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We do need to find someone to run against Ted Cruz

I don’t know who that ought to be yet, but surely someone is out there.

Not Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz said on Saturday that he would seek a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2024, though he also did not rule out running for president.

“I’m running for reelection in the Senate, I’m focused on the battles in the United States Senate,” Cruz told reporters after addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. He said he was also focused on the Senate runoff in Georgia on Dec. 6, according to a video of his discussion with reporters posted by Fox News.

The Texas Republican reiterated his disappointment that his party failed to take control of the Senate in this month’s midterm elections, a setback he blamed on a lack of determination within the party.

Cruz was one of 10 Republican senators who voted against the reelection of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as minority leader on Wednesday. McConnell easily fended off a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, by a vote of 37-10.

I know I just said that I don’t want to engage in wischcasting for this, and I still don’t. But we do need to be prepared to think about who we want to see run for this nomination, and the sooner the better. It’s still the case that no Texas Republican has come as close to losing statewide this century as Cruz did in 2018, and it’s still the case that all decent people loathe Ted Cruz. I’m sure there are some people who will relish the opportunity.

I know we just came off a mediocre at best election, but the optimistic view is that Dems have been steadily gaining ground overall, and we’ve done better in Presidential years. The lunatic fringe of the Republican-majority House will make a very easy foil for President Biden, and Donald Trump will either be the Republican nominee – and nobody has done more for Democratic turnout efforts over the past three cycles than he has – or will be enraged and embittered over not being the nominee – and nobody has done more to sow division and turmoil in the Republican Party over the past six years than he has. There are any number of ways that things could be bad, and that’s before we consider whether Biden should be running for a second term, but there is a very plausible optimistic case to be made. Of course, I said the same thing about 2022 not long after Biden was inaugurated, so take all that into account. The point still is, at least at this time, there’s no need to fear running in 2024.

As to who, we can debate that as we see fit. Maybe Julian Castro, if he hasn’t reached his sell-by date. Maybe a current (Ron Nirenberg, Eric Johnson) or recent (Annise Parker) Mayor might want to take a step up. Maybe a State Senator who wins the draw to not be otherwise on the ballot in 2024. Who knows? My argument is simply that this is an opportunity that someone should want to take. We know we can raise enough money for whoever it is. Just think about it, that’s all I’m asking.

Our property tax system is soooooooo awesome!

How awesome is it? So awesome you don’t even have to live here to get a tax break.

Herschel Walker, the former Dallas Cowboys running back and Republican candidate running for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, is slated to get a tax break on his $3 million residence in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb — potentially running afoul of Texas tax law.

According to Tarrant County property and tax records, Walker claimed a homestead exemption on his four-bedroom home in Westlake in 2021 and is expected to do so again this year — even after he registered to vote in Georgia last year. Walker has since voted in two elections there, CNN reported.

The exemption saved Walker more than $1,200 on his property tax bill last year, records from the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector show, and would net him more than $1,500 in savings this year.

Walker’s Texas homestead exemption might also raise questions about his Senate run in Georgia. He is in a runoff with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, in a race to determine just how tightly Democrats will control the Senate for the next two years. The U.S. Constitution requires officeholders to live in the state in which they’re elected.

Under Texas law, homeowners can claim a homestead exemption — which exempts a certain amount of a home’s value from taxation — only on their primary residence. But homeowners may continue to claim the exemption if they “do not establish a principal residence elsewhere … intend to return to the home … [and] are away less than two years,” according to the state comptroller’s office.

Walker bought the house in Westlake in 2011, according to Tarrant County appraisal records. He has claimed the exemption on his Texas home since 2012, records show, allowing him to pay a lower tax bill toward the city of Westlake and Keller Independent School District. School districts make up the bulk of any given Texas homeowner’s tax bill.

So, um, anyone feel like filing a complaint? I can only imagine what a spectacle an attempt to enforce the law in this instance might turn into. The DMN has more.

Do we actually know how to fix the grid?

The evidence is unclear.

Texas lawmakers and experts who study the state’s power grid aren’t thrilled with a proposal by state energy officials aimed at preventing future widespread outages such as the one during the 2021 winter storm.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas last week unveiled a proposal, backed by Chair Peter Lake, that would essentially pay power generators to make sure they have enough reserve electricity to feed the state’s electrical grid in times of extremely high demand. Generators would receive “performance credits” after proving their ability to keep the lights on during those periods — a system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, according to the commission’s consultant.

In the days since, state legislators and energy experts have cast doubts on the proposal, which would cost power customers an additional $460 million yearly, according to the PUC’s estimate. They also questioned the plan’s complexity and the time it would take to implement such a novel system.

“There are huge reliability stakes and huge dollar stakes,” said Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC, which regulates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator. “We need certainty. But there are ways to create certainty without making potentially billion-dollar errors.”

The Texas Legislature last year ordered the commission to overhaul the state’s energy market, which functions mostly off of supply and demand, in the wake of the winter storm. Texas’ electrical grid nearly collapsed as ice and snow blanketed the state. Below-freezing temperatures caused the demand for electricity to surge, triggering widespread power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark without heat for several days. Hundreds of people died as a result.

Power suppliers were allowed to charge sky-high prices for energy as demand spiked during the storm — but frozen equipment meant that they couldn’t meet that demand.

During their first chance to weigh in on potential reforms to the market, lawmakers on a key Senate panel this week made it clear they’re not impressed with the commission’s main proposal.

“This plan is so convoluted, has a long timeline to be put into place, that it’s a set-up for failure for everybody,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, adding that the additional costs of the plan will ultimately be paid by power customers.

“The end loser is the end user,” Campbell said.

Senators expressed concerns about making the state’s power customers pay more for an untested system on top of paying off billions of dollars in costs incurred during the storm — costs that energy experts have said Texans will be paying off for decades.

“There was already a wealth transfer that we saw happen [during Uri], probably the largest in the state’s history,” state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said.

I’ve read this story and the Chron story about the same hearing a couple of times, and I’m still not really sure what was on the table here. Part of the reason for this is that PUC Chair Lake rejected the recommendations of the consulting firm they hired, which among other things called for requiring electric providers to buy “reliability credits” from power generators, the idea being that generators would commit in advance to provide enough power during periods of high demand. Given that this kind of robustness was cited as a key problem from last February it at least sounds like a decent starting point. If that’s not the plan, and we don’t care what FERC has to say, then where exactly are we? I don’t know, and it sounds like the Lege doesn’t either. Maybe we should do better about that? Just a thought. TPR has more.

Senate passes Respect For Marriage Act

Nice. And remember who opposed it, kids.

Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz tried to block a Senate vote to explicitly enshrine equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans into federal law Wednesday, after 12 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to clear the way for the bill’s passage.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013. The high court went further in 2015 and ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states can’t ban same-sex marriages, declaring that gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have a constitutional right to marry.

The core provisions of the Respect for Marriage Act would be relevant only if the Supreme Court reverses that decision in the way it revoked a constitutional right to abortion this summer.

The bill would not force states that currently have unenforceable bans on same-sex marriage, like Texas, to offer marriage certificates to gay, lesbian and bisexual couples if Obergefell is overturned. But it would mandate that the state recognize a same-sex marriage that occurred in a state where it is legal. The vote on Wednesday in the Senate clears the way for it to pass the chamber easily. It will then return to the House, where members will consider the amendments made in the Senate. The House passed the original version of the bill in July.

There was a push to get this to a vote before the election, but the decision was made to defer it to the lame duck session. Given that it has now passed the Senate, I can’t argue the logic – sometimes, the result is all that matters. The RFMA has some progressive critics, but the argument for its passage is strong. I have no doubt it will sail through the House. It’s a very good thing, but don’t rest on your laurels because there’s lots more to be done before the end of the year. Mother Jones, TPM, and The 19th have more.

Sen. Gutierrez begins his mission to be a pest about Uvalde

One of the things I’ll be watching this session.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio has pre-filed three bills ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that would reform state gun laws and set up a state fund to compensate victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

The two gun-related bills would establish high risk protective orders to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people and raise the age limit to buy any firearm from 18 to 21.

The other proposal would set up a $300 million fund for Uvalde victims and their families and waive legal immunity for state and local law enforcement who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting on May 24.

“We are doing what should have been done after Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa,” the Democrat said in an emailed statement. “Making sure that young killers cannot get their hands on the weaponry that is used in most of these shootings.”

[…]

The next session of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature session starts in January. So far, Texas GOP leaders have shown no willingness to impose new limits on gun ownership despite multiple high-profile mass killings across the state.

“It’s time for the killing in Texas to stop,” Gutierrez said. “We cannot continue to live in fear of going to school, going to church, shopping for groceries, and just living our lives.”

See here for the background. To be clear, many, many, many bills are filed every session. Few ever see the light of day, and fewer still even get a committee vote. Without Republican backing, these bills aren’t going anywhere. That’s where Sen. Gutierrez’s pledge to force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation comes into play, and is what I’ll be watching for. In the best case scenario, he manages to succeed and get one of these bills passed. More likely, he’s a thorn in Dan Patrick’s side. I’ll take either outcome.

Sen. Gutierrez vows to be a pest about Uvalde and gun control in the next session

I’m rooting for him.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

As he watched a couple load ice chests into their car at a gas station, something didn’t sit right with Roland Gutierrez. The pair were likely on their way to the lake to enjoy the late May sunshine in San Antonio—a normal way to spend the day, he knew. But Gutierrez, the state senator for District 19, couldn’t help thinking how surreal it is that life continues after a tragedy. He was on his way to Uvalde just days after an 18-year-old had opened fire on a classroom at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

“I was thinking how sad it is that … we move on with our lives,” Gutierrez said when we met at his San Antonio law office in September. “It’s not an unnatural thing. I get it. When these things happen, we always say, ‘Oh, it’s just too bad. I feel so sorry for those people.’”

Gutierrez represents a massive district that stretches from his hometown of San Antonio west to Big Bend National Park, encompassing a broad swath of southwest Texas, including Uvalde. The Democrat is relatively new to the Texas Senate, taking office in January 2021. His campaign had promised certain priorities: to push for legalized marijuana, to bolster mental health resources for rural Texans, and to improve public schools. Although he hasn’t dropped these issues, nearly all of his public appearances since May have been about Uvalde.

The shooting “changed me for sure,” Gutierrez said. “I won’t be a singular-issue public servant, but it has become a very, very big issue in my life and in the lives of these new friends that I’ve made. … For these parents … there’s no issue out there that matters if you don’t have your kid.”

Gutierrez, a father of two girls aged 15 and 13, has emerged as one of the most vocal lawmakers in the shooting’s aftermath. He called for accountability from the agencies that responded to the killings, appealed to Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on gun laws, and sued the Texas Department of Public Safety and its powerful chief Steve McCraw to try and force the release of more records about the massacre. The state police agency’s response to the Uvalde shooting only deepened his concern. He’s been skeptical of DPS ever since the launch of the “bullshit propaganda machine for Greg Abbott” that is Operation Lone Star, the multi-billion-dollar border security initiative in which state troopers play a starring role.

[…]

If re-elected, Gutierrez said, he’ll go into the 2023 legislative session with a no-excuses plan: force the issue on gun reform. He plans to spearhead legislation on age increases for gun purchases, expanded background checks, and red flag laws. If that doesn’t work, he said he’ll force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation.

“If they don’t want to talk about guns, and they don’t want to talk about gun violence in this state, well, I’m going to be talking about it,” Gutierrez said. “We’ll have Uvalde families in there. … As far as I can see, those families aren’t going to stop, nor should they.”

I’m sure there are plenty of procedural ways in which he can make a pain of himself – Dems have had some success in this department in recent years, though generally speaking at some point the weight of the majority wins, if not in the same session. I would hope that he’ll have plenty of company – it’s clear that one of the Republican goals for this session is to limit Democrats’ influence, so it’s not like there’s much to lose. Not everyone needs to be actively involved with this, but plenty of Dems will have little else of substance to do, most likely. May as well make some political hay – if you want the public that agrees with you on the issues to support you in the next election, you have to make sure they know who is and is not on their side.

Sen. Gutierrez is already at work on this.

Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez released call logs Monday that he said show Gov. Greg Abbott waited hours after the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School to have phone conversations about the tragedy with the state’s top cop.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, said the late timing of the three calls Abbott made on May 24, the date of the shooting, to the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, shows the Republican governor’s lack of concern.

So do their brevity, the Democratic senator added. Records show the three calls totaled 31 minutes.

“That’s not what leaders do, but that’s what this person did,” said Gutierrez, who shared the call logs during a Monday press conference.

[…]

During his Monday press event, Gutierrez said he received the call logs 60 days ago but declined to share them until now because he wanted to give the state’s investigation into the shooting “the benefit of the doubt.”

However, Gutierrez said he’s dismayed by the lack of transparency from both DPS and Abbott’s office around the shooting. He also accused the governor of bankrolling recent ads against him.

“If he wants to play politics with me and with South Texas, then we’re going to tell the truth,” Gutierrez said.

“This man has done absolutely nothing, which is why we’re sharing this today,” the senator added.

I might have acted sooner than that, but at least we’re all clear about who has good faith. This will definitely be worth watching come January.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

How long has it been since the Fifth Circuit upheld a voter suppression law?

However long it’s been, they’re back at it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a 2021 Texas law that set new residency requirements for voter registration, including one that civil rights groups alleged essentially blocked college students from signing up.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that blocked most of the law for creating an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

[…]

The judges found the groups, LULAC and Voto Latino, failed to prove they had endured harm as a result of the law and therefore lacked standing.

“It’s unfortunate that we have such a conservative, anti-voting rights 5th Circuit,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia said. “We’ve been representing Latinos of Texas since 1929. This is the first time in recent memory a court has ruled we do not have standing. We believe we were right on the merits that this is a voter suppression bill that should be overturned.”

Garcia added that the group plans to request a rehearing by the full court, which is often considered one of the most conservative courts in the country.

Senate Bill 1111, which took effect Sept. 1 of last year, requires that anyone using a P.O. Box to register must also provide documentation of a physical residential address, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license.

It also prohibits voters from establishing or maintaining a residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.”

Lastly, it bars voters from establishing a residence in a place they have not inhabited or at a previous residence, unless they live there at the time of the designation and intend to remain there.

“It’s a recognition of the obvious that they really didn’t have standing and they are not harmed because all (the bill) does is simply say: Don’t register at an impossible address,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who authored the bill.

LULAC and Voto Latino had argued that the law had forced them to have to divert resources toward educating the public about the changes and it chilled their speech when it came to what they could say about how to register to vote.

Garcia said LULAC spent more than $1 million to counteract election laws like SB 1111, but the judges sided with Texas in finding that the group failed to show how such expenses were directly related to that law, as several election laws were passed in 2021.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel mostly left the P.O. Box provision in-tact, reasoning that the state has an interest in preventing voter registration fraud and the request for verification of a physical address is not a severe burden. A response to that request with a new address, Yeakel clarified, should be considered a change of address with no further action needed.

Yeakel had enjoined the two other provisions. He argued that there are valid reasons for changing an address that may influence the outcome of an election but not in a malicious way, such as “voting, volunteering with a political campaign, or running for an elected office.”

The final provision relating to where a person lives or intends to stay would make registration near-impossible for college students, senators or other groups of people who live in multiple locations throughout the year, Yeakel said.

“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome … And the possible repercussions are not just complete disenfranchisement, but also criminal liability.”

See here for the background. You will note that I anticipated this outcome, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I would just like to know, if this law is constitutional, if we can prevent certain lowlife perennial candidates from registering at warehouses around town for the purposes of establishing “residency” to run for office. I’m sure the Fifth Circuit will be able to justify that, I would just like to see them do it.

Endorsement watch: Briones, Garcia, Garza

The Chron attempts to make some amends for their tortured endorsement of Judge Lina Hidalgo’s opponent by endorsing Lesley Briones for Commissioners Court in Precinct 4 over the incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle.

Lesley Briones

What do we want out of county government? Public safety. Roads. Flood control. The traditional core services of Commissioners Court must be carried out with integrity, focus and competency. But we also want more, particularly in a county where double-digit gaps in life expectancy exist between some neighborhoods. We think we can do better and we think can do both.

So does Lesley Briones, who represents the “yes and” candidate for Precinct 4.

Originally from Laredo, she became a lawyer and worked in litigation and tax law before eventually serving as a civil court judge here. Briones, 42, is bilingual and one of the few candidates we’ve seen whose website has a Spanish-language page.

Thanks to her professional experience, she has a good grasp of the nuances of the crime problem, many of which are particular to Harris County. She favors misdemeanor bail reform but also, as a crime victim herself, expressed an urgency during the Democratic primaries and, now, in the general election to addressing violent crime through smart, targeted efforts. She supports, for example, the micro-zone approach launched last year. And she noted that calls for more boots on the ground — a key platform among Republican candidates in local races this year — need to contend with the already funded but vacant positions in law enforcement agencies.

And while she has detailed plans for the basic services county government must provide, she is also supportive of the quality-of-life efforts we believe county government should pursue. Many of these, she said, can be aided through more strategic grant applications and philanthropic partnerships.

This kind of robust vision for county that doesn’t skimp on the core services but wants to leave things better than it found them is even more appealing because she promises to deliver it without partisan politics.

The incumbent has struggled to do that as of late.

Much of the rest is about Cagle’s failures, though they have more nice things to say about Briones at the end. They give Cagle no inch on his budget-preventing quorum breaking, noting how Cagle’s actions stand in contrast with his previous words. I’m never going to not be mad about their County Judge endorsement, but at least they got this right. My interview with Lesley Briones from the primary is here if you want to know more about her.

Over in Precinct 2, they endorse Commissioner Adrian Garcia for another term.

Adrian Garcia

To hear Adrian Garcia tell it, his first four years as a Harris County commissioner were a repudiation of his predecessor, Jack Morman.

Garcia, a Democrat, likes to say that he brought Precinct 2 — which encompasses Aldine and Northside, along with much of east Harris County, including Galena Park, Deer Park, Pasadena, La Porte and Baytown — “out of the stone age.”

Garcia claimed Morman, a Republican now running to reclaim his old seat, was tracking the precinct’s infrastructure projects in a red notebook with pencil and paper. Lower-income neighborhoods that Garcia claims were long neglected under Morman are safer, healthier and more vibrant with better sidewalks, hike-and-bike trails and parks. Parts of the county that for years were acutely vulnerable to flooding would now have first dibs on flood mitigation projects.

That narrative of rebalanced priorities certainly benefits Garcia politically; it also has some truth to it. Garcia, 61, former Houston police officer, city councilman and Harris County sheriff, has delivered on a number of the issues he ran on in 2018, from criminal justice reform to environmental justice to health care. Few would argue that his precinct is worse off than when he took office, and in some corners it is markedly better.

[…]

No, Garcia isn’t perfect. But even his detractors would acknowledge that he’s been effective. Morman’s personal style may be more agreeable, but his vision for the office lacks ambition. We want a county commissioner who will continue to use the levers of power to make their constituents’ lives tangibly better beyond fixing potholes and digging drainage ditches.

Voters should send Garcia back to Commissioners Court for another term.

I’ve seen more ringing endorsements, but I’ll take it. The editorial board really has a burr in their saddle about the redistricting of Commissioners Court, for which they ding Garcia, and I just have no patience with the argument that Democrats need to be angels about that while Republicans are actively working to completely repeal the Voting Rights Act. When the Legislature, and Congressional Republicans, and especially the cabal on SCOTUS, make even a small step in the direction of actual fairness and equity and racial equality, then I’ll be willing to hear those complaints. Until then, please spare me. My interview with Commissioner Garcia is here.

The third spoke in the Sunday trifecta is Rochelle Garza for Attorney General, because no decent person supports a repeat and unredeemed criminal for elected office.

Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza, Democratic candidate for attorney general, may or not enjoy a good joke. Although we see her smiling and laughing in photos and newsreels, we didn’t ask her that question when she visited with the Chronicle editorial board a few days ago. If she happens to be a connoisseur of jokes, we have one she might appreciate:

A lawyer walks into the HR department of a major law firm. Filling out a job application, he includes the following information on his resumé:

Under felony indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges; trial postponed repeatedly (although under order from a judge to sit for a deposition in the case next month)*** Under FBI investigation for assisting a real estate developer who allegedly hired a woman with whom he, the applicant, was having an extra-marital affair*** Is being sued by four former top aides in the office he now heads; they claim they were fired in violation of the state’s whistleblower protection law for reporting their boss’ potential crimes to the FBI*** Instigated a frivolous lawsuit seeking to throw out 2020 presidential election votes in states where he did not reside or represent; court laughter ensued*** Faces court sanctions from the state ethics association for peddling false claims about 2020 voter fraud*** Was warm-up act for former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021,“Stop the Steal” rally*** Recently headed major investigation into human trafficking and child sexual assault; rank incompetence wrecked investigation*** Vacancies abound in his sprawling office; can’t seem to find attorneys eager to work for him.

A job applicant with such a resume would be laughed out of any law firm in the land, any corporation with a legal department, any government agency. We Texans, though, have elected such a man as our attorney general — not once, but twice and some among us want to make it three times. Ken Paxton is his name. As long as he remains in office, the joke’s on us.

You get the idea. My interview with Rochelle Garza is here. You know what to do.

Also in the endorsement bucket: Ginny Brown Daniel for HD150 over her wingnut incumbent opponent, and Sen. Joan Huffman for re-election in SD17. Note what they say about Huffman’s role in redistricting at the state level this cycle, and compare it to their words about redistricting in Harris County. See what I mean?

Endorsement watch: Another smattering

The Chron endorses Cam Campbell in HD132.

Cam Campbell

Texas House District 132, stretching from just south of Interstate 10 in eastern Katy to U.S. 290 in Cypress, features a handful of high school football powerhouses. Voters there fittingly get to choose between two gridiron lovers in Republican incumbent Mike Schofield and Democratic challenger Cameron “Coach Cam” Campbell. Campbell believes Cypress, Katy and the rest of the western suburbs can become the “Fort Worth to Houston’s Dallas” with the right leadership and partnerships.

Campbell, 40, is a 2000 Cypress Springs graduate and a former University of Houston football player. He teaches children about safe play for a community outreach program of the Texans. He also has a sports facility construction company and has gone by “Coach Cam” since coaching for KIPP Houston High School.

Control of this district has swung back and forth between parties in recent years. Schofield was several years ago named “Freshman legislator of the year” by Republican members of the House but lost his seat in 2018 by just 113 votes to Gina Calanni, then won it back in a hard-fought 2020 election. This time, Schofield got some help through redistricting.

In our interview, Campbell criticized the gerrymandering, but he is running the electoral version of an aggressive no-huddle offense to drive voter engagement and turnout to overcome the influx of likely GOP voters. He talked at length about voter research and outreach tools his campaign is using. Given the redrawn district’s tilt, it’s not surprising his opponent has far outraised Campbell, but he appears to be making the most of his limited resources. Campbell’s high energy and attention to detail truly felt coach-like to us.

We appreciate Campbell’s vision of what the district and the Katy-Cypress area can be. He wants to sit on the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee in the House, in part to attract industry and promote his district.

Campbell said he’s passionate about promoting literacy and reducing gun violence, which he hopes to turn into legislative priorities if elected. He’s also been outspoken on the campaign trail about reproductive rights and LGTBQ rights. He favors marijuana legalization and greater environmental protections.

My interview with Coach Cam is here. I thought he was pretty impressive, so give that a listen if you haven’t. The Chron notes that they had endorsed incumbent Rep. Schofield before, and also that he didn’t bother screening with them this time. That is a trend that is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

The Chron also endorsed Carla Wyatt for Harris County Treasurer.

Carla Wyatt

Voters expecting shy, bookish candidates for Harris County treasurer, content to pore over spreadsheets in anonymity, have a surprise in store from Republican Kyle Scott and Democrat Carla Wyatt. However the race turns out, the county is about to get a charismatic, hardworking newcomer to oversee the office that processed some $20 billion coming in and out last year.

Wyatt earns our endorsement because she has two decades of experience working for the county, including in the budget office and public infrastructure. She also holds a doctoral degree in environmental toxicology, and she ran emergency communications during Hurricane Harvey. She has creative ideas for how to reach more residents and make it easier for people to interact with the office. In the budget office, she led an IT group that created interactive dashboards for county employees to see where money was going.

