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Senate

Tzintzún Ramirez gets off to a quick start

Impressive.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez raked in more than $200,000 in the 24 hours after she announced her run for Senate, her campaign said today — giving her a quick start as she tries to catch up to the several other Democratic contenders who have a head start on fundraising.

The Austin-based advocate for the rights of workers and immigrants said in a video posted on Twitter that her campaign “blew through” the $100,000 fundraising goal it set on its first day.

“That’s going to help fuel our campaign to speak to voters across this great state and transform our government to actually represent our interests and our needs,” she said.

See here for the background. It’s a great start, and shows a lot of potential for her and her candidacy. MJ Hegar raised a million dollars in about half of Q2, while Royce West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. At some point, everyone is going to have to find a higher gear, because John Cornyn has a lot of money, and it’s super expensive campaigning in Texas. But this is a very promising start.

Back to the Beto question

As in, should Beto abandon his run for President and come back to Texas to make another run for Senate? The Chron says Yes.

Beto O’Rourke

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press — what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

[…]

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

Nonsequiteuse was already on board this train. I mean, I get it. Beto polls strongly. The other candidates have so far not established themselves yet, though to be fair, neither had Beto at this time in 2017. Beto’s a known quantity, he’s the main reason why the state is now viewed as winnable, he’s got the fundraising chops, and a non-trivial number of people who want to see him come home and try again for the Senate.

And yet, I can’t quite get on board. It’s not lost to me that Beto never talked about running for Senate again this cycle. The fact that MJ Hegar was openly talking about running for Senate in February, when Beto had not announced his intentions – and you’ll note in that story that there was speculation about other potential Dem candidates – says to me that maybe another Senate run was never in his plans. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be persuaded to switch now, but we’re asking him to change to something he may not have wanted to do in the first place, and by the way he’d have to beat multiple talented candidates who are already in first. All of this, especially the other candidates, always get overlooked by the “please come back, Beto” wishers. Seems like a big thing to ask, if you ask me.

I really think the current situation makes it a lot trickier for Beto to change course. He had the field to himself in 2018, but now he’d have to defeat a large primary field, very likely in a runoff. Not a tragedy as I’ve said before, but it would put a damper on the “champion riding in to save the day” narrative. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a decent portion of the Democratic electorate isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy about that white-guy champion barging into a field that contains multiple women and people of color. (You know, like the reaction to Beto and all of those more generic white guys getting into the already-stuffed Presidential race.) Again, I’m not saying Beto isn’t the strongest possible candidate, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a big favorite to win that crowded primary. I’m saying it’s not as simple as “Beto changes his mind and swoops in to run against John Cornyn”.

If after all that you’re still pining for Beto, I get it. I always thought a repeat run for Senate was his best move, assuming he wanted to run for something in the first place. But here we are, and while we could possibly still get Beto in that race – in theory, anyway, as he himself continues to give no sign that he’s wavering in his path – we can’t roll the clock back to February, when Beto would have had near-universal support, and no brand name opponents, for that. At the time, I evaluated Beto’s choices as “clear path to the Senate race, with maybe a coin flip’s chance to win” versus “very tough road to the Presidential nomination, with strong chances of winning if he gets there”. That equation is different now. We should be honest about that.

Five for Senate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is in.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.

The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.

Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.

The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.

“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.

We first heard about Tzintzún Ramirez’s potential candidacy a month ago. I hadn’t seen any followups to that so this announcement came a bit out of the blue to me. Tzintzún Ramirez has a great resume and a campaign team built in part from the Beto 2018 crew, so she’s got some advantages. Like everyone else in the field, her main tasks at this point are to raise money and get her name out in front of the voters. I’m very interested to see how she will do.

So is the field set now, modulo any no-names that file for reasons known only to themselves? I suppose that depends on the Beto question, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I’ll say this much: What I want more than anything is a candidate that can beat John Cornyn. There are three basic possibilities at this point. One is that no one can beat Cornyn. The state isn’t ready yet, he’s got enough money and isn’t as widely loathed as Ted Cruz to fend off any adversary, even a favorable climate isn’t enough at this time. A second possibility is that basically anyone can beat him, because the climate is sufficiently favorable and the state is ready and he’s disliked enough. If #1 is true I just want someone who’ll put up a good fight and do nothing to harm the downballot candidates. If #2 is true then ideally I’d want the candidate closest to my own political preferences, but honestly they’ll all be such a huge upgrade that I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.

It’s possibility #3 – that The Right Candidate can beat Cornyn, but only The Right Candidate can do so – that will keep me awake at night. There’s no objective way to evaluate that question, but it’s what we’re going to be arguing about for the next seven to ten months. The candidate that can convince you that they’re the one is the one you should probably vote for in the primary. I’ll leave that to you to ponder for now. The DMN, the Observer, Stace, and Texas Monthly have more.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

A new poll has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Beto O’Rourke in the Texas presidential primary and toppling Donald Trump in a head-to-head showdown.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College for The Dallas Morning News, signals that even with two favorite sons in race, Lone Star State voters want a familiar face as their nominee.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination, was third with 16% and the only other Democrat beating Trump in the general election.

The poll also projects a wide-open Democratic primary race for the Senate seat held by longtime incumbent John Cornyn. At 19%, “someone else” is leading the field, a blow to former Army helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who’s been campaigning for most of the year.

That “someone else” is leading the entire field is an oddity, but reflects the complexity of the primary race and the conundrum felt by many Democrats.

Hegar was the choice of 10% of those polled, followed by state Sen. Royce West at 8%, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at 7% and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards at 5%. A whopping 51% of respondents were unsure.

West, Bell and Edwards are all relatively new to the race.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people jump into the race,” said Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College polling director. “It’s just that wide open.”

The news is not great for Cornyn, the powerful incumbent who’s held the seat since 2003. Only 37% approved of his job performance, while 31% disapproved. The polls found that 33% of Texans were neutral or had no opinion.

For whatever the reason, the story only includes the head-to-head results in a non-embeddable graphic, so I will reproduce it here:


Candidate   Pct   Trump
=======================
Biden       51%     49%
Bernie      51%     49%
O’Rourke    48%     52%
Buttigieg   48%     52%
Warren      48%     52%
Castro      47%     53%

The poll is of 1,033 registered voters, with a 3% margin of error. They use a combination of automated calls to landlines and an online panel, as described here. You can find the crosstabs here, in a downloadable spreadsheet. They really didn’t want to make this easily to summarize, did they? The head-to-head numbers are very similar to the ones from their April poll, and are not far off from the Quinnipiac poll from June; the UT/Trib poll from June didn’t include two-candidate matchups.

I find the Emerson numbers dicey because I just don’t trust polls where the responses add up to one hundred percent. I guarantee you, there are “don’t know” and “someone else” responses in there, but their questions (scroll down past the disclosure stuff) do not allow for those answers. The crosstabs show that everyone surveyed picked someone, but if you have no choice but to give an answer, I don’t know how much I trust that answer. I’m much more comfortable with a poll that allows for “someone else” and “don’t know”. Emerson has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, but I remain skeptical.

I don’t much care for Spencer Kimball’ analysis of the Senate race, either. MJ Hegar has been in the Senate race for ten weeks, not “most of the year”. She did say she was considering a run for Senate in February, but wasn’t raising any money or doing any campaigning until late April. All the other candidates have gotten in more recently. As I’ve noted before, Beto was still polling in the “majority of people don’t know who he is” area right up to the March 2018 primary. It’s going to take time – and money – for the people to know who the candidates are.

Also, too, the field for Senate is highly unlikely to get much bigger. There’s one potential new candidate out there, though nearly a month after that story I haven’t heard much about her. It’s already later than you think in the cycle, and it’s not going to get any easier to start fundraising and traveling the state to meet interest groups and primary voters. And as I’ve noted before, the fields for all of the Congressional races of interest in 2018 were basically set by this time two years ago. Each of the four top tier candidates entered the race only after some period of weeks or months of speculation, expressions of interest, exploration, and so forth. The only non-candidate out there right now with any association to the race is Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and she only gets mentioned occasionally. If the primary field isn’t set, it’s close.

Anyway. I’m still waiting for some head-to-head Senate polling. Even if the candidates are basically unknowns at this point, a “Cornyn versus generic Dem” question still has value. Maybe the Trib will give me that in their October poll. In the meantime, enjoy the results we do have, for whatever they are worth.

That UT-Tyler poll

I suppose I have to talk about this.

A poll conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler showed [Beto O’Rourke] leading among Texas voters in the Democratic presidential primary. The survey showed O’Rourke with a 27% to 24% lead over former Vice President Joe Biden. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was third at 15%, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 11% and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 9%.

The poll of 465 registered Texas voters found that O’Rourke led President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup by a 49% to 37% margin.

You can see a copy of the polling memo here and the data here. I’ll note that the poll itself says it’s a sample of 1,445 registered voters, so I’m not sure where that 465 figure comes from. Here’s a bit from the polling memo:

President Donald Trump’s job approval is down 2 points from our last survey in February. It now stands at 40 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval among all registered voters. These results are a part of an overall downward trend in job approval for the president since our pre-midterm election survey in October 2018 (45 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval). That said, when asked if the House of Representatives should or should not begin impeachment proceedings of President Trump, a plurality of respondents (45%) said, “No” (34% believe the House ought to begin impeachment proceedings).

In head to head contests, President Trump is trailing all Democrats except Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, though a sizable percentage of respondents answered “neither/other” or “not sure” in each contest.

Senator John Cornyn, heading into the 2020 reelection cycle, is at 25 percent approval, with 27 percent disapproving and a sizable 48 percent answering, “Don’t know.” His junior colleague, Ted Cruz, has a 41 percent approval rating, with 44 percent disapproving of his job performance.

On issues, 54 percent of registered Texans support expanding “Medicare for all” (20% oppose it), particularly when private insurance plans are allowed (55% support). Nevertheless, expanding “Medicare for all” while eliminating private insurance plans is less popular (40% support eliminating private insurance, 33% oppose it). So, too, is the idea of decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings (33% either “somewhat” or “strongly” disapprove while 29% “somewhat” or “strongly” approve), an issue that caused a contentious exchange between Texans O’Rourke and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro at June’s Democratic debate.

This poll was conducted over a four-day period (07/24/19 – 07/27/19).

Methodology

The UT Tyler-Texas Opinion Survey was conducted using a Dynata panel of registered voters that opt-in to take surveys. This is known as Aristotle. The online panel generated a sample of 1445 registered Texas voters, 18 or older.

The data were weighted to be representative of Texas adults. The weighting balanced sample demographics to population parameters. The sample is balanced to match parameters for gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, and geographic region using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2016 Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Tables, as well as voter registration information from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas.

