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So now what with Bonnen?

Democrats will wait and see.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

On Thursday night, as Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s political fate continued to hang in the balance, some of the most influential Democrats were in El Paso for a town hall and were split on whether the first-term leader should immediately resign from his post.

“That decision, ultimately, isn’t mine,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a top Bonnen ally. “Like all other situations, that decision is best left up to the voters in the state of Texas. I trust them.”

“There is this urgency to respond in kind with negativity or delight in this situation,” Moody added. “[But] I am sad about this, I am disappointed in it. I don’t delight in this.”

Others were less measured.

“He’s done damage to the body,” state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin, the new head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, told a reporter for The Texas Tribune. “And for that reason, I think he should resign.” (Just months before, at the end of the legislative session, Israel said Bonnen was “the right man at this point in Texas history.”)

Those two answers — and that vast departure from where most members stood earlier this year — provide a glimpse into a caucus that’s navigating how to respond as the minority party to the drama that has dogged Bonnen over the past few months.

[…]

On Wednesday evening, roughly half the House Democratic Caucus met in Austin for a meeting that was already on the calendar. The Bonnen issue, of course, took center stage, and while no formal action was taken, multiple members there said there was talk of calling another meeting sometime soon to discuss potential further actions.

“I think there’s a desire to bring the entire caucus together with a specific agenda to have a discussion that could result in a vote,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told the Tribune on Thursday. “Certainly [Wednesday’s] discussion was clear that there was no one in the room who felt anything but anger and betrayal and disappointment.”

“The general consensus … was that people should feel free to put their own messages out there and that we should be united as a caucus moving forward,” Howard said. “So far I’ve heard nothing that would indicate that we’re not all on the same page.”

But there has been variation in Democrats’ public positions. There’s also the question of whether it would be politically advantageous for Democrats to act beyond what the caucus chair, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, has already said — that the latest “revelations are incompatible” with Bonnen serving another term — before Republicans have a chance to move on the issue themselves.

I don’t have any problem with deliberation, and the potential is there for the Republicans to fracture and generate some heat for us, but at some point we need to be speaking with one voice on the topic. Pick a direction and take it.

Meanwhile, the Republicans use harsh language.

After gathering behind closed doors for hours Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a secretly recording meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members,” the statement said. “Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.”

[…]

“We completely and fully support the [House] members mentioned in the recording,” the statement said. “Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials.”

The statement was released as members, on the tail end of their annual retreat, left the ballroom at a resort in Austin. Most of them declined to comment as they departed the meeting, which was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted for just over four hours.

But soon after, a group of four Republican lawmakers from North Texas — state Reps. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano — issued a joint statement calling on Bonnen “to work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas, that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House and our state forward.

“If that is not possible, the people of Texas expect and deserve a new Speaker of the House during the 87th Legislature,” the members said.

You can see the full statement here. Like I said, there’s plenty of potential for further dissension on the GOP side, and it’s fine to give them some room to express it. Just have a strategy and a plan to execute it, that’s all I ask.

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

We cover three endorsements today: HD148 (I presume the Chron is not endorsing in HD28), HISD IV, and City Council District C. Endorsements for the constitutional amendments were in the print edition on Saturday, I’ll run them on Tuesday. That leaves the Mayor and Controller, and I assume those will be in today’s print edition, and will have been online as of later in the day Saturday. I’ll get to those on Monday.

For today, we start with HD148 and the Chron’s recommendation of Anna Eastman in HD148.

Anna Eastman

Voters have their work cut out for them in making a choice because there are 14 candidates for the job, including 11 Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent — all of them appearing on a single unified ballot.

We recommend voters choose Anna Eastman, who was a respected member of the HISD board for eight years before she stepped down this year. Her HISD district included 75 percent of District 148.

Eastman stood out as a smart, dedicated member of the board who generally favored enlightened policies.

Should she win the House seat, she has a laundry list of issues she wants to tackle, including, of course, education, starting with improved teacher pay.

There are fifteen candidates running for this office, unless one of them has dropped out and I missed it. Not sure if the Chron knows something I don’t know or if they just goofed on the math. Either way, I agree that there are a plethora of good choices, and I’m kind of glad I don’t have to pick just one. My interviews with ten of these candidates can be found here, and a look at their 30 day finance reports is here. If you’re in HD148, who are you voting for?

Meanwhile, in another race with a lot of credible candidates, the Chron recommended Abbie Kamin in District C.

Abbie Kamin

Houston City Council District C is home to one of the city’s most vibrant and prosperous neighborhoods, the Heights, and neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. It’s also home to some of Houston’s most engaged residents, so it’s no surprise that so many candidates are competing to represent the district on City Council.

Council member Ellen Cohen, the city’s mayor pro-tem, faces a term limit and is not in the race.

To replace her, voters should choose Abbie Kamin, a bright, thoughtful civil rights attorney. Three other candidates also stood out as strong contenders, each impressing the editorial board during screening meetings.

Shelley Kennedy, who served under former Mayor Annise Parker on the Keep Houston Beautiful Commission and currently serves on city’s police oversight board, was compelling. So was Greg Myers, who served on the Houston Independent School District board from 2004 to 2016. Amanda Wolfe asked smart questions about Metro, and obviously has a firm grasp on neighborhood-level concerns within the district.

But it was Kamin, 32, who brought the best mix of policy smarts and a can-do spirit of compromise and team work. Those skills, as much as determination to fight for her constituents, are absolutely essential to success as a member of the Houston City Council.

Kamin is also a fundraising machine, and has a record of achievement that makes you realize how big a slacker you were in your 20s. Again, there are a lot of strong candidates in this race, and with 14 candidates anything can happen.

Finally, there’s Matt Barnes in HISD District IV.

Matt Barnes

In a 2018 op-ed published on these pages (“Houston ISD’s misdiagnosis and the cure” ), Matt Barnes issued a clarion call to Houstonians, asking qualified candidates to run for the Houston Independent School District board of trustees. “Those of you who are as angry as I am about young people growing up unprepared for adult life: Get ready. The cure to HISD’s governance problem starts with us running (and voting) in 2019.” After his preferred candidate decided to pass on this race, Barnes tossed his own hat into the ring for District 4 that is held by outgoing board member Jolanda Jones. The district includes the Third Ward, where Barnes has been a resident for 20 years.

Barnes, 48, is well-suited in experience, temperament and commitment to be an outstanding trustee. His professional background includes more than 20 years of involvement in education from pre-K to university, including his recent position as CEO of Educational Makeover, an organization dedicated to providing free coaching to parents. Not only is Barnes familiar with the dividing line between board of trustees and management, he also has served on several nonprofit boards. To prepare for this race, the radio talk show host immersed himself in data about the district and has staked out his priority for enhanced student achievement, early literacy. While the candidate does not support a takeover of the board by the Texas Education Agency, if the change does occur, Barnes promises to be a “bridge builder” between the appointed board and the community.

My interview with Matt Barnes is here. I know it seems weird to be electing HISD trustees when the TEA is about to appoint people who will have the real power, but someone has to oversee those appointees and hold the TEA to its promises and responsibilities. In that sense, the HISD Trustee elections are even more important than usual. Don’t blow them off.

More on the Constitutional amendments

I found this while answering a question from a reader, and figured it was worth publicizing to a wider audience.

