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Texas

Appeals court appears skeptical about Paxton’s whistleblower defense

As well they should be.

Best mugshot ever

A panel of Texas 3rd Court of Appeals justices expressed skepticism of an argument from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawyers on Wednesday that he is exempt from the state’s whistleblower act because he’s not a public employee and a case against him should be thrown out.

Former Paxton deputies in the Office of the Attorney General claim in a whistleblower lawsuit that they were fired for reporting alleged crimes by Paxton to law enforcement. Paxton’s lawyers are trying to get the case dismissed and asked the appeals court to throw out the case on the grounds that Paxton is not subject to the whistleblower law. A lower court denied Paxton’s motion to dismiss the case in March.

Barely a minute into oral arguments, Justice Chari L. Kelly began questioning Solicitor General Judd E. Stone II, who is representing Paxton in the suit.

“Isn’t the action of every employer at the OAG’s office an action by the employee governmental agency?” Kelly said.

Justice Gisela D. Triana questioned Stone’s argument that all elected officials are exempt from the whistleblower law and Chief Justice Darlene Byrne asked whether his interpretation would give Texas Supreme Court justices immunity from sexual harassment claims from their employees.

Stone said employees filing sexual harassment claims would have other avenues for relief outside the whistleblower law, but argued that the attorney general as an elected official cannot be sued under the law, which covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities.

[…]

Stone argued that barring the attorney general from firing employees when they disagree with legal positions or have lost his trust would be an infringement on the elected official’s power.

But Kelly questioned that argument and nodded to claims by the whistleblowers’ lawyers that Paxton is a public employee because he receives checks from the state and participates in its retirement system, and that he acts as the entity because he is its titular head.

“If he can go in and change any decision internally … If he truly has the power to have the last say on anything that comes out of the agency. How is he not the agency?” she asked.

Stone said the justices should interpret the law as it was written, which did not include elected officials in the text of those who can be sued on whistleblower claims.

But Joe Knight, who argued for the whistleblowers’ lawyers, blasted the idea that the Legislature wrote a statute meant to ensure public employees complied with the law and then exempted elected officials without explicitly saying so. He said the drafting of the law in such a way would be “strange and unlikely,” and said the “Legislature does not hide elephants in mouseholes.”

In briefings to the court, the whistleblowers’ lawyers said when lawmakers intend to exempt elected officials from being labeled as public employees, they do so in the text of the law. The Texas Whistleblower Act does not.

The whistleblowers’ lawyers said exempting the attorney general would rob the law of its purpose to protect public employees reporting wrongdoing by government entities.

Stone also argued in briefs that the former officials did not make the reports to law enforcement authorities required to invoke whistleblower protection, and that even if they had, they reported only potential crimes, not crimes that had actually happened.

The whistleblowers’ lawyers attacked that argument, saying their clients reported their concerns to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Texas Rangers and the attorney general’s human resources office.

The lawyers also said their clients believed Paxton had already abused his office, tampered with government records, taken bribes and obstructed justice through his interactions with Paul when they brought their concerns to law enforcement.

See here, here, and here for some background. It must be noted that all three appellate court justices are Democrats, so their opinions will carry limited weight before the Court of Criminal Appeals, no matter how ridiculous Paxton’s arguments are. That’s just how it is, I don’t make the rules. No indication when the court may rule, but the initial suit was filed last November, the motion to dismiss was denied in March, and the appeal to the Third Court was made in June, so as far as that goes, we’re moving at a decent pace.

Commissioners Court avoids quorum break

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court this week unanimously agreed on a proposal to cut the overall property tax rate for the coming year, a compromise that avoids a potential quorum break by Republicans that would have forced an even deeper cut.

The rate of 58.1 cents per $100 of assessed value is 3 percent less than the current levy. This means the owner of a home valued at $300,000, with the standard 20 percent homestead exemption already factored in, could save up to $54 in the first year. However, as Harris County Appraisal District valuations continue to rise, homeowners could see slightly higher tax bills, despite the lower rate.

The overall rate is the sum of the rates Commissioners Court sets for four entities: the county as a whole, the flood control district, the hospital district and the Port of Houston. Compared to the current levies, the flood control district rate will increase slightly, while the other three entities would see a rate cut.

Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia last week proposed a rate of 58.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, a 2.2 percent cut from the current rate of 59.9 cents.

The two Republican members wanted more significant savings for taxpayers, noting economic hardships wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey proposed a rate of 57.9 cents.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned against cutting the tax rate, and thus revenues, too much because it will make raising more revenue in the future more difficult. That is because of a revenue cap the Legislature placed on cities and counties last year which limits year-over-year growth to 3.5 percent without voter approval.

“We should be negotiating on what the county needs,” Hidalgo said. “It does not benefit me, politically, to want to cut taxes less. I simply know we’re headed down a dangerous path.”

After hours of haggling at a hearing Tuesday afternoon, the panel agreed on the 58.1 cent rate, which Garcia offered as a compromise. The court at one point was mulling a half dozen options and County Administrator David Berry confessed he was struggling to keep track of who had proposed which.

See here for the background. They say in baseball that you gain more by avoiding dumb decisions than you do by making brilliant ones. I’m just glad we were able to avoid the dumb outcome here.

Texas takes its potty obsession to court

Oh, brother.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration over recent federal guidance issued to protect LGBTQ people in the workplace, including a directive that says employees should be allowed to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers that correspond with their gender identity.

The guidance also clarifies that misuse of a person’s preferred pronouns could be considered harassment in certain circumstances.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the Northern District of Texas federal court, Paxton claims that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it issued a technical assistance document outlining the impact of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. That ruling prohibited employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the EEOC, commission Chair Charlotte A. Burrows and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The EEOC guidance, released on June 15, specifies that employers must not prohibit transgender employees from dressing in correspondence with their gender identity or using bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that are consistent with their gender identity.

In a statement, Paxton called the guidance “illegal” and an “unacceptable” attempt “to force businesses, including the State of Texas, to align with their beliefs.”

“If the Biden Administration thinks they can force states to comply with their political agenda, my office will fight against their radical attempt at social change,” Paxton said.

In the lawsuit, Paxton also argued that the EEOC violated the First and Eleventh Amendments, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act, which specifies how government agencies issue regulations.

The EEOC said in an email on Monday that it does not comment on pending litigation, but that it will be represented by the Department of Justice, which declined to comment Monday.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being my searing contempt for the walking dirtbag that is Ken Paxton, it’s hard to take his nakedly political lawsuits seriously. We’ve certainly seen plenty of examples of shoddy lawyering on his part, not to mention him lying about court actions in a way that makes him look good to his knuckle-dragging base, and that always makes me think he’s in this more for the publicity (which he can get immediately) than the (often years-off) results. That said, if there’s one thing Ken Paxton is unquestionably good at, it’s picking federal judges who are likely to give him what he wants. As such, we have no choice but to take this seriously. Daily Kos has more.

Feds officially investigating Texas mask mandate ban

Good.

The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation into Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, making Texas the sixth state to face a federal inquiry over mask rules.

The investigation will focus on whether Abbott’s order prevents students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of federal law, Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights wrote in a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The investigation comes after the Texas Education Agency released guidance saying public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in light of Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

[…]

Goldberg wrote that the Office for Civil Rights will examine whether TEA “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the individual educational needs of students with disabilities or otherwise enabling discrimination based on disability.”

The department previously opened similar investigations into mask policies in Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But the agency had not done so in Texas because of court orders preventing the state from enforcing Abbott’s order. The new TEA guidance changed that, however.

See here and here for the background. The TEA’s new directive made me scratch my head.

In newly released guidance, the Texas Education Agency says public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A statement released by the agency Friday says Gov. Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning mask mandates precludes districts from requiring face coverings.

“Per GA-38, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-38 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-38.”

The agency previously had said it would not enforce the governor’s ban until the issue was resolved in the courts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued several school districts for imposing mask requirements on students and teachers, and some districts have sued the state over the governor’s order. The lawsuits have produced mixed results with some courts upholding districts’ mask mandates and some siding with the attorney general.

TEA officials on Tuesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new guidelines and questions about how the agency would enforce the ban on mask mandates. The agency has not yet clarified what prompted the new guidelines, given that the legal battles regarding the order are ongoing.

Hard to know exactly what motivated this, but “pressure from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton” would be high on my list of suspects. If I were to advise school districts that currently have mask mandates, as HISD does, or are thinking about imposing one, I would say go right ahead, and keep the mandates you have. This is a toothless threat, and the courts have not yet weighed in on the issue in a meaningful way. We know that having the mask mandates promotes safety, and if that isn’t the highest priority I don’t know what is. Do not waver.

Anyway. The Trib has an explainer about the state of mask mandates and lawsuits around them, but it doesn’t indicate when the legal cases may be having hearings, which admittedly would be a big task to track. The federal lawsuit will have a hearing on October 6, and we may get some clarity out of that. In the meantime, keep the mask mandates. We need them, and (a couple of district court judges aside) no one is stopping school districts from having them. The Trib has more.

El Paso is doing all right with Delta

Good for them, let’s hope it lasts.

While some other metro areas like Austin reported record high numbers of COVID-19 patients in their area hospitals just last month, and while statewide hospitalizations came close to eclipsing the January peak of 14,218, El Paso-area hospitals, which serve nearly a million West Texas residents, haven’t come close to their previous highs.

El Paso’s peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations was just over 1,100 in mid-November, said Wanda Helgesen, director of BorderRAC, the state’s regional advisory council for local hospitals.

On Thursday, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in El Paso was 127.

In fact, the city’s daily hospitalization numbers haven’t broken 200 since March, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Hospitals are seeing an increase in patients, have occasionally seen their ICUs fill up and are having the same staffing problems as the rest of the state, she said, but have so far been able to handle the uptick.

Most of the pressure is related to non-COVID patients, many of whom had been waiting to get treatment for other problems, she said.

“We do have a surge of patients but not to the extent that other parts of Texas are having,” she said.

Helgesen and others say much of the credit can be attributed to the area’s high vaccination rate, widespread compliance with masking and social distancing, and a strong partnership among local community and health care leaders.

“It is amazing,” Helgesen said. “It is absolutely a credit to our community. I really think it was an all-out effort.”

The share of COVID-19 tests in El Paso that come back positive is hovering around 6%, while the statewide positivity rate is three times that at 18%.

And while COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated, took up more than 30% of hospital capacity in some areas and more than 20% statewide last week, in El Paso they accounted for only 7% of patients in local hospitals.

For a city with one of the state’s highest per-capita COVID-19 death counts, the numbers present a rare glimmer of good news for the traumatized residents of this West Texas border city.

“Compared to the rest of Texas, we’re in heaven,” said Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia, assistant professor of public health at the University of Texas-El Paso. “That doesn’t mean we are free from COVID, but we’re doing much, much better than most of the rest of the state. The numbers don’t lie.”

Civic and health leaders say they aren’t ignoring one important fact: El Paso’s surges have been weeks behind the rest of the state throughout the pandemic, so it’s possible that the region’s own delta-fueled spike could still be ahead.

“We aren’t letting our guard down,” Helgesen said.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, who lost his mother and brother to COVID during the winter surge, said the reason the city and county have enacted recent mask mandates, in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on them and in spite of lower numbers, is because the potential for another surge is still real.

“We do worry and we want to make sure that we don’t have any spikes,” he said. “You always want to be proactive and you always want to be prepared.”

The story goes on to recount the huge spike in COVID cases that El Paso experienced last November, which put it in the national news. If you look at the included chart of COVID cases, which tracks El Paso and the state as a whole, the two were mostly in sync except for that giant surge in November, which came between the two big statewide surges, and now, when the statewide rate began to take off in May but El Paso’s stayed more or less where it had been. I’m sure the mask mandate and above-norm vaccination rates have helped with that, but it may also be that enough unvaccinated El Pasoans have had COVID that the overall rate of immunity is high enough to be something like herd immunity. Or maybe they’re just lucky right now, and the curve will begin to turn upward for them eventually. I very much hope that’s not the case, but I think we all know that this pandemic has been persistent and somewhat random about who gets it the worst at a given time. In the meantime, though, keep on keeping on, El Paso.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 2

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
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE
Congress, part 1

I didn’t want to leave the Congressional district analysis without looking at some downballot races, since I mentioned them in the first part. To keep this simple, I’m just going to compare 2020 to 2012, to give a bookends look at things. I’ve got the Senate race (there was no Senate race in 2016, another reason to skip that year), the Railroad Commissioner race, and the Supreme Court race with Nathan Hecht.


