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June, 2021:

Sure is a good thing the Lege fixed all those power grid problems

Otherwise, who knows what could happen?

Texas’ main power grid struggled to keep up with the demand for electricity Monday, prompting the operator to ask Texans to conserve power until Friday.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said in a statement Monday that a significant number of unexpected power plant outages combined with expected record use of electricity due to hot weather has resulted in tight grid conditions. Approximately 12,000 megawatts of generation were offline Monday, or enough to power 2.4 million homes on a hot summer day.

ERCOT officials said the power plant outages were unexpected — and could not provide details as to what could be causing them.

“I don’t have any potential reasons [for the plant outages] that I can share at this time,” said Warren Lasher, ERCOT senior director of systems planning, during a Monday call with media. “It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers.”

The number of plants that were forced offline today is “very concerning” Lasher said.

“We operate the grid with the resources that we have available,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the generators to make sure their plants are available when demand is high.”

How reassuring. I don’t have anything but snark and profanity to add, so let me point to the Chron story for more details.

CenterPoint, which manages electricity for power providers in Houston, said in a statement if it must cut power to maintain reliability of the grid it will be “done with the intent to rotate outages.”

It is not the first time since February’s freeze and statewide power outages that ERCOT has issued a conservation order. The grid manager did so on April 14, when temperatures were hotter than usual and power generators went offline to do routine maintenance ahead of skyrocketing demand that happens annually during Texas’ hot summers. However, that conservation alert only lasted for one day.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said he wasn’t surprised another alert was issued on Monday.

“This is not going to get better,” he said. “There will be more alerts this summer primarily because the weather pattern looks like it will be hotter than last summer, and ERCOT, with the new bills passed out of the Legislature, is duty bound to issue alerts.”

[…]

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 3 into law, which mandates the weatherization of power plants; creates a statewide emergency alert system; improves communication among those in the industry; and designates some natural gas facilities as “critical” so their power can’t be turned off during crises.

However, Hirs said those actions fall short of what is needed to prevent these issues from happening.

“This was destined to fail because no one would invest in new capacity or at least not invest fast enough to keep pace with demand,” Hirs said. “There’s really no incentive to reinvest or maintain the grid for weatherization.”

But hey, you got permitless carry and a six-week abortion ban, and if those things don’t make you feel all cool inside, I don’t know what would. And because I don’t have any more words to add here, have some Internet humor.

Try to stay cool, y’all.

Guzman to run for AG

Certainly makes that primary more interesting.

Eva Guzman

Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, has filed paperwork to run for state attorney general.

On Friday, Guzman, a Republican, filed what is known as a campaign treasurer appointment form with the Texas Ethics Commission, saying she is seeking the office of attorney general, according to a copy of the form obtained by The Texas Tribune. Her treasurer is Orlando Salazar of Dallas, the vice chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

“Eva Guzman has served Texas for over 22 years honorably,” Guzman’s political consultant, Justin Dudley, said in a statement to the Tribune. “She looks forward to putting her experience and know-how to work in a new role. The campaign will have a formal announcement soon.”

[…]

A Guzman run would complicate the Republican primary already underway between incumbent Ken Paxton and Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

Bush announced his campaign for attorney general on June 2, sharply criticizing Paxton over his legal troubles. The attorney general has been fighting securities fraud charges for most of his time in office, and he more recently came under FBI investigation for claims he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

It remains to be seen if Guzman’s candidacy would change former President Donald Trump’s plans to get involved in the primary. Before Bush launched his challenge to Paxton, Trump issued a statement saying he likes “them both very much” and that he would make an endorsement “in the not-so-distant future.”

See here for the background. As you know, I doubt Guzman’s viability in a primary that features two prominent Trump humpers, but we’ll see if I’m right about that. Guzman does have the benefit of not being either a crook or a dilettante, and in a normal meritocratic world that would be a big asset. In a 2022 Republican primary in Texas, that remains to be seen.

For what it’s worth, of the three candidates Paxton has probably had the hardest primary race, when he first ran for AG in 2014 and faced Dan Branch and Barry Smitherman for the nomination, eventually beating Branch in a runoff. He was unopposed in the 2018 primary. Guzman easily dispatched Rose Vela in 2010, and had a closer race in 2016 against a Some Dude named Joe Pool, who had a previous Supreme Court primary challenge to incumbent Jeff Brown in 2014, and finished third in 2012 against John Devine and David Medina. I don’t get the sense that either of those races was particularly taxing, but they were both contested. Bush had a token opponent (I will give you one dollar right now if you can name this person without looking it up), and thus has had the easiest path. Don’t know if any of this previous experience matters – whatever else one may say, we’re in a different environment now – but there it is.

Lawsuit over Methodist Hospital vaccination mandate tossed

That was quick.

A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist over its policy to terminate workers who refuse to get the COVID vaccine, calling it “reprehensible” that plaintiffs compared the requirement to those made under Nazi Germany.

In the lawsuit on behalf of 117 Houston Methodist employees, lawyers likened the vaccine requirement to the Nuremberg Code, a set of medical ethics standards created at the end of World War II following medical experiments by the Nazis on German citizens.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes heavily criticized the comparison in a decision Saturday.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes said. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

Houston Methodist is one of the first hospitals in the nation to require employees to be vaccinated. The hospital system allows employees to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they provide a medical or religious exemption.

[…]

Jennifer Bridges, a Houston Methodist Baytown nurse who originally circulated a petition in April asking the hospital’s executives to reconsider the policy, said the plaintiffs plan to appeal.

“This will go all the way,” Bridges said. “This is only the beginning.”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials issued guidance on Thursday outlining new COVID-19 precautions and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus in health care workplaces. Under the new rule, health care employers must provide paid time off for workers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and recover from the side effects. Federal regulators in May issued guidance allowing employers to require proof of vaccination as a condition of employment.

Hughes wrote in the dismissal order that the vaccinate mandate “was not coercion.”

“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” the judge wrote. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

He also denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block the hospital from suspending the 178 employees who have not received a shot.

See here for some background – the policy was announced in late April, the lawsuit was filed shortly afterwards. As of the last day before the suspensions, all but 178 employees out of 25,000 had been vaccinated, and 27 of those 171 had since received a first shot. The nurse who has acted as the spokesperson for the holdout employees has insisted this isn’t about vaccine skepticism but about not wanting to rush things and so on, but as the Chron editorial board noted over the weekend, her rhetoric has veered more into conspiracy theory land as this has progressed. Plus, there’s the whole “hiring Jared Woodfill as their attorney” thing, which is something you never do if you want to be taken seriously. Anyway, my guess is that they will get no joy from the appeals courts, who I suspect will be more pro-employer than pro-not-getting-vaccinated, but we’ll see. The Press has more.

Beto’s still doing his thing

I’m still hoping it will turn into another thing.

Beto O’Rourke

More than just the Houston heat fired up the crowd at voting rights rally Sunday, where former Congressman Beto O’Rourke urged action against a restrictive bills being championed by Republicans.

“I don’t care about the Democratic Party,” O’Rourke told the crowd nearly two hours into the rally in 95-plus-degree heat at a Third Ward park. “I don’t care about the Republican Party. I care about democracy, and we are going to lose it if we do not stand up.”

[…]

Sunday’s rally doubled as a voter registration event, part of a series of efforts to preserve voting options and increase engagement. Democrats have said part of their push in recent elections has focused on reigniting the political activity of some residents.

A Saturday event with O’Rourke’s group, Powered by People, in Tarrant County led to 1,608 registrations, said Angeanette Thibodeaux, national director of the National Assistance Corporation of America, which is working with O’Rourke’s group on outreach.

Of those registered, however, Thibodeaux said 442, or more than one-quarter of the people signed up to vote, lack a personal identification. She said people must prepare themselves.

“This might not make me popular with everyone on this side, but if there is a rule, be compliant with the rule,” Thibodeaux said. “If I go to the doctor, I need to have my ID. You just have to prepare for that.”

Houston marks the midway point for O’Rourke’s barnstorming tour to rally against the proposed changes. He will be in Brenham and Prairie View on Monday before heading to Beaumont on Wednesday. The scheduled events conclude June 20 in Austin.

“I want us to hold the biggest voting rights rally in the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said.

See here and here for my earlier posts in which I (maybe foolishly) suggested that Beto might be gearing up to run for Governor. As such, I hope that Austin event culminates with an announcement to that effect, or at least the promise that some kind of Big Announcement is coming. He’s pretty much acting like a candidate otherwise, he may as well make it official.

Precinct analysis: The median districts

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2

This is a straightforward post, with a simple answer to an important question. We know that Joe Biden carried 74 State House districts and 15 State Senate districts. How much better did he need to do to get a majority in each chamber? Daily Kos calls this the “median district”. In this context, that means the data for the 76th-most Democratic House district, and the 16th-most Democratic Senate district. The idea is to see how far off the Dems were from being able to win those districts and thus claim a majority in each chamber.

We’ll start with the State House. The table below gives the data for the median district in each of the last three Presidential elections for the Presidential race, the Senate race (2012 and 2020 only), and the Railroad Commissioner race:


Year    Dist      Dem      GOP   Tot D
======================================
2012   HD138   39.29%   59.16%      54
2016    HD54   43.58%   50.50%      65
2020    HD54   48.85%   48.98%      74
				
2012    HD97   38.35%   58.88%      54
2020    HD92   46.04%   51.12%      68

2012    HD97   36.16%   59.58%      54
2016    HD66   37.77%   54.46%      56
2020    HD31   46.52%   50.55%      68

In 2012, the 76th-most Democratic district was HD138, in which Barack Obama received 39.29% of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 59.16%. This is a polite way of saying that the 2011 gerrymander was super effective, and the Democrats weren’t within hailing distance of winning half the chamber. The last column shows the total number of districts carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate. In 2012, this closely mirrored the total number of seats that the Dems actually won, which was 55. One Democratic-held seat was carried by Romney – HD23, the Galveston-based district won that year (and for the final time, as he declined to run again) by Craig Eiland. As you may recall from previous analyses, that district has trended away from the Dems ever since – in 2016, it was won 56-41 by Trump, and in 2020 it was 57-41 for Trump. Obama carried zero Republican-won seats – the closest he came was a 52-47 loss in HD43, another district that has moved farther away from Dems over the decade. He came within six points in three Dallas districts that Democrats now hold – HDs 113, 107, and 105. Like I said, an extremely effective gerrymander. Also a consistent one, as Paul Sadler and Dale Henry won the same districts Obama did, no more and no less.

Until it wasn’t, of course. The cracks began to show in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried 65 districts, though Dems still only won 55 of them overall. HD23 fell to the Republicans in 2014, but Dems earned their first flip of the decade (*) by taking HD107, which as noted above was one of the closer misses in 2012. The nine GOP-won districts that Hillary Clinton carried were HDs 113, 105, 115, 102, 112, 114, 138, 134, and 108. Seven of those are now Democratic districts, with six flipping in 2018 and one (HD134) flipping in 2020.

Note how Clinton ran ahead of other Dems as well. Perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough picked up only HD105, and that by a 45.9 to 44.6 margin (there was a lot of third-party voting in that extremely unappealing race), and it was the same at the judicial level. You may recall this is why I was more guarded in my optimism about 2018 initially – I had some doubts about what the Clinton/GOP voters would do their next time out.

We know how that turned out, and we know how Biden did, as well as how MJ Hegar and Chrysta Castaneda did in 2020. Look at how the median district shifted over time. In 2012, the 76th district was more Republican than the Presidential race was, at each level. In 2016, the median district looked a lot like the Presidential race, and to be honest a lot like the RRC race as well; Wayne Christian defeated Grady Yarbrough 53.1 to 38.4, a bit closer than the median but not far off. In 2020, at all levels, the median district was closer than the statewide race was. Republicans outperformed their baseline in the House, and they needed to because by this point their vaunted gerrymander had completely failed them. I have to think this is something they’re giving serious thought to for this time around.