Ten proposed constitutional amendments will be on the November ballot. The Texas League of Women Voters has compiled a nice list of the amendments along with important voting deadlines. Compare the pros and cons of each proposed amendment, and prepare to cast your vote on Election Day, November 5, 2019.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Municipal Judges

  2. Assistance for Water Projects in Distressed Areas

  3. Tax Relief for Disaster Areas

  4. Personal Income Tax

  5. Sporting Goods Tax to Support State Parks

  6. Cancer Prevention & Research

  7. Funding Public Education

  8. Flood Control

  9. Tax Exemption of Precious Metals

  10. Law Enforcement Animals

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The links above go to League of Women Voters of Texas pages, each with For and Against arguments for each item, and a video explaining it. I’d have gone deeper on the reasons to vote against Prop 4, and I’d definitely have mentioned the “individual” versus “natural person” loophole that may make this thing a whole lot more expensive than it looks, but overall the LWV did a good job. In the meantime, the Trib and the Chron have written about the proposed amendments, Prop 5 is being pushed by environmentalists, and the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast features Andrea Greer and host Rob Icsezen discussing them. Read – or listen – up and know what you’re voting on.

Interview with Carol Denson

Carol Denson

Lots of things go into my interview schedules each cycle, as there’s only one of me and usually way more candidates than I could possibly have time for. The large field in the HD148 special election was a particular challenge, but as it happened I had a three-day weekend right after the filing deadline that I could take advantage of, and wound up with seven interviews at the end. I reached out to everyone I had contact info for at that time. That unfortunately wound up leaving Carol Denson out, as her webpage and Facebook page weren’t ready when I was. She reached out to me this week, and so here we are. Denson is a longtime public school teacher and native of the Heights. She is also a climate change activist, advocating for HR 763 in the US House to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what we talked about:

Previous interviews with HD148 candidates can be found here. The 30-day finance reports for legislative special elections are here. I’m pretty sure I’m at the end of the interview cycle for November, but you never know.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Senate race will be the top statewide contest in 2020, but beyond that it’s the judicials and the one Railroad Commissioner slot on the ballot. Candidate Chrysta Castañeda has thrown her hat into the ring for that job.

Chrysta Castañeda

The 2020 race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission is beginning to seriously take shape as prominent Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda enters the Democratic primary to challenge Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton.

“The Railroad Commission’s number one job is to protect our natural resources and prevent the waste of oil and gas, but in its current configuration, it has abandoned that duty,” Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing her candidacy.

The Railroad Commission is usually one of the lower-profile statewide races on the ballot, but in election cycles like 2020, the candidates play an important role for their parties because they top the non-federal statewide ticket. The contest for Sitton’s seat, one of three on the commission, will appear on the ballot after the races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Castañeda has decades of oil and gas experience, first as a software engineer for companies and then as a lawyer for operators and others in the industry. In 2016, she won a $146 million verdict for the late Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in a high-profile drilling rights dispute.

Castañeda is centering her campaign on the issue of flaring, or the burning of natural gas that companies do not move to market. The practice, which emits harmful pollutants into the air, has become increasingly rampant; Oil and gas producers say it’s because of a shortage of pipelines, while environmentalists say it’s due to economics with natural gas being far cheaper than oil. They also blame the Railroad Commission, which has approved a historic number of flaring permits, and extensions to flaring permits.

In her announcement video, Castañeda says the state “might as well be burning cash” and charged Sitton with refusing to enforce laws to curtail the waste.

“Texans deserve someone who will enforce the law and work for all of us,” she said. “Let’s stop wasting energy.”

No one can say she doesn’t have experience, though I’m sure some folks will be more impressed by it than others. I learned from this story that there is another candidate already in, Kelly Stone, who is clearly from a more progressive background. That should make for an interesting primary, with at least some possibility that either or both candidates could raise some money for the purpose of running a real campaign in the primary. (It’s not just for Senate hopefuls!) The story also notes that 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about running again. You may say to yourself “I don’t remember seeing Cody Garrett on the November 2016 ballot”. That’s because he wasn’t – he lost to perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. I would not put it past Yarbrough to clutter up the 2020 ballot as well, but whether or not he does it’s important that we get a real campaign, with people being aware of their choices. Every race matters.

So are there any legal consequences to the Bonnen tape?

Probably not, but maybe a little. Does that help?

It was, according to his critics, “hurtful,” “vindictive” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.” But was House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s June 12 meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan illegal?

In June, when Bonnen met with the hard-charging Tea Party activist, he asked Sullivan to stay out of, and get into, certain electoral battles — “help us out, and maybe kill off one or two or three [moderate Republican House lawmakers] that are never going to help” — and in return offered Sullivan media credentials for the news arm of his organization — “If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

During that meeting — a recording of which was released to the public Tuesday — Bonnen seemed to blur the line between the official and the political. It prompted the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has subpoena power, to request a probe by the state’s elite investigative unit, the Texas Rangers.

With that investigation ongoing and little word from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who is expected to make the decision on whether to bring a criminal charge, there’s been ample room for speculation — which only escalated after the secret recording was made public Tuesday morning. In Capitol circles, the rule is generally: Don’t offer official tit for political tat. But whether the smudging of those boundaries constitutes criminal activity is a case-by-case consideration, a decision ultimately made by a prosecutor and, if it gets that far, a jury.

“With just the information we know at this time, it’s not clear that a crime was committed,” said Buck Wood, an Austin ethics lawyer who helped rewrite the state’s restrictions in the 1970s after a major political scandal. “But it’s also not clear that a crime wasn’t committed.”

See here for the background. Long story short, while the DPS is still doing its investigation, it seems unlikely that any criminal charges will ever result. The law in question is narrowly tailored to be about personal financial gain, and it would take a pretty broad reading of it to try to get an indictment. Unless there’s new evidence to uncover, I don’t see any danger for the Speaker here.

What about a civil case, though?

Democrats were in court in Travis County Tuesday pressing forward with their lawsuit arguing that Sullivan’s recording revealed serious violations of Texas campaign finance law. The party, along with state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, sued Sullivan in August, demanding the release of the full recording of the meeting.

The lawsuit was also filed against an “unknown political committee” that the lawsuit said includes Bonnen and Burrows. But the two lawmakers are not named defendants. At the hearing, attorney Chad Dunn argued for the Democratic Party that the newly released recording confirms there was discussion in the Capitol about political spending and requested the release of more documents about the meeting.

He said if the judge orders the information released, the party will use those documents to decide if Bonnen and Burrows should also be named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Under Texas election law, a political contribution can’t be made or authorized inside the Capitol. A violation of the law could result in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In civil court, it could mean having to pay back targeted candidates or opposing PACs. Dunn said the recording contains “a whole lot of authorizing.”

“If we live in a state of laws, there’s not going to be private conversations with the Speaker in the people’s Capitol authorizing illegal political contributions and expenditures,” he said.

Roark said in the August memo to the Texas Rangers that there was no political contribution authorized at the June meeting, so the law was not applicable in this case.

See here for the background. I don’t have enough information to make a reasoned guess about this one. I will say, one thing the next Lege could do is review the existing laws on what constitutes bribery and political contributions, to see if they could be improved. That would never get through Dan Patrick’s Senate, but as was the case with ethics-related bills last session, it would still be worth the effort. Would be more likely to happen with a different Speaker, that much is for sure.

How other states are handling the Census

Better than we’re handling it.

So cities and states with big immigrant populations — like California and New York City — are supplementing the Census Bureau’s efforts like never before, allocating money to outreach groups that can go to communities spooked by the Trump administration’s efforts to identify non-citizens.