Dist   Hegar   Cornyn  Hegar% Cornyn%
=====================================
01    79,626  217,942  26.30%  71.90%
02   157,925  180,504  45.50%  52.00%
03   188,092  224,921  44.50%  53.20%
04    79,672  256,262  23.20%  74.70%
05   101,483  173,929  36.00%  61.70%
06   155,022  178,305  45.30%  52.10%
07   154,670  152,741  49.20%  48.60%
08   100,868  275,150  26.20%  71.50%
09   168,796   54,801  73.50%  23.90%
10   191,097  215,665  45.90%  51.80%
11    54,619  232,946  18.60%  79.20%
12   129,679  228,676  35.20%  62.00%
13    50,271  217,949  18.30%  79.40%
14   117,954  185,119  38.00%  59.60%
15   110,141  111,211  48.10%  48.60%
16   148,484   73,923  63.10%  31.40%
17   127,560  174,677  41.00%  56.20%
18   178,680   60,111  72.60%  24.40%
19    65,163  194,783  24.40%  73.00%
20   163,219   99,791  60.10%  36.80%
21   203,090  242,567  44.50%  53.10%
22   188,906  214,386  45.80%  52.00%
23   135,518  150,254  46.10%  51.10%
24   165,218  171,828  47.80%  49.70%
25   165,657  222,422  41.70%  56.00%
26   168,527  256,618  38.60%  58.70%
27    98,760  169,539  35.90%  61.70%
28   118,063  107,547  50.60%  46.10%
29    99,415   51,044  64.00%  32.80%
30   203,821   53,551  77.00%  20.20%
31   178,949  206,577  45.20%  52.20%
32   170,654  165,157  49.60%  48.00%
33   111,620   41,936  70.40%  26.50%
34   101,691   93,313  50.60%  46.50%
35   175,861   87,121  64.50%  32.00%
36    78,544  218,377  25.90%  71.90%


Dist   Casta   Wright  Casta% Wright%
=====================================
01    75,893  217,287  25.20%  72.20%
02   153,630  176,484  44.90%  51.60%
03   181,303  220,004  43.70%  53.00%
04    76,281  254,688  22.50%  75.00%
05   100,275  171,307  35.80%  61.20%
06   151,372  176,517  44.60%  52.00%
07   149,853  149,114  48.50%  48.20%
08    97,062  271,212  25.60%  71.40%
09   168,747   51,862  74.10%  22.80%
10   184,189  211,020  44.90%  51.40%
11    53,303  230,719  18.30%  79.10%
12   123,767  227,786  33.90%  62.50%
13    47,748  215,948  17.60%  79.50%
14   114,873  182,101  37.40%  59.40%
15   113,540  103,715  50.50%  46.10%
16   144,436   75,345  62.30%  32.50%
17   121,338  171,677  39.70%  56.20%
18   177,020   57,783  72.60%  23.70%
19    62,123  192,844  23.60%  73.20%
20   165,617   93,296  61.40%  34.60%
21   197,266  234,785  43.90%  52.30%
22   184,521  209,495  45.50%  51.60%
23   136,789  144,156  47.10%  49.60%
24   160,511  167,885  47.10%  49.20%
25   157,323  218,711  40.30%  56.00%
26   160,007  251,763  37.30%  58.70%
27    97,797  165,135  36.00%  60.80%
28   121,898  100,306  52.90%  43.60%
29   102,354   46,954  66.30%  30.40%
30   204,615   50,268  77.60%  19.10%
31   169,256  203,981  43.40%  52.30%
32   168,807  160,201  49.60%  47.10%
33   111,727   40,264  71.10%  25.60%
34   105,427   86,391  53.30%  43.70%
35   173,994   82,414  64.70%  30.60%
36    76,511  216,585  25.40%  72.00%


Dist Meachum    HechtMeachum%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    79,995  215,240  26.60%  71.50%
02   154,787  179,887  45.20%  52.50%
03   185,076  220,662  44.60%  53.10%
04    79,667  253,119  23.50%  74.50%
05   101,813  172,186  36.40%  61.50%
06   155,372  175,793  45.80%  51.80%
07   149,348  154,058  48.20%  49.70%
08    99,434  272,277  26.20%  71.60%
09   170,611   52,213  75.00%  22.90%
10   188,253  212,284  45.80%  51.60%
11    56,146  228,708  19.30%  78.50%
12   129,478  225,206  35.50%  61.80%
13    51,303  214,434  18.90%  78.90%
14   118,324  181,521  38.50%  59.10%
15   115,046  103,787  51.20%  46.20%
16   149,828   73,267  64.20%  31.40%
17   126,952  170,378  41.50%  55.70%
18   179,178   58,684  73.50%  24.10%
19    66,333  190,784  25.20%  72.30%
20   166,733   93,546  62.00%  34.80%
21   200,216  237,189  44.50%  52.80%
22   188,187  210,138  46.30%  51.70%
23   138,391  143,522  47.70%  49.50%
24   164,386  168,747  48.10%  49.40%
25   162,591  218,370  41.60%  55.80%
26   168,621  251,426  39.10%  58.30%
27   100,675  164,273  37.10%  60.50%
28   122,263   99,666  53.50%  43.60%
29   101,662   48,349  66.00%  31.40%
30   207,327   50,760  78.50%  19.20%
31   172,531  198,717  45.00%  51.80%
32   169,325  163,993  49.60%  48.10%
33   112,876   40,077  71.80%  25.50%
34   104,142   84,361  53.80%  43.50%
35   177,097   82,098  66.00%  30.60%
36    78,170  216,153  26.00%  71.90%

	
Dist  Sadler     Cruz Sadler%   Cruz%
=====================================
01    76,441  169,490  30.55%  67.74%
02    84,949  155,605  34.35%  62.92%
03    88,929  168,511  33.52%  63.52%
04    69,154  174,833  27.60%  69.79%
05    73,712  130,916  35.14%  62.41%
06   100,573  143,297  40.12%  57.16%
07    89,471  141,393  37.73%  59.63%
08    55,146  190,627  21.88%  75.64%
09   140,231   40,235  76.35%  21.91%
10   103,526  154,293  38.76%  57.76%
11    45,258  175,607  19.93%  77.32%
12    77,255  162,670  31.22%  65.74%
13    43,022  175,896  19.12%  78.17%
14    97,493  142,172  39.77%  58.00%
15    79,486   62,277  54.55%  42.74%
16    91,289   56,636  59.66%  37.02%
17    82,118  130,507  37.31%  59.30%
18   145,099   45,871  74.37%  23.51%
19    52,070  155,195  24.37%  72.65%
20   106,970   73,209  57.47%  39.33%
21   115,768  181,094  37.32%  58.38%
22    90,475  157,006  35.74%  62.02%
23    86,229   98,379  45.28%  51.66%
24    90,672  147,419  36.88%  59.97%
25   101,059  155,304  37.79%  58.07%
26    77,304  173,933  29.66%  66.74%
27    81,169  125,913  38.11%  59.12%
28    90,481   68,096  55.14%  41.50%
29    71,504   38,959  63.27%  34.47%
30   168,805   44,782  77.58%  20.58%
31    89,486  138,886  37.46%  58.13%
32   103,610  141,469  41.03%  56.03%
33    81,568   33,956  68.96%  28.71%
34    79,622   60,126  55.23%  41.71%
35   101,470   56,450  61.37%  34.14%
36    63,070  168,072  26.66%  71.04%


Dist   Henry    Cradd  Henry%  Cradd%
=====================================
01    67,992  170,189  27.73%  69.41%	
02    78,359  155,155  32.30%  63.95%	
03    80,078  167,247  31.02%  64.80%	
04    64,908  170,969  26.53%  69.87%	
05    69,401  129,245  33.75%  62.86%	
06    96,386  141,220  39.03%  57.18%	
07    80,266  143,409  34.60%  61.81%	
08    51,716  188,005  20.83%  75.74%	
09   138,893   39,120  76.19%  21.46%	
10    94,282  153,321  36.00%  58.54%	
11    44,310  171,250  19.77%  76.42%	
12    72,582  160,255  29.85%  65.90%	
13    42,402  171,310  19.15%  77.36%	
14    96,221  137,169  39.91%  56.89%	
15    81,120   56,697  56.51%  39.50%	
16    90,256   49,563  60.67%  33.31%	
17    77,899  126,329  36.20%  58.70%	
18   142,749   44,416  73.97%  23.01%	
19    50,735  150,643  24.17%  71.76%	
20   102,998   72,019  56.19%  39.29%	
21   103,442  181,345  34.03%  59.66%	
22    85,869  155,271  34.42%  62.24%	
23    85,204   92,976  45.63%  49.79%	
24    83,119  146,534  34.52%  60.85%	
25    92,074  153,051  35.16%  58.44%	
26    71,177  172,026  27.82%  67.24%	
27    79,313  120,235  38.16%  57.84%	
28    94,545   59,311  58.53%  36.72%	
29    72,681   35,059  65.14%  31.42%	
30   166,852   43,206  77.43%  20.05%	
31    82,045  136,810  35.10%  58.52%	
32    92,896  143,313  37.69%  58.15%	
33    81,885   30,941  69.96%  26.43%	
34    82,924   50,769  58.78%  35.99%	
35    97,431   55,398  59.79%  34.00%	
36    62,309  161,751  26.88%  69.79%


Dist   Petty    Hecht  Petty%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    71,467  163,306  29.37%  67.11%
02    84,472  147,576  35.05%  61.23%
03    85,368  161,072  33.16%  62.56%
04    68,551  163,313  28.26%  67.31%
05    72,559  123,012  35.59%  60.34%
06   101,437  133,905  41.29%  54.51%
07    86,596  135,562  37.63%  58.90%
08    55,495  181,582  22.47%  73.53%
09   141,509   36,555  77.91%  20.13%
10   100,998  146,370  38.76%  56.17%
11    47,657  163,669  21.49%  73.81%
12    76,959  153,820  31.79%  63.53%
13    46,099  162,448  21.01%  74.02%
14   100,566  131,348  41.86%  54.67%
15    83,009   53,962  58.27%  37.88%
16    93,997   46,517  63.26%  31.31%
17    82,692  120,206  38.64%  56.16%
18   145,329   41,564  75.56%  21.61%
19    54,458  143,426  26.12%  68.80%
20   109,712   66,441  59.93%  36.29%
21   112,633  172,657  37.12%  56.90%
22    91,252  149,320  36.71%  60.06%
23    90,554   87,003  48.74%  46.83%
24    89,019  139,910  37.09%  58.29%
25    98,663  145,549  37.88%  55.87%
26    76,953  165,377  30.12%  64.73%
27    83,222  114,299  40.30%  55.36%
28    97,850   55,633  60.91%  34.63%
29    74,382   33,124  66.97%  29.82%
30   169,799   39,877  78.96%  18.54%
31    89,084  128,420  38.24%  55.13%
32    97,997  137,060  39.92%  55.84%
33    84,095   28,859  72.01%  24.71%
34    85,950   47,645  61.27%  33.96%
35   102,646   51,225  63.03%  31.46%
36    66,497  154,956  28.85%  67.24%

There are two things that jump out at me when I look over these numbers. The first actually has to do with the statewide totals. Joe Biden cut the deficit at the Presidential level nearly in half from 2012 – where Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by 1.26 million votes, Biden trailed Trump by 631K. The gains were not as dramatic in the Senate and RRC races, but there was progress. Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler by 1.246 million votes, while John Cornyn beat MJ Hegar by 1.074 million; for RRC, Christi Craddock topped Dale Henry by 1.279 million and Jim Wright bested Chrysta Castaneda by 1.039 million. Not nearly as much progress, but we’re going in the right direction. At the judicial level, however, that progress wasn’t there. Nathan Hecht, then running for Supreme Court Place 6, won in 2012 by 908K votes, and he won in 2020 by 934K. That’s a little misleading, because in the only other contested statewide judicial race in 2012, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton for CCA by 1.094 million votes, and five out of the seven Dems running in 2020 did better than that. Still, the point remains, the judicial races were our weakest spot. If we really want to turn Texas blue, we will need more of an investment in these races as well.

One explanation for this is that Dem statewide judicial candidates didn’t do as well in at least some of the trending-blue places. Hegar and Castaneda both carried CD07, but only two of the Dem judicial candidates did, Staci Williams and Tina Clinton. All of them carried CD32, but none of them by more than two points, while Biden took it by ten; to be fair, Hegar won it by less than two, and Castaneda had the best performance with a 2.6 point margin. Maybe these folks were motivated by Trump more than anything else, and they didn’t see the judicial races in those terms. I have noted before that Dem judicial candidates did better in CD07 in 2018 than in 2020, so maybe the higher turnout included more less-likely Republicans than one might have expected. Or maybe these folks are in the process of becoming Democratic, but aren’t all the way there yet. Just something to think about.

On the flip side of that, while Hegar underperformed in the three closer-than-expected Latino Democratic districts CD15, CD28, and CD34 – Cornyn actually carried CD15 by a smidge – everyone else did better, and indeed outperformed Biden in those districts. The judicial candidates all carried CDs 28 and 34 by at least six points, with most in the 8-9 range and a couple topping ten, and all but two carried CD15 by a wider margin that Biden’s 1.9 points, with them in the three-to-five range. Still a disconcerting step back from 2012 and 2016, but at least for CDs 28 and 34 it’s still a reasonably comfortable margin. Maye this is the mirror image of the results in CDs 07 and 32, where the Presidential race was the main motivator and people were more likely to fall back on old patterns elsewhere. As with CDs 07 and 32, we’ll have to see where those trends go from here.

After however many entries in this series, I don’t have a whole lot more to say. We’ll be getting new maps soon, and we’ll have a better idea of what the immediate future looks like. I think the last two decades has shown us that there’s only so far out in the future that redistricting will be predictive in such a dynamic and growing state as Texas, but we have seen the winds shift more than once, so let’s not get too comfortable with any one idea. Whatever we get in this session is not etched in stone, and we still have some hope for federal legislation. For now, this is what we’re up against.

