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April 29th, 2021:

One more CD06 update

Some dude made an endorsement in the race.

Rep. Ron Wright

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed fellow Republican Susan Wright in the crowded Saturday special election to replace her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

The endorsement is a massive development in a race that features 11 Republicans, including at least two former Trump administration officials. A number of the GOP contenders have been closely aligning themselves with the former president.

[…]

Wright’s Republican rivals include Brian Harrison, the chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Trump, and Sery Kim, who worked at the Small Business Administration under the former president. There is also Dan Rodimer, the former pro wrestler who moved to Texas after an unsuccessful congressional campaign last year in Nevada that had Trump’s support.

The candidates’ efforts to show their loyalty to Trump has gotten so intense that a Trump spokesperson had to issue a statement last week clarifying that he had not yet gotten involved in the race.

See here and here for recent updates. Susan Wright is widely considered the frontrunner, though she hasn’t raised as much money as some other candidates. Maybe this is to cement her position, maybe it’s out of concern that she’s not in as strong a position as one might have thought, who knows. What I do know is that the endorsement announcement wasn’t made on Twitter.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Republican divide:

When House Republicans gather in Florida this week for their annual policy retreat, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., will be a thousand miles away in Texas, campaigning for Michael Wood in the upcoming special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District.

Wood, a Marine Reserve major, is one of 23 candidates running in the May 1 election to succeed Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, who died in February from COVID-19 and complications from cancer. The crowded field includes Wright’s widow, a former wrestler, and several Republicans who served in the Trump administration.

But Wood is the only openly anti-Trump candidate in the race — and hopes voters in the sprawling district that includes diversifying swaths of the Dallas-Forth Worth suburbs — where Trump won by three percentage points in 2020 after winning by 12 in 2016 — will help push him through the field and into a runoff should no candidate receive a majority of votes.

“The Republican Party has lost its way and now is the time to fight for its renewal,” Wood says on his campaign website. “We were once a party of ideas, but we have devolved into a cult of personality. This must end, and Texas must lead the way.”

Wood’s long shot bid is also an early test for Kinzinger, one of ten Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and his efforts to overturn the election results.

[…]

In Texas, Wood told ABC News he views his special election as the “first battle for the soul of the Republican Party” since the 2020 election cycle.

“It’s just going to be one data point in what’s going to have to be a very long fight,” he said.

I appreciate their efforts to try and rehabilitate a degenerate and depraved Republican Party. Let’s just say I don’t share their optimism about their chances.

Some polling data:

The progressive firm Data for Progress has released a survey of the May 1 all-party primary that shows Republican party activist Susan Wright, the wife of the late Rep. Ron Wright, in first with 22%.

2018 Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez leads Republican state Rep. Jake Ellzey by a small 16-13 margin in the contest for the second spot in an all-but-assured runoff, with a few other candidates from each party also in striking distance. Former Trump administration official Brian Harrison and Democrat Shawn Lassiter, who works as an education advocate, are both at 10%, while 2020 Democratic state House nominee Lydia Bean is at 9%.

The only other poll we’ve seen all month was a Meeting Street Research survey for the conservative blog the Washington Free Beacon from mid-April that showed a very tight four-way race. Those numbers had Sanchez and Wright at 16% and 15%, respectively, with Ellzey at 14% and Harrison taking 12%.

Data for Progress also polled a hypothetical runoff between Wright and Sanchez and found the Republican up 53-43. This seat, which includes part of Arlington and rural areas south of Dallas, supported Trump only 51-48 in 2020 after backing him 54-42 four years before, but Republicans have done better downballot.

Poll data is here. My advice is to take it with a grain of salt – multi-candidate special elections are ridiculously hard to poll, and this one has a cast of characters to rival “Game of Thrones”. The runoff result is interesting, but even if we get the Wright/Sanchez matchup, the dynamics of this runoff will likely be very different, with much more money involved.

Turnout in early voting has been brisk in Tarrant County, which is the Dem-friendlier part of the district and where there is also an open seat Mayoral race in Fort Worth. Election Day is Saturday, I’ll have the result on Sunday.

State finally releases most federal stimulus funds for schools

About damn time.

