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Texas

Federal judge blocks the deportation pause

Infuriating, but possibly less than it appears.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Biden administration from moving forward with a 100-day pause on many deportations across the US, saying Tuesday that it was not adequately reasoned or explained to the public.

The temporary restraining order represents an initial setback for the Biden administration, which has vowed to reform agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by restricting who is arrested and deported.

“This is a frustrating loss for an administration that was trying to set a different tone than the chaos and rapid changes of the prior four years,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “The order makes it clear that the moratorium may face significant legal hurdles.”

Judge Drew Tipton, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump, ordered the Biden administration to immediately stop enforcing its moratorium on many deportations, which had gone into effect on Friday before Texas sued. The temporary restraining order is in effect for 14 days as the case proceeds.

On Jan. 20, the Biden administration issued a pause on deportations for many undocumented immigrants who have final orders of removal. The memo states that the 100-day pause applies to all noncitizens with final deportation orders except those who have engaged in a suspected act of terrorism, people not in the US before Nov. 1, 2020, or those who have voluntarily agreed to waive any right to remain in the US.

But Tipton said the memo issued by David Pekoske, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, appeared likely to violate the Administrative Procedures Act and that it was not adequately reasoned or explained.

“Here, the January 20 Memorandum not only fails to consider potential policies more limited in scope and time, but it also fails to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations,” he wrote, while adding that Texas had shown evidence it would suffer if Biden’s moratorium was not blocked.

Tipton said Texas had demonstrated “that it pays millions of dollars annually to provide social services and uncompensated healthcare expenses and other state-provided benefits to illegal aliens such as the Emergency Medicaid program, the Family Violence Program, and the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

The state claimed that those costs would rise if the moratorium continued.

But Pratheepan Gulasekaram, an immigration law professor at Santa Clara University Law School, said the decision appeared to be vulnerable to an appeal.

“Federal administrations can and should be able to set their own enforcement policy as long as it is not forbidden by federal law. This allows a state to stop the federal government from reassigning resources and personnel and deciding the optimal level of enforcement,” he said. “This is not the way our federalism in the constitution is structured. States don’t have veto ability.”

See here for the background. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who notes that Judge Tipton admitted his own ignorance of immigration law in the ruling, goes into some detail.

There are several remarkable aspects of Tipton’s decision. First, it applies nationwide—even though conservative jurists and Republican politicians spent the last four years decrying nationwide injunctions as illicit and unlawful. Trump’s Department of Justice launched a campaign against these injunctions, complaining that they unconstitutionally interfered with executive power. Right-wing judges condemned them as lawless power-grabs that promote “gamesmanship and chaos.” Republican lawmakers proposed legislation bringing them to a heel. Intellectuals in the conservative legal movement accused “resistance judges” of using them to sabotage the president. Now, six days into Biden’s term, a conservative judge has issued a nationwide injunction at the behest of a Republican politician.

Second, it is extremely difficult to determine the harm that Biden’s memo inflicted on Texas—and, by extension, why the state has standing to bring this case at all. In his lawsuit, Paxton failed to identify any concrete harm to Texas that actually flows from the deportation pause. Instead, he rehashed general complaints about the state’s expenditures on immigrants eligible for deportation—using estimations from 2018—and asked the court to assume that Biden’s memo would raise these costs. Paxton offered zero evidence that this specific memo would raise costs to Texas. Tipton gave the state standing anyway.

Third, and most importantly, Tipton’s decision is utterly divorced from both the entire framework of federal law governing deportation and the removal system as it functions on the ground. The thrust of Tipton’s reasoning is that a federal statute says the government “shall remove” an immigrant who has been “ordered removed” within 90 days. But, as the Supreme Court recognized as recently as last June, federal law also gives DHS sweeping discretion to determine which immigrants to deport, and when. A slew of statutes and regulations recognize this authority and address immigrants who are not removed within 90 days, a clear signal that this deadline is not, in fact, an iron rule.

Moreover, the deportation process is complex and time-consuming: It involves not only legal appeals but also tedious pragmatic considerations, like how an immigrant will actually be transported out of the country. The government has to plan this transportation on a mass scale, and it does not have a travel agency at its disposal that can guarantee an international flight full of deported immigrants within 90 days or your money back.

In short, if immigration law meant what Tipton says it does, then every president has violated it every day of their term, including the one who appointed him. Luckily, it does not. And there is therefore a very good reason to doubt that Tipton’s order will cause many, if any, deportations. The judge blocked Biden’s general policy of non-enforcement—but he did not, and could not, force the government to actually ensure that every immigrant who is eligible for removal be deported within 90 days. Biden’s DHS can merely exercise its authority to pause deportations on an immigrant-by-immigrant basis by granting an administrative stay of removal. It can halt travel arrangements and cancel deportation flights. Biden’s memo might be on hold, but it is perfectly lawful for the government to freeze deportations under its existing discretionary powers.

Others noted that the order is pretty limited in scope:

Everyone’s favorite question of standing was also brought up. It was not clear as I was drafting this if the Biden administration was going to ask the judge to put his order on hold, or if they were just going to appeal directly; either way, things may change before this runs in the morning, or shortly thereafter. It’s important to remember that the point of this lawsuit first and foremost is Ken Paxton’s fundraising, which works to his advantage whether he wins or loses. Given that, he may as well lose, that’s all I’m saying. Daily Kos, the Chron, and the Trib have more.

A few words from Rep. Filemon Vela

Worth your consideration.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemón Vela sees his new leadership role in the Democrats’ national campaign arm as being “the voice of caution, reason and taking the middle ground” as the party seeks to hold power through the 2022 midterms and beyond.

The Brownsville Democrat, who on Thursday was elected vice chair of the Democratic National Committee through 2025, said Democrats have a lot of work to do in Texas — especially in areas of South Texas, including his own district, where he says the party’s messaging on energy and guns cost them ground in November.

Vela will be one of four vice chairs helping to guide Democrats’ campaign efforts in 2022 and 2024. He said the party needs to figure out better ways of talking about those issues to keep from backsliding further in a state Democrats have long hoped to flip. The party is getting hammered by more effective Republican messaging, he said.

In the final weeks of the election, the Texas GOP raised alarms about Joe Biden’s plan to phase out fossil fuels in a state where 162,000 people were directly employed in oil drilling and related services.

“Clearly the DNC has work to do in Texas,” Vela said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers. “You can’t just tell people like that — we’re going to take your jobs away — and think they’re going to vote for you. If we’re serious about climate change and job creation, we have to be able to tell those individuals and those families, you know what, we’ve got alternatives.”

[…]

Vela said he doesn’t expect Biden’s moves so far to have the dire effects for Texans that Republicans are claiming. But it’s an area where Democrats need to do a better job explaining what they’re doing.

“There are jobs in the energy industry that are not necessarily oil and gas — whether it be solar, wind, electrical, whatever — that is going to make your life better,” Vela said. “You won’t have to leave your family for two or three weeks, you won’t have to bust your ass waking up at 3 in the morning and working until late at night. And you’re going to make more money in a safer and more efficient environment.

“We don’t have that message,” he said. “That’s the puzzle.”

The same is true for guns, Vela said.

“Those of us who grew up in South Texas, we grew up with our grandfathers and fathers and uncles and cousins and friends hunting and fishing. If the Democratic message is going to suggest that you’re not going to be able to do that, we’re going to continue to lose a lot of these voters,” he said.

But, he said, Democrats aren’t trying to actually do that as they seek stricter background checks and other measures meant to stop mass shootings.

“Clearly Republican messaging on the subject is not being countered — we’re not countering that message appropriately.”

Rep. Vela has direct reasons to be concerned about this, as his CD34 shifted strongly towards Trump in 2020, though he himself still won by a comfortable margin. That may make him a redistricting target, though it may also be the case that the Republicans overestimate their strength in that part of the state. But I think he’s right about what happened in 2020, and he’s in a long line of people who have been complaining for years about Democrats’ lack of messaging and engagement in South Texas. As a DNC Vice Chair, he’s now in a position to do something about it.

The COVID vaccine wait list

Good idea, and about time.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Monday afternoon a new COVID-19 vaccine waitlist, in an effort to ensure those who are high priority don’t get overlooked and make for a smoother process.

Hidalgo explained the basics of how the waitlist will work. Hidalgo was joined by Dr. Sherri Onyiego, the interim local health authority for Harris County Public Health.

The waitlist is said to be weighted and randomized, meaning the website won’t necessarily favor whoever has the quickest internet connection. Once the portal opens Tuesday, everyone will be able to register.

If you fall under the 1A, 1B or seniors groups, then your registration will be weighted for priority, and it will then be randomized within the priority list.

The launch of this new portal and waitlist expands the previous process by allowing eligible residents to sign up for vaccines on their own directly, according to a press release from the county.

Eligible residents without internet access can also call 832 927-8787 once the portal is live to be placed on the waitlist.

The new system starts today:

That’s a good approach, and honestly it’s how we should be doing this nationwide. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people with good Internet skills or just the right about of persistence and life-hacking who have helped people sign up for vaccines, but it really can’t and shouldn’t be this hard. And honestly, even for the folks like me who are closer to the back of the line, just being able to register now and then wait to be called when it is our turn would likely relieve a lot of anxiety out there. This starts today and if it works as well as I expect it will, I hope other counties will follow suit. The Chron and Houston Public Media have more.

Meanwhile, on a related note.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing the state to refine its criteria for COVID-19 vaccination eligibility, saying that whittling down the list may better prioritize vulnerable Texans and clear up confusion over when shots will actually be available.

The state is currently offering the vaccine to frontline workers and vulnerable Texans, a group of more than 9 million people — even though the state is only receiving about 300,000 doses a week. That numerical reality has made for a confusing and frustrating process for Texans eligible for a shot, with many unable to find available doses or unsure where to look with demand far exceeding supply.

“Texans need to have a better understanding of the time it will take for everyone to be vaccinated in order to reduce lines, confusion and frustration,” Patrick wrote in a Thursday letter to the state’s Expert Vaccination Allocation Panel.

It will probably be May at the earliest before all members of that first priority group have been immunized, said Dr. David Lakey, a member of the state’s vaccine panel, in an interview this week with Hearst Newspapers. The Texans currently eligible are included in groups 1A — health care workers and nursing home residents — and 1B, those over 65 and anyone 16 or older with certain pre-existing medical conditions.

[…]

Patrick suggested creating subgroups within 1B over the next several weeks — perhaps by first taking two weeks to vaccinate those 75 and older, a group of about 1.5 million. Then, he said, a subgroup of roughly 65,000 teachers and school staff over 65 could become eligible.

“This would help give people an idea of reasonable expectations and reduce wait times and frustration each week,” Patrick wrote. “Right now, in many cities and counties when an announcement of available vaccinations is made, website sign-up pages crash and phone calls go unanswered.”

Seems reasonable, and as above it makes you wonder why no one had thought of this before. Including and especially Greg Abbott, who did not come up with this idea despite being the immovable object on everyone’s COVID plans. We’ll see what happens with this.

SCOTx allows Inforwars lawsuits to proceed

Good.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected, without comment, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ attempt to toss out four defamation lawsuits by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

The parents sued in Travis County, where Jones and his InfoWars website are based, arguing that they were defamed and suffered emotional distress after InfoWars broadcasts disputed the authenticity of the school shooting and the news coverage that followed.

Twenty young children and six adults died in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Friday’s action by the Supreme Court upheld rulings by two lower courts that had allowed the lawsuits to continue.

The state’s highest civil court also gave the green light to another defamation lawsuit against InfoWars and reporter Kit Daniels by a man mistakenly identified as a suspect in the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

[…]

Friday’s announcement by the Supreme Court noted that two members, Justices Jeff Boyd and John Devine, would have granted Jones’ petition for review in the Pozner lawsuit, but the court order provided no reasons for their dissent.

In briefs to the Supreme Court, lawyers for Jones argued that the InfoWars host was engaging in protected speech because he was addressing matters of public concern.

“The pursuit of so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ concerning controversial government activities has been a part and parcel of American political discourse since our Founding, and it is protected by the First Amendment,” they told the court in a brief for the Pozner and De La Rosa case.

Jones also argued that state libel laws required any harmful speech to be directed at specific family members, but the Sandy Hook families were not named in three InfoWars reports in 2017.

But a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families argued that Jones didn’t merely say the school shooting was staged by the government, he also generally accused family members of being actors to help sell a supposed coverup and exploit the event to attack gun rights.

As a result, Jones and InfoWars accused family members of collusion in a hoax “relating to the murder of their son … for nefarious purposes,” lawyer Mark Bankston told the court.

Jones also was reckless in publishing information that was so improbable that no reasonable publisher would have done likewise without substantial confirmation, Bankston argued.

“Mr. Jones’ fantasy about a shadowy government conspiracy to murder first-graders and then exploit the event with the help of the media and actors is the very definition of ‘improbable,'” he wrote.

