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Early voting for the legislative special election runoffs starts Tuesday

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the January 28, 2020 Special Runoff Election for State Representative District 148 begins Tuesday, January 21 and ends Friday, January 24. During the four-day Early Voting period, five locations will be available to more than 87,000 registered voters within the district. Voters can cast their ballot at any one of the five locations from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The last day to request a ballot
by mail (received, not post marked) for this Special Runoff Election is today, January 17.

“Early Voting locations for this election are only for voters who reside in State Representative District 148,”
said Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman. “A sample ballot is available online at HarrisVotes.com.”

See here for full early voting information, and here for the interactive map. Remember that Monday is the MLK Day holiday, which is why early voting begins on Tuesday. There’s no makeup day for it, just these four days. Don’t dilly-dally, in other words.

And for those of you in Fort Bend County, here’s your HD28 runoff info:

Tuesday is the first day of early voting for the District 28 runoff to fill a term left vacant by the retirement of state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond.

On the ballot will be Democrat Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz of Katy and Republican Gary Gates of Rosenberg. Markowitz is the sole Democrat running for the position. Gates topped a field of six Republicans to win his party’s nomination. But neither received the necessary 50 percent of the vote to win the election.

In Fort Bend County early voting will be 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 21-24, at the following locations: Bowie Middle School, 700 Plantation Drive, Richmond; Cinco Ranch Branch Library, 2620 Commercial Center Blvd., Katy; Four Corners Community Center, 15700 Old Richmond Road, Sugar Land; Irene Stern Community Center, 6920 Katy-Fulshear Road; and Tompkins High School, 4400 Falcon Landing Blvd.

Election Day will be Jan. 28 and polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit https://tinyurl.com/v9fletv for Election Day polling sites.

Full early voting information is here. If you want a refresher, my interview with Anna Eastman is here, and my interview with Eliz Markowitz is here. Let’s get these women elected.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

“Motor voter” lawsuit 2.0

Try, try again, this time hopefully addressing the cause of the Fifth Court of Appeals’ rejection of the first lawsuit.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The first time former English professor Jarrod Stringer was told he couldn’t vote in a Texas election, he sued. A federal appeals court tossed his case on a technicality, but one of the judges ended up admonishing state officials to not let it happen again.

Yet it did, and now Stringer and other frustrated Texans are taking the state back to federal court.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, they are arguing anew that the state continues to disenfranchise an unknown number of voters by violating the motor voter law, a federal requirement that people be allowed to complete voter registration when they get a driver’s license. Stringer is the lead plaintiff in the second legal chapter of a fight over Texas’ resistance to online voter registration.

The state allows driver’s licenses applicants to complete their voter registration when they physically appear at a Texas Department of Public Safety office, but does not allow the same result when residents update or renew licenses online. At least 1.5 million Texans use the state’s online driver’s license portal a year, according to Stringer’s lawyers, though it’s unclear how many also attempt to re-register.

Stringer first encountered the prohibition after moving back to his hometown of San Antonio in 2014. He updated his driver’s license and mistakenly thought he had re-registered to vote at the same time. But after standing in line at an early voting polling place set up on the University of Texas at San Antonio campus, he discovered he was not on the voter roll.

“Having the option to vote was something that I have taken seriously,” Stringer said in an interview. “Voting is just a fundamental act of expression of citizenship.”

[…]

In their new lawsuit, Stringer, two other voters, along with two nonprofits that work to register Texans to vote, have revived the arguments from the first lawsuit, pressing virtually the same legal claims that prompted Garcia’s initial favorable ruling.

This time, to avoid the legal pitfall over standing to sue, Stringer and the other voters in the case are filing their legal challenge while remaining off the voter rolls in the counties where they now live, and Stringer has noted that he has plans to move in 2020 — a point at which he will again run into the limitations of the online DPS system.

But while they’re working to address the issues found by the 5th Circuit last year, the Texas Civil Rights Project doesn’t plan to ask the plaintiffs to sit out the upcoming election. With the three individual voters in the case expected to reregister before the Feb. 3 deadline for the March primaries, the lawsuit could ultimately serve as a test case of what sacrifices a voter must make at the ballot box to challenge a system that they see as impeding their access to it.

In the interest of not quoting the whole story I cut out a bunch in the middle that recapped the first lawsuit and why it was dismissed – you can read this post for my own link-filled “previously on…” segment. This story reminded me that the Fifth Circuit wasn’t necessarily hostile to the first lawsuit, perhaps just overly pedantic. If that’s the case, and this isn’t a “Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football” situation, then maybe we can get a different result. There’s every reason to believe that the district court will rule in favor of the plaintiffs again. The question is what happens after that. With any luck, we’ll find out soon.

Stockman denied on appeal

At least one thing in this world is still righteous and wholesome.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A federal appeals court summarily rejected what it called a “self-serving” appeal by disgraced former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, finding the lower court properly convicted him of 23 felony counts in a massive fraud scheme involving illegal spending of more than $1 million in charitable donations.

The 5th U.S. Circuit on Friday slammed the “somewhat tortuous” argument by the ex-lawmaker that the trial judge erred by failing to acquit him and by improperly instructing jurors. The 18-page opinion was riddled with stinging barbs.

Stockman’s lawyer picked apart the lengthy jury instructions on appeal, but the court said those arguments were “confected on a foundation of sand” and found “ample support” for conviction. Each of six claims that the trial judge improperly instructed the jury lacked merit, the appellate panel found, in an opinion dripping with sarcasm.

“Stephen E. Stockman served four years in Congress and now faces ten years in prison,” begins the opinion written by Sen. U.S. Judge E. Grady Jolly. “He seeks to avoid this career detour.”

The opinion goes onto say that the Republican ex-congressman argued “that prison should not be the next item on his résumé because the convictions were tainted by improper jury instructions and unsupported by the evidence.” The appellate court strongly disagreed, in the ruling joined by Judges James E. Graves, Jr. and Stephen A. Higginson.

[…]

Stockman’s appellate lawyer David A. Warrington previously served as counsel to the 2016 Trump campaign at the Republican National Convention and describes himself on his firm’s website as “one of the leading Republican lawyers in the nation.” He argued in court documents that prosecutors failed to prove Stockman intentionally defrauded two major GOP donors when he solicited donations to pet projects.

“Stockman was convicted for nonprofit fundraising and political activities subject to protection under the First Amendment,” Warrington wrote, asking the court to dismiss the case because “The Government’s case against him turned his failure to achieve completion of certain nonprofit political activism and projects into fraud.”

However, the appeals court responded last week by referencing the painstakingly detailed evidence of money transfers showing the ex-congressman perpetrated “a scheme to separate wealthy donors from their money and to spend that money at Stockman’s pleasure and direction.”

The ruling ends with a final decisive punch:

“In sum, the judgment of the district court is, in all respects, AFFIRMED.”

See here and here for the background. This is a work of art and you should enjoy it as such.

More heat on Abbott over his anti-refugee action

Good. Keep it up.

“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s not an immigrant versus native-born issue … it is not a religious versus secular issue,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference with elected officials and leaders of refugee resettlement organizations. “We cannot turn our backs to the most vulnerable facing the most difficult conditions imaginable.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Abbott was wrongly conflating refugee resettlement, which involves an extensive State Department vetting process that can last three years, and migrants coming across the southern border to ask for asylum.

Both numbers have dropped dramatically and this year only about 2,000 refugees were expected in Texas, compared to 7,800 admitted during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.

Garcia noted that the federal government fully funds the initial resettlement of refugees and that the state pays no direct costs.

“This is a reprehensible decision,” Garcia said.

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat who represents southwest Houston where many refugees are initially housed, said the governor’s choice went against his Catholic faith.

“Gov. Abbott had the choice to live as a Christian and follow what Christ said and commanded and he chose the opposite,” he said.

Opting out of the federal program means funding won’t be given to local organizations to resettle refugees in Texas, said Kimberly Haynes, a regional refugee coordinator with the South Texas Office of Refugees.

She said Abbott’s decision does not prevent refugees from moving here later, but meant the state would no longer receiving funding to help them integrate, including to find jobs and learn English. Most refugees coming to Houston are joining relatives likely will continue to come here no matter where they are settled, Haynes said.

“If someone is resettled here and the next day they want to come to this great state, they can take the bus and come to Texas,” said Ali Al Sudani, who came here as a refugee from Iraq a decade ago and is now senior vice president for programs at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t believe for a minute any of this will affect Abbott – he doesn’t talk to the public, so why would he ever listen to the public? – but it’s still the right thing to do, and maybe there is some level of heat that Abbott might feel. In the meantime, this whole fight may be moot.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy that would have allowed governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and other local leaders to prevent refugees from resettling in those areas.

The Wednesday decision from Maryland-based Judge Peter J. Messitte comes just days after Abbott became the first and only state leader to opt out of the program. Officials had until Jan. 21 to inform the State Department whether they would participate in the program after the Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order. At least 42 governors, including Republicans, have said they would accept refugees.

“By giving States and Local governments the power to veto where refugees maybe settled – in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary – [the order] does not appear to serve the overall public interest,” Messitte said in his ruling.

You can see a copy of the ruling here. I assume this will be appealed by the Trump administration, and as the original lawsuit was not filed in the Fifth Circuit there’s a chance this ruling could be upheld. For now at least, the madness has been stopped. NPR, Daily Kos, and the Texas Signal have more.

Interview with Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

We wrap up our visit with the candidates in HD138, the district that I was sure would flip before HD132 did. Politics is funny sometimes. Today’s candidate is Jenifer Pool, whose website is not up right now. If you’ve been here before, you know Jenifer, who owns a construction and permitting consulting firm and has a long history of activism in the community. She’s run for Council a couple of times and became the first trans person to win a primary for county office when she was nominated for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2016. She also ran in the primary for HD138 in 2018; you can listen to that interview here. This election’s interview with Jenifer Pool is right here:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138

Flynn officially on HD138 primary ballot

Score two for formerly-booted candidates.

