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State Rep. Poncho Nevarez busted for cocaine possession

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Poncho Nevarez

Authorities issued a warrant Thursday for the arrest of state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, an Eagle Pass Democrat, on felony drug possession charges. A state special investigator claims in the warrant, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune, that Nevárez was caught on surveillance footage in September dropping an envelope with cocaine as he was leaving the Austin airport.

A magistrate judge in Travis County signed the warrant Thursday afternoon. Nevárez faces a charge of third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

Neither Nevárez’s office nor the Travis County District Attorney’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

Thursday’s news came hours after an affidavit detailing the allegations, filed Oct. 29 in Travis County court by the Texas Department of Public Safety, was revealed and later obtained by the Tribune and other news outlets. The affidavit was attached to a warrant seeking to conduct a test to determine whether Nevárez’s DNA was on the envelope. The document says that the envelope had Nevárez’s official House seal and held “four small clear baggies” containing a substance found to include cocaine.

Nevárez, who chairs the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, announced last week he was retiring from the lower chamber. And in a statement to the Tribune Thursday morning before the warrant was issued, Nevárez confirmed that the “news is true” — and that the events detailed in the affidavit prompted his decision to not seek reelection.

“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” he said, noting that he plans to seek treatment. “I accept this because it is true and it will help me get better.”

1. Nevarez had previously announced he was not running for re-election, which I think we can all agree is for the best. Sometimes, regardless of other considerations, stepping back in order to get one’s life together is the stronger course of action.

2. And I really do hope he gets his life back together. Addiction is a terrible thing, and it has real costs not just on the addict but on the addict’s family and friends. Even if I am grossly overstating the issue here – I am making some big assumptions – I stand by the main point about the personal cost to all involved.

3. I hope we take this as an opportunity to further reflect on how the criminal justice system handles drug usage and possession. I would not advocate for decriminalization of cocaine, but I would hope we would all by now recognize that a ten-year jail sentence for possessing a small amount of it is ridiculous and serves no worthwhile purpose. It’s needlessly punitive, exorbitantly expensive, and surely does not have a positive effect on addiction and drug abuse. And we should reflect on the fact that while someone like Rep. Nevarez is unlikely to spend much if any time in jail, many many people in Texas and around the country are not so fortunate. Our drug laws are harmful and woefully out of date. We really should do something about that. If Rep. Nevarez’s situation helps even one legislator realize that, then at least one good thing will come out of this.

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

So when will the HD148 runoff be?

The TL;dr of this is “we may have two different runoff dates, one for the city of Houston and one for the special legislative elections”. If you’re confused, I understand. Let’s walk through it together.

First, there’s this:

I’ve said before that the last time we had a November legislative special election that required a runoff was in 2005, the special election in HD143. That runoff was held on the same date as the city of Houston runoff, as you can see from the election returns page. You would certainly think it makes sense to hold them at the same time – HD148 is entirely within the city of Houston, it costs less to have one election instead of two, people may be confused and turnout will certainly be affected by two runoff dates, etc etc etc. What’s the problem?

The problem is that the city of Houston runoff is on a Saturday, and as far as I can tell from scrolling through election returns on the SOS webpage, special election runoffs for legislative seats are almost always held on Tuesdays. I’ve looked at the date of each special legislative election runoff (House and Senate) going back to that 2005 runoff, and the only other example of a Saturday runoff date I could find was the SD06 special election runoff on March 2, 2013. Every single other one was on a Tuesday.

(I should note that some of these special elections were expedited due to the vacancy occurring near or during a legislative session. Special laws apply in those cases that govern the timing, including to limit the Governor’s discretion in setting the election dates. Not all of these were expedited, just some of them.)

One effect of that difference is in the number of early voting days. Here’s the relevant law:

Sec. 85.001. EARLY VOTING PERIOD. (a) The period for early voting by personal appearance begins on the 17th day before election day and continues through the fourth day before election day, except as otherwise provided by this section.

(b) For a special runoff election for the office of state senator or state representative or for a runoff primary election, the period begins on the 10th day before election day.

(c) If the date prescribed by Subsection (a) or (b) for beginning the period is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal state holiday, the early voting period begins on the next regular business day.

The 10th day before a Tuesday election is the previous Saturday, so by 85.001 (c), that moves the start of early voting to the Monday, and we get five days’s worth of it. That’s what we got in the recent HD145 special election runoff, for example. I’m not sure what the law is regarding city elections, but for our Saturday runoffs for our city elections, early voting starts the previous Wednesday and goes for seven says, as we got in 2015. The good news is that if the runoff is on a Saturday, then the tenth day before it is that same Wednesday.

Which is another way of saying that the runoff for HD148 – and really, for all three special legislative election runoffs, including HDs 28 and 100, which will surely be on the same day as HD148 but which do not intersect with other elections as far as I know – could be on Saturday the 14th, or could be on some other day, probably a Tuesday if recent patterns hold. Talking to some people at the HCDP Friendsgiving event on Saturday, the scuttlebutt seemed to be that the legislative runoffs would be in January, since once you get past the first two weeks of December it’s too close to Christmas. I’ve gone from being confident that the runoffs would all be on the same December 14 date to being convinced I was wrong about that to being convinced nobody knows anything and we’re all just waiting for a crumb of information to fall from Greg Abbott’s table. Abbott does have a deadline to set the date, which kicks in after the election results are officially canvassed. We will know for sure soon enough. I hope I have not confused you any more than necessary with this long-winded explanation.

Let this finally be the end of the Heidi Group’s grift

And you should all be thoroughly appalled at the waste, fraud, and abuse committed in the name of screwing Planned Parenthood.

Right there with them

An anti-abortion group that came under fire for failing to provide services to thousands of Texas women must repay $1.5 million in overpayments and prohibited costs, state investigators said Thursday.

The findings, announced by the office of the health inspector general, are a new blow to the Heidi Group. The organization had hoped to replace Planned Parenthood as a top family planning provider, but was cut off from millions in funding last year after failing to serve tens of thousands of low-income women.

The office said on Thursday it had uncovered “serious contractual violations” and is expanding its inquiry to the entire span of the Heidi Group’s contracts, going back to 2016. That could mean additional repayments.

Forensic accountants found the group had paid medical providers hundreds of thousands in excess fees, had overspent on payroll and fringe benefits, and had expensed thousands in unallowable costs like food, gift cards, clothing and retail membership fees, according to a copy of the internal investigation obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The inquiry covered a seven month period, from September 2017 to March 2018.

“It’s a travesty when you look at all the women who should have been receiving services and were not because of this,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “We’re talking about women who don’t have means to afford health care like many of us do.”

See here for a deeper dive on the Heidi Group’s utter failure, and here for all previous blog posts. As the Observer notes, the state finally canceled their contracts last month, after three years of shoveling good money after bad. In the meantime, thousands of women were denied the health care the needed and deserved. This is what happens when you put rabid ideology over reality. Until we get better government in this state, there’s always a chance it will happen again.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

– Here’s my opening statement on the election returns debacle. We have more information about this now, but we still need more before we can go anywhere else with it.