  • It’s an effort to coax everyone to fill out a census form, whether they’re in the country legally or not. (And, for the first time, people will be able to do this online.)
  • State, local and neighborhood groups “have the best chance of convincing people who are wary about participating in the census that it is safe,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, who has advised organizations and government associations on Census-related matters, tells Axios.

By the numbers: California is allocating $187 million — nearly 95 times what it did a decade ago, according to The Mercury News — far outspending every other state.

  • New York City has budgeted $40 million to Census outreach — the most ever — and plans to parcel it out to agencies and community-based organizations that will raise awareness about the Census.
  • New York state, meantime, will dedicate $20 million to Census efforts.
  • Utah is setting aside funds for the first time ever — with a big portion of the $1 million being spent to count “a relatively large population of children under 5,” PBS NewsHour reports.
  • Chicago plans to spend $2.3 million — the largest amount of funding the city has ever committed to the census, per the AP.

[…]

States have typically created advisory councils in preparation for the Census, called “Complete Count Commissions.” Those groups are busier and getting more attention now than in previous years.

  • “We’ve never had a context like this,” Beveridge says. “That means the efforts of the Complete Count Commissions are very important this year in areas like Florida, Texas, California and New York which have high number of immigrant households.”
  • Yes, but: Some of those states, including Florida and Texas, have taken no action at all yet. Efforts to bulk up Census outreach have failed to pass in those state’s legislatures.

We are well familiar with Texas’ utter indifference to the 2020 Census. It’s political malpractice, and also sadly par for the course from the state and legislative Republicans. Cities and counties are doing their part, but they deserved help from the state. To me, the best outcome of all this will be for accurate counts in the big urban and suburban areas, and undercounts in the rural areas. If that leads to Texas missing out on a Congressional seat it could and would have had, so much the better. Let there be some consequences for this, which can then be more effectively enforced in 2022. The only way to end bad behavior is for there to be a cost for engaging in it.

The Bonnen tape is out

It’s a doozy.

During a June conversation at the Texas Capitol, Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen urged hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target members of their own party in the 2020 primaries and suggested he could get Sullivan’s group media access to the House floor, according to a secret recording of the conversation released Tuesday.

Bonnen could also be heard speaking disparagingly about multiple Democrats, calling one House member “vile” and suggesting that another’s “wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The 64-minute recording of Sullivan’s June meeting with Bonnen and another top House Republican, then-GOP caucus chair Dustin Burrows, was posted on Sullivan’s website and the website of WBAP, a talk radio station in Dallas on which Sullivan appeared Tuesday morning. The recording largely aligned with Sullivan’s initial description of that June 12 meeting — and with what certain Republicans who listened to the audio before it was public had described.

While its release prompted immediate outcry from Democrats and silence from Republicans, Bonnen said in a statement that the audio makes clear he did nothing criminally wrong in the conversation, adding that the “House can finally move on.”

Roughly nine minutes into the recording, after discussing Sullivan’s recent trip to Europe, Bonnen tells Sullivan he’s “trying to win in 2020 in November.”

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen says. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

Roughly five minutes later, the speaker said, “Let me tell you what I can do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you.”

“I don’t need anything,” Sullivan responded.

[…]

Before Bonnen made his offer, he also disparaged a number of House Democrats. The speaker said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, “makes my skin crawl” and is “a piece of shit.” Bonnen, after saying he’s”begging this is all confidential,” then recounted a meeting with the freshman, after which he asked his chief of staff, Gavin Massingill, what he thought about the new House member.

“Massingill said it best,” Bonnen recalled. “Well, his wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The room dissolved in laughter before Bonnen turned to discuss other members of the lower chamber’s minority party.

“We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile,” he said, referring to the freshman Democrat from Carrollton who unseated a Republican in 2018. He exhorted Sullivan to help target these Democrats in competitive districts.

See here for the previous update. I kind of don’t think there’s going to be any “moving on”, except in the sense that no Democrat has any reason to support Bonnen’s re-election as Speaker now. All well and good if Dems take the House in 2020, and still theoretically possible even if they come up a member or two short. Remember, Bonnen was also targeting ten of his fellow Republicans, who may well want to keep their own options open. It’s hard to imagine a Republican in a Republican-majority House backing a Democrat for Speaker, but at this point I think we can all agree that crazier things have happened.

By the way, in regard to those ten targeted Republicans, the Rick Casey theory that they were in Bonnen’s crosshairs because they opposed a bill to ban local government entities from hiring lobbyists sure looks on the money given this quote from the tape: “My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Quite the sentiment, no?

Anyway, there’s plenty more out there. The Signal has some clips, the Trib – which is all over this – has choice excerpts, and other outlets like the Chron, the Observer, Texas Monthly, and the Dallas Observer are going to town. If that’s still not enough, go search the #txlege hashtag on Twitter. On a side note, the TDP claimed victory in their lawsuit now that the tape has been released, but there was still a court hearing about it. All that’s left – before the next election, anyway – is for the DPS to finish their investigation. Hope this helps with evidence collection, guys.

On the air in HD28

The HD28 special may be the hottest race going right now.

Eliz Markowitz

The first TV ads are set to air in the special election to replace state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, as Democrats rev up their homestretch push to flip the seat.

On Tuesday, both a Democratic super PAC and one of the Republican candidates, Gary Gates, will begin cable advertising six days before early voting starts for the Nov. 5 contest. The super PAC, Forward Majority, will air a health care-themed spot in support of the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, who faces Gates and five other Republicans.

It is relatively uncommon for TV ads to air in a Texas House race — less common in a special election — but state and national Democrats are making a serious effort to put Zerwas’ seat in their column as they head toward 2020 with hopes of taking the House majority.

The 30-second commercial from Forward Majority touts Markowitz in contrast to Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, invoking the lawsuit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton designed to strike down the entire law.

“In the state House election Nov. 5, only Democrat Eliz Markowitz has consistently supported making insurance companies cover preexisting conditions like cancer,” a narrator says. “Eliz Markowitz — looking out for Texas families, not insurance company profits.”

[…]

Forward Majority, which is focused on state legislative races ahead of the next round of redistricting, is spending six figures to run its ad on cable and digital platforms through the election. Gates’ ad buy is also going through Nov. 5, and his campaign is spending over $100,000 on it, according to records on file with the Federal Communications Commission.

This is not Forward Majority’s first foray into the Texas. The group spent $2.2 million on an array of state House races here in the final days before the 2018 election, when Democrats captured 12 seats in the chamber.

With less than a week until early voting starts, the effort to consolidate Democratic support behind Markowitz is in full swing. On Friday, she received the endorsement of EMILY’s List, the influential national group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. And on Tuesday, state party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is set to hold a news conference in Richmond to formalize the party’s support for her, along with other party officials and local elected officials.

You can see the 30-day finance reports here. Anna Allred and Tricia Krenek have the funds to run their own ads if they want, so there could be more coming. Doesn’t make much sense for anyone to keep their powder dry – Markowitz wants a first-round knockout, and if there is a runoff only one of the Republicans is likely to make it. If it comes down to Markowitz versus any of those Rs in December, you can be sure there will be plenty more money pouring in. The Texas Signal has more.

Our increasingly diverse swing districts

Current trends keep on trending.

New 2018 census data shows that some of the most competitive congressional districts in Texas are continuing to become more diverse, as campaigns gear up for what’s expected to be the state’s most competitive election cycle in nearly two decades.

The numbers, which come from the American Community Survey, a yearly query conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and released at the end of last month, bring into clearer view the trends that political experts say are fueling the rise in heated Texas races, especially in Harris County.

