supports the college ban in the Texas Senate, which he oversees. On Monday, he listed it among his 30 top priorities for the session.

I’ll get back to this in a minute, but just as a reminder, there are very few transgender women who compete in NCAA athletics and fewer of them have actually won anything, this would force transgender men who are taking testosterone and thus would have a real competitive advantage over assigned-female-at-birth athletes (go google Mack Beggs to see what I mean), and it would put Texas in conflict with the NCAA. But first, the Dan Patrick agenda.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced a list Monday of 30 wide-ranging bills that he has designated his legislative priorities, including providing property tax relief and increasing natural gas plants to improve the reliability of the state’s power grid. He also detailed more specifically his plans to push a socially conservative agenda that would ban certain books in schools, restrict transgender student athlete participation in collegiate sports and end gender-transition treatment for young people.

In a statement announcing his priority bills, Patrick said he believed Texans largely supported his proposals because they “largely reflect the policies supported by the conservative majority of Texans.”

You can read on, but basically this session will be a nightmare for the LGBTQ community.

“I think most Texans want to live in a free and fair state, where the government is not attacking us, our families or our kids,” said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “The Texas Senate in recent years has been obsessed with bullying LGBTQ youth, especially those who are transgender. In the last couple of years, transgender youth in Texas have been under constant attack from the government.”

Texas lawmakers proposed dozens of LGBTQ restrictions in the 2021 legislative session, and this year’s tally has already reached 72, according to a bill tracker put together by the advocacy group Equality Texas.

Klosterboer said the proposals are not only harmful but unconstitutional — and the ACLU and other civil rights groups would stop them from taking effect if they advanced.

[…]

Johnathan Gooch, spokesman for Equality Texas, said lawmakers should pay attention to how even just debating these bills can have a grave impact on LGBTQ youths’ mental health.

A 2022 Trevor Project study found that 47 percent of LGBTQ youth considered suicide that year and 16 percent had attempted it.

“If our lawmakers were truly interested in protecting youth, then they need to find ways to protect LGBTQ young people because the campaigns they’ve been running against them have been really harmful and really painful for everyone,” he said.

They’re not interested, and I don’t have much faith that the courts will stop them. I wish I felt differently. I keep saying it, nothing is going to change until we change who we elect to state office.

Speaking of the NCAA:

The Texas NAACP is calling on professional sports and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to boycott Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to end diversity hiring programs on college campuses and in state government.

“The governor’s initiative will do enormous harm and take the state backwards,” NAACP president Gary Bledsoe said Tuesday.

Bledsoe and Black leaders in the Texas Legislature said they are sending letters to the NCAA, as well as the NBA, NFL and MLB, to request their help. More specifically, Bledsoe called for not awarding any additional all-star games, Super Bowls or other championship events in Texas.

The NCAA in particular has several major events planned in Texas, including the men’s basketball Final Four in Houston in April and the women’s basketball Final Four in Dallas. In 2024, Houston is scheduled to host the College Football Playoff championship and San Antonio is the host city for the 2025 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. The MLB All-Star Game in 2024 is scheduled for Globe Life Field in Arlington.

The financial hit from losing those events could be massive — a 2017 report, for instance, showed that when San Antonio hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2018, it was set to generate $234 million in total economic impact because of the tens of thousands of visitors.

See here for the background. There was a brief moment, mostly in 2017, when the NCAA and some sports leagues attempted to stand up for LGBTQ rights and voting rights by moving certain events out of certain states. That moment didn’t last, and I’m not optimistic about it coming back. When the national attention is focused elsewhere, it’s really hard to get it to turn your direction. But at least this is a pressure point that can be acted on right now. It’s worth the effort, but it’s going to take some big numbers.

The last thing we need is more people in the jail

This is a rare place where Democrats have leverage. Make good use of it.

With an eye on Harris County, Texas lawmakers are considering new measures aimed at keeping more defendants accused of violent and sexual crimes behind bars as they await trial, building off recent changes that clamped down on the use of cashless bail in state courts.

Republicans have made the issue a priority in recent campaigns and legislative sessions, arguing that stricter bail laws are needed to curtail a rise in the number of defendants, particularly in Harris County, charged with new crimes while out on bond. State GOP leaders have pinned most of the blame on local Democratic judges, who they accuse of setting overly lenient bail conditions.

Democrats and civil rights groups say the GOP’s 2021 bail overhaul, Senate Bill 6, has done little to address the problem because it sets limits only on no-cost and low-cost bonds — meaning those who can afford to post bail can still do so, while only those without enough cash are forced to stay behind bars.

Opponents of the GOP bail restrictions have pointed to a Chronicle analysis that found most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail.

Restricting the use of cash bail would require amending the Texas Constitution, a step proposed by Republican lawmakers in 2021 that failed to attract enough support from Democrats.

This session, state Sen. Joan Huffman — the Houston Republican who authored the GOP’s priority bail bill in 2021 — is planning to take a second crack at an amendment that would authorize judges to deny bail “under some circumstances to a person accused of a violent or sexual offense.”

For now, the Texas Constitution places firm restrictions on when judges can deny bail outright, generally guaranteeing defendants a right to pretrial release unless they are charged with capital murder or meet certain criteria for repeat violent offenses. Two years ago, Republicans sought to expand those conditions, but the measure died in the House over opposition from Democrats who said the proposed changes were too broad.

[…]

Huffman has said she also wants to expand the 2021 GOP bail bill to deny no-cost personal bonds to defendants charged with violating family violence protective orders and unlawfully possessing a weapon as a convicted felon. The bill already prohibits the use of personal bonds for some 20 violent and sexual crimes.

It also provides judges and magistrates with more information about a defendant’s criminal history and requires them to consider that factor, among others, when setting bail.

Local felony court judges, for their part, say they have set higher bail amounts for felony charges in recent years, but are still hamstrung in most cases by the bail guarantees in the state constitution.

State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said she is “open” to a bail-related constitutional amendment, but only if Republicans also commit to changes aimed at tackling Harris County’s enormous backlog of cases and reducing mass incarceration.

“I think what we have to be mindful of is not overdoing it. We’re talking about changing the foundation of our constitutional requirements,” said Johnson, the former chief human trafficking prosecutor in Harris County. “If I thought that would make you safer, I’m open to those things. But that, in the absence of the investment in the infrastructure of the public safety system, the criminal justice system, is expedient. Yeah, it sounds good. But I don’t know that it has the effect that we all desperately want.”

To put it mildly, putting more people in jail so they can just wait there until their trial is a really bad idea right now. Ensuring that the only people who get stuck in jail are those who can’t afford to buy their way out is both a bad idea and almost certainly unconstitutional. The price of any cooperation from Democrats, who have to vote for this in at least some numbers to meet the two-thirds threshold, starts with adding more felony court judges – Harris County has received exactly one new district criminal court judge since 1984, when there were two million fewer people living here – and really needs to include a lot more funding for mental health services for the county jail. Really, that should read “expanding Medicaid”, because that would provide a ton of funding for mental health services and it would be mostly paid for by the feds, but we know that’s not going to happen. It would still be a good idea to make the point about it at every opportunity anyway.

This is one thing Republicans can’t do on their own. If they want our help, we need to have a list of things for them to agree to first. Don’t fumble the chance, y’all.

Still more Uvalde bills from Sen. Gutierrez

At least one of these might have a chance to pass.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez wants the Texas Department of Public Safety to create robust mass shooting response training for all public safety entities after the chaotic response to the Uvalde school massacre delayed medical treatment of victims.

“Everybody in Texas needs to examine the complete and utter failure that happened on this day,” Gutierrez said at a news conference in Austin, joined by families of victims from last year’s Uvalde shooting and the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting. “It must not ever happen again.”

The new slate of bills Gutierrez unveiled Tuesday came less than two months after an investigation by The Texas Tribune, ProPublica and The Washington Post found a faltered medical response undermined the chances that some Uvalde victims would survive the shooting.

[…]

On Tuesday, Gutierrez said the victims who had a pulse before later dying “might have lived” had the response been more in line with the average length of a mass shooting, which he said was about 12 to 14 minutes, compared to the 77 minutes children waited in Uvalde before the shooter was killed.

“We do not know how many of the other kids that didn’t have a pulse, at what time did they expire?” he said. “We do not know that.”

Gutierrez is a San Antonio Democrat whose Senate district includes Uvalde. His Senate Bill 738 calls for ensuring all public safety entities in certain counties have the radio infrastructure for communication between all public safety entities, including between different kinds of agencies.

Further, the bill would create a process to train public safety entities in responding to mass shootings. The training would be required to include protection of students at a school; emergency medical response training in minimizing casualties; tactics for denying an intruder entry into a school or classroom; and the chain of command during such an event.

Another legislative proposal outlined Tuesday would create a law enforcement unit tasked with having at least one officer present at each public school and higher education facility in the state. The unit, Texas School Patrol, would be expected to coordinate with local police officials about emergency responses to mass shooting events.

A third proposal, which Gutierrez called “a little bit more aspirational,” would replace a Confederate monument at the Capitol with a memorial to honor victims and survivors of mass gun violence.

“Each parent should be able to send their kids to school knowing that they’re going to be able to pick them up at the end of the day,” Gutierrez said. “We can afford to do this and we should do this and it will have the adequate training to make sure that they can handle this type of situation.”

Senate Bill 737, to create the new police unit, would require 10,000 additional officers in the state within the Texas Highway Patrol; it would cost about $750 million, Gutierrez said.

See here, here, and here for the background on Sen. Gutierrez’s efforts, and here for more on the failed medical response at Robb Elementary. I don’t want to predict success for any bill, especially a Democratic bill in Dan Patrick’s Senate, but SB738 strikes me as the kind of thing that probably won’t generate much ideological opposition. Spending money on enhanced security measures is one of the few acceptable-to-Republicans responses to mass shootings, so it has a chance. SB737 might have a chance as well, but it’s a lot more expensive and that might make people balk, even in a flush-budget biennium. I’m not saying these would be my top choices for bills to pass – I think SB738 has merit and hope it succeeds, while I’m far less enthusiastic about SB737 – but they are the sort of thing that could pass. This is the state government we have.

Now we have a gambling bill filed by a Republican Senator

Maybe this is the gambling expansion bill that those who want gambling expansion have been waiting for.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Advocates for legalizing online sports betting in Texas debuted new bills Monday that take a narrower approach than they did in 2021 — and feature a new author in the state Senate who is a Republican.

The involvement of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who is carrying the legislation, is notable because she is an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is seen as the biggest hurdle to expanding gambling in Texas. The previous sports-betting bill filed in the last legislative session was carried by Democrat and got virtually no traction in the GOP-led Senate.

Like it was in 2021, this year’s legislation is backed by the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of pro sports teams in the state, racetracks and betting platforms. Members include heavy hitters such as the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Astros, the San Antonio Spurs, the PGA Tour and DraftKings. Former Gov. Rick Perry is also working with the alliance on the issue this year.

The legislation would ask voters to decide in a November election whether they want to legalize what the alliance calls “mobile sports betting,” or wagering on games online. That is most commonly done through phone applications like DraftKings.

The major difference from the 2021 bills is that the latest legislation does not legalize in-person sports betting, which would allow bets to be taken at the facility where a team plays. This change was largely expected as the alliance prepared for this session with branding that emphasized “mobile sports betting” and protecting Texans’ data.

“I introduced SB 715 and SJR 39 because Texas needs to bring security and safety into the world of mobile sports betting,” Kolkhorst said in a statement. “It makes sense to reign in all of the illegal offshore betting and keep sports wagering funds here in Texas.”

