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Where the primary action is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DMN profile of Royce West

The fifth, and as far as I can tell final, one of these.

Sen. Royce West

U.S. Senate hopeful Royce West warns fellow Democrats not to nominate a “far left” candidate.

Instead, he says they should choose him, the “most qualified” person in the 12-person scrum seeking the chance next fall to try to unseat three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

West regularly tells audiences he’s not in the race for ego gratification but out of a sense of duty. After all, he recently told audiences in Walker and Tarrant counties, someone needs to try to extinguish the dumpster fire that is Washington.

As a 26-year state senator, West insisted he has the skills, experience and wisdom that can help Congress fix health care and immigration, improve education, expand voter rights and pass gun control measures.

“It’s time to do it,” the Dallas lawyer-legislator told The 100 Ranchers, a group of African American farmers and ranchers, on a recent Saturday afternoon.

“And if I don’t do it and others don’t do it, then shame on me and my generation,” West said to a crowd at a horse and cattle operation in Riverside, near Lake Livingston in southeast Texas. “If you really want the change, I want to be a change agent for you.”

[…]

West has tried to sell himself as a reliable political pro who can get things done against tall odds, even amid partisan rancor and gridlock. But he also has reached out to young people, emphasizing his own evolution on issues.

Stressing he’s “always been there” for liberal causes such as voting rights and women’s rights, West noted to his Riverside audience that he’s lately become passionate about gay rights and the environment.

“When we look at issues concerning LGBTQ rights, now, I’ve evolved on that,” he said. A male rancher shouted “amen.” West continued, “Who am I to sit up and say who you can love, OK? You love who you want to love – and that’s a fact.”

Royce West has always been a solid if un-exciting Senator. In a different year, we’d be delighted to see a serious establishment elected official make a statewide run – look at how much enthusiasm having two State Senators at the top of the ticket in 2014 generated, at least initially. He may have “evolved” on some issues, but give the man credit – in 2005, he voted against the infamous Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment. I’ll be happy enough if he’s the nominee – he’s not my first choice at this time, but I have nothing bad to say about him. I will say, as a long-time incumbent State Senator, he has no good reason to not have a stellar Q4 finance report. As with all the others, I’m eager to see how he did on that.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.)

DMN profile of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

The fourth entry in this series, and the first to generate some heat.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez says there’s power in her name.

“Tzintzún is more Mexican than any Garcia or Lopez,” the activist told a gathering of Democratic women in Plano. “We were the only indigenous group in Mexico that were not defeated by the Aztecs. So you know I come from good lineage and I’m ready to defeat John Cornyn.”

Tzintzún Ramirez wants to revolutionize campaigning for her Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The veteran Latina activist is mobilizing the young and Hispanic voters whom Democrats need to transform Texas from red to blue. She’s confident her liberal proposals will also appeal to black and white Democrats and make her the party’s nominee.

The Senate primary will test whether a Green New Deal progressive like Tzintzún Ramirez can win in a state dominated by conservative voters.

“The only way we’re going to win is by the progressive muscle that we know is going to get behind this campaign to turn out voters, especially brown and black voters,” she told The Dallas Morning News. “Now we need them to win and no candidate wins without them, but I want to be the candidate for everyone in Texas that truly represents our diversity and common interests.”

[…]

“She was one of the most effective advocates on worker safety that we dealt with,” said Debbie Berkowitz, who was chief of staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when she met Tzintzún Ramirez.

Berkowitz said Tzintzún Ramirez’s group produced a report that outlined how workers were dying on the job, leading to improved standards that saved lives.

Tzintzún Ramirez left the Workers Defense Project in 2015 and later formed a group called Jolt, with the goal of mobilizing immigrants and Latino voters.

Brigid Hall is the chief operations officer at Jolt and was Tzintzún Ramirez’s deputy at the Workers Defense Project.

“She has really ambitious goals and a big vision. She moves quickly and is always one step ahead,” Hall said. “She has high expectations and makes them known for the people around her. Sometimes it’s very hard to meet those expectations.”

Aside from work, Tzintzún Ramirez, 37, describes herself as having the heart of a 60-year-old woman. She likes to watch movies, work in her garden and cook. She has a 2-year-old son, Santiago, who she says will travel with her on the trail. Because she’s raising her son alone, Tzintzún Ramirez said she paused before making a final decision on running for Senate.

The heat stems from that first quote of hers, which evolved into a larger debate about names and identity and other things, some of which are mentioned later in the story. I would suggest you read what Tzintzún Ramirez has said following the publication of this story on Twitter, and also what others have said in response. And since I first drafted this post, Tzintzún Ramirez has apologized for what she said.

Be all that as it may, Tzintzún Ramirez is one of the more interesting candidates running, with a strong background in organizing and the potential to excite less-reliable voters, if she can perhaps be a bit more careful in what she says. She’s on the left edge of the primary field, and along with Chris Bell has been critical of MJ Hegar for being opposed to several of the more progressive policy ideas. I personally don’t have a feel for how the broader primary electorate will respond to the issues in question – to oversimplify, Medicare for All versus adding strengthening and adding a public option to Obamacare, Beto-style buybacks for assault weapons, the Green New Deal, etc – but I will note again that we’re going to have a really big primary voting population, and right now most of them know little about these candidates, let alone who stands for or against what. We may get some clarity in the runoff, but I for one would caution anyone against making any broad conclusions about what the primary voters wanted once all the votes are counted. I think the candidates who make the best first impression will finish in the money, and from there we can maybe get into some specifics.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar.)

DMN profile of MJ Hegar

Third in the series, and first of the candidates to jump in the race, back when we still thought Beto would be a candidate.

MJ Hegar

As she looks confidently to November, and a chance to try to pack U.S. Sen. John Cornyn “off to take his three taxpayer-funded pensions,” MJ Hegar hustles a brand she insists is distinctive.

She’s a combat veteran who sacrificed a dream career to sue the military on behalf of other women. She’s also a “mama bear,” fiercely protective of her two young sons, a working mom, a tattooed motorcyclist and a rural Texan — OK, she grew up near Austin, but her high school in Leander still has hundreds of kids in FFA.

Most of all, Hegar casts herself as “a disrupter.”

Unlike the last such person she says Texas elected to the Senate, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, Hegar says she won’t sell out to party leaders or big donors, instead fighting for blue-collar Texans. Senate Republicans, though, assail her as “Hollywood Hegar,” someone too liberal for the state.

The one-third of Texans who are “in the middle” of the electorate distrust parties, Hegar said during a recent Texas Tribune event.

“They’re looking for character,” someone who will be a team player and “servant leader,” putting country above narrow or partisan interests, she said.

“We have not fielded a combat veteran as a Democrat in a statewide election in a state like Texas that is so pro-military and patriotic,” she told Tribune chief executive Evan Smith.

“It’s not just being a combat veteran, though,” she explained. “It’s being a disrupter. It’s not just being a veteran who goes along and does as they’re told. It’s being a veteran who took on the Pentagon, took on the establishment — and won.”

[…]

Hegar (pronounced hey-GARR) is 43 – in age, the median of the five major Democratic contenders. Last year, she came close to knocking off entrenched Central Texas GOP Congressman John Carter of Georgetown.

As she asks her party for its Senate nomination against Cornyn, Hegar is being followed at all her public appearances by three different “trackers,” who take video of her, she said an interview.

“A huge compliment,” she said. It means the GOP sees her as a threat, she noted. Of the Democrats running, Hegar has raised the most money by far — $2 million.

In 2016, Hegar cast a vote in her first primary, she recalled. She voted in the GOP primary “to stop Donald Trump,” she said. “I voted for Carly Fiorina and she had already dropped out.”

After September’s disclosures about suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Hegar backed an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.

Following her recent Tribune appearance, several audience members old enough to be grandparents approached her to discuss climate change. Though Hegar said she favors “aggressive action,” she declined to bless a carbon tax measure, saying she wanted to make sure it doesn’t increase the cost of food for the middle class.

University of Texas law student Anthony Collier asked her position on Medicare for all, which would eliminate private health insurance.

Hegar said she favors preserving and improving Obamacare and adding a “public option” that would include subsidies for low-income people to be able to buy into Medicare. But she would keep private plans for Americans who want them, she said.

“We can still get there while offering people choice,” she told Collier.

Speaking to reporters after formally filing her papers Dec. 9, Hegar said people aren’t asking her about impeachment but about jobs, schools and health care.

“On some issues I’m this, on some issues I’m that,” she said. “I make up my mind based on what’s … right for my state. When Texans look at me, they don’t see a progressive or moderate. They see a bad-ass, ass-kicking Texas woman.”

Hegar probably comes into this race as the best-known candidate, thanks to her 2018 Congressional race against John Carter and the publicity she was able to generate thanks to her viral ad. The skimpy polling information we have shows her leading the primary field, though with numbers small enough for that to not really mean anything. She’s done the best at fundraising, but she’s raised Congressional numbers, not Senate numbers. We’ll see what the Q4 report has to say.

Hegar is more of a personality candidate, at least at this point, than an issues candidate, though as you can see from the story that she does have coherent positions on issues. As someone who talks to a lot of candidates and who hears a lot of answers of varying degrees of depth and understanding on basic issues, I tend to appreciate the latter more than the former, though history would suggest I’m in the minority. I also don’t want to overstate the case here or to be insulting to Hegar’s substance – she has plenty to say about issues, she just tends to lead with the “bad-ass, ass-kicking” stuff. Which, let’s be honest, is almost certainly a wise strategic move, one that makes an equal amount of sense in a future campaign against a milquetoast enabler like John Cornyn. Read the story for more.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards.)

Who might run for Mayor in 2023?

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my list. Who would you add?

DMN profile of Amanda Edwards

Second in the series, focusing on now-former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards.

Amanda Edwards

On the day of her last Houston City Council meeting, outgoing at-large member Amanda Edwards wasn’t in the mood for goodbyes.

“In my mind it’s not really closing a door,” Edwards said as she drove a reporter past homes damaged by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. “It’s kind of remodeling and expanding. I’m completely ready to turn my next position on its head in terms of what people have grown accustomed to thinking it is.”

After just one term on the council, Edwards is running for Senate against incumbent Republican John Cornyn, a bodacious move that reflects her considerable confidence and the changing perceptions of what it takes to win a high-profile post.

[…]

Edwards, 37, was born in Houston to Isabella and Eugene Edwards.

Her parents were health care providers; Eugene was a pharmacist and Isabella is a retired physical therapist.

Eugene Edwards was diagnosed with cancer when Amanda was 10 years old, and he died when she was 17.

The questions Edwards had about his treatment helped shaped her views on health care.

From her father “skunking” her in table tennis and both parents stressing education, Edwards developed a competitive spirit.

She boasts about her skills in basketball, ping-pong and volleyball.

