Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 19th, 2021:

Oh Lord, we’re still talking about Matthew McConaughey

Please make it stop. At least, please make it stop until and unless there is some actual thing that is worth talking about.

Alright, alright, alright … he might, he might, he might.

Matthew McConaughey has publicly said a run for Texas governor in 2022 is a “true consideration.”

But the Academy Award-winning actor’s interest goes a step further than musings in interviews. McConaughey has been quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO, to take their temperature on the race and to talk about seriously throwing his hat in the ring, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.

Most political strategists say they doubt McConaughey, a Texas native, will sacrifice his status as a beloved cultural icon in the state for the dirty business of politics. They don’t see a viable path forward, either, pointing to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s backing among the business community and millions in the bank — but the state’s political class is keeping a close eye on the Hollywood star’s plans nonetheless.

“I find it improbable, but it’s not out of the question,” said top Republican strategist Karl Rove, who relayed a recent encounter with Lawrence Wright, describing the New Yorker journalist as “hyperventilating” at the prospect that his close friend and fellow Texan might run. (Asked for comment on McConaughey, Wright replied in an email, “I’m trying to lower my profile in this, so I’ll politely decline.”)

[…]

“I’m a little more surprised that people aren’t taking him more seriously, honestly,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist. “Celebrity in this country counts for a lot … it’s not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal.”

There’s little question that McConaughey — who became a household name for his starring roles in top films like “Dazed and Confused” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” delivering memorable lines in his signature languid drawl — would draw national media attention should he enter the race against Abbott.

What’s less clear is what kind of platform McConaughey would run on or even which party banner he would run under. McConaughey has been peppered with questions about politics and news of the day while promoting his memoir, “Greenlights,” but overall, has been vague about his political leanings, saying little about specific issues or policies.

The political calculations for a decision about party affiliation would also be tricky.

“The question is: Would he run as a Republican? A Democrat? Independent? And where is he on the political scale? He says he has a funny phrase about being a hardcore centrist, but what party would he run under?” said Rove.

See here and here for some background. God help me, I agree with Karl Rove, who is at least asking the right questions for these stupid articles.

There are only two types of people McConaughey could be talking to, assuming this isn’t all a bunch of hooey. One is the kind of person who could write him a very big check in the event he does run. He’s going to need a lot of those people, because Greg Abbott has a gazillion dollars in his campaign finance account. It’s true that McConaughey has more name recognition than your typical novice candidate, but he’d still have to let people know what he stands for and what he’d want to do, not to mention attack Abbott and defend himself from Abbott’s attacks. And two, he’ll need to talk to people who would be willing to work on his campaign. In the class of political professionals, there are likely two types: Those who will tell him that running a campaign will be very difficult and his odds of winning are not great, and those that will be happy to cash his checks. Good luck with that.

One more thing:

Meanwhile the Democratic Party has no announced candidate as of yet. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, whose 2018 Senate run against Ted Cruz vaulted him into national prominence and a failed presidential bid, has yet to make a decision about whether or not he enters the race.

Former HUD Secretary and fellow 2020 hopeful Julián Castro is another potential candidate.

“He hasn’t ruled anything out and we’re watching the race closely,” said Sawyer Hackett, executive director of Castro’s People First Future PAC.

We have discussed the Beto situation. This is the first I’ve heard from someone connected with Julian Castro on the topic in awhile, and it’s not a No. So there’s that. The Texas Signal has more.

Threat level down

Been waiting for this for some time.

Harris County finally will downgrade from its highest COVID-19 threat level, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday evening, after 47 weeks of urging residents to stay home.

Hidalgo said the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and improving local metrics were among several factors that convinced her to revise the threat level system the county debuted last summer. The U.S. Centers From Disease Control also told fully vaccinated Americans last week they may resume their pre-pandemic lives.

“We’re very much at a turning point,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t want to claim victory because there certainly there’s a possibility that amongst the unvaccinated, the virus gets out of control. But we do have reason for celebration.

Hidalgo said she would make a formal announcement Tuesday. Remaining guidelines would only apply to unvaccinated residents.

The two Republican county commissioners had urged the Democratic leader for weeks to abandon Level Red, which states that virus outbreaks are uncontrolled and worsening; data show the opposite is true.

The pair, Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, have said that while COVID-19 still must be taken seriously, the Level Red designation obscures the progress the county has made in containing the virus.

[…]

Currently, Harris County meets four of five criteria to downgrade to the next-highest threat level, including 14-day averages of new cases below 400 and share of ICU beds occupied by virus patients below 15 percent.

The remaining barrier is a test positivity rate below 5 percent; currently that metric stands at 9.4 percent. That result differs greatly than the positivity rate recorded by the Texas Medical Center system, which currently is 3.7 percent.

The TMC rate comes from tests conducted on patients at member hospitals in the Houston region; the county rate comes from tests taken by the Houston and Harris County health departments, as well as local pharmacies.

Hidalgo said experts she consulted said since few residents were being tested, Harris County’s rate likely was artificially high. She said her team would revise the metrics so positivity rate and new cases are secondary criteria.

See here for the previous update, which was a month ago. We’re a lot farther along on vaccinations, and all of the numbers have moved in accordance with that. I like the fact that we’re being true to the metrics, and that we are making adjustments to them based on new facts on the ground. I commend Judge Hidalgo for consistently doing the right thing, which would have been a lot easier to do if we didn’t have Threat Level Super Duper Bright Red stupidity and malevolence from other parts of our government. The later story also notes that government buildings would reopen to 50 percent capacity, and the county is reviewing that dumb anti-mask mandate order. The Press and the Trib have more.

Abbott ends mask mandates

This guy, I swear.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that public schools can no longer require masks on their campuses starting June 5. The decision was part of a new executive order that bans governmental entities in Texas — like cities and counties — from mandating masks in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Friday, any government entity that tries to impose a mask mandate can face a fine of up to $1,000, according to the order. The order exempts state-supported living centers, government-owned or -operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.

The order is arguably the most consequential for public schools. After Abbott ended the statewide mask requirement in early March, school systems were allowed to continue with their own mask-wearing policies unchanged. But after June 4, “no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering,” according to Abbott’s new order.

While 30% of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the vast majority of children are unvaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized last week for children as young as 12. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still only authorized for those 18 and older. School-age children have seen lower infection rates than other age groups. COVID-19 cases among those 5-17 years old make up 10% of total cases in the country, according to the latest CDC data.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor places.

The Texas State Teachers Association called Abbott’s latest move premature. In a statement, the head of the association, Ovidia Molina, said Abbott should have waited until the CDC issued updated guidance on masks for the 2021-22 school year. Molina acknowledged that some Texas school districts have already ended their mask requirements but said the association believes “that also is ill-advised.”

“The health and safety of our students, educators and communities must remain our first priority as we attempt to emerge from this pandemic,” Molina said.

Abbott’s new rules will take effect as the school year is winding down for most students — or already over. The last day of classes for the state’s biggest school district, Houston ISD, is June 11, while May 27 is the last day for most students in the state’s second biggest district, Dallas ISD.

Why can’t you just wait another week? School is almost over here in Houston, and it will be over in some parts of the state before this kicks in. Vaccination levels still aren’t that great, though we can reasonably expect them to be significantly better by August, and we know that fully reopening schools when we did increased the COVID infection rate. Surely Abbott isn’t that afraid of little ol’ Don Huffines. One more week, that’s all that was needed. The Chron has more.