In this poll, the sampling error for 1445 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.6 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Online polls have been shown to be fine, but I don’t know much about this particular pollster’s reputation. Here’s the key graphic from that polling memo:

Seems weird to me – I can imagine Beto doing better in Texas than some candidates, but not by this much. G. Elliott Morris notes his objections. I don’t have a problem with an RV sample, especially this early on, but the partisan mix (38.2% self-identified Republican, 35.7% Dem) seems too Democratic to me. Trump’s 40-55 approve-disapprove numbers are considerably more negative than any other poll I’ve seen, and are way more negative than this own poll found just before the 2018 election. Their February poll had only slightly better numbers for Trump. It’s hard to imagine what caused that to go that far down that quickly. The most likely explanation to all of this is that they have a screwy sample, in which case have plenty of salt at hand. If they really are capturing something, there will be more polls to bolster this one. Keep your expectations modest, that’s my advice.

Anyway. The UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research page is here if you want to see more. Enjoy these numbers for what they are, but don’t go making any bets on them.

An update on election security

Nothing to see here.

Russian hackers probed election systems in all 50 states, a new Senate report confirmed Thursday.

The report comes one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that the Russian government is working to meddle in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed previous comments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian hackers scanned election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. DHS initially acknowledged Russian attempts to hack into election systems in just 21 states.

[…]

Democrats used Mueller’s testimony Wednesday as the backdrop to bring a trio of election security bills to the Senate floor, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked each one in succession.

Two of the measures, one by Warner and the other by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require campaigns to report offers of foreign support. The third, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would have allowed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to help secure personal electronic devices belonging to senators and their staff.

Hyde-Smith has not said why she blocked the measures, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has long opposed bringing election-security measures up for vote. Last year, for example, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking another election security bill, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”

“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”

Remain calm, all is well.

Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) each issued statements with the report’s release. Burr said that in 2016, the United States was “unprepared at all levels of government” for attacks on election infrastructure, and has improved in the time since. Burr noted that the Department of Homeland Security and state election officials have a much better working relationship than before, but that “still much work remains to be done.”

It’s unclear whether Burr considers federal elections security legislation as part of the work that remains to be done. Mitch McConnell, Burr’s Republican colleague and the Senate majority leader, has prevented most of this type of legislation from coming to the Senate floor, arguing that Congress has done enough and that pending election security legislation is merely the Democrats’ effort to usurp states’ rights and bolster their chances at the polls.

Warner, who a day ago was part of a group of Congressional Democrats that blasted McConnell for holding up election security legislation, alluded to the need to get past the partisan gridlock. “I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it,” he said in a statement.

The report notes that the Russian operation dates back to “at least 2014.” It reveals that state and local officials, who are mostly in charge of running elections, “were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor,” and that officials at all levels of the government debated whether to publicly acknowledge what was happening, with some concerned that disclosing it “might promote the very impression they were trying to dispel—that the voting systems were insecure.” At the time, McConnell took an active role in preventing further public disclosure of the Russian operation, theWashington Post reported in December 2016.

Go about your business.

Hacking individual voting machines would be an inefficient way to throw an election. But J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who has tested vulnerabilities for more than a decade, testified to the Senate committee that he and his team “created attacks that can spread from machine to machine, like a computer virus, and silently change election outcomes.” They studied touch-screen and optical-scan systems, and “in every single case,” he said, “we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and steal votes.”

Another way to throw an election might be to attack systems that manage voter-registration lists, which the hackers also did in some states. Remove people from the lists—focusing on areas dominated by members of the party that the hacker wants to lose—and they won’t be able to vote.

One former senior intelligence official told me, “If I was going to hack such a system, I’d leave the records alone and corrupt the tally software”—the programs that count the votes and transmit results to a central headquarters. The transmission is done through a network, which is vulnerable to hackers. Some data are transmitted from the voting machines via USB ports, which are also easy to hack.

In the past decade, many states have installed voting machines with paper backups. (One of the measures blocked in the Senate this week would have required them.) But the Senate report notes that 19 states do not conduct complete postelection audits to compare these ballots to the electronic results; five of them do not audit at all. Paper backups mean little if nobody looks at them.

Computerized voting might be inherently vulnerable. Matt Blaze, who holds the McDevitt Chair of Computer Science at Georgetown Law, said at a hacking conference in Washington earlier this year, “Voting security is by far the hardest problem I have ever encountered.”

That last link does have a proposed solution, if you’re not too depressed to read it. But as with most things in this life, if we want to make progress on fixing the problem, we have to first solve the Mitch McConnell problem.

The crowded Senate primary

It’s all good.

Two days after longtime state Sen. Royce West launched his U.S. Senate campaign here, one of his primary rivals swung through the city with an unequivocal pitch.

“I’m the fighter that it’s gonna take to beat John Cornyn,” MJ Hegar declared at a Dallas County party luncheon, speaking just several feet away from a table that included West’s wife, Carol. “I think that Texas is tired of voting for politicians. They want to vote for one of us.”

The scene illustrated just a couple of the emerging battle lines — experience and geography, for starters — in the suddenly crowded primary that will decide who challenges Texas’ incumbent Republican U.S. senator. West entered the race Monday with an event that showcased the statewide relationships he has built over 26 years in the Texas Senate, as well as his stature in one of the state’s biggest and bluest cities.

Four days earlier, first-term Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards jumped into the primary, emphasizing her youth and representation of Texas’ largest city, embracing the “millennial” label and noting she represents 2.3 million Texans as an at-large council member.

Taken together, the past week has represented a pivotal moment in the primary, extinguishing any remaining hopes that it would be quick and easy while illuminating a slew of initial candidate contrasts. Absent a field-clearing candidate like San Antonio U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro — who considered a run earlier this year but passed — Texas Democrats are now settling in for a wide-open primary that could go to a May runoff, further delaying the party’s ability to fully focus on Cornyn.

West alluded to the “long road” ahead as he launched his bid Monday, calling the primary “healthy for the Democratic Party.” It’s a sentiment that other candidates are echoing, at least publicly, while Republicans are hardly concealing their glee at the possibility of a drawn-out primary that hurts Democrats in the long run.

We’ve been over most of this before, but let’s review some key points:

1. Having a competitive primary among viable candidates is a good thing. It is highly unlikely to end up being hurtful. The Republican primary for Governor in 2010 was nasty. The Republican primary for Senate in 2012 was nasty. The Republican primary for Lt. Governor in 2014 was nasty. The latter two even went to runoffs. None of them had a negative effect on the outcome. Generally speaking, what happens in the primary is forgotten by November.

2. There are going to be a lot of people voting in the 2020 Democratic primary. This means that Hegar, Bell, Edwards, and West are not only going to have to fundraise but also start campaigning seriously right now. This is unequivocally a good thing. Money spent in a primary is an investment.

3. At a meta level, four experienced Democratic politicians think they have a realistic chance to win a statewide election in Texas, and are willing to compete with each other for a chance to do that. The last time you could have said something like that with a straight face was what, 2002? If nothing else, the narrative has changed.

4. As the story notes, the four candidates have a range of views and priorities to debate, and they are seeking to appeal to a variety of constituencies. Again, this is a good thing. The more people who feel like someone is talking to them about what they care about, the better.

For years I’ve heard people gripe (with justification!) about the lack of candidates and choices in statewide Democratic races. That is very much not the case this year. Check out the candidates, pick who you like, and get ready to vote. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what you might be looking for.

Royce West makes it official

He’s in.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West made it official Monday: He’s running for U.S. Senate, joining a crowded and unsettled Democratic primary in the race to unseat Republican John Cornyn.

“I’m battle tested,” West told supporters at a campaign launch event. “You’ve seen me in battle, and I’m ready today to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.”

The Dallas attorney has been viewed as a potential primary contender for some time now, but remained mum publicly on his plans. In June, West met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., where he reportedly had a “positive meeting” and signaled that he was likely to throw his hat in the ring. He filed the Federal Election Commission paperwork to formally launch his bid on Friday.

West has served in the Texas Senate since 1993. He was elected to another four-year term in 2018 and will not have to give up his seat to challenge Cornyn. ​​​​​​

The Democrat formally launched his bid a block away from the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Dallas. Supporters — including colleagues, party leaders and elected officials — huddled at the CWA Union Hall to give a nod of support to West’s U.S. Senate launch. During his kickoff speech, West said that, if elected, he would work on immigration reform, curbing the negative effects of climate change, ensuring Americans have “affordable universal healthcare” and promoting fair elections.

He also said that 10 of the 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate encouraged him to “move forward” and run for U.S. Senate. Forty-seven out of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House have done the same, he said.

[…]

West’s announcement comes days after Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, another Democrat, launched her bid for U.S. Senate. The two enter a crowded primary that includes MJ Hegar, a 2018 U.S. House candidate and retired Air Force helicopter pilot and Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee.

A group of Democratic progressive operatives is also working to draft Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics.

“It’s going to be a long road,” West said. Still, he described the process as “healthy for the Democratic Party.”

See here for the background. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez would need to get in quickly if she’s going to run, otherwise I’d say the field is set. I have no idea how to handicap this race, but I think we can all agree that Royce West will have a pretty decent shot at the nomination. If so, given Amanda Edwards’ entry, whether or not Tzintzún Ramirez enters EMILY’s List is going to have to decide if they’re content to sit it out for now or pick a favorite and get behind Edwards, MJ Hegar, or Tzintzún Ramirez and work to have a female nominee. My guess is they’ll keep their powder dry until a runoff, and even then they may wait and see. It’s a strange year, so who knows. Erica Greider of the Chron thinks Edwards is the candidate to watch. I think I’ll wait and see as well. The Dallas Observer, the DMN, and the Chron have more.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

Let’s move over to Congress and the Senate, where there are several new candidates, with more on the way. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, and the April report is here. For comparison, the July 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10
Jennie Lou Leeder – 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
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Murray Holcomb – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         1,029,038    481,087        0    595,433       
Sen   Bell
Sen   Edwards
Sen   Hernandez
Sen   Ocegueda            638         15      500        623
Sen   Cooper

07    Fletcher      1,149,351    245,963        0    945,455
32    Allred        1,122,389    250,636        0    975,198  

28    Cuellar         722,816    243,234        0  3,024,586
28    Cisneros        147,266     21,799        0    125,466

02    Cardnell         77,407     42,968        0     34,439
03    Burch            46,595     45,690   19,649          0
06    Daniel
10    Siegel          246,978    108,466   30,000    142,003
10    Gandhi          342,539     78,308        0    264,230
10    Hutcheson       324,312     47,984        0    276,327
21    Leeder           10,864      7,202        0      3,657
22    Kulkarni        420,824    103,170        0    345,421
22    Moore            73,705     68,118    5,500      5,586
22    Reed
23    Ortiz Jones     587,527     82,359        0    596,686
23    Wahl              7,399      3,473    1,000      3,926
23    Abuabara
24    McDowell         40,036     31,500        0     21,856
24    Olson           303,218    103,267   24,500    199,950
24    Valenzuela       81,728     51,557        0     30,171
24    Fletcher        105,930      5,370        0    100,560
24    Biggan           24,407     23,422    9,134        984
25    Oliver          121,508     12,966    2,664    108,542
26    Ianuzzi          57,883     26,228   40,886     31,654
31    Mann             42,305     20,648        0     23,094
31    Holcomb          36,225      6,892        0     29,332

This was drafted before Amanda Edwards and Sen. Royce West announced their entries. Edwards now has an FEC link but hasn’t done any reporting yet. She can’t transfer money from her City Council campaign account as noted before, but can refund money to her donors and ask them to redirect it to her Senate campaign. West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. I’m pretty sure he can use that money for the federal election, which puts him into the top spot in the money race for now. MJ Hegar’s million-dollar haul would be great for another Congressional run, but it’s no great shakes for a statewide contest. She wasn’t in for the whole quarter, though, so let’s see how she does now. Chris Bell was raising some money via an exploratory committee before he made his entry official, but I can’t figure out how to find that data. Sema Hernandez, who has now been a candidate for Senate in two election cycles, still does not have an FEC report filed from either cycle. That’s despite having a a donation link that goes to ActBlue, which provides all required contribution information to candidates every reporting period. For those of you who may wonder why I never bother to mention her when I write about the Senate race, now you know why. I’ll think about taking her candidacy seriously when she does the same.

Freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred are doing what they need to do, though Fletcher may need to step it up further as her opponents are more active so far than Allred’s are. I’m really curious about the primary fight in CD28. Rep. Henry Cuellar clearly knows how to raise money, and he’s already sitting on a big pile, but Jessica Cisneros took in that $147K in only four weeks’ time. I think she’ll have bigger challenges than financial ones, but at least she’ll have the resources to run a real campaign.

Including Wendy Davis in CD21, there are four Congressional candidates who are new or new to me: Derrick Reed, Pearland City Council member, running in CD22; Crystal Fletcher, attorney, in CD24; and Murray Holcomb, surgeon, in CD31. Reed entered in July, so he has no report. Fletcher posted some nice numbers in CD24, in a field with some strong candidates. Holcomb only started raising money on June 12, so that’s not bad at all for less than three weeks. Christine Mann is the experienced candidate in CD31, but keep an eye on Murray Holcomb. It’s very possible that the DCCC or other groups are still recruiting for that race, but it looks like we may have a contender.

Overall, things look pretty good from a Dem perspective. Gina Jones picked right up where she left off in CD23, raising that amount in about half of the allotted time period. Rosey Abuabara may provide a challenge to her, but so far at least the field she faces looks less fierce than it was last year. Sri Kulkarni and Kim Olson are off to roaring starts, with Candace Valenzuela and newcomer Crystal Fletcher doing all right. I don’t know how Nyanza Moore managed to spend nearly all the money she raised, but that’s not a sustainable pace. CD10 is looking a bit like CD07 did in 2018, and that’s with newcomers Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson outdoing holdover Mike Siegel. Julie Oliver and CD25 aren’t on any watch list, but that’s a better haul than she had in any quarter in the last cycle, so good on her. Elisa Cardnell isn’t getting the traction Todd Litton got, but I have hope that she’ll start to take off.

On the flip side, I have no idea what Lorie Burch is doing in CD03. She raised very little and spent most of what she had this period. I hope that’s a temporary situation. I was really wishing for more from Jennie Lou Leeder in CD21. I always wanted Wendy Davis to jump in, but having a strong alternate option, not to mention a reason to start working now, was appealing. We’ll have to wait and see how Stephen Daniel does in CD06, and while Murray Holcomb is off to a nice enough start I’d still like to see someone really break out in CD31. We have the targets, we need to be aiming at all of them.

West sets up Senate campaign committees

This would seem to end the suspense, if there were any suspense remaining.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, appears to be in for the U.S. Senate race.

He has an announcement planned for Monday in Dallas, but on Friday, paperwork was filed with the Federal Election Commission establishing a “Royce West for U.S. Senate” campaign and declaring him a Democratic candidate for the seat. Moments later, his name showed up as a U.S. Senate candidate on the Democratic fundraising site Act Blue.

West didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Neither did the campaign’s treasurer, Barbara Radnofksy.

The assistant treasurer is listed as Mike Collier, the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Collier said he has been discussing the race with West for months and plans to help with economic policy as well as rural and suburban messaging. Collier came within 5 percentage points of GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate.

[…]

West has been mostly tight-lipped about the race, but during a Dallas TV appearance Sunday, he offered a potential rationale for running.

“We’ve got to get people who can build bridges to help resolve some of the issues as opposed to continuing to stay in the red corner or the blue corner,” West said. “And so if I decide to do it, that’s gonna be one of the reasons I decide to do it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. That’s not the most compelling rationale to run for federal office in the year of our Lord 2019 if you ask me, but there’s plenty of room in the field for that conversation. As noted in the story, Amanda Edwards stole some of West’s thunder by getting her own announcement in on ahead of West’s. I wonder if this prep work, which could have been done next week, was in part motivated by that. Not that it really matters, I’m just amused by the palace intrigue possibilities.

Anyway, the field now includes MJ Hegar, Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, and three walk-ons, with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez still in the picture. It’s true that none of them are well-known statewide, but there’s plenty of time to fix that, and the mere existence of a contested primary among people who have all raised money and run sizable campaigns in varying degrees will help. Having a multi-candidate primary isn’t in itself a positive indicator – there were four Senate hopefuls in 2012, and five in 2014 – but the candidates this year are surely a sign of optimism about the possibilities. I’m excited about what will come next.

Amanda Edwards joins the Senate race

And then there were three, with a fourth likely to follow and a fifth out there as a possibility.

CM Amanda Edwards

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards announced Thursday morning she is running for U.S. Senate, joining an increasingly crowded primary to challenge Republican John Cornyn.

It will be a campaign against several Democratic rivals and, possibly, a three-term incumbent whose reelection war chest tops $9 million. But should Edwards win, she would be the first African American Texan to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As a woman, as an African American, as a millennial — and in certainly as someone who generally … believes in solutions and not just rhetoric — I think I’m going to be the candidate that can do the job,” she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune, emphasizing the need for a nominee who can persuade voters to vote Democratic but also “galvanize our base.”

Edwards, who had been considering a run since at least March, is finishing her first term as an at-large City Council member after being elected in 2015. She said she does not plan to run for a second term in November but will serve out her term, which ends in December.

Edwards launched her bid with a video, set to drum-line music, that reflected on her family’s middle-class struggles and highlighted a key part of her council tenure — the Hurricane Harvey recovery. Over images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Ann Richards, Edwards appealed to “all of the people who have ever been locked out or told that they can’t wait or to wait their turn because the status quo or establishment was not ready for change.”

[…]

So far, Cornyn’s most serious Democratic challenger has been MJ Hegar, the 2018 U.S. House candidate and retired Air Force helicopter pilot. She launched her bid in late April and raised over $1 million through the second quarter.

Since then, another Democrat, Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee, has entered the primary, and some progressive operatives have mobilized to try to draft top Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez into the race.

As the story notes, State Sen. Royce West is set to make an announcement on Monday, which is widely expected to be his own entrance into the race. If Edwards’ announcement, which I at least wasn’t expecting, was intended to steal some of West’s thunder, then kudos to her for doing so. I admit I’d been skeptical about Edwards’ intentions, as there had been a lot of “Edwards is considering” mentions in other stories but very few direct reports about her, but here she is.

Edwards anticipates raising $5 million for the primary, and “potentially you’re looking at several million dollars” for the general election, she said. Over and over, she stressed that the Senate race could be nationalized.

“I think with the general, however, this will be a national phenomenon because people will recognize Texas is such a key piece” to changing the direction of the country, she said.

She told the Tribune that she has met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — as did Hegar and West — and had “very, very positive discussions” with him and the Senate Democratic campaign arm. She suggested another heavyweight group, EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is “very much looking at this and looking to get involved in this race.”

“I think they’re very, very excited to see Texas flip, and they’re going to spend resources” to make it happen, Edwards said of national Democrats’ interest in the race.

I imagine EMILY’s List is happy with these developments, though now they’ll either have to pick a favorite among the female candidates or wait till one of them (hopefully) wins and then get involved. As for Edwards, five million is a decent sum for the primary, but the target for November has to be a lot higher than that. John Cornyn is not going to be outraised like Ted Cruz was.

One more thing, from the Chron:

Though she began mulling a run for Senate months ago, Edwards waited to join the race until city council approved Houston’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Edwards serves as vice chair of the city budget committee and helmed several department budget workshops in chairman Dave Martin’s absence.

Edwards’ city campaign account had about $193,000 cash on hand through the end of June. She cannot transfer the money to her Senate campaign, though she may send unspent campaign funds back to donors and ask them to re-contribute.

That helps explain the timeline. With Edwards not running for re-election, the At Large #4 seat is now open, the eighth open seat on Council this election, joining Districts A, B, C, D (for now, at least), F, J, and At Large #5. The impact has already been felt in the field of candidates for AL4. There were four challengers at the start of the week – Christel Bastida, Tiko Reynolds-Hausman, Ericka McCrutcheon, and Jason Rowe – and now there are six, with Nick Hellyar moving over from District C and Letitia Plummer swapping out from AL5. Don’t be surprised if that field grows further, too. We live in exciting times. The DMN has more.

We’ll have a much better idea of who the candidates are soon

There are a lot of people filing to run for Congress as Democrats. It remains to be seen how many of them are viable.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Three times as many Democrats have already filed to run for Congress in Texas this year as in 2012 or 2016, yet another sign that Texas will be more of a battleground for the two major political parties in 2020.

With the elections still well over a year away, Democrats already have 66 candidates who have signed up to run in 30 different congressional districts. At this same point four years ago, Democrats had just 19 candidates ready to run in 16 of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm statewide,” said Abhi Rahman, director of communications for the Texas Democratic Party.

The increase is a sign that fired-up Democrats want to take on President Donald Trump and his policies, and is a testament to the party’s success in 2018, when Democrats flipped two Congressional seats previously held by the GOP, picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate. In addition, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Republican powerhouse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest statewide race in Texas in decades.

[…]

It’s not just that Democrats flipped two congressional seats in 2018, but also how close they came to flipping a half dozen others in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Six Republican members of Congress won their elections in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote or less. Those six districts have become magnets for Democratic candidates, with 26 Democrats already filing official statements of candidacy to run with the Federal Election Commission.

Two San Antonio-area districts lead the way. In 2018, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, won his re-election in the 23rd Congressional District with 49 percent of the vote. And U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, won his seat with just 50.3 percent of the vote. Hurd already has four Democrats who have filed to challenge him, including his 2018 opponent Gina Ortiz Jones. Roy meanwhile has drawn three opponents.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 24th Congressional District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, won his re-election with 50.7 percent of the vote. Similarly, near Austin, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 31st Congressional District where Republican John Carter won his re-election with 50.6 percent of the vote.

In Houston, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Olson won their districts with 51 percent of the vote. Three Democrats have filed to take on McCaul, and two to take on Olson.

It’s a little curious to me that they used 2012 and 2016 as a basis of comparison rather than 2018. We already know that 2012 and 2016 were not great years for Democratic Congressional campaign recruiting, while 2018 was off-the-charts good. I realize those were Presidential years, as 2020 is, but until further notice 2018 is the basis for all meaningful comparisons.

