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Steve Toth

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 2

Continuing to look at the 30-day campaign finance reports. A lot of candidates have been reporting big hauls, especially in the hot State Rep races. As before, I will split these into four parts. Part one, with statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, is here. Part two is State House races from the Houston area, which is this post. Part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state, and part four will be for Democratic incumbents that may be targeted. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for Harris County State House races are here, and the July reports for these candidates are here.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Cecil Bell, HD03

Lorena McGill, HD15
Steve Toth, HD15

Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Mayes Middleton, HD23

Brian Rogers, HD24
Greg Bonnen, HD24

Patrick Henry, HD25
Cody Vasut, HD25

Sarah DeMerchant, HD26
Jacey Jetton, HD26

Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Gary Gates, HD28

Travis Boldt, HD29
Ed Thompson, HD29

Joe Cardenas, HD85
Phil Stephenson, HD85

Natali Hurtado, HD126
Sam Harless, HD126

Kayla Alix, HD129
Dennis Paul, HD129

Gina Calanni, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133
Jim Murphy, HD133

Ann Johnson, HD134
Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD03   Shupp              305       618          0         305
HD03   Bell            12,400    14,708     82,140      16,924

HD15   McGill          27,474    23,342          0      12,161
HD15   Toth            38,615    18,138          0      40,889

HD23   Antonelli       10,889     5,393          0       5,495
HD23   Middleton      318,855    85,129    500,000     317,001

HD24   Rogers             455       240          0       1,170
HD24   Bonnen          47,466    70,626    450,000     541,745

HD25   Henry            3,010     5,355          0       1,775
HD25   Vasut           37,245    23,251      1,600       1,865

HD26   DeMerchant     322,433    94,227          0      90,146
HD26   Jetton         295,526    26,240     25,000      91,922

HD28   Markowitz      108,038    55,813          0      68,241
HD28   Gates          374,629   371,476  1,736,100      67,328

HD29   Boldt           59,421    18,253          0      40,635
HD29   Thompson       106,896   148,176          0     344,974

HD85   Cardenas        14,731     7,872      5,027       2,830
HD85   Stephenson      12,375    22,403     29,791      24,691

HD126  Hurtado        311,139   107,738          0     210,474
HD126  Harless        449,290    53,893     20,000     290,216

HD129  Alix            43,480     7,991          0      35,568
HD129  Paul            72,400    45,052    156,000      45,875

HD132  Calanni        308,292    75,081          0     235,006
HD132  Schofield      252,100    65,647          0      98,339

HD133  Moore           10,976    11,207          0       9,593
HD133  Murphy         140,000    89,105          0     586,798

HD134  Johnson        481,430   292,265          0     314,593
HD134  Davis          597,463    93,842          0     299,564

HD135  Rosenthal      206,564   111,248          0     110,589
HD135  Ray            418,811   126,810          0      52,800

HD138  Bacy           630,565    99,967          0     353,811
HD138  Hull           277,421    45,612          0      84,768

First things first, I had the wrong Republican listed for HD26 last time. Just a goof on my part, which is now corrected.

Also, as a reminder, when there’s a big disparity between the money raised and spent, and the cash on hand, look for a significant amount of in kind donations. A lot of the contributions to Mike Schofield, Justin Ray (nearly $300K in his case), and Lacey Hull are expenditures on their behalf by PACs like Associated Republicans on Texas. Some of this spending is quite visible – I’ve seen many ads for Hull and Ray (mostly Hull) on cable, mostly during sporting events. Some of that is wasted since I don’t live anywhere near either of their districts, but I’m sure people in those district did see them.

The main action outside of Harris County is in HD26, where both Sarah DeMerchant and Jacey Jetton. Both of them also had large in kind totals – $107K for deMerchant, mostly from the HDCC, and $170K for Jetton, again mostly from the ART. Eliz Markowitz raised a decent amount, and I give Lorena McGill and A for effort in her deep red district. The one candidate I wish had done better is Travis Boldt. HD29 is not a must-have to win the House, but it’s in a part of Brazoria County that’s been trending blue, and I feel like it’s worth the investment. Maybe something will happen in the 8 day reporting period. On the Republican side, Phil Stephenson has it in cruise control, and so far his anti-Abbott apostasy hasn’t been particularly lucrative yet for Steve Toth.

Natali Hurtado has another strong report, putting her a the top of the class among Democratic challengers to incumbents. Sam Harless is taking that challenge seriously. None of the longer-shot candidates have raised enough to change perceptions.

Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal have done well, though Rosenthal was outgunned by the PAC money that boosted Justin Ray. Sarah Davis bounced back from her unimpressive July report but still trails Ann Johnson in cash on hand. Akilah Bacy ($212K in kind) had the big report of the period. I have seen one pro-Bacy ad so far – I mostly watch sports on live TV, so maybe she’s got some running on other channels, who knows – and at least one anti-Bacy attack ad to go along with the Lacey Hull ads. I’ve seen a few Rosenthal ads as well, not as many as the Ray ads, but not too far behind. I’ve not seen any ads for Johnson or Davis, though I’m closer to HD134 than either 135 or 138. Maybe better targeting, or they’re not doing TV, or just not advertising where I’m watching. Have you seen any ads for any of these races?

More races from around the state coming next. Let me know what you think.

Win one, lose one at SCOTX

The win:

Early voting in Texas can begin Oct. 13, following the timeline the governor laid out months ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, rejecting a request from several top Texas Republicans to limit the timeframe for voters to cast their ballots.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that early voting for the general election in Texas begin nearly a week earlier than usual, a response to the coronavirus pandemic. But a number of prominent Republicans, including state party Chair Allen West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and several members of the Texas Legislature, challenged that timeframe in September, arguing that Abbott defied state election law, which dictates that early voting typically begins on the 17th day before an election — this year, Oct. 19.

Abbott added six days to the early voting period through an executive order, an exercise of the emergency powers he has leaned into during the virus crisis. The Republicans who sued him argued this was an overreach.

The state’s highest civil court, which is entirely held by Republicans, ruled that the GOP officials who sued challenging Abbott’s extension waited until the last minute to do so, when he had already extended early voting in the primary election and announced he would do the same for the general months ago. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht noted also that the election is already underway.

“To disrupt the long-planned election procedures as relators would have us do would threaten voter confusion,” he wrote in the opinion.

See here and here for some background, and here for the opinion. After noting that Abbott has “issued a long series of proclamations invoking the Act as authority to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a wide range of activities in the State” since his disaster declaration in March, the Court notes that the relators (the fancy legal name for “plaintiffs” in this kind of case) took their sweet time complaining about it:

Relators delayed in challenging the Governor’s July 27 proclamation for more than ten weeks after it was issued. They have not sought relief first in the lower courts that would have allowed a careful, thorough consideration of their arguments regarding the Act’s scope and constitutionality. Those arguments affect not only the impending election process but also implicate the Governor’s authority under the Act for the many other actions he has taken over the past six months. Relators’ delay precludes the consideration their claims require.

The dissent argues that relators acted diligently because they filed their petition in this Court four days after they received an email confirming that the Harris County Clerk intended to comply with the Governor’s July 27 proclamation. But relators’ challenge is to the validity of the proclamation, not the Clerk’s compliance.16 Relators could have asserted their challenge at any time in the past ten weeks. The dissent also argues that the Court has granted relief after similar delays. But none of the cases the dissent cites bears out its argument.17

Moreover, the election is already underway. The Harris County Clerk has represented to the Court that his office would accept mailed-in ballots beginning September 24. To disrupt the long-planned election procedures as relators would have us do would threaten voter confusion.

[…]

Mandamus is an “extraordinary” remedy that is “available only in limited circumstances.”20 When the record fails to show that petitioners have acted diligently to protect their rights, relief by mandamus is not available.21 The record here reflects no justification for relators’ lengthy delay.

The “dissent” refers to the dissenting opinion written by Justice John Devine, who was all along the biggest cheerleader for the vote suppressors. I have no particular quibble with this opinion, which seems correct and appropriate to me, but the grounds on which the mandamus is denied are awfully narrow, which gives me some concern. The Court may merely be recognizing the fact that there are several outstanding challenges to Abbott’s authority to use his executive powers in this fashion, relating to mask and shutdown orders as well as election issues, and they may simply want to leave that all undisturbed until the lower courts start to make their rulings. That too is fine and appropriate, but I can’t help but feel a little disquieted at the thought that maybe these guys could have succeeded if the timing (and their lawyering) had been better.

That ruling also settled the question of counties being able to accept mail ballots at dropoff locations during the early voting process – the relators had demanded that mail ballot dropoff be limited to Election Day only. None of this is related to the issue of how many dropoff locations there may be, which is being litigated in multiple other lawsuits, four now as of last report. We are still waiting on action from those cases.

On the negative side, SCOTX put the kibosh on County Clerk Chris Hollins’ plan to send out mail ballot applications to all registered voters in Harris County.

The state’s highest civil court ruled Wednesday that Hollins may not put the applications in the mail. The documents can be accessed online, and are often distributed by political campaigns, parties and other private organizations. But for a government official to proactively send them oversteps his authority, the court ruled.

“We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize the mailing proposed by the Harris County Clerk,” the court wrote in an unsigned per curiam opinion.

The Republican justices sent the case back to a lower court in Harris County to issue an injunction blocking Hollins from sending the mailers.

The county has already distributed the applications to voters who are at least 65, who automatically qualify for absentee ballots, and has also begun sending out the applications to other voters who requested them. An attorney for Hollins estimated last week that the county would send out about 1.7 million more applications if the court allowed.

See here and here for some background, here for a statement from Hollins, and here for the unanimous opinion, which is longer than the one in the first case. The Court goes into the many ways in which the Legislature has expressed its intent that most people should vote in person, and then sums up its view Clerks getting creative:

Hollins’ mass mailing of ballot applications would undercut the Secretary’s statutory duty to “maintain uniformity” in Texas’ elections, the Legislature’s “very deliberate[]” decision to authorize only discrete categories of Texans to vote by mail, and its intent that submission of an application be an action with legal gravity.43

Authority for Hollins’ proposed mass mailing can be implied from the Election Code only if it is necessarily part of an express grant—not simply convenient, but indispensable. Any reasonable doubt must be resolved against an implied grant of authority. Mass-mailing unsolicited ballot applications to voters ineligible to vote by mail cannot be said to be necessary or indispensable to the conduct of early voting. Even if it could be, doubt on the matter is certainly reasonable and must be resolved against recognizing implied authority. We hold that an early voting clerk lacks authority under the Election Code to mass-mail applications to vote by mail. The State has demonstrated success on the merits of its ultra vires claim.