Margins of victory for Republicans tightened in 2016, and in 2018, Democrats won a western Harris congressional seat long held by the GOP.

[…]

Nearly every Houston-area swing district saw its white population go down since 2016, the data shows. Hispanic populations moved very slightly up or down depending on the district but stayed around 30 percent in most.

The 2018 snapshot suggests that election results last year indeed came along with long-anticipated shifts in the population.

One of the main drivers for the changes, state demographer Lloyd Potter said, is white, often affluent Harris County residents moving into suburban counties like Montgomery or Fort Bend, while others, including international immigrants often with lesser means, stay near work hubs in the cities. The county has also seen a large increase in international migration, he sad.

It has yet to be seen how those changes will translate to votes for either party in 2020. But if the same patterns continue, the Democrats have reason to believe the money and energy they are spending in Texas will pay off.

The Texas Democratic Party still has a lot of work to do in turning out supporters, but spokesman Abhi Rahman said the party sees big potential, especially in the untapped populations of newly registered and unregistered voters. At least 670,000 voters have registered in Texas for the first time since President Donald Trump took office, Rahman said.

“We estimate that those newly registered voters are 50 percent under the age of 35, and 38 percent under the age of 25,” Rahman said. “That is an incredibly young electorate coming up, it is a diverse electorate coming up, and it continues to signal the competitiveness of Texas and why change is coming to the state.”

The Democrats have set a number of goals heading into the 2020 election: increase turnout in communities of color to 53 percent, or by at least 400,000 voters who are registered but did not vote in 2018, and raise it to 45 percent, or by at least 225,000 votes, in urban and Democratic base counties.

The party also hopes to register suburban Texans from fast-growing cities with a goal of at least 130,000 new voters and to persuade 5 percent of rural voters for an increase of at least 100,000.

The voter registration stuff is straight from the TDP 2020 Plan. There’s a brief note later in the story about an uptick in CD10 of people with a college degree, which political scientist Rachel Bitecofer identifies as a key favorable factor for Democrats. I wish there had been a detailed breakdown of the numbers in the relevant districts, but the very high level macro view is what we get. Thankfully, Michael Li provided a useful graphic, so check that out. Good story, but I’ll always want to know more.

The need for voter registration never ends

A small step back, but I expect a big step forward next year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democrats in Texas see registering new voters as crucial to winning statewide elections in 2020, but the number of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest, has declined since last year.

Harris County’s voter roll has shrunk by 4,146 voters since Election Day in November 2018, when Democrats swept every countywide and judicial post.

The deadline to register for next month’s municipal elections is Monday.

Two of the state’s five largest counties this week reported fewer registered voters than 11 months ago. Dallas County lost 19,400, while Bexar County increased by 7,554. Tarrant County gained 1,406 voters and Travis County added 13,454. Texas as a whole added just more than 30,000 voters between November 2018 and September, according to the most recent tally by the secretary of state.

Voter registration officials in Dallas and Bexar counties said voter rolls typically dip after general elections in even-numbered years. They said that period is when counties remove inactive voters, who have not participated in two consecutive federal elections nor responded to a letter from the voter registrar, from the rolls. The number of registered voters usually rebounds as new voters submit applications, they said.

“That’s why you see numbers fluctuate,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jackie Callanen said. “We may purge 40,000.”

[…]

Harris County removed 127,852 voters from the roll between November 2018 and August, according to a cancellation list published by the secretary of state. Bennett’s office did not respond to a request to disclose how many voters have registered in the county since this past November.

Bennett shared a slideshow presentation with the Chronicle that noted her office had signed up a record 4,100 volunteer deputy voter registrars this year and has held registration drives at local high schools and colleges.

The Harris County voter roll has grown in each annual November election since 2012, according to election reports published by the Harris County Clerk. The last year-over-year decrease was in 2011, when there were 48,000 fewer voter than the previous year.

Here are the yearly totals since 2012, which marks the beginning of the modern registration expansion period:


Year   Registered
=================
2012    1,942,566
2013    1,967,881
2014    2,044,361
2015    2,054,717
2016    2,182,980
2017    2,233,533
2018    2,307,654

The big gains are in the even years, but even this year there’s been a lot of activity. If 128K people were removed but the rolls only dipped by 4K, that’s a lot of new and renewed registrations. People do move and they do die, it’s just that now we have a chief voter registrar who’s interested in building things up rather than holding them down. You want to do your part, sign up to be a volunteer deputy voter registrar and get us on the road to 2.5 million for 2020.

Fallon stands pat

Big John Cornyn can breathe a little easier.

Sen. Pat Fallon

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Eyes on HD28

The special legislative election in Fort Bend is on everyone’s radar.

Eliz Markowitz

When Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, visited Austin this past weekend for the state party’s annual fundraiser, there was no race he mentioned more than the special election for House District 28, a suburban Houston seat vacated by Republican state Rep. John Zerwas last month.

It was among the first topics Perez mentioned in a pre-dinner gaggle with reporters. And once he took the stage later in the night, he brought it up four times, twice urging donations for the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, who sat at the table closest to the stage.

“This ain’t Tom DeLay’s Fort Bend County anymore,” Perez said, touting the politically changing terrain on which the Nov. 5 contest is unfolding. He reveled in the relation to the former House GOP leader, later telling Markowitz: “You are a remarkable role model — in Tom DeLay’s county. I love saying that.”

The race’s top billing at the dinner was no accident. Democrats both inside and outside Texas have become intent on flipping HD-28 as they charge toward 2020 with hopes of capturing the lower-chamber majority. For Democrats, a win in HD-28 would not only serve as a momentum boost heading into next year — potentially bringing them within eight seats of the majority — but provide a gauge of just how many seats are really in play.

“We think we’re gonna take back the state House,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “This will be a good barometer of how big the wave is.”

The GOP has been defiant in the face of the Democratic push to take HD-28. In a recent email to local Republicans, county party chairwoman Linda Howell said the district “is our Alamo and we will defend it.”

“I don’t think a Democrat is going to capture House District 28 — it’s just not gonna happen,” one of the Republican candidates, Tricia Krenek, said in an interview. “We’re working hard every single day. Our voters are energized. They are clearly aware of what’s at stake and they are committed to keeping House District 28 red.”

As I said before, it’s the election in 2020 that really matters, since the 2019 election winner will not get to do much other than run again for the seat. It’s definitely possible that the winner this time will lose the next time, and that would be the case regardless of who wins. That said, I do think a Markowitz win would be at least a minor shock wave through the system, while a loss by her in the runoff by, say, more than ten points would be at least a little deflating. There’s not much other than the Constitutional amendments pushing people to the polls in HD28 in November (and December, unless someone pulls a majority in the first round), so turnout in this race is entirely on the campaigns. Get involved if you can, and remember you’ll want to do it again next year. The Chron has more.

How’s that investigation into the Bonnen-MQS kerfuffle going?

About how you’d expect.

Found on the Twitters

If recent history is any indication, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has little to fear from a Texas Rangers investigation into allegations he offered a bribe to a conservative activist.

Investigators who have delved into accusations of impropriety against the state’s most powerful politicians over a 15-year period delivered just five cases that led to convictions. The Rangers inherited the public integrity caseload in 2015 and have yet to secure a conviction of a lawmaker at any level, records reviewed by Hearst Newspapers show.

Experts say these cases are difficult to prove, often caught in the gap between suspicious behavior and violations of law.

