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Precinct analysis: How the 2022 Harris County State Rep candidates did versus the 2020 and 2018 results

I still don’t have a full canvass of Harris County, so I’m looking around to see what kind of analyses I can do in the meantime. For this post, I’m comparing how the candidates in the contested State Rep contests did against the 2020 and 2018 numbers that we saw in the redistricting reports. This isn’t my preferred kind of comparison – there are too many uncontested races, some “contested” races really aren’t because of poor candidate quality, incumbents tend to have a bit of an edge – but it’s what we’ve got for now. My impressions of the numbers for the new State Rep districts are here, and the Texas Legislative Council reports can be found here for 2020 and here for 2018. First up is 2020:


Dist   Biden   Trump   Hegar  Cornyn     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    31.6%   67.1%   30.6%   67.2%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.2%   56.2%   39.4%   58.0%   39.2%   60.8%
131    79.6%   19.5%   77.3%   19.9%   80.5%   19.5%
132    42.9%   55.6%   40.0%   57.6%   40.3%   59.7%
133    48.4%   50.3%   43.2%   54.9%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.5%   36.1%   56.6%   41.7%   61.6%   37.1%
135    59.9%   38.7%   57.5%   39.4%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.6%   52.0%   42.8%   55.0%   42.9%   57.1%
145    70.1%   28.3%   66.2%   30.8%   71.3%   28.7%
148    58.1%   40.5%   55.3%   41.7%   55.5%   42.6%
149    61.7%   37.2%   59.7%   37.5%   59.8%   37.7%
150    42.1%   56.5%   39.5%   57.9%   39.3%   60.7%

Biden generally outperformed the rest of the ticket by two or three points, more in some places like HDs 133 and 134. It’s clear he drew some crossover votes, so matching his performance is a sign of great strength. MJ Hegar was more of a typical Dem performer, and ideally a Dem in 2022 would do at least as well as she did. Note that most of the individual State Rep races were straight up D versus R, but in the cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, assume there was a third party candidate as well. Most Dems met the Hegar standard, with incumbent Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Christina Morales (HD145) outdoing even the Biden number. On the other side, HD133 GOP candidate Mano DeAyala easily stomped a Democrat whose existence even I didn’t know about.

On to 2018:


Dist    Beto    Cruz  Valdez  Abbott     Dem     Rep
====================================================
128    32.6%   66.8%   29.1%   69.7%   29.5%   70.5%
129    42.8%   56.3%   36.8%   61.5%   39.2%   60.8%
131    85.2%   14.3%   80.4%   18.5%   80.5%   19.5%
132    41.8%   57.5%   36.2%   62.3%   40.3%   59.7%
133    46.1%   53.1%   37.9%   60.3%   36.4%   61.4%
134    62.4%   36.8%   52.5%   45.3%   61.6%   37.1%
135    64.4%   35.0%   59.4%   39.2%   57.6%   42.4%
138    46.4%   52.8%   39.6%   58.7%   42.9%   57.1%
145    75.0%   24.1%   67.5%   30.4%   71.3%   28.7%
148    62.7%   37.5%   56.1%   42.4%   55.5%   42.6%
149    68.7%   30.6%   64.0%   34.8%   59.8%   37.7%
150    41.2%   58.1%   36.3%   62.4%   39.3%   60.7%

Beto and Valdez represented the top and bottom of the scale for Dems this year. It’s clear that Dems fell short of the 2018 standard this year, with the 2022 version of Beto being somewhat above the Valdez line. In general, Biden did about as well in most districts as Beto had done two years before, though there are exceptions, of which HDs 135 and 149 are the most interesting. I don’t want to read too much into any single number here – this was a year I’d classify as an underperforming one for Dems overall, though at a much higher baseline than we were used to for off years, and I’d expect better numbers in 2024. Dems have the same targets as before in HDs 132 and 138, while if I were the Republicans I’d take a closer look at what’s going on in 135 and 148. The actual me really wants to see the full canvass data to see how the broader ticket did in these districts. Let me know what you think.

DPS asks to be rewarded for its abject failure at Uvalde

I like to think that I don’t get easily shocked, but this did it to me.

The Texas Department of Public Safety wants $1.2 billion to turn its training center north of Austin into a full-time statewide law enforcement academy — starting with a state-of-the-art active-shooter facility that would need a nearly half-billion-dollar investment from Texas taxpayers next year.

“You play like you practice,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told budget officials last month. “You need to practice in a real environment.”

If approved, the requested $466.6 million “down payment,” as McCraw called it, in the state’s 2024-25 budget — which won’t be finalized until the middle of next year — would be the start of a six-year proposal to turn the nearly 200-acre Williamson County DPS Tactical Training Center complex in Florence into a Texas law enforcement academy for use by agencies across the state, he said.

The $1.2 billion project figure does not appear in the agency’s legislative appropriations request, which comes at a time when agencies are making their bids for a share of a historic state cash surplus in the next biennium — and against the backdrop of an emotional debate over what the state needs to do to prevent more mass killings.

A “state-of-the-art” active-shooter facility would be built with the first round of funding next year and could be used “right off the bat,” independent of the rest of the proposed upgrades, to immediately enhance active-shooter response by Texas law enforcement, McCraw said in a brief presentation before the Texas Legislative Budget Board on Oct. 4.

If fully funded over the next three budget cycles, the training academy would cost $1.2 billion and eventually include dormitories, a cafeteria and other elements, McCraw said.

“It’s a cost we recognize as a cost that can’t be borne in any one session. It takes time to build it,” McCraw said of the proposed academy.

He did not specify whether the center would charge fees for other law enforcement agencies to use the facility, if it would draw down any federal funding or what it would cost to run the center beyond the six-year construction budget.

DPS officials did not respond to repeated requests for a copy of the proposed plans for the active-shooter facility or the larger multiyear proposal for the academy, information about whether additional land purchases would be needed or the breakdown of the cost estimate for the upgrades.

The proposed active-shooter facility was part of a presentation made by McCraw to captains at the Texas Highway Patrol, an arm of the DPS, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Texas Tribune. The minutes said the facility would include the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program — an active-shooter response training system developed 20 years ago at Texas State University in San Marcos that has been the national standard for active-shooter training for a decade.

[…]

Pete Blair, executive director of the ALERRT center at Texas State, said his San Marcos facility is used for several types of first-responder training as well as active-shooter training on site.

Blair hasn’t seen the DPS plans for the proposed site but said a facility that would be considered state of the art might include reconfigurable walls, cameras and similar technological upgrades.

That’s the sort of technology that would be found at facilities like the federal Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility in Quantico, Virginia, which has 17 structures including a school scenario. Another of the nation’s top-tier facilities is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Glynco campus, a 1,600-acre facility near Brunswick, Georgia.

Most of the quarter-million first responders the Texas ALERRT center has worked with in the past two decades were trained somewhere besides the Texas State center in San Marcos, Blair said.

“I will say there is a need for training facilities across the state,” Blair said. “We’ve always had more demand than we have money to provide training. So every cycle, it’s been a situation of us having to put departments on the waitlist and say, ‘We’re coming to you, but it’s going to be a while.’”

Here’s my proposal for DPS active shooter training: A single PowerPoint slide that says “Don’t stand around with your thumb up your ass while kids are being murdered.” I can deliver that for a lot less than $1.2 billion, and the results can’t possibly be any worse than what we already had. The idea that we could turn mass shooter situations into a growth industry is just…I can’t. I’m going to go eat some pie. Reform Austin.

Yeah, the crypto lovers here are still all in

I mean, at least they’re consistent.

The crypto community in Austin was buzzing.

Hundreds of investors, legislators, professionals and enthusiasts packed the halls of the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center at the University of Texas on Nov. 17-18 for the Texas Blockchain Summit. For two days, there were discussions on everything from bitcoin mining to cryptocurrency regulations to blockchain innovations. But one thing was on everyone’s minds: the spectacular collapse earlier this month of major crypto exchange FTX and its billionaire CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, who was once the industry’s face in Washington and a Democratic megadonor who gave $1 million to Beto O’Rourke.

So when Lee Bratcher, president of nonprofit trade association Texas Blockchain Council, took the stage to open the summit on Thursday, he was quick to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

“The obstacles we face as an industry have just expanded significantly as a result of FTX’s incompetence and potentially fraudulent activity,” he said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Other community members who spoke to The Texas Tribune echoed the sentiment. For them, FTX’s implosion has been a huge setback for the industry, especially one that just experienced a market meltdown following the fall of another high-profile crypto venture in May. But while these events have burned and likely turned away many retail investors, the members say they will continue investing in the space because of their belief in the technology and philosophy behind crypto and blockchain. And Texas politicians attending the conference also remain bullish on an industry that the state has strongly courted.

[…]

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is a Bitcoin investor and a leading advocate for crypto, also reaffirmed his unwavering enthusiasm for the industry during his event at the summit on Friday. “I want Texas to be an oasis for Bitcoin and crypto,” he said.

Later on the same day, a bipartisan panel of state legislators — including Sens. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, and Royce West, D-Dallas, as well as Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and John H. Bucy III, D-Austin — similarly expressed their support for strengthening crypto’s presence in Texas. FTX’s bankruptcy, they said, should be viewed more as a lesson rather than a reason for doing away with the industry.

“Any conversation I’ve had in response to FTX, it’s been what do we do to make sure we’re not like them,” Bucy said. “It’s how do we have commonsense policies to protect people without stopping progress.” Bucy is vice chair to the executive committee of the Texas House’s Innovation & Technology Caucus. Capriglione is the committee chair.

“This is the oil boom of this generation,” Bucy added.

[…]

In Texas’ upcoming legislative session, Bratcher said the Texas Blockchain Council will be talking with its legislative partners to see if they want to enact stronger consumer protections. Meanwhile, ATX DAO members are soldiering on with their current work by looking for state legislators to champion a bill that would legalize decentralized autonomous organizations — entities without a central authority that depend on blockchain-based contracts that self-execute when preset conditions are met.

I wonder if Beto got that contribution in actual money or one of FTX’s shitcoins. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Let’s just say I’m not convinced by Rep. Bucy or his colleagues and leave it at that. As for decentralized autonomous organizations, I don’t have a kneejerk reaction based on the five seconds of reading I’ve done so far. I strongly suspect that those things are coming whether we like it or not. I also strongly suspect that whatever the right kind of laws are to govern them, we’re not going to get them in the first attempt. The lawyers who will be working in that space are going to get a lot of business in the near future. Beyond all that, we’ll see if anyone’s enthusiasm for this stuff dims at all when the next crypto failure occurs. Oh, and to Democratic candidates in Texas, please do have some standards for the currency in which your contributions are received. And be very careful about where you store anything that isn’t a US dollar.

Do we actually know how to fix the grid?

The evidence is unclear.

Texas lawmakers and experts who study the state’s power grid aren’t thrilled with a proposal by state energy officials aimed at preventing future widespread outages such as the one during the 2021 winter storm.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas last week unveiled a proposal, backed by Chair Peter Lake, that would essentially pay power generators to make sure they have enough reserve electricity to feed the state’s electrical grid in times of extremely high demand. Generators would receive “performance credits” after proving their ability to keep the lights on during those periods — a system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, according to the commission’s consultant.

In the days since, state legislators and energy experts have cast doubts on the proposal, which would cost power customers an additional $460 million yearly, according to the PUC’s estimate. They also questioned the plan’s complexity and the time it would take to implement such a novel system.

“There are huge reliability stakes and huge dollar stakes,” said Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC, which regulates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator. “We need certainty. But there are ways to create certainty without making potentially billion-dollar errors.”