I’ve discussed my views on this before, when the appeals court upheld the original order, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I agree with Michael Hurta that this case will be cited in future litigation that aims to limit what Texas localities can do to innovate, which is what Hollins was doing here. It’s basically another attack on local control, and as I replied to that tweet, it’s another item to the Democrats’ to do list when they are in a position to pass some laws.

I hate this ruling for a lot of reasons, but that right there is at the top of the list. The Court based its ruling in part on the fact that Hollins was doing something no one else had thought to try – “all election officials other than Hollins are discharging this duty in the way that they always have”, they say as part of their reasoning to slap Hollins down” – and while I can see the logic and reason in that, we’re in the middle of a fucking pandemic, and sometimes you have to step outside the box a bit to get things done in a manner that is safe and effective. I get where the Court is coming from, and I admit that allowing County Clerks to experiment and freelance has the potential to cause problems, but it sure would have been nice for the Court to at least recognize that Hollins’ actions, however unorthodox they may have been, did not come out of a vacuum. Clearly, the fact that the arguments in this case were heard via Zoom didn’t sink in with anyone.

On a practical level, I don’t know how many people would have voted via absentee ballot who would not have otherwise participated. Some number, to be sure, but I really don’t think it’s all that much. It’s the principle here, one part making it harder to vote and one part keeping the locals in line, that bothers me. As has been the case so many times, we’re going to have to win more elections and then change the laws if we want some progress. You know what to do. The Chron has more.

Paxton opposes Hotze mandamus to curb early voting

From Reform Austin:

In a brief filed with the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the GOP group suing Gov. Greg Abbott to prevent him from extending early voting for the November election has no standing and has failed to prove any harm.

Conservative activist Steve Hotze and a long list of high-profile Texas Republicans claim Abbott is violating Texas election law and overstepping his authority without first consulting with the Texas Legislature.

Paxton counters that delegation of powers is both necessary and proper in certain circumstances.

“The Legislature properly exercised its delegation power when it enacted the Disaster Act because it contains adequate standards to guide its exercise,” Paxton’s brief reads. “It sets parameters for what constitutes a disaster, provides a standard for how the governor is to declare one, places limits on his emergency powers, and specifies when the disaster ends.”

See here for the background. A copy of the Paxton brief is here. The introduction is worth a read:

To the Honorable Supreme Court of Texas:

Relators direct their petition at the Secretary of State, even though they do not allege that she has undertaken or threatened to undertake any unlawful action. Neither the Governor’s July 27 proclamation (“the Proclamation”) nor the Election Code imposes any ministerial duty on the Secretary. And the provisions of the Election Code concerning early voting are administered by county election officials, not the Secretary of State. Although the Election Code designates the Secretary as Texas’s “chief election officer,” this Court has long held that does not give her generalized enforcement power over every provision of the Election Code. Moreover, the Proclamation independently binds each county’s early-voting clerk, so any mandamus issued against the Secretary would not remedy Relators’ grievances. Indeed, granting the relief Relators seek would have no impact at all—which makes this petition nothing more than a request for an advisory opinion.

Relators’ merits arguments are similarly misguided. They raise multiple constitutional challenges to the Disaster Act, but none is properly before this Court because the Disaster Act delegates no power to the Secretary. And in any event, the Governor’s discretion and authority under the Disaster Act are cabined by reasonable standards, so it is a lawful delegation of legislative power, and the July 27 Proclamation is a proper exercise of that delegated power.

Relators waited two months to file this mandamus petition, yet they ask this Court to “alter the election rules on the eve of an election.” Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., 140 S. Ct. 1205, 1207 (2020). They are not entitled to relief.

Well, now we know where Ken Paxton’s line in the sand is: He’ll value the Governor’s executive power over a challenge to voting rights. Well, he’ll value this Governor’s executive power over a challenge to this Governor’s use of that executive power to enhance voting rights. Good enough for these purposes, I suppose.

Other court documents related to this writ are here. There are now documents available relating to the latest Harris County writ as well, which you can find here. Responses to that are due today at 4 PM. Have I mentioned lately that I will be happy to ease up on all the legal blogging? Please get me past this election, that’s all I ask.

Hotze and crew appeal to SCOTX to stop the extra week of early voting

Here we go again.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is facing a lawsuit over his extension of early voting for the November election from prominent members of his own party — including state party Chairman Allen West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and members of the Texas Legislature.

In July, Abbott added six days to the early voting period, moving the start date up to Oct. 13 from Oct. 19, citing the coronavirus pandemic. In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday with the state Supreme Court, Abbott’s intra-party critics say the move defied election law that requires early voting to start on the 17th day before the election.

It is the latest legal challenge to Abbott’s emergency powers, which he has wielded aggressively in dealing with the pandemic.

“Governor Abbott seems to have forgotten that the Texas Constitution is not a document that he consults at his convenience,” Jared Woodfill, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “It is an uninterrupted charter of governmental structure that limits the Governor Abbott’s ability to act as a king.”

The plaintiffs argue Abbott needs to consult the Legislature before making such decisions and that “if ever a special session was justified, now is the time.”

One of the plaintiffs is Steve Hotze, the Houston conservative activist who has launched several lawsuits against Abbott’s coronavirus response that has seen minimal success so far. But in the latest lawsuit, he is joined by not only West and Miller, but also three state senators and four state representatives, as well as the chairman of the Harris County party, Keith Nielsen, and the Republican National Committeeman from Texas, Robin Armstrong.

West, who took over the state party this summer, has openly expressed disagreement with aspects of Abbott’s coronavirus handling, including his statewide mask mandate and the early voting extension. West seemed to telegraph the lawsuit Tuesday, saying in a statement that he would be partnering with Hotze to make election integrity a “top priority.” West said in the same statement that he opposes the “extension of early voting through the decree of a single executive instead of through the legislative process.”

[…]

In addition to making the early voting period longer for the November election, Abbott gave voters more time to turn in their mail-in ballots in person if they choose to do so. Usually those voters are permitted to submit their ballots to the early voting clerk’s office in person instead of mailing them in — but only while polls are open on Election Day. Abbott’s expanded that option to the entire early voting period.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday additionally seeks to stop the extended period for submitting mail ballots in person, also calling the move inconsistent with the election code.

Before we go on, I should note that what was filed was not a lawsuit but a writ of mandamus. Hotze and a smaller crew of jackals had already filed a lawsuit in Travis County district court about a month ago. I presume this writ was filed because they weren’t going to get a ruling in time, and everything is an emergency as far as Hotze is concerned.

The Chron adds some detail.

In the 40-page petition filed Wednesday, the Republicans wrote that the extension was unlawful because the Texas Election Code defines the early voting periods as “the 17th day before election day … through the fourth day before election day,” and the time for in-person submission of mail-in ballots as “only while the polls are open on election day.” The petition seeks to force Secretary of State Ruth Hughs to stick to the timelines in the law.

Hotze has filed a number of lawsuits aimed at Abbott’s COVID-19 emergency orders; in the early voting suit, he again alleges that Abbott does not have the authority, even during a disaster, to suspend laws through executive order. Instead, he says, Abbott should have convened the Legislature.

“If ever a special session was justified, now is the time,” the petition states. “Abbott’s Executive Orders are unprecedented and have had life and death implications, destroyed small businesses and family’s livelihoods, have had a crippling effect on every single community, and now have the ability to impact local, state and national elections. As long as this Court allows it to occur, one person will continue to unilaterally make these decisions under the guise of an unconstitutional statute.”

The lawmakers involved in the suit are state Sens. Charles Perry, Donna Campbell and Pat Fallon and state Reps. Bill Zedler, Cecil Bell, Jr., Steve Toth and Dan Flynn. Additional relators include former state Reps. Matt Rinaldi, Rick Green and Molly White; Harris County Republican Party Chair Keith Nielson; and several other candidates and Republican group leaders.

This story notes the earlier lawsuit. Of interest is the larger group of legislators that have joined in, which distinguishes this action from earlier Hotze/Woodfill joints. Perhaps the election of Allen West, who is as bananas as Hotze, has lent an imprimatur of establishment approval to this kind of rogue action. That said, this is the Hotze clown car we’re talking about, so of course there’s some unintentional comedy involved:

Never stop never stopping, Stevie.

Anyway. You know my opinion on all this – there are some legitimate questions buried under the mountains of palaver, but they are being asked by the worst possible people. I think there’s a strong case to be made that the very nature of our biennial legislature, which is not paid as an occupation but as a temp gig, makes this claim about calling special sessions impossible. It’s just not something that the system is designed to accommodate. My guess is that SCOTX will give this the same reception as they’ve given all of Hotze’s other writs and motions during the COVID times, but you just never know. And I can’t wait to see how Ken Paxton responds to this.