The lawsuits are by the parents of two of the children that were murdered at Sandy Hook. You never know what can happen, but Jones’ record in defending himself so far isn’t great – he not only lost at the Third Court of Appeals earlier in the year, he was ordered to pay court costs for the frivolity of his appeal. He deserves to lose and to have the full weight of the consequences of his actions come down on him. Law and Crime has more.

The “Resign, Ted” caucus

They’re not going to get what they’re asking for, but they can still get something.

Not Ted Cruz

More than 70 Texas organizations are calling for the resignations of Sen. Ted Cruz, Attorney General Ken Paxton and the 16 Texas representatives who voted on Jan. 6 against certifying election results that formalized President Joe Biden’s win.

The grassroots coalition is led by civic engagement group Indivisible TX Lege and includes organizations determined to hold Texas’ elected officials accountable for their role in inspiring and encouraging the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump. More than 850 individuals have also signed a letter in support of the effort to expel the Texas officials.

“They have made a mockery of democracy by embracing the fascist rhetoric of a far-right figurehead with a far-right movement behind him,” the group’s statement reads. “They have suppressed votes while lying about the nature of our election system, sullying our elections while opposing their legally legitimate losses. They have proven themselves entirely unfit for office. They must resign.”

[…]

Many Houston-area groups are among the coalition, including Black Lives Matter Houston, CAIR Houston, Harris County Young Democrats, FIEL Houston, Say Her Name HTX and Sunrise Houston. Texas House Reps. Ron Reynolds and Vikki Goodwin also signed on as supporters of the call for resignations.

“They were perpetuating a fraud,” Reynolds said. “They knew the electoral process was sound, it had already been vetted, it had already been validated, and they were simply attempting to overthrow the will of the American people.”

Candice Matthews of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats said the situation goes “beyond politics.”

“This is about the foundation of our democracy,” she said. “If we sanction these traitors to go back to work and normalize this behavior, we will never get past what happened on Jan. 6.”

All this is correct, but let’s keep some perspective here. The large majority of these organizations are Democratic or Dem-aligned. The chances that Cruz or Paxton or any of those members of Congress will listen to a word they say are less than the chances that I will be named the next head coach of the Texans. I guarantee, there are already fundraising emails in the works about how the radical left is attacking them for their bold and principled stance in favor of election integrity. Don’t expect any sudden vacancies, is what I’m saying.

All these organizations are smart enough to know this, of course. The goal here isn’t resignations, because that’s not going to happen, but to rebrand these politicians and make their seditious actions stick with them. Can they make Cruz and Paxton et al toxic to mainstream corporate America and dry up their fundraising? Can they change how they are covered and portrayed by the media, so that their anti-democratic activity front and center in any story that includes them? Can they help drive this narrative so that less-engaged voters are aware of it, and are aware of the need for them to take action in the next elections? Even if it’s just helping them know that Ted Cruz spends more time Twitter fighting than doing anything to make their lives better? These things are more achievable. That’s the way to think about it, and to think about what you can do to help. There have to be consequences for what they did. This is a part of that, and we all have a role to play in it.

Precinct analysis: HCDE

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk

There are three HCDE At Large positions, which are elected countywide. Two were on the ballot this year, to run against Republicans who had won those seats in 2014. (The other At Large position was elected in 2018.) These are the last countywide elections on the ballot, so they’re way at the bottom – other county positions, like Commissioner and JP and Constable come next, then municipal/school board/MUD, if any. There are no money in these races. People don’t know much about them, and tend to vote on party lines. I say all this to say that there ought not to be that much variance in these races. And yet, as you will see from the two HCDE At Large races we had, there was some.


Dist	Wolfe	Davis   Wolfe%  Davis%
======================================
CD02  175,106  157,537  52.64%  47.36%
CD07  146,573  152,854  48.95%  51.05%
CD08   25,370   15,298  62.38%  37.62%
CD09   36,041  121,236  22.92%  77.08%
CD10  100,960   60,861  62.39%  37.61%
CD18   56,070  182,708  23.48%  76.52%
CD22   21,105   20,600  50.61%  49.39%
CD29   46,743  104,044  31.00%  69.00%
CD36   81,230   49,211  62.27%  37.73%
				
SBOE4 100,609  341,191  22.77%  77.23%
SBOE6 374,142  356,723  51.19%  48.81%
SBOE8 214,447  166,436  56.30%  43.70%
				
SD04   54,897   23,241  70.26%  29.74%
SD06   54,521  120,734  31.11%  68.89%
SD07  231,012  175,107  56.88%  43.12%
SD11   75,587   47,839  61.24%  38.76%
SD13   35,736  161,092  18.16%  81.84%
SD15  109,068  197,941  35.53%  64.47%
SD17  113,430  126,454  47.29%  52.71%
SD18   14,947   11,944  55.58%  44.42%
				
HD126  38,074   34,059  52.78%  47.22%
HD127  53,126   35,952  59.64%  40.36%
HD128  47,466   22,448  67.89%  32.11%
HD129  46,738   35,812  56.62%  43.38%
HD130  69,090   32,953  67.71%  32.29%
HD131   9,532   45,049  17.46%  82.54%
HD132  49,533   49,013  50.26%  49.74%
HD133  48,999   36,952  57.01%  42.99%
HD134  46,177   58,556  44.09%  55.91%
HD135  35,508   37,663  48.53%  51.47%
HD137   9,978   21,062  32.15%  67.85%
HD138  30,859   31,585  49.42%  50.58%
HD139  14,830   45,543  24.56%  75.44%
HD140   8,732   22,411  28.04%  71.96%
HD141   6,588   36,582  15.26%  84.74%
HD142  13,241   42,323  23.83%  76.17%
HD143  11,319   24,910  31.24%  68.76%
HD144  13,293   17,049  43.81%  56.19%
HD145  14,250   27,573  34.07%  65.93%
HD146  10,685   43,855  19.59%  80.41%
HD147  14,345   53,881  21.03%  78.97%
HD148  21,042   37,730  35.80%  64.20%
HD149  20,950   31,202  40.17%  59.83%
HD150  54,842   40,186  57.71%  42.29%
				
CC1    87,740  284,053  23.60%  76.40%
CC2   146,425  148,116  49.71%  50.29%
CC3   220,829  213,731  50.82%  49.18%
CC4   234,204  218,452  51.74%  48.26%
				
JP1    87,700  167,753  34.33%  65.67%
JP2    32,838   50,056  39.61%  60.39%
JP3    50,303   69,274  42.07%  57.93%
JP4   229,535  188,368  54.93%  45.07%
JP5   197,764  218,253  47.54%  52.46%
JP6     7,567   27,643  21.49%  78.51%
JP7    17,310  101,368  14.59%  85.41%
JP8    66,181   41,637  61.38%  38.62%

Dist  Sumners    BrownSumners%  Brown%
======================================
CD02  178,239  153,781  53.68%  46.32%
CD07  149,276  149,677  49.93%  50.07%
CD08   25,684   14,930  63.24%  36.76%
CD09   37,140  119,868  23.65%  76.35%
CD10  102,002   59,509  63.15%  36.85%
CD18   58,363  179,885  24.50%  75.50%
CD22   21,470   20,157  51.58%  48.42%
CD29   48,719  101,542  32.42%  67.58%
CD36   82,330   47,970  63.18%  36.82%
				
SBOE4 104,920  335,772  23.81%  76.19%
SBOE6 380,664  348,912  52.18%  47.82%
SBOE8 217,639  162,636  57.23%  42.77%
				
SD04   55,470   22,553  71.09%  28.91%
SD06   56,723  117,949  32.47%  67.53%
SD07  234,209  171,238  57.77%  42.23%
SD11   76,651   46,635  62.17%  37.83%
SD13   36,983  159,472  18.83%  81.17%
SD15  112,316  193,986  36.67%  63.33%
SD17  115,691  123,829  48.30%  51.70%
SD18   15,180   11,660  56.56%  43.44%
				
HD126  38,802   33,248  53.85%  46.15%
HD127  53,889   35,026  60.61%  39.39%
HD128  47,977   21,854  68.70%  31.30%
HD129  47,448   34,995  57.55%  42.45%
HD130  69,768   32,168  68.44%  31.56%
HD131   9,953   44,558  18.26%  81.74%
HD132  50,241   48,064  51.11%  48.89%
HD133  49,739   36,091  57.95%  42.05%
HD134  47,419   57,143  45.35%  54.65%
HD135  36,083   36,890  49.45%  50.55%
HD137  10,151   20,831  32.76%  67.24%
HD138  31,484   30,891  50.48%  49.52%
HD139  15,396   44,842  25.56%  74.44%
HD140   9,181   21,845  29.59%  70.41%
HD141   7,029   36,060  16.31%  83.69%
HD142  13,760   41,694  24.81%  75.19%
HD143  11,837   24,277  32.78%  67.22%
HD144  13,736   16,529  45.39%  54.61%
HD145  14,723   26,947  35.33%  64.67%
HD146  11,056   43,390  20.31%  79.69%
HD147  14,922   53,129  21.93%  78.07%
HD148  21,679   36,894  37.01%  62.99%
HD149  21,361   30,695  41.03%  58.97%
HD150  55,588   39,258  58.61%  41.39%
				
CC1    91,042  279,998  24.54%  75.46%
CC2   149,445  144,410  50.86%  49.14%
CC3   224,188  209,572  51.68%  48.32%
CC4   238,548  213,342  52.79%  47.21%
				
JP1    90,547  164,215  35.54%  64.46%
JP2    33,772   48,840  40.88%  59.12%
JP3    51,467   67,910  43.11%  56.89%
JP4   233,006  184,205  55.85%  44.15%
JP5   201,206  214,079  48.45%  51.55%
JP6     7,975   27,140  22.71%  77.29%
JP7    18,116  100,374  15.29%  84.71%
JP8    67,134   40,559  62.34%  37.66%

As noted above, there are no 2016 races to compare to, so this is what we have. And what we have is Erica Davis doing a bit better against Bob Wolfe (no, not Michael Wolfe, he ran for a JP slot and lost in the primary) than David Brown did against Don Sumners. Davis got 864K votes, putting her in the upper echelon of Dems, while Brown got 847K, more in the middle. (Sumners got 14K more votes than Wolfe; there were 3K more undervotes in that race.) That translated to two points in the percentages – Davis won 55.6 to 44.4, while Brown won 54.6 to 45.4. Davis’ performance is reflected in the districts – she carried HD138 and CC2, and came close in HD132. Brown was fine, it’s just that Davis did better.

So the question is why? There are two obvious possibilities. One is that Sumners was a more familiar name – he had won the seat in 2014, and was elected Tax Assessor in 2010, so this was the third time in recent years he had been on a countywide ballot. (Sumners had also been Treasurer in the 90s, but no one is going to remember that.) Maybe that familiarity got him a few votes. The other possibility is that Davis was the only female candidate among the four, and she drew some extra votes because of that. There’s no way to know, and a sample size of one is far too small to draw any conclusions scientifically. The point here is just what I said up front – even in these similar races, there can be and will be some variance in the voting. Stuff like this is why I find these trips through the numbers so fascinating. You just never know what you’ll find.

That’s it for my tour of Harris County in the 2020 elections. I have the Fort Bend County data from their election results page, and while they are kind enough to provide a full Excel canvass, they do it in a weird way that forces me to do these calculations all over again. I’m working on it and will have a report or two from Fort Bend shortly. I hope you enjoyed this series.

The financial benefit of filing seditious lawsuits

Ladies and gentlemen, your Attorney General:

Best mugshot ever

Campaign contributions to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton all but dried up last fall after senior staff accused the Republican of abusing his office to help a friend and political donor.

But Paxton’s fortunes reversed in December when, cheered on by President Donald Trump, he filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in four key battleground states.

In the days after mounting the unsuccessful legal bid, Paxton raked in nearly $150,000 — roughly half of his entire campaign haul in the last six months of 2020.

Still, Paxton raised just $305,500 in total, a tiny amount compared to other statewide elected officials who raised millions of dollars to support their campaigns.

Paxton’s own fundraising reports have typically been in seven figures. Campaign spokesman Ian Prior did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The low fundraising numbers show Paxton’s political career “is on life support,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“He went all in to back Trump and the far right and it was a losing play,” Rottinghaus said.

Paxton, in his second term, is up for reelection in 2022. His campaign account has about $5.5 million cash on hand.

[…]

After the seven employees’ accusations went public in early October, Paxton raised roughly $10,000, his campaign finance report shows. In November, his campaign brought in $75.

Paxton raised nothing more until Dec. 8, the day after he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn election results in four states that helped deliver the presidency to Democrat Joe Biden. A few days later, the high court rejected the challenge, which was cast by legal experts as a long shot and an unfounded attempt to nullify millions of lawful ballots.

During that time, Paxton’s campaign brought in hundreds of mostly small donations from across the country. The l argest, a $25,000 contribution, came on Dec. 10 from James Dondero, co-founder of Dallas-based Highland Capital Management, the campaign finance report shows.

