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Show Business for Ugly People

In which I indulge in a bit of schadenfreude

A base instinct, I admit, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The district director for Texas’ newest congresswoman, Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

The far-right website Current Revolt first reported a series of long-running allegations against Aron Peña in a story published last week. The website, which is associated with the far right in Texas politics, said it was told Peña is ​​“accused of multiple instances of harassment of teenage staffers,” including “unwanted touching, inappropriate sexual comments, and forcing himself on staffers.”

The Texas Tribune found that Peña’s previous employer, the state Republican Party, had investigated allegations of harassment against him. And when he was then Flores’ district director, he was accused of touching and kissing an intern without her consent. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The accusations are serious and not a reflection of our values,” Flores spokesperson Daniel Bucheli said in a statement. “We addressed the allegations as soon as we were made aware, and Mr. Peña resigned.”

Bucheli’s statement referred to the allegations in the Current Revolt piece. Flores’ office declined any additional comment and would not discuss the specific allegations related to the intern. The office also would not answer questions about when Peña resigned and whether it was before or after the Current Revolt article was published.

“I emphatically deny the allegations,” Peña said in a statement to the Tribune, calling them politically motivated.

“After losing several campaigns in the primary a handful of Republicans in the losing camp motivated by revenge have engaged in a long-standing effort to discredit the good work of the Hidalgo County Republican Party,” he said. “Attacks have been made against anyone who disagrees with their efforts.”

He said he left the Flores campaign due to “serious health issues (blood clots in the legs and lungs)” and so he would not be a “distraction in the closing days of an election.”

The allegation against Peña was that he assaulted an intern while driving her and a second intern home at the end of a workday, according to two people familiar with the situation. Peña was said to have dropped off the second intern first, even though it was out of the way, the people said. Once he was alone with the first intern in the car, he was reported to take longer routes to her house and began touching her and kissing her, despite her telling him to stop, according to the people.

Peña did not deny the incident took place but told the Tribune that the intern started it and that it was consensual.

Peña is a member of a prominent family in Republican politics in South Texas. His sister, Adrienne Peña-Garza, is the chairperson of the Hidalgo County GOP. His father is Aaron Peña, a former state representative who is running for a state appeals court seat.

There’s more, and you should also read these two stories from Texas Public Radio that add a lot more detail about the many allegations against this guy. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he is at the least a serious creep – hell, just note the nickname he was given, as per that first TPR story. I have a strong urge to go wash my hands right now.

Normally, I wouldn’t devote a post to a story like this. There’s a flood of news about things I want and need to follow, and sadly a shitty dude in politics is common and mundane and let’s be honest far too bipartisan these days. The reason I’m picking up this one is because of the connection to former State Rep. Aaron Peña, who was a Democrat until he switched parties in the most obsequious and ladder-climbing way after the 2010 election. Just two years before that he’d been cheerfully hobnobbing with a bunch of us progressive bloggers (there were a lot more bloggers back then) at the 2008 TDP convention in Austin. There are plenty of pictures documenting it. Peña himself had been a blogger and had gotten a lot of attention from us as a result. All of it was casually discarded when he saw an opportunity to sidle up to victors in a wipeout election year. His new buddies couldn’t find a way to draw him a district he could win in 2012, so that was the end of the line for him, at least as far as the Legislature went. I hadn’t given him any thought since then. Seeing his name in this story now, well, I got a good bitter laugh out of it. The elder Peña got plenty of attention when he made that switch over a decade ago. He’s getting some more now thanks to his sons ugly behavior. Hope you enjoy this return visit to the spotlight, dude.

More on the Gillespie County elections office resignations

From Votebeat, how this mess got started.

Last November’s sleepy constitutional amendment election nearly came to blows in Gillespie County, a central Texas county known for its vineyards. A volunteer poll watcher, whose aggressive behavior had rankled election workers all day, attempted to force his way into a secure ballot vault.

The burly man was repeatedly blocked by a county elections staffer. Shouting ensued. “You can’t go in there,” the staffer, Terry Hamilton, insisted to the man, who towered over Hamilton. “We can see anything we want!” the poll watcher and his fellow election integrity activists yelled, according to an election worker who witnessed the scene. They accused Hamilton and Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera of a variety of violations of the state elections code, which they quoted, line by line.

“Oh Lord, they can cite chapter and verse,” recalled Sue Bentch, a Fredericksburg election judge who saw the confrontation that night. “But you know, just as the devil can cite scripture for its own purposes it seemed to me that it was often cited out of context and misinterpreted.”

“Finally, I called the sheriff’s officer,” said Bentch. The officer barred the activists from the vault. “Poor Terry was coming to fisticuffs.”

Previous elections had been no better. In 2020, a poll watcher called the cops on Herrera and filmed election employees in a dark parking lot. The same year, Herrera received a clutch of obscene, often racist, emails. And in 2019, a group of activists filed suit after Fredericksburg voters overwhelmingly rejected an obscure public-health ballot measure. That election, the activists argued, had been irrevocably tainted by fraud.

Three years of these hostilities were clearly enough for Herrera, who resigned this month.

The rest of the office staff — one full-time employee and one part-time employee — also departed, leaving the elections office completely vacant.

Recent media coverage of the exodus attributed it to threats of the type that have become common since the 2020 presidential election. In fact, Votebeat’s review of court documents, emails, and social media postings show Herrera and others struggling to combat fringe election conspiracy theories in Gillespie County long before former President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to question the integrity of the 2020 vote.

In Gillespie County in 2019, the fringe was focused on fluoride.

See here for the background, and go read the rest, there’s a lot more. This is a reminder that shitty paranoid conspiracy theories existed well before The Former Guy, but as with most other bad things, he amplified and intensified them, in this case with some generous assistance from the Gillespie County Republican Party. I have no idea what a good way forward for Gillespie County is, but it’s not my problem to solve. I feel bad for the people of good faith who are trying to solve it. The problem is a lot bigger than they are.

Whither the Log Cabin Republicans

A whole lot of words about a group of people that make no sense to me.

In June 1998, a group of gay and lesbian conservatives, pushing for greater representation at the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth, found themselves in a frightening clash with members of their own party.

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans were protesting at the gathering of party faithful after a state GOP official made offensive comments comparing the group to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles. The group was also protesting the rejection of their request to host a booth at the convention — the second time in a row they’d been denied — where they hoped to share information about their organization.

Counterprotesters surrounded the Log Cabin members, wielding signs with homophobic slurs and phrases like “The Gay Life = AIDS Then Hell.” They pushed and spat and shoved their fingers in the faces of the gay Republicans.

Richard Tafel, the former executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans which bills itself as the “nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies,” attended the Texas convention that year and recalls thinking he was in serious danger as they advocated for respect from members of their own party.

“We’re here to draw the line,” Tafel declared at the protest. “No more hatred, no more hatred in the name of God. And we won’t be silenced.”

A counterprotester threw a sign at his face.

“It was a tornado of emotion, volatile and dangerous, ready to touch down and sweep us all away at any moment. I was afraid for my own safety and that of others,” wrote Dale Carpenter, a former president of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, in a newsletter later that year.

Ultimately, no one was injured that day. But it was a vivid display of homophobia within the party.

More than two decades later, this year’s Texas Republican convention made headlines again for its attitudes toward LGBTQ people. The party adopted a platform in June at its convention in Houston declaring that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” That party position comes after similar language had been stripped from the platform just four years earlier, representing a backward step for Log Cabin members who have for years been fighting for acceptance within their ranks.

Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president.

I won’t argue with that. I can understand being gay and conservative, in the old-school business-friendly Republican sense of that word. Lower taxes, fewer regulations, less government – not my cup of chamomile, but I can see the argument. I can’t understand why any LGBTQ person today would want to associate themselves with the Republican Party, given not just the platform of the deranged Texas GOP but the legislative and legal actions being taken by Republican politicians and candidates and supporters around the country. It’s not a matter of worldviews, it’s a matter of the party not wanting you to exist. Read on for more of where these folks, many of whom like Dale Carpenter no longer identify as Republican, came from and where they are now.

(NB: The story has some quotes from Marco Roberts, the former state chair for Log Cabin. I’ve been on “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” on Houston Matters with Marco a number of times, including last month and earlier this month. He’s an affable and thoughtful person and I enjoy being on those segments with him. I hadn’t actually realized he was former Log Cabin until I read this story, even though the intro line that host Craig Cohen uses for him changed – it used to credit him with that association. I was thinking about him as I started reading this story and just wanted to mention that here.)

All of Gillespie County’s elections staff resigns

Who could blame them?

Citing threats and even stalking, all three employees at the Gillespie County elections office have resigned from their positions, leaving the office empty with less than three months before the primary election in November.

The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post first reported the wave of resignations last Wednesday, after staff say they received numerous threats and in some cases, even stalking. Now former Gillespie County Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera told the Standard that after the 2020 election she was threatened, stalked and called out on social media.

“The year 2020 was when I got the death threats,” Herrera told the Post. “It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney, and it was suggested that I forward it to FPD (Fredericksburg Police Department) and the sheriff’s office.”

[…]

Josh Blank, director of research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says that with the threats election workers are facing — coupled with an already difficult job — it is more surprising that additional election workers have not yet resigned.

“You’re asking people to do more work under greater scrutiny, and now, threats of physical violence. So it’s not so surprising that this sort of, you know, election workers has decided to resign.” Blank said.

Gillespie County voter Victoria McClurd says that she was both shocked and not shocked that resignations occurred.

“If they’ve been receiving death threats, then I would too, because we’ve gotten to a point where the threats are not benign,” McClurd said. “[In] the last election I was going to be a poll person, and they were talking to us about what to do if someone comes in and is violent. That’s not what happens in a civilized society.”

Sam Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for communications, said the state is already working with Gillespie County officials to help them move forward and prepare for the upcoming election.

“We have already committed to sending trainers from our office to ensure that the County will have the tools and resources they need to conduct a successful election in November,” he said in an email statement.

As we know, it’s not just in Gillespie County that election workers are being terrorized. These folks were just the highest profile to date to say screw it, my life and my family’s life aren’t worth this shit. Note that Gillespie County voted 79% for The Former Guy in 2020. At the risk of trying to impute rational thought on these idiots, what exactly do you think was going on there?

Obviously, the bulk of the blame here lies with our felonious ex-president, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Every statewide elected Republican that has ever dabbled with election conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about voter “fraud”, casting suspicion on mail ballots or ballots cast in Democratic counties, they all share the blame for this. State Rep. Kyle Biederman, who “represents” Gillespie County, is one of the worst offenders out there. If they would like for their own elections to be handled in a smooth and competent manner, now would be a good time to say something to push back on the paranoia and rage that they’ve been stoking. Greg Abbott could ask the Texas Rangers to step in and investigate the threats made against Anissa Herrera and her colleagues. Ken Paxton could personally vow to prosecute whoever gets arrested to the fullest extent of the law. Dan Patrick could promise to pass a law that would offer more protection to election workers and provide harsher penalties for making these kinds of threats. That won’t undo their damage but it ought to make the jackals doing the threatening think twice about it. It would also be the right thing to do, and might help turn the temperature down a bit.

This is a five-alarm fire. For once, the arsonists have a chance to try to atone for their sins. What are they going to do about it?

UPDATE: From the Express News, as carried by the Chron:

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher told the Standard-Radio Post that the entire staff resigned for similar reasons, leaving the county in a dire situation for the upcoming November election.

He said that the county has “some people who are pretty fanatical and radical about things” and drove out Herrera and the staff. Stroeher said that the job became more difficult than it probably should be “because of some individuals who are continuing to question how they are doing things,” according to the Standard-Radio Post.

“Elections are getting so nasty and it’s getting dangerous,” Stroeher said to the Standard-Radio Post.

Stroeher told the outlet that he will be contacting the Texas secretary of state for guidance about holding the November elections.

“It’s unfortunate because we have candidates that need to be elected, and we have voters who want their voices to be heard by the ballots,” Stroeher said. “I don’t know how we’re going to hold an election when everybody in the election department has resigned.”

And what have you been doing to combat that fanaticism and radicalism you mention, Judge Stroeher? This is your responsibility, too.

Vote No and take the credit anyway

It’s a tale as old as time.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans in Texas are proud to stand and announce local grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The problem is they all voted against it. All of them.

For the second time in two weeks, Houston scored a big grant from the Department of Transportation, and for the second time in two weeks, Republicans were quick to show up for the ribbon cutting. The back-to-back $21 million announcements, first for the Telephone Road Main Street Redevelopment project and then for 20 new electric buses, were celebrated by local Houston officials, even Republicans who opposed the projects.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, both of whom proudly supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act back in 2021, talked about how these funds make needed investment in often overlooked communities. Both programs will serve low to moderate income communities by providing cleaner and more efficient public transportation as well as safer streets.

The announcement also attracted representatives of the “C” team – Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw – who lined up to show support. Staffers from all stood with METRO Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to make Monday’s announcement.

Earlier this year, Texas Republican Representative Ronny Jackson claimed an “instrumental” role in securing funding for a water purification project in his district despite vocal opposition to the infrastructure bill, which is funding the project. Jackson voted against the measure and mocked it as “bloated,” but apparently not too bloated for his pet project.