The Texas Legislature last year ordered the commission to overhaul the state’s energy market, which functions mostly off of supply and demand, in the wake of the winter storm. Texas’ electrical grid nearly collapsed as ice and snow blanketed the state. Below-freezing temperatures caused the demand for electricity to surge, triggering widespread power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark without heat for several days. Hundreds of people died as a result.

Power suppliers were allowed to charge sky-high prices for energy as demand spiked during the storm — but frozen equipment meant that they couldn’t meet that demand.

During their first chance to weigh in on potential reforms to the market, lawmakers on a key Senate panel this week made it clear they’re not impressed with the commission’s main proposal.

“This plan is so convoluted, has a long timeline to be put into place, that it’s a set-up for failure for everybody,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, adding that the additional costs of the plan will ultimately be paid by power customers.

“The end loser is the end user,” Campbell said.

Senators expressed concerns about making the state’s power customers pay more for an untested system on top of paying off billions of dollars in costs incurred during the storm — costs that energy experts have said Texans will be paying off for decades.

“There was already a wealth transfer that we saw happen [during Uri], probably the largest in the state’s history,” state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said.

I’ve read this story and the Chron story about the same hearing a couple of times, and I’m still not really sure what was on the table here. Part of the reason for this is that PUC Chair Lake rejected the recommendations of the consulting firm they hired, which among other things called for requiring electric providers to buy “reliability credits” from power generators, the idea being that generators would commit in advance to provide enough power during periods of high demand. Given that this kind of robustness was cited as a key problem from last February it at least sounds like a decent starting point. If that’s not the plan, and we don’t care what FERC has to say, then where exactly are we? I don’t know, and it sounds like the Lege doesn’t either. Maybe we should do better about that? Just a thought. TPR has more.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

On comparing counties from 2018 to 2022

I started with this.

Voters in counties across Texas chose GOP leaders over Democrats at a higher rate than they did four years ago, a Dallas Morning News analysis shows.

The findings, based on data as of noon on Wednesday, reflect that an overwhelming number of counties — 205 out of 254 — favored Republicans. Those counties turned more Republican by an average of 2.87 percentage points, the data showed.

The analysis also showed urban areas are shifting toward Democrats, part of a continuing trend across the country.

All five North Texas counties experiencing population growth saw an uptick in the percentage of votes for Democrats, the analysis showed.

Collin County, a Republican stronghold anchored by suburban women, shifted its share of votes to Democrats by 4.45 percentage points compared to 2018, according to the analysis.

Tarrant County, another GOP-dominated region that has seen an increasing number of Democratic votes, increased support for Democrats by 3.04 percentage points; Dallas County, by 3.23 percentage points; Denton by 3.53; and Rockwall by 3.5, the analysis showed.

Political experts who reviewed The Dallas Morning News’ findings weren’t surprised by the shift. Though slow-moving, the changes can make an impact over the next decade, they said.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves in any way that the Democrats are about to take over,” said James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “At the same time, election coalitions are dynamic and what we’re seeing is the competitiveness of the two political parties in this area is becoming more apparent.”

This Trib story has more of the same. And it set me off to do the thing I usually do, which is put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and then try to make something interesting happen with them. If you were to do the same – copy county-by-county election results for the Governor’s races from 2018 and 2022 into Excel – you’d see what these stories say, which is that Beto generally did better than Lupe Valdez in the large urban and suburban counties, and generally did worse elsewhere. You’d also notice that the reverse is true, which is that Abbott did worse where Beto did better and vice versa. You might think this means something about maybe Dems closing the gap in some places, and maybe that’s true, but if so then you have to contend with the fact that the likes of Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton did better overall than they had done four years ago, and as such there’s a limit to this kind of analysis.

I got to that point and I just didn’t feel like putting more time into it. I’ll spend plenty of time looking at district-level numbers, to see how the assumptions of the 2021 redistricting have held up so far and where opportunities and dangers for 2024 might lurk. Much of that data won’t be available until after the next Legislative session begins, though some county data should be there after the votes are canvassed. But statewide, I think we already know what we might want to know, at least at a macro level. We Dems didn’t build on 2018. There’s nothing to suggest that the trends we saw over the last decade have reversed, but there was nothing to see this year to suggest that we have moved the ball any farther than it would have moved on its own. So I’m going to put my effort into places where I hope to find things to work for in the next election or two. I promise I’ll throw numbers at you in those posts.

Paxton taken off the hook for testifying in abortion funds’ lawsuit

By the Fifth Circuit, of course.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will not have to testify as nonprofits that help patients legally obtain abortions seek clarity on whether they can do their work in states like Texas where the procedure is outlawed, a federal appellate court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an Austin federal court judge should have granted Paxton’s motion to quash subpoenas he was served by the plaintiff abortion funds.

The subpoena made national headlines after Paxton evaded a legal messenger who had shown up at his house on the eve of a hearing in the case. Paxton later called the messenger “suspicious” and “erratic” and said he “justifiably feared for his personal safety.”

The abortion funds are suing the state for protection to resume their work amid the state’s newly enforced abortion bans. They have said Paxton’s testimony is necessary because he and his office have made conflicting statements about the legality of helping Texas residents legally obtain abortions in other states, and he is the only person who can clarify their meaning and intent.

“We are happy that Judge Pitman can move forward in the case now, and that the Fifth Circuit has acknowledged the real threats against our clients related to assisting people to access reproductive health care out of state,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a joint statement.

[…]

At first, the district court granted Paxton’s motions to quash the subpoenas; however, after more information came to light — Paxton had claimed he was served “on the literal eve of trial,” yet emails submitted to the court by the abortion funds’ lawyers showed he had at least four days notice — the judge changed course and ordered Paxton to testify.

The appellate judges disagreed with the lower court’s finding that there were “exceptional circumstances” requiring Paxton to testify.

“Paxton’s personal ‘thoughts and statements’ have no bearing on his office’s legal authority to enforce Texas’s abortion laws or any other law,” the panel wrote in the ruling. “It is entirely unexceptional for a public official to comment publicly about a matter of public concern. If doing so imparts unique knowledge, high-level officials will routinely have to testify.”

The panel also disagreed with the lower court’s contention that testifying would not cause a significant burden for Paxton.

“‘High ranking government officials have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses,'” they wrote, citing prior case law. “Those duties often involve communicating with the public on matters of public interest. The fact that a high-ranking official talks to his constituents does not ipso facto mean he also has ample free time for depositions.”

See here for the background. This is one of those times where I wish the story included a quote or two from an actual legal expert about the opinion. We all know how deeply in the tank for Paxton the Fifth Circuit is, but based on what is reported in the story, the ruling seems at least defensible. But the Fifth Circuit is so utterly corrupt that I can’t rely on my judgment here, and they deserve absolutely no benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to be a chump here, so I’d like to see someone who knows these things render an assessment. In the absence of that, all I have is my well-honed instinct to not trust that terrible court. And we’ll all have the Internet mockery of Ken Paxton for his pusillanimous efforts to evade the process server. Sometimes the snark is the most dependable thing out there.

Sen. Gutierrez begins his mission to be a pest about Uvalde

One of the things I’ll be watching this session.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio has pre-filed three bills ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that would reform state gun laws and set up a state fund to compensate victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

The two gun-related bills would establish high risk protective orders to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people and raise the age limit to buy any firearm from 18 to 21.

The other proposal would set up a $300 million fund for Uvalde victims and their families and waive legal immunity for state and local law enforcement who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting on May 24.

“We are doing what should have been done after Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa,” the Democrat said in an emailed statement. “Making sure that young killers cannot get their hands on the weaponry that is used in most of these shootings.”

[…]

The next session of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature session starts in January. So far, Texas GOP leaders have shown no willingness to impose new limits on gun ownership despite multiple high-profile mass killings across the state.

“It’s time for the killing in Texas to stop,” Gutierrez said. “We cannot continue to live in fear of going to school, going to church, shopping for groceries, and just living our lives.”

See here for the background. To be clear, many, many, many bills are filed every session. Few ever see the light of day, and fewer still even get a committee vote. Without Republican backing, these bills aren’t going anywhere. That’s where Sen. Gutierrez’s pledge to force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation comes into play, and is what I’ll be watching for. In the best case scenario, he manages to succeed and get one of these bills passed. More likely, he’s a thorn in Dan Patrick’s side. I’ll take either outcome.

Our future doctor shortage

Putting a pin in this.

As reported by Jan Hoffman for The New York Times, in order to satisfy their prerequisites for specialty board certification, OB-GYN physicians in post-graduate medical residency programs must comply with national requirements, which include training in the performance of abortions. Such training is considered essential—and characterized as a  “core procedure”—for OB-GYN doctors, in order to properly treat common medical conditions such as miscarriage, infections, and other complications to pregnancy. And in order to receive accreditation, those medical residency programs—typically administered through schools of public health and occurring in hospitals or clinics—must provide that training.

But ever since a radical conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the right to abortion previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in June, several Republican-dominated states have passed laws prohibiting abortion and criminalizing its practice by physicians. As a direct result, residency programs that routinely provided their residents with training in abortion care are faced with a dilemma.

As Hoffman observes:

If they continue to provide abortion training in states where the procedure is now outlawed, they could be prosecuted. If they don’t offer it, they risk losing their accreditation, which in turn would render their residents ineligible to receive specialty board certification and imperil recruitment of faculty and medical students.

The absolute necessity of such training for OB-GYN doctors was recently reaffirmed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). There is no exception for states whose Republican legislatures and governors have seen fit to transform the procedure into a criminal offense, although, as Hoffman reports, the guidelines permit a medical resident to “opt out” of such training for “religious or moral reasons.” Under the Council’s guidelines, a physician may also complete such instruction by serving a clinical rotation in a facility located in a state that permits doctors to perform abortions, but both hospital program directors and medical residents interviewed for The Times report expressed the fear that broadly drafted forced-birth laws in Republican-dominated states could still subject them to criminal prosecution.

[…]

For physicians seeking to complete their residencies in states that have or will soon criminalize the performance of abortions, the allowance for “out-of-state” training comes with an array of practical obstacles, from varying licensing and malpractice insurance regulations to housing costs. Hoffman reports that as consequence, physicians have begun to avoid placements in states where abortion is or will soon be illegal. She cites one physician who had been “courted” to join a Wisconsin medical residence program’s faculty who ultimately turned them down, citing the state’s abortion ban.

But the more worrying trend for those who may need OB-GYN care in Republican states is the growing reluctance of medical students to practice in those states.

Hoffman reports:

That is among the reasons that many medical students have said they are applying only to programs where abortion is legal. Public health experts predict that in a few years, patients in abortion-prohibited states, where the ranks of obstetricians are already shrinking, will experience even greater barriers to reproductive health care.

The reasons for this are practical, at least in part: An aspiring OB-GYN resident has little incentive to apply to a program that is not accredited. As Hoffman reports, the ACMGE explored the option of using “simulation” techniques such as virtual instruction or performance of “mock” abortions on models (and even papayas) to provide such training and concluded they were insufficient.  Even those medical students who desire to treat patients in the poorest of these “red-state” areas have balked when they find their programs do not have sufficient resources to place them for out-of-state training.

The effects of all this are as predictable as they are ominous for anyone seeking OB-GYN care in Republican-led states: Because of the very real threat of potential criminal prosecution, many of the most qualified and talented medical students will naturally apply tor OB-GYN residency programs in states where abortion is legal; in turn, those programs become more selective, admitting only the top students.  Meanwhile, students who simply may wish to practice OB-GYN in a “red state” are disincentivized to do so, by barriers to accreditation or the simple expense and logistics of obtaining such training out of their chosen state.