“Just ask the mayor,” she said, alluding to a basketball game between the council and staff and the mayor’s staff, in which she starred.

Edwards has degrees from Emory University and Harvard Law School. At Emory in Atlanta, she worked in six neighborhood community development corporations.

After college, she served as board president of Project Row Houses in Houston, where she helped redevelop homes as living art pieces.

She said she ran for council in 2015 to promote servant leadership. She won easily.

“I knew that a lot of things I felt strongly about were issues of leadership, like how to appropriately invest in under-resourced areas alongside the will of the community,” she said.

Edwards touts her work in bringing venture capital to Houston, as well as her push to develop neighborhoods without harmful gentrification.

She’s campaigned heavily on her work to help neighborhoods mend after Hurricane Harvey. Edwards and her community partners canvassed affected homes to determine what victims needed and how to improve the allocation of aid.

Here’s the interview I did with Amanda Edwards in 2015, when she first ran for Council. I included the bits from this story about her time on Council because I would not have known it off the top of my head. That’s partly because this was behind-the-scenes stuff, and partly because in our system here in Houston, Council members usually only make news if they’ve done something dumb or they’ve gotten into a fight with the Mayor. It’s good to be reminded that they do a lot of things we don’t easily see.

As for her candidacy, I guess I’ve been a skeptic. I doubted the reports that she was thinking about running, and I have my doubts she can break out in this field. I’ve long believed that she had a path to being Mayor in 2023, which may be affecting my perception. Edwards says in this story that people have underestimated her for her whole life, and I may be doing exactly that. I look forward to seeing her Q4 finance report, that’s for sure. Having said all this, I do think she’ll be a compelling candidate in November if she makes it through the primary, and whatever happens in March I fully expect we’ll be hearing plenty from Amanda Edwards.

(Previously: Chris Bell.)

We’re not going to get an independent redistricting commission

Nice to think about, but the set of circumstances that might lead to it are exceedingly narrow.

Most of the seven states that have independent commissions adopted them by a citizens’ initiative. Since Texas doesn’t have that option, the only way it would happen would be if lawmakers voluntarily gave up their redistricting power.

Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, said that’s unlikely to happen in Texas, but not impossible.

“The reality is that when a legislature is looking at potentially split control or the changeover of control from one party to another, they’re the most likely to entertain the possibility of redistricting reform,” Feng said.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said it would take a unique set of circumstances.

“It would take us reaching a tipping point where Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects for retaining a majority, but Democrats are also pessimistic about their prospects for taking a majority as well,” Jones said.

I think Jones’ assessment is basically accurate, but it’s important to understand what Republican pessimism about retaining a majority means. We’re talking about them being afraid that they might face unified Democratic government in 2031, the next time redistricting will come around. And not only must they fear this thing that might happen ten years and three statewide elections from now, they must conclude that their best option now would be to curb that future theoretical Democratic hegemony via the creation of an independent redistricting commission. All this happens following a Democratic takeover of the State House, because otherwise Republicans can do what they’ve done before, which is draw whatever districts they want without fear. You see what I mean by exceedingly narrow?

Let’s keep one other thing in mind here. If we do get a Democratic State House, Republicans can still push for whatever maps they want for the SBOE, the State Senate, and the State House. That’s because if the two chambers can’t agree on maps for those three entities, the job gets thrown to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is the Lite Governor, the Speaker, the AG, the Comptroller, and the Land Commissioner. In other words, a Board on which Republicans would have a 4-1 majority, and thus no trouble passing those Republican maps. The one map that would still be up in the air would be the Congressional map. If there is no map passed legislatively, it gets thrown to a federal court, over which neither side would have any control.

There is room in this scenario for some compromise. Republicans would prefer not to let a court do this work. Democrats would of course like to have some influence in the mapmaking process. You can imagine an agreement to draw maps for all four entities – Congress, SBOE, Senate, House – that leans towards incumbent protection rather than greatly advantaging or disadvantaging one party over the other. If that happens, you could also imagine them including an independent commission as a bonus Grand Bargain, but that seems a bridge too far. But compromise maps that mostly don’t make any incumbents’ lives too difficult, that I can see maybe getting done.

Maybe. The situation I’ve just described here is like what happened in 2001, which was the last time Dems controlled the House. The LRB drew the state maps, which led to the massive GOP takeover in the 2002 election, and a court drew the Congressional map. And then, once Republicans had control of the House, they went back and redid the Congressional map. That was the original, stated motivation when Tom DeLay pushed for re-redistricting in 2003: The Congressional map should be drawn by the legislators, not by a court. Obviously, they wanted a map that was much more favorable to Republicans, but that was the original reason they gave. It seems to me that this is a very plausible outcome in 2021 as well – the Republicans decide to let a court draw the map, which in all likelihood would be quite deferential to incumbents anyway, then take their chances on retaking the House in 2022 and doing a new Congressional map again. Hey, it worked once before, and now they have a more favorable Supreme Court to back them up.

Honestly, this may be the single most likely scenario – the LRB draws the state maps, a court draws the Congressional map, and everything hinges on the 2022 election. Maybe Dems keep the State House. Maybe we manage to elect a Democratic Governor, who could then veto any new Congressional map. Maybe Republicans win and do their thing. Heck, even in the Great Map Compromise scenario, who’s to say that Republicans wouldn’t tear it all up and start over in the event they retake the House and retain the Governor’s Mansion? I’d put money on that before I placed a bet on a redistricting commission. 2031 is a long, long way away. It’s not at all irrational to prioritize the now over what maybe could possibly happen if everything goes wrong.

DMN profile of Chris Bell

The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.

“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”

It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.

But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.

“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”

[…]

After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.

He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.

Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.

But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.

Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.

“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.

In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.

Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.

Cy-Fair Dems Senate candidate forum

There are actually multiple clubs hosting this forum, but there’s only so much room in the headline:

Event details can be found here. The forum will be held at the Green House International Church, 200 W Greens Rd, Houston, TX 77067, with a meet and greet beginning at 2 PM, the forum itself at 3:15, and a Q&A at 4:30. As of this publication, the following candidates have confirmed their attendance: Amanda Edwards, Chris Bell, Jack Daniel Foster Jr., Sema Hernandez, Royce West, and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

Everyone is asked to bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the food pantry. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Here’s the EventBrite link for the forum.

Endorsement watch: DSCC picks MJ Hegar

I’m sure no one will have any feelings about this.

MJ Hegar

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is endorsing MJ Hegar in the crowded primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The move by the DSCC, the political arm of Senate Democrats, is one of the biggest developments yet in the nominating contest, which has drawn a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no decisive frontrunners.

Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate, entered the primary in April and has emerged as the top fundraiser. But polls show the race remains wide open as Democrats look to pick up where they left off from Beto O’Rourke’s near-miss 2018 loss to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz.

“Texas has emerged as a battleground opportunity for Democrats up and down the ballot, and MJ Hegar is the strongest candidate to flip the U.S. Senate seat,” the DSCC’s chairwoman, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a statement.

“As a decorated combat veteran and working mother, MJ has both the courage and independence to put Texas first and is running on the issues that matter most to Texans: making health care and prescription drugs more affordable, protecting coverage for Texans with pre-existing conditions, and taking action to address climate change,” Cortez Masto continued. “We are proud to support MJ in her fight to continue her public service in the U.S. Senate.”

This is where I point out that the entire mission of the DSCC is to elect (and re-elect) Democratic Senate candidates, and that a big part of their function is fundraising. Hegar is so far the best fundraiser among the Democratic candidates, partly because she’s been in the race the longest, and she has track record of strong fundraising from 2018, as well as being the most recent candidate to have run that kind of underdog race. From a strictly pragmatic perspective, it makes sense, and if the DSCC believes that Texas is a viable pickup opportunity and Hegar represents the best shot at it, the rest follows easily enough. Those who align more closely with other candidates and/or believe that another candidate will be stronger against Cornyn will of course disagree with this assessment.

On a broader level, there are arguments to be made for and against an outfit like the DSCC entering a contested primary, especially one without a frontrunner, when they would presumably want to support one or more of the other candidates as well. Bad blood is a thing, as anyone who survived the CD07 primary last year can attest. Perhaps the DSCC was motivated by that, in the sense that they wanted to help someone they already liked break out.

Democrats now officially have their work cut out for them as a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no clear frontrunners — vie for the chance to face U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, despite universally low name ID and modest fundraising at best.

Tensions in the field have run mostly low, but that is beginning to change. At least one candidate, Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, has started moving more aggressively to distinguish herself, while additional areas of potential scrutiny have begun to emerge around other candidates. Tzintzún Ramirez has increasingly found a foil in rival MJ Hegar, who is holding firm on a general election-focused campaign while resisting the progressive impulses that Tzintzún Ramirez and some others have shown.

To that end, Tzintzún Ramirez’s credentials are getting a boost Friday with the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a labor-aligned third party that backed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016 and is supporting Elizabeth Warren for 2020. The group, which has an increasingly active Texas chapter, shared the endorsement first with The Texas Tribune.

“We think she’s the true progressive in the race, and that’s why we’re getting behind her,” said Jorge Contreras, the party’s Texas state director. “We’ve worked with Workers Defense and Jolt” — two organizing groups that Tzintzún Ramirez helped start — “and we see that she’s actually been throwing down for a long time in the state.”

Tzintzún Ramirez is campaigning on “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons — all proposals that Hegar has not embraced or has even overtly rejected. Hegar, an Air Force veteran, is touting herself as neither a moderate nor a progressive but an “ass-kicking” working mom with broad appeal. For months, she has talked openly about training her campaign exclusively on beating Cornyn, ignoring primary rivals and declining opportunities to criticize them.

On a conference call with reporters after filing Monday, Hegar said she had no plans to change that approach as the primary gets closer and the field remains muddled, saying, “This is who I am, and who I am is not interested in taking shots at people who share my values” and are also trying to “move the needle.”

Still, Hegar’s strategy ran into some controversy a couple of days later when she was asked about Tzintzún Ramirez suggesting the primary was coming down to her and Hegar — and Hegar replied, “Well, it is a two-person race. It’s me and John Cornyn.” While Hegar added that she was not taking the primary for granted, Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign fired back in a fundraising email hours later that said it “seems like MJ forgot that Cristina was most recently shown to be leading this primary, or that there’s a diverse crowd of other incredible Democratic candidates running too.” (The campaign was apparently referring to a November poll that had Tzintzún Ramirez in the No. 1 spot but within the margin of error of other candidates clustered in the single digits.)