So as far as that goes, here’s my look at finance reports from Q1 of this year and Q2 of 2017. That doesn’t tell you how many people had filed – I mostly didn’t pay attention to the non-competitive districts, and there were plenty of fringey candidates I didn’t put much effort into – but it does tell you how many candidates of interest to me there were. The Q2 finance reports are still trickling in, so you’ll see an updated list of interesting candidates when the data is there. You can see some candidates’ names now, but until I see a finance report I don’t feel confident about who is a potential difference maker, and who is just taking up space. It’s good to know there are four contenders in CD31, for example, but I need to know more than that. Give it a week or so, and we’ll get that.

The field for Senate may keep growing

Another possible contender for the Democratic nomination for US Senate.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

A group of progressive Democratic operatives is looking to draft one of the state’s top organizers of the Latino vote into running for U.S. Senate, a move that could further shake up Texas’ still-unsettled primary to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

The group is focused on Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics. She also is a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project, an older Austin-based group that fights for labor rights.

Tzintzún Ramirez is not publicly commenting on the Senate race. But among those encouraging her to run are Ginny Goldman, founding executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, and Zack Malitz, field director for Beto O’Rourke’s blockbuster U.S. Senate campaign last year, according to Democratic sources.

Tzintzún Ramirez’s fans see her as the right person at the right time — not unlike O’Rourke, a congressman who went from statewide obscurity to coming within 3 percentage points of the state’s junior GOP senator, Ted Cruz.

“I think she would be a very strong candidate,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston-based Democratic strategist who is not involved in the draft effort. “There are people that have the kind of background, life history, that fits the time in which we are. Those people tend to take off, and we saw that in Beto O’Rourke. … It was just the right timing and the right place to be. When I heard her name, I thought the same thing.”

Tzintzún Ramirez declined to comment for this story. However, people who have been in touch with her believe she is thinking about the race and has not ruled out a run.

The effort to recruit Tzintzún Ramirez underscores how the primary is still taking shape, even after MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate, entered the race in mid-April and raised over $1 million. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has since made clear he is running, and the field is likely to grow further in the coming weeks. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who is viewed as likely to run, has scheduled an announcement for July 22. And Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also moving closer to a campaign.

I don’t know any more about Tzintzún Ramirez than what is in this article, so I don’t have any particular reaction beyond “good luck” and “may the best candidate win”. As I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary that will force the candidates to begin the process of engaging with the voters as early as possible. That’s going to require raising money, because there will be a lot of voters with which to engage.

It occurs to me that the serious candidates actually face two very different scenarios, because while the 2020 primary is likely to be a record-breaking affair, the inevitable runoff will be much, much smaller. How much? Well, the 2008 primary had 2,874,986 Presidential votes, and 1,951,295 votes cast in the three-way race for Railroad Commissioner. In the 2008 Democratic primary runoff, there were 187,708 votes cast for Railroad Commissioner. The 2020 Senate runoff will not drop off quite that much in turnout, as those candidates will have money, but still. Anyone in this contest needs to think about winning two races, with wildly varying conditions. Just a thought.

Anyway. Tzintzún Ramirez may well be an exciting candidate, but I’d like to hear the words that she’s considering the race come from her mouth before I get too invested in the possibility. I’m delighted people are seeing this as a good opportunity, now let’s see them turn that into action.

Does the partisan redistricting ruling change anything in Texas?

Maybe, but if so it will be indirect.

Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the ruling was a clear sign that the high court wanted to discourage federal judges from micromanaging the redistricting process.

“I think it de-escalates the use of litigation as a way of seeking results that aren’t supported on election day,” Henneke said.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who sued on behalf of the Democratic Party in Texas to block redistricting maps drawn earlier this decade, said he did not believe Thursday’s ruling would have a dramatic impact in the state.

Courts have cracked down on Texas-drawn maps every decade since the 1960s for violating the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions on diluting minority voting strength and gerrymandering along racial grounds, and those restrictions remain in place, Dunn said.

“I don’t think, really, anything changes,” he said. “Partisan gerrymandering (complaints) would have been another tool for voters to use in the courthouse.”

Renea Hicks, another lawyer who challenged the current set of Texas maps, wasn’t so sure.

Republicans who drew the most recent maps claimed they were using voters’ political affiliations to draw districts that helped one party succeed or benefited an incumbent, but Hicks said the reason could be used to mask a racial purpose, particularly because Latino and African American voters tend to favor Democrats.

“They can use partisanship to locate minorities, then draw lines,” he said. “Now they have even more to hide behind.”

I think Hicks has it right. Let’s not forget the previous ruling that found essentially no fault with the Texas legislative and Congressional maps despite the lower court rulings that they were racially discriminatory. SCOTUS accepted the fig leaf that the slightly tweaked 2013 maps, which were still 98% based on the discriminatory 2011 maps, absolved the state of all its sins. I don’t think the Republicans will have much to fear in 2021 if they have full control of the process. Heck, even if they have to defer to the Legislative Redistricting Board for the non-Congressional maps, I don’t think they’ll hold back. And remember, even if they do draw maps that somehow wind up being tossed, they’ll get multiple elections out of the bad maps before any consequences are enforced. The incentives point one hundred percent in the direction of maximal partisan advantage. The real questions are 1) How much more maximally can they draw districts now versus 2011, and 2) How much do the state’s changing demographics hold them back? There’s only one way to find out.

Royce West looks ready to announce

Mark your calendars.

Sen. Royce West

Royce West is one step closer to running against Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornym.

The Dallas Democrat has announced a news conference for July 22, where he’s widely expected to launch a campaign for Senate. The longtime state senator would join a Democratic Party primary that already includes former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston. And Houston council member Amanda Edwards is considering mounting a campaign as well.

[…]

West, 66, has hinted at a campaign against Cornyn for months, but has not officially gotten into the race.

He’ll make an announcement at 10 a.m., July 22 and Democratic Party headquarters in Dallas, according to a sign-up link on a website he’s developed for the occasion.

West has represented Texas Senate District 23 since 1993. He’s also a prominent Dallas attorney and one of the leading Democratic Party voices in the state.

See here and here for the background. As the story notes, the field now includes Chris Bell, with Amanda Edwards still on the periphery. I don’t know what if any timetable Edwards has beyond the late August filing deadline for Houston races, but I do know that another candidate for Edwards’ Council seat has emerged (*), so perhaps the consensus opinion is that this is about to be an open seat. My guess is that with West more or less formally in, we’ll hear something one way or the other from Edwards soon. But I’ve also been guessing that for awhile now, so take it with a sufficient quantity of salt.

(*) In the spirit of disclosure, AL #4 candidate Tiko Reynolds-Hausman is a friend of mine. I’ve served on two PTA boards with her, and her daughter and our elder daughter have been classmates and friends for years.

Ed Emmett is not a fan of SB2

So he opines.

Ed Emmett

At its core, SB 2 continues state leaders’ war against local governments. For years local governments have had to make up for the state’s underfunding of public education. But the state’s top elected officials, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, didn’t want the public to understand that those state budget decisions were the main reason property taxes were going up. So they criticized city and county policies.

In its final form, SB 2 limits revenue growth from property taxes for cities and counties to 3.5 percent annually. School districts are limited to 2.5 percent, although implementation for school districts is delayed for two years so that for now, the state won’t have to pay an even higher share.

The bill fails to recognize that Texas counties differ widely, so an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all approach is bad policy for a county such as Harris, where almost 2 million people live in the unincorporated part of the county and so rely on county government to provide roads, flood control, parks and other infrastructure — as well as law enforcement.

To make matters worse, the state has saddled counties with unfunded mandates, particularly in criminal justice and courts. The bond rating agencies have already issued warnings that the legislation might cause Texas local governments’ credit ratings to be downgraded, which will increase the amount of interest that taxpayers pay.

So when county services or infrastructure lag behind growth, don’t blame county government. Blame the state officials who supported SB 2.

Beyond the impact on local governments, SB 2 is actually bad for homeowners because it keeps in place a complicated, convoluted property tax system. The big winners from the so-called property tax reform are property tax consultants and their clients.

It is not a coincidence that the author of SB 2, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, makes his living as a property tax consultant. Bettencourt even had the audacity to advertise his services on the radio during the legislative session while SB 2 was being considered.

Sick burn, y’all. There sure is a certain freedom in not having to run for re-election. Emmett is of course correct about the main purpose of SB2, but let’s not overlook the side benefit.

Another cure for partisan redistricting

From the Brennan Center, written before SCOTUS lit a match to judicial remedies for partisan redistricting, and even more relevant now.

Congressional redistricting is broken. In most states, districts are drawn by partisan lawmakers, and the manipulation of district boundaries for partisan or other discriminatory purposes is rife, with communities of color being amongst the hardest hit. While courts can provide a remedy, litigation is often slow and costly. This allows discriminatory maps to sometimes remain in place for years while court cases and the inevitable appeals run their course. But H.R. 1, the broad and historic democracy reform bill passed by the House in March, offers some smart, comprehensive ideas that would make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent.

This would of course require three things: Democratic control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress, discarding the filibuster so Mitch McConnell can’t block it, and then hoping that SCOTUS doesn’t decide that, well, actually, Congress can’t do any of the things that HR1 enables. In that case, a little court-packing, or at least the sufficient threat of it, may do the trick. The first is within our power, the latter two may be as well. First things first, though.

A look at the Constitutional amendments we will see this November

There are ten of them, including a couple I will vote against as hard as I can.

House Joint Resolution 4 would let the Texas Water Development dole out dollars from a flood infrastructure fund — created by Senate Bill 7, which would spend $1.7 billion from the rainy day fund — to be used for planning, seeking permits for or constructing flood-related projects. SB 7 is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

If approved by voters, the flood infrastructure fund would be created at the start of next year.

HJR 34 would let the Legislature temporarily lower tax rates on property damaged during a disaster declared by the governor. House Bill 492 would set the initial tax exemption rates, up to a full exemption, according to the extent of the damage.

HJR 38 would ban the creation of a state income tax, doubling down on a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1993 that requires voters’ permission for the Legislature to create a state income tax.

[…]

HJR 95 creates a tax exemption for precious metals held in the Texas Bullion Depository, which opened in North Austin in June 2018 with its permanent location in Leander expected to open in December.

While that depository made Texas the only state to have a state-operated depository, HJR 95 author Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said it is at a competitive disadvantage because it is also the only state allowing local property taxes on precious metals.

HJR 72 intends to ease the pressure put on smaller communities to find municipal judges by allowing one person to be elected to multiple cities’ judgeships. Currently a person can only hold multiple municipal judgeships by being appointed to each one.

Senate Joint Resolution 32 would let police dogs and other law enforcement animals retire in their old age to live with their handler or other caretaker. The state constitution currently prevents law enforcement from transferring valuable property to a private person or organization for free.