Josh Flynn

In mediation last Friday, [candidate Josh Flynn and the Harris County Republican Party] agreed that Flynn would appear on the upcoming primary ballot [for HD138].

[HCRP Chair Paul] Simpson said in a statement that he challenged Flynn’s eligibility to “protect the integrity of the ballot,” and continued to dispute that Flynn should be allowed to run.

“As Texas law also requires, we agreed that Mr. Flynn’s name will remain on the primary ballot, even though he is ineligible to run,” Simpson said.

An attorney for Simpson and the party echoed that.

“We’ve left (Flynn) on the ballot because the law requires us to do so, but unless a judge rules otherwise, he’s still ineligible,” said Trey Trainor, an Austin-based attorney.

Regardless of the outcome of the primary, lingering ambiguity about Flynn’s eligibility could be bad for the Republican Party, Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said.

If Flynn wins the primary, Jones said, his Democratic opponent in the general election could seek to have him declared ineligible. And they would be able to use the Republican Party’s own words to bolster that claim.

The Texas Supreme Court then would need to rule on whether Flynn was allowed to run, and clarify what is or is not a “lucrative office.”

If such a decision goes against Flynn, local precinct chairs would appoint a replacement candidate, which Jones said could be seen as a subversion of the voters’ will.

Even if a court sides with Flynn, Jones said, the legal dispute could cost valuable time, money and resources in the race for House District 138, which GOP Rep. Dwayne Bohac won by only 47 votes in 2018. Bohac announced late last year that he would not seek reelection.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have much else to add – I thought Flynn had the stronger case, and I think the Lege ought to clarify this situation. How much any of this matters, in March and in November, I have no idea. If the district is still on the razor’s edge, then every little bit does count, but given the way things have been going, maybe it’s all academic. As with all the other races of interest, let’s see what the finance reports tell us.

Update on the “Judicial Selection Committee”

Yes, this is a thing.

All but one member of the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection indicated at the group’s first meeting Thursday that they believe partisanship is problematic in the state’s method of selecting judges.

Only Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she’s unconvinced that partisan election of judges must go. But the senator added she planned to keep an open mind as the Judicial Selection Commission this year completes its task to study a number of selection methods, and report back to the Texas Legislature with recommendations for reform.
Much of the commission’s first meeting in the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin was devoted to spelling out the problems with the current system.

“You can’t solve a problem unless you know what the problem really is,” said Chairman David Beck, partner in Beck Redden in Houston.

Beck said Texas is one of only six states in the nation that uses partisan elections for judges.

“We are losing good, experienced judges,” he said. “I don’t care if they are Republicans or Democrats. It has nothing to do with their performance. It depends on the issues at the top of the ticket.

[…]

A candidate who can raise the most money from wealthy people and corporations, to put ads on TV, has the best shot at winning the bench in urban areas where voters do not know the judicial candidates, added Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. Instead, Jefferson said the emphasis in judicial elections should be on the merit of the candidates.

But Jefferson indicated that the election of judges is a good thing, too, because a candidate must travel the state and speak with attorneys and people about their concerns.

“I was able to bring innovation from all around the state to the judicial system because there were good ideas,” said Jefferson.

Another plus: The 2018 elections brought a racially diverse group of candidates into office, he said.

See here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so I’ll keep my comments brief. One, I will remind David Beck and everyone else who has ever utter a lamentation about the “good, experienced judges” that we lose via the partisan election process that we gained them in the first place via the partisan election process. Second, I would challenge Wallace Jefferson to show me the data on that claim about raising money for TV ads to win judicial elections. For one thing, very few judicial candidates actually raise that much money, and for two, even fewer of them run TV ads. That said, it’s quite interesting to see Jefferson, who has been an advocate for something other than the partisan election of judges for a long time to admit that the partisan elections we had in 2018 did an awful lot to diversify the judiciary in Texas. How much progress do you think we’d have made on that score in a judicial appointment system?

I mean look, I don’t want to claim that the partisan elections process for judges is the best system. I get the concerns about it, and like anything it’s worth considering how it could be improved. Really, my main problem is that the arguments put forward by proponents of change are such obvious tripe that I feel compelled to point it out each time. It’s wishcasting plus unsupported claims, and on top of it all no one has yet proposed an actual alternate system that can be objectively shown to be better than the one we have, and by “better” I don’t mean “would allow Republicans to regain or hold onto power in places where they have lost it or are losing it”. Everyone seems to take it on faith that Something Else would be better. I say show me the evidence. That in theory is what the Judicial Selection Commission is intended to do. I’ll believe it when I see it. Grits for Breakfast has more.

UPDATE: Well, there’s this:

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is pushing back against the thought of eliminating partisanship from judicial elections.

In a statement Friday, one day after the new Texas Commission on Judicial Selection met for the first time and identified partisan judicial elections as a major problem, Patrick issued a statement saying he was surprised it appeared the commission supported eliminating partisanship before it began hearings.

“I expect the members to have an open mind on every issue—including the partisan election of judges—with the single goal of making sure Texas continues to maintain one of the best judicial systems in the country,” Patrick said. “Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges. The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

Having one’s viewpoint affirmed by Dan Patrick is a heck of a thing. Be that as it may, his opinion will carry a bit more weight than mine. I don’t know if this means he’s actually not on board with ending the partisan election of judges, which means he’s not on the same page as Greg Abbott, or just telling the committee to not give the game away before it even starts. Either way, very interesting.

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

We continue in HD138 and the quest to turn that district blue. Unlike the districts we flipped in 2018, which really only came on the radar that year, HD138 has been a low-key target going back to the previous decade, as demographic change made it more amenable to Democrats over time. Incumbent Dwayne Bohac won with 63.8% in 2004, but by 2008 he was down to 59.0%. Then 2010 happened, and the 2011 redistricting shored it up for him, and it took till 2016 for Dems to start thinking about it again. Josh Wallenstein is our next contender for this seat. He’s an attorney who operates his own firm after having been chief compliance officer at a major corporation. Wallenstein has worked in Congress and at the Capitol, he’s a board member of the non-profit TRACE Foundation, and he was a candidate in 2018 for the HCDE Board of Trustees – you can listen to my interview with him from that primary here. You can listen to my interview with him from this primary here:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138

DMN profile of Royce West

The fifth, and as far as I can tell final, one of these.

Sen. Royce West

U.S. Senate hopeful Royce West warns fellow Democrats not to nominate a “far left” candidate.

Instead, he says they should choose him, the “most qualified” person in the 12-person scrum seeking the chance next fall to try to unseat three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

West regularly tells audiences he’s not in the race for ego gratification but out of a sense of duty. After all, he recently told audiences in Walker and Tarrant counties, someone needs to try to extinguish the dumpster fire that is Washington.

As a 26-year state senator, West insisted he has the skills, experience and wisdom that can help Congress fix health care and immigration, improve education, expand voter rights and pass gun control measures.

“It’s time to do it,” the Dallas lawyer-legislator told The 100 Ranchers, a group of African American farmers and ranchers, on a recent Saturday afternoon.

“And if I don’t do it and others don’t do it, then shame on me and my generation,” West said to a crowd at a horse and cattle operation in Riverside, near Lake Livingston in southeast Texas. “If you really want the change, I want to be a change agent for you.”

[…]

West has tried to sell himself as a reliable political pro who can get things done against tall odds, even amid partisan rancor and gridlock. But he also has reached out to young people, emphasizing his own evolution on issues.

Stressing he’s “always been there” for liberal causes such as voting rights and women’s rights, West noted to his Riverside audience that he’s lately become passionate about gay rights and the environment.

“When we look at issues concerning LGBTQ rights, now, I’ve evolved on that,” he said. A male rancher shouted “amen.” West continued, “Who am I to sit up and say who you can love, OK? You love who you want to love – and that’s a fact.”

Royce West has always been a solid if un-exciting Senator. In a different year, we’d be delighted to see a serious establishment elected official make a statewide run – look at how much enthusiasm having two State Senators at the top of the ticket in 2014 generated, at least initially. He may have “evolved” on some issues, but give the man credit – in 2005, he voted against the infamous Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment. I’ll be happy enough if he’s the nominee – he’s not my first choice at this time, but I have nothing bad to say about him. I will say, as a long-time incumbent State Senator, he has no good reason to not have a stellar Q4 finance report. As with all the others, I’m eager to see how he did on that.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.)

Bishops condemn Abbott’s refugee refusal

Good.

Texas’ Catholic bishops issued a sharp rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Catholic, following his decision Friday to ban refugees from initially settling in Texas.

In a joint statement by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which includes leaders from Texas’ 15 dioceses, the group called the decision “discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the group wrote. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” the statement said.

In response to the bishops’ statement, Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said the governor’s decision won’t deny anyone access to this country.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he stated in an email. “Importantly, the decision by Texas will not prevent any refugee from coming to America. Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the full statement, which isn’t much longer than what was quote above. Abbott’s spokesbot’s assertion is both misleading and wrong, as Chris Hooks explains:

People accepted as refugees by the United States are by definition legal immigrants. They’ve already gone through an extensive vetting process by federal and international agencies, proving that they face great risk if they were forced to return to their home countries. They’ve waited years and years to find a new home, sometimes in dire overseas camps. Border security and federal refugee resettlement are wholly distinct issues, and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

The Omaha World-Herald hosts a database where you can find information about refugees officially resettled in the United States since 2002. According to the database, Texas has helped shelter about 86,000 refugees through the program, as the state added a total of 7 million new residents. Those 86,000 people account for about 0.3% of the total population of Texas. They’re spread all over the state, from Abilene to Woodville, but concentrated in big cities with preexisting immigrant populations.