[…]

Hegar’s supporters brush off the growing scrutiny, noting she is the fundraising leader in the primary — $2.1 million raised as of last quarter — and arguing she will be the strongest Democrat against Cornyn with her resources and ability to appeal to independent voters and even Republicans. They point to her military background as well as her stronger-than-expected performance in a traditionally red congressional district last year, losing by fewer than 3 percentage points to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

“I think she’s the frontrunner — I thought that before, and I think that now,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets, Hegar’s earliest national endorser. “When you have a huge state with a lot of media markets, it’s gonna come down to who voters get to know first. MJ’s raised more than anybody else.”

I’ll leave the debate over who stands for what and who should be supported for another time. I mean, that’s what a primary is for, and may the best candidate rise to the top. For what it’s worth, I like Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez both quite a bit, and I also like West, Edwards, and Bell. I’ll pick which one I want to vote for eventually, but in the meantime I’m all about beating Cornyn. They’d all be far better than he has been, so the rest is strategy and fundraising. Let’s see what the January reports tell us, and let’s see who can get their voices heard. The Texas Signal has more.

After-deadline filing review: RRC, SBOE, Senate

Moving on to state offices that are not the State House (that’s next). See here and here for previous entries.

RRC: The only statewide non-federal office on the ballot, as is usually the case in Presidential years. There are four candidates, three of whom we’re acquainted with. I’ve previously mentioned two of the candidates, Chrysta Castañeda, whom I met at the recent CEC meeting, and Kelly Stone, whom I’ve not met but have spoken to over the phone. There’s former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, who was defeated in the primary last year by State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez. The fourth candidate is Mark Watson, whom I cannot conclusively identify. Thankfully, Grady Yarbrough did not file.

SBOE: Late in the day, Rebecca Bell-Metereau filed for SBOE5; she has run for this office a couple of times before, including in 2016, when she lost by four points as Hillary Clinton carried the district. This would be the year to run. I still can’t find anything related to Letti Bresnahan’s campaign, not even confirmation that the person I believe to be the candidate for this office is indeed that candidate. There are two candidates for SBOE10, the third district that Beto carried but the longest reach of the three. One is Stephen Wyman, who has run a couple of times for HD20 in Williamson County, and the other is Marsha Burnett-Webster, who appears to be the wife of Cecil Webster, former Fayette County Democratic Party Chair who has run for HD13 a couple of times. Finally, the Democratic candidate in SBOE8, Sharon Berry, has dropped out.

Senate: I’m going to go through the individual races that I didn’t discuss in the Houston-area post.

Audrey Spanko is running in SD01 – here’s a news story about her. She sounds like a terrific candidate, running in a tough district.

There are two candidates running in SD12, which is the closest thing to a swing-ish district we have – it’s a bit more Republican than SD19 is Democratic, and a teensy bit bluer than SD11. If we’re seriously talking about it being competitive next year, Democrats are having an amazing cycle. Anyway, Shadi Zitoon and Randy Daniels are vying to be the nominee.

SD19 is the noisy epicenter of the otherwise quiet Senate campaign space. In the context of a Presidential year, it should be a ten-to-twelve-point Dem district, and it’s a must have. There are four candidates running, and we’re familiar with two of them, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, and Xochil Peña Rodriguez,, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. The others are Freddy Ramirez, a Bexar County prosecutor, and Belinda Shvetz.

SD22 and SD24 are not competitive districts. Robert Vick and Clayton Tucker have the arduous tasks of running in them.

Sen. Eddie Lucio is finally getting the serious primary challenge he deserves in SD27. Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton Barrera hope to usher him out.

SD29 is open following the retirement of Sen. Jose Rordiguez. State Rep. Cesar Blanco has the field to himself.

Next up, the Lege. As always, let me know what you think.

After-deadline filing review: Houston area

There’s a lot to digest following Monday’s filing deadline, and as I’ve said I’m going to take some time and go over it in as much obsessive detail as you’ve probably come to expect from me. As a reminder, the filing info can be found here, with the caveat that it may not be fully complete. Only two Dem filers in CD03 are listed, for example, while the not-listed Tanner Do sure seems to have filed. This will all get fixed over the next couple of days, but let’s do keep that in mind.

Congress: Sima Ladjevardian’s entry into the CD02 primary was the main news here. She doesn’t have much online presence as a candidate yet, just a Twitter account with three tweets. I hope to have the chance to interview her, and if I do I’ll ask about this, but I get the sense this wasn’t just a late filing, but a late decision to run. That process is always fascinating to me. Anyone who runs against Dan Crenshaw is going to have to raise a lot of money, because he has a lot of money. She strikes me as the kind of candidate who is capable of that, which makes me wonder why not get started sooner? I understand, people have their own reasons for that, I’m just curious. She has three weeks till the next reporting deadline, we’ll see how she does.

Elsewhere, CD10 stayed at three candidates but CD22 now has five, as Chris Fernandez (mentioned in passing in this story and someone named Carmine Petricco whom neither Google nor Facebook can find entered. CD08 has two candidates, Laura Jones, who we knew about a month ago, and Elizabeth Hernandez, whom I cannot identify. If you know anything about any of these folks, please leave a comment.

As noted before, Rep. Al Green has an opponent in CD09, and Sheila Jackson Lee has six – count ’em, six – opponents in CD18. Three of them – Marc Flores, Bimal Patel, and Stevens Orozco – have been around campaigning for awhile, the other three are more recent entrants. And while it’s not a contested primary, I feel compelled to note that Rashad Lewis, who became the youngest person elected to Jasper City Council as a write-in candidate in 2017, then ran for Mayor earlier this year but fell short, is in for CD36. I’m going to want to interview him for November.

Legislative: SBOE6 has three candidates as before; I’ll be publishing interviews with them next week. In the Senate, as noted before Sen. Borris Miles has two opponents in SD13. Former Galveston judge Susan Criss and 2018 CD22 primary candidate Margarita Ruiz Johnson are competing in SD11. Carol Alvarado has SD06 to herself, while Jay Stittleburg (SD04) and Michael Antalan have clear paths to November.

The big news for the State House is that the HD148 primary is now a five candidate race: Anna Eastman, Penny Shaw, Emily Wolf, Adrian P. Garcia, and Cynthia Reyes-Revilla. Garcia was in the HD148 special election, and Reyes-Revilla finished out of the money in District H. I think it’s safe to say there will be a runoff in the primary, as there was in the special election. HD126 is a rerun from 2018, as Undrai Fizer and Natali Hurtado square off again. HD128, which was uncontested in 2018 (and is the reddest district in the county) has Josh Markle, who recently got a boost from Beto, and Mary E. Williams, whom I cannot find. HD134 has the three candidates you know, and HD138 has the two you know plus a repeat engagement from Jenifer Pool. HD129 (Kayla Alix), HD130 (Bryan Henry), HD133 (Sandra Moore, who ran in the 2018 primary), and HD150 (Michael Robert Walsh, whom I cannot conclusively identify) are all uncontested for March.

Among the Harris County incumbents, Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Harold Dutton (HD142) have four challengers, with CM Jerry Davis in HD142 being the biggest threat to either of them. Reps. Garnet Coleman (HD147) and Hubert Vo (HD149) each have two opponents, Reps. Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, and Shawn Thierry have one, and Reps. Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Christina Morales are unopposed. Thierry’s opponent, as noted before, is Ashton Woods, who had run in At Large #5.

Elsewhere, Rep. Ron Reynolds (HD27) did pick up a primary opponent. I’ve been hard on Reynolds since his misdemeanor conviction, and I stand by everything I said. He’s now served his sentence, and I’m not aware of any further legal issues. I’m not quite ready yet, but assuming nothing else happens we are going to need to consider extending him the same grace we’re willing to give others who have served their sentences and deserve a clean slate, at least as far as voting and holding office is concerned. The infamously now-open HD26 has the four candidates we already knew of. Eliz Markowitz remains the candidate in HD28, and there are solo Dems running in HD03 (Martin Shupp), HD15 (Lorena McGill, the 2018 candidate), HD23 (Jeff Antonelli), HD24 (former Chron reporter Brian Rogers), HD25 (Patrick Henry), HD29 (Travis Boldt), and HD85 (Friend-of-Dos-Centavos Joey Cardenas).

Harris County: The main races – DA, County Attorney, Sheriff, Tax Assessor – you know about and nothing new has happened. There’s plenty of action in the two HCDE At Large races – Position 5 now has two candidates (Erica Davis, Paul Ovalle) and Position 7 has four (David Brown and Andrea Duhon, the two we knew about originally, and Bill Morris and Obes Nwabara). Also, too, I have not seen anything to indicate that Josh Flynn has resigned his spot as he runs for HD138 on the GOP side, so there’s that. Willie D is now listed in the primary for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, which doesn’t make sense but maybe something changed. If so, that’s a three-candidate race. There are six candidates for Precinct 3, the four you’ve heard of (Michael Moore, Diana Alexander, Kristi Thibaut, Morris Overstreet) and two you haven’t (Zaher Eisa and Erik Hassan, who is now calling himself Erik “Beto” Hassan, which, no). Alan Rosen did indeed file for Constable in Precinct 1.

That’s all I have the energy for now. I’ll keep going with this tomorrow.

All have filed who are going to file

Barring any late challenges, disqualifications, or lawsuits, what we have now is our lineup for the March primary. Most of what there is to say was covered in yesterday’s post, but here are the highlights and there is some big news.

– Pretty much all of the “not yet filed” people did indeed file. There are three notable absences that I can see, though do keep in mind that the SOS page may be behind and shouldn’t be considered final until we have confirmation. Be that as it may, two people I don’t see are Judge Elaine Palmer (215th Civil Court; no one is listed on the Dem side for this court as of Monday night) and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen. Hold those in mind, because there are news stories about some of the other interesting bits. Until I hear otherwise, the absence of any mention of those two suggests to me there’s no news, just a not-fully-updated SOS filing page.

– News item #1: Commissioner Steve Radack retires.

Steve Radack will not seek a ninth term as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3, vacating a powerful position he has held for three decades that Democrats hope to flip next year.

Radack, 70, said he plans to invest his time and significant campaign account into helping Republicans regain seats after disastrous elections in 2016 and 2018.

“I’m not through being involved in public service, and I felt that there’s a lot I can do to help the Republican Party,” Radack said.

[…]

Radack and Harris County’s other Republican commissioner, Jack Cagle, endorsed Spring Valley Village Mayor Tom Ramsey for the seat.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Radack’s impending retirement speaks to the shifting county electorate, which has helped Democrats sweep every countywide race since 2016.

“It is getting harder and harder for Republicans to compete in a rapidly changing county,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

Several candidates from both major parties have joined the race. Ramsey, City Councilwoman Brenda Stardig and former West University Place Mayor Susan Sample will run in the Republican primary. The Democratic race will feature Michael Moore, chief of staff to former Mayor Bill White, former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut, educator Diana Martinez Alexander and three other candidates.

I wish Commissioner Radack well in his retirement. And I am very much looking forward to seeing a Democrat elected to succeed him.