Newly-elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Brownsville also opposed the infrastructure bill, but is now touting the federal largesse pouring into South Texas without revealing that she vehemently opposed the enabling legislation as “wasteful” and smearing Republicans who voted for the bill “the RINO Bunch.”

She joins a long list of Republicans who have recently “voted no and taken the dough,” in refusing to support investments in their communities to please their far-right base, but then being the first in line to take credit.

See here for the background. The “C” team (great name, btw) also voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. But if you’re going to laugh, it’s best to point fingers at the objects of your laughter as well.

Texas is sooooooooo gerrymandered…

How gerrymandered are we? By this measure, we’re literally as gerrymandered as we could possibly be.

But just how biased have modern-day maps become in the state of Texas? The map that was approved last October is so highly biased, it is quite literally off the charts, according to the SMU findings.

The open-source software that the SMU researchers use helps them generate millions of maps that follow state guidelines for drawing districts.

The software allowed the researchers to answer a simple question: “If you didn’t try to design [maps] to maximize Democratic seats or Republican seats, if you just pick them randomly to satisfy the law — what would you get?” said Andrea Barreiro, associate professor of mathematics at SMU.

Using this large set of randomly generated maps, the group established a baseline for what a typical map that follows state guidelines looks like. With this baseline, the researchers were then able to measure how far from the baseline a proposed map was — and, therefore, how biased it was.

“If you have something that’s way outside of [the baseline], then there must have been some design goal that pushed it away from all these randomly generated maps, and that’s what we would call a biased map,” said Scott Norris, SMU associate professor of mathematics.

As soon as Texas’ first proposed congressional maps were made available on the Capitol Data Portal in late September, the SMU team got to work analyzing how the maps fared.

As different maps were proposed, the team generated over a million maps to create an unbiased baseline, offering key measures that are commonly used by political scientists to assess gerrymandering.

They completed this analysis for 59 proposed congressional maps. (The SMU team also shared their analysis for proposed Texas House, Senate and city council maps.)

Of the 1.5 million maps that the team generated and analyzed to compare with the final proposed Texas congressional district map, not a single baseline map showed levels of bias as high.

The proposed map was more biased than every single map their software had generated, the SMU researchers showed.

With their findings in hand, the SMU team reached out to all members of the Texas subcommittees involved in redistricting, as well as the researchers’ own local legislators.

They sent emails and posted to the comment portals provided by the legislature. Several of them testified at an open community hearing, explaining how this software works and advocating for its use to create less biased maps.

But they only heard back from a few offices. “The only people that we have actually spoken to are Democrats. … As you might expect, we haven’t had any interest from Republican members of the committees and, you know, that makes sense from their perspective,” said Norris.

[…]

The SMU group’s software revealed that the approved Texas map reduced the competitiveness of almost 50% of congressional districts in the state. This means that Republicans can win 50% of the state’s congressional seats, with only 42.2% of the state’s votes, the researchers showed.

In addition to dampening the need for officials to earn votes, gerrymandering can also leave large numbers of voters in a district with a representative who is out of touch with their community, said SMU researchers.

“When we testified to the House about this, I was struck [by] how many rural Republican voters were basically pleading with legislators not to break up their districts,” said Matthew Lockard, SMU associate professor of philosophy.

Farmers worried that their lives are so different from those of the city voters they might be in a district with that it just didn’t make sense.

You can see all the data here. I will confess, I don’t really understand the numbers they have in the tables there, but you don’t need a deep understanding of their methods to grok that the Republican-drawn ones were more gerrymandered than all 1.5 million randomly-drawn legal maps done by the team. We saw last decade that in a rapidly growing and diversifying state like Texas big changes can happen in a short time. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, just that the future isn’t set in stone. But that’s not for lack of trying on the Republicans’ part.

Meet the new billionaires in charge of Texas

Somewhat worse than the old billionaires, who were already pretty bad.

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview.

Over the last decade, Dunn and his wife, Terri, have contributed more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees, while Wilks and his wife, Jo Ann, have given more than $11 million, putting them among the top donors in the state.

The beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the farthest-right members of the legislature and authors of the most high-profile conservative bills passed in recent years, according to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data. Dunn and Wilks also hold sway over the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy groups that push conservative policy issues.

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it.”

[…]

Texas’ far-right shift has national implications: The candidates Dunn and Wilks have supported have turned the state legislature into a laboratory for far-right policy that’s starting to gain traction across the US.

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature.

“I don’t think regular Texans are as conservative as their elected officials,” Kennedy said. “The reason that Texas has moved to the right is because the money’s there.”

There’s more, so read the rest. I’m old enough to remember when James Leininger was the scary right wing billionaire main character of Texas. We have a never-ending supply of these assholes. Yes, gerrymandering is a part of the problem here, but there will always be some number of deep red districts, and the same problem exists at the statewide level as well. Money is a big factor, though as noted it’s not always the difference-maker. Ultimately, the problem and the solution remain the same. I don’t know any way out of this but through it.

Grifters always stick together

Two shitty tastes that taste even shittier together.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pretty familiar with Catherine Engelbrecht. He’s been a guest on her podcast, chatting about their shared passion: rooting out voter fraud. They both have gone to great lengths to try to support former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And when Engelbrecht, founder of the nonprofit True the Vote, has found herself in hot water, Paxton’s office has turned out to be a helpful ally.

Most recently, a state judge sided with Engelbrecht’s argument that it should be Paxton’s office – not a court – that should probe allegations made by a True the Vote donor who says he was swindled out of $2.5 million.

But more than a year after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s office won’t say whether it ever investigated the donor dispute. Last month, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that True the Vote had engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million to Engelbrecht and other insiders, while failing to back up its voter fraud claims.

In the reporting of that story, Paxton’s office withheld financial documents and email communications from Reveal and issued contradictory and inaccurate statements about the nonprofit, which has been a leading voice in driving the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to the core of GOP ideology.

The embattled attorney general this year skated through a contested primary race. But he faces potential disbarment for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, is under investigation by the FBI, is getting sued by whistleblowers in his office and awaits trial for a seven-year-old felony indictment for securities fraud. In their lawsuit, former staff members have accused him of using his office to provide legal favors to an ally, saying he appointed a special prosecutor to target adversaries of a donor who was under investigation.

His office advocated on Engelbrecht’s behalf before the Texas Supreme Court in 2016 when she got into legal trouble with her previous nonprofit organization, King Street Patriots, for being overtly political. He appeared on her podcast in July 2020, during which Engelbrecht said she considers Paxton a friend.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the dignity and the respect that you bring to that office,” she said.

“I feel blessed to have this opportunity, especially in a time like this. It’s really a crisis,” Paxton replied.

“God bless you. God bless you, Ken Paxton, God bless you. And thank you for all that you and your team do,” Engelbrecht added.

See here for the earlier story of Engelbrecht’s 2020 election-related grifting. Of course Ken Paxton would be her buddy and would be there to help cover up her misdeeds. It’s his core competency. If Rochelle Garza wins election this year, she’s going to have to create an entire division at the AG’s office to investigate all of the malfeasance that Paxton buried, including his own. She may need multiple terms just to get to the bottom of it all. Go read the rest and remind yourself of what could be if she does win this fall.

There’s only so much that Austin (or any other Texas city) can do to protect abortion rights

I appreciate this, I really do, but it’s important to remember that it can only ever be a band-aid, and very likely a temporary one.

The city of Austin is attempting to shield its residents from prosecution under a Texas law that would criminalize almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned — the first push by a major city in a red state to try to circumvent state abortion policy.

Councilmember Chito Vela is proposing a resolution that would direct the city’s police department to make criminal enforcement, arrest and investigation of abortions its lowest priority and restrict city funds and city staff from being used to investigate, catalogue or report suspected abortions.

“This is not an academic conversation. This is a very real conversation where people’s lives could be destroyed by these criminal prosecutions,” said Vela, who shared the details of the resolution first with POLITICO. “In Texas, you’re an adult at 17. We are looking at the prospect of a 17-year-old girl who has an unplanned pregnancy and is seeking an abortion [being] subjected to first-degree felony charges — up to 99 years in jail — and that’s just absolutely unacceptable.”

[…]

The new resolution doesn’t explicitly decriminalize abortion but rather directs police to make it their lowest enforcement priority in an effort to skirt conflict with state law, Vela said. But it highlights the tension between red state and the blue cities, where a new front in the battle over abortion rights is opening as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision on Roe in the coming weeks.

A city of Austin spokesperson said in a statement that “the city is prepared to take the steps necessary to implement this resolution upon passage by City Council.” The council passed a similar measure in 2020 that effectively decriminalized marijuana by ending arrests and fines for low-level possession, which the police department has followed.

Vela said he is having “ongoing conversations” with Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon about the proposal and hopes the department will comply with the directive. A department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“The police do not want to be in the middle of this controversy. The police right now in Austin are struggling with staffing,” Vela said. “I don’t think the police want to dedicate resources to these types of, what I would call, ‘political crimes.’”

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Ken Paxton did not respond to a request for comment. Paxton, a Republican, has been at the vanguard of restricting abortion access in Texas, which has been in the spotlight since the state’s six-week abortion ban, enforced through a private right of action, took effect in September 2021.

Austin’s proposal, which aims to protect both patients and providers, comes as an extension of the city’s efforts to preserve abortion access despite the state’s restrictions. The city has, for instance, provided logistical support for abortion access, including transportation, lodging and child care, since 2019 — a model St. Louis is now looking to replicate.

More cities in Texas could be next. Julie Oliver, executive director of Ground Game Texas, a group that pushes for progressive, local ballot measures, said they are looking at pushing similar measures in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. If that isn’t successful, the group plans to turn to the local ballot initiative process.

“Home rule charter cities have a tremendous amount of leeway and self-governance, and part of that is deciding which laws you’re going to prioritize,” Oliver said. “And so, because you have a finite number of resources in a finite budget, cities are constantly deciding which laws they’re going to enforce and which ones they are not.”

I support the idea and I love the creativity, as we have discussed what progressive cities can do to protect abortion rights. That includes proactive measures to thwart prosecution, which is very much in a city’s purview. The problem with this approach is simply that as long as the state is run by Republicans, they will pass laws to prevent cities from taking these measures and will punish them for even trying. I’m sure I don’t have to recite to you the long list of attacks on local control lately, but we have already seen reporting to say that the Briscoe Cain uterus-invasion caucus will file bills in 2023 to allow other counties to pursue prosecution of anyone who violates the new forced-birth laws if the local DA refuses. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine state troopers being given the authority to investigate these claims, which I’d bet will come with a bunch of money to hire more staff specifically for that purpose. I’m sure there will be more private vigilante bounties included as well, to help fund the effort. If recent history is any indicator, they will go much farther than anything Austin tries to do, to send a clear message that they will not tolerate any dissent. Do we really want to test that hypothesis?

Please note that I am not saying that any action on our part is pointless and we should just give up. Not at all! I am just saying – again, and again, and again – that we need to win some statewide elections. The Republicans can only do this as long as they are in control, and they will only be incentivized to do this as long as they perceive there’s no price to pay for it. The antidote for that is obvious. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m certainly not saying that this will be an opportune year to do it. I’m just saying that as clever and well-intentioned as these ideas sound, they’re sand castles against the tide. The problem is bigger than anything a city can do. We have to solve it at that level if we want to get anywhere. Reform Austin, KVUE, and Daily Kos have more.

It’s called “talking out of both sides of your mouth”

It’s an old and effective trick, but that doesn’t mean it has to work.

For a moment Friday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was in two places at once.

At about 3:30, the National Rifle Association played videotaped remarks from the governor in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Abbott had originally planned to attend the conference in person, but he canceled Thursday after facing enormous pressure to do so following the mass shooting that occurred at a Uvalde elementary school on Tuesday afternoon.

So at the same time in Uvalde, Abbott took the stage for a press conference to discuss the state’s response to this week’s tragedy.

The messages of the two Abbotts didn’t quite line up.

In Houston, he said that laws were not enough to stop mass shootings.

“Remember this, there are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using a firearm, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people and peaceful communities,” the virtual Abbott said.

“In Uvalde, the gunman committed a felony under Texas law before he even pulled the trigger. It is a felony to possess a firearm on school premises, but that did not stop him. And what he did on campus is capital murder. That is a crime that would have subjected him to the death penalty in Texas,” Abbott added.

But in Uvalde, he promised new laws and action from the Legislature to try to stop the massacres, and he said “all options were on the table” in regards to a potential special session of the Legislature to address gun violence.

“Do we expect laws to come out of this devastating crime? The answer is absolutely yes. And there will be laws in multiple different subject areas,” the real-life Abbott said. “We need to have a discussion and pass laws to make sure that our schools are safer, and the people of Uvalde and the people of Texas deserve it.”

The status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and talking about it and and do nothing about it.”

The difference between the two Abbotts highlights a fundamental tension that Republican politicians are facing as they attempt to respond to Tuesday’s tragedy: How do you talk about stopping gun violence without talking about guns?