UT-Tyler/DMN: Abbott loses ground

A well-timed poll result.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) may be feeling the pressure, the latest poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler shows.

Abbott’s approval rating has dropped to 45 percent in the aftermath of controversial legislation such as a ban on mask mandates amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a ban on most abortions after six weeks. It’s far too early to tell how things will play out in next year’s election, but two well-known potential candidates look like they could give Abbott a serious run if they do wind up entering the race.

Actor Matthew McConaughey, who has hinted that he’s entertaining the idea (though it’s unclear what party, if any, he would represent), led Abbott by nine points in a hypothetical matchup in the new poll, while former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), who ran against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for a spot in the upper chamber and later took a shot at the Democratic presidential nomination, cut a previous 12-point head-to-head deficit against Abbott down to five in the survey. Abbott does have a more comfortable lead against Republican primary challengers, however.

The DMN story is here, and the poll data is here. I’ve covered the McConaughey matter before, and you can refer to those previous entries because the issue remains the same. For what it’s worth, the UT-Tyler poll doesn’t mention Beto’s party either, but I think we can safely assume that a decent number of poll respondents correctly identify him as a Democrat.

The headline result here is that Abbott leads Beto 42-37 in this poll after having led him 45-33 in the July poll. We will surely start to get a lot more head-to-head data now that Beto is semi-officially in the race. We do have some previous results we can look at to provide some context, so let’s do that. First, here are the approval/disapproval numbers for Joe Biden and Greg Abbott, plus the favorable/unfavorable numbers for Beto:


April

Name     App  Disapp  Neither
=============================
Biden     48      41       12  
Abbott    50      36       15
Beto      35      37       27

June

Name      App  Disapp  Neither
==============================
Biden      47      41       11
Abbott     50      36       14
Beto       31      40       29

September

Name      App  Disapp  Neither
==============================
Biden      42      50        9
Abbott     45      44       11
Beto       34      42       24

I’ve combined the strong/somewhat approve/disapprove numbers for Abbott and Biden, and the strong/somewhat favorable/unfavorable numbers for Beto; there was also a “don’t know enough” option for Beto, which I added into the “Neither” column. Biden’s approval drop is expected given the national numbers, and honestly they’re better than I might have expected given that. Abbott is doing better here than in the recent Texas Politics Project and Morning Consult polls, but the direction is the same. Again, it’s hard to say how the various factors will play into the 2022 election, so for now let’s just note that this is where we are.

Two other data points of interest. Both were asked for the first time in the September poll, so there’s nothing to compare them to from this source, but we do have some data from elsewhere. First, this poll included a “right direction/wrong direction” question for Texas, with the result being 44/54 wrong/right. Dems were 40/59 for “wrong”, Republicans were 59/39 for “right”, and indies were interestingly 33/64 for “wrong”. Make of that what you will, and compare to the recent Texas 2036 survey of people’s “right/wrong direction” attitudes.

Finally, this poll gets into mask and vaccine mandates and the bans on same:

Do you support or oppose Governor Abbott’s ban on mask mandates?


        Total    Dem  Ind  Rep
==============================
Support   44%    33%  32%  67%
Oppose    55%    66%  67%  33%

Do you support or oppose Governor Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates?


        Total    Dem  Ind  Rep
==============================
Support   49%    37%  38%  72%
Oppose    49%    62%  60%  28%

There’s also a question about mask mandates in schools, with 50% saying masks should be required in all K-12 classrooms, 26% saying schools should be allowed to decide, and 20% saying no mandates. There’s national data showing that the public is broadly in favor of how Democrats and President Biden have responded to COVID (and also of mask and vaccine mandates) and opposed to the Republican response. This is the sort of thing that can certainly change over time, but for now, and for a nascent Beto campaign, coming in hot on a platform that strongly criticizes Abbott on this issue would seem to have some traction. Again, more polling will surely follow, but this is very much an issue to watch.

First new SBOE map proposed

That’s two down, two to go.

The Texas Senate on Monday released its first draft of a new map for the State Board of Education, which attempts to reinforce the GOP majority within the 15-member, Republican-dominated entity that determines what millions of public school students in the state are taught in classrooms.

The map is likely to change as it makes its way through the legislative process, which began formally Monday as the Legislature kicked off its third special session of the year. Lawmakers have been tasked with redrawing district maps for the board, the state House and Senate as well as the state’s congressional seats. They will craft those maps using the latest census data, which showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade. The proposals will have to be approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Nine Republicans and six Democrats currently make up the State Board of Education. During the 2020 general election, seven of those 15 districts went to President Joe Biden — though, under the Senate’s proposed map, only five would favor Biden and one would be considered a toss-up seat.

Districts 6, held by Republican Will Hickan of Houston, and District 12, held by Republican Pam Little of Fairview, both went to Biden narrowly in the 2020 election. Those two districts would be retooled under the Senate’s draft to include more Donald Trump voters and give Republicans a more comfortable majority. District 2, which favored the Republican former president in 2020 by a few percentage points, would be evenly split among Biden and Trump voters. That district is currently held by Ruben Cortez Jr., a Brownsville Democrat.

The special session, which can last up to 30 days, is expected to focus largely on redrawing the state’s political maps, along with a host of other issues set by Abbott. Since the GOP holds majorities in both chambers, the redistricting process will be in the hands of Republicans, who will work to best position their party for the next decade.

You can see an image of the proposed map in the story, and in this Twitter thread, or you can get all fancy and look in the District Viewer, which lets you zoom as far in as a Google map would. You can see the current map here for comparison, and my 2020 precinct analysis is here. This person projects that the split would remain 9-6 based on 2020 data, though SBOE2 is close, with the Dems having about a four or five point advantage. SBOE5, the district we picked up in 2020, becomes more solid blue, while districts 6, 10, and 12 become redder.

The strategy, based on the shrinking rural areas plus the booming – and blueing – suburbs, is combining rural districts with pieces of suburban, and in some cases urban, counties. Look at SBOEs 9 and 14, for example, both of which now include pieces of Dallas County, with SBOE14 picking up much of Denton as well. Dallas County wins the “prize” of having the most districts in it with five – Harris only has three. On the other end is SBOE6, which is following the SD07 plan of carving out a piece of Montgomery County to fend off the blue tide in Harris. SBOE8 cedes most of Montgomery to SBOE6 and picks up a piece of Fort Bend in return. SBOE12 went from being all of Collin County and about a fifth of Dallas and nothing else to being all of Collin, a much smaller piece of Dallas, and a bunch of mostly Red River counties that had previously been in SBOE 9 and 15. I have think that SBOE9 incumbent Keven Ellis, who hails from Lufkin, is not too pleased to see so much of his district now in the Metroplex.

Anyway, this is the first map. The House will surely have its own maps on offer, and there will be revisions. I don’t see any other files on the Texas Redistricting site right now, but I’m sure they will appear soon enough. In the meantime, at least at first glance, this is more of a status quo map than anything else, in that the most likely scenario is the same 9-6 mix we have now. But SBOE2 could fall in a bad year or if the 2020 trends continue, and SBOE3 is more Republican at 43% than any of the currently red districts are Democratic (they all top out at 40 or 41), so the short-term potential for flips favors the GOP. We’ll see what happens from here.

First “heartbeat” lawsuit filed

Didn’t take long.

A San Antonio physician is facing a lawsuit after he admitted performing an abortion considered illegal under Texas’ new law.

Why it matters: The civil suit, filed by a convicted felon in Arkansas, against Alan Braid is the first such suit under the law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a pregnant person obtain an abortion after six weeks.

What he’s saying: Braid said he acted “because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.”

  • “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” he wrote in a column in the Washington Post.

Driving the news: Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer from Arkansas who was convicted of tax fraud in 2010, said he does not personally oppose abortion but decided to file the suit to test the Texas law’s constitutionality.

  • “If the law is no good, why should we have to go through a long, drawn-out process to find out if it’s garbage?” Stilley after filing the complaint in state court in Bexar County, Texas, according to the Post.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. Oscar Stilley is certainly the plaintiff the forced birth crowd deserves. If I’m reading his comment correctly – the WaPo article is paywalled, so I’m somewhat limited in what I can see – it sounds like he wants to give SB8 opponents a chance to get it thrown out. There’s nothing funny about any of this, but for the first lawsuit under this atrocity to be an utter farce would be entirely fitting.

One other angle, which I noticed in the stamp of the Bexar County District Clerk. This lawsuit was assigned to the 438th Civil Court in Bexar County, whose judge is a Democrat. Judges are compelled to follow the law, of course, but to whatever extent she has discretion, I would think she might not be terribly inclined to give any such plaintiff the benefit of the doubt. Do keep in mind, this law enables the bounty hunters to file their garbage lawsuits in any state court in Texas. For sure, the reason for that was to allow all of the greedy little fortune seekers the opportunity to file in Republican counties, where they can expect a higher level of service. I don’t think any of this was according to the plan these jackals had in mind, but it’s still chaos and attention for them, and I’m sure they’ll take it. Best wishes, and I hope a good supply of Advil and Maalox, to the judge. CBS News and NBC News have more.

UPDATE: Per the Trib, there are actually now two lawsuits against Dr. Braid.

At least two lawsuits have been filed against Braid, both by disbarred attorneys. One was filed by Illinois resident Felipe N. Gomez, who identified himself as a “Pro Choice Plaintiff” and aligns himself with Braid in the lawsuit, KSAT reported. Gomez does not ask for monetary damages in the suit, but asks “the Court to declare that the Act is Unconstitutional, and in violation of Roe v Wade,” according to the TV station.

There’s more in there about Oscar Stilley, whose motivations are all over the place. Gomez’s lawsuit was also filed in Bexar County, but the copy that was included in that KSAT story did not indicate which court. The lawsuit is also one page long and it’s not clear to me it meets the legal definition of a “lawsuit”. I guess the lucky judge will get to make that call. As they say, play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Signs pointing to Beto running for Governor

Oh, God, yes.

Beto O’Rourke

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O’Rourke’s entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

  • But he would be running in a complicated political environment. Immigration is surging at the southern border and Democrats at the national level are bracing for a brutal midterm election and potentially losing the House of Representatives in 2022.
  • new poll for the Dallas Morning News shows that O’Rourke has narrowed the gap with Abbott in a hypothetical matchup, down, 37%-42%. In July, O’Rourke faced a 12-point deficit, 33%-45%.
  • Over the summer, Abbot has seen his approval rating sink to 41%, with 50% disapproving, in a separate poll.

Driving the news: O’Rourke has been calling political allies to solicit their advice, leaving them with the impression that he’s made his decision to run in the country’s second-largest state.

  • “No decision has been made,” said David Wysong, O’Rourke’s former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser. “He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state.”

I’ve been assuming that Beto would be running for Governor for some time now, so this is more of a relief and a “finally!” than anything else. That said, the lack of any deep-background, “sources say” stories of the “he’s thinking about it/he’s inching closer to it” variety were beginning to worry me. I suppose this could still end up not happening, but really, outlets like Axios don’t run this kind of story for things that wind up not happening. I feel pretty confident at this point.

So we move forward from here, which means “start the fundraising engines” and recruit the back end of the ticket. The narrative piece is in place, the rest is execution. I’m ready.

“Heartbeat” lawsuit bait

Something like this was going to happen sooner or later.

A Texas doctor stepped forward Saturday to say he had performed an abortion that is illegal under the state’s restrictive new law to force a test of its legality.

“I understand that by providing an abortion beyond the new legal limit, I am taking a personal risk, but it’s something I believe in strongly,” Alan Braid, a San Antonio OB/GYN, said in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. . . . I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

Braid said he performed a first-trimester abortion on Sept. 6, just a few days after the law known as Senate Bill 8 went into effect in Texas, making nearly all abortions illegal after a woman is about six weeks pregnant ­— with no exceptions for incest or rape. The doctor said he acted because he had “a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients.”

[…]

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life said that group “is exploring all of our options to hold anyone accountable who breaks the (Texas) law.”

“This is obviously a stunt to move forward with other legal attacks on the law,” he said of Braid’s column. “This was always something that we expected — that someone would essentially try to bait a lawsuit. So we’re just moving into the next phase of Senate Bill 8 right now.”

But the leader of another Texas-based anti-abortion-rights group, said it has no plans to sue Braid at this time.

Braid “is willfully conducting illegal abortions right now,” said Chelsey Youman, national director of public policy for Human Coalition, which operates crisis pregnancy centers across the country. “He knows he’s currently incurring liability and he may face repercussions for that . . . but for the most part that’s a choice the larger abortion clinics have not made. They’re saying they’re going to comply. We should celebrate that lives are being saved in the interim.”

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, praised Braid for stepping forward.

“The situation has become untenable,” said Kristin Ford, acting vice president of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights advocacy group. “Roe v. Wade has been rendered meaningless in the second biggest state in the country, and we can’t continue in that limbo,” she said.