Here’s the same data for the State Senate districts:


Year    Dist      Dem      GOP   Tot D
======================================
2012    SD08   36.60%   61.67%      11
2016    SD09   41.75%   53.09%      12
2020    SD09   48.30%   50.00%      15

2012    SD08   35.94%   61.05%      11
2020    SD09   45.40%   51.70%      13

2012    SD08   33.34%   62.19%      11
2016    SD08   36.19%   55.94%      11
2020    SD09   44.60%   51.60%      13

It’s a similar pattern as above. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried SD10, which Wendy Davis won in a hard-fought race. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried SD16 by a 49.9 to 45.3 margin, and just missed in SD10, losing it 47.9 to 47.3; she also came within a point of SD17. The median district was a little friendlier to the GOP in 2016, but in 2020 as with the House it was closer than the corresponding statewide race. Again, the once-solid gerrymander buckled at the knees, aided in large part by the suburban shift. Dems also managed to hold onto all of the red-shifting Latino districts, while Biden dropped two of them in the House.

What does any of this mean going forward? I have no idea. I’m seeing map proposals for Congress that are pretty brutal, but who knows what we’ll get in 2022, and who knows how population growth and the shifts in suburban and (mostly rural) Latino areas will affect things. Texas is a more challenging state than the likes of Wisconsin or Michigan to control over an entire decade precisely because it changes so much in that time. Republicans will have some opportunities for gain in 2022, but they also have a lot of vulnerabilities, and their best defense may be to just try to shore up everything they now have. The choices they make, based to some degree on their level of risk tolerance, will be fascinating to see.

We need to talk about Sid

I know, I don’t want to and you don’t want to talk about it, but Sid Miller might run for Governor, so we’re gonna have to talk about it.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller doesn’t believe Texas Governor Greg Abbott can win a general election battle against Beto O’Rourke or any other Democrat for that matter. And that is why Miller is still considering a run for Texas Governor in the Republican Primary.

Miller joined The Chad Hasty Show on Wednesday to address his political future and accusations that he told Rep. Dustin Burrows to sit on the gender modification bill in Calendars Committee. Miller said he was lied to about Burrows sitting on the bill initially and told Burrows told “hold on” as he tried to get radio ads pulled accusing Burrows of sitting on the legislation. Miller said he was unsuccessful at trying to get the ads removed, but ultimately he does blame Burrows for killing the body modification bill.

After discussing the modification bill, the discussion focused on Miller’s future. Miller told Hasty that, “We need a new Governor for sure. I don’t think there is any way he (Abbott) can win a general election”. Miller said that in the “next couple of weeks” he would decide on whether or not to run for Governor or to run for reelection as Texas Agriculture Commissioner. When asked his thoughts on former President Trump’s endorsement of Abbott, Miller said the endorsement was “odd” and said, “I don’t know what that’s about. It was real, real strange”. Miller said that while the former President’s endorsement of Abbott has some “weight to it”, it wouldn’t stop him from running if he felt that he was called to run.

Miller would join former one-term Senator Don Huffines in trying to outflank Abbott from the right. I have no doubt that most of what we have seen this session, and now with the Great Wall of Abbott, was done with an eye towards the Republican primary. I find it fascinating that Miller thinks he would be more appealing to the 2022 general electorate than Abbott – as a reminder, Miller got 400K fewer votes than Abbott in 2018, and won by five points while Abbott was winning by 13 – but then many politicians have made successful careers being delusional in this way. I don’t know if Miller’s invocation of Beto is based on a belief that Beto is running or just hyping a bogeyman, but I’d be happy to see Beto pitted against any of them. I certainly believe that Miller is the weaker candidate of the two, but there’s only one way to find out.

Study claims Uber has reduced drunk driving in Houston

Of interest.

Paid rides have saved lives and lessened drunk driving convictions in Houston, according to a new study released Wednesday by local researchers that claimed a direct link between more folks hailing an Uber and fewer wheeled into emergency rooms.

“The data shows that ridesharing companies can decrease these incidents because they give young people an alternative to driving drunk,” said Dr. Christopher Conner, a neurosurgery resident at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston and lead author of the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s surgery periodical.

Conner and the other researchers compared trip information from Uber — which supplied the data — in Houston between 2014 and 2018 to emergency room visits to Houston’s two Level I trauma centers during the same period and four years prior to Uber’s debut.

Vehicle-crash visits to the ERs at Ben Taub and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center dropped 23.8 percent after Uber arrived in February 2014 during the peak Friday and Saturday night periods, researchers found. The decline was even more pronounced among people below age 30, where researchers reported a 38.9 percent drop in hospital visits as a result of wrecks.

The authors also found a decrease in drinking and driving convictions in Harris County during the same period.

Back in the early days of Uber and Lyft, when they were trying to get licensed to operate in all the cities (and seeking to pass a bill in the Lege to mandate their approval), there were studies conducted that showed similar results in other locations, and at least one study that disputed such effects. What we have now that we didn’t have then is a lot more data. I thought at the time that the connection between ridesharing services and a reduction in DWI made intuitive sense, and I still think that now even as I find the overall case for Uber and Lyft to be less compelling. I do think it’s easier, and more the societal norm, to get a drunken friend or colleague or whoever into an Uber or Lyft than it was in the older days to persuade them to call a cab. More work should be done to better quantify that, but that such a trend is visible is no surprise to me.

Weekend link dump for June 13

“A pandemic upside: The flu virus became less diverse, simplifying the task of making flu shots”.

“Take a closer look at Walt Disney’s 1961 animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians film, and you may notice its animation style looks a little different from its predecessors. With its dark outlines defining characters from backgrounds, its departure from the subtle and sensitive animation of Sleeping Beauty just two years prior was considered jarring to some. That’s because the film is completely Xeroxed. The technology, invented by American physicist Chester Carlson in the 1940s, completely streamlined the animation process, and ultimately saved Disney’s beloved animation department.”

“But it begs the question: why is America’s meat supply so at risk of price fluctuations and shortages in the first place? The answer is simple: the industry is too consolidated. More than 80% of the beef industry is controlled by just four companies—JBS, Tyson, Cargill and National (owned by Brazil’s Marfrig)—and two of them are foreign businesses. Brazil-based JBS is responsible for a quarter of the U.S. beef market through its JBS USA subsidiary. The company is the country’s largest beef producer and its No. 2 producer of pork and chicken. That hyper-concentration makes any shocks to the system feel seismic.”

“Political parties rarely run ads to try to win over long-term loyalists. New research suggests it’s actually possible—and worthwhile.”

RIP, Clarence Williams III, actor best known for The Mod Squad and Purple Rain.

RIP, David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier involved in the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking the layup, with pandering to voters’ most basic interests. With control of the White House and Congress, and with the predictable pushback to Biden’s proposed infrastructure spending bringing his honeymoon period to an end, Democrats could make an easy play to curry favor with voters by creating new federal holidays.” Juneteenth and Election Day are given as obvious first candidates, I’m sure you can think of others. Speaking as someone with a lot of European co-workers, we sure could have more holidays.

“Two Senate committees have released their long-awaited, bipartisan report investigating the January 6 attack on Congress by Trump supporters over the certification of the 2020 presidential election. The report, as expected, includes a list of recommendations for boosting security and intelligence-sharing practices after the insurrection at the Capitol more than five months ago. It also reveals that federal agencies had intelligence about plans to attack the Capitol and their “potential for violence” well in advance of January 6.”

“The report doesn’t provide a deep look into the causes of the insurrection. As might be expected, Republicans have opposed every effort to look into how Trump’s statements and actions—not just at the rally on the morning of the insurrection, but before and after the election—encouraged his followers to conduct an assault on the Capitol that included an attempt to capture and kill lawmakers. Instead, the Senate report focuses on the structural issues in preparing for the events of that day led to inadequate actions to protect the Capitol, and how a series of structural failures led to a lengthy delay in providing National Guard support to the overwhelmed police force.”

“That is, after all, what hypocrites do. Otherwise they wouldn’t be hypocrites.”

“With a strong vaccination campaign, the United States was able to reduce the B.1.1.7 (alpha) variant’s toll to a bump in cases. What might happen with B.1.617.2 (delta) which is ~50% more transmissible, and more evasive to our immune response?”

“The first quiz show launched on radio in 1923; now, nearly 100 years later, the National Archives of Game Show History has launched at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y.”

On shooting sex scenes during COVID times.

The NFL will impose restrictions on unvaccinated assistant coaches.

“While Republicans have been doing their damnedest to stonewall an investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, new information about the event continues to emerge as congressional inquiries continue, and federal prosecutors continue to amass evidence in the hundreds of arrests already made, as well as the fresh round of indictments handed down each passing week.”

“Election officials and their families are living with threats of hanging, firing squads, torture and bomb blasts, interviews and documents reveal. The campaign of fear, sparked by Trump’s voter-fraud falsehoods, threatens the U.S. electoral system.”

“Should President Joe Biden convey legitimacy upon a man who shares blame for the death of 400,000 or so Americans? That’s one way of questioning whether Biden made the right choice in proposing the summit he is set to hold with Russian leader Vladimir Putin next week in Geneva. “

Harris County and Houston appeal to HUD for flood funds

Hope this helps.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday asked U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge to set a 30-day deadline for the Texas General Land Office to formally request $750 million in federal flood control aid that Land Commissioner George P. Bush recently said he would seek.

“Given this matter involves funds allocated in February of 2018, the rules were promulgated in August of 2019, and hurricane season has already begun for 2021, HUD (the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department) should require the GLO to submit this amendment within the next 30 days,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote.

Since late May, when the GLO announced its plan to distribute an initial round of about $1 billion in mitigation funds approved by Congress after Hurricane Harvey, Houston-area officials have hammered Bush for not directing a penny of the aid to the city or the county. In response, Bush said he would ask HUD, which oversees the federal relief money, to directly send $750 million to Harris County — essentially bypassing the GLO’s criteria for scoring flood project applications.

Hidalgo and Turner have said the $750 million falls well short of the $2 billion they believe the city and county should receive — $1 billion apiece — to fund projects aimed at mitigating the effects of future storms. In the letter to Fudge and at a congressional hearing Friday, they sought HUD’s help in securing roughly that amount from the $4.3 billion that Congress allotted for Texas after the 2017 storm.

“We’re asking that HUD approve this amendment (for $750 million) … as a down payment toward an equitable share for all governmental entities within Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Turner noted that Houston still has not been promised any flood mitigation relief because Bush has said he plans to ask HUD to send the $750 million directly to Harris County. Bush said the county, which faces a $1.4 billion funding gap for its $2.5 billion flood bond approved by voters in 2018, could then decide how much to give the city.

The city and county collectively applied for $1.34 billion to cover 14 flood projects: five from the city and nine from the county.

See here for the background (there are more links to previous posts in that one). I don’t know what is likely to come of this, but the goal is to get more funding for the region, and for both the city and the county to have their own projects funded, rather than have the city depend on the county to give it a share of its allocation. We’ll keep an eye on this. The Texas Signal and the Press have more.

Betsy Price to run for Tarrant County Judge

I don’t usually pay much attention to county races outside the Houston area, but there are some points of interest to discuss about this.

Betsy Price

Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is running for Tarrant County judge in 2022, attempting a swift return to power in one of the state’s most politically important areas.

Price revealed the decision in interviews with North Texas TV stations that published Thursday morning, telling WFAA that she would make a formal announcement later.

“I promised my family I’d take a month or two off,” Price told WFAA. “I’m just getting this out there softly.”

The news of Price’s decision comes two days after the current county judge, Republican Glen Whitley, announced he would not run for reelection. He has since 2007 been at the helm of the county, the third most populous in the state and a historically Republican place where Democrats have been making inroads recently.

[…]

Price will not be unopposed in the March primary for county judge. Before Whitley made his retirement official, Tim O’Hare, former chairman of the county Republican Party, announced he was running for county judge. He launched with a list of GOP endorsements including current county GOP Chairman Rick Barnes, county Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and five state representatives from the area. O’Hare has since rolled out endorsements from U.S. Reps. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

While Democrats do not have any known candidates for county judge yet, they can be expected to seriously contest the race after the county went their way at the top of the ticket in the last two statewide elections. The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, won the county, while President Joe Biden carried it two years later.

Here are the Tarrant County election results for 2018 and 2020. It’s widely noted that Beto O’Rourke carried Tarrant in 2018 (by a 49.93% to 49.24% margin) and Joe Biden carried it in 2020 (49.31% to 49.09%), becoming the first Dems in however long to do so. They were also the only Dems to do so. The other statewide candidates in 2018 lost by a range from one point (Justin Nelson) to ten points (Lupe Valdez), while the handful of countywide candidates all lost by about five points. This includes Lawrence Meyers (I assume the former Court of Criminal Appeals justice), who lost to now-outgoing County Judge Whitley by six points.