Like the 2021 legislation, the latest sports-betting bills would put a 10% tax on its revenue.

While Kolkhorst is carrying the legislation in the Senate, state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, is authoring it in the House. The 2021 House author, Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, did not seek reelection. Leach joint-authored Huberty’s proposal.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, carried the legislation in the Senate last time. He has signed on as a joint author to the most recent bill from Kolkhorst.

The Sports Betting Alliance is one of two major camps pushing to expanding gambling in Texas this session. The other is a group led by the gaming empire Las Vegas Sands, which wants to legalize casinos in addition to sports betting.

See here for the background. As I said then, if Sen. Kolkhorst is filing a bill like this she is almost certainly doing it with the consent of Dan Patrick. Doesn’t mean Patrick will support it himself, but it seems likely to me that he’ll let it proceed on its own, which is surely more than any previous attempt has gotten. Whether it makes it through or not, he can say it’s what his caucus wanted.

That other story came out over the weekend, and it’s about an alliance between casino interests and horserace tracks, which honestly feels like a throwback to the Joe Straus days to me. I didn’t write about it because I didn’t think it moved the needle at all, and I still don’t. If anything, it could be the death knell for the Kolkhorst bill, even though its bill (filed by Republican Rep. Charlie Geren in the House) makes mention of sports betting. My guess is that the casinos would like sports betting to take place at their house, preferably only at their house, and that will be the source of some (maybe lots of) friction. Until there’s a Republican Senate version of that bill, I don’t see Patrick backing off on his traditional opposition to that form of expanded gambling.

Of course on the other hand you have Greg Abbott and Dade Phelan expressing their interest in “destination-style” resort casinos. Which could coexist with sports betting as in the Kolkhorst bill, or it could become a huge obstacle if as mentioned the casinos insist that all sports betting should take place at casinos. Maybe everyone gets on the same page and it’s enough to even overcome Dan Patrick. Or maybe the casinos get into a cage match with DraftKings et al and in the end it’s the same bloody and expensive failure these efforts have always been. I will continue to lean towards failure until proven otherwise, but I will admit that’s a shakier proposition now than it has usually been.

What I want from the next HCDP Chair

As you know, the Harris County Democratic Party will soon have a new Chair. And as you know, I am a Democratic precinct chair, which means I’m one of the several hundred people that will vote on who that is. So as a public service to you, and as my way of telling the candidates what will influence my vote, these are my priorities for the next HCDP Chair.

1. Start with a goal of 1 million Democratic votes for Joe Biden in 2024, and really aim for 1.1 million. Hillary got 700K votes in 2016. Beto got 800K in 2018. Biden (and Ed Gonzalez) got 900K in 2020. There’s already more than 2.5 million registered voters in Harris County, up about 100K from November 2020, and I expect there to be over 2.6 million by next November. Sixty-five percent turnout (we were at over 68% in 2020) gets 1.7 million voters total (up less than 50K from 2020), and hitting one million Dems would mean taking almost 59% of the vote for Biden, which so far is the only real reach here as he was at 56% in 2020. Beto got to 58% in 2018.

What I’m really aiming for is a net of at least 300K for Biden in Harris County; he was at plus 218K in 2020, after Beto was at plus 200K in 2018. If we want to talk about making Texas competitive for Biden, and whoever our 2024 Senate nominee may be, that’s the kind of Dem advantage in Harris County we’re going to need, at a minimum. That’s the kind of vision I want from the next Chair, and I want there to be a plan to go along with it.

2. Improve performance in base Democratic areas. Harris County went from being evenly matched in 2012 to the strong blue county it is now in large part because Dems have vastly increased performance in formerly dark red places. I’ve said this before, but Mitt Romney won 11 State Rep districts in 2012, and he won them all with over 60% of the vote. In 2020, Donald Trump only won two State Rep district with 60% or more, HDs 128 and 130, and he won nine overall with HDs 134 and 135 being won by Dems.

But Democrats didn’t do as well in a number of dark blue districts in 2020 as they had in 2016 and 2018, and as we saw in 2022 it was in those districts where Beto fell short, often well short, of his 2018 performance. We need to turn that around. Part of this is that we have a vibrant Democratic club structure in place, with a lot of that participation coming in the formerly red areas. There’s a lack of clubs, and thus neighborhood-based outreach, in a lot of traditional Democratic areas. It’s also a dirty secret that some Democratic elected officials in those areas do very little to help with GOTV efforts. Achieving the goal set in item #1 will require an all-hands-on-deck mobilization. I want to know what the next Chair intends to do about that.

3. Find ways to partner with Democratic parties in neighboring counties. I know the job title is “Harris County Dem Party Chair”, but we abut a lot of other counties, and in quite a few places the development just sprawls over the border, making the distinction between the two of lesser value. There are also a lot of offices that include parts of Harris and parts of one or more neighbors: CDs 02 and 22, SBOE6, SDs 07 and 17, and all of the Firth and 14th Courts of Appeal benches, of which there will be ten Democratic incumbents on the ballot next year. We should find ways to collaborate and cooperate to help our candidates in these races.

In counties like Brazoria and Montgomery, population growth near the Harris County border has led to some burgeoning Democratic turf, mostly around Pearland for the former and around the Woodlands for the latter. I also believe that Conroe is starting to become like Sugar Land, a small but growing urban center of its own that we ought to see as such, and seek to build alliances there. In Galveston and to a lesser extent Waller, the growth has been in redder areas, and we need to find the allies there who likely feel isolated and help them connect with and amplify each other. In Chambers and Liberty, anything we can do to help slow down the small but steady Republican advantage will help.

My point is that 10-20 years ago, as Democrats were starting to assert power in Harris County, it was still quite common for Dems in the then-dark red areas to believe they were the only ones like themselves there. A big part of what the county’s organizing, and the growth of the local clubs, has done is to dispel that notion and allow people the chance to enhance their communities. Anything we can do – in a collaborative, “how can we help?” manner that respects the people who have been doing their own work there for a long time – to help with that will help us all.

4. Threat management. I’m being deliberately provocative here because I think this is urgent and I want people to see the dangers. We know there’s a lot of disinformation and propaganda aimed at non-English speaking communities – we’ve seen the websites and Facebook posts, and we’ve seen the mailers and heard the radio ads. We know that “poll watchers” with malign intent are out there. We’ve just had multiple winning candidates get sued by their losing opponents, and many of them were left scrambling to pay for lawyers to defend themselves in court. We’ve faced previous legal challenges over voting locations and voting hours and mail ballots and on and on. For the latter at least, we’ve had a strong response from the County Attorney, but we can’t assume that will always be the case. We need to be aware of past and current threats to our elections and candidates, we need to be on the lookout for emerging threats, and we need to have a plan and dedicated staff and resources to respond to them.

This is where my thinking is. I don’t expect the candidates for HCDP Chair to have fully formed answers to these problems, but I do hope they agree that these are urgent matters and deserve attention. They may have other priorities and I’m open to that, I just want to be heard. So far the two candidates that I know of – Silvia Mintz and Mike Doyle – are the only two that have come forward. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more on that, and you let me know what you think.

Is it finally the time for Julian Castro?

This story is mostly about Ted Cruz and whether he might run for President again in 2024; the tone of the story is that he probably won’t. No one cares about that, but because it is a story about 2024 and Ted Cruz will be running for re-election to the Senate in 2024, it contains the following bits of speculation about who might run against him:

Not Ted Cruz

Cruz’s focus on his Senate bid follows a tough 2018 reelection fight against former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost by 2.6 points. Combined, the two candidates raised close to $115 million, with O’Rourke bringing in more than $80 million. And Cruz may face another fight in 2024, with Texas and Florida the only conceivable pick-up opportunities for Democrats in a cycle that will have them mostly on defense — 23 of the party’s seats are up next year.

O’Rourke did not respond to a request for comment on whether he was considering a second Senate run against Cruz. After losing his gubernatorial bid against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, he told the audience in his concession speech that “this may be one of the last times I get to talk in front of you all.”

But plenty of others are considering a Cruz challenge. A person close to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said that he is weighing a run. Democrats in the state are also watching Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas); state senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, the town devastated by a school shooting; and state Rep. James Talarico, who sparred with Fox News host Pete Hegseth in 2021, according to a Texas Democratic strategist.

A senior adviser to Cruz, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said he plans to make his formal Senate run announcement within the first half of the year. They added that Cruz would make additional staff hires during that period and that he’s already started raising money, including “revamping completely the small-dollar operation.” Cruz currently has $3.4 million cash on hand.

Democrats acknowledge that Texas has not been an easy state for the party. But they argue that Cruz is more vulnerable than his other GOP counterparts, citing the close 2018 race and his castigated 2021 trip to Cancun while Texas underwent a power-grid emergency due to a winter storm.

“We look forward to our Democratic nominee retiring Ted Cruz from the U.S. Senate and finally allowing him some time to finally relax at his preferred Cancun resort,” said Ike Hajinazarian, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “That is, of course, should he even choose to run for reelection, which would be strange considering his newly-introduced legislation to limit U.S. senators to two terms.”

Cruz, who would be running for a third term, told reporters this week that he doesn’t support unilateral term limits, but would “happily comply with them if they applied to everyone.”

The term limits thing doesn’t even make my Top 25 list of Ted Cruz atrocities. I’m not going to expend any energy on that at this time. As for Beto, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of him on the statewide stage, at least for the foreseeable future. He ain’t running for anything in 2024, I’m confident of that.

We have discussed Rep. Colin Allred before, and he would be a fine candidate if he chose to run. As far as I know, any words to the effect that he has an interest or is seriously considering the possibility have yet to come from his own mouth, and as such I put this in with the “speculation” files. The thing that strikes me about Allred is that he’s in a similar situation that his colleague Rep. Joaquin Castro was in 2017 and being talked about a run against Cruz in that cycle. Like Castro, Allred is in a (now, post-redistricting) blue district and he’s building up seniority while also being seen as a rising star within the party. It’s not hard to imagine him as a deputy whip or a powerful committee chair in a couple of cycles. Given that, what is the upside to making an at-best longshot run for the Senate? It would be one thing if the Senate seat were clearly winnable, but it’s a stretch and everyone knows it. He could win, and as was the case with Beto a close loss might still be a boost to whatever other prospects he ay have, but you still have to weight that against what he’d be giving up. Seems to me the easy choice is to stay put and wait until Texas is competitive enough to tip the odds in your favor. Rep. Allred may see it differently, but I think he’s not likely to make this leap.

And that brings us to Julian Castro, whose name has certainly been mentioned as a possible statewide candidate before. Indeed, we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of “potential statewide candidate Julian Castro” territory, as those stories were being written at the start of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. At this point, I don’t know if he really is thinking that the time is right or if he’s the 2023 version of John Sharp, destined to always be brought up in this kind of story because it would be weirder to not mention him. I don’t know who counts as a “person close to” him, but as with Rep. Allred, I’d like to hear the words come from his own mouth before I start to take it seriously.

I’ll say this: At least in 2017/2018, you could say that Julian Castro was really running for President in 2020, and as such it made no sense for him to campaign for something else in the meantime. Julian Castro is not running for President in 2024, and if what he really wants to do is run for Governor in 2026, maybe put the word out about that. I guess what I’m saying is that while there’s still no reason yet to get on the “Julian Castro might really run for something statewide this time!” train, there’s also nothing obvious out there that would be an obstacle to it. Either he actually does want to run and will eventually tell us so himself, most likely after multiple teases and hints like this could be, or he doesn’t and he won’t. This means I will need to stay vigilant for future references to his possible candidacy. Hey, I knew what I was getting into when I started blogging.