Finally, as Hoffman notes, the prohibitions against abortion in “red” states have deterred medical students pursuing careers in those states even in fields other than OB-GYN. She cites a study of third- and fourth-year medical students conducted for The Lancet Americas which interviewed those students about their preferred career placements; 60% wouldn’t apply to programs in forced-birth states. And “more than three-quarters of 500 responses” were from students pursuing specialties that were NOT obstetrics and gynecology.

Maybe it doesn’t play out this way. Maybe between elections and societal pressure, we get enough relaxation of the current forced-birth legislation to mitigate this effect. Maybe the effect only really hits poor people, so it never becomes a “real” issue to the Legislature. Maybe we just wind up with more Republican doctors. Who knows? Like I said, I’m putting a pin in this so that if five years from now the news in Texas is about how hard it’s becoming to find doctors in parts of the state where that previously had not been a problem, or how the major medical centers in Texas are having a hard time getting new interns and residents, we’ll be able to say we saw it coming. At least, some of us saw it coming.

The Lege is a little more diverse now

A good thing.

Salman Bhojani

Voters in Texas added to the diversity of their state Legislature on Tuesday, tripling the number of openly gay Black lawmakers holding office and electing the first two Muslim lawmakers to serve in the Capitol.

As recently as May, there were no openly gay Black members of the Legislature. Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, became the first when she won a special election that month. She was elected to a full term on Tuesday. She’ll now be joined by Democrats Christian Manuel Hayes and Venton Jones, who both won their races Tuesday night. Hayes will represent House District 22, based in Beaumont, and Jones will represent House District 100 in Dallas.

“They’ve never backed down when our rights are on the line and we are confident they’ll channel this courage and compassion in Austin,” said Annise Parker, the former Houston mayor who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

The two candidates will take office ahead of a legislative session in which LGBTQ issues are likely to play a large role. Conservative lawmakers in recent years have raised concerns about books in schools that portray the experiences of gay and transgender people and indicated an interest in banning some content.

The first two Muslim lawmakers are Salman Bhojani, who won election to House District 92 in Tarrant County, and Suleman Lalani, who won election to House District 76 in Fort Bend County.

Both men are also immigrants. Bhojani, whose family is originally from Pakistan, moved to the United States as a teenager. Lalani came to the country in the 1990s to begin his career as a doctor.

In the Texas Legislature, Muslims haven’t always been met with open arms. In 2007, Dan Patrick, then a state senator, boycotted the Texas Senate’s first-ever prayer by a Muslim cleric.

I’m sure he’s so much more compassionate and tolerant now. HD76 is a Democratic seat moved from El Paso to Fort Bend in redistricting. HD92 is a new Democratic-drawn seat in Tarrant County. HD100 is the seat vacated by US Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett, and HD22 is the seat in Jefferson County made vacant by the retirement of Rep. Joe Deshotel. I wish I could say that all the newbies were coming into a welcoming place where they’ll have a fair chance to pass bills of interest to their constituents, but signs point to No on that one. Nonetheless, I welcome them and wish them all the best. Whatever they can do to make that place and our state better, we’ll be happy for it.

Mail ballot rejections were down for November

Good, but still room for more improvement.

More than 10,000 ballots were rejected in the state’s largest counties in Tuesday’s midterm election, making for a rejection rate of about 4 percent, according to preliminary data from the secretary of state’s office.

That’s a vast improvement from the March primary that immediately followed the passage of a Republican-backed election overhaul bill that added a new ID requirement for voting by mail that continues to confuse voters. More than 24,000, or 12 percent, of primary mail ballots were thrown out across the state.

Still, the 4 percent mail-ballot rejection rate is more than double the less than 2 percent tossed in Texas in the last midterm election in 2018.

“There is definitely room to lower rejection rates even more, but the trends we’ve seen since the primary show major improvements across the state, and show the rejection rates are moving in the right direction,” secretary of state’s office spokesman Sam Taylor said. “This was the 4th statewide election with the new ID requirements for mail-in ballots in place, so voters were more familiar with the process generally.”

The number of ballots rejected may decrease as some voters visit their local county clerk’s office to make corrections to their ballots to fix errors by the Monday deadline. The rate was calculated based on most of the state’s 18 largest counties, which accounted for 65 percent of the statewide vote.

[…]

About half of the largest counties’ rejected ballots came from Harris County, the largest county in the state where 1.1 million ballots were cast. About 8 percent of ballots received by the county were rejected.

Out of about 65,000 returned ballots, about 7,000 were rejected, including about 4,700 related to an ID error. Of those rejected, about 1,900 were corrected and counted.

“We have seen a significant decrease in the number of mail ballots rejected,” said elections spokeswoman Leah Shah. “That said, our priority is to ensure that every vote is counted, and we will continue to expand our education and outreach efforts to help close the gap.”

Bexar County, which had one of the highest rejection rates during the primary at 22 percent, managed to keep its denials down, continuing a trend that started during the primary runoffs when it dipped to less than one percent. This election, the rate was about 1 percent.

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous report in this series. I highlighted that sentence because it may be one factor in the gradual increase in mail ballots counted between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon. The total increase is larger than 1,900 and for sure many of those were likely corrected even before Election Day, but I’ll be surprised if there were none that were cured during this week. Given that we haven’t reached the deadline to cure them, we will likely see a few more get added to the final tally. I commend the election workers who put in so much effort to make this a smaller problem, I continue to hold up Bexar County as the standard to which we should aspire, and I hope this is the last election where we have to follow this issue so closely. The Press has more.

If all we ever do are defensive measures, we’ll never make any progress

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things, although some of them definitely should be questioned. I am saying we can’t just do things like these.

The Texas Education Agency announced Thursday a plethora of proposals that would, among other changes, require public schools to install silent panic alarms and automatic locks on exterior doors.

Other proposals include inspecting doors on a weekly basis to make sure they lock and can be opened from the outside only with a key. Two-way emergency radios would also have to be tested regularly. Schools would need to add some sort of vestibules so visitors can wait before being let in, and all ground-level windows would have to be made with bulletproof glass.

These proposed requirements come about five months after a gunman killed 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. The gunman entered a door that had been closed by a teacher, but the automatic lock failed.

If approved, schools would have to start putting in place these safety measures starting in 2023. Before the end of this year, the education department will collect public comments on the proposed rules.

The state has allocated $400 million for increased safety measures that will be disbursed to districts. In the coming weeks, the education department will make a grant application available to districts. Districts will receive those grants based on enrollment, while smaller, rural schools will receive the minimum $200,000.

Proposing these safety measures is the latest action the state has taken to secure schools in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. In June, the education department announced that it would check all the locks on exterior doors prior to the start of the 2022-2023 school year and review every district’s school safety plans.

[…]

As Texas moves forward with different safety measures, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented violence. Rather, they can can be detrimental to children, especially Black and Hispanic children. Black students are overrepresented in all types of disciplinary referrals and are more likely to have their behavior addressed by school police officers than their white peers.

School districts also expressed concerns about the cost, because the Lege is famous for under-appropriating funds for things it mandates, and the ability to get this done by the deadline since every other district will be scrambling to do the same and there will be some competition for resources. I share the concern about how effective any of this is – remember that a lot of school shooters are current or former students at the schools in question and can often get through security checkpoints because of that – and of the negative effects on the children at the schools. We’re still dancing around the questions of law enforcement’s response to mass shooting incidents at schools, as certain key players continue to evade accountability. And we can’t even talk about restricting gun sales to people over the age of 21, for reasons that make no sense. There’s an extremely limited range of “solutions” to this problem that are politically acceptable to Republicans, and as long as they remain in power those are the only “solutions” we’re going to get, whether they have any effect or not.

Sen. Gutierrez vows to be a pest about Uvalde and gun control in the next session

I’m rooting for him.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

As he watched a couple load ice chests into their car at a gas station, something didn’t sit right with Roland Gutierrez. The pair were likely on their way to the lake to enjoy the late May sunshine in San Antonio—a normal way to spend the day, he knew. But Gutierrez, the state senator for District 19, couldn’t help thinking how surreal it is that life continues after a tragedy. He was on his way to Uvalde just days after an 18-year-old had opened fire on a classroom at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

“I was thinking how sad it is that … we move on with our lives,” Gutierrez said when we met at his San Antonio law office in September. “It’s not an unnatural thing. I get it. When these things happen, we always say, ‘Oh, it’s just too bad. I feel so sorry for those people.’”

Gutierrez represents a massive district that stretches from his hometown of San Antonio west to Big Bend National Park, encompassing a broad swath of southwest Texas, including Uvalde. The Democrat is relatively new to the Texas Senate, taking office in January 2021. His campaign had promised certain priorities: to push for legalized marijuana, to bolster mental health resources for rural Texans, and to improve public schools. Although he hasn’t dropped these issues, nearly all of his public appearances since May have been about Uvalde.

The shooting “changed me for sure,” Gutierrez said. “I won’t be a singular-issue public servant, but it has become a very, very big issue in my life and in the lives of these new friends that I’ve made. … For these parents … there’s no issue out there that matters if you don’t have your kid.”

Gutierrez, a father of two girls aged 15 and 13, has emerged as one of the most vocal lawmakers in the shooting’s aftermath. He called for accountability from the agencies that responded to the killings, appealed to Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on gun laws, and sued the Texas Department of Public Safety and its powerful chief Steve McCraw to try and force the release of more records about the massacre. The state police agency’s response to the Uvalde shooting only deepened his concern. He’s been skeptical of DPS ever since the launch of the “bullshit propaganda machine for Greg Abbott” that is Operation Lone Star, the multi-billion-dollar border security initiative in which state troopers play a starring role.

[…]

If re-elected, Gutierrez said, he’ll go into the 2023 legislative session with a no-excuses plan: force the issue on gun reform. He plans to spearhead legislation on age increases for gun purchases, expanded background checks, and red flag laws. If that doesn’t work, he said he’ll force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation.

“If they don’t want to talk about guns, and they don’t want to talk about gun violence in this state, well, I’m going to be talking about it,” Gutierrez said. “We’ll have Uvalde families in there. … As far as I can see, those families aren’t going to stop, nor should they.”

I’m sure there are plenty of procedural ways in which he can make a pain of himself – Dems have had some success in this department in recent years, though generally speaking at some point the weight of the majority wins, if not in the same session. I would hope that he’ll have plenty of company – it’s clear that one of the Republican goals for this session is to limit Democrats’ influence, so it’s not like there’s much to lose. Not everyone needs to be actively involved with this, but plenty of Dems will have little else of substance to do, most likely. May as well make some political hay – if you want the public that agrees with you on the issues to support you in the next election, you have to make sure they know who is and is not on their side.

Sen. Gutierrez is already at work on this.

Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez released call logs Monday that he said show Gov. Greg Abbott waited hours after the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School to have phone conversations about the tragedy with the state’s top cop.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, said the late timing of the three calls Abbott made on May 24, the date of the shooting, to the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, shows the Republican governor’s lack of concern.

So do their brevity, the Democratic senator added. Records show the three calls totaled 31 minutes.

“That’s not what leaders do, but that’s what this person did,” said Gutierrez, who shared the call logs during a Monday press conference.

[…]

During his Monday press event, Gutierrez said he received the call logs 60 days ago but declined to share them until now because he wanted to give the state’s investigation into the shooting “the benefit of the doubt.”

However, Gutierrez said he’s dismayed by the lack of transparency from both DPS and Abbott’s office around the shooting. He also accused the governor of bankrolling recent ads against him.