Texas’s top state leaders announced Wednesday they are releasing $11.2 billion out of nearly $18 billion available in federal pandemic relief funding that has been dedicated for the state’s public schools.

The announcement comes as education advocates and Democratic lawmakers have been urging officials in recent weeks to release the money that was set aside by Congress for Texas’ public schools to address learning loss and cover pandemic-related education expenses.

It’s unclear how the state plans to spend the remaining $7 billion in stimulus money, which was allocated through multiple aid packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding could not be immediately released due to federal requirements, state officials said.

[…]

State officials had previously argued the reason they hadn’t allocated the one-time funding to the schools was because they were awaiting federal government guidance about whether the state would need to increase funding for higher education to make the K-12 funding available.

Last week, the federal government weighed in and clarified the state must maintain both higher education and public education funding at the same proportion to the budget as it was in 2017, 2018 and 2019 to tap into those dollars. Effectively, that means Texas would have to increase higher education spending by $1.2 billion to unlock the K-12 stimulus dollars.

Abbott has applied for a federal waiver that would allow Texas to bypass increasing higher education spending, but no decision has been announced on whether the waiver was granted. His office did not respond to questions about what this announcement means for higher education funding or why the public school funding was released. The announcement said legislative leaders will work to address outstanding issues about distributing the rest of the federal funding by the end of the legislative session.

K-12 and higher education advocates argue increasing funding for higher education is worth it to receive the nearly $18 billion in relief funds for K-12 schools.

“The state is seeking a federal waiver to avoid this additional spending, but that is the wrong thing to do, especially at a time when our institutions of higher education need the additional funding to cover extra expenses incurred during the pandemic,” said Texas Faculty Association President Pat Heintzelman in a press release this week.

School districts also called the state to release the money because they need to know how much money schools will receive as they develop budgets for next year. While the funding can be used for a variety of resources, including extra mental health support, counselors and more staff, school leaders were growing concerned they would run out of time to hire the necessary staff without access to more money.

“This is a positive first step in getting the funds our schools need,” said Zeph Capo, president of Texas American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that it took nearly two months of pushing the governor to get to this point. Many districts that have been contemplating cuts related to pandemic expenses can now implement plans to help students catch up.”

See here for the background. One reason for the increasing concern is that school districts have to be planning their budgets for next academic year, and there will surely need to be a lot of summer instruction as well. It’s so much better to have the funds in place and know what you’re getting rather than guess how much and when. The Chron adds a few details.

Houston-area district leaders have not yet detailed precise plans for stimulus money, largely because they did not know how much they will receive or when funding would arrive. However, several superintendents have identified top priorities, such as hiring more staff, extending the school day or year, upgrading ventilation systems and providing retention bonuses.

TEA officials released each district’s share of the $11 billion on Wednesday, cautioning that only two-thirds of the money will be available immediately. The remaining one-third will arrive once the U.S. Department of Education approves Texas’ written plan for the money.

The funds will flow in proportions similar to federal Title I money, meaning public school districts with a higher percentage of students from lower-income families will receive a greater share of the cash.

Houston ISD will receive about $800 million, equal to roughly 40 percent of its annual general fund operating costs. The more affluent Cy-Fair ISD will secure about $190 million, slightly less than 20 percent of its annual operating costs. The even-more affluent Katy ISD will net about $67 million, just under 10 percent of its annual operating costs.

This money will do a lot of good. It’s frustrating we had to wait as long as we did to get it, but at least it’s finally here, with more to come.

Yes, lobbyists need sexual harassment awareness training, too

Closing an obvious loophole.

Sen. José Menéndez

In the aftermath of the story that rocked the Capitol this weekend of a lobbyist using a date rape drug on a legislative staffer, the Legislature is starting to take action.

Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) filed a bill on Tuesday that would require lobbyists to under sexual harassment and ethics training before registering as a lobbyist.

The state senator tweeted, “This bill is replicated after the Texas Senate policy which requires completion of sexual harassment training every 2 years by Senators & all staff. If lobbyists are going to work in & around Capitol, & directly with our staff, they too should be held to a responsible standard.”

All 31 senators have signed on to SB 2233 as co-authors, and it is scheduled for a hearing in State Affairs on Thursday.