Finally, in regard to Sen. Gutierrez and Rep. Talarico, I mean, I’m sure someone mentioned their names as possibilities. I’ve speculated about potential future candidacies for people myself, it’s a fun and mostly harmless activity. Again, and I’m going to keep harping on this, until you hear the person themselves say it, that’s all that it is. I’m going to be tracking “potential candidate” mentions anyway, so we’ll see where they and maybe others fit in. It’s still super early, there will be plenty more where this came from.

Not quite the same old gambling story

This Trib story about the state of gambling expansion in the Lege is not the usual formula. It has a lot of the usual elements, but for the first time there’s some hint of maybe something could happen. Maybe.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Gambling legalization advocates in Texas are going all in again this legislative session, confident that they have built more support since their efforts came up far short in 2021.

The push is still an uphill battle, however, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, continues to pour cold water on the idea. But supporters have found promising signs elsewhere, and they have returned to the Capitol with an army of well-connected lobbyists after doling out millions of dollars in campaign contributions during the 2022 election.

There are two main camps pushing for expanded gambling in Texas — and right now, they appear to be operating on parallel tracks. The first is a continuation of a lavishly funded and high-profile effort initiated by the late Sheldon Adelson and his gaming empire Las Vegas Sands to legalize casinos, specifically high-quality “destination resorts” in the state’s largest cities. The other lane is the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of professional sports teams in the state and betting platforms that is exclusively focused on legalizing mobile sports betting.

Gambling is largely illegal in Texas with exceptions including the lottery, horse and greyhound racing and bingo. Texas has three tribal casinos, which are allowed to operate under federal law.

The Sports Betting Alliance already made a splash in the lead-up to this session by hiring former Gov. Rick Perry as a spokesperson.

“What’s changed [since 2021], I think, is the continuing education of the general public that this is not an expansion of gambling,” Perry said in an interview, suggesting that Texans already participate in this sort of gambling in other states or illegally. “It’s going on, it’s gonna continue to go on and the state of Texas needs to regulate it and make sure that its citizens’ information is protected.”

[…]

Given the stiff headwinds to getting any expansion in gambling passed, sports betting and casino advocates may be competing against each other, rather than working in tandem.

The Sports Betting Alliance is officially neutral on legalizing casinos, but the Sands team has welcomed collaboration, noting its proposal would additionally legalize sports betting.

Advocates for sports betting see their cause as a standalone issue that is more palatable for lawmakers. Perry said there is a “clear delineation” between what the Sports Betting Alliance is pushing for compared with legalized casinos.

“The other issues that are out there, they’ll have to stand or fall on their own,” Perry said. “I don’t think these will be tied together in any point in time.”

It is unclear if Patrick, the highest-ranking hurdle to expanded gambling, sees a similar distinction between the causes and could be more amenable to sports betting. His top political strategist, Allen Blakemore, recently signed up to lobby for the Sports Betting Alliance through the end of the year. And Patrick is close with Perry, once calling him “one of my best friends in life.”

Neither Patrick’s office nor Blakemore responded to requests for comment.

In the December TV interview, Patrick said no one had mentioned expanded gambling to him and no Republicans had filed bills on it yet. But advocates are making the case to Senate Republicans, and at least one of them, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, is giving thought to the sports-betting push.

“It’s true that Senator Kolkhorst is studying legislation to regulate ongoing app-based sports betting in Texas but she doesn’t comment on pending legislation,” Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said in a text message. “She will have more to say once a bill were to be filed.”

Neither Perry nor Blakemore as lobbyists impresses me. If hiring the right lobbyists was the key, this would have happened a long time ago. If there’s one thing the gambling interests know how to do, it’s hire lobbyists.

What does make me raise my eyebrows and go “hmmm” is the possibility that Sen. Kolkhorst could file a pro-gambling bill. That would at least contradict Dan Patrick’s statement about there being no Republican-filed bills; note that for these purposes, what he really means is a Senate Republican-filed bill. He doesn’t really care if House GOPers file these bills. Kolkhorst is a big Patrick ally, and I just don’t think she’d waste her time on a bill that she knows going in won’t get a committee hearing. If she does file a bill, it will be after she’s had some conversations, and assurances, from Patrick about its future.

Now, note that we don’t actually have Kolkhorst saying she’ll file a bill, nor do we know what might be in that hypothetical bill. We have chatter from the lobbyists that she’s thinking about it. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than we’ve seen before. I do think that whoever sourced that info to the Trib wouldn’t have done so without Kolkhorst knowing about it. It would be an extreme rookie mistake for a lobbyist to drop a name like that and have it vehemently denied and maybe get that legislator mad at you.

The dynamic of the two main interests competing against each other, and thus possibly decreasing the already slim chances that something could get voted on, is something we’ve seen before. Back when the discussion was about casinos and slot machines, we had the horse racing interests pushing for casinos at their racetracks, while the casinos were pushing for, you know, casinos. Here, the sports betting interests don’t need for there to be casinos for them to operate – as we know from those tedious Mattress Mack stories, where he drives to Louisiana to place one of his ridiculous bets on his phone, an app is all they need – but you can of course also bet on sporting events at casinos, and that’s what those folks would want. And “destination-style” casinos are what Abbott and Phelan have said they’d be interested in. You can have both but you don’t need both, and they’re both incentivized to say “hey, if you only want to support just one, support us!”

Two more points. One is that these interests have already spent a crap-ton of money, mostly on Republicans since that’s who they really need to convince, and will spend a lot more before all is said and done. I don’t know how much that has actually gotten them – the old adage about “if you can’t take their money and drink their liquor and screw their women and vote against ’em anyway you don’t belong in the Lege” still applies – but it’s what they do. You can feel however you want about expanded gambling – as you know, I’m adamantly ambivalent about it – but if you’re a Democrat and you support gambling, you should keep that in mind. And two, the usual opponents of expanded gambling are quoted at the end of the story like they’re not worried, they’ve seen this all before and they say they’re not seeing anything new. I tend to believe them – the “gambling expansion will fail” position has been correct for a long time – but to be fair, they could well want to project that same calm and confidence even if the tide was turning. So draw your own conclusions.

Sen. Gutierrez files more Uvalde bills

Wish I could say any of these had a chance, but the work he’s doing is still vital and necessary regardless.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said Tuesday that he is leading legislation to make it easier for families of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims to sue the state and police officers over the botched law enforcement response.

The San Antonio Democrat and other Democratic senators are introducing four new pieces of legislation that seek to increase gun safety and law enforcement accountability. The news came during a press conference, where they were flanked by several of the victims’ families.

“We’re not asking for the moon and the stars. We’re asking for commonsense solutions,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez filed Senate Bill 575 to end qualified immunity for police officers, a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from liability for constitutional violations. The doctrine has been spotlighted nationally in recent years because it is routinely used to protect law enforcement officers from being sued in cases of excessive force. He said ending qualified immunity will make it easier for the families of the Uvalde shooting victims to seek damages after the flawed law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting, in which hundreds of officers descended on the school but did not confront the gunman for over an hour.

This bill is accompanied by Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, which he co-authored with other Democratic senators, that “empowers” families of the Uvalde shooting victims to sue the state and its agencies.

“I support law enforcement 100%, but under no circumstances should they have [allowed] what happened on that day,” Gutierrez said. “They failed these children for 77 minutes for a lack of leadership — under no circumstances should they be allowed to walk away and not compensate people. There’s no amount of money that’s going to bring back their children. But there should be justice, so today’s about justice.”

Gutierrez said he plans to file about 20 bills in total in response to the Uvalde shooting.

See here and here for the background. Like I said, I expect basically nothing from any of these bills. The Republicans have made their position clear, and they see no reason to budge. Their rabid voters wouldn’t let them anyway. The next best thing, which we need to do anyway, is make the case to the public. We know plenty of people support a lot of these ideas. Getting them to vote for politicians who support them, that’s the problem. Sen. Gutierrez almost certainly won’t get any of his bill passed this session, but he is – and should be – working for the next session, or the one after that. It’s good to start now.

More on the PUC’s attempt to fix the grid

From TPR:

After the last big blackout, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3, telling the commission to improve grid reliability. So, commissioners have been working on changing the state’s electricity market. They want to reform how energy is bought and sold on the power grid to create a market that makes sure power is there when people need it.

To do that, the commission hired a consulting firm that came up with a plan called a Performance Credit Mechanism, PCM for short.

Basically, this plan would create reliability credits that electricity providers (the companies most Texans pay their power bills to) have to buy from power generators (the companies that own the power plants). The credits represent a commitment from those power generators to deliver electricity when the grid is most stressed.

“I believe that PCM is the right solution because it’s a comprehensive solution that sets a clear reliability standard as required by [Senate Bill] 3,” Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission, said earlier this month.

The consulting firm that came up with the plan says it will cost $5.7 billion more a year. Supporters say power generators will use that money to invest in new power plants and to keep the energy supply humming in extreme weather. They also argue that not all that extra money will be shouldered by consumers. But, in Texas, consumers typically end up eating extra costs.

The plan is supported by power plant owners, who stand to earn money from the credits. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, is in favor of it. Gov. Greg Abbott and Public Utility Commissioners, including Lake, who are appointed by Abbott, also support the PCM.

The list of opponents appears to be significantly longer.

The independent market monitor, a position that serves kind of as a third-party auditor for the Texas grid, does not think it is a good plan. Consumer and environmental groups oppose it or are skeptical. The Texas Association of Manufacturers, a group that represents big industrial energy users in the state, is against it. The oil and gas lobby is not convinced it will work, and many state politicians also oppose it.

This group of opponents represent diverse interests, so their reasons for opposing the PCM vary.

Environmentalists point out that the plan is designed to bring more natural gas power plants to Texas, which is bad for climate change and air pollution.

Others, who want more natural gas plants built, argue that the PCM may not accomplish that goal. Some would prefer more direct subsidizing of new plants instead of the addition of a new layer of rules into the already complex Texas energy market.

And others say a big overhaul of the energy market is not even necessary, and that the grid can be improved without investing billions in building more power plants.

“I think we have an operational flexibility problem,” Carrie Bivens, the PUC’s independent market monitor, told a state Senate Committee late last year. “I do not believe we have [an energy] capacity problem.”

One thing all opponents agree on is that the plan is untested. It will cost billions, but there’s no real-world example to show it will work.

See here for the background. At this point, it’s not about whether this plan works or not. The issue is with going forward with an untested plan when there was a lot of disagreement about what that plan was and even a lack of consensus that this was the right kind of plan. It’s also not clear to me what the definition of success is for this plan. If new plants are built, which is the goal of this plan, but big outages still occur, is that a “success” because the new plants were built? If the capacity issues that Carries Bivens identifies are fixed before any new plants get built and the outages go away, is that a success for the plan? This is a basic thing that happens in the business world. If we can’t be sure that the plan worked, how will we know if it’s a good idea to do again if the same problems arise later? We’re just rolling dice and hoping for the best here.

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

PUC makes an attempt to fix the grid

People are skeptical.

The Public Utility Commission voted Thursday to make a substantial change to the state’s electricity market in a controversial effort to get the whole system to be more reliable. The agency said it will let the Legislature review its plan before moving forward with putting it in place.