On a side note, this comes as Steve Toth, yet another froth-at-the-mouth type, officially announced that he is unfriending Abbott, which by itself isn’t that interesting but lends some fuel to the speculation that Abbott is going to get a challenger from the far wingnut right in 2022. All I can say to that is that we damn well better have a good candidate ready and waiting for whoever survives that mud fight.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 2

Let’s move on to finance reports from the State House, which I will break up into two parts. Today’s look is on the various races in the greater Houston area, and after that I’ll look at the other races of interest from around the state. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races is here. January reports for Harris County State House races are here, January reports for other area State House races are here.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Cecil Bell, HD03

Lorena McGill, HD15
Steve Toth, HD15

Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Mayes Middleton, HD23

Brian Rogers, HD24
Greg Bonnen, HD24

Patrick Henry, HD25
Cody Vasut, HD25

Sarah DeMerchant, HD26
Matt Morgan, HD26

Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Gary Gates, HD28

Travis Boldt, HD29
Ed Thompson, HD29

Joe Cardenas, HD85
Phil Stephenson, HD85

Natali Hurtado, HD126
Sam Harless, HD126

Kayla Alix, HD129
Dennis Paul, HD129

Gina Calanni, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133
Jim Murphy, HD133

Ann Johnson, HD134
Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD03   Shupp              430         0          0         430
HD03   Bell             8,750    24,449     82,140      19,327

HD15   McGill          11,010    12,791          0       3,437
HD15   Toth            32,849    22,015          0      20,413

HD23   Antonelli        2,104         0          0       2,104
HD23   Middleton        9,782   271,170    500,000      87,325

HD24   Rogers             970         0          0       1,445
HD24   Bonnen          16,120    35,375    450,000     563,721

HD25   Henry            3,660     5,113          0       3,660
HD25   Vasut           48,486    68,549        100      28,176

HD26   DeMerchant      12,998     5,138        975       6,178
HD26   Morgan          25,702    44,030     29,615       3,998

HD28   Markowitz      287,618   243,837          0      48,119
HD28   Gates          497,620   632,891  1,736,100      58,549

HD29   Boldt           16,531     7,228          0      15,682
HD29   Thompson        59,521    72,807          0     412,652

HD85   Cardenas         9,298     4,542          0       1,800
HD85   Stephenson      20,243    40,447     29,791      34,720

HD126  Hurtado        121,203    30,604          0      66,783
HD126  Harless         28,914     2,965     20,000     124,052

HD129  Alix            33,836     3,868          0         898
HD129  Paul            38,885    17,665    156,000      46,752

HD132  Calanni         92,315    33,941          0      99,500
HD132  Schofield       63,290   134,658          0      53,016

HD133  Moore            4,025     2,352          0       3,862
HD133  Murphy          60,100    27,894          0     514,779

HD134  Johnson        267,651   110,996          0     193,642
HD134  Davis          133,245    98,848          0     169,966

HD135  Rosenthal      129,685    61,548          0      87,108
HD135  Ray             64,170    53,847          0      60,774

HD138  Bacy            76,135    38,924          0      48,944
HD138  Hull            25,638    49,438          0      20,518

The first thing to keep in mind is that the time period covered by these reports varies. Candidates who did not have a primary opponent did not have to file eight-day reports for March, so those lucky folks’ reports cover the entire six months from January 1 through June 30. Those who had a March primary and emerged victorious did have to file an eight-day report for March, so their reports cover February 23 through June 30. And those who had to endure the runoff election also had to file an eight-day report for that race as well, so their reports cover February 23 through July 6. Got it? Check the individual report links themselves if you’re not sure what applied for a given candidate.

For obvious reasons, candidates who had contested primaries and/or runoffs may have raised and spent more than someone who could have cruised through that period. Looking at these numbers, it’s not actually all that obvious who was running in a real race during this period and who wasn’t, but that was a factor. Also, remember that the runoff for the special election in HD28 was in January, so much of the fundraising and spending for Eliz Markowitz and Gary Gates includes that.

So with all that, a few things to note. Ed Thompson (HD29) and Jim Murphy (HD133) have clearly followed the well-trod path of multiple-term incumbents, building up a decent campaign treasury for the year when it may be needed. Remember how I once suggested that Jim Murphy could make sense as a candidate for Houston Mayor in 2023? The strategy of building up a campaign war chest while a member of the Legislature worked pretty well for Mayor Turner. I’m just saying. First term Democratic incumbents Jon Rosenthal and Gina Calanni, neither of whom were big fundraisers in their successful 2018 campaigns, have done all right for themselves so far. They’re not going to scare anyone off with their bank accounts, but they’re not starting from scratch, either.

Nobody in the hot races in HD26 or HD138 has a lot of money right now, but I don’t expect that to last. I figure the 30-day reports will tell more of the story there, and of course there will be a ton of PAC money at play. Eliz Markowitz will have a larger network of donors from her special election to tap into, but will be operating in a much more competitive environment, and as before will be running against a guy who prints his own money. Natali Hurtado has some catching up to do in HD126, but she’s off to a roaring start. No one in the lower-profile races has done anything to raise their profiles.

By the way, when you see a puzzling disparity between raised/spent and cash on hand, the answer is almost always because the amount raised includes a significant “in kind” share. Kayla Alix in HD129, for example, raised $33K, but $26K of it was an in-kind donation for office rental. It’s a real contribution, but it doesn’t manifest as cash on hand.

The two oddest reports to me are those belonging to Sarah Davis and Mayes Middleton. What in the world was Middleton, a first-term incumbent with no primary opponent, spending $271K on? About $78K on advertising, and at least that much on six or seven paid staff, in monthly installments. Why does he have so many people on monthly retainers? You’d have to ask him. As for Davis, I have no idea how it is that she doesn’t have $500K or so in the bank. She’s been an incumbent for as long as Murphy has (they both were elected in 2010; Murphy had served a term before that and was defeated in 2008 but came back the following cycle), her last serious Democratic challenger was in 2012 (Ann Johnson again), and like Murphy she represents a wealthy district with plenty of well-heeled constituents. I recognize that this is a tough cycle for her, by most reckoning one in which she is likely to lose, so I can understand how Johnson is outperforming her now. What I don’t understand is why she didn’t have more socked away for exactly this circumstance. Not complaining, you understand, just marveling.

Another lawsuit against Abbott over emergency orders

This one is a bit more serious due to the lack of Hotze and Woodfill, but it’s still not a great way to have the debate about this issue.

Five Republican Texas lawmakers are suing Gov. Greg Abbott over the state’s $295 million COVID-19 contact tracing contract to a small, little-known company, alleging the agreement is unconstitutional because it wasn’t competitively bid and because the funds should have been appropriated by the Legislature in a special session.

In the Travis Country district court suit filed Monday, State Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biederman, William Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall named as defendants Abbott, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company awarded the contract, the Frisco-based MTX Group.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have defended the contract. Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers are seeking a court order voiding the contract for lack of statutory authorization and deeming unconstitutional the governor’s application of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives him broad powers in the case of an emergency, in granting the contract.

“The Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature,” the lawsuit states. “These decisions are not changed by pandemics.”

Abbott has declined to convene a special session since March when the coronavirus pandemic began, instead leaning on his emergency powers to issue a series of sweeping executive orders governing what businesses can open, where people can gather in public, and mandating safety measures including wearing face coverings in public.

While the law has been used by governors for years, the time span of the coronavirus-related orders is unprecedented and raises questions about the durability of that legal justification.

As the story notes, the Supreme Court just rejected several Hotze lawsuits relating to executive emergency powers, saying he lacked standing. I don’t know if that is likely to be an issue in this case or not. I still agree with the basic premise that we need to have a robust debate about the parameters of the Texas Disaster Act, including when the Governor should be compelled to call a special session so that the Lege can be involved in the decision-making process. I also still think that this is a lousy way to have that debate, and while these five legislators have more gravitas than Hotze, that’s a low bar to clear. To put it another way, the anti-face mask and quarantine lobby still isn’t sending their best.

There’s no doubt that the contact tracng deal was a boondoggle, and I welcome all scrutiny on it. And I have to admit, as queasy as I am with settling these big questions about emergency powers by litigation, there isn’t much legislators can do on their own, given that they’re not in session and can’t be in session before January unless Abbott calls them into a session. I’m not sure what the right process for this should have been, given the speed and urgency of the crisis. The Lege very much needs to address these matters in the spring, but I’m leery of making any drastic changes to the status quo before then. In some ways, this is the best argument I’ve seen against our tradition of having a Legislature that only meets every two years. Some things just can’t wait, and we shouldn’t have to depend on the judgment of the Governor to fill in the gaps. I hope some of the brighter lights in our Legislature are thinking about all this. The Trib has more.

So how’s that reopening going?

Well, there’s more of it.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced his third phase Wednesday of reopening Texas businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing virtually all of them to operate at 50% capacity.

That is effective immediately, and there are “very limited exceptions,” Abbott’s office said.

Restaurants were already permitted to be open at 50% capacity. Abbott is allowing them to immediately increase their table size from six people to 10, and on June 12, they can ramp up their capacities to 75%.

Abbott’s latest order also brings news for professional and college sports that are played outdoors, letting the former shift from 25% capacity to 50% capacity at their stadiums and allowing the latter to resume for the first time, also at 50%.

“The people of Texas continue to prove that we can safely and responsibly open our state for business while containing COVID-19 and keeping our state safe,” Abbott said in a statement.

Sounds lovely. However:

The announcement came as the state sees record numbers of new daily cases of COVID-19. On Wednesday, the seven-day average for new daily cases hit 1,466, up from 1,280 in mid-May, a Houston Chronicle data analysis shows.

Abbott said nearly half of all new cases are isolated at jails and prisons, meatpacking plants and nursing homes, environments where he says outbreaks can be contained as the reopening progresses. The state has moved to increase testing at many of those locations, though testing as a whole remains stagnant, well below the governor’s goal of 30,000 tests per day. The state has averaged about 23,000 tests per day for the past three weeks.

Hospitalizations, another key measure, were down on Wednesday but have been rising steadily in the past week. They were still well below statewide capacity.

The state reported 23 COVID-19 deaths per day over the past week, down from nearly 40 in mid-May.

Abbott has said he would watch deaths and hospitalizations closely as he reopens the Texas economy.

Still, public health officials have said the state is at best plateauing, with new cases neither falling nor surging. And they have worried that the Memorial Day holiday and protests over police brutality, which have drawn tens of thousands to the street in major Texas cities, may also hasten the spread of the disease.

[…]

Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease expert at Baylor College, warned last month that the state is moving too quickly.

“I understand the importance of opening up the economy,” he told the Chronicle. “The worry I have is that we haven’t put in place a public health system — the testing, the contact tracing — that’s commensurate to sustain the economy.”

I’ll get to the contact tracing in a minute, but first let’s review that hospitalization metric, because it’s always been the one metric of four that the state has actually met. But it too is going in the wrong direction.

The state reported 1,487 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the lowest since April. But that figure did not include about 300 patients in the Houston area, who were omitted because of a software glitch, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which collects the totals and sends them to the state.

With those patients included, the number on Wednesday was likely around 1,800, just shy of the state’s peak in early May.

Hospitalization data are one of the key measures that Abbott has said he’s watching as he allows more of the state to reopen. Virtually all businesses in the state can now operate at 50 percent of their maximum occupancy, and late next week restaurants will be able to move to 75 percent.

Lori Upton, the advisory council’s vice president of disaster preparedness and response, said the state informed it on Wednesday that a nationwide software upgrade had caused the error, lowering the preliminary count. A correction will take time because the data has to be recounted manually, Upton said.

She said technical issues are not common.