These are not the people trying to get over the Texas-Mexico border right now. Indeed, very few of them come from Central America at all. Since 2002, no refugees settled in Texas came from Mexico. Two came from Guatemala, 47 from Honduras, and 267 from El Salvador. In fact, the most popular Spanish-speaking origin country is Cuba. Some 2,800 people fleeing the communist dictatorship found shelter here, just like Ted Cruz’s dad once did, through the federal program. Helping Cubans, of course, is a project with longstanding conservative support. By and large, the refugees America accepts are people who are exiled from countries most Americans couldn’t place on a map—like Myanmar, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They have stories like Gilbert Tuhabonye, who spent nine hours buried under a pile of his dead and dying classmates at a schoolhouse in Burundi, waiting for death in a pool of fire and blood and caustic chemicals as genocidaires, his former neighbors, waited outside with machetes, before he broke a window with someone’s charred femur and ran all the way to a hospital, a track scholarship at Abilene Christian University, American citizenship, and a home in Austin. They’re fleeing vicious governments, ethnic cleansing, wars, climate-change-fueled disaster, and genocides. They’re artists, pro-democracy activists, faith leaders, muckraking journalists, and everything else you can imagine.

There is, of course, a hypothetical point at which a society begins to bend under the stress of refugees. The countries that host the most refugees are middle-income countries near war zones, like Turkey, Jordan, and Pakistan, and the accumulation of desperate people causes those nations a lot of problems. But we are far, far from that point. And it’s a truism that helping a single refugee is meaningful. The country, and Texas, doesn’t have to take everyone who needs help to do good. Imagine that there’s a civil war in Canada, and a million people flee from death camps. It seems clear that it would be better to give 100,000 Canadian refugees shelter instead of just 1,000. Just the same, it’s a better deed to give a home to ten rather than zero. Zero is clearly the least acceptable option.

The U.S. helps a very modest number of people every year, arguably many less than it should or could. The Trump administration has already gutted the refugee program—in the 2018 fiscal year, America accepted just 22,491 refugees, a number that could be entirely settled in Texas without anyone realizing they had arrived. Texas took in just 1,697 of that number—a rounding error, a smaller population than that of a large apartment complex in Dallas or Houston. It’s said that the population of Austin grows by 152 people a day, which means Austin has added more people since the new year than the whole state took in refugees in 2018.

This, Abbott says in his letter, represents a disproportionate burden, the state having already “carried more than its share in assisting of the refugee resettlement process.” He notes that Texas has taken 10 percent of refugees resettled through the program, perhaps because Texas has just under 10 percent of the nation’s population. There’s clearly no flood of refugees here, but you might ask, do these people themselves represent a disproportionate burden? Is this small number of people a huge drain on state resources? No. It’s certainly true that when they first arrive, many refugees need public help in the form of food stamps and access to health care, in the same way that you would need help if you were, say, a war orphan who had lost everything you ever owned and had to reestablish yourself in Belarus.

But the performance of refugees in America is closely tracked and quantified, and even the Trump administration’s own numbers show that most refugees work very hard to establish themselves, to integrate into our (extremely complicated and not-always-very-welcoming) society. Soon, they’re paying taxes. They learn English, their kids become doctors, their grandkids get liberal arts degrees and join sketch comedy groups—you know, the American dream. And they find ways to give back—just like Gilbert Tuhabonye did.

Perhaps one of the most head-scratching parts of Abbott’s rejection of refugees is that faith-based groups do most of the hard work. Helping refugees is not entirely, or even largely, the province of bleeding-heart libs. Much of the groundwork is done by evangelical Christians, people who might well have voted for Abbott, along with Catholic and Jewish organizations. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s an abdication of everything Texans claim to stand for: freedom of opportunity, freedom of religion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

If you still find yourself feeling uneasy about the prospect of refugees coming to Texas, then, finally, know this. Abbott’s letter doesn’t mean that refugees won’t come to Texas. It means that they won’t get federal help if they do. It means that, say, a female political dissident from Myanmar who was subjected to punitive gang rape and smuggled herself out in the lower reaches of a container ship may not be placed in an apartment in Houston near her cousin’s family, but instead in Fargo, North Dakota. If she then decides to move to Houston, she could forfeit federal assistance and be worse off, less able to integrate successfully. And the charities that could help her will be stretched thinner on the ground.

I’m old enough to remember when various Catholic clergymen made a high-profile vow to deny Communion to Catholic politicians – all Democrats, of course – who supported abortion rights. Mario Cuomo, then Governor of New York, was a favorite target. I thought that was a crappy thing to do then and it would be an equally crappy thing to do now, I’m just pointing it out to note that all things considered, Abbott got off easy. The Chron has more.

Interview with Akilah Bacy

Akilah Bacy

We come now to HD138, another one of the top Democrat targets in this cycle, following an election in which the Republicans held it by 47 votes. It’s now an open seat, as incumbent Dwayne Bohac has chosen to retire. I hadn’t realized it till I started writing these posts, but Bohac is the senior member of the Republican legislative caucus from Harris County. His departure leaves something like only 15 members of the class of 2002 still in the State House, though several members from that year have moved on to other elected office. Three candidates are in the Democratic primary to win this seat, and we begin with Akilah Bacy. Bacy is an attorney who started out as an assistant DA in Harris County, and now operates her own firm, specializing in probate, employment discrimination, and criminal defense. Here’s what we talked about:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Abbott opts out of accepting refugees

Sadly, not a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott informed the U.S. State Department that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.

The decision comes after more than 40 other governors, including several Republicans, said they would opt in to the federal refugee resettlement program. Resettlement agencies need written consent from states and local governments by Jan. 21. The Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order that requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

The news was first reported by The Daily Wire and later confirmed by the governor’s office. The AP reported that Texas is the first state to opt out of the program.

Abbott said the state and nonprofit organizations should concentrate resources on those already here, according to a letter the governor sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he wrote.

Refugee advocacy groups condemned the move.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision — although not surprising given Texas’ previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s unlawful executive order, and we are confident that justice will be served.”

See here for the background. Abbott’s actions not only set him apart from multiple other Republican governors, but also contradicts what many cities and counties in Texas asked for. There are two things I want out of life right now. One is for these terrible, amoral cowards who now hold office to be voted out at the next opportunity. The other is for them all to never be described in terms that attribute positive values to the religious faith they claim to practice. You want to be known as a moral, upright person? Act like one, or get the hell out. The Chron has more.

DMN profile of Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

The fourth entry in this series, and the first to generate some heat.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez says there’s power in her name.

“Tzintzún is more Mexican than any Garcia or Lopez,” the activist told a gathering of Democratic women in Plano. “We were the only indigenous group in Mexico that were not defeated by the Aztecs. So you know I come from good lineage and I’m ready to defeat John Cornyn.”

Tzintzún Ramirez wants to revolutionize campaigning for her Senate race against incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

The veteran Latina activist is mobilizing the young and Hispanic voters whom Democrats need to transform Texas from red to blue. She’s confident her liberal proposals will also appeal to black and white Democrats and make her the party’s nominee.

The Senate primary will test whether a Green New Deal progressive like Tzintzún Ramirez can win in a state dominated by conservative voters.

“The only way we’re going to win is by the progressive muscle that we know is going to get behind this campaign to turn out voters, especially brown and black voters,” she told The Dallas Morning News. “Now we need them to win and no candidate wins without them, but I want to be the candidate for everyone in Texas that truly represents our diversity and common interests.”

[…]

“She was one of the most effective advocates on worker safety that we dealt with,” said Debbie Berkowitz, who was chief of staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when she met Tzintzún Ramirez.

Berkowitz said Tzintzún Ramirez’s group produced a report that outlined how workers were dying on the job, leading to improved standards that saved lives.

Tzintzún Ramirez left the Workers Defense Project in 2015 and later formed a group called Jolt, with the goal of mobilizing immigrants and Latino voters.

Brigid Hall is the chief operations officer at Jolt and was Tzintzún Ramirez’s deputy at the Workers Defense Project.

“She has really ambitious goals and a big vision. She moves quickly and is always one step ahead,” Hall said. “She has high expectations and makes them known for the people around her. Sometimes it’s very hard to meet those expectations.”

Aside from work, Tzintzún Ramirez, 37, describes herself as having the heart of a 60-year-old woman. She likes to watch movies, work in her garden and cook. She has a 2-year-old son, Santiago, who she says will travel with her on the trail. Because she’s raising her son alone, Tzintzún Ramirez said she paused before making a final decision on running for Senate.

The heat stems from that first quote of hers, which evolved into a larger debate about names and identity and other things, some of which are mentioned later in the story. I would suggest you read what Tzintzún Ramirez has said following the publication of this story on Twitter, and also what others have said in response. And since I first drafted this post, Tzintzún Ramirez has apologized for what she said.

Be all that as it may, Tzintzún Ramirez is one of the more interesting candidates running, with a strong background in organizing and the potential to excite less-reliable voters, if she can perhaps be a bit more careful in what she says. She’s on the left edge of the primary field, and along with Chris Bell has been critical of MJ Hegar for being opposed to several of the more progressive policy ideas. I personally don’t have a feel for how the broader primary electorate will respond to the issues in question – to oversimplify, Medicare for All versus adding strengthening and adding a public option to Obamacare, Beto-style buybacks for assault weapons, the Green New Deal, etc – but I will note again that we’re going to have a really big primary voting population, and right now most of them know little about these candidates, let alone who stands for or against what. We may get some clarity in the runoff, but I for one would caution anyone against making any broad conclusions about what the primary voters wanted once all the votes are counted. I think the candidates who make the best first impression will finish in the money, and from there we can maybe get into some specifics.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, MJ Hegar.)