“If he wants to play politics with me and with South Texas, then we’re going to tell the truth,” Gutierrez said.

“This man has done absolutely nothing, which is why we’re sharing this today,” the senator added.

I might have acted sooner than that, but at least we’re all clear about who has good faith. This will definitely be worth watching come January.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

We have already entered Speaker’s Race season

And I’m already exhausted.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, announced Friday he is running for speaker, challenging fellow Republican Dade Phelan.

Tinderholt is one of the furthest-right Republicans in the chamber, and in a statement, he made clear he would be running on his opposition to Democratic committee chairs.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor?” Tinderholt said in a statement. “The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control.”

Phelan is expected to run for speaker again but has not made it official yet. His office declined to comment on Tinderholt’s announcement.

Tinderholt has served in the House since 2015 and once was a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus. Even before Texas’ latest restrictions, he has been an ardent opponent of abortion, filing legislation that would make it possible to charge a woman who has an abortion with criminal homicide.

Phelan has been speaker since 2021, when he was elected with near-unanimous support of the 150-member chamber. He helped steer the state further right through his first session, allowing passage of the state’s new laws banning almost all abortion and allowing permitless carry of handguns.

But his critics on the right have not been satisfied, arguing conservative priorities will always be held back if the minority party is permitted to chair committees and control what legislation reaches the floor. Like his GOP predecessors, Phelan has given some chairmanships to Democrats, including on the prominent House Public Education Committee.

I mean, this session is going to be a shitshow in any circumstance other than a Democratic majority in the House, which to put it mildly is highly unlikely. Tinderholt is the kind of politician that will be unappealing to most normal people, but first he has to get himself elected Speaker, and that’s always harder than it looks. If he really has some juice, we’ll start seeing other members publicly backing him. In the meantime, note that his HD94 is not very red, though it used to be; it is slightly redder than it was pre-redistricting. If we’re lucky, Tinderholt will do us the favor of making himself a bigger electoral target. May take a couple of cycles to get there, but keep hope alive.

Here’s the result of the Republican Commissioners’ budget busting

The Republican minority on Commissioners Court made this happen.

Harris County will eliminate more than 500 vacant jobs, delay some flood control projects, postpone a sheriff deputy cadet class, and cancel raises and cost of living adjustments for county law enforcement after the default to a lower tax rate forced by the two Republican commissioners.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle skipped six straight Commissioners Court meetings to block the adoption of any property tax rate by the Democratic majority, saying taxpayers deserved a break amid soaring inflation and the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

With early voting underway and three members of Commissioners Court on the ballot, the county’s annual budget process also played out amid escalating political rhetoric, with Republicans and Democrats accusing one another of defunding the police.

State law requires a quorum of four members of the court to adopt a tax rate. By preventing the court from setting the rate last week — the last week it legally could — the Republican commissioners forced the county to default to what is known as the no new revenue rate, the levy at which the county will take in the same revenue as last year, plus $45 million from property added to the tax rolls in the last 12 months. Only $15 million of that additional revenue will go toward operations, the county budget office said recently; the remaining $30 million will be used for debt payments.

The no new revenue rate is 53 cents per $100 of assessed value, down from the previous rate of 58.1 cents. In a bid to reach a compromise with Cagle and Ramsey, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia had proposed a rate 56.3 cents, 1.2 cents lower than the rate originally proposed by the Democratic majority. It would have included 200 additional members of law enforcement. Cagle earlier had pitched a rate of 55.6 cents and included 200 new lawmen. For the owner of a $300,000 home, the difference between the two commissioners’ proposals would have been about $16.

[…]

Budget Director Daniel Ramos said departments have eliminated an estimated 560 vacant positions as a result of the lower-than-expected tax rate.

He said most of those positions were planned to be filled and that in some cases, departments have used savings from not filling vacant positions to pay for other expenses such as contractors, overtime and maintaining services. Eliminating those vacant positions will mean reduced services in those departments, including the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, he said.

“IFS has medical examiner vacancies because of how specialized the position is, so they use the savings from positions being vacant to offset medical contractors to complete autopsies,” Ramos said. “Harris County will do less autopsies because they don’t have that funding anymore.”

The eliminated vacancies in the sheriff’s office will result in the department reducing the number of people it can hire and the amount of overtime it can pay patrol officers.

The $16.6 million loss for the sheriff’s office is the equivalent of 175 entry-level deputies, according to a memo from Ramos.

Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez will decide what gets funded and what does not as the department makes “some tough decisions.”

The postponed cadet class could be restored later, Spencer said.

“We expect to continue to lose deputies at the usual attrition rate, so it might be a situation where we have a cadet class down the road just to keep our heads above water with staffing,” Spencer said. “It wouldn’t be adding positions. It would just be replacing ones that we’re able to afford.”

Ramos said county staffers, including law enforcement officers, are feeling the effects of the county receiving less tax revenue than expected as planned cost of living adjustments and pay increases have been canceled.

“Most departments were able to absorb it into their vacant positions,” Ramos said. “We don’t have a final number quite yet, but there are hundreds of vacant positions that got eliminated across basically all departments.”

The Harris County Flood Control District lost its proposed $23 million increase, while the Harris Health System budget decreased from a proposed $957 million to $822 million.

Some flood control maintenance projects will be deferred to future years, Ramos said in a memo to county leaders last month.

“The type of projects that will be deferred include erosion repair, outfall repairs, sediment removal and conveyance improvements,” Ramos said. “Further deferral of maintenance projects will increase the risk of infrastructure failures during flood events.”

Additionally, the lower funding for the flood control department could jeopardize a $290 million federal grant for sediment removal that requires the county to advance the cost of the project before being reimbursed.

See here and here for some background. There’s a separate story about the effects this will have on Harris Health. My “favorite” detail from this story is that the cuts will affect “cybersecurity upgrades”, which speaking from my professional perspective sure seems like a bad idea. And the most fun part about all this is that unless there’s a 4-1 split on Commissioners Court, all this can happen again. Doesn’t seem like a great way to run a government, but it’s what we’ve got.

The surge in mail order abortion pills

We’ll see how long this lasts. We know the Lege is going to take aim at it.

Requests for mail-order abortion pills continued to spike in Texas, nearly doubling this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to new research.

Texas saw the sixth highest jump in weekly requests among states reviewed, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The state is among a handful that now prohibit abortions in almost all cases, following the court’s decision to roll back federal abortion protections.

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

[…]

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

I’m glad that people are finding ways, but as helpful as Aid Access is, it’s inherently fragile. Draconian measures may be required to damage its ability to provide its service, but I have no doubt that the forced birth contingent will be all in on such measures. It’s just a matter of when they hit on the right tactic, which they did with SB8 for doctor-provided abortions. And of course, while the medication can cover most of the early abortions, it’s the ones that come later in pregnancy, the ones that are the result of a pregnancy gone wrong and which threaten the health of the mother that remain. The accompanying horror stories – it’s also just a matter of time before some nice white suburban lady who already has a couple of kids dies as a result of being unable to get a medically necessary abortion in a timely manner – will stay with us for the longer term. The Trib and Texas Public Radio have more.

John Scott keeps wanting to have it both ways

You’re kind of close to getting it, John. You do need to do better, though.

Speaking in July to a group of concerned conservative voters in Dallas, Texas Secretary of State John Scott declared that Texas elections were the nation’s most secure.

But just a few minutes earlier, he was joking with the crowd about a Texas county with more voters than residents, rumors of dead men voting and stories of electioneering dating back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign.

“Cheating is not something that’s isolated to Democrats or Republicans,” Scott said to members of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives that summer evening. “People have been cheating in elections for as long as there’s been elections. The trick is to try and catch them.”

Then, Scott fielded questions from the group who expressed serious skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results. Over the next hour and a half, Scott batted down disproven claims of widespread fraud and, in one instance, briefly defended himself from insinuations that he too was part of the anti-democratic scheme that audience members were convinced was happening in real time.

The evening was in many ways emblematic of Scott’s tenure as the state’s chief elections officer, marked by occasional mixed messages in an effort to build trust in an election system without alienating a base of voters who increasingly view election denialism as a party platform.

[…]

In an interview last week, Scott expressed some regret about his choice of words when talking to the Dallas Jewish Conservatives group earlier this year. But Scott said he has not spread election misinformation, whether that night or throughout his yearlong tenure. Rather, he said, he has sought to meet people where they are as a means of gaining trust and assuage their concerns through transparency.

“Am I probably more flippant than most? Yes,” he said. “Are there better public speakers? I’m sure there probably are. Are there better messengers? Yeah, I’m sure there’s better messengers. But I don’t know that there’s a better way to convey a message to someone that may not necessarily be open to your message other than being a little understanding of, potentially, how they got where they are.”

Over the course of his tenure, Scott has repeatedly insisted that Joe Biden is the rightful president and that Texas’ elections are and have been free, fair and secure.

“Our elections are more accessible and safer than they’ve ever been,” he told The Texas Tribune last week.

At the same time, Scott has on occasion given oxygen to the very misinformation that he now battles full time, including through his office’s audits of elections in four of the state’s largest — and mostly Democratic-leaning — counties. Those audits are rooted in false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and have yet to produce any evidence of serious fraud. Yet Scott has continued to justify the reviews by saying they will provide transparency and assuage the concerns of those who’ve bought in to disproven conspiracy theories.

Voting rights groups see it otherwise and fear his pronouncements on election integrity are too little, too late. They say Scott’s ties to myth-spreading Republican leaders — and his willingness to go along with audits — have needlessly injected more doubt into an already skeptical electorate ahead of a consequential midterm election. And they worry that Scott has helped lay the groundwork for a new round of even stricter voting rules — enhancements of laws that have already disenfranchised many Texans.

“He’s supposed to act as an arbiter of truth when it comes to elections,” said Alice Huling, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog nonprofit founded by the former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission that has previously sued Scott’s office over voting laws.

Huling said election officials across the country need to be much more vocal in denouncing those in their own party who have spread misinformation.

“It is not sufficient to just throw your hands up and say, ‘I’m not pushing conspiracy theories,’” she said.

It’s like I was saying. I like making jokes as much as anyone, but sometimes they’re just inappropriate. And while Scott might claim that his jokes were bipartisan in nature – the aforementioned “county with more voters than people” is the famously Republican Loving County – unless he spelled it out very clearly it’s likely that his audience took it as further evidence of rampant cheating by Democrats. Being extremely consistent in delivering the message that elections are handled with care and integrity around the country, not just in Texas, is what is needed now.

And the problem isn’t just misplaced humor, either:

But voting rights groups say Scott should have better used the bully pulpit of his office to push against those doing the duping. They say that Scott’s proximity to prominent election-deniers has made it difficult to trust what he says — and has created ambiguity that fuels fraud myths.

For example: At the July event with the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, much of the conversation centered around “2000 Mules,” a widely debunked propaganda film by longtime GOP political operative Dinesh D’Souza that alleges there was serious fraud at drop-off ballot locations in 2020. The film has been promoted by top Texas Republicans, including Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the exceedingly rare number of voter fraud prosecutions in the state. At the event, Scott spoke alongside Texas Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who also represented Trump and has been a key driver of more restrictive voting laws.

While Scott did note that the premise of the film was not applicable to Texas because the state does not use drop-off balloting, he did not reject D’Souza’s debunked theory outright.

“It’s really amazing,” Scott said of the film, which he said he had recently watched. “You get an enormous amount of information … and I guess it’s scary, right? It leaves you a little angry, a little scared that that’s going on.”

Scott has since explained those comments: “My point is that none of that stuff took place in Texas,” he said last month. “I didn’t do a great deal of research on what happened in other states. So I don’t know if voter fraud was widespread or not.”