Whoever said crime doesn’t pay? He can only sue to overturn the election once, but he can sue over pretty much everything the Biden administration does, if he wants to keep tapping that source of campaign cash. That lawsuit over the deportation pause is the opening salvo. Maybe this strategy to boost his campaign coffers, and score a few policy wins, won’t work, but I feel pretty confident that it won’t stop him from trying.

HD68 special election goes to a runoff

As expected, though there is a clear leader going into the next round.

Sen. Drew Springer

Republicans David Spiller and Craig Carter appear to be headed to a runoff in the special election to fill the seat of former state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, now a state senator.

With all precincts reporting Saturday night, Spiller — the top fundraiser in the race — had a significant lead, holding 44% of the vote, with Carter taking 18%, according to unofficial results from the Texas Secretary of State. Carter was closely followed by another GOP candidate, John Berry, who trailed Carter by about 60 votes Saturday night. Jason Brinkley, also a Republican, snuck in fourth place, with 16% of the vote. The only Democrat running, Charles D. Gregory, finished last with 4%.

Spiller is an attorney and Jacksboro school board trustee. Carter is a former candidate for an overlapping Texas Senate district.

[…]

Abbott will set a date for the runoff election sometime in February, after the votes are canvassed, according to the secretary of state’s office.

See here and here for the background. Berry, now trailing Carter by 57 votes (unofficially), could ask for a recount once the overseas and provisional ballots are in. Assuming there is no change in who finished second (highly likely things remain as is), there may be some pressure on Carter to concede and allow Spiller to be sworn in now. Spiller got over 700 more votes than the next two candidates combined, so one could argue that there’s not much suspense in the runoff. One could also argue that the first part of this campaign was quiet and uncontentious, and as such there may be some relevant information about these candidates that the voters have not had the chance to learn. Most likely the runoff happens, and Spiller is elected anyway. For now, the House remains at 149 members.

Paxton sues over deportation pause

That didn’t take long.

Best mugshot ever

Three days into the Biden administration, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed his first lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit seeks an halt to one of the president’s executive actions on immigration, a 100-day pause on some deportations.

The moratorium, issued the same day as the presidential inauguration, was one of a flurry of early executive actions from the new administration. It is part of a review and reset of enforcement policies within Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agencies as the Biden administration “develops its final priorities,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Paxton said the moratorium violates the U.S. Constitution and various federal and administrative laws, as well as an agreement between Texas and DHS.

“When DHS fails to remove illegal aliens in compliance with federal law, Texas faces significant costs,” reads the complaint, which was filed in federal court in the U.S. Southern District of Texas. “A higher number of illegal aliens in Texas leads to budgetary harms, including higher education and healthcare costs.”

The filing also alleges various other violations, including against posting-and-comment rules, as well as failure to ensure laws are “faithfully executed.” In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said they were “not able to comment on pending litigation.”

The moratorium excludes any immigrant who is “suspected of terrorism or espionage, or otherwise poses a danger to the national security of the United States,” those who entered after Nov. 1 and those who have voluntarily waived any rights to remain in the country, according to a DHS memo. It also retains an enforcement focus on people who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony” as defined by federal immigration law.

The first question one should ask of any lawsuit filed by Ken Paxton at this time, especially a politically-motivated lawsuit like this one, is whether it has any merit or if it’s just theater designed to rile up the rabble. Neither this story nor the Chron story examines that, though the latter does touch on some of the legal questions.

The case is before U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee who took the bench in Corpus Christi last June and previously practiced law in Houston. In a hearing held via Zoom on Friday, Tipton did not immediately rule on Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order. Instead, he said he would take the matter under advisement and vowed to make a decision quickly.

Administration officials did not respond to a request for comment, and a DHS spokesperson declined to comment on pending litigation. But in a memo issued Wednesday, DHS Acting Secretary David Pekoske said the moratorium was implemented as the agency shifts staff and resources at the southwest border, and to protect the health and safety of DHS personnel amid the pandemic.

“We must ensure that our removal resources are directed to the department’s highest enforcement priorities,” Pekoske added.

The order does not apply to noncitizens who: have engaged in or are suspected of terrorism or espionage or who otherwise pose a national security risk; were not in the U.S. before Nov. 1; or voluntarily signed a waiver to rights to remain in the U.S. as long as they’d been given “a meaningful opportunity to access counsel” beforehand. It also gives the acting director the discretion to allow deportations on a case-by-case basis.

The agreement Paxton refers to is one that the department, while still controlled by the Trump administration, signed preemptively with multiple jurisdictions, including the state of Arizona, that required the agency to give them six months to review and submit comments before moving forward on any changes to immigration policy, as Buzzfeed News first reported. The legal enforceability of those documents, however, has yet to be seen.

[…]

In the virtual hearing Friday, Will Thompson, an attorney for the state, argued that the DHS agreement was valid and precluded it from enacting policy changes before the 180-day feedback period has ended. Thompson also said Texas would suffer irreparable harm from the pause on deportations, such as increased education and health care costs for undocumented immigrants.

Department of Justice attorney Adam Kirschner raised several legal arguments for why the agreement is not enforceable, among them that it violated Article II of the Constitution by giving Texas, at least for 180 days, “veto power over immigration law,” which is within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Kirschner also said the state failed to identify injury that the policy would cause, other than “general budgetary concerns.”

At least you have an idea what they’re arguing about, but it’s still pretty dry. Daily Kos gets more into the merits.

Paxton “says Biden administration is violating the agreement TX signed w/ Trump’s DHS, which said the agency would check in with Texas before making changes,” BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleazis tweeted. Paxton’s threat demands DHS immediately rescind the memo, as well as “an immediate response or we will seek relief to enjoin your order, as contemplated by the Agreement.”

To put it plainly, Ken Paxton can eat shit. Legal experts like Santa Clara University School of Law professor Pratheepan Gulasekaram have criticized the agreements, calling them “completely unmoored from legal, constitutional ways of implementing policy,” BuzzFeed News previously reported. “The agreements, as Ken Paxton well knows, are blatantly illegal,” tweeted Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. “Of course, that’s never stopped him before. The Biden administration seems likely to take the correct step here; tell him to pound sand. The federal government can’t contract away its right to make policy changes.”

Not to mention that Cuccinelli was unlawfully installed at DHS! A federal court had already previously ruled that the truly very strange Cuccinelli had also been unlawfully appointed to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Reichlin-Melnick noted at the time that the previous administration had since dropped its appeal of that ruling, yet was still “letting him go to work every day.” Perhaps because they knew he’d be willing to put his signature to ridiculous policies like the one now trying to tie up the new administration.

The full thread is here, and you should also read this thread by Buzzfeed News immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz, who suggests that federal judge Tipton could put the Biden order on hold as the suit is being heard. The ACLU and ACLU of Texas have filed an amicus brief in opposition to Paxton’s suit. This may be an early test of just how much Trump-appointed judges will abet in acting as roadblocks to anything President Biden wants to do.

Of course some anti-vaxx groups got PPP funds

Completely on brand.

Texas-based anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Washington Post reported Monday. The organization received $166,000 in May 2020, according to founder Del Bigtree.

“Vaccine hesitancy” or “vaccine skepticism” poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health authorities trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, by the anti-vaccine crowd and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective.

“At a minimum, it’s a mixed message from the government,” said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “Those individuals who are hesitant are going to be looking to various pieces of information to help them make this decision…and if one of the key pieces of information coming out is the government funding anti-vaccine groups, it could send a signal to these individuals that maybe they shouldn’t be vaccinating,” he told The Texas Tribune.

The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts information questioning the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Bigtree’s online anti-vaccine talk show was penalized by Facebook and YouTube last year for violating misinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

As the WaPo story notes, this wasn’t just in Texas. In terms of actual dollars, it’s not that much, but boy does the principle of it rankle. And given how Greg Abbott has staked everything on getting the vaccine rolled out, it would be nice if he felt a little heat from this, since the anti-vaxxers have had more success than failure in the Legislature in recent years. You would think he’d be unhappy about this. Good luck getting him to say anything about it, though.

Beware the renewable energy disinformation

It’s out there, in more ways than one.

David Dunagan doesn’t want a 760-acre solar power plant to be built across his fenceline. The Old Jackson Power Plant will replace farmland in Van Zandt County with gleaming, metal panels. Though the 127-megawatt plant will provide clean, renewable energy for some of the nearly 7.5 million residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex Dunagan has been organizing local landowners to stop it for the last year.

Generations of landowners have raised cattle or grown crops like hay and sweet potatoes in this slice of rural northeast Texas, and turning those fields into an industrial power plant isn’t an easy pill to swallow. One of Dunagan’s major worries is the environmental impact that the Old Jackson plant could have. “It’s literally in the middle of East Texas tornado alley,” he says. “There is a propensity for these facilities to get torn up, and the materials are scattered everywhere. These panels, there are several heavy metals used in thin layers,” he adds. “It’s been proven that these panels tend to leach over time, into the soil and water.”

Thing is, that hasn’t been proven. That’s because it’s not true. According to Wyatt Metzger, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there’s little truth to the leaching-panel claim. Concerns about what happens if panels are discarded improperly at the end of their 30-year lifespan, are legitimate, however. But the idea that inclement weather could turn a functioning solar farm into a Superfund site littered with lead and cadmium-laced debris has caught on across the country as solar energy developments take off.

It’s a talking point that Dunagan picked up from so-called experts such as Michael Shellenberger, a staunchly pro-nuclear environmentalist who’s called climate activists “alarmists.” It’s been repeated by a national group called Citizens for Responsible Solar, which presents itself as a grassroots coalition, but was formed by a Republican consultant in Virginia. The myth has been pushed by the Foundation for Economic Education and the benign-sounding Institute for Energy Research, both libertarian think tanks that have direct ties to billionaire fossil fuel executives and climate change denialists Charles Koch and David Padden. Koch and Padden fund the Heartland Institute, one of the most infamous climate denial groups.

[…]

Disinformation about renewable energy isn’t new. For decades, fossil fuel companies and conservative think tanks have painted wind turbines as a bird-killing, unreliable, and property-value damaging source of energy. “We’re starting to see the same forces shift over, focusing on solar farms,” says Dave Anderson, a researcher with the Energy and Policy Institute who tracks fossil-fuel-funded disinformation about renewable energy. At the same time, solar energy is on the cusp of a growth spurt: Texas’ solar capacity is on track to grow by 150 percent this year. A similar upward trajectory is expected next year.

Many of the state’s largest solar plants have been built in West Texas, where land is cheap and sun is plentiful. In many of these counties, landowners were already used to having pumpjacks and wind turbines on their sprawling ranches, so solar wasn’t very different. Now, as the price of solar technology has dropped drastically, it’s more feasible for solar companies to locate their plants closer to energy-consuming cities, says Josh Rhodes, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute. In places like Van Zandt, Bell, or Wharton County, just outside of Sugar Land, developers will save on the cost of electric transmission from far West Texas. But here, residents aren’t as welcoming of the new, industrial developments.

This is going to get worse as the Biden administration makes a big push towards renewables as part of its climate change agenda. Be aware of what the propaganda is and be prepared to push back on it when you see or hear it.

Ethics complaint filed against Cruz and Hawley

Likely to have little to no effect, but one has to express one’s disapproval in as many appropriate manners as one can.

Not Ted Cruz

Seven Democrats in the U.S. Senate have filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for his role lending “legitimacy” to false claims of election fraud ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

In a letter addressed to the Senate Committee on Ethics, the Democratic Senators argue that Cruz and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, “made future violence more likely.” The Democrats called for the committee to conduct an investigation into the two Republican senators and possibly consider “disciplinary action,” which could include the rare move of expulsion from the Senate. The Constitution also grants Congress the ability to censure its members, which is essentially just a strong condemnation from the chamber.

Leading up to the destructive Capitol riot, Cruz, Hawley and other Congressional Republicans vowed to object to the 2020 election results based on former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen from him. There is no evidence of widespread fraud on a level that would have affected the result. Even after a mob of Trump supporters desecrated the U.S. Capitol, Cruz objected to certifying Arizona’s electoral results and he’s been in political hot water ever since.

[…]

The Senate’s ethics manual lays out various rules for U.S. Senators on campaign activity, conflicts of interest, gifts and what’s considered “improper conduct.” Once an ethics complaint is filed, the manual states that a preliminary inquiry is to be carried out “to conclude that a violation within the jurisdiction of the Committee has occurred.” The process includes allowing the accused to officially respond to the complaints.

At any point in the investigation, the Senate ethics committee can hold a public or executive hearing to cross-examine documents and hear testimonies.

Expelling a sitting Senator requires a two-thirds vote in the chamber while a censuring only requires a majority vote. But not many federal lawmakers have faced such discipline. According to senate.gov, only 15 senators have been expelled since the 18th century — all for their allegiance to the Confederacy — and only nine have been censured between 1811 and 1990 for a variety of “transgressions” like fighting in the chamber.