“Is this really a corrupt move or was this just some stupid thing that a politician did, or a cop did, or just a normal citizen did? Usually it’s pretty clear,” said Johnny Sutton, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas from 2001 to 2009. “That’s why we tend to look for the real bribes, the cash-in-the-pocket type of activities, which there’s plenty of, even to this day here in Texas.”

[…]

Investigators for the Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit will have to unearth facts to help a committee of lawmakers — and possibly a prosecutor — decide whether Bonnen offered a bribe or committed offenses such as official misconduct or retaliation. But that could be a difficult case to make.

Bonnen says he has no control over whether any group receives press credentials, which guarantee access to the House floor and lawmakers while they debate and vote on bills. The Texas Scorecard, which is affiliated with Empower Texans, has been denied the credentials in the past because Empower Texans makes millions of dollars in political donations, and House rules forbid interest groups from having them. But the credentials also seem to have little, if any, monetary value — one of several potential sticking points in the investigation.

Without having heard the tape, it’s difficult to determine exactly what Bonnen said and what the understanding was, said Buck Wood, a prominent ethics lawyer of more than 50 years. But investigators don’t need a “magic word” from Bonnen to determine whether the offer constitutes a bribe or threat, he said.

“All you have to do is ask someone to do something and, ‘If you do that, I will do something for you,’” said Wood. “You don’t have to say, ‘By the way, I want to give you a bribe.’”

See here and here for the background. The rest of the story goes into the long and often unsuccessful history of pursuing prosecutions against politician peccadilloes, the transfer of the responsibility for such prosecutions from the Travis County DA to local DAs with unfunded assistance from DPS, and so forth. In short, don’t expect much (or for it to happen soon), and never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. That said, with the pending release of the tape, we may at least get a bit more clarity than we have now. The Texas Standard has more.

On Abbott, Austin, and homelessness

What Chris Hooks says.

On Wednesday, the governor plunged headfirst into a political controversy that has dominated discussion in the city since June. Back then, the city council partially neutered several ordinances that essentially made being homeless in the city a crime by allowing cops to ticket people for sitting or lying on sidewalks or camping in public places. As a result, homeless people became more visible on the city streets, to the consternation of downtown residents and business owners.

This has led to a tremendous improvement in the quality of life of many homeless people. The old rules meant they were pushed to unsafe places to sleep and live, where they were vulnerable to being raped, robbed, and assaulted. Many were ticketed or arrested dozens of times, inhibiting their ability to get off the streets. At the same time, it’s deeply unpleasant to bear witness to extreme poverty and desperation, and some downtown residents have spoken about dirty streets and feeling unsafe.

[…]

The letter is deeply strange. It consists of two parts: why Abbott is acting, and what he’ll do. The first bit contains a declaration that “as the Governor of Texas, I have the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Texans, including Austin residents.” That’s a big responsibility, one that makes Abbott sound a bit like the All-father, and it might sound strange to you if you’ve come to think of the governorship as a traditionally ornamental sinecure where people earn a paycheck while they wait to run for president.

The line is footnoted, which looks good and proper, but when you follow the footnote it goes to the section of the Texas Constitution that basically just says there is a governor, and that he’s the head of the executive branch of state government. Presumably the fellows who wrote the 1876 constitution, ex-Confederates scalded by their hatred of Reconstruction-era activist governors, didn’t plan to give future governors the power to supervise “the health and safety of all Texans,” but who can say? They’re all dead and were mostly jerks anyway.

The second part lays out what the governor might do to Austin, and by what powers. The most alarming is the declaration that the Department of Public Safety “has the authority to act” to “enforce the state law prohibiting criminal trespassing. If necessary, DPS will add troops in Austin areas that pose greater threats.” It would be a significant overstatement to call this martial law, but the prospect of the governor deploying a surge of state troopers to Austin streets to selectively enforce laws is—well, bizarre, and a little unsettling. Other Texas cities should take note.

There’s more, so go read the rest, and see here for the origin story. It’s hard to see this as anything but a bit of chest-thumping in Austin’s direction, an easy target for Abbott and unlike the gun issue, one where his preferred way forward (at least rhetorically) is clear. And as Nancy LeTourneau notes, it’s a way for Abbott to hug Donald Trump, with liberal cities and homeless people as the victims. In other words, par for the course for our weak and feckless governor. Grits for Breakfast has more.

All the Legislative interviews

Just to collect them all in one convenient place for you:

HD28

Eliz Markowitz

HD148

Anna Eastman
Alva Treviño
Penny Shaw
Chris Watt
Terah Isaacson
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Rob Block
Michele Leal
Adrian P. Garcia
Carol Denson

And there you have it. Before you know it, I’ll be doing interviews for runoffs and primaries. In the meantime, I do have two more City Council interviews to present, so look for them next week. Hope this has been useful.

MQS says he will release the Bonnen tape

Well, well, well.

Hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan said Thursday he will release a secret recording of his controversial meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and another top GOP member next week.

“I have been given the green light to do so by my legal team,” Sullivan wrote in his morning “Texas Minute” email to subscribers. “Later today I will announce that the audio will be released next week.”

Sullivan could share the recording ahead of an already-scheduled House GOP caucus meeting on Oct. 18, which will mark the first official Republican gathering since the head of Empower Texans accused the speaker of planning to politically target members from his own party. That allegation has, for the past couple of months, thrown the 150-member House into turmoil.

[…]

In August, at the request of a House committee, the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit launched an investigation to look into the allegations surrounding that June 12 meeting. It’s been unclear when that investigation could wrap up. Earlier this week, the Rangers were hand-delivering letters to House offices at the Capitol requesting members to provide “any testimony, recordings, documents, records, or other information relevant” to the investigation by Oct. 17.

Before then, on Oct. 15, Sullivan is scheduled to appear in a Travis County court as part of a lawsuit spearheaded by the Texas Democratic Party, which has sued over the recording. A couple of days later, the House Republican Caucus will be in Austin for its annual retreat, which was on the books before Sullivan’s allegations first surfaced.

See here for more on that Travis County court action, and here for previous blogging on this saga. It has always been my belief that MQS would release the tape when and if he decided it was better for him to have it out there than to have people continue to speculate about it. I still believe that, and while it’s possible that the court could have forced him to turn it over, that hasn’t happened yet, and he’s not known for walking away from a fight. So we’ll see what this means. The Texas Signal has more.

“Congressman 1”

Way to go, Pete!

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is an unnamed member of Congress mentioned in an indictment against two business associates of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, according to NBC News.

The two Soviet-born men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were arrested late Wednesday night at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C, per ABC News. The Wall Street Journal reported that the two men are accused of “violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.”

Regarding Sessions, the indictment against the two men states that they “committed to raise $20,000 or more for a then-sitting U.S. Congressman” who is referred to in the court document as “Congressman-1.” The indictment goes on to state that the congressman “had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million” in donations from a campaign committee. NBC News and other outlets identified that person as Sessions and reported that the committee was a Trump-aligned super PAC.

Federal authorities alleged that around the same time, Parnas “sought Congressman-1’s assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall” the American ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was a well-regarded diplomat who came into disfavor within the Trump administration and was removed from her post earlier this year.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Sessions, in his capacity as House Rules Committee chairman, advocated for the ouster of Yovanovitch.

I’ll provide a few links for supplemental reading in a minute, but just ponder that this story came out a week after Sessions announced his intention to move to another city so he could run in a now-open Congressional district, much to the displeasure of the outgoing incumbent, a fellow Republican. Timing is everything in this life, ain’t it? Slate, the Signal, Daily Kos, and TPM, which was way ahead of the curve, has more.