[…]

“I’ve created these relationships and I understand where all the little rocks and pebbles are, because I helped put some of them there,” Wyatt, 51, told the editorial board. “I think it’s important for whoever is in this office to have the experience and relationships to create checks and balances and be able to work across party lines and department lines.”

She wants to make it simpler for residents to find out whether the county owes them money and to propose ways to broaden the use of credit and debit card transactions in county business.

Scott’s campaign is centered around accountability and transparency, and he talked with us about wanting to serve as a check on wasteful spending. We especially appreciate Scott’s desire to bolster financial literacy and actively engage residents. His background as a former board trustee and communications executive at Lone Star College prepares him well for the task.

“Usually in the treasurer’s race, all you hear is, ‘I’m a watchdog,’ without explaining what that means or demonstrating knowledge of what you’re actually watching, and so many folks feel in the dark about where the money’s actually going,” Scott, who has a Ph.D. in political science, told us. “If you can talk about it clearly and bring some light to that, it’s appreciated.”

We endorsed Scott’s GOP primary opponent, in part because we were concerned when Scott said he would be willing to refuse to sign a county check as a final safeguard against wasteful spending by the Harris County Commissioners Court. Changing the county budget is the job of commissioners, not the treasurer. In our general election screening this fall, Scott told us he’d refuse to sign checks only in extreme moments, as in the case of the $11 million Elevate Strategies vaccine outreach contract.

Wyatt had a different take, using one of the several clever analogies she employed in her interview with us. “The treasurer can’t stop you from walking into a fire, but I can tell you that there is a fire,” she said. “I can tell you that the stove is hot.” She sees the treasurer role as an advisory one and said, in the case of a contract like Elevate Strategies, that delaying alongside advising could be used. But she stopped short of saying she’d refuse to sign a check. That’s closer to our understanding of the treasurer’s job.

Wyatt as noted defeated incumbent Treasurer Dylan Osborne in the Dem primary. My interview with her from the primary is here. I like Dylan, I knew him before he ran for Treasurer, I voted for him in the primary, but I agree with the Chron’s assessment of Wyatt: She’ll be a fine Treasurer. But even if I had concerns about her, I’d have much bigger concerns than the Chron seems to have had with Kyle Scott’s pronouncement that he’d be a self-appointed veto of county spending activity he doesn’t like. Yeah, sure, now he says it would be used in limited emergency instances, but that’s not what he said in the primary and the Treasurer doesn’t have that power. Seriously, do we really need another undemocratic veto point in our government? It’s a ridiculous idea – in truth, even if the Treasurer explicitly had this power it would be a dumb idea – and it disturbs me that the Chron isn’t more than just “concerned” about it, especially given Scott’s past campaigning on the idea. Good for them for not endorsing him, but come on. Don’t be a sucker.

Finally, the Chron endorsed Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15, an easy and obvious call, and former District Clerk Chris Daniel in his rematch against incumbent Dem Marilyn Burgess. They still have more races to get through, but at least they seem to be picking up the pace.

State and county election result relationships, part 3: Other county races

Part One
Part Two

Last time we looked at judicial races, which for all of the complaints about not knowing the candidates and just going by partisan labels have produced a consistent range of outcomes over the years. Some people are picking and choosing among judicial candidates – it’s not a huge number, and there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happening. With candidates for county offices, especially higher profile ones like County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff, there’s even more of a range of outcomes, as these candidates are better known and the reasons for crossing over are clearer. Let’s get to the data.


2006          2008          2010          2012	
CJ      N/A   DA    49.79   CJ    39.40   DA    47.66
DC    46.09   CJ    46.85   DC    46.15   CA    51.48
CC    44.69   CA    51.39   CC    44.58   Sh    52.95
CT    48.34   DC    51.06   TA    45.27   TA    48.73
HCDE  48.63   TA    46.18   CT    43.01   HCDE  51.34
              Sh    56.28							
              HCDE  52.51								
              HCDE  52.58								

2014          2016          2018          2020	
DA    46.78   DA    54.22   CJ    49.78   DA    53.89
CJ      N/A   CA    53.72   DC    55.09   CA    54.66
DC    44.82   Sh    52.84   CC    54.60   Sh    57.46
CC    45.71   TA    50.31   CT    54.21   TA    53.07
CT    44.95	            HCDE  56.71   CC    53.76
HCDE  46.85                               HCDE  55.64
HCDE  46.79                               HCDE  54.65

Abbreviations:

CJ = County Judge
DC = District Clerk
CC = County Clerk
CT = County Treasurer
DA = District Attorney
CA = County Attorney
TA = Tax Assessor
Sh = Sheriff
HCDE = At Large HCDE Trustee

Note that in some years, like 2008 for County Judge, 2010 for Tax Assessor, and 2014 for District Attorney, there were special elections due to the death or resignation of a previously-elected official. There are three At Large HCDE Trustees, they all serve 6-year terms, and in a given election there may be zero, one, or two of them on the ballot. All of the numbers are the percentages achieved by the Democratic candidate for that office. In 2006 and 2014, there was no Democrat running for County Judge.

The first thing to note is that in all but two years, the Dem disaster year of 2014 and the Dem sweep year of 2020, the range of outcomes was at least four points. In four of the eight years, the range was at least five points. Beverly Kaufmann was a trusted long-serving name brand in 2006, the last year she ran for re-election. Adrian Garcia destroyed scandal-plagued incumbent Sheriff Tommy Thomas in 2008, while Ed Emmett rode his performance during Hurricane Ike to a chart-topping Republican vote total. (There was a Libertarian candidate in the Tax Assessor race that year, so the percentages for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman were lower than they would have been otherwise.) Emmett continued to overperform in subsequent years, though it wasn’t quite enough for him in the 2018 blue landslide. The late Mike Anderson got to run against the idiot Lloyd Oliver in the 2012 DA race; four years later Kim Ogg won in a second try against Devon Anderson after her office imploded. Candidates and circumstances do matter in these races in a way that they don’t quite do in judicial races.

I find it fascinating that the At Large HCDE Trustees are consistent top performers for Dems, year in and year out. Note that this remained the case in 2020, following the abolition of straight ticket voting. The Republicans have run some lousy candidates in those races – their precinct HCDE trustee candidates have generally been stronger – but I doubt that accounts for too much. Honestly, I’d probably chalk that up to the Democratic brand, especially given that it says “Education” right there in the position’s name.

Minus the outliers, and I will have one more post in this series to take a closer look at them, the ranges for the county executive office candidates are basically in line with those of the judicial candidates, and as such are usually ahead of the statewides. As with the judicial candidates, there were mixed results in the close years of 2008 and 2012, and sweeps one way or the other otherwise. While the potential is there for an exceptional result – which in the context of statewide candidates still carrying Harris County means “a Democrat unexpectedly losing” – the conditions to avoid that are clear. If Beto is getting to 54% or better, I’ll be surprised if it’s not another Dem sweep.

State and county election result relationships, part 2: Judicial races

In Part One of this series, we looked at the relationship between statewide results and Harris County results for statewide candidates. In the last three elections, statewide Democratic candidates have done on average more than nine points better in Harris County than they did overall. In the next two posts, we’re going to look at the county candidates, to see how those results compare to the statewides and what if anything we can infer about this year.

Two things should be noted up front, one of which I touched on in the previous post. First, nearly all of the statewide races have at least one third party candidate in them, and in those races the third party candidate(s) can take three to five percent of the total vote. That has the effect of lowering the percentages of both D and R candidates in those races. County candidates, on the other hand, rarely face a third or fourth contestant. In county judicial races, third party candidates are unheard of. Because of this, county Democratic candidates tend to do better than statewide Democratic candidates.

It is also the case, as noted before, that there have been a lot of, shall we say, less than compelling statewide Democratic candidates. They lack money and name recognition and that in turn helps contribute to the vote totals that the third party contenders get, where that effect tends to be greater in the lower-profile races. Harris County candidates aren’t always the highest profile, but I believe the local organizing efforts have helped them outperform the less well-known statewide candidates. All of this comes wrapped in the usual “in general, with some exceptions, some years are different than others” qualifiers. I’m just setting the table.

With all that, I will present the numbers for judicial races. I’m starting this time in 2006 – like I said, the 2002 election is just not relevant to anything anymore, and the 2004 election was marked with a large number of uncontested races.


2006          2008          2010          2012
Havg  42.90   Havg  50.62   Havg  43.46   Havg  48.59
Jmin  46.90   Jmin  48.58   Jmin  42.57   Jmin  48.19
Jmax  50.12   Jmax  52.48   Jmax  45.70   Jmax  51.38
Drop   1.09   Drop   2.93   Drop   7.66   Drop   1.20

2014          2016          2018          2020
Havg  44.76   Havg  49.80   Havg  55.25   Havg  53.83
Jmin  43.64   Jmin  50.93   Jmin  53.83   Jmin  52.56
Jmax  47.16   Jmax  54.11   Jmax  57.16   Jmax  55.51
Drop   3.44   Drop   3.02   Drop   4.15   Drop   3.40

“Havg” is the average percentage by Democratic statewide candidates for that year – you can go back and look at the first post for the list, I didn’t want to overwhelm this post with numbers. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by non-statewide Democratic judicial candidates that year. In other words, for the county, district, and appellate (1st and 14th Circuit) courts. “Drop” is the difference between the highest scoring statewide candidate and the lowest scoring local judicial candidate.

I have used average vote totals among judicial candidates in years past as a simple measure of partisanship in the county. I’m using percentages here because I want a quick visual representation of winning and losing. I am using the range here rather than an average because I want to figure out at what level of statewide performance am I comfortable saying that all local countywide Dems are likely to win, and at what level do I think some, most, or all may lose. I think this conveys the information I wanted to get across in a fairly straightforward manner.

The first thing to notice is that consistently there is a three to four point range between the top-performing Democratic judicial candidate and the low performer. I’ve studied this for years and have no idea why. I can’t see any obvious correlation to candidates’ gender, race, position on the ballot, endorsements, anything. It’s just random, as far as I can tell. The point is, there is a range. Conditions need to be such that the top candidates are at 54% or higher for the bottom ones to win. Maybe 53% is enough – you will note that the range was tighter in 2020 than in previous years, and it’s a hair less than three percentage points. But really, for me to feel comfortable, I’d want the toppers at 54%.

You may also notice, as I mentioned above, that the local judicial candidates tend to outperform the statewide candidates. 2016 is a stark example of this, as more than half of the statewides finished below fifty percent, though all of them ended up carrying the county. Yet all of the judicial candidates won easily, with the low judicial performer outdoing all of the statewides except Hillary Clinton. In 2018, a much stronger year for Dems, the bottom scorer among judicial candidates still did better than the Dem candidates for Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner. Nearly all judicial Democrats won in 2008, while more than half of them won in the weaker year of 2012. My expectation is that even in a mediocre year like 2012, at least some Dems would make it across the finish line. It would take a bad year to sink them all. I just don’t see that happening.

You might look at the 2010 numbers, and maybe even the 2018 numbers, and worry that if the top of the ticket is defined by a real outlier, the gap between that candidate and the bottom rung of the judicial ladder could be too far apart. I absolutely do not expect a “Bill White in 2010” scenario, where someone gets at least six points more than any other statewide Dem. Beto in 2018 was barely one point ahead of Justin Nelson, and less than two points ahead of four other candidates. Two judicial candidates came even closer to Beto’s performance than Nelson did. It’s my opinion that if there’s a significant gap between the top and bottom of the statewide ticket, it’s because the one(s) at the bottom tanked, not because the top dog was so dominant. Bill White was a unicorn. The closest analog to him is Adrian Garcia in 2008, and he was running against a thoroughly scandal-plagued incumbent.

How much of an effect is there with the lack of straight ticket voting? It’s a little hard to say since we just have the one election to analyze, but my view in 2020 was that a lot of people did a fine job of voting all the way down the ballot. I expect that to be largely true this year as well. When the numbers are in, I’ll look at them and see if there’s a reason to change my mind.