Expulsion has a snowball’s chance in hell, but a censure is possible, and may even attract a couple of Republican votes. It may not seem like much, but I think it’s correct and appropriate to put an official stamp of public disapproval on what Cruz and Hawley did. This wasn’t politics, it really was fanning the flames of insurrection, and the fact that these two seditious losers went ahead with their fantasy-based objections to the 2020 Electoral College results just shows the depth of their depravity. I’m going to get more and more angry if I keep going with this post, so let me end by saying that while this falls well short of what they deserve, it’s necessary. Even small consequences still count as consequences. NPR has more.

If we finally get immigration reform…

It would have a big effect in Texas, for obvious reasons.

Just after being sworn in on Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden plans to propose a major immigration overhaul that would offer a pathway to citizenship to up to 1.7 million Texans who are in the country without legal authorization.

The proposal, which Biden is expected to send to Congress on his inauguration day, would create an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., more than 500,000 of whom live in Harris and Bexar counties, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Those who qualify would be granted a green card after five years and could apply for citizenship three years later.

The plan would create a faster track for those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — more than 106,000 Texans as of June — and with temporary protected status, who could apply immediately for a green card. A Biden transition official on Tuesday confirmed the outline of the plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

The move positions immigration reform as a top priority for the new president, beyond tackling the coronavirus, for which Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package. Democrats’ slim control of Congress, meanwhile, puts a spotlight on Texas Republicans, especially U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who campaigned last year on his support for the DACA program.

Democrats control the House, where a majority could pass Biden’s proposal, but they will need to build support from at least 10 Republican senators for it to get to Biden’s desk.

Immigration advocates have cheered the proposal and some experts say they’re more optimistic than they’ve been in years about the prospects of such a comprehensive overhaul.

Still, a deal on immigration has eluded Congress for decades and Biden’s proposal was already drawing resistance from the Senate’s most conservative members on Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri stopped an effort to fast-track Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, citing the president-elect’s “amnesty plan for 11 million immigrants.”

Cornyn, meanwhile, said as recently as this summer that he had given up on comprehensive reform, calling at the time for incremental action on issues such as DACA.

“In the entire time I’ve been in the Senate, when we try to do comprehensive immigration reform, we fail,” Cornyn said in June. “We have a perfect record of failure when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform.”

Well, you can be part of the solution this time if you want to, John. We know your junior colleague will do everything he can to block this, so the choice is yours.

There are things that President Biden can do with executive orders, but as we know from previous litigation, that can be precarious. Getting the legislation through has to be the goal, especially since this time it’s all about providing relief and not further increasing the militarization of the border. Dems missed their chance on this in the first years of the Obama presidency. Lord only knows when the stars will align like this again. Get it done. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

A brief summary of what the next two years will be like

What will Republicans do without Trump?

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads like it’s never been before, and it’s gonna have to decide who it is,” said Corbin Casteel, a Texas GOP operative who was Trump’s Texas state director during the 2016 primary.

No one seems to be under the illusion that Trump will fade quietly. Since losing the election to Joe Biden in November, Trump has launched baseless attacks on the integrity of the election as most prominent Texans in his party let his claims go unchallenged. Some of Trump’s most loyal allies in Texas expect he’ll be a force here for years.

“The party is really built around Donald Trump — the brand, the image, but most importantly, his policies and what he accomplished,” [Dan] Patrick said during a Fox News interview Thursday. “Whoever runs in 2024, if they walk away from Trump and his policies, I don’t think they can get through a primary.”

To Texas Democrats, Trump has been a highly galvanizing force who created new political opportunities for them, particularly in the suburbs. He carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016 — the smallest margin for a GOP nominee in Texas in two decades — and then an even smaller margin last year. But his 6-point win here in November came after Democrats spent months getting their hopes up that Trump would lose the state altogether, and they also came up woefully short down-ballot, concluding the Trump era with decisively mixed feelings about his electoral impact at the state level.

More broadly, some Texas Democrats believe Trump is leaving a legacy as a symptom of the state’s current Republican politics, not a cause of it.

“Frankly I don’t think he changed the Republican Party in Texas,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the state Democratic Party chair, adding that Trump has instead magnified the “extreme politics and tendencies” that Texas Republicans have long harbored. “The things that [Trump] stands for — the white nationalism, the anti-LGBT [sentiment], the just flat-out racism, just the absolute meanness — that’s what the Republican Party has been in Texas for quite some time.”

As for Texas Republicans’ embrace of Trump, Hinojosa added, they “are the people that Trump talks about when he says he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose their support.”

[…]

To be sure, it’s entirely possible Republicans unite in the next year the way political parties do when they’re in the minority — with an oppositional message to the opposing administration. But the GOP’s longer-term challenges could prove harder to resolve. In the final years of Trump, some in the party drifted from any unifying policy vision. At the 2020 Republican National Convention, the party opted not to create a new platform, saying it would instead “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

November’s elections in Texas did little to settle the debate over which direction the party should go. Those who want to move on note that Trump won with the narrowest margin for a GOP presidential candidate this century, and swing-seat Republican congressional contenders largely outperformed him in their districts.

“Most every Republican that was successful, with the exception of a handful, outperformed Donald Trump by a significant margin,” Hurd said. “If you’re not growing, you are dying, and if we’re not expanding to those voters that are disaffected and don’t believe in the message that Democrats are providing, then we’re not going to be able to grow.”

On the other hand, Trump’s 6-point margin was bigger than expected, and he performed surprisingly well in Hispanic communities in South Texas. Former Texas GOP Chair James Dickey said Trump’s message was “particularly effective” in swaths of the state that aren’t typically looked at as political bellwethers.

“His biggest impact has been a return to populist roots and an expansion of the party in minority communities, which, again, is a return to its roots,” Dickey said.

My medium-lukewarm take based on 2018, 2020, and the Georgia runoffs is that Republicans do better with Trump on the ballot than not. Dems made the big gains in 2018 in part because Republican turnout, as high as it was in that off-year, wasn’t as good as it could have been. The GOP got some low-propensity voters to turn out in November – as did Dems – and now they have to try to get them to turn out again. Maybe they will! Maybe with Trump gone some number of former Republicans who voted Dem because they hated Trump will find their way back to the GOP. Or maybe those folks are now full-on Dems. The national atmosphere will be critical to how 2022 goes – the economy, the vaccination effort, the Senate trial of Trump, further fallout from the Capitol insurrection, and just overall whether people think the Dems have done too much, too little, or the right amount. Dems can only control what they do.

And that’s going to mean playing some defense.

Democrats are headed back to the White House, and Texas Republicans are gearing up to go back on offense.

For eight years under President Barack Obama, Texas was a conservative counterweight to a progressive administration, with its Republican leaders campaigning against liberal policies on immigration, the environment and health care and lobbing lawsuit after federal lawsuit challenging scores of Democratic initiatives. When Republicans could not block policies in Congress, they sometimes could in the courts.

Now, as Joe Biden enters the White House promising a slew of executive orders and proposed legislation, the notorious “Texas vs. the feds” lawsuits are expected to return in full force. And state leaders have begun to float policy proposals for this year’s legislative session in response to expected action — or inaction — from a White House run by Democrats.

[…]

Under Trump, Texas has often found itself aligned with the federal government in the courts. Most notably, the Trump administration lined up with a Texas-led coalition of red states seeking to end the Affordable Care Act. That case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once Biden enters the White House and his appointees lead everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Homeland Security, Texas’ conservative leaders will return to a familiar posture: adversary, not ally, to those making national policy.

Paul Nolette, a professor at Marquette University who studies federalism, said he expects Texas to be “at the top of the heap” among Republican attorneys general challenging the new administration in court.

According to Nolette, the number of multi-state lawsuits against the federal government skyrocketed from 78 under eight years of Obama to 145 during just four years of Trump.

“Republican AGs will take a very aggressive multi-state approach,” Nolette predicted. “It’ll happen quickly.”

It should be noted that a lot of those lawsuits were not successful. I don’t know what the scoreboard looks like, and some of those suits are still active, so write that in pencil and not in Sharpie. It should also be noted that the goal of some of these lawsuits, like ending DACA and killing the Affordable Care Act, are not exactly in line with public opinion, so winning may not have the effect the GOP hopes it would have. And of course AG Ken Paxton is under federal indictment (no pardon, sorry), leading a hollowed-out office, and not in great electoral shape for 2022. There’s definitely a chance Texas is not at the front of this parade in 2022.

My point is simply this: There’s a lot of ways the next two years can go. I think the main factors look obvious right now, but nothing is ever exactly as we think it is. I think Democrats nationally have a good idea of what their goals are and how they will achieve them, but it all comes down to execution. Keep your eye on the ball.

Bail reform plaintiffs want Paxton booted from case

I for one am a fan of kicking out Ken Paxton in any context.

Best mugshot ever

In a strategic move that could speed up their case against Harris County, the plaintiffs challenging felony bail practices are hoping to kick two dozen players out of the game — 23 judges and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who represents most of them in the landmark suit.

These judges who dole out bail rulings on a daily basis to people accused of crime would become third parties. They would no longer go toe-to-toe with indigent defendants who sued in a civil rights case saying courts offer a vastly different outcomes to people arrested depending on how much money they have in their pocket.

The motion filed Wednesday asks Lee H. Rosenthal, the chief judge of the Southern District of Texas, to dismiss the felony judges as parties from the 2019 lawsuit. Should the judge grant it, the remaining defendants in the case would be the county and its sheriff. The majority in county government are in sync with bail reform and the sheriff’s office is headed by Ed Gonzalez, who has said that setting arbitrarily high bail rates doesn’t protect the public.

Paxton has been an impediment to progress, said Neal Manne, a pro bono lawyer from Susman Godfrey LLP, who is among the lead counsel behind twin bail challenges, to misdemeanor and felony bail.

“The county and the sheriff are actually operating in good faith and would like to figure out a solution to a terrible problem. The attorney general is not acting in good faith, he just wants to find ways to disrupt and disrupt and prevent any reform from happening.”

[…]

The idea of removing the judges from the case stems from a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that took on Dallas County’s bail system. The appellate court determined that sovereign immunity protected the Dallas judges from being sued over their bail practices. The 5th Circuit ruling said the sheriff is the key party to sue to obtain relief for people who are being detained unconstitutionally due to unaffordable bail.

See here for the previous update. The theory, as espoused by Judge Chuck Silverman, who is not represented by Paxton and agrees with the plaintiffs, is that this would thin the herd in the courtroom, which in turn might make it easier to come to a settlement agreement. It might also put some of the judges who are currently being represented by the AG’s office on the spot, and I’m fine with that.

More bike riders, more bike fatalities

We should try to do something about this.

The COVID pandemic sparked a surge in bike sales and bike riding across the Houston region at a time when pedaling — and driving — area streets is deadlier than ever.

A sharp drop in driving could not stop road fatalities from reaching a record high based on data compiled by the Texas Department of Transportation.

That lack of safety was especially true in 2020 for bicyclists, who represent a fractional number of road users but 5 percent of those killed. Last year 31 men and three women died on area roads. The annual total of 34 exceeds that of 2019, which also was a record at 27 for the region in a single year.

Based on a preliminary analysis — reports can take weeks to enter the state’s crash database maintained by TxDOT — crashes involving bicycles are down 15 percent while deaths are up 26 percent from 2019.

Safety researchers and cycling advocates, however, were reluctant to draw too many conclusions from the early numbers or begin laying blame for the jump on any single cause. In fact, where crashes occurred and who died does not align with the noticeable increase in recreational cycling but, rather, the same factors present before the pandemic: a lack of safe space for bicycles, inadequate or absent lighting, and street design choices that enable drivers to speed.

“These aren’t accidents,” said Joe Cutrufo, executive director of BikeHouston, a local advocacy group. “Our streets were intentionally designed to accommodate one mode, and only one mode.”

[…]

Yet, despite bicycle use for recreation and commuting being higher in neighborhoods within and around Loop 610, that is not where fatalities are happening. Deaths of bicyclists within Loop 610 dropped from seven in 2019 to one last year.

Instead, it is suburban areas where crashes are happening in larger numbers, such as in Houston along U.S. 90 and major streets nearby within the Sam Houston Tollway and along FM 1960 near Bush Intercontinental Airport, which were not built with bicycles in mind.

The number of fatalities always has fallen off the farther from central Houston one gets, but this year some suburban counties logged increases, notably in Brazoria County where five bicyclists lost their lives in 2020. The county’s previous high was three in 2011.

[…]

Last year’s rise in bicyclist deaths mirrors the increase in overall road deaths despite the pandemic-induced economic slowdown that has resulted in fewer vehicles on freeways and streets.

In the 11-county Houston area, 710 roadway deaths were reported by police in 2020, with almost 60 percent being drivers or passengers in cars and trucks. Despite efforts at the state, regional and local levels to curtail crashes and a pandemic that at times cut vehicle use in half, wrecks continued to claim more lives, including a record 482 in Harris County and 263 in Houston.

The conclusion of researchers — who caution that 2020 information is preliminary — is that fewer miles of automotive travel is leading to fewer wrecks, but the resulting collisions and catastrophes occurring are more severe. As a result, few can say roads are any safer.