Interview with Adrian P. Garcia

Adrian P. Garcia

We come to the end of HD148 Special Election Interview Season. I hope you have found this useful, and that you will agree with me that there are many fine choices available to you on the ballot. Today we hear from Adrian P. Garcia, whose middle initial I am using to distinguish him from the County Commissioner. Garcia got his start in politics while he was a student at Sam Houston High School, working to keep the school open while the state was looking at closing it down. He has since gone on to work as a Senate intern and with the campaign for that other Adrian Garcia when he ran for Congress. The son of immigrants and first in his family to attend college, Garcia works as a legal case manager in family law. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here. Tomorrow I’ll run a post linking back to all nine interviews.

30 Day finance reports: Special legislative elections

As I said earlier, I’m still working my way through the unfathomably ginormous number of 30-day campaign finance reports for City of Houston candidates. There are other elections of interest for which 30 day reports are required, so we’ll take a look at those. First up will be the two special legislative elections for the Houston area. Here are the reports for HD148:

Michele Leal
Anna Eastman
Rob Block
Chris Watt
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Penny Shaw
Carol Denson
Adrian P. Garcia
Alva Trevino
Lui La Rotta
Mia Mundy
Terah Isaacson
Chris Carmona
Ryan McConnico


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
148   Leal            108,824      9,384        0     61,526
148   Eastman          50,477     22,735        0     28,494
148   Block            38,885     11,147        0     27,787
148   Watt             32,999      8,163        0     27,845
148   Camarena         17,370     10,531   10,000      9,260
148   Shaw             13,237      7,976   14,000     14,787
148   Denson           11,265      2,095    1,000      4,527
148   Garcia            8,525      3,980        0      4,525
148   Trevino           7,150      5,549    5,549      5,226
148   La Rotta          6,511      3,889        0      3,219
148   Mundy             3,170      3,000        0      1,148
148   Isaacson          1,327      8,561        0      1,327
148   Carmona             830      5,473   10,000        830
148   McConnico           415        733        0          0

Anna Nunez did not have a report showing as of yesterday; all the others are present. Some clear separation here among the candidates, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. Michele Leal leads the way with an impressive total. Of that $108K, $10K came from Latino Texas PAC, which she once led, and $1K came from State Rep. Christina Morales, who as far as I can tell is the only legislator to have gotten involved in this race. Anna Eastman received $250 from Dianne Johnson and $50 from Mike Lunceford, two of her former HISD Board colleagues. Rob Block, who is an HFD firefighter, got $20K from the HPFFA PAC, and $10K from Peggy Robinson; I don’t know who that is, but that’s a big enough piece of his haul that I thought it was worth mentioning. Chris Watt gave $5K to his campaign, which reminds me to note that the difference between that and a loan is that a loan is supposed to be paid back at some point. Finally, Carol Denson had literally broad support, as 33 of her 58 donations came from outside Houston, which is to say any city for which something other than “Houston” was listed in the address. Of those, 15 were from outside Texas. This is not a criticism in any way, as the first group of people one turns to for contributions to a political campaign is one’s personal network, which in Denson’s case includes people around the country. That’s Fundraising 101 right there.

Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates combined to raise less than $8K, with Chris Carmona loaning himself $10K to make it all slightly less embarrassing. I mean sure, this is a seat Jessica Farrar won with 68% of the vote in 2018 so it’s no one’s idea of a swing district, but in a race with 12 Dems there’s surely a path for a Republican to sneak into the runoff, and then who knows what can happen. That prospect, or perhaps the candidates who would be a part of it, does not seem to have had much appeal to the Republican establishment.

One last thing. I noticed that Eastman had several contributions of exactly $148, while Lui La Rotta had several of $17.87. Sometimes donations of an oddly specific amount are made as part of a particular appeal, or for a reason that has special meaning to the campaign or candidate. The reason for the $148 donations to Eastman is obvious, but I’m unclear on what $17.87 is supposed to mean. I guess it could be a reference to the year the US Constitution was signed, which is adorable, but if it’s not that then I have no idea.

Meanwhile, here’s HD28:

Eliz Markowitz

Anna Allred (PAC)
Gary Gates
Gary Hale
Tricia Krenek
Sarah Laningham
Clinton Purnell


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
28    Markowitz        61,845     15,591        0     38,080
28    Allred          158,570    142,234   20,000     86,279
28    Gates               265    213,552  821,100      7,191
28    Hale                421     10,525        0      9,150
28    Krenek           30,058     67,213  150,000    113,067
28    Laningham           100      2,199        0        100
28    Purnell               0         55        0      1,195

Here, Eliz Markowitz is the sole Dem in a field of Republicans, which offers her a clear path towards a runoff, likely at the head of the pack. She too took in a decent amount, having previously collected $18K for the July report, which was before we knew there would be a special election.

On the Republican side, about eighty percent of Anna Allred’s haul comes from a collection of medical interests. She got $37,500 from US Anesthesia Partners, $25K from American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, $25K from Texas Medical Association PAC, $25K from Texas Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, and $10K from Metropolitan Anesthesia PAC. Who even knew there were that many anesthesia-related PACs in existence? Former Rep. John Zerwas is himself an anesthesiologist, and US Anesthesia Partners is where he practices, so I guess we know who his choice to succeed him is. Gary Gates has run for office a couple of times before, and his report lists only some of those outstanding loans on his total. Basically, assume he’s gonna spend however much of his own money, and there’s not much more to it than that. Tricia Krenek is the only other Republican to raise any money, along with writing herself a check. On the assumption that this will be a Markowitz-versus-Republican runoff, it will be interesting to see if one or more of the Rs who fail to make the cut take another shot at it in March. I’ve speculated about that for the plethora of Dems in HD148 as well, and there’s no reason to think the same dynamic won’t be true here.

The state will be handling the Harvey relief funds

Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it.

Texas is likely another nine months from getting $4.3 billion in federal post-Hurricane Harvey recovery money aimed at better protecting the state from future flooding and disasters. But when it finally arrives, Gov. Greg Abbott made clear Friday the state will be handling the money directly and not turning it over to cities and counties to manage.

While some local officials expressed frustration over the decision, Abbott said he’s turning to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush to lead the program aimed at large-scale, regional projects. Bush has already been tasked with dealing with housing recovery issues since Harvey hit Texas in August 2017.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she was hoping for more direct control over the funding.

“While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Similarly Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will continue to work closely with Bush’s agency, but made clear who will be to blame for delays in getting work completed.

“If there will be any delay in the distribution and use of flood mitigation aid, it will come from the federal and state government,” Turner said.

Texas has been waiting for the money since February 2018, when Congress first approved the disaster mitigation program. But it took until August for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to publish rules on how the money can be used.

Now, Bush and the Texas General Land Office are required to develop a “state action plan” that must later get yet another approval from HUD. According to a joint statement put out by Abbott and Bush on Friday, that could take another “nine months or more to complete.” That would mean July 2020 — just short of three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Here’s Mayor Turner’s statement about this. If one wants to feel cynical about this, one might note that while control of the funds will be with the state, blame for any delays or deficiencies will be laid on local officials, who are much more likely to be Democrats. How many people are going to understand it when blame gets pointed at the Land Commissioner? That’s not an intuitive place for these funds to originate, at the very least. Maybe this will all go well – if George P. Bush continues to have aspirations to run for Governor, he’ll have incentive to not screw this up or play politics in too obvious a fashion – but the incentives are not in alignment. Keep that in mind if and when there is something to complain about.