– News item #2: Council Member Jerry Davis will challenge State Rep. Harold Dutton in HD142.

Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis filed Monday to run as a Democrat for House District 142, a northeast Harris County seat long represented by state Rep. Harold Dutton.

Davis, who has represented District B since 2011, is prevented from seeking re-election due to Houston’s term limits. His council district overlaps part of the House district, which includes the Fifth Ward and runs east and then north to FM 1960.

The move ensures Dutton, D-Houston, will have his most challenging primary in years. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1984 and frequently has coasted to victory without primary opposition. Last cycle, he beat primary challenger Richard A. Bonton, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Bonton is running for the seat again this cycle.

I always figured CM Davis would run for something else when his time on Council ended, it was just a matter of what opportunity there would be. I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now this is an exciting race.

– News item #3:

Well, I did hear that a “big name” was set to enter this race. Now we know.

– News item #4:

And now Beto has endorsed Sima. I’ve already published one interview in CD02, and I have another in the works. I’ll figure out something for this.

– Five Democratic incumbents in Congress do not have primary opponents: Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (CD07), Vicente Gonzalez (CD15), Veronica Escobar (CD16), Sylvia Garcia (CD29), and Colin Allred (CD32). Everyone else needs to be gearing up for March. As was the case in 2018 and for the second time ever, Dems have at least one candidate in all 36 districts.

– All of the statewide offices except CCA Place 9 are contested, with several having three candidates. Already, the potential for multiple primary runoffs is high.

– According to the TDP, in the end Dems have candidates in all but one of the Senate districts that are up (only SD28 is uncontested), and they have candidates in 119 of the 150 State House races. HD23 drew a candidate, but HDs 43 and 84 apparently did not. In Harris County, only HD127 is uncontested.

– There is now a third candidate for HD148, an Emily Wolf. I cannot conclusively identify her – maybe this person? – so it’s impossible to say more than that.

– And on the Republican side, State Rep. Mike Lang in HD62 is your promised surprise retirement. Dems do have a candidate in this not-swing district.

– Looking at the Republican filings, quite a few Democratic judges have no November opposition. We have officially come full circle.

Again, remember that the SOS page may not be complete. The parties have five days to notify the SOS of their candidates. It’s possible there are still surprises lurking, to be confirmed and reported. If you’re not sure about a particular candidate, google them or find them on Facebook, to see if there’s been an announcement. I’ll have more as we go this week.

The “Has Not Yet Filed” list

Today is the actual, official filing deadline. Anyone who has not filed for a spot in the primary by 6 PM today is not a candidate for a Democratic nomination in 2020. A whole lot of people have already filed, and a whole lot more will file today – I’m going to have a lot to talk about with this tomorrow and for the rest of the week – but there are still a few notable absences (with the caveat that the SOS list may not be complete). So with that in mind, here are the “why aren’t they there yet?” list to ponder as the hours tick down.

US Senate: MJ Hegar is not yet listed. John Love, the Midland City Council member who announced his candidacy in October, has ended his campaign, on the grounds that he lacked the time and finances. Good for him for recognizing his situation, and I hope he looks at 2022 for another possible statewide campaign. Eleven candidates have filed so far, Hegar will make it 12 when she makes it official.

US Congress: Reps. Joaquin Castro (CD20) and Colin Allred (CD32) are not on the list as of Sunday evening. Some of the more recent entrants in CDs 03 and 31 – Tanner Do, Chris Suprun, Dan Jangigian – are not yet on the list. Much-ballyhooed CD28 challenger Jessica Cisneros is not yet on the list. Wendy Davis has CD21 to herself right now, as Jennie Leeder has not yet appeared. CDs 19, 27, and 36 do not yet have Democratic candidates. And while this has nothing to do with our side, the Republican field in CD22 is mind-bogglingly large. Good luck with that.

Railroad Commissioner: Kelly Stone had not filed as of Sunday, but she has an event on her candidate Facebook page announcing her filing at 2:30 today. Former State Rep. Robert Alonzo has joined the field.

SBOE: All positions are accounted for. Letti Bresnahan remains the only candidate in District 5, the most flippable one on the board. I still can’t find any information online about her candidacy.

State Senate: No candidates yet in SDs 12, 18, 22, or 28. Not surprising, as none are competitive, but a full slate is still nice. Sens. Borris Miles and Eddie Lucio now each have two opponents, the field in SD19 is four deep, and Rep. Cesar Blanco still has SD29 all to himself.

State House: Far as I can tell, the only incumbent who hasn’t filed yet is Rep. Rene Oliveira in HD37. Of the top targets for 2020 based on Beto’s performance, HDs 23, 43, and 84 do not yet have Democratic candidates. Those are if not the bottom three on the competitiveness scale, with the first two trending away from us, they’re close to it. If they go unfilled it will still be a waste, but about the smallest possible waste. Rep. Ron Reynolds does not have a challenger. Sean Villasana, running for the HD119 seat being vacated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez as he runs for SD19, has the field to himself so far. In all of the big counties, the only one missing a Dem right now is HD99 in Tarrant, which is not particularly competitive.

District Courts: Limiting myself to Harris County, Judges Jaclanel McFarland (133rd Civil), Ursula Hall (165th Civil), Elaine Palmer (215th Civil), and George Powell (351st Criminal) have not filed. Other candidates have filed in the 165th and 351st, as have candidates in the 337th Criminal (Herb Ritchie) and 339th Criminal (Maria Jackson) where the incumbents are known to not be running again. Alex Smoots-Thomas now has an opponent for the 164th, and I am told another may be on the way.

Harris County offices: All of the candidates I’ve tracked for District Attorney, County Attorney, Sheriff, and Tax Assessor have now filed; I’m told another candidate may be filing for Tax Assessor, but I don’t know any more than that. David Brown has not yet filed for HCDE Position 7 At Large, but he was at the CEC meeting yesterday and I expect to see him on the ballot. Luis Guajardo has not yet filed for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3. There’s still no JP candidates in Precincts 4 and 8, and no Constable in Precinct 8. And Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen is still missing. Could that mean something? We’ll find out today. I’ll have a report tomorrow.

Beto: Still not running for Senate

And as of Monday evening, we can stop talking about this.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke is reiterating that he is not running for U.S. Senate next year as speculation swirls ahead of the Monday filing deadline.

The former El Paso congressman has long said he would not challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, but since he dropped out of the presidential race last month, some supporters have held out hope for a reversal and buzzed that he may be giving it new consideration.

“Nothings changed on my end,” O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune in a text message Thursday night. “Not running for senate.”

O’Rourke’s statement comes three days after the release of a poll showing he would fare much better against Cornyn than other Democrats who are running. The survey, commissioned by a group led by an O’Rourke booster, breathed new life into the speculation simmering since early November that O’Rourke could be convinced to make a late entry into the race.

[…]

The lineup for the Democratic primary includes Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee; Amanda Edwards, a member of the Houston City Council; MJ Hegar, the 2018 congressional candidate; Royce West, a state senator from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a progressive organizer; and Sema Hernandez, O’Rourke’s 2018 primary opponent who got a stronger-than-expected 24% of the vote.

So far, none of them has come close to replicating the massive fundraising or frenetic campaign pace of O’Rourke’s 2018 bid.

At least one of them, West, has weighed in on the prospect of an 11th-hour bid by O’Rourke.

“I’d be disappointed because one of the things that I did before getting into the race was to talk to Beto and ask him — not once, but twice — if he decided to get out of the [presidential] race, would he get in [the Senate race]? And he said no,” West recalled during at a Texas Tribune event last month.

You know how I feel about that poll. I don’t know why so many people have been resistant to taking Beto at his word, but here we are. It’s only for a couple more days. In the meantime, Beto is out there working to help flip the State House, and I think he’s doing fine.

Beto boosts State House candidates

Very nice.

Beto O’Rourke

A month after ending his presidential campaign, Democrat Beto O’Rourke has turned his attention to state politics — namely, an effort to help flip the Texas House of Representatives from Republican control to the Democrats.

With Texas Democrats nine seats away from retaking the majority of seats in the Texas House, O’Rourke is trying to convince his donor base to send money to an organization called Flip The Texas House, which has targeted 17 House Districts in which Republican candidates won by fewer than 10 percentage points last year. More than half are districts in which O’Rourke won the majority of votes as he ran for U.S. Senate.

“In 2018, I carried nine of the 17 districts now represented by Republicans. So we know that we can do this,” O’Rourke said in the email. “We just need your help to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.”

Ten of the targeted districts are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and five are in and around Houston. One is in San Antonio and one is in Killeen.

As always, my analysis of the interesting House races is here. Those five Houston-area districts are HDs 134 and 138 in Harris County, HD29 in Brazoria County, and HDs 26 and 28 in Fort Bend. HD26 is now an open seat after incumbent Rick Miller said some deeply stupid things that even Greg Abbott condemned. It’s not even 2020 yet, and things are already off the chain.

Let me just say, we’re really not ready for the amount of money that’s going to be spent on campaigns in Texas next year. Ads – on TV, on the internet, on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and Instagram and everywhere else – and mailers and texts and calls and canvassers, it’s going to be nuts. We as a non-swing state for many years are not prepared for this. I feel like we all need to spend a week in Iowa or New Hampshire to get a taste of it. Just brace yourself, that’s all I’m saying.

Beacon Research: Trump 45, Biden 44

That’s not the headline of this story, but it’s what I’m leading with.

Beto O’Rourke

With just a week remaining before the deadline to run for office in Texas next year, some Democrats are still hoping to see Beto O’Rourke jump into the race to unseat Sen. John Cornyn.

Cornyn himself continued to raise money on Monday off the specter.

Poll after poll shows Cornyn would trounce the dozen or so contenders for the Democratic nomination at this point. None can touch the near-universal name recognition O’Rourke enjoys among Texas Democrats after his near-miss against Sen. Ted Cruz last year.

And a new poll commissioned by backers worried that the current crop of candidates would fall short shows that O’Rourke is by far the top choice of Democratic voters in Texas at 58%, with the runner-up, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas at 13%.

The poll also shows him in a near-tie, trailing Cornyn 46-42 at this point, which is far stronger than others already seeking the nomination.

[…]

The poll commissioned by the Democratic Policy Institute was conducted Nov. 9-21 – that is, after he ended his presidential campaign on Nov. 1.

“Beto has a strong statewide profile, certainly stronger than any of the other candidates at this point. He could certainly make this competitive,” said Chris Anderson of Beacon Research, a Boston-based Democratic pollster who conducted the survey.

“There’s no doubt that name ID is a huge asset for Beto, but it’s not something to be taken lightly,” Anderson said. “To have pretty much universal name ID across Texas is significant. And he has a loyal following that’s ready to reemerge for him. He really energized younger voters [against Cruz] and that means he could start with a leg up.”