[…]

Some of the harassment has been directed at Scott, too. In an interview last month with Texas Monthly, Scott again proclaimed that the 2020 election was not stolen and disputed the findings of “2000 Mules.” His office was immediately inundated by angry voters, some of them threatening.

“You little RINO piece of shit,” one man said in a voicemail that Scott’s office provided to the Tribune. “We want everyone in this country to see what you goddamn bastards did to this country. … There’s a reason Trump reinstituted capital punishment as hanging and firing squads.”

Scott said he’s been surprised by the vitriol that’s been flung at his office and other county elections administrators over the last year.

“I think there’s a group of people that make a living off of spreading misinformation,” Scott said last week. “I think that there are some people that are absolutely mentally disturbed out there, and this gives them a purpose.”

He added that the issue didn’t emerge overnight or even in the past year — it has been “getting more and more aggravated, probably over the last six years.”

“I probably was informed enough to know that it was not necessarily going to be a clover patch here. But I don’t know that I was fully anticipating as much venom,” he said.

I mean, this is “the dog ate my homework”-level excuse-making, plus a feigned innocence that just beggars belief. If you have to be told to stay away from widely-debunked propaganda, and even worse fail to understand why it’s propaganda, then you really are completely unqualified for this job. You just can’t be trusted. I don’t know what else to say.

How long has it been since the Fifth Circuit upheld a voter suppression law?

However long it’s been, they’re back at it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a 2021 Texas law that set new residency requirements for voter registration, including one that civil rights groups alleged essentially blocked college students from signing up.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that blocked most of the law for creating an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

[…]

The judges found the groups, LULAC and Voto Latino, failed to prove they had endured harm as a result of the law and therefore lacked standing.

“It’s unfortunate that we have such a conservative, anti-voting rights 5th Circuit,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia said. “We’ve been representing Latinos of Texas since 1929. This is the first time in recent memory a court has ruled we do not have standing. We believe we were right on the merits that this is a voter suppression bill that should be overturned.”

Garcia added that the group plans to request a rehearing by the full court, which is often considered one of the most conservative courts in the country.

Senate Bill 1111, which took effect Sept. 1 of last year, requires that anyone using a P.O. Box to register must also provide documentation of a physical residential address, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license.

It also prohibits voters from establishing or maintaining a residence “for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a certain election.”

Lastly, it bars voters from establishing a residence in a place they have not inhabited or at a previous residence, unless they live there at the time of the designation and intend to remain there.

“It’s a recognition of the obvious that they really didn’t have standing and they are not harmed because all (the bill) does is simply say: Don’t register at an impossible address,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who authored the bill.

LULAC and Voto Latino had argued that the law had forced them to have to divert resources toward educating the public about the changes and it chilled their speech when it came to what they could say about how to register to vote.

Garcia said LULAC spent more than $1 million to counteract election laws like SB 1111, but the judges sided with Texas in finding that the group failed to show how such expenses were directly related to that law, as several election laws were passed in 2021.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel mostly left the P.O. Box provision in-tact, reasoning that the state has an interest in preventing voter registration fraud and the request for verification of a physical address is not a severe burden. A response to that request with a new address, Yeakel clarified, should be considered a change of address with no further action needed.

Yeakel had enjoined the two other provisions. He argued that there are valid reasons for changing an address that may influence the outcome of an election but not in a malicious way, such as “voting, volunteering with a political campaign, or running for an elected office.”

The final provision relating to where a person lives or intends to stay would make registration near-impossible for college students, senators or other groups of people who live in multiple locations throughout the year, Yeakel said.

“The burden imposed is ‘severe,’ if not insurmountable,” Yeakel wrote. “Such an insurmountable burden is not easily overcome … And the possible repercussions are not just complete disenfranchisement, but also criminal liability.”

See here for the background. You will note that I anticipated this outcome, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I would just like to know, if this law is constitutional, if we can prevent certain lowlife perennial candidates from registering at warehouses around town for the purposes of establishing “residency” to run for office. I’m sure the Fifth Circuit will be able to justify that, I would just like to see them do it.

It’s really tough on LGBTQ students right now

Not a surprise, unfortunately.

Schools remain a hostile place for LGBTQ students, according to a new report from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which found a decline in access to resources, books and supportive clubs for those students.

Nearly 70% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, according to the biennial report released last week. More than 78% said they avoided school functions or extracurricular activities because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

The findings come from the 2021 National School Climate Survey, which the organization has conducted every other year since 1999, offering a look into the unique experiences of LGBTQ students at schools across the nation and pointing to possible improvements.

“This year’s report shows we must make additional progress before LGBTQ+ youth are at minimum safe in schools where they can thrive and reach their full potential,” said Aaron Ridings, deputy executive director for public policy and research. “The attacks on LGBTQ+ youth from anti-LGBTQ+ extremists continue to create a chilling effect that threatens the wellbeing of gay and transgender youth across the country. We need leaders in states across the country who will uphold basic civil and education rights and let educators teach and students learn.”

Conditions have improved for LGBTQ students over the past two decades, according to the organization, though improvement has recently stagnated and researchers found few positive changes this year.

The organization that authored the report said it recommended that schools increase student access to appropriate and accurate LGBTQ resources, support student clubs, provide professional development to school staff, ensure that policies do not discriminate against LGBTQ students and create policies that ban harassment or bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

You can read the report, but honestly I think we have a pretty good idea. Lots of states, including but hardly limited to Texas, have been pushing all kinds of homophobic and transphobic policies, from curriculum changes to book banning to just out and out hateful rhetoric. The current election threatens to make things worse. What did you expect? Sure, things are better now than they were in the past, but there’s no guarantee that will continue. We have a lot of work to do.

Ramsey and Cagle finish sabotaging the budget

They got what they wanted.

Harris County’s prolonged political battle over the budget came to an end today. For over a month, the two GOP members of Commissioners Court have broken quorum, skipping meetings to prevent Democrats from passing their proposed tax rate and budget for fiscal year 2023.

They skipped again Tuesday, despite multiple major items on the budget that impacted millions in funding for law enforcement, flood control and the Harris Health System. Here’s a play-by-play of how it all went down, from the Houston Chronicle’s government reporter Jen Rice.

You can read the rest, but it’s more of what we’ve seen before. If you don’t like the cuts to the Sheriff, the DA, and the constables that will now happen, take your complaints to Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey. They’re the ones that made this happen.

UPDATE: Chron editorial: Harris County Republicans just defunded the police.

Charges dropped against Hervis Rogers

Good, but this whole thing was an enraging travesty and in no way makes things right.

Hervis Rogers

Voter fraud charges against Hervis Rogers, who garnered widespread attention for waiting hours in line to vote at a Houston polling location during the March 2020 presidential primary, have been dismissed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered Rogers’ arrest in July 2021 on charges that he voted while on parole. Over a year later, after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated that the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to unilaterally prosecute election crimes, a district court judge has dropped the two counts of illegal voting against Rogers.

“I am thankful that justice has been done,” Rogers said in a statement.

Rogers is over 60 years old, so a conviction could have resulted in what amounted to a life sentence.

“It has been horrible to go through this, and I am so glad my case is over. I look forward to being able to get back to my life,” he added in the statement.

See here for the background. As a reminder, Hervis Rogers was initially jailed on a $100,000 bond – which is higher than what is often assessed on murder suspects – in Montgomery County. Not Harris County, where he voted, but Montgomery because Ken Paxton figured he’d have a better shot at conviction there. Literally everything about this was wrong, and it’s only because the Court of Criminal Appeals actually applied the state constitution that an even larger miscarriage of justice was avoided. Now if there were justice, Hervis Rogers would be able to sue not only the state of Texas but Ken Paxton personally for the needless suffering inflicted on him. None of that is going to happen, but the one thing we can do is vote Ken Paxton out of office, and never give him the chance to do this to someone else. The Chron has more.

Endorsement watch: Briones, Garcia, Garza

The Chron attempts to make some amends for their tortured endorsement of Judge Lina Hidalgo’s opponent by endorsing Lesley Briones for Commissioners Court in Precinct 4 over the incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle.

Lesley Briones

What do we want out of county government? Public safety. Roads. Flood control. The traditional core services of Commissioners Court must be carried out with integrity, focus and competency. But we also want more, particularly in a county where double-digit gaps in life expectancy exist between some neighborhoods. We think we can do better and we think can do both.

So does Lesley Briones, who represents the “yes and” candidate for Precinct 4.

Originally from Laredo, she became a lawyer and worked in litigation and tax law before eventually serving as a civil court judge here. Briones, 42, is bilingual and one of the few candidates we’ve seen whose website has a Spanish-language page.

Thanks to her professional experience, she has a good grasp of the nuances of the crime problem, many of which are particular to Harris County. She favors misdemeanor bail reform but also, as a crime victim herself, expressed an urgency during the Democratic primaries and, now, in the general election to addressing violent crime through smart, targeted efforts. She supports, for example, the micro-zone approach launched last year. And she noted that calls for more boots on the ground — a key platform among Republican candidates in local races this year — need to contend with the already funded but vacant positions in law enforcement agencies.

And while she has detailed plans for the basic services county government must provide, she is also supportive of the quality-of-life efforts we believe county government should pursue. Many of these, she said, can be aided through more strategic grant applications and philanthropic partnerships.

This kind of robust vision for county that doesn’t skimp on the core services but wants to leave things better than it found them is even more appealing because she promises to deliver it without partisan politics.

The incumbent has struggled to do that as of late.

Much of the rest is about Cagle’s failures, though they have more nice things to say about Briones at the end. They give Cagle no inch on his budget-preventing quorum breaking, noting how Cagle’s actions stand in contrast with his previous words. I’m never going to not be mad about their County Judge endorsement, but at least they got this right. My interview with Lesley Briones from the primary is here if you want to know more about her.

Over in Precinct 2, they endorse Commissioner Adrian Garcia for another term.

Adrian Garcia

To hear Adrian Garcia tell it, his first four years as a Harris County commissioner were a repudiation of his predecessor, Jack Morman.

Garcia, a Democrat, likes to say that he brought Precinct 2 — which encompasses Aldine and Northside, along with much of east Harris County, including Galena Park, Deer Park, Pasadena, La Porte and Baytown — “out of the stone age.”

Garcia claimed Morman, a Republican now running to reclaim his old seat, was tracking the precinct’s infrastructure projects in a red notebook with pencil and paper. Lower-income neighborhoods that Garcia claims were long neglected under Morman are safer, healthier and more vibrant with better sidewalks, hike-and-bike trails and parks. Parts of the county that for years were acutely vulnerable to flooding would now have first dibs on flood mitigation projects.

That narrative of rebalanced priorities certainly benefits Garcia politically; it also has some truth to it. Garcia, 61, former Houston police officer, city councilman and Harris County sheriff, has delivered on a number of the issues he ran on in 2018, from criminal justice reform to environmental justice to health care. Few would argue that his precinct is worse off than when he took office, and in some corners it is markedly better.

[…]

No, Garcia isn’t perfect. But even his detractors would acknowledge that he’s been effective. Morman’s personal style may be more agreeable, but his vision for the office lacks ambition. We want a county commissioner who will continue to use the levers of power to make their constituents’ lives tangibly better beyond fixing potholes and digging drainage ditches.

Voters should send Garcia back to Commissioners Court for another term.