The governor’s spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the governor knew about the inaccuracy. Abbott, a Republican, has repeatedly advised against using single-day data points, explaining that weekly averages better capture trends over time.

On Friday, the seven-day average was 1,729, the highest number since the state began publishing data on hospitalizations. It has been increasing since May 27.

[…]

Though hospitalizations are up, average daily hospital admissions have been flat or slightly down over the past week, according to state data compiled by the nonprofit Texas 2036. Lauren Ancel Myer, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, said that would be a positive indicator.

Myers said daily admissions in Central Texas, though, where her research is focused, have been up slightly in recent days.

“It would not be surprising at this point if we are beginning to see that the relaxation of social distancing measures, if that has actually increased the spread of the virus and has led to more patients needing hospital care,” she said.

So what happens if we do get close to the occupancy limits we have set? Well, maybe contact tracing can help with that. Oh, wait.

As Texas moves forward with a new phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan for reopening businesses, the state has fallen more than 25% short of its goal for a workforce of disease detectives that experts say are crucial for tracking the spread of the new coronavirus.

One of Abbott’s reopening metrics for June 1 called for up to 4,000 Texas contact tracers, who work to identify people with possible exposure to the coronavirus and call them to get tested and self-quarantine.

But Texas officials said Thursday there were roughly 2,900 contact tracers working around the state. Of those, some 1,140 are working for the Texas Department of State Health Services, 1,170 are working for local health departments or their nonprofit and university partners, and about 600 are working for a company recently hired by the state.

State officials downplayed the importance of meeting the initial goal despite the public health agency’s statements last month assuring that health departments were in a “phase of hiring that will get us up to 4,000 in the coming weeks.”

The 4,000-person figure was an estimate taken from a national association of public health officials that was determined by the state’s population, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen said.

“Texas has had significantly fewer cases per capita than the national average, and we want to match the number of contact tracers to the actual workload,” Van Deusen said in an email, adding that the state has enough personnel to contact all new cases in its jurisdiction.

But other groups have suggested that Texas needs a far higher number of contact tracers. One model from George Washington University put the number at more than 8,000.

And it turns out that the firm the state gave a $295 million contract to do contact tracing is sketchy.

More than a dozen Republican legislators are bucking Gov. Greg Abbott by calling for termination of a controversial $295 million coronavirus-related contract that was hastily awarded to a company whose CEO falsely claimed he had a Ph.D.

At least two top Democrats — including the party’s leader in the Texas House of Representatives — are also criticizing the deal with MTX Group Inc., saying the state needs to demonstrate the company is up to the vital job of tracking down people who have been exposed to COVID-19, or else it should pull the plug.

The bipartisan criticism comes as the agency that oversees the contract, the Texas Department of State Health Services, acknowledges that MTX “mistakenly uploaded” job training documents to its contact tracers that they were never supposed to get, a move some lawmakers say potentially raises privacy concerns.

Another potential privacy issue: MTX workers are using their own computers and personal email addresses, fueling worries — unwarranted worries, the state says — that private medical information about the people they investigate could be inadvertently divulged.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-Conroe, like many conservative Republicans, already had privacy concerns about COVID-19 contact tracing before MTX got the job. But he said when he learned that MTX CEO Das Nobel had falsely claimed on his online LinkedIn bio that he had a doctorate from Colorado Technical University, he moved into the end-this-now camp even as Abbott staunchly defends the emergency contract.

“Up until that point, I was like, OK, I’m not good with this, but let’s just chill and find out more,” Toth said. “That pushed me over the edge.”

I mean, look. The overall numbers are still fairly modest, and the hospitals have done well so far. Treatment has improved as we have learned more, so people are spending less time and need less intensive therapies in hospitals. It is true that a large percentage of infections are in limited locations, and the risks of various activities, mostly outdoor activities, is understood to be fairly small. My point is this: The state hasn’t met its own metrics, contact tracing is a mess, and as far as I can tell there’s no plan except “clap harder!” to deal with any significant upticks in the infection rate. If I felt better about there being a plan for if and when the curve started going up again, I’d have fewer complaints. I just don’t know what we are going to do if things do not get better but do get worse. I admit, maybe that won’t happen. But that kind of hope appears to be all we have right now. I’m worried about it because I don’t think our state leaders are worried enough about it, never mind the dumpster fire in Washington. So yeah, I’ll hope for the best. What else can I do right now?

More reopening

It’s going great so far, right?

“Grandpa, what did you do during the COVID crisis?” “I got a haircut – for FREEDOM.”

Gov. Greg Abbott will allow hair salons in Texas to reopen Friday and gyms on May 18, moving more quickly than expected to further restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The businesses will be required to follow certain rules, however, as the state continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus. For example, hair stylists will only be able to work with one customer at a time, while gyms can only reopen at 25% capacity, and their showers and locker rooms should remain closed for now.

Abbott announced the upcoming reopenings during a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Austin, four days after he let stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls reopen at 25% capacity. He had initially eyed May 18 as the next date to announce further reopenings, but in recent days he has faced growing pressure from some in his own party to move quicker.

Even as Abbott rolled out the additional reopenings, he braced Texans for “flare-ups in certain regions” and said the state has assembled “surge response teams” to dispatch to such problem areas.

After discussing barbershops and gyms, Abbott said state officials also want to reopen another type of business — bars — but are still figuring out how to do so safely. He said he wants feedback from bar owners, given that “not all bars are the same,” particularly when it comes to size.

The Friday reopenings, Abbott said, apply to “cosmetology salons, barbershops, hair salons, nail salons and tanning salons.” In addition to limiting stylists to one customer at a time, Abbott recommended salons use an appointment system only, and if they accept walk-ins, those customers should only wait inside if they can practice social distancing. Stylist stations should also be 6 feet apart, and Abbott said he “strongly” recommends stylists and customers wear masks.

When it comes to gyms, in addition to limiting capacity and keeping locker rooms closed, Abbott said all equipment must be disinfected after each use. Customers should wear gloves that cover their entire hands, including the fingers. Customers should maintain social distancing. And if customers bring their own equipment into the gym, such as a yoga mat, it must be disinfected before and after each use.

[…]

After the news conference, Democrats said Abbott was moving too quickly to further open up the economy, especially so soon after the initial reopenings.

“I thought we were waiting to see if the first round of re-opening caused COVID-19 spikes before making decisions on additional openings?” tweeted state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s been four days.”

Look, Steve Toth and Briscoe Cain’s hairs weren’t going to cut themselves. Desperate times call for desperate measures, you know.

Look, I need a haircut, too. I’m sure my beloved stylist (the girls and I go to Venus Hair in the Heights; Miss Venus has cut their hair since they were little) has been hurting and will be delighted to see me, and I feel reasonably sure she’ll do what she can to sanitize the place. I’m still not sure I’m quite ready for it, though. As for gyms, I don’t go to those but I have done a twice-weekly pilates class at a small home-based studio in the neighborhood, and I’m sure they will be eager to get up and running again, too. We already wiped down the equipment after use, now we’ll do it before as well and will be even more thorough about it. We’ll also be in a small space (a converted garage), and I don’t know how I feel about that. I hate that this is hurting small business owners like these folks. I also had pneumonia in 2007 and have no desire to put myself at risk for a nasty respiratory virus.

If we had a functional federal government that had used the lead time we had to get a scaled-up test and trace regimen in place, we wouldn’t be in this position now. If we didn’t have public officials and society page dilettantes and various armed lunatics out there denying reality and putting everyone’s health and safety at risk, maybe we could have a more honest conversation about balancing risk with people’s ability to earn a living. If we weren’t coming off the worst week for infections and deaths in the state, maybe we could feel a bit more secure. I mean, seriously:

The number of new reported COVID-19 cases and deaths last week was the largest since the pandemic began, suggesting that infections remain pervasive and much is still unknown about the size and scale of the Texas outbreak.

The state reported more than 7,000 new cases and 221 deaths, an increase of 24 percent and 33 percent over the previous week, respectively, a Hearst Newspapers analysis shows.

At the same time, as testing expands, the percentage of Texans who test positive for the disease has fallen to its lowest levels in over a month — a point that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has turned to recently as a sign of progress.

The data tracks closely with national trends, and has some health experts worried as states including Texas move to reopen their economies.

“We’re opening against a backdrop of a lot of spread,” Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Donald Trump, tweeted Monday. “Unless there’s a strong seasonal effect and summer slows transmission more than expected, we should expect cases to grow.”

You know who else expects cases to grow? Greg Abbott, that’s who. Please tell me again why we couldn’t have waited at least until we actually got the number of daily tests being administered up to the goal level he set before we did this? You can send a strike force to Amarillo if you want – you should also be prepared to send one to Palestine, too – but what exactly are they going to do to make this better?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

It’s all about the tape

You want to hear the recording of that conversation between Speaker Dennis Bonnen and MQS in which Bonnen supposedly trashed a bunch of Republican legislators? You can’t hear it unless MQS wants you to.

Found on the Twitters

For the past week, Texas Republicans, Democrats and even Speaker Dennis Bonnen have called for the full release of audio that allegedly captures him attacking members of his party and making crude remarks about House colleagues.

But now some of those who listened to the audio are calling for the full recordings to be withheld from the public.

The fear? Mutually assured destruction.

“Any representative calling for this to be released in its unredacted, unedited form hasn’t heard it, because if you had heard it you wouldn’t want it to be released,” said Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, who listened to the recordings last week.

Toth is among at least a half dozen people who say they’ve listened to the full audio of a conversation captured by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan. He has roiled the state Capitol with accusations that Bonnen and House GOP Caucus chairman Dustin Burrows asked Sullivan to target a list of 10 Republican legislators ahead of next March’s primary.

Six people who say they listened to the audio have confirmed Sullivan’s side of the story, despite Bonnen saying publicly that Sullivan is lying. Sullivan last week began allowing Republican lawmakers, party leaders and conservative activists listen to the audio in the presence of his lawyer.

[…]

The list of supposed Republican targets includes Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Steve Allison of San Antonio, Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Kyle Kacal and John Raney of College Station, Stan Lambert of Abilene, and Phil Stephenson of Wharton.

From that list, Parker and Clardy have told news outlets they have listened to the recording, but it’s unclear how many others have listened to it. Parker declined further comment to the insider newsletter Quorum Report. Clardy called the comments on the recording “repugnant” and said it was “the most disappointing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Sullivan has denied Democrats a chance to listen to the audio, even those who he says were mentioned by name. He has also denied requests from news outlets to hear the recording.