You can see the poll info here. You may note there’s no mention of the Trump-Biden result in the excerpt I quoted. In fact, there’s no mention of it anywhere in the story, which as you can see is all about Beto. I’ll get to that in a minute, but in the meantime, here are the Presidential results from the poll:

Trump 45, Biden 44
Trump 46, Warren 41

Those are the only matchups they did. Biden does a touch better than Warren among Ds, Rs, and indies, and that explains the gap. The main takeaway here is that this is yet another result in which Trump tops out below fifty percent, and is in a tight race against all comers. And this is while the poll finds him even in favorability, 49-49. He’s had worse in other polls.

That was just an appetizer, because this poll was all about the Senate. Here’s what we get for that:

Cornyn 46, generic Dem 44 (broken down as definitely Cornyn 26, probably Cornyn 20, definitely Dem 26, probably Dem 18)
Cornyn 46, Beto 42
Cornyn 45, Royce West 33
Cornyn 44, MJ Hegar 30
Cornyn 45, Chris Bell 30
Cornyn 45, Sema Hernandez 29

For whatever the reason, they did not also test Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez or Amanda Edwards. I think the main difference between the Cornyn-Beto numbers and the Cornyn-other Dem numbers is, as evidenced by the Cornyn-generic Dem numbers, name recognition. I have no problem believing that some candidates may do better – or worse – against Cornyn than others. Candidates matter, and some people’s votes are up for grabs. We saw plenty of variance in the statewide vote last year among the races. But there’s Cornyn getting 44 or 45 against the four non-Betos; it’s a bit ironic, given the motivation for the poll, that he scores best against Beto, even if the margin is much smaller. Point being, Cornyn isn’t gaining at these other Dems’ expense, they just don’t have the consolidated support Beto has. Yet.

So make of this what you will. Beto isn’t running, and we’re going to be fine. The Texas Signal has more.

Filing report update

We’re a week out from the official filing deadline for the 2020 primaries. There’s still a lot of known candidates who haven’t filed yet, but I expect there will be a mad flurry of activity this week, as is usually the case. Don’t be surprised if we hear of an out-of-the-blue retirement or two, as that is known to happen at this time as well. I’m going to take a quick look at where we stand now, and will provide other reports as needed before the deadline on Monday. My sources for this are as follows:

The Patrick Svitek spreadsheet.
The Secretary of State Candidate Information page, which is quite handy and reasonably up to date.
Texas Judges, whose provenance is unknown to me, but they have the most information I’ve found about candidates for statewide and Courts of Appeals judicial races.
Jeff Blaylock’s Texas Election Source – I may be too cheap to subscribe, but the free info he includes is always worth noting.

SBOE

We have a third Democrat in the race for SBOE6, Kimberly McLeod. She is Assistant Superintendent of Education & Enrichment at HCDE and a former professor at TSU. She joins former HCDE Board member Debra Kerner (who has filed) and teacher Michelle Palmer (who had not yet filed, at least according to the SOS, as of this weekend).

We have a filing for SBOE5, the most-flippable of the SBOE districts up for election this year, Letti Bresnahan. Google tells me that a person by this name was a Trustee at San Antonio’s Northside ISD (she is not on the Board now). She was elected in 2008, narrowly re-elected in 2012, and I guess didn’t run in 2016; the Bexar County Elections report for May 2016 doesn’t list the NEISD Position 6 race, so who knows what happened. In 2015, she voted to keep the name of San Antonio’s Robert E. Lee High school; it was subsequently changed to Legacy of Education Excellence (LEE) High School in 2017, by which time as far as I can tell she was no longer on the Board. That’s a whole lot more words than I intended to write about her or this race – and mind you, I can’t say for sure this is the same Letti (Leticia) Bresnahan. I noted this because I’ve been keeping an eye on this race – the district was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, it was the bluest of the Republican-held SBOE districts in 2018, and the incumbent is a wingnut. So I was gonna write something when a Dem filed, I just didn’t expect it to be this.

State Senate

Someone named Richard Andrews has filed as a Democrat against Sen. Borris Miles. The Svitek spreadsheet has him as a General Election opponent, but his website clearly says “Democrat”, and the SOS has him as a Democrat. He’s a doctor, and that’s all I know about him.

State House

Current SBOE member Lawrence Allen, Jr, who is the son of State Rep. Alma Allen, has filed in the increasingly crowded Democratic primary in HD26. It’s one of the nine GOP-held districts that Beto won in 2018. Rish Oberoi, Suleman Lalani, and 2018 candidate Sarah DeMerchant have also filed.

Travis Boldt has filed in HD29, in Brazoria County. That was one of two near-miss districts (Beto got 47.0%) in which no Dem was on the ballot in 2018; HD32, which does not yet have a candidate filed, was the other.

Sandra Moore, who lost in the 2018 Dem primary to Marty Schexnayder, has filed to run again in HD133.

Ashton Woods has changed the name of his Facebook page to indicate he plans to run in the primary for HD146, currently held by second-term Rep. Shawn Thierry. He has not filed as of this writing.

So far, no one else has filed to run in the primary for HD148, where Anna Eastman is in the runoff for the special election, and has made her filing for 2020.

First Court of Appeals

I hadn’t gotten into the Courts of Appeals in my previous discussions, but especially after the sweep of these races by Dems in 2018 (and not just on this court), they will surely be of interest to multiple candidates.

Veronica Rivas-Molloy, who has officially filed, and Dinesh Singhal are in the race for Place 3 against incumbent Russell Loyd, who was elected in 2014. The Texas Judges website also lists Keith F. Houston as a candidate, but he appears to have decided not to run.

Amparo Guerra and Tim Hootman have both filed for Place 5, which had been held by the now-resigned Laura Carter Higley. There are three Republicans running so far, and there may be another if Greg Abbott appoints someone to fill the still-vacant seat prior to the filing deadline.

14th Court of Appeals

Jane Robinson is the (so far, at least) lone Democrat running for Chief Justice. I saw her at the HCDP Friendsgiving last month but did not have the chance to walk up and say Hi. The position is held by Justice Kem Thompson Frost, who is not running for re-election. Justice Tracy Christopher, who holds Place 9, is running for Chief Justice. She was last elected in 2016, so she would not otherwise be on the ballot. My assumption is that if she wins, she will move over from Place 9, which will make Place 9 vacant, and Abbott will appoint someone who would then run in Christopher’s spot in 2022. If she loses, she’ll remain in her spot and run for re-election (or not, as she sees fit) in 2022.

Wally Kronzer, who has filed, and Cheri Thomas are running for Place 7. Kronzer ran for Place 5 on this court in 2010. Ken Wise, in his first term, is the incumbent.

District courts

I don’t see any primary challengers yet for incumbent Democratic district court judges. I have heard someone is circulating petitions to challenge Judge Alex Smoots-Thomas, which I think we can all understand. I’m not in a position to say anything more than that as yet.

County offices

Audia Jones has officially filed for Harris County DA. Christian Menefee and Vince Ryan have both filed for County Attorney. Michael Moore has filed for County Commissioner in Precinct 3; Kristi Thibaut and Diana Alexander both announced their filings on Facebook over the weekend, but the SOS has not caught up to those filings yet. Bill McLeod, of accidental resignation fame, has filed to win his old seat on County Civil Court at Law #4 back. Incumbent Judge Lesley Briones has not yet filed. We will have a contested primary for at least one of the two HCDE at large positions, as Erica Davis has filed in Position 5; here’s her appointment of treasurer. Andrea Duhon, who had run for a different HCDE position in 2018, has already filed an appointment of treasurer for this race. David Brown is running for the other spot, Position 7, and as far as I know has no Dem opponent as yet.

Now you know what I know. We’ll all know a lot more in a week’s time.

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

Roland Gutierrez running in SD19

Most of the action in Texas in 2020 is in the Congressional and State Rep races, but there’s one big State Senate pickup opportunity, and we need to close the deal on it.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, is set to announce Saturday that he is running again for Senate District 19 after coming up short in a special election last year that ended in a Republican upset.

Gutierrez’s campaign said he will make the announcement at 2 p.m. at an event in San Antonio.

After the 2018 debacle, conditions are expected to be much more favorable for Democrats in November 2020, and they are confident they can knock off Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. But first there will be a contested Democratic primary: San Antonio lawyer Xochil Peña Rodriguez is already running. She is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio.

For now, SD-19 is the only Texas Senate race expected to be competitive in the general election next year. Still, it has high stakes: If Democrats flip the seat, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick could lose the 19-member supermajority that is required to bring bills to the Senate floor without Democratic support.

That story was from Friday; Rep. Gutierrez subsequently did formally announce his candidacy. He’ll have to give up his State Rep seat to do this, but he will likely be the strongest candidate against Pete Flores. I feel like residual bad blood following the 2018 special election, in which later entrant Pete Gallego finished ahead of Gutierrez but then lost the runoff, was a part of why Dems failed to hold this seat. Having Presidential year turnout in a district that was basically 55-45 Dem in 2016 will certainly help, but having unity would be nice as well. Whoever wins the primary needs to have the support of everyone else going into November. No screwups this time, please.

October 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

Moving on to the Q3 FEC reports, we again have new candidates making their appearance. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April report is here, and the July report is here. For comparison, the October 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Royce West – Senate
Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Sean McCaffity – CD03
Tanner Do – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Jennie Lou Leeder – CD21
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Derrick Reed – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Rosey Ramos Abuabara – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Crystal Lee Fletcher – CD24
John Biggan – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Heidi Sloan – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Murray Holcomb – CD31
Dan Jangigian – CD31
Eric Hanke – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         2,058,080  1,211,904        0    893,657       
Sen   Bell            206,629     94,894   10,000    111,734
Sen   Edwards         557,430    219,645        0    337,785
Sen   West            347,546    172,926  202,162    376,782
Sen   T-Ramirez       459,442    233,953        0    225,489
Sen   Hernandez         7,551      7,295        0      3,891
Sen   Ocegueda          1,048        262      900        786
Sen   Cooper

07    Fletcher      1,789,359    391,448        0  1,439,978
32    Allred        1,705,723    355,711        0  1,453,457  

28    Cuellar       1,099,758    400,328        0  3,244,434
28    Cisneros        465,026    173,329        0    291,697