The op-ed is here, if you have access to it. This was in fact the scenario that was predicted after SB8 was passed, that to gain a legal foothold in court a provider would need to be sued to effectively challenge the law in court. It’s a common path for such action – the groundbreaking Lawrence v Texas case began as an arrest and conviction for sodomy, which was then appealed until SOCUTS invalidated Texas’ law banning gay sex. There are other paths being taken now, from the state lawsuits that have gained injunctions on behalf of specific plaintiffs and against particular groups to the initial federal lawsuit that named defendants other than Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton – you know, the one that the Fifth Circuit stopped before it could get a hearing and which SCOTUS punted on – and the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department that names the state of Texas as defendant. The first as noted is limited in scope while the other two have yet to be tested in court.

Any or all of these could work, or not. We don’t know yet, and the two federal cases are novel in their own way. The point is that this was the path that legal experts were able to visualize from the beginning. It too may not work – SCOTUS is still SCOTUS, after all – but no one would question the ability of the provider who was targeted by the action authorized by SB8 to fight it by challenging the legality and/or constitutionality of the law.

And here in this story, we see the limit of this approach, which is that it required someone to sue the doctor (or other “abetter”) in order to get it into court in the first place. The thing is, the pro-forced-birth advocates who pushed SB8 don’t need to sue Dr. Braid. Strategically, they don’t really care if there are individual doctors who do one-off abortions. That’s a small piece of the pie. Their goal was to shut off abortion access at the big clinics, the Planned Parenthoods and Whole Women’s Health and so on. And they’ve succeeded! The number of abortions being performed in Texas is near zero. People have already internalized the idea that abortion is functionally illegal, or at least nearly impossible to get, in Texas. Sure, they want that number to be zero, but this was such a huge step in that direction they can afford to coast.

To that extent, filing those $10,000 bounty lawsuit doesn’t serve their purposes at all. They just introduce the risk that SB8 could someday be thrown out, in the same way that the omnibus TRAP law of 2013 (it was HB2 in that session and often referred to as HB2 in stories of the lawsuit against it) was eventually tossed. The thing is, though, that long before HB2 was thrown out, it had caused half of all clinics that offered abortion services to quit doing so, and thus greatly reduce access in the state. They lost their big hammer, but by then they’d pounded in so many nails it hardly mattered.

I hadn’t really thought about it before writing this post, and I haven’t seen anyone else touch on this, but I think this explains the very laid-back reaction that Texas Right to Life has had to the state lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed against them, and why they’re basically shrugging their shoulders here. The status quo at this point suits them just fine. The bounty lawsuits were never the main point of SB8. They were a means to an end, and they have already achieved that end. Why mess with success?

Now, someone who hasn’t gotten this memo could still sue Dr. Braid, and that will kick all the legal machinery that people had expected into gear. Once there is a case for the courts to act on, all of the high-powered lawyers from all of the main players will get involved, and on to SCOTUS we will march. Similarly, if one of the big clinics decides to go back to business as usual, the forced birthers will take action, because they will have to. Until then, they’re happy to wait and see what happens with the existing lawsuits. They’re playing with house money, and they know it. Slate has more.

The electoral dress code lawsuit

Still interesting.

A U.S. magistrate judge this week recommended striking down parts of Texas law that prohibit wearing political apparel within 100 feet of a polling place as unconstitutionally vague — but upholding a narrower provision that specifies that clothing bearing messages related to what’s on the ballot can be banned.

The issue first arose in 2018 when Harris County resident Jillian Ostrewich wore a Houston firefighters T-shirt to a polling place and election workers told her to turn it inside out because it related to Prop B, a pay parity measure for firefighters on that ballot that year. Claiming she was unconstitutionally censored and her right to free speech infringed upon, she sued Harris County and state officials.

The case puts to the test a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June of that year in which the justices struck down a Minnesota law that banned voters from displaying “issue-oriented” apparel at the polls for being overbroad. The Texas suit was brought by Pacific Legal Foundation, the same California-based libertarian public interest law firm that won the Minnesota case.

[…]

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew M. Edison in his report on Tuesday said the election judge had a constitutional basis for rejecting Ostrewich’s shirt because it had a clear relationship to the ballot measure, even if it did not explicitly say to vote for that measure. Under that law, Edison said, Ostrewich had not been harmed and therefore was not entitled to damages.

Other parts of the law, however, which define “electioneering” as advocating “for or against any candidate, measure, or political party” through “posting, use, or distribution of political signs or literature” leaves room for misunderstanding, he said. Ostrewich would have no way of knowing whether wearing that same shirt in a future election, even if the measure weren’t on the ballot then, could also be considered illegal electioneering.

Those parts of the law “do not give Texas voters notice of what is expected of them in the polling place, and they do not provide election judges with objective, workable standards to rein in their discretion,” Edison wrote. “This is impermissible under the First Amendment and these statutory provisions should be struck down as unconstitutional.”

See here for the background. Seems reasonable to me to say that you can be barred from the restricted area for wearing a shirt that directly addresses the current election, but barring a shirt that’s not about that election may be too broad. The plaintiffs are claiming a victory, even though their main actor was denied any relief; I think the defendants can be reasonably satisfied with this as well. This was a recommendation and not a ruling – the parties have two weeks to hammer out an agreement of some kind, which will then need to be approved by the judge. I’ll be honest, I had no idea that was a thing, but here we are. The lawyers out there, what do you think about this?

Here’s your first proposed Senate map

Behold. This dropped on Saturday afternoon while normal people were running errands or watching college football, so commentary and coverage is limited at this time. Here’s one view:

Other data is here. I don’t see past election results, but it’s clear at a glance that SD10 would become Republican. As for the rest, and for other maps, we’ll have to see. Even with more sophisticated technology, the first map is never the final map, so expect to see some variations soon. Thanks to Reform Austin for the heads up.

UPDATE: Here’s coverage from the Trib. Sen. Powell, who is clearly targeted by this map, is not happy about it.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, immediately called foul on the initial draft of the map, which was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination,” she said in a statement. “The 2020 census revealed the population of Senate District 10 is nearly ideal. There is no need to make any changes to district lines. Moreover, since 2010, the minority population percentage within the district increased dramatically while the Anglo percentage has dropped. The changes now proposed are intended to silence and destroy the established and growing voting strength of minority voters in Tarrant County.”

[…]

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

“The release of the proposed map is only the beginning of the fight. I’m proud to be the candidate of choice of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and will do everything within my power to stop this direct, discriminatory, and illegal attack on their voting rights,” Powell said.

She has a point, and then-Sen. Wendy Davis was able to negotiate a settlement last decade that took the Senate map out of the litigation. I just don’t expect her to get much reception from the courts.

A kinder, gentler voter purge

How nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Two years after Texas officials fumbled an effort to double-check the voting rolls on a hunt for non-citizens — and instead threatened the voting rights of nearly 60,000 eligible Texans — similar efforts to purge non-citizen voters are now the law of the land, thanks to provisions tucked into the massive elections bill enacted earlier this month.

The Secretary of State will once again be allowed to regularly compare driver’s license records to voter registration lists in a quest to find people who are not eligible.

But while Republicans are determined to make another run at the controversial purge that alarmed civil rights groups two years ago, they insist they’ve made key changes to prevent a repeat of the same mistakes.

“They blew it last time,” acknowledged Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

So much so, then-Secretary of State David Whitley resigned his position in the aftermath and triggered a public apology from his office. Civil rights groups also sued his office and blocked the state from continuing the purge at the time.

Starting by December of this year, the Secretary of State will review Department of Public Safety records every month looking for potential non-citizens. But this time lawmakers have put in a provision that intentionally bars the Secretary of State from going too far back in time as it scours drivers’ license records, something that led to some of the problems in 2019.

In some instances, the state flagged legal voters who had become naturalized citizens since the time they first applied for a driver’s license a decade or more earlier. Non-citizens, including those with visas or green cards to stay in the U.S., are able to get Texas driver’s licenses. The state’s 2019 analysis flagged those drivers, but it never accounted for the fact that about 50,000 Texans become naturalized citizens each year.

The result was many legitimate voters receiving letters warning they were at risk of being knocked off the voter rolls and facing potential legal action because of faulty data.

By hastening to send out the written warnings, civil rights groups said the state caused a lot of fear and confusion, particularly for naturalized citizens.

“Definitely this is substantially better than what they were doing before,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

But Gonzalez said he’s still worried about the reliability of Department of Public Safety drivers’ license databases and the inherent pitfalls of trying to compare millions of records against millions of other records. He said there is just too much room for error.

“There are still concerns that they will be falsely flagging people,” he said.

There’s too much to even sum up, so just go here for all things David Whitley. The provision the Democrats fought for should limit the damage, and for that we can be thankful. But there’s still no reason to trust anything the state is likely to want to do to “clean up” the voter rolls. They have not earned any benefit of the doubt. I will be delighted to be pleasantly surprised by this, but we very much need to keep a close eye on the process, because again, the state cannot be trusted.

COVID rate slows a bit, but ICUs still full

The good news.

So far, the delta variant has fueled a month of Houston-area COVID hospitalizations over 3,000, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

But Texas Medical Center records show positive case rates may be slowly declining. According to TMC’s daily report, 1,939 people tested positive Tuesday in the Greater Houston area, a decline that may be related to COVID testing site closures as a precaution before Hurricane Nicholas.

Also Tuesday, the medical center admitted 310 new COVID-19 patients compared to the average 328 per day last week. Hospitals in the TMC remain at 90 percent capacity.

Dr. Wesley Long, a microbiologist and medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist, has been tracking and analyzing the virus and its variants through the hospital’s COVID-19 genome sequencing operation.

While Long sees the increase slowing, he hesitates to say Houston is passed the peak of the surge.

“It’s like cresting the top of the wave, you don’t know what the backside of the wave is going to look like,” Long said. “In the beginning of this fourth wave, there were some people hopeful it would go up quickly and come down quickly. That’s not the case.”

The fourth wave’s peak has been broader than previous waves, which spiked and declined within about 25-30 days, Long explained. The big question with the delta wave is whether it will plateau at a high rate of hospitalizations or have a slow decline.

“It’s hard to know how other things like holidays and school will affect the case count,” he said. “It’s really important to keep masking, social distancing and staying home if you’re sick because it’s important to bring the fourth wave under control.”

Another way to look at it:

The not so good news.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been declining across Texas and the Houston region, but the virus is still keeping a high number of people in ICUs, prolonging the strain on patients waiting for critical care beds.

Last week, the number of available adult ICU beds in Texas sunk below 300 for the first time in the pandemic, with 270 beds available on Sept. 8 and 279 available on Sept. 9, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. There were 326 beds available this Wednesday, including 65 in the nine-county region surrounding Houston, the data show.

Texas Medical Center ICUs for weeks have been hovering around 90 percent full with “Phase 2” surge plans — which add 373 ICU beds to the 1,330 available in Phase 1 — activated.

[…]

ICU data is a lagging indicator of the virus’s impact, [Dr. Syed Raza, vice president of medical operations at CHI St. Luke’s Health-The Woodlands Hospital] said, because the sickest patients need care for a longer period of time. He said it is the “natural course of the pandemic” for ICUs to remain high after hospitalizations decline.

Dr. James McDeavitt, executive vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, said the hospital strain appears to be easing overall. The number of COVID patients in ICU beds likely peaked at the end of August, when they took up 49 percent of all critical care beds, he said. As of Wednesday, that number dropped to 45 percent.

He said he is cautiously optimistic that “we’ll continue to see this trend move in right direction.” He compared the current ICU situation to flooding during hurricane.

“We are no longer stuffing towels under the door” to stop the water, he said. “But the water is still over our threshold.”

I mean, it could be worse. It’s still not good, and it’s going to continue to not be good for awhile, but it could be worse. Keep up with the precautions, they’re our best hope in the short term as more people get vaccinated.

A gold-plated dud

Just a dumb story all around.

When state lawmakers decided in 2015 that Texas needed to be the only state to have its own precious metals depository, supporters said there were plenty of reasons the project would be a gold mine.

The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co., which handles the schools’ endowment, owned hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of gold as an investment, stored for a fee in a New York City vault. A state-owned depository “will repatriate $1 billion of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve in New York to Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Citizens, too, were clamoring for an independent-minded location they could trust with their valuables. “When I first presented this, to be honest with you, we got hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world, really, who wanted to be able to put their gold in something that has the Texas banner above it,” said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, the bill’s author. “This doesn’t work in Wisconsin, it doesn’t work in Idaho.”

Best of all, because the state would find a private partner to build and own the physical depository, it would cost taxpayers nothing. The enterprise would even reap a big profit for Texas. “We estimate that we could raise tens of millions of dollars in fees,” Capriglione testified.

More than three years after the depository opened, none of those things has happened. Yet earlier this year state lawmakers quietly voted to let the state borrow millions of dollars to bail out a project created to fix a problem that didn’t exist, and which they had vowed would cost nothing.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, one of only two senators to oppose the bill. “I don’t think the State of Texas should be in the commercial real estate business, or the gold bullion business.”

The UT/A&M investment company liquidated its gold more than a year ago without moving any bullion back to Texas. A spokeswoman said the agency currently owns no precious metals and so has no need for storage. No other state entity has metal at the Texas depository.

In the time since state leaders created the Texas facility, two large private competing depositories have also opened, in Shiner and Dallas. Officials said Texas Bullion Depository is currently less than 10 percent full. Taxpayers, meanwhile, have yet to see a penny from the enterprise.