The idea, known as the “performance credit mechanism,” is a first-of-its-kind proposal. It’s meant to help produce enough power when extreme heat or cold drives up demand and electricity production drops for various reasons — such as a lack of sun or wind to produce renewable energy or equipment breakdowns at gas- or coal-fired power plants.

Under the new concept, which still has many details to work out, companies such as NRG would commit to being available to produce more energy during those tight times. The companies would sell credits to electricity retailers such as Gexa Energy, municipal utilities and co-ops that sell power to homes and businesses.

The credits are designed to give power generators an added income stream and make building new power plants worthwhile.

Theoretically, the credits help retailers and customers by smoothing out volatile price spikes when demand is high — but there’s wide disagreement over whether this will happen in practice. Some electricity providers filed for bankruptcy after the 2021 winter storm because they had to pay so much for power.

Critics of the plan say the idea is risky because it wasn’t properly analyzed and has never been tested in another place. Members of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce wrote to the PUC in December that they had “significant concern” about whether the proposal would work.

[…]

Experts disagree on whether the performance credits will actually convince power companies to build more natural gas plants, which are dirtier than wind and solar energy but can be turned on at any time. Some say new plants will be built anyway. Others say companies can simply use the credits to make more money from their existing plants without building more.

Michele Richmond, executive director of Texas Competitive Power Advocates, wrote in her comments to the commission that the group’s members were “ready to bring more than 4,500 [megawatts] of additional generation” to the state grid if the new system were adopted. That would be enough to power 900,000 homes. The group’s members include Calpine, Luminant and NRG.

If the PUC doesn’t change the market, there won’t be enough reason to invest in building new power generation facilities and keep operating existing facilities, she wrote.

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was among groups that asked the PUC to spend more time considering whether the new credits are the best solution “before making fundamental changes to our market that would increase costs to consumers,” as Conservation Director Cyrus Reed wrote.

The independent market monitor, Potomac Economics, which is paid by the PUC to watch the market for manipulation and look for potential improvements, does not support the idea. The group believes enough corrections have been made already to make sure the grid is reliable.

Still others, such as Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC and the Texas Public Power Association, which is made up of municipal-owned utilities, cautioned that there wasn’t enough reliable information and analysis about the proposed credits to make such a significant decision.

The grid’s reliability must improve, Silverstein wrote to the PUC, but “we cannot do so at any cost, and we cannot do so using poorly understood, poorly-analyzed, or unproven market mechanisms to address unclear problem definitions and goals.”

Silverstein added: “If the commission makes a bad decision on … market reform due to haste, erroneous problem definition, sloppy analysis or misguided rationalizations, all Texans will bear the consequences for years through higher electric costs, lower reliability, and a slower economy, and millions of lower income Texans will suffer degraded health and comfort as they sacrifice to pay their electric bills.”

See here for some background. The PUC unanimously approved the plan, which was spearheaded by Greg Abbott’s appointed Chair. I sure don’t know enough to say whether this will work or not. It sounds like it could, but there’s more than enough uncertainty to make it a risky proposition. I get the argument against waiting for more data, but I have to wonder if there were some other ideas with greater certainty that could have been used in the meantime. Not much to do but hope for the best now, and maybe take the idea of “accountability” more seriously in the next election. The Chron, whose headline says that electricity prices are likely to rise under this plan, has more.

You can donate to Ted Cruz’s 2024 opponent now

Kudos to Daily Kos for being out ahead of the curve.

Not Ted Cruz

We’re not gonna lie: Holding the Senate in 2024 is going to be hard. Democrats are defending 23 seats to just 11 for Republicans, and three of those are in states Trump won. Several more are in swing states.

But Democrats have defied political gravity before. In 2020, against all odds, we flipped not one but two seats in Georgia in those epic runoffs, enough to retake the majority. And in 2022, we gained a seat by flipping Pennsylvania, despite the fact that the party in power almost always loses ground in midterm years.

That means only one thing’s for sure: You can’t draw any foregone conclusions about what the coming election cycle may hold.

What’s more, there are two races where we can go on offense in ’24, targeting two of the most odious Republican senators who escaped with just narrow wins when they were last on the ballot: Ted Cruz in Texas and Rick Scott in Florida.

We also have a plan that’ll allow us to start preparing for battle right now—we don’t need to wait. Thanks to ActBlue’s nominee funds, we can donate funds to all of the top races immediately.

Those funds hold all donations in escrow and then give them to the winner of each Democratic primary. That gives our nominees a huge boost just when they’ll need it most, ensuring they can hit the ground running and make the strongest possible case to voters.

Right now, we’re starting with Texas and Florida as well as the open Democratic seat in Michigan, but we’ll be adding more races as the election develops.

Please donate $10 or even $20 apiece to each of these races to help Democrats keep the Senate blue in 2024!

We need to find an opponent, or at least start talking about one, soon. As noted, Rep. Colin Allred’s name is out there, but you know the rules: Until we hear those words from his lips or keyboard, it’s all just rumor. But at least it’s a start. And look, Texas and Florida are the two best, and possibly only even remotely plausible, Democratic pickups in 2024. To say the least, there’s a lot of work to be done. May as well get started.

So how much money does Whitmire have available for his mayoral campaign?

It’s already a lot, and it could be a whole lot more.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire is kicking off his mayoral campaign with a $10 million war chest, most of it drawn from the money he has amassed over decades in the Legislature.

The campaign balance dwarfs the resources of his opponents, but it could renew debate about how much of that money the city’s campaign finance laws allow him to use.

Whitmire’s first mayoral campaign finance report, filed Tuesday, shows $1.1 million in new donations between his formal campaign launch in November and the end of the year. The report’s staggering number, though, is the amount of cash he reports having on hand: about $10.1 million.

The sum makes him the overwhelming financial heavyweight in the race — no other candidate had more than $1 million on hand as of last summer. Other candidates, including former county clerk Chris Hollins, former city councilmember Amanda Edwards, and attorney Lee Kaplan, are expected to share more current numbers Tuesday, as well.

It is not yet clear how much of that money Whitmire will seek to spend. Sue Davis, a consultant for Whitmire, said the report shows the full balance of his campaign account, filed with both the state and the city. The campaign started earmarking money raised for the mayor’s race at the end of last year — the $1.1 million — which “has more than enough to start this year,” Davis said.

The move, though, may test the enforcement of an ordinance that was intended to limit how much money raised for non-city accounts can be used for city campaigns. The council members who introduced and passed the law in 2005 said it was meant to cap that amount at $10,000. It was intended to treat non-city accounts like any other political entity that seeks to support a city campaign: subject to a $10,000 cap on donations.

Former councilmember Gordon Quan, who spearheaded the ordinance, confirmed the intent behind the law in an email to the Chronicle last week. The law says candidates can use money raised for a non-city public office “in an amount not to exceed the maximum contribution that the candidate may accept from a single donor,” which is $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for political groups.

In practice, though, the city has not enforced the ordinance that stringently. A decade later, in 2015, then-City Attorney Dave Feldman told candidates they could use the amount of money under the cap from each individual donor, rather than from the account as a whole.

That allowed then-State Rep. Sylvester Turner to use $900,000 from his legislative account to start his mayoral bid, which ultimately proved successful.

City Attorney Arturo Michel, who returned to City Hall in December 2020, was serving his first stint as the city’s top lawyer in 2005, when Council first passed the law. The legal department, under his leadership at the time, helped craft the ordinance.

Michel, though, suggested Tuesday that Feldman’s interpretation was sound in its reading of the law’s actual language.

Feldman’s “determination reflected the language used in the code when adopted and as exists now,” Michel said. That language is less supportive of the more stringent interpretation, he added.

“Texas law is clear that statements made by members of a legislative governing body are not evidence of collective intent of the body and do not override the language used in the law,” Michel said.

The law has not been thoroughly tested in court, and it is possible another candidate could seek a ruling limiting what Whitmire can spend from his Senate funds. No candidate publicly has suggested they will do so.

See here for the July finance reports; Whitmire had not yet filed a city report. There are as of Tuesday night a number of January reports available on the city’s campaign finance webpage – you know I’m looking for them – but none of the Mayoral candidates had them up there yet.

The story references a lawsuit filed by Chris Bell, who was a Mayoral candidate in 2015, to challenge the cash on hand total that Turner claimed. There was a separate federal lawsuit filed to challenge the city’s blackout period for fundraising – in those days, you couldn’t fundraise outside of an election year – and after the plaintiff won an injunction the city basically agreed with his position to strengthen their case against Bell, who eventually dropped his suit.

I think the city should enforce its laws, though I can’t say with complete confidence that they’d win in court if there is a challenge over this limitation. I don’t know if someone will file a complaint to stop Whitmire from using his entire treasury, but if I were advising Whitmire I’d suggest he go through the last five or ten years’ worth of reports, claim the money that would clearly be under the limit, and then dare anyone to sue him. He’d still end up with a ton of cash and a plausible claim to already be in compliance. We’ll see what happens.

Two out of three state leaders open to expanded gambling

As we know, two out of three ain’t bad, but it also ain’t enough.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday left the door open to legalizing sports betting and casino gambling in Texas, the latest sign that opposition may be softening among state Republican lawmakers, though the proposal still faces major hurdles in the Senate.

Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who leads the Texas House, told reporters in a roundtable interview he believes voters would approve a referendum on expanded gaming options. With limited exceptions, most forms of gambling are prohibited by the Texas Constitution, which can only be amended if two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers agree to put the matter to a statewide vote.

Echoing Gov. Greg Abbott, who voiced support last fall for expanding gambling options, Phelan said he doesn’t want to “walk into every convenience store and see … slot machines.”

“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high-quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyles of those communities,” Phelan said.

[…]

This session, the gambling industry has hired an army of lobbyists to push for casino and sports betting legalization. Last month, however, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he isn’t expecting the issues to go anywhere.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the 140-day legislative session, which kicked off Tuesday.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling, but he hasn’t seen any Senate Republicans file a bill on the issue yet. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting, however.

See here for some background. I’m not saying Dan Patrick can’t change his mind on this. I have no idea what Dan Patrick will do. I’m just saying that until he says he’s changed his mind, nothing has changed. That’s really all there is to it. Reform Austin has more.

It’s re-redistricting time

More amusing than alarming, with a bit of annoying as well.

The Texas Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to again take up the decennial process of redrawing the boundaries of the state’s political districts a year and a half after the Legislature completed the process and yielded new districts. Those newly drawn districts increased the Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House and reduced the voting strength of voters of color.

The redistricting process this year is mostly procedural and is not expected to produce very different results.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she was taking the step “out of an abundance of caution” to ensure that Legislature had met its constitutional requirement to apportion districts in the first regular session after the federal census, which is done every 10 years. Because of the pandemic, census numbers were not released until after the end of the last regularly scheduled legislative session on May 31, 2021. Redistricted maps were passed in a subsequent special session that year.

Two Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Roland Gutierrez of Antonio and Sarah Eckhardt of Austin sued, saying that violated the Texas Constitution because the census numbers weren’t received until Aug. 12, 2021. That would make the current legislative session, which kicked off on Tuesday, the first regular session since the release of those numbers.

Eckhardt said the Senate’s decision to take up the issue again proves she and Gutierrez were right on the law, but she said she didn’t expect much change in the maps drawn by the state in 2021.

“I think this will be a check-the-box exercise,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen in the first go-around a substantive discussion and taking the input of constituencies into account.”