See here for the previous update. Democrats of course want the full recording to be released, as do some Republicans, but MQS is gonna do what MQS is gonna do, and as long as only a select few get to hear it, it keeps his name squarely in the news. What more could an egotist like him want? All I know is I haven’t run out of popcorn yet.

Your daily Bonnen-MQS update

I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round…

Found on the Twitters

After a week of denying that he asked an arch-conservative to target 10 fellow Republicans in the next primary election, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen challenged Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan to release a secretly-recorded audio of their meeting.

But three House members who have reportedly listened to the recording said the speaker is not being truthful about the alleged list of GOP targets, rocking the Texas Republican party as it prepares for its most challenging election cycle in decades.

“It’s pretty shocking. I’ll be honest with you. It is,” said Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. “There’s just frankly vomiting of the mouth, if you will, by these individuals and you can’t help but just kinda cringe by some of the stuff I heard … It’s beneath the office, for sure.”

Stickland, a darling of Empower Texans who is not running for re-election, said Bonnen offered media credentials to Sullivan during their June 12 conversation. Stickland said he heard on the audio that Bonnen then sweetened the deal by offering to deny media credentials to political reporter Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report. The credentials give journalists access to the floor of the Texas House when the Legislature is in session, and provide better access to lawmakers for interviews and follow-up questions.

[…]

Two other Republican lawmakers who have heard the audio have offered fewer details about what they heard, although Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, confirmed the audio reveals that Burrows gave Sullivan the names of members who could be challenged in their primary elections without repercussion.

Clardy, who is on the list, said there are things on the recording that will be hurtful to some members, but each representative will have to determine for themselves “what it means and how to take it and whether they will be able to move past it.”

For his part, Clardy said he has already moved past it and wants to talk to Bonnen and Burrows, who he has yet to speak with to since news of the meeting broke last week.

See here, here, and here for the background. Let’s hear from Scott Braddock about this:

Here’s Ross Ramsey:

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen isn’t cooked, yet — but the water is boiling.

The compact between a speaker and the members of the Texas House who elect him goes like this: Protect the members from the outside world (and from fratricidal colleagues), and in return, you get the title, the fancy corner office, the apartment in the state Capitol, and the gavel and the dais when the Legislature is in session.

Protection for power. It’s not a complicated transaction.

And the threat to that compact is why Bonnen is facing a crisis seven months after winning the job. Accused of selling out 10 of his fellow Republicans to a political operative, he’s now pitting his word with that activist threatening to make public a recording of their conversation.

[…]

As more members hear the recording — assuming they’re hearing a clean and complete rendition — they’ll compare that to what Bonnen has been telling them for the last week. If the stories don’t match, the speaker — this is the gentlest way of putting it — will have to explain the discrepancies.

In a trust-based relationship between a leader and the followers who elected him, that’s perilous.

A speaker who doesn’t have the trust of his own members isn’t in a secure spot. And one caught working directly against those members is cooked.

Plus two more Trib stories. Never let it be said that MQS doesn’t know how to get his name in the papers.

It is certainly possible that Bonnen, normally a pretty astute fellow, was dumb enough to talk to MQS and say these things he supposedly said. I don’t know why he’d do that, I don’t see what was in it for him, but maybe he was just saying the quiet parts out loud and forgot that he was dealing with a fundamentally dishonest broker. That’s the real key here, that no one with any integrity of their own should ever believe a word MQS says. If he’s got the goods on Bonnen, then put that recording out on the Internet for all of us to hear. I don’t care one way or the other what happens to Bonnen, but to me this is analogous to all of those “sting” tapes that grifters like James O’Keefe have put out over the years, supposedly showing people they don’t like saying or doing horrible things. Except that at a closer look, the whole thing falls apart, as the tape in question was heavily and dishonestly edited to make the sting subject look bad. I wouldn’t put that past MQS at all, but again, the answer here is simple. He says he’s got the goods. Let the rest of us hear it for ourselves. If MQS himself doesn’t also want that, we should wonder why.

Meanwhile, in Montgomery County

There they go again.

The Republican primary defeat of embattled Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal — and close contests in two county commissioner races headed for runoffs — could signal major leadership changes and a shift further to the right in the fast-growing Houston suburb.

State Rep. Mark Keough, who defeated Doyal, was among several candidates favored by the county’s influential tea party movement — and like-minded statewide groups — who fared well Tuesday. Others in this cohort include Steve Toth, who overwhelmingly won the Republican nomination for the legislative seat that Keough is vacating, and Greg Parker, who got 43 percent of the vote in a three-person race and forced County Commissioner Charlie Riley, with 43.5 percent, into a primary runoff.

Toth and Parker have staked out positions aligned with the most far-right elements of their party. Parker’s campaign website says he wrote a book described as “a critical look at the myth and liberal hysteria surrounding climate change.” Toth, who was instrumental in the formation of the county’s tea party movement, has advocated eliminating property appraisal districts and freezing appraisals at the purchase price of a home.

[…]

Political observers agreed that toll roads emerged as a dominant issue in the county, where tea party groups carry a lot of clout, particularly in The Woodlands. Texas lawmakers have gone from championing to criticizing toll roads, a shift that some Houston-area leaders worry has gone too far and could limit coming projects.

“Without toll roads and that funding, I don’t know what we are going to do,” Doyal said late last year, citing the need for new roadways in rapidly growing parts of the Houston area.

Keough took a hard stance against toll roads.

“I think toll roads are another form of taxation,” Keough said last December. “I’m out on toll roads. Toll roads are about a bigger issue; it’s about big government.”

Doyal was embattled for a reason, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. I figure as long as the developers are able to keep building things life will go on more or less as normal up there. I mean, at some point they’re going to need to come up with a politically acceptable way to pay for the roads they want to build, but that’s their problem.

I confess, I don’t quite get the diatribe against toll roads. The whole idea with toll roads is that you only pay for them if you use them. Everyone pays gas taxes, whether they use the roads that get built with them or not. Which is fine by me, of course, but I’m one of those big-gubmint-loving-liberal types. If gas taxes, floating bonds, and toll roads are all off the table, what’s left? Perhaps Montgomery County will show us.

(Just a reminder, there is a choice if you think all of this is messed up.)

2016 primaries: Congress

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

The big story here is that Rep. Gene Green not only survived, but won big. He was up 65% to 32% in early voting, a margin of about 4,000 votes; in the end he won by about 58-38, for a margin of about 5,000 votes. I had a hard time getting a feel for this race. Green was on TV a lot, but I saw more people than I might have expected expressing support for Garcia on Facebook. Garcia homed in on some issues for which Green might have been vulnerable, and as I said before, he ran the campaign I’d have had him run if I’d have been running his campaign. In the end, people weren’t ready to fire Gene Green. I doubt he faces any more serious challengers between now and whenever he decides to hang ’em up. The Press has more.

The only other Democratic Congressional primary of interest was in CD15, where Rep. Ruben Hinojosa declined to run for re-election. Vicente Gonzalez and Dolly Elizondo were leading the pack, with Gonzalez over 40% and Elizondo at 25%. As noted before, Elizondo would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas if she won, but she has a lot of ground to make up in the runoff if she wants to get there.

On the Republican side, multiple incumbents faced challengers of varying levels of crazy. The only one who appeared to be threatened as of when I turned it was Rep. Kevin Brady in CD08, who eventually made it above the 50% mark against three challengers, the leader of whom was former State Rep. (and loony bird) Steve Toth. That would have been one butt-ugly runoff if it had come to that, but it won’t. Reps. John Culberson and Blake Farenthold were winning but with less than 60%. No one else was in a close race.

The one Republican open seat was in CD19, where the three top contenders were Jody Arrington, Glen Robertson, and Michael Bob Starr. Of the latter, John Wright noted the following for the Observer before the results began to come in (scroll down a ways to see):

Finally, in West Texas’ Congressional District 19, retired Col. Michael Bob Starr has come under fire from other GOP candidates for participating in LGBT Pride runs when he served as a commander at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. If Starr wins, one of the nation’s most conservative districts would be represented by someone who is arguably moderate on LGBT issues, and the outcome could serve as a barometer of where the movement stands.

Starr was running third when last I checked, but he was behind the leader by fewer than 2,000 votes, so the situation was fluid. That said, as interesting as a Starr victory would be, he’d have to survive a runoff first, and I’d be mighty pessimistic about that. But we’ll see.

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

SD04: Creighton defeats Toth

I went to bed before the final wrapup stories were written, but trust me, Rep. Brandon Creighton is now Sen. Brandon Creighton.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

In early returns in the race to succeed Sen. Tommy Williams, state Rep. Brandon Creighton was ahead of his opponent, Rep. Steve Toth,

Creighton, R-Conroe, was outpacing Toth, R-The Woodlands, for the District 4 Senate seat. It had been held by Williams for a decade before he resigned last year to become vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

Both candidates vying to replace him acknowledged the difficulty in luring voters to the polls for only a single race between two candidates, especially on a weekday in the summer. Creighton said this was the fourth time that a special election was held for a single Senate seat and the first time for a race between two Republican candidates.

[…]

[Creighton] will assume the Senate seat to complete Williams’ unexpired term through 2016.

Here are the vote totals. Creighton, who had led 45-24 after Round One, and he garnered the Chron endorsement for the runoff, was up big in early voting and cruised from there. About two thirds of the vote was cast early, so add that to your database of early voting behavior from this oddball summer special election runoff with a miniscule voter universe. In this case, form held as the candidate with the most initial support and by far the most money won easily. So congratulations to Sen.-elect Brandon Creighton. May you be a better and more constructive Senator than you were a member of the House.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Creighton

Hey, did you know that there’s an election coming up? It’s the special election runoff for SD04 to succeed Tommy Williams and it features the ghastly Rep. Steve Toth and the slightly less ghastly Rep. Brandon Creighton. The Chron, who had endorsed third-place finisher Gordy Bunch back in April, now chooses the lesser evil of Creighton in the runoff.

Rep. Brandon Creighton

To understand the difference between the two candidates seeking to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams in state Senate District 4, look at their reactions to the surge of Central American children crossing our border. For state Rep. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, it is a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” For state Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands, it is a “full-blown invasion.”