The connection between less traffic (due to the pandemic) and more traffic deaths was noted months ago, and seems to be the result of people driving faster on those less-congested streets. For obvious reasons, that will be especially deadly for bike riders. There’s a chart embedded in the story that shows 2020 was the highest traffic fatality year since at least 2011 in the Houston area, which I believe in this case is the 11-county H-GAC region. There’s a lot that can be done about this, and a lot that needs to be done, including more roads built for safety over speed, more bike lanes, more and better sidewalks, and just more drivers being aware of bikes and pedestrians. We can make a difference, but we have to want to.

Census apportionment shenanigans to be officially curtailed

As it should be.

The Trump administration’s protracted efforts to keep some immigrants from being counted when congressional seats are divvied up after the 2020 census ended with the former president’s departure from the White House, but President Joe Biden’s administration inherits a census running far behind schedule.

Among his first acts after being inaugurated, Biden on Wednesday is expected to sign an executive order undoing his predecessor’s plan to keep undocumented immigrants from being included in the state-by-state tallies that determine how those living in the U.S. are represented in Congress for the next 10 years.

Trump’s scheme to fundamentally alter the process had already been foiled by processing delays, but Biden’s order serves as an official reversal as state lawmakers wait for the detailed census results they need to reconfigure political districts to reflect a decade’s worth of population growth.

The most significant effect for Texas politically remains an extended delay in the Legislature’s efforts to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, and part of the job could ultimately fall to a Legislative Redistricting Board or the courts.

Texas lawmakers would ordinarily expect to receive detailed data from the census as soon as mid-February — marking an unofficial kickoff to the redrawing of political districts so they’re roughly equal in population. Instead, the Texas Legislature is operating on uncertainty.

The coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country last year just as it was set to begin the high-stakes, once-a-decade count of every person living in the U.S., setting back elaborate plans for counting communities and the deadline for tallying by several months. With the release of that data delayed — and amid political turmoil at the Census Bureau — it remains unclear whether lawmakers will even be able to embark on the redistricting process before the end of the regular legislative session in May.

“It appears to me [that] a reasonable person would look at what is occurring today and believe the numbers would not come until early summer, but don’t hold me to that,” state Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who chairs the Senate redistricting committee, said on the Senate floor last week.

[…]

The Census Bureau was statutorily required to produce the population numbers that determine how many congressional seats each state gets by Dec. 31, but lawyers for the federal government indicated in court hearings that those counts won’t be ready until early March because anomalies in the data must be fixed. The detailed census results used to redraw districts come in a second dataset that must be delivered to states by March 31. The federal government has not provided details on when that data will be available.

In 2011, the Census Bureau began delivering the second dataset to Texas lawmakers on Feb. 17.

In announcing his executive order on Wednesday, the Biden transition team indicated the president would “ensure that the Census Bureau has time to complete an accurate population count for each state” in search of apportionment that is “fair and accurate so federal resources are efficiently and fairly distributed for the next decade.”

“I think at this point the delays are probably a good thing” because the data is being scrubbed for accuracy, said Joaquin Gonzalez, a voting rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which has been pushing for a more transparent redistricting process at the state Capitol.

In a joint statement released earlier this month, a group of former directors of the Census Bureau indicated it was “appropriate” for the bureau to take the necessary time to ensure the count was accurate given the delays caused by the pandemic.

However, state lawmakers are up against a constitutional clock that says state House and Senate seats must be redrawn by the Legislature during the first regular legislative session after the census is published. If they fail to do so, the Legislative Redistricting Board — a panel made up by the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state land commissioner — takes over the mapping with no requirement to hold hearings for public input.

“In some ways, the worst case scenario is that the data comes down to the states in May or something like that because then the Legislature really doesn’t have time to do its job correctly, but because of the state constitution, the state districts would automatically get sent to the [Legislative Redistricting Board],” Gonzalez said. “In terms of public participation and transparency, that’s sort of the worst case scenario.”

See here for the previous update. I have been assuming that the redistricting process would have to occur in a special session anyway – it just never seemed like there would be enough time to fit it into the regular session. Dems strategy will apparently be to force the matter to the courts, which was the scenario for Congressional map-drawing if they had taken the House and no agreement could be reached. Don’t know if that can work, but it’s a strategy. Putting that aside, the main result here is that Texas will get a full count, and will get the likely three new Congressional districts that it merits. I’ll never get over the fact that our state leaders didn’t fight for that, but it happened anyway without them. You’re welcome.

On capping restaurant delivery app fees

Fine by me, but I’ll bet more than fifteen percent of my most recent delivery tab that this does not go anywhere.

Rep. Carl Sherman

High delivery fees by third-party apps, such as DoorDash and Uber Eats, are often cited by restaurant operators as a source of financial strain, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. A new bill filed in the 87th Texas Legislature is seeking to cap the fees food delivery services charge restaurants at 15 percent.

The industry standard hovers around 30 percent of a customer’s order, depending on the platform. This would be significantly reduced across the state if the bill passes.

“This is one of my wishes for 2021,” says Alex Au-yeung, the chef and owner of Phat Eatery in Katy.

Au-yeung used Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats at one point, but he got rid of them even before the pandemic. Phat Eatery now operates its own delivery system. With razor-thin profit margins, a fee that high is untenable for restaurants, he says: “If you give 30 percent away, how can we survive?”

Rep. Carl Sherman Sr. introduced H.B. 598 in the House after he heard from restaurant owners in his DeSoto-area district that the high delivery fees were creating hardship for their business.

“The impact of COVID exacerbated the problem,” Sherman says. With dining rooms closed, then reopened at lower capacity, restaurants had to rely on takeout and delivery, often turning to third-party apps. “They were unable to factor in the levied costs from these delivery services,” he says.

Chef Justin Turner closed all four locations of his popular Bernie’s Burger Bus restaurants this year. While he said there were many factors at play, high delivery fees were one of them. Turner signed up for the services because he saw the convenience of delivery become increasingly popular with customers. He said representatives for the companies told him he would see an increase in business by being on the platforms, but he hasn’t found that to be the case. Instead, Turner noticed sales simply shifting away from dine-in to carryout over time. The pandemic made this worse.

“People want the convenience,” Turner says. “Especially in a COVID world, being able to get food dropped off at their door without talking to a person or touching a person.”

Turner adds that these fees also affect the customer. He’s already seen some restaurants increasing to-go prices to make up for the high commission from delivery apps. In his opinion, most food doesn’t travel that well, so people are paying more money for lesser quality than is offered by dining in person.

[…]

Besides the high commission, Au-yeung had other gripes about the delivery apps. His team couldn’t communicate directly with people ordering through the platforms, which made the restaurant’s mission of great customer service impossible. And while he made the decision to leave DoorDash, he found it impossible to take Phat Eatery down from their website. He says he’s tried to contact the company, to no avail. To turn people away from ordering through the app, he edited the menu items to read “Do not order here.” He also jacked up the prices to discourage people.

One service Au-yeung likes, though, is Favor Fleet, an offshoot of the local delivery app now owned by H-E-B. If the restaurant is busy and short-staffed for deliveries, he can request drivers from Favor Fleet on-demand, for a flat fee of $7.50 per order. “That, I can deal with,” he says.

Turner says he favors the bill’s passage but is skeptical about its chances in the Legislature.

“I don’t think, with two publicly traded companies and lobbyists, that this is going to make it further,” he says. “You’re asking them to cut their profits, that they’ve been making for a long time now, in half.”

I suspect that is absolutely correct. This will be smothered by lobbyists before it ever has a chance to breathe. It’s still worth bringing up. Personally, I never use delivery services for takeout. I pick it up myself, which is the only way I can be sure that the money I’m spending goes entirely to the restaurant. It helps that 90% of the time I’m ordering from a neighborhood place, but still. And when this damn pandemic is over, I’m going back to dining in most of the time. Restaurant food tastes best when it’s right out of the kitchen, and no amount of convenience makes up for that to me. Your mileage may vary.

If we’re lucky, Congress will short circuit the Lege’s attempts to curtail voting

That would be nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Elections have consequences. So does the Republican enabling of the worst, most corrupt chief executive in the nation’s history. Hence, the first piece of legislation to be introduced in the new Democratic Senate will be S. 1, The for the People Act of 2021. The bill from Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is a companion to H.R. 1 in the House, a bill with the same title and largely similar provisions to restore and protect voting rights, tackle dark money in politics, and make ethics reforms for public servants.

This could be the legislation that breaks the filibuster, and that will be a challenge for some Republicans to oppose. The House passed a version of the bill soon after retaking the majority in the last Congress, but no Republican in the Senate had to face a vote on it because Mitch McConnell just refused to bring the bill to the floor. Upping the stakes is Project Lincoln, the never-Trumper Republicans who made a big splash against Trump and his enablers in the GOP. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has the scoop that Project Lincoln supports it. “If Republicans want to move past Trump and repudiate Trumpism in all its forms, they need to pass foundational reforms to democracy,” Reed Galen, co-founder of the group told Sargent. “Senate Republicans must make a choice: Do they stand for democracy or are they the new Jim Crow caucus?”

Here’s some of what they have to decide on: universal registration of eligible voters and simple voter registration maintenance available to all voters online, Election Day voter registration, limiting voter purges by states and requiring early voting, as well as restricting hurdles states can impose on voting and vote by mail; restoration of the protections in the Voting Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court and blocked by McConnell; and independent redistricting commission in the states to end gerrymandering. On the dark money front, it would impose new disclosure requirements both on donations and on lobbying, and require presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns.

Some of these things directly address bills that will be or have been introduced this session, while others would allow Democratic agenda items to bypass that insurmountable obstacle. HR1 also addresses redistricting, but it is not clear that it will address it for this reapportionment cycle or if it would wait till 2031. That seems like a risk to me, but it may also be a moot point if the legislation can’t be passed in a timely fashion. And of course, anything Congress passes will be litigated, and that which is not litigated will be subject to various weaselly attempts to get around it. So no matter what, this is a long-term story. But at least there’s a chance it could be one with a more affirming narrative.

More vaccination hubs

Keep ’em coming.

State health officials Saturday announced 79 hub providers that are expected to receive allotments of COVID-19 vaccines this week, including newly designated hubs in some suburbs of Houston.

The hub providers include two in Galveston County, one each in Fort Bend County, Montgomery County and Liberty County and six in Harris County, according to a list of the hubs that are intended to focus on mass vaccination efforts. Officials plan to distribute 333,650 first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 260 providers across the state. Additionally, the state will order about 500,000 doses expected to be the second ones for people who received their first shot a few weeks ago.

Earlier this month, the Houston region’s three hubs were all in Harris County, making officials in some surrounding counties fear they’d been forgotten. The Texas Department of State Health Services previously said more hubs were likely to be added but that the main obstacle was a short supply of vaccines.

“In the past week, Texas became the first state to administer 1 million doses of vaccine, and vaccine has been administered to residents of all 254 counties,” state health officials said in announcing the allocation breakdown of the week’s doses. “Vaccine remains limited based on the capacity of the manufacturers to produce it, so it will take time for Texas to receive enough vaccine for all the people in the priority populations who want to be vaccinated.”

The vaccine first arrived in Texas on December 14, so that million doses was administered over about five weeks, or less than 30K per day. Things have surely picked up since the first few days, with the emergence of hubs. We’re still working to get to that 50K per day minimum target, which as we have discussed is still a 20-month time frame. Getting the rate higher than that is going to depend on the federal supply, which was very much over-promised and under-delivered by the Trump administration. But today is a new day, and now we have a new President, and things should be looking up soon. Let’s all hope so.