– All incumbents want to win without runoffs, but for an incumbent that was forced into a runoff, Mayor Turner did pretty darned well. Including Fort Bend, he got about 12K more votes than Buzbee and King combined, and missed by about 2K outscoring Buzbee plus King plus Boykins. Suffice to say, he’s in a strong position for the runoffs.

– We are going to have a cubic buttload of runoffs. In addition to the Mayor, there are seven district Council runoffs, all five At Large Council races, two HISD races, two HCC races, and HD148. We might have had pretty decent overall turnout without the Mayor’s race included, but with it at the top it will be a lot like a November election. I’ll put the initial over/under at about 175K, which is roughly the 2009 Mayoral election runoff total.

– Among those Council runoffs are districts B and D, which along with HISD II and IV and HCC 2 will favor Turner. There are no runoffs in E or G, which would have favored Buzbee, and the runoff in A is almost certain to be a serene, low-money affair. Districts C and J went for King in the 2015 runoffs, but the runoffs in those districts involve only Democratic candidates. Turner has a lot more wind at his back than Buzbee does.

– For a more visual representation of the above, see this Mike Morris tweet. Nearly all of those Buzbee areas are in districts A, E, and G.

– In a sense, the main event in November is the At Large runoffs, all five of which feature a Republican and a Democrat. A Council that includes Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, and Eric Dick is a Council that (including the members in A, E, and G) is fully half Republican, and could thus throw a lot of sand into the gears of the second Turner administration (or really grease the wheels of a Buzbee administration, if you want to extend the metaphor). Yes, I know, Council doesn’t really work like that, but the difference between that Council and one that includes three or more of Raj Salhotra, David Robinson, Janaeya Carmouche, Letitia Plummer, and Sallie Alcorn, is likely to be quite large. You want to have an effect on the direction Houston takes over the next four years, there you have it.

– Council could have been even more Republican, but at the district level it looks to remain at least as Democratic and possibly a little more so than it is now. Districts C and J may have gone for King in 2015 as noted, but Democrats Abbie Kamin and Shelley Kennedy are the choices in C (Greg Meyers and Mary Jane Smith finished just behind Kennedy), while Ed Pollard and Sandra Rodriguez are the contenders in J. (Yes, Pollard is considerably more conservative than most Dems, especially on LGBT issues. He’ll be the next Dwight Boykins in that regard if he wins.) District F has been (with a two-year break from 2013 to 2015) Republican going back to the 90s, but Tiffany Thomas is in pole position. She will no doubt benefit from the Mayoral runoff.

– I should note that in District C, the four candidates who were on a Greater Heights Democratic Club candidate forum I moderated in September – Kamin, Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, and Amanda Wolfe; Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was also in the forum but switched to the HD148 race – combined for 55% of the vote in C. That’s a nice chunk of your HD134, CD02 and CD07 turf, and another illustration of how Donald Trump has helped kill the Republican Party in Harris County.

– Speaking of HD148, 69% of the vote there went to the Democratic candidates. Jessica Farrar got 68% in 2018, and she was on the high end.

– Remember when I said this about HD148 candidate Adrian Garcia? “It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.” I would say now the answer is “happy to vote for him”, because with all due respect I cannot see how he finishes third in that field if he was differently named. Low profile special elections are just weird.

– To be fair, name recognition also surely helped Dolcefino and Dick, neither of whom had much money. One had a famous name, and one has been a candidate multiple times, while littering the streets with his yard signs, so there is that.

– I’m just about out of steam here, but let me say this again: We. Must. Defeat. Dave. Wilson. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Monica Flores Richart in the HCC 1 runoff. We cannot screw that up.

– If you still need more, go read Stace, Nonsequiteuse, and Chris Hooks.

Final results are in

Here they are. Refer to my previous post for the initial recap, I’m going to be very minimalist. Let’s do this PowerPoint-style, it’s already been a long day:

Mayor – Turner fell short of 50%, landing up a bit below 47%. He and Buzbee will be in a runoff. Which, if nothing else, means a much higher turnout for the runoff.

Controller: Chris Brown wins.

District A: Peck versus Zoes.
District B: Jackson versus Bailey.
District C: Kamin versus Kennedy. Gotta say, it’s a little surprising, but quite nice, for it to be an all-Dem runoff. Meyers came close to catching Kennedy, but she hung on to second place.
District D: Brad Jordan had a late surge, and will face Carolyn Evans-Shabazz in the runoff. If Evans-Shabazz wins, she’ll need to resign her spot on the HCC Board, so there would be another new Trustee if that happens.
District F: Thomas versus Huynh. Other than the two years we had of Richard Nguyen, this seat has pretty much always been held by a Republican. Tiffany Thomas has a chance to change that.
District H: Cisneros verusus Longoria.
District J: Pollard versus Rodriguez. Sandra Rodriguez had a late surge and nearly finished ahead of Pollard. Very evenly matched in Round One.

At Large #1: Knox versus Salhotra. Both candidates will benefit from the Mayoral runoff, though I think Raj may be helped more.
At Large #2: Robinson versus Davis, a rerun from 2015.
At Large #3: Kubosh slipped below 50% and will face Janaeya Carmouche in overtime.
At Large #4: Dolcefino versus Plummer. We will have somewhere between zero and four Republicans in At Large seats, in case anyone needs some non-Mayoral incentive for December.
At Large #5: Alcorn versus Eric Dick. Lord, please spare me Eric Dick. I don’t ask for much.

HISD: Dani Hernandez and Judith Cruz ousted incumbents Sergio Lira and Diana Davila. Maybe that will make the TEA look just a teeny bit more favorably on HISD. Kathy Blueford Daniels will face John Curtis Gibbs, and Matt Barnes had a late surge to make it into the runoff against Patricia Allen.

HCC: Monica Flores Richart inched up but did not make it to fifty percent, so we’re not quite rid of Dave Wilson yet. Rhonda Skillern-Jones will face Kathy Lynch-Gunter in that runoff.

HD148: A late surge by Anna Eastman gives her some distance between her and Luis La Rotta – Eastman got 20.34%, La Rotta 15.84%. The Republican share of the vote fell from 34% to 32%, right on what they got in this district in 2018.

Now you are up to date. Go get some sleep.

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

Results of Tuesday’s election could take until 2 a.m. Wednesday after the Texas Secretary of State issued a new regulation that upended plans by the Harris County Clerk’s Office to speed vote counting.

The first tubs containing electronic ballot cards from across Harris County arrived at central count just before 9:30 p.m., where election judges and poll watchers waited to see the vote count in action.

Dr. Diane Trautman said she had hoped to have votes come in from 10 countywide drop-off locations, fed in through a secured intranet site, leading to faster results on election night.