To me, the main concern is that the statewide Dems will not do as well as the current polling suggests they might. We need the base level to be sufficiently high, that’s pretty much the ballgame. There is also a range in the county executive office elections, and there have been a couple of outliers over the years – I’ll be examining those phenomena in future posts – and every year is different. My bottom line remains that if the baseline at the state candidate level is 53-54% for Harris County, it will be another sweep year. I think the statewides will perform more like the locals this year, as they are overall better and better-funded than most other years. If we get a decent poll of Harris County, I’ll review and if needed revise my thinking. Until then, this is where I am.

State and county election result relationships, part 1: How Harris compares

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between how statewide Democratic candidates do in Harris County versus how they do overall, and what that might tell us about the state of play in Harris County. Since I started blogging in 2002, Harris has gone from all red to a bluish purple or still red depending on what year it was to all blue. I get the sense a lot of folks don’t know how to contextualize this. The trends are clear, but we’ve only had three actual all-blue elections, and only one of them was in a non-Presidential year. We’ve had precious little polling in Harris County, none of which I’d consider useful or reliable. So if all we have is statewide polling, what if anything can that tell us?

In this post, I’m going to go through the numbers at the statewide and Harris County level and see what that can tell us. Let’s begin with the first three elections since I began blogging.


2002                   2004                   2006
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.33   45.99   2.66   38.22   44.56   6.34   36.04   41.26   5.22
39.96   43.22   3.26   40.94   44.56   3.62   29.79   34.46   4.67
46.03   46.92   0.89   40.77   45.56   4.79   37.45   41.69   4.24
41.08   43.06   1.98   42.14   46.73   4.59   37.23   40.69   3.46
32.92   36.32   3.40                          37.01   41.85   4.84
41.48   43.02   1.54                          40.96   44.13   3.17
37.82   41.59   3.77                          41.79   45.14   3.35
41.49   42.38   0.89                          41.73   44.81   3.08
40.51   43.39   2.88                          44.89   47.99   3.10
41.54   44.42   2.88                          43.35   47.02   3.67
41.89   44.05   2.16								
43.24   45.48   2.24								
45.90   50.14   4.24								
39.15   42.61   3.46								
42.61   45.14   2.53								
40.01   43.32   3.31								
										
Min   0.89             Min   3.62             Min   3.08
Max   4.24             Max   6.34             Max   5.22
Avg   2.63             Avg   4.84             Avg   3.88

The first number for each year represents the statewide percentage for each Democratic candidate. The numbers are in the order that the candidates appear on the ballot, so for a Presidential year you get President, then Senate if there was a Senate race (there was not in 2004), then Railroad Commissioner because there’s always an RRC race, then the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals races. I only reported the races that included a Democratic candidate, so this will vary from year to year. For non-Presidential years it will be Senate if there is such a race (there were in 2002 and 2006), then Governor and the state executive offices, and SCOTx and the CCA. Again, only the races with Dems so there will be variation.

The second column is the Harris County percentage for that candidate, and the third column is the difference between the two. So, for 2002, that first row is Ron Kirk’s statewide and Harris County percentages, and the fact that he did 2.66 points better in Harris. In 2004, that first row is for John Kerry, and in 2006 it’s for Barbara Radnofsky, with the second row being Chris Bell in that weird four-way gubernatorial race.

With me so far? The section at the bottom is a simple summary. It shows the minimum, maximum, and average differences between the statewide and Harris County percentages. In all cases, the Dem candidate did better in Harris than overall, though in 2002 that wasn’t very much. For Lt. Gov. candidate John Sharp and RRC candidate Sherry Boyles, it was less than a point. (If you’re wondering who it was that carried Harris County in 2002, it was CCA candidate Margaret Mirabal.) It begins to grow in 2004 but takes a step back in 2006, and in either case still isn’t very much.

I almost didn’t go all the way back to 2002 because that election was so wildly different from this one it’s like visiting another planet to look at its results. In the end I think it was useful to include all of these elections to show what conditions used to be like. If nothing else, these three years provide a nice bit of contrast to the next four election years.


2008                   2010                   2012                   2014
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.68   50.45   6.77   42.30   50.23   7.93   41.38   49.39   8.01   34.36   42.10   7.74
42.84   50.71   7.87   34.83   42.13   7.30   40.62   48.03   7.41   38.90   47.08   8.18
44.35   50.02   5.67   33.66   41.00   7.34   39.60   46.89   7.29   38.71   46.85   8.14
43.79   49.14   5.35   35.29   42.32   7.03   41.91   49.21   7.30   38.02   45.82   7.80
45.88   51.34   5.46   35.80   42.86   7.06   41.24   49.41   8.17   37.69   45.80   8.11
44.63   51.51   6.88   36.24   43.59   7.35                          35.32   43.75   8.43
45.53   51.29   5.76   37.26   43.67   6.41                          36.84   43.71   6.87
43.75   50.50   6.75   37.00   44.10   7.10                          37.25   44.16   6.91
                       35.62   41.73   6.11                          36.49   43.64   7.15
                       36.62   42.99   6.37                          37.60   45.54   7.94
                                                                     36.54   43.92   7.38
														
														
Min   5.35             Min   6.11             Min   7.29             Min   6.87
Max   7.87             Max   7.93             Max   8.17             Max   8.43
Avg   6.31             Avg   7.00             Avg   7.64             Avg   7.70

Same setup as before, but you can already see how things are different. For one thing, obviously, we now have Democrats winning Harris County. That was true at the county candidate level as well – we’ll look more closely at that in the future. I believe we have this step up in part because Democrats finally began to get their act together organizationally in 2008. It was a big election nationally of course, with a ton of Democratic activist energy, but that had been the case elsewhere in 2006 as well. It just didn’t translate here, and I would chalk that up to the amount of organization at the county level.

I have long believed that if we had had better organizing in 2006, Dems could have won a couple of judicial races at least. We had one candidate crack 49%; it wouldn’t have taken much. Indeed, Jim Sharp got 50.12% in Harris County in 2006 in his race for an appellate court seat, but as that covered multiple counties he fell short that year. (He went on to win in 2008.) Instead, we got the narrative of Dallas County Dems breaking through and sweeping in 2006, setting up the notion that 2008 would be Harris’ year. Maybe that had a positive effect on the engagement level, I don’t know. I do know that it didn’t have to be so all-or-nothing.

Note that while 2008 was a high point for Dems in this grouping, the boost to candidates in Harris County continued to grow. Even with the disasters of 2010 and 2014 and the slight step-back in 2012, Dems kept performing better in Harris County compared to the state as a whole. Again, I credit better organizing locally and the fact that Harris County was becoming more Democratic relative to the state. The point here is that this gap hasn’t shrunk in bad years for Dems. The trend has been in one direction.

That trend continued through the next two elections before a minor reversal in 2020:


2016                   2018                   2020
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53
                       46.29   55.18   8.89				
                       45.48   55.62  10.14				
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02
Avg   9.58	       Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14

Despite several candidates failing to reach fifty percent in 2016, every statewide Dem carried Harris County; there were third party candidates getting about five percent in the judicial races and almost ten points in the RRC race between Wayne Christian and Grady Yarbrough, which accounts for the difference. We’ll get into this later, but it was pretty common for local Dems to outperform statewide Dems in many of these years. I chalk that up to a combination of weak statewide Dems and that strong local organizing along with some pretty good county candidates.

The main takeaway from this is that even statewide candidates with pretty poor overall showings were able to win Harris County by fairly comfortable margins. Look at Lupe Valdez in 2018, the second candidate listed, for a prime example. Valdez got 42.51% statewide in 2018, the lowest showing among Dems, but finished with 52.11% in Harris County. This is the context I think about when I look at statewide polling. If Beto O’Rourke finishes with 44 or 45% statewide, he’s probably going to get 53 or 54 percent in Harris County. A 44-45% finish for Beto statewide implies that he lost by 9-11 points, whereas nearly all of the polls we have seen have had him down between six and eight points.

The flip side is also of interest. There was a poll of Harris County released a few days back by a wingnut former legislator that claimed Lina Hidalgo was losing by four points while Beto was carrying Harris County by only two points. For Beto to be winning Harris by two points – in other words, for him to be getting at most 51% in Harris County – means he’s losing statewide by at least 15 points – 57-42 is the number I’ve had in mind. To say the least, there is no polling evidence to support that.

Now, could the polls be wrong? Could Beto crater? Could this advantage Dems have had in Harris County decline further? Sure, any or all of those things could happen. We saw it decline a bit in 2020. I give some of the credit to that for better Republican organizing, though the loss of straight ticket voting and just the general conditions for 2020 could also be factors. It’s impossible to say if that’s a one-off or the start of a new trend based on the one data point. It would have to be a big step back for it to make me adjust my expectations. At this time, at least, I don’t feel the need to do that. Those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re likely to do so.

So this is where I am, mentally and emotionally right now. I had the chance to talk about this thesis with some folks over the weekend, and none of them looked at me like I was crazy. (They may have just been polite.) I’ve got some more data to present in the next couple of days, and we can see how we all feel at the end of that. But this is where I am. What do you think?

Marist: Abbott 49, Beto 45

Another new pollster for this election.

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Governor Greg Abbott has a 4-point edge over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke among registered voters statewide. However, Abbott’s advantage over O’Rourke doubles to 8 points among those who say they definitely plan to vote.

  • Four points separate Abbott (49%) and O’Rourke (45%) in the Texas governor’s race among registered voters statewide, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate. Abbott receives majority support (52%) against O’Rourke (44%) among those who say they will definitely vote.
  • O’Rourke (49%) has a 10-point lead over Abbott (39%) among independents.
  • Close to eight in ten Texas registered voters with a candidate preference for governor (78%) strongly support their choice. 81% of O’Rourke’s supporters and 75% of Abbott’s supporters report they are strongly committed to their candidate.
  • Neither Abbott nor O’Rourke are popular among Texans. 43% have a favorable opinion of Abbott while 46% have an unfavorable view. O’Rourke’s favorable rating is 39% while 44% have an unfavorable impression of him.
  • The Republicans (48%) running for Congress edge the Democrats (44%) on the ballot among Texas registered voters. The Republicans advantage over the Democrats widens to 5 points among those who say they definitely plan to vote.

I checked through their past polls and can confirm they haven’t sampled this race before now. They did a poll of the Senate race in 2018 and had Ted Cruz up by the same 49-45 margin; they also had Abbott leading Lupe Valdez 56-37. They did not do any kind of “likely” voter screen as far as I can tell.

This poll’s data is here. The difference in the results is that the “all voters” sample is 30% Dem and 39% GOP, while the “definitely voting” sample is 30% Dem and 41% GOP. Independents are 29% of the former and 28% of the latter. Make of all that what you will.

They do ask a “How likely are you to vote” question, with “Definite” and “Likely” as possible choices. The former is 84% and 11% for Dems, or 95% at least Likely, and 90% and 6% for Republicans, or 96% at least Likely. Why they didn’t go with Likely – why so many pollsters are also going with an Extra Super Duper Likely choice – remains a mystery to me.

Also of interest, this poll has Beto’s strongest performance among Anglo voters, getting 37% to Abbott’s 57%, but it also has Beto just barely winning among Latino voters, 49 to 49. I feel like a full-on shrug GIF would be the better choice here than the shrug emoji. I’ll leave it to you to find your preferred version. Black voters go for Beto 78-13, similar to other polls.

So overall one of the best topline results Beto has seen, and also very weird under the surface. That’s polling these days for you.

There are many variables affecting what might happen with abortion law in Texas

Another way to put this: What can Beto do as Governor with a Republican legislature to make abortion laws less bad in Texas?

Toward the end of a virtual campaign event last month, one of Beto O’Rourke’s supporters asked how he would fulfill a key pledge: overturning the Texas ban on abortion.

The Legislature is virtually certain to remain under Republican control next year, leaving O’Rourke with no clear path to restore abortion access if he were to defeat Gov. Greg Abbott in November. But the Democratic nominee insisted he could bring lawmakers around.

“The shockwaves that it will send through this state to have a proudly, boldly pro-choice Democrat win for the first time in 32 years … will give us the political capital, the leverage we need to make sure that we can restore protections for every single woman in Texas to make her own decisions about her own body,” O’Rourke said.

He would also use “the power of the governor’s veto to stop bad ideas that are coming down the pike already,” he said.