02    Cardnell        177,733    115,886        0     61,847
03    McCaffity       155,404      7,080        0    148,324
03    Do               16,947     15,725        0      1,221
06    Daniel          111,009     70,409        0     40,600
10    Siegel          355,691    207,532   20,000    161,650
10    Gandhi          527,967    209,989        0    317,978
10    Hutcheson       534,515    161,665    4,000    372,850
17    Kennedy          31,298     15,079   11,953     17,646
21    Leeder           15,697     14,509        0      1,188
21    Davis           940,581    336,645    8,863    603,936
22    Kulkarni        817,139    299,219        0    545,687
22    Moore           112,311    102,863   12,915      9,447
22    Reed            114,137     60,268        0     53,868
23    Ortiz Jones   1,652,739    303,861        0  1,440,396
23    Wahl              9,000      6,521    1,000      2,478
23    Abuabara
24    McDowell         57,515     52,519        0     18,316
24    Olson           567,394    241,708   20,000    325,685
24    Valenzuela      201,377     92,814        0    108,563
24    Fletcher        122,427     35,099      823     87,327
24    Biggan           45,893     35,999   13,834      9,894
25    Oliver          223,417     75,836    2,644    147,580
25    Sloan            56,043     23,125        0     32,918
26    Ianuzzi          67,828     35,539   47,604     32,288
31    Mann             95,449     58,685        0     38,200
31    Holcomb          66,610     57,770        0      8,840
31    Jangigian        23,265      2,248    1,500     21,016
31    Hanke            18,302      9,098        0      9,203
31    Imam             60,441      7,088        0     53,353

There’s a lot here – so much that it’s taken me this long to post, and so much that I thought about splitting this into two separate posts – but let’s start with the Senate candidates. MJ Hegar has been in the race the longest, and she has raised the most, matching her performance from the previous quarter. All the other candidates (save for the low-profile no-hope types, and hey isn’t it nice to finally see Sema Hernandez file a finance report?) entered during Q3 and their finance reports can be graded on a curve as a result. That said, time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, and John Cornyn keeps on raising piles of money, so everyone needs to kick it up a notch or two. It was nice that every candidate at the Texas Signal candidate forum was asked about their path to victory, but raising money is a key part of that, even if it is a tacky subject to bring up. We’re going to need to see a lot more in the January reports.

Incumbents Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred are doing what they need to do. Their potential Republican opponents are raising a bunch of money, but they’re staying ahead of them, which they need to keep doing. Jessica Cisneros has done well in her challenge to Henry Cuellar, who is made of money, and she is getting some national press for her efforts. I still don’t know how much either money or national attention will mean in this race, but I do know that if she does win, it will be a very big deal and will make a lot of Dem incumbents look over their shoulders.

There are a number of new names on this report. Hank Gilbert is not going to win in CD01 because it’s a 70%+ Trump district, but Hank is a mensch and Louie Gohmert is a death eater from a hell dimension, so the least I can do is note that Hank is taking on the thankless task of challenging Gohmert. We noted last time that Lorie Burch has ended her campaign in CD03, and now several others have stepped in. Sean McCaffity, who is off to a strong fundraising start, and Tanner Do have reports for this quarter, and they will have company next time. Chris Suprun, whom you may remember as one of the wannabe faithless electors from 2016, has entered the race. He had also run in the CD27 special election last year, and had a brush with the voter ID law before that. Plano attorney Lulu Seikaly is also in the race, and I apologize to her for making her follow that.

Elsewhere in new candidates, Heidi Sloan has entered the race in CD25. Julie Oliver, the nominee from 2018, is well ahead of her fundraising pace from that year, so we’ll see how that goes. There are now a bunch of candidates in CD31, though I can tell you now that that article from August is out of date. I’ll have more on that in a separate post. Among the newcomers here are Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, and Donna Imam. Jangigian may have the most interesting resume of any Congressional candidate in recent memory – he’s a onetime Olympic bobsledder, and acted in the legendary bad movie The Room. He was subsequently portrayed in the movie The Disaster Artist, the movie about the guy who made The Room, by Zac Efron. And now he’s running for Congress. What have you done with your life?

A more familiar candidate making her first appearance here is Wendy Davis, who took in nearly a million bucks for CD21. That’s one of several top target races where there’s a clear frontrunner, at least as far as fundraising goes, which is a change from 2018 when most of the hotter primaries had the money more widely dispersed. Gina Ortiz Jones did even better, topping $1.6 million already. Rosey Abubara, who I thought might give her a challenge, has not filed a report. Candace Valenzuela and Crystal Fletcher have raised a few bucks in CD24, but Kim Olson is well ahead of them both, while Sri Kulkarni is lapping the field in CD22. The exception is in CD10, where all three candidates are doing well, but 2018 nominee Mike Siegel is a step behind Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson.

Rounding up the rest, Elisa Cardnell stepped it up in CD02, but faces a steep challenge as Dan Crenshaw is one of the biggest fundraisers in Congress now. Stephen Daniel is doing all right in CD06. I know their totals don’t look like that much compared to some of these other folks, but remember how much time we spent in 2018 talking about how rare it was for any Democratic challenger to raise as much as $100K for an entire cycle? We’ve come a long way. And I’m still hoping for either Rick Kennedy to start doing more in CD17 or for someone else to jump in, even if that race is a big longshot. The Quorum Report made my heart flutter with a teaser about a poll testing former CD17 Rep. Chet Edwards against carpetbagger Pete Sessions. I don’t know if this is a real thing or just someone’s idea of a cool thought experiment, but I’d be all in on another run by Edwards. We’ll see if there’s anything to it.

Dan Patrick’s budget destruction

It’s not what you think it is, but it’s still bad.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Texas state government, an arcane team of 100 or so budget nerds has led a private, if stressful, life — running financial models, ensuring state government and its private contractors aren’t spending beyond their means, and keeping lawmakers informed about each line item in the state’s 1,000-page, $250 billion two-year budget.

But these days, interviews with current and former budget agency staff indicate the emptying halls of their downtown Austin office feel more like the setting of an Agatha Christie novel.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board, created in 1949 to support full-time experts who track fiscal issues for the state’s part-time Legislature, provides the analysis on which the state bases its budget calculations — for example, how much money it costs to pay public school teachers or to fund hospital beds for people in mental health crisis.

It’s up to state lawmakers to set spending priorities, but legislators say their ability to make funding decisions is only as good as the information they receive from the experts.

“The LBB provided invaluable, unbiased information, which is critical to the development of the state budget,” former state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

The quality of that information may be in jeopardy; the agency is moldering as a quiet war erupts between its two masters.

State law names the lieutenant governor and House speaker as co-chairs of the 10-member board, which is supposed to jointly appoint an executive director to lead the agency. Last year, for the first time in nearly 70 years, that failed to happen; by Halloween, the agency will have been headless for a year.

Veteran employees have departed in droves with no one to replace them, leaving behind a trail of vacant offices and a dearth of institutional knowledge. Staff size has fallen 26% since 2015 — from 146 to 108 employees — and four of the agency’s five executive leadership positions will soon be unfilled. The agency’s lone remaining executive told a tearful staff last week that he, too, intends to resign.

Now, with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announcing he will not run for reelection next year amid a scandal that has shaken the entire lower chamber, the board finds itself in its most precarious position yet.

Interviews with more than a dozen budget agency staff, Capitol staff and state lawmakers — who requested anonymity to discuss private board deliberations — indicate that the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has wielded a kind of veto power over the board to keep the agency undermanned and under fire.

They contend that his motive is to remake the agency to give the Senate more direct control over the number-crunchers; the current group of nonpartisan bureaucrats has produced analyses that at times conflicted with the lieutenant governor’s political messaging.

Basically, this is an attack on expertise and data. Dan Patrick doesn’t want accurate and objective facts about revenue and fiscal notes and what have you. They don’t serve his purposes. He wants minions who will tell him what he wants to hear so he can use it as a cudgel. If he can starve the LBB to death, maybe the end result (as the story suggests) would be two separate budget agencies, one for the House and one for the Senate, which would be under the control of the Lite Governor. Patrick is on the leading edge here – Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson had similarly nice things to say about the LBB as outgoing House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas did – but where Dan Patrick goes, other Republicans tend to follow. The longer he gets to press this attack, the greater the odds he’ll eventually get what he wants. Do I need to add that this is yet another reason why we need a Democratic House and a Democratic Speaker in 2021?

Beto ends his Presidential campaign

It was fun while it lasted.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke is dropping out of the presidential race.

The former El Paso congressman announced the decision Friday evening, ahead of a major Democratic gathering here in Iowa.

“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully,” O’Rourke wrote on Medium. “My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.”

O’Rourke’s decision ends a White House bid that began with much anticipation in mid-March, months after his near-miss loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Rourke’s campaign launch coincided with a splashy article on the cover of Vanity Fair, and he reported raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his bid — at the time, the largest announced first-day haul of any 2020 Democratic contender. Soon after, he showed double-digit support in multiple national polls.

But O’Rourke never lived up to the high hopes, and after the initial fanfare of his entrance, he sunk into the low single digits in polls and saw his fundraising come back down to Earth.

He was facing the possibility of missing the cut for the next debate, which is Nov. 20 in Georgia. As of Friday evening, he had gained only two out of four qualifying polls, and the deadline is Nov. 13. A poll of likely Iowa caucus participants released Friday showed he had 1 percent support in the critical early state.

After O’Rourke’s announcement — “a decision we made so recently and so reluctantly,” he said at an event in Des Moines on Friday evening — a person close to him reiterated that his future will not include running for U.S. Senate next year in Texas. Some supporters have been encouraging him to challenge the state’s senior senator, John Cornyn, but he has long said he is not interested. A massive Democratic field has already assembled to take on Cornyn, but so far no candidate has been able to match the excitement O’Rourke created in his 2018 bid.

We all owe Beto a debt of gratitude for his 2018 Senate campaign, which has done more to inject life in the Democratic Party in Texas than anything I can think of. He had his moments during the Presidential race, especially after the mass shooting in El Paso, but that field was too deep and too talented for him to gain traction. He’s not running for Senate next year – you know how I feel about that – but maybe Governor in 2022 is on the menu, especially if Julian Castro is busy in Washington DC at the time. Take some time off and spend it with your family, Beto. Then do everything you can to help Democrats get elected next year. Daily Kos, Slate, Texas Monthly, and the Texas Signal have more.

The Democratic Senate candidate forum

This was a good event.

Six of the Democrats hoping to defeat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year will square off in the first big candidate’s forum in Houston tonight in what promises to be one of the hottest political races in Texas.

Former Congressman Chris Bell, Houston City Council member Amanda Edward, combat veteran MJ Hegar, 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Sema Hernandez, civil rights activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and Texas State Sen. Royce West are all scheduled to attend the forum sponsored by The Texas Signal, a self-described progressive media company. A total of 11 Democrats have filed statements of candidacy with the U.S. Federal Elections Commission to run for the Senate in 2020.

The Signal, which organized the event, which I attended, has its own report. Basically, each candidate was on stage for 20 to 30 minutes, answering questions posed to them by moderators Kevin Nix and Royce Brooks. Questions ranged from issues (health care, gun violence, immigration, voting rights, etc) to impeachment (everyone was on board with the inquiry, and letting it come to completion before committing to further action) to their roadmap to victory.