The Senate action is one of many steps the Legislature is calling for, and legislators say the problem goes much deeper. Rep. Ina Minjarez told The Texas Tribune, “There is still a culture of silence and covering things up.”

[…]

Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) filed HB 21 last November that would allow an individual to file a sexual harassment complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission within 300 days of the incident. The bill was languishing in the Calendars Committee until yesterday when it was scheduled for the House floor on Thursday.

See here and here for the background. Good thing we heard about this before the May 13 deadline for bills to be advanced out of committee, isn’t it? One may reasonably wonder why lobbyists weren’t covered in the previous legislation about sexual harassment, but at least that embarrassing loophole can still be closed now. It’s a tiny baby step – again, this is a massive culture problem, one that to paraphrase Max Planck is likely only to see advancement one political funeral at a time – but it’s still a necessary baby step. Also good to know that this Lege and its leadership can attempt to solve a problem when it puts its mind to it. The Chron has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance calls for the passage of the George Floyd Act and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

We need to up our vaccination data game

As noted before, it gets harder from here.

As the initial mad rush for COVID-19 vaccines wanes, Texas is shifting its distribution strategy to focus on smaller providers, setting up a crucial test for the state as it attempts not only to get shots in arms but also to track that information accurately.

Over the past five months, Texas health officials have focused on allotting vaccines to mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, hospitals and local health departments that distribute thousands of doses a week — introducing a mammoth data collection effort that stressed the state’s already troubled reporting system. Officials say the new strategy will help target communities that have so far been hesitant to get shots by working with local pharmacies and public health organizations.

“Vaccination has slowed,” Imelda Garcia, the chair of Texas’ Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said during a Thursday news briefing. “It seems we’re getting to the point that most people eager to get vaccinated have gotten at least their first dose, so the next phase will be about helping ensure that vaccine is more easily available to those folks who are not going to go as far out of their way.”

The effort will be supplemented by a $1.5 million ad buy targeting vaccine hesitancy, alongside an in-person push in Walmart parking lots to tout the benefits of the vaccine. The state will host about two dozen pop-up events over the next several weeks; the first took place Thursday in south Austin.

“We’ve seen a reduction in vaccine requests coming from our big hub providers, and that means continuing the shift from the mass vaccination sites to regular providers like doctor’s offices and pharmacies,” Garcia said.

[…]

As vaccine allocations ramped up dramatically over the past month, agencies administering the shots have reported glitches or other issues with the state’s vaccine tracking portal, ImmTrac2.

“We feel we’re getting the data in an appropriate amount of time,” said Patti Foster, chief operations officer of Texas Emergency Hospital in Liberty County. “We’ve just been very frustrated with the ImmTrac system.”

The ImmTrac portal works with the state’s Vaccine Allocation & Ordering System, which providers use to request doses. While the VAOS program runs relatively smoothly, ImmTrac has repeatedly undercounted the number of people who have been vaccinated.

The errors threatened weekly vaccine allocations. State officials would look at the bad data and think that the provider was not using its entire vaccine stockpile, potentially deciding to allocate fewer doses the next time around.

Providers said they usually receive a call from the state when that happens, and they’re able to work it out. Still, it’s a frustrating and time-consuming problem, especially as providers sometimes have to tell several different state employees the same problem again and again.

“It’s been a very cumbersome process, and you have to really stay on top of it,” said Jennifer Harrison, the senior director of clinical operations at UT Health Austin.

The state’s vaccine administration numbers have also been unreliable. For nearly two weeks, the state’s dashboard has indicated that Cochran County — with a population of 3,100 people just west of Lubbock — had vaccinated more than 95 percent of its 16-and-over population. That error occurred because of a coding problem, state officials said, but it has yet to be fixed.

State health officials say they are dealing with “hundreds of thousands of doses from thousands of providers” and are getting to the bottom of problems as they arise.

See here for the background. I don’t have any insight to offer here – this story was my introduction to ImmTrac2 and the Vaccine Allocation & Ordering System – other than to say data is often messy, and big IT projects always have kinks in them. The state could certainly allocate more resources to these projects, but in the end the implementation is going to have its share of bumps. How we handle them over the next couple of months will help determine where we end up in percentage of the population vaccinated.