After-deadline filing review: Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County had a big Democratic breakthrough in 2018 (though the gains weren’t fully realized, as some Republican incumbents were not challenged), but you could have seen it coming in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the county by almost seven points over Donald Trump. That did not extend to the downballot candidates, however, as all of the Republicans held on, but by very close margins; outgoing Sheriff Troy Nehls’ 52.05% was the high water mark for the county. With a full slate of candidates, a ringing victory in 2018, and four more years of growth, Fort Bend Dems look poised to continue their takeover of the county. Possibly helping them in that quest is the fact that none of the three countywide incumbents are running for re-election. Here’s a brief look at who the Dems have running in these races.

Previous entries in this series are for the greater Houston area, Congress, state races, the Lege, and the courts.

County Attorney

The first race we come to is Fort Bend County Attorney, where the outgoing incumbent is Roy Cordes, who has been in office since 2006. Cordes was not challenged in 2016. A fellow named Steve Rogers is unopposed in the Republican primary. (Former Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, whom Vince Ryan ousted in 2008, had filed for this race but subsequently withdrew.)

I am thankful that the Fort Bend Democratic Party has a 2020 candidates webpage, because the first person listed for this office is David Hunter, for whom I could not find any campaign presence via my own Google and Facebook searching. (In case you ever wondered what the value of SEO was.) The searching I did do led to this video, in which Hunter explains his practice as a DUI attorney. Sonia Rash has a civil rights background and clerked in the 269th Civil Court in Harris County. Bridgette Smith-Lawson is the Managing Attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Regions 5 and 6.

Sheriff

This is also an open seat, as incumbent Troy Nehls of “Fsck Trump bumper sticker” fame is one of a bazillion Republicans running for CD22. Someone smarter than me will have to explain why he hasn’t had to resign from office after making his announcement. Three Republicans are in the primary for Sheriff, including Troy Nehl’s twin brother Trever Nehls. Yeah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

There are three Democrats running: Eric Fagan, Geneane Hughes, and Holland Jones. I’m going to crib from this Chron story to tell you this much: “The Democratic primary features retired Houston Police officer and former president of the African American Police Officers’ League, Eric Fagan, U.S. Army veteran and former commander of criminal investigations for the Missouri City Police Dept. Geneane Hughes and U.S. Navy veteran Holland Jones, a former captain for the office of Harris County Precinct 7 Constable, who is also a licensed attorney currently working as an adjunct professor for Texas Southern University.” Without knowing anything more about them, all three would be a clear upgrade over Troy Nehls.

Tax Assessor

As previously noted, all of these offices are now open seats. Longtime incumbent Patsy Schultz, first elected in 2004, has retired. Commissioners Court appointed Carrie Surratt as a replacement, but she has apparently not filed to run this year. Four Republicans are on the ballot for this seat.

Two Democrats are running. Neeta Sane served two terms on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down at the end of her term in 2019 to run for this office. She had run for FB County Treasurer in 2006. She has degrees in finance and chemistry and is a Certified Life Coach, which is her current profession. Carmen Turner is a licensed property agent, and I can’t tell a whole lot more about her from her webpage.

Commissioners Court

Here we finally see Republican incumbents running for re-election. Vincent Morales is up for his first re-election bid in Precinct 1, and Andy Meyers, who’s been around forever, is up in Precinct 3. Dems have a 3-2 majority on the Court thanks to KP George winning the office of County Judge and Ken DeMerchant winning in Precinct 4 in 2018. It had been 3-2 Republican from 2008 through 2016, with Richard Morrison winning two terms in the Republican-leaning Precinct 1, then 4-1 GOP after Morales’ win in 2016. Precinct 1 is a definite pickup opportunity, though not as clear-cut as Precinct 4 was in 2018. I’d call it a tossup, and here I’ll admit I did not look at the precinct data from 2018, so we’ll just leave it at that. Precinct 3 is the Republican stronghold and I’d expect it to stay red, with a small chance of flipping.

Democrats running in Precinct 1 include Jennifer Cantu, an Early Childhood Intervention therapist who was the Democratic candidate for HD85 in 2018 (interview for that here); Lynette Reddix, who has a multifaceted background and has served as President of the Missouri City & Vicinity branch of the NAACP; Albert Tibbs, realtor, minister, and non-profit CEO; and Jesse Torres, who doesn’t have any web presence but appears to be a Richmond city commissioner and former Lamar Consolidated trustee. The sole candidate for the much more aspirational Precinct 3 is Hope Martin, an Air Force veteran and healthcare administrator.

There are also candidates for Constable and JP and the various courts, which I am going to skip. I still may come back and review the Harris County Constable and JP candidates if I have the time. As always, I hope this has been useful to you.

DMN profile of MJ Hegar

Third in the series, and first of the candidates to jump in the race, back when we still thought Beto would be a candidate.

MJ Hegar

As she looks confidently to November, and a chance to try to pack U.S. Sen. John Cornyn “off to take his three taxpayer-funded pensions,” MJ Hegar hustles a brand she insists is distinctive.

She’s a combat veteran who sacrificed a dream career to sue the military on behalf of other women. She’s also a “mama bear,” fiercely protective of her two young sons, a working mom, a tattooed motorcyclist and a rural Texan — OK, she grew up near Austin, but her high school in Leander still has hundreds of kids in FFA.

Most of all, Hegar casts herself as “a disrupter.”

Unlike the last such person she says Texas elected to the Senate, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, Hegar says she won’t sell out to party leaders or big donors, instead fighting for blue-collar Texans. Senate Republicans, though, assail her as “Hollywood Hegar,” someone too liberal for the state.

The one-third of Texans who are “in the middle” of the electorate distrust parties, Hegar said during a recent Texas Tribune event.

“They’re looking for character,” someone who will be a team player and “servant leader,” putting country above narrow or partisan interests, she said.

“We have not fielded a combat veteran as a Democrat in a statewide election in a state like Texas that is so pro-military and patriotic,” she told Tribune chief executive Evan Smith.

“It’s not just being a combat veteran, though,” she explained. “It’s being a disrupter. It’s not just being a veteran who goes along and does as they’re told. It’s being a veteran who took on the Pentagon, took on the establishment — and won.”

[…]

Hegar (pronounced hey-GARR) is 43 – in age, the median of the five major Democratic contenders. Last year, she came close to knocking off entrenched Central Texas GOP Congressman John Carter of Georgetown.

As she asks her party for its Senate nomination against Cornyn, Hegar is being followed at all her public appearances by three different “trackers,” who take video of her, she said an interview.

“A huge compliment,” she said. It means the GOP sees her as a threat, she noted. Of the Democrats running, Hegar has raised the most money by far — $2 million.

In 2016, Hegar cast a vote in her first primary, she recalled. She voted in the GOP primary “to stop Donald Trump,” she said. “I voted for Carly Fiorina and she had already dropped out.”

After September’s disclosures about suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Hegar backed an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.

Following her recent Tribune appearance, several audience members old enough to be grandparents approached her to discuss climate change. Though Hegar said she favors “aggressive action,” she declined to bless a carbon tax measure, saying she wanted to make sure it doesn’t increase the cost of food for the middle class.

University of Texas law student Anthony Collier asked her position on Medicare for all, which would eliminate private health insurance.

Hegar said she favors preserving and improving Obamacare and adding a “public option” that would include subsidies for low-income people to be able to buy into Medicare. But she would keep private plans for Americans who want them, she said.

“We can still get there while offering people choice,” she told Collier.

Speaking to reporters after formally filing her papers Dec. 9, Hegar said people aren’t asking her about impeachment but about jobs, schools and health care.

“On some issues I’m this, on some issues I’m that,” she said. “I make up my mind based on what’s … right for my state. When Texans look at me, they don’t see a progressive or moderate. They see a bad-ass, ass-kicking Texas woman.”

Hegar probably comes into this race as the best-known candidate, thanks to her 2018 Congressional race against John Carter and the publicity she was able to generate thanks to her viral ad. The skimpy polling information we have shows her leading the primary field, though with numbers small enough for that to not really mean anything. She’s done the best at fundraising, but she’s raised Congressional numbers, not Senate numbers. We’ll see what the Q4 report has to say.

Hegar is more of a personality candidate, at least at this point, than an issues candidate, though as you can see from the story that she does have coherent positions on issues. As someone who talks to a lot of candidates and who hears a lot of answers of varying degrees of depth and understanding on basic issues, I tend to appreciate the latter more than the former, though history would suggest I’m in the minority. I also don’t want to overstate the case here or to be insulting to Hegar’s substance – she has plenty to say about issues, she just tends to lead with the “bad-ass, ass-kicking” stuff. Which, let’s be honest, is almost certainly a wise strategic move, one that makes an equal amount of sense in a future campaign against a milquetoast enabler like John Cornyn. Read the story for more.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards.)