Instead, Secretary Ruth R. Hughs ordered on Oct. 23 that law enforcement officers would instead escort the ballot box memory cards from each of the 757 polling sites to the central counting station.

That change, made nearly two weeks before Election Day, led to a major delay that left voters wondering for hours how races up and down ballot would turn out.

Early election results trickled in shortly after 7 p.m., but remained virtually unchanged for hours Tuesday.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about that order. I don’t know what was behind it, but it sure did gum things up. In the end, final results were not available till quite late, with no more partial results after midnight because producing those was slowing down the input process. Here’s the later statement on when results would be expected. Suffice to say, this was a mess, and no one is happy about it all. Expect there to be an extended fight between the County Clerk and SOS offices.

Anyway. I’m still groggy from a late night, so I’m going to hit the highlights, and we’ll get final results later. Here we go.

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a wide lead over Tony Buzbee in limited early returns late Tuesday and was within striking distance of an outright re-election win, though it was unclear at press time if he would secure enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer, jumped out to an early second-place lead that he appeared likely to retain over Bill King, an attorney and businessman who narrowly lost a 2015 runoff to Turner but struggled this time to compete financially with Buzbee, his main rival for conservative votes.

With a small share of Election Day precincts reporting, Turner remained a shade under the majority vote share he would need to avoid a December runoff against Buzbee.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who competed with Turner for the support of Democratic and black voters, trailed in fourth place, while former councilwoman Sue Lovell was further behind in fifth. Seven other candidates combined for the remaining share of the vote.

Adding in the Fort Bend results, and we get the following:


Turner     63,359  47.28%
Buzbee     39,361  29.37%
King       17,878  13.34%
Boykins     7,848   5.86%
Lovell      1,433   1.07%
The Rest    4,121   3.08%

Three things to think about: One, Turner has at this point more votes than Buzbee and King combined, so if we do go to a runoff that’s not a bad position to start with. Two, the Election Day results reported so far came mostly from Districts A, C, E, and G, so they would be more favorable to Buzbee and King than the city as a whole. And three, the election polling was pretty accurate, especially at pegging the support levels for Boykins and Lovell.

Oh, and a fourth thing: Tony Buzbee’s drunken Election Night speech. Yowza.

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

It’s Brown 62,297 and Sanchez 54,864 adding in Fort Bend, and again with mostly Republican votes from yesterday (Sanchez led the Election Day tally by about 1,700 votes). Barring a big surprise, Brown has won.

City Council: Most incumbents have big leads, and there’s gonna be a lot of runoffs. To sum up:

District A: Amy Peck has 44.3%, George Zoes 16.8%
District B: Tarsha Jackson 21.0%, Renee Jefferson Smith 15.1%, Cynthia Bailey 13.7%, Alvin Byrd 10.7%
District C: Abbie Kamin 30.8%, Shelley Kennedy 15.8%, Greg Meyers 14.4%, Mary Jane Smith 14.0%
District D: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz 19.0%, Carla Brailey 12.3%, Brad Jordan 11.9%, Rashad Cave 11.4%, Jerome Provost 10.4%, Andrew Burks 10.3%
District E: Dave Martin easily wins
District F: Tiffany Thomas 39%, Van Huynh 24%, Richard Nguyen 18%
District G: Greg Travis easily wins
District H: Karla Cisneros 38.9%, Isabel Longoria 27.5%, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla 24.0%
District I: Robert Gallegos easily wins
District J: Edward Pollard 32.4%, Sandra Rodriguez 26.4%, Barry Curtis 19.7%
District K: MArtha Castex-Tatum easily wins

At Large #1: Mike Knox 38.1%, Raj Salhotra 21.1%, Yolanda Navarro Flores 16.3%, Georgia Provost 14.7%
At Large #2: Davis Robinson 38.9%, Willie Davis 28.8%, Emily DeToto 18.8%
At Large #3: Michael Kubosh 50.8%, Janaeya Carmouche 20.6%
At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino 22.9%, Letitia Plummer 16.4%, Nick Hellyar 12.8%, Ericka McCrutcheon 11.3%, Bill Baldwin 10.5%
At Large #5: Sallie Alcorn 23.2%, Eric Dick 22.0%, no one else above 10

Some of the runoff positions are still very much up in the air. Michael Kubosh may or may not win outright – he was only at 46% on Election Day. Name recognition worth a lot (Dolcefino, Dick) but not everything (both Provosts, Burks). Not much else to say but stay tuned.

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

Dani Hernandez leads Sergio Lira 62-38, Judith Cruz leads Diana Davila 64-36. Kathy Blueford Daniels is close to fifty percent in II but will likely be in a runoff with John Curtis Gibbs. Patricia Allen, Reagan Flowers, and Matt Barnes in that order are in a tight battle in IV.

HCC: No story link on the Chron front page. Monica Flores Richart leads the execrable Dave Wilson 47-34 in HCC1, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads with 45% in HCC2 with Kathy Lynch-Gunter at 26%, and Cynthia Lenton-Gary won HCC7 unopposed.

Metro: Headed to easy passage, with about 68% so far.

That’s all I got for now. Come back later for more.

2019 election results: State

Nine out of ten Constitutional amendments are on their way to passing.

Amendments to the state constitution that would make it harder to enact a state income tax, stabilize funding for state parks and allow retired law enforcement animals to be adopted by their handlers received wide support from voters Tuesday.

Supporters of one of the most contentious issues on the ballot — Proposition 4 — proclaimed victory within hours of the polls closing, with about three fourths of voters supporting the proposal in early voting returns.

[…]

The only item on the ballot that looked as though it might not pass was Proposition 1, which would permit elected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same times. With votes still being counted late Tuesday, returns indicated that it had received just over one-third of the vote.

The other propositions were poised to pass easily. Proposition 5 would stabilize funding for state parks and received overwhelming support. The proposition allows money accumulated from existing sales tax on sporting goods to be used for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission. Current law allows the Legislature to allocate that money however they see fit.

Proposition 10, which had the highest level of support, amends the state constitution to allow retired service animals, such as dogs or horses, to be adopted by their handlers or other qualified caretakers. These animals are currently classified as surplus property or salvage and can be “auctioned, donated or destroyed.”

Prop 4 is terrible, but that usually doesn’t stop us. I just hope it’s not as bad as I fear it may be.

Meanwhile, in Fort Bend:

Eliz Markowitz

A Democrat and a Republican were leading in unofficial returns Tuesday night in a nationally targeted special election for a historically Republican Texas House seat.

Democrat Eliz Markowitz — the only Democrat in the race — was in first place, while Republican Gary Gates was in second, according to unofficial returns. The race will head to a runoff if no candidate gets over 50%.

Gates was one of three serious GOP candidates out of six total. The two other viable Republicans in the race, Tricia Krenek and Anna Allred, were third and fourth, respectively. Allred appeared to concede at about 10:30 p.m., saying she was “disappointed with the results” but “pleased with our campaign.”