This assumes that they care about stopping gun violence, which assumes facts not in evidence. But the short answer to that question is that they need to lose some (and by “some” I mean “a lot of”) elections over this issue. This is a theme that I’ve repeated ad nauseum here. Republican politicians do respond to pressure. It’s just that the only pressure they’ve felt lately (with the brief exception of the 2018 election) is in their primaries, with their increasingly deranged and authoritarian base. Losing races they had expected to win, whether statewide or in their friendly gerrymandered districts is the one thing that could change that pattern. Until then, why not keep doing what they’re doing, which is to say whatever they feel they need to say to whoever they’re talking to, and then doing nothing while we move on to whatever happens next? Why mess with a winning formula?

Another look at how Galveston County disenfranchised its voters of color

The Trib takes a deep dive.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Carver Park in Texas City, created during segregation, is considered the first African American county park in the state. It sits on land donated by descendants of freedmen who survived slavery and pioneered one of Texas’ oldest Black settlements, the footprint of which sits just a few blocks away.

Until last year, the park sat at the heart of Galveston County’s Precinct 3 — the most diverse of the four precincts that choose the commissioners court, which governs the county along with the county judge. Precinct 3 was the lone seat in which Black and Hispanic voters, who make up about 38% of the county’s population, made up the majority of the electorate.

The precinct sliced the middle of coastal Galveston County, stretching from the small city of Dickinson on the county’s northern end through residential areas of Texas City and down to the eastern end of Galveston Island. Its residents included medical professionals and staff drawn in by The University of Texas Medical Branch, petrochemical workers that operate a large cluster of refineries and commuter employees of the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center.

The area stood as an exemplar of Black political power and progress. For 30 years, Black voters — with support from Hispanics — had amassed enough political clout to decide the county commissioner for Precinct 3, propelling Black leaders onto a majority white county commissioners court. They worked to gain stronger footholds in local governments, elevating Black people into city halls across the precinct. Two years ago, they reached a milestone, electing Texas City’s first Black mayor and a city commission on which people of color are the majority.

But the white Republican majority on the Galveston County’s commissioners court decided last November to dismantle Precinct 3. Capitalizing on its first opportunity to redraw commissioner precincts without federal oversight, the court splintered Black and Hispanic communities into majority-white districts.

Under the final map, which will be used for this year’s election and possibly for a decade, white voters make up at least 62% of the electorate in each precinct, though the county’s total population is only about 55% white. Because white voters in Galveston — like Texas generally — tend to support different candidates than Black and Hispanic voters, the map will effectively quash the electoral power of voters of color.

The new map was so egregious to officials at the U.S. Department of Justice that it prompted the department to file its only federal lawsuit at the county level in the entire nation challenging a redistricting plan as discriminatory.

Black residents here have often needed federal intervention to help them pursue equality and fairness. Without it, it’s possible the white power structure will never voluntarily grant them them political equity and would continue threatening the gains they’ve achieved over the last few decades.

“With the district, people feel that they have a voice and a choice. Without it, no voice, no choice,” said Lucille McGaskey, a longtime Galveston County resident whose community in the city of La Marque was drawn out of Precinct 3. “It’s a shame … that it has come to people trying to wipe other people out.”

See here for a bit of background. The piece goes into Galveston’s racial and political history, and recaps how the soon-to-be-all-Republican Commissioners Court rammed through this new map with no real alternatives and with basically zero public input on the last day to adopt a new map. There are two federal lawsuits that have been filed over this new map, which was able to be adopted because preclearance was killed in 2013, but you know how I feel about the likelihood of any justice that way. Indeed, the story notes that Galveston County has “asked for a postponement in the case until possibly 2023 while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge out of Alabama that could further contract the Voting Rights Act’s protections from discrimination in redistricting”. The writing is on the wall here. The only way forward is more voting, at a time when the powers that be have made it as difficult as possible to vote, and to have your vote make a meaningful difference. I don’t know what else to say.

Ken Paxton finds a new thing to lie about

This counts as personal growth for him.

Best mugshot ever

The state police made him do it.

That’s the excuse Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton gives on his Texas ethics disclosures in place of revealing, as required by law, the addresses of properties he owns in Austin and College Station.

“Redacted for security purposes on request of TX DPS,” the second-term Republican has written on every disclosure form since he began work as attorney general.

There are two problems with that statement: Nothing in the law allows him to refuse to provide the addresses, and none of the parties involved — the Department of Public Safety, Texas Ethics Commission or even Paxton’s own office — could produce any records proving such a request was ever made.

“The department doesn’t have any record of making that request,” DPS spokesman Travis Considine said.

An attorney general’s office spokesman and Paxton’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

The ethics commission is barred from releasing Paxton’s home address in McKinney to the public. He provides that address to the agency annually. It’s unclear, however, why Paxton wouldn’t disclose the addresses of his other properties.

The agency, which enforces campaign finance and political ethics laws, keeps the information on file to ensure transparency for voters and guard against conflicts of interest. Paxton did include the properties’ counties, zip codes and acreage on the paperwork.

One of the unknown addresses is likely that of an Austin home that Paxton’s former aides claim was remodeled by Nate Paul, one of the various perks they said Paxton received in exchange for using his office to benefit Paul, a wealthy investor and campaign donor.

The home, in the Tarrytown neighborhood of Austin, was purchased by Paxton in 2018, county records show. Its appraised value in 2022 was nearly $1.7 million.

[…]

By state law, the ethics commission must redact a fair amount of information from the ethics commission forms before releasing them to the public, including: filers’ home addresses, telephone numbers and names of dependent children.

People who hold public office can check a box to indicate an address is a home address, as Paxton has done most years for his McKinney property, which has a market value of nearly $1.2 million. But those redactions are the commission’s purview.

“A filer may not choose to make their own redactions,” said J.R. Johnson, general counsel with the Texas Ethics Commission. “A filer must include all information required by law.”

Except that Ken Paxton doesn’t care about that. He’s a law unto himself, and he doesn’t answer to anyone else. More to the point, he has figured out that there isn’t anyone or anything that can hold him accountable for his utter contempt for laws and rules and other things that chumps subject themselves to. Well, maybe the voters, and maybe someday the criminal justice system. But until then, he’s gonna keep on giving the system the finger.

The polling data on abortion in Texas

From the Trib:

At a time when Texas is poised to outlaw the vast majority of abortions if the nation’s highest court overturns constitutional protections for the procedure, a recent University of Texas at Austin poll shows most Texan voters think access to abortion should be allowed in some form.

Texas would make performing most abortions a felony if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — a future that looks considerably more likely after a nonbinding draft opinion was leaked from the high court Monday. Constitutional protections for abortion could be struck down as soon as this summer.

The university conducted the poll in April before the court’s document was leaked. The survey found that 78% of respondents believe abortion should be allowed in some form while only 15% said it should be never permitted.

If Roe is overturned, Texas would allow doctors to perform abortions only to save the life of a pregnant person or if that person risked “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”

Around 39% of poll respondents said Texans should always be able to obtain abortions as a matter of personal choice, and 11% of respondents thought abortions should be available for other reasons in addition to pregnancy resulting from rape.

The poll shows that 28% of respondents believe abortions should be available only in cases of rape or incest or when a person’s life is endangered by their pregnancy. And 7% said they didn’t know.

Respondents fell mostly along party lines. Of the Republicans surveyed, 42% said abortions should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or when a person’s life is in danger. The majority of Democrat respondents — 67% — said Texans should be allowed to seek an abortion as a personal choice.

But there were outliers. Among Republicans, 15% said Texans should always be allowed to seek an abortion and 12% said the law should allow Texans to seek abortions for reasons outside of just rape. On the flip side, 5% of Democrats said abortion should be completely outlawed and 13% said it should be allowed only in cases of rape or incest.

From the Chron:

The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin has been tracking abortion trends for years. The researchers’ most recent poll, released in February, found that 53 percent of Texans oppose a complete ban on abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. (Thirty-four percent supported such a policy, and 13 percent didn’t know or had no opinion.)

“When we look at polling of Texas voters, what we find is an issue that people are, broadly, pretty split on,” said Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project. “But ultimately, you find most Texans supportive of at least some access. It’s much more nuanced to the electorate than, certainly, is being portrayed by elected officials looking to take victory laps.”

In February, 43 percent of Texans said they believed abortion laws here should be less strict, while 23 percent said they should stay the same. An additional 23 percent said they should be stricter, and 12 percent had no opinion. Texas banned abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy last September.

An overwhelming majority of Texans — 81 percent — believe abortion should be legal when a woman’s health is seriously endangered. About 73 percent support exceptions for rape or incest, and 58 percent say abortions should be legal if “there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby,” according to an October poll by the Texas Politics Project.

Texas’ six-week abortion ban provides no exceptions for rape, incest or severe fetal abnormality.

Ten years of aggregated polling data from Gallup estimates that 70 percent of Texans believe abortion should be legal at least in some circumstances. About 18 percent believe it should be legal under all circumstances, while 10 percent said it should be legal in most and 42 percent said it should be legal in only a few. An additional 26 percent said the procedure should be outlawed entirely.

That’s in line with most other GOP-led states, according to Gallup.

“Although technically a competitive or ‘purple’ state in terms of how it voted in the past two presidential elections, Texas is more closely aligned with ‘red’ — that is, strongly Republican — states when it comes to its residents’ views on abortion,” Gallup analysts wrote in October.

Another October survey, by researchers at the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, found that nearly 7 in 10 Texans believed the state’s six-week abortion ban was overly restrictive. Still, a majority of residents — 55 percent — supported the law, according to the poll.

At least since 2014, roughly equal portions of Texans have identified as “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” The Texas Politics Project is scheduled to release another poll Wednesday showing roughly similar trend lines, Blank said.

In February, 42 percent of voters said they were pro-choice; 38 percent said they were pro-life. Thirteen percent said they were neither, and 7 percent didn’t know.

“When we talk about abortion attitudes in the public, we’re talking about a set of opinions that, for the most part, are fixed and reinforcing,” Blank said. “Most people know what they think about abortion because they’ve been exposed to these arguments for much of their adult lives.”

But, he noted, most of those “opinions and attitudes” have been developed in a post-Roe world. That makes it difficult to predict how voters will feel or react if the high court does allow states to completely prohibit the procedure.

We’ve seen and talked about a lot of this data before. It’s important to remember three things: How the questions are worded really matters, people don’t always know exactly what the state of current abortion law is in Texas (in particular, lots of people don’t know everything about SB8), and people’s opinions on abortion may not affect how they vote or motivate them to vote.

The big question is whether this impending sea change will have a significant effect on voter behavior this year. One could argue that SB8 effectively banned abortion in Texas already and it didn’t seem to have much effect, but the confusing mechanisms of SB8 may have dampened any effect. The evisceration of Roe is a dominant national news story and will be again when the opinion in that Mississippi case is actually handed down, and there seems to be a big psychological effect in overturning Roe, as some national polls have shown that people had simply not believed that would ever happen. You could argue that the 2014 gubernatorial race was about abortion, at least to some extent, but the dynamics of that race and that year are just very different.

I don’t think we have any idea yet how this will play out, and we may not have even a vaguely decent guess at it for a few more months. We are truly in new territory, and we need to be very careful about what assumptions we make and what past events we extrapolate from. There’s clearly some energy on the Democratic side about this, but it’s May and we don’t know how long that might last. We just don’t know. But we can work to make what we want happen. Maybe now more people will be in on that. It’s our best hope.

Texas misses the train

Greg Abbott’s border hostage-taking has a cost.

The Mexican government said it intends to shift long-range plans to build a trade railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to New Mexico in the wake of Gov. Greg Abbott’s stepped-up border inspections last month, which were widely criticized as being financially damaging and may now leave a lasting impact on relations between Texas and its No. 1 trading partner.

Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said a planned rail and ports expansion — known as the T-MEC Corridor — to connect the Pacific port of Mazatlán to the Canadian city of Winnipeg would not use Texas, but instead the rail line would be routed along the far edge of West Texas up through Santa Teresa, N.M., about 20 miles west of downtown El Paso.

“We’re now not going to use Texas,” Clouthier said at a conference April 28 in Mexico City. “We can’t leave all the eggs in one basket and be hostages to someone who wants to use trade as a political tool.”

Clouthier was referring to what Mexican and U.S. officials and business leaders on both sides of the border have described as chaos generated by Abbott’s April 6 order requiring that all commercial trucks coming from Mexico to Texas go through “enhanced” safety inspections. Abbott said the move was necessary to crack down on human and drug smugglers.

Critics pushed back, saying the governor’s move was motivated by politics and noting that commercial trucks are already checked by U.S. federal authorities. They also noted that border security is a federal responsibility, and that while DPS officials can conduct vehicle safety inspections, they have no authority to conduct searches.

[…]

During a visit to Nuevo Leon, Mexico’s Foreign Minster Marcelo Ebrard told Milenio TV Sunday night that the stepped up inspections were “an extortion scheme, or rather it is extortion: I close the border and you have to sign whatever I say. That’s not a deal, a deal is when you and I are in agreement on something.”

Abbott’s office didn’t return a request for comment.

Jerry Pacheco, president of the Santa Teresa-based Border Industrial Association, called Clouthier’s announcement “a very positive step for New Mexico,” but cautioned that such a project will take years to complete and “anything can happen in that time.”