The other four are HJR12, HJR151, SJR24, and SJR79, all of which are financial in nature. As you know, I’m going to cast an enthusiastic but almost certainly futile vote against HJ38, the double secret illegal anti-income tax proposition. HJR95 also looks ridiculous to me – the whole Texas Bullion Depository thing is ridiculous, so it comes with the territory, while HJR72 and SJR32 seem reasonable. The rest I’ll figure out later. The ballot wording should be set in August. What do you think about these?

Bell says he’s in for Senate

We have a competitive primary now.

Chris Bell

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell is running for the Democratic nomination for Senate, joining what could be a crowded field of candidates looking to oust incumbent Republican John Cornyn.

Bell on Tuesday filed a fundraising committee with the Federal Elections Committee, signaling that he’s off and running in what will be Texas’ marquee race in 2020.

“I’m definitely running, but I won’t make an official announcement until later,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News. “This allows me to raise money.”

The Houston Democrat was trying to haul in cash through an exploratory committee, which can be a non-starter for some political donors who want to know if a candidate is serious about a campaign.

He’ll join former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar in the Democratic field. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Houston council member Amanda Edwards are considering jumping into the race.

Edwards would have to resign her seat on the council to run, while West, re-elected last year, can run from his perch in the Texas Senate.

See here for the background. That’s actually not true about Amanda Edwards. She would presumably have to not run for re-election to Council this November if she wants to run for Senate, but she won’t have to quit her seat if she announces. I’ve heard conflicting things about her intentions, and I’ve heard that Royce West is all in. With the June fundraising deadline passed, so the pressure is back down to normal for reporting totals, I figure we’ll start hearing yeses or noes from these folks soon.

As for Bell, he’d been fundraising – I’ve gotten some of his emails – but being committed is a far better way to get the cash than being curious. He’ll need to set a date for his official announcement, and start getting out there to meet folks. I wish him luck. The Trib and the Chron have more.

The real goal of SB2

Let’s take a look at the quotes from the supporters of SB2, the new law that will impose revenue caps on all Texas cities, to see what they say about it.

“They’re going to have to start looking at spending this money like it was their own and not somebody else’s money,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. “And they’re going to have to look at priorities.”

[…]

But Ellen Troxclair, senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former Austin City Council Member, said those dire warnings imply a city has no control over its spending.

The reason this bill was one of legislators’ top priorities this year, Troxclair said, is because Texans are frustrated by rising taxes, and if it forces cities to rethink their spending, that’s a positive.

“The bottom line of SB 2 is it brings the rate at which cities are spending money more in line with the people’s ability to pay,” Troxclair said. “I hope that what the cities do is hear the pleas from citizens who elected them to make more responsible decisions when it comes to spending.”

Troxclair added that the bill doesn’t stop cities from going to taxpayers and asking to raise their taxes above 3.5 percent if officials deem it necessary.

[…]

Austin and San Antonio, which both have the highest credit rating of AAA, are also concerned that the caps will have an effect on their ability to borrow. The nation’s three major credit rating agencies have warned that the caps could have a negative impact.

Bettencourt and Troxclair, however, dismissed those concerns, saying that as long as cities are being fiscally responsible, credit rating agencies will have no reason to dock their scores. Bettencourt added that SB 2 doesn’t affect the debt portion of the tax rate, which are set by bond elections.

SB2 was sold as a way of reining in property taxes, to provide savings to homeowners. (Renters are on their own, the Republicans don’t care about them.) But no honest broker actually believes there will be any real savings. Literally no one is going to review their household expenses at the end of a year and say “thank goodness for that revenue cap, it saved us so much money”. Just look at the Houston experience, in which the typical reduction in taxes is less than $100 per year, while the city has been starved of revenue. The whole point of this exercise to to constrain cities’ ability to prioritize its spending needs, because with a revenue cap property tax reduction, no matter how trivial, always comes first. Paul Bettencourt and his cronies want cities to spend less. If that means laying off employees, if it means deferring maintenance and repairs, if it means not offering new services to meet the needs of a changing and growing population, that’s too bad. Or not bad at all, from his perspective, because what does he care about any of that? He wants government at all levels to spend less – more specifically, to spend less on things he doesn’t like – and SB2 will help accomplish that goal. Mission accomplished.

Lawsuit planned over cable franchise fee bill

I sure hope Houston gets involved in this.

Fort Worth and cities across Texas stand to lose millions of dollars due to a new law that slashes fees telecom providers pay to them. But before the savings go into effect next year, it’s likely cities will challenge the legislation in the courts.

The bill, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month, would slash right-of-way fees telecom providers pay cities to supply cable and phone service. For years, companies paid cities two separate fees to run phone and cable TV lines in right-of-ways — even when delivered over the same line. The bill changes that practice, and allows providers to only pay the higher of the two fees.

Supporters of the bill, like Walt Baum, the president of the Texas Cable Association, said it’s necessary to end an “outdated double tax” on companies. But Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said he thinks the legislation violates sections of the Texas Constitution.

“The use of public land is a privilege, not a right,” Sandlin said. “They could certainly decide to run those wires through people’s backyards, but they would pay a lot more. They have to pay for that rental of public space.“

Fort Worth estimates a little over $4 million will be lost in revenue due to the law, according to a presentation given to the Fort Worth City Council outlining the legislative session’s impact. And in some cities, those losses are more than six times that, with Houston pinning its potential losses at up to $27 million.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, authored Senate Bill 1152 and chairs the Senate Business and Commerce committee. Since 2006, telecom providers — some who stand to potentially cut costs due to Hancock’s bill — have contributed over $150,000 to Hancock’s campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics.

“I don’t know who saves millions more than the constituents that I work for,” Hancock said about providers paying less.

This wouldn’t be the first time one of Hancock’s bills spurred a lawsuit.

In 2017, a group of over 30 cities filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that a bill authored by Hancock violated articles of the Texas Constitution that prohibit the legislature from directing local municipalities to make gifts or grants to a corporation. The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court, is ongoing, and Kevin Pagan, McAllen’s city attorney, said he believes the newly signed legislation violates the same tenets.

Pagan said the new bill wrongly requires cities to make a gift to private companies by allowing providers to use the right-of-way at a lesser charge.

The telecom providers are, “already in the right-of-way. You’re already using our facilities. You’ve already agreed to pay us a franchise fee. And now under this law, you’re just going to stop paying,” Pagan said. “It’s a gift from the state legislature back to those companies.”

See here for the background. I have no idea what the odds of success are for this lawsuit, but as I said up front I sure hope the city of Houston signs on as a co-plaintiff, because we’re definitely taking it in the shorts from this bill. As for the claims from the cable lobbyist that this bill will lead to lower costs for cable subscribers, well, if you think that will happen I’ve got a nice beach house in Abilene to sell you.

The battle for the Lege is gonna be lit

Fasten your seat belts.

While the Texas Senate appears safe for Republicans, Clinton’s comments underscored the emphasis that some Democrats — both in Texas and outside it — are already putting on the fight for the majority in the state House, where their party is nine seats away from control of the chamber. Views vary on just how within reach the majority is for Democrats, but few disagree that 2020 will be a frenzied cycle for House races as Democrats work to protect — and potentially build on — their recent gains. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to take back seats and head off the worst-case scenario: a Democratic-led House heading into the 2021 redistricting process.

The early contours of the fight are taking shape in the wake of a legislative session that saw Republicans largely eschew divisive social issues for a bread-and-butter agenda following a humbling election cycle in which they lost a dozen seats in the lower chamber. There is also a new speaker, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, who appears intent on keeping the GOP in power by minimizing the kind of internecine conflict that has previously bedeviled the party.

“Everything is focused on redistricting,” state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said at a recent tea party meeting as he fielded questions about the demise of some controversial legislation this session. “There is nothing more important — not only to Texas, but literally the nation — than to make sure that we maintain the Texas House … going into redistricting because if you look at the nation — we lose Texas, we lose the nation. And there’s no other place to go.”

[…]

As Republicans have sought to get their own in order for 2020, state and national Democrats have been drawing up preliminary battle plans to take the House. Their path runs through a group of 18 districts — 17 where Republicans won by single digits last year as well as House District 32. That’s where Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, ran unopposed while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won by just 5 points.

Of course, Democrats have to simultaneously defend the 12 seats they picked up last year, some of which have already drawn serious GOP opposition.

The path is “tough but possible to flip the chamber,” said Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “We feel like there are enough potential targets out there that nine is doable, but it is gonna take a lot of work and resources.”

The NDRC spent $560,000 in Texas last cycle, and Rodenbush called Texas “one of our top priorities for 2020.” It recently hired an Austin-based Democratic consultant, Genevieve Van Cleve, to oversee its advocacy and political efforts here as Texas state director.

Other national groups are zeroing in on Texas this cycle as a state House battleground. They include the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Forward Majority, a super PAC that injected $2.2 million into Texas House races in the closing days of the 2018 election.

The state Democratic Party is expanding its campaign and candidate services as part of what will ultimately be a seven-figure effort in House races. Over the past weekend in Austin, the party held a training for 55 people to become campaign managers in state House races.

[…]

Abbott’s political operation plans to go after Democratic freshmen, as do well-funded organizations such as the Associated Republicans of Texas.

“ART is focused on candidate recruitment earlier than ever this cycle,” ART’s president, Jamie McWright, said in a statement. “We are identifying qualified, knowledgeable candidates who are willing to tackle the state’s biggest issues in order to win back the seats Republicans lost in 2018.”

Republicans are particularly focused on the seven seats they lost last cycle that Abbott carried.

You can see the potential targets here. There’s really only one competitive seat in the Senate this cycle, and that’s SD19, which Dems ought to be able to win back. On the House side, the top GOP targets based on the given criteria are going to be HDs 45, 47, 52, 65, 114, 132, and 135. I’ll be surprised if they don’t expand their list beyond that, but those are the seats I’d go after first if I were them. On the Dem side, there are the nine seats Beto carried but that Republicans won, plus however many others where he came close. It’s very likely that a seat no one is worried too much about becomes more competitive than expected, thanks to changing conditions and candidate quality and other unforeseen factors. So far, no one other than Mayor-elect Eric Johnson has announced a departure, which is unusual; normally at this point in time we’ve had a couple of people say they’re not running again. Open seats are more likely to be a problem for Republicans than they will be for Democrats, but Dems don’t want to have to play defense when there are gains to be made.

At this point, the name of the game is one part candidate recruitment and one part raising money, which will be the job of the various PACs until the candidates get settled. In Harris County, we have two good candidates each for the main targets: Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein (who ran for HCDE in 2018 and was the runnerup in the primary to Richard Cantu) in HD138, and Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers in HD134. In Fort Bend, Sarah DeMerchant appears to be running again in HD26, while Eliz Markowitz (candidate for SBOE7 in 2018) is aiming for HD28. We still need (or I need to do a better job searching for) candidates in HDs 29, 85, and 126, for starters. If you’re in one of those competitive Republican-held State Rep districts, find out who is or may be running for the Dems. If you’re in one of those targeted-by-the-GOP districts, be sure to help out your incumbent. Kelly Hancock is absolutely right: This is super-duper important.

