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April 23rd, 2021:

Checking in on CD06

Wingnuts attack!

Rep. Ron Wright

State Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, is suddenly under intense fire from his right flank as he has emerged as a leading candidate in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

The Club for Growth, the national anti-tax group, is spending six figures trying to stop him ahead of the May 1 contest, and on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voiced opposition to Ellzey, one of 11 Republicans running.

“Texans in CD-6 deserve a strong conservative voice in Congress,” Cruz said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Jake Ellzey’s financial support from never-Trumpers, openness to amnesty, and opposition to school choice should concern Texans looking for a conservative leader.”

Cruz’s team provided the statement after the Tribune asked for the senator’s position on the race, a lingering point of interest after another GOP candidate, Dan Rodimer, began his campaign last month while reportedly claiming Cruz’s encouragement to run. Cruz has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

Early voting began Monday for the special election to fill the seat of Wright, who died in February after being hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 23 candidates total, and other top GOP contenders include Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, as well as Brian Harrison, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump. There are 10 Democrats running, and they are hoping to advance to an all-but-guaranteed runoff and then flip the Republican-leaning seat.

But for now, Ellzey is the center of attention, at least on the GOP side. Ellzey has been building momentum in recent days, and campaign finance reports released Monday showed that he was not only the top fundraiser from either party but that he also had more money in the bank for the homestretch than any other candidate. Ellzey raised $504,000 in under two months and had $400,000 cash on hand as of April 11.

That reminds me that I need to look at the Q1 finance reports, to see how other candidates did, and how much money there is overall. Whatever there was for the first round, you can bet there will be much more for the runoff, especially if it’s D versus R. Towards that end, generally ignore the polls.

The jungle primary for the Texas 6th special election is just under 2 weeks away, and we have a poll, so everyone is freaking out. The source of the trouble is that the lead Democrat is perilously close to the 2nd Republican, raising fears that the GOP could get two candidates ahead of the lead Democrat, and guarantee a victory before the runoff. This is a theoretical possibility, but not actually a real problem, because that poll should not be taken seriously.

This is a district that is 52% white by population – remember, this is an Arlington And Other Shit district, as I referred to it the first time I wrote about it – which has sizable Black (20%) and Hispanic (22%) populations. This district was Cruz +3 and Trump +3, but while the Tarrant portion of the district barely moved, from Beto +11.5% to Biden +11.9%, that elides a lot of the shift under the hood, with Beto doing better in the urban Arlington areas while Biden did better in the white suburbs, a fact that should surprise nobody. None of this is a shock.

The district contains a bit of the DFW quad – the bottom right corner of Tarrant, and this map from Jackson Bryman shows how the very minimal topline swing is actually two counterbalancing swings, as it is in the whole of the DFW Quad.

Now, I know what you’ll be saying – a district that’s 52% white by population will be more white than that when you apply a voter screen on it, and I don’t disagree. Echelon Insights released some electorate composition projections before 2020 in a handful of Congressional Districts, and their screen moved the (similarly ethnically diverse) Texas 22nd about 10% points whiter when comparing populations to electorates, which would make the 6th about 62% white, give or take. Seems reasonable enough to me, maybe a bit high if you think that Trumpian low-propensity whites and Hispanic don’t turn out, maybe a bit low if Black turnout sags. But yeah, something like a 60-65% white electorate would be reasonable.

This poll was 75% white.

[…]

So, what’s the actual state of play in the Texas 6th? Democrats will presumably make the runoff with Jana Lynne Sanchez, the GOP will get one of their potential nominees through, and Democrats are still the underdogs to actually flip the seat, but not out of the game by any means. This poll was R+10 when they asked just a generic D/R ballot test, which would represent a 2% swing to the GOP, but this is an overly white sample from a GOP pollster, so my prior – a swing to the Democrats from the 2020 Congressional result and a better result for the GOP as compared to the Presidential – is still the likeliest outcome.

I’ve seen references to this poll, which was sponsored by a right-wing publication. It’s not worth worrying about, even if it were a better poll sponsored by a better organization. Special elections are chaotic enough, and with so many candidates in the race the range of outputs is immense. Not many votes could easily be the difference between second place and third or fourth or fifth. I also believe that a two-party runoff is the most likely outcome, but two Rs and even two Ds could happen, if there’s sufficiently even distribution among the top contenders. Who knows?

Anti-trans sports bill will not make it out of committee

Good, but hardly enough.

A bill that would dictate on which sports teams transgender athletes can compete in public schools was declared all but dead on Wednesday by Rep. Harold Dutton, the Public Education Committee chair who presided over an emotionally charged debate over it a day earlier.

The bill drew criticism from more than 1,000 employers across the state and the NCAA, which threatened to cancel future sports championships in the state if it were enacted.

Dutton, a Houston Democrat, told Hearst Newspapers the bill didn’t have the votes to pass his committee, which is made up of six Democrats and seven Republicans.

“That bill is probably not going to make it out of committee,” Dutton said. “We just don’t have the votes for it … But I promised the author that I’d give him a hearing, and we did.”

The bill’s author, Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant, said Wednesday that he would still like to see a vote.

“I believe this bill is critically important to protect fair play in women’s sports,” Hefner said. “I appreciate Chairman Dutton giving this bill a hearing and believe it deserves an up or down vote.”