[…]

Huffman, who led the redistricting committee in the 2021 legislative session and will again lead its efforts this year, said the procedure would follow similar rules to those applied last session and would create an opportunity for “regional hearings” to be held in the Capitol that will be streamed on the internet for the public across the state. The public will also have an avenue to testify in those hearings virtually. Those hearings will be held between Jan. 25 and 28.

See here, here, and here for some background. While this resolution is only for the Senate, the same exercise will need to occur for the House and the SBOE as well; Congressional redistricting is exempt because the constitutional provision only applied to state offices. I think Sen. Eckhardt is correct in her assessment, and it’s a shame that the State Supreme Court did not see it the same way, but here we are. I presume the federal litigation over Texas’ maps and processes will be unaffected by this – the legal issue in question was one of state law. As noted I don’t expect much to change, but anytime there is redistricting there is the potential for shenanigans, so stay alert. Reform Austin.

The Lege does its housekeeping

In the Senate, they drew their lots to see who would have to run again in 2024.

Sen. John Whitmire

It was the luck of the draw for Texas senators on Wednesday as they drew lots to decide which half of them would get two-year terms and which would get four-year terms.

The practice is outlined in Article 3, Section 3, of the Texas Constitution, which calls for “Senators elected after each apportionment [redistricting]” to be divided into two classes: one that will serve a four-year term and the other to serve a two-year term. That keeps Senate district elections staggered every two years. After that, senators serve four-year terms for the rest of the decade.

On Wednesday, each of the chamber’s 31 lawmakers walked to the front of the chamber and drew lots by picking an envelope that held a pill-shaped capsule. Inside the capsules were numbers: Even numbers meant two-year terms, and odd were for four-year terms.

“I’m sure each and every one of you are happy with what you drew, right?” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked.

Sixteen senators had Lady Fortune on their side and drew four-year terms, and fifteen unlucky souls will have to run for reelection in two years.

[…]

All eyes were on Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Democrat who has announced plans to leave the chamber to run for Houston mayor after the session, and Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who is second in seniority to Whitmire.

Whitmire drew a two-year term, and Zaffirni drew a four-year term.

Three freshmen senators drew two-year terms, including Democrat Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island, who was in the tightest race in the Senate last year. The two other freshmen, Republicans Kevin Sparks of Midland and Mayes Middleton of Galveston, both drew four-year terms.

After the 2012 election, the main question was whether then-Sen. Wendy Davis, who won a tough race in a district carried by Mitt Romney, would have to run again in 2014. She drew a short straw, and I think that contributed to her decision to run for Governor. Of course, we were in a time and of a political makeup in which Dems were getting creamed in non-Presidential years. That changed quite dramatically in 2018, when Dems won back Davis’ old seat and picked up another Senate seat as well. Sen. LaMantia had a tough race in 2022, and at this time I have no idea if it’s better for her to run in 2024 or not. We’ll just have to see.

As for Whitmire, what this means is that if he’s elected Mayor this year, things will be messy in SD15 the next year. There would be both a primary and a special election to replace and succeed him, much as there was in HD147 this past year. You could have the primary winner, who would get to serve a four-year term after winning in November of 2024, and the special election winner, who would serve out the remainder of 2024, be two different people. One person could face five elections total in 2024, if the primary and the special both go to runoffs; this would happen for someone who wins the primary in a runoff and makes it to the runoff (win or lose) in the special. Did I mention that the primary runoff and the special election would take both place in May, but on different dates, again as it was in HD147? Speaking as a resident of SD15, I’m already exhausted by this possibility, which may not even happen. May God have mercy on our souls.

Anyway. The Houston-area Senators who will be on the ballot in 2024 are Carol Alvarado (SD06), Paul Bettencourt (SD07), John Whitmire (SD15), and Joan Huffman (SD17). The ones who get to wait until 2026 are Brandon Creighton (SD04), Mayes Middleton (SD11), Borris Miles (SD13), and Lois Kolkhorst (SD18).

Meanwhile, over in the House

Texas House leadership on Wednesday shut down a long-building push to ban Democratic committee chairs, deploying procedural legislative maneuvers to defeat multiple proposals on the issue.

The chamber also approved new punishments for members who break quorum, like most House Democrats did two years ago in protest of GOP-backed voting restrictions. Those members left for Washington, D.C., for weeks to stop the House from being able to do business in an effort to prevent passage of the bill. Under the new rules, quorum-breakers can now be subject to daily fines and even expulsion from the chamber.

The chamber passed the overall rules package by a vote of 123-19, with Democrats making up most of the opposition.

Going into the rules debate, most attention was on the subject of committee chairs, who have the power to advance legislation or block it from being taken up by the full House. For months, a small but vocal minority of House Republicans have been calling for the end of the chamber’s longtime tradition of having committee chairs from both parties. But Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his allies moved successfully Wednesday to prevent the matter from even getting to a vote on the floor.

They did it by passing a “housekeeping resolution” earlier in the day that included a new section codifying a constitutional ban on using House resources for political purposes. That resolution passed overwhelmingly with little debate or fanfare. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, then cited the new provision to call points of order — procedural challenges — on two amendments proposed by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, to restrict Democratic committee chairs. Phelan ruled in favor of Geren both times.

“The amendment would require the speaker to use public resources, including staff time and government facilities, on behalf of one political instrumentality,” Phelan said the first time. “This obviously would require the speaker to violate the Housekeeping Resolution.”

It was a relatively anticlimactic end to the fight over Democratic committee chairs, which were a major issue in House primaries earlier this year, a rallying cry for conservative activists and a recurring theme in speeches as the legislative session kicked off Tuesday. After the House reelected Phelan by a nearly unanimous vote, he cautioned freshmen to “please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C.”

“After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C,” Phelan said.

Committee appointments are expected to be made in the next couple of weeks. Phelan has said he will appoint roughly the same proportion of Democratic chairs as last session, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be appointed to lead any powerful or coveted committees.

The amendment about sanctions for quorum-busting drew more No votes, almost entirely from Dems. Honestly, I have no problem with what was passed. It’s perfectly appropriate for the chamber to have sanctions for that kind of action, and it’s not that different, at least to my mind, than what was passed after the 2003 walkout. New rules get adopted each session, this can always be revisited in the future. TPR has more.

A walk through four districts, part 3: Try this at home!

In Part One I described my weird idea to take a stroll into four Congressional districts, something I decided I could do after taking a close look at the new map in Houston. In Part 2, I took you on that walk with me. Now I’m going to show how this could be done elsewhere and with different types of districts.

We do redistricting every ten years, so you might wonder why I picked Congressional districts as the object of this little obsession. Congressional redistricting had national implications, of course. As this recent DMN story points out, Texas Republicans squeezed out four more districts than the overall electoral numbers suggest they were entitled to, giving them nearly all of the seats needed to achieve a majority in the House. I wasn’t thinking of that a year ago, of course, but I definitely spent more time thinking about the Congressional map than about the others. It was that new Congressional map that I had zoomed in on, to see what things looked like in my immediate area, that gave me the inspiration.

But what about those other maps? How about in the State House, where the districts are smaller and there are 24 of them in Harris County? (There ought to be 25, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) In the previous map, my neighborhood was sliced in half for no particular reason, which meant that I’d travel between HDs 145 and 148 every day walking my dog. Our neighborhood has been reunited under the new map, so I would need to travel a little farther to cross State House boundaries. That made me think, which State House districts did I pass through as I did Wednesday’s walk? Let’s take a look!

I started in HD145, entered HD147 when I turned south on Heights after walking along the boundary once I passed Studewood, and then reached the boundary with HD134 at Washington. I was fully in HD134 once I was west of Shepherd.

But look closer! With a slight modification, I could have started in HD142, on Jensen south of Lorraine, walked north to Quitman, then followed the same route to eventually get to HD134, with a terminus at the HEB just south of Washington. I didn’t fool around with Google Maps for this, but that looks like a roughly equivalent distance. I’m not surprised that this was doable in such close proximity, but I would not have guessed that these would be the four districts involved. This is why it’s fun to play with maps, kids.

That wasn’t where I had picked for what may be the shortest walk needed to be in four State House districts. Take a look at this:

Just start on Yorktown and walk till you’re past Fayette. Google Maps shows this as 1.6 miles because it won’t let you cross San Felipe or Westheimer at Yorktown – it insists on making you hike all the way to Sage, then doubling back on Westheimer to return to Yorktown – so as the crow flies it’s probably not much more than a mile. Someone who knows that area better than I do will have to tell me why you can’t just walk all the way down Yorktown. Be that as it may, even with the detours, it’s a pretty short walk.

By the way, why is that tiny rectangle south of Westheimer and east of Chimney Rock in HD137 and not HD134? I have no idea. Either it’s a super-optimization of whatever evil redistricting software the Republicans used, or someone asked for that specific change for some reason. I’ll throw the question out to you if you think you know the answer.

There are a couple of other possibilities in Harris County. Zooming out a bit, south of I-10 and east of US59 you could get from HD142 to HD147 via HDs 142 and 145, and north of 610 you could get from HD141 to HD145 via HDs 140 and 142, though you’d have to cross US59 to do it, which might be dicey on foot.

Looking elsewhere in the state, I see possibilities in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, where I even see a possible five-district walk:

Start in that weird southern finger of HD108 and head south-ish to wind up in HD104, passing through HDs 114, 100, and 103 along the way. You have to cross the junction of I-30 and I-35, which sounds like a nightmare, but maybe it’s doable. Point is, these districts are all right up against each other.

You might think that State Senate districts would be too large for this, as there are eight fewer of them than there are Congressional districts. Challenge accepted:

Start on Piney Point Road near San Felipe and head south as it becomes Fondren, and go a few blocks south of Richmond, to have visited SDs 07, 17, 15, and 13. There may be other possibilities elsewhere, but I was happy enough with that to quit looking.

Going back to Congress for a minute, I see opportunities again in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas as before. That DMN story highlights a couple of places where the distance between one district and another, with a third in between, is ridiculously thin, like less than a quarter mile in the Dallas case. But just to finish this post, let me show you what my original walk route looked like under the old map:

Starting a bit farther east on Quitman in CD29, I could have headed on Quitman to White Oak to either Studewood or Yale, then gone south to Allen Parkway and east to Shepherd to visit CDs 18, 02, and 07 along the way. That might even have been a slightly shorter walk. Just a reminder that this was a thing before I ever decided to try it out, and will likely continue to be a thing ten years from now when we do this all again. Now go play with those maps and plan your own walk.

PS: I should have noted sooner that John Nova Lomax did a great series of articles some years ago when he wrote for the Houston Press in which he walked the entire length of a well-known Houston thoroughfare – Richmond and Shepherd are the two I remember from the series – and wrote about the experience. Some of the walks he took were in excess of ten miles and took him all day; he had planned meal and bathroom stops along the way, out of necessity. I don’t have that on my itinerary any time soon, but I was thinking about it as I did this walk.

The only pre-session gambling expansion story you need

Just re-run a version of this for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Although casino giants and sports betting groups are making a big push in Texas, the head of the state Senate said he isn’t seeing much progress on the issue going into 2023.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the legislative session that begins Jan. 10.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling but that he hasn’t seen any Republican in the Senate file a bill on the issue yet. Republicans hold a strong majority and control the Senate’s agenda.

[…]

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting. Under her proposed Senate Joint Resolution No. 17, up to four “destination resorts” in metro areas with at least 2 million people would be allowed, in addition to limited casinos at horse and dog tracks, plus authorization for Native American tribes to operate casino games and slot machines.

In 2021, Patrick similarly doused expectations for expanded gambling in Texas, but even more forcefully.

