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August 24th, 2020:

Why wouldn’t Dems attack Abbott for his COVID response?

I am puzzled by the premise of this article.

As the Democratic National Convention opened on Monday, former First Lady Michelle Obama condemned President Donald Trump for having downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and scenes flashed throughout the night from Houston, an epicenter of the crisis.

“Too many are struggling to take care of basic necessities like food and rent,” Obama said. “Too many communities have been left in the lurch to grapple with whether and how to open our schools safely.”

In Texas, Democrats have seized on similar attacks, targeting Gov. Greg Abbott and his ties to the Trump Administration during the pandemic to undermine Republicans down ballot, especially in diverse suburban districts around Houston and Dallas.

While the governor is not on the ballot this year, Democrats have long believed that their best path to retaking the state House this cycle goes through Abbott, a close ally of the Trump Administration and a fundraising juggernaut who has consistently wielded his name and campaign war chest to help struggling GOP candidates cross the finish line in crucial electoral contests.

The pandemic has given them some of the most forceful attacks in years.

Abbott’s “complete and utter mismanagement of this from day one has made this a completely different calculus for us than it was before,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. He added, “Everyone is seeing firsthand just how dismal Republicans are at managing a crisis.”

[…]

Whether the criticism against Abbott lands this fall will depend in part on how the health crisis evolves in the coming weeks. Despite his initial haste to reopen businesses, the governor heeded calls to halt further openings and issued a statewide mask mandate, which drew stiff condemnation from his party’s far-right flank.

Abbott has still declined to issue temporary lockdowns or allow officials in the hardest hit regions, especially the Rio Grande Valley, to issue their own. Statewide, new daily infections and hospitalizations are falling, though more slowly than public health officials would hope, especially as schools begin reopening this month.

The governor has allowed school districts to delay in-person instruction, meaning in some counties, students may not return until a week before the election. Public health experts have warned that returning to in-class learning before infections are largely contained could lead to new surges in hospitalizations and deaths.

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University who is tracking the most competitive Texas House races, said Abbott’s response to the surge this summer was “the most he’s ever bucked the conservative wing of his party.”

“And that’s because he maybe knows that if he hadn’t, Republicans may have lost more in November,” Jones said, adding, “I think for Abbott, a lot will depend on whether the pandemic becomes less severe in the next two months.”

The governor’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve been since he took office, though he remains well liked by Republicans, according to polls. And Abbott has worked to shore up support within his core constituency of white, older Texans by appearing almost nightly on local TV news outlets.

I mean, obviously the Dems are going to attack Abbott’s response to the pandemic. Even if he had done everything in an objectively optimal manner, even if he wasn’t so closely tied to the dismal failure that is the Trump response to the pandemic, even if there were no complaints about the proper amount of executive power being wielded, there would always be things that could have gone better and could be subject to legitimate criticism. Besides, what other option would Dems have? Largely agreeing with him wouldn’t get them anywhere. You may say well, if he was handling this brilliantly then they shouldn’t be attacking him. I say there’s always room for an opposing perspective, and the critique of this aspect of Abbott’s performance as Governor fits well into other avenues the Dems would like to razz him on.

Attacks aren’t necessarily a positive thing for the attackers. People do generally get a sense for when an attack is unfair and based on lies, so whatever the Dems will be saying needs to be grounded in some valid basis or else it just won’t land. Abbott is also perfectly capable of defending himself and launching his own offensives, thanks to his gazillions of dollars in his campaign treasury. Will Democratic criticism of Abbott’s performance vault someone else into the Governor’s mansion? Maybe, though no matter what happens next that will depend as much on who that person will be as anything else. Nothing is guaranteed, and until Dems win a statewide race it’s all theoretical anyway. But really, what else would they do? It would be political malpractice to not be all over this, and that’s even without all the material Abbott has provided. You’re going to be hearing about this for a long time, so just get used to it.

Special election set for SD30

Can’t wait till November, apparently.

Sen. Pat Fallon

Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday announced the special election to replace state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, will be Sept. 29, setting off a sped-up race to fill his seat ahead of the next legislative session now that he is likely headed to Congress.

Minutes after Abbott’s announcement, state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, announced his campaign for the safely red seat in Senate District 30. Springer also said he had Fallon’s endorsement.

“I bring my conservative record & hard work to the race, along with a life of being raised, educated, & working in SD30,” Springer tweeted.

The filing deadline for the special election will be less than a week away — Friday — and early voting begins Sept. 14, according to Abbott’s proclamation.

Abbott invoked what is known as an “emergency special election” to schedule the contest on a tighter timeline than usual. He cited the need for SD-30 to have representation when the Legislature returns in January, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

[…]

The timing of the special election had been up in the air in recent days because Fallon had not vacated the seat yet and said as recently as Wednesday he was still figuring out when to give it up. Fallon ended up resigning in a letter to Abbott dated Saturday, saying the resignation would be effective at midnight Jan. 4.

The winner of the special election will finish Fallon’s term, which goes until January 2023.