Both men have sterling conservative credentials, but Creighton doesn’t have to tarnish children to prove his. In the runoff for the SD-4 special election, Creighton deserves voters’ support.

[…]

Creighton isn’t always the most impressive candidate, but we’ve seen him work well behind the scenes, particularly during fights last session over the state’s water funding. On the campaign trail, he’s pushed for local law enforcement to bolster Department of Public Safety efforts along the border while avoiding counterproductive fear-mongering.

In contrast, Toth spreads conspiracy theories about disease outbreaks and advocates for Montgomery County to reject temporary housing for any of the children who have made it to our border. You would expect more compassion from a former pastor.

“Sterling” isn’t perhaps the word I would have used in paragraph 2, but I will concede there’s a matter of perspective involved. As for Toth, given the state of what Fred Clark calls “white evangelical Christianity” today, I actually would not expect any more compassion from a “pastor” like him. I can think of quite a few other “pastors” right here in the Houston area with an equal lack of compassion, and I’m sure the Chron’s editorial board could as well if they put their minds to it. Be that as it may, I agree that Creighton is the less distasteful choice. Too bad we can’t do any better than that. Runoff Day is August 5, if you’re keeping score at home, with early voting set to start next week. Let’s see how many votes are needed to send one of these two to the upper chamber.

SD04 special election results

It’s Creighton versus Toth in the runoff, as expected.

Preliminary voting results show that Montgomery County state representatives Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will face off in a June runoff for the District 4 seat. Creighton earned about 45 percent of the vote, while Toth received nearly 24 percent. Businessman Gordy Bunch took 22 percent of the vote, according to the Secretary of State website.

“We’re excited,” said Toth, a freshman tea party favorite. “This is how we thought this was going to turn out. The people of Senate District 4 want to continue this conversation.”

Creighton, who has held his current office for four terms, could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

The victor will take the place of former Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who unexpectedly resigned last October after a decade representing the district.

Experts had predicted that Creighton and Toth would be the front-runners to represent the right-leaning district, which represents nearly 816,000 residents spanning Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties.

The fourth contender for the seat was former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998.

Here are the results. Toth actually trailed Bunch by 65 votes after Early Voting but wound up ahead of him by 531. Creighton ought to be the heavy favorite in the runoff, but in low-turnout elections you can never be sure. Neither Creighton nor Toth is on the ballot for their State House seats, so the loser will stay home next year.

Early voting for SD04 special election begins today

Go make the best of the bad choices being offered.

SD04EVLocations

Early voting begins Monday in a special election to fill the seat vacated last year by former state Sen. Tommy Williams.

The Woodlands Republican left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

The following month, Gov. Rick Perry issued a proclamation scheduling a special election for May 10 to determine the next state senator for District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 6.

[…]

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bunch is the Chron-endorsed candidate, if that matters to you. From the County Clerk’s office, here’s more about the election and the early voting locations:

“Over 84,000 registered voters in Harris County are eligible to participate in the May 10, 2014 Special Election in State Senate District 4,” informed Stan Stanart, Harris County Clerk. Stanart, the chief election officer of the county, urges these voters to take advantage of the Early Voting Period which begins on April 28 for the Special Election. The Special Election is being held to fill a vacancy that was created at the end of last year.

“Harris County registered voters constitute about 18% of the almost half a million registered voters in State Senate District 4,” added Stanart. “Eligible voters may vote at any of the five early voting locations until May 6, the last day to vote early.”

Early voting locations for the May 10, 2014 Special Election to fill a vacancy in State Senate District 4 for voters in Harris County include:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 1st Floor, 77002 2. Far North: Champion Life Centre, 3031 FM 2920 Road, Spring, TX 77388 3. Humble: Octavia Fields Branch Library, 1503 South Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77338 4. Kingwood: Kingwood Branch Library, 4400 Bens View Lane, Kingwood, TX 77345 5. Crosby: Crosby ISD Administration Building, 706 Runneburg Road, Crosby, TX 77532

State Senate District 4 comprises part of North and Northeast Harris County, including 37% of Atascocita, 2% of Baytown, 100% of Crosby, 3% of Houston, 2% of Humble, 3% of The Woodlands and 1% of the unincorporated county. The District’s lines run through Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.

“Registered voters in Harris County have constituted 20% of the total vote in recent State Senate District 4 elections, playing a significant role in determining the outcome,” asserted Stanart. Overall, 32 of the district’s 232 voting precincts are within Harris County.

Aside from the State Senate District 4 Special Election, there are a number of elections being conducted on May 10 by School Districts, Emergency Service Districts, Municipal Utility Districts, and other political entities across Harris County. “We have populated our May 10 Election Day location lookup on www.HarrisVotes.com with as much voting information as we could find regarding these elections,” concluded Stanart. “Even though these elections are not being administered by Harris County, it is important that we make an effort to assist voters in these political entities.”

For more election information, including the list of acceptable forms of Photo ID that can be presented to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Interestingly, three of the five EV locations for SD06 aren’t actually in SD04, though two of them are just outside the boundaries. I assume turnout for this election will be low, and turnout for the inevitable runoff will be lower.

Today is also the last day to register for the primary runoffs if you haven’t done so already. From Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan’s press release:

Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan reminds residents that April 28, 2014 is the last day to register to vote in the May 27, 2014 Primary Run-Off Election.

“The Primary Run-Off Election is a month away, which means the deadline to register to vote is approaching,” said Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan. “I strongly encourage everyone who is not registered to vote to do so by the April 28, 2014 deadline.”

State law requires citizens to be registered to vote 30 days prior to the election date. Residents can visit the Tax Assessor-Collector’s (TAC) Office website at www.hcvoter.net to learn how to register to vote, update their address and make name changes.

Qualifications to Register to Vote:

  • You are a United States citizen and a resident of Harris County; and,
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old to register (to vote, you must be 18); and,
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and,
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Voter registration applications can be submitted to any TAC office branch location before 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28th or mailed with a U.S. Postal Service postmark date of no later than April 28, 2014. For more information, please call 713-368-VOTE (8683) or email [email protected]

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan also serves as the Harris County Voter Registrar, which conducts voter registration activities and maintains a certified list of registered voters. Learn more by visiting www.hcvoter.net.

As of when I wrote this, information about early voting for the May 27 primary runoff was not available on the Clerk’s website. I’m not sure if it’ll be seven days of early voting or five days, but I guess we’ll find out, probably after May 10. In any event, I presume everyone reading this is already registered, but if you know someone who isn’t, tell them to get cracking on it.

Oh yeah, that other election

We’ve had the primary, and we’ll have the runoff in late May. In between, there’s the special election in SD04 to replace Tommy Williams.

Tommy Williams

Overshadowed by a heated primary season, a special election will be held on May 10 in Harris and four surrounding counties to determine the next state senator from District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins April 28 and ends May 6.

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: Former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Willliams, R-The Woodlands, left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as the vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

[…]

With four credible candidates, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said “a runoff is pretty much in the cards.”

A summertime election, guaranteed to have extremely low turnout, will benefit the candidate who voters believe is the most conservative, Rottinghaus said, an advantage he gives to Toth. The tea party favorite is known for unseating 10-year incumbent Republican Rob Eissler in 2012.

Although Creighton has a larger war chest and more experience in office, having won three House terms, Rottinghaus said some anti-establishment voters may be turned off by his caucus leadership position. That is because they may link him to House Speaker Joe Straus, who handily won his party nomination March 4 but frequently has to defend himself against charges he is too moderate.

Toth is seen as “kind of more an insurgent and, perhaps, more conservative than Creighton,” Rottinghaus said. “We are splitting hairs here, though, because I think they’re both probably equally conservative.”

[Rice PoliSci professor Mark] Jones, who has analyzed Toth’s and Creighton’s voting histories from the 2013 legislative session, said the two fell side-by-side on his ranking, which placed both of them solidly among the two dozen most conservative Republicans in the House.

While describing the race as “evenly matched” between the two men, who voluntarily resigned their House seats after entering the race, Jones gives the advantage to Creighton because of his money, more than $1 million, and experience.

Here are the January finance reports for each candidate:

Toth – $123K on hand
Creighton – $1 million on hand
Galloway – Less than $1K on hand
Bunch – $274K on hand, including $250K loan

They will have to file 30 day and 8 day reports as well.

As far as the race itself goes, it’s a measure of how degraded Republican politics have become that a person like me finds himself mourning the loss of a guy like Tommy Williams. Williams used to occupy a comfortable space on the right-hand end of the conservative spectrum, but his performance as Senate Finance Committee Chair showed him to be generally sane. When one considers that the top candidates to replace him are the secession sympathizer Creighton and the troglodyte Toth, one begins to see the appeal. Given that I know nothing about Galloway and Bunch, I’d probably have a slight preference for Creighton as the marginally less offensive alternative, but honestly it’s like being asked to pick my favorite Kardashian. Any way you look at it, you lose. I hope to live long enough to see the day when elections between Republicans can be about issues and solutions and not just a grunting contest among trolls, but that day isn’t here yet.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County legislative candidates

BagOfMoney

This could take awhile, and that’s with me limiting myself to contested races. First, the Senate.

SD04
Brandon Creighton
Steven Toth

SD07
Paul Bettencourt
James Wilson
Jim Davis

SD15
John Whitmire
Damian LaCroix
Ron Hale

SD17
Joan Huffman
Derek Anthony
Rita Lucido

Here’s a summary chart. For the record, Davis, Whitmire, LaCroix, and Lucido are all Dems, the rest are Rs.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Creighton SD04 296,267 205,591 1,002,464 Toth SD04 107,752 48,048 123,116 Bettencourt SD07 140,100 55,873 103,041 Wilson SD07 7,675 5,129 3,224 Davis SD07 1,250 1,250 0 Whitmire SD15 298,874 148,973 6,978,885 LaCroix SD15 16,329 33,866 0 Hale SD15 123 1,441 123 Huffman SD17 136,600 91,142 701,583 Anthony SD17 0 0 0 Lucido SD17 41,625 10,489 29,829

Technically, SD04 is not on the ballot. It’s now a vacant seat due to the resignation in October of Tommy Williams, and the special election to fill it has not been set yet; I presume it will be in May. Reps. Creighton and Toth aren’t the only announced candidates, but they both have the right amount of crazy, and at least in Creighton’s case plenty of money as well. It’s a statement on how far our politics have gone that I find myself sorry to see Tommy Williams depart. He was awful in many ways, but as the last session demonstrated, when push came to shove he was fairly well grounded in reality, and he did a more than creditable job as Senate Finance Chair. I have no real hope for either Creighton or Toth to meet that standard, and the Senate will get that much stupider in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt can go ahead and start measuring the drapes in Dan Patrick’s office. I honestly hadn’t even realized he had a primary opponent till I started doing this post. The only questions is in what ways will he be different than Patrick as Senator. Every once in awhile, Patrick landed on the right side of an issue, and as his tenure as Public Ed chair demonstrated, he was capable of playing well with others and doing collaborative work when he put his mind to it. Doesn’t come remotely close to balancing the scales on him, but one takes what one can. Bettencourt is a smart guy, and based on my own encounters with him he’s personable enough to fit in well in the Senate, likely better than Patrick ever did. If he has it in mind to serve the public and not just a seething little slice of it, he could do some good. The bar I’m setting is basically lying on the ground, and there’s a good chance he’ll fail to clear it. But there is some potential there. It’s all up to him.