Interview with Kelly Stone

Kelly Stone

Today we take a break from the State House to return to the one statewide office on the ballot, Railroad Commissioner. It will be the fourth race you see on your ballot this fall, after President, Senate, and Congress. If Democrats make a breakthrough in state government this year, this will be the place it happens. Four Dems are lined up to take a shot at the RRC position that is on the ballot, held by incumbent Ryan Sitton. Kelly Stone was the first to throw her hat into the ring. Stone is an educator, environmental activist, and comedian from San Marcos. She’s also a lifelong athlete, who has completed the “world’s toughest canoe race” and was the placekicker on her high school football team. Please note, she was in town visiting family with her two sons when we did this interview at the Heights Library, and each of them wandered into the room as we were talking and started offering their own answers to my questions, so you’ll hear a bit of their voices as well. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Interview with Lanny Bose

Lanny Bose

We wrap up our tour of the candidates who seek to flip HD134. HD134 is now truly a Democratic district, at the county candidate level, at the state candidate level, and yes, at the judicial candidate level. It just needs to be Democratic at the State Rep level. Our third candidate in this quest is Lanny Bose, a native of Illinois who came to Houston to attend Rice University and perform the vital task of being Sammy the Owl. Bose was a classroom teacher for a decade, and now owns a company that makes an app that helps teachers communicate home with parents when there’s a language barrier. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134

DMN profile of Amanda Edwards

Second in the series, focusing on now-former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards.

Amanda Edwards

On the day of her last Houston City Council meeting, outgoing at-large member Amanda Edwards wasn’t in the mood for goodbyes.

“In my mind it’s not really closing a door,” Edwards said as she drove a reporter past homes damaged by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. “It’s kind of remodeling and expanding. I’m completely ready to turn my next position on its head in terms of what people have grown accustomed to thinking it is.”

After just one term on the council, Edwards is running for Senate against incumbent Republican John Cornyn, a bodacious move that reflects her considerable confidence and the changing perceptions of what it takes to win a high-profile post.

[…]

Edwards, 37, was born in Houston to Isabella and Eugene Edwards.

Her parents were health care providers; Eugene was a pharmacist and Isabella is a retired physical therapist.

Eugene Edwards was diagnosed with cancer when Amanda was 10 years old, and he died when she was 17.

The questions Edwards had about his treatment helped shaped her views on health care.

From her father “skunking” her in table tennis and both parents stressing education, Edwards developed a competitive spirit.

She boasts about her skills in basketball, ping-pong and volleyball.

“Just ask the mayor,” she said, alluding to a basketball game between the council and staff and the mayor’s staff, in which she starred.

Edwards has degrees from Emory University and Harvard Law School. At Emory in Atlanta, she worked in six neighborhood community development corporations.

After college, she served as board president of Project Row Houses in Houston, where she helped redevelop homes as living art pieces.

She said she ran for council in 2015 to promote servant leadership. She won easily.

“I knew that a lot of things I felt strongly about were issues of leadership, like how to appropriately invest in under-resourced areas alongside the will of the community,” she said.

Edwards touts her work in bringing venture capital to Houston, as well as her push to develop neighborhoods without harmful gentrification.

She’s campaigned heavily on her work to help neighborhoods mend after Hurricane Harvey. Edwards and her community partners canvassed affected homes to determine what victims needed and how to improve the allocation of aid.

Here’s the interview I did with Amanda Edwards in 2015, when she first ran for Council. I included the bits from this story about her time on Council because I would not have known it off the top of my head. That’s partly because this was behind-the-scenes stuff, and partly because in our system here in Houston, Council members usually only make news if they’ve done something dumb or they’ve gotten into a fight with the Mayor. It’s good to be reminded that they do a lot of things we don’t easily see.

As for her candidacy, I guess I’ve been a skeptic. I doubted the reports that she was thinking about running, and I have my doubts she can break out in this field. I’ve long believed that she had a path to being Mayor in 2023, which may be affecting my perception. Edwards says in this story that people have underestimated her for her whole life, and I may be doing exactly that. I look forward to seeing her Q4 finance report, that’s for sure. Having said all this, I do think she’ll be a compelling candidate in November if she makes it through the primary, and whatever happens in March I fully expect we’ll be hearing plenty from Amanda Edwards.

(Previously: Chris Bell.)

Interview with Ruby Powers

Ruby Powers

We continue with candidate interviews in HD134. You might have thought HD134 was a prime Democratic opportunity in 2018 based on the 2016 Presidential vote, but downballot, especially in judicial races, it was still a fundamentally Republican district. And then 2018 rolled around and lots of Dems were winning in HD134. Which leaves the task of winning the most important race in HD134, the one for State Rep. Ruby Powers is one of the Dems who aims to do that. Powers is a native of San Antonio who grew up on both sides of the US-Mexico border. She is an attorney who operates her own firm and specializes in immigration law. Here’s what we talked about:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134

We’re not going to get an independent redistricting commission

Nice to think about, but the set of circumstances that might lead to it are exceedingly narrow.

Most of the seven states that have independent commissions adopted them by a citizens’ initiative. Since Texas doesn’t have that option, the only way it would happen would be if lawmakers voluntarily gave up their redistricting power.

Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, said that’s unlikely to happen in Texas, but not impossible.

“The reality is that when a legislature is looking at potentially split control or the changeover of control from one party to another, they’re the most likely to entertain the possibility of redistricting reform,” Feng said.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said it would take a unique set of circumstances.

“It would take us reaching a tipping point where Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects for retaining a majority, but Democrats are also pessimistic about their prospects for taking a majority as well,” Jones said.

I think Jones’ assessment is basically accurate, but it’s important to understand what Republican pessimism about retaining a majority means. We’re talking about them being afraid that they might face unified Democratic government in 2031, the next time redistricting will come around. And not only must they fear this thing that might happen ten years and three statewide elections from now, they must conclude that their best option now would be to curb that future theoretical Democratic hegemony via the creation of an independent redistricting commission. All this happens following a Democratic takeover of the State House, because otherwise Republicans can do what they’ve done before, which is draw whatever districts they want without fear. You see what I mean by exceedingly narrow?

Let’s keep one other thing in mind here. If we do get a Democratic State House, Republicans can still push for whatever maps they want for the SBOE, the State Senate, and the State House. That’s because if the two chambers can’t agree on maps for those three entities, the job gets thrown to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is the Lite Governor, the Speaker, the AG, the Comptroller, and the Land Commissioner. In other words, a Board on which Republicans would have a 4-1 majority, and thus no trouble passing those Republican maps. The one map that would still be up in the air would be the Congressional map. If there is no map passed legislatively, it gets thrown to a federal court, over which neither side would have any control.

There is room in this scenario for some compromise. Republicans would prefer not to let a court do this work. Democrats would of course like to have some influence in the mapmaking process. You can imagine an agreement to draw maps for all four entities – Congress, SBOE, Senate, House – that leans towards incumbent protection rather than greatly advantaging or disadvantaging one party over the other. If that happens, you could also imagine them including an independent commission as a bonus Grand Bargain, but that seems a bridge too far. But compromise maps that mostly don’t make any incumbents’ lives too difficult, that I can see maybe getting done.

Maybe. The situation I’ve just described here is like what happened in 2001, which was the last time Dems controlled the House. The LRB drew the state maps, which led to the massive GOP takeover in the 2002 election, and a court drew the Congressional map. And then, once Republicans had control of the House, they went back and redid the Congressional map. That was the original, stated motivation when Tom DeLay pushed for re-redistricting in 2003: The Congressional map should be drawn by the legislators, not by a court. Obviously, they wanted a map that was much more favorable to Republicans, but that was the original reason they gave. It seems to me that this is a very plausible outcome in 2021 as well – the Republicans decide to let a court draw the map, which in all likelihood would be quite deferential to incumbents anyway, then take their chances on retaking the House in 2022 and doing a new Congressional map again. Hey, it worked once before, and now they have a more favorable Supreme Court to back them up.

Honestly, this may be the single most likely scenario – the LRB draws the state maps, a court draws the Congressional map, and everything hinges on the 2022 election. Maybe Dems keep the State House. Maybe we manage to elect a Democratic Governor, who could then veto any new Congressional map. Maybe Republicans win and do their thing. Heck, even in the Great Map Compromise scenario, who’s to say that Republicans wouldn’t tear it all up and start over in the event they retake the House and retain the Governor’s Mansion? I’d put money on that before I placed a bet on a redistricting commission. 2031 is a long, long way away. It’s not at all irrational to prioritize the now over what maybe could possibly happen if everything goes wrong.

Another voter registration lawsuit filed

This time, the point of contention is electronic signatures.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday in San Antonio, the Texas Democratic Party and the campaign arms for Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate allege that Texas is violating the U.S. Constitution and federal and state law by rejecting voter registration applications without an original signature.

The legal challenge springs from a 2018 electoral kerfuffle over the Texas secretary of state’s rejection of more than 2,400 registration applications filled out by voters using Vote.org, a website run by a California nonprofit. That online application asked Texans to provide personal information and a picture of their signature to auto-populate a paper voter registration form that was then mailed to county registrars.

Days before a registration deadline that year, the secretary of state’s office indicated that applications submitted through the website should be considered invalid because they included electronic signatures, not physical ones.

In the lawsuit, the Democrats argue the secretary of state’s signature requirements are unconstitutional and impose “an arbitrary requirement that limits access to the franchise.” While the state allows eligible Texans to submit registration applications in person, by mail or by fax, Texas law “makes no reference” to requiring an original signature, they argue in the legal challenge.

[…]

In suing the state, the Democrats pointed out that the secretary of state does allow for one kind of electronic signatures — those submitted on voter registration applications received through the Texas Department of Public Safety. That agency allows Texans obtaining or renewing a driver’s license in person to enter their signatures on electronic keypads, which then may be used to populate voter registration applications. (Texas has been wrapped up in separate litigation for more than a year over claims it is violating federal law by not allowing voters who deal with their driver’s licenses online to reregister to vote.)

Bolstered by Republicans’ narrowing margins of victory and polls showing that Texas might be at least slipping from the GOP, Democrats have signaled they see voting rights litigation — and the voters that might be helped through it — as part of their long-term strategy in the state.