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, the influential Republican who indicated he would not support the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While anything can happen in the final weeks of the 2021 legislative session — the language could be tacked onto another bill or the same bill could be sent to another committee, for example — the standstill marks a major roadblock for Republicans pushing it.

[…]

Angela Hale, senior adviser of Equality Texas, an LGBT rights advocacy group, said the group was pleased to hear the bill likely won’t make it to the House floor, but she added there are still about 30 bills in total this session that target the Texans of the demographic.

“We’re grateful that members listened to the voices of families and real experts yesterday in Chairman Dutton’s hearing,” Hale said. “We ask the legislature, and especially leaders in the Texas House, to once again reject this unnecessary and harmful legislation and focus on issues that unite us as Texans.”

Wesley Story, communications manager for the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas, agreed, saying banning transgender athletes is “cruel” and deprives them of “an essential part of childhood.”

“Defeating this discriminatory bill is a huge win for equality in our state, but unfortunately, this battle is not over,” Story said. “Republicans have manufactured controversy around transgender youth in sports and are also targeting life-saving, gender-affirming health care with other bills making their way through the Capitol. Texans must continue to show up and fight to protect trans kids by opposing dangerous anti-trans legislation.”

The bill in question is HB4042, and it’s a companion of SB29, which you may recall was approved by the Senate last week. That bill was also referred to the House Public Education Committee, so one assumes that unless something changes it will not make it to the House floor. That’s good, but it’s worth at best a muted celebration. For one thing, there are other anti-trans bills out there, and any of them could get revived at a later time or tacked as an amendment onto another bill. Nothing is dead in the Legislature until sine die, and given that there will be at least one special session for redistricting, nothing can be considered truly dead until that session is over, too.

More to the point, the existence of and hearings on these bills represent an ongoing threat and attack on numerous families and children around the state, who have to work to prove their humanity to a bunch of people who see them as problems. No one should have to go through that. Further, if we manage to make it through this session without any of these bills passing, that doesn’t mean the fight is over. We thought we saw the end of this after the 2017 sessions, when the bathroom bills finally died. As long as the modern Republican Party holds power in Texas, the threat is real and it is present. The only way to end the threat is to end the Republicans’ monopoly on power in Texas.

Today is not the day we expand Medicaid

Tomorrow isn’t looking so good either.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas House on Thursday rejected an attempt to direct the governor and state health officials to use billions in federal dollars to expand health care coverage for uninsured Texans, including working poor who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford their own health insurance.

On a vote of 80-68, lawmakers voted down the proposal, which was floated as a two-page amendment to the state budget on Thursday.

The debate, which was highly anticipated by advocates of expanding coverage for uninsured Texans, was expected to be heated and drawn out. It lasted less than 20 minutes.

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said it wouldn’t force the state to expand traditional Medicaid but would direct Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a federal funding agreement, known as a 1115 demonstration waiver, to create a plan that would cover more uninsured Texans, including those who would qualify for coverage under a traditional Medicaid expansion plan.

The resulting plan could have been a traditional expansion of Medicaid to cover adults who earn up to a certain amount, or a “look-alike” that combines state and federal funds to create a state program that accomplishes a similar goal, Coleman said.

Such state-crafted plans have been passed in several states, mainly conservative states like Indiana and Ohio.

“I would like for us to expand traditional Medicaid in the optional way that the ACA says you can do it,” Coleman said on the House floor. “But we can’t do that. And we know that … That is not what this amendment does.”

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, said the idea “puts Texas in the driver’s seat, and really Gov. Abbott in the driver’s seat” instead of forcing their hand or pushing through a program unpopular with conservatives.

But Republican state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, the only House member to speak against the bill during Thursday’s debate, said that creating a new health care program — Medicaid or otherwise — is far too complicated an endeavor to tackle in a two-page amendment and cautioned that it in fact looked like a way to expand Medicaid without a public hearing or extended floor debate.

“This topic is incredibly important, it’s complex, and frankly, it’s not appropriately handled in this amendment,” Capriglione said.

House Democrats, a handful of Republicans, and health care advocates, as well as nearly 200 groups and community leaders across Texas, still have some hope for House Bill 3871 by state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton. That bill creates the “Live Well Texas” plan that uses a 1115 waiver to capture the federal dollars and expand Medicaid eligibility, and it includes incentives for people to continue working as well as increases in Medicaid reimbursements to attract more doctors to the program.

The bill has 76 House sponsors, nine of whom are Republicans, giving it enough support to pass the House. But it has been stuck in the GOP-led House Human Services Committee since March, waiting on a hearing that becomes increasingly less likely as the Texas Legislature barrels toward its final days at the end of May.

Only one of the Republican sponsors of HB 3871 voted for the Coleman amendment.

See here and here for the background. In a vacuum, I can accept Rep. Capriglione’s explanation for why this was the wrong vehicle to handle a complex health care topic, but given that the Lege has refused to consider Medicaid expansion for a decade, and as Rep. Coleman notes we’re only trying to do this the hard way because Republicans refuse to do it the easy way, I’m less sympathetic. Even if this amendment had been adopted, there would be no guarantee it would be in the final budget – as Scott Braddock notes, what matters is the conference committee. In theory, that means this could be revived there, but let’s just say one should not bet on that outcome. All respect to Reps. Coleman and Johnson, but we’ve seen this movie before, and I don’t expect it to end any differently this time around.