The race for House District 28 — where former state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, stepped down at the end of September — was one of three contests Tuesday to fill state House seats. The two others happened in solidly Democratic districts where runoffs were also looking likely, based on the early vote and initial Election Day results.

In House District 100, where former Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, vacated his seat earlier this year after becoming Dallas mayor, Democrat Lorraine Birabil had a wide lead over three Democratic rivals but had not clinched more than half the vote. James Armstrong III, Daniel Davis Clayton and Sandra Crenshaw were in a close race for second place and a spot in an expected runoff.

Here are the results from Fort Bend County for HD28, and Dallas County for HD100. The SOS election night results webpage is bizarre and not up to date, so skip it for now.

Markowitz got 39.1% of the vote, with Gates getting 28.5%, Tricia Krenek 18.1%, and Anna Allred 9.3%. While I expect Republicans to unite for the runoff, I can’t help but feel that Gates was their third best choice in this race. His main asset is that he’s loaded and willing to spend on himself, which I figure helped him in this race. How much he’ll excite voters as that kind of candidate in December is the question. I feel very certain he won’t have a clear path to the GOP nomination in the March primary. Here’s the Chron story on this race.

I’m saving the HD148 race for last, because of the delay in Harris County results (see here for why that happened.) As of 5 AM, we still didn’t have full results. The best I can tell you at this time is this:


Eastman     1,870  17.87%
La Rotta    1,818  17.37%
McConnico   1,266  12.10%
Garcia      1,261  12.05%
Leal          904   8.64%
Shaw          853   8.15%
Watt          667   6.37%
Camarena      473   4.52%
Carmona       433   4.14%
Block         311   2.97%
Nunez         185   1.77%
Denson        165   1.58%
Trevino       140   1.34%
Mundy          71   0.68%
Isaacson       49   0.47%

There’s still a lot of votes out as of this post, so things can change quite a bit. My initial speculation that some people may vote for Adrian Garcia based on the belief that he’s the County Commissioner appears to have had some validity. Beyond that, we’re just going to need to wait and see what the final tally says. Note that the total Republican vote is 34% – Ryan McConnico got 32% against Jessica Farrar a year ago. Put a pin in this one, we’ll come back to it. Oh, and as with the Republicans in HD28, I don’t think Anna Eastman (assuming nothing weird happens between now and the final count) will have a clear path in March, either.

Expecting a runoff in HD28

Seems like the probable outcome.

Eliz Markowitz

Six figures of outside money, warnings of socialism, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi — and it likely will not end Tuesday.

Both sides in the critical special election to replace state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, are preparing for the race to go to a runoff — and at that point, the partisan choice will crystallize and the race will draw even more attention and drama with it. Most expect the overtime round to feature the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, and one of three serious GOP contenders out of six total.

Blessed with a single candidate, state and national Democrats have rushed to Markowitz’s aid, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race as a parade of surrogates has descended on the suburban Houston district. At stake is an enticing prize: control of a traditionally red seat as Democrats charge into 2020 with their sights set on the House majority.

“It’s definitely a changing landscape, and I don’t think they’re gonna turn it blue, but they are certainly giving us a run for our money,” Republican hopeful Anna Allred said in an interview Friday.

Democrats acknowledge a runoff is likely but are not giving up hope on an outright win Tuesday. Cynthia Ginyard, chairwoman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, said she anticipates a runoff, “but we want more — we want to avoid a runoff, and we’re working feverishly.”

Twelve days of early voting ended Friday, and Republicans closed out the period feeling good about turnout. One GOP analysis found that 54% of early voters were Republicans, 23% were Democrats and 23% were Independents.

Still, the GOP vote remains significantly split, and it is unclear which of the three Republican candidates will end up in the anticipated runoff with Markowitz, a Katy educator who unsuccessfully ran last year for the State Board of Education. In addition to Allred, an anesthesiologist from Katy, the viable Republicans in the race are Gary Gates, a self-funding perennial candidate, and Tricia Krenek, a former member of the Fulshear City Council.

Without knowing who did that “GOP analysis” or what methodology they used, I can’t really evaluate it. How split the Republican vote is only matters if Markowitz doesn’t clear fifty percent. (We are all assuming none of the R candidates can get to fifty percent.) On the very reasonable assumption she will get enough of the vote to be in the top two, then it’s just a question of who’s there with her. I’d expect Republicans to be united behind whoever that is, and I’d expect this race to be very much on the national radar. It already is to some extent, but with basically no other races out there it’d be the late 2019 version of GA-06, with Markowitz in the Jon Ossoff role, hopefully with a better ending. If you live in HD28 or know someone who does, make sure you or they get out and vote, and be prepared to do it again in a month.

Dan Patrick’s budget destruction

It’s not what you think it is, but it’s still bad.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Texas state government, an arcane team of 100 or so budget nerds has led a private, if stressful, life — running financial models, ensuring state government and its private contractors aren’t spending beyond their means, and keeping lawmakers informed about each line item in the state’s 1,000-page, $250 billion two-year budget.

But these days, interviews with current and former budget agency staff indicate the emptying halls of their downtown Austin office feel more like the setting of an Agatha Christie novel.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board, created in 1949 to support full-time experts who track fiscal issues for the state’s part-time Legislature, provides the analysis on which the state bases its budget calculations — for example, how much money it costs to pay public school teachers or to fund hospital beds for people in mental health crisis.

It’s up to state lawmakers to set spending priorities, but legislators say their ability to make funding decisions is only as good as the information they receive from the experts.

“The LBB provided invaluable, unbiased information, which is critical to the development of the state budget,” former state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

The quality of that information may be in jeopardy; the agency is moldering as a quiet war erupts between its two masters.

State law names the lieutenant governor and House speaker as co-chairs of the 10-member board, which is supposed to jointly appoint an executive director to lead the agency. Last year, for the first time in nearly 70 years, that failed to happen; by Halloween, the agency will have been headless for a year.

Veteran employees have departed in droves with no one to replace them, leaving behind a trail of vacant offices and a dearth of institutional knowledge. Staff size has fallen 26% since 2015 — from 146 to 108 employees — and four of the agency’s five executive leadership positions will soon be unfilled. The agency’s lone remaining executive told a tearful staff last week that he, too, intends to resign.

Now, with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announcing he will not run for reelection next year amid a scandal that has shaken the entire lower chamber, the board finds itself in its most precarious position yet.

Interviews with more than a dozen budget agency staff, Capitol staff and state lawmakers — who requested anonymity to discuss private board deliberations — indicate that the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has wielded a kind of veto power over the board to keep the agency undermanned and under fire.

They contend that his motive is to remake the agency to give the Senate more direct control over the number-crunchers; the current group of nonpartisan bureaucrats has produced analyses that at times conflicted with the lieutenant governor’s political messaging.