But the proposals that most animate O’Rourke’s base — abortion rights, gun restrictions, expanded voting access — would likely face stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers, many of whom will return to Austin with no desire to rescind laws they passed as recently as last year.

Under those conditions, O’Rourke’s ability to enact core parts of his agenda would require a near-impossible level of legislative savvy, and unsparing use of the governor’s limited tools to influence the lawmaking process, such as vetoing bills and budget line items, veterans of Texas politics say.

[…]

On paper, Texas governors have limited power to shape public policy, with no cabinet and less control over state agencies than most of their counterparts around the country.

In recent years, though, Abbott and his predecessor, Rick Perry, have expanded their sway through sheer longevity — each staying in office long enough to stock boards and commissions with allies. Abbott has also used disaster orders to bypass the Legislature and steer policy on border security, the state’s COVID response, Texas National Guard deployments, and more.

Governors can also influence how laws are interpreted and enforced, through their appointments to state boards and commissions and directives to state agencies via executive order.

But governors cannot fire even their own appointees, let alone those of former governors, meaning O’Rourke would be stuck with thousands of Abbott appointees until their terms expire.

He could appoint their replacements between legislative sessions without immediate oversight, though each appointee would eventually require approval from the Republican-majority Senate once the Legislature is in session.

O’Rourke’s most potent tool to influence the lawmaking process would likely be his power to veto laws and spending he opposes, which governors have historically wielded as a powerful bargaining chip. O’Rourke said he would use that power, if necessary, to nix policies like private school vouchers, which Abbott has supported.

“Being able to stop that is incredibly important,” O’Rourke said. “But it also affords the governor leverage, in a broader sense, to bring people to the table and to make sure that we find that common ground, we get to that consensus, and we make some progress.”

The veto argument is one I was making about Wendy Davis back in 2014, before some of the worst anti-abortion legislation was passed. It’s still salient today, though the context is now very different. At the very least, it would be a hard stop against the vengeance fantasies of sociopaths like Briscoe Cain.

I think we can safely put aside any ideas about Beto reaching across the aisle for bipartisan compromise legislation on almost anything. Not that he wouldn’t sincerely try, and he could lead with things that under other circumstances might have genuine bipartisan appeal, like improving broadband access or drought mitigation. I just don’t believe that Republicans will move an inch even on things they have championed in the past to give him a legislative victory – their primary voters will not stand for it. I’d love to be too cynical about this, but it’s very much a prove-me-wrong situation. There may be some opportunities in the budget, where he will have line item veto power and where a lot of sausage making goes on behind closed doors, but don’t look for anything bigger than that. At least one chamber will need to be Democratic-majority before anything like that could realistically happen.

The use of executive power is an interesting possibility, and one where recent history is of much better use than past history. Abbott and Perry have absolutely pushed the bounds on what a Texas Governor can do, though to be fair they have had a docile and largely submissive legislature and a mostly compliant Supreme Court abetting them, neither of which Beto would have. All of the contradictions and hypocrisies that will result when those institutions suddenly decide that maybe there should be some limits on executive power won’t mean much given how little that kind of thing engages the public. All that said, Beto should look for every opportunity to push the envelope. He has little to lose by doing so.

Now, to complicate my earlier assertions about bipartisan legislation and compromise, we do have one slim possible avenue for such a thing.

Republican state Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said Friday that he’d support a change to Texas’ abortion laws to allow victims of rape to legally obtain the procedure.

“If I get a chance to vote for an exception to rape, I will vote yes,” the East Texas senator said during a panel of Republican lawmakers at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival. “I think instead of us telling women what to do, we should show our support for women of this state.”

Nichols is one of the first anti-abortion lawmakers to say he would support loosening the abortion laws when lawmakers meet in January.

[…]

Texas is competing against private companies who are willing to bus their employees out of state for “pregnancy care,” said Nichols. “And what are we doing?”

At the least, Nichols said, the state should provide a minimum of four weeks of paid maternity leave for state employees.

Nichols self-identifies as “pro-life” and has voted in favor of the state’s abortion laws, including the “fetal heartbeat” law that went into effect last September. The law prohibited most abortions after an ultrasound could detect cardiac activity in a embryo, about six weeks into a pregnancy. Nichols’ office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator would support any other exceptions to the abortion law, such as for incest.

I would point out that as an actual Senator, Nichols could author such a bill himself and perhaps even try to persuade his fellow Republicans to vote for it, including in the House, rather than wait for such a bill to magically appear before him. Crazy talk, I know, but it’s what I do. The question here, as above, is whether Nichols would still support such a bill even if it would then be sent to Governor O’Rourke for a signature, or whether that would be out of bounds as per the same politics I discussed above. My guess is the latter is more likely, but we’ll see. For what it’s worth, signing a bill that merely allowed for a rape exception to the current ban, without at least clarifying the “life and health of the mother” exception that is causing so much chaos and mayhem in the hospitals now would not be a clear win for Beto in my estimation. I believe it would garner at best grudging support from reproductive rights advocates, even if it was clearly the best we could get under the circumstances, just because it’s so incremental and would give some form of approval to that strict a legal regime. I could be wrong about that, I’m just saying that this stuff is more complicated than it looks and there are way too many variables to support making any kind of prediction. We’ll know a bit more after the election, but for now almost anything could happen. We need to do what we can to put ourselves in the best possible position to affect the outcome.

Republicans propose nationwide abortion ban

It was ever thus.

Republicans are struggling with the backlash against the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and a series of Republican-controlled states instituting harsh abortion bans. Voters are angry, and that anger has contributed to a reduction in Republican hopes for November’s midterm elections. So what are they doing about it? Well, Sen. Lindsey Graham is going to introduce a national 15-week abortion ban.

That’s one way to do things. Voters are angry that your party is banning abortion in the states? Go ahead and ban it nationally! Many in your party defended the Supreme Court’s move as backing states’ rights on this issue? Take it federal!

Graham’s move is a political calculation. He’s calling his 15-week abortion ban—which falls far short of Roe’s standard of viability, usually around 23 or 24 weeks—the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act.” He thinks he can convince swing voters to hear “late-term abortions” and “pain-capable” and think, “This is a reasonable limit I can support in the name of compromise.”

But that’s presuming that voters will hear those words and not just “national abortion ban.” Or that they won’t see through the fact that what Graham proposes is a sharp cut from what had been the national standard for nearly five decades.

[…]

It’s not hard to see what Graham thinks he is doing with this messaging bill that has no chance of passing in a Congress controlled by Democrats or being signed by a Democratic president. He’s trying to use the deceptive name of the bill to convince voters that Republicans just have reasonable goals when it comes to a national abortion ban. The thing is, Republicans haven’t given voters a lot of reason to trust them on this issue, given the harsh abortion bans in so many Republican-controlled states, and the horror stories coming out of those states of women denied care for miscarriages or pregnancies that threaten their health, or child rape victims forced to travel out of state for medical care. And Graham’s ban wouldn’t reinstitute abortion rights up to 15 weeks in the states with near-total bans—it would only limit abortion rights where they currently exist.

It is also, of course, a huge betrayal of everything Republicans have said about states’ rights. Here’s Graham himself, just last month: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.” It isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a surprise that Graham is a giant liar on this front, but it’s another reminder that the implication that Republicans just want to pass this oh-so-reasonable “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act” isn’t just a lie when it comes to the name of the bill, it’s a lie about their larger ambitions. They’re just getting started with this, and yes, Republicans want a national abortion ban.

The first thing you need to understand is this:

Yes. Marshall expands on that here:

Republicans want to portray this as a reasonable national compromise, setting a national standard as I’ve seen even some journalists put it. But that’s not what it is. It doesn’t set a national 15 or 20 week standard. All the total restrictions which are now common in red and some purple states stay in place. It simply takes the Mississippi law which brought us the Dobbs decision and imposes it on every blue state. So what Mississippi passed and which was treated as extreme a year ago will become the law in California, New York, Illinois, Washington state and everywhere else. In practice it’s a blue state abortion ban. Abortion’s already banned in the great majority of red states or soon will be.

Republicans leave the decision to the states. Unless a state protects abortion rights. In which case Republicans ban it for them.

It is critical at every stage — though I suspect most won’t need it pointed out — that this is a national ban. Even if it’s 15 weeks versus from the moment of conception, it is a national ban. So if you’re relying on your blue state politics making this someone else’s problem you’re out of luck. It’s coming for you. And it certainly won’t stop with a 15 week ban.

If this were both a limit and a guarantee – that is, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks but no more, except in broadly-defined cases where the pregnant person’s life or health is in danger, then maybe this could have some traction. It would still be a big setback for abortion rights in mostly blue states, but it would make abortion at least theoretically available again in roughly half the country, including Texas. This is close to the preferred outcome of John Roberts, who simply wanted to uphold the Mississippi 15-week ban and make Roe smaller, not throw it on the trash heap and then light it on fire. Such bans have failed nationally and in some states when put to the voters, and post-Dobbs it’s harder to see anyone who isn’t a committed forced-birther feeling like “compromise” is the right answer, but it would at least make the Republicans look like they were willing to give some ground. This is nothing like that.

Republicans in the Senate mostly greeted this bill by reacting as they would to a dead cat on their front porch. And if they’re really lucky…

I approve of this message. Slate has more.

All interviews and judicial Q&As with nominees so far

Back in February, right before the primary, I posted a list of all of the candidate interviews and judicial Q&As I had done. A couple more Q&A responses came in after that, and I did some further interviews for the primary runoffs, so that post is out of date and also now contains people who will not be on the November ballot. So with that in mind, here’s a full updated list as I prepare to bring you more of these for November. Enjoy!

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38

Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Janet Dudding, Comptroller

Staci Childs, SBOE4

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15

Jolanda Jones, HD147

Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)

Judicial Q&As

Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Gemayel Haynes, 183rd Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Beverly Armstrong, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Dedra Davis, 270th Civil District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8

Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

As before, you can see a full list of my interviews and a whole lot more info about the Democratic candidates on the Erik Manning spreadsheet. Look for many more to come starting tomorrow.

Vote No and take the credit anyway

It’s a tale as old as time.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans in Texas are proud to stand and announce local grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The problem is they all voted against it. All of them.

For the second time in two weeks, Houston scored a big grant from the Department of Transportation, and for the second time in two weeks, Republicans were quick to show up for the ribbon cutting. The back-to-back $21 million announcements, first for the Telephone Road Main Street Redevelopment project and then for 20 new electric buses, were celebrated by local Houston officials, even Republicans who opposed the projects.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, both of whom proudly supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act back in 2021, talked about how these funds make needed investment in often overlooked communities. Both programs will serve low to moderate income communities by providing cleaner and more efficient public transportation as well as safer streets.

The announcement also attracted representatives of the “C” team – Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw – who lined up to show support. Staffers from all stood with METRO Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to make Monday’s announcement.

Earlier this year, Texas Republican Representative Ronny Jackson claimed an “instrumental” role in securing funding for a water purification project in his district despite vocal opposition to the infrastructure bill, which is funding the project. Jackson voted against the measure and mocked it as “bloated,” but apparently not too bloated for his pet project.

Newly-elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Brownsville also opposed the infrastructure bill, but is now touting the federal largesse pouring into South Texas without revealing that she vehemently opposed the enabling legislation as “wasteful” and smearing Republicans who voted for the bill “the RINO Bunch.”

She joins a long list of Republicans who have recently “voted no and taken the dough,” in refusing to support investments in their communities to please their far-right base, but then being the first in line to take credit.

See here for the background. The “C” team (great name, btw) also voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. But if you’re going to laugh, it’s best to point fingers at the objects of your laughter as well.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

Law against some new voter registration restrictions is struck down

Good, though one must always remember the threat of the Fifth Circuit.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge on Tuesday night blocked a Texas law passed in 2021 that put new restrictions on people trying to register to vote in the state.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel was celebrated by one of the Latino groups that had sued the state and claimed the law was an attempt to disenfranchise Latino voters.

Senate Bill 1111 was passed during the 2021 Texas Legislative session. The bill, which passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, required people who register to vote using a P.O. box to provide proof of a home address to ensure that they vote only in eligible elections.