“It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick told Lubbock-based talk radio host Chad Hasty about sports betting legislation in 2021.

Every session, we get a breathless story about how much the gambling lobby will be spending on their hundreds of lobbyists to persuade the Lege to pass a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment to allow some form of expanded gambling. And then we get the same basic story the next session, because the one constant has been Dan Patrick, and even before him the general – and sufficient – Republican opposition to this idea. Never mind that Patrick wasn’t forceful about it this session – nothing has changed from his perspective since the last time, and none of those Republican Senators are going to file anything because they’re all Patrick’s puppets. Never mind that Greg Abbott has, in his typically mealy-mouthed fashion, expressed “openness” to the “idea” of some form of expanded gambling. Abbott’s a wuss who isn’t going to get into a fight with Patrick over this. All he’s saying here is that if Dan Patrick changes his mind and decides to allow something to come to a vote, he won’t oppose it. Nothing has changed, nothing to see here. File this story away for 2025, because it will be as relevant then as it is now.

Eventually, one of two things will change. Either Dan Patrick will decide that he’s okay with some more gambling, or someone else will become Lite Guv, and then we can find out what that person thinks. Until then, try to remain calm. And see if you can get one of those gambling lobbyist gigs. They have to be a great job, as there’s no expectation of success and they’ll be hiring again next time around.

Will we finally close the “dead suspect” loophole?

The short answer is no we won’t, but it will be worth the effort anyway.

Rep. Joe Moody

In November, state Representative Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who served on a committee that investigated the Uvalde killings, filed House Bill 30, a multifaceted measure that would close what’s called the “dead suspect loophole.” Under current law, Texas cops and prosecutors may withhold from the public many records stemming from investigations that did not result in a conviction. This statute arguably protects the reputations of innocent Texans, but it also casts a veil of secrecy over cases where there’s no conviction because the suspect is deceased—including when cops kill someone during an arrest, or a person dies in jail, or a school shooter’s rampage ends, as happened at Robb Elementary, with his own demise. Moody’s bill would specifically open up many cases where the lack of a conviction resulted from a suspect’s death.

Since May, state police have withheld records such as video and audio recordings from the Uvalde scene on the premise that the local district attorney is still investigating—a standard reason that agencies hold back much detailed information. Under the dead suspect loophole, however, those records can plausibly be kept secret forever. HB 30 would head this off.

“I certainly respect the investigatory process, but at some point you turn the corner and the public deserves to scrutinize the records, and that is at the heart of the Public Information Act,” Moody told the Observer. “The government doesn’t get to decide what is good for us to know and what is bad for us to know.”

In June, GOP Speaker of the House Dade Phelan tweeted support for closing the dead suspect loophole in Uvalde’s wake, and a spokesperson confirmed in early December that the speaker continues to support such a policy though he is “not yet familiar with the specifics of legislation that has been filed.”

In its present form, HB 30 would also expand public access to information about police misconduct in general and to videos of jail deaths or shootings by police, along with creating a public database of reports related to such shootings, among other provisions.

Next year’s legislative session, to begin in January, will mark the fourth time that Moody has tried to close the dead suspect loophole. In past sessions, discussion of his bills centered on prominent cases in which Texans were shot on their porches, tased in the back of squad cars, or left to perish in jails. Moody nearly succeeded in closing the loophole in 2019—with help from a contingent of small-government Republicans open to criminal justice reform—but he was derailed by a last-minute, scorched-earth campaign from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), the state’s largest police union, in a fight that left the El Paso lawmaker and the lobbying powerhouse as bitter adversaries.

Transparency advocates hope that Uvalde will make the difference this time around, but they won’t be getting any help from CLEAT. “Just like it has been in the past, this is a George Soros-funded fishing expedition that seeks to tear down our profession by false innuendo,” said CLEAT spokesperson Jennifer Szimanski, homing in on parts of the bill dealing with police personnel files. “We’ll definitely be fighting this piece of legislation.”

Szimanski—who also said of the bill: “This is ‘defund the police’”—added that there was likely no path for her group and Moody to discuss any compromise because “the author of this bill has not contacted us since 2019.”

Moody countered that his bill is “properly tailored” to only target information in police personnel files necessary to shed light on misconduct and specific incidents including ones involving dead suspects. “This is a serious policy. It’s not political grandstanding, but the people of that organization are completely disingenuous,” he said of CLEAT, adding that he has not received backing from George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire—often used as a bogeyman by the political right—who’s funded criminal justice reform efforts in recent years.

In addition to overcoming CLEAT, Moody would also need acquiescence from archconservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who controls the state Senate, and freshly reelected Governor Greg Abbott, who wields the veto pen and may harbor presidential ambitions. Neither responded to requests for comment for this article.

See here and here for some background. As I’ve said before on things like marijuana reform and expanded gambling, nothing will happen unless Dan Patrick changes his mind. We had our chance to do something about that, but we failed. Rep. Moody may be able to get a bill through the House again, but it will never make it through the Senate. It’s still worth the effort because of the stakes involved, but this is a long-term project. There’s no other way.

The rest of the story is about the history of this loophole, which has only existed since the late 90s – things were actually much better before then. Worth your time to read, I had no idea about it. For what it’s worth, Rep. Moody will surely have at least one cranky and pissed off ally in the Senate, and maybe that will have some effect.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, lambasted the emergency response to the Robb Elementary School shooting as “the worst response to a mass shooting in our nation’s history” during a congressional hearing Thursday.

“It was system failure, it was cowardice,” Gutierrez said. He joined family members and supporters of the victims in calling for stronger federal action to prevent gun violence.

Gutierrez, a Democrat, made the remarks during a hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that was focused on bipartisan legislative solutions to gun violence. But bipartisanship was hardly present as Democrats continued to point out what they called common-sense gun policy and Republicans accused them of trying to take away constitutional gun rights.

[…]

Congress passed a bipartisan law spearheaded by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting — the first major gun safety law in decades. The law increased funding for mental health resources, barred convicted violent domestic partners from buying guns, created grants for states implementing red flag laws and set money for state crisis intervention programs.

But Gutierrez criticized the bipartisan gun law as lacking basic provisions that would have stopped the massacre. He was angered that the Senate stripped a provision raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons to 21.

“The fact is in Texas you got to be 21 to buy a handgun, 21 to buy a beer, 21 to buy a pack of cigarettes, but you can be 18 and buy an AR-15, and that’s what happened here because this governor allowed it,” Gutierrez told reporters during a recess in the hearing. “It’s time for change, not just in Texas but throughout this country.”

As we know, Sen. Gutierrez plans to be a pain in the Senate’s ass about Uvalde and gun control. I’m sure he’d be persuaded to add this item to his list.

Ike Dike authorization officially passed

Took a roundabout route to get there, but here we are.

With the stroke of a pen, President Joe Biden authorized a $34 billion proposal to build a massive storm surge protection system on the Texas coast and around Galveston Bay.

Biden on Friday signed the National Defense Authorization Act, a $858 billion spending package that includes raises for troops and aid to Ukraine.

Buried deep in the bill was a single line that opens the door for one of the largest public infrastructure projects in U.S. history to be built in Texas. The defense act authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Texas Coastal Protection and Restoration project, which has locally become better known as the Ike Dike.

The $34 billion plan is a proposal to build a system of seagate, levees and dunes in an around Galveston Bay to block storm surge from rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico and into the bay and Houston Ship Channel.

[…]

Once fully constructed, the Army Corps estimates the project will save $2.2 billion in storm damages every year, though how useful the gates will be when they are complete — or over the half-century or more that the structure is expected to operate — remains to be seen. Like any other levees or dams, the barrier could fall short or fail to hold back the biggest storm surges. The project doesn’t address the kind of the rain-caused flooding that happened during Hurricane Harvey.

The defense bill doesn’t authorize funding of the project. Congress will need to separately authorize $21.4 billion for the project sometime in the future, while a new state-created taxing entity, the Gulf Coast Protection District, will have to contribute about $13 billion to the project, according to estimates published in the defense act.

“Federal authorization of the Coastal Texas Program represents a momentous step forward for this critical effort, over a decade in the making, to protect the communities, economy, and vital ecosystems of the Texas coast from the devastating effects of coastal storm surge,” said Michel Bechtel, president of the protection district’s board of directors.

As noted in an earlier story, a standalone version of the Ike Dike bill had passed both the House and the Senate earlier in the year, but there were differences between the two that were not reconciled in time for that bill to pass. So this is what we get, basically the same thing just done in a weird way. I feel confident that funding will follow – the state has already created one funding mechanism, but federal dollars will be needed – and from there it’s just a matter of how long it takes to actually build something. Which, to be clear, is probably on a 20-year timeline even if everything goes more or less as planned. So while one door is finally closed, there’s still a long way to go.

Senate committee makes small Uvalde recommendations

Par for the course.

A special Texas Senate committee that convened in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting made a series of policy recommendations Wednesday regarding school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.

In an 88-page report, the Special Committee to Protect All Texans acknowledged “more must be done to ensure the safety of Texas school children” in the wake of the May massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. The report was based in part on two days of testimony from police, mental health and education professionals, and gun safety advocates in June.

The committee made a single recommendation related to guns: Make purchasing a gun for someone who is barred from owning one a state-level felony. Straw purchases of firearms — when a person stands in to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from having one — are illegal under federal law, though the committee expressed concern that U.S. attorneys too seldom prosecute offenders.

Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 recommended banning straw purchases under state law in a report his office produced after the El Paso Walmart mass shooting. But the Legislature failed to pass it.

Such a law would not have prevented the Uvalde shooter from purchasing guns. He legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles in the days before the shooting.

On school safety, the committee proposed the creation of review teams to conduct on-site vulnerability assessments of school campuses and share the results with school leaders. It also suggested additional funding for grants to improve security at individual campuses based on needs.

It called for adding training centers for the school marshal program, through which teachers and staff can become certified to carry guns on campus. Since the program debuted in 2013, just 84 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have joined.

On mental health care, the committee recommended expanding access to the state’s telemedicine system for mental health to all school districts within a “reasonable time frame.” It also implored lawmakers to look for ways to increase the number of mental health professionals to support this expansion, such as allowing practitioners to volunteer; offering loan repayment benefits for professionals, especially in rural areas; offering paid fellowship and internships; and streamlining licensure requirements.

There are more recommendations, but none that will make you say “yeah, that will definitely help”. Certainly, there’s nothing to try to keep high-risk people from getting guns, and nothing to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying them. Most of these recommendations are reactive in nature; one of the few that are proactive is the vulnerability assessment plan, which will expose problems that may or may not be able to be remediated. Why would we expect anything different? Oh, and as a reminder, the single biggest and most effective thing the state of Texas could do to improve access mental health care is to expand Medicaid. Yeah, yeah, I know. Reform Austin has more.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was neither widespread voter fraud nor other serious issues in Texas’ 2020 elections, according to an audit of four of Texas’ largest counties released Monday evening by Secretary of State John Scott’s office.

While the 359-page report did find some “irregularities,” it nonetheless reinforced what election experts and monitors — including Scott, the state’s chief election official — have routinely said: that the 2020 contest was not riddled with widespread fraud, and Texans should be confident that future elections will be similarly secure.

“When the Texas Election Code and local procedures are followed, Texas voters should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections,” the report stated. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities.”

[…]

The report found that “many of the irregularities observed” in 2020 were likely caused by the “extraordinary challenges” posed by the pandemic and ensuing staffing shortages. And, auditors said, such problems are even less likely to occur in future contests because of legislative changes, including those in Senate Bill 1.