See here for more on that “motor voter” lawsuit, which like all good things went to the Fifth Circuit to die. This same Democratic coalition has also filed a lawsuit over the law banning temporary voting locations, one of two such suits in the courts. You know my feeling about pursuing voting rights litigation in this climate, with the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS standing in the way, but I do agree that pursuing these cases anyway sends a strong signal to voters about who stands for making it easier for them to vote. And honestly, who has not electronically signed dozens of documents by now? One of the original (and silly) arguments for voter ID was that if you have to show a drivers license to rent a movie from Blockbuster (this is a truly old-school argument), there’s nothing wrong with having to show your drivers license to vote. Well, I’ve electronically signed documents at bounce house and indoor skydiving places affirming that I forsake my right to sue them if me or my kids wind up getting maimed by their services. If that’s legally binding, then an electronic signature on a voter registration form should be plenty good enough for the Texas Secretary of State. See the TDP press release for more.

Interview with Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson

The next three weeks will focus on the three highest-priority legislative races in the Houston area. The road to a Democratic State House, and all the good things that go along with it, go through HDs 134, 138, and 26. HD134, as you know, has been a bit of a white whale since it was flipped by Sarah Davis in the 2010 massacre. Just purple enough to be enticing, but stubbornly resistant to any Democratic efforts or the overall blue shift in Harris County. Until 2018, that is, when Beto took over 60% and Democratic judicial candidates were all carrying it. Three candidates have lined up to take what sure looks like the best shot yet to bring this district, which was represented by Ellen Cohen from 2007 till 2011, back into the fold. You know the first candidate well: Ann Johnson, who made a strong effort to unseat Davis after her freshman term. Ann is a former chief human trafficking prosecutor and the reason why the law now recognizes underage prostitutes as victims and not criminals. Ann is a cancer survivor and private practice lawyer. I interviewed her in 2012, and I interviewed her again for this race:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

DMN profile of Chris Bell

The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.

“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”

It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.

But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.

“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”

[…]

After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.

He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.

Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.

But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.

Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.

“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.

In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.

Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.

Marijuana arrests stay down

We really should view this as the new normal, and not a problem to be “fixed”.

It’s been more than six months since Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and unintentionally disrupted marijuana prosecution across the state.

Since then, the number of low-level pot cases filed by prosecutors has plummeted. Some law enforcement agencies that still pursue charges are spending significantly more money at private labs to ensure that substances they suspect are illegal marijuana aren’t actually hemp.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and local government crime labs expect to roll out a long-awaited testing method to distinguish between the two in the next month or so. But that’s only for seized plant material. There’s still no timeline for when they will be able to tell if vape pen liquid or edible products contain marijuana or hemp. And DPS said even when its testing is ready, it doesn’t have the resources to analyze substances in the tens of thousands of misdemeanor marijuana arrests made each year — testing it didn’t have to do before hemp was legalized.

“If law enforcement agencies and prosecutors asked for all of those to be tested when these new procedures become available … DPS would start with such a huge backlog that it would likely never get caught up,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “One decision for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies and the labs is: How do they triage these cases to focus on the most important ones?”

[…]

In 2018, Texas prosecutors filed about 5,900 new misdemeanor marijuana possession cases a month, according to data from the Texas Office of Court Administration. The first five months of 2019 saw an average of more than 5,600 new cases filed a month. But since June, when the hemp law was enacted, the number of cases has been slashed by more than half. In November, less than 2,000 new cases were filed, according to the court data.

For those who support marijuana legalization, that change is welcome, adding to an already growing effort in some of the state’s most populated counties to divert pot smokers from criminal prosecution or not arrest them at all.

“It means that there are fewer Texans that are getting slapped with a criminal record for marijuana possession, something that is already legal in other states,” said Katharine Harris, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

See here for the background. There’s no serious argument to be made that the drop in marijuana arrests has had any negative effect on public safety, but it has had the positive effect of keeping thousands of basically harmless people out of the criminal justice system. The main problem with the new status quo is that the reduction in prosecutions is completely ad hoc and not systemic. Whether one gets arrested and jailed or warned and released is entirely a function of where you are and which law enforcement agency is dealing with you. The Lege in 2021 needs to look at what has happened since this inadvertent loosening of marijuana laws and make it a real, permanent thing. We’ve already seem that nothing bad will come of it. Grits and the Current have more.

Texas is on track to pick up three more Congressional districts

Put an asterisk next to this, as the actual Census will need to bear that out.

The U.S. population continues to shift south and west, according to new Census Bureau data that offers the clearest picture yet of how the 435 congressional seats will be distributed among the 50 states.

The latest numbers, released Monday, represent the final estimates from the government before next year’s decennial Census, which will determine how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will have for the next decade. That reapportionment, expected in December 2020, will kick off the year-and-a-half-long process of redrawing congressional-district maps — still in many states a brazen partisan battle that makes strange bedfellows, unplanned retirements and intense member-versus-member races, especially in states poised to lose seats.

“The first two years of any decade when districts are drawn produce the whitest knuckles in Congress,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who led House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2012 cycle. “People are trying to hold onto their seats at all costs.”

According to projections from Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, 17 states are slated to see changes to the sizes of their delegations, including 10 that are forecast to lose a seat beginning in 2022.

The biggest winners appear to be Texas and Florida, which are on track to gain three seats and two seats, respectively, according to the projections. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and North Carolina are estimated to add one seat, as is Montana, which currently has just one at-large seat.

Meanwhile, 10 states are on track to lose one seat: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, Illinois and California, which would drop a House seat for the first time in its 169-year history.

[…]

The looming reapportionment brings into sharper focus the high stakes surrounding the partisan battle for control of state legislatures and the fight to ensure an accurate Census count.

Some states, such as Rhode Island and California, are actively working to avoid an undercount. Other state governments, such as Texas, have not made similar investments.

In his projections, Brace is using the estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau to predict what the states’ populations will be next year, when the Census is taken. Other estimates, which simply apportion House seats according to the 2019 estimates, show smaller gains for Texas and Florida, where the population has been booming year-over-year this decade.

Brace also noted he’s unable to take into account the accuracy of the Census, which will be a major factor in determining the final reapportionment. “We’ve seen it over the decades: Less and less people are likely to participate in the Census,” he said. “That participation rate has gone down each 10 years.”

Moreover, unsuccessful attempts by President Donald Trump and his administration to include a citizenship question on next year’s Census have advocates worried that millions of residents, especially nonwhites, won’t fill out the Census. That could negatively impact the count in heavily Latino states like Texas, where Democrats are plotting a political comeback — if they can get a seat at the table in redistricting.

How we are handling the Census has always seemed like a key aspect of this, but I admit I may be overestimating its impact. The rubber will be meeting the road soon enough, and we’ll have the official verdict in a year’s time. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be tumultuous no matter what happens. Daily Kos has more.

A view of Texas and polling

The premise of this is sound, but don’t read too much into it.

In Texas, the nation’s biggest, most important red state, Trump’s disapproval rating has consistently lagged behind many of the 30 states he carried in 2016. This potentially puts the state — a must-win for the president if there ever was one — in play for 2020.

To think Trump’s unpopularity in Texas is because of Twitter, or Ukraine, or the media, or a smear job by the left is to underestimate the problem. The reality is that Trump’s signature policies are out of step with what most Texans want.

Take Trump’s threat of tariffs against Mexico as punishment for the flow of unauthorized immigrants across the border. While railing against Mexico might work at a campaign rally in the Midwest, Texans perceive it as a direct threat to their bottom lines. Mexico is Texas’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 35 percent of state exports in 2018. In comparison, Mexico accounts for only 5.8 percent of exports for Ohio.

Polling from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that roughly half of voters believe that tariffs against Mexico would hurt the Texas economy. Only 16 percent of suburban voters and 18 percent of women — coveted 2020 voting blocs — think tariffs on Mexico would benefit Texas.

[…]

Trump’s immigration policy is also unpopular. While one might assume that the state with the longest southern border, the largest share of Mexican Americans, and one of the highest rates of illegal immigration would appreciate Trump’s hard-line immigration approach, the opposite is true.

Texas has maintained one of the nation’s most moderate stances on immigration. It is one of only seven states — and the only red state — to provide in-state tuition rates and state financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Those provisions were signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry and a Republican-controlled legislature. More recently, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families at the border “disgraceful.

While the United States struggles to adjust to a changing demographic makeup, Texas has been “majority minority” for more than a decade, with Hispanics expected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites in the next few years. Hispanics and non-Hispanics live by, work with, are friends with and go to school with each other, and this familiarity increases fondness. Which is why Trump’s fear and disparagement of immigrants — and Mexicans, in particular — falls flat here.

According to a Texas Politics Project poll, more Texans strongly disapprove of Trump’s immigration approach than strongly approve. Only 39 percent of Texans support additional federal spending on border barriers along the Mexican border, according to a November 2019 report by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center.

In the same poll, the majority of Texans — 60 percent — agreed that “We should find alternatives to immigration detention for families fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the U.S.” And a majority, 65 percent, agreed that “unaccompanied children caught attempting to cross the border illegally should be placed into the care of child-welfare specialists, not border or immigration enforcement officials.” Turns out the cowboys are a bunch of bleeding hearts.

This article is in the Washington Post, and as you know I’m always interested in outside views of our state, partly to see how the perspective differs and partly to see what kind of dumb mistakes they make. In this case, the author is a Texan, an economist and pundit named Abby McCloskey who also writes for the Dallas Morning News. I’d not read anything by her before, and checking Facebook and Twitter I found almost no overlap between the political types I know and her. Doesn’t really matter, it was just curious to me.