[…]

The law didn’t bar people from using P.O. boxes for voter registration, but required people registering to vote with a post office box to provide other proof, like a drivers license or utility bill, to show proof of address. The lawsuit called that requirement an unfair burden.

Part of the lawsuit challenged a section of the law that prohibited people from establishing residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.” That language could lead to unintended consequences, the groups argued.

The groups, the Texas chapter of League of United Latin American Citizens and Voto Latino, also said they suffered direct harm from the law because they had to divert resources away from their missions to assist its members in overcoming new barriers to registration and voting.

In a summary judgement, Yeakel found that the groups had suffered “direct harms” to their finances and to their First Amendment rights under the law, and that the state used vague language in the law and that parts of the fail “any degree of constitutional scrutiny.”

The judge ruled that the law particularly burdened part-time and off-campus college students, who would be left unable to register both where they have moved and where they have moved from.

“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome.”

The state was permanently enjoined from enforcing the parts of the election code created by S.B. 1111.

See here for the background. Democracy Docket, which was involved in the litigation, has a more detailed description of what was at issue and what the ruling says.

Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged three major provisions of S.B. 1111 that prohibited voters from registering to vote using a prior address after they moved, prevented voters from registering to vote where they did not live full time and created stricter ID requirements for those registering to vote using a P.O. box. Yesterday, the court prevented Texas officials from enforcing the first two provisions in full and the third P.O. box restriction in part (the court found that Texas cannot enforce the provision if it’s clear to registrars that voters do not permanently reside at the P.O. box address at which they register, but the state can otherwise enforce additional requirements for P.O. box registrations). This means voters will not be subject to the strict residency requirements in S.B. 1111 outside of proving their residence when registering using a P.O. box address.

In the order ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the court illustrates S.B. 1111’s burden on college students who live on campus and want to register to vote: “The burden imposed [by SB 1111] is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable. Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome. Certainly not by Texas’s stated interest in ensuring Texans only have one residence. Instead the law renders some Texans without any residence [to vote].” However, the court states that Texas’ interests “justify the PO Box Provision” in reference to voters claiming to live at PO box addresses: “Voter-registration fraud is at risk where voters improperly use a PO Box as their residence address; voters may have a PO Box from the United States Postal Service at many post-office locations in Texas, even if the voters’ home or business is elsewhere.” In cases where the voter is not claiming to live at the P.O. box address, the state has no interest in imposing this burden and cannot do so.

Given the shenanigans we see all the damn time with rich people registering at second houses or apartments of convenience (hello, Kubosh Brothers!) or warehouses for the purposes of running for a particular office, I have a hard time believing that Texas really has an interest in “ensuring Texans only have one residence”. Hell, even some people who lived and voted in other states have registered at Texas addresses for that purpose with no problems. The state of Texas, in its current political configuration, cares a lot about where some people say they live when they register to vote, and cares not at all about others. That in and of itself makes this law suspect. I approve of this ruling, but I am aware that the Fifth Circuit exists, and I would expect them to bat this aside as they do any time Ken Paxton comes calling. So don’t celebrate this one just yet. LULAC’s statement on the ruling is here.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: State races

I don’t often follow the campaign finance reports in state races, mostly because they’re usually not that interesting and there’s too many races to look at if I was interested. I didn’t review these in January for the contested primaries, but I decided there are enough races that are worth checking on to have a peek at some July reports. I’ve noted the big Beto numbers, so I’ll skip that here.

Mike Collier, Lt Gov
Rochelle Garza, Attorney General
Janet Dudding, Comptroller
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Susan Hays, Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford, Railroad Commissioner

Morgan LaMantia, SD27

Daniel Lee, HD26
Luis Echagaray, HD52
Sheena King, HD61
Brittney Verdell, HD65
Jesse Ringness, HD66
Kevin Morris, HD67
Mihaela Plesa, HD70
Suleiman Lalani, HD76
Salman Bhojani, HD92
Elizabeth Ginsberg, HD108
Elva Curl, HD112
Frank Ramirez, HD118
Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, HD121
Angela Aramburu, HD122
Stephanie Morales, HD138


Candidate     Raised      Spent       Loan     On Hand
======================================================
Collier      693,806    226,315    450,500     534,242
Garza        518,054    107,134          0     445,817
Dudding       37,956     52,378     45,884      16,908
Kleberg      586,296    433,030    100,000     439,854
Hays          96,085     94,777          0      53,310
Warford      296,516    271,506     23,561     110,066

LaMantia     183,859    427,090  2,980,000      58,024

Lee            2,580        904      1,000      11,345
Echegaray      9,343      9,123          0       9,081
King          20,999     14,635          0           0
Verdell       16,711      4,252          0      16,669
Ringness       2,635      3,212          0       2,635
Morris        20,124     11,589          0       9,266
Plesa         80,030     45,215     59,000      45,793
Lalani        10,742     26,925    145,000      10,617
Bhojani       84,346     77,688    100,000      24,682
Ginsberg     105,297     22,587          0      83,152
Curl          27,622      7,455     10,000      35,274
Ramirez       43,423     32,299          0       6,962
DeFelice      64,110     40,476      5,000      35,460
Aramburu      38,353      8,289          0       5,063
Morales        6,131      3,252          0       8,583

I’m looking at the non-Beto and non-judicial statewide races, the one open State Senate seat that could be interesting, and a handful of State House races based partly on 2020 election data and my own idiosyncrasies. There were a few State House races that might be intriguing on paper, I couldn’t find a finance report for the candidate in question. If there’s a race that I’ve skipped that offends you, let me know in the comments.

Remember that these reports may cover different time spans, depending on the candidate’s primary status. Candidates who had no primary opponent, such as Luis Echagaray in HD52, have reports that include all activity since January 1. Candidates who won their March primary, such as Daniel Lee in HD26, have reports that include all activity since February 21. And candidates who had to win a primary runoff, such as Suleimon Lalani in HD76, have reports that include all activity since May 16. Check the report itself if you’re not sure for a given candidate – the information is there on the first page.

Mike Collier is one of those who had to endure a runoff, so that $693K is since mid-May. That in itself is not too bad – it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s a decent pace and will add up over time. To that extent, here are the totals Collier has posted over other periods since last year:

Feb 20 – May 14 – $487,963
Jan 21 – Feb 19 – $124,329
Jan 01 – Jan 20 – $55,989
Jul 01 – Dec 31 – $826,861
Jan 01 – Jun 30 – $757,109

That’s nearly $3 million raised since the beginning of 2021. It’s not a huge amount – you may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state with a lot of media markets and it costs a crapton of money to effectively advertise statewide as a result – but it’s not nothing. If Collier can continue at the pace from his last report, he’ll collect a couple million dollars by November. Maybe that’s another reason why Republicans are now attacking him.

Rochelle Garza and Jay Kleberg, who were also in the May runoffs, posted their own $500K-plus totals for the six weeks of their periods. I won’t do the same listing as I did for Collier, but I can tell you that Garza has raised about $1.1 million and Kleberg about $2 million since last November. The same caveats as with Collier apply, but I can’t think of any election since maybe 2002 where multiple statewide Dems posted similar numbers. As I’ve said elsewhere, whatever you’ve budgeted to give to Beto, leave a little room for Collier and Garza and Kleberg and the others.

SD27 is the Senate seat that Eddie Lucio is finally vacating. Morgan LaMantia won the nomination in the runoff, so her totals are from May 15. SD27 was moderately Democratic in 2020 after having been much more Democratic in 2016, so it’s one to watch for signs of either a rebound or further decay. There was a recent Trib story that I don’t feel like looking for with a headline that says Republicans are mulling whether to pour money into this one. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, but I guess even they don’t have infinite resources and have to choose their priorities.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to most of these State House races, many of which were uncontested in March. I didn’t even recognize a few of the names before I went looking for their reports. HDs 70 (Collin County) and 92 (Tarrant) are new Democratic districts drawn to shore of neighboring Republican districts. HD76 had been a Democratic district in El Paso, and is now a Democratic district in Fort Bend. The rest for the most part are districts Trump won by less than ten points, with HD118 being a slight Biden seat that the Republicans won in a special election last year. Frank Ramirez is back for a second shot at it, and I’d certainly like to see a bigger cash on hand number in that one. Otherwise, not much here to grab your attention, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Ginsburg, who hopes to flip one of the last two red districts in Dallas County, and Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, running in HD121, the Bexar County equivalent of HD134 (and HD108, for that matter).

This concludes my tour of the July finance reports. I expect to look at the 30-day reports for Harris County, and maybe the 8-day reports for it as well. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Maybe don’t vote against a popular bill that you’d previously supported out of spite next time?

Sowing, meet reaping.

Not Ted Cruz

Veterans groups are irate with Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn after they joined Senate Republicans in blocking a bill expanding health care to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits while they were deployed overseas.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill as soon as this week, but veterans advocates say the move to block the bill — which Cornyn and Cruz had previously supported — caused unnecessary delays for people with potentially life-threatening cancer who need help now. They accuse Republicans of pushing a false narrative about funding in the bill that Cruz and others have described as a blank check for Democrats.

“What it’s in danger of is more delays,” said Patrick Murray, director of legislative services at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said Cornyn and Cruz “are too cavalier about this eventually passing.

“That doesn’t fly to people with some of these horrible illnesses that this is meant to remedy,” he said. “Don’t tell people with cancer, ‘We’ll get to it a month or two.’”

The Senate vote is the final hurdle for the once bipartisan legislation that would open up roughly $280 billion for health care for veterans suffering from exposure to toxic fumes. The bill would make it so that those veterans no longer need to prove they were exposed to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs if they are suffering from certain symptoms.

The bill has passed the House and was approved by the Senate on a 84-14 vote in June. But administrative issues require the bill to be tweaked and voted on once more before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. Last Wednesday, 25 Republicans, including Cornyn and Cruz, changed their vote and opposed the bill.

The reason for the switch was because a bunch of Republican Senators got their undies in a twist after they voted for the CHIPS Act and then the Manchin/Schumer reconciliation bill was announced. Mitch McConnell had threatened to tank the CHIPS Act if the Dems went forward with reconciliation, and once that hostage had been freed, they had to find another. (The fledgling Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act is also in their crosshairs.) Turns out, though, that double-crossing injured veterans like this, complete with celebratory fist bumps, especially when they have a loud-mouthed celebrity out there relentlessly attacking them for their perfidy, may not have been the best political move. Too bad, so sad. What can I tell you, fellas, sometimes nihilism isn’t the best look. Be glad you’re not on the ballot in November. TPM and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: And in the end, the Senate Republicans caved, with both Cruz and Cornyn going back to Yes.

Texas is sooooooooo gerrymandered…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Fraudit 2.0

Here we go again.

Harris County will be one of four Texas counties to undergo an audit of its upcoming November election results by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

It will be the second election audit in two years for Harris County, though the first to be conducted under election law the state legislature passed in 2021.

Eastland, Cameron and Guadalupe counties were selected for the audit process, as well.

By state law, four counties are to be audited at random every two years, two with a population greater than 300,000 and two counties with smaller populations. There are 18 Texas counties with populations greater than 300,000, meaning the state’s large urban counties will face the most audits. Texas has 254 counties.

The audits are to be conducted after November elections in all even-numbered years, and they will look at elections in the four selected counties from the preceding two years. The counties selected will not have to pay for the audits.

On Twitter, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee questioned the randomness of the selection process. In response, the secretary of state’s office tweeted a link to a video on Facebook that showed the process — the names of large counties and smaller counties are printed on individual labels, and then the four counties are drawn from a bucket. When an employee drops the labels of the large counties into the bucket, it does not happen on camera.

Menefee’s office put out a statement in which the county attorney called the latest audit a ‘waste of time.”

“Harris County will comply, as we’ve always done,’ Menefee said. “But this is a waste of time. Last year the state coincidentally launched an audit of the county’s 2020 election just hours after former President Trump called on the governor to do so. That audit has been consuming the resources of our Elections Administrator’s office at a time where they’ve had to hold a record number of elections. By the way, that audit has still not been completed.

“Now, the state has ‘randomly’ selected Harris County to be audited for the 2022 election,” the statement continues. “Voters should be asking themselves what purpose these audits serve beyond wasting taxpayer money. As has been shown time and again, our elections are secure. The entire premise of these audits—that there is widespread fraud in our elections—is false.”