I’ve seen more ringing endorsements, but I’ll take it. The editorial board really has a burr in their saddle about the redistricting of Commissioners Court, for which they ding Garcia, and I just have no patience with the argument that Democrats need to be angels about that while Republicans are actively working to completely repeal the Voting Rights Act. When the Legislature, and Congressional Republicans, and especially the cabal on SCOTUS, make even a small step in the direction of actual fairness and equity and racial equality, then I’ll be willing to hear those complaints. Until then, please spare me. My interview with Commissioner Garcia is here.

The third spoke in the Sunday trifecta is Rochelle Garza for Attorney General, because no decent person supports a repeat and unredeemed criminal for elected office.

Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza, Democratic candidate for attorney general, may or not enjoy a good joke. Although we see her smiling and laughing in photos and newsreels, we didn’t ask her that question when she visited with the Chronicle editorial board a few days ago. If she happens to be a connoisseur of jokes, we have one she might appreciate:

A lawyer walks into the HR department of a major law firm. Filling out a job application, he includes the following information on his resumé:

Under felony indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges; trial postponed repeatedly (although under order from a judge to sit for a deposition in the case next month)*** Under FBI investigation for assisting a real estate developer who allegedly hired a woman with whom he, the applicant, was having an extra-marital affair*** Is being sued by four former top aides in the office he now heads; they claim they were fired in violation of the state’s whistleblower protection law for reporting their boss’ potential crimes to the FBI*** Instigated a frivolous lawsuit seeking to throw out 2020 presidential election votes in states where he did not reside or represent; court laughter ensued*** Faces court sanctions from the state ethics association for peddling false claims about 2020 voter fraud*** Was warm-up act for former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021,“Stop the Steal” rally*** Recently headed major investigation into human trafficking and child sexual assault; rank incompetence wrecked investigation*** Vacancies abound in his sprawling office; can’t seem to find attorneys eager to work for him.

A job applicant with such a resume would be laughed out of any law firm in the land, any corporation with a legal department, any government agency. We Texans, though, have elected such a man as our attorney general — not once, but twice and some among us want to make it three times. Ken Paxton is his name. As long as he remains in office, the joke’s on us.

You get the idea. My interview with Rochelle Garza is here. You know what to do.

Also in the endorsement bucket: Ginny Brown Daniel for HD150 over her wingnut incumbent opponent, and Sen. Joan Huffman for re-election in SD17. Note what they say about Huffman’s role in redistricting at the state level this cycle, and compare it to their words about redistricting in Harris County. See what I mean?

Of course voters of color has more mail ballots rejected

Water is wet, the sun rises in the east, voter suppression laws disproportionately affect voters of color.

Alice Yi of Austin is frustrated when she thinks about the March primary election, when her 92-year-old father tried to vote by mail, as he had many times before, but couldn’t.

He could not remember what identification number he used to register to vote more than 30 years ago, she said. When he sent in his ballot application with the last four digits of his Social Security number, a rejection letter from the elections office said that number was not on file. Another letter later said her father, who is legally blind in one eye, failed to fill out other details, such as specifying which ballot he needed.

By the third attempt, Yi, his caregiver, worried her father’s application would not make it before the deadline and he would be unable to cast a ballot. So she took him to vote in person, for the first time in years.

Yi’s father was just one of thousands of Texans who attempted to vote by mail in the March primary, but collided with the Texas’ GOP restrictive 2021 voting law, known as Senate Bill 1. When voting by mail, the new law requires voters to write their driver’s license, personal identification number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their mail ballot application and mail ballot envelope — whichever number they originally used to register.

In fact, the mail-in applications and ballots of Asian, Latino, and Black Texans were rejected because of the new ID requirement at much higher rates than those of white voters, according to a study released Thursday by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. The office of the secretary of state declined to comment on the findings, citing pending litigation over SB 1.

Although researchers couldn’t determine the exact cause of the disparities, experts and advocates say that in addition to the voting law’s restrictions, existing factors rooted in systemic racism, such as lack of resources in their native language and other socioeconomic barriers, likely played a role in the high rejection rates.

In the March primary, 12,000 absentee ballot applications and more than 24,000 mail ballots were rejected, leading to a 12% rejection rate statewide. That represented a significant increase compared to previous years. For example, the rejection rate for the 2020 presidential election was 1%.

The study shows the rejection rate was highest for Asian voters, who were about 40% more likely to have their absentee ballot application rejected than white voters.

The study also shows that Asian and Latino voters were each more than 50% more likely than white voters to have a ballot rejected due to a problem meeting SB 1’s new requirements.

Overall, 19% of Asian voters had either their application or their mail ballot rejected due to SB1’s provisions, followed by 16.6% of Black voters and 16.1% of Latino voters. For white voters, it was 12%.

“This shows that even if you successfully applied to vote by mail, you still weren’t out of the woods, you still might have your ballot rejected,” said Kevin Morris, a researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice and one of the authors of the study. “And not only do we see this gauntlet effect happening, we see that there are big racial discrepancies in whose applications and whose ballots are rejected.”

[…]

Absentee ballot rejection rates have been lower in Texas’s smaller elections since the March primary. The mail ballot rejection rate was at 5% for the May 7 Constitutional Amendment election, according to the secretary of state’s office. For the May 24 primary runoff elections, the statewide mail ballot rejection rate across both the Republican and Democratic primaries was 3.9%. Both of those elections, however, drew only a fraction of the voters who cast ballots in the primary.

Efforts made by local election officials across Texas counties contributed to the decrease in rejections.

The study, which has some limitations that are noted in the story, is new but its findings are no surprise. I’ve said before that I’m hopeful that the error rate will continue to fall, mostly thanks to the overburdened but very hard working local officials who have done all the work to make that rejection rate go down. I’ve also now had the experience of navigating this with my elder daughter, who is voting by mail from college. I’ll be keeping track of its progress on the Harris County elections webpage. She has a couple of friends who are in college in Texas but outside the county, and I’ve advised her to tell them to just drive in and vote in person during the EV period. It’s kind of crazy, but that’s the less risky option. Hopefully that will not be the case someday.

Reading and writing and DNA kits…

I dunno, man. I just don’t know.

Texas public school systems are set to distribute DNA and fingerprint identification kits for K-8 students to parents who wish to participate.

The state Legislature passed a law in spring 2021 requiring the Texas Education Agency to give inkless in-home fingerprint and DNA identification cards to each public school system in Texas. The kits will be made available at each primary-level campus. The cards are intended to be kept by guardians who can give them to law enforcement in order to potentially help find missing or trafficked children.

In the Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state, kit distribution will begin this week.

“Caregivers are under no obligation to use the kits, but they must be informed by your institution that the available kits will allow them to have a set of their child’s fingerprints and DNA in that they can turn over to law enforcement in case of an emergency,” reads a letter to recently sent to all HISD principals.

Other districts, such as Clear Creek ISD, have already begun to notify parents that the kits are available.

Some families have found the program chilling, considering that police asked parents waiting to find out if their children were slaughtered at Robb Elementary on May 24 to provide DNA samples to help identify the dead.

“When you put it in the light of Uvalde, it’s one of the most macabre things you could think about,” said Bob Sanborn, president of the nonprofit Children at Risk.

Kenneth S. Trump, a national school security consultant, said there may be a value in providing the kits to parents, but said the proximity and timing of the distribution may ring alarm bells for parents and children still reeling from the news of Uvalde.

“On one hand, I see the value in saying, ‘Here’s a tool you can have in case of potential threats,’ ” he said. “But I think we need to be very cautious about crossing the line of do no harm to the point where we are creating more anxiety.”

Messaging from administrators should be clear that the kits are intended to be an extra available resource for parents and guardians in case their children go missing, Trump said.

“Even if it’s about human trafficking or other risks, we need to communicate what is the probability of these events so it’s not creating fear and anxiety suggesting kids are in imminent danger in school,” he said.

I don’t really have much to add to what Messrs. Sanborn and Trump said. I get the reasoning behind that law. It makes sense, though I’d have a lot of questions about data privacy if either of my kids were still in elementary school and could receive one of those kits. But man, thinking about it at all is depressing as hell. I don’t know what else to say.

Endorsement watch: Another smattering

The Chron endorses Cam Campbell in HD132.

Cam Campbell

Texas House District 132, stretching from just south of Interstate 10 in eastern Katy to U.S. 290 in Cypress, features a handful of high school football powerhouses. Voters there fittingly get to choose between two gridiron lovers in Republican incumbent Mike Schofield and Democratic challenger Cameron “Coach Cam” Campbell. Campbell believes Cypress, Katy and the rest of the western suburbs can become the “Fort Worth to Houston’s Dallas” with the right leadership and partnerships.

Campbell, 40, is a 2000 Cypress Springs graduate and a former University of Houston football player. He teaches children about safe play for a community outreach program of the Texans. He also has a sports facility construction company and has gone by “Coach Cam” since coaching for KIPP Houston High School.

Control of this district has swung back and forth between parties in recent years. Schofield was several years ago named “Freshman legislator of the year” by Republican members of the House but lost his seat in 2018 by just 113 votes to Gina Calanni, then won it back in a hard-fought 2020 election. This time, Schofield got some help through redistricting.

In our interview, Campbell criticized the gerrymandering, but he is running the electoral version of an aggressive no-huddle offense to drive voter engagement and turnout to overcome the influx of likely GOP voters. He talked at length about voter research and outreach tools his campaign is using. Given the redrawn district’s tilt, it’s not surprising his opponent has far outraised Campbell, but he appears to be making the most of his limited resources. Campbell’s high energy and attention to detail truly felt coach-like to us.

We appreciate Campbell’s vision of what the district and the Katy-Cypress area can be. He wants to sit on the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee in the House, in part to attract industry and promote his district.

Campbell said he’s passionate about promoting literacy and reducing gun violence, which he hopes to turn into legislative priorities if elected. He’s also been outspoken on the campaign trail about reproductive rights and LGTBQ rights. He favors marijuana legalization and greater environmental protections.

My interview with Coach Cam is here. I thought he was pretty impressive, so give that a listen if you haven’t. The Chron notes that they had endorsed incumbent Rep. Schofield before, and also that he didn’t bother screening with them this time. That is a trend that is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

The Chron also endorsed Carla Wyatt for Harris County Treasurer.

Carla Wyatt

Voters expecting shy, bookish candidates for Harris County treasurer, content to pore over spreadsheets in anonymity, have a surprise in store from Republican Kyle Scott and Democrat Carla Wyatt. However the race turns out, the county is about to get a charismatic, hardworking newcomer to oversee the office that processed some $20 billion coming in and out last year.

Wyatt earns our endorsement because she has two decades of experience working for the county, including in the budget office and public infrastructure. She also holds a doctoral degree in environmental toxicology, and she ran emergency communications during Hurricane Harvey. She has creative ideas for how to reach more residents and make it easier for people to interact with the office. In the budget office, she led an IT group that created interactive dashboards for county employees to see where money was going.

[…]

“I’ve created these relationships and I understand where all the little rocks and pebbles are, because I helped put some of them there,” Wyatt, 51, told the editorial board. “I think it’s important for whoever is in this office to have the experience and relationships to create checks and balances and be able to work across party lines and department lines.”

She wants to make it simpler for residents to find out whether the county owes them money and to propose ways to broaden the use of credit and debit card transactions in county business.

Scott’s campaign is centered around accountability and transparency, and he talked with us about wanting to serve as a check on wasteful spending. We especially appreciate Scott’s desire to bolster financial literacy and actively engage residents. His background as a former board trustee and communications executive at Lone Star College prepares him well for the task.

“Usually in the treasurer’s race, all you hear is, ‘I’m a watchdog,’ without explaining what that means or demonstrating knowledge of what you’re actually watching, and so many folks feel in the dark about where the money’s actually going,” Scott, who has a Ph.D. in political science, told us. “If you can talk about it clearly and bring some light to that, it’s appreciated.”