Basically, this is an attack on expertise and data. Dan Patrick doesn’t want accurate and objective facts about revenue and fiscal notes and what have you. They don’t serve his purposes. He wants minions who will tell him what he wants to hear so he can use it as a cudgel. If he can starve the LBB to death, maybe the end result (as the story suggests) would be two separate budget agencies, one for the House and one for the Senate, which would be under the control of the Lite Governor. Patrick is on the leading edge here – Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson had similarly nice things to say about the LBB as outgoing House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas did – but where Dan Patrick goes, other Republicans tend to follow. The longer he gets to press this attack, the greater the odds he’ll eventually get what he wants. Do I need to add that this is yet another reason why we need a Democratic House and a Democratic Speaker in 2021?

Every Speaker’s race is unique

The one to come has a more uncertain outcome than the last few we’ve seen.

Found on the Twitters

The current party mix is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. Republicans hope to hold their advantage after the 2020 elections, while Democrats, encouraged by their 12-seat gain in 2018, hope to win back the majority they lost in 2002.

The next race for speaker, a certainty with Bonnen’s announcement that he won’t seek reelection, probably won’t happen quickly — unless Bonnen can be persuaded to leave office earlier than January 2021 to allow a faster switch to new management.

Why? If the House majority isn’t overwhelming — in either party’s favor — it will probably take a coalition to replace Bonnen. A Republican speaker will need some Democratic votes to win; a Democrat, some Republicans. And until they know what the mix will be, uncertainty will prevent most state representatives from committing to any speaker candidate.

[…]

The list of people who might succeed Bonnen probably starts with the list of people he beat last time in a race that started slow, percolated for about a year, and then sprinted to a close. Straus announced in October 2017 that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term. A couple of aspirants announced quickly, and more trickled in as the year went on — especially after the primary elections were over.

But nobody could put together 76 votes. Bonnen, who had demurred when he was first mentioned as a candidate, became a late entry. Within a matter of days after the 2018 general election, he had the votes he needed.

And a year later, the House is back where it was two years ago, looking for new leadership with a tough election ahead, doing the preparatory work for a redistricting session with high political stakes, a huge budget to write and other big issues to confront.

And no strong incentive to hurry.

In early September of 2018 there were seven candidates for Speaker, six Republicans and one Dem. Two of them – Republican John Zerwas and Democrat Eric Johnson – are no longer in the Lege, while the others are in safe seats. Seems like those five would be in the mix, but there would be plenty of others, including who knows how many Dems. Bonnen got in as Zerwas got out just before the 2018 election, and he was the clear choice shortly thereafter. My guess is that while there are a lot of members who can envision themselves as Speaker right now, they’re mostly going to keep it on the down low until after the election, when it will at least be known which party will have the numerical advantage. After that, it will all be about counting votes. We may not know who the Speaker will be until the start of the session. The potential for excitement, and some bruised feelings, is quite high.

The next bathroom bill

You can see it coming from here.

The Texas House LGBTQ Caucus is counting on Democrats flipping the Republican-held House to keep another possible ‘bathroom bill’ off the table during the 2021 legislative session.

Texas Republicans last week rallied around a child custody case of a Dallas 7-year-old whose mother says is transgender, pledging to intervene against children’s gender transition. Members of the caucus, who fought the controversial “Chick-fil-A bill”, said flipping the House will be key to winning the brewing battle over the care of transgender children.

“The only way we’re going to avoid that is by flipping the House,” Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said at a caucus town hall at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. “We are nine seats away from controlling the flow of legislation in the House so that we don’t feed that beast anymore.”

[…]

Rep. Julie Johnson, a freshman Dallas Democrat, said the government has no right to intervene in the “personal decision” for children to transition. The child lives in Johnson’s district.

She agreed that winning the House is the best strategy to combat bills such as the one promised by Rep. Matt Krause to ban puberty blockers for children to transition. Johnson noted that the Fort Worth Republican also authored the “Chick-fil-A bill” banning governments from taking “adverse action” against someone based on affiliation to a religious organization.

LGBTQ advocates say the law, which gained traction after San Antonio’s city council booted Chick-fil-A from its airport for its donations to Christian organizations that oppose expanding LGBTQ rights, gives a license to discriminate.

“He’s going to be filing those bills, so hopefully if Democrats are in charge those bills won’t get a hearing,” Johnson said.

See here for the background. I agree with Reps. Israel and Johnson, and I daresay Republicans also believe that whether a bill targeting trans kids gets a House hearing or not depends very much on which party has a majority. There’s not really anything else to say at this time, so let me encourage you to read this Twitter thread, and reflect on the fact that Greg Abbott et al would consider that man to be an abusive parent.

Lawsuit filed over bill banning temporary voting locations

Of interest.

Worried about the suppression of young voters in 2020, national and Texas Democrats are suing the state over a newly implemented election measure that’s triggered the shuttering of early voting places, including on college campuses, in various parts of the state.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Austin, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the Democratic campaign arms for the U.S. House and Senate — alleges that the state’s move to effectively end the use of what were known as temporary or mobile early voting sites is unconstitutional because it discriminates against young voters by shrinking their access to the ballot box.

Republican lawmakers pushed the law, introduced during the last legislative session as House Bill 1888, to curb what they saw as abuse in school bond elections by requiring voting sites to remain open for all 12 days of early voting. Despite warnings from local election officials, HB 1888 was crafted broadly enough to outlaw the long-established practice of moving polling places during the early voting period to reach as many voters as possible near where they live, work or go to school.

As a result, both young and rural voters are losing access to early voting sites that were legitimately used to offer a day or two of early voting to places in places where it wasn’t practical or cost-efficient to maintain a site open for all of early voting.

“HB 1888 now mandates that, based on where they live, some voters will enjoy the same consistent access to early voting they had previously, but voters who live near now defunct temporary voting sites, especially young voters, will suffer reduced or eliminated access to the franchise,” the Democrats claimed in the lawsuit.

Citing violations of the First, 14th and 26th Amendments, the Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from implementing HB 1888.

See this Observer story and this earlier Trib story for the background. I mentioned this new law, along with a link to the Observer story, in a post that was more about the likely effects of no straight ticket voting. I’m always happy to see a pro-voting rights lawsuit, and I have zero doubt that the intent of this law was primarily to make it harder for students to vote, but I’m just not going to be optimistic about any voting rights litigation in federal court at this time. The Fifth Circuit, and SCOTUS if it comes to that, are just too hostile to voting rights. We are just going to have to add this to the ever-growing to do list for the next Democratic government in Texas, however long that may take. Yes, yes, I Am Not A Lawyer, and maybe this is a slam dunk case. It’s not the law or the Constitution I’m evaluating here, it’s the courts and the justices. Believe me, I wish I could be more optimistic and less cynical about this, but not on this kind of case. A statement from the TDP about the lawsuit is here.