“I don’t think they’ve even gotten to finish a design yet,” Pacheco said. “So this is very much in the preliminary stages, but the very fact that we’re being discussed in the early stages is a positive thing. If this particular project doesn’t work out, there’ll be other projects that the Mexican government will have and they’ll speak favorably of New Mexico because they know we want to work with them in a constructive way.”

Pacheco said he’s already seen a sea change from the business community in Mexico and the United States.

“It’s been very interesting, but since Gov. Abbott’s truck inspections went away, our traffic numbers remain higher than normal in terms of northbound cargo shipments, which leads me to believe that what I thought would be a temporary fix is actually going to stick in the long term,” he said. Ciudad Juárez and El Paso business leaders “are referring to us now as a ‘very effective delivery route.’ ”

[…]

In many ways, Abbott’s inspections only boosted Santa Teresa, an already thriving community with a port of entry where companies also produce materials and components for factories in Mexico that assemble everything from computers, wind blades, consumer electronics and processed foods to automobiles and industrial equipment that they then ship back to U.S.-based businesses.

Industrial parks in Santa Teresa house big warehouses for products constantly crisscrossing the border, backed by a transportation network that includes an airport and railroad and distribution firms that manage the constant movement of goods in all directions. The entire industrial zone operates as one of the nation’s largest inland ports for truck-and-train transshipments across North America, although Laredo is the No. 1 crossing point for commercial rigs.

The Santa Teresa port has long offered a rapid alternative to congested border crossings in El Paso, where it generally takes two hours or more for northbound trucks to enter the U.S. In contrast, it takes it can less than 20 minutes in Santa Teresa, according to Pacheco.

“For businesses who haven’t used Santa Teresa Port of Entry, think of this alternative as a great, necessary idea,” said Franz Felhaber, president of Felhaber and Company Inc., a customs brokerage company that serves clients on both sides of the border.

I believe the technical term for all of this is “fuck around and find out”. Do things that are bad for business and business will look for opportunities elsewhere – that’s just Capitalism 101. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans cared about that sort of thing, but culture wars and identity have supplanted those values, so this is what we get.

Bloomberg News adds on:

It’s hard to quantify the economic impact of shifting a single rail line, it’s unclear what authority Mexico’s government has to dictate where the crossing would be, and the entire project is still in the very early stages and would take years to complete if it does come to fruition. And to be sure, Mexico has a history of announcing massive infrastructure projects that never get off the ground. But the minister’s comments underscore the frustration the government has with Abbott and the risk of jeopardizing a tight trading relationship.

Mexico is Texas’ largest trading partner, with more than $400 billion of goods crossing annually, everything from avocados that get turned into guacamole to chassis that get turned into pickup trucks. Exports from Texas are equivalent to 17% of the state’s economy, and about one-third of Texas exports go to Mexico.

The significance of the minister’s announcement is that “it’s not just necessarily them being hostile, but them taking a concrete step,” said Nitya Pandalai-Nayar, an economics professor at University of Texas at Austin. “Firms all over the country trade with Mexico, and many of them use Texas as the base for shipping to Mexico.”

You know the old joke about getting a donkey’s attention. Maybe this will get Greg Abbott’s.

Or maybe not. I have no doubt that Abbott and his minions will rabble-rouse over this – they’ll complain about “woke” companies and continue to throw billions of dollars at the border for the purpose of rounding up traffic violators and other misdemeanants, all for the purpose of ginning up the base. It’s been a successful electoral strategy for the most part (2018 being a notable exception), and they’re not going to change course now, or anytime soon without a strong reason to. That reason is, and can only be, losing a bunch of elections. The lesson that the business community needs to internalize is that the Republicans aren’t on their side any more. If they want their daddy’s Republican Party back, they need to get this current incarnation out of office. You and I know what they need to do, it’s just a matter of if they can figure it out. TPM, the Dallas Observer, Reform Austin, Daily Kos, the Current, and Dos Centavos have more.

Keeping the world safe from low tire pressure

Such a visionary.

State troopers ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico earlier this month — which clogged international trade with Mexico — found zero drugs, weapons or any other type of contraband, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety to The Texas Tribune.

Over eight days, starting April 8, troopers conducted more than 4,100 inspections of trucks. Troopers didn’t find any contraband but took 850 trucks off the road for various violations related to their equipment. Other truckers were given warnings, and at least 345 were cited for things such as underinflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said at a Friday news conference with Abbott that the reason troopers hadn’t found any drugs or migrants in commercial trucks is because drug cartels “don’t like troopers stopping them, certainly north of the border, and they certainly don’t like 100% inspections of commercial vehicles on the bridges. And once that started, we’ve seen a decreased amount of trafficking across bridges — common sense.”

But Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said it’s not likely cartels stopped the smuggling of drugs because of the state’s inspections. He said many illegal drugs smuggled into the United States are hidden in small compartments or spare tires of people’s vehicles going through international bridges for tourists. He said if smugglers were trying to hide illegal drugs in a commercial truck, it’s most likely federal immigration officials found them before the trucks were directed to the DPS secondary inspections.

“It just seems odd to me that DPS would be that much of a deterrent for smugglers deciding whether to bring something after already passing through the gauntlet of CBP,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely inspects commercial cargo coming from Mexico for illegal drugs and people being smuggled as soon as truckers cross the international bridges. CBP called Texas’ inspections duplicative and “unnecessary.”

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous entry. Beto is out there talking about this stuff. We need more people on our team joining him in this.

On a related note:

According to an analysis by the Waco-based Perryman Group, the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion due to shipping delays between April 6 and 15, the time in which Abbott’s rule was in effect. Texas alone lost $4.23 billion in gross product.

The economics firm based its estimates on a 2019 study it conducted on a separate border slowdown and updated the data to account for this month’s different circumstances, CEO Ray Perryman told Axios.

Perryman promised to release more detailed numbers later this week.

I haven’t looked to see if Perryman has followed through on that. I tend to like Ray Perryman’s projections in the sense that they generally align with my worldview, but I’m a bit skeptical of their provenance sometimes. I have no doubt that Abbott’s dictum had a negative effect on the economy – hell, that was the plan all along – but I don’t think it’s that easy to put a number on it. Anything that doesn’t come with wide error bars alongside it should be viewed with some side-eye. The concept is sound, the details are fuzzy, that’s all I’m saying.

Abbott ends his border hostage-taking

I cannot get over how stupid and cynical this was, and yet it may be politically successful.

Gov. Greg Abbott reached a fourth and final deal — this one with Tamaulipas’ governor on Friday — to end state troopers’ increased inspections of commercial vehicles at international bridges that gridlocked commercial traffic throughout the Texas-Mexico border for more than a week.

The latest deal should bring trade back to normal after Abbott-ordered enhanced inspections at key commercial bridges caused over a week of backups that left truckers waiting for hours and sometimes days to get loads of produce, auto parts and other goods into the U.S.

At a press conference with Abbott in Weslaco, Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca said his state will continue its five-part security plan, launched in 2016, that includes stationing police every 31 miles on state highways, personality and polygraph tests for officers in the state police department, increasing salaries for police officers and offering scholarships for the children of state police officers.

Abbott said the deals with Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

[…]

When he announced the initiative last week, Abbott said the goal was to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into the state. As of Friday, the Department of Public Safety had not reported any drugs seized or migrants apprehended as a result of the state inspections.

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind, that in the end basically nothing has changed and nothing was accomplished. Sound and fury, all the way down.

Abbott’s critics say the Texas governor’s order was a political ploy to raise his profile in his reelection campaign which has disrupted the economies of Texas and the four Mexican border states.

“A lot of our members are absolutely flabbergasted that this was allowed to happen and that it happened for so long for the sake of border security,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We feel like we were used as bargaining chips.”

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said Abbott is doing a victory lap for a problem he created.

“Abbott is the arsonist who torched the Texas economy by shutting down trade with Mexico to score cheap political points,” he said. “Now he wants credit for putting out the fire by announcing these ridiculous ‘security agreements.’ Texans aren’t buying it and we’ll never forget the chaos Abbott has caused to our economy and our border communities.”

Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said Abbott may have made a political miscalculation with the inspections.

“This seems like it’s not working out for him. His base is pro-business and anti-immigrant and he has just antagonized business while giving voluntary free rides to immigrants,” he said, referring to another Abbott order that has provided bus rides to Washington, D.C., to transport asylum-seekers who have been processed and released by federal authorities — if they volunteered to go.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University who studies U.S.-Mexico relations, said she struggled to understand why Abbott would issue a border directive that would inflict so much damage on his own state’s economy.

“Why shoot himself in the foot? Well, he’s not. He’s calculating,” she said. “This is part of a political spectacle because we are in midterm elections and the economy is bad.”

Abbott can take action that would negatively impact the state economy and not have to pay a price for it because voters are already blaming the Biden administration for inflation, Correa-Cabrera said.

“He’ll probably blame Washington for the unrest and anger that this crisis is going to cause voters,” she said. “You have the perfect excuse to run in an electoral year and to support your party in an electoral year but [you generate] the sense that the other party is to blame for the situation.”

See here, here, and here for the background. We have noted the strategy behind Abbott’s otherwise empty and meaningless actions, and there is certainly a logic and appeal to them. We like to think that reality is a good defense against this kind of concentrated bullshit, but in the year of our Lord 2022 we should know better. Talking about why it’s bullshit is the main hope. Stories like this are good for that effort.

Eladio Cordero, a produce worker at Trinidad Fresh Produce in the McAllen Produce Terminal Market, sorted through jalapeños Thursday — about one in three had orange spots. A few feet away from him, dozens of flies buzzed around a pile of browning onions.

Every day at the terminal, where hundreds of trucks pass through to drop off tons of Mexican-grown goods, the fruits and vegetables that have gone bad are picked out and thrown away.

“The merchandise comes from Mexico and by the time it crosses it can go bad, and those are losses,” said Gustavo Garcia, a floor manager for Trinidad Fresh Produce, a distributor at the terminal.

After Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state inspections on commercial vehicles entering from Mexico last week, the stack of garbage-bound onions grew taller. The jalapeños that didn’t survive the long journey into the U.S. were discarded. Garcia said he doesn’t know if retailers will still want to buy the aging produce he keeps, but if they do, the price will be marked down at least 30%.

[…]

Felix, a 60-year-old Mexican trucker who was transporting tomatoes, onions and avocados, waited about 13 hours in line at the bridge. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retribution and targeted inspections from CBP officials.

Hearing of the delays at the border, he packed water and food for a few days. But other truckers didn’t come as prepared and were sitting in standstill traffic without anything to eat or drink. Felix said he was told by a CBP official that the agency would put portable bathrooms along the bridge for the gridlocked truckers, but he never saw them.

Once Felix made it to the state troopers’ inspection point around 9 p.m., he said they didn’t even peer into his truck, which had been sealed since Mexican authorities inspected it about 600 miles away in the state of Sinaloa.

“There’s no possibility of bringing illegal immigrants in the merchandise or in the cabin,” he said, referencing one of Abbott’s explanations for the inspections. “I can’t bring an illegal immigrant here for money because I know [inspectors] are going to discover them. It’s not a thing here. I don’t know what the politicians’ ideas are. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

[…]

The delays caused by the state’s inspections are the latest blow to farmers and produce businesses in the Rio Grande Valley since 2020. Last year’s winter freeze damaged millions of pounds of product. The pandemic forced companies to size down their workforce and implement virus mitigation strategies. And inflation is sending costs for business needs like fertilizer, diesel and packaging materials soaring.

But Bret Erickson, former president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association and a current executive with Little Bear Produce, a Texas produce grower and distributor, said this latest setback is different.

“There’s nothing you can do about Mother Nature; that’s just part of the farming business,” Erickson said. “But when you’ve got a politician go out and make a decision like Gov. Abbott did, it’s like a slap in the face.”

“Anytime that we are losing a day of business, there’s always a lasting impact,” he added. “Every day that goes by that we haven’t been able to receive these loads, those are sales dollars that we will not get back. Those are dollars that are not going to be returned to our employees’ paychecks, because they didn’t work.”

Seems like that could put a bit of a dent into the Republicans’ much-vaunted strategy to main gains in South Texas. But for that to happen, we’ve got to talk about it, and by “we” I mean Democrats at every level, from the President on down. And more importantly, we’ve got to talk to the people who were on the short end of this stick, to hear their concerns and make sure they know whose fault this was. And not for nothing, but there’s a ton of material for political ads in this. The Chron has another example of people who were directly affected speaking up, in this case some folks who are otherwise aligned with Abbott.

“Governor Abbott is directly responsible for applying these new senseless inspections on our industry as well as the adverse impact they are having on the economy and hardworking Americans, including truckers,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “We ask that the Governor scrap his misguided scheme immediately.”

[…]

When Abbott ordered the inspections earlier this month, he told DPS officials it was because drug cartels “do not care about the condition of the vehicles.” On Friday he said through the inspections DPS has taken hundreds of trucks off the road that could have injured Texans on the roads and highways.

But as the inspections snarled commerce at the border, Abbott was getting increasing blowback from businesses and other Republicans who worried he was blocking legal transportation across the border and not really slowing illegal immigration.

The American Trucking Association said the impact of Abbott’s inspection program was too much for their workers.