In 2020, the statewide Dems trailed in Tarrant by four to six points, with countywide candidates losing by six or seven points. One difference between 2018 and 2020 is that in 2018 there were literally no Democrats running for district court positions, while in 2020 there was a Dem in all but two of those races. My assumption is that the Dems will have a full slate of judicial candidates as in 2020 – there’s nothing like the hope of winning to generate that kind of interest.

We used to talk about Tarrant County as a proxy for Texas as a whole electorally. I’ve posted before about how the Presidential results in Tarrant almost eerily echoed the statewide results. That was true from 2004 through 2016, but the Beto breakthrough in 2018 was a sign that things were changing, and indeed Tarrant’s Presidential result in 2020 was several points to the left of the state’s. The county that most closely mirrored the statewide Presidential result in 2020 was Zapata, carried by Trump 52.5% to 47.1%. The closest big counties were Collin, slightly to the left at 51.4% to 47.1%, and Denton, slightly to the right at 53.2% to 45.2%.

Tarrant may have been too Democratic at the top level to be a statewide predictor, but at the District Court level they were much closer to the mark, with results ranging from 52.9% to 47.1% on one end to 53.9% to 46.1% on the other. What this reminds me of is Harris County in 2004, where District Court challengers got between 45.8% and 47.9% of the vote. That doesn’t mean anything for the path Tarrant County is on – Harris did shift a little towards Dems in 2006 before the 2008 breakthrough, in conditions that were very different from what we have now – it’s just an observation.

Finally, I don’t know anything about the other contenders for the GOP nomination for County Judge, but it’s plausible to me that someone like Betsy Price, a known quantity with a low-key style, might perform better against the partisan average than a more Trumpified Republican. Again, I don’t know the players and don’t know how that primary might shape up, but it seems highly unlikely to me that there won’t be a significant pro-Trump presence in that race. Trump is one of the two Republicans to lose Tarrant County since 2018. Make of that what you will.

Flood Control District director to resign

Interesting.

Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe submitted a letter of resignation to Commissioners Court on Friday, saying he plans to step down July 2.

Poppe, 45, said the demands of the job, which have grown significantly since Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the passage of the historic $2.5 billion flood bond program the following year, had grown too great.

“While I greatly appreciate your continued support for making Harris County more resilient with natural disaster, the growing expectations associated with these efforts have adversely affected the quality of my personal life to a point I can no longer sustain,” Poppe wrote.

His departure comes at a precarious time for the agency, which is attempting to close a $700 million funding gap in its flood bond program. Poppe is due to present a plan to Commissioners Court June 29 to ensure all planned projects can be completed.

Poppe, who has worked as an engineer for Harris County since 2005, became head of the flood control district five years ago.

The rest of the story recaps the history of those five years, from Harvey to the 2018 bond referendum that is now massively underfunded thanks to a miscalculation in how federal matching funds would be allocated, the relationship Poppe has had with the Democratic-majority Commissioners Court, and the current mishigoss with the General Land Office and George P. Bush. HCFCD may have been a sleepy place when Poppe got there, but it’s on everyone’s radar now.

We can speculate as to the reasons why he is leaving now, but none of that really matters. What does matter is who and what comes next. The next director will have a full plate and a lot of directions to be going at once, with a state government that is outright hostile to the county. I hope whoever that is enjoys a challenge, because they’re going to get one. Best of luck to Russ Poppe in whatever comes next, and let’s all light a candle for his successor.

From the “Oops, how did that get in there?” department

Remember how the final version of SB7, the one that emerged from behind closed doors in conference committee, had a provision in it that would have made it a lot easier to overturn the result of an election via legal challenge? That was one such provision that had not been in previous versions of the bill. Well, apparently no one claims to know how it got there, and we are being promised that the next version of the omnibus voter suppression bill will not have it.

In a sweeping overhaul of Texas elections law that Republicans rushed toward approval in the waning hours of the legislative session, one provision stood out to critics as particularly alarming.

The hastily-added clause would have made it easy for a judge to overturn an election, even if there were only thin evidence of fraud. With former President Donald Trump’s historic efforts to nullify his November loss still fresh in their minds, Democrats singled out the measure as irresponsible.

“Just think about that — your election, YOUR election could be overturned without the other side being required to prove actual voter fraud,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrolton, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the Texas House. “The implications of this are unthinkable. To make matters worse, the provision was not in either the Senate or the House version of the bill.”

The bill never passed, dying at midnight on May 31 after the Democrats blocked a vote on it by walking out. Yet policy debates have given way to an even more basic question: Who added the “Overturning Elections” section to it?

One of the members of the conference committee that crafted the final version of the bill, state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nagodoches, says he doesn’t know. Other top Republicans who worked on the final draft of the legislation say they don’t know either.

What’s more, Clardy — and chief author Sen. Bryan Hughes — now denounces the measures related to overturning elections and says Republicans don’t plan to revive them in a future bill.

“There was zero appetite or intent or willingness to create some low bar where a single judge can overturn the results of an election,” Clardy said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers. “That would be horrendous policy, and it would never be healthy for the democracy.”

Democratic members say there is no way those provisions were inserted by mistake. They say they raised concerns about them with Republicans when there was time to spare for the bill to be revised.

The sections would have lowered the standard of proof to overturn an election from “clear and convincing” evidence to a “preponderance of the evidence” for many types of fraud allegations. And they gave judges the ability to void elections even if it couldn’t be demonstrated that fraudulent ballots made a difference in the outcome.

If the bill had passed, Texas would have been one of few states to have lowered the bar so much, opening the door to a flood of potential election challenges, election law experts said.

“If we deliberately design a system that says all you have to do is come up with a simple preponderance — that is, just barely more evidence than the other side — and we’re going to throw out the elections, when we have a whole gamut of election procedures in place that we justifiably expect to produce reliable results in the normal course, we’re really undermining that,” said Steven Huefner, professor of law at the Ohio State University.

[…]

State Rep. Nicole Collier, one of three Democrats on the conference committee and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, wasn’t buying Republicans’ claims that the language was added by mistake.

“They had time to review it,” Collier said. “The fact that the conference report was signed on Saturday” — the day before it went to the House floor — “means that they had read it, and they approved it.”

Must have been another typo. Really need some better proofreaders, I guess.

This is, of course, all transparent bullshit. The bill was in conference committee for over ten days. Someone put that clause in there, whether anyone will admit to it or not. I will note again how the likes of Dan Patrick were patronizingly telling everyone who made any claim about how the initial version of SB7 would suppress votes to “read the bill”. Who’s not reading the bills now? Maybe if we’d had the time to hold public hearings on this bill, we might have avoided this little embarrassment as well.

And note again, for all of the whining and bitching and threatening to veto funding for legislative functions over the Democratic quorum breaking, the only reason this obvious threat to democracy, which now all of these Republicans agree was a bad idea and which they swear they never intended to include, is not about to be law in Texas is because Dems were able to use the processes available to them to kill that bill. I feel pretty confident saying that Greg Abbott would not put fixing that provision on the agenda in however many special sessions he calls. Republicans screwed this up, because they didn’t care about the niceties of legislating, they just wanted to get their win. You can thank the Dems for sparing us the fallout of their malign incompetence.

Abbott’s border wall

I have many questions about this, but for this post I will limit myself to three.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that Texas will build a border wall along the state’s boundary with Mexico — but provided no details on where or when.

Abbott declared his plans during a press conference in Del Rio. He said he would discuss the plans next week. The Biden administration issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office.

Abbott announced the news while discussing a slew of border initiatives, such as a $1 billion allocation for border security in the state budget lawmakers just passed and a plan to establish a Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security with public safety and state government officials.

“It will help all of us to work on ways to stem the flow of unlawful immigration and to stem the flow of illegal contraband,” Abbott said, while seated next to officials from the National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Division of Emergency Management.

At the conference, Abbott also announced plans to increase arrests along the border — and increase space inside local jails.

“They don’t want to come to across the state of Texas anymore because it’s not what they were expecting,” Abbott said before being met with applause from those at the conference. “It’s not the red carpet that the federal administration rolled out to them.”

He also announced an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to resolve the border “crisis,” and called on other states to do the same.

1. How exactly is any of this going to be paid for? I know Abbott has promised more details next week, but we just had an entire legislative session, with a budget being passed, and I don’t remember “building a border wall” being part of it. Also, arresting however many people and putting them in jail – who will be paying for that? Even if one can claim that there is a line item in the budget for this, does anyone believe it’s enough?

2. How many lawsuits do you think this will generate? There’s federal-state issues, such as whether states can arrest migrants for trespassing, likely questions about how various funds may be spent on this ill-conceived idea, and who knows what else. Some number of lawyers are going to make a lot of bank on this.

3. We’re totally going to start seeing “Abbott for President 2024” speculation because of this, aren’t we? Time to find a nice Internet-free cabin in the woods, I suppose. More from the Trib here.

Will MLB come to Central Texas?

Drayton McLane thinks it might.

Drayton McLane, who knows a thing or two about the subject, believes Central Texas is closing in on being able to support its own Major League Baseball team. That pronouncement might lead you to wonder what we’ll call our new team—Lone Star Hipsters? Canyon Lake Coyotes?—and to look forward to summer evenings sipping a cold one at the ballpark as the sun sets on the San Marcos River.

Anyway, McLane has precisely the kind of can-do spirit Texas is going to need to land a third MLB franchise. No one thought he’d succeed in purchasing the Astros in 1993, and certainly no one thought he’d persuade Houston voters to approve, in 1996, the construction of Minute Maid Park. He breathed life into a franchise that had never won much of anything and led them to six postseason appearances during a nine-year stretch from 1997 to 2005. That run culminated with a National League pennant, which at the time was close to the sweetest moment Houston sports fans had ever experienced.

Now 84, McLane makes it clear he’s not going to lead this effort. That’s where Nolan Ryan comes in, but more on him later. In fact, McLane admits it’s a tad early to begin putting down a deposit on season tickets.

“Ten years from now, it’s a possibility,” he told me.

[…]

One thing that never came up in our conversation: the availability of a team. That’s the easy part. The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are something akin to free agents, with both unable to land new ballpark deals in their host cities. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has given the A’s permission to shop around for better options, and team officials were to visit Las Vegas this week. The Rays, apparently desperate for leverage, have come up with the  far-fetched idea of playing half their games in Montreal and half in Tampa or St. Petersburg. Almost no one who follows the sport believes a split-city format is workable, and it seems only a matter of time before the Rays begin shopping for a new full-time home.

Plus, Manfred has said MLB will expand—by at least two teams—once the A’s and Rays are settled. While Portland may have a big head start on Central Texas, are there really four better North American markets than the Austin–San Antonio corridor? Think of San Marcos as perhaps the perfect accessible-to-both-cities spot for a ballpark. And McLane might be underestimating the market’s viability. The Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio is booming, and a ballpark accessible to both cities would make the are more appealing than several current MLB cities.

Austin’s economy was the twelfth-fastest-growing among major metropolitan areas in 2019, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.  A sleepy government and university town no more, Austin now hosts some of the largest and most profitable companies in in the world, from Apple and Amazon to Tesla and Oracle.

There are plenty of TV sets, too. San Antonio is the nation’s thirty-first-largest television market, according to Nielsen, while Austin checks in at number 38. Together, the cities deliver 1.65 million television households, more than a long list of major-league cities, including St. Louis, San Diego, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.

We’ve discussed the possibility of a second team in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but I tend to agree with McLane. Central Texas is the more likely location, with enough population between Austin and San Antonio to support an MLB team. For a variety of reasons, MLB owners are not looking to expand now, but I expect that it will be on the table in the not too distant future, maybe some time after the next CBA. One possible obstacle to this dream is the nightmare that is I-35, which I guarantee will be overly congested no matter how much it gets expanded. Maybe this could be the fulcrum to finally get the Lone Star Rail line built. If I’m gonna dream, I may as well dream big.

Another data point on Biden and Latino support

Of interest.

Hispanic voters were one of President Joe Biden’s biggest weaknesses in the 2020 election. Although sources differ on his exact margin, Biden’s advantage with Hispanics was the worst for a Democratic presidential nominee since 2004 — even as he had the strongest performance overall for a Democrat since 2008.

A look at recent history and polling reveals, however, that Biden may be primed for a comeback among Hispanics for a simple reason: He’s now the incumbent.