We endorsed Scott’s GOP primary opponent, in part because we were concerned when Scott said he would be willing to refuse to sign a county check as a final safeguard against wasteful spending by the Harris County Commissioners Court. Changing the county budget is the job of commissioners, not the treasurer. In our general election screening this fall, Scott told us he’d refuse to sign checks only in extreme moments, as in the case of the $11 million Elevate Strategies vaccine outreach contract.

Wyatt had a different take, using one of the several clever analogies she employed in her interview with us. “The treasurer can’t stop you from walking into a fire, but I can tell you that there is a fire,” she said. “I can tell you that the stove is hot.” She sees the treasurer role as an advisory one and said, in the case of a contract like Elevate Strategies, that delaying alongside advising could be used. But she stopped short of saying she’d refuse to sign a check. That’s closer to our understanding of the treasurer’s job.

Wyatt as noted defeated incumbent Treasurer Dylan Osborne in the Dem primary. My interview with her from the primary is here. I like Dylan, I knew him before he ran for Treasurer, I voted for him in the primary, but I agree with the Chron’s assessment of Wyatt: She’ll be a fine Treasurer. But even if I had concerns about her, I’d have much bigger concerns than the Chron seems to have had with Kyle Scott’s pronouncement that he’d be a self-appointed veto of county spending activity he doesn’t like. Yeah, sure, now he says it would be used in limited emergency instances, but that’s not what he said in the primary and the Treasurer doesn’t have that power. Seriously, do we really need another undemocratic veto point in our government? It’s a ridiculous idea – in truth, even if the Treasurer explicitly had this power it would be a dumb idea – and it disturbs me that the Chron isn’t more than just “concerned” about it, especially given Scott’s past campaigning on the idea. Good for them for not endorsing him, but come on. Don’t be a sucker.

Finally, the Chron endorsed Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15, an easy and obvious call, and former District Clerk Chris Daniel in his rematch against incumbent Dem Marilyn Burgess. They still have more races to get through, but at least they seem to be picking up the pace.

Endorsement watch: It’s Beto, and very much not Abbott

The Chron endorses Beto O’Rourke for Governor by taking Greg Abbott to the woodshed.

Beto O’Rourke

Not many years ago, a newly elected Texas governor told cheering supporters, “You voted for hope over fear, for unity over division, for the majesty of what Texas is and what it can be. As Texans, the bonds we share transcend our differences.”

The fact that it’s almost impossible today to imagine Gov. Greg Abbott sincerely repeating the words he uttered on that November night in 2014 reflects what his Democratic challenger calls “the darkness that has descended on Texas.”

None of us who loves this state — its beauty, vastness, and lore, its drive and potential, its diversity of people and sense of place, its swagger and audacity — wants to see it descend into something siloed, cynical and small.

Yet, in the eight years that Abbott has occupied the office of governor, his fellow Texans have watched him transmogrify from a shrewd yet reasonable statesman into a rigid and reflexively ideological politician as he accommodates the Republican Party’s inexorable lurch to the far-right fringes. We have watched him grow more sneeringly dismissive of his political opponents in the Legislature and more domineering in his attempts to dictate the local of affairs of the state’s increasingly blue urban areas. He’s become more beholden to former President Donald Trump’s hopelessly beguiled MAGA faithful.

We’ve watched an erstwhile moderate Republican, a politician in the Reagan-Bush mold (we thought), with an inspiring personal story of overcoming a tragic injury to ascend to the highest office in Texas government, expend more time and energy concocting political stunts and signing on to cultural-issue antagonisms rather than taking seriously the challenges that affect the state as a whole. In conjunction with his GOP cohorts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and disgraced Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott’s disdainful approach to governance has come to epitomize the Ugly Texan. No wonder some of our fellow Americans encourage us to follow through on our absurd threats of secession.

A statewide officeholder since 1996, Abbott is asking Texas voters to keep him in office another four years. The question is, why? What, for the good of Texas, does he hope to accomplish in another term that he hasn’t accomplished in the previous two?

We can think of two reasons why he’s running, both self-serving: One, he’s eager to continue his bow to entrenched political power in this state. He’s happy to serve the deep-well source of his campaign largesse and content to exercise power for power’s sake. Two, he’s positioning himself — like his Florida counterpart — to run for president if Trump doesn’t.

Now that voters have a credible choice in Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, we implore them to set aside party allegiance and assess the governor on his actual performance. They need to remember shivering, for example, when under Abbott’s watch Winter Storm Uri in 2021 caused more damage to an ill-prepared Texas than any other state. Several hundred of our fellow Texans died; thousands suffered through days without water and power. Businesses were shuttered. In Uri’s aftermath, Abbott did the barest minimum, if that, to ensure energy reliability in the future.

I’ve read through the endorsement twice, and that one mention in the last paragraph above is the only time you see Beto’s name. The rest is a long list of grievances about Abbott’s many sins and transgressions and incompetence and indifference. To be sure, there’s so much to be said along those lines, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the difference between this endorsement and that of Mike Collier, in which at least as much could have been said about Dan Patrick but the Chron chose to focus on Collier instead. Maybe that was a tactical decision – voters needed to know more about Abbott and about Collier in order to get it right, while both Beto and Patrick are sufficiently well-known that their bona fides could be assumed. I think we know by now that the Chron’s operational logic in these matters is unknowable, so I’ll leave the speculating here. Whatever the case, they got it right and they laid out a strong set of reasons. And among those, I will note, is yet another lamentation about a Republican who turned out to be a lot more of a radical partisan and less of a moderate leader who cared about The People than they had hoped. I sure wonder why they keep making that mistake. It’s like they don’t know their own history.

Anyway. The Chron also endorsed four State House candidates, Democratic incumbents Hubert Vo (HD149) and Penny Morales Shaw (HD148), Republican incumbent Dennis Paul (HD129), and Republican candidate Mano DeAyala, who is running for the open HD133. I’ve not been keeping close track of which races they still have to do, but I don’t think they’ve touched the State Senate yet, and there are still some statewide races as well as civil and county courts. They’ll be busy for at least another week, I figure.

Endorsement watch: A smattering

The Chron endorses Stephanie Morales, the Democratic challenger in HD138.

Stephanie Morales

Stephanie Morales began her interview with the editorial board with a story about children who wind up in the care of Child Protective Services, fleeing harsh conditions at home only to find themselves sleeping in somebody’s office because the agency is so strapped for resources. Such are the heartbreaking realities that motivated her to run for the Texas House.

“I knew that there was a need,” she told us. “This is the perfect place for me to run where I can actually make a difference, because we need someone who has been boots-on-the-ground, actually representing kids and parents to truly change the system.”

Morales is a Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law-educated criminal defense lawyer whose cases often involve parents and juveniles in the CPS system. In her meeting with us, she talked at length about the “unintended consequences” of recent legislation meant to improve how the agency works. She displayed an expertise that would benefit the Legislature, and her constituents. She wants to add funding for more trauma-informed courts like the ones in use in Harris County, and to build and fund a halfway-house program for people who age out of the foster care system.

Morales, 33, is running for House District 138, which covers Jersey Village, Spring Branch and other parts of west Harris County. She argues that she’ll be more civically engaged, particularly with supporting children’s needs, than Republican incumbent Lacey Hull. “This district needs someone who will really advocate for them and wrangle resources that we need here,” she said.

She told us that her legislative priorities also would include bolstering protections against flooding, passing whatever “commonsense” gun-safety laws might be possible, improving the credit-recapture system in Texas schools and increasing teacher pay.

Hull was another Republican who didn’t bother to screen with them, and the Chron rightly dings her for her anti-trans activism. This is as noted one of the few competitive State House districts in the area, likely the only one in Harris County that has a chance of flipping. I’ll be very interested to see how it performs in comparison to 2020. You can listen to my interview with Stephanie Morales, who is indeed a strong candidate and would make a fine legislator, here.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses three Republican Supreme Court incumbents, two Republican CCA incumbents, the Libertarian candidate in CD22, as the Republican incumbent is an insurrection-loving MAGA-head and the Democratic candidate appears to be an apparition, State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, now in a much bluer district, US Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and a bunch of Criminal District Court nominees, slightly more than half of whom are Dem incumbents. They still have a ton of races to get to, and as has been the case in a number of elections they will have to do many of them after voting has begun.

Republican Commissioners skip the meeting they called

On brand. So very on brand.

The two Republican members of Harris County Commissioners Court have announced they will skip a special meeting Monday to discuss a compromise tax rate proposal by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, reversing the position they took Friday, potentially ending a month-long impasse that has held up budgetary decisions and become a significant issue in November’s county judge and commissioners races.

On Friday, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said he would attend the meeting if he was assured no vote would take place.

The county attorney’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that the purpose of the meeting is for court members to have a discussion and that no final vote on a tax rate can occur.

By Monday, Cagle’s position had changed.

In a statement, Cagle said, “I have read that Commissioner Adrian Garcia is now calling his most recent tax increase proposal his ‘final offer.’ There can be no good-faith negotiations with someone who announces publicly that he has made his final offer. In addition, Commissioner Tom S. Ramsey has announced that he will not attend Monday’s special session of Commissioners Court. Given Commissioner Garcia’s publicly announced refusal to negotiate in good faith and given the absence of a full quorum of court members in attendance, I will not attend the special session of Commissioners Court scheduled for Monday afternoon.”

Cagle on Friday said he would attend the special meeting hours after Garcia held his news conference in which he called his proposal his final offer.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey has reversed his decision, as well, according to a statement from his office released on Saturday: “He was hopeful in attending Monday’s special meeting of a ‘discussion’; however, vagueness around the “possible action” in that meeting paired with Tuesday’s meeting details leaves the door open to take other actions relating to the massive tax increase. Commissioner Ramsey is officially rescinding his offer and will not be attending Monday’s meeting.”

See here for the previous entry. I’m sure you can imagine just how shocked, shocked I am at this turn of events. We’re way into the farce zone at this point, so barring an unlikely change of heart on their part it’s time to move on to other political solutions. Let’s get that 4-1 majority and not have to worry about this going forward.

UPDATE: You know what Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey had time for yesterday? A little golf, and some fundraising.

There may be a county budget deal available

I don’t trust anything Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey say, but we’ll see.

The two Republican members of Harris County Commissioners Court said Friday they would attend a special meeting Monday to discuss a compromise tax rate proposal by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, potentially ending a monthlong impasse that has held up budgetary decisions and become a significant issue in November’s county judge and commissioners races.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said he would attend the meeting if he was assured no vote would take place.

The county attorney’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that the purpose of the meeting is for court members to have a discussion and that no final vote on a tax rate can occur.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey announced he would attend the meeting a short time later.

The two Republican commissioners have skipped the last three Commissioners Court meetings to block the three Democrats on the court from adopting a property tax rate. They view the Democrat-supported rate as too high at a time residents are dealing with the highest inflation in years amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They also want the county to fund more law enforcement.

Garcia’s proposal, unveiled in a Friday morning news conference, would set the overall property tax rate at 56.3 cents per $100 of assessed value, 1.2 cents lower than the rate originally proposed by the Democratic majority.

The current overall county tax rate is 58.1 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Under the rate of 57.5 cents originally proposed by the Democrats, the owner of a $250,000 home with a standard 20 percent homestead exemption would save about $12 in the first year, assuming the appraised value was unchanged from the previous year.

Under Garcia’s proposal, that homeowner would pay $36 less.