As I said, I attended this event, and I thought it was a useful introduction to the candidates, especially for people who didn’t know them as anything more than a name. There’s video of each of the conversations with the candidates on the Texas Signal Facebook page, which I’ll link to here. Check them out, you’re going to have to decide on someone to take on Big John Cornyn in four months’ time.

MJ Hegar

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez

Amanda Edwards

Chris Bell

Royce West

Sema Hernandez

Fallon stands pat

Big John Cornyn can breathe a little easier.

Sen. Pat Fallon

State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, has decided against a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Fallon revealed the decision Thursday, about a month after he announced at a North Texas Tea Party meeting that he was exploring a run.

“Susan and I wanted to share that I will NOT be a candidate for US Senate in 2020,” Fallon said in a statement to friends first shared with The Texas Tribune. “This was a difficult decision as I was personally looking forward to reaching … thousands of fellow Texans and visiting with them, asking them what their thoughts, concerns and ideas are for our state and our country.”

Fallon cited concerns about being away from his family — he has two young sons — as well as the $6 million price tag that he estimated would be the “bare minimum to be competitive for the GOP nomination.”

[…]

Fallon’s decision leaves Cornyn with two lesser-known primary challengers: Dallas financial adviser Mark Yancey and Dwayne Stovall, who finished third in the 2014 primary. In the other primary, 10 Democrats have lined up to take on Cornyn.

See here for the background. Fallon is basically a lunk, but his assessment is both accurate and understandable. He probably got some feedback from the moneybag types that his candidacy would serve no purpose and had no real chance of succeeding, so maybe pick another race at another time. This makes the GOP Senate primary more boring, but not much more than that.

John B. Love III

Meet the ninth Democratic candidate in the Senate primary.

John Love

John B. Love III, a Midland city councilman, is the latest Democrat to jump into the crowded race to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, saying in his announcement that gridlock in Washington is “taking a toll on Texas families.”

“In August, a mass shooting came to Midland,” Love said in his announcement, citing the mass shooting in which a gunman killed seven people and injured two dozen more in Midland and Odessa. “Tomorrow it will come to someone else’s town. We can fix these tough problems if we work together.”

Love, a three-term councilman who serves as Midland’s mayor pro tem, is pitching himself as the small-town cure for the problems in D.C.

“I grew up in West Texas where neighbors talked to each other,” Love said in his announcement. “I’m a proud Democrat, but in a small city you have to talk to your Republican neighbors. We’ve gotten a lot done in Midland and I’m ready to bring the same approach to Washington.”

Love is one of nine Democrats who have so far filed paperwork to run in the primary, in which gun violence has already become a top issue.

[…]

Love said he’s a “proud gun owner who supports a ban on assault weapons.”

“I’m for comprehensive background checks and closing the gun show loophole,” Love said. “But more importantly, we need real action, real votes and leadership to reduce gun violence.”

I did not find a Senate campaign page for him, but this local news story about his announcement has an image that appears to be what he’ll be using. Love is the ninth candidate, and the fourth African-American in the field, along with Amanda Edwards, Royce West, and Michael Cooper. If he draws a non-trivial level of support, that could affect Edwards and West’s chances of making it to the runoff. At first glance, he looks like an interesting candidate, and in a cycle that doesn’t already have a bunch of interesting candidates, I bet he could make an impression. If he ends up in the conversation for a statewide race in 2022, I would not consider that a bad outcome. We’ll know soon enough how far behind he is in fundraising, and then we’ll get to see how much ground he can make up. The Midland Reporter-Telegram has more.

Julián Castro will not be running for Senate, either

In case you were wondering.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in 2020 even if he were to drop out of the presidential race.

“No, I’m not going go run for the Senate, that’s never what I intended to do,” Castro said in an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur in the penultimate event at the Paramount Theatre, preceding the closing keynote address by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

While Castro is guaranteed a spot on the next Democratic stage in Ohio in October, his chances of qualifying for the November debate are dicey. Castro is at 1.7% in the RealClearPolitics polling average. The raised threshold requires that a candidate earn 3% support in at least four early state or national polls that meet the Democratic National Committee’s methodological requirements — up from 2% for the September and October debates — or at least 5% in two early state polls. The early states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Tur noted that Castro had sent out a note to funders saying if he doesn’t qualify for the November debate, he would drop out of the race.

“If that happens would you consider running against John Cornyn?’ Tur asked Castro.

In explaining why he would not do that, Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said, “People ask me, `Why are you running for president?’ My experience is actually as an executive. I actually have some of the most relevant experience in running for president. When you’re a president, you’re a chief executive. I was a chef executive of a federal agency with a $48 billion budget. I’m running for what’s relevant to my experience.”

Castro as a Senate candidate has been discussed before, though not nearly as often as “why won’t Beto run for Senate again?” has been discussed. You know how I feel about that, so I’ll just say again that I have always assumed “Castro for Governor 2022” is the backup plan, assuming 1) Castro isn’t in someone’s cabinet, and 2) he actually wants to run for Governor. It is an executive position, he could get an awful lot done, and it would put him in good position to run for President again in 2028, following (God willing) two terms of one of his current opponents in the primary. Not that beating Greg Abbott would be easy, but that would be the time to try. The Current has more.

I’m not that worried about the Green Party effect in Texas

It’s not nothing, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Texas House Bill 2504, passed along party lines by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in May and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in June, lowers the threshold that minor political parties — defined in the law as parties that nominate by convention, as opposed to by primary — must meet to have their candidates appear on the ballot.

Under the new law, a third party’s candidates can qualify to appear on the ballot if any one of them got 2 percent of the vote in a statewide race in the last five elections. Previously, a third party’s candidates earned a spot on the ballot if any one of them won 5 percent of the vote in any of the most recent statewide elections.

The law also requires minor parties to pay a filing fee to ensure their candidate actually appears on the ballot — or collect the required amount of signatures under existing Texas ballot access laws within a certain amount of time. (For 2020, under state statute, the number of signatures would be more than 83,000, the equivalent of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s race). Previously, filing fees had only been required for the two major political parties.

Republican supporters of HB 2504 say it bolsters the electoral system by both making it easier for smaller parties to have access to the ballot and by evening the playing field for such access.

But a far greater number of critics — including political scientists, Democratic Party and progressive strategists, as well as the two most prominent third parties in Texas — say the bill is designed to pull votes from Democratic candidates by making it easier for Green Party candidates, who are more likely to attract disaffected Democratic voters, to appear on the ballot.

The result could prove to make a defining difference in a handful of closely watched races in an increasingly purple Texas, including its U.S. Senate race where Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election, a number of state House races and possibly even the presidential race — although Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won 0.8 percent of the vote in 2016 and only 0.3 percent in 2012.

“When you hear about Republicans trying to get Green Party candidates on the ballot, it really makes you wonder what’s going on. Because, obviously, they’re not aligned — today’s GOP is not engaged at all with issues dear to the Green Party,” said Paul Brace, a political science professor at Rice University, in Houston, who specializes in state politics. “And the reality is that allowing the Greens on the ballot helps Republicans, and so there’s good reason to be cynical about this.”

Most of what I would have to say in response to this I said in this piece, where I discussed HB2504. I’ll add two things to that here. One is that third party voters in a given race have, I believe, an assortment of reasons for doing what they did. One conclusion I drew from that is that downballot statewide candidates – both Republicans and Democrats – would probably benefit from more resources being invested in their races. Republicans have had a very strong brand in Texas this century, though there are signs it is weakening. Democrats have a chance to improve their brand, and if they do I believe they’ll be better positioned to retain voters who might have strayed to a Libertarian or Green candidate in previous elections.

The other thing is that the real issue with third party candidates – and independents, and to a much smaller degree write-ins, too – is that they enable a situation where someone can win with less than a majority of the vote. If someone can get to the magical fifty percent plus one, then who cares if the ballot also included Libertarians, Greens, Bull Mooses, or the Very Silly Party. When a candidate does win with just a plurality, as I said above it’s often hard to determine what the “other” voters were thinking, or what they might have done in a two-person race. I get the conventional wisdom that making it easier for Greens to qualify is likely to benefit Republicans, if it benefits anyone. I certainly believe that the Republicans believe that, and passed this bill for that reason. We are in a situation where control of the State House could come down to one race, and there are certainly going to be plenty of close ones this cycle. I don’t dismiss the possibility that we’ll all be cursing the fates and the Greens next November. But I’m also not going to over-value it, either. If we Dems do our jobs, we’ll maximize our returns. That’s the best way to think about it.

Another primary challenger to Cornyn

Good luck, but don’t expect much.

Big John Cornyn

A Dallas investor branding himself a “Reagan Republican” has launched a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, calling one of the top-ranking GOP senators a lackey of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump.

Mark Yancey, the former owner of the Dallas Wings WNBA team, said in his campaign announcement that he has “good reason” to believe Cornyn is vulnerable as he jumped into a Republican field that could soon swell to include three challengers.

Even if Yancey falls short, the primary fight could force Cornyn to spend some much-needed cash ahead of what is widely expected to be the toughest election battle of his three-term career in the Senate. Democratic El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke came within three percentage points of beating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 elections, and the Democrats are redoubling efforts in Texas in 2020.

Yancey in his announcement branded himself a moderate Republican — a new tack against Cornyn, who has previously fended off primary attacks from the right.

“Senator Cornyn has frequently disappointed Texans with his strong alignment with both Mitch McConnell and Trump,” Yancey said in the statement. “He has shown repeatedly that he is a follower and a compromiser on the wrong side of an issue rather than a leader.”

Well, that’s certainly a clear contrast with Cornyn, but I don’t know how many primary-voting Republicans there are that would sign on to that statement. Trump isn’t polling that well in Texas, but his numbers are very strong among self-identified Republicans. If there is a serious challenge to Cornyn in the GOP primary, it’s more likely to come from State Sen. Pat Fallon, accusing Cornyn of being a big ol’ RINO squish. As the story notes, the establishment strongly supports Cornyn, but attacking from the right is never a terrible idea in a GOP primary. I’m not too worried if I’m Big John, is what I’m saying. And as I’ve been saying on the Dem side, money spent in a primary is an investment, not a sunk cost. Cornyn will have no trouble raising it back. He will not be hurting for cash, no matter what. I wish Mark Yancey good luck, but I sure hope he knows what he’s getting into.

The MJ Hegar movie

Coming to Netflix.

MJ Hegar

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar stepped away from her last movie deal as it became, as she says, “too blockbuster-y.”

The decorated war veteran now has a deal with Netflix for the movie that has long been in the works, but very well could drop in the middle of her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year. It’s a potential boon for a candidate who’s built a career writing, speaking and now making movies about her story — of getting shot down and wounded in Afghanistan, suing the Pentagon and lobbying Congress to scrap restrictions on women in combat.