Royce again

The “Royce West for Senate” thing is officially a thing.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, met this week with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as he nears a decision on whether to run for U.S. Senate — a decision that West now says will come sometime next month.

West had a positive meeting with Schumer and staff at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a Democratic source familiar with the meeting said. West, the source added, signaled that he is likely to run.

Asked for comment Friday, West said in a text message, “I’ll make a decision whether to run next month.”

West has been viewed as a potential candidate for months but has not said much publicly about his deliberations over whether to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. If West enters the U.S. Senate race, he would have to contend with a Democratic field that already includes MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate. Schumer met with Hegar in March.

See here for the background. As it happens, this story appeared on the same day that I received another fundraising email from the Chris Bell exploratory campaign; I wonder if Bell has met with Chuck Schumer. I’ll say this much: If Royce West is our nominee in 2020, I will be happy to vote for him and to advocate for him. I’m going to need to be convinced to vote for him over MJ Hegar in the primary, because right now she’d still be my preference. I doubt polling will tell us anything about who might have a better chance of winning next year, as I doubt either West or Hegar has enough name ID to be more than a generic Democrat in a horserace question. Hegar is the more exciting candidate, but that’s not enough to project a significant difference at this time. We’ll see what he – and Chris Bell, and Amanda Edwards, and anyone else who might be lurking out there – decides to do.

The lamentations of Big John

You guys, he may finally lose a race. I’m serious!

Big John Cornyn

There is no ghostwritten Cornyn memoir. His ego does not seem to live and die on how many times he appears on Sunday morning talk shows. And he’s never launched a presidential bid, exploratory campaign or even a vice presidential lobbying effort.

“I haven’t run for president,” he said. “My wife told me if I decided to run for president, I needed to get a new wife. And I’ve been married 39 years, and I’m not going to go down that path.”

It is that understated quality — what some observers describe as “boring,” “vanilla” and “not Ted Cruz” — that lends so much uncertainty to his 2020 reelection campaign.

But Cornyn’s calmness may also prove to be his greatest asset amid potential Texas political tumult. He is the de facto leader of state Republicans this cycle, with his name set to appear on the 2020 ballot below only the presidential contest.

And from this perch, Cornyn, despite his usually steady manner, is cranking the alarm as loudly as he can to his fellow Texas Republicans.

“We are, I think, no longer the reliably red state we have been,” he said. “We are at risk of turning purple. And if we don’t do our job, then we could turn blue in the coming years. “

Some of the most respected minds in Texas politics agree.

“He’s unbeatable in a regular year, but this is not a regular year,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist who ran Cornyn’s first statewide race in 1990. “A presidential year like this one changes the outlook. Otherwise, he’s unbeatable in the state of Texas.”

Now, thanks to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s near-ouster of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in last year’s midterm elections, Texas Democrats smell blood. An endless stream of Democrats across the state spent the winter and spring floating their own names to run against Cornyn. At this point, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is the most prominent Democrat to officially enter the fray.

Cornyn is the first to agree that the ground is moving.

“Everything’s changed [since 2014],” Cornyn said. “I think 2018 woke up everybody on the Republican side to the fact that we not only need to be competitive in the primaries, but we need to talk to broader general election voters, too.”

There’s not really anything new in this story, which is mostly about how steadfast and unexciting the big lug is. News flash, John Cornyn is not Ted Cruz, both in his boring style and his more substantive manner, as has had passed actual legislation of consequence in his time in office. Some of it has even been bipartisan. He goes into 2020 a favorite for re-election (with, obviously, an awful lot of things still to happen that can and will affect that outlook) but not a lock. Honestly, I think he’s more at the mercy of Donald Trump and the voters he will inspire to go to the polls than anyone wants to admit. It occurs to me that if he does lose, there will be a bit of an echo of the 2006 Senate race in Rhode Island, in which longterm and generally well-liked incumbent Lincoln Chaffee, one of the last liberal Northeastern Republicans standing, was ousted by an electorate that liked him personally but wanted to send a message to then-President George W. Bush, whom they did not like. Other than being a multi-term Republican incumbent Senator, Cornyn isn’t anything like Chaffee, but it’s hard for me to imaging him losing in a world with anything but a deeply unpopular Republican President. I mean hell, he might not be seriously challenged in such a world. But here we are, and say what you want about the guy, he recognizes the peril he’s in. It’s just that there’s only so much he can do about it.

Will Ken Paxton ever be prosecuted?

At this point, I’d have to say it’s very unlikely.

Best mugshot ever

After mulling the question for nearly six months, the nine Republican judges on Texas’ highest criminal court will not reconsider their 2018 ruling that threatens to imperil the criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In November, a fractured Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a six-figure payment to the special prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial for felony securities fraud fell outside legal limits for what such attorneys may be paid. A month later, the attorneys asked the high court to reconsider that decision in a spirited legal filing that went unanswered until this week.

The court did not provide any reason for rejecting the motion, nor did any judges write dissenting opinions. Few expected that the high court would reconsider its own ruling.

Payments for special prosecutors are based on strict fee schedules, but judges are permitted to approve payments outside those strictures in unusual circumstances, as a North Texas GOP judge did for the prosecutors in the Paxton case. But after Jeff Blackard, a Paxton donor, sued in December 2015, claiming that the fees were exorbitant, the Dallas Court of Appeals voided the prosecutors’ invoice and the payment has been in question. Meanwhile, the trial itself has been derailed again and again.

Wednesday’s ruling threatens the long-delayed prosecution of Texas’ top lawyer, as the prosecutors —unpaid in years — have signaled they may withdraw from the case if they cannot be paid. The prosecutors have also argued that the pay ruling, in limiting how much attorneys may be paid even in cases of extraordinary circumstances, threatens the state’s ability to adequately compensate lawyers representing indigent defendants.

See here, here, and here for the latest updates, and here for even more, if you want to do a deeper dive. We should all have friends as steadfast as Ken Paxton has in Collin County, both on their Commissioners Court and in the person of Jeff Blackard. Friends help you move, real friends help you game the criminal justice system to effectively quash felony indictments.

At this point, either the existing prosecutors decide to stick it out and maybe extract a bit of revenge via jury verdict, or they throw in the towel and the whole thing starts over with new prosecutors. Which in turn would open a whole ‘nother can of worms, thanks to the Lege.

Under Senate Bill 341, which moved quietly and without controversy through the Texas Legislature, only county attorneys, district attorneys and assistant attorneys general would be qualified to serve in the high-stakes, often high-profile affairs that require specially appointed prosecutors. Currently, judges may appoint “any competent attorney,” which some have argued is an insufficient standard.

The author of that bill, Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, has presented it as a cost-saving effort for counties — special prosecutors will now be government attorneys who would not require additional funds — and also as a way to raise the bar of qualifications for special prosecutors.

That would limit the selection pool from the more than 100,000 practicing attorneys in Texas to a much smaller group of several hundred elected prosecutors or attorneys employed by the agency Paxton runs. The replacement for Wice and Schaffer would have to be either a Democratic district attorney, who might be seen as overly aggressive in her prosecution of a Republican statewide official; a Republican district attorney, who could be seen as overly sympathetic to a leader of his own party; or an assistant attorney general, who would be an employee of the defendant.

That law goes into effect September 1. This law does make some sense, and if the Paxton prosecution had been handed off to a DA or County Attorney there would not have been an issue with payment. I for one would argue that this case should absolutely be turned over to a big urban county DA’s office – Harris, Dallas, Bexar, or (oh, the delicious irony) Travis – since an aggressive prosecution is exactly what is needed, and the DAs in those counties will have less to fear from the voters than, say, the Denton or Tarrant or Montgomery County DAs would. I will be very interested to see what the presiding judge decides to do, if it comes to that. In the meantime, we need the voters of Collin County to start voting out members of their Commissioners Court, and the voters of Texas to start electing better jurists to the CCA. You want a lower-level cause to get behind in 2020, there’s two of them for you.

Ten Best and Ten Worst 2019

Here’s that famous biennial list from Texas Monthly.

The Best

  • House Speaker Dennis Bonnen
  • Representative Joe Moody
  • Representative James White
  • Representative Donna Howard
  • Representative Dade Phelan
  • Representative Victoria Neave
  • Senator Kirk Watson
  • Representative Tom Oliverson

The Worst

  • Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
  • Representative Tom Craddick
  • Senator Bryan Hughes
  • Representative Poncho Nevárez
  • Senator Angela Paxton
  • Representative Jeff Leach
  • Senator John Whitmire
  • Senator Brandon Creighton

Special Awards

  • Most Improved: Governor Greg Abbott
  • Cockroach: Representative Jonathan Stickland
  • Freshman of the Year: Representative Julie Johnson
  • Bull of the Brazos: Senator Paul Bettencourt
  • Furniture

Click over to read the stories. Many of these had me nodding my head, others had me saying “huh, I hadn’t realized that”. None of them stood out as egregiously wrong based on the reasons cited, which has not always been the case. Anyway, read and enjoy, and as always consult with Harold Cook for the proper way to respond.

What about Royce?

Gromer Jeffers examines the question of whether State Sen. Royce West will jump into the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020.

Sen. Royce West

For several months, there’s been speculation that Democrats, against the wishes of some party leaders and donors, will have a competitive contest for the party’s Senate nomination.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, the Democratic Party’s 2006 nominee for governor, is considering running. Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards is also contemplating a campaign, according to numerous Democrats.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

But the most intriguing potential candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who has contemplated statewide campaigns before. He’s now weighing running for his party’s Senate nomination.

West has not spoken publicly about his plans and has shrugged off questions about the timing of his decision. But he’s been making the rounds in party circles, getting pledges from colleagues in the Legislature and testing whether he can raise the money needed not only to get past [[MJ] Hegar, but also beat Cornyn.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said West and Edwards would be formidable opponents for Hegar because they have strong Democratic vote bases in Dallas and Houston. Jones added that West is more of a centrist, which would help him against Cornyn.

The prospect of a contested Senate primary signals that Democrats are entering a new era in Texas politics. They don’t have to find sacrificial lambs to fill out candidate slates.

“We’re at a point where a credible Democrat may not want to give Hegar a free ride,” Jones said.

There are several reasons this may be the year West takes the plunge. It’s kind of now or never. At age 66, his window for a Washington career is closing. And the changing face of Texas means voters could prefer other emerging politicians in future election cycles. West wouldn’t have to give up much to make the run. He was re-elected last year and won’t be up again until 2022, so he wouldn’t have to surrender his Texas Senate seat. In politics, there’s nothing more sought after than a free look at a campaign for higher office. All that would be at stake is pride.

The longtime Texas lawmaker would also come into the Democratic Party contest with the ability to win — and win big — in North Texas. No other candidate can boast such a launching pad. And he’ll be strong in other parts of the state, particularly where black voters are influential, such as Houston and East Texas. West’s challenge would be garnering support where he’s not well-known, which is most of the state. And he’ll have to prove that he can raise tens of millions of dollars, while captivating the fancy of Texas voters.