Anyway. As I said up front, the basic premise is sound. Polling of Trump in Texas has been weak, in terms of approval, favorable/unfavorable, and re-elect numbers; as I’ve noted before, there’s some correlation between those things, though it’s not particularly strong. One way I look at this is that in the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney was always above 50% in Texas, usually around 55%, while President Obama hovered around 40%. Trump is usually in the low-to-mid 40’s, occasionally nearing 50 but almost always below it. That’s just not great for him, and as we saw in 2018 if Republicans overall aren’t performing in the 55%-plus range, they have a hard time winning districts and counties they’ve been used to winning.

The rest doesn’t impress me much. There may be some Chamber of Commerce types who voted for Trump in 2016, mostly out of loathing for Hillary Clinton and a longtime affinity for Republican politics, who won’t vote for him in 2020 because of trade policy, but I suspect you could count them all individually if you put some effort into it. Immigration policy is a multi-layered subject in Texas, but the Republicans who voted for that 2001 bill to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition aren’t the Republicans that are in charge of the state now. The Texas GOP is far, far to the right of that cohort – the modern Texas GOP officially opposes that 2001 law (see item 134 from the 2016 platform and item 129 from the 2018 platform). Citing that 2001 law as evidence of “nuance” is to me ignorant in the way that people who still say that “the Texas Governor is only the fourth or fifth most powerful official in the state” is ignorant. Keep up with current events, please.

Who sues first?

It matters whether Harris County or the state of Texas is first to the courthouse against an industrial polluter.

As chemical plant explosions and fires have disrupted lives and raised air-quality concerns in the Houston area this year, the state and its most populous county have been jockeying to take the lead in penalizing polluters.

The state’s more active role has aroused suspicions among some local officials and environmentalists, who believe state leaders with a record of pro-business actions may be trying to take control to soften the blow of any court rulings against major corporations.

“It’s obvious there’s been an attempt to limit Harris County legal office from pursuing these cases,” said Neil Carman, a former air inspector with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who now works with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter.

The legal maneuvering reflects growing public concern about environmental disasters in the Houston area and the ongoing tug of war between the Republican-led state government and officials in major metro areas over the setting of policy.

Who sues first dictates not only where the case will be heard, but also where the money will go if there are civil penalties. If Harris County leads with the state being a party to its lawsuit, the money is split between both parties. But if the state sues without the local government’s involvement, it goes back to the state’s general revenue

County officials say they have to sue to have a role in the process and to make sure companies are held accountable for the damage they cause. State lawmakers say that such suits are redundant and that there needs to be a statewide approach; the Legislature has passed bills restricting local governments in such cases.

“It’s not efficient, and it’s not a good way to function,” said Rock Owens, special assistant Harris County attorney for environmental matters. “If you have an emergency that requires immediate attention, that’s a reason to move quickly. But I just have to move quickly to make sure Harris County keeps a seat at the table, and that’s an unnecessary use of resources.”

In the end, he added, “everybody loses.”

See here and here for some background. There’s no question that the state is doing this to block Harris County from taking stronger action against the big offenders. The track record could not be more clear. Harris County has done pretty well regardless, and if you listened to my interviews with the County Attorney candidates you should feel confident that that will continue, at least until such time as the Lege clips the county’s wings further. We all know what we need to do to keep that from happening.

After-deadline filing review: Courts

Let’s return to the wonderful world of scoping out our candidates. Today we will concentrate on judicial races. Previous entries in this series are for the greater Houston area, Congress, state races, and the Lege.

Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals

I’ve actually covered all of these races, and given bits of info about the candidates, here and here. Go read those posts for the details, and here as a reminder are the candidates’ names and Facebook pages:

Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice) – Amy Clark Meachum
Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice) – Jerry Zimmerer

Supreme Court, Position 6 – Brandy Voss
Supreme Court, Position 6 – Staci Williams

Supreme Court, Position 7 – Kathy Cheng
Supreme Court, Position 7 – Lawrence Praeger

Supreme Court, Position 8 – Gisela Triana
Supreme Court, Position 8 – Peter Kelly

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – William Demond
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Elizabeth Frizell
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Dan Wood

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4 – Brandon Birmingham

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Tina Yoo Clinton
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Steve Miears

First and 14th Courts of Appeals

Covered to some extent here, but there has been some subsequent activity, so let’s get up to date.

Veronica Rivas-Molloy – 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3
Dinesh Singhal – 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3
Jim Sharp – 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3

Rivas-Molloy and Singhal were mentioned previously. Jim Sharp is the same Jim Sharp that won in 2008 and lost in 2014.

Amparo Guerra – 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5
Tim Hootman – 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5

Both candidates were also previously mentioned. This is the seat now vacated by Laura Carter Higley.

Jane Robinson – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 1, Chief Justice
Jim Evans – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 1, Chief Justice

Jane Robinson has been mentioned previously. Jim Evans was a candidate for Family Court in 2014, and was appointed as an associate judge on the 507th Family Court in 2017, making him the first openly gay family court judge in Texas. He doesn’t have a campaign presence yet as far as I can tell.

Wally Kronzer – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Tamika Craft – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Cheri Thomas – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
V.R. Faulkner – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Dominic Merino – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Lennon Wright – 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Not sure why this court has attracted so many contestants, but here we are. Kronzer was the only candidate I knew of in that previous post; Cheri Thomas came along a bit later, and the others were all later in the filing period. Texas Judges can tell you some more about the ones that don’t have any campaign presence.

Harris County District Courts

The following lucky duckies have no opponents in the primary or the November general election:

Kristin Hawkins (11th Civil)
Kyle Carter (125th Civil)
Mike Englehart (151st Civil
Robert Schaffer (152nd Civil)
Hazel Jones (174th Criminal)
Kelli Johnson (178th Criminal)
Ramona Franklin (338th Criminal)

The next time you see them, congratulate them on their re-election. The following almost-as-lucky duckies are in a contested primary for the 337th Criminal Court, with the winner of the primary having no opponent in November:

Brennen Dunn, who had been in the primary for the 185th Criminal Court in 2018; see his Q&A here.
Colleen Gaido.
Veronica Sanders.
David Vuong
John A. Clark, whom I cannot positively identify. I hope everyone sends in Q&A responses, but I’m not voting for any candidate I can’t identify. I hope you’ll join me in that.

The following do not have a primary opponent, but do have a November opponent:

Fredericka Phillips (61st Civil).
RK Sandill (127th Civil), who in 2018 was a candidate for the Supreme Court.
Michael Gomez (129th Civil).
Jaclanel McFarland (133rd Civil)
Elaine Palmer (215th Civil).

Natalia Cornelio is currently unopposed in the primary for the 351st Criminal Court following the rejection of incumbent Judge George Powell’s application. That may change pending the outcome of Powell’s litigation in the matter.

The following races are contested in both March and November:

Larry Weiman (80th Civil, incumbent).
Jeralynn Manor (80th Civil).

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas (164th Civil, incumbent). Formerly Smoots-Hogan, now dealing with legal issues of her own.
Cheryl Elliott Thornton (164th Civil), who has run for Justice of the Peace and County Civil Court at Law in the past.
Grant Harvey (164th Civil).

Ursula Hall (165th Civil, incumbent).
Megan Daic (165th Civil).
Jimmie L. Brown, Jr. (165th Civil).

Nikita Harmon (176th Criminal, incumbent).
Bryan Acklin (176th Criminal).

Randy Roll (179th Criminal, incumbent).
Ana Martinez (179th Criminal).

Daryl Moore (333rd Civil, Incumbent).
Brittanye Morris (333rd Civil).

Steven Kirkland (334th Civil, incumbent). It’s not a Democratic primary without someone challenging Steve Kirkland.
Dawn Rogers (334th Civil).

Te’iva Bell (339th Criminal).
Candance White (339th Criminal).
Dennis Powell (339th Criminal), whom I cannot positively identify.
Lourdes Rodriguez (339th Criminal), whom I also cannot positively identify.

Julia Maldonado (507th Family, incumbent).
Robert Morales (507th Family).
CC “Sonny” Phillips (507th Family).

That about covers it. I should do a separate entry for JPs and Constables, and I did promise a Fort Bend entry. So there will likely be some more of this.

UPDATE: I missed Robert Johnson, the incumbent Judge of the 177th Criminal District Court (the court that now has Ken Paxton’s trial), in the first go-round. Johnson had an opponent file for the primary, but that application was subsequently rejected. He has no November opponent, so you can add him to the list of people who have been re-elected.

Julian Castro ends his Presidential bid

Sorry to see him go.

Julian Castro

Julián Castro has ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, capping a nearly yearlong bid during which he distinguished himself as a progressive crusader but never found the polling or fundraising support to gain wide appeal.

“I’m so proud of the campaign we’ve run together,” Castro said in an almost four-minute video Thursday morning. “We’ve shaped the conversation on so many important issues in this race, stood up for the most vulnerable people and given a voice to those who are often forgotten. But with only a month until the Iowa caucuses and given the circumstances of this campaign, I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time.”

The video highlighted some of the causes he championed during his campaign — in some cases, largely on his own — that endeared him to the progressive wing of the party but did not translate into the traction needed to thrust him into the top tier of the sprawling Democratic field.

[…]

After years of being regarded as a rising star in Texas politics, Castro threw his hat into the ring early, months before some of his fiercest competitors launched their respective bids. But he consistently raised millions of dollars less than his rivals and polled in the low single digits, failing to qualify for the two most recent debates despite launching a do-or-die fundraising drive before the first of them. He hit his $800,000 target and stayed in the race but still did not make the cut for that debate.