Worse, the state’s partner, Lone Star Tangible Assets, recently revealed it is looking to sell the new facility, placing the state at risk of losing control of the entire enterprise. In response, two months ago legislators gave Comptroller Glenn Hegar permission to borrow up to $20 million to buy it.

How a project touted as a golden opportunity for taxpayers devolved into a bait-and-switch that could instead cost millions is a classic tale of government mission creep. It also raises new questions about the odd-couple partnership between the State of Texas and the high-volume precious metals sales industry, a sector that has inspired numerous warnings and enforcement actions from federal and state regulators, including the Texas attorney general.

“When I saw this, I thought, ‘This is going to be embarrassing for the State of Texas,’” said Paul Montgomery, a precious metals dealer and appraiser who has worked with regulators to bring cases against coin dealers who scam investors.

I don’t think you can claim that people were “clamoring” for this without citing some evidence of said clamor. There are enough gold bugs in the state that I can believe some people wanted this, but in the big picture that would be little more than a murmur. Be that as it may, here we are. I remember this as it was happening, and I definitely remember thinking it was deeply dumb, but I figured it was the mostly harmless kind of dumb. I never bothered to blog about it because once you link to the story and say “this is dumb”, there’s really nowhere else to go.

This will cost us a few million bucks, but in the grand scheme of things that’s a rounding error in the budget. Compared to Greg Abbott’s border wall extravaganza, this is peanuts. Everyone should mock Rep. Capriglione for the rest of his life because of this, but beyond that it’s not worth the effort. Honestly, in some ways this is almost charming, like the kind of old-school dumbassery that powered a million Molly Ivins bon mots. We’d be in a much better place if this were the biggest outrage of the 87th legislative session.

Get ready for redistricting

The next special session starts Monday, and we should expect to see proposed redistricting maps. It’s going to be a rough few weeks, in part because the guardrails are gone, which will allow Republicans to run amuck.

The 2020 census captured a Texas that does not exist in its halls of power: a diverse state that is growing almost exclusively because of people of color and where the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size.

But when the Texas Legislature convenes Monday to do the work of incorporating a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps, the Republicans in charge — nearly all of whom are white — will have a freer hand to cement their power and try to shield themselves from the change that growth represents.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

You can read the rest – none of it is unfamiliar. Tensions are already high due to the quorum break plus the general unhinged racism from state leadership. The early word is that State Senators have already seen a draft map, which will be drawn to be 20-11 for the Republicans, a net loss of two seats for the Dems if it works out that way. The Cook Political Report expects the eventual Congressional map to add two Republican seats to the existing total. It’s going to be fun, just wait and see.

All this assumes that the Lege is allowed to draw non-Congressional maps, which remains a matter of dispute.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators against Gov. Greg Abbott over his plan to redraw political districts during an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

In a Wednesday motion, the attorney general’s office argued that the lawsuit is “wrong about Texas law” and is “inconsistent with past practice and judicial precedent.” It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed or suspended until after the redistricting process is concluded.

The lawsuit — filed Sept. 1 by Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — argues that the state constitution explicitly requires political districts in the state to be redrawn during the first regular session after the publication of the U.S. census.

[…]

The lawsuit argues that a federal judge has the “exclusive obligation” to draw temporary maps to be used in the 2022 elections and that the legislative redistricting process should wait until 2023, when the next regular session is scheduled to occur.

The senators’ “theory — which seeks to exploit delays in the federal census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — turns the Texas Constitution on its head,” reads the motion from the attorney general’s office. “That provision prescribes what the Legislature must do, but neither it nor any other provision prohibits the Legislature from redistricting at other times when circumstances call for it.”

See here for the background. I have to assume some kind of ruling is close at hand, if only to prevent future messes. I have not seen any indication of a hearing date, however, so who knows. In any event, enjoy your last weekend before new maps get drawn.

The wrong track

Interesting, but there are some key questions left unasked.

According to a poll conducted by Texas 2036, at least 92 percent of Texas voters said they were concerned about the future of the state, with 58 percent also stating they felt extremely concerned about it.

The Texas 2036 is a nonprofit organization that aims to build long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas’ prosperity. They recently commissioned a poll to longtime GOP pollster Mike Baselice’s firm, and who has worked with both Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the past.

The poll results, which were released on Tuesday, paint a grim picture of what Texans feel right now and their hopes for the future. It had 1,001 participants and was made 43% by cell phone, 23% by landline, and 34% through the web. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

The report shows that for the first time in the six years the question has been asked, more Texas voters (26%) said they feel financially worse off than they did the year before. Only 20 percent of the people being polled said they believe they are better off.

52 percent of voters said they believe that Texas is worse off than it was this time last year, a truly concerning fact considering last year the pandemic was at a considerable height and vaccines were not yet released. Only 13 percent said they thought the state was headed in a better direction.

The overwhelming majority of Texas voters agree with using federal COVID-19 relief money to fund large-scale projects and promote the state’s economy. This is something that state lawmakers can actually do in the upcoming third special session of the legislature.

The poll landing page is here, the press release for it is here, and all the data provided can be found here and here. It’s interesting and easy to read, so go check them out. The main thing that I came away thinking is “but who will the voters blame for their negative feelings?” I’ve noted the flip side of this question before, when I’ve asserted that the best hope for Democrats in general and Texas Democrats in particular is a strong performance by President Biden and a good economy to go with it. That works to a point, but only to the extent that the President gets the lion’s share of the credit for those good things. You can be sure Greg Abbott and his minions will do everything they can to grab that credit, and it will be up to the voters to decide who deserves it. The same is true for the blame – do you pin it on the Governor or the President? I can’t answer that question, and the pollsters don’t ask.

There are no electoral questions, and this is the first poll of its kind, so we don’t have any bases for comparison. One can certainly argue that this is a tricky spot for statewide Republican incumbents to be in, since they’re the closest ones to the situation and the ones that voters can take out their frustrations on in 2022. But again, they get to have a say in that, and they will do what they can to redirect and distract, as anyone in their position would. This is the kind of place where having a gubernatorial candidate would really help, since there would be a natural conduit for the message that the blame should apply to the guys in charge of the state. We don’t have that yet, so that task needs to be diffused outward for the time being. The point here is that this kind of data can be used by anyone, and so there needs to be a coherent message and a recognized messenger to get the viewpoint you like out into the discourse. For now at least, that’s on all of us. Robert Rivard has more.

Galveston ISD mask mandate remains, Round Rock gets halted

Good.

A Galveston County judge Thursday denied an attempt by Attorney General Ken Paxton to stop Galveston ISD from requiring masks, according to a court document.

Judge Kerry Neves ruled against Texas’ request for a temporary restraining order on mask mandates in the district.

According to court documents, a hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 28.

See here for the background. That’s the whole Chron story – the Galveston County News covered this as well, but they’re behind a paywall so I can’t see it. Paxton scored an initial win against Paris ISD in his second round of lawsuits, though that happened without Paris ISD being in the courtroom. It would seem he used that same tactic in Round Rock.

A state district judge in Williamson County has temporarily blocked the Round Rock school district from enforcing its mask mandate, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who sued the school district.

In a tweet Thursday night, Paxton’s office declared “Another WIN!” in its legal fight against school districts that have defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders banning schools from requiring masks. Paxton sued Round Rock along with Elgin and other school districts with mask mandates last Friday.

[…]

In a statement, Round Rock school district leaders said they had not been officially served or notified by Paxton’s office of the order. District officials also said they were not given the opportunity attend any court proceedings to oppose the order, but they said they would “comply with any lawfully issued court order.”

“We will also use all proper and available legal proceedings to challenge this order and vigorously defend its long-established lawful authority to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for Round Rock ISD students and staff, including during this pandemic,” the statement said. “The district continues to strongly encourage and recommend the use of masks in accordance with guidance from our local health authorities.”

I totally get Paxton playing dirty, but what is up with these judges letting it happen? Do they have no responsibility to at least inquire why there’s no opposing counsel? I’m puzzled, to say the least.

As for the other affected districts, I did a quick Google News search and didn’t see any news for them. I would assume there will be more rulings in the coming days, but for now as far as I can tell this is where we are.

Federal judge will fast-track mask mandate ban lawsuit

I’m ready.

Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel said Wednesday morning he intends to fast-track a lawsuit filed on behalf of 14 Texas schoolchildren with disabilities who allege that Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates breaks federal law by discriminating against them because they are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Yeakel denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have barred Texas from enforcing Abbott’s order until Oct. 6, when the case is scheduled for trial.

Yeakel said he needs more information about the case before he will be ready to make a ruling.

The delay will allow the judge to hear from witnesses and see other evidence in the case. No matter what his decision on the case, Yeakel said he expects it to be appealed to higher courts — possibly as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I think the issues in this case are extremely important,” Yeakel said.

In legal filings and in court, lawyers for the 14 children argued that Texas’ mask mandate prevents school districts from making reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. They also said it preempts the federal American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief package signed into law by the president earlier this year, which they said provides discretion for school districts to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

[…]

The lawsuit is against Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott and Abbott’s Texas Education Agency. The order was defended in court Wednesday by lawyers from Paxton’s office.

The crux of their defense was that the lawsuit was improper because none of the defendants are the right people to sue over Abbott’s mask order. They said the proper people to sue would be those who are enforcing the law, but no one is actually enforcing it, so there’s no one to sue.

“(Abbott’s order) doesn’t stop the plaintiffs from doing anything. They can say, think, do whatever they want. It does not regulate their conduct, it regulates the conduct of local officials,” said Todd Dickerson, an assistant attorney general, adding that there is “no credible threat of enforcement” from the local district attorneys who are supposed to enforce it.

See here and here for the background. The “you can’t sue me” dodge was a key component of Abbott’s claim/admission that he has no power to enforce the mask mandate ban, and has been a part of the defense that he and Ken Paxton have put forward in the various lawsuits against them over the ban. As such, it’s not a surprise to see it turn up here – this is becoming a foundational piece of their governance, which is that no one can hold them accountable for anything. But as the plaintiffs point out, for a guy who claims he can’t enforce Abbott’s mask mandate ban order, he sure is suing a lot of people to do just exactly that. So which one is true? We’ll see what the judge makes of it.

Planned Parenthood gets injunction against Texas Right to Life

It’s a start.

Right there with them

A district court in Travis County granted a temporary injunction on Monday, which will stop an anti-abortion group from being able to sue Planned Parenthood centers under SB 8, the so-called “heartbeat bill.”

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a request for a temporary injunction on Sept. 2 against Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit and its associates. Planned Parenthood wanted to stop the group from suing abortion providers and health care workers at its centers in Texas.

The court ruled Monday that Texas Right to Life has “not shown that they will suffer any harm if a temporary injunction is granted” and that Planned Parenthood has “shown that they have a probable right to relief on their claims that SB 8 violates the Texas Constitution.” Planned Parenthood also has “no other adequate remedy at law,” the court said.

The court said the injunction will remain in effect until a final ruling; a trial on the merits of the case was set by the court for April 2022.

See here for the background. CNN has some more details.

This order applies only to Texas Right to Life and is part of a larger — and piecemeal — approach by abortion rights advocates to try to blunt the effect of the law. Other short-term temporary restraining orders are in place against other anti-abortion advocates, and more permanent injunctions are being sought in those cases.

[…]

In a court hearing Monday, Julie Murray, the attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the judge that the organization is currently “complying with SB8 precisely because of the overwhelming threats of litigation” and that a temporary injunction “will not restore abortion services … but it will prevent and reduce the litigation exposure and constitutional harms that [Planned Parenthood] will experience.”

The parties spent nearly two hours coming to an agreement about the terms of the injunction.

I would like to know more about the “other short-term temporary restraining orders in place against other anti-abortion advocates”. I was going to suggest a massive wave of litigation by pretty much every provider, doctor, affiliate, advocate, and anyone else who felt threatened by SB8, but maybe that is already happening. Obviously, we want to get a sweeping federal injunction against this travesty, which would cover all of the contingencies, but who knows how long that could take, and it would be at the mercy of the Fifth Circuit, so fire away on all cylinders in the meantime. If these guys want to live by the lawsuit, let’s see how they like being on the other end of it. Axios has more.

The Republican AG primary just got bigger

The more, the more miserable.

Rep. Matt Krause

Attorney General Ken Paxton just got another Republican primary challenger, but this time it is someone who has been close to him for years: state Rep. Matt Krause.

The Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus says he is running as the “faithful conservative fighter,” hoping to bring a similar conservative ideology to the position that Paxton is known for — but without the legal troubles that have dogged him for most of his time in office.

“I think Texas needs — and wants — an attorney general who can give his or her full focus to the job,” Krause said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

[…]

Krause is the third serious primary opponent to announce against Paxton. The field already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Krause said he is “not sure either one of them could win a primary.”

But the most remarkable aspect of his candidacy may be that unlike Bush and Guzman, Krause has been a friend of Paxton and political ally. They served in the Legislature together from 2013-15, and Krause endorsed Paxton early in the 2014 primary for attorney general.