I don’t have anything new to add to the SD15 Democratic primary race. I just don’t see anything to suggest that the dynamic of the race has changed.

I hadn’t realized Joan Huffman had a primary challenger until I started this post. Doesn’t look like she has much to worry about. I’m very interested to see how Rita Lucido does with fundraising. Senators don’t usually draw serious November challengers. The district is drawn to be solidly Republican, but Lucido is the first opponent Huffman has had since the 2008 special election runoff. I’m very curious to see if Lucido can at least begin to close the gap.

On to the House:

HD129
Sheryl Berg
Briscoe Cain
Mary Huls
Jeffrey Larson
Chuck Maricle
Dennis Paul
Brent Perry
John Gay

HD131
Alma Allen
Azuwuike Okorafor

HD132
Michael Franks
Ann Hodge
Justin Perryman
Mike Schofield
Luis Lopez

HD133
Jim Murphy
Laura Nicol

HD134
Sarah Davis
Bonnie Parker
Alison Ruff

HD135
Gary Elkins
Moiz Abbas

HD137
Gene Wu
Morad Fiki

HD138
Dwayne Bohac
Fred Vernon

HD144
Mary Ann Perez
Gilbert Pena

HD145
Carol Alvarado
Susan Delgado

HD148
Jessica Farrar
Chris Carmona

HD149
Hubert Vo
Al Hoang
Nghi Ho

HD150
Debbie Riddle
Tony Noun
Amy Perez

HDs 129 and 132 are open. Each has multiple Republicans, all listed first in alphabetical order; the Dem in each race is listed at the end. In all other districts the incumbent is first, followed by any primary opponents, then any November opponents. I will note at this point that the last time I mentioned HD129, I wrote that Democratic candidate John Gay appeared to me to be the same person that had run in CD14 in 2012 as a Republican, based on what I could and could not find on the Internet. Two Democrats in HD129 contacted me after that was published to assure me that I had gotten it wrong, that there were two completely different individuals named John Gay, and that the one running as a Dem in HD129 was truly a Democrat. While I was never able to speak to this John Gay myself to ascertain that with him – I left him two phone messages and never got a call back – other information I found based on what these folks told me convinced me they were right and I was mistaken. That post was corrected, but I’m pointing this out here for those of you who might not have seen that correction.

With that out of the way, here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Berg - R HD129 28,101 13,597 29,530 Cain - R HD129 17,246 9,614 4,131 Huls - R HD129 1,254 3,784 1,969 Larson - R HD129 325 1,130 4,226 Maricle - R HD129 3,520 30,207 879 Paul - R HD129 14,495 19,436 95,058 Perry - R HD129 51,297 19,100 52,687 Gay - D HD129 0 1,221 778 Allen - D HD131 8,877 13,662 21,573 Okorafor - D HD131 0 1,689 0 Franks - R HD132 0 4,604 43,396 Hodge - R HD132 51,330 19,741 41,925 Perryman - R HD132 26,550 7,178 30,788 Schofield - R HD132 43,665 15,449 45.454 Lopez - D HD132 Murphy - R HD133 102,828 44,004 184,174 Nicol - D HD133 2,380 750 1,640 Davis - R HD134 171,990 70,369 145,561 Parker - R HD134 0 10,213 10,161 Ruff - D HD134 0 750 0 Elkins - R HD135 28,150 17,136 331,672 Abbas - D HD135 0 0 0 Wu - D HD137 15,390 20,439 11,641 Fiki - R HD137 2,320 167 2,320 Bohac - R HD138 35,975 45,797 14,168 Vernon - D HD138 500 0 500 Perez - D HD144 18,400 23,705 34,386 Pena - R HD144 0 750 0 Alvarado - D HD145 51,915 6,585 54,035 Delgado - D HD145 0 750 0 Farrar - D HD148 37,771 6,739 75,861 Carmona - R HD148 325 883 2,442 Vo - D HD149 7,739 9,129 20,935 Hoang - R HD149 4,550 17,550 4,222 Ho - R HD149 4,198 1,211 3,736 Riddle - R HD150 23,200 15,327 61,809 Noun - R HD150 16,879 83,388 43,490 Perez - D HD150 3,139 452 116

I’m not going to go into much detail here. Several candidates, especially in the GOP primary in HD129, have loaned themselves money or are spending personal funds on campaign expenses. If you see a big disparity between cash on hand and the other totals, that’s usually why. I’m impressed by the amount Debbie Riddle’s primary challenger is spending, though I have no idea whether it will have an effect or not. I’m as impressed in the opposite direction by Bonnie Parker in HD134. Maybe she’s just getting warmed up, I don’t know. I figure her 8 day report will tell a more interesting story. What catches your eye among these names and numbers?

The party-switchers of Bexar County

Nice.

Carlo Key

A Bexar County judge elected during the “red tide” of 2010 is switching parties.

Standing at the foot of the Bexar County Courthouse steps, County Court-at-Law No. 11 Judge Carlo Key said Monday he is joining the Democratic Party and will seek reelection as a Democrat in November 2014.

“Make no mistake, I did not leave the Republican Party, it left me,” said Key, flanked by high-ranking Democrats. “My principles have led me to the Democratic Party, and my only hope is that more people of principle will follow me.”

While he’s been mulling the decision for several weeks, it was the recent federal government shutdown that caused Key to seriously consider switching parties.

[…]

A native of Marshall, Key, 38, was an attorney before he joined the wave of Republican judges who won seats in 2010, when all but one of the new county judges elected that year were Republicans. Key is a 2002 graduate of the Baylor Law School.

He has pitted himself against the law enforcement community by forbidding testimony that a horizontal gaze nystagmus test – in which an officer uses a pen or finger to track involuntary eye movements — indicates intoxication. This summer, Key learned he would face a challenger in the Republican primaries — Julie Wright, a prosecutor married to a police officer.

His announcement came just days after another Bexar County Republican left the party. Last week, Therese Huntzinger, 55, announced she will run for district attorney after recasting herself as a Democrat. Huntzinger, a criminal defense attorney who could face 15-year incumbent DA Susan Reed in the general election, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a district judge seat in 1998.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina said two other judges who attended a recent Democratic Party event could also make the switch in the near future, and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro said he expects more to follow Key and Huntzinger.

“The Republican Party is catering to such a narrow ideological base,” he said, “and many Texans are realizing that the Democratic Party is a better choice. The Texas Republican Party is going backward in respect to Latino issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

I tend to agree with Texpatriate that this says more about the state of the Bexar County GOP than it does about the state party. We’ve seen this movie before – it happened here in Harris County in the 90s as the GOP was taking over the judiciary, and in Dallas County after the 2006 Democratic wave. There’s already the usual rumblings on the R side about moving away from partisan elections of judges, which will only grow louder if Bexar and especially Harris have blue sweeps. You already now how I feel about that so I’ll spare you a rehash, I’ll just say again that there was no comparable level of angst during the red tide of the 90s, in Harris and elsewhere. I’ll stipulate that partisan judicial elections are not the optimal system, I’ll freely admit that some good judges are at risk of losing, I just don’t plan to feel sorry for anyone.

By the way, Judge Key has said that he didn’t make the switch for political advantage, but because he felt he “had” to do it. I don’t doubt his feelings about this, and frankly I hope there’s a lot more like him who feel that way, but I do think he’ll be better off as a Dem in Bexar County in 2014 and beyond. Consider it a nice alignment of the personal and the political.

Also of interest is the bit about the challenger to longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. This earlier story has some background on Therese Huntzinger.

In 1989, as a young prosecutor, she defied an order from then-DA Fred Rodriguez that she give up her pursuit of a witness-tampering indictment against one of Rodriguez’s friends and political sugar daddies. When Rodriguez responded by firing her, she filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against him and won a settlement from Bexar County.

Her dramatic fight against Rodriguez attracted the attention of “60 Minutes” and the Lifetime Network, which flirted with the idea of creating a movie about her life. The issue also helped Rodriguez’s 1990 challenger, Steve Hilbig, knock off the incumbent district attorney.

When Hilbig took office, he instantly made Huntzinger part of his prosecutorial team.

[…]

[DA Susan Reed] faced a serious general-election challenge in 2010 from well-funded defense attorney Nico LaHood, but a race against Huntzinger would present the brassy DA with a whole new set of messaging challenges.

For one thing, Reed wouldn’t be able to argue, as she did with LaHood, that Huntzinger lacks prosecutorial experience. Huntzinger has 13 years of work in the district attorney’s office on her résumé, in addition to 15 years as a defense lawyer.

More importantly, Reed will be unable to deflect criticism of her own record by making the election a referendum on her challenger, as she did in 2010, when she verbally pummeled LaHood over his 1994 bust for aggravated delivery of Ecstasy.

Huntzinger said her roots in the Democratic Party extend back to her grandfather, who was a union leader in the stockyards. But her whistle-blowing crusade against Rodriguez, a Democrat, and subsequent work in the office of Hilbig, a Republican, prompted local Republicans to draft her to run for district judge in 1998.

“I stepped out of my Democratic shoes for that race, I lost, and I’m fitting back into them,” Huntzinger said.

Huntzinger suggests that Texas would be better off with nonpartisan judicial and DA races but adds that she has determined in recent years that the Democratic Party is a “better fit” for her. Huntzinger is open about being a lesbian, and the GOP’s negative stance on same-sex relationships has surely been a factor in her break from the party.