I’m sad to see him depart – Lord knows, I can think of several candidates I’d rather see get out. It’s a lot easier to stay in a race if your goal is something other than winning. Be that as it may, this is far from the end for Castro. He’d be a good VP choice – I thought that in 2016 as well, but that’s the way it goes – and h could certainly wind up in someone’s Cabinet. I for one will be rooting for him to run for Governor in 2022. I don’t think I need to explain that one. Thank you for running, Julian Castro. I look forward to seeing you on the trail again, hopefully soon. The Observer has more.

Abbott and refugees

The moral choice is clear. It’s also clear for a variety of other reasons. I don’t expect Greg Abbott to make it, because he’s Greg Abbott.

For years, more refugees have resettled in Houston and Texas than any other city or state in the country.

Now that may end.

Under a new requirement imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration, state and local governments must consent in writing before refugees can arrive next year. At least 34 governors, including 13 Republicans, and 86 county and city executives have given their approval.

Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in.

But Gov. Greg Abbott, who has lead efforts to block Syrian refugees and withdrew from the federal resettlement program in a largely symbolic move in 2016, has not.

If he does not agree, no refugees could be placed in the state, despite what local authorities may want.

John Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman, did not return multiple calls, texts, and emails seeking comment.

“Our understanding is that he’s still weighing his options,” said Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, one of nine national resettlement agencies in the country. “Given its size and the welcome that refugees receive in Texas, and the faith community’s support, and businesses who rely on refugees for workers in agriculture, manufacturing, and meatpacking, it certainly would have a sizable impact if Texas were not to continue to resettle refugees.”

The Catholic Church, of which Greg Abbott claims to be a devout member, is strongly pro-refugee. The Bible, which people who claim to be Christian claim to believe in, is strongly pro-refugee. Greg Abbott is a Republican, and a Donald Trump minion. You do the math. I’ve said many times in this space that nothing will change until the government changes. Well, in this case this was a change brought about by a change in government, the election of Donald Trump. What has been done can still be undone. The rest is up to us.

Cy-Fair Dems Senate candidate forum

There are actually multiple clubs hosting this forum, but there’s only so much room in the headline:

Event details can be found here. The forum will be held at the Green House International Church, 200 W Greens Rd, Houston, TX 77067, with a meet and greet beginning at 2 PM, the forum itself at 3:15, and a Q&A at 4:30. As of this publication, the following candidates have confirmed their attendance: Amanda Edwards, Chris Bell, Jack Daniel Foster Jr., Sema Hernandez, Royce West, and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

Everyone is asked to bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the food pantry. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Here’s the EventBrite link for the forum.

Precinct analysis: 2019 HD148 special election

I started this post while doing other precinct analysis stuff. Didn’t finish it with the others, but now that the legislative special election runoffs are next up on the calendar, I thought I’d finish it off. First, here’s how the main Mayoral candidates did in HD148:


Turner    9,631
Turner%  44.65%

Buzbee    6,280
Buzbee%  29.11%

King      2,947
King%    13.66%

Boykins   1,253
Boykins%  5.81%

Lovell      467
Lovell%   2.16%

Others      993
Others%   4.60%

Not actually all that different than how they did overall in Harris County. Mayor Turner was about 1.7 percentage points lower, while Sue Lovell gained 0.86 points. Oddly, it was the “Other” candidates who collectively gained the most, going from 3.72% overall to 4.60% in HD148, for a gain of 0.88 points. Keeping it weird, y’all.

Since I started this before the runoff, and even before the date for the HD148 runoff was set, I wondered what the effect might be of having Anna Eastman and Luis LaRotta slug it out at the same time as Mayor Turner and that other guy. I decided to zoom in on the best precincts for Eastman and LaRotta and see how the Mayorals did in them:


Eastman top 4

Eastman 1,557
LaRotta   557
Dem     1,508
GOP       547
Others  2,055

Turner  2,389
Buzbee    974
King      592
Others    370

LaRotta top 4

Eastman   242
LaRotta   600
Dem     1,006
GOP       515
Others  1,521

Turner    835
Buzbee  1,001
King      412
Others    245

Putting it another way, Anna Eastman’s best precincts were more Democratic, and more favorable to Turner, than LaRotta’s precincts were Republican and favorable to That Guy. Didn’t much matter in the end, but I was curious, and that’s what I learned.

Finally, there’s always the question of how much turnout efforts from one race can affect another. For sure, the Mayoral race was the big turnout driver in Houston in November, but as overall turnout was below thirty percent, there would still be plenty of people in HD148 who would normally vote in an even-year election, when this race is supposed to be on the ballot, but who may not vote in odd-year races. To try to get a handle on this, I looked at the undervote rate in the Mayor’s race in HD148, and compared it to the overall undervote rate for the Mayorals. In Harris County, 1.59% of the people who showed up to vote in November did not cast a ballot in the Mayor’s race. The undervote rate in the HD148 special was 5.87%, which is another way of saying it was the Mayor’s race that drove the majority of the action.

In the HD148 precincts, all of which are in the city of Houston, there were 22,001 total votes cast, according to the draft canvass sent to me by the County Clerk. That’s a smidge less than what you’ll see on the official election report, which is almost certainly a combination of cured provisional ballots (my canvass does not include provisional votes), split precincts (many voting precincts are partly in and partly not in the city of Houston, which makes all of the calculations I do that also involve non-city entities a little fuzzy), and whatever stupid errors I made with Excel. Be that as it may, of those 22,001 cast ballots, there were 387 non-votes in the Mayor’s race, for an undervote rate in the HD148 precincts of 1.76%, a hair higher than the overall undervote rate. If the voters in HD148 had skipped the Mayor’s race at the same rate as voters everywhere else in Harris County skipped it, there would have been only 350 Mayoral undervotes.

So, I’d say that the turnout effect of the HD148 special election was pretty small, since the voters in that race behaved very much like voters elsewhere. Perhaps if this had been a higher-profile race, with more money and a longer time on the ballot and a clearer partisan split – in other words, a race more like the HD28 special election – we might have seen more people who came out to vote for it and who had less interest in the other races, and thus a higher undervote rate in the Mayoral election. Sadly, we won’t know what that might look like at this time. I should note that I have no idea how many of the 1,288 non-voters in the HD148 special were also non-voters in the Mayoral race; there’s just no way to tell that from the data I have. Maybe some of those people were just there to vote for the Constitutional amendments, or the Metro referendum, or District H, or who knows what. I feel on reasonably firm ground saying that the turnout effect of the Mayor’s race was considerably higher than the turnout effect of the HD148 special election. Anything beyond that needs more study. You’re welcome.

That’s a weird definition of “thriving”

I have three things to say about this.

Surrounded by fellow Libertarians during a 2018 election night watch party at a rented Airbnb in Fort Worth, Eric Espinoza, who was running for state Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s seat, saw a Facebook message notification pop up on his phone.

“‘It’s people like you who are preventing other candidates from winning,’” he recalls the message saying, though he doesn’t recall which candidate the sender supported.

“I was like, ‘Hey, guys, look — I think I finally made an impact,’” Espinoza remembers saying, as he passed his phone around to others in the crowded living room.

“That to me was like, OK, cool, I was able to affect something so much that somebody who knows nothing about me, and nothing about why I ran, blames me for somebody losing — when it’s not the votes. It’s not that I took votes from them; it’s that people didn’t want to vote for that person, and they had a better option.”

Republicans and Democrats alike will blame third-party candidates for siphoning votes from traditionally two-way races. Espinoza not only took votes that might have gone to Stickland, a Republican, but he had more votes than Stickland’s margin of victory. Stickland beat his Democratic challenger by fewer than 1,500 votes, and Espinoza, in third place, had racked up more than 1,600.

It’s still rare for third-party candidates to capture enough votes to potentially sway an outcome — in the past three general elections, there have been just six such instances, according to a Hearst Newspapers analysis. But the number is growing, in a sign of tightening Texas elections.

[…]

A year after some of the most competitive state-level races in decades, Texas Republicans moved to make it easier for third-party candidates to receive and maintain a spot on the ballot. In doing so, they returned ballot access to the Green Party after it lost it following the 2016 election.

“Maybe Republicans are just kind of viewing this as, either you could call it an insurance policy or maybe it’s a way to subject the Democrats to things they’ve been subjected to on the part of the Libertarians,” said Phil Paolino, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas who has studied the effect of third parties on presidential races.

As elections get tighter, Paolino said, “you might see a few more races where third-party candidates are able to cover the margins — whether it’ll have the effect of altering the results is a big question.”

1. I’ve said my piece about third party voters. I will add that in 2018, the last year we’ll get this statistic, 0.49% of all straight party votes in Harris County were straight party Libertarian. That continued an upward trend in the off-year elections, which has come to an end thanks to the end of straight ticket voting.

2. Along those same lines, I’ve also said that I’m not particularly worried about the Green Party effect in Texas. Among other things, Green Party candidates just don’t get that many votes, and there are very few of them in non-statewide races. And as Professor Paolino notes, we don’t know that much about what might have happened in a race won with a non-majority due to the presence of one or more third-party candidates in the counterfactual event where they hadn’t been present. Maybe someday the poli sci professionals will take a crack at that, but until then we’re all just guessing.

(This is usually the point at which someone chimes in to remind me of the merits of ranked choice voting, which would provide a measure of what third party voters would have done if there had been only two choices. This is also the point at which I remind everyone that we don’t have ranked choice voting, and there is no prospect of getting anything like it in the foreseeable future. This is just a restatement of the “but what if there had been only two candidates” hypothetical.)

3. I dunno, when I read a story about a political party “thriving”, I imagine it’s going to be about how that party is winning more elections, or at least competing more strongly in elections where they had not been before. This story is about how one party is thriving in a way they hadn’t been before, it’s just that the party in question is the Democrats. I don’t see what that has to do with the Libertarians, but maybe that’s just me.