Of the four counties the report analyzed, the Harris County general election had the most issues, including improper chain of custody of mobile ballot boxes at 14 polling locations. Auditors also found thousands of discrepancies between electronic pollbook records and audit logs.

See here for a bit of background. No one who doesn’t have to is going to read the entire 359 page report, but you can get a high level summary at the beginning of it. I have two points to add. One comes from the Chron story, which addresses some of the items raised in the audit about Harris County:

Harris County did not properly handle certain electronic voting records during the 2020 election, according to an audit from the Texas secretary of state’s office that uncovered numerous administrative mishaps but no evidence of widespread voter fraud in four of the state’s largest counties.

In a report released Monday evening, the state elections office found that Harris County failed to properly document the “chain of custody” — a required step-by-step accounting of voting records — for thousands of ballots across at least 14 polling locations. The finding was among those mentioned by state elections officials last month in a letter to the Harris County elections administrator, delivered days before the November midterms.

The report outlined a number of slip-ups across the four audited counties, which included Republican-controlled Collin and Tarrant counties and Democratic-run Dallas and Harris counties. It concluded that Texas voters “should have a very high level of confidence in the accuracy of the outcome of Texas elections” when counties follow the state election code and their own local procedures.

“Each of the four counties has detailed procedures and detailed forms to document compliance with the code and ensure that only lawful ballots are cast and counted,” the report reads. “When procedures are followed, results of the election are trustworthy. Indeed, in most cases, the audit found that the counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities. In some cases, however, they did not.”

When counties did not properly follow state law and local procedures, “discrepancies and irregularities ranging from small to large ensued,” the report said.

State officials singled out Harris County for “very serious issues in the handling of electronic media,” finding that the county lacked records to explain the origin of 17 “mobile ballot boxes” — the pieces of hardware that store vote tallies and transmit the data to and from polling places. The report also identified disparities between electronic records from the polls and “tally audit logs” at numerous locations.

Since the 2020 election, Harris County has switched to a new system that stores voting records on vDrives — a type of USB thumb drive — with “procedures in place to document proper chain of custody … in the event a vDrive fails,” the report reads.

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum has pledged a complete assessment of the issues that arose during the midterm while warning the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

Last month, Tatum penned a letter to state officials seeking to address the audit’s preliminary findings, including the chain-of-custody problems.

Writing to Chad Ennis, director of the secretary of state’s forensic audit division, Tatum said the issue with the 14 locations cited in the report arose when votes were “stranded” on devices used at Harris County’s drive-thru voting and other locations.

To read the “stranded” results, Tatum wrote, county officials had to create 30 “replacement” mobile ballot boxes.

“The number of cast votes on those 30 MBBs align with the expected number from the voting sites,” Tatum wrote to Ennis. “This explains why there were more than 14 MBBs created to read the results and why those initial 14 were not read into the tabulator.”

The poll book disparities, meanwhile, were the result of voting machines being moved from one location to another during the election.

“While this may have been done to address long lines at any of the vote centers during the 2020 election, this is a practice that our office no longer follows,” said Tatum, who was appointed elections administrator in July.

We have the joy of being “randomly” audited again for this November’s election, so we’ll see what they have to complain about this time.

The other point I would raise, which was mentioned in passing in that Chron story, was that this audit was released on Monday night (the Trib story published at 8 PM) during Christmas week. I don’t know about you, but I think that if they had something juicy to report, they’d have dropped it at a time when people would be actually paying attention. This has all the hallmarks of a “nothing to see here” report.

Electoral Count Act included in must-pass budget bill

It’s not nearly enough to shore up voting rights, but it’s still vitally necessary and clearly the best we could do.

After months of negotiations, it now appears to be official: The Electoral Count Reform Act has hitched a ride on the much-anticipated 2023 omnibus funding package that was released Monday night, setting up a path for the legislation to pass the Senate.

“My two-word reaction is thank God,” said Matthew Seligman, a lawyer and fellow at Stanford Law School’s Constitutional Law Center who has tracked the reform effort closely. “I think this means that it’s virtually certain that it will be included in the final bill and the Electoral Count Reform Act will become law.”

Democrats and a handful of Republicans have been negotiating over how to reform the outdated 1887 law — which lays out how presidential electors are counted in Congress — for the past year. The effort to do so was prompted by vagaries in the text that former President Donald Trump and lawyer John Eastman sought to exploit to subvert the 2020 election.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced they’d come to an agreement this summer, but it has been unclear for some time whether the legislation would garner the 60 Republican votes needed to clear a filibuster, and whether it would pass before Republicans take over control of the House next year.

But the end game is coming into focus: The Friday government funding deadline is coming up, lawmakers are aiming to pass the massive $1.66 trillion spending bill — and the ECA reform included in it — before then.

“We must finish passing this omnibus before the deadline on Friday when government funding runs out, but we hope to do it much sooner than that,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Tuesday morning. He added the first procedural votes in the Senate could happen as soon as today.

The ECA reform bill would clarify that the vice president’s role in certifying a presidential election is purely ceremonial and make it clear that they do not have the sole power to address disputes over electors. It would also raise the threshold for Congress to invalidate legitimate electors and for state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states.

This reform is “​​a critical step to strengthen the guardrails for our democracy and ensure that the will of the voters is upheld following a presidential election,” said Holly Idelson, a counsel with Protect Democracy.

It really is a shame that a much more robust reform package that included a renewed Voting Rights Act, redistricting restrictions, requirements for early voting, voting by mail, same-day voter registration, and more was not able to pass. I’ve ranted about that before, and all I can do at this point is hope that another opportunity comes up in the foreseeable future. At least this will make it harder for a bad actor to try to steal the next Presidential election. You take the wins where you can.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus the spread

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott

So last time we saw the numbers for the 2022 Governor’s race. But what numbers need in order to be meaningful is context, and that means other numbers to compare them to. We’re going to do that in a few different ways, and we’ll start with the numbers from the Texas Redistricting Council for these new districts. Specifically, the numbers from 2018 and 2020.


Dist    Abbott    Beto     Cruz    Beto
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   38,851  26,028
HD127   39,102  26,791   40,573  28,326
HD128   31,983  13,915   32,586  15,892
HD129   37,118  27,144   38,281  29,112
HD130   44,983  20,891   42,747  20,968
HD131    5,963  25,387    5,628  33,440
HD132   35,079  25,603   32,220  23,431
HD133   33,195  26,971   34,930  30,329
HD134   29,592  51,010   32,114  54,514
HD135   16,443  24,121   16,162  27,762
HD137    7,860  13,421    8,713  19,309
HD138   31,077  25,464   32,754  28,778
HD139   11,643  32,115   11,599  38,842
HD140    5,717  13,400    5,393  19,532
HD141    4,549  20,922    4,459  28,096
HD142    8,666  25,793    8,265  29,705
HD143    8,420  16,047    8,751  23,602
HD144   11,566  14,683   12,511  21,278
HD145   12,631  32,765   12,101  37,672
HD146    8,511  33,610    9,227  40,111
HD147    8,952  37,366    9,575  45,020
HD148   15,451  21,460   16,281  26,815
HD149   12,068  19,844   12,097  27,142
HD150   33,857  23,303   33,084  23,466


Dist   Abbott%   Beto%    Cruz%   Beto%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   59.40%  39.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   59.30%  40.00%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   66.80%  32.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.30%  42.80%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   66.60%  32.70%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   14.30%  85.20%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   57.50%  41.80%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   53.10%  46.10%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.80%  62.40%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   35.00%  64.40%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   30.90%  68.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.80%  46.40%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   22.90%  76.50%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   21.50%  78.00%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   13.60%  85.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   21.60%  77.80%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   26.90%  72.50%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   36.80%  62.50%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   24.10%  75.00%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   18.60%  80.70%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   17.40%  81.90%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   37.50%  61.70%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   30.60%  68.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   58.10%  41.20%

Greg Abbott got 490K votes in 2022, whereas Ted Cruz got 498K in 2018. It’s therefore not a surprise that Abbott generally matched Cruz’s vote totals in the districts, with a bit of variation here and there. Beto, meanwhile, got 595K votes in 2022 after getting 700K in 2018, a significant drop. You can clearly see that in the district data. What’s interesting to me is that Beto was pretty close to his 2018 performance for the most part in Republican districts. His dropoff was almost entirely in strong Democratic districts, which accounts for the decrease in vote percentage he got. This is consistent with reports that Republicans had the turnout advantage nationally, due in part to weaker Democratic turnout among Black voters.

You can shrug your shoulders about this or freak out for What It All Means for 2024 as you see fit. I tend to lean towards the former, but I will readily acknowledge that the job of working to get turnout back to where we want it for 2024 starts today. I’ll have more to say about this in future posts as well, but let me open the bidding by saying that the target for Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2024, if we want to make a serious run at winning the state for the Democratic Presidential nominee, is one million Democratic votes; it may actually need to be a little higher than that, but that’s the minimum. It’s doable – Biden got 918K in 2020, after all. Ed Gonzalez got 903K in his re-election for Sheriff. Really, we may need to aim for 1.1 million, in order to win the county by at least 300K votes, which is what I think will be needed to close the statewide gap. Whether we can do that or not I don’t know, but it’s where we need to aim.

I also want to emphasize the “Abbott got more or less the same number of votes in each district as Cruz did” item to push back as needed on any claims about Abbott’s performance among Latino voters. His improvement in percentage is entirely due to Beto getting fewer votes, not him getting more. That’s cold comfort from a big picture perspective for Democrats, and as we saw in 2020 a greater-than-expected share of the lower-propensity Latino voters picked Trump, so we’re hardly in the clear for 2024. All I’m saying is that claims about Abbott improving his standing with Latino voters need to be examined skeptically. Remember that if we compared Abbott to Abbott instead of Beto to Beto, he got 559K votes in 2018, so he dropped off quite a bit as well. He got fewer votes in each of the Latino districts in 2022 than he did in 2018:

HD140 – Abbott 6,466 in 2018, 5,717 in 2022
HD143 – Abbott 10,180 in 2018, 8,420 in 2022
HD144 – Abbott 13,996 in 2018, 11,566 in 2022
HD145 – Abbott 15,227 in 2018, 12,631 in 2022
HD148 – Abbott 18,438 in 2018, 15,541 in 2022

So yeah, perspective. I suppose I could have done the Governor-to-Governor comparison instead, but I was more interested in Beto’s performance, so that’s the route I took. Beto would look better from a percentage viewpoint if I had done it that way. There’s always more than one way to do it.

One last thing on turnout: In 2014, Wendy Davis led the Democratic ticket with 320K votes in Harris County. Beto was at over 401K even before Election Day. His total is almost twice what Davis got. We can certainly talk about 2022 being “low turnout”, but we’re in a completely different context now.