Precinct analysis: County Clerk 2020 and 2018

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor

We weren’t supposed to have a County Clerk race on the ballot in 2020, but we did following the health-related resignation of Diane Trautman in May. That gave us a battle of Stan Stanart, former County Clerk whom Trautman had deposed in 2018, and Teneshia Hudspeth, former chief elections person under Stanart. Hudspeth won easily, and though her 835K total votes were on the lower end for Democratic countywide candidates, her 53.76% of the vote was pretty close to Trautman’s 54.60% from two years before. The 2018 election was a non-Presidential year, with record turnout for such a contest, and the 2018 Clerk race also featured a Libertarian candidate, so comparisons are a bit tricky. My advice is to look at Hudspeth’s percentages compared to Trautman’s. Here’s the 2020 race:


Dist  Stanart Hudspeth Stanart% Hudspeth%
=========================================
CD02  181,707  151,509   54.53%    45.47%
CD07  153,335  147,437   50.98%    49.02%
CD08   26,037   14,710   63.90%    36.10%
CD09   37,941  119,087   24.16%    75.84%
CD10  103,442   58,506   63.87%    36.13%
CD18   60,497  178,172   25.35%    74.65%
CD22   22,018   19,747   52.72%    47.28%
CD29   50,483   99,634   33.63%    66.37%
CD36   83,484   47,160   63.90%    36.10%
				
SBOE4 108,536  332,265   24.62%    75.38%
SBOE6 389,609  343,285   53.16%    46.84%
SBOE8 220,799  160,413   57.92%    42.08%
				
SD04   56,013   22,252   71.57%    28.43%
SD06   58,816  115,690   33.70%    66.30%
SD07  237,989  168,687   58.52%    41.48%
SD11   77,992   45,722   63.04%    36.96%
SD13   38,148  158,482   19.40%    80.60%
SD15  115,748  191,422   37.68%    62.32%
SD17  118,870  122,163   49.32%    50.68%
SD18   15,368   11,547   57.10%    42.90%
				
HD126  39,346   32,856   54.49%    45.51%
HD127  54,464   34,684   61.09%    38.91%
HD128  48,497   21,457   69.33%    30.67%
HD129  48,407   34,399   58.46%    41.54%
HD130  70,686   31,495   69.18%    30.82%
HD131  10,184   44,299   18.69%    81.31%
HD132  51,079   47,460   51.84%    48.16%
HD133  51,079   35,518   58.98%    41.02%
HD134  49,424   56,156   46.81%    53.19%
HD135  36,914   36,293   50.42%    49.58%
HD137  10,430   20,635   33.57%    66.43%
HD138  32,119   30,383   51.39%    48.61%
HD139  15,914   44,364   26.40%    73.60%
HD140   9,567   21,385   30.91%    69.09%
HD141   7,122   35,961   16.53%    83.47%
HD142  14,114   41,357   25.44%    74.56%
HD143  12,295   23,775   34.09%    65.91%
HD144  13,990   16,257   46.25%    53.75%
HD145  15,404   26,341   36.90%    63.10%
HD146  11,411   43,173   20.91%    79.09%
HD147  15,494   52,686   22.73%    77.27%
HD148  22,919   35,897   38.97%    61.03%
HD149  21,718   30,328   41.73%    58.27%
HD150  56,366   38,803   59.23%    40.77%
				
CC1    94,155  277,561   25.33%    74.67%
CC2   152,576  141,645   51.86%    48.14%
CC3   229,070  206,538   52.59%    47.41%
CC4   243,143  210,221   53.63%    46.37%
				
JP1    94,708  161,313   36.99%    63.01%
JP2    34,728   47,948   42.00%    58.00%
JP3    52,202   67,235   43.71%    56.29%
JP4   236,302  181,977   56.49%    43.51%
JP5   205,591  211,174   49.33%    50.67%
JP6     8,522   26,546   24.30%    75.70%
JP7    18,695   99,939   15.76%    84.24%
JP8    68,196   39,833   63.13%    36.87%

Nothing we haven’t seen before by this point. It’s possible Stanart did a little better than expected because of name recognition, but who can tell. The 2018 analysis was part of a package deal. Here’s the County Clerk’s race on its own:


Dist  Stanart Trautman  Gomez  Under Stanart%   Traut%  Gomez%
==============================================================
CD02  135,427  116,744  6,717  6,221   52.31%   45.09%   2.59%
CD07  116,383  116,488  5,648  6,706   48.79%   48.84%   2.37%
CD08   17,784   10,221    679    520   62.00%   35.63%   2.37%
CD09   23,329   93,625  2,504  2,376   19.53%   78.37%   2.10%
CD10   71,172   39,707  2,623  1,970   62.71%   34.98%   2.31%
CD18   39,159  138,311  4,892  4,087   21.47%   75.84%   2.68%
CD22   15,265   15,184    857    711   48.76%   48.50%   2.74%
CD29   30,313   82,449  3,916  2,627   25.98%   70.66%   3.36%
CD36   60,467   35,918  2,452  2,036   61.18%   36.34%   2.48%

SBOE6 287,300  269,837 14,477 15,045   50.26%   47.21%   2.53%

HD126  29,277   24,586  1,293  1,074   53.08%   44.58%   2.34%
HD127  41,017   25,198  1,634  1,260   60.45%   37.14%   2.41%
HD128  34,735   15,876  1,142    915   67.12%   30.68%   2.21%
HD129  35,567   26,799  1,739  1,582   55.48%   41.80%   2.71%
HD130  51,064   22,942  1,722  1,365   67.43%   30.30%   2.27%
HD131   6,110   34,855    864    717   14.61%   83.33%   2.07%
HD132  32,579   32,090  1,680  1,023   49.10%   48.37%   2.53%
HD133  40,721   28,089  1,552  2,192   57.87%   39.92%   2.21%
HD134  37,977   47,211  2,090  3,692   43.51%   54.09%   2.39%
HD135  26,584   27,712  1,379  1,033   47.75%   49.77%   2.48%
HD137   7,257   16,167    678    552   30.11%   67.08%   2.81%
HD138  23,336   23,515  1,257  1,100   48.51%   48.88%   2.61%
HD139  10,545   35,238  1,128    961   22.48%   75.12%   2.40%
HD140   5,269   17,569    722    490   22.36%   74.57%   3.06%
HD141   3,921   26,852    622    438   12.49%   85.53%   1.98%
HD142   8,579   30,125    850    662   21.69%   76.16%   2.15%
HD143   7,405   20,178    952    699   25.95%   70.71%   3.34%
HD144   8,949   13,629    786    450   38.30%   58.33%   3.36%
HD145   9,596   21,809  1,226    834   29.41%   66.84%   3.76%
HD146   8,082   34,044    931  1,065   18.77%   79.07%   2.16%
HD147  10,013   42,972  1,576  1,316   18.35%   78.76%   2.89%
HD148  15,587   29,671  1,907  1,695   33.05%   62.91%   4.04%
HD149  14,042   23,985    859    785   36.11%   61.68%   2.21%
HD150  41,087   27,535  1,699  1,354   58.43%   39.16%   2.42%

CC1    61,603  218,965  6,875  6,563   21.43%   76.18%   2.39%
CC2   105,901  114,124  6,772  5,028   46.69%   50.32%   2.99%
CC3   164,601  157,515  7,843  8,035   49.89%   47.74%   2.38%
CC4   177,194  158,043  8,798  7,628   51.50%   45.94%   2.56%

I included undervotes in the county candidates’ analyses in 2018 because I was trying to analyze the effects of straight ticket voting as well. As I said, if you compare just the Democratic candidates’ percentages, you see that Hudspeth and Trautman had fairly similar performances, with the drops we have noted before in some of the Latino districts. Trautman knocked it out of the park in HD134, which was more Republican in 2018. Hudspeth had among the higher scores this year in HDs 131 and 141. I fully expect she’ll build on her performance in 2022, when she will be the incumbent running for re-election, though as always the first question is what will the national atmosphere look like.

It’s going to be lawsuit season again

Not looking forward to it, but it’s better than the alternative.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

President-elect Joe Biden has big plans for his first 100 days in office, when he’s vowed to roll back the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, push policies addressing climate change and potentially forgive student debt for thousands of Americans.

He’s also said he’ll push a mask mandate to combat COVID-19 and wants Congress to pass another massive stimulus package. And in the longer term, Biden has talked about rewriting the tax code to raise taxes on the rich.

Texas is almost certain to fight him every step of the way.

The state is about to be back on the front lines battling against the federal government, a long tradition for its Republican leaders, from former Gov. Rick Perry to Gov. Greg Abbott — who as the state’s attorney general famously said, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”

Abbott’s successor, Attorney General Ken Paxton, has been just as committed to pushing back on federal laws and mandates championed by Democrats. Most recently he led a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in four battleground states at the U.S. Supreme Court. Paxton did not respond to a request for comment.

As Biden takes office next week, many expect the state to pick up where it left off after suing the Obama administration dozens of times to stop initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, scrap protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and end the Affordable Care Act.

The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation — which filed the Obamacare challenge that Paxton joined and is now before the Supreme Court — is gearing up to start grinding out challenges to a slew of White House priorities regarding immigration, energy and taxes.

“On the eve of the election we were discussing internally, ‘Well, what would happen if Biden won?’ One thing everyone pretty much agreed on is our litigation center would probably increase in size significantly,” said Chuck DeVore, vice president of national initiatives at TPPF. “We’re kind of excited about it.”

Robert Henneke, general counsel at the TPPF, wouldn’t say whether the group’s legal staff has grown as expected, but did say they are bracing for battles ahead as he expects the Biden administration to “pick up where the Obama administration left off.”

The story goes on to list some likely future battles, a couple of which are ongoing now. It should be noted that Texas’ record suing the Obama administration wasn’t particularly good, though now there are all those Trump judges on the bench, so who knows what can happen. One other thing that can happen is we can boot our felonious Attorney General out of office next year. That won’t stop bad actors in the private sector from bringing cases, but it will at least keep them from having the state’s imprimatur on them. All I can say beyond that is I hope they feel the need to file lawsuits for a lot longer than the next four years.

Maybe this is the year we get rid of Confederate Heroes Day

I know it shouldn’t boggle my mind that we even still have such a thing as “Confederate Heroes Day” in Texas in the year of our Lord 2021, but we do and it does. And so, some lawmakers will try, try again to make that a thing of the not-nearly-distant-enough past.

Rep. Nicole Collier

The day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday honoring a leader of the American civil rights movement, some Texas employees will also take a paid day off this Tuesday for Confederate Heroes Day — a state holiday falling on Robert E. Lee’s birthday, intended to celebrate him, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate soldiers.

For years, a handful of Texas lawmakers have tried in vain to pass legislation that would remove or replace the holiday celebrating leaders of the Confederate army.

But they say this year feels different.

Demonstrators across the nation spent months over the summer protesting police brutality and racial injustice, leading many states to initiate mass removals of Confederate memorials.

“The killing of George Floyd, a Texan, and the killing of Atatiana Jefferson, another Texan, at the hands of law enforcement, certainly do underscore the importance of removing a day of remembrance that brings to the mind slavery and oppression,” said state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, chairperson of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Texas isn’t alone in its recognition of the controversial holiday. Eight other states have similar Confederate memorial days throughout the year: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee and Virginia. Mississippi and Alabama also have a joint Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day.

The birthdays of Lee and Davis used to be separate Texas holidays, but lawmakers consolidated them in 1973 to create Confederate Heroes Day.

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, filed one of two bills for this session attempting to remove the holiday from the state’s calendar. State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, filed the other in support.

“This is an opportunity for us to bring and shine light on social injustice, how Black people across this country have been demonized and have been treated unfairly by the judicial system, the criminal justice system,” Johnson said. “I think this is another way that we have to wipe away and erase harmful, hurtful imagery that continues to remind us of our horrible past.”

Johnson filed the same bill to abolish the holiday during the 2019 legislative session, but it never got a vote in the State Affairs Committee, which House Speaker Dade Phelan chaired at the time.

Phelan will ensure lawmakers have a “level playing field to advocate for legislation important to them and their communities” this session, said Enrique Marquez, spokesperson for the speaker.

We’ll see about that. I mean, it was just two years ago that we were finally able to get a Confederate plaque removed at the Capitol, though later in that same session the Senate approved a bill that would make it virtually impossible to remove any other Confederate monuments around the state. (That bill did not come to a vote in the House, so at least there was that.) I would hope that seeing an actual insurrectionist carrying an actual Confederate flag inside the actual US Capitol earlier this month, a thing that the Confederate Army itself failed to do, might shock some people out of whatever it is that made them not be reviled by this sort of thing, but I would not bet on it. But as someone once said, it’s always the right time to do the right thing.

Precinct analysis: Presidential results by Congressional district

From Daily Kos Elections, the breakdown of how Presidential voting went in each of Texas’ 36 Congressional districts:

Two districts did in fact flip on the presidential level: Trump lost the 24th District in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs while recapturing the 23rd District along the border with Mexico. Biden, however, made major gains in a number of other suburban districts and nearly won no fewer than seven of them. Trump, meanwhile, surged in many heavily Latino areas and likewise came close to capturing three, but except for the 24th, every Trump seat is in GOP hands and every Biden seat is represented by Democrats. The 24th, which includes the suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth, is a good place to start because it saw one of the largest shifts between 2016 and 2020. The district began the decade as heavily Republican turf—it backed Mitt Romney 60-38—but Trump carried it by a substantially smaller 51-44 margin four years later.

Biden continued the trend and racked up a 52-46 win this time, but the area remained just red enough downballot to allow Republican Beth Van Duyne to manage a 49-47 victory in an expensive open-seat race against Democrat Candace Valenzuela.

Biden fell just short of winning seven other historically red suburban seats: the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th, 21st, 22nd, and 31st, where Trump’s margins ranged from just one to three points and where the swings from 2016 ranged from seven points in the 22nd all the way to 13 points in the 3rd, the biggest shift in the state. However, as in the 24th, Biden’s surge did not come with sufficient coattails, as Republicans ran well ahead of Trump in all of these seats. (You can check out our guide for more information about each district.)

Two seats that Democrats flipped in 2018 and stayed blue last year also saw large improvements for Biden. The 7th District in west Houston, parts of which were once represented by none other than George H.W. Bush from 1967 to 1971, had swung from 60-39 Romney to 48-47 Clinton, and Biden carried it 54-45 in 2020. Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher won by a smaller 51-47 spread against Wesley Hunt, who was one of the House GOP’s best fundraisers. The 32nd District in the Dallas area, likewise, had gone from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton. This time, Biden took it 54-44 as Democratic Rep. Colin Allred prevailed 52-46.