“Additional layers of new screening for motor carriers – who are already subject to significant screening and have a strong record of compliance – provides little safety benefit, while the congestion and impact on our already stressed supply chain will cause the price of goods to rise,” Spear said.

The ads write themselves, but someone has to make them and run them. What are we waiting for?

One more thing, in regard to how much safer these dumb inspections supposedly made Texas highways:

If we’re not talking about it then nobody is.

Abbott’s awesome border “emergency” cash-a-palooza

You get a lucrative contract! And you get a lucrative contract!

Gov. Greg Abbott’s border crackdown is producing a private contractor bonanza, showering tens of millions of dollars on staffing companies, technology firms and builders, including one business that sold Texas hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unreliable COVID tests.

None of the contractors are going through a formal solicitation process, potentially raising costs for a border security program that is already eating up more tax dollars than advertised.

Gothams, LLC, led by a soldier-turned-Silicon Valley entrepreneur, in January got a $43 million “emergency” purchase order to build and staff a state-run migrant detention center in Hebbronville in Jim Hogg County, just east of Laredo near the U.S.-Mexico border, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

Beginning early in the coronavirus pandemic, Gothams sold Texas over $400 million worth of COVID testing services using a controversial test from Curative Inc. In January 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flagged the test for producing a “risk of false results, particularly false negative results.” The FDA stopped short of recommending the test be discontinued but six months later the agency revoked its emergency use authorization at Curative’s request.

Curative Inc. is still providing tests and testing services, including in Texas, but not with the discontinued test it developed at the outset of the pandemic, the company says.

The Gothams CEO, Matt Michelsen — who described himself as an early investor in and “operator” of Curative — defended the start-up company’s original oral fluids tests as better than invasive nasal swab tests. He said the FDA action was motivated by nothing more than “political nonsense.”

“The test was superior but we caved to the FDA,” Michelsen said in a brief phone interview with the Chronicle. “It should have been a scientific test, not a political test.”

As with the COVID deals, the border purchases are being awarded without the burden of formal bidding by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, or TDEM, which falls under the management of the Texas A&M University System.

There were no formal contracts for the hundreds of millions spent on COVID tests, and there aren’t any for the border outlays either, according to TDEM. Officials are purchasing millions of dollars at a time in goods and services, sometimes tens of millions, using simple 30-day purchase orders.

Making it all possible: Abbott’s monthly renewal of his disaster declaration along parts of the southern border, allowing him to suspend normal contracting procedures that officials say slow the response but that critics say drive up costs and promote cronyism. Same goes for the COVID-related purchases.

“He’s just abusing emergency powers at this point,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who represents a border district and is vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “When we’re spending this amount of taxpayer dollars, it’s important for us to honor our constituents with transparency and accountability.”

TDEM acknowledged Abbott’s ongoing emergency border security orders allow the agency to “go direct to vendors without a formal solicitation or bid process,” but in answers to written questions from the Chronicle, officials said they informally reached out to eight companies for the Hebbronville facility. Only Gothams “met the full requirements of the bid,” the agency said.

The Chronicle asked to see all its border security proposals from private companies but the agency has so far declined to release them — including building plans and “professional resumes” that were submitted to the agency.

Surely the next story in this series will be about the millions of dollars these vendors have donated to Abbott’s campaign. And after that, about the criminal investigation into all the resulting graft that has been launched. Right?

Greg Abbott is still a threat to international trade

This is at best window dressing.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relented Wednesday, agreeing to ease the additional safety inspections of trucks at the busiest border entry point near Laredo in exchange for promises of more border security by Mexican officials along one 8-mile stretch of the border.

The move comes after Abbott endured days of withering criticism from both Democrats and Republicans and faced pushback from shipping companies and the Texas Trucking Association.

Since he implemented the more thorough inspections a week ago, truck traffic at many of the Texas ports of entry have stalled. In Laredo, the nation’s biggest trucking port, the normal 30 minutes or less to get across ballooned to three hours or longer, delaying shipments of everything from produce to electronics and driving up costs for trucking companies.

But Abbott said on Wednesday that the easing of inspections is only happening along the 8-mile stretch of border with Nuevo Leon, which has just a tiny portion of the 1,254-mile border with Texas. Abbott said he’s talking to leaders of other Mexican states to work out similar agreements in return for speeding up inspections in Texas.

“Since Nuevo Leon has increased its security on its side of the border, the Texas Department of Public Safety can return to its previous practice of random searches of vehicles crossing the the bridge from Neuvo Leon,” Abbott said with the Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepulveda at his side.

[…]

In Mexico, the governor’s order triggered a revolt from truckers who have set up blockades shutting off all U.S. trucks from entering the country at key points in Hidalgo County and in El Paso.

The White House slammed Abbott on Wednesday, saying his actions were resulting in more supply chain disruptions and hindering U.S. Customs checks at the border.

“The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and CBP’s ability to do its job should not be obstructed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement.

Even Abbott’s biggest allies began to turn against his policy over the last few days. The Texas Trucking Association, which just two months ago endorsed his re-election, released a statement criticizing the policy.

“Unfortunately, this new initiative duplicates existing screening efforts and leads to significant congestion, delaying the products Americans rely on from our largest trading partner, Mexico,” TXTA President & CEO John D. Esparza said.

See here and here for the background. The TXTA is welcome to reconsider their endorsement, since it might be occurring to them that Abbott will throw anyone under the bus (or the truck, as it happens) to further his own political fortunes. Can we pause to note that this is a governor engaging in a combination of foreign policy and blatant extortion, neither of which are supposed to be in his job description? What’s scary to me is that it’s not clear what power the federal government has here to make him stop. Our entire system is based on the presumption that everyone in a position of power will more or less follow a basic set of rules and norms and expectations, and if there’s one thing that the last few years have made especially clear, it’s that there’s not a whole lot we can do when bad actors refuse to play along. I’m at a loss here.

TPM summarizes as follows:

The U.S. continues to be wracked by supply chain disruptions and inflation. This move seems designed — and well designed — to exacerbate both. Abbott’s calculation, probably accurate, is that he can create chaos and price spikes to pressure Biden and it’s no skin off his back since Biden will be blamed anyway. It’s all gravy.

Literally, the one thing that can be done is to vote Abbott out in November. That would not only put a stop to these particular shenanigans, it would also send a clear message that there is a price to pay for political vandalism. The problem is that if Abbott wins, and he’s certainly favored to do so right now, the exact opposite message gets sent. It’s one that Republicans have been getting for over a decade now, and it has very much incentivized more and more of this same malevolence. I don’t know what else to say. The Trib, the Current, TPM, and the Trib again have more.

Our new school library standards

I am casting a gimlet eye at this, at least for now.

Greg Abbott in the 80s

The Texas Education Agency released statewide standards Monday for how school districts should remove and prevent “obscene content” from entering Texas public school libraries.

In the agency’s model policy, there is an emphasis that parents should have a role in how books are selected. The agency says that districts should make new selections readily available for parents to review. School librarians or staff should be “encouraged” to ask parents what their children can and cannot read.

The new guidelines suggest that school boards have final approval of all new books and that a committee should be put in place to review books if parents file a formal “request for reconsideration.”

To avoid “obscene” content in libraries, the agency reminded school districts that state law spells out that handing out inappropriate materials to minors is a crime. Texas librarians, school administrators and public education advocates have denied allegations that there are “inappropriate” or “pornographic” materials in school libraries or that they’re handing out such content.

The standards are to be used as guidance for school district officials as they develop new procedures or alter their policies for selecting or removing library books. School districts, which are largely independent governmental entities and run by locally elected trustees, are not required to adopt the agency’s recommendations.

The TEA’s new standards come about five months after Gov. Greg Abbott directed that agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and State Board of Education to develop such guidelines. In his directive, Abbott cited two memoirs about LGBTQ characters, which include graphic images and descriptions of sex, that were found in some Texas school libraries.

“There have been several instances recently of inappropriate materials being found in school libraries,” TEA commissioner Mike Morath said Monday in a letter to Abbott. “This model local school board policy will serve as a helpful guide to school boards as they create the policies for their school district libraries.”

In his letter Monday, Morath said that his agency worked with the state’s library and archives commission and the SBOE chair to develop the guidelines.

As most school districts have existing policies for how books are selected or removed, it was not immediately clear Monday how this guidance will affect individual school libraries.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, warned school district officials to be wary of what policies they decide to adopt. Holmes said they should listen to their communities and not to be taken away by the politics surrounding the situation.

“As we have said since these latest book controversies began, elected school boards have for decades had the means to work with educators and parents to determine what library content meets the needs of their local communities,” Holmes said.

I have not read the new standards yet – only so many hours in the day, etc etc etc. Honestly, I’d like to hear what the professionals have to say about them first, because I’m not sufficiently versed in this topic to get all the nuances. I think the library and archives commission is a good faith actor, so there’s a chance this isn’t all that bad. I definitely agree with Shannon Holmes that school districts should be very careful with how they handle this, and take all needed steps to keep the hotheads, censors, and general do-badders at bay. I wish them all the luck in the world with that.

Even Sid Miller thinks Abbott is being an idiot

I mean

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller called on Gov. Greg Abbott to halt his recent policy of additional commercial inspections at the border, calling the measure “political theater” and predicting it will leave grocery store shelves empty within weeks.

In an open letter addressed to the governor Tuesday, Miller said Abbott’s “economy killing action” is exacerbating already strained supply chains and causing massive produce shortages resulting in “untold losses” for Texas businesses.

“Your inspection protocol is not stopping illegal immigration,” Miller said in his letter. “It is stopping food from getting to grocery store shelves and in many cases causing food to rot in trucks — many of which are owned by Texas and other American companies. … The people of Texas deserve better!”

Abbott announced last week that state troopers would conduct inspections of northbound commercial vehicles in addition to those performed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at ports of entry between Texas and Mexico.

“Officials with the United States Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protections already conduct extensive inspections of commercial vehicles entering the United States at Texas border crossings. Resources should be placed where illegal crossings take place, not to create a crisis where they do not,” Miller wrote.

See here for the background. Miller himself is of course well acquainted with idiocy, so I don’t want to put too much stock in this. We’re firmly in stopped-clock territory here. But anytime someone says that Texans deserve better when talking about Greg Abbott, well, I’m going to have to agree with them.

We don’t have to treat political performance art as news

This is a story in the Chronicle about one of our Senators, who made some whiny petulant statements on social media about a celebrity best known for work in the 1980s who had posted about getting his second booster but is still wearing a mask in public because COVID is still a thing. I’m not naming names but I’m sure you know who and what I’m talking about. I’m just here to say that we don’t have to treat this sort of thing as news, even if it does happen on an otherwise slow news day. The senator in question is first and foremost an attention whore, and while one can argue that there is news value in the public statements of such an individual, this really is little more than egging on a toddler who’s having a meltdown because you turned off “Peppa Pig”. Our professional news gathering organizations could choose not to engage with this kind of ridiculous content, or they could choose to engage with them by calling them what they are, narcissistic ploys for attention by politicians who do nothing to serve the public. Reporting on it in the same way as one reports on a new bill being introduced or a committee hearing or a piece of critical analysis of legislation or a campaign does nothing but waste everyone’s time and degrade the political process by rewarding this kind of bad behavior. And now I’m going to stop wasting your time and mine on this.

Greg Abbott is a threat to international trade

We live in such strange times.

Commercial traffic at a key South Texas border crossing has stopped after Mexican truckers on Monday blocked north- and southbound lanes on the Mexico side of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in protest of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to have state troopers inspect northbound commercial vehicles — historically a job done by the federal government.

The bridge connecting Pharr and Reynosa is the busiest trade crossing in the Rio Grande Valley and handles the majority of the produce that crosses into the U.S. from Mexico, including avocados, broccoli, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. On Monday, with trucks backed up for miles in Reynosa for the fifth day in a row, some produce importers in Texas said they have waited days for their goods to arrive and already had buyers cancel orders.

“One of our customers canceled the order because we didn’t deliver on time,” said Modesto Guerra, sales manager for Sterling Fresh Inc., which imports broccoli from Central Mexico via the Pharr bridge before shipping it to the Midwest and East Coast. “It’s something beyond our control.”

While many companies cross perishable foods in refrigerated trucks, Guerra said the bottlenecks could lead to equipment failures that cause produce and other products to spoil in the heat.

“Those refrigerated units are powered by diesel,” Guerra said. “These trucks are in line and when the diesel runs out they have no way of refueling.”

International bridges elsewhere in the Valley, as well as in Eagle Pass, El Paso and Laredo, have also seen delays, with many commercial products produced in Mexico — like electronics, vehicle parts and medical instruments — also held up.

In response to the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it plans to end Title 42 — a pandemic-era emergency health order that lets federal officials turn away migrants at the border without the chance to request asylum — Abbott on Wednesday ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase its inspections of commercial vehicles, which he said drug cartels use to smuggle humans and drugs into the United States.

At times, DPS troopers appear to be checking every commercial vehicle that crosses select international bridges, with each inspection taking between 45 minutes and an hour.

Mexican news outlets reported that about 500 truckers are blocking southbound traffic into Mexico to prevent the entrance of U.S. trucks. Truckers told El Mañana in Reynosa that they had waited three to four days at the international bridge and were running out of fuel while they waited.