Dist    Abbott    Beto    Trump   Biden
=======================================
HD126   35,835  23,627   50,023  35,306
HD127   39,102  26,791   53,148  38,332
HD128   31,983  13,915   46,237  21,742
HD129   37,118  27,144   51,219  38,399
HD130   44,983  20,891   58,867  29,693
HD131    5,963  25,387   10,413  42,460
HD132   35,079  25,603   46,484  35,876
HD133   33,195  26,971   42,076  40,475
HD134   29,592  51,010   38,704  66,968
HD135   16,443  24,121   26,190  40,587
HD137    7,860  13,421   12,652  24,885
HD138   31,077  25,464   42,002  37,617
HD139   11,643  32,115   17,014  49,888
HD140    5,717  13,400   10,760  24,045
HD141    4,549  20,922    8,070  38,440
HD142    8,666  25,793   13,837  41,332
HD143    8,420  16,047   15,472  28,364
HD144   11,566  14,683   20,141  25,928
HD145   12,631  32,765   18,390  45,610
HD146    8,511  33,610   12,408  51,984
HD147    8,952  37,366   14,971  55,602
HD148   15,451  21,460   24,087  34,605
HD149   12,068  19,844   21,676  35,904
HD150   33,857  23,303   45,789  34,151

Dist   Abbott%   Beto%   Trump%  Biden%
=======================================
HD126   59.37%  39.14%   57.80%  40.80%
HD127   58.50%  40.08%   57.30%  41.30%
HD128   68.66%  29.87%   67.10%  31.60%
HD129   56.80%  41.53%   56.20%  42.20%
HD130   67.29%  31.25%   65.50%  33.00%
HD131   18.78%  79.96%   19.50%  79.60%
HD132   57.06%  41.64%   55.60%  42.90%
HD133   54.41%  44.21%   50.30%  48.40%
HD134   36.16%  62.34%   36.10%  62.50%
HD135   39.97%  58.63%   38.70%  59.90%
HD137   36.32%  62.01%   33.20%  65.40%
HD138   54.09%  44.32%   52.00%  46.60%
HD139   26.25%  72.41%   25.10%  73.70%
HD140   29.36%  68.82%   30.60%  68.30%
HD141   17.61%  80.98%   17.20%  81.80%
HD142   24.79%  73.80%   24.80%  74.10%
HD143   33.86%  64.53%   34.90%  64.00%
HD144   43.34%  55.02%   43.20%  55.60%
HD145   27.31%  70.85%   28.30%  70.10%
HD146   19.95%  78.80%   19.00%  79.80%
HD147   19.04%  79.49%   20.90%  77.60%
HD148   41.18%  57.19%   40.50%  58.10%
HD149   37.31%  61.36%   37.20%  61.70%
HD150   58.34%  40.15%   56.50%  42.10%

Obviously, the vote totals don’t compare – over 1.6 million people voted in 2020, a half million more than this year. But for the most part, Beto was within about a point of Biden’s percentage, and even did better in a couple of districts. Abbott did best in the Republican districts compared to Trump. As we’ll see when we look at the other statewide races, Abbott (and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton) was one of the lower performers overall among Republicans, as was the case for Trump in 2020, but maybe there were slightly fewer Republican defectors this year.

It will take an improvement on the 2020 Biden and 2018 Beto numbers for Dems to put any State Rep districts into play, with HD138 being the first in line; remember that HD133 was a bit of an outlier, with a lot of Republican crossovers for Biden. Incumbency has its advantages, and as we have seen Dem performance can be a lot more variable downballot than at the top, especially when the top has the most divisive Republicans, so it will take more than just (say) Biden getting 50.1% in HD138 for Rep. Lacy Hull to really be in danger. It’s more that this will be another incentive to really work on boosting overall turnout. Having a good candidate in place, which I think Stephanie Morales was this year, and making sure that person has the financial and logistical support they need (which she didn’t have) will be key.

I’ll have more to say as we go along. Please let me know what you think and ask any questions you may have.

Abbott is now attacking immigration-focused non-profits

Always be finding a new enemy, that’s the motto.

Gov. Greg Abbott called Wednesday for the state to investigate whether nonprofit organizations have helped people enter the country illegally, adding another talking point to his border hawk arsenal and another headache to humanitarian relief groups that help migrants in Texas.

Abbott made his request in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he cited the increased number of migrants expected at the border once Title 42 — a federal public health order issued near the start of the pandemic that officials have used to turn away migrants at the border — comes to an end in a few days at a time of record migrant crossings. Earlier this week, 1,500 people waded across the low waters in the Rio Grande and into El Paso in one crossing, stressing the city’s limited resources to deal with migrants.

Without citing any evidence, Abbott said he had received reports that nongovernmental organizations — a term that generally refers to nonprofit, humanitarian groups — “may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.”

“In light of these reports, I am calling on the Texas Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders,” Abbott wrote, adding that he is ready to “craft any sensible legislative solutions [Paxton’s] office may propose that are aimed at solving the ongoing border crisis and the role that NGOs may play in encouraging it.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question asking what reports his office was citing. Fox News reported Monday that Mexican police had escorted 20 buses from other parts of Mexico to nongovernmental organizations at Mexican border cities. The outlet reported that the migrants then walked from the nongovernmental organizations and crossed illegally into El Paso.

Texas does not have jurisdiction over Mexican nongovernmental organizations, and the reporting did not allege any improper action by a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.

Still, nonprofit groups working to help migrants on the border say Abbott’s call for investigations could make their jobs harder. The move drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and local officials.

“Governor Abbott’s decision to investigate NGOs that are providing humanitarian care for migrants is shameful and intended to intimidate and instill fear in non-profit and faith-based organizations that exemplify the values we should all aspire to,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “Most border NGOs that work tirelessly on the border help provide temporary shelter, food and hospitality to migrants, most of whom will be awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims with sponsors they have in different parts of the country. They have been doing this work for decades and deserve our praise, not persecution.”

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute, said in a statement that Abbott’s language was “alarming and an unequivocal attempt to intimidate humanitarian organizations working on the front lines.”

“This is a moment for border communities to come together to meet a humanitarian challenge. We need the support and collaboration of the government at all levels, not political grandstanding that dangerously approaches criminalizing Good Samaritans,” Corbett said.

In Texas, nonprofits that aid migrants play a crucial role. Once migrants are released by federal officials into border cities, which frequently do not have the resources to deal with the large number of people crossing the border, these groups help temporarily house the migrants and help them find transportation to other parts of the country. In many areas, immigration officials bring migrants to nonprofit groups once they have already been processed by the federal government and are free to be released.

[…]

But without the nonprofits’ work, border cities would likely have more migrants roaming the streets without any way to move on if they’re trying to reach a different destination where they may have family members or a support group to help them until their immigration process is finalized. Abbott has even partnered with some nonprofit groups to carry out his policy of busing migrants to Democrat-led cities like Washington, D.C.New YorkChicago and Philadelphia.

Nothing quite captures the zeitgeist of the modern “conservative” movement like an old white guy wildly overreacting to some bullshit story he just saw on Fox News. I bet Abbott was a top-notch chain email forwarder back in the day.

I make dumb jokes about stuff like this because honestly I’m not sure what else I can do right now. I’d love to hear some good strategic ideas because I’m fresh out, and the next election is obviously too far away to be of any importance right now. Maybe there was hope for some kind of action at the federal level in the lame duck section, but that’s not looking great right now either.

The immigration framework proposed by two bipartisan lawmakers that would have passed permanent relief for young undocumented immigrants in exchange for harsh border measures has reportedly failed.

Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema “did not strike a deal that would have been able to secure the necessary 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate during the lame-duck session,” congressional officials told CBS News. John Cornyn “and other members of GOP leadership said there was scant Republican support for the plan,” CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez tweeted Wednesday.

The termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through right-wing courts is not a matter of if, its a matter of when, and passage of a deal during the lame duck represented the last chance to pass some sort of relief before an anti-immigrant Texas judge issues his decision. Kevin McCarthy has already promised he’ll pass no humane relief, as part of his campaigning to become speaker. That includes a corrupt bargain targeting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for impeachment.

The immigration proposal came as young immigrants (as well as the farmworkers who feed America) rallied for legislative action before the current congressional term ends in January, and was a sweet-and-sour deal attempting to garner the 10 Republicans needed to overcome the Jim Crow filibuster.

The sweet: Relief for DACA recipients, who for five years have been watching the program be attacked by Republicans, both at the federal government level and in the courts. The sour: Harsh border enforcement measures, including an extension of Stephen Miller’s anti-asylum Title 42 policy for at least another year. CNN had also reported increased border security funding, anywhere from $25 billion to $40 billion, on top of the billions that border agencies already get. But apparently, none of that was enough to convince 10 members of the GOP caucus, according to Cornyn.

Cornyn, since we’re already discussing him, once made a laughable claim in a campaign ad that he’s supported legalization for undocumented immigrant youth, and that he’s actually been fighting for them behind the scenes. But given a real, high-stakes chance to do something about, like right now during the lame duck session and as an end to the DACA program is inevitable, he’s done nothing but throw cold water on the proposal.

It’s not hard to boil all this down to Republicans just not wanting to do anything about DACA recipients—even when presented with the kind of border measures they love—because they want to keep using immigrants as a political tool.

I guess nothing is truly dead until they all adjourn, but this is where we are right now. And as long as the Republicans feel like they’re doing better with the system remaining broken, why should they do anything different? The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Kirk Watson again elected Mayor of Austin

Party like it’s 1997, y’all.

Kirk Watson

In a tight race, Austin voters picked a familiar face Tuesday night to guide the capital city over the next two years as the region deals with skyrocketing housing costs and explosive growth.

In a contest between two Austin Democrats, former state Sen. Kirk Watson narrowly prevailed over state Rep. Celia Israel and retook the seat he last held more than two decades ago.

“I’m as grateful today as I was 25 years ago to be entrusted with this job,” Watson said at a watch party in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood. “It means a lot to me to know that Austinites in every part of this city still want the kind of leadership that I’ve tried to deliver both as mayor and as your state senator.”

Miles away at a watch party in North Austin, Israel conceded to Watson — while ruefully acknowledging Austin’s growing unaffordability, the race’s defining issue.

“Our campaign was founded on a very simple idea: The people who built this city and who continue to build this city, who dress our wounds, who teach our kids, who drive our buses, who answer our 911 calls … they deserve the respect and the compassion that a progressive city can give them,” Israel said.

The race to lead Texas’ fourth-largest city was a squeaker. Israel beat Watson in Travis County, which contains almost all of Austin, by 17 votes. But Watson built a lead of 881 votes in Williamson County and 22 votes in Hays County, according to unofficial election night tallies — delivering him the mayor’s seat.

[…]

On top of the city’s housing crisis, Watson will have to deal with the state’s Republican leadership, which has grown increasingly hostile to Austin and Texas’ bluer urban areas.

Within the past two years, Austin cut the city’s police spending in the wake of George Floyd protests and rolled back a ban on homeless encampments in public areas — moves that Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature later rebuked by passing new laws reining in those measures and restricting other major Texas cities from following in Austin’s steps.

During the campaign, Watson pitched himself as a veteran of the Legislature who could build a working relationship with state GOP leaders — or at least avoid their unfriendly gaze.

“When we choose to work together, we will heal old divides and solve old problems,” Watson said Tuesday night. “When we choose to work together, Austin’s future will get brighter and brighter and brighter, I promise.”

Congratulations to Mayor-elect Watson, who at least should have a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into. I liked both candidates but might have had a preference for Celia Israel, as I tend to see the big city Mayors as potential future statewide candidates (we need to get them from somewhere), which was Watson himself in 2002. Maybe she’ll give that some thought for next go-round anyway. As for dealing with the Lege, I’m pretty sure not having to put up with Dan Patrick’s bullshit was a proximate cause of Watson’s departure for UH a couple of years ago in the first place. Speaking as a resident of a city with a former Legislator as its Mayor and another who hopes to succeed him, I hope that sentiment works for you, but I’d keep my expectations very, very modest. The Austin Chronicle has more.