Biden’s major gains in the suburbs, though, came at the same time that Trump made serious inroads in predominantly Latino areas on or near the southern border with Mexico. That rightward shift may have cost Team Blue the chance to flip the open 23rd District, which stretches from San Antonio west to the outskirts of the El Paso area.

A full breakdown by county and district is here, and a comparison of percentages from 2016 and 2020 is here. CD23 went from being a Romney district to a Clinton district to a Trump district, though in all cases it was close. The red flags are in CDs 15, 28, and 34. In CD15, incumbent Vicente Gonzalez won by only three points, in a district Biden carried by one point, a huge drop from Clinton’s 57-40 win in 2016. Everyone’s least favorite Democrat Henry Cuellar had an easy 19-point win, but Biden only carried CD28 by four points, down from Clinton’s 20-point margin. It’s not crazy to think that Jessica Cisneros could have lost that race, though of course we’ll never know. This wasn’t the scenario I had in mind when I griped that CD28 was not a “safe” district, but it does clearly illustrate what I meant. And Filemon Vela, now a DNC Vice Chair, also had a relatively easy 55-42 win, but in a district Biden carried 52-48 after Clinton had carried it 59-38. Not great, Bob.

We don’t have the full downballot results – we’ll probably get them in March from the Texas Legislative Council – but the Harris County experience suggests there will be some variance, and that other Dems may do a little better in those districts. How much of this was Trump-specific and how much is long-term is of course the big question. The Georgia Senate runoffs, coupled with the 2018 results, suggest that having Trump on the ballot was better for Republicans than not having him on the ballot. On the other hand, 2022 will be a Democratic midterm year, and the last couple of them did not go well. On the other other hand, Trump is leaving office in complete disgrace and with approval levels now in the low 30s thanks to the armed insurrection at the Capitol, and for all the damage he did to the economy and the COVID mitigation effort, Biden is in a position to make big progress in short order. It’s just too early to say what any of this means, but suffice it to say that both Ds and Rs have challenges and opportunities ahead of them.

There are some very early third-party efforts at drawing new Congressional districts – see here and here for a couple I’ve come across. We still need the actual Census numbers, and as I’ve said before, the Republicans will have to make decisions about how much risk they want to expose themselves to. The way these maps are drawn suggests to me that “pack” rather than “crack” could be the strategy, but again this is all very early. There is also the possibility that the Democratic Congress can push through voting rights reform that includes how redistricting can be done, though the clock and potentially the Supreme Court will be factors. And if there’s one thing we should have learned over the last 20 years, it’s that due to Texas’ rapid growth, the districts you draw at the beginning of the decade may look quite a bit different by the end of the decade. We’re at the very start of a ten-year journey. A lot is going to happen, and the farther out we get the harder it is to see the possibilities.

SCOTUS rejects TDP petition on vote by mail

Back to the lower court, I think.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a Democratic bid to force universal vote-by-mail in Texas, leaving intact a state law that lets people cast no-excuse absentee ballots only if they are 65 or older.

The Texas Democratic Party and its allies argued unsuccessfully that the law violates the Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

Voting by mail became a sharply partisan issue amid President Donald Trump’s unsupported contentions that the practice led to widespread fraud in the November election. Texas’s Republican governor and attorney general urged the Supreme Court to reject the Democratic appeal.

A divided federal appeals court in September rejected the 26th Amendment claim, saying the Texas law didn’t make it more difficult for anyone to vote. The panel left open the possibility the law could be challenged as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court also rejected Texas Democrats in June, when the justices refused to reinstate a trial judge’s order that would have let any voter request an absentee ballot to avoid the risk of contracting Covid-19. That order, which was blocked by the appeals court, was designed to govern the 2020 election and might have boosted Democrats’ prospects.

See here for the last update, which was a petition for review of the Fifth Circuit ruling that kept intact the existing law on vote by mail in Texas as the original lawsuit that claimed the existing law violated the 26th Amendment is litigated. If I understand this correctly, the original case needs to be re-argued, with guidance from that Fifth Circuit ruling, and then once there is a ruling on the merits, we’ll go through the appeals process again. Or maybe not, if Congress and President Biden can pass a new Voting Rights Act that would allow for this nationally. I don’t see that particular provision in there now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t or wouldn’t be there. Anyway, it’s kind of a non-starter now, since the effort was to make that happen in 2020, but it’s never too late to make it easier to vote. Just don’t expect anything to happen in the short term, outside of what Congress may do. Reuters has more.

Drinks to go on the legislative menu

Looks likely to succeed.

As the 87th legislature kicks into high gear in Austin tomorrow, a new bill introduced in both the Texas House and Senate is aiming to make to-go alcohol from restaurants and bars permanent.

Venues in Texas have been able to sell beer, wine and liquor with takeout food orders since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed an emergency waiver in an effort to help the struggling service industry as it navigated shutdowns and other safety regulations.

The governor allowed to-go mixed drinks in June 2020 after bar and restaurant operators lobbied him to ease the restrictions further. Before that, many offered cocktail kits with the liquor in its original package.

Sen. Kelly Hancock and Rep. Charlie Green filed Senate Bill 298 and House Bill 1094, respectively, on Jan. 7. The bills would allow Texans to buy alcohol from licensed venues, via pick-up and delivery, for off-premise consumption.

“Without Governor Abbott’s temporary waiver allowing restaurants to safely sell alcohol with their to-go food orders, Texas would have seen many more restaurants – small and large – close their doors and lose their employees because of this pandemic,” said Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA), in a statement. “We know the road to recovery will be long, which is precisely why we need tools like alcohol to-go to become permanent.”

Here’s SB298; HB1094 had not been filed as of when I went looking. You know I support this, and from all evidence so does Greg Abbott, which is perhaps a bit more important. There will likely be some concern about the potential for increased drunk driving, but we do have open container laws, and I’m not aware of any increases in DUI since May when the prohibition on drinks to go was first lifted. There’s still plenty of other things we can do to clean up the byzantine system of alcohol regulation in this state, but I’ll take this as a start.

Legislative diversity report 2021

It’s a tiny bit more diverse, but not by much.

In a perennial takeaway of The Texas Tribune’s demographic analysis, the Texas Legislature remains mostly white and male.

When the 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday, 3 of every 5 lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be white, although white Texans make up just 41% of the state’s population. That’s largely a function of the Republican dominance of the Capitol and the dearth of diversity in the party’s ranks. All but five of the 100 Republicans in the Legislature are non-Hispanic white people.

Women have seen gains in the Legislature in recent years, but their underrepresentation is underscored by how marginal those gains have been. Four years ago, women held just 20% of seats; on Tuesday they’ll take roughly 27%. And unlike at the start of the legislative session two years ago, there won’t be more lawmakers named “John” than Republican women in the House.

There will be an equal number.

Click over to see the charts. There are 13 Republican women this session, up one from 2019. For what it’s worth, I believe the Trib has undercounted Anglo Democratic legislators. They have it at sixteen, but my count is seventeen. There were eighteen Anglo Dems following the 2018 election, a significant increase over previous years in which retirements and electoral defeats, both in March and in November, had whittled that number down to six. Looking at that list the changes from the 2019 session are as follows:

– Sen. Sarah Eckhardt replaces Kirk Watson, who stepped down to take a job at the University of Houston.
– Rep. Gina Calanni was defeated, but Rep. Ann Johnson was elected, leaving the Harris County share of the contingent unchanged.
– The drop from 18 to 17 is the result of Joe Pickett’s retirement due to health concerns. Rep. Art Fierro won the special election to succeed him.

The number of LGBTQ legislators went up by one as well with the election of Rep. Ann Johnson.

Finally, I should note that if we include the SBOE in this scope, then the Anglo Democrat number goes back up to 18, as Rebecca Bell-Metereau was elected in SBOE5, winning the seat vacated by Republican Ken Mercer. I won’t be surprised if the SBOE is redistricted back to a ten R/five D situation, and of course who knows where the House and the Senate will end up, but for now, this is what we have. Tune in following the next election for further updates.

Vax and the cities

Makes sense.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A group of mayors representing some of the United States’ most populous cities — including Austin, San Antonio and Houston — is asking President-elect Joe Biden to give them direct access to coronavirus vaccines.

In a Wednesday letter, the 22 mayors urged the Biden administration to establish a national vaccine distribution plan for cities, instead of allocating all available doses to state governments.

“Cities have consistently been on the front line of our nation’s COVID-19 response,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote on Twitter. “I’m proud to join my mayoral colleagues in requesting that the Biden Administration prioritize a direct line of vaccines to our communities. We must do all we can to expand and improve access.”

Direct shipments of the vaccine would allow local leaders to plan and connect directly with their constituents, including disadvantaged communities, and help distribute vaccines more swiftly, the mayors argue.

“While it is essential to work with state and local public health agencies, health care providers, pharmacies, and clinics, there is a need to be nimble and fill gaps that are unique to each local area,” they wrote. “Very few cities are receiving direct allocations, and as a result, the necessary outreach needed to lay the groundwork for your vaccination goals are not being met.”

It’s basically an argument for streamlining the supply chain. I favor this because I don’t have much faith in the state’s apparatus, but I’ll listen to your counterargument if you have one. President Biden is proposing a big COVID relief plan that includes a bunch of money for “community vaccination centers”, which kind of sounds like vaccination hubs to me. We’ll see what kind of response this gets.

State Capitol closed again

At least through Inauguration Day, which is to say Wednesday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety abruptly announced the closure of the state Capitol Friday evening after uncovering new intelligence that intensified security concerns and prompted the agency to ramp up security further.

The closure affects the building and the Capitol grounds, which only reopened to the public this month after being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and damage that officials said protestors did to state property during protests in May and June.

The closure begins Saturday and continues through Wednesday.

In a statement, DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw said that “the Texas Department of Public Safety is aware of armed protests planned at the Texas State Capitol and violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events. As a result, DPS has deployed additional personnel and resources to the Capitol and are working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Police Department to monitor events and to enforce the rule of law.”

Authorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia were bracing Friday for what law enforcement said could be violent protests this weekend through Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden. The caution stems from intelligence gained after the deadly pro-Donald Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Earlier this week, McCraw told state senators that authorities are monitoring multiple sects that could threaten Capitol security in coming days but stressed that the agency stood ready to neutralize any possible attack.

He said the groups have different political ideologies with 200 to 600 members each, according to three senators who attended the briefings. The senators did not want to comment publicly because DPS deemed the information confidential and said that releasing it could jeopardize safety.

McCraw said officials have ample troopers and other officers to respond should one of the groups travel to Austin to protest or riot. Their bigger concern, however, is that if the groups consolidate and mobilize together, that would pose a greater risk and prompt officials to call in reinforcements, the senators said.

We all know what this is about. I just hope it turns out to be a lot more talk than action. But whatever happens or doesn’t happen between now and January 20, the long-term threat isn’t going away and needs to be taken very seriously. The Chron has more.

And we already have our first COVID cases from the Lege

Surely not the last.

Rep. Joe Deshotel

A Texas House member tested positive for the coronavirus after being on the chamber floor for three straight days, giving lawmakers an early indication of the dangers of governing during the pandemic.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, told The Texas Tribune he tested positive Thursday — three days after lawmakers gaveled in for this year’s legislative session. The Democrat said he received a rapid test outside the Capitol because it was “free and quick” as he was heading home Thursday afternoon.

He has “no idea” how he contracted it, said Deshotel, who is currently quarantining and reported minor symptoms. “I don’t know where it came from. It rather shocked me when the guy told me.”

“Getting tested is important and wearing a mask is important,” he added. “You can certainly have [the coronavirus] and not know it, I can tell you that.”

Deshotel said his last test for the virus prior to testing positive on Thursday had been on Monday. He did not opt to receive a test before entering the Capitol on Tuesday or Wednesday.

[…]

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, tweeted Friday morning that she had been informed the night before of a “member in my 3 foot radius” testing positive for the virus.

“They did not test on Tuesday prior to the swearing in ceremony,” Beckley tweeted. “10 day self quarantine.”

Another House member, state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, told the Tribune on Friday that she would also self-quarantine according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said she appreciated Deshotel notifying those who he came into contact with after testing positive.

“With COVID-19 cases soaring across the state, including here in Central Texas, it’s inevitable that legislators will test positive and expose our colleagues,” Zwiener said. “Rep. Deshotel is setting a tone of transparency that’s essential as we move forward.”

Before the House gaveled in Tuesday, House Administration Chair Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, had asked lawmakers to take a test ahead of the opening day ceremony. State Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, responding to Beckley’s tweet, called it “very selfish and irresponsible” to not do so.

“Anyone that objected to take one prior to Tuesday clearly did so out of pride,” Holland tweeted. “Shame on them.”

Obviously, I hope Rep. Deshotel has a quick recovery, and that no one else became infected. This is the limit of testing – there’s a lag between when you get sick and when you might first test positive. That’s also the reason why wearing masks is so damn important, because anyone could be sick and not only not know it but also have a recent negative test to show. Until we’re all vaccinated, we’re all at risk. At least the House is adjourned till January 26, so no one should miss any time in session as a result of this. But please, for everyone’s sake, wear the damn mask. Texas Monthly has more.