Take a look at Gallup polling during the Biden presidency. Aggregating all the polls it has conducted so far (in order to get a large sample size), Biden’s approval rating with Hispanics stands at 72% compared to a 55% overall approval rating.

That 72% is a clear improvement from how Biden did in the election with Hispanics. Biden won 65% of Hispanics, according to the network exit polls. An estimate from the Democratic firm Catalist (which lines up well with what we saw in pre-election polls) had Biden taking 61% of Hispanics. So this Gallup data suggests Biden’s support may be up anywhere from 7 to 11 points from the election.

Biden is doing better overall now than he did in the election. His approval rating is at 55% in the Gallup data we’re using here. Even controlling for a higher approval rating overall, Biden has had a disproportionate rise in support from Hispanics. He’s now doing 17 points better with Hispanics than overall, while he was doing 10 to 14 points better with them in the 2020 election.

Keep in mind, too, that unlike in an election, there are undecideds allowed in a poll. If we allocate undecideds equally between approval and disapproval for both Hispanics and overall, Biden’s approval rating is about 20 points higher with Hispanics than overall in Gallup polling.

(An average of recent CNN/SSRSFox NewsMarist College and Quinnipiac University polls compared to their pre-election equivalent finds that Biden has had a similar disproportionate rise with Hispanics.)

This 20-point gap between how Hispanics and adults overall feel about Biden is wider than the last Democratic president saw in his first months on the job.

In aggregated Gallup data with undecideds allocated, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 17 points higher with Hispanics than overall in the first four months of his presidency. In the 2008 election, Obama did 14 points better in the exit polls with Hispanics than overall.

Obama saw an improvement with Hispanics relative to his overall performance, but not to the same extent that Biden may be getting.

We’ve discussed the incumbency effect before – David Beard was the first to call it to my attention, and I noted it my State Senate district analysis. As author Harry Enten points out, this effect for Presidents persists for winning and losing incumbents – George H.W. Bush also saw a rise in Latino support from 1988 to 1992, even as his overall vote share dropped tremendously. Obviously things can change, 2024 is a looooooooooong way off, and we don’t know if this effect is more or less uniform geographically and across different nationalities (i.e., Mexicans versus Puerto Ricans versus Cubans versus Dominicans, etc) or if it might be greater in places like California and Colorado versus Texas and Florida, but this is a thing to keep an eye on. It could make a difference in some key states next time around.

It may also have an effect in 2022, to the extent that approval of the President has an effect on the fortunes of the party in power for the off year. Specifically in Texas, where the Trump shift in Latino areas has been talked to death, this could mean that 2020 was an outlier, or at least it could mean that a trend in favor of Republicans for at least some Latino voters will be smaller in magnitude this next election. As noted in my first post about the State House districts, there really is a difference between the level of support Trump got in Latino areas and the level of support other Republicans got. Things did move in the GOP’s direction from 2016 to 2020, but not by nearly as much once you got past the Presidential race. I’ll have those numbers for you soon. One could argue that if the initial shift towards Trump was about jobs and keeping the economy open, that might actually benefit Greg Abbott more than any Democrat, since Abbott was singing from Trump’s playbook. Abbott’s favorability has taken some hits in recent months as we know, but the farther we get from the legislative session the more likely in my opinion that may fade. While this may be a leading indicator of good things for 2024, we just don’t know what effect if any it may have next year. It’s something to consider, but don’t put too much weight on it.

Ground Game Texas

This is good, too.

Julie Oliver

Some of Democrats’ biggest regrets about the 2020 election in Texas had to do with organizing. It was not consistent throughout the cycle — and usually isn’t in any cycle. It was supplanted by TV ads at the end. And it was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, with the backing of the state’s most prominent Democrats, two former congressional candidates are trying to turn those regrets into action.

The candidates, Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel, are launching a new nonprofit called Ground Game Texas that will focus on year-round organizing on progressive issues, aiming to fill what they see as a statewide void for their party. The group starts off with a $1 million investment from Register2Vote, a national nonprofit that the two already help lead.

“There’s no off years and there’s no off cycles, and folks need to stay engaged year-round,” Siegel said in an interview, adding there is “kind of a tendency among Democratic activists” to get involved only in presidential-election years or high-profile down-ballot contests like the 2018 U.S. Senate race. “The Republican Party doesn’t do that. They never stop.”

Ground Game Texas will organize Texans around issues rather than candidates, with a focus on what Siegel and Oliver are calling “workers, wages and weed” — issues like raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana that poll well but are not reflected by Republican policymakers in the state. A February University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that 60% of registered voters in Texas support legalizing some amount of marijuana for any use. A similar number in April expressed support for increasing the federal minimum wage.

The group expects to throw its weight behind local ballot initiatives, which often involve a lot of ground work such as collecting signatures for petitions to put the issues on a ballot. Siegel said he has already had conversations about proposals in 10 cities — places like Mission, Bedford and Elgin. The leading ideas there, he said, are decriminalizing marijuana and creating funding for climate jobs.

[…]

Ground Game Texas is launching with the support of three of the best-known Texas Democrats: Julián Castro, Wendy Davis and Beto O’Rourke, who said in a statement that the new group “is going to meet Texans where they are at to listen to them about the issues that matter most.” And it starts with an advisory board that includes Davis; rising-star state Reps. James Talarico of Round Rock and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas; and longtime party stalwarts such as former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy.

The advisory board additionally features Democrats who ran in nationally targeted districts last year and suffered some of the toughest losses, like Candace Valenzuela, who narrowly lost to now-U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving.

Both Oliver and Siegel have firsthand experience with the challenges Democrats faced last election cycle. They both performed surprisingly well when they ran against Republican incumbents in 2018 — Oliver against U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin and Siegel against Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin. In 2020, both ran again, only to lose by larger margins.

In 2020, both gained the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which named them to its Red to Blue program for promising challengers. But they remain skeptical of the committee’s priorities.

“[The DCCC] doesn’t really invest in this sort of infrastructure building that Mike and I did in our campaigns,” Oliver said. “That strategy is so different between the DC strategy and the Texas strategy. … The DC strategy doesn’t really work here in Texas, so we want to do year-round organizing.”

The DCCC announced Monday that it was including Texas in an initial seven-figure investment nationally in on-the-ground organizing, calling it the “earliest ever organizing investment of this scale and scope in DCCC’s history.” The committee said it would target areas in Texas such as Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, where Democrats notably underperformed last year.

As I’m sure you can guess, I approve of the issues they are focusing on. I very much think there’s ground to be gained by pushing real marijuana reform, and by “reform” I mean decriminalization, if not legalization. People across the board want it, and the single biggest impediment to it is Dan Patrick. I’m more skeptical of raising the minimum wage as a winning issue – note that the polling question is about whether one supports raising the federal minimum wage, not whether one supports raising the minimum wage in Texas – but am happy to push the idea. I trust that the focus on local ballot initiatives is a starting point, because that’s not going to get very far and any success they have is certain to wind up in court, if not in legislative pushback.

Putting emphasis on organizing when three’s not an actual election going on is a good and long-needed idea as well. Lots of people complain that no one talks to them about issues and what’s important to them outside of a “please vote for me” context, so this addresses that gap. We may find out that a lot of these people prefer being left alone most of the time, but there’s no way to know until you try. The bigger point here is that by having this kind of campaign infrastructure be year-round, you’re not having to rebuild from scratch every other year.

We’ve certainly seen various initiatives, promising various kinds of new engagement, come and go over the years. I’m sure that no matter what happens in 2022, in two years’ time I’ll be reading about yet another new effort to organize and engage and register. That’s fine, and it doesn’t mean that what came (and possibly went) before now was wasted or useless. We’ve had to try a lot of things, and to see what works and what doesn’t, we’ve learned from past experiences, and we have made a lot of progress even if the statewide breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. It would be much more concerning to me if we weren’t seeing new efforts like this, spearheaded in part by new additions to the political team, popping up and making news. We all have options for how we want to get involved now. Find the one that works best for you and get into it.

Not so fast on moving the Paxton trial back to Collin County

The special prosecutors have requested an en banc review of the three-judge panel ruling.

Best mugshot ever

Prosecutors in the felony fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the full 1st Court of Appeals to review a decision by a three-justice panel last month that moved the trial from Harris County back to Collin County, where Paxton lives, potentially adding another delay to a case that is nearly 6 years old.

In May, a panel of three Democratic justices in the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston allowed the case to return to Collin County on a vote of 2-1, ruling that the presiding judge who moved the case out of Collin County in March 2017 had no longer been assigned to the judicial region handling Paxton’s case. The ruling was a major victory for Paxton, who had asked the courts to be tried in his home county, a staunchly Republican area of the state where he and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, are major political figures.

[…]

In a court filing Tuesday, prosecutor Brian Wice accused Paxton’s legal team of “sandbagging” the courts by withholding information about the judge’s expired assignment so they could later raise the issue in an attempt to move the case back to Collin County.

Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher was handed the Paxton fraud case in August 2015 after the original judge in Collin County recused himself. At the time, Gallagher was temporarily assigned to the Collin County administrative judicial region, which is in a different region from Tarrant County. But his assignment only ran through Jan. 1, 2017.

Gallagher continued as the presiding judge after that date and issued his ruling to move the case out of Collin County in March 2017. That May, Paxton’s legal team asked an administrative court to block Gallagher’s ruling and remove him from the case because his temporary assignment had expired at the beginning of the year.

In his Tuesday request, Wice argued that Paxton’s team failed to bring up Gallagher’s expired term until after the change-of-venue ruling did not go in their favor, and asked the full 1st Court of Appeals to stay the three-justice panel’s decision until the full nine-justice court could review the ruling. Wice threw doubt on the idea that Paxton’s team came upon Gallagher’s expired temporary assignment only “by happenstance” and said the burden was on the attorney general’s defense team to show when it learned of the judge’s expired term.

The majority opinion had already rejected that argument, ruling that “nothing in the record shows a lack of reasonable diligence in bringing the challenge.” But Justice Gordon Goodman, who dissented in part, noted in his opinion that the court had no evidence as to “how or when Paxton’s counsel discovered that Gallagher’s assignment had expired.”

Wice argued that while a review of a panel decision by a full appeals court is usually not favored, it is the right move in this instance.

See here for the previous entry. As the story notes, it took the three-judge panel seven months to rule on the initial appeal, so if we’re lucky we might get a ruling from the full panel by the end of this year. The odds of getting Paxton into a courtroom to actually litigate the charges against him before November 2022 seem slim, but there’s no way to go but forward. Let’s hope the full 1st Court of Appeals hustles this thing along.

State Bar investigating Paxton

Well, well, well

Best mugshot ever

The Texas bar association is investigating whether state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud amounted to professional misconduct.

The State Bar of Texas initially declined to take up a Democratic Party activist’s complaint that Paxton’s petitioning of the U.S. Supreme Court to block Joe Biden’s victory was frivolous and unethical. But a tribunal that oversees grievances against lawyers overturned that decision late last month and ordered the bar to look into the accusations against the Republican official.

The investigation is yet another liability for the embattled attorney general, who is facing a years-old criminal case, a separate, newer FBI investigation, and a Republican primary opponent who is seeking to make electoral hay of the various controversies. It also makes Paxton one of the highest profile lawyers to face professional blowback over their roles in Donald Trump’s effort to delegitimize his defeat.

[…]

Kevin Moran, the 71-year-old president of the Galveston Island Democrats, shared his complaint with The Associated Press along with letters from the State Bar of Texas and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals that confirm the investigation. He said Paxton’s efforts to dismiss other states’ election results was a wasteful embarrassment for which the attorney general should lose his law license.

“He wanted to disenfranchise the voters in four other states,” said Moran. “It’s just crazy.”

Texas’ top appeals lawyer, who would usually argue the state’s cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, notably did not join Paxton in bringing the election suit. The high court threw it out.

Paxton has less than a month to reply to Moran’s claim that the lawsuit to overturn the results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was misleading and brought in bad faith, according to a June 3 letter from the bar. All four of the battleground states voted for Biden in November.

From there, bar staff will take up the case in a proceeding that resembles the grand jury stage of a criminal investigation. Bar investigators are empowered to question witnesses, hold hearings and issue subpoenas to determine whether a lawyer likely committed misconduct. That finding then launches a disciplinary process that could ultimately result in disbarment, suspension or a lesser punishments. A lawyer also could be found to have done nothing wrong.