That story has also fueled her political campaigns. It was told in a three-minute video that went viral as she launched her last campaign, drawing national attention to her race against U.S. Rep. John Carter in a Republican stronghold north of Austin.

Cornyn has deemed her “Hollywood Hegar,” in part because of the praise she has drawn from celebrities like Kristen Bell and Patton Oswalt. But Hegar says she’s trying to accomplish something real with the exposure: She’s long pushed for equality in the Armed Forces and believes it’s important for stories like hers — of women in combat — to be told.

“What I’m trying to accomplish is change — culture change,” Hegar said. “And you do that through books and movies and TV in American culture.”

Hegar — one of nearly a dozen Democrats vying to take on Cornyn in 2020 — earned more than $150,000 over the last year and a half working toward that goal, according to recently filed personal finance disclosures. The disclosures, which Senate candidates are required to file and covers a period from the beginning of 2018 until mid-August, show earnings of $42,500 from the Netflix deal, more than $27,000 in book royalties and $99,000 from a slew of public speaking gigs across the country.

Most of that money was made while she was also running her surprisingly successful campaign against Carter, who she came within three percentage points of beating. Hegar — whose husband works at Dell and helps take care of their two kids in Round Rock — says it’s how she makes enough money to help her family get by as she makes her run at Cornyn.

“The political system the way it is now, you have to be independently wealthy, or have the kind of job like a lawyer, just to be able to run for office,” Hegar said. “So we end up with a lot of people in office who haven’t faced the challenges that our legislators are charged with finding solutions to.”

“I have an accidental opportunity to run for office,” Hegar said. “The dramatic nature of my story means that the place that I can make the biggest impact is, you know, in a public facing role. Even if that’s contrary to my personality type — I’m actually quite introverted.”

I’ve thought about this, and I’ve decided I basically agree with her assessment. She’s been afforded an opportunity, and it’s one I think most of us would take if we were in the same position. She does still have to help support her family while she’s running for office, and frankly this is a much less ethically tangled way of doing it than the various forms of consulting that many others engage in, mostly incumbents. Everyone agrees that our system of financing campaigns is terrible, but the point here is that just being able to run for office is something many regular people can’t afford to do. A larger share of such people than we’re used to seeing ran for office and got themselves elected in 2018, and some of them went through quite a bit of financial struggle to do so. I don’t have any easy answers for this, but it’s very much worth talking about and making visible. If Hegar’s situation can help a little with that, so much the better.

Will this movie ultimately work against her? It’s entirely possible. Cornyn will certainly use it – he already has been – but the other Dems in her primary are likely to take some shots as well. And even though many people would make the same decision she made to take Netflix’s offer, that doesn’t mean all of them will support her decision. It could go either way for her, and I’m sure she’s aware of that. I’m fine with it, and within reasonable bounds I’m fine with anyone criticizing it or not being fine with it. We’ll know soon enough if it made any difference.

Other counties also considering property tax rate hikes

I have four things to say about this.

A statewide property tax relief plan that takes effect next year is prompting hefty tax increases this fall in many of the biggest cities and counties in Texas, even in places that have historically kept rates flat or decreased them.

Elected officials in some cities and counties say they have no choice but to raise taxes as high as they can this year to brace for the implementation of property tax reforms that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature called historic earlier this summer. The average effective tax rate for single-family homes in Texas was 2.18 percent in 2018, third-highest in the nation, according to a study by ATTOM Data Solutions.

Starting next year, cities and counties will be barred from increasing property tax collections more than 3.5 percent in any year without a vote of the public. Currently, the state has an 8-percent limit, called the rollback rate, that state lawmakers say has allowed cities and counties to overtax homeowners. The lack of a state income tax makes Texas municipalities especially reliant on property tax revenue.

A look around the state shows many counties and cities are pushing rates to the 8-percent rollback rate this year to bank money or, in a few cases, even to fund pay raises for themselves, in reaction to the new law. El Paso, Harris, Tarrant, Webb and Travis counties are among those pushing to the current rollback rate, or near it. And cities including El Paso, Arlington, Corpus Christi and Austin are similarly considering rates at or near the 8-percent limit.

“I think a lot of cities and counties know that we are putting them on a diet and they are going on one last bender before it happens,” said State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who was a key player in crafting the property tax reforms as the leader of the House Ways and Means Committee.

[…]

In Harris County, which hasn’t raised the tax rate in decades, county officials say the state’s new restrictions are forcing them to react by raising the tax rate by 2.26 cents per $100 of assessed value. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county needs to create a contingency fund to ensure it can pay for services, such as health care, transportation and flood control, once the state’s 3.5-percent cap goes into effect. The rate increase, if approved next month, would allow Harris County to collect more than $200 million extra in tax money than last year.

1. There are some extremely bitchy quotes in the story from Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who pushed the bill that led to this in the Senate. I may have rolled my eyes so hard that they will never unroll.

2. The counties and cities that are considering this are acting in what they believe is their best interest, and the best interest of their residents. Plenty of expenses that counties and cities face, from disaster relief to health care to salaries and pensions, aren’t subject to any kind of rate limit. HB3 radically changed their long term financial picture. They had no choice but to adjust.

3. Just as a reminder, there are plenty of things the Legislature could have done to improve our property tax system without putting the squeeze on local governments. The Lege could also greatly help counties on the expenditure side of the balance sheet by expanding Medicaid, which would do a lot to reduce the cost of health care on counties. The whining from the likes of Bettencourt on this is just beyond rich. All that is without even pointing out that having a property tax-based system, in which the main expense is completely disconnected from people’s annual incomes, instead of an income tax-based system, is always going to have problems like this.

4. The same voters who will be given the power to approve or reject future tax collection levels also have the power to approve or reject the local officials who may be raising tax rates now ahead of that. They also have that power over people like Paul Bettencourt and Dustin Burrows and Greg Abbott and so forth. Maybe some day that power will be exercised.

Bell officially begins his Senate campaign

Yeah, I know, I also thought that this had already happened. Just a reminder that these things occur in stages.

Chris Bell

Democrat Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and gubernatorial nominee, is formally announcing his U.S. Senate campaign.

Bell, who has been campaigning since early summer, is set to rev up his bid Wednesday with a video in which he calls the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, a “water boy” for President Donald Trump and offers a sharpened pitch for why he is the best choice in the crowded primary.

“As the only candidate who’s been to Congress, I know how badly broken it is,” Bell says. “I’ve fought the same political insiders that keep John Cornyn in power, and I know how to take them down.”

[…]

Bell’s announcement comes toward the end of the third fundraising quarter, which should provide some new insight into the viability of the candidates, most of which began their campaigns over the past three months.

See here and here for the background. Bell was the first candidate to announce an intent to run after MJ Hegar’s entrance; in between then and now, Amanda Edwards and Royce West and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez have followed. The polling we have, which I don’t take too seriously at this time, does not indicate a clear frontrunner, which among other things means everyone needs to get their name recognition up. That in turn takes money, so I too will eagerly await the next round of finance reports. That may well tell us more than anything else we’ve seen so far. The Chron has more.

Rep. Cesar Blanco to run for Sen. Jose Rodriguez’s seat

Looks like this has been settled quickly.

Rep. César Blanco

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, is running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. José Rodríguez.

In a video published Monday, Blanco alluded to the deadly mass shooting last month in El Paso, and said El Paso and West Texas “need a fighter.”

“Now more than ever, El Paso needs leaders willing to stand up to those that try to turn our community into a political punching bag by promoting dangerous rhetoric and hateful policies meant to tear us apart,” Blanco said.

Rodríguez, another El Paso Democrat, announced Friday he was not seeking reelection, and Blanco quickly emerged as a potential candidate for the seat. The Latino Victory Fund launched a draft campaign that night to convince him to run, and on Saturday morning, four lawmakers in the Senate district endorsed him, including three of his four colleagues from El Paso’s House delegation.

See here for the background. The four other legislators are Joe Moody, Mary González, Art Fierro, and Pancho Navárez. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of someone else running, but that’s a pretty significant show of strength. Any other State Rep who wanted to run would have to give up their seat to do so, as this is not a special election but the March primary. I’d guess Rep. Blanco will get some low-profile opponents, but this race is likely his to lose at this point. His HD76 will then also become open, but as with SD29 it’s a safe Dem seat, so the eventual primary winner there will take it in November.

The TDP 2020 plan

Bring it on.

The Texas Democratic Party is pulling back the curtain on its 2020 strategy ahead of the Houston presidential debate, releasing a plan to flip the state that targets 2.6 million potential Democratic voters who are not registered yet and commits to deploying over 1,000 organizers by the end of the election cycle.

The 10-page proposal, shared first with The Texas Tribune, primarily focuses on dramatically expanding the Democratic vote in Texas while building a massive coordinated campaign. Both are ambitious undertakings for a party that has long been out of power — no Democrat has won statewide since 1994 — but has seen its prospects brighten over the last two election cycles, especially in 2018.

“At the Texas Democratic Party, we know that to win we must build a state party infrastructure larger than anyone has ever seen,” the party’s deputy executive director, Cliff Walker, says in a statement accompanying the plan. “Change is coming to Texas — a new wave of activists and progressive candidates demand it.”

[…]

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and “are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year,” according to the plan.

To close those gaps, the party offers four possible paths based on its data analysis: increasing turnout in communities of color (over 400,000 new votes), increasing turnout in urban, reliably blue counties (at least 225,000 new votes), registering voters in the politically changing suburbs (over 130,000 new votes) and reaching out to conservative rural voters (more than 100,000 new votes).

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party’s count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party’s current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

The doc is here, but you get the basics of it from the Trib story. In a broad sense, this is the Battleground Texas plan – register new voters, boost turnout among traditional Dem constituencies, work to turn out lower-propensity Dems, all using a hands-on community model. That requires a lot of resources – people, training, equipment, office space, data – and that in turn requires money. For the TDP to talk like this, they either have a plan to raise the money, or they’re publicly thinking big and hoping to impress enough people to get the money to follow. I hope it’s the former, but the next finance report will tell the tale.

How well will this work? Well, as the story notes, the 2018 election and the Beto campaign gave them a good head start, as well as a road map. The fact of the matter is that Dems need to bring out a lot more voters to have a reasonable shot at winning statewide in 2020. Beto broke Democratic records getting to four million votes, but Republicans have been regularly topping four million since Dubya in 2004. Trump underperformed relative to other Republicans in 2016, but he still got nearly 4.7 million votes, which was a gain of 116K over Mitt Romney. I’ve said before, to me the over/under for 2020 is five million, and that may be too conservative. The Republicans are working to boost their own turnout next year, too. Five million may be just the opening bid. There’s room to bring in a lot more Democratic voters, but we won’t have the field to ourselves. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.