8 Day Finance Reports: Special legislative elections

As I said yesterday, I’m not going to go through all of the city of Houston 8 day finance reports. I will however present the 8 day reports from the two area legislative special elections, as those races had such compressed time frames for raising money, as well as the large amounts of money being spent in the HD28 race. So, with that preamble, let’s have a look.

HD148

Michele Leal
Anna Eastman
Rob Block
Chris Watt
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Penny Shaw
Carol Denson
Adrian P. Garcia
Alva Trevino (30 day)
Lui La Rotta
Mia Mundy
Terah Isaacson
Chris Carmona
Ryan McConnico (30 day)


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
148   Leal             46,440    120,293        0     23,396
148   Eastman          56,926     60,224        0     15,258
148   Block             3,535     24,210        0      9,369
148   Watt             33,525     53,903        0      7,467
148   Camarena         64,734     27,816   10,000      7,868
148   Shaw              7,967      7,163   34,000      5,576
148   Denson            3,710      6,633    1,000      1,861
148   Garcia            5,400          0        0      5,400
148   Trevino           
148   La Rotta          5,821      4,221        0      5,032
148   Mundy             2,101      1,278        0      2,116
148   Isaacson          1,750      2,000        0      3,555
148   Carmona               0      3,708   10,000     10,830
148   McConnico           

Anna Nunez still has no finance reports filed. Alva Trevino’s most recent report showing was her 30 day report. All of Ryan McConnico’s reports claimed to be his January 2020 semi-annual, which I’m pretty sure was a screwup in the system, but be that as it may I didn’t see a report that covered the appropriate dates for an 8 day. About $40K of Kendra Yarbrough Camarena’s contributions were in kind, mostly listed as block-walking by labor groups. Not sure how you put a number on that, but there it is. Michele Leal is by far the biggest spender, though Anna Eastman and Chris Watt are both there as well. No one is squirreling anything away for the runoff, which makes sense since no one can feel comfortable about making the runoff. The funders who are keeping their powder dry will be there when we’re down to two candidates.

HD28

Eliz Markowitz

Anna Allred (PAC)
Gary Gates
Gary Hale
Tricia Krenek
Sarah Laningham (30 day)
Clinton Purnell (30 day)


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent      Loans    On Hand
==============================================================
28    Markowitz       294,006    190,272          0    167,552
28    Allred           66,290    103,763     20,000     22,918
28    Gates               500    554,728  1,066,100     27,986
28    Hale                343     11,755      1,000      1,452
28    Krenek           54,724    204,991    210,000     10,432
28    Laningham           
28    Purnell               

Neither Sarah Laningham nor Clinton Purnell had 8 day reports; neither had raised anythng before now, so not really a big deal. Gary Gates broke my formatting – I’d never had to make enough column space for a million-dollar loan before now. Whatever the outcome, no one can say Eliz Markowitz didn’t have the resources to compete. That also ups the pressure, but that’s life in the big leagues. She has some cash in reserve in case there is a runoff, but I think it’s clear that there will be plenty of money available no matter what.

Chron overview of the HD28 special election

As they did with HD148, the Chron does brief profiles of the candidates in the HD28 special election. I think we have a pretty good impression of Democrat Eliz Markowitz, who has consolidated support from the various establishment groups, so let’s take a look at the three relevant Republicans, any of which may end up in a runoff with Markowitz.

Anna Allred, Republican

Age: 39

Occupation: Anesthesiologist

Education: Vanderbilt University, fellowship in critical care; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, residency in General Surgery and Anesthesiology; M.D, University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio; bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Texas A&M University

Political experience: Medical advocacy with the Texas Medical Association through involvement with committees, Political Action Committees and developing relationships with legislators. Completed the Texas Medical Association’s Affordable Care Leadership College, graduated valedictorian of the Texas Medical Association’s Leadership College and completed the American Society of Anesthesia Research elective in Political Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Civic engagement: Committee member and alternate delegate, American Society of Anesthesiologists; committee member and delegate, Texas Society of Anesthesiologists; former delegate, Texas Medical Association

Endorsements: None listed

Total raised: $158,570

Gary Gates, Republican

Age: 60

Occupation: Real estate

Education: Two-year degree, Claremore Junior College

Political experience: No prior office held. Ran for the Railroad Commission in 2016 and Senate District 18 in 2014.

Civic engagement: Lifetime member, Fort Bend County Fair

Endorsements: Former Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright and John Healy, former Fort Bend County District Attorney.

Total raised: Loaned himself more than $820,000 to fund campaign; raised $265 in donations.

Tricia Krenek, Republican

Age: 41

Occupation: Attorney, small business owner, wife, mother

Education: BBA and MBA in accounting, University of St. Thomas; law degree, University of Houston Law Center; undergraduate study abroad, University of Reading in England and the University of Innsbruck in Austria under U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Certified mediator through the A. A. White Institute.

Political experience: Served as Mayor Pro Tem for two terms on the Fulshear City Council, 2014-2018. Ran for Fort Bend County Court At Law Number 3 in 2018, winning the Republican primary and losing in the general election.

Civic engagement: Precinct chair, Fort Bend Republican Party. Member of Republican Women’s Clubs. Volunteered with: the Fulshear Police Foundation; Family Hope; American Red Cross; Fort Bend Recovers; Keep Fulshear Beautiful; and Texas Right to Life. Member of the State Bar of Texas, College of the State Bar, Fort Bend County Bar Association, Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Katy Lady Lawyers Society. President-elect of the Brazos River Rotary Club.

Endorsements: Associated Republicans of Texas, Texas Right to Life PAC, Greater Houston Builders Association (HOME-PAC). Endorsed by over 70 local community leaders and elected officials, and 23 local Republican Party precinct Chairs.

Total raised: $30,058

I skipped the stuff they wrote about why they’re running and what they bring to the table, as it’s likely not anything that isn’t on their websites. As we saw with the 30 day finance reports, none of the other three raised any money, and are unlikely to be a factor in the race. Allred raised a bunch of money, mostly from various medical groups and PACs, while Krenek also loaned herself $150K. There’s not much beyond the constitutional amendments pushing people to the polls – unlike HD148, which is affected by the Houston and HISD races as well as the Metro referendum – so it’s entirely a turnout affair. Whoever can get enough of their own supporters to the polls will make it to a runoff, which is why finances really matter. Krenek and Allred seem like the more well-rounded candidates, with Krenek having actual experience in government, but Gates has been on ballots before and has a ton of money, so you can’t count him out. If you live in HD28, what’s your impression of this race? Leave a comment and let us know.

Warren’s interest in boosting Texas Dems

I heartily approve of this.

Elizabeth Warren

As Elizabeth Warren climbs the polls — threatening Joe Biden’s lead in the Democratic primary — her campaign is turning its attention to Texas, a state she called home for a decade and a place her campaign has deemed the “future of our party.”

Warren announced this week she’s soon to dispatch staff to Texas, and her campaign manager says her commitment to the state includes pouring money into down-ballot races here, part of a broader national strategy to help candidates in other races.