The bar dismisses thousands of grievances each year and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, 12 independent lawyers appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, overwhelmingly uphold those decisions. Reversals like that of Moran’s complaint happened less than 7% of the time last year, according to the bar’s annual report.

See here, here, here, and here for the background on Paxton’s lawsuit, which you may recall was an effort by Texas and several other states to get SCOTUS to overturn the election result in four Biden-won states because the plaintiffs didn’t approve of their election laws. One reason why we can credibly claim that this lawsuit was not only without merit but that the lawyers who were filing it knew that it was without merit was that they would scream bloody murder if another state tried to meddle in their own jurisdictions. Following these (dangerous and seditious) legal shenanigans, one national group called for state bars to take action against the instigators. I don’t know if this filing was related to that, but it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Now whether anything comes of this, we don’t know. As the story notes, the odds against the complainants prevailing are slim. Still, it’s another front on which Paxton must battle to save his sorry ass, and I have no doubt that his response brief will provide some content of interest. I fervently hope that one witness who gets called is former Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, who notably declined to argue Paxton’s filing before SCOTUS, which is what someone in his role would normally do. We deserve to know what he thought of all this. A ruling is likely months away, which may be just in time for the 2022 elections to be getting into full swing. Reform Austin has more.

The next voter registration project

Necessary, but not sufficient.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas Democrats’ takeaways from the 2020 election are clear: to take back our state from Texas Republicans, Democrats need to register more voters. With Republicans’ increasing extremism and relentless attacks on Texans this spring, the stakes have never been higher in the fight for Texas’ future.

Today, in a press conference with Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Carol Alvarado, State Sen. Royce West, Texas House Democratic Dean Senfronia Thompson, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Nicole Collier, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rafael Anchía, House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, and Texas Democratic Party Chief Strategy Officer Luke Warford, Texas Democrats unveiled Project Texas, our comprehensive plan to register Texas Democrats and take back our state in the 2022 elections. The full recording of the press conference is available here, and you can read more about the plan here.

There are more than 2 million eligible Texans who would likely vote Democratic — but are not yet registered. With Project Texas, Texas Democrats will work to register as many of these voters as possible, because we believe that every eligible Texan should be able to register and vote, safely and conveniently. Texas Democrats have consulted with partners across the state and beyond to create a plan to get Texas Democrats registered — both using proven approaches, and testing out innovative ways to encourage Texans to fill out their forms and get registered.

Project Texas includes two phases. First, Texas Democrats will test out six approaches to voter registration through our 2021 pilot program, and identify which tactics work best. Then, we will scale up the most effective methods to do a massive voter registration push in 2022.

Of the 2 million unregistered likely Democratic voters in Texas, more than half are Latino, ⅕ are Black and ¼ are 25 years of age or younger. Outreach to young Texans and Latino and Black communities will be a foundational part of our Project Texas programming. Every Democrat we register gives Texans a better shot at tipping the scales and putting Democrats in power in 2022.

I agree that voter registration is an evergreen project – there are many people moving here, many people turning 18, many new citizens, and still many people who were never registered in the first place; we also have to remember the people who move to new addresses, and who fell off the voter rolls for one reason or another. There will never come a time when we can say “okay, we’re done here”. I doubt there will ever be a time when we’ll be able to just coast and let voter registration be a background task.

But as much as voter registration matters, it’s clearly not enough. For one thing, Republicans were registering voters in the 2020 cycle as well. I have no idea how many they might have signed up and how many of them subsequently turned out, but we don’t have this field to ourselves any more. Once people are registered, we have to turn them out, and we have to make sure the people we’re turning out are going to vote for our candidates. Lots of first-time Republicans showed up in 2020 as well, after all. We also need to be paying some more attention to our already-registered but less-frequent voters.

On the assumption that something like SB7 is eventually going to pass, the next part of this process is going to have to be to make sure all of our voters know what the new requirements and restrictions are. We’ve mostly managed to deal with the voter ID hurdle, and now there are going to be many more such obstacles. I hope we have a plan to make sure everyone knows what they will need to do to cast a ballot that counts in 2022 and beyond. For sure, whatever law we end up with will be litigated, but we can’t count on the courts to save us. We need to be prepared to live and vote in the world that is being foisted on us.

None of this is revolutionary, and I assume the TDP folks have their plans in place. I’m putting this out there in part to let you know about it and in part to make sure we’re all cognizant of how the ground is shifting. We have made a lot of progress in the last four years, as I hope my precinct analysis posts have shown, but there’s more to do and the conditions under which we do them are changing. We have to keep up with, and get ahead of, those changes.

Will Methodist fire its unvaccinated workers?

In two weeks, if they haven’t gotten vaccinated, the answer is Yes.

Dozens of cheering supporters gathered outside the Houston Methodist Baytown campus Monday evening as several medical workers who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine ended their last shifts working for the hospital system.

The act of protest was aimed at what workers said was the hospital’s decision to suspend employees for two weeks without pay and then fire them for failing to immunize themselves.

Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who effectively lost her job at the Baytown facility for deciding not to be inoculated, said the goal was to stage a walkout but that did not go as planned. Participating employees who refused the vaccine’s first dose were told not to gather or linger on the hospital grounds after ending their shift, she said.

“The hospital wouldn’t let us do it,” Bridges said.

She got out of work early, emptied her locker and gathered with others on a grassy medium near the ambulance entrance to the hospital. Bridges fished a paper out of a backpack — a suspension report — that she had been asked to sign. She refused, she continued.

About 117 employees in May filed a class action lawsuit against the health system for requiring its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Bridges said the plaintiffs in the suit are a mix of those who want more trial data to emerge on the long-term effects of the vaccine before taking it, and those who simply don’t want any shots.

Sorry, I’m with Methodist on this. I cannot see any reason why health care workers – who by the way were already required to get a flu shot every year – should be able to opt out of this. If the concern is that we still don’t know enough about the potential negative effects of the vaccines, which at this point have emergency authorization from the FDA and not full clearance yet, all I can say is that over 300 million doses have been administered so far, with basically zero serious negative effects. There’s no way that the risk analysis comes out more favorably for not being vaccinated. Hiring Jared Woodfill as your attorney for that class action lawsuit doesn’t say much for one’s commitment to science, either.

In the end, it’s a pretty small number of employees who are affected.

While nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist workers are now vaccinated against COVID-19, 178 employees are now suspended without pay for not receiving a shot.

In a Tuesday memo to hospital staff, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom said 27 of the 178 workers who have not been fully vaccinated have received at least one dose of the vaccine. If they comply, they will not face termination.

“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first,” Boom said.

More than 600 employees were granted deferrals or exemptions for medical or religious reasons, the hospital said.

The hospital will have a final number of employees fired for not complying with the vaccine mandate in two weeks. Houston Methodist also requires its workers to get an annual flu shot.

That’s 0.7% of the Methodist workforce that was affected, and some of them have already decided it wasn’t worth getting fired over. Good for them. All of these folks did have a choice, and they made it. That there are consequences is just how life is sometimes. Erica Greider and the Press have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 7

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes that Greg Abbott can refrain from taking out his frustrations on a bunch of legislative staffers as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Update on the bike trail bridge

We have an estimate for repairs.

Weather-permitting — and the sky this weekend likely will not look that permitting — runners and cyclists along a popular Heights trail will have a key connection back by September.

Houston Parks Board officials said repairs to the MKT Bridge along the Heights Hike and Bike Trail will start in the coming days, potentially Friday. The $193,000 job will take 60-to-90 days, officials said. In the meantime, runners and riders should continue to detour along the White Oak Bayou Greenway and Heights Boulevard.

The bridge closing came after an Aug. 19 fire broke out in brush along the north side of the bridge, supported by large wooden beams and latticework. The span dates back decades, part of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad line rebuilt a decade ago as the Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

The fire, which might have been set inadvertently, remains under investigation. A fireman and arson investigator reported minor injuries as a result of the blaze, which took about three hours to extinguish because it charred the thick wooden beams.

The effects, however, linger for trail users, who since have been unable to use the bridge — a key connection in the bayou trail system, just feet from the park board’s new signature greenway park.

See here for the background. The Friday in question was this past Friday, June 4, but I don’t know offhand if work has started – the rain probably put them off for now. As noted before, there is a detour that allows you to get around the disabled bridge, but it takes you a long way to do it. As it will have been a year since the fire by the time this is set to reopen, I’m sure everyone who uses this path will be very happy to see it be available again.

And more good news:

Some of the frustration, runners and cyclists said, is how close other usable trails are to the bridge, but remain inaccessible. The White Oak Trail ends at Stude Park within sight of the bridge, but does not connect to it, blocked by a flood control channel.

Unrelated to the bridge fire and repairs, that could soon change. Houston Public Works, after years of planning, is preparing to start construction on extending the trail. If work starts in August as expected, the $950,000 job to make the connection could be completed by the end of the year or early 2022, officials said.

I’ve looked at the end to this trail for years and wondered what it would take to make that obvious connection. I’m delighted to see that it is finally on the verge of happening.

How about we sue you for a change?

The state of Texas has sued the federal government more times than I can count in recent years. There may be examples of the reverse happening, but offhand I can’t think of any. As such, this may be a first.

The Biden administration is threatening to sue Texas over its plans to stop state-licensed facilities that are contracted with the federal government from housing migrant children, with a federal attorney calling the state’s move a “direct attack” on federal refugee resettlement efforts.

The federal response comes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered last week that Texas child care regulators revoke the licenses of state-licensed facilities that house migrant children. The move, the latest by the Republican governor as he spars with President Joe Biden over immigration policies, would force the facilities to stop serving unaccompanied minors or lose their license to serve any children.

Texas officials have already begun instructing the 52 state-licensed facilities serving migrant children to wind down operations by Aug. 30, following Abbott’s order, according to a notice sent to shelters by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott and other Texas officials, Paul Rodriguez, a top attorney for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Texas’ move violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says federal law supersedes state laws. He asked the recipients to clarify whether they intended that the order be applied to those shelters, which are overseen by HHS and its refugee resettlement branch, the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

He wrote that the federally contracted shelters “comprise a significant portion of ORR’s total operational footprint, and represent an indispensable component of the Federal immigration system.”

If Abbott’s May 31 order includes those ORR facilities, it “would be a direct attack on this system,” Rodriguez said in the letter. He gave the state until Friday to clarify whether the order will affect those facilities.

If so, he said legal action could follow.

[…]

The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the potential relocation of children who are housed in the state-licensed shelters or whether the state was considering backing down on its order in light of the HHS letter.

Abbott pointed to the state’s foster care capacity woes as one of the reasons for his order. Hundreds of foster children have spent nights in hotels, community organizations or Child Protective Services offices because there weren’t enough suitable placements as dozens of foster care providers relinquished their contracts with the state due largely to higher scrutiny on the system.

“The unabated influx of individuals resulting from federal government policies threatens to negatively impact state-licensed residential facilities, including those that serve Texas children in foster care,” Abbott wrote in the order.

Only 134 migrant children were housed in federally contracted Texas facilities that also serve foster children as of May 10, according to the data gathered by the Associated Press.

Patrick Crimmins, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson, said unaccompanied immigrant children don’t enter the state’s foster care system directly. They would only be in the system if they had to be removed from family members with whom federal employees placed them.

“There are no children in foster care simply because they are an unaccompanied minor. Children are only in foster care because of abuse or neglect that is reported to us and investigated by us,” Crimmins said.

Asked how Abbott’s order might affect the foster system’s placement shortages, Crimmins replied, “We don’t know that yet.”

Abbott’s claim is that the feds have foisted an unfunded mandate on Texas, which strikes me as a perennial complaint that is made whenever it’s convenient. It’s also a little rich given the recent “certain cities can never spend less money on the police” legislation. This is a political squabble more than anything, though with the higher stakes of having a direct effect on some number of children. Putting those very real effects aside for a moment, the political fight will turn on the question of who gets blamed for any harm that results to these children. (Yes, I know exactly how awful that sounds.) We have one possible data point from this Chron story:

Texans back President Joe Biden’s approach to immigration over Gov. Greg Abbott’s by nearly 10 percentage points, according to a new poll released as the clash between the governor and Biden administration over border policy continues to escalate.