Whatever. Krause is the most Paxton-like of the other candidates, but as a State Rep he will have the least name recognition among them, and if you don’t think that matters in a statewide primary, you haven’t been paying attention to recent primaries. Krause doesn’t have much money – the Trib story says he had about $100K on hand in his July filing – and that’s the fastest route to getting voters to know who you are. He’s giving up a seat he won by nine points in 2020 – it was eight points in 2018, and 20 points in 2020, before Tarrant County took its big step towards Democrats – which makes me wonder if he’s not confident about his future post-redistricting. He may also just think he’s the only one that can beat Paxton, and that in turn may be a reflection of the belief that Paxton is a weak link for the Republicans.

Along those lines, and coincidentally just before Krause’s announcement, the Chron profiles the two Dems who seek to oust Paxton, or whoever does that in the Republican primary.

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney.

Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well.

“Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.”

[…]

If elected, Jaworski said he plans to push for policies that increase voter access to the polls, support the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid and legalize cannabis. Jaworski, like Merritt, says the attorney general’s office is wasting tax dollars on investigating rare voter fraud cases.

“We don’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a Ken Paxton problem,” he said. “He is using this as an ideological pivot for his base and to justify whatever few prosecutions he can muster.” Jaworski said Paxton should instead be doing more to address gun violence, adding “people are actually dying in those instances.”

Both Merritt and Jaworski have said they would create a civil rights division within the office.

Merritt, though he entered the race this summer, almost a full year later than Jaworski, has wasted no time fundraising. In the last reporting period that spanned July 7 to Aug. 6, Merritt raised more than $285,000, more than any Republican in the race, including Paxton.

Over the same period, Jaworski raised about $30,000, while Bush raised about $158,000 and Guzman raised $193,000. Paxton raised about $39,000, but the incumbent maintained the most cash-on-hand by millions at last count.

Merritt rose to prominence in recent years for taking on high-profile police accountability cases and representing families of Black Americans killed by police, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean. If elected, he would be the state’s first Black attorney general.

In 2017, online magazine The Root named Merritt the eighth-most-influential African-American between ages 18 and 45 in the U.S, three spots ahead of Beyoncé.

Having worked on criminal justice reform issues with attorneys general in other states, even Republicans such as Chris Carr of Georgia, Merritt said he could see a stark contrast between the work they were doing and what little Paxton has done.

For instance, Carr in May signed a law repealing the “citizen’s arrest” that was used as a defense in the fatal shooting of Arbery. Meanwhile, Merritt said, he sees Paxton’s office regularly allowing law enforcement to keep video evidence of police abuse of force outside of public view.

“It was that frustration of: The most basic responsibility of the attorney general is to uphold the constitution and protect life, liberty and property,” he said about his decision to jump in the race. “And we have an attorney general who has been completely asleep at the wheel, and people are dying.”

There’s more in the story about Jaworski, but he’s familiar to me, so I included more about Merritt. Both would be a vast improvement, and not just over Paxton. Who I still think is the favorite to emerge on the GOP side, almost certainly in a runoff. We’ll see what the next campaign finance reports look like.

Justice Department files its motion for an injunction against SB8

Let’s hope they get a quick win.

The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to grant a temporary restraining order or injunction that would prevent Texas from enacting a law that bans nearly all abortions in the state, heating up a battle between the Biden administration and Texas Republicans, led by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The department argued in a court filing late Tuesday that Texas had adopted the law, known as Senate Bill 8, “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”

The move comes less than a week after the Biden administration sued Texas to try to block the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy and allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps someone terminate their pregnancy.

In Tuesday’s emergency filing, the department argued that even though the Supreme Court has ruled that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,” Texas has banned abortions months before viability — at a time before many people even know they are pregnant.

The brief said Texas had devised “an unprecedented scheme that seeks to deny women and providers the ability to challenge S.B. 8 in federal court. This attempt to shield a plainly unconstitutional law from review cannot stand.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the motion. For those of you who’d like to get the highlights, here you go:

By all accounts, the arguments being made by the Justice Department are strong. We’ll just have to see what the courts – specifically, the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS – make of it. There was no indication as of the time of those tweets when the court would hear arguments or issue a ruling, but now there is:

After the United States Department of Justice filed a preliminary injunction/restraining order against Texas in another attempt to halt Senate Bill 8, a federal judge granted the Biden administration a hearing on Oct. 1 to review temporarily banning the anti-abortion law.

In the signed statement, Judge Robert Pitman stated that Texas shall file in response to the motion no later than Sept. 29, 2021 and the U.S. shall file its reply in response no later than the morning of the hearing.

Mark your calendars. You can see a copy of the judge’s order here, and as Steve Vladeck notes doing it this way rather than granting a temporary restraining order prevents the state from running to the Fifth Circuit and getting the TRO halted. The Trib, the Chron, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: 24 Dem AGs File Amicus Brief Backing DOJ Challenge To Texas Abortion Ban. Good.

Republican County Commissioners ponder another quorum break

It’s a thing they can do, and have done in recent times. They shouldn’t, not for this, but they can.

The three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday proposed cutting the overall property tax rate for the third year in a row, though the two Republican members left open the possibility they may force the adoption of a lower rate by skipping the vote in two weeks.

County Administrator David Berry warned that option would leave the county scrambling to pay for essential services, including debt service for the $2.5 billion flood bond program. Republican commissioners Tom Ramsey and Jack Cagle, however, see an opportunity to compel the Democratic majority to cut what they view as wasteful spending.

“We are having a budget challenge because of wasteful spending, not because of tax rates,” Ramsey said, citing the creation of new county departments and hiring outside consultants for various studies. “So, when we adopt a tax rate, it should be in that context.”

Each year, Harris County sets the tax rate for the county government, flood control district, hospital district and Port of Houston; the first three together comprise an overall rate that is used to calculate each property owner’s annual tax bill.

Berry proposed an overall rate of 58.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This would save the owner of a home valued at $200,000 with the standard 20 percent homestead exemption $27 since their last tax bill.

The three Democrats on Commissioners Court have expressed support for that rate.

Cagle’s pitch of 57.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, which included lower county and hospital district rates, would save this same homeowner $48.

The Precinct 4 commissioner said residents who still are struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic deserve more property tax relief.

“When we do the tax rate hearings, we need to be very careful that we make sure we don’t keep just the tax-spender mindset,” Cagle said. “The taxpayers, right now, are going through a rough season in their lives.”

[…]

The pair of Republicans have rare power over the tax issue because while they frequently are out-voted 3-2 by the Democratic majority on the court, Texas law requires a quorum of four members to set tax rates.

That means they simply can skip the Sept. 28 meeting when the vote is scheduled and thwart the Democrats’ plan; Cagle and then-commissioner Steve Radack did this in 2019 to block a tax hike the majority had proposed.

If the court does not approve new tax rates before Oct. 15, by law they revert to what is called the no new revenue rate, a steeper cut than even Cagle had proposed.

Berry said that would leave the county unable to fully fund the budget Commissioners Court unanimously approved in February. It also would constrain the county budget in coming years under a Texas Legislature-imposed revenue cap, which limits annual growth to 3.5 percent unless approved by voters.

“Over time, going to no new revenue rates are going to be very, very difficult for the county, given what we see in terms of rising health care and pension expenses,” Berry said.

He cautioned that reverting to the bottom rates would leave the county flood control district without enough to pay debt service on the bond program voters approved in 2018. That also could spook creditors and threaten the county’s robust AAA bond rating.

All five court members agree falling behind on debt payments would be foolish.

See here and here for more on the previous quorum break. If everyone agrees that a Cagle and Ramsey walkout would lead to a bad fiscal outcome for the county, then the very simple and logical solution is for them to not do that. They’re getting some of what they want, which is not a bad outcome for a political minority, and they have the option of campaigning for their alternate vision in an attempt to win back a majority position on the Court for next year. Done and dusted, let’s move on.

But if they choose to break quorum to force an even lower tax rate, in the name of “cutting spending”, then it is incumbent on the Democratic majority to respond. They can’t change the quorum requirement, which is a quirk of the state constitution, but like the Republican majority in the Legislature there are things they can do to make the price of breaking quorum higher. I would endorse two things to do in response: One, rewrite the budget so that the full cuts that would have to occur come entirely from Cagle and Ramsey’s apportionment. Do whatever it takes to make them feel the pain, since they were the ones who wanted the pain in the first place. And two, absolutely go for a maximalist redistricting map, to eject one of them from their current positions. Don’t play nice, don’t let bygones be bygones, just respond in kind and let them absorb the lesson that their actions have consequences. It’s basic stuff.

Now again, none of this has to happen. Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey can show up and vote how they see fit, and still get a lower tax rate even if it’s not as low as they would like. You can’t always get what you want, especially when you’re outvoted. Or they can go their own way and force their will onto the county, and see if the Dems have it in them to do payback. We’ll know on September 28 what they choose.

Paxton sues more school districts

Another rampage by the morally bankrupt felon in the AG’s office.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has unleashed another wave of lawsuits against school districts over their masking policies — but one of them says it doesn’t even require face coverings.

Midway Independent School District is a Waco-area district that sits on a list compiled by the attorney general’s office of school districts and counties that have flouted Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban and put in place their own mask-wearing orders.

The hitch? Midway ISD doesn’t mandate that students, teachers, school staff or visitors don masks while on school premises, a district spokesperson said Wednesday. Midway officials have tried to convince the attorney general’s office the district doesn’t have a mandate — but to no avail.

“We have not received information of why or how we are considered out of compliance or considered for a lawsuit,” district spokesperson Traci Marlin said in an email.

The Midway school district is among nine that Paxton announced on Tuesday that he is suing for allegedly defying Abbott’s executive order banning public schools and local governments from enacting local mask mandates.

Under Midway’s virus protocol, campuses can issue 10-day “mask directives” that encourage mask-wearing on the premises if virus transmission reaches a certain level — but doesn’t require it. The attorney general’s office pointed to that protocol as the basis of its lawsuit against the district but declined to answer other questions from The Texas Tribune.

Those directives are not the same as mandates, Marlin said — and in one case, such a directive successfully cut down the number of active cases on a campus.

“Directives are not enforced,” she said. “There are no punishments or repercussions.”

McGregor Independent School District, another district near Waco, did require mask-wearing if virus transmission became too severe but, at Paxton’s request, did not enforce the mandate, Superintendent James Lenamon said in a statement.

Nonetheless, Paxton sued the district.

“The district is disappointed that the AG has decided to sue anyway,” Lenamon said.

[…]

In addition to McGregor and Midway, Paxton announced lawsuits against seven other districts Tuesday: Diboll, Honey Grove, La Vega, Longview, Lufkin, Paris and Waco school districts.

See here for the previous story. The fact that neither Ken Paxton nor Greg Abbott has the power to enforce the mask mandate ban isn’t stopping him. Given that, we should not be surprised that he isn’t particularly concerned about the details in these districts. This is all about throwing his weight around. And by the way, for anyone who might have thought that P Bush or Eva Guzman would present a more moderate, less “burn the witch!” alternative to Paxton in the Republican primary, I’m not seeing any statements from them in which they question the wisdom of this effort. I’m just saying. (There is one candidate who has spoken about it.)

Ironically, the one win Paxton has chalked up so far has come against the one school district that appeared to have found a silver bullet.

Paris schools announced Tuesday they are no longer requiring masks on campus. This comes a month after the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent the district a cease and desist letter telling them to stop requiring masks. Paxton listed Paris ISD, the school board and the superintendent in a lawsuit over the same mandate.

According to a temporary restraining order signed by a Lamar County district judge Monday, Paris Independent School District is no longer able to enforce their mask mandate and, they backed down. But despite the order Paris ISD says they will continue to strongly encourage everyone on campus to wear one.

“It was a rather cowardly act on the Attorney Generals office’s part,” said General Counsel for the district, Dennis Eichelbaum.

[…]

In August, the district included masks as a part of their dress code citing Chapter 11 of Texas Education Code, which states the school board has the right to set the dress code.

“There’s absolutely no reason why if we want to have a dress code, there’s no justification for the government office without having suspended the laws that give us the authority to run the district, to allow us to do our job,” said Eichelbaum.

According to court documents, a district judge signed a temporary restraining order against the district on Monday making it against the law for them to require masks on campus.

“We are still encouraging everyone to wear masks even if it’s not mandated, Paris ISD has seen a significant drop compared to other communities in the area with regard to children being sent home for COVID-19. we believe there’s a connection with the mask mandate., and we encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask to keep everyone safe,” Eichelbaum said. “We’re now set for a hearing next week in district court, and at that time, we will be defending our board policy which permits mask mandates.”

Eichelbaum says they will be defending the district’s right to enforce safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A hearing is set for Tuesday, September 21. This will determine whether the temporary restraining order will be overturned.

See here and here for the background. You got a raw deal, Paris. I’m rooting for you at the hearing. KVUE has more.

UPDATE: Wait, this detail wasn’t in that last story for some reason.

Dennis Eichelbaum, lawyer for Paris ISD, said Paxton’s office — despite the fact Paxton had sent multiple letters threatening lawsuits beforehand — didn’t notify the district of the lawsuit until after the hearing was over, and the restraining order had been granted. Paris ISD didn’t get to make its case against the restraining order as a result, Eichelbaum said, describing it as “a cowardly move” from Paxton.