Huntzinger contends that even some Republican loyalists are eager to see a change in the district attorney’s office.

“(Reed) believes that you’ve got to bring your toothbrush to the courtroom for every single case and expect to get hit with a hammer,” Huntzinger said. “Well, there’s more to prosecuting than that.”

That ought to be a race worth watching. In the meantime, I submit to you that regardless of what may be going on in Bexar County, this story is related to these two.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said on Monday he will run to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who announced his resignation earlier this month.

In a press release announcing his candidacy, Toth, a Tea Party conservative, emphasized the need for “conservative advocates” like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who will “go against the tide and stand for what is right no matter the consequences.”

“As Ted Cruz has courageously demonstrated, simply being a conservative vote is no longer enough,” Toth said.

We’re a ways away from seeing switches at anything but the urban county level, but the more tightly the GOP binds itself to Ted Cruz and his blinkered, unbending zealotry, the closer that day comes. A statement from the TDP is beneath the fold, and BOR, EoW, and PDiddie have more.

(more…)

Endorsement watch: Pennington

The Chron endorses CM Oliver Pennington for a third term.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

For the past four years, District G has been ably represented by attorney Oliver Pennington. We recommend a vote for Pennington to continue his service at city hall.

Pennington, a retired Fulbright & Jaworski partner and 40-year District G resident, brings decades of invaluable experience in municipal finance, municipal law and environmental law, as well as time spent representing local governments.

These are precisely the skills City Council will require as it faces issues such as city employee pension reform and ongoing issues related to water and drainage infrastructure.

In a third and final term, we would also encourage Pennington to be active in city efforts to manage the traffic congestion brought by the construction of numerous midrise apartment buildings across Inner Loop Houston.

This growth, while welcome, is threatening mobility on inner city thoroughfares, with consequences that extend to school and neighborhood safety as frustrated drivers seek cut-throughs to avoid delays on main routes.

I did not interview CM Pennington this time around, as my schedule was fuller and less accommodating this year. Here’s the interview I did in 2011 with him if you can’t bear the thought of not hearing me speak with him. I think CM Pennington has done a good job, and I’d vote for him if I lived in District G. One thing I appreciate about Pennington, and it’s something I appreciate more each day as we watch the ongoing train wreck in Congress and the already-nauseating Republican statewide primaries here is that he considers it his job to make things work better. He’s not there to tear things down, or obstruct for the sake of obstruction, or otherwise refuse to accept that not everyone sees the world as he does. He’s conservative and he operates as a conservative, but in the service of getting things done and making city government function effectively and efficiently. I wouldn’t want him to be Mayor, but people like him are needed on Council.

Another way to look at it, from my perspective anyway, is this: In any legislative body where people are elected from districts, any district map is going to include places where candidates that would represent my point of view are not going to get elected. The best outcome in those districts, especially in a legislative body where my kind of legislators are in the minority, is for those representatives to be more like Oliver Pennington and less like Ted Cruz. It’s not a matter of conservatism, at least for any definition of “conservatism” that makes sense, but of nihilism and radicalism. That point was driven home the other day as I read this Trib story about Sen. Tommy Williams, whose retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. Look at who is being mentioned as a possible successor:

Williams was on the conservative end of the spectrum when he came into the Senate, but the spectrum moved with the elections of senators like Brian Birdwell, Kelly Hancock and [Ken] Paxton. He could be replaced by someone whose politics are more like theirs than his. The line is already forming, sort of: Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, might give up his bid for agriculture commissioner and run for SD-4 instead; Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, is looking; Ben Streusand, a serial Republican candidate who doesn’t hold office, is also considering it.

Tommy Williams is hardly my ideal Senator, but for a guy who represents the district he does, we could do worse. And if the likes of Steve Toth or Ben Streusand get elected, we’ll see just how much worse. Toth has already demonstrated that after his ouster of Rob Eissler. As I said after Sen. Donna Campbell defeated Jeff Wentworth, it’s not about the Senate getting more conservative, it’s about the Senate getting more stupid, and more mean. We’ve seen the effect in Congress. We’re seeing it in the Lege. I for one do not want to see it on City Council.

Turner seeks a way to get around Public Integrity Unit de-funding

Rep. Sylvester Turner takes aim at one of Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said he would propose a House Concurrent Resolution advocating restoration of funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office, which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry last week.

[…]

This morning on the floor of the Texas House, Turner raised what options lawmakers have in responding to the veto. Afterwards he told reporters he would seek the resolution for restoring the funding.

“Over the last 10 years, there have been attempts to eliminate, weaken, move the public integrity unit from Travis County to the AG’s (attorney general’s) office and over the last 10 years the Legislature has said no,” Turner noted. “We are entitled to know where the funding will come from or what the plan is. Is it the intent of the state to say no to the Public Integrity Unit, to significantly weaken it?”

Turner questioned Perry’s use of his veto power to influence who holds a particular office.

“I am just not comfortable with vetoing funding because some people here have problems with one person,” he said

A concurrent resolution is basically just a “sense of the chamber” vote, so even if such a thing passed (which I doubt) it wouldn’t compel anyone to do anything. This is about sending a message. The politics of this situation are increasingly complex, but there’s a good case to be made that whatever you think of Rosemary Lehmberg and her sins, it’s not up to Rick Perry to force the issue. There’s a process in place that is already in motion, and Perry’s involvement is a conflict of interest.

More on this in the Statesman:

From the back microphone of the Texas House, Turner asked Speaker Joe Straus if any options exist to fund the unit.

Straus said after Monday’s meeting of the House that his office would do some research for Turner.

“With the questions from Mr. Turner and others, it’s certainly something that we should explore with the governor and with the Public Integrity Unit personnel. I’m assuming that the governor’s office has considered this,” Straus said in an interview. “We just have to assess where we are, and what the implications are as we go forward.”

[…]

Also Monday, state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, asked from the House floor if funding could be revived if Lehmberg resigns.

House leaders didn’t have an immediate response.

But Dale Craymer, president of Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, had a thought. The former top budget official for Govs. Ann Richards and George W. Bush said it is possible to restore funding through budget execution action, which involves the governor and the Legislative Budget Board agreeing on moving money from other parts of the budget.

I can’t claim to be optimistic about anything happening to counter Perry’s veto, but clearly we are in uncharted territory. Rep. Turner in particular got a lot done in the budget deal, so I would not discount his efforts.

On a related note, Travis County Commissioners Court is exploring its options as well.

Travis County commissioners will discuss the legislation and the governor’s actions on their agenda around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“We likely will not take action tomorrow, rather just discuss this issue,” County Judge Sam Biscoe told KVUE. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. I have sent a list of questions to the county attorney to understand our authority and limitations on this matter. I also want to know whether the governor’s decision can be reversed by himself or the Legislature before September 1, 2013.”

Biscoe says the commissioners will address the item and then go into executive session. They will likely take action on June 25.

“From my understanding, the revenue from that unit goes to residents of Texas as well as the state and federal government. I personally don’t see the benefit of fully funding the unit if the money goes to outside agencies. We will explore the issue,” said Biscoe.

The main thing I’d be concerned about is that if Commissioners Court picks up the slack, what incentive does the Lege have to fund the PIU in a future session, post-Lehmberg? This is the same dilemma school districts that had room to raise their tax rates faced after the massive cuts to public education in 2011. A one-time fix can quickly be seen as the new normal.

Calling to add to the call

The special session is just a day old, and already legislators are lining up to extend its agenda to cover things that didn’t get done during regulation time.

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Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, have filed a resolution that would ask voters to approve diverting some of the revenue that traditionally goes to the state’s savings account into the state’s highway fund.

“We’ve talked to Perry’s office about it,” Williams said. “They like it. I think they’ll be very supportive of it.”

Last week, days before the end of the regular session, Williams proposed the same plan to House budget leaders, who were not receptive to considering it so late in the session.

Williams is now hopeful that Perry will add the issue to a special session agenda that so far only covers redistricting issues. At a news conference Tuesday, Perry did not rule out adding other issues to the special session agenda.

“Unlike water for the last decade, we have addressed transportation, so there’s been some important movement in the transportation side,” Perry said. “Is it enough, from my perspective? No, but, again, I think it’s a little bit premature, with less than 24 hours since we’ve called this special, to be addressing whether we’re going to be adding anything to the call or not.”

Transportation funding was one of those issues that just sort of went away at the end of the session, as there was no consensus on how to proceed. I’m skeptical that Perry will accept the use of Rainy Day funds for this purpose, even if ratified by the voters, and I’m even more skeptical that the teabagger contingent will go for it, but of all the things that could be added to the call of this session, that would be among the more constructive items. Among the less constructive items are bills that have been re-filed for more guns and fewer abortions. Perry isn’t saying yet what if anything else he might add to the call, but as I’ve said before, it’s hard to see how going full metal wingnut hurts him.

So for now at least, the special session is limited to redistricting, and in particular to passing bills to make the interim maps permanent. That hasn’t stopped Democrats from filing their own redistricting plans, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to have a hearing. As with the existence of this session, filing these maps is about the ongoing litigation. Via BOR, Rep. Garnet Coleman sums it up:

“Governor Perry has called us back into special session in order to adopt the interim maps as the permanent maps for the State of Texas.

Based on the narrowness of the Governor’s call, no alternative plans may be considered. The interim maps were clearly intended to be only temporary so that the state of Texas could hold elections; they were not intended to address all of the Legislature’s failures in adhering to the Voting Rights Act under Sections 2 and 5.

House Committee Hearings on the interim maps are set for this Friday and Saturday, which is not enough notice to allow the public to provide adequate testimony on the interim maps. Even if this were enough time, the narrowness of the Governor’s call means that publicly requested changes could not be adopted, effectively shutting out the opinions of Texas citizens.

The San Antonio three-judge panel has previously shown with plan H302 that they are able to draw maps that adhere to Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act and allow for adequate minority representation. I am going to file this plan as a demonstration that an alternative plan can be drawn that satisfies the Voting Rights Act. I shall file an additional plan later this week that will also accomplish these goals.

During the first call of the special session of the Legislature, members of color will once again demonstrate that the Texas Legislature is pursuing a course to deny effective representation of racial and ethnic minorities and communities of interest.”

The San Antonio court will once again have its hands full, and not much time to deal with all the issues before them. June is going to be a hell of a month.