[…]

In September 2021, the secretary of state’s office announced it had begun a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four Texas counties, including Dallas, Harris and Tarrant — the state’s three largest counties, all of which voted for President Joe Biden. The audit also encompassed Collin County, the largest in Texas carried by former President Donald Trump.

State law establishing the new audit process specifies: “a county selected in the most recent audit cycle may not be selected in the current audit cycle.” Though Harris County’s 2020 election results currently are being examined under a “forensic audit” by the state, the county still is eligible for a new audit in the current cycle because they are separate audit processes, according to Texas Secretary of State spokesperson Sam Taylor. He confirmed Harris County will not be eligible for an audit in the following election cycle.

See here for all my previous blogging on this topic. The video in question can be found here; it was posted by someone at the SOS office in response to a snarky tweet by Christian Menefee. There was a preliminary result from that first “audit” posted in January of 2021 – I can say I’m not aware of any followup stories about that. This is a bullshit law passed to satisfy the Big Lie, and it’s on the list of laws that have got to go when Dems get a turn.

(There’s also an unofficial “audit” of 2020 primary ballots going on in Tarrant County. I can’t even read that story, I start seeing red two sentences in.)

Senate passes Ike Dike bill

This thing is actually gonna pass.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would authorize federal agencies to plan for an estimated $31 billion project intended to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already gone into studying the idea to build a system of concrete gate barriers at the mouth of Galveston Bay. Nicknamed for the destructive hurricane that hit Galveston Island in 2008, the so-called Ike Dike could be the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history.

The project is included the Water Resources Development Act, which contains various federal water, coast and flooding projects that require congressional approval to move forward, but does not allocate funds. The bill passed with 93 yes votes in the Senate on Thursday; only Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, voted no.

The U.S. House passed its version of the act in June. The legislation will go back to the House for the two chambers to iron out differences before sending it to President Joe Biden for approval. But the Texas coastal spine project is authorized in both versions.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the project brings Texas “one step closer” to ensuring the state’s coast will be as “prepared as possible” for future hurricanes.

“Protecting the Texas coast from devastating hurricanes is a top priority when it comes to preserving the livelihoods of Texans and ensuring the massive amount of international trade that relies on our state can resume after a storm,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The Ike Dike is part of the larger Texas Coastal Project, which was proposed to protect the state’s shoreline against hurricane storm surge and rising sea levels. It includes a series of other coastal infrastructure and environmental projects, from artificial barriers to beach and dune restoration.

The Ike Dike gate project alone would account for at least $16 billion and require 18 years to build, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates. The gates would span a nearly 2-mile gap from the island to Bolivar Peninsula.

The act doesn’t include funding for the Ike Dike and the rest of the Texas coast projects, which will require a separate request to Congress from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Congress is expected to fund the project in smaller appropriations rather than all at once.

If — or when — Congress does appropriate money, the state and local governments will be on the hook for a local match, which could total at least $10 billion, but inflation and changes in building costs mean estimates vary widely. Typically, such projects require a 65%-35% split in federal and nonfederal funding.

See here, here, and here for the background. Honestly, I’m a little surprised when anything passes the Senate. I guess there’s still the reconciliation to go through, but at this point that seems like small potatoes. (If I just jinxed the entire thing, I apologize.) It will take years as noted for this to be built, but better to start now than to still be waiting on it. The Chron has more.

Meet the new billionaires in charge of Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another story about the chaos that has been unleashed by banning abortion

There will be more to come for as long as this situation remains.

A sexual assault survivor chooses sterilization so that if she is ever attacked again, she won’t be forced to give birth to a rapist’s baby. An obstetrician delays inducing a miscarriage until a woman with severe pregnancy complications seems “sick enough.” A lupus patient must stop taking medication that controls her illness because it can also cause miscarriages.

Abortion restrictions in a number of states and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade are having profound repercussions in reproductive medicine as well as in other areas of medical care.

“For physicians and patients alike, this is a frightening and fraught time, with new, unprecedented concerns about data privacy, access to contraception, and even when to begin lifesaving care,” said Dr. Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association.

In the past week, an Ohio abortion clinic received calls from two women with ectopic pregnancies — when an embryo grows outside the uterus and can’t be saved — who said their doctors wouldn’t treat them. Ectopic pregnancies often become life-threatening emergencies and abortion clinics aren’t set up to treat them.

It’s just one example of “the horrible downstream effects of criminalizing abortion care,’’ said Dr. Catherine Romanos, who works at the Dayton clinic.

Dr. Jessian Munoz, an OB-GYN in San Antonio, Texas, who treats high-risk pregnancies, said medical decisions used to be clear cut.

“It was like, the mom’s life is in danger, we must evacuate the uterus by whatever means that may be,” he said. “Whether it’s surgical or medical — that’s the treatment.”

Now, he said, doctors whose patients develop pregnancy complications are struggling to determine whether a woman is “sick enough” to justify an abortion.

With the fall of Roe vs. Wade, “the art of medicine is lost and actually has been replaced by fear,” Munoz said.

Munoz said he faced an awful predicament with a recent patient who had started to miscarry and developed a dangerous womb infection. The fetus still had signs of a heartbeat, so an immediate abortion — the usual standard of care — would have been illegal under Texas law.

“We physically watched her get sicker and sicker and sicker” until the fetal heartbeat stopped the next day, “and then we could intervene,” he said. The patient developed complications, required surgery, lost multiple liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine “all because we were essentially 24 hours behind.”

In a study published this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, doctors at two Texas hospitals cited the cases of 28 women less than 23 weeks pregnant who were treated for dangerous pregnancies.

The doctors noted that all of the women had recommended abortions delayed by nine days because fetal heart activity was detected. Of those, nearly 60% developed severe complications — nearly double the number of complications experienced by patients in other states who had immediate therapeutic abortions. Of eight live births among the Texas cases, seven died within hours. The eighth, born at 24 weeks, had severe complications including brain bleeding, a heart defect, lung disease and intestinal and liver problems.

[…]

Becky Schwarz, of Tysons Corner, Virginia, found herself unexpectedly thrust into the abortion controversy even though she has no plans to become pregnant.

The 27-year-old has lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause the body to attack tissue surrounding joints and organs, leading to inflammation and often debilitating symptoms. For Schwarz, these include bone and joint pain, and difficulty standing for long periods of time.

She recently received a notice from her doctor saying she’d have to stop taking a medication that relieves her symptoms — at least while the office reviewed its policies for methotrexate in light of the Supreme Court ruling. That’s because the drug can cause miscarriages and theoretically could be used in an attempt to induce an abortion.

“For me to have to be essentially babysat by some policy, rather than being trusted about how I handle my own body … has made me angry,” she said.

The Arthritis Foundation and American College of Rheumatology have both issued statements of concern about patients’ access to the drug. Steven Schultz of the Arthritis Foundation said the group is working to determine how widespread the problem is. Patients having trouble getting the medication can contact the group’s helpline, he said.

I mean, what is there to say? This is all a feature and not a bug. The collateral damage to literally everyone else is of no concern to the forced birth fanatics. It’s time for doctors and other medical professionals who don’t want the state meddling in their ability to treat patients to vote and organize like it. Passing some federal laws if the next election allows for a continued Democratic majority in the House and enough anti-filibuster Senators to actually do something will help, but the chaos will continue until there’s also some action taken to mitigate the damage of 20 years’ worth of Federalist Society judges legislating from the bench. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to be bad until we can get it done.

More dimensions for privacy in the post-Roe world

The fall of Roe is a big boon for cyberstalkers.

All too frequently, people monitor our intimate lives in betrayal of our trust—and it’s often those we know and love. They don’t even need to be near us to capture our data and to record our activities. Surveillance accomplished by individual privacy invaders will be a gold mine for prosecutors targeting both medical workers and pregnant people seeking abortions.

Intimate partners and exes download cyberstalking apps to personal devices that give them real-time access to everything that we do and say with our phones. To do this, they only need our phones (and passwords) for a few minutes. Once installed, cyberstalking apps silently record and upload phones’ activities to their servers. They enable privacy invaders to see our photos, videos, texts, calls, voice mails, searches, social media activities, locations—nothing is out of reach. From anywhere, individuals can activate a phone’s mic to listen to conversations within 15 feet of the phone.

Now and in the future, that may include conversations that pregnant people have with their health care providers—nurses, doctors, and insurance company employees helping them determine their life’s course and the future of their pregnancies. Victims of such privacy violations are never free from unwanted monitoring. Abusers count on them to bring their cellphones everywhere, and they do, as anyone would.

For abusers, finding cyberstalking apps is as easy as searching “cellphone spy.” Results return hundreds of pages. In my Google search results, a related popular search is “spy on spouse cell phone.” More than 200 apps and services charge subscribers a monthly fee in exchange for providing secret access to people’s phones. When I first began studying stalkerware in 2013, businesses marketed themselves as the spy in a cheating spouse’s pocket. Their ads are more subtle now, though affiliated blogs and videos are less so, with titles like “Don’t Be a Sucker Track Your Girlfriend’s iPhone Now: Catch Her Today.”

Though we don’t have precise numbers of stalkerware victims, domestic violence hotlines in the United States help more than 70,000 people every day, and according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence as many as 70 percent of those callers raise concerns about stalkerware. A 2014 study found that 54 percent of domestic abusers tracked victims’ cellphones with stalkerware. Security firm Kaspersky detected more than 518,223 stalkerware infections during the first eight months of 2019, a 373 percent increase from that period in 2018. Millions of people, right now, are being watched, controlled, and manipulated by partners or exes. The United States has the dubious distinction of being one of the leading nations in the number of stalkerware users around the world. That destructive accomplishment has a disproportionate impact on women, LGBTQ individuals, and people from marginalized communities.

Abusers will use intimate data obtained from stalkerware to terrorize, manipulate, control, and—yes—incriminate victims. Now that a woman’s exercise of her reproductive liberty is soon to be, or already is, a crime in many states, abusers have even more power to extort and terrorize victims. They may threaten to disclose information about abortions unless women and girls give into their demands, including having unwanted sex or providing intimate images, both forms of sextortion. (Sextortion routinely involves threats to disclose intimate information like nude images unless victims send more images or perform sex acts in front of webcams.) If victims refuse to give into their demands (and even if they do), privacy invaders may post information about abortions online and report it to law enforcement. Two birds, one stone: the ability to humiliate, terrorize, and financially damage victims and to provide evidence to law enforcement. Exes can extinguish victims’ intimate privacy by enabling their imprisonment.

The law’s response to intimate privacy violations is inadequate, lacking a clear conception of what intimate privacy is, why its violation is wrongful, and how it inflicts serious harm upon individuals, groups, and society. Legal tools—criminal law, tort law, and consumer protection law—tackle some privacy problems, but few (if any) capture the full stakes for intimate privacy. In criminal law, privacy violations are mostly misdemeanors, which law enforcers routinely fail to pursue when reported. Criminal law is woefully underenforced when the illegality involves gendered harms, like privacy violations and sexual assault where victims are more often female and LGBTQ individuals. (Yet when the very same people are the alleged perpetrators, law enforcement eagerly investigates.) Because policymakers fail to recognize the autonomy, dignity, intimacy, and equality implications of intimate privacy violations, we have too few protections.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see any chance that legislation to deal with these issues will pass in the next Texas legislative session. Maybe in the next Congress, if Dems can hold the House and pick up a couple of Senate seats to overcome the Manchin/Synema blockage – in other words, possible but a longshot. We know the House can do it, at least. Otherwise, good luck to you.

Another place where existing law falls short: HIPAA doesn’t cover medical apps.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA, does not apply to most apps that track menstrual cycles, just as it doesn’t apply to many health care apps and at-home test kits.

In 2015, ProPublica reported how HIPAA, passed in 1996, has not kept up with changes in technology and does not cover at-home paternity tests, fitness trackers or health apps.

The story featured a woman who purchased an at-home paternity test at a local pharmacy and went online to get the results. A part of the lab’s website address caught her attention as a cybersecurity consultant. When she tweaked the URL slightly, a long list of test results of some 6,000 other people appeared.

She complained on Twitter and the site was taken down. But when she alerted the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees HIPAA compliance, officials told her they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s because HIPAA only covers patient information kept by health providers, insurers and data clearinghouses, as well as their business partners.