Hegar is out there campaigning now – she was just in Houston, at an event I was unable to make. Bell has put out some fundraising emails – I got one in my inbox a few days ago. I have no idea what Amanda Edwards is doing, but like Bell she has not said anything formal. As for West, he’s a good State Senator and he’d for sure start out with a sizable base in a Democratic primary. I’ll be honest, I’d be more excited about him if he’d been the first one to jump in, or if he’d run for Governor or Lt. Governor in 2018. But as I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary. We need to make sure candidates are out there campaigning hard now, not later on once they’ve won the nomination. An awful lot of people are going to vote in the Dem primary in March, so no one who wants to pursue the nomination can sit around and hope for the best. Whatever Royce West – or Chris Bell, or Amanda Edwards, or anyone else – is thinking about doing, my advice would be to think fast.

How good a stepping stone is Mayor of Dallas?

Stephen Young notes that being Mayor of Dallas has not been particularly helpful to others’ ambitions.

Rep. Eric Johnson

If he’s anything, Dallas mayor-elect Eric Johnson is an ambitious guy. He’s got degrees from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, and took his seat in the Texas House of Representatives before turning 40. In the legislature, he’s sought out high-profile fights, sparring over things like criminal justice reform, gentrification and corruption in municipal politics. The resume that Johnson’s put together is almost too perfect for someone who aspires to hold higher state or federal office.

That’s what makes his current position so interesting. Saturday night, Johnson won the keys to one of the most useless big-deal jobs in the United States. Dallas’ mayor is, essentially, just an at-large member of the City Council. He or she gets to run the council’s meetings and can place an item on the council agenda if he or she wishes to do so, but the city manager draws up the city’s budget and has all the real power. Johnson has long been at the top of the list whenever people talk about potential replacements for longtime Dallas U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, but one has to wonder if that’s changed, given the mayor’s office’s challenges and history.

To find a former Dallas mayor who sought and won higher office after leaving city hall, one has to look at the way back to Earle Cabell, who resigned as mayor in February 1964 to run for Congress against incumbent Republican Bruce Alger. Since Cabell’s successful campaign, former mayors Wes Wise, Ron Kirk and Tom Leppert have all run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House or Senate. Laura Miller, Kirk’s successor, couldn’t even win a Dallas City Council race 12 years after leaving office, getting trounced by incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates in May.

I noted when Mayor-elect Johnson won the runoff that he was a politician with ambitions. Does this mean those ambitions are doomed? I don’t think so. I can’t speak to Wes Wise’s experience, but Ron Kirk ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2002, while Tom Leppert joined a primary that already had David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. I wouldn’t extrapolate much from that.

I’d say three things will matter. One, does a good opportunity come along at a good time? I’d suggested Johnson might want to run statewide, but Young notes he has had his eye on Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s CD30 seat. Maybe the timing will work for one of those options, and maybe it won’t. Two, does he build up his fundraising network enough to be a force in a more expensive race? And three, does he does a good enough job to make him look like an appealing candidate for whatever comes next? It’s not rocket science. This is one of those times where past history isn’t a great guide, but the basic fundamentals still apply.

Our vaccine exception rates keep going up

A small change to the law in 2003 has had a big effect over time.

As measles cases hit a 25-year high in the United States, Texas medical experts fear the state could see the next outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. Texas has reported 15 confirmed cases of measles so far in 2019, six more than in all of 2018.

Health officials are watching pockets of Texas closely because of the number of parents requesting exemptions under Texas’s broad vaccine exemption law. Texas is one of 16 states that allow parents to bypass vaccine requirements for enrolling their kids in school by claiming a conscientious exemption, along with citing medical or religious concerns. Just last month, Washington ended conscientious exemptions on the heels of a large measles outbreak with over 70 reported cases. Three states — California, West Virginia and Mississippi — only allow medical exemptions.

Texas’ exemption law used to be stricter. In 2003, a state senator proposed loosening restrictions via a three-page amendment to a 311-page bill. After five minutes of discussion, the amendment was approved. The bill was soon signed into law. Sixteen years later, former state Sen. Craig Estes said the change to Texas’ vaccine laws that he helped enact should be reviewed in the current public health climate.

“Obviously we didn’t ever imagine what would happen,” Estes, a Republican from Prosper, told The Texas Tribune. “With what’s happened recently, I would encourage the legislature in the future to revisit that issue and debate it.”

The speedy way in which the Texas Legislature weakened the state’s vaccine exemption rules suggests that, like Estes, few in office at the time thought it would put Texas at risk for future outbreaks. However, while experts suggest Texas is now vulnerable, efforts to change the exemption law have been dead on arrival in the Capitol.

“There will be a terrible measles epidemic in Texas, and children will be hospitalized in intensive care units, just like they are in New York right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said last month. “That will wake up the state Legislature to realize that there’s a problem and close those exemptions.”

Kindergarteners must have 10 immunizations to be enrolled in Texas schools. Since 2006, when the state first started reporting the data, the exemption rate for kindergarteners in Texas has risen from 0.3% for the 2005-06 school year to 2.15% for the 2018-19 school year.

In Texas, school districts, private schools and charter schools are required to report their vaccine exemption rates per vaccine. The data collection is done through a survey administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, but some schools don’t report consistently, leaving gaps in the data.

The data shows certain communities — like the Dallas Independent School District — have seen a recent spike in conscientious exemptions for kindergarteners. Others — like El Paso ISD — have seen exemptions recently plummet. Some smaller private schools, meanwhile, have exemption rates that are significantly higher than those of other schools. The Austin Waldorf School had the highest vaccine exemption rate for the 2018-19 school year, at 52.9%. Alliance Christian Academy had the second-highest rate at 40.6%.

When enough of a community is immunized against a disease, that group has what’s known as herd immunity, meaning there is a low risk of a disease spreading. Vaccine-preventable disease have different herd immunity thresholds. Measles, which is highly contagious, has a high herd immunity threshold of 95%. According to a state report for the 2018-19 school year, Texas kindergarteners statewide had coverage levels higher than 95% for all required vaccines. Yet the data from individual school districts and private schools suggests that some communities may fall short of meeting that threshold for some vaccines.

The fact that a Waldorf school is atop this list shows the problem is very much bipartisan, though the main anti-vax legislators these days are all Republicans. I’ve repeated this a million times, but the only way to improve things is to throw those anti-vax legislators out of office. Next year is a great opportunity to do that as three of them – Jonathan Stickland, Bill Zedler, and Matt Krause – all had close elections in 2018. The rest is up to us. Now go read the rest of the story for the history of how we got to this point.

A starter agenda for when we have a Democratic state government

I’ve been pondering the recent legislative session, which as we have discussed wasn’t great but also wasn’t nearly as bad as some other recent sessions have been. The qualification for all this is that the key defining factor for our legislative sessions is defense. How well did we do preventing bad bills from becoming law? Oh, there are occasional good bills, on things like criminal justice reform and medical marijuana and the injection of money into public education this session, which should be good until the lack of a funding mechanism becomes an issue. But actually moving the ball forward, on a whole host of items, is a non-starter.

That’s not a surprise, with Republicans in control of all aspects of state government. But Dems picked up 12 seats in the House and two in the Senate, and came close in several statewide races in 2018. There’s a decent chance that Dems can win the House in 2020, and I have to believe we’ll have a stronger candidate for Governor in 2022. The Senate remains a challenge, but after the 2021 redistricting happens, who knows what the landscape may look like. Dems need to aim for the House in 2020, and have a goal of winning statewide in 2022. It won’t be easy, and the national landscape is a huge variable, but we know we’re moving in the right direction, and if not now then when?

And if these are our goals, and we believe we have a reasonable chance at achieving them, then we need to talk about what we want to accomplish with them. It’s a cliche that our legislature is designed to kill bills and not to pass them, but having a unified, overarching agenda – which, let’s not forget, can get a boost by being declared “emergency items” by the Governor – can help overcome that.

So towards that end, I hereby propose a starting point for such an agenda. Moving the ball forward is the ultimate aim, but I believe we have to first move the ball back to where it was before Republicans assumed full control of the government in 2003 in order to really do that. That’s the idea behind this list, which I want to stress is a starting point and very much open to discussion. There are a lot of things a Democratic government will need to do, from health care to voting rights to equality to the environment to climate change and so much more, but we can’t overlook fixing the bad things first.

My list, therefore, covers bills passed since 2003 when Republicans took over. I am skipping over constitutional amendments like the 2003 tort “reform” item, because they will require a supermajority to pass, which we surely will not have. I’m aiming for simplicity, in that these are easy to understand and rally around, and for impact. So without further ado, here are my ideas:

1. Repeal voter ID.
2. Repeal “sanctuary cities”.
3. Repeal anti-Planned Parenthood legislation, from prohibitions on PP receiving Medicaid to this session’s ban on cities partnering with PP on anything, and restore the previously used Women’s Health Program.

Like I said, simple and straightforward, with a lot of impact. The first two are obvious and should have unanimous Democratic support. The third is more of a challenge because even with a Democratic majority in the Senate, we won’t necessarily have a pro-choice majority. Eddie Lucio, and to a somewhat lesser degree Judith Zaffirini, are both opponents of reproductive rights, though Zaffirini is more nuanced than Lucio and ought to be gettable on this kind of bill via an appeal to health care access.

As I said, this is a starting point. There are things I have deliberately left off this list, though I am not by any means discounting or overlooking them. The “Save Chick-fil-A” bill from this session, whose real life effect is not yet known, needs to go but might be better handled as part of a statewide non-discrimination law. (Also, too, there’s the Eddie Lucio problem in the Senate.) Campus carry and open carry are terrible laws, but might be better handled via comprehensive gun control legislation. Tuition deregulation, a big cause of skyrocketing college costs at public universities, which was passed in 2003 as one of many cut-the-budget effort over the years, will be a more complex issue that may require time to study before a consensus solution can be brought forward. All these things and more need to be on the agenda, but some things are more involved than others.

Again, this is a starting point. I make no claim that this is a be-all or end-all. Hell, I make no claim that I’m not forgetting anything equally simple and substantive. I welcome all constructive feedback. Ultimately, what I want out of this is for Dems to recognize the need to decide what our priorities are before we get handed the power to affect them, and to make it part of the case we will be making to the voters to give us that power. I believe having some uniformity to our message will help us. Now it’s up to us to figure out what that message needs to be.

Republicans are worried about Texas, part 583

When was the last time you head about a Republican-oriented mass voter registration effort?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Wealthy Republican donors are preparing a multimillion-dollar effort to register more than 1 million new GOP voters in Texas for 2020 amid anxiety that President Trump could be in more trouble in this reliably red state than some in the party realize.

Richard Weekley, a Houston real estate developer and veteran Republican campaign contributor, is spearheading the new group, dubbed Engage Texas. According to GOP sources, the organization was set up as a 501(c)4, political nonprofit organization and plans to raise and spend $25 million by Election Day next year.