Here comes the casino push

Expect this to get louder and louder, though whether it’s successful or not remains to be seen.

Casino1

When a big political player comes waltzing into Texas spending big money from out of state, it’s usually a good sign that he wants something from lawmakers. So when Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent $4.5 million to help Republicans keep control of the Texas House in 2020, heads turned.

While Adelson is known for cutting big checks—he’s one of the most powerful GOP mega-donors in the country—he doesn’t usually spend so lavishly on state-level politics. What did he want with Texas?

After the election, it became clear that Adelson was embarking on an all-out push to legalize casino gambling in Texas. In November, his corporation Las Vegas Sands started hiring some of the most powerful, well-connected lobbyists in Austin. The company declined to comment, though in early December, Andy Abboud, the company’s senior vice president for government relations, made the plans official. In an online panel at Texas Taxpayers and Research Association’s annual conference, he laid out the company’s hopes that Texas lawmakers would approve legislation lifting the casino ban, allowing for the establishment of a limited number of luxury destination casinos in the state’s major metro areas. “Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be [picked],” Abboud said.

Gaming laws in Texas are among the most restrictive in the country, with bans on almost all gambling—including slots, table games, and sports betting—enshrined in the Texas Constitution since the Prohibition Era. Currently, gaming is restricted to wagers on dog and horse racing, charitable bingo, and the state lottery. The state’s three federally recognized Native American tribes are allowed to operate casinos with limited games, though the state has repeatedly contested their rights in the courts. Republican leaders like Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Senator John Cornyn have aggressively resisted tribes’ attempts to expand gaming.

Abboud encouraged hesitant lawmakers to think “like you’re attracting Tesla or an Amazon facility or an entirely new industry to the state that’s going to create tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and ancillary benefits of hotels and tourism.”

[…]

Adelson’s casino push comes as lawmakers head into a session facing deep revenue shortfalls spurred by the pandemic and resulting economic crisis. In past sessions, casino proponents have argued that the state’s gaming prohibition has allowed billions of dollars to abscond into Oklahoma and Louisiana, where casinos are conveniently located just across the border. But opponents say that promises of revenue windfalls are overblown and would not provide a sustainable new revenue stream.

Abboud argued that Las Vegas Sands’ model for casinos in Texas would build another economic pillar in the state, helping to ease the state’s dependence on the oil and gas industry. “Will they solve all economic problems? No. Will it stabilize the economy? Yes,” he said.

So far, the only casino gambling legislation filed is from state Representative Joe Deshotel, a Beaumont Democrat, whose bill would legalize casinos to fund insurance programs for those living in hurricane-prone areas along the Gulf Coast.

Who ends up authoring the Adelson camp’s bill in the Texas House and Senate will have big implications for its success. If an ally of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick authors casino legislation in the Senate, that could be a sign that Patrick would allow it to get a vote on the floor, says Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “If Patrick is on board, it passes. If Patrick is not on board, it doesn’t. It’s about as simple as that,” Jones says. A signal of support from Patrick, a social conservative who has previously opposed gambling, could also sway House Republicans who would otherwise worry about primary challenges from the right, he adds.

This Chron story from early December is the reference for those Andy Abboud quotes. We go through something like this every two years, and the smart money has always been to bet against any expansion of gambling, including casinos. The financial arguments have some merit, though they are surely being overblown by the casino interests. The catch there is that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick et al don’t see a lack of revenue as a problem but as an opportunity to cut costs. Maybe this time it’s different, I don’t know, though now that the revenue picture isn’t as bad as it once looked, whatever financial argument the casinos may have made has less heft.

The casino interests have certainly hired a bunch of expensive and well-connected Republican lobbyists, so I do expect they’ll be able to get some facetime and bend a few ears. Maybe this is a long-term play, as Jim Henson suggests, where the groundwork gets laid this session and ultimate success comes a few years down the road. Who knows?

I remain ambivalent on the whole thing – I don’t have a problem with gambling and generally think adults should be allowed to partake in it, but I don’t see casinos as a net positive, and I believe the economic benefits that get touted will be extremely limited to a small class of renters, and not much good to anyone else. If we do someday get to vote on it as a constitutional amendment, I’ll have to see what the specifics are before I decide. We’ll keep an eye on this because it’s likely a high tide year for gambling interests, but as always don’t expect much.

UPDATE: I drafted this over the weekend, and since then Sheldon Adelson has passed away. I don’t believe that changes the calculus in any way, but I’m sure someone would have noted that in the comments if I hadn’t, so here we are.

House adopts its rules

Here you go.

Rep. Todd Hunter

The Texas House unanimously adopted rules Thursday that will require members to wear masks in the chamber and during committee hearings and allow them to cast votes on legislation from outside the House floor.

But the chamber opted to not require testing for lawmakers as they meet during the coronavirus pandemic and did not expand its virtual testimony options to allow members of the public who have not been invited to testify to comment at committee hearings remotely.

“We’re new to this pandemic, and the whole point about these rules — the key is respect, the key is courtesy,” said state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, while introducing the rules proposal earlier Thursday. “What’s the rules? It’s 150 people, that’s what the rules are.”

The coronavirus requirements were part of a broad resolution setting rules for the House during the Legislature’s 2021 session. Members debated amendments on the resolution for hours. In addition to voting on health protocols, the chamber overwhelmingly shot down proposals that would have kept Democrats from serving as committee chairs in the Republican-controlled House.

House members, staff and the public will be required to wear face masks while inside the chamber or a committee hearing room, though witnesses and lawmakers may remove them while speaking from a microphone. Members may also remove masks during a committee hearing if protected by a barrier and socially distanced from others.

The House’s decision to not require testing for people entering the chamber or attending a committee hearing differs from protocols the Senate passed Wednesday. Every senator will be required to test negative for the virus before entering the upper chamber or attending a committee hearing. Senate staff must be tested the first day of the week they enter the Capitol and before accessing a hearing or the chamber.

Addressing the House’s testing approach, Hunter told members that the chamber could not mandate testing until it’s “available in our courthouses and … schoolhouses,” saying it “would be wrong” for members to prioritize their health and safety above others.

“That is the people’s House,” said Hunter, one of the House members spearheading the rules proposal. “And for us to prioritize our own health and safety above others would be wrong.”

The House rules also authorized members to cast votes for legislation “from a secure portable device” if they are inside the chamber, in the gallery, or “in an adjacent room or hallway on the same level as the House floor or gallery,” such as the speaker’s committee room or member lounge. That expansion could help space out the chamber’s 150 members should a lawmaker wish to do so.

See here for some background. The rules are codified in HR4, and you can see a long Twitter thread about the housekeeping rules that were the preliminaries for all this here; note that some of the proposed amendments were later withdrawn. One of the two House members who got up to some mischief but was roundly rejected by the rest of the chamber. I mean, when Briscoe Cain is speaking eloquently for tradition and bipartisanship, you know you’ve gone off the rails somewhere.

Of interest is also the rules relating to redistricting:

Suit up, y’all. It’s on.

The five-ninths rule

All hail the new “smaller than three-fifths” rule.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a fundamental alteration of its rules, ending the minority party’s ability to block legislation it unanimously opposes in the Republican-controlled upper chamber.

In a 18-13 vote, lawmakers voted to lower the threshold of support that legislation needs to make it onto the Senate floor. In past sessions, the Senate required a three-fifths supermajority, or 19 votes, to bring legislation to the floor. But after the defeat of Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, reduced the number of Republicans from 19 to 18, lawmakers lowered the threshold to 18 members — a move Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had been pushing for.

Passage of the rule required a simple majority — or 16 members. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, tweeted that the resolution passed on a party-line vote.

Republicans on the floor hailed the move. Patrick, who presides over the Senate, first floated the idea of lowering the threshold last January, later contending in December that the 2020 election proved voters support conservative candidates and that he planned on “moving a conservative agenda forward.”

[…]

In introducing the resolution, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said: “I believe our tradition of requiring a supermajority is good and we should retain it, but … it’s my view that there are enough big items that the majority of Texans have asked for that would be blocked with a 19-vote requirement, which would put us in a special session where we have no control over the agenda.” (To be clear, only Gov. Greg Abbott can call lawmakers back for a special legislative session.)

While the procedure may sound like parliamentary arcana, the impact could spell trouble for Democrats. The change essentially allows Republicans to continue deciding which bills are brought up for consideration without the minority party’s input.

See here and here for the background. As you know, I oppose having artificial anti-majoritarian rules in place, for reasons you can peruse at those earlier posts. I have no illusions that this will be a good thing in this session. It’s going to suck, bigtime. I totally get all the complaints that the Democratic Senators have raised. I just disagree with them about the merits of this tradition.

One thing that was not clear to me, from this story or from the Chron story, was just exactly how this new, lower threshold for bypassing the blocker bill was to be determined. As noted in my previous post, the fraction used could be 5/9, or it could be 4/7, or it could just be “minimum eighteen Senators needed”. Neither of these stories explored that or the potential ramifications of it – I’ll get to that in a minute – but I eventually found it in Senate Resolution 2, the text of which is here (hat tip to Kimberly Reeves for providing the vital #SR2 hash tag that gave me the clue I needed to find this):

Any bill, resolution, or other measure may on any day be made a special order for a future time of the session by an affirmative vote of five-ninths [three-fifths] of the members present.

Further references to “three-fifths” were similarly struck and replaced by “five-ninths”. What this means is that on any day where there’s a full complement of Senators, eighteen votes are needed to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. That’s because, in math terms, 5/9 < 18/31. With a three-fifth requirement, 19 was the magic number (again, 3/5 < 19/31, but 18/31 < 3/5). The reason I'm obsessing over how this was officially expressed is because of the likelihood that at any point in the session, one or more Senators could be sidelined by COVID. If a Republican Senator is out, they're out of luck as long as the Dems are at full strength (17/30 < 5/9). They would need two Dems to be out to make the math work (5/9 < 17/29). Under normal circumstances, you'd shrug your shoulders and say these things happen, but in Pandemic Times, with the Republicans being very devil-may-care about masks, the risk of a self-own is higher than usual. This is one of the reasons why I thought Dan Patrick would give up on the fractions and just push a rule that does away with the pretense and enables majority rule. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be conservative in this sense, but here we are. We’ll see how it plays out.

Ken Paxton couldn’t be more on brand if he tried

News item: Texas laws protecting whistleblowers don’t apply to Attorney General Ken Paxton, his agency argues in bid to quash lawsuit. Who among us didn’t already know that Ken Paxton doesn’t think the law applies to him?

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s Office is attempting to fight off efforts by four former aides to take depositions and issue subpoenas in their lawsuit claiming they were illegally fired after telling authorities they believed Attorney General Ken Paxton was breaking the law.

The agency is arguing that Paxton is “not a public employee” and thus the office cannot be sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act, which aims to protect government workers from retaliation when they report superiors for breaking the law.

Four former Paxton aides claim they were fired in retaliation for telling authorities they believed Paxton had done illegal favors for a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. The whistleblowers’ allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation.

In seeking reinstatement and other financial damages, the whistleblowers want to question Paxton himself under oath, as well as Brent Webster, his top deputy at the attorney general’s office, and Brandon Cammack, a Houston lawyer Paxton hired to investigate complaints made by Paul in what aides say was a favor to the donor. They also issued subpoenas to Paul’s company and a woman alleged to have been Paxton’s mistress.

[…]

The whistleblowers sought to question Paxton, Webster and Cammack under oath as soon as next week. Michael Wynne, an attorney for Paul, accepted the subpoenas for both World Class and the woman, court documents show. She could not be reached for comment and Wynne did not return a request for comment.

But in a filing last week, the attorney general’s office asked the judge to quash the depositions and the subpoenas, and prevent the whistleblowers from conducting any discovery.

“The OAG is doing everything they can muster to avoid having Ken Paxton answer basic questions under oath about the facts,” said Carlos Soltero, an attorney for one of the whistleblowers.

Instead, the agency said, the Travis County judge should dismiss the case entirely on procedural grounds.

The Texas Whistleblower Act — the basis for the lawsuit — is designed to provide protection for public employees who, in good faith, tell authorities they believe their superiors are breaking the law. But the attorney general’s office claims the agency cannot be sued under the law because Paxton is an elected official.

“The Attorney General is neither a governmental entity nor a public employee and, thus, the Whistleblower Act does not extend protection to reports of unlawful conduct made against the Attorney General personally,” the agency argued. “The Act does not apply… for reports made about actions taken personally by the elected Attorney General.”

Comparing Paxton’s authority to that of the president of the United States, the agency claimed that the attorney general had the right to fire the employees, despite their claims of retaliation.

Under that theory, “he’s saying that elected officials aren’t accountable” for violating the Whistleblower Act, said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases.

“It appears that General Paxton is trying to get off on a technicality that doesn’t exist,” he added.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything clever to add here, just that I hope this defense is as successful as his lawsuit to overturn the Presidential election was.