The poll, conducted at the end of May, found 44 percent of Texans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to 35 percent who approve of Abbott’s. The online poll of 506 Texas residents was conducted by Spectrum News and Ipsos and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

The poll link appears to be broken. I’d be dubious of it even if I could inspect it, as Biden has generally polled worse on immigration and the border than he has overall. It’s also one poll result, with all the usual caveats. That said, if this comes down to video images of possibly crying children being relocated, even if it’s just from one shelter to another, “Abbott gave the order to close the shelters” will outweigh “Abbott blames Biden for not giving the state enough money for the children in the shelters”. I could be wrong about that, of course, and if it turns into litigation I suspect a judge would step in and halt any closures for the time being, until the legal questions can get sorted out. I suspect Abbott knows that part as well, so again this comes back to being a partisan fight. Abbott doesn’t generally back down from those when he’s opposite the feds. Expect this to take awhile to come to a resolution. Daily Kos has more.

All juiced up with no place to go

Seems like there should be a better solution for this.

In 2005, the Texas Legislature approved the development of a network of electric transmission lines to send wind and solar power from West Texas to population centers in other parts of the state. The landmark project transformed the renewable energy industry and the slice of West Texas that Rep. Drew Darby calls home.

Metallic fields of photovoltaic solar panels now stretch across once bare scrub land. Lines of sky-scraping wind turbines reach to the horizon. And with those renewable energy projects came “some of our only opportunities for economic development” in rural Texas, said Darby, a Republican from San Angelo.

But those opportunities are at risk as companies cancel or postpone new wind and solar farms, and the list of planned projects keeps getting shorter. One key reason: generators can’t be sure that they can get their power to market.

The rapid growth of renewable energy, particularly wind power, has outstripped the carrying capacity of transmission lines. Even when demand soars and electricity supplies run short, the state’s grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, must limit the power West Texas wind and solar farms can sell into the grid because of transmission constraints.

“I started seeing some projects go off the boards, and companies were saying they’re not going to build,” Darby said. “I asked why, and they said ‘We’ve had curtailments. We’re going to have to curtail production at certain times.’”

That West Texas has plenty of power but no place to go carries more than a little irony as policy makers and regulators focus on increasing electricity supplies following the deadly February power crisis. ERCOT is forecasting record power demand this summer, with a reserve margin — the cushion of extra generation available when supplies get tight — that’s higher than in recent years, but still well below the margins with which other grids operate.

[…]

Even as parts of the state bake in the summer heat and homeowners crank up air-conditioning units, the transmission limits mean the excess power generated out West won’t make it to where demand will be highest.

Ross Baldick, an emeritus professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said West Texas transmission upgrades completed in 2014 can transport about 18,500 megawatts of electricity, but more than 20,000 megawatts of wind energy alone are generated in the area. Due to other technical constraints, grid officials must limit power through those lines to less than 12,000 megawatts to keep them working properly.

Think about it like water pipes, Baldick said. One main pipe feeds smaller pipes that provide water to individual homes. If you try to force more and more water into the pipes, you reach a limit where the pipes could burst. To avoid that problem, you would have two choices: build more pipes to offset the stress on the existing pipes, or limit the amount of water flowing through the pipes.

Those are the choices for the power grid: build more transmission to transport increasing amounts of renewable power from the west, or limit the amount of power on the transmission lines.

As the story notes, West Texas has all of the conditions you could want for solar and wind energy generation, but none of it matters if you can’t hook it up to the grid. As a result, the projections of wind and solar energy for the year are declining. The House passed a bill by Rep. Darby to expedite the process ERCOT uses to study and plan for new transmission projects and the Public Utility Commission’s ability to approve them, but it died in the Senate. The power companies themselves aren’t going to build more transmission capacity, so here we are. Sure seems like there ought to be a better way.

How the NFL handles domestic violence and sexual assault charges

Sith great inconsistency, is the short answer. Anyone interested in what may happen with Deshaun Watson should read this.

Ray McDonald was playing for the San Francisco 49ers in August 2014 when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his pregnant fiance.

Charges were never filed. He never missed a game.

Four months later, in December 2014, McDonald became a suspect in a sexual assault case. The 49ers cut him from the team, but the NFL did not take action.

The Chicago Bears signed McDonald three months later, in March 2015. The rape charges were dismissed in 2017 after the victim declined to testify.

In May 2015, McDonald was in trouble yet again. He was arrested after allegedly assaulting his ex-fiancee in California while she was holding their infant son. A grand jury declined to indict him on the domestic violence charge.

The Bears cut him from the team. The NFL has not taken action, and McDonald has not played since.

Cases such as McDonald’s illustrate the NFL’s inconsistent punishment system for players accused of sexual and domestic violence, experts in sports and violence culture say: As long as a player is good and making a team money, they will receive some modicum of protection.

The league took steps to improve its domestic and sexual violence education — and strengthen its punishment policy — after Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice in 2014 knocked his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator in Atlantic City. Now, the league’s baseline is a six-game suspension for the first violent — or threat of violence — offense and a lifetime ban for the second. The player does not have to be charged or convicted of a crime to receive this punishment.

It is very difficult to track how many NFL players are accused of violent offenses and whether they faced punishment by their teams or the league. The NFL does not maintain a public database of its disciplinary actions.

However, using a USA Today database supplemented by Houston Chronicle reporting, the newspaper found nearly 80 instances in which players had been accused of, cited, arrested or charged with violent offenses since January 2015, after the NFL revised its policy.

Only 27 of the 68 players examined by the Chronicle received an NFL suspension, and often the punishments doled out were inconsistent. At least nine players from 2015 to present were repeatedly accused, arrested or charged with a violent crime, often before receiving any sanctions from the league.

About 32 percent of those nearly 80 instances resulted in punishment through the criminal justice system. In the instances they were not, cases are still ongoing, the players were acquitted or the charges were dropped. Some accusations were not reported to police or the alleged victims recanted their stories or declined to proceed.

There’s a lot more, so read the whole thing. The NFL has been bad at this for a long time (other sports leagues are not much better), but they’re at least more engaged with the issue now. It’s a complicated question, and how the leagues respond will need to continue to evolve. If you’re any kind of sports fan, you’ve had to deal with a lot of mixed feelings over this. It’s not going to get any easier.

Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman stepping down

Interesting.

Eva Guzman

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is resigning from her post effective Friday.

She informed Gov. Greg Abbott of the decision in a letter sent Monday. The news was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

“With utmost gratitude for the opportunity and gift of public service, I write to inform you that I am resigning from my office,” Guzman wrote in her letter to Abbott, a copy of which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to answer this high calling.”

Guzman, a Republican, was appointed to the post in 2009 by then-Gov. Rick Perry as the first Hispanic female on the court. She ran for a full six-year term the next year before winning reelection in 2016. Her second term would have ended Dec. 31, 2022.

Before Perry appointed her to the high court, Guzman served on the 309th District Court in Harris County and the Houston-based Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

[…]

In her letter to Abbott, Guzman did not state a reason for her resignation, fueling speculation that she may have aspirations to run for another office during the 2022 election cycle.

Her resignation will create a vacancy on the state’s highest civil court, which Abbott will be able to fill with an appointment. The court is currently occupied by all Republicans.

I’ll get to the Chron story in a minute, but first two things to note. One is that Guzman was the high scorer in the 2016 election, winning 4,884,441 total votes. That’s over 75K more than the next highest candidate (Debra Lehrmann), and 200K more votes than Donald Trump. She was the strongest Republican in Latino districts, which is not a surprise. If she is running for something else, she will be harder to beat than most. Two, note that at every step of the way – district court, 14th Court of Appeals, Supreme Court – she was appointed first, and ran for a full term later. She’s far from unique in this, of course, I just noted it in this story. The ability to fill judicial vacancies is an underrated power of the Governor’s office. One does wonder what all the incumbent Republican judges and justices who are ready to step down and take a higher-paying job will do when the Democrats finally take that office.

And it usually is for a payday, if it’s not for retirement, when a judge or justice steps down like this. In this case, as that Chron story notes, the speculation is that she wants to run for something else.

One race that Guzman could be contemplating began heating up last week: the Republican primary for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s seat. Land Commissioner George P. Bush — whose uncle, former Gov. George W. Bush, first appointed Guzman to the 309th District Court in Harris County in 1999 — opened up his campaign last week.

AG makes the most sense, at least in the abstract. I mean, she’s not going to run for Ag Commissioner. The question to me is, does she get into the “I Will Gladly Debase Myself For Donald Trump’s Endorsement” sweepstakes, or does she position herself as the non-Trump candidate, with actual accomplishments and conservative bona fides? This is where I admit I’m giving this speculation the side-eye. It’s hard to imagine, at this late date and with no record of sucking up to Trump in the past, that she could out-sycophant either Ken Paxton or George P. Bush. It’s also hard to imagine that there’s enough Republican primary voters who will prefer a non-Trump candidate in this – or almost any – race. I mean, you know who else didn’t do so well in that CD06 special election? Mike Wood, the anti-Trump Republican in that race, who got a whopping 3.2% of the vote. Eva Guzman would do better than that, but I see her as the odd person out in a three-or-more-way race. There’s no evidence that there’s a constituency for that kind of candidate, and as noted it’s awfully late for her to claim to be The One True Trump Candidate. Maybe I’m missing something – maybe she thinks the Lege will draw a Congressional district for her – but I don’t see how this makes sense. We’ll see if I’m right.

What are the limits on limiting vaccination requirements?

News item #1: Carnival will require COVID vaccinations for all passengers cruising from Galveston:

Carnival Cruise Line today announced plans to begin cruising from the Port of Galveston on July 3.

Cruises will be open to customers who are fully vaccinated, meaning that they can show proof that they received their final dose of vaccine at least 14 days before the cruise begins.

“The current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very dificult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, said in a press release. “As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

The Carnival Vista will begin operations on July 3, followed by the Carnival Breeze on July 15.

On the one hand, that sounds not only eminently sensible – I mean, cruise ships are often called “floating petri dishes”, and I say that as someone who has enjoyed going on a couple of cruises – it’s something that the cruise industry itself may see as existential. Who would want to put themselves in an extremely enclosed space with hundreds if not thousands of possibly virus-shedding people if they didn’t have to? Who would want to work under those conditions? If there’s one activity that scores near the top of the scale on “non-essential services” and “high-risk for COVID spread”, it’s going on a cruise. Who in their right mind would not want to encourage, if not outright mandate, cruise passengers being vaccinated before getting on board?

Hold that thought while we note news items #2, As Carnival requires vaccines for cruisers, Abbott to sign ban on ‘vaccine passports’.

Texas businesses cannot require their customers to prove their COVID-19 vaccine status under a bill soon to be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The measure, Senate Bill 968, outlaws so-called “vaccine passports” and prevents businesses from asking consumers to show their vaccine cards to receive services. Abbott had issued a similar executive order in April, though that applied only to state agencies and other organizations that receive public funding.

“I’m signing a law today that prohibits any business operating in Texas from requiring vaccine passports or any vaccine information,” Abbott tweeted Monday. “Texas is open 100 percent without any restrictions or limitations or requirements.”

The Senate approved the measure unanimously in April, and the House passed it by a vote of 146-2 in May. Because it earned two-thirds support in both chambers, the bill will take effect immediately after Abbott signs it.

Any business that does not comply with the law “is not eligible to receive a grant or enter into a contract payable with state funds.” State agencies may also “require compliance … as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.”

It should be noted that SB968 is a much larger bill that has to do with disaster preparedness and response – it has sections on things like personal protection equipment contracts, a disease prevention information system, wellness checks for medically fragile individuals, and more – so while it does impose this restriction on “vaccine passports”, it’s very much not just about that.

That said, the answer to my rhetorical question is “Republican governors”. Florida’s top madman Ron DeSantis imposed a similar ban on cruise ships that depart from that state. As the story notes, the cruise industry operates in multiple states and in international waters – the ships themselves fly under various foreign flags. Also, too, the specific term “vaccine passports” is basically meaningless now, no such thing currently exists. But one way or another, we have an irresistible force careening into an immovable object. Something is going to have to give, and unless one side or the other backs down, it will surely be up to the federal courts to sort this out. In the meantime, if you yearn to party on the high seas again, check the fine print on your cruise contracts. The Press and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: One more thing to consider:

In other words, this is more hot air than anything else. Still likely to be fought out in court, but the stakes may not be as high as you think.

Supreme Court upholds Houston historic preservation ordinance

Blast from the past.

The Texas Supreme Court has upheld Houston’s ordinance regulating the preservation of historic districts, after residents argued it was an illegal zoning measure.