Oh, and since this story was published, both Greg Abbott and George P. Bush have been yelling at Mayor Turner on Twitter, for not being sufficiently grateful to them for the federal funds, which by the way still have not been released. So yeah, there’s good reason for being cynical.

Interview with Michele Leal

Michele Leal

Two more candidates to go in HD148. I will not get to everyone, but I hope this series has helped you decide which of the candidates you want to support. Michele Leal is another candidate to succeed Rep. Jessica Farrar who has worked as a staffer to Rep. Farrar in the past; she also worked in the Senate Research Center. Leal is a past board member and past co-chair of the Latino Texas PAC, has served as President of the Latin Women’s Initiative, and was the Development Director for El Centro de Corazón, a community health center serving uninsured and underinsured patients. She is also the daughter of Al Leal, former criminal court judge in Harris County. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here.

Cagle and Radack break quorum

They did it.

Two Harris County Commissioners Court members skipped Tuesday’s meeting to prevent the Democratic majority from voting on a property tax rate hike that would increase revenue by 8 percent.

Republican commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle were absent when County Judge Lina Hidalgo gaveled in the session at 10:03 a.m. A staff member for Cagle placed a two-foot stack of constituent comments at his place on the dais, indicating their widespread opposition to the tax increase.

Without a vote, Harris County will revert to the effective tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which will collect more than $195 million less than the rate Democrats had proposed, according to county budget analysts.

[…]

Cagle and Radack remained at large when their colleagues began discussing the tax rate at 11 a.m. In a statement, Cagle said he and Radack skipped the meeting to block an “unwise, unfair and unjustified” tax increase.

“The residents of Precinct 4 elected me to represent them. They did not elect me to lord over them or to repress them,” Cagle said. “This is the taxpayers’ money, not the government’s.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a statement from Commissioner Ellis. I will just say this: The people of Harris County, who voted 52-46 for Lupe Valdez over Greg Abbott, and 56-42 for Mike Collier over Dan Patrick, did not vote for the imposition of a restrictive and damaging revenue cap. Collier, for that matter, carried Radack’s precinct and came damn close in Cagle’s, so one could plausibly argue that their own constituents didn’t vote for that revenue cap, either. I can appreciate that Radack and Cagle opposed this plan and used the tool that was available to them to stop it, but they picked a really short-sighted hill to die on. The property tax system in Texas is rigged against homeowners, and Radack and Cagle’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature refuse to do anything about it. By this action, they demonstrate they are part of the problem. Commissioners Court can’t do anything about what the Lege has imposed on them now, but the voters can do something about Steve Radack next year. The Court has undergone a lot of change, but clearly more is needed.

Interview with Rob Block

Rob Block

We continue with Week Two of HD148 Special Election Interview Season. I get to call it a season because anything that requires more than one week qualifies for that designation. Rob Block is among the first-time candidates in the race, and among the younger candidates. Block is a Houston firefighter who lives in the Near Northside area, and had previously worked on the staff of outgoing Rep. Jessica Farrar. He has been co-endorsed, along with Kendra Yarbough Camarena, by the local AFL-CIO labor council. Here’s what we talked about:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here.

Interview with Kendra Yarbrough Camarena

Kendra Yarbrough Camarena

It’s Week Two of HD148 Special Election Interview Season. I have four more candidates to present to you, and we’ll start with one who has run for the State House before. Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was the Democratic nominee for HD138 in 2010, back when her Oak Forest neighborhood was in that district. She is a classroom high school teacher, and has also served as an instructional coach in HISD. She is the daughter of a former State Rep, and she was co-endorsed in this race by the local AFL-CIO council along with Rob Block. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here.

Secondhand Sessions

If at first you don’t succeed, find something easier to do.

Rep. Bill Flores

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions formally launched his campaign Thursday to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, opting against running again in his old Dallas-based district and pressing forward in Flores’ seat despite some local Republican unease.

“My goal is to work together to restore the Republican majority in the House and maintain our control of the Senate and White House,” Sessions said in a news release Thursday afternoon. “My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda.”

Later in the afternoon, Sessions held an announcement event at the McLennan County GOP headquarters in Waco, where he railed against Democrats who he said have gone “completely left,” and promised to be “vigorous” in his campaign.

Sessions lost reelection last year to Dallas Democrat Collin Allred, who defeated Sessions by 7 percentage points. Sessions spent months toying with a rematch in the 32nd District until emerging Tuesday as a likely contender for Flores’ seat, which is about 80 miles south of the 32nd Congressional District and in more safely Republican territory.

Sessions, who plans to move to the 17th District, was born in Waco and grew up there. He previously represented some of the counties that are now in the 17th District. One of those counties is Limestone County, and its GOP chair, Lance Phillips, introduced Sessions on Thursday, emphasizing his connections to the area.

“This is not foreign territory for him by any stretch of the imagination,” Phillips said.

The notion of a Sessions bid for Flores’ seat prompted a backlash from some local Republicans in the 17th District. Among those speaking out was Flores himself, who balked at Sessions moving toward a run without consulting the incumbent and who said the feedback from district GOP leaders was “not positive.”

“TX17 is blessed with a strong cadre of emerging leaders who live, work, raise families, and serve the communities in our district,” Flores told The Texas Tribune after Sessions’ announcement Thursday. “Some of these leaders would be world class Congressional candidates for whom I would be honored to vote and to have represent our neighbors and me in Congress.”

It’s pretty funny, and even after Sessions belatedly reached out to his former colleague, Flores was still like “yeah, whatever, try to beat the candidates that actually do live here then we’ll see”. Sessions has been putting out statements about how he’s all in on Trump, and while that’s much more likely to help him in CD17 than it would have in CD32, maybe even here that will wear a bit thin. Democrat Rick Kennedy is running again, and I’m hoping either he can raise more money this time around, or someone else who can raise more money decides to give it a try. This could be a way-under-the-radar opportunity if Pete Sessions gets on the ballot again. The Observer has more.

John B. Love III

Meet the ninth Democratic candidate in the Senate primary.

John Love

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

What kind of laws might have helped mitigate our recent violent incidents?

The DMN asks a good question.

Texas politicians are looking anew at ways to reduce gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa. Dozens of policies, from the piecemeal to the comprehensive, have been proposed.

But would any have applied to the four massacres Texans have experienced since November 2017? The Dallas Morning News sought to answer this question by breaking down the circumstances behind some of the shootings to learn which preventive measures, criminal penalties or enforcement mechanisms would have applied in each case.

The News then compared these measures to the proposals Texas elected officials are now discussing and have proposed in the past, in addition to similar laws in other states. Here’s what we found.

In order, they suggest the following:

Midland-Odessa shooting: Private gun sales
El Paso shooting: Welfare checks and red flag laws
Santa Fe shooting: Child access prevention laws
Sutherland Springs: Domestic violence laws

To me, “gun control” is a lot like cyber security. You can’t just do one thing and expect it to be sufficient. Any robust cyber security program in an enterprise includes patching, vulnerability scans, firewalls, intrusion detection, anti-virus software, a control framework, incident detection and response, and so much more. There’s overlap and redundancy, with the philosophy being that if one thing doesn’t do it the next thing will. This article is a good illustration of how the metaphor applies to gun violence. There is no one single solution. There are many tactics and strategies that work together. We need to understand that or we’ll never make any progress.

Barohich not running again in SBOE6

Another open seat.

Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education chairwoman Donna Bahorich, who represents part of Harris County, announced Friday she will not seek reelection in 2020 as the District 6 representative.

“I have 8 years of service on the board,” Bahorich said. “I feel like I’ve given it quite a bit of work.”

In a statement, Bahorich said her tenure has been “exceptionally challenging and gratifying.” One of 10 Republicans on board, Bahorich was first elected in 2012. She has served as chairwoman since 2015, after being appointed to the role by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Prior to her election, Bahorich served as a district director for then-state Sen. Dan Patrick. Before that, she worked in telecommunications.

Bahorich wasn’t as bad as she could have been, all things considered, but this is a definite upgrade opportunity for 2020. SBOE6 shifted significantly Democratic from 2016 to 2018, after a modest but decent shift from 2012 to 2016. Beto got 51.5%, and Mike Collier took a plurailty with 49.5%. SBOE5 with Ken Mercer is actually a brighter opportunity, but this one is right behind it. Two Dems are already in – Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner – so it’s a matter of who the GOP puts forward.

Couple things to add here. I have no idea if Bahorich is stepping down for the reasons she states or if the Democratic movement in the district pushed her in that direction. The SBOE is an unpaid, low-glamour-but-high-friction post, and it’s not hard for me to believe that two terms is enough for any rational person. It’s also not hard for me to believe that Bahorich decided she had better things to do than sweat out an election she wouldn’t have much control over, given the partisan tides, the lack of funds in these races, and the futility of campaigning for this low-profile position with so many voters in it. This is the kind of race where overall GOTV efforts are key, and while the lack of straight ticket voting is a new challenge to overcome, SBOE races are fairly near the top of the ticket – after the three federal races (President, Senate, Congress) and the statewides, which this year is just Railroad Commissioner and the Supreme Court/CCA. It’s before all of those county and district court races, so there should be no fatigue factor. After the 2018 sweep, Bahorich is the only non-statewide elected Republican who will be on my ballot. Or at least she would have been, but whatever the case I’m hopeful about changing that. With any luck, that just got a little easier.

Gina Ortiz Jones is doing big fundraising numbers again

Nice.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the leading Democratic candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised over $1 million in the third quarter, her campaign announced Tuesday morning.

The figure represents a massive haul that her campaign described as the “largest off-year quarterly fundraising total the district has ever seen.”

“I’m honored by the groundswell of support we’ve received and together we’re building a grassroots campaign to stand up to the corporate special interests and bring commonsense priorities like quality, affordable health care and lower prescription drug costs to Washington, D.C.,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ campaign expects to report having about $1.4 million cash on hand — a hefty stockpile for a race that is at the top of national Democrats’ priority list this cycle in Texas.

[…]

The GOP primary for the seat is still forming, but national Republicans like Tony Gonzales, a retired Navy cryptologist from San Antonio. He entered the race a few days after Hurd’s announcement and raised over $100,000 in his first month, according to his campaign.

The candidates are not required to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

Ortiz Jones was a big fundraiser in 2018, but so was Will Hurd. This time around, she’ll be the one with the head start. Yes, this presumes she’ll win her contested primary. If that doesn’t happen, then whoever does will have some big shoes to fill. We’ll see how everyone else is doing later this month.

On a side note, this came into my mailbox:

Michele Leal, candidate for State Representative for House District 148, raised over $100,000 in the first 24 days of her candidacy.

“Michele’s strong fundraising is a result of her hard work and her strong relationships with people who care about the future of Houston and Texas,” said State Representative Christina Morales. “We need leaders like Michele in the State House – who will stand up for everyday Texans and advocate for our diverse communities.”

Leal – a former legislative staffer in the state House and Senate, and a proven community advocate and activist, announced her candidacy on September 3rd, to complete the term of her former employer, retired State Representative Jessica Farrar.

“We have the opportunity to bring real change to Austin, which is only possible when we stand together,” said Leal. “I am committed to earning the support of Houstonians across our entire district, and we will have the resources we need to share our vision for a better Texas.”

I haven’t received any other fundraising press releases from HD148 candidates, so I thought I’d run this one as a measure of what is possible. They, like the city candidates running in this November’s election, have 30 day reports due this week. I’m very interested to see who raised the kind of money to quickly and effectively get their name out there in this short period of time. So far, at least one person has.

Interview with Terah Isaacson

Terah Isaacson

We come to the end of our first week of HD148 special election candidate interviews. There’s still another week to go, because there’s just that many candidates and I’ve done that many interviews. To wrap up Week 1 I bring you my conversation with Terah Isaacson, who if elected would be the first Democratic female physician in the Legislature. Isaacson is a surgeon and has served in leadership roles with the Harris County Medical Society and the Texas Medical Association. Originally from Kansas, Isaacson began working at the age of 14 to help support her family. She now lives in the Near Northside. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here. I’ll be back next week with more candidate interviews in HD148.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

Interview with Chris Watt

Chris Watt

We continue with the HD148 special election, where the field is big and deep. As you have already seen and will keep seeing, there’s a lot of quality in the lineup. Chris Watt is an attorney and resident of the Heights, making his first run for office. Watt has served for the past five years on the Houston Leadership Committee for Lambda Legal, a non-profit that litigates in favor of LGBTQ rights and protections, and he is a longtime member of the Board of Directors for Children at Risk, currently serving as Board Chair. Here’s what we talked about:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here. I’ll be publishing many more HD148 candidate interviews over the next two weeks.

Lawsuit filed against Texas drone law

This ought to be interesting.

By Josh Sorenson, archived on 20 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine, CC0

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Austin seeks to strike down Texas laws that restrict what can legally be photographed by drones.

Filed by two journalism organizations and a reporter, the lawsuit argues that a 2013 law places improper limits on news gathering, violating the First Amendment by making it a crime to capture images of private property, or a person on that property, no matter where the drone is flying.

The law bans the use of drones with the “intent to conduct surveillance,” a phrase that is not defined and is vague enough to include most news-gathering activities, allowing for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, the lawsuit argued.

“Visual journalists have faced great uncertainty about their permitted use of drones to gather the news in Texas,” forcing some to abandon drones, the least expensive and safest way to capture aerial images of great impact, the lawsuit said.

[…]

Although the law was updated in 2015, 2017 and earlier this year to add exceptions for permissible drone photography — allowing, for example, the professional use by engineers, land surveyors and insurance company employees — similar protections were not extended to journalists, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also challenged a provision added in 2015 that bans all drone use below 400 feet above sports venues, prisons and “critical infrastructure facilities,” including oil fields, pipelines, refineries and animal feedlots.

Because Federal Aviation Administration regulations ban drones from flying above 400 feet, “the no-fly provisions function as a near absolute ban on the use of (drones) in these locations,” the lawsuit argued.

Although lawmakers said restricting drone use over critical facilities was an essential safety provision, the lawsuit argued that the law was intended to suppress potentially embarrassing news coverage, such as environmental problems at oil or chemical plants.

“The no-fly provisions inevitably single out journalists for disfavored treatment by prohibiting the use of drones for news-gathering purposes over facilities of public interest, while broadly excepting governmental and commercial uses of (drones) in these same zones,” the lawsuit said.

Here’s a story about the bill’s passage. You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. One example of the law’s effect cited in the story was an effort to document conditions of a facility that houses immigrant children that drew threats from the San Marcos police. Based on what’s presented here, it sounds to me like the plaintiffs have a good case, but we’ll see what the defense from the state looks like. The Dallas Observer has more.