“We’re targeting our resources to invest in places that will be critical to keeping the House, taking back the U.S. Senate, and regaining ground in key state legislatures in 2020,” Roger Lau, Warren’s campaign manager, wrote in a strategy memo this week. And he vowed that the campaign is “continuing to build the future of our party by investing in states like Texas.”

The memo comes as Warren rises in the polls, surpassing Biden to take the front-runner spot in several, including a Quinnipiac University poll released this week that showed Warren with a lead of 2 percentage points over the former vice president.

It’s also the latest example of national Democrats paying serious attention to a state they long saw as a Republican stronghold beyond their reach. The party picked Houston to host a presidential debate earlier this month. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has opened an office with senior staff in Austin and has operatives working in the half-dozen GOP-held congressional districts they’re targeting for the 2020 election. And the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a Washington entity headed by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has said it plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in hopes of seizing the nine seats that Democrats need to take back the Texas House.

Warren’s campaign manager summed up the effort: “If we want to make big, structural change, we need to make sure Democrats control the U.S. House and Senate and win important gubernatorial and state legislative races across the country.”

That was from a couple of weeks ago; I forgot I had it in my drafts. We don’t know what the shape of this effort will be, but so far Team Warren is saying all the things I’d want a Democratic frontrunner to say. She has already endorsed in the CD28 primary, which is either bold or meddling, depending on one’s perspective. This is a different type and level of commitment, and it won’t be clear what it means till some time next year. I’ve said before that putting real resources in Texas is a must-have for me in a Presidential candidate. This is a good example of what I’m talking about. Well done.

Chron overview of HD148

So many candidates, so little time to get to campaign.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Voters in the reliably blue, Houston-area Texas House District 148 will have plenty of candidates to choose from to replace the recently retired Democratic incumbent.

After longtime State Rep. Jessica Farrar retired at the end of last month, a dozen Democrats, 2 Republicans and one independent entered the race to replace her in the majority Hispanic district.

With so many candidates, the Nov. 5 election is likely to head to a runoff. Early voting begins Monday.

In interviews, Democrats in the race indicated they support red flag laws and universal background checks on gun sales, and pledged to find longterm funding to sustain increased education spending in the current budget. Just one of two Republicans in the race were available for comment for this story.

You can read on to get a very brief look at nearly all of the candidates, As before, my interviews with ten of these candidates can be found here, and a look at their 30 day finance reports is here. I note that this story counts the number of candidates to be 15, while the editorial board had it at 14. I think we can conclude now that was a goof.

No charges against Bonnen

No surprise.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will not be criminally prosecuted for the things he said during a secretly recorded June meeting with a hardline conservative activist, the district attorney in his hometown announced Thursday.

“As repugnant as Speaker Bonnen’s actions and statements are,” Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said in a statement, “I do not believe there is sufficient evidence from the June 12, 2019 meeting to warrant a criminal prosecution of Speaker Bonnen for Bribery or Solicitation of a Gift by a Public Servant, therefore no criminal charges will be brought.”

[…]

A spokesperson for Bonnen said Yenne’s decision “deflates Michael Quinn Sullivan’s entire reason for going public three months ago — that, according to him, the Speaker solicited a bribe and broke the law.”

“Unfortunately, we now live in a political climate where one is guilty until proven innocent, and not only has that thrown the ability of Republicans to hold onto our House majority into jeopardy, it sets a dangerous precedent moving forward,” Cait Meisenheimer, the speaker’s press secretary, said in a statement. “While justice prevailed today, unfortunately, the damage has been done.”

See here, here, and here for the background. This was the conclusion of the Texas Rangers investigation – their report was submitted to DA Yenne earlier this week, according to the story. There wasn’t anything in the tape to suggest criminal activity, just deep stupidity, for which Bonnen will leave the Legislature and Yenne chewed him out. All things considered, I’ve got no gripes about how this turned out.

Still more Bonnen business

I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be obsessing over the Bonnen implosion, but we’re not done yet. Today’s topic is What It All Means for 2020.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

“The quarterback and coach have been taken off the field,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Republican lobbyist. “It’s short notice, it’s a big leadership change, and they don’t have a lot of time. It’s problematic for Republicans.”

One of the more obvious questions is what happens to Texas Leads, the political action committee that Bonnen unveiled in July to help keep the majority — and touted in his conversation with Sullivan. Bonnen started the group with $3 million transferred from his own campaign, which saw a seven-figure flood of donations after he emerged late last year as the likely next speaker. Bonnen promised an “ongoing commitment” to the PAC, though its first campaign finance report is not due until January, so it is unclear how much more he raised since the PAC’s July launch.

In any case, the money now carries the stain of Bonnen’s scandal — “I don’t see how any of us could take any money from him,” recently remarked a member targeted in the Sullivan recording — and likely would only make a race more complicated. Still, Democrats are not taking any chances.

“I can give you 3 million reasons why Democrats are not gonna let their guard down going the 2020 election cycle,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who Bonnen referenced in the recording while talking about his rule against member-versus-member campaigning. “Speaker Bonnen’s announcement is by no way a message that Democrats can take the day off. We have a lot of work to do.”

[…]

In addition to the fate of Texas Leads, uncertainty abounds about Bonnen’s end-of-session threat of consequences for members who campaign against other members. Bonnen’s edict was already undermined by comments he made in the recording, but his decision to not seek reelection only further invalidated his self-appointed role as political disciplinarian.

“I don’t think that Speaker Bonnen — and we heard it on the tape — I don’t think he ever was sincere about that edict,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, which works to elect Democratic women at the state level who support abortion rights.

Brooks and other Democrats involved in House races said Tuesday it was full steam ahead regardless of Bonnen’s political standing throughout the rest of the cycle. For Annie’s List, that means following through on its plan to have female nominees in at least 20 of the 29 seats that it believes are in play.

See here for the previous update. Honestly, I think the main effect of the Bonnen affair will be to depress and disorganize Republicans by at least a little bit. The ten Republicans who were targeted by Bonnen have every reason to be pissed off, and in being pissed off pull back a bit from being a team player in favor of focusing on themselves. Is that a difference-maker at a state level, or in the most hotly contested districts? Probably not. But it won’t help them, and this year they need all the help they can get. On the other hand, it clarifies things greatly for Democrats, and puts focus on the goal of winning the House. I’d say there was already clarity and focus in abundance, but a little more can’t hurt. It’s not much but it’s better for us than for them, and that’s good enough.

Bye bye, Bonnen

Wow.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 — completing a stunning fall for the Angleton Republican who enjoyed near unanimous support in the House just months earlier.

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans — a majority of the House GOP Caucus — that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.” (Bonnen’s own brother, Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, was among those on the list.)

[…]

Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.