Two homeowners in the Heights challenged the law, arguing that it constituted zoning and therefore required a ballot measure approved by voters to take effect. Houston, the largest city in the country without zoning, requires voter approval to implement it.

Supreme Court justices declined on Friday to back that argument, though, affirming lower court rulings that the ordinance is not extensive enough to be considered a zoning regulation, and it does not regulate how people use properties.

“In sum, the Ordinance does not regulate the purposes for which land can be used, lacks geographic comprehensiveness, impacts each site differently in order to preserve and ensure the historic character of building exteriors, and does not adopt the enforcement and penalty provisions characteristic of a zoning ordinance,” Justice J. Brett Busby wrote in the opinion.

[…]

Houston adopted the ordinance in 1995, allowing the city to establish historic districts and requiring owners there to get approval to modify, redevelop or raze properties. If a city board declined a property owner’s application, though, the owner could wait 90 days and get a waiver to proceed with the desired changes, a gaping loophole that rendered the ordinance toothless.

The city revamped the ordinance in 2010 under then-Mayor Annise Parker, ending the waivers and making the regulations more enforceable. It allows only for modifications that are compatible with the area’s architecture, as defined by the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. Some backers of the ordinance since have argued the board does not uniformly apply its rules.

The lawsuit over this was filed in 2012. I confess, I had not given it a moment’s thought since then. For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, now you know how it turned out.

Precinct analysis: State House districts 2020, part 2

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1

Today’s post is going to be an analysis of the State House districts from the perspective of the US Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. We have already observed in other contexts how Joe Biden outran the rest of the Democratic ticket, and we will see that here as well. But it’s a little more nuanced than that, because of the Latino vote and the Trump shift, which we have characterized as being mostly about Trump. The Texas Signal boiled down one piece of research on that as follows:

In an interview with Texas Signal, the Executive Director of Cambio Texas, Abel Prado, walked us through some of the big takeaways from their post-election report. One of his first points from the report was that many of the voters who came out in the Rio Grande Valley were specifically Donald Trump voters, and not necessarily Republican voters.

Many of Trump’s traits, including his brashness, a self-styled Hollywood pedigree, his experience as a businessman, and his billionaire status, resonated with many voters in the Rio Grande Valley. “The increase in Republican vote share were Donald Trump votes, not conservative votes, and there’s a difference,” said Prado.

Hold that thought, we’ll get to it in a bit. I’m going to present the data here in the same order as I did in the previous post, with the results from the Senate race (MJ Hegar versus John Cornyn) and the RRC race (Chrysta Castaneda versus Jim Wright) grouped together. We will start with the Republican districts that Biden carried:


Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
026    40,478   43,650    47.1%    50.8%
066    42,688   42,768    48.9%    49.0%
067    47,484   46,775    49.2%    48.5%
096    42,210   44,471    47.5%    50.0%
108    50,639   49,689    49.4%    48.5%
112    34,800   32,591    50.2%    47.0%
121    44,062   49,365    46.0%    51.2%
132    48,460   50,865    47.5%    49.8%
134    61,018   48,629    54.7%    43.6%
138    31,508   31,993    48.3%    49.1%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
026    39,238   42,818    46.5%    50.8%
066    41,139   41,650    48.1%    48.7%
067    45,970   45,494    48.6%    48.1%
096    41,135   44,103    46.7%    50.1%
108    49,347   48,118    48.8%    47.6%
112    34,635   31,768    50.3%    46.2%
121    43,992   46,975    46.6%    49.8%
132    47,483   49,947    47.0%    49.4%
134    57,940   47,504    53.2%    43.6%
138    30,796   31,201    47.9%    48.6%

You don’t need to review the previous post to see that Hegar and Castaneda fell short of the standard Biden set. Still, they carried 70 House districts, three more than were won by the Dems, and came within a point of two more. What we see here is the same thing we saw when we looked at these races in Harris County, which is not only that Joe Biden got more votes than these two Democrats, but John Cornyn and Jim Wright outperformed Donald Trump. These are your crossover voters, and the big question going into 2022 is what potential exists to swing them again, and in which races. Dems still fell short statewide in 2020 even with all those voters, but the hill is less steep with them than without them.

UPDATE: Correction – Hegar and Castaneda carried 68 House districts, one more than the total won by Dems. They carried GOP-won HDs 67, 108, and 112 and lost Dem-won HDs 31 and 74, for a net increase of one. I managed to confuse myself with the math by basing the calculation on that table above. They were still within a point of two other districts as shown above.

Here are the near-miss and reach districts for Biden:


Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
014    27,435   35,269    42.2%    54.3%
028    54,571   65,387    44.6%    53.4%
029    43,327   52,292    44.2%    53.4%
054    34,462   36,551    47.1%    49.9%
064    39,350   47,395    43.8%    52.8%
092    36,564   40,601    46.0%    51.1%
093    37,934   44,925    44.4%    52.6%
094    34,826   39,970    45.3%    52.0%
097    42,210   44,471    47.4%    50.0%
122    51,835   72,452    40.9%    57.1%
126    33,618   39,298    44.9%    52.5%
133    38,149   51,111    41.9%    56.2%

032    29,613   38,322    43.5%    53.4%
070    48,246   77,306    37.5%    60.1%
084    22,626   35,019    37.8%    58.5%
085    32,212   43,653    41.5%    56.3%
089    40,761   57,531    40.5%    57.1%
106    53,674   73,313    41.2%    56.3%
129    35,924   48,318    41.5%    55.8%
150    39,872   56,019    40.5%    56.9%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
014    25,863   34,522    40.7%    54.3%
028    53,363   64,123    44.3%    53.2%
029    42,256   51,097    43.7%    52.9%
054    33,036   36,749    45.4%    50.5%
064    37,396   46,264    42.5%    52.6%
092    35,180   40,269    44.8%    51.3%
093    36,501   44,700    43.2%    52.9%
094    33,630   39,603    44.3%    52.1%
097    35,954   44,647    43.0%    53.4%
122    51,488   69,624    41.2%    55.7%
126    32,979   38,409    44.6%    52.0%
133    36,456   50,069    40.9%    56.2%

032    28,939   36,856    42.2%    53.7%
070    46,349   75,914    36.6%    60.0%
084    21,625   34,530    36.8%    58.8%
085    31,967   42,990    41.6%    55.9%
089    39,378   56,345    39.8%    56.9%
106    50,925   71,782    39.9%    56.3%
129    35,326   46,707    41.5%    54.8%
150    38,995   55,111    40.0%    56.6%

Not a whole lot to say here. The near-misses look farther away, and the reaches look out of reach. It’s important to remember that a lot of these districts weren’t on anyone’s radar going into 2016, and that the trend has been heavily favorable to the Democrats. We certainly hope those trends continue, but even if they do that doesn’t mean the district in question is on the verge of being competitive.

Here are the districts that Trump won or came close it. For this, I’m going to reprint the Biden/Trump numbers, to make it easier to illustrate the point I want to make.


Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
031    23,609   28,980    43.5%    53.4%
074    22,397   25,232    45.5%    51.2%

034    27,567   26,236    49.8%    47.4%
035    22,735   18,926    52.7%    43.8%
080    25,339   19,960    54.1%    42.6%

038    28,050   20,464    56.2%    41.0%
041    29,594   24,797    52.8%    44.3%
117    49,759   40,386    53.6%    43.5%
118    31,726   25,841    53.5%    43.6%
144    16,246   14,108    51.8%    45.0%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
031    24,700   26,837    46.5%    50.5%
074    22,942   23,836    47.4%    49.2%

034    27,816   24,985    51.0%    45.8%
035    23,684   17,094    56.2%    40.5%
080    25,945   18,750    56.2%    40.6%

038    29,097   18,502    59.2%    37.7%
041    30,611   22,881    55.5%    41.5%
117    49,871   38,567    54.2%    41.9%
118    32,568   24,454    55.2%    41.5%
144    16,851   13,251    54.1%    42.6%

Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
031    25,315   33,101    42.9%    56.1%
074    23,478   27,319    45.6%    53.1%

034    29,226   26,606    51.7%    47.0%
035    24,991   21,049    53.8%    45.3%
080    26,251   22,543    53.3%    45.8%

038    29,116   21,573    56.8%    42.1%
041    31,956   25,187    55.5%    43.7%
117    53,983   39,495    56.8%    41.6%
118    34,228   25,848    56.2%    42.4%
144    17,365   14,599    53.6%    45.0%

We don’t see the same pattern here that we did before. In these districts, Trump is outrunning Cornyn and Wright. Biden is still outperforming Hegar and Castaneda, but not by as much. That makes HDs 31 and 74 closer, especially for Castaneda. This suggests two things to me. One is that as was claimed in that Texas Signal story, there really was more of a Trump effect than a Republican shift. It also appears that Castaneda benefitted from her Latina surname; one could also argue that Cornyn got some incumbent benefit as well. The main point is that the story of these districts is a little more nuanced than some of the discourse would have you believe. Doesn’t mean there aren’t issues for Dems to confront, just that it’s not a one-dimensional situation.

Finally, here are the districts that the Dems picked up in the 2016 and 2018 cycles.


Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
045    57,413   54,996    49.5%    47.4%
047    69,906   66,452    50.2%    47.7%
052    51,448   45,369    51.6%    45.5%
065    40,789   38,039    50.3%    46.7%
102    37,879   29,970    54.5%    43.1%
105    31,769   24,477    54.8%    42.2%
107    34,360   26,248    55.1%    42.1%
113    36,185   31,239    52.2%    45.0%
114    42,291   36,918    52.3%    45.6%
115    39,307   31,859    53.8%    43.6%
135    37,050   36,728    48.9%    48.4%
136    55,420   44,710    53.8%    43.4%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
045    54,943   53,725    48.2%    47.1%
047    66,419   64,426    48.7%    47.3%
052    48,688   44,402    49.7%    45.3%
065    39,040   36,949    49.2%    46.6%
102    37,549   28,844    54.5%    41.9%
105    31,723   23,639    55.2%    41.1%
107    34,364   25,234    55.5%    40.8%
113    36,116   30,540    52.4%    44.3%
114    42,043   35,411    52.6%    44.3%
115    38,704   30,803    53.5%    42.6%
135    36,487   35,845    48.6%    47.8%
136    52,576   43,535    52.0%    43.0%

Even with the erosion of support from the top of the ticket, Dems still held these districts at the Senate and RRC level. The gain were maintained. I know what the narrative for 2020 was, but it’s hard for me to see that as anything but a rousing success.

Traffic deaths are way up

Not good, y’all.

With traffic levels returning to normal levels post-COVID, Texas is on track for more than 4,000 deaths on state roads, a total unseen since the mid-1980s when the state had millions fewer residents and far deadlier streets, according to partial estimates from the first five months of 2021.

In the Houston region, sharp increases in pedestrian and bicycling deaths, along with impaired driving in 2020 have continued unabated into 2021.

“We are going the wrong way,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said. “It is heartbreaking, it is frustrating, and we have got to do something about it.”

[…]

With some fatal wrecks likely not yet logged in the state’s crash database, the first four months of 2021 are the most deadly start to a year at least in the past decade, according to an analysis of Texas Department of Transportation data. Statewide, at least 1,368 people have died on Texas roads, a 24 percent increase over last year and 19 percent jump from 2019 when traffic levels were unaffected by COVID. In the eight-county Houston area, roadway deaths were up 27 percent from last year, with 256 confirmed fatalities, including 183 in Harris County, which saw deaths increased by 36 percent from 2020 and 30 percent compared to 2019.

Comparisons to both 2020 and 2019 show that the spike is not simply COVID, though safety officials think some of it could be based on changing conditions. The pandemic significantly dropped daily traffic counts, which opened up Texas’ wide freeways for abuse.

Now with traffic teetering on a return to normal pre-pandemic levels – in some spots, vehicle volumes are already back to 2019 totals or more – some of those speedy trips are ending tragically.

Many drivers said the risks are easy to see, both from a combination of unruly motorists and streets that favor speed over safety.

“If you build a street like a highway, people will use it like a highway,” said Richard Ward, 55, who lives in Sugar Land.

As the story notes, it’s not just Texas – road fatalities are up nationally, too. There are plenty of long-term issues in the state and around Houston – car-centric road design, higher-than-safe speeds allowed on residential streets, insufficient enforcement of speeding ordinances, etc – but no single cause for the current increase. It seems likely that some people got used to being able to drive more recklessly when the roads were less crowded, and maybe there’s some pandemic stress in there as well. Whatever the case, be careful out there.