One trucker told the news outlet that prior to Abbott’s order, he made two crossings into the U.S. a day. Now, he’d be lucky to have one or two a week given the long delays at the bridges.

“We are losing just as much as them,” he said. “When they start needing more produce, the prices are going to go up.

“No one has told us what the reason for this is or asked what solutions we can come up with together,” he added, saying the blockade will continue until their issues are resolved. “All we know is that it’s an order from the governor of Texas.”

Time to make sure everyone is aware of that. Not just in Texas, but every Democrat around the country needs to pile on this, because it’s going to affect us all. And just out of curiosity, what are those Canadian truckers up to these days? Maybe they could drive down and surround the Governor’s mansion for a few days if they don’t have anything better to do.

Guess who’s paying for Ken Paxton’s defense against those state bar complaints?

You are, of course. What did you expect?

Best mugshot ever

Texas taxpayers are on the hook for $45,000 so far in legal defense for Attorney General Ken Paxton as he attempts to ward off multiple complaints to the State Bar over his failed lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Paxton faces at least three professional misconduct complaints that have been filed against him since the December suit, which the high court swiftly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The election case involved disputed presidential election ballots in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Two complaints — one filed in June by a Democratic Party activist, consolidated with a few others, and another in July filed by the nonprofit Lawyers Defending American Democracy and 16 Texas lawyers, including four former presidents of the state Bar — alleged the Supreme Court suit was frivolous and that it included pleadings that Paxton knew to be false.

The Lawyers Defending American Democracy complaint is moving forward and will be heard by either a district court judge or an administrative panel, the complainants say.

“This is about his individual license, which is irrelevant to his position in office, so why shouldn’t he pay for it?” said Jim Harrington, one of the lawyers who filed a complaint against Paxton and a retired founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit that advocates for voting rights. “He gets to do this game on Jan. 6, this unconstitutional Supreme Court action, and then turn around and have us pay twice for it? It’s outrageous.”

[…]

Attorneys with the Austin-based Gober Group and College Station-based West, Webb, Allbritton & Gentry billed more than 94 hours at various rates for work related to the bar complaints. Chris Gober, a GOP election lawyer known for his work defending the state’s political maps, had the highest rate at $525 an hour.

Some of the work described in the invoices included reviewing documents related to the complaints, discussing strategy and considering options, preparing for meetings with the Texas State Bar and reviewing and revising correspondence with the agency.

However, a response to the June batch of bar complaints against Paxton, which the office posted on its website, was signed by Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Grant Dorfman; none of the outside attorneys’ names appear on the filing. It’s unclear why both in-house and outside counsel appear to have been engaged in Paxton’s defense.

Because there’s free money to give to Paxton’s pals. This has been another edition of “Simple Answers to Simple Questions”.

See here for the most recent update. There is of course a hypocrisy angle in all of this, because of course there is.

Steve Fischer, elected State Bar director for the Western District of Texas and one of the attorneys who filed the 2015 complaint, said taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the cost of Paxton’s defense.

“People elect an attorney general to do child support, whatever — not for that,” Fischer said. “To turn his office into his defense team, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

According to a response to some of the latest complaints by the attorney general’s office in July, the State Bar Disciplinary Counsel received 81 grievances against Paxton and three against First Assistant Brent Webster related to the 2020 Supreme Court suit. All were dismissed upon initial review. Some were reinstated after appeals.

[…]

While the attorney general’s office’s role in fighting bar complaints may be a legal gray area, the agency is statutorily required to defend state officials and state agencies in court. Yet Paxton’s office has declined to represent those state agencies on several recent occasions, typically when it conflicts with his political inclinations.

In 2018, for example, his office refused to defend the Texas Ethics Commission as one of his largest political donors sues to dismantle the agency. Then again, in January 2020, the office abandoned the State Commission on Judicial Conduct when it was sued by a Waco judge whom the agency disciplined for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

Paxton’s main complaint about the State Bar allowing this matter to proceed is that both the filing and the State Bar itself are motivated by partisan politics. Not him, though, of course. Never him.

You may think well, maybe we don’t want the government to pay for this government official’s defense because he’s so odious, but what happens when we elect a Democratic AG? Should Rochelle Garza or Joe Jaworski have to pay for their own defense against the avalanche of frivolous partisan complaints that will surely be filed against them? That would be bad, except that as the story notes the vast majority of the ones against Paxton got dismissed for lack of merit. I doubt it would be any different with a different AG. At least, it better not be. As long as it isn’t, and as long as the next AG has better ethical standards than Ken Paxton – an exceptionally low hurdle to clear – it shouldn’t be an issue.

How anti-trans are Republicans anyway?

There’s polling evidence to suggest the issue is more nuanced than you might think, but actions always speak louder than poll numbers.

Republicans surveyed by the left-leaning polling firm Data for Progress are nearly evenly split on whether the government should prevent transgender youth from accessing gender-affirming care.

The national polling data, shared exclusively with The 19th, suggests that GOP voters are not nearly as supportive of anti-trans bills being pushed by Republican state lawmakers across the country as some Republican politicians may want to believe. The data also carries significance for trans Republicans who spoke with The 19th about running in their local elections.

Forty-six percent of Republicans polled from February 25 to 27 by Data for Progress said they believe the government should leave decisions about gender-affirming care to families and their doctors, while 43 percent said the government should prevent trans youth from accessing that care. Eleven percent said they weren’t sure.

Still, a majority of Republican voters indicated in a later question that they supported Texas’ order to investigate families seeking gender-affirming care for their children, which also directs teachers and doctors to report trans children receiving that care.

[…]

Several transgender conservatives told The 19th that watching GOP state lawmakers advance so many anti-trans bills has been frustrating — and that this poll suggests Republicans’ opinions on trans health care, as well as their knowledge of it, is more varied than those lawmakers may expect.

Jordan Evans, a trans Republican who has continued to run for local office in Massachusetts after transitioning in 2015 — when, to her knowledge, she became the first openly trans GOP elected official in the United States — said the split in opinion in the poll is comforting.

“I’ll take that as there are still enough people out there who understand why this is such a travesty and are willing to be like, ‘Well, I’m not sure if that’s OK,’” she said. “We need those people right now. … We need them to also speak up and speak out.”

To Jennifer Williams, the nation’s first openly transgender municipal chair for the Republican Party, the poll suggests that anti-trans bills may not be the winning issue that some Republicans want it to be.

“It’s abysmal, it’s terrible what’s happening. And it is purely done for political purposes,” Williams said.

“It’s embarrassing that there are Republicans who think that this is a way to build their name,” she said.

Some within the party, including the governors of Arkansas, North Dakota and, more recently, Utah, have taken a stance against anti-trans measures, including vetoing or vowing to veto them.

The poll’s split in opinion on the government’s role in gender-affirming care did not carry over to the latest developments in Texas. Responding to a separate question on that same survey, 59 percent of likely GOP voters said they either strongly support or somewhat support the order to investigate the families of trans children, while only 31 percent said they somewhat or strongly oppose it.

Charlotte Clymer, a Democrat and first trans board member of LPAC, a super PAC that funds LGBTQ+ women running for office, said the discrepancy between the questions follows a polling trend of voters being more open to supporting trans rights when asked about it in broader terms.

“I think most Republican voters, at the end of the day, don’t know what to think about trans issues,” she said. “The leaders of the party may want action against trans kids because they feel that this will help their bottom line politically, but … it’s not really clear that the base necessarily wants this.”

Th story cites some other poll data that has similar results. To which I say that’s nice, but if it’s true then Republican politicians don’t seem to be getting the message. You can blame that on primary voters if you want, but the candidates that win those primaries are still getting the votes from November Republicans. And as much as I think Greg Abbott’s campaign strategist is a piece of trash, I’ll concede he knows more about Republican voters than I do, and he thinks being strongly anti-trans is not only a winning issue for them, it’s one that will drive turnout for them. I hope he’s wrong about that, but I’m not going to put my faith in a couple of anodyne issue polls.

Because, again, ultimately it’s actions that matter.

It took Max three years and one letter, written with shaky hands, to tell his mother the truth.

He gave her the letter at the worst possible moment, with dinner on the stove and a house full of other kids needing her attention. But as soon as Amy started to read his words, she stopped, sat down and let it all sink in.

The child that she had given birth to and raised for 13 years as a daughter was telling her that he was, in fact, her son.

“I had one of those out-of-body experiences, where it felt like I was looking at myself reading the letter,” Amy remembered recently. “I could not believe what I was reading. I just wanted to cry.”

But instead, she took a deep breath and let her maternal instinct take over.

“I knew in that moment it was more important for me to hug him,” she said. “He needed to feel loved and accepted more than I needed to cry.”

The family spoke to The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity and are identified in this story with pseudonyms because they fear harassment. They are one of at least nine families facing child abuse investigations for providing gender-affirming care to their transgender children in the wake of a recent directive from Gov. Greg Abbott.

In that moment three years ago, Max explained to his mom that he’d been slowly coming out to friends and one of his brothers and he’d started going by his new, male-sounding name. He told her about his years of self-discovery and research into pronouns and puberty blockers and ways he could dress to hide his female form.

Amy felt like she’d just been swept up in a tornado and landed somewhere completely unfamiliar.

“I felt like I was grieving for my daughter … It took me about a week to realize [he] is healthy and he is safe, and he is exactly the same person he was a week ago,” she said. “And it’s me that needs to get over it.”

It’s been three years and while Amy is fully supportive of Max’s journey, she feels like she’s still playing catch-up. He’s the one educating her about the process of gender transition, including medical care like puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

So she was shocked when, three weeks ago, a child welfare worker showed up at their door, asking questions about whether Amy might be the one forcing Max to transition.

The investigations are in limbo while a legal challenge to the governor’s directive makes its way through the court system, leaving these families in a state of suspended terror.

Max, now 16, can’t understand why the government is targeting his family.

“The most upsetting thing about this for me is … the fact that they would accuse my mother of being a child abuser simply because of my identity,” Max said. “She’s made all of this possible for me and accepted me. That’s all I could ask for, and then the state comes out like, ‘Oh, actually, your mother is abusing you.’”

Compare Max’s mother to this guy, who hates trans kids, including his own trans kid, so much that he’s running for the Legislature to put his hatred of trans kids into law. You tell me how much those poll numbers matter next to that.

Abbott and Paxton step up their attack on trans kids

Brutal.

The state’s child welfare agency says it will begin investigating instances of transgender youth receiving gender-affirming health care as possible child abuse, after direction from Gov. Greg Abbott based on a recent legal opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton, in a non-binding opinion issued Monday, concluded that sex “reassignment surgery,” as well as hormonal medications, fall under the state’s broad definition of child abuse that includes “mental or emotional injury” as well as physical injury.

“Children and adolescents are promised relief and asked to ‘consent’ to life-altering, irreversible treatment—and to do so in the midst of reported psychological distress, when they cannot weigh long-term risks the way adults do, and when they are considered by the state in most regards to be without legal capacity to consent, contract, vote, or otherwise,” Paxton wrote in the opinion.

The immediate ramifications were unclear Tuesday, as the office’s opinions are not law but rather interpretations of law. The Texas Department of Family Protective Services has said previously that it would deem some types of transgender health care as potential child abuse, but a spokesman said Tuesday that there are no pending cases.

The opinion runs contrary to the recommendations of the largest professional medical organizations’ in the state and nation. If it were to be adopted statewide, it would make Texas one of the most restrictive states in the nation for transgender youth seeking medical treatment.

Despite Paxton’s focus on surgery, that medical option is not recommended for patients who are under their country’s legal age of maturity, which is 18 in the United States, and who have not “lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity,” according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH, which advises doctors on best practices.

DFPS said Tuesday its Child Protective Investigations unit would look into any future allegations.

[…]

Already there are signs that the policy will be challenged.

Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee, whose office represents the state in civil child abuse cases in the county, said Tuesday that his office will not adhere to guidance from Paxton and Abbott, saying they are “ignoring medical professionals and intentionally misrepresenting the law to the detriment of transgender children and their families.”

“My office will not participate in these bad faith political games,” Menefee said. “As the lawyers handling these cases, we owe a duty of candor to the courts about what the law really says. We’ll continue to follow the laws on the books — not General Paxton’s politically motivated and legally incorrect ‘opinion.’”

Just a reminder, this is happening in a state whose foster care system is so deeply fucked up that a federal judge, who has been hearing litigation over this for literally a decade, has accused that same DFPS of not being able to keep track of where the kids supposedly in its care are. The cruelty, the shameful pandering to slavering primary voters, the ongoing trauma being inflicted on children and their parents who have done nothing wrong, it’s so infuriating I can barely see. I wish I had something more constructive to say than we have to keep fighting, but I don’t. Slate has more.

Yet another State Bar complaint filed against Paxton

Put it on his tab.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton might have crossed an ethical line after inciting members of the public to pressure The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals into issuing a ruling in his favor.

Micheal Shirk, a retired Austin lawyer caught wind of what Paxton was up to and filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas.

Paxton’s action violated his duty as a lawyer, his oath to defend the Texas Constitution, and a state law that requires attorneys to practice law honestly, according to a grievance filed Friday by Shirk, as reported by Austin American-Statesman.