With Bonnen’s exit, members will be jockeying among one another to become the next speaker. That election officially won’t happen until the next time the Legislature convenes, which is scheduled to happen in January 2021. In the meantime, if Bonnen remains in place until then, he can carry out typical interim duties, which include assigning issues for committees to study ahead of the next legislative session.

The race to replace Bonnen is coming ahead of a competitive election cycle for Republicans, who, after losing a dozen House seats to Democrats in 2018, are gearing up to hold onto their majority in the lower chamber. If Democrats were to flip nine seats and hold onto the dozen they picked up, they could be the party in power in the House and, consequentially, elect a member from their caucus to lead the lower chamber.

It’s unclear what role — if any — Bonnen will play in 2020 in helping to hold onto the GOP seats. In July before Sullivan’s allegations surfaced, Bonnen announced he had infused a new political action committee with $3 million to support House Republicans running for reelection. Since the speaker became engulfed with the drama though, some members have privately wondered whether Bonnen would be a help or hindrance to their fundraising efforts heading into the election cycle.

Shocking, but in retrospect not at all surprising. The day had started with this story about Republicans abandoning the Bonnen ship:

Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.

Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it. Even Dan Flynn of Van, who just days before had reiterated his support for Bonnen, said he could no longer support the speaker.

See here for the previous update. Clearly, things snowballed from there. Bonnen likely could have won re-election – HD25 is indeed a strong R district, where Ted Cruz got nearly 70% – as there were no big name primary challengers yet, but he was certainly toast as Speaker, and I guess he didn’t want to deal with life as a regular member again. I’d have had a hard time with that too, given all that has come out. I supported Bonnen as Speaker this year – he was hardly ideal from my perspective, but he was smart and was effective as Speaker pro tem. Dems did all right under him. I’m still shocked that he was dumb enough to trip over his own dick like this. Rick Casey summarizes it well in describing Bonnen’s ill-fated meeting with MQS as “almost criminally stupid – both tactically and strategically.” I don’t know what happens from here – obviously, Dems winning enough seats to put one of them at the podium would be best, but someone from the wingnut faction could end up on top as well – but at this point it’s hard to be sorry about what happened. Dennis Bonnen brought this on himself. He deserves what he’s getting. Good riddance. A statement from the TDP (which has also moved to dismiss its lawsuit over the recordings) is here, and Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Texas Signal, the Observer, and the Current have more.

The Chron on Boykins and Lovell

Time for more profiles of Mayoral candidates. Here’s the Chron piece on Dwight Boykins.

Dwight Boykins

“My goal is to use this position as mayor to let people know that there is hope,” [CM Dwight Boykins] said. “I’m trying to help the least and the last.”

His run was rumored long before he announced it in June after he had broken with Mayor Sylvester Turner, repeatedly criticizing and questioning his one-time ally’s ongoing feud with firefighters over pay parity issues. That outspokenness has won Boykins the union’s backing, and thousands of dollars in donations.

With Election Day less than a month away, Boykins does not pose a serious threat to Turner, who according to a recent poll leads his closest challenger, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, by 17 points. Boykins came in at fourth in the 12-person field, with 3.5 percent of the share of likely voters.

His “speak my mind” personality also has brought backlash: In July, he was criticized for telling teenage girls in a group of students at a youth advocacy summit to “keep their legs closed.” Boykins said he had been asked to “speak frankly” about the pitfalls for youth, including teen pregnancy.

In recent debates, though, Boykins’ voice largely has been drowned out as Buzbee, businessman Bill King and Turner increasingly trade barbs.

[…]

As mayor, Boykins wants to divert more money to parks and neighborhood programs, partner with outside groups for after-school tutoring programs, and increase police presence in the neighborhoods.

He also has promised to negotiate a contract between the city and its fire union within the first 60 days of his election, which he said would be financed in part by scrutinizing spending in other departments.

Yeah, I’m sure he’d like to do those things. Good luck figuring out how to pay for them, and as someone who’s been a part of multiple budget votes, I’m sure he knows that one can “scrutinize spending” all one wants, there won’t be any easy or significant savings to be found. Budget math aside, I said a long time ago that I would never support a candidate who opposed HERO, and Dwight Boykins voted against HERO on City Council. There’s not much else for me to say.

Next up is Sue Lovell.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell says Mayor Sylvester Turner got her fired by her largest consulting client, but that is not why she is running against him.

“I always wanted to run for mayor,” the former three-term at-large councilwoman said.

Lovell said she nearly ran in 2015, after then-mayor Annise Parker left office, but ultimately decided to pass.

This time around, she made the jump, saying she brings more credible experience at City Hall than any other candidate in the race.

During her six years on council, Lovell, 69, burnished a reputation as a candid and well-versed presence at City Hall, with a knack for gritty details and the bare knuckles to hold her own in a political fight. She forged those skills as an early and formative organizer with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Those City Hall and progressive bona fides, perhaps, could have made Lovell a formidable challenge to Turner’s reelection chances. After a late entry into the race, however, Lovell is fighting for relevance in a contest that also features the 2015 runner-up, a self-funded lawyer spending millions on the campaign and an incumbent council member.

The only independent poll of likely voters last month found Lovell languishing with less than 1 percent of the vote. Her fundraising numbers similarly were dwarfed by the top four hopefuls, which has convinced debate hosts recently to leave her off the stage. She also has failed to garner the support of influential organizations with whom she has ties, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus she once headed.

I have nothing but respect for Sue Lovell as a Council member, and unlike Boykins she’s on the right side of HERO. I can’t help but feel – and this is true of Boykins as well – that if it weren’t for the ridiculous firefighter pay parity fight, neither of them would be running for Mayor now. I can understand supporting Prop B, even if someone has carefully explained to you that there was no mechanism to pay for it, but that doesn’t mean I want such a person to be Mayor. Again, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

So now what with Bonnen?

Democrats will wait and see.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

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

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

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

Others were less measured.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Republicans use harsh language.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

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

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

Anna Eastman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbie Kamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Barnes

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

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

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

More on the Constitutional amendments

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

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

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Municipal Judges

  2. Assistance for Water Projects in Distressed Areas

  3. Tax Relief for Disaster Areas

  4. Personal Income Tax

  5. Sporting Goods Tax to Support State Parks

  6. Cancer Prevention & Research

  7. Funding Public Education

  8. Flood Control

  9. Tax Exemption of Precious Metals

  10. Law Enforcement Animals

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

Interview with Carol Denson

Carol Denson

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

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

So are there any legal consequences to the Bonnen tape?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about a civil case, though?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How other states are handling the Census

Better than we’re handling it.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

The Bonnen tape is out

It’s a doozy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the air in HD28

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

Eliz Markowitz

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Eyes on HD28

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

Eliz Markowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About how you’d expect.

Found on the Twitters

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

All the Legislative interviews

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

HD28

Eliz Markowitz

HD148

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

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

MQS says he will release the Bonnen tape

Well, well, well.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Interview with Adrian P. Garcia

Adrian P. Garcia

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

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