(The story notes that there was little action taken by the Legislature to address road safety issues this session. All things considered, we should probably be grateful, because the way things were going someone was sure to propose eliminating drivers licenses and traffic lights as the solution.)

Dallas County Democrats have a new Chair, too

Congratulations and best of luck to Kristy Noble, the new Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party.

Dallas businesswoman Kristy Noble was sworn in Thursday morning as the new chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party.

Noble, 50, emerged victorious after hours of voting in a five-person race to replace Carol Donovan, who announced in May that she was resigning after six years as chairwoman of the party.

She promised to bolster her party’s machinery and help Texas Democrats win statewide races, something the state party hasn’t done since 1994. But Dallas County Democrats have dominated local politics, though Noble says there are still opportunities for improvement.

“There is still room to increase the Democratic turnout in Dallas County, specifically in some of the gerrymandered safe districts,” Noble told The News on Thursday. “We have room to get more Democrats out to vote in areas that are primarily Democrat voting. We just have to have more focus on those areas, and there are still legislative seats that are not blue in Dallas County”.

During Donovan’s term Democrats wiped out all but two Republican statehouse members with districts entirely in Dallas County — University Park’s Morgan Meyer and Garland’s Angie Chen Button. Both Republican lawmakers will be targets for Democrats in 2022.

And Noble said Dallas County could play a pivotal role in flipping Texas from red to blue.

“If we’re going to really push to turn Texas blue, which is ultimate goal, we need every representative out of Dallas County to be a Democrat.”

Noble is co-founder of the Funky East Dallas Democrats, one of the most active political clubs in Dallas County. She beat several candidates in an in-person/virtual election to win the seat. Now she’ll complete Donovan’s unexpired term.

As we know, Harris County will be selecting a new Democratic Party Chair as well – our meeting to do so is scheduled for June 27. I’m supporting Odus Evbagharu for that position. He’s the current Chief of Staff for State Rep. Jon Rosenthal and a former HCDP staffer, leading the 2018 coordinated campaign as Communications Director. Dallas and Harris are in similar places as mostly Democratic counties – we’ve both done a tremendous job increasing Democratic turnout and getting a lot of people elected, but there are still worlds to conquer, and we’re going to need to do more of the same to really put the state in play. I think a key role that the big urban counties can play is in working with their close neighbors to build infrastructure there as well, both to help further the blue evolution of similar places and to stem the losses in the places where Republicans are ascendant. Both Harris and Dallas can do better increasing turnout in their own base areas – I’ve said many times that what has transformed Harris was the huge growth in Democratic voting in formerly deep red areas, and that is largely true for Dallas, but more of an effort needs to be put into maximizing the engagement in our traditional homes as well. I get the sense that the people who need to understand this do so, and I’m optimistic for the future. Welcome aboard, Kristy Noble.

Weekend link dump for June 6

“Someone finally asked restaurant workers why they’re not returning”.

“Gun Church That Worships With AR-15s Bought a 40-Acre Compound in Texas for Its ‘Patriots’”. It’s located near Waco. What could possibly go wrong?

“Specific language about the QAnon conspiracy theory has all but disappeared from mainstream public social media platforms, new research concludes.”

Using blimps to fight climate change by replacing short plane rides.

“Among the unvaccinated in Washington state, for example, the rate for hospitalization and deaths is the same as it was in January, the most virulent month of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They just don’t make the mark of the Beast like they used to.

What should the military do about seditious nutbag Michael Flynn?

“Meaning you can add “flying killer robots” to your list of plausible fears that science fiction predicted.”

“A ransomware attack against Brazilian meat-packing giant JBS has disrupted production in the U.S., Canada and Australia.”

Don’t act like a hooligan at sporting events. I know it’s been awhile, but surely we all remember this.

“With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.”

“Unfortunately, the trendline of where children are getting vaccinated so far shows an expected but still disappointing development. The same places where adults aren’t getting vaccinated are not seeing children getting vaccinated either, which will only exacerbate the growing discrepancies in the places where the most people are protected from the virus.”

No one is coming to our rescue, certainly not “history.” Once democracy is gone, it’s gone. It is up to us to protect and preserve it. Right here, right now.”

RIP, Mike Marshall, first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

“Kraken Lawyer Sues MLB For Violating Atlanta’s Constitutional Right To Host The All Star Game”.

RIP, F. Lee Bailey, criminal defense attorney who represented Patty Hearst, O.J. Simpson, the Boston Strangler, and the army commander at the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, among others.

“But I have another theory. It’s the thirst. Trump broke the cardinal rule of fame: He made it clear how much he wanted it.”

What was the effect of Texas’ early re-opening?

Here’s a new study by a trio of economic researchers that attempts to answer questions about the behavioral, public health, and economic effects of Greg Abbott ending the statewide mask mandate and all restrictions on how businesses can operate, all on March 3 of this year. Short answer: Pretty much nothing changed.

This study explores a unique policy shock in Texas to identify the causal impacts of a statewide reopening on public health and economic activity. Texas was first state in the United States to enact a “100% reopening.” Executive Order GA-34, issued by Governor Greg Abbott, (i) eliminated statewide capacity constraints on all businesses, and (ii) abolished the statewide mask mandate (Abbott 2021). Texas’ “first mover” position makes the state’s reopening plausibly exogenous relative to other later-reopening states that followed suit and eased restrictions. Under Governor Greg Abbott’s order, local businesses were free to impose their own voluntary restrictions. Furthermore, unlike the imposition of local shelter-in-place orders which were permitted and widely adopted (Dave et al. 2020a), Governor Abbott advanced the legal position that no local order can supersede the state’s reopening order and legally impose COVID-related capacity constraints on local businesses or fine local residents for not wearing masks.4 At the time the reopening was announced, the state of Texas had administered 5.7 million vaccine shots to its residents, fully vaccinating 11 percent of its adult (ages 16 and older) population Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021b). By March 29, all adults 16 and older were eligible to obtain a vaccine (Harper 2021) and by April 13, 15.2 million vaccines had been distributed in Texas (Johns Hopkins University 2021), with 26 percent of the adult population completely vaccinated.5 This share had reached nearly 40 percent by mid-May 2021.

This study is the first to examine the impact of a statewide reopening in the midst of a mass statewide vaccination effort. We document three key findings. First, using anonymized smartphone data from SafeGraph, Inc. and a synthetic control approach, we find that the Texas reopening had little impact on stay-at-home behavior or on foot traffic at numerous business locations, including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, retail establishments, business services, personal care services, and grocery stores. Second, using COVID-19 case and mortality data from the New York Times, we find no evidence that the reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the five-week period following the reopening.6 In addition, we find that state-level COVID-19 mortality rates were unaffected by the March 10 reopening. These null results persist when we explore heterogeneity in the state reopening by urbanicity and political ideology of Texas counties. We find no evidence of social distancing or COVID-19 effects of the reopening across more urban versus less urban Texas counties as well as across counties where the majority of residents supported Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Finally, we explore whether Governor Abbott’s reopening order generated short-run economic growth in Texas. Using weekly state-level data on UI claims per 1,000 covered jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), synthetic control and difference-in-differences estimates show that neither continued UI claims filed nor new UI claims filed (per 1,000 UI covered job) fell in the five “full week” period following the March 10 reopening. Moreover, using state-level data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), we find no evidence that the Texas reopening reduced the short-run (March 2021) unemployment rate or employment-to-population ratio. Supplemental analysis of microdata from the Current Population Basic Monthly Survey (CPS-BMS) show no evidence that that the reopening affected employment-to-population ratios at bars, restaurants, or entertainment venues. Taken together, our findings underscore the limits of late-pandemic era changes in COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.

See here for my post about the end of the statewide mask mandate, which I contended should have waited another couple of weeks until more people were vaccinated. I still think that would have been the smarter policy, but what this study tells us is that a lot of people – both mask-wearers and mask-resisters – kept on doing what they’d been doing. In addition, localities that had mask mandates (at least up until recently) largely kept them in place, and businesses that required people to wear masks continued to do so.

That combination of factors is very likely why not much changed despite the new, relaxed rules. Cellphone mobility data was used in May last year to predict the second-wave summer spike, and the reason for it was that with the initial lifting of stay-at-home orders, people went back to pre-pandemic levels of activity, with predictable results. The authors’ point is that at this later stage of the pandemic, people’s behavior was much more accustomed to being restricted, so a change in government policy had much less effect on them. That also means it had much less effect on economic activity, contra what Abbott promised, for the reason that many had proclaimed for months, namely that you can’t really reopen the economy until most people feel comfortable enough to get back out there and shop and dine at restaurants and go to the gym and movies and whatnot. And they won’t feel that way until the pandemic is well and truly beaten, which means taking it seriously until it’s been controlled.

Anyway, there’s grist for a lot of mills in there, so check it out. It’s kind of dense, so if you’d rather have someone else summarize and analyze it for you, there’s this Atlantic story. If even that is too long for you, or if like me you have run out of free Atlantic articles to read, this Twitter thread from the author will have to suffice. He doesn’t touch on the economic stuff, just the health and behavior stuff, but his explanation of the theories about this are nice and succinct. I’m sure we’ll see further study on this topic – it’s too interesting and important for there to be just this one – but for now, this is what we have.

Buckingham to run for Land Commissioner

That’s the sound of opportunity knocking.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, is set to run for land commissioner, according to two sources familiar with the decision not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Buckingham has made calls to potential supporters sharing her decision, said the sources. A Buckingham spokesperson, Matt Langston, said she was “seriously considering” running and would make an announcement soon.

The news of her decision comes two days after the current land commissioner, George P. Bush, announced he was running for attorney general next year, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton.

Buckingham was first elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 24 in Central Texas. While she won a second term last year, all members of the Senate have to run for reelection in 2022 due to redistricting, so she would have to give up her seat if she runs for land commissioner.

That’s the way the dominoes fall. Buckingham’s SD24 is strongly Republicans and got slighty more so over the course of the decade. It’s a mostly-rural/exurban district that’s partly Hill Country, partly I-35 Corridor, and partly West Texas, plus a piece of Travis County. It borders two Republican districts that used to be deep red but have trended strongly Democratic in SDs 5 and 25, plus one of the deepest red districts in SD28 that is lagging in overall population; SD24 itself was below the ideal population level as of 2018 (it was right at 900K at that time, up from 811K when the districts were drawn in 2011), so maybe it takes some blue precincts from the more-populated SD5 and SD25 while shifting whatever it can to SD28. I’m just spitballing here, redistricting is a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea. It’s still going to be a red district when all is said and done, but maybe 62-63% instead of 66-67%, and maybe with the potential to drift towards blue over time. Add it to the list of places where there will be a lot of action next May.

Elsewhere in people people resigning one office to (probably) run for another:

Texas GOP Chair Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning and said he is considering running for another office, potentially one that is statewide.

During a news conference here, West said a statewide run is “one of the things that I have to go to the Lord in prayer.” He said it would be “very disingenuous with so many people that have asked me to consider something” to not explore a run.

“Many men from Georgia, many men from Tennessee, came here to serve the great state of Texas, and so we’re gonna consider it,” said West, who grew up in Georgia. He added that he was announcing his resignation, effective next month, so that there is no conflict of interest as he weighs his next political move.

West, who has been most frequently discussed as a potential challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott, declined to say whether he was eyeing any particular statewide office, though he told a radio host earlier Friday morning that the host was “safe” to assume West was mulling a gubernatorial run. At the news conference, West also did not say when he would announce a decision on his next step, telling a reporter with characteristic combativeness that his “timeline is in my head and not in yours yet.”

West also raised the prospect he could run for Congress, noting he is a resident of the 32nd Congressional District, “and there’s a guy in Texas 32 I really don’t care for being my congressional representative.” The incumbent is Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas.

As for a statewide campaign, West said he would not be deterred by an incumbent having the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Trump has already backed Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for reelection.

“You know, I don’t serve President Trump. I serve God, country and Texas,” West said. “So that does not affect me whatsoever.”

Yeah, I don’t like giving Allen West any space for his depravity, but you need to know what he might be up to. And yes, I know Sen. Buckingham isn’t resigning, she just would be giving up her seat to run for Land Commissioner. Anyway, that’s all the time we need to spend on this.