Garcia’s plan calls for an additional $20 million to hire 200 additional law enforcement officers, echoing Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s call for 200 additional law enforcement “boots on the ground.” It also includes a 2.5 percent pay increase for law enforcement officers.

“Today I make you my final offer,” Garcia said. “It checks every box that each of my colleagues has stated as a priority. … If my Republican colleagues continue to refuse to show up to work, it proves, once and for all, they had no intention on getting any deal done.”

State law requires a quorum of at least four members to set the property tax rate. The court has until Oct. 28 to set the tax rate. Failure to come to an agreement would force the county to adopt what is known as the “no new revenue rate,” a levy that generates the same amount of money as the previous year. In Harris County’s case, the no new revenue rate would include an additional $45 million from developed properties added to the tax roll this year.

Again, this is a legislative minority getting to set the terms because of an anti-majoritarian component of our state constitution. If we are going to bring up the quorum-busting by Democratic State House members again, I will remind you that 1) unlike the State House Dems, Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey can do their thing from the comfort of their homes – they do not have to flee to another state to avoid being detained by the cops and dragged back to the county courthouse; and 2) the Republican legislative majority eventually got everything they wanted and all they had to do was wait it out, while the Democratic Commissioners Court majority has no choice but to negotiate. Either way, they cannot do what they would have done if the two Republican Commissioners didn’t have this power. These are two very different situations.

As far as the fear that somehow the three Democratic members of Commissioners Court will suddenly appear, gavel them into an official meeting, and pass their preferred budget before they can abscond again, the following is from the Harris County Attorney’s office:

Harris County Commissioners Court has issued a notice for a special meeting on Monday, October 17 that will focus on proposed tax rates and changes to the budget.

In response to members of court claiming they will skip the meeting because of concerns that a tax rate may be adopted, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee issued the following statement:

“There is no ‘vagueness’ about whether Commissioners Court can adopt a tax rate at Monday’s special meeting. The answer is no. Nor does the court having the Monday meeting mean that they could adopt a tax rate at some subsequent meeting with fewer than four members present.

If any member of court plans to skip Monday’s meeting, they should be honest about why, and not claim that they’re doing so out of fear that a tax rate could be adopted.”

State law requires that prior to a Commissioners Court holding a tax hearing those rates must first be noticed to the public at least 5 days prior to the hearing. Any vote to adopt those rates must take place after the hearing but not later than 7 days after the hearing.

Like I said, we’ll see. I don’t trust these guys and neither should you. Even if there’s an agreement reached, it was done under ridiculous circumstances. The Adrian Garcia deal, if that’s what we get, is fine as it is, it’s the process that’s the problem.

So many abortion clinics have closed

Most of them are in Texas.

More than half of the 23 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, according to a new report.

Twelve clinics have shuttered their operations entirely in the state, and the rest have focused on other services, which could include cancer screenings, STI treatments and contraception, according to the review by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health access. The count did not include a list of clinics that have closed.

Nearly half of the 26 abortion clinics that have closed nationally since the court’s decision were in Texas, according to the report.

[…]

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, which lifted federal abortion protections, several independent abortion providers announced they were relocating their Texas operations to states where the procedure is still allowed. Whole Woman’s Health, which is moving its Texas operations to New Mexico, had worked in Texas for nearly 20 years, with clinics in Austin, McAllen, Fort Worth, and McKinney before this summer.

Whole Woman’s Health now offers a program in which Texas patients who are up to 11 weeks pregnant can go to New Mexico or four other states for a telemedicine appointment and pick up prescribed abortion medication in that state. It also plans to open a physical clinic in New Mexico and is in the process of searching for a building.

“We know the same amount of people in the community we serve still need abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group’s founder and CEO. “The ban doesn’t do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies; it just keeps people from getting professional medical care.”

Two things to keep in mind here. One is that the number of clinics in Texas at the time of the Dobbs decision was already way down from the early 2010s. This is because of the the anti-abortion law that was passed in 2013, the one that Wendy Davis famously filibustered against, which was aimed at regulating clinics out of business; this was a prime example of a so-called TRAP law, which stood for “targeted restrictions (or regulations) on abortion providers”. You know, the law that forced abortion clinics to transform themselves into ambulatory surgical units and did things like require minimum corridor widths, under the bullshit guise of “safety”. The Supreme Court in 2015, which still had Anthony Kennedy on it, threw out this law on the grounds that it was a lying pile of baloney that did nothing to actually promote safety and put an “undue burden” on the providers. (The case was Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt, you may have heard of it.) For a brief shining moment, clinics and abortion advocates in Texas began making plans to sue the state over other restrictive laws that this decision would have rendered unconstitutional.

And then 2016 happened, and we know the rest. But the point is that in between the passage of the 2013 TRAP law and the 2015 Hellerstedt decision, more than half of the clinics that had provided abortions in Texas had closed. None, as far as I know, had reopened following Hellerstedt, though going by the numbers in both stories it’s likely some new places began offering abortion services. However you slice it, the number of clinics that were around to close this year was down sharply from less than ten years ago. We were already a state where getting an abortion was exceedingly difficult to do for many women.

What this all means is that even if Democrats manage to fill the inside straight and put themselves in a position to re-establish abortion rights nationwide in 2023, we’re a long way off from abortion being readily available in Texas again. That process could take a decade or more, and that’s assuming that Republicans don’t gain a trifecta and do a national abortion ban or some other horrible thing. We have some hope of making the laws right again. Getting back to where we were, let alone where we need to be, that is a much longer-term project. Daily Kos has more.

Endorsement watch: Yeah, I’m still mad

Here’s that Chuck Crews endorsement I thought we were going to get on Wednesday instead of that giant turd the Chron gifted us with.

Chuck Crews

State Rep. Briscoe Cain’s three terms in the Texas House could charitably be described as harmful buffoonery, full of extreme and divisive social media rhetoric that mirrors his approach to policymaking. But, as Texas Monthly rated him the state’s worst legislator in 2017 and in 2021, he’s inept even at that.

What’s clear to us is that the people in his district — which straddles the Houston Ship Channel and includes Pasadena, Deer Park, most of Baytown and La Porte — aren’t well-served by his leadership. Voters in the Republican stronghold keep returning him to office, but people in this area need a representative focused on chemical plant safety, education and air quality. Cain’s priorities? Election fraud, Twitter trolling and abortion lawsuits.

[…]

While Cain sets a low bar, we hope for more out of a challenger than the bare minimum. Fortunately, Democratic challenger Chuck Crews struck us as direct, capable and thoughtful, with a professional background that would help his constituents. A longtime petrochemical engineer, Crews said he’d put his extensive knowledge of the industry to use right away in the Legislature to make plants mechanically safer and environmentally cleaner for surrounding communities. He said he’d do all he could to improve the energy grid, legalize cannabis and bolster rural health care.

“You can’t throw a rock in this district without hitting a chemical plant somewhere. I’m a chemical engineer with 15 years experience in the field,” Crews told us. “I would be the better representative for this district because I know the work, I’ve crawled through distillation columns to inspect them … we need a representative who actually represents us.”

Crews, 48, said he was a field organizer in O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate, his first foray into partisan politics, though he’s also worked numerous times as an elections judge. Prior to 2020, no Democrat had even run for the District 128 seat in more than a decade.

We urge voters there to choose Crews because he is the candidate focused on policy and people, and not on partisan noise.

My interview with Chuck Crews is here. They go on at some length against harmful buffoon Cain, but I’m too bitter to enjoy it right now. You go ahead if that feels good to you, they make a solid case. I will stop here before I say something I might later regret.

They also endorsed in three SBOE races.

The culture wars have turned schools into political battlegrounds, as few things spark voters’ passions more than the future of their kids and, by extension, the future of our state. In Texas, the State Board of Education has the final say on curriculum standards, veto power over new charter schools and shared responsibility for managing the permanent fund that backs the debt schools take on.

In their meetings with the editorial board, the candidates who made the strongest case were the ones who kept the best interests of students and teachers in mind, rather than parroting party platform talking points.

They endorsed Republican incumbent Will Hickman in SBOE6 in a close call over Democrat Michelle Palmer, whose interview is here. I don’t have anything bad to say about Hickman, but Palmer is a star and I will be happily voting for her. In District 7 they endorsed Democrat Dan Hochman against a Republican wingnut, and in District 8 they endorsed Republican incumbent Audrey Young against a Libertarian perennial candidate, a fellow who has run as a Democrat and as a Republican in past elections.

Endorsement watch: Travesty

I have to link to this atrocious Chron endorsement of Republican Alexandra Mealer, but I refuse to quote from it. Instead, I’m going to crib from the daily Texas AFL-CIO email newsletter, which had its own thoughts on the matter:

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Our Brothers and Sisters in the Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation are standing tall for the reelection of County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a champion of working families. The ALF today posted a list of Hidalgo’s amazing accomplishments as she navigated a concentration of natural disasters in her first term.

The timing of the statement was appropriate. In a tortured editorial, the Houston Chronicle today endorsed Hidalgo’s Republican opponent. The editorial has so much praise of Hidalgo, so many misgivings about her opponent, and so much acknowledgment of disagreement on the editorial board that it has the clear look of a publisher’s intervention.

Hidalgo beat the Chronicle’s endorsement in 2018 and the labor movement is working overtime to make sure she does so again in 2022.

Statement from ALF Political Director Jay Malone:

“We’re incredibly disappointed in the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board’s decision to back an extremist candidate for Harris County Judge. Not only has Lina Hidalgo consistently invested in public safety – including a proposed 10% increase in next year’s budget – but she also recognizes that security and safety isn’t just about crime, it’s also about keeping families in their homes, helping them to keep the lights and heat on, and expanding opportunities for everyone, regardless of the zip code you live in.”

“Under Lina Hidalgo, Harris County has kept over 70,000 working families in their homes during the pandemic, expanded access to affordable childcare, worked to raise wages for essential workers and improve safety standards on construction sites and in retail stores, and implemented common-sense measures to keep us safe during the pandemic. And she fought back when state leadership tried to prevent Harvey recovery dollars from going where they’re needed, recovering $750 million earlier this year.

“Unlike her opponent, who is funded by West Texas billionaires and county contractors, Lina has taken a stand to end the corrupt system that puts the interests of the rich and connected first and leaves the rest of us with failed drainage, pockmarked highways, and collapsing bridges. The working people of Harris County stand with Lina.”

Throughout her tenure in office, Judge Hidalgo has worked closely with the labor movement to develop, pass, and implement policies to expand opportunity and keep working people safe, healthy, and in their homes. Among the accomplishment of Harris County Commissioner’s Court since Lina was sworn into office in 2019:

I completely agree. I was especially angered when they blamed the Republican quorum breaking on the Democrats on the Court, for not being flexible enough in their negotiations, as if they somehow could not grasp that Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey have no incentive to bargain in good faith. They get what they want if nothing happens! Even better, they get simps like the Chron editorial board to blame the other guys for their actions. I don’t know if they’re being deeply naive or willfully blind, but it’s infuriating that they can’t see this basic fact. Their ending note that they hope Mealer will somehow overcome her partisan preferences and govern in a manner that is completely at odds with her own campaign has big “endorse Ted Cruz in 2012 on the hope that he’ll somehow morph into Kay Bailey Hutchison 2.0″ energy. How’d that one work out?

And to think, my day started by reading the print edition endorsement of Chuck Crews in HD128, in which they gave a proper lashing of Briscoe Cain, and thinking I’d get to blog about that and it would all be puppies and sunshine. But that one still isn’t on their site (at least as of last night when I drafted this), and instead this turd is. Where do I send the invoice for that new bottle of Tums I had to buy?