Deven McGraw is the former deputy director for health information privacy at the HHS Office for Civil Rights. She said the decision overturning Roe, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, should spark a broader conversation about the limits of HIPAA.

“All of a sudden, people are waking up to the idea that there’s a lot of sensitive data being collected outside of HIPAA and asking, ‘What are we going to do?’” said McGraw, who is now the lead for data stewardship and data sharing at Invitae, a medical genetics company. “It’s been that way for a while, but now it’s in sharper relief.”

McGraw noted how that’s not just the case for period-tracking apps but also some apps that store COVID-19 vaccine records. Because Congress wrote HIPAA, lawmakers would have to update it to cover those cases. “Our health data protections are badly out of date,” she said. “But the agencies can’t fix this. This is on Congress.”

Consumer Reports’ digital lab evaluated eight period-tracking apps this spring and found that four allowed third-party tracking by companies other than the maker of the app. Four apps stored data remotely, not just on the user’s device. That makes the information potentially subject to a data breach or a subpoena from law enforcement agencies, though one of the companies surveyed by Consumer Reports has said it would shut down rather than turn over users’ data.

In a press release last week, HHS sought to allay worries with some advice that sounds reassuring.

“According to recent reports, many patients are concerned that period trackers and other health information apps on smartphones may threaten their right to privacy by disclosing geolocation data which may be misused by those seeking to deny care,” HHS said in the release.

The document quoted HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about the protections provided by HIPAA: “HHS stands with patients and providers in protecting HIPAA privacy rights and reproductive health care information,” Becerra said. He urged anyone who thinks their privacy rights have been violated to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

See above in re: the chances of federal legislation passing. Also note that until the law is updated, if a Republican wins the Presidency, they’ll appoint the HHS secretary and will set the direction for that agency regarding patient privacy. How much faith do you want to put in that?

House passes bill to protect access to contraception

They’re on a roll.

The House on Thursday passed legislation that would protect access to birth control, the latest move in a broader effort by Democrats to enshrine into federal law rights they fear could come under threat by the Supreme Court following its decision to wipe away the constitutional right to an abortion.

The vote was 228-195, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor. All 195 “no” votes came from Republicans.

[…]

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, now goes to Senate, where it is unlikely to attract the support of 10 Republicans needed to pass it. The measure would create a statutory right for people to access birth control and protect a range of contraceptive methods, as well as ensure health care providers have a right to provide contraception services to patients.

“We are not willing to play defense on this critically important issue,” Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who sponsored the measure, said during a press conference to promote the bill on Wednesday. “We are playing offense.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to roll back the clock for American women by curtailing access to birth control, but declared “we are not going back.”

“This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear, right down to the fundamentals of privacy they want to erase,” Pelosi said of Republicans. “With this passage, Democrats will make clear we will never quit in the fight against the outrageous right-wing assault on freedom.”

[…]

While Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion urging his colleagues to reconsider landmark decisions that recognized rights regarding contraception and same-sex relationships.

No other justice joined Thomas, but his opinion, coupled with decisions this term from the court’s conservative majority involving the environmentreligionguns and abortion, has prompted Democrats to push back legislatively.

“This rallying call by Justice Thomas and the actions of extremist Republican legislators are about one thing: Control,” said Manning, the North Carolina Democrat. “These extremists are working to take away the rights of women, to take away our right to decide when to have children, to take away our right to control our own lives and our own bodies, and we will not let this happen.”

As noted, the House also recently passed bills to protect access to abortion and same sex marriage. The latter has some chance of passing the Senate, while the former and this bill will need a larger Democratic Senate to go along with a Democratic House to have a chance. Not a bad set of issues to run on this year, and it’s always good to be seen taking real action. As you might imagine, no Texas Republicans voted in favor, though Rep. Mike McCaul did not vote on it. I’d be perfectly happy for the House to find a few more items like these to vote on. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Chron have more.

House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage

A surprisingly bipartisan vote, by which I mean “more Republicans than you can count on your fingers voted for it as well”.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to pass a bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.

The bipartisan final vote was 267 to 157 with 47 Republicans joining with Democrats to vote for the bill. It’s not clear, however, whether the bill can pass the Senate where at least 10 Republicans would need to join with Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

The vote comes amid fears among Democrats that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could take aim at same-sex marriage in the future, after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade in a highly consequential reversal of longstanding legal precedent.

The bill — called the Respect for Marriage Act — was introduced by Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

In addition to safeguarding the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, the bill also includes federal protections for interracial marriages. The measure holds that a marriage must be recognized under federal law if the marriage was legal in the state where it took place.

The bill would also enact additional legal safeguards for married couples intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, including empowering the attorney general to pursue enforcement actions.

[…]

House Democrats, leaning into cultural issues in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, also are looking at moving a bill this week to guarantee access to contraception.

The Supreme Court’s bombshell opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has set off a debate over whether other precedents are now in danger.

The majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito attempted to wall off its holding in the abortion case from those other rulings, but Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to call explicitly for other rulings to be revisited.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote, referring to decisions on contraception and same-sex relationships.

Liberals have said that those rulings are now at risk.

In their dissent, the court’s three liberal justices wrote “no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work.”

“The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone,” they wrote. “To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception. In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage.”

The liberals added: “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.”

See here for my post about the House passing a bill to restore abortion access. This one got one Republican vote from Texas, one more than the abortion access bill got (and yes, one more Democratic vote, as Henry Cuellar can get stuffed). Unlike the abortion access bill, this one may have a chance to pass the Senate; at the very least, it’s got Senate Republicans all discombobulated. (To be fair, Ted Cruz remains solidly un-discombobulated.) They apparently just never expected Dems to make them vote on this stuff, which honestly doesn’t say anything good about either of them. But at least the Dems are pressing the issue now, and it will either result in a good law being passed or a good campaign issue presenting itself. More like this, please. The Chron and The 19th have more.

House passes national abortion access bill

They’re doing what they can. It’s the Senate that’s the problem.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House on Friday passed two bills that would restore abortion access across the country and prevent states like Texas from barring patients from crossing state lines to receive reproductive health care, the first major legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

While the bills are almost certain to stall in the evenly divided Senate, House Democrats cast their passage as a necessary effort after the Supreme Court ruling triggered laws in Texas and other red states banning abortion and sparked calls from the right to go further by stopping patients from crossing state lines to get abortions and cracking down on anyone who helps them.

“Right now, the rights of women and every American are on the line,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “House Democrats are ferociously defending freedom with these two important bills and we need two more Democratic pro-choice senators so that we can eliminate the filibuster and make this legislation the law of the land.”

[…]

The bill that passed Friday would make it clear that the freedom to travel to other states is a constitutional right, and would prohibit states from restricting travel for those seeking to obtain a lawful abortion. The legislation would also bar states from banning businesses or groups from assisting in that travel.

It comes as the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June sparked uncertainty in states where old statutes on abortion, some dating back a century or more, remain on the books. Some Texas GOP legislators claim those old laws — revived by the Roe ruling — already do more than just ban abortion in the state, with clauses barring anyone from “furnishing” abortions as well, which they argue prohibits businesses or advocacy groups from covering a patient’s travel costs.

“In my beloved home state of Texas, we are in a crisis. A health care crisis. A humanitarian crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat who authored the bill.

“Texans who can do so have been traveling out of state to obtain abortion care, first to Oklahoma and Louisiana and New Mexico and, as some of these states have now banned abortion, they are now traveling even further,” Fletcher said. “And now in response to this exercise of their constitutional right to travel between the states, lawmakers in Texas — and in other states across the country — are threatening to take away that right, too.”

Fletcher pointed to a letter the Texas Freedom Caucus sent last week to Dallas law firm Sidley Austin LLP saying the firm was “exposing itself and each of its partners to felony criminal prosecution and disbarment” for reimbursing travel costs for employees who “leave Texas to murder their unborn children.” The letter said the caucus also plans to push legislation next session that would prohibit any employer in Texas from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses, regardless of where the abortion occurs.

“This is not hypothetical and it is not hyperbole,” Fletcher said.

The House has done its part, on this and on other issues like voting rights and gun control, to move the country forward or at least keep it from sliding back. The Senate remains the problem, as Dems are two members short of having a majority that will allow bills to be passed by a majority. The stakes of the 2022 election are now being stated as if the Dems can hold their majority in the House and if the Dems can pick up at least two seats in the Senate – hold their existing seats and flip Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, at least – they will reconvene in January 2023 and get bills like these to President Biden’s desk. Those are some big ifs, and you’d get fairly long odds on them in Vegas. But it’s where we are, and it’s the reason why we can’t give up. Whatever else it is, it’s as simple as that.

Sheriff Gonzales withdraws from consideration for ICE

Not a big surprise at this point.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has withdrawn from consideration to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he confirmed Monday afternoon.

Gonzalez’s withdrawal comes 14 months after President Joe Biden first nominated him to lead ICE.

“It’s taken far too long,” Gonzalez said Monday. “It’s in best interest of myself, my family, the country and the residents of Harris County that elected me to serve as sheriff to remove myself from further consideration and remain in place as sheriff.”

Gonzalez’ nomination surprised some, in part because in 2017 he’d ended a controversial partnership with ICE that had allowed sheriff’s deputies to screen jailed suspects to find those in the country without legal permission — and later declined to cooperate with an ICE operation in 2019 to arrest large numbers of immigrant families living without legal permission in Houston and other large cities.

Biden first nominated Gonzalez in April 2021. He faced a tense reception from Senate Republicans later that year, ultimately promising not to abolish the partnership he’d scrapped in Harris County in which local law enforcement agencies screen jailed suspects to identify people unauthorized to be in the country.

[…]

The struggle to confirm Gonzalez reflects shifting norms in the Senate and the growing difficulty of confirming political appointees in recent years, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes effective government.

“Everything is becoming harder and slower, and you have even fewer people actually being confirmed for very important positions,” Stier said.

The exit of Gonzalez from the process this week marks the latest setback for the Biden administration, which has struggled to win Senate confirmation for high-profile appointments for other contentious posts — and for ICE itself, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for more than five years.

See here for the previous update. Not a whole lot to add, but if Dems can pull off maintaining the Senate, especially if they can pick up Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, then maybe the next ICE nominee will have an easier time. Maybe. In any event, please return any speculation you may have engaged in regarding who would be selected to replace Gonzales as Sheriff back to the shelf.

Biden signs modest gun control bill

It’s now the law. We’ll see for how long.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan measure to address gun violence, less than 24 hours after the bill was approved by the U.S. House and a month and a day after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Today, we say more than enough. We say more than enough,” Biden said at the White House. “At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”

The measure was negotiated by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. That shooting had come less than two weeks after a massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people dead.

In a statement announcing the signing, the White House thanked Cornyn and a small bipartisan group of other senators involved in its drafting.

The law is widely viewed as a series of modest changes to current gun regulations, falling far short of proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden to raise the age to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and expand universal background checks. The most noteworthy provision of the law would close what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

Current federal statutes prohibit firearm purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child. To close the loophole, the new law will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse.

Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The law will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.

See here for the background. Please note that first sentence in the last paragraph above, because I’ve been speculating about legal challenges to this new law ever since it became apparent that it was about to become law. I was called out in the comments of that earlier post for my assertion that “SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal”. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, but it’s absolutely the case that state gun control measures of all kinds around the country are now going to be challenged in federal court. Where do you think this Supreme Court will draw a line and say okay, no, that’s a reasonable and constitutional restriction and may stand? It’s not at all clear to me that they believe there is one. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – and even happier if we finally get around to reforming this completely radicalized and out of control SCOTUS – but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on it. In the meantime, let’s see when – and yeah, I mean “when” and not “if” – the first suit is filed against this law.

PS – I know I make a lot of podcast recommendations as supplemental material for my posts, so here’s another for you: This week’s Amicus podcast talks for about 30 minutes about the Bruen decision, with the actual legal expert doing the talking sounding a lot more sanguine about certain types of state gun laws surviving future review; he also specifically thinks this federal law will survive. I’m the opposite of an expert, but I am deeply cynical and have zero faith in the consistency or fidelity of this court. You make the call which of us will be more accurate about the future.