Paxton, the Texas attorney general since 2015, requested the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse the 8-1 ruling that struck down the law that ended his ability to unilaterally prosecute election law violations.

After being rejected, Paxton turned to media outlets to solicit his followers’ help.

[…]

In his grievance to the State Bar, Shirk made three allegations that would result in Paxton losing his Texas law license:

  1. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the ethics code governing conduct for judges and lawyers place strict limits on the contact attorneys can have with judges outside of court.
  2. Paxton supported calling the Legislature back for a special session to pass an identical or stronger law than the one struck down by the court.

    This would let him investigate and process voter fraud for at least several years until the Court of Criminal Appeals would “strike it down again,” as reported by Austin American-Statesman.  

    “This undisputed advocacy for an unconstitutional law is a basis for the revocation of Mr. Paxton’s bar license,” Shirk wrote. “There is no greater abuse of public office than to encourage the subversion and suspension of constitutional protections, even if for only ‘several years.’”

  3. When Paxton accused the court of having made the ruling because of political motivations, it was considered “systematic and coordinated misconduct.”

    “These unsupportable, perfidious, and demeaning assertions are especially grave when issued by the highest law enforcement officer in Texas,” Shirk told the State Bar.

See here, here, and here for the background. To say the least, Paxton is used to this. I’m not sure I can fully count all of the complaints that have been lodged against him. Here’s one from 2014, based on the facts that later turned into the everlasting securities fraud charges he’s faced since 2015. There were two from 2016 that were dismissed, one also about the securities issue and one about Paxton advising county clerks that they didn’t have to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the Obergefell decision. There are still two active complaints against him relating to the egregious lawsuit he filed seeking to overturn the 2020 election. I don’t know where they are in the pipeline, but as of September Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were whining about them on his behalf. The dude attracts trouble like garbage attracts flies.

Do I think any of these complaints are likely to lead to actual consequences for Paxton? No, I don’t. At least, not as long as he’s Attorney General, they won’t. Maybe if he gets bounced in the election, that could happen. If the FBI frog marches him out of his office at some point, maybe. For now, while he’s in a position of power, the furor that would result from him even getting slapped on the wrist is too much. It’s nice to think that the rules do apply to him, but from where I sit I don’t see that happening. The Chron has more.

Yes, most people will generally support the idea of decent election reforms

But that doesn’t mean they’ll vote for politicians who support them, and that right there makes all the difference. From the UH Hobby School, here’s part four of their January 2022 public opinion fest, which began with their election poll. Scroll down on their page to get to Part Four.

The final report in this series examines support for and opposition to 18 different voting and election related reforms contained in the federal Freedom to Vote Act. There exists a strong consensus among Texans in support of numerous reforms, with majority support by both Democrats and Republicans in many cases.

Highlights

  • Anti-fraud reforms are supported by more than four out of every five Texans, with 87% supporting a reform that would require states to conduct transparent post-election audits that adhere to clearly defined rules and procedures, 85% supporting a reform that would require all electronic voting machines to provide voter-verified paper records, and 80% creating a national standard for voter photo identification for those states that require voters to provide a photo ID when voting in person. More than three out of four Texas Republicans and Democrats support these three anti-fraud reforms.
  • Campaign finance reforms are backed by more than four out of every five Texans, with 88% supporting a reform that would tighten campaign finance rules to keep Super PACs from coordinating their federal campaign activities with candidates and 84% supporting a reform that would require any entity (such as a dark money PAC) that spends more than $10,000 in a federal election to disclose the names of its major donors. More than three out of four Texas Democrats and Republicans support these three campaign finance reforms.
  • More than four out of five (84%) Texans support a reform that would ban partisan gerrymandering for congressional elections and require congressional districts to be drawn using clear and neutral standards. Support for this ban ranges from a high of 93% among Texas Democrats to a low of 76% of Republicans.
  • More than two-thirds of Texans favor two reforms related to Election Day. More than three-quarters (76%) support a reform that would require the state to insure that wait times for in-person voting do not exceed 30 minutes while 71% support making Election Day a public holiday. These reforms are supported by nine out of ten Democrats (89%, 90%, respectively) and by a majority of Republicans (55%, 63%, respectively).
  • Texans are very supportive of early voting reforms (which are all already in force in the case of Texas election law). More than four out of five Texans support requiring a state’s early voting period to begin at least two weeks before election day (84%), requiring at least 10 hours early voting each weekday (82%) and requiring early voting to be held on weekends for at least eight hours a day (81%). More than two-thirds (72%) of all Texas voters support requiring states to provide at least 10 hours of early voting each weekday during the early voting period, with more than nine out of 10 Democrats supporting these reforms, as do more than two out of three Republicans.
  • Only one-half (50%) of Texans support (and 50% oppose) no-excuse mail voting under which all voters are eligible to vote by mail without having to provide a reason. While this reform enjoys very strong support among Texas Democrats (87%), fewer than one in five (17%) Texas Republicans support it. Three out of four (76%) Black Texans support this reform compared to 59% of Latino and 38% of white Texans.
  • Texans are sharply divided on a reform that would allow former felons to vote immediately upon their release from prison, which 55% of Texans support and 45% oppose. While this reform enjoys strong support among 80% of Texas Democrats, only 29% of Texas Republicans support it.
  • Texans are also relatively evenly split on a reform that would allow voters to register to vote at the polling location where they cast their ballot (same day voter registration), with 58% supporting this reform and 42% opposing it. While 86% of Democrats support this reform, that position is shared by only 32% of Republicans.

As noted, the full report is here. One thing they cover in that report but don’t mention in the summary is online voter registration, which drew 70% support overall. They also didn’t ask about some of the things that the Republicans recently outlawed, like 24-hour early voting, drive-through voting, and drop-off boxes for mail ballots. One can only ask so many questions, I understand.

As you might expect, and as they discuss in the full report, there are some pretty significant partisan splits on many of these questions. Same-day voter registration gets 86% support among Dems but only 32% among Republicans, while universal no-excuse mail voting garners 87% among Dems and a miniscule 17% among Rs. Independents go 52% for same day registration but only 36% for no excuse mail voting. Online voter registration does get majority support across the board, though – 90% Dems, 52% GOP, 62% indies – and some other things are universally popular, though many of them are for the early voting things we already do. As we’ve discussed many times before, this is why things that appear broadly liked on the surface can’t and won’t get implemented, at least not under our current regime.

That doesn’t mean these things aren’t worth advocating for. They might attract enough of those independents to make a difference, and there’s always the chance of peeling off a Republican or two. And if Dems do wind up getting elected statewide, they’ll just be fulfilling promises by moving forward on these things. It’s just a matter of keeping things in perspective, and understanding why having majority support doesn’t quite mean what you think it means.

Vote No and take the dough

It’s as Republican as insurrection and hydroxychloroquine.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, last year left little doubt why she was voting against a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure, calling it nothing more than a “socialist plan full of crushing taxes and radical spending.”

Yet, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on Wednesday that very same infrastructure bill would be funding a $403-million flood control project in her district in the Fort Worth area, Granger wasted no time in hailing the effort.

“This is a great day for Fort Worth,” she said in a statement. She did not mention where the Army Corps was getting the money but thanked the agency for its “hard work and tireless commitment” to making her community safer.

Granger is not the only Republican cheering on projects generated by a bill that she voted to kill. In recent days, at least four other Republican members of Congress have praised initiatives made possible by the infrastructure law they opposed. Political analysts say they are not likely to be the last.

“Infrastructure remains a relatively nonpartisan issue, so even though those lawmakers may have not voted for the bill, they still have to answer to their constituents, and they want to align themselves with things that are popular,” said Cynthia Peacock, a professor of political communications at the University of Alabama.

[…]

Granger, the Texas Republican who commended the Army Corps of Engineers for addressing flooding problems, defended her vote against the legislation, saying she “wasn’t against this project.”

“I was against some of the other parts of that bill,” Granger said in a Thursday news conference.

I mean, sure, that’s one way to go about it. There’s also the Gene Wu approach, which gives you legitimate input into the process and enables you to secure at least some of your priorities, even if they come wrapped in a bill you otherwise don’t like. Lord knows, the Dems would have welcomed that collaboration, which they did manage to get in the Senate. To be sure, that route will not be popular with the seething masses of Republican primary voters, but that’s a much bigger problem within the Republican Party, and I can’t help you with it. If you are going to do it this way, you can and should be criticized for it.

And just to prove that this kind of hypocrisy is endemic:

Yes, what Rep. Crenshaw is doing here is perfectly legal. It makes absolutely no sense to ban elections administrators from doing this same exact thing, but that never stopped the vote suppressors. “It’s fine when I do it and it’s a travesty when you do it” is the logic here, and as you can see it’s pretty much impossible to argue with.

UPDATE: Crenshaw has gotten pilloried for this, not that it matters. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

Please watch over the fraudit

Good idea.

A group of Democratic members of Congress from Texas has sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting that it closely monitor the ongoing election audit in four Texas counties. Last September, Texas Republicans began an audit in Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, and Collin counties at the behest of Donald Trump. The former president urged Gov. Greg Abbott to review the results in spite of the fact that he won the state in an election the Texas Secretary of State’s Office called “smooth and secure.”

“We have serious concern that this audit may be an attempt to invalidate properly cast ballots in the 2020 Presidential election,” read the letter, which was addressed to Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke. We ask that your office closely monitor and work collaboratively with Texas state officials to ensure this audit does not unfairly erode any Texan’s ability to choose their leaders through the ballot box.”

The letter noted particular concern about the new Secretary of State overseeing the audit, John Scott. As an attorney, Scott assisted Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania. “This newly announced audit raises serious impartiality and fairness concerns given Mr. Scott’s previous work seeking to invalidate authentic election results and Governor Abbott’s history of peddling false election claims,” read the letter.

The letter was signed by Reps. Colin Allred, Lizzie Fletcher, Filemon Vela, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Al Green, and Marc Veasey.

If the DOJ does follow the letter’s request, it won’t be the first time it’s tangled with Texas over its election practices. In November, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the state for its assault on voting rights.

[…]

The results of the initial phase of the Texas election audit have already been released and, unsurprisingly, they show few issues and no evidence of widespread fraud.

See here for the most recent update. Once more with feeling: There is no reason to trust John Scott. Corner him like a rat in a cage, and do not let anything about this boondoggle get spun. The DMN has more.

Fraudit fizzling

Who could have ever predicted this would be a big ol’ nothingburger?

The Texas secretary of state’s office has released the first batch of results from its review into the 2020 general election, finding few issues despite repeated, unsubstantiated claims by GOP leaders casting doubts on the integrity of the electoral system.

The first phase of the review, released New Year’s Eve, highlighted election data from four counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin — that showed few discrepancies between electronic and hand counts of ballots in a sample of voting precincts. Those partial manual counts made up a significant portion of the results produced by the secretary of state, which largely focused on routine voter roll maintenance and post-election processes that were already in place before the state launched what it has labeled as a “full forensic audit.”

On Friday, Samuel Taylor, a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office, said the review was needed “to provide clarity on what issues need to be resolved for the next elections.”

But Remi Garza, president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said there wasn’t anything in the review’s first set of results that raised any alarms for him.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything too far out of the ordinary with respect to the information that’s provided,” said Garza, who serves as the election administrator in Cameron County. “… I hope nobody draws any strong conclusions one way or the other with respect to the information that’s been provided. I think it’s just very straightforward, very factual and will ultimately play a part in the final conclusions that are drawn once the second phase is completed.”

According to the state’s review of the counties’ partial manual counts, which they are already required to conduct under state law, there were few differences between electronic and manual ballot tallies — and counties were able to justify those inconsistencies.

See here for the previous update. Boy, nothing says “we want people to see this news” like putting out a press release on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. In each case cited here, there was a literal handful of vote count differences, and the reason each of the tiny discrepancies was already known. And this is in four counties that totaled over four million ballots cast in 2020. It’s hard to imagine a cleaner or clearer result.

The state’s progress report for phase one of its audit also included data related to regular maintenance of the state’s massive list of registered voters — it surpassed 16.9 million in November 2020 — that goes beyond its four-county review. But some of the figures highlighted by the state either appear to be faulty or remain unverified.

For example, the secretary of state’s office noted it had sent counties a list of 11,737 records of registered voters it deemed “possible non-U.S. citizens.” But the Tribune previously reported that scores of citizens, including many who registered to vote at their naturalization ceremonies, were marked for review.

Although it has yet to finish investigating the records, the state also included an unverified figure of 509 voter records — about 0.0045% of the 11.3 million votes cast in November 2020 — in which a voter may have cast a vote in Texas and another state or jurisdiction. The state said the work of reviewing those records to eliminate those that were “erroneously matched” because of data issues wouldn’t be completed until January.

The state also highlighted the investigation of 67 votes — about 0.0006% of the votes cast in the 2020 general election — cast by “potentially deceased voters.” This review also has not been completed.

In its report, the secretary of state emphasized that the removal of ineligible or deceased voters from the voter rolls “in and of itself does not indicate that any illegal votes were cast.”