“First, it’s against the rules of civil procedure. So he doesn’t care about the law when it applies to him,” Eichelbaum said. “He’s very brave to go to court when you’re not there to defend yourselves.”

“A lot of times attorneys will get sanctioned for it if they do something like this,” he added, saying he will ask the district’s trustees if they want to pursue the matter with the judge.

Emphasis mine, and wow. What a sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. Please, please, pursue this matter with the judge.

It could have been worse

Just something to ponder, from Space City Weather.

First of all, if you can remember all the way back to Saturday, I presented three different scenarios for Nicholas’ track and eventual flooding in Houston. The first of these was the “Coast Hugger,” in which the storm remained close to the Gulf, brought 2 to 4 inches of rain to Houston and higher amounts along the coast, while keeping the heaviest rains offshore. This is largely what happened, with Nicholas remaining very close to the coast even after moving inland. If we look at satellite-derived precipitation totals for the last three days, the heaviest swath of 10-20 inches of rainfall came offshore.

A track even 40 or 50 miles further inland would have set up those heaviest rains directly across the Houston metro area, and created a much more serious flood situation. Hopefully this offers you some insight into the challenge of predicting these kinds of rain events. It was a very close call, a matter of miles, between significant inland rainfall flooding in Houston, and relatively clean bayous this morning.

The second factor is wind. Nicholas turned out to be a fairly nasty storm in terms of wind gusts, and pushed a larger storm surge—as high as 6.1 feet into Clear Lake—than predicted. This is a reminder of the power of a hurricane, even one that was “only” a minimal Category 1 storm. The truth is that the track of the storm was very nearly a worst-case one for Houston in terms of winds and putting a maximum storm surge across Galveston Island and into Galveston Bay.

It is September 14, the absolute peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and a time when sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are at their warmest of the year. So this morning I’m thinking about what would have happened if we had not had some wind shear over the western Gulf of Mexico yesterday, or if Nicholas had been able to consolidate a more well defined and consistent center of circulation. It would have been much, much worse for all of us had a significantly stronger hurricane made landfall last night. So while we pick up the pieces this morning, realize Nicholas could have been much more of a terror.

Not the first time this year that we averted a disaster by dumb luck. We’re four years out from Harvey, 13 years out from Ike, and we’ve had plenty of non-hurricane catastrophic floods in between, so it’s not like we’ve been living a charmed life here in Houston. Lots of people here have been hit very hard, and there’s a whole lot of talk about the trauma and stress that so many folks have experienced and still experience. This is life under climate change. There are things we can do to keep it from getting worse, and there are things we can do to make it better for those who have had the hardest time. But we can’t wish it away or ignore it, and we absolutely can’t deny it. It’s up to all of us.

It’s not too late to pass a voting rights bill

Look, we have one queued up.

Senate Democrats are close to an agreement on updated voting rights legislation that can get the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, three Democratic aides familiar with negotiations said.

The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were introduced in Congress in 2019 and 2021, respectively. Since their introductions, both have been voted on along party lines.

The member-level discussions are complete, a source said, but staff members are going through the text to fix technical issues. No further details have been shared.

The legislation would require the votes of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans, and it’s unlikely that Democrats will get enough Republican supporters.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia.

Senators, who return from their August recess this week, face a number of items, such as a voting rights measure and an ambitious infrastructure spending package.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few different Republicans who are very interested in doing something that makes sense,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin said he has been working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the issue but didn’t elaborate.

Well, Sen. Murkowski plus fifty Democrats is still well short of 60. Might there be some other option?

With a make-or-break vote looming in the Senate on a sweeping voting-rights and anti-corruption bill, President Joe Biden and his advisers have said in recent weeks that Biden will pressure wavering Democrats to support reforming the filibuster if necessary to pass the voting bill.

According to three people briefed on the White House’s position and its recent communications with outside groups, Biden assured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he was ready to push for filibuster reform. Biden’s pressure would aim to help Schumer convince moderate Democrats to support a carveout to the filibuster, a must for the party if it’s going to pass new voting protections without Republican votes. According to a source briefed on the White House’s position, Biden told Schumer: “Chuck, you tell me when you need me to start making phone calls.”

The Senate returns to work this upcoming week, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to call a vote on the For the People Act, the most ambitious reform bill in decades and the Democrats’ best shot at countering the wave of state-level GOP voter suppression laws this year. But to get the bill out of Congress, Senate Democrats will almost certainly need to change the filibuster, the procedural tactic used by the minority party to block many types of legislation.

Publicly, there are two centrist Democrats who have stated their opposition to changing or abolishing the filibuster, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Activist groups and fellow Democratic senators say Manchin and Sinema are the likely 49th and 50th votes both on any voting-rights legislation and especially any filibuster reforms. Sources say both senators are likely targets for when Biden launches his final push to pass a compromise version of the For the People Act.

“I think there’s a clear recognition the president will have a role to play in bringing this over the finish line, and if in order to do that, we need [filibuster] rules reform, then so be it,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who helped write the original version of the For the People Act. “I think Joe Biden with his long history and experience in the Senate can see that.”

[…]

Some outside activist groups say Biden and his administration haven’t done enough to make the case for a new voting-rights bill in Congress. “For a long time there was no engagement,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the government-reform group Democracy 21. Tiffany Muller, president of the anti-corruption group End Citizens United, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer that the lack of urgency from the administration felt even more acute given the energy and organizing happening outside of Washington in support of the For the People Act. “We need that same effort and help (from the Biden administration) on this,” Muller said at the time.

That frustration extended to Biden’s top allies in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose timely endorsement helped rescue Biden’s flailing presidential campaign in early 2020, begged Biden to endorse a filibuster carve-out for voting rights. During a late-July meeting in the Oval Office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed Biden to do more on voting rights; Democrats needed action from him, according to a person briefed on the meeting.

In that Oval Office meeting, the source says, Biden made a pledge: If Pelosi and Schumer tried every option they had to pass a voting-rights bill with Republican votes and got nowhere, Biden would get involved himself and lobby the handful of moderate Democrats to convince them to weaken the filibuster so that the For the People Act could pass without any Republican votes.

Since then, the tenor has shifted in the White House in the last month, multiple sources tell Rolling Stone. The White House has devoted more staff to the issue. More importantly, it has given assurances to outside supporters that Biden now plans to push for filibuster reform when necessary. “They have really engaged in a way that can make a difference both on substance and particularly on process as we get closer to this day of reckoning,” Rep. John Sarbanes says. “They appreciate that the electorate that showed up for Joe Biden in 2020 now wants to see Joe Biden show up for them in 2021.”

Here’s where I shrug my shoulders and mumble something about how I hope Joe Manchin, who is one of the sponsors of the John Lewis Act in the Senate, might prefer to do something to help pass his own bill than let it die by inaction. I have no idea what he’ll do and neither does anyone else, but I do like this theory about what animates a Joe Manchin.

So we have all these theories: Manchin is a crypto-Republican; he’s doing the work of his funders; he and Biden have a secret understanding and it’s all going to work out. My own theory is a bit different. It’s not even my theory. Someone mentioned it to me several months ago. But I can’t remember who. The theory is this: all of Manchin’s actions hold together and make sense if you imagine he got up on a particular day, absorbed the CW of the moment and said the first or second thing that came into his head.

This is admittedly a somewhat diminishing read. But Manchin clearly likes the limelight and he doesn’t pretend to be an ideologue. If you use this framework all the various shifts and turns start to make sense. Manchin is the quintessential Washington player, very much a creature of Washington insider culture with all its shibboleths and conventional wisdoms.

It doesn’t get us any closer to where we need to be, and it doesn’t do anything to keep my head from exploding, but at least it makes some sense. As for the rest, light a candle, throw some salt over your shoulder, avoid stepping on any cracks, and hope for the best. Mother Jones and Daily Kos have more.

Paxton sues again over SAISD’s vaccine mandate

Yes, vaccine mandate. For teachers and staff.

Best mugshot ever

For the second time in a month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued San Antonio Independent School District and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Martinez issued a staff vaccine mandate and mask mandate Aug. 16 for everyone inside school buildings. Three days later, Paxton sued Martinez and SAISD over both mandates, stating in the lawsuit that the superintendent and the district were “deliberately violating state law,” as a July executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits any entity that receives public funds from mandating COVID-19 vaccines that had received only emergency approval from the federal government.

But the federal Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23, and the lawsuit was dropped. Two days later, Abbott issued a new executive order, banning governmental entities from requiring any COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of FDA approval status.

Paxton filed the second lawsuit against SAISD in Bexar County on Sept. 9, seeking a temporary restraining order barring the school district from mandating vaccines. In the petition, Paxton claims SAISD and Martinez are again violating state law by “flouting” the August executive order.

“The decision to openly violate state law and devote district resources to defending Superintendent Martinez’s unlawful actions is irresponsible,” Paxton said in a statement. “But if school districts decide to use their limited funding to try to get away with breaking the law, my office will oppose them and uphold the rule of law in Texas.”

See here and here for some background. My reaction when Paxton filed the first lawsuit was that he was likely to prevail, and despite the FDA approval and Biden mandate (which has been announced but not yet fully implemented), I don’t see any reason why that would change. I will of course be happy to be wrong, and if it is the case that some people have gotten vaccinated as a result of the SAISD mandate then it’s a win no matter what happens in court. The main thing to remember here is that Ken Paxton, like Greg Abbott, is objectively pro-COVID, and we need to make them pay at the ballot box for it.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 1

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
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE

In addition to the SBOE data, we finally have 2020 election results for the Congressional districts as well. With the redistricting special session about to start, let’s look at where things were in the last election.


Dist   Biden    Trump  Biden%  Trump%
=====================================
01    83,221  218,689   27.2%   71.5%
02   170,430  174,980   48.6%   49.9%
03   209,859  214,359   48.6%   49.6%
04    84,582  258,314   24.3%   74.3%
05   107,494  172,395   37.9%   60.8%
06   164,746  175,101   47.8%   50.8%
07   170,060  143,176   53.6%   45.1%
08   109,291  274,224   28.1%   70.5%
09   178,908   54,944   75.7%   23.2%
10   203,937  210,734   48.4%   50.0%
11    58,585  235,797   19.7%   79.1%
12   140,683  224,490   37.9%   60.4%
13    54,001  219,885   19.4%   79.1%
14   124,630  185,961   39.5%   59.0%
15   119,785  115,317   50.4%   48.5%
16   160,809   77,473   66.4%   32.0%
17   137,632  172,338   43.5%   54.5%
18   189,823   57,669   75.7%   23.0%
19    71,238  195,512   26.3%   72.2%
20   177,167   96,672   63.7%   34.7%
21   220,439  232,935   47.8%   50.5%
22   206,114  210,011   48.8%   49.7%
23   146,619  151,914   48.5%   50.2%
24   180,609  161,671   51.9%   46.5%
25   177,801  216,143   44.3%   53.9%
26   185,956  248,196   42.1%   56.2%
27   104,511  170,800   37.4%   61.1%
28   125,628  115,109   51.6%   47.2%
29   106,229   52,937   65.9%   32.9%
30   212,373   50,270   79.8%   18.9%
31   191,113  202,934   47.4%   50.3%
32   187,919  151,944   54.4%   44.0%
33   117,340   41,209   73.0%   25.6%
34   106,837   98,533   51.5%   47.5%
35   188,138   84,796   67.6%   30.5%
36    82,872  221,600   26.9%   71.9%

Joe Biden carried 14 of the 36 Congressional districts, the 13 that Democratic candidates won plus CD24. He came close in a lot of others – within two points in CDs 02, 03, 10, 22, and 23, and within five in CDs 06, 21, and 31 – but the Congressional map gets the award for most effecting gerrymandering, as the Presidential results most closely matched the number of districts won.

Generally speaking, Biden did a little worse than Beto in 2018, which isn’t a big surprise given that Beto lost by two and a half points while Biden lost by five and a half. Among the competitive districts, Biden topped Beto in CDs 03 (48.6 to 47.9), 07 (53.6 to 53.3), and 24 (51.9 to 51.6), and fell short elsewhere. He lost the most ground compared to Beto in the Latino districts, which is a subject we have covered in much detail. I only focused on the closer districts in my 2018 analysis, but you can see the full 2018 data here. Biden’s numbers are far more comparable to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 – I’ll get into that in more detail in a subsequent post.

As we have also seen elsewhere, Biden’s underperformance in the Latino districts – specifically, CDs 15, 28, and 34 – was generally not replicated by other candidates down the ballot. Again, I’ll get to this in more detail later, but with the exception of John Cornyn nipping MJ Hegar in CD15, Democrats other than Biden generally carried those districts by five to ten points, still closer than in 2016 but not as dire looking as they were at the top. Interestingly, where Biden really overperformed compared to the rest of the Democratic ticket was with the judicial races – Republicans carried all but one of the statewide judicial races in CD07, for example. We discussed that way back when in the earlier analyses, but it’s been awhile so this is a reminder. That’s also not too surprising given the wider spread in the judicial races than the Presidential race, and it’s also a place where one can be optimistic (we still have room to grow!) or pessimistic (we’re farther away than we thought!) as one sees fit.