I mean, okay, sure, but I can’t help but feel a little bitter about the nickel-and-dime treatment Abbott gave Sylvia Garcia’s resignation, in July of 2018. He did eventually set a short date for a special election when Garcia resigned again, with language that wasn’t nitpick-able. Maybe I’m making too big a deal over something that was ultimately more petty than meaningful, but here I am anyway.

In the meantime, Rep. Springer’s main opponent will be this person.

Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who was jailed over reopening her business amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Saturday that she is running for Texas Senate.

Luther, who lives in Denton County, had been considering a run to replace state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, in a yet-to-be-called special election now that he is poised to head to Congress.

“You better bet I’m putting my hat in the ring,” Luther said during a “Back the Blue” rally supporting law enforcement in Denton County.

[…]

At the rally, Luther touted herself to a cheering crowd as someone who would “stand up and go to jail for you,” saying she would “do it again and again because I’m gonna fight to keep our Texas values.” She made the remarks in a video from the rally posted to her Twitter account.

Earlier this month, county and precinct chairs picked Fallon to replace former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, on the fall ballot now that Ratcliffe is the director of national intelligence. While there is a Democratic nominee, Russell Foster, Fallon is likely to win in November because the congressional district is overwhelmingly Republican.

The special election to finish Fallon’s term in safely red Senate District 30 has not been set yet — and it cannot be scheduled until he vacates the seat. He could do that automatically by taking office in January as a congressman or by resigning early.

Fallon said Wednesday he is still figuring out when to vacate the seat but that he was intent on ensuring there is “not gonna be a gap where there’s no senator.”

See here for the background. Denton Mayor Chris Watts is also a potential candidates for this race. There may be a Democrat at some point, but this is a district that voted 72% for Ted Cruz in 2018, so don’t expect much. We’re rooting for the least worst Republican here, and who that is may be hard to tell at a glance. Shelley Luther has a lot of notoriety and a fine grasp of the kind of blonde-suburban-lady grievance politics that elevated another blonde lady named Shelley to prominence some years ago. Stock up on the Maalox now, you’re going to need it.

Most likely, the timing of this special election to some extent takes care of any concerns Republicans may have about the House being down a member if Springer wins and there needs to be a special to replace him. You can probably have a runoff for this seat by early November, and thus a special for Springer’s House seat in December, with a runoff in January. Still could possibly get dicey if there’s a tight Speaker’s race, but one can only do so much. The set of circumstances where this all matters is fairly limited, though if it does matter it will matter a lot. We’ll see how it goes.

COVID executive order lawsuit update

Hard to keep track of all these, I know.

The state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott have denied a Dallas salon owner’s allegations that COVID-19 emergency orders suspending state laws are unconstitutional.

Abbott and the state specifically denied allegations that the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 “improperly delegates power to the governor and local executive officials,” said the defendants’ answer, filed Tuesday in Dallas County district court.

It’s a constitutional attack that the state of Texas is now defending in multiple courts, as business owners file lawsuits against the government over COVID-19 shutdown orders, or the definitions of essential versus nonessential businesses.

Litigants in multiple cases have gone to the Texas Supreme Court with disputes that arose because of the pandemic, but the high court hasn’t yet accepted an appeal to decide the dispute. But one justice, John Devine, signaled in a concurring opinion that Abbott’s practice of suspending Texas laws during the pandemic was a violation of the Texas Constitution.

“We are going to amend our claims to ask for a temporary injunction, which we are certain will be denied. Then we will start marching it up the ladder to the Texas Supreme Court,” said Warren Norred, who represents Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner. “All these cases that have hit the Supreme Court, the high court has said, ‘We’re waiting patiently for you guys to get us a case in the proper channels.’ … They’re watching, but they’ve been very reluctant to act, until we on the litigation side do it right.”

This particular case involves Luther, who made international headlines when she was jailed for contempt of court because she violated a judge’s temporary restraining order. Luther had opened her salon during a time a government shutdown order didn’t allow it, and so the city of Dallas sued her and won the order that said she had to close down again. When a Dallas district judge jailed her for violating his court order, she filed a writ of habeas corpus to the Supreme Court and won an emergency stay that released her from jail. Her habeas writ appeal is still pending.

Later in the litigation, Luther brought the state and Abbott into the case by filing a counterclaim. It alleged that the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, the law that underlies the Dallas emergency rules, is void because it unconstitutionally delegates legislative power that belongs to the governor, county judges and city mayors. She argued that the emergency rules violate separation of powers, are void for vagueness, violate due process and equal protection, and more.

Far as I can tell, the original lawsuit was filed in April. I didn’t blog about it at the time (though I have been following other litigation about coronavirus and executive power pretty closely), and Google searches for a lawsuit in Dallas County involving coronavirus and Greg Abbott run into a wall at May 7, when there were a million stories about Shelley Luther totally pwning Abbott and his shutdown order. Anyway, the state’s response is what you’d expect – the plaintiffs have no standing, the court has no jurisdiction, the law in question is totally legal, etc. This is just in the district court, and we all know it’s going to end up at the Supreme Court, so settle in and get comfortable. We’re just getting started, and there’s a long road ahead.