What they almost always find in the latter case is that the voter died after their vote had been cast. In a state with millions of people, that sort of thing happens. I would expect that in most of the former cases, closer inspection shows that the votes in question were actually cast by different people. Accurate name-matching is a tricky business. As for the “non-citizen voter purges” the state regularly tries and fails to do with any accuracy, well, just keep that in mind whenever the state of Texas or any of its officials make claims about voting irregularities. The motivation to find bad things blinds them to such a degree that any bad things they find are inherently tainted by the nature of their search. Only by removing that motivation, and thus enforcing a careful and deliberate process, can any claims be considered credible.

Nobody bullshits like Greg Abbott

Some stories I blog about require subtle thought and detailed analysis. Others pretty much speak for themselves.

The two most powerful people overseeing Texas’ electric grid sat next to each other in a quickly arranged Austin news conference in early December to try to assure Texans that the state’s electricity supply was prepared for winter.

“The lights are going to stay on this winter,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, echoing recent public remarks by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Two weeks earlier, Abbott had told Austin’s Fox 7 News that he “can guarantee the lights will stay on.” The press conference that followed from Lake and the chief of the state’s independent grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, came at the governor’s request, according to two state officials and one other person familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was 150% Abbott’s idea,” said one of the people familiar with the communication from Abbott’s team. “The governor wanted a press conference to give people confidence in the grid.”

A source close to Lake said the idea for the press conference was Lake’s, and the governor supported it when Lake brought up the idea during a meeting.

Abbott has for months been heavily involved in the public messaging surrounding the power grid’s winter readiness. In addition to the press conference, he has asked a major electric industry trade group to put out a “positive” public statement about the grid and has taken control of public messaging from ERCOT, according to interviews with current and former power grid officials, energy industry trade group representatives and energy company directors and executives.

But the messaging has projected a level of confidence about the grid that isn’t reflected in data released by ERCOT or echoed by some power company executives and energy experts who say they’re worried that another massive winter storm could trigger widespread grid failures like those that left millions of Texans without power in February, when hundreds of people died.

Abbott has also met one-on-one with energy industry CEOs to ask about their winter readiness — but those meetings happened weeks after Abbott made his public guarantee about the grid.

“You’d think he would have asked to meet with us before saying that,” one person involved in the energy company meetings, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said of Abbott’s guarantee.

Ten months after the power grid failures caused hundreds of deaths and became national news, an election year is approaching and Abbott’s two top primary challengers and his top Democratic challenger have already been harshly criticizing the governor over his handling of the power grid.

“It might be a good political move, but it’s just a political move,” Peter Cramton, an energy markets expert and former ERCOT board member who resigned after the storm, said of Abbott’s promise. “It’s not surprising. His fate is on the line. So this is a sensitive political issue now.”

The details may be news, but the basics have been known for some time. Abbott has bet the 2022 election on there not being a freeze big enough to cause another massive blackout. When we make it through the winter without anything bad happening – and let’s be honest, the odds of another freeze like this past February are pretty small, though perhaps the odds of any kind of freeze are higher – he will claim full credit for “fixing” the problem, even though he has done nothing of the sort. But who are you gonna believe, your own uninterrupted power supply or those yappy liberals?

I, being more risk averse and being the type of person who wants to actually, you know, do things, would not take this approach. But given that he was never going to advocate for something that would make a difference anyway, why not double down? The odds are in his favor, if not ever in his favor. Just remember that no matter what happens over the next three months or so, it was all bullshit. Every last bit of it.

How’s that online voter registration thing going?

Pretty well, it seems. So well, perhaps, that the state of Texas doesn’t want to tell you how well.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Since a federal judge forced Texas nearly a year and a half ago to offer limited online voter registration, 1.5 million Texans have used the option, according to new state data.

The August 2020 ruling, which found Texas in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, required state officials to give residents the opportunity to register when they renew their driver’s license online. The system was in place a month later.

Advocates say the new data speaks to the success of online registration — and is evidence that Texas, one of just a few states that does not offer an online option for every registrant, should implement the program statewide. Republican leaders in state government have resisted such change, instead pursuing new voting restrictions in the name of election security.

“The very best thing you can do is have systems where the government is seamlessly integrating voter registration into other processes,” said Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represented the plaintiffs in the case that spurred the creation of the online system.

[…]

“Getting registered to vote is not something that many people necessarily remember,” said Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project. “And in the process of moving, it’s very likely that this would not be on the top of their list of things to address, like changing their electricity, gas providers and forwarding all their mail.”

Without more granular data on first-time voter registrations filed online, it’s difficult to determine whether the option has had a significant impact on Texas’ overall registration numbers, Blank added. More than 17 million people are registered to vote in Texas.

Still, it’s doubtful that GOP leaders would embrace an expansion of online registration in Texas, which has some of the nation’s strictest voting laws. Republicans have long declined to allow any online voter registration, saying it would lead to an increase in election fraud — even as 63 percent of Texas voters would support such a system, according to an October 2020 poll by the Texas Politics Project.

The availability of online registration “flies in the face” of Texas’ current approach to voting policies, Blank said. The GOP-led Legislature spent months earlier this year campaigning for a sweeping elections bill that, in part, restricted voting hours in some parts of the state, prohibited drive-thru and overnight voting, and introduced new ID requirements for mail-in ballot applications.

“Texas has been at the forefront recently of enacting strict voting laws, and, in truth, has been at the forefront of enacting strict voting laws for much of the last decade,” Blank said. “Even in an area like this, where I think a majority of voters … say that we should expand online voter registration, it’s unlikely that you’d see something like this move in Texas.”

But advocates say they’ll continue to push for a extensive online registration system — and, if possible, automatic voter registration. Both changes would not only facilitate access to the ballot box, but also address longstanding racial inequities in Texas’ voter rolls, said Marziani of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, the state would not break down the data by new voters versus existing voters who are updating their address. My guess is that it’s overwhelmingly the latter, but that’s also a big deal because it keeps those folks from getting caught in the various voter purges that the state and some counties engage in. There is of course no justification for not allowing people to handle voter registration matters online – any legal security measure can be done just as readily – it’s just that the Republicans who are in control don’t want it. Here, for once, they had no choice. Now imagine what it would be like if we had a more robust federal voting rights law to force them on some other matters.

The botched “non-citizen” voter purge continues

At some point we need to recognize the fact that our Secretary of State’s office is completely, and maybe maliciously, inept at doing this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ last attempt to scour its voting rolls for noncitizens two years ago quickly devolved into a calamity.

The state flagged nearly 100,000 voters for citizenship checks and set them up for possible criminal investigation based on flawed data that didn’t account for immigrants who gained citizenship. After it became clear it was jeopardizing legitimate voter registrations, it was pulled into three federal lawsuits challenging its process. Former Secretary of State David Whitley lost his job amid the fallout. And the court battle ultimately forced the state to abandon the effort and rethink its approach to ensure naturalized citizens weren’t targeted.

This fall, the state began rolling out a new, scaled-down approach. But again, the county officials responsible for carrying it out are encountering what appear to be faults in the system.

Scores of citizens are still being marked for review — and possible removal from the rolls. Registrars in some of the state’s largest counties have found that a sizable number of voters labeled possible noncitizens actually filled out their voter registration cards at their naturalization ceremonies. In at least a few cases, the state flagged voters who were born in the U.S.

The secretary of state’s office says it is following the settlement agreement it entered in 2019 — an arrangement that limited its screening of voters to those who registered to vote and later indicated to the Texas Department of Public Safety that they are not citizens. Flagged voters can provide documentation of their citizenship in order to keep their registrations, officials have pointed out.

But the issues tied to the new effort are significant enough that they’ve renewed worries among the civil rights groups that forced the state to change its practices. They are questioning Texas’ compliance with the legal settlement that halted the last review. And for some attorneys, the persisting problems underscore their concerns that the state is needlessly putting the registrations of eligible voters at risk.

“We’re trying to get a grasp of the scale, but obviously there’s still a problem, which I think we always said would be the case,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which was involved in the 2019 litigation. “It’s definitely something we were concerned would happen if they tried to restart this process.”

[…]

Texas’ voter citizenship review has persisted through the tenure of multiple secretaries of state and has been backed by state Republican leaders who have touted the broader review effort as a way to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls, though there is no evidence that large numbers of noncitizens are registered to vote.

The current iteration was formally initiated in early September before the appointment of the state’s new secretary of state, John Scott, who helped former President Donald Trump challenge the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania.

That’s when the state sent counties 11,737 records of registered voters who were deemed “possible non-U.S. citizens.” It was a much smaller list than the one it produced in 2019, when it did not account for people who became naturalized citizens in between renewing driver’s licenses or ID cards they initially obtained as noncitizens.

But when Bexar County received its list of 641 flagged voters, county workers quickly determined that 109 of them — 17% of the total — had actually registered at naturalization ceremonies. The county is able to track the origin of those applications because of an internal labeling system it made up years ago when staff began attending the ceremonies, said Jacque Callanen, the county’s administrator.

Election officials in Travis County said they were similarly able to identify that applications for 60 voters on the county’s list of 408 flagged voters — roughly 15% of the total — had been filled out at naturalization ceremonies.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, another group that sued the state in 2019, is still assessing the extent to which the state’s new attempt to review the rolls may be defective. But those figures alone should give everyone pause, ACLU staff attorney Thomas Buser-Clancy said after The Texas Tribune provided him those tallies.

“What we do know is that every time the secretary of state tries to do something like this it fails and that these efforts, which inevitably ensnare eligible voters, should not be happening,” Buser-Clancy said.

In an advisory announcing the revised process, the secretary of state’s office told counties that they should first attempt to “investigate” a voter’s eligibility. If they are unable to verify citizenship, the county must then send out “notices of examination” that start a 30-day clock for the voter to submit proof of citizenship to retain their registration. Voters who don’t respond with proof within 30 days are removed from the rolls — though they can be reinstated if they later prove their citizenship, including at a polling place.

Beyond the figures from Bexar and Travis counties, local election officials in other counties, including Cameron and Williamson, confirmed they’ve heard back from flagged voters who are naturalized citizens. After mailing 2,796 notices, officials in Harris County said 167 voters had provided them with documentation proving their citizenship. In Fort Bend, officials received proof of citizenship from at least 87 voters on their list of 515 “possible noncitizens.” Last week, Texas Monthly reported on two cases of citizens in Cameron County who were flagged as possible noncitizens.

See here, here, and here for not nearly enough background on this. The simple fact is that if the SOS process is generating such high error rates, especially for things that should be easily checked and thus avoided, the process itself is clearly and fatally flawed. Some of this is because, as anyone who works with databases can tell you, data is hard and messy and it’s easy to make mistakes when trying to figure out if two different text values are actually the same thing. And some of it is clearly because the SOS and the Republicans pushing this don’t care at all if there’s some collateral damage. That’s a feature and not a bug to them. If it’s not time to go back to the courts and get another stick to whack them with, it will be soon. Reform Austin has more.

Fraudit update

Yes, it’s still a thing.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott announced late Friday that his office has presented an “exhaustive” document request to Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Harris counties as part of an audit of 2020′s election.

Scott’s office also announced that phase one of the audit is nearing completion, with a summary of findings expected to be made public by the end of December. The document request marks the beginning of the second phase of the audit, according to a news release from the secretary of state’s office.

The request, sent to election administrators at each of the counties, asks for the counties to provide information including a full accounting of mail-in votes and provisional votes, any reported chain of custody issues as well as complaints that those offices might have received regarding the 2020 presidential election.

[…]

Following Friday’s announcement, James Slattery, a senior counsel at the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the document request from the secretary of state’s office a “fishing expedition.”

“No other words to describe these unbelievably wide ranging document requests than ‘fishing expedition,’ ” Slattery said on Twitter. “It’ll tie these offices up in knots just as the primary season begins, diverting crucial resources from helping voters navigate all of 2021′s election law changes.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I think James Slattery pretty much nails it, so let me note instead that Collin and Tarrant counties were apparently caught off guard by the initial call for the fraudit.

Now, an investigation by the watchdog American Oversight has brought back communication records and documents that show election officials in Collin and Tarrant counties were caught on their heels when the audit was announced, and that they apparently had no idea what the process meant.

In one of the emails American Oversight obtained, Collin County Election Administrator Bruce Sherbet informed employees that the audit would kick off in November.

(Does the timing feel a bit funny to you? Well: “Governor Abbott, we need a ‘Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election,’” Trump wrote in an open letter to Abbott. “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.” A little more than eight hours later, boom: an audit is born.)

Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram had informed Sherbet of the upcoming probe, despite having previously told the Collin County elections administrator that the vote had been both “smooth and secure.”

On Sept. 24, Collin County Commissioner Darrell Hale wrote back to Sherbet and Collin County Administrator Bill Bilyeu. “What is the story?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“Just heard about it last night,” Sherbet replied. “Not sure of any details.”

Later, Hale confessed to an inquisitive constituent by email, “We are curious on the details ourselves.”

[…]

After the Texas Secretary of State’s Office announced the audit, Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia urged election officials not to comment publicly until they figured out what exactly was going on and knew “what they need from us,” the email communications American Oversight obtained show. Garcia urged the officials to forward any media inquiries to him.

The American Oversight story is here. They say they intend to get similar documents from Harris and Dallas counties about their initial response to the fraudit request. I’ll keep an eye out for them.