I don’t have a lot more to say here that I haven’t already said in one or more ways before. The main thing to think about is that redistricting is necessarily different for the Congressional map simply because there will be two more districts. (We should think about adding legislative districts, especially Senate districts, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) I have to assume that Republicans will try to give themselves two more districts, one way or another, but I suppose it’s possible they could just seek to hold serve, if going for the gusto means cutting it too close in too many places. I figure we’ll see a starter map pretty soon, and from there it will be a matter of what alternate realities get proposed and by whom. For sure, the future plaintiffs in redistricting litigation will have their own maps to show off.

For comparison, as I did in other posts, here are the Congressional numbers from 2016 and 2012:


Dist Clinton    TrumpClinton%  Trump%
=====================================
1     66,389  189,596  25.09%  71.67%
2    119,659  145,530  42.75%  52.00%
3    129,384  174,561  39.90%  53.83%
4     60,799  210,448  21.63%  74.86%
5     79,759  145,846  34.18%  62.50%
6    115,272  148,945  41.62%  53.78%
7    124,722  121,204  48.16%  46.81%
8     70,520  214,567  23.64%  71.93%
9    151,559   34,447  79.14%  17.99%
10   135,967  164,817  42.82%  51.90%
11    47,470  193,619  19.01%  77.55%
12    92,549  177,939  32.47%  62.43%
13    40,237  190,779  16.78%  79.54%
14   101,228  153,191  38.29%  57.95%
15   104,454   73,689  56.21%  39.66%
16   130,784   52,334  67.21%  26.89%
17    96,155  139,411  38.43%  55.72%
18   157,117   41,011  76.22%  19.90%
19    53,512  165,280  23.31%  71.99%
20   132,453   74,479  60.21%  33.86%
21   152,515  188,277  42.05%  51.91%
22   135,525  159,717  43.91%  51.75%
23   115,133  107,058  49.38%  45.92%
24   122,878  140,129  44.28%  50.50%
25   125,947  172,462  39.94%  54.69%
26   109,530  194,032  34.01%  60.25%
27    85,589  140,787  36.36%  59.81%
28   109,973   72,479  57.81%  38.10%
29    95,027   34,011  70.95%  25.39%
30   174,528   40,333  79.08%  18.27%
31   117,181  153,823  40.07%  52.60%
32   134,895  129,701  48.44%  46.58%
33    94,513   30,787  72.78%  23.71%
34   101,704   64,716  59.07%  37.59%
35   128,482   61,139  63.59%  30.26%
36    64,217  183,144  25.13%  71.68%

Dist   Obama   Romney  Obama% Romney%
=====================================
01    69,857  181,833  27.47%  71.49%
02    88,751  157,094  35.55%  62.93%
03    93,290  175,383  34.13%  64.16%
04    63,521  189,455  24.79%  73.95%
05    73,085  137,239  34.35%  64.49%
06   103,444  146,985  40.72%  57.87%
07    92,499  143,631  38.57%  59.89%
08    55,271  195,735  21.74%  76.97%
09   145,332   39,392  78.01%  21.15%
10   104,839  159,714  38.77%  59.06%
11    45,081  182,403  19.55%  79.10%
12    79,147  166,992  31.65%  66.77%
13    42,518  184,090  18.51%  80.16%
14    97,824  147,151  39.44%  59.32%
15    86,940   62,883  57.35%  41.48%
16   100,993   54,315  64.03%  34.44%
17    84,243  134,521  37.76%  60.29%
18   150,129   44,991  76.11%  22.81%
19    54,451  160,060  25.02%  73.55%
20   110,663   74,540  58.77%  39.59%
21   119,220  188,240  37.85%  59.76%
22    93,582  158,452  36.68%  62.11%
23    94,386   99,654  47.99%  50.67%
24    94,634  150,547  37.98%  60.42%
25   102,433  162,278  37.80%  59.89%
26    80,828  177,941  30.70%  67.59%
27    83,156  131,800  38.15%  60.46%
28   101,843   65,372  60.21%  38.65%
29    75,720   37,909  65.89%  32.99%
30   175,637   43,333  79.61%  19.64%
31    92,842  144,634  38.11%  59.36%
32   106,563  146,420  41.46%  56.97%
33    86,686   32,641  71.93%  27.09%
34    90,885   57,303  60.71%  38.28%
35   105,550   58,007  62.94%  34.59%
36    61,766  175,850  25.66%  73.05%

Looking at the 2016 numbers, you can begin to see the outlines of future competitiveness. That’s more a function of Trump’s weak showing in the familiar places than anything else, but Democrats got their numbers up enough to make it a reality. Looking back at 2012 and you’re reminded again of just how far we’ve come. Maybe we’ll reset to that kind of position in 2022, I don’t know, but that’s a little harder to imagine when you remember that Mitt Romney won the state by ten more points than Trump did. We’ll be going down that rabbit hole soon enough. As always, let me know what you think.

Remembering Ike as Nicholas pays a visit

Won’t be as bad, thankfully. But still be careful.

Tropical Storm Nicholas is approaching the Texas coast Monday, threatening torrential downpours and flooding for Houston. It also brings with it memories of Hurricane Ike, which wrought havoc across the region on this day 13 years ago.

Ike made landfall in Galveston just after 2 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2008, and wiped out much of the property in the coastal city. The Category 2 storm punched above its weight as 110-mph winds sent water surging over Galveston’s seawall, reaching depths up to 13 feet on Galveston Island and up to 17 feet on Bolivar Peninsula.

The storm knocked out power for millions in the Houston area, with some outages lasting weeks. It cost the Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas areas about $29.5 billion.

The early evening Space City Weather report says that the flood risk is receding for those living more inland, but is still significant for those closest to the coast. As for Ike, well all these years later we’re finally on the verge of building the Ike Dike. Keep thinking happy thoughts for that one.

Also, too, think about how nice it must be to live in a state that has a real Governor.

There’s no partisan advantage to Abbott in answering questions, and he’s a weak leader with no ability to reassure people, so from his perspective there’s nothing to be gained from allowing himself to be asked questions. Also, he has a plan to eliminate hurricanes, which he’ll be announcing soon. So there’s that.

Our COVID failures and our economy

Remember when the goal was to get the economy going again?

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is not only hitting the state in terms of lives lost, but it’s taking its toll on the Texas economy. That’s according to a new report from the Perryman Group, an economic research and analysis firm in Waco.

They estimate the state’s failure to contain the disease has led to nearly 72,000 job losses. The analysis also found on average, the state loses roughly $187,000 for every employee unable to return to work because of the pandemic. That amounts to total potential losses of about $13 billion per year, the firm found.

But they argue many of these potential losses are preventable.

“What we need to do right now is do everything we can to make it safer for people to return to work. That includes masks where appropriate. That includes safety in schools so people that have issues with their children in childcare and things like that that prevent people from returning to work,” said Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the Perryman Group. “These are what we call preventable [economic] losses.”

Perryman said certain industries are being hit harder than others.

“In terms of dollar impacts, obviously a worker in a tech industry per worker has a much bigger impact than say a worker in a restaurant. But from an industry perspective, the ones being hit the hardest are the ones you’ve been hearing about since the beginning of the pandemic that deal in interpersonal relationships – retail, particularly restaurants, salons, airlines,” he said.

He says getting more people vaccinated is also key to avoid future economic losses.

The full report is here if you want to read it, and there’s video of an interview with Perryman about this at the first link. Honestly, in the context of Texas’ economy, $13 billion is pretty small, as is 72,000 jobs. Not nothing, especially if you’re in one of the more affected sectors, but not so much that you’d notice it on a graph. The point that all of this was preventable, with more aggressive vaccination promotion and distribution, and a continued reliance on masks while allowing local governments to have the discretion they need to respond as they see fit, is still true. There’s no good reason why we have to be going through what we are going through now. It was all the result of Greg Abbott’s actions.

The final Ike Dike plan

It’s taken a long time to get to this point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released the final version of its Coastal Texas Study, which examines a proposed coastal barrier to protect the Houston region against storm surge. The report’s completion marks a significant step for a concept that has taken years to develop. It began with the early imaginings of a Texas A&M professor, who designed a so-called “Ike Dike” to protect against devastating surge such as that seen on Bolivar Peninsula from Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Environmental advocates, regional planners and concerned residents are among those who have offered feedback on various project drafts. The details and big picture have been argued every which way. Now begins a years-long process before it can be built, leaving the region and the Houston Ship Channel still vulnerable to hurricanes as the design is sorted out and funding secured.

Here’s what you need to know now:

You can click over to read the report itself and the Chron summary. A few things have changed along the way, but the basics are still all there. The study also includes a final environmental impact statement, if you want to know more about that. The Army Corps of Engineers will sign off on the plan and send it on to Congress on or before October 12, at which point the question of funding this project, which has a $29 billion price tag, can begin in earnest. I have no idea at this point if Ike Dike funding will be part of the budget reconciliation process – I don’t think it was in the Senate’s infrastructure bill, but I could be wrong about that. I can’t wait to hear what excuse Ted Cruz will come up with to vote against this.

Hospital systems have no excuse for not mandating COVID vaccines now

So get on with it already.

Local hospitals reacted Friday to President Joseph Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandates directed at the health care workers, who make up much of the Houston workforce.

In a move that overrides Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring public institutions from issuing their own COVID-19 restrictions, the administration said it would require vaccinations for employees at health care facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Baylor College of Medicine’s dean of clinical affairs, Dr. James McDeavitt, said Thursday he supported the new measures.

“It is the right thing to do,” he said.

Still, he wished the plan had come sooner. “It is not going to help us with the current delta surge,” he added.

[…]

Five Houston hospital systems already require a vaccine. In June, Houston Methodist became the first hospital in the nation to announce it would require its staff to be fully vaccinated, a move that met months of resistance, including a lawsuit by some employees. Memorial Hermann and Baylor College of Medicine enacted their own vaccine mandates in July; St. Luke’s Health and Texas Children’s Hospital announced similar plans in August.

Thursday’s executive order will bring similar mandates to the city’s remaining health systems.

Until now, Harris Health System and UTHealth had encouraged worker vaccinations but were unable to require it under the governor’s order.

But on Friday, Harris Health System said it “fully intends to embrace the vaccine mandate” for workers at its two hospitals, 18 community health centers and 10 clinics serving the greater Houston area. The system has not yet set a date.

UT Health said it would wait for guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service, expected in October. It had not instituted a mandate as of Friday afternoon.

St. Joseph Medical Center and UTMB Galveston said they are still evaluating Biden’s plan.

While Kelsey-Seybold Clinic said in August it was waiting for full vaccine approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before asking employees to provide proof of immunization, the clinic has not announced a mandate since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine gained full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval late last month.

See here for the background. I agree that the mandate coming out now will have little to no effect on the current surge, given that it takes a few weeks to get both shots and the full effect of them, and that it will take time for these hospital systems to get their programs going. It would still be nice if some of them had more of a sense of urgency about it. This is still by far the best thing we can do for the medium to longer term, and at the very least these hospital systems should be setting a better example. Get it done already, y’all. The Trib has more.

A bit of good news in the wastewater

I’ll take it where I can get it.

Community spread of coronavirus is on the decline from its recent summertime high, but experts warn that Labor Day gatherings and kids’ return to classrooms could bring a rash of new infections in the coming weeks.

The latest samples of Houston’s wastewater — a highly sensitive method for tracking coronavirus — show diminishing traces of the virus across the region, said Loren Hopkins, the Houston Health Department’s chief environmental science officer. The results indicate a slight drop in person-to-person spread.

“The positivity rates are still alarmingly high, the wastewater rates are still alarmingly high, but it may be trending down,” Hopkins said Wednesday.

The decline could be short-lived.

The holiday weekend and the start of school, which spurred record infections among children, will likely keep the Houston area in “plateau mode” for the foreseeable future, said Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center.

On Tuesday, the Texas Medical Center reported that the rate of transmission across the Houston area was 0.87; the average for the previous week was 0.99. Both figures landing below 1.0 is a good sign; any number above 1.0 means the virus is spreading through the community.

Still, McKeon urged caution. Tuesday’s low daily transmission rate of 0.87 could be artificially deflated due to low testing rates, he said, which commonly occur over holiday weekends.

“We are just coming out of the Labor Day weekend and we typically do not see the impact of holidays for one to two weeks,” McKeon said.

[…]

Houston’s coronavirus hospitalizations slowed by 2.3 percent in the past week, but remained only slightly lower than August’s record peak. As of Tuesday, 3,370 people were in area hospitals for COVID-19, down from the record high of 3,500 on Aug. 24, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Ballooning school transmissions are another concern, experts said, especially in districts that do not have mask mandates. Student infections are rapidly rising across the state, with the total number of positive cases among public school students surging by 90 percent just a few weeks into the new school year.

“We need mask mandates to protect our school children from getting infected and bringing it home to Mom and Dad,” said Catherine Troisi, an epidemiologist at Texas Medical Center’s School of Public Health.

The wastewater had documented to surge, and it will be the leading indicator when there is a real decline. I hope people were cautious over the Labor Day weekend, but we’ll know soon enough what if any effect that had. As for mask mandates in the schools, it seems to be working pretty well for HISD. I keep saying, none of this is a mystery, we know what we need to do, we just have to do it.