Engage Texas has garnered the support of top Republicans in the state and appears to have the support of party insiders in Washington. They believe the group could be critical to compensating for demographic trends that favor the Democrats — and to holding Texas for Trump and GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

“In 2018, we got hammered not only in the urban areas but in the suburbs, too,” Cornyn, 67, told the Washington Examiner. The third-term senator, who has sounded the alarm about the dangers of taking Texas for granted, described with a sense of relief the “substantial focus and investment, now, that will be made on voter registration.”

[…]

Some Republicans have attributed the outcome last fall, in which the GOP also suffered losses in state legislative races, to Cruz’s unpopularity and the resources invested by O’Rourke and his allies, a feat Democrats are unlikely to repeat in a national presidential contest. Senior Republican strategists in Texas are warning against that line of thinking.

“Everybody thinks it was a Cruz-Beto thing. But it’s a mess,” a GOP adviser said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “Independents are behaving like Democrats — like they did in 2018.”

I wonder if they’ll come to regret supporting politicians who are dedicated to making it hard to register voters. Sure would be nice if y’all could do this electronically, am I right? We should keep an eye on this, but someone with more knowledge of the demography of not-registered voting-age citizens will have to answer the question of whether there are enough likely Republicans (i.e., white people) out there for this to be worth the effort. Link via Political Animal.

Checking in on the national political atmosphere

From the inbox, via G. Elliott Morris’ weekly email blast:

Are Democrats doing as well as they were in 2017-2018?

The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, but that’s what special elections and the generic ballot are for. These numbers point to stability in the pro-Democratic political environment.

The 2017 Women’s March was one of the largest mass-mobilizations in American history. It was estimated that as many as 5.6 million people marched nationwide in a show of solidarity with women and resistance to then-newly-inaugurated President Trump. That type of mobilization is hard to sustain, though, and it ~anecdotally~ seems like enthusiasm among Democrats has faltered. Matt Grossman, a political scientist, presented this take on Twitter:


Data on public opinion show a similar story, with a few notable exceptions.

The first datum from 2019 that we can compare to last year’s figures is Democrats’ margin in generic congressional ballot polling. A reminder: This is the survey question that asks voters how they would cast their ballot in the election for their congressional representative “if it were held today”. In November 2019, the average poll put Democrats up about 8.7 percentage points. That number ended up being almost perfectly predictive; nationwide, Democrats won the House popular vote by 8.6.

This year, Democrats are hitting a similar benchmark. Though the absolute level of support for their party has waned—this is due to the tendency for voters to drift toward the “not sure” option after an election—so too has the level of support for Republicans, so Democrats’ margin remains at roughly 9 points. Here are the crosstabs from The Economist’s latest polling from YouGov.

Note the pro-Democratic lean of every age group besides 65+ year-olds, and the only slightly-bad 2-point deficit among Males.

Democrats’ margin on the generic ballot is the first point in support of the hypothesis that the national mood is about as liberal and pro-Democratic as it was in the run-up to the 2018 midterms.

The second datum I’d like to consider is Democrats’ performance in special elections. If you recall, the swing from Democrats’ lagged presidential performance in state and federal legislative districts to their off-year margin in special elections in those same districts has historically been highly predictive of the party’s eventual House popular vote. Tracking these special elections from November 2016 to 2018, Daily Kos Elections found that Democratic candidates were running ahead of Hillary Clinton by about 11 percentage points. What is that number for special elections that have occurred since November 2018, you ask? A 7 percentage point swing to Democrats. That’s high, but not *as* high, as last year. This suggests a modest shift back toward the political equilibrium—or, if I may, a reversion to the political mean.

Note the just 2-point swing from Obama’s 2012 margin in those districts. Interesting. Will 2020 look more like 2012 than 2016? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question.

Combined, these data—a lack of comparable mass mobilization, the generic ballot, and leftward swings in special elections—indicate that the Democratic Party is performing slightly below their high-water mark in 2018. Of course, given how well they did last time, this slight decline still puts Democrats’ margin high enough to win the House of Representatives again in 2020. Further, given the high correlation between presidential and congressional vote choice, this also suggests a poor showing for President Trump in November. But my mission here is not to predict what will happen 18 months from now. Instead, it’s to point out the stability in America’s political environment. The Caribbean-blue waters from the wave that washed Democrats to a House majority last year appear to have yet to recede.

I don’t have any grand point to make here, I just wanted to note this for the record. From where I sit, there’s plenty of candidate energy, not just for Congress but also for the Lege and the SBOE. There’s still a lot of engagement, not at 2017 levels but the baseline is higher. People are more experienced now, they’ve learned from the 2018 cycle, and they have their sights on bigger goals. The city races this fall, especially the Mayor’s race, is going to put some strain on everyone, but with primary season following that almost immediately, I figure we’ll get back on track. As always, this is one data point, a snapshot in time as we move forward. Things will change, and I’ll check in on the way they look and feel as we go. For now at least, the data says that Dems are in roughly the same place they were during the 2018 cycle. That’s a fine place to start out.

In which I plead for a boon from national writers

Dear national political writers:

MJ Hegar

The former Texas congressman and one-time Senate hopeful has attended at least 67 Iowa town halls, driven nearly 3,000 miles across the state, and hired dozens of staffers there. He’s tall, white, charismatic, and handsome—traits that should serve him well in the famously monochromatic Hawkeye State.

And yet, in the latest Des Moines Register poll, O’Rourke only has 2 percent support. He’s also not faring much better in national polling, where he hovers around 3-4 percent, and his numbers have sharply declined since an early and splashy entry into the race.

Perhaps worst for O’Rourke is that his strategic persona—youthful, well-spoken, vaguely left-liberal, smart yet inoffensive—is being done better and more effectively by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has surged to a top-five position in the race. Nor does O’Rourke’s presence in the campaign, unlike other candidates like Washington Governor Jay Inslee, serve to highlight issues that would make his candidacy worth the effort even in defeat.

Fortunately for O’Rourke and for Democrats, there is another useful path for him, one that would serve the country far better: making another run for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Cornyn. The filing deadlineisn’t until December 9, which gives him plenty of time to reconsider. And a large number of Texas Democrats would like to see him come back home to do it.

Please, for the love of Molly Ivins, if you must opine about how Beto shoulda run for Senate, could you at least acknowledge, even in passing, that there’s already a strong and exciting Democratic candidate in the race? Like Beto, MJ Hegar raised a ton of money in 2018. Like Beto, MJ Hegar was a viral sensation who drew a lot of favorable press during her campaign. Like Beto, Hegar came very close (within two points in Beto’s case, within three points in MJ’s) of knocking off a Republican incumbent in a race that was originally on no one’s radar. Indeed, MJ Hegar arguably had the more impressive performance, as Trump carried CD31 by 12.5 points while winning statewide by only 9 points. Any way you look at it, Hegar is at least as well positioned to do well at this point in time as Beto was in 2017.

Now, if you want to argue that Beto would be the stronger candidate against John Cornyn, by virtue of his previous experience running statewide and his national profile, that’s fine…as long as you are arguing for Beto versus MJ Hegar, not Beto versus an existential void. My point here, and all that I’m asking, is that you argue based on the situation that actually exists, not the situation you seem to be imagining because you’re not paying attention or because you have a bee in your bonnet about the size of the Democratic Presidential field or Beto’s not-great Presidential rollout or whatever. Beto may well be, or have been, the best candidate to beat John Cornyn, and Lord knows the Dems need to win every Senate seat they can to have a hope of actually governing. But Beto is not the candidate who is running. Please, I beg of you, give me some reason to believe that you are aware of that fact. That’s all I’m asking.

UPDATE: And in the short period of time between drafting this and scheduling it for publication, this story from The Hill arrives. At least it quotes someone who notes that anyone who puts in the work that Beto did in 2018 could win, as Texas is “fundamentally competitive”. I’ll try to be okay with that.

Could Beto-Cornyn still happen?

According to that same Quinnipiac poll, some people would like for it to happen.

Beto O’Rourke

Most Texas Democrats say they’d prefer for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to abandon his campaign for president and instead take on Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the 2020 U.S. Senate race, a new poll released Wednesday shows.

Sixty percent of about 400 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters polled by a Quinnipiac University said they’d prefer to see a Cornyn-O’Rourke showdown. The poll surveyed 1,159 voters overall and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points overall and plus or minus 5.8 percentage points for Democrats and Democratic-leaners.

Yet O’Rourke was still preferred over most other Democratic candidates for president other than former Vice President Joseph Biden, who led the pack as the top choice for 30 percent of Texas Democrats polled.

O’Rourke was behind him with 16 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 15 percent and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 11 percent.

[…]

A change in course for O’Rourke, or even Castro, would not be entirely unexpected to Cornyn, who had a 44 percent approval rate among those polled by Quinnipiac.

This is all from that same Quinnipiac poll that I noted yesterday. I don’t actually think there’s any chance Beto will switch back to the Senate race. Remember, the filing deadline in Texas is in December, which is still before any state actually votes in their Presidential primary. I just don’t see him dropping out that early, unless the fundraising train really grinds to a halt for him. He never expressed any interest in running for the Senate again, so even if he does somehow drop out in time to file for Senate, I think he’d just sit it out.

And you know, that’s okay. It really is. I say that in part because I’ve made my peace with his decision, and in part because I’ve come to believe that the next Democratic Senate candidate needs to use Beto’s 2018 campaign as a starting point and a platform on which to construct a better and more robust campaign that absorbs and applies the lessons we have learned from the Beto 2018 experience. I think that will have a better chance of success than Beto 2.0 would have. Of course, Beto could do that himself – it doesn’t need to be a new candidate for this. Some fresh eyes would likely help, though.

This is also going to be the place where I say I’m tired of people complaining that if Beto had run for Senate instead of for President, the Dems would be that much closer to winning the Senate, which they need to do at least as much as they need to defeat Trump in order to get this country back on track again. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Steve Bullock of Montana also get this criticism, though Stacy Abrams, who is not running for President or US Senate in Georgia, escapes it. If Beto were literally the only candidate of merit who might run that would be one thing, but we have a perfectly good candidate in the race in MJ Hegar, and we may have other getting in. I don’t deny that Beto would have started off in the strongest position of any Dem, and if he were running for Senate that race would already be on the national radar. I’m just saying it’s not Beto or nothing. I would like it if more people considered that.

Finally, I hope that as we go forward, Quinnipiac et al will begin to include Senate race questions, so we can compare the levels of support for Trump and Cornyn and whichever Dems they are matched against. Despite being a Senator for 17 years (and Attorney General before that) Cornyn’s name recognition is so-so, which is in part why his approval (and disapproval) numbers are lower than Ted Cruz’s. A Cornyn/Hegar question (and a Cornyn/Amanda Edwards question or a Cornyn/Chris Bell question) would serve fairly well as a “somewhat well-known R versus generally unknown D” question, which would help illustrate how much each Democratic Presidential hopeful might be affecting the data. Maybe in